Clause 1

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 6th March 2007.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 10:45 am, 6th March 2007

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Illsley, and I hope that I will be able to satisfy the hon. Gentleman at a later stage.

I want to make four or five points about the type of oversights that we envisage coming into place. Of course, the first is that immigration officers are subject to a number of administrative oversight arrangements, which will be used in order to monitor the powers contained in the clause. Those arrangements will be similar to the oversight arrangements that are already in place. Immigration officers already exercise quite a wide range of powers, including, for example, the power to detain foreign nationals. So there are a number of oversight arrangements and review arrangements that are administrative in nature and they will be helpful as a first layer of defence in this system.

The second point is about the right to redress, to which the hon. Member for Ashford referred. That right is important. Currently, there is an independent complaints procedure, which the immigration and nationality directorate operates, I believe very successfully. That would also be available to help to provide the type of accountability and transparency that he is seeking.

The third point about oversight transparency and accountability relates to the power of detention. The detention facilities provided for and by the immigration service are subject to oversight by three organisations. First, many hon. Members will know about the independent monitoring boards, which are extremely important, giving members of the community a chance to serve and to help us to get facilities and procedures right. Secondly, there is the prisons and probation ombudsman. Thirdly, there is Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons. The immigration service and I often rely on the chief inspector’s reports in helping us to get many of our arrangements correct.

My fourth overall point is that section 41 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 provides a role for the Independent Police Complaints Commission also to  examine specified immigration functions. This area is currently the subject of discussions between the immigration service and others. We hope that the consultation on precisely which immigration functions will be subject to IPCC scrutiny will be commenced on 7 May. We hope that by about the end of July or into the summer, the consultation will be complete so that over the summer we will be able to lay regulations. That will provide a great deal of reassurance.

My fifth and final point about accountability and scrutiny relates, as the hon. Member for Ashford may have guessed, to what we call the single inspector. When I was first asked to take the job that I currently perform for the Home Secretary—to greater or lesser degrees of success—I was surprised to see that about 11 different organisations were responsible for providing scrutiny and accountability for the immigration service. I think that that is far too many. It is very difficult for 11 organisations to provide effective scrutiny and to present conclusions with the force and punch that is required for the immigration service to take a sustainable path to improvement over the next few years.

It is not possible for the immigration service to implement the radical reform that the Home Secretary announced last year unless there is much stronger oversight. I believe that the oversight should be independent and include the opportunity for communities to understand how the immigration service is performing in their area. I will be seeking to table Government amendments that provide for much stronger independent inspection arrangements. I envisage that they will apply to the enforcement functions that we are asking the immigration service to perform, under powers available already and those proposed in the Bill. With these reassurances in mind, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will seek to withdraw his amendment.