This amendment continues our attempt to inject some more toughness into areas of the Bill that we think need it. Its effect would be to amend the Immigration Act 1971—an Act from an era when Governments used to pass one immigration Act per Parliament—to create an offence of attempting illegal entry into the United Kingdom. It would significantly toughen the measures on facilitation in this clause.
It is not a matter of dispute across the Floor of the House that we wish to toughen up the laws against those who deal in the human misery of trafficking and the exploitation that it causes. I know that we shall consider those under later clauses. The amendment seeks to extend the reach of the law to those who try to help others to enter the UK illegally but are unsuccessful. It is clearly a common feature of parts of the criminal code that attempting a crime, as well as actually committing it, constitutes a crime in itself. Given that we all agree on the seriousness of the offences concerning people trafficking, we think that it is worth while to make this addition to the Bill.
I suspect that we all know from constituency cases—if not, we have all read about it—that it is common for people who do not get into Britain the first time to try again in later years. Around the world, Britain’s borders have a reputation for being porous and it is thought to be relatively easy to get into this country. That acts as encouragement. Any steps that we can take in the Bill to create countervailing factors that will discourage people from making multiple attempts to get into this country are worth doing, not least because we all know that many of the illegal people here—probably about three quarters, which is the number we all work on, although the Minister can correct me—have been trafficked. Therefore, there is a large criminal business behind this sphere of activity. Anything that we can do—not only to send signals but to take practical effects—to minimise that would benefit not just us but many of the victims of people trafficking.
At the moment the traffickers will get away if the attempt is unsuccessful. Clearly that is wrong and we should try to stop them. Indeed, in other parts of the Bill the Government are taking welcome measures to reduce the attractiveness of people trafficking, which is the fastest growing global crime; it is up there with gun-running and drug-running, and is growing faster than either of them. I support Government measures to crack down, and here is one more thing that would be useful, another tool in the armoury. Therefore, I hope that the Government will look with some sympathy on the amendment.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support over facilitation and trafficking. I am conscious of the support that the whole House affords on the proposed measures and of its concern about such horrendous crimes. This clause and clauses 26 and 27, which we will go on to debate, deal with facilitation of illegal migrants and asylum seekers. The hon. Member for Ashford is right that three quarters of illegal immigration is estimated to be facilitated by organised crime gangs or by individuals seeking to profit from this misery. This clause and clause 26 deal specifically with people smuggling, which is the facilitation of illegal immigration for profit, normally of individuals, who have sought the help of or have paid facilitators to assist them to migrate. That is different from human trafficking, which involves the facilitation of illegal migrants, including those who have been coerced or duped with the purpose of exploiting them, often as prostitutes or cheap labour; we will have the opportunity to discuss that subject when we debate clause 27. What both activities have in common is that victims of this trade are seen merely as commodities. I need not remind the Committee of such tragic and high-profile incidents as those of the Morecambe bay cockle pickers or the group found in the refrigerated lorry at Dover, because they have already been mentioned.
The clause aims to protect vulnerable people by strengthening existing facilitation offences. Section 25A of the Immigration Act 1971 makes knowingly and for gain assisting the arrival in the United Kingdom of an asylum seeker an offence. Clause 25 will extend that offence to ensure that all acts facilitating either the arrival in or entry to the United Kingdom are covered by the offence. A person is said to have arrived in the United Kingdom upon disembarkation. That is distinct from his or her entry into the United Kingdom, which takes place at border control. At some ports there can be a considerable distance between. I am thinking that, after stepping off the plane at Heathrow, it can be some time and distance before one gets to the point where one meets the immigration officer and has one’s passport checked. That physical and legal gap is exploited by facilitators, who use the opportunity to carry out acts such as the destruction or disposal of false passports. Even though such acts are often captured on CCTV or witnessed by surveillance officers, they cannot currently be taken into account as evidence of facilitation because they have occurred after a person has disembarked or arrived.
Front-line staff at ports are very frustrated by the difficulty in securing convictions against facilitators. Last year, 42 convictions were secured by immigration officers, but they estimate that 30 per cent. of those suspected of facilitating go unpunished because of that gap. I am sure we all agree that it is right that we should empower immigration officers to tackle this problem.
I can reassure the Committee that, as a matter of policy, only immigration officers who are trained in arrest and criminal investigation matters are able to take forward prosecutions. They are also bound by the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the relevant codes of practice.
I appreciate the intention behind the amendment and we want to enhance our ability to tackle people smuggling and reduce the harm that it causes to victims and the wider public. We agree that we need to ensure that acts of attempted facilitation are also punishable, as well as those that are successful. However, that mischief is already addressed by legislation and case law. Section 31(3) of the 1971 Act defines an entrant as someone entering or seeking to enter the UK. That definition has the effect of establishing that attempted entry is equivalent to actual entry, for the purposes of dealing with the relevant offence.
That interpretation has been adopted by the courts and is demonstrated in case law in this area. Furthermore, section 1(1) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 provides that, in the majority of cases where an offence is triable either way, it is an offence to attempt to commit an offence. The facilitation offences fall into that category. Therefore, as long as an individual undertakes actions that would lead to the commission of an offence of facilitation, he or she will be guilty of an offence of attempted facilitation.
An individual convicted of attempting to facilitate another’s arrival or entry into the UK would face the same maximum penalty as if the facilitated arrival or entry had been successful, that penalty being a fine and/or imprisonment of a maximum of six months on summary conviction, or a fine and/or imprisonment of 14 years on conviction on indictment.
It is for those reasons that the proposed amendment is unnecessary, but I very much welcome the support of the hon. Member for Ashford for the clause.