Clause 25

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 15th March 2007.

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Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:15 pm, 15th March 2007

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.