HC Deb 19 October 1971 vol 823 cc623-6

Lords Amendment: No. 38, in page 23, line 25, at end insert "or to an immigration officer".

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Sharples

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

It might be convenient if we discussed at the same time Amendment No. 60, in page 37, line 38 at end insert: (4A) A person who has renounced citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies under this Act shall not be entitled to be registered as a citizen thereof under subsection (0) above, but may be so registered with the approval of the Secretary of State. Paragraph 20 of Schedule 2 of the Bill provides that a person liable to detention or detained pending his examination on entry into the country and pending a decision as to whether to admit him, may be temporarily admitted without prejudice to a later exercise of the power to detain him and, further, that while such a person is at large he shall be subject to such restrictions as to residence and as to reporting to the police as may from time to time be notified to him in writing by an immigration officer.

These Amendments provide that a person who is at liberty in this way, pending a decision, may be subject to restrictions as to reporting to an immigration officer instead of to the police. The real purpose of this is that often a person who comes in about whom inquiries have to be made may want to stay at the port at which he has entered. He may want to stay at an hotel and remain in touch with the immigration officer. It is much more convenient that he should report to the immigration officer rather than involve the police.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

The hon. Gentleman has made clear the purpose of this Amendment, but there are one or two questions that I would like to ask. It seems very sensible that in a case where, at Heathrow, for example, someone is under restriction in the way the hon. Gentleman has made clear, that person should report to the immigration officer rather than to the police, thus saving the time of the police. That is how it was expressed in another place.

The first question concerns the power of the immigration officer. What are they? In this Clause we find the powers of a constable, and we would hope that the powers given to the immigration officer would not be wider than in the context of his job. This is not a question of the immigration officer's relieving the police of work outside the airport or seaport involved. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would give me some assurance about what is involved.

The argument behind this Amendment is that it would remove the need to involve the police. We can deduce that, despite what we have heard has happened in another place—and one of the most unsatisfactory parts of our procedure is that an issue which was debated in this place in its various proceedings can be conceded elsewhere whereas we seem to have no time to discuss it now—the Government have decided that the police shall still be involved in the working of immigration control other than in the context of people who come here with a work permit. I presume that the police will still be involved in other areas and that this takes away from them a certain amount of registration work. We ought to have some word on this, and perhaps this is the time when we can be given some advice as to what the work of the police will be from which, to save time, a certain amount will, very sensibly, be taken by immigration officers.

Mr. Bidwell

From my experience there are stages when the immigration officer has to call on the assistance of the police. I had in mind an earlier remark about some kind of document in writing furnished by an immigration officer to restrict a person's movements. The Minister spoke of the possibility of a person staying at an hotel near an airport as long as the officer thought that the person would obey the restrictions placed upon him.

As I understand the position, any conditional period of stay is described in the passport marking. I do not know at what stage people would get something in writing to say that they may go to a nearby hotel instead of remaining in some kind of restriction within the area of say, Heathrow.

There is a dual situation. The immigration officer will require police assistance occasionally. Here, I am thinking of the physical aspects. He has to judge whether a person will obey limited stay conditions. I have in mind a person arriving with a return ticket who says that his intention is to visit the country. Such a person may have been advised to get an entry certificate, but he is under no compulsion to do so before departure. I-le is, however, liable to be refused entry, and an immigration officer may be in doubt as to whether he intends to spend a limited period in the country or really intends to settle.

I am interested in the future position. As time goes on people from overseas will be able to make a good living here, notwithstanding the Government's economic record. They will be able to send money for return fares to old people not entirely dependent upon them. This sort of thing is likely to increase. I am concerned about it, in view of case experience over the technicalities and the physical force required to carry out the immigration officer's decision.

Mr. Clinton Davis

The complexity of the law on immigration, the renewal of permits and the rest of it, make it essential that there should be a ready availability of advice. What has caused me a degree of anxiety is that I have heard that the Public Enquiry Office of the Home Office in Holborn is to be moved to Croydon, making it inaccessible to a number of people. I should like to know from the Minister whether that is right. If it is, then, in view of the difficulties concerning the office at Holborn, the position of people seeking advice will be impossible. There is little doubt that they will be kept waiting, not simply for hours but for days, seeking what would he for them advice of great urgency.

If that information is correct, I urge the Government to consider taking accommodation in the Holborn area, because additional burdens will be imposed not only on the immigrants seeking advice but on the Home Office staff. People will want to seek advice on the nature of the restrictions imposed as to residence and as to reporting to the police. They will want that advice speedily. It would be unfair to impose on them additional travelling burdens. I hope that the Minister will give us a satisfactory assurance on this point.

Mr. Sharples

With the leave of the House, may I say that these Amendments refer only to the very narrow point concerning people who have not been admitted to this country. In many cases, it is convenient that they should not be held in detention but should be allowed to stay in, say, a hotel convenient to the airport or port through which they came. This does not involve any question of people having to register with the police or at employment exchanges after admission. It does not involve any question about what a visitor does after he has been admitted. It does not involve the question of what inquiries people may want to make at the Immigration Department offices at Holborn or anywhere else. This is a question of people who have not been admitted to this country. It is a matter of convenience, and not a matter of saving police time, that they should keep in contact with and report to an immigration officer rather than a police officer who may not know anything about the case.

The immigration officer has no powers other than those defined in Clause 24(3). We are not in cases of this sort thinking of having to arrest anyone by force. If it were necessary for that to happen, the immigration officer would, although he has power to arrest, normally send for a police officer and ask him to do it.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: No. 39, in page 23, line 33, leave out subsection (2).

Mr. Sharples

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The Amendment concerns a point raised by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel). An Amendment was accepted inserting the word "knowingly" in subsection (1)(a). Amendment 39 is consequential upon it.

Question put and agreed to.

Forward to