HC Deb 28 February 1968 vol 759 cc1653-62
Mr. Mapp

I beg to move Amendment No. 45, in page 5, line 34, leave out ' twenty-eight ' and insert ' ninety '.

The Temporary Chairman

With this Amendment, we can discuss also the similar Amendment, No. 42, in Clause 3, page 5, line 12.

Mr. Mapp

I was inclined to raise a point of order on your decision, Mr. Brewis, to take the two Amendments together, Amendment No. 42 proposes the same thing in connection with Clause 3. which the Committee has just approved. I hope that I will not be ruled out on a technicality, because the one Amendment is consistent with the other.

Hitherto we have been told that if a person has been able to conceal himself sucessfully for 24 hours, having landed illegally and avoided the regulations, he is free to remain here. The Bill seeks to widen that period to 28 days, for obvious reasons. The Amendment seeks to widen the period of 28 days to 90 days.

On Second Reading, in answer to an intervention by me, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said: I have not had representations particularly from police forces in the North of England, but I have had representations on this matter and I should be willing to consider it again in Committee. Whether it should be 28 or 56 days is a matter of opinion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 1245.] The question arose again later in the speech of the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling). He said: The 24-hour rule is to be extended to 28 days. Why limit it to 28 days? If people are coming in illegally, why give them a run of 28 days?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 1351.] The Under-Secretary of State said: There has been some question whether it is right: to make the extension from 24 hours to 28 days, and this is the point which my right hon. Friend would like to consider in Committee—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 1353.] We have now reached that stage.

I wish to deal with the point which has been in my mind throughout. Today I have made inquiries of the Police Federation. I should have liked to consult the association of chief constables, but I was not able to do so. However, having read to the Secretary of the Police Federation the extract which I have read to the Committee, I am unable to quote what he said. He pointed out that he was not shielded by any collective decision of his body, because this legislation was an emergency and no time was available. But he wondered why there should be any time limit at all. We must respect his judgment and opinion. I said, "May I say more or less that?", and he stated, "Yes, that would be my personal opinion". I respect that view, and I believe from my experience as a magistrate over some years that it is right.

However, my Amendment does not say that. It seeks to be a little more practical. I am not aware of any legislation. except legislation covering mental conditions, in which are written very narrow periods for enforcement outside which people cannot commit an offence. That is what we are providing in the Bill. A person who amounts to a criminal, having succeeded for the time being in obtaining entry to the country without going through the processes which the House of Commons lays down, is outside the control.

4.15 a.m.

I want in particular to make a point which the Committee should really bear in mind. For up to 24 hours the immigrants, in the main, are in the area of the point of arrival—at the airport or on the coast of South-East England. That means that enforcement is within the hands of the immigration people. I have discussed this with my own Chief Constable of Oldham. I imagine that other hon. Members have discussed it with theirs. I am not without some contacts in that range in Lancashire. They have intimate knowledge of what happens, and when I put this point to them they said, quite frankly, that it would be very difficult for them if they had laid upon them the obligation to seek out, find and establish and make a charge, or, at any rate, bring to justice people who have illegally entered. The time span is quite insufficient for them to perform that duty. That being the case, enforcement is likely to be lacking in effectiveness.

I want to relate what has happened in my own area over the last few weeks. I have quite a large number of coloured people, particularly from India, especially from Pakistan. Recently there was in the newspaper some news about something which had happened at Dover. Within a few days of that I got inquiries from people who had lost their passports. The first two or three I regarded, as most hon. Members would, as quite sincere and genuine, but when the number grew I began to suspect things. The fact is that there are many lost passports. What has happened to them I should not like to assert here, but I do know that most people of this kind would hang on to their passports probably more than I would to mine.

I am a little knowledgeable about the movement of this kind of person and I have had discussions with people who have the job of enforcement and who are very knowledgeable about the movement of this kind of person. The average immigrant is in one way or another sheltered at first in London for a few days, and then, having got so far with his contacts, he is taken by them on the next journey, probably to Bradford. Having got that far he is then able to get accommodation through the associations which there are in Lancashire and Yorkshire towns, and he finds himself accommodated in one of them. By this time, three or four weeks have elapsed since his arrival. The police are alerted to such conditions.

I put it to the Home Secretary as fairly as I can. The police, in their inquiries, have to ask a lot of social and governmental local agencies. I need not go into them. I think most hon. Members can think what they are.

A remarkable thing came to my know- ledge, and most hon. Members will probably know nothing about this, and have probably never thought of it hitherto. Those of us who are used to one colour quickly recognise faces, but the police have considerable difficulty in identifying the faces of, and in being able to be certain about, particular people from some parts of Asia. That is a very big obstacle to their being able to prosecute with effectiveness and assurance.

Having got information from one or another of the agencies the police may visit a person, and immediately there is a disappearance overnight—from Lancashire to Yorkshire, or Yorkshire to Lancashire, as the case may be. There are about 500 or 600 people moving over the hills between the two counties. I am not saying they are illegal immigrants, but they are largely mobile. It is because of this that I ask the Committee to approve the principle here.

I have mentioned the difficulties of the police, and I have touched lightly on the way in which people tend to disappear as soon as inquiries are made. Frequently they find, when they succeed in questioning a person whom they suspect of entering the country illegally, that his passport has been lost. There are good reasons now why such people are seeking to obtain copies. I have had 10 or a dozen cases brought to my notice in the last few weeks, and I began to suspect the real reason when I heard about the third case.

Questioning by the police must, of necessity, be spread over some little time. All too often, if the police question a person, overnight there is a disappearance, and he nips over into Yorkshire or, if necessary, comes back to London. With all the good will in the world on their part, a period of 28 days is not enough time for the enforcement authorities to pursue and bring to justice those who have entered the country illegally.

The Bill speaks of 28 days from a certain event, but, once these people have got away from their point of arrival, the date of their arrival is uncertain to a provincial policeman. If the police are working against a legal limitation of 28 days, one wonders how far they will be encouraged to bring a case to a conclusion. It will not help the police to succeed in their enforcement duties.

The issue is a simple one, and I shall be interested to hear what the Home Secretary has to say. I am aware of the flexibility of his mind, and I hope that what I have said will persuade him to extend the period to 90 days. The police in Lancashire tell me that the 24 hours did not matter to them. They never had cases to deal with, because there were no points of arrival in their areas. However, before 28 days have elapsed, illegal immigrants will have come to their areas, and, from now on, they will be dealing with cases. If they are to have a reasonable chance of success in carrying out the legislation which is imposed upon them, they should have a reasonable time in which to do it.

Mr. Callaghan

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) has great experience in these matters and obviously has done a good deal of research, in the course of which he has consulted a great many people.

I think that there was general agreement in the House when this matter was raised that the period of 24 hours during which a Commonwealth citizen could be required to submit to examination by an immigration officer was far too short.

It was for this reason that, on considering the matter, I inserted the period of 28 days into the Bill. Now there is a proposal to extend my powers even further, and as I am not omnivorous for power I am going to indicate, with respect, that I do not wish to have this extension but prefer to keep to 28 days.

There are good reasons why this should be so. I indicated on Second Reading that I thought it would not be right for the police to act on their own in any period after seven days. There is a case for them to act as it were in hot pursuit, for saying that they can deal with a man who has sand on his boots—not snow, but sand in this case—and one can say clearly from the evidence, provided the man is not a university student, that he has just landed.

There is a sort of case one would be able to deal with summarily, but I have, as I indicated to the House, given instructions, or shall do when this becomes law, that no case of a Commonwealth immigrant who has been here for longer than seven days, or is believed to have been here longer than seven days, should be dealt with summarily except with reference to myself.

Although I have absolute confidence in the police, I think in a matter of this sort, where so many questions can arise as the trail becomes more dead the longer a man has been here, police action should begin to fade out and other action should begin to take over.

I promised my hon. Friend, who spoke to me about this, to consider whether I should extend the period from 28 days, during which I would preserve to myself more executive action—assuming it were 56 or 90 days—in which I could reach a conclusion on a matter.

However, when I went into it again it seemed to me that this was unnecessary, because after 28 days I can fade out of the picture in one sense, and the matter goes to the courts. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend fully understood this. The man concerned is not entirely free of obligation if he has escaped examination for 28 days. During the next five months he may be brought before a magistrates' court and charged with the offence of not submitting himself to examination by an immigration officer. A recommendation for a deportation order may then be made by the magistrate, which I would then consider and say to it either "Yes" or "No".

I can think of a number of domestic circumstances where, even though a man had entered illegally in the first place, the effluxion of time before he was brought to court might lead me to conclude that on balance more injustice might be done by sending him back than by allowing him to remain. I am not saying I would adopt this as a general rule, but I should want to consider these matters.

To sum up, there are three phases: what I would call hot pursuit, where the police literally see the man within a day or two or immediately he lands, and it is quite clear he has not submitted himself to examination. After that, seven days to 28 days during which I reserve to myself the right to take the decision, where the case has been clearly established that he has illegally landed. Thirdly, after 28 days the courts would take over, and I would expect the case to have to be proved in the courts before a deportation order could be made. That period would last for up to six months.

Although I recognise my hon. Friend's motives, and that he is trying as it were to help me to deal with illegal immigrants, I hope that at least in this matter I shall be on the side of the angels by saying I prefer not to have an extension of time but would prefer it to be dealt with in this way wherever possible.

I am satisfied that, where it is so dealt with, the courts will handle the matter properly. I can then consider the position, when they have made their recommendation. Justice would be done then between the man who has illegally landed and the man who has tried to come in through the normal provisions but has failed.

I hope that with that explanation, particularly in view of the fact that the illegal immigrant does not wholly escape after 28 days and that there are provisions for examining him, my hon. Friend will agree to withdraw the Amendment.

4.30 a.m.

Mr. Gurden

The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) said, and I can confirm this having spoken to members of the police force, that the police are not satisfied with this provision. Has the right hon. Gentleman had any advice from the police that they agree that this is sufficient time? All the evidence that I have had shows that it is not. The police think that they need longer to deal with this problem.

Mr. Callaghan

I have not been told this by the police authorities. It may be that there are individual policemen who would like more time in which to be able to send a man back to his country without recourse to the courts, but this is a matter for Parliament to decide. Although the police may think that they would like a longer period in which to do this, I submit that it is our job to decide what the period of time should be. This will not prevent them from conducting their investigations and bringing a man before a magistrates' court, and that, I think, after a period of 28 days, is the proper way to do it.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

I do not think my right hon. Friend will thank me—or perhaps he might—if I suggest that he is being naive or ingenuous when he uses phrases like "sand on his boots" and "you can tell from their clothes whether they have only just arrived". This may be true of some poor souls who are ferried across the Channel to the South-East or South of England, but there are many other ways of getting into the country.

It is surprising how hon. Members acquire information which they do not seek. There is growing up throughout the country a small but expensive underground trail for people who pay for passages to this country. If the immunity did not automatically cease, or appear to do so, after 28 days, the payment for using this underground trail would be raised considerably. They would have to pay considerably more if it was necessary to hide them for three months before they could come to the notice of employment exchanges, National Insurances offices, and other above ground organisations.

The police have more than eough to do without worrying what happens to these people after 28 days. They lose interest in looking for them. We are not trying to overload my right hon. Friend with advice. We are not trying to prevent more people coming here than have arrived already, but those who come here by this underground route are taking the place of people who have a better right to come in in the normal way in the queue. If we can deter them, and save some people from undertaking this exercise, which is not always successful, we will achieve something. An assurance was given yesterday that my right hon. Friend would look again at this period of 28 days. That is what we are asking him to do tonight.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

After what the right hon. Gentleman has so courteously said, I hesitate to trouble him again, but I cannot see why there has to be a time limit at all. I think that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) made out a strong case. Anybody who comes to this country illegally should be brought to book, whenever the case comes to light. After all, if someone commits an offence he has to pay for it if he is caught, whatever period of time may elapse between the commission of the offence and his being caught.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the difficulty which the police have in identifying some Asians and Africans. I can confirm that this is a real difficulty, especially among some of the county police forces. There was a vivid illustration of this in my constituency not long age when three Pakistanis were seen in a motor car which was involved in an accident. Although they were seen by a number of people, when the three men were paraded later, no one was able to identify the driver of the vehicle, simply because it was impossible to pick out one from the other.

I support what the hon. Member for Oldham, East said. I cannot see why there has to be any time limit, but if there has to be I suggest that the Amendment should be adopted and that the time limit should be 90 days.

Mr. Callaghan

We are not discussing the question whether there should be any limit or no limit; we are discussing the question whether there should be a limit of 90 days in which the police can act. I am saying that it should be 28 days, after which the courts take over. I still think that that is right. From what my hon. Friend said, it appears that some policemen and some of the underground smuggling organisations are under a delusion about the position. I hope that I have made it clear—perhaps this debate will make it clear, if it is reported—that a man is not free from control after 28 days. He can still be brought before a magistrates' court—indeed, he will commit an offence which up to a period of six months could involve conviction and a recommendation for deportation.

I hope that the police forces will understand their liabilities. The only difference that this Act will make is that the police will have a period of 28 days in which to act on their own.

Mr. Gurden

Will the right hon. Gentleman see that that information is given to the police, because there is some misunderstanding on this point?

Mr. Mapp

I am not hostile to my right hon. Friend; nor do I reject his reply. I have some little knowledge of court work—on the right side of the bench—and I want again to refer to what the Home Secretary said about the police. I still feel that the police will think that the operative period in which they can enforce the law is 28 days. It is up to my right hon. Friend to put this right. The advice of the chief constables does not seem to be the same as that which the Home Secretary has given. However, I do not wish to delay the Committee.

The words of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) are pregnant with meaning; it may appear to the police that their powers will cease on the 28th day. If that is so, what we are doing now will be of little avail to deal with people who enter illegally. I hope that that is not the case.

In the light of what my right hon. Friend has said, however, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.