Clause 29

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 20th March 2007.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 11:30 am, 20th March 2007

I, too, rise to support my hon. Friend’s amendment. The fact that we are discussing exceptions to automatic deportation puts into context what I thought was the Minister’s elegant formulation that there is a degree of automaticity about the deportation under the section of the Bill. I gently point out to him that I think that automaticity is like virginity; either one has it or not. There are no degrees involved. We have not got automatic deportation. The exceptions in clause 29 would be markedly improved by my hon. Friend’s amendment, reducing the age limit of the commission of the offence. It is important, as has been said, that we assume a large degree of personal responsibility in people who are over the age of 16, certainly if they commit the sort of crime that would render them eligible for deportation. Clearly, that would not be some kind of youthful prank of the type that we have discussed on previous clauses of the Bill. I think that in the modern world people would find it unacceptable that the cut-off point should be 18, rather than 16. Of course society as a whole still has a duty of care towards many people under 18, but for many, particularly those with drug problems that may cause mental illness, that duty of care will continue well beyond the age of 18. To that extent it is a question of seeking a cut-off point.

My hon. Friend’s point about those who falsely claim to be under 18 is a powerful one. It would be significantly minimised if the cut-off point were 16. It would be interesting to see whether the use of dental X-rays leads to any improvement. My understanding is that these are still not accurate to within two years. If that is the case, I suspect there will not be much practical improvement with that innovation. A judgment will still have to be exercised by immigration officers, police officers and judges about the age limit. Altogether, I think that the massive argument in favour of a cut-off point at 16 rather than 18 is pretty overwhelming. I hope that the Minister will take this amendment on board in the constructive spirit in which it is intended.