Clause 40

UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 20th March 2007.

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Search for evidence of nationality

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

I beg to move amendment No. 149, in clause 40, page 21, line 46, at end insert—

‘(iii) any other premises that a constable or immigration officer reasonably believes to contain such documents.’.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 152, in clause 40, page 22, line 16, at end insert—

‘(4A) The individual to whom a document found under the provisions of subsection (1) relates may be liable to be removed from the United Kingdom in accordance with the provisions of the Immigration Acts.’.

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

The Bill gives police and immigration officers the power to enter and search properties for nationality documents, although that power is limited to where the suspect was arrested or to

“premises occupied or controlled by the individual”.

The amendment seeks to extend that scope to premises where a constable or an immigration officer “reasonably believes” that the documents might be held. So its purpose is to help the Government and help the enforcement procedures that will be instituted by the Bill, by granting the police and immigration services a modest extension of powers. As the Minister will be aware, we wish that there was not a distinction in this case between the police and the immigration services; but that is a debate that we have had and will no doubt return to.

What is particularly important about the amendment is that it is at least possible, and in the case of organised illegal immigration it is arguably probable, that people would keep nationality documents away from the place that the police would be most likely to find them. We are aware that the majority of those people who come here illegally have been trafficked here; therefore, they will have knowledge of the criminal gangs that are trafficking them. I think that in previous debates we have been in agreement on the principle that the organisers should be the main focus of police investigations. It seems quite likely that, for instance, a collection of passports or other documents might well be held on some other premises by the person who is most intimately involved with the trafficking operation.

One could easily envisage huge frustration on the part of investigating officers if they find that they are only allowed to search some premises when they reasonably suspect that all the evidence is being kept on other premises. That is not a theoretical construction. It is easy to imagine such a situation. There are other situations that one can easily imagine in which a suspect reveals something under interrogation that would send police officers in another direction, looking in other areas for the relevant piece of evidence. The amendment seeks an extension of powers; we are not universally in favour of such extensions, but this one seems to be practical and useful.

Amendment No. 152 would mean that individuals who have had their documents seized might be subject to deportation under the Asylum and Immigration Act 1999. The purpose of the amendment is to clarify whether those who are arrested and potentially charged under the provisions of the Bill are subject to deportation procedures from the UK by virtue of having committed crimes that are covered by the clause. It is a probing amendment because I assume that that would be the intent of the clause, but it is not clear to us that that would be the effect. I should be grateful for clarification.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 12:15 pm, 20th March 2007

This power will assist us in ascertaining or confirming the nationality of persons in order to consider cases liable for deportation, which refers to the hon. Gentleman’s second amendment. It is part of our plans for improving the effectiveness of handling foreign nationals within the criminal justice system and it will affect persons arrested for criminal offences, so that their nationality can be established at an earlier stage. That will be when they first enter the criminal justice system. It will be achieved by immigration officers and the police having the power to search premises for documents relating to nationality or identity where a person has been taken to a police station following their arrest for a criminal offence. It applies to persons who are suspected of not being British citizens and where relevant documents may be found on the premises. Safeguards will be put in place to ensure that that power is not applied disproportionately, and inquiries will be made to see whether the individual is already know to the IND before a search is instigated. Searches will be necessary only where an individual fails to co-operate in establishing his or her identity, or the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that he is not telling the truth. The power of search will be exercised by a constable or an immigration officer only after authorisation by a senior official, who must give written authority for the use of the power. We are proposing to operate a pilot in one or two police areas to test operational details. Any disproportionate impact will be identified by the pilot and addressed.

I can say to the hon. Gentleman in relation to his amendments that the conditions and restrictions contained in clause 40 are intended to ensure that the power to enter premises in order to search for nationality documents is proportionate. Although I think that it is useful to talk about the scope of those powers, and how wide they may or may not be, we feel that it is unnecessary and potentially disproportionate under article 8 of the  European convention on human rights to widen the power to enter and search premises for relevant documents to “any other premises”.

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

I take that point, and I explained that I was trying to probe. However, the scenario that I gave seems extremely likely. If it can occur to me, no doubt it can occur to the sort of people who engage in people trafficking that if they remove all the evidence to a different location, they will have solved one of their problems as a criminal. That seems both likely to happen and hugely damaging to police investigations. Could the hon. Lady provide some comfort on how the police will get around that fairly obvious criminal practice?

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

It is unnecessary and disproportionate because relevant identity documents are more likely to be found at the home of the individual arrested, or where the individual was when arrested. However, in cases where a person is not a British citizen and may be liable to be deported, in principle, where the Secretary of State has deemed their deportation to be conducive to the public good, or where the person has been recommended for deportation by a court following conviction for an imprisonable offence, such persons may be liable for deportation even if they do not fit the threshold in criteria set out in our clauses on automatic deportation.

In amendment No. 152, the hon. Gentleman asks about the purpose. That is, indeed, to be able to facilitate deportation at an appropriate time by ensuring that when they enter the criminal justice system we are able to establish at an early stage the nationality of an individual who is suspected of not being a British citizen. Clause 40 gives powers to search for nationality documents but does not have bearing on powers for deportation, whether they exist under this Bill or not. This is about establishing nationality where necessary so that deportation can take place in appropriate cases at a later stage.

On amendment No. 149, we feel that a decision has to be taken about how proportionate the power is, and about what evidence there is of the need to widen that power. The evidence is that the scope of the power as drafted will be appropriate and proportionate, but I also point out to the hon. Gentleman that, following legislation, we intend to run a number of pilots. Clearly, that will be instructive on how these powers and their use are working operationally. Should there be an issue about scope, I am sure that we will acquire information from those pilots that could be looked at again in future. However, on the clause before us, we are convinced that we have got it about right in terms of the proportionality of the power and in terms of ensuring that we meet our responsibilities under article 8 of the ECHR.

I have addressed the amendments, which I understand are probing amendments. I also understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern that we are able to search appropriately for evidence of nationality; like him, we understand the importance of acquiring that evidence as early as possible so that deportation, if appropriate, is also possible later in the process. With that, I hope that the hon. Gentleman is able to withdraw his amendments.

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

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for that explanation, and I hope that she will go away and look at this again. She said that she believes that these documents are most likely to be found at the address of the person to whom they directly relate, but I put it to her that that will not be the case if the legislation were passed in this way—because that will be the only place where the police are allowed to investigate. One does not need a great criminal brain to work out that if one leaves the evidence somewhere else, and the police are not empowered to investigate it, one is less likely to be caught. For practical reasons, I hope that Ministers will reconsider the powers of the police and immigration officers in that regard. The Bill contains an enormous loophole, and nothing that the Minister has said persuaded me that its existence has been adequately addressed. Nevertheless, for the time being, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 41 to 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.