'In paragraph 27B of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 (c.77) (control on entry: provision of information about passengers) after sub-paragraph (4) insert—
''(4A) The officer may ask the carrier to provide a copy of all or part of a document that relates to a passenger and contains passenger information.'''.—[Beverley Hughes.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause reintroduces an issue that the Committee discussed previously on Opposition amendments. It concerns the deliberate destruction or disposal of passports and travel documents, which frustrates immigration control and asylum processing. People who deliberately destroy or dispose of their documents do so to conceal their true identity, nationality and citizenship. That obviously makes processing difficult and, if claims fail, it frustrates the removal process.
The problem is significant and has been discussed before. We need effective ways to deter people from deliberately disposing of or destroying their documents. The power provided in the new clause to require carriers to copy passengers' documents before they embark for the United Kingdom would be such a deterrent, and I was pleased to note the broad support in principle for the idea during the debate on Opposition amendments to clause 2.
The new clause allows an immigration officer to require a carrier to provide either a full or partial copy of any documents relating to a passenger and containing passenger information, and that term is defined in section 27B of schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 and the Immigration (Passenger Information) Order 2000. I wrote to you, Mr. Taylor, and to Mrs. Roe with details of the way in which the new clause would operate, with copies to Committee members. I hope that that was helpful.
I made it clear in that letter that immigration officers would be able to make requests under the new power in respect of ships or aircraft expected to arrive in the UK. The request can relate either to particular ships or aircraft of the carrier, or to all a carrier's ships or aircraft. That request will have to be in writing and state the date on which it ceases to have effect, which
may not be more than six months from the date on which the request is made. Only if a request is made under the new clause would a carrier be obliged to provide copies of the passenger's documents. There would be no blanket requirement imposed on all carriers to provide copies of all documents of all passengers they carry to the United Kingdom. We intend, if necessary, to use the statutory power. I hope that the voluntary schemes that I have identified will work, but if it is necessary to use the statutory power, we intend to do so in a very targeted and proportionate way.
Yes, the provision will cover Eurostar trains coming into this country from another country.
If a carrier fails to comply with a request under the new power without reasonable excuse, the carrier would commit an offence under section 27B(4) of the Immigration Act 1971. That offence is punishable on summary conviction with a fine of not more than level five on the standard scale, which I understand is £5,000 maximum, or with imprisonment for not more than six months, or with both.
I believe that the whole Committee has acknowledged that the problem of asylum seekers destroying their documents to frustrate the process is real, immediate and significant. Although the voluntary co-operation of carriers may provide a solution, there can be no guarantee at this stage, while we are debating legislation, that it will be effective without some form of statutory back-up. As I said in my letter, we shall have two trials. They will be comprehensive, and the lessons we learn will be thoroughly evaluated. I hope that that will provide the basis for the continuation of a voluntary scheme. If not, we shall need the provision to address the matter if a voluntary scheme proves to be ineffective.
I also want to make it clear that carriers have existing responsibilities to ensure that the passengers whom they carry to the UK have proper documentation and that they should provide information on passengers to an immigration officer on request. The clause and any voluntary scheme will simply develop those existing responsibilities.
Some carriers already copy documents in certain circumstances, usually of their own volition, in order to minimise the chance of having a carriers' liability charge imposed. Some carriers have acknowledged that it is in their own business interest to copy documents. That does not apply to everyone, and there is a need to build on the current position so that we can obtain copies of documents in all cases in which intelligence tells us that document destruction or disposal is a significant problem.
As I said, the clause will not introduce a blanket requirement for all carriers, but one that is designed to be utilised in a targeted way on specific routes and at
the specific request of an immigration officer. The provision will not prove to be an excessive burden on carriers.
On the subject of consultation, we are in discussion with the carriers about how such a provision would work in practice. We are working on two trial schemes, and I am sure that they will help us to resolve some of the technical and other issues to which we need solutions. They will also demonstrate the respective cost and time implications to the carriers. We shall not consider implementing the power, which would have to be made by a commencement order, unless the trial evaluation demonstrated that it was practical to gather the data at reasonable cost and that a voluntary scheme operated by the carriers proved not to be an effective proposition. Given my explanation, and the further details sent out in the letter, I hope that hon. Members are assured that the power is necessary.
The Minister was right to say at the beginning of her remarks that destruction of documents by those who subsequently seek asylum is a serious matter. She was right to say that the Committee as a whole felt that that was the case. We support any measure to punish severely those who destroy their documents. It is a wicked thing to do. Arising out of that problem, the Minister moved on to the proper premise that copying of documents would improve the situation.
However, as I have said before, although we utterly support the principle of copying documents, there are logistical and cost issues from the carrier's point of view, which I hope the Government will address properly. Indeed, there is a better argument for putting the burden of the duty on the passengers themselves, and if the Government are determined that the carriers should carry out the task, there are strong arguments for saying that any costs should be borne by the Government.
I would like to say a few words on behalf of the carriers today, and I would be grateful if the Committee would take them on board. None of the carriers seeks to frustrate the object of the clause, but they have serious concerns on the Government's governance of the issue and the clarity of their thinking. I shall pose seven questions to the Minister, which I hope she will deal with fully. If she does not, perhaps she would be kind enough to write to the Committee covering those matters.
Why were the affected operators given only six working days to respond to the Home Office's initial proposal, including a request to calculate compliance costs? Given that the Bill has been some time in the planning, why was the 12-week consultation norm set out in the code of practice on written consultation flouted so badly? Given that our airlines have facilities at some 200 airports around the world, each with different check-in and terminal configurations, how could the Minister expect that a proper assessment of proportionality of costs and benefits could be carried out in that time?
Why has a detailed regulatory impact assessment not been prepared covering all the copying options that might be considered? Surely the House and the Committee should not agree to the new clause until the Cabinet Office requirement has been met, and there has been an opportunity to scrutinise the costs involved. In any event, how could such a regulatory impact assessment be prepared, given that the Home Office has been given costs only for copying and that carriers have not been consulted on estimates of the financial and operational impact of other copying options?
The carriers find it difficult to accept the Minister's assurance that an assessment will be produced before the reserve power is exercised, as Parliament will have had to agree to the power before then. Furthermore, although the Minister told the Committee on 13 January that the power would be switched on through secondary legislation, which would also have required an assessment, new clause 16 does not contain any order-making power. The Minister seems to be saying, ''We're not quite sure what we want to do, how much it will cost or how burdensome it will be, but take us on trust and give us the power to do it anyway.''
Will the Minister set out the workable copying options? It is understood that three airlines will be conducting a pilot at Johannesburg airport, but what will they be piloting? If it is not shown to be operationally and financially feasible, what other means of copying would be required? It is clear that photocopying at check-in desks is unrealistic. Airlines have calculated that copying every passport would add 5.6 hours to the check-in time of a 767 flight, to which should be added the cost of providing copiers at thousands of desks around the world, assuming that they could be accommodated in the confined space available.
On other options, few of the thousands of desks around the world are equipped with optical readers, and the bulk of passports held by potential asylum seekers or illegal immigrants are probably not readable. On-board document copying was considered by the Home Office, but it cannot cover cases in which documents are destroyed between the gate and boarding the aircraft. It was suggested earlier that airports might provide a central facility for passengers to copy their papers. On 13 January, the Minister said that
''if the voluntary scheme does not work, we can switch on a statutory power''.—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 13 January 2004; c. 139.]
The carriers, and the Committee, need to know what will be required if the pilot does not succeed.
The Minister has been made aware that the Foreign Secretary recently wrote to the United States Secretary of State to highlight the fact that the systems to support a similar passenger information collection scheme planned by the US authorities are not capable of coping without severe disruption. After the Foreign Office raised concerns about a proposed US scheme, it is ironic that Home Office has proposed a procedure that will have a similar impact on airline operations.
We understand that the domestic laws of a number of states prohibit the copying of overseas passports. Most passenger handling at overseas airports is contracted by UK airlines to national handling agents. How could a carrier make its agents comply with a requirement in breach of their own law? Will the Minister undertake that the power will not be activated until the Government have negotiated a satisfactory modus vivendi with the states concerned? Will she also undertake that the power will not be exercised until agreement has been reached with carriers that it is operationally and financially realistic for the requirement to be put in place at the airport or port in question?
Will the Minister follow the example of her colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and agree that the cost of installing any copying equipment will be borne by the Government? In a written statement in connection with the fitting of satellite tracking equipment to fishing vessels to comply with EU requirements, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:
''Since such terminals may not be used by vessel owners or masters for business purposes . . . DEFRA has decided to meet the costs of fitting tamper proof terminals''.—[Official Report, 9 December 2003; Vol. 415, c. 84WS.]
He added that it would go a significant way to removing an additional financial burden on the industry. Given that carriers will be required to collect information on behalf of the immigration and nationality directorate but will derive no security or commercial benefit from give it, the carriers hope that the Minister will give a commitment to adopt the DEFRA precedent.
I recall our debate on this matter on 13 January. The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) spoke about supermarkets collecting consumer information through loyalty cards and said that because of that, it should be possible and worth while for carriers to do the same. Any such argument is based on the slight misconception that as airlines profit from carrying passengers, they should bear the responsibility for recording the data. However, the data required by the immigration and nationality directorate is of no commercial value to carriers. If it were, they would no doubt enthusiastically invest in data capture, as the supermarkets have done through their loyalty cards. Therefore, there is a commercial advantage to the supermarkets, but not to the airlines. As the data would be collected by the carriers as an agent of the Government, it must surely be fair that the Government should bear the cost. Similarly, if airlines were responsible for data collection for IND, they should logically bear the cost of the Customs and other immigration facilities at an airport. Therefore, I hope that the carriers' point is deemed to be reasonable.
I appreciate that I have set out a number of queries for the Minister on behalf of the carriers. I am sure that she will do her best to answer as many as possible, but I end with this proposition. It is entirely right that we should try to address the mischief of people tearing up their documents, and one excellent way would be for copies of such documents to be made, but are we not
rushing matters? Is there not a good case for expecting passengers to copy their documents before they get to an airport or at an airport? It would not be a burden for the normal traveller. On the other hand, if the Government are to say that the carriers have to have a role, is there not a good argument for the Government reimbursing the cost? Indeed, there is a precedent.
I and the carriers are concerned that the Government are rushing through proposals that could not only be commercially very damaging and unfair to the carriers, but could prove difficult to operate efficiently in practice without causing chaos and problems for our airports.
I agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). I, too, cannot have it both ways. If I am prepared to accept the need for a slight tightening up of the regime on one aspect of asylum, we must consider systems to reduce the number of individuals who hide their documents in this way. Therefore, I do not rule out what the Government are suggesting: there is some merit in looking at the system. However, we must get the balance right. Is the problem being caused by the arrival of individuals in this country without documents so great, so complex and so expensive for us that we are prepared to put in place a system that will cause considerable problems throughout the world and difficulties for our own citizens trying to return to this country?
If someone were to impose this system on me as a traveller, how would I feel about it? I have concerns about the proposals on practical grounds. Can the Minister explain when the pilots will start, how they will be assessed and in what form she envisages reporting back to Parliament on their success? Will she also remind us how many people come into this country without documents, so that we can put the problem into perspective and reflect on the inconvenience that will be caused to many more people. We need to contrast and compare the figures.
Can the Minister comment on other examples of this process in the rest of the world? She suggests pilots, but does such a scheme operate anywhere else? If so, can we learn from the way in which it is operated in other countries and see whether we can learn from problems elsewhere and find better ways of doing it?
Instead of assuming that the documentation must be copied before individuals board a plane, have the Government considered a system that requires a document or card to be completed on the plane itself? One sometimes fills in landing cards on a plane. Could any use be made of those? People on a plane are a captive audience, so there is less chance of delays than before they board.
My main concern relates to what we are going to do with the information if it is collected and available. If an individual arrives in this country and comes through to immigration without any documentation, will the first course of action be to call the country that they came from to try to track down the airline, and
within that airline, or airport, somebody who may have a pile of documents, and then to try to link the documents to that individual?
I am just not clear how that would work in practice. There is the matter of clarifying who is who in that process, and the question of what would happen with the considerable time delays involved. If an individual arrives without a document after a 12-hour flight someone in immigration will presumably try to track down someone at the airport, but the time delays may mean that there is no one there, and that they get no response other than a phone message telling them that no one will be in the office for another 10 hours or so. What would happen then? What would happen to the individual without the document? What position would they be in at that point? Clarifying what has gone on will not be a quick process.
The advantage of the system is that getting a document faxed through would be speedy. However, in practice, with the time delays involved in international travel, and taking into account the fact that, whenever I try to call an airport or work my way through an airport system, it is extraordinary complex and confusing, I can envisage situations in which it would be hard to track down that information and get it sent through.
I hope that the Minister will give some thought to the practical problem of how useful the system will be. If we can come up with a system that can be justified and does not cause delays, and that I can genuinely be convinced would make a practical difference, we would certainly support that. I ask that we do not put something in place that will make only a small difference on a number of occasions, and which will cause a lot of chaos and problems for passengers, and which could give rise to a lot of costs to the industry. We just might be taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
The Minister began by talking of the immediate problem that the Government face in terms of the number of asylum seekers entering the country without documents, having destroyed them on route. According to my memories of discussions of similar clauses earlier in our proceedings, it was generally agreed that a new mechanism must be introduced to address the problem.
I hesitate to make any criticism of the hon. Member for Woking, who has been unfailingly courteous to me and other Members during the proceedings of the Committee. He is also my mother's favourite Tory. To digress briefly, he spoke after me when I made my maiden speech in June 2001. My mother and father were in the Gallery, and my mum said afterwards what a nice man he was, even though he was a Tory. I risk incurring by mother's wrath by suggesting that he is being a bit mischievous in relation to the new clause. The Conservative party never fails to criticise the Government for not taking action when it is necessary, and yet whenever the Government propose something that has a consensus behind it, as this new clause does,
he comes up with a reasonable but long list of reasons why we should, if not reject the proposals, at least delay almost every aspect of the new process.
We have to return to what the Minister said at the beginning. This is an immediate problem that demands solutions in as short a time as possible. That does not mean that we have to cut corners or impose unnecessary burdens on people. However, given the will of the House and this Committee, it is disappointing that the Conservatives always object to the detail, if not to the principle of a clause. I do not believe for a second that with the exponential increase in the sophistication of security technology at almost every airport in the world during the past few years, the introduction of photocopying facilities would create an insurmountable problem to any airline. The hon. Member for Woking may have made his points in all sincerity, but we must look at the bigger picture and get on with the reasonable proposal in the new clause.
The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) referred to the considerable inconvenience that the new clause may cause. Being strip-searched with a pair of Marigolds may be a major inconvenience, but being asked to surrender a passport for photocopying is not. For me it would be a minor inconvenience. I am not sure that I would even call it an inconvenience to be asked to surrender documents for photocopying, which would take a few seconds at most. I hear what the hon. Member for Woking is saying about the delay that some airline carriers have claimed would be caused, but I do not accept that. It behoves the airline industry to come up with a more streamlined system than the one it seems to be talking about. I do not believe that there would be major inconvenience, as the hon. Member for Winchester is claiming.
The airlines do not oppose the measure in principle, but they have concerns and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will assure the Committee that, although it is not in the Bill, any airline that has that responsibility imposed upon it will be fully consulted before the start date of any pilot, and certainly before any order is made to make the system compulsory. We must take the airline and other carriers with us and ensure that they are on board. The only way in which to do that is to ensure that the consultation is full and frank.
On a technical point, will my right hon. Friend explain how the new clause will affect clause 2, which makes it an offence for anyone to arrive at an airport without documents and provides for them to be charged with not having those documents? Would that be a criminal offence? Would it be a defence that the carrier has a copy of the documents? If the individual does not have a copy of those documents at their first interview with an immigration officer, when would the photocopied documents be presented to the immigration service? Would it be only when the matter came to court, or would there be some mechanism for having the photocopied documents presented at an earlier stage, thereby avoiding the necessity for a prosecution, or would the fact that they turned up without documents mean that they committed an offence and that prosecution would follow?
With those caveats, I look forward to my right hon. Friend's summing up.
I have listened carefully to the Minister. The Government are absolutely right to try to address the problem of documents that are destroyed before or on arrival. As she was speaking, some problems suggested themselves to me. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) referred to inconvenience and I agree with him that copying a passport would not be a serious inconvenience. I would not worry about that, but I would worry about the security of that copy and where its final destination would be. Will the Minister say a little more about how the carrier will ensure the security of the copies of documents that it has collected? For example, would there be a regulation a regulation concerning how long they should be retained and whether they should be destroyed after a certain time? Most of those documents will be legal, and will be carried by passengers who were travelling legitimately and not committing any offence.
Will there be a requirement to ensure that the information on them—names, numbers and copies of photographs—is not accessible to others who may seek to misuse them in some way? If that did happen, who would be responsible for those copies of documents leading to an offence being committed? If the Minister would say something more on these issues, it might settle my mind.
The Minister's clause deals only partially with widespread concern. I am not convinced that she has explained it in sufficient detail for us to be confident that it will deal effectively with all routes by which people might reach this country, some of whom would undoubtedly have destroyed their documents. Why is the Minister not being more robust about the matter? It seems clear to me that there will be some inconvenience to travellers and passengers, but no passenger has to arrive at an airport—as I frequently do—less than half an hour before the departure time. Any passenger can arrive earlier, any arrangements can be made for the copying of documents, and those documents should be required of every passenger on every carrier coming to the United Kingdom.
Even if someone gets into an aeroplane well outside Europe, they can transfer—at Schiphol in Amsterdam, for example—on to a different flight and documents from there may not be required by the Minister. That is exactly the point at which documents are likely to be destroyed by someone who has the intention of doing so. Can the copies of the documents not travel in the aircraft with the passengers to whom they refer, and be handed by the captain of the aircraft—the representative of the carrier—to the immigration authorities in the country to which those people are travelling? If they are transferring, the documents will have to follow them through the airport on to a different flight. I appreciate that that will inconvenience them, but it is considerably less inconvenience than the massive inconvenience that uncontrolled, illegal immigration creates for the
citizens of this country. It is far less inconvenient, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart said, than other procedures to which people may be subjected.
I would like the Minister to think about other vessels besides aircraft. Although we have a pretty good record of which commercial aircraft are coming into and out of the airports of this country, there is far less control—the Minister may be able to correct me on this—of commercial shipping. Equivalent procedures could be put in place for commercial shipping. The important issue is that the master of the vessel should remain responsible, as one of my later new clauses suggests, for all those who have come into the country until those people clear immigration. He got them on to the vessel; he must get them off and into the hands of the proper authorities in this country with appropriate documentation. If he cannot supply appropriate documentation, he can take them home with him. It really is as simple as that.
If the shareholders in some of the world's major airlines feel that the provisions will unduly diminish their profits, perhaps they will choose not to fly to particular destinations. I do not have a great deal of sympathy with the carriers on that issue, I must say. I hope that the Minister will assure me that the procedure will be most robust and applied as widely as is conceivably necessary to eliminate the mischief that the new clause is designed to eliminate.
I am grateful for the points that hon. Members on both sides have made, because they demonstrate many of the issues of detail that the voluntary trials that we will conduct with the carriers will try to work out. There are technical decisions to be made and solutions to be found. That is precisely what the trials are about.
Let me try to deal with the issues that hon. Members asked me about. Questions asked during consultation concerned the period of time that the carriers were given to provide information to help us with the regulatory impact assessment and their views about costs. I agree that six working days was a difficult time scale, but it was the one that we were working in. That is not to say that either for that period or for the longer period of consultation on the measure itself we stop talking to the carriers.
We have not stopped talking to them now. Discussions are continuing and they are detailed and we are grateful to the carriers for showing their willingness to participate in discussions. Leaving aside that they have some understandable queries and concerns, I think that they have come to the table in a spirit of trying to find a solution, and I welcome that. I say on the record that that is the way in which we continue to have discussions with the carriers. I have already said twice that if we can get a voluntary system to work effectively and in the interests of the carriers, that is what we will do. We do not want to use the statutory power and I hope that we do not do so.
The regulatory impact assessment was raised. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Woking was implying that one had not been done or that the one
that has been done was not adequate. There has been an initial regulatory impact assessment. By its very nature, that cannot be as robust as we would like it to be at the moment, because the issues of cost and the technical options for copying need to develop through trials. Therefore, we have had to depend, in part, on carriers' own estimates of some of the cost to them, as well as on our estimates of the cost of various options.
It is the photocopying option that we have put in the regulatory impact assessment at this stage. That is partly because that will probably turn out to be the most expensive method. It may be that other methods will turn out to be faster and cheaper.
In response to another point raised by the hon. Member for Woking, photocopying does have one advantage. It is not the only method that has this advantage, but it does have the advantage of including a photograph. It seems to me that if we are going to require copies of documents to be taken, we need an image on the copy of what the person looks like, for obvious reasons.
The piloting will look at all those options. A number of people, including the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson), asked whether passengers themselves could copy documents. I think that would be difficult. It is certainly difficult if we have to rely on the statutory power. It is one thing to require carriers which already have a statutory duty to copy documents to ensure that passengers arrive with adequate documentation. It is quite another form of statutory requirement on large numbers of the travelling public to require them, in a foreign country, where we do not have extra-territorial jurisdiction, to copy documents, with us able to prosecute them if they do not turn up at the check-in desk with a copy. Hon. Members can, with a little thought, understand that there are all sorts of problems would accompany a decision to require passengers to copy documents.
Whether copying regardless of the consent of passengers would be a breach of the law in any country is an issue. We have done some research and we do not think that in any of the countries where we are likely to want this to happen it would be a problem. In response to hon. Members' questions, that is something that we would have to discuss with the nation states concerned to ensure that we institute legislation that is as compatible as possible with theirs.
The hon. Member for Woking raised the issue of costs, which is a concern to carriers. The DEFRA analogy is invalid, however. Carriers in the situation under discussion have a statutory duty to ensure that travellers on their airlines and ships are properly documented. It is important because our ability to control immigration would be otherwise seriously impeded. The other problem with the DEFRA analogy is that the tracking equipment on shipping vessels is a blanket, mandatory requirement. Without such equipment, those vessels cannot sail or fish.
We are discussing tracking equipment, the introduction of which is not blanket but targeted and of potential benefit to airlines. Some carriers use it
because with such robust procedures they can obtain approved gateway status. In the event of somebody destroying their documents, if the carrier can show that it has copied them, it is protected from the imposition of carrier-liability charges. Carriers that consider such issues are already copying documents. The issue of costs is incomparable to the DEFRA example, but the balancing of cost and benefit will be examined in the trials.
The hon. Member for Winchester discussed balance. I agree with his points, but when drawing up a balance sheet one must include all interests. Travellers to the UK and UK citizens have an interest in not being impeded from moving through airports as freely as possible. At the same time, they have an interest in ensuring that our immigration control is not breached, and that large numbers of people are not detained and supported in the UK because we cannot remove them after they have claimed asylum. The costs involved are not conducive to the interests of UK citizens. We must have a broad vision of where the balance lies.
The pilot schemes will start as soon as possible, but locations have not been confirmed because we must discuss the matter with the other nation states. I provided this information at an earlier debate: some 60 per cent. of claims—70 per cent. if we consider claims plus dependants—arrive at airports without documents, when they clearly must have boarded the planes with documents. That is a very significant part of the picture.
I seem to recall it, too. Unfortunately my detailed questions and answers on yellow sheets in the back of my file have disappeared. When we did a rough calculation on clause 2, I believe we reached a figure of that order, but I will confirm it later. Holland has a similar scheme and we will talk to those concerned about how it operates.
The UK is in a unique geographical position. Unlike most other European countries, we do not have land borders, so the potential for people to travel by air and sea to the UK to claim asylum without documents is much greater.
Several Members have asked whether copying documents on the plane would be possible. The carriers are not very keen on it. It is technically difficult and it does not deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Woking because it would still be possible to get rid of the documents between the gate and the plane.
With tracking and linking people to a flight, we do not envisage having to fax back to carriers in another country. If a carrier were asked to copy documents on a certain flight, the documents would then come, in a secure way, on the plane. The hon. Member for Upminster asked about security, an important question. She will be pleased to know that the documents will be handed over to the Home Office, which will be responsible for retaining them for
checking and then destroying them as soon as possible. Therefore, the systems in place would put the onus on us.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart asked about consultation and also about clause 2. As I have made clear, we want the full consultation and excellent participation that we have had so far with the carriers to continue, and I am sure that it will.
As regards clause 2, turning up at a UK airport without a document and being liable for the offence under clause 2 would not provide a person with a defence—possibly the opposite—if a copy of the document proved that he or she had a document when they got on the plane. I envisage that it would depend entirely on whether the person had ''a reasonable excuse'', to remind ourselves of the terminology in the clause, for not having a document in the UK when clearly there was one. The evidence would be pretty damning if there were also a copy.
The Minister may be coming to this point, but I wonder whether she has had a chance in the past couple of weeks to get hold of and look at the letter that I am told the Foreign Secretary wrote to the United States about their similar proposals, in which I understand he said, although I may be wrong, that they would cause severe disruption and be very difficult from our point of view. Has there been liaison on that between the Home Office and the Foreign Office?
There has been liaison, but our issue with the US about the termination of their waiver scheme, in so far as there is an issue, is not about the principle but about the timescale in which it is being imposed. Although we shall include a biometric identifier in all new passports—we are piloting it now—we do not envisage being able to do that universally until mid-2005, whereas the date for the start of the cessation of the waiver scheme that normally applies to UK citizens is 26 October this year. Therefore, there would be a window of six to eight months in which we would not be able to comply. We are talking to the United States about being more flexible about the timescale, although not about the principle. We agree with the principle, and I think that many other countries will go down that road.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) asked whether we could be more robust. In the medium term we can and will be more robust. We are instituting something called the e-borders proposal, which will enable us to set up, through the authority-to-carry scheme, an advance passenger information scheme—the automatic transmission of passenger information in real time. However, that can only be done electronically and it will take some time to put the electronic infrastructure in place. The ID card will also help UK citizens, when we have the ability to read cards quickly.
In the medium to longer term, all countries are going down that route, with authority to carry and advance passenger information, but the electronic infrastructure is necessary. The provision will enable us, in a more low-tech manual way, to have advance
passenger information, or at least the information accompanying passengers as they fly. However the hon. Gentleman is right: the longer-term solution is to be able to do that electronically. Then it can be done all the time for all routes in a blanket way without the impact on carriers that it would have if we sought advance passenger transmission for all journeys.
Hon. Members rightly had a long list of questions. If I have not covered any points, I hope that they will allow me to pick them up later and write to them. I hope that I have reassured them on some of the detail.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.