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Lord Avebury: I should like to draw attention briefly to the views expressed by the Immigration Advisory Service, the head of which is Mr. Keith Best, a former colleague of mine in another place. For that reason alone, I believe that those views should be seriously considered. Mr. Best says that the deterioration in the relationships between the police and immigrant groups is a matter of anxiety and that the many reports about mistaken arrests and about the use of powers to search are one of the reasons for that exacerbation. He says, in particular, that the consequence of searches on premises cause great resentment. So he has underlined that particular factor as regards Clause 7.
There would be no point in having subsection (3) in Clause 7 if it did not mean that there was going to be an increase in the number of searches of the kind that we are now discussing. Therefore, inevitably, if the subsection remains in the legislation, we shall see more police raids on premises which are occupied predominantly, for example, by members of ethnic minority groups. That will have a harmful and deleterious effect, especially on relations between the police and those communities. For that reason alone, I believe that we should pause before allowing that provision to be incorporated into the Bill.
I believe also that we should consider the costs involved in terms of the secondary factors which we were discussing the other day. If there are to be worsening relationships between the police and ethnic minority communities, what effect will that have on policing as a whole within those areas? Further, what effect will that have on the environment in which those searches are likely to cause the relationships to deteriorate? Indeed, the duties of the local authorities in those areas might be affected by the worsening of such relationships. The ramifications of such changes are so enormous that I believe we should have a much better idea of the extent to which those powers might be exercised before we allow the clause to go through.
However, it is possible that the Minister will be able to help us in that respect. If we are only talking about one or two cases during the course of a year, then we might be able to accept that that will not be terribly important. The noble Baroness has already said that it is not the intention to go on fishing expeditions, but we shall not be in a position to judge that very easily once the Bill becomes law. Therefore, if, as we suspect, the presence of the clause in the legislation means that there might be fairly widespread trawls, and the consequences
Lord Renton: The matter is not as simple as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has indicated. As to the question of costs--and I believe that the noble Lord is thinking in particular of police costs--if we make it too difficult for the law to be enforced so that we get many more illegal immigrants than we already have, then, because of the laxity of our legislation, we might have to have more police to enforce such provisions. So his argument is a self-defeating one. I say that with deep respect to him.
As to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, her deep sincerity seems to have misled her into depriving magistrates of the power that they need to authorise the police to enter premises where it is thought that an illegal, or possible illegal, immigrant has entered. Surely, there is no justification for that.
The amendment of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon concerns circumstances where a potential illegal immigrant, or a suspected illegal immigrant may enter a hospital, like St. Thomas' across the river, or an educational establishment such as University College, Gower Street, with its spacious courtyards, or any church, chapel, mosque or temple. The amendment would mean that as soon as an illegal immigrant sees a police officer whom he fears may seek to arrest him, he can dart into any one of those premises and be free from arrest and, he must hope, free from prosecution. In ancient times the Christian Churches were regarded as sanctuary; that was accepted. They had to feed and look after the people who sought sanctuary and allow them to sleep in the church. If those people ever came out they could be arrested if they had committed an offence or were suspected of having done so. I say, with deep respect to the sincerity of the noble Baroness and the right reverend Prelate, that I really think that the amendments are self-defeating and unacceptable.
The Earl of Sandwich: I support the amendment of the noble Baroness. I shall try not to raise the emotional temperature. I wish to return to the note of sincerity, which began with the noble Baroness. The amendment is a warning to the Government as regards their policy of restraint towards asylum seekers. I believe this to be a deterrent Bill, not a curative Bill. I shall explain why.
I have several misgivings about the Bill and the absurdity of having a published designated list which can only be a source of friction in our foreign policy. I reserve my remarks today for Clause 7(3) which deals with the new offences.
The Government have crossed the line of reasonable restraint. I recognise that increased numbers have created a problem and that public opinion requires a tightening of the rules in line with our European allies. I can see the European dimension both as regards improved examination of the existing caseload and in sending a signal to prospective asylum seekers. I see
Clause 7 puts the immigration offences into the category of serious arrestable offences. Given the powers the police already have under the 1971 Act, surely this clause is entirely unnecessary and could have a damaging effect on our race relations. As we have heard, the powers are only available for offences such as kidnapping, murder and rape. They have been hitherto unjustified by government statements. They will have a harmful effect on local police community relations. We heard a great deal about those relations in the debate on the police yesterday. We heard how good those relations have become. As someone who worked in Brixton during the 1980s as well as in communities abroad and as someone whose father served as a Conservative Member in another place for many years, I remind the Government of what the Prime Minister said on 15th November,
Viscount Brentford: I endorse entirely, as I am sure does every Member of the Committee, what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about the difficult balance to be retained between the liberty of the individual and law and order. I have two or three questions arising from the amendment which seems to me to be important. I was interested to learn that there are some 40,000 illegal Australian immigrants in this country. I should like to be given an assurance that the police will make as much effort to chase them up as they will illegal immigrants from other countries. That is important. It does not matter what colour someone's skin is. We need to treat people as individuals. All are created in the image of God, whatever the colour of one's skin. I hope that I shall be given that assurance.
I am slightly puzzled by Clause 7(3)(a) in the light of what I have read about it, and also as regards what has been said about it. Unfortunately, I have not consulted the Police and Criminal Evidence Act but the wording of the subsection refers to introducing the,
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, in his response to an earlier amendment, talked quite properly about the coherence of the powers of the law in criminal proceedings in matters of illegal immigration. I can confirm that on this amendment, as on other amendments, our intention is not in any way to attack the coherence of the power to institute and pursue criminal proceedings in cases of illegal immigration. It is not, and never has been, our intention to support illegal immigration.
Subsection (3) of Clause 7 adds incoherence rather than coherence to the meaning of the clause. By reference to Section 8 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and the comparable Northern Ireland order, it reads as though these immigration offences are serious arrestable offences under the terms of Section 8(1) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
To what does subsection (1) of that Act refer? It refers to powers of arrest and, in particular, search warrants. However, Clause 7(2) of the Asylum and Immigration Bill covers search warrants. Although we have not yet voted on clause stand part we have already implicitly agreed that. Clause 7(2) states:
The provision is quite unnecessary. We simply need to amend subsection (2) of Clause 7 to ensure that there are powers of entry to search for evidence as well as to find and arrest the individual. To do it as the Bill proposes is gratuitously offensive and misrepresents the degree of seriousness of illegal immigration offences. I support the amendment.
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