Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Avebury: My Lords, from these Benches we give a qualified welcome to the order. We particularly like the simplification that the noble Lord described. For example, the extending of leave to enter for the whole of a period during which a student will remain in the United Kingdom will obviously save a great deal of work by the Immigration Service, as will the provisions regarding whole busloads of people entering under bona fide arrangements which have been cleared in advance.

However, there are a few points on which I should like clarification. I gave the Minister notice of one that is important: it is clearly a useful simplification of our immigration procedures if the officer at the port of entry does not second-guess the entry clearance officer in the country of origin, as in an example given by the Minister in another place of a student who was asked precisely the same questions when she arrived at the airport as had been put to her by the ECO in the country of origin. The question is whether the ECO, who will now effectively have responsibility for granting leave to enter, may see it as necessary to satisfy himself or herself by more rigorous inquiries than he or she undertakes at present that the applicant has, for instance, adequate means of support while in the United Kingdom.

The Immigration and Nationality Directorate has assured the organisations that act on behalf of immigrants that the procedures in the country of origin will be identical to those that operate now, and that therefore it is not expected either that they will take any longer than they do now or that they will cause any additional burden of work for the entry clearance officers. As a corollary, it says that there is

13 Apr 2000 : Column 358

no expected need for any increase in the visa fees. I should be grateful if the Minister would give us assurances on those matters.

There is a subsidiary point; I did not give the noble Lord notice of it, and I apologise for that. I believe that at present entry certificates are valid for six months from the date of issue. It is important that that flexibility should be retained, because sometimes when people are coming here to join the rest of their family for settlement, for example, they need to make provision for the disposal of property in the country of origin, and therefore need time to carry out their obligations before leaving. It is useful for them to have the period of six months in which that can be done.

Another question relates to the Minister's statement that the order provides that, if the entry certificate contains the conditions under which the holder is allowed to enter the United Kingdom, it will have effect as leave to enter. Under what conditions might an entry certificate be issued without the endorsement of the conditions? That obviously is envisaged in the order, because the EC is to be considered leave to enter if it is endorsed with those conditions, so there must be some circumstances in which it may not be so endorsed.

I also ask the Minister to say a little more about the systems to be put in place to monitor and evaluate the quality and integrity of the new arrangements. Will it be a post-hoc process? In other words, will there be an examination of what happens to persons granted leave to enter at the expiry of their stay in the United Kingdom? If so, will there be computer systems in place that are adequate for that purpose?

At present, as I understand it, there is no check on departure. Therefore, the immigration authorities do not know in a particular case, unless the passenger comes to light in some other manner, whether he or she has physically left the United Kingdom at the end of the permitted leave to stay. Basically, my question is whether the systems that the Minister mentioned for testing the quality and integrity of the new arrangements will require computer systems to be in place to record the departure of persons given limited leave to enter.

The Minister said that the immigration officer at the port of entry would still be able to verify whether the passport and entry clearance were genuine, whether they were presented by the rightful holder and whether the purpose for which the EC had been issued remained the same. Is that an exhaustive list? Are those the three things the immigration officer would be entitled to spend time looking into when someone presents himself or herself at the port of entry, or are there any other matters that the Minister would like to tell us about so that people can be aware of them?

Finally, the Minister said that the immigration officer would not lose any of his powers of examination on arrival, and that in fact those powers would be extended to cancelling leave to enter and entry clearance. That seems not quite to stack up with the idea that the immigration officer does not second-guess the decision that the ECO has already made to

13 Apr 2000 : Column 359

grant leave to enter. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could tell us under what circumstances the immigration officer would cancel leave to enter or entry clearance. I presume that it would be done in a situation mentioned earlier, regarding, for example, a question of the person's identity--whether he is the rightful holder of the entry certificate. If the immigration officer finds that someone who is not the rightful holder has presented himself the entry clearance would obviously be automatically cancelled. But are there any other circumstances in which the immigration officer would use that power?

7.45 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, having read the order and the explanatory note, and having listened carefully to the introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, I have the impression that the Government are attempting, marginally, to improve our methods of immigration control. I hope that when the noble Lord replies to the debate he can confirm that that is the intention and that that is the intended result.

I had responsibility for helping to pilot the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962. Quite frankly, it did not succeed in reducing immigration to the extent that socially this country was demanding. In fact, in the past 40 years immigration alone has increased the population by approximately 2 million. That is not merely by Commonwealth immigrants; it is by immigration of all kinds, and there is no question of colour distinction, as many of the people who have settled here are not coloured people.

However, we all know that we have done more than our fair share in accepting asylum seekers, who have been pouring in by tens of thousands in recent years. We must consider the interests of the people of this country. Along with Germany, England is now one of the most heavily populated countries in Europe. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord can give us an assurance that this order is intended to improve immigration control and will do so.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I have a brief question for the Minister. First, like my noble friend Lord Avebury, perhaps I may say that there is qualified support from this side of the House. My problem stems from two different parts of the order. Part II deals with the powers of the entry clearance officer. Part III deals with the manner of dealing with and refusing leave to enter and relates to immigration officers as opposed to entry clearance officers.

The difficulty that I have is that in some of the British posts abroad entry clearance officers and immigration officers are seconded from the Home Office. Am I right on that point? If that is the case, the problem is that an immigration officer, whether or not in the United Kingdom--therefore, it is assumed that he may be operating in a British post abroad--may give or refuse a person leave to enter the United Kingdom,

    "at any time before his departure for, or in the course of his journey to, the United Kingdom".

13 Apr 2000 : Column 360

So far, I have no difficulty.

However, I believe that a problem arises in relation to the words,

    "in the course of his journey to the United Kingdom".

The immigration officer may expect to ask a person to produce such documents or copy documents as he would be entitled to obtain in an examination under paragraph 2 or 2A of the schedule. If one travels abroad and is asked to produce that type of documentation there is no problem. People can go home and produce those documents. However, if a person is in the process of travelling to the United Kingdom, how can he be expected to provide copies of documents which he will not have with him? Therefore, the logical conclusion is that he will be refused entry to this country.

I believe that proper clarification is required as to whether it is possible to be satisfied that an immigration officer has all the available information on the basis of which a decision is taken. Once that decision is taken, I do not believe that it is right and proper to demand such documents while the person is travelling because he may not be in a position to produce such evidence.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I certainly agree that it is desirable to reduce duplication and multiple interviews, provided that it can be done, as the Minister set out, without weakening the immigration control. However, a number of questions arise from that. The first is in relation to the Minister's reference to the potential use of biometrics. I was interested in that and wonder whether it means that in the near future the Home Office and the immigration authorities plan to introduce biometric controls of some kind. If so, I believe that it would be helpful if we were told about it. I appreciate that, as technology advances, additional facilities will no doubt be provided for establishing identity, in particular.

My second point arises from what the Minister said about a new format for entry clearance certificates. I am not sure whether that new format is to be in the form of a separate piece of paper or whether it is to be in the form of a stamp in a passport. I can see advantages in both courses. The advantage of a stamp in a passport is that the passport itself assists with establishing the identity of the person concerned. In addition, passports in all countries have devices within them to make sure that they are not forged and that they contain photographs, and so on. If, on the other hand, the format is in the form of a piece of paper, it is likely to be easier to forge. It may not have a photograph etcetera and may be more difficult to forge.

One point about the new system is that the interview and detailed consideration of the case will take place in the country of origin some time before a person's arrival. On arrival, the immigration officer will have to establish that the entry clearance certificate, in whatever format it is, applies to that individual and has not been forged ab initio or altogether. Therefore, it seems to me that it is important to know what format the entry clearance certificate will take.

13 Apr 2000 : Column 361

I believe that it is also important that, whatever the format, the entry clearance document should set out the conditions of entry. I can understand that it will not be possible to check some of the conditions in the country of origin where the certificate is given and that they will have to be checked on arrival. Examples of such conditions are "must have a return ticket" or "must have a means of support". Those conditions might be impossible to check in the country of origin.

The last point that I wish to raise is whether the procedures for the issue of the entry clearance certificate and appeals against refusals essentially will be the same, particularly with regard to appeals, as the appeals are at present against refusal by an immigration officer. The appeal machinery is obviously important, but at present I am not clear as to how it will work. That may be my fault, but I am not entirely clear how the appeal procedure will work when the entry clearance officer in the country of origin is giving or refusing--presumably, quite frequently it will be refusing--permission to enter. I believe that it would be helpful if the Minister could expand on that a little.

With regard to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about whether the immigration officer would need to satisfy himself only on the three matters set out, it seems important that, at least in some cases where his suspicion has been aroused, his powers should remain as they are now. I understand that they will do so. Of course, in the vast majority of cases one does not anticipate that it will be necessary to use further powers if the entry clearance certificate is in order. If the officer is satisfied that it applies to the right person and that the conditions have been fulfilled, there will be no problem. However, if a case has aroused his suspicion, I believe that it is important that he retains powers to look further than only those matters.

In general, I believe that it is desirable to reduce duplication, as this order obviously intends to do, provided that it does not weaken the immigration control which we expect.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page