Clause 3

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:15 pm on 6th March 2007.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 6:15 pm, 6th March 2007

Many of the arguments for a reasoned withdrawal of these amendments are not dissimilar to those proposed a moment ago. There are three points, which I will rehearse again for the Committee. First, the offences that are set out in clause 3(1) include assault, but also include absconding from and obstructing an immigration officer. One of the effects  of the amendment would be to cast automatic deportation as a sanction for any one of those three offences.

I am certain in my own mind that we should send a clear signal to those who commit a serious crime and break our laws that they will face the sanction of automatic mandatory deportation. However, there is a question over whether automatic deportation is the right sanction for somebody who has committed the offence of obstructing an immigration officer, which is the offence detailed under clause 3(1)(c). As I said a moment ago, somebody could effectively be prosecuted for the offence of obstructing an immigration officer simply by presenting themselves at the desk at the port and refusing to co-operate with the immigration officer. I could easily foresee a situation where a successful prosecution was mounted for obstruction in such a case and the amendment as drafted would result in the automatic deportation of that individual. I am not often accused of making arguments for a proportionate use of force, but in this case there is a question mark in my mind about whether that is a proportionate sanction for such an offence.

The second point is that, as I said a moment ago, we did not just make up the sanctions listed for this offence, but rooted them in the well-established tradition of sanctions for the offence of assaulting a warranted officer, whether a traffic officer or a police officer or somebody from the HMRC. I am uncomfortable about driving a coach and horses through that tradition.

The third point is that the Government will want to prosecute such offences quickly and the amendment would make it difficult for those cases to be tried in a magistrates court. The sanctions as drafted would mean that cases must be committed to a Crown court, which may result in justice not being as swift as we would desire in all circumstances—particularly in relation to the offences of absconding from detention or obstructing an immigration officer. Both sides of the Committee may agree with that analysis.

Such debates are important, but it may be better to have them when we get to the clauses on automatic deportation. Many of the arguments for the withdrawal of these amendments are the same as those made on the previous amendment. The spirit of the debate is absolutely right, but it may be better to have it later in our proceedings.