Anger at 'private passport controls'

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MINISTERS were urged yesterday to reject proposals that could result in immigration services and police training and records being run by private firms.

Labour said the Home Office proposals, disclosed in the Independent as part of the Government's pounds 1.6bn 'market testing' programme, were so sensitive 'that they must remain the absolute responsibility of ministers'.

Alun Michael, Labour's home affairs spokesman, also suggested that the entire privatisation and contracting-out programme should be put on hold since the Government's own law officers had cast doubts on the legality of previous privatisation deals.

Advice from the Attorney General for England and Wales, and the Lord Advocate for Scotland, implies that contracts in Whitehall, the health service and local government could have broken European law and taxpayers may end up footing compensation bills amounting to millions of pounds.

In a move which could deter private companies from tendering for further contracts, they have advised ministers that it would be illegal to impose inferior conditions on public sector staff whose jobs are transferred to the private sector.

Unions and individuals have mounted legal actions, and some government departments have put 'market testing' plans on hold until the matter is resolved.

This week Mr Michael will be tabling a series of questions seeking clarification of Home Office proposals and assurances over accountability and security surrounding any further transfer of work into the private sector.

Harry Fletcher, representing the unions involved, said it was extraordinary that the legality of competitive tendering had not been resolved earlier.