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The Minister has been open about his area of responsibilities. A good example is prisons, on which so much information is now available to the public and to those who ask questions. I feel that that is right. If one wants to build confidence in a system, it is right and proper that the system must be subject to scrutiny and open in terms of the information required by ordinary people who fairly frequently complain about the treatment they receive.
We believe that when a group of civil servants and others are given such wide-ranging powers, which threaten to breach basic rights to privacy, liberty and the right to a fair hearing of any immigration or asylum appeal, it is imperative to ensure the widest possible public scrutiny of the exercise of those powers. We believe that that is achievable only if an independent complaints authority is established. The authority should be appointed by the Lord Chancellor and not by the Secretary of State for the Home Office. It should also be empowered to carry out its own investigations using its own staff and it should report directly to Parliament.
We also believe that the present system, whereby a complaints audit committee of two or three people appointed by the Secretary of State for the Home Office monitors the effectiveness of internal immigration service complaints procedures and reports back to him on an annual basis, is at best an example of departmental self-appraisal.
I make no criticism of the three or four individuals involved in immigration audit. In fact, they perform a useful task. However, I shall explain why that particular procedure is not appropriate. It lacks the capability and objectivity to investigate sensitive complaints against the immigration service staff and to institute swift action to eradicate malpractice before it takes root. Moreover, it is not of sufficient weight to counter-balance the inroads in civil liberties being introduced by Part VII of the Bill by ensuring that individual rights are not sacrificed for the sake of public police considerations without consideration of the individual facts of each case.
I believe that the complaints audit committee is limited in its scope for investigating complaints arising out of the powers contained in Part VII of the Bill. When the independent audit committee was established, Mr Charles Wardle, the Under-Secretary of State, said in another place:
No one disputes that an effective complaints system is vital in terms of maintaining confidence in the operation of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. The problem is that the procedures are to be examined by the complaints audit committee, but the procedures themselves are to be implemented by means of an internal complaints procedure. In other words, there is no independent element. The service oversees itself in terms of the complaints levelled against it.
The total number of complaints must be a matter for concern in view of the millions of passengers who are dealt with at airports, including those who claim asylum seeker status. Figures published last year indicate that no more than 105 complaints were received. It may be said that that effectively proves that there are not many complaints. But the procedure is not well known. If people do not know that such a procedure exists, how often are they going to complain? The figures indicate an increase of 52 per cent in the complaints received as compared with the figures for 1996. So more complaints are received now than were received in previous years. The figures also indicate that in some 50 per cent of completed cases the complaints are wholly or partially substantiated. So, of those who did find out about the complaints mechanism, at least half had their complaints substantiated.
It may be interesting to examine a similarity under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act regarding provision for complaints against police officers. Let us remember that in many cases the powers of immigration officers are close to those given to the police under PACE. When in opposition, the present Home Secretary, dealing with the matter of police complaints, spoke clearly of the need to introduce an independent element into the police complaints machinery. The Macpherson Report on the investigation into the death of Stephen Lawrence refers to the need for some independent element in the complaints procedure. It is right and
Lord Cope of Berkeley: The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia has made some interesting points on Amendment No. 190YA relating to the complaints authority. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply. I merely want to say a word about the other two amendments in this group, Amendment No. 190XA in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and government Amendment No. 195C.
The Minister's answer regarding a code of practice is to put in place the code that operates under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. That seems a very appropriate way of dealing with the matter. The noble Baroness said that immigrants and asylum seekers who will be affected by the strong powers in this part of the Bill are not criminals. Of course they are not. Nor are those who are dealt with under PACE--they are people who are suspected of crimes. The police and those who are dealt with under PACE are covered by the police code of practice. After all, immigration officers deal with people who are suspected of having no right to be in this country. In some cases--
Baroness Williams of Crosby: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. My point was simply that the powers regarding search and seizure are, in the case of PACE, restricted to suspicion of offences of a very serious nature. Some of the offences listed under the Bill are of a much less serious nature.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I shall let the Minister respond to that point in detail. I am not sure that I entirely accept the noble Baroness's point as she expresses it. PACE applies right across the activities of the police in dealing with people who are suspected of even quite small crimes in many cases. Aspects of PACE apply to those who are detained for one reason or another in police cells, just as the code will apply to immigrants who are detained in the appropriate circumstances, which will be to some extent equivalent.
I did not check before entering the Chamber and I cannot recall whether the PACE code is subject to the affirmative or negative procedure when it is modified. I believe it is the affirmative procedure, but I may be wrong; I do not have firm information. Clearly, whatever parliamentary procedure applies to adjustments of PACE and alterations made from time to time to the PACE code of practice would also be appropriate for any modifications to be made to PACE to allow it to fit more accurately the circumstances of immigration officers.
On the whole, PACE has worked well so far as the police are concerned over the considerable period since its introduction--during which time it has been improved. Bearing that fact in mind, even if there were to be a separate code of practice for immigration officers in regard to these very strong powers, it ought to be closely based on PACE. The process of osmosis may not be entirely complete on this occasion. Nevertheless, the Minister may think it appropriate to respond now.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I appreciate the thinking behind Amendments Nos. 190XA and 190YA. Immigration officers must be clearly accountable for their actions in exercising these new powers; and there must be an effective complaints system. I do not believe that Amendment No. 190XA is now required, bearing in mind government Amendment No. 195C. I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley.
Amendment No. 195C allows that the Secretary of State may bring immigration officers under the auspices of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes of practice. That plainly must be so. Immigration officers are already required to have regard to PACE codes when investigating offences by virtue of Section 67(9) of the Act. If the government amendment is accepted by the Committee, it will ensure that immigration officers exercising powers of entry, search and seizure under Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 will have to have regard to the PACE codes in the same way.
In reply to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, it is important to bear in mind that the PACE codes govern not only the exercise of the statutory powers but the manner in which police officers are obliged to conduct their duties. Immigration officers will be no different. If an immigration officer breaches any applicable requirements of the code, he or she will be accountable and subject to discipline. I believe that every aspect of the immigration officer's use of these new powers is covered.
I turn to Amendment No. 190YA. This proposes the establishment of an independent immigration complaints authority. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is quite right. The Complaints Audit Committee was set up in 1994 to monitor the investigation of complaints. The noble Lord is also right to say that its members are appointed by the Home Secretary. They are required to meet certain criteria; namely, they must have experience in race relations, community relations, immigration law, customer relations and local or central government.
Members of the committee are given unfettered access to all complaint investigations and are able to make critical comments on the quality of those investigations and their conclusions. If necessary, they have access to Ministers. They are required to produce an annual report for the Secretary of State, and the Home Office is obliged to respond to the committee's recommendations and criticisms. In May of this year, we placed in the Libraries of both Houses a paper detailing the existing complaints procedures. The paper also outlines further measures that we intend to take to strengthen the existing procedures.
Briefly, we intend to treat complaints arising from the exercise of the new powers separately from others. A small team of specially trained officers--probably three or four--will be required to have knowledge of enforcement law and practice, and PACE codes. The Complaints Audit Committee will scrutinise each complaint as soon as possible after receipt and take the following action: first, agree the manner in which it is to be investigated; secondly, monitor progress; and, thirdly, ensure that investigation of the complaint receives the right degree of attention and priority. We intend to review those procedures after one year to ensure that they are working satisfactorily.
I stress that if a criminal offence is alleged, it will be referred to the police and that such action as it and the Crown Prosecution Service consider necessary will follow. Therefore, these powers will be carefully regulated by a stringent monitoring apparatus. Officers will be fully accountable for their actions.
In relation to Amendment No. 195C, the noble Baroness asked about the modifications under subsection (3). I can reassure her that the modifications are simply those which are necessary to adapt the PACE codes for the purposes of the specific powers in Part
Community groups will be consulted via existing police consultative groups. PACE places on investigating officers a number of duties. Further, PACE does not apply simply to serious offences but to a very wide range of alleged criminal activities.
We believe that the powers in Part VII are consistent with those available to the police under PACE. We have tried to ensure that the new powers go no further than PACE. The thinking behind Part VII is that these powers should be available to immigration officers rather than the latter having to depend on the police. Originally, a small number of immigration officers--perhaps 15 or 20--will be charged with these duties following proper training.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is correct to say that complaints are small in number compared with the 18,000 to 20,000 complaints against the police. I take his point that if a person does not know that he can complain, he is not likely to complain. He and I know perfectly well that the facility to complain is advertised in police stations. That is something to which I should like to give consideration.
We believe that our solution is the better one. We hope that the Committee will agree that our Amendment No. 195C is the way forward. It is important to incorporate PACE and to provide training. I believe that in that way we shall have a more structured discipline and complaints system. On the basis of those explanations, I hope that these amendments will not be pressed and that the Government's Amendment No. 195C will be accepted.
Lord Dholakia: Perhaps I may press the Minister a little further. Earlier I raised the question of decisions taken by entry clearance officers or immigration officers seconded to British posts abroad. How will complaints against those individuals be dealt with under the existing procedures?
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