Angela Eagle: There is an order-making power, so we would have to come back to Parliament and the scrutiny would be there. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises the benefitsmore protection against fraud, faster access to the information that is needed, which ought to help us in processing, and more control over the systems, which will be a welcome administrative improvementas well as worrying about what might go wrong, and will welcome a development that has enabled us to have a much more secure system in terms of establishing the identities of asylum seekers, and perhaps in future other immigration customers, if I can call them that.
Mr. Allan: My view of parliamentary scrutiny is precisely that it should be to assist the proper functioning of systems such as this. Scrutiny is a positive process, so I hope that the Minister does not come away with the idea that I am suggesting scrutiny simply to do down new systems that have to be introduced.
Angela Eagle: I assure the hon. Gentleman that I relish and enjoy scrutiny, parliamentary and otherwise.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 116 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 117 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Sections 116 and 117: consequential amendments
Angela Eagle: I beg to move amendment No. 340, in page 62, line 9, at end insert
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 341.
Angela Eagle: As drafted, the clause allows a constable or immigration officer to arrest somebody who has committed one of the new offences, possessing and forging immigration stamps. Incredibly, until the Bill reaches the statute book that will not be an offence. That means that, unless it is absolutely certain that the card that somebody is trying to use is false, any arrest would be unlawful. Some of the new offences introduced by clause 116 are an offence only if there is no reasonable excuse. That is also the case with the new offence of possessing an immigration stamp. Ultimately, it will be for a court to decide whether a suspect has a reasonable excuse for possessing a stampperhaps it has been found and he is on the way to the police station to hand it in. If that is not the case, an offence will have been committed and the power of
Column Number: 356
arrest will apply. If the excuse is reasonable, no offence will have been committed and any arrest will be unlawful.
I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that the amendments to clause 118 clarify that position and help to create more clarity about the power in clause 117 regarding possessing immigration stamps in order to falsify immigration documents.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 341, in page 62, line 10, at end insert
Clause 118, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Power of entry
Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 311, in page 62, line 32, after '(c)', insert
'with a warrant issued by a magistrates' court and'.
This is a probing amendment to decide whether, on occasions such as this, we should have a magistrates court warrant issued as well as the other safeguards. Can the Minister comment?
Angela Eagle: The power of entry by warrant already exists, but the whole point of the clause is to render a warrant unnecessary in the case of business premises. The Government are committed to increasing the number of failed asylum seekers removed each year. We are also committed to cracking down on illegal working. In many cases, those who go to ground after the failure of an asylum claim, or who have perhaps never brought themselves to the attention of the authorities and claimed asylum, are working illegally and using false names and forged or altered documents, making it extremely difficult to trace even when they entered employment.
Many employers are prepared to co-operate with immigration service personnel when information suggests that an immigration offender may be working on their premises. However, some are not, and increasingly employers who were formerly prepared to assist are taking a similar line.
The clause means that the employer will not be able to refuse entry to an immigration officer or constable making an arrest under the new powers. There are already powers in the Immigration Act 1971 that allow a constable or immigration officer to apply to a magistrate for a warrant. The novel effect of the amendment would be that, having satisfied the magistrate that an offender is on the premises, the individual would have to go back for explicit permission to use the warrant. That would make an already difficult process even more difficult.
We know that illegal employment occurs. It is often exploitative in nature. The purpose of the clause is to allow immigration officers who suspect a particular, perhaps non-co-operative, employer to go into a
Column Number: 357
premises without a warrant in order to search for immigration offenders. With that explanation, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Malins: Following that explanation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: No. 255, in page 63, line 7, leave out ''arrests'' and insert ''detains''.[Angela Eagle.]
Clause 119, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Power to search for evidence
Mr. Allan: I beg to move amendment No. 335, in page 63, line 40, leave out from ''if'' to end of line 41 and insert
''on application made by an immigration officer a justice of the peace is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing''.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 312, in page 63, line 41, after ''officer'', insert
''is in possession of a warrant to search and''.
Mr. Allan: This is another in the family of ''seek a warrant from a justice of the peace'' amendments, in common with the one that we have just debated. We are seeking to tease out the reason why the Government feel that the powers in the first part of the clause should not require prior judicial scrutiny, whereas a JP's warrant is required in the second part of the clause. We suggest that there should be a stage of demonstrating to a JP that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the records need to be recovered from most premises.
In general, as a matter of principle, we feel much more comfortable when a JP's warrant is required to pick up sensitive information and employee records. We will later debate the scope of the employee records phase, but employee records are sensitive material. I want to hear the Minister's justification of why a JP's warrant should not be required under all circumstances, if one is going in to search for evidence of such a sensitive nature.
Angela Eagle: The clause inserts two new sections into the Immigration Act 1971. Both refer back to earlier clauses. Where an immigration offender has been arrested on business premises, there is an additional power to allow a constable or immigration officer to search the premises for employee records when he believes that an offence has been committed.
Put simply, given the time of evening that we have reached, if we have to go for more warrants, the likelihood in many cases is that the records for which the search is being made will disappear while the warrant process is being undertaken. The important thing is that records thought to be of substantial value
Column Number: 358
to the investigation of an offence of failing to disclose the required information, or of dishonesty on the part of the asylum seeker, may be seized and retained at a time when we know that they are there, without giving those who are profiting from exploitative labour and illegal work the chance to dispose of the evidence before we get our hands on it.
Mr. Allan: We remain concerned about any provisions that allow searching to take place without further oversight, but at this stage I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Allan: I beg to move amendment No. 336, in page 64, line 1, leave out 'employee records' and insert 'records of that employee.'
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 337, in page 64, line 6, leave out 'employee records' and insert 'records of that employee.'
No. 338, in page 64, line 14, leave out 'employee records' and insert 'records of that employee.'
Mr. Allan: The amendments are designed to refine the scope of the records that could be removed from the premises. In particular, we are aiming to confine the material that may be taken away to the records of the employee who has been arrested for the immigration offences. The rationale behind that is that we feel uncomfortable about a provision that would seem to allow the officers to take away all the employee records from premises where perhaps only one individual has been arrested for an immigration offence. In being fair to others who work there who may have committed no offence whatever, we feel that it would be more appropriate if the wording of the law said that it was the records of that specific employeethe one who had been arrestedthat can be taken away rather than the records of all the employees in general.
Angela Eagle: Currently, all the records can be searched, and it is unlikely that a specific immigration offender's records would be separate. If other immigration offenders came to light during a search for an individual's records, would it not be a reasonable idea to allow them to be looked at too? That is not unreasonable when we are looking to crack down on illegal working. It is in the public interest to crack down on illegal working.
Mr. Allan: Again, we remain concerned. The Minister has talked about searching through the records, but the word ''retention'' is importantly contained in the clause. The officer would have the power not only to search through the records but to seize and retain them. That is the point at which we become concerned. It may appear easier to an immigration officer to take the lot away and look through them later, but that means a lot of innocent employees will have their records removed from the premises.
Column Number: 359