§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Malone.]
§ Mr. Speaker
I must tell the House that a great number of right hon. and hon. Members have already sought leave to speak in the debate. I propose to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches between 6 o'clock and 8 o'clock, and I hope that those who speak before that time or who may be called afterwards will also bear that limit in mind. I think that every hon. Member who wishes to speak may then be called.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
When we last discussed this matter on 29 October last year, I explained to the House why we felt that there is a need to review the arrangements for dealing with representations by right hon. and hon. Members in immigration cases. On 11 February, I put proposals before the House in the form of a draft guidance, setting out how the Home Office proposed to handle such cases. That announcement looked forward to a process of consultation, and to this debate, before new arrangements were introduced. I am grateful that so many right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House have, in meetings and letters, offered their comments on our initial draft proposals. The consultation process has turned out to be a real one, as it was meant to be. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State saw a large number of hon. Members from all parts of the House to hear their views. He received a number of letters from hon. Members and a paper from the parliamentary Labour party. The results of that consultation are set out in the revised draft guidelines which I presented to the House on 19 March and which are the focus of today's debate.
I hope that today we are, as a House, showing our readiness to face responsibly the consequences of procedures and practices that have grown up over the years under different Governments, they have grown up without previous debate and without—so far as I know—any guidance to hon. Members on matters that touch the constituency responsibilities of a great many of us and go to the heart of one of the central and essential functions of the State—the control of immigration.
I have been anxious to proceed in this matter, to the greatest possible extent, by agreement. Under different Governments, the House has for many years recognised the need for immigration control. In some ways it is perhaps surprising that this is the first time that we have thought it necessary to review the arrangements under which hon. Members make representations in immigration cases. The procedures have grown up by convention, not law, and it has become accepted that, as a matter of practice, the mere fact of a representation by a right hon. or hon. Member should, in the general run of cases, be sufficient to achieve the deferment of the removal of a person from this country. That is a unique facility given to hon. Members by custom, and valued by the House. I can think of no other area of policy in which an hon. Member can unilaterally and immediately alter the course of events before any consideration by a Minister. We need 953 to be sure that the arrangement can be handled in future in a way that tries to ensure that it does not collapse under the weight that it is asked to bear.
I hope that the central issue of today's debate will be not the nature of our immigration control but the way in which we can achieve the right balance between the ability of hon. Members to carry out their responsibilities to their constituents and the need for effective and efficient immigration control in accordance with the Immigration Act and the rules approved by Parliament.
The guidance that we have tabled is not an attempt to tighten immigration control. What we have been trying to do is to give back to the control the effect that Parliament intended, without removing the rights of representation which have been developed in the way that I have described.
We recognise the need for an immigration control which is both firm and fair. We recognise the commitment to the admission of wives and children of men who have settled here. We recognise that the system enables ready admission for genuine visitors to the United Kingdom. We have not changed the criteria under which visitors are dealt with when they arrive in this country.
Therefore, there is nothing in the proposals before the House today which changes the policy, criteria or practice of immigration control. The guidance is there in an attempt to bring order to traditional arrangements of representations which, in their sharp increase over the past three years, are threatening to undermine the control.
I give the updated figures. In each of the three years 1980, 1981 and 1982, representations by right hon. and hon. Members were made in about 1,000 cases involving refusal at a port of entry. The number of cases has increased in each year since then to about 2,500 in 1983, 3,500 in 1984 and about 5,700 in 1985.
In the first two months of this year the number of representations in ports cases has been about 1,200, at what is usually the lightest period of the year. That would make an annual total of over 7,000 cases. Those figures do not include second or subsequent representations on the same case.
I must underline the fact that the growth in representations has occurred without any change in the law regarding the admission of visitors, without any material change in the rules and without any change in the criteria applied by the immigration service.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
I am sure that the Home Secetary would wish to be fair in what he has said about the increase in Members' representations. I am sure that he will agree that that reflects the increased number of refusals. Only a small number of people who are refused entry into Britain turn to a Member of Parliament for assistance; as there is no effective right of appeal, that is not surprising. Therefore, will he give the figures for the number of people refused entry last year, which was substantially above the figure for 1984?
§ Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)
Can my right hon. Friend reveal how many representations in that shocking rise come from Members who are not connected 954 with the constituency involved? Of those, how many hon. Members fail to put their representations or reasons for delaying the deportation in writing within the 12 days which is requested?
§ Mr. Hurd
I cannot give that information. The last time we debated this subject we looked back over such points as my hon. Friend raises. I am rather keen to look forward today to the kind of guidelines which would seem reasonable to the House for the future and which, incidentally, would deal with some of his points.
The effect of the process that I have described has been to draw more and more immigration officers away from their work at the initial control; that has slowed down the clearance of the huge majority of passengers who are eligible for admission.
The process of handling the volume of contested cases has meant that ineligible passengers have been able to spend long periods here on temporary admission while their cases were being considered. That is obviously not the control that Parliament intended or that the pubic have a right to expect us to operate . I hope the House will accept that I am concerned that, unless the system of making and handling representations is improved, it will crack under its own weight as passenger traffic continues to rise year on year.
I should add, to complete the general picture of the problem that we face, that the number of representations made about immigration cases generally—that is to say, after entry as well as on entry cases—increased from about 9,000 in 1981 to just over 16,000 in 1985. Those are the concerns that have led to the guidance and the process of consultation.
The latest version of the guidance, which follows consultation, differs from the draft guidelines announced on 11 February in several respects, but not in relation to the central issue of the need for sensible time scales to be accepted for the making of representations. That is the principal element in making our arrangements work.
The new guidance does not include the facility that we originally suggested for right hon. and hon. Members to contact the immigration service at ports to arrange deferment of removal, and to obtain the reasons underlying the decision to refuse leave to enter. The intention behind this proposal, which was put forward in response to views expressed by some right hon. and hon. Members, was that Members of Parliament would be better able to judge, on the basis of the information that they obtained direct from the ports, whether representations to Ministers were justified. These are issues of practicality, not great questions of principle.
To represent those original proposals as being in some way unconstitutional or as somehow restricting the rights of Members of Parliament seemed to me to puff up out of recognition something that is essentially a question of convenience.
§ Mr. Hurd
Perhaps I may finish this part of the argument before giving way to the hon. Gentleman. I may have met his point by then.
There was, and is, no suggestion at all that a right hon. or hon. Member should be denied the right to make these representations either to me or to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State. The question was simply 955 whether the "stop", which normally precedes any representations, should be imposed by a Member of Parliament, as happens now, through a private office, or whether it should be imposed by a Member of Parliament in direct communication with the port, which would enable him to learn more of the case before deciding whether to impose a stop. At that stage, there is no question of representations. Hon. Members do not need to make representations or to convince anyone in order to impose a stop. The question is what channel should be used. Does the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) still want to intervene?
§ Mr. Faulds
Yes. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that there had been consultations prior to the issuance of the first guidelines. If that consultation had been as wide as it should have been, the foolhardy and misguided first guidelines would never have been introduced. I cannot remember that I was consulted about these matters, and I have as many immigration cases as most other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Hurd
We consulted right hon. and hon. Members on the basis of the first draft; that is how we arrived at the second draft. [Interruption.] We consulted, and the results are before the House. But in response to the feeling expressed by right hon. and hon. Members in several parts of the House, we proposed to retain the present facility of ringing my private office, or that of my hon. and learned Friend, to ask for the removal of a passenger to be deferred while representations are made and considered. I am therefore ready to see whether that traditional channel for the imposition of a stop can effectively be sustained—
§ Ms. Short
The right hon. Gentleman said that there was absolutely no constitutional point in these guidelines. I must challenge that. The guidelines say that if a Member of Parliament gives honest advice to a constituent about how a likely visitor will be treated, a mark will be put against the visitor and he or she is likely to be refused. That is a serious point and represents a new development.
§ Mr. Hurd
I shall come to the point.
Hon. Members have expressed concern about the role of the constituency Member of Parliament. The draft guidelines have been amended to reflect the need for hon. Members to act for a colleague when he or she is not available. I would not want to go further than that in the draft guidelines, but I assure the House that these arrangements will be operated flexibly. I assure the House, 956 too, that there is no intention to change the existing arrangement whereby the staff employed by hon. Members can make representations on their behalf to my private office or to that of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State.
In the revised draft guidelines, we also thought it right to clarify the proposal about temporary admission and detention. There is no intention—I must underline this to the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short)—to apply anything other than the normal criteria for the grant of temporary admission in cases where a passenger has received advice from right hon. and hon. Members before travelling to this country.
However, temporary admission will not be granted readily if there is clear evidence that a right hon. or hon. Member has advised a passenger, who he knows is most unlikely to be granted admission, to travel without entry clearance on the presumption that he will gain access to the country on temporary admission simply as a result of representations made to me or my hon. and learned Friend. We think that it would be wrong to allow passengers refused leave to enter to benefit in that way. Temporary admission is designed as an alternative to detention and not as a variant of leave to enter.
§ Mr. Hurd
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He has said his piece.
We have also taken the opportunity to explain in the guidance the provisions of the immigration rules relating to marriage and the effect of them on those who become engaged to marry, or who marry while on temporary admission. The rules require those who wish to come here to marry to obtain prior entry clearance from abroad. We think that it would be unfair to those who abide by the rules and seek entry clearance from abroad to allow those who become engaged or who marry while on temporary admission to gain advantage by avoiding the requirements of the law in that way.
We have seriously considered a practical point which has been made on both sides of the House, about time limits for making representations. It is crucial if we are to get the balance right, to have sensible time limits. We propose an increase fom 10 to 12 working days for port refusal cases. I accept that there will have to be reasonable flexibility to deal with cases in which right hon. or hon. Members face real difficulties. However, we shall be looking to see that the limits are properly observed.
In the revised draft guidelines, we have also reflected the concern which some right hon. and hon. Members have felt about after-entry cases in which there is no right of appeal or where that right has not been exercised. We accept that obtaining information in those cases may not always be as simple as it should be when an after-entry case has been dealt with by the appellate authorities, so we propose that the same twelve working days time scale should be applied.
I hope that, in putting out the guidance, we are clarifying for right hon. and hon. Members the way in which my hon. and learned Friend and I have to approach the cases put to us. There is still some discussion and dispute about that point. As the guidance explains, in passenger cases the decision in law is properly that of the immigration officer. The law provides for the right of appeal from abroad against an adverse decision,. When we 957 receive representations from right hon. and hon. Members, we are being asked to override the decision of the immigration officer outside the appeal machinery. Therefore, we must look for new information that was not before the immigration officer. That information has to be compelling if it is to push us towards overturning the earlier decision.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)
If 12 days can be difficult, five days—in the case of making an appeal where an appeal has been dismissed and the Member requests deferral—can be virtually impossible. That is especially so not only for mail delays in representations, but if a law centre wants to make a detailed point on new and significant information. That is relevant to the point that the Home Secretary was making. I suggest to the Home Secretary that the five-day period should be extended. If not, we will he in dispute on what is new and significant representation and what is representation in the first place within the five-day limit.
§ Mr. Hurd
The point of the distinction is that, in the cases which have gone to appeal, the facts are there. There may he a difference of view about the interpretation of them, but there is no need for further devilling about the facts. Therefore, five working days seems to be a reasonable limit in those cases, whereas 12 working days might be necessary in cases which have not gone to appeal.
§ Mr. Hurd
We have abandoned that suggestion because a considerable number of right hon. and hon. Members did not think that it was the right way of doing it. I have tried to explain why I have put forward the proposals, but I may have confused the hon. Gentleman. We are not pressing that point now.
Such is the guidance that we propose, after the consideration that we have given to all the views that have emerged from the process of consultation. In addition to that review, and because we expect further pressure on the ports, we have increased the staffing provision for 1986–87 by 52 posts over those originally planned, and announced further financial provision for the immigration service in later years of about £3 million per year.
The new scheme for handling representations, together with the increased provision that I have just announced for the immigration service, provide a firmer basis for facing pressures on immigration control this year than last year. However, we cannot be sure that the steps that we have taken and the measures that we propose will meet all possible contingencies in the coming months.
I have no doubt that the vast majority of people in this country want a firm immigration control to be sustained. I should like to see that achieved by continuing to take full advantage of our traditional arrangements of relying on the 958 judgment of immigration officers at the ports of entry, as the law provides, but the strain placed on our on-entry system of immigration control from rising passenger traffic, increased refusals and the growth of representations will remain severe. It strains the patience of the vast majority of passengers waiting in line for a brief interview with an immigration officer; it strains the commitment and job satisfaction of staff; it strains the effectiveness of the control itself. Therefore, we shall have to keep a close watch on the way in which that position develops during the summer and be ready, if necessary, to adapt further our arrangements and systems.
§ Mr. Faulds
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman because he will know that those of us who are sitting around here are immediately and intimately connected with these particular problems. I very strongly support—[Interruption.] If you do not like it, you do not have to listen. If you are quiet, I will get it over quicker.
I very strongly support the length of term in which hon. Members are allowed to make representations. I think that that has been abused in the past. But one of the real problems about the length of stay of those who come in on temporary admission is the lack of staff in the Minister of State's office. If there were more people dealing with the problems in his office, temporary admission would not be as extended as it frequently is in many, many cases.
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State has a substantial number of staff. I am sure that he will want to take up the hon. Gentleman's point when he replies.
My judgment, as far as I can make one this afternoon, is that the proposals that are now before the House, which have emerged from the helpful process of consultation, are sensible and will help to enable right hon. and hon. Members to discharge their responsibilities in a way that is more compatible than previously with an effective immigration control. I intend that the new changes should be introduced from 1 May. I commend the proposed arrangements, and I trust that they will be welcomed by the House.
§ 4.4 pm
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
Last Friday afternoon, just before I left the House for the weekend, I received a telephone call from a woman in my constituency. She told me that she was expecting her mother to arrive at Heathrow on Sunday afternoon, on a family visit. She wanted to know all the telephone numbers at which I would be available throughout Sunday in case her mother had any difficulty in being admitted.
I regularly receive such telephone calls, together with similar letters and visits to my constituency advice bureaux. Sometimes the visitor does indeed have trouble and I am telephoned and asked whether I can sort it out. Sorting out such a problem can take many hours, even days. Sometimes, as in the case last weekend, there is no trouble and the visitor is admitted without difficulty, but in each of those cases, whether I am called upon to assist 959 or not, there is, on the part of my constituent, the apprehension of trouble, the fear of trouble, the need to take advance precautions against trouble.
Those telephone calls do not come from constituents of mine expecting visitors from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or even South Africa. They do not come from constituents expecting visitors from Poland, although I am proud to say that I have substantial numbers of constituents of Polish origin. No, those calls come from constituents whose families originate from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. It is the discrimination against visitors from those and a certain number of other countries, mainly in the new Commonwealth, that lies behind the debate.
That discrimination is demonstrated in the published statistics. They show that, for example, in 1984, a passenger from Ghana had one chance in 22 of being refused admission to this country while, for Canadians, one in 8,890 was refused admission. Refusals to passengers from Canada were 0.01 per cent., one hundredth of 1 per cent. of those seeking admission. The figure for Australia was 0.02 per cent., and for New Zealand and the United States it was 0.3 per cent. For India refusals were 0.9 per cent., nine tenths of 1 per cent.—90 times the Canadian average.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Not just yet. In a little while.
The figure for Pakistan is 1.3 per cent., 130 times that of Canada. For Bangladesh is 1.7 per cent., 170 times the Canadian average. What is more, the discrimination in the refusal rate has been growing. The tiny Canadian percentage is half what it was in 1978, the last year of the Labour Government. The Australian and United States percentages are unchanged. The New Zealand percentage is up by 50 per cent. but the actual percentage increase of 0.01 per cent. is scarcely worth noticing. The actual number of refusals is up from 18 to just 27, in a year. Pakistan, too, has a 50 per cent. increase, but that means that the number of refusals is up from 946 to 1,415. The figure for Bangladesh is up by 77 per cent. and for India by 130 per cent.
There is a huge differential between the treatment of travellers from the old Commonwealth and the United States on the one hand, and the new Commonwealth and Pakistan and the other. That differential has widened. However, it is not simply statistical. It is subjective as well. British citizens whose origins lie in the new Commonwealth and Pakistan feel that they are being treated differently and worse. They believe that that difference is due to racialist attitudes—[Interruption.] That is what they believe. That is what my constituents tell me when they come to see me.
§ Mr. Marlow
May I help the right hon. Gentleman? Is it not the case that the economic differences between the United Kingdom and the Indian sub-continent are much greater than those between the United Kingdom and the old Commonwealth and the United States? Therefore, is it not the case that many people from the Indian subcontinent would wish, one way or the other, to gain entry to the United Kingdom, whether it is legal or not? Therefore, is not vigilance right and proper? Can the right hon. Gentleman not tell his constituents that that is why those differences occur?
§ Mr. Kaufman
When women constituents of mine have fallen in love with a man in India or Pakistan, and when they are born in this country and are British citizens, telling them that they are not allowed to marry the man of their choice and live with him in the country of their nationality is not something that I find easy to explain. The hon. Gentleman may be more persuasive than I am. I shall cover the other matter which the hon. Gentleman raised in the course of my speech.
Constituents seek the help of their Members of Parliament because of their subjective feelings. In the context of this debate, we are not talking principally about those people seeking admission for permanent settlement in Britain. Instead, we are talking about would-be visitors, the people who just wish to come to this country for a short time and then leave. The House should be aware that if these people are admitted, almost all go away again. These people are not dominated by some passionate yearning to enter this country as visitors and then to go into hiding in order to benefit from the right to live under Thatcherism.
People given temporary admission are, in the Government's eyes, by definition, the most suspect group as they have not been allowed to exercise their right as visitors to enter automatically. Even in that group, in 1984, only 2 per cent. failed to leave this country. People, mainly from the Indian sub-continent, approach Members of Parliament because they have found that their visitors are not being admitted.
Such requests for help have given rise to the stop system under which a Member of Parliament has the right to prevent a removal until a ministerial reply has been obtained on the request for admission. Although the number of requested stops has substantially increased, that is not because hon. Members are dealing with a much higher proportion of refusal cases. The proportion of stop cases has only slightly increased. They have increased because the refusals have increased. The necessary increase in the use of the stop system caused both by the disturbing rise in the number of refusals and the growing knowledge among those affected that a Member of Parliament can help, led to the strange events of last October and the allegations by the Minister of State, Home Office.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
As my right hon. Friend has said, there has been an increase in visits. In cases that are referred to hon. Members, the Minister's letter is often couched in terms which imply that the Minister of State has doubts about the position. In some cases the period in this country is only a few months. However, the reasons advanced for the refusal of entry are often trivial. If they were not so bloody trivial and immigration officers granted formal admission, hon. Members would be relieved of this task.
§ Mr. Kaufman
If would-be tourists from the United States were subjected to the kind of questioning endured by tourists from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, this country's dollar inflow would be cripplingly damaged.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I will not give way at this stage, but I may do so later on.
Before my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) intervened, I was referring to the allegations 961 made last October by the Minister of State. We should be fair to the hon. and learned Gentleman as it seems that he might have become overwrought by the increase in traffic last year from Bangladesh. If so, he must blame the high commission in Dhaka which issued two press notices which might almost have been interpreted as invitations to enter Britain. One, headed "Changes in British immigration rules" said:The Immigration Rules governing persons who wish to settle in the United Kingdom are due to be changed on 26 August 1985. The effect of these proposed changes will be that a husband whose wife is settled in the United Kingdom will be entitled to apply to join her there whether or not she has taken British citizenship.The other press notice, headed "Visitors to the United Kingdom" stated:
Following speculation about the recent changes in British Immigration rules the British High Commission in Dhaka has confirmed that these changes do not in any way affect visitors to the United Kingdom. There is no mandatory requirement for Bangladeshi nationals to have Entry Certificates or visas for visits to the United Kingdom.Be that as it may, during Home Office questions on 24 October 1985, the Minister of State, answering a perfectly innocent and sensible question from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), suffered a rush of blood to the head and launched an attack on certain unspecified hon. Members who, he claimed, wereabusing their right to make representations in cases.In response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds)—a question, as one might expect which was, if possible, even more innocuous than that from my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood,—the Minister of State repeated his charge. He said:
something is going wrong with the system because some hon. Members are abusing—I am not afraid to use that word—that system."—[Official Report, 24 October 1985; Vol. 84, c. 412–420.]Hon. Members were naturally interested to know who those dishonourable Members might be. Demands were made for a statement and the Minister of State obliged not with a statement but with one of those bogus points of order which, until Mr. Speaker put a stop to them, Ministers have been wont to resort to in lieu of statements. The Minister of State sent me a letter in which he claimed that he wasSetting out the various abuses which have occurred.The Minister of State continued defiantly in his letter:
I want to make it plain that I would not be cataloguing the abuses if I were not able to name names.The Minister of State's letter listed six alleged abuses, none of which actually was an abuse and some, if not all of which, have at one time or another been employed by hon. Members on both sides of the House who deal with these cases. Indeed, in his letter, the Minister of State missed out the practice of one Conservative Member who actively touts for custom. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name him"]. The Minister refused to name names, but I should be very glad to name the hon. Gentleman. He is of course the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler), who sends out letters inviting people to claim his assistance.
§ Mr. Geoff Lawler (Bradford, North)
That is a scurrilous slur on my integrity, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would care to substantiate his remark. The only thing that I can possibly think that he is referring to is the practice which he claimed at the beginning of his speech he operates. When people come to me and say that they have a relative or friend 962 wishing to visit this country, I insist on a letter from the sponsor saying that the sponsor can accommodate and sustain the visitor and give guarantees that the visitor will return home. On production of that evidence, I shall provide a note saying where I can be contacted should there be any problems.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I have seen a copy of the letter—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] That is a standard letter. It is a very generous, important and helpful letter. I applaud the hon. Gentleman for assisting his temporary constituents. However, that kind of letter is abuse No. 7 in the eyes of the Minister of State and was not referred to by the Minister of State.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I gave way to his hon. Friend, whom I was happy to name, and I will give way to any other hon. Member whom I name. I have no evidence that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) goes out of his way to assist his constituents, and I have no material that I could use in that context.
Of the alleged abuses listed in the Minister of State's letter, some seem to be perfectly acceptable practices. Others, however, may arise from inefficiency, which is probably simply the consequence of the work load of hon. Members. In any case, such inefficiencies on the part of hon. Members are more than matched by inefficiency from the Home Office, with all its huge resources. For example, lately I have been subjected to numerous telephone calls demanding that I supply the Home Office with documents on a case which I sent to the Home Secretary weeks ago and which he seems to have lost. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of State need some of their own guidelines. The Opposition are perfectly ready to draw them up, as a public service.
The furore over the allegations by the Minister of State proceeded until, taking the wise advice of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), endorsed by Mr. Speaker, the Government succumbed and provided a statement. That statement was made by the Home Secretary, offering the House its first taste of his technique of temperature lowering through obfuscation. That now overworked technique reached its nadir in his gallant but unavailing and unconvincing attempts on Monday to defend the indefensible in the shapes of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General.
The Home Secretary in his statement abandoned for ever the word "abuse", which has disappeared into a lexicographical limbo never to return. That tirne, he employed his undoubted linguistic skills as an author of dramatic fiction to allege not abuse but misuse. In response to a plea by me, the right hon. Gentleman promised, encouragingly:The right hon. Gentleman … will get the names."—[Official Report, 29 October 1985; Vol. 84, c. 839.]Indeed, he darkly hinted that 23 hon. Members were involved, the false implication being that they were all Labour Members.
That was just about the last we ever heard of the word "misuse" as well, and it was also the last of the McCarthyite allegation of a list of guilty people. The names have never been named because there are no names to name.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Waddington)
If the right hon. Gentleman is going to purport to give a history of this matter, he had better get it right. He knows perfectly well that I wrote letters to the 23 hon. Members who I was suggesting were not operating in a correct manner. We duly reported back to the House the substance of the replies made by the 23 hon. Members which, with few exceptions, were to the effect that they had no intention of giving consent to their names being revealed.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The Minister did not say on the radio that he would seek permission. He simply said that he would name names, not on the radio but in the House of Commons. He has now backed down from that. It would have been an interesting list if it gave the names of the hon. Members whom the hon. and learned Gentleman included in the letters he sent. One of the hon. Members on the list was the Welsh nationalist Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). I do not think that Caernarfon is an area of substantial Asian settlement but, nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman was one of the hon. Members whom the Minister said was abusing the position.
§ Mr. Waddington
In fairness to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), that hon. Gentleman takes a particularly keen interest, as most hon. Members will know, in Sri Lankan immigrants. That is why he takes up a very large number of cases with the Home Office.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am glad, therefore, that the hon. and learned Gentleman has now said that an hon. Member who was on his list of 23 guilty men takes an honourable and proper interest in people from Sri Lanka who wish to come to this country.[Interruption.] I say people from Sri Lanka. The Minister said immigrants. I shall come to that matter, because there is schizophrenia in the Government about the use of that term.
§ Mr. Faulds
The Minister of State tried, rather hamfistedly as usual, to defend himself. He seems to forget that he made generalised accusations that a number of us—orignally an unspecified number—were abusing the system. On that occasion, I made the offer that the hon. and learned Gentleman could publish any letters of mine concerning immigration cases, leaving out the names of the people concerned, that he wished to. It transpired that I was not among his 23 Members who had been accused. I am deeply disappointed that I was not among the 23. This shows how totally tendentious and misleading that original unjustified accusation was.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I was not among the 23 either, and I was bitterly hurt. I was grateful that, by that time, I had been successfully reselected, so that that omission could not damage me.
§ Ms. Clare Short
The Minister could have selected various hon. Members from both sides of the House, but it was he who compiled the list of 23. I do not think that even he would claim that it was an exhaustive list and that every hon. Member on it had done one of the six things mentioned in the letter.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I agree. As we now know from the intervention by the Minister of State this afternoon, the hon. and learned Gentleman has nothing but admiration for the hon. Member for Caernarfon who, presumably, was one of the Members on the list.
964 The Minister of State came to speak in the House on this matter again in response to a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill on 18 December initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). By then, the hon. and learned Gentleman was in a mood that was much more amenable, I might almost say chastened. He was soothing, almost Hurd-like. He said:
I do not believe that it would be sensible to dwell too long on what has been happening up to now and to debate whether particular practices have been very bad, not so bad or all right … Surely the point is to discuss the arrangements for the future."—[Official Report, 18 December 1985; Vol. 89, c. 506.]The Home Secretary then proceeded to publish last month what was described as guidance on the handling of representations by Members of Parliament in immigration cases. In accordance with the wishes of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I then entered into discussion on this document in the company of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), first with the Home Secretary and then with the Home Secretary and the Minister of State. We stated our strong disagreement with a substantial part of the original document, both on constitutional grounds and in terms of practicability. Our arguments seemed to carry some weight because, when a new document was published last week—this time described as guidelines—major improvements had been made.
In the first document it had been proposed that Members of Parliament wanting a stop imposed on removal of a visitor or other person in hazard should contact not, as has been customary and acceptable until now, the Minister's office or, outside office hours, the duty officer, but the chief immigration officer at the appropriate port of entry. Quite apart from the serious practical difficulties involved, the Opposition regarded this as contitutionally unacceptable. We viewed as of paramount importance our right of direct access to the Minister, either personally or through his acknowledged personal representative. I am glad to say that that proposal has now been withdrawn.
An attempt was made in the first draft to deny temporary admission to an intending traveller if he or she had been advised directly that a Member of Parliament would seek to obtain temporary admission for him or her. That would have penalised someone for having taken advice from a Member of Parliament and was again constitutionally unacceptable. Following our opposition, that proposal, too, has been withdrawn.
An attempt was made to confine stop rights solely to the relevant constituency Member. That proposal, too, has been partly abandoned, although the new proposals are still exceptionally unsatisfactory to us. Time scales for written representations at various stages of the process were laid down. All were very brief. Some have been expanded, but they still remain unsatisfactory.
§ Mr. Kaufman
No, not at this stage.
The new document which we are considering today remains a document that could seriously prejudice the rights of hon. Members to protect constituents and their relatives and friends. It operates from a curious assumption implied in paragraph 2, that decisions about whether persons should be admitted to this country statutorily repose in the immigration officer. That is not so. These new guidelines say that the statutory power to 965 admit is vested in the immigration officer, but the Immigration Act states that the statutory power shall be "exercised" by the immigration officer, and that is very different.
Indeed, that same paragraph of the guidelines immediately makes it clear that the Minister has the power to overturn the decision of the immigration officer. It is the Minister who in the end has the power, and it is important to establish that absolutely firmly.
We remain strongly opposed to the time limits laid down for representations. The 12 working days cited in paragraphs 3 and 15, although a slight increase on the original proposal, is still far too brief a period for contracts to be made between the Member and the affected persons, and for representations then to be made to the Minister. A Parliamentary recess, an illness on either side, a holiday or pressure of work on either side could prevent this time limit being observed and consequently jeopardise the rights of those who might have spent on air tickets what are for working people very large sums of money.
The four-day periods laid down in paragraphs 9 and 16 and the five-day period in paragraph 14 are still more absurd, scarcely allowing time for letters to be exchanged, let alone for any kind of sensible discussion and organisation of a case which could hope to pass the stringent new criteria for a ministerial change of mind.
We still object very strongly to the prohibition in paragraph 17 of a Member taking up a case in another Member's constituency without the agreement of the latter. Let me make it clear that no hon. Member in his or her right mind will gratuitously take on extra work in this field. Those who deal with large numbers of these cases in their constituencies, as I do, know that the work burden is as crushing as the necessity is great. It involves voluminous paperwork and, even more time-consuming and onerous, telephone calls at any time of the day or night on any of the seven days of the week.
What is to be the position of people who are unable to get assistance from hon. Members—I am afraid all of them Conservative Members—who have indicated that they will not take up such cases or whose public attitudes on these issues are such that constituents literally dare not approach them? Are those constituents to go unassisted? Such a position would be totally unacceptable, and we ask the Government to withdraw this condition, especially since it places Members of the House of Commons at a disadvantage compared with Members of the House of Lords, all of whom, according to paragraph 20 are permitted to regard the whole of this country as their constituency.
§ Mr. Kaufman
After all, there are cases, including some which I have taken up, in which a Member of Parliament other than the constituency Member has won admission for a visitor or other person following the imposition of a stop. The Home Office has acknowledged that person's rights and implicitly acknowledged that those rights would have been forfeited if another Member had not stepped in. Are such people to lose their rights under the law because of an arbitrary ruling by the Home Office on a matter which is none of the business of the Home Office but is a matter for this House of Commons and for Mr. Speaker?
§ Mr. Kaufman
As the former Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), told the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service on 12 April 1980, when he held the position at present held by the hon. and learned Gentleman.As you know, the tradition is that Members of Parliament stick to their own constituency cases. This, of course, is essentially an understanding between MPs. Certainly Ministers have no power to enforce, let alone police, the convention—heaven forbid that they should!I very much hope that the Government will take to heart what was said by the previous Minister of State on this matter and that this prohibition will be abandoned.
It is also unacceptable that in the narrow range of permitted cases where a Member of Parliament is allowed, under these guidelines, to take up a non-constituency case, the Home Office will in future send a copy of the reply to the constituency Member of Parliament. Such material is often personal and intimate, shared with the assisting Member of Parliament only as part of the process of that assistance. It would be unacceptable for such confidential and private material to be passed on to another person without the agreement of the affected individual. Already, those affected by the immigration rules have to put up with too much personal humiliation. This stipulation must be dropped.
We remain highly unhappy about paragraph 19, which lays down that temporary admission will not readily be granted to passengers "most unlikely" to be admitted. We are dealing here, I suppose, with people who may have applied for permanent settlement and been turned down, whose cases are under appeal from overseas, or who are awaiting an interview after an application for settlement.
We all know that the Home Office has a paranoid fear that such people may enter the country as visitors and then, in the felicitous phrase of the Minister of State, go to ground. But are such persons to be denied the right to visit this country, to spend a little time with their spouses or intended spouses, their children or grandchildren, to attend a family wedding or funeral? Much greater flexibility is required here, so once again we are looking for a relaxation of the guidelines.
Paragraph 12 is curious and dangerous. It places great weight upon recommendations made by the appellate authorities. But some adjudicators, as a matter of practice, do not make recommendations. Are people affected by their decisions to be disadvantaged by a personal idiosyncrasy? In my own personal experience of cases, some fairly recent, even if an adjudicator does make a recommendation, perhaps on compassionate grounds, the Minister is quite likely to disregard it. So, is absence of a recommendation to be a barrier even though a favourable recommendation is not necessarily a protection? This condition too must be changed.
So we are looking for major alterations in this new document and we expect the Minister of State, when he winds up the debate, to promise such changes. But, above all, we ask why such a document is needed at all. The present system has worked quite satisfactorily, even though we acknowledge that it is a considerable burden on the Home Office, just as it is to those of us who have to resort to it. But it is a necessary system. After all, decisions by immigration officers are not reached on the basis of a set of scientific criteria; they are in the end, 967 however intensive the questioning, reached on the basis of hunch, and that hunch is liable to be faulty. The evidence for that judgment is the number of times that the immigration officer's original decision not to admit is overturned by the Minister when he has considered the case after a stop imposed following a Member of Parliament's intervention. That experience alone is justification for the stop system. That stop system is needed because facilities at the ports of entry, and particularly at Heathrow, are so inadequate as often to militate against fair treatment for those seeking entry.
Six months ago I was involved in a case whose details were so disquieting that I wrote to the Prime Minister herself about it. It related to a woman constituent of mine who had gone to Heathrow to meet her brother-in-law from Pakistan. Complicated details related to this visitor, which it was anticipated might militate against his admission. I passed on these details to the Home Secretary well in advance so that he could make the immigration officers at Heathrow aware of them. It was the previous Home Secretary, not the right hon. Gentleman. The Home Office did no such thing, so that when the visitor arrived he started from scratch. My constituent, who was in an advanced state of pregnancy, and was accompanied by two small children, was made to wait for 10 hours while the case was considered. Telephone calls too numerous to count took place between the Home Office and myself. I was in Yorkshire at the time attending a family celebration, which of course was completely disrupted by these events.
In the end temporary admission was agreed, but the visitor was not released to his relative for a further two hours after that decision, and it was achieved only after still more telephone calls from me. The immigration officers alleged that my constituent could not be found, but she had been sitting patiently for hours precisely where they had told her to sit. Having gone to London on Sunday morning to meet her brother-in-law, she did not get back to Manchester until six o'clock the next morning, having lost her night's sleep.
I asked the Prime Minister to investigate the case, and in her reply she said:It is quite clear that there was a serious breakdown in communications, due to the volume of work and the intensity of pressure under which the whole staff at Terminal 3 were working at that time … there was an unfortunate and lengthy delay in contacting Mr. Mahmood's sponsors and implementing the decision to grant him temporary admission.The Prime Minister offered her personal apologies to my constituents. Every hon. Member involved in such cases could provide a comparable example, but in too many cases these problems do not reach a Member of Parliament, let alone the Prime Minister. That is why the stop system is essential as a protection and a means of revealing incompetence and inadequacy.
§ Mr. Faulds
With reference to incompetence and with reluctance I should like to trump my right hon. Friend's story. I have a case which is now in the hands of the Home Office in which a chap who was refused entry was given back somebody else's passport on which he travelled to New Delhi, where he had to serve a term of imprisonment while the matter was sorted out.
§ Mr. Kaufman
That is one of the problems of the way in which these cases are dealt with. In too many cases 968 things go wrong. I have made several complaints to the ombudsman, not about the policy, but about the administration of the policy. In his responses he has revealed serious inadequacies in the interpretation service, including faulty rotas, absences of those who should be present, and the allocation of interpreters whose language aptitudes are inappropriate to the person being interviewed.
This necessary stop system relates to unsatisfactory administrative arrangements, and to some immigration staff who, although predominantly courteous, are sometimes rude or offensive. Too often it seems to those on the receiving end that the objective is not to facilitate the right of entry laid down clearly in the immigration rules, but to find excuses for denying entry.
Let us be clear that in most cases we are talking not about those seeking to obtain settlement, but about those seeking entry as visitors. That is why the reference on the cover of the guidelines to "immigration cases" is inaccurate. Let us be clear also that we are talking about people who, according to the immigration rules, have a statutory right to enter, subject to certain conditions. On 29 October the Home Secretary referred to peoplewho do not qualify as visitors under the rules".—[Official Report, 29 October 1985; Vol 84, c. 827.]and the Minister of State talked about people who sought to come to this country at the invitation of Members of Parliamentknowing that they had no claim to entry.But almost all the people involved have a claim to entry because the immigration rules give them a right to enter as visitors. The problem is that that claim to entry is too often obstructed or denied by immigration officers carrying out the policy of the Minister. In the end, despite the inadequate, humiliating or offensive treatment of too many of those who arrive at the ports of entry, it is the policy that is wrong.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I shall not give way, as I have spoken for a long time, and am coming to the end of my speech.
The policy is based on suspicion, prejudice and paranoia. That is why we need, not obstructive guidelines, but a change of attitude and, above all, of policy. Many of the Minister's problems could be avoided if he were to change that policy. By that, I do not mean an abandonment of immigration control. Primary immigration is in any case at an end, and a Labour Government will certainly maintain firm immigration control, but unlike this Government, it will be a non-racist, non-sexist, immigration control. Even more important, in the short term, as a priority act of administrative action, the moment we take office we shall ensure—
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Gentleman will never be here to see it. He will have to grow a bit before he wins another seat.
The moment we take office we shall ensure that Labour's firm but fair immigration control will be administered humanely and with the respect that is due to those who seek to enter. There will be no discrimination whatever between those who come from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, and those from countries where travellers predominantly have white skins.
969 Because the position, which was revealed by the arguments that preceded the issue of these guidelines, is so objectionable, and because we continue to disagree with much of the content of the guidelines, we have sought this debate. We are using it to put before the country, not only our commitment to immigration control, but our absolute determination that such control shall be fair, decent, humane and, above all, non-racist, and non-sexist. Because we see none of those essential ingredients in the Government's approach and policies, we shall force a vote tonight.
§ Sir Edward Gardner (Fylde)
The control of the entry into the United Kingdom of people from abroad is a serious and growing problem. Nothing that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has said has done or could do anything to resolve it. I say that with regret, which is probably felt on both sides of the House. The right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity of making and, in his own words, has made, a long speech. He also had an opportunity to make recommendations which might have been of use and which we could have treated seriously, but he has chosen not to.
There are three questions that we must answer in considering the wisdom, or lack of it, in the guidelines. The first is why there has been this breathtaking increase in the number of representations on immigration cases by Members of Parliament. The increase has been breathtaking because in the three years preceding 1982 the average number of representations made was 1,000 a year. The following year the figure doubled. The year after that it trebled, and in 1985 the increase was sixfold—61 per cent. up on the previous year.
There are undoubtedly various speculative reasons why that should have happened. Obviously, one cannot attribute it to the increase in the number of Members of Parliament after the 1983 implementation of the Boundary Commission's recommendations, when there were 15 additions. That could not in any way be responsible. Nor can it be attributed to any change in the law relating to the entry of people as visitors because the Labour Government had to follow exactly the same law. There has been no change in the criteria that immigration officers apply.
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
I should like to set the statistics in context. The hon. and learned Gentleman describes the whole thing as a problem. Is he aware that almost a million more people have left this country in the last 20 years than have come in? He mentioned the number of representations made by hon. Members about people who were refused entry, but has he compared the number of representations as a percentage of the number of refusals? If he does that he will find that his two, three and sixfold increases are totally wrong.
§ Sir Edward Gardner
The figures are before the House and can be considered. How they are interpreted is a matter for each hon. Member. I shall be surprised if any right hon. or hon. Member seeks to argue that this is not a problem of the deepest and greatest concern to all of us and to our people. It is properly described as a problem. I do not say that there should be any change in the way that the law is applied, or that the criteria used by the immigration officers should be altered to interfere with the right of access by hon. Members to the Secretary of State.
970 I disagree with the right hon. Member for Gorton about the recommendations in the first draft of the guidelines. He said that the draft is in some way unconstitutional and an attempt to deprive hon. Members of their right of access to the Secretary of State. It was recommended that before going to the Secretary of State an hon. Member should go directly to the port to make sure there was merit in his reference. The draft was intended not to destroy the right of access but to make sure that the right was exercised in proper cases.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall North)
The hon. and learned Gentleman is the Chairman of the Select Committee on which I sit. Does he not agree that what he has said is inappropriate? In matters of housing, social security, pensions and taxation hon. Members do not act as judges. When constituents write to us or come to our surgeries we do not decide whether they are eligible for benefits, but take the matter up with officialdom. What is the difference between such cases as that and cases where people ask us to make representations about relatives or close friends who have been refused entry?
§ Sir Edward Gardner
First of all, these people are not constituents. I am not suggesting for one moment that the original guidelines should not have been amended in the way that they have been amended on consultation. I am submitting to the House that the right hon. Member for Gorton was wrong in intention and wrong in fact in his interpretation of the guidelines. One realises that some hon. Members would like the gates of Britain to be opened wider so that more people could come in with less difficulty. Other hon. Members would like to see the gates taken off the hinges so that there was no control of any kind—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Who'?"] I hear speeches inside and outside the House and the strong impression one gets from them is exactly that which I have described to the House. No doubt speeches will be made today from which that inference could be strongly drawn.
§ Ms. Clare Short
By his allegations the hon. and learned Gentleman is muddling everything. We are talking about people who seek to visit our country, see their relatives and leave. We are talking about how we treat people who seek to visit our country, and not about immigration or settlement. It is important that senior hon. Members such as the hon. and learned Gentleman should not muddle the debate in this way.
§ Sir Edward Gardner
If the hon. Lady is muddled about my meaning, I am certainly not muddled about what I am saying and what I intend to say. I am talking about people who come here without entitlement to enter and who may not be given that entitlement. If they get in they will overstay the limit of time that we can tolerate.
§ Mr. Kaufman
It is important to clarify what the hon. and learned Gentleman says about whether or not people have a right to enter. The immigration rule about visitors says quite clearly:A passenger seeking entry as a visitor, including one coming to stay with relatives or friends, is to be admitted".The rule then sets out the conditions that have to be satisfied before a person is admitted. But it says that he "is to be admitted". Accordingly, he has a right of entry unless he fails to satisfy the conditions.
§ Sir Edward Gardner
This is the whole point: this is what we are talking about, and it is at the heart of the debate. The second question is about the effect of the 971 increase in representations made by hon. Members about immigration cases. The first of those effects is a serious one that we must take into account. I hope that we all do. That increase diverts the energies and the concentration of immigration officers and results in appalling delays to the great majority of passengers who properly come to this country.
It is a matter of common sense that delays and a concentration of effort in the wrong places cost money, and it is ultimately the taxpayer who has to pay. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary told the House, if the system is subjected to serious strains—as undoubtedly it is at present because of the increase in representations—it is in danger of being destroyed. Most speeches in the debate will be directed towards how the Government should deal with this problem. In cases where an application is made for a stop on a decision by an immigration officer, and where that application is by way of reference to the Secretary of State, I should like to see some means of distinguishing between cases which have merit and cases which have no merit.
§ Mr. John Whitfield (Dewsbury)
My hon. and learned Friend's point is apposite to the debate. How on earth can any such distinction be made—and such a distinction ought to be made—if hon. Members are not required to speak to the immigration officer at the port of entry?
§ Sir Edward Gardner
I take that point. It is one for which I have a great deal of sympathy. Other hon. Members might also feel sympathy for it. Because of my great anxiety I have looked very carefully at the guidelines. The last thing that one wants to do is to give the impression to anyone, in this House, in this country or abroad, that we are in any way offending against this country's reputation, for fairness in matters of this kind. I recommend the guidelines to the House as being reasonable, sensible and well balanced. If they are followed, as one hopes they will be, we shall be able to increase the efficiency of the system and cut down the delays.
§ Sir Edward Gardner
They will be a means of preserving the reputation of this nation for fairness.
§ 5 pm
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
It is fairly well known that there is a considerable number of people from the Indian sub-continent in my constituency. The Home Office and the Minister of State, the hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington), know that I deal with a large number of cases on a day-to-day basis, including Sundays, and sometimes Christmas day and Boxing day, that involve hold-ups at Heathrow airport. Therefore I have considerable experience of this matter. It may come as a surprise to some hon. Members that I did not receive a letter of admonishment from the Minister of State. I have had my leg pulled about that; some of my hon. Friends suggested that I must be slipping.
When I deal with cases that involve another constituency I am always most careful to ensure that a link of some kind can be found with my constituency. Hon. 972 Members who represent other constituencies may not always be as readily available as I, or my wife, may be. My home is near Heathrow airport and my constituency is also close to that airport. There are occasions, therefore, when people in Birmingham, Glasgow, Gravesend or elsewhere, including the adjacent constituency of Hayes and Harlington, do not get the immediate response that is needed when a passenger is required to return to his country of origin in a matter of two or three days.
A passenger is sometimes detained because of an hon. Member's intervention. Then he has to await the heavily weighted decision of the Minister of State, Home Office. If the Minister of State wishes to ease the burden on the Home Office, he ought to consider introducing a more realistic period of consultation with hon. Members who are snowed under with these cases. It might then be possible to lighten the burdens of the whole system, including those of hon. Members and the Home Office. I invite the Home Secretary to consider that point.
I have already suggested that one means of lightening the burden would be to consider the reasons given by immigration control for the refusal of leave to enter this country. We should comb through those cases with meticulous care to find out how frequently flimsy grounds for refusal of leave to enter this country have been given. Sometimes it is said that the hosts or the incoming passengers have lied, because a discrepancy has been discovered between the amount of time for which passengers have asked for leave to visit this country and the amount of time for which hosts have asked to welcome their relatives. Although the Home Secretary is not in his place, I hope that when he reads Hansard he will pay some regard to my remarks.
The occasions are rare upon which incoming passengers or their hosts set out to circumvent immigration control. There are such occasions, of course, but during the many years that I have been Member of Parliament for Ealing, Southall, few people who have entered the United Kingdom as visitors have absconded and gone adrift. There may have been two or three such cases during the 20 years that I have been a Member of this House. Visitors to this country would be miracle men if they could understand our immigration laws and rules. Very few of the indigenous people understand all their ramifications.
I hope that the public will understand that in this debate we are not discussing basic immigration: or large numbers of people arriving at Heathrow airport and other airports who hope to settle illegally in Britain by means of subterfuge.
I am grateful for the continuous courtesy and co-operation of the immigration staff in the Minister's office. They are not responsible for the system or for policy. The Government are responsible for the system and for the harshness, in many cases, of the way in which visitors from abroad, particularly from the Indian sub-continent, are treated. In some cases they travel with a letter from, perhaps, auntie who says, "When you arrive I want to introduce you to a nice girl who is a British passport holder." But that is what makes the world go round. Young men from this country have gone to the four corners of the world looking for and finding brides. Those who go abroad on holiday sometimes accomplish the same task. That should not be held against visitors to this country. Furthermore, the host community knows that a limit is placed upon the length of these visits. They fill in forms as sponsors.
973 Unlike the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler) I do not send out circular letters. I notice that he is shaking his head. I understand that he gives a great deal of assistance to the immigrant community in Bradford, North and he is to be commended for doing so. However, although people queue up at my surgery to express apprehension about the way in which their relatives will be treated when they arrive at Heathrow airport, their apprehension sometimes proves to have been unnecessary because I hear little about it afterwards. I assume, therefore, that the visitors enter this country without too much difficulty and that as they motor away from Heathrow airport they can see that brillant sign which says "Welcome to Britain".
However, some visitors are not so welcome to Britain. In those cases, I say that if there is time they should write to me. If there is time, I respond in writing and set out the duties of immigration control. I tell them that, if all the details that they have given me are the absolute truth, there should be no difficulty about granting admittance for a legitimate visit.
The importance of people being granted what I call a legitimate visit rather than temporary admission, which hon. Members achieve as a result of our intervention, is that, if they are granted temporary admission, a mark is put in their passport. This means that, if they want to visit another European country, they will not be granted a visa. Furthermore, they will not be granted a visa to visit Canada if they have relatives in that country.
I could make a long speech, but I do not intend to do so. However, I wish to make one or two points which may help the Minister of State and the control system. I have already pleaded for a meticulous look at the reasons given for refusal. They will eventually be given by Ministers to Members of Parliament who intervene.
When I encountered the Minister in the Lobby he would say that he was fed up writing "Dear Sydney", so I suggested a compromise whereby I would write "Dear D." and he would write "Dear S", as that might relieve the tension on his wrist.
§ Mr. Bidwell
I would like to get this off my chest; I will give way later.
I understand from a former Minister of State that the present Minister of State, Home Office, is probably the most overworked and overburdened Minister in the Government. I defy him to say that he can consider, with meticulous care, the mounting number of cases which we are bringing before him. That validates the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) when he presented to the House, without opposition, a Bill to provide for an appeal system before the departure of the passenger.
It worries me that it is possible for a passenger stuck in Harmondsworth or another detention centre to be there for up to three weeks. There is one passenger who is presently detained about whom I am most anxious. I am told that a reply is pending, as the draft is before the Minister of State. I am depressed because I have to talk to the relatives of that person and try to justify the fact that someone can be stuck in such a detention centre for three weeks or more before the ultimate decision comes into force.
974 It is rare for the Minister to overturn the immigration control attitudes. I suggest to the Minister and his officials who are listening to this debate that there is a great deal of leeway within the present system and that those responsible for immigration control should be encouraged to reconsider whether they have a solid case, which would be upheld by public opinion, for refusing passengers admission. It is not a question of discrepancies which may sometimes arise because a travel agent has advised a passenger to tell certain lies on arriving at the port. We could do a good deal to lighten the Minister's burden, and it would lighten mine as well. I would be delighted if that was the case.
I have intervened in other cases. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has pointed out, we are reluctant to canvass cases in other Member's constituencies. However, sometimes the constituency Member, for various reasons—I am not calling them racist, although there is one particular case who would take that label—has been embroiled in long-standing immigration cases. Community relations officers—I will not name the places but I would name them later if necessary—will inevitably approach friends in other constituencies if they are dealing with a temporary admission.
Immigration officers often advise hosts and friends when a passenger has entered a two-day temporary admission. If the Member intervenes, the admission may be extended to a couple of months or more. The passenger will be invited to appeal if he is refused leave to enter but he may not do so, often because of expense. Therefore, he does not achieve the stay for which he asked. That has its own logic. The visitors do not run away. That is very rare; in my long experience, there have been perhaps two or three cases. They do not abscond, as the Minister calls it.
§ Mr. Hanley
Few hon. Members are treated with such universal respect in this matter as the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell). I ask for one word of advice. When the hon. Gentleman meets constituents who are anxious about whether their friends or relatives will be allowed into the country as visitors, does he ever advise them to seek voluntary entry clearance in the home country before they depart?
§ Mr. Bidwell
I was considering that before I started my speech today. However, there are difficulties. I have asked the Minister's office for advice. Why do we not introduce a universal entry certificate requirment? Why do we not ask for visas? I am not pleading for such a system. Our relationship with Indian sub-continent, the to-ing and froing of business men, makes it difficult. Let us consider visits.
The founders of the Southall community were those who left Jullundur to avoid being cheap labour. From the inception of that community in Southall we fought to get them trade union rights. The constituency of the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) is not far from mine. He has visited my constituency on occasion in tragic circumstances. I value has visits, as they show a nonparty approach to problems. I have always made a nonparty approach to solving the problem of immigration, and in that sense the hon. Gentleman's remarks about my attitudes being acceptable across the House are correct. I have never regarded immigration as a matter that we 975 should thrust into a party political collision. The non-party approach is necessary in the struggle for racial harmony, but I shall justify it another time.
We are not discussing the broader issues of immigration. Practicalities do not promote the idea that one should be able to obtain an entry certificate. If people flew from Jullundur or came overnight to Delhi they might spend two or three days in Delhi. The delay in Delhi is due to lack of staff to deal with entry to Britain. This could be avoided by a great extension of the staff in Delhi or Bombay, but the Home Office is not willing to promote that. If the Home Office were to insist on an entry certificate, there would have to be a considerable increase in staff to cut the abominable delays. It must also increase the staff in the pocket areas of migration in the Indian subcontinent—Bangladesh, Sylhet, Assam, Bombay, Islamabad, Jullundur, Amritsar, Delhi—those pockets of migration which affect Bradford and my constituency.
Visitors may be asked to obtain an entry certificate, but one realises how difficult that may be. People may make the long journey to Delhi and then be refused. I have seen such problems for myself when I have visited India over a number of years.
People have sought asylum because of the difficulties in the Sikh community, the recent attack on the Golden Temple and the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister, Mrs. Gandhi. Presumably the guidelines do not apply to Member's representations in respect of asylum seekers. Such applications are automatically referred to the Home Office by the immigration services. However, I should like this clarified when the Minister replies.
Because of subsequent reactions to the guidelines, the Home Secretary has back-pedalled on the substance of Members' rights. I thought he would do so, because he must understand that Members are jealous of their rights. I asked about this matter years ago, when I first came to the House. I asked about taking up the grievances and problems which affected other constituencies. I was given a ruling—not a fundamental ruling—that it was a matter of convention and courtesy. It is difficult to follow these courtesies; one often does not have the time to do so, and it must be a belated action.
One certainly does not wish to jump in and deal with matters in neighbouring constituencies. We know that some Tories have an abominable attitude and will not help Asian people as they would help non-Asian people. I think that it is valid to mention that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) has even dared to complain about my taking up cases affecting his constituency. The Asian people concerned, however, who have friends a stone's throw over the border between the hon. Gentleman's constituency and mine, say that it is useless approaching him because he has made it clear publicly that he will not touch them with a barge pole. That being so, the only way for them to achieve the second look at that matter afforded by the present system is by coming to the Member in whose constituency they have friends and relatives.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must protest strongly on behalf of my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), who clearly had no warning of the allegations that 976 have been made. The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) should withdraw those comments unless he has already cleared the matter with my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
This is a matter for debate, but if an hon. Member intends to refer to another hon. Member, it is customary for him to give notice to that Member.
§ Mr. Bidwell
Given the overspill of Asian people into Hayes and Harlington, it is difficult for me to explain the circumstances in which I am placed. The hon. Gentleman is the architect of his own misfortune. He told me that he was complaining to the Minister about my intervention, and I want the whole world to know that. I retain a friendly attitude to him if I can, so I told him that he must be suffering from a death wish because with that attitude to a substantial proportion of his constituents he could not hope to survive the next election.
§ Mr. Tim Brinton (Gravesham)
The hon. Gentleman has also alluded to my constituency. He recently had a meeting with my community relations council which led to publicity in the local paper to the effect that he was prepared to take on cases in which I refused to intervene. I am perfectly convinced that the hon. Gentleman is goodhearted in his approach, but he has also said that in his view this privilege for Members should be decided by Members themselves. Will he tell the House whether he has ever refused to intervene in a case brought to him and, if so, what would be the reasons for such a refusal? I shall then better understand his approach to the problem.
§ Mr. Bidwell
I have frequently refused, when I did not think that the case was powerful enough. For instance, when a person has been told to leave at a particular time, there may be special pleading from the Gravesend community relations council. The essence of the matter is that if a Member of Parliament, even one who I understand is not contesting the next election—[HON. MEMBERS: "What has that to do with it?"] It has a lot to do with it. If a Member of Parliament is held to be failing his constituents in some way it is perfectly valid for them to go to another Member of Parliament who is willing to take the matter up.
In conclusion, I re-emphasise my plea to the Minister to ease the burdens that neither of us wants by looking more carefully at the reasons advanced, especially with regard to visits. Much of the difficulty would then vanish. Better still, he should examine the feasibility of the proposals by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West for an appeal system. That suggestion is validated by the proposals made when the Immigration Act 1971, which I opposed, was being put together. If the Minister took that proposal on board, he could get on with his other duties and pay more attention to fighting the crime wave instead of being involved in the detail of these cases.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
First, I pay a warm tribute to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State for the admirable way in which he and his staff deal with representations made by hon. Members. There can be little doubt that he has one of the most exacting jobs in the Government and that he does it with distinction. He is always fair, courteous and accessible, he takes enormous trouble to consider every case and he is ready to look again when Members ask him to do so. Perhaps it has been the 977 efficient way in which my hon. and learned Friend and his predecessors of both political parties have dealt with these matters which has led over the years to the gradual increase in representations by Members of Parliament in immigration cases. The immigrants themselves, the visitors to this country, their representatives and organisations in this country know about the procedure and that in itself may generate more inquiries of hon. Members and thus more representation. It may also be due to the way in which Members themselves deal so assiduously with the cases that they raise.
I thought that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was perhaps rather ungenerous in his remarks today. He said that I did not go out of my way to assist my constituents. I hope that on reflection he will withdraw that statement. I regularly assist my constituents, as do nearly all hon. Members I know who represent constituencies surrounding Heathrow, one of whom is the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell).
§ Ms. Clare Short
I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who is no longer present, was intending to make a witty remark. He had no evidence, such as copies of letters, to suggest that the hon. Gentleman went out of his way to assist constituents, but there was no suggestion that the hon. Gentleman did not give adequate service to his constituents.
§ Mr. Shersby
That kind of humour is lost on me. If the right hon. Gentleman chooses to employ it and then to be absent when I reply to it, he has only himself to blame.
§ Mr. Bidwell
I acknowledge the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) as my Member for Parliament, as I live in his constituency. No occasion has ever been mentioned to me—had there been such an occasion, I am sure that it would have been mentioned to me—on which the hon. Gentleman has not been most helpful to those who come to see him.
§ Mr. Shersby
I will not give way again, as I wish to get on.
I thought that the right hon. Member for Gorton made a wily, carping speech designed to curry favour with the ethnic minority communities. He quoted various cases, one of which he had raised with the Prime Minister, to justify a major attack on the rules, but he said nothing about the thousands of visitors who come in without difficulty or the many cases in which, following the intervention of Members of Parliament, the people concerned are admitted swiftly and courteously and made welcome to our country. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's speech will upset and disturb many immigration officers who are my constituents.
An important aspect of today's debate is the substantial increase in the number of cases raised by Members of Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke of a 61 per cent. increase since 1984. That must be a matter of concern to the Home Office. It is also a matter of concern to me and to other Members representing constituencies around Heathrow and other ports of entry 978 because it entails the diversion of officers from their work at the control points and slows down clearance of the majority of passengers who are eligible for admission.
Each time I return to Heathrow I look carefully at the queues of passengers and spend a few minutes seeing how long it takes to get through the barriers. I compare my experience at Heathrow with my experience overseas. In general people trying to visit this country can enter swiftly and without undue difficulty. When I compare Heathrow with some overseas airports, I think we are very fortunate. I pay tribute to the officers who act fairly and courteously and who at all times attempt to help people, whatever the hour of the day or night. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that we want visitors at Heathrow to enter the country quickly and courteously.
Because of the tremendous pressure being exerted on the Home Office, it is right that the House should be asked to review the procedures. While hon. Members wish to retain their undoubted right to make representations to the Minister of State, surely there must be a sensible balance between that right and the need to maintain efficient and effective immigration control. That control has to be exercised in accordance with the Immigration Act 1971, an Act supported by most people in Britain. I want to see it continue to work well.
Cases which last for many months and in which a visitor is not removed within two months of arrival result in the eventual cost of removal being passed to the taxpayer. That does not help to maintain good community relations. I am concerned that a system which has generally worked well, as several hon. Members have said, is at risk. If the House does not take account of the serious strain on the Home Office the system will become unworkable.
What would be the alternative if we did not have the system of representation by Members of Parliament and the stop facility? The only alternative would be that immigrants refused entry would have to be removed, as the original Act intended. Many hon. Members with large immigrant communities will agree that such a change would not be welcomed either by the House or by their constituents. Therefore, I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has given thought to the new guidelines setting out the practice to be followed by hon. Members in normal immigration cases. I for one welcome the consultation which my hon. and learned Friend has undertaken and the willingness he has displayed at all times to make changes in the original guidelines as published following the consultations.
I also welcome my hon. and learned Friend's understanding of the fact that a requirement to the port of entry would place a great and unacceptable burden on an hon. Member. Swift access to the private office of my hon. and learned Friend is essential if we are to do our job as hon. Members. I am also glad that my hon. and learned Friend recognises that in many cases hon. Members would still feel obliged to put a stop notice on removal, whatever facts were presented by the immigration officer. It is right that the requirement to refer cases to the ports has been omitted from the new guidelines.
I want to comment on several important aspects of the revised guidelines. I welcome the definition of the role of hon. Members. That is most useful and I hope my hon. and learned Friend will draw it to the attention of new Members of the House when they are elected. Casting my mind back some 13½ years, I cannot recall receiving any guidelines from the Home Secretary of the day in 1972 as 979 to how I should deal with immigration matters in Uxbridge. I was left to find out by experience, as most hon. Members are. Fortunately, I was able to draw on extensive local government experience. Without that, I might have been in difficulty. I hope my hon. and learned Friend will ensure that when new Members enter the House they will automatically receive the guidelines.
It is right that only the constituency Member should take up a case unless, because of illness or absence, another hon. Member has been requested to deal with his or her constituency business. I am pleased that the guidelines state that hon. Members with a special interest in the problems of a particular national group who wish to raise an immigration case must first consult the constituency Member concerned. If we depart from the long-standing and established convention of the House we shall only get into difficulty. The convention which exists commends itself to most hon. Members. The constituency Member has the absolute right to act for his constituents and that right should never be abused by another hon. Member who claims a special interest in a national group.
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)
Does the House realise that if we pass the rules tonight, as I hope we shall—
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis
Whether or not there is a vote on the Adjournment, there is virtual acceptance by the House of the guidelines. Does my hon. Friend realise that the convention, which we ought to keep, will become rather more than a convention, because it will be laid down in the guidelines and, therefore, will apply?
§ Mr. Shersby
I take the point that my hon. Friend has raised. I think the guidelines make it clear that it is a convention. The guidelines, which are not rules, emphasise the convention which we all understand.
I also welcome the emphasis that is placed on the fact that temporary admission of a visitor is not a grant of leave to enter, but an alternative to detention. If that point could be made more widely known, it would be of advantage to all concerned. In fairness to visitors and to our constituents, it must be clearly understood that those who become engaged or who marry while on temporary admission are ineligible to stay on the basis of that engagement or marriage. I am sure the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall will agree that many of the problems we have to deal with involve people who become engaged or who marry while in the United Kingdom on temporary admission and who expect to stay here.
There are enormous problems when an hon. Member who wishes to help, very often a young couple, has to tell them what the position is. It is vital for would-be immigrants to know that the immigration rules require them to get entry clearance from abroad. It would be much easier if that were done. The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall made the point that there are not sufficient staff in our embassies and high commissions abroad to make that possible. My hon. and learned Friend might like to comment on that when he is replying to the debate.
During consultation on the guidelines there has been discussion about the fact that they will prevent hon. 980 Members from intimating to relatives that, should a passenger get into difficulty, he or she may seek the advice of a Member of Parliament. I am sure that that was never intended. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made clear in his speech, the intention was to point to the undesirability of the practice of inviting people to come to this country to seek entry, knowing that they had no entitlement to come. I wonder how often that has happened. New Members of Parliament should be advised on that point and they should realise that if they provide letters giving the impression that people have an entitlement to come here, they will create great difficulties.
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)
How is an hon. Member in any party to know whether someone from overseas, whether from Bangladesh or the United States, has a right to come here as a visitor, which is what we are talking about?
§ Mr. Shersby
I do not think it is for an hon. Member to make that judgment; it is for the officer at the port of entry to make the judgment. If hon. Members take it upon themselves to give such advice they may get into difficulty. I very much welcome paragraph 19 of the guidelines, which makes it clear that if that happens, temporary admission will not be granted readily. That is quite clear, and we all know where we stand. I welcome that guideline and hope that it will be supported throughout the House.
I am also glad that my hon. and learned Friend has extended the deadline for written representations from 10 to 12 working days. This change will be welcomed by all hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Gorton mentioned the real problems involved in contacting hon. Members at weekends. We all have other obligations at weekends, not only to our constituents but to our families, and it is not always easy to contact us. I wonder whether my hon. and learned Friend would be willing to consider the possibility of allowing several clear working days to elapse, so that a visitor wishing to make representations to an hon. Member would be able to do so during a working day rather than at a weekend.
Even if they are not perfect, the revised guidelines are firm and pretty fair. I hope that all hon. Members will help to make them work. If they work, we shall all be better able to serve the interests of our constituents and of those who wish to visit our country.
§ Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)
I should like first to associate myself with the comments made about the helpfulness of the Minister's private office in these matters. I, too, have found it to be unfailingly helpful. I genuinely sympathise with the Minister of State. His job must be one of the most unpleasant tasks in the Government, and I do not believe that it is lightly carried out. The problems are problems of principle, concerning our attitude towards immigration and towards minorities, rather than of implementation by the Minister.
I accept that there are a few who wish to circumvent the rules by coming here as visitors. However, the evidence available to me and my colleagues suggests that such people form a tiny proportion of the total and that the communities themselves are aware of the damage done to their general case if people seek to circumvent the rules. 981 Such incidents are indicative of the desperate circumstances that people face in other countries, but that is another matter.
A Government's political attitude must influence administrative actions. If a Government support right and principled attitudes by guidelines and the force of law, that will without a doubt influence the actions of immigration and entry clearance officers. I do not doubt that the Government's general attitude towards immigration is unsympathetic and that that transmits itself to the officials who have to implement the policy.
We all have stories about how people are affected in practice. One story was told to me by a white constituent who was, I suspect, not generally sympathetic to the idea of people from ethnic groups coming to this country. He told me that he had returned from a trip to Amsterdam on a plane carrying a large group of white people who were openly talking about the drugs that they had used in Amsterdam and had brought back with them. Apparently, they were smoking pot on the plane. At Heathrow all those people went straight through the immigration controls. The one Asian couple on the plane, however, were immediately stopped by immigration and subjected to the procedure. Such incidents have a bad influence on people in our own communities, and show that there is some discrimination in the way in which we treat people.
We need to work on our individual cases within the Government's overall philosophy. Although I want to replace the Government as soon as possible by people of a different philosophy, I should attempt to do as well as I can for my constituents within the rules. Hon. Members gain nothing by acting irresponsibly on these cases. We must build up an acceptance of the impartiality and responsibility of individual hon. Members, whatever our individual opinions may be on Government'policy.
It is not always easy to tell the communities that one represents—
§ Mr. Corbyn
I think that I heard the hon. Gentleman say that he did not condone hon. Members acting irresponsibly on immigration matters. So far as I know, the only person who has claimed that hon. Members act irresponsibly is the Minister of State. Are we to understand that the Liberal spokesman agrees with the remarks made by the Minister of State when he started this ridiculous charade?
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
That is not a helpful intervention. What I was referring to was the macho symbolism of some hon. Members who are delighted to appear on the list of 23 and who believe that that has helped them to gain re-selection. But that attitude is not helpful to the cases that they are trying to represent.
Sometimes we have to try to tell people in our own communities that there are reason why a certain person should not be admitted. I remember the Minister of State telling me categorically that the person concerned in a certain case was involved—at a time of high stress—with the Khalistan movement. I had to tell the Sikh representatives in Leeds that, as far as I was aware—the Minister had given me his word—that person was so involved and his admission as a visitor would not be helpful at that moment. The community accepted that because in other—admittedly rare—cases we had been able to achieve a change in the Minister's policy. Such a relationship will be difficult to build up under the rules put before us today.
982 Essentially, the system that we are trying to operate cannot cope with the numbers of people involved, and we are therefore faced with the problem of putting bureaucratic regulations in place of a real policy. It is not only immigration officers who are taken off other work. Hon. Members who would dearly love to be able to make progress with other work find themselves diverted towards urgent and complicated cases involving people stopped at the point of entry and appeals from relatives or friends to the hon. Member for ways and means of securing entry. All too often, prima facie, the person should never have been stopped.
We are dealing with ordinary people from ordinary families who are trying to come here for a visit and are stopped at the point of entry on a technicality. They, and I, are baffled as to why that happens. I am distressed by the impression that is given to many ordinary families in this country, especially in the Asian community, by the type of bureaucracy that is encountered on entry to this country.
The Minister of State should openly recognise the fact that temporary admission is another category of immigration or entry. It is used by the Minister as much as by hon. Members as a way of securing entry, in effect on bail, and as a way of retaining people's passports. That is the crucial point. If someone is given leave to enter, there is no way in which his passport should be retained.
§ Mr. Madden
It would be unfortunate if the hon. Gentleman were to mislead our constituents by seeking to give the impression that it is lawful to retain the passports of those on temporary admission. The Minister of State and his officials have, on a number of occasions, assured hon. Members that if passports are requested they will be immediately returned.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
I am well aware of that, but the corollary is that if one insists that the passport is returned, that is an encouragement to the Minister to say that there are no grounds for allowing the person to enter. If one insists, it is easier to say no than to allow them to retain the passport, in which case they may say yes. If one is endeavouring to secure permission for someone to stay in this country for a relatively short period, one has to accept—whether or not it is legal—that the passport will be retained. That is yet another guarantee for the Home Office. I do not say that that is right; I say that it is what happens.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
One of the problems faced by the Minister—it is a problem that he should take far more clearly on board—is that of the clash of cultures as it affects what is said by people coming into this country when they are interviewed separately. In many of the cases that we face, hon. Members have to explain what is meant by what people say when they come in.
Let me give three examples. Recently, a visitor to one of my constituents had a letter from her sponsor advising what to say and what not to say in particular circumstances. As far as I could make out, there was no suggestion that the sponsor was advising the visitor to tell untruths or misrepresent the facts. The letter simply explained what it was beneficial to emphasise in order to cope with the particular inquiries that would be made. That was held to be a reason why the visitor should not be 983 admitted. That is ridiculous. The visitor was euphemistically described as somebody of modest background. In other words, she was somebody who would find it difficult to communicate in a bureaucratic situation. The sponsor was only being helpful, but that boomeranged. That was the result of a clash of cultures and what happened was unforgivable.
§ Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if only we could get people to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth most of our problems at the airports would disappear?
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
I wish that that were the case, but I have examples of people telling the truth, particularly when a question was put in a negative way, when often the response from a person who comes from India or Pakistan—
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
When accusations of racism are made from a sedentary position, that is a disgraceful abuse.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
people are sometimes asked questions in a way that causes them to respond in a way that does not help their case, even if they are telling the truth. Sometimes the problem stems purely from a clash of cultures.
A man whose sponsor was his brother was asked by an immigration officer if his brother wrote to him. He replied that he wrote to him once a month. The brother, his sponsor, was asked whether he wrote to his brother, and he said that he did not. The letters were going to the head of the family in India—the mother—who passed the letters on to the other members of the family. Both men told the truth, but the visitor's answer was detrimental to his chance of being admitted.
An older Muslim woman is often, sadly, regarded as being in a somewhat shameful position if she is not married. Long delays in the cases of fiancés and husbands entering Britain are detrimental to the woman's standing in the community. Sometimes cases are not dealt with in rotation and a person can be a figure of fun in the community because other partners have come in who may have applied later.
Members of Parliament are not being approached by excessive numbers of people. It appears to be one in five. Sometimes, because of the problems, hon. Members are asked to provide letters in advance. In effect, they are testimonials of the sponsors in Britain which can be taken to the airport to show that they are people of standing in case there are problems. Sometimes I resent the extra work load which often proves to be unnecessary because people's fears are unrealised. We should not have to go to extra trouble simply because people are fearful that they will not be treated fairly when they enter the country.
The new guidelines are better than the old, but they are not satisfactory. They are wrong in principle because they seek to instruct and to limit hon. Members in the carrying out of their duties on behalf of their constituents. If that precedent were accepted it might reappear in guidelines on the way in which we represent our constituents in cases concerning the Department of Health and Social Security, 984 the Inland Revenue, and so on. Hon. Members should realise that if they give ground on this simply because the Home Office has had a problem, they are laying themselves open to new areas of control. That is an extremely dangerous principle and precedent, and we should oppose the guidelines on that ground. In effect, the guidelines are a bureaucratic answer to a problem of principle which should be dealt with as such.
The problem of the time gap and whether the person to be approached is the immigration officer or somebody else has already been mentioned so I want to concentrate on constituency links. Another cultural problem is that, however distant, the many members of a visitor's family often regard themselves as one family. It will be difficult for the Minister to determine who is the appropriate Member of Parliament. The family will often have representatives in a number of constituencies and the number of constituencies concerned could probably be counted as the number of hon. Members in the House at the moment.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
I will not give way because I am anxious to allow the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members to speak in the debate.
If the Minister tries to limit the right to make an application to the sponsor's Member of Parliament, the families will pick the sponsor from the constituency with the most amenable Member of Parliament. The problem will not be solved. The bureaucratic nonsense will simply be shifted further on. We should consider the circumstances rather than limiting the choice of hon. Member.
Some hon. Members take the view that because the immigration officer looks at the case, he or she has made an appropriate decision, with which the Member does not want to interfere. I doubt whether the same Members would accept such a decision if it was made by the DHSS or the Inland Revenue if a constituent was complaining about his or her treatment. In such cases a Member would look into the matter with an attitude far different than if it were an immigration case.
Our task is surely to assist constituents to express themselves more fully or to discover the reasons for a decision. That is not just my opinion; it is also the opinion of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Spencer), with whose views I doubt whether I would agree on virtually anything else. On 29 October he made the extremely valid point thatit is not the function of any hon. Member to act as judge and jury in deciding whether or not an individual should be allowed entry, but only to make responsible and proper representations to the Home Office".—[0fficial Report, 29 October 1985; Vol. 84, c. 834.]That is exactly the case. The guidelines will not assist the hon. and learned Gentleman nor me to do that job, so they should be opposed whenever possible.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind the House that the 10-minute limit on speeches will operate from 6 pm, and I appeal for the co-operation of hon. Members.
§ Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
I agree with some of what the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) said, but it seemed to me that the Liberal 985 party policy is very much one of doing away with controls over visitors. That would lead to a great deal of trouble. If people could enter Britain with almost no checks, we would soon have a strong flow of immigrants.
Like several other hon. Members, I want to pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State. He always shows great courtesy in the way that he handles these cases. He is firm but fair. He has done an excellent job and I hope that he will go on doing it for a long time. He gets a good deal of trouble from me, because I am one of those who regularly corresponds with him, as, I suspect, most hon. Members in the Chamber this afternoon do as well because we have a large number of immigrants in our constituencies. I have about 7,000 people from the Sikh community and they have many relatives and friends who wish to visit them here for holidays and for family celebrations. I always do the best that I can to assist them when they have a genuine case.
I agree that we are not judge and jury. It is extremely difficult for us to make our minds up, but we should apply some criteria when we receive applications. I try to encourage a leading member or members of the ethnic minority community to introduce Mr. or Mrs. Y and to give me the reasons for an application. I submit that to my hon. and learned Friend and usually he allows the visitor to come for a short time and that is good. But where there is a strong suspicion that a person is trying to evade the system, it is an hon. Member's duty, perhaps not to be judge and jury, but to say that in such circumstances he will not be a party to the attempt. Otherwise, he is just a rubber stamp. That would be quite wrong.
I did not know that some hon. Members refused to handle such cases. I would not do that, even if I had only a handful of immigrants living in my constituency. After all, such people have every right to come here as visitors so long as they are genuine. However, the cases must be carefully considered. In recent times, in particular, some of the replies that I have received from my hon. and learned Friend have shown that the immigration officer who perhaps turned down the request had very convincing reasons for believing that the person had no entitlement to enter the country.
Those who are entitled to come here temporarily, or on a permanent basis have nothing to fear from the system. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, the rules have not changed. However, those who have an illegal purpose in mind and who are trying to trick their way into the country must be stopped by any Government in the interests of the majority of people in this country.
We would be mad to have an open-door policy. This country has a large ethnic population, and we must have sensible and strict controls. It is very much in the interest of British residents with an ethnic minority background that the rules should be properly applied and that their relatives should know that they are allowed to enter the country temporarily for a family celebration or holiday.
I know that there is no chance of my next idea being pursued immediately, but I believe that it is worth exploring the possibility of a visa system. In some ways, I wonder why the Home Office has not considered it before for all Commonwealth and foreign visitors. I mean all foreign and Commonwealth visitors; not just the black or coloured ones, but the white ones as well.
I am very conscious of the fact that I need a visa to go to India, Australia or the United States. There is quite a rigmarole before one can obtain such visas. I am fortunate 986 in that, like many other hon. Members, my American visa is indefinite. Nevertheless, it has to be obtained, and renewed from time to time. Many countries that have had some sort of association with us in the past demand visas.
I believe that the Home Office should consider a visa system because it would regulate our intake from other countries. Those entitled to come to Britain would be able to do so without too much difficulty, and there would not be the alleged discrimination—which I do not necessarily believe takes place—between those who happen to be black and those who happen to be white. It is said that those who are black are given rather a hard time when going through the immigration procedures.
An alternative to a visa might be a bond or guarantee given by the person who would be responsible for accommodating the visitor. It may well be the brother, sister, or even the mother and father. A leading member of my local Sikh community, who is also, I am glad to say, a Conservative councillor, is very helpful to me in such matters. He wondered why the Home Office did not suggest that the guarantor should sign a document, swear an affidavit or put up a bond. The guarantor could say that Mr. X or Mr. Y was entering Britain and that he would guarantee that Mr. X or Mr. Y would return at the end of his holiday. The guarantor would then forfeit his bond if the visitor decamped.
I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will accept that many of these people are very responsible. Hon. Members will know, as I do, of cases where the visitors have vanished. When that happened in my area recently, there was great ill feeling among those who had been responsible for recommending the man to me. They felt guilty, and have made every effort since to trace the miscreant.
The role of the Member of Parliament is essential when it comes to making a stop plea to the Home Office. It is said that sometimes the matter is not followed up, and that, having obtained a stop, the Member of Parliament has not written to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister asking permission for the person to stay. That represents a great abuse, and whoever has done it is wrong and has failed in his duty.
I do not take kindly to other hon. Members coming into my territory, particularly on such matters. I have had two such cases, but only one, I am glad to say, where I felt that the person was intruding. In the other case, the Member was courteous enough to write to me and I allowed the case to go through. But I would feel affronted if there was a string of such cases, and I believe that it would bring the whole business into disrepute if immigrants who might be refused entry were touted around from constituency to constituency by Members of Parliament who felt that there was some need to do it. It is essentially the role of the Member of Parliament in the area to be visited to shoulder at least some of the responsibility.
Despite all the criticisms that have been made, I believe that the system is good, although it provides a good deal of work and difficulty for the Member of Parliament and for the immigration service. Recently, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister told me quite sharply about a visitor who did not go back. I believe that he should come down sharply on all of us and let us know when someone has not kept to the terms of his admittance. There should then be a responsibility on the Member of Parliament to go back to whoever guaranteed that person as a genuine visitor.
987 I deplore the remarks of the right hon. member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about immigration officers. They have a difficult and trying job. There may be bad apples among them, as there are in every walk of life, but my experience is that they are courteous, dedicated and very skilled. No cause is advanced by such an attack, especially when it comes from a right hon. Member of his standing.
We need better co-operation from the local community just as we need the continued and firm approach of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister. I am very satisfied with what he is doing. He is doing it in the interests of the country as a whole, and I can certainly commend this document.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has restated the history of this dispute. Some wild and unsubstantiated allegations have been made by the Minister of State against unnamed Members of Parliament. He produced a potential list of names, which was no doubt drawn up for his own purposes. When he produced it, he did not claim that it included every hon. Member who was guilty of one of the six so-called abuses that he mentioned in his letter.
I shall outline two cases that the Minister of State told me represented abuses. I do not apologise in any way for anything that I did in either case. Hon. Members should know the sort of thing that the Minister calls an abuse and should know what he expects us to do to our constituents. The first concerns a girl called Baljit Kaur, whose case I have raised on the Adjournment before. She was born in Birmingham and grew up there. With her mother, she visited India to see her granny who was getting old. The family had agreed that if she met anyone she liked, she could consider marrying. She did, indeed, meet someone she liked, and she married him. In the Asian community a new sort of marriage is evolving that lies somewhere between the traditional arranged marriage and our traditional love marriage. She found a young man she liked and they married in India so that her granny could be there.
Baljit stayed with her husband in India hoping that he would get his visa and that they would return to Birmingham together. She became pregnant and returned home to Birmingham to get proper medical care. Having been born in Birmingham, she found that she did not have the immunities that the people who grew up in the village in India had, and she tended to get sickness, which was bad for her pregnancy. She came to ask me to help hurry the arrival of her husband so that he could be with her before the baby was born. That was my initial involvement in the case. I wrote to the Minister and he wrote back saying that the fact that someone was pregnant was not a reason to bring forward an interview.
Eventually the baby was born—it was a lovely little girl—and the husband was desperate to come and see his daughter. He had his interview and was refused. The couple were devastated, as was I, because this was my first experience of a primary purpose case. I went to see the Minister on a number of occasions. I explained to my constituent, Baljit, that she would have a right to bring her husband here as a visitor, at least to see his first child. I 988 thought it would be sensible if he came on that visit at about the same time as his appeal against the refusal was heard so that he would be able to give evidence in his own case. All of that was done.
The Home Office admitted him at the port and the appeal adjudicator admitted him to give evidence. Sadly and disastrously, the case was turned down and eventually the young couple went to Ireland. I do not know where they are now and I hope that everything is well for them. I still feel very badly about what was done to them. After that, the Minister has the cheek to suggest that I have done something improper in allowing a young woman to have a visit from her husband to see his first child for the first time.
The second case of so-called abuse was that of a young man who lived in Tanzania. His family came to Birmingham in 1981 on a quota voucher which entitled British citizens to come and live in Britain. He was over 21 and was therefore not allowed to come with them. He applied twice for an entry certificate to come for a visit. As every hon. Member who has any experience of immigration will know, in practice, though not in theory, anyone who has ever applied to come for permanent stay will never be allowed to visit. That is what was happening to this family. When they applied to come as a family they knew that their son was over 18 or 21—I cannot remember which—but they said that they would like him to come with them if he could. The answer was no. He stayed in Tanzania and set up a small business, which is beginning to prosper.
Twice the young man applied to visit his family—his mother, father, sister and brother—whom he had not seen for some years and twice he was turned down in Tanzania. The family in Birmingham came to see me. I wrote a letter explaining that there was no legal obligation to have a visa, that he was entitled, as a Commonwealth citizen, to come without a visa and that he should therefore come over. I said that he would probably have trouble at the port because there is no doubt that anyone who has been refused an entry certificate for a visit will have trouble. I told his family that, if he had such trouble, they should telephone me. All of that was done.
He came and saw his family. They all came to my advice bureau and they all cried—father, mother, sister, brother and he—because they were seeing each other after such a long time. He returned to Tanzania before the Minister's letter arrived saying that he should go back. That is the second case of so-called abuse. The letter I wrote is the letter that was leaked to The Daily Telegraph. That is the outrageous behaviour I am supposed to have indulged in that helped to spark off the row we are engaged in today.
I think that the Minister should be ashamed of himself. It is outrageous for anyone to suggest that any hon. Member seeking to represent their constituents in that way is misbehaving. I resent it. It is wrong and suggests that we should neglect the needs of our constituents in a way that I am not willing to do.
I should like to explain to the House how it goes in Ladywood and at my advice bureau. I have an advice bureau every other Saturday in my constituency. It takes place from 10 in the morning and continues until about 1 or 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Large numbers of people who are willing to sit in a queue for that length of time come to say that their granny might be coming to visit, a sister might be coming or that a nephew is coming for a 989 wedding. They say, "I am frightened that they will be refused. What shall we do?" In each case, I explain in detail how the system works. I explain that, if there has ever been an application for permanent settlement, a visit will not be allowed and that there will almost certainly be a refusal at the port. I tell them that they should then ring me.
I then write to the Minister and it takes him two months to reply. It used to be three months, but he has got the time down since then. He has been working at it since the row started. I explain, because it is the truth, that he always upholds the refusal. I explain that when I send the letter back to my constituent, the visitor has to go, even if a marriage or anything like that is planned. That is how it works. My constituents go away clutching a piece of paper with my telephone number on it.
Because I do that, and I do it repeatedly, and try to give my best advice to my constituents, I am in breach of paragraph 19 of these new guidelines. It will be held against all those potential visitors that I explain in that way to my constituents how the system works. That is outrageous. It is a constitutional breach that a Member of Parliament should not explain in truth and sincerity how the system works without biasing the potential right of their constituents to have a visitor from abroad.
The truth is—the House should note this—that almost anyone who is unmarried cannot get in as a visitor. That is because visitors are entitled to marry and remain. Because the immigration service thinks that every unmarried Asian coming in wants to marry, as a number of them do, it refuses the lot. Since the Minister changed the rules about marriage for women, the immigration service is now refusing many young women. That is one reason for the increase in the number of cases facing the Minister.
The Minister would be more honest if he took away the right for people who are here as visitors to marry and stay. It would not then be necessary to refuse every unmarried Asian male who seeks to enter Britain and, increasingly, every young Asian female. That is the way in which the system works. It is based on a prejudice and on seeking to exclude from a legal right a group of people—Asian people—who wish to come here as visitors.
I am probably running out of time, but I want to ask Conservative Members to please stop talking about immigration and about people trying to come into the country illegally and staying. That is another debate, which we will be happy to have with them, to challenge their prejudices. Today we are talking about family visitors and the rights of families to stay together. Yes, we deplore the action of the Soviet Union when it prevents families from being united and we claim to support the Helsinki Final Act and the right of families to be united. However, when it comes to our own Asian population and their wish to be close to members of their own families from abroad it is another matter. Suddenly we hear about swamping and immigration and so on.
The other thing that Conservative Members should understand is that the reason for the increase in the number of cases the Minister is facing is the increase in refusals. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) quoted the figures. If we could break the figures down by poverty or background, they would be much grosser. Obviously, from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan many wealthy people—business men, journalists and academics—travel to and from the 990 United Kingdom and have no trouble coming through Heathrow. However, if one comes from a village and a poor family there will be trouble. I am certain that, if my constituents have a poor background, the likelihood of refusal of their visitors is about 50 per cent. That is my experience and theirs. They are poor, proud and hard working people from a poor background.
The Minister's guidelines are not necessary. Instead, we should stop refusing genuine visitors and treat our constituents with the respect they deserve.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
So far, the House has enjoyed a good-natured debate about an issue which, essentially, concerns the relationship between individual Members of Parliament, and the relationship of hon. Members with the Home Department.
I, too, thank my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State and very much appreciate the excellent work that he does, and the sympathetic way in which he receives the representations of hon. Members, myself in particular.
The control work of the immigration service is difficult. The officers do it with immense compassion and care. I know from my observation of their working practices that they try to assist visitors to the United Kingdom in a very reasonable way. They have interpreters on duty, and they have procedures for interviewing individuals, to try to ascertain the true purpose of their visit when there is any doubt. I particularly welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that 52 further posts are to be provided to improve the arrangements. That is good news.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to the number of people from the Indian sub-continent who were being stopped at Heathrow, in particular. The facts are that only about 1 per cent. are ever stopped at Heathrow—99 per cent. of visitors from the Indian sub-continent who seek to enter the United Kingdom, for whatever reason, come through without hindrance. That is the measure of the matter. Therefore, we are concerned basically with the 1 per cent. of people who, for one reason or another, are subject to the immigration officers' control.
The guidelines that we are considering seek to provide a working formula, a relationship between hon. Members and the Home Department. They are generally to be welcomed, and I endorse them. There was a departure from the original draft guidelines, where my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State suggested that hon. Members should contact the port of entry to ascertain the facts. I fully understand the reason why that was included in the original guidelines. I think that hon. Members, regardless of where they sit, will know that it is difficult to make a decision about whether to phone the Minister's Department to impose a stop, as it is called, on whether a person should be deported.
That is the one occasion when an hon. Member has a direct means of intervening with the Executive. It is the one occasion when an hon. Member is acting in a quasi-judicial role. I believe that there is an obligation for the Member, under those circumstances, to take into account several factors—a duty to the country, a duty to the House and the rules that the House has approved, a duty to his or her constituency as a whole, a duty, too, to the immigration officers who are, after all, civil servants 991 seeking to discharge their function fairly and honourably, as well as a duty to the individual who has sought the hon. Member's intervention.
If the hon. Member is seeking to discharge all those functions honestly, he would probably like to have the best available information to hand upon which to base a decision. Frankly, listening to the story of the application and then checking the facts with the immigration officer at the port of entry is a very good way of trying to understand exactly where the balance of truth lies. I frequently do that myself. I find that the chief immigration officer is always helpful. He willingly reads over the notes that have been taken, willingly answers questions and enables me to make a judgment on an informed basis about whether I should intervene with the Executive and the way in which its function is being discharged. That seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable and honourable way to proceed.
Although I note that the guidelines remove the obligation for an hon. Member, in the first instance, to approach the immigration officer in that way, I commend the principle behind that because it is sound if we are concerned about balance and fairness between the various competing interests that we have to judge as Members of the House.
The role of an hon. Member intervening in another hon. Member's constituency is a serious point. This place works only if we behave in an honourable way towards each other. If we intervened across the constituency boundary, choas would reign. It would become an unimaginable nightmare for us all, and is therefore undesirable. A Member should take up a case in another Member's constituency only in very exceptional circumstances.
§ Mr. Wheeler
I shall not give way. I want to press on.
If there are special and exceptional circumstances—for example, if an hon. Member is ill or away—the hon. Member may say to a colleague nearby, "Please cover for me." However, as a general principle, that is wrong. It is within my knowledge that, unfortunately, there has been a certain amount of touting around, of seeking to find an hon. Member who would do the bidding of an individual or pressure group, willy-nilly and without regard to the consequences. There is some evidence that that has gone on. It must be wrong, and we must oppose it in the interests of the good administration of the House.
§ Mr. Wheeler
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I press on, but time is limited.
In looking at the deadlines, we must have some sort of working relationship with the Home Department. In setting a deadline of 12 working days, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State has got it about right. However, the guidelines are no more than that. Just as there are always special cases in respect of immigration matters as a whole, so there are always special circumstances that will affect the interpretation of the guidelines. My hon. and learned Friend has made it clear that he is always willing to consider those special circumstances.
992 I pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend's private office. Outside No. 10 Downing street, he has perhaps the largest private office of any Minister, as befits the amount of the correspondence that he has to cope with. I, and I believe most other hon. Members, find that his private office is always willing to be of very great assistance to hon. Members who approach it. It is always willing to give useful advice and to see that cases are properly considered. In a dificult area, we try to establish fairness in the way in which we handle those immigration cases.
As the right hon. Member for Gorton said, even the Opposition intend to have a form of immigration control. The immediate consequence of that is that sooner or later, whatever the form of control, one will create hard cases, where there is an area of dispute or doubt. Any country that seeks to control entry into its jurisdiction, as we do in the United Kingdom, and as all other western countries do, comes up against the difficulty of making the procedures work.
I welcome the guidelines. They are a fair attempt to provide a working arrangement. I wish them well.
§ Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston)
Like many other hon. Members who are participating in the debate, I have a large Asian community in my constituency. Many of the Asian families in Preston have been there for a period of anything from 10 to 20 years. Many have become naturalised British subjects. They still tend towards the extended family culture that was their background. Thus visitors seek to come and spend some time with them in their homes.
When we consider the Minister's proposals we are considering the question of human rights. We accept that it is a human right for people from many parts of the world to visit their relatives and close friends in this country. Many Asians in this country, after their experiences of the past few years, feel that their visitors are treated as criminals at airports. They feel that their visitors are not on trial but are guilty as and when they arrive. The only protection that the visitors have against such a situation is their relatives' Member of Parliament. Clearly, what has been at issue over recent months, directly or indirectly in this House, is whether hon. Members should continue to have the right to make direct representations to Ministers about cases.
I like other hon. Members would like to pay tribute to the way in which the Minister's private office responds when approached by hon. Members. Very often, one gets the impression that it is grossly overworked and under pressure. In spite of that, my experience is that it has been helpful. I wish that I could say the same for the Minister who is responsible for these matters.
Like other Members who have spoken today, I have regular surgeries. Today, almost 80 per cent. of the people who come to see me are Asians with problems that are directly associated with relatives, visitors, fiancés and so on. When these people enter a surgery, they are clearly looking for guidance from the hon. Member with regard to what they have already heard, directly or indirectly from other sources, are likely to be their problems on arrival at the airport. They want to know if they should go to the airport and, if so, how many of them should go. They want to know if they will be interviewed and what the nature of the interview will be. They want to know what regulations govern entry.
993 One tries to give these people some guidance in advance. Regrettably, of course, we sometimes do not get that opportunity. The first we know about an arrival at the airport is a telephone call which may come on Christmas day, new year's day, or a Saturday or a Sunday. The timing of the telephone call is obviously immaterial to the visitor but the hon. Member must try to respond.
Some of the visitors are fiancés who come purely to see members of the family. The very fact that they are fiancés places them in a different category and makes their position almost hopeless. Some visitors come to see their wives and they very rarely get past the immigration office, although that sometimes happens. The main task of the Member of Parliament is to represent those cases and to assist those people to meet their families.
I should like briefly, in the time available, to give an example of a recent case in my constituency. I do not want hon. Members to suggest that it is an isolated case which could not happen more than once because I am sorry to say that that has not been my experience.
The son of the sister of one of my constituents was working in Arabia. He came on a visit to the United Kingdom intending to go on to a further visit in India to see relatives. He carried with him a three-way air ticket Dhahran to London to Bombay to Dhahran. He also had a letter from his employer of five years, saying that he was well paid, receiving 250 rials a week and that he had given my constituent's relative three months' holiday and hoped that my constituent's relative would enjoy that holiday with relatives here and in India. My constituent's relative carried £1,500 in cash so there was no question of his not being able to pay his way. He arrived on Saturday 8 March and he departed on 8 March to India on the instructions and at the behest of the immigration officer.
There were long interviews at the airport, including an interview with the would-be visitor's uncle, a constituent of mine who has lived in Preston for 20 years. He was interviewed from 8.15 pm for three hours. He had no previous experience of the kind of cross-examination to which he was subjected and he did not know much about the work circumstances of his sister's son. How could he have? The interview that took place was, in his words, "shocking", "insulting" and "provocative". He is a diabetic with a heart condition. He collapsed during the interview and a doctor was brought in to attend to him.
That is the experience of a relative of someone who came to Britain for a visit. I cannot help feeling that if the visitor came from white South Africa or was a white European or a white American, that situation would not have arisen. It is no wonder that one feels that racism plays a part in the way that decisions are made at airports and in the Minister's office in such cases.
We should be considering more humane rules covering the entry of visitors to this country. It is clear that the Government's policy is not based on humane treatment and the protection of human rights, but is a deliberate policy of restricting entry to Asians. That is the Government's raison d'être.
§ Mr. Derek Spencer (Leicester, South)
On 29 October last year, I received a letter from my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, saying that among my cases was one which represented the problems with which his Department was faced. I was asked in that letter if I would consent to the publication of the letters 994 about my case. I wrote back on 5 November to say that I was of course only too willing for full publication to be made of that and any other correspondence relating to immigration matters that had passed between my hon. and learned Friend and myself. It was very important to my constituents that such matters should be fully ventilated. I am curious that Opposition Members did not write back in similar terms.
Most visiting has nothing to do with immigration. The more flexible the visiting policy, the less strain there is on other parts of our immigration laws. I do not share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) that we are in any way exercising a quasi-judicial function. How can I, as a Member of Parliament, elected to represent the constituents of Leicester, South, who include 18,000 people of Asian origin, in this one area and not in others, act in a quasi-judicial capacity? I regard that argument as a complete non-starter.
I shall state my position and be judged on it. I regard myself as an advocate—albeit a responsible advocate—on behalf of my constituents, who wish to receive a visitor. It is against that background that I invite my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State to consider a number of points. First, will he ensure that the interpreters in the secondary examination area at terminal 3 use direct speech and do not use indirect speech? It is inappropriate for an immigration officer to say to the interpreter, "Ask him this—" and to get the answer, "He says that—". It should be done exactly as it is in the courts and other places where accuracy of representation is essential and direct speech should be used.
After all, the crux of the matter often lies in the credibility of the person being asked the question. That is a tricky enough problem in a court where people using a language with which they are totally familiar speak face to face with others in direct speech. When the examination takes place in the secondary examination area through an interpreter it is an even trickier problem. It is not surprising if, in individual cases, immigration officers from time to time make mistakes about the credibility of the person to whom they are putting the questions.
Secondly, will my hon. and learned Friend instruct immigration officers to attach only due weight, and not undue weight, to lies that might be told by the potential visitor? There is too great a tendency to jump to the conclusion that, merely because someone is telling less than the truth, he is disqualified under the rules from entering. That is not so and should not be so. I invite my hon. and learned Friend to say that the immigration officer must be satisfied that the lie is relevant to the issue which he is considering and that there may be other reasons why the person is telling lies. Experience of life shows that a person sometimes tells lies to bolster an otherwise good case which he reasonably fears will not be believed by the person to whom he is speaking. That fact is sometimes overlooked.
My third point concerns deadlines. Will my hon. and learned Friend adopt a relaxed attitude to them? A letter which he sent to me and which contained deadlines took three times as long to arrive as an identical letter sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester). I believe that, if we apply strict and unrelaxed deadlines, we shall come to grief.
My fourth point concerns removal costs. It is not generally known that, when the Minister has eventually turned down the Member's representation and said that the 995 person here on temporary admission must go home, there is no objection to that person using his own ticket. Greater publicity should be given to the procedure whereby the visitor can use his ticket to go home and save the public purse. Recently, I have put this system into operation in my constituency and found that people were only too willing to pay their way back in just the same way as they paid their way here. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will give publicity to this. Merely because, at the end of the period of temporary admission, a person is told to go and instructions are given for him to leave the country should not mean, ipso facto, that the public purse has to pick up the tab.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked us to save the system. Frankly, I cannot save it. All I can do is work with it, with fairness and responsibility. That is what I sought to do under the old rules and what I shall seek to do under the new.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
The origins of this debate and the guidelines go back to last October, when the Minister of State, Home Office, met a deputation from the Immigration Service Union. The discussions were obviously very heated. The hon. and learned Gentleman has denied that the deputation threatened to withdraw co-operation in replying to representations by Members of Parliament in immigration matters, but it is clear that the ISU demanded that something be done about the number of representations by MPs on immigration matters. It was taken to heart by the Minister of State in the sequence of events so comprehensively outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).
There was a series of extraordinary events, including serious allegations by the Minister of State against a number of hon. Members for abusing the immigration laws. Days later, there were two full-page feature articles in the Daily Telegraph. The second carried the headline,Blake Baker concludes his report on unwelcome arrivals—MPs ready to greet dubious immigrants".The article contained a mass of detailed confidential information which I was told in answers to parliamentary questions could only have been made available by immigration service management and/or the private office of the Minister of State.
The article produced a list of Members of Parliament, described as theTop 20 MPs in the Terminal Three representation league.It was an interesting list. It included the Conservative hon. and learned Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Spencer)—I agree with many of the views he expressed today—the Conservative Members for Slough (Mr. Watts) and for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler) and, surprisingly, the Conservative Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) who is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State. The article stated:
Some might argue that more than half their interventions were justified. The converse is that nearly half were not.What can be done? Apart from beefing up the Immigration Service, there could be extra controls at overseas points of departure, but that would mean extra burdens on British missions abroad. A financial bond by sponsors has been suggested.996A good first step, however, would be for MPs to restrict their intervention to only deserving cases of which they have firsthand knowledge and which they are prepared to substantiate.Following several parliamentary questions by myself and others, I was eventually told that the disclosures to the Daily Telegraph were to be the subject of an internal inquiry in the Home Office. After some time, I was given a copy of a letter dated 27 February by the Minister of State to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), which stated:The Home Secretary and I regret what occurred. The disclosure of your letter, the leaking of the statistical information and the manner in which both documents were handled within the Department were wrong. As a result new instructions have been given to staff in the Immigration Service making it clear that free circulation for general interest of copies of MPs' correspondence with their constituents is a serious breach of confidence; that such correspondence must be given the same protection as other official information; and that failure to do so can give rise to disciplinary and, in certain circumstances, criminal proceedings. It has also been made clear that while it is good management practice to make available to staff statistical and other information of current or topical interest about their work, official information which is available for management purposes should be appropriately restricted in its circulation.So much for the internal inquiry and the clear breach of the Official Secrets Act. We were told that further inquiries would involve some 300 personnel and so far as the Home Office was concerned the matter was closed.
It is very clear indeed that the number of representations from Members of Parliament has increased in recent years. That is clearly due to the fact that the number of people refused entry to this country has also steadily increased over recent years. In 1983 the number refused entry was 13,981, in 1984 it was 17,355, and in a recent answer to another parliamentary question I was told that in 1985 the number refused entry was 18,505. Of those, more than 10,000 originated in the New Commonwealth and Pakistan. As has already been said, only a very small number seek the help of MPs—something like one in five.
In my view, this situation will continue until something positive is done. Yesterday I suggested action that could be taken by the Government—the introduction of a right of appeal, which could be exercised here, for those refused entry. That is a very modest proposal which was first made in 1967. I hope very much that, instead of making wild allegations about the irresponsible behaviour of MPs in these matters, the Government will seriously consider the introduction of such a welcome reform, which would in fact be the introduction of natural justice into these matters, and will allow those who are the subject of appeals to attend the hearings in the country where they are being held.
I am very concerned about a number of matters in connection with the immigration service. It was the subject of very critical comment by the Commission for Racial Equality, which criticised the racist attitudes of many immigration officers, the stereotyped attitudes which they adopt towards members of ethnic communities, the quality of their training and other matters.
I am very concerned about the very serious allegations that have been made concerning changes to and endorsement of the passport of a Hong Kong British passport holder, from which there were surreptitious and unlawful deletions which resulted in the person concerned being expelled from the United Kingdom.
I complained to the Minister of State about these very serious matters on 14 November 1985 and received a reply 997 on 5 December saying that the Minister of State shared my concern about the allegations and agreed that a full inquiry would be carried out. That was confirmed on 13 January, since when I have heard absolutely nothing further. I hope that the Minister of State will be able to let me know very quickly what the present situation is with regard to the inquiries.
Terminal 4 will open on 1 April. At the moment it is seriously understaffed with immigration officers and no interpreters have been appointed. I was told that terminal 4 immigration staff would have to use the eight interpreters who are available at Heathrow. Instead of again abusing MPs who are trying to assist their constituents, the Minister of State would be much better employed ensuring that there are adequate numbers of immigration officers trained to do their jobs properly at all ports of entry, and certainly that there are appropriate numbers of interpreters with proper training and proper career prospects to help immigration officers at those ports of entry.
I will not reinforce the criticism of these guidelines that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but particularly by Opposition Members. In my view they are unacceptable and unworkable and remain unconstitutional. I certainly believe that they are wholly unnecessary.
I have proposed the introduction of a right of appeal, an increase in the number of immigration officers and improvement of the training of immigration officers. Those steps would reduce much of the burden now on the Minister of State and his officials and I hope very much indeed that the Government will respond suitably.
These guidelines are clearly designed to intimidate black and Asian British people into not seeking the help of their constituency Members of Parliament. These rules have clearly been introduced as part of the political direction which the Government have pursued ever since 1979 to introduce, step by step, further restrictions on entry into this country and to present more difficulties for people who wish to visit this country to stay with their relatives and friends here. A leak last year indicated that, within days of the Conservative Government being elected in 1979, officials were seeking by administrative means to make it more difficult for people to visit this country freely.
I hope that that political direction will be recognised and that when the Minister of State winds up we are not going to have a further dollop of waffle and abuse levelled against those Members of this House who seek to help their constituents. I hope that we shall have some indication that he is going to take positive action to tackle the problems which he, and he alone, can tackle. I hope that he will consider seriously the proposals that I have made and not treat us again to the sort of abuse and wild allegations with which we have been greeted so often in the past.
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), although I did not agree with much, if any, of his speech, particularly because of what happened recently when I was a visitor to his constituency. Perhaps if I had let him know in advance, I would not have had to face the problems that I had at the university in his town; I might have received the courteous treatment which I believe is given to people when they come to this country.
998 I must at the start totally refute the impression given by Opposition Members that we have a set of racist immigration officers and that there are racists in the Home Office who are intent upon making the system unworkable, on picking out a particular set of visitors and making life unbearable for them.
The Labour party seems to believe that it is its prerogative and privilege to represent what are known as the ethnic communities. That is nonsense. There are hon. Members on the Tory Benches with larger numbers of such constituents than any Opposition Members have and I know from my own experience that everyone is given the fairest treatment.
But, in a situation such as that faced by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State and the Government, in which there was misuse or abuse of the system, the Government were absolutely right to draw up a set of guidelines—and they are only guidelines—for Members of Parliament to follow.
In 1979, when I came into the House, facing a new experience, as most of us do in these conditions, I would have welcomed certain guidelines. I am glad to see that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is in his place. He complained that the number of refusals is up. I suggest that he is casting a slight on the officials by implying that they are employing a different interpretation of the rules as they stand. Those rules have not changed, as the right hon . Gentleman will know, since they were introduced in 1971.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman was totally wrong, in giving the statistics which he produced, to ignore the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), because immigration officers are bound to look at those from disadvantaged countries much more closely than at those coming from more prosperous countries. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?" ] On the basis that it is obviously going to be far more tempting for visitors from those places to overstay. This is partly the problem. It is naive of the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends to think that every visitor who comes through Heathrow airport or any other port of entry is a genuine visitor who has every intention of returning to his point of departure. Obviously, the majority do, but it is right that we and the Home Office should be vigilant. I am extremely pleased that the guidelines have been produced.
It is disturbing that at a time when, at last, immigration numbers are decreasing, which I and all Conservative Members welcome, the number of refusals seems to be increasing. That almost gives the hint that more people are trying the system. They are doing so because of the assistance that they have been given by certain hon. Members. They are trying the system because they know full well that some people will slip through the net.
For Opposition Members to chastise the Government for having stricter rules and interpretation of them and for considering closely those who visit the United Kingdom is, as usual, pure humbug. They do so for nothing more than political advantage. They seek to curry some favour with a certain sector of the community. Conservative Members, who represent fairly the interests of all their constituents from wherever they come and whatever their colour, will certainly be better respected at the general election.
I am worried about the present system because it is the easiest thing in the world for hon. Members, their 999 secretaries or others who must deal with queries if hon. Members happen to be absent, to put a stop on, without thinking of the consequences or the merits of a particular case. Moreover, hon. Members know that once the intended visitors arrive and have had a stop put on them, the process of appeals and, ultimately, of removing them is long. It is a fact that a number overstay, and we are naive if we think that they do not.
Frequently in local and national papers one sees the publicity that such cases attract and, indeed, which Opposition Members attract in their political interests. The emotional side is emphasised and we have stories of "tugs of love". Under the system of appeal such people can stay for many years. It must be prudent for any country to examine carefully those who enter, whether as visitors or immigrants.
The guidelines must be accepted, and I welcome them for three reasons. First, there is absolute evidence, as the Minister has shown and Opposition Members have almost admitted, that there is some misuse of the system. Hon. Members have undoubtedly been advertising the fact that they are willing and able to help any visitor who comes and who is in trouble. I am a little worried, regarding cross-constituency interest, about the part of the guidelines which talks about national groups being used as an excuse for one hon. Member to take cases for another. That is an extremely easy excuse.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I shall not give way because I do not have time.
That makes it easy for another hon. Member, usually from the Opposition, to take up a case, in the hope of gaining political advantage. That is a dangerous road to follow.
The second reason why the guidelines must be accepted is that some of us have faith in immigration officers, their staff and the staff at the Home Office. Opposition Members, especially the right hon. Member for Gorton, have cast aspersions on the integrity of those officers who are doing a difficult job, which I find disgraceful. I tend to trust, if I can, men and women who have been trained to do their jobs and who have long experience on the basis that the authority given to them under the Immigration Act 1971 should not be absolute, but should certainly be considered and, in the majority of cases, accepted.
The third reason is that the various representations from hon. Members are clogging the system. That means more disappointments for those who are genuinely waiting to immigrate under existing laws or to visit. Because Opposition Members have been misusing and abusing the system it is probably making it more difficult for the majority of genuine visitors to enter. Hon. Members who have visited terminal 3 at 8 o'clock on a weekday or weekend morning, as I hope all hon. Members have, will understand how the system can clog up, and appreciate the time that it takes for people to come through immigration control. It is right that they should be vetted, but the system will virtually disintegrate under the spurious claims of Opposition Members in an attempt to bring in virtually every visitor who makes a protest.
More consideration should be given to the point of departure, where more questions should perhaps be asked of those who seek to visit. That could stop the heartache 1000 when people arrive who are obviously not genuine visitors. I urge my hon. and learned Friend the Minister to make further investigations into whether more work and, possibly, manpower can be put at that end to avoid the problems that we face at this end.
If hon. Members are so keen to represent and put a stop on virtually any case of refusal that comes to them, they should put their money where their mouth is and become the sole sponsor for the visitor. That should be published and the general public should know when those genuine visitors, as we hope they will be, return. In that way, hon. Members who make representations can be responsible for their actions.
I welcome the guidelines. They will be of tremendous use to hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I hope that they will receive a welcome from all parts of the House this evening.
§ 7.6 pm
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I doubt whether anyone will describe the speech of the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) as a helpful contribution to our debate. I should declare that I am the chairman of the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service, although, obviously, that has no financial implications.
The Minister of State and his predecessor have given the strong impression that they resent the large number of representations made by Members of Parliament in cases involving refusals at airports and related matters. The Minister's predecessor, as early as the summer of 1979, was quoted in the press as saying that he was upset at the time spent signing letters to Members of Parliament about visitors' refusals. Last week the present Minister, in exchanges in the House, complained of the large number of letters that he had to sign which, apparently, had been scribbled—I use his word—by immigration officers.
It would have been wholly unsatisfactory to insist that Members of Parliament must contact the chief immigration officer about refusals when the sponsor has contacted us. All hon. Members know that there are no difficulties in contacting the Minister's private office, or in contacting the duty officer at the Home Office in the evenings or at weekends. Certainly, I have not experienced any difficulty. Leaving aside all the other issues involved, it is doubtful whether it would be so simple to contact the chief immigration officer, for example at Heathrow. Some hon. Members have mentioned the Minister's private office, and I wish to join them in stating that I have always found the staff helpful and courteous. I make no complaint about his private office.
When constituents contact hon. Members about the refusal at ports of relatives or close friends, it is not part of our job to act as some sort of judge and decide on the merits of the case. The original guidelines suggested that, if we contacted the chief immigration officer, he would tell us about the matters involved, and that we would then make the decision whether to make representations.
As I said in an intervention, when matters come before us concerning housing, social security, pensions and taxation, and all the other issues about which our constituents write to us or come to our surgeries to see us, we do not act as some kind of judge. We do not decide whether a person should be rehoused, nor do we look into all the merits of the case. Our job as Members of Parliament is to write as sympathetically as possible to 1001 officialdom and to make the best possible case on behalf of our constituents. There is no difference between cases like that and cases in which constituents come to see us about a close relative or friend who has been refused permission to enter as a visitor.
It is rather important to get our words right, because we are not talking about immigrants. The people about whom representations are made in such cases deny that they are potential immigrants. They are not immigrants in any sense, any more than the millions of visitors from all over the world who come to our shores and are presumably welcome—because tourism, it is said, is useful to the Exchequer—are immigrants.
The sponsor is usually worried and tense and in a state of distress when refusal occurs. He might well have been waiting at the airport for a long time, often overnight, and getting little information about the passenger he is there to meet. He becomes increasingly worried about what is happening. We have to picture the situation in which many of our constituents find themselves. At places like Heathrow more could be done, I believe, to advise people when a passenger has been held for further and prolonged questioning. The Home Secretary is now present and I hope that he will take note of that suggestion. Why is it not possible at Heathrow, and perhaps at Gatwick, to have an information desk manned by an immigration officer who could give up-to-date information about these matters?
I am often told by constituents—and I believe them—that they find it extremely difficult to get information about why someone has not been allowed in, but when refusal has not yet occurred. That difficulty should be resolved, and it would be beneficial, certainly for community relations, if something were done. It is also the case that many of the people contacting us have lived in Britain for many years. They are totally law-abiding—that is rarely in question. They often resent the fact that because the person whom they have sponsored, a close relative or friend, is coming from the Indian sub-continent that causes far more difficulties than if he or she were coming from some other part of the globe. They feel that people coming to Britain from the Indian sub-continent face far more difficulties than other people.
I readily accept that not everyone who says he wishes to visit Britain is a genuine potential visitor. I also accept that it is the job of immigration officers to satisfy themselves about each passenger under the relevant immigration rules approved by the House. Like my hon. Friends, however, I sometimes wonder whether there is an excessive amount of suspicion when a person comes from the Indian sub-continent. People who have lived in Britain for many years, who pay their taxes, and who have never broken the law and would never dream of doing so, resent being treated almost as criminals when they go to Heathrow and are subjected to hostile questions.
I am rather disappointed by paragraph 2 of the guidelines, which says that the Minister will not normally intervene to overturn a decision about refusal taken at the ports. I suppose that is why I have never received a reply from the Minister about refusal cases where he has not accepted the decision of the immigration officer. Presumably, in most such cases the letter that is signed by the Minister was written by the immigration officer or the chief immigration officer responsible for the refusal. It is hardly likely that that person will challenge his own decision.
1002 I am far from happy either about paragraph 12 which says that the Minister is unlikely to overturn a decision where an appeal is dismissed and no recommendation is made by the adjudicator. In the main, I am not talking now about visitors' refusal cases. Some cases, often of settlement, are important—this is about immigration—and I hope that if new facts are given after an appeal has been turned down and after an hon. Member has written to the Minister of State, the whole case will be looked at properly and fairly even if no recommendation was made by the adjudicator. Some adjudicators seem to accept that they should not make a recommendation.
Paragraph 17 was the subject of a great deal of comment in the debate. I am not touting for business. Like my hon. Friends, I am always reluctant to take up an individual case from outside my constituency. I need a good deal of persuading to do so. I always reply to nonconstituents—I am not talking just about immigration cases—and explain, politely and courteously I hope, that there is a long-standing parliamentary convention that a Member of Parliament does not take up individual cases from outside his constituency.
If some hon. Members on the Government side refuse as a matter of principle to take up cases of people who are refused entry, not only is that unfair to the passenger, but also, of course, to the person who has lived in Britain for many years. Just because a person lives in the constituency of such an hon. Member, why should he not be able to contact his MP to have the matter taken up? It is difficult simply to turn down a person in these circumstances and tell them that we are not able to pursue the case.
I hope the Home Secretary understands that point. My interpretation of the wording of paragraph 17 is that no one but an MP can contact the private office. That seems rather unfortunate and I hope that my interpretation is wrong. If, for example, one is away—say at the height of the summer or attending to parliamentary duties—I hope that the agent of the Member of Parliament will be able to make representations. The Home Secretary is nodding about what I have just said. It will be in Hansard and I shall send a copy to my agent just in case there are any difficulties.
I hope to see a fresh approach and more understanding from the Minister of State, who I hope will take a positive approach and not adopt a resentful feeling that receiving and signing hon. Members' letters is not right. That is all part of his duty as a Minister of State, just as it is our duty to take up cases about our constituents.
§ Mr. Geoff Lawler (Bradford, North)
I should also like to acknowledge the great patience shown and the sterling work carried out by the people in my right hon. Friend's private office. I also acknowledge the extreme helpfulness of immigration officers at the ports. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was extremely unrestrained in making allegations. I have a chance to answer, but officials in my hon. Friend's office and immigration officers do not have the same opportunity. For that reason the right hon. Gentleman's remarks were all the more disgraceful. I hope he will take an opportunity to withdraw them—especially his remark accusing me of touting. As the debate progressed he must have learned that the practice I follow and which I have 1003 explained to him is copied by a good number of Members in an effort to be helpful to their constituents. If he wishes to withdraw and apologise, I shall give way.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I greatly admire the hon. Gentleman's pro forma letter. I never thought of something like that, because I thought the Home Office would disapprove of it. Now that it has the stamp of approval of the Home Office, I might start using it myself.
§ Mr. Lawler
I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not apologised. As long as he uses the letter in the same responsible way as I use it, I will be more than happy to let him have a copy. His speech was short on, indeed completely devoid of, any constructive proposals—in contrast to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who produced the most constructive proposal to come out of this debate: the appointment of 52 extra staff. That will be good news for all visitors to Britain.
This debate is about how to make a manifestly unfair system that is open to abuse work in an efficient manner. There is a danger that the demands of the minority who are refused admission will affect the rights of the majority. The rights of the majority are to enter this country with the minimum of fuss and the minimum of delay. The reason for this debate is that those rights are being infringed because of the time that immigration officers have to take in preparing reports, following representations from hon. Members.
It is not much of a welcome to arrive in a country and then have to wait eight or 12 hours before a decision is made about whether one will be allowed to enter the country. What would be the reaction of hon. Members if they arrived in Pakistan and found that they had to wait for 10 hours before such a decision was made? What would be the reacton of an hon. Member who went to meet his mother at Heathrow and found that he had to wait eight or 10 hours before a decision was made? Therefore, we have to balance the rights of the majority against the rights of those who are refused admission to this country. It is important not to forget the right of the majority to enter this country with minimum delay. The guidelines have been drawn up in order to try to alleviate those delays.
Of people refused admission, there are those who try to flout the system. It is acknowledged that people try to enter this country by the back door by flagrantly abusing the visitor system. However, the low numbers of absconders among those who are given temporary admission show that the majority of visitors are genuine. They sometimes fall foul of the regulations for two reasons. First, they fall foul of them through ignorance, lack of intelligence or lack of preparation. They may be unaware of all the questions that they will be asked. I should find it extremely difficult to draw up my family tree. I do not even know the names of all my cousins. Therefore, I understand some of the problems that face those who are less well educated.
Secondly, some people are misled by advisers in their host countries. That is deplorable and I hope that the Government will make representations about it to high commissions and embassies. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State is aware of the fact that recently I have had to deal with the sad case of a young man who was advised to tell lies. He was told that if he told lies he would stand a better chance of getting into this country. 1004 If he had told the truth, he would have had no problem. As it is, through his own folly and through being misled by advisers, who I dare say are making a pretty penny out of the racket they run, he has had to return home.
All these factors affect one group of people in particular: people from the Indian sub-continent. They account for 11 per cent. of non-EEC visitors but for 55 per cent. of the refusals. Despite that, it is wrong to imagine that everybody who is refused leave to enter is a potential illegal immigrant and that therefore we should wash our hands of them.
As the system exists, it is an abdication of responsibility if Members of Parliament do not use it and give a fair hearing to somebody who is refused entry. Hon. Members are only too happy on numerous occasions to prove that officials in other Departments are not always right. Therefore, nobody would claim that immigration officials are always right. They may not have all the facts. However, as with most official matters, there is a line of appeal: that line of appeal in immigration cases is through representations by hon. Members. Hon. Members therefore have a duty seriously to consider using the system and not to abdicate their responsibilities. Right hon. and hon. Members must acknowledge that it is equally wrong to ignore the "pressure to emigrate" argument. That must be acknowledged as common sense. It would be wrong to ignore the fact that some people will try to abuse the system by using the visitor system as a means of entering the country for permanent settlement.
The way to stamp out abuse is by having effective control and ensuring that the message gets back that the immigration system cannot be abused, because those who try to abuse it will be caught out. Fewer people will then try it on by coming to this country and attempting to use the visitor system to enter and settle here permanently.
I applaud my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's attempt to introduce a more efficient and better service for our constituents. I deeply regret the withdrawal of the first draft. I do not believe that the new guidelines will result in any change in the existing practice. They merely restate what is done now. The only definite change is the unfortunate removal of the instruction that in the first instance Members of Parliament, should go to the port of entry. I saw nothing wrong with that suggestion.
It is important for Members of Parliament to be made aware immediately of the reasons why somebody has been refused entry. Therefore they should contact the port of entry in the first instance. They could then decide instantly whether somebody was abusing the system and trying to enter the country on a false passport, using a cock and bull story that could not be supported by a shred of evidence. Members of Parliament would not seek then to make representations on their behalf. If, however, there has been a genuine misunderstanding, or if all the facts are not known, Members of Parliament can advise and help the sponsor to make more effective representations.
The initial draft would have been extremely helpful to our constituents. It would have enabled Members of Parliament to provide a much better service. It is a great shame that it was withdrawn and that we must continue to use the private office as a go-between. It is difficult to know how we can help to clear up misunderstandings if we do not know what the misunderstandings are in the first place. In no way would it have affected the rights of Members of Parliament, and it would have saved the time of all concerned.
1005 I regret the removal of this positive step, and I hope that it will be reconsidered. It was removed for all the wrong reasons. It was removed partly because of a genuine misunderstanding and partly because there may be those who do not wish to get involved in such cases. However, it was also removed because of the deliberately misleading propaganda campaign that was waged by the Opposition. They waged a scaremongering campaign which needlessly, as I have seen from my mail bag, raised anxieties among the Asian community. That was thoroughly irresponsible and it is to be condemned.
§ Mr. Lawler
In a moment.
I shall give an example of their deliberately misleading and irresponsible campaign. Recently I visited an Asian community centre where a petition was going round which said: "Please sign below, condemning these new guidelines which will restrict visitors' rights." The wording was only in English. Having talked to people there, I knew that a significant number of those who were being asked to sign the petition were unable to read English. Nevertheless, they were being told that it was all right to sign the petition, despite the fact that the wording at the top of the petition was a gross distortion of the intentions of the original draft guidelines.
§ Mr. Lawler
We are on a time limit. I feel sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that that is why I do not intend to give way.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Earnest Armstrong)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is almost on his 10 minutes. He has another few seconds; that is all.
§ Mr. Lawler
As for the decision that somebody should be deported after four days, I ask for flexibility. That will create difficulties if arrangements have to be made in Pakistan or Bangladesh for somebody to meet a young girl or an elderly mother at the airport and convey them for some distance. There should therefore be flexibility.
If we are to be honest, the existing system is a safety valve. The system is not adequate, but it is a safety valve which, if screwed down further, will be unfair to visitors and sponsors. If, however, the screw were to be loosened, the system would be open to abuse and would be unfair to honest visitors and to the rest of the community. What we really need is a new system.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has exceeded his 10 minutes now. I call Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
It is unfortunate that there is a 10-minute time limit in this debate.
The reasons for the debate are due entirely to the Home Office, which has created this issue. It has peddled it and used the media to attack Members of Parliament who take up immigration cases.
In a reply given to the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) on 19 March, the Home Secretary 1006 grandly said that the guidelines now being issued are intended to find a "means of improvement" for hon. Members taking up immigration cases. Frankly, I fail to see what can be an improvement in a system that is designed to curtail the role of hon. Members effectively to represent people in this country who are suffering great difficulties because of the immigration laws.
Some weeks ago I quoted a letter which had been sent by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) to firm of solicitors about an immigration case with which I was involved. She wrote:I wonder if you are aware that David Waddington is working towards the introduction of new regulations which will prevent MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn exercising an open market in allowing people, such as Mr. X, from coming into this country with illegal passports.To put it mildly, that is a disgraceful letter. It is a disgraceful assertion which, I believe, could come only from private discussions with the Minister of State.
The background to this problem is largely of the Home Office's creation. We are now offered a new set of guidelines which are, frankly, unworkable. They are also unfair and serve to undermine the ability of a Member of Parliament to represent people in this country.
Paragraph 3 relates to representations and states that the removal of a passenger will bedeferred for a period of 12 days to enable the Member to submit written representations.I do not know whether the Minister has any experience of what it is like to represent an area where one is dealing with many immigration cases with a limited number of staff. It would be physically difficult to get the necessary amount of work done in that time. The Minister has the largest office in Whitehall, but individual Back-Bench Members are lucky if they have one and a half or two full-time staff.
Paragraph 6 goes on to say there will beremoval as soon as practicable",after the Home Office has made a decision on an individual case. I thought that normally there was an opportunity for a second representation if the Member of Parliament felt aggrieved at the first decision. It appears from the guidelines that that facility will be weakened, if not removed.
Paragraphs 17 and 18 go on to discuss the role of constituency Members when dealing with these matters. I have taken up many immigration cases and I freely admit that not all of them are, by any stretch of the imagination, from Islington, North. The cases may involve people from communities with which I have a special interest. They may be people who, because they are absolutely desperate, have sought me out on a Friday night, a weekend, or on a Christmas day. I have also had cases from constituencies where people do not feel able to go to their own Member of Parliament because of the known attitude of that hon. Member towards minority ethnic communities in Britain. I trust that the Minister will recognise that this service must continue.
In the guidelines we are told that copies of correspondence will be sent to the hon. Member the Home Office believes represents the immigrant concerned. How will the Home Office decide the constituency of a refugee or an asylum-seeker who has arrived at Dover western docks on a Sunday night? What ability does the Home Office have to decide that? Theme will be a serious invasion of individual's privacy as a result of these guidelines.
1007 The record of successive British Governments on matters of immigration is not an honourable one. We discovered from the debate at Christmas and from earlier revelations that the maintenance of artificial queues for entry clearance from the Indian sub-continent was a deliberate act of immigration policy.
On 16 January in a parliamentary answer to me, the Minister of State, Home Office admitted that the waiting lists of people for entry clearance at Dhaka in September, 1985, was 12,800, at Islamabad it was 7,000 and at New Delhi it was 1600. They are variations on the figures for December 1983 and 1984, but, nevertheless, they are disgracefully long waiting lists. If the Minister says that everybody must seek entry clearance in their country of origin and still maintain the disgracefully long waiting lists, is he surpised that there is a problem at some ports of entry in Britain? The Minister must consider seriously the staffing at the high commissions and the number of entry clearance officers in Britain.
I am often closely involved with the issue of refugees and asylum-seekers. On arrival, those people are often in a desperate state. Again, the record of the British Government and, indeed, most European Governments, in respect of treatment of asylum-seekers, goes well outside the United Nations 1951 convention on the treatment of such people. Poul Hartling, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, made a statement on 29 April 1985 in which he said:Negative public attitudes and in some cases xenophobic reactions have tended to focus on asylum-seekers largely because of the inadequate appreciation of their special status and needs as a group distinct from the much larger category of alien economic migrants, but also for reasons such as their limited propects for successful integration in the prevailing economic climate.That is said within the context of the poor record of a number of European Governments in their attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers. There must be a serious debate on this issue and an examination of the record of the British and European Governments on this matter.
Last year the European refugee charter was put forward by a number of organisations and people of Europe. It makes a number of demands. The first is:
Every refugee granted asylum by a member country of the EEC should enjoy the same rights of movement, work and political activity as nationals within the EEC.One of the reasons why refugees and asylum seekers are badly treated throughout Europe is that they lack political rights. They have no voice and they are treated like shuttlecocks in international political manoeuvring. It is time that people understood what it is like for people arriving in Britain in a desperate state, suffering from political persecution, who then have to go through the indignity of the treatment they far too often receive from the immigration services at the ports of entry.
Those hon. Members who are keen to defend everything which the immigration service do should put themselves in that position. Last May we went through the hideous experience of the Home Office creating, peddling and refusing to recognise the way that Tamil people in Sri Lanka were being treated and the fact that they were seeking refugee status outside Sri Lanka. A visa restriction was introduced for those people. We have still not had an answer on when that visa restriction will be lifted—it 1008 was supposed to be a temporary visa restriction. Last December the Home Office did not adequately deny that it would not introduce visa requirements for those coming from Bangladesh. That resulted in many frightened people attempting to come into Britain over the Christmas period. It also led to an aggressive attitude from the immigration service towards people coming from Bangladesh.
At terminal 3 at Heathrow airport in December 1985, of the 688 people who were refused entry and removed from Britain, 140 were from Bangladesh. I dealt with a number of cases of Bengalis who had arrived over the Christmas period, and some of the questions which were put to them were absolutely disgraceful. One young man, whose case I took up with the Home Office, was asked why he wished to come to Britain over the Christmas period. He said he was coming for a holiday, to see friends of his mother's, and visit the sights of Britain. After he was unable to state a number of sights in the country that he would visit, and he admitted that he was not a Christian, he was then asked why he was coming here for the Christmas holiday. He was put through a humiliating experience and finally returned to Bangladesh, having lost money on his holiday. The only piece of Britain that he ever saw was Ashford remand centre.
A case came to my attention this Sunday of an Iraqi who has refugee status in Europe and who sought to come to Britain to celebrate the Kurdish new year at Kensington town hall on last Sunday. He was asked why he had been to see a Member of Parliament who had been to Russia and Afghanistan many times. I was that Member. I have never been to Russia or Afghanistan and I resent the way immigration officers should criticise and penalise individual arrivals in this country because they have chosen to seek assistance from an individual Member of Parliament—[Interruption.] There is nothing amusing about that, and I hope the Under-Secretary of State will consider this matter urgently.
If these regulations are allowed to go through they will curtail the rights of Members of Parliament to represent people, many of whom are desperate and are in danger. They are rights which must be protected.
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)
I have listened to most of the debate, which has been fascinating, and I have reached one conclusion—that despite Opposition criticism of the guidelines, this must still be among the easiest of all countries to get into. I entirely support people coming in for holidays or to stay with relatives, but it is totally unrealistic to allow people to buck the system and to stay permanently. It is clear to anyone with any common sense that the reason why we need the guidelines is that there are people who try to get round the system. But for those people there would be no problem.
I pay tribute to the way in which my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State handles these matters. Of all Ministers, he and his private office must be under the greatest pressure in terms of personal cases, and Members on both sides have paid tribute to him. I was sorry that the guidelines that he originally proposed were redrafted, although I recognise the pressures from various directions. Nevertheless, he may be sure that we regard the work done by him, his private office and the immigration officers as extremely valuable to both communities—those who come in and those who receive them.
1009 It is a false assumption to think that immigration officers set out to be unduly difficult. Now and again, an officer may have had a busy day and not be so sympathetic as he was when the day began. That happens with everyone, even those who come to Members' surgeries. [HON. MEMBERS: "And the Members."] Yes, indeed. By and large, however, immigration officers deal sympathetically with people. The problem is the weight of numbers. The figures show a substantial increase in the past two years and something must be done.
The Opposition intend to divide the House. When I said in an intervention that they would be voting on the guidelines, I was told that the Division would be on the Adjournment, but that is a mere technicality. If, perchance, the Opposition won the Division, they would say that the guidelines were a dead duck and the Government would no doubt have to think twice about them. I am glad to see that the Opposition Front Bench spokesman agrees. So we shall be voting on the Minister's paper and once it is passed it will have parliamentary sanction.
The convention that we have discussed of Members not interfering in other Members' constituencies will then be established, as it were, in print. It has always been the convention that Members do not take up cases in other constituencies. If that convention were overthrown generally, for whatever reason, there would be chaos. The official Opposition do not favour proportional representation and argue, as I do, that we should retain the present system of voting and of every Member having a constituency so that constituency relationships can be retained. If Members can deal with cases in other constituencies, we may as well not bother with our special type of democracy.
The hon. Member for Ealing. Southall (Mr. Bidwell), one of the most reasonable Opposition Members, surprised me when he said that he had many times taken up cases of immigrants seeking to come in from outside his constituency. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who is no longer present, said the same. I cannot accept that. Members are doing it for one reason—not out of sympathy but seeking to curry favour and saying to immigrants already in their constituencies, "This is what we have done not only for you but for people in other constituencies." When the Government's proposals are passed today, that kind of activity should stop.
I do not have many immigrants in my constituency, but this has happened to me. I had examined a case—anyone who knows me knows that I looked at it fairly and properly, without any rush, because I do not have many immigrants anyway—and I had decided that there was no case for that person to come in, or at any rate no case for my intervention. If the immigration officer took a different view, that was a matter for him, but I saw no case for intervention and said that I would not intervene.
Another Member of Parliament, not far away—I shall not name him as he is not present and it would be unfair—was approached, took up the case and achieved a stop. I asked the Home Office to send me a copy of the letter sent to that Member and to tell him that the copy had been sent. I then told the Member that if it happened again I would put it into the local paper that he was so enthusiastic about people coming into this country when they should not that he took up cases even in another Member's constituency. It has not happened since.
1010 There is intense pressure from people seeking to get round the system and to come into this country.
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis
I will not give way as I have only 10 minutes.
It is not in the interests of immigrants already here to have a system with great leaky holes. There may be arguments between the two sides of the House as to how far immigration should go, but there is double talk. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that of course he did not want to allow immigration to get out of hand and that there must be restraint, but then he said that the Opposition would vote against the Government's proposals. They cannot have it both ways. If we are to keep a tight hold on the number coming in, people must not be allowed to come in unlawfully through the back door by pretending to be merely visiting for a month or two.
I believe that the limit of stay should be two months rather than three months, because I believe that after three months the fare is paid by the British taxpayer. I am not altogether convinced that we should not have a visa system, although I appreciate that there are difficulties, so I shall not press that. Scarcely any other country does not have such a system. British people now need visas to get into Australia. Until we have a system of that kind, there will be problems and difficulties.
I support the guidelines and the work of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister, which I believe to be in the interests of the Asian and other communities who come here to stay with us, as well of the indigenous population.
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)
I welcome the reasonable and moderate way in which the Home Secretary introduced the guidelines. He was at pains to reassure us about how they will work. However, many of us fear that the guidelines will be operated on the basis of the words as they are written down and not on the basis of the soothing comments of the right hon. Gentleman. I want to add my voice to the concern already expressed from both sides of the House about the operation of several of the guidelines.
In paragraph 6 we are told that, if a representation has not been received from the hon. Member after 12 working days, the person concerned will be removed as quickly as practicable. In the many cases which I have taken up over the past 12 years, I have usually been able to get representations in within 12 working days, but it is not always possible. There are practical difficulties. Sometimes there is a need to obtain a lot of supporting evidence. Sometimes there are language problems and difficultes in interpreting. Occasionally, if I dare say it, firms of solicitors are involved. As we all know, that slows down the whole process.
If we are to have a time scale of 12 working days, it must be operated with reasonable flexibility. It has already been pointed out that there may be practical problems of communication as well. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will assure us that at the end of the 12 days, his private office will attempt to remind the constituency Member about a case lest a communication has gone astray. It would be intolerable if people were simply removed at the end of 12 days without such a practical safeguard.
1011 Even more worrying is paragraph 9 of the guidelines which suggests that where the Minister has upheld an immigration decision against allowing somebody to come in, that person will have only four days after the decision before he is removed. If all went well and the Member of Parliament was in his place, ready to receive the letter, he could just about get the information to the constituent within the four-day period. There is not enough time allowed to get the views of the Minister, to give them to the constituent and to get the constituent's response. Sometimes that would be the first occasion on which the constituent would have seen the detailed arguments set out on paper. It is not reasonable to suggest this narrow four-day period after the Minister has approved the immigration officer's decision before the person concerned is removed.
On the vexed question of paragraph 17 and the role of constituency Members, I welcome what the Home Secretary said about a flexible approach; I hope that it will be flexible. The idea of the Minister's civil servants in the private office checking constituency boundaries to try to work out whether a Member of Parliament really had a right to raise a case is a frightening prospect. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) pointed out, many of the people involved have relations in different constituencies. The implication of the paragraph as it is written is that where the hon. Member is sick or absent, there has to be a formal arrangement for another hon. Member to take up the case on his behalf. I find that hard to accept in the real world. Members of Parliament do not tend to write each other formal letters saying, "Please take up my cases while I am absent or sick." In the real world arrangements are much more flexible and reasonable.
In my borough of Greenwich in south-east London there are three Members of Parliament, all from different political parties. We have a good working relationship on these issues. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) and the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) are clearly more efficient than I am because they manage to close their offices during the month of August. My office keeps going, which means that I get all the immigration problems during August and I take them up on behalf of my parliamentary colleagues. Often there are problems at weekends. If someone wants advice in an urgent case on a Friday night, there is no time to send him off chasing another Member. I raise the matter, I inform my parliamentary colleague and I make it clear to the Minister that I am raising the case on behalf of another Member of Parliament. I give the Member the opportunity to take up the case, if he wishes. Therefore, there has to be flexibility in the operation of that rule.
I must also underline what other hon. Members have said about cases which the constituency Member directly involved is not prepared to take up. Occasionally, cases are brought to me by a constituent who is a distant relative of the person concerned and who is not the primary sponsor. When I ask why his brother, cousin or uncle in another part of the country has not taken up the case, I am told that his constituency Member will not get involved. Sometimes when I check that out, I find that that is fact. I make no apology for taking up such cases. If I have even a tenuous constituency link, I think that it is right that I should do that.
1012 I am also concerned about paragraph 19 and about prior advice to travellers emanating from hon. Members. It is suggested that an adverse view will be applied only where the Member of Parliament isfully aware that a passenger is most unlikely to be admitted under the Rules".That seems to imply a subjective judgment on the part of the immigration officer, the Minister or the Minister's civil servants about what was in the mind of the hon. Member when he took the action. That is a difficult thing for anyone to attempt to do.
My experience is that people come to me and say, "My relation is coming for a family wedding. It is a very expensive journey. There is a lot of money invested in this trip and we do not want to discover when he arrives on Friday night that he will be sent back on Saturday morning. Can you please help us before he sets out?" I am sure I do the same as other hon. Members. I advise that the person should bring every possible shred of evidence which will convince the immigration officer that he intends to go home at the end of his stay. I also point out that if there are problems the person can contact me. I make no apology for that. In most such cases, people come through the immigration system with no difficulty. Therefore, again, there must be a much more flexible attitude than is suggested by the guidelines.
My experience of a great many problems experienced by visitors seeking temporary admission is that the private office is usually helpful. Most visitors seek permission to stay one month or two. The intervention of a Member of Parliament usually means that visitors get two or three months. When the Minister's letter refusing admission is finally received, many have already gone home. They have made a voluntary departure. Many others go rapidly after the Minister's decision. Having asked for one month, one or two want to stay for six months. I tell them clearly that that is not possible.
I have had two cases of absconders that I am aware of, both in the same month and from the same source. I regret those very much. I am sorry that they managed to evade immigration control but I am much more concerned about the hundreds of decent, honest people who would not have been allowed to attend family weddings and visit their relatives in this country had it not been for my intervention. That alone justifies the involvement of Members of Parliament in such cases.
I pay tribute to the Minister for the helpful view he has shown in cases of permanent settlement in my constituency. In compassionate cases and political asylum cases he has been very helpful. But he upholds every decision of the immigration officers in relation to those coming here for visits. Since many have gone by the time he tells me that they cannot come in, it seems to me that he is accepting too glibly the views of the immigration officers.
Unlike other hon. Members who have spoken from the Opposition side of the House, I think that there is a case for having guidelines. It is a good thing for hon. Members to know exactly what their powers are and how they can be operated. It is better to have them clearly written down than to have to learn the system on the job. But the guidelines must be fair, reasonable, practical and as simple as possible. Certainly they must not fetter the rights of hon. Members. The power of Members to involve themselves in the operation of immigration control is a vital part of the job of a Member of Parliament in 1013 monitoring the operation of the Executive. The guidelines, even in their revised form, could undermine that very important monitoring job. That is why I shall vote against the motion tonight.
§ Mr. John Whitfield (Dewsbury)
I wish to concentrate on the fact that the provision in the original draft for hon. Members to contact immigration officials has now—unfortunately, in my view—been withdrawn. The immigration officer is at the centre of this issue. Under section 4 of the Immigration Act he has the statutory power to admit or to refuse entry.
Like many of my hon. Friends I was appalled at the passage in the speech of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) when he said that the immigration officers were prejudiced, suspicious and paranoid. Such language would be appalling on any occasion. To apply it to the immigration service, which I have much experience of dealing with, is not only totally inaccurate but deeply insulting. The right hon. Gentleman was invited to withdraw his remarks, but a few minutes ago he refused to do so. If he had applied those epithets to some of the views of his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) they might have been more appropriate. That lady made an impassioned speech.
§ Mr. Whitfield
It was a good speech, but it was a prejudiced, suspicious and paranoid speech. Many hon. Members on the Opposition Benches practise in the racial discrimination industry. They resort to such speeches to inflame racial passions. It is no surprise to me that, apparently, so many of the hon. Lady's constituents are worried in advance about whether their relations will be allowed to come to this country. The hon. Lady is frightening them. She is putting fear and paranoia into their minds by using such language.
There has been an increase in the size of the problem. That is why we are debating the issue. There has been an enormous increase in the number of visitors to this country and a corresponding increase in the number of people legitimately stopped at the ports of entry by the immigration officers.
§ Mr. Whitfield
We are concerned this evening about whether those who arrive at the ports of entry are visitors. Opposition Members seem to suggest that when anyone arrives at the port of entry and claims to be a visitor, that claim must be accepted at its face value. That attitude is nonsense. It is the difficult job of the immigration officers to interview people. There are three or four grades of interview—hon. Members who have inspected the system will understand how it works—and only a very small percentage—less than 2 per cent.—are stopped. They are stopped because the officers genuinely believe that they are not visitors but are trying to enter the country for some other purpose.
The stop power that hon. Members have brings with it a great deal of responsibility. It is not to be likened to our general duties as hon. Members to represent the interests of our constituents in dealing with local government and Government Departments. We have a power to interfere with the statutory power of the immigration officers. That power must be exercised in a quasi-judicial way and with 1014 responsibility. It is not simply a privilege. I cannot think of a better way of responsibly exercising that power than by speaking to the immigration officer who has dealt with the case and who will read out the notes in the file. One could then make a decision as to whether one should exercise the power to prevent removal.
The guidelines state quite clearly that the Minister of State will intervene to overrule the decision of the immigration officer only if he is aware of "new and compelling" evidence for overruling that decision. There has been little reference to that part of the guidelines. How can the Minister of State exercise his discretion if the representations made to him by the hon. Member concerned do not take into account the reasons why the immigration officer made his decision in the first place? The Minister of State cannot direct his mind to the question whether there are "new and compelling" reasons unless he focuses on that point. Hon. Members have a duty to consider that point before deciding whether to make representations to the Minister of State and, indeed, before deciding whether to intervene and place a stop on removal.
I was very surprised to hear some of my hon. Friends, as well as Opposition Members, objecting to contacting the ports. I understand that some hon. Members have said that that would impose too much of a burden on them. That is an extraordinary statement. If they had argued that too great a burden would have been placed on the immigration officers—who have many other things to do—one could have understood the argument, but for an hon. Member of whatever political persuasion to complain of the burden of having to ring the port of entry seems extraordinary.
It is also extraordinary that some hon. Members would apparently wish to put a stop on cases whatever the facts might be. Those who take such an attitude seem to be in danger of seeking power without responsibility and wishing to intervene blindly in cases without any reference to the facts.
We operate our system of immigration control instead of a visa system. Many of my hon. Friends would prefer a visa system. There are difficulties connected with such a system. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Sir K. Lewis) said, this country must be one of the easiest in the world to gain entry to. When we are dealing with visitors or potential immigrants from the Asian sub-continent we must remember that the rules that apply to those going the other way are totally different from those that operate here. I am sure that the Pakistani and Indian Moslem communities in my own constituency would not themselves wish the system to he made any easier that it already is.
§ Mr. Whitfield
No. They wish the system to operate in a responsible and restrictive manner, because that is what immigration control is about. They would deplore some of the remarks that have been made by Opposition Members about the immigration service.
I seriously request my hon. and learned Friend carefully to consider reviewing the rules within a short time. I suspect that, without the requirement on hon. Members to ring the immigration officers at the port of entry and find out the reasons for the initial decision, the number of stops and representations that have brought the present system so near to collapse will continue to increase.
§ 8.8 pm
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
Tonight's debate clearly arises from the Home Office's attempt to restrict the right of Members of Parliament to challenge refusals at the ports of entry of people who wish to visit Britain. As previous speakers have made clear, and as the press has reported in the past 10 days, the original document issued by the Minister of State was changed before tonight's debate. That is not so much a U-turn as an S-bend which has been imposed on the Minister by his foreman, the Secretary of State. But the restrictions that are left will create serious difficulties and injustices for the relatives of the people in Coventry and other towns and cities who are affected by the Government's immigration controls.
We have heard from the speeches of Tory Members, that have been prefaced in remarks made outside the House and in newspaper articles, that it is all a question of numbers. That is a game that Tories love to play. It was started by the Prime Minister in 1978 in her famous television interview when she talked about Britain possibly being swamped by people of an alien culture. Some Tory Members go rapidly downhill when they carry on from those remarks.
What are the numbers under consideration? Let us start with an analysis of the people who are affected by the Home Office guidelines. The latest figures are from 1984 when a total of some 7.7 million visitors came to Britain. That is an average of 21,000 people a day. The number of visitors who were refused entry was 17,355, or 50 people a day. The number of people who sought assistance from a Member of Parliament was 3,532, or 10 people a day.
Tory Members justified the new guidelines by saying that since 1984 there has been an enormous increase in the number of cases taken up by Members of Parliament, which is putting such a strain on the limited resources of the Home Office that it is necessary to restrict the rights of the Members of Parliament. Well, I have the figures for 1985. The number of cases in which Members of Parliament made representations to the Minister of State, Home Office, was 5,694—in other words, 15 cases a day. If the Home Office cannot handle 15 cases a day—people who may have invested their life savings to come for a once-in-a-lifetime visit to see a distant family—it is not for the Minister to restrict the rights of Members of Parliament. Why has he not considered an increase in staff in his office or the ancillary departments within the Home Office in order to deal with that huge increase in work of an extra five cases a day?
Incidentally, while we are playing the numbers game, I notice that virtually no Conservative Member has let slip that there happen to be 200 million people or more who could arrive here tomorrow morning as visitors without the Minister of State being able to do a thing about it. Under the much-loved treaty of Rome, under which the Tories took us into the Common Market some 15 years ago, that is the number of people who, with the free movement of capital and labour and all the rest of the phrases which justified our entry into that big business club, could arrive here without restrictions similar to those that we are discussing tonight.
The difference is that visitors from the EEC will still be tourists, like the relatives of my constituents on whose behalf I have made representations to the Minister of State, 1016 but they will be spending deutschmarks, not rupees. Visitors who come from north America will be spending dollars and not rupees. When the Government, and those Tory Members who have spoken so far tonight, say that those Labour Members who have spoken are somehow accusing the Government of a racist attitude, there is an element of that. The statistics show that those who have been refused entry to Britain from the Asian sub-continent—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and so on—are 44 times more likely to be refused entry at a port of entry than someone who comes from north America.
The second theme in the debate is an attempt by the Minister and the Government to reverse the concept of justice which is supposed to operate in Britain. I shall not digress into what has happened recently in Wapping and during the miners' strike to show what justice in Britain really means, but I shall say that the guidelines turn the concept of innocent until proved guilty on its head. Every schoolchild in Britain is taught that, under the British system of justice, a person is innocent until proved guilty. The Government are trying to change that concept in a number of ways.
I am a member of the Committee which is considering the Wages Bill which gives power to an employer who thinks that somebody has stolen some money from the till to declare that person a thief, deduct the money that has been stolen from his wages and then to offer the person the right to go to an industrial tribunal to prove his innocence—guilty until proven innocent. There is an element of that in the guidelines that we are considering tonight.
The entry clearance officer will decide that somebody who seeks to come into Britain as a visitor is guilty of breaking one of the rules and that person will be told to prove his innocence from 10,000 miles away unless a Member of Parliament can intervene on his behalf, asking for a review of the case by the Minister of State acting on behalf of the Secretary of State. I would prefer the Bill that was proposed yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), of which I am a sponsor, which gives people the right to appeal in Britain. The rules boil down to the fact that an entry clearance officer can declare that somebody is guilty and the only chance of proving that person's innocence is if a Member of Parliament intervenes.
Again today, Tory Members have said that there are widespread abuses and misuses of the system. I have yet to hear a concrete illustration to back up that argument, but in all the cases that I have handled since I came to the House in 1983 where an entry clearance officer has told a relative or a friend of one of my constituents that he is not a genuine visitor to Britain and that he will have to go back, not one person has absconded.
In several cases I have made representations on behalf of a visitor who might be asking for, say, a three-month holiday, and it has taken the Home Office four months to review the case. I have had to apply pressure to get the person's passport back so that he can leave after his three-month holiday to go home. Before the Home Office can work out whether a person who has been accused of not being a genuine visitor is a genuine visitor, that person has had his genuine holiday and is trying to return home.
It often takes three or four months to work through such cases. The checking of statements is a detailed business which requires cross-checking of all the questions asked. It takes the Home Office, with all its resources, reference books, legal expertise and staff three or four months and 1017 sometimes more to deal with such matters. Yet Members of Parliament are asked to complete a similar exercise. That was initially to be carried out in 10 days, but as a concession we have now been allowed 12 days in which to build up a quasi-legal argument against the Home Office, with all the resources that it has to defend its position.
The hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) referred to the idea that Members of Parliament are willingly going around the country collecting the cases of other Members of Parliament. That is a fatuous suggestion. The Labour party proposes a 35-hour week, but there are times when I think that we should bring in a 35-hour day so that I can at least have a couple of hours off. The work load of a Labour Member of Parliament, particularly in an inner-city area with getting on for 50 per cent. unemployment, makes that a ludicrous suggestion.
But it does happen that Tory Members will capriciously refuse to take up a family's case and the only alternative is to find a more sympathetic Member of Parliament to act on that family's behalf.
§ Mr. Nellist
I shall give way in a moment.
One such case has come to light as a result of discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). An Egyptian man was an overstayer who had, like many others, breached immigration control, through a combination of ignorance and carelessness. He asked the hon. Member for Westminster, North to intervene with the Home Office. He was told that he would have to exercise his right of appeal from abroad. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants managed to get in touch with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North. He took up the case with the Minister and asked him to exercise his discretion, because the man had had a long-term relationship with a British woman. The Minister exercised his discretion in favour of that Egyptian man, and that couple are now happily married and in this country. But if it was left to some Tory Members, that appeal could have been made only from thousands of miles away and would have caused great distress and unhappiness to those people.
Another important restriction, the 12-day rule, is to be found in paragraph 3. But what would happen if my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Park) was on holiday, and if I and my secretary came down with flu after agreeing to cover his immigration cases? In such circumstances, how could a Member of Parliament compete with Home Office staff, who can cover for one another? The Member of Parliament would have to sift through all the arguments and the extraneous and often irrelevant questions of entry clearance officers, along with the relevant points of law.
Paragraph 19 amazes me, because the Minister has seriously put forward the idea that knowledge of one's rights under the law is prejudicial to exercising them. That is what paragraph 19 would, in effect, mean. What other section of British law means that knowledge of one's rights under it is prejudicial to exercising them?
I turn to the theme underlying the rules and the Government's attitude towards Asian workers and immigration in general. That provides, after all, the backdrop to this debate. It is ironic that, with the active participation and support of the right hon. Member for 1018 South Down (Mr. Powell), the Tory Government toured the world in the 1950s and 1960s asking people to come to Britain, because it was short of labour. It was a bit of an illusion, but they said that we had a booming economy and needed people to work in our factories.
When that illusion petered out in the 1970s and 1980s, those same Tory politicians, backed by their friends in the media, began to encourage working people, and particularly those suffering from the deteriorating economy—the unemployed, the elderly and those in receipt of supplementary benefit—to see immigration and those of a different colour skin as the cause of their problems.
Such talk increases and fuels the conditions in which racism, Fascism and organisations such as the neo-Nazi National Front breed. Immigrants, and their relatives and friends who wish to visit them, are not the cause of bad housing, deteriorating living standards or high unemployment. Black and Asian workers, particularly the young, often suffer the most from such conditions. We have a Tory capitalist system that is willingly presided over by a Tory capitalist Government who cannot deliver the goods. That is why there is mass unemployment. It is nothing to do with the number of black or Asian workers in Britain.
These rules and restrictions on the right of Members of Parliament adequately to defend their constituents' relatives and friends, or the rights of passengers and visitors to this country, are based on the same prejudice and racism that are at the root of much of Tory legislation on this issue and, unfortunately, of previous Labour legislation. That legislation is discriminatory and racist in its operation. It causes hardship and suffering. I look forward to the day when we have a Labour Government who will sweep away all such legislation to where it really belongs—in the dustbin of history.
§ Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)
There is a large ethnic minority of Asian origin in my constituency, and I have made many representations to the Home Office since the election of June 1983. I came with some trepidation to hear whether I was one of the 23. But, like the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell), I escaped.
My experience of dealing with representations is in some respects very similar to that of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). I have seen all those who have been refused entry, with their sponsors, and in practically every case I think that they have returned home more or less at the end of the stated period. I share the feeling that many people of modest means who have paid a lot of money to come here would have forfeited it but for the system, with all its faults.
Like the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall, I attach great importance to the sponsor. Unlike many hon. Members I regard the sponsor as the constituent on whose behalf I am acting. The visitor is not strictly speaking a constituent. The sponsor's position is extremely important. Often, he has paid for the visit, or he has certainly contributed to it. He normally provides the visitor's food and accommodation. I do not accept the view that Members of Parliament who make representations in such cases are acting in a quasi-judicial capacity. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) meant that. I think that he really 1019 meant that Members of Parliament should show judgment in making representations to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister.
I believe that a Member of Parliament exercises his judgment when making representations if he is satisfied, as far as he can be from the representations made to him by the sponsor and the visitor, that the latter will return at the end of his short stay. The sponsor is essential at interviews, because the visitor often cannot speak English well enough to conduct a detailed conversation. It is the sponsor who greatly influences one's confidence as to whether the visitor will return.
I have found sponsors to be generally reliable and responsible, and concerned, in the interests of their good reputation and understanding, to ensure that such undertakings are honoured. When anything has gone wrong, they have felt considerable responsibility for it. As the Member of Parliament often needs to see the constituent or sponsor, I believe that the time limits in the guidelines are a cause for some anxiety. Plainly, it is difficult in many cases to arrange a surgery appointment and see people concerned within the time limit.
I am convinced that some flexibility and good sense must be shown by the Home Office—I am sure that it will be—to cover the situation where a Member of Parliament has been unable to arrange an appointment in sufficient time to make representations within the time limit for reasons of time, pressure of work, holidays or whatever. Certainly, for those hon. Members who make a large number of representations, it is no laughing matter to be tied to a rigid rule.
I am content that it should be a guideline and I am confident that it will be treated accordingly, with the understanding which has been shown, in my experience, by the Office of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State. I should like to join those hon. Members who have complimented the staff on the courtesy, patience and competence they have shown in administering an extremely difficult system.
I do not believe that the reasons for the increase in immigration cases—or visitor cases representations more accurately—is due to any change in the habits of hon. Members. I believe that the Asian community is now becoming more settled, established, confident and economically prosperous, and Asians have enormous numbers of poorer relatives whom they wish to invite to this country. With the cheapening of air travel and the increasing habit of travel in the Third world, there is bound to be an even greater increase in the future in the number of visitors coming to visit members of the Asian community here. I think that the Home Office must face up to that prospect and discover how it will deal with it.
One area of improvement was suggested in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Spencer). He suggested that some guidance or instruction could be given to immigration officers so that, where there has been an application for permanent settlement and some blatant lie or exaggeration told in the interview, they do not automatically refuse entry. Perhaps they do not. However, there is a pattern to cases, and it appears that even in cases of minor dishonesty or vanity, refusal is the result. Many of the people concerned have simply exaggerated their worldly goods or income for reasons which are perfectly understandable when they 1020 come from a village in India to a vast modern airport in what must seem to be a relatively prosperous country. They naturally want to exaggerate their position. That is perfectly understandable and will no doubt continue. That should not be a reason for refusing entry to a visitor.
Similarly, many of them forget some relative whom they choose to forget and fail to mention to the immigration officer in the family tree interrogation. I do not want to be critical because I think that the decisions of the immigration officers, on the whole, are perfectly understandable when they see the people before them. I can well understand how the decisions are arrived at. However, I think that in the future there is room for the immigration officers' attention to be attracted to the real question of whether the visitors are likely to go home at the end of their stay, not whether they have told fibs or varying sorts of exaggerations in the process.
I am concerned that when potential visitors to this country go to Foreign Office establishments abroad and say that they want to visit this country they are told that there is no need for visas or any form of documentation. Those same people, when they arrive in this country, can be subjected to the immigration procedure, told that their reasons are not genuine and that they should return straight away, when they or their relatives have spent vast amounts of money to come here.
I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) that we should look at a visa system. If India and the United States can administer visas surely it is not beyond the bounds of the competence of the Foreign Office to do likewise. That would take out much of the unfairness and administrative hassle of the present system. Similarly, the question of guarantees should be looked at further to see whether that is a short cut to a solution to the problems we are experiencing.
In all the discussions on guidelines we must not lose sight of the fact that we are really considering a safety valve which prevents a great deal of human misery, unhappiness and loss of resources. We are doing so in a context which ensures that the visitor system is basically honoured. I agree that we are talking not about immigration but about visitors. I also agree that if visitors can come and go with reasonable freedom and generosity of treatment, that helps to make the strict rules on immigration much more acceptable in the community. I think that that must be borne in mind when the Government are fixing time limits for removing people. They should err in favour of giving them the few weeks or months for which they normally come.
I view the guidelines with some anxiety but I have come to the conclusion that they will work if they are interpreted and followed with the good sense and flexibility which, on the whole, has been the practice of the Home Office in these matters, and with the continuing courtesy, efficiency and skill of the staff who administer them. Therefore, I shall support the guidelines, but I think that for the future the possibilities of a review of procedure should be borne constantly in mind by the Home Office. The guidelines in themselves will not reduce the problem of numbers and the massive scale of administration will remain and should be tackled before the machine is over-encumbered as it has been in recent months.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The Opposition Front Bench will try to catch my eye at 9.10 pm. On behalf of those hon. Members who still wish to speak, many of whom have strong constituency interests and have been here all afternoon, I appeal for even more brevity.
§ Mr. George Park (Coventry, North-East)
I want to add my tribute to the Minister's staff. However, in my opinion, the words on the Order Paper are not correct. We are not discussing immigration cases today. We are discussing the difficulties experienced by visitors from the Indian sub-continent and the attempts by the Home Office, in issuing guidelines, to constrain the attempts of hon. Members to get the same treatment for those with brown skins and a working class background as that given to those visitors who have white skins.
If we were to accept the proposed guidelines, they would establish a dangerous precedent which would undoubtedly be used by other Government Departments. Since 1974 I have encountered only one case out of many hundreds where an individual sought to evade the immigration laws. Unlike some Conservative Members, I have not experienced floods of people coming into the country as visitors and then trying to disappear.
Frequently, however, very temporary admission is granted, sometimes of only three days' duration, for the flimsiest of reasons, in cases where the sponsors, my constituents, who are known to me, are sincerely prepared to guarantee that the visitor will return at the end of his visit. I can confirm the experience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), in that I am often asked to provide a letter, which might help to expedite the passage of people's relatives through immigration, because, as my right hon. Friend said, they expect trouble. That should not be so.
At a meeting with the Minister of State, because of arguments about what is actually said at interviews, it was suggested that the interviews should be taped. Those who were in the delegation were then faced with estimates of the cost, which suggested that the estimaters were setting up a studio for "Panorama".
It has been suggested by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) that if only everyone told the truth, there would be no problems. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is in his place. But sometimes the truth is not enough. During the period of office of the Labour Government—therefore, I shall not be accused of bias—I had a case to deal with of a lady seeking a visa being asked for details of her family, who, she said, were at home, but she could not bring them to the High Commission. The problem was solved only when the then Minister visited her village. The Minister was the husband of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short). He discovered that the men in that family were woodworkers, and had carved the family tree in the wooden mantlepiece around the fireplace. So the lady did have the family tree details, but obviously could not bring them to the High Commission. Therefore, honesty and truth are not always sufficient.
The proposed guidelines are not helpful, and I do not think that they are intended to be. However, what would help is a requirement that all visitors to Britain be treated in the same way.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)
It is important that there should be a balanced view. This evening, we have heard of three plus points. The draft rules will be subject to further revision if that is found necessary. That is essential. We have the code of practice and, furthermore, the 52 extra staff to do the additional jobs.
I also pay tribute to the Minister for the work that has been done over the past years. Some 25 per cent. of my electorate comes from abroad. Like the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) I have a certain amount of experience in this line.
I should like the Minister to clarify one point for me. The total number refused entry in 1984 was 17,355. The number of refused passengers who were represented by Members of Parliament was 3,532. That figure increased in 1985, as we have been told today, to a total of 5,694, and it escalated to 7,000 m 1986 on an annual basis. However, unhappily, we do not have the figures on the other side for the total refused entry during 1985 and 1986. I feel that they are rising in direct proportion. Some people are lucky to have Members of Parliament who can intervene on their behalf. The Minister will remember an intervention that I made. I was successful in getting an immigrant put on a dialysis machine. If I had not succeeded, he would have died. That is one of the things a Member of Parliament can do for his constituents.
Who should take up cases? That matter is referred to in paragraph 17 of the guidelines. I say that it is the responsibility of the local Member of Parliament. That is determined by where the sponsor lives. It must have occurred to hon. Members that if the sponsor is changed, with the consent of the Minister, another Member of Parliament can be invited to intervene. For example, the sponsor might live in Bedford, but his local Member might be away on extended leave and thus not be able to act. He or the family could go along to the private office or the Department and ask for another sponsor to be appointed with a fixed address to which the person could go. In that case, that Member of Parliament could intervene. Therefore, my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Sir K. Lewis) was right to suggest that it must be the local Member of Parliament who deals with those cases, since otherwise there will be some interesting but tumultuous changes.
When the draft rules came out, I read them most carefully and came to the conclusion that it would assist Members of Parliament if we could refer to the port of entry first. In fact, I have done that on several occasions. I always interview immigrants when they come from abroad. I cross-examine them and come to my own conclusion. Where I cannot make the ends meet, I may consult the port and get additional guidance. Those at the port might say to me, "We have much more information on this case than you could possibly get. If you will take into account this additional information, you may come to the conclusion that we have reached." I would not necessarily be persuaded by it, but such guidance is extremely useful in reaching a conclusion.
I hope that when the Minister reconsiders the matter, generally he will remove or revise some things to which we have not referred today, such as the primary purpose rule. That is causing much more confusion than anything 1023 else to my constituents and those who are coming in. However, as it does not arise directly out of the debate, I shall leave that aside.
Paragraph 2 of the guidelines states:the Minister will not normally intervene to overturn the decision of an immigration officer unless he considers that there is new and compelling evidence which was not available to the immigration officer.It occurs to me that compassionate factors may well be new. They may not come up at the time. That may be an additional point. Immigration is inclined to overlook the cost for the immigrant of coming in. The sum of £500 or £600 is large. I pray in aid the fact that of the people who have been represented by Members of Parliament, who have done so remarkably well, only 2 per cent. have absconded, gone to ground or been lost on the way, which is a trifling figure. I have had long experience, exactly the same as the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell). He has had a low percentage, too. If the immigration officers are so concerned with the build-up of cases, and they make mistakes, the advantageous influence of the Member of Parliament must be maintained.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
I apologise for not having been present at the beginning of the debate. I was engaged on Select Committee business.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), referred to an article in the Daily Telegraph, which gave the league table of hon. Members who had dealt with cases at terminal 3. I gather from that that I am number four, so only three hon. Members have dealt with more cases than me. However, despite that, I was not on the Minister of State's list of hon. Members who had, as he put it, abused the regulations. If I have dealt with all those cases and have not committed any abuse, that must give me some status in this debate. Not having committed any abuse, I feel very sore, annoyed, and angry about the situation. Perhaps the Minister also feels sore and angry about the job that he has to do.
§ Mr. Leighton
Yes, the Minister could resign. I am told that only about 1 per cent. of the travellers who pass through terminal 3 at Heathrow are stopped. I sometimes think that all those people must come from the London borough of Newham. That is how it seems to me. I feel like an extension of the Home Office and I resent that. I resent the work that I have to do and the hours that I spend feeling like an extension of the Home Office. The Home Office should give me a member of staff, a civil servant who would sit in my office. Instead of my ringing up a civil servant, why should I not have a civil servant to do all the work that the Minister of State causes me through the current system?
I should like that point of view to be taken seriously. I sometimes think that I speak to the Minister's private office—to which I pay tribute—more than the Minister does. If my having a member of staff who is a civil servant is not a good arrangement, perhaps the Minister of State could use his influence with his colleagues to give me an extra allowance. I could then employ—as I have to—one person simply to deal with the problems faced by visitors entering through the airport.
1024 I suspect that some form of instruction has been issued to the effect that when in doubt, say no. The visitor will go to a Member of Parliament who will take up the matter and if there is a problem, the Member of Parliament will make representations and have everything put right. I cannot think of any other explanation for the present situation.
Anyone who wants to visit this country ought to be allowed to do so. Why should they not be allowed to do that, especially if they have relatives in this country? Hon. Members know, and I know from experience in my constituency, that numerous people are unreasonably refused entry. I stress unreasonable. The proof of that lies in the constant correspondence that I have with the Minister of State and he must get fed up with that. In his replies, he says that he has carefully considered my representations but on balance, having given great consideration to the matter, he concludes that he must uphold the immigration officer. That means that the relative of my constituent who wanted a two-month visit has had a three-month visit while the Minister has been considering my representations. Therefore, the Minister of State sadly authorises the departure of my visitor. I must then write another letter and have my special employee write to say that the Minister of State has turned my visitor down but he has had his three-month stay. That must prove that my visitor was a genuine visitor and that the immigration officer had it wrong. The vast majority of the cases that I deal with are dealt with on that basis. I resent the repetitive work that I have to do which involves dozens of cases every month.
I shall consider only paragraph 19 in the guidelines. That paragraph concerns hon. Members advising people to travel. I have people coming to me saying that they have relatives coming to this country. I tell them that this is a free country and that they can come here for a visit. However, my constituents say that they expect trouble as all their friends have had trouble. I tell them that if it is a reasonable case they should have no problems and that their relatives should be allowed entry. My constituents are not satisfied and say that they have spent hundreds of pounds and they want to know where I will be on a Sunday morning in four weeks' time in case of difficulty. I have to tell them that I do not know. They then want to know where I will be at 3 o'clock in the morning, and I tell them that, with a bit of luck, I will be in bed. My constituents are worried and they ask me to write them a letter. Now, I do not do that very often, but I have written a letter to whom it may concern to vouch that a visitor is genuine. I do not know if that was the wrong thing to do, and I trust that the Minister of State will clarify that for me.
When I make representations, what case am I supposed to answer when I am told that a person is not a genuine visitor? I do not know what has happened in the interview at the airport and I do not know why the immigration officer has turned the entrant down. What I do know is that there have been umpteen cases when the immigration officer has been wrong. Why can I not have some account of the interview, and know why the immigration officer has said that the visitor is bogus or wrong? I would then know what case there was to answer. I hope that the Minister of State can comment on that.
§ Mr. Bob Edwards (Wolverhampton South-East)
I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) is aware that I have 1025 two visitors in my constituency who came to this country to attend weddings and meet relatives. One of those visitors has been in detention for four weeks at public expense and the other for three weeks. I cannot get any reply or justification for that state of affairs from the Home Office.
§ Mr. Leighton
That sort of situation causes terrible aggravation and hardship for individuals and aggravation for Members of Parliament. It disgraces this country and it is uncivilised and barbarous. There should be more immigration officers to deal with these matters, and the Home Office must make some changes. We cannot carry on in the present way and I ask the Minister of State if I may have an extra worker from the Home Office to work for me to deal with the problems caused in my constituency by the Minister's Department.
§ Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)
I would like to join in the warm tributes that have been paid this afternoon to the Minister of State and his staff. I would also like to welcome the guidelines, for the benefit that they accord not just to ourselves as hon. Members, but to the bulk of the minority communities who wish to abide by our laws and who wish to dissociate themselves from the malpractice that clearly exists.
The guidelines are needed as a protection for the basic tolerance and good nature of this country. Sustaining that tolerance and preserving our tradition of sanctuary must not be undermined by the activities of the few hon. Members and those outside the House whose motives are, to put it mildly, somewhat questionable and give cause for concern.
The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) said earlier that we do not prevent people coming to this country from the United States. He is absolutely correct. If a visitor comes from New York, whether he is white, Hispanic or coal-black, we hand him back his American passport and say, "Have a nice day." We do that because there is no inward pressure for settlement from the United States and that is why it is wrong for the hon. Member to argue in that manner. We discussed that pressure in May of last year and that was challenged by Opposition Members and there was talk of the repeal of legislation. We heard that talk again today. There could be nothing more damaging to existing and future good community relationships than the dismantling of existing controls.
In the May debate, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) spoke of only a handful of thousands awaiting the right of settlement. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman read the article in The Sunday Times last week about a group of entry clearance officers. The article was entitledThe little white ghetto of Gulshan".A queue of 11,600 people were awaiting clearance. This week, the Select Committee on Home Affairs was told that there were 30,000 dependants of Bangladeshis living in Tower Hamlets seeking admission. If that is a handful of thousands, it is a very big handful. Refugees and those seeking asylum are one thing, but people merely wanting to live here are entirely different. Because of these pressures, I believe that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is right to bring in these guidelines as a means 1026 of helping the peaceful integration of those minority groups who are already here and recognise the dangers of further inward pressure for settlement.
Last time I made these remarks, I received letters from what I called the Nottingham race relations industry. They were very instructive. They make my points for me. For example, the Transport and General Workers Union referred to "poisonous comments"; the National Union of Teachers said that my remarks were "ill-informed and potentially inflammatory"; the Inland Revenue Staff Federation spoke of "scant regard for people involved with the problem"; the Communist party of Great Britain referred to a "serious slur"; the Nottingham Inter-Union Race Relations Group said "inept and dismissive"; and the Pakistan Friends League spoke ofthousands of black people facing burocratic obstruction. We seek a more positive and generousand so on. The prospective parliamentary candidate for the Labour party in my seat of Nottingham, South, referring to the rights of black people to live in this country, asked:Where was the evidence of pressure to immigrate.If he and those other correspondents cannot see that evidence, they are either blind to the problem or do not, for whatever reason, want to see it.
I believe that, in the context of what we seek to achieve, these are reasonable guidelines. However, I ant a little disappointed that there is no reference in them to encouraging—I asked for no more than that—hon. Members to check with immigration officers before making representations. If an hon. Member has made an inquiry and is satisfied that there is a reasonable case to put to the Minister, I am sure that he will put the case to the Minister. If the information that the hon. Member receives does not lead him to feel that there is a case to put, it is reasonable for him to tell the Home Office that he does not intend to make representations. There is no doubt in my mind or in the minds of many other hon. Members that the shopping around technique applies.
Stabilo Boss is a marvellous modern invention because it isolates the nub of paragraph 19. I marked out the words
If there is clear evidence that a Member … advises him to travel without entry clearance on the presumption that … he will gain access … on temporary admission … then temporary admission will not readily be granted.Paragraph 19 does not seek to avoid the kind of guidance an hon Member can give to his constituents—for example, the letters of identification to which many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler), have referred and which I have given to relatives of people when I have known the family background and have been satisfied that the intended visitor would be a visitor and that production of a letter would avoid embarrassment at the port of entry.
In short, if these guidelines allow hon. Members to act fairly and justly on behalf of their constituents—I agree that our constituents are the sponsors, not the visitors—they are right and should work. The original draft contained one phrase, which relates to paragraph 19, to the effect that we must not allow temporary admission to be used as a device. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House have been embarrassed to find that temporary admission had been used as a device, even by people whom they thought they knew. If we give the guidelines a chance, if we try to make them as public as we can among the communities in which we deal day by day and if We take them in the spirit of good faith intended by Ministers, these problems will rapidly diminish.
§ 9.4 pm
§ Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)
I apologise Mr. Speaker, for not being here at the beginning of the debate, but I wrote to you explaining the reason.
My concern here is that these guidelines seem to be setting the convenience of Ministers and immigration officials above the rights of hon. Members. Justice is being lost and the rights of Members' constituents are being denied. The person who is held may very well not be a constituent, but his relations who intervene and are the sponsors are our constituents. In these days when people hark back to Victorian values, it should be remembered that the Victorians gave some weight to the family and family life. This is of no less importance for an Indian or Pakistani than for a Britisher with a white skin.
My concern about these guidelines is, above all, that I know from the Asian community in my constituency how they are being interpreted. One person in Bolton said to me—he was not criticising—that it is rather tragic that Her Majesty is working so hard to cement the Commonwealth and the rules and regulations that the Government are producing seem to be dividing rather than uniting.
I would say to the Minister that if there is all this burden of work on his Department there is a simple solution. He admits, when questioned, that the people who come in to visit their relations in virtually every case abide by the agreement to leave the country. Why is it, if these people are such a danger, that when an hon Member intervenes they are allowed to be released and they leave at the time stated? Why, then, should they be detained in the first place? It does not happen to South Africans or Americans, and as they are leaving and are merely visitors there is no question of settlement.
These are the things that worry my constituents, because it is not an impartial law; it is a partial law. It depends on one's country of origin and it appears in some cases to depend on the ethnic group to which one belongs. The Minister's argument is that there are these terrible Members who are breaching the conventions and it is not for Ministers to police them. It certainly is not. I would regard that as a violation of privilege. It is for the House to deal with conventions.
Let us remember that when hon. Members deal with other hon. Members' constituents it is not in the immigration area alone, and not all the Members are members of the Labour party. Does that mean that education is going to provide guidelines, that industry is going to provide guidelines? Are we going to change the whole system when, even on the Government's own estimates, very few people break the rules, if indeed the rules are being broken?
Presumably, what will happen now is that if I am on holiday abroad and I am not here to intervene on behalf of my constituents, they will lose their rights. This concerns me very much. Does this also mean that the hon. and learned Gentleman will now release the instructions given to immigration officers by the Home Office? I have asked several times for this and the answer has been no.
Has the Minister—this is a reasonable question—tried to contact the immigration service other than as a Minister? It takes me an awfully long time to do so, and if I am expected to do it for something like 20,000 Asians who are British and who may have families here, it is going to take even more time. Is the Department going to 1028 accept a reversed-charge call from Cyprus, for instance, because, if nobody can represent my constituents when I am out of the country, I must do it? Will the Minister pay for that, or is this merely a device to divert attention from the Department and to make the system so cumbersome that hon. Members will not have the right to represent their constituents? My constituents and I are deeply worried, and that concern is not confined simply to the Asian community. In the British system of government, people look for their freedom.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)
Many hon. Members who have spoken have described the guidelines in the most virulent terms, as an attack on the rights of immigrants and visitors. However, they skirted round the guidelines themselves and failed to explain why they found them so objectionable.
During the past seven years I have made representations on behalf of many hundreds of constituents, and I cannot think of a single case in which I would have found these guidelines a hindrance. Moreover, I do not believe that any of my constituents on whose behalf I have made representations have found me wanting in my actions on their behalf.
I wish to make only one brief point as time is extremely short. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) spoke about what one could reasonably describe as a type of charade in which hon. Members are involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham. South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) said that temporary admission was sometimes used as a device. One must accept that that is frequently the case. Even the report of the immigration and nationality department in 1984 said:
temporary admission goes some way towards taking the sting out of a decision to refuse admission on arrival.Would it not be possible to introduce a new sort of admission, perhaps restricted admission, which requires the entrant to stay at the address of the sponsor where he is known to be and from where he will be required to leave after a period of, perhaps, two months? In that way, the uncertainty would be taken out of the issue, and he would not be expected to leave at four or five days' notice when a reply is received from the Minister. Because the number of those who abscond is so small, that solution may be acceptable to all concerned. I appreciate that there would be a new problem in that the individual would have been granted some sort of admission, but I hope that that could be overcome.
We should reconsider the immigration rules, keep them under review and see how we can make them fairer. However, these guidelines can only help with the implementation of the rules. They are to the advantage, certainly of hon. Members, and, ultimately, of those who depend on them.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)
Today's debate on the guidelines that the Home Secretary has devised for Members of Parliament must be seen, and has been seen rightly by many hon. Members, in the context of our overall immigration policy. If there were not so much concern and anxiety about many aspects of the way in which the Immigration Act 1971 and immigration rules are being implemented, there would not have been so much 1029 anxiety about the guidelines. That is not to say that we would not have been critical of them, but the measure of our concern is reflected widely throughout the country.
In case there is any misunderstanding I wish to emphasise, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) did earlier, that the Labour party believes in immigration controls, but without a racial or sexual bias. We are concerned about the guidelines because they come from a Government who have said on more than one occasion that their intention in immigration policy is to keep the numbers down. That theme has underlined many, but not all, of the speeches of Tory Members this evening. Guidelines which are intended to further a policy to keep numbers down, regardless of the needs, considerations and rights of individuals, must be suspect. In the main we are talking not about people coming in for settlement, but almost entirely about visitors, and some hon. Members were not clear about the difference between the two. This Government have a history of trying to limit hon. Members' rights in immigration cases, but they have never gone as far as they have in these guidelines.
Some figures were quoted about the number of refused passengers represented by Members of Parliament. I have looked at the figures and tried to understand them in the light of the Home Secretary's speech. Not all the figures for 1985 are to hand, but the figures made available to us so far show that between 1983 and 1984 the number of refused passengers represented by Members of Parliament increased by about 1,000. At the same time, the number of persons refused entry increased by 3,500. Whatever the Home Secretary says about an enormous increase in the number of representations by Members of Parliament, they are a reflection of the total number of people refused entry.
One other possible reason why more Members of Parliament are approached is that the minority communities are, happily, becoming increasingly aware of their rights. It is a sign of their greater involvement as people whose future is in Britain that they come to Members of Parliament and ask us to act on their behalf when they want members of their families to come along.
There is another side to the Home Secretary's argument about increasing pressure and a need for guidelines. Not all the pressure is increasing. The figures about outstanding appeals against all refusals in connection with immigration show that in December 1980 nearly 16,000 appeals were outstanding. By December 1984 the figure was under 10,000. Whatever else may be said, there is some sign of a diminution of pressure on Home Office resources in aspects of the immigration problem other than the one that directly concerns Members of Parliament.
In 1981, 1,057 people appealed against court refusals. Last year the figure was down to 681. The Home Secretary suggested that there is increasing pressure all along the line, but that is not true because in some areas there is less pressure. One of the reasons for our anxiety is that the guidelines tell us how to do our jobs on behalf of our constituents. Why should the Home Office, alone of all the Departments, be doing that? If the Home Office was keen to be helpful to Members of Parliament it would have included in the guidelines things that are not in the guidelines. For example, it would be helpful, if one were going this path, to say that Members of Parliament should let the Home Secretary know when facts that are not known and cannot be taken into account if a case goes to appeal, come to light. I could give other examples, but if 1030 the guidelines are to operate as the Home Secretary suggests that might have been a better way to go. I prefer not to go down the path of the guidelines.
I repeat what many of my hon. and right hon. Friends have said, that many of us do not like handling immigration cases. They are time-consuming and difficult and arise at all hours of the day and night. We do them, though we often regret the necessity and the pressure on us, because that is the only way we can achieve justice for our constituents.
I also support the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) and I will give some evidence to support it. He said he had a suspicion, but to me it is a fact, that immigration officers refuse visitors in the knowledge that Members of Parliament may well take up the case, that the person will then get seven or eight weeks in Britain, and that the Minister of State will uphold the immigration officer's refusal. That was certainly said to me on a recent visit to Heathrow. As an immigration officer at Heathrow airport said to me, "Everybody therefore should be happy. Members of Parliament have got what they want. Visitors are allowed in. The refusal is upheld." That is absolutely absurd. I have told the Minister of State before, and I repeat it in good faith—
§ Mr. Waddington
The hon. Gentleman must be careful about what he says. He is not saying, is he, that the immigration officer refused entry because this person was going to be granted temporary admission?
§ Mr. Dubs
The Minister says that he did not say that. If I have to repeat what was said to me, I am happy to do so. The immigration officer said to me that, knowing that Members of Parliament are likely to take up these cases, he was more likely to put down a refusal, knowing that in the end the Member of Parliament would get that person in on temporary admission. That is absurd, but the absurdity starts at the point of entry—Heathrow airport. It does not start with Members of Parliament. It is not an argument against the stop system. It is an argument that immigration control, particularly as regards visitors, should be applied fairly and properly.
§ Mr. Bidwell
This raises the absurdity of a two-day temporary admission to give time for the Member of Parliament to intervene. If the Government are prepared to risk giving a couple of days of liberty to people who come to the United Kingdom, why cannot they be provided with a decent form of admission?
§ Mr. Dubs
That is precisely the point. That is why some hon. Members have serious doubts about this proposal.
When the guidelines were first mooted, I wondered why it was thought to be necessary to introduce them. I have before me a circular from the Immigration Service Union that was sent to members of the union on 14 November 1985. I want to refer to two points that are contained in the circular. It refers to
the problems caused by uncontrolled representation by Members of Parliament.1031 The circular also says:The ISU delegation welcomed these developments and undertook to supply a list of the types of cases which the union considered as having no proper place in the system of MPs' representations.Perhaps I am a little naive, but I am wondering whether the pressure that came from this particular source resulted in the decision of the Home Secretary and the Minister of State to act as they did. I understand that the original suggestion that all representations by Members of Parliament should go through chief immigration officers has been dropped because those who work in the immigration service realised that it would place a great deal of additional work upon their shoulders. Many hon. Members warned some time ago that that would happen. Despite the fact that the Home Secretary has climbed down by responding to the many criticisms and significantly toning down the guidelines compared with the original version, they contain a number of features to which many hon. Members on both sides of the House still object.
The Home Secretary said originally that it was necessary for Members of Parliament to approach chief immigration officers. We were concerned about this, both in principle and in practice. It represented a major departure from the principle that hon. Members have the right of direct access to Ministers. For this purpose access to the private offices of Ministers is the same as access to Ministers. It was not a fair approach to say to Members of Parliament that the analogy of Department of Health and Social Security officers in their dealings with members of the public should be used. When we take up immigration cases are we supposed to be advocates on behalf of our constituents or do we adopt a quasi-judicial function?
Some have argued that Members should approach the chief immigration officers rather than the Minister to obtain all the background information. Part of that argument is that Members of Parliament should act in a quasi-judicial role. For the life of me I cannot see how we can be expected to do that. It would be against the whole basis of many of the representations that Members take up on behalf of constituents on a whole range of subjects.
We are simply not able to judge for and against the admission of a person into a country. All we can do is to satisfy ourselves that there are reasonable grounds for that individual to be admitted. It is not necessarily the case that a long chat with the chief immigration officer would change the basis on which we make representation to the Minister. That also assumes that there is time to go to the chief immigration officer. Members of Parliament who take up visitor cases do so with good will and in the belief that there is a reasonably good case for that visitor to be admitted. It is not a matter of a quasi-judicial function but it is a matter of Members acting as advocates.
I wish that the guidelines had said that the time limits were advisory. In most cases it is reasonable that they should be adhered to and we seek to do that. However, there are times when that is difficult. That is especially true with the four-day and five-day limits set out in paragraph 9 and 14 respectively. It may not be possible to reach a constituent on the telephone. Also, the post is not that good. If any of us are away for a day or two we simply cannot get word to our constituent in time. It is proper that 1032 our constituents should be able to hear from us before a further decision about their future or about a relative's future is made by the Home Office.
The vexed argument whether Members should be utterly confined to taking up cases within their constituencies has taken up more time than anything else. The practice of my colleagues and myself is that we do put on stops on behalf of colleagues who may be away, ill or difficult to reach. There are also incidents when we may put on these stops on behalf of a Conservative Member of Parliament if that Member cannot be found, to enable the visitor to stay in the country long enough to ensure that the Member of Parliament can consider whether he or she wishes to make a representation on the visitor's behalf.
There is also the case where Members have a specialist interest, and that is acknowledged in the new version of the guidelines. However, some Members of Parliament bluntly refuse to take on immigration cases. What are we to do? There are two conventions which collide. One convention is the exclusive relationship of constituents to one Member of Parliament but the other convention is that everyone has basic rights. If those basic rights are ignored for whatever reason by a Member of Parliament, who is to say that that individual should not go to another Member and say, "I have basic rights. Help me to achieve those rights." That is the nub of the argument.
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
I would not disagree with anything that the hon. Member has said. However, there is a problem regarding representation and we have to address ourselves to it. Does he not agree that there is a problem of "shopping around" and that if one could solve that problem it would be better?
§ Mr. Corbyn
Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a further problem with the guidelines as proposed by the Minister? If a Member of Parliament refuses to take up immigration cases, for perverse reasons or out of prejudice, and the individual then goes to a Member who is prepared to take up the case, the Home Office proposes to copy the correspondence to the original Member who either flatly refused to take up the case or whose reputation makes him unlikely to be approached by people with immigration problems because they know the prejudice on which he operates.
§ Mr. Dubs
My hon. Friend anticipates my next point. In my view, it is improper for the Home Secretary to suggest in the guidelines that if a Member becomes involved in a case in another constituency the correspondence should be copied to the Member for that constituency. We are approached on a confidential basis, 1033 sometimes precisely because the person is unhappy about going to the Member of Parliament in that constituency. We should respect that confidentiality and the Home Office should also respect it.
It may be a matter of embarrassment for the Home Secretary, but the views of one or two Conservative Back Benchers are such that the ethnic minority communities regard those Members as extremely hostile and would not want private information to be sent to them. It is therefore wrong for the Home Secretary to suggest in the guidelines that that information should be made available. If it is made available with permission, that is all right, but to make it available just like that is inappropriate and unsatisfactory.
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that very few Conservative Members actually refuse to take cases? A number of others, however, may decide when they get a case that there is no substance in it. It is in those circumstances that we object to the individual going to another Member.
§ Mr. Dubs
There may be few, but there are certainly some, and we must be as concerned about people in those Members' constituencies as about people in our own constituencies.
One or two Conservative Members have referred to visas. In Bangladesh the current failure rate for visa applications is 30 per cent. People voluntarily apply for visas—there is no need to do so because they could simply arrive at Heathrow as Commonwealth citizens. The refusal rate at United Kingdom ports for people from Bangladesh is about 2 per cent. There must be some reason for the difference. Moreover, as the Minister will confirm, the success rate in appeals against the 30 per cent. refusals is about 50 per cent. A disturbingly high refusal rate in Bangladesh is suggested by the difference between the refusal rates in Bangladesh and at United Kingdom ports as well as by the high success rate of appeals against refusals in Bangladesh.
The cost of a visa regime would be enormous. An entry certificate officer costs the Home Office about £50,000 whereas an immigration officer based here costs about £15,000. The introduction of a visa system in the sub-continent would involve enormous difficulties, of principle as well as of cost and of practice.
I share the concern of those hon. Members, mainly my hon. Friends, who have referred to paragraph 19 of the guidelines about the consequences of hon. Members giving advice to people in their constituencies who wish to have visitors. Although the wording is now different from the original version, it still suggests that hon. Members are not behaving properly and that somehow we are conniving at getting into the country people who would not be admissible under the rules. It becomes a matter of subjective judgment in the end. The way the guidelines are worded still implies that the friends and relatives of constituents are to be penalised if our constituents have sought advice from us. I hope that the Home Secretary will think again about that because it is pernicious and wrong.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Whitfield) attacked the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Birminingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short). That attack went too far. The hon. Gentleman was not right to say about my hon. Friend what he said. Her speech was good; it was 1034 honest and reflected what many of us and the majority of people think. For the hon. Gentleman to cast such a slur on my hon. Friend was uncalled for and absolutely wrong.
In the debate we are not talking mainly about whether hon. Members should be helped to have easier or more difficult jobs, although that is a consideration which matters to us; what we are essentially concerned with are the rights of people here to have their relatives and friends come to stay with them as visitors. That is a basic right. The hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Sir K. Lewis), who is connected with the tourist industry, made a speech which suggested that he was totally against tourism to this country, if I understood correctly what he said. Yet he has two entries in "The Times Guide" which suggest that he is busy in the tourist industry when he is not in the House.
The right to have one's friends and relatives come here as visitors is basic. We all want our friends from abroad to come here as visitors. We should not deny that right to some people because of the colour of their skin. In the end that is at the heart of the guidelines. That is why we are against them and why I want the House to vote against them tonight.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Waddington)
This has been a good-tempered debate. I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for the points they have made. This was a difficult nettle to grasp. Hon. Members are naturally jealous of their rights and privileges and they are quick to react if they think that those rights and privileges are being infringed. I do not think many hon. Members really believe that we can leave things just as they are. There was an increase in representations by hon. Members in port cases alone from 1,000 in 1982 to 5,700 in 1985. The score in 1986 is likely to be at the very least 7,000.
§ Mr. Waddington
Those figures relate just to port cases. Total representations were over 16,000 last year and no doubt will be higher this year. I want to make these points because obviously they have not gone home to certain Opposition Members in view of the sedentary intervention which was made just a moment ago. Immigration officers apply exactly the same rules now for visitors as they did when Labour was in power.
§ Mr. Waddington
They operate them under precisely the same instructions and in precisely the same way. Taken as a percentage of total passenger traffic, refusals of people from the Indian sub-continent are few and far between. Of all passengers, 99.8 per cent. are admitted; of passengers from the Indian sub-continent, 99 per cent. are admitted.
The increase in representations cannot be accounted for by the increase in traffic or by the increase in refusals. I remind hon. Members of some key figures. In 1982 just over 12,000 people were refused entry; in 1983, 13,900. That was an increase of 14 per cent. Between 1983 and 1984 there was an increase of 24 per cent. in refusals but between 1982 and 1983, against an increase in traffic of 10 per cent. and an increase of refusals of 14 per cent., there was an increase in representations by hon. Members of no less than 150 per cent.
§ Mr. Waddington
Between 1983 and 1984, against an increase in traffic of 13 per cent. and an increase in refusals of 24 per cent., there was a 40 per cent. increase in representations by hon. Members.
§ Mr. Corbyn
When the hon. and learned Gentleman refers to the total number of passengers arriving from the sub-continent, could he make it clear whether he means all passengers of whatever nationality or passengers from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or Pakistan? Having done so, I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman would be forced to concede that a far higher proportion of nationals of the sub-continent are refused than of the total figure of arrivals from those places.
§ Mr. Waddington
The figures that I have given are correct. When we talk of passengers from the Indian sub-continent, we mean Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. The figures for Sri Lanka are not included.
§ There are those enormous figures—
§ Mr. Waddington
I will not give way. I was left very little time. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) spoke for twice as long as the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) spoke for longer than he should have.
In the face of those figures, it seems extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman should ask why the guidelines are needed at all. The right hon. Gentleman said that the present system works satisfactorily.
§ Mr. Waddington
That was an extraordinary statement. It is extraordinary, too, that we should be told that in too many cases things go wrong. Our staff do their level best to prevent things going wrong but with the pressure of the system to which the enormous increase in representations contributes—
§ Mr. Waddington
I will not give way.
With that pressure, it is surprising that things do not go wrong more often. Immigration officers are spending much of their time writing letters to hon. Members—or to me, to send to hon. Members. Some of those hon. Members have put a stop on a case and taken no further action at all. The immigration officers would be far better employed clearing passengers through the controls without delay.
The burgeoning of the practice of putting stops on cases has other undesirable effects. First of all, the control is undermined. Because of the pressure of work and the very generous policy of temporary admission, a person who does not qualify to enter gets into the country anyhow. The 1036 hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) made a joke of that, but it is a serious matter. People who do not qualify for entry get into the country all the same and can then stay for as long as they would have been entitled to stay if they had been granted leave to enter.
That state of affairs is not satisfactory. It occurs for two reasons. The first is that we are generous about temporary admission and allow people into the country instead of keeping them in detention as we could. Secondly, as a result of the increase in representations by Members of Parliament and the pressure of work on the immigration service, it is taking longer to deal with those cases than it did some years ago.
Another undesirable effect is that people who do not get temporary admission—luckily they are a minority because of the generous policy pursued—are kept in custody for longer than any of us would wish, again because of the pressure put on the system. No Labour Member would want that to continue.
The third unfortunate effect of all this is that the country is having to pay more and more in the way of the passage costs of people who have eventually to be removed—
§ Mr. Waddington
—but who are not removed during the period when the cost falls upon the immigration service.
§ Mr. Waddington
If the hon. Lady will be patient, I shall get on to something which she said and I am sure that she will wish to intervene at that stage.
There has been a real process of consultation. We revised the original draft guidelines in the light of what was said. It is a pity that a number of hon. Members did not like the proposal that an hon. Member should approach the port to put on a stop, but we have accepted the views of a large number of hon. Members on that. I am sure that on reflection Labour Members will not cavil at the fact that we listened to what hon. Members said. I should have thought that that was the object of a consultation exercise such as this.
We are not trying to force anything down the throats of hon. Members. We are merely informing hon. Members how we intend to operate the system. It must operate. It is in the interests of all hon. Members that it should be operated. We must make the system work and that is why we have presented the guidelines to the House.
I shall not dwell for long on the speech made by the right hon. Member for Gorton, but he made a particularly nasty attack on the immigration service. In doing so he ignored the Commission for Racial Equality report which concluded that decisions made by immigration officers were not motivated by racism. He ignored entirely the 1037 report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs and its unanimous conclusion that the staff of the immigration and nationality department deserved commendation, not criticism. It was a grossly unfair attack and it was a completely ignorant attack because the right hon. Gentleman cannot have bothered to investigate any of these reports to which I have referred.
Some hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Gorton, have failed to recognise that there is more pressure to immigrate from some parts of the world than others. That is why there is a difference in refusal rates for visitors in the case of people seeking entry from some parts of the world compared with people seeking entry from other parts of the world.
Labour Members were quick to make political points this afternoon about refusal of entry statistics. But it is worth bearing in mind that if one looks, for instance, at refusals of people seeking entry as visitors from Pakistan in 1978 and compares that with people from Pakistan refused entry in 1984, one will find precisely the same percentage. I am slightly wrong. It is 1.1 per cent. in one case and 1.3 per cent. in the other. One should be very careful about quoting refusal rates.
A very silly comment was made about the present system working well. It is not working as well as it should do. But the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) complimented the staff of my private office, and I am grateful to him for doing so. I should like to compliment them myself, as they work marvellously in a very difficult job. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Thorne) stood alone in the House when he made a disgraceful remark about racism in the Minister's office. He stood alone in that, as all hon. Members who take such matters seriously know how well my staff work and the service that they give to hon. Members. Some hon. Members made unsavoury allegations about racism and the immigration service. I repeat what I said earlier about the conclusions of the CRE report.
The hon. Member for Southall called for a right of appeal in this country for visitors refused entry, and took up the theme raised yesterday by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) in his ten-minute Bill. But in making a decision about such matters one has to look at the administrative burden and at the difficulty of removing people within a reasonable time scale after they have gone through the appeal system. The whole appeal system can he spun out for a long time as Members of Parliament know from dealing with constituents who have become wrapped up in appealing against a refusal to extend their stay. When people exercise a right of appeal in this country and are turned down by the adjudicator and then by the immigration appeals tribunal, they are not slow to go to their Members of Parliament and to get them to come to me. Consequently, I am by no means confident that, if we had a right of appeal in this country, there would be less pressure on the Minister's office.
§ Mr. Waddington
I shall not give way, as I have little time left and there are important matters to deal with.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) mentioned keeping passports. I shall repeat what was said to him by Opposition Members. If anyone wants his passport back, he has only to ask for it. I cannot for a 1038 moment believe that the hon. Gentleman has evidence of someone having a decision made against him because he had previously asked for his passport back. Many strange things happen, but I am sure that that has never happened.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) mentioned two cases in which she was involved. Of course, I shall not go into the facts of them. However, in paragraph 19 of the guidance we are talking about people being invited here when the Member of Parliament concerned knows that they are not entitled to enter. The Member of Parliament may know that the person could obtain legal entry to this country only as a result of obtaining entry clearance abroad, and that the person has not done so. If a Member of Parliament told a person that he should come anyhow, even though he would be refused because the Member of Parliament would apply for temporary admission, the vast majority of hon. Members would say that that was wrong. Surely everyone would agree that that would be a very odd way of using the privilege to put on a stop—
§ Ms. Short
The hon. and learned Gentleman is completely wrong. As he knows, a Commonwealth citizen is entitled either to apply for an entry certificate for a visit or to come without one. I told someone who had been refused, not because of the rules but because of the prejudiced way in which they were interpreted, that he was legally entitled to come here without an entry certificate and that I would assist if he was then refused. That is absolutely in accordance with the law. What the Minister just said is wrong in law and in fact.
§ Mr. Waddington
The hon. Lady doth protest too much.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) asked that the time limits be flexibly enforced. We all have to be sensible about that. I recognise that, however carefully we draft guidelines of this sort, one will find exceptional cases. I can tell hon. Members that it is the intention of the Home Office to try to operate the guidelines sensibly. I think that the feeling of the House tonight was that it is about time we spelt out what ought to be a reasonable time in which to make representations; otherwise cases can go on and on.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Spencer) made some interesting points. I shall look into his point about interpreters using direct speech and about too much attention being paid to lies. However, I suspect that it is difficult to ignore the fact that a person has exercised deception when one is asked to decide whether a person is telling the truth when he says that he only wants to enter the country for a short visit and will then return abroad. My hon. and learned Friend said that he would act responsibly under the new guidelines. I am sure that that is what he will do and that that is the wish and the intention of all hon. Members who have been present during the debate. I am sure that we can make the new system work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) said that the misuse of a system to make representations can disadvantage genuine visitors. I am sure that that is true and we should continue to make that 1039 point as hard as we can. If we have pressure on the system, such as we have, it can obviously lead to delays at the ports, which could otherwise have been avoided.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler) said that he thought it was a pity we left out the provision about approaching the ports. I think that it would have been helpful to hon. Members to be able to hear the reasons for the refusal at first hand from a senior immigration officer. I realise that it would have involved hon. Members in more work and some expense in telephoning the port concerned. However, I do not accept that any issues of constitutionality were involved, because it is plain that when a person puts on a stop now he is not asking me to exercise any discretion. He is merely ringing my private office and asking it to relay a message to the ports. It is an automatic process which has nothing to do with the hon. Member's right of access to the Minister. That point was completely bogus. However, I can see that hon. Members would have been faced with more work and they already have an enormous amount of work to do in constituencies with a large ethnic minority community.
There has been a misunderstanding about the time limit of only four days after I have rejected a submission by an hon. Member to reverse the decision made by an immigration officer. In fact, we work on four days now. We do that as a courtesy to hon. Members so that we can make absolutely sure that they will receive the letter from me saying that I have rejected their submission before the person who is going to have to return abroad is told by the immigration service. Therefore, there is nothing to worry about there.
On the matter of poaching, I would merely say that I understand the anxiety which has been expressed by some hon. Members. However, I have to tell hon. Members that they may not have a clear idea of the aggravation that has to be borne by my staff who are faced with angry Members from both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
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, That this House do now adjourn:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 116, Noes 185.1042
|Division No.117]||[10 pm|
|Alton, David||Clay, Robert|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Clelland, David Gordon|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Barnett, Guy||Cohen, Harry|
|Barron, Kevin||Cook, Frank (Stockton North)|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Corbett, Robin|
|Bell, Stuart||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Craigen, J. M.|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Crowther, Stan|
|Boyes, Roland||Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Dewar, Donald|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Dixon, Donald|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Dormand, Jack|
|Caborn, Richard||Douglas, Dick|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Dubs, Alfred|
|Cartwright, John||Eadie, Alex|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)|
|Clarke, Thomas||Evans, John (St. Helens N)|
|Fatchett, Derek||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Faulds, Andrew||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Michie, William|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Flannery, Martin||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Forrester, John||Nellist, David|
|Foster, Derek||O'Neill, Martin|
|Foulkes, George||Park, George|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Patchett, Terry|
|Freud, Clement||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Garrett, W. E.||Pike, Peter|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Radice, Giles|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Randall, Stuart|
|Hardy, Peter||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Robertson, George|
|Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Howells, Geraint||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Sheerman, Barry|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Skinner, Dennis|
|Lamond, James||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Leighton, Ronald||Strang, Gavin|
|Livsey, Richard||Straw, Jack|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|McCartney, Hugh||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Wallace, James|
|MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Wareing, Robert|
|McNamara, Kevin||Winnick, David|
|McWilliam, John||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Marek, Dr John||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|Maxton, John||Mr. Ray Powell.|
|Alexander, Richard||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Amess, David||Freeman, Roger|
|Ashby, David||Galley, Roy|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)|
|Baldry, Tony||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Gow, Ian|
|Best, Keith||Greenway, Harry|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Gregory, Conal|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Griffiths, Sir Eldon|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Ground, Patrick|
|Brinton, Tim||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Harris, David|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Harvey, Robert|
|Budgen, Nick||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Burt, Alistair||Hawkins, C. (High Peak)|
|Butterfill, John||Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)|
|Carlisle, John (Luton N)||Hayes, J.|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Hayward, Robert|
|Cash, William||Heddle, John|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hicks, Robert|
|Chope, Christopher||Hind, Kenneth|
|Cockeram, Eric||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Cope, John||Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Dykes, Hugh||Howard, Michael|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Fallon, Michael||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Favell, Anthony||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Hunter, Andrew|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Forth, Eric||Jackson, Robert|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Franks, Cecil||Jessel, Toby|
|Jones, Robert (Herts W)||Newton, Tony|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Norris, Steven|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Onslow, Cranley|
|Key, Robert||Ottaway, Richard|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Knowles, Michael||Powley, John|
|Knox, David||Raffan, Keith|
|Lang, Ian||Renton, Tim|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Lester, Jim||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Rowe, Andrew|
|Lilley, Peter||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Lord, Michael||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Lyell, Nicholas||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Shersby, Michael|
|Madel, David||Silvester, Fred|
|Major, John||Sims, Roger|
|Malone, Gerald||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Maples, John||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Marlow, Antony||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Spencer, Derek|
|Mather, Carol||Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Stern, Michael|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Mitchell, David (Hants NW)||Sumberg, David|
|Moate, Roger||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Moore, Rt Hon John||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton S)||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Tracey, Richard|
|Trippier, David||Wheeler, John|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Whitfield, John|
|van Straubenzee, Sir W.||Whitney, Raymond|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard||Wilkinson, John|
|Waddington, David||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Wakeham, Rt Hon John||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Waldegrave, Hon William||Wolfson, Mark|
|Walden, George||Wood, Timothy|
|Wall, Sir Patrick||Yeo, Tim|
|Ward, John||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Wardle, C. (Bexhill)||Mr. Michael Neubert and|
|Watts, John||Mr. Tony Durant.|
|Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.