Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Ms Winterton: I shall deal first with the point made by the hon. Member for Woking, on which I can reassure him. He is referring to clause 95. Employers who provide immigration advice or services free of charge to employees are exempted from the regulatory scheme until the end of the year. Amending and extending that exemption is an option and we will review it with the Immigration Services Commissioner and Work Permits (UK) before clause 95 is implemented.

On the points raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), there has been a great effort to look at areas of shortage. He will know of such initiatives as the highly skilled migrants programme. He referred to other areas of shortage. We are looking particularly at the seasonal agricultural workers scheme and the working holidaymakers scheme, which are under joint review by Work Permits (UK) and other policy colleagues in the Home Office. Work is also in progress developing new schemes sector by sector to cover shortages. No target numbers have yet been agreed.

As I explained earlier, extensions of work permits are available, particularly if someone has demonstrated that they have added value. The hon. Gentleman raised a point about refugees. Work conversion courses are in place so that we can move quickly to ensure that refugees with particular skills can take up employment.

Simon Hughes: I shall write to Ministers about some of the practical difficulties that the doctor to whom I referred earlier raised about gaining access to the information. I found his points helpful in demonstrating the difficulty of finding out where one should go and whom one should speak to.

Ms Winterton: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that that will be extremely helpful. It is important to know people's direct experiences in such cases, because if we are to make the schemes successful, we need to know where people encounter genuine difficulties. I am sure that my Home Office colleagues have noted the hon. Gentleman's points about teaching and the two-year issue.

I hope that that further information is helpful, and I commend clause 94 to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 94 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 95 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 96

Authority to carry

Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): I beg to move amendment No. 301, in page 47, line 10, leave out 'nationality'.

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I rise on this beautiful morning to speak briefly on this gentle and probing amendment. The terms of clause 96 have been queried by a leading and much-respected NGO and although the amendment is gentle, it touches on an important point of principle and is designed to see how far the Government intend to use the clause to discriminate against incoming passengers. As the Minister will know, under new section 19B in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, it is not always unlawful for a relevant person, which includes necessary public authorities, to discriminate against another person on grounds of nationality or of ethnic or national origins in carrying out immigration and nationality functions. Nevertheless, it is still somewhat worrying that a ministerial order under the Act can authorise racial discrimination, which has obviously been done for immigration officials.

Will the Minister assure us that it will still be unlawful for a carrier to discriminate against passengers under the 2000 Act? The clause seems to authorise something that is unlawful. Although I accept that the legislation is intended to create a more efficient, faster and fairer system, do the Government intend to extend the existing law on discrimination? Will the Minister assure us that there is no intention to extend the practice of lawful racial discrimination through the implementation of clause 96?

Simon Hughes: I will speak not only because we jointly sponsored the amendment but because I remember the debates that we had during the Committee consideration of the Race Relation (Amendment) Bill on this and related issues. I, too, am confused, and I follow the promptings of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker) on the amendment.

Although it was controversial at the time, the Government insisted that they exempted people performing certain functions in the immigration and nationality directorate from some of the race relations legislation. The justification was that it might be necessary, for example, to stop and search all Bosnians as a group, even though there would be no reason for thinking that they might be terrorists or that they were acting illegally other than information that suggested that there was an issue. I understood the argument, although I did not agree with it and tried to amend the legislation.

We examined the issue earlier when it came up in clauses 6 and 7. We agreed to clause 6, which changes the 2000 Act and limits the exemptions for people performing Home Office functions. That was welcome. I, too, am concerned to discover how far the Government intend to use the clause to discriminate against passengers. The clause provides for a ministerial order in secondary legislation to authorise continuing discrimination on racial grounds. That should trouble us, and I thought that we had agreed to get rid of that.

9.45 am

The hon. Gentleman asked if the clause allows a carrier to make such a distinction. If so, that would be invidious. A carrier flying from South Africa to the

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United Kingdom could decide not to allow any Angolans on the plane. That is a thoroughly unacceptable position, and would be a possible risk under subsection (3) if it retained the word ''nationality''. I am conscious that we have not yet seen the draft regulations, and are in the dark as usual.

Subsection (3) states:

    ''An authority-to-carry scheme must specify—

    (a) the class of carrier to which it applies . . . ''


    ''(b) the class of passenger to which it applies (which may be defined by reference to nationality''.

It then refers to

    ''the possession of specified documents''.

I understand the argument that certain documents, for example a visa, are needed to get on a plane. That may be acceptable, but whatever Ministers intend in subsequent regulations, the subsection appears to suggest that certain nationalities will have to act in certain ways. I imagine that the only justification for that is that a UK national or a British overseas citizen could be treated differently. I could understand it if the subsection meant that a carrier is entitled to differentiate between UK nationals or, at a pinch, UK and European Union nationals, and others, because there is a different rule for moving around Europe.

It would be helpful if the Minister could provide an explanation, as there is considerable concern inside and outside the Committee that the provision harks back to an unacceptable provision in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Angela Eagle): I hope that I can reassure the hon. Gentlemen that the provision is not as they see it.

I hope that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle enjoyed moving his first amendment. He has had a sudden promotion. Goodness knows where it might end.

The hon. Gentleman for Southwark, North and Bermondsey correctly said that new section 19D in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 allowed discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity and nationality. However, he did not say that for the first time the Act brought the immigration and nationality directorate within the purview of race discrimination legislation, from which it was completely exempted in 1996. There can be no discrimination on the grounds of race or colour without falling foul of the Act. So he was wrong when he said that the IND could discriminate on racial grounds, although it can discriminate on the grounds of nationality.

I would be interested if hon. Gentlemen could tell me how they would run an effective immigration service without the power to discriminate on the grounds of nationality in some circumstances. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey rightly pointed out—I thank him for his acknowledgement—we have narrowed further the exemptions in clause 6. However, with proper ministerial oversight and reports to Parliament, the

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potential to discriminate on grounds of nationality for operational and practical reasons is necessary in some circumstances. We will continue to narrow the exemptions if the operation of the system proves that we can safely do so.

Clause 96 talks about the development of authority to carry schemes. We may discuss this matter in debating whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. The provision is not intended to allow carriers to discriminate. Prior to passengers boarding a plane, there will be an electronic check to see whether any known immigration offenders or security risks—often those on the warnings index used at ports of entry—are among them. After an electronic exchange of information the airline will be granted or refused permission to carry. It will be given a yes or a no answer for an individual.

This is merely a way for passengers to know that they will not be stopped at immigration for reasons of immigration or security and be turned back once they have travelled. They will know that they have authority to travel, and although the measure does not replace immigration control, there will be a faster way through it once they arrive at the port.

The carrier will not discriminate; it will act on information from Home Office databases that will either grant or not grant authority to carry. This will prevent airlines becoming liable to fines by carrying improperly documented people. It will give passengers authorised to travel before boarding the aircraft more secure knowledge that they will not be considered either an immigration threat or a security risk when they arrive. We see it as beneficial all round. In a nutshell, that is how we see authority to carry schemes being developed. They are at an early stage at present.

We would not give permission to an airline to discriminate against all Angolans unless all Angolans were on the warning index as immigration offenders or threats to national security, which is highly unlikely.

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