HC Deb 23 November 1983 vol 49 cc431-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Douglas Hogg.]

11.35 pm
Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I welcome this opportunity to raise the case of my constituent, Baljit Kaur, and the refusal of the Minister of State, Home Office to allow her husband, Hardev Dosanj to join her and their newly born daughter in Birmingham. I ask the Minister to use his discretion to allow Baljit's husband to join her for two reasons. The first is to bring to an end the unhappiness of this young couple by allowing them to be together during the early growth of their first child, for humanity's sake, and for the sake of the family. Secondly, and very importantly, the Minister should not insist that they wait for the delay of an appeal.

It is important that, through this case, the Minister should send a message to the entry certificate officers in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh about the way in which they should interpret the relevant section of the immigration rules in relation to applications by husbands and fiancés from the Indian Sub-continent. If the Minister fails to intervene in this case, he will, in effect, be saying that he applauds and accepts their rigid interpretation of the rules, which is being used crudely to make it impossible for any Asian husband or fiancé to come here to join his wife and fiancée in Britain.

Since this case came to my attention, many others have been pointed out, such as Mrs. Salinder Kaur, who has a seven-month-old baby, whose husband has been refused entry on the same grounds. A Miss Dhillon—a vibrant and attractive young lady who had been brought up in Birmingham—went to India to meet the man that she intended to marry, and fell deeply in love. However, her fiancé has been excluded under the rules, and she is now a tearful and unhappy girl.

I shall tell the House the story about this case, and then return to the general rules. Baljit Kaur is 20. She was born and brought up in Birmingham, and is a British citizen. She is as much a British citizen as I am. I am a child of Irish immigrant parents. I was born in Birmingham and I grew up there. Baljit should have the same rights as a citizen as I have.

In 1982 Baljit went to India with her mother and younger brother. She went to see her granny and her aunt. No marriage had been arranged. She told me—I spoke to her this evening again—that she felt that she was ready for marriage as she was 20. She was willing to consider any suitable offer, but she was not sure whether she would like to marry a man from India, or would prefer to marry someone from England. Before she left, her father told her that this was entirely a matter for her but that if she met and liked someone she should marry him. There was no pressure on her to do so. If she did not a marriage would be found in the United Kingdom.

While Baljit was in India, an uncle of hers, who knew well the family of Hardev Dosanj, who is now her husband, suggested to the young man and his family that he might like to consider a marriage to Baljit. He and his family came to see Baljit. She met and liked him quite a lot, but did not decide that she would like to marry him. The decision was hers, and no pressure was exerted on her by the family. After three or four months, she decided that she would like to marry Hardev Dosanj, and in August, they married.

Baljit tells me that she married in India because her granny and aunt were there, and if her husband had applied to come back to Britain, and done so, her granny and aunt would not have been at the wedding. It was therefore decided that they would marry in India, have a family celebration, and her granny would be able to see her first grandchild in that family get married. They hoped as a family to stay while his application was processed and he waited in the queue, and, when he got permission to come to the United Kingdom, her mother, brother, she and her husband could come back together to be reunited with the rest of the family in Britain.

In October 1982 her brother became ill—he had been ill for some time—and her mother decided that the only sensible thing to do was to bring him back to the United Kingdom where he could get better medical treatment. Baljit tells me that she was happy in her marriage but that she missed her family in the United Kingdom and missed her mother. She visited her aunt and grandmother a great deal to get through the time. In January she knew that she was pregnant, and she wanted even more to be with her mother and to have her mother's advice. When I asked her whether her aunt could have had advised her, she said, "Yes, of course; my aunt has had many children. But I am an English girl and I grew up in England, and the advice of my aunt would not be suitable for me." Baljit is a Birmingham girl who thinks of herself as being English, which is why she wishes to make her life with her family here.

Baljit returned here in April, partly because her ticket was running out and partly because she was pregnant and wished to have proper medical care. When she came back, she was confident that, shortly thereafter, her husband would be interviewed—the date of interview was already set—and he would be given permission to come to the United Kingdom, because there was no question but that they were married and that they were about to have a child.

Baljit came to see me just after the election. She was pregnant, and very anxious that her husband should join her before the baby was born. For that reason, I wrote to the Minister asking that the case be dealt with—again, we had no doubt that his entry would be permitted—sufficiently speedily so that her husband could be with her before their first child was born. On 1 September I received a letter from the Minister of State saying that Baljit's husband had been refused entry. The letter stated: Mr. Dosanjh was specifically asked by the entry clearance officer if his marriage had been arranged solely for immigration purposes and he openly agreed that this was so. I thought that improbable, but I sent the letter to Baljit and asked for her views. She was enormously shocked and upset. Until then she had had no doubt that he would come, but was worried only about the time of his arrival. She was convinced that he would have said nothing that could have led to that conclusion, because their marriage was not like that. There was no long arrangement, and he was not seeking a marriage that would bring him to the United Kingdom.

Therefore, I requested a meeting with the Minister, which we had recently. The Minister agreed that the couple were married, that the child was their child, that Baljit loved her husband and wanted him with her, but he said that he would not intervene in the decision. He said that there was no point in interviewing her because he accepted the truth of what she said about the marriage and her feelings towards her husband. He said that the rule was that the husband or fiancé was not allowed in if the marriage was contracted primarily because he intended to come to the United Kingdom. He was convinced, because of the answers allegedly given by Baljit's husband, that this was so in his case.

I made some notes from memory after the meeting about what the Minister claimed Baljit's husband had answered. The notes read as follows. He was asked why he had obtained a passport in 1980, considerably before the marriage was contracted, and he is supposed to have said that he wanted to go to the United Kingdom, like his cousins who were already there. He was asked why we wished to go to the United Kingdom, and he is supposed to have said, "In order to earn money." He was then asked whether his desire to go to the United Kingdom was the sole reason for his marriage, and he was supposed to have said, "Yes." That is enormously improbable, and the series of questions was bound to lead to trouble, but he is alleged to have said those things.

Those of us who have visited the Indian sub-continent and experienced such interviews will know that they are conducted through interpreters, with a great possibility of differences of nuance in questions and answers. However, knowing that, I put to Baljit what the Minister said. She simply did not believe it was possible, because it was so far from the truth, for her husband to have given such answers. It was not the way in which their marriage was arranged or took place.

I asked her to write to her husband and to obtain from him an account of the questions he was asked at the interview and his answers. She did that, and received in return a long series of questions—about 30—and the answers which he gave. One question was why he had obtained a passport before the marriage, and he said that his answer was that he intended to work in an Arab country. Apparently it was not until Baljit's uncle suggested the marriage to Baljit that he thought there was any real possibility that he might go to the United Kingdom.

In answer to the question—one that the Minister did not tell me had been asked; one sees the attempted trickery of it, in my view—"When you are prepared to leave your parents, why can't she come to live in India so that you can be with your parents?", he said that he answered, "It is her will. As she was born and grew up in the United Kingdom and wants to stay there, I will go to be with her." He also says that he was asked, "Why do you intend to go to the United Kingdom? Do you want to earn more money?" He answered, "Marriages are intended that husband and wife should be together, not alone. Because I am married to a British-born girl, I want to go and stay and be with her."

It is overwhelmingly clear that this is a genuine marriage, and that refusal to permit this young couple to be together is cruel and unnecessary. From the experience that I have in my constituency, it seems to be a precedent for other similar cases. Since the Government changed the rules on marriages, they have moved the burden of proof on to the applicant—the husband or the fiancé—to prove that it is not his primary purpose to come to the United Kingdom. Whether it becomes an absolute bar to entry for genuine marriages, or whether it is simply a way of filtering out marriages of convenience, seems to depend on how the rule is interpreted. I suggest that the way in which the Minister's staff in the Indian Sub-continent are now interpreting the rule is making it a bar to entry when they so wish. They say to a young man who has married a young girl, knowing that she lives in the United Kingdom, and that it is part of the arrangement that they will live in the United Kingdom together, "Why did you many? Why do you want to come to the United Kingdom? Is that part of the purpose of your marriage?" It is part of the arrangement. One might as well ask, "Why did Lady Di marry Prince Charles? Was part of her purpose to live in Buckingham Palace?" We could all ask ourselves why we got married, and was the aim to better our lives? It is easy to move on from that question to ask "Is the primary purpose to come to the United Kingdom", and thus exclude all marriages of people who come from the Indian Sub-continent. We seem to have reached that stage.

The way in which the rule is not being interpreted makes it an impossible test. In my view, it is in breach of article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which gives the right to many and found a family. In interpreting the rules as they are, the Minister and his officials are refusing my constituent the right that she has under article 8 of that convention. Under article 12, people have the right to enjoy the rights and freedoms set out in the convention without discrimination on any grounds, such as sex, race colour, national origin, and so on.

I appeal to the Minister to be generous in this case, for the sake not only of this young couple and their little daughter, but of others, by telling his officials that he expects them to interpret the rules in a humane, decent and legal way.

11.49 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Waddington)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) for the moderate way in which she put her case and because it gives me an opportunity to answer a number of allegations that she made recently, notably in early-day motion 259.

Mrs. Baljit Kaur travelled to India in June 1982 and in August married Mr. Dosanjh, a citizen of that country. He now seeks settlement in the United Kingdom in right of that marriage. His application has, however, been refused because he failed to satisfy the entry clearance officer in accordance with rule 54(a) that the marriage was not entered into primarily to obtain admission to the country.

It is plain from early-day motion 259 that the hon. Lady does not like the rule to which I have referred. That is a matter for her. She is entitled to her opinion, but the rules of which rule 54 is one were approved by Parliament after a lengthy debate as recently as February this year. The hon. Lady is not entitled to suggest that I should ignore the rules or put a completely artificial interpretation on plain words to avoid making uncomfortable decisions.

When a person fails to qualify under the rules, the Home Secretary may, in exceptional compassionate circumstances, exercise his undoubted discretion and admit a person outside the rules. He has no right to say that the rules mean one thing when they clearly mean another, and refuse to apply a safeguard against abuse which Parliament wished to see in the rules.

I return to Mr. Dosanjh and consider what he said when he applied for entry clearance in New Delhi. It is easy for someone who is caught by the rule to say after the interview that he did not say what he is recorded as having said. I have recently returned from the Indian subcontinent. I have seen our entry clearance officers at work. They carry out a most difficult job with great expertise, tolerance and fairness. I have no reason to believe that the entry clearance officer in this case was prepared to lie and record what was not said by this young man. He said that it had been his anbition to go to the United Kingdom since his two cousins had gone there a few years previously. He said that he wanted to earn more money like everyone else who went there—that is, to the United Kingdom. He said that he thought that he could achieve his ambition—admission to the United Kingdom—through marriage. When the entry clearance officer put to him in terms that the sole purpose of the marriage was to gain entry to the United Kingdom, Mr. Dosanjh admitted that that was the case.

Whenever there is a law or a rule, there will be difficult borderline cases about which it is difficult to judge whether they fall one side of the line or the other. This does not seem to be a borderline case. Someone else may come to a different conclusion, but the matter is clear to me as it was to the entry clearance officer and the other officials who considered the matter and decided that Mr. Dosanjh's application should be refused.

I want to make it plain to the hon. Lady that the entry clearance officer and the other officials who considered the case were not passing judgment on Baljit Kaur. They were interested in Mr. Dosanjh's motives, not those of Mrs. Kaur. It is worth reminding ourselves of a bit of the history of husband applications under the rules.

The first safe guards to prevent abuse of the marriage provisions in the rules were introduced by the Labour Government in 1977. The then Minister who held my responsibilities, Dr. Shirley Summerskill, said that evidence left no doubt that there was substantial abuse. In other words, the right on the part of a woman settled here to bring in her husband was being substantially abused. As a result, the Labour Government changed what was then the rule to provide for refusal of entry clearance if the entry clearance officer had reason to believe that the marriage was one of convenience entered into primarily to obtain admission into the United Kingdom with no intention that the marriage should subsist thereafter. That was the position after 1977.

In 1979, the Conservative Government decided to strengthen what by then had come to be known as the safeguards against abuse. I shall quote what my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), said in the debate on immigration on 4 December 1979: We are not talking about the marriage of convenience that takes place purely to secure entry and then collapses. That is dealh with under the present rules, if somewhat imperfectly. We are talking about marriages that may last but are merely for the purpose of immigration. Later in the same debate, referring to the new primary purpose test, he said: Our proposals will help to seal off an avenue of primary immigration."—[Official Report, 4 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 368–72.] My noble Friend Lord Whitelaw said on the same occasion: What we are discussing is the question of men being able to use a provision in our immigration control which enables them to settle on marriage when they could qualify to come in no other way. We must stop this loophole. The Government have a clear mandate to do so."—[Official Report, 4 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 254.] Therefore, one cannot possibly come to the conclusion that in 1979 the Conservative Government were out only to catch the simple obvious marriage of convenience where the man did not really intend to live with the woman at all or at any rate for any longer than was strictly necessary. The intention was to go wider than that, and the rules do go wider than that.

Ms. Clare Short

Will the Minister clarify what he is saying? It appears to me from the quotations that he has just given that it would be impossible for any young Asian man seeking to marry and live with a woman in the United Kingdom not to breach that rule. Is he saying that the rule was intended to prevent young Asian women who are British from marrying any Asian men from the Indian subcontinent?

Mr. Waddington

I am saying nothing of the sort, and I shall reinforce that in a moment. The facts belie what the hon. Lady suggests.

In 1979 we knew what we wanted to do and we did precisely what we said that we would do. We made it clear in the debate what we were doing. We were not attacking the traditional Asian custom of arranged marriages. We were out to try to stop that system being abused—to prevent marriages being used by people to get into this country.

The early-day motion is nonsense for a number of reasons. It is also thoroughly mischievous and misleading. First, contrary to what the motion says, I am not putting a cruel interpretation on the rules controlling the entry of husbands and fiancés. Entry clearance officers are applying the plain language of the rules, so the early-day motion is wrong when it suggests that I am putting a cruel interpretation on the rules.

Secondly, it is not a policy decided by me that is being applied; what is being applied is a set of rules approved by Parliament. Again, therefore, it is nonsense to state, as the hon. Lady states in the early-day motion, that what is in issue here is a policy propounded and decided by me.

Thirdly, the rules—and this rule in particular—are not designed to split families; and it is not the rules, as the hon. Lady knows perfectly well, that are separating this young couple. They are separate at present because the woman decided to come back here, having lived in India with her husband for the first eight months of her marriage. Incidentally, by doing so—and now inviting her husband to join her here—she is not acting in accordance with the traditional custom, as I understand it, in arranged marriages. So, again, that statement in the motion is nonsense.

Fourthly, the rule is not designed to prevent British women from marrying men from the sub-continent. Had it been so designed, it would have been badly designed because a very small percentage of husbands are refused on the grounds of primary purpose.

Mr. Dosanjh can exercise the generous rights of appeal that we in Britain afford to people in his position. It is sometimes forgotten how generous are our rights of appeal, and I have already told the hon. Lady that the case will be reviewed again in the light of any recommendations that the adjudicator may make. Nothing could be fairer than that.

For the moment, I can see no case for acting exceptionally outside the rules, particularly when the rules have bitten because Mr. Dosanjh has failed to fulfil a requirement put there for the specific purpose of preventing abuse.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at three minutes past Twelve o' clock.