HL Deb 18 October 1999 vol 605 cc789-98

(".—(1) Directions for, or requiring arrangements to be made for, the removal of a person from the United Kingdom may include or be amended to include provision for the person who is to be removed to be accompanied by an escort consisting of one or more persons specified in the directions.

(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision supplementing subsection (1).

(3) The regulations may, in particular, include provision—

  1. (a) requiring the person to whom the directions are given to provide for the return of the escort to the United Kingdom;
  2. (b) requiring him to bear such costs in connection with the escort (including, in particular, remuneration) as may be prescribed;
  3. (c) as to the cases in which the Secretary of State is to bear those costs;
  4. (d) prescribing the kinds of expenditure which are to count in calculating the costs incurred in connection with escorts.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in this group we find Amendments Nos. 15, 15A and 283. Amendment No. 15 is a government amendment; Amendment No. 15A is tabled in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury; and Amendment No. 283 is a government amendment.

Perhaps I may speak quite briefly to these amendments because my understanding is that they fall within the category on which it has been generally agreed that the views of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Select Committee will be helpful. I hope I am not in error on that. I shall deal briefly with the points as they presently stand on the indication that I have given.

As I said, Amendment No. 15A is tabled in the names of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. Under paragraph 8 of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act, where a passenger is refused leave to enter, the captain of the ship or aircraft may be directed to remove him from the United Kingdom; or the owners or agents of the ship or aircraft may be given directions to remove him.

Under paragraph 9 of that schedule, such directions may be given in respect of an illegal entrant, although not where leave to enter has been obtained by deception. Under paragraph 10, the Secretary of State may give certain directions relating to removals at public expense. Schedule 3 allows such direction to be given in respect of someone who is being deported. For completeness, Amendment No. 283 is a consequential amendment to Section 27 of the 1971 Act.

I spoke briefly to Amendment No. 15A. I said at the outset that Amendments Nos. 15 and 15A fall into the category upon which I believe there is general agreement among your Lordships. Therefore, I shall confine myself to saying that, if pressed, as I shall be by the noble Baroness in a moment or two, I shall be content to subscribe to the agreement which was reached earlier. I do not believe it is helpful to address your Lordships further. I beg to move.

Lord Avebury moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 15, Amendment No. 15A: Line 7, leave out subsections (2) and (3).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for his explanation and for kindly saying that this is one of the provisions to which the undertaking he gave a few minutes ago applies. In other words, we need not waste a great deal of time on it because it will come back to us—perhaps in a different form—at Third Reading.

As I understand it, the directions to remove a person or to make arrangements for his removal can be given to the captain, owners or agents of the ship or aircraft on which the person arrived. The noble and learned Lord has referred back to the provisions in the schedule to the 1971 Act on which these powers are originally based.

The clause provides for an unlimited number of escorts. The carrier has to pay not only the cost of carrying the person being removed, but also the cost of carrying the escorts. The carrier also has to pay the remuneration of the escorts, presumably for the time that it takes them to travel overseas and back.

Further, the Secretary of State can oblige the carrier to pay other costs in connection with the escorts, which are to be defined in regulations. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, referred to those regulations and the fact that they shall need to be looked at by the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation.

The clause does not say who is to be landed with such costs. We are obliged to the Minister for the note that clarified that. I wonder whether that should be on the face of the Bill. Do the carriers know about that provision? Have they been consulted?

On previous occasions, on other parts of the Bill, there have been expressions of concern from carriers about the enormous costs being imposed on them under this Bill. If we are to tell them that they not only have to carry those who are being removed, but also an unlimited number of escorts, and that they have to pay for the remuneration of the escorts and any other incidental costs that the Minister may impose on them by such regulations, they must be entitled to have their say. They should be able to make representations that there should be a right of appeal against the penalties which the clause imposes on them. I see nothing in the clause about the rights of the carrier to appeal to an independent authority against having to pay those additional costs when the carrier had no means of knowing that the passenger was not a bona fide entrant.

I am sure that in many cases where a person is given notice of removal, and has to be returned by the carrier, the carrier had no reason to assume that the documents used by that person to travel to the United Kingdom were not genuine and that he did not have a legal reason for entering the country until that fact was discovered by the immigration officer.

We are anxious about this clause. I need not say more about it at this stage because we shall have an opportunity to refer to it again at Third Reading. I beg to move.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I have a point of concern on this matter. My noble friend Lord Avebury has raised the matter of the cost of escorts. Some deportees, who may have settled illegally in this country, cause considerable anxiety in the community. In some cases people have been bound and gagged and death has occurred.

I am interested in the legality of this issue. If someone escorts an illegal immigrant and that illegal immigrant dies in the country to which he has been deported, what would be the position of the escort? There have been cases where, once deported, such a person has been taken out of the airport and shot dead. There have been cases of people who have never been found again. A considerable onus could be placed on the escorts if they could be charged with matters such as manslaughter.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, this may be a convenient moment for me to raise a point that, to my knowledge, has occurred in certain cases where escorts have accompanied deportees back to their countries of origin. Such problems have occurred, particularly when the country in question has a despotic government or where the political situation is chaotic.

Can the Minister give me an assurance that the duties of escorts will be carefully and precisely defined? I have in mind the fact that they should have a duty to take the deportee as far as the steps of an aircraft or the gangplank of a ship, when landing in the appropriate country, and no further. I say "no further" because if the escorts go further, there is a risk, particularly with political dissidents or people who have opposed the government in their country of origin, that the deportee will be identified and immediately arrested.

In my view, similar considerations apply to such matters as aircraft or ship passenger manifests. In cases of political dissidents or political opponents of certain regimes, the manifests should not make it clear that the individual is being deported from the United Kingdom, otherwise suspicion will immediately be aroused.

I realise I have not given notice of this slightly arcane matter, but I ask the Minister to consider it fully.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I rise primarily to express gratitude that the Government are treating this new clause as one to which the undertaking given at the start of our proceedings applies. It seems to me that the regulations that can be made under this new clause are extremely wide and permit the Secretary of State to do all sorts of things to quite a lot of people, should he take it into his head to do so. The powers are not restrained. They are extremely wide. For that reason I believe that we should be cautious about giving the Secretary of State carte blanche in this respect.

I have not had any representations from carriers. They may not have noticed this clause. It was handed in on Wednesday and appeared in the Order Paper on Thursday so they have not had a lot of time to notice it and decide whether they have views on it. Perhaps between now and Third Reading we shall think of some suitable restrictions which may be placed on this to make sure that the Secretary of State cannot extend its use beyond the more restrictive words that were used in the covering letter to me and to others which described the clause and confined it to captains of ships and persons of that class.

Lord Desai

My Lords, while travelling I came across the case of a passenger who, after boarding an aircraft, proceeded to destroy his passport by flushing it down the toilet. The people in charge of the carrier had accepted that person, believing that he had proper proof, but he destroyed that proof and hoped to claim asylum when he landed in London. Carriers may object, but they should be trusted to do the best that they can, and not be held responsible for matters when they are manipulated.

6 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, all the points raised were reasonable ones, which is why it was agreed earlier that the appropriate scrutiny should be given. Perhaps I may touch generally on one or two matters of detail.

The level of payment by carriers for escorts will be settled by regulations, not set out on the face of the Bill. Carriers will not always have to pay. The circumstances will be set out in regulations. If one looks at the amendment in the name of my noble friend—Amendment No. 15—after Clause 11, one sees in subsection (3)(c) that there are some cases in which the Secretary of State will have to bear certain costs.

A point specifically raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was that the number of escorts should not be unreasonable or unlimited; that they must be appropriate to the circumstances. If they were unlimited, the matter would be subject to judicial review. The question of escorts raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is important. They are trained in safe procedures. That point was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. I am happy to reaffirm that escorts will be subject to the normal restraints of the criminal law in just the same way as anyone else who is acting in restraint of any person in this country.

All the questions raised were prudently raised. I am grateful for the indication given by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. That is the reason the understanding was arrived at and I am happy to deliver on it. Accordingly, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 15.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I endorse the gratitude expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, to the

Minister for dealing with this point under the general undertaking that he gave at the beginning that the matter would be referred to the Select Committee.

A number of points were raised during the course of this short debate which require further examination, including particularly the question the Minister dealt with in part; that is, the training of the escorts referred to by my noble friend Lord Dholakia and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. It seems to me from looking at the list of matters on which the Secretary of State can make regulations, that the training of escorts is not among them. Perhaps that matter too can be considered before the clause comes back.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, is probably right that the reason carriers have not made representations to your Lordships on this provision is because they have had inadequate time to consider it, bearing in mind it was tabled only on Friday morning. This may result in quite a lot of representation as to why they should not be asked to bear the costs, even though, as the Minister said, there are circumstances— not defined—where the Secretary of State has to pay the charges.

If the clause had said that the Secretary of State would always pay the charges in cases where the carriers had used their best endeavours to ensure that the person was a bona fide traveller, we would not have been so anxious about it. But the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, is a telling one. It may frequently happen that a passenger boards the plane with documents which appear to be in order and the people responsible for examining the documents for the airline do everything they possibly can to satisfy themselves that that is the case, but it then turns out that the person intended to enter by irregular means or without proper documentation and the carrier is faced with the burden of carrying the costs, not only of taking the person back to his own country, but also for the escorts.

Although I take the Minister's point regarding opportunities for judicial review if the number of escorts is unreasonable, the new clause refers to, one or more persons specified in the directions". That means that the number is, on the face of it, unlimited, although it could be challenged, as the Minister explained.

For all those reasons we are legitimately anxious about the wording of the new clause and hope not only that it will be looked at by the Select Committee during the interval between now and Third Reading, but also that the Minister will take the opportunity to go through the clause and see whether points have been raised during the debate which lead him to feel that some modification should be made on Third Reading. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 15A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 15, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 15, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 [Security on grant of entry clearance]

Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 16: Page 8, line 6, after first ("clearance") insert ("as a visitor").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, when this matter was debated in Committee, the concern I was expressing at the time related to the provision of financial security; that is, that we hoped it would not be a norm for visitors coming to this country and that it would not adversely affect a large number of people whose financial resources may not be adequate to sponsor a visit.

I read the clause carefully and discovered that it was extremely wide. The initial discussion related to visitors. But nowhere in the clause do I find it restricted to visitors. It goes much wider. Amendment No. 16 seeks to ensure that the payment of securities will not be widened to other categories. Why did we feel it necessary to table the amendment? The categories of person who would be made to pay securities are those who want to come here for a short visit. The entry clearance officer abroad may not necessarily believe that. Sponsors would then be asked for a. proper surety in this country.

Many sorts of people enter this country. We want to ensure that other categories of people—for example, businessmen, people coming here for the purpose of marriage, dependants, au pairs, and those who come for a working holiday—will not be asked for a depositor a surety as a basis for their entry.

I hope that the Government will accept this small amendment to restrict the scope of this clause to visitors so that it does not include also other categories of people. I beg to move.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. A number of working holidaymakers and students overstay and play the system once they are in this country. I do not see, where there are cases of doubt, why a security should not be required from them as much as from a visitor.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, Amendment No. 16 is designed to ensure that the scope of the provisions enabling financial securities to be required is restricted solely to visitors to the UK. I am aware that concern has been expressed by interested parties and that the Bill as drafted does not limit the power to require financial securities solely from those seeking to visit the UK.

During the course of the debate on this clause in another place, it was made clear that our current intentions are to use these powers in respect of visitors; more specifically, only those seeking to undertake family visits—a particular class of visitor which causes problems for applicants and visa officers alike over the assessment of an applicant's intention to leave the UK at the end of his visit. I am happy to have this opportunity to confirm that that remains our current intention. The vast majority of visit applications are straightforward and will not require the application of this provision.

Under the 1971 Act, the Secretary of State is empowered to make rules setting out the practice for regulating entry into and stay in the UK. That is the appropriate place for us to set out precisely how this power will be used, in what sorts of cases, and in what way. I can assure your Lordships that in making those rules we shall take full account of responses to the consultation exercise on the design of the pilot scheme which we shall undertake later this month.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, makes a useful and valuable point. Bearing that in mind, it seems absurd to us to rule out completely the extension of the scheme to other categories of case if it proves popular and is a success. That would deny to other categories of applicant a possible way of showing their bona fides. I am afraid, therefore, that I cannot support the amendment.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I noted what was said by the Minister in the other place—that primarily the power is required in respect of visitors and family visits alone. We shall watch this financial security operation carefully and if need be return to the matter at another stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 17: Page 11, line 15, at end inser— ("( ) a person with whom the Secretary of State has made a contract or other arrangements under section 90 or 94 or a sub-contractor of such a person;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment places on the face of the Bill a power that might otherwise be taken under secondary legislation. It will make clear that those who contract with the Secretary of State to provide support for asylum seekers and their families will have the power to pass information to the Secretary of State for the immigration purposes set out in subsection (3). That represents a sensible precaution.

Contractors such as the landlords of accommodation used for asylum seekers will almost certainly have information about the asylum seekers that they are housing that they feel the Secretary of State ought to know about, to reassess an asylum seeker's needs. Contractors may also find themselves in the position of holding information relating to immigration control or to immigration crime. We want them to have the power to pass on that information, so that it can be assessed and processed by the asylum support directorate. In doing so they will, of course, be required to respect the confidentiality of such information in relation to any wider audience.

The House will note that this is a permissive power. We are imposing no obligation in statute on the bodies to seek out such information—merely a power to pass on what they come across in the ordinary course of their work under Part VI of the scheme. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's explanation but I know from discussions that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and I had with the previous Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, about the scope of voluntary organisations that the Government envisage that support providers will be given an enhanced role in future in the care and support of asylum seekers. What consideration have the Government given to the change in the relationship between voluntary organisations and their clients and the difficulties that the amendment's provisions will create? A voluntary organisation may acquire information about a client that it would not wish to impart to the authorities, but it could be required to do so in future under Clause 16. Does the Minister accept that that will place voluntary organisations in an impossible position? A simpler way would be to stay with the wording of the previous legislation, which specifies police chiefs and others responsible for upholding the law—rather than those responsible for the provision of services.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, the Minister moved the amendment in an extremely charming and emollient way, but I see a number of sinister things below the surface. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that there are no such things.

A person contracted or subcontracted by the Secretary of State to provide support arrangements or accommodation will be authorised by Clause 16 to provide information about asylum seekers and others in his or her care. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised one point that concerns me—the position of charities providing such accommodation or support. Two further matters that trouble me are how far the provision is compatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and with the Data Protection Act 1984. We are primarily concerned that the Government are absolutely satisfied that there is no conflict of privacy in Clause 16.

I will take the matter one step further, in line with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is very much in the interests of the Government and of voluntary organisations and charities to establish and maintain a relationship of trust with the people in their care—not least to avoid escape attempts or fights with the staff looking after them. If people feel that they are under an obligation to provide information under Clause 16, that trust will be destroyed from the beginning. We are dealing here with people who have little reason to trust their fellow human beings anyway and who therefore start with considerable suspicion.

It may be that the Minister can give the House more assurance. He said that the provision of such information will be voluntary on the part of a contractor or sub-contractor. It is not clear, however, whether such a voluntary commitment will make any difference to the awarding of a contract. In other words, can we be absolutely certain that refusing to make such a commitment will not damage the right of a contractor or subcontractor to obtain a contract on any other grounds? More important, is the Minister willing to say that charitable or religious organisations that might be contractors or sub-contractors to the Secretary of State will not be made to feel in any way morally bound to provide such information? I fear that the losses might be greater than the gains in demanding such a commitment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I am surprised that this amendment was felt necessary. If somebody rents a room from a landlady and after a while a policeman comes around and asks her about that tenant, the landlady is entirely entitled to say to the police whatever she wishes in answer to their inquiries. The same is true of other officialdom and people who may ask about the tenant. The provision does not require the individuals concerned to give information but only that the information "may be supplied" to the Secretary of State for immigration purposes.

I understand, of course, that the police cannot give to others information that they have acquired in the course of their duties. The same goes for Customs and Excise and others listed in the Bill. They require legal permission to impart information to someone else—in this case, the Secretary of State. The landlady does not require such permission. She can give such information if she wishes. Clause 16 does not require her to do that. The same applies to a charity or any other body that has contracted with the Secretary of State to supply accommodation or another service.

My second thought was that there must be something behind the amendment, otherwise the Government would not have gone to the trouble of adding it to the Bill. Perhaps it gives the Government relief from some privacy restriction that might otherwise apply to a landlady in respect of the affairs of her tenant—for example, under human rights legislation. I am insufficiently knowledgeable about such provisions, new as they are, to know whether the amendment overcomes any such restriction.

The amendment is not necessary in one sense because, as the Minister made clear, the Government could have extended the provision to other persons by order under Clause 16(1)(e), subject to affirmative resolution. However, I am grateful to the Government for putting the provision on the face of the Bill rather than leaving it to an order. That seems a good thing.

By definition, the people who may give such information will have made a contract or other arrangement under Section 90 or 94. Presumably, the Secretary of State could have made it a term of the contract that they should give certain types of information. That might not be easy to do if the information comprises of suspicions that may have arisen in the landlady's mind that the person concerned is not all that he seems or that his story is not accurate for some reason. Therefore, it may be difficult to write that into the contract terms. But the underlying question is: why does a landlady, or anyone else who is contracted in this way, need statutory permission in order to have the ability to give information of this kind?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for the points and questions that they have raised on the matter; indeed, they have enabled me to elucidate a little further on why we feel that this provision is necessary. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, put her finger on the point: it is about establishing relationships of trust. We see that as being very important. It is also about openness and transparency. That is why we have decided that this provision would be best placed on the face of the Bill.

I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the important relationship based on trust that must exist between voluntary organisations and the need to avoid difficulties. We well understand the points that have been raised about the relationship with Article 8. However, I can offer some reassurance. This clause does not in any way override the ECHR or existing data protection legislation; indeed, it does not compromise it in any way. We believe that disclosures must each be assessed for compatibility with those considerations.

It is a matter of volunteering; it is not a matter of the organisations concerned being placed under a duty to provide such information. Therefore, any sense that there may be some obligation, some pressure, placed on organisations to bring forward information here is misplaced. I do not believe that noble Lords' concerns in that respect need to be too greatly emphasised. We feel that this is a sensible, practical and transparent move. We also believe that it is probably a protective provision, which will place voluntary organisations, and also some statutory organisations which are contracted as a result of the clause, to fulfil their role more openly and transparently. This will be a beneficial move and one which will enable them to be established on the same basis as all the other main organisations under the clause. For that reason, we think that this is a sensible amendment to bring forward at this stage. I commend the amendment to the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 18: Before Clause 18, insert the following new clause—