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Lord Bassam of Brighton: Henry VIII had some virtues after all! I have listened to the debate with interest. First, I shall try to deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The point about the power--the noble Lord almost answered his own question--is that it is enabling. It enables the police to use the carding exercise with some precision and flexibility. That is the point of it. As I made plain earlier, the power can be used when the security situation dictates and demands.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that we are mindful of the Irish Government's view, but we also have to be mindful of security considerations and the balance in terms of benefit of having flexible measures, such as the one we are discussing, in a general enabling power. I do not share the pessimistic view of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that this will be seen as yet another bargaining counter in the "ratcheting up or down" of relations between London and Dublin. It is a responsible power and can be useful, although not all carding exercises and regimes are endless in their benefit. When I flew to the United States, the filling-in of my green card was somewhat fatuous as I was asked on it whether I was a drug dealer or a terrorist--and I could not answer either of those questions. I think the noble Lord takes the point.

We think that this power is useful; the police think that it is useful; the security situation periodically demands it; and it will be used with both precision and flexibility.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I knew that the Minister had a past slightly more chequered than many Members of the Committee, but I did not think that it would have got him banned from going to the United States.

I am reassured that the Government intend to use these powers as they have been used up to now and do not intend to use them in a blanket way--although that has been suggested occasionally to some of the operators.

I do not think that the Minister answered my question about who is responsible for the accuracy of the information given on the cards.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I apologise to the noble Lord; I thought I had responded. The accuracy of the information is the individual's responsibility. The carrier's responsibility is simply to facilitate the operation of the scheme. The carrier does not have responsibility for the accuracy of the information; that is down to the individual in each instance.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: That is a reassuring answer. In the light of the discussion we have had, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 53 agreed to.

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Schedule 7 [Port and Border Controls]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 125:

    Page 104, line 41, at end insert ("and

"vehicle" includes a train.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 125 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 126 to 129 and 135.

These are technical and drafting amendments to Schedule 7 of the Bill. Amendment No. 126 makes clear that the examination officer's powers extend to those entering or leaving the UK from places other than a port--for example, a person landing on a beach. Amendments Nos. 125, 127 to 129 and 135 are technical amendments to ensure that the powers conferred on an examining officer in respect of searches also apply to examinations, and that it is an offence to obstruct an examination as well as an offence to obstruct a search. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 126 to 129:

    Page 104, line 41, at end insert--

("( ) A place shall be treated as a port for the purposes of this Schedule in relation to a person if an examining officer believes that the person--
(a) has gone there for the purpose of embarking on a ship or aircraft, or
(b) has arrived there on disembarking from a ship or aircraft.").
Page 106, line 27, after ("search") insert ("or examination").

    Page 106, line 35, after ("is") insert ("searched or").

    Page 107, line 36, leave out second ("the") and insert ("a").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 130 and 131 not moved.]

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 132:

    Page 109, line 1, after ("If") insert (", in connection with specific counter-terrorist operations,").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 132 I shall speak also to the other amendments grouped with it.

The amendments relate to a similar provision for the supply of passenger information under paragraph 17 of Schedule 7, whereby schemes can be introduced in which the operators of a ship or an aircraft are required to produce lists of their passengers, crew and vehicles. This provision is similar to that contained in previous legislation, but with the addition of vehicle particulars.

Amendment No. 132 seeks to probe when the Government anticipate using the power, and whether it will be used from time to time in connection with specific operations or in a more blanket manner. Amendment No. 134 seeks to ensure that only information which can reasonably be expected to be provided should be obtained by orders of this kind. Some things are inherently more difficult to obtain than others depending on the circumstances of the particular airline or shipping company.

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Again, it is important to understand who is responsible for the accuracy of a list of this character. In this case, the list is being drawn up by and specifically given to the authorities by the owners or agents of the ship or aircraft, but they cannot really be held responsible for its accuracy. They will have to rely on what they are told. Even in the case of vehicle numbers, while they may take them down correctly, they are not in a position to verify whether the correct plates are on the vehicle. Dates of birth and that kind of detail are extremely difficult to verify except in the case of those who happen to be carrying their passports. Of course, there is no requirement in most of these cases to carry a passport because these are essentially internal movements of ships and aircraft, not foreign movements.

These are essentially probing amendments intended to discover the way in which these powers are going to be used and the details of them. I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Greenway: I support the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, in Amendments Nos. 132 and 134. I have a number of amendments grouped with his amendments. As the noble Lord explained, the amendments relate to the provision of a passenger manifest by ferries and airlines. Providing information is not new. Under EU rules, ferry operators have to provide information regarding the name, sex and broad age group of passengers. What these new powers seek to do is extend that to include the place and date of birth.

The Bill basically repeats the powers existing in the Prevention of Terrorism Act with one or two additions. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, mentioned the addition of vehicles. There is also reference as regards ships to "expected to arrive" rather than information to be provided on ships arriving in a UK port--for example, looking to a situation prior to actual arrival in port. Operationally, this extension is very significant as the information is not easily collected on board for hand-over at port of disembarkation. It would really have to be collected prior to sailing and then transmitted independently.

The existing power in the Prevention of Terrorism Act has not been used, although a number of police forces did try to use it last summer. That led to an outcry among the ferry companies, as a result of which the police withdrew their request. This forced the ferry companies to look at the situation, certainly as is possibly envisaged in the Bill whereby the power would be continuous. The ferry companies believe that the provision would give rise to all sorts of additional costs in relation to extra staff and perhaps added technology for listing these manifests. In addition, in relation to the incident I mentioned last summer, representations were made by the diplomats in the Republic of Ireland.

The other worry is that, by forcing ferry companies to comply with these requirements, time would be lost. Modern ferry operations, particularly on the Irish Sea,

23 May 2000 : Column 742

are carried out by high-speed ferries with a very short turn-round time--perhaps 30 minutes--and it could well be that ferry companies might lose one round trip a day, which would have serious financial implications.

I mentioned in debate on previous amendments our worry about whether the power would be used at all times or at specific times. In a way the Bill gives the police unfettered authority to use the power. Police checks, which are by no means new, have not so far given rise to such requirements. Under EU regulations, the ferry operators already provide the police with access to the information they have and they have every intention of continuing to do so.

Perhaps I may turn to the specific amendments standing in my name. Amendment No. 132A covers the point of who may invoke the power to require carriers to provide the police with passenger information. Currently, this authority is vested in any examining officer; that is, any constable, immigration or designated Customs officer in any place. The invocation of this power is fundamentally different from the examination activities of stopping, questioning, searching and detaining individuals or goods, with which the rest of Schedule 7 is concerned. While the latter functions are undoubtedly the preserve of examining officers, the invocation of this power is more truly a police management decision with consequences reaching far beyond the port of arrival.

Vesting the authority, as my amendment suggests, in the chief constable within whose area a port of arrival is located would more closely reflect the nature of a sensitive management decision being taken and would provide an assurance that a decision would be taken judiciously and based on a full and sensitive appreciation of its wider consequences and by an officer or his deputy. I note that an amendment standing in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, provides that an assistant chief constable should be the person mentioned. I have no particular quarrel about that. Those two people would certainly already have built up an effective working relationship with the ferry companies concerned.

Amendment No. 133A inserts at the end of subparagraph (2) the words,

    "as soon as reasonably practicable".

That replicates the specification from the existing Prevention of Terrorism Act about when compliance with a police request must take place and would provide a palliative against undue disruption being caused by an unreasonable request. Carriers, especially ferries, cannot provide information at the flick of a switch. It takes time. We have already heard about the misinformation that can be provided.

The final amendment standing in my name, Amendment No. 136A, inserts a new subparagraph providing a defence for the owner or agent of a ship or aircraft charged with an offence under subparagraph (1) pursuant to paragraph 17(2). That replicates the statutory protection given in paragraph 1(4) of Schedule 6 to financial institutions when faced with a request with which they are unable to comply to supply

23 May 2000 : Column 743

customer details to the police. That was introduced at Report stage in the Commons by the Minister after consultation with members of the financial, business and banking community.

The airline operators and ferry operators were not consulted and they would face exactly the same predicament as the financial institutions and indeed would have sought the same protection, which is what my amendment seeks to do. Of particular significance in the context of ferry operations, the amendment would also protect carriers which pass on false details that had been declared to them by their customers and which they, in the absence of any passport requirement, had no means of verifying. I believe that Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, in terms of names written down on these documents, have moved on and I understand that Tony Blair is quite a favourite at the moment.

This new measure places quite an onus--particularly the financial implications involved--on the ferry business. I very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

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