Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Angela Eagle: They are going to Disney.

Simon Hughes: Yes, or going skiing. In any event, we have a two-week holiday. I hope that Ministers can tell us before the Committee reports on Tuesday when they expect to publish the draft regulations. I understand that they will not be ready then, although was an earlier indication that they would be available as soon as possible. We should not go to Report stage without having seen the regulations. I hope that the Ministers and their civil servants will do their utmost to ensure that we have enough time to read them, so that we can table amendments. I may ask my colleagues in the Whips Office to take the matter up with the business managers.

Ms Winterton: It is important to emphasise that work on this area is at an early stage. It is not likely that any scheme will be proposed until next year. That is part of the difficulty in trying to work to the timetable set by the hon. Gentleman. When we know more about the scheme we will be able to proceed as he suggests.

Simon Hughes: When we come to the end of Committee stage, perhaps Ministers could drop us a line to tell us which regulations they can let us have in draft before Report, so that we can express our happiness or unhappiness, and which will be available in draft form before the Bill leaves the Commons. I understand what the Parliamentary Secretary just said. Of course, some regulations are a long way down the track, but it would be helpful to know which are imminent. As the hon. Member for Woking said, we need to see some of them before we can form a

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judgment about what is proposed. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Simon Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 317, in page 49, line 16, leave out 'includes, in particular' and insert 'are'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 319, in clause 99, page 49, line 42, leave out 'includes in particular,' and insert 'are'.

Simon Hughes: These are amendments to clauses 97 and 99 and pick up the point that the Minister has just made about the clause as a whole. The new technology of eye identification gives more accurate personal recognition than fingerprinting. That is fine and goodóall credit to the scientist and others who devised itóbut our amendments seek to ensure that we are specific rather than general. The clause states that

    '' 'external physical characteristics' includes, in particular, features of the iris or any other part of the eye''.

In a straight reading of English, that could mean any external physical characteristics. We know about identification using the features of the iris or any other part of the eye; the amendment is a probing one to discover whether the Government have any other plan up their sleeve.

One could contemplate the amusing as well as the serious side to the issue: not everyone would readily assent to immigration officers and others taking an interest in external physical characteristics in general. We need to be specific about what we are talking about. We are used to fingerprints, and we are willing to sign up to iris identification, which seems based on good scientific analysis. The Government should tell us if they have other means of identification in mind, but if they have nothing more in mind than fingerprints or eye characteristics, we suggest that the provision is limited to those specific examples and a portmanteau phrase is not slipped through.

Ms Winterton: I think that I can be a bit helpful. As I have stressed, the development of the proposals is at an early stage; I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that technology is constantly and rapidly changing. We have not, therefore, taken firm decisions about whether the data should take the form of an iris scan, a facial image or fingerprints. New developments may appear that indicate that one form is more accurate than another, so I cannot accept the amendment. However, I reassure the hon. Gentleman that when the regulations are issued, they will specify the type of data that will be collected. It would be inappropriate to define that in primary legislation.

Simon Hughes: I am happy that the Government are committed to ensuring that specific information is included in legislation, even if it is secondary legislation. I will take advice on whether people outside the House who have an interest think that that is sufficient, but I understand the argument. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Simon Hughes: I wish to make two brief points. First, the clause is important, for the reasons that I stated earlier. It allows for information to be compulsorily obtained. It would be helpful if the Minister circulated to hon. MembersóI do not ask her to read out the information nowódetails about the current protections under all the data protection legislation against information collected here being passed on without authority.

I welcome subsection (5), which specifies that regulations must provide for the destruction of information obtained or recorded and

    ''require the destruction of information at the end of the period of ten years beginning with the day on which it is obtained or recorded''.

That is, one can ask for the record of one's fingerprints or eyes to be destroyed 10 years later so that there is not a permanent Big Brother file. My question is, if I ask for the file containing my fingerprints or the image of my iris, and someone refuses to provide that data, what can I, the citizen, do? What is my remedy, and what are my guarantees? If someone refuses, what offence do they commit and can they be punished? I am keen to know whether the citizen can enforce the rights given in legislation.

Ms Winterton: I do not have the specific answer. The protection under existing legislation on access to information would apply, at the same time as the balance against data protection. The hon. Gentleman may be talking about someone residing elsewhere, so I will need to check the details. I am happy to write to him.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 97 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 98

Physical data: voluntary provision

Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 303, in page 49, line 32, leave out paragraph (c).

Under clause 98 the Secretary of State can operate a scheme enabling people voluntarily to provide data with a view to assisting and accelerating their entry to the UK. We are looking at a two-tier system, which may operate unfairly. My probing amendment relates to the Secretary of State's ability under subsection (2)(c) to charge for participation in a scheme. Would that amount to an additional charge to visa applicants who already pay for their entry clearance? Is that right or fair? Surely the Government should bear the extra cost. I should be grateful if the Minister would explain the thinking behind the proposed charge. I hope that her reply will not disappoint me.

11.15 am

Simon Hughes: We have similar concerns. I pay tribute to the Government for reducing charges for visa appeals. It is important that we do not impose double penalties that become double financial hurdles to providing the necessary information to enter the UK. We must get these matters in proportion. If we are honest about having a system that encourages

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people to put their case, they should not be discouraged for financial reasons.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): The clause relates to voluntary provision of information about external physical characteristics. How will Muslim women who wear full burqa be affected if for cultural reasons they are not permitted to give as much information as they may wish?

Ms Winterton: The clause is intended to help frequent travellers. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle talked about how quickly certain categories of people move through immigration control, and how there appear to be long queues elsewhere. I stress that the provision of information is entirely voluntary. The scheme is almost a service for frequent travellers who want the benefits of being processed more quickly. In the circumstances, it is reasonable to charge for that, especially when we compare the costs that a frequent traveller may face. I stress that there is no extra charge for anyone who does not wish to participate. The scheme is just a mechanism for ensuring that we can help frequent travellers who are not considered to be a risk to move quickly through the system.

Mr. Malins: This is a probing amendment, but I hoped that the Minister could give us a little more detail about the potential costs and the number of people who might be affected. Will there be a graduated scheme of costs? One might be impecunious, but full of merit.

Ms Winterton: On the question about a sliding scale, there is a flat rate charge for people who apply for visas. I do not recall the hon. Gentleman making a point about that. We want to provide a scheme that assists people to make their way through the process when entering the UK. We will consider the details of the scheme as we develop the ideas, which are at an early stage because of the difficulties of considering the implications of new technology. I cannot provide information about cost at the moment, but we want to ensure that people can access the scheme, which will assist them in the process of entering the country.

Mr. Malins: We shall watch carefully what evolves. There is no point in pressing the amendment to a vote now. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 98 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 99

Data collection under

Immigration and Asylum Act 1999

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

Simon Hughes: The clause gives rise to the same questions about the future regulations and their specificity as I raised under clause 97.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 99 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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