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Lord Avebury: My Lords, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention looked at the circumstances in which people were detained in the United Kingdom and recommended that there should

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be a time limit. So, by inference, the United Nations working group sees detention beyond a certain point--it was not defined--as being arbitrary.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it was looking at a system which is not the system that this Bill is intended to provide.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, it was still considering the periods for which people were detained. It was saying that beyond a certain point detention becomes arbitrary.

It is the duty of the Government to provide mechanisms which ensure that people get all the way through the appeal system and the legal processes within the period mentioned in Amendment No. 230. Six months is a perfectly acceptable time in which those procedures could be accomplished if we had an efficient system. If decisions were made promptly, and if when the decisions were adverse the decisions went before an adjudicator in rapid time, then six months would be a reasonable maximum.

When I consider the people who are held for longer than six months and the time it has taken for them to go through these processes, I see that as a result of government inefficiency. I do not blame the individuals for the actions they take in trying to pursue their cases. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, mentioned Tinsley House. Recently I had an appeal signed by five Cameroonians in Tinsley House. I looked into it because I was particularly interested in human rights in Cameroon. I looked also at the statement by one of the adjudicators in those cases. He said he did not know anything about an attempted coup in 1984 in Cameroon. He was not aware of any of the circumstances of recent years under the dictatorship of President Biya. He did not know, of course, about the 65 people who are awaiting treason charges in Cameroon and whose detention was said by Amnesty International to be arbitrary; and all that in spite of the fact that the Home Office now has country assessments which are supposed to be looked at by the adjudicators.

I wonder whether they do their homework properly. If that kind of decision is being made and people are being detained because adjudicators do not know the circumstances in the country of origin from which people come, it is no wonder the procedures take six months and that many of those who are aggrieved by the decisions of the appellate system go for judicial review.

I can see that we are not going to get anywhere with this appeal to the Minister in relation to the maximum period of detention. We shall therefore have to abandon our attempts for this evening. I do not feel either that we will make much progress on the first part of my argument regarding the period not exceeding 48 hours. I can see the arguments the Minister put regarding the necessity of transferring people to hospital in some cases. I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Faulkner, on a previous occasion made a good argument about the necessity for keeping

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people in custody in prison when they became violent, though that could have been dealt with under the criminal law.

We are at a late hour. I shall not pursue these matters now. However, I reserve the right to return to them on Third Reading. In the meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 220 not moved.]

Lord Glentoran had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 221:

Page 93, line 35, at end insert--
(“( ) In the 1971 Act, after paragraph 18(1) insert--
“(1A) A person detained in Northern Ireland under paragraph 16 shall not be held with convicted prisoners."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope that with pressure from the noble and learned Lord and his department, when the Northern Ireland Prison Service does its review it will find a way to cope with the two or three immigrants who have to be detained. In the circumstances I shall not move Amendment No. 221.

[Amendment No. 221 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 222 not moved.]

12.30 a.m.

Clause 137 [Fingerprinting]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 223:

Page 95, line 15, leave out (“shall") and insert (“may").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall try to deal with this group of amendments as briefly as possible. This amendment is grouped with Amendments Nos. 224, 225, 226, 227, 228 and 270 and relates to controls over fingerprinting. I shall quickly deal with the effect of these amendments.

Amendments Nos. 223 and 224 are simply drafting amendments. Amendment No. 225 would make it mandatory for the authority of a chief immigration officer, or other designated persons of equivalent grade in the case of prison officers, constables and officers of the Secretary of State to be given before the fingerprints of a child under the age of 16 could be taken.

In addition, Amendment No. 225 makes it clear that the safeguards relating to the fingerprinting of children do not apply where a person authorised to take fingerprints reasonably believes that the individual whose fingerprints are to be taken is over the age of 16. This is necessary to prevent disputes arising about the age of an individual and whether the correct procedures were followed. The issue was debated in Committee. My noble and learned friend Lord Williams undertook to bring forward a government amendment to cover the point. Amendment No. 225 fulfils the undertaking that he gave to the noble Lord, Lord Cope.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 226, 227, 228 and 270 which deal with the destruction of fingerprints. Subsection (l) of Clause 139 provides that where an

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individual's fingerprints have not already been destroyed, they must be destroyed after 10 years. Amendment No. 226 provides a power to set a different period for this purpose. As a consequence of Amendment No. 270, this power is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. It provides us with flexibility so that we can, if necessary, take account of changing needs or circumstances in the future. For example, if there is evidence of systematic abuse, we may need to retain fingerprints for a longer period. If there is no such evidence, we will not need to retain fingerprints.

I shall now deal with Amendment No. 270. Under Clause 139(2) of the Bill, where a person proves that he is a British citizen, any fingerprints that have been taken must be destroyed. This amendment has the effect of extending this provision to Commonwealth citizens who have the right of abode in the United Kingdom under Section 2(l)(b) of the Immigration Act 1971. Under that section a Commonwealth citizen with a right of abode in the UK is deemed to be a British citizen for the purposes of the Act. We believe that it is only right, therefore, that such persons should, quite rightly, be treated in the same way as British citizens for the purposes of fingerprinting. I commend the amendments to the House. I beg to move.

Viscount Astor : My Lords, perhaps I may add that we on these Benches are certainly grateful for Amendment No. 225 which the Government have tabled in response to amendments put forward in Committee by my noble friend Lord Cope. We are indeed grateful for the Government's response.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am afraid that, again, I cannot be quite as harmonious as the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. I have to express the great concern that we have on these Benches about Amendment No. 225 which allows the fingerprinting of children. It is perhaps a good thing that the right reverend Prelate, with his great concern for children, is with us tonight.

I shall be brief. I should like to begin by making the general point that there has to be an overwhelming argument for fingerprinting children under the age of 16, which is what this amendment makes possible. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me when I say that Amendments Nos. 223 and 224 are a little more than drafting amendments because they deal with the issue of turning what was the word “shall" in subsection (10) of Clause 137 into the word “may"; in other words:

    “No fingerprints shall be taken from A if the immigration officer considers that A has a reasonable excuse for the failure concerned",

now becomes:

    “No fingerprints may be taken from A if the immigration officer considers that A has a reasonable excuse".

It means that even if the immigration officer thinks that the child, or “A"--who is defined as someone who has been required to produce a valid passport and has failed to do so--does not have a reasonable excuse for

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such failure, he or she will be fingerprinted under the changes to be made by the Government in these amendments.

In addition, as it quite well known, the fingerprinting would be able to take place for a child without the permission of parents and in some cases that would apply to an unaccompanied child. I believe that that would frighten almost any child. One would not like to see that practice indulged in unless there is an absolutely essential reason for doing so. We notice that there is a safeguard as regards a chief immigration officer having to agree to that procedure.

Will the Minister be kind enough to tell us what kind of assumptions he is making about the test that would be applied by the chief immigration officer, and does he see this as a largely exceptional procedure? Has the Minister given any thought to the fact--I am sure he has--that in some cultures passports are always kept by the father? This is particularly true of Muslim cultures. Therefore if a child from a Muslim culture comes to this country whose father has been lost on the way or has perhaps never made it, that child will almost certainly have some probably adult papers. Will the Minister bear in mind the effects of fingerprinting on unaccompanied children under 16? Can he assure the House that chief immigration officers will bear this in mind in making any decision that allows fingerprinting to take place? I must reiterate that we believe that the fingerprinting of children should never be done unless there are extreme reasons for doing so.

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