§ 8.45 p.m.
§ House again in Committee.
§ Clause 3 [Fingerprinting]:
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)
If Amendment No. 7 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 8.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 2, line 5, leave out from ("his;") to end of line 8 and insert ("except that asylum-seekers under the age of 18 years, whether unaccompanied or a dependant, shall not be finger-printed.").
§ The noble Lord said: With this amendment we start our discussion of Clause 3. Looking at our 620 amendments on this clause I feel that we are only scratching the surface of the absurdities that exist there—that is to say, the extent to which a full-blown fingerprinting procedure is brought into asylum law without any clear indication of how it is going to operate, what effect it will have or what relationship it will have with fundamental civil rights.
§ I am not an out-and-out opponent of fingerprinting under all circumstances. I myself have been fingerprinted at 3.30 in the morning when awakened by the police, who said that they had stopped somebody driving a car in the boot of which there was stolen property which had come from my house. They insisted on coming round at that moment to obtain a statement from me and also to obtain my fingerprints. At 3.30 a.m. one is not very conscious of one's civil rights. On reflection I am sure that I should have said "What are these fingerprints to be used for? Can I be assured in writing that they will be destroyed when the occasion for their use has expired?" and so on, but I did not do that. I was anxious to make my statement and to get back to bed. I was so anxious that I wrote the statement myself rather than trust a policeman to write it for me and then I signed it. The police thought that was an extraordinary procedure.
§ So, of itself, fingerprinting is not objectionable. However, the fingerprinting of asylum seekers is a very extraordinary procedure. When the original Bill first came before another place in November 1991, Ministers described it as being a process to maintain our system's integrity and to help check cases where there is evidence of multiple social security claims. That is what it is intended to do.
§ That is all very well, but every time we have asked about multiple applications for asylum we have come down to very small figures. Only this afternoon the Minister admitted that there were only 27 convictions for multiple applications. One or two of them have been very dramatic and Ministers quote them at all possible opportunities. But that does not mean of itself that it is a very serious problem.
§ It is now being claimed that fingerprinting is going to be used for other purposes as well. It is to be used for co-ordinating the activities of the Department of Social Security and the Home Office Immigration Service. I do not see any explicit plans for that to be done. I do not see any provision that fingerprints are going to be obtained by the Department of Social Security and, when inquiries are made of the Home Office, produced for checking against the Home Office records compiled under this clause.
§ If it were suggested that the Department of Social Security were to begin fingerprinting applicants for benefit I believe that there would be a much wider outcry than there has been on this particular provision. I certainly do not see how in practice the proposed fingerprinting will be effective. I realise that to some extent I am speaking about the wider issues that can be covered in a debate that the clause stand part of the Bill. I promise the Committee that that means I will not repeat my arguments when we come to that debate, but I think it is proper that 621 amendments on particular subjects should be introduced by a general conspectus of the position as regards fingerprinting.
§ Ministers, in dealing with the previous Bill, did not give any assurance that fingerprints would be kept confidential in any way; indeed, they said they were not persuaded that there were any grounds for treating them any differently from even more sensitive material. A number of people will feel that there are grounds for treating fingerprints with a good deal of confidentiality and that we are far down the road to a police state if we start to fingerprint those who are not accused of any criminal activity. I must remind the Committee that that is the situation with asylum seekers. They are not being accused of any criminal activity, nor, to refer back to my own case, are they being required to be witnesses in any case involving criminal activity. For the first time fingerprinting is being extended to what is in effect a civil proceeding, even though it may be thought of as an international civil proceeding.
§ That leads me to my next query about fingerprinting. What are the international implications of fingerprinting? If it is to be effective and government are worried about concurrent applications to different countries, will the fingerprints be made available to immigration departments in other safe countries? If so (in the classic phrase) I believe that we should be told. But we are not being told how those fingerprints will be used. We are told in subsections (6), (7) and (8) about the provisions for the destruction of fingerprints. I welcome that. However, that does not give any indication of the kind of provision that there would have to be analogous to that in the Data Protection Act 1984 if the security of fingerprinting and the transfer of fingerprints to unsuitable third parties were to be prevented.
§ I turn to the first of the specific amendments on the Order Paper in the name of myself, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon. The noble Baroness sends her apologies. She is lecturing in Guildford this evening and is unable to be with us. In this amendment we turn to perhaps the most obvious and extreme of the intrusions on civil liberties introduced by Clause 3, that is, the proposal that fingerprinting should be extended to children under the age of 18 or (if you like) to minors. I find the proposal quite extraordinary. In the context of what I have already said I can just about understand that the Government may seek to argue that the fingerprinting of adult applicants is a justifiable procedure, although I disagree with that argument. But to argue that it should be extended to those under the age of 18 seems to me absolutely extraordinary.
§ I invite the Committee to consider the position of these children coming to this country. We must assume for the purposes of debate that they are coming from countries where there has been oppression, persecution and perhaps torture and where action has been taken against them and their families by the authorities, because it is authorities that undertake these actions. The idea that one of the first things to happen to them in what is supposed to 622 be a safe haven is that their hands should be plonked down on an inked pad and then on to a sheet of paper is most extraordinary. The right reverend Prelate correctly said that the state in which they find themselves is traumatic. Surely, this is exactly a situation that will revive all the worst fears that they have. It will revive the trauma and reduce or remove their confidence in the independence and justice of the authorities in the country in which they find themselves. I do not believe that as a civilised country we should in any circumstances wish to impose these fingerprinting procedures on children coming to this country. Certainly, this extension of what otherwise is a procedure adopted in criminal cases seems quite extraordinary. I beg to move.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
During the Second Reading debate some of us expressed our disquiet over the matter of fingerprinting. I expressed disquiet on the ground that I was not convinced that it was necessary. I inquired why the standard acknowledgment letter should not be a sufficient requirement to avoid multiple applications. I understand that the purpose of fingerprinting is primarily to avoid that. I have seen very little evidence that the standard acknowledgment letter is not successful in greatly reducing the number of multiple applications. The Minister replied at Second Reading that he felt fingerprints were the only totally safe way, but I have yet to see evidence that there is multiple application under the standard acknowledgment letter. I am by no means convinced that this is necessary. If to that is added the weight of argument that we have already heard it seems to me that there is a strong case against fingerprinting.
The case has been argued on the ground that it is an infringement of our civil liberties. It is not the custom in our country to do it except when people are accused of criminal offences. As I argued on Second Reading, for those coming to this country the association between fingerprinting and what they may have already experienced will be a traumatic experience.
When we apply the provision to children the case becomes even more overwhelming. I can find no evidence that children under 18 are making multiple applications. Why is it necessary that they should be fingerprinted? Why should it be included in the Bill when there is no apparent abuse that is sought to be remedied? If that is the case, I also argue that children and teenagers are more likely to be in trauma than adults as a result of experiences they have had in their own country. I believe that the amendment that asylum seekers under the age of 18, whether unaccompanied or dependent, should not be fingerprinted is a wise and proper one.
The Government have made the concession that children under 16 must be fingerprinted only in the presence of an adult who is not an authorised person. That is a welcome concession, but there is no indication of who is an appropriate adult. Further, there has been no real concession on the matter of age. Is it not possible for the Government to consider setting a minimum age for fingerprinting along the 623 lines of the amendment? I believe that because fingerprinting is unnecessary for children we should take serious note of the amendment.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
In the absence of my noble friend Lady Seear who, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has already said, has an engagement elsewhere tonight, I should not want the argument not to be reinforced from these Benches. It is a subject upon which Liberals, from way back, have felt strongly. That is not to say that these days one might not take a slightly more relaxed view about it. Indeed, like the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, I have been fingerprinted in somewhat similar circumstances. After arriving at Heathrow at 12.30 a.m. and finding that the car that was going to take me back into the centre of London had been broken into, the police wanted my fingerprints to check with the fingerprints that were already in the car to see whether any extraneous ones could identify the miscreant. I gave them willingly because it was late at night and I did not worry too much about my civil rights.
On the other hand, it is clearly in the minds of people in this country, let alone people from overseas, that fingerprinting is something which is attached to criminality. It is that flavour of criminality associated with fingerprints that we do not want to attach to people who are seeking refuge in this country. The Government may think that they are all criminals, I do not know. But they should not give that impression. The case was argued well by the right reverend Prelate. I shall not add to the argument. I wish merely to say that I am entirely behind the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the right reverend Prelate.
One is bound to ask, why fingerprints? There is another side to the coin. It might be in the interests of some children to have their fingerprints taken, because, for instance, under the Children Act 1989 it is sometimes possible to reunite children with their families. Some families who put a child on an aeroplane to save it for the time being, but hoping to see it again later, have the child's fingerprints taken before it comes to this country so that they may reclaim the child later. That sounds far-fetched, but it has been known to happen. There is another side to the coin.
§ Lord Renton
The effect of Amendment No. 7 would be to exempt all people under 18 from fingerprinting. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, made it clear that he did not object, in principle, to the fingerprinting of adults. How right he is.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I should make myself clear. I do not object to fingerprinting under all circumstances, but I have not said that I would approve of the fingerprinting of asylum seekers.
§ Lord Renton
If I may say so, the noble Lord's experience in this matter —I am looking at it in the broad—must be some years out of date. It is now known, and well-established—some statistics can be 624 given I understand—that many people come here under one name and seek asylum. The application is turned down. They then try again under another name. That is called making multiple applications. There are vast numbers of them. There are those who succeed in avoiding the net, and the social security people have great problems. People sometimes apply for social security under more than one name. That has been done on a considerable scale.
§ Lord Tordoff
Perhaps the noble Lord will give way. Is he suggesting that the whole population should be fingerprinted so that no one should be able to make multiple social security applications? It does not seem to me that the social security benefit argument bears upon the asylum argument. It is a smokescreen that has been put up by the Government.
§ Lord Renton
I hope that it will never come to that, but it so happens that there are people who have been given the privilege of coming to this country to live who have done that more often than the native people of this country. Perhaps noble Lords will look at the Explanatory Memorandum where Clause 3 is explained. They will see how fingerprinting will work. Clause 3:provides for a person who has made a claim for asylum to be required to have his fingerprints taken, or to attend for fingerprinting, and empowers an immigration officer or constable to arrest without warrant a person who fails to comply with a requirement to attend".It continues:Fingerprints are to be destroyed at the end of ten years or (if sooner) one month after the person concerned has been granted indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. Similar powers may be exercised in relation to any dependant of such a claimant but a child under 16 may only be fingerprinted in the presence of an independent adult".We come to that point in greater detail in the next amendment.
I should mention, because the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, did not seem to be aware of it, that there are many countries which fingerprint all or some of the people arriving in those countries. I have been fingerprinted in two different parts of the world on my first visit to friendly countries. I only hope that it has not been found so necessary to do that in more recent years. Within the European Community, it is only the Republic of Ireland which has not taken some power to fingerprint asylum seekers. In France and Switzerland, where extensive computer checks have been run on asylum applicants, between 5 per cent. and 20 per cent. have been found to be multiple applicants; that is to say, people trying to make applications more than once.
A strong case as regards fingerprinting has been made out. I believe that the Government have it about right. For social security purposes it is only right that there should be a power to take the fingerprints of people under 16, but in the presence of a person of full age who is not an authorised person—in other words a police officer or an immigration officer. I hope and expect that my noble friend Lord Ferrers will feel it right to resist the amendment.
§ Lord Tordoff
The statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, was not of his usual high standard. He said that people who come into this 625 country are more liable to be social security scroungers than people who are indigenous to this country. That statement is unworthy of him.
§ Lord Renton
I understand that the position I described is the actual position.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I hesitate to interrupt on the same basis because I know that the Minister has yet to reply. I admit that in a sense I opened the debate widely to encompass social security matters. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, is usually most meticulous in confining his remarks to the particular amendment before the Committee. I must remind him that it refers to those under the age of 18. As social security benefits were taken away from 16 and 17 year-olds there are no social security implications under this amendment.
§ Lord Renton
But we must bear in mind that where people on social security have the right to claim benefit in respect of dependants it is only right that the position of the dependants should be known. There should not be multiple applications in respect of dependants.
I support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, about multiple applications. The other day I was talking to some Bangladeshi friends in the Gloucester Road area. After careful interrogation one man told me that he had a friend who had five different houses in that area and they were all obtained by completely false applications made through the usual channels.
Although the practice of fingerprinting has largely died out it used to be common in the Persian Gulf and parts of Arabia, which I knew well. Fingerprints were widely used as receipts on payrolls. The practice has largely died out but in the minds of primitive Africans the fingerprint is still thought of as a receipt.
§ Viscount Brentford
To ensure that I have no friends in the Committee perhaps I may say that I am as unhappy with the amendment as I am with the original draft of the Bill. As I said on Second Reading, I am unhappy with the provision for the unlimited fingerprinting of minors under the age of 18 in particular. Tonight during the supper break I spoke with a friend who is or has been chairman of the National Consumer Council. She said that if one fingerprints children who are asylum seekers they will be traumatised for life. I am unhappy with the proposal.
On the other hand, I take account of what was said by my noble friend Lord Ferrers on Second Reading. He said that often when people arrive in this country without documentation one cannot tell their age. If the amendment were accepted it would be easy for someone to say that he was 17 when in fact he was 20. One would have no evidence to dispute that.
Rather than accepting the amendment or the provisions in the Bill, will my noble friend accept an amendment along the lines of the words he used on Second Reading. They fit exactly with what I believe should be in the Bill. He said that one of the difficulties that would arise if we were to put in the age would be wrangles about that person's age. He added: 626We made it perfectly clear that we had no intention of routinely fingerprinting young children".But the Bill gives the Government the power to do so.but we think that it is important to retain the possibility of fingerprinting in particular cases, to avoid creating a loophole which could be abused".—[Official Report, 26/1/93; col. 1221.]I should strongly support the amendment as drafted if it included the provision that in certain particular cases the Home Office had the power to fingerprint children. I do not accept the Bill as it is drafted, but I should be prepared to give my noble friend that exemption if it would be an acceptable compromise.
I sometimes think that we get too fussed about fingerprinting. It is a fairly modest thing to do and as a result of having done it people who conduct their lives correctly have nothing whatever to fear. It is only those who conduct their lives improperly who have cause for fear. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said that he has had his fingerprints taken and that he did not object to it in principle provided that it was applied under all circumstances. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, also said that he had his fingerprints taken. I accept that there is a degree of apprehension at the thought of fingerprints being taken but I believe that that is exaggerated.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said that it is reminiscent of a police state. In this case, this has nothing to do with the police at all. In fact, it was not the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, who said that but the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. This is entirely a matter for Home Office officials dealing with asylum cases.
The right reverend Prelate said that there is no evidence of multiple applications. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, gave my noble friend Lord Renton a rocket in the most delightful way and said that my noble friend's speech about social security had nothing to do with the amendment because the amendment deals with whether or not children under the age of 18 should have their fingerprints taken. I thought that that was a bit rich coming from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who spent the first five minutes of his speech on a clause stand part debate discussing the merits of fingerprinting. My noble friend was quite right to refer to that.
People who contravene those rules make false applications. The right reverend Prelate is worried about that. However, I can tell him that 27 people have been convicted of making multiple applications, which involved 700 different identities. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said that that is not many. It is rather like the proverbial maid who, when she was accused of having an illegitimate baby, said, "well, it is only a small one". However, those people have committed crimes and have been convicted of them. Of course, there may be others who remain undetected.
The Government are merely saying that we must fingerprint people in order to prevent such abuse. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon said that that is not fair and that people are traumatised. I accept that people who come to this country under these circumstances may be in a traumatic state. 627 However, if they are in such a state, it seems a fairly modest request merely to ask them to put their fingers on a pad, if that is what they must do to get from an uncomfortable country into a more comfortable one. I do not believe that that is a particularly difficult request when it is known that many people come here fraudulently.
My noble friend Lord Brentford was kind enough to quote what I said on Second Reading. It is not anticipated that it will be necessary to fingerprint every child. We do not intend routinely to fingerprint very young children. However, there will be circumstances in which fingerprinting is both necessary for identification purposes and desirable in the child's interests. It is important that we should have the power to be able to do that without hindrances which would necessarily result from complex exemptions.
A small proportion of unaccompanied children arrive here seeking asylum in their own right. It can be very difficult to asses visually the age of such children who arrive here without documents. A rigid requirement to treat differently children of a particular age would be operationally difficult as well as inappropriate, particularly if the age limit were as high as 18.
The right reverend Prelate was concerned that there should be a minimum age. He and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, accept that it is difficult to assess people's ages. I do not know whether the right reverend Prelate has looked at any 15 year-olds lately but he might have mistaken them for 18 year-olds. It is always difficult to judge. The policy to exclude those below a certain age from the fingerprinting provisions might exacerbate the considerable problems posed by the disposal of identification documents. A 19 year-old might find it very helpful to dispose of his papers and then claim that he is only 15. There is no reason why a child might not be drawn into fraud by making false applications in the same way as adult applicants are. We need to prevent that.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, wanted to know whether the Department of Social Security would have access to fingerprints. The department will not take fingerprints nor will it have access to fingerprints taken by the Home Office. The Home Office will take fingerprints to establish the identity of asylum applicants before issuing the standard acknowledgement letter which the Department of Social Security will expect to see produced when an asylum seeker claims benefit. It is a simple process that we are suggesting should be included in the Bill. Members of the Committee have suggested making a cut-off date. I believe that would prove to be complicated in practice. I repeat the undertaking that I have already given: it is not expected that every child should always be fingerprinted. However, the power should be there.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
I wish to press the Minister on one point. He referred to the 27 cases of multiple application. I accept that those took place. My query relates to whether those occurred before the present form of standard acknowledgement letter was 628 in place or after that date. Can the Minister tell the House how many cases have occurred since the present form of the standard acknowledgement letter was established? I have heard it said by those involved in this field that that device has been successful in reducing multiple applications.
I cannot answer that question. I shall try to find out about it. The point is that many of the people we are discussing make fraudulent applications. If a fingerprinting system were established, it would go a long way towards preventing those fraudulent applications. If this is a case of "belts and braces"—though I do not think it is—there is nothing wrong with that.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am sure the Minister in his reply made what he thought was an uncompromising speech about this amendment. The Minister may not welcome this suggestion but I believe his response was bristling with opportunities for compromise and with opportunities for reaching a reasonable solution. He has already said the matter we are discussing would not be a routine procedure. Ministers in another place have said the same thing.
The Minister has made it clear that one of the problems with choosing the age of 18 is that it is possible that some people over the age of 18 would pose as under 18 year-olds. The obvious solution to that is to state that fingerprinting could be used on those who appear to be, or are deemed to be, over the age of 18. Some such formula could be used. If the problem is the age of 18, perhaps the Government should adopt the age of 14, the age of puberty, or the age of 10. Any contributions would be gratefully received on that matter, as the power the Government are taking is clearly above and beyond the requirements of the situation.
There may well have been 700 claimed identities in the 27 applications we have discussed. However, one should not insert a whole clause in the Bill on the basis of 27 convictions, particularly as the Minister could not answer the relevant question asked by the right reverend Prelate on whether the multiple applications took place before the standard application document had been brought into force.
I suspect that a great deal of what is in this Bill represents sheer stubbornness on the part of the Government. They introduced it in 1991 and it fell before the 1992 general election. During that period it was possible first of all to increase the number of immigration officers so that the queue for asylum decreased dramatically. Secondly, it was possible to introduce a standard application letter with a photograph so that problems of mistaken identity, or misuse of identity, were reduced. I suspect that the situation in late 1992 and 1993 is that the vast bulk of this Bill is not necessary at all. It is only rigidity and a sense of amour propre on the part of the Government that has made them bring it forward under changed circumstances.
But surely there is room for compromise on the fingerprinting of children. That is a specific point. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, talked about multiple applications in vast numbers. That needs some 629 substantiation if the Committee is to take it seriously. I regret that the noble Lord referred to his supposition that people who come into this country are more likely to make false social security applications than native people. Like the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, I do not think that that is worthy of him or that that is the way his mind really works. Nor do I believe that there is any evidence that that is the case.
The noble Lord assumed that I did not know that fingerprinting is required in countries in the European Community other than Ireland. Of course I know that fingerprinting is required. But I am concerned that we should retain our civilised attitude towards such matters and should not be drawn into fingerprinting simply because other countries already require it.
The most effective and valuable speech was that of the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford. I beg the Government to listen to him and perhaps to talk to him between now and Report stage. In his reference to what the Minister said at Second Reading he appeared to identify a spirit of compromise which could be acted on. I should he very pleased to talk to the Minister between now and Report stage. I do not ask him to agree to any particular course of action, but I believe that this is a matter to which we ought to return at some stage. On that basis I would prefer not to press the amendment at present. I believe that there is room for manoeuvre. I hope and believe that the Government will recognise that when they consider the arguments which have been put forward tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 8:
§ Page 2, line 8, at end insert ("and who is either the parent, guardian or advocate of the child, or a social worker or other responsible adult aged 18 or over who is not employed by the police or the immigration service.").
§ The noble Lord said: In the absence of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and since my noble friend Lady David is unable to be present, I am the only person in the Chamber whose name appears on the amendment. Therefore I rise to move the amendment, and I shall do so fairly formally.
§ The amendment was put forward in another place by Mr. Robert Maclennan. It seemed to me a very modest and reasonable amendment. I thought from Ministers' responses in Committee in another place that it had struck home to some extent and that there might be room for manoeuvre. It was the only Liberal Democrat initiative in Committee in another place and I am happy to leave the thrust of the argument to them. I beg to move.
§ Lord Tordoff
In the absence of my noble friend Lady Seear I should like to speak to the amendment. It relates to the same subsection as the previous amendment. The subsection as it stands states that:fingerprints shall not be taken from a person under the age of sixteen except in the presence of a person of full age who is not an authorised person".It is interesting that the Government are apparently able to distinguish those people who are under 16 whereas they are not able to distinguish those people who are under 18. We had a long argument in 630 connection with the previous amendment in which it was suggested that it would be very difficult to accept that amendment because it related to people who were under 18. The Government said that it was very difficult to tell the age of people from various parts of the world. However, apparently they can tell when people are under 16 even though they cannot tell whether they are under 18.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that in the case of people under the age of 16 the,person of full age who is not an authorised person",is someone in whom the child can have confidence and that it is not accepted that it is not a policeman or immigration officer but is someone who is nominated by a policeman or immigration officer. The amendment is intended to define a group of people in whom the child can have trust and in whom the system can have trust. It spells out a number of people —parents, guardians, advocates of the child or social workers. We are talking about people who understand children and are able to talk to the child and act as an interpreter for the child in a very difficult situation.
The amendment is self-explanatory. I commend it to the Committee.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
Perhaps I may say this with deep respect. The two noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment have indulged in a self-defeating exercise. They want exemption for children under 16. The Bill is more generous than their amendment in that respect. It refers to,the presence of a person of full age who is not an authorised person".Those words in the amendment are unnecessary because an "authorised person" is defined under Clause 3(1) as,an immigration officer, constable, [or] prison officer",and so on. Therefore the words,who is not employed by the police or the immigration serviceare unnecessary. They overlap what has gone before, and, indeed, narrow the provision.
The expression,parent, guardian or advocate of the child, or a social worker or other responsible adult aged 18 or over",is a fairly full definition. However, it is of less wide effect than the words in the Bill, which are,in the presence of a person of full age".That is a very wide definition. We know that the motives of the noble Lords opposite are well intentioned. I should have thought that they would wish to leave the Bill as it stands.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I have seldom heard from the noble Lord a more profound misunderstanding of the purpose of an amendment. It is most unlike him. The intention of the Bill as drafted is to provide that the witness to the fingerprinting shall be,a person of full age who is not an authorised person".Indeed, it is a concession which was agreed by Government in another place. However, we are asking that the protection of children be extended by ensuring that the person is not merely qualified by not being an authorised person—that is a police officer, immigration officer, or whatever the case may be—but 631 should genuinely be someone who can be relied on to have the interests of the child at heart. Therefore it is precisely that closer definition of a person who is not an authorised person and is a witness of the fingerprinting which is required by the amendment.
We are conscious of the Bill's provisions. We are conscious of what the amendment states. It is not a mistake on our part. That is the provision we seek. We are looking for someone who can be relied on genuinely to have the interests of the child at heart. We do not refer to someone, for example, who is simply plucked off the streets, as used to be the case with coroners' juries.
§ Lord Renton
The noble Lord has said that I do not understand the purpose of the amendment. All that I can say is that he has no idea of its effect.
I do not like to interrupt this repartee across the Floor of the Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, made great play with the point that on the last amendment the Government had said that one cannot tell whether a person is over or under the age of 18, and yet in this case one can tell who is or is not under 16. The noble Lord believed that he had made a good point. I say this to him. Had the last amendment succeeded, people were going to be excused the requirement to be fingerprinted. Under the Bill as drafted, people under 16 will be given a right. The right that they are given is to be attended by an adult. If a person says, "I am under 16", it will be up to them to show that they are under 16. In the Bill we give them a right.
I can assure the Committee that we accept the principle that the person should be someone who is independent of the immigration authorities and the police. Where the child has a parent, guardian or legal representative, or a social worker who is already known to him, we normally expect that person to be present during the procedure. However, I shall certainly consider bringing forward an amendment at a later stage to put that beyond doubt.
§ Lord Tordoff
I am grateful to the noble Earl for that. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has already said, the essence of the amendment is to make sure that the person who is with the child is someone with whom that child can communicate and who is on the child's side. If the noble Earl can work that into the Bill, we should be most grateful.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I shall have to find some occasion to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, in order to avoid the accusation which the Minister makes that we always agree with each other. However, I do agree with him. The Minister's last sentence was extremely encouraging when he said that he would look for a way on this. I shall not try to 632 paraphrase what he said but it was that action might be taken between now and a later stage. On that basis and on the basis that I shall be glad to talk to him about it between now and the later stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I was rightly chided for raising wider issues in introducing the first precise amendment but I promised that I would not repeat the arguments that I put in support of Amendment No. 7 at this stage. Let us be quite clear about the position of the Opposition on fingerprinting. We are not opposed to it as part of the detection of crime, whether it is fingerprinting of criminals or presumed criminals or of witnesses—as was the case with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and myself.
What we are opposed to is the extension of fingerprinting to what is not a criminal activity. We are not impressed by the arguments from the 27 cases that there is a vast amount of criminal activity involved in the seeking of asylum. We are certainly not impressed by the argument that because a high number of applications for asylum fail, that itself is evidence of abuse. We think that that accusation is a misuse of the English language.
We suspect that the vast majority of the asylum applications which fail do so because of the peculiarly restrictive nature of our asylum rules. We are borne out in that assertion by the fact that a high proportion of asylum applications which are refused result in the granting of extended leave to appeal.
These are matters to which we shall return at Report stage. I do not believe that it is appropriate at this time of night that we should seek to divide the Committee on the clause as a whole. We shall keep our powder dry on these matters and I shall not pursue my opposition to the Motion that Clause 3 stand part of the Bill.
If the noble Lord is kind enough to keep his powder dry, I too shall keep mine dry. Clause 3 agreed to.
I beg to move that the House do now resume.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.