HC Deb 20 December 1973 vol 866 cc1611-3

Mrs. Hart (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will delay the threatened immediate deportation of seven Chilean refugees until firm offers of university places can be made to them.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. Carr)

These seven people did not present themselves as refugees or students but as visitors arriving from France. They expressed a wish to stay here for a month or two. In subsequent examination by the immigration officers they were specifically asked whether they sought asylum and they said that they did not.

They were, therefore, properly considered under the Immigration Rules relating to visitors and under these rules were in my view properly refused permission to enter.

Under our Immigration Rules visitors who present themselves at our ports without any entry clearance and are refused entry have no right to remain in this country in order to appeal but do have a right of appeal exercisable from abroad after their departure.

In accordance with usual practice, I shall not enforce their departure until I have carefully considered the representations which I have received from the right hon. Lady and other hon. Members; but I think I should tell the House that in my view the normal Immigration Rules must prevail with these seven people as with everyone else.

Mrs. Hart

I am grateful for the Home Secretary's assurance that he will give further time to consider this matter. I appreciate that these people arriving from Chile present difficulties in terms of our normal Immigration Rules. Does the right hon. Gentleman fully appreciate that people arriving from Chile present themselves on our shores in effect as refugees?

The seven who came were all academics, graduates who had been working as civil servants in ministries under the Allende Government. When they arrived they had no contacts and the question of transferring them from visitor status to the status of people with places in universities—[Interruption.] If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Government benches do not care about the fate of people who are being persecuted in Chile, the least they can do is to keep quiet.

I appreciate the problem of the Immigration Rules in this case, but I ask the Home Secretary whether, in terms of the assurance that was given to some of us by the Foreign Secretary and by himself a little later, special consideration may be given to people arriving from Chile? Could it be made normal practice, when people arrive from Chile seeking visitors' visas, for a little more time to be given and for consultation to be undertaken directly with those who know the immediate details about them before a final decision is made? That would be of great assistance.

Mr. Carr

First, two weeks of very careful consideration at ministerial level were given to this case. Secondly, these people arrived not from Chile but from France. They did not arrive from Chile where they were being persecuted. They had got away from where they were possibly being persecuted, they had got to France, and they arrived here from France. We specifically took the trouble to ask them—not in a moment of hurry or turmoil—whether they wished to be considered as refugees. They specifically said that they did not.

Mr. Wilkinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many genuine applicants for entry into the United Kingdom who have a right to come to the United Kingdom are delayed in coming to this country because of bogus applications? My right hon. Friend and other hon. Members in the House who have experience of immigration matters will be aware of this fact. Therefore, does the Home Secretary agree that the House and the country will take note of the fact that the right hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) and her colleagues are prepared to advocate the bending of the rules in cases which suit their own particular interests?

Mr. Carr

My concern is to apply the rules in a fair, firm, but compassionate manner to all people, from wherever they come. In one or two cases I have already taken account of compassionate circumstances. Before ministerial decision was made in this case—and I emphasise that the final decision was taken at ministerial level—particular inquiries were made to see whether there were any special compassionate circumstances. Only the previous day I had found a case from one part of Chile where there were special compassionate circumstances, and I took a different decision. But the seven people to whom the right hon. Lady referred did not come from Chile; they did not claim to be refugees; and there were no compassionate circumstances.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Will the Home Secretary repudiate those of his Conservative colleagues who urge that no civilised treatment should be afforded to those who come from Chile because they happen to have been associated with the Allende régime? Secondly, will he give the House an assurance that no representations were made to his Department by the Chilean Ambassador urging the Government not to allow these people into the country? Finally, can he say to which country these people will be returned, if he decides to take such a course?

Mr. Carr

If I may take the last point first, I must tell the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) that no representations were received by the present Chilean Ambassador on the lines the hon. Gentleman suggests. These people presumably will go back to France, from where they came. As for the hon. Gentleman's first point, if and when I hear such suggestions from any quarter of the House I shall deny them. I have not yet heard such suggestions.