HC Deb 21 June 1974 vol 875 cc879-941

Order for Second Reading read.

12.33 p.m.

Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I begin by expressing some surprise that, as I understand it, my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for immigration is likely to be intervening, I am sure helpfully, in the debate. The principle of the Bill has nothing whatever to do with immigration. It seeks to provide equal status in citizenship for men and women. Since it is a Bill about sex it is, I feel, highly suitable for the Private Member's Bill procedure. If it had been about immigration it would have been much more complicated.

The purpose of the Bill is clearly set out in the Long Title. It is: To amend the law so that non-British men marrying British women shall have the same rights with regard to settlement and citizenship as non-British women marrying British men Basically the purpose of the Bill is to bring us a little nearer to the end of the traditionally patriarchal society in which a woman is automatically expected to live in the land of her husband as part of his baggage, wherever she may prefer to live or from whatever country she may come. Of course, that is totally illogical, because when the situation is reversed there is no question of a British man not bringing a foreign wife into this country. In fact, the latest figures suggest that about 5,000 foreign women a year come to this country by virtue of marriage. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is an indication, however, of the unfairness of the present situation.

This is not a new measure. This mutual right used to be recognised. This is one of the few areas—it is extraordinary in these days of progress towards women's liberation—in respect of which the clock has been put back. On 30th January 1969, in columns 366 and 367 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, the Home Secretary announced that he was ending the right of husbands, by virtue of marriage, to come into this country from the Commonwealth or other countries overseas. No doubt we understood some of the thinking behind that announcement, but it certainly caused a great deal of distress and hardship. I am aware of many letters from all over the world from British women saying that they have found a total lacuna of advice in many of our consulates, and that it was only when they wanted to come home that they were suddenly informed that they no longer had any right to bring their husbands to live with them in their own country.

I am trying to help the Government and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will realise my good intention. There was an item in the Queen's Speech—and we know that the Government always keep their promises in the Queen's Speech—which said: My Ministers will make proposals for securing equal status for women."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 47.] I can imagine nothing more unequal than forbidding a woman to live in her own country with the spouse of her choice when that right is given to men. I know that the Government may be short of time, and that they will appreciate my assistance in using the luck of the Ballot so that the matter may be considered in Private Members' time. All parties are committed to the ending of discrimination, and I am glad that the sponsors of the Bill come from both sides of the House. Unless we are successful in what we seek we shall be continuing a contradiction of human rights laid down in the United Nations Charter and the European Charter on Human Rights. I appreciate, as did many people, the courageous and difficult decisions which were made by the previous Government about the Ugandan Asians and the further steps taken in compassion and good sense by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I hope that today hon. Members on both sides will wish to remove this remaining anomaly.

I feel sorry for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, because he cannot win however compassionate and however fair he may be. He is bound eventually to be criticised from some directions, and the steps he has taken by amnesty, which included allowing previously illegal immigrants to send for their dependants, have served only to make more angry and more passionate the girls who lived most of their lives in this country and who suddenly found that they could not come home with their husbands. They simply cannot understand the justice or relevance of that.

I produced a modest Bill because the closer I came to the complications of the subject the more I realised that we need a comprehensive and thorough review of the whole law of citizenship, nationality, domicile and settlement. That would be far beyond the scope of a Private Member. This whole issue has been made more urgent and complicated by what I hope will be our temporary membership of the EEC, in which it will be essential for there to be more freedom of movement. That will discriminate against people from outside the EEC.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering some of these anomalies, but I shall not be put off from what I am trying to do, and neither will the other sponsors, by being told that a more comprehensive study must be undertaken. In my view the starting point of such a study must be the establishment of the principle of equal status for husbands and wives, for men and women. We may as well start today.

I had the honour to introduce and take through all its stages in the House a previous British Nationality Act which removed certain disabilities from women married to Commonwealth citizens, and I hope that the success of that Bill will set a happy precedent. But at that time I had more help from the Home Office than I have had for the present Bill.

All hon. Members know the difficulties of private Members in trying to prepare complicated legislation. I am deeply indebted for the help from certain progressive lawyers who have given their time and assistance, but we are without parliamentary draftsmen, and any suggestions, amendments or improvements will be welcomed.

I am also encouraged by another precedent. When my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) sought to bring in a similar Bill in July 1973 his sponsors included my hon. and learned Friend the present Solicitor-General and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, who, I understand, is to reply to this debate. He must be very happy today to have the opportunity of proving that his probity is matched by his consistency.

I am also encouraged to know that the Labour Party's women's conference at Swansea the other weekend sensibly unanimously expressed support for the Bill. In the face of this, I am sure that none of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench would dare seek to interfere with the progress of the Bill.

It would be unfair not to refer to the effect of the Bill on immigration, although I emphasise that it is primarily not a Bill about immigration. If the Government have problems about immigration relating to the numbers of people involved, they must be dealt with by number and not by sex. Here is the heart of the problem. All Governments have wanted to emphasise that immigration restrictions, to be acceptable, must not discriminate on racial grounds, but I say that they should not discriminate on sexual grounds either.

I felt that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary fell rather below his usual standards of accuracy on 28th March when he stated: I believe that there is, too, an element of sex discrimination which is difficult to defend. The fact is that there is not an element of discrimination but a totality of discrimination. My right hon. Friend went on to anticipate that a change in the law would lead to a substantial and continuing new wave of male immigration".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th March 1974; Vol. 871, c. 612.] I must ask—I think all hon. Members have a right to ask—what is the basis for that fear in the first place? I appreciate that in 1968 there had been a steep rise in the number of Asian fiancés and husbands coming into this country, but I have not brought in this measure lightly. I have had long discussions with members of the Indian. Pakistani and other communities in this country, and I can only pass on to the House the advice that I have received, that this trend is declining rapidly and that young women in the Asian communities are increasingly looking for husbands among the communities in this country. I am sure that many of them, possibly born and brought up in this country, will not follow indefinitely the more traditional trend of the original country of their ancestors.

We must also take into account the tact that according to the 1971 census there were 4,170 single women of 16 years and over in the Pakistani community and 23,215 single men in the same age group. In the Indian community there were 20,680 single women of 16 and over and 36,425 single men. Those figures suggest no great need on the part of young women of Asian communities to send across the world for men, whom they may never have seen, to become their husbands. I know that this practice still occurs but I suggest that it is on the decline.

Much thought is being given to this matter by the Ministers responsible and I understand that consultations are being held regarding the possible effects of my Bill. This is bold enterprise for my hon. Friend the Minister of State and his fellow Ministers. We are to a certain extent living in an era of predictions, many of which turn out to be untrue. We appreciate, for instance, how difficult it is for even experienced pollsters to predict accurately the voting intentions of the British public. How bold must be anyone who attempts to forecast the marriage intentions of any section of the community. There are a number of hon. Members who are happily married to women who were not born in this country. The absurdity of taking a survey of those hon. Members when they were aged 16 or 17 regarding their marriage intentions and the possible nationality of their future brides is self-evident.

We are living in a world which is becoming smaller and smaller, and in which people are becoming much more mobile. We encourage young people to go abroad to study, and I have received many letters from people who have done that. I was discussing a problem regarding this recently with a mother who has a son and a daughter—both brilliant children—who got scholarships to American universities, one to Harvard and the other to Yale. The mother told me that she is not concerned that her son may fall in love with an American student and marry her because that would not cause any problem, but if her daughter falls in love and marries an American student the mother has to face the possibility that the daughter and her husband will not be able to come home to this country. That is a real dilemma.

In my enormous mail there have been only a few cases concerned with Asian countries. I am not praying this as supporting an argument for my Bill, because I believe in the brotherhood of man and the sisterhood of women, and I do not care where people come from. But I have been very impressed about the large numbers of women married to Australian, Canadian, Swiss and Swedish men who are not allowed to bring their husbands home to this country. We ought to be encouraging international marriages. It may be one way to increase international understanding as the world get increasingly closer to the scale of a village.

It is difficult to see the extent of the problem with which I am concerned. When I asked how many husbands had been refused the right to come here with their British wives, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, on 5th April, that he could not tell me. If he does not know how many have been refused how does he know how many want to come in? It was an extraordinary answer, because he knew that 2,000 had come in during the past five years.

It would be ungracious of those of us who sponsor the Bill not to thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the other Ministers concerned for the more relaxed and friendly attitude they now have to the rules governing these matters. That is much appreciated, but it destroys the argument if Ministers wish to claim that there is no need to change the law because they are letting everybody in under the present rules. I say, "Why not change the law?"

There is a big difference between having a rule which can be arbitrarily altered at a stroke by a statement, with no debate in the House—as happened in January 1969—and having the rights of such people written into the law of the land. If my hon. Friend thinks that that is good enough for the rules, I say that the principle is good enough for the law and deserves the majesty of the law. It should be codified as a right.

Another problem is caused by leaving the matter to the rules. It creates a great deal of work. Hon. Members are never happy about increases in the numbers of civil servants and bureaucratic procedures. The one-by-one examination of all the cases not only constitutes an enormous amount of bureaucracy and paper work but is unsatisfactory for everyone who is turned down. It is slightly easier to accept refusal when one wants something which it is not within the power of the law to confer. It is totally unacceptable to feel that one's whole future is decided by the capricious decision of a man who might have had a row with his wife the night before or have had a busy day. There is an element of the capricious in all administrative decisions which go against a person.

I do not think that British men need have any inferiority complex. I do not expect a great orgy of marrying foreigners by the women of Britain. Good luck to them if they want to, but why there should be any expectation of an enormous increase in the pattern I do not know.

I understand that there are many difficulties about the Bill, and that because it is complicated it probably has many faults, but all that we hope to do on Second Reading is to establish the principle.

Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady, but I have been pondering something she said. It is important that we should have no misunderstanding about the precise effect of the Bill in relation to the present Act and the present rules. I think that the hon. Lady has got the position slightly wrong. She was arguing that any Home Secretary could alter the practice in this important matter merely by a stroke of the pen, not even by altering the rules which have to come before the House. I believe that that argument is wrong and that the practice to which the hon. Lady and others object, and which the Bill seeks to change, can be altered in either a more or a less liberal direction by a change in the immigration rules, but that any change can be made only with the agreement of the House.

As I understand the position, the Bill is trying to change the basic Act—the Immigration Act 1971. If the hon. Lady succeeded in doing that there would have to be consequential changes to the rules. It is not a point of the greatest substance, but the Minister of State might care to confirm that I have correctly stated the position, in case misunderstandings arise.

Mrs. Jeger

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he, with his experience, knows much more about this complicated subject than I do. But a statement was made by the Home Secretary in January 1969, and I and many women who were concerned understood that it was to take immediate effect. This complicated Bill, which I am commending in principle, lists at the end a number of other Acts that will have to be amended. Nobody appreciates more than I do the complications of the situation.

In fact, the hon. Gentleman has helped me, because he has tried to describe some of the difference between the law and the rules, which I find very confusing to the public—to the ordinary men and women who are involved. That is why I am so anxious for Parliament to take a step today towards altering the law.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon)

I did not wish to interrupt my hon. Friend, because I wanted to try to explain the position in some detail in the course of my speech, but to help her now I would say that there is no difference between a law passed by statute and a law which is delegated legislation, passed in regulations. It is the law, and it must be changed in the proper way. If it is an Act, it must be changed by a new piece of legislation passed through the House, and if it is rules, under the Act it must be changed by new rules which must be laid before the House. In those circumstances, it is the law that immigration officials have to apply; it is not a matter of a capricious afterthought resulting from a bad night. The officials have to apply the law according to the rules laid down by Parliament.

Mrs. Jeger

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but rules are consequential upon laws, and if my hon. Friend is trying to say that both have equal status, all I am saying is that the matter should be codified into the law of our land. I was not trying to suggest any lack of conscientiousness or endeavour on the part of the immigration officers, who have a very difficult job, but it is true that some decisions can seem capricious. The very fact that in recent months more favourable decisions have been given than were being given at this time last year indicates that there is an element of personal decision-taking or of a change in official directives and policy.

One immigration officer told me recently that the whole thing had become a bit of a farcical routine because my hon. Friend was being so generous. and the officers understood, gladly, that they were to adopt a more generous approach. This is very confusing for people who last year were refused but are now encouraged to try again.

I shall not detain the House by giving many examples of the sort of situation which I am trying to remedy. I have a sad letter from two elderly people in Norfolk whose daughter rashly married an American and who now finds that she cannot come home with him. The father wrote: My wife and I are old-age pensioners. We dearly want my daughter, her husband and our two grandchildren to come and live with us. Our home is ready to receive them, and their return to us would bring some happiness to us for the few remaining years of our lives. I have a bitter letter from an English woman married to an American. They were refused permission to come here last year. It was a choice between her country and her husband. The couple are working in the EEC. The wife writes: A final twist to this sordid tale—in precisely two years my husband could become a naturalised German, and then the Home Office could not refuse us entry under the EEC rules. This is a situation of total absurdity.

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

The hon. Lady mentioned an elderly couple in Norfolk. I do not know the name of the couple. I wonder whether they are my constituents. The Government were kind enough to allow into the country an American husband and two children who were relatives of an elderly couple in my constituency. They are now in this country. I do not know whether that is the couple referred to by the hon. Lady.

Mrs. Jeger

The letter which I have is dated 11th June, so I doubt whether it is the same couple. The hon. Gentleman has helped me, because he has pointed out that in Norfolk there are two elderly couples, one of whom could get their American son-in-law and grandchildren into the country and one of whom could not. Could anything be more fatuous? I thank the hon. Gentleman for helping me.

All I am asking the House to do is to give the Bill a Second Reading and accept the principle set out in the Gracious Speech that the Government believe in equal status for men and women. If that creates problems for the Home Office Ministers, they must deal with them, but the House must agree to the principle.

1.1 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon)

I hope that House will forgive me if I speak at this early stage. It might be helpful if the rest of the debate were to take place against the background of the Government's thinking rather than that the matter should be discussed in the absence of a clear statement on where the Government find themselves in relation to this difficult problem.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) for giving us the opportunity at last to debate this issue so that I can make plain the Government's position and the difficulties attendant upon this problem. My hon. Friend began by saying that she was a little surprised to see me, as the Minister responsible for immigration, present to answer the debate. Among my other tasks, I have the duty of dealing with the law of citizenship. Therefore, my presence is appropriate. However, this is a problem not only about the rights of citizenship but about one of the most important rights of citizenship, namely, the right of entry into the country of which a person holds citizenship. Therefore, immigration is a significant matter to be dealt with in relation to this problem.

However, the matter goes further, because, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the problem arose initially from a decision in 1969 to change the immigration rules in a way which prevented a woman who married a man outside this country from having the automatic right to bring him in, whereas a man who married a woman outside this country had the right to bring her in even if he was not a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies and even, since the 1971 Act, if he was not a patrial. In other words, a person could bring in a wife if he was settled here.

Therefore, the question has always been whether it was right that we should have done what we did in 1969. Should we put the clock back to give equality to both sexes under the rules relating either to their rights as patrials or to their rights as people who are settled here? As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South indicated that this is a complex subject and that she found difficulty in distinguishing between the rights under statute and the rights under the rules, perhaps I may be allowed to digress and set out the background.

Under the 1971 Act, anyone who is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies and who is a patrial—that is, a person who was born here, or whose father or paternal grandfather was born here or who acquired citizenship by registration or naturalisation here—would have the automatic right to come into the country. Outside that, people are allowed to come into the country at the discretion of the Home Secretary. But that discretion is exercised either by immigration officers at the ports or through the provision of entry certificates issued by high commissions abroad which can also be vetted by immigration officials.

That discretion is exercised under rules laid before Parliament. The rules are subject to the negative procedure and may come up for discussion. Indeed, they did come up for discussion shortly after the entry of this country into the EEC. They were defeated and had to be taken back. As a matter of personal complaint, may I say that I wish that the rules were more well known by hon. Members who must deal with immigration cases, because there is a tendency to overlook the importance of the procedure when the rules are discussed. On the last occasion, almost the whole of the discussion centred on the question whether Australians should be allowed to come in at London Airport in a particular way. There was practically no discussion about the problems inherent in the immigration rules.

However, the rules, because they are delegated legislation, have the force of law and therefore must be applied save and except that there is still a discretion in the Home Secretary over and above the rules to allow people into this country if he wishes. That discretion has been used to some extent in relation to this problem.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

How far does my hon. Friend think that the Minister is bound by the rule which talks about there being no hardship to the woman going to the land of the man if she enjoys no lower standard of living than is known in that country, which means that she should not object to carrying water jugs on her head? To what extent is the Minister governed by that rule?

Mr. Lyon

If my hon. Friend will wait a moment, I shall deal with that matter.

In 1969, the Home Secretary decided that it would not be right to allow this automatic right to a woman to bring in her husband, or for a male fiancé to come in, and that it was necessary to limit that right. My hon. Friend is correct in saying that on that occasion an announcement was made to the House in the form of a statement and the rules were not changed until later. But they were changed and they came before the House. That happened before the introduction of the appeal procedure into the immigration control system. Therefore, all that the Minister was doing was announcing the way in which his discretion would be exercised.

At that time, the rules were not of great importance. Now they are of considerable importance because they are the basis on which the appeal tribunal and adjudicators decide the cases and on which the immigration officers decide the cases. Therefore, it we were to change the rules, the change would have to be announced to Parliament and would have to come before Parliament in order that the tribunal should apply it.

Mrs. Jeger

This is the nub of the argument. All this machinery of rules that we hear about does not seem to apply to a British man bringing in a foreign wife. It is about that that we complain. We want the rules to be the same.

Mr. Lyon

If my hon. Friend will be patient, I think that I have some helpful news. I said that I wanted to digress to explain the machinery because it was badly understood. My hon. Friend indicated that she was not quite clear about it. That is why I have digressed into this technical point. I shall come to her argument in a moment.

What happened was that in 1969 the Home Secretary decided to change the rules. He indicated that he would expect immigration officers to apply a rather narrower test to women who wanted to bring in men for marriage. The way in which he did it was to say that there was no automatic right but that they would be allowed in if they could show hardship, and the rules set out what was meant by "hardship". Unfortunately, when finally the rules were interpreted by the tribunal, it defined "hardship" in a way which was very restrictive. It defined it in the way indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) by saying that, in effect, it would mean that a woman would have to go and live in circumstances which were so much below those that she would enjoy here that it would be inequitable to ask her to go.

What we did when we came to investigate this problem after coming to power in March was, first, to consider this problem of hardship to see whether it would be possible to extend the interpretation wider than that which had been given by the tribunal. Because of the way this immigration control works—it is dependent on the discretion of the Home Secretary—it was possible to do that since we were not restricting the right but extending it. Therefore, since then, we have defined hardship for the purpose of our officials as being much wider than the interpretation originally given by the tribunal. A great many of the hardship cases which caused concern at the beginning of this argument earlier in the year have been allowed to come in.

I noted what my hon. Friend said about the immigration officer and his comments about me personally. All that I can say is that I cannot remember personally handling one case where there has been a refusal of admission.

That does not necessarily mean that I can concede the whole case, which is what my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South suggests. We still had to go on to consider the basic issue of principle. It is not enough simply to say that these should be discretionary matters and that we should apply the discretion flexibly. If there is an issue of principle, we ought to try to meet it if we can.

From the beginning, my hon. Friend and many of those who have supported her in her campaign on this Bill have approached the matter on the basis that it is an element of sex discrimination against women which should be ended. Although I am conscious of this problem, my central concern right from the time that I first began to look at the problem has not been the issue of principle about sex discrimination but the real distress caused to anyone who marries someone outside the country and feels it right that they should live in this country. If it is possible to give them the right to choose, I want to give them that right. I have always approached this problem on that basis.

Mr. Lane

The hon. Gentleman was helpful a moment ago in taking up the matter referred to by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) about the easier administration of the rules which he has now authorised. The hon. Lady referred to a conversation in which an immigration officer is reported to have said that virtually nothing was refused. May we take it from the hon. Gentleman that it is only in the relaxation of the hardship definition in these cases which he announced some weeks ago that the administration of the immigration control has been relaxed, or are there some other respects about which the House should know?

Mr. Lyon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In case there is any misunderstanding, we are talking about the administration of this rule in relation to husbands and fiancés and about the exercise of discretion in relation to hardship. It is in that sense that there has been a considerable relaxation in the interpretation of "hardship" which was announced to the House, which we have since applied, and which has been found to meet many of the cases coming before us.

When I came to look at the problem, there seemed to be four different ways in which we could approach it. First, if this was a problem of sex discrimination, we could change the rule in relation to men who were allowed to bring in their wives. We could apply to them the same provision, that they have to prove hardship. That, at any rate, would have got rid of the element of sex discrimination. But that would not seem to be a very sensible way to proceed. If the rule was causing personal distress to many couples who wanted to live in this country, to double that distress by applying it to men who wanted to bring in their wives might be consistent in principle but would not meet the argument. That is why I have never approached this simply as a question of sex discrimination.

The second way was to give the right to patrials. In one part of it, that is the effect of my hon. Friend's Bill. By giving patriality to wives when they marry patrial husbands, the effect in immigration terms is that the wife gets her right to enter, and we could limit it to that right. However, there are a number of objections to that. The first is that I do not like the idea of patriality. My party does not like it. We opposed it during the passage of the Immigration Bill. We regard it as racially discriminatory, and we want to change it as soon as possible. In order to change it, we have instituted a review of citizenship which inevitably, because of the complexities of the problem, will take a little time. It will inevitably mean some consultation overseas. Therefore, it cannot be rushed.

In order to get rid of patriality, we have tried to find a way of defining citizenship so that we know who is a British citizen. If I go on to explain why that is necessary, I shall digress unduly. However, it is at the root of most of our problems about immigration.

If, in the British Nationality Act 1948, we had considered a clear definition of "citizenship" so that it was clear what a British citizen was, as distinct from a British subject, who was anyone born anywhere in the British Commonwealth—an enormous number of people—we should never have had the problems about immigration legislation that we have had since. Every attempt by successive Governments to deal with the problems of immigration has been to attempt to cut down the right of citizenship enshrined in the 1948 Act, without seeking to deal with the central question of who is a British citizen.

What we now have is a citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies which is full for patrials and less for non-patrials. A man can be a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies and not have the right to come to this country because he is not patrial. In other words, there is citizenship at two levels—firstclass and second-class citizenship—and we want to get rid of it. If we get rid of it, it is clear that in the review we shall have to deal with the whole problem of sex equality and the right of a woman to acquire citizenship in the same way as a man acquires citizenship. That is why the citizenship parts of the Bill must wait for the review. I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that I am with her in principle.

Mrs. Jeger

This matter is very important. Why must the Home Office have a review to establish the difference between a man and a woman?

Mr. Lyon

I was hoping that I should not have to go on to indicate the difficulties, if we accept the Bill, before completing the review. I shall come to that in due course, if that is what my hon. Friend wants.

There are difficulties about accepting the Bill as it is. I assure my hon. Friend that we accept the general principle and would approach the redefinition of patrials in that light. It is primarily for that reason that I could not accept that, merely because one was the husband of, or was about to marry, a patrial, one would be allowed to come into the country.

There is another difficulty. Patriality would cover some cases, but it would not cover those who were settled in this country who were not patrials. A man who had settled here and then married outside this country could bring in his wife even if he was a non-patrial. But a woman in similar circumstances could not bring in her husband. In the result, we should still have the problem of sex discrimination as between non-patrial spouses. Clearly, if we are to deal with the problem, we should deal with it altogether.

The third way of dealing with the problem would be to give the right to spouses but not to fiancés. My hon. Friend has tried to do that in the Bill. All the references in the Bill are to people who have married, not to people who are coming here with the intention of marrying. That proposal has some attractions, but if the problem is one of numbers, it is not a real defence. A husband can bring in the woman he marries without any let or hindrance. Indeed, there is a considerable practice of the marriage taking place outside this country and the woman then coming here. It is not that the couple were living in the same country before hand, but that the marriage takes place and shortly afterwards there is an application to come to this country.

If we say that a man who marries a woman who is settled here can come in after the marriage, girls would go to the countries of their intended spouses, marry, and then apply for them to come here. In effect, there is no real distinction between a spouse and a fiancé. Therefore, we could not approach the matter in that way.

We are then left with the fourth possibility, which is to go back to the pre-1968 rule. That has been my preference from the beginning, if we can do it. The real question is: what does it mean in terms of the number who would be allowed in. accepting that it was that initially that caused the rule to be changed in any event?

I should like to go into this matter in a little detail. For reasons which I shall indicate later, it may be that this is more academic than it seemed at the beginning. I ought to give the background and the reason why we hesitated and have been carrying out research.

In 1965 the total figure of entry for marriage for the whole of the Commonwealth was 524, of whom 138 came from India. In 1966 the total figure went up to 1,925, in 1967 it went up to 2,708, and in 1968 it went up to 3,591. Those figures are for both male and female. The break-down for 1968 is 1,676 men and 1,915 women. Of the 1,676 men, all but 180 came from India. There were practically no applications from Pakistan. The entry from the West Indies and other Commonwealth countries amounted to about 180. This was basically a question whether there was a sudden increase in the number of men who wished to come from India, and possibly later from Pakistan, to marry and to enter this country. Because it was thought that this might be the beginning of a trend which would lead to a substantial intake, we decided to change the rule.

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

Does my hon. Friend accept that the figures show that more women than men entered this country in 1968 to marry? Why, therefore, did the Government choose to discriminate against the women as opposed to the men citizens of this country?

Mr. Lyon

I can answer only for my responsibilities since March this year. I am giving the facts in order that hon. Members may establish their own opinions about the situation. Those were the facts. If my hon. Friend draws that inference, he is entitled to do so. We had to consider whether that decision was justified and whether it meant that there was the beginning of a trend, which was stopped then, but which, if we changed the rule back, might continue. My hon. Friend has made a solid point to which I was coming in due course; namely, that the number of women allowed in then was greater than the number of men.

The difficulty was that at that time our system of immigration control depended upon work vouchers. The number of work vouchers issued to India in that year was about the same as the number of men who were allowed in for marriage. I have no doubt that that had some effect on the decision that was then taken. At any rate, since then the number of men coming in from the Commonwealth for marriage has fallen considerably. But the number of women coming in from the Commonwealth for marriage—this is relevant to my hon. Friend's point—has also declined, even though they had the automatic right to enter. This is one of the factors that we have been considering in our analysis of the problem.

We have been trying to assess the pattern in future. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South said that we were brave to do it. I think that she is right. The future really depends on two questions: first, how many people in this country would be reaching marriageable age in any given year; and second, how many of them would want to marry outside this country?

If the problem were related to the Indian subcontinent, as it seemed in 1969, how many of the Indians, Pakistanis and Bengalis settled in this country would make that kind of decision? We thought at the beginning that the numbers coming from India in 1968 reflected the difference between Indian traditions and those of the rest of the Commonwealth. We thought that within the cultural diversity of the Indian subcontinent, with arranged marriages, there were different traditions from those which obtained in the rest of the Commonwealth, and that people from there might more usually want to marry outside this country than would be the case with people from other parts of the Commonwealth. It was because we were concerned about that that we looked into the figures.

Although it is impossible to be absolutely clear about what the future pattern will be, because of the figures that we have been able to obtain both from our own statistics and from the census returns indicating the future pattern of the sexual balance within the country I suggest that the problem will not be as great as we feared at the beginning, and will not be as great as it was thought it would be in the early days when this rule was changed.

Although I cannot make an announcement about the matter today, the likelihood is that the difficulties in making a change have considerably diminished, and what we have therefore to consider is the way in which we can make the change, if possible, the kind of conditions that we ought to impose to avoid evasion and bogus marriages, and what kind of checks we ought to ask immigration officials to carry out to make sure that there is no evasion, or at least that it is kept to a minimum. Those are the problems that we are now considering.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will very soon be able to make a statement about this whole matter. If we decide to change the rule, the proposal to do that will have to come before the House, but, for the reasons which I have indicated, it may be possible to implement a change of policy fairly soon in any event.

I have dealt with the central problem of people coming into the country. The Bill deals with wider measures of citizenship and patriality. It is better that we should deal with the whole problem of citizenship at one go. One of the difficulties over the years of trying to nibble away at citizenship rights or to change them in some way in Immigration Bill after Immigration Bill is that we have caused deep offence and real difficulties to people who thought that they had rights in relation to British law and suddenly found that they did not. The 1968 Immigration Act was one of the most difficult parts of our legislation pattern.

We are anxious this time to do the whole thing properly and to ensure, if we get a comprehensive definition of British citizenship, that it is fair, humane and just as between different races holding British citizenship and, equally, as between the sexes. We hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will allow us to make that consideration and in due course put the appropriate proposals before the House.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

If there is to be this consideration, which must take time, why can there not almost immediately be implementation of a very much greater change of policy than has appeared so far? My hon. Friend told us that immigration officials were saying that nobody was refused entry, but I am sure hon. Members will agree that it takes a long time to get approval from the Home Office to allow a husband to enter, even in cases where it is apparent that he will eventually do so. Can there not be a greater change of policy now while we are awaiting the outcome of the Department's consideration of the matter?

Mr. Lyon

I have dealt with the difficulties to which my hon. Friend has referred. If we were to change the rule back to the pre-1968 position, the automatic right of the husband of a woman settled here would be guaranteed. The only question for immigration officials would be that of establishing the relationship, which they have to do in any event. Subject to that, the wife would have the right to bring in her husband.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

On the question of hardship, if there were a ruling from the Home Office that there is to be almost a presumption of hardship unless the contrary is indicated, in the vast majority of husband and wife cases—as distinct from fiancé cases—that would enable entry into the country to be achieved immediately and would avoid some of the distress that is caused while people are waiting for the Home Office to make up its mind.

Mr. Lyon

I have said that the Home Secretary hopes very soon to make a statement about this matter. I do not think that there is any need to be worried about any change of policy if there is to be one. Any hardship cases that have been brought to my attention have been dealt with flexibly, but if my hon. Friend has any particular case in mind I shall be glad to consider it. However, I suspect that it may be overtaken by events.

There are difficulties about the way in which the Bill has been drafted on the question of citizenship. One would expect that, and my hon. Friend has conceded it. One of the interesting points about the Bill is that if we were to accept Clause 7(2) we should pass retrospective legislation. We should allow citizenship rights to be given to women who have married since 1948—back for two or three generations—and change their citizenship status in a way that might give them the right to claim United Kingdom citizenship, thereby causing considerable difficulties not only for us but possibly for them. I say that because, in certain circumstances, the position might be that if they lived in a country which was anxious to get rid of United Kingdom citizens and their citizenship status was suddenly changed, they might be obliged to get out of that country even though it was never their intention to leave.

Mrs. Jeger

No doubt that could be put right in Committee. Clause 7(2) suggests only that for the word "woman" there should be substituted the word person", and for the word "herself" there should be substituted "himself". I do not see how all these problems about ancient generations arise.

Mr. Lyon

If that change were made, it would do away with the sexual discrimination which has existed for 25 years, of which men have been able to avail themselves for all that time. If the word were changed to "person", it would mean that for women the injustice of 25 years ago would be put right and for them we should at one fell swoop make the change for all marriages since then, whereas for men every marriage has been considered in relation to the law at the time that it took place. Therefore, there is no retrospective effect upon the status of men.

I concede that this is a technical point, but it is precisely for that reason that one has to approach the whole question of changing the law of citizenship with some care. That is what we are doing. I have conceded the issue of principle to my hon. Friend. I have told the House that, when we come to announce our decisions in relation to citizenship, we shall bear all these matters in mind.

I think that I have said enough about the central problem of hardship and about the immigration rules to show that when my right hon. Friend makes a statement about this in due course he may be able to deal with all the anxieties of the House. In these circumstances, I hope that the House will feel that, even if one does not wish to oppose a Bill with these principles, it is not necessary to consider the matter at great length.

1.41 p.m.

Mrs. Lynda Chalker (Wallasey)

I was delighted to hear the comments of the Minister of State about the future statement of the Home Secretary, and I am pleased that a lot of research has been going on. If one thing has happened since the advent of this Parliament it is that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger), myself and many others have spent a great deal of time making sure that we actually had some action from the Home Office on this issue, which is to me a basic right—whether a women may freely bring her husband into the country of which she is a citizen.

I am not fully cognisant of all the ins and outs of the law, but I do not think that any hon. Member, other than a former parliamentary counsel, can avoid being tripped up in some way. In that light, I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he clarified the situation this morning and I think that I would be right in saying that all those who earnestly read HANSARD after the debate will also be grateful.

However, there still remains with us a problem, however kind and however right the Home Office is—and we know that the Minister of State has a big heart, as he has shown decisively in the last few months over many cases which I and other hon. Members have taken to him. There is a question here which I feel in my bones—why is it always the rôle and the wish of the men which takes precedence?

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) was quite right to point out the difference in the figures. Why did they go one way? I suggest that the decision was taken in 1969 to allow British husbands to bring their non-British wives into this country and not vice versa, despite the figures, because of the enormous outcry there would have been from the gentlemen had that not been done.

However, I do not want to go too much over ground that the Minister has already covered. No hon. Member who goes through the trickery of trying to produce a Private Member's Bill ever expects it to be perfect. We all know that there are faults, whether in Clause 7(2) or anywhere else—I still do not understand the Minister's argument, or why it matters whether it was 25 years ago or 40 years on—but if something is wrong with our law it is our duty as Members of Parliament to work to put it right. If there is something wrong in a subsection of a Private Member's Bill, we have a Committee stage and a Report stage to put it right.

If I may be so bold, I remind the Minister that he himself felt it necessary, in the last two weeks, in a Committee, to put another Bill right—to the extent of deleting every clause and substituting his own wording. If that is possible on one Bill, I am sure that he is not without the wit and knowledge, and the support of the Civil Service, to do exactly the same if he believes that this Bill errs in some little way.

To return to the original speech that I had intended to make before the Minister pipped me at the post, I want to raise some of the problems of which he is aware but of which I wonder whether all hon. Members are aware, at least in as much detail as has come to my notice in the last 12 months.

It is no secret from the House that I might have found myself, once upon a time, in the position of one of these poor unfortunate British girls married to a non-British husband. It did not happen, but that is beside the point. I did not know when I was 19 that it could happen in 1969. I would perhaps have been living here in the interim, so it would not have affected me, but had I been living in Switzerland, it would have affected me if I had decided to return here in 1969. Perhaps I would have known now, with my own brother married to a continental girl and my father to a naturalised British girl, but in my own small sphere of experience it would never have entered my consciousness then that this right would not be the same for all in this fair British nation that we all speak of and love, because we have always sought to treat human beings as equals.

This seems a case, not only in this part of the law but in many others—and particularly in regard to this Bill—in which we must seek to give the same rights to women as to men—not by the whim of the pen, or the wish of a kindly Minister, or on the instruction of the Home Secretary, but as of right. I see no reason why, in any of our dealings, we should treat women as second-class citizens. It was convenient enough in the First and Second World Wars to send women into the arms factories to take up the jobs which men could not do because they were fighting at the front. Whenever there is a disaster, those who go to help are not asked whether they are male or female. If they have the attributes needed in a case of necessity they go in to help regardless of sex. Therefore, if it was good enough during the war to allow women to do men's jobs—this is still true in so many jobs today, thank goodness—it seems an inalienable equal right which this country should give its womenfolk.

Although there were few things in the Queen's Speech to which I felt that I could give my wholehearted support, the thought that at long last the Government intended to recognise that women were no longer the underdogs was one small point of cheer. I am sure that it will be repeated in future Queen's Speeches, whenever they come—the sooner the better, perhaps. But whatever goes on, I recognise the fears of many people in the country—not perhaps so much in this Chamber, where we like to delude ourselves that we are slightly better informed—who have, by various means, pressure groups and others, been terrified at the thought that by giving an equal right to women this small measure will open the floodgates to immigration.

As the Minister said, that is not so. I do not know whether he knows it, but at one time in my life I had to learn about statistics. When I started looking at this problem, without the benefit of civil servants but with some very kindly friends, I concluded that there was no need for worry. I am delighted that the civil servants have backed the Minister up and told him that he need not be worried.

Anyone who cares about the future of this country has to care for every person in it. It is because of this that I will not support whole-scale immigration, wherever it comes from, nor will I say that it is right for those who are here. But what is patently wrong is that men should be able to bring their wives into this country without restriction while women have to go through the rigmarole we well know—which admittedly, in the last few months, has been abated by the kindness of heart of our Minister.

Now, in America, New Zealand, Australia and Israel—just a few of the countries from which our bags of letters have come—there is a recognition that a difficulty exists. That difficulty, which was not seen before—as I would not have known or been able to foretell in 1961—was not even known to so many British women living abroad. It is because of the publicity which this issue has raised that I feel that this is the time—because it is better late than never—that we must put this matter right; whether it is for someone married 25 years ago or 40 years ago, I do not mind.

I have letters on my files—not necessarily from constituents—from women who married American soldiers during the last war and who are still living in America, and very unhappy to be living there. Sometimes their children are in this country with grandchildren who have no wish to go to America. It does not matter when a woman married; if she is a British citizen she should have the right to settle here.

I find it also most important, in our new way of life—because there has been a great change in the last 25 years—to recognise the internationalism of young people particularly. We encourage travel and exchange visits between students of different nationalities. We encourage people to take part in voluntary work overseas. We encourage people to work for organisations such as the United Nations, through UNICEF and the World Health Organisation. That is all perfectly laudible, but it is little wonder that British girls who offer to serve this country by going to work abroad are deciding to marry non-British citizens, whether or not patrial.

It is in this light that I want to thank the Minister—who has just left the Chamber—and join with him in what he said in the House last night in the debate on the Pakistan Bill in paying tribute to the staff at Lunar House, who, in the last three months, have been working at all hours of the day and night to help to alleviate that distress of which we all know. With every case that I have taken to them involving my constituents, they have managed to find some way of allowing families to be reunited—but I wonder how many people realised that this would happen, or even that this needed to happen.

When I think of the people who have been living in America for so many years—the wives of United States and Canadian Service men, who are just about coming to retirement now and want to come back to this country—I can see another shoal of letters and problems for the staff at Lunar House to cope with. The Minister said last night that he did not think it right to make any large increase in the staff dealing with these problems. He must surely know, therefore, that unless he is prepared to take some legal redress on the present situation he will be in an administrative fix before long and he will need to bring an equivalent of the Pakistan Bill to the House so that the staff can sort out the postbag in Croydon.

Wherever a girl has married a man from a country in which there is a great deal of harassment—Uganda, or an East European country, for instance—there has rarely been a refusal. If there has been a refusal by the Home Office, the decision has usually been reversed some time later. But the hardship which a British girl married to a Hungarian or a Bulgarian suffers in the intervening time can cause the breakdown of the marriage. To me, marriage is still an important thing. It should be something which we work to preserve. Where a woman is married to a non-British citizen from an Eastern country, even a year of indecision—that is the time it often takes our Foreign Office to get all the relevant details to pass to the Home Office for the Home Office to sort out the problem—can be a great hardship. I have known of some sad cases of breakdown of marriage and consequent problems because of the citizenship of the children.

In the Minister's grand review of the citizenship laws of our land, when he reviews the problem of marriage will he please review the problems of offspring of such marriages, who are born outside this country to a British wife and a non-British husband? Unless he does that, this will be the second campaign that we shall be running hard. If the Minister does not do this, to quote from the Catholic Herald—though I am not a member of the Roman Catholic Church— I have the impression that nobody at the Home Office is very worried about the wrath of God. That was said in an article published at the end of May this year. The wrath of God may come down upon the head of the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but it will be nothing to the wrath of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South and the hon. Member for Wallasey—myself—if the Government do not get the job right now.

Turning to the other categories of persons who have been writing to me, I join with the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South in saying that very few of the persons seeking our help have been of Asian origin, living now outside this country. That is something which worried me, because I felt that we could have heard from most of the European and North American nations, and from Australia, New Zealand and Israel, the more Westernised nations, but not from where there are other grave problems. From my discussions with some leaders of the Pakistani and Indian communities, I do not believe that this is the problem that I first thought it was. They have sought to arrange themselves in such a way as to find out what their problems will be. In recent discussions I have also been told quite firmly that there is now a grave problem for Indian and Pakistani fathers in wishing to arrange the marriages of their daughters, because this is something against which their daughters rebel. If the employment of Asian women in our country is to be encouraged—which I am sure it is—we shall find this a declining problem.

Therefore, whereas I once thought that we had heard from the European and the Westernised tip of the iceberg, my talks with Pakistani and Indian leaders have told me that that is not so and that far fewer Pakistanis and Indians are prepared to go through with arranged marriages.

The other group which is suffering more, perhaps, than even the Home Office realises—although I am sure that the Minister will get to grips with this problem if he has not done so already—consists of those girls who are married to Europeans who are citizens of those countries which are not members of the European Community. They can probably have a life which, on the whole, we would not constitute as hard, living in Sweden, Norway, Switzerland or Austria. But it is surprising, unless one has lived abroad for quite some time and is prepared to go on living there of one's own free will, just how irksome the differences and problems can be. Whereas they do not seem to be hardship cases, in the true sense of the word, even with the Minister's relaxation, there are families who are having considerable problems because they cannot be reunited. If any specific cases come to my notice, I shall press the hon. Member concerned with them to take them up if he has not done so. But that is one area which is almost grey in the definition.

Wives of husbands from the EEC countries come in. We can press where there is hardship if it means that a woman, such as one of my constituents, might have had to live in a mountain village in Greece, dressed in black from dawn to dusk.

Those are the obvious problems. The problems that are not obvious are from other European countries. Although I cannot call some of the ways in which they live there a hardship, I hope that those cases will be reviewed as kindly as the other cases are being reviewed.

It is not a matter of the humiliation which a number of persons have gone through. Even if that humiliation is being mitigated by the slightly swifter and, perhaps, less deep investigations by the staff of the Home Office in the light of the relaxation of the rules, it still seems to me to be wrong to treat men one way and women another way. We know that problems will arise if we change our immigration rules. Whatever changes are made in life, problems arise. I appreciate all the work that the Home Office has done, but I believe that this example of sex discrimination must be abolished.

That is why I was particularly delighted when the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South introduced this Bill. During the three months that I have been in Parliament I have learned of and experienced the frustrations that back benchers frequently experience at their inability to help people and groups who are affronted by our law.

Britain has always been a generous nation—some might say too generous. One thing which neither the nation nor Governments have failed to do is to call on women when people are needed who are prepared to stand up and be counted.

The women of this country now unite in making a plea to the Home Secretary to take action, whether through the Bill, with necessary consequential amendments, or through the machinery of the Home Office, which we hope will be speeded up. We call upon the Government—minority Government though it may be—to do one thing for the group of people who always give their share to Britain. I hope that speedy action will follow.

2.2 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

It is a pleasure to follow in the debate the hon. Lady the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker). We realised soon after the hon. Lady came to the House that she has a powerful attachment to the campaign for womens' rights—perhaps "equal rights with men" would be a better way of putting it. We knew before the hon. Lady came to the House that she had an equally powerful attachment to the cause of abolishing discrimination on the grounds of colour or ethnic origin.

These two matters must inevitably come together in the debate, because they involve the rate of intake into Britain and, as I concede to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane), they must be attached to a general public anxiety that immigrants should be able to get a livelihood and that greater social difficulties will not arise from an increased intake.

I do not think that my hon. Friend the Minister of State fought shy of those realities. Certainly the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall cannot fight shy of those considerations.

I have taken part in many debates on immigration. I must in this debate pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the manner and the spirit in which he is handling individual cases. I am sure that if ordinary members of the general public had the responsibility, the anxieties and the anguish of considering these cases, they would reach exactly the same verdict as does my hon. Friend.

I am often in correspondence with my hon. Friend. I therefore know that he does not give way on every case. If the case is in line to go before the appeals machinery, my hon. Friend is prone to putting his name at the end of a letter stating that he will not intervene. Sometimes the hearing is not immediate and considerable hardship arises from the delay.

I ask my hon. Friend to consider the question, not just of long-standing marriages where there has been a separation, but where there has been a financial arrangement and where the families feel bound by the arrangement—in other words, where the relationship is long standing and sometimes is caught only marginally by the 1969 measures.

Mr. Lyon

My hon. Friend, by raising this problem, enables me to clear up a point about the way in which I review these cases. I take the view that in the end we should move much closer to a judicial control of immigration than to an executive, discretionary control. I hope that in due course if there is a refusal it will go automatically to the adjudicator and then to the tribunal. I am anxious to encourage this. I recognise the problem of delay in the appeal machinery. We are trying to reduce the delay so that the right of appeal will be a valuable one and not just a way of postponing a decision.

Mr. Bidwell

Following my hon. Friend's intervention I will say something which I had not intended to say but which is relevant to the present system of consideration. The appeals machinery inevitably places a legal interpretation on the matter of establishing a person's right to come here or to remain here. Advising solicitors are beginning to tell clients in these unfortunate circumstances to withdraw their appeals and to throw themselves on my hon. Friend's compassion, principally because of the way in which precedents have built up.

We are considering mainly the inescapable principle of the equality of the sexes, equality of opportunity, equality in the way which was enshrined in the Gracious Speech. My hon. Friend puts before the House his considerable knowledge of the law and the rules applying to immigrants, but he cannot escape from the overriding principle. He made no attempt to do so.

Rights have been enshrined in our immigration law since the 1962 Act. We defined who is to have those rights. The 1971 Act introduced the concept of patriality and altered the freedom of Commonwealth citizens to enter this country. We cannot regard the matter as a chicken-and-egg relationship between the statute law and the rules which must be related to the law.

I understand that Home Office Ministers are thinking of making a change to establish equal rights. They are thinking of doing this by changing the rule back to what it was prior to the steps taken in 1969, which followed the fear of a considerable exodus from Kenya. The previous Government also had to contend with the considerable exodus from Uganda. I and many of my hon. Friends who have a continual interest in this matter were quick to congratulate the Tory Government on their handling of the Kenyan-Asian crisis.

Under the terms of this Bill or the change in the rule strongly hinted at by the Minister of State this afternoon, there would be a fear of large numbers of Asian husbands coming to this country. Indeed, I have no doubt that quite a number of them would take advantage of the opportunity, although I do not think it can be measured exactly in terms of the Home Office statistics and researches. Obviously, if there were a change in the present situation, when it is quite a struggle to get a husband into this country from overseas, it would benefit many young women of Pakistan and Indian origin.

I have a document drawn up by a social worker in the Southall area, attached to the staff of the Ealing Community Relations Council. I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has a copy of this document and that he will be visiting my constituency shortly. I think that he has kindly suggested that a number of women who are affected by the present law should talk to him, and we are very grateful to him for that offer.

According to the 1971 census there are about 20,000 single Indian girls over the age of 16 in this country, but there are over 36,000 single Indian men over the age of 16. As there are more single Indian males than females in this country, men will tend to bring their brides from India. However, under the arranged marriage system, by which parents arrange the marriage of their children, many matters are taken into consideration. For example, it is preferred that the prospective bride and groom should have the same religion, be of the same caste and almost the same age, and have the same economic, social and educational background. The man prefers the girl to be attractive, well educated and well off. The parents of the bride-to-be prefer the man to earn a good livinig or be capable of earning enough to care for their daughter and to keep her well. He should not be a drinker, a gambler or have any other vices. I mention these things because they are not irrelevant to the public fear that there could be many Asians coming here as a result of the prospective change in the law.

I must confess that I had this fear. It raises the question of the kind of men who are likely to come here and what is likely to happen as a result. As the hon. Lady the Member for Wallasey and I know from our recent "safaris", as I call them, in the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration, where we are currently considering employment—we have been to Slough and to High Wycombe—there is a great demand for labour. Employers are seriously understaffed, and this is a major problem. The intake of these people could, therefore, be beneficial to the economy. They would not go to areas of unemployment. They would inevitably go, as they did from 1954–55 onwards, to areas of high employment.

But certain attendant social difficulties could arise. The GLC has said that the Southall part of my division is one of the most overcrowded parts of London. If we believe that the long-term solution to that kind of problem is to fight fiercely for equality of opportunity, everything should work out all right. If there is a fair involvement of the British educational system, there is nothing basically to fear. I believe, against my background and my involvement in this problem, that the ordinary working people as a whole need have no fundamental fear from the changes which are contemplated.

The old concept of the breadwinner is becoming outmoded. The term "breadwinner" has featured frequently in our debates on race relations. We have known cases of hardship when the hon. Member for Cambridge was Minister, when a woman, having arrived in this country at an early age and having been through the British educational system and as a result having secured a good job with a high salary, has been prevented from having her husband here. She has been in a state of anguish, perhaps visiting her husband only twice a year. I know of a case in which a young woman held a very high and responsible post in the service of BOAC, as it then was. I understand that at last her husband is being given permission to join her.

The idea of the man being the breadwinner is disappearing. I appreciate that throughout the world it is the man through whom citizenship is usually acquired. I do not know what the practices are in Common Market countries, but I know what the general practice is in the world in general. Of course, some countries recognise dual citizenship, although India is not one of those. I suggest that whatever happens in the Common Market countries—I do not know whether it is easier for a husband to join his wife in those countries—certainly in this country there is a valid reason for his being allowed to do so. The change has all the hallmarks of compassion, and out of sheer common sense it is time that Britain made that change. I support the Bill.

2.20 p.m.

Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell), who is my neighbour from the next constituency, particularly because this is probably the only occasion on which we shall ever agree.

I am provoked by what the Minister said a few minutes ago. He said it might be helpful for the House to consider the matter against the background of Government thinking. I believe it will be much more helpful for the Government to consider the matter against the background of the thinking of the House, because he underestimates the concern of hon. Members on this issue. I for one am deeply reluctant to await even more studies before we rectify what many of us believe, in spite of a 40-minute speech by the Minister, to be a simple anomaly.

His speech was intensely depressing because I had assumed that he was an enlightened man who would go out of his way to help the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) in presenting the Bill, but he seemed to get submerged beneath the administrative difficulties. I do not understand why a procedure currently applying to wives wishing to join their husbands could not simply be applied to husbands wishing to join their wives. That seems simple to me, but then I do not have the benefit of legal training.

It seemed from what the Minister said that future Government action depended on future forecasts of people of marriageable age and the cultural and matrimonial habits of people from the Indian sub-continent. The Minister seemed to lose sight of the principle involved, which is that married couples have a right to live together and they should be able to choose which of the two homelands they should live in. At the moment the totally anomalous situation is that the wife has the right to join the husband but the husband has no right to join the wife.

As for public opinion, I have had not one letter asking me to oppose the Bill, but I have received several asking me to support it. Perhaps more important than constituents asking me to support it, my wife has told me to do so. Perhaps she wishes to be free at a later date to marry someone who may be a citizen of this country, but cleanly I would oppose the Bill at my peril.

The Minister said he knew of no cases which had been turned down, but he knows only of the cases that come to him. In my constituency there is a Polish couple who are married. She is a citizen of this country, but he is not. He came here for a fixed period, married her and they now have a child. He appealed against a Home Office decision which invited him to return to Poland, and he lost. The Home Office says that the wife and child—the child is a citizen of this country—should go to Poland. The conditions in Poland are not easy and it might not he in the woman's best interests to return there. Only by accident did I come across this case, and I have taken it up with the Minister. I hope he adopts an enlightened view about it.

What would have happened had they not met me? The family was being split and the child would have been separated from its father. It is not good enough to rely on Members of Parliament discovering cases and relying on the Minister to take a humane view. The Minister has dealt humanely with any cases I have taken up with him, but we should have humanity embodied in the law rather than dependent upon the whims of Ministers, because the hon. Gentleman's successors might not share his enlightened approach.

The Minister attempted to seduce us at the end of his speech with the promise of Government action later, but we were not told when legislation might be introduced and there is no guarantee that hon. Members opposite will be in a position to introduce legislation anyway. Many of us would rather settle for the bird in the hand than wait for possible legislation at a future date to be introduced by we know not whom.

2.25 p.m.

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

I wish to support the Bill. Mine is not a large constituency, nor does it have a large body of immigrants. More than 90 per cent. of my constituents are from my country and nearly all the rest are English, whom the Home Office still permits my female constituents to marry. In my brief time in the House, however, I have had to deal with three cases affected by this law. The remarkable thing in all three cases was that the husband was a skilled and qualified man who had a real contribution to make to the economy or culture of the country, and there could be no rational argument or reason for excluding him.

I do not subscribe to the view that somehow we can mysteriously combat racial prejudice in this country by rigid immigration control which reflects racial discrimination and prejudice. But for what it is worth each of these husbands was white, and fluent in English. I echo a sentiment uttered yesterday by my hon. Friend the Minister when I say that their entry would in no way be calculated or designed to inflame racial prejudice in this country. Yet they are excluded.

One case in particular illustrates the difficult anomalies and Alice-in-Wonderland situation we encounter because of these rules. My constituent is a female and cannot therefore confer the right of permanent settlement on her husband who is an American. Some years ago in her youth she was a member of the British Communist Party and because of that she cannot be admitted for permanent settlement in the United States. One wonders where the two Governments imagine my constituents will reside permanently—perhaps at some mid-Atlantic point or on an island in the Caribbean. If I put this case to my hon. Friend the Minister as one of hardship it may be allowed on that ground, especially if it is dealt with by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, whose heart I am sure would be melted by the case. That does not get round the fundamental principle that my constituent, because she is a female, has no right to confer citizenship on her husband, whereas a male would not be deprived of that right.

From what the Minister said today and on previous occasions I understand that the Government are carrying out a review, that they are attempting to amass facts and statistics to shed light on the problem. However, we already have a perfectly adequate body of statistics about the immigration problem, in so far as it is a problem. We have the results of the 1971 Census. A copy of it is available in the Library, and if my hon. Friend examines it he will find figures which throw an interesting light on the debate. Where it deals with Asian immigrants of marriageable age it shows that for every two marriageable women there are three marriageable men. Two conclusions may be drawn from that. First, if we abandoned the rules it is most unlikely that there would be an immediate influx of male Asian immigrants to this country. For one thing, I doubt whether the Asian community would tolerate it.

Here, I must take up an interesting point from the Minister's speech. He said that since 1968 the number of Asian women entering the country to marry Asian men had declined. As I understood it, he was in some way using that fact to justify discrimination against women, but I draw a totally different inference from the figure. It clearly shows that the custom of arranged marriages is in decline and is being resisted by Asians in this country. One would expect that, because the more Asians live here the more they will refuse to accept an arranged marriage with a partner from an entirely different culture.

The second conclusion is that even if there were the danger of a new wave of Asian immigration, and even if it were right to use sex discrimination to thwart it—and I do not accept that proposition—we are discriminating against the wrong sex. We should be discriminating against the men, not the women.

May I say a few words about the future of the Bill? Some of us in the House were unhappy that we were denied a debate on this matter when it was last before the House. I am pleased that we have managed to have such a full debate on the issue today, and that no such device as was used last time has been used on this occasion to prevent us considering the matter. But we are aware that one reason that such a device has not been used to day is that there is relatively little chance of getting the Bill on to the statute book in the remaining time available in this Session.

It is important that we should be clear about what the Government intend to do regarding this issue, because at the end of the day the Government will have to remedy the situation. I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Minister has said that the Government have the matter under consideration. It is important that we impress upon him the fact that this is an urgent situation requiring urgent action. The growing mood in the country is that sex discrimination, is intolerable and unacceptable and that there should be radical action to deal with it.

Since the start of the current Session we have been told on a number of occasions that the Home Office is undertaking an overall review of sex discrimination and that it will bring in a comprehensive measure which will deal with it in the widest possible sense, but there is no point in the Home Office's coming up with a wide measure on sex discrimination if action is not to be taken on the fundamental issue—the denial to a woman of the right to confer citizenship on her husband, a right which is already granted to him.

If the Bill fails to reach the statute book because of what may happen today, or in the ensuing weeks, we shall expect to see action from the Government within the current Session.

2.31 p.m.

Mr. John Moore (Croydon, Central)

I have a particular pleasure in following the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook), especially in the light of his remarks about the unfortunate way in which the Bill was previously denied a thorough airing and discussion. I shall keep my remarks brief to ensure that there can be no excuse today for similar action.

I have two interests to declare relating to this matter. First, I am the fortunate possessor of a foreign wife, and the law allows me to bring her to this country. If the position had been reversed I should never have been able to appear in this House. Secondly, I have in my constituency Lunar House. I endorse the remarks which have been made regarding the exceptional activities and the skill of the people there who have to administer the present unfortunate legislation.

In the few months that I have been here I have learned that anything which seems to have the combined wishes of the two Front Benches—contrary to the views of hon. Members on the back benches—must arouse my intense suspicion. I am always paralysed, as it were, at the constant way that I have been assured in my short spell here—my stay may be even briefer than I expect because of these few remarks—that so many things are not possible because they are terribly difficult and involve all manner of inconvenience, even though the particular proposals may be relatively simple.

We should not be discussing this issue today. The fact that we are discussing it illustrates the essence of the inequality and discrimination in our society. It is clear to me that when we have to argue for women's rights there is something physically wrong in our society, which is supposed to have no discrimination.

I shall say a few words about the basic principle involved. I am not terribly concerned with administrative abuses. The law is more important than the abuses which flow from the law. In a society we should surely endeavour to correct abuses, not try to create an incorrect law from which abuses must flow. We are in a situation in which no one with any sanity can possibly defend the extraordinary principles which we have been arguing about. All we wish to see is the principle of true equality under the law continued.

I recognise that there are difficulties, but every time attempts are made to change the law regarding discrimination different obstacles are presented. For instance, when we are considering true equality for women in terms of remuneration we are told that it would be too costly, and that it cannot be done this year, or in 1980, but that it may be done by the end of the century. Today we have not been told about cost; we have been told about potential abuse and administrative inconvenience. But women cannot wait because of such reasons. We have an opportunity to express clearly our views to both Front Benches. I take the point of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central, that regardless of whichever party is in power in the near future this matter is now pressing.

2.35 p.m.

Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)

I am pleased to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore), particularly because I wish to underline the urgency needed in this matter. My hon. Friend the Minister dealt with the problem in a way, but to a mind such as mine, which is untutored in legal matters, what he said seemed confusing. The central point which needs attention, and which should be brought out time and time again, is the inequality between men and women in the matters which the House has been debating. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) who has been a doughty fighter in the battle for equality of the sexes.

I represent a constituency which includes a number of immigrants. Most of the correspondence I have received on this subject has been about white women who, because of the circumstances which have arisen, cannot live in this country. I am particularly mindful of a letter from the mother of two daughters. Both are gifted girls. One has been to university and the other is at university at present. One is married to a Rhodes scholar in Australia and another is to marry a Rhodes scholar in Australia. The mother dearly wishes to have the daughters with her, but as things are they are precluded, except with the permission of a Minister.

I am not as pessimistic about such matters as are a number of hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. My optimism arises to some extent from the generous and humanitarian consideration which has been given to a number of cases of which I am personally aware by the present incumbents in the Home Office. I realise that my right hon. and hon. Friends are anxious to meet the various points which have arisen in the course of the debate. We are told that a statement will be made shortly and I am more than hopeful that some action will be taken in this matter.

Much has been said about the problem of immigrants. We must be extremely careful to distinguish between the problems of immigration and the central theme of the debate, the equality of the sexes. In every case in which I have had letters from members of the Asian community in my constituency they have pointed out that time is passing and that the situation today is very different from what it was some years ago. Girls are not prepared to accept the sort of limitation set by parents in the past and are looking around among people in their own areas, and making their choices accordingly. This may still aggrieve parents, but it is what is happening.

It is not easy to send a girl to the country of her ancestors to acquire a husband. It is very costly; indeed, the way things are going it will become virtually prohibitive. Figures show that there are more male than female Indians and Pakistanis. These things are evident. We hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider the various points made from both sides of the House. I am optimistic that all the expressions of opinion will be heard sympathetically and that we shall see action as soon as possible.

2.40 p.m.

Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)

I, too, am glad that we are having a thorough debate on this issue. We are all aware how much public interest and feeling have been aroused by it. It has been a very useful debate in which several of the problems have been aired. I applaud the persuasive and charming way in which the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) moved the Second Reading, and the eloquent and moving speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), who is one of the other sponsors of the Bill. We have had similarly constructive speeches from hon. Members on both sides throughout.

As we made clear at the last General Election, my party is committed to promoting equal opportunities for men and women. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr) was Home Secretary we had in the Home Office legislation in draft, almost ready to be introduced, when the General Election came. All hon. Members are now waiting impatiently for the Government to announce their proposals on the wider questions, which were mentioned again at Question Time only yesterday.

The Bill deals with an important aspect of equality between the sexes. It is based on the principle, which is in the title, of equal treatment, or, in the rather more lurid words I see in graffiti on the university walls in my constituency, "Sexism, out!". That is a fine principle to which we are all committed. But, as the Minister of State said, there are some practical problems to which we must give close study before we make any change in the law. In particular, the House must think carefully before it puts on the statute book any legislation—whether a Bill of this kind or changes in the immigration rules, whether it comes from the Government or in a Private Member's Bill—without the firmest reassurances from the Government of the day that a new loophole in our immigration control will not be opened.

Ideally, legislation on immigration or nationality is better attempted by the Government, but I welcome any initiatives by private Members because, as in this case, they help the House, the Government and the Opposition to focus their minds on a problem which we all realise has aroused proportions of public feeling which were not present only a few years ago. This is a good illustration of the way in which public opinion has been moving in this country and other countries and the way in which it is soon reflected in the House. It is one of the great virtues of legislation proposed by private Members, whether or not it reaches the statute book in any particular Session.

Anyone who has been a member of a Government trying to administer this part of our immigration control and nationality law knows what an intensely difficult matter it is. I think that the House acknowledges this. I have vivid memories of a number of cases which came my way in trying to do the job the Minister of State is now doing—cases which I had to administer as fairly as I could in the light of the law and the rules. Ministers and officials in the Home Office have always tried to deal fairly and sympathetically with the intense human problems represented by all these cases—borderline cases and some that are not so near the borderline.

There was an implication in some speeches by Labour Members that the previous Government took an over-rigid attitude to those cases. I do not accept that. I can think of many which came my way where, generally with advice from officials, we were prepared to bend the rules on grounds of hardship—for example, parents in this country whose health was failing and who would have found it difficult to go on in their years of retirement without the continuing presence of their British daughter in this country.

I can also think of cases involving husbands from Eastern European countries where I gave the benefit of the doubt to the couple concerned, although a stricter interpretation of the rules might have decided the matter otherwise. That is the sort of case that is most recent in my memory: only a few weeks ago I held a meeting in the middle of Cambridge on a Saturday morning and in the crowd was a Polish woman now settled in this country, who was beside herself with anxiety because her daughter, born in this country, had still not been able to get her Polish husband over here permanently or even for a visit of any long duration. I know from that case the despair, anxiety, trouble and often the breakdown of family life that may be caused. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), whose constituent she happens to be, is now dealing urgently with the matter.

Three background points are important in considering the problem. The first, which several speakers have mentioned in passing, is the practice in other countries. It is not necessarily a guide to what we should do, but we should bear it in mind. I am grateful to the Library for some thorough research on the matter of immigration and nationality rights of Commonwealth or alien husbands and fiancés, and how other countries deal with both those aspects of the problem. A varied picture is presented.

Several other countries make the spouses, of whichever sex, wait rather longer than we do before having rights to nationality, and their rules seem to be somewhat more biased against women than ours are. As regards immigration control, some other countries are more liberal than we are and others less. We ought to bear in mind, too, that most of the other countries we are considering, whether in Europe, the overseas Commonwealth or the non-Commonwealth countries overseas, do not have the continuing strong pressures for male immigration that we in this country face and shall continue to face for some time.

It is clear that public opinion has been changing steadily in the past few years as regards breadwinners, heads of household or whatever phrase one uses, not only in this country but elsewhere. Here I call in aid one quotation to reinforce my view that we in this country have not been laggard in dealing with the immigration or nationality problems of women as compared with men. I quote the right hon. Lady who is now Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Affairs. She said from this very Box in a debate on equal opportunities for women last year, when she was shadowing Home Office matters: Under the Government's immigration policy a man may bring his wife to this country to live with him, but a woman is not entitled to bring her husband to this country to live here with her. This is a principle that is almost never questioned in the way all Governments run their immigration policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February 1973; Vol. 849, c. 1865.] This is increasingly questioned in this country and elsewhere. Let nobody think that this country has been lagging behind.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

In fairness to my right hon. Friend, I must say that she was questioning it and was saying that the matter had not been pursued vigorously enough by previous Governments. She was not saying that there was any international comparison.

Mr. Lane

I thought it reasonable to quote what the right hon. Lady said as indicating that the situation had been generally accepted internationally. However, fashions are changing in this important matter.

I need not dwell at length on the second background point because the Minister of State reminded the House of the good reasons which existed in the mind of the Home Secretary in 1969 when he changed the rule to remove the right of a man marrying a British girl automatically to come into this country. Those of us who know the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) realise that he would not have been persuaded to make a change of that sort without very strong evidence for its necessity and without the development of serious abuse.

That was the situation at the end of 1968 and the beginning of 1969. We cannot lightly brush aside the fear of a further wave of immigration if the rule is changed back. I was interested to hear what the Minister of State said about the analyses, statistical and otherwise, which the Government are making. However, on 28th March, soon after the new Government took office, the Home Secretary said at Question Time that it was possible that if the rule were changed back, as the Bill would change it, there would be a substantial and continuing new wave of male immigration, particularly from the Indian subcontinent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th March 1974; vol. 871, c. 612.] I am not passing judgment in the matter, because we are all anxious to hear more about the statistical researches and the up-to-date assessment which is being made, I hope in depth, in the Home Office. However, I remind the House of this because it is a practical implication of the Bill which cannot be lightly set aside or overlooked.

The third background point is that the system of administering the present law is already pretty flexible. I do not say that this is a satisfactory way of leaving the matter permanently, because clearly it is not. Views and circumstances have changed, and it raises difficult issues of judgment and of fairness for anyone who has to administer the law. However, compassionate factors have always been given full weight by successive Governments in administering the law since 1969. The Minister of State has made clear that the system is now being administered in an even more flexible fashion.

Imperfect though it is from a number of points of view, the system is not working badly. It is administered in a humane and feeling way, and gross injustices are not being done, although we are all aware that certain cases take a great deal of ministerial and official time to sort out fairly.

Mrs. Jeger

I agree completely with what the hon. Gentleman said about the increasingly compassionate attitude which is being adopted, but does he realise that one of the difficulties of women in this situation is that the husband, when allowed in on hardship or compassionate grounds, is usually admitted only for 12 months, after which a fresh application must be made? This is very unsettling for young married couples who cannot even get a mortgage.

Mr. Lane

I am aware of that, but almost invariably permission to stay is extended. I am aware of few cases in which that has not happened.

We have spent most of this afternoon considering the immigration aspects, but the Bill seeks to make two fundamental changes—one in the nationality law and one in the immigration law. The major change in the nationality law is in Clause 5. I must sound a note of caution. We are aware of the possibility of abuse of our citizenship laws by rogues of both sexes who want to get round them. In the last few months men have been advertising themselves in journals as being prepared to marry women in this country who would not otherwise have been able to stay here, thus making an absolute farce of marriage. It could well work the other way round if we are not careful and do not take great pains to prevent abuse of this sort.

If the Bill were passed in its present form and a man marrying a British girl in this country obtained automatically the right to British citizenship simply by virtue of that marriage, it would be welcomed by rogues who want British citizenship for their own purposes and who would not stop at entering into a shady commercial deal to get what they want. That is a risk which the House must bear in mind.

Frustrating though it is, I am sure that it is right to try thoroughly to reform the citizenship and nationality laws all at once, as the Conservative Government were preparing to do when they set in train the Whitehall inquiry which has been taking place for some time and which the present Government are continuing. [Interruption.] The Minister of State is chuckling, but we gave a great deal of thought to the problem of the nationality law. Public opinion has been changing in this matter. We in the House are becoming more aware of the anomalies.

Throughout the years that I have been a Member there has been support on both sides of the House for a thorough review. It has taken some time to get it going. It was started by the Conservative Government, and I am glad to hear that it is being continued. I hope that it will not be long before constructive citizenship and nationality proposals are produced which will solve many of the difficulties. That is the right way of dealing with the nationality law.

We must consider, secondly, the practical consequences of changes in the immigration law. They may turn out not to be serious, but, whether we are changing the rules or the basic Act, we must carefully think through the consequences.

Reference has been made to the position in 1968 and 1969 and the reasons which led the then Home Secretary to make a change in this respect, because there were pressures and because abuses were being practised. In one sense the total pressure to come into the country, especially from the Indian subcontinent, is even greater today than it was four or five years ago. Against that, the Minister of State and others have quoted the changing position of the immigrant communities here in terms of the balance of numbers and the custom of arranged marriages. These are all factors that we have to weigh.

We have also to keep in mind the general public anxiety. It is a genuine anxiety among a great many people that we should not change the law in any respect which will result in a large surge of new male immigration. The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) knows this. I was interested in what he said. Perhaps I might quote what was said in another place a few weeks ago by the other Minister of State, the noble Lord, Lord Harris. He said: The danger is that if this matter were to be mishandled by the present Government or by their successors we could experience a substantial new wave of immigration. The Government recognise that there is still a need to maintain a balance between the number of immigrants entering this country and the capacity of the country to absorb them. We have a responsibility towards the immigrant population not to put them as individuals into a situation where integration is made impossible or very difficult. This situation could arise if people were to be admitted in such large numbers that fear and resentment—both enemies of effective integration—were to be increasingly felt by the indigenous population. It is for this reason that we accept the need to control the flow of immigrants."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 28th March 1974; Vol. 350, c. 795.] Reassurance is vitally necessary that any change in this direction will not lead—and can be demonstrated as likely not to lead—to a large increase in the number of new immigrants coming here.

The crux of the decision facing the Government, as it would have faced the previous administration, in contemplating any change, is that we are all anxious to ensure more justice for women in terms of equal opportunity at the earliest possible date; but we have also to satisfy ourselves that there will be no risk of abuse by people trying to get round the immigration control. It is not just the matter of arranged marriages, or the changing patterns of Asian family life, or whatever it may be. It is an unfortunate fact that there are people of all colours in all countries who will go to any lengths of guile to get into this country—

Mrs. Jeger

Of both sexes.

Mr. Lane

Of both sexes—and to establish their rights here. We have to be sure, as far as we humanly can, that we are taking steps to prevent abuses of this kind being practised.

It should not be beyond the wit of Government to devise precautions. If and when a further statement is made, we shall listen carefully and critically to what is said.

Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington)

I was trying to ascertain whether the review to which the hon. Gentleman referred had included any investigation into the numbers which might be affected in connection with male spouses entering the country. I pick up the hon. Gentleman especially with regard to his remarks to the effect that it should not be beyond the wit of Government to devise precautions which would not continue to include this element of sex discrimination. In numerous cases about which I wrote to the hon. Gentleman and his predecessor in office, there was never any hint that there was any review or likelihood of a change in policy, and apparently it was beyond the wit of the Department to use any other means than sex discrimination.

Mr. Lane

I am sorry if I have misled the hon. Gentleman. I was talking about the review of citizenship law, not of immigration law.

In summing up, I ask the House to keep in mind three matters in deciding what to do about the Second Reading of the Bill and any later consideration of the issue. The first is that we are taking decisions against the background of the forthcoming general reform to provide equal opportunities for men and women, about which we have been promised a White Paper later in the summer.

Secondly, we have the simultaneous review now going on into citizenship law, which clearly overlaps the first and will have to pay special attention to the rights of people of either sex and how they may be inter-related.

Thirdly, there is the problem of immigration upon which the Minister of State concentrated the main burden of his argument.

I repeat, public opinion must be reassured that if we are to make changes through this Bill, or at a later stage through the rules or in any other way, there will not be abuses in the field of either immigration or nationality. If the House votes in favour of the principle of the Bill by giving it a Second Reading, we must look very closely into the practical implications, in the hope that satisfactory solutions may be found.

3.5 p.m.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Having listened to the two Front Bench speakers, especially my hon. Friend the Minister of State, I am reminded of Dickens' great novel "Bleak House", which is concerned with the law. In the opening pages Dickens describes a scene outside the Law Courts on a foggy morning. He does it brilliantly for about three pages. The confusion in that area in the Strand is so dreadful that the imagination boggles at how the carriages managed to get through. Then, in a brilliant and witty line, he says: But the confusion there was as nothing compared with the confusion inside the Law Courts. He then devotes the rest of the book to explaining that confusion.

I listened with care to the tortuous way that my hon. Friend threaded his way ably—quite a tour de force—through the intricacies of the law, but I emerged far more confused at the end than I was at the beginning. I would not dream of not attributing compassion to my hon. Friend, for which I am sure he is duly famous, in the charming qualities that he displayed in trying to unravel the situation; but I felt that peering through the law—not his delineation of it—was sex discrimination and, even more vicious, racialism. I think that is within the law and that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) is trying to unravel the situation with this Bill.

It is good to hear hon. Members on both sides speaking in much the same vein in this debate. Indeed, I should like to echo that the need for the Bill is in itself a disgrace to our democracy. The fact that this debate is taking place is to many of us a sad matter. The need to rectify the situation is one of those elementary needs that should have been tackled a long time ago.

We live in a male-dominated world. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. Those of us who saw the subjection of women on the Indian subcontinent many years ago during the war—I observed it for four years—were led to the conviction that we now have because it was such an awful experience. We thought that that situation did not exist at home. That was during the period from 1940 to 1945. But to an extent that situation still exists in this country and we are still trying to rectify it.

Democracy does not recognise a sex barrier. To the extent that any sex barrier exists, democracy itself is diminished. The Bill is an attempt to try to set this matter right by putting women more clearly on an equal plane with men.

This afternoon we heard speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South and the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker). It was self-evident from those speeches that they are the equal of any man in this House in the way that they pleaded for the setting right of this great wrong.

Britain has led the world in the drive for human rights over a very long period. This matter is a blot on our escutcheon in that drive towards human rights. We are setting things right, but we still have a long way to go.

I cannot understand this fear of large numbers of Asian men coming into this country. My hon. Friend the Minister of State said that the women who have come here as immigrants are tending to marry within this country, and I think that that is true. None the less, they have an inalienable right to marry men who live outside this country and be allowed to have those men come here and live with them. To force them to make this choice is undemocratic, and needs rectifying quickly. I cannot conceive that the tortuous threading of our way through the law should be seen as any barrier.

All the time my hon. Friend was speaking I was thinking that I must not allow myself to be bemused by all these arguments, but must get back to the fundamental fact of sex discrimination and ask that the Bill go through rapidly to set the matter right. Therefore, I appeal to my hon. Friends to take as little note of these argumentations as they can. I am sure that the motivations are well meant, but if they are to obstruct the passage of the Bill we should forget them and join hands across the Chamber to get the Bill through.

3.11 p.m.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I apologise for intervening when I did not hear more than the first five or 10 minutes of the main speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger), or the intervention of the Minister, but I feel strongly about the Bill. I am strongly opposed to this measure, but I shall not obstruct its passage. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) that it is possible to share all the views that he expressed but, nevertheless, to oppose the passage of the Bill.

Most of the case for the Bill has been made on the basis of discrimination as between men and women. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South made it clear that she saw it as a Bill not about citizenship or immigration, but about discrimination as between men and women. Surely the fundamental point that needs to be made is that we can get rid of discrimination between men and women without doing it in the manner proposed in the Bill, which opens up the way—no one can doubt this—to possible dangers which may turn out to be realised.

In so far as the present law is discriminatory between men and women—and no one can doubt that it is that—it is difficult to see whether it is discriminatory against women or against men. It discriminates against women in the sense that a woman citizen of this country entitled to residence here cannot bring in her husband by reason of the marriage. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South say that the business of one spouse bringing in the other as baggage was an outdated approach. In so far as one regards the present arrangements as discriminatory against women, it is only because one might regard the man as the baggage of the woman, and he ought to be entitled to come in simply by reason of the marriage.

Surely it is more correct to say that the discrimination is against men. Under the present arrangements, a woman who is not entitled to come here acquires the right to do so by marriage to a citizen of this country resident here, and therefore she gains an advantage. It is the man who is not a citizen and not a resident here who cannot acquire the same right by marriage to a woman. We can all agree that the present arrangements are discriminatory as between men and women, but it is difficult to say whether they discriminate more against women than against men—

Mrs. Jeger

I am sure my hon. Friend will notice that the title of the Bill is Spouses of United Kingdom Citizens (Equal Treatment) Bill".

Mr. Cunningham

I accept that the Bill would give completely equal treatment. What I am saying is that the excitement and the campaign for this Bill has been as it were, a Women's Lib campaign.

Mrs. Jeger


Mr. Cunningham

If I may go on; let us see whether it is complete rubbish, shall we?

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)

It may not be complete rubbish, but it is rubbish.

Mr. Cunningham

We shall see.

It has been thought of as a way of giving to women equality of treatment, which they do not have at present. They are regarded as being disadvantaged at present. No one can deny that that is the basis on which most hon. Members have received letters and representations about the Bill. It is not that men have said, "I am prejudiced against because I do not have the right to come to Britain by reason of marrying a woman." It has been a grievance felt more by women than by men—

Mr. Mikardo

This is hair-splitting.

Mr. Cunningham

Hairs should sometimes be split in legal matters.

Mr. Mikardo

Come, come.

Mr. Cunningham

Present arrangements are discriminatory as between men and women, but it is not clear who is most prejudiced against by these arrangements. I make that point very much in passing. It would be possible, and I think it would be better, to remove the discrimination as between men and women without according an automatic right to every spouse to entry of this country simply by reason of the marriage.

I accept and would be prepared to face the fact that that means that one would be taking away—if I may put it in conventional terms—from a male citizen of this country the right automatically in law to bring his wife from abroad to this country. That would become discretionary. Similarly, a female citizen would have to depend upon discretion for bringing in a male spouse. Given the way in which this discussion is normally conducted, and, I imagine, the way in which it has been conducted throughout most of today when I have not been here, I suppose that that would be regarded as rather outlandish—

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Cunningham

In fact this is the arrangement which prevails in most countries.

Mr. Flannery

So what?

Mr. Cunningham

I agree that we should not do only what is done in other countries, but the suggestion is that Britain is being unduly reactionary in the arrangements that it has.

An arrangement which said that spouses of whichever gender could come here but that there was a power to refuse, which would normally not be used, is the arrangement which applies, for example, in Canada. Australia and New Zealand—all countries which, like us, have had a large influx of immigration, in their case largely from this country.

The only case for what I am saying I would prefer to the arrangements in the Bill is the possibility of abuse. When people talk of abuse, mostly they speak of the possibility of large numbers of people arranging marriages and coming to this country on the basis of those arranged marriages. I suggest that good community relations could be prejudiced just as much by one or two highly publicised cases of abuse as by a wave of abuse. I do not think that there will be any wave. I cannot see hundreds upon hundreds of men arranging marriages in order to come to this country, but it only needs one or two to do so to set back the cause of community relations in this country quite severely.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Does my hon. Friend not accept that that is the argument which has been used since time immemorial to try to maintain barriers against any advance? The Indian girls and boys in this country who go to school with my children in comprehensive schools will look increasingly for the same kind of behaviour, background and involvement that they now find in the Anglo-Saxons with whom they are educated. It is no argument to say that because there may be some publicity of an individual abuse we should maintain this kind of direct prejudice against one of the sexes.

Mr. Cunningham

My hon. Friend must surely accept that I am not proposing that we ought to maintain that prejudice, that discrimination, as between the sexes. I am saying that of course that must be got rid of—but moving towards discretionary admission of spouses of either sex as against automatic admission. I ask hon. Members to face up to this question: what happens when one man from outside this country buys a form of marriage with a girl—

Mrs. Dunwoody

As has been happening for years.

Mr. Cunningham

—not necessarily an immigrant girl but any girl in this country? What happens then? Is the publicity attached to that case likely to advance the cause of community relations? It will harm it very much. We all know that these cases rarely occur and do not get much publicity.

Mr. Mikardo

What does my hon. Friend say to the fact that for quite a long time now young Englishmen have been advertising the fact that they are willing to marry girls from overseas in order to give them nationality? Why does he think that that has not harmed the cause of community relations and that it would harm that cause only if it were the other way around? In all friendship, I put it to my hon. Friend that what he is doing is suggesting that we should get rid of discrimination against anyone by having discrimination against everyone.

Mr. Cunningham

The possibility that my hon. Friend mentions, of a woman from outside this country acquiring the right to enter by fixing a marriage, exists, and in so far as it is publicised—and there were some cases a few months ago—it does a lot of harm. The question is whether the cases which are the other way around will be as rare as that or more common. Which is likely? Let us see if we can get the facts clear, to see what it is that we are prepared to face. They are likely to be more common—

Mrs. Dunwoody


Mr. Cunningham

—for the reason that outside this country there are x number of women who wish to enter this country, as it were, in their own right and who, therefore, may wish to fix a marriage in order to acquire the right to come here. But whatever is the number of men outside this country prepared to do the same thing, it is certainly higher. Men are the free movers. Whether or not one likes it, they are the people who tend to take a decision, in, for example, the West Indies, to move to Britain. Without reasons of marriage coming into it, there are more men wanting to move from their present abode to this country than there are women who wish to do that.

In so far as there is this abuse, therefore, the abuse of bringing men into this country is likely to be greater than the abuse in respect of women entering. There are those who say, "All right, I am prepared to face up to that and accept it on the basis that we do not want to keep out any legal spouse." I disagree with that point of view, but it is an honest view. I am not suggesting that we should use a discretion in order to keep spouses out. The discretion should be used to admit; but the discretion would mean something, in that one would have the power not to admit if there were evidence—one would not go searching for it—that in a particular case the marriage was no more than a form of marriage designed only to procure admission to this country.

I may be howled down on that proposition, but again it is not an arrangement which would be regarded as outrageous in most other countries. It is an arrangement which would allow us to accord to male spouses outside this country much more generous treatment than they receive now, because the Home Office feels that if it opens the door now very generously, it can never close it to even one case.

If the possibility of refusal where there is evidence of abuse is retained, it is possible to be much more generous. That is not the proposition in the Bill. I do not think that there is any chance that the Bill will be amended in Committee to make it accord with that view. I think that it would be much more in the interests of community relations in Britain if it were so changed.

The view I am expressing is a minority one, not only amongst hon. Members who have come to the House today but in the House as a whole and, as I understand it, amongst all the people who take an interest in these matters. Therefore, I do not propose to obstruct the Bill, even if I could do so; so it will go through. However, I think that when the first case of a procured form of bought marriage receives a great deal of adverse publicity we may have reason to regret what we are doing in the Bill.

3.26 p.m.

Mr. Bryan Magee (Leyton)

It is important for us all to be clear that this Bill does not propose to remove illiberalities from the immigration law. It proposes to remove sexual discriminatory elements from that law. In so far as the immigration laws are illiberal—I believe that they are extensively illiberal at present—they will remain illiberal even after the Bill becomes law. All that the Bill would secure is that all the same illiberalities would apply to men as apply to women. If there are any illiberal Members present, they can rest assured that they do not need to oppose the Bill to retain any illiberalities that they wish to retain.

The central principle of the Bill, then, is clear. It is to abolish sexual discrimination in our immigration laws. I have been astonished at how little reference to that central principle I have heard in the debate, because I was under the impression that the purpose of a Second Reading debate was to discuss the central principle of a Bill.

We all know—at least, I think we all know—the real reason why there is an inclination in the Home Office to resist the Bill. Some people fear that, if a Bill like this were to become law, the following would happen For many years past a number of people living on the Indian sub-continent have been prepared to pay substantial sums to secure illegal entry into this country. The fear is that, because of the cultural institution of arranged marriages prevailing in that part of the world, it would then become possible for people willing to put up enough money to arrange a marriage on payment, which would then enable them to enter Britain.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) says in reply, "But my Bill applies only to people who are already married. It does not allow people to enter Britain for purposes of marriage", the reply of my imaginary opponent would be, "Yes, but the air fare to Britain from India or Pakistan is a small proportion of what many people have shown themselves willing to pay to get into this country, and all that would happen would be that women would be flown out to be married to people who were willing to pay, and would fly back with their newly married husbands." If one is honest, one must face the fact that a Bill such as this opens up that possibility.

I make two points in reply to that. First, the sheer numbers involved make it entirely clear that it is a possibility that would be open only to a comparatively small number of people. Different figures have been given in the debate. It is easy, and I think fruitless, to embark on an argument about figures. The surprising thing to me about all the differing figures which have been given is how small they are. I am advised by the Runnymede Trust that the pool of available women—to use an unfeeling phrase—the pool of Indian or Pakistani women available for such arranged marriages is about 40,000. I do not want to argue about the precise accuracy of that figure.

But given that there are more men than women from those parts of the world resident in this country; given that the longer women from those parts of the world remain in this country the more influenced they are by our patterns of behaviour, our cultural institutions and our proclivity to marry a person of one's own choice rather than the choice of one's parents; and given the order of magnitude of the figure involved; I assert that it is a small problem in the context of our national life. And it is bound to be a diminishing problem. From the time when the Bill came into effect, the problem, however large or small, would he bound, after a initial period, to get smaller and smaller.

The second of my objections relates to the purpose of a debate of this kind: that is, it is an objection in principle. The principle enshrined in the Bill is the principle that sexual discrimination is not to be permitted in the laws of this country. It is a principle with which I am 150 per cent. in sympathy. There was a time in the history of this country when the law discriminated against Jews. Our laws have discriminated against Catholics and non-conformists; they have discriminated against people who owned less than a certain value in property. For most of the time when such laws were in operation they were regarded by the majority of people in this country as normal, because they were normal: they had always existed. And because they were normal they were acceptable. Yet there is scarcely an hon. Member who would not regard discrimination of those kinds as utterly repugnant today, and unacceptable in any legislation that this House might consider or accept.

We have reached a point in the social development of this country when sexual discrimination is of precisely this kind. It is a principle, like anti-semitism, about which no accommodation should ever be made, a principle on which no degree of compromise should ever be acceptable. In saying that, I admit that precisely because sexual discrimination is structural in the community in which we live, precisely because it is built into our society in such manifold, intricate and intimate ways, it cannot be removed overnight by a single act of legislation. It cannot be removed in any period shorter than a considerable number of years. But sexual equality is an end towards which we must move. We must never pass a Bill in this House which goes back, so far as that principle is concerned. And if a Bill of this kind would have the result of opening the gates to a marginally greater number of coloured male immigrants from the Indian sub-continent—if that is the problem, it must be met with solutions which are relevant to that, and not at the cost of sacrificing the principle of sexual equality. To try to solve an immigration problem by using an entirely different weapon, the weapon of sexual discrimination, is like trying to cure a man's toothache by cutting his head off. It is sacrificing the greater to the less.

Therefore, while acknowledging the reality of the problem which is feared by opponents of this Bill, and while acknowledging the fact that if the problem is created—and this Bill might create it—steps would have to be taken to solve it, the Bill should nevertheless be passed, because we must accept the full implications of sexual equality and then deal with whatever problems that creates, by appropriate means. If we acknowledge the ideal of sexual equality, then, like every other ideal, the acknowledgment is a façade if we accept it in practice only when it costs us nothing. An ideal which one follows only when it does not hurt is not an ideal: it is either hypocrisy or pragmatism. Let us live up to the ideal, accept the ideal, accept the problems consequent on embodying the ideal in legislation, and then face them.

3.35 p.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

By leave of the House, may I speak again? I wish to deal with two or three points which have been raised, notably by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane). However, before I do that, I wish to say that I accept entirely the spirit of the speech, so well made, of my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee).

From the very beginning, the Home Secretary has been convinced, as a member of a Government intending very soon to reveal their proposals—I think that they will be found to be radical, far-reaching and effective—to implement the principle of equality for women throughout the whole of our social life, that it would be wrong to retain in respect of immigration a rule which itself might be considered to be sexually discriminatory.

True, we could have dealt with the rule so as to remove the element of sex discrimination in the way I indicated in my speech, which has been expatiated upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), but, as I explained, this would have continued—indeed, it would have increased—the amount of human distress caused. It was for that reason, right at the beginning of my speech, that I said that I regarded this basically not as an issue of sex discrimination but as one concerning the distress which is caused to people who are married, or who want to marry, and who want to come to live in this country.

I have a great affection for the hon. Member for Cambridge, but I listened with a good deal of incredulity to his account of how this situation was dealt with by his Government. I recognise his difficulties, but if I had not been inundated with cases revealing the distress which had been accumulated over the past few years, distress accumulated because those cases had been consistently turned down by the Home Office under the hon. Gentleman's administration, I should not have believed that it was quite such a pressing problem as it is.

In fact, because there has been that accumulation of cases, because the hardship was so great, and because the control exercised was so inflexible, this matter has come to the boil in the way it has. I am glad that it has. It gives us the opportunity to review the rule and consider whether it is necessary. But the reason it came to the boil was largely the inflexibility of the last Government.

When the hon. Gentleman names a few cases in which he was able to exercise discretion and allow entry, I can only say that I can name many more which I have now reviewed in which he consistently turned down an application on hardship grounds. I do not think that he can say that he was applying the rule with the same degree of fairness and flexibility as has been applied to it since the new Government came in.

Mr. Lane

I do not want to detain the House, but the hon. Gentleman is being unfair in laying at the door of the last Government the amount of human distress which the administration of the rule has been causing. The House knows the situation perfectly well, and I am sorry that he has introduced that note. I acknowledge that the administration of the rule has now been made more flexible, but the difficulties go back to the date in 1969 when the former Labour Government, for reasons which were accepted as overriding then, changed the rule in the way they did. All the difficulties we face today, all the sex discrimination, go back to that decision of the Labour Home Secretary in 1969.

Mr. Lyon

The hon. Gentleman said that he had instituted the review of citizenship. Again, I have some incredulity about that. We have certainly done it, and we shall continue with our review. We hope that it will soon be possible to introduce a completely new test of citizenship which will carry no sense of racial discrimination or sex discrimination.

The hon. Member for Cambridge drew attention to the statement made by the Home Secretary at an early stage in this discussion when we had begun the review about the possible implications for immigration. I think that my right hon. Friend has made plain since that he, too, has reviewed the matter in the light of the information that has come before us and that he does not regard the problem as being as serious as was first thought. It behoves any new Government to approach a problem of this nature with a fair degree of caution. That is what we have done.

I end with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. He referred to a danger which might arise if there were a change in the rules. If there were a change, it is inevitable that at some time or other we should come across a bad case in the way that he indicates. The real test for us as a civilised community is whether we can stand up to the kind of criticism which would then be voiced. If we believed that a change was right and if, in all the circumstances, we concluded that it should take place, a few bad cases should not change our view about the issue on principle, and we would have to be able to stand before our constituents and explain the situation if they wanted us to change the rule back because of one or two bad cases that might be highlighted in some sections of the Press. The price of human misery for doing that is the kind of case we have had recounted ad nauseam from both sides of the House.

If this change comes we must be as firm in holding to the change as the House has been today in criticising the existing rule. Therefore, I ask for the support of hon. Members on both sides to make a firm stand against any such intemperate playing with racial feeling if a bad case came to light after the rule were changed.

Mr. Magee

Why, if the Government are so sympathetic with the principle of the Bill—and perhaps are prepared to do very much more—can they not simply accept the Bill as a first step, and then go on to do the something more?

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).