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Column 918Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Strang, Dr. Gavin
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Wareing, Robert N
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Bob Cryer and
Mr. Terry Lewis.
Question accordingly agreed to .
That, at the sitting on Monday 21 February, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Conway.]
Motion made, and Question proposed , That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Conway.]
Michael Lennon, who is in his late twenties, is a Jamaican citizen in full- time employment and lives in Jamaica with his two children. Mrs. Palmer invited Michael to stay with her and her husband and family in Bradford for Christmas and the new year. She arranged for him to come on a special Air UK charter flight, which offered seats about £150 cheaper than those on scheduled or regular charter flights. The flight--ULE 966--arrived at Gatwick on 21 December four hours late.
We now know that, on landing, it was sent by immigration to stand 21, which has a closed lounge. Immigration officers boarded the plane. British and European Communities passport holders were allowed to leave the aircraft. Jamaican passport holders were not allowed to leave for some hours. Anxious relatives and friends waiting were told that the delay was due to a baggage handling dispute. Eventually, Jamaican passport holders were taken off the plane in small groups. Large numbers of officials were on duty at Gatwick that day--114 immigration officers, 93 Customs and Excise officers and 15 police officers. Each passenger was interviewed. Some were interviewed a second time after a long delay--in some cases, lasting hours. One woman, four months pregnant with a visa issued by the British high commission in Jamaica entitling her to settle in Britain, waited 11 hours to be interviewed and admitted.
Michael Lennon was interviewed. He was also strip-searched, as were two other passengers, including one woman. No illegal substances were found on anybody. Indeed, no illegal substance was found on any passenger on four Caribbean flights that arrived at Gatwick on 21 December. A small quantity of herbal cannabis was found by police on one person when he was placed in a police cell late on 21 December. Michael Lennon, together with other passengers from his flight, including 14 children under 16, were refused entry to Britain. Four of those children were travelling unaccompanied.
Column 919Several requests that I made over the next three days for Michael Lennon to be granted temporary admission so that he could go back to Jamaica on a booked return flight on 17 January were rejected. I spent hours on the telephone with Home Office officials, immigration officers and other officials. I was told that temporary admission was refused because officials could not be confident that Mr. Lennon would abide by the terms of any temporary admission. Their only evidence was that he was carrying a letter which suggested that he, rather than his aunt, had suggested the holiday and that he knew a young woman who had gone to Gatwick to meet him.
Who suggested the holiday seems to me to be wholly irrelevant. The young woman vigorously denied ever having met Michael Lennon, still less having any relationship with him. She had to take a photograph of Mr. Lennon to Gatwick to enable her to identify him. She was there to meet him only because Mrs. Palmer, a close friend of the young woman's deceased mother, was too ill to travel by road from Bradford to Gatwick.
I was told that Michael Lennon and another 26 Jamaican citizens refused entry would be returned to Jamaica in early January. The Home Office, desperately concerned that passengers refused entry might use solicitors to obtain applications for judicial review, bundled them out of Britain in extreme secrecy on Christmas night. Television cameras and reporters were prevented from witnessing the special charter which included 10 Group 4 staff at a cost of £126,000. Flight ULE 966 was targeted. It was met by an unusually large number of officials. Special arrangements were made for interviewing the passengers and an unusually large number of passengers were refused entry, detained and deported.
A week before that flight, another charter flight, BA 1262/KT 310 from Jamaica to Gatwick, arriving on 16 December received the same special treatment ; 38 passengers were refused entry, 33 of whom were deported.
The Air UK charter was warned to expect the same special treatment. In a bid to avoid such problems, contact was made with the immigration service at senior level at Gatwick airport. An offer was made to take two immigration officers to Jamaica without cost to check on passengers. The offer was refused by the immigration service, again at senior level. Other discussions were inconclusive. Eventually, immigration at Gatwick was supplied with a passenger list for the Air UK flight several hours before th plane landed. It is believed that the delay in the plane landing was due to passengers being checked against the Home Office computer records.
I should like to ask the Minister some questions of which I gave him notice. First, what were the ages of the unaccompanied children who arrived at Gatwick on flight ULE 966 who were removed from the United Kingdom to Jamaica? Secondly, did Ministers authorise the refusal of the offer to take British immigration officers to Jamaica to pre-check the travel documents of passengers before they boarded the flight? Thirdly, did Ministers authorise the unorthodox procedure whereby passenger lists on flight ULE 966 were checked on the computer before the flight arrived at Gatwick? What procedures are used at Gatwick
Column 920and other points of entry to count and check visitors leaving the United Kingdom at or before the expiry of their leave to enter? Did Ministers authorise any agencies at Gatwick, including the immigration service, to give the media information about Jamaican citizens leaving the United Kingdom ; about Jamaican citizens, given temporary admission to the United Kingdom, failing to leave the United Kingdom or absconding ; and about Jamaican citizens given leave to enter the United Kingdom for up to six months? What was the total cost of removing, detaining and escorting Jamaican citizens who arrived on flights BA 1262/KT 310 and ULE 966? Is there a dispute between the Home Office and the carrier, agent or tour operators over the defraying of all or part of the total costs, and what are the costs currently outstanding?
Why were so many passengers refused entry to Britain? The Minister and Home Office officials constantly told the media that it was because some had tried to enter Britain before, either to live here or to visit. In fact, only 10 passengers came into that category ; four of those were allowed to enter the United Kingdom for up to six months. Leaks to the media suggested that many of the passengers were "yardies", violent criminals or drug dealers. I was assured that Mr. Lennon had no criminal convictions in Jamaica, or links with any known criminals here.
In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) dated 12 January, the Minister said that all the passengers on flight ULE 966 who were refused entry were refused for immigration reasons ; there was no substantive evidence that any of them were known criminals.
The whole incident attracted massive public attention and considerable media coverage. The Guardian and The Times published extremely critical editorials ; more surprising was an editorial that appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 28 December. Under the heading "Race relations fiasco", it thundered :
"Immigration regulations were tightened this year in the Asylum and Immigration Appeal Act. Those like ourselves who supported a measure designed to cut down the abuse of refugee status will be alarmed to see it being used to inflict inconvenience, humiliation or worse on foreign citizens lawfully visiting friends and family in Britain for Christmas. The signals this sends out are all the wrong ones--that people of Jamaican origin living in Britain are suspect, that the abuse of their rights is acceptable, and that officialdom may single them out for unfair treatment with impunity (would white American tourists have been subjected to such a battery of indignities as this?)."
I believe that this was indeed a race relations fiasco : that is extremely clear from all the evidence that has been provided. I have asked more than 50 parliamentary questions about the incident, but obtaining information has been like drawing teeth. It is clear that this was a fiasco, and that it was targeted.
If immigration officers who planned the special operation to receive flight ULE 966 over days did not seek Ministers' approval, why are those officers still in place? If Ministers did approve the operation, why have they so far not seen fit to utter a word of apology to anyone--still less to consider their own positions? That incident damaged relations between the British Afro-Caribbean community and the authorities. It undoubtedly gravely damaged the reputation of Britain as a tourist centre. The message being sent out to many black and Asian people is that they are not welcome in the country. The message to black and Asian people living in the country was that they were not entitled to have their
Column 921relatives or friends visit them for a brief holiday. Undoubtedly, it also gravely damaged the perception of our immigration policy as firm and fair, which the Minister does not lose any opportunity to state.
I hope that the Minister will give a full and clear explanation of why so many of those passengers were refused entry to Britain, were detained and were deported. He has even refused in his answers to parliamentary questions to name the passengers concerned. The explanations that we have received have been extremely misleading and certainly do not give any clear or concise reason why those people were refused entry. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us for the first time why so many of those passengers were refused entry and why they were deported back to Jamaica on Christmas day. 11.12 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) on his success in securing the debate. I know that he has tried repeatedly over the past several weeks to obtain an Adjournment debate and I am glad that his persistence has been rewarded. I shall seek in the next few minutes to answer the questions of which he gave me notice. There are one or two other points to which I shall turn straight away.
As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate on reflection, visas are not required from Jamaica. I am sure that he was referring to prior entry clearance. All the police at Gatwick were on standard security duties at the airport. No police were there in connection with that flight specifically. The hon. Gentleman also referred to judicial review. He will be aware that although an application for judicial review has to be lodged in Britain, it can, of course, be pursued from outside the country.
Michael Lennon arrived, as the hon. Gentleman said, on charter flight ULE 966 at Gatwick on 21 December and was refused entry. It is right to make it clear from the outset that flight ULE 966 was not one of the regular scheduled flights at Gatwick, which are normally handled without any difficulty. I made that point to the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) when I wrote to him on 12 January, a matter to which the hon. Member for Bradford, West referred. I wrote in some detail about what happened on that occasion. A copy of that letter has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, so it is probably unnecessary for me to cover that ground again.
None the less, there are a few points which I ought to make. The hon. Gentleman has asked specific questions, to which I shall try to respond. There has been speculation that the flight has been targeted, as the hon. Gentlman has mentioned time and again, because all those on board were in some way under suspicion. That was not the case. Arrangements were made to deal with the flights separately from the main immigration control, but that does not mean that some kind of special operation was mounted because those on board were somehow under mass suspicion.
Mr. Wardle : I shall seek to expand on that point. In that case, the immigration service had advance information, including information from the carrier and the charter company, which led it to believe that more passengers would require a detailed interview than would be the case with a regular scheduled flight.
Column 922The airline approached the immigration service about the flight a few days before its arrival and inquired whether there might be problems in clearing the 300 or so expected passengers. It asked whether arrangements could be made to clear the flight in Kingston. It was informed that would not be possible. There are no standing arrangements for the immigration service to operate controls overseas. Even if such an arrangement had been thought desirable, it would not have been possible to conclude the necessary agreement with the Jamaican authorities in the short time available.
The proposal was not practicable in the circumstances. The decision was not authorised by Ministers and did not need such authorisation. The hon. Gentleman was incorrect in referring to the check of the passenger manifest on flight ULE 966 as unorthodox. Such checks are sometimes carried out and they do not require ministerial authority. There were 326 passengers on board flight ULE 966. Information from the airline as well as from the tour operator several days before the flight's arrival revealed that tickets had been on sale at heavily discounted prices. A similar charter flight operated by another company had arrived at Gatwick on 15 December. It had been handled in the usual way without any advance preparation. About 100 passengers had required a full interview and more than 30 had been refused entry.
An additional factor is that Gatwick is usually very busy in the week leading up to Christmas. In case a similar number of passengers to that on the previous flight needed further examination, it seemed a sensible precaution to set aside a separate area in order not to delay other arriving passengers. Arrangements were therefore made for the disembarkation and reception of passengers from flight ULE 966 so that, if the need arose, a potentially large number of interviews could be conducted quickly and in an orderly way.
The arrangements included the provision of a gate lounge in which passengers could sit while awaiting an interview and the provision of additional immigration officers. Neither Mr. Lennon nor any of the other 300 or so people who were on flight ULE 966 came under suspicion just because they were arriving on that flight. That is not the way in which we operate immigration control.
People seeking entry must, of course, satisfy the immigration officer that they qualify for entry under the immigration rules. These provide that a passenger seeking entry as a visitor, including one coming to stay with relatives or friends, will be admitted if he satisfies the immigration officer that he is genuinely seeking entry for the period of the visit as stated by him and that for that period he will maintain and accommodate himself and any dependants, or will, with any dependants, be maintained and accommodated adequately by relatives or friends without working or having recourse to public funds, and can meet the cost of the return or onward journey. In all cases, entry will be refused if the immigration officer is not so satisfied.
Each person is interviewed individually and the decision whether to grant entry is taken on the individual facts and merits of the case. Entry can be refused only on the authority of a chief immigration officer or inspector. Passengers on this particular flight were dealt with under precisely those criteria and procedures. The result was that a high proportion of them were questioned in detail and 68 have been refused entry, mostly because they did not satisfy the immigration officers that they were genuine
Column 923visitors. Mr. Lennon was one such passenger. A few were refused entry because they sought settlement without the necessary clearance.
Four children who arrived on flight ULE 966 were returned unaccompanied. Two were aged 11, one 12 and one 16. In each case, their family in the United Kingdom were informed of the removal directions which enabled reception arrangements to be made in Jamaica.
As reported in column 872 of Hansard, I explained on 3 February that detention costs were still being calculated. That is still the case. Discussions are taking place between the Home Office and the carrier about the costs of removal and the extent of the carrier's liability under schedule 2(8) to the Immigration Act 1971. No Ministers or officials authorised any agency at Gatwick to give the media information about Jamaican citizens leaving or failing to leave the United Kingdom. Information was given by the Home Office press office in response to inquiries. With the exception of the channel ports, embarkation controls operate at all air and sea ports.
The facts of Mr. Lennon's case are that he sought entry as a visitor until 17 January 1994 in order to visit his aunt, Mrs. Palmer, who, I understand, is a constituent of the hon. Member for Bradford, West. Mr. Lennon had no funds of his own but had a ticket booked for the return leg of the charter flight on 17 January. He said that the ticket had been brought for him by his aunt whom he had not seen for many years.
Mr. Lennon described himself as a carpenter but said that he had been unable to find any steady carpentry work. For that reason, he worked as a casual farm labourer, earning the equivalent of about £25 a week. He lived with his girl friend and their two children. He said that he knew no one here apart from Mrs. Palmer, although he was aware that he had an uncle in this country whose whereabouts were unknown to him. As it happened, Mrs. Palmer was not able to go to Gatwick to meet her nephew--I understand that she was ill--but a Ms Edwards went on her behalf. She was described by Mrs. Palmer as a friend of the family who knew Mr. Lennon, whom she had met in Jamaica about year earlier while she was there on a visit.
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt recall, from his contact with my private office at the time, that Mr. Lennon's aunt had also said that she had invited him at his suggestion, whereas Mr. Lennon had said that his aunt had invited him on her own initiative.
In reaching the decision, the immigration officer assessed Mr. Lennon's application carefully in the light of all the information and, looking at all the circumstances, was not satisfied that Mr. Lennon intended to stay only for a visit for four weeks. The decision to refuse entry was taken after reference to a chief immigration officer.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the decision was reviewed again following his representations. The immigration service considered that they did not contain any new information that would justify reversing the decision already taken. There was no other reason for that decision. There was no underlying suspicion of Mr. Lennon having been involved in any criminal activity.
There has been some general speculation in the media about "criminal elements" on the flight. I can confirm,
Column 924therefore, that none of the people who were refused entry were refused because of their personal undesirability on account of criminal activity.
The hon. Gentleman has referred also to Mr. Lennon having been personally searched. I understand that Her Majesty's Customs and Excise searched Mr. Lennon but did not find any illegal substance on him. That search was not at the request of the immigration service, which has powers to search for documents only.
Mr. Lennon was detained until his return to Jamaica on 25 December. Detention powers are not used lightly. A passenger who is refused entry will be detained only where an immigration officer is not satisfied that the person concerned will comply with the terms or conditions attached to any temporary admission. Where someone is detained, removal is arranged as quickly as possible to keep detention to a minimum.
The immigration service was not satisfied, in Mr. Lennon's case, that he would comply with any conditions. The uncertainty about the strength of his connection with Mrs. Palmer was a relevant factor in that. The decision was also reviewed in the light of the hon. Gentleman's request for Mr. Lennon's release, but it was felt that detention should be maintained. The hon. Gentleman will also know that I reviewed the case myself and could find no exceptional or compelling circumstances which would have justified my intervention. I have set out in some detail the individual circumstances of Mr. Lennon's case. I should, however, like to make it clear that neither that case nor the cases of the other people who were refused entry from that flight should be taken as a signal of any change in the Government's policy. We remain committed to firm but fair immigration control. Genuine visitors are always welcome, and will continue to be welcomed. Those people who do not satisfy the immigration officer that they will leave at the end of their stay will be refused entry. That is a long-established principle.
We have estimated that about 100 visitors who might have been expected to leave on the return leg did not do so. We have, of course, made it quite plain that those people accepted as visitors from the incoming flight but who do not leave on the return leg are not necessarily here unlawfully. People can, and do, change their mind about the time that they will stay. Many will no doubt leave on other flights. It must be said, however, that, given the indications recorded on arrival that so many intended to leave on 17 January, fewer people than might have been expected to do so actually left on the return flight.
Of those people refused entry, 57 have left. Out of 10 people who are still here, seven are here unlawfully. The cases of the three others, all children, are being reviewed. One other passenger from the flight absconded before interview and is therefore also considered to be here unlawfully.
None of that is a precursor to the introduction of a visa regime for citizens of Jamaica. Naturally, we encourage people to apply for entry clearance before they set out so that their eligibility for admission can be determined in advance, but we have no plans to introduce compulsory visas for Jamaican nationals. The European Commission has tabled proposals for a common visa list under the treaty of European Union, as the hon. Gentleman knows. That is for discussion among the 12 member states. At present, it would require unanimous agreement in order to take effect. From 1996, a qualified majority vote will suffice.
Column 925Most people, including Jamaican citizens, pass through our controls quickly after only a brief interview and, as I have said, scheduled flights from Jamaica are normally cleared without any difficulty or delay. About 26,000 Jamaicans came here in 1992, but about 400 only were denied entry and returned.
We have discussed the events of December with representative bodies. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I have met the West Indian Standing Conference, as has the director (ports) of the immigration service. I have also received a delegation, led by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), representative of the community ; a member of the Jamaican high commission was there, too. The director has also discussed the events with a group drawn from the Caribbean Churches. The British high commission in Kingston has had discussions with the Jamaican Government and has met representatives of the travel companies involved in the flight.
Column 926More generally, the immigration service has developed good contacts with interested groups representing the Caribbean community in this country, including the Caribbean high commissions. That has led to visits to ports to observe our immigration controls at first hand. I believe that such contacts are well worth while in improving relations and dispelling misconceptions. They also provide access to named individual managers within the immigration service with whom any problems arising in particular cases can be discussed. I am most grateful to the high commissions which regularly send representatives to address immigration officer training courses.
I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Bradford, West can feel rather more assured in the light of what I have said this evening. Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock.
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