Clause 17 - Offence of driving when unlawfully in the United Kingdom

Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 3rd November 2015.

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

I beg to move amendment 75, in clause 17, page 19, line 39, at end insert—

“(1A) A person does not commit an offence under subsection (1) if they had a reasonable belief that they had legal right to remain in the United Kingdom and acted in good faith.”

This amendment would provide a defence for those prosecuted for driving while illegally in the UK if they can show that they had a reason to believe that they did have legal right to be in the UK.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 76, in clause 17, page 20, line 6, at end insert—

“(3A) Nothing in this Section shall prejudice the validity of insurance relating to motor vehicles.”

This amendment would ensure that the introduction of an offence of driving while illegally in the UK would not interfere with the validity of motor insurance.

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

I can be relatively brief. My underlying point, which I put to the Minister now, is that in the evidence we heard two weeks ago, it was made clear that the police did not seek the new power and that they had not found any gap in their ability to deal with drivers who did not have regular status. Will the Solicitor General, at least for the record, set out the evidential basis for the creation of a new criminal offence? I go back to a proposition I put forward last week that criminal offences should not be introduced unless there is a clear case of necessity and a gap in the provisions  available to law enforcement. If the law enforcement witnesses have not found a gap or asked for this, it would be helpful for the Committee to know the basis for the provisions in the first place.

Amendment 75 is in keeping with my other amendments to provide a defence for those who have a reasonable belief that they have a right to remain in the UK. The problem with this offence, as with the offence of illegal working, is that it is quasi-strict liability—in other words, there is no defence in the Bill. I ask Members opposite simply to read the amendment and ask themselves why they think it is necessary to criminalise someone who:

“had a reasonable belief that they had legal right to remain in the United Kingdom and acted in good faith”.

Why is it necessary to criminalise someone in that position? If Members vote against the amendment, that is what they will do.

I use again the example I used last week or the week before, where someone has been sponsored but, unbeknown to them, there is something wrong with the sponsorship. They may therefore find themselves in a position where they do not have the status they should have, although they have a reasonable belief that they have a right to be here and they acted completely in good faith. What is the legal case and the moral case for criminalising a person in that situation? The measure applies only in a case of reasonable belief and only if the individual acted in good faith. What is the case for criminalising such an individual?

If the Minister indicates that amendment 76 is unnecessary, I will withdraw it. It is driven by a concern not for the driver of the vehicle but for the victim of a road accident. It introduces a whole new category of individuals where there is a concern that there is a possible consequence. If I am wrong about this, I will withdraw the amendment. A possible consequence of these measures is that otherwise valid insurance that would have been available to the victim of a road traffic accident will be unavailable, having been made invalid because of the driving offence that has been created by this section. That is a real concern to those who are concerned about victims of road traffic accidents.

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

As I said earlier, we do not have a problem with clauses 16 and 17. The two amendments are designed to protect innocents. If the Minister is able to confirm that protection is in place, either in guidance or in the Bill, we would like to hear it.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

Let me deal first with the question raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman about the evidence. There is a loophole involving people who are unlawfully here—illegal migrants—who are driving with foreign-issued licences. The offence will cover all aspects of driving by migrants who are in the United Kingdom unlawfully.

Every year, about 10,000 queries are referred to the Home Office by the police relating to either road-side stops or vehicle stops. We do not have precise numbers on cases where an illegal migrant was found to be driving a vehicle, but of the one fifth of cases related to vehicle stops, about 10% relate to drivers who are in the  UK legally. I am talking about a loophole here. I think it is right that we try to close that when it comes to covering all incidents in which the authorities through other intelligence and other reasons to stop vehicles come into contact with people who are here unlawfully. The provision is another important tool to deal with a matter of public concern.

I recognise the reasons behind amendment 75, but in my view it is very broad and very subjective. It will create scenarios, for example, in which a defendant might claim they had reason to believe they were in the UK legally, simply because they had misunderstood the date on which their leave expired. It would be difficult to prove otherwise and then the purpose of the offence is undermined.

Let me deal with offences of strict liability in the context of driving. This concept is not new. For example, the offence of driving while disqualified under section 103 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, as amended, is an offence of strict liability, so this is not a new departure, although the defence would be a new departure when it comes to driving offences of this nature.

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

I am grateful to the Solicitor General for his explanation. I readily accept that this quasi-strict liability is not uncommon when it comes to driving and disqualification. The difference is that if someone is disqualified, they know they are disqualified. If there were a situation in which somebody, perhaps through sponsorship, genuinely and simply did not know that their status was as it was and would come within this defence, is the Solicitor General’s answer that that is just tough?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

Not quite. There are a couple of caveats. First, a person who is prosecuted for this offence has the opportunity before the court issues judgment to put in mitigation about their belief as to whether they were legally present in the UK, and that would affect any sentence that might be passed by the court. Also, the Crown Prosecution Service will have guidance to ensure that migrants are not inappropriately prosecuted for this offence. Should a migrant be able to genuinely show that they believed themselves to be legally present, the public interest test, with which the hon. and learned Gentleman is very familiar, would apply.

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

I am grateful—I can see where this is going. Obviously, any guidance will be for the CPS to draft. Will the Solicitor General be writing to the Director of Public Prosecutions to ask her to consider whether this matter should be included in the guidelines? Obviously, it would be a matter for her, but he could suggest that she consider it.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I am more than happy to draw the DPP’s attention to this debate, which I hope will be of assistance to her in drafting guidelines.

I assure the Committee that the offence is not aimed at victims of modern slavery who have been forced to drive. I hope that goes some way to answering the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Rotherham. As she is aware, the statutory offence under section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 will apply. If a person has  been compelled to drive as a direct consequence of slavery or human trafficking, they will not commit this offence. Further, there are common-law defences. For example, it will remain a defence for someone to show that they committed the offence under duress, regardless of whether they are a victim of modern slavery. I have mentioned potential new guidance, and there is existing guidance from the DPP to ensure that victims of modern slavery are not inappropriately prosecuted. These are effective safeguards against the inappropriate use of the offence that hon. Members have expressed concerns about.

Amendment 76 has been tabled because of genuine concerns about the validity of motor insurance. We are exploring with the insurance industry the potential impact of the offence on policies, but I can give reassurance today that a person involved in an accident with an illegal migrant driver will be protected. By virtue of sections 151 and 152 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, insurers have certain liabilities to innocent third parties that they cannot exclude from insurance policies. Those liabilities derive from obligations under European law which mean that an innocent third party involved in a traffic collision with an illegal migrant driver will be entitled to make a claim on the illegal migrant’s insurance policy, even if the policy is voided as a result of the migrant being unlawfully present here.

With that explanation, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office) 11:00 am, 3rd November 2015

I am grateful for those explanations and beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I beg to move amendment 44, in clause 17, page 20, line 33, leave out “as to whether” and insert “not”

This amendment and amendment 45 clarify that a vehicle must be released where a decision is taken not to institute criminal proceedings for the offence of driving when unlawfully in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 45 to 48.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

As we know, clause 17 inserts a new offence of driving while unlawfully present. Amendments 44 and 45 are technical in nature. They make clear that a vehicle must be released from detention where a decision is taken not to institute criminal proceedings for the offence of driving when unlawfully in the United Kingdom.

Amendment 46 ensures that a police or senior immigration officer may detain a vehicle at any place where they are lawfully present, including private property that is open to the public, such as a privately owned car park. Amendment 47 provides a power for the police or a senior immigration officer to enter premises, such as  the suspect’s property, for the purpose of searching for and detaining a vehicle used in the commission of the offence. Those two amendments ensure that a person cannot frustrate seizure of the vehicle used in the commission of the offence by keeping it on private land, such as in a garage. Amendment 47 also provides that the power to enter premises may be exercised by a senior immigration officer or constable without warrant, where the officer knows the vehicle is present—for example, they can see the suspect’s car parked on the driveway. Where a senior immigration officer or constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a vehicle may be found on premises but does not know it is there, the amendment provides the facility to apply for a warrant enabling the officer or constable to enter premises to search for the vehicle.

The provisions for obtaining a warrant reflect certain differences in the legal, procedural and administrative framework governing the issuing of warrants between Scotland and the rest of the UK. In particular, the Scottish criminal justice system does not provide for warrants to be issued for multiple entries to multiple premises by constables in Scotland. These forms of warrants are a feature of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 in England and Wales. The amendment therefore makes special provision to disapply this form of warrant for constables in Scotland. I hope Scottish National party Members note that great care has been taken to ensure that the two systems dovetail in a way that is acceptable to everyone.

Amendment 48 ensures that a person accompanying a constable in the execution of a warrant, such as a person contracted by the police to remove and store a vehicle used in the commission of the offence, may detain that vehicle. It also provides that a constable may use reasonable force in order to detain a vehicle.

I invite the Committee to accept those amendments.

Amendment 44 agreed to.

Amendments made: 45, in clause 17, page 20, line 35, leave out “have been” and insert “are”.

See the explanatory statement for amendment 44.

Amendment 46, in clause 17, page 20, line 45, at end insert—

‘( ) A power in subsection (1) or (3) may be exercised by a senior officer or constable at any place at which the senior officer or constable is lawfully present.”—(The Solicitor General.)

This amendment makes clear that a vehicle can be detained by a senior officer or constable at any place they are lawfully present.

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

I beg to move amendment 74, in clause 17, page 21, line 30, at end insert—

‘(10A) Before laying regulations to bring Section 24D into force, the Secretary of State must ensure a pilot of the arrangements takes place.

(10B) Following the completion of the pilot mentioned in subsection (10A) the Secretary of State must prepare a report and lay it before each House of Parliament.

(10C) The pilot mentioned in subsection (1) must take place in a minimum of two police force areas and last for a minimum of six months.”

This amendment would ensure that the Home Secretary conducted a pilot of the proposed powers to allow police forces to confiscate the cars of suspected illegal immigrants before the measures were introduced.

I can deal with this amendment briefly. We have debated the provisions in the clause itself. Several concerns have been raised and several assurances have been given by the Government, but these are new provisions, so the  amendment simply provides that they should be piloted before they are rolled out, partly to ensure that those assurances work in practice and partly because, when introducing new provisions of this sort, piloting is always a good idea to ensure that they work in practice. However, the substance of the debate has already been had, in terms of the concerns and assurances.

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

I was on the Select Committee for Transport and went out with the DVLA when it was doing some of its stops with police officers. I apologise for raising this question in this debate, but I did not know where else to raise it. I was shocked when the Minister said that 10,000 inquiries were made to the police last year. I know that the DVLA has vast concerns that it does not have the resources to investigate people driving illegal vehicles rather than illegal driving. How will the police, immigration and the DVLA work together? Also, has he considered the resources, which will be considerable if there are already 10,000 inquiries? Acting on those and investigating will be pretty resource-intensive. Can he comment on that?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I will certainly endeavour to answer the hon. Lady’s queries, but I will deal first with the substance of the amendment. I understand fully the intention behind it, but I view it as unworkable for two reasons. First, the regulations will set out the circumstances in which a vehicle may be released from detention and make provision for how vehicles should be disposed of where conditions governing the release of a vehicle are not met. Without laying regulations, therefore, we will not have the necessary legal powers to conduct a fully functioning pilot. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras can accept that.

Secondly, there is a point of principle here that I am sure he will understand straight away. A pilot would require a criminal offence to be enforced in certain parts of the United Kingdom and not in others. Such a piecemeal approach is clearly not desirable from a practical point of view given, for example, that vehicles can be driven across a number of regions. I do not know about you, Mr Owen, but the thought of car chases in 1980s American films is coming to my mind, where people cross a state boundary and offences that might have been committed in one state are not enforceable in another.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras would not wish us to go down that particular path—it is axiomatic, but it needs to be said. A pilot could therefore create confusion for migrants and complicate matters for the police when enforcing the offence.

As I have said, the chief superintendent, David Snelling, indicated to the Public Bill Committee in his evidence how the offence could work in practice. He explained that the police would first have cause to stop a vehicle and would then, as appropriate, ascertain the circumstances of the driver. If it is found that the driver is here illegally, the detention provisions can apply. The police  are well versed in general processes relating to detaining, releasing and disposing of vehicles, so there are no new processes in the clause that might justify a pilot.

I will attempt to deal with the concerns of the hon. Member for Rotherham. The statistics that I mentioned concerned referrals to the Home Office. There is already a high degree of joint working and information sharing, which is proving an effective means for targeting and appropriately identifying people who are here unlawfully. On resources, for example training, the Home Office has been working with the police on developing the proposals and will continue to examine the potential need for further training with police colleagues. However, as I have said, these are not new types of power, so there is no absolutely overwhelming need for a complete start again on training.

I am assured that immigration resources are already in place and, as I said, this is not about a sudden general expansion in our expectation of how the police are going to behave. This is not an encouragement to the police to start randomly stopping people, which would of course have a huge impact on resources. Intelligence-led policing is not only intelligent, it is efficient. For those reasons, I hope that I have answered the genuine concerns that the hon. Lady raised.

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

With respect to the Minister, I am not concerned about resources for training; I am concerned about resources to have the police officers who can go out, stop or go into premises. In the Home Office cases that I get, a lot of the delays in deportation are caused by a lack of staff to carry out the work. Can the Minister reassure us that if we agree to this legislation, the police have the resources to act on it?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

Yes, I can. Perhaps I have not clearly outlined that we do not expect police officers to take on a whole new swathe of different inquiries, independent of already existing intelligence and information; rather, this provision is a bolt-on. It allows police officers to follow another reasonable line of inquiry as a result of the intelligence they have already obtained. The scenario that the hon. Lady is concerned about is not one that is going to come to fruition. This is about putting another tool in the box, rather than an expectation that there are suddenly going to be new independent operations as a result of these new powers. I hope that gives the hon. Lady some reassurance.

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

The Minister mounts a “Dukes of Hazzard” defence. I am not quite sure that is right, because this provision is focused on the confiscation of the vehicle rather than the moving vehicle, but he makes a persuasive argument about the technical issue, which is his best point, and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: 47, in clause 17, page 21, line 32, at end insert—

“24DA Powers to enter premises to detain motor vehicle

(1) A senior officer or a constable may enter and search any premises for the purposes of detaining a vehicle under section 24D.

(2) The power in subsection (1) may be exercised—

(a) only to the extent that it is reasonably required for that purpose, and

(b) only if the senior officer or constable knows that a vehicle which may be detained under section 24D is to be found on the premises.

(3) The power in subsection (1) may be exercised—

(a) by a senior officer (“S”) only if S produces identification showing that S is an immigration officer (whether or not S is asked to do so);

(b) by a constable (“C”) only if C produces identification showing that C is a constable (whether or not C is asked to do so).

(4) Subsection (5) applies if, on an application by a senior officer or constable, a justice of the peace is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that a vehicle which may be detained under section 24D may be found on premises mentioned in subsection (6).

(5) The justice of the peace may issue a warrant authorising any senior officer or constable to enter, if need be by force, the premises for the purpose of searching for and detaining the vehicle.

(6) The premises referred to in subsection (4) are—

(a) one or more sets of premises specified in the application, or

(b) subject to subsection (10), any premises occupied or controlled by a person specified in the application, including such sets of premises as are so specified (in which case the application is for an “all premises warrant”).

(7) If the application is for an all premises warrant, the justice of the peace must also be satisfied—

(a) that there are reasonable grounds for believing that it is necessary to search premises occupied or controlled by the person in question which are not specified in the application in order to find the vehicle, and

(b) that it is not reasonably practicable to specify in the application all the premises which the person occupies or controls and which might need to be searched.

(8) Subject to subsection (10), the warrant may authorise entry to and search of premises on more than one occasion if, on the application, the justice of the peace is satisfied that it is necessary to authorise multiple entries in order to achieve the purpose for which the justice issues the warrant.

(9) If it authorises multiple entries, the number of entries authorised may be unlimited, or limited to a maximum.

(10) A justice of the peace in Scotland may not issue—

(a) an all premises warrant under this section authorising entry on premises by a constable, or

(b) a warrant under this section authorising multiple entries by a constable.

(11) In the application of this section to Scotland, references to a justice of the peace are to be read as references to the sheriff or a justice of the peace.

(12) In this section “senior officer” means an immigration officer not below the rank of chief immigration officer.”

This amendment provides the police and immigration officers with the power to enter premises in order to detain a relevant vehicle. This ensures that an illegal migrant who commits the offence of driving when unlawfully present in the United Kingdom cannot frustrate seizure by keeping the vehicle on private land.

Amendment 48, in clause 17, page 22, line 22, at end insert—

‘( ) In section 16(2A)(b) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (powers of persons accompanying constables in execution of warrants) after “seizure” insert “or detention”.

( ) In Article 18(2A)(b) of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (SI 1989/1341 (NI 22)) (powers of persons accompanying constables in execution of warrants) after “seizure” insert “or detention”.

( ) In section 146(2) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (use of reasonable force) before paragraph (a) insert—

“(za) section 24DA(1) (powers to enter premises to detain motor vehicle),”.”—(The Solicitor General.)

This amendment ensures that a person accompanying a constable in the execution of a warrant may detain a vehicle and that a constable may use reasonable force in order to detain a vehicle.

Clause 17, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.