§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Lord Gifford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that the processing of Jamaican visitors who arrived at Gatwick Airport by charter flight on 21st December 1993 was carried out in accordance with accepted standards of civilised immigration practice.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, on the morning of 21st December last year a chartered plane landed at Gatwick Airport with 326 passengers on board. It had flown from Kingston, Jamaica. It was one of hundreds of planes bringing people to join their friends and families for the Christmas season, yet the treatment of the passengers on this plane was uniquely different and uniquely deplorable, raising issues, I suggest, of the greatest concern over the conduct of immigration policy.
This aircraft was singled out for special treatment as soon as it landed. Forty nationals of the European Union were allowed to disembark but 286 Jamaicans were corralled in their seats, not able to move, for up to two-and-a-half hours. They were gradually disembarked row by row in groups and taken to a cold waiting area known as a gate lounge.
My first question to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is this. Why was it decided to discomfort the passengers in 271 this unusual way? Gatwick is a large airport capable of handling thousands of overseas visitors. They line up and wait their turn to he interviewed, but these passengers were specially targeted and segregated. Why was that? The Minister in another place has assured us that it was not for any reasons of suspected crime. He said that it was for immigration reasons. But if there was no suspicion of crime, what excuse was there to treat people differently from the normal procedures? There can be nothing more discomforting, irritating and, indeed, suspicious than to be kept in your seat for hours after you have already been on a 10-hour flight. The normal procedure is that everybody goes to an immigration officer and is assessed individually— and that is how It should be— not as a member of some suspect and targeted group.
What then happened? According to the figures put out by the Government,57 of the passengers were detained overnight in various detention centres; 28 of them were never released. They were returned by a specially chartered flight on Christmas Day night. A further 39 were stamped with a stamp showing that they had been refused entry, although in fact they were allowed temporary admission and stayed the month with their friends or families. That is a total of 67 refusals of entry, a figure which is unreasonably high and nearly one-fifth of the whole plane— and this is in relation to people who wanted nothing more than to spend a Christmas holiday with their families, their other relatives or their friends.
I have spoken to many of them in Kingston, where I now live and work. I have interviewed many of those who came back. One was a stone mason; one was a bus conductor; one was a small coffee farmer; one was a ward assistant in a hospital. They are people with jobs and roots in Jamaica.
Most of the detainees were taken to Campsfield House in Oxfordshire where they arrived in the early hours of 22nd December. That is a place of detention run by Group 4 Securitas. It has some facilities, it must be recognised. There were television and recreational facilities. But what rankled most was the food. It is not so much that the food was uneatable, which it often is in institutional places, but that the families and friends were not allowed to bring in food to those detainees. Why? If it is necessary to detain people coming in from different parts of the world who may well find our institutional food uneatable, why not let the families bring in food? One man said to me of his experience over the next three days, "I ate only bananas and bread and tea".
However, the nadir of the experiences of this group was yet to come. Late on Christmas Eve, with about 15 minutes' warning, all the Campsfield House detainees were taken away, put into buses and then, after a long drive from Oxfordshire to Sussex, distributed into various police stations around the South of England. The police blocked the motorway behind the coaches to prevent the families from knowing where they were going. They spent Christmas night and the whole of Christmas morning into Christmas evening in a police cell. Of all the indignities which people spoke of to me, this was the worst— to spend Christmas Day, a holy day, 272 in a gaol. One said to me, "I read my Bible to calm my feelings". Being Christmas, the police did their best and some were much praised for their kindness, but there was hardly any food because the facilities were not available.
Finally, late on Christmas Day, the 27 detainees were taken, in handcuffs, under heavy police escort, and led like criminals into a plane which had been specially chartered— no doubt at considerable public expense. I find particularly the history of that last 24 hours an outrage which should never be repeated when we are dealing with visitors to this country who have committed no crime whatsoever.
The explanation so far given by the Minister in another place for putting people in police cells was that some were being disruptive and threatening.1 do not accept that as true. Even if it was true, it was no justification for subjecting all of those who were being detained to the indignity of spending Christmas in a police cell.
What I ask the noble Earl on behalf of the Government is whether he will make— or whether the Government will make — an ex gratia compensation payment, not with any admission about the detention itself but to compensate these Jamaican citizens for the distress and discomfort caused by the manner in which powers of immigration detention were exercised in this particular case. Such a payment might do something to repair the enormous damage which has been done to the good name of the United Kingdom in Jamaica and the Caribbean, as well as to race relations in Britain, which have been yet further strained by another example of official discrimination. The Daily Telegraph was absolutely right in its leader of 28th December 1993 to call this— and I quote— "a race relations fiasco", for which an apology was required at the least.
It has been said in some newspapers that many of those who were admitted on this charter flight did not return on the return flight and that this somehow shows the initial action to be justified. That is not so. Those who were admitted were allowed not one month but six months. Knowing Jamaicans, I am not in the least surprised that if you are given six months you are going to use six months, even if it will cost more to return. I understand that in only a handful of cases has there been any breach of the conditions under which people were admitted.
This experience of these visitors raises wider issues about freedom of movement and the practice and implementation of immigration policy. This was a low-price charter of a kind much used and much enjoyed by British and European citizens. There are certain to be more in these days of rapid jet travel. There will be more from the Caribbean because Jamaican and Caribbean people, as much as ours, love to travel. What is to happen? Are different rules to apply to charter flights from Jamaica and the Caribbean? The organisers of this particular charter flight are fearful. One carrier has already told them that it will expect passengers to have entry clearance before they go on a plane, thereby imposing a kind of back-door visa requirement, which, incidentally, if implemented, would put great strain upon the staff of the British High Commission.
273 I suggest that some reassurance is needed from the Government. Can the noble Earl first assure the House that no visa requirement is to be introduced for Jamaicans and other citizens of the English-speaking Caribbean? Can he also say that the carrying companies are not at risk of penalty if they carry Jamaican nationals who have a proper passport and other documents but do not have entry clearance, which is at present the norm? My understanding of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act is that an airline should not be subject to any penalty in those circumstances, but, as I have indicated, there is a lot of anxiety.
Without such assurances there will be grave cause for concern about this incident. There is already. The impression which has been created, which I hope that the Minister will do something to dispel, is that this was a deliberate action, designed to deter holiday flights of this kind. I hope that we can be assured that it was not.
On a wider level, this is another story of incompetence, or worse, by the immigration service. Last year Jamaicans were deeply shocked by the death of Mrs. Joy Gardner in the course of being detained for deportation. That case is now under investigation and I say nothing about it. There are many other cases of alleged abuse. There seems to be no effective channel of complaint. After vigorous debate in this House, the right of appeal was withdrawn in recent legislation. But the withdrawal of the right of appeal must not mean that immigration officers have untrammelled and unchallengeable powers, because if they do they will be exercising those powers in a discriminatory and racist way.
An independent monitor was recently appointed. However, I understand that she has no power to receive individual complaints. Is there any complaints procedure for those who are aggrieved by the actions of the immigration service? The relatives of the detainees were told that there was but that no forms were available. If there is a channel of complaint, who is responsible for dealing with it?
My view is that an important precedent for dealing with complaints against those with official powers was set by the establishment of the Police Complaints Authority. That authority has a certain independence and efficacy. Its decisions are capable of causing changes in police practice. Immigration officers also have powers of detention and removal. They can make decisions which affect the individual drastically. Will consideration at least be given to the setting up of an immigration complaints authority? Without some channel of appeal or complaint the wretched events such as those that I have described are likely to recur. They are likely to continue to cause bitterness to those affected by them directly and indirectly. They are likely to do damage to Britain's international reputation. They are likely to cause deep frustration, which always arises when a wrong is done and no remedy is available. I look forward with the greatest interest to hearing the noble Earl's reply to the Question which I have tabled on the Order Paper.274
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Gifford for raising this matter tonight. I hope that the Government will treat it seriously, because it is extremely serious. Every country has a right to immigration control, to say which people shall enter its shores, to say what qualifications they shall have and how entry shall be made. But people have a right to be treated with dignity.
There are in this country a large number of British citizens of Jamaican descent. They have a right to be visited by their friends and families. It is particularly important that that should be possible during periods such as Christmas. That is a festive season when families want to be together. They have a right to be assured that their families and friends will be treated with dignity and respect.
What we heard from my noble friend Lord Gifford and what we have read in the press indicates that the people who came from Jamaica in December in order to spend Christmas with their families and friends were not treated as they should have been according to international law. They were not treated with the respect that they had a right to expect.
That is the point that I want the Government to recognise seriously. Just as there are a large number of British citizens of Jamaican descent living here, there have always been a large number of important British people living in Jamaica. The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, now lives in Jamaica, as did Lord Beaverbrook and Ian Fleming. We have always had distinguished British people living in Jamaica. Neither the Minister nor the British people would have liked their families to be treated in the way in which those Jamaican people were treated last December. That is what I mean when I say that the Government must give the matter serious consideration. I do not know the reasons for the behaviour that took place. However, I know that it is not the way to behave and that if it continues we may sow only seeds of discord.
When I chaired the commission which investigated the riots in Bermuda, I said that I wanted the report to be written in this country. Bermuda is a small place and I did not want to be writing a report there. I insisted that we must come to this country to write the report. One of the members of the commission was most reluctant. He began by refusing on the grounds that he is a businessman and when he comes here to do business he is always badly treated when he arrives. I assured him that he would be treated well; that we would all have VIP treatment and that he would not even see the immigration officer because someone else would do that for him. I have mentioned that incident previously in this House because it illustrates what goes on. I believe that we must take the matter more seriously.
I oppose the removal of the right to appeal because it was introduced as a result of complaints made years ago. A study of the figures will reveal that a large number of the appeals were successful. That meant that there were a lot of occasions on which the immigration officers had made mistakes. That is a digression because on this occasion there is no question of making 275 mistakes; it was obviously a decided policy and a method of approach. That is extremely worrying because, if we go down that road, we shall create a great deal of trouble.
I do not wish to repeat myself but I wish to emphasise that the British people would not have been happy if British citizens visiting Jamaica had been treated in this way. Therefore, one cannot expect the people of Jamaica to be happy about the way in which their fellow citizens were treated when they visited Britain. I do not know what excuse or explanation the Home Office will give. However, the purpose of my plea is that it should take the matter seriously and resolve that this kind of thing will never happen again. It is a road to disaster and I hope that the Government will recognise that fact. I do not wish to say any more, except that I hope that when the Minister replies, he will be able to assure us that the Government have got the message.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I am sure that the House will forgive me for rising to speak in the gap in the list of speakers, bearing in mind that the previous debate finished earlier than planned and that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester is unable to contribute to it.
I feel that I halve to add my voice in support of the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Gifford and Lord Pitt. I have to place on record my shame at being a citizen of a country with a government like ours that treated those visitors to our country in such a shameful way. I contrast: the treatment of that planeload of visitors from Jamaica with the welcome that I received when I visited the Caribbean last summer with a party of parliamentarians. The welcome we received was friendly, supportive, helpful and educational from my point of view and I learnt a lot about the Caribbean, its peoples and governments. I cannot find the words to express my sense of shame at the difference between the way I was treated by the people in the Caribbean and their governments and the way that our Government treated those visitors from Jamaica.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Mallalieu
My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, for providing us with an opportunity to try to seek some answers from the Government about this matter which have so far not been forthcoming.
Many of us saw what were disturbing and distressing pictures on our television screens over the recent Christmas period. It is not easy, even after the passage of nearly two months, to forget the shock, despair and sheer frustration of many of those who had been interviewed at that time. They were in the main people who had gone along to Gatwick Airport to meet their friends and relatives who had travelled to this country simply to spend Christmas with them in their homes, only to find that the: r visitors had to spend Christmas in detention centres, police cells or even in one case Pentonville prison.
I assumed, as I suspect did many who saw those reports, that there must be more to this than met the eye.
276 I thought at the time that the immigration officers must have had some kind of advance information, some tip-off. The nature and the scale of the operation suggested a link with crime, and serious crime at that. I assumed that in due course all that would become clear and the public would learn the full reasons for what seemed to be callous and even inhumane treatment being handed out in our name and apparently to a large number of bona fide visitors to this country. I understand that no one has been charged with any offence whatsoever arising out of the matter.
So far, despite paying lip service to the philosophy of open government, no proper explanation has yet been received from the Home Office to justify what was done to those who travelled on that charter flight arriving at Gatwick on 21st December. The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, has already set out in graphic detail the catalogue of events and frankly disgraceful treatment that was meted out to those passengers. I only add in amplification of the details some of the relatively minor insults which he omitted to mention: little or no information given at any time to those who were waiting to meet the people; those taken to the police cells on Christmas Eve in Sussex, many of them, permitted only one telephone call, as if they were people who had been placed in the cells under arrest. At the end of the day, as we have heard, with a master stroke of timing, on Christmas Day 27 people were sent back to Jamaica with a security guard escort on a flight which was specially chartered by the Home Office.
A number of questions are raised by those events, and I hope that the noble Earl— to whom unfortunately unpleasant tasks seem regularly to fall— will be able to deal with some of them. First, senior immigration officers subsequently told the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants that this was not a criminal investigation but concerned only immigration issues. Is that correct?
Secondly, the original Home Office line was that this was a normal, routine immigration operation. Would the noble Earl be able to tell the House whether any special arrangements were made in advance for the reception of the flight and, if so, what arrangements and why were they made?
Thirdly, why was it necessary to detain some 30 people in custody for periods which ranged from 24 hours up to four days when, at the end of that time, it was not considered necessary to remove them on that charter flight on Christmas Day? On what basis were the 27 who were flown home selected? What did the operation cost? Will the Government give an assurance that those whose passports were marked with the refusal of entry will not face additional difficulty in obtaining future visas to come to this country? What compensation will the Government offer to those who suffered? Last and by no means least, what apology, if any, has been made to those people who were wrongly detained?
This sorry episode of gross discourtesy to visitors to this country is, I am afraid, something which was foreshadowed in the debates here in' your Lordships' House during the passage of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act in 1993. Section 10 of the Act 277 removed the right of appeal against the refusal of both entry clearance and leave to enter from visitors, students, intending students, those planning to stay for a shorter time than six months and from their dependants. A number of noble Lords in the House expressed deep reservations at that time. Before the Act came into force, one in four of those appeals had succeeded.
Not only does it offend against natural justice to deprive an individual of any right of appeal whatsoever against an administrative decision to refuse entry— a decision which is likely to be based on a cursory interview by a hard-pressed official— but also where such an official knows that there is no review possible, such decisions are increasingly likely to be arbitrary and increasingly likely to result in a refusal when the official knows that he cannot effectively be challenged later.
The incident leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I cannot believe that our relations with Jamaica have suffered other than great harm. What an insult to the Jamaican community in this country !
The figures which indicate that one in five Bangladeshis and Ghanaians and one in 67 Jamaicans are refused entry as visitors, as opposed to one in 2,014 United States citizens lead regrettably to the conclusion that assumptions about a visitor's intentions to leave are made more on the basis of race than on individual case assessment.
We on these Benches accept that there is a need for immigration controls. We accept that it is right that those who are not genuine visitors must be screened and filtered. However, blanket action such as that now under discussion affecting, as it clearly did on this occasion, large numbers of genuine visitors— decent people— who had simply been looking forward to spending Christmas with friends and relatives in a country which used to be regarded as the head of a Commonwealth family, does nothing but harm to our relationship not just with Jamaica but also with all other black and third world countries.
In the light of what happened here at Christmas 1993 and since the Act to which I referred became law, I hope that the noble Earl will be able to tell us that the Government are giving careful consideration, first, to publishing guidelines for immigration officers so that — it is to be hoped— such behaviour cannot occur again; and, secondly, to reinstating some form of right of appeal against the refusal of entry clearance and leave to enter for visitors. If the noble Earl can do both those things and also say "Sorry", then some good will have come out of the miserable outrage of that charter flight, which shames this country.
§ 8.10 p.m.
My Lords, many questions have been asked this evening which I shall try my best to answer. If I may say so, it is a pleasure to see the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, back here again. We do not see him now quite as much as we used to. Nevertheless, he has not lost his unique touch of making some pretty inflammatory speeches and succeeding in getting and then distorting the real picture. After all, the noble Lord 278 said that the treatment given to those people was uniquely different and deplorable: they were corralled in their seats and specially targeted. He described the whole exercise as a race-relations fiasco and said that it was a deliberate action to deter such holiday flights. That is very extravagant language. I hope that I shall be able to explain to the noble Lord that that really was not the case.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said that the incident was an insult to the Jamaican community in this country. She then made the astonishing remark that it seemed that refusing entry was made more on the basis of race than individual case assessment. I am bound to say that I do not find that to be a very worthy observation from the noble Baroness. However, I shall try to deal with it.
I turn now to the facts. A charter flight arrived at Gatwick from Kingston, Jamaica, on 21st December of last year. I should make it clear that the flight was not one of the regular scheduled flights to Gatwick; it was a charter flight. There are not many charter flights from Kingston, but scheduled flights from there are normally handled without any difficulty. In this case, the airline (UK Leisure) approached the Immigration Service and inquired whether arrangements could be made for the flight's pre-clearance in Jamaica. There are no standing arrangements for the Immigration Service to send officials out to Jamaica in order to clear flights in advance. In any event, there would have been insufficient notice for those concerned to set up such an exercise.
On 15th December, just a week earlier, a similar charter flight from Kingston operated by another company had arrived at Gatwick. About 100 passengers required full interview and over 30 had been refused entry. Therefore, the Immigration Service came to the conclusion that rather more of the passengers on board this flight might require a detailed interview than would have been the case on a regular scheduled service.
Arrangements were made for the disembarkation and reception of passengers from that flight so that, if the need arose, a potentially large number of interviews could be conducted quickly and in an orderly way. A gate lounge was provided — to which the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, took exception, although I do not see why — where passengers could sit while they waited for their interview. Extra immigration officers were on duty to try to process the applicants more quickly.
Every passenger was individually interviewed by an immigration officer. Every decision to refuse entry was, in accordance with immigration rules, authorised by a chief immigration officer or inspector. No one was refused entry simply because he happened to have arrived on that flight. That is not the way in which we operate immigration control; nor was it done in any way, as the noble Baroness suggested, on the basis of race.
It may be of some assistance if I explain what actually took place once the aircraft arrived at Gatwick. The aircraft arrived about four hours late with 326 people on board. It should have arrived at 6.30 in the morning. It did not arrive until 10.30 a.m. There was an industrial dispute by the handling agents which meant 279 that passengers did not begin to disembark from the aircraft until about 11 o'clock in the morning. It also resulted in the baggage not reaching the baggage hall until between 12.45 and 1.30 in the afternoon. Therefore, no passenger from the flight was able to clear the airport until one o'clock at the earliest. Those events are significant because, as it turned out, there was insufficient time to complete all the interviews on the day of arrival.
About 100 Jamaican citizens were cleared through the control after only a brief interview. The remainder waited in the lounge until they could be further interviewed when decisions were taken on their application for entry. Priority was given to passengers, who were accompanied by children, and to anyone who appeared to be elderly or infirm. The Immigration Service provided refreshments for all passengers. The lounge also contained a number of telephones, which enabled passengers to make telephone calls.
The Immigration Service set up a telephone enquiry point, some 40 minutes after the first disembarkation, so that the relatives and friends of those who were on the flight and who were making inquiries about them could benefit from such a service. An enquiry point was also set up on the concourse for the benefit of friends and relatives who wished to check whether a passenger was being held for immigration enquiries. Therefore, a great deal was done to accommodate those people on that occasion.
At the end of the first day, out of the 326 passengers,202 had been cleared and admitted into the United Kingdom,35 had been refused entry, and 89 others still required further examination.
Out of those who were either refused entry or were required for further examination,57 passengers were held overnight because the Immigration Service was not satisfied in each case that the person would comply with conditions of temporary admission. Most of those who were detained were taken to Campsfield House. The remainder were given temporary admission to stay with their relatives or friends. At the end of the second day,29 people remained in detention, all of whom had been refused entry to the United Kingdom and 27 of them were later returned to Jamaica by a specially chartered aircraft.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, asked about the cost to the United Kingdom of the charter flight. The answer is that it was $ 126,765, including the cost of the in-flight escorts but excluding the cost of in-country escorts, which has yet to be finalised.
The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, said that the real outrage was that people were taken to police stations, which he erroneously called gaols. The noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, said that people should be treated with dignity. I do not disagree with him; they should be. However, I can tell the House why it happened. Some of those who were detained at Campsfield were starting to behave in a disruptive and threatening way both to the staff and to the other people who were being detained. It was considered by the local Immigration Service managers at Campsfield that to leave the Jamaicans there would create a serious risk of violence if they we re to be held over the Christmas 280 period. That is why arrangements were made to transfer those who were detained at Campsfield, which is in Oxfordshire, in police cells in Sussex until their departure. A flight was found which could take them from Gatwick to Kingston on 25th December.
§ Lord Gifford
My Lords, can the noble Earl say how many is meant by "some" and why, if only some, were all so badly treated?
My Lords, they were not all badly treated. Campsfield House was a new place. Many of the immigration officers who were responsible said that the conditions were such that there was likely to be a serious risk of violence if some action was not taken. The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, can shake his head as much as he likes. All I can tell him is that the information I have received— needless to say I have checked this fairly thoroughly— suggests that violence was likely to break out and the immigration authorities were not prepared to accept that risk.
The 25th December flight departed at 9.40 in the evening with 27 detainees on board. One other detainee, who had been transferred from Campsfield House earlier because of his disruptive behaviour, was removed under escort on 27th December.
All those who were denied entry were refused for immigration reasons. In the vast majority of cases this was because the immigration officer was not satisfied that the passenger was a genuine visitor who would return to Jamaica at the end of his holiday. In some cases passengers had apparently tried to conceal a previous refusal of entry clearance by obtaining new passports. In a few cases, the passenger was apparently coming for settlement but the individual had come without the mandatory entry clearance which it was his responsibility to obtain.
We have estimated that about 100 visitors who might have been expected to leave on the return leg did not do so. We have, of course, made it quite plain that those accepted as visitors from the incoming flight but who did not leave on the return leg are not necessarily here unlawfully. People can and do change their mind about the time they will stay. Many will no doubt leave on other flights. But I think it fair to say that, given the indications on arrival that so many intended to leave on 17th January, fewer than we might have expected actually left on the return flight.
Campsfield House, to which the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, took such exception, was only recently opened and those passengers from the Jamaican flight who were detained there were the first to occupy some of the newly refurbished accommodation there. A range of meals, some 20 dishes in all, were made available to them. Some of those detained did not wish to eat food which was not Caribbean food. A special order was, therefore, placed for Caribbean food and, by the morning of the 24th December, six different Caribbean meals were on offer.
The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, said that what rankled most was that relatives or friends were not permitted to take food to those detained at Campsfield. This was not, in fact, the case. Specific authority was given by the Immigration Service for relatives and friends to bring 281 food in if they so wished, subject only to the overriding conditions of security and hygiene. Visiting hours were extended so that as many friends and relatives as possible could visit those who were held. That provision accords with the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, that the detainees should be treated with dignity.
The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, suggested that the abolition of appeal rights for visitors under the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act has led to a change in the Government's policy towards visitors. The Bill was debated at some length both in your Lordships' House and in another place. Instructions to immigration officers since the Act was passed about the criteria to be applied for all visitors, including those from Jamaica, remain exactly the same as they were before. There has been no change of policy.
The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and, I believe, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, raised the question of a complaints procedure. Complaints about the conduct of an immigration officer can be made to the complaints section of the Immigration and Nationality Department. The recently appointed Complaints Audit Committee is responsible for monitoring complaints procedures. The committee reports annually to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.
Genuine visitors from all countries are welcome. Most of those who come here continue to pass through our controls quickly. Indeed, there are frequent scheduled flights into Gatwick from Jamaica, which are normally cleared without any difficulty. The Government have no plans to introduce a compulsory visa requirement for Jamaican citizens in order to travel to the United Kingdom. However, it is in the interests of anyone who wishes to establish in advance whether he or she is eligible for admission to the United Kingdom to apply to the British High Commission for an entry clearance.
282 The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, asked whether an assurance can be given that carriers will not be penalised in the event that they arrive in the United Kingdom with passengers from Jamaica who may not have entry clearance. Carriers would not be liable to a charge under the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 provided that all Jamaican passengers who do not have entry clearance are properly documented.
Our immigration policy is firm but fair. All passengers who seek entry to the United Kingdom have to be dealt with on their individual merits. Those who do not satisfy the immigration officer that they are genuine visitors who will return home at the end of their stay will be refused entry. This does though represent only a small minority of people. In 1992 some 26,000 Jamaicans came here. Only some 400 were refused entry and removed.
The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, asked whether the Government would give some form of compensation to these people. When a decision has been made to detain a person under the immigration Act it is the normal practice to arrange for his or her removal as quickly as possible. The period of detention is therefore kept to a minimum. This principle was followed in the case of those who were detained from this flight. The action which was taken by the Immigration Service was lawful and the question of compensation does not therefore arise.
I have attempted to cover the incident in some detail. I am satisfied that the procedures were applied in accordance with normal immigration practice. There was nothing irregular in the way in which the flight was handled. Each case was treated on its merits and considerable effort was made to ensure that the large number of people on that flight would be dealt with as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.
§ House adjourned at twenty-six minutes past eight o'clock.