HC Deb 08 April 1976 vol 909 cc619-21
8. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with the operation of the immigration appeals procedure.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

As was stated in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) on 11th March, the delay in arranging hearings still gives cause for concern despite a marked increase in the rate of disposal of appeals last year. Additional part-time adjudicators are being appointed to help clear the backlog.

Mr. Taylor

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is the current waiting time for the hearing of appeals? Is he aware of the concern of part-time adjudicators that, although they take a great deal of care to consider cases impartially, their recommendations are often overturned by Ministers?

Mr. Jenkins

They are not often overturned, but they have been occasionally overturned by the exercise of discretion by the Secretary of State—the office held by myself. The average period that elapses between the lodging and hearing of an appeal, which is between five and six months, is too long. That is the reason for my substantive answer. The period is not so long as it was in 1973, however, Where a right of appeal against the refusal of leave to enter is exercised, the appeal is normally determined within two or three days.

Mr. Strauss

Is my right hon. Friend aware that social and other serious problems may arise if immigrants have to leave the country on the day they are supposed to leave and that when immigrants appeal to him for consideration of their cases they invariably find that they are given fair and humanitarian consideration, which is much appreciated, not only by the people concerned but by their Members of Parliament? Will my right hon. Friend bear that in mind, and continue with his admirable work?

Mr. Jenkins

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he said. It is important that there should be some degree of ministerial discretion, and that it should be exercised with fairness—reasonably sparingly, but nevertheless occasionally—on humanitarian grounds, compatible with an effective immigration control.

Mr. Lane

If the habit develops of Ministers overriding appeal decisions save in exceptional circumstances, is it not obvious that it will be bad for the morale of the immigration services and undermine the effectiveness of immigration control?

Mr. Jenkins

The hon. Gentleman has considerable experience in this matter. When he had these responsibilities he discharged them with humanity and fairness, as he treats all matters concerning immigration and race relations. The general principles that the hon. Gentleman lays down are unexceptionable, but I do not think that they are incompatible with the exercise of discretion in exceptional cases.