Clause 18

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:31 pm on 13th March 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 6:31 pm, 13th March 2007

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.