HC Deb 01 May 1969 vol 782 cc1630-6

3.52 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)

I will, with permission, make a statement on entry certificates for immigrants.

The Government have been concerned with the situation that arises from the prolonged examination at London Airport and other places of arrival of the dependants of Commonwealth citizens whose credentials for settlement in this country need detailed investigation, sometimes spread over several days.

We have decided that it would be more humane and lead to improved efficiency it those with claims to settle here have their cases scrutinised and decided before they set out on their journey. The effect will be that Commonwealth dependants who satisfy the requirements will be issued before they leave their own country with an entry certificate by the British representative overseas. They will be admitted here only if they have such a certificate.

The requirement will apply to wives and children up to 16 who have statutory rights of entry, but by instructions to immigration officers the entry certificates will also be necessary for dependants, chiefly older children and parents, who have no statutory right of entry.

The Government propose to make similar changes in the admission of alien dependants for settlement so far as the arrangements about visa abolition permit this to be done.

Possession of an entry certificate will not be a requirement for those Commonwealth citizens coming for a temporary period, nor will it be a requirement for people other than dependants, such as visitors, including business visitors.

The Government accordingly propose a new Clause for inclusion in the Immigration Appeals Bill, which is due for the Committee stage in another place on Tuesday. The new provision, if approved by Parliament, will take effect when the Bill is given Royal Assent.

It is important that there should be a right of appeal in cases of refusals to grant an entry certificate for settlement as a dependant, and so from the same date appeal arrangements will be made. These will enable Commonwealth dependants to appeal if they are refused an entry certificate for settlement, or if having been granted a certificate they are refused entry.

I propose to introduce this at once notwithstanding that the appeal system provided for in the Immigration Appeals Bill cannot be brought into effect until later. This change does not of itself reduce the number of Commonwealth immigrants, nor are any rights of entry taken away. The change is in substance an administrative one.

Mr. Hogg

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having given me in advance a copy of his statement.

Does he recall that for the last two-and-a-half years this reform has been consistently advocated from these benches on precisely the ground which he has now accepted, and that it has been as consistently rejected by the Government as being administratively impossible?

In congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on having changed his mind, may I ask him to undertake that other prudent and constructive suggestions which we make from time to time will be adopted more rapidly?

Mr. Callaghan

I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's support, but I am surprised at the line he has taken. He will appreciate that it is easy for the Opposition to make suggestions but that the Government must carry out the negotiations, consultations and discussions as well as propose changes in the law. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is going to be fair about this—he has not been so far—he will recall that I have never resisted this proposal. I have said that it needed careful administrative examination and a great deal of consultation. That has been carried out.

Another proposal was made, but it has not been taken up. The Select Committee on Race Relations should, it was proposed, examine the matter However, the Committee felt that there were other, more urgent, tasks for it to do and decided not to take the matter up. It seemed to me, as we had concluded our discussions, that we should bring the proposal forward. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if he has any sensible suggestions to make he will always find me open-minded and ready to accept them.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that we have three statements ahead. It will, therefore, be impossible for me to call every would-be questioner. Mr. Grimond.

Mr. Grimond

While welcoming the right hon. Gentleman's proposal, may I ask him to clear up two points? First, as drafted, his statement seems to say that would-be immigrants, even though they have a statutory right of entry and a certificate, may be refused admission. Does this mean that the statutory right of entry as it now exists is to be removed and replaced by a certificate? If not, the statement seems self-contradictory in saying that there is a statutory right, but, nevertheless, the possibility of refusal.

Secondly, on the appeal arrangements, am I right in thinking that they will occur in the country of origin? Apparently it will be open to somebody to appeal if either a certificate or admission has been refused. Will this appeal be taken in the country of origin and, if so, how will this occur?

Mr. Callaghan

The answer to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question is that the statutory right remains unaltered. In addition, it will be necessary to have a certificate showing that that statutory right has been examined and is accepted. That is the only change in the procedure. This change is being made because it will render the scenes at London Airport nugatory.

To answer the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, the intention is to follow the present procedure laid down in the Immigration Appeals Bill, which has been agreed, at any rate by this House. This will mean that the person who is refused an entry certificate in his country of origin will be advised, by the person who refuses, of his right of appeal and will be given every assistance in the matter. Then the appeal itself will be considered by adjudicators who will have been appointed under the Immigration Appeals Bill in this country. Later, it might be necessary to reconsider these arrangements; but so far I think that it is fair to say that they are likely to work satisfactorily.

Miss Lestor

If my right hon. Friend's proposals will do anything to remove the inhuman practices and indignities that have taken place at London Airport during the last few years—they have been discussed at length in the House—they will do nothing but good, and for this reason I welcome them.

Concerning the appeals machinery, am I right in saying that one of the difficulties of putting entry certificates on a voluntary basis from the point of view of, say, Pakistan, has been the difficulty of communication, in addition to the difficulty of arranging adequate facilities in that country for this purpose? Would my right hon. Friend explain how appeals machinery of this type will be established in such a country to ensure that those who are refused certificates have adequate means of appeal? May we be sure that the issuing of entry certificates will be easier than has been the case in the past?

Mr. Callaghan

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for her remarks. I believe that what I have proposed will receive a general welcome from all those who are concerned with the improvement of race relations in this country. I deduce this to be so from the consultations that I have already had.

My hon. Friend will understand, on the question of appeals, that I have this afternoon only given notice of what is to happen. I suggest that it would be better to wait until we can debate the whole issue when the necessary Amendment is tabled to the Bill; and the matter will, of course, be considered in due course by the House.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Would my right hon. Friend say what will be the practical effect of establishing appeals machinery in other countries in which, in addition to the appeals machinery in this country, we are setting up an advisory committee which will be able to befriend, aid and advise the immigrant who has been refused entry? If that advisory committee is not established in a Commonwealth country, then surely there will be a practical distinction between the present position and the new one.

Mr. Callaghan

The practical distinction will be that a number of would-be immigrants will be able to establish their right to come here in conditions in which they have not sold their homes and businesses and are not waiting in a long queue at London Airport before a harassed immigration officer. They will be able to settle all these matters, which are matters of fact, and to prove their cases before embarking on their journey. The appeals machinery is clearly subsidiary to the more important change that I have outlined.

On the question of the appeals machinery itself, I am not proposing that an appeal should be heard overseas any more than existing appeals will be heard overseas under the Immigration Appeals Bill. The procedure will be the same for entry certificate holders as that proposed, and accepted by the House, in the Immigration Appeals Bill.

Mr. Deedes

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this welcome change will require efficient administration in the countries of origin? Is he satisfied that we can give the British High Commissions the staff they need to carry this out competently?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Ginsburg

Is the Home Secretary aware that those of us, like myself, who have had to deal with some of these difficult cases, welcome his statement? It is surely inhumane that people should have to travel long distances and then be turned back at the point of entry, and perhaps even more inhumane that the Home Secretary is at the moment in a position of having to act as gaoler in some of these cases.

Mr. Callaghan

I agree. I think that immigration officers, who must be considered in these matters, have a great and difficult task laid upon them. If we can relieve the strain in this way, I hope that the House will support the change I propose.

Mr. Scott

The Home Secretary appeared to imply in his statement that an immigrant with an automatic and statutory right of entry and a certificate might still be refused entry. If so, in what circumstances would that happen?

Mr. Callaghan

If the entry certificate were genuine there would be no challenge. If it were not thought to be genuine, there could be a challenge. It was for that reason that I introduced the qualification.

Mr. Rose

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will meet with generous applause on this side of the House if it is to result in avoiding the harrowing cases of people being sent back to their country of origin? Will he inform hon. Members opposite that this practice has been applied successfully in the West Indies? There is one problem outstanding, the possible delay in appeals because of distance. Will my right hon. Friend keep a very close watch on this?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that the entry certificate procedure is working very satisfactorily on a voluntary basis in the West Indies. So far as West Indians are concerned, there is no practical change in what is proposed. We are very conscious of the time question. Sometimes it has been for a matter of weeks that we have had to detain young people in quite unsuitable accommodation here while determining their cases. It will be better if we can deal with them while they are still in their own homes.