I welcome the opportunity to speak in today’s debate and share the sentiments of the Secretary of State in recognising the 10-year anniversary of the events in Dunblane.
In Scotland, we have seen a record reduction in the number of crimes committed in the past 40 years, and violent crime is down by almost 50%. Crime risk is lower in Scotland than in the rest of the UK and the police budget will be protected in real terms, despite a 9% cut to Scotland’s budget. That has allowed additional support for a wide range of services, including community policing, specialist support for forensics services, tackling serious and organised crime, drug enforcement and counter-terrorism work. I will not be able to vote on much of what is contained in the Bill, yet it will have some impact on my constituents. In those parts that affect Scotland, the Government must do all they can to provide assurances and clarity.
Specifically, concerns have been raised about the immigration powers in the Bill. Article 33 of the refugee convention states:
“No Contracting State shall expel or return…a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened”.
That fundamental duty is one of the central pillars, if not the central pillar, of the refugee convention and the Government are bound by that duty as a matter of domestic and international law. It is therefore concerning that clauses 62 and 66 appear to give the Secretary of State power to require ships intercepted in UK water to be detained and sent to a port outside the UK. The charity Liberty is worried that that purports to give the Secretary of State powers to refoule refugees on any such boats by returning them to foreign ports.
Nothing in the proposals requires the Secretary of State or her enforcement officers to use those powers in a way that is compatible with the refugee convention and the work of the European Court of Human Rights. They must lawfully process and assess those people’s claims to asylum and determine whether they can be lawfully removed according to the Dublin regime. Nor can the Government use their enforcement powers to identify alleged breaches of the UK’s immigration law to impose penalties or bar refugees from making asylum claims on that basis. I therefore ask the Minister to say unambiguously today that he intends to comply with the refugee convention and the European Court of Human Rights.
The SNP is supportive of the provisions in the Bill on firearms, but a number of elements may extend the competences of the Scottish Parliament and I ask the Minister to assure the House that he will work closely with the Scottish Government to ensure the problems do not arise and that consent motions are sought when required. In particular, I seek assurances from the Government that the provisions about lethal barrelled weapons do not impact on the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015. On that note, the provision in the Bill on fees could potentially extend the executive competence of Scottish Ministers and would therefore require a legislative consent motion.
Giving police the power to require arrested persons to state their nationality, applying to arrests for all offences, seems to go beyond the purpose of immigration. It will affect devolved powers on policing and the investigation of crime and therefore the UK Government must continue to engage with the Scottish Government on those powers. In Scotland, our police forces can already ask any person who is detained to provide details of their nationality, and those powers will be replicated in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016.
If passed, the Bill would represent a real change to the law in Scotland on police questioning on arrest and in custody. Currently, those arrested or detained must, when required, provide information about their nationality. Failure to do so constitutes an offence, the maximum penalty for which, as the law stands, is a fine. The Bill, however, would increase the maximum sentence in Scotland for failure to state nationality on arrest to both a 12-month term of imprisonment and a fine. It also introduces, again in Scotland, a power to require such a person to produce a nationality document, with the failure to do so constituted a new offence with the same maximum sentence. Such changes represent an important increase in the significance of such powers to any individual whose nationality is called into question on arrest. They could also implicate the devolution settlement and the Sewel convention since they concern devolved matters. I therefore urge the UK Government to engage with the Scottish Government on these provisions and to ensure that the powers will not undermine the wider police powers to ask questions on nationality.
Finally, it is imperative that any implications for Scotland of this legislation are scrutinised closely. Again, I urge the Minister to work closely with the Scottish Government to monitor any impact the Bill could have on the devolved Parliament.