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Lord Brabazon of Tara: I support the amendments to which I have added my name. There are three reasons why people at present can be prevented from entering the United Kingdom or be expelled from it. The first relates to incorrect documentation, in which case those people are denied entry by the immigration service. I do not necessarily argue with that. The second relates to correct documentation but, because the immigration service is suspicious, it denies entry. The third relates to people who, having entered as businessmen or students, overstay their visit.
The amendment deals with the second situation. People come with perfectly correct documentation but because the UK immigration authorities have reason to be suspicious they are denied entry. In that case the carrier is liable for the costs of detention, however long that may be. I believe that it is perfectly reasonable that the authorities should take a view on this. However, it seems unreasonable that that view should be for longer than a certain length of time. Whether 72 hours is the correct period, or whether a little longer might be correct, I am not certain. But if the immigration authorities take longer than 72 hours, the blame should hardly be put on the carrier.
As my noble friend said, at present the system hardly presents an incentive for officials to process such cases speedily. It is neither in the interests of the passenger nor the carrier that there is no incentive to process these cases reasonably quickly. The carrier gets the bill at the end of the day.
My name is also down to the second of my noble friend's amendments. It deals with the anomaly whereby carriers are required to pay detention costs even when detailed passengers are properly documented on entry or the carrier can prove that valid documents were presented at the point of embarkation.
Airlines and shipping staff are not immigration officials and should not be expected to do their job for them. No airline or shipping company will deliberately seek to incur a fine if it makes a mistake. There are genuine reasons why it should not wish to do so--not least that it can be fined £2,000 each time that it makes a mistake.
A number of airlines have gained what I understand is called approved gate-check status at foreign airports. I believe that that would be the best way to deal with the problem. If the airlines are fulfilling those requirements at the foreign airport, they should not have to be responsible for those individuals who might destroy or lose those documents in the course of their journey. There have been many cases where documents have been deliberately lost. For example, with a ferry company it is particularly easy to throw one's documents overboard. Yet when the ferry arrives, the carrier is liable for the detention costs for that period. It does not seem to be fair, if the airline or shipping company has done everything it can to ensure that documents are in order, yet when the immigrant arrives something has gone wrong and someone has deliberately destroyed or lost the documents. I therefore support the amendments.
Baroness Seear: I strongly support the amendments. The whole policy of putting obligations on the airline companies is quite unacceptable. I can see no reason why airline companies should carry the responsibility for finding out whether or not people are legal immigrants. I realise that that is not the major point of the amendment, but I wished to put it on record.
Lord Mountevans: I too am happy to support my noble friend Lady O'Cathain, as I did earlier in the Committee stage. I speak for myself and also on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, who would have been here if he had not suffered a bereavement. He would have put the argument for the shipping companies. We have tended to believe that it is an airline argument, but it is not because shipping is also involved. It is more burdensome on shipping companies because if someone is charged £10 to go from Calais to Dover as opposed to £200 or £300 to fly from Paris to London, the £2,000 penalty is that much more vicious.
Last week I supported my noble friend, tonight I am happy to do so again. I wish to put on record my endorsement of her concept. An open-ended commitment over which the airlines and ferry companies have no control is something which I find morally indefensible. That is my principal reason for supporting the amendment. I simply repeat a point first made by my noble friend Lord Brabazon and also by myself. The penalty on airlines is morally indefensible, and it is much more difficult for shipping companies. At the end of the day their staff should not be the first line of our immigration control.
Baroness Rawlings: I agree with my noble friend Lady O'Cathain that carriers should not be responsible for the fine if the traveller has managed to be accepted by the local immigration officer, even if that person is proved later to have used false documents. However, it would be totally wrong to waive the fine completely as the carriers would then have little incentive to check all their travellers' documents as diligently as they do now. It would make it that much easier for the illegal asylum seekers. We are not discussing the genuine asylum seekers here but the illegal ones. That is surely wrong.
The Earl of Kinnoull: It seems almost unfair to support the amendment when so many others have already done so. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made the point that it was unfair that a carrier's check-in staff should make a judgment about people while checking them in. They are not making a judgment, they are only checking the tickets and passports.
Baroness Seear: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but we were told that the check-in staff could object on the grounds that a person looked nervous or had luggage which seemed excessive. The staff are making judgments about people.
I support my noble friend's amendment. She made a very powerful plea for my noble friend the Minister to examine this burden on carriers. It is an indefinable contingency liability that has continued for 25 years. It is interesting to note that, in 1971, the onus of the cost was considered fair. I suspect that it was regarded as a mild form of discipline on carriers.
Twenty-five years later the whole situation has changed considerably. There is a boom, an explosive growth, in travel--and particularly in air transport. Heathrow had one-fifth of the passengers in 1971 that it handles today. It may handle even more. With this massive growth in travel comes the growth in the numbers of immigrants wishing to enter this country either by fair means or by foul. It must be an absolute jungle when the criminal, the desperate and the economic elements are mixed, with all the cross-frontier complications that can occur within Europe.
My noble friend covered the ground very thoroughly. It was interesting to note how responsible carriers have been. She mentioned in particular British Airways. They have been very responsible in the training of their staff. In fact, one wonders whether immigration officers, if invited to man some of the check-in desks at the approved check gates, would be as successful as airline staff presently are.
I ask my noble friend, in replying, to say whether Immigration has a firm policy, and resources, to step up the approved gate check policy and whether the current 66 airports will be increased fairly rapidly over the next few years.
Like others, I feel that the present situation leads to what could be described as a dubious form of income which, I imagine, is passed to the Treasury. Does the Treasury therefore have to be consulted if any change occurs under the 1971 Act as a result of my noble friend's amendment?
Natural justice can hardly be served at the present time when a traveller shows correct documents to a carrier and, as my noble friend said, that carrier becomes liable for detention costs, the cost of security escorts and even the danger that passengers may not be accepted and may be flown back to their original destination. I hope my noble friend will look favourably upon this amendment.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I support these amendments. We have debated this subject not only in relation to this Bill. I remember debating it years ago. Even then, we were very much in favour of life being made a little easier for the airlines. It is right that there should be some sanction against an airline. There was a time when no one looked at any documents. Now, as an Australian passport holder, my visas are checked and required for pretty well every country in the world that I visit. I am therefore accustomed to that time and detail. It must be totally impossible for any check-in staff to know whether the visas in my passport are real, or are very good forgeries. I certainly would not know when looking at someone else's passport. We cannot expect them to have that expertise.
Most worrying statements have been made as to how people get on board having their documents checked and they are all apparently in order. When they arrive, they dispose of them, perhaps down the toilet on the aircraft or overboard from a boat. Therefore no one has any way of checking whether they were real or were forgeries.
That brings me to the point of the approved gate procedure, which sounds excellent. At least it means that someone with a degree of responsibility should be doing the checking there. It is also very important that someone monitors those doing the checking on the approved gate. It could be a marvellous money-spinner for someone. I have heard so many stories from friends who have been to Africa. A patient told me that, when he wanted to fly out, he was told, "You are not on the manifest, I can't see your name". The man said, "Yes, I am. There is my name". The airline man picked up a pencil, drew a line through his name and said, "No, that is not you". After his palm had been crossed with silver he pulled out a rubber and said, "Oh yes I can see that you are on the flight after all". If people are going to do that simply when getting on a plane, there is an opportunity for corrupt documents--forgeries--to be accepted.
A dentist who once worked with me went to Ghana just when the revolution was taking place. He said that no one could forge any documents because there were no exit visas at all and no one knew what to forge. But the day the first exit visas were issued, forgeries were rife. It is a major industry in some countries.
Returning to the amendment before us, 72 hours seems a very fair compromise. It would mean that there is still some sanction against the carrier, yet it would not be so onerous that it would be quite off-putting. I think it is fair to support the amendment.
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