Clause 26

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

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Facilitation: territorial application

Question proposed, That the clause stand part ofthe Bill.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I rise not in any way to cast doubt on the clause, which is one of the more important extra powers that the Government are rightly taking in an attempt to stamp out people trafficking. I just wonder whether the Under-Secretary could give some explanation of the practicalities of applying these powers extraterritorially. Presumably, she is seeking to hunt down and prosecute people who may never set foot in this country. Although that is a laudable aim, I simply raise the question of how practical it will be and how much effect it will have on people who, as we have just been discussing, are some of the world’s most serious and hardened criminals.

I should be grateful if, during the debate on the clause, the Under-Secretary would give us some flavour of what is going to change, what will happen and what new activity will take place that will hopefully have the effect of hunting down, prosecuting and convicting some of the world’s most unpleasant criminals.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have already set out for the Committee the challenge that we face from those who seek to profit from the misery of those seeking to migrate illegally. As we have heard, people smugglers do not respect international boundaries or immigration laws and they will seek to exploit any gaps and vulnerabilities. The clause seeks to amend the existing facilitation offences to ensure that those who carry out acts of facilitation, whether those acts are committed within or outsidethe UK, can be prosecuted, irrespective of their nationality.

Currently, these offences cover only acts of facilitation committed within the United Kingdom. Unless a perpetrator overseas is a British national or a body incorporated in the UK, they are not encompassed within the scope of the offences. We know that people  carry out acts of facilitation outside the UK, for example by planning a route, making transportation arrangements, purchasing tickets and false documents or assisting people in deceiving carriers at check-in. Many are responsible for multiple attempts on the border, and it is simply unacceptable that those who engage in such activity abroad can be held accountable for their actions only if they are British nationals. That is why we have acted to remedy that unfairness.

The purpose of the clause, then, is to extend the scope of the offences by removing the existing limitations on their extraterritorial applications so that they cover acts of facilitation directed at the United Kingdom wherever in the world they are committed and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator. That will ensure that immigration officers are fully able to tackle individuals who exploit vulnerable people. Because of this clause and clause 25, immigration officers estimate that successful prosecutions against facilitators will increase by up to 50 per cent. In addition, the extended territorial scope of the offence will act as a significant deterrent to those who involve themselves in such criminal activity.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

To assist the hon. Gentleman, perhaps I can give him a scenario so that he can see how we envisage the system operating.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for giving way. The prediction of a 50 per cent. increase in prosecutions is heartening. Can she give us some sense of the scale of that—it will be 50 per cent. more than how many? How many prosecutions can we expect—tens, dozens, hundreds?

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As we discussed under the previous clause, there were in fact 42 convictions last year, so that shows the scale of what we are dealing with. We shall seek to increase that. As the hon. Gentleman says, this is one of the fastest growing areas of global organised crime, if not the fastest growing. We hope that the powers that we are taking and the ability to so extend our reach will make a big difference—a 50 per cent. increase in convictions. The figure of 42 is for last year, and we want the level of convictions to be much higher in future.

I shall give an example of how the new powers might help by giving the hon. Gentleman a scenario. A Singaporean national seeks leave to enter the United Kingdom as a business visitor. The immigration officer is not satisfied with the stated reasons for the visit and thus decides to interview the passenger further. At the same time, a female passenger presents a Singaporean passport to another immigration officer and is found to be an imposter. Evidence is obtained showing that the female imposter and the male Singaporean national have arrived on the same flight and hold consecutive tickets. Checks confirm that the passengers have a joint booking and that the tickets were paid for using a credit card in the name of the male Singaporean national. Airline staff in Singapore confirm that the passengers checked in together and claimed to be newly-weds. They were allocated adjoining seats and checked in their luggage under the same name.

The Singaporean male did an act to facilitate the arrival of the female imposter, but he could not currently be charged with facilitation as all the above acts took place abroad and he is not within our jurisdiction as a non-British national. Under the new legislation, we would for the first time be able to take account of those acts of facilitation in making a case against that person. In the past we have only been able to do that in respect of British nationals.

I also draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the use of extradition in relation to these measures. With that, I ask the Committee to support the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.