HC Deb 10 July 1967 vol 750 cc45-57

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Charles R. Morris.]

12.29 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)

Whenever I have the good fortune to secure an Adjournment debate, I run up against the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. The last time I raised a case concerning the Commonwealth immigration law, I appealed—I regret to say unsuccessfully—to his well-known compassion, but this time I appeal to his equally well-known reason and common sense.

My constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas, are a highly respectable young married couple. They have two children aged four and three. They live in a home which they own, and recently have had certain extensions to it carried out to give more accommodation.

Mr. Thomas is a British subject and works in a responsible job for a national newspaper. His wife comes from Mauritius and has been over here for a number of years. She is a qualified State registered nurse, and, I understand, was the first girl from Mauritius to acquire that qualification at the Charing Cross Hospital, where she subsequently worked.

In addition, Mrs. Thomas is a teacher, at the moment working part time, and the reason why she works only part time is that she has the small children to look after. But she is doing very well as a part-time teacher and desires to become a full-time teacher, and to acquire the appropriate qualification she has been selected to take a three-year course at the Newlands Park College of Education, which is specifically designed for the encouragement of married women to go back into full-time teaching. It is highly commendable that, with her other responsibilities, she should be prepared to take the course. If Mrs. Thomas passes the course and becomes fully qualified, she has a post as a full-time teacher waiting for her at a Roman Catholic school at Harrow-on-the-Hill, in my constituency. I am sure that we all appreciate the need for teachers, none more so than the people of Harrow.

Mrs. Thomas's children have been admitted as pupils at the school where she will teach full-time if she passes the course. Her problem at the moment is how to undertake this two-year course of further education to enable her to get a qualification unless she has someone to look after the children. After she has taken the course and is employed at the school the dilemma will not arise because her children will be there and can go along and return with their mother.

In Mauritius, there lives a Mrs. Perrine, Mrs. Thomas's aunt, a widow, aged 55, in perfectly good health and living on a small pension and small savings. She is a very responsible and perfectly fit old lady who has always had very close associations with Mrs. Thomas. The idea entered the minds of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas that the most sensible solution to their problem would be to bring Mrs. Perrine to this country and live with them and look after the two children while Mrs. Thomas is earning a new qualification.

Attempts have been made to obtain a work permit under the Commonwealth immigration laws for this purpose, but they have proved abortive, I regret to say, mainly because the Mauritius authorities, like a number of newly-developing countries, tend to allocate the available work permits to young people who will come here to learn a skill or qualification, such as in nursing, engineering or the law, so that when they go back they will be able to contribute more fully to the activities of their country. We believe that Mrs. Perrine has been refused a work permit for that reason. Various rather desultory correspondence has taken place with the authorities, which has got us nowhere.

So Mr. Thomas conce[...] another idea. He thought that he might get Mrs. Perrine over here merely on a visitor's permit, though he would like it to be extended for the two years to cover the period of Mrs. Thomas's course. Again, correspondence has taken place with the Home Office. I think that, possibly because he does not appreciate all the facts which I hope now to outline, the Under-Secretary has formed the view that this might be a device to get Mrs. Perrine here permanently. I assure the House that this is certainly not the case and that we are concerned here with perfectly respectable and responsible people who would give any guarantee that was required which would assure the authorities that Mrs. Perrine would return to Mauritius at the completion of her niece's course.

I can understand the Minister being suspicious of possible evasions of the Commonwealth immigration laws. On too many occasions this sort of thing arises—"phoney" passports, and all sorts of undesirable people managing to get into this country someone who should not be here. It might be said that it is only because my constituents are reputable people that they are not engaging in this rather sinister device. They want to do this in a sensible and responsible manner. There is no reason to suppose from any of the correspondence or from any of the circumstances surrounding the case that my constituents are trying to evade the Commonwealth immigration laws.

An absurd situation arises. If Mrs. Perrine, instead of being 55, were aged 60 she could come here provided that Mr. Thomas guaranteed that she would not work and also guaranteed her welfare while she was here. If that situation applied, she could stay here almost permanently, but as it is they want her, bona fide and overtly, to come and work for them for the period of the course. So Mr. and Mrs. Thomas have either to abandon the chance of Mrs. Thomas acquiring a further qualification and going back to teaching full-time or they must bring in an au pair girl or a series of au pair girls, unknown quantities, while Mrs. Thomas is taking the course. From the point of view of common sense it is [...]rd that an elderly relative known to the family and who would look after the children should be kept out and that a succession of completely unknown au pair girls from Europe should be allowed to come in. So I appeal to the reason and common sense of the Under-Secretary.

The Commonwealth immigration laws are designed to avoid racial troubles arising because of over-pressure on our housing or health, welfare or education system. None of these points applies in this case. There is no question of pressure on housing, because Mr. and Mrs. Thomas have a home of their own and have built an extension to it to enable Mrs. Perrine to live with them. There will be no pressure on the health system, I am informed, because at the age of 55 Mrs. Perrine is perfectly healthy and will not be any burden during the two years when she is here. She would be no financial burden on the welfare system, because Mr. Thomas would take care of her and would pay her if she desired it.

Thus, so far from her being a burden on the welfare services, the opposite would be the case. Far from bringing in lots of children which would help increase the strain on our school programme, her coming would have the direct effect of supplying another full-time qualified teacher to British education. The Commonwealth Immigrants Act was never intended to be so rigid in application. Nor was it the desire to prevent people with perfectly genuine cases from coming. I appreciate the need to prevent evasion, but that does not apply in this case.

I submit that this is a genuine request and that, if the hon. Gentleman accedes to it, he will not be breaching the immigration laws in any way. He will not only be helping my constituent out of a dilemma, but helping Britain by enabling a married woman to improve her qualifications and, therefore, render full-time service to the education of British children. I hope the hon. Gentleman will show his well-known reason as well as compassion and either accede to the request or at least agree to look at it again and listen to any further representations we have to make.

12.41 p.m.

Mr. James Johnston (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I wish to intervene not out of sentiment, but out of sympathy with the case put by the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant). I know Mauritius well. I was there a few weeks ago on May Day. Whatever one may say about some segments of the Commonwealth, the Mauritians are literate, intelligent and adaptable people. Any Mauritian who comes here will fit into our society and do a first-class job.

I know that we have to act on the quota, but I am sympathetic to this appeal and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will not lightly dismiss it. I believe that we should be getting a bargain here. I make no comment on au pair girls, but this lady is almost 60 years old and she would fit into the family fabric. We should get a bargain in that we would get a new teacher in the United Kingdom. Even if, as some people do occasionally, these immigrants "did a fiddle" and went back to Mauritius, it would still mean that a qualified teacher would be able to help in the developing society of Mauritius. Either way, both countries would benefit.

What is the number of work permits allocated to Mauritius? It cannot be many in view of the size of the country. I am sure that the quota system does not apply to students. One would hope that students come in over and above this sort of application for a work permit and that, having gained technical qualifications, they go back to Mauritius. I know the Minister's difficulties, but I hope that he will look at this again and give a favourable answer.

12.44 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Ennals)

The hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) has brought forward a genuine case once more and I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) for speaking as he has done on a number of occasions on behalf of Mauritius and I agree with what he has said.

Perhaps I can immediately reply to the question he put concerning the allocation of labour permits. There is no one set figure for each individual country. There is the stipulation, however, that no country shall have more than 15 per cent. of the total number allocated. There is no set figure within which the Mauritian Government have to operate. My hon. Friend is also right in assuming that students who come over for studies do not need labour permits, but, of course, that situation does not apply in this case.

Before I deal with the case of Mrs. Perrine, I should briefly explain the practical working of the Commonwealth immigration control, so that we can see this in perspective. The Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1962, which provides authority for the exercise of the control, confers a legal right of entry on certain categories of Commonwealth citizens. But in this, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary can exercise his discretion to admit certain other categories and some people are admitted subject to conditions that require them to leave the country within a specified period. Some of these may, in addition, have their freedom to take employment restricted.

Immigration officers at the ports exercise the control in accordance with instructions which have been laid down and United Kingdom officers stationed abroad who have the job of issuing entry certificates to Commonwealth citizens have the same sort of instructions, set out and published in the Instructions to Immigration Officers, published in August, 1966, as Cmnd. Paper 3064.

Commonwealth citizens who show that they wish to come here only temporarily—for example, as students or for holidays—are freely admitted for the period of their visits. The Government, however, like their predecessors since 1962, when the Act was passed, consider it necessary to limit the number of those who are admitted to settle here or to take permanent employment, and the means by which this flow is regulated is by requiring each person who wishes to settle in work here to obtain a Ministry of Labour voucher before coming. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour issues these vouchers at a rate fixed by the Government from time to time and at present it is on the basis of 8,500 a year. That figure has not been set forever. The Government can adjust it.

Of course, it is much lower than the number of Commonwealth citizens who want to come here and obtain employment and a new applicant will often have to wait a considerable period before he can expect a voucher. It is also true that they are normally issued to younger people rather than to persons of the sort of age referred to in this case.

It is not, therefore, surprising that many people seek other ways of entering the United Kingdom, and we find ourselves under constant pressure to absolve people from the voucher requirement so that they can come here without delay. I would not suggest that all those who seek to come in by different means are trying to evade. That is much too harsh an interpretation. Certainly, it would not apply to the case of Mrs. Perrine.

A wide variety of reasons are advanced to justify these requests for exceptional treatment. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we cannot afford to weaken the system of control by granting dispensations too freely and that in considering requests we must apply fair and consistent standards.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for inferring that he believes that this is all done on the basis of reason and compassion. My right hon. Friend's regulations are not inflexible. If they were, my job would be easier. Under the instructions I have mentioned, provision can be made for special cases—for instance, where there are compassionate circumstances—in which entry can be granted. Many Commonwealth citizens are admitted in consequence who would not otherwise qualify to come here. I assure the hon. Gentleman that a great deal of my time at the Home Office is spent in dealing with these special cases in which there may be compassionate circumstances that should lead to admission.

In the case raised by the hon. Gentleman, we are asked to grant a dispensation from the ordinary rules. The hon. Gentleman recognises that and, therefore, we have to look at the facts, which are not in conflict between us. Mrs. Thomas has an aunt, Mrs. Perrine, who is 56 and lives in Mauritius. Unfortunately, Mrs. Perrine lost her husband in 1965 and since then has been living with a brother-in-law and sister who are the parents of Mrs. Thomas. Mrs. Perrine has other relatives in Mauritius. She has two brothers, one married and the father of a child, and the other single. Both are working.

In September last year Mrs. Perrine applied in Mauritius for an entry certificate so that she could come to the United Kingdom to live permanently with her neice. Whether at that stage she asked for a labour permit I am not certain, but it is not immediately relevant.

Mrs. Thomas wrote to the entry certificate officer to support the application of Mrs. Perrine, but, after examining it in the light of the considerations which I have outlined, the entry certificate officer decided that Mrs. Perrine did not qualify to settle here and he turned the application down. Mrs. Perrine had not formerly been a member of Mrs. Thomas's immediate household and there was no suggestion that she was suffering hardship.

I think that I should refer at this stage to one section of the instructions to immigration officers dealing with the point raised by the hon. Gentleman that, had she been 60, she could easily have obtained admission. This is not so. The instructions now are: Near relatives (i.e., grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles) who are no longer of working age may be admitted if relatives here are able and willing to support them and if (a) they have long formed part of a family unit whose other members are in the United Kingdom"— that does not apply here— or (b) they are in need of care and attention and have no relatives in their own countries to whom to turn. It is true—and this was pointed out by Mrs. Thomas in her approach—that her aunt would have been better off in this country than in Mauritius where she may not have been able to find work. There is nothing exceptional in that and it is not in itself sufficient cause for us to waive the rules. It is true of the vast majority of those who wish to come here that they would be better off by coming to Britain. This is why they want to come and it is their main reason for applying to come.

In January, Mrs. Thomas wrote again to the entry certificate officer saying that she wanted to employ her aunt to look after her children and would both house and pay her for her services. Mrs. Thomas, who is a part-time teacher and will be taking this course, was then employing a child minder who was expected to leave her shortly and in replacement should would have preferred her aunt to a stranger.

However, during the following month Mrs. Perrine made a second request for an entry certificate in Mauritius, and on this occasion she declared that she wanted it so as to be able to spend a fortnight with her niece here before going on to spend a month's holiday in France. This time the, entry certificate officer referred her application to the Home Office for a decision. In view of what had gone before, we thought it probable that Mrs. Perrine still intended to settle here and that it would not be realistic to regard her as no more than a visitor. Therefore, she was again refused an entry certificate.

Following on this, Mrs. Thomas approached the Home Office direct seeking permission to bring over her aunt to work for her as a mother's help for a period of two years so that she could take this teacher's training course. This was the third request for the admission of Mrs. Perrine and the grounds for seeking entry varied substantially on each occasion. In saying this I draw no inference concerning the genuine nature of the appeal that was made or the genuine nature of the appeal made by the hon. Gentleman himself.

I have given the House a brief account of the way in which we limit the number of workers entering the United Kingdom from the Commonwealth. What was now contemplated for Mrs. Perrine was employment of a type for which a Ministry of Labour voucher is ordinarily required. We had, therefore, to tell Mrs. Thomas that her aunt could only be admitted for the purpose she had in mind if a voucher was first obtained.

There is no provision for admitting people for employment for a particular period of time. In any case, the only powers available to the Home Secretary for enforcing a timed period of entry—for example, for a holiday as a visitor—is deportation. There is no provision for accepting guarantees, as suggested by the hon. Gentleman. Were there such provision, it would be extremely difficult for us, for entry certificate officers, immigration officers or my right hon. Friend himself to decide, as between one offer of a guarantee and another, what could be accepted, and the guarantee is not enforceable.

The argument has been advanced that Mrs. Perrine's presence here, by allowing her niece to pursue her training, would be of benefit to the community because she would be able to take her course and return as a teacher. I certainly see the force of the argument, but it does not follow that in the absence of the aunt's presence Mrs. Thomas would not be able to take her course. I hope that she will be able to take her course and I congratulate her on gaining entry.

As the hon. Gentleman said, she has before employed a child minder and there is no reason to suppose she would not be able to do so again. The suggestion was made that she might obtain an au pair girl. I have in my own family an excellent and helpful au pair girl. This is a readily available system of which she could take advantage. However, I understand the force of the other side of the argument.

Mr. Grant

Whatever one may think of au pair girls, members of one's own family are obviously better.

Mr. Ennals

I fully see the second part of the argument, that Mrs. Thomas would prefer to have a relative here, but this is not unique. There are many other Commonwealth citizens living here who could make an equally strong, or even stronger, case for bringing relatives from abroad to help in looking after their families. I personally have had to deal with many such cases.

We could hardly accede to the request on behalf of Mrs. Perrine without according to many others the same privilege. This is really the nub of the problem. We are not just dealing with an individual case, however genuine it may be. To accept the arguments put forward by the hon. Gentleman would be to create virtually a new category of immigrant outside the agreed terms of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act. If this application were to be granted and we were to be fair to other applicants, there would be an enormous number of people in this country, with relatives abroad and whom they would like to have here to look after their children, who would apply to come.

It is, therefore, not just a question of this worthy case alone, because I agree with the hon. Gentleman that her presence would be helpful. The fact is that we must maintain control over the immigration of Commonwealth citizens. This means that a great many admirable people—and I am certain Mrs. Perrine is one—who would like to come here must wait their turn or not be able to come. This is inevitable when one has immigration control. I am very sorry that Mrs. Thomas's aunt should be among those affected by our control, but I can see no compassionate circumstances or any other special considerations which would warrant my granting her a dispensation from the normal requirements of the control.

The debate have been concluded, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER suspended the Sitting until half-past Two o'clock, pursuant to Order.

Sitting resumed at 2.30 p.m.