§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
We should all like to wish you, Mr. Speaker, a good recess, sad though it is that the recess was not curtailed by a fortnight in order to enable hon. Members to discuss the many important issues which we should like to have dealt with yesterday.
I am grateful for the opportunity to initiate this Adjournment debate, particularly because of the concern felt about the operation of immigration control. At the beginning of this debate it is necessary to remove some of the illusions which exist in certain quarters. First, immigration control is, and has been, tightly operated. There is no mass immigration and we are not being swamped. I wish to put on record the fact that the speech by the Prime Minister in January 1978 which talked of our being swamped was wholly misleading and racist in tone and content. The right hon. Lady's remarks undoubtedly harmed race relations and discouraged the level of fair-mindedness and tolerance which was beginning to develop and increase.
All hon. Members who deal with immigration cases know full well that for many years immigration control has been tightly operated. For example, if the wife of a Pakistani resident in this country wishes to join her husband—and the uniting of families seems to be a reasonably humane aim in life—she must apply to Islamabad and wait up to two years for an interview, and if there is any discrepancy between the account rendered by her husband and the account given by the wife, in almost every case her entry is rejected.
There are complaints that some of the questions asked at the embassy posts are wildly misleading and irrelevant. If an entry visa is obtained, that does not mean that there will be an open door at Heathrow. For example, a wife may be subject to further delays and threatened deportation at Heathrow. I am sure that the Minister will want to assure the House that, in spite of reports that we hear from time to time, control at Islamabad is free from prejudice and needlessly irrelevant or confusing questions. I have written to the Minister concerning a constituent of mine who raised questions regarding 1269 agency fees which apparently are required to facilitate an advance along the queue at Islamabad. I hope that this will he investigated with care and concern.
Immigration control clearly has to be fair and non-racist, and citizens who arrive at our shores, be they black, brown, yellow or white, must be treated with courtesy, dignity and fairness. I have no doubt that there are many immigration officers who do their job with patience, courtesy and tact. Equally, however, there are signs that in some instances this is not the case. Although it may well be that we are talking of a minority of cases, and I am sure the Minister will say that millions of people are dealt with under immigration control, the fact is that we are concerned with injustice or contemptible treatment. No matter how small the numbers may be, we must strive to ensure that the system is made as fair as is humanly possible.
The basis of continuing concern is the instructions given to immigration officers, because these officers are civil servants and such instructions must be clear and unambiguous. The first point which was raised in the public consciousness was the question of virginity tests at the beginning of 1979. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) raised this issue in an Adjournment debate on 19 February. The Home Secretary at that time said that such tests would end. That was widely welcomed. One matter that has never been properly answered is the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), when he was a Minister at the Home Office, issued instructions that such tests should not be carried out.
There appears either to have been laxity in carrying out the then Minister's instructions or a deliberate obfuscation over the years between the departure from office of my hon. Friend the Member for York and the subsequent exposure of the fact that these tests were being conducted. I am concerned that the Minister should be able to assure the House that the instructions given to immigration officers are clear, are carried out, and are not produced in such a form and with such ambiguity that, when the publicity has died down and a period of time has elapsed, those instructions 1270 are open to a much wider interpretation, with unsatisfactory results.
The then Home Secretary said in February that he was looking into the nature of all medical examinationsin the immigration control context, to establish a standard and acceptable set of procedures."—[Official Report, 19 February 1979; Vol. 963, c. 221.]Since that debate the general election has taken up most of the time and the emphasis. I wonder whether the procedures which the Home Secretary said were being instituted have been instituted, whether they are still being undertaken and whether the Minister has establisheda standard and acceptable set of procedures.Have virginity tests ceased at posts abroad? Will standards of conduct imposed here for ports of entry also apply at ports abroad? It would help the House a great deal if the movement towards greater openness in government was substantiated by the Minister's Department. I have to tell the Minister that in the general view of many Members of Parliament the Home Office is the most restricted and closed Department of them all. That achieves a considerable peak of official obscurantism. It would help the public at large and it would certainly help to establish that standards of conduct are high if the guidance and the rules given to immigration officers were to be published in the Library.
Does the Minister agree that secrecy is part of the process whereby abuse can develop? That is one area of concern about Government secrecy in all its aspects. Certainly here, where there is an element of concern and sensitivity, it is clearly an area where openness is extremely important. Are the Government applying tighter rules to immigration, tighter even than the Labour Government, behind this cloak of secrecy? I hope that the Minister can refute such claims.
The Guardian earlier this year neatly summed up the position in an editorial of 10 February when it said:These abuses of people trying to enter Britain raise two immediate points. The first has to do with the secrecy surrounding immigration procedures. How long would these abuses have continued if one woman had not been courageous enough to give the evidence needed to pin down rumours which have been current for years? It was her testimony that she had been subjected to 1271 gynaecological examination which started bringing all the rest to light. A system which can keep practices secret because the people who suffer are likely to be too timid, apprehensive or vulnerable to expose its defects cannot be a good system. And yet that, increasingly, is the kind of system that our immigration procedure seems to be.The second point of concern is the extent to which port and High Commission medical officers are being shown to be involved in matters of policing which are not within their public health duties at all. We recognise and deplore the alliance of medicine and politics when it involves psychiatrists in the Soviet Union diagnosing and treating dissidents. The activities of medical officers in immigration procedures are not as distantly removed from that as we might care to think.The Guardian editorial emphasised that the underlying cause of much of this concern was the issue of secrecy. I would accept the point if the Minister replied that this took place under a Labour Government and that that Government did not blow aside this cloak of secrecy. I say that that is so. I was a critic of the Labour Government for so doing. I am sorry that we did not carry out our 1974 election pledge to repeal the Official Secrets Act and to place the reasoning for secrecy on the institutional Government Department. That does not obviate the fact that secrecy still surrounds immigration control.
I shall come to another item of yet more recent import on which the Minister has commented. In June of this year The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian reported that secret codes were being used on immigrants' passports, by words being underlined, crosses placed on stamps and so on. They mean that the Home Office has additional information, or may have additional information or that a person has or may have been contravening conditions attached to his stay.
The Daily Telegraph, which is not a newspaper renowned for its Left wing sympathies, said on 5 June:The third contentious example concerns marks used by the Home Office when an immigrant applies for extension of stay. Here dates on endorsements are underlined showing that the person has been asked to leave, or has contravened, or tried to contravene the conditions attached to his stay, or that the Home Office has information about the passenger which does not necessarily justify a refusal of leave to enter.Who decides that someone has tried to contravene the conditions attached to his stay? Would not it be a Home Office 1272 official, and would not we be greatly concerned if Home Office officials were using secret codes because of their own decisions to prejudice a person's stay in this country?
As The Daily Telegraph pointed out, the secret codes which were published in The Daily Telegraph may well have wider understanding, say, abroad, and they may well prejudice a person's entry to or or exit from another country when travelling on that passport.
I asked the Minister a question about this matter of secret codes, and he refused to end such practices. They are practices which he and I would condemn if they came to light in, for example, the Soviet Union. We might argue that that was the sort of country where secret codes might be used but that we rejected that sort of centralised Government interference with citizens' rights. Why should not we condemn similar practice when it operates in this country? I ask the Minister to end this secret code application and to publish the guidance and instructions to immigrant officers.
There is an interesting and useful parallel to this. From time to time the Government—I suppose Governments of both parties but certainly the last Labour Government—look at non-tariff barriers to goods, not people, to see what can be done to stem the flow of imported goods which has cost so many jobs and caused such concern. One of the objections to non-tariff barriers is that in effect they placed a great deal too much power into the hands of the civil servants operating these codes. We have a practice that the position of civil servants is clear and understood. They operate to guidelines which are not open to abuse, or, if they are open to abuse, the guidelines and the action of the civil servant can be seen to be clearly at odds. That was one of the reasons why the control of goods through non-tariff barriers was brought into question. The instructions were not clear, they were secret, and therefore they were open to abuse and to possible corruption.
I ask the House whether we should have lower standards for people than for goods. I should have thought that the reservations operating in that case would operate in the case of secret codes on passports.
1273 I ask the Minister to institute a thorough and searching inquiry into all the immigration procedures to ensure that they are open and fair. This of course will involve the ending of secret practices.
Having sketched in the general background, I come to the specific causes of concern which underline that general background. I know that half a dozen cases or so do not make a general case, but I think that the concern about the code and about the virginity tests is sufficient to raise the issue.
Hon. Members are always getting cases which cause concern. The first one to give me concern was that of a woman arriving from Rhodesia to visit her daughter and son-in-law who are my constituents. She alone was picked out and detained for more than four hours at Heathrow airport. She was on a visit to her daughter and son-in-law. She was very upset by the incident. Her daughter who was waiting for her at Heathrow was not permitted to be informed about her detention, and her luggage was opened and searched repeatedly. Understandably, this caused her great concern. I might say that she was a black Rhodesian. I should be interested to know whether the Minister thinks that that might have had any relevance to her being singled out. I wrote to the Minister in May, and he said that he was instituting an investigation into the circumstances. I know that his Department is inundated with letters from hon. Members about such matters and wider matters, and I understand that he cannot produce an immediate reply, but I should have thought that by now some response was possible.
I point to an article in The Guardian of 24 July reporting that a pregnant Pakistani woman was pointed out as having been held in detention at Heathrow since 11 June. She was rushed to hospital early yesterday morning and last night was thought to be in danger of losing her baby. The woman, Nazim Akhtar, had been detained in Harmondsworth detention centre because immigration authorities did not accept that she was the fiancée of the man whom she said she had come to marry. It was said that the man whom she said she was marrying was already married and was in 1274 the middle of incomplete divorce proceedings. The article stated:The man whom she has named as her fiance, Mr. Afzal Shah, asked his M.P., Mr. Peter Walker, the Agriculture Minister, to take up the case. However, he was told by Mr. Walker's secretary that a Cabinet Minister could not interfere with decisions of the immigration service. Mr. Alex Lyon, the Labour M.P. who is chairman of the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service, then took up the case with the Home Office. But he was told that Mr. Shah's M.P. had already considered the case.Here was a nice Catch 22 situation in which it was claimed that representations were not possible.
I hope that that account in The Guardian is not accurate. I also hope that the factors set out are not as harsh as might be supposed. It seems inhumane on a technical argument to detain a pregnant woman in such circumstances and for such length of time on the decision by the immigration authorities.
I also draw attention to an early-day motion which I note has been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Meacher). It is early-day motion 126 which I and a number of other hon. Members have signed. It says:That this House, bearing in mind that Mr. Abdul Azad, a 17-year-old Pakistani immigrant who had been in England for five years, was arrested after the murder of his mother on 4th October 1978, was kept imprisoned by the police for 10 days though obviously innocent of the murder, was made to sign a statement under duress that he was an illegal immigrant, was only then allowed to meet his father and see a solicitor, was then detained without trial for a further 13 weeks at Risley Remand Centre, and is still, 10 months later, under threat of deportation, believes that legal proceedings relating to the treatment of alleged illegal immigrants should be changed, and in particular that: (a) they should in no circumstances be subject to intimidation in order to secure a confession, (b) they should not be deported without first being given access to a solicitor, (c) they should be brought within the provisions of the Habeas Corpus Acts so that they are not subjected to imprisonment without trial, and (d) they should have a right to stand trial before a court, rather than having their fate determined by the discretion of the Home Secretary.I endorse those views strongly. It seems quite wrong—indeed, outrageous—that because people are suspected of being illegal immigrants their legal rights are virtually non-existent: the right to trial by court, the right to habeas 1275 corpus and the right of access to a solicitor. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that he will take action about this.
The fourth item in this context which I raise concerns a constituent of mine who was treated in an appalling manner on 21 June of this year. He travelled from Cherbourg to Portsmouth on the date in question, and he is the holder of a British passport endorsed with a settlement entry certificate. He has lived here since 1972. On entry at Portsmouth, he was subjected to special treatment. First, the immigration officer threatened to keep his passport without any reason being given and when asked for a reason refused to advance any. Then he was asked without reason to fill in a form, though other British passport holders were not. The conversation was subsequently put on record by my constituent and I have sent the details to the Minister. The immigration officer said:You have got to fill in a form every time you come into Britain.My constituent said:Surely not. I didn't see any other British citizens filling in the forms.The immigration officer said:You are coloured so you must fill in a form. Now don't argue with me. Where do you live?My constituent tells me that he then furnished the required information which the immigration officer filled in on a white card. He stamped the passport which reads:Given leave to enter the United Kingdom for indefinite period.There followed the immigration officer's number, two five-pointed and smaller six-pointed stars and the date 22 June 1979.
My constituent tells me that the immigration officer handed him his passport and said, just as my constituent was about to leave:Before you go let me tell you we don't want many of your kind in my country.My constituent replied:Would you care to elaborate on your last remark?The immigration officer said:You must be bloody thick.My constituent replied:Can you tell me your name?1276 The immigration officer said:Bugger off. In future make sure you don't travel on the boat where I am the immigration officer.My constituent replied:Why, what would you do? Throw me overboard?The immigration officer said:I'll give you hell. I promise that.The interesting point about my constituent is that he is a serving police officer with the West Yorkshire metropolitan police force. The affair is most disturbing. He has written to the immigration authorities about the conduct of the immigration officer and has asked me to raise it with the correct authorities. As the Minister knows, I have done so.
The fact that my constituent was a police officer is highly relevant, but I am concerned that that sort of conduct could have been applied to people who did not have his stamp of authority—the frightened wife or the youngster. They would not have the presence of mind to follow the example of my constituent, who tells me that he recorded the account of the conversation in police officer's fashion. There are few black or brown people coming ino this country who have been trained, as a police officer is trained, to record information in great detail. Of course, my constituent has been trained, and it was fortunate that he used his training on that occasion.
I am gravely concerned at the notion that there are officers—I accept that they are in a minority—who feel that they can work in the immigration service and express such views. Another matter of concern is that a person with those views should be able to work in the immigration service and not feel that he is so alien to it that the record of courtesy, dignity and tolerance of immigration officers is breached. I know that those qualities are put under strain in all of us, but they must be present in immigration officers. Many of them have those characteristics and a sense of good humour which, again, must be strained in some circumstances. Unfortunately, the attitude displayed by the immigration officer who dealt with my constituent can exist, and that is a matter of great concern.
Let me summarise the matters of concern that I have outlined. The virginity 1277 tests indicated that immigration officers' instructions were too ambiguous and could be abused and that ministerial directions were not being followed as closely as they ought to have been. My hon. Friend the Member for York indicated that he had insisted that ministerial directions should be followed, and it appears that the power of the administrative machine must be more clearly defined and, where necessary, curbed.
Secondly, the secret coding is unfair and, against the background of abuse of ministerial directions, could clearly be a source of further abuse. In any event, the idea of public documents being used for the administrative convenience of officers should be abhorrent to the standards of government and administration in this country. The secret coding should be ended.
Thirdly, there is a sufficient number of individual cases of prolonged detention or abuse to cause concern. I have outlined some, but the Minister knows that he is continually receiving complaints through hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I accept that millions of people are subject to immigration control and that the majority of immigration officers work diligently and with courtesy and patience, but controls must be seen to be fair, open and non-racist. Instructions must be published, in part or in full, to be seen to be fair.
In the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking in February, the then Home Secretary said that it would not be possible to publish the instructions because they would reveal to those seeking to bend or avoid the immigration rules how best to get around them. That may be so, but the Minister could say that he will publish as many of the rules as possible without prejudicing that element of security—if it exists. I am doubtful whether that risk exists.
We are thrown back to the policy adumbrated in Labour's manifesto for the 1974 general election. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) is in the Chamber and he is much concerned with our election manifesto, and more power to his elbow and 1278 to the elbow of our NEC. But that is a slight aside. In that manifesto, we placed the onus on the Government body to justify secrecy. If the Minister has a case, let him justify it and say that he will publish all those areas of guidance that are not subject to reservations about assisting avoidance.
The laws regarding illegal immigrants must be enforced but be subject to the right of access to a solicitor and to habeas corpus. Early-day motion 34 headed:
"INQUIRY INTO INSTRUCTIONS TO IMMIGRATION OFFICERS"
sums up the position well. It says:That this House, whilst welcoming the Home Department's action in instructing immigration officers not to ask the medical inspector to examine passengers arriving in the United Kingdom with a view to establishing whether they have borne children or have had sexual relations, nevertheless calls for an independent inquiry into the conduct and control of the immigration service at ports of entry into the United Kingdom and of entry clearance officers overseas, and the publication of the detailed insructions upon which they operate.I hope that the Minister will be able to agree with some of the points that I have made so that we may re-establish our reputation for fairness, civil conduct and courtesy in dealing with people who reach these shores, from whatever country they come and whatever the colour of their skin.
§ 12.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) on raising this important subject, which is of daily concern to so many of us. Parliament is to rise for the best part of three months, and during that time many people will want reassurance, because the problems of immigration will continue. It is a very delicate subject. The hon. Gentleman dealt with it with considerable restraint, contrary to the way in which the Labour Party dealt with it in the general election campaign. The hon. Gentleman's reference to cases in which those who should know better have shown acute irritation, which is utterly unforgivable, is a symptom of how careful we must all be to get the balance right.
No party has a monopoly of humanity in dealing with the problem. We on the Conservative Benches can point to the fact that the virginity tests arose under a 1279 Labour Government. On he other hand, it was the Conservatives who admitted the Ugandan Asians and who are playing a leading part in helping the boat people. So there is no monopoly of cruelty or of humanity.
The Labour Party claims that it brought the immigration figures down. I am not sure how it can claim that. The total number of settlers in 1978 exceeded those who came here in 1977. Every year under the Labour Government immigration exceeded by more than 13,000 the total of 55,000 which followed on the first year of the Conservation Immigration Act. From the New Commonwealth and Pakistan alone, the 32,000 entering Britain in 1973 rose to an average of 48,000 over the five years. So it can hardly be claimed that the last Government did much to control the level of immigration.
The last Government's height of irresponsibility was when they twice allowed people who had entered Britain illegally to stay, and refused an inquiry into illegal immigration, which hurt those members of the immigrant population who were rightfully here and who rightfully wanted to have their dependants enter this country. Dependants who were properly in the queue found that they were being excluded by those coming here illegally. Then the Government upheld that position. That was wrong. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister for an assurance that it will never happen under a Conservatime Government.
I also ask my hon. Friend to deny yet again the scurrilous and most alarming rumour that was spread in the general election campaign that the Conservatives were planning forcible repatriation. It is well known to everyone in politics that nothing could be further from Tory thinking, and that nearly all Conservative hon. Members would rather resign than see that sort of Hitlerite tactic. But it always pays for the Minister at every opportunity to continue to reassure those who are susceptible to the rumour by making a categorical denial.
In the general election campaign we made certain commitments to control immigration firmly for the future, in accordance with the manifest wishes of the British people, while maintaining our commitments in law to those who were 1280 permanently settled here by 1 January 1973. While restricting entry, we did not propose to do so to close relatives or in genuine compassionate cases.
Our restrictions were to be brought about by ending the practice of allowing permanent settlement of those temporarily here; severely restricting the conditions under which anyone from overseas can come and work here; settling quotas across the board on entry for all non-EEC countries; introducing a new British nationality Bill to remove anomalies and inequities; ending the automatic entry of husbands and fiancés, and helping those who want voluntarily to leave to do so without difficulty, and with as much assistance as we can afford.
Those were our commitments. So the question one wants to ask the Minister is this. Having made those commitments, and having put them fairly and squarely to the nation in the general election, how far along the line are we to implementing them? How soon can we see those promises put into effect?
I should like to ask my hon. Friend a number of other questions. More specically, when will the nationality Bill be laid before Parliament? What period of consultation will there be first? I should like to have seen it laid before the Summer Recess, so that we could have had the whole of the three months to look at its proposals and see what observations and comments could be made that would affect its implementation.
When we end the automatic entry of husbands and fiancés, will it be for the same reason as the Leader of the Opposition, as Home Secretary, in 1969 ordered the stopping of that procedure—the reason being the abuse that arises through the practice of arranged marriages? It is not the same freedom as applies to the British citizen, who has only one spouse at a time, that we seem to be offering to some of the immigrant communities, members of which can marry several times. The abuse of the system is well known to all of us who have some contact with immigrant problems.
When we introduce the restriction, can we be tolerant and understanding in its operation? In particular, will those who 1281 have begun the process of making application for their fiances and husbands—even though that process has not yet been completed, because of the length of the queue—still be able to have them in? Will the chop, as it were, come for future applications rather than those that have already been made by the date at which the relevant announcement is made? It would be unfair and unjust if we made the ruling retrospective. I seek reassurance on that from my hon. Friend.
When will the register be introduced? It was considered feasible by the independent Franks committee, because it would stop abuses and thereby end the fears and anxieties which have been aroused by racialist parties. It is so obviously desirable that it seems that its early implementation and introduction is very important. What are my hon. Friend's proposals on that matter?
I am also concerned about the possible abuse of the privilege of Members of Parliament to exercise their influence over organisations, particularly with reference to what seems to be happening at Heathrow airport. I understand that no right of appeal is laid down by any rule or statute against refusal of entry by an immigration officer. One would not want to end the bringing in of Members of Parliament to consider whether a particular position is fair. Yet there seem to be problems when hon. Members are brought in, perfectly properly, to consider whether there are legitimate grounds for refusing entry to immigrants who have actually arrived at Heathrow.
It seems that hon. Members can, however, as it were, lean upon immigration officers to change their minds and keep in this country persons who have no legitimate right to be here, persons who have only tried to cheat and are clearly seen by the immigration officers to be doing so.
It also seems that if an hon. Member says "I am satisfied that the procedure has been properly followed", the immigrant community can then go from Member to Member until it finds someone who will say "Under no circumstances must this person be put on the plane and sent back." I think that what is happening at Heathrow tends to be an 1282 abuse of the procedure. Has my hon. Friend any views or proposals on that matter?
I support the hon. Gentleman in hoping that my hon. Friend will remove all elements of secrecy. Codes are thoroughly undesirable in general, because those who properly watch for abuse cannot see whether it is happening. That is one possible reason why the codes and secrecy are introduced.
I also support the hon. Gentleman when he requests the publication of the rules and their being placed in the Library. I go further. I should like to see the Government publish a page of simple rules which every Member can have in his folder and every constituency office and every immigrant community organisation can have in its folder so that we simply know what is right and what is wrong. It is for this place to decide that what goes in those rules is fair and just—as I am sure it will be.
What counter-measures does my hon. Friend propose against illegal immigration? We have spoken about this before, but is anything more happening than some months ago? I should like him to give assurances that humanity in the operation of these rules will be uppermost. They have to be firm, but that does not mean to say that they should be inhumane. A constant effort has to be made to remove some of the hard cases to which the hon. Member for Keighley referred and of which we could all give some experience.
Finally, will my hon. Friend look again at the working of the Commission for Racial Equality? The community relations officers are no doubt a dedicated bunch of people, but they tend, do they not, to be activists in the immigrant community? There is a tendency, which always has to be resisted—it is a pity that it should be so—for community relations officers to have small chips on their shoulders which they tend to take up when appointed to an area, with the result that sometimes more harm is done to race relations than any good they do. Another look must be taken at the operation of the whole organisation, which otherwise I suppose has done some good.
This is a very tolerant nation. I think that the British people accept the need for some immigration, but there is a limit 1283 beyond which no one—or very few people—would feel it right to go. The immigrants in this country want controls so that they can be accepted for housing and jobs and in society and, above all, so that they may be happy. I hope that the rules which we shall introduce and implement in the near future will be just, fair and humane and acceptable not only to the immigrant community who are here but also to the vast majority of British people who feel strongly about immigration. I ask the Minister for any further assurances about their introduction and implementation that he can give.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Timothy Raison)
Others have wished Mr. Speaker a happy recess. May I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a happy recess and thank you for all your labours over the past months?
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has raised an important topic, in a carefully reasoned speech. Whether I shall be able to answer all his points, I do not know; I am certainly not sure that I shall be able to answer all the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) in his interesting intervention. However, if I do not take up any points now, I shall certainly do so in correspondence.
One thing on which both hon. Members and I can agree is the paramount need for fairness, courtesy and dignity in handling these difficult and delicate matters. There is no doubt that a difficult job has to be done. The hon. Member for Keighley stressed that he did not wish to remove immigration control. He was concerned that it should be carried out effectively and properly—and I share that concern. I do not think that I can answer in detail the specific cases that the hon. Gentleman raised, but perhaps it would be reasonable to make one or two comments.
In the case of Nazim Akhtar, a hearing is pending in the Court of Appeal. Miss Akhtar's removal has been deferred until the court has decided. She has been released on temporary admission. I understand that she is only four months pregnant and not as far advanced as the hon. Gentleman's press cutting suggested.
In the case of Abdul Azad, which was raised yesterday by the hon. Member for 1284 Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), I have decided that Abdul Azad shall be able to remain in this country. I hope that from that point of view the matter is cleared up—although a number of other questions have to be raised about it.
As for the case of the police officer who apparently had a difficulty on the cross-Channel ferry, the hon. Member has sent me the details and the matter is now being investigated.
We are debating an important subject which is very much to do with how we treat individuals. It is therefore entirely proper that it should be discussed in this House, the ultimate source of remedy and redress for individuals. It is particularly important to discuss it because the system is based primarily on executive decision rather than on the courts. There is no underlying right to be admitted—it could be said that entry to this country is a privilege rather than an absolute right—and the role of the Home Secretary is crucial.
However, we have an Act which defines the basis of our system of immigration and which includes certain appeals procedures, and we also have detailed immigration rules. The Act embodies the administrative power to determine whether entry should be given and the power to detain and remove illegal immigrants. Again, however, there are statutory appeals procedures. Parliament created them and they provide important safeguards, and in addition there is the Home Secretary's power to take the final decision.
This power, of course, leads to large numbers of representations from hon. Members in particular cases. Those representations pose a considerable problem because their size and quantity are vast and almost unending. They place a great burden on officials, they create difficulties for me—which I have to accept—and they make for long delays. Hon. Members should remember that sometimes their representations lead to people being kept in detention, where they have to be in detention, for longer than would otherwise be the case.
These cases are very difficult to decide. The facts may be hazy; there may be arguments. Sometimes the case is clear-cut, but there may be strong compassionate considerations to set against that. 1285 One tries to do the best one can. We should remember that at the starting point of the procedure is the requirement that the immigration officer has to be satisfied that the immigrant is entitled to entry under the rules. To be satisfied, he will inevitably ask some searching questions. The duty is laid on him to refuse leave to enter where he is not satisfied and to send away those to whom he refuses leave unless there is an entry certificate, in which case there is an appeal heard here.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burton did not get one point quite right. There is an appeal in other cases, but that appeal is heard abroad. It is not true that there is no appeal, as he appeared to suggest.
There is an argument, with which I do not think the hon. Member for Keighley went all the way, that these matters should be for the courts essentially rather than a matter of administrative decision. That would mean a major change—a total recasting of the whole system—and if the powers of decision were handed to the courts, there would be a risk of much greater rigidity and of great expense. There are considerable safeguards under the present system. We are all agreed that the control system must be fair, but it must also be firm. We are certainly committed to that dual principle—as, I believe, were the Labour Government.
The previous Home Secretary said of illegal immigrants:They represent a real threat to good community relations, a serious abuse of our immigration laws and an affront to those (mainly dependants) who may have had to wait a considerable time overseas to come here lawfully."—[Official Report, 20 July 1978; Vol. 954, c. 306.]I hope that hon. Members will recall those words, because sometimes there is a temptation to feel that by exercising a special influence on cases they can do a good job for their constituents, as is the right of every hon. Member, when they may be doing so at the expense of others further back in the queue.
The control falls into three parts. There are the entry clearance procedures overseas, which are compulsory for those seeking settlement here. Then there is the control on entry at the ports, where passengers are examined by an immigra- 1286 tion officer. Last, there is control after entry, involving consideration by the Home Office of applications from people already here, as well as the tracing and possible removal of those who are here unlawfully.
We rely most heavily on that part of the system that concerns control of entry. As a result, we do not have in Britain the same intensity of internal controls—for example, the use of identity cards—that has been found necessary in other countries. The before-entry procedures give valuable and essential assistance to the control of the ports, however, especially in cases where people wish to enter for immediate settlement.
Attempts to evade the pre-entry control lead only to difficulty, as we have seen in a number of recent much-publicised cases where people have come to Britain or brought children here knowing very well that there are pre-entry requirements but ignoring them and thereby causing serious difficulties.
The examination which an immigration officer is bound to make is an inherently, and unavoidably, sensitive one. In extreme cases a decision may have to be taken on whether, for example, a woman and her children are really the dependants of the man who is said to be the husband and father. More commonly, the genuineness of a visitor's intention to leave after a short-term visit must be assessed. Any refusal of entry is a decision that requires a high degree of judgment. The inquiries which must be made before reaching a decision require considerable tact and understanding. The possibility that some passengers may feel that they are being discriminated against on the grounds of race or colour, where the immigration law states specifically that immigration officers are to carry out their duties without regard to race, colour or religion, is only one of the considerations that an immigration officer, an entry clearance officer or Home Office official has to bear in mind.
No passenger or person seeking an entry clearance, extension or variation of stay is likely to welcome inquiries of the type that sometimes have to be made. Why are such inquiries necessary? The simple answer is that without them immigration control could not be effective. There are bound to be cases where questions must 1287 be asked and in which the answers are found to be unsatisfactory, with the result that the relevant application has to be refused. That would happen to some extent in any system of immigration control. A feature of our own system and its operation, however, is the historical pressure for immigrants to come here for work and settlement. In some parts of the world those pressures continue and they inevitably create a temptation for people to pretend to qualifications to entry or to remain here that they do not really possess. The need for immigration officers to inquire into these cases is bound to be influenced by these factors.
The process would be easier were it not known that some people are prepared to go to great lengths to gain entry into Britain. During the Labour Government the Home Secretary made that point clear.
We are bound to face friction on these matters. Regrettably as they are, the fact that there may be friction cannot be allowed to interfere with the duty of the immigration service to inquire thoroughly into cases in which evasion of the control authorised by Parliament is suspected.
I turn a little more specifically to the points raised by the hon. Member for Keighley. One of them was the question of secret codes or endorsements on passports. There has been a certain amount of discussion about this. The endorsements made on passports are an essential part, in our view, of an effective immigration control system. Endorsements are commonly used in many countries as part of their controls. There is nothing peculiar to this country about them. They help to prevent evasion. They can be valuable in the interests of national security. Endorsements used in the United Kingdom are for the use of United Kingdom officials and have no international significance, and, at the same time, of course, endorsements do not determine decisions. They may give important indications, but what determines the actual decision are the facts of the particular case.
There is no special authority for the endorsement of passports and none is required. But I ask hon. Members to remember that a passport is not in any sense a personal document. It is an official or Government document which is intended to assist with the operation 1288 of an effective immigration service and to allow effective movement between countries. I really believe that it should be seen in that light.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of virginity tests. He suggested that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) had tried to stop them and that they had, however, been continued. That of course, was in the time of the Labour Government, and I cannot make any comment on it. But what I can say is that the instructions issued by the previous Home Secretary prohibiting immigration officers from asking the medical inspector to examine passengers with a view to establishing whether they have borne children or had sexual relations still continue. That is quite firmly our view. I can add to that that there is, as I think the hon. Gentleman knows, an inquiry being carried out by Sir Henry Yellowlees into the question of medical procedures. When we have the result of that, we can look at the whole matter and consider whether any changes need to be made.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of secrecy concerning the instructions. On this point my hon. Friend the Member for Burton, who is a lawyer, took roughly the same view. Firstly, I think both hon. Members referred to the rules. Of course, the rules are a parliamentary document, the immigration rules approved by this House. I think that they were talking about administrative instructions. Frankly, I am not sure what purpose would be served by publication of these instructions. The rules themselves are available. I shall always be forthcoming in my replies to hon. Members about the procedure and practices which may be authorised and which are required by the Immigration Act to be consistent with the immigration rules.
The publication of the instructions themselves, however, would be of considerable benefit to anyone wishing to enter the United Kingdom by subterfuge, and in my view there would need to be strong arguments to overcome that important objection. We must face the fact that a substantial number of people—I cannot quantify them, of course—are trying to break the immigration system. There is plenty of evidence that this has happened over the years. I really believe 1289 that the effect of publishing these instructions would be to make it that much easier for those who are trying to duck the system.
§ Mr. Cryer
Will the Minister consider publishing sections of the rules where the considerations that he has mentioned do not apply? The reason for doing this would be to clarify a person's relationship to the immigration control officers so that he would know better whether he was being dealt with fairly. As the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) pointed out, there is no reason why community relations officers, political party officers and Members of Parliament could not have the rules and be able to issue much better guidance.
There is one further point on the secret code. How far does the secrecy extend? For example, do the police have instructions and knowledge of the secret code, so that when they, for example, for some reason, look at a passport in some circumstances, they will know what they mean? Why is this secrecy so necessary?
§ Mr. Raison
I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about the last point, which I cannot answer now. However, on the question of the instructions, I am disinclined to think that there would be much purpose in publishing extracts from them. What really matters is what the rules say. These say whether or not someone has an entitlement to come to this country. They give the appeals procedure, and so on. That seems to me what is needed by a would-be immigrant into Britain.
I do not think that I have left much time to answer the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton. However, I confirm, first, that there will, of course, be no forcible repatriation under any proposals that we bring forward. Secondly, we have no plans for a further amnesty for illegal immigrants. Thirdly, we believe in firm control of immigration for the future. But, as I think my hon. Friend knows, the Prime Minister, myself and the Home Secretary have said that we are not able at this stage to make announcements about the detailed implementation of our general manifesto commitments. I can- 1290 not, therefore, help my hon. Friend on one or two of his particular points.
We hope that the nationality Bill will go ahead this Session. I think that the framework of a possible nationality Bill is well known because the previous Government's Green Paper raised all the issues. Representations are being made on that basis and we are, of course, prepared to listen to anyone who has comments to make about the pattern of a new nationality Bill. We have not been able to produce it by now, as my hon. Friend asked, but I think that he will realise that this is a vastly complicated matter.
The other point that my hon. Friend raised was the possibility of abuse by Members of Parliament of the present system of handling immigration cases. This is something that I think about. I am very reluctant to accuse hon. Members of abuse. They have their duty to perform. But between us we have to think out whether we are handling the whole of this area in the most sensible and most effective way.
I have tried to cover some of the points in the time available to me. I should like to end, as I began, by saying that the hon. Gentleman did the House a service by raising this topic in the manner that he did. Whatever we may think about the detailed points, it is clearly essential to operate a system that is understood and as sensitive as possible under difficult circumstances. I will endeavour to pursue that objective.