I rise to speak to the objectives of amendment 209, as I understand them. They take us back to the intentions of the Conservative Government in 1971, whose Immigration Act 1971 created the opportunity to search to demonstrate immigration status at the point of entry to the country, which seems sensible, but not away from the border. [ Interruption. ] The Solicitor General is expressing some doubt about that, and I would be happy to pursue the matter with him. The power has been developed gradually by the Home Office, often without sufficient regard for the sort of community relations that we share a concern about.
As the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North pointed out, Liberty expressed concern when such speculative street and transport hub-based searches began in 2012, largely outside tube stations. Concern was expressed when what was then the UK Border Agency suspended such operations across the country and reviewed its guidance, but then reinstated them. The guidance was amended again in 2013 following the reaction to street searches.
I have looked through reports from that time that showed how the checks worked. They may have also been done in other places, but certainly Walthamstow, Kensal Green, Stratford and Cricklewood are all thriving multicultural areas. One local resident in the Kensal Green area told his local newspaper:
“I thought the behaviour of the immigration officers was heavy-handed and frightening. They appeared to be stopping and questioning every non-white person, many of whom were clearly ordinary Kensal Green residents going to work.”
Matt Kelcher, who also witnessed them, said:
“They didn’t seem interested in me and I walked straight through, but the two Asian women who entered the station after me were stopped, taken to one side and questioned.”
That selective approach, which is reminiscent of stop-and-search, about which the Home Secretary has expressed concerns and to which I will return in a moment, is something that we need to be careful about. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North mentioned chapter 31 of the Home Office’s enforcement instructions and guidance, which set out the grounds on which it believes that immigration officers can have “reasonable suspicion.” A definition is given:
“Reasonable suspicion that an individual may be an immigration offender could arise in numerous ways but an example might be where an individual attempts to avoid passing through or near a group of IOs who are clearly visible…In such circumstances the IO could legitimately stop the individual and ask consensual questions based on a reasonable suspicion that that person is an immigration offender.”
That definition is extraordinarily broad. It is a sort of in-country fishing expedition, which in ethnically diverse areas—it takes place only in those areas—will have an impact on community relations.
I am sure that we are all broadly on the same page in terms of concern about potential impact. The Home Secretary has sought to address concerns about the related police activity of stop-and-search. Last year, she said:
“I want to make myself absolutely clear: if the numbers do not come down, if stop-and-search does not become more targeted, if those stop-to-arrest ratios do not improve considerably, the Government will”— take action. She went on to say that
“nobody wins when stop-and-search is misapplied. It is a waste of police time. It is unfair, especially to young, black men. It is bad for public confidence in the police.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2014; Vol. 579, c. 833.]
That concern about stop-and-search, with which I fully agree, led to our amendment. Immigration officers should have the power originally intended by the then Conservative Government in 1971, but that power should not be allowed to encroach further and damage community relations.