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Lord Greenway: I support the noble Lord's amendment. As he rightly said, shipping companies and airlines have been working closely with the immigration authorities for a number of years to try to streamline the procedures and obviate some of the fairly hefty fines that have been imposed on them over the years. One recalls the debates on the carriers' liability Bill when airlines and shipping companies were, to say the least, peeved by the fines to be imposed upon them for reasons with which one is familiar. Their employees were to act as quasi-immigration officials at points of entry abroad. Airlines and shipping companies felt from the beginning that that was an unfair way in which to proceed.
Since then the immigration authorities have made a number of concessions. Under the approved gate check system, for example, companies can achieve a certain status and so are not fined if people destroy their documents during transit. However, the companies must work to earn that status; it is not given automatically. They must shell out money to invest in various procedures which must be inspected by the immigration authorities. That status can also be removed. I believe that they are right to feel aggrieved that, apparently, train operators and the operators of road passenger vehicles are to be granted automatically what is in effect approved gate check status. I fully support the noble Lord's amendment and hope that the Government have a very good reason for proposing that shipping and airline companies should not be treated in the same way as road and rail interests.
There is no indication of what "satisfactory" arrangements are required in order for road and rail to enjoy exemption from the carriers' liability obligation; yet the airlines and shipping companies must set them out in great detail before they are considered for any concession. They are required to make significant levels of investment in the provision of both facilities and staff training, as I mentioned in the debate on carriers' liability.
Like the noble Lord, even if the road hauliers have a special case, I can see no apparent reason why the provision should extend to train operators if it does not extend to ships and aircraft. Unless there are other special provisions, about which the Minister may wish to inform us, I believe that the clause as it stands creates (to use a stupid phrase) a most uneven playing field for competing modes of transport. I support the noble Lord's amendment which seeks to make it even.
Lord Hacking: As the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, will be aware and other members of the Committee may recall from earlier debates, I have had an interest in this issue for some time, although I have no personal interest in the industries involved. The airline industry in particular has had to carry out unpaid and unrewarded immigration responsibilities for many years. For example, at Kennedy Airport in the United States of America, which handles a massive number of passengers who travel to the United Kingdom, it is not an immigration officer but a British Airways member of staff who examines the immigration documents when checking in the passenger. I believe that for many years it did not even matter if British Airways carried to the UK a passenger whose documents were false but had all the appearance of legitimacy. However, when this was spotted by an immigration officer, as opposed to airline staff, on the passenger's arrival, a fine was visited upon the responsible airline. That applies not just to British Airways but to all airlines that bring passengers into the United Kingdom.
I was approached on this matter only a couple of hours ago and I have not had time to do the research. However, if I am right in my recollection and that Clause 32(6) is a new provision--perhaps my noble friend can assist--we should be grateful to the Government that in this Bill a concession is to be made when false documents are produced, which on
One further question arises. Another requirement on an airline that brings into the United Kingdom a person who is proved by the immigration authorities not to have proper documents is that the carrier must return that person to the place from which he or she came. In the short time available to me I have been unable to carry out research as to the amount of fines. My recollection--I look in the direction of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain--is that penalties imposed on airlines amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum. The noble Baroness is indicating millions. It is therefore an enormous penalty that is imposed on the airline companies.
I should be grateful if my noble friend could address the operation of subsection (6) and say whether the airline operator or other operators under subsection (2) are still exposed to the requirement, at their expense, of returning the passenger back to the country from which that passenger had come.
I am very pleased that my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis has had support from the Cross Benches and from the Benches opposite. If he is right, there should be a level playing field, or a level cloud or a smooth level sea, with the same rules applying to all carriers.
Subsection (5) is a thoroughly fair provision. The train operator or the owner of the road passenger vehicle--and now my noble friend wants the provision to be extended to an aircraft operator and a ship--has to prove under paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) that they have made satisfactory arrangements; that all such practical steps were taken; and that the steps taken were practical steps to prevent A's (the offending passenger's) arrival where A refused to provide the required document or documents, or, if there are other reasons, that it appeared to the person who was responsible for bringing that person into the country that A may not have had the required document or documents.
I should be grateful if my noble friend could explain the operation of paragraph (c) because in the case of an airline operator or a ship there is an opportunity to look at the documents during check-in, providing the passenger does go through the check-in process.
What is the situation when a passenger stows away in a ship--effectively refusing to produce the documents--and where, therefore, the shipowner has no opportunity to examine those documents so that paragraph (c) cannot operate? The carrier has to satisfy all three paragraphs.
Stowing away in an aircraft by trying to hide above the wheels, as some passengers have sought to do, is very precarious and dangerous. Indeed, those who have attempted to do so have often lost their lives in the process. However there are other places in an aircraft where a person can skilfully stow away, notwithstanding controls at airports. There are ways of getting into an aircraft, prior to take-off, avoiding altogether the checking of documents by the airline. That is particularly the case at some airports which run less stringent security. I remember being at an airport on one
We should like to put forward two further considerations. The airlines operate with sensitivity and at a speed which applies to virtually no other form of transport. We are all very conscious of the fact that they handle very difficult situations with great diplomacy and tact. I should like to thank the airline industry, not least British Airways, for the way in which they handle such situations with great courtesy and the minimum of disturbance. Nevertheless, subsections (5) and (6) should apply because of the efforts they make in this regard.
Unless railway trains come from the Channel ports, the chances are very high that they come through a third country. However, in the case of airlines, there is less likelihood that somebody will have passed through a third country and therefore it is very important that arrangements are in place. I reiterate that it is particularly important to the airline industry that genuine asylum seekers should be dealt with separately from those who are clearly not genuine. We support the amendments.
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