HC Deb 13 December 1984 vol 69 cc1312-8

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

10.32 pm
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

The report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration — the ombudsman — into a complaint that I submitted on behalf of my constituent, Mrs. Yasmin Mundiya of Bradford, in July last year, published at the end of last month, is extremely critical of senior officers in the immigration service and senior Home Office officials. The ombudsman concluded: As my investigation has shown, there were a number of deficiencies in the Home Office's handling of this affair and their overall performance fell far short of what sound administration requires. I was particularly dismayed by their evident unwillingness to acknowledge that a mistake had been made and by their apparent lack of concern for Mrs. Mundiya. The ombudsman added: I cannot of course quantify what damage has been caused to Mrs. Mundiya's reputation in the community in which she lives by the Home Office's error in wrongly stating in correspondence with a Member of Parliament that they had originally regarded her marriage as one of convenience. I am prepared to accept, however, that the reporting of this fact by the local press will have caused her and her family distress and that nothing short of an apology by the Home Office will put the record straight and remedy the injustice which she has sustained. I am glad to say that the Principal Officer of the Department, through me, offers his apologies to Mrs. Mundiya, both for the distress caused by their error and for the inordinate delay in replying to her letter of 8 October 1982.

Anyone familiar with the language normally used by the ombudsman will recognise that his strictures in this report are unusually severe, and no fair-minded person would be surprised by that, for what we are concerned with in this report is not some inconsequential clerical or administrative error. It is a case where, when the grounds on which the immigration service was proposing to deport Mrs. Mundiya's husband from the United Kingdom were crumbling, under pressure of representations from outside, senior immigration officers and Home Office officials sought to conceal and cover up their failure to sustain the grounds on which they had sought to deport him by claiming, quite wrongly, that Mrs. Mundiya's marriage was a marriage of convenience.

That deliberate falsehood was inserted in a draft letter from the then Minister of State at the Home Office to send to the then Member of Parliament for Bradford, West. Inevitably, the falsehood was publicised in the local press, causing Mrs. Mundiya deep personal embarrassment and distress following the predictable reaction of many in her own community who had been led to believe, quite deliberately, that Mrs. Muncliya had sought to have her husband removed by saying that her marriage was a marriage of convenience.

Mrs. Mundiya wrote to the Home Office asking for an explanation in October 1982. Mr. Chris Brion, an immigration officer at Hull, aware of the falsity of the claim publicised by the local media in Bradford, asked his superiors for an explanation to be given to Mrs. Mundiya. A second immigration officer, Mr. John Scott, also based in Hull, who came into contact with Mrs. Mundiya quite independently, also asked his superiors for an explanation to be given to Mrs. Mundiya. All those requests were to no avail. Mr. Brion was even cold that it was inappropriate for the local newspaper reports to be corrected, and, so that he got the message, he was firmly reminded that the immigration service rule book forbids immigration officers from talking to the media.

Mr. Brion is a very experienced immigration officer —he has been in the immigration service for 15 years. During the time he was pressing his superiors for Mrs. Mundiya to be told why her marriage had been described by a Minister as a marriage of convenience, Mr. Brion was requested to transfer from Hull to Dover, despite having serious domestic circumstances making such a transfer exceptionally unwelcome, and, despite the fact that transfer by immigration officers, unsolicited, and over such a distance, is most unusual. Prior to the requested transfer, both Mr. Brion and Mr. Scott had been removed from inquiry work, and when Mr. Brion failed to report to Dover, as instructed, he was dismissed. Mr. Scott has since resigned from the immigration service.

In a letter to me, published on the day that the ombudsman's report was made available, Mr. Brion said: The PCA's report shows that the official responsible for the first false statement in the Mudiya case was the Chief Inspector in charge of the Immigration Service. On receiving a forensic report he decided that the original case against Mr. Mundiya could not be maintained; but because he was conducting a political feud against the Bradford Law Centre, and did not want them to be able to claim a victory, he recommended Mr. Mundiya's removal on different and very questionable grounds. It was when this suggestion was rejected by B3 Division of the Home Office that he invented the story of a 'marriage of convenience' to rationalise Mr. Mundiya's detention. When Mr. Scott and I pressed him to tell the truth he manufactured counter allegations to coerce us into keeping quiet and to discredit us …. In an interview which I tape recorded the Chief Inspector's deputy"— Mr. Peter Saunders, now retired— admitted that the action taken against me was in consequence of my wanting the deception exposed. He also admitted that lying to Members of Parliament is a Home Office tactic: `On the file it says quite clearly it was a mistake …. now it's quite a different matter to go back to the MP and say, "Dear Mr. —, we've made a terrible mistake, sorry." You try and fudge it a bit to get away with it. If we could get away with not admitting we'd made a mistake then so much the better.'

The ombudsman's report reveals disturbing information about the attitudes and behaviour of senior immigration service and Home Office officials. I should like to quote from another letter that I have received since the ombudsman's report was published, from Mr. John Scott. He says: Finally, the Ombudsman's report indicates that there are serious things wrong with the way in which the Immigration Service is being run, by people who are prepared to subvert their powers to suppress embarrassing material, to put junior officers in fear of doing their duty, and to persuade senior ones to change their minds to suit their demanas. The distress which such malpractices can cause to innocent members of the public is incalculable.

It is clear from the report, the correspondence and other information that I have received that the conduct of immigration policy is seen by senior officials of the immigration service and Home Office officials as a political battleground where those who represent and support those facing removal and deportation are seen as political enemies to be defeated.

The Home Office also receives political intelligence from the special branch. I quote from the report of a special branch sergeant, Home Office file reference M394273/2 Mundiya, to an acting inspector at Hull immigration office. It says: Just a few of the many cuttings that have been appearing in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus Newspapers. These have been appearing at an alarming rate in recent weeks and there is little doubt that there is a concerted effort by the Bradford Asian Youth Movement (left Wing), other left Wing Groups, Tim Whitfield (Senior Community Relations Officer) (left Winger and John Salmon (Reporter) to overthrow the Home Office's policy on Deportations and Removals. I wouldn't be surprised if the money being used for the campaign is being given from Bradford Community Relations Council's Funds. I was in their office on Monday and the whole wall was covered in literature condemning Deportations and Removals. A lot of money is being spent on the campaign. I was thinking of sending copies down to Peter Tompkins"— chief inspector of the immigration service— just for his information but you can do it if you think it advisable. I have enclosed two copies of each. There have been others, but I think these are the most significant.

As it was a Home Office Minister who claimed that the marriage of my constituent was a marriage of convenience, equity dictates that the Home Secretary and not the permanent secretary should apologise to my constituent.

The Minister should give clear assurances today that the calculated, premeditated damage done to Mrs. Mundiya will be done to no one else and that in the future when the Home Office makes mistakes senior officers will not be permitted to cover up those mistakes by deception.

The public are also entitled to expect that public servants in the Home Office, including immigration officers, will not in future be subjected to victimisation and coercion. Mr. Brion must be reinstated and allowed to put his case to an independent inquiry. Both he and Mr. Scott have been denied the opportunity to put their case at disciplinary hearings within their service. That is the minimum that is owed to Mr. Brion, and I regret that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary were unable to agree to my request some time ago to defer Mr. Brion's transfer until the ombudsman's report was published, notwithstanding the statutory restrictions preventing the ombudsman from inquiring into personnel matters.

There is hardly a black or Asian family in my constituency which does not have a complaint about how it or a relative or friend has been dealt with under the United Kingdom immigration and nationality laws, which are fundamentally racist and sexist. Every family has a member who has experienced problems with the immigration laws, rules and procedures, which they know are deliberately designed to exclude as many black and Asian people from Britain as possible, whether they come for settlement, as dependent relatives, for marriage, for study or just to visit.

When the immigration service and the Home Office deceive, conceal, manipulate and cover up laws, rules and procedures which are already deliberately designed to exclude people on the basis of colour and sex, outrage is compounded. And when the immigration service and the Home Office are caught in the act of deceiving, concealing, manipulating and covering up, as the ombudsman's report makes so vividly clear, all hopes of building a multi-racial Britain with good and progressive community relations are seriously damaged.

The fears, the suspicions, and the resentment that burns in the black and Asian community in Bradford and throughout Britain about the barriers put in the way of black and Asian people coming to this country will intensify so long as they have no reasonable expectation that the present unjust, racist and sexist immigration and nationality laws can be swept away democratically and so long as those charged with administering the present laws, rules and procedures blatantly act in a highly political way to ensure that political victories are won at whatever price against people like my constituent, Mrs. Yasmin Mundiya.

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

The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) is absolutely right to raise on the Floor of the House the matter of the report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, although his speech had, in the event, very little to do with it. Any complaint of maladministration must be taken seriously, and when a complaint is upheld by the Parliamentary Commissioner it is certainly the duty of the Department concerned to do all that it can to prevent a repetition of what occurred.

There are one or two things that must be made absolutely plain, in view of the hon. Gentleman's speech, lest anyone should be misled into believing that what happened in this case is an indictment of immigration control, let alone the control operated since the Conservative Government came into office in 1979. It should be quite apparent from the facts that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)—I am glad that he is in the Chamber—was at best careless in his language, and at worst somewhat disingenuous, when, the other day, he talked of what had happened as having stemmed from policies laid down by Ministers—policies which many of us regard as racist." [Official Report, 29 November 1984; Vol. 68 c. 1118.]

The events described could not, of course, have occurred if we had had no immigration laws, but the immigration law that formed the background to the case was precisely the same law as that operated by the Labour Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member. If the policies embodied in that legislation are racist, they must have been racist when the right hon. Gentleman was a Minister. For once the right hon. Gentleman was being unfair to himself as well as others, for the rules were not racist then any more than they are racist now.

The other point that needs to be made right at the outset — I cannot say that I remember its having been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman in his speech—is that in 1979 the Home Office granted Mr. Mundiya indefinite leave to remain here. He was given leave to stay here permanently. That would have been the end of the matter so far as the Home Office was concerned, but for one thing. In December 1981 Mrs. Mundiya telephoned the immigration service in Hull, saying that her husband had left her and that he should not be allowed to stay in the country any longer.

I am somewhat surprised that the hon. Gentleman never thought fit to mention a word of that. The story starts, not with an investigation by the Home Office, but with an allegation by Mrs. Mundiya.

Let us consider what is in the Parliamentary Commissioner's report, rather than what was not in it. There are two specific criticisms in the report. The first is that the Home Office failed to appreciate that the term "marriage of convenience", which appeared in a letter written to the then hon. Member for Bradford, West. by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), could cause Mrs. Mundiya and her family distress. That criticism has been accepted by the Home Office, and apologies have been offered. The other criticism is that the immigration service took too long to answer a letter which Mrs. Mundiya had written asking why it had been decided that her husband should he allowed to remain here when she clearly wanted him out of the country. That, too, has been accepted, and again apologies have been offered. However, the use of those findings by the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Gorton as the basis for a virulent attack on the immigration service, the Home Office and immigration policies generally seems to show no more than that the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman have lost all sense of proportion.

The hon. Gentleman has, of course, mentioned another rather different matter—the fact that two immigration officers involved in the Mundiya case have made allegations of victimisation by senior management. The PCA makes it clear in his report that it is no part of his function to deal with these allegations and it would be entirely wrong for me to spend over much time dealmg with them tonight. All I need say is that last July—the hon. Gentleman did not mention this either, if I remember correctly—the Home Office appointed a senior official from outside the immigration and nationality department to investigate the officers' allegations, but the two men declined to meet the official or to put their case to him until the PCA's report on Mrs. Mundiya was available. Now that it is available, I hope that the investigating officer will soon be able to get on with his inquiries, that the two officers will co-operate with him, and that the hon. Gentleman will encourage them to do so.

I shall now return to the facts of Mrs. Mundiya's case, Mrs. Mundiya married her husband, a citizen of Pakistan, in this country in May 1978, but the marriage did not give him an immediate right to remain here permanently. The Labour Government of the day had introduced a one-year probationary period for foreign husbands and the rules introduced by that Government said that that time limit on a foreign husband's stay would not be removed and that leave to remain would not be granted if the Secretary of State had reason to believe that the marriage was one of convenience entered into primarily to obtain settlement here or if one of the parties no longer had any intention of living with the other.

In June 1979, however, Mr. Mundiya applied for indefinite leave to remain on the basis of his marriage. On the strength of a letter which, on the face of it, had been signed by Mrs. Mundiya, and which suggested that the parties were living together at Mrs. Mundiya's parent address, the Home Office granted the application.

Then in December 1981, came Mrs. Mundiya's telephone call. What she said must have caused great surprise to the immigration service. Here was Mrs. Mundiya asking for the conditions of her husband's stay to be curtailed when, on the face of it, she had, by a letter back in 1979, been instrumental in getting him permanent settlement. Clearly something was wrong, and there was cause for investigation. Mrs. Mundiya had to be seen, and when she was seen she said that the letter did not bear her signature and that, at the time it was written, she had not been living with her husband. In November 1978, she said, he had gone off to live with his brothers.

Mr. Mundiya was then interviewed, but he said that, although it was true he had not been living with his wife at the time, the letter was genuine. She had signed it.

The House will realise that, had it been known that Mr. and Mrs. Mundiya were no longer living together when the letter was written, Mr. Mundiya's application for indefinite leave to remain as a foreign husband would have been refused under the rules passed by the Labour Government. The letter, therefore, was seen as a deception and the leave to remain which had been granted a nullity. This led to the decision that Mr. Mundiya be detained as an illegal entrant pending his removal to Pakistan.

The circumstances surrounding Mr. Mundiya's detention as an illegal entrant and his release soon after are the subject of a separate investigation by the PCA and it would not be proper for me to comment on Mr. Mundiya's case now except in so far as is necessary to explain his wife's position. Clearly relevant to the present matter is the fact that, when representations were made on Mr. Mundiya's behalf with pleas that he should not be removed from the country, those representations included a letter from the Bradford law centre which suggested that the immigration officer who had been investigating his case had been on such good terms with Mrs. Mundiya and her father that he had found it impossible to be objective.

In the light of that, it was decided that Mr. Mundiya should be released while further inquiries were made and while the allegation was investigated by a senior officer unconnected with the case. It was decided also that the signature on the letter should be submitted for forensic examination. The senior officer carried out his investigation and concluded that the immigration officer had not been biased, but forensic examination of the letter revealed that the signature probably was Mrs. Mundiya's, and as a result my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, who is now the Minister for Overseas Development, wrote to the then hon. Member for Bradford, West saying that it was now accepted that there was no intention on Mr. Mundiya's part to decieve the Home Office, and that accordingly Mr. Mundiya's leave to remain was not viewed as a nullity and he had been released.

The Parliamentary Commissioner's report shows, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, that the representations made on Mr. Mundiya's behalf were taken extremely seriously by the Home Office and dealt with speedily, leading to his release. Whether in those circumstances, and in the light of the fact that Mr. Mundiya's case is now being investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner, the hon. Gentleman was wise to talk as he did the other day of senior officers having made a mistake in attempting to remove him from the country, I know not. We must wait for the commissioner's findings to decide that. However, I know that it was thoroughly irresponsible of the hon. Gentleman to seek the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10 on 29 November and, at column 1117, claim that the officers tried to cover up what had happened by asserting that the marriage was one of convenience. There is nothing whatsoever in the report which we are debating to lead to that conclusion.

It is, of course, conceded that a mistake was made in my right hon. Friend's letter of 17 September. The letter was right to explain that Mr. Mundiya was detained because it was believed that his leave to remain had been vitiated by deception, but it was a mistake to say that evidence had emerged that the marriage was one of convenience. It mystifies me, however, how the hon. Gentleman can allege, as he did on 29 November, that the phrase was inserted in the letter to cover up the alleged mistake in trying to remove Mr. Mundiya.

There was no need to allege a marriage of convenience in order to explain Mr. Mundiya's earlier detention. We all know why that happened. It is rather preposterous to talk of a cover-up when it is plain that when the former hon. Member for Bradford, West produced further evidence about Mr. Mundiya's marriage it was immediately investigated and acted upon and Mr. Mundiya was released.

So there it is. The facts speak for themselves. The other day the hon. Gentleman talked of the Home Office viewing immigration as a political battlefield. It is he who has tried to create a battle, but he seems tonight to be short of troops. There is no glory here for him and there is certainly no shame to be attached to the immigration service, which had to deal with a difficult case where the parties were at odds. The immigration service and the Home Office did their best in those circumstances to be even-handed.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

The Minister's reply was disgraceful. He has not accepted ministerial responsibility for what was done by his Department's servants. One would think that the ombudsman had never issued a report critical in the most stringent terms of malpractice within the immigration service. The least one would have expected from anyone but him—

Mr. Waddington


Mr. Kaufman

No, I shall not give way. The least one would have expected would have been an unqualified apology from the Minister for what was done by his servants.

Mr. Waddington

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman has risen in the last moment or two of the debate to make a statement which he must know is completely incorrect. In the first words of my speech I said that I accepted the criticisms made by the Parliamentary Commissioner and that we in the Home Office had consequently apologised to Mrs. Mundiya.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. That is a matter for argument, not a point of order.

Mr. Kaufman

The Minister did not apologise, but merely said that apologies had been made. His characteristically squalid speech confirms every critical statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), with which I fully associate the Labour Front Bench. The Minister's attitude towards immigration and racial matters is a reflection of the inherent racism of the Government—

Mr. Waddington

Has the right hon. Gentleman read the report?

Mr. Kaufman

Yes, my hon. Friend gave me a copy. He deserves every credit for representing his constituents and all the ethnic minorities, who clearly can expect neither justice nor decency from the Home Office.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute past Eleven o' clock .