HL Deb 03 November 2004 vol 666 cc299-301

2.36 p.m.

Lord Ahmed asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have made any further representations to the United States authorities regarding the decision to bar Mr Yusuf Islam from entering the United States.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we have made extensive representations to the US authorities at a number of levels, including Secretary of State. The US authorities have recently responded to the Foreign Secretary. We are in contact with Mr Islam and keeping him up to date with developments.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply. Is she aware that Yusuf Islam enjoys a hard-earned reputation as a man of peace? He is respected in the Muslim community in the United Kingdom and around the world and this incident may harm interfaith relations. In the light of the Foreign Secretary's welcome comments in the immediate aftermath of Yusuf Islam's expulsion, could Her Majesty's Government use our good relations with the United States Government to get a full explanation of their decision?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the Government are indeed concerned about the exclusion of Yusuf Islam from the United States and we remain in contact with him. We have asked the United States authorities for an explanation of their action. We have very recently received a response and we are now in the process of requesting further clarification. Noble Lords will understand that I cannot go into the details of our communications with the United States on this matter.

We take the issue of interfaith relations and dialogue very seriously. We have introduced a number of interfaith dialogue initiatives, including the hard work that we carry out in regard to the hajj. My noble friend will know that earlier this year the Foreign Office held an important seminar on faith and foreign policy, which implemented a plan made with the interfaith communities.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, can the Minister indicate why the Government are so concerned with this matter? As I understand it, the gentleman concerned is a well known pop singer and the United States—probably; I do not know what has happened in the past few hours or so—is a sovereign state.

Baroness Crawley

Absolutely, my Lords; the United States is a sovereign state. However, we are concerned about the situation when Mr Yusuf Islam was detained by the United States authorities. We raise with the United States all complaints that we receive from British nationals about their treatment at the hands of the US immigration authorities. The Secretary of State happened to be in the United States at the time Yusuf Islam was detained and took the opportunity to raise his case with Colin Powell.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, with the increased number of complaints from UK citizens about their treatment by the United States immigration authorities, will the Government be investigating also the appeals process that is presently in place?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we raise with the United States all complaints about the treatment received by British nationals at the hands of US immigration officials. My noble friend Lady Symons called in the US chargé d'affaires in June of this year to raise specific complaints about the heavy-handed treatment of British nationals in the past 12 months. As a result of our continually raising this issue with our US colleagues—I hope that I am not being immodest in saying this—we have helped to bring about some improvements in the system. One such improvement is the establishment of a working group to address the issue of courtesy and the institution of a training programme for all employees on maintaining professional and courteous standards while enforcing the law.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is considerable concern in Europe at the non-reciprocal demands that the Department of Homeland Security is making on its partners for information and for the treatment of its nationals as opposed to theirs? Does the noble Baroness have accurate figures on the number of Britons who have been excluded from entering the United States during the past year and how this compares with the number of American citizens excluded from entering the United Kingdom?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I have the figures on the number of complaints that we have received from British nationals concerning their treatment at the hands of the US immigration authorities: 30 people have made specific complaints. I shall try to get the other figures for the noble Lord.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with my current perception that an increasingly heavy-handed attitude is being taken by the United States immigration authorities? If that is happening to us at a time when we are supposed to be their favourite country in the world, perhaps she may care to speculate on what is happening to others.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, of course the United States Government have every right to apply their immigration laws as they see fit. However, when we consider that the application of those laws brings about disproportionate behaviour by the immigration authorities of the United States, we raise that very clearly with them.