Clause 18

UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 13th March 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Support for asylum-seekers: enforcement

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I beg to move amendment No. 131, in clause 18, page 10, leave out lines 2 to 5.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 88, in clause 18, page 10, line 3, after ‘officer’, insert

‘designated under section 1 of the UK Borders Act 2007’.

No. 89, in clause 18, page 10, line 3, after ‘the’, insert ‘designated’.

No. 91, in clause 20, page 11, line 15, after ‘officer’, insert

‘designated under section 1 of the UK Borders Act 2007’.

No. 93, in clause 20, page 11, leave out lines 30 to 34 and insert—

‘(f) the designated immigration officer shall deliver the seized cash to a constable within 48 hours of its seizure. The constable shall then treat this as cash seized by himself under section 294 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (c. 29),’.

No. 133, in clause 20, page 11, line 39, at end insert—

‘(2A) The Secretary of State shall make regulations to make provision about the qualification, training and complaints procedure for a designated immigration officer involved in the seizure of cash.

(2B) The regulations made under subsection (2A) shall be subject to a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.’.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

We are now moving on to enforcement procedures. The two amendments that stand in my name seek to deal with those measures, in the first case by ensuring that any officer who attempts to make an enforcement has a proper warrant. This is part of the probing process; I want to establish from the Minister the process by which the provisions will operate. Secondly, I seek to ensure that the officer is properly designated, as we discussed earlier.

The provisions are important. Exercising those powers without the benefit of a warrant would set a dangerous precedent. I want the Minister to explain the purpose of the provision, and I want to ensure that the people involved are properly designated.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The amendments standing in my name fall into two categories. Amendments Nos. 88, 89 and 91 are all similar in intent to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Rochdale, because amendment No. 88 would require the arresting immigration officer in part 6 of the 1999 Act to be a designated officer under the terms of the Bill. Amendment No. 99 is consequential on that amendment. In relation to immigration officers being able to seize cash, amendment No. 91 would insert “designated” into part 5 of the Proceeds of CrimeAct 2002.

As we have just heard, the amendments take us back to different clauses and earlier arguments about the extension of powers to immigration officers. In particular, they refer to the adequacy of training in what we all acknowledge is a difficult job, the officers’ suitability for the job, and underlying all that, the required level of public confidence in the system. Like the hon. Gentleman, I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s views on whether it would be more suitable to give those enforcement powers to highly empowered designated officers.

Amendment No. 93 addresses a different problem about the cash that can be seized under the clause. The amendment says that

“the designated immigration officer shall deliver the seized cash to a constable within 48 hours of its seizure.”

It would also enable the constable to whom the cash was delivered to treat it as cash seized by him under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. In practical terms, it would require an immediate handover of cash from the immigration officer to the police, and its effect would simply be to save taxpayers money.

The police must quite rightly go through tightly drawn and rigorous procedures when handling cash that they have seized during the course of their work. Given those procedures, the expertise of the police and the amount of cash that passes through their hands, few problems arise from such administration, for which we should be thankful. Amendment No. 93 would allow the police to continue the difficult and sensitive work that they do well and in which they are experienced, and the Government would not have to set up a parallel system for immigration officers.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

As I was saying, the job of handling seized cash is done perfectly competently by the police already and amendment No. 93 seeks to prevent the necessity of setting up a parallel system for immigration officers for two reasons. First, as has been observed, any change is difficult for the Home Office. Secondly, because of the bureaucracy that is inevitably and rightly involved in such a sensitive area of operations, for which proper checks and systems are absolutely vital, it would be expensive and unnecessary to set up a parallel set of checks. I commend amendment No. 93 to the Under-Secretary, as well as the previous amendments about using only designated immigration officers to exercise the new powers.

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

Clause 18 will amend the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to give an

“immigration officer the power to arrest without warrant a person whom” he or she

“reasonably suspects has committed an offence undersection 105 or 106”,

which are about seeking to obtain asylum support by making false or dishonest representations. The clause will also ensure that the same powers that allow an immigration officer to enter premises to arrest or search and seize relevant evidence will apply to that type of offence. Giving immigration officers a power of arrest for those offences will enable them to pursue independent operations against asylum support fraud, which is as the Government intend. The measure is an essential part of the immigration and nationality directorate’s deterrence policy against what are, as everyone will agree, serious offences, which can involve a significant amount of money. Immigration officers have held powers of arrest, entry, search and seizure for a number of criminal offences since the introduction of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The powers came into effect on 14 February 2000 so, rather than giving new powers, the clause applies existing powers to offences under sections 105 and 106 of the 1999 Act.

I would like, however, to reassure the hon. Gentleman about the exercise of this power. As I said, it is comparable to existing powers of arrest that are exercised without warrant. For example, officers have the power to arrest for fraud under section 14 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. It is right that an officer can arrest without warrant, because that is a serious offence and in certain circumstances officers need to be able to act quickly.

Only immigration officers who have the appropriate training will be able to exercise the power of arrest. That is a point of concern to Opposition Members, and I wish to reassure them about the level of training that officers receive. It is provided by Centrex, a non-departmental government body that works with the police. That training is therefore undertaken on the advice of the police and with their involvement. I am satisfied that it is appropriate. It consists of a three-week arrest course and equips an officer to search premises and persons and arrest individuals in accordance with the Police and Criminal EvidenceAct 1984. It covers a conflict resolution model and safety training, which must be refreshed annually.

The training presents greater difficulties than hon. Members are perhaps aware of when they suggest that immigration officers are not able to act independently. They are given appropriate powers, training and oversight. Some of the issues that we are discussing are not operational priorities for the police, and the Association of Chief Police Officers is not concerned about the powers being given to immigration officers because there is appropriate training and oversight. It is not as straightforward as it might sound to effect an arrest, seize evidence in order to effect a prosecution and ensure that that evidence is handed over rather than retained by finding the appropriate constable. It might sound straightforward but it can in fact be problematic.

If immigration officers have the appropriate training and the police think the powers being given to them are appropriate—they are not new powers; they are just being applied to the offence in question and the seizure of evidence related to it—we should agree to the clause and ensure that our immigration officers can work effectively against relevant fraud.

As I have said, immigration officers already have fairly extensive powers of arrest for fraud, illegal employer activity, illegal working, facilitation, failure to report, deception, illegal entry and other offences. That is just a sample. About 40 per cent. of enforcement officers are now arrest trained, and a much smaller percentage of immigration officers at the borders have such training. By 2008, we expect all officers to be arrest trained. If not everybody in a team is arrest trained, there must be police support in the team. If all its members have received arrest training, it can operate independently of the police.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

This is a fascinating practical point. As the Under-Secretary said, there are currently two tiers: those who are arrest trained and those who are not. How much extra training will the arrest trained immigration officers need to become designated immigration officers?

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

The hon. Gentleman refers to designated immigration officers. That might be where there is a problem in the drafting of his amendment. I am not clear whether it is unintended or not. It says

“‘designated under section 1 of the UK Borders Act 2007.’”

If his amendments applied, the only immigration officers who could have these powers would be those who are designated to detain at port. Whereas the immigration officers that we are talking about, and the powers we wish them to be able to use in relation to asylum support fraud, are not necessarily at port at all. According to the Government, the designation is that they will be designated as arrest trained.

Those exercising the power of seizing evidence would also undergo training with the Assets Recovery Agency. We need to be cautious about not confusing the use of the term “designation.” Those officers will be arrest trained in the manner that I have just explained as they are to exercise exactly these powers in relation to the other offences that I outlined. However, according to these amendments, and as we have discussed previously, only those officers

“‘designated under section 1 of the UK Borders Act 2007’” could carry out this power of arrest, which are those designated to detain at port. That would not make sense.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

We could argue that point. However, is the Under-Secretary saying, in response to my original intervention, that the designated officers can just be designated and that if they are already arrest trained, they do need any extra training to become designated officers at port?

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

No, I am not referring to designated officers at port with the ability to detain. The provision refers to teams of immigration officers who carry out  enforcement activities, not necessarily at a port at all and who are able to arrest in relation to an immigration offence.

In terms of officers designated at port, the purpose of that designation—as I understand it—is that they can detain individuals for up to three hours who are not necessarily being detained in relation to an immigration offence and who may be a British citizen. That is somewhat different. If the hon. Gentleman is asking about the training for officers at ports who are exercising the powers that he refers to under clauses 1 to 4, I would have to undertake to write to him. That is not the same as the powers being discussed in this clause nor would these immigration officers receive the same training.

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley

It shows an element of confusion in the drafting of the Bill that a person needs to be designated for the purpose of clause 2, but not for the purpose of arresting. There is no statutory distinction. Each of those are functions for which one is trained. One presumes that one is a superset of the other; that designation is a superset of arrest. However, one would expect some clarity from the Government on that.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 6:45 pm, 13th March 2007

I do not think that there is any confusion in the drafting of the Bill. It is meant to be read clause by clause and section by section, and if that is done, it is not in the least confusing.

Designation at port relates to the power of an immigration officer to detain an individual at port—not necessarily in relation to an immigration offence and not necessarily a foreign national. That is the significant difference between the powers of immigration officers and the powers of the police in relation to the issue that we are discussing. The offences relate to immigration matters, not to anything else. The only situation in which the powers might be applicable to a British citizen is when somebody somehow facilitates fraud relating to asylum seeker support. There is a significant difference in the powers and they do not overlap in the way that the hon. Gentleman was concerned about.

Limiting cash seizure powers to officers designated under regulations would restrict the application and use of the powers. In particular, amendment No. 91 would limit the exercise of the power to designated immigration officers at ports in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In effect, unless someone was at a port, the amendment would make it impossible to seize the evidence relating to the offence.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The Under-Secretary has either just confused me or illuminated an extraordinary point about the first part of the Bill. I assume that once someone has been designated an immigration officer at a port, they do not stop being designated just because they are not working at a port. Presumably, it is not true to say that a designated officer will never be away from the port when they could still possibly be making arrests and seizures of cash.

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

The officers to whom I am referring are not designated officers at port; they are immigration officers who have been specially trained in arrest procedures. That is not necessarily the same as being a designated officer at port. A designated officer at port may well have had arrest training, but an arrest trained immigration officer operating outside the port is not necessarily a designated officer at port. Designation as a term does not apply outside the port, as outlined by clauses 1 to 4, which the Committee discussed earlier.

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley

The question being asked is why we have a statutory designation for someone who is trained for one function and not for someone who is trained for another function with which I argue that there is substantial overlap.

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

The hon. Gentleman will know that we are significantly increasing enforcement activity and that is why, across the board, we want all our enforcement officers to be arrest trained so that that they can undertake specified activities and the required level of enforcement.

There are a number of safeguards in relation to the powers that will give some reassurance to the hon. Members. For example, subject to regulation made under section 4 of the Police and Justice Act 2006, the powers will be subject to regulation and scrutiny by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. That is a strength. The Immigration (PACE Codes of Practice) Direction 2000 will also apply to the use of the powers. A strong safeguard and scrutiny process is therefore in place. As I said, only officers who have had the appropriate training will be able to exercise the powers, and safeguards will be employed to ensure that they are used correctly. The powers will enable us to continue to ramp up our enforcement activity, ensure that it is effective and meet our commitment to deal with fraud of this kind. That probably covers all the points that I wish to make.

As I said, it is important to bear in mind that we are not giving new powers to immigration officers, but simply applying them to a different set of offences. The powers have operated well and without problems since 2000, which means that we should be confident to move forward and allow immigration officers to use the same powers in relation to this offence.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I am grateful for the Minister’s explanation of the operation of the clause. Our initial concern was whether it enhances the powers of immigration officers without ensuring that the relevant training and support is in place, and I am pleased that she has reassured us that the training already takes place. We are merely seeking to extend the use of trained officers in this area.

I agree with the hon. Member for Ashford that there is a little confusion about designation. I understand the point about clauses 1 to 4, but what safeguards are there to ensure that any immigration officer involved in a seizure, arrest or search has gone through the required training? I thought that the point of the term “designated” in clauses 1 to 4 was to ensure that those safeguards were in place, and I think a similar provision would have been pertinent in this clause,  albeit for a different reason. However, I am happy to accept the Minister’s assurances. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.