Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Clause 107


Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 305, in page 53, line 24, after 'State', insert 'and the person affected'.

The Chairman: With this we may take amendment No. 323, in page 53, line 25, at end insert

    'and a copy of the notice, in respect of the person affected'.

Mr. Malins: Clauses 105 and 106 give the Secretary of State the power to require certain people, including employers and banks, to provide financial information about a person who may be working for them. I understand the obvious need for such a power, but it raises the usual issues, because we do not want the requests to become a fishing expedition.

I appreciate the need for confidentiality. This is a probing amendment to ask the Government to give a fuller explanation of what will happen in practice when a notice is served on a bank, for example. My amendment provides that the person on whom the notice is served—it is likely to be a bank—must provide the Secretary of State and the person affected with the information specified. That is another way of saying, ''Is there an argument or not?'' When the bank or employer responds, they should be saying to the employee who is the subject of the inquiry, ''Look, I have had this request from the Secretary of State about your financial position. This is the information I am going to provide. We'd better check whether it's accurate, because I don't want there to be a mistake''. Normally, natural justice would require the person affected by the notice to see it, as well as the response to it.

If it is the Government's view that drawing the notice to the attention of the affected person would result in that person doing a bunk and not being accountable, I can see the purpose of the provision. I tabled the amendment as a peg on which to draw a little more information from the Government. They will know that the debate on whether the clause should stand part of the Bill needs to be approached sensitively rather than heavy-handedly.

3.45 pm

Simon Hughes: Our amendment would have a similar effect. If the Government are to resist the amendments for the reason anticipated by the hon. Member for Woking, there is still the issue of when the

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employee or the customer of the financial institution should be notified and given the information. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Government may resist the amendments because they do not want the individual to be tipped off. Nonetheless, it is important for the person to know where the information came from so that inaccuracies can be dealt with.

A firm that is no longer based in my constituency was subject to a routine check by the Department of Employment—as it was then—on whether all the employees were lawfully engaged. I assume that there had been a tip off. There was a comic side, because the management was entirely white and the workforce entirely black—Ghanaian, I believe. The inspectors asked the management in the front office if they could go through to the shop floor. They were told by the managing director's wife, who was on duty, that they could of course go through to the shop floor, see the workforce and speak to whomever they wanted. The inspectors went through to the rear part of the building where the work was being done, returned a few minutes later and said, ''Is this a tea break? Where is the workforce?'' Every member of staff had disappeared after being tipped off, whether they were here legitimately or not.

It is important that people should know about the suspected case against them. That is the secondary purpose of our amendment. Its primary purpose is to notify the individual concerned and the employer or financial institution simultaneously.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton): The hon. Member for Woking asked for more information about the mechanisms. The clause provides the Secretary of State with a legal mechanism to require employers and financial institutions to supply information using the powers in clauses 105 and 106. The clause also provides that requests for information will be made in the form of a written notice, and sets out the manner and minimum period in which recipients of a notice must respond.

Subsection (1) provides that a request for information under clauses 105 or 106 must be imposed by written notice. Subsection (1)(a) provides that the notice must specify the information required; subsection (1)(b) that it must specify the manner in which the information is to be provided; and subsection (1)(c) that it must state the period of time within which the information is to be provided.

Subsection (2) defines the period of time specified in the notice within which the recipient must respond. Subsection (2)(a) states that the period must begin with the date of receipt of the notice, and subsection (2)(b) states that it must be not less than 10 working days. Subsection (3) specifies the duties placed on the recipient of a notice. The recipient must provide the Secretary of State with the information specified in the notice, or a declaration that he does not have any of the information specified, or that he does not have the remainder if he can provide only part of it. Other parts of the clause relate to matters such as the definition of the ''working day''. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not want me to go into the details of that.

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We will consult publicly on the application of the powers in clauses 105 and 106 before they are implemented. We will certainly try to encourage voluntary compliance by employees and financial institutions wherever possible. The purpose of the proposed new information powers in clauses 105, 106 and 107 is to assist the Secretary of State to locate immigration offenders at large within the community, and to detect and prevent fraud of the national asylum support arrangements, which costs the UK taxpayer an estimated £60 million per annum. All hon. Members would recognise that it is important for us to do that. That fraud is not only a cost to the taxpayer, it undermines the position of people who are genuinely trying to seek asylum and become refugees.

Amendment No. 305 would require an employer or financial institution served with a notice requiring disclosure to provide the persons affected by the notice with a copy of any information supplied to the Secretary of State. That would alert the person concerned to the fact that they were under investigation, which the hon. Gentleman touched on, and would increase the risk of that person absconding or destroying evidence of offending. It would completely undermine the proposed policy. There is no point catching only the individual offender: we need to be able to find out how things have been organised so that we can take matters further. Whenever the protection of information applies, it is difficult to give that information immediately to the offender. Again, the data protection legislation applies.

Amendment No. 323 is very similar in intent to the lead amendment. They would both inhibit the Government's efforts to tackle illegal working and fraud of the NASS scheme. I hope that that explains more clearly why the information is necessary, and why it would not be helpful to pass it on to the person to whom it applies. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Malins: This has been a helpful and short debate. With the Minister's additional explanations, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 107 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 108 and 109 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 110

privilege against self-incrimination

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

Mr. Gerrard: I think that I understand some of the reasons for the clause, but a number of hon. Members are concerned about aspects of illegal working. We shall come later to the issue of trafficking for sexual purposes, but there is also a growing trend in trafficking for labour purposes—a modern form of slavery. There is no question but that people are trafficked and deliberately exploited for labour.

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We must be sure that we are not introducing a provision that makes it difficult to get at the employers responsible for such exploitation. I am slightly worried that we are introducing a protection for an employer who has given information, particularly under clause 105. The answer may be that we must be careful how we use the provisions, and that we should target the people who are trafficking for labour in other ways. I know that the Government intend to deal with the issue—next year, we hope—in criminal justice legislation, but I seek reassurance that nothing in the Bill will hinder our ability to get at employers who traffic in labour and exploit extremely vulnerable people.

Ms Winterton: I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend. I understand his point about the need to act on that problem and, as he said, we hope to introduce legislation in respect of trafficking for illegal working.

Clause 110 provides that information supplied by a person under clauses 105 and 106 cannot be used as evidence in criminal proceedings. We intend to avoid any conflict between those clauses and the right to a fair trial guaranteed by article 6 of the European convention on human rights. There is no intention to undermine future legislation, but we must ensure compatibility with the ECHR, so we have to provide for privilege against self-incrimination in this legislation to make that clear.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 110 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 111 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 112

Assisting Unlawful Immigration, &c.

4 pm
Simon Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 324, in page 55, line 30, after 'knowingly,' insert 'and for gain'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 330, in page 56, line 22, leave out '14' and insert '5'.

No. 329, in page 56, line 22, leave out '14' and insert '2'.

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