Clause 13

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 13th March 2007.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 12:15 pm, 13th March 2007

Amendment No. 65 would add to clause 13 the requirement for the Government to publish the code of practice at least six months before the commencement of the provisions. The amendment relates to a recurrent debate about how much consultation is appropriate for such legislation. There is one area of consensus. We have established that we want the system to be robust and fair. We want tostart the long, difficult process of restoring public confidence in a system in which, as we have heard this morning, there is little public confidence. Sir Andrew Green said that, broadly speaking, 80 per cent. of people think that the system is not working. I have heard the large amount of evidence given to this Committee and it is clear that the lack of confidence in the system goes both ways and comes from both sides of the argument: it comes from those who think that there is, broadly speaking, too much immigration into this country and from those who that think that the current system makes it too difficult for certain groups of people. Neither party has confidence in the current system, so it is in the Minister’s interest to try to engage them as much as possible.

A code that was properly discussed before the provisions came into effect would offer not just guidance to those involved, but a degree of reassurance and protection to those on the other side of the counter who were going through the process. Apart from the advantage that that would have in the outside world, laying the draft measures before Parliament and, therefore, before the public would make the Government more accountable for their actions. Although that may, in the short term, be mildly uncomfortable for Ministers, I am sure that the Minister would agree that it would be better to have a rocky consultation period than for enacted legislation to fall apart on the job. Governments of all parties have seen that happen at various stages.

It is good practice, which sensible Ministers should get into especially in difficult and publicly sensitive areas, to consult more and do more in respect of publishing codes and guidelines before the operation of specific pieces of legislation commences. Amendment No. 65 seeks to do that and I commend it to the Minister in that spirit. However, if he does not accept it, as I suspect that he will not, and something goes wrong, he cannot say that he was not warned.