Clause 4

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 6th March 2007.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 6:30 pm, 6th March 2007

I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Gentleman has put his argument. When I reflected on the amendment I had not quite drawn the connection between it and the constituency that he represents. Listening to his thoughtful argument, I can quite see that he brings passion to the matter.

From the tenor of my remarks over the course of the day, the hon. Gentleman will know that my instinct in much of the Bill has been to seek wide, sweeping powers, but through a process of deliberation I have been persuaded that actually Parliament would not look kindly upon my asking for wide-ranging powers for which there was no purpose. That is a legitimate process of debate through which we have gone. We have sought in the Bill, even in this clause, to ask only for powers that we think are necessary. I assure him that the question whether to include railway stations and trains was considered in full. They were not included because it was not deemed necessary.

It is only right that, in my response to the hon. Gentleman, I should take the opportunity to pay tribute to the immigration service and its work in France and Belgium, and to the degree of co-operation that we have received, particularly in France from the police aux frontières. The arrangement of juxtaposed controls, which I was grateful to be able to visit at the end of last year, has meant that in the past year alone about 17,000 illegal immigrants have been stopped on the other side of the channel.

The process of offshoring our border controls is integral to our philosophy of border control, and we shall have a lot more to say on that philosophy and the substance that follows it in the months to come. It is important that controls are in place on the other side of the channel because so much of the traffic to which the hon. Gentleman referred is in the hands of organised crime. When I visited Calais at the end of last year I was interested to learn from the prefect of the area and from our own immigration service that they estimate that most illegal migration that is attempted across the channel is in the hands of organised crime—gangs originating in either Afghanistan or Iran. Such controls are therefore extremely important.

The reason why I have been reassured that the amendments are not needed is precisely that we have invested so successfully in offshoring our border controls to France and Belgium. The checks that are needed are undertaken abroad, so there is ample time for immigration officers to notify police at the other end of the tunnel if necessary so that they can take the appropriate action.

There are of course some limitations on the exercise of police-like powers abroad. European integration is a great thing, but there are none the less constraints on  our ability to have British immigration officers or police operating in an unfettered manner on the continent. Perhaps we will be able to change that situation one day, but under the terms of the tripartite agreement between the UK, France and Belgium, and of consequential administrative agreements, there are some constraints on the exercise of police-like powers in offshore controls.

The nub of the argument is that because we have exported—offshored—our border controls to the other side of the channel, checks are undertaken over there. That gives us the opportunity to identify individuals who may be undesirable and ensure that they come nowhere near the shores of the British isles. If they are British citizens and therefore individuals whom we cannot necessarily prevent from coming to the British isles, the fact that the controls are exercise offshore means that there is time to make provisions to receive them should they be of interest to the police or security authorities.

I am grateful for the opportunity to explain a little more about our reasoning and why we have not sought powers that are deemed unnecessary. I hope that that reassurance is sufficient that the hon. Member for Ashford may feel able to seek leave to withdraw his amendment.