HC Deb 24 July 1973 vol 860 cc1407-10

Mr. Clinton Davis (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement concerning the action he proposes to take relating to 36 illegal immigrants now held in custody.

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

I have considered these 36 cases very carefully and have taken into account the length of time each man has been here; the strength of connection, if any, with this country; personal history, including character, conduct, employment record and the like; domestic circumstances; age and medical condition; any other relevant factor, including compassionate circumstances; and any representations made to me. Having done so, I have decided to allow nine of these men, exceptionally, to remain here. In the case of one other it has been decided that his entry was not illegal. One has already been sent back at his own request, and arrangements will now be made for the others to be returned overseas.

Mr. Davis

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the situation could be eased considerably if he were to follow the example which has been set by the French Government? A limited amnesty would avoid much of the difficulty with which we are now confronted. Is he aware that the French Government have granted a limited amnesty for one year? Further, is he aware that they have done so because they feel that it would he a matter, of compassion to follow that course?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, notwithstanding the instruction which he has given to the police, that it is all too easy for a police officer to say to someone, "I suspect you of being an illegal immigrant", whether or not that belief is well justified? Would not a limited amnesty for this specific class of immigrant solve much of the difficulty which we are bound to have and which is bound to arise in future?

Mr. Carr

The occasions when individual police officers do that sort of thing are, luckily, extremely limited in Britain. It is a risk which any of us run when suspected, rightly or wrongly, by a police officer. It is by no means a risk confined to immigrants. I have noted the action of the French Government. I believe that for many reasons, including scale, the circumstances in France are very different. In any event, the House considered and decisively rejected the question of an amnesty two or three weeks ago.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. How did the last Question come within the orbit of a Private Notice Question? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has tried this before. He is not entitled to ask that. Whether a Question comes within the orbit of a Private Notice Question is entirely a matter for me until the House decides otherwise. I should not mind if it did, but until it does so it is a matter for me.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order. Under the rules of the House Question Time ends at half-past three.

This Question would seem to be an ordinary Question which has been put out of its normal order. I should have thought that the House would like to know how is comes within this category so that hon. Members may make use of this procedure.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Grieve

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the sort of amnesty which he has been invited to introduce by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) would constitute an invitation and an encouragement to the international organisations which are now engaged on a large scale in bringing illegal immigrants to this country?

Mr. Carr

I have already explained to the House why the Government do not believe that it would be right to grant such an amnesty and why it is right to deal with cases in the way in which they are now being dealt with.

Mr. Bidwell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the amount of trafficking in illegal immigration is a tiny proportion of the totality of the problem? Further, is he aware that what he has just announced will go hardly a step towards allaying the natural fears of many citizens of this country who settled here quite legitimately and who are hardworking people? They are fears which are natural in the present climate and the present situation.

The right hon. Gentleman has announced that nine of the 36 immigrants in Pentonville are to remain. Does that mean that in the remaining number there are heads of families? Does it mean that children born in this country who are patrials will also be asked to accompany their parents? The right hon. Gentleman has no legal entitlement to deport such children? Will they be asked to leave with heads of families?

Mr. Carr

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman's assessment of the danger, actual and potential, of traffic in illegal immigration. It is impossible to quantify, but I think that anyone with experience in this area knows of the danger. The actual danger isa real one and if we did not deal with the matter firmly the potential danger would be even greater.

It is important not to arouse needless fears. I am sure that that would not be the wish of the hon. Gentleman, having regard to the constituency which he represents. Perhaps it was of some value that he should have raised the matter so that some of the fears implicit in his question could be dealt with.

It may interest the hon. Gentleman, his constituents and the House to know that of the 36 immigrants, only two had wives in this country. The other 34 were either unmarried or, in most cases, married but with their wives and children overseas and not in this country. There is no question of removing families. Of the two with a wife in this country, I am granting one person with a wife and family the right to stay. The other was married for precisely one day and his wife had already started divorce action against him.