Clause 8

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 13th March 2007.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 11:30 am, 13th March 2007

These are helpful amendments, because they have given me pause for thought and deliberation. I shall start by clarifying the scope and orbit of the clause. It is not about the transfer of the information concerned to other parts of Government or other parts of public service. Parliament has already spoken on that matter, specifically in section 21 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which quite properly put in place a rigorous gateway through which the Home Office would have to go to share information with others. That could be done only in line with obligations already on the Secretary of State set out under the Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998 and other legislation.

The subject of the clause is how the Home Secretary can share the information with other parts of his business, as it were. How can we ensure that that is not being done inappropriately? Amendment No. 23 would curtail the movement of information to the purposes set out in another enactment. Amendments Nos. 62 and 81 would constrain the use of the information for non-immigration purposes. A helpful starter for 10 has been listed.

I said last week that the purpose of the Bill was not to give unfettered power to the Secretary of State. I know that there are some days when that seems desirable, but in the round it is not. It is important to underline the fact that, even if that were the ambition, it would be a forlorn ambition, because the Secretary of State does not have unfettered power to share  information even with other parts of his own operations. The Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act already provide for certain constraints.

Despite the fact that those constraints are in place, there is a case to be explored for whether further constraint is merited. The amendment has prompted me to begin that exploration. We have to think carefully through a number of issues, the first of which is that amendment No. 23 suggests that the sharing and use of the information be curtailed to a purpose set out in another enactment. That is a valuable place at which to start, but a couple of issues warrant slightly further exploration. Some of the Home Secretary’s powers are exercised under royal prerogative, not under “another enactment”. A good example is the fact that the Secretary of State issues British passports under prerogative to several different types of nationality, including British overseas territories citizenship, British national overseas, British subject and British protected persons. It is possible to envisage a situation in the future when the Home Secretary would want to check biometric information that had been filed as part of a biometric immigration document application, as part of the process of reviewing someone’s application for one of those three or four different categories of passport. That would not be possible under the amendment, because it is a power exercised under royal prerogative, and issuing a passport is not in the strict legal sense an immigration function.

The second issue that needs teasing out is that the phrase “another enactment” may exclude the use of the information under clauses 1 to 4. Given that the phrase used is “another enactment”, it may be that under a strict legal definition, it is not possible for the application to be rendered to the Bill. That would need to be teased through with lawyers.

The third issue that warrants a little exploration is particularly relevant to amendment No. 62. The proposed list does not mention nationality, but it is possible to envisage a situation in which we want to make use of biometric immigration that has beenfiled as part of a biometric immigration document application during the naturalisation process. We might want to validate the individual who is applying for naturalisation and use biometric information that has already been filed and checked.

The fourth issue that needs a little more explanation—I hope the Committee will agree—is in the list of applications, which has been helpfully set out in the spirit of probing our ambitions. The list does not refer to prevention of crime. Immigration officershave a number of criminal investigation powers. They might, for example, investigate crimes of forgery, bigamy, theft and perjury. With such criminal investigation powers come associated powers of arrest, search and investigation. It is quite possible that an immigration officer would seek to use biometric information that has been captured as part of the application process for the biometric immigration document. One can particularly imagine that such a facility might be useful where forgery offences were being investigated.

The amendments are therefore extremely helpful, as there is a real case for us to explore how the Bill should be more specific about the limits on the Secretary of State’s power to deploy the information in other parts  of his business. With those words on the record, I hope that the hon. Member for Rochdale will not seek to press the amendment. These have been helpful probing amendments that have certainly started the process of deliberation in my office. Where and if appropriate, I think that we will need to table an amendment of our own to achieve the ambitions that hon. Members rightly have.