HL Deb 18 October 1999 vol 605 cc837-9

8.35 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 22 [Charges: immigration control]:

Lord Hacking moved Amendment No. 27A: Page 16, line 5, at end insert— ("(5) In formulating the definition of the basic service the Secretary of State shall have regard to the need to provide facilities for passengers which are quick and convenient and shall have specific regard to—

  1. (a) the avoidance of excessive queues, and
  2. (b) the siting of immigration desks in locations which are convenient for passengers.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, who is in Europe carrying out duties with the Council of Europe, I shall move the amendment standing in his name.

Clause 22 was first introduced into your Lordships' House in Committee on 12th July. My noble and learned friend Lord Williams explained the reasons for it; that is, when additional facilities were wanted for the public need by the Immigration Service at airports, those facilities should be provided at public expense. But when there was a special need for additional services, they should be provided at private expense, either by the operators of the airport or by the airlines.

The provision in Clause 22 says that when additional charges are needed to provide a basic service at the airport—this is the purport of the clause—then they should be paid for out of public funds. My noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn, in moving the amendment, assured the House that the Government were working actively with the industry to agree the definition of "basic service". If your Lordships turn to the latter part of Clause 22, it will be seen that "basic service" is to have, such meaning as may be prescribed"; that is, by secondary legislation. Unfortunately, the first draft of the definition of "basic service" was only available on Friday. I have not had an opportunity to see that definition and the industry has had only a very limited opportunity to consider it. Your Lordships are therefore in the unsatisfactory position of having to agree a definition for "basic service" without knowing what it is.

There are practical implications to this point. For example, when Terminal 3 was opened at Manchester airport, it was initially suggested by the Immigration Service that if there were to be immigration officers at Terminal 3, that facility would have to be paid for by the airlines, though it would cover all passengers coming into Terminal 3 who needed to pass through immigration. It was suggested that if the airlines were not prepared to pay for the additional immigration services, then all the passengers would have to be bussed to Terminal 1. That unsatisfactory position was resolved and I understand that the Immigration Service now provides at public expense the additional services needed at Terminal 3. That is an example of the difficulties that could arise unless and until the definition of basic services is properly resolved.

I suggest that the test should be that where the additional arrangements are for the convenience of special categories of passengers—such as fast-track immigration clearance for first-class or business travellers—the expense should be met by airlines, which have always agreed that they should meet that additional expense. Where there are additional arrangements for all passengers, the cost should be paid out of public funding. It is all part of a welcome to Britain, to make sure that people who come to Britain are processed efficiently.

My noble friend's amendment is designed to help the process of getting the definition right. Your Lordships can see the terms in which it has been tabled. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for h is expansive explanation. I fear that I am not going to do it justice, for which I apologise. He is also owed an apology for our lateness in bringing forward a reasonable and serviceable definition. It may be that we need to give it further thought. I well understand the sense of grievance that perhaps accompanies my noble friend's comments.

The amendment has value in that it attempts to go some way to defining what a quick and convenient service might be but the matter needs further reflection. I suggest that my noble friend withdraws the amendment. If we need to pick up on other issues that we have missed in the past, perhaps we can do that at a later stage. I shall be happy to have further discussions on such matters with those interested in the amendment. On that basis, I invite my noble friend to withdraw Amendment No. 27A.

Lord Hacking

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. He is coming in my direction and I am grateful for his agreement to give the matter further consideration. Clearly, there should be some concentration on the consultation process. There has been a long gap between the time when my noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn originally offered the consultation process and the arrival of the first draft. However, let us talk not about the past but the future. On the basis that my noble friend Lord Bassam will do all he can to ensure that the industry is consulted—so that before the Bill leaves the House, we have a much better definition of basic services—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 28: After Clause 22, insert the following new clause—

("Charges: travel documents