Clause 20

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 15th March 2007.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 2:15 pm, 15th March 2007

The hon. Member for Reigate looks poised to intervene—no, maybe in a moment.

There are no theoretical reasons why a single agency might be better at the effective co-ordination of components. To consider the kind of change proposed we would need to see a significant step up in performance. There is a second problem with the amendments, which come from ideas that have been drafted for prospectuses and manifestos, including by the Liberal Democrats, who came up with the idea first—the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley will correct me if I am wrong—or certainly some time ago. A number of observers might be concerned that the clauses as drafted are, frankly, slightly Blue Peteresque.

Sweeping Crown powers are placed in the hands of the Secretary of State without any provision for oversight of governance, which was and is of deep concern to ACPO. Only this morning we heard from the hon. Member for Ashford about the importance of parliamentary accountability, but there is no provision for that, despite placing Crown powers in the hands of the Secretary of State. Sweeping powers are put into regulations, a principle that the hon. Member for Ashford has spent two weeks arguing against, while large parts of business have fallen off altogether. There is, it appears, a separation of the regulatory functions of controlling admission, including the arrival of tourist and business travellers. It is true that the clause provides for the Secretary of State to determine other functions by order, but again I am surprised, given the arguments of the hon. Member for Ashford over the past couple of weeks, that such sweeping powers are put in regulations.

Then, of course, there is the risk of a new fragmentation because of the disconnection between, for example, visa-issuing posts abroad and in-country policing. That betrays a very 20thcentury concept of the frontier. The frontier is not an isolated place any more; it is intimately connected both abroad and in-country. To separate that and snap those links would be dangerous, but not as dangerous as what concerns me most—the proposal that the system would be underpinned by the cancellation of the identity cards project.

Time and again in the Committee we have heard from experts in the field who say that the fight against illegal immigration is mission-critical to the fight against illegal working. Sir Andrew Green said of illegal working that

“it is a very important pull factor and also an incentive for people to stay on illegally, which is another form of the same thing. There is no question about its importance.”

On the importance of biometric visas and ID cards for foreign nationals, Sir Andrew said that

“we believe that...ID cards will help substantially.”—[Official Report, UK Borders Bill Committee, 13 March 2007; c. 271-272, Q319, Q320.]

We also heard from the business community. Gordon McLardy said:

“It is very time-consuming for employers to check through the relevant documentation.”

He also said:

“The checks are not robust enough” and that ID cards would be

“a dream for any employer.”—[Official Report, UK Borders Bill Committee, 1 March 2007; c. 71-77, Q144, Q169, Q145.]

He said that he fully supports them. What we heard from Sir Andrew Green and from Gordon McLardy echoed a crescendo of voices not from my side of the House but from the Opposition side. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) wrote:

“We must protect our citizens in every way we can and, in my judgment, that includes ID cards.”

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, the chair of the hon. Member for Ashford’s own security commission, said that

“measures we have of establishing identity are inadequate. We should not be stupid about that.”

Lord Stevens, the very man who was put in charge of the hon. Gentleman’s border advisory group, said that there are many savings to be had, especially in the fight against organised crime, which, as we know, accounts for 75 per cent. of illegal immigration. At this stage one would be forgiven for asking the question, “Is he thinking what I’m thinking?”