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UK Borders Bill

Volume 460: debated on Wednesday 9 May 2007

As amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

New Clause 9

Search for evidence of nationality: other premises

‘(1) This section applies where an individual—

(a) has been arrested on suspicion of the commission of an offence, and

(b) has not been released without being charged with an offence.

(2) If, on an application made by an immigration officer or a constable, a justice of the peace is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that—

(a) the individual may not be a British citizen,

(b) nationality documents relating to the individual may be found on premises specified in the application,

(c) the documents would not be exempt from seizure under section 44(2), and

(d) any of the conditions in subsection (3) below applies,

the justice of the peace may issue a warrant authorising an immigration officer or constable to enter and search the premises.

(3) The conditions are that—

(a) it is not practicable to communicate with any person entitled to grant entry to the premises;

(b) it is practicable to communicate with a person entitled to grant entry to the premises but it is not practicable to communicate with any person entitled to grant access to the nationality documents;

(c) entry to the premises will not be granted unless a warrant is produced;

(d) the purpose of a search may be frustrated or seriously prejudiced unless an immigration officer or constable arriving at the premises can secure immediate entry.

(4) Sections 28J and 28K of the Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77) (warrants: application and execution) apply, with any necessary modifications, to warrants under this section.

(5) In the application of this section to Scotland a reference to a justice of the peace shall be treated as a reference to the sheriff or a justice of the peace.’.—[Joan Ryan.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 10—Police civilians.

Government amendments Nos. 23 to 26.

I should like to preface my remarks on new clauses 9 and 10 and Government amendments Nos. 23 to 26 by noting that we had a productive and thorough debate on these matters in Committee. This group of amendments is one of the results of that. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) for his scrutiny in Committee of the search for evidence of nationality clause. New clause 9 is designed to address a concern raised in one of the amendments that he tabled in Committee, as I am sure he has recognised.

I should like to emphasise the importance of the power to search for nationality documents, which will assist in ascertaining or confirming the nationality of persons in order to consider cases liable for deportation. This is part of our plan for improving the effectiveness of handling foreign nationals in the criminal justice system. Concerns were raised in Committee that nationality documents might be held on premises other than those set out in clause 43—for example, those belonging to friends or family, or to persons involved in illegal immigration or illegal working.

The effect of the amendments, in addition to the existing clauses, will be that immigration and police officers will have the power to search premises occupied or controlled by the person, premises where the person was arrested, or premises where the person was immediately before being arrested; and to search for and seize relevant documents, so that the person’s nationality may be established at an earlier stage of their entering the criminal justice system than at present. Immigration and police officers will also be able to obtain a warrant to search other premises, if they believe that documents relating to the person might be found there.

What steps are being taken to ensure that this new power will not be misused, particularly in cases involving people who are here for a legitimate reason? I am worried about the effect that its over-use could have on community relations.

That is an important point, and we have taken some considerable time and effort to think through the safeguards, which I will come to in a moment. I want to reassure all communities that this legislation will be used fairly and for the benefit of all, and not in a disproportionate manner. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will remember that our debate on this question in Committee, which was identified by the hon. Member for Ashford, centred on the proportionate nature of the power. That is why we are now introducing the need to obtain a warrant to search more widely than was allowed in the original clause. Such a warrant will be required to search other premises where it is believed that documents relating to the person might be found. That should ensure that people do not place relevant documents in someone else’s safe keeping in order to avoid their being seized. We did not want inadvertently to create an incentive to avoid detection in that way by leaving the clause as it was.

Safeguards have been put in place to prevent misuse, and I shall give the hon. Gentleman some details. For example, when applying for a warrant, an immigration officer or constable must specify to the magistrate the grounds on which the application is being made, the provision under which the warrant is to be issued, the premises that they wish to search, and the articles for which they are searching. The warrant must specify the name of the person applying for it, the date of issue, the premises to be searched, the provision under which it is to be issued, and the articles being sought.

Warrants issued under this provision will authorise entry on one occasion only, and will be valid for one month. Entry and search must be undertaken at a reasonable hour, unless it appears to the officer executing them that the purpose of the search might be frustrated by so doing. The immigration officer or constable must identify themselves to the occupier of the premises—or, in his absence, to another person who appears to be in charge of the premises—and produce identification, show the occupier the warrant and supply him with a copy of it. In the absence of anyone appearing to be in charge of the premises, the warrant should be left in a prominent place on the premises.

A search under such a warrant may be undertaken only to the extent required for the purpose for which the warrant was issued. A warrant must be endorsed, stating whether the object of the search was found and whether anything else was seized. Warrants, whether they have been executed or not, must be returned to the issuing court and retained for 12 months, during which time they will be available for inspection by the occupier of the premises.

I should like to give the House some reassurance on another issue that was raised in Committee, relating to the guidance and training that will be available. Instructions will be issued to immigration and police officers on when the power—with and without warrant—should be used. The guidance will take account of the nationality pilot that is being conducted in three charging areas. Hon. Members will be aware, as we have discussed this matter before, that immigration officers will be arrest trained. Matters relating to good communication with the police, to contamination and to other important issues that need to be taken into account are part of the training that immigration officers undergo. This measure, as applied to immigration officers and the police, will lead to greater and better communication.

I am grateful to the Minister for the safeguards that she has just outlined. What monitoring and reporting arrangements relating to the use of this power are to be put in place?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware, from our debates in Committee, of the role of the inspectorate. He will also know that many of the issues relating to the identification of nationality are covered by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—PACE—codes. If immigration or police officers want to conduct a search without a warrant, they have to ensure that they have the authority of a senior officer to do so. I should also like to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the two or three pilots that we are undertaking into the use of these powers. The feedback from those pilots will be important when we consider further the issues that he has raised.

New clause 9, when applied to Scotland, will require a sheriff or a justice of the peace to be involved in the issuing of a warrant, and that is right and proper. The Minister mentioned the PACE codes, which are mentioned in clause 44, which is the subject of an amendment in this group. Clause 44(5) refers to provisions for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is no reference, however, to the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995, which details how seized information and evidence should be treated. Should such provisions be included in the Bill, just as similar provisions were recently incorporated into Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs officers’ powers in relation to seizures? Is it an oversight that they have not been included?

As the hon. Gentleman says, the PACE codes apply to England and Wales. He might know that we are seeking to change the code of practice in relation to code C, which covers the police being able to ask the nationality of a person who has been taken into custody when it is unclear whether they are a UK citizen. It was in that sense that I referred to the PACE codes. I have already talked about all the checks and balances that will apply to the proposed power. In regard to the hon. Gentleman’s question about Scottish legislation, however, I undertake to write to him with the details.

Having given the House those reassurances, I hope that hon. Members will be able to accept the new clauses and amendments.

I should like to thank the Minister for the kind remarks that she made at the beginning of her speech. We welcome the thrust of the new clauses and amendments. We made an effort in Committee to ensure that the Bill would have a practical effect and make a significant difference to the practice of immigration control, and to the enforcement of the important laws in this area. That was the intention behind our various amendments to that part of the Bill.

I am glad that Ministers have reflected further and turned our amendments into the new clauses under consideration this afternoon. Not only is that good for the Bill and for the practice and enforcement of immigration control, but it represents a small victory for scrutiny by the House of Commons, which is much abused. It is a textbook example of how scrutiny can work, and of how the Committee stage can improve a Bill in small but important ways, if Ministers are flexible enough to take on board arguments made in good faith by Opposition parties.

I would like the Minister to return to one detail. Although she has rightly emphasised the issue of proportionality of response—and she has talked a lot about the safeguards over the past few minutes—she said previously that our amendment was unnecessary and potentially disproportionate under article 8 of the European convention on human rights, especially in relation to widening the power to enter and search premises for relevant documents. We suggested expanding the scope of the provision to cover “any other premises”, to ensure that those searches were as effective as possible. Clearly, that is an extremely serious consideration for Ministers to take on board. Will she therefore reassure the House that the powers in the new clauses do not in any way breach article 8 of the ECHR, and explain why they do not?

With that one potential caveat about the new clauses—as I said, they grew out of amendments that we tabled in Committee—we welcome their inclusion in the Bill.

Like the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), I welcome the revised amendments submitted by the Minister, notwithstanding her detailed explanation about the safeguards and operation of the Bill.

In that regard, I have a question about the role of the chief inspector of the Border and Immigration Agency. If there is concern about an immigration officer’s pursuit of such searches, is it correct that the chief inspector can refuse to co-operate with, say, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons, the Independent Police Complaints Commission or other bodies that might be concerned about the operation of the clause? I have no objection to the use of the provision; it is important that the powers that officers have are clearly laid out. As I mentioned, however, I am concerned about the effect on community relations, which is why I asked about monitoring. If there are concerns, is it true that the chief inspector will be able to block any investigation?

The hon. Member for Ashford is right that the European convention on human rights was discussed in relation to the proportionality of the legislation. As I understand it, the amendment that he tabled would have extended the powers sought by the clause then in the Bill. The introduction of the seeking of a warrant helps to satisfy the requirement to protect people’s rights under the legislation. We are satisfied that the new clauses and amendments are compatible with the convention.

It was interesting to consider the examples given in relation to the new clauses and amendments. Of course, police already have powers to deal with the criminal offence outlined by the hon. Gentleman. The provision is about the seeking of documents relating to nationality, in order to effect removal and deportation at the appropriate time. With regard to that analysis, he had a point. We wished to address that, not leave a loophole in what we all agree is necessary legislation, or create an incentive for people to hide their documents with family, friends and so on. Although the majority of documents are found on the premises where the person is arrested, or on premises under the person’s control, we recognise the possibility of creating a perverse incentive for those documents to be stashed away somewhere else, so we wish to extend the powers. Given the analysis that we have undertaken, there is no question but that extending the safeguards to include the seeking of a warrant—which does not apply to the powers to search the premises where the person is found or premises under the person’s control—satisfies the requirements.

In response to the question of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), the chief inspector will have oversight of Border and Immigration Agency activity, and will therefore oversee immigration officers exercising powers. The IPCC will oversee the police. I hope that that clarifies the relationship, but I can write to the hon. Gentleman in more detail if he still has concerns. I thank both hon. Gentlemen, and my hon. Friends, for their support for the measures.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 10

Police civilians

‘In Part 2 of Schedule 4 to the Police Reform Act 2002 (c. 30) (powers exercisable by police civilians: investigating officers) after paragraph 18 (entry and search after arrest) insert—

“Entry and search for evidence of nationality after arrest

18A Where a designation applies this paragraph to any person—

(a) sections 43 to 44 of the UK Borders Act 2007 (entry, search and seizure after arrest) shall apply to that person (with any necessary modifications) as if a reference to a constable included a reference to that person, and

(b) a provision of the 1984 Act which applies to constables in connection with any of those sections shall apply (with any necessary modifications) to that person.”’.—[Joan Ryan.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 1

Deportation orders: provision of information

‘The Secretary of State shall comply with any request for information from the victim of an offence about a deportation order made under the provisions of section 31(5) in respect of the person convicted of that offence.’.—[Mr. Kidney.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 34, in page 16, line 6 Clause 31, leave out from ‘whom’ to end of line and insert ‘the condition under subsection (2) applies.’.

No. 35, in page 16, leave out lines 7 to 13 and insert—

‘(2) The Condition is that, in the opinion of the sentencing judge, there is no public interest or other lawful reason why the person should remain in the United Kingdom.’.

No. 15, in page 16, line 7, leave out ‘of at least 12 months’.

No. 8, in page 16, line 12, after ‘criminal)’, insert

‘or is an immigration offence under the Immigration Acts’.

No. 2, in page 16, line 37 Clause 32, leave out ‘conviction’ and insert ‘the offence’.

No. 14, in page 17, line 32 Clause 33, leave out from ‘requires’ to end of line 33 and insert ‘the Secretary of State to—

(a) make a deportation order no less than one month before the end of the individual’s sentence, and

(b) ensure the deportation of an individual against whom a deportation order has been made occurs not more than six months after the making of the order.’.

No. 9, in page 19, line 21 Clause 37, leave out subsection (1).

No. 10, in page 19, line 23, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b).

Government amendments Nos. 17 to 22 and 27.

New clause 1 is grouped with a large number of amendments, none of which I tabled, so I shall leave their explanation to others.

New clause 1 sets out a simple proposition: when foreign nationals are deported because they have committed relevant crimes, their victims should be entitled to know about the deportation. In the Bill as amended in Committee, clause 31 provides for what the heading calls “Automatic deportation”. At its most basic, my argument is that if the deportation is automatic, what is the problem in telling the victim that it has happened?

The truth, however, is that not every foreign national convicted of an offence and sent to prison will be deported. For some offences, there will be a sentence of less than 12 months, which will not trigger the power. Clause 32 provides for a number of exceptions that will mean that others will not be deported. To my mind, the fact that, in some instances, uncertainty remains as to whether a deportation will take place strengthens the case for victims to know what has happened. I want to illustrate that argument with reference to the constituency case that first attracted my interest in the issue.

In 2005, a young female adult was walking home from work on a Saturday night. She was followed by a man for two miles until she was in a road where no one else was about. There she was brutally raped. The offender was arrested. He was a foreign national. He was tried and convicted, and the judge, sentencing him to six years in prison, said that he had shown absolutely no remorse. It was at that point that I was asked by my constituent’s family to find out whether the offender would be deported from prison.

The young female was understandably suffering not just physical but mental trauma because of her experiences. She wanted to know whether there was any risk at all that the offender might one day be back on the streets where she lives. For her that is an ever-present, uncomfortable thought. I was quite willing to help to try to put her mind at rest.

I wrote to Home Office Ministers several times to find out about the fate of the foreign national in prison. To my surprise, they responded each time that they could not disclose any information to me. Here is a typical response, in a letter dated 22 August last year:

“As you will appreciate, Home Office records relating to individual overseas nationals are confidential and information from them can only be disclosed to the subject or his appointed representative. This is in accordance with the Home Office's legal obligations under common law, human rights, data protection and the Code of Practice on Access to Government information. Unfortunately, the Home Office has not received any written confirmation from”

the offender


the victim

“can be treated as such.”

For obvious reasons, I have omitted the names of the two people involved.

My response to being told that the offender had the right to block the victim’s access to information that she wants only because of the offender’s wrongdoing was that it offended my sense of what was right. I double-checked the Home Office’s stance by tabling a parliamentary question, believing that an hon. Member asking a parliamentary question would be entitled to information about the deportation. Once again, however, my request was stonewalled, as can be seen at column 1044W of the 16 October edition of Hansard.

Not wishing to give up, I spoke in the debate on the Queen’s Speech on 23 November 2006, again raising the specific case of my constituent and the point of principle about access to information for victims. That can be seen at column 780 of Hansard. The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, my hon. Friend the. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne), who is in the Chamber today, responded sympathetically, and I subsequently corresponded with him on the subject. However, his reply also relied on human rights and data protection as reasons for his inability to provide the information.

After my contribution to the debate on the Queen’s Speech, I learned that I was not alone in experiencing this difficulty. Other Members, and indeed journalists, contacted me about many similar stories. Obviously my research has not been extensive or systematic, but it has left me with the impression that just beneath the surface the problem experienced by my constituent and by me is a common one. That, surely, is a very undesirable state of affairs.

New clause 1 is an attempt to give the Home Office parliamentary authority to break through the obstacles and give victims information to which I believe they should be entitled. In recent years, we have legislated to give more entitlements to victims. The Domestic Violence, Crimes And Victims Act 2004 enables victims of some sexual offences, for instance, to obtain information from the probation service about licence and supervision conditions when an offender is released from prison. New clause 1 is an attempt to nudge the law slightly further in favour of relevant information for victims, in this case on whether a foreign national has been deported.

In a written statement on 23 May 2006, the present Home Secretary said:

“My first priority has been to protect the public”.—[Official Report, 23 May 2006; Vol. 446, c. 77WS.]

It is worth recalling that at that time the deportation of foreign nationals who had committed serious offences in the United Kingdom was a topic of intense public interest. In part at least, the furore arose because the record keeping of the Home Office and its agencies was not very good. Perhaps if there were more openness, and more access and exposure to public scrutiny of these matters, there would be fewer problems of this kind. I hope the Minister will tell us what arrangements he envisages in the context of the deportation power in clause 31, not just in respect of access to information about deportation for victims, but in respect of what information Parliament and individual Members should have.

There are victims of serious crimes who have a legitimate interest in knowing whether a deportation, as directed by clause 31, has indeed taken place. For the sake of those victims and, indeed, for the sake of the public’s confidence in our laws, it is in the public interest for the information specified in new clause 1 to be given to those victims. In weighing the interests of the offender and the victim, surely we should give the victim’s rights the higher priority. For those reasons, I urge the Minister to respond positively to new clause 1.

I shall concentrate mainly on the four amendments tabled in my name, but let me first comment on what was said by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), who made a powerful case.

When the rights of the victim are balanced against those of the offender, it is clear that the victim’s rights should come first. I am sure the Minister agrees with that, but—coming fresh to the matter—I am puzzled by the response that the hon. Gentleman received from the Home Office, which told him that owing to a number of legal restrictions his constituent could not have the required information.

Given that we have been through a phase during which the Government were prepared to circulate posters and leaflets about hooligans who had received antisocial behaviour orders, and were making a virtue of naming and shaming people who were guilty of what I suspect were, in this context, relatively minor offences, and given that anyone who will be subject to deportation under the Government’s proposals must have been convicted of an offence and been in prison for more than 12 months—and must therefore have been convicted of a very serious offence—I feel that the hon. Gentleman made a good case for the new clause, or a similar measure. We need an appropriate balance that gives more weight to the victim’s rights than the current arrangement as explained to him by the Home Office. I hope that the Minister, who will have seen the new clause on the amendment paper for some time, will be able to respond positively to his hon. Friend.

Amendment No. 8 would add to those considered for automatic deportation people who have committed immigration offences. As it stands, the Bill provides for what it calls automatic deportation, but I think it was widely agreed in Committee that that is a misnomer. It is automatic deportation except when it is not automatic, and that means a huge number of exceptions. The deportation provision applies to foreign prisoners who are sentenced to more than 12 months in jail, yet the Bill itself sets the punishment at 51 weeks for the new immigration offences that it creates. That means that anyone committing an offence under the terms of the Bill would not be subject to the part of it that provides for what it calls automatic deportation, which strikes me as perverse. It is not credible that a Bill that purports to protect our borders excludes from its own provisions automatic deportation of those who commit serious crimes against immigration officials and those who seek to enter this country illegally.

As it stands, the Bill sabotages its own effects. I am sure that the Minister will say, as he did in Committee, that a dim view will be taken of people discovered in the UK illegally and that the chances of their being allowed to stay will be limited. However, the Opposition believe that a strong message needs to be sent: “We will stop you if you try to come to this country illegally, but if we cannot we will catch you and send you away again quickly.”

Previous mistakes in that regard are the main cause of problems in the entire immigration system. The number of asylum seekers has dropped considerably in recent years, mainly because of the end—thankfully—of wars on the continent of Europe, but there is a huge overhang in the system, which is one of the main problems the Government face. We want to prevent anything similar from happening in the future, if there should again—God forbid—be large-scale movements of refugees across Europe, which would inevitably end up with hundreds of thousands of people coming to this country, as we have found in the past. That is the purpose of amendment No. 8.

Amendment No. 14 would require the Secretary of State to make a deportation order at least one month before the end of a prisoner’s sentence and would provide for that person to be deported within six months of the order being served. The Minister assured us at earlier stages of the passage of the Bill that he had the right systems and manpower to ensure that the deportation system would work better in future than it has in the past. He said that resources in what was the IND and is now the BIA—the immigration and nationality directorate and the Border and Immigration Agency for those who are not keeping up with the fast-moving world of Home Office acronyms—had increased tenfold over the past year.

The amendment is designed to probe whether the Home Office’s systems will ensure the deportation of the individuals it wants to deport, precisely because the scandal that cost the still immediately previous Home Secretary his job arose in part because of the inability of the Home Office, the Prison Service and other agencies to communicate and work together to get serious criminals, out of the country. One fears that with the split in the Home Office, which we discussed in previous business today, those communication problems are likely to get worse, as the Prison Service has been even further removed from the ambit of the immigration service. The situation will certainly not get better and it may get worse, so the need for the amendment is even more urgent now than when we discussed it a few weeksago in Committee. The amendment would ensurethat arrangements were already in progress when an individual neared his or her release date, to make the whole process smoother and more efficient.

Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 and Government amendments Nos. 17 to 22 relate to exemptions from automatic deportation and share a common interest. We want to achieve the same things. At present, people who have been handed a suspended sentence are exempt even if they serve some of the sentence, and the amendments would close that loophole. We wanted to delete subsection (1) of clause 37 in its entirety, but the Government want to do that in another way.

I am sure the Minister agrees that if a person is handed a suspended sentence he has committed a crime of some seriousness in the first instance. The suspended sentence is activated only when somebody is in trouble for a second time and is, therefore, by definition a repeat offender, so it seems entirely reasonable to us that such a person should have the hospitality of this country withdrawn from them. I am glad that the Government have once again shown flexibility in the wake of the discussions in Committee and that they agree with us on that point.

I hope that the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) will speak to his amendment No. 2, which also deals with exemptions from automatic deportation. Under clause 32, people are exempt if they are under 18 when convicted and, as I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment, he wants to focus on the date of the offence rather than the date of conviction. I have a degree of sympathy with Ministers on that point, as clearly they need to select one event as the cut-off point for the exemption. None of the options is perfect, but the advantage of using the date of the offence is that it will seem fairer. Justice can occasionally take a long time, so it is not difficult to imagine a situation where two 17-year-olds might commit a crime on the same day but one might be deported because his case took longer to get to court and he had passed his 18th birthday, while someone committing the same crime on the same day would be allowed to stay in the UK because he received justice more quickly. Such a hypothetical situation is not difficult to imagine; nor is it difficult to imagine that the public would find it somewhat unfair.

But does my hon. Friend not agree that one down is better than none down at all, and that we are better off getting rid of at least one prolific offender? Most people would find that a better solution all round.

It is an unarguable fact that treating one offender properly is better than nobody being treated properly, but I hope my hon. Friend agrees that everyone being treated fairly by the law should be our aim when passing legislation in the House, so that all offenders know that what is coming to them is the same punishment as for those who commit equivalent offences.

I have a deal of sympathy for the amendment and I shall be interested to hear the counter-arguments the Minister deploys against it, if indeed he does so. I know that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) wants to speak to amendments Nos. 34 and 35, so I shall let him do so before commenting further.

I want to comment briefly on the new clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), which is about people obtaining information.

There are good reasons why we have data protection legislation and why third parties are not normally given access to information under that legislation. In general, it is right that the legislation applies. I am familiar with the type of problem to which my hon. Friend referred and have seen a significant number of such cases, although they do not always involve criminal offences. A common situation might be that a marriage has broken up less than two years before an application for indefinite leave to remain was granted and a constituent claims that the person they left was violent and subjected them to harassment. Often, no criminal offence is committed in such cases so it can be difficult to decide whether information should be released, because when someone approaches us in such circumstances we inevitably hear only one side of the story. We might have an opinion on how valid that side of the story is, but we are only hearing one side of the story.

I have handled cases similar to those described by my hon. Friend. Recently, a constituent I was dealing with had separated from her husband who had been violent. He had then been convicted of a sexual offence elsewhere in the country. He had also been subjecting her family to considerable harassment after the marriage broke down. In my opinion, we should have got rid of him as quickly as possible. However, we ran into the problem of not being able to get information about what was happening to him and whether he was going to be deported.

As my hon. Friend said, we will not necessarily always get the result that the constituent wants—the other person being removed. However, whether or not they are removed it is common sense that the victim ought at least to have information on that. Has the person been subject to a deportation order? Has that order been signed? Has it been put into effect? If that has happened, it will give the victim some peace of mind. If for some reason it has not been possible to deport the convicted person, at least the victim will know that and can, if necessary, take whatever precautions they think are reasonable to try to avoid coming into contact again with the criminal.

The examples given are all very familiar. In some such circumstances, the assailant and the victim are married. In many cases, the victim—usually a woman—is also the assailant’s sponsor for being in the United Kingdom in the first place. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that in such circumstances at the very least—where there is a clear locus in addition to someone being the victim of a crime, subject to the other person being convicted of that—information about deportation should be provided?

That is a common scenario, but I can think of situations in which it would be difficult to give out such information. There might not have been a criminal charge. The person might not have been convicted. A constituent might come to their MP with allegations about someone’s behaviour but the police have not been involved and there has not been a conviction. In such circumstances, we hear only one side of the story. We might well believe it, but there has been no conviction.

However, we are currently talking about people who have been convicted—and of serious offences. The new clause does not ask for wide, generalised information to be given. It does not ask for information to be given about anything other than the deportation order itself. That is worth considering. Even if the Minister feels that the new clause as it stands is not appropriate and that what is needed are changes to existing legislation—perhaps to data protection legislation—I hope that he will look into the matter.

We are discussing narrow but clearly defined circumstances. I and other Members have dealt with constituents who have been very distressed when they have been the victim of a serious crime and it is not possible for them to know what is happening to the individual who committed it. We should contrast their situation with that of someone who has been a victim of crime in other circumstances and who would be able to get some information—who would know if someone were to be released on parole, for example. I hope that the Minister will look into this matter.

I rise to support amendments Nos. 34 and 35, on which we hope to have an opportunity to vote at a later stage. Perhaps one of the biggest issues with automatic deportation is that, in the Bill, automatic deportation is not automatic deportation. The key question about the processes whereby somebody goes through a criminal conviction and then ends up at some stage being deported is this: at what stage should the judicial consideration of the merits of the case for deportation occur? We have strongly argued that that should happen at an early stage. We argue that the court of first instance at which the decision is taken about whether someone is guilty and what sentence they should receive should also be the point at which it should be decided whether they ought to be deported. The Government’s alternative—having failed previously to execute judicial recommendations for deportation—is for the Home Secretary still to decide whether certain exemptions apply. As a consequence, the decision will be subject to judicial review. Because it will be subject to judicial review, there will be a stay of deportation proceedings until the judicial review has occurred.

Therefore, rather than the judicial consideration occuring right at the start, it happens at the end of the process. Therefore, we can envisage a prisoner being released because judicial review proceedings have been initiated and wandering off somewhere. The judicial review proceedings then continue and it is decided that there is no case to answer, but the person concerned has been released. That is absurd. Even if the Conservative party’s recommendation for deportation decisions to be taken at least a month before the end of the sentence is accepted, we could end up with people being released and there being a stay of proceedings. With no deportation, violent criminals could be allowed to wander the streets when they should have been deported.

It is clear that these issues should be dealt with at the start. Some offences that result in imprisonment—such as not paying council tax, stealing electricity, or not attending probation meetings—do not make someone a major threat to society. If someone has been living in the country for 30 years, we would not expect them to be deported for not going to a meeting or not paying council tax. That would not be reasonable.

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that nobody has been sentenced to more than 12 months in prison for not paying council tax. Therefore, the situation he describes is very unlikely to arise. No more than a handful of people each year are convicted of stealing electricity, and I am sure that the sentences for doing so are extremely light and of less than 12 months.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the current wording of clause 31. Obviously, some cases are covered that do not have a 12-month sentence applied. Suspended sentences are applied in some circumstances. It would be useful if the hon. Gentleman did a little more research on sentences.

We are saying not that criminals should not be deported under certain circumstances, but that judicial consideration should happen at the start of the process. That deals with one of the points of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), in that at that stage the victim is involved in the criminal process. It is at that stage that it should be decided whether it is appropriate to deport someone. There is no disagreement in this House that someone who comes to this country and goes about causing all sorts of problems, involving violence, for example—the situation in which the victim is the sponsor is a good example—should be subject to deportation. The question is: what is a firm but fair and effective way of doing that? The Government have failed to be effective in the past. We are simply saying that this decision should be taken by the initial court.

I am not sure that that solves the good point of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). A Judge might decide in the first instance that someone should be deported, but during the period of the prison sentence, the country to which he ought to be deported became so dangerous that he could not be deported there. Things might be even worse in the current situation in which someone might get a letter saying “X will be deported” but they are not deported. I am not sure that this problem has been addressed.

I accept that our suggestion only partially addresses that, in that the victim will be involved in the initial process and in the decision-making process as to whether someone should be deported.

There is a good argument in favour of new clause 1. As things stand, without new clause 1, there would be so-called automatic deportation as a result of some serious offence. A decision then would be taken by the Home Secretary as to whether that satisfies certain exemptions, and that would then be subject to judicial review, but the victim would not even know that a judicial review had gone through. Therefore, someone would be released from prison and be free to move anywhere in the country. However, the victim may believe, because of the flaws in the design of the system, that a deportation is occurring, only for the person concerned to turn up on their doorstep.

Frankly, the Government have got to get their act together and start designing systems that are firm, but fair and effective. The current proposals are not effective. They put the judicial process at the end of the system, rather than at the beginning, and that process should take place at the beginning.

I wish to speak briefly in support of my amendment No. 2 and of new clause 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney).

I have previously raised with a Home Office Minister a case involving a constituent of mine, a young man from Leicester who was studying in Manchester. He was killed in a road accident by a Chinese citizen. The matter went before the courts and there was a series of adjournments before the final hearing took place. Unknown to my constituent’s parents, the person responsible for the crime, although he had not been convicted—he had been charged and was to appear for trial—was removed by the Home Office back to China. So although they were ready to attend the trial of this gentleman and were seeking closure in order to move on, they were told by the court staff that he had been removed.

The then Minister with responsibility for such matters, my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham)—he is now a Minister of State in the Department of Health—told me that new procedures would be put in place to ensure that someone who was part of the judicial process would not be removed without people being informed. I am not sure whether that has happened. When the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality sums up the debate on this group of new clauses and amendments, he will doubtless tell us what has happened as a result of the issues raised in the Adjournment debate on this matter. Although I was satisfied with the actions of the then Minister, I was not convinced that the procedures adopted then by the Home Office would help us to ensure that such a situation would not occur again.

Hence the need for new clause 1, which is a sensible, reasonable provision that would help the Home Office and the victims of crime. In the light of today’s statement about splitting the Home Office in half and putting the Prison Service and the probation service under the remit of the Ministry of Justice—a move that I support—we will be dealing with two Departments instead of one. The flow of information might therefore not be as seamless as one would have liked; it certainly was not seamless before. However, if we adopted new clause 1, which has the support of other Members, such information would be forthcoming. As a result, victims would be informed and people would not be left in the situation faced by my constituents, to whom information was given only when they happened to ask. If the new clause was accepted, such information would be given to victims not by the Crown Prosecution Service or the police, or by the opposing side’s solicitors to their solicitors, but by the appropriate authority—in this case, the Home Office.

The gentleman to whom I refer was removed to China, but we do not know whether he has come back to the United Kingdom. We have no indication whether a cross was put on his passport or whether the Home Office told the Foreign Office about this case, which would mean that when he applied for entry clearance, the officer concerned would be aware that he had committed a crime for which he had not been charged. That is why this information is vital and why new clause 1 is so important. For those who will suffer in future, such a provision would be a great comfort; and my constituents, who have suffered following the death of their son, would be able to feel that the Government have acted responsibly to ensure that they can obtain closure.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) on making the case for new clause 1 so well. When I first read it I did not realise its significance, or that such a problem existed in obtaining information. If it is accepted, it would help the victims of offences and it would help Members of Parliament to help those whom we feel have a genuine case for staying here. We cannot always get the information that we require about foreign nationals in this country.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) echoed that concern, but I disagree with him slightly on one point. There is a wider malaise in the Home Office; not at the top, for once—I am not going to blame the Government for this—but among its middle-management, who seem to feel that victims do not have the right to information about offences, be they offences involving foreign or British nationals. I was involved in a case concerning a British national, and it was impossible to get information for the victims of that crime on when that person was going to be released from custody, or even on what his sentence was. Such information should be freely available, but the reality is that it is not. I therefore hope that my colleagues will consider supporting new clause 1.

I fear that I will not win so many friends in talking about the amendments in this group. Amendment No. 35 appears to be an attempt to take away from the Home Secretary the power to take decisions about deportations and to give more powers to the judiciary.

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the Home Secretary’s decisions are subject to judicial review in any event?

Of course, but the hon. Gentleman will know that it is very difficult to initiate judicial review—one has to prove not that one disagrees with the decision, but that the way in which it was made was fundamentally flawed in a legal sense. The amendment would make it easier for those who have committed offences to stay in this country.

I turn to amendment No. 2, tabled by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), amendment No. 15 and the various Government amendments. It is my fundamental belief that those who come to this country who are willing to work, play their part and make a contribution should be welcomed. However, I am afraid that far too many people who come here have no intention whatsoever of living up to the high standards that we set in this country, or of obeying our rules, and are prepared to commit crimes persistently and with no regard whatsoever for their victims.

As you may know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wear another hat as a special constable, and every time I log on to the force computer it becomes clear that gangs of pickpockets from several European countries—some inside the EU and others outside it—and from one African country are operating in this country, and that they have committed numerous offences and are arrested regularly. I can see their names and addresses on the computer and the long list of offences of which they have been convicted, and I know from statistics that they have been convicted of only a fraction of the offences that they have actually committed. However, they are not deported. Even when these provisions come into force, it is unlikely that many of them will be deported, because they are committing crimes that often carry a sentence of less than 12 months’ imprisonment.

It is my contention that there are far too many people in this country who should not be here as it is, and that we should be doing far more to get them out.

In a moment—when I have made my point about whether we should be booting out people aged over 18 or under 18 at the time of the offence. If we can remove more people from this country, we should do so if they are breaking the law. There should be no place in Great Britain for those who come here as career criminals.

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that our amendment would enable a persistent pickpocket to be put through the deportation process, and that, unlike his proposal, it would lead to their deportation?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Although his amendment would make deportation possible, it would be unlikely to happen in practice. Low though my opinion is of the Home Office, the Home Secretary is at least accountable in some way to public opinion. That is one of the reasons we have had a few Home Secretaries recently. The public have lost confidence in them. Ultimately, I would prefer to put my faith, little though it is, in the Home Office rather than in the judiciary, because the judiciary is completely unaccountable and, in far too many instances, passes sentences that defy rationality and common sense.

I shall make my final point bluntly. There should be no country in the world considered so dangerous that we should not deport people to it if they are persistent criminals or have committed serious crimes such as rape. I do not know what case the hon. Member for Walthamstow was talking about, but at least one rapist was imprisoned, and not deported on release, because Somalia was deemed to be too dangerous, and went on to commit another rape. I do not know the outcome, but I suspect that he still has not been deported.

The Foreign Office was able to spend £10,000 on sending a private jet into Somalia, presumably containing security guards, to rescue people who had British passports and who had been fighting on one side or the other in the Somali civil war and were connected with al-Qaeda. We were able to get planes in to pick people up—although I suspect that they will not make a great contribution to this country—so we should be able to send planes to take back people who are detrimental to the safety of the public in this country, such as the rapist I mentioned.

As anyone who has been to Africa or anywhere in the third world will know, a little bit of money goes a long way. If we wanted to deport someone to Somalia, we would not need to go to the expense of chartering private jets. We could simply take them to the Kenyan border and pay someone a few dollars to take them over in a minibus. It would be easy to deport people to Somalia. Put me into the Home Office and I will deport people who do not belong in this country left, right and centre. There is no single country to which we cannot physically deport people, and there is no country so dangerous that we should not deport people to it if they have committed the most serious offences.

I hope that the Minister will accept new clause 1 and amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 2. We are having this debate about automatic deportation because last year the Home Office failed to review and implement deportation orders on several criminals in the system. The Home Secretary did not exercise his powers and ended up losing his job.

I agree with the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). In the short time I have been a Member of Parliament, I have dealt with several cases of women subject to domestic violence in forced marriages. I have written to the Minister about some of those cases and the most frustrating aspect for the women is that their husbands are still around, having served their sentences. Data protection legislation prevents the Minister from giving the women any indication of when their husbands are to be removed. In the past 12 months, I have dealt with four such cases. It is deplorable that women who have been subjected to domestic violence should not know how long their husbands will be roaming around or when they will be deported.

When such women come to my surgeries and ask me to write to the Home Office for all the information they can be given, the Minister or his official writes back to say, “Sorry, as you are a third party, we cannot give you any information.” The spouse is never informed of what is happening.

I agree. If new clause 1 and the amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats were accepted, the victims would know at the time of sentence whether the offender was to be deported. The Minister can dress up the issue any way he wants—it might make good headlines to claim automatic deportation for a sentence of more than 12 months—but the clause is riddled with so many exceptions and ifs and buts that it will not happen. If our amendment is accepted, a decision will have to be made. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) gave the example of a pickpocket who commits a series of offences that do not qualify for an automatic 12-month sentence. Under the present rules, that person will not be subject to automatic deportation.

The automatic deportation provisions are not simply confined to those who have been given a 12-month sentence. They include the 324 offences that sit on section 72 of the 2003 Act. To take the excellent example of the recidivist pickpockets, their offences would be defined under the Theft Act 1968, which are on the section 72 order and so would be caught by the provisions of the Bill.

I am grateful to the Minister for that information. But let us take the example of a child asylum seeker—I have dealt with one such case in the past 12 months—who comes to this country with a false passport or no passport. At present, that offence attracts a 12-month sentence. The amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East, which applies the age limit of 18 to the date the offence was committed, rather than the date of conviction, would at least ensure some sort of parity when people are sentenced. The 12-month sentence limit is very arbitrary. Someone can be sent to jail for 12 months for not paying their council tax, for fly-tipping or for possession of cannabis.

The hon. Gentleman is being naïve. He talks about research, but nobody is sentenced to prison for 12 months for not paying their council tax, smoking cannabis or fly-tipping, although given our environmental problems, it would be good if they were for the latter. Let him give the House a single example of one council tax defaulter or cannabis smoker who has been given 12 months in prison and then he can make his case.

The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) fails to understand what the Minister said, which is that certain offences require only a sentence or suspended sentence of imprisonment of any length to qualify.

Order. If a Member gives way to an intervention, it is usual for him to deal with it before taking another. Otherwise we lose the thread of the debate.

I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The debate clearly illustrates why the clause needs serious revision. It is a fact, whether the hon. Member for Monmouth likes it or not, that those offences that I have mentioned can result in a 12-month jail sentence. They may not do so at the moment, although if he became Home Secretary I have no doubt that they would. We seek to provide clarity so that the judge will decide the sentence and the victim knows what will happen. Then, and only then, the decision can be subject to judicial review, whether by the Home Secretary or anybody else.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is being very generous. He is talking about clarity, so will he clear up what amendment No. 35 means? It states that

“in the opinion of the sentencing judge, there is no public interest or other lawful reason why the person should remain in the United Kingdom.”

What does the phrase “public interest” mean, as used in the amendment?

I can give the hon. Gentleman an example of what the phrase means. Let us say that a child from a war-torn country is seeking asylum here. The automatic 12-month sentence could lead to deportation, but it might not be in the public interest to send that child back to a country where he or she may not find a place of safety. That is why the public interest test has to be included. Moreover, the important point to remember is that what constitutes the public interest is subject to challenge by judicial review.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he is indeed being very generous. The public interest test is applied in every prosecution in this country—it is one of the requirements that the Crown Prosecution Service must meet before it mounts a prosecution, so it is hardly alien to our legal system. Surely, my hon. Friend is asking for the sort of clarity in sentencing that our hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) asked for earlier from the Ministry of Justice. He was assured that that was part of Government thinking.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. In conclusion, I hope that the Minister will consider new clause 1 and our amendments Nos. 34 and 35. They are important because they would provide clarity. We believe that the 12-month test is about headlines more than it is about dealing with real issues and offences.

I want to put on the record my gratitude to the House for the range of amendments in this group. The debate has been a good illustration of the sort of discussion that we had in Committee. There have been two extremes in the debate and, like all reasonable Governments, we have sought the right balance. We listened to the arguments made in Committee and, as the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) noted, we brought forward provisions to toughen some of the measures in the Bill.

I shall begin by talking about some of the more procedurally oriented amendments—new clause 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), and amendment No. 2 tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). I have enormous sympathy for both, and should like to thank my colleagues for the time that they have spent arguing their case with me, in this and previous debates, and in private.

I associate myself in particular with the remarks made by my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford and for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard). Many Members have encountered the same frustration at the lack of disclosure about sensitive cases. I have a great deal of experience of the sort of case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. Indeed, two such cases were brought to my attention just last Saturday. The first involved a young woman who was suffering intimidation by a former partner and having great difficulty understanding the status of the case. The second involved a young man suffering threats of violence from a former partner and members of her family—

Order. I wonder whether I could ask the Minister to face the microphone? It is difficult for hon. Members and the Hansard writers to hear him.

Thank you for your counsel, Madam Deputy Speaker.

We need to make changes in this area, but our acceptance of new clause 1 is constrained by the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998. The way in which it is drafted means that we would have to disclose information in quite a wide range of circumstances. For example, we would have to disclose the nature and basis of the asylum claim, and that could lead to questions about what considerations had been taken into account and what information was taken into account under articles 8 and 3 of the European convention on human rights.

It is important that we frame the Bill in a way that allows us to disclose the maximum possible amount of information to families and victims, yet still observe the constraints of existing legislation. Section 15(1) ofthe Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows information to be disclosed on 65 different offences. Under that provision, victim liaison officers are allowed to provide information about when a decision is made, when a deportation has been effected, and what conditions are attached to a person who has been released on bail. The victim has to opt in, and that happens in about 5,000 cases each year, so some of the arrangements are working in practice. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford met me to discuss his constituency case in more detail, so that we can understand whether the arrangements that have been put in place under the Domestic Violence, Crime Victims Act 2004 are working in that case or whether there is a problem with the implementation of the policy. Is there something that is mechanically not working and needs to be addressed?

In many cases, deportation happens after an order by a judge. A judge will recommend deportation—that is a public judicial act. I genuinely fail to see how a Data Protection Act constraint can apply to an order that is made by a judge in an open court in front of reporters and so on.

Precisely. That is why, under the 2004 Act, it is possible for victim liaison officers to disclose information about whether a deportation has been effected and, when a decision has been made, what that decision will mean, as well as, if someone is released on bail, the conditions that are attached to that. If my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford will permit me, I should like to explore whether those arrangements are working in practice or whether they need to be improved.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all that he has said, including the offer of a meeting, which I readily accept. In so far as there are obstacles, as he has described, in the Human Rights and Data Protection Acts, those are clearly Acts of Parliament that this place has passed. We are now debating another Act of Parliament and surely we can set what we want the law to be. When my hon. Friend describes the first small step that was taken in the 2003 Act, will he look at whether that can be strengthened to meet the concern that I have described today?

The answer must be yes, because under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act there is provision to disclose information about 65 different offences, but under the automatic deportation provisions in the Bill there are 324 offences listed in relation to section 72 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 that would result in automatic deportation if a sentence were handed out. As the hon. Member for Ashford pointed out, a court can recommend deportation, too. It is imperative that we understand how the Criminal Justice Act and the Bill line up. As I say, I am keen to ensure that there is nothing that is not working in practice as well.

We need to go a step further. Because of representations made to me by Members—particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), who is not in his place—and because of my experience in Birmingham, I have asked for a complete review of the disclosure policy of the Border and Immigration Agency. Today, I referred that to legal advisers for their view on whether we are operating at the boundary of existing provisions in the way we disclose information. I will write to Members by the end of the month with a statement of the new policy so that there is time for them to make representations before the Bill passes to another place.

May I ask the Minister a straightforward question? Who will hold the data that he mentions? In Committee, I referred to the situation in my constituency where I have been seeking to obtain records of the offences committed by the 55 foreign prisoners released in a 12-month period from Peterborough prison. I have been told repeatedly by the Minister’s Department that it cannot correlate the manual records held at the prison with those held at the former immigration and nationality directorate. If we cannot provide that sort of detailed information to a Member of Parliament, how can we possibly provide it, within the confines and the parameters that he mentions, to members of the public and, in particular, victims and their families?

We have to try to draw apart two different things. The inquiries that the hon. Gentleman has made are about the offences that have been committed by a reasonable number of individuals. As I think the replies will have made clear—I apologise if they have not—such an answer would involve a search through the details of each record. I think that the information sought by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford relates to what is happening to the perpetrator. Such information would detail whether an offender was being pursued for deportation, whether a deportation order had been served and whether the person had left the country. In other words, that information would show whether the victim was safe from further harassment or intimidation—or worse. One does not need to surf through an individual’s case history in enormous detail to provide such information, which is often required not only by victims, but by estranged spouses, who are involved in the particular problem that I face in my constituency.

Let me deal with a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East. A piece of correspondence that is with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary addresses some of the questions that he raised. Amendment No. 2, which he tabled, relates to a debate that we had in Committee about whether the relevant date for consideration should be the date of conviction or the date of the offence. I shall rehearse the argument that was made, by which I guess that I stand.

It is often very difficult to pin down the precise date of an offence, especially if it relates to drug dealing or sexual abuse. In sexual abuse cases, the victim is often unable to pin down the precise date of the offence, and the offence might have been perpetrated over a substantial period of time. If the relevant date was that of the offence, there would be a risk that the provisions would not be triggered for such an individual, although, as the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) said, that person would be better not in Britain any more. While the answer that we propose might not be perfect, it is, on balance, the best possible solution.

We have heard arguments at different extremes. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and my neighbour, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), argued that we should start with the judicial process. However, we already start with a judicial process because there will be criminal proceedings and a judge will hand down a sentence. I am troubled that their proposal would remove the strong relationship between committing an offence and being deported. It would put a great deal into the hands of judges and leave too much to judicial discretion. That would create the risk of different decisions being made in different parts of the country.

I suppose that my objections to the hon. Gentlemen’s proposal are threefold. First, we would lose all clarity about whether a breach of Britain’s hospitality leads to deportation. Such clarity about consequences serves as an important deterrent that we should retain. Secondly, we would lose the British public’s wider reassurance that serious criminality is not to be tolerated and that people who commit a serious offence will be removed. The combination of those factors would create the strong risk that criminally minded foreign nationals would be given the green light to try their luck because they could treat the discretion of the courts as a roll of the dice. Thirdly, I do not think that the proposal would get away from the problem of judicial reviews, given that amendment No. 35 would leave open the possibility of judicial review at the end of the process. It is important to remember that the non-suspensive appeal procedures for asylum claims that we have tried have been tremendously successful. There have been very few judicial reviews and even fewer have been lost.

That is not automatic deportation because clause 32 contains a massive number of exceptions. The Home Secretary’s decision on whether an exception applies could be affected by a judicial review. The problem is that while it says that it is automatic deportation, it is in fact a mechanism whereby a button is pressed at the start, yet the process can later be reversed by judicial review. Judicial considerations should happen at the start of the process. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The Government have messed it up before and they will mess it up again.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes, but under the arrangements in the Bill, the principal scope of judicial review is to determine whether the Home Secretary has properly considered an individual’s claim for humanitarian protection or asylum. Under the provisions, it is possible for the Home Secretary to designate such a claim as being clearly unfounded. As I say, we have used such provisions before; they are not a great legal innovation and I am not claiming anything original for the Bill. We have tried and tested the mechanisms under the non-suspensive appeal procedure for asylum claims and they have been found to be very successful.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) did not get a chance to speak to his amendments Nos. 15 and 8. I do not know whether he will have a chance to make his points later. His amendments go to the other extreme—they would trigger automatic deportation for absolutely everybody, no matter what offence they had committed. We deliberately sketched the provisions in such a way that they apply extremely widely.

On a procedural point, just in case the reputation of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) be traduced because he has not spoken to his amendments, I should point out that my understanding is that his amendments were not selected, so it is not surprising that he did not speak to them.

I am grateful to the Minister. I must apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the House; I had a meeting with a constituent and the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram), and it overran, which meant that I could not be here in time to speak to my amendments. The point that I want to make about them is that if people come to this country and accept our hospitality and our welcome, they should at least abide by the laws of the land. Given that no one ever goes to prison the first time that they commit a crime, and given that it is rare for people to go to prison these days, surely the fact that someone has gone to prison at all, whatever the length of their sentence, means that they are not suitable to stay in this country.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman had the chance to make that point. I missed him at the beginning of the debate; I looked around for him anxiously, and I am pleased that he has had the chance to intervene. The point that I make to him is that the application of the provisions is very wide. They apply to all foreign nationals who live in this country, and there may be some 3.4 million of them living here at any one time. That includes everybody who is granted indefinite leave to remain. The provisions could also apply to people born in this country to non-British parents after 1981, because they may not qualify automatically for British citizenship and may not have secured that privilege. It is quite possible for someone to have grown up in this country—to have come to this country for two or three weeks, but to have spent all their childhood and adult life here—and to be still subject to the automatic deportation provisions in the Bill. I want to avoid a situation in which someone who has spent all their life here and who is convicted and sentenced for something quite minor—such as the proverbial charge of council tax non-payment—is deported to a country that they have not been to in their living memory.

Does the Minister accept that as stealing electricity is an offence under the Theft Act 1968, any period of imprisonment for stealing electricity would result in automatic deportation?

I will come to the arrangements that we will need to make under section 72 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 in a moment, but the point on which I want to finish is that there has to be a degree of balance. That is why we propose automatic deportation for those offences that attract a 12-month sentence or are referred to in section 72 of the 2002 Act. That is a very long list of offences—it is 40 pages long and includes 324 different offences. They are offences that the House has deemed serious, and I therefore believe that they should attract the automatic deportation provision.

May I make a helpful suggestion? The Liberal Democrat Members sitting near to me seem to have a fixation about the theft of electricity. If the Minister could find a way to exempt people who steal electricity, and so not be deported, will the Liberal Democrat Members sitting on my left—they are very much to the left of me, in fact—offer to support the part of the Bill that we are discussing?

We will find out the answer to that question in the not-too-distant future.

I come now to the amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Ashford and for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). I confess to having a great deal of sympathy with amendments Nos. 14 and 8, and there are only two insurmountable problems. First, there are offences for which the sanction is automatic deportation, but which attract, too, a sentence of less than a month. Because it is quite possible for someone to commit one of the 324 offences under section 72 of the 2002 Act, it is possible for them to be handed down a sentence of less than a month for an offence listed in that section. In that case, the provisions could not apply. Secondly, I am sympathetic to the notion that someone needs to be deported within six months of a deportation order being served. Again, the only obstacle—I am afraid that it is insurmountable—is that occasionally it may be impossible at the end of the six months, or within that period, to return the individual to a particular country.

I understand the argument that was made by the hon. Member for Monmouth and I will explore with the Home Office human resources department whether there is any sort of secondment or contractual arrangement that we can enter into, bearing in mind the Register of Members’ Interests.

The offer has become better still.

Sometimes, legal barriers prevent us from deporting people. The individual may be unfit for travel, there may be an outstanding judicial review, or travel documentation may be unavailable, which would make it difficult in practice to enforce the provisions proposed by the hon. Member for Ashford, however sympathetic I am to them.

Amendment No. 8 would provide automatic deportation for all immigration offences. I would make two points. First, when it comes to assault occasioning actual bodily harm ofan immigration officer, common assault is listed in section 72, so it would attract automatic deportation. Secondly, we must remember that immigration offences are a broad class of offence and I do not necessarily think that we would want automatically to deport someone who, for example, had overstayed their visa for a couple of days to attend a graduation. I have received representations from Members on both sides of the House on such cases, particularly if someone cannot come back in after they are deported, so I would find it difficult to accept the amendment. It is important, however, to look again at the measures that we have proposed for consecutive and suspended sentences.

The hon. Member for Ashford tabled amendments Nos. 9 and 10, which are slightly unclear at the edges. I was not certain whether he was seeking to exempt people given sentences in institutions or hospitals or to exclude indeterminate sentences—that may, on one reading, be the outcome of the amendments. We believe that indeterminate sentences should be included in the remit of the provisions and time served in institutions, such as young offenders institutions, should be included. We think that time served in hospitals should be included, too.

We differ on the question that was posed in Committee by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) about whether we should include in the automatic deportation provisions consecutive and aggregated sentences. I find it very difficult to construct a solution that would solve the problem of offences and sentences that are handed down at different points in time. It is possible, for example, for an individual to be convicted of two different offences 30 years apart and for the cumulative sentences to add up to more than 12 months. In some cases, it is difficult to see how automatic deportation should apply, so it is important to preserve the right of in-country appeal. The individual should still face deportation, but there may be appeal rights that it is important to retain.

On the question of suspended sentences, we have come to a quite different conclusion. The key issue to which Committee members sought to draw our attention was what we should do about recidivists. Members will be delighted to learn that since the Committee stage I have undertaken my own study of reoffending across 19 crime areas, where the rate of reoffending within two years ranged from 10 or 12 per cent. to 80 per cent. The assurance that I can give the House is that 13 of the 19 categories of offence are section 72 offences, so they would attract automatic deportation. There are a couple of offences not in section 72 that we should consider, in particular drink driving offences and soliciting and prostitution. We will give the matter further consideration before we lay a new section 72 order later this year. That would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in the House, so hon. Members would be able to comment.

Offences such as violence, theft, burglary and robbery, as well as drug offences, are already included—many of the issues that were raised in Committee. I am not sure, from memory, whether theft of electricity is included, but burning down houses, another case that we discussed at length in Committee, is covered. The important thing is that there should be an opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of the order.

The Government amendments provide that if somebody is given a suspended 12-month sentence or a suspended sentence for a section 72 offence, and any part of that sentence is subsequently activated, the automatic deportation provisions will apply. We think that if somebody is given a suspended sentence, in effect the court is saying, “The sentence that we are giving you is an indication that you haven’t committed an offence so serious that you should automatically be deported.” The individual therefore has a chance to play their cards right and stay in the country. If, however, they commit an offence and the suspended sentence is activated for whatever period, they have had their chance and blown it and the automatic deportation provisions should take effect.

We spent a great deal of time debating the matter in Committee and I am grateful to hon. Members for their contribution. These tougher provisions are right. Overall, the provisions are important. I said on Second Reading that there are 8,000 to 10,000 foreign nationals in our jails. We think that the provisions will apply to about 4,500—a substantial number—which sends out a clear signal not only to the British public, but to the foreign nationals who are here to enjoy our hospitality, that criminality cannot and will not be tolerated.

We have had a good and sometimes lively debate on this group of amendments and on new clause 1. I am grateful to hon. Members in all parts of the House who spoke in support of the arguments that I put in favour of the new clause. I accept what my hon. Friend the Minister says about the statutory restrictions that prevent the Home Office and its agencies from giving the kind of information that I spoke about earlier. We are putting in place a new Act of Parliament and it is our responsibility to set a statutory framework that we think is right, so I urge my hon. Friend to go further than he has done so far.

I understand, too, that my new clause has legal ramifications, with which the drafting that I prepared may not fully deal. I, after all, do not have available to me the same resources for drafting legislation as the Minister and his Department, but by tabling the new clause I wanted to put down a marker to my hon. Friend that I will not go away and that the issue is important. I am pleased that, at the very least, our debate has sparked a wholesale review of the Department’s policy on disclosure of information.

A fundamental point has still not been addressed with respect to the balance of rights between victims of crime and the offenders who commit those crimes, so there is a need for more to be done. I accept the Minister’s offer of a meeting, to discuss not just the interests of my individual constituent, but the wider issue to which I have just referred. I accept that he is going in the right direction and intends to do more. On the basis of his assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 2

Immigration service: welfare of children

‘In section 11(1) of the Children Act 2004 (c.31), after paragraph (m) insert—

“(n) a regional office of the National Asylum Support Service;

(o) the centre manager of an immigration removal centre;

(p) the Chief Immigration Officer at a port of entry.’”.—[Damian Green.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 12—Children: exemption from reporting and residence conditions

‘After section 3(1) of the Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77) (limited leave to enter or remain) insert—

“(1A) A child making an asylum claim or a human rights claim whilst he is under the age of 18 shall not be subject to the conditions in subparagraphs (1)(c)(iv) and (v) above until he reaches the age of 18.

(1B) For the purposes of this section “asylum claim” and “human rights claim” have the same meaning as in section 113 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (c. 41).”’.

Amendment No. 1, in page 3, line 14, Clause 5, after ‘person’ insert ‘aged 16 or over’.

Amendment No. 36, in page 15, line 37, Clause 30, at end insert—

‘(5) In section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 (c. 19) after subsection (5) add—

“(6) If there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person has been the victim of trafficking in human beings, that person shall not be removed from the UK until the process of identifying the person as a victim of an offence has been completed.

(7) If an unaccompanied child is identified as a victim of trafficking, the Secretary of State shall—

(a) provide for representation of the child by a legal guardian, organisation or authority which shall act in the best interests of that child;

(b) take the necessary steps to establish the identity and nationality of the child; and

(c) make every effort to locate the family of the child when the Secretary of State determines that this is in the best interests of the child.

(8) If an individual has been identified as a victim of trafficking the Secretary of State shall allow a recovery and reflection period of not less than 30 days.

(9) During the reflection period established under subsection (8) it shall not be possible to enforce any expulsion order against that person and the Secretary of State shall authorise the persons concerned to stay in the UK.”’.

I wish to speak to three of the four amendments in this group and to support my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) on amendment No. 36, which I recognise from proceedings in Committee and which seems extremely sensible.

New clause 2 would extend the duty under section 11 of the Children Act 2004 to make arrangements to safeguard and promote children’s welfare to those providing services to refugee children and families, specifically immigration removal centres, the National Asylum Support Service and those dealing with refugee children at ports of entry. Section 11 places a duty on relevant agencies providing services to children to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote their welfare in discharge of their normal functions. The services with primary responsibility for the welfare and support of refugee children and their families, including the immigration service, are currently excluded from the otherwise long list of those to whom the duty applies.

Ministers have addressed this issue. The Home Office’s consultation paper, “Planning Better Outcomes and Support for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children”, which was published in February, says:

“Young asylum seekers, whether children in need or looked after children, matter every bit as much as other young people in the context of meeting each and all of the five outcomes of the Every Child Matters framework.”

That is not a great piece of prose, but the thinking behind it is extremely good. In this context it is noteworthy, and perhaps alarming, that the Government do not seek to offer refugee children the protection afforded by section 11. Ministers will be aware that the Refugee Children’s Consortium campaigned to ensure that refugee children would have the same protection as other children under the section 11 duty. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, whose Chairman I see in his place, has criticised the Government’s position, stating:

“the omission of this particular group of children from the institutional arrangements designed to fulfil the State’s positive obligations to children under articles 2, 3 and 8 raises the question of whether this gives rise to unjustifiable discrimination in the enjoyment of Convention rights.”

In the other place, Ministers argued that the inclusion of the refugee agencies would be overly restrictive. They also argued that in undertaking its primary function, the IND, as it then was, would do things that would be judged as inconsistent with a duty to safeguard and promote welfare.

That is the nub of a debate that has been running for a long time. It is worth going back to first principles. Section 11 of the 2004 Act is not an absolute duty—it simply requires agencies to make arrangements to have regard to the need to safeguard children and promote their welfare when they discharge their functions. As Ministers said in another place:

“We have been very careful in the way in which we have worded this clause: we do not put a duty on agencies that would make them unable to fulfil their primary functions.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 June 2004; Vol. 662, c. 995.]

Conservative Members certainly do not dispute that the primary function of the immigration service is to ensure effective immigration control, but similarly we would argue, as would everyone, that the primary function of the police is to ensure public order and prevent crime—yet the chief officer of police is included in the section 11 duty. The explanatory notes to the 2004 Act state:

“This duty is intended to ensure that agencies are conscious of the need to safeguard children and promote their welfare in the course of exercising their normal functions.”

The analogy is a good one. If the police can be regarded as exercising their proper central functions while having regard to the constraint, it is hard to understand from first principles why immigration bodies should not be able to fulfil their functions while operating under it.

The Refugee Children’s Consortium has taken legal advice, which states that section 11 would not prevent the Home Secretary from implementing removal directions for a child or his or her family and would, at most, affect the manner in which the removal occurred. Decent legal advice therefore shows that the exercise of the duty would not damage the proper functions of not only the front-line agencies but Ministers and officials when making the most difficult decisions about removal.

I am sure that the Minister knows that the Children’s Commissioner for England has described the refugee services’ omission from section 11 as “a great disappointment.” He also said that he believes that the exclusions are already having an impact on relations between those who are subject to the duty and those who are not. The Refugee Children’s Consortium argues that the standards of safeguarding for that group of children are inadequate. The Minister is a decent and humane man and will not wish children to be made more vulnerable through the lack of the duty, which would not impede the proper function of the immigration service.

In Committee, the Minister tried to assure us. He made the point that a wider debate was going on, and that discussions were taking place between the children’s champion in the immigration and nationality directorate and the Children’s Commissioner for England about the way in which the IND could be subject to section 11. He said that he did not want to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions, but he would explore what information he could provide at the earliest opportunity. Now is his chance not only to provide the information but to change the Government’s stance on the issue. I am clearly not alone in my view. A wide coalition of interests argues that the Government are simply wrong about the matter.

New clause 12 tries to probe the Government. It would ensure that conditions for residence and reporting were not imposed on someone who claimed asylum or protection under the Human Rights Act 1998 when under 18 and who had been granted leave to remain as a refugee or given humanitarian protection or discretionary leave. Clause 16 gives the Secretary of State power to impose reporting and residence requirements on those with discretionary leave, humanitarian protection and refugee leave. It provides for conditions such as curfews or a requirement to live in a specific location.

On Second Reading, the Minister said that he intended initially to apply the measure to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The document that the Government published on 28 February repeated that and put it in the context of changes in the regime for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children under the new asylum model, which restricts some of the rights that those children previously received.

The House is most grateful to my hon. Friend for his interest in the Bill and the amendments that he has tabled. What does he believe to be the purpose of the consultation paper? Does he agree that it should not be implemented until the consultation period has expired, all parties have given their views and the Government have had time to consider them?

It is up to the Minister to explain the purpose of the consultation. However, my hon. Friend’s underlying point is correct. A consultation that takes place during—in some cases, after—the passage of a relevant measure, so that we cannot possibly have responded to it, suggests bad process. Indeed, Ministers cannot properly respond because it is not yet finished. The only consolation that I can give my hon. Friend is that all experience tells us that, just as one immigration Bill passes to the other place and on to the statute book eventually, so another one will come along soon. We have had five such Bills in the past 10 years and we have already been half promised a consolidation Bill next year. One point made in Committee that cannot be made often enough is that quite a lot of the serious parts of previous immigration legislation have not yet been implemented—even while we debate and pass the current Bill. I can well imagine that large parts of this Bill will not have been implemented by the time the next immigration Bill comes along. That is not in any way to defend the way in which the Government do these things.

To provide a more detailed answer, my understanding is that, in future, children and young people will receive only limited leave until they are 17 and a half in order that any further applications that they wish to make can be concluded before they become 18. The Government’s hope is that that will have the effect of making many more young people liable to enforced return immediately on turning 18. The reporting and residence requirements in the new clause are intended to support that approach by providing additional mechanisms to monitor those young people in the period running up to their 18th birthday, when they can expect to be removed.

The contention made by the Refugee Children’s Consortium—and the question that the Minister has to address—is that that approach will not achieve its intended aims. Children who seek asylum alone in this country are often very vulnerable and, whether or not they meet the 1951 convention criteria, many will have a real fear of returning and do not consider it a realistic option. We can debate what should happen in principle to such children, but the practical point that I hope the Minister will address is that, faced with these additional residence and reporting requirements, large numbers of children will simply disappear from care and go on to the streets. We all know that if that happens, they are more likely to face danger and possible sexual or economic exploitation. In that case, the Government would not only fail to achieve their aim of removing more young people when they reach 18, but place more children in the way of moral or physical harm. I cannot believe that the Minister wants to achieve that.

I thank my hon. Friend for that very comprehensive and informative reply, which I am sure the whole House will have enjoyed listening to as much as I did, but can he help me a little more on the question of being 17 and a half? It seems to have sinister overtones, which I do not fully understand. I wonder whether my hon. Friend fully understands the significance of being 18. Once young people are 18, for example, do they have more rights than they did at 17 and a half? On the question of disappearance, is my hon. Friend aware of the ECPAT report—End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes—which showed that 48 children in the care of three local authorities disappeared last year? Will the Bill help?

I am indeed aware of that report and my contention is that the Bill may actually make things worse. To answer the first part of my hon. Friend’s question, no, these young people do not get more rights at 18. At 18 they can be deported and the Government are trying to ensure that they know where they are for the six months leading up to their 18th birthdays so that they are easier to deport. My problem with that is that I do not believe that the Government’s actions will make it any more likely that any individual will be there to be deported. Indeed, it is more likely that they will disappear earlier, putting themselves into danger.

Therefore, my objection to the provision is not a principled one but a practical one. It will achieve exactly the reverse of what the Government are seeking to do. To that extent, I agree with the Refugee Children’s Consortium that such an attempt to legislate for open-ended reporting and residence requirements for these children will not work, and that the Government’s rationale is inadequate. The Children Act duties on social services are sufficient to ensure that the children are cared for and protected and that their whereabouts are known. The additional reporting and residence requirements will be counter-productive for the Government and, perhaps even more importantly, for the children themselves.

Amendment No. 1 would exclude those under 16 from having to have biometric immigration documents. I suspect that there might not be much appetite for another full-scale debate on biometric documents just at the moment, but we shall certainly have such debates again and again in the coming years. The problem is that the provisions in the Bill are age-neutral. It is widely agreed, even by Ministers, that collecting and using biometric data from children is difficult and impractical. A study carried out for the Dutch Government found that the

“facial changes taking place up to the age of 12 are so marked that face recognition is not possible without highly sophisticated software and the considerable expense that goes with it.”

In relation to fingerprints, the same document goes on to state that

“the papillary ridges on the fingers are not sufficiently developed to allow biometric capture and analysis until the age of six.”

During earlier stages of the Bill, we held some very helpful evidence sessions, which were attended by experts including Professor Ross Anderson from Cambridge university. He said that

“fingerprint technology is certainly not good enough if you are matching one population against another, say 90 million people a year arriving at Heathrow versus 60 million people in the UK. You will get absolutely swamped by false matches.”––[Official Report, UK Borders Public Bill Committee, 1 March 2007; c. 96.]

So, as a subset of the general problem with using fingerprints for such recognition, there is a particular problem relating to children that makes their use even more unreliable.

I hope that the Minister will be able to address the practicalities of the proposal. In particular, I hope that he will provide us with information about the cost of the software required to calculate age-related changes in biometric information, and tell us how that requirement will be funded. Will he also set out the frequency of registration to which under-16s would be subject for the purposes of maintaining a biometric immigration document? Again, I believe that the practicalities will tell against the Government’s aims in this field.

I shall leave it to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) to bring to the debate on amendment No. 36 his considerable expertise and campaigning skills in this area.

The hon. Gentleman cited the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the treatment of asylum seekers. The evidence that we on the Committee saw and heard, directly and indirectly, made the case very strongly that the convention should apply to asylum seekers’ children and to other children equally. We took evidence from a head teacher, whose view was that there should not be two children in the same class with different rights. One of the issues that we identified was the difficulty of establishing the age of asylum seekers’ children. We were particularly concerned about the use of dental X-rays, and suggested that a more holistic approach should be adopted in that regard. Would the hon. Gentleman care to say something about that?

We were very concerned about the quality of care provided by some local authorities, and about the need for much more specialist training and awareness of the particular concerns facing asylum seekers’ children, which were not being addressed. The hon. Gentleman raised that point in the context of reporting.

I am grateful for all those interventions. The hon. Gentleman’s Committee has done much valuable work. I have seen, as he has, evidence suggesting that dental records are not the panacea that Ministers once hoped that they would be. In all conscience, it is difficult to determine a teenager’s age, within two years, on the basis of dental records. Clearly, a difference of two years might be crucial. It seems sensible to use some kind of dental evidence, but perhaps in conjunction with other evidence.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right that the standard of care provided by local authorities is variable. I would speak up particularly for those most exposed local authorities, which are often overwhelmed, and which find that central Government’s financial regime has become less generous in recent years. The borough of Hillingdon, with Heathrow airport in its area, has huge problems in that regard, and I have great sympathy with it and its council tax payers, who must ultimately pick up a large share of the bill for what we all recognise is essentially a national rather than a local issue.

We all agree that we need a fast, efficient, effective and humane asylum system. The problem is that the Government are now so desperate to appear tough on asylum and immigration that, in some parts of their policy, they are in danger of losing touch with basic humanity. I hope that the Minister will reassure the House that that is not the case.

I support new clauses 2 and 12 and amendment No. 1, tabled by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming).

In Committee, we had a full and frank discussion of the new powers granted to immigration officers under the Bill. The Minister gave a number of assurances, especially with regard to the training and support that immigration officers will receive to implement the new powers. When we raised the issue of asylum-seeking children, he also stated that he was entering discussions with the Children’s Commissioner about making sure that asylum-seeking children were covered by the provisions. When he responds, I hope that he will update us on those discussions.

We, and certainly the Refugee Children’s Consortium, believe that it is an anomaly that immigration officers are not covered by the provisions. We do not see why the Government cannot accept the new clause, which does not impose new restrictions or make the job of immigration officers more difficult. It does ensure, however, that asylum-seeking children are subject to the same safeguards as all other children. Clearly, as the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) said in reference to his report, it is wrong that two children in the same classroom should be subject to different levels of safeguards. I hope that the Minister will accept the new clause.

With regard to new clause 12, on reporting and residence arrangements, as I said in Committee I do not see what particular expertise immigration officers have in relation to looking after young children. The Minister said then that he wanted to ensure that a relationship developed between immigration officers and asylum-seeking children to facilitate their speedy removal. I ask him now to consider what advantages that process has over the existing arrangements under which local authority social services and education departments deal with such children.

I have personal experience of asylum-seeking children who have been subject to all sorts of trauma in their home countries. Some have witnessed horrendous murders, and some may well have been abused themselves. Now officers with no training or expertise in dealing with such issues as child abuse are to be asked to build up a relationship. What will that achieve? I do not think it will facilitate the speedy removal of asylum-seeking children. I believe that that can be done through local authorities and National Asylum Support Service officers who, in Rochdale at any rate, are employed by the local authority and have a day-to-day relationship with families seeking asylum. That, I believe, is the best way to ensure that any provisions relating to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are implemented. I fear that if the residence and reporting arrangements are enforced, perhaps clumsily, many children will disappear—which is not the object of the exercise—or put themselves in a position in which they are in someone else’s control, without particularly wanting that to happen. In that event, they might be subjected to all sorts of horrendous acts.

The aim of the new clause is to prevent young people under 18 from being subject to the reporting restrictions. In Committee the Minister gave us no explanation of how the restrictions would apply, and how they would affect such things as education. I asked him then whether young children would have to report to the centre. In the case of Greater Manchester, it would be the Salford centre. What would be the effect of a monthly trip to Salford from Rochdale? Might it not disrupt the child’s education?

We believe that the restrictions are not necessary, and that the controls the Minister wants can be provided through better use of existing local authority arrangements—for instance, through the Immigration Advisory Service.

Let me now deal with amendment No. 1. As the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) pointed out, we have had a number of discussions about biometrics. The Government have allowed themselves everything including the kitchen sink in terms of the information that they want to be stored about people. The plain fact is that, as evidence has shown, fingerprints and facial expressions do not provide reliable measurements.

We tabled an amendment in Committee suggesting that if the Government insisted on using biometrics, they should note evidence suggesting that eye biometrics were the most stable. We believe that the safest course in lieu of that amendment, which was rejected, is to ensure that children under 16 are not subjected to biometrics. In a family context, the process can be dealt with through the children’s parents. I hope that the Minister will reconsider his position, especially on new clause 2 as it would ensure that asylum-seeking children were treated the same as every other child.

I was not planning to speak in the debate, but as the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), who tabled amendment No. 36, is not in the Chamber I shall try, as Chair of the Human Rights Committee, to step into his not insubstantial shoes to talk about people trafficking.

My criticism of amendment No. 36 is that it does not go far enough. It seems to put in statutory form the requirements of the European convention against trafficking in human beings, which the Government have already agreed to sign. I am pleased that they accepted the recommendation of my Committee to that effect when we produced our report in the autumn, but signing does not go far enough; the treaty must be properly ratified not just by the United Kingdom but by other countries to make sure that it comes into effect.

Amendment No. 36 would recognise and protect the victims of people trafficking, which is reckoned the second most serious international crime after the drugs trade. It is organised crime, involving large numbers of people and huge amounts of money. Several years ago, the Government admitted that 4,000 women had been trafficked for sexual purposes, but that figure is now widely seen to be an underestimate. Having met victims of people trafficking through the Poppy project and heard evidence about that crime, I have no doubt that the provisions of the amendment are important.

It is important that the victims of trafficking are recognised as such at a sufficiently early stage for them to be protected, and that they are not faced with arbitrary removal, as has been the case for some of them in the past. When a brothel is raided everybody is rounded up—victims of people trafficking and traffickers alike. That has to stop.

The convention makes specific provision for unaccompanied children who are trafficked, as set out in subsection (5) of the amendment. Their interests must be represented in the legal process through a guardian; the children must be properly identified and efforts made to locate their family back home.

However, what is important is the question of recovery and reflection, which the amendment, unfortunately, does not define. Recovery and reflection are about putting the interests of the victims of trafficking first—making them paramount in the process. For example, a woman may have been the victim of multiple rape over a prolonged period. Recovery and reflection would give such victims the time to come to terms with what happened to them and the support and counselling they needed to address those appalling experiences, and then to decide the extent to which they could co-operate with the authorities in bringing the perpetrators of their trafficking to justice. On the evidence we heard in the Select Committee, the period of 30 days specified in the amendment, which is the period in the convention, is far too short. It is important that victims are given the chance to have a period of reflection before action is taken on their removal.

As I said, my main concern is that the amendment does not go far enough in protecting victims, to make sure that there is support for them not only through organisations such as the Poppy project but also in the criminal justice process so that their immigration status is dealt with properly. When I met a woman from eastern Europe, through the Poppy project, I was appalled to hear that her trafficker had been convicted and served a lengthy prison sentence, yet her immigration status had still not been favourably determined. That cannot be right and it is an example of what needs to be done.

We must make sure that when the victims of trafficking come to light they are properly supported to resettle either in our country or in their country of origin. If they are returned, they should be rehabilitated effectively and properly. At the Poppy project, we heard of one poor woman who had been returned to her country without proper support and retrafficked within 48 hours by her family.

The amendment is important. It adds to the legislation on immigration and asylum some of the protections provided in the convention, which the Government have now agreed to sign. However, it does not go far enough. I hope that in responding to this brief debate the Minister will give a commitment that the Government will seriously tackle this matter, not necessarily with legislation but on the back of the convention that they have so properly at long last agreed to accept.

I did not intend to speak in this debate, but I feel prompted to do so by the contributions made so far. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) for not being present in the Chamber when he moved the new clause; I was attending a Select Committee sitting. However, I know from experience that my hon. Friend has great concern for the welfare of children in the circumstances under discussion, and it is proper to have such concern. I seek an assurance from the Minister that the Government are dealing with children in as humane a fashion as possible and taking their interests into account.

I make no secret of the fact that I have many wide-ranging criticisms of the asylum system. I recognise that many people try to use the system as a means of facilitating their migration to this country when they do not have a proper asylum claim. However, I also recognise that a substantial number of people do have genuine claims for asylum, and we must bear in mind their interests as well. Looking at the system in the world as a whole, I find it hard to see a thread of consistent logic in how it operates, particularly in conjunction with the carriers’ liability provisions that this country has adopted.

However, almost all decisions to come to this country—whether for reasons of economic migration or because somebody is genuinely fleeing persecution—are taken by adults. They are not taken by children. When children arrive here and are unaccompanied, we owe them a special duty of consideration—seeing things from their point of view and recognising some of the experiences that they might have been through. Whenever a child is unaccompanied by an adult, we must do as much as we properly can to ensure their welfare. My hon. Friend made his points on that very well.

I do not intend to discuss some of the legal arguments to do with the various obligations that countries have or those that we seek to place on local authorities and others. However, I know that the Minister is genuinely engaged with this subject, and I seek an assurance from him that the Government are conforming to the highest humanitarian standards in dealing with such children. The public would expect that of us, irrespective of how we might feel about other parts of the asylum system.

I am grateful to Members for having tabled the new clauses and amendments in this group, so that we have had the opportunity to debate on Report another subject on which we spent a considerable amount of time in Committee. Members of all parties have made representations to me during my happy months as immigration Minister—and I have spent nearly a year in this post now. The fact that they have done so underlines the point that the House takes this issue very seriously, and it is proper that on Report we should have a debate such as this.

We must strike a balance. On the one hand we must ensure that, as the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) said, unaccompanied children are given the right level of protection when they come into contact with us in this country and come under our care. On the other hand, we also have a duty to ensure that the deportation of children who have no right to be here and whom it is perfectly safe to remove does not become so difficult that in effect a green light is switched on for every child trafficker around the world.

The Government and the Public Bill Committee have put considerable effort into ensuring that the Bill contains a number of new measures that make it easier to track down people smugglers and human traffickers, wherever on earth they perpetrate their crimes. It would be unfortunate if we ended up with a Bill that in any way encouraged that barbaric trade by making it so difficult to remove people who have no right to be here that Britain became a target.

Our starting point is a protocol that it is perfectly right that our Government should carry on implementing. We did not invent it; it was devised and explained to this House by a Conservative immigration Minister back in the early 1990s. The point is that when such children become adults, it is important for us to ensure that they go back home when a court has said that it is safe for them to do so. Otherwise, it is impossible to maintain the integrity of the immigration system—a sentiment that was well reflected by the hon. Member for Hertsmere.

I am proud to say that this Government have helped to lead the way in Europe on this subject. During our EU presidency we pushed through the EU action plan on human trafficking. When we established the Serious Organised Crime Agency, we made sure that four of the 20 work programmes pursued by it related to tackling trafficking. After considerable debate, we published in March the UK trafficking action plan, which provides an holistic approach to prevention, prosecution and support. Last year we established the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre—a facility that a number of Members have visited. Of course, this year we signed the Council of Europe convention on human trafficking—a subject about which I feel very strongly, not least because my predecessor as MP for Birmingham, Hodge Hill is now the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe.

I shall discuss the amendments and new clauses in reverse order, as the first to which I want to speak is amendment No. 36. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) for ensuring that we would debate it, and I agree with him that it does not go far enough. In effect, it picks out parts of the convention and seeks to put them into effect through the Bill. Of course, the problem is that incomplete implementation would create risks in different parts of the system. For example, the amendment does not deal with how people get support, or how victims of human trafficking under forced labour provisions might be protected.

We want to ensure that the convention is not implemented in an incomplete fashion; we do not want to drop defences, thereby creating a pull factor. Crucially, we want to ensure protections for all victims of trafficking. I want to give my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon the commitment that we will implement the convention, but not in a half-and-half way. That is why we have said that we will ratify it only when we are absolutely confident that we can implement it in full. A project team has been established at the Home Office that is reviewing what training and legislation is required, what legislation is required of other Government Departments, and what support arrangements need to be put in place not just by the Government but by local authorities.

I understand that some 35 countries have signed the convention, that seven have ratified it and that Germany is shortly to sign. Once 10 countries have ratified it, it will effectively be in force. However, it is important for this Government to ensure that when we choose to ratify it, we can implement it in full. Otherwise, I fear that signature and ratification will be dismissed—rightly—as a token gesture.

I am grateful to the Government for the very positive response that we received to our report last autumn. When does the Minister expect the work to which he has just referred to be completed, and when will the Government be in a position to implement the requirements of the convention?

I am unable to give my hon. Friend reassurance on the time scale this afternoon. I am more than happy to ensure that, either on an individual basis or through the Committee that he chairs, which has taken a close interest in this subject, the Home Office provides regular updates on the timetable and the progress against it, so that we have proper scrutiny and monitoring of an issue of some interest to all hon. Members.

I apologise for not being here to speak in support of my amendment, but I was occupied in two other places. I hoped to be here in time, but unfortunately my colleagues did not speak for long enough.

We are all in favour of the Council of Europe, and we are grateful to the Minister for his interest in getting the convention signed, but how does that square with the consultation paper suggestions, which propose giving children far fewer rights than suggested by the convention? The two appear to be on a collision course. Is that how the Minister sees it—and if not, will he explain why not?

I am happy to do that, because I see no collision course, and my staff spent some time on the report before it was issued, which is why it was slightly late. I wanted to ensure that it had proper consideration at the right levels of seniority within the Home Office. The consultation document tries to flush out a couple of ideas, but none is more important than new measures to ensure that we do not have children in the adult care system or—even more importantly—that we do not have adults in the children’s system. That is why age testing is so important.

There are measures in place that may provide certainty to plus or minus five years, but if we were to rely on them we would open ourselves to the risk of having adults in the children’s system, and that is not something that I would be prepared to countenance knowingly. Therefore it is incumbent on us to explore any opportunity to improve the accuracy of age testing. I know that there is controversy over the use of dental X-rays and other methods, and I am grateful for the tone that the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) struck. It is incumbent on us to try to make an imprecise science as precise as we can.

The second group of measures on which we are trying to solicit views through the consultation document concerns the care arrangements available for children. As the hon. Gentleman said, those are concentrated in London at present. That means that boroughs such as Hillingdon, where I have met the directors, shoulder an unfair burden. If we encouraged different local authorities in various parts of the country to become specialists in the provision of such care, we could manage some of the pressures in London better and improve the overall care that we can offer unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. That is why I stress that the document is a consultation document. It has been put together with good intentions, and it contains open questions. I encourage hon. Members to respond to it.

The consultation document does not contain any particular question, policy or direction of travel that requires legislation to underpin or implement it. Efforts to strengthen the support that we provide for children will undergo incremental improvement over the next few years. The reform plan for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is one part of that, and the Council of Europe convention is another. There will be others, and we must keep the spotlight constantly on the issue, so that any opportunity to improve care is taken up.

I was concerned about articles 10 and 13 of the convention, which provide the victim with assistance and protection. The Minister is clearly satisfied that the consultation paper will not conflict with those objectives, but why have the Government refused to lift the reservation on the UN convention on the rights of the child? That is about giving children protection. The Government keep saying that the convention might conflict with domestic legislation, but what domestic legislation? It would be marvellous if the Government took the lead on that convention.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and I shall address that precise matter in my remarks on a later amendment. However, I shall first pick up some points made by the hon. Member for Ashford about biometric immigration documents. I have somewhat lost track of where he stands in the debates about Europe that often surface in his party, and I cannot remember whether he would be influenced by the fact that the European Commission is about to introduce requirements for biometric residence permits. I understand that from this week that requirement will apply to third-country national children aged six and over—something that may appeal to some in the Conservative party, although it may not cut much ice with others.

Two important arguments support the issuing of biometric immigration documents to children. The first is that that will help us tackle trafficking. I shall pray in aid a contribution that I solicited from the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre, which

“views biometrics as having great potential as a tool for law enforcement to effect identity, recovery and rescue of child victims of trafficking. Having biometric details of children means that when you encounter a victim you can identify and rescue them from whatever form of exploitation they are suffering.”

We have sought to introduce biometrics in two ways. First, we have issued biometric visas abroad, a process that allows us to pin down the relationship between the child and a particular adult, and to capture the child’s biometrics at that time. We have successfully issued 5,500 biometric visas to children, and by the end of the year they will be issued at all our visa posts abroad.

When a child applies for further leave in-country, we can check the child’s biometrics again, and determine that the family coming along with the child is the same as the one that was with the child when the application for the biometric visa was made. An alarm is triggered if there are discrepancies. I do not understand why we would want to turn that alarm system off, as I consider it an important step forward.

The second argument for biometric checks is that in the long term, they will help us to tackle fraud. Their introduction will help us to govern and police access by third-country nationals to the benefits system. Capturing the biometrics of children allows us to stop the deplorable crime of child swapping, whereby a child is placed with a family to try to improve that family’s eligibility for benefits. The ability to pin down a child’s biometrics on our systems and place that child with a family will give us a way to tackle problems of that sort.

I know that questions have been asked about unstable biometrics. The problems that arise have less to do with capturing the biometrics than with the matching software. The report about the costs of biometrics will be laid before the House shortly, as I am sure that the hon. Member for Ashford will be delighted to hear. In answer to his specific question about frequency of registration, I can tell him that it is currently envisaged that people will be asked to come back after about five years.

The Minister will be aware that there is growing concern about the very little children, particularly from Asia and Africa, who are being brought in for the purposes of slavery and paedophile activity. They are also being brought in for what are called muti rituals, in which a child is killed for religious purposes. I heard what the Minister said, but his remarks do not apply to those children. We do not really know what we are facing in that regard, so what approach has he taken to obtaining the relevant statistics? When he has got them, will he be able to follow up and do whatever is required, including introducing primary legislation? Finally, what does he have in mind to tackle the problem that I have described? The answer that he has just given does not touch it.

I know that the hon. Gentleman has long taken an interest in these matters. We have to try to stop the trade in the first place, so the Bill, which introduces new offences to tackle people trafficking, is an important step forward. Issuing biometric visas helps us to lock down an identity to an individual. All that we are doing in the Bill, through our provisions for biometric immigration documents, is making sure that when a child applies for further leave to remain, or if a child is going to be here for some time, there is a cross-check against the original biometric information. That provides us not with a complete answer, but with another tool to help us discover where things are going wrong. The argument against the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Ashford is: why would we throw that alarm system away? Surely it is better to build tools up over time, rather than to lose them.

Before I come on to the debate about section 11 of the Children Act 2004 and contact management, I should say that I understand the argument that the Refugee Children’s Consortium has put forward, but it sounds a little strange for people to say that an insistence on contact may drive people underground, when at the moment we have no legal means of establishing contact at all. It is important to be able to contact children at regular intervals in order to know whether they are still in the country, where they are, whether they are being looked after properly, and, often, to acquaint them with the prospect that they will be going home again soon. I do not pretend that this is a complete answer, but it is another important tool that the immigration service would find useful.

I might be able to be helpful to the Minister, but I need an explanation. The Minister is familiar with the unaccompanied and separated children and refugee projection in the UK report “Seeking Asylum Alone” by Jacqueline Bhabha and Nadine Finch. The report shows that there is a difference between the Home Office figures for applications from unaccompanied and separated children and the statistics provided by the Refugee Council’s children’s panel. There are big discrepancies. In 2003 the Home Office figure was 2,800 and the Refugee Council’s children’s panel figure was 4,658. I wonder whether the Minister could indicate, bearing in mind that the Government grant only 6 per cent. of asylum applications from unaccompanied children a year—94 per cent. get sent back—

I would be more than happy to look at those discrepancies and to spend as much time with the hon. Gentleman as is required to try to get to the bottom of that matter.

I was talking about the need to maintain contact arrangements with children, particularly when they do not have the right to be here. While honouring our commitment not to send children home when, in our view, the reception arrangements are not appropriate, it is important that we make arrangements to send them home as soon as it is safe to do so.

I now come to the debate about section 11 of the Children Act 2004, which was where the hon. Member for Ashford started. This is an important area and we have spent some time reviewing it over the last 12 months. The nub of the problem is that the section 11 duty is not a simple duty. There are two parts to it. On the one hand there is a duty to safeguard the child, but on the other there is a duty to promote the child’s well-being. The Department for Education and Skills guidance that comes with the duty is clear. It says that the duty is to make arrangements to ensure that

“children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care”.

It also mentions:

“undertaking that role so as to enable those children to have optimum life chances and to enter adulthood successfully”.

The analogy with the police is helpful, because the police do not seek to deport people to third world countries. Although our advice is that, legally, we would win the cases—I am sure that the refugee children’s organisations have gone to some good lawyers to solicit advice and ascertain that there are no barriers to the Home Secretary setting removal directions—unfortunately, that is only part of the story. My great fear is that there would be a licence for judicial review to multiply. One can easily see that lawyers could file judicial reviews challenging decisions and arguing about a Home Office decision to deport somebody to the Democratic Republic of the Congo or parts of south-east Asia. I think that lawyers would question how that would be consistent with the duty to enable those children to have optimum life chances and enter adulthood successfully.

Judicial review presents a serious problem: between January and March this year we received an average of 79 judicial reviews a week challenging enforcement activity. Some 94 per cent. were refused permission at the paper stage; none the less, one ongoing case has been running for 12 months and is on its second judicial review. Another case has been running for 14 months and is on its fourth judicial review, while a further case has been running for seven months and is on its third judicial review. People often try to exploit the judicial review process as a last-minute barrier to removal. I fear that the change to section 11 proposed by the hon. Member for Ashford would simply multiply those barriers.

While I understand what the Minister is telling us, he also says that it is not the intention to deport, or send home, children at least until they become adults. The provision would not apply after people reached the age of 18, so I do not understand why they cannot be subject to section 11 of the Children Act 2004 while they are children in the UK, which is all that we want.

We will often be making arrangements to send those people home. I simply do not understand how anyone cannot envisage that in judicial review proceedings, lawyers would make the argument that I cited. The proposal would lead to the multiplication of judicial review proceedings.

This is a serious matter. It is important to go further than we have to date on the Border and Immigration Agency’s duty to safeguard the welfare and livelihood of children. I said in Committee that we were keeping the matter under review. This summer the agency will publish its safeguarding strategy, which has been drawn up in close consultation with children’s organisations. If the Bill is enacted, we will commission advice from the new inspectorate about how it can examine specifically the way in which the safeguarding strategy is implemented, so that we can ensure two things. The first is that the strategy is actually working, with policy being translated into practice. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), has helpfully and successfully highlighted instance after instance when policy has not been translated into practice, which explains why the single inspectorate is important. The second is that hon. Members, and the wider public, have an assurance that the safeguarding duty is being implemented properly.

We can make important changes. While the point about transparency is particularly important, we need to continue to listen to the argument about how a specific and appropriate legal obligation could underpin the safeguarding responsibilities of the border and immigration authority in a way that would not multiply the grounds for judicial review, but would ensure that hon. Members’ ambitions were achieved.

I am listening carefully to the Minister’s explanation. He cited an example involving the DRC. Given that that is an unsafe place, we would not deport anyone to that country, whether they were under 18 or over 18. The section 11 safeguards would not be affected in such circumstances. As I understand the way in which the system operates at the moment, an asylum seeker will not be sent back to an unsafe country.

That is absolutely right. I am trying to make the point that the section 11 duty is about not simply safeguarding, but enabling

“children to have optimum life chances and to enter adulthood successfully”.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the DRC is the size of western Europe. There are places in the DRC to which the asylum and immigration tribunal has consistently found it very safe to return people. However, one can easily envisage how a cunning and clever lawyer could look at the part of the obligation that I cited and question how deporting a child from the world’s fourth largest economy would promote optimum life chances or help that child to enter adulthood successfully. That is my fear. I do not think that anyone in the House would want us to remove defences in a way that prevents us from deporting people successfully. I genuinely think that hon. Members understand that if defences are weaker, Britain will become a target for child traffickers, and no one in the House wants that.

We need to go further in ensuring that the Border and Immigration Agency has a stronger safeguarding obligation. I have sketched out a couple of ways in which I think that that can be brought about, but I remain open to the argument that a legal requirement should be put on the BIA, and a specific safeguarding element should be written into the law. I have yet to be convinced of that, and I do not think that the answer is in section 11 of the Children Act 2004—but when the Bill goes to another place there will still be a case to be listened to and answered.

I start my response to this extremely good debate by apologising to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). I knew that he was going to be unavoidably detained elsewhere, but I had not realised for how short a time. If I had, I would have explored the issue in even greater depth. I assure him that I have now had one unprecedented experience this afternoon: sitting down at the end of a speech and being criticised for having made it too short. I am grateful to him for that. I can reassure him that his case was made most eloquently by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore).

To pick up on some of the Minister’s points, I thought that he was pushing the envelope a little in saying that the Government were leading in Europe on the fight against trafficking. As he will be aware, the Government made the good move of signing up to the Council of Europe convention rather later than many Governments did. He was right to say that the Government do not want to ratify the convention until they can actually implement it, because we have had enough of gesture politics from the Government, both in that field and in others. I find it refreshing that the Minister is seeking to avoid that, but I point out, as he did, that seven countries have already ratified the convention, and when 10 countries ratify it it will come into force, so it is likely to come into force soon. At that point, the Government will presumably start implementing it. I thought it slightly ominous that he could not give the hon. Member for Hendon any reassurance about the timing, and could not say when the Government will be in a position to do something practical and useful in that respect.

I am grateful for that. Ambition for accuracy is a good thing in Ministers. The Minister’s central point was about striking a balance between the protection of children and the protection of the interests of the Executive, which should not be tied down with judicial reviews. I found his argument on that point beguiling, but it was not convincing, because the Government have had a long time to think about the subject. They have known what the refugee children’s organisations and others think about the issue for a long time. It is not wholly convincing for the Government to come before the House on Report, after a long Committee stage, and say, “We’re looking into the matter, and we may bring forward appropriate measures, but not those supported by both main Opposition parties and the organisations concerned. We’ll come up with better measures during the later stages of the Bill.” The Government have had a long time to consider the issue, and they have not yet found any other measures.

I would hate to miss this opportunity to register the point that underlies all our discussions, which is that the current arrangements are not satisfactory. Indeed, what the Minister said this afternoon made it clear that he does not think that they are satisfactory either, and is looking for better ways to protect the rights of refugee children. If he cannot come up with concrete proposals at our final opportunity to discuss the Bill before it proceeds to another place, it is for other parties to submit such proposals to protect those children. That is what we have done, and we commend our proposals to the House.

Is not my hon. Friend’s concern—indeed, the Opposition’s concern—about the fact that many thousands of unaccompanied minors arrive somehow or other in the country every year at airports and ports? I do not know how they get here. The Government are then expected to finance their care in local authorities, provide legal aid, food and shelter—but then what? Does my hon. Friend believe that something needs to be said about how we are going to manage better those thousands and thousands of children who are still pouring into Britain? Certainly we are not doing enough at the moment.

My hon. Friend is exactly right. One of the things that the Government have failed to do is make our borders secure enough so that people traffickers and other evil criminals are not encouraged to try to smuggle children into this country. That brings us on to a debate about our proposals for a border police force, which is the most effective way of minimising the effects of that particularly repellent crime—but I suspect that you would pull me up, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I went too far down that road, because it is not strictly relevant to this group of amendments.

Finally, the Minister talked about the European Commission and biometric documents for children. Whether the proposals are introduced by the Commission or by central Government, if biometrics for children do not work—all the technical evidence suggests that they do not—those documents will be ineffective in protecting them. I am relaxed about whether the proposals come from the Commission or from the Home Office; they will not work in either case. In summary, I have not found the Minister’s arguments that we should wait for the Government to come up with a convincing way of protecting children at all persuasive, however well he put them, so I commend the new clause to the House.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House proceeded to a Division.

I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.

New Clause 5

Verification of identity

‘An immigration officer must ensure that any clothing covering the face, or part of the face, of an individual is removed for the purposes of verifying the identity of that individual upon entering or leaving the United Kingdom.’.—[Philip Davies.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 6—Limit on immigration—

‘(1) The Secretary of State must by order specify the maximum number of non-European Union nationals who may be granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom each year.

(2) An order under subsection (1) may contain such supplementary provisions as the Secretary of State considers necessary.

(3) An order under subsection (1) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.’.

New clause 7—Asylum seekers: provision of secure accommodation during application process—

‘In Part I of the Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77) (regulation of entry into and stay in United Kingdom) after section 3 (general provision for regulation and control) insert—

“3ZA Provision of secure accommodation during application process

(1) An applicant for asylum to whom this section applies shall be detained in secure accommodation for a maximum of 90 days while his application for asylum is processed.

(2) At the expiry of the period of 90 days specified in subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall find alternative accommodation for the applicant until such time as his application has been processed.

(3) This section does not apply to an applicant who is—

(a) under the age of 18, or

(b) the guardian of an applicant who is under the age of 18.”’.

New clause 8—Leave to remain: spouses and partners—

‘(1) The Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77) is amended as follows.

(2) After section 3(2) (immigration rules), insert—

“(2A) Nothing in the rules made under paragraph (2) shall prevent a person being granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom for the purposes of marriage or civil partnership providing that he is—

(a) aged 21 years or more, and

(b) of full capacity.”’.

New clause 5 would require an immigration officer to ensure that any clothing covering the face or part of it was removed to verify the identity of an individual on entering or leaving the United Kingdom. I am disappointed that I need to table the amendment, as most people would imagine that what I described would happen as a matter of course under existing legislation. However, there have been a couple of examples only recently where it appears that people suspected of crimes—in one case, terrorist offences—have actually fled the country disguised by a veil. Surely, if I were to present myself to the immigration authorities wearing a motorcycle helmet, for example, I would be asked to remove it. Is it not staggering that one of the chief suspects for the murder of PC Sharon Beshenivsky in Bradford is reported to have fled the country wearing a veil and that one of the bombers—fortunately, failed bombers—of 21 July is also alleged to have fled the country wearing a veil?

I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument with great interest, but I remind the House that he has used the word “alleged”. Does he have any hard evidence to confirm that anyone has ever fled this country disguised in the sort of face covering that he has just described?

Until the police finally trace those people, track them down, catch them and bring them to justice, we will not know for sure whether they did. The likelihood is—certainly according to the West Yorkshire police—that the chief suspect in the Sharon Beshenivsky murder case left the country in that way. That is what the police told me.

My new clause 5 is simply common sense. Surely someone cannot be checked for purposes of identification unless any clothing is removed from their face. As I said, it is very disappointing that I needed to table this amending provision, but it appears that immigration officers around the country have been tied up in some kind of political correctness, feeling that they cannot ask people to remove their veils lest they be accused of some sort of racism or of attacking certain ethnic minority groups. That is clearly unacceptable, so my new clause is designed to help those immigration officers by making it clear that nothing will be done to prevent them from doing their job.

Does my hon. Friend think it interesting that, from a religious perspective, many Muslim countries actually ban the veil—Turkey is demonstrating that at the moment—and that nothing in the Koran says that the full facial veil should be worn, merely that women should be modestly attired?

As ever, my hon. Friend makes a valid point. My new clause does not specify—nor would I want it to—that people should not be allowed to wear a veil if they so wish. If they want to wear it, they should be allowed to do so, as we have enough of a nanny state as it is without telling people what they can and cannot wear. Surely, however, for purposes of identification at a point of entry, the power in my new clause should be taken as read.

In all the debates that I have heard on the Floor of the House and in Committee, I have yet to hear a more misguided mischaracterisation of poor practice than I have just heard. I am sad that the hon. Gentleman did not have the chance in Committee to listen to the praise that was lavished on the front-line immigration service and the work that it does. Will the hon. Gentleman further consider the remarks that he has just made—and those that he is about to make—and temper them, bearing in mind the extraordinary job that the immigration service does for this country?

I am afraid that the Minister’s indignation is unjustified. No one is saying that immigration officers do not do a good job, often under very difficult circumstances; I am merely highlighting the point that at least two people, it would appear, have fled the country in the unbelievable circumstances that they were wearing a veil. They were male suspects for serious offences leaving the country wearing a veil. Whether the vast majority of immigration officers do or do not do a good job—I am sure that the Minister is right and they do—there should surely be something to prevent serious criminals from leaving the country in such ridiculous circumstances. If the new clause would prevent the chief suspect in a serious terrorist offence or in the murder of a police officer carrying out their duty from leaving the country, that must surely be a good thing.

Surely the Minister was not suggesting that the hon. Gentleman was attacking immigration officers for carrying out their duty. Is he not trying to assist those officers in protecting this country and continuing to do an excellent job?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. My new clause aims to help immigration officers so that they do not feel that they are being put in a difficult position, and so that no one can accuse them of some kind of political correctness or misguided racism just because they are asking people to identify themselves. They are already doing an excellent job, and I hope that the new clause would help them to do it better.

I am slightly mystified by the hon. Gentleman’s speech. I have found, through speaking to veil-wearing women in my constituency, that when they go through entrance and exit ports they go into a room, remove their veil and show their face to a female immigration officer. That is what happens at the moment, so I am a bit mystified about the merit of reinforcing that by introducing a provision that simply does the same thing.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. In some respects, he makes my point for me. I am sure that on some occasions that does already happen. My new clause merely insists that immigration officers “must ensure” that any such clothing be removed. That is clearly not happening on every occasion because two people suspected of serious offences have left the country disguised by a veil. My new clause would not affect what should be standard practice; it would merely ensure that that practice became compulsory.

I am still slightly bamboozled about which bit of red tape the hon. Gentleman is referring to. Is it schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971? It explicitly states:

“An immigration officer may examine any person who is embarking or seeking to embark in the United Kingdom for the purpose of determining…his identity”.

Or is he perhaps referring to the instructions reissued to front-line staff this year, which reiterated the guidance that was already available? They state:

“Passengers wearing veils or other face coverings are to be asked to remove the covering in order that they may be identified as the rightful holder of their passport or travel document.”

Which bit of red tape is the hon. Gentleman arguing is getting in the way?

The Minister referred to the word “may”. My new clause uses the word “must”. There is a distinct difference between the two. Clearly, some problem arose that allowed those two people to leave the country without their identity being checked. My new clause requires that people’s identity be checked whether they are entering or leaving the country. In the two cases to which I referred, the people happened to be leaving the country. If the Minister thinks that that should happen anyway, I take it that he will have no objection to supporting my new clause, which merely insists that it must happen.

The purpose of new clause 6 is to impose an annual limit on the number of people who may stay in the country. This proposal is being made against a backdrop of many people having completely lost faith in the immigration system. They feel that the whole system is getting out of hand. We are now at the stage at which one migrant a minute is coming into this country. That equates to the population of a city the size of Birmingham every two or three years. The vast majority of the public know that that is unsustainable, yet that fact appears to have escaped the notice of the Government, who have allowed such mass immigration to take place on an unprecedented scale. The purpose of my new clause is to impose an annual limit so that people can have confidence that there is some control over the number of people coming into the country.

My hon. Friend might be able to help me. His new clause refers to imposing a

“maximum number of non-European Union nationals”.

Is there a special reason why the provision should exempt European Union nationals in this context?

I am grateful to my eagle-eyed hon. Friend for noticing that the new clause has a European dimension. He is absolutely right; the elephant in the room is the fact that it refers to “non-European Union nationals”. The fact of the matter is that our relationship with the European Union allows free movement of people, which means that we have no ability to deal with them. As my hon. Friend knows, I would wish us to be out of the European Union so that we could impose a limit. I think that he will agree that at least the proposal is a step in the right direction.

My hon. Friend will recall my amendment to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which he and the whole Conservative party supported in both the Commons and the Lords by adopting it and providing Tellers. That amendment would have enabled us to override the European Communities Act 1972 and require the judiciary to give effect to that override. I trust that his amendment in no way implies that we are resiling from the principle advocated in my amendment.

As my hon. Friend knows, I enthusiastically supported his excellent amendment to the Bill. Had it not been voted down by the Government, it would no doubt have been reflected in my new clause. Given the situation, however, my new clause will have to deal only with non-EU nationals. As my view is that we should be out of the European Union, we could deal with the issue separately.

The hon. Gentleman might not be aware that Scotland’s population had been falling seriously over many decades. In the past few years, that has turned around—the population of Dundee has risen over the past year, Glasgow’s over the past two years and Scotland’s over the past three years. That has been due mainly to inward migration, primarily, though not exclusively, from eastern Europe, and has been a generally successful, useful and beneficial experience for all concerned. In those circumstances, why would I want to support his amendment? As for his views on the European Union, the free movement of people is tied in with the free movement of capital and free trade within the European Union and the eurozone. Why on earth would he take such a hard-line position against free trade and something that benefits the economies and peoples of the whole Union?

I am not against free trade. I believe in free trade agreements, but not in lots of regulation. I am happy for as many people to go to Dundee as wish to do so, if that is what the hon. Gentleman wants. I am sure that the annual limit that the Secretary of State would have to impose would reflect the fact that he wants more immigrants in Dundee. I am sure that my constituents would be more than happy for a large proportion of the annual limit imposed to go to Dundee.

Is my hon. Friend arguing for an overall annual limit for non-EU nationals, or is he hoping for a specific limit for each non-EU country?

My new clause would impose an overall limit for non-EU countries. There is only a certain number that is sustainable, that will be accepted by the public, that will not cause a huge amount of disturbance in our local communities and that will not disrupt community cohesion. The aim of the new clause is to have a sustainable level of immigration, which people in this country will accept and which they do not feel is damaging community relations.

On the issue of leave to remain, will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether he is also referring to people who come to study? Universities want both easier access for people studying and for them to be able to remain to work afterwards. They see that as part of building the future economy of this country.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that point. I would not wish to deny universities the income that they get from foreign students. My new clause relates specifically to people given leave to remain in this country, which is a slightly different issue.

I have limited time left and I still wish to refer to two new clauses. I have tried to be as generous as possible in allowing interventions, but I must now make progress.

The purpose of new clause 7 is to ensure that people wishing to claim asylum in this country are detained in secure accommodation for a maximum of 90 days while their application for asylum is processed. At the end of those 90 days, alternative accommodation would be found for them. The new clause exempts people under 18 and their guardians, because it would probably not be right for them to be detained. We have been very generous in this country. We have a tradition of allowing people who genuinely claim asylum to stay, and we are rightly proud of that tradition. However, over the past decade in particular, our kindness and hospitality have been abused on an unprecedented level, much to the disgust of many of our constituents who wish something to be done about it.

When I visited the immigration and nationality directorate in Leeds, it struck me as unbelievable that any failed asylum seeker ever left the country. The hoops that the authorities are expected to go through to track down failed asylum seekers are beyond belief, and it would undoubtedly help them if people claiming asylum were in secure accommodation. They would be well treated and well fed—no one would want the accommodation to be like a prison—but the authorities would know where they were. Once their applications had been processed, those with valid reasons for claiming asylum would be welcomed into the local community and given the support that they deserved and needed, while the authorities could ensure that those who were here under false pretences left the country immediately, rather than having to chase around wondering where they were.

There is no reason why people who are genuinely fleeing persecution in their own countries would not accept decent secure accommodation in this country while their applications are processed. That is not inhumane; it is merely a common-sense way of keeping tabs on people so that those found not to have a valid claim can be sent out of the country, much to the satisfaction and relief of many of our constituents.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is being extremely generous with his time.

Although the number of asylum seekers is at its lowest level not since 1997, but since 1991, the estimated cost of the hon. Gentleman’s proposals would require an extra 5,000 detention beds at a start-up cost of about £750 million, with running costs of about £158 million a year. When we proposed increasing the immigration policing budget by £100 million a month or two ago, the hon. Gentleman’s party abstained. Where would he get the money for the new detention spaces?

I have the advantage of not having to speak from the Front Bench. As I said earlier, I would very much like us to leave the European Union. The Minister may not know that that would save us £14 billion a year—more than enough to build secure accommodation.

Does my hon. Friend accept that finding the money would not require such drastic action as leaving the European Union? Had the Government not given away part of the EU rebate won by Lady Thatcher, it would have provided plenty of money for detention places.

As ever, my right hon. Friend is right. According to a survey conducted by the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the public believe that a quarter of all Government expenditure is wasted, although I suspect that that is a conservative estimate. I am sure that there is plenty of money available—and, in addition, a large amount would be saved because it would be unnecessary to chase people around the country.

The interest shown in this debate may be a reflection of the seriousness of the subject that the hon. Gentleman has raised. May I return him to new clause 6 and ask him what figure he proposes for the maximum number of non-EU nationals to be granted indefinite leave to remain? Will he also answer the question asked so perceptively by the very talented right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) and tell us which country they would come from? If the hon. Gentleman came up with the figure of, say, half a million, would it matter if every one of those people came from Pakistan, for example? But perhaps he has other ways of responding to the question.

I am, as ever, grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution to the debate. The new clause states that the number is to be decided annually by the Secretary of State. We would consider the situation at the time, but my guess is that we could sustain immigration to this country of about 50,000 a year—certainly no more. That figure is much lower than it is at present. On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, it would not matter to me which country the immigrants came from; the issue is how much immigration our country can sustain, both economically and culturally. Immigration puts pressure on housing—about one in three new houses is built merely to deal with immigration. It puts pressure on our public services, schools and hospitals, as well as on the taxpayer, so we need a sustainable figure.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me again as I want to press an important point. From the figures published recently by the Office for National Statistics, he will know that 145,000 people came from the European Union in 2005, so if EU migrants were uncapped under his proposals there might be a bit of a problem. No cap for EU migrants is significant because 48 per cent. of net migration is from the EU.

The Minister is absolutely right, which is one of the reasons I want Britain to regain control of its borders. To do so we need to leave the European Union, but that is a debate for another day. However, I agree with the Minister that the scale of immigration from Europe, especially eastern Europe, is colossal and I want us to regain control of our borders to deal with it.

Does not the Minister’s point cut both ways? Since 1997, there has in fact been a substantial increase in net migration from non-EU countries as a result of Government policy, in large measure, to extend work permits that were not granted before 1997.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I pay tribute to all his work on the issue, highlighting the scandal of the level of immigration to this country.

New clause 8 would increase the age at which someone could enter the UK through marriage from 18 to 21. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), who is my constituency neighbour, has done much hard work on that issue, especially forced marriage. Although increasing the age from 18 to 21 would not necessarily stop people being brought into the country for forced marriages, it could help to get rid of that scandalous practice, which is used to obtain entry to the UK. The new clause would help to reduce immigration, as well as helping to deal with the horrific practice of forced marriage, about which the Minister, like the hon. Member for Keighley is also concerned.

My new clauses are common-sense proposals that would instil an awful lot of the British public’s confidence in our immigration system that has been distinctly lacking over the past 10 years or so. Even if the Minister will not agree to my proposals, I hope that he will at least look carefully at the issues that they raise, understand that they are of great concern to the British people and try to find a way of addressing some, if not all, of them.

This has been an extraordinary debate, and a nice way to complete—I fear—Report.

Some of the interventions were helpful, especially on the question of limits. We have been watching the debate among Opposition Members on that subject for some time. It was at spring conference, back in 2003, that the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who is not in the Chamber, called for quotas on refugees. “This is real action” was, I think, what he said. Of course, the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) threw out that policy some time ago. However, the Conservative party went on to propose quotas in 2005. Although that policy was proposed two years ago, we have yet to hear precisely what the numbers would be. As has been pointed out, it is very difficult under the current arrangements to set a limit on EU migration. The fact that EU net inflow is 48 per cent. of UK net migration raises the question whether any attempt to set a limit would be meaningful or meaningless.

Although it is all very interesting hearing the Minister speculate about what my party’s policy might or might not be, will he focus on the real issue by telling us what happens in practice? He read out earlier the guidance under which immigration officers operate, but what happens in practice when someone who is asked to remove a veil refuses to do so?

The answer is simple: they are escorted into a room and an immigration officer will take any step that he or she judges to be necessary to verify their identity. The options do not stop simply at asking someone to remove their veil; if necessary, we will fingerprint them. That is precisely how we discovered more than 200 failed asylum seekers trying to leave the country. We did so through tougher exit controls.

The right hon. Gentleman would be right if he were to point out that that kind of operation would become much more difficult if the Conservative party were to follow through on its commitment to shut down the British identity infrastructure. It will be interesting to discover whether the Conservative party supports the Bill this evening. Key measures in it are those to introduce compulsory biometric identity cards for foreign nationals.

We know from a letter sent by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) to the Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell, in February that the Government are now “formally on notice”—I believe that that was the phrase used—of the Conservative party position to shut down the national identity infrastructure and that it is now to carry any associated risk or contingent liability. Let me tell Members about one of those associated risks and contingent liabilities: this country will be left defenceless in the fight against illegal immigration, whether that defence is at our border controls or at our border posts abroad when we issue biometric visas to those applying to come to this country for the first time.

The suggestion that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) talked about abolishing the biometric infrastructure traduces what he said in that letter. The Minister is invoking the novel constitutional doctrine that if a Government sign some long-term, expensive ill-advised contracts, another party would not be allowed to carry out its manifesto pledges even if elected. He is talking nonsense on that point.

However, I want the Minister to return to the subject of EU immigration. Ten minutes ago he described the level of immigration from within the EU as a problem. Does he really mean that?

I do not think that I described the issue of EU immigration as a problem, because it has proved to be of substantial benefit to this country. The hon. Gentleman cannot get away from the point that his right hon. Friend’s letter was extremely clear that his party would switch off the national identity infrastructure of this country, despite the evidence that we have heard from people such as Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, who I think is chairing his party’s international security and policy commission, and Lord Stevens, who has consistently spoken in favour of identity technology and who is chairing another of the Conservative party’s policy commissions—the one on border controls. The right hon. Gentleman wrote that in his letter also despite the evidence of people such as Sir Andrew Green of Migrationwatch UK, who has looked at the question carefully, and of the business community and of trade unions. All of them have said that if we are to stop illegal journeys and illegal jobs we must lock down people’s identity. I hope that the Conservative party will follow through on any decision it votes for tonight by either underlining or withdrawing its commitment to shut down Britain’s identity infrastructure.

I want to highlight for the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) some advice that was given by Michael Portillo. He said in 2004 that he doubted whether any Tory Government would be as rigorous in capping immigrant numbers as they claimed, given that no previous one had taken effective action to arrest the flow. It is absolutely right that we have to make sure that only those—

It being Six o’clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question already proposed from the Chair pursuant to Order [5 February].

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Clause 5

Registration Regulations

Amendment made: No. 16, in page 4, line 29, at end insert—

‘(4A) Regulations under subsection (1)(b) may not make provision the effect of which would be to require a person to carry a biometric immigration document at all times.’.—[Mr. Byrne.]

Clause 31

Automatic Deportation

Amendment proposed: No. 34, in page 16, line 6, leave out from ‘whom’ to end of line and insert ‘the condition under subsection (2) applies.’.—[Paul Rowen.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

Clause 37


Amendments made: No. 17, in page 19, line 24, leave out ‘(whether or not’ and insert ‘(unless’.

No. 18, in page 19, line 24, at end insert

‘or any part of it (of whatever length)’.

No. 19, in page 19, line 40, leave out ‘(whether or not’ and insert ‘(unless’.

No. 20, in page 19, line 40 , at end insert ‘or any part of it’.—[Mr. Heppell.]

Clause 38

Consequential amendments

Amendments made: No. 21, in page 20, line 18, leave out ‘“(whether or not’ and insert ‘“unless’.

No. 22, in page 20, line 19 , after ‘sentence’, insert ‘or any part of it’.—[Mr. Heppell.]

Clause 43

Search for evidence of nationality

Amendments made: No. 23, in page 23, line 40, leave out second ‘or’.

No. 24, in page 23, line 41, at end insert ‘, or

(iii) premises on which the individual was, immediately before being arrested.’.

No. 25, in page 24, line 19, leave out subsection (6).—[Mr. Heppell.]

Clause 44

Seizure of nationality documents

Amendment made: No. 26, in page 24, line 28, after ‘43’, insert

‘or [Search for evidence of nationality: other premises]’.—[Mr. Heppell.]

Clause 56


Amendment made: No. 27, in page 29, line 19, at end insert

‘or whose sentences are suspended at the time of commencement;’.—[Mr. Heppell.]

Order for Third Reading read.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Before I come to my substantive remarks, I want to thank the members of the Public Bill Committee, who ensured that the Bill received the right level of scrutiny and deliberation. The changes that we have brought forward this afternoon demonstrate that the Committee was an important and useful part of the process. I also thank the witnesses who were summoned to give evidence to the Public Bill Committee. Often the evidence became a foundation for a lot of the debate that followed. That is the kind of constitutional innovation for which the Leader of the House deserves some credit. The Bill shows how important the changes to Committees have become. I also thank the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) for the work that she has done on the Bill, and the work that she did in Committee and during the deliberations leading up to the Bill. I would have been lost without her.

On Second Reading, I said that the Bill is one of five reforms that we are making to the immigration system on the back of the changes announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last year. The changes are already bearing fruit. At our overseas border we now turn back about two jumbo jets-worth of potential illegal immigrants each week. Some 17,000 people were stopped on the other side of the channel last year alone. The number of asylum seekers is now at its lowest level since 1991. Last year, for the first time, we removed more failed asylum seekers than came into the country. As the Prime Minister said this afternoon, the number of foreign national prisoners being deported is now up, and up substantially. Last year, we tracked down and deported somebody every eight minutes who had no right to be in this country.

These changes are important, but they are not enough and they will not be enough for the future. In the future, we will need to do more. As we enter an era in which global migration will become faster and faster, our border defences and border security will need to be still more robust. That is why we are bringing forward such a radical overhaul of the immigration system. A cross-Government strategy brings together all aspects of public services to sharpen our attack on illegal immigration at home and abroad. Up to £100 million extra in resources is going into immigration policing.

New technology is being put in place to allow the biometric screening of visa applicants to be carried out in 67 posts. By the beginning of next year, that technology will be in place in border posts covering three quarters of the world’s population. New international alliances are being negotiated to help to develop stronger global co-operation on this global issue. The Bill is designed to ensure that having doubled the number of our warranted staff, they will have the right powers to do their job, to keep our borders secure and to remove those who have no right to be here.

At the heart of the Bill is a series of measures to help us to deter, detect, detain, restrict and deport illegal immigrants. To deter more, we propose to strengthen our borders and to give our border security officers new powers. We propose new powers to prosecute human smugglers and people traffickers wherever on earth they perpetrate the offence. We propose new powers to confiscate the proceeds of organised immigration crime, which is responsible for about three quarters of the illegal immigration into this country. To detect more of those who are here illegally, we propose compulsory biometric identity cards for foreign nationals, so that those who exploit fake documents can be uncovered and denied access to the labour market and public services.

However, we are providing important protections. We listened to the concerns of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), and introduced prohibitions on any regulations that might require someone to carry a card at all times.

Nevertheless, the measures that we propose will allow us to eliminate the insecure 20th-century documents that are used to provide evidence of a person’s eligibility to work or benefits. We will phase in new secure documents that are easier to check and harder to forge. We also propose new powers of search and the ability to share information with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to find those who are here illegally or who employ people illegally.

To detain and restrict more people, we propose new powers to put those whom we are unable to remove on limited leave subject to reporting and residency restrictions. To deport more people, we propose new powers to deport automatically people who have committed offences in this country and breached our bond of trust. Foreign nationals who abuse our hospitality by seriously breaking the law will not be allowed to stay in the UK.

The Bill also includes important measures that are designed to underpin the long-term improvement of the Border and Immigration Agency. It will give the agency new flexibility to raise resources from abroad so that it can do the job with which it has been tasked. There are also new provisions to provide stronger and more independent oversight to ensure that those resources are used as effectively as possible to keep our borders secure.

The cornerstone of our strategy to combat illegal immigration is simple: a plan to stop illegal journeys and illegal jobs. At the heart of our endeavour is the simple ambition of using new biometric technology that will allow us to lock down with confidence the identity of an individual. The technology will be used first when we issue a visa; secondly, when an individual boards a plane, train or boat for Britain; thirdly, at our border; and, fourthly, when people go about their business in Britain. That is why we have consistently argued that it would be an error to shut down the national identity infrastructure.

It was unfortunate that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, who is not in the Chamber, wrote a letter to the Cabinet Secretary in which he promised to shut down that system, because that will be a vital defence against illegal immigration. We think that migration will grow, which means that the risk of illegal immigration will surely not decrease, but increase. In the face of such future pressure, a plan simply to restructure managers here at home would be about as robust as sandcastles on the seashore. If Conservative Members support the Bill, I hope that they will take the logical next step by revoking their commitment to shutting down the UK’s identity system. If they do not, people who are being kind will accuse them of having a muddled policy, while their critics will say that they are voting for one thing, but committing themselves to another. They would leave themselves open to the accusation that their immigration policy had become a shambles.

I hope that the House will pass this important Bill, which has benefited from the scrutiny that hon. Members have given it over the past few months. Let me finish with a word of warning: the pressure on our borders will grow unless we take steps to secure them today. That is why the Bill and the changes that the Home Secretary is putting through are important. We need to ensure that our front-line staff have the powers that they need to do the job that they love. I commend the Bill to the House and wish it a speedy passage in another place.

I start by echoing the thanks that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality expressed to the staff on the Public Bill Committee. In particular, I thank the witnesses. Hearing from expert witnesses at the start of Committee is a useful innovation, and all of us learned many things from them. In fact, I would have preferred it if some of the insight that the witnesses gave us in Committee were better reflected in the changes that subsequently appeared in the Bill. The Government have indeed made some changes on the basis of amendments that we suggested in Committee, and that is entirely commendable, but I still feel that some of the things the Minister has just said, particularly about biometrics, fly in the face of the expert evidence that we heard in Committee. However, that institutional change to the way in which Bills are scrutinised should be preserved and, if possible, extended in future.

The Bill, in its current state, has to be put in the right context; it is one of a plethora of immigration and asylum Bills that the Government have introduced, and it is sensible to reflect, at this stage of its progress, on whether this one will be remembered in any way and whether it will make any significant difference. On Second Reading, I described it as a rag-bag—a collection of measures with no core, central theme or guiding intellectual thrust to it. If anything, it was made even more of a rag-bag by the introduction, at a very late stage, of the inspectorate. That is an important step forward and one that, in principle, we do not oppose, but the idea has not received sufficient scrutiny as it was introduced in a series of new clauses well after Second Reading. Our wish is that the inspectorate will be properly independent. We know that public confidence in the system is rightly very low, and if recent evidence is to be believed, it is getting lower. A properly independent inspector could make some difference to that, but unfortunately that is not what is provided for in the Bill as it stands. I am sure that that will be a fruitful area for scrutiny and change in another place.

From looking at the Bill as a whole, it is difficult to improve on the analysis of the Immigration Advisory Service, which makes the following point in its briefing for this debate:

“The Bill…will become the fifth piece of major immigration legislation…since the Government assumed office in…ten years, excluding the Special Immigration Appeals and Human Rights Act. The list of repeals and amendments to previous legislation (some of which was never even implemented) tells its own story and has led to confusion and complication even among the judiciary.”

That is exactly right. The Government have thought too little and legislated too often on the subject. Too often, legislating has been a displacement activity for Ministers who feel that they are not on top of the immigration and asylum process.

I am not trying to tempt my hon. Friend into agreeing with me on the Floor of the House—I am not trying to make my point in that way—but does he not have some sympathy with my continuing concern about, indeed campaign on, the Human Rights Act 1998? It presents serious problems, for example in relation to deportation, and there is no short and easy answer, save to repeal the Act. That would ensure that we got the results that we want when dealing with matters as serious as those that we are discussing.

It is clear that there are problems with the dispensation for deportation. Given what has happened in the past few weeks, I am sure that there is consensus in that area between the Government and us. My hon. Friend will know that our right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has suggested a British Bill of Rights, part of which would entrench the human rights that as British citizens we need and deserve, while ensuring at the same time that problems in the existing legislative regime can be dealt with. My hon. Friend will agree that that is not an easy task, but it is an essential one in a world as dangerous and difficult as the one that we face. He is right to point out that the legislation passed in the past 10 years has not, on the whole, been helpful, either in promoting human rights among vulnerable people or in giving proper protection to the population as a whole. That is certainly a matter that needs to be addressed by a future Conservative Government.

To return to the Bill, it was instructive that throughout our proceedings, particularly on Second Reading, Labour Members attacked it from both left and right. It was clearly unsatisfactory both to those who think that the Government have been led down the path of attempting to appease right-wing newspapers and those who thought that they should go further down that path. Underlying the unease of Government Members is the fact that a lot of the immigration debate in this country is now about delivery. It is not about the minutiae of legislation, important though they are, but about whether structures have been set up that can give us both effective control of our borders and the processes that will clear up the huge backlog of people who are in this country but who have no right to be here—a backlog that has been allowed to build up over the past 10 years. The characteristic of the current regime at the Home Office—when the Minister noted wistfully that he had been immigration Minister for more than a year, I could tell that he was yearning for movement, and I wish him well over the next few weeks—is to talk tough, to legislate often, but to deliver little. That verdict came through very clearly on Second Reading from Members on both sides of the House.

Looking ahead, we must consider whether anything will change. Will the Bill change anything much? Will the future Bills that were promised change anything much? I fear not. We know that we will soon have yet another Home Secretary. The path is instructive. The first Labour Home Secretary lasted four years; the second one, three years; the third one, two years; the fourth one, one year. As everyone speculates about who is going to take over as the next Home Secretary in July, I have to point out that at the current rate of progress, it will all be over by Christmas, because he will have about six months in the job before we get another one.

There is a hole in the Bill and a hole at the heart of the Government’s immigration policy, because they have not protected our borders properly. The Minister waxed lyrical about biometric technology and said that it is the solution. He almost said explicitly a few minutes ago that it was what we needed, and that is the cornerstone or building block of everything that the Government are doing. It flies in the face of evidence from around the world, and of the expert evidence that we heard in Committee, that blind faith in biometric technology will not result in the solution that the Minister claims. Our practical solution of a border police force and specialist policing to deal with what goes on both at our borders and in illegal employment is a much more effective, holistic solution to the problems that we continue to face with a porous immigration system, in which our borders are not properly protected.

The biggest problem that the Minister faces is delivery. The second biggest problem is the fact that the inspectorate that he has established to examine the various new structures that he is setting up lacks proper powers. I suspect that the final verdict on the Bill will be that it is not destined to change much or to make any significant improvements in our failing immigration system. We regret that. We have not opposed the principle of the Bill, because it contains useful elements. Some of the changes that we were able to make in Committee will make it slightly more useful, but the Bill fails to rise to the enormous challenge of improving Britain’s immigration system.

The best that one can hope for is that the Government do a little better when yet another immigration Bill comes along in the next Session of Parliament. There has been a weary procession of immigration Bills from the Government, which have coincided with a complete collapse of public confidence in our immigration system. The public are right: the Government have failed the country on immigration.

Tomorrow we reach the end of the beginning of the long goodbye to a Labour Prime Minister who has been more successful than any Prime Minister we have had. Last week, one of the polling organisations, instead of thrusting questions in front of the sample, asked open-ended questions about the voters’ biggest disappointment with his 10 years of stewardship as Prime Minister. Whereas we in the House would probably say Iraq, they said, by a clear majority, that he had failed to protect our borders.

It is therefore a particular disappointment for me and for my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) that we did not discuss the amendment that my hon. Friend had tabled, which would allow us to reconnect with voters on the very issue with which the Bill deals—the establishment of a commission to report not only on labour market needs in respect of immigration, but on the social impact, which in some areas has been so devastating that it is difficult to describe.

By the time we reach the final goodbye to our Prime Minister, I hope that the Bill will have been considered in another place and that the amendments we could not move for reasons of time will be considered there and will come back to us, so that that major charge against the stewardship of our current Prime Minister is answered, not in the distant future but in the Bill itself.

I echo the sentiments of previous speakers. First, I thank the members of staff who worked on the Public Bill Committee for their assistance with our amendments, and the witnesses. I agree with hon. Members who said that the innovation of hearing witnesses before we started consideration of the Bill has greatly strengthened our deliberations.

The Bill is the fifth immigration Bill that the Government have introduced in the past 10 years. I agree with the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) that in many respects it is a curate’s egg. I doubt very much whether it will deal with the real immigration issues which, as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said, people outside feel and understand. I am extremely disappointed that we did not have the opportunity to discuss the right hon. Gentleman’s new clause 11. From the earlier discussion on other clauses, it is clear that there is a great need for such a commission, which would substantially strengthen the workings of our immigration system. I hope that when the Bill is considered in the other place, the new clause can be inserted.

When the Government introduced the Bill, they had given immigration officers a range of new powers. During the proceedings on the Bill, we questioned them about that and sought assurances with regard to the introduction of PACE. We had an assurance from the Minister that regulations would be put in place and training instituted.

Like the hon. Member for Ashford, I am disappointed that we have not had a broader debate on the Floor of the House about the need for a borders agency. Our immigration policy needs to be not only firm and fair but properly co-ordinated—that has been lacking in the past—and a borders force could have achieved that. At the time, the Minister said that one of the reasons the Government did not want to do that was the need for stability in the Home Office, yet immediately afterwards they split it. It seems that there can be major change in that respect, but nothing can be done about making the organisation internally more effective.

Liberal Democrats do not oppose biometric visas. They are a means—but not, as the Minister says, the only or the main means—to control and regulate immigration flows. We sought assurances on the level of information that would be recorded biometrically and non-biometrically, and it is disappointing that we did not get them. We should have a system similar to that in the USA and Australia, which would be a fair way of operating.

We have raised questions about young asylum seekers. The Minister said that although he will not incorporate section 11 of the Children Act 2004, he will ponder what other regulations should be put in place. I found that part of his commitment very unsatisfactory and unwelcome.

The Minister mentioned the £100 million of new resources that will be channelled into putting the Bill into operation. It is disappointing that the bulk of that money will be raised from decent, ordinary visitors coming to this country. We have moved away from the principle of ensuring that the visa service paid its way towards a system whereby visas will pay for the immigration service, which is not what was intended.

There are a large number of policies to do with enforcement and seizure. Earlier, I raised concerns about the blanket use of those procedures. We already have a problem with perception and community cohesion. As I know from talking to people in my constituency, people of black and ethnic minority origins feel victimised and picked on. That is a major concern. I hope that these powers will be regulated and monitored.

In summary, the Bill will not solve the inherent problems of our immigration service. It remains to be seen whether the new inspector and the new borders force will deliver. That is where change needs to be brought about. Those of us who deal weekly with immigration issues know that we do not need to bring in new laws to make our borders firm and fair but that we need to ensure that what exists is properly implemented. I hope that a new immigration office and a new Home Secretary will not mean yet another immigration Bill. What is required is stability and further discussion to ensure that some of the ideas that have been rejected during the Bill’s progress are reconsidered and put in place.

It is a relatively rare experience for a suggestion that I make on a Home Office Bill to be taken up and accepted by Ministers, so I am genuinely grateful to the Minister for inserting Government amendment No. 16. That change was needed to ensure that the Bill reflected what Ministers said was going to happen.

The same approach would help if applied to clause 16, which deals with reporting and residence conditions. We debated that on Second Reading and some detailed discussion took place in Committee. Current drafting means that reporting and residence conditions could be applied to almost anybody who does not have indefinite leave to remain. In Committee, the Minister gave some assurances that he expected the clause to apply in relatively limited circumstances. However, as the provision is drafted, it would be open to a future Minister to interpret it differently from my hon. Friend. I hope that, before the Bill completes its passage, more thought will be given to whether a similar approach to that on biometrics could be taken to clause 16.

I want to comment briefly on the changes to deportation and other matters. The point has already been made that, whatever the legislation, if the Home Office does not process cases at a reasonable speed, it will not work. That has been a recurring theme of debates on several Bills, and the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) made the point earlier. I fully accept that, after 10 years of government, we must accept responsibility for the state of the Home Office and the delays. However, if the hon. Gentleman is trying to suggest that there was a golden era a few years back under a Conservative Government, he is wrong.

My experience between 1992 and 1997 was that the Home Office was at least as shambolic in processing cases as it is now—indeed, it was probably worse. The problem has simply remained unsolved for a long time. It is important to get to grips with it; if the processing does not happen, the deportation clauses will not work. If legislation is passed but not implemented, and things that we say will happen do not, faith in the process will be lost. I have argued for some time that the Home Office should legislate rather less and do a hell of a lot more to ensure that the systems within it work.

I shall be brief. I listened to the Minister’s comments with interest. In a nutshell, he said, “So far, so good, but we need to monitor the position carefully in future.” The Bill does not go far enough. I have deep concerns about the rate and manner of immigration policies, and I have already said that the Human Rights Act 1998 represents an obstacle to our dealing not only with immigration but with asylum and deportation. We have reached the point at which, even when the courts say that a person is dangerous, the Human Rights Act will be invoked to claim that the person should remain in this country. We have created the most extraordinary, topsy-turvy, upside-down world. On the basis of my exchanges with previous Home Secretaries, I do not believe that the Government have understood, or been prepared to tackle, a situation as grave as this has become.

I do not believe for a moment that the biometric system will function properly. It is driven by European directives. They have not been mentioned in our debates on the Bill, but the Minister knows that that is where it all comes from. Judging by the evidence that I have read recently, it will not work: it is another costly implementation of unnecessary European legislation.

I am deeply worried about the proposals in clauses 31 and 32, which clearly prescribe exceptions, when

“removal of the foreign criminal…in pursuance of a deportation order would breach”

his convention rights, or rights “under the Community treaties.” I have to say that I have no sympathy for foreign criminals. I cannot think of a single conceivable reason why a person who is a foreign criminal should be able to avail himself of an escape from these provisions simply on account of a fatuous law that has come out of the European convention or European Community treaties. We have really got a completely upside-down world.

I see that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) is in her place next to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality. She knows that we in the European Scrutiny Committee remain deeply concerned and critical of her role and that of other Ministers in matters that impinge on this question. I do not intend to go further into them now, but I refer to the transfer of foreign prisoners and related issues.

In conclusion, I have great sympathy with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). On the question of the covering of faces, the Minister effectively sold his own pass, because he admitted that the rules were there to ensure that the people in question were not allowed to get away with it, but that in practice there was no way of being absolutely certain.

The Minister shakes his head, but we will no doubt return to the matter at some future date.

The bottom line is that the Bill does not go far enough and does not deal with the real problems on the ground. The intrusion of the Human Rights Act and European Community enactments should be covered by the sort of provisions set out in new clause 17 of the Regulatory Reform Bill. We should override the European Communities Act 1972 and the Human Rights Act, and we should require the judiciary to obey.

I will be extremely brief. Many of us have thought for a long time that we should find a way to have a more sensible and informed discussion of what is potentially an extremely toxic issue. We are discussing this Bill against the background of a dramatic increase in population projected over the next generation—a growth of about 7 million or more, of which the majority will come from migration. That is unprecedented.

That is a huge task for a society to adjust to and digest, so the key is to ensure that we look at the issue in the round and take sensible decisions on border controls and migration policy generally, based on the best evidence about what is good for this country. The levels that we are talking about, and the components of them, may be extremely good or they may be extremely bad—or perhaps somewhere between the two, which I suspect is the case. What I am sure about is that we have to do better in finding the mechanism to enable us—in government, in Parliament and among the public—to have better discussion of these matters than we have had before.

I am pretty sure that when the Bill was announced, the Home Secretary told me that we were going to have an immigration commission to look at these issues in the round. I welcomed that, as I had argued for it for a long time. I tabled two early-day motions on the subject, and others supported them. The point was to put all the issues together—what the economy needs in terms of skills, but also the effect on wage levels, public services, social cohesion and all the other things that bear on decisions on migration and border policy.

I see that there is no such body in the Bill. Instead, we have what is called a migration advisory committee, which is to be a non-statutory, non-departmental public body that will offer advice, I am told, on the skills needed in particular sections of the economy. If that is the case, we are missing an opportunity to remedy the deficiencies that have been pointed out by the National Statistician, even in terms of the figures that we are dealing with. We cannot make good policy unless we have good population and migration figures, but we do not have them. Nor can we make sensible policy decisions unless we put all the issues about economic activity, skills shortages, wage levels, public services and social cohesion into the same pot and try to make sense of them. We could then make some informed decisions on that basis.

We are to have a migration advisory committee, a migration impacts forum and a national statistics centre for demography, and we already have a commission on integration. I believe, however, that the time has come to put all those bodies together to form a serious commission that could advise the Government, and all of us, on all matters relating to immigration and population. I had hoped that such a provision would be in the Bill, because of what the Home Secretary had said. I still hope that in the course of the Bill’s passage to the other place and back, we shall manage not to lose the opportunity to establish a body of that kind.

I was slightly disappointed that no amendments were tabled to address the issue, which we identified on Second Reading, of the discrepancy between the powers to detain of immigration officers working in England and Wales compared with those of officers working in Scotland, who will not be able to detain those suspected of committing a non-immigration offence pending the arrival of a police officer.

There was also a slightly less than satisfactory outcome to our brief exploration earlier today of clause 44, which relates to the seizure of nationality documents, in relation to Scotland. I mentioned during that debate that there was a corollary between the new powers being given to HMRC officers in Scotland and the similar new powers in the Bill for immigration officers. The Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 was amended to ensure that only sheriffs—not sheriffs and justices of the peace—could issue and vary production orders. The provisions specified in some detail the procedures relating to the powers to remove, access and copy documents; again, there is a direct corollary with the power to seize nationality documents.

The powers of arrest were specified, and, indeed, limited, to ensure that HMRC officers—and likewise immigration officers—would not actually be police officers but would have certain powers. The Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 was also amended. Finally, the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 was amended to reference the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995, particularly in relation to the seizure of documents. That might have been a better approach to take to the powers given to immigration officers by the Bill; it might have been a more comprehensive way of dealing with these issues.

However, none of those flaws is enough to persuade us to oppose the Bill tonight, and we will not do so. I am sure that the Minister will take on board in the correct manner the fact that I say that there is to be a change of Administration in Scotland soon, and that I am sure that he would like to seek an early meeting with the new Justice Minister at which he can explore fully how the criminal law in Scotland might be amended to provide the necessary safeguards, and to ensure that immigration officers working in Scotland have the same powers to protect their borders as those working in England and Wales.

The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) did not underestimate the amount of public disquiet on the subject of immigration. While I support some of the measures in the Bill, it certainly does not go far enough to address those concerns. It contains three potential areas of weakness, and I shall attempt to outline them in the limited time that I have left.

First, on illegal immigration, I am worried that the proposals in the Bill, together with other proposals that the Government are bringing forward, will weaken the first and most effective line of defence, which is the overseas posts’ power to grant people visas to come to this country. All the evidence shows that once someone is inside the country and staying here as an illegal migrant, it is very difficult to remove them.

Secondly, the proposals on automatic deportation are in fact a retreat from what the Government proposed last year. The proposals in the Bill, which we went through in some detail in Committee, show remarkable indulgence towards repeat offenders. All the provisions are, in any case, subject to human rights legislation. Given the weakness of the Bill in dealing with repeat offenders, it will be important to examine how effectively the existing provisions on deportation are being used for people whose presence is not conducive to the public good, and whose deportation has been recommended by the courts.

Finally, in relation to overall immigration, we need to consider the points-based system and the overall impact of migration. The Government should not just talk and set up bodies, but grasp the nettle and set a limit for the amount of net migration that they are prepared to accept into the country. That is now running at historically—

It being Seven o’clock, Mr. Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [5 February].

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.