Report (2nd Day)

Part of Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 1st April 2009.

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Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Shadow Minister (the Olympics), Culture, Media & Sport, Shadow Minister, Northern Ireland, Shadow Minister, Wales 4:45 pm, 1st April 2009

My Lords, I thank the Minister and his Bill team for their help and co-operation in attempting to explain to me why they feel that the Government need to have this clause in the Bill. I declare an interest, as an inhabitant of Northern Ireland—I am never quite sure about these interest things. I spent Sunday night, Monday and part of Tuesday in Donegal at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. It was attended by members of the Governments of the Channel Islands—Guernsey and Jersey—the Republic, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and even one or two from here. When I first walked into the room, I was greeted by members of the Crown dependency Governments and congratulated on the speech I made about this on Second Reading. Every single man-jack of them is pretty anti this provision.

Let us get down to basics. Why do the Government consider that they need this massive hit operation of removing a travel area which is a form of an agreement between the United Kingdom and its integral parts? Those include the Crown dependencies which have different constitutions and relationships with Her Majesty's Government, the Republic of Ireland—again, a sovereign Government and state in its own right; that has changed since the 1920s when the common travel area was set up—and Northern Ireland.

It occasionally gets forgotten that Northern Ireland is as integral a part of the United Kingdom as Yorkshire or Lancashire. I do not know what the Yorkshireman and the Lancashire folk would feel if they had to provide identification in the form of passports to travel from one county to the other. That is effectively what this Bill is doing for the Northern Ireland folk. Over the years we have had free travel, which has worked wonderfully. The reason that it was necessary and still is necessary is that those who benefit from it are, largely, the poorest in our society. A large number of people from both Ireland and Northern Ireland earn their living in England and Scotland—not so much in Wales. They need to be able to travel freely, easily and without hassle to see their families from time to time when they can.

Most of the Premier League football clubs have many supporters in the island of Ireland, who travel every week to the mainland. They do not travel on aeroplanes very often—though some may do; they travel on boats and ferries in their thousands from, for example, Rosslare to Fishguard, or Dublin to Holyhead, and the various ports in the north into the various ports on the Clyde. We are talking about a large number of people. I know that the Government have statistics on how many people travelling by air hold passports, but that is quite irrelevant.

The Government have told me that they are not going to remove the common travel area. I talked yesterday to the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Brett, and their officials, but I simply do not understand the position. I have spent much of today trying to work out exactly what the Bill does in amending the 1971 Act. I got myself so mixed up that I went and sought help from none other than my noble friend Lord Kingsland. It took him 10 or 15 minutes to fiddle his way through it and work it out, and he has a legal brain that is three times the size of mine. At the end of the day, the Bill clearly tells us that the Government intend to remove the common travel area. At the same time, there are places where they will not require passports—although they might—and there are places where they do not quite know what they want, but they may want some form of identification. Surprisingly, a number of MPs—and, indeed, my noble friend Lord Cope—attending the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly were seized on by a gentleman at George Best Belfast City Airport and asked for passports. I have never been asked for a passport going in or out of there in my life, but somebody jumped the gun then. It was an example of what might happen.

The Minister has said that the Government have no intention of doing anything on the land border, but when one listens a little longer and looks a little further, one finds that they might be doing something. They state:

"We have made clear that we have no plans to introduce traditional fixed immigration controls on all air and sea routes between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom at this stage".

An Irish official to whom I spoke said that "at this stage" is not part of the Anglo-Irish agreement, that it should not be there, and that the Irish are clear that they will not be doing it.

The Government also say:

"We will not—for very obvious practical and political reasons—introduce fixed or routine immigration controls, data capture on journeys within the e-Borders programme or any requirement to carry a passport or national identity card when travelling over the land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland".

However, they also state:

"We do propose, however, to increase intelligence led interventions in Northern Ireland to tackle illegal immigration".

I suggest that, compared with the terrorist days, which look as though they are creeping back, that is an irrelevance.

At the moment, the land border can be managed, and is managed, very well by two of the finest police forces in these islands—the Garda Siochana in the Republic of Ireland and the PSNI in the north of Ireland, added to which they both have the support of their own nation's intelligence services. All four of those bodies work together, so what do we want a border agency for up there? We do not want to tell people who are travelling backwards and forwards that they are liable to be stopped and asked for passports, because all that will do is to raise the temperature in the north of Ireland particularly.

I explained to the Minister this morning that the people of Northern Ireland will see this part of this Bill as another way of getting rid of them out of the United Kingdom. I am afraid that, whether you shake your heads or not, that is how it is perceived. I could talk to you very civilly and say that maybe it is not like that, but that is how the people in Belfast, Armagh and Londonderry will see it—as another imposition and another move one step away from the unity with this nation and this Parliament for which most of those in Northern Ireland have been fighting for the past 40 years.

A number of impositions have been put on the Crown dependencies by this Government in recent years, so much so that they are seriously taking legal advice on how they can cease to be Crown dependencies and get their independence. I cannot believe that that would be a good thing for this nation. It is very important that we maintain the relationship, and I seriously advise your Lordships that to allow this clause to stay in the Bill would be something we would seriously regret. If we go further on policing, my argument is that of the large number of people who travel—and I am sorry that I do not have the numbers handy—including all our football fans, business people who come in and out and everybody else, the number of criminals who travel is very small.

During the Troubles, if I can call them that, we had special service people and intelligence people at the airports. We were always met at the gates by Special Branch, and we understood why. Nobody ever objected. We were occasionally stopped, if they did not know who we were or there was somebody whom they were not happy about. I assume, from knowing a little about that business, that they had seen photographs of people they were looking for; it was a guided and precise operation that they were carrying out. To leave behind that precise and extremely efficient operation and turn it into a mass-scale operation, as this Bill will do, is nuts, because that will be far less effective than having focused, specialist people looking for the drug dealers and illegal immigrants, who are a small number, although they are very dangerous, and for al-Qaeda or whatever form of terrorists.

I leave the matter with your Lordships but, as far as I am concerned, this clause should be removed from the Bill. I beg to move.