Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Renton: I am grateful to the Minister for that full explanation. However, I am still perplexed by the expression "transit passengers" in the first line of the clause. I tried to find a definition of that in Clause 35, the interpretation clause, but there is none. If a passenger is a transit passenger and described as such, what is the purpose of requiring him to hold a transit visa? If he is a transit passenger, it must be assumed that he will move on anyway. Therefore, I believe that the use of the word "transit" in that line makes the Minister's explanation difficult to follow.

I take his point about the 16 countries from which people come here without permission, perhaps trying to call themselves "transit passengers". However, they are not transit passengers; they would be illegal immigrants, which is different.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Lord finds the definition of "transit passengers" in Clause 33(2). Here, we are dealing with people who ought to be transit passengers--in other words, who come for a short time and move on--because we are a very important transit hub. We have no problem at all with that, but we must have a limited regime; limited to 16 out of the 106 countries where we have found evidence of abuse. Therefore, the general concession is not given to those from a limited number of countries. To put it crudely, if people want to come here using, say, Heathrow as a transit hub--in other words, an intermediate point--we are happy for them to do so provided that they depart. We have limited the number of countries in respect of which we do not give the concession.

Lord Renton: I agree that the definition of "transit passengers" appears in subsection (2) and I have seen it. However, we are merely given a view of the type I have described; namely, people,

If that is the position, surely we should just let them through. To require them to have a transit visa as well is somewhat bureaucratic, adding to the troubles of airport immigration officers in particular. I was most familiar with that many years ago when helping to pilot the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962. It is as old as that!

Lord Hylton: Perhaps I can help to defuse the situation. Would the Minister be so good as to say that

19 Jul 1999 : Column 688

the Government will interpret Clause 33(3)(c) as widely as possible so that the minimum number of people are caught?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Of course, one wants to catch the minimum number of people, but I return to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Renton; that we want them to come here and transit. No one would be happier than I if they did come here and transit, but we are worried about the people who come here and have no intention of transiting.

We would be perfectly happy for someone to travel here on a transit basis from one of the 16 countries with a ticket to the United States. However, we would not be happy for people to come here with no restriction of the kind we are considering. If someone does not have a transit visa of the sort being discussed--as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton--he will not be allowed to board the plane to the United Kingdom. We have found abuse by some nationals from those countries. We have limited the abuse to a small number, but some people will come here pretending to be transit passengers when they have no intention of taking an onward flight.

I do not know the details of the example raised by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, but it is unlikely to have been caught by the kind of regime we are discussing. I am more than happy to look into it if the noble Earl gives me the details of the case.

5 p.m.

Earl Russell: I am grateful to the Minister. I am also interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, had to say about Clause 33(3)(c). Will the Minister consider using that clause for the protection of people whose aircraft are unexpectedly delayed in the United Kingdom for reasons of air safety only?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I have already said that the example given is unlikely to be caught by this regime. The noble Earl said that there may be a storm or lightning, requiring passengers to land at a point where they never intended to go. I do not believe that that situation will be caught by this regime. If I am advised that it may be, I shall look into it further.

Earl Russell: I heard the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, tell the Committee, quite rightly, that that situation would be caught under carrier liability.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am not always in perfect agreement with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, says. I shall certainly look into the matter.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I normally agree with my noble friend Lord Waddington. On this occasion I have found the Minister fairly persuasive, not least in his reference to the previous government, who were right at the time, although the situation may have changed since. There may be difficulties in preparing an order under Clause 33(3)(a), which specifies a description of persons by reference to their origin but not by reference to their race. It is extremely difficult to think what "origin" can

19 Jul 1999 : Column 689

mean that is different from the meaning of "race", but I shall not press the Minister on that point as it is not raised by my amendment. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 63A not moved.]

Clause 33 agreed to.

Clause 34 [Power to detain vehicles etc. in connection with charges under section 32]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 64:

Page 24, line 42, after ("it") insert ("on the open market").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 64 provides that any vehicle that has to be sold under the draconian provisions should be sold in the open market. Those who find themselves in the difficult circumstances that we have considered, not only today, but in Committee on an earlier occasion, have the right to expect that anything that is confiscated is sold properly.

From time to time one sees advertisements for stock, such as bankrupt stock, being sold off by government and indeed by others. Such stock is often sold off well below its proper value to the detriment of the original owners. In this case, where the powers are so draconian, it seems that there should be a special duty to make sure that such property is sold properly.

Amendment No. 65, grouped with this amendment, returns to the point of what happens if the vehicle, whatever it is, is detained on an ill-founded basis. If the immigration authorities and the Secretary of State are wrong to detain the vehicle, the expenses which the operator or owner incur, and which could be considerable, should be refunded. Amendment No. 65 attempts to secure that.

We have already heard of problems such as a driver trying to identify whether someone is a legal immigrant--someone who has genuinely been subjected to persecution according to the convention--and someone who fails the tests. Because a driver cannot tell who should be allowed in, he is supposed to stop them all. Clearly, if a driver fails to stop them all, but nevertheless it turns out that he need not have stopped one of them, he and the owner of the vehicle will find themselves not only paying a fine but also potentially losing business through the detention of the lorry, leading to a loss of the whole business.

Amendment No. 65 attempts to ensure that some expenses are paid. I am not arguing for full compensation. I am saying that expenses incurred as a result of such a detention, which could be considerable, should be refunded to the individuals concerned. I beg to move.

Lord Dholakia: I support Amendment No. 64 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. I hope I have pronounced his name correctly. I believe my pronunciation is better than the American pronunciation attempted by my noble friend.

I have no problem with the first part of the amendment concerning those who, effectively, exploit illegal immigrants and bring them into the country for

19 Jul 1999 : Column 690

vast sums of money. If they are caught, the transport is confiscated. If charges are not paid, it is right and proper that the property is sold on the open market in a way that achieves the best possible value so that any refund due can be paid to the individuals.

I am concerned about Amendment No. 65 which is grouped with Amendment No. 64. It refers to those who may be found not guilty of a particular offence. In that situation the Home Secretary is not legally liable, even if proved wrong in terms of confiscating someone's property. These powers are far in excess of what a court of law in this country imposes. If the Home Secretary is found to have been unlawful in the way in which he detained the property, it is right and proper that the individual should be repaid the money due to him. On the other hand, if it is proved that the individual was guilty of a particular offence, there is no problem.

We are talking about the rules of natural justice. It is right and proper that individuals who are found not guilty are able to claim the money back from the Home Office. The provision gives a draconian power to the Secretary of State. I hope the Committee will support the amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page