Clause 2

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 6th March 2007.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 4:45 pm, 6th March 2007

I am grateful for that clarification. This morning we discussed some important points of detail that are germane to the arguments advanced by the hon. Gentleman. First, we are not asking for the power of arrest with regard to British citizens, which picks up some of the points made by the hon. Member for Peterborough. These are not arrest powers; they are powers of detention pending the arrival of a constable.

We had a long debate about the period of three hours. I have some sympathy with the hon. Members for Monmouth and for Peterborough because the position that the former outlined in his amendment was precisely my starting point in the debates during the development of the Bill. My original instinct was to seek quite wide powers of detention. Two or three arguments were deployed to persuade me that three hours was the right approach. First, it was argued that  if we were to propose a period of three hours and posit it being extended to eight hours or 24 hours, we would quickly encounter an argument that the protections we proposed in the Bill would be inappropriate, because to detain someone for 24 hours would be tantamount to arresting them.

If we were to equip immigration officers with that kind of power, the House would rightly ask for the PACE protections that are in place for police officers to be brought into being for immigration officers in exercising the powers in the Bill. As I said earlier, that would entail the implementation of a different regulatory regime and require ports up and down the country to invest, potentially substantially, in providing PACE facilities. I thought that that was a reasonable argument.

The contribution that persuaded me, however, was the view of the police and the immigration service. The evidence given last week by Tony Smith, director of border control, was helpful. The subject has been debated to some extent; we already bring together those agencies that are responsible for providing border security in a group called the border management programme. We are lucky to have an excellent representative from the police on that board. It was the view of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the immigration service that three hours was about right. When I am given such clear arguments by the immigration service and the police, I think I should listen to them.

In practice, we see three hours as the outer limit. We make it clear in the Bill that there is an obligation on immigration officers to summon a police constable as soon as is reasonably practical because the police are able to exercise the power of arrest, conduct investigations and so on.

At three hours, we are setting a time that we believe is about right, and it has the support of the police,the Association of Chief Police Officers and the immigration service. On the basis of the advice given to me, I was persuaded. I hope that I have persuaded the Committee to the extent that it will see fit to allow the amendment to be withdrawn.