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Lord Hutchinson of Lullington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that these appalling figures are due to the equally appalling conditions in which remand prisoners are still kept in England and Wales? Does he further agree that 18 years ago the May Report condemned the conditions of remand prisoners as being unacceptable? Those conditions are exactly the same today, but twice as bad, because of the canker, as it has been called, of overcrowding. Will the Minister tell the House whether this Government are as complacent as the last one was about this appalling blot on the penal system in this country?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I well remember reading the admirable report which Sir John May produced, as the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, pointed out, several years ago. Remand suicides form over half the total number of deaths. It is an extremely difficult problem. This Government are not complacent. As your Lordships will know, I repeated, with the leave of the House, a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary which dealt specifically with returning prisoners who are at the end of their sentences to the community on the basis of electronic tagging. That is a useful, partial first step to deal with these problems. There can be no doubt that there are problems. It is wholly untrue to suggest that this Government are complacent.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, bearing in mind that it will take several years to provide the institutions for young people on remand outside the prison system, will the Government consider extending the electronic bracelet system, which the Home Secretary has announced will be proposed for people approaching the end of their sentences, to those young people on remand who are most at risk?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we are eager to look at every practical step that there may be to reduce unnecessary remand prison population. If the tagging system works, subject to the proviso that public safety is properly secured, we shall attend to it.

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Ferry Passengers: UK Entry Procedure

3.15 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will advise ferry operators how to identify, among prospective passengers possessing all the necessary personal papers and documents for travel and entry into the United Kingdom, those who will not be permitted by the British immigration authorities to stay in this country.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the authority to grant or refuse leave to enter is vested in the immigration officer at the point of entry. This authority cannot be exercised without a proper interview, nor in advance of the ferry passenger arriving in the United Kingdom. While advice may be given in general terms as to liability for detention and removal costs, the decision whether or not to carry a passenger is ultimately a commercial decision for the carrying companies.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. Why cannot ferries be treated like Eurotunnel where British officials, stationed on the French side, take quick decisions on passengers before they cross the Channel instead of the ferries being expected to pay for expensive return journeys for correctly documented tourist visitors who have, much later, applied for asylum?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, carrying passengers for commercial purposes is exactly that. If commercial organisations wish to take a commercial risk, sometimes there will be adverse financial consequences. For the life of me, I cannot see why the taxpayer should pay for what may have been a commercial misjudgment.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I hear what the Minister says about commercial risk, but does he agree that the safety of life at sea is more important than immigration control? Does he further agree that a ferry from Ireland to France, putting into, say, Plymouth rather than founder at sea in a gale, should be immune from penalties under the carrier's liability Act?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, of course I agree that the safety of life, whether at sea or on land, is infinitely more important than commercial considerations. But the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is really dealing with the situation that your Lordships well know about at Dover. It has nothing to do with misadventure at sea--stormy winds driving a ferry into a particular port--but is concerned with ferry companies deliberately, for purposes which are commercial, carrying passengers from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I repeat that if they wish to make those commercial decisions, the Government believe, rightly, I suggest, that if commercial mischance comes about, the company should pay and not the taxpayer.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is it correct that the gypsy visitors from central Europe were actuated by

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television programmes giving the impression that seeking asylum produced a worthwhile stay in Britain? Did they not also believe that even if their application was unsuccessful, they would still be welcome because of the impression given by Labour and Liberal Democrat spokesmen when in opposition?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I dare say that television programmes had some influence on some of the people who came from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Quite which programme I simply cannot say. I do now know. It may have been the televised proceedings of your Lordships' House which caused them to want to come here. That is possible, but unlikely. The fact is that these unfortunate people have come here to better themselves. We recognise that. But our system of immigration control is not designed for people in that category. We have to make it perfectly plain that the immigration and asylum regime will be properly, fairly and efficiently put into practice. That is what we have done. I believe it is significant that the numbers coming have fallen very significantly. Since the ameliorative regime which the Home Secretary introduced, namely, the opportunity for making further representations, the numbers have been very significantly reduced.

Business

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend the Leader of the House, will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement to be made in another place on the Jobs Summit.

Human Rights Bill [H.L.]

3.19 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 6 [Acts of public authorities]:

Lord Simon of Glaisdale moved Amendment No. 31:


Page 3, line 40, leave out ("one or more of").

The noble and learned Lord said: We now come to Clause 6, which is one of the most important clauses in this important Bill because on its terms depends to what extent persons who are aggrieved in this country by offences against their human rights still have to go to Strasbourg--in other words, it is a question of how widely "public authorities", which are the only bodies specifically enjoined to observe the provisions of the convention, are defined.

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At first sight, the amendment appears to be a drafting amendment, as it is, but it is an important one. Clause 6(1) has, I think, an unintended effect on the Bill. It states:


    "It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with one or more of the Convention rights".

The amendment seeks to leave out the words "one or more of", so that the subsection will read,


    "incompatible with the Convention rights".

That is because in some cases and, importantly, in the case of Article 8 (which guarantees privacy) and Article 10 (which gives the right to free expression) those two articles have to be balanced one against the other. What I am sure is an unintended effect is produced if attention is drawn only to one of those articles.

Perhaps I may give the Committee an example. The BBC is undoubtedly a public authority under the Bill as drafted. On the whole, the BBC is pretty good at observing the decencies of privacy. If there is one criticism to be made, it is perhaps that, like most photographers, the BBC's photographers seem to be most particularly engaged by expressions of human grief. They tend to take photographs of persons who are in tears after suffering some grievous sorrow. There is an example--it does not relate to the BBC--which came to the notice of the Press Complaints Commission and was upheld, of a local newspaper photographer photographing some sorrowing relatives as they returned from a funeral. Supposing the BBC had done that: it could be alleged that the BBC had offended against Article 8 which guarantees privacy, but it would have been entitled to say in an appropriate case that that article had to be balanced against the article giving a right to free expression.

This is an extremely well drafted Bill, as has been consistently pointed out in this Committee. That is not due merely to the draftsman (although this is obviously a most able draftsman); it is also due to my noble and learned friend because this is very much a Minister's Bill and its various components have been extremely accurately and skilfully fitted together so that it is a coherent and cogent whole. However, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, indicated at an earlier stage, it is nevertheless a human artefact and human artefacts are liable, like all human endeavours, to be fallible. I suggest that there is a mistake in directing that one of the convention rights is sufficient to put the public authority in peril. As I see those two crucial convention rights operating, they have to be held in balance and the point of balance will, I think, be the public benefit.

Justice will hold the scales of justice with those two convention rights, one in one pan and one in the other, and will weigh the one against the other, the fulcrum being the public interest so that if there is only one to be considered, the Bill does not operate as I am sure that the Government and all those noble Lords who support the Bill, as I do, intend it to operate. I beg to move.


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