Clause 16 - Powers to carry out searches relating to driving licences

Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 3rd November 2015.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. Clause 16 amends schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 to insert new paragraphs 25CA, 25CB and 25CC. These new provisions provide the power for an authorised officer, such as an immigration or police officer, to search for and seize a United Kingdom driving licence held by a person not lawfully resident in the UK. Searches of people and/or premises can be carried out. The clause builds on the  existing power introduced by section 47 of the Immigration Act 2014. That provision allows for driving licences held by illegal migrants to be revoked. This relates to driving licences issued both by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the Driver and Vehicle Agency in Northern Ireland.

Subsection (2) of clause 16 inserts the new paragraphs which set out the circumstances in which the search, seizure and retention powers may be used. Safeguards are provided through a requirement that there must be reasonable grounds to perform a search. With the exception of a constable, authorised officers must generally also obtain the consent of a senior officer before conducting a search, unless it is not reasonably practicable to do so. A seized licence must be returned to the holder if a decision is taken not to revoke it or where the holder successfully appeals against revocation.

Subsection (3) of clause 16 amends the Immigration Act 1971 to provide that the holder of a seized licence cannot have access to that licence or be provided with a copy. That ensures that a copy of the licence cannot then be used as a form of identification that might help a person settle unlawfully in the United Kingdom. Subsection (4) amends the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to allow an authorised officer to use reasonable force when searching for or seizing a licence.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office) 10:45 am, 3rd November 2015

I am grateful for that explanation, but I want to clarify the position. I think, having listened to the Solicitor General, that the primary purpose of the clause is to enable a valid—on the face of it—driving licence to be seized for the purposes of revocation, and if it is not revoked or if it is challenged, it is returned. It would be helpful if the Solicitor General could confirm that that is the driving purpose of the clause.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. The position is that, for revoked and unrevoked driving licences, the power will be there to seize both. For example, a valid driving licence can be seized and proceedings then undertaken to revoke it because it is held by someone who ought not to be here.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I do not think we are at odds, but I need to ensure that I understand. The process is straightforward where a driving licence is invalid or already revoked, but if a licence is not revoked and is, on its face, valid, the purpose of the provision is to allow a revocation process to be completed.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I understand the principles and the motivation behind the provisions, but I have some concerns about clauses 16 and 17. As with the right to rent provisions, they will undoubtedly have an impact on legal migrants, British citizens who cannot easily prove their immigration status and ethnic minorities. The measures could lead to an increase in the racial profiling of drivers. The powers are worrying in that they are, in fact, stop-and-search powers. If they are exercised by immigration officers those officers need to be regulated in the same way as police officers are, with checks and balances to prevent abuse of power. Can the Solicitor  General spell out how the rights of individuals will be protected, and what redress they will have for wrongful or repeated searches and arrests?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Solicitor General, would you like to respond to those points?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I would, Mr Owen.

In our evidence session, those points were, quite properly, put to the chief superintendent, and we received reassurances that it is all about intelligence-led policing and intelligence-led investigations by immigration officers. The provisions will not, in my view, lead to the random targeting of people based on their ethnicity. That would be wholly wrong and it is not something that the Government support.

As I said, the police will have cause to stop a vehicle; they may then check the driver’s circumstances, and then, if the driver is found to be an illegal migrant, the powers we intend to introduce can be used. There will not be a misuse of power, as the action taken will be based on information that is already available. Bearing in mind the demands that are placed on our investigative authorities, it is a sensible use of their resources. Certainly I, and the Government, will not encourage the authorities to randomly target individuals based on any arbitrary judgment about their status. I hope that that gives the hon. Lady the reassurance she seeks.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 16 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.