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Simon Hughes: Indeed, that is a frustration. When the hon. Gentleman and I were, quite properly, asked by Government Whips before the spring break what might be an appropriate balance for the debate, within constraints which we did not accept but which we knew the Government would impose, one of the problems was that we did not have sight of the new schedules and new clauses.
In Committee, we had an interesting debate on clause 101, during which new policy was revealed with almost every minute that passed. By the end of the debate it was clear that the Bill did not say anything about the subject, and clause 101 is limited in that it merely gives a sketch of the scheme that might apply. It provides for regulations to be introduced subsequently when an authority-to-carry scheme is brought before Parliament, so we will have the opportunity to debate the issue under secondary legislation. We learned far more about what the Government had in mind than we had known before.
My hon. Friends and I are unhappy that the Government are clearly set on replacing conventional immigration controlswhich there have to be and which we accept and agree withwith a new form of control, but without the same safeguards as when immigration officers, those working for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office in our overseas missions, the police, and Customs and Excise officers working as agents on our borders and in our ports, act to enforce immigration and related matters. In theory at least, the current system provides the possibility of challenging an Executive decision through administrative review, an adjudicator and a tribunal. Had the Bill not been amended adversely yesterday, every case could have gone back into the legal system for judgment by an independent judicial authority.
I shall sketch out what the Government are proposing and explain my objections. I do not intend to take long, as I am conscious that we have to fit in three substantive debates with votes between now and 9 o'clock when the guillotine falls. That shows the impossibility of the task that we have been given.
The scheme will allow the Secretary of State to make regulations that require a carrier that brings someone to the United Kingdom without the required authority to pay a penalty. That transfers significant responsibility, including financial responsibility, to carriers. There is a big question over whether that should be the case.
When I was in Sangatte, I talked to the Eurostar people about the Eurotunnel operation. They were pleased that the Government had decided that they should not continue to be penalised when, despite the company's best efforts, people get on to vehicles that come across the channel. Eurostar had put in place heat-detecting and X-ray equipment. It had done everything reasonably possible, and had spent millions of pounds. I observed for myself that security at the Eurotunnel and Eurostar depot was far more effective than at the SNCF depot on the adjacent tracks, which is the responsibility of the French Government. I understand the anger prompted by the continuing incursion into cross-channel traffic, given that
This is how I assume the proposal is intended to work. As I have been to Japan, I shall use it as an example. Having bought a ticket, the traveller goes to a Japanese airport. As he goes to check in, he suddenly discovers that his unacceptability as a passenger has been flagged up on the airline operator's screen. He will not be told why he is not acceptablethe information that is held will not have been divulgedbut the airline will have a method of checking with the British authorities whether he should be allowed on the plane. In theory, if other Governments pass similar legislation it will be possible for airlines to check with their authorities.
What redress would there be? Let us suppose that the traveller wishing to return from Japan happened to be a Member of Parliament who had to be here to do his or her duty the following day. There would probably be no redress if that was not possible.
Let us imagine that the traveller was from India, wanting to attend a wedding herean occasion like the wedding reception I attended on Sunday evening. If when that person checked in on Saturday he was told he was unacceptable, he would not be able to do anything, apart from going to the British mission in India, which would not be open until the next working day. By definition, the reason for the flight would then be aborted, as would be the cost.
That system strikes me as entirely wrong. I recognise that it is better than a system that would give a junior employee of British Airways, or any other airline, information on why Sir Alan Haselhurst, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Miss Rosie Winterton or Mr. Simon Hughes was not an acceptable passenger. Of course I would not want such information to be given. I see that the hon. Member for Woking is glad that I did not include him on that list! I was trying to be fair; if I excluded Conservatives, I did not do so on purpose.
I appreciate that we would not want junior members of staff, or any other members of staff in private companies, to know something that might or might not be true, or for suspicions to be entertained about anyone. Understandably, someone travelling to a wedding, or indeed to a political rallyor someone who might have a previous conviction, or might be suspected of having a link with an organisation that might be considered unacceptablemight not want the information to be shared. What I do not consider acceptable is the effective replacement of a system whereby immigration control deals with such matters, through a proper process, with a systemtotally unexplained in the Billinvolving an administrative block run by a computer link with the Home Office, or at any rate the British Government. Against that, it appears, there would be an appeal system of an unspecified naturewe know nothing about it, beyond the fact that the Minister says it will existand a compensation scheme which will operate if the Government get it wrong.
Let me give a real example. Let us suppose that, owing to a blip in the system, the person whose name had come up and shown her to be an "undesirable" was Miss Beverley Hughes. Let us imagine that it should have been Mr. Simon Hughes. In that event, Miss Beverley Hughes
Mistakes do happen. I can give a parallel, although not similar, example. When I went to vote in a local election, a line had been put through my name on the electoral register. An inquiry revealed that the person whose name was above mine on the register had applied for a postal vote, and the line had been put through the wrong name. These things happen, and there is no immediate remedy.
Mr. Allan: Is my hon. Friend also worried about the establishment of identity? Airlines and other carriers will now have to collect far more personal information that is not relevant to the purpose of travelfor instance, dates of birth, which are not normally collected on application for a ticket. "Simon Hughes" on its own will not be enough; date of birth, perhaps an address, and all sorts of other personal data will be required under the authority-to-carry scheme.
Simon Hughes: By implication, that is certainly a risk. My hon. Friend is more of an expert than most of us on those matters, which will arise later in another context, and he has made a very good pointbut I now want to make a political point, Sir Alan
Let me make my political point. Let us imagine that last year, a person was travelling from Zimbabwe. The flight was with a nationalised airline, Air Zimbabwe. The person at the Air Zimbabwe desk, where there were also customs officers, police and so forth, noted that the traveller was, according to the airline, not acceptable. It is surely pretty obvious that the authorities in the country from which the traveller sought to leave would be alerted immediately that there might be something suspiciousand that could be replicated in any country, at any time, when someone tried to leave that country. Under this scheme, it will be possible to trigger a refusal to allow a journey that has been lawfully purchased, and for no explanation to be given at the time in a way that could protect people.
The Government have not thought through their proposals. We seem to be saying that we are willing to help people who are fleeing from persecution, while being prepared to do exactly the oppositeto alert the authorities in countries where personal liberty and safety may be at severe risk. I want to hear the Government's explanation of how that problem could be avoided, because I cannot see how it could be.
The really big policy issue is this: we are setting up a whole overall network of different immigration control networks in the public and private sectors, at home and abroad, that are not open to the scrutiny that we would expect in the case of such important decisions.
The Bill is, substantively, about three things: nationalitynot a matter for this debateasylum and immigration. I assume we are trying to say that we still uphold people's right to seek asylum here. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) made a telling observation in an earlier debate about people who were accepted here during the civil war in Spain, and who have been grateful ever since.
I note that the Westminster Hall exhibition of Low cartoons includes a cartoon from a February 1947 edition of the Evening Standard. It depicts a British worker reading his newspaper and complaining about "all these immigrants" arriving. Standing behind him are the ghosts of the Saxons, Goths, Vikings and others whoif our history is correctmade up the British race. We are in great danger of undermining the spirit of the refugee convention. If people find it impossible to leave their countries, it will by definition be impossible for them to make a case for asylum in another country.
The clause will introduce a visa regime without safeguards. The Minister asked me in Committee whether I would prefer a system of visa control, and in many ways I would. At least everybody would then know where they stand. I realise that such a system might prove over-bureaucratic, and that problems would arise in terms of people visiting for weekends, bank holidays and other public holidays. However, at least they would be within the system, rather than outwith it. Unless we are persuaded by the Minister's reply, I therefore hope that hon. Members of all parties will join me in voting to remove clause 101 from the Bill. If we cannot remove a system that would give responsibility to carriers, and establish instead an alternative visa control system, we should at least allow the House of Lords to come back with a more acceptable proposal.