HC Deb 12 November 1980 vol 992 cc569-92 7.56 pm
Mr. Neil Carmichael (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

I am grateful for this opportunity to raise some important human problems. I am pleased that the Minister of State, Home Office can be with us tonight, because we are debating these problems a day earlier than we had originally expected. I hope that we are not keeping the hon. Gentleman away from some other engagement. At least he may have a slightly better time tomorrow night.

I am concerned about the treatment that we as a nation give to foreign workers in the catering industry and in domestic service. I am not being party political when I say that our attitude, and particularly that of the Home Office, has been highlighted in the press and on television in recent weeks as a result of the deportation of Filipino domestic workers. I shall return to that problem shortly. I stress that their case is only the most obviously inhuman example of an attitude that, for some time, has been creeping into our treatment of minority groups. We appear to use such groups as and when they are required, and then to discard them with little natural justice when their usefulness has passed.

Perhaps for a few moments I might speak about another problem that concerns me, again relating to catering workers and domestic workers. We are using methods of detection and control towards minorities which, if we are not vigilant, could be the justification for similar actions towards everyone in these islands. I have been told of police visiting premises in my constituency and in other parts of the country, arriving without warning and cross-examining all the workers, asking them to produce passports, identity cards and birth certificates. The premises of which I am speaking are mainly restaurants and hotels. There are many restaurants in my constituency owned and staffed by Commonwealth immigrants.

The Minister may think that to describe those visits as "raids" is overdramatic and perhaps headline-seeking, but the matter has been so reported in many newspapers already, and that is how the immigrant communities describe them. I think that it is the only appropriate word.

I am not very concerned about the immediate cost-effectiveness of such raids. The legal maxim that hard cases make bad law applies here. More than that, if we use this example to establish law it will make very dangerous law, not only for some of the immigrants, but for all of us.

I welcomed the Home Secretary's statement in July that the police would be more sensitive in the way in which they tracked down so-called illegal immigrants, but some points must be emphasised to the Minister.

If the police get information that someone has infringed the terms on which he or she has entered the United Kingdom, it is the individual who should be questioned and not all those at his or her place or work who happen to have darker skins than those around. The vast majority of those who will be questioned and sometimes arrested or, euphemistically, "taken away to help the police in their inquiries", will be full citizens of this country who have satisfied stringent standards in order to gain entry.

I would be interested to know how often the police follow up clues received by anonymous letters or telephone calls in other aspects of their work. I would not expect them to spend a great deal of time on this type of information. There is, however, a strong feeling in the immigrant community that anonymous telephone calls and letters, frequently from within the community itself, always result in the police chasing around looking for these individuals. Often, the belief is that the police spend an inordinate amount of time on this work. The Minister should give the matter urgent attention.

I do not want to have to carry an identity card, far less a birth certificate, nor do I believe that this should be necessary for my fellow citizens whose skin happens to be darker. If it were to become accepted practice for newly arrived, first-, second- or sometimes third-generation immigrants, it would not be long before someone was seeking to extend the practice in the pursuit of efficiency and neatness. We have the option of carrying bank cards and credit cards. That is for our own convenience and not anyone else's. I hope that that is how matters will remain.

I should like to turn to the question of the Filipino workers who have been so much in the news recently. They did not come here under the general conditions of the 1971 Act. Their permits were issued under pressure, mainly from the hotel and catering industry, to fill vacancies in domestic jobs, such as those of chambermaids, porters and cleaners in hotels and restaurants, and, in some cases, the Health Service. A high proportion of the workers who came here under this scheme were Filipinos. As well as those who entered the catering industry, a good number went into hospitals, for which I know the Health Service was grateful. The permits were issued for 12 months but were renewable for four years, after which time permit holders could apply for permanent residence. After the fifth year, some permit holders went back to their own countries.

The trade unions in this country, including my union—the General and Municipal Workers Union—opposed the quota system, believing that this category of permit would lead to exploitation of the holder, who in most cases was unskilled and who would be forced to rely on the good will of his or her employer. Most of those who entered under this scheme were women. The trade unions pointed out—and, unfortunately, have been proved right—that the concept of guest workers is an appalling way of employing people, using them and then discarding them. I hope that Britain never entertains the idea of guest workers, as practised in Germany, Switzerland and other countries on the Continent.

Two requirements of these women, when they were brought here, appear to me contradictory. When the women applied for work permits the Department of Employment said that they should not have any dependent children, that is, children under 16, and should be single. The Home Office visa requirement stated that women coming here should have no accompanying children. I cannot believe, from my contacts over the last 20 years with people whose native tongue is not English, that these requirements are not at the very least confusing. These contradictory points could have occupied two sittings of a House of Commons Committee upstairs, regardless of which party happened to be in power at the time.

The most sinister aspect was that these women were recruited through agencies that demanded large sums of money from them. Many of these women worked long hours in order to send money back to their families and to help pay the agencies. In many cases they had got into considerable debt trying to get here. Some of the women applied for permission to bring their children here after they had been here for five years. Permission was granted in most cases, until November 1979, when the Claveria case reached the Divisional Court, which declared that the woman concerned had deceived the authorities by not admitting that she had children. After that time, women who had entered under domestic work permits and had fallen foul of this ambiguity were under threat.

A number of points arise from this situation. If the women concerned had genuinely wished to deceive, would they have gone to the Home Office seeking permission to bring their children here? Secondly, in the past the Home Office has allowed women in this position to settle, but is now saying that there must be ministerial discussion before any such person can be allowed to settle. Thirdly, what was the role of the agencies in this situation? I am told by members of my union who have been involved that in many cases the women informed the agency of the true position, that is, whether or not they were married and whether or not they had children. Frequently, the agencies falsified the information, putting down "single" and "childless".

I have heard that in some cases the agencies, so long as they had the money—they had a considerable financial incentive, once they were dealing with a woman with money, to get her sent here—instructed some women not to state that they had a family. The women were instructed to say nothing about children. This was not always possible. Where a woman was sending money home to her children, she was claiming, until 1978, the full child allowance. Many members of my union report that no questions were asked about children either by the agencies or by visa-issuing officers. Many of our members report that the women, having filled in the Home Office forms saying that they were not bringing their children with them, felt that they had answered all the questions that it was necessary to answer.

The courts have made a ruling that appears to me harsh and unsympathetic. It means that people have to answer questions that they did not even know existed. It seems exceedingly unfair that a group of women who entered the country in this way and have worked at jobs that no one else would take, for low wages, are now caught by an ambiguity that they did not even know existed when they first undertook to come to Britain.

I should like to ask the Minister for help. Why have these women been accused of deception and thereby transformed into illegal immigrants only when they have wanted to bring their children to join them? The Government have known of these children for some time, through the Inland Revenue. This is an old bone of contention. Departments are created for the convenience of the Government. There is nothing sacred or special about them. Ordinary citizens, and particularly citizens who have no English—most of these people, I understand, speak Spanish, and certainly came here with no English—believe that when they are dealing with the Inland Revenue or any other Department they are dealing with the Government as a whole. They are perhaps not aware of the sophistication of arrangements in a country such as Britain. They do not differentiate between one branch or another. They felt that they were being honest, and believed that the Government knew that they had children, because they had been claiming, and receiving, tax relief on their children for at least four years.

What is the position of those who were allowed to settle and brought their children to join them, legally, it appears to me, before the Claveria judgment? Only a small number of outstanding cases are involved. Those becoming eligible to settle are among the last to have been able to obtain this type of permit before it was restricted to workers from Western Europe in 1977. The Minister will know better than I how many cases are involved. Given the small number involved, the obvious anomalies in the situation, the fact that the Home Secretary has seen fit to exercise his discretion in about half the cases, and that the loophole that triggered retrospective Government action was closed three years ago, is it too much to ask the Minister seriously to consider a general amnesty?

8.10 pm
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) for raising this issue, not only as it applies to certain women, but in the context of how control is exercised generally—once immigrants are in Britain. My hon. Friend has covered the case of women from the Philippines.

I accept that in many instances the law has been broken unwittingly. The Government claim that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but there is a qualitative difference in the cases under discussion. The problem arises because the agencies did the recruiting. They advised the individuals and were responsible, in most cases, for completing the forms. Each case will probably have to be dealt with on its merits, although an amnesty covering the entire group should not be ruled out. Where there is clear evidence that, for the purposes of exploitation and commercial gain, the agency agencies deliberately broke the law, that should not be held against an individual. The Home Office seems to take the view that responsibility rests upon the individual. I believe that to be wrong. The cases should be dealt with more sympathetically.

I deal next with how immigration control is exercised once people are here. One of the cases that comes to mind is that of Bestway, a supermarket. A number of people were picked up, taken to a police station and held there because they had no documents in their possession to prove that they had a right to be here. Such action and its effect on community relations was well canvassed in Standing Committee B in 1971, when we were discussing the then Immigration Bill. We discussed the matter in relation to aliens and certificates of patriality. The discussions took place during the fifteenth to seventeenth sittings of the Committee. We were given the clear impression by the then Home Office Minister, the late Mr. Sharples, that there would be no question of stopping people at random to check whether they had the right to be in Britain. He made it clear that the police had no power to arrest people simply because they had no documents in their possession.

An amendment was moved to provide that if someone was asked to produce a document stating that he had the right to be here, the police must have a suspicion that a crime had been committed. We argued that if a document had to be produced the person concerned should be able to produce it within seven days. We argued also that there should be no question of a person being detained until he found someone who could produce the documents.

Mr. Sharples said that it was important for the police to discuss with the immigrant communities and other organisations how they would carry out their duties. He said: However, it is envisaged that the same kind of arrangement should exist as with a driving licence—that if a person is not carrying a passport with him, he should be asked, in cases of doubt, to produce it at a police station within a reasonable time. In my view, that would not be too onerous a procedure."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 11 May 1971; c. 741.] I agree that that would not be too onerous a procedure. If that were happening there would be less anxiety about the damage that might be done to community relations.

We canvassed the issue thoroughly. Much to my surprise, the late Mr. Sharples had some kind things to say about a speech that I made on that issue. He said: May I say, too, that I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). I was particularly struck by his words, as reported in col. 785 of the Official Report of our last sitting. He said this: 'What matters is not the strict letter of the law, but its aplication. A law can be perfectly straightforward and reasonable, but if it is pushed beyond the point of reason, pushed to the stage of harassment and persecution, it can lead to all kinds of serious consequences'. Mr. Sharpies continued: I do not think anybody in the Committee this morning would disagree with that. I certainly do not. But from the knowledge we have of the people serving in the immigration Department and immigration officers, and the police who will have to bear the responsibility of the detailed administration of the law—partiularly those police officers concerned with community relations—I believe that we can rely upon their good sense and their sense of responsibility to administer the law in the way in which the hon. Gentleman rightly suggests that it would administered."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 18 May 1971; c. 820.] I am not challenging the right of the police to ask people to produce documents. When asked, a person should produce a document within a reasonable time. However, if the police have gone beyond acting with reasonable suspicion, and if they are taking out blank warrants and going to factories where they believe there might be illegal immigrants, without having a specific individual in mind, that is contrary to the spirit of the law, and contrary to the assurances that we were given when the legislation was going through this House.

If the police go on "fishing" expeditions and question all the people in a factory, restaurant or shop about whether they have the right to be there, and take to the police station those who cannot produce documents, that is not within the spirit of the law. Although I have not checked thoroughly, I do not believe that regulations exist that give the police power to do that. Such action transgresses the power to arrest and detain because of the non-production of documents.

We live in difficult times. I do not wish to dramatise or exaggerate the situation by suggesting that such action is widespread throughout the country, but it has been happening sufficiently often to cause anxiety. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to clarify how the police should operate. I hope, too, that he will make it clear that the use of blank warrants—that is, taking out warrants and filling them in afterwards in order to make an arrest—is contrary to the law and should not happen.

I ask the Minister to ensure that a circular is sent out to make it clear that there should be no "fishing" expeditions and that people should not be taken to police stations and detained. Although we are at present in a quiet period for community relations, we know that the situation breaks down from time to time. Trouble breaks out because there is serious concern among immigrant communities over the way in which their rights appear to be dwindling away. I hope that we shall receive some assurances from the Minister this evening.

8.20 pm
Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this short debate. Before I turn to my main point, the question of resident domestic workers and nursing auxiliaries, I wish to make a brief comment on some of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). It appears that increasing demands are being made on people who are not white to produce documentary evidence, either at the request of the police or at the request of potential employers. They may even be required—it is only a threat—to produce identification for National Health Service treatment if the Government seek to expand the method of charging. All those things make people carry their passports with them so as to get rid of the pressures on them, or to prove their identity. Through those practices we have come close to ensuring that people carry their passports around as though they were identity cards.

The Minister is shaking his head. I hope that he will use this opportunity to clarify the position. From talking to black and Asian communities, I find that they feel that pressure is on them and that they must carry with them a means of identifying themselves to the powers that be. That is only marginally away from feeling that they must have some form of identity and that they must carry identity cards with them.

I turn to the question of resident domestic workers and nursing auxiliaries. I appreciate that the Home Office has been under some pressure from a variety of sources. I know that the migrants' action group has been in touch with the Minister, as has the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. Representations have been made by trade unions, a number of Members of Parliament, and others. This issue represents a test of the Government's attitude to race relations and immigration. They have frequently maintained that their policy on immigration is fair. This is an opportunity for them to demonstrate that, and to make it clear that their policy will work fairly.

I maintain that that policy does not work fairly at the moment. We are talking about fewer than 300 people. At least 50 of them have already been removed from Britain by the Home Office. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) said, they came to Britain some years ago, mainly to work as resident domestics and, in some instances, in the Health Service as nursing auxiliaries. They came mainly from the Philippines, where they were recruited by employment agencies. A disturbing feature is that they came to Britain to work for very low wages. The wages were so low that we could understand why some employers had an incentive—not a very reputable one—to recruit people. The employment agencies also derived financial benefit.

It is an accepted fact that some of the employment agencies based upon the Philippines have been put out of business by the Philippines Government because of the way in which they recruited people. Some employment agencies in Britain were involved also. At the time that these people—mainly women—were recruited it was intended that they should not have any dependent children because they were to 1x employed in living-in jobs, where there would be no accommodation for children. The issue now hangs on the question whether, at the time of entry, those women should have disclosed the fact that they had children.

When most of the women came to Britain it would not have been deemed an illegal entry if they had failed to declare that they had children. The evidence for that is that some of them, having completed four years in approved employment entitling them to resident status, then applied for permission for their children to enter this country, and that was allowed. There is some evidence that he attitude of the Home Office has changed and that it has recently tightened up on its approach to those people.

Will the Minister confirm one point? It has been maintained that the application forms completed by those women included a question about children, but that it concerned only the question whether they were to be accompanied by children, and not whether they had children in Philippines. If the Minister can confirm that that is correct it will clarify one aspect of the matter.

Perhaps the most important fact is based upon a series of court decisions on immigration status. One by one, the decisions have enabled the Home Office to tighten up on that group of people, although the court decisions themselves are relevant to other immigrants, or potential immigrants. Those court decisions—the Zamir case was the latest in the line—held that a person seeking entry into Britain owed a positive duty of candour to reveal all relevant facts to the immigration authorities, whether or not the person concerned knew at the time that the facts were relevant.

There are four reasons why the Minister should show compassion and discretion in favour of those people who are threatened with eviction from Britain First, some of the employment agencies—many in the Philippines, but some in Britain—were not playing it straight by their clients. There was an element of deception by the employment agencies, and the women were their unfortunate victims.

Secondly, many of those women did not attempt to conceal the fact that they had children. They applied to the Inland Revenue for tax concessions and, on occasions, for entry permits for their children to come to Britain.

Thirdly, the Minister would not be setting a precedent. We are talking about a small number of people—the quota for domestic workers was abolished in December 1979 and therefore the numbers are clearly finite.

Fourthly, on all the facts available it appears that the Home Office is using retroactive measures. It is using reasons that were not relevant or applicable at the time when those women entered Britain. The Home Office is adopting a different attitude from that which it adopted when most of those women entered Britain.

In those circumstances, I hope that the Minister will exercise his discretion on behalf of that small group of unfortunate people. It would be a humane gesture, and one that would be widely welcomed on both sides of the House.

8.28 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Timothy Raison)

I first congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) on seizing the opportunity of having the debate this evening. As he knows, he was down for the Adjournment debate tomorrow night and, because of the intricacies of the procedure of the House, his Adjournment debate tomorrow night would not have taken place. I thought that that would have been an ideal Adjournment debate for a Minister to answer. However, I do not blame the hon. Member for taking this chance to raise questions that are obviously of considerable interest and importance.

I confess that I understood that the debate was to be about the attitude of the Home Office to foreign workers in domestic and catering work, rather than the wider topics that have cropped up during the course of the evening about operations concerned with illegals and overstayers generally. I shall concentrate, therefore, on the question of the foreign domestic and catering workers. But perhaps I ought to say a very brief word about the other topic.

We have a law which governs things such as illegal entry and overstaying, and it would not be right or proper to say to the law enforcement authorities "This is a law that you do not have to enforce." It is a law and, if we decline to enforce it, apart from anything else there would be a very considerable loss of confidence on the part of many members of the public, not only on the part of the host community but on the part of the minorities. They believe that the law is there to be respected, and I would not argue otherwise.

I fully accept—as does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—that in these operations there is a great need for sensitivity. As hon. Members have said already, the Home Secretary has said that these matters are to be received. We have been receiving them in the Home Office, and in conjunction with the police and the immigration service.

I want to make it absolutely clear that we do not condone the use of random searches—or so-called "fishing" raids—and that they are not happening. I want that to be very clearly understood. There is no question of the police or anybody else having the power to pounce on people, to burst in somewhere, without having good reason for so doing. The essential point is that the police have to obtain a warrant.

There has, I know, been some argument as to whether warrants under the Immigration Act 1971 require to have specific individuals named, or whether it is possible for those warrants to be issued simply on the basis that the police should be able to search premises where there is strong reason for believing that something is going on.

My advice is that it is not necessary to name individuals in such warrants. But the crucial point here is that the magistrate who issues the warrant has to be satisfied. It is not, after all, the case that the policeman can simply go out and say "I have a warrant." He has to go to the magistrate and show that there are very strong and good reasons why a search of some kind or other should be undertaken. That is, in fact, happening.

There has been some argument, as I indicated, about whether, under the 1971 Act, people should have to be named. Our advice is that that is not so.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

If the police intend to search a house in which there is one of these foreign persons and the police wish to establish the validity of that person's stay in the country, would it not be necessary to name the home of the person that the police want to visit and to search in order to look for the evidence, before any action can be taken?

Mr. Raison

I am not sure whether I have understood the hon. Member's question, but the police certainly have to name the premises. There is no dispute about that.

It has been argued that the police, under the present Administration, are adopting a different policy from that used under the previous Government. There has been some correspondence about this. I want to make it quite clear that it was not the rule under the previous Administration that the police were not allowed to operate except when they had specific named people. They probably operated quite often under the Forgery Act rather than under the Immigration Act 1971. I assure the House that there has not been a change in the overall policy since we came to power, and it is very important that that should be understood.

The other point that I want to make, before turning to the Claveria case, is that it has been suggested by the hon. Members for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) and for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) that there now is a feeling abroad that members of the ethnic minorities—the coloured or black population—need to carry passports. I want to refute that absolutely. I see no reason why someone who is lawfully here should think that when he sets out to work or goes out on his pleasure or anything else he has a need to carry a passport. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is very anxious that this whole impression should be dispelled.

I put it to Labour Members—and to members of the public outside—that anyone who goes round saying that people need to carry passports is serving to build up fears which, in my belief, are unnecessary. Whatever Labour Members may think about this Government—they are entitled to be as rude as they like—I hope that they will try to help us to dispel the suggestion that there is a need for members of our ethnic minorities to carry their passports.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I apologise for not having given the Minister notice that I would raise certain specific points on the question of immigration control.

I am not an expert on what happens in the immigrant community. In my part of the country we are insular, partly because of distance. Can the Minister say whether the press and other reports that people were taken from their place of work to a police station because they could not prove their right to be in this country, and that they were held until they could produce their passports, are true? Did that happen? If so, will the Minister discourage it in future? I stressed in my remarks that I did not wish to exaggerate the situation. I want good community relations, but I fear that that sort of action does more harm than anyone who wants to start trouble can ever do to encourage the sort of attitude that the Minister stressed he wished to avoid.

Mr. Raison

In one of the operations that has been discussed, it is true that some of the people who were suspected of having committed immigration offences were taken to police stations for a while, and they then left to try to find their passports. This is a difficult problem from the point of view of the police, and this is the sort of case that we shall examine in the inquiry that the Home Secretary has called for.

The hon. Member asked why a person who is suspected of an immigration offence should be told to bring his passport to the police station within seven days, or whatever. I can see the force of that argument, and I understand the way in which it was discussed in the House in past years. However, there is a problem here that we cannot completely overcome. If a person is asked to produce his driving licence on those grounds, he will do so. If he does not do so, the police know where to find him and where to chase him up.

The real problem about illegal immigrants or overstayers who may be liable to be removed from the country is that if they do not have the right passports they will not turn up at the police station. That will give the police the tip-off, and the immigrants will be liable to disappear or go to ground. There is a clear practical problem—a problem that crops up in different ways in the whole area of immigration. Ultimately, if a person is an overstayer, in a sense he has nothing to lose by disappearing because if he does reveal that he is an illegal immigrant, it is likely that he will be removed, anyway. We must consider that practical problem.

Nevertheless, in approaching this problem, while the law must be enforced and the public confidence must be upheld, it is important that it should be done in a way that will cause as little friction as possible in community relations.

I turn now to the question of foreign workers in the catering and domestic industries. As hon. Gentlemen have said, this is a matter that has received a good deal of attention in recent months. I would be the last person to deny the difficulty of the problem.

It is useful to have the opportunity this evening to try to explain the Government's position and to try to correct some of the misunderstandings that have arisen.

I shall deal with the cases of women—mostly Filipino—affected by the court's judgment in the Claveria case. But, first, it may help the House if I explain a little about the system under which people have been allowed to come here from abroad to work. The hon. Member for Kelvin-grove touched on that, and I shall not quarrel with the accuracy of his description.

The control of labour from overseas is exercised through a combination of the work permit scheme, operated by the Department of Employment and the immigration rules, which are the responsibility of my Department. With the exception of people coming for certain special categories of employment, anyone from overseas who wishes to work in the United Kingdom must obtain a work permit before he sets out, and show it to the immigration officer on arrival. Permits are issued by the Department of Employment in respect of a specific job with a specific employer, in accordance with criteria set down by them. In general work permits are now available only for overseas workers holding recognised professional qualifications or having a high degree of skill or experience. An application for a permit will be considered by the Department of Employment only if the vacancy necessarily requires such a worker, and the fact that a suitable candidate is not available here or in the European Community is not of itself sufficient reason for an employer to seek a worker from overseas.

On arrival, a work-permit holder carrying a long-term permit which may be for 12 months is likely to be admitted for that period on condition that he changes employment only with the permission of the Department of Employment. At the end of the initial period of, say, 12 months, the normal practice is to grant an extension of stay—say, for three years—provided the person is still engaged in employment for which the permit was issued or other employment which has been approved by the Department of Employment. After four years in approved employment, the person may apply for settlement, which is likely to be granted provided that he is still in the approved employment. Once settlement is granted, conditions attached to his stay are cancelled and the person concerned is free to take any employment. The four-year period recognises that it is neither humane nor practical to try to keep people on strings indefinitely.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

The Minister has gone on at great length in explaining the Government's position. I respect his viewpoint, while disagreeing with it entirely. While we speak about the general case, clearly we must also respect the individual case. Many individuals have, unfortunately, been trapped by legislation, or interpretations of legislation, over the years. That is the reason for our concern tonight.

Being a representative of part of Scotland, I come into contact with immigrants, although quite rarely. One of them is Norma Bernardo, a girl who came here in 1976 and who worked extremely hard. She was advised initially how to fill in a work permit application and was advised how to work in this country and to be the ideal employee. Indeed, she has been, and no one can criticise her for that.

On our part, we must also recognise that many such individuals, be it Norma Bernardo or anyone else, do not always understand the English language. That is fairly obvious from this debate. When one is speaking about foreign nationals, one must allow them a certain leeway. They have not committed any crime, in my view. We are speaking about human beings, and that is often forgotten. They are human beings who wish to work, who wish to stay here and who wish to marry. That is certainly true of Norma Bernardo.

One can say many things on this subject. Norma is awaiting a divorce which is going through the Scottish courts.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)


Mr. Brown

Perhaps I may just say this.

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Brown

We have given certain hospitality to—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order, order.

Mr. Brown

Let us give hospitality to a girl coming from the Philippines.

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Brown

That is my point.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must realise that, if a Minister gives way, he should make only a brief intervention.

Mr. Raison

The hon. Gentleman said that I had explained my position, but I had not started to explain my position on this matter. I was trying to set the background. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman did not raise this matter during the debate itself. After all, there was no time limit on the debate, at least until 10 o'clock. As he knows, he will be coming to see me tomorrow to talk about this particular case. I think that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it now. I shall discuss the matter when he sees me tomorrow.

The debate tonight is concerned with domestic and catering workers. I should emphasise that the Home Office has no special policy directed at those in domestic and catering work. They, like others, are welcome provided they enter in accordance with the immigration rules and keep within the law while here.

Until the beginning of this year quotas were made available by the Department of Employment for unskilled people to come here for domestic and catering work. This Government have ended these quotas altogether. I am sure that this is right. The importation of cheap foreign labour is not in the long-term interests of this country. If we want floors scrubbed or dishes washed, we really ought to pay the rate for the job to persuade people resident here to do it, use machines, or do it ourselves. That applies particularly at a time of relatively high unemployment.

That, therefore, is the position regarding those who come here lawfully for employment. But there have, of course, been people who have taken work in breach of the immigration regulations, and it is largely those to whom hon. Members have referred tonight.

Illegal workers fall into two main types. First, there are those who entered lawfully and then took work in breach of their conditions of admission, very often overstaying as well for good measure; and, secondly, those whose entry itself was illegal. The Filipino cases fall into the second category—those whose entry itself was illegal. A succession of court rulings has established that if a person gains entry by deception, the deception vitiates the initial leave to enter and any subsequent permission to remain based upon it. The situation is as though no leave to enter had been given.

Under the Department of Employment's criteria, work permits for resident domestic employment have not been issued for many years to people known to have dependent children. Deception about children was, therefore, fundamental to the obtaining of the permit and of leave to enter. If the existence of the children had been known, the work permit and leave to enter would have been bound to have been refused. This was confirmed by the Divisional Court in November 1979 in the Claveria case.

Mrs. Claveria obtained a work permit for domestic employment by representing that she had no children, when in fact she had three. She was admitted to this country in 1973 and granted indefinite leave to remain four years later. Her deception came to light the following year, in 1978, when her husband attempted to join her here and was refused entry. She was finally removed as an illegal entrant last March. We know of over 250 similar cases, most of which involve Filipino women.

The particular points which hon. Members have put forward tonight on behalf of these women have been made to us a number of times before and we have considered them most carefully.

The hon. Member for Kelvingrove suggested that the women were the innocent victims of unscrupulous recruiting agents in the Philippines who filled in the work permit applications on their behalf and omitted to disclose that they had children. In law, the point is irrelevant. As I said, the courts have held that entry by deception is illegal even if the misrepresentation was effected without the person's knowledge.

We have not simply rested on the narrow legal position but have looked into the question whether the women were aware that untruths were being told.

Much has been said about the employment agencies. I do not seek to defend them generally. I do not argue that all of them have behaved scrupulously—quite the opposite. However, I have been told by some of the agents or employers, who between them dealt with a good number of these applications, that they went to considerable lengths to explain the requirements. They feel that they are being unfairly accused of sharp practice. That is fair in those cases.

The work permit application was only the first hurdle. The work permits were filled in, by and large, by agents or employers. Therefore, there was the theoretical possibility that the women concerned did not know what was going on. But there was a second hurdle. As Filipinos, the women had to obtain visas by filling in application forms which required information about their marital status and children.

On the point made by the hon. Member for Battersea, South, I recognise that there is some doubt whether the visa application form in use between 1973 and 1976 required the disclosure of children who were not to accompany the applicant. We are looking closely at cases in which there is doubt about the extent to which the persons concerned were parties to the deception. But visa officers were specifically instructed to ask applicants whether they had children and to refuse applications if they had. So, in addition to the forms, there was a specific instruction to visa officers as well.

It is also clear from the interviews that we have had with the women that in many cases they knew about the deception. I have no doubt at all on that point. I suspect that in many cases there would also have been word-of-mouth knowledge that anyone with dependent children would be ineligible to come.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Deliberate deception is one thing, but is it possible under these legal rulings for a person to be adjudged guilty of deception for not answering questions which he or she was not asked?

Mr. Raison

The hon. Gentleman is tempting me. His point is perhaps relevant to arguments about the Zamir case and the Mangoo Khan case, but I do not think that it has any great relevance to the Claveria case, and I do not think it would be possible for me to open up the whole argument. I must stick to these Claveria or Filipino cases.

Let me come to our decisions. The House has recognised for a long time that it is normal policy to remove illegal entrants unless there are substantial compassionate reasons for allowing them to remain exceptionally. This is essential if an effective immigration control is to be maintained. It would be quite wrong for the Home Office to ignore rulings of the courts which had a bearing on the control, and it would be manifestly unfair to all those who had pursued their applications honestly, and failed, if we allowed all those who deceived to benefit from their deception by gaining permanent residence here, with the right to bring in their dependants.

The women are not being punished, prosecuted or deprived of any financial benefits they may have gained by working here. They are being required to go home to their own country and to their own families—to go back to the situations in which they would have been if the deception had not happened.

I realise that the consequences are likely to be hard for many of these women and their families. I recognise that they have mostly shown themselves to be hard working and to have been motivated by a desire to escape from poverty and to do the best they could for themselves and their families. But it is an inescapable fact that immigration control involves keeping out many hardworking, similarly motivated people from poor countries. It is not pleasant to say "No", but we have to operate the system fairly and not allow the impression to emerge that those who succeed in deceiving the control will be allowed to prosper.

The position in each case is being examined closely at a senior level to see whether they are genuine compelling reasons for exceptional treatment. Of course, many of the cases go before Ministers—they come mainly to me. Where there are good reasons, the woman is allowed to remain, as will also occur if we have pledged public faith, for example, by granting leave to remain or settlement in the knowledge that the woman has dependent children. If the decision is that a women must be removed, she has a right of appeal from abroad to the independent appellate authority.

It is argued that we have been operating a form of retrospective legislation—that, when the Filipinos arrived, the law was not seen as meaning that if they came by deception they should be regarded as illegal entrants. It is said that the Claveria and other judgments changed the law. It is also said that the fact that the deception came to light only when the people concerned applied to bring in their dependants showed that they did not know that they were in breach of the law.

I do not deny that the interpretation of the law has been clarified or developed by the courts over time; but that is not the same as saying that the law has been retrospective. Moreover, I do not think that it is for Ministers to pass judgment on the way in which the courts have interpreted the law; and, of course, in the Zamir case, the House of Lords has ruled categorically that deception constitutes illegal entry.

It has also been put to us that the numbers concerned in these cases are limited—that the problem is finite. Well, of course, it is in a sense finite, in that work permits for this category are no longer given. But it could be the case—I hope that it is not—that substantially more than the 200-odd that we know about entered by deception; and it is also the case that in immigration terms the numbers of dependants who could come in would be considerable—for we have taken the view that, if the Filipinos were allowed to stay, it would be unacceptable to refuse entry to their dependent children. So the potential problem could be significantly larger than some suggest. The figures show that where there are genuine compassionate circumstances, exceptions have been made. Of the cases finally decided so far, 65 women have gone, while 93 have been allowed to remain. Another 100 cases are known to be outstanding.

I cannot predict what the outcome of these latter cases will be, but I suggest that the figures so far show that we are going a good way to meet the essence of early-day motion 837, which was tabled on 28 July and which reads: That this House urges the Secretary of State for the Home Department to continue to exercise his discretion and to do so more widely in order to allow the limited number of workers, chiefly women from the Philippines, who have worked in the United Kingdom for many years as resident domestics and are now held to be illegal entrants because they had dependent children at the time their permits were issued, to remain on compassionate grounds. I think that I have demonstrated that we are exercising our discretion and are doing so widely, which is what the motion asked us to do. I am afraid that we cannot agree that there should be a total amnesty for those whose entry by deception has been ruled illegal by the courts.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes to Nine o'clock.