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At the beginning of my short remarks I declare an interest as the president of the British Airline Pilots Association, which supports the airlines in the representations that they have made to the Government in this regard. I am pleased too that the Chamber of Shipping, to which the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, referred, is also supporting the representations. He is right to point out that there is a serious anomaly because the Channel Tunnel services are unaffected, whereas the airlines and the shipping industry are affected by the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act.
What I find intriguing about this matter--I agree with the view--is that it is an unfair situation. The noble Lord repeated that several times. He said that it was not fair. It was not fair. What seems to have passed him by is the unfairness of certain other elements of the Bill. They seem to have passed the noble Baroness by. The noble Lord, Lord Hacking, is unconcerned about those other matters. It is a Bill that is replete with unfairness and an administrative system that has gone berserk.
I too am deeply concerned about injustice but I am not selective about it. I want to assure the noble Baroness that, seething with indignation over this issue--as are a number of her noble friends--she may have every confidence that we on these Benches will join her in the Lobby when she decides this evening to vote against the Government. That is the test. One can seethe with indignation as much as one likes; but that is the test. I wonder how far the noble Baroness is prepared to push this matter.
Baroness O'Cathain: I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to rise at this point. First, I should like the noble Lord to know that I am not seething with indignation. I am drawing attention to something that is unjust and unfair, but I am certainly not seething with indignation. I have never seethed with indignation in your Lordships' Chamber. It is not a pretty sight and I hope I never do.
Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis--for whom I have a great deal of admiration and respect--is quite unfair (another case of "unfairness") to say to me that I am selective in looking at things that are unfair and unjust. It is up to each person to look at every item in the Bill and make a judgment. I have done that. The fact that I have not jumped up and down to indicate seething indignation is because I have not seen a case for it. I believe deeply that the Bill is right in principle. That is not because I sit on these Benches but because I believe that for too long this country has allowed economic migrants to pretend that they are political asylum seekers. This Bill seeks among other things to turn that one round.
Lord Clinton-Davis: I was interested to hear the Second Reading speech of the noble Baroness in her brief intervention. She said that the Bill is right in principle. That is her view. She is entitled to that opinion. I wonder whether she agrees that it is right in detail as well. Is she wholly happy about these matters? Unfairness and injustice are the principles that guide her in relation to this matter. I say that she is selective. That is my opinion. I am entitled to express it as well.
What the noble Baroness did not say in that very long intervention is what she intends to do about this injustice and unfairness. Will she remain in her seat tonight if the Government are not prepared to give way?
Baroness O' Cathain: What I intend to do tonight is to listen to what my noble friend the Minister says. When I moved the amendment I indicated that I had already spent some time with the Minister and with officials and that I had been greatly heartened by their
Lord Clinton-Davis: It would be a great wonder if the noble Baroness were to be guided by anything I had to say. I would begin to question my own judgment if that were the case. At the end of the day we shall of course listen very carefully to what the Minister has to say--that is critical--but what will happen if the Minister does not accede to the noble Baroness's views?
I shall listen with interest, too. Perhaps a critical test will be deferred tonight. Perhaps it will arise at Report stage or at an even later stage of the Bill. Even if the noble Baroness is not seething with indignation, she is deeply concerned about the injustice of the matter, and if she does not get the right response I imagine that, with her due diligence, she will pursue the Government into the Division Lobbies on this matter. But that remains to be seen. I believe it is an injustice. I believe that there are anomalies which need to be cured. I support the noble Baroness in her limited objectives tonight.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: The noble Lord has said that those of us who have our names to the amendment should press it in the Division Lobbies if we do not get a satisfactory reply from the Minister. Can I take it then that every Opposition amendment from now on, if it does not get a satisfactory reply from the Minister, will be pressed in the Division Lobbies? If so, I suppose I had better set aside a little more time for the Bill.
Lord Clinton-Davis: The noble Lord is right; he should set aside a good deal more time. We shall exercise our discretion as to where the most injustice and unfairness arises. And because he is concerned about those issues, we look forward to seeing him in the Division Lobby with us.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: Perhaps I may say a few words on this important question. As the noble Baroness, Lady O' Cathain, will be aware, if she presses her amendment tonight she will win the Division. Therefore, if she withdraws the amendment, we shall draw our own conclusions as to why she has taken that action.
I wish to revisit a debate which we have had in the past on this question. Some years ago I moved a Prayer to annul a regulation which increased the fine under the Act from £1,000 to £2,000, and I received a substantial amount of support from noble Lords on the other side of the House. On that occasion we discussed a number of cases. Perhaps I may have the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, because I am hoping that she will respond in a moment if she is good enough to pay attention to what I am saying.
On that occasion I drew attention to one particular case affecting a ferry company. A Nepalese military band had lawfully entered this country on the basis of visa which they had a right to, and there was no
On that occasion I did not secure any coherent explanation as to how that could conceivably be justified. What British interest was possibly served by fining a Nepalese military band who simply wanted to go home from London airport? The fact of the matter was that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who was a former Home Secretary and then Leader of the House, decided to reply to the debate. He gave a number of assurances that, unhappily, did not lead to any improvement in the situation. As this amendment will clearly not be pressed tonight by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain--if I may speak on her behalf--I hope that between now and the Report stage of the Bill the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will look into this question.
I can understand the problems as regards the department. There is a serious difficulty here and I do not make light of the administrative problems as far as the Immigration Service is concerned. Nevertheless, I cannot believe that it is sensible to proceed in the way that we have.
There was another case of an Icelandic baby who was brought to this country for urgent medical treatment. The airline was fined. I repeat that there is genuine difficulty as far as the immigration department is concerned. At some stage there has to be a substantial review of these procedures, because I cannot believe that proceeding in this way makes any sense whatever.
Lord Hylton: I have been opposed to the principle of carriers' liability ever since the Act was introduced in 1986 or 1987. I believe I have joined in resisting it on subsequent occasions when it has been debated in your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, has tonight helpfully explained to us the compliance costs which are imposed on the companies in coping with this legislation. Her noble friend on the same Bench gave us some kind of order of magnitude of the amount that is raised by the charges in each year.
In the nature of economic life, these things are passed on to us innocent customers by way of additional fares. That is what we object to very strongly. It is a modest amendment because it deals only with the technicalities of the charges imposed on those who are subsequently allowed to enter or stay in the United Kingdom. I hope that the Minister will pay attention to the extraordinary weight and strength of opinion which have been expressed tonight from her own Benches, including the opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, a former Minister in the Department of Transport.
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