HC Deb 11 April 1973 vol 854 cc1316-9
21. Mr. Kaufman

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will cause an examination to be made of arrangements in Her Majesty's Embassy in Islamabad to interview potential dependants wishing to join immigrants in this country in view of the long waiting time for such interviews.

25. Mr. Douglas-Mann

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what are, respectively, the shortest, longest and average periods taken to process application for entry certificates by wives or other dependants of British subjects to the immigration department of the embassy in Islamabad.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Kershaw)

For some time the inflow of new applications has greatly exceeded the rate at which potential dependants can be interviewed. Consequently there is a substantial waiting period. The embassy is currently reviewing its arrangements for handling applications.

As the information requested is rather long I will, with permission, circulate details in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Kaufman

I very much appreciate and acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's attitude towards this problem. Does not he agree that waiting periods of up to seven months for the undisputed dependants of people living in this country to be interviewed involve heartbreaking separation of husbands from wives and parents from children? Will he, therefore, take a very close look at the arrangements at Islamabad, including, if necessary, supplying further staff there in order that the waiting periods can be cut down as quickly and as effectively as possible?

Mr. Kershaw

We examined the position last year, and a joint mission from the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office went out to make changes, which have been implemented. This is by far the largest post we have for interviewing people who want to settle here. We have 46 officers engaged entirely on this business, and there is a limit to what we can do.

Mr. Fowler

Does not my hon. Friend agree with some of us who have visited the department there that there is another side to the question put by the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman)? Is it not the case that these delays are caused basically by the pressure of illegal or would-be illegal immigrants wanting to come here, and that it is that pressure which is causing the potential breakdown of the whole system there?

Mr. Kershaw

It is unfortunately true that a fairly high proportion of the applications are bogus. That means that all applications have to be looked at very carefully. That is the duty laid upon the officers by this House and it is being done.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that a period of seven months' delay—which he has not disputed, and the fact of which is unchallengeable—would be regarded as intolerable for indigenous British citizens who were making application? Does not he also agree that delays of this kind, in these circumstances, suggest a discrimination in treatment which is very bad for race relations in this country?

Mr. Kershaw

I deny that there is any discrimination. I emphasise that the delays take place only in the case of people who want to come here to settle. Visitors and others—who total more than double the number of those who want to come here to settle—get their applications granted at once over the counter.

Mr. Wilkinson

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government must match expedition with closeness of scrutiny, and that the officers of the department work very hard for very long hours to carry out their difficult duties thoroughly? Will he remember that the immigration section of our embassy there may be the only department that Pakistanis see, and that therefore the job must continue to be done well?

Mr. Kershaw

It is true that we must do the job properly, because the House has said that we must make sure that those who seek to come here have a right to do so. A high proportion of applicants have no right to come, so we must look at all the applications. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the way in which the officers work long hours under very difficult conditions.

Dr. Miller

Will the Minister confer with the Home Secretary on the matter, to ensure that sympathetic consideration is given to these cases? Will he also ensure that the statement he made a few moments ago is correct, and that intending visitors are accorded the right to come to see their relatives in this country? I have evidence that that is not so.

Mr. Kershaw

I shall be glad to examine any evidence that the hon. Gentleman has. He talks about sympathetic consideration. I hope that we are sympathetic, and well-mannered, but we have a duty to find out whether applicants are dependants.

Following is the information: At present the shortest, longest and average periods taken to process applications for entry certificates from persons applying as dependents of United Kingdom nationals settled in this country, inclusive of the time required, where necessary, to make references to the Home Office and for the hearing and ordering of appeals against the refusal to grant entry certificates, are 8 months. 4 years and approximately 2 years respectively.
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