The Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill, which is starting in the House of Lords, hardly justifies the length and importance of its title. Compared to the published Draft Bill, it covers a far more limited area.
Firstly, it transfers Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, customs and revenue powers to the Home Office, to extend the scope of the UK Borders Agency’s responsibilities. In our view this messy arrangement raises serious concerns, and we have long proposed a national Border Police Force, with specialised officers. We believe this to be essential, and so we have put forward an amendment to enable an all encompassing Border Police Force to be created. The Government is resisting this – for what reason is not yet clear.
Secondly, the Bill also makes a number of amendments to the British Nationality Act, 1981, including ensuring that children who are born outside the UK to members of the armed forces, are automatically registered as British Citizens, and to making it possible for those seeking citizenship to do so in an expedited timescale if they undertake voluntary work. There are issues about the practicality of the voluntary work, proposals, and we will be testing these out at Committee.
Of the few other provisions we have concerns about those which will require anyone coming into the country from the Republic of Ireland, or the Islands, to produce travel documents, and to limit those who come into the country to study from making changes to their courses without the Home Office’s permission.
We are, however pleased that a duty of care to children has been included in this Bill, as Conservatives in both Houses have been pressing the Government on this issue since the previous immigration Bill.
In general, this Bill is a missed opportunity to reform the immigration system, as promised in the Queen’s Speech; to take effective action to control the numbers coming here; and to strengthen our porous borders by introducing a Border Police Force.