Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 60, in
clause 2, page 3, line 10, after 'time)', insert—
' ''first interview'' means a substantive interview conducted under caution and in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Codes of Practice, in the presence of an accredited legal representative, and'.—[Mr. Heath.]
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
I was replying to the amendment when we adjourned. I remind hon. Members that, under the amendment, the criminal offence of a person being undocumented can be committed only at an interview conducted under caution and in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, or the Scottish equivalent. I told the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that I could understand the concern of members of the Committee to ensure that no one is prosecuted for that offence without the normal safeguards applicable to the handling of criminal proceedings, but for reasons that I shall outline, I am not happy with the amendment. I think that it would have consequences that he might not intend.
Let me set out the likely sequence of events should a case arise in which a person arrives at, say, Heathrow. They will be seen by an immigration officer at the control desk. Obviously, among other things, they will be asked to produce a passport. If, during that interview, the immigration officer comes to the view that the person cannot produce the document and therefore that an offence under clause 2 may have been committed, the officer, if he is not trained to undertake an arrest, will either call the interview to a halt, or caution the person before calling either the police or an arrest-trained immigration officer. A police officer or arrest-trained immigration officer will make the arrest. Once that has happened, the various procedures for which PACE provides will kick in.
As we noted in the debate on the previous amendment, by virtue of section 145 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, immigration officers exercising their powers to question or arrest, among other activities, must have regard to the relevant specified provisions in PACE codes. I referred to the immigration (PACE codes of practice) direction of 2000, which sets out the relevant powers and the provisions of the codes that must be adhered to—for example, an immigration officer wanting to arrest a person without a warrant must have regard to
every provision in codes C, D and E. In addition, interviews at that point have to be carried out under caution, and the individual in question must be able to have a legal representative present if they so wish. That is how the system works in respect of existing immigration offences, and obviously it is right to treat the criminal offence in clause 2 the same way.
The safeguards in PACE or its equivalent apply, but that does not mean that the amendment is reasonable and we can accept it. The offence is committed not at the point that has been suggested, but at the point at which the person may be expected to have a passport on them, but does not produce it. That point is when the person is being interviewed by an immigration officer on the control desk—when every other passenger is required to produce their document—not at a subsequent interview under caution. If the person is subsequently cautioned and produces a passport at an interview of that kind, that does not necessarily justify the failure to produce it at immigration control, but of course that would be taken fully into consideration along with any explanation offered for the original failure.
Similarly, we cannot accept a provision whereby a person cannot commit an offence unless a legal representative is present. That would be unprecedented in terms of the way in which we take decisions on whether all sorts of offence have been committed. No one needs a representative to comply with the simple, normal request of all travelling passengers that they produce their passport. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is convinced by the arguments that what he proposes would not be the right point at which to determine that an offence had been committed. The right point is when every other member of the travelling public is asked to produce a document and certain individuals cannot, or refuse to, do so.
I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation, and to some extent I understand it. However, there is still a problem with the definition of what constitutes a first interview. That problem of definition exists not for the potentially accused person in terms of their offence, but for the prosecution in terms of establishing whether the interview in question was the first interview with an immigration officer. As the Bill is currently drafted, it might be a defence to say, ''No, the occasion on which I was found not to have my documents was not my first interview with an immigration officer. I had already spoken to an immigration officer in another respect.'' That is a potential difficulty, although not a serious one.
The second difficulty is that the offence is different from most criminal offences, because it deals with what transpires in the course of an interview. Normally when a person is held at a police station and is interviewed, the interview takes place under clear rules of conduct, with clear guidance about self-incrimination. In the present circumstances, that would not be the case. I therefore question the evidential value of what may be said or done in the context of that first interview if those precautions are not taken.
I understand what the Minister says about the difficulty in the way in which the provision is framed because the point of arrest is the point of non-production, and it is nonsense then to say, ''But actually, it is not; it is at some point in the future when you hold the first interview.'' That is a conundrum that we have yet to solve.
If we are to prosecute the offence successfully, following the first suspicion that a person does not have their documents on them for the reasons outlined in the Bill, it would be appropriate to move rapidly towards holding a formal interview under caution and with legal representation, which would form the evidence on which a future prosecution was based. The Minister came quite a long way towards that position when she described what she expected the process to be, but I shall give way to her so that she can say more about it.
I hoped that my outline of a hypothetical but typical or common sequence of events at Heathrow would reassure the hon. Gentleman. Once an immigration officer at control is satisfied that a person understands the question and is genuinely saying that they cannot produce a document, from that point onwards, the train of events that the hon. Gentleman wants to happen would begin. An immigration officer would then be called, who would be able, under the appropriate safeguards and codes of practice, to take the matter forward with an arrest, a caution and a full interview, which would form the basis of the evidence.
As I said, the Minister has reassured me up to a point, but I still envisage difficulties with such an approach. For instance, what inference would be drawn from silence in those circumstances? Could a court draw any inference on that basis? I think not, because the person is not legally represented and cannot be required to say anything that might incriminate them in a court. There are still difficulties in respect of the evidential basis on which a prosecution might be brought.
It seems to me that a clearly delineated two-stage process would be preferable—one in which, first, there is the suspicion that someone is travelling without documents due to the fact that they have destroyed them; and, secondly, a formal interview that establishes the facts behind the case is held with the appropriate precautions, at which point the offence is considered to be committed. There would therefore be an offence committed in a circumstance which is defined and which is capable of being adduced in evidence. That would put the prosecution in a stronger position.
I will consider that and I ask the Minister to consider it too. I am not trying to undermine her position; I am simply trying to get it right. She has gone sufficiently far towards my position for me to be partly reassured, but her response has raised new questions in my mind about exactly what is proposed. Between now and Report, I will consider how a first interview might be construed by a court without further definition and whether that might be an
obstacle to prosecution rather than a tool. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment No. 63, in
clause 2, page 3, line 15, at end add—
'(11) Where a decision is made to prosecute a person for offences contained in this section, no prosecution shall be commenced until after the final determination of all proceedings in relation to—
(a) an asylum claim made under the Refugee Convention, or
(b) a claim made under the European Convention on Human Rights, or
(c) an application for leave to remain under the provisions of the Immigration Acts.'.
The amendment would allow for a period between the time at which the intention to prosecute is determined and the hearing of that prosecution in order to allow for the possible resolution of an asylum claim under the refugee convention or the European convention on human rights, or an application for leave to remain. It ties in with our wish to avoid complications in the operation of the Bill with article 31 of the convention. There is a serious mismatch, even with all the assurances that the right hon. Lady has given, between what is proposed in the Bill as a process and the rights of the individual accepted under article 31. We will come back to this issue under the next amendment.
Once the intention to prosecute has been established and the Crown Prosecution Service has decided that there is sufficient ground to prosecute, there is no problem in terms of process in not entering into a hasty prosecution at that point. Such a prosecution might be construed by a higher court as a curtailment of the rights of the individual under article 31 if it stands in the way of a proper determination of that person's status under that convention and their claims. I envisage huge benefits in doing things that way round. If the status of the individual is determined before the prosecution, we will know whether they will stay in this country or be asked to leave. We will know that at the point of release from detention, if detention is the result of the prosecution, they will either be put straight on to a plane back to their point of departure, or be admitted to this country on the basis of their claim. Not to do that is potentially dangerous in legal terms because it invites a counter-claim and further actions in the courts to establish the right of claim.
I hope that the Minister will regard the amendment in the spirit in which it is intended. It would not deny her the prosecution that she seeks, but would establish an order of process that makes sense in relation both to the apparatus of the state and to the rights of the individual, and therefore allows for matters to be carried forward in equal order.
The hon. Gentleman said that the amendment would allow for the possible resolution of the asylum claim, and I agree in so far that there will be cases in which it is preferable to have the asylum claim resolved before the case goes to prosecution or a decision on whether to prosecute is made. However, it is not correct to frame an amendment that would
constrain the system by providing for the order of process that he outlined to be followed in every case. It would be enshrined in legislation that an asylum claim must always be determined before any prosecution could proceed. It would not be right to make such a categorical provision about the order in which prosecutions are mounted and immigration applications are determined.
As I said, there may be some cases in which a decision on the asylum claim—that is largely what we are talking about—has a bearing on whether it is in the public interest to bring a prosecution. I accept the logic of that argument, because there will be such cases. However, on some occasions we would want to know the outcome of criminal proceedings before deciding an immigration claim. Prosecution might provide for the refusal of the claim on the grounds of character or conduct. If someone were given the maximum sentence, it might bring them within the province of section 72 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.
We do not prescribe in statute an order of process in respect of other immigration offences—illegal entry, for example. We give the prosecuting and immigration authorities the flexibility to determine in each case whether the best interests are served by the asylum claim being determined or the prosecution proceeding, and it is right that we retain the same flexibility in respect of the offences that we are discussing. There is also the argument of the deterrent effect, which, we have all agreed, the clause enshrines and is necessary if we are to alter people's behaviour. Having in law an order of process that always defers prosecution until it has been decided whether a person qualifies for leave to remain would dilute that deterrent effect.
The order in which prosecutions and immigration applications are handled will depend on circumstances of the case. To reflect the various possible circumstances, we must use the same flexible vehicle and process that we use in respect of other immigration offences and ensure that the prosecution guidelines set out the issues relevant to the timing of prosecutions. I have already said that I will write to the Committee about various aspects of the application of the measures. Primary legislation that prescribes an order of process would be too blunt an instrument. It has not been used for other immigration offences, and it should not be used in this case.
The decision on whether to prosecute and when is within the province of the Crown Prosecution Service. In practice, the decisions are taken collaboratively, but the hon. Lady is hypothesising about a case in which there is an absolute difference of opinion. In such a case, the prosecution service would decide whether to proceed forthwith.
I hope that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome will see the sense in retaining a flexible
I am grateful to the Minister. I look forward with increasing eagerness to seeing the guidance on prosecution, because it will cover much of what we are discussing. If we can see the guidance before Report, it might allow an easier passage for the Bill. I understand some of the Minister's points about the flexibility available to prosecuting authorities, but I believe that nothing, including consideration of whether to prosecute for the offence, should reduce the burden on the immigration service to process the asylum claim as quickly as possible. I hope that that would always be the case.
I was worried when the Minister, in support of her argument, adduced the view that if a maximum sentence were applied, section 72 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 would be invoked. That is a self-contained, circular argument that prevents people from having access to their proper rights under the refugee convention on the basis of a court's determination of their level of culpability in destroying their documents, or perhaps their attitude before the court. Those matters are not relevant to consideration of whether they have a claim under the refugee convention. I am surprised and worried that that argument has been advanced, because it undermines much of what the Minister said about the safeguards that she wishes to build into the Bill.
I invite the Minister to reflect on that point, because I am not sure that she will wish to sustain that argument in another place. Having said that, I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division. I want to consider the Minister's comments and receive the communication about prosecution policy that I eagerly await. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment No. 64, in
clause 2, page 3, line 15, at end add—
(14) After subsection (3)(c) (falsification of documents), insert—
(d) section 2 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.)Act 2004 (entering United Kingdom without passport).''.
(15) After subsection (4)(d) (falsification of documents), insert—
(e) under section 2 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.)Act 2004 (entering United Kingdom without passport),''.'.
The amendment goes to the heart of article 31 of the refugee convention and the defence that the Government have accepted as being necessary in section 31 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. It is designed to provide the same defence that the Government inserted into previous legislation to avoid the mischief of being in contravention of article 31. It is self-evident that, if that statutory defence was not only necessary but desirable in previous legislation, it should be necessary and desirable in this Bill. We have
already covered the provisions of the convention too many times for comfort, so I hope that that will be sufficient to introduce the amendment.
As the hon. Gentleman has outlined, the amendment would create a further defence to the offence under clause 2 if a person can show that they met the requirements of section 31 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. As we heard this morning, those requirements—of section 31 rather than article 31—are that a person is a refugee if he applied for asylum
''as soon as was reasonably practicable after his arrival in the United Kingdom''
and that he can show
''good cause for his illegal entry or presence''.
Section 31 was introduced to reflect the United Kingdom's obligations under article 31 of the refugee convention, following some of the cases—in particular the Adimi case, to which reference was made morning. It was an attempt to define for the purposes of UK domestic law our interpretation of article 31.
Because of the way in which the offence would be operationalised, I do not believe that the exclusion of a section 31 defence would impact negatively on people who may liable to prosecution because they have disposed of or destroyed documents. Similarly, a person forced to flee their country with forged papers and who presents those papers to an immigration officer will not be liable to prosecution and would not be dependent on a section 31 defence. The behaviour that we intend clause 2 to catch is the destruction or disposal of a document by someone who had it when they began their journey. In such cases, the person would have had a passport when they left the country in which they feared prosecution, and a good reason could rarely be provided for dispensing with their passport after they left that country. If they have a good reason, the reasonable explanation defence that is already in clause 2 will protect them. We believe that the reasonable explanation defence in clause 2 is equivalent to the ''good cause'' demanded in section 31 of the 1999 Act.
I agree with comments made earlier when we strayed on to the issue that section 31 of the 1999 Act and article 31 of the convention are very important. I am fully aware of our obligations under those provisions. I am clear in my mind that the clause is satisfactory in that respect and that the linkage between ''reasonable explanation'' and ''good cause'' is a firm one.
None the less, I feel that I should ask my officials, in conjunction with my legal advisers, to examine the Bill to ensure that we do not inadvertently disadvantage refugees or any subset of the refugee population that come here. The hon. Gentleman is concerned about that, and he will know that section 31 confines that defence to refugees, not to presumptive refugees or asylum seekers. I am prepared to re-examine provision to ensure that, on Report, either we can give the hon. Gentleman a categorical legal assurance, or—if we feel that there we can strengthen the provisions along the
lines that he suggested—we table an appropriate amendment.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's fundamental point that an important area of the law is involved. I certainly do not want to disadvantage small groups of refugees. It is better that I make a little time to carry out further analysis and seek legal advice, and let the House know the results on Report.
I thank the Minister for her helpful response. I think that she has undertaken to ensure that there is no ambiguity in the Bill in that respect, and that it will not be open to the courts to interpret, perhaps incorrectly, the application of the section 31 defence in this instance. I claim no particular merit in my amendment over something proposed by her that achieves the same result. If we can achieve that result I shall be satisfied, and people outside will be relieved that their proper concerns have been considered. I am grateful for the Minister's undertaking and beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New Clause 1—Duty of carrier in relation to travel documents—
'(1) A carrier of a person from outside the United Kingdom to a United Kingdom airport commits an offence if it fails to present the person's travel documents, or a copy of those documents, to an immigration officer in the United Kingdom on request.
(2) A carrier guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum for any one offence.
(3) A carrier shall be entitled to be reimbursed by the Secretary of State all reasonable costs incurred by it in relation to this section.'.
New clause 4—Failure to report to immigration officer upon arrival in United Kingdom—
'(1) A person commits an offence if he fails to report to an immigration officer upon arrival in the United Kingdom.
(2) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) to prove that he arrived at a non-canalized port but contacted an immigration officer and—
(a) left an address at which the person could be contacted during the ensuing seven days; and
(b) left the name of a person with the right of abode in the United Kingdom who would take responsibility for any cost falling to be met by public funds of his stay in the United Kingdom.
(3) In this section ''non-canalized port'' means an airport, harbour or other landfall (whether reached by land, sea or air) at a time when no immigration officer is on duty.'.
New clause 5—Provision of passenger information—
''(aa) a photocopy or electronic copy of each passenger's passport or travel document;''.'.
We have had a good and full debate on clause 2. I begin by reaffirming what I have said on a number of occasions. The Government's purpose is to address a fundamental mischief and an activity that we all absolutely deplore: the tearing up of documents by those travelling to this country. We are at one with the
Government in saying that the practice must be discouraged and stopped, and the message sent to those who tear up the documents, and those who persuade others to do it, that it is criminal behaviour, which must be treated seriously.
The debate has been useful, as we have obtained from the Minister a number of assurances, the most important of which is that she intends that the clause shall apply only to those who tear up their documents rather than, as some of us feared, to the many possibly genuine refugees who never had documents in the first place and who therefore could not possibly comply with the requirement to produce them. I was glad to hear her say that. I still believe that the clause will need some tightening and amending before Report; we have put those points on the record at least once before, and I shall say no more about it. I am grateful to the Minister for her response.
My comments on stand part will be limited to a matter that I did not raise earlier. I have a query for the Minister. It has been put to me that a variety immigration-related criminal offences have been applied over the years to persons seeking entry to the UK or transiting the UK from elsewhere. I believe that the Home Office counting rules for recorded crime, Immigration Acts classification code 78, reveal something in the order of 16 specific immigration offences, many of which concern illegal entry to the UK. I also know that an unspecified number of general criminal offences have been used against illegal entrants.
At a time of the Minister's choosing—they are specific questions and she may want to write to me further on the subject—I hope that she can answer my points. Are there 16 or more specific immigration offences? Do many of them concern illegal entry to the UK? Are there ways of dealing with that mischief under the general criminal law? Can she confirm that she has been advised that the best way to proceed is to create extra offences under clause 2—in other words, that a genuine gap needs to be filled? Given that there are other offences, it would help to know just a little about them.
I move swiftly on to new clause 1. It was drafted as a peg on which to hang a much-needed discussion about the copying of documents. There is much to be said for having spare copies of travellers' documents, perhaps taken by the travellers themselves, and for ensuring that the carriers—that is to say, the airlines—are not expected to carry out the duty. Indeed, whatever duties they carry out, they should be properly reimbursed.
A few months ago, my former colleague in this House, Timothy Kirkhope, now a Member of the European Parliament, produced a report on asylum for our party to consider. He considered the issue of travellers and their documents. Clause 2—that is why the new clause is linked with clause 2—sets out to deal with the issue of who the traveller is. We need to know who the traveller is and where he or she has come from in order to deal with the him or her properly.
One way to deal with such an issue would be through clause 2, but another way is to ensure that
those who travel have extra copies of their documents that can be produced. For example, if I were to travel from somewhere to London Heathrow, and to tear up my passport on the journey and destroy any other travel documents that I had, that would be a completely useless activity had I handed in a copy of those documents to the authorities before I left the airport of departure. If I were then to present myself at the airport here without a document, it would be the simplest of matters for the copy documents to be produced from the airport in question. That is the general theme, as in that case there would be no point in carrying out such an activity.
The Kirkhope commission reported that technology had advanced to such an extent that there could be a statutory obligation to photograph or scan the documents of all persons embarking on entry to the UK. The commission suggested that British companies should be granted special tax relief to cover any expenditure on that. As the commission pointed out, recording documents would minimise the chances of passengers destroying them during or immediately after the journey before reaching passport control. However, that is a proposal that clearly requires the widest and longest possible consultation.
May I mention the concerns of some of those who have approached me from the airline industry? One cannot proceed towards any plan to copy documents without the wholehearted co-operation, support and involvement of the airlines concerned at every stage.
The suggestion is certainly worthy of consideration. Does the hon. Gentleman envisage having such a system in place on all flights, or just on flights from certain countries?
The practical issues involved are terribly difficult, to be blunt, as are the handling issues. Ideally, such arrangements could or should be made for flights from all countries into the UK. I suspect that it would initially have to start out as some form of pilot—[Laughter.] I do apologise for that entirely unintentional pun; even if I had meant it as a joke, which I did not, it would have been a typically poor one.
We would have to start with a pilot for the countries that we might worry about, and then see how it went. Ideally, we are talking about all countries. One of the problems has been that, towards the end of last year, airlines were summoned to a consultation meeting with the Government at only about five days' notice, which is very short. They were then given only about six working days to produce data on the cost of providing photocopies of passports. If that is right, it is a pity, because again it smacks of things being done in a rush and not at the gentle pace that such measures require. UK carriers operate at about 200 airports, and if what I said is right, it was too much for the Home Office to expect reliable impact assessments to be provided in such a short period. The airlines were given a very short consultation period. I refer again to the Cabinet Office guidelines of 12 weeks, which were not observed.
I know that the Government have such a plan in mind, and it would help the Committee to be fully appraised very shortly, if not today, of the Government's thinking and plans. Perhaps it could also be given the full briefing of their consultation period so far, and sight of some of the relevant correspondence and representations. I also know that the Minister may be having difficulty with other Departments that have conflicting interests and attitudes about the idea of having extra copies of travellers' documents.
I understand that the Department for Transport is concerned about any plans that the Home Office may have and has made representations to it, partly because of the huge delays to passengers that might result. I also understand that there are differences of opinion in the Cabinet about whether a voluntary, carefully targeted scheme should be introduced, rather than trying to do too much too quickly.
When the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) intervened a moment ago, I was about to mention the Greek airline, Olympic Airlines, which appears routinely to confiscate the passports of some passengers on its flights. That story came out in a BBC newsflash on about 10 December. It was concerned about the fines that it faced for bringing asylum seekers into the UK. It is often forgotten that airlines are subject to fines, and I hope that the Minister might tell us the amount that airlines are being fined. I, for one, do not know the total amount of fines imposed in the past x years, or how many fines are outstanding. I would be glad of some news.
Apparently, Olympic Airlines retains the passports of selected passengers—again, we are in difficult territory—during selected flights.
I am not sure whether the Tory spokesperson is in the habit of shopping at supermarkets. It strikes me that he might not be. These days, when shopping in supermarkets, one is often encouraged to take up loyalty cards. In a split second, computers can work out what one has bought and compare it with what one has bought in the past. If it is possible for supermarkets to do that without any delay, to aid their commercial function, why cannot airlines to do the same thing?
I do not have the slightest idea; it is not for me to say. I do a lot of shopping in supermarkets, and I have a considerable number of cards from various supermarkets in my pocket. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point; it is a reflection of modern technology. We all want the same end: a method by which we can ensure that people who destroy their documents on an aeroplane cannot get away with it, because their documents have been scanned or copied earlier. That is our aim—I do not know about the technology involved.
The Greek airline retains passports during the flight and then produces them for immigration officials. The airline argues that it is the only way to stop asylum
seekers boarding a flight with fake documents, destroying them during the flight and then claiming asylum when they arrive in the UK, having no documentation. That is a real live issue. The Minister has probably heard of Olympic Airways' plan and I should be glad if she would comment on its efficacy.
Will the Government make proposals to force airlines on some routes to copy passengers' documents before they depart? I hope not, because despite the way in which my proposal is drafted—it is merely a peg on which to hang a discussion—it might not be sensible to force the airlines to do so. There is a better argument for saying that passengers should arrive at airports with duplicate copies of their documents. The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) shakes his head.
I shake my head because we can assume that airlines would be able to set up photocopying facilities, but we cannot make that assumption in respect of every passenger at every airport. If the passengers had a duty to provide duplicates, someone would have to check that the duplicate was the same as the passport. That would destroy the hon. Gentleman's point; if someone had to check that the duplicate was the same as the passport, that person might as well make the copy in the first place.
The hon. Gentleman may be right or wrong, but he is advancing the discussion. It would take less time to check one document against another, especially if a photocopier is made available to passengers in the airport. I am concerned on behalf of the airline; in the short time available to it, British Airways raised several problems relating to cost with the Government's proposals to force airlines to take copies. British Airways' team in Brussels quoted about £213,000 in extra staff costs per annum and more than £11,500 for the purchase and maintenance of a copier.
Other problems that the airlines would face relate to infrastructure—airport check-in areas do not generally have space for a photocopier—and transaction times. As Labour Members know, checking in at airports can be frustrating, as it sometimes takes hours. Whatever proposal is made, we must consider what will it do to transaction and check-in times. British Airways calculates that with 180 people on a short-haul flight and 350 on a long-haul flight, if it takes 45 seconds to copy two pages of a passport it will add two hours, and more than four hours, respectively, to check-in transaction times. The Government will have to take those worries into account. They must consider, too, the impact on aircraft turnaround times. As some airports charge for the extra minutes that aircraft sit on the ground, British Airways could be heavily affected.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is over-egging the pudding. He is assuming that the photocopying would start only after all 300 passengers had checked in. As has been proved with the new security measures on international flights, accommodation can be made to minimise any kind of delay. Although expressing the genuine fears and concerns of the airline industry,
he is perhaps overstating the delays that would ensue from the proposal.
I hope that I am not overstating them. However, I am led to believe by many airline companies that they are concerned about the extra cash and time involved if the burden is put on them at airports. There are also problems with self-service check-in. I flag up those issues for the Government to consider.
There is also the question of extraterritoriality. Other countries may have legislation that does not allow documents to be copied. In those circumstances, airlines would have to contravene one country's legislation in order to comply with another's. Those are some of the issues that have been raised by British Airways, in particular, and by other airlines.
Although it is right that we should be trying to reduce the number of undocumented arrivals in the UK, there may be problems with imposing any duty on the airlines to take copies of passengers' documents, for the reasons that I have outlined, of which the Government are well aware.
Apart from the burdens that I have already mentioned, there are other issues to be raised in connection with the copying of documents. Is the Home Office aware that the Foreign Secretary has recently written to the US Secretary of State highlighting that the systems to support a similar passenger information collection scheme planned by the US authorities are not capable of coping without severe disruption? Having raised concerns about a proposed US scheme, it is ironic that the Home Office is apparently proposing a procedure that would have a similar impact on airline operations.
Does the Minister accept the strength of the argument that a lower-cost, less disruptive alternative would be to place a requirement directly on the passenger to carry a photocopy of his or her passport when travelling to the UK, which could be collected at check-in? That could be publicised in brochures, in the UK Passport Service literature and in ticket wallets, giving the passenger the ability to comply before travelling to the airport.
I understand that the Council of Ministers is currently debating a proposal initiated by Spain, which would require carriers to provide to immigration authorities a range of API—advance passenger information—data that is not currently collected. The cost of establishing systems to read and collect such data and the impact on logistics would be considerable. No EU impact assessment or UK regulatory impact assessment of the proposal has been produced. Will the Home Office try to insist that no further work is carried out on the API proposal until a full impact assessment has been produced by the Council, and a detailed regulatory impact assessment by the Home Office?
Charter airlines are another big group, including Air 2000, Monarch Airlines, Britannia Airways, Thomas Cook and MyTravel. They carry about 30 million passengers a year. All those airlines have a history of working in close co-operation with the Government and border controls authorities, and all
want to continue to do so. I believe that all those airlines regretted that the six-working-day consultation process on the Government's proposals before Christmas was so short.
The intention behind new clause 1 is to begin a debate on what we can do about the copying of passengers' documents. It has been put to me that a simple solution would be for somebody at the door of the aeroplane to collect every passenger's original documents, which could be handed to the immigration authorities at the other end. What do the Government think of that approach, and of putting the obligation on passengers rather than on the airlines? It could be well publicised, and it would be no hardship for most of us to copy our own documents, particularly if a copying machine were available at the airport prior to check-in. There is a lot to be said for the Government's seeking to achieve their goal, in co-operation with carriers, by piloting voluntary schemes before considering legislative steps.
I specified in the new clause that the cost should be borne by Her Majesty's Government. The pre-Christmas decision by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to fund the installation of tracking equipment on UK fishing vessels in order to comply with EU regulation has set a precedent, and the Government should bear the cost of photocopies or passport readers if data collection requirements are imposed that have no value to the airlines, which would be acting as agents for the Government if they were to collect information on their behalf.
Does the Minister propose, in the course of our deliberations, to table her own amendments or new clauses to deal with the issue? If so, I urge her to use caution, to take her time and to consult widely. We are dealing with asylum legislation rather than national security issues. Will she say how she intends to enforce a UK requirement on overseas agents who are bound by national requirements that might prohibit the copying of passport data by a third party?
Finally, is the Minister minded for there to be some form of pilot scheme? I hear that such a thing is possible. If there is to be one, will the Home Office give an undertaking that any requirement on the airlines, if workable, will not be introduced globally or at all before very wide consultation with carriers to find out what is feasible? That is important, because I understand that the airlines, saddened though they were at the short period of consultation that they were allowed before Christmas, are keen to carry on doing what they have always done—co-operating with the Government. I hope that the Government, if they move to legislate in this Bill or shortly, will be well aware of the sensitivities involved and the potential burdens on the airlines, and will consider a method whereby the passenger rather than the airline might be responsible for making copies.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Olympic Airlines, the Greek carrier. If he expanded on the point while I was absent, I apologise for having missed it. Presumably, he was referring to a voluntary scheme of the kind that he proposes. Is he aware of the effectiveness of that voluntary scheme in terms of any
reduction in the number of illegal immigrants or asylum seekers making their way here on Olympic?
No, I am not, but it would be very interesting to know. It is a fair question. The Minister might have some figures on Olympic Airlines and the result of what it has done. Some have criticised it because it is selective about the individuals from whom it takes the passports and the flights with which it deals. However, I mentioned the issue of fines on airlines and what amounts were outstanding or paid with different airlines. It would be helpful to know that.
I sense that the Government will come forward with proposals. This is a good opportunity to listen to members of the Committee, who might raise their own concerns or concerns on behalf of others, about a difficult measure, practically speaking, and about matters that are difficult in principle as well. Nevertheless, one approach to the problem of people tearing up their documents that we are all agreed on is a system in which copies of such documents are in existence. That would make tearing them an utter waste of time and tend to drive abuse out of the system, which is what we all want.
I will try to be brief, because by 5.15 we are supposed to finish clause 6 and I hope to have a chance to say a word on an amendment to clause 4. I suspect that we may also be interrupted at 4 o'clock by votes in the Chamber.
I can see the attractions of copying the documents but, for reasons that were mentioned earlier today, such as people disappearing airside, tying the photocopy to an individual is not as simple as the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) suggests. It is not even that easy to know which flight someone has come off if they are determined. The other certain thing about such a measure is that it would be selective, owing to the numbers involved. I cannot remember the exact figure, but between 80 million and 90 million passengers arrive through UK airports every year, some 13 million to 14 million of whom are subject to immigration controls. It would not be possible to pick out that group but, if we tried to do the whole lot, we would have to do 200,000 plus people a day. How would one try to store the volume of paper that was generated? It would not be a matter of keeping the paper for that day if one had to tie it to passengers about whose identity there might be a doubt later.
Clearly, there are a number of practical problems but, to return to my previous example, supermarkets can deal quickly with the scale of information that my hon. Friend described. However, they do not do so on paper. There would not necessarily be a requirement to hold the relevant information on paper—it could be held on computer.
I understand that but that would still require a very large database. As has been pointed out, the copies would initially not be taken in the UK, which would cause an additional problem of linking
the technology. I suspect that application would inevitably be selective, just as some of the measures that have already been taken are selective. For example, people receiving visas in Sri Lanka to come to this country used to be fingerprinted there before travelling—I do not know whether they still are. The fingerprints were then compared with those of people who had made asylum claims in this country, because of suspicions of dual claims and so on. Such things have been done selectively.
Once one starts being selective about which countries or airlines one applies the measure to, several questions arise. Would we then be discriminating? Would not we be doing something that made it more difficult for someone with a perfectly genuine claim to board an airplane to come here? If that additional step were taken and those people's documents were photocopied at the airport, would not that be a concern for them?
The security of the information is also relevant. We deal with carriers from a huge variety of countries and I would not necessarily regard them as the safest people to store lots of personal identities. There is even the danger that we might enable corrupt officials to sell identities to people who were prepared to pay for them. There are not only practical issues but issues about the principle of applying the provision selectively, which I think would be almost inevitable.
I am interested to hear what my right hon. Friend the Minister has to say, because clearly the Government have been considering and discussing the issue with carriers. Obviously, if there are Government proposals or we get firm proposals on Report, we will be able to consider them, but we need to approach the issue with caution.
I do not intend to cover the clause in this debate, because we have covered practically all the arguments at exhaustive length already. However, I want to address the narrow issue of how, rather than deterring people from destroying their documents en route, we can make it useless for them to do so, because of a back-up form of identification coming into play.
New clause 5, which Opposition Members tabled to trigger the debate, has one merit and one merit only. It relates to schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971, which would be a suitable vehicle for the sort of proposals that we are considering, given that it already imposes duties on carriers. Setting aside those who arrive by other forms of transport, which I accept make the situation much more difficult, airlines are the crux of what we are talking about. Large numbers of people use that means of entry to the country, and it is the most regulated mode of carriage. There are already duties to inspect passports on embarkation and to keep records of the manifest for various reasons. That seems to be the most appropriate point at which to make a back-up record of those who travel on a flight, so that destroying travel documents becomes pointless.
I accept that photocopying is a cumbersome process. It is relatively low-tech, so it has the advantage that it can be done relatively easily in airports throughout the world—unlike the loyalty card approach espoused by the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central—but it poses problems in that it involves large piles of paper, is relatively slow and may not produce the desired result.
I do not see that as the only route that the Government might explore; there are real arguments on the other side. Indeed, at one stage, the hon. Member for Woking seemed to argue against his own new clause, in the teeth of spirited opposition from Government Members, who appeared to be rather better disposed towards the it than he did. Nevertheless, even taking all those matters into account, it is clearly desirable, if possible, to find a way to achieve that back-up.
I am not wedded to the particular suggestion that we have made; there may be other ways to achieve the objective. There is a requirement currently for people to fill in landing cards if they do not hold an EU passport. I wonder whether there is scope for having those landing cards filled in not in the middle of the flight, after the fish course, but at the point of embarkation and then held in the possession of the carrier for the duration of the flight. That might be a way of dealing with the logistics of achieving some record of people entering the country.
Something could be done about the geography of airports, particularly the major airports of entry to the country. I am often amazed that we almost invite the sort of abuse that the Minister described, by giving people an opportunity to mix between flights before passport control, and by having many places where they can hide airside. That seems unnecessary and could be addressed, with a little thought about where passport controls are situated, and how passengers are channelled from a flight to the point at which their passports are first inspected.
Turning to the publicity that the Minister talked about, if the landing card is provided earlier, that will provide an opportunity to spell out in the language of the person who is entering the plane what their legal requirements are. They would then, at an early stage, be in no doubt what they were required to do. All those suggestions must be worked through—there is no easy answer and I do not propose that there is.
I hear what the hon. Member for Woking said about the Olympic Airlines scheme. I do not know much about it and would like to know more. My last experience of Olympic Airlines was that the pilot emerged from the cockpit to engage in fisticuffs with the passenger in seat 2D. I am sure that that is not typical of Olympic Airlines but it rather put me off the flight.
Indeed. As the hon. Gentleman said, it put me off future flights with that airline, although the flight was otherwise uneventful. We must use imagination in order to provide a common system that does not penalise genuine refugees. There are
concerns that, if the apparatus at the port of embarkation is too cumbersome, the system will be open to abuse from officials within that country if they are fleeing or have good reason to flee that country. We must be sensitive to that. However, we should consider finding a way—not only for immigration purposes but for national security reasons—to identify those on inbound flights to the UK, and to substantiate their identities after they have got off a flight. I look forward to hearing the Minister's proposals for further consultation, and whether she intends to table amendments at a later stage in our proceedings or on Report for consideration of this area.
Mrs. Roe, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship; I was not here on Thursday to say that. I came to this afternoon's sitting, prepared enthusiastically to support new clause 1, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Woking will forgive me if I do so. It is an altogether sensible proposition that ought to be consulted on by the Government and others. Those who bring people to this country should have some responsibility for them until those people are fully within the country. It is no good having a sort of no man's land between the steps from an aeroplane to the tarmac and the point at which documents are shown, if they have been retained, to immigration staff at an airport. I am an enthusiastic supporter of new clause 1 and shall set out, since my hon. Friend so generously argued against his new clause, some arguments in favour of it.
First, I am sure that the best way to introduce the scheme described in new clause 1 would be on a voluntary and targeted basis. Secondly, given the huge savings made by travelling by aeroplane nowadays, I see no reason why a few minutes could not be added at the beginning in order to copy documents.
Thirdly, I should have thought that it was legislatively far easier to place an obligation on a carrier, be that an airline, a ferry company or Eurostar, which will bring its craft, if I can revert to my earlier definition, into the United Kingdom, than it is to place an obligation on someone arriving in the UK to take copies of their documents in another country and to pass those copies on to the carrier in the hope that they would then, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central suggested, be checked and miraculously arrive in the UK at the same time as the passenger concerned.
I argue with the assertion that a lot of space would be taken up by photocopiers or photocopied documents. It is now possible to copy these things electronically, where, as far as I can tell with my limited technical knowledge, they take up no space at all. Most airports give adequate space to branches of McDonald's and Tie Rack and could certainly provide space for a photocopier. Those are arguments in favour of the new clause. I hope that the Government will enthusiastically take forward consultation on the new clause, if that is not already their intention.
I am concerned that we seem to be taking the view that the airline or the carrier is merely a neutral
intermediary in the process of getting people to the UK. I firmly believe that anyone who is responsible for bringing people to the UK should have some responsibility for checking that they are entitled to be here when they arrive. Of course, I recognise the point made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow. It may make it more difficult for some legitimate asylum seekers to get on to an aeroplane at Skopje, if Skopje is a country from which one may seek asylum—
May I say gently to my hon. Friend that, as he will know, there are already heavy obligations on the airlines? It is not a question of airlines seeking to parcel their obligations anywhere else. Indeed, they have often been heavily penalised because a passenger comes in with a forged passport, which, despite their best endeavours to train their staff, has not been spotted. It has taken the most brilliant person at this end to stop something that a well-trained airline person could not spot. There are burdens and they discharge them by and large as well as they can.
I rise to dissuade the hon. Gentleman from accepting the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Woking, although I understand why he would wish to do so. The burden that is being placed upon airlines is being placed on all of them. No one carrier would be competitively disadvantaged compared to another. It seems a perfectly reasonable new clause and I suggest that it should be pushed to its conclusion.
I would certainly far rather that no competitive disadvantage were placed on individual airlines. To that extent, it is better that it be a legislative requirement, or a genuinely voluntary operation, than one that depends on Government arm-twisting or Opposition—I cannot think of the appropriate word.
I have listened to the debate with interest and I remain open-minded. The debate is focused on people coming to the UK, which is right because we are discussing UK legislation, but do those who have spoken in favour of the measure anticipate it being applied on an EU-wide basis?
I do not, but I tend not to pay much attention to what happens in the rest of Europe. Opposition ''hectoring'' was the word that I was searching for and I thank the hon. Lady for giving me time to think of it.
I was dealing with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow. Of course, the proposed system will make it more difficult for legitimate asylum seekers to board an aeroplane without documentation. It will not be much more difficult, but it will be marginally more so, because they will be required to provide two copies of documentation rather than one. However, I do not agree with him that most overseas airlines are so corrupt that we cannot trust them.
Mr. Gerrard indicated dissent.
The hon. Gentleman may not have said it in so many words, but I do not agree that we cannot trust them not to sell the identities of those whose documentation they have copied. If they wanted to sell the identities of people boarding their aircraft, they could copy the documentation anyway. That would not be a consequence of the new clause.
In general, I support the proposition that carriers should be required to keep copies of the documents that are presented to them on embarkation, and should make them available to the right authorities on disembarkation. If necessary, we should ensure that people pass rapidly through immigration control. It is not satisfactory—I was unaware that it was possible—for people to be able to hide airside until the carrier that brought them had conveniently taken its aeroplane away. That was one of the reasons why I tabled new clause 3. The carrier must accept responsibility and if necessary the craft should be impounded until the people that have been brought into the country have been properly dealt with. I accept that new clause 3 has now passed—we have been discussing new clause 1, and I shall now move on to new clause 4.
New clause 4 includes an additional concept and responsibility, to which I ask the Minister to apply tests A, B, C and D, which I mentioned at the beginning of the morning sitting. Is it an offence to enter the United Kingdom from a country outside the EU—let us be generous to the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing)—and fail to report to an immigration officer on arrival? If we are to control effectively flows of people into the country, we must consider that.
Many ports and points of disembarkation are non-canalised, with no immigration officers on duty, and I doubt that the Government have any idea how many people enter the country through such ports. There should be a standard, simple, internationally understood provision for those who enter through a non-canalised port to report to an immigration officer on arrival, and I suggest that it should be done by telephone. There should be a single telephone number, which should be widely advertised, in the leisure aircraft, leisure marine and other press. People arriving in Cowes, for example, would be able to report to the immigration service without first going to Southampton, which they are required to do, but I doubt that many do. That would be sensible. That person should be required to leave contact details, so that the immigration service can inspect the documents, which they do not always do, and ensure that they are entitled to enter the country.
I put forward the further suggestion, which I think we should consider more widely: those who enter could be sponsored by people in this country. The Government may look more favourably on those who are sponsored to come to this country than those who are not, as it would ensure that they did not place a burden on public funds. The new clause contains a number of suggestions. I put them forward merely as points for discussion. I hope that the Minister will respond to them.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) will not think me rude if I do not follow his line of debate on new clause 4. I want to concentrate on new clause 1, which my hon. Friend the Member for Woking spoke to in his typically sensible fashion.
I do not know of a Member of Parliament who combines common sense and justice so frequently as my hon. Friend, and I am hugely obliged to him for the tone and manner in which he has advanced the official Opposition's arguments. I take my hat off to him for the manner in which he has conducted our sensible and probing opposition to aspects of the Bill in Committee. A duty is placed on all Opposition Members, be they official or of the minor parties, to join justice and common sense—and, when they do not combine, to admit it. We have moved some probing amendments, made some debating points and engaged in other discussions. I hope that I do not embarrass my hon. Friend by saying that he has commanded the Floor with a true sense of justice and a thorough understanding of what is right, and what is common sense.
I commend the theory behind new clause 1. I do not have a problem about making carriers responsible for the people whom they bring into the country. Carriers make a profit from it. As with the example of insurance cases, whenever an advantage is to be gained, a responsibility must be held. If an airline or a sea carrier makes money from the transport of people, they should accept the responsibility that goes with it. If they are required as a matter of public policy to discharge certain burdens in exchange for making money, they should bear it with equanimity. It is not unjust, it seems to me, to make carriers responsible for the discharge of public policy in relation to asylum matters. The benefit and the responsibility have to be married together.
The only quibble that I have with my hon. Friend the Member for Woking is that I would remove the adjective ''air'' from ''airport''. All ports of entry must be bitten.
Mr. Harris indicated assent.
Mr. Malins indicated assent.
I see that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart and my hon. Friend the Member for Woking agree with me. I hope that my hon. Friend is nodding in agreement, rather than nodding off as I witter on. It seems to me that any carrier who brings members of what I grandly call the world public into our country has a responsibility to ensure that they are proper immigrants, either as fare-paying passengers,
or as immigrants or asylum seekers. They must take responsibility for bringing into the country those from whom they have made a profit.
I accept—it may be said by others—that we must make a distinction between EU citizens and non-EU citizens. We have a treaty obligation to accept the free movement of EU citizens, EU goods and EU services within the internal market. We must therefore be especially careful to screen properly those travelling from outside the EU into the EU, who then bounce from, say, Amsterdam or Frankfurt. Equally, we must properly distinguish from other travellers those who come from Spain, Italy, Germany or the aspirant countries to the EU, who therefore travel within the EU economic area or the EU. I see a distinction between being discriminatory, against which the hon. Member for Walthamstow cautioned us, and being prejudiced. I am prepared to be discriminatory, but I do not want to be accused of being prejudiced against particular travellers.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Before we suspended for the Division, I was discussing new clause 1, which, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking, provides us with a programme for discussion about the production of documents and the burden and responsibility of carriers. I suggested that ''airports'' be changed to ''ports'' and thus expanded to include all ports of entry into the UK. I do not believe that that an especially controversial suggestion.
I conclude by noting that new clause 1 contains a discussion about the requirement to produce
''travel documents, or a copy of those documents''.
It seems to me that the potential for disputes over whether a copy is genuine can be overcome if, as my hon. Friend said in another debate, the carrier is required to take all original documents, including passports, from travellers as they move from landside to airside. It is not beyond the wit of man to arrange a system whereby all travellers who wish to board a flight to the UK have to surrender their travel documents as they move to airside. That might temporarily inconvenience travellers, who might be concerned that their documents are being taken from them, or worried that when they land at, say, Gatwick, Heathrow or Manchester they might not get back the document that they handed in at, say, Entebbe or Istanbul, but the Government are jolly clever and have managed to survive for seven years by doing all sorts of clever things, so it cannot be beyond their wit, or that of the Minister, to work out a system whereby those who hand in travel documents to carriers taking them to the UK are given them back as they leave the plane or—
I flatter myself that I am speaking in sentences, and should like reach the end of this one.
It must be possible for a ship or airline carrier to restore to travellers the passport or other travel document that they handed in. I may be being unusually naive. No doubt the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser) has huge experience of dealing with lost travel documents in Dover, and may have something else to say.
Surely such a suggestion would involve extraterritoriality—a point that the hon. and learned Gentleman made in his opening remarks. I do not see how one could seek through UK legislation to interfere to such an extent with arrangements made at other airports throughout the world. I return to the point that I made when I intervened on the hon. Member for Isle of Wight. If we are going to go down that route, surely, given the nature of international air transport and given the arrangements already in place at EU level that touch at least tangentially on these issues, the UK Government should initially pursue matters further at EU level so that we have a simplified and more efficient system?
Several points arise, two of which I shall touch on. I accept that the proposed arrangement may create administrative difficulties for the carrier, but as I said at the outset of my remarks, if a carrier is making a profit from moving people from A to B, that is simply one of the burdens of making a profit. As a Conservative who agrees that it is not wrong to make a profit, I accept that it is not wrong to bear the responsibilities that come with the advantage of making a profit. If one is making money out of moving people from outside the EU to within it, particularly to the United Kingdom, one should accept certain responsibilities for ensuring that the asylum and immigration systems are not suborned.
I accept that there may be a problem in a scenario such as that covered by the amendment devised by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight concerning arrival in the UK by rocket. I am not sure whether that amendment has been, or will be, debated. If Olympic Airways, to pluck a name out of the air, were to run a rocket service from Athens or other parts of the world to Gatwick, or indeed to the Isle of Wight international airport—Ventnor international airport—I can see that we would have difficulties.
In the realms of reality—I know that my hon. Friend does reside there from time to time—it would not be impossible to work out a system in which legitimate international carriers could be persuaded to gather people's travel documents as they get on a vehicle, and return them when they get off. I hope that I made it clear before the suspension that there are differences between people who travel into the EU from outside it and then go on to the UK, and those who start their journey inside the EU.
I am not thinking on my feet of some clever scheme that would safely administer the system that I am discussing, but it would not be impossible to work out a scheme whereby we could mitigate the worst effects of dishonest travellers by requiring that travellers give up their travel documents and that carriers enforce that system. That would obviate the need to get into all
sorts of difficulties over whether document copies are true copies and whether the airport authority in the country of embarkation or the carrier must have copying facilities, which may cause additional expense and delay.
Before I came into this place, I sailed around the world seven times, sailed the seven seas and crossed the English channel some 1,000 times on cross-channel ferries. The first bit of advice that I ever had before going away to sea was, ''Never surrender your passport, and never surrender your seaman's identity card.'' Even putting that aside, if the hon. and learned Gentleman ever came to Dover and watched the discharge of a superferry, with two decks, four streams of traffic and foot passengers using three different debarkation launches, he would soon change his views about passports being surrendered, collected and then put back into the right hands.
I did not suggest that it would be easy. The problem appears more starkly when one considers the Queen Mary 2, which will bring a huge number of passengers—perhaps 2,000, although I do not know—some of whom may be non-British citizens or non-EU citizens, to Southampton, or wherever.
I accept that there would be practical difficulties, which must be understood and taken account of. I am simply trying gently to suggest a system. I am not writing legislation in the air. I merely want to persuade the Government and members of the majority party on the Committee that we can gently and sensibly arrive at practical solutions to the problem: the potential for cheating. With good will, common sense and an appreciation of what is just, we can devise an administrative system that allows people to travel reasonably freely around the world, especially into this country, but the ability of people who are intent on cheating the system to destroy their documents would be hugely inhibited by the requirement placed upon the carriers, and the burden placed on the carriers of collecting the documents would be mitigated by their profit from carrying those people. The carriers may have to put up their ticket prices to pay for or to cover the cost of administering the system, but that is a matter of detail.
I may have lost the Committee's sympathy simply by making the point, but what I am trying to get across is that even in Wales there may be people who want a just but manageable system that goes beyond what the Government propose. I do not claim to be the Albert Einstein of asylum law, but by using the new clause proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking as a hanger for the debate, I seek to push forward common-sense suggestions that would appeal to all members of the Committee, irrespective of their party political allegiances or loyalty or otherwise to the Government, whose demise we all deeply hope for.
It is a pleasure to have the chance to speak to the Committee, especially as, like my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, I was not able to congratulate you on your chairmanship the other day, Mrs. Roe.
As a Queen's Counsel, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) chooses his words carefully. The word ''all'' in his last sentence may arouse some disagreement from some members of the Committee, but I share his feelings.
I rise to speak in support of new clause 1, but first I shall refer to something that the hon. Member for Dover said. The last time I sat on a Committee with the hon. Gentleman, we clashed on the subject of enriched cages for laying hens. It is therefore a pleasure to support what he has just said. I went down to Dover last year when it became evident that Customs and Excise was failing in its duty to uphold High Court judgments. I wrote a short letter to The Daily Telegraph—it was probably a foolish thing to do—in which I suggested that perhaps the chairman of Customs and Excise should be placed in stocks in Parliament square and taxpayers should be allowed to throw tomatoes at him until he recognised that he and his officers should obey the law just like the rest of us. I had an intemperate letter from Customs and Excise in response inviting me to go to Dover to see what was going on—I think I informed the hon. Gentleman's office that I would be there. It was an interesting operation.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right: when large numbers of people are travelling and disembarking quickly, they do not want to have to recover their passport from someone. Like him, I have circumnavigated the world, and I have always made sure that my passport, money and tickets are about my person, even when I am in the shower. [Hon. Members: ''In the shower?''] I made sure that they did not get wet, but they were within reach; I was in some fairly dodgy places. However, I will not digress. I was tempted to say something about Scotland, but I will resist it.
I support new clause 1. My argument focuses on the duty of carriers, to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough and my hon. Friend the Member for Woking alluded. My hon. and learned Friend made the point that carriers are making a profit out of the business of transporting people from A to B, and that there is therefore a concomitant obligation or responsibility on them. I think that the point is simpler than that and it is not dependent on their making a profit. It is said that during British Airways' financial troubles, the wheel on the other side of the river was making more money for British Airways than the whole of its combined airline operations. The point rests not on whether a carrier is making a profit or not, but on the fact that they are carrying people from A to B.
I am not one for business regulation and for burdens. One of the reasons that I entered Parliament was to do what I could to stem the tide of business regulation and burdens. None the less, I agree completely with the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight made: there is a basic duty on a carrier to know who it is carrying to this country, and that obligation does not end until the handover to the authorities here has been successfully completed. There cannot be any kind of neutral zone or no man's land.
One of the jobs that I had in the rather chequered 20 years of what passes for my career before I became a Member of Parliament was dispatching aircraft. It never crossed my mind that it was not one of my responsibilities to ensure that the people who got on to the aircraft at one end were people that I knew about. It was part of my job to make sure that the people I expected to be on that aircraft were, and that people I did not expect to be on that aircraft were not. I think that that is as close to an absolute responsibility as one could expect a business engaged in transporting people from A to B—certainly internationally and across borders—to have. No one expects staff on the No. 24 bus from Pimlico to Hampstead to have full knowledge of the names and addresses of their passengers at any point along the journey, because everybody knows that that is not necessary. However, it is necessary when carriers transport people across international boundaries. The obligation rests, in my view, with the carrier. New clause 1, which would make that clear, is welcome. I shall listen with interest to the Minister's response.
I shall deal as succinctly as I can with the many points made by hon. Members. That is not out of any disrespect for Members, or because I do not want to engage in detailed responses at this point, but simply because of the time constraints that we face. I think that it is worthwhile putting on record the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell), with his characteristic flexibility and generosity, was happy to allow an additional two and three-quarter hours to get through this group of amendments by the end of today. It is largely for the Opposition to decide how they use that time, but it is unfortunate—I see the frustration of some Members who want to crack on—that we spent an hour and a half on amendment No. 14 and half an hour on the hon. Member for Woking's introduction to a new clause that we were not altogether sure that he supported. That is a matter for the Opposition, but it is the reason that I will try to be succinct.
There will always be a tension between the Government and their Back Benchers' desire to get on with getting the Government's business through and the Opposition's desire to make sure that the legislation that we allegedly ''scrutinise'' is properly considered. That is an age-old problem, not a party political point. I am not sure that the Minister either advances her Government's case, or successfully denigrates the Oppositions' case—[Interruption.] If the Liberal Democrats do not wish to scrutinise the Bill, that is a matter for them. Judging by what they did the other day, I am not sure that they are anything other than wholly concerned that the Bill is properly scrutinised.
We have an obligation to make sure that every clause in the Bill is debated adequately before it leaves Committee. I think that the onus is on us all to manage the timetable that we have agreed and amended once to make sure that every clause can be
scrutinised. That is our intention, and I am sure that it is shared by Opposition Members. There is an obligation on us all to manage ourselves and our contributions to that end.
The Committee is aware of the purpose of clause 2, but I do not argue that it is the only way in which to tackle the problem of people destroying documents. One option is for copies of documents to be taken from passengers when they embark for the United Kingdom and provided to immigration officers when they arrive. I am pleased to note the support in principle for the idea evidenced by new clauses 1 and 5. We announced our intention to consider the proposal in the consultation. We did not include it in the Bill because we wanted to consult further with carriers.
I shall not reply to all of the points made about the difficulties associated with such a scheme, or about the need to ensure that such a scheme should not impact adversely on the legitimate travelling public or on the businesses of carriers—it is important that both keep going. We have to have a scheme that is both feasible and logistically possible. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover is pertinent. I accept the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) and others that it must be possible to devise a scheme that fulfils our intentions and provides another element in our armoury.
Since we announced that we were considering such a scheme in the consultation, we have been working with the carriers on a voluntary trial. We hope that it will enable us find solutions to some of the problems that hon. Members have mentioned and to identify ways in which to deliver the scheme in the most cost-effective way. It is right to wait for the results of that trial before deciding whether a statutory requirement is needed. However, we shall have only one opportunity to legislate in the foreseeable future, so I want to present to the Committee a provision—possibly a reserve power—that, if the voluntary scheme does not work, we can switch on a statutory power through secondary legislation. There will be an opportunity on the back of that amendment, albeit for a reserve power, for hon. Members on either side of the argument to make their points. With the assurance that I shall introduce the provision that I have outlined, we can anticipate having a debate later. In those circumstances, I hope that the hon. Members who tabled new clauses 1 and 5—which were designed to probe our intentions—will not press them.
No, I shall not pre-empt the debate. I have outlined what I intend. The trial will not be complete until after Committee stage—possibly not until the Bill has completed its passage. So that we can evaluate fully its implications and decide whether a voluntary basis is a satisfactorily robust basis on which to proceed, I intend to include a power in the Bill that
will enable us to revert to a statutory basis if necessary. The hon. and learned Gentleman will have to wait to see the terms.
New clause 4 is designed to penalise those who do not report to an immigration officer on arrival in the UK unless they can prove that after arrival at a port without immigration control they reported to an immigration officer within seven days and left the details of somebody willing to cover any public costs incurred as a result of their stay. I have already rehearsed the arguments to similar points made by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight. It is clearly an issue of concern for him, and I understand why, but in a debate on earlier amendments I pointed out that we already have in the 1971 Act offences that relate to illegal entry to the UK. Section 24, I think, makes it an offence knowingly to enter the UK without leave. The penalty for that is a maximum of six months imprisonment and a fine.
The hon. Gentleman made two other proposals, mentioning non-canalised ports and suggesting that people should have to report by phone. At such ports we operate through an intelligence-led approach. In some ways the hon. and learned Member for Harborough is right to raise the issue in the context of the potential impact of detection equipment that we have introduced as places such as Calais. We took pre-emptive action to ensure that we would be aware of any displacement into other ports and step up our intelligence-led approach, with immigration officers randomly descending on those ports as a deterrent against people trying to use them illegally. Although there has been a small amount of displacement, the action that we have taken to counter it has been effective.
We have sponsorship for categories such as marriage. Also, students must establish that they a place on a course. However, requiring every person wanting to come to the country to have a sponsor would impose an undue burden.
I am grateful to the Minister, particularly for her answer on new clause 4(2)(a). Could she say whether the intelligence-led approach is designed to prevent what the Daily Mail might understand as unlawful immigration, or all unlawful immigration? People who visit places such as Cowes by sailing boat in the first week of August are not regarded as illegal immigrants by the Daily Mail, merely people who happen to be visiting. It is in the interests of such people, as well as our leisure marine industry, that it should be easy for them to obtain leave. We should not have to depend on an intelligence-led approach to discover them, nor should they have to go to Southampton to register before they come to a place such as Cowes.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point about concerns on the Isle of Wight. The intelligence-led approach is focused on detecting illegal entry and ensuring that we provide a presence that appears randomly, so that there is a deterrent against people using small ports for illegal entry. We do not want that to affect people who want to come legitimately but who must get their leave in the normal, appropriate way.
The hon. Member for Woking raised further points that, since he is not here and in the interests of the Committee's use of time, I shall deal with succinctly and mostly by letter, as he invited me to do. His main question was whether the purpose of the clause could be dealt with under criminal law. Is there a genuine gap and are the proposals the best way of filling it? We have gone into those questions and I believe that clause 2 is essential to focus on the behaviour and the mischief that we have talked about, namely, people deliberately destroying or disposing of their documents. He asked a number of questions about immigration offences and carriers' liability. I shall write to him with details on all those matters and share that correspondence with the Committee.
No. I shall conclude if I may. On that basis I invite hon. Members not to press new clauses 1, 4 and 5.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.