Immigration Bill: Bishop of Southwark raises concerns about new search powers

On 1st February 2016, the House of Lords held the 3rd day of the Committee Stage of the Government’s Immigration Bill. The Bishop of Southwark, Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, spoke to an amendment that sought to remove Clause 17 from the bill (‘Powers to carry out searches relating to driving licences’)

BishSouthwarktaxcreditsThe Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I share some of the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, who sketched out the problems with enacting this clause. As the Government rightly tell us, reasonable suspicion is a well-established precept in English law and policing practice. However, this does not mean that it is infinitely elastic in its application. A prior question needs to be asked when legislating: is it applicable in this circumstance, and with what effect?

This House is entitled to ask the Minister to consider that there will be circumstances where to exercise such judgment will involve the very real danger of identifying individuals who have leave to remain or who are not even subject to immigration control. Surely that would be an intolerable imposition. We know all too well that our fellow citizens do not take to being stopped for unfounded reasons.

Thus I return to the question I asked at Second Reading, which was not to query the idea of reasonable suspicion in all its existing applications but simply to ask what will constitute reasonable suspicion in these circumstances. A concrete example from the Minister would help.

The peril of such a path is made all the more obvious by the knowledge that alternative powers already exist, without this sort of provision. I trust that the Government will listen to the concerns expressed in this House about this clause and remove it from the Bill.


Lord Bates: Now I come to the main concerns in the debate, which surround how the police are going to use the powers being provided. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, the Government are clear that this provision will not undermine reform of police stop-and-search powers and will not undermine community cohesion. The police will first have to have cause to stop a vehicle. At this point, I turn to the point raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, who asked for examples of those circumstances. Reasonable suspicion may occur where a vehicle has been stopped for a suspected driving offence, the police have checked the circumstances of the driver, as appropriate, and those checks have revealed a match against a Home Office record. The search is therefore intelligence-led, not a random search of a member of the public. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the policy equality statement which accompanies this Bill and sets out very clearly in section 3 what the power to search for UK driving licences means in practice. The cause cannot be based on a person’s race or ethnicity. The stop must be for an objective reason. Once a vehicle has been stopped, the police check the circumstances of the driver. The provision will not therefore lead to stop and searches of vehicles in order to check the immigration status of the driver.