HC Deb 01 March 1973 vol 851 cc1693-5
21. Mr. Montgomery

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to amend the Immigration Act 1971 so that the time in which the police can prosecute any immigrants who have come to the United Kingdom as visitors and have overstayed their landing conditions is no longer restricted.

Mr. Lane

No, Sir. Prosecution for overstaying is already the subject of an extended time limit under Section 24(3) of the Immigration Act 1971.

Mr. Montgomery

Is my hon. Friend aware that certain members of the police force who deal with this aspect seem to think that the 1971 Act implies that those immigrants who come here as visitors and overstay their term are secure provided they remain safe from arrest for three years, and that people coming on certain conditions for employment are clear provided they manage to stay away from the police for six months? Before 1971 the offence was a continuing one. Could not the position be made clear to the police?

Mr. Lane

There should be no misunderstanding. The position is not as my hon. Friend has stated it. I should like to discuss further with him any misunderstandings that there may be. I hope that he saw reports of the court case the other day which confirmed that we now have powers to prosecute after years and not months, as has been the case.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider the matter? The case to which he referred suggests that a man can be deported at any time, with no time limit, whereas Section 28 of the Act says that the time limit should be three years. That time limit was inserted specifically as a safeguard against blackmail. If the Act allows a man to be deported at any time, a real threat of blackmail persists.

Mr. Lane

I shall re-examine the matter, but I am sure that we were right to take stronger powers, and we shall not hesitate to use them.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Is it not a fact that the amount of evasion through the route mentioned in the Question is enormous, and that the number of visitors and students who are given permission to stay on is so great that immigration control, from those two factors, is virtually stultified?

Mr. Lane

I do not accept that. There is a problem; many people are trying to get round the regulations. But day by day, and week by week, cases are found and brought to the courts, and those who have been guilty of evasion are being deported.