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The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I tend to support the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Cadman. This is very much like the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Health proposing that food producers should pay for the food standards agency. As I understand it, immigration control is for the greater public good. Therefore, the cost should rest upon the taxpayer, not upon the people who are expected to provide facilities at ports.

Lord Hacking: My Lords, I should like to give some support to Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27. As the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, rightly said, under Clause 21 very large powers are given to the Secretary of State. It would be sensible to take a more rational view of those powers.

There is a large area of co-operation between the British Airports Authority and the immigration authorities. On the whole, that has worked very well over a number of years. But it is not a reason for any extensive right to expand immigration facilities at airports and leave the full costs with the British Airports Authority or other airport operators in this country. I hope that my noble friend will consider favourably the purport behind these amendments and that he will be able to help us, at least by Third Reading.

I support the dispute resolution proposals set out in Amendment No. 27. On many occasions I have urged upon your Lordships the virtue of arbitration. I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, has identified arbitration as the best dispute resolution process. There should certainly be a dispute resolution process, particularly when such large powers rest with the Secretary of State.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, in supporting the general thrust of the amendments, I must declare an interest. Part of my work outside this House is with a company in the international port industry. I hasten to add that its work is on the marketing side and has nothing to do with immigration.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, was right to express the widespread concern that exists in the ports industry in regard to this clause. The industry is anxious that its costs will rise. There is a tendency for more border controls, rather than fewer, to be imposed. I shall not venture too far down the road of cost to take up the interesting intervention from my noble friend Lady Mar; I shall have more to say on the matter in relation to a later amendment.

Experience has shown that the demands of the immigration authorities for basic facilities are generally reasonable. Unfortunately, there have been a number of cases where that is not so. There are also

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considerable grey areas in respect of the provision of backroom facilities. I support the proposals for arbitration in Amendment No. 27. It is important that there should be some means of resolving disputes regarding the provision of facilities.

I also support Amendment No. 27A, which has just been moved. It makes a useful start--

Lord Hacking: My Lords, I have not yet moved Amendment No. 27A.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, I beg the noble Lord's pardon, but I shall speak to it anyway. We have to sort out some definition of “basic facilities". Reference has been made to that. I understand that working parties are examining the matter. The noble Lord's amendment is a useful step in the right direction.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I, too, support the general thrust of the amendments. The Government and the Immigration Service have a duty to operate in an efficient and effective manner, providing good value for the taxpayer, if the taxpayer is paying, and, more importantly, best value as compared with the best private sector practice, if the private sector is paying.

Many noble Lords have given examples of practice that is less than good. Long lists of examples were given in Committee which I shall not try to repeat. It is important that some limit is placed on what the service can ask for, whether in relation to accommodation which is then used for managing an airport or port 50 miles away, or whether for totally unconnected purposes.

The services also have a duty to demonstrate that they are working efficiently. If the accommodation is no longer required or can be reduced, buildings can be handed back. The accommodation should therefore be located where it can be of use to the port, not as in the example given by the noble Lord, Cadman, regarding Eurotunnel. The noble Lord did not mention that the requirement from the British Immigration Service was 10 times that from the French immigration service. We should reflect on that point.

The Minister was very helpful, and agreed to meet the noble Lord, Lord Cadman, and myself last week. Today, we received a document from the Immigration Service headquarters. It is a copy of a letter sent to the Immigration and Asylum Charging Consultation Group. I was not aware who the group were. The letter argues that the Home Office does not think,

    “it would be possible, nor indeed necessary, to introduce a formal provision on the face of the Bill ... for an independent and binding arbitrator".

It goes on to refer to a review process, ending with,

    “an opportunity for an independent person to provide advice".

The letter has been sent out as part of a process of consultation with the industry.

The outcome of that approach would be less certain. I can see that that is why the noble Lords, Lord Cadman and Lord Cope of Berkeley, have tabled Amendment No. 27. Consultation goes only so far:

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“We will consult you, and then we'll do what we want". I am sure that that will not be the case, but it could be inferred.

Secondly, Amendment No. 26 it is a reasonable test of economic cost and practical relevance, to which I referred earlier. I say to my noble friend the Minister: why not accept the spirit of these amendments as a contribution to modernising government and setting an example to other ministries, as the noble Countess just said, which might learn from some of the examples set. I am pleased to support the amendments.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I rise to support the amendments. One concern many of us have is that as the number of small airports and ports extends--we are beginning to see that happening quite a lot--this provision will become a heavy burden for small airports and ports which are trying to attract business. They may suddenly find themselves having to carry substantial costs for providing immigration facilities.

I understand the Government's need for such facilities. It is quite likely that those facilities will move outwards to new ports and airports, particularly regional airports, as charter aircraft and so on use them. It would be a great shame if it were made economically difficult for that to happen because of the cost of immigration control.

I believe that the amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Cadman, and Lord Cope of Berkeley, is reasonable. It would make it quite clear that the cost should be cost price and that the provision should in no way be exploited by the Government or, alternatively, by the authorities of the transport industry. There should be a compromise on this basis. The amendment is an attempt to go a long way to meet the Government's reasonable arguments for immigration facilities. It is also important to protect the interests of the transport industry when it is attempting to expand into different parts of the country, including some that could do without having to carry heavy economic burdens in order to flourish. I am thinking of some of the new airports in the North of England, Scotland and elsewhere.

Viscount Brentford: My Lords, I support my noble friends' amendments. Is any further encroachment involved here beyond the present situation in making, in this case, private companies, pay for the Government's expense? Alternatively, does this provision continue the present position? I suspect that it represents a continuation of the present situation, but it seems to me that there is a danger of further encroachment with more public expenditure being borne by private industry.

I should like to raise two questions. First, Clause 21(1) states “reasonably necessary". I assume that that means what may appear to be reasonably necessary to the Secretary of State and that, for example, the manager of the control port would have no right to say that something was totally unreasonable. Perhaps the Minister could answer that.

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Secondly, my noble friend Lord Cope said that the clause could give the Secretary of State the power to site a whole immigration service in a port, if I understood it correctly. If that were the case, I suggest that that could be obviated simply by adding at the end of subsection (1) the words “at such port". The subsection would therefore read,

    “the operation of immigration control at such port".

It is perhaps far-fetched to see the whole of Lunar House being moved into a small northern airport, with the costs being borne by that control port, but that worry could be removed by such a small amendment, if the Minister thought fit.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for the comments made in a longer series of points in debate than I thought was merited. However, important points have been raised and I shall try to deal with as many as I can in turn.

In one way or another, Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27 are aimed at placing restrictions on the Secretary of State's ability to determine the level of facilities required to operate the immigration control and which are to be provided free of charge. I shall try to explain why they are unnecessary.

The House debated Amendment No. 26 in Committee at the instigation of the noble Lord, Lord Cadman. I am disappointed that he was not sufficiently reassured by the statements made at that time by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer. I hope that I can dispel some of his anxieties. I had hoped I had dispelled them when we met last week, but we shall try to deal with the points raised.

The facilities to be provided are described in Clause 21 as being those which are,

    “reasonably necessary for, or in connection with, the operation of immigration control".

The amendment refers to their,

    “practical relevance to the control of immigration".

I should have thought that the test of reasonable necessity in the clause, as it stands, is stricter than that part of the amendment.

I should like to deal with the headquarters point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and the noble Lord, Lord Cope. Facilities have to be “reasonably necessary". That relates to immigration control at the port, which therefore could not be used to house any part of headquarters. We do not intend to pick up Lunar House and transport it to some faraway airport as a piece of sharp practice to try to re-allocate costs from headquarters! That is not the intention of the general drift of our legislation.

The amendment also requires regard to be had to the economic cost of the facilities to be provided. The clause provides for the facilities to be provided free of charge to be specified in directions. Subsection (2) requires the Secretary of State to consult in advance such persons likely to be affected by the directions. We are working very closely with the industry on the range of facilities it is reasonable to expect it to provide. When the statutory consultation takes place, if not

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before, I am sure that the port operators will undertake their own economic appraisal of the cost to them of providing the facilities being sought. If port operators consider the requirements too onerous, they will doubtless make representations to the Secretary of State. It is open to them to suggest that the costs falling on them are too great and onerous.

I can assure the House that the Secretary of State will give careful consideration to all and any representations made to him. It is perhaps important to recognise at this point that the facilities necessary for the operation of immigration control at a particular port will be dependent on the nature and scale of that control. The nature and scale of the operation needed and the size of the port will determine and drive the nature and scale of the immigration control. In turn, the nature and scale of the immigration control at a port will necessarily reflect the size. It follows, therefore, that a direction to provide facilities which ignored the size and nature of that port's operation could be challenged in the courts. So there is always that final test.

Amendment No. 27, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cadman, suggests an arbitration procedure as a possible way of providing assurance to port authorities that their concerns will be recognised. Subsection (1) of the clause makes it clear that the responsibility for deciding what facilities are reasonably necessary for the operation of the immigration control lies with, and only with, the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will be able to take advice from whomever he chooses. We shall look at whether it would be appropriate to seek the advice of an independent person where there is some dispute.

However, we could not accept a binding arbitration. We could not accept being bound by an arbitrator as to the level of immigration control that was necessary at any port and the facilities needed to support it. That is a question which has a heavy element of policy in it. I am afraid that I must ask the House to reject the amendment accordingly.

However, as I indicated, the Secretary of State will carefully consider any representations put to him before making directions. Informal discussions have been going on with the industry for some time now and we are currently giving consideration to how any disputes between port authorities and the Home Office might be settled. That will include looking carefully at procedures to take into account any independent advice.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his comments earlier. He carefully drew attention to correspondence which was despatched towards the end of last week. He quoted from it that we would seek,

    “an opportunity for an independent person to provide advice on issues of dispute".

That is to be part of a wider internal review, and we would want to ensure and be satisfied that an independent view was given. In doing that, it is only right and proper that we provide those who are being consulted with every opportunity to make their views known to us.

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I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, Amendment No. 25. It would mean that instead of port authorities providing facilities free of charge, they should be provided at cost price. I readily concede that in respect of some facilities for which the Home Office currently pays, payment at cost would be preferable to the charges imposed by port authorities. But it is also right to acknowledge that some port authorities already provide facilities free of charge to the Immigration Service, and in that case the amendment would mean an increase in public expenditure.

Perhaps I may reiterate why the Government believe that a certain level of facilities should be provided free of charge. In order to accommodate the growth in international travel and increases in passenger numbers, port operators may seek to expand existing facilities and establish new ports. That will require investment by the operators but, being commercial organisations, there will be an expectation of profits flowing from the expansion. Contrary to the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, although we do not want to impose a burden on business, we believe that there is a reasonable price to be paid by businesses in this area. We believe that our approach is entirely reasonable.

The Government welcome and are committed to facilitating growth, but the increase in passenger traffic will place additional burdens on the Immigration Service in terms of, among other things, increased staffing, rental and other associated costs. Inevitably, the taxpayer will be required to fund most of those additional costs. In those circumstances, I suggest to your Lordships that it is not unreasonable to expect port operators, who benefit commercially from their operations, to pay a small share of the increasing immigration costs. I hope that noble Lords will reject the amendment.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the Minister very kindly ruled out the possibility of moving Lunar House to a port, which I believe is a small advance on the way in which the clause is presently phrased. However, the noble Lord spoke constantly of the limitations that arose from the fact that the Secretary of State could do only what was reasonable for the operation of immigration control at that port. But at the moment the words “at that port" do not appear in the Bill; it refers only to,

    “the operation of immigration control",

and that is not limited to facilities at the port. As my noble friend Lord Brentford suggested, that opens up the possibility of an amendment at Third Reading to bring the Bill into line with the expression used by the Minister.

The Minister also referred to the question of a dispute resolution procedure, arbitration or something of that kind. He made the position of the Government very clear in rejecting that suggestion. However, the independent person referred to is there to give advice. I suppose that in some circumstances

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that may be helpful, but it is not really what my noble friend's amendment seeks. However, as far as concerns Amendment No. 25, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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