HC Deb 11 June 1984 vol 61 cc735-42

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

11.15 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

I wish to discuss the deportation of Afia Begum and her baby daughter Asma. This was a disgraceful action, not only because of the harsh treatment of Afia and Asma but because of the circumstances of the deportation. I want to put that firmly on record.

On 7 March, I was given leave by the House under the ten minute Bill rule to introduce my Entry Clearance (Change of Circumstances) Bill, which was inspired by the case of Afia and Asma. I gave details of that case then, and I repeat them briefly: In January 1982 Afia was granted an entry certificate to join her husband in Britain. On 15 March 1982 fire swept through the slum tenement in Brick lane where he lived and he was tragically killed. Afia was allowed in to clear up her husband's affairs but, on arrival, was effectively told, 'Your circumstances have changed. Your entry permit is invalidated and you are no longer allowed to stay.' No account was taken of Afia's family. Her father is settled in Britain and has been here for 26 years, her mother has formally applied to join him and, under the present law, will eventually be allowed that right and her uncles and other relatives also live here. Moreover, no account was taken of the personal circumstances created by deportation for Afia. As a widow with a baby and away from her family, she is condemned to a solitary future, as most of her family are in England. That has happened only because of her husband's tragic death and the Home Office's haste to re-interpret the rules in the harshest possible way to capitalise on his death to exclude her. The Home Office's hard line has forced Afia and her baby into hiding for more than one year. They have been protected by a courageous group of Asian women known as the sari squad." —[Official Report, 7 March 1984; Vol. 55, c. 854–55.] Many hon. Members protested to the Minister and the Home Office. I put down an early-day motion which was signed by more than 70 right hon. and hon. Members. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made it clear that he thought that Afia Begum was a victim of prejudice of the worst kind and at the highest level. It all fell on deaf ears. The Tory party, which is supposed to be the party of choice, did not intend to let Afia have any choice about which country she could settle in. The Tory party, the party of the family, intended to split this family.

This treatment is disgraceful enough — incidentally, the Minister has never taken the opportunity to defend his policy in the House, even though it was questioned here —but the nature of the deportation was equally, if not more, disgraceful. At 6 o'clock in the morning of Thursday 3 May the police arrived at the address where Afia was staying, bundled her and the baby into a van and sent them off to Harmondsworth. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and I demanded an urgent meeting with the Minister and saw him that evening.

The Minister sat with an assistant and a civil servant quite unimpressed by our case. I was reminded of what it must have been like for Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany in the 1930s facing hard-hearted officials and being sent back.

We put to the Minister the case of Afia's mother and her young brothers having the right to come here eventually, and all that he could utter was a veiled threat that Afia's application could be delayed almost indefinitely, presumably as a result of Home Office inquiries and the manipulation of the rules. Although he admitted that her case was rare, he showed no compassion for her personal circumstances or for the frail condition of her father. He said that he would consider the case, but he held out little hope of success. The only success achieved by the deputation was that her father was allowed to visit her in Harmondsworth, a right which had previously been denied her.

The following day, Friday 7 May, a Home Office assistant telephoned me to say that the Department intended to deport her and that she would have to leave the next day. The reason for the haste could only have been that the Government were keen to take advantage of the bank holiday weekend to pre-empt any discussion of the matter in this House and a debate in the European Parliament, which in fact took place later in the month.

Four hon. Members contacted the Home Office, and all their representations were effectively ignored. A city councillor from Amsterday, Tara Singh, telexed the Home Office saying that she was prepared to allow Afia stay in her home in Holland prior to the European Court case. A Dutch MEP, Madam Van Den Henyel, also telexed the Home Office saying that she would make representations to the Dutch Government for Afia to stay in Holland. But as it was late on the Friday, the deportation needed to be delayed over the weekend so that effective representations could be made. Those representations were callously ignored by the Home Office.

In other words, this law and order Tory Government perverted the course of European law. Desperate to make sure that Afia was out of the way, they deported her as quickly as possible, before the European Court of Human Rights considered the matter. I contacted the Home Office to ask for an urgent meeting to discuss the important representations that had been made for Afia to stay in Holland, but the Minister was not available and my approaches were effectively ignored.

Afia and Asma were bundled on to a plane to Bangladesh at 10 o'clock the next morning, Saturday 8 May, despite brave protests by members of the sari squad, and when the plane reached Holland, Afia and her baby were not allowed to leave it.

The European Parliament considered the case on 24 May and carried, by 71 votes to 58, a resolution noting that the United Kingdom Government has deported Afia Begum, a citizen of Bangladesh, who was living in the United Kingdom, noting that if Afia Begum's husband had been alive, she would have been entitled to stay in the United Kingdom, noting that Afia Begum's husband died tragically in a fire in the East End of London and that the British Government said that as a result Afia Begum was no longer entitled to live in the United Kingdom, noting that Afia Begum's father, who is old and ill, and other close relatives live in London, noting that Afia Begum has no means of support for herself and infant daughter in Bangladesh, to where the United Kingdom Government has deported her and her child, noting that this matter has been referred to the European Commission on Human Rights. Another motion, carried by 70 votes to 67, condemned this act as callous and showing the racist and sexist nature of the United Kingdom immigration laws. That was said by a Tory-biased European Parliament —Tory-biased until next Thursday, that is—and other, more condemnatory, resolutions were debated. One in particular was lost only because, with 72 votes for and 72 against, fellow Tories were dragged in to vote it down. One Tory heckled the meeting to keep it going a little longer while that happened. I refer to Lady Elles, who cannot have had any difficulty moving between countries and staying in any one of them.

The treatment of this case was disgraceful, especially when one compares it with other recent cases. Consider, for example, the Pereira case. I am pleased that the Pereiras have been allowed to stay. They were unnecessarily put at risk of deportation. One reason why they were allowed to stay was the bad press that the Home Office received over Afia's case. Obviously the Pereira case represented only a token on the part of the Government, with the Home Office now being back to its evil ways.

I could give details of a number of other cases, but, as time is short, I shall merely quote a letter from Anne Owers of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants who wrote to The Guardian: According to the Daily Mail, which strongly supported the family, David Waddington, the minister responsible, was `particularly, impressed by the strength of support and affection for the family in their home village.' Yet the friends and neighbours of Vinod Chauhan, Afia Begum and the Hasbudak family did not have the same success in their campaigns. Only a week ago in your columns … Mr. Waddington claimed that this was because 'I … am not swayed simply because a campaign has built up. How could it be fair for me to allow someone to stay just because there is a massive publicity bandwaggon?' That sort of publicity band-waggon is all right if it is in the Daily Mail. Indeed, the Minister told us that he would not be swayed by a campaign on the Afia Begum case, but he is swayed by campaigns organised by the Daily Mail and Tory village voters. It is a disgrace.

Then there is the nine-day wonder case of Zola Budd, whose case was dealt with by the Home Office in nine days. I have seen the transcript and heard the tape of the Minister of State's interview on "The World at One" on Radio 4 on 9 April when he said that Zola Budd was allowed in because her father was able to register as a British citizen. When I asked him when the father applied to register as a British citizen, the Minister said that I had misunderstood the position and that Mr. Budd had no need to apply for a citizenship that he already possessed. The Minister did not even know the facts of that case when he was interviewed on the radio.

These cases show the racist nature of the immigration laws. Someone whose descendants have severed their connection with this country can get in, but those such as Afia, whose families are here, get thrown out.

It is humiliating that those on the waiting list have to wait two years or more to join their families here. The Home Office and immigration officers go through the facts of those cases with a fine-tooth comb to find discrepancies and, in some cases, they incite discrepancies by asking leading questions. But if the Daily Mail launches a campaign, the Minister succumbs.

The Afia Begum case shows that people in her position have no rights under our immigration laws. They get no compassion and their cases have brought the laws into the disrepute that they deserve. However, the Minister has also brought himself into disrepute through his callous and uncivilised treatment of widows and their children.

An application on the Afia Begum case is to be made to the European Commission of Human Rights, and I hope that the Commission will condemn the Government. Despite Afia's treatment at the hands of the British authorities, I understand that she still wants to return to this country to join her relatives. I hope that the Government might yet change their mind. If not, I hope that a future decent and humane Government will allow her to return.

11.28 pm
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

The facts of this case first came to my attention following the changes in parliamentary boundaries which brought Brick lane, where the tragic death of Mr. Hamid occurred, within my constituency.

I have studied the case and written to the Home Secretary. I believe that the decision made by Home Office Ministers was not only strange but utterly wrong. There is no dispute about the facts. Mr. Hamid was the husband of Afia Begum, was lawfully settled in London, and had lived here for about 12 years. Afia Begum, having properly applied through the normal procedures, had been granted the right to enter and was, under our immigration rules, entitled to come to Britain to join her husband. So what on earth happened? A tragedy happened. Her husband died in a fire in Brick lane, just before she was due to leave Bangladesh. She waited until the funeral rites were performed in her village and came to London to see her father.

The Home Office then decided to withdraw the right granted to her to stay in the United Kingdom. If Afia Begum had arrived one day before, or even on the day of her husband's death she would have had the right to stay permanently in the United Kingdom.

I do not expect immigration rules to cover every conceivable circumstance, but what is the Minister's discretion for unless it is to cover situations which cannot be anticipated and which require common sense and compassion? The arguments for compassion and common sense are overwhelming. The lady's father is living in Britain. Other members of her family also live here and others have applied to come to England.

I hope that the Minister will reflect seriously on what I say. When discretion is involved, Ministers have to think hard. We know of a recent use of discretion which does not fit easily with the lack of discretion in this case. Good race relations depend not only upon the justice of the immigration laws, but upon Ministers using their discretion wisely, humanely and in a civilised way.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)


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

I should have liked the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) to take part, but some serious matters have been raised. I shall give way if I can.

I have studied carefully the utterances by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and the first thing to make clear is that he apparently does not accept the need for immigration control at all. I do not blame him for that, but if he is honest with himself, he will recognise that that belief is bound to colour his approach to individual cases. Even if a decision is made within the rules, and after all possible weight has been attached to the compassionate circumstances, he is unlikely to like the decision because he does not like the rules and the law under which they are made, as he said tonight.

The vast majority of people do, however, accept the need for immigration laws and for adequate machinery to enforce the control required by those laws.

My difficulty is not so much caused by people like the hon. Member, whose views are bizarre and extreme, but by the broad mass of ordinary hon. Members on both sides of the House who accept the need for control in principle, but dislike seeing the control actually applied in individual cases. That does them credit. No one likes to say to decent people who wish to make their homes here that they cannot. But if there is to be control, not only will some people be refused; some people will try to beat the control and defy the law and will have to be removed.

Obviously no rules can cater for every situation. I agree with the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) that there will be circumstances in which it will be right for a Minister to act outside the rules because of the exceptional circumstances of the case, but it would be wholly wrong if Ministers exercised their discretion, which they undoubtedly have, on a whim and without regard to the fact that without some consistency there cannot be fairness. People are entitled to know where they stand and are entitled to expect to be treated as others in like cases have been treated.

In February 1982, Mrs. Hamid was granted entry clearance to join her husband, who was settled in this country. Tragically, however, after the granting of entry clearance he died in a fire and in due course his body was sent back to his village in Bangladesh and the funeral took place. It was very sad that Mrs. Hamid should have been widowed, especially as she was very young herself and had a young baby. But at least she was not alone in the world. She had her family in Bangladesh to whom she could turn and except for her father, who had been living in England since before her birth, all her immediate family—her mother, her brothers and her sisters—were with her in Bangladesh. Yet even today, the hon. Member for Leyton continues to repeat the inaccurate statement that most of her family were in Britain and that somehow the Government were, by their decision, to split the family.

The contrary is the truth. It was nonsense to suggest that it was improper for the Government to take the action that they were taking because Mrs. Hamid's mother was about to come here. Even to this day, I have no knowledge of any application by the mother to come to Britain to settle. So Afia Begum was not to be alone for she was to be with her family in Bangladesh. Neither, incidentally, was she to be destitute because she was the beneficiary under her husband's life assurance policy.

It was clear that Mrs. Hamid no longer had any claim to take up residence in Britain. Ever since the beginning of immigration control, we have allowed wives and children of men settled here to join the heads of families. It is not a right which has been afforded by every country and it is something in which Britain can take pride. However, large numbers have been and are still involved and no Government, Left-wing or right, have said that an adult woman can come here to live on her own or join her father here, least of all when the rest of her family to whom she can turn for support is overseas. That was the position of Mrs. Hamid. Consequently, after her husband had died, there was no possible basis for her to come here for settlement. Nevertheless, she set out for Britain, and inevitably, when she arrived, she was refused entry.

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney and the hon. Member for Leyton are apparently complaining about paragraph 13(b) of the rules, which provided: A passenger who holds an entry clearance … is not to be refused leave to enter unless the immigration officer is satisfied that … a change of circumstances since it was issued has removed the basis of the holder's claim to admission. But the rule—this can be seen in a moment—is common sense. If a person is granted permission to enter for a particular purpose and the circumstances change so that the purpose no longer exists and the basis on which permission to enter was granted has disappeared, the entry clearance previously granted should not and will not secure entry, and that has been the view of successive Governments.

However, the rules provide that a person in possession of an entry clearance has a right of appeal against refusal of leave to enter before removal, and although Mrs. Hamid could have been held in custody while she excercised that right, the immigration officers, who have been so criticised by the hon. Member for Leyton, recognised that this was a sad case and gave her temporary admission so that she could clear up her husband's affairs.

Mrs. Hamid appealed to the independent appellate authorities and she lost, but even then this unprincipled, wicked Government were in no hurry to make her go, and —[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) knows perfectly well the nature of the ridiculous allegation that is being made. The hon. Gentleman speaks always from a sedentary position and he should listen to the argument.

Even after Mrs. Hamid's appeal, we were in no hurry to make her go. Later numerous representations were made by hon. Members that we should allow her to remain outside the rules, and all those representations were considered. I shall merely say that none of these cases is easy and that when a Minister, under great pressure, faces his responsibilities, he is not being a coward and a lout. It is when a Minister shirks his responsibilities that he earns the condemnation of those who are fair-minded. I came to the conclusion that there were no grounds for putting aside the rules and allowing Mrs. Hamid to stay.

I am now talking about the situation in July 1983 when, after all these representations had been heard, arrangements were made for her departure. But she did not turn up at Heathrow when she had been required to do so. She absconded and thereby put herself outside the law. She had abused the concession granted to her when given temporary admission by "going to ground", and her case had now taken on an entirely different complexion. She was now an illegal immigrant in defiance of the 1971 Act, and ours is a society which prides itself on the rule of law and views with circumspection those who flout the law to obtain by coercion that which they cannot achieve by lawful argument and persuasion. Incidentally, that is one obvious reason why the Pereira case is entirely different from the present case, because nobody can allege that Mr. and Mrs. Pereira tried to defy immigration control and went into hiding and made it clear that they were going to try to beat the control.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Waddington

I simply have not time. I will give way if I can get through my answers to the very important points which have been raised.

As for the case of Miss Zola Budd, I must emphasise again that under the rules she was entitled to come. There is no mystery about that. She was the minor daughter of a British citizen father, and I would not have thought that even the hon. Member for Leyton would suggest that a daughter under the age of 18 of a British citizen father should not be allowed to enter this country. Therefore, there is not the slightest connection between the case of Zola Budd and the present case. The hon. Gentleman talks about it all being done in a matter of days. He is hopelessly mixed up, as usual. I am not talking about the application for nationality; I am saying that that girl was entitled to enter the country as the daughter of a British citizen father, and no one could stop her coming. Thereafter, the question whether she could get nationality in a month or three months is an entirely different matter and is nothing whatever to do with this case, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.

Early last month Mrs. Hamid was traced and apprehended, and I commend the diligence of those whose duty it was to find her and who did so quietly and with discretion—and, I might say, kindness. It is interesting to note that when apprehended she said that she had been advised to stay in hiding, and I recall that the hon. Member for Leyton said in this House on 7 March—Official Report, column 855 —that Mrs. Hamid and her child had been protected by the sari squad, that the sari squad should be congratulated on sheltering them, and that he was pleased to sponsor a sari squad meeting. That statement does the hon. Gentleman no credit, and I hope that he now realises that he certainly did Mrs. Hamid no service.

The House will recall that when apprehended Mrs. Hamid was not removed at once, as she could have been.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Waddington

She was, after all, an illegal immigrant, and there was no need to set in motion machinery for deportation, which is a machinery only necessary when someone has been granted leave to enter. Mrs. Hamid never had been granted such leave and never had been in this country for one day with leave to enter, but she was not removed at once, in case anyone wished to make further representations. I am entitled to feel somewhat aggrieved at the remarks by the hon. Member for Leyton when I, indeed, heard representations from him and from his colleague the hon. Member for Islington, North.

The hon. Member for Leyton has the neck to make the preposterous allegation now that I made a veiled threat to delay the entry of the family. I did nothing of the sort. I pointed out then, as I pointed out today, that I had no knowledge of any application by the family to enter. I also pointed out that if an application to enter had been made, there were, of course, other people who were waiting to be interviewed, but I found no reason to reverse the decision made before she had even gone into hiding, and by taking the advice of the sari squad and irresponsible people such as the hon. Member for Leyton and going into hiding, she certainly had not improved her case.

The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have advanced a number of preposterous and arrogant propositions. The most absurd is that she should not have been removed—and presumably should have been kept in custody until a ten-minute Bill, which the hon. Gentleman had sought leave to introduce, was debated.

Mr. Corbyn


Mr. Waddington

The hon. Member for Leyton, who is acquainted with the ten-minute Bill procedure, will recognise that Mrs. Hamid might have had to wait for ever.

It was said that Mrs. Hamid should not have been removed, pending the hearing of her case before the European Court. To suggest that every illegal immigrant should be entitled to stay here for months or even years while a case is pending is equally ridiculous, and—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at fifteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.