§ Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)
I beg to move,That the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules (Cmnd. 9539), which was laid before this House during the Spring Adjournment, be revoked.It has been several weeks since the leader of the Liberal party and other Liberal Members first tabled a prayer against the proposal. We are glad that members of the Labour party have added their names to our motion and that the Government have finally found time for a debate. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has explained that, for extremely good reasons, he cannot be present for the debate.
The main purpose of the rules was to impose a visa requirement on citizens of Sri Lanka wishing to enter the United Kingdom. That, as the Minister sadly knows, was the first time that Commonwealth citizens had been subject to visa requirements. When the new requirement was first announced, Parliament was in recess and hon. Members were thereby prevented from questioning Ministers.
Only 10 hours' notice was given before enforcement was made. That contrasts with the position at the time of the Iranian revolution when a substantial number of asylum claims were made and one week's notice was given. I do not complain about it, but it contrasts with the treatment of a Commonwealth country which was given only 10 hours' notice.
Members on both sides of the House must surely agree that the British Government have a historical responsibility, for the inter-racial disharmony in Sri Lanka — perhaps not a direct one, as we cannot carry these burdens for ever, but it was the British who amalgamated Tamil and Singhalese kingdoms for their own administrative convenience in 1833 when they captured the area from the Dutch.
The present violence began in July 1983 when an attack by the so-called Liberation Tigers of the Tamils, dedicated to creating a separate Tamil state, attacked a convoy of Singhalese soldiers in a Sri Lankan army unit. That sparked off reprisal attacks from the south. Soon after, virtually the whole island was engulfed in communal rioting and it was estimated that in one week between 400 and 800 Tamils were killed.
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
While not associating myself with the activities of any of the 30-odd organisations to one of which the hon. Gentleman referred, does he agree that it is equally fair to say that that convoy was attacked because on the previous day three young Tamil-speaking girls had been kidnapped, that two of them had been raped and that the people in the area where the convoy was attacked had responded not just on the day of the attack on the convoy but in incidents up to 48 hours before the convoy incident?
§ Sir Russell Johnston
As I shall show, the problem with intercommunal disputes is that inevitably examples of terrible occurrences can be quoted on both sides. I was dealing briefly with the historical background. There is no doubt that after that outbreak of rioting tens of thousands of Tamil houses and businesses in the south and west were destroyed or damaged and that about 250,000 people were made homeless, at least temporarily.
Since 1983, violent episodes continued, growing in frequency and severity in early 1985. Hon. Members will recall that in February 1985, the hon. Members for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) visited Sri Lanka on behalf of the parliamentary human rights group. I warmly recommend a reading of their report. Their task was extremely difficult, but they succeeded in producing a balanced and fair report.
I was about to say when the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) interrupted that in all intercommunal disputes rooted in history wrongs are to be found on both sides, and I do not want in this debate to set myself up as some sort of judge on what has happened. The nub of the problem was clearly stated on the first page of the report of those hon. Members, when they said:For many years the Singhalese community felt that the Tamils were unduly favoured, in particular in educational provision and in obtaining jobs in government and commerce. After independence, the majority Singhalese, regardless of party political persuasion, implemented a series of measures, most notably the replacement of English as the official language by Singhalese, which in their view sought to remedy injustices in society but which the Tamil community saw as part of a plan to diminish their rights and their status.After the hon. Members left the country, there occurred the ghastly episode at Anuradhapura, when, on 14 May 1985, the so-called Tamil Tigers shot 146 Singhalese civilians. Reprisals, according to many eye witnesses, were often unselective and harsh. On 24 May 1985, Amnesty International, which is well respected by hon. Members in all parts of the House, issued a statement repeating its call to Governments throughout the world not to send back to Sri Lanka members of the Tamil minority who feared return to that country. It said that if returned to Sri Lanka Tamils faced the risk ofArbitrary killing by members of the security forces in reprisal for the killing of their own men or of members of the Singhalese community … Arbitrary arrest and possible long-term incommunicado detention, particularly of young men, their relatives often remaining unaware of their whereabouts for weeks or months after arrest … ill-treatment and torture after arrest.It noted that a number of prisoners had disappeared. It described incidentscurrently being investigated by Amnesty International which it has reasonable grounds to believe may be extrajudicial killings.Those involved the murder of 188 civilians, apparently by members of the armed forces, in four separate incidents in different parts of the island between 9 and 18 May 1985.
In May 1985, the number of Tamils seeking refuge in Britain drastically increased. It is important to put in perspective the number of Tamils seeking asylum in Britain. It is only about 2,500, as against 100,000 in India, which is understandable as they came from there originally, 20,000 in Germany and 19,000 in France—neither of those countries has any historical responsibiliy for or relationship with the Tamils — 3,500 in the Netherlands and, of all places, 2,500 in Switzerland, which has a population of only 5 million. Britain accepted 967 17,000 Hungarians in three weeks in 1956, and we have managed, with all praise to successive Governments, to accept some 20,000 Vietnamese since 1975.
Few of the Tamils reaching Britain have been accorded refugee status as defined by the Home Office. In 1984, there were only two, and that means that the Tamils here are in an insecure limbo. The United Nations convention on the status of refugees says that a refugee is a person whoowing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such a fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.When Tamils started to flee to Britain in 1983, they were refused asylum and were returned to Sri Lanka.
This year, in May, things came slowly to a head. First, on 20 May, the Home Secretary announced that each case would be considered individually and a recently arrived Tamil expressing fear of his return would be granted a 12 months exceptional leave to remain only if there is reason to believe that he would suffer severe hardship if he were to return to Sri Lanka. If he is unable to satisfy the test, he will be returned to Sri Lanka.
I do not criticise the immigration officials. They have a desperate job to do, trying to interpret the regulations that the House lays on them, and about which they are supposed to use their discretion. Of course, some of them make a bog of it sometimes, and they are sometimes harsh, but I do not intend to use this debate to make an attack on people who have a desperately difficult task to do.
Further measures were then taken to restrict the rights of Tamils. In particular—I complain about this, as all hon. Members should—Members of Parliament wishing to intervene on behalf of those who have been refused permission to stay, often after fairly brief interviews, were told that representations must be submitted within 24 hours of a sign of interest in a case. That is a tight requirement, and does not accord with normal procedure. Then, on 29 May, the rule was laid.
The Government announced that such visas would be granted only if applicants could show that they were suffering severe hardship and that circumstances warranted the exercise of discretion in their favour outside the immigration rules. These restrictions were criticised by all the main refugee organisations. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Pout Hartling, said that the visa requirements could restrict flight from difficult situations and therefore he did not like them. The director of the British Refugee Council, Martin Barber, described the Government's response to the situation in Sri Lanka as "deeply disappointing". The general secretary of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Fiona Mactaggart, described the visa requirement asa callous and unprecedented move against Commonwealth citizens.She said that the Government's panic had added to the danger faced by Tamils seeking to leave Sri Lanka, since they were now sitting targets for the persecution that they fear, precisely because they are seeking but failing to leave the country. Many Tamils had bought tickets but were refused permission to board flights to Britain. Many were scared to leave Colombo airport because they were afraid of reprisals if they travelled home. There was an incident when a Tamil queuing for a visa outside the high commission was arrested and beaten up by the police.
Despite the allocation of three temporary and two permanent extra staff to the high commission, many visa 968 applications were not processed. Applicants began to queue in the middle of the night, but only the first few people in the queue were seen; the others were turned away. Therefore, those who were attempting to flee had to expose themselves to risk every day. That does riot make sense.
As the Minister of State, Home Office will doubtless say, other European countries have visa requirements, but they are not enforced. Only Britain, with its island borders and airline collaboration, is able to impose an almost unbreakable visa régime.
I should like to make three points about the way in which this flow of refugees has operated that have not been sufficiently highlighted. First, young male Tamils are often exposed to threats from their own extremists that are equal to, if not more severe than, the more publicised actions of the Sri Lankan Government's security forces. They are told that they should be out there fighting for their independence and freedom. If they refuse, there is the danger that they may be strung up. Many of these young Tamils are peace loving. They simply want to get on with their ordinary lives. But they are being squeezed from two sides. If they are not refugees, who in Heaven's name are?
Secondly, in the sad world of refugees it is fascinating to observe how powerful is the influence of rumour about the right place to go. Rumour about where it is safe to go has played a significant part in the dispersal of refugees. The rumour is that France is a good place to go to, so head for France; Britain is not "on". Hon. Members may reasonably say that all European countries have visa requirements, so what is wrong about Britain having them? Leaving on one side the fact that Britain has never before had visa requirements, what happens is that the refugees come via eastern Europe. An enormous number of refugees landed in east Berlin. The east Germans are prepared to keep in their own nationals, but they let out the nationals of other countries. A strange fact about the channel, the sea gap, is that it makes a tangible difference to the way in which people behave.
I do not deny that some Tamils are economic refugees, but it is difficult to say who is an economic refugee and who is a political refugee. Is it fair to be a refugee because one feels that one cannot lead a reasonable life because of the economic situation, or does one have to hold strong ideological views that are being repressed? There are some Tamils who are not at risk. Tamils are still serving throughout the Sri Lankan administration. But that is not true of the vast majority of Tamils who come, otherwise why are they going in such large numbers to live in impoverished conditions in refugee camps in south India and in Germany? I mentioned earlier the 20,000 refugees in Germany. They do not live in the lap of luxury. They live in what amount to prison camps. They are not allowed out, except for limited periods. It is not what one might call a reasonably happy existence, but they prefer it to the fear of arbitrary death.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if he has already made this point; if he has not, he might like the opportunity to do so, because it is very important. If a Tamil is under stress and duress in Sri Lanka and is at the end of his tether and has to get out, why should he decide to come to the United Kingdom rather than go to India?
§ Sir Russell Johnston
I accept that all the points made by the hon. Gentleman are extremely important. I did deal 969 with that matter. If the hon. Gentleman is assiduous, as I am sure he always is, he will find that I said that over 100,000 Tamil refugees are in India now, having come directly from Sri Lanka.
The Liberals, Social Democrats and Labour Members are opposing the new rules tonight because they seem to us to be more concerned with limiting Asian immigration than, in the words of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, withhumanitarian principles which led Britain in the past to gain a reputation for generous treatment of people seeking refuge from oppression abroad".It is in stark contrast to the treatment of Poles—I very much approve of their treatment—who were in Britain at the time of the declaration of martial law in Poland. They were immediately covered by an automatic policy of 12 months exceptional leave to remain, annually renewable.
As a signatory to the United Nations convention on refugees, Britain should welcome Tamils seeking temporary refuge outside their country while the situation there remains volatile. At the very least, the Government should withdraw the new visa requirements. Therefore, I commend the Prayer to the House.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)
It is not my intention to speak other than briefly, because I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. Nor is it my intention to enter into a great deal of detail about the merits and demerits of the internal situation in Sri Lanka.
There is ample evidence from Amnesty International and from several other reputable organisations that if Tamils come here because they are in fear of their lives, they have justification for doing so and for saying, "We are in danger and would like to have asylum in Britain". The evidence of the Amnesty International report in particular is very convincing.
It is not a new problem; sadly, for Sri Lanka, it has existed for a number of years. In 1983, just under 400 Tamils sought asylum in Britain; in 1984, there were nearly 500. In May this year, 1,260 came to Britain. I think it was that number that panicked the Home Office into the measures that we are discussing this evening. A trifling number of people — 1,260 — is not a sound justification for the major changes in Britain's practice and attitudes that are embraced in the immigration rule changes that we are now discussing.
The UN convention on the status of refugees defines a refugee as a person whoowing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such a fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country".That is a fairly broad definition and seems to cover many of the Tamils, if not all, who have come to Britain and asked for asylum. However, the Home Secretary produced a rather narrower definition. We call it his hardship definition. The factors were defined, in answer to a parliamentary question, as beingwhether the applicant or his immediate family has recently suffered physical injury or serious material loss as a result of a disturbance in Sri Lanka; the area of Sri Lanka from which he comes; and the extent of any political involvement he has had in Sri Lanka".—[Official Report, 6 June 1985; Vol. 80, c. 220.]970 That is much narrower and more difficult than the United Nations test. I question the need for that more restrictive policy.
The Home Secretary has also departed from normal practice by making it much more difficult for hon. Members to intervene on behalf of refugees from Sri Lanka by providing that written representations must reach the Home Office within 24 hours. That is an unprecedented restriction on the right of hon. Members to make representations on behalf of their constituents or relatives of constituents in immigration cases. There is no justification for that provision. If hon. Members receive an urgent request on Friday evening or Saturday, it is unrealistic to expect them to get written representations to the Home Office within 24 hours.
§ Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's definition of refugees, but will he explain which country has responsibility for taking in a person who claims to be a refugee?
§ Mr. Dubs
There is a simple answer to that question. Under international practice, virtually all countries share responsibility. As the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) said, India has taken 100,000 Tamils, but responsibility has been shared by many European countries and the figures show that we have played a lesser role than many other countries. We compare badly, particularly as we have a traditional Commonwealth link with Sri Lanka which suggests that we should have been in the forefront of accepting refugees. Traditional links are often a major determining factor in sharing responsibility.
In the light of the situation in May, the Home Secretary imposed a visa requirement. It was the first time that any Commonwealth country had had imposed on its people the requirement that anyone coming here for a short stay should have a visa. The difficulty is not merely the bureaucracy involved in that requirement but the fact that Tamils have to go to our high commission in Colombo and wait while visa applications are dealt with. We know that they have to go through army road blocks on the way to Colombo and are sometimes told that there is no certainty that they will be allowed back to their villages to await the outcome of their application.
We are making difficulties for the Tamils and that contrasts with our much more relaxed attitude to refugees from other countries. Poland has been mentioned, and even with Iranians we did not impose requirements as quickly and stringently as we have with the Tamils. In a recent decision, Mr. Justice Taylor warned the Home Office not to use "artificial and inhuman criteria" when deciding whether Tamils fleeing from violence in Sri Lanka should be granted political asylum. The judge overturned the Minister of State's refusal of asylum and directed that he should reconsider the case.
As I said, 100,000 Tamil refugees have been accepted in southern India, and other countries have played their part. Perhaps some Tamils are economic migrants, but I find it difficult to believe that people who have left good homes and jobs and cars—some students have left just before they were due to take examinations — can be mere economic migrants. Many Tamils have left behind something that they will find it hard to attain in this country, even if they are allowed to stay here long enough to get jobs and establish an economic well-being.
971 I particularly regret that fact that the visa requirement was imposed at short notice and that no warning was given. Our policy towards Tamil refugees is a major departure from our traditional offer of hospitality and asylum to people from any country who are in danger of their lives. This is a regrettable step. We have taken it against people from a fellow Commonwealth country, and that makes it more regrettable. I should like the Home Secretary to drop the visa requirements as quickly as possible and to state clearly what he intends to do when the six-month period of exceptional leave expires for many of the Tamils who arrived earlier this year. We shall have to make some difficult decisions. I urge the hon. and learned Gentleman to allow the people to stay until the position in Sri Lanka is properly resolved. It is up to him to make it clear that he will not send anyone back until there is an absolute assurance that the people will return in safety.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Waddington)
I look upon this debate as being at least as important as the one that preceded it. People who are not refugees and do not belong here have not much to complain about if we say that in this small overcrowded country we have no room for them. But people who are not just coming here for a better life but are fleeing from persecution are entitled to special consideration, and we have always given such people that consideration. Our tradition of giving sanctuary to those fleeing from persecution goes back many years. Recently, as the House knows and as the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) said, we have given sanctuary to Poles, Iranians and citizens of many other countries who have made new lives here.
I remind the House that the refugee statistics do not tell the whole story. Often we are told that we are not taking as many refugees as other countries. In addition to those granted asylum on the basis of individual applications, we have admitted large numbers of refugees under specific programmes, most recently the 19,000 Vietnamese who do not appear in the refugee statistics as such. Many people who are not granted asylum are nevertheless allowed to stay exceptionally because of the conditions in the countries from which they have come.
There is a serious misconception which I must point out to the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs). When my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was talking about the considerations that were borne in mind in deciding whether exceptional hardship would be suffered by a person if he returned to Sri Lanka, he was referring to the criteria that would be applied in the case of someone who had already been found not to be a refugee. Those criteria were to go only to the question of whether a person who had been found not to be a refugee within the terms of the convention should still, be allowed to stay exceptionally.
As the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber said, we have to look at the history of this matter. I shall not go back as far as he did, but I shall go back to July 1983 because one has to set the scene. In July there was a serious outbreak of intercommunal violence. It was not the first outbreak, but it was the most severe for many years. Tamils already here and those who came here from Sri Lanka in the immediate aftermath of that violence and expressed a fear of return were not sent back while the 972 situation there remained dangerous and uncertain. By September 1983 the situation had improved sufficiently for normal immigration procedures to be applied, but in the spring of 1984 conditions deteriorated again. In April 1984 it was again decided to defer returning Tamils who expressed a fear of return while policy was reviewed in the light of developments.
By April this year we faced a situation in which some Tamils had been here for as long as 12 months on temporary admission in uncertainty about their future. This clearly could not continue. We had to decide whether the situation in Sri Lanka required a general policy of granting exceptional leave to remain to any Tamil who expressed a fear of return, or whether some less all-embracing policy was by then appropriate. Our assessment at that time, based on regular reports from our high commissioner in Colombo, was that, although intercommunal problems remained severe, there had been no repetition of the widespread violence against Tamils that occurred in 1983. There had been a series of terrorist attacks and some reprisals against the Tamil community; but a large proportion of the Tamil population, including Indian Tamils in the centre of the island and the large Tamil community in Colombo and its environs, were relatively unaffected.
§ Mr. Nellist
Regarding the high commissioner's report, did any of the staff of the high commission visit Jaffna or the eastern province, or did he rely on Government reports about the position in the north and east?
§ Mr. Waddington
The high commissioner certainly did not rely only on Government reports. Representatives of the high commission travelled, but I cannot give the hon. Gentleman more details than that.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
In an answer from the Minister and information from the Home Office, he said that the high commission had not visited Jaffna at any time this year. Are there any plans for high commission staff now to travel to Jaffna and the eastern provinces so that we can have an accurate report of the position?
§ Mr. Waddington
What I said to the hon. Gentleman in no way conflicts with his comments. I must remember my responsibilities. All I can do is pass on his observations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.
As a result of those circumstances in Sri Lanka, the Home Secretary announced on 20 May that Tamils who arrived on or before 20 April would be granted six months leave to remain, and that their cases would then be reviewed, with those who would suffer severe hardship if returned being granted further leave to remain. Those Tamils who arrived after 20 April 1985 would not be granted the automatic initial six months, but their cases would be studied individually, and those who would suffer severe hardship if returned would be allowed to stay.
Meanwhile, in the latter part of April and early May there had been a sharp increase in the number of Tamils arriving in the United Kingdom and claiming asylum. About 550 arrived in the first three weeks of May, including 101 in a single day on 17 May. After the Home Secretary's announcement, they continued to arrive in increasing numbers. In the week beginning 20 May, more than 500 came. On a single day, 29 May, 244 arrived, 973 making a total of 1,330 for the month. The flow showed every sign of continuing with the immigration service and refugee agencies being put under increasing strain. In those circumstances, my right hon. and learned Friend decided to impose the visa requirement of which there has been a great deal of criticism.
§ Sir Russell Johnston
Did the Home Secretary hold discussions with other European countries about the type of flows that they were experiencing?
§ Mr. Waddington
We were well aware of the flows in other European countries, and we had no choice but to take that decision. Others may have viewed with equanimity the prospect of literally hundreds of Tamils continuing to arrive every day, but not many were in that relaxed frame of mind.
I remind the House that the Home Office is often criticised for keeping people in places such as Harmondsworth. I have little doubt that many Sri Lankan Tamils were glad to have a place in Harmondsworth because they had nowhere to go, and I hope that hon. Members realise that. I pay tribute to the efforts by all those concerned, including the Tamil community, to find and provide accommodation to enable Tamils, often with no friends or relatives here, to be granted temporary admission rather than be detained. Eventually all were granted temporary admission and none remained in detention. The House must realise that we passed a few difficult days when there was nowhere to put those people who were arriving with nowhere to go.
The applications of those who were granted temporary admission are now being considered in the normal way. Of those who arrived in the latter part of April and May, 500 have had their cases considered. Refugee status has been granted in two cases, exceptional leave to remain in 35, and the remainder have been refused in principle and referred to the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service.
Since 20 May one Tamil has been removed to Colombo, 13 to western European destinations, five to India and two to countries in the middle east. Significantly—the House will be interested in this—about 13 have withdrawn their applications, and embarked voluntarily,—at least eight direct to Sri Lanka. That has a bearing on the assessment of how many of them had come in a state of complete terror unwilling ever to return to their homelands.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)
Clearly the issue is whether or not Tamils would be returned to Sri Lanka against their will. Can the Government, as in the case of Iranians, make it clear that they are reluctant to return individuals to Tehran? Can they give the House a similar assurance on Tamils to Sri Lanka?
§ Mr. Waddington
The hon. Gentleman must have read the statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. The applications of all those who claim asylum are examined extremely carefully. If the conclusion is reached that they do not qualify, a second decision has to be reached, which is whether they would suffer exceptional hardship if they were returned to Sri Lanka. If we find that they would, they will not be returned. If we have first found that they do not qualify for 974 refugee status under the United Nations convention and if we find, secondly, that they would not suffer exceptional hardship if returned to Sri Lanka, it does not seem unreasonable to conclude that they should not be allowed to stay here if they do not qualify to do so under the immigration rules.
It has been said that other western European countries have accommodated considerably larger numbers of Tamils. That is true, but it is not a situation that those countries welcome. To a large extent it has been forced on them because of their geographical situation. In particular, large numbers of Tamils have entered West Germany via East Berlin and there is little that West Germans can do about it. But in imposing a visa requirement, we were fully in line with the position in most other western European countries. I am aware that in recent months other western European countries have returned only a small number of Tamils to Sri Lanka. The same goes for us, and I do not believe that the assessment of other Governments differs very much from our own.
Recently the Dutch Government, for instance, reported to the Netherlands Parliament that the situation in the south of Sri Lanka had returned to normal and Tamils were migrating from the north to the south, particularly to Colombo, where they were not exposed to violence. As a result, the Dutch authorities are now considering each case on its merits, as we are, and on 4 July 1985 they announced that any Sri Lankans arriving in the Netherlands en route to other destinations would require a transit visa, and that those who did not have a visa would be returned to their country of origin. Belgium and Luxembourg have also imposed transit visas.
We were, of course, saddened to have to impose a visa requirement, and it was only with great reluctance that we did so. But visa requirements between Commonwealth countries are by no means unprecedented. British citizens are required to obtain visas before travelling to Australia, Bangladesh, India and Nigeria. We shall, as my right hon. and learned Friend promised, keep the visa requirement under review, in the hope that it can be lifted in due course as a result of a lasting solution to the intercommunal problem in Sri Lanka.
I am glad to say that since the imposition of the visa requirement there has been some easing of the situation in Sri Lanka. A ceasefire was announced on 18 June and apart from a few isolated outbreaks of violence it has held since then. The Government have authorised the release of some 600 Tamils held in detention, travel from Jaffna to Colombo is now easier and a curfew imposed in the northern areas has been removed. There is nothing to prevent Tamils who wish to apply for a visa from travelling to the high commission in Colombo. There was much talk at the beginning about the difficulties which people might experience if they queued at the high commission. The situation has been coped with magnificently at the high commission and I gather that there is an appointment system. People can wait inside the building until they are seen. So far, there have not been enormous problems.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Reports were received that people were turned away from the high commission when they arrived in the morning to queue. An allegation was made that one person was taken off that queue and later assaulted by the police who had seen him queueing to try to get a visa to 975 come to this country. We ought to be quite clear about the arrangements for the safety of people who attend the high commission to apply for visas to come here.
§ Mr. Waddington
The hon. Member has mentioned a matter about which, if my memory serves me rightly, I wrote to him. It is true that, for the first day or two there were queues outside the high commission, and that is why the system was altered in order to accommodate those who wished to apply for visas. On the other matter mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, he has been put right by letter, and I hope he will accept what we have said and not continue helping to spread a rumour which had no foundation.
There was a rumour about police beating up people in the queue, but on the day in relation to which this complaint was made, two incidents occurred. In the first a British subject of Sri Lankan Singhalese origin who has a record of visiting the high commission and becoming abusive and violent towards the staff, was removed by the police at the request of the staff. He was taken to the police station opposite the high commission and was seen to leave about half an hour later, apparently unharmed. He certainly was not a Tamil. In the second incident, a youth was seen to run away from the queue when approached by the police. The high commission is not aware that he was subsequently arrested or ill-treated. Those two incidents outside the high commission seem to be the origin of the various rumours.
In his statement of 6 June, my right hon. and learned Friend said that the imposition of a visa requirement would not prevent the entry of those Sri Lankan citizens who qualified for admission in the normal way — for example, as visitors or students—although they would of course have to obtain visas before travelling. I am pleased to say that experience of dealing with visa applications in Colombo has fully borne this out. Between 30 May and 18 July, some 2,000 visa applications were received in Colombo. Of these, 760 applications were made by Tamils, of which 490 were granted. So much for all the talk about people being unwilling to go to the high commission because they were terrified to do so. Two hundred of the applications were refused and the remainder were referred to London for further consideration.
On 6 June the Home Secretary also announced that it would be open to a Tamil who did not qualify under the immigration rules to apply for a visa on the ground that he was suffering severe hardship, and the circumstances—including, for example, family links with this country—warranted the exercise of discretion in his favour outside the normal immigration rules. I repeat what I said earlier to the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs): that that had nothing whatsoever to do with judging a person's entitlement to refugee status.
Up to 18 July, 42 such applications have been made. Twenty-one have been refused and the remainder are under consideration, but decisions in some of the outstanding cases will be made shortly. Additionally, we have dealt sympathetically with a number of Tamils arriving here without visas where there have been compassionate circumstances.
The hon. Member for Battersea referred to the decision by the Home Secretary to ask hon. Members to make representations within 24 hours. There was a considerable 976 influx, and it seemed to us right to ask hon. Members to help in this situation by putting in their representations as quickly as possible.
I am sure that all hon. Members will accept that I am helpful about representations by hon. Members, but I can assure the House that some hon. Members stretch my patience to the limit. Many hon. Members say that they wish to make representations, and nothing is heard from them for weeks and weeks. Often hon. Members say that they will be making representations, we write back to them, and they say that they will not make representations after all. Apparently they approached my Department in the first place only to gain temporary admissions.
There is a real difficulty here. Given a very large influx, we could not allow any hon. Member perhaps to take weeks and weeks investigating the case of an individual Tamil. It was only fair to ask hon. Members to put on their skates arid let us know what they had to say as soon as possible. But I should not like hon. Members to think that we had applied the rule inflexibly. There are hon. Members present tonight who know that we have not. If hon. Members came back to us saying that they could not prepare their representations in 24 hours and that they wanted a little more time, we did not apply the rule inflexibly. But we wanted to make the point that this was exceptional and that we could not allow hon. Members to expect us to wait literally weeks and weeks to hear what they wanted to say to us.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland
Surely there is a difference between delays of weeks and weeks, presumably on the part of some hon. Members who may or may not be present, and 24 hours. If the Minister had said that he required a submission to be in within a given number of days, that might have been reasonable, but 24 hours is virtually impossible, not only because of the possibility of an intervening weekend but because of the problems of establishing a written submission—not least because. in so many cases with deportation notices, we have found, perhaps by coincidence, that they arrive on Friday evening or even on a Saturday.
§ Mr. Waddington
The hon. Gentleman has a touching faith in human nature. I think that saying that we wanted representations in 24 hours concentrated the mind wonderfully in the case of one or two hon. Members, and that if we had said that they should be made within a few days, it would more likely 'lave taken a few weeks. I thought that it was sensible to make the point that we faced exceptional circumstances and that it was very important for hon. Members to let us know as soon as possible what they had to say.
§ Sir Russell Johnston
In the Iranian case, a week was given. A week is reasonable; it gives sufficient time and is sensible. There was a crisis then too. There was a flood of people coming in. What is the difference between the two situations?
§ Mr. Waddington
Curiously enough, asking hon. Members to let us have their representations within 24 hours does not seem in the event to have caused them all that much difficulty. It seems as though my right hon. and learned Friend was entirely right and that he judged the situation accurately. He realised that if he asked hon. Members to do it within 24 hours, they could.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
The Minister will recall the young Tamil who was removed in error before 977 his representations had been considered by the Minister. Subsequently, I have been informed that, on the basis of the representations, the Minister was not satisfied that that young man was facing sufficient danger not to be returned. I understand that further representations of a very serious nature have now been made. Will the Minister undertake to consider those representations urgently and comprehensively?
§ Mr. Waddington
If any representations are made to me and the hon. Gentleman asks me to consider them urgently, I shall do so. However, it must be said that I do not know the matters to which the hon. Gentleman refers. In view of his intervention, perhaps I had better fill in a little of the history of the case of Mr. Raveenthiran. Mr. Raveenthiran was returned to Colombo on 4 June, following refusal of his asylum application but before representations from UKIAS on his behalf were received. It was a serious error, but I think that the House will appreciate that the Tamil emergency placed a considerable strain on staff in the immigration service and in other parts of the immigration and nationality department, and it is in circumstances such as this that breakdowns in communications can occur.
We have taken steps with the aim of ensuring that nothing of the sort happens again. Our high commission has been in touch with Mr. Raveenthiran on several occasions since his return, and it is satisfied that he is safe and has not been harassed in any way. Indeed, he has told our staff that he has not been subject to persecution or harassment. The latest information is that he has now moved to Jaffna. I have also considered very carefully the evidence presented by UKIAS on behalf of Mr. Raveenthiran. I have come to the conclusion that the original decision to refuse him asylum and leave to enter was justified and that he does not qualify for a visa to return here on grounds of severe hardship. If there is any new information, I shall consider it most carefully, but all hon. Members will agree that, if that history is anything like right, it tends to support the decision taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. The man was refused asylum, returned to Colombo and later told our high commission that he was safe and well.
§ Mr. Marlow
Can my hon. and learned Friend give us some idea of the number of Tamils seeking entry to the United Kingdom, when many were seeking entry, who were related to people already in the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Waddington
I am not sure what period my hon. Friend is referring to. In that last month, there were 1,330. In the period to April 1985, about 990 had been allowed to remain on temporary admission. I cannot give a breakdown of the figures. Most were young men — many had families here and many did not. I would not try, without taking advice, to estimate how many had relatives here.
I have no doubt that the imposition of a visa requirement for Sri Lankan citizens was an unavoidable response to the situation we faced. In the light of the explanation that I have given of the background to the decisions, I believe that the House will agree that it was fully justified, and I invite the House to reject the motion.
§ Miss Betty Boothroyd (West Bromwich, West)
The Home Secretary's decision imposing visa requirements on citizens from a Commonwealth country who wish to come to Britain is unprecedented. I believe that it is to be deeply regretted and that it represents a major departure from the stand that has been taken by earlier Governments in our relations with Commonwealth countries.
I oppose the change in the rules in principle and in practice. It is on the practice and the ill-judged decision of the Government in imposing those rules that I wish to comment. In spite of the communal rioting, to which many hon. Members have referred, of the summer of 1983, and two years of intense civil strife and terrorist activity in Sri Lanka, it seems that the number of its citizens seeking leave to enter and remain in the United Kingdom was reasonably static during that time.
Indeed, it was not until 20 May, when we were told by the Home Secretary that some 900 Sri Lankan Tamils were in Britain without qualification to remain here, that the number of those seeking admission began to show any sign of real increase. Although the Home Secretary's original statement was tucked away in a written answer about future policy, I believe that that statement gave rise to rumour and conjecture in Colombo: that the door was about to be closed on new arrivals and that notice was being given by the United Kingdom Government that restrictions would be imposed on those who might seek to gain admission in the future.
That rumour seemed to have some foundation when, nine days later, the Home Secretary decided that the rules had to be changed. It took him only nine days to come to that decision. It seemed to me that it was a most extraordinary choice of time in which to come to such a conclusion. In fact, the Minister himself commented upon it. It was at the beginning of a period when serious contacts were being made to bring about a ceasefire, to end civil strife in that country and to attempt a further negotiated, political settlement.
We were told by the Home Secretary in that statement that he took his decision in consultation with the Foreign Secretary and, that being the case, neither Minister could have been in doubt about the moves being made on the Indian subcontinent. Although I should no doubt be called to order if I strayed too far into the arena of foreign affairs tonight, I believe that it is right to put down a benchmark for future occasions when we discuss these matters.
The Home Secretary told the House that his reason for imposing restrictions was that he feared an escalation in the number of those seeking admission to the United Kingdom. I have to tell the Minister, and through him the Home Secretary, that I hold the firm view that any such increased migration as there was during the month of May was aparked off by no one but the Home Secretary himself. By his hamfisted statement of 20 May and his subsequent flustered and panic measures, arrived at by means that I can only describe as a poor quality-making process, he aggravated a difficult position.
§ Mr. Waddington
What is the hon. Lady suggesting was contained in my right hon. and learned Friend's statement that could have persuaded anybody in Sri Lanka that the doors were about to be slammed shut? What was said was that all those who had been here on temporary admission for very many months would be given an additional six months' leave to remain here.
§ Miss Boothroyd
The Home Secretary's statement stands. It is surprising that it was necessary for him to make such a statement by written parliamentary answer and not to allow debate or questions following such an important statement. That is why I believe that it led to rumour and conjecture in Sri Lanka.
Much as I dislike the numbers game in dealing with human beings in such a context, I understand that the escalation of which the Home Secretary spoke manifested itself in the form of some 1,300 Sri Lankan Tamils being admitted to this country. I do not know the numbers of Singhalese who came to this country during that time, and it would be interesting to know. But some 1,300 people can hardly be considered a flood. With or without the help of voluntary agencies, I doubt that such a number is a challenge to the social structure of this nation.
I am pleased that the Minister made some comment tonight about the numbers that have applied to come into this country since the end of May. I believe that the latest information takes us to 18 July, when 762 applications had been received in Colombo from Tamils and 492 visas had been granted, with 65 cases still under consideration. Applications from Singhalese numbered 1,329 with more than 1,000 visas granted. It would be interesting to know whether those applications were for refugee status or under normal immigration regulations.
As we understand that there is now an appointments system for making applications, perhaps the Minister could give some indication of how many additional applications the high commission in Colombo is expecting over the next six weeks. With a system of appointments there should be no difficulty in giving the numbers of people wishing to make applications.
Those who seek to come here no doubt do so for varying reasons. There are those who express fear of staying in, or returning to, their own country because of the possible backlash and fear of persecution from whatever source. That fear may be well-founded, but there are others whose fear of persecution is perhaps not so well-founded, and who express the wish to return home as soon as a settlement has been reached.
Let us not be mealy mouthed about it. There are those who are in no danger but who use the situation to enter and settle here to achieve a better life. I do not believe or accept that every Tamil seeking admission to this country is a political refugee at risk of life. By no means are claims of refugee status genuine in all cases. But I do believe that the total number seeking admission is not great, and that with the assistance of voluntary agencies and community groups which have shown a willingness to help, there is no reason to deny those seeking refuge temporary stay until a political settlement has been reached and the legitimacy of their claim to be at risk is investigated. This country has a tradition of providing a refuge for those who believe that they are in need of it, and it is the spirit of that tradition that I do not wish to destroy.
The changes we are opposing are very wide in the extreme. The restrictions are not only imposed on permanent residents in this country but also affect Sri Lankans living and working elsewhere. I doubt whether the Minister is aware of the distress and chaos that they cause.
I wonder whether the Minister is aware of recent circumstances where the head of a Sri Lankan family living in this country died, and the eldest son, who was resident and working in Canada, was required to attend the 980 funeral. I understand that in such an emergency, and in such a vast country as Canada, the son was unable to obtain an entry visa and had no alternative but to arrive here without one. After a long delay and lengthy questioning he was eventually forced to seek assistance to substantiate his reasons for coming here. That young man was allowed to enter the country but was allowed to remain for only four days.
Such treatment is totally unreasonable and unacceptable. There must be greater flexibility and understanding in dealing with such matters. It is also unacceptable for the Government to require Sri Lankan residents here to obtain re-entry visas before travelling abroad.
I cannot recall a period in the peacetime history of tins country when the movement of people was so restricted. It cannot be right for a country that claims to uphold justice and freedom to say in respect of some of its residents that a passport will not suffice and that they must obtain a reentry visa before taking a day trip to Boulogne, and pay £10 into the bargain for the privilege of being allowed back into the country in which they live. It is an insult to those who live, work and have resident status here to restrict their freedom of movement to that extent. There is no justification for such an imposition. It is shameful and should be removed without delay.
I do not accept the need to impose such regulations. The Home Secretary has taken a hammer to crack a nut, and he should lift the regulations with all speed. Indeed, he is making a grave mistake tonight in demanding that this House accepts them.
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) referred to the visit that I and the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) paid to Sri Lanka in February on behalf of the parliamentary human rights group. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind compliments on our report, from which he quoted. I confine myself to quoting a sentence at the end of it, when he said:Our brief visit left us with an Impression of a beautiful island and a delightful people for whom we developed a deep affection.I am sure that that impression will be echoed by anyone else who has had the pleasure of visiting Sri Lanka.
We found a sad and sorry picture. We entitled our report 'A Nation Divided," for that is what it is. With the co-operation of the Government, we had the opportunity to visit prisons and detention centres. Conditions did not permit us to travel to the extreme north, though we were able to travel through parts of Sri Lanka and we were given the opportunity to meet people from the north, from Jaffna and Trincomalee, and people from the south.
We met members of all the communities and, although neither of us would profess to be experts on the country after a fortnight's visit, we got a good impression of what was going on. I hasten to add that my remarks are made on a personal basis, and I would not claim for a moment to speak on behalf of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North, who will probably wish to put a different interpretation on some of the things that we saw and heard.
The hon. Member and I saw some extremely distressing things and drew some depressing conclusions. There was no doubt that there had been widespread incidents carried out by Tamil terrorists in the north. There was no doubt that there had been gross over-reaction on a number of 981 occasions by the army against Tamils. There had also been incidents in which Singhalese had been turned out of their villages and forced to flee.
We visited both Tamil and Singhalese refugee camps. To be a refugee in one's own country may seem a contradiction in terms, but, alas, that was the picture that we saw. We describe in our report our conviction that some people in custody suffered torture — which, of course, is totally unacceptable—and we describe the way in which, in the north, whole communities were cleared from their villages, losing their homes and livelihood.
We are tonight discussing whether people from Sri Lanka—in particular members of the Tamil community — should be allowed here without meeting the requirements to which the Minister referred. Reference has been made to hardship and to people living in fear, and I have little doubt that many Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka are living in constant fear. They are fearful of being attacked by terrorist groups and being forced to take part in terrorist activities.
There are living in villages Tamils who are not involved in terrorism but who fear over-reaction by the ill-disciplined army after terrorist incidents have taken place. There are Tamils living elsewhere in Sri Lanka who remember the reprisals and riots of the past and who fear that at any time they may be the victims, being in the minority elsewhere than in the north, of reprisals and have their homes attacked and destroyed.
Nor is the fear confined to the Tamil community. I fancy that after the attack in Anuradhapura, to which the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber referred, many Singhalese in that area live in fear.
This all adds up to the fact that much of the population of Sri Lanka is to some extent living in fear and might claim that they could suffer hardship if they had to remain there. While, I fear that is the case, we are talking of a Tamil population alone of 3 million people. Are some hon. Members really saying that there should be no restrictions on any of them being allowed to come here and that our doors should be wide open to that number of people coming here because they claim to live in fear?
I put it to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber that the logic could equally well be applied to other parts of the world where there are communal disturbances, so there must be many people living in fear who will claim that they wish to leave their countries and not return because they will suffer hardship — for example, central America, southern Africa, the middle east, and parts of the Indian subcontinent. We must think through the logic of where the motion would lead us. I hope that the House will consider this coolly and realise what the implications are, and will realise that, reluctant though my hon. and learned Friend the Minister was to impose the visa restrictions, it was an inevitable reaction to the situation in Sri Lanka at the time.
Happily, it seems that there may have been a turn for the better in recent weeks. I know that all friends of Sri Lanka will hope that the truce will hold and that some political solution of the problem will be worked out so that there can be peace in this beautiful but unhappy country.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. I remind the House that the winding-up speeches will begin at 11.50, so I appeal for brief contributions.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
The document on which we are to be asked to vote is the most disgraceful document. It should never have been brought before the House, and it is an unprecedented move to bring in visa requirements for people coming from Commonwealth countries. I object to the reasons why it was introduced, the methods by which it was introduced and its implications. If the Government can rush through, almost secretly, visa requirements for people from Sri Lanka, they can do it for the people of any other country at any other time that suits them, for their own expediency.
We have to look briefly through the events that led to the imposition of the visa requirements. After the riots in 1983 in Sri Lanka, many people came to this country to seek refuge and asylum here. In April 1984, the Minister agreed that he would grant temporary exceptional leave to Sri Lankan Tamils to remain here. That was not entirely satisfactory because it meant that theyhad no permanent solution to their problems. However, it meant that at least they were removed rom the fear of what might happen to them in Sri Lanka.
In May this year, the situation in Sri Lanka got worse, according to accounts from virtually every newspaper correspondent in Sri Lanka and the BBC world service. However, the British Government decided that things were improving in Sri Lanka, and decided to impose a visa restriction as the culmination of a series of rather sordid manoeuvres. On 20 May, the Home Secretary answered a written question from a Tory Member, in which he said:there is no reason to believe that Tamils returning to Sri Lanka face persecution, and few Sri Lankan Tamils are likely to qualify for refugee status in this country."—[Official Report, 20 May 1985; Vol. 79, c. 273.]In other words, he was denying the right of refugee status on the basis of information that he had received from I do not know where in Sri Lanka that the situation was improving. There was no evidence to support that.
A few days later, on a Friday evening of a bank holiday, the information reached my office and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South-West (Mr. Nellist) that we would in future have to give, within 24 hours, written reasons as to why we wished to place a stop on the removal of certain people back to Sri Lanka. There was no sign that the Home Secretary or the Minister had any plans to cancel their bank holiday weekend to remain in the Home Office to receive those letters or deal with those representations, or that they had intended to do anything other than put more staff in the Home Office to deal with the problem and place a great burden on Members of Parliament who represent constituencies such as mine, to which a large number of asylum seekers are likely to come. [Interruption.] Tory Members have obviously dined well this evening, and appear to find this amusing. I suggest that they go back to the Dining Room.
On the Wednesday of the week following the bank holiday, the Government imposed the visa restriction, but it is nearly two months later, in July, that we are getting around to debating this disgraceful and tawdry move. The position in Sri Lanka and the attitude of the British Government are the result of a long period of political isolation for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The constitutional 983 changes that have been pushed through, the systematic discrimination against Tamils that is practised in many parts of Sri Lanka and the large number of internal as well as external exiles show that the British Government ought to pay far more serious attention to this problem.
I am reminded of two points. First, Sri Lanka is a former British colony. There is a British defence pact with Sri Lanka. There was an exchange of letters in 1956 between the Government of Ceylon, as it then was, and the United States on a mutual defence treaty. Secondly, a considerable amount of British aid has been given to the Government of Sri Lanka. In April 1985, the Prime Minister visited Sri Lanka. Earlier in the year, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs informed the House, by means of a written answer to me, that he was concerned about human rights in Sri Lanka. When the Prime Minister went to Sri Lanka in April she had a discussion of some description with President Jayawardene and a month later entry restrictions to this country were imposed, culminating in the visa restrictions. We are entitled to know what the Prime Minister said to President Jayawardene and what he said to her. No answer has yet been given.
We are also entitled to know what representations the British Government have received from other European Governments and from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees about Sri Lanka. It is worth noting that Poul Hartling, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, after a lengthy meeting with the representatives of all members of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, went to considerable lengths to point out that European countries are very good at parading their liberal consciences around the world and in international forums but that when it comes to receiving refugees and asylum seekers their record leaves a great deal to be desired.
No Government leave more to be desired than the British Government in the European context. The smallest number of refugees and asylum seekers has been received, yet the Government allowed, or perhaps encouraged, a press "hype" in May of this year, when the Government's friendly paper, the Daily Express, headlined an article about a statement by the Home Secretary with these words:We will stop the Tamil 'flood ' vows Britain.The Dail Mail said:Tamils facing a closed doorover another article, prompted, no doubt, by a statement by the Home Secretary. The Daily Mirror said:No open door. Brittan warning race war runawaysover the Home Secretary's warning on this matter. Finally, The Sun produced an editorial in which it quoted that well-known friend of the dispossessed around the world, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks).
§ Mr. Nellist
Does my hon. Friend agree that his press quotations are in line with the opening speech of the Minister of State, Home Office, who referred to an overcrowded island and gave credence to the Prime Minister's remarks about this country being swamped with refugees? The Minister of State referred to economic refugees coming to this country to look for jobs, yet only 1,300 Tamils have applied for asylum in Britain, compared with 47,500 in Europe and 100,000 in India. Does my hon. Friend think that the Minister of State seriously believes that unemployment in Sri Lanka during 984 the first three weeks in May increased six, 10, 15 or 20 times? That was the extent of the increase in the number of asylum seekers during that period of three weeks.
§ Mr. Corbyn
My hon. Friend is right, and he has made a very good point. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's campaign for decent treatment for Tamil asylum seekers in this country, which is more than can be said for that mob opposite and the remarks that they made during his speech.
It is worth while recalling what the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) said when he opened this debate. Fie compared the attitude of the British Government towards people fleeing from the terror of attack in Sri Lanka with the way in which Polish refugees were treated some years ago.
During the bank holiday weekend, when much of the story became news, I had the opportunity of interviewing about 60 people who had arrived from Sri Lanka. They were all young and frightened and they had all come here in nothing more than the clothes in which they stood up. They were fleeing from terror and violence. [Interruption.] Tory Members might not understand that, but it is a fact. Those refugees should be treated humanely and not like shuttlecocks, in the way that the Government treated them.
At the same time as the British Government were deciding that the situation in Sri Lanka was becoming safer, Simon Winchester reported in the Sunday Times from Trincomalee, in the north-east of Sri Lanka, on the effect on one village of the arrival of the Sri Lankan army. He said:We found it, first, unexpectedly, at a small village called Tiriyai, 50 miles north of Trincomalee. It is a place named in the guidebook for its exquisite 7th-century Buddhist pagoda".He went on to say that when he arrived he found thatalmost every single house had been wrecked and burned, and fewer than 100 people remained.One elderly rice-grower explained what happened when the Sri Lankan army arrived by helicopter, firing guns, followed by the foot soldiers.
The plight that people have faced in Sri Lanka is. terrible. It falls on the British Government not to allow a racist hype to take place in the media but to act as they should towards asylum seekers from wherever they come, at whatever time they come, and to give them the kind of treatment they deserve. The Government should not try to throw the housing burden on to local authorities as they are doing at present, or use immigration policy to throw refugees and asylum seekers out of the country.
I hope that the House will support the motion to revoke the changes in immigration rules, but I recognise that, in view of the support that the Minister has, the motion may be defeated. If so, I hope that the rules will not last long, and that we shall never again see this kind of nasty, tawdry legislation before the House.
§ Mr. Waddington
I must make one matter plain at the outset. There is no question whatever of our not being prepared to honour our obligations under the UN convention on the treatment of refugees. That is not what we are talking about tonight. We are talking about whether there should be a visa requirement and whether, if a visa requirement is imposed, it will help us to deal with the present situation.
Before the introduction of the visa requirement, literally hundreds of people were arriving each day. After 985 they arrived, their cases had to be examined to establish whether they qualified for refugee status under the convention, and a decision had to be made as to whether, even though they did not qualify for refugee status, they would suffer hardship if they were returned.
Surely, in those circumstances, it is far better that the claim of somebody to come here should be tested before he comes rather than after he has arrived. The only argument that has ever been advanced against this proposition is that these poor people would be frightened to turn up at high commission, that they would be unable to travel from Jaffna to Colombo in order to go to the high commission, that if they queued at the high commission they would be persecuted by the police, and so on. That has all turned out to be nonsense, as can be shown by the number of Tamil applications processed at our high commission and the number of Tamil applications which have been granted, by what happened when Mr. Raveenthiran went back to Sri Lanka, and by what happened on the day referred to by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). Rumour has been rife, but most of the rumours have not been true.
The new system that has been set up is working satisfactorily. No one can say that Tamils are not having their applications dealt with properly in our high commission in Colombo.
I agree with the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) that it is sad to introduce a visa requirement for the first time, but it is working well. When things return to normality, the possibility of removing the visa requirement can be considered. In the meantime, no one has begun to establish that anybody with a justified claim to refugee status or to be here because of exceptional hardship is not having his case looked at properly.
§ Sir Russell Johnston
By leave of the House. The Minister has not made a persuasive argument. He said that the visa requirement had been applied with reluctance; it was certainly applied with celerity.
The Minister said—[Interruption.] It is appalling that some Conservative Members have complete disregard for a serious human rights matter. The Minister said that his reaction when faced with a surge of refugees was not that he had to do something about it quickly, but was, "How can this be stopped?"
When mention was made of statistics from other countries the Minister, who admitted their accuracy, said, "That was forced on them". What would he have done if it had not been forced on them? What is the relevance of our being a signatory to the United Nations declaration?
The Government should give a categorical assurance that no one will be sent back against his will.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 184, Noes 323.989
|Division No. 289]||[12 midnight|
|Abse, Leo||Hamilton, James (M'well N)|
|Anderson, Donald||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Hancock, Mr. Michael|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Hardy, Peter|
|Ashton, Joe||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Barnett, Guy||Haynes, Frank|
|Barron, Kevin||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Bell, Stuart||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Benn, Tony||Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Home Robertson, John|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Blair, Anthony||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Boyes, Roland||Hughes, Simon (Southward)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||John, Brynmor|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Johnston, Sir Russell|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Kennedy, Charles|
|Buchan, Norman||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Caborn, Richard||Lamond, James|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Leighton, Ronald|
|Canavan, Dennis||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Cartwright, John||Litherland, Robert|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Clarke, Thomas||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||McCartney, Hugh|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Coleman, Donald||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Maclennan, Robert|
|Conlan, Bernard||McNamara, Kevin|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||McWilliam, John|
|Corbett, Robin||Madden, Max|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Marek, Dr John|
|Craigen, J. M.||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Crowther, Stan||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Meacher, Michael|
|Dalyeil, Tarn||Michie, William|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Deakins, Eric||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Dewar, Donald||Nellist, David|
|Dixon, Donald||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Dormand, Jack||O'Brien, William|
|Dubs, Alfred||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Park, George|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Parry, Robert|
|Eadie, Alex||Patchett, Terry|
|Eastham, Ken||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Pendry, Tom|
|Fatchett, Derek||Penhaligon, David|
|Faulds, Andrew||Pike, Peter|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Prescott, John|
|Fisher, Mark||Radice, Giles|
|Flannery, Martin||Randall, Stuart|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Forrester, John||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Foster, Derek||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Foulkes, George||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Rogers, Allan|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Rooker, J. W.|
|Freud, Clement||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Garrett, W. E.||Rowlands, Ted|
|George, Bruce||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Golding, John||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Gould, Bryan||Short, Mrs H.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Silkin, Rt Hon J.||Wallace, James|
|Skinner, Dennis||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)||Wareing, Robert|
|Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)||Weetch, Ken|
|Snape, Peter||Welsh, Michael|
|Soley, Clive||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Spearing, Nigel||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Steel, Rt Hon David||Wilson, Gordon|
|Stott, Roger||Winnick, David|
|Strang, Gavin||Woodall, Alec|
|Straw, Jack||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Thorne, Stan (Preston)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Tinn, James||Mr. A. J. Beith and|
|Wainwright, R.||Mr. Michael Meadowcroft.|
|Adley, Robert||Cockeram, Eric|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Colvin, Michael|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Conway, Derek|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Coombs, Simon|
|Amess, David||Cope, John|
|Ancram, Michael||Corrie, John|
|Arnold, Tom||Couchman, James|
|Ashby, David||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Crouch, David|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Dicks, Terry|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Baldry, Tony||Dover, Den|
|Batiste, Spencer||du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Dunn, Robert|
|Beggs, Roy||Durant, Tony|
|Bellingham, Henry||Dykes, Hugh|
|Benyon, William||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Best, Keith||Eggar, Tim|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Evennett, David|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Blackburn, John||Fallon, Michael|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Farr, Sir John|
|Body, Richard||Favell, Anthony|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Bottomley, Peter||Fletcher, Alexander|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Forman, Nigel|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Forth, Eric|
|Bright, Graham||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Brinton, Tim||Fox, Marcus|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Franks, Cecil|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Freeman, Roger|
|Browne, John||Gale, Roger|
|Bruinvels. Peter||Galley, Roy|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Budgen, Nick||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Burt, Alistair||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Butcher, John||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Gorst, John|
|Butterfill, John||Gow, Ian|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Grant, Sir Anthony|
|Carttiss, Michael||Greenway, Harry|
|Cash, William||Gregory, Conal|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Griffiths, Sir Eldon|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Grist, Ian|
|Chope, Christopher||Ground, Patrick|
|Churchill, W. S.||Grylls, Michael|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Hannam,John|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Harris, David||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Harvey, Robert||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Mellor, David|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Merchant, Piers|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Hawksley, Warren||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Hayes, J.||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Hayward, Robert||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Moate, Roger|
|Heddle, John||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Henderson, Barry||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Moore, John|
|Hickmet, Richard||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Hicks, Robert||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Mudd, David|
|Hind, Kenneth||Murphy, Christopher|
|Hirst, Michael||Neale, Gerrard|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Needham, Richard|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Nelson, Anthony|
|Holt, Richard||Neubert, Michael|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Newton, Tony|
|Howard, Michael||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Nicholson, J.|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Normanton, Tom|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Norris, Steven|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Osborn, Sir John|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Ottaway, Richard|
|Hunter, Andrew||Page, Sir John (Harrow W)|
|Irving, Charles||F'age, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Jackson, Robert||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Jessel, Toby||Parris, Matthew|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn)|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Pawsey, James|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Pollock, Alexander|
|Key, Robert||Porter, Barry|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Portillo, Michael|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Powley, John|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Knowles, Michael||Price, Sir David|
|Knox, David||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Lamont, Norman||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Lang, Ian||Raffan, Keith|
|Latham, Michael||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Rathbone, Tim|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Renton, Tim|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Lester, Jim||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Lightbown, David||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Lilley, Peter||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Lloyd, Ian (Havant)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)||Rowe, Andrew|
|Lord, Michael||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Luce, Richard||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Lyell, Nicholas||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|McCrindle, Robert||Scott, Nicholas|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Maclean, David John||Shersby, Michael|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)||Sims, Roger|
|Malins, Humfrey||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Maples, John||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Marland, Paul||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Marlow, Antony||Spencer, Derek|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Mates, Michael||Squire, Robin|
|Mather, Carol||Stern, Michael|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Walters, Dennis|
|Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)||Ward, John|
|Stradling Thomas, J.||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Taylor, Rt Hon John David||Watson, John|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Watts, John|
|Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman||Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)|
|Terlezki, Stefan||Wheeler, John|
|Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.||Whitfield, John|
|Thompson, Donald (Calder V)||Whitney, Raymond|
|Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Thurnham, Peter||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Trippier, David||Wood, Timothy|
|van Straubenzee, Sir W.||Yeo, Tim|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Viggers, Peter||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Wakeham, Rt Hon John||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Waldegrave, Hon William||Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and|
|Walden, George||Mr. John Major.|
|Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Mr. Nellist
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that for nearly seven weeks now on each working day of Parliament there has been a Notice of Motion in my name on the remaining Orders of the Day opposing the order which has just been passed by a vote in this place. As it is Labour Members who have to deal with most of the effects of the order that has been passed, I wish to give you notice, Mr. Speaker, that the matter, despite the vote, does not rest there.
§ Mr. Speaker
As long as that is not a personal threat, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point of order.