We have already dealt with some of the important provisions of clause 19, so I will try to be as brief as I can. In essence, clause 19 will amend schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 to provide clear powers for immigration officers—when, for example, they are examining a person to see whether their leave should be curtailed—to search premises for evidence of such purposes. It would also update existing powers to seize documents to include those held in electronic form. As we know, immigration officers may examine a person to establish whether they require leave to be here in the UK and, where leave is required, whether they already have leave or if it should be given, including the period and conditions of leave. However, the current provisions are not explicit about establishing whether any existing leave should be cut short. Situations are encountered by immigration officers where it may be appropriate to curtail the migrant’s leave because that person was found to be working or claiming benefits illegally or, sadly, had obtained leave by deception. As a consequence, where leave is ended with immediate effect, that person becomes liable to removal.
If the House consents, we will add a power for immigration officers, where they are already lawfully on premises, to search for and seize documents which may support a decision to curtail leave. This does not include documents which are subject to a legal professional privilege. Immigration officers already have powers to search for evidence of the offences of breaching conditions of leave or obtaining leave by deception, but this of course is only for evidence that would support a criminal prosecution. However, in the vast majority of cases where migrants fail to comply with immigration law or do not depart voluntarily, our strategy is to remove them from the United Kingdom rather than pursue costly prosecution and possible imprisonment for minor immigration offences. We believe that to be a proportionate approach which is in the public interest.
We therefore believe that it is more appropriate for immigration officers to have specific administrative search powers where they are exercising administrative rather than criminal powers, and we already have the framework in schedule 2 of the Immigration Act 1971. I have already mentioned the importance of updating powers so that legislation moves with the times, which is why we now include documents that might be stored on electronic media or devices.