§ 4.2 pm
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)
I beg to move amendment
No. 2, in page 1, line 16, at end insert—'(1A) No liability shall be incurred under subsection (1) above in respect of any person, who after arriving in the United Kingdom and applying for asylum, is given exceptional leave to remain.'.
§ The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Paul Dean)
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 5, in page 1, line 16, at end insert—'(1A) No liability shall be incurred under subsection (1) above in respect of any person, who after arriving in the United Kingdom is given leave to remain.'.No. 6, in page 1, line 16, at end insert—'(1A) No liability shall be incurred under subsection (1) above in respect of any person, while that person is in the United Kingdom.'.No. 1, in page 1, line 16, at end insert—'(1A) No liability shall be incurred under subsection (1) above in respect of a person who arrives from a country with a military government or a country subject to reporting by the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations.'.No. 10, in page 1, line 21, at end insert—'(3) No liability shall be incurred under subsection (1) above in respect of any person transported from a country which is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees.'.No. 11, in page 1, line 21, at end insert—'(3) No liability shall be incurred under subsection (1) above in respect of any person subsequently granted refugee status under the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees.'.No. 12, in page 1, line 21, at end insert—'(3) No liability shall be incurred under subsection (1) where a carrier reasonably assumes that to refuse to carry would thereby place the intended passenger in danger.'.No. 13, in page 1, line 21, at end insert—'(3) No liability shall be incurred under subsection (1) in respect of any person whom a carrier could reasonably expect to be entitled to refugee status under the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees.'.
§ Mr. Dubs
Amendment No. 2 deals with the right of asylum and goes to the heart of the criticisms of the Bill. If the amendment were accepted, airlines and other carriers would have at least some incentive to carry to this country somebody who does not have the required documentation if the airline or other carrier has good reason to believe that that person, on arriving here and applying for asylum, would be given exceptional leave to remain.
Even if the Minister accepts the amendment, it will not turn an undesirable Bill into one which is all right. All that I seek to do is to make the Bill slightly less bad. The heart 586 of the argument is that asylum should be possible. The amendment is one way in which the United Kingdom's obligations under the United Nations convention can be met. Failing that, I believe that we shall be in breach of the convention and therefore of our international agreements.
Without the amendment I do not understand how the majority of asylum seekers can get to this country to claim asylum. I appreciate that on Second Reading the Minister said that there was the possibility of applying for asylum from a country other than the one from which the asylum seeker originates and that, even in the country of origin, it is possible for asylum seekers to apply to enter on grounds of hardship. He said that, having obtained a visa and travelled here, the asylum seeker could apply to be considered as a refugee. The Minister said that five hardship cases had been granted visas in Sri Lanka, but the opportunities for people to come here by that means are limited. The amendment is worth considering because it will be of benefit.
The issue arose as the result of 64 Tamils arriving here some weeks ago. The Home Secretary tried to remove them immediately without giving them the chance to put their case. Investigations show that at least some of the Tamils were beaten and tortured in Sri Lanka. I have not heard a denial from the Minister, and I should be surprised if one were forthcoming. I understand that in the view of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees one or more of the Tamils would be mandatory refugees under the United Nations convention.
If the measure had been in force before the 64 Tamils arrived, not one of them would have been allowed on these shores. Therefore, not one of them would have been able to attempt to apply for political asylum. By passing the Bill we are likely to be in breach of the United Nations convention.
The Minister and other hon. Members will have seen in today's press a reference to a Ugandan citizen, who, having been refused political asylum by the Home Office and having attempted to commit suicide at Gatwick airport, hanged himself in Pentonville prison. That individual was in fear of his life in Uganda. The Minister will be more familiar with the background details than the press. It is a sad and tragic story of someone who was so convinced of the dangers if he were forced to return to his own country, so dismayed at the Home Office refusal to allow him to stay here, that he felt he had no option but to commit suicide. It is indeed a tragic case.
Amendment No. 5 differs in one respect from amendment No. 2 in that it does not address itself specifically to asylum seekers or refugees. It provides that if anyone is given leave to remain here, even if that person arrives without a visa or other documentation, that should not be a reason for fining the airline or other carrier.
I can give an example of how that could happen. From time to time children, say, from West Africa, are in the care of a grandparent. The grandparent becomes ill or dies and other relatives put the child on a plane to London without organising the necessary documentation. When that child arrives there is usually an argument and hon. Members make representations that the child be allowed to stay with its parents rather than be sent back to the country of origin to obtain the documentation and return here.
An airline might be aware of the human tragedy of such a case. If the amendment were accepted, it would be possible to argue with the airline that it would possibly, or probably, avoid a fine. Without such an amendment, 587 someone with a desperate, urgent or compassionate reason for coming here quickly would never get here. Perhaps in the end the documentation would be sorted out, but that could be agonising. Some cases are so exceptional that an airline, under the pressure of such an amendment, might be willing to bring such a person here.
Amendment No. 6 provides a safeguard and ensures that, while a discussion or argument is taking place between the individual or his or her representatives and the Home Office, the airline will not be fined until the matter has been resolved. Otherwise there may be a temptation for the Home Office to impose the fine quickly. The Government probably would have done that in the case of the Tamils. In the circumstances in which the Tamils arrived, the Home Office would probably have been tempted to impose a fine. In the event, it would not have been appropriate. The amendment is worth thinking about.
Amendment No. 1, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart), is interesting and important. It is concerned with people who arrive from a country which has a military Government. Presumably it is intended to refer particularly to the most oppressive regimes, from which people may have to flee without any of the necessary documentation and who would therefore warrant being treated exceptionally. Amendments Nos. 10 to 13 relate to different ways of dealing with asylum and people who are in danger in those countries.
These amendments make valid points which, if accepted, would prevent this country being in breach of the United Nations convention. Therefore, I commend them to the Committee.
§ Dame Judith Hart (Clydesdale)
I want to support the amendment moved by my hon. Friend and to speak to my amendment, No. 1, which is on a separate point. As far as I can see, all the amendments relate to the liability of the carrier when somebody has arrived in this country. My amendment is concerned with how people may acquire the documents specified in clause 1(1)(a)—a valid passport with photograph or some other such document—to satisfy the carrier that it would not be exposed to liability if it brought that person into this country.
I believe that the amendment is important. It stems from a practical experience of my own. I recognise that the Home Secretary is concerned to limit—in a way with which I do not agree—the influx of economic refugees, with whom we are familiar. The Bill is the wrong way to deal with that. However, the judgment on people, under the Bill, can be made only when they have arrived. If they are genuine refugees, in the circumstances that I have tried to encompass in my brief amendment, it is unlikely that they will have satisfactory documentation. I will explore that briefly in a moment.
I do not believe that the Home Secretary, who is attempting to deal with a problem that he has perceived, has the slightest intention of abandoning the concept of the United Kingdom as a place of refuge for genuine refugees from atrocious regimes. I do not believe that he has that in mind at all, but, given that, he must change the wording of the Bill. As drafted, the Bill takes no practical account of how to get out of a country that is doing vicious things. My amendment seeks to introduce the means whereby the Home Secretary could do that. It is fairly limited; it does not include everyone. It specifies the 588 countries to which we would be making reference. Obviously, it will include military Governments, whether they be of the East or West. Countries which have been the subject of reports from the special rapporteurs of the Commission of Human Rights of the United Nations Economic and Social Council are Afghanistan, Chile, El Salvador and Guatemala. In addition, reports have been sponsored, which are not the subject of special rapporteurs, on South Africa and Poland. There is not an extensive number of countries.
My amendment is unsatisfactory in that by the time a country comes to the attention, through ECOSOC, of the Commission of Human Rights, which can then request a special rapporteur and a special report, one year or 18 months have already gone by, in which time dreadful things may have been happening. Even my amendment is not totally satisfactory, but it has drawn the attention of the Home Secretary to those factors.
I can best explain what is in my mind as follows. The Home Secretary will know that, under his new rules on the representations of hon. Members and hon. Members with special interests, he has tended, tacitly, to let me have a special interest in refugees from Latin America and, in particular, from Chile. He has been kind to me on any specific cases that I have raised with him, even though they did not concern my constituents. The trouble is that when a refugee arrives, he or she is nobody's constituent until settled somewhere.
I shall be brief, but I should like the Home Secretary to listen to the first test case of a Chilean refugee who came to this country. It was Christmas 1973; a coup had taken place in Chile in September. I received a telephone call from a teacher—whose name I have never known, although I wish I did—to say that he had travelled across the Channel to Dover with a couple who had a tiny child. He suggested that they should get in touch with me, which he did on their behalf. The couple were called Enrico and Angelica Rodriguez. They have now settled in Costa Rica. They wanted to come to this country because Enrico, who had been working as a journalist on a newspaper in Chile, used English as his second language. He was arrested at the time of the coup. He had been in the notorious stadium and been tortured. He escaped, went to a friend, and managed not to be caught. Enrico was about 25, his wife was 21 and they had a tiny child just under one year old. They had arranged to meet in the middle of the night outside the Venezuelan embassy. At that time our embassy was not taking any refugees, but one or two were, and the Venezuelan embassy was one. They threw the baby over the wall and got into the Venezuelan embassy. then—the Venezuelans were taking care of a lot of people—they managed to get some temporary travel documents which finally got them across the Channel to Dover, where they arrived with no proper travel documents.
They were accepted as the first test case Chilean refugees, but under the Bill they could not have gone to the British embassy in Santiago. Had Enrico gone to the embassy in Santiago, the military police would have arrested him and he would have been taken back to the stadium.
I should like to quote from The Guardian. The quotation is not totally relevant to the Bill, but it relates to Mr. Almeyda who was a Foreign Minister in Chile. I 589 remember attending a lunch which was given by the former Foreign Secretary, then Sir Alec Douglas Home, for Mr. Almeyda in 1972. Almeyda has been in Europe for many years, but he has just gone back to Chile and has been banished, under the Chilean banishment rules, to a remote region of southern Chile. I shall quote a small piece of the article by Malcolm Coad, the correspondent of The Guardian in Santiago:Friends said Mr. Almeyda had crossed into Chile on foot over a northern mountain pass from Argentina a few days earlier, and made his way to Santiago.That is what happens when people are trying to get out and to enter this country. There is no way, when crossing mountains and making one's way out of a country which has a military regime, where torture and all sorts of atrocities are practised, in which one can set oneself up with a proper visa and travel documents by going to the British embassy to get them. Without them, the carrier will say, "I am sorry, I cannot take you, because I will be liable to a fine when I reach Britain."
The point at issue is that such people do not have the opportunity to seek political asylum. They cannot travel because they do not have proper documents and the carrier will not take them unless they have.
The sort of countries with which we might have been concerned within the past two years are Argentina, Turkey and Cambodia. I dealt with several refugees from Argentina under Galtieri who would not have reached Britain if they had had to have proper travel documents. I have also dealt with people from Turkey and Cambodia at various points.
I think that all of us will have received a paper, as I did this morning, from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, and it reinforces the point of my amendment. In one paragraph it says:If this Bill is passed it may cause many asylum seekers fleeing from torture and other persecution to be refused safe passage to the UK, on the grounds that they do not have the required travel documents.The Home Secretary would be well advised to consider the point in my amendment and possibly to take account of it when the Bill reaches the other place. I do not believe that it is the right hon. Gentleman's intention to say that Britain can no longer be a refuge for people fleeing from nasty regimes. I know that the same point has been taken into account by the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) in his amendment. However, I assure the Home Secretary that his officials have not taken account of the practicalities and the desperation of people fleeing from such regimes, where it is just not possible to take a taxi to the British embassy, get out, ask for a visa, go away, come back a couple of weeks later when it is ready and then travel very properly in a way that will satisfy the carrier that he will not incur a liability. Life is not like that in these nasty countries, of which there are far too many all over the world.
I do most seriously ask the Secretary of State to take that into account and to look at the Bill again to see whether he can introduce either the precise words of my amendment or something that will satisfy the real and valid point that I am making and with which he should have no cause to disagree.
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
On Second Reading I made it clear that I was not completely opposed to the 590 principle of the Bill. It is reasonable to introduce a visa system and, having done so, it is right to try to find ways of enforcing it. On the other hand, I tried to make it clear that my view of the Bill is affected not simply by its contents but by the administrative arrangements which coexist with it. My view of the amendments that are now under discussion is obviously coloured by the same concern.
I want not to reiterate all that I said on Second Reading but simply to remind my right hon. Friend the Minister that I said that it seemed to me regrettable that we should be moving away from arrangements set up in 1983 to make sure that people who came to Britain who were refused entry by the immigration service nevertheless had a right to some kind of review. I was not asking for a full-scale appeal system because I recognise that that could take a long time and there are good reasons for saying that this is something with which we must get on. On the other hand, to put it mildly, it would be rather a pity to lose the sort of referral mechanism that was set up in 1983. Once the Bill is enacted the number of people who might reach the point of being able to invoke such a referral system would be pretty small. Therefore, my right hon. Friend's fears about large numbers of people coming and causing considerable problems will, in reality, be unlikely to arise.
I asked for some sort of referral system, and I suggested that before somebody who has managed to reach our shores is sent away they should have the right not only to the normal interview with the immigration officer but to a quick referral either to the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or to UKIAS.
In approaching the Committee stage I tried to translate what I said on Second Reading into an amendment. It was no surprise, Sir Paul, that you declined to select it. I appreciate that it is somewhat outside the terms of the Bill's long title. However, as I say, my attitude to the various amendments that we are discussing is inevitably coloured by the sort of approach that we shall take to the parallel administrative arrangements.
Therefore, my purpose in intervening is simply to remind my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, both of whom I am glad to see on the Front Bench, that there are good grounds for saying that we in Britain should do all that we can to remain not only within the letter of the convention on refugees, which we do, but to remain in agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on the acceptability of the kind of informal system of review that we have. As I said on Second Reading, when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke about the matter on 3 March, he raised the possibility that we would move away from something that was acceptable.
In my amendment, which was not selected and which, therefore, we are not discussing, I set out what seems to me to be a reasonable mechanism. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State whether he is yet in a position to tell the House whether the discussions which he said he would get under way with the UKIAS and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have yet reached a stage when he can tell us exactly what sort of arrangements he envisages will replace those that were put forward in 1983. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to give us that answer today and I hope 591 that it will be generally acceptable. Therefore, I very much look forward to my right hon. and learned Friend's comments.
I stress that this is a matter of considerable importance and we must get the right outcome if we are to maintain our tradition of liberality in the treatment of refugees.
§ Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)
I want to refer in particular to amendments Nos. 10 to 13, but it might be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to make some general remarks first.
The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) referred to the article in The Independent today about the asylum-seeker found hanged. I gather from a quick phone call just before I entered the Chamber that there is a lot more to the story than appeared in the press, and it is a sad story all round. It may well be that the Minister can convince us that that case does not undermine the Government's case. But if the facts are as reported, and if the full story when it emerges is as it has been reported to me, it shows that the judgment about whether a person is entitled to be regarded as a refugee raises precisely the problems to which the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) referred.
I understand that in that particular case officials from UK IAS were following the person around. That demonstrates the need to have a proper system so that nobody falls through the net simply because of the Government's desire to deal with people firmly when they come purporting to be refugees. Whether a person is in danger or not is immaterial. The person in this case felt in danger to the extent of being prepared to take the extreme step of suicide.
My second general point about the amendments and the way in which they impinge upon the Bill relates to the costs for the organisations concerned. A letter from Sealink has been passed to me which says that it is concerned about the extra cost that will be placed upon it if the Bill is enacted. It refers to its present problems, never mind the extra ones that the Bill would place upon it. Sealink discusses the general problem of the ability of shipping lines or airlines to act as immigration officers. It refers to the case of Mr. Yatman Ho who,obtained a British Visitor's Card from a Post Office in Peckham and with this was able to pass through UK Customs and in and out of France. Only on his return to the UK were his papers challenged, yet we have been made responsible for repatriating him to Hong Kong. How can the ferry companies provide staff trained to the level of the Customs and Excise officers and who in addition are able to pick out documentation good enough in the case cited to fool the authorities three times.That emphasises the problems that will be faced by the companies when trying to implement the Bill once it goes to the House. It is obvious that the Government will get the Bill through.
I have studied the amendments tabled and there is not one that could be described as a wrecking amendment. All the amendments seek to apply themselves to a particular point—they are constructive. They accept that the Government will get the Bill, but urge them to consider particular problems. I do not believe that any of the amendments that have been put forward would undermine the Government's arguments for the Bill. If we are to give protection to those people who the Government say they 592 still wish to protect I urge them to consider some of the amendments to see whether they can be accepted to improve the Bill. That is crucial.
Amendment No. 10 deals with those countries that are not signatories to the United Nations 1951 convention on refugees. There are obviously many countries that are not signatories. Two such countries are Iraq and Afghanistan. They vividly illustrate my argument. Those countries do not demonstrate assent to the United Nations convention. One can hardly expect people to accept the international convention on an equal basis when refugees come from a country that would not treat them in the same way as we profess that we would. It is a strong amendment and should be taken on board.
Unfortunately, there is always a problem in attempting to draft legislation without the resources of Government. There is an addition to the 1951 convention—the 1967 protocol. It added another list of countries to the convention, including Swaziland and the United States—one could hardly get two countries more different. If the principle of the amendment were to be accepted it would have to be redrafted to take account of those countries that were not original signatories to the convention or to the protocol.
Amendment No. 11 is better expressed by reference to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Battersea regarding people allowed to stay. The amendment tabled by my hon. Friends and myself simply says that those eventually granted refugee status should not cause the company that carried them to be liable for a fine The refugee status is encompassed more effectively in amendment No. 5 by the term: "given leave to remain."
I believe that Amendment No. 12 is the most important of the amendments that my hon. Friend and I have tabled It stresses that:No liability shall be incurred under subsection (1) where a carrier reasonably assumes that to refuse to carry would thereby place the intended passenger in danger.
There are two types of incidents that I have in mind. It may be that airline or shipping company offices find themselves in an unstable situation in certain countries. Such countries may be similar to those referred to by the right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart), Perhaps some civil commotion may break out. It is clear that in such circumstances the offices of the airline or shipping company may still be operating but they may say to an intending refugee, "No, go away, we will not carry you because of the possible penalty." That would clearly put that person in danger.
The amendment includes the words "reasonably assume". Therefore, I believe that the Government should accept that one should ask the companies reasonably to assume that there would be danger in such circumstances for an intended refugee. In previous employment I have been in situations in Africa and in Bangladesh, at the end of the civil war, when everything was falling apart yet the airlines were still operating. In such circumstances such a problem as I have described may occur. Therefore, given such circumstances, it would be unreasonably harsh for an airline to say that it cannot carry someone because of the penalty.
What would happen to boat people? A ship may come across an open boat with refugees.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
If such a ship picked up those refugees, would it mean that they would be liable to a fine? Given a strict interpretation of the Bill, that would happen and, as the Bill stands, there is no get-out for the refugees. There is no way they could get papers and there is certainly no floating embassy that they can visit in those circumstances. That situation has arisen before. If the Government do not accept that, their reputation as a bona fide signatory who uphold the international conventions would be put at risk.
Amendment No. 13 states that where an airline makes the assumption that the person could expect to have refugee status a company should be able to carry them. That judgment can be tested only in the court. The Government have inserted the word "reasonably" in the Bill and therefore they must expect that word to be tested in the courts at some time. Presumably some case law will be built up. I hope that the Government will accept a further restriction on the Bill's powers by accepting that the airlines may use their assumption that a person may be entitled to such status as a defence against the fine.
If I have to stress one amendment it is amendment No. 12 which considers the situation—it may well occur in a number of countries—where the decision not to carry would place a refugee in danger. I encourage the Government to consider these amendments.
§ Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)
I wish to support the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison). I read the speech that he made on Second Reading and I have listened with care to the remarks that he has made today.
These are probing amendments to discover how one can sift out genuine refugees from the problem of illegal immigration. I am prepared to accept the sincerity of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend made a sincere speech when he replied to the Second Reading debate. Nevertheless, there are doubts to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury has referred.
I am chairman of the African committee of the British Refugee Council and I have had similar experience regarding African refugees to that of the right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) regarding Latin American refugees. When one considers the way in which people from Uganda have been allowed to stay in Britain, although they were not refugees, it is clear that the Government have had an exceptionally good record. Nevertheless, the purpose of the amendments is to ensure that that record can be retained and maintained.
We are aware that the number of refugees involved is small, and we are also aware that many wish to return to their home countries. Indeed, many do. One of the happiest days that I have had chairing the African committee was when I learnt of the many refugees who were going back to Uganda, now governed by the new regime.
It is a question not of the numbers, nor of the number who wish to stay, but of retaining our traditional links with Africa. Our history is interwoven with the history of African countries. Our understanding of the Governments, regimes, changes and civil wars that have occurred in that continent is unique. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will listen with care to the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for 594 Aylesbury. I accept that we cannot have the amendment as tabled by my right hon. Friend, but there is a strong case for some mechanism, some form of repeal or review—admittedly a rapid review—for those people who can be indentified as having a political or physical reason for seeking asylum.
Reference has already been made to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, and it is clear from the amount of work that the foundation undertakes that there are still many extremely unpleasant regimes that are prepared to do the most bestial things to their opponents. Anyone who arrives at an airport or other port of entry who can prove physical damage should be referred immediately to an organisation such as the foundation. That will lead to verification, so that they can be allowed to enter the country without any fine being imposed. We are probing the good faith that we accept exists and the mechanism behind it to ensure that we maintain our liberal and traditional role towards refugees.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
The remarks of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) reflect our continuing concern that those who seek asylum should be able to reach this country. Perhaps I should declare my interest, as I did on Second Reading, as the chairman of the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service.
There remains much unease over the Bill, and the amendments would provide the flexibility that otherwise is lacking in the Bill as it stands. It would be scandalous —I do not think that I am exaggerating— if genuine refugees no longer had any possibility of being able to reach Britain. There is a grave danger, as the Home Secretary is aware, that those who would have been able to get to Britain will no longer be able to do so when the Bill is enacted. The various organisations that are concerned about the problem have expressed their views in letters and memoranda. Those who are fleeing for their lives are not likely to have all the necessary documents, including visas, for example. That does not happen in the real world.
Amendment No. 1, which was spoken to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart), is one of the most important amendments on the Amendment Paper. It provides that an airline should not be fined if someone arrives here without proper documentation from a country with a military Government. It is interesting that only an hour ago the Prime Minister was speaking about human rights and emphasising that the Government are committed to human rights. Her remarks were directed to the Soviet Union. Surely human rights are universal.
§ Mr. Winnick
That is unfortunate. If we are committed genuinely to human rights, it makes no difference whether abuse of them occurs in the Soviet Union, elsewhere in eastern Europe or in the dictatorship countries within Africa or Asia. The principle remains the same.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale spoke eloquently of her experience with Chile. It would be wrong if those fleeing from a country such as Chile, where there is notorious abuse and denial of human rights, led to airlines being fined if they arrived in Britain without the necessary documentation. The Minister should give amendment No. 1 favourable and sympathetic attention. If someone were to arrive in Britain from any destination 595 and were given permission to remain in the country in a technical capacity or otherwise, the carrying airline should not be fined. Surely that makes sense.
If the amendments are accepted, they will provide the flexibility that currently is lacking. It would be wrong for the message to get out that Britain has locked its doors virtually completely to political refugees. We have a reputation to safeguard, and the Home Secretary has referred on numerous occasions, as has the Minister of State, to Britain's long and distinguished reputation and tradition in giving safety to those fleeing from political and religious tyranny. I hope that sufficient flexibility will be shown by the Minister when he replies to the amendments.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Unfortunately, I did not hear all of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart). I want, however, to refer to her amendment No. 1, and to a number of others, which basically go to the heart of the Bill.
We are dealing with the Government's method of turning their hack completely on genuine asylum seekers from extremely oppressive countries. That is why amendment No. 1 is especially important. My right hon. Friend draws attention to the role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and especially to the rapporteur countries of Afghanistan, Chile, E1 Salvador and Guatemala, and the Minister has agreed to give refugee status to a number of people from these countries. I know that that is a fact because I have been in correspondence with him about some of the individuals involved. I have been in correspondence with him on many occasions about those seeking refugee status in Britain who have come from oppressive regimes such as South Africa, Iran and Iraq or from numerous other places. After much correspondence, discussions and interviews with those concerned, refugee status has been granted in some instances. Exceptional need to remain has been recognised and some cases are still being argued. In other instances the individuals concerned have been removed.
In many instances the individual applying for asylum status has arrived by fraudulent means. I do not condone fraud in any sense, but the Bill does when it refers to accurate forgeries rather than inaccurate ones. Are we to assume that the Tory party in 1987 has sunk so low that it accepts forgeries provided that they are of a good class?
The Government should face the fact that people are fleeing from political oppression. For example, how is someone who believes in the right of the Kurdish people to their own homeland—in other words, the right of the Kurdish people to live in a free and independent country called Kurdistan—to travel from the Kurdish areas of Turkey to Ankara to apply to the British embassy there so as to be enabled to travel to Britain? Kurds know full well that once they expose themselves to any sort of authority at any level, especially if they apply for an airline ticket, for example, they will be arrested immediately. They know that that will happen because they are acting in contravention of the Turkish constitution, but they are merely supporting the right of Kurdish people to demand their own homeland. Even this Government have granted political asylum to people in that position.
I know of people who have arrived from the middle east with no valid papers, because they have fled front oppression. How can we expect someone who is opposed to the Government of Saddam Hussain in Iraq or that of 596 Khomeini in Iran to travel openly, freely and safely to the capital city, where there is no functioning British embassy, to seek permission to travel to Britain? That person will have to travel to an airline office and then go openly to an airport.
The Minister knows that the only way in which some people can flee from the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war is to travel by guide across the desert of Iraq. People pay a great deal of money to cross illegally into Pakistan. They then travel on illegally, by means of a forged document, to a country that is prepared to accept them as refugees.
The Government are saying that they want to turn their back on all that. They stand condemned for their lack of respect for genuine human rights. If they are concerned about human rights, as they claim to be, they should examine the way in which those people are treated and the forms of oppression from which they come.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale mentioned certain countries earlier. I have some knowledge of the situation in E1 Salvador, Guatemala and Chile. I know of people who have eventually arrived in Europe, where their families were already resident as programme refugees, who escaped from Chile in frightening circumstances. They knew that to be revealed to any authority at any level would mean instant death or incarceration, possibly in a secret prison. Such people would not be able to enter this country if the Bill goes through unamended. Even if they managed to escape into Argentina or Peru and travelled to the United Kingdom, because they did not have valid documents the airline would be fined for bringing them, and they would he returned to the country from which they came.
After those people had returned to their country, the British Government could not merely wash their hands of the matter. What would happen then? I notice that amendment 10 includes a valuable provision in respect of countries that are not signatories to the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees. If the British Government support the United Nations convention on refugees and the work of UNHCR as they claim to, they should have some respect for the convention's operation, and take into account the fact that some countries have signed it and some have not.
If a country has not signed the convention, why has it not done so? Is it because it has a better system of dealing with refugees or is it because it has little regard for refugees? I do not know. I know that in the case of the Tamil asylum-seekers the Minister has got himself into a stew. He knows that many of them are genuine asylum-seekers. He has access to all the papers, unlike some of us, who have access to only some of them. He knows that the cases are genuine. That is why he backed down. He did not do so with good grace, and he has introduced this shabby little Bill to get himself off the hook.
The Minister also knows that the Tamil asylum-seekers have come via Malaysia and a stopover in Bangladesh, and that they are not the responsibility of the Bangladesh Government because, as I understand it, they were never admitted —they, were merely in transit at Dhaka airport. He knows that they came from Malaysia, which is not a signatory to the convention. It has a record of returning people to Sri Lanka. People in Sri Lanka who have political differences with the Government are not welcomed at the airport and guaranteed safety. They may be arrested and put on trial, and may suffer at the hands of the authorities.
597 Despite all his protestations on Second Reading about support for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Minister does not support that body. Neither does he support the 1951 Geneva convention; he is turning the country's face against it.
I ask the Minister to consider the amendments carefully, particularly amendment No. 1, which goes to the heart of the problem. If he is saying that, in future, asylum applications made in this country will be accepted provided that the person has come here legitimately and legally, he is asking for the impossible in the case of the most repressive regimes. He should know that it is not possible to make an application for asylum until one is in the country concerned. One cannot apply by post from abroad, unless the Minister later tables a manuscript amendment to the Bill, but I doubt whether he will.
I hope that the House will seriously consider the amendments and the implications of the passage of the Bill. Unamended, it is nasty. It will mean that all the work done at the time of the 1951 convention and the work of the UNHCR will come to naught in this country.
I have serious fears about the remarks made by the Home Secretary and the Minister of State to the effect that they view the problem as a Europeanwide phenomenon. They have never seriously listened to the problems of refugees from other parts of the world in recent years. They intend to pile on the agony of European xenophobia, shove the refugees out and turn their backs on asylum-seekers, from whatever sort of oppression they are fleeing. They will then say that it has nothing to do with them. Shame on them. It is a disgrace. History shows that many people have sought asylum here by the most fraudulent and illegal means and I do not condemn them because they were forced into doing so. People fled here from Russia in 1905 during the pogroms against the Jews, and from Nazism. People today are fleeing from the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war and from other places. The Minister should have compassion and consider those matters before this vile little Bill is passed.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
I apologise to the Committee for missing some hon. Members' speeches. Nevertheless, I should like to add my support to those hon. Members who have spoken against the Bill. I wholly endorse what has been said about the shabby, shoddy and nasty basis for this mean little measure.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) has been muttering during the time that I have been here, and at one stage he muttered something about most refugees being rascals. Those of us who have been concerned with refugees will admit that some of them are rascals, but the overwhelming majority of those who seek political asylum here are genuine. The fact that a person has a piece of paper that the Home Office and the immigration officers recognise as valid does not make him a rascal; nor does it mean that he is not a rascal.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
In their constituency work, all hon. Members have been told stories which, when referred to the Home Office, did not stand up to the test of truth. Not every refugee is genuine. If the argument were carried far enough, Papa Doc junior could be said to be a refugee. It is nonsense to make a blanket statement that all of the refugees who are pouring in are genuine. It is right that the Home Office should be 598 the arbiter of each case and examine it as closely as possible. After that, the Home Office may well make a concession to the companies that fly in such people, because that would be more just than the present position.
§ Mr. Madden
The only person who made a blanket statement was the hon. Gentleman, when he said that all refugees were rascals. That was the statement to which I took exception, and which I challenged.
Today, I received a moving letter from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. I suppose that other members of the Committee received it, too. Its director, Mrs. Helen Bamber, said:If this Bill is passed it may cause many asylum seekers fleeing from torture and other persecution to be refused safe passage to the UK, on the grounds that they do not have the required travel documents.The Medical Foundation is an independent charity working to provide medical care to people who have suffered torture and who now live as refugees in this country. Many of our patients had no choice but to escape by any means open to them, and under these circumstances were unable to obtain valid travel documents.We have information that in countries throughout the world, from where our patients come, others face the same situation.
The medical foundation has a group of very illustrious patrons, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Monty Finniston and Patrick Trevor-Roper. The leaflet that it sent me, under the heading,The practice of torture has reached epidemic proportions",states:Torture is banned under International Law, yet it is reported to be practised in one-third of the countries of the world.I underline,one third of the countries of the world.The leaflet goes on:Methods range from extreme brutality which can result in disfigurement or death, to the sophisticated use of drugs and electricity which maximise pain but which leave few, if any, physical signs.Many people die under torture. Many more suffer severe after effects. Most believe they will never be the same again, and that the consequences of their experience may be passed on to their children …Although everyone seeking asylum in the UK is entitled to free medical care under the National Health Service, many people who have been tortured are unable to communicate their past experiences, and therefore cannot obtain the type of help which they and their families so badly need.Some people who were tortured in the presence of doctors cannot even now approach a doctor or enter a hospital alone.That is the reality of the epidemic proportions of torture and brutality that so many people from different nations face today in this world of ours. Some of them — I estimate a very small number — seek refuge from those regimes by attempting to come to our shores. I believe that the Bill will be an obstacle to the efforts of genuine people seeking refuge from torture and brutality to come here.
I do not believe that the provisions of the Bill are in any way justified in terms of the numbers of such people. I believe that the figures show that after the 60 or so Tamils from Sri Lanka, the numbers now coming are extremely modest. We heard on Second Reading that the numbers coming to this country are in any event substantially smaller than the numbers already settled in several other countries of Western Europe.
599 I do not believe that there is any justification for the Bill. Indeed, I believe that there is every reason to suspect that the Bill has been lying about in Queen Anne's Place for a very long time and that the Tamils provided a very convenient excuse for wheeling it out and trying to steamroller it through the House of Commons, with no justification, certainly in terms of the numbers of people who are seeking to secure political refuge in this country.
In its letter, the medical foundation says:We believe that a prompt review of all asylum applications is important but remain concerned that unless a mechanism for expert and impartial review which will include an automatic right of appeal to an independent body is established, many people may be returned to face possible torture or death …I take this opportunity to stress that the Medical Foundation is an organisation which adheres to the principles of impartiality consistent with established medical ethics. It limits its concerns to victims of torture and has no position on the broader issue of immigration.I think that we should heed that view from this very reputable and respectable organisation which has dedicated itself for a very long time to helping those who have suffered at the hands of the torturers of this world. The Government should listen to what it says, even at this late hour. I believe that the Bill should be withdrawn. If not, certainly these amendments should be accepted.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I accept what my hon. Friend says about the need to deal with asylum applications very quickly, but he must understand that this is not always possible. Does he think it would be useful if the Government gave an automatic right of exceptional leave to remain while an application was pending? At the moment a large number of these applicants are being held in custody. In one case that is coming up, the applicant has been a full year in custody.
The Second Deputy Chairman
I would just remind the hon. Member and the Committee that this debate must not widen out into a general debate on immigration. It must be linked to the Bill, which concerns the liability of carriers.
§ Mr. Madden
I accept what you say, Sir Paul.
I agree entirely with the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn).
I would ask the Minister, when replying to the debate, to confirm or deny newspaper reports about the outcome of the inquiries into the Tamil cases. We have been told that at least half of those people are going to be accepted as political refugees and given permission to remain here. If so, it makes the position of the Government on those cases even more extraordinary and subject to criticism. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister could give us some information on the present situation on the Tamil applications, which are the only justification to which he has ever pointed for this mean and nasty little Bill.
The medical foundation has made a number of recommendations, which are supported by a large number of other organisations concerned with this kind of matter, as to what it believes should be the basis for a humane and civilised approach by a humane and civilised Government to these matters. The recommendations are:That the definition of a refugee should include anyone who is in danger of torture or persecution in their country of origin, irrespective of whether or not he has been formally recognised as a refugee.That no one should be excluded from being considered a refugee on the grounds that he does not possess the required travel documents.600That refugees should be recognised as a distinct group separate from immigrants or any other group.
The foundation then quotes a recommendation of the Third Report from the Home Affairs Committee in the 1984–85 Session, as follows:We see a need for a clearer distinction between refugees and immigrants, both in the procedures they go through … and in the public perception. We have already noted our greater legal and moral obligation towards refugees.
The medical foundation's recommendations continue:That just and humanitarian procedures be established to determine whether or not a person seeking asylum is a refugee; that these procedures be established in consultation with independent expert bodies, such as UNHCR, UKIAS, British Refugee Council and Amnesty International; that these procedures should work quickly but should maintain adequate legal safeguards; that anyone stating that they are a refugee, or seeking asylum, should be given leave to remain while they make their asylum application; that anyone claiming asylum should have access to legal representation and medical advice of their own choice; that decisions on all asylum applications should be reached in the light of comprehensive information on the situation in the applicant's country of origin; that an automatic right of appeal to an independent body before removal should be established".Again, this refers to the 1984–85 Home Affairs Committee report. The final recommendation is:that no asylum applicant should be removed until all the appeal procedures open to him have been exhausted; that all cases considered 'manifestly unfounded' or 'clearly abusive' should be entitled to an independent review before removal.In my view, that represents a clear, concise, humanitarian approach to these policies. I only wish that the Government had adopted such a posture instead of bringing forward this nasty, mean little Bill.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Waddington)
I think that we ought to be grateful to all the hon. Members who have spoken, and especially to my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), because they have identified some very important matters. I will deal first with specific points raised by right hon. and hon. Members and then come back to the specific amendments.
The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) said that we are likely to be in breach of the United Nations convention. I really do not think that he can believe that. If we are to be in breach of that convention as a result of passing this measure, we shall certainly be in good company because legislation similar to this is already in place in Australia, Canada, the United States, Germany, New Zealand and Brazil, and at the present time a working group of officials in the European Community is considering how best similar legislation could be put in place in other Community countries. It must be nonsense to say that all the countries that pass this legislation are in breach of the United Nation's convention. Certainly that has never been said by the UNHCR.
I ought to deal immediately with a serious and sad matter—the death of a Ugandan citizen. An inquest is to be held on 16 April into his death. I do not think, therefore, that it would be right for me or, indeed, any hon. Member to comment in detail on the circumstances of his case other than to emphasise that it is clearly a tragic event from which it is far too early to draw any proper conclusions. Clearly, his death has nothing whatsoever to do with the Bill, because he was a Ugandan citizen who came here with a valid Ugandan passport.
I should like to deal with the points made by the right hon. Member for Clydesdale, (Dame J. Hart). She chided us for not living in the real world and for not taking 601 account of how people really get out of other countries and seek asylum, yet every example she quoted disproved the case she was making and proved the case we are making.
§ Mr. Waddington
I wonder whether the right hon. Lady would just listen to the points I am making in answer to her points and then, of course, I shall give way.
The right hon. Lady quoted the example of Afghanistan. But how, in fact, do people take refuge from Afghanistan? They certainly do not get out of that country by going to Kabul airport with forged documents and get on an aeroplane to come to this country. They walk over the frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan and seek refuge in Pakistan. If they claim a family connection in this country, they go to our embassy in Islamabad and try to establish a claim to come here because of that connection. Therefore, the circumstances in Afghanistan have nothing to do with the Bill.
The right hon. Lady then quoted the example of Chile, yet that example proves the case that the Government are making and completely disproves the case she is making. The right hon. Lady forgets what has happened in Chile. In November 1973, under the then Conservative Government, the United Kingdom responded to an international burden-sharing appeal launched by the UNHCR. Between 1973 and October 1979 the Home Office considered some 14,000 applications for resettlement in this country by Chileans. Some 4,000 Latin Americans, predominantly Chileans, had been accepted by the end of that programme. That is how people from Chile have obtained refuge here. They have not got here by forging documents and presenting themselves at airports in central or southern America. They have got here as a result of going to our posts in south or central America and have been accepted for settlement here as a result of the very generous programme evolved by the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Lady then quoted the example of E1 Salvador. Again, she could not have picked a worse example. I have checked and found that there was not a single case of a citizen of El Salvador claiming asylum in this country last year. That is scarcely surprising. I should have thought that it was difficult to find any El Salvadorean citizen in this country with whom someone now in El Salvador would wish to seek refuge. It is difficult to think of examples of big El Salvadorean communities in this country such that people in El Salvador would look to Britain as a country of refuge rather than to other countries. I should have thought that Britain was almost the last country in the world which would be the natural country of refuge for people of El Salvador.
The right hon. Lady then quoted the example of Guatemala. Again she proved our case rather than hers. I have checked in this case as well. During the last year for which figures are available only one person from Guatemala was granted asylum. I have not had time to check whether that was a case of someone arriving here with forged documents, but I very much doubt that it was. That again shows that this country is not considered by anyone as the natural country of refuge for citizens of Guatemala.
602 5.15 pm
I think that I caught the point which the right hon. Lady was making about the 2 million Chileans now in Costa Rica who were in Venezuela. Again, she proved our point, not hers. Clearly, those people took refuge in at least one other country before applying to come here, so certainly they would not be left stranded and subject to persecution as a result of the Bill's passage.
§ Dame Judith Hart
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is being extraordinarily obtuse, if he will forgive my saying so. I quoted those examples as being the countries apparently subject to reports by the special rapporteur of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That was the point of the list of countries I gave the right hon. and learned Gentleman. If, indeed, there is no reason to suppose that we would have any refugees from Afghanistan, El Salvador or Guatemala, there is no reason why the right hon. and learned Gentleman need not accept my amendment, because it will not have any significant effect on the Government.
On the right hon. and learned Gentleman's last point, I did not refer to people coming from Venezuela. I said that they sought refuge in the embassy in Venezuela, in San Diego, from which they were given temporary travel documents. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to tell me about the experience, with particular reference to Chile, of the 4,000 refugees who came to Britain between January 1974 and 1979. He is talking about the Chilean refugee programme for which I and my hon. Friends then in the Home Office were directly responsible, and I think that I may be allowed to know a little more about that than he does.
§ Mr. Waddington
If the right hon. Lady knows all about it, as I am sure she does, she would know perfectly well that those people did not come here with forged documents. Therefore, when she quotes the case of the Chileans, she makes a most interesting speech, but it has nothing to do with the Bill.
§ Dame Judith Hart
Because many of those Chilean refugees were escaping from a military regime, so that they had to get out in whatever way they could, they came with documents that would not have satisfied carriers under the Bill. Therefore, carriers would have been unlikely to accept the liability of bringing them here. That is the essence of my amendment.
§ Mr. Waddington
The right hon. Lady is entirely wrong. Those who came under the Chilean programme had already been accepted for settlement in this country before they set out. I do not know why she keeps pressing this point. The more she presses it, the more she makes our case. When dealing with a couple of Chileans, she said that they had gone to France. Plainly, if they had, this country was not their first country of refuge.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Because the Chilean refugee programme has concluded, if a person wishes to seek refuge in this country, he cannot apply abroad for political asylum—that is obvious — and, therefore, it is unlikely that someone who opposes the Government of Pinochet would be allowed to travel freely to this country. The carrier would be suspicious about carrying him because of the danger of being fined, under the Bill, if that person sought political asylum when he reached here. How does the Bill accommodate such people?
§ Mr. Waddington
The hon. Gentleman said, incorrectly, that such a person could not apply abroad to come here, but such a person could.
I shall deal now with the important point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury and the similar point put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester). I hope that my comments will give considerable comfort to my right hon. Friend. We have not yet had time to embark on discussions with the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service. In proposing a revision of the UKIAS referral system it is not our intention to abolish it or greatly to reduce its scope. Far from it. The system was established in 1983 in a situation very different from what we have experienced over the past two years and especially the last three months.
Our objective in discussing the matter with UKIAS will be a modification of the system to meet new problems that have emerged. In doing so we shall need to take into account the effect of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Bill on the number of asylum applications made at the ports. It may prove possible to devise an arrangement, in consultation with UKIAS, that will enable cases of port asylum application to be referred to it, if necessary within short deadlines. I hope that my right hon. Friend will understand how difficult it is to have discussions of this kind in the time available. I hope that we shall be embarking on those discussions before long.
In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft), perhaps we can leave until later the question of the cost that could be incurred by shipping companies because there is an amendment on the Notice Paper that deals with Channel ferries.
Mr. Ho was referred to in a letter from Sealink, in which a complaint was made about the operation of the Immigration Act. I understand what it is saying but its complaint is not strictly relevant to this debate. In this Bill we are not seeking to depart from, but to build upon, existing principles and policy.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
By extension, if that company had difficulty under the present rule in spotting the legality or illegality of the documents, it will have greater difficulty in spotting whether documents are valid under the new rules.
§ Mr. Waddington
I do not think so. The hon. Gentleman mentioned sea rescues. We have had to consider this because of the dramatic events that have happened as a result of people leaving Vietnam. The internationl community arrived at an agreement called RASRO, which is really a burden-sharing arrangement. No longer is there any disincentive to a sea captain to pick up people at sea or any disincentive to the country to which the ship is first going because of this burden-sharing arrangement. But in practice, if a ship is in the China sea, it would wire through to Hong Kong, its next port of call, to say that it has got this cargo of refugees on board. It would get clearance from the Hong Kong authorities for the landing of that cargo of refugees. Under the burden-sharing arrangement there would be no obstacle to those refugees being received in Hong Kong or elsewhere.
§ Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)
Should not the Minister recognise and explain in his answer that this Bill is wholly discretionary? Therefore, would not the circumstances in which a carrier picks up people such as 604 those mentioned by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) be part of a process of deciding whether there was guilt or negligence, or otherwise, in the actions of the carrier?
§ Mr. Waddington
My hon. Friend is right and I will come to that point later in a slightly different context. These penalties do not have to be imposed in any event but there is this extra safeguard and means of satisfying the hon. Gentleman because of the very important international arrangement that was arrived at.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
Is the Minister moving on to the question of airports and civil disobedience as well as the boat people? I ask him to answer that before I intervene again.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
My question concerned people who were in danger, for instance, at Dhaka airport during the Bangladesh civil war, or at Entebbe or Khartoum, when tribal conflict was growing. At Dhaka, the airlines were still operating, but Hindus were in great danger if they were turned out of an airline's airport office. The Minister, in relation to people found on the open sea and especially those who are in danger at an airport, is making a case for acceptance of amendment No. 12 rather than saying that the Government rely on discretion.
§ Mr. Waddington
Yes, indeed. If there was a visa requirement before the passage of this Bill, the same problem that the hon. Member has identified could arise. Obstacles to international travel exist already as a result of the need for documents or visas. The international community, when these tragic events occur of the kind described by the hon. Member. usually rally around, and we have been very supportive.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
Could I put the case once more about Bangladesh? I was present towards the end of that civil war, where the dangers I have described could have been the case, conceivably, day by day. The Hindus feared the threat from west Pakistan and the forces that were fighting a war there. Thinking that their lives were threatened, they managed to get to Dhaka airport or some other airport. They do not want to come directly here, but they may want to go to Calcutta, a third country, from which they might come here, without any papers. Yet war is raging outside. How can we say to those people that there are ways and means of dealing with this problem unless the airlines can say that the refugees are in danger of life and limb if they go outside the airport or airport office? Why do we not accept that potential danger and accept amendment No. 12?
§ Mr. Waddington
It is possible to put forward hypothetical cases but I am surely right in the answer that I gave. One could make out a hypothetical case that, given the present state of the law, before the passage of this Bill, people could find themselves in exactly the same position because an airline might refuse to carry them because they did not have a passport or a visa. The hon. Gentleman must not forget that we are building on existing sanctions on carriers. Carriers who now bring people without the 605 appropriate documentation have to address their minds to the question whether the person being carried will be refused entry. Carriers know that if they carry people without appropriate documents, and the person is refused entry and detained, the carrier might have to pay the detention cost and the cost of returning that person to the country from which he has come.
We do not believe that the existing sanctions are deterring all the airlines sufficiently. They have not prevented in December and January of this year 800 people arriving at our airports with either forged or mutilated documents. The vast majority of those people could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as refugees.
§ Mr. Madden
Is the Minister not concerned about placing responsibilities for checking whether passengers have appropriate and genuine travel documents? Will he consider the case of British citizens by descent who have a right to come here, claim entry, and, if refused, to stay pending appeal? Is he prepared to accept that airlines can refuse to such people a right to come to this country when they clearly have that right? Does the Minister accept that this Bill will put that right in jeopardy?
§ Mr. Waddington
Our posts abroad are perfectly able to make common-sense decisions. It is clear that, even since the introduction of the visa regime for the four countries in the Indian subcontinent, Ghana last autumn, and Nigeria now, they are capable of saying in compassionate cases that persons can come.
The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said that many asylum-seekers have come by fraudulent means. I do not doubt that for one moment, but that is not the point. The point is whether many genuine refugees have come by fraudulent means. That is the point to which we must address our minds. I do not want to bore the Committee by going over again the history that I gave on Second Reading of the true circumstances in which refugees have been arriving in this country over the years.
The hon. Gentleman asked how. Kurds can be expected to go to Ankara. With respect, they do not, and one would not expect them to go to Ankara. They go over the border into Iraq. Sometimes they go on from Iraq to Iran. The hon. Gentleman might have been a little generous to the Home Office for once because he knows perfectly well that recently we allowed quite a large number of Kurds to come here from a refugee camp in Iran because we took the view, as a result of representations made to us, that the conditions there were so appalling that they should have the opportunity to come to Britain.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I understand that that group came, and obviously it is good that those people were able to do so and that they were accepted here. However, my point is simply this. Under the Bill, unless someone has reached the capital city of one of those countries and made his own arrangements to travel, it would be impossible for him to get here because no carrier would take him unless he revealed himself to authority. Such people would then be rendered vulnerable in the eyes of the authorities concerned. As the Minister accepts that there is a legitimate case for Kurdish asylum-seekers to come from 606 Iran, Iraq or Turkey—whichever country they are from—he must concede that the Bill will prevent them from coming in the future.
§ Mr. Waddington
It is difficult to envisage circumstances in which, if those people could not get to a British post abroad, they would be able to get to an airport. On the other hand, one would have thought that if they could get to an airport, they could get to a British post abroad, which is one of the points that I have made on several occasions about people travelling from the north of Sri Lanka to Colombo. It has always been rather difficult to see why those people should have been able to get to an airport and not to the British high commission in Colombo.
The purpose of all the amendments is to relieve carriers of liability for bringing passengers here without documents. Separately and together, they would drive a coach and horses through the Bill. They would create increasingly wide exemptions to the principles of the Bill in an increasingly wide variety of circumstances. They would drill so many holes in the bucket that little could be retained in it.
There is no doubt about the inherent value of the Bill. The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) made our case for us because he conceded that, since the Bill was published and since we announced that carriers bringing people here would be liable to penalties from midnight on 4 March, the number of people being brought here with forged and mutilated documents or without documents has decreased enormously. So I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making our case for us.
§ Mr. Winnick
The Minister states, falsely in my opinion, that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has made the case for the Government, but will the right hon. and learned Gentleman concentrate on the question which I, together with some of my hon. Friends, asked? There is a danger that if the Bill is as effective as the right hon. and learned Gentleman states it will be, it will mean that some people who otherwise would have been able to come will no longer be able to do so. For example, if it is found that of the 58 Tamils a number—a majority or otherwise—are genuinely in fear, according to all the criteria, of being sent back to the country from which they came, surely, if anything, the Bill will make it much more difficult for such people to come here.
§ Mr. Waddington
I will not be drawn into the case of the Tamils because of the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The hon. Gentleman knows that it would be improper for me to do so. However, it is perfectly proper for me to remind the Committee that those who go from one country, to which they say they are frightened of returning, to another have the opportunity to seek refuge in the first country to which they go. It by no means follows that because somebody in this country is in fear of returning to the country that he first left this country is the appropriate country of refuge for him.
The deterrent value of the Bill would be largely lost if there were to be savings in all the various cases. Amendments Nos. 2, 11 and 5 deal with people who are eventually given exceptional leave to remain, leave to remain or refugee status. Carriers would have no means 607 of knowing until some time after the person arrived in this country whether they would be liable to a charge. Some might take a chance and live in hope.
As to amendment No. 6, liability would be suspended for people who were required to leave but went to ground — who did a disappearing trick. Nothing could be more ridiculous than that. In practice, carriers would not have brought home to them their responsibilities in a large number of cases where asylum was claimed or a person otherwise continued to remain here and no final decision was made or, sometimes perhaps, could be made in that person's case.
A claim for payment made many months later, even if the facts of the case could be then established and tested, would have no impact on the immediate problems of the ports, which is what caused us to introduce the Bill. Furthermore, once people manage to reach our shores, in practice it is difficult to remove them, irrespective of the merits of their case. The amendments would be an invitation to the continual exploitation of our asylum system and would do nothing to deal with the serious problems with which we have been faced.
Amendments Nos. 2, 11 and 5 would also have the very effect on carriers that the Opposition have been saying they would be most concerned to avoid. They would encourage the carriers to try to act as immigration officers. Instead of carriers being required only to look at passports, they would be invited to decide whether, for instance, people were qualified for asylum. The Bill's simple and straightforward proposals require no more of carriers than that they should check that passengers have the proper documents, but the amendments appear unreasonably to expect them to form a judgment on whether a person seeking to come here without valid documents would be likely to claim asylum and would be allowed to remain in this country. Moreover, the amendments would create uncertainty which would amount, in effect, to no more than a lottery. Under the Bill as drafted, the carrier's liability is clear, but under the amendments the carrier would have no idea whether it would be liable in any case until a passenger had arrived here and a decision had been made on whether he should be allowed to stay.
We get into deeper waters when we come to amendments Nos. 10 and 1. The proposals to relieve carriers of liability for passengers coming from countries that are not signatories to the United Nations convention — which is amendment No. 10, spoken to by the hon. Member for Leeds, West — or from countries with a military Government or subject to reports by a special rapporteur — which is the amendment spoken to by the right hon. Member for Clydesdale — would have the additional effect of exempting the carrier from liability before the passenger begins to travel to this country. They imply, of course, that we in the United Kingdom accept that people from these countries are more likely to be entitled to stay here than people who have come from other countries.
§ Mr. Waddington
I will tell the right hon. Lady why not. It is because one of the countries that comes within amendment No. 10, moved by the hon. Member for Leeds, West, is India. We have recently put a visa requirement on citizens of India. Therefore, in the same breath that we are 608 saying that we will put visa requirements on the nationals of India, we should be saying that they have a special privilege to come here because we assume that they would be far more likely to be having a miserable life and facing danger than people living in other countries. I cannot imagine a greater nonsense than that.
We do not make judgments as to whether to put visa requirements on a country's nationals on the basis suggested by the right hon. Lady. We have not said that we will not put a visa requirement on some nationals where there is no military regime, but we will not put a visa requirement on other nationals simply because there is a military regime. In fact, the list of visa nationals shows that in the days of both the Labour and Conservative Governments what actually happened does not support the right hon. Lady's case.
To be fair to the countries concerned, I must say that it does not follow that a country that has not signed the United Nations convention will fail to protect refugees. Every state, on achieving membership of the United Nations, is obliged, inter alia, to subscribe to the mandate of the High Commissioner for Refugees. The mandate, in effect, contains the same element of protection for refugees and asylum-seekers as the convention. The convention simply builds on to the mandate in more specific terms such matters as social rights and the right to work. Indeed, the UNHCR is commonly represented with the consent of Governments in states that are riot party to the convention and that accommodate asylum-seekers — for example, Pakistan in respect of Afghan refugees and India in respect of Tamils from Sri Lanka. In the case of countries that are not party to the convention—for example, almost all the iron curtain countries — refugees come to this country under orderly and properly documented arrangements. There is no purpose in singling out for different treatment under the Bill countries that are not signatories to the United Nations convention.
Amendments Nos. 12 and 13, tabled by the hon. Member for Leeds, West, would relieve a carrier of liability where hereasonably assumes that to refuse to carry would thereby place the intended passenger in dangeror whom hecould reasonably expect to he entitled to refugee status".Both amendments are unacceptable. How could we expect a carrier to form a view on that? It would create a very odd state of affairs, not least because there would be no means of testing whether a carrier really assumed that an intended passenger would be in danger or really did think that the passenger would be entitled to refugee status.
We cannot ask or expect carriers to make delicate and sensitive judgments about the circumstances of individual passengers and whether they are in real danger or have a reasonable expectation of refugee status. Even if they did say, to escape the penalty, that they had made that judgment, there would be no way of testing whether they had made an honest judgment.
It is not reasonable to expect people at check-in desks to make immediate assumptions about such matters. How could that assumption be tested? The result would be that, to protect themselves, carriers would accept any passenger who claimed to be in danger or to be a refugee. The carrier need only say that he thought that he had made a reasonable assumption to relieve himself of liability under the Bill. The deterrent of the Bill would be completely lost. Moreover, it is not clear what is meant by the term 609 "danger". It goes far wider than the circumstances envisaged under the 1951 convention. Does it mean immediate danger, danger in the next month, in the next year or at some unspecified time in the future?
The amendments are objectionable on several counts, including those which concern the decisions made on or after entry, because they would undermine the whole aim of the Bill, which is to prevent people travelling to this country without the proper documents. The amendments would encourage carriers to make judgments that they could not reasonably make and they would leave carriers uncertain about the extent of their liability while they waited, perhaps for some months, while decisions were made on matters that might only partially be affected by the original circumstances of the journey.
Because the amendments would relieve carriers of liability where they reasonably assumed that a passenger was in danger or that a person would be accepted as a refugee, they therefore also assume that carriers can make judgments or assumptions that they are manifestly not equipped to make, and further assume that in some way their claim that they made such an honest judgment could be subsequently tested. Therefore, I must invite the Committee to reject all the amendments.
§ Mr. Dubs
The Minister's speech was disappointing. I am sure that other hon. Members share that view. He said that he was not prepared to discuss the case of the Tamils. I put it to him, as I have done before, that it is clear that one or more of the 64 Tamils would be regarded as mandatory refugees under the United Nations convention to which we are signatories. Had they been removed, as the Home Secretary intended, we would clearly have been in breach of that convention—
§ Mr. Waddington
I take it that the hon. Gentleman is asking me a question. The reply must be that he is not entitled to assume that any of the Tamils—whether one, two or 15 — are refugees. I do not make that assumption, and the hon. Gentleman is not entitled to make that assumption.
§ Mr. Dubs
I do not make that assumption either. I have discussed the matter with the London representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and I was quoting what he said. I did not reach that view on my own because, clearly, I do not have the necessary information. If the Minister says that the London office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is wrong, so be it. However, I prefer its view to that of the Minister.
Every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate on this set of amendments has criticised the Government's policy. Each has felt uneasy about the fact that we are simply closing doors on people and that we are not going to allow them to state their case. The Minister should take greater note of the views expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. That view is not held just by Members of the Labour and alliance parties. Some Conservative Members have expressed unease about the Bill and have asked for assurances. In the absence of any assurance from the Minister, I urge the Committee to support amendment No. 2.
§ Mr. Raison
I was encouraged by the tone of the response of my right hon. and learned Friend to the specific point that I raised on Second Reading. I hope that he will continue along the lines that he indicated then and will come to the conclusions outlined in my amendment, which was not selected.
It will help if, in addition to the discussions to be held with UKIAS, the Minister will discuss the matter with the representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I will be happy if he can come up with a solution that matches recommendation No. 8 of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees executive committee, which was referred to in the Home Office evidence. That recommendation was referred to in the Home Office evidence. If my right hon. Friend can meet that point, my anxiety will be greatly relieved.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 96, Noes 184.612
|Division No. 127]||[5.50 pm|
|Alton, David||Howells, Geraint|
|Anderson, Donald||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Livsey, Richard|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||McCartney, Hugh|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||McKay, Allen (Pen[...]tone)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Bidwell, Sydney||McWilliam, John|
|Blair, Anthony||Madden, Max|
|Boyes, Roland||Marek, Dr John|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Martin, Michael|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Mikardo, Ian|
|Clelland, David Gordon||Milian, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Nellist, David|
|Corbett, Robin||Park, George|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Patchett, Terry|
|Craigen, J. M.||Pike, Peter|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Raynsford, Nick|
|Dewar, Donald||Redmond, Martin|
|Dixon, Donald||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Dobson, Frank||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Dormand, Jack||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Eadie, Alex||Shields, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Fisher, Mark||Snape, Peter|
|Foster, Derek||Soley, Clive|
|Foulkes, George||Spearing, Nigel|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Freud, Clement||Strang, Gavin|
|George, Bruce||Taylor, Matthew|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Tinn, James|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Wainwright, R.|
|Gould, Bryan||Welsh, Michael|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)||Winnick, David|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Haynes, Frank||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Mr. Ron Davies and|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Mr. Sean Hughes.|
|Alexander, Richard||Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)|
|Ashby, David||Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Best, Keith|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Lester, Jim|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Lighthown, David|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Lilley, Peter|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)|
|Bright, Graham||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Brinton, Tim||Lord, Michael|
|Bruinvels, Peter||McCrindle, Robert|
|Buck. Sir Antony||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Butterfill, John||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Malins, Humfrey|
|Colvin, Michael||Malone, Gerald|
|Coombs, Simon||Marlow, Antony|
|Cope, John||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Crouch, David||Mather, Sir Carol|
|Dykes, Hugh||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Eggar, Tim||Mellor, David|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Merchant, Piers|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Fallon, Michael||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Forth, Eric||Mills, lain (Meriden)|
|Franks, Cecil||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Fraser, Peter (Angus East)||Moate, Roger|
|Gale, Roger||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Galley, Roy||Morris, M. (N'hampton S)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Gorst, John||Neale, Gerrard|
|Gow, Ian||Nelson, Anthony|
|Greenway, Harry||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Norris, Steven|
|Ground, Patrick||Onslow, Cranley|
|Grylls, Michael||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Osborn, Sir John|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Ottaway, Richard|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Page, Sir John (Harrow W)|
|Hannam, John||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Pattie, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Harris, David||Pawsey, James|
|Harvey, Robert||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Portillo, Michael|
|Hayes, J.||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Powley, John|
|Hayward, Robert||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Price, Sir David|
|Heddle, John||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Hicks, Robert||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Hill, James||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Hirst, Michael||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Holt, Richard||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Silvester, Fred|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Speed, Keith|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Speller, Tony|
|Irving, Charles||Spencer, Derek|
|Jackson, Robert||Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Squire, Robin|
|Jessel, Toby||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Steen, Anthony|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Stern, Michael|
|Jones, Robert (Herts W)||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Key, Robert||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Knowles, Michael||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Knox, David||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Latham, Michael||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Thurnham, Peter|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Waddington, Rt Hon David||Whitfield, John|
|Wakeham, Rt Hon John||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Waldegrave, Hon William||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Walden, George||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Walker, Bill (T'side N)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Waller, Gary||Wood, Timothy|
|Wardle, C. (Bexhill)||Yeo, Tim|
|Watts, John||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Wells, Bowen (Hertford)||Mr. Tony Durant and|
|Wheeler, John||Mr. Richard Ryder|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Dubs
I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 16, at end insert?'(1A) No liability shall be incurred under subsection (1) above in respect of any person who is shown to he covered by the Secretary of State's guidelines on the handling of representations by Members of Parliament in immigration cases.'.
This amendment is specifically concerned with the relationship between the Bill and the Home Secretary's guidelines on the representations of Members of Parliament in immigration cases. The Committee knows that for some time the Government have tried to reduce the power of Members of Parliament to make representations in a whole range of immigration cases. There is a relationship between that issue and the Bill. The Government are seeking to go back on their undertaking regarding exceptional cases under which Members of Parliament would still be allowed to make representations, especially on behalf of people who come from visa countries.
The issue has dragged on for some time. The Government have made a series of attempts to tighten the guidelines, and on 6 November 1986 the Home Secretary announced certain changes to the guidelines, which made provision for exceptional circumstances. The Home Secretary said that action to remove the passenger would be deferred onlyif at the time of intervention the Member demonstrates that there are exceptional and compelling circumstances (eg recent bereavement or sudden grave illness here in the immediate family)."—[Official Report, 6 November 1986; Vol. 103, c. 540.]In other words, as recently as last November the Home Secretary allowed for the fact that if people arrived without the proper documents in this country Members of Parliament would be allowed to intervene. If the Home Secretary had kept to the spirit of the answer that I have just read out, he would not be introducing this Bill. It cannot be denied that the Bill goes completely against the spirit of the agreement about representations by Members of Parliament.
The amendment seeks an exception with regard to tines if the circumstances are identical with or similar to those that are covered by the guidelines for Members of Parliament. If the exception was good enough last November and allowed Members of Parliament to intervene on behalf of constituents, the same exception ought to be good enough to be included as an amendment to the Bill. It is a modest and reasonable amendment. If it is not agreed to, the Home Secretary will be reneging on the undertaking that was given to the House as recently as last November.
§ Mr. Geoff Lawler (Bradford, North)
I share the concern of the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) 613 about the assurance that was given in the parliamentary answer that he quoted. If, for example, after a death in my constituency a telegram was sent to Pakistan which arrived late on Thursday after the embassy's immigration office in Islamabad had closed, the family might be unable to obtain visas to come to this country until the following Sunday. By the time they were able to catch a plane it might be Monday or even Tuesday, so there could be a gap of four days between the death and the arrival of the family in this country.
In his answer, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave an assurance that provision would be made for this when the visa requirement was introduced. Between the introduction of the visa requirement on 15 October and 7 March, 1,052 people were refused entry at Heathrow or Gatwick. They had come from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh without valid visas or, in a few cases, with visas that were not considered to be genuine. My right hon. Friend is right to introduce this curb on airlines to prevent a significant number of people being carried to this country and then refused admission, because in the long run the only people who will be affected by the abuse of the procedure are genuine applicants.
I shall oppose the amendment of the hon. Member for Battersea because that is not the way to deal with the matter. If it were agreed to, somebody in this country might send a telegram to a friend or a relation abroad—for example, in Pakistan—and say, "Come quickly, your mother has died". That person would then turn up at the airline desk with the telegram as evidence of bereavement. The airline official would be in no position to judge whether the telegram was genuine.
I hope, however, that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State will consider this point. I suggest that instead of the amendment an emergency procedure should be made available at our posts overseas and that an officer with responsibility for the issue of visas should always be on duty. On a Friday or Saturday in Pakistan, for example, when the embassy is closed a visa could then be obtained in an emergency. An immigration officer is in a much better position than an official at an airport desk in Islamabad, Delhi or Dhaka to judge whether an application is genuine. It is a question not of amending the Bill but of instituting new procedures to cope with the problem. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will consider my suggestion.
§ Mr. Corbyn
The Bill further erodes the right of Members of Parliament to intervene in immigration and refugee cases. It is important that Members of Parliament should be able to do something on behalf of relatives of their constituents or, indeed, on behalf of people who are in distress at an airport or port of entry. I receive calls frequently from people who do not have either relatives or connections in my constituency but who nevertheless want the assistance of the Member of Parliament. The Bill takes away that right.
When the right of appeal was discussed at the 34th executive session of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Government's response was that one of the ways that an asylum seeker could have his case discussed in this country was precisely by appealing to a Member of Parliament. It was one of the basic arguments against the recommendation of the 614 UNHCR and of the recommendations of the Select Committee that dealt with the Vietnamese refugees. The Government have now gone a stage further and removed that right. I strongly recommend amendment No. 3. Unless there is to be some way of examining the case of an asylum seeker at the port of entry, rather than simply handing it over to immigration officers — the course implicit in the Bill — or privatising the service by handing responsibility over to the carrier, who may or may not be fined in respect of it, Members of Parliament have to be involved.
Under the Bill—unless I have misunderstood it—a would-be asylum seeker who had actually managed to get a passage on a plane and made application at the port of entry would have his case decided by immigration officers at that port of entry. The carrier would then be fined accordingly. Carriers are likely to be nervous about taking passengers when they may then have to return them and pay a fine, so, in effect, the Government are washing their hands of the matter. They are preventing Members of Parliament even from knowing what goes on, still less being able to protect the human rights of the individual concerned, who will be ejected from this country.
It is essential for Members of Parliament to have the right to handle cases so that, when necessary, they can put a stop to the removal of a person and ensure that the Minister can examine the case carefully and fully. I am sure that the Minister—even though he is rather bullet-headed about the Bill—must at least concede that many of the cases previously referred to him by hon. Members could not be so referred under the terms of the Bill. Under the Bill, many of those cases in which exceptional leave to remain, leave to remain or refugee status have been granted would simply never have been brought to his attention because people would never have got here in the first place. Hon. Members' right to intervene is an important long-stop.
§ Mr. Winnick
The hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler) spoke against the amendment on the ground that there could be abuse, and he gave an example. I have been provoked by his remarks because it would be unfortunate if the principle, whether the amendment should stand, was determined according to cases of abuse.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is to become a member of the general council of UKIAS. Like that organisation, I am certainly not in the business of condoning abuse. I have never been that way inclined and I am not likely to change my mind now. The hon. Gentleman should understand that an important principle is involved.
I remind the House of the argument advanced by the Home Office in reply to the recommendation of the Race Relations and Immigration Sub-Committee that, in principle, there should be an appeals system. As I said on Second Reading, although I broadly sympathise with such a system, I recognise some of the problems that would arise from it and that would undoubtedly increase the number of people involved. I understand the arguments against an appeals system, although I am broadly in favour of having one.
The Home Office emphasis was clear. It said that there was no need for such an appeals system because there was already an effective form of referral, which it outlined in a written response to the Sub-Committee. It said that there 615 were other adequate safeguards, such as representations by Members of Parliament, judicial review and the referral procedures of the UKIAS.
I welcome the Minister of State's remarks on the previous set of amendments about the discussions with UKIAS. I hope that means that there will eventually be very little undermining of the referral system. I realise that that will be the subject of discussions between the hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues in the Home Office and UKIAS.
It would be most unfortunate if anything were done to undermine the rights of hon. Members to make representations. It seems reasonable, where representations are being made by a Member of Parliament, that there should be no liability on the airline. I see no reason why my hon. Friend should withdraw the amendment, which is very much in line with the point made by the Home Office in rejecting the need for an appeals system as recommended by the Conservative-dominated Race Relations and Immigration Sub-Committee. If the House of Commons decided at the time that that was an adequate response, the Government are now eroding and undermining their own arguments against an appeals system.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
I was a member of the Committee that reported on Vietnamese refugees, and I have always held the view that we must consider carefully what happens to refugees. When the report was sent to the Home Office, it replied that there were adequate safeguards in the form of judicial review—that can only apply where a person is actually in the country—and representations by Members of Parliament. Tragically the right of Members of Parliament has been curtailed by the November guidelines. It is indeed a sad day when the Government seek to restrict the rights of hon. Members.
It is sad that exceptional and difficult cases are once more being impeded in their progress towards resolution. I am the first to admit that if people break the rules and want to cheat, we must deter or catch them, but many refugees are human beings fleeing for their lives.
The amendment would make exceptions when Members of Parliament are involved in cases. The integrity of hon. Members has never been called into question, so why do not the Government accept the amendment? Do they suggest that a Government Department always knows best and that sometimes hon. Members have no right to a say?
§ Mr, Waddington
Clearly we are not expected to take the amendment literally, and I shall not take any silly drafting point, because I think that I know what is behind the proposal. Of course, if the amendment were taken literally, no liability would ever arise under the Bill, as the guidelines apply to all immigration cases. We therefore start from the standpoint that the amendment is nonsense and does not mean what it says.
As I understand it, the intention is that liability should be removed from a carrier if a Member of Parliament can show that compelling or exceptional circumstances have prevented the passenger from obtaining a visa. My objection is that the amendment would lead to additional and unnecessary complications and would appear to allow the carrier's responsibility to be removed solely because a 616 Member of Parliament had decided to make representations in the case. That would be somewhat extraordinary. It would open up a loophole because carriers would he under great pressure to accept the urgency of a passenger's journey on his say-so alone. It would be wholly unreasonable to put carriers under such pressure and that course would be bound to lead to exploitation by people trying to enter this country without the proper documents.
In practice—this meets the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler)—there is no reason why a passenger should not be able to get a visa if he or she needs one, even at the shortest notice. Passengers will normally have to travel through a major centre to join an international. flight and we have visa-issuing officers in all the major departure points for the United Kingdom. The applications are dealt with immediately when circumstances are urgent, and outside office hours the duty officers, who are available at all times at British missions abroad, can issue visas in desperate cases. I hope that my hon. Friend will spread that message round his constituency. It was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when we debated visas last autumn.
§ Mr. Madden
Are there special arrangements for emergency cases? Normally applications for visitors' visas are extremely lengthy. I am sure that the Minister, like me, has looked at the application forms which run to 30 or 40 extremely detailed questions. I assume that in an emergency case that procedure is not followed. In an emergency, where does a person obtain an application form? Are people expected to fill out such a detailed form? If they are, how can that be done in an emergency?
§ Mr. Waddington
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it is entirely misleading to talk about applications for visas being extremely lengthy. We debated this only the other day. He was one of the hon. Members who spread scare stories around the House when we debated visas. The hon. Gentleman talked the most irresponsible nonsense when he spoke about delays of a year or two years for a visitor visa. He behaved in a thoroughly irresponsible way then. He knows perfectly well that visas are being issued within 24 hours in 95 per cent. of cases and in a matter of a few days in the other cases. He is compounding the irresponsibility that he showed in our earlier debate by now pretending that there is some enormously lengthy process involved in applying for a visitor visa when there certainly is not.
The hon. Gentleman heard what I said in answer to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North and I shall repeat what has been said. Emergency services are available at all our overseas posts near international airports. We are talking about people who often have to travel a long way to get to those airports. It is entirely misleading to suggest that people who are able to get to those international airports should find any difficulty in getting to one of our overseas posts and using the emergency services available there to apply for a visa as a matter of urgency.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
May we take it that there will be no interference and no blocking of representations made by hon. Members when, as in cases that I have encountered, people come from the Punjab and from Pakistan originally as visitors and, subsequently, 617 information is sent over which shows that they would be in great jeopardy if they returned to their land of origin? As the Minister knows, I have made representations from time to time on that score. May we assume that nothing being debated at the moment will impair the ability of an hon. Member to intervene in such cases? Such interventions have always been acceptable—at any rate interventions from me. I hope that nothing the right hon. and learned Gentleman says will lead to difficulties in that regard. May we have that assurance?
§ Mr. Waddington
Many people enter Britain as visitors and then make pleas to stay here because they are, frightened to return to their own country. Of course hon. Members are at liberty to make representations in such cases. The procedure that I have explained about the facilities that are available overseas is the best way to provide for emergencies. A note to the amendment to the guidelines which has been circulated to all hon. Members and which has been placed in the Library makes this clear.
In practice, it is unusual for people to arrive here without visas because of an emergency. There is no justification for creating a loophole in the provisions of the Bill which would be more likely to benefit people determined to exploit any opportunity to evade our controls than people with urgent reasons to travel. I invite the Committee to reject the amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Dubs
I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 1, line 16, at end insert—'(1A) No liability shall be incurred under sub-section (1) above in respect of any person who embarked on the ship or aircraft at a port or airport within the European Community.'.This amendment was inspired by the General Council of British Shipping which wrote to many hon. Members explaining its concern about how the Bill will work in relation to cross-Channel ferries. The council makes a good case for saying that, as the Bill stands, the ferry operators would face serious difficulties in checking all passengers' passports or other documentation. In its letter, the council says:A reporting time of 45 minutes for cars is normal. To be required to examine passports and compare photographs with the physical appearance of perhaps 1,200 passengers, either in cars, coaches or trains, cannot be seen as anything other than an intolerable burden on an industry already facing intense competition.
In the same submission, the General Council of British Shipping explains the difficulties involved in devising a zone near the point of access to its ferries where passengers could be examined and from which they could be prevented from entering the ferries until their documents had been scrutinised.
There is a heavy volume of traffic in the European Community and, although ferry operators operate under greater difficulties in checking documents than the airlines, the problem also applies to airlines because of the number of passengers and because normally there is only a cursory passport examination by immigration officials for travel within the Community.
There are real difficulties in suggesting that the provisions of the Bill could easily be administered by the operators of the cross-Channel ferries. I do not know whether this point was raised on Second Reading. I 618 certainly did not raise it. I do not know whether the Minister is sympathetic to that argument or whether he sees force in the case. Clearly, the Bill was not devised to hit operators within the Common Market because of mutual arrangements between the various European countries relating to immigration control of people coming from other countries.
I do not think that it is the Minister's intention to have this damaging impact on the ferry operators, but it seems to be the consequence of what is intended, because operators will be obliged to scrutinise documents which at the moment they are not required to do. There is a problem here and the amendment suggests one possible approach to it.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
I begin by declaring an interest as consultant to Sea Containers, the owner of Sealink GB.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) on getting the wording of his amendment right for acceptance in the debate, which I failed to do, and I endorse many of his comments about ferry companies. I know that the Committee is anxious to make progress, so I shall not make a long speech.
It is worth putting on record that one of the difficulties faced by ferry companies, compared with airlines, is that about 70 per cent. of people coming here are British citizens, and a large majority of the rest are European nationals. The sheer volume also presents a difficulty because 2,000 or more people come here at any one time. I ask hon. Members to imagine the difficulties that that poses.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft), the spokesman for the Liberal party on these matters, spoke earlier about some of those difficulties, and I do not want to repeat what he said. For the benefit of the Committee, I shall flesh out some of the costings that are suggested as likely in the light of this legislation. Sealink, one of the two major operators, estimates that for the Dover-Calais and Folkestone-Boulogne routes alone it would need 16 people to run the services in Calais and 14 in Boulogne at a cost of £480,000 per year. I stress that that is a minimum figure if the conditions are to be carried out in their entirety. It is estimated that at Harwich at least £150,000 will be needed, and by the time office and other expenses are paid the cost will be at least £500,000 per year.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister will not be surprised to hear that the company concludes that it would be cheaper to ignore the legislation, with obvious potential difficulty for itself and for the Government. The 1971 Act already costs substantial sums—£79,000 in Dover last year, and a further £80,000 is in dispute—merely to repatriate illegal immigrants. A further problem in relation to ferries is, to put it delicately, the state of the passengers, who are more likely to be somewhat merry and boisterous and to have enjoyed themselves rather more on the trip than those arriving by air, not to mention the dreaded football supporters, whether on their outward or return journey. If those people are to be stopped and checked, as the legislation manifestly requires, problems of law and order can readily be imagined.
So far, the only suggestion from the ferry companies is that the only reasonable way to carry out the checks would be on board. That would avoid many of the problems, but 619 there is a central and obvious difficulty. If at that stage the documentation is shown to be false, the ferry company has no alternative but to keep the now illegal immigrant on board until the ship returns to France or Belgium. At that point, it is likely that the authorities in that country will also refuse to accept the illegal immigrant. Faced with the alternative of shipping the unfortunate individual back and forth indefinitely, the company might well conclude that the only way out would be to land the immigrant in this country and pay the fine.
I have deliberately curtailed my remarks, but I hope that I have highlighted the major problem for ferry operators. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister will bear this in mind when replying to the debate.
§ Mr. Bermingham
The Government cannot have fully considered the volume of summer trade across the English Channel and the Irish sea. A refugee may jump ship at Cork, for instance, and then make his way to Dun Laoghaire and board a ship for England to seek political asylum. How are the ferry operators in Ireland expected to deal with that problem? The Government have clearly not thought the matter through. I endorse all that the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) has said about the English channel, and it applies equally to the Irish sea. How will the problem be dealt with at Cherbourg, for example, with ferries scooting backwards and forwards across the Channel in the high season, not to mention Jersey and Guernsey which are easily reached on day trips from the continent?
In theory, the ferry companies will have to purchase extra land and buildings at continental ports and have officers there to search everyone. We are supposed to be part of a European Community free travel zone, but that will be the situation. We cannot check people when they come off the ferry because the company will already be liable. The checking must take place in Ireland, in France, in Germany, in Denmark, and so on. Ferries going to other parts of Scandinavia and thus outside the European Community will also have to provide extra facilities to check every passenger.
Most people seem to imagine that the Bill is designed to deal only with people coming from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and places like that. In theory, however, it is to deal with anyone seeking to enter the United Kingdom without a visa, whether from eastern Europe, the middle east, north Africa, west Africa or even south America. and whether they be refugees or illegal immigrants. That means that everyone must be checked. One cannot simply go on colour because a person from eastern Europe will be the same colour as we are.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Perhaps I may develop my argument, Sir Paul. A refugee does not have to come from within the Community. He could have entered a Community country from anywhere in the world. The carrier, however, is operating out of a European port. That is why I have broadened the intake, as it were, because too much of today's debate has dealt only with illegal immigration. The same was true on Second Reading. As the Minister well knows, I am concerned about refugees. A refugee from the middle east may enter the European Community elsewhere and then come to a Channel port.
620 The amendment seeks to bring a sense of reality to these matters so that shipping companies operating ferries from European countries, including the Republic of Ireland, do not face liability. I believe that the Government have misunderstood the needs of the shipping industry and have failed to appreciate the enormity of the burden being placed upon that highly competitive industry. If companies have to abide by the Bill, which I do not like, the cost will be enormous because of the volume of traffic across the English channel and the Irish sea, particularly in the summer season.
The Bill, as drafted, is an invitation to the shipping companies to conclude that they should ignore it because there is no way in which they could economically comply with it. Any Act that invites people to ignore it through sheer economic necessity must be a bad Act because the object of English law and legislation is to be obeyed. If the Minister does not like the terms of the amendment, they could be adapted, but if the Bill is not amended the shipping industry will be in an extremely difficult position.
§ Mr. Hanley
I oppose the amendment for a few simple reasons. First, it would be disastrous if the Bill enshrined what could be seen as a weak link by those who would choose to exploit the lives of the miserable. It would become clear that to enter the United Kingdom from Common Market countries was easier than to do so from anywhere else, and that would be very unfair on carriers coming from outside Europe.
Secondly, those who support the amendment do not understand that immigration controls within the European Community are very different from controls on the borders of the United Kingdom. The European Community deals with internal controls; we concentrate on border controls. In the absence of identity cards within the United Kingdom, I feel that we should resist the amendment.
Hon. Members have given the impression that shipping companies and aircraft operators never look at any document before a passenger boards an aeroplane or boat, but checking tickets is the most basic part of the process.
§ Mr. Hanley
The hon. Gentleman said that he would be brief, and he was not. I shall be brief, and I shall stick to what I have said.
Checking tickets, and the additional task of checking a passport for an obvious forgery, would not cause much of an extra burden.
I remind the Committee that the powers in the Bill are discretionary. It is important for it not to contain a clause that weakens it, or fetters the Government in any way.
We in the United Kingdom rely considerably on the checks already carried out by carriers; we are also obliged' by many foreign countries to check tickets. It is perfectly reasonable for those involved in immigration at Dover or Heathrow, for instance, to play their part in our immigration policy.
Some countries do not institute border controls as we do—for instance, between East and West Berlin. I remind hon. Members of the poor people who have been. ferried across the Soviet Union, through East Germany to West Berlin and through West Germany to France. If such people believed that they could come to the United Kingdom without facing checks, their misery would be increased when they found that that was not the case. They 621 would try to reach the European Community and then enter the United Kingdom, often passing through many safe countries where they could have claimed asylum before eventually arriving here.
§ Mr. Madden
I, too, shall be brief. On 6 March, the Minister received a letter from Mr. Tim Whitfield, of Bradford metropolitan district community relations council, drawing his attention to requirements made by the French of visa nationals settled in the United Kingdom.
It said:I have recently had sight of correspondence between an Indian citizen and the French Consulate in London…You will see from the letter that the French consulate require a 'reentry visa to the United Kingdom from the Home Office'…If, as I suspect, the letter means to refer to the visa exempt stamp, then this would seem to be a significant extension of the use of that stamp. Instead of it being used by the airlines, it is in fact being used by the immigration officers of other countries.Will the Minister take the opportunity provided by the amendment to give an undertaking, that urgent representations are being made by the British Government to the French reminding them that such a requirement is unnecessary?
The letter from the French Consulate says:Your passport should be endorsed (when necessary) with the visa for the country you will enter when leaving France, and, eventually, with the re-entry visa into the United Kingdom before the French visa can be issued: the validity of this re-entry visa into the United Kingdom must exceed by one month at least the validity of the French visa.I should be grateful if, instead of attempting to obscure issues with bluster and abuse, the Minister would address himself to that problem.
§ Mr. Waddington
I do not know where the bluster and abuse come from, but I undertake to investigate the hon. Gentleman's point—although, as I think he will agree, it does not arise from the amendment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) is right: the amendment would create a huge gap in the scheme. As the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) said, a very heavy volume of traffic comes from other parts of the European Community—30 per cent. of the traffic coming into Great Britain comes by sea—and I fear that, as a result of the amendment, people would try to enter the country via Europe rather than coming here direct.
Furthermore, it does not seem very sensible to take steps that encourage people to go to Europe first before coming here. That would add to the problems of our European partners, which already face considerable problems at their frontiers. The immigration practice and procedures of the Community countries have not yet been harmonised. If we could reach agreement on that in the near future, it would be open to the Home Secretary not to require payment from carriers carrying passengers from within the European Community. However, in the meantime, we, like other countries in the Community, such as West Germany, Belgium and Holland, must take the action that we consider necessary to protect our immigration control.
We recognise the concern of the shipping companies and we appreciate that the Bill will add to their burdens. However, we feel that the extent of those burdens has been 622 overstated. I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) that the Bill is very tightly drawn. It relates only to those who require leave to enter this country. It does not apply to British citizens or to others who have the right of abode here, or to European Community nationals exercising their right of free movement under the treaty. It excludes the great majority of ferry passengers from the European continent. In fact, it excludes 80 per cent. of all passengers who arrive in this country having travelled here from Europe.
Surely it will not place an intolerable burden on a carrier to ask a person presenting his ticket to present a British or European Community passport. I thought that the concern of the ferry companies was based on the remaining 20 per cent. of cases, in which they would have to look at a foreign passport and, sometimes, see whether there was a visa inside that passport. I do not think that the ferry companies can complain about merely having to ask someone presenting his ticket to present his British passport.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that to find the 20 per cent. he will have to look at 100 per cent. because one cannot tell just by looking at someone whether he is French, German, Russian or Yugoslav? Every passport will have to be examined.
§ Mr. Waddington
I am saying that for 80 per cent. of travellers there will be no difficulty because everyone knows that a British citizen has the right of entry to the United Kingdom. Everybody knows that a person carrying a European Community passport has the right to come to the United Kingdom to work. There is no difficulty in respect of 80 per cent. of passengers who come here from Europe.
The difficulty arises only in relation to the remaining 20 per cent. of passengers. Passports, documents of identity and visas, if required, must be examined in only 20 per cent. of cases. We are not talking about other more complex forms of entry clearance such as entry certificates which depend upon establishing the reasons for a person's journey to the United Kingdom. Even in respect of the remaining 20 per cent. the carrier has to ensure only that the person has a passsport, that the passport contains a photograph, that it is valid and in date and not an obvious forgery. In the case of visa nationals, the carrier does not have to decide whether a person is entitled to settlement. The carrier must merely ensure that the visa which a visa national requires is in the passport. I mention that, not to deny that there will be an additional burden, but to ask hon. Members and the carriers to keep the issue in proportion.
We cannot expect carriers to stop clever forgeries or skilful impersonations. The Bill does not expect them to do that. There is no liability if the falsity is not reasonably apparent, as hon. Members will know from reading clause 1(4).
It is unpalatable news to some carriers, as was made clear by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft), that the test that we are incorporating in the Bill is the test which is already in the Immigration Act 1971. The words in the Bill are contained in schedule 2, paragraph 19(2), of that Act.
The Bill will be operated sensibly and reasonably, like the Immigration Act 1971, which already imposes burdens 623 on carriers. It imposes burdens on all carriers—ferry companies and airlines. The standard is not demanding. Carriers are not expected to have the type of skills expected of immigration officers. They are simply being encouraged to check that someone has what looks like a valid passport and, where necessary, a valid visa because otherwise a person's journey is a waste of time. That is not the same as acting as an immigration officer or doing his job for him.
§ Mr. Dubs
This would be simple if there were one type of British passport, but there are five or six different types of British passport. The Minister may know the difference between them but it will not be easy for someone employed by a ferry company standing at Calais to distinguish between a British citizen, a person with a new Hong Kong passport and others. The employee of the carrier will have to know which countries' citizens require visas and which do not. That is a lot of knowledge to carry in one's mind when checking quickly 1,000 or 2,000 passengers.
§ Mr. Waddington
There is no difficulty because none of the different forms of British nationality requires visas for entry. The passengers have only to present a British passport and that is the end of the problem.
The practical difficulties can be overcome. Ferry operators, like airline operators, will have to consider their arrangements at the ports. That is a matter for negotiation and agreement between them and the port authorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch referred to a matter which arose out of a statement by one of the ferry companies. The company said that it had been led to understand that it might be placed in some difficulty in the Netherlands as a result of Dutch law. We understand that under Dutch law carriers are obliged before selling tickets to ensure that the passenger has valid documents for his journey. If, on checking whether a passenger still has the necessary documents before embarkation, the carrier finds that a passenger seeking to travel on its ferry is undocumented, Dutch law obliges Dutch immigration officials to accept the passenger back on to Dutch soil. We therefore doubt whether the fears about Dutch law expressed by Sealink are justified.
I emphasise that discretion will be used sensibly. It is open to my right hon. Friend not to ask for payment in respect of an infringement of the legislation. Naturally, he will consider carefully and sympathetically arguments that a charge should not be made in a particular case. If for good reason a carrier is legally obliged to take a passenger without documents, or if some unsuspected crisis arises, as occurred tragically at Zeebrugge a few weeks ago, the Home Secretary would consider not imposing the charge. That is the best way to deal with any intractable and unavoidable problems which may arise for ferry companies.
§ Mr. Dubs
Under the Bill I understand that it is permissible only to levy a charge of £1,000 or nothing, unless, by Order in Council, that sum is changed. The sum of £1,000 may be in proportion to an airline fare for a journey halfway across the world, but it is out of proportion as a penalty on a shipping company because it is a large multiple of a ferry charge. Will that not make the Minister's task difficult when deciding how to apply his discretion?
§ Mr. Waddington
The likelihood of many cases arising is small. Since 5 March we have had occasion to write to 624 carriers in about 200 cases. Only 17 involved ferries. I might be wrong about that, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman if I am. Experience does not suggest that this is other than a minor problem. We shall exercise discretion sensibly.
The immigration service will provide full guidance, cooperation and assistance. It has already had an extensive meeting with the General Council of British Shipping, including Sealink and Townsend Thoresen. That meeting was held on 20 March. Written guidance has been prepared along with a video and documentation about what to look for. The service is ready to accept invitations and to speak to the staff at points of embarkation. I saw Sealink representatives yesterday.
The Government will continue to join its Community partners in considering collectively what steps to take to protect immigration controls and to deal with signs of abuse. If there are any practical difficulties which require inter-governmental consultations, we shall consider them.
It is significant that the European Community working group on asylum abuse included in its report to be considered by Ministers references to carrier sanctions. The legal difficulties referred to by the General Council of British Shipping were not identified by that working group.
I hope that I have given some comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and to the carrying companies. We shall do our best to help them. The House must balance the need for firm immigration control with the obligations and additional efforts that that may require of carrying companies.
The Bill limits the carrier's obligations; it provides safeguards and allows the Home Secretary to use his discretion not to impose a charge. I can assure the Committee that that discretion will be used sensibly.
We cannot responsibly recommend placing the burdens only on airlines, bearing in mind the high percentage of traffic which enters the country by sea—one-third of the traffic entering the United Kingdom. We cannot ignore the scope for abuse from these journeys, nor can we leave it all to our Community partners. The Bill is right to include shipping. With co-operation and a measure of determination from the shipping companies to match that already being shown by the airlines, any practical problems can be overcome.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
I beg to move amendment No. 9, in page 1, line 21, at end insert—'(3) No liability shall be incurred under subsection (1) above in respect of any person transported from a country in which there is no United Kingdom embassy or mission.'.
The amendment applies to a small problem, which would not be of great concern to the many refugees who come from countries where there is a United Kingdom embassy or commission. However, there are a few countries where there is no such embassy or commission. Given that the Government base their case for the Bill on the need to have the appropriate documents to travel by the various shipping lines and airlines and enter this country, it is important to note that in some cases those items are virtually impossible to secure.
625 Some of the countries with which we have no diplomatic relations are, by definition, places that are in turmoil—Libya and Syria, for instance. There are some countries in which we have no embassy or commission but where it is possible to obtain documents via a third country, such as Iran. Nevertheless, in some countries obtaining the necessary papers is very difficult.
The other category of country where there is no British representation is those that are so small or remote that they do not as yet merit the expense of a British diplomatic mission. Such countries include Chad, where there is currently conflict, and the Central African Republic, which has a chequered history. Going back a little further, in countries such as Angola there were difficulties and people may have wished to avail themselves of refugee status.
Previously, the Government's argument in some of those cases was that the people in question could travel to a third country and obtain the necessary documents to board shipping lines or airlines to come to this country. Taking that at face value, there are few countries where the people involved would have wished to come to Britain. In most cases they would have wished to travel to France or another European or Asian country. But if there were such people, it would be difficult for them to acquire documents if there were no way of doing it from a British representation in those countries.
§ Mr. Hanley
The hon. Gentleman is saying, therefore, that there is hardly a country from which an individual may wish to come directly to the United Kingdom rather than going to another country first where he could claim asylum. Surely the hon. Gentleman is over-egging the matter because of the small numbers that he envisages. Would it not be better to remove this clause and merely allow the Secretary of State discretion, which is inherent in the Bill in any event?
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
One could argue the opposite and say that, if it is such a small matter, let us pass the amendment. However, if it is a question of discretion being applied, when it was applied with regard to the Tamils—which sparked off this matter—it turned out that it had not been applied in ways that many hon. Members would have wished.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
The hon. Gentleman says that we do not know yet, but the indications are that some—a minority perhaps—will be given refugee status.
The hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) is right: this is not a major issue. However, in some respects the Government pray in aid other countries which have enacted the same laws. If that is true, how do we deal with the difficulty of getting out of a country unless there is a way of obtaining documents to go to another country from which they can come here? If only a few people are involved, it is precisely those for whom one should have consideration if there is conflict in Syria, Albania or Libya, because there may be people who wish to come here who, for whatever reason, will not go to a third country. Therefore, even if it is not a major point, it is worth noting that a problem may arise.
§ Mr. Waddington
The hon. Gentleman is right; this is not a major issue. It is a splendid example of how, during 626 the debates on the Bill, all sorts of extraordinary hypothetical situations have been raised, none of which comes within a mile of what the right hon. Lady the Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) referred to earlier as the real world.
I shall bore the Committee with some interesting statistics which are, rather fascinating. There are 31 countries in the world without United Kingdom representation. The nationals of 22 of those countries require visas to come to the United Kingdom. In 1985 there were only 22 applications for asylum from the citizens of all 31 countries. Some 20 of those applications were from citizens of Niger, for which there is no visa requirement. During the year there were no grants of refugee status to any of those 22 applicants.
I think that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) will agree that he does not seem to have put his finger on a major problem. However, hypothetically and potentially, the amendment creates yet another loophole. The protection that it purports to provide is unnecessary for bona fide travellers. The loophole is obvious—anyone who contrives to get to one of these small countries which does not have a United Kingdom post could travel on from there without the documents that are required by the Bill and no liability would arise under the legislation. He or she would not have to be a national of one of those small countries. Clearly, the amendment would cover anyone who left his own country on a journey with stop-overs and used those stop-overs to come on here. That would greatly extend the scope for abuse.
The amendment would help any visa national whose own country did not have a British embassy or mission to avoid the visa requirement. That cannot possibly be right when one cannot identify even the beginnings of a problem. In practice, few if any of these countries have direct flights to the United Kingdom, so visas can easily be obtained when the passenger stops off en route. The inconvenience that is caused is more than justified by the case for requiring visas from nationals of those countries. Since they need visas to come here, it is entirely reasonable to expect them to show that they have such visas before the carrier brings them to this country. If they have left one of those obscure countries, if I may rudely so call them, and gone to another country because of the conditions there, this country, by definition, would not be their first country of refuge.
I find it very difficult to identify any problem. In those circumstances, I cannot recommend the amendment to the Committee.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
I retire discomfited. The Minister does not hesitate to read out his full brief. I do not think he gives us a chance on these occasions. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported, without amendment.
§ Order for Third Reading, read.
§ 7.9 pm
§ Mr. Waddington
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill is short but it is well constructed, timely and necessary. I shall be as brief as the Bill. I do not believe 627 that anybody listening to our proceedings this afternoon would have come to the conclusion that there were any great loopholes in the Bill or ob/ into which genuine refugees would fall. In fact, all the discussion this afternoon has gone to prove what a sensible Bill it is, dealing with a practical problem.
We really would have been failing in our duty as a Government if, having identified a yawning gap in the control, we had not set out to fill that gap. We have done that, and I invite the House to give a resounding—if that is the right expression—Third Reading to the Bill.
§ Mr. Corbyn
The Bill is squalid, introduced in haste, racist and inhumane in operation. It is a disgrace to the House that it has been introduced and it will go down in history as one of the more disgraceful acts of the Home Secretary's reign over immigration and refugee law. The Government have sought to use people applying to come to Britain as genuine asylum seekers to hype up racist hysteria in the Murdoch press and others and have introduced a Bill that turns its back on the victims of oppression in other parts of the world.
Opposition Members have opposed the Bill because it does not hang together in any sense. The core of the Bill relies on there not being any independent system of appeal against arbitrary decision by immigration officers or Ministers. When the Government were challenged on the right of appeal at the time of the Vietnamese refugee case, their defence was that cases could go to UKIAS or to Members of Parliament or to judicial review.
The Minister has made it clear that the Bill means that Members of Parliament will have no right to intervene and UKIAS will have no automatic right to intervene. People will not even be able to stay in Britain while a judicial review is pending. Instead, they will be thrown out.
Britain is turning its back on the refugee problems of many parts of the world, some of which are our creation or stem from colonial times. A slightly more responsible attitude towards refugees is required than the Government have shown. They should listen more carefully to what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said about the Bill.
The Home Secretary announced the introduction of the Bill because of the mess that the Government had got themselves into over the Tamil asylum seekers. But the implications will go far and wide and reach anyone seeking political asylum from any part of the world unless they can come here with well forged or agreed documentation.
The Minister knows full well that the history of people seeking political asylum from oppressive regimes means that they must resort to all sorts of methods to flee that oppression. If it is good enough for the Prime Minister to welcome asylum seekers from the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, why has she introduced the Bill, if not for the very reason that the Home Secretary announced—that he wishes to have no part in the problems of the Third world as seen by the Government?
This is a rather unpleasant step towards greater European racism and xenophobia, and I look forward to the day when an independent appeals system can be introduced in Britain so that asylum seekers may have their cases properly heard and not decided in the discreditable way that the Minister proposes in the Bill.
§ Mr. Bidwell
This is a sad Bill. It means that it will be much harder for genuine refugees to make their way to Britain. However, I must also confess that I doubt whether we shall hear of many cases of carriers being fined £1,000 after being taken to court and perhaps having appealed. In some instances, one would be trying to fine foreign states because many foreign states run airlines. I doubt whether, when we ask how many such cases have arisen, there will be many. The general tone is that it will be harder for genuine refugees to make their way to these shores, and that is a crying shame.
§ Mr. Dubs
There are two key issues. The first is that as recently as the autumn of 1985 the Government said in their White Paper that there were three safeguards for people seeking asylum status. All those three safeguards have now been torn up and the Government have turned their back on the commitment that they made as recently as the autumn of 1985.
Secondly, as I think the House will agree, the key issue in dealing with asylum seekers is deciding who has a genuine claim. That is always a difficult problem and nobody has denied it. Nobody in the course of all these discussions has ever said that we should forget that that problem exists and simply concentrate on other matters.
The Minister has decided to remove the problem from these shores elsewhere. I am sorry that he has decided to do that. It is perfectly clear to the Minister—he will not deny it—that there will be asylum seekers; there will be people in fear of persecution who will not be able to reach these shores and who will be in danger of their lives. They may not be many and they may find other countries that are more accommodating, but the fact is that that will be one consequence of this legislation.
I regret that that has had to be the case. I regret that we could not continue with our normal tradition of tolerance and welcome for all asylum seekers who seek refuge here. That tradition is many centuries old. and tonight the Government have closed the door on it.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 147, Noes 57.630
|Division No. 128]||[7.15 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Gow, Ian|
|Body, Sir Richard||Greenway, Harry|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Ground, Patrick|
|Bright, Graham||Grylls, Michael|
|Brinton, Tim||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Harris, David|
|Colvin, Michael||Harvey, Robert|
|Coombs, Simon||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Cope, John||Hayes, J.|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Dicks, Terry||Hayward, Robert|
|Durant, Tony||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Heddle, John|
|Fallon, Michael||Hill, James|
|Forth, Eric||Hirst, Michael|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Franks, Cecil||Holt, Richard|
|Fraser, Peter (Angus East)||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Freeman, Roger||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Gale, Roger||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)|
|Galley, Roy||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Jessel, Toby||Osborn, Sir John|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Ottaway, Richard|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Jones, Robert (Herts W)||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Key, Robert||Powell, William (Corby)|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Powley, John|
|Knowles, Michael||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Knox, David||Price, Sir David|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Lester, Jim||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Lightbown, David||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Lilley, Peter||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Shersby, Michael|
|Lord, Michael||Silvester, Fred|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|McCrindle, Robert||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Spencer, Derek|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)|
|Maclean, David John||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stanley, Rt Hon John|
|Malins, Humfrey||Steen, Anthony|
|Malone, Gerald||Stern, Michael|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Mather, Sir Carol||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Mellor, David||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Merchant, Piers||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Moate, Roger||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton S)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Walden, George|
|Newton, Tony||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Waller, Gary|
|Norris, Steven||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Onslow, Cranley||Warren, Kenneth|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Watts, John|
|Wells, Bowen (Hertford)||Yeo, Tim|
|Whitfield, John||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wiggin, Jerry||Mr Michael Portillo and|
|Wolfson, Mark||Mr Richard Ryder.|
|Anderson, Donald||McWilliam, John|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Madden, Max|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Marek, Dr John|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Buchan, Norman||Nellist, David|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Pike, Peter|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Raynsford, Nick|
|Clelland, David Gordon||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Corbett, Robin||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Cunlitfe, Lawrence||Shields, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Dubs, Alfred||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Fisher, Mark||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Foster, Derek||Skinner, Dennis|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Freud, Clement||Snape, Peter|
|George, Bruce||Soley, Clive|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Spearing, Nigel|
|Gould, Bryan||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)||Strang, Gavin|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Taylor, Matthew|
|Haynes, Frank||Wainwright, R.|
|Howells, Geraint||Winnick, David|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Janner, Hon Greville|
|Livsey, Richard||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Mr. Jeremy Corbyn and|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Mr. Sydney Bidwell.|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.