Mr. Malins: I can reinforce the point that good character is a difficult concept. In our courts, defendants often ask to be viewed as of good character when they have no previous convictions, have only a minor previous conviction or perhaps have a serious conviction but of a different nature that took place many years ago. I agree with the Minister that it is largely a matter of discretion, and that exercising it appropriately is not easy. I do not know what else I have to add; in fact, I am not even sure that it was worth adding what I have just said.
Simon Hughes: That was a perfectly reasonable addition, if I may say so. The Minister is, of course, right about the need for discretion. I was not suggesting otherwise, but merely wanted to discover whether certain preconditions applied.
It would be useful to know at an appropriate point in our proceedings how many applications were made over the previous five years and how many were turned down on the basis of failing the good character test. Does the Home Secretary use a general guideline to determine whether people who have been turned down once on good character grounds should be able to apply again? Are guidelines available to apply certain standards? Could someone pass the test on a second application, having been turned down on the first?
Angela Eagle: Yes, there is always that chance because the Secretary of State has discretion. A pattern of good behaviour after an earlier criminal career might lead the Secretary of State to revisit an earlier decision. Common sense applies to discretion, which means exactly that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that, for the appropriate exercise of
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discretion, it is helpful if all relevant information is made available. That is what the gateway in the clause allows with respect to the named organisations.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 102 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 103 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Angela Eagle: I beg to move amendment No. 375, in page 51, line 31, leave out subsection (1) and insert
'(1) This section applies to a person if an immigration officer acting under Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 (c.77) (control on entry, &c.) has brought the person to the attention of a medical inspector appointed under paragraph 1(2) of that Schedule.'.
The Chairman: With this we may take Government amendments Nos. 376 to 383.
Angela Eagle: The clause is a technical measure that is designed to provide a firm legal basis for existing disclosures by port medical inspectors to relevant health authorities in the UK in respect of passengers for whom, in the inspectors' opinion, the disclosure is deemed necessary for specified medical purposes. Port medical inspectors contribute to one of the Government's policies on health by helping to identify and treat infectious diseases, especially tuberculosis, in passengers arriving from overseas. However, they can achieve that only if the information obtained in the port medical inspection can be passed on to health service providers. That enables the hospital or other medical body to contact the person quickly and offer any health checks that may be desirable and in the interests of that person, his family, close contacts and the wider community.
The amendments broaden the power of port medical inspectors to disclose information to relevant local NHS bodies about passengers referred to them by immigration officers. Their purpose is to bring the clause into line with existing practice by port medical inspectors. They also rectify three main defects in the clause.
First, the amendments remove the requirement that a passenger must be examined before a port medical officer can disclose information to a relevant local health authority body. It is not always appropriate to examine certain passengers, such as pregnant women, for illnesses like tuberculosis that can involve the use of X-rays. Secondly, they remove the reference in the clause to notifiable diseases under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. It is no longer appropriate to link the power to disclose information to that Act, because its definition of notifiable disease and the strictures that apply in those cases are not relevant to port powers of disclosure, which cover a wider range of general public health requirements. The amendments provide a gateway that permits the disclosure of information necessary for preventive medicine, medical diagnosis, the provision of care or treatment or the management of health care services.
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Thirdly, they remove the need for the port medical inspector to have reasonable suspicion that a person is infected with a disease. In practice, it would be difficult for port medical inspectors to satisfy that test, especially at smaller port health units where facilities are limited. The amendments provide that a port medical inspector may disclose information if he thinks that that is necessary for medical purposes. That reserves a necessary degree of clinical judgment to the port medical inspector.
The amendments add the age of the passenger and the language spoken to the list of information that a port medical inspector is empowered to disclose, as they are highly relevant to the provision of follow-up health services.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 376, in page 51, line 34, leave out 'The' and insert 'A'.
No. 377, in page 51, line 35, leave out 'the person examined' and insert:
'a person to whom this section applies'.
No. 378, in page 51, line 36, at end insert:
'( ) his age,
( ) the language which he speaks,'.
No. 379, in page 51, line 37, leave out 'the disease' and insert:
'any disease with which the inspector thinks the person may be infected'.
No. 380, in page 51, line 39, leave out 'the inspector's suspicion' and insert:
'an opinion mentioned in paragraph (c)'.
No. 381, in page 51, line 40, leave out:
'he has arranged to have carried out)'
and insert 'has been carried out)'.
No. 382, in page 51, line 42, at end insert:
'( ) A disclosure may be made under subsection (2) only if the medical inspector thinks it necessary for the purpose of
(a) preventative medicine,
(b) medical diagnosis,
(c) the provision of care or treatment, or
(d) the management of health care services.'
No. 383, in page 52, line 15, leave out subsection (4).[Angela Eagle.]
Clause 104, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Angela Eagle: I beg to move No. 296, in page 52, line 26, leave out 'the earnings of'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 297 and 298.
Angela Eagle: If the Secretary of State has reasonable suspicion that someone has committed an immigration offence, including an offence in relation to earnings under the national asylum support arrangements, the clause gives him the power to
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require the employer to disclose information about that person's earnings, employment history and whereabouts.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Angela Eagle: The provision also applies to employment agencies hiring out the services of staff, even if those staff are technically self-employed or employed by a third party. The purpose of the clause is twofold: first, to strengthen the immigration and nationality directorate's ability to detect and prevent fraud in the national asylum support arrangements by applicants who claim to be destitute but fail to declare or under-declare their true level of earnings, which costs the UK about £60 million each year; and, secondly, to strengthen the IND's ability to locate immigration offenders at large in the community with a view to effecting their removal. The clause makes it clear that even if the IND does not intend to prosecute the employees concerned, the employer has no lawful excuse for not providing the information specified.
The degree to which employers currently comply with legitimate requests for information from the immigration service varies widely. Provision for the power to be enforced is made in clauses 107, 108 and 109. An employer commits an offence if he fails to comply with a request for information without reasonable excuse, or makes a false declaration. If the employer does not have some or all of the information requested, all he has to do is to declare that that is the case.
The purpose of these technical amendments is to clarify the circumstance in which the Secretary of State may require employers to provide information. Consequently, the same information can be provided in respect of all classes of immigration offence, depending on the purpose for which the Secretary of State requires the information. The clause is an important part of our determination to fight illegal working, and to ensure that people cannot with impunity disappear into the system in the knowledge that we will not catch up with them. In order significantly to enhance our ability in that respect, we need to create certainty so that those employers who are approached know that they must comply with these modest and focused requirements for information.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 297, in page 52, line 27, at end insert
'( ) section 24(1)(a), (b), (c), (e) or (f), 24A(1) or 26(1)(c) or (d) of the Immigration Act 1971 (c.77) (illegal entry, deception, &c.),'.<<326>>
No. 298, in page 52, line 32, leave out subsection (2) and insert
'(2) The power under subsection (1) may be exercised to require information about an employee only if the information
(a) is required for the purpose of establishing where the employee is, or
(b) relates to the employee's earnings or to the history of his employment.'.[Angela Eagle.]
Clause 105, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 106 ordered to stand part of the Bill.