Clause 16

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 13th March 2007.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 4:45 pm, 13th March 2007

I am grateful for that response. I am not sure that “a condition about residence”, which is what paragraph (v) provides for, cannot be interpreted as, “To be at that place of residence at a particular time of day, every day”. I accept the Minister’s assurance, but the Bill does not make that point obvious.

I also wish to consider the practicalities. I do not agree with all the arguments about the clause that the Refugee Council has advanced, but some are powerful, specifically those relating to unaccompanied minors. It makes the valid point that there is no evidence to suggest that minors are more likely to abscond than any other category of non-nationals; on the contrary, it is in their interests not to abscond, as they are overwhelmingly likely to be dependent on support from social services for their daily bread.

Secondly, if, as a result of the review process, a negative decision is made, it would clearly be in the individual’s interests not to abscond in order for them to pursue their appeal. It is difficult to see what additional benefit is gained by the measure we are discussing or how it would significantly expedite removal when the unaccompanied minor turns 18. At best, it may well have no impact on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and at worst it will harm them.

The Minister will be aware that the Refugee Council argues that if any extension of such powers is necessary, they should accurately reflect their intended targets and the international human rights standards by which the UK is bound. She has assured us that certain articles of the various human rights conventions are not breached by the clause, but she will also be aware that that is a controversial view. It is a general principle of human rights law that where individuals are lawfully within a state, they should enjoy freedom of movement and residence in that state. That principle is contained in article 2 of the fourth protocol of the European convention on human rights and in article 12 of the international covenant on civil and political rights of 1966, which the UK signed and ratified. It is arguable that parts of the clause could stretch those particular protocols if not breach them altogether. The Minister spoke about article 8 of the ECHR, which relates to the right to respect for private family life and home. She has clearly had advice that the provisions do not breach it; I hope that she is right about that, not least for the taxpayer’s sake if we have to fight cases on it.

Finally, I return to the practical point. As long as the intended targets of the measures are not reflected in the clause, we are in danger of allowing through legislation that is wide open to function creep, that unpleasant phenomenon that we have mentioned in several debates. We have seen it happen: section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was infamously used against Mr. Wolfgang, the 82-year-old heckler at a Labour party conference. I am sure that when Ministers passed that legislation, they did not intend to use it against hecklers at Labour party conference or people who shout, “Nonsense!” at Ministers.