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Jeremy Corbyn: I shall be brief, as there are other matters that need to be discussed. I was a Member of the House in 1987, when the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Bill, the forerunner of clause 101, was passed. The motive behind that Bill was to prevent people who wanted to seek political asylum in this country or elsewhere in western Europe from fleeing places where they felt unsafe, and in which the danger was clear. It coincided with an increase in the number of Tamil people seeking political asylum from Sri Lanka, and with similar efforts on the part of many other countries in which political tension was increasing.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) is correct: what lies behind this development is akin to the privatisation of immigration control. In reality, it denies a considerable number of peopletheir wish to apply for asylum in another country may well be entirely genuine and well-foundedthe opportunity to get near enough to an airline desk to pursue that application. If we think back to the situation in Chile before 1990, the question of whether a political person fleeing Chile merited asylum would now be judged not by due process in this country, but by an airline clerk who would be frightened that the airline would be fined £1,000 for bringing in a passenger who would subsequently have to be removed. In fact, enormous pressure was indeed put on the desk staff of British airlines around the world not to allow people about whom they had the slightest suspicion to travel.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made a good point when he cited the example of Zimbabwe. In many other countriesIran and Iraq, for examplesomeone could get as far as the airport to buy a ticket, only to be deterred from travelling by a clerk who knew nothing about the reality of the law and the justice of the claim, and who might well be a stooge of the police or the governing regime. That clerk could then deny them the right to travel, and as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, if the police are observing them, they would be put in considerable danger.
Clause 101 is symptomatic of the paranoia that is sweeping Europe about people who seek political asylum. We live in a world that, for many people, is dangerous, divided and frightening. They regard the Geneva convention as their one hope. If we extend such controls and decision making to faraway airports, we will be comfortably ignorant of the facts. The reality is that some people put themselves at enormous risk merely by trying to exercise the rights that the United Nations convention has conferred in the countries that are signatories to it, of which we are indeed one.
In her response, I hope that the Minister will reflect on the impact of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act and on the entire process, and that she will think again about the provision and the advice given to airline staff, which denies people their valuable human rights.
Mr. Malins: I want briefly to raise with the Minister a couple of matters relating to the authority-to-carry scheme that I discussed in Committee. I appreciate that she was not in her post at that time. I mentioned two rail trips that were causing some concern: the twice-weekly Bourg St. Maurice ski-train, and the Disney train. In both cases, when one purchases a ticket there is a Schengen exit check, but no UK check. I mention these matters now because the former Minister, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), kindly said in Committee that she would ensure that we were in a position to respond to any sudden clandestine activity. If the Minister has no information to hand, I should be happy for her to write to me.
A connected matter is the critical position concerning exits from France. As Minister may know, there is at most one decent, working heartbeat detector machine for Calais and Coquelles. There is simply insufficient investment over there, and the same applies to Dover. The Minister must understand that, whatever her polices in relation to carriers' liability and the authority to carry, only one lorry
Those are small points that are really Committee points, and I am sorry to return to them, but the former Minister was kind enough to say in Committee that they would be considered. I should be glad to be told of developments in due course.
Beverley Hughes: As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said, the amendment would remove clause 101, which establishes an enabling power that allows for the making of regulations to establish the authority-to-carry scheme. However, removing that power would prevent the immigration and nationality directorate from embracing the potential of new technology, and deny us the opportunity to screen passengers better before they embark for the UK. There is an important point here. As the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, the details of such passengers would be checked against data held by the Home Office, to discover whether they posed any known security or immigration threat. There is therefore no possibility of the carriers themselves, or anyone associated with them, having any idea of the information on which a decision would be based. All that the carrier would get would be a yes or no answer to the question whether it has the authority to carry the person in question.
The second important point is that the provision involves no decision as to whether the requirements of immigration rules are met. The provision is not concerned with immigration control in any shape or form. I should point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) that it is also in no sense a transfer or privatisation, as he termed it, of immigration control. In that regard, it has no implications. Nor does it delegate, as my hon. Friend maintained, any decision making to clerks or carriers. It is important that people understand that point.
Jeremy Corbyn: If the authorities in this country say to Iranian Airlines, for example, that person X is not likely to be admitted here for terrorist or immigration reasons, will not that give some important information to a state-owned airline in a country whose human rights record is patchy? It could have implications for the person's family, especially if he or she has family in this country who are applying for asylum.
Beverley Hughes: No reasons, be they terrorist or immigration-related, would be given to the carriers. They would simply be told whether they had the authority to bring the person to the UK. I understand well the point that my hon. Friend makes, but he and others need to consider my point: if the Home Office has information that suggests that someone is an immigration or security riskperhaps he or she is travelling on a false passport or some information is known about his or her activities that raises concernsis it right that we should allow that person on to an aircraft? That is the difficult decision that we have to face. If we have such information, is it right
Mr. Allan: Will the Minister clarify the nature of the schemes proposed? They could vary from a narrow database that accurately defined individuals who posed a security risk to a blanket ruling that all Angolans travelling from Portugal are a risk because a passport scam is going on. In other words, schemes could be very specific or much more general. Will the schemes address specific individuals or classes of individuals?
Beverley Hughes: We would need to have further discussions about the regulations, but my understandingI have read the Committee report in detail and received further advice from officialsis that the schemes will be concerned with individuals. To be fair, I must add that that point was made by Ministers in Committee. Data will be presented by individuals to the carriers and the stored information against which the data will be checked will be about individuals. The authority-to-carry scheme would be authorised in particular areas, but the process of identification would be on an individual basis.
Simon Hughes: Does the Minister not realise the dangerous direction in which these provisions could lead the world? For example, two years ago the Government of Sri Lanka could have told the British Government that they did not want our carriers to allow on to a plane in London anybody who might support the Tamil separatist movement. Someone could be prevented from flying to the US on the basis of the sort of dodgy information that has resulted in people being banged up in Belmarsh prison but then released by the courts because they had no case to answer. Relying on state information to stop people leaving countries is a very different ball game from relying on the duty of the British state to stop people coming into our country. It should not be our job to try to rule the world or to let other people try to rule the world outside their own territorial boundaries.