Clause 6

UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 8th March 2007.

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Regulations: supplemental

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 21, in clause 6, page 5, line 7, after ‘Parliament’, insert ‘with or without amendment’.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 22, in clause 7, page 5, line 21, at end add—

‘(3) No action taken in accordance with regulations made under subsection (2) shall permit a breach of—

(a) a person’s convention rights;

(b) the United Kingdom’s obligations under the Refugee Convention; or

(c) a person’s rights under the Community Treaties.’.

No. 95, in clause 20, page 11, line 43, leave out from ‘be’ to ‘of’ in line 44 and insert

‘approved by a resolution of both Houses’.

No. 96, in clause 22, page 13, line 11, leave out from ‘be’ to ‘of’ in line 12 and insert

‘approved by a resolution of both Houses’.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The amendments concern the procedure that we should use to scrutinise these matters. Amendment No. 21 would allow the regulations in clause 5 to be amended when they are presented before Parliament. Amendment No. 22 is similar, in that it seeks to include in the Bill the right to fair treatment within a person’s various convention rights. Amendment No. 95 also seeks to give Parliament more of a say in the process, by insisting that the designation of a senior officer for the purposes of cash seizure should be taken through Parliament by  affirmative resolution and with regard to any regulations relating to the disposal of property.

We think that this issue is important because the relevant powers are so important and the issues are so complex that it may well be that, with the best will in the world, there will be Members in all parts of the House who agree with some of the regulations that are introduced, but not with others.

Clearly, the biometric registration document has the potential to be extremely invasive in allowing extremely broad powers for the collation, retention and dissemination of personal information, and the regulations that the Minister will be introducing will force any non-EEA person to provide unlimited information for unlimited purposes. The regulations in clause 5(2)(d) could require any person to provide detailed information about their medical history and that information could then be used for purposes that have nothing to do with immigration, by virtue of clause 8(2). I assume that the Minister will argue that the point of the regulations is to clarify the scopeof that potential invasiveness, but the ability of Parliament to determine whether that scope is appropriate is limited.

The reason why we can discuss the amendments now is that clause 6 sets out the process by which the regulations will be made. They will be made by the positive resolution procedure, so they will be laid before and approved by both Houses. However, as we all know, that does not allow for variation; the regulations will either stand or fall. As I said, the regulations are likely to be long and detailed; they will certainly be important. I suspect that there will be many Members in all parts of the House who will feel that some of them are reasonable and others are not. The purpose of the amendments is simply to allow hon. Members in all parts of the House who are sufficiently interested and concerned about these important regulations to do something about them. We think that the way to do that is to make such wide-ranging regulations amendable. That would not be a particular innovation. The Identity Cards Act 2006 allows for such changes to be made and so do other Acts, including the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

It is precisely because these regulations are likely to be lengthy and are certain to be important that I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically on the idea that, when the House comes to discuss them, they should be amendable. I commend the amendment to him.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

I understand the ambitions that lie behind these amendments. In a way, I was hoping that the ID cards debate was not going to be prayed in aid, because some of the issues raised in that debate are quite different from those being raised now. The key difference is this: for British citizens, the processes of applying for an ID card and the databases that would be put in place required certain protections to be provided. Parliament was quite right to insist on some of those protections. Also, there was originally the notion that some kind of super-affirmative procedure would be included in the process of allowing regulations to be taken forward. Of course, that procedure was not adopted by the House; Parliament  decided that that was not the right course of action, and so the Identity Cards Act 2006 has no such provision.

Foreign nationals are already required to provide biometric information to the immigration authorities, so that requirement is not an innovation. It is increasingly part of being subject to immigration control. We have just had a very useful debate that confirmed the instinct in all parts of the Committee that immigration control for over-18s and under-18s should be preserved and enhanced.

The necessity of a strengthened process for scrutinising regulations is slightly different in the case of foreign nationals, because they are subject to immigration control. They are more than used to, and will be increasingly used to, submitting biometric information for processing, checking and vetting before being given permission to come here. If we are successful with the Bill, they will also increasingly be used to submitting such information to confirm their entitlements and rights if they seek to stay in the country for longer than six months.

My other slight concern is more practical; Opposition Members will know that I am not only cautious but practical. Many of the regulations that we will need to make under the provisions of the Bill will relate, for example, to how biometric immigration documents are rolled out to the foreign national population. About 3.4 million foreign nationals are already in the country, and it would be impracticalto roll out biometric immigration documents to all3.4 million overnight. We must therefore go through a process of deciding which groups should be required to acquire such documents first.

As I said on Second Reading, my view is that two principles should guide that roll-out. One is efficiency: we see between 500,000 and 750,000 foreign nationals in-country when they renew, extend or change the terms of their leave to remain, and their presentation at an IND office is a good opportunity to introduce them to a biometric immigration document. The second principle is that roll-out should be on the basis of risk. There are particular parts of the economy in which we know illegal working is more prevalent than others, and we have work to do with the business community to understand how we can work together to introduce biometric immigration documents on a practical basis that allows us to drive out illegal working.

Some of the decisions in the early stages of the roll-out will be prosaic. We might, for example, decide that those who seek transfer of conditions from a passport that has expired to a new one should be first in line. Alternatively we might decide, having done the risk assessment, that those who are applying for a “no time limit” stamp in their passport to be renewed should be first, second, third or fourth in line. As that analysis is done and kept under review, it would be impractical constantly to return to the House to go through the intensive process of scrutiny and resolution to change the roll-out plans in such a detailed way. We had some debate this morning about how regulations might change the type of information that we shall seek to capture. Coming back to the House time and time again as the implementation plans change through the process proposed would be  impractical, although I respect the reasons for the approach behind the amendment.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is possible that I have misunderstood, but I understand that the amendments would make amendable the regulations that the Minister would bring before both Houses. The weight of his argument seems to be that the difficulty to be faced would be having to bring regulations before the House again and again, but he will have to do that anyway. The issue is whether both Houses should have the opportunity to amend them rather than take them as they are presented to us by the Government. His argument does not stack up: he will have to present the regulations, but he is seeking to avoid giving Committees of both Houses the opportunity to amend them, presumably because he will be incapable of explaining them.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

The hon. Gentleman is very generous in his analysis. I seek to avoid a situation in which we have to conduct detailed negotiations on whether certain groups should be first or second line, or whether certain variations in the information that we collect in relation to different categories of leave should be one thing or the other.

The Government are elected to do a job, and one of their jobs is to secure our borders by introducing, implementing and driving through robust immigration control. Our efficiency in delivering that job should be tested regularly and at elections. The idea that we will negotiate the detail of roll-out through different kinds of Committee stages in both Houses is not sensible or appropriate. The Government should decide on the basis of risk analysis, as they do, what they think isthe right batting order, and they should be held accountable for the sense of those decisions.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth 4:00 pm, 8th March 2007

The Minister used an estimate that there were 3.4 million foreign nationals in this country. On what basis did he come up with that figure? Is it a Home Office figure, or was it given to him by someone else?

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

I shall be happy to provide the hon. Gentleman with the statistical authority that offered that figure to me. It is a Home Office figure that we used for planning purposes as we designed the programme that we are introducing.

My argument is that the Government should be held accountable for the sense with which they introduce the biometric immigration documents for the purposes we set out in the debates. I can understand the intention of the procedure that the hon. Member for Ashford proposes, and its ambitions, but its effect would be to slow down dramatically the speed with which we could introduce the systems and therefore the speed with which we could shut down illegal journeys and illegal jobs.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

What the Minister said was breathtaking. The dismissive way in which he said he was not going to negotiate the rules he wants to impose on the British people in Committees was the absolute quintessence of Ministers who have been in power for  too long. He constantly argues that foreign nationals who will be living in this country will be of benefit to this country, in many cases, rightly so. However, what he does not want is any level of parliamentary scrutiny; he completely dismissed the idea that there might, outside the Executive, be any helpful advice to be given, not to reject outright what he wants to do but even to amend it. His argument is breathtaking; everything springs from his head so perfect that it is not possible for a Member of Parliament to table any amendment that he would even be prepared to consider.

I beg the Minister to read the Hansard report of what he has just said, because it is an extraordinarily and uncharacteristically arrogant claim that in no circumstances can any amendment of the regulations that he proposes as a result of the Bill be permitted even to be discussed. We do not seek to include any new parliamentary scrutiny that has not happened before on other Bills; we simply propose that the regulations that spring from this clause should be amendable by Parliament. That is not a very large claim for a Parliament to make, and he has dismissed it out of hand as getting in the way of what he wants to do. In the circumstances, I will seek to press the amendment to a Division, and I urge the Committee to support it.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee proceeded to a Division.

Several hon. Members rose

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. Sadly, the rules are quite clear in such circumstances. I consulted both Whips, and I thought that the doors had been locked. The hon. Member who has entered, but whom I cannot see, was elsewhere—he went out of the room—but I am afraid the doors had been closed and he cannot rejoin the Committee.

The Committee having divided: Ayes 5, Noes 7.

Division number 6 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 6

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes past Four o’clock till Tuesday 13 March at half-past Ten o’clock.