Clause 2

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 6th March 2007.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 5:00 pm, 6th March 2007

The amendments to this clause can usefully be divided into those that seek to focus powers so that they are appropriate and those that seek to extend powers, where we think that that is appropriate. This amendment seeks to extend powers so that they are appropriate. The argument for this amendment has been strengthened by the rejection of the previous amendment. What I have said about potential elephant traps still applies, and I hope that those who voted against the previous amendment will not live to regret it if something horrible happens in a few years’ time.

Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 would extend the possibility of immigration officers pursuing individuals. Amendment No. 39 would remove the word “designated”, so that any immigration officer may return an individual who is trying to leave a port, and the Committee will appreciate the evident practical merits of that. It is right and proper that appropriately trained immigration officers are the only ones given the power to detain people, but that situation is very different from one in which someone is trying to leave a port. All that is being asked for is the  power to pursue and return an individual who has already been identified and attempted to be detained. It would clearly be nonsense if somebody were able to slip through the net just because a designated officer is not available, or—I suspect that this is more to the point—if enough designated officers are not available.

That point returns us to the issue of smaller ports and airports, where, I imagine, only one designated official, if any, will be available in many cases. This morning, the Minister told us that roughly 25 per cent. of immigration officers will be designated. It therefore seems highly likely that one designated official at most would be available in many ports and airports at certain times of the day or night, which, if somebody fled, would leave that individual in the invidious position either of leaving their post or of pursuing somebody that they suspected of committing an offence. Amendment No. 39 would make it less likely that that invidious choice would have to be made.

Frankly, I again invite the Minister to consider what would happen in practice. What if he—or a successor, given the rate of change in his job—were forced to answer to the House about a potentially dangerous criminal who was at large because they could not be pursued out of the port or airport from which they had fled, because there was not a designated immigration officer available when perfectly capable immigration officers who did not happen to be designated were available? I suspect that he or his successor would find such an explanation rather uncomfortable and rightly so, because such an event would be nonsense.

Moving on, amendment No. 40 again takes up the practicality argument that we discussed in our last debate. It inserts the capacity to detain an

“individual for not longer than two hours whilst waiting either for a constable or a designated immigration officer to attend,” which clearly gives any immigration officer the power to detain somebody who may have been stopped by a designated immigration officer and who has tried to leave the port. Obviously, amendment No. 40 follows on from amendment No. 39. We are discussing a practical point: if we allow any immigration officer to pursue someone who is trying to flee, they must have a short space of time in which to detain that person after catching and returning them, otherwise there would be a deeply ridiculous situation in which the detainee could walk off again, which would be undesirable.

If we take the Minister’s word, one can get a policeman anywhere in this country at any time of day or night within three hours. That was the proposition he advanced in response to the previous amendment, so, a fortiori, one can find a designated immigration official anywhere within two hours. That is all we seek to achieve with the two amendments. They are practical amendments, which would avoid potential disasters and stop potentially dangerous criminals getting out on to the streets. In that spirit, I commend the amendments to the Committee.