|Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill
Simon Hughes: I understand the answer, but I disagree profoundly with the analysis. What remedy is available to me if, having bought my ticket and made my holiday arrangements in Johannesburg, I am turned away by the airline? If I fly here and British immigration officials tell me that I cannot enter the country, remedies are available. I can challenge the ruling through the courts, for example. I cannot do so, however, if the airline is responsible for the decision. What happens if the information is inaccurate or flawed, perhaps because of a computer error? The other day, Southwark council prevented me from voting on account of computer error.
Angela Eagle: If authority to travel were refused, an individual could make an application to apply for a visa. Someone with a visa would not be refused authority to travel unless we had information that the visa in question was false. The warnings index does not pick up innocents—
Simon Hughes: It makes mistakes.
Angela Eagle: Let us assume that it makes mistakes. It operates day in, day out at Heathrow and Gatwick, and it contains the names of people whom the immigration service, for various reasons, would examine carefully. In the vast majority of cases, mistakes will not be made. If they are, individuals will not be able to travel that day. They could go to the relevant embassy—we would not supply reasons to the commercial companies—to establish the reason for refusal. Appeals will be possible, though they will not apply on the day of refusal, and travel will be prevented. Without the authority to travel arrangements, the individual would have come all the way to Britain, been refused entry and been forced to go back. In that instance, reasons for refusal would have to be acquired from the British mission or embassy, and the same appeal rights would apply.
I am always nervous about saying so, but I am confident that large numbers of mistakes will not be made. The warnings index lists immigration offenders and threats to national security, and works well. There are also lists of lost passports with numbers to check to see whether someone is using them. Such information would draw someone to the attention of immigration
Column Number: 298control in the airport. In this case, there would be a yes or no answer at the point of departure.
Simon Hughes: Is the Minister saying that every time I am turned away at the gate, the British Government will give me the reasons within a reasonable period, and that there will be an appeal process? Where are the legislative arrangements for that? I am not aware that they exist, and I do not see them in the Bill. If that is what she is saying, that is a new and interesting policy announcement. [Interruption.] No, I am serious. That changes the nature of the game. She is saying that that is a British official decision, which one can review, challenge and appeal against in the courts. I would be grateful to know what the authority is for.
Angela Eagle: The clause gives an enabling power to create authority to travel schemes. We are just starting to consider how we can make information on the warnings index available electronically but unobtrusively at ports before people travel, so that we can check, for example, that they are not travelling on false visas. That is just a way to ensure that the controls that we apply at ports can be applied slightly in advance.
The clause contains regulation-making powers that would enable us to do everything that the hon. Gentleman asks me to confirm in relation to appeal and redress. That is what we intend to do. We could consider UK missions abroad, or an immigration and nationality hotline. We have not reached the stage of planning precisely how we would deliver redress in those circumstances, but I assure him that it is not an arbitrary decision without redress for the individual.
There would be compensation for an innocent individual who somehow became the victim of a computer glitch, as there is in the case of a wrong immigration decision at a port, if that could be proved in the appeal mechanism of a court. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that the development of such technology and schemes such as the pre-boarding authority to travel give greater certainty to everyone, and it will be in everyone's interests if we can develop them appropriately.
I hope that I have explained to the hon. Gentleman that we do not intend to share the information on the warnings index with private companies. They will merely receive a yes or a no about an individual. That does not give the individual the right to enter the country at ports—they will still be checked and have to go through immigration control—but it provides some comfort that, according to the warnings index, the individual is not an immigration offender who has been deported and whom we do not want to return to the country, or who is travelling on falsified documents. If there is a check at immigration control, the individual can be more certain that they will pass through than if there is no check. That is for everyone's convenience.
Mr. Barker: The Minister referred to the 90 million visitors a year. How many people are on the warnings index?
Angela Eagle: The warnings index contains various entries, not all of which are people. Any known war
Column Number: 299criminals are on it, as are people who have been deported from this country within a set period of years, stolen passports that may be re-used and other stolen identification documents. There are hundreds of thousands of pieces of information, but they do not all relate directly to individuals. The warnings index is therefore a database that operates to flag up known difficulties about documentation or certain individuals. It is available to every immigration officer at passport control at each port of entry, and it is a way to pre-check at a more useful time.
On the issues raised by the hon. Member for Woking, I am not a skier, but the trip must have ruined at least the first day of his holiday. I probably would have spent 24 hours recovering before I could face the slopes. The Disney train is an interesting issue. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are in regular contact with Brussels, and we have an arrangement to snap controls in place if it looks like they are needed. We do not need juxtaposed controls everywhere, but we track apparent clandestine movements carefully. If the Eurostar through Lille is targeted we can quickly impose controls in conjunction with the Brussels authorities. We have discussed that with our counterparts in the Belgian Government and we have regular meetings and working groups.
I shall check the ski train and the Disney train, as the hon. Gentleman has brought them to my attention, to ensure that we would be in a position operationally to respond to any sudden development of clandestine activity.
Simon Hughes: I was not aware of the exciting possibilities of the Disney and ski trains, although I am not encouraged to pursue them following the description given by the hon. Member for Woking. However, I am aware of the Lille-Brussels issue, which is in general currency. Others raised it with me when I took the Eurostar to Brussels recently, and the Minister may need to reconsider it.
I favour British officials being outside the territory. That has been my view for a long time in relation to northern France, and it applies also to Belgium. It seems to be the right way to ensure prevention of illegal entry.
The Minister's answers on the other matter furthered my understanding beyond what the Government have said previously. I have no objection to decisions taken by and on behalf of the British Government. That is a better alternative to an individual visa regime, provided there are two safeguards, which I did not see in the Bill. First, the information should not become available to others outside the Government-individual relationship—the Minister assures us that there will be protection—and, secondly, there should be a proper mechanism for challenge, appeal and compensation. If both are included, that will put a different light on the matter. I am grateful for the Minister's elucidation.
Angela Eagle: I would not want the hon. Gentleman to think that we will compensate people whom we correctly prevent from entering the country. The provision is for only the small band of innocents about whom he is concerned.
Column Number: 300Simon Hughes: Of course, I understand. This area requires consultation with the travel industry. If the Government are to implement a technically-led refusal-to-travel system, the logical time to alert people that they will be refused is when they book international flights. One must produce basic information, including passports for visas, at that time. That would be a better way, which would prevent people from spending their money.
Angela Eagle: We absolutely agree. We will look for technological solutions to enable travel agents to have access to the information in due course—obviously it will not happen tomorrow—so that if innocent Bloggs booked a ticket and the system said no, he would not have to spend his money, while if guilty Bloggs booked a ticket, the travel agent would notify him that he was unlikely to pass immigration, so that hopefully he would do something else with his time.
Simon Hughes: This may be a great leap forward rather than a nightmare scenario. The Minister has been able to interpret and explain the Government's thinking, which is a change from what appeared to be the case. Others have been equally concerned, and I am grateful. I look forward to further elaboration and shall not oppose the clause.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 96 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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