Amendment 175

Nationality and Borders Bill - Committee (5th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 10 February 2022.

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Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick:

Moved by Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick

175: Clause 71, page 74, line 16, at end insert—“(c) the individual is travelling to Northern Ireland on a local journey from the Republic of Ireland.” Member’s explanatory statementUnder this amendment, persons who are neither British nor Irish would nevertheless be able to make local journeys from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland without the need for an Electronic Travel Authorisation.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

My Lords, the amendment is in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and my noble friend Lord Coaker. Its purpose is to ensure that persons who are neither Irish nor British would nevertheless be able to make local journeys from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland without the need for an electronic travel authorisation. Clause 71 amends the Immigration Act 1971 to introduce electronic travel authorisations. It provides for a pre-entry clearance system which requires anyone who does not need a visa, entry clearance or other specified immigration status to obtain authorisation before travelling to the UK. This includes journeys within the common travel area; indeed, the clause has been expressly formulated to ensure that CTA journeys are captured.

This system does not apply to British or Irish citizens or those who have already been granted leave to enter or remain in the UK. The system will impact mainly non-visa nationals, including EU nationals, who can presently enter the UK visa-free for set periods. Almost all such persons are presently automatically considered to have deemed leave to enter the UK when crossing into Northern Ireland on the land border. It is believed that new subsection (4) in Clause 71 has been drafted intentionally to ensure that persons who are travelling within the CTA and consequently would not need leave to enter the UK will still require an ETA.

In preparing for this amendment today, I spoke to both the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission based in Belfast, which have commitments under Article 2 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol in all these matters. I spoke also to the Committee on the Administration of Justice, and my noble friend Lord Coaker and I spoke to representatives of the Irish Government based in the Irish embassy, who are deeply concerned about the impact of Clause 71 on tourism, not only in the Republic of Ireland but in Northern Ireland —for those people who come in to have a holiday via Shannon and Dublin airports and then move northwards.

It appears that the UK Government intend the scheme to apply on the land border and, so far, are dismissive of concerns raised. This looks very much like it is in breach of Article 2 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol, which deals with specific rights of individuals. The clause shows a total lack of understanding of the border, which has many crossings. The noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, who served in Northern Ireland as a former Minister and was chair of the Patten commission on policing, will be well aware of the geography not only of Northern Ireland but of the border area. I am sure that he would very clearly see the issues involved.

The situation for some time has been that almost all EU, EEA and non-EEA citizens who are non-visa nationals present in the Republic of Ireland can cross the land border freely on local journeys into Northern Ireland without any requirement for prior immigration permission. In some ways, the Bill conflates modern slavery issues with immigration, as well as with the necessities of an economy and tourism.

It has been the case for some time that citizens who are non-visa nationals present in the Republic of Ireland can cross the land border freely on local journeys into Northern Ireland, without any requirement for prior immigration permission. For EU-EEA citizens since Brexit, as was already the case with other non-visa nationals, permission in such circumstances is restricted to entry as a visitor and certain activities, such as work, are restricted when entering the UK this way. However, this system has allowed non-visa nationals resident in border areas in the Republic of Ireland to enter Northern Ireland freely for a range of activities, even visiting family members or for work purposes. I am aware of people who do that; they contribute to the economy in the Republic but have family in the north, and vice versa.

Under this new proposal, non-visa nationals resident in the Republic of Ireland will be required to apply in advance and pay for an ETA before crossing the border into Northern Ireland. It is clear that this will have a detrimental impact on non-visa nationals who need to enter Northern Ireland for activities such as visiting family, accessing childcare, carrying out permitted work engagements and accessing services and goods. This system will also impact the ability of members of the migrant community to take part freely in cross-border projects and programmes. I am sure the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, living in County Fermanagh, will be well aware of these issues for people who are resident or working in Counties Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal.

Concerns have also been raised about the impact of the ETA system on business, health and tourism, plus recreational issues, as it would require non-visa nationals in the Republic of Ireland to obtain an ETA before a visit to Northern Ireland, a fact that has been recognised and raised directly with the Home Office by the Irish Government. This would have an impact on tourism in Northern Ireland, as many people travel via Dublin and Shannon airports and head northwards. Therefore, the Government’s ETA proposal will impact detrimentally on tourism and economic opportunities in Northern Ireland. It will act as a disincentive to people from North America coming northwards to visit the Mourne Mountains in my own area and the Giant’s Causeway in north Antrim, which are both geographical icons. My noble friend Lord Coaker will be aware of this from his time as shadow Secretary of State, when I travelled with him round the constituency of South Down.

In the context of an invisible land border that British and Irish citizens can freely cross, it is eminently foreseeable that many other persons who have hitherto been able similarly to cross the border without any prior permission will be largely unaware of the ETA requirement. There are legal impacts to this. I am a member of the protocol sub-committee in your Lordships’ House. We wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, with a series of questions on 14 January. To my knowledge, we have not yet received an answer. We asked whether she would specify

“who will be required to have a valid ETA, and any exceptions to this; the form or manner in which an application for an ETA may be made, granted or refused; any conditions that must be met before an ETA application can be granted; the grounds on which an ETA application must or may be refused; the validity of an ETA (length of time and/or number of journeys); and the form, manner, or grounds for varying or cancelling an ETA”.

I hope the Minister answering this debate will be able to provide the Committee with some answers this evening and will exhort his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, to reply to the chair of the protocol sub-committee. I ask again: can the Minister confirm whether holders of a frontier worker permit will be exempt from the requirement for a valid ETA? Will there be any other exemptions or special arrangements for people crossing the land border frequently from the Republic of Ireland?

It would be preferable if ETA requirements did not exist or were not applied when travelling from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland. I understand that much discussion has taken place. I exhort the Minister to give such commitments here this evening. If he cannot, can he give a commitment that the Government are prepared to come back with an amendment on Report to deal with this matter and cancel ETA in such circumstances, because it is utterly crazy? Can the Minister specify what the results of those discussions have been? If the Government do not wish to adopt my amendment, will they bring forward an amendment on Report to deal with these issues?

I also agree with Amendment 175ZA in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Although it is very much an exploratory amendment, it is a very important one that is allied to mine. I agree too with the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, which I have also signed. It deals with the birthright commitment under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the onus on the Government to report on progress in giving effect to the nationality provisions of that agreement. We should always remember that the Belfast/Good Friday agreement states that people can identify themselves as

“and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose.”

For my part, I hold an Irish passport. I am Irish and I declare myself to be Irish, although I live in the UK—which I freely recognise.

I look forward to the Minister’s response. I thank noble Lords who will speak in support of these amendments, and I hope that the Minister brings us some positive news tonight, or that he indicates what the Government might do on Report.

Photo of Baroness Suttie Baroness Suttie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

My Lords, I will speak in favour of Amendment 175 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, to which I have added my name. I also support Amendment 175ZA, in the names of my noble friends Lord Paddick and Lady Hamwee, and Amendment 186, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

I will be brief because I fully support and agree with the very powerful points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. As it stands, the Bill does not give proper consideration to the economic and legal implications for the island of Ireland. Amendment 175 would amend the Bill so that all local journeys from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland, including for people who are neither British nor Irish, could continue to be made without the need for electronic travel authorisation.

I will highlight three areas of concern about the proposals as they stand and would very much appreciate a response from the Minister. The first is the question of legal uncertainty. If the Home Office remains committed, as I sincerely hope it is, to no checks on the land border on the island of Ireland, how will it enforce this new measure in practice? As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, has said, thousands of crossings are carried out each day by non-British and non-Irish residents in the Republic of Ireland who need to cross the border for work, leisure, family or educational purposes. There is currently no requirement or expectation that people carry passports if they live or work in the border areas. Given the very particular circumstances of the border areas in Ireland, I would be grateful if the Minister could explain how these measures will be enforced in practice.

The second area of concern is how these measures will sit with the existing commitments on the common travel area, as set out in the Northern Ireland protocol. The protocol sets out quite clearly that, irrespective of nationality, the rights and privileges contained within the common travel area will continue

“with respect to free movement to, from and within Ireland for Union citizens and their family members”.

Can the Minister confirm that this will continue to be the case?

My third and final point is the issue, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, of the potential economic impact of these measures on the Northern Ireland economy, most particularly the potentially very detrimental impact on tourism. Tourism is a major part of the economy in Ireland. Previously, American tourists, for example, arriving on the island of Ireland would have the expectation of free travel across the island for the duration of their visit. They would expect to be able to travel completely freely between Dublin, Belfast and Donegal during their stay. Has an economic assessment been undertaken on the impact of these measures? In particular can the Minister say whether any studies have been undertaken on whether the requirement for an ETA might discourage tourists from travelling to Northern Ireland from the south during their visit—and the consequent impact on the Northern Ireland economy?

In summary, I believe that these measures have not been properly thought through, and I urge the Government to think again and accept these amendments.

Photo of Viscount Brookeborough Viscount Brookeborough Crossbench 6:45, 10 February 2022

My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. I had not necessarily thought about saying anything, but she mentioned me in her speech. First, I declare an interest in that we are involved in tourism at home. Secondly, my brother is chairman of Tourism Ireland, a cross-border body that survives on funds from both the United Kingdom and Ireland to market the island of Ireland. Therefore, this particular regulation would make a complete fool of the whole practical implementation of it.

People ought to understand what the border really is—or, in fact, what it is not. We have come through all the Troubles. Before them, we had a border and we had to have certain papers to cross it. Then we all joined the European Union and that side was taken out of it. But then we had the Troubles so, in effect, the border was reinstated, albeit for a different reason. We do not have those border checks now; there is no border under the Good Friday agreement and everything since, including the protocol. That is the way it should be. Whether the noble Baroness and I are supporters of the protocol is neither here nor there; it is about the practical problems raised by this.

Whether tourists from another country cross the border, and who polices this, is of course an issue. In fact, they will not know whether they are crossing it, so it becomes rather ridiculous—on the whole, they do not have a clue. During the Troubles, there was a time when even our own British people—soldiers and police—did not know whether they were crossing it, so they used to draw yellow lines on it so that they knew when they were. A certain part of the population moved the yellow lines, so they still did not know where they were and then there were diplomatic incidents.

I live in County Fermanagh, which is one-third of the border in Northern Ireland. The border does not just affect it in terms of regulations—people cross it not just from day to day but time and time again in one direction or another to do very simple things. I know that you can use euros here if you are pushed, but every shop and business there uses euros and pounds. Therefore, half the time, no one has a clue whether they are in the north or the south, even when they walk into a shop. All the people working there, and of course the ones who are straightforward British or Irish, are not covered by this.

However, a wealth of people who are not British or Irish live and work within a few miles of the border and they do not think twice about it. If you cannot get a plumber very locally—we might get one from further afield anyway—you just ring up the nearest person. We are five miles from the border and he could well be from either side of it, and he might not be an Irish or British citizen.

I entirely support this amendment. I know that what I have said is not technical and I can only be very grateful to the noble Baroness, as we all can, for going into it in such detail because there is very little for us to say, except for the Government to sort it out.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee

My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and spoken to by other noble Lords. I was grateful, too, to have been briefed by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. I did not need to be convinced of the importance of local journeys for work, education, health services, shopping, frontier workers and so on. I was lucky enough to be a member of the EU Select Committee of the House during the transition period, when we heard direct from people living and working in Northern Ireland about the concerns which the amendments in this group address.

I want to speak particularly to Amendment 175ZA. The points raised in it apply more widely than to the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border. I certainly do not want to suggest that there is greater concern about criminals in the Republic than at other borders. I am not quite sure why these proposals come to be in the same group but I understand why there is a concern to get through the remaining amendments. The point is relevant to the border and there is a practical problem, as the noble Viscount just said.

My noble friend Lord Paddick is concerned about checks on the criminal record of an individual, now that we are no longer a member of the EU or have access to SIS II or ECRIS. We have to fall back on the Interpol database, which requires specific uploading of information and is not integrated with our police national computer or with member states’ national systems.

The report of the EU Security and Justice sub-committee on post-Brexit arrangements in that area is due to be debated on 25 February. I know that the Minister will deal with the points in the report then. I was going to say that I was sorry to see she does not get that Friday off, but it is never off for a Minister, is it? The points in it are relevant to Northern Ireland.

My noble friend Lord Oates has Amendment 180, which is not in this group, on physical proof of status. This amendment relates to the points that I know he will make and asks the very pertinent question: what happens when the digital system malfunctions? I am normally a glass-half-full person but that is pertinent to everyone, especially at this land border.

I noted, and think it deserves to be mentioned here, that the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House has reported in the following terms:

“The House may question why the detail of the Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme introduced under clause 71 is not set out in the Bill.”

It is because the scheme has not been worked up—at any rate not to completion, as I understand it. The report continues:

“If it is appropriate to make such provision in immigration rules, the House may expect it to be subject to a form of affirmative procedure, at least for the establishment of the scheme.”

The committee is saying much more delicately what I said the other day: we should not be expected to deal with criminal offences, as it was that day, arising from the scheme when we do not know what the scheme is. That also applies here.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Suttie, for raising this issue, and I think some very good questions have been asked. I have a different question. In the absence of an electronic travel authorisation, are there problems in enforcing immigration, asylum or indeed criminal law? Can we be reassured that there would not be an incentive for people who want to come to the UK to come in large numbers through the Republic of Ireland? That would be my one concern in trying to address the very real issues across the border that have been identified, and which you see in other countries where you have borders—especially where there has been a practice of having no border.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

My Lords, I will very briefly give support from these Benches to all three of these amendments. They all demonstrate the practical consequences of Brexit. I declare a bit of an interest on Amendment 175—not that I am neither British nor Irish but that I am both British and Irish. In fact, I have been Irish from birth without for a long time realising it, but I have now just got my passport, so I am a dual national.

But it makes no sense—and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, gave very graphic examples of how silly it is to try to stop people crossing the border. It is not just about tourism; it is about work and business. Surely it is not in the spirit of the good relationship that we have with the Republic of Ireland, or of the Belfast agreement, or of everything that we want to work, Brexit or no Brexit—or despite Brexit. We want to have very good relations on the island of Ireland. I am not sure how it would actually work, but trying to stop people would be a nuisance, to put it at its mildest, and harmful from every direction.

On the point about the ETA system having to rely on the clunky Interpol system, my noble friend reminded me that we are going to be debating the report from the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, in a couple of weeks. We do not have access to SEIS or ECRIS, or other EU instruments, and this is not good for operating an ETA system. So it would be very good to hear from the Minister whether he has anything positive to say about how to remedy the practical consequences, to use a neutral word, of Brexit, both for internal travel on the island of Ireland and for how the ETA system can work optimally.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Conservative

Perhaps I, too, should declare that I am both British and Irish since birth. I understand the difficulties locally that potentially arise and have been so well illustrated by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, but I wanted to ask the Minister whether he could put this in the context of the common travel area. Does it really exist in practice as a reciprocal arrangement? I specifically ask because I have never been able to land at Shannon Airport, even on a direct flight from Heathrow, without standing in a queue and presenting a passport—yet when I return and land at Heathrow, I walk straight through and am guided past the passport gates. To what extent is this common travel area being operated by the Irish Republic on a genuinely reciprocal basis? Could it not in a sense be tied up with this issue?

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 7:00, 10 February 2022

I will add my voice of support to my noble friend Lady Ritchie. It is good to have the perspective that she brings to this Committee. Our institutional memory in Parliament, in this place and the other place, with respect to Ireland is not as great as it was. It is a perspective that needs to be brought here more often, so this is an important little debate. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, will agree.

I say to the Minister that, whatever the rights and wrongs of all this—and I agree with what my noble friend said—it plays into the narrative that the Government do not have a grip with respect to Ireland. The consequences of that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, pointed out, are absolutely and potentially really difficult. Even if people are non-British or non-Irish, if they have to have an ETA to cross the border, how on earth is that going to work? Practically, at the end of the day, if it is worth having, somebody will have to check it. I know that it does not apply to British and Irish citizens, but suppose, as a British man, I have an American wife or a French girlfriend; we go to Northern Ireland and somebody checks it—with the history of the police and security forces checking documents. The Government have to wake up to this. Unless the Minister can get up and say, “We’re going to sort this and this is what’s going to happen”, it will drift on and on and the consequences will be potentially really difficult.

It is no wonder that the Irish Government and various organisations across the whole of the UK and Ireland are saying that the Government need to get a grip on this. It is ludicrous. I gave an example. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, will know far better than me. What about somebody who for years has lived a mile across the border, has a mixed marriage in terms of nationality—somebody who is a British or Irish citizen married to an American—and wants to go shopping or to a hotel four miles down the road that happens to be in Northern Ireland? Do they need an ETA?

This is one of those things about which people outside Parliament say, “Do you know what you are doing?” Frankly, this is something that is so serious, and all the time we are looking at it we are trying to resolve it. It is difficult. It raises issues that you do not appreciate. If only you understood how difficult it is. Well, I do understand how difficult it might be, and I also understand this: the border, for reasons that we all know, whether it is drawn in Ireland or down the Irish Sea, has consequences that are enormous for the people of Ireland and for people here.

The Government have to sort this out in a way that commands respect and agreement from all communities. The amendment that my noble friend Lady Ritchie has brought before us is important, but I implore the Government: whatever the rights and wrongs of getting into Shannon Airport, whoever is right about whether it is seen as a back-door way of getting into the UK, et cetera—and I should say that the Irish Government have visa requirements as well, which will influence how people come in, so that may be one of the answers —it just has to be resolved. There has to be more than a ministerial, “We understand the importance of this and the difficulties, and that it needs to be sorted out”. The frank reality is that the time for sorting it out was yesterday, not today or tomorrow. It is about time that the Government got a grip of this, otherwise there will be very serious consequences further down the road.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank noble Lords very much for participating in this short but powerful debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and second the point of view of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that you bring—I said “you” again; I am very sorry—an interesting and unusual perspective to this debate. I thank her for that. In answer to the noble Baroness’s question about the letter to my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford, the noble Baroness will have a reply in a week that will outline the details she asked for.

The Government are clear: there will continue to be no routine immigration controls on journeys to the UK from within the common travel area, and none whatever on the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. That will remain the position when the ETA scheme is introduced.

It may be helpful if I explain that all individuals, other than British and Irish citizens, arriving in the UK, including those crossing the land border into Northern Ireland, already need to enter in line with the UK’s immigration framework. I think this goes some way to answering the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about the hypothetical American wife or French girlfriend. I think it also deals with the point made by my noble friend, Lady Neville-Rolfe. For example, visa nationals are required to obtain a visa for the UK when travelling via Ireland, otherwise they are entering illegally. We are therefore applying the same principle to individuals requiring an ETA who enter the UK via Ireland without one.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, referenced Article 2 of the protocol. The Government consider that the ETA scheme is compliant, and they will continue to consider their obligations under the protocol with regard to this. I want to reassure the noble Baroness that the process for obtaining an ETA will be quick and light touch. I am told that it will be not dissimilar to acquiring an American ESTA, which I am sure many noble Lords are familiar with. As many people will know, that is very straightforward and easy. Once granted, an ETA will be valid for multiple journeys over an extended period, minimising the burden on those making frequent trips, including those across the Northern Ireland border. I perhaps should have said that I have had considerable experience of crossing that border on numerous occasions.

In terms of the specific questions on the CTA, as far as I am aware, it has nothing to do with Brexit. It predates Brexit does it not? It goes back to 1923 and partition I think, from my dim and distant memory. I am sure I will be corrected if I am wrong. All CTA members are firmly committed to protecting the common travel area. I will reiterate this point: even with the introduction of ETAs, there will be no routine immigration controls on arrivals to the UK from elsewhere in the common travel area—only intelligence-led controls with no immigration controls whatever on the Ireland/Northern Ireland land border. Given the tone of the debate, I hope noble Lords will allow me to keep reiterating that point.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

I thank the Minister for giving way. Could he outline to the Committee how these ETAs will operate. Where will the work be carried out? How will people complete the necessary requirements and what will be the cost? These are the issues that the people are asking. They do not want ETAs to be a disincentive to tourism, the local economy or business generally.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. I am going to come on to a number of those points subsequently. In terms of cost, I am told it will be competitive with international norms. I have just referred to the ESTA programme in the States. I looked that up this morning in anticipation of this, and it is currently $14, so it is not overwhelming. In terms of the enforcement, which I think is at the heart of the matter, I will come to that in a second if I may.

There will be no controls whatever on the Northern Ireland land border. Individuals will be able to continue to pass through border control at first point of entry to the common travel area. As is currently the case, individuals arriving in the UK, including those crossing the land border into Northern Ireland, will need to continue to enter in line with the UK’s immigration framework. Obviously, that includes the ETA.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, have asked about the impact on tourism. The Government acknowledge that a clear communication strategy is obviously going to be key to tackling any misunderstanding about the requirements to travel to Northern Ireland. We are planning to work across government, utilising internal and external stakeholders and a variety of communication channels to ensure that the ETA requirement is communicated very clearly.

Photo of Viscount Brookeborough Viscount Brookeborough Crossbench

Can I just make one point? Northern Ireland is the size of Yorkshire. What the Minister is really stating is that somebody who goes on holiday to Yorkshire must not go to a neighbouring county for any reason without complying with this regulation. I am terribly sorry, but this is complete and utter rubbish. It is nonsensical and it is not going to work. What do people do if they go touring in Yorkshire? They tour outside it. If tourists go to Ireland, why should they not simply tour Ireland? No amount of communication will do—I am very sorry—and there is nobody to police it. What the Government are talking about is simply unworkable and disastrous.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Viscount—sort of. There will be no hard border. As I said, there is not going to be a hard border in Northern Ireland, and within the CTA there is effectively no change.

In answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, about enforcement, which was brought up subsequently as well, I have said it three or four times now: there will be no routine border controls on journeys from within the common travel area, which goes some way to answering the Yorkshire example. There will be none at all on the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Everyone entering the UK, regardless of where they enter from—again, as I have said—is required to meet the UK’s immigration framework. In answer to “What’s the point of having it, then?”, anyone entering the UK without an ETA, or any form of immigration permission where required, will be entering illegally and may be subject to enforcement if encountered during intelligence-led operational activity.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

I say gently to the Minister that he has to be really careful with language on things such as conforming to immigration policy and the UK border. The historic context of some of the language that he used means that he has to be really careful when talking about moving across borders or even saying that there will not be a border control but talking about complying with UK immigration policies.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I completely understand the point that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is making. I promise him that I am sticking very closely to the script. I am well aware of that.

I think I have dealt with most of the questions, albeit probably not to noble Lords’ satisfaction. What I cannot do, I am afraid, is commit to coming back on Report with anything, but obviously I am going to reflect very carefully on the tone of this debate—to go to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker—and take that back to the department.

Turning to Amendment 175ZA, I assure the House that the Government will conduct robust identity and suitability checks before granting an ETA. We will use the information supplied in the ETA application form to check against our watchlist system. However, as I am sure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness will understand, I cannot go into details of the exact checks that applicants will undergo or how those checks will be conducted, as to do so could undermine our ability to secure the UK border. Such a detailed commentary could provide those people whom we want to prevent from travelling to the UK sufficient information to attempt to circumvent our controls, undermining the very objective of the ETA scheme and the wider universal permission-to-travel requirement to enhance the security of our border.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about what has happened since we left the European Union and lost access to the European Criminal Records Information System and the Schengen Information System. The UK participated only in the law enforcement aspects of SIS II, meaning that we could not, and did not, use SIS II information for immigration purposes. Therefore, having returned to the Interpol channels, we are now routinely exchanging information with EU member states on persons of interest, including missing and wanted individuals, and on lost and stolen documents. Moreover, through the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, we continue to share criminal records with the EU for law enforcement purposes, including to assist criminal proceedings and for public protection. This is almost identical to the arrangement that we had under ECRIS as an EU member state.

I assure noble Lords that the confirmation of an individual’s status prior to travel will be a matter for the Home Office and their carrier. The onus will not be on the individual to produce evidence of their status to a carrier; instead, carriers will be expected to check and confirm with the Home Office that an individual has an appropriate permission before they bring them to the UK. It is our long-term ambition for all carriers operating scheduled services across all modes—air, rail and maritime—to use interactive advance passenger information, or iAPI, systems to provide passenger information to the Home Office in advance of travel. In return, passengers will receive confirmation of permission to travel prior to boarding. iAPI is already a well-established mechanism used around the world, particularly by other countries that already operate travel authorisation schemes. None the less, the Home Office will undertake rigorous systems testing to ensure that our messaging to carriers works before the scheme goes live. We expect the likelihood of a technical malfunction occurring to be negligible.

In the unlikely event that a technical malfunction does occur—

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

I wanted to ask my noble friend about what happens when there is a technical malfunction, but I think he was going to answer that question. Having been caught out when the ESTA system went down when I was trying to go to California, I ended up missing my flight and having to go via Seattle, which took another eight or nine hours. It is important to have strong technical systems if you are going to rely on them, but it may be that there is a waiver or some arrangement that can be introduced.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 7:15, 10 February 2022

I completely agree with my noble friend: obviously it is important to have well-established protocols in place if such a thing happens. I can assure noble Lords that the Home Office will ensure that passengers are not disproportionately impacted or prevented travelling to the UK. As is already set out in Clause 72, we will not penalise carriers where, due to a Home Office systems outage, it is not possible for them to establish an individual’s status.

On Amendment 186, the Government are steadfastly committed to the Belfast agreement and the two distinct birthright provisions in it: the right to identify and be accepted as British, Irish or both; and the right to hold British and Irish citizenship. In recognising the birthright of the people of Northern Ireland in respect of identity and confirming their birthright in respect of citizenship, the Belfast agreement is clear in guaranteeing that these rights already exist. It expressly and clearly said how and where the law should be changed in many areas but it made no such stipulation on this particular matter of identity.

This amendment would require the Home Secretary to propose stipulating a particular view of identity in law. Doing so would risk impinging on the freedom of the people of Northern Ireland to choose what their identity means to them. It would also amount to treating an integral part of the United Kingdom differently. The Government cannot accept such a proposition; nor can they accept an amendment that is contrary to the intention of the Belfast agreement.

I am aware that some of these answers have not satisfied noble Lords. As I said, I will reflect the tone of this debate back to the Home Office very carefully. I am also aware that I have not answered my noble friend Lord Moylan’s question about reciprocity; I am sure that he will forgive me for not even attempting to do so.

I invite the noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate from across the Committee. I say to the Minister that I happen to agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough: the proposal in Clause 72 is a nonsense and will be unworkable, not because people will not want it work but because it will be dysfunctional both physically and operationally. It will act as a disincentive to tourism and business, as well as to societal arrangements because many non-Irish and non-British people who live in the Republic of Ireland have family in Northern Ireland. There will be preventions there.

I urge the Minister to reflect on all the contributions that have been made today in his discussions with the Home Office. Again, I suggest that we will probably come back on Report with a further amendment on this issue because we do not want impediments placed in the way of our tourism industry, our economy, our business and the normal day-to-day travel of people who live on both sides of the land border, which is largely invisible as it stands. Noble Lords who have travelled a lot will know exactly what we are talking about.

For those reasons, I rather reluctantly beg leave to withdraw my amendment but reserve the right to bring it back on Report.

Amendment 175 withdrawn.

Amendment 175ZA not moved.

Clause 71 agreed.

Clauses 72 and 73 agreed.

Clause 74: Counter-terrorism questioning of detained entrants away from place of arrival