Immigration Control (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Home Office

Immigration Control (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill [HL]

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Friday 15th December 2017

(6 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Immigration Control (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill [HL] 2017-19 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, for bringing forward this debate. Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, mentioned that they had read the book Red Notice, as have I. The word “compelling” comes to mind—and if it was fiction, it would certainly be a bestseller. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, was not present for much of the passage of the Criminal Finances Act, but she may be interested to read the section in Part 1 to which she referred today, as there was some compelling debate at that juncture. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced very recently the setting up of the National Economic Crime Centre for the UK, which brings together all the agencies to tackle serious fraud and economic crime.

The Bill seeks to provide for the refusal and curtailment of leave where a person is known to be, or to have been, involved in gross human rights abuses. The Government are committed to improving human rights across the world by holding states accountable for their human rights records. We take a strong stance against individuals who are known to have committed gross abuses and violations, and I commend the wish of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, to act firmly to protect our borders from such individuals.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, talked about naming individuals, and this touches on a point made by my noble friends Lord Trimble and Lady Warsi. There are compelling reasons for naming and shaming individuals but the Government have always stated that they will not do that. Doing so would send a message to those not named that, by their omission, they are of less concern than those who are named, although that might not be the case. Naming individuals might also alert those named and not named as to the level of information that the Government hold on them.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about the number of people refused leave to enter or leave to remain. He will understand that I cannot give that number, but it has always been the Government’s position that for further legislation to be warranted in this area there would need to be a real demonstration that the existing powers were insufficient. I hope I can demonstrate that the provisions proposed in the Bill remain unnecessary.

The Government have a range of measures that provide for robust action to be taken against individuals known to be involved in human rights abuses. Obviously I cannot comment on individual cases, some of which are subject to exclusion orders, but I would like to take noble Lords through the policies and procedures that we have in place to prevent those involved in gross abuses from coming to the UK or securing immigration status here.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pointed out, the Home Secretary has the power to exclude a foreign national if she considers that their presence in the UK will not be conducive to the public good or if their exclusion is justified on grounds of public policy or public security. A person may be excluded for a range of reasons, including national security, criminality, involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity, corruption and unacceptable behaviour. There is no time limit on exclusion, and a person who is excluded remains so until the Home Secretary agrees to lift that exclusion. Having been excluded by the Home Secretary, anyone who applies for entry clearance or leave to enter must be refused so long as the exclusion remains in force. Such a power is serious and no decision is taken lightly. All decisions have to be based on sound evidence and must be proportionate, reasonable and consistent.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, talked about the test threshold. He is of course correct in his reference to the test in the Immigration Rules. Decisions to exclude must be taken only on the basis of sound evidence. The UK operates a watch list, which is used to flag individuals of concern, and those known to be involved in human rights abuses would be included on that list.

The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, talked about excluding human rights abusers. Contrary to her concerns, those involved in this sort of shocking behaviour can already be excluded. However, we can make an express amendment to the current guidance to make it absolutely clear that involvement in gross human rights abuses will be grounds for exclusion. That may be helpful.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about officers’ powers as opposed to the democratic process, although I think that she meant “in conjunction with” the democratic process. Border Force officers’ powers derive from the Immigration Act 1971, particularly those in Schedule 2 relating to refusal of entry to those who do not qualify for entry to the UK.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee
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Yes, of course, there is the democratic process, but I was also concerned that it would be very unusual for it not to be within the context of the Executive’s decision and the Secretary of State’s consideration of the matter. It is not something to be done lightly at Dover.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I do not think I was making light of the noble Baroness’s point. I hope she did not think that.

It is precisely because each decision to make an exclusion order is based on sound evidence and the facts of each individual case that it would not be proportionate or reasonable to exclude every national of a particular country. The vast majority of them will be law-abiding citizens engaged in activity which meets the threshold for exclusion. The current sanctions regime imposed by the UN Security Council and the Council of the European Union adds an additional layer of protection preventing non-EEA nationals of concern from travelling to the UK. International travel bans apply to individuals associated with regimes or groups whose behaviour is considered unacceptable by the international community. Where an EEA national or their family member is subject to a UN or EU travel ban, we will normally refuse admission to the UK on the grounds of public policy or public security.

The Immigration Rules provide for the refusal of entry clearance, the refusal of leave to enter or to remain and the curtailment of leave to a non-EEA national where that person has a criminal conviction, or on the basis of their conduct, character or associations, including where there is independent, reliable and credible evidence of their involvement in human rights abuses. In the case of EEA nationals we can refuse admission to the UK where public policy or public security is engaged. The person must be shown to be a genuine present and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of our society.

Except in exceptional circumstances, a foreign national subject to immigration control who has been convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to a period of imprisonment faces a mandatory refusal of visa or leave to enter the UK for a specified period. The length of the prison sentence will determine the duration of the ban from the UK. For those persons given a prison sentence of four years or more, an indefinite ban will apply; where a person has received a sentence of between 12 months and four years, there is a 10-year ban; and for those persons with a sentence of less than 12 months, there is a five-year ban. This applies to those convicted in the UK or overseas.

The Government also recognise the importance of distinguishing between those who are entitled to come to the UK and stay here and those who are not. We have a number of measures to assist with this. For those who need a visa to come to the UK, the application process requires the applicant to declare any criminality or immigration offence and to provide their facial image and fingerprints as biometrics. Entry clearance officers are required to check a range of databases, including the biometric, Home Office and police databases. This allows us to check the details of any UK criminal record and identify important information about the applicant’s immigration history, including any travel ban or exclusion order. At the border we undertake similar checks against police, security and immigration watch lists, as I have already said, to identify people of concern. Border Force officers can and do refuse entry if they believe that a foreign national poses a risk.

The Immigration Rules include provision for leave to remain to be curtailed and for indefinite leave to remain to be revoked if we become aware that a person with leave, including refugee status, has been involved in gross human rights abuses. Where a person cannot be removed from the UK because it would breach their human rights, we will consider granting short periods of restricted leave.

I am grateful for the opportunity to set out the wide range of government powers to deal with those committing gross human rights abuses. The measures proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, are not necessary to protect our borders from undesirable individuals. The existing legislative framework prevents those involved in gross human rights abuses entering the UK and, indeed, goes further by ensuring that we can consider an applicant’s complete background and criminal history when deciding whether or not to grant entry.

I thank the noble Baroness for bringing forward this debate today.