Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Russell: The Minister has chosen a slightly unfortunate example for his own purpose. He chose the example of a couple who hardly knew each other. Richard Nixon proposed to his subsequent wife two hours after having met her. They were married until death did them part.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: That is the best example of all time, bearing in mind that he was notoriously untruthful for most of his political existence.

Earl Russell: I make no defence of the President's politics.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Provision of facilities for immigration control at ports]:

Lord Cadman moved Amendment No. 40.

Page 15, line 29, at end insert--
("( ) In formulating such facilities the Secretary of State shall have due regard to their economic cost and practical relevance to the control of immigration.")

The noble Lord said: While I have no quarrel with the proposal that the control port should provide necessary facilities for the proper control of immigration, the clause and the amendment that follows, which was proposed by Her Majesty's Government, appear to give the Secretary of State sweeping powers to demand almost any facility. It has to be said that recent approaches to Her Majesty's immigration officers to provide a service connected with their work at control ports that are to be modified or improved by the provision of new services has resulted in quite outrageous demands for accommodation and facilities, and tend not to be in keeping with the task at hand. Proposals connected with the processing of international railway passengers since the opening of the Channel Tunnel have been somewhat difficult and there is presently a serious problem developing at Manchester Airport. The problem is that Her Majesty's immigration service tends to demand facilities such as staff car parking and subsidised canteen arrangements, to say nothing of superior office accommodation and the provision of CCTV cameras designed to reduce the workload of immigration officers.

All these facilities have to be provided out of scarce resources, free of charge, by the port owners, who are often constrained by shortage of available space. The amendment is designed to ensure that the Secretary of State pays attention to the likely cost and relevance of any demanded facilities and should help to forestall the demand and provision of services that could be

12 Jul 1999 : Column 145

construed as staff benefits not properly connected with the provision of an immigration service. I respectfully suggest that all ports should be treated on the same basis if charges for services are considered, which is not the present position.

In relation to airports, Her Majesty's Government's immigration proposals should reflect government policy towards regional airports and redress, not reinforce, differences between those airports and the London airports. Beneficiaries should not be asked to bear the costs of outdated and inefficient working practices in the immigration service, and there should be greater transparency of Her Majesty's immigration costs. I beg to move.

11.45 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cadman. Over the years I have seen generous provisions demanded not just by the immigration service, but also by Customs and Excise. We saw that at Dover around 10 years ago when a new passenger immigration terminal was built. After the first couple of weeks, it was merely a wide-open space in which nothing happened. When Dover Harbour Board suggested building a supermarket there, it was told that that immigration facility was necessary, although it has not been used for anything since. Willesden rail freight terminal is not relevant to questions of immigration, but it still involves officials. An enormous great office was built of which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food required a complete floor, but it has not been there during the five years in which the building has been open.

The worst case occurred when I was working on the Channel tunnel. A police station was required to be built, at no cost to the police force, to ensure law and order at the terminal. It was nothing to do with MI5; it was merely to ensure law and order at the terminal. An enormous building to house 80 police officers in stupendous luxury was provided. One day an officer was asked how many officers would be required if the police were paying for the service themselves, and in an off-the-cuff answer we were told, "Two part-time from Ashford". There is a great gulf between two and 80. When the private sector is, if anything, reducing its standards of accommodation, and outsourcing and downgrading, the generous demands to which the noble Lord, Lord Cadman, referred possibly need a bit of tempering with words such as "economic cost" and "practical relevance".

I was particularly interested when the noble Lord said that the officers required free car parking space. I thought the Government's policy was to reduce the use of cars and to increase the use of public transport. Or will we see, if and when road pricing and workplace parking charges come in, many government departments seeking exemptions? I hope that the Minister will consider carefully our remarks in relation to this amendment, which I support.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I too am sympathetic to this amendment. Something along the lines of reasonableness, whether in these precise words or some other, could well be included in this clause.

12 Jul 1999 : Column 146

Something the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said rang a small bell in my mind. I was involved with Customs and Excise when the Channel tunnel was first discussed and I seem to remember a considerable argument as to what facilities should be provided on the trains, including whether it should be possible to detain people on the trains. The first suggestion was that a high percentage of the train should be taken up with facilities that might be needed if a large number of smugglers were arrested. I am glad to say that we came to a more reasonable conclusion in the end, but that and one or two other instances give me some sympathy with the purposes behind the amendment.

Lord Berkeley: The noble Lord is right. There is still a mobile gaol on every train, complete with racks to which to handcuff people. I do not believe they have ever been used, but they are useful for storing the luggage of Japanese tourists.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I understand why my noble friend Lord Cadman has tabled this amendment. Some operators, particularly at smaller ports, are genuinely concerned that the facilities they may be required to provide will not be proportionate to the size and nature of their operation and would significantly add to their operating costs.

Rental and other costs arising from the provision by port operators of other accommodation and facilities, such as back offices and waiting areas--which are no less essential to the operation of immigration control--fall to the taxpayer. Such charges, which are often at premium rates, include those attributable to services that port services, using their monopoly, insist on delivering themselves at above market prices.

Increases in passenger numbers are forecast, bringing great commercial benefits to port operators but also significant resource difficulties for the Immigration Service. As ports expand and new ones are established to accommodate the growth in international travel, additional burdens are placed on the Immigration Service in terms of increases in rental and associated costs. It is vital that the United Kingdom maintains its position as an international hub and a centre for trade, culture and education.

We welcome and are committed to facilitating growth. However, it seems reasonable for there to be a balance between the benefit to those with a commercial interest and the cost to the taxpayer. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cadman, accepts that it is not the intention to require facilities that are not necessary for the control of immigration. The significant growth in passenger traffic that we now experience brings with it commercial benefit to port operators. It is not, in the Government's view, unreasonable to look to them to make more of a contribution to the increasing costs of the Immigration Service in facilitating that growth.

Clause 21(1) states that the person responsible for the management of a controlled port must provide the Secretary of State, free of charge, with such facilities as the Secretary of State may direct as being reasonably necessary for or in connection with the operation of immigration control. We are in close consultation with

12 Jul 1999 : Column 147

the industry in looking at the range of facilities that it is reasonable to expect it to provide. The kind of facilities will be prescribed by order, with a statutory requirement to consult individual operators before directions are given under the provisions.

The Immigration Service will continue to work in close partnership with port operators. Their requirements will have regard to the size and nature of the port's operation, for what is reasonably necessary will reflect those matters. The aim, wherever possible, will be to proceed by agreement with the operators within a clear framework provided in secondary legislation following the consultation already under way.

In all these circumstances I hope that the noble Lord is reassured and no longer considers it necessary to make his amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page