Clause 6

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

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 3:45 pm, 8th March 2007

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.