HC Deb 12 February 1976 vol 905 cc602-5
9. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how soon the admittance of eligible wives and dependants under the Immigration Act 1971 and East African Asians with special vouchers is likely to be completed.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

We cannot make forecasts of this kind because the future rate of entry depends on a wide variety of social, economic and other factors. But it is likely that the United Kingdom passport holders who are heads of household in East Africa and who wish to come here will have been admitted by the end of the 'seventies.

Mr. Goodhart

As polygamy is legal in a number of Commonwealth countries, will the Minister give an assurance that second wives and the children of second marriages are not included in the list of those eligible for entry?

Mr. Lyon

The term "wife" in the 1971 Immigration Act has been defined by both the tribunal and the courts as including a second or a third wife in relation to a polygamous union that took place when the husband was domiciled in a place where polygamy is permitted. However, difficulties arise, particularly in relation to Pakistani wives, when the marriage took place when the husband was domiciled in this country.

Mr. Hooley

Will my hon. Friend speed up the mechanics of the process of dealing with applications from wives who wish to join their husbands in this country?

Mr. Lyon

I am doing my level best to do exactly that, although sometimes I am criticised by Conservative Members. We have managed to increase the rate of interviewing on the Indian subcontinent by almost 100 per cent. in the last year. I hope that the situation will continue to improve.

Mr. Budgen

Will the Minister confirm the report by Mr. Amit Roy in the Daily Telegraph of 2nd February that fresh instructions have been issued to immigration officers concerning the entry of Commonwealth citizens into this country? Will he further confirm that the spirit of these fresh instructions is "If in doubt, let them in"?

Mr. Lyon

The hon. Gentleman is referring in particular to the acceptance of a father or mother coming to the wedding of a child in this country, where there may be doubt whether that father or mother will use that visit as a device for settlement. We have said that the greatest humanity should be applied when those cases are considered because it is often extremely difficult to resolve the intent in an individual's mind. Where that conflict exists, the answer is that if there is doubt we allow them in.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

May we take it that three polygamous unions are the absolute limit?

Mr. Lyon

I believe that by the laws of Islam and Pakistan, four is the absolute limit.

13. Mr. Shersby

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what changes in the arrangements for the admission of the remaining wives and dependent children eligible to enter Great Britain under the Immigration Act 1971 have been made in 1974 and 1975; and what further changes, if any, are in prospect.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

In view of increasing delays in the issue of entry clearances to wives and children in the Indian subcontinent, a reinforcement of the staffs at Dacca and Islamabad was announced on 26th June 1974. As a result of my visit to the subcontinent in January 1975 a number of changes were made last year in the processing there of applications for entry clearances; in particular, outstanding applications by unaccompanied wives, and mothers with children under 10, are being dealt with more expeditiously under a simplified procedure. The arrangements are kept under review.

Mr. Shersby

What immigration controls now operate in relation to newly acquired wives of immigrants not born but settled in the United Kingdom and who return briefly to their native land to participate in arranged marriages in accordance with their custom?

Mr. Lyon

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman stressed the last words, because one has to recognise that the Asian custom is an arranged marriage and that there is nothing dishonourable or disreputable about it. It is not necessarily a device for evading English immigration controls. We respect that custom, and anticipate that in the early years of the change of rule that was made last year by this House there will be a slight increase in immigration as a result. The figures for last year are available and have been announced. I do not expect them to increase very much in future years.

Mr. Thorne

Is the Minister aware that a recent humanitarian decision made by him has been welcomed in Preston by Asian and non-Asian members of the community alike, and will he indicate whether he intends to have an early review of the working of the whole of the Immigration Act 1971?

Mr. Lyon

We have already announced that when the nationality review is complete we shall be reviewing the whole of immigration law, but it is impossible to do so until we have finally resolved the central issue of who is a British citizen. When that is done, we shall get on with the matter.

Mr. Michael Morris

Is the Minister aware that despite his visit to the Indian subcontinent, it is still taking the best part of a year for genuine cases to enter this country?

Mr. Lyon

Yes, Sir, and I am glad that sentiment has come from the Opposition side of the House. It ought to be realised, in the whole of this dispute which has flared up again, that there is real anguish and concern for thousands of wives and children in the subcontinent who have the statutory right to come and ought to be allowed to come as quickly as they can.

Mr. Woodall

Is my hon. Friend prepared to consider changes in the arrangements governing the entry of husbands into this country? Is he aware that a constituent of mine, Mrs. Linda Sekhor, married an Indian gentleman in February 1975 and that his application for entry into this country will not be heard in Delhi until July of this year?

Mr. Lyon

Yes, and I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a disgrace. However, we are doing our best to try to expedite matters so that that kind of delay does not occur in the future.