HC Deb 30 March 1981 vol 2 cc111-24

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered

10 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Blaker)

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

The essential purpose of the Bill, in the words of the long title, is to extend the circumstances in which complaints about consular actions can be made under the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967. It is a short Bill, but I should like briefly to trace the background to its introduction.

When the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration was created in 1967 the actions of British officials overseas were specifically excluded from the Commissioner's scrutiny under schedule 3(2) of the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967. Complaints by British citizens resident overseas were also excluded under section 6(4) of the Act.

In its fourth report for the 1977–78 Session the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration recorded the conclusions of its review of methods of access to and the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner. One of the conclusions was: The Commissioner should be able to investigate complaints by British citizens about assistance requested from consular offices and overseas posts, including complaints by British citizens resident abroad. The Labour Government accepted the first part of that recommendation, and the Parliamentary Commissioner Order 1979 brought within the Commissioner's jurisdiction action which is taken by an officer (not being an honorary consular officer) in the exercise of a consular function on behalf of the Government of the United Kingdom and which is so taken in relation to a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies who has the right of abode in the United Kingdom. Until the Government's nationality proposals have been enacted into law, the term "British citizen" will be imprecise as a legal term. Therefore, it was necessary to spell out in the Parliamentary Commissioner Order 1979 exactly what was intended. That accounts for the reference to a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies who has the right of abode in the United Kingdom. Similar considerations apply to the Bill and account for the similar language in it.

The 1979 order thus gave effect to the first part of the Select Committee's recommendation by bringing within the Parliamentary Commissioner's jurisdiction consular complaints by citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies with the right of abode and resident in the United Kingdom who are travelling abroad. It did not and could not—because a separate Act was required—bring within the Parliamentary Commissioner's jurisdiction consular complaints by citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies with the right of abode in the United Kingdom but resident abroad, which was the second part of the Select Committee's recommendation.

The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the second part of the recommendation. There is only one operative clause namely, clause 1, which amends section 6(4) of the Parlamentary Commissioner Act 1967 so as to permit complaints to be made about consular actions overseas where the aggrieved person, although not a resident in the United Kingdom, is a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies and has the right of abode in the United Kingdom.

This small Bill has been the subject of a certain amount of debate during its earlier stages. That debate was largely concerned with the question how far we should extend the right that is given by the Bill—for example, whether we should extend it to the citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies with the right of abode, as the Bill does, or whether we should extend it further. I emphasise that the Bill extends the right of complaint to the Commissioner to those who do not have the right at present. I hope, therefore, that the House will accept it as the generous liberalising measure that it is and will welcome it.

The Bill is not restrictive. It does not take away any rights already held by anyone. On the contrary, it extends the right to appeal to the Commissioner to about 3 million more people who do not now have it. It is worth noting that the majority of these people residing overseas, although citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies, are not United Kingdom taxpayers. Although they are entitled to British consular protection, they make little or no financial contribution to the maintenance of the Government, who supply that protection and maintain the office of the Commissioner to whom these 3 milllion people are to be given the right of appeal. However, these 3 million have close connections with the country—often close family connections. We think it right that they should be able to appeal to the Commissioner on any consular maladministration from which they claim to have suffered injustice.

Labour Members have argued that other categories of person—namely, all citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies, whether that citizenship is acquired through a connection with the United Kingdom or with a present or former dependent territory, as well as British protected persons and British subjects without citizenship—should have the right of complaining against any alleged injustice that they feel they may have suffered at the hands of a career consular official. That would extend the right of complaint to a further 4 million, making a total extension of 7 million. The extra 4 million would have, in general, less connection with the United Kingdom than the 3 million who will be covered by the Bill, and many of them might have no connection with the United Kingdom apart from the mere fact of citizenship.

We think that that would be going too far. We have to draw a line somewhere, and we think it right to draw the line at citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies with the right of abode. Paragraph 11 of the Government's observations on the fourth report from the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, Cmnd. 7449, states: The Government are also prepared to consider whether the Commissioner's jurisdiction should be extended to cover complaints by citizens of the UK and Colonies travelling or resident abroad, provided that the action complained of was taken in respect of a citizen who has the right of abode in this country (ie a patrial). That is the test that we have adopted. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the reply to the fourth report was published in January 1979. Therefore, it was published by the Labour Government. We think that they were right in drawing the line at that point. We take the same view, and that view is the one to which the Bill gives effect. I ask the House to support the Bill.

10.9 pm

Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, East)

The Opposition welcome the extension of the Ombudsman's jurisdiction to the consular services, and from that point of view we wish the Bill a favourable remaining career in the House. That is likely to be brief. As the Minister said, we have grave reservations about the restrictions of the right of complaint to those with the right of abode. Those are our old friends the patrials, as we mentioned in Committee. If we are talking about consistency, I remind the Minister that when we were debating the Immigration Act 1971, the Labour Party opposed the concept of patriality, and we have always been against it.

As the Minister said, in Committee we put on record that we want all groups connected with the United Kingdom and who might use the consular services with a view to settling in the United Kingdom to have the right of complaint to the Ombudsman. We moved an amendment to that effect which the Government rejected. The Government must bear in mind that many of these people, who may not be taxpayers in the United Kingdom, may become taxpayers in the future and, possibly, voters as well.

The debate in Committee allowed us to probe a number of problems. There is, however, one group to which we alluded whose problem seemed substantial. I regret that not only did the Minister avoid dealing with that group in Committee but, despite the fact that he was given notice about our concern, he has failed to deal with it again now. I refer to the East African Asians, especially the group which resides in India. The Minister did not refer to them, and, as the Bill is now likely to be passed, that group will be excluded from making representations to the Ombudsman. The result is that the injustices from which they are suffering—to which I shall refer later—will continue to be perpetrated.

I shall outline the problem briefly. A number of Asians lived in East Africa before that part of the world was granted independence. When independence came, it was felt that the Asians might be under pressure from the indigenous Africans after independence because they held positions of modest privilege in those societies. They performed a number of services and some were independent business men. Again, I mention consistency. The late lain Macleod promised them British passports and entry into this country on independence as a way of assuaging their fears that they might be under some pressure.

By 1968 those fears had become reality, but at that stage the United Kingdom felt that it could admit those Asians only at a rate with which we could cope, so a quota of special vouchers was imposed on those groups. Under pressure, some of those Asians went back to India, which took them on the basis that ultimately this country would admit them. The quota for Asians, whether they came from East Africa or were living in India, was 1,500 per annum. In 1972 that was increased to 3,500 per annum. In 1975 the number was increased to 5,000 per annum. The latest increase allowed the East African queues to evaporate.

Unfortunately, the queues of Asians living in India who were connected with East Africa still remain. I do not know what the quota was for those groups of intending arrivals. It might have been 500 per annum, but the figure has never been quoted. As a result of the Bill, if it is passed in the form in which it stands, the problems of that group are likely to be unalleviated because of the lack of any ability to complain to the Ombudsman.

The quota for East Africa and India is not being taken up. In 1968, the quota was 1,500 per annum and slightly more than 1,000 heads of households, who may or may not have brought all or part of their families with them, were admitted. In 1972 the quota was 3,500 and 3,260 were admitted. In 1975 the quota was increased to 5,000 and 3,789 were admitted. That increase in the quota led to the evaporation of the East African queues. Since then, there has been a rapid fall in the number of Asians being admitted to this country as compared with the quotas. In 1979, the last year for which we have figures, the quota was 5,000 and only 1,604 heads of households were admitted. There was a big gap between the quota and the number of admissions.

There is plenty of slack in the scheme, yet there is a lengthening waiting list in India. For example, in 1977 families had to wait three years to be admitted to this country under the quota. By 1978 the waiting time was four years, by 1979 it was four years and nine months, last year it was five years and two months and this year it was estimated to be five and a half years.

We should like to know whether the lengthening waiting list is a matter of Government policy. There is large-scale unemployment in the United Kingdom, and against that background and, possibly, in the belief that the groups in India should be encouraged to settle there, the Government may have taken a deliberate decision to slow down the rate of admission. On the other hand, it may be due to consular inefficiency.

If it is the first reason, we shall know where we stand. This is not the time to debate that decision, but it could be debated on another stage. However, if consular inefficiency is the cause, that situation will be perpetuated by the passage of the Bill, because access to the Ombudsman is not being extended to those groups in India and they will be ragarded by many people as suffering a considerable injustice.

The whole problem is not a matter of mere impatience on the part of those concerned. The waiting list is extending so rapidly that it is becoming a self-perpetuating list. A number of applications are being made by young people who, if applications had been dealt with earlier, would have been regarded as coming here as part of a family on its voucher. They now have to be dealt with as separate cases.

For example, Mrs. B, a widow, applied for a voucher in 1975, when she had as dependants four daughters aged 21, 19, 17 and 8 and a son aged 13. If she had been issued with a voucher promptly, the five children would have qualified for entry certificates as her dependants, but by the time she is issued with a voucher this year the two oldest daughters will be over 25 and will require vouchers in their own right, for which they lodged applications in 1975 in order to safeguard their positions.

There is uncertainty. In 1978, people founded plans on the basis of a four-year waiting list. They find that this year the waiting list has extended to five and a half years. That may be the result of consular inefficiency. We have to assume that that is so in the absence of any Government statement to the contrary. But there can be no complaint to the Ombudsman as a result of that. We are under a compulsion, by our agreement with the Indian Government, eventually to admit all these people if they so wish.

As a result of an administrative decision, vouchers are issued in India on the basis of first come, first served. They could have been issued, as in East Africa, on the basis of priority categories so that those in the most vulnerable position were given the first chance of coming to this country. This might have been an issue that the Ombudsman could have examined if the Bill had been amended in the way that we wanted.

The result of the manner in which the scheme is administered is that families are prevented from travelling to the United Kingdom as a unit. This often means that more than one of the limited number of vouchers is used for getting each family to this country. If the scheme was administered in another way, only one voucher for each family would be needed. There are one or two examples of cases of that sort. Mrs. D, a widow, wrote to the British deputy high commissioner in Bombay in October 1978.

Mr John Page (Harrow, West)

What name?

Mr. Moyle

Mrs. D, a widow. I am not declaring the actual name. Mrs. D wrote to the British deputy high commissioner in Bombay in October 1978. She said: When I applied for a voucher, my son's name was included as a dependant though his age at that time was above 18 years. I am now advised that as he is above 18 years of age, he will have to apply separately. Will you please guide me in the matter and let me know whether he will have to apply separately? The reply was: The decision is up to your son if he wishes to apply. It is not compulsory in any way. The use of such opaque language might have been regarded by some as consular inefficiency that required investigation by the Ombudsman. In the form in which the Bill is likely to be passed, that sort of complaint to the Ombudsman is excluded.

Mr E applied for a voucher in April 1975. He listed as his dependants two sons, then aged 17 and 18, and daughter. Two older sons and a daughter were already settled in the United Kingdom. He received his voucher in January 1980 but his sons, then aged 22 and 23, were refused entry on the ground that they were no longer dependent, although only one had taken occasional work. Both sons were left behind. As a result, three vouchers will be used to admit a single family whereas one would have been sufficient at the time of application.

The other problems are legion. Medical examination can be conducted only at Bombay, about 260 to 500 miles from the main emigration areas. A visit there can entail a stay of a week in Bombay and can cost intending emigrants to this country about £500. If they go to East Africa, they may be told that they can apply for a voucher only in India. Three different overlapping forms have to be filled in. Ninety per cent. of the applications to come to this country originate in Gujarat, but the register of applications is held in Delhi. There are complaints about delays in the issue of passports. A valid passport and the issue of an entry voucher are required as a condition for admission to this country.

There are complaints that letters are not replied to. The British High Commission says that this is due to the unreliability of the post in India. If the Bill had been passed in a different form, a complaint about all these matters could have been made to the Ombudsman.

A high standard of proof of identity is now required by our consular services in India in administering the scheme. Whether such a high standard of proof should be required is a proper field of investigation for the Ombusdman with a view to deciding whether there has been maladministration due to over-elaboration and over-perfection. That will now be precluded if the Bill passes in the form in which it now comes before the House.

It would have been interesting to hear the Government's justification for lack of provision for complaints to the Ombudsman for this group of people in view of the large number of complaints about the manner in which the scheme is administered originating from East African Asians, who have decided to reside, temporarily in many cases, in India. So far, the only explanations have been that of cost and that, if people are encouraged to complain, they will cease to accept injustice and will begin to complain. Both those reasons have only to be stated to be shown to be totally invalid. They cannot be accepted by the Opposition.

10.25 pm
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

The Bill introduces a new, important and very useful provision. The Opposition are only sad that its applicability is limited so that amongst the people who need it most are those who will get it least.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) talked a great deal about the problems of the citizens of East Africa who are unable to make use of the provisions of the Bill specifically because of the exclusion that the person—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Member so early in his speech and I did not pull up the right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) when he made mention of these matters, but strictly on Third Reading we ought to stick to what is in the Bill and not draw attention to provisions which might have been in it if other things had happened.

Mr Janner

I hope that I have not given the impression that I was drawing attention to any words which did not appear in the Bill. The new subsection (5)(b) provides that a complaint may be entertained only where the person aggrieved is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies who, under section 2 of the Immigration Act 1971, has the right of abode in the United Kingdom. My complaint is that many of my constituents are citizens of the United Kingdom with the right of abode here but that many of their families are citizens of the United Kingdom by right—they are entitled to come here—but at the moment have no right of abode in the United Kingdom.

As the Minister said, the Bill restricts the use of these new rights and, until the Government's proposals are enacted, the terms will remain imprecise. The Government's proposals to which the Minister referred are those in the new British Nationality Bill, which the Opposition regard as divisive, unfair, uncivilised, unreasonable, unkind and totally lacking in the sort of compassion which is introduced into our law by clause 1 of this Bill. In other words, here is an enactment which is intended to create a compassionate arrangement to enable people to complain about the acts and omissions of servants of the Crown but which prevents such complaints from being made by the very people who are most likely to need to make them—people who are not able to comply with the rules because their right of abode is restricted by current legislation which will be made much worse by legislation which is on its way.

A person has the right of abode: that means quite simply the right, as of the time of complaint, to reside here. A person will have the right to abide in this country when he is here in accordance with the rules and because the consular officials have exercised their powers in the proper manner. On the other hand, until those officials exercise their powers in a proper manner, these people have no right to abide here. Therefore, there is a deliberate exclusion from these rights of the very people to whom they are most applicable in compassion but not in law.

In the good city of Leicester we have about 60,000 Asians, most of whom are Gujaratis and most of whom do not initially come with all of their families. As a result, an aggrieved person left behind will not, in accordance with the terms of the Bill as it stands, be able to complain to the new Ombudsman. I have visited India many times, and I have been deeply concerned at the lack of compassion in our rules and the way in which no swift right of complaint is currently provided. I understand that that is what the Bill is about. There are cases in my constituency of people who have been waiting six or seven years to come here. They have the right, as citizens, to come here, but until they arrive they have no right of abode as described by the Bill.

These people would have had the right to complain about their treatment, but that right is being specifically excluded by this otherwise excellent Bill. I cannot see why we give a right with one hand while taking it away with the other for so many of our citizens who should be entitled to it. Once a person is a citizen in this country he should have the same rights as every other citizen, whether or not he was born here. If he has the right to be a citizen of this country he should have the right to bring his family here under our law. If his family is being messed around by consular officials, as sometimes happens, those people should have the right to complain, not here but where they are suffering. That is all that we are saying.

Whilst reading of the right of abode I was reminded of that marvellous hymn: Abide with me; fast falls the eventide But until people have the right to abide with me they will not have the right to complain that they are not allowed to abide with me. Our law is being made increasingly and excessively unkind, and to lack in compassion, by the very measure that the Government are rightly bringing in to increase rights. In those circumstances I beg the Minister to reconsider this exclusion so as to give the right to the people who need it so badly.

10.33 pm
Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

I came here this evening to congratulate, in a mild way, my hon. Friend the Minister on his sensible and wide Bill. I am surprised at the tone of the speeches by Labour Members. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) delivered a speech that, when read in Hansard, will show up the diamond-hard, critical brutality of his words, which far belie the decency and general good sense of his personality and the way in which he addressed the House. I hope that by speaking as I do I shall make a less strong cocktail of the vitriol of his speech. He talked about the Bill being a defence against unemployment in the United Kingdom—

Mr. Moyle

I speculated that the reason for the Government's policy might be to protect the employment market in this country, but I did not advance the idea that that was the reason behind the Bill.

Mr Page

The impression that the right hon. Member gave in his intervention is exactly the impression with which I was left when he originally spoke. He makes a kind of a smear. He says "I would not dream of smearing the Government by saying that they might be considering that the Bill might have a certain effect." It is unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman. He adopted an academic approach to the Bill.

The right of abode is what the Bill and so much other legislation is concerned with. Nationality is secondary to right of abode. The Government and the Minister have got it absolutely right. Patriality should be the touchstone on which the Bill is based.

If the suggestion by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, East were accepted, a full-time ombudsman would have to be attached to every consulate in Asia, because every person who applied to abide in Britain would have the right to appeal to an ombudsman.

An ombudsman is not a person in the slips but a long-stop near the boundary. It is easy for hon. Members to send a dicey case to the ombudsman, but that is an unfair use of the ombudsman. All the arguments presented tonight contrary to the spirit of the Bill do not carry much weight.

The right hon. Member for Lewisham, East made a most dishonourable and uncharacteristic attribution to the Government. He suggested that when the Government legislate they should take into consideration the fact that some people whom he suggests are being legislated against might in future become voters in this country. He suggested that that Government, whom I so wholeheartedly support, especially in the configuration of my hon. Friend the Minister, should demean themselves by going vote catching in the Orient among people who might dream of coming here in the future.

That is the blank cheque that Labour Members offer. They say that any one of the 3,000 million people who, up to 1945, were entitled to a right of abode here, should be able to say "Oh, come on. If you do not let us in we will apply to the Ombudsman and gain entry."

The more that I heard today in the debate, the more I was reinforced in my confidence in the Bill as it stands and in its presentation by the Minister. Everything that has been said by the Opposition has reinforced my confidence.

10.39 pm
Mr. Reg Race (Wood Green)

The House has not had an opportunity to consider the Bill before, because it was in a Second Reading Committee upstairs. We have not had a debate on the Floor about its merits.

In Committee upstairs the Opposition put forward a reasoned amendment to include those who are excluded by clause 1. In his speech tonight my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) referred quite properly to the biggest and most important group who are excluded by the Bill from going to the Parliamentary Commissioner. It ill becomes the Minister to tell us that we are not concerned with the mere fact of nationality, and that we should be concerned only with patriality. British subjects without the right of abode—in East Africa, India, Pakistan, or anywhere else—who apply to enter the United Kingdom and are shabbily treated by immigration officers or consular officials, in Delhi, Bombay or anywhere else, should have the right to go to the Ombudsman.

This is the first chance that the House has had to vote on the issue. I welcome the Bill because of its extension of facilities for United Kingdom citizens resident abroad, but because it excludes that large group of people who often have legitimate grievances against British consular officials, I shall vote against its Third Reading.

The Government have not made out a proper case for drawing the line where they have. In Committee the Minister made it clear that the Government were drawing the line between patrials and non-patrials. Not a scrap of justification was put forward for that. Tonight the hon. Gentleman quoted the arguments of the Select Committee and the Government's response in previous years. On neither occasion was the House given any reason why the line should be drawn between patrials and non-patrials.

The Opposition must be forgiven if they are a little suspicious about that distinction. Many of us believe that it is a racialist distinction. I believe that with a Bill of this kind, extending only to patrials the right to go to the Ombudsman, the Government are legislating on a racialist basis.

Mr George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

Does not the fact that the Bill has been dealt with in the way that it has increase my hon. Friend's suspicion? It indicates that the Government have been trying to sneak it through without any real discussion on the Floor of the House.

Mr Race

I agree. It was a mistake to send the Bill upstairs. I believe that the Government were trying to sneak it through on the quiet, without anyone noticing the terms of clause 1. Our public duty now is to make it clear that the Bill gives a right to some people but does not extend it to everyone who should have it. The Government should take the Bill away and return with one that simply extends to patrials and non-patrials alike the right to go to the Ombudsman.

The people who are excluded from the Bill are more in need of protection by the Parliamentary Commissioner than are some of those who are included. Those who are eligible as British subjects without the right of abode, who can apply for a special voucher, are in an administrative maze. They have no right of appeal, because the special voucher system is not in the immigration rules. It is an administrative scheme, devised by the Government and administered by civil servants. Nobody covered by that scheme has any statutory right.

I believe that Parliament has a duty to protect those people when civil servants or consular officials make mistakes, when passports are mislaid, or when people are asked to go 500 miles when the whole thing could be done by post. They also need protection when medical examinations are called for unnecessarily, or when they have to travel unnecessarily to Bombay.

On Friday evening I was visited by a constituent who had relatives in India who had applied for a special voucher and wanted to get an entry certificate to come as visitors while waiting for their special voucher. They had been waiting five and a half years for the special voucher, and were asked by consular officials to go to New Delhi on three occasions simply to be interviewed for an entry certificate. At the end, they were refused. If that had been about the special voucher application, it would have been exactly the kind of case that ought to be considered by the Ombudsman. Those people should have the right to go to the Ombudsman if they believe that they have been shabbily treated by consular officials.

I do not believe that many people would exercise that function, or that our constituents would go to the Parliamentary Commissioner, whether in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, on a frivolous basis. But it must be realised that everybody in the United Kingdom, whether a United Kingdom citizen or not, has the right to go to the Ombudsman. Under the 1967 Act, everybody who is resident in the United Kingdom—that is the only qualification—has the right to go to the Parliamentary Commissioner. That includes aliens, Commonwealth citizens, United Kingdom citizens, and everybody else.

The principle embodied in the 1967 Act is an important one, which ought to be defended, and we should extend that right to United Kingdom citizens living abroad, whether they are patrials or not.

Mr Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

I thought that there was something phoney in the hon. Gentleman's argument, so I looked at the Standing Orders. I notice, under Standing Order No. 66(1), that if 20 hon. Members had objected to the Bill being taken upstairs in Committee it would have had to be taken on the Floor of the House. Why are we having all this synthetic vitriol? Opposition Members could have had a Second Reading debate on the Floor of the House if they had wished.

Mr Race

These matters are not considered by the House as such; they are considered, as we are all aware by the two Front Benches. I am not making any criticism of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East in this regard, because he clearly understood the principle involved in the Bill. All that I am saying is that the agreement to take the Bill upstairs in Committee arose because it was thought by the Government that it would go through on the nod and would not be objected to by hon. Members.

The argument put forward by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) does not for one moment undermine the basic point that we have been arguing, namely, that the Bill does not extend rights to people who should have them. Whatever the Standing Orders of the House may say, we are now exercising our right to make those points clear, and I believe that the right that we have now—

Mr. Cormack

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As I understand the position, the only arguments that are totally in order on Third Reading are extremely narrow. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends could have had a debate on Second Reading had they wished it. The hon. Gentleman is now attempting to have a Second Reading debate on Third Reading, and I submit that he is out of order.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

If I hear the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) dealing with something that is not in the Bill, action will be taken.

Mr. Race

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am trying to confine my remarks specifically to clause 1. The objections to the clause are so substantial that I hope that my hon. Friends will vote against the Bill. The Government ought to take it away, look at it again, and bring back a Bill that gives the rights to patrials and non-patrials alike.

In the Second Reading Committee I made it clear—as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East—that we were in favour of the principle of extending to patrials the right to go to the Parliamentary Commissioner. There can be no doubt whatever that we are in favour of the extension of this liberalising legislation, but we do not think that it goes far enough or that the Government have made any case whatever for drawing the line where they have. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friends will join me in the Lobby in opposing the Third Reading.

10.49 pm
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

It should go on record that neither the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) nor any of his colleagues made the attempt that they could easily have made to have the Second Reading taken on the Floor of the House. Opposition Members had no need to rely on the usual channels; they could have included their names on a motionron the Order Paper.

Secondly, if Opposition Members had felt that the Bill was deficient in any respect they could have tabled amendments on Report. They did not do that. I suggest that the opposition is spurious, and that the Bill deserves a speedy Third Reading.

10.50 pm
Mr. Blaker

With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) made several complaints about the United Kingdom passport holders' scheme. That subject was taken up by his hon. Friends and seems to have been their main theme. I gained the impression that the right hon. Gentleman was complaining about the scheme as a whole and the way in which it is administered. He knows that it is an administrative and discretionary scheme. It was introduced by the Labour Party when it was in power in the 1960s. It was continued by the Conservative Government of the early 1970s and by the Labour Government of the late 1970s. It has been continued by this Government.

If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to complain about the operation of the scheme he should remember that he could have suggested in the 1960s that the Labour Government should adopt something different. If, by the early 1970s, the Labour Party had had second thoughts it could have changed the scheme. It is interesting that it is only when the Labour Party is not in power that the right hon. Gentleman appears to have doubts about the management of the scheme.

Mr Moyle

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my remarks. I am not criticising the policy. We are discussing complaints to the Ombudsman, who has no say about policy. We are talking about the growing evidence of maladministration of the scheme, which the Ombudsman could have done something to correct. I refer to the lengthening waiting queues and to the great gap between the number of vouchers applied for and the much larger number of vouchers issuable under the quota.

Mr Blaker

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that clarification. Together with several other hon. Members, he referred to a report recently issued by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. It is an important document. It has been referred to Ministers and is being studied by them. They will reach their conclusions on it at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way. I have read the whole of that interesting document. However, it is for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to deal with the document, as he is primarily involved.

I turn to the question whether special voucher applicants should be included in the Bill. I refer to persons who have never resided in the United Kingdom and who do not have the right of abode, because they lack a sufficiently close connection with this country. They therefore fall on the other side of the line. Indeed, it is right to draw that line. It is true that they do not have a right of appeal. Under neither Labour nor Conservative Governments have they had a right of appeal.

I repeat something that was implicit in my earlier remarks, namely, that this is not the right forum in which to propose that such persons should have the right of appeal. If, as the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) apparently believes, there is a case for having a right of appeal, it should not be given in this Bill but should be given in some other way. No doubt the hon. Member will make representations, if he thinks it right, to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

I come back to the point that in 1979 the Labour Government, in their reply to the Select Committee's report, took the same view as we have taken about where the line should be drawn. That reply included the word "patrial", which Opposition Members appear to dislike.

Mr Foulkes

The Minister is confusing a right of appeal with a complaint of maladministration. Will he try to separate the two things in his mind, because they are completely different?

Mr. Blaker

I am clear in my mind. The right to go to the Ombudsman is a form of appeal. But that form of appeal is not the right form of appeal, if there be such a thing, for United Kingdom passport holders.

The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) referred to the British Nationality Bill. That, again, is outside the scope of this Bill. If he has views on the British Nationality Bill, no doubt he will take the opportunity to express them when it comes back to the Floor of the House.

The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the alleged lack of compassion of the Bill. He said that the Bill was "increasingly unkind".

Mr John Page

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman listening?

Mr. Blaker

This is a liberalising Bill. We are giving the right of appeal to the Ombudsman to an extra 3 million people. We are doing what the Labour Government intended to do if they had remained in office. I wonder whether, if they were in power now, the hon. and learned Gentleman would have taken the same view on what would have been an identical Bill.

I turn with relief to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page). It was a breath of—

Mr. Foulkes

Fresh air.

Mr Blaker

—sanity. My hon. Friend agreed that the right of abode was the right test. I congratulate him on taking that view. I hope that he is not too put off by the fact that that was the view taken by the Labour Party before it was converted to its present view.

The hon. Member for Wood Green objected that there had been no Second Reading debate on the Floor of the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) pointed out, if 20 hon. Members had risen in their places they could have insisted on a Second Reading debate here. Surely, Opposition Members are not so supine as to rise in their places only when their Whips tell them to do so.

Mr Foulkes

The hon. Gentleman is provoking us now.

Mr Blaker

We realise that there are problems in the Opposition's ranks. If, however, 20 Opposition Members had felt strongly enough at the relevant time, they could have insisted on there being a Second Reading debate on the Floor of the House.

The hon. Member for Wood Green asked why the line is drawn where it is. We discussed this matter in Committee upstairs, as he knows, because he took part in the debate. One of the reasons is the possible burden on staff overseas. We do not know what burden will be cast on them by the addition of 3 million people to those who are entitled to claim under the Bill.

Mr Moyle

If our amendment had been carried, the number entitled to use the consular services would not have been increased. The same number would have been entitled to use the consular services after the Bill was on the statute book as before. Therefore, the number of complaints would not be increased, unless the hon. Gentleman is asserting that there are those who do not complain because they cannot get their complaint properly registered.

Mr Blaker

The potential number who could complain to the Ombudsman would be increased by 4 million. We should beware of so burdening our staffs overseas that they become even more under pressure than at present.

The hon. Member for Wood Green said that there is an element of racialism in the Bill. That I refute. That is nonsense. I shall continue to say that we are adopting the same criterion as the previous Administration. That should make the hon. Gentleman pause. The Bill applies to all, irrespective of race or colour.

Mr Race

It does not.

Mr Blaker

As, historically, Britain has been inhabited by people of white race, it is inevitable that there should be more white people than other races with the right of abode. For the same reason, African countries, for example, have more black citizens than white ones. This is not racialism. Anyone, no matter what his race or colour, who fulfils the conditions has the right of abode and the right to complain to the Commissioner. In the world of cricket, I refer to the two great Surrey and England batsmen, Mr. Peter May and Mr. Raman Subha Row. Assuming that the children of both are citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies with the right of abode in the United Kingdom, they would be treated exactly alike for the purposes of the Bill.

I ask the House to accept that this is a liberalising Bill. It is doing what the Select Committee proposed should be done. It is doing what the previous Labour Government proposed should be done. I believe that the House should accept it.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 67, Noes 14

Division No. 125] [11.03 pm
Alexander, Richard Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Ancram, Michael Mudd, David
Arnold, Tom Neale, Gerrard
Aspinwall, Jack Needham, Richard
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Neubert, Michael
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Normanton, Tom
Bevan, David Gilroy Osborn, John
Blackburn, John Page, John (Harrow, West)
Blaker, Peter Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby)
Bulmer, Esmond Pollock, Alexander
Butcher, John Proctor, K. Harvey
Clegg, Sir Walter Rathbone, Tim
Cope, John Rhodes James, Robert
Dorrell, Stephen Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Rossi, Hugh
Dover, Denshore Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Finsberg, Geoffrey Shelton, William (Streatham)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Sims, Roger
Garel-Jones, Tristan Speller, Tony
Goodlad, Alastair Stanbrook, Ivor
Gower, Sir Raymond Stanley, John
Grieve, Percy Stevens, Martin
Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N) Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Gummer, John Selwyn Stradling Thomas, J.
Hawkins, Paul Tebbit, Norman
Henderson, Barry Thompson, Donald
Hurd, Hon Douglas Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael van Straubenzee, W. R.
Knox, David Viggers, Peter
Lawrence, Ivan Wakeham, John
Le Marchant, Spencer Waller, Gary
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Tellers for the Ayes:
Mather, Carol Mr. Robert Boscawen and Mr. Peter Brooke.
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Allaun, Frank Penhaligon, David
Campbell-Savours, Dale Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Cryer, Bob Snape, Peter
Dalyell, Tam Steel, Rt Hon David
Dixon, Donald Wainwright, E.(Dearne V)
Foulkes, George
Home Robertson, John Tellers for the Noes:
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Mr. Greville Janner and Mr. Reg Race.
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)

Question accordingly agreed to

Bill read the Third time and passed, without amendment