Clause 20

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 15th March 2007.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 2:30 pm, 15th March 2007

I think the amendments have been slightly distorted by their grouping and the fact that the related amendment has been withdrawn.

The remaining amendments would remove the provisions relating to the detention and forfeiture of cash, which would weaken the ability of immigration officers conducting search operations to seize cash because they would not be able to apply for the power of detention or forfeiture of cash seized. That would be problematical because it would remove one of the key powers with which we want to equip the immigration service. We want to increase, not decrease, the number of illegal-working operations and to be able to confiscate illegal wages and assets belonging to employers who break the rules or turn a blind eye or something worse. That is important.

A question was raised about training. As the hon. Member for Ashford rightly said, reassurances are needed because that is a sensitive area. I agree with the sentiment that he expresses.

The legal machinery that we seek to put in place effectively puts a gloss on the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002; it adjusts the existing legislation so that it works for immigration officers. Five important protections remain in place: prior judicial approvals, or the approval of senior officers before a search that is made explicitly for cash; a code of practice applies to the use of search powers that we propose to extend to encompass immigration officers; seizure can be for only 48 hours, then magistrates must approve it and the money must be paid into a high interest account; any request to retain or detain the cash  means that magistrates have to be satisfied and anybody with an interest can apply to the court at any time; and, of course, if forfeiture is required, we have to convince magistrates that that is the right thing to do. There are also appeal lines to a Crown court. So, a number of protections are already set out in POCA and we are going to adjust them so that they apply here.

Cash seizure training is very important. We are asking HMRC and the Assets Recovery Agency to develop it with us, and we hope to have it up and running by the end of the month. I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the group of amendments is now slightly distorted and that its effect would be to weaken the power of immigration officers to police illegal-working operations. I hope that he is persuaded that there are sufficient protections in place, and that he will see fit to withdraw the amendment.