HC Deb 21 March 1963 vol 674 cc772-85

1.22 a.m.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

I rise to continue this debate by raising a matter which also concerns the Home Office. Since, as the Home Office knows, this is an individual case, I can hardly complain if the Home Secretary now leaves it to the Joint Under-Secretary to sit in and continue to listen to complaints of hon. Members.

There is a tradition that no back-bench Member of this House is ever reproached for using this occasion, however late the hour, however narrow the issue or however insignificant the individual concerned may be, if the Member thinks that injustice is involved. I hope that the case which I now raise will receive from the Home Office the same consideration that it has been giving to the wider issues of policy which have been debated earlier today.

The essence of my complaint is not that I want to use this occasion to plead this particular case, but that I am obliged to use this occasion to call attention to a matter which cannot fairly or properly be dealt with on the Floor of the House or by any of the procedure of this House which involves publicity.

I will return to that in a moment after giving details of the story. The hon. Gentleman who is to reply is familiar with it. But, of course, I cannot give either names or details, although many of them are already in his possession. The story started with a green card being sent in to me here. I found a young man waiting for me in the Lobby to ask, as he thought, his Member for help because his prospective brother-in-law, an Irishman in Pentonville Gaol, and who expected to he released on the following Friday and to be married the same day, was due to be deported to Ireland, since the Home Secretary had confirmed the recommendation of the court which had sent the man to prison.

Now obviously the case presented difficulties. The very name Pentonville indicated that this was not the first time the young man had been in trouble. I listened to his case as presented by his prospective brother-in-law. The young man came to this country five years ago as a lad of 17. He had been described by a priest who knew him as a "light weight tear-away", and he got into various kinds of trouble. Until he met the girl he was to marry, he showed no great disposition to settle down. He lived in the wrong part of London for that sort of thing to happen to him.

The wedding had been arranged for the day he was due to be released. It was in no sense a shot-gun wedding, although his fiancee was pregnant. The girl's brother had visited the man in prison and had assured himself that the couple could be happy together and that the man would rehabilitate himself. Those who were acquainted with the case were of the same opinion.

It seemed to me that there was a formidable array of witnesses who would say that here in England there was an opportunity for a home in new surroundings, away from the old influences and with a job and a family to look after, and that under these circumstances the young man had the best chance of rehabilitation.

On the other hand, there was no hope for him if he were sent back to Ireland, since neither his family nor the girl's would accept them because of the difficulties of the wedding in these circumstances. Neither was there any hope of work being obtained there, nor of a home being found.

That story as presented to me seemed to be worthy of investigation and I took immediate steps next morning to raise the matter with the Home Office. I asked for two things—first, that the marriage should take place on the Friday, which was something which had to be arranged administratively because, instead of being released, the young man was being transferred to Brixton Gaol, and, secondly, that the deportation should be postponed until the Home Secretary had had an opportunity to listen to representations and consider them.

At the same time I discovered what was not clear to me at the time I first took up the case. This was that the address on the green card sent in to me was actually about 10 yards inside the boundary of the constituency of the hon. Member for Paddington South (Mr. R. Allan), who was good enough to endorse the action I had taken and who took some steps on his own to confirm the information I had laid before the Home Secretary.

My main point, however, is that this really is not the place to plead the case. In the first place, it is not fair on hon. Members that they should have to put all the facts in a case of this kind with names and details, because people hesitate to come to us for help if there is a risk not only of their case being lost but of a great deal of undesirable publicity for them as a result. So a Member of Parliament's own useful work in cases of this kind is hampered unless there can be some other way.

Secondly, the particular people would have been damaged in this case if details had been published, and there can be no question of uttering in public the names, the authorities and the details of the sort of representations that would be made by welfare workers, prison authorities and a priest who had visited the man in prison, and so on, because in all cases—and here there is a strange echo of a previous debate in this House—the work of a professional case-worker must certainly not be endangered by the feeling that the confidences and the details of the case would be made public. So it seemed the right thing to do to ask that the case should be deferred until the Home Secretary, who was out of the country at the time on Parliamentary business, but was due to return at the weekend, was back in his office on the Monday.

The hon. Member for Paddington, South had followed up my representations to the Home Office with the results of his further investigation of the case. I was told that what I had asked for was granted—first of all, that arrangements would be made for the wedding to take place. I had made it clear that it was not merely a question of the wedding taking place and of the man not being sent away but that the wedding was sought only as a first step in the rehabilitation process, which could not take place if he were deported. Secondly, I was told that deportation had been postponed to the Monday, which was the day the Home Secretary would be back in his office. I have rather to underline this point because of what happened later.

In my letter to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Depart- ment, I thanked him for his instant action in response to my preliminary inquiries. I thanked him: for arranging that his wedding can take place next Friday and the deportation order be deferred till Monday. This gives an opportunity to make the representations which I and others with knowledge of the case feel should be laid before the Home Secretary. The hon. Member for Paddington, South was good enough to send me a copy of the letter which he sent. His relationship with the Home Office is obviously a little more intimate than mine. The concluding phrase of his letter, if he will allow me to read it, is: I would be most grateful if you and Henry could consider this sympathetically. I do not think there can be any doubt about the meaning of these two letters or of the messages which we received.

To my dismay, I received a letter on the Saturday saying that, on further looking into the case, the Joint Under-Secretary had come to the conclusion that the arrangements must stand. The Joint Under-Secretary mentioned that on further examination of the case he had discovered that the offences that had led to the young man being sent to Pentonville were of a different nature from those supposed.

This would be an occasion, no doubt, to debate the principles on which the working of deportation orders under the Commonwealth Immigrants Act operates, but I do not want to open that sort of debate. It would be possible for me to say that there is something wrong with the situation where if one thought that a man was merely in prison for knocking about fellow-Irishmen, for being a bit handy with his fists or a knife, one could laugh that off and say "Youth will have its fling and he will be rehabilitated," and then when it is discovered that he had been convicted of breaking and entering—and the interesting thing is that he was never accused of stealing; he was very amateur and unsuccessful at breaking in—this suddenly puts a different complexion on the case.

One could argue on principle that this is not a very good way of categorising the matter, to say that offences against the person are not as bad as offences against property. But surely in this case it is obvious that if there were doubts as to the stability of the man's character and doubts as to his liability to break out in violence, there would be more hesitation about recommending a wedding than if the man had committed some other offences from which he could be taught to desist if he had a more useful way of life open to him. But I do not want to discuss that principle.

I want to emphasise that each case of this kind must surely be considered individually on its merits. There must be a way of making private representations to the Home Secretary, if there are opinions and judgments which are entitled to respect, which combine together to indicate that this is a case for reconsideration of a deportation order. Therefore, it is on that basis that I am raising the case tonight.

It may be imagined what an immense disappointment it was to me to find in the end that the operation had so worked itself out that the man was put on the aeroplane before it would have been possible for the Home Secretary on his return to duty to see the papers on his desk. I should have thought that there was no very high issue of principle involved. I should have thought that it was almost normal in most trivial cases that if a Member of Parliament had asked for consideration, executive action would be postponed until a communication between the Minister and the Member had been completed. But when two hon. Members from opposite sides of the House have joined in making representations of this kind, it is very bewildering to find that something has happened along the lines that I have described.

I am not giving way to outbursts of indignation about this matter at the moment. I am asking that it should be looked at calmly. I am asking for two assurances—first, that this really should not be allowed to happen in this way again. We ought not to feel that we have got to find a device to argue out a case of this kind on the Floor of the House and with the possible publicity that might ensue. We ought, as Members of Parliament, to feel secure that we have access to the office of the Minister in special cases of this kind.

Secondly, I ask that even now the Home Secretary should look again at this case. I am not saying that he is not an easy man to plead with. I am not saying that if we had been able to see him, or if the hon. Member for Paddington, South had pleaded with him, his eloquence would have influenced and persuaded the Home Secretary. But I would have felt that the young man had had a fair chance of having the case discussed in private.

I would hope that the Home Secretary could find a way to test the case and consider the representations. As the Home Office must know, this is the most difficult part of the Act to implement, and what we are faced with is this: either that young man gets a chance of getting his marriage started properly—because his wife has not followed him to Ireland; or he stays in Ireland and tries to find some kind of living or other, though it is extremely unlikely that he would be able to do so, and certainly would not be able to maintain his wife there in the foreseeable future; or, what is most likely, he is under an irresistable temptation to come back here under another name—and this would be a tragedy—instead of going back to the influences which are ready to rescue him and will drift back, inevitably, into another kind of offence which will land him once more in gaol and add to the despair of the welfare workers, the priests and all those who are trying to help him.

I hope that the Home Secretary will bear that in mind and see whether there is any way of testing the validity of the representations which we still hope can be made. The Home Secretary must, surely, be interested in checking one by one the effect of the cases where he endorses or does not endorse the recommendations of the magistrates' court. There must be in the background of the operational principles of the Home Office some notion that it is there for the purpose of redeeming the breakdowns and the failures of society, and I should have thought that that should apply in this case.

I am grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for being good enough to listen again to material which he has heard before. I know of no other way of calling attention to the difficulties we have experienced, and I still hope for some promising answer which will influence the future operation of this Act, and this case in particular.

1.37 a.m.

Mr. Robert Allan (Paddington, South)

The hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) has explained how the two of us became involved in this case. The man whom we are discussing was a constituent of mine. He first applied to the hon. Gentleman, and he, behaving with his usual courtesy towards me, invited me to associate myself with this case.

There are really two aspects of it. First, the merits of the case itself, and, secondly, the way in which it was handled. The hon. Gentleman is really raising the case in the way he has done on this occasion because he wishes to emphasise the handling aspect of it. I attach more importance to the merits of the case, but perhaps I might first say a word about the handling of it.

I do not doubt that the hon. Gentleman was quite clear in his own mind that deportation had been postponed until the Home Secretary's return on the Monday morning. He told me this, and I accepted it from him, and indeed throughout I worked on that assumption, as is shown by my letter which the hon. Gentleman quoted. But in fairness to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State, I think that I must make it clear that he never gave me any promise, of even an expression of hope, that the deportation would be postponed in this way.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that the arrangements for the wedding were gravely mismanaged, causing a good deal of anxiety and confusion to a number of people. Nor do I think that the Home Office gave itself enough time to consider the verbal and written representations which the hon. Gentleman and I made to it. Even though the priest with whom we were in touch had visited the Home Office, in view of the interpretation which the hon. Gentleman and I put on the information that he gave us, the priest should have been interviewed again.

As to the merits of the case, unlike the hon. Gentleman, I was a strong supporter of the Act which gave the Home Secretary the powers which he used in this case. I am not, therefore, in principle opposed to deportation of this sort. But in my view this was a case where the Home Secretary might have refused to act on the recommendation of the court. The man concerned was obviously a shiftless man, but he was ready to—and, in fact, he did—marry a decent girl who was going to have a baby by him. For private and domestic reasons which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows about, it is virtually impossible for the couple to go to Ireland and settle down and lead a normal life. On the other hand, as the hon. Member for Paddington, North said, both accommodation and work were available for him in this country, together with friends who had his interests very much at heart.

The best hope of turning this man into a decent citizen would have been to let him stay and work here and settle down with his wife and baby. This course has been rejected; the man is now unemployed in Ireland and the wife is being cared for by her brother, at great inconvenience to him. It is a very sad story. Could it have had a happier ending if more time and consideration had been given to the representations made to the Home Office?

The other point particularly stressed by the hon. Member is the question whether this matter necessitated the personal consideration of the Home Secretary. This is the question behind this useful debate which the hon. Member has raised, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give a good answer to that and the other questions raised.

1.42 a.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. C. M. Woodhouse)

The public might easily be misled by some accounts of debates in this House—although the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) has not contributed to any such misleading impression—into thinking that the sole function of the Home Office consists of arbitrary and oppressive activities against the rights of individuals. It is only fair to point out that normally it is only when a case ends in an adverse decision that this House hears anything about it. It hears nothing about the more numerous cases—even the borderline cases—where a final favourable decision can be arrived at. That is a fair point to make, in justice to the Home Office.

As I have referred to borderline cases it is only right to stress emphatically that this was not a borderline case; it was nowhere near the borderline. The hon. Member has named no names and given no details, and I will follow his excellent example, although both hon. Members who have spoken are familiar with the names and details. But I must, at the risk of exposing details, repeat what I said privately before, that the case, when I examined it, turned out to be a good deal more serious than the impression I had gained from the hon. Member.

The reason why I had not examined it previously was that I took over responsibility in that department of Home Office work only after the deportation order in this case was signed, and I therefore first heard of the case, as the hon. Member knows, from himself and from my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan) before I had had any opportunity to study the facts.

The hon. Member for Paddington, North said that the young man in question had shown no great disposition to settle dawn on his arrival in this country. That is a fairly considerable understatement of the young man's record. He had in fact been convicted four times in the courts. He had committed four offences all involving breaking and entering and more than one of them, contrary to the hon. Member's information, involving theft of goods—in one case goods to the value of nearly £500.

I shall not go further into the details of the case, because I think I have said enough to show that this is not a minor case and certainly not a first offence. It was a serious case of a man who had served three terms of imprisonment and had on one occasion broken the terms on which he had been bound over in an effort to give him another chance.

The fact that this man had a fiancée who was pregnant by him was one of the matters before the Home Secretary when he addressed himself to the deportation recommendation which was made by the last court which tried him. So also were the views and representations of the brother of the girl whom he was going to marry and of the Roman Catholic priest to whom both hon. Members referred, their representations being to the effect that the man was capable of rehabilitation if allowed to remain here.

I mention these points in order to stress that the information in the letter which my hon. Friend sent to me about this case was not new. These were facts which were already known to us and which had been taken into consideration. My right hon. Friend felt at the time in the light of the man's record of serious and persistent criminal offences that he could not regard an intended marriage with an Irish girl, a fellow national of the man who was living in this country, as a sufficient compassionate circumstance for not acting on the committee's recommendation. That is not to say that compassionate circumstances are not taken into account. In a borderline case they might well be decisive, but, as I have said, this was very far from being a borderline case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South reminded me that for domestic reasons it was impossible for the couple to settle down to normal ilfe in Ireland. I am of course familiar with the domestic reasons, but they apply to the family home in Ireland, and only there. My right hon. Friend, of course, had it in mind at the time when he approved the deportation order that it would be possible for the girl—if the marriage took place, as it did—to go with her husband, or to follow her husband, and to do so at public expense. He accordingly signed the deportation order on 14th February with the intention that it should be put into effect on 22nd February, which was the day of the man's release. Meanwhile, as the hon. Member for Paddington, North has told the House, the hon. Member let it be known by telephone that he wished to make representations on this man's behalf and he specifically requested that the couple should be allowed to get married on 22nd February, a Friday, and the deportation should be deferred until the following Monday.

He was told by an official—and I have carefully investigated this and questioned the official to whom he spoke—that it had been agreed to postpone the execution of the order until Monday so that in the first place the wedding could take place and, in the second place, so that his fresh representations could be considered. The hon. Member has made a point in his speech tonight as in his letter that what he desired was that it should be postponed until the Home Secretary had had an opportunity to listen to representations and to consider them, but I must emphasise that neither in that telephone conversation nor at any other time was a promise given to him that the Home Secretary personally would review the case. The hon. Member followed his representation with a letter to me on 20th February and my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South did the same with a letter on 22nd February. In those letters the two hon. Members assured me on behalf of the fiancée and her relatives that, if only the couple could be allowed to stay in this country, the man would, under the influence of his wife, his friends and his chaplain, have the chance to rehabilitate himself, which would be entirely lost if his departure to Ireland were enforced.

I should like to assure the hon. Gentleman that this was not a decision taken by officials. I gave the most careful consideration to those letters myself and, as I was new to this responsibility, I think I gave them more careful and more prolonged consideration than I have to any other subject since I came to the Home Office. I came to the conclusion, which had already been reached by my right hon. Friend, that there were no new factors brought out in the two letters I had received and that the sympathy which one naturally felt for the fiancée and her family could not be allowed to outweigh the considerations which had led to the decision that the man must not be allowed to remain in the United Kingdom.

I repeat that if this had been a borderline case another decision might have been possible, but it was very far from being so. I therefore informed the two hon. Members in writing on Friday, 22nd February, of the conclusion which I had reached. This was the same day on which the man himself, under arrangements made by the Prison Governor, was temporarily released in order that the marriage could take place.

I should like to acknowledge quite frankly to my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South that those arrangements were not made as smoothly and as efficiently as I would have wished. There was unfortunately a failure of communication between Pentonville Prison, in which he had served his sentence, and Brixton Prison, to which in the normal course of events he had been transferred for the execution of the deportation order. As a result, the authorities at Brixton Prison were not aware that it was the intention to allow the marriage to take place that Friday. This was brought to the notice of the Home Office by a telephone message on the Friday morning and urgent action was immediately taken, as a result of which the man was at once escorted to the church. It is the fact that he arrived a little late for the ceremony, and I certainly regret this. I would like to express this regret which I know is shared by everybody concerned in the administration, to both the boy and the girl. It was an unfortunate mistake, and I have no hesitation in taking responsibility and apologising for it. But it does not affect the substance of the case. As soon as the wedding was over, since the sentence was already complete, the arrangements for deportation were, as I have indicated, allowed to proceed and he was sent to the Irish Republic on 25th February.

Among the matters to which I gave careful consideration were the suggestions which the hon. Gentlemen put to me in their letters—first, that the deportation order should be suspended until it could be seen whether the man would reform, or, secondly, that he should be put on probation. I think that the latter suggestion came from the priest who had interested himself in the case. As I explained in writing to the hon. Gentleman, neither of these courses was legally open to the Home Office. First, my right hon. Friend has no legal power to suspend a deportation order in those terms for, so to speak, a trial period. Secondly, probation is a form of sentence available to a court as an alternative to other arrangements, and it cannot be imposed administratively by my right hon. Friend, and still less can it be imposed, even by a court, after a senence has been served. The Home Secretary's discretion is simply to decide whether or not to act on a deportation recommendation made by a competent court, and in the case we have under consideration my right hon. Friend has no doubt that the correct decision was reached, and inescapably reached. But I can assure the hon. Members who have spoken in the debate that deportation orders are naturally subject to review from time to time, normally only after a period of years, but they are not final if new circumstances come to light, though no new circumstances have so far come to light in this case.

I should like in conclusion to refer briefly to the hon. Gentleman's argument about access to the Home Secretary personally. My right hon. Friend tries to make himself available to hon. Members who wish to take up such cases and he is willing to postpone executive action for a reasonable time while representations are made. But in cases where, as in this one, the sentence of the court has expired, my right hon. Friend seeks to avoid holding people in detention under the Act for longer than is necessary and the representations made by the two hon. Members were considered in the Home Office and by myself personally on behalf of my right hon. Friend with the utmost despatch, as I think the dates on the correspondence show. There was no good reason, after I had replied to them, why the action should not be put in band.

The hon. Member for Paddington, North complained that his representations were not put before the Home Secretary on his return. I would make two points on this aspect. Firstly, although the Home Secretary carefully studies the relevant papers in every such case before signing a deportation order, it would be his normal practice to ask me, as Under-Secretary, to receive in the first instance any fresh representations on his behalf. I had done this, both in person and in writing, before the order was carried out. Secondly, the Home Secretary, who was abroad during the week in question, immediately re-examined the papers personally on his return and he has confirmed that the action taken had his approval.

The hon. Member will correct me if I have misunderstood him, but I think he was suggesting that representations made by hon. Members on what they believe to be new evidence should automatically lead to the suspension of a deportation order until the Home Secretary is personally able to reconsider the case. I can only say, in all sincerity, that the hon. Member did not succeed in making me understand at the time that that was the principle he was asserting, and certainly no promise was given that the order would be deferred until the Home Secretary had himself reviewed it.

The principle is new to me, although I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to that argument. If the case had been a borderline one I would certainly have referred it to my right hon. Friend again on the basis of those representations, but, as I have said, it was very far from the borderline. Even had I referred it again to the Home Secretary, whether as a matter of principle or on my own discretion, it is quite certain that no difference would have been made to the outcome of the case because my right hon. Friend has confirmed that he would not have changed his decision.

I hope that I have shown—and I have been at great pains to study this case—that the case was properly handled, that the outcome was the only appropriate one and that, if there was a misunderstanding between the Home Office and the hon. Member, I do not think that the fault lay on our side. I will, however, gladly communicate the views expressed to my right hon. Friend, but I cannot on my own responsibility indicate any likelihood that the procedure followed in this case would be varied in any similar case in future.