Clause 16

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

Alert me about debates like this

Conditional leave to enter or remain

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I beg to move amendment No. 128, in clause 16, page 9, line 15, leave out from ‘State’ to end of line 16 and insert—

‘where it appears that there is evidence that establishes that he is likely to abscond and that such a condition is justified as being necessary in the interests of public order, public safety, national security or for the prevention of crime; and

(v) a condition requiring him to reside at a specified address where it appears that there is evidence that establishes that he is likely to abscond and that such a condition is justified as being necessary in the interests of public order, public safety, national security or for the prevention of crime, provided that such conditions are consistent with the Human Rights Act 1998, the European Convention on Human Rights andthe obligations of the United Kingdom under the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966.’.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 25, in clause 16, page 9, line 16, at end add—

‘(2) For the purposes of section 3(1)(c)(v) of the 1971 Act any condition imposed upon residence must be reasonable in all circumstances.’.

No. 85, in clause 16, page 9, line 16, at end add—

‘(2) A condition about residence shall not apply if—

(a) the residence is more than 25 miles from the nearest reporting centre; or

(b) for employment purposes, a different location is more suitable.’.

No. 86, in clause 16, page 9, line 16, at end add—

‘(2) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament, not more than 12 months after the commencement of the provisions under this section, a report on the operation of these conditions.’.

No. 129, in clause 16, page 9, line 16, at end add—

‘(2) After section 3(1)(c) of that Act insert—

“(d) A condition about reporting or residence under paragraph (c) above shall not apply if the person is under the age of 18.”’.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

We have had a good debate this morning, and we have moved forward. I suspect that we will not have the same measure of agreement with regard to clause 16. At first sight it seems inoffensive and small, but its provisions are vital to people’s confidence in the operation of our immigration system. It is about the conditions that the Secretary of State may place on a person who has been granted leave to remain.

We are considering people’s liberty. When a decision has been made that someone has a legitimate right to remain in the country, we may want to place conditions on that right. I am concerned about the open-ended nature of the clause. Amendment No. 128 would insert an important safeguard to ensure that any conditions that the Secretary of State places on someone staying in the country, such as restricting their movement or place of abode, should comply fully with the UK Government’s treaty obligations as set out in the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights and with the obligations that rest with us under the international covenant on civil and political rights. That is important. If the Secretary of State has cause to restrict someone’s movement, there must be clear parameters and it must be stated clearly that the person subject to that curtailment can use those treaties and obligations to argue against the restriction if they feel it unfair and unreasonable.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. What is there in the conditions in the Bill to prevent somebody from arguing their case under the European convention on human rights or other international agreements that this country has entered into?

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

Much of what we have been doing has been because a lot is left unsaid in the Bill. Being reasonable about the operation of the Bill, we have attempted to specify matters. We are attempting here to make it clear that the Bill will comply with the treaty obligations that this country has entered into. No hon. Member should have a problem with that, because they are policies to which this Government have signed up.

Amendment No. 129 relates to any restrictions placed on someone under the age of 18. I am concerned about children being subject to stringent conditions. Will the Under-Secretary explain why she feels that to be necessary? The bulk of the young people concerned will be in full-time education. We had debates earlier about who the right people are to deal with young people, and I do not see the point of someone under the age of 18 having their education disrupted and having to travel long distances, perhaps with their parents, to travel to a detention or immigration centre. That would be disruptive and  could be quite unsettling to a young person. I therefore hope that we can make a distinction for the reporting rights for young people, given that they are highly unlikely to abscond if their parents are subject to reporting.

The final amendment actually tries to take the purpose of this clause further. I am greatly concerned that as the law is currently framed, asylum seekers are not allowed to work while their appeal is progressing. That is expensive and unnecessary; given that many asylum seekers are in this country for a considerable time, and at considerable cost to this country, it would reduce the costs to the Exchequer if they were able to gain employment. It is also good, from a human point of view, for any individual to have self-worth and to demonstrate that by employment.

So, the purpose of amendment No. 130 is to grant permission to any person who is granted limited right to remain,

“to seek employment from two months after an appeal has been lodged”

I do not want to see that being used as an excuse or reason for appeals to be delayed further. We need to ensure that the appeal process is firm, fair and expedited. While this is not an excuse to prolong the appeal, if that person is involved in one then they ought to have the right to work—with any income that they receive being offset against any benefits received. I hope that the Minister can give us the assurances that we seek on the first part of clause 16, and that he will consider extending it to allow asylum seekers to gain employment.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 12:30 pm, 13th March 2007

It was clear, both in reading the written evidence that was submitted to the Committee and over several sessions of oral evidence that we have taken, that clause 16 was one of the most difficult and controversial in the Bill. In that spirit, I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North, who will respond to this debate. Clearly, she has been landed with this particular hot potato. Plus ça change, she may well feel.

The three amendments in my name, and that of my hon. Friend, all seek to tie down whether this clause will be practical or unduly onerous on large groups of people. The Committee will have heard what the hon. Member for Rochdale has just said, particularly about its potential effect on children. These amendments look more widely at anyone who would suddenly find restrictions on them that were not there before, as a result of the clause.

On the detail of the amendments, amendmentNo. 25 simply seeks that

“any condition imposed upon residence must be reasonable in all circumstances”.

That reflects the worries, which I am sure the Minister will have absorbed from the written and oral evidence, that the clause’s potential for putting onerous restrictions on people is very great. We have seen not only those fears, but vagueness in other areas around residency requirements. For example, some sex offenders have got round that by putting down patently ridiculous addresses such as “the woods”. No one  would want that failure in the system to be replicated in residency requirements imposed by this Bill.

I hope that if the Minister accepts some or all of our amendments it will reassure those who think that the conditions are onerous and too widespread, and encourage the Government to ensure that the regulations are effective. Any accommodation included under the residency requirements must be inhabitable and conducive to the individual’s safety, and I hope that the Minister will address those practical matters.

Amendment No. 85 is a probing amendment of the serious consequences of the clause. At the outer extreme of the fears expressed about the clause is that it could be used for internal control by insisting that some people have to live in certain places simply because of their immigrant status. I dare say that Ministers would regard that as unacceptable; I am aware that one may wish to have strict controls over where certain groups in society can live, but I cannot believe they would wish to apply such controls to anyone who has limited leave to remain in this country. That will include many thousands of people who have lived here for a long time and lead blameless and extremely useful lives. People fear that the clause as drafted would have a serious effect on them, which cannot be the intention of the Bill.

The clause would allow a Government to use the Bill for internal immigration controls. Although reporting to an immigration officer may in some cases be sensible for some categories of people, this blanket approach smacks of an attempt to control the whereabouts of people who lead blameless lives and who are accepted by the authorities as being in this country legally.

It is not too difficult to imagine scenarios in which the clause would have a very serious effect on people’s lives. For example, a person who has secured employment in a distant rural area and is required to report to an immigration centre may find that the nearest one is 50 or 60 miles away. The proposal to set up centres for passport interviews has already provoked resistance in rural areas because of the travelling distance it will involve, the time it will take and the inconvenience it will cause.

The amendment draws attention to the fact that the clause may affect yet another group of people in that respect. Anyone who takes employment in a rural area is statistically unlikely to be highly paid, and therefore unlikely to have access to a car. They will therefore have to rely on public transport in areas where it is least available and reliable. People in rural areas with low-paid jobs who are least able to afford it will have to take days off just to report to immigration centres. The Minister will argue that that is absurd and I agree that it is. During the passage of this Bill we should think about whether we want to impose such conditions.

If the point of the clause is to give the Government the power to follow and track those who give them particular concern, I would have a good deal of sympathy with that policy. But the clause does not say that. It is so widely drawn that it does not restrict itself to that laudable activity but goes well beyond and will affect people whom no sensible Government will want to spend time, resources and effort following round the country or keeping address records for. I hope the Minister can consider those points.

Amendment No. 86 reopens the debate about commencement provisions from the other side. The Minister made the point in a previous debate that he sympathised with the idea of having a proper code of conduct before certain provisions of the Bill are put in place. What we are saying about amendment No. 86 is that the same thing should apply after the legislation is passed. We are aware that there is considerable public concern surrounding these measures—in particular the sweeping powers within the measures that are included in this particular clause. It seems sensible from all points of view that Parliament should be informed how the system is working once it is in operation, which parts of it are or are not functioning and what the Government suggest should be changed. This is good from Parliament’s point of view—it will demonstrate that our scrutiny of legislation does not have to end just because the legislation is on the statute book and that we are actually concerned with the practical impact of this legislation on the daily lives of many thousands of people. But it will also act as a useful corrective for Ministers and their officials, becauseif they know that a public report will have to be made 12 months after the enactment of a particular piece of legislation, that would serve to sharpen up the act of everyone involved in the passage of the legislation and its implementation.

If I may tread on delicate ground, I would suggest that this is particularly appropriate for the Home Office at this stage in its evolution, because—I will not quote the Home Secretary on the IND again, but Ministers will recognise what I am talking about—there is a degree of public doubt about the ability of the Home Office to operate large-scale change effectively. It would be a gesture of self-confidence by Ministers to say that they were quite happy for Parliament to return tothe subject and to have a public report put before it12 months after the enactment. There would be practical consequences as well, because if my fears are realised and certain people are unable to take up work because of the requirements under the residency terms of this clause, Parliament and the British people should know about that because it would be an important feature in the wider debate about immigration.

There has been some public movement on the debate. A few years ago there was a feeling that people were coming to this country to live off benefits; even those who are most hostile to immigration have moved away from that and are now worried about people coming here to work. If we find—as I suspect we may—that we are passing legislation that makes it more difficult for those who are in this country legally to work, it is worth having that reported on as that would be a perverse effect which I am sure the Minister does not want.

There are a number of other human rights points, to which I hope we can return in the clause stand part debate. These specific amendments seek to address some of the fears of the groups that have scrutinised this clause. I hope the Minister can look on them sympathetically.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 12:45 pm, 13th March 2007

It is a pleasure to speak in this Committee under your Chairmanship, Mr. Illsley, and that of your co-Chairman.

The clause is very important and we hope thatthe measures in it will help to improve contact management and enforce compliance with our immigration laws. The measures are, therefore, important. However, I am pleased to discuss the amendments because scrutiny of those measures is very important. They place conditions and, to some extent, restrictions on individuals and it is right that they should undergo close scrutiny.

I hope that I can reassure Opposition Members about the use of those powers. Clause 16 amendsan existing statutory provision—section 3 of the Immigration Act 1971—by adding two new conditions regarding reporting and residency. There is, therefore, no inconsistency in our approach towards reporting and residency conditions and the other conditions set out in section 3—police registration, employment, maintenance and accommodation—all of which are very important.

We are very clear that the clause will be used to improve contact management with particular categories of people and have indicated the two categories with which we will seek to use these conditions first. However, we consider that there are advantages to a light-touch approach in the legislation, which will allow us to apply the new powers to other categories, should a need for more effective contact management become manifest.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

Just before the Under-Secretary turns to the amendments, what answer or comfort can she give to Professor Anderson and his colleagues at Cambridge? When giving evidence, he talked about overseas students who might be facing a requirement to go to Bury St. Edmunds as the nearest reporting centre. If he and his colleagues are trying to market Cambridge university overseas and that potential requirement is part of the pitch, it will make their lives rather more difficult. What answer does she have for him?

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The difference between the residencyand reporting restrictions and the distance between places is an important issue that I will come towhen discussing one of the amendments. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have not named students with limited leave as one of the categories that we will apply the provisions to at this stage. However, the power is broad and we do not deny that these measures could cover anybody with limited leave. The reassurance that I will give in a moment on amendment No. 85 will probably cover his and Professor Anderson’s concerns should the measures ever apply to students, although it is not envisaged that they will.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

The Under-Secretary says that the provision applies to all people with limited leave to remain. Will she tell us who in particular she is thinking of? If not students, at whom is this provision targeted?

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Indeed, the issue was discussed in our evidence session and I intend to come to the relevant groups. To make it clear at the outset, the two identified categories of people to whom we will seek to apply the conditions—not necessarily including every single person in each category—are foreign national prisoners whom we are unable to remove because of legal barriers and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I shall say a little bit more about those two groups in a moment, and I am sure that more will be said about them in the stand part debate.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I am interested by what the Under-Secretary says. Given that she is seeking to apply the measures only to a limited number of cases, why does the Bill not frame the provision in that way? If the Government then want to extend it, it could be extended by an affirmative resolution. Given what she said, does she accept that the clause is very broad and too open-ended for Opposition Members?

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I accept that it is broad, but I do not accept that it is too open-ended. As I said, we shall move on to respond to the amendments and will, I hope, give the reassurance that the hon. Gentleman is seeking.

I opened my remarks by saying that there is no inconsistency between our approach here and the overall approach in section 3 of the ImmigrationAct 1971, which we are amending. The 1971 Act provides three conditions that can be applied to limited leave, with no restriction on what groups within the limited leave category we can apply them to. Equally, I said that we thought that a light touch was appropriate so that we can be flexible. If circumstances change, we will be able to use the conditions as and when they are appropriate.

Amendment No. 25 would require that

“any condition imposed upon residence must be reasonable in all circumstances”.

The Human Rights Act 1998 makes it unlawful for public authorities to act in a way that is incompatible with convention rights. There is also a general legal requirement on public authorities to exercise their powers in a reasonable way. That will apply to the new powers in clause 16. It is perfectly reasonable to ask that we apply our powers in a reasonable way, but the Bill is trying to do so and other legislation already exists to ensure that we do so.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

While we are on the test of reasonableness, can the Under-Secretary explain why the clause contains the words

“to an immigration officer or the Secretary of State”?

Obviously, immigration officers are responsible to the Secretary of State, as are the police to some degree under the listed requirements to report. Is there some suggestion that people will be required to report to the Secretary of State as individuals? That cannot possibly be correct. What does

“or the Secretary of State” actually mean? Is it a suggestion that the Secretary of State does not have very much to do and can take on that responsibility?

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I think that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Home Secretary is indeed busy and has plenty to do. A cursory glance at the media on any particular day will reassure the hon. Gentleman of that. As he says, the line of reporting ultimately ends at the Secretary of State, so it is only right that the Secretary of State should have the same requirement.

In terms of reasonableness, there is little point in creating further legislation within the Bill when the Human Rights Act 1998, convention rights and the legal requirement on public authorities to exercise powers in a reasonable way already exists.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

I did not quite understand. Is that some formulaic use of statute, whereby the Secretary of State has to appear when officers of his Department are named—in this case immigration officers—or is it some sort of cover for an ability to introduce another set of officers to whom people might be required to report?

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it says

“report to...the Secretary of State” so that we can require an individual to report to an IND official who is not an immigration officer. That is the reason; it not in the least Machiavellian, nor are we trying to fit in with anybody’s agenda. Our aim is to keep in touch with certain individuals whom we have an interest in monitoring more closely. There is no need to amend the clause by including fine details that can be left to the policy guidance that is to be published later.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

I see the Under-Secretary’s point about keeping in touch with foreign prisoners who have been released from prison but cannot be deported for some reason. Can she say a little about the other case that she mentioned? She referred to asylum-seeking children, and amendment No. 129 relates to them. Does she require this condition in respect of those children for the sake of their welfare or for some other reason?

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. Gentleman for probing a little more closely on that important category. If he will bear with me, I shall come to it. The protection issue that he raises is integral to our desire to apply such conditions to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We will apply reporting and residency conditions to children only when strictly necessary, either for their own welfare or with a view to closer contact management as they approach 18, particularly because, all things being equal, we will seek to remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children when they reach the age of 18.

We will liaise with local authorities when deciding on the application of the conditions to children in care. Let me remind the Committee—the hon. Member for Rochdale has clearly taken much interest in the matter—that on 1 March we published a consultation paper on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, “Planning Better Outcomes and Support for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children”. That includes proposals to reduce the disproportionate burden of caring for such children that falls on local  authorities in London and the south-east. It proposes concentrating care provision for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in local authority areas in which special infrastructure exists, and ensuring that care planning takes into account a young person’s immigration status.

Although unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have many needs in common with other children in care, they also have some very different needs and reasons for being in care. Many are much older when they go into the care system, and their problem is that they are separated from their families. It could be that they are not being returned to their country of origin not because they are at risk of harm or in danger because of the circumstances in the country, but because the reception arrangements do not exist, or we  cannot establish them in order to return them safely. As the consultation paper indicates, we are working very closely with social workers and local authorities to ensure that specialist care is in place and that communication with social workers is good. It is much improved; there have been problems in the past in that regard and that is why we are taking measures to address them.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will give way in a moment. I understand that the hon. Gentleman wishes to say more on the matter.

It being One o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o’clock.