HC Deb 16 March 1987 vol 112 cc706-89

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

I must announce to the House that f have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

4.7 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The immediate spur to this proposal has been the arrival of over 800 people claiming asylum in the three months up to the end of February. So this is not a Bill about Tamils alone, or about Sri Lanka alone. It goes wider than that. Its aim is to make sure that our immigration control remains effective in the face of rapidly changing international pressures. We have to reconcile that aim with our international obligation to help the genuine victims of persecution.

We start—I hope the whole House starts—from the conviction that a firm immigration control is essential for harmony in our nation, and in particular in our cities. It has to be administered fairly, humanely, and where necessary, compassionately, and I believe that it is. But it has to be kept firmly in place, and that means from time to time strengthening it as new points of pressure on it become clear.

I say at the outset to Opposition Members—without rancour; they have not yet shown their hand on this Bill—that it is simply no use pretending that it is possible to have it both ways. They cannot proclaim in general terms that they want effective control while opposing everything that is needed to keep it effective. People will soon see through that. There is no point in agreeing that there must be a bucket, but on the sole condition that it has plenty of holes in it. Yet that is the present stance of the Labour and Liberal parties on immigration control. I was particularly irked, as he knows, by the stand taken by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) when I made my statement a fortnight ago.

This country is not alone in wanting immigration controls to work effectively, nor are we alone in facing growing pressures, particularly from the Third world. A powerful combination of pressures now arises, because for the first time large numbers of people across the world have the means, the knowledge and the will to leave their own homes in the Third world and seek greater security, comfort and prosperity elsewhere.

These pressures can affect many parts of our immigration system. That is why we decided last year to extend the visa requirement to five countries of the Indian sub-continent and west Africa. The need for this was clearly explained and fully debated in the House. Immigration control at the ports had come under sustained pressure over a period of many months. In the first eight months of last year, some 8,500 people from these five countries were refused entry at Heathrow and Gatwick. That was nearly 50 per cent. more than in the same period the year before. In the following six weeks, the pressure at the ports became more intense—indeed, becoming a rush of people who were not eligible for admission but who hoped to gain a foothold here before the visa deadline took effect.

The House will recall the angry huffing and puffing that greeted our proposal for visas. We were told that it was not necessary and that it would not work. No adjective was too severe for it. But now relative silence has fallen because the benefits of the new arrangements are plain. The great majority of people who want to come here are bona fide, and for them the new system is a considerable improvement. The arrangements in Ghana and on the Indian sub-continent have been operating now for five months, and over 90 per cent. of applications are dealt with on the day that they are received. I think that that is remarkable. The system has therefore confounded its early critics. Visa holders can travel here, confident that there are unlikely to be any difficulties when they arrive. The arrangements have reduced congestion at the ports and have done much to restore the effectiveness of our controls.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hurd

I shall give way to the hon. Member now, if that is what he wants.

Mr. Winnick

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He has given me due warning. Does he not recognise that the reason why there has been little criticism since the new system has been operating is precisely because of what he has just said: that in the main these applications have been dealt with very quickly indeed—as he stated, on the day itself? If that can be maintained, there will be less criticism than when the system was introduced. However, a great deal will depend upon whether there is delay, bearing in mind the very lengthy delay that arises when people apply for permanent settlement. I do not know whether the Home Secretary has touched on this point already, but will he try to avoid the completely false accusation that because the Labour party criticises the Government from time to time it is not fully committed to effective immigration control? The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is not so and that we are totally committed to such controls.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman's first point was very fair. The effectiveness of the system obviously depends on how well it is run, but that is a very far cry from the racist accusations that were being tossed about freely last autumn when the Government introduced this system. As for the hon. Gentleman's second point, I have touched upon it. This is the bucket with the holes in it. We cannot say that we are in favour of effective immigration control if we then oppose every step that is taken, as it becomes necessary, to keep that control effective, yet that is what the Opposition parties do. I have touched on that point, and there may be occasions when I have to touch on it again.

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

Does the Home Secretary have evidence or information about those who would have been able to enter this country under the ordinary system and who would not have been refused entry but who, because of the problems connected with travelling from villages and staying overnight in Islamabad or elsewhere, have been unable to apply for a visa and therefore have been unable to obtain visas? Does the Home Secretary have evidence that there are people who fall into that category?

Mr. Hurd

I do not have any such evidence, although I rather expected that there might have been some. That is partly because visa applications can be dealt with by post and partly because people have overcome the problem to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

In recent months, however, we have been faced with a fresh loophole. It applies mainly to people who require visas but who nevertheless arrive here without them and resist immediate return to their country of origin by claiming asylum. As I have already said, from December 1986 to the end of February of this year, over 800 applications for asylum were made by people arriving at our ports—nearly twice the number for the whole of 1984. Of those 800, nearly 500 were from Sri Lanka. In December and January, some 370 Sri Lankans arrived without valid visas and claimed asylum—more than half the total number of Sri Lankans who were granted visas in Colombo in those two months.

The House will know of the circumstances of the arrival of the group of 64 Tamil asylum seekers on 13 February, most of whom were refused entry. I announced to the House on 3 March that I had decided to refer their cases to the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service. Thereafter, fresh individual decisions will be reached in the light of all the relevant facts. I expect to receive representations on these cases by 18 March—the day after tomorrow—and I do not propose to make any comment on them today. Indeed, it would not be right or possible for me to do so.

We are not alone in facing such pressures. In West Germany, 100,000 people applied for asylum in 1986—a huge number compared with ours. In France, 26,000 applications were made last year, and the French Government announced last August that they would reexamine their regulations because of the problems of such an influx. In October last year Denmark passed urgent laws to refuse access to the asylum procedure for those who come from a third safe country. Sweden has followed suit. In 1986 it received 14,500 applications for asylum, of which 1,700 were refused at the frontier as manifestly unfounded.

On 20 February this year Canada introduced new measures to control asylum abuse, and most recently Belgium, which was facing 500 to 600 arrivals seeking asylum each month, has just introduced legislation to refuse access to some asylum seekers, to transfer decision taking from the United Nations high commissioner for refugees to a Belgian authority and to impose financial sanctions on carriers bringing people without the proper documents to Belgium. I understand that the Dutch are also proposing to introduce legislation soon, to the same effect.

This is not, therefore, in any way an isolated problem. I believe that we have to work with other countries to come to a more sensible international understanding of how these matters can be better arranged. Under our presidency of the European Community, a special working group on immigration, including asylum abuse, was set up. That initiative has gone forward under the Belgian presidency, and I can tell the House that last week the group agreed specific recommendations that included reference to the liability of carriers on much the same lines as the Bill that is before the House. These recommendations will come before a ministerial meeting, which I hope to attend next month.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

When anybody comes to this country pleading political asylum, does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that a lengthy process is involved to test the validity of that claim and that it is very likely that anybody who arrives without papers is a political refugee? It takes a long time to establish the truth. It is difficult to convince the public that we are upholding traditional British standards if we do not give refugee status to those who legitimately ought to have it. If we do not make that clear to people as soon as they arrive, that puts our great British tradition in jeopardy.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman has put very succinctly the case against the Bill and I intend to deal with it, but I do not accept that in all cases one can draw that conclusion. If we allowed for delay in all cases, that delay would impose the decision because at the end of the day it would be impossible to send people back to the place from which they came.

To conclude the international part of my speech, I hope that during discussion of the Bill there will be no ignorant pretence that this is the proposal of a harsh or inhumane British Government. Other countries more seriously affected than ourselves have already acted as we propose to act. We should be strongly and rightly criticised if we delayed our own action until the trickle became a flood, as more and more people began to use the loophole. That is the background against which I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Of course it is not the whole answer and we must continue to be vigilant and ready to take further action if that turns out to be necessary. The Bill reinforces the existing responsibility of carriers for the passengers that they bring to this country. It also gives effect to the decisions already agreed by Parliament about the documents people should have when they arrive.

Carriers are already responsible under the Immigration Act 1971 to pay for detention, accommodation and maintenance costs when certain passengers are refused entry. They are required also to pay for removal if directions are given within two months of entry being refused. The present Bill works within that principle. It is intended to ensure that people who cannot show that they have a claim to entry because they do not have the basic travel document and the necessary visas are not accepted by the carrier for travel. Responsible airlines already check on those things because they know of their liability to pay detention and removal costs and because it is simply not in their interests, or in the interests of their passengers, that people should be delayed or detained when they arrive here. The Bill aims to ensure that all carriers follow the same good practice.

Clause 1 enables a charge of £1,000 to be made for each passenger who requires leave to enter the United Kingdom, and who arrives at our immigration control without a valid passport or other travel document and without a valid visa where one is required. The clause provides for that level to be varied by order subject to the negative resolution procedure of this House. The charge of £1,000 is more or less in line with what other countries are imposing but if, after experience, the figure needs changing, we shall change it.

Subsection (2) of clause 1 provides that no liability will be incurred if the carrier can show that, at the time of embarkation, the passenger produced to the carrier the necessary valid documents. In the same way as carriers' liability for detention costs is interpreted, the clause provides that any document should be regarded as genuine unless its falsity was reasonably apparent.

Clause 2 provides for the Act to cover the whole of the country and, as I announced on 3 March, provides for liability to the charge—this is important—to start from 5 March.

I hope that carriers will recognise the need for this legislation and respond positively to it. I welcome the constructive comments made by British Airways following my original announcement. It already has checking procedures for flights to other countries and will now review the checks that it makes for travel here. I hope on reflection that those who have expressed concern about the procedure will also come to see that it makes good sense. We do not expect carriers to spot clever forgeries, but it is reasonable to expect them, for example, to be able to look at a passport, check that it is current and that the. passport photograph is convincing—

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He may know that British Caledonian is a constituent of mine and that it has told me that it does its best to ensure that the correct travel documents are carried. What steps will he take when a foreign airline tells the immigration authorities that it took every step to ensure that the detained person had the correct travel documents? How can my right hon. Friend check whether that was true?

Mr. Hurd

Those concerned will have to make a judgment. If they think that that is not so, they will go ahead and levy the necessary penalty and it will be for the carrier to decide whether it wishes to make representations or to have the decision reviewed in the courts. I know that British Caledonian opened with a statement containing some reservations about that. I hope that, to some extent, the later discussions that we have had will reassure it.

The immigration service is ready to give carriers any advice that they need on documentation. It has recently approached carriers to offer help on what documents are required for travel to this country, and what carriers should look for. I understand that the response to that has been good, and that the immigration service will undertake a programme of visits and discussions.

Obviously, the Bill will make it much more difficult for those who want to come to this country, but who have no valid grounds for doing so. That is its intention. It is also intended to stop abuse of asylum procedures by preventing people travelling here without valid documents and then claiming asylum before they can be returned. That also is its intention.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

On that point, if asylum seekers are fleeing from terrible oppression, by the very nature of that oppression they would be unable to get the relevant documents agreed by their own Government and would be unable to come here. Is the Home Secretary saying, in effect, that he is not prepared to entertain applications from people fleeing from such oppression?

Mr. Hurd

Before I finish I shall go on to consider the way in which genuine refugees come here at present, because that will cover the important point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

If we turn a blind eye to the abuse of asylum procedures and to unregulated and disorganised arrival in this country, we provide a ready market for the racketeer. Clearly, he is already in the market. We risk the breakdown of a properly organised asylum policy which successive Governments have maintained and developed over the past 30 years.

That policy is firmly based on the United Nations convention of 1951. That convention laid on us a clear obligation towards refugees, which it defines as follows: a person who 'owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country'. The second part of the definition refers to those without nationality. Where individuals qualify under that definition, the convention provides that they be accorded various special protections and benefits in their country of refuge.

The convention itself does not tell Governments how to carry out that obligation and it does not deal with machinery or rights of appeal. It states clearly a general principle which we accept, and which, incidentally, is more definite and far-reaching than anything current in the 1930s.

I recognise that there are hon. Members, those connected with agencies and people in Third-world countries who would like us to go further. They would like us to grant asylum to anyone who arrives here from a part of the world which is suffering economic or social hardship, civil commotion, famine, natural disaster or war. However, we cannot do that. That change to make that extension beyond our obligation under the convention would lead to a huge, general and open-ended commitment, inconsistent with immigration control or harmony in our nation. It would call into question the whole basis on which the notion of refugee status, to which the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) referred, has up to now been acceptable to the people of this country. We cannot put too great a weight on that tradition if we want it to survive.

The Canadian Minister of Employment and Immigration said in February: We want a positive immigration programme that permits the orderly entry of immigrants and refugees, but we cannot maintain such a programme if we allow abuse of our refugee programme to continue".

That is the position of this Government towards refugees. The necessary balance can be struck fairly and well only if we return to a properly ordered and regulated system for dealing with asylum.

I come to the hon. Gentleman's point and to the entirely right concern of some hon. Members about the effect that this Bill might have on genuine refugees. I understand that concern, but it is ill founded. I should like to examine the way in which genuine refugees actually get here. Until recently, over 90 per cent. of all applications for asylum were made by people who were already in this country on a genuine, legitimate and properly documented basis, but who, because of a change in the circumstances of their home country, were unwilling to return. That group will not be affected in any way by this legislation.

A small proportion of people find temporary refuge in other countries and apply at British posts abroad to come as refugees. They can be admitted if their claim to asylum is well founded and this country is the right place for them because of personal contacts and relationships. It is right that we should act carefully in these cases and satisfy ourselves that we are right to accept responsibility for them. Where we do so, they will be issued with the necessary papers to travel here. That group will not be affected in any way by the legislation.

We are also able to make special arrangements from time to time for groups of people still living in their country of origin. For example, a previous Conservative Government began a programme in the 1970s which admitted 4,000 Chileans, mostly direct from Chile. More recently we have admitted under the orderly departure programme direct from Vietnam the close relatives of Vietnamese already here. Indeed, we have a special provision for Sri Lankan Tamils who may obtain a visa in Colombo if they are suffering from severe hardship and have ties with this country. Those groups will not be affected in any way by the legislation.

Finally, there are cases of individuals coming from behind the iron curtain or elsewhere, such as Shcharansky who crossed on foot from East to West Berlin and later visited this country on an Israeli passport; and Irina Ratushinskaya who travelled here on a valid Russion passport with an exit visa.

Such individuals will not be affected in any way by the legislation. The Government will continue to honour their commitments to the convention. However, we must retain proper latitude over the means. The convention, perhaps wisely, did not prescribe machinery, perhaps foreseeing that the circumstances of 1951 might change, as indeed, they have. The convention left the discussion of such means and machinery to the member states who adhere to it.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I apologise to the Home Secretary for having missed the opening part of his speech and hope that he will forgive me if he has already covered this point. If, for example, the captain of a British vessel finds a group of people, obviously without travel documents, on the high seas having escaped from their country and he takes them on board and lands them, will he be caught by the legislation? I am thinking of people such as the Vietnamese boat people.

Mr. Hurd

The captain would have time to communicate with us and to discover what the position and reaction would be. As I have already said, this is a discretionary power. It is possible to construct theoretical occasions when the legislation would bite on genuine refugees, and I do not deny that. For the past five minutes I have tried to set out how genuine refugees arrive here in practice and to show that all those methods would not be affected by the legislation. Obviously, the Vietnamese boat people, for example, did not arrive here originally; they went to other countries, then there were international discussions and we played our part in that and in receiving some of them.

Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)

There are less theoretical cases which the Home Secretary has not addressed—for example, Kurdish refugees and refugees from Iran, Tigré and Eritrea who cannot apply for documents in their home countries. The Minister of State is aware of that and has been helpful towards Kurdish refugees from Iran. The problem is that they cannot go through the procedure of applying for the relevant travel documents. They can leave the country only on false documents or by crossing frontiers without producing documents.

Mr. Hurd

My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State has told me that he arranged for those people to come, so they fell exactly into one of the categories that I mentioned. Many Kurds leave the country where they feel they are being oppressed. They are then in other countries and if they feel that there is a particular reason to exercise the right of aslyum in the United Kingdom, they can make representations from the safe country to which they have gone. Those cases do not fall outside the categories about which I have been speaking.

It is possible to construct hypothetical cases of genuine refugees on whom the legislation would bite; that is what I mean when I talk about balance. Are we to allow our legislation to be affected in order to meet those theoretical cases when actual cases and ways in which refugees come here are not affected by the legislation? If we allow our provisions to he as wide as that, we would leave open the loophole of which I have spoken. I should like to assure the House that that loophole presents a genuine prospect of difficulty for the United Kingdom and it is already in reality a great difficulty for many of our European and north American partners.

There have been long discussions in the United Kingdom about an independent right of appeal for those claiming asylum whose claim has been turned down. The Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration recommended in 1985 that there should be such an independent right of appeal and my predecessors spelt out in measured terms why they could not accept that. That conclusion holds and has been much strengthened by the increased figures that I have given to the House. The nature and scale of the problem has increased enormously since those exchanges took place. I ask the House to come to grips with reality. If the appeals procedure is to make any impact, it must be thorough. If it is not thorough, it is not convincing. If it is thorough, it will take time. If it takes time, delay will often decide the issue in practice, and the House should realise that.

Whether those concerned are detained—we have little enough accommodation for this purpose — or whether they are temporarily admitted with the risk that they will evade the control — whatever happens to them while they wait — it will in practice become increasingly difficult as days pass to send them away. In effect, the delay dictates the decision. For example, recently the Indian authorities refused to accept back some 17 Tamils originating in Sri Lanka who spent some time in India and then came to the United Kingdom. Their applications for asylum were refused and India refused to take them back on the ground that they had spent longer in the United Kingdom than in India. That is an example of what I am describing.

The experience of other countries strongly suggests that a formal right of appeal before removal would lead to a substantial increase in unfounded applications. Anyone who wishes to follow that intellectual path should first have a word with the Canadian authorities. More than 28,000 people were refused at our ports last year and it would take only a small proportion of those to claim asylum—that would be an obvious move for them, if there were an independent right of appeal — to overwhelm any appeals system. Therefore, I would not favour such a system if we are seriously concerned to protect the controls.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

The Home Secretary has just referred to accommodation. Does he recall that within hours of the Zeebrugge disaster it was leaked that the Home Office was proposing to have a ferry moored off the coast of Weymouth for detention purposes? Clearly, that was a proposal to return to prison hulks. Will he take this opportunity to say that the Home Office had no intention to proceed along that path and that that proposal has been cancelled?

Mr. Hurd

No, I will not take any such opportunity. We are extremely short of suitable accommodation for detention. There is a good deal of public criticism of occasions such as the present one, when we use hotels for people under detention. That is not satisfactory. Nor is it satisfactory that such people should go to prisons because they have not been convicted, of any crime. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman was one who criticised us last autumn when, during the visa problem, some people were imprisoned. We need more accommodation specifically designed for detention. Whether we can reach an agreement with Sealink about a particular vessel I do not yet know. We have not yet reached a decision. But, providing that the accommodation is of the right quality, there is no reason why that should not be a better alternative to the present position.

As the House knows, part of our response since 1983 has been a limited arrangement involving reference to UKIAS. Although, for the reason I have stated, events make it impossible to continue the arrangement in its present form, we have no intention to sweep it away without replacement. We intend that there should be discussions with UKIAS about how the present arrangements should be revised. It would be an excellent idea if those discussions also involved the United Kingdom representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There should be a continuing role for UKIAS, but, as I said on 3 March, I do not believe in the expectation that such referrals will be automatic.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Hurd

I shall not give way again to the hon. Gentleman. I have already done so and I should draw my remarks to a close.

Whatever fresh arrangements are devised, it is unnecessary and undesirable for Heathrow to remain the main place at which large numbers of undocumented people make claims for asylum, yet in recent years the number of asylum applications at the ports has grown from about 400 in 1984 to about 1,850 in 1985, swollen by the arrival of Sri Lankans before visas were introduced. Very few have been found to be eligible as refugees under the 1951 convention. It is likely that some of that small number did not have the documents required by this legislation, but it certainly does not follow that this country was the only, or even the right, source of refuge for them or that they could not have made proper arrangements before their arrival here.

This Bill seeks to ensure that people abide by the requirements, particularly the visa requirements, which have been approved by Parliament. It puts no new requirements on any traveller. The same number of people will remain subject to immigration control, the same number will be required to produce valid documents, and the same number will require valid visas. It is surely sensible government to move in a measured and determined way quickly to repair the gap which has appeared in our control. We cannot have an ordely system of control without such action. I am sure that we should keep our system of operating orderly arrangements for asylum in the interests of all genuine refugees.

This legislation is necessary, considered and well constructed. There are ample precedents for it in other countries not normally regarded as illiberal — New Zealand, the United States, West Germany and Canada. It is already proving to be an effective deterrent here. Carriers have already started to check more carefully and responsibly the papers presented to them by their passengers who want to come here. In the first week of March, when the provisions came into operation, there were only 12 asylum applications from those arriving at the ports, compared with an average of about 60 a week in the previous three months. Most of these people would not have had valid visas. If the improvement continues, this short Bill will be doing its work.

The Bill is not ill considered or hasty. It is an essential and timely response to the new problem faced by our immigration control. We have accepted the responsibility to act when it is necessary to ensure that the control operates as Parliament intended. I believe that we have the support of the majority of the House and the overwhelming majority of people outside in that contention. What I hope will result is a better service for the ordinary passenger, greater assurance that immigration problems can be considered calmly and in advance, and a decent, humane and orderly consideration of genuine asylum applications, free from the threat of exploitation and abuse. I commend the Bill to the House.

4.42 pm
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House, while condemning racketeers out to exploit for financial gain the vulnerability of people seeking to leave their own country for another in circumstances where they regard themselves as under threat, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, drafted in haste, fails to take account of the predicament of genuine refugees from dictatorial or authoritarian regimes who may not be able to acquire the necessary travel documents.

The Bill arises out of the case of the 64 Tamils who arrived at Heathrow last month, but I want to emphasise from the start that our attitude is based on much wider considerations than the merits of the Tamils' case. We believe that the Government are profoundly mistaken in seeking to enact what, despite the denial of the Home Secretary, we regard as a hasty and ill-thought-out piece of general legislation in reaction to one episode with which the Government have found it difficult to deal.

I should like to emphasise also, despite the rather snide implications of the Home Secretary, that neither the Bill nor the Labour party's attitude to it relates in any way to the general issue of immigration control. We in the Labour party repeat our commitment to firm immigration control, which should be based on neither racial nor sexual discrimination.

Seldom, however, can a Bill with such wide implications for treatment of would-be refugees seeking asylum in Britain have been based on such invalid assumptions relating to a single case or group of cases.

The background is well known. Last month, a group of 64 Tamils arrived at Heathrow from Bangladesh claiming asylum as refugees, and a speedy decision was taken to remove them. I was contacted by UKIAS and, in turn, I made contact with the Home Secretary's office to ask for a stay of removal while the cases were properly studied.

If my request had been granted, none of the Government's subsequent difficulties with the courts would have arisen. What is more, the outcome would have been exactly the same as has followed the intervention of the courts. My request was rejected, however, and the Government proceeded to take action to remove the Tamils.

When the matter was raised in the House on 17 and 18 February, the Minister of State repeatedly made unequivocal and prejudicial statements about the Tamils' claim to remain. The columns of Hansard are littered with outright statements that the right hon. and learned Gentleman made. I shall quote just one or two, but I could quote many: we are satisfied, on the basis of their own accounts given to immigration officers, that they have no claim to refugee status. We are therefore arranging for them to be returned to Bangladesh without delay … I have to make it quite plain that they are not refugees, that their claim to refugee status has been examined and found wanting and that the information available to the Government from the British high commission in Colombo gives no reason to suppose that people … will be harassed or ill treated … it was quite obvious, from the examination carried out by the immigration officers at the port, that the claims made by these people were manifestly bogus." — [Official Report,17 February 1987; Vol. 110, c. 769–70.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman made similar statements later in those exchanges and the following day.

Those statements were made after initial interviews which, in many cases, took no more than 20 minutes. As we know, circumstances arose and, following them, an application for judicial review was granted. The Home Secretary was then obliged, first in a letter to UKIAS and then in a statement to the House on 3 March, to disown and repudiate the prejudicial statements of the Minister of State and to agree that the cases of each of the 64 applicants should be re-examined individually. They were not any more "manifestly bogus", but cases which had to be examined individually because there was the most cursory initial examination.

The Secretary of State also said that the cases should be referred to UKIAS. After two weeks of turmoil and confusion, the Government were compelled to do what, if they had heeded my initial request, they could have done sensibly and with good grace.

The Home Secretary was then forced by the Prime Minister, who was in her usual "Somebody has got to be summoned" frame of mind, to take some action—any kind of action—and the result is the Bill that we have before us. We should be clear that the Bill imposes on all airlines a duty to interpret and implement Britain's immigration rules, with the prospect of a £1,000 fine per passenger if they get it wrong.

One hundred and forty nine airlines fly into Britain from at least 246 ports of embarkation. It will now be necessary for officials from all those airlines and all those ports of embarkation to be experts in British immigration law and to implement it faultlessly—something which Britain's own immigration and entry clearance officers are incapable of doing themselves, to judge from the high proportion of successful appeals against their decisions in many countries of origin.

Some of the officials who will be given the role of surrogate immigration officers, or entry clearance officers, will be officials of authoritarian or dictatorial countries. Officials of the KGB involved in the working of Aeroflot will be interpreting and implementing British law, not simply in the case of their own nationals, but in the case of passengers from other countries who have stopped over in Moscow and wish to fly on to London.

Similar duties will be put on shipping officials. The General Council of British Shipping sent me and perhaps other hon. Members a memorandum today about the difficulties that our shipping lines expect to encounter. I shall read it in full because it is a case that the Government must answer and deal with if there are not to be enormous difficulties for shipping lines and their officials. The council says: The General Council of British Shipping is seriously concerned at the proposal to impose a penalty of £1,000 on carriers bringing passengers to the United Kingdom whose travel papers are not in order. In particular, they are concerned that this will apply to ferry passengers embarking at European Community or other near European ports. In order to avoid the penalty, ferry operators will be required to set up a system of examination of passports and visas in a zone from which the passenger cannot depart except to join the ship, provided of course that the country of embarkation is prepared to provide such a zone. The inspectors, who will in many instances be foreign nationals, will require a detailed knowledge of UK Immigration Law and documentation, and of passports world-wide, a greater degree of expertise than can be expected from the type of personnel employed in checking tickets. It seems doubtful that this is what the Government, on consideration, would wish. Its target is much smaller but the operator can only be sure of avoiding such penalties (and indeed others, such as accusations of discrimination) if it examines the documents of day trippers and school parties with the same vigilance as it examines those of persons thought to be attempting to enter illegally. Quite apart from expense, even if the system could be set up, annoying delays to passengers would appear inevitable. Lord Brabazon of Tara, in the recent debate in the House of Lords, acknowledged the problems of dealing with a large number of people in a short space of time; a detailed passport examination raises even more difficulties. It continues: The whole process would of course be repeated, perhaps two hours later, by the Immigration Officers in the UK. Shipowners know, to their considerable cost, that these are sometimes deceived, but they are the proper persons to decide whether papers are valid. A reporting time of 45 minutes for cars is normal. To be required to examine passports and compare photographs with the physical appearance of perhaps 1,200 passengers, either in cars, coaches or trains, cannot be seen as anything other than an intolerable burden on an industry already facing intense competition. Under the proposed regime, they would have a revising function, the main burden having been placed on the ferry operator who already bears the burden of returning such passengers to the port of embarkation or, in some cases, to distant parts of the world. In GCBS view, the Bill should not apply to intracommunity travel. If the Government cannot accept this, an assurance that the penalties would not be applied in the case of such travel should be sought. This would be compatible with the Community intent to eliminate barriers to intracommunity travel.

That is a very serious objection, put up not by people who wish to torpedo immigration policy but by those who will face the practical consequences of the ill-thought-out Bill that the Government are seeking to rush through the House in a few days. Overseas airline and shipping officials will have to become experts in scrutinising documents for possible forgery. Under clause 1(4) carriers are absolved from a possible fine only if the falsity of the document is "reasonably apparent". In other words, the Bill excludes those who have gone to incompetent rather than to accomplished forgers. No doubt this will have a salutary effect on the standards of excellence of forgery in certain countries, and people unable to obtain passports and visas legitimately will become prey to the higher prices commanded by those who can promise to fool airline and shipping officials.

It is not as though British immigration law is simple even for our own officials to interpret. For example, the United States is a non-visa country for visitors, but for those wishing to establish themselves in business or to join relatives in this country visas are required. The same applies to other non-visa countries. How are airlines and other carriers to decide whether a visa trip or a non-visa trip is intended? Are they expected to conduct interrogations?

Conversely, not all nationals of Commonwealth visa countries require visas for every purpose. How will their rights be protected? There are others, not claiming to be refugees, whose interests are also at stake. Last autumn, when visas were imposed for four Commonwealth countries and Pakistan, the Secretary of State in an invidious little passage at the beginning of his speech—designed, as always, to try to make some capital out of the situation—specifically agreed that there might be cases of great emergency in which a passenger might not have time to apply for, let alone obtain, a visa, for instance, on hearing of the sudden mortal illness or death of a relative in this country.

The Home Secretary specifically agreed on procedures to protect the interests of visa nationals in such circumstances. His own guidelines to protect people in such a predicament, as quoted to his hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Galley), state: If the passenger was refused entry because he did not have an entry clearance required under the Immigration Rules action to remove the passenger will only be deferred if at the time of intervention the Member demonstrates that there are exceptional and compelling circumstances (eg recent bereavement or sudden grave illness here in the immediate family). In such cases and in cases of refusal where no entry clearance was required action to remove the passenger will normally be deferred for a period of 12 working days to enable the Member to submit written representations." —[Official Report,6 November 1986; Vol. 103, c. 540.] That carefully worked out guideline is now a load of rubbish because the airlines will not carry people who do not have the documents, although the Secretary of State himself admitted that they might have perfectly valid reasons for having failed to obtain them. All those assurances will go by the board because if a person with difficulties of the kind specifically recognised by the Secretary of State in November tries to obtain a seat on an aircraft, the airline is likely to turn him down rather than risk a fine under the Bill.

There are also people from visa countries who claim to be exempt from immigration control because they are British citizens by descent and thus, whatever their travel document, do not require a visa to enter the United Kingdom. Will such passengers now have to prove to the airline that they have a British parent and, if so, how? That is why we describe the Bill as ill thought out and oppressive. People whose grounds for not obtaining a visa have been recognised as valid by the Home Secretary will be prevented from travelling because of the fines laid down in the Bill. The Bill must be amended in Committee to take account of all those potential anomalies because some are likely to cause great human hardship or distress.

Even when a person gets through the new barrier with all the documents required by the Secretary of State—either valid or well forged, as the Bill lays down—his claims will have to pass tougher tests without the protections that previously existed. Even if the person's documents are in order, his chance of being accepted as a refugee will be subject to greater hazard in the future.

In the debate on refugees on 31 March 1983, the Minister of State said: I believe that there is a strong case for formulating arrangements for the notification of asylum cases to an agency at an early stage when a negative decision is contemplated. The refugee unit at the Home Office will in future give formal notification to the UKIAS refugee councillors of all cases when no other agency or hon. Members has previously intervened and a negative decision has been proposed." — [Official Report, 31 March 1983; Vol. 40, c. 522.] The Home Secretary has completely abandoned that commitment, made by the Minister of State at a calmer time. The Secretary of State kicked that pledge right out of the field in his announcement on 3 March and in his deplorable and misleading statement today about the Government's response to the Home Affairs Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration.

Despite the statement by the Minister of State in 1983 recognising the strong case for notification and referral, the Home Secretary now says: Accordingly, the present arrangements under which my Department refers cases to UKIAS will be revised and I shall be inviting UKIAS to join in discussions to that end … and for the avoidance of doubt I must place it on record that in future there will be cases which will not be referred to UKIAS and that therefore applicants for asylum can have no expectation in future that as a result of the arrangement arrived at in 1983 or otherwise there will in their cases be such a reference. Similarly there will be instances in which early removal is necessary in the interests of immigration control and it would not be right for me to defer removal on a Member's seeking to put a stop on the case. It follows also that those who seek to challenge in the courts decisions to refuse asylum cannot expect that they will automatically be allowed to stay here until proceedings are completed." —[Official Report,3 March 1987 Vol. 111, c. 733.]

The Home Secretary has withdrawn the pledge on reference to UKIAS, withdrawn the right of an hon. Member to put a stop on and withdrawn the opportunity of effective judicial review. That is the effect of his announcement on 3 March. The way in which he has tried to mislead the House is quite deplorable. In withdrawing those three protections he is withdrawing safeguards that his Department told the House and the Select Committee were the proper safeguards against wrongful decisions.

This afternoon the Home Secretary has referred in the most deliberately disingenuous terms to the Home Affairs Sub-Committee's report on refugees and asylum. He certainly asknowledged that the Sub-Committee recommended a right of appeal before removal for those who sought asylum on arrival at a port of entry in the United Kingdom. I noted the Home Secretary's words carefully. He said that his predecessor had spelt out in measured terms why he would not accept that appeal recommendation.

What were the measured terms that the Home Secretary thought he could get away with by describing them as such this afternoon? What did the Government reply to the report? They rejected the appeal proposal because they said that for this category of applicants there were other safeguards— representations by hon. Members, judicial review and the UKIAS referral procedure. The Government replied: The referral system is providing an effective safeguard and a satisfactory substitute for formal appeal rights … In practice … the referral procedure is providing a broader safeguard than a formal appeal to the immigration appellate authorities.

The Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration proposed a right of appeal. The Home Office rejected that because it said that there was a right of reference to UKIAS, a stop right of Members of Parliament and a right of judicial review. The Home Secretary withdrew all three rights on 3 March and now has the effrontery to say that he still rejects the right of appeal even though he has taken away the safeguards that his Department said were a valid substitute for appeal. That is a shoddy way in which to try to mislead the House, and I hope that he is thoroughly ashamed of himself. I did not think that I could feel so strongly about anything that the Secretary of State said. I have considerable personal respect for him, but I was horrified to hear how he dealt with this issue this afternoon.

The Home Secretary should think again about the matter. Having relied for a period on those three safeguards and having now rejected them, the Government should introduce the right of appeal before removal as recommended by the Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration.

Another problem relates to refugees who wish to claim asylum but will never get here because the airlines and other carriers will not take the risk of carrying them. On 3 March the Home Secretary told the House: The Government remain fully committed to their obligations under the United Nations 1951 Convention to genuine refugees as defined in that Convention. The decisions on individual cases which I make as Home Secretary will respect that obligation."—[Official Report,3 March 1987; Vol. 111, c. 733.]

Of course, the Home Secretary is bound to say that because he is bound by the immigration rules. Those rules state: Where a person is a refugee full account is to be taken of the provisions of the convention and protocol relating to the status of refugees.

Article 31 of the United Nations convention on refugees says: The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of Article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.

I acknowledge immediately that that would not apply to the current case of the Tamils because they did not come directly from Sri Lanka, but our attitude to the Bill is not governed by that case. I said that at the beginning of my speech, and it is irrefutable that the Bill violates that paragraph of the convention. The Bill breaks the Home Secretary's undertaking of 3 March, because the convention states: The Contracting States shall not impose penalties … on refugees who … enter or are present in their territory without authorisation, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence. But, of course, the £1,000 fine is a penalty and the Government are consequently violating the convention.

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


Mr. Kaufman

We do not know whether they are refugees until we find out. The Minister is suggesting that none of them is a refugee, but that is manifestly bogus.

Mr. Waddington

The right hon. Gentleman has not yet realised that the penalty of £1,000 is imposed on the carrier, not the person of refugee status.

Mr. Kaufman

That was a clever little interruption. The person seeking refugee status is penalised by the penalty on the carrier, of course. It was the kind of remark that the right hon. and learned Gentleman could get away with in the courts as a nice little joke to the judge, but it does not help people who are fleeing in fear of their lives.

Mr. Waddington

That is silly.

Mr. Kaufman

No, it is not silly. The right hon. and learned Gentleman made some prejudicial remarks about people who lost their lives as a result of the penalties that he championed so strongly.

Mr. Corbyn

Is it not right that of the 58 cases that the Minister of State attempted to decide in advance of the court decision, not one of the individuals concerned could have entered this country had the Bill been law at that time?

Mr. Kaufman

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Minister of State prejudged the cases by saying that they were manifestly bogus, whereas the court declared that they were not manifestly bogus. The Home Secretary is now having to look at every individual case himself. The Minister of State is completely wrong and my hon. Friend is right.

What is more, the Bill violates the statement of the position on refugee procedures in the Home Office memorandum of 17 December 1984, which stated: A valid claim for asylum overrides the normal requirements of immigration control that other immigrants must satisfy in order to enter or remain here. Nothing can be plainer than that Home Office commitment and nothing can be plainer than the Home Secretary's breach of it in the Bill. The Bill is posited on the assumption that a would-be refugee would have no difficulty in obtaining a visa from the British post in his country of origin. The idea is laughable. Can hon. Members envisage the position? Someone is on the run from the secret police in an eastern European country or another visa country. He breaks off from his escape or emerges from his cover, strolls into the British mission, applies for and obtains a visa in a few minutes without difficulty or delay, and then resumes his escape.

Under the United Nations convention, a person seeking a visa in his own country cannot be defined as a refugee. The convention defines as refugees persons who fulfil the conditions of paragraph 2 of this section. Paragraph 2 states: As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

On 6 March, the Minister of State summed up perfectly for us the position of Jews and others under the German Nazis, when he said: In 1938 the British Government imposed a visa requirement on Germans and Austrians. From that time onwards, Germans and Austrians fleeing from Nazi persecution came here with visas, having satisfied the British authorities that they had the wherewithal, or that they had people here who were prepared to look after them." — [Official Report.6 March 1987; Vol. Ill, c. 1209–10.] That, he implied smugly, was that. The fact is that for many people that was that. Nine days ago in Glasgow, a Jewish woman told me how, in the 1930s, she had luckily obtained a visa and got away to Britain. Her parents were unable to obtain a visa and did not get away. They were victims of the same nice, tidy smugness as would penalise those who suffer from this Bill and from the same contemptible complacency of today's Home Office Ministers nearly half a century on.

The position could be the same even with passports. Indeed, the demand that airlines should always turn away passengers without passports conflicts with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which envisages that the absence of a passport will be the norm, not the exception, for genuine refugees.

The United Nations handbook on procedures states: It has sometimes been claimed that possession of a passport signified that the issuing authorities do not intend to persecute the holder, for otherwise they would not have issued a passport to him. That is how the commission approaches the matter, as it confirmed to me only today. The trouble is that, under the Bill, such a person would not get here for his or or her case to be considered on its merits. That person would not get here because in the Bill the Home Secretary hands over his obligations on refugees under the United Nations convention to foreign airlines and foreign shipping companies, including Aeroflot, South African Airways and the rest.

The least that the Government could do would be to amend the Bill so that the carrier will be absolved from the fine in respect of any person without proper documents who is subsequently accepted as a bona fide asylum seeker. That would not solve the problem, but it would ease it.

Even countries which the Home Secretary cited in support of his measure provide safeguards. Australia does not fine airlines where the cases of passengers are referred to the independent refugee determination committee, whatever the outcome of the case, so let not the Home Secretary cite Australia without providing a similar safeguard. Denmark does not fine airlines if a passenger faces return to a country where he or she would not be safe, so let not the Home Secretary cite Denmark in his support.

It is sometimes claimed that Britain has an outstanding record on acceptance of refugeees. There have been times when that record has been outstanding, when it has enhanced our reputation for humanity in the eyes of the world. But there have been other times, as when refugees from Hitler were excluded from this country when they could have been saved, when our reputation has been less glorious. Sadly, the Bill takes us into one of those less glorious times.

Ministers will not care. They have abandoned any standards of decency on this matter, at any rate until the general election is over. The Bill is not about keeping out a few bedraggled victims of seedy racketeers—racketeers whose trade in human flesh we all condemn. The Bill is about having a shoddy little debate in which racism can be stirred up in the hope of winning a few votes. At every general election, Tory Members cannot resist playing the race card. They are doing it again now, and it is especially lamentable that this Home Secretary, of whom people expected better, should have lent himself to this shabby manoeuvre.

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman is coming to the end of his speech, but since he told us that he would be unable to stay until the end of the debate, perhaps he will allow me to say this. I have listened with great care to his speech, but he has not addressed what I regard as the nub of the matter, which has nothing to do with elections or the race card. It is simply that a tradition of granting political asylum, as embodied in the United Nations convention, is in danger of being overwhelmed right across Europe by the sheer scale of applicants. Denmark has gone much further than we propose, and is declining to entertain applications for asylum from people who come via a third country. That alters the entire aspect, but the right hon. Gentleman has not tackled it yet.

Mr. Kaufman

I acknowledge that there is a problem — [Interruption.] The way in which Conservative Members leer and giggle about these matters is one of the most nauseating aspects of their approach to the issue. This is the most despicable parliamentary Conservative party that I have encountered during the past 17 years. When I mentioned Shcharansky in a previous debate, one hon. Member was quoted in Hansard as saying that it would be right to keep him out of the country, which shows the ugly undercurrent among Conservative Members.

Mr. Waddington

There is no need to be so unpleasant.

Mr. Kaufman

Not as unpleasant as the right hon. and learned Gentleman is, without effort.

Mr. Waddington


Mr. Kaufman

However hard I may try to be nasty, I could not succeed as effortlessly as the right hon. and learned Gentleman does.

I agree with the Home Secretary that there is a problem. He acknowledged that the problem is not as great as it is for several other countries, although it is possible that, as other countries deal with their problems, it may grow in Britain. But why, instead of slamming down a little Bill overnight, did not the Home Secretary go to the UKIAS or to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees? Why did he not come to us and say, "Let us sit down and try to find a solution to the problem as quickly as possible."? But he did not want to do that. The reason is that Conservative Members glory in and are enjoying the Bill, because they believe that it is a way of playing the race card once again.

The Home Secretary teaches us the lesson that we should have learnt by now: that in the end Conservative Members, liberals or hard-liners, wets or drys, are all the same. Let them make the most of this electorally—I am sure that they will. If any of them still have consciences, let them live with them.

5.18 pm
Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

It is something that in his closing, intemperate remarks the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) acknowledged that there is a problem to be faced, and of course there is a serious and very difficult problem. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, the Bill is not exclusively concerned with refugees. However, the background to the Bill is the problem of refugees, which is inescapably growing, and we must give a lot of thought to ways of tackling it.

Behind it all lies the spread of civil wars and other wars, and tyrannical regimes. There is also the problem of economic refugees—people who wish to flee from their country, not because they are being actively persecuted, but because the regime in which they live is, to put it mildly, increasingly distasteful and hostile. There is also the problem of whether we are right to go down the path of orderly departure, to which my right hon. Friend referred. I have always been a little anxious about this. I see why it was introduced for Vietnam, and for Chile before that but it has about it something of the flavour of almost sanctioning the entitlement of Governments to persecute their citizens. We must think about that hard and carefully.

It is right that we should be discussing these matters with our European partners, and it is to be welcomed that the newish United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Hocké, should be showing clearly that he is prepared to ask fundamental questions. As it happens, he has asked me to go to a seminar or conference that is to take place shortly to talk about these things, and we have to face some important and basic questions.

We know that the pressure of intense migration has led to the introduction of visas for India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Ghana. In the case of Sri Lanka and the Tamils essentially it was the refugee problem that caused that to come about. Now we have the Bill, which is designed to strengthen the effect of the visa system to control the surge that would take place if we did not take steps to prevent it.

I do not particularly object — I never have—to the idea that carriers should bear the cost of taking back those who are refused entry, not do I object to the visa system as a method of controlling the surge. I do not think that the principle of the Bill is necessarily unreasonable, although the practicalities of it will have to be examined carefully in Committee. However, I am deeply concerned that we should not weaken our traditional commitment to do our share in helping refugees. I hope that the Government and my right hon. Friend will be able to give reassurances on two aspects of the policy that goes alongside the Bill. We must look at the Bill in conjunction with the general system for handling refugees when they appeal to us to take them in.

The first of these questions is about access to this country. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it clear that in the past the majority of refugees accepted here have been people who have been here already — students, and others, for example, whose circumstances have changed because of what has been happening in their home countries. Some refugees will certainly try to escape here directly, and we recognise certain groups as having particular claims on us, notably through family connections. We recognise that they have a certain amount of entitlement to take refuge in this country and to come here to do so.

However, we need some assurance about how far in practice genuine potential refugees will will be able to secure visas in the countries of their origin. Will they be able to go to the British posts in their country? This point was raised by the right hon. Member for Gorton. Will that work effectively? Will the fact that they are still in their own country allow them to be considered for refugee status? After all, the 1951 convention defining refugee status talks of the refugee being outside the country of his nationality".

In Sri Lanka, for example, how many people are reaching our post in Colombo, or perhaps some other way of getting in touch with our authorities and applying for a visa on refugee grounds and then succeeding in getting one? We need to know the answers. I recognise that the answers can relate only to the recent period because until not long ago, Sri Lankans were able to come here to claim status when they arrived here. We want to know whether it is possible, in practice, for such people to work their way to Colombo, get in an application for refugee status, and if so how it is dealt with, particularly in the light of the point that I have just made about the definition of the status of the refugee.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

I can answer the right hon. Gentleman's question. I have here a letter from the British high commission in Colombo, dated 10 July 1986, to an applicant. It says: You have applied for entry clearance with a view to admission to the United Kingdom as a refugee but there is no provision in the immigration rules for entry clearance to be granted for this purpose.

Mr. Raison

The answer may he that he has to apply for entry to the United Kingdom for consideration for refugee status. That may be the procedure. I should like to hear from my right hon. and learned Friend when he winds up the debate how the procedure works, because that is an important matter.

Today I received an answer to a parliamentary question which makes it clear that the proportion of those seeking refugee status applying outside the United Kingdom has in the past been small. In the year October 1985 to September 1986 the number of applicants outside the United Kingdom was 50, of whom 30 were granted refugee status, 10 were refused asylum but granted leave to remain on exceptional grounds, and 10 were refused asylum. That was a small number, but under the new system it may increase. We need to know where we are.

My second major concern is what happens to would-be refugees if they intend to get here by one means or another. This is very much the issue recently raised by the affair of the Tamils. It is true that the numbers likely to do so will, in all probability, be much reduced both by the introduction of visas and by the consequences of the Bill, but it is also true that refugees, who may be desperate, find ways to travel and get here, as do their rather more bogus counterparts, and this is the problem that we have to face. People will continue to turn up at our ports and it is important that we should think carefully about what they do when they get here. Up to now, as the parliamentary answer to which I have just referred shows, a significant number of those allowed to stay have been people who have applied at the ports rather than in their country of origin.

It is here that I am concerned about the possibility of erosion of the safeguards that we have established. The convention does not require any kind of appeal system. We are party to the consensus of the executive committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which called for a system of formal reconsideration of a refusal at the port of entry. We have operated that since my right hon. Friend made his announcement in 1983.

We have responded by three particular means, which were mentioned by the right hon. Member for Gorton. One is intervention by UKIAS. The second is Members' representations, and the third is judicial review. All those would happen before removal. The system put forward by my right hon. Friend was accepted by the protection division of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as an adequate way to deal with the problem.

The question now is that will happen to the system. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in his statement of 3 March, clearly foreshadowed changes that could be significant. The right hon. Member for Gorton has just quoted the passage to which I would have referred, so I shall not repeat it. However, it is important to consider carefully what my right hon. Friend said then, and I hope that he will think carefully, as I know he will, about the remarks made during the debate today about the system. We want to know rather more precisely what it is that my right hon. Friend has in mind. I cannot say whether my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State will be able to spell that out, but I should welcome such a response. I accept that there should be proper consultation with the UNHCR and UKIAS. I hope that by the time we have considered the Bill in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading we will have a clear idea of exactly what is proposed in place of the system agreed in 1983.

I recognise, as do most hon. Members if they are honest, that there is a genuine problem of abuse, but we know that it is difficult to be sure of the facts. The courts have said that entry by false means does not in itself lead to the conclusion that a person is not a refugee. A person may come here by wangling, but that does not take away from the fact that he is a genuine refugee. The High Court has made that clear and we should all accept it.

The reports about the 64 Tamils, who in a sense are at the heart of the controversy, show that a substantial number fall into either the category of people who would be expected to be granted refugee status or the category of people who are likely to be given permission to remain here under the discretionary power. Until we know the outcome of these cases it is not possible for me to know the answers, but there are signs that a number of the Tamils are people who, in normal circumstances, would be allowed to stay for one reason or another. If that is so, no doubt they will be allowed to stay when the process of examination has been completed.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to retain some way of reconsidering refusal of entry to possibly bogus applicants before removal. I should be anxious about a system which firmly stated that immigration officers on their own, and without any reconsideration, can decide that certain people have to return home immediately. If the Bill is passed, as I expect it will be, the problem of pressure is bound to decline, but we should not get ourselves into a position that is out of line with the UNHCR executive committee's resolutions. We should find a way of adhering to them.

There is a real problem with the applicant who abuses the system. I do not press for a formal appeal system to operate within this country in cases of abuse or when people arrive here without visas, and I do not believe that we should introduce a system providing for a fully fledged formal legal appeal, but I press for the present system, as set out in 1983, essentially to remain in being for most people, with the possibility of using the three alternative approaches that I have mentioned.

There should be some way of rapidly considering the cases of those whom the immigration service feels are bogus entrants. I have in mind a system of notifying representatives of UKIAS or of the UNHCR in this country that Britain proposes immediately to send back someone because we think that he is applying on completely bogus grounds. That would at least enable some sort of discussion to take place with the representatives of the UNHCR or of UKIAS about the case and, if they accepted that the applicant was bogus, he would immediately be removed. If the UNHCR or the UKIAS wanted to contest the case, there would be a clear obligation on them to use a mechanism that would operate rapidly.

It would be wrong to set up a mechanism that would enable people to remain in this country indefinitely and to start playing the all too familiar game of operating the immigration rules when there is no genuine ground for doing so.

I would not favour accepting a system whereby Members of Parliament were able to weigh in on the process. There should be a swift, effective way of considering these cases. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be willing to consider this proposal carefully.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), the Chairman of the Race Relations and Immigration Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, is present. I take it that he will take part in the debate. I am not certain exactly what the Select Committee recommended in its report. Who is better placed to tell us than my hon. Friend? It is not entirely evident that the Select Committee was talking about a fully fledged system of appeal. It talked about the way in which the abuse problem could be prolonged by some kind of appeal system. In paragraph 105 the Select Committee stated: We recommend that the Home Office decide in principle to extend the right of appeal to all asylum applicants, and, for types of case where the applicant currently lacks a right of appeal exercisable within the UK, to establish procedures by which leave to remain is withheld in obviously bogus cases, and by which such refusals of leave can be rapidly reviewed if appealed against; and that it set up a working party to determine how such procedures would operate.

The Select Committee says that the right of appeal should be extended to all asylum applicants, but it does not specifically say that that should happen in this country before removal. I am not sure what the Committee means. The Select Committee talks also about refusals of need being "rapidly reviewed" if appealed against. I do not know whether by "rapidly reviewed" the Committee means the formal appeal process, or whether it means something much more akin to the process that I have described. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North will explain what the Committee had in mind.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will think carefully about the points that I have made. If he accepts my proposal that there should be a quickfire method of dealing with the bogus or the disputed cases, that might meet with the acquiescence of the UNHCR. I dare say that it would prefer something more, but I think that a system could be set up that would command sufficiently broad assent to work, and we would then be able to say that we have not back-tracked from the type of principle for dealing with refugees which I think we have generally adopted. What I have said is parallel to the Bill rather than concerned with its substance. I hope that it will be possible to find a satisfactory and honourable way of resolving this difficult problem.

5.38 pm
Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

I wish to follow the civilised remarks of the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison)—

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a grave discourtesy to you, Sir, and to Parliament that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who opened for the Opposition, should find more pressing business outside Parliament than to listen to the debate, especially after the sort of speech that he offered us?

Mr. Meadowcroft


Mr. Kaufman

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. First, I am doing no more than the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done on a number of occasions. Secondly, I did notify the Home Secretary. Thirdly, it will be acknowledged that the Bill came up suddenly and one was not able to plan one's arrangements accordingly. Fourthly, the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) knows very well that whatever my other shortcomings—of which I am sure he is fully appraised and able to describe at length—one of the things that I do not generally do is dodge fire.

Mr. Meadowcroft


Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it not be in order for the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who is now leaving the Chamber, to apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) inasmuch as everything that the right hon. Gentleman accused Conservative Members of feeling and saying was certainly not borne out by my right hon. Friend's speech.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

I call Mr. Meadowcroft.

Mr. Meadowcroft

I was about to say that I was pleased to be able to take up the civilised comments of the right hon. Member for Aylesbury and to commend 90 per cent. of the speech of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who, 1 believe, spoke in good faith. I am only sorry that his measured terms were undermined by his final comments. In dealing with these issues there is nothing to be gained by endeavouring to divine ulterior motives. Nothing annoys me more than those who try to use a crystal ball, as it were, to determine the meaning and intent behind my comments. By the same token it does no good to try to impute motives to others. Many of the comments that we make on sensitive issues such as the one before us give the appearance that something additional is meant, but to say that somebody has said something deliberately for that purpose is unfair. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman went over the top, and that was of no value to the debate.

No one on either side of the House has a monopoly of virtue or an exclusivity of compassion. The right hon. Member for Gorton, who, sadly, has had to leave the debate, should have had drawn to his attention the position of the Kenya Asians in 1968. Promises had been made and it may well have been that people were under stress in Kenya. The Kenya Asians then found that the promises that had been made to them were not kept by the then Labour Government. It seems that no one is beyond reproach.

My complaint about the Bill is that the Government are seeking to follow their Back Benchers instead of endeavouring to lead and initiate. It is serious that at this stage in the Parliament the Government are seeking to placate the opinion of Conservative Back Benchers. I have a particular moment in mind. On 5 March, during Home Office questions, I asked the Minister of State whether he believed that the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service, or the British Refugee Council, would connive in the irregular entry of immigrants. The Minister of State dodged around, as it were, without saying yes or no, and during that time there were a number of cries from Conservative Back Benchers to the effect that they believed that UKIAS would behave in that way. That is a clue that explains why the Bill has been introduced.

The Home Secretary said that the Bill was sparked off by the Tamil case but that it had wider connections than that. In tacking it on to one issue, such as the Tamils, there is the problem of retrospection. There are great dangers in that course. Airlines and shipping lines can hardly be expected to know of the debates that we are to have in this place. They are certainly not to know of the debates that will take place in Committee. They will not know what is in our minds when it comes to the interpretation of what appears to be a valid passport. These are sensitive issues and it is of concern that the Bill will be retrospective.

I followed the argument of the right hon. Member for Aylesbury about the Vietnamese refugees. His concern suggested that international agreement to take refugees amounted almost to tacit assent to the repressive actions in their countries. This is not the same problem as is faced by those who seek to placate terrorism. Where entrenched and clearly ideological or racist action is taking place within a country that provokes the sort of despair that leads people to take to sea in open boats, the least that the international community can do is to come to terms with reality and to ascertain whether there is some way of persuading individual countries to accept their fair share of the refugee problem.

If the issue goes wider than the Tamils who arrived at Heathrow, one of the Government's arguments must be questioned. The Government contend that refugees can go to a neighbouring country and obtain documents, but not all countries are signatories to the United Nations convention. There may be neighbouring countries to a dispute where assent to human rights and human international conventions is far from the level and depth that we would wish in Britain. That would make it difficult for the Government to say to refugees that they should go to a neighbouring country.

If all countries took the same action as the Government are endeavouring to take by means of the Bill, how can a refugee travel? If all shipping lines and airlines found themselves facing a potential fine of £1,000 and if someone were found to be travelling without documents or with obviously forged documents, the result would be that no one would be able to travel to this country or even to a neighbouring country. If every country took the same line as ourselves, there would be no means of travelling in an emergency in the way that people are forced to do when fleeing from terror. To say that we shall take unilateral action despite what might happen elsewhere, and to excuse doing so on the ground that someone can travel easily to another country and then travel on properly with documents, seems to go against the spirit of the international attitude that we should advance. If we do not play our part in coping with the problems of the world's refugees, how can we expect others to do so?

In some instances it is unreal to expect refugees to travel in safety to a British embassy or high commission. There are places where those entering or leaving a British embassy will be watched. There are places where people will not feel safe to visit the embassy even if they are safe in doing so. In many instances the belief in terror matters rather more than the terror itself. All hon. Members are familiar with that attitude from dealing with their case work. In the light of events in the last few days in India. it seems that Tamils would not necessarily be safe in attending an embassy or high commission there or elsewhere.

There is a great need for some form of referral system. The Minister of State wanted to return 58 Tamils on 17 February. No doubt he would have wanted to return 64—

Mr. Hanley

When the 58 Tamils were stopped at Heathrow or threatened with deportation, one of them announced on the television news that he had not applied for a visa in Colombo because the British high commission was "ringed with troops". The British high commissioner has since said that there was only one policeman outside the high commission to his knowledge. Are we not in danger of accepting some slightly exaggerated statements?

Mr. Meadowcroft

I appreciate that argument. It is not my argument that all the 64 or 58 were genuine. I am saying that some of them may have been genuine. It appears now that some of them are regarded as genuine. It may be that circumstances were exaggerated for the sake of individual cases, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that there is no way of testing the genuineness and the validity of a case without the possibility of referral; otherwise the issue will rest entirely on the judgment of one official.

The Minister of State has told the House that he believed that all the Tamils were involved in a racket based in Malaysia. It has transpired, however, that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, through his representative in London, has said categorically that a number, perhaps a minority, are genuine refugees. If the Minister had had his way there would have been no referral. So strong was his belief in his case that he was not prepared to refer it to outside inspection. If he was so confident of his case, surely he could have referred it to an outside body such as UKIAS for inspection. If his case had been weak, he would not have dared to refer it. Now that it has transpired that a minority of the Tamils are genuine refugees, the case for ceasing to refer individuals to UKIAS in future has been fatally undermined.

The Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration said that a formal appeal system was not needed because of the availability of referral and of Members' representations. That has now been called in doubt however, because various provisions have been set aside. Surely fairness and justice demands some measure of appeal. There is a belief in the rule of law that runs throughout the House and one that Conservative Members frequently talk about. Confidence in the judiciary, the courts and the legal process will not be undermined because there are appeals and because appeals occasionally overturn the original finding. No one claims that appeals are fatally flawing our system of justice. Appeals are accepted as the norm, and that is why we have appeals built into the general system. Surely we cannot accept the appeal system within our ordinary legal processes without accepting that it should be available to refugees.

Mr. Hurd

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if we took his advice we would run a serious risk that anyone arriving at our ports for settlement or for any other purpose would soon realise that if he said, "I want to be treated as a refugee," he would be here in practice for quite a long time? That is the problem that the Germans have had to face, and it has become a serious problem for them.

Mr. Meadowcroft

I appreciate the Home Secretary's point, but my argument is that we have to resolve the problem by international rather than unilateral action. If we take unilateral action, it simply means that other countries will take the same action, and we shall be left with no way of solving the problem. Refugees may well still be refugees. Unless a process of determining that is adopted, and accepted as fair, we shall not be resolving the problem; we shall simply be hiding it.

I hope that I am not irking the Home Secretary, as he said earlier that I was. I am sorry if my rather warm remarks on 3 March irked him, but perhaps it was right for them to do so if that expressed some of the feelings of hon. Members about the treatment directed at people in the most vulnerable circumstances.

Perhaps that is the difficulty. I accept that in different circumstances, when we are not dealing precisely with the refugee problem, there may be a good reason to have a debate about the whole issue of immigration and the status of people who should be entitled to come here. However you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would certainly soon be shouting for order if I endeavoured to set out the policy on such cases.

The problem is that every time the Government introduce new legislation or orders to deal with immigration, the parameters of the debate are changed. It then becomes impossible to discuss who should be allowed to come to the country and who should not as if that had not happened. To take it to extremes, no party in this House can debate what immigration policy should be as if nothing had happened since 1962. The difficulty is that every incoming Government must accept the rules and regulations as they are at that time and try to work backwards or forwards from them, or simply take them on board. The difficulty is that it changes all the time. Perhaps that is why no Labour Government ever repealed any of the Acts that they voted against in the first place —because the circumstances had changed. Once an artificial barrier has been erected, to take it away causes further difficulties.

If the Home Secretary is right, there may be more refugees genuinely seeking to get out of countries. The problem may be not that more people are trying to fool the system and to enter the country irregularly, but simply that there is an increase in genuine refugees. If that is so, we must have a procedure with which to determine whether they are genuine.

Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

Has the hon. Gentleman reflected on what controls should be imposed, or is there to be an open-ended commitment, regardless of the number of people who may wish to enter the United Kingdom?

Mr. Meadowcroft

Of course I have reflected on that. I have had discussions with the United Nations High Commission representative in London, and with other agencies. I concluded that we must reach an international settlement that takes on board the existing position. That means that we must deal with the Tamils specifically, as we dealt with the Vietnamese and the Ugandan Asians. If that gives us some breathing space to look at the broader issue—for instance, whether UKIAS can deal with more referrals—it must be done. However, I do not believe that we should use the general issue of immigration to undermine the refugee principle. That would do despite to people in an especially vulnerable position.

I worry about the other side of the coin for Conservative Members. Whereas they may accuse the Opposition of wanting to ease immigration generally, the difficulty for Conservative Members is that if pride in colonial heritage and in the Commonwealth is uppermost in their minds, that inevitably increases the desire of those in danger, or believing themselves to be in danger, within the Commonwealth to come to this country. Because there has been immigration of people whose families are now threatened, that will increase people's desire to come to this country. It would be hiding from that fact, and extremely dangerous, to say, "Because we have taken so many people and the country is overcrowded, we cannot do so in future."

Hon. Members on both sides of the House would not be here if it had not been for provisions of refugee legislation in the past. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Terlezki) has a background of being in the Ukraine, and his family had to suffer tremendous repression. The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) comes from a family who entered this country as refugees, and he lost a member of his family because of Hitler. Other people in the House and outside it have come from that background.

The Home Secretary mentioned Mr. Shcharansky. People of note get out in ones and twos, but they have papers because the Soviet Government have allowed it. But that would not cover someone attending a scientific conference or a sporting or artistic event who managed to abscond and boarded an aeroplane or ship. They would not be carrying papers allowed to them by the Soviet Union. Such people cannot obtain the documents that our Government require. But Conservative Members will probably feel more sympathetic towards such cases than towards some that we are seeing now.

Mr. Waddington

My right hon. Friend's point was that those fortunate enough to have left the Soviet Union have left as a result of being granted an exit visa by the Soviet authorities and an entry visa to come into this country. It is difficult to imagine circumstances in which anyone in Russia has been lucky enough to get to an aeroplane, or anywhere near an airport. Mr. Shcharansky walked from East Germany into West Germany. In the other case quoted by my right hon. Friend, Britain had granted a visa after the Soviet authorities had granted an exit visa.

Mr. Meadowcroft

There have been cases in which people have been given asylum after absconding from other events.

Mr. Waddington

If someone has come here to attend another event, what bearing has that on this carrier legislation? That person would have an exit visa from, for instance, the Soviet Union to come here as a visitor for that event.

Mr. Meadowcroft

He might well have gone to a third country, from which he would have no exit visa. He would have only a visa for that other country, and would not be able to travel any further.

The crucial point is that such issues, whether or not they are popular, often depend on international consensus. It worries me that Conservative Members are upsetting that consensus on a very serious and delicate issue. The Home Secretary said that he believed that his proposals were supported by a majority of hon. Members, and by an overwhelming majority outside the House. That may be true, but with some issues that should by no means be an overriding concern. We should not set public opinion aside lightly, but some issues, although they are important to a relatively small number of people, are crucial to those individuals. We should try to do what is right: we should maintain the international conventions, and treat people with fairness and justice. I do not believe that this legislation goes anywhere near that.

5.59 pm
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

I assure the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) that the United Kingdom has always adopted a generous and liberal policy towards those seeking asylum. That is still true today. I know from my work as Chairman of the Race Relations and immigration Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Home Affairs that by comparison with any other country we can be proud of our record of support for the United Nations convention. Not one Socialist East-bloc country has signed the convention, whereas we were among the first to accede to it, and since our accession in 1967 we have been scrupulous in its observance.

I know from my work in and contact with the Western democracies in Europe and North America that there is a serious and growing problem of immigration from so-called Third world countries and others. That is the nub of this issue. It is perfectly understandable that people in over-populated and impoverished countries — where often there is poor government, bad management and no economic prospects — will seek the advantages of the affluent West. No one could have more sympathy than I and, I suspect, most hon. Members, have with that ambition, but the fact remains that it is impossible for the United Kingdom — indeed, any Western country — to allow in a steady and persistent influx of persons from other countries.

In recent years, the United States, Canada and all the EEC countries have had to consider ways of containing immigration and preventing illegal immigration. As these procedures have tightened, the tactics of those who wish to enter the Western world for economic reasons have changed. This has resulted in an increasing black market for forged, altered and counterfeit passports and travel documents. Most Western countries now have stringent visa requirements. I am glad to say that the visa system that we have adopted in recent months has been outstandingly successful, due to the remarkable efforts of our overseas offices, as well as our offices at the immigration ports and airports in the United Kingdom. The visa system is working, and consequently it is reducing a great deal of the harm and hurt of the people who wish to travel from poorer countries.

The one loophole that has been exploited—in recent months in particular—is the claim to refugee status. A refugee, as I understand it, is someone who does not want to leave his home country but is forced to do so because of a genuine belief and expectation that were he to remain he would be killed or tortured. He harbours a determination to return to his home country at the earliest opportunity, and seeks to do so in the future. The wave of so-called refugees who have been seeking to enter the Western democracies do not fall into that category. The evidence is overwhelming that many of these unfortunate people are seeking to leave their own country for economic reasons and not strictly for reasons of oppression.

The 64 Sri Lankan Tamils who arrived at Heathrow from Bangladesh on 13 February had travelled first from Malaysia to Dhaka and from there to London. They had obtained sanctuary in Malaysia and, secondly, in. Bangladesh. If they had been genuine refugees, as I understand the meaning of the term, fleeing from the prospect of being killed or tortured, they would have obtained the sanctuary and protection that they pretended to seek in either of those countries. Their course of action and all that is known about them demonstrates that they were not genuine refugees. The conduct of the immigration service and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State seems to have been correct in the circumstances.

The 64 Sri Lankan Tamils had been organised by an agent who had travelled with them from Malaysia to Dhaka. All the Tamils travelled on forged or mutilated passports, or had no passports, having destroyed them on the journey. None of them had the required United Kingdom visas, yet they would have had the opportunity of obtaining those documents through the United Kingdom authorities in Malaysia or Dhaka, where we have a high commission which is skilled in the granting of such documents in proper cases. They claimed asylum on arrival in the United Kingdom and the Government, satisfied that the Tamils had no claim to refugee status, attempted to return them to Bangladesh.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West called for international understanding of the problem. I wish that there was a willingness for international understanding. The difficulty that is faced by the United Kingdom and other Western democracies is that some countries use any excuse not to accept back into their territory persons who are not genuine asylum seekers and who have no right to be in the Western country in question.

The problem that is faced by my right hon. Friend and his officials is that if he does not turn round the bogus refugees in a very short time the United Kingdom and its citizens will be left with a responsibility for those persons, which is improper and does a grave disservice to the genuine asylum seekers, to whom we traditionally give sanctuary. On this occasion the Government were prevented from doing what they believed to be their duty by a High Court order staying any action to remove them. The Home Secretary, as he said in the debate, decided to refer the 64 cases to the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service and reach fresh decisions on each case.

It is a matter of regret that UKIAS did not use far more professionalism and objectivity in examining these cases. It does no good to the cause of the genuine asylum seeker if organisations that are funded by the taxpayer — as UKIAS is, to the tune of 90 per cent., with 10 per cent. coming from an official body which deals with refugee issues — do not exercise their special obligations and responsibilities in a manner that takes into account the interests of the country and the whole concept of fair immigration control, because the two go hand in hand.

I hope that the management of UKIAS will look further at that aspect of its affairs. It is only right that my right hon. Friend should invite it to consider the progress of these matters in the way that he has done.

Mr. Meadowcroft

The hon. Gentleman mentioned one or two of these matters earlier in relation to what I had said. Is he saying that UKIAS should say that there is a quota and that once a certain number is reached the national interest requires that we send the next ones back? I cannot understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the national interest compared with an individual's right. If UKIAS is seeking to interpret the rules as they stand it must make its own judgments on the individual. If that is not done—the hon. Gentleman spoke earlier about our splendid record—we shall find ourselves in the position of the Western powers at the end of the war when, in the national interest, they sent Slavic refugees back to Russia, to a certain death, rather than accept them.

Mr. Wheeler

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not pursue what happened after the second world war, as historically, that is so distant as not to be relevant to the situation in which we find ourselves today.

The point that the hon. Gentleman raises about how many refugees should be admitted into the United Kingdom or any other Western democracy is a serious one.

I perceive that the Western democracies—the United States, Canada or any of the EEC countries—are now saying that, in practice, there is a limit to the number of persons that they are prepred to allow into their countries as refugees. A consequence of a tightening-up of this specification is that the United Kingdom, with its more liberal policies for admission, is becoming more vulnerable to persons coming from other countries. The problem is to determine who is the genuine refugee and who is not. The 64 Tamils could have been returned to Dhaka in Bangladesh, where they could have applied for visas to the United Kingdom and safely remained there, as they were not at risk from any activity in Sri Lanka while they were resident in Dhaka. The same applies to Malaysia. The Tamils could have been processed properly within the system there and lived in safety.

Mr. Raison

I wonder how my hon. Friend is able to make that judgment on UKIAS handling of the problem. The essence is that the Tamils did not see the officials in the first instance, but they have subsequently been able to see them. I understand that the Tamils are still being interviewed and, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, representations can be made until Wednesday this week. What is the evidence for saying that UKIAS has not handled the cases correctly?

Mr. Wheeler

I understand the facts that I have presented to be correct and they have not been challenged. The 64 Tamils travelled in an organised way. They either had no documents, or the documents that they had were false, forged or mutilated. The evidence is overwhelming that the Tamils were far from genuine in that sense. They came from two Commonwealth countries where they were not at risk and where they could have obtained sanctuary from oppression, if that was their first objective. Apparently they did not seek that sanctuary in the kingdom of Malaysia or in the republic of Bangladesh. If they had done so they could have applied to come to the United Kingdom through our high commissions in the normal way and their applications would have been considered.

Mr. Raison

I am not sure that that meets my point. The question of how the Tamils got here, or whether they should have been interviewed in Malaysia of Dhaka, is not UKIAS's responsibility. UKIAS had a responsibility to interview those involved, once that was possible.

The court's view, which I do not challenge, is that the crucial question is not how the people got here—I am sure that there was racketeering—but whether they are refugees or people whose conditions are such that it would be wrong to send them back. That is at the heart of the matter. That is what UKIAS has been involved in. I do not think that UKIAS has mishandled the case. I understand that a substantial number of those involved deserve refugee status and should be considered for the right to remain here.

Mr. Wheeler

My right hon. Friend will concede that if at the end of the inquiry into the individual cases the granting of asylum is considered appropriate, the next question that will arise is to which country that will apply. Will it he the land in which they first arrived—Malaysia — or the second country to which they travelled— Bangladesh? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has great experience in the management of immigration control procedures and he will apprehend my argument. It is important.

Mr. Winnick

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whose speech has been interrupted on a number of occasions, for giving way. I apologise for interrupting him again. This is a matter for debate and I have my own views. I accept that the number of people whom the United Kingdom can accept must be limited. The hon. Gentleman is a fair-minded person, however much we disagree, but is he aware of any criticism by the Home Office or any other agency of the way in which UKIAS has handled the Tamil cases, or any other case that has been referred to the refugee unit in the last three years? The hon. Gentleman was the Chairman of the Sub-Committee which examined UKIAS and which came to the view that the organisation was well run and did a proper job.

Mr. Wheeler

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As the House knows, he plays an important part in the management of UKIAS, as he is its honorary chairman. I cannot comment on individual cases and I have no other comments to make on UKIAS in today's debate. My point is that UKIAS has a special responsibility. It is recognised by the Home Office as the intermediary in handling appeal cases. It has to use its time and resources carefully. My point is that in the situation that I have described, involving a particular group of Tamils who could have gained safety in other countries, we must question whether time should be spent on involvement in their affairs when there might be other cases on which the asylum issue should be more genuinely explored. That must be considered carefully.

When my Select Committee considered the subject of refugees and asylum in 1984 and 1985, it reported and recommended that the Home Office should consider the extension of the right of appeal to all asylum seekers. That is the point to which my right hon. Friend referred in his excellent speech. It recommended extension for cases where the applicant currently lacks the right of appeal exercisable in the United Kingdom to establish procedures by which leave to remain is withheld in obviously bogus cases and by which refusals of leave can be reviewed rapidly if appealed against.

In their response the Government acknowledged that this is a most difficult issue and said that they understood the need for immense care in handling such cases. As it has turned out, the Government's grave concern about this aspect of the procedure is well illustrated by what has happened at our ports of entry, in particular at Heathrow airport.

The difficulty is that in 1984–85, when my Select Committee considered the matter, we were beginning to understand the strength of pressures placed upon Western countries in particular and the difficulty that we in the United Kingdom would face as other countries tightened their procedures. I recall a visit to West Germany when about 100,000 people entered through east Berlin, claiming to be refugees. The West German Government had to care for those people, although they believe that they were not genuine refugees, but economic refugees. West Germany had to look at ways of dealing with the problem and the Government were concerned because they could see no end to the numbers that would arrive. There are compelling economic reasons in many Third world countries why people should move to improve their quality of life. We in the House would not disagree with that.

The experience of the Select Committee in 1984–85 and the current events of 1987 are such that I now firmly hold the opinion that the traditions of this country and the care that we extend to asylum seekers must remain an important part of our government and culture. Indeed, the evidence since 1979 under this Government is that more than 8,000 individuals from all over the world have been granted asylum. Over 6,000 more who failed to qualify for asylum have been granted exceptional leave to remain.

The balance must be struck between protecting the genuine refugee and preventing abuse of the United Kingdom's generous and liberal immigration and refugee policy. In the light of current developments in the Western democracies, the United Kingdom has no alternative but to bring forward the measure which the House is now considering. There are similar provisions already in operation in many other Western countries, including Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and West Germany. I also know that other Western countries are taking steps to exercise the tightest possible control against abuse.

I do not believe that the passing into law of the Bill will in any way operate against genuine asylum seekers as defined by the United Nations convention; nor will it prevent Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union or any other oppressive society from gaining entry into the United Kingdom. If we are to maintain a liberal asylum policy, we must have proper controls over the bogus. That is at the heart of the problem.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) spoke about an appeals procedure that could he almost instant and could be operated at the port of entry. I wish that I could devise a system that would hold the certainty of independence and objectivity, but would minimise the possibility of delay: a system that would operate instantly, that is within a matter of hours, but would not defeat the Government's need for effective control over immigration.

The number of people who are already referred for further inquiry is causing major difficulties over accommodation and the subsequent bureaucratic investigation of their cases. I am afraid that I can see no practical alternative, given the circumstances that face the Western world in 1987. None of us can deny the pressure of numbers wanting to come. However, it must rest with the Executive to act as the point of refusal in the first instance, and the point of review in the second instance —at the port of entry. There can be no alternative to the operation of such procedures. I can see no way in which the United Kingdom will have effective control unless we follow such procedures.

6.21 pm
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

There can be no doubt that the Bill was conceived in panic, is being rushed through this House in great haste and, if enacted, is unlikely to be workable and is probably in breach of international conventions.

When the Home Secretary opened the debate he made some reference to the visa entry system, and I would like to comment upon that system. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to portray an abundant degree of complacency about the system. It is certainly true that a large number of visa applications are being granted without personal interviews. At present a larger proportion of applications are being accepted than before the visa entry system was introduced. Certainly the figures I have been given bear that out. That leads one to the inevitable conclusion that either the quality of the decisions made by immigration officers at Heathrow and elsewhere, prior to the visa system, were as bad as successive reports suggested, or there is now a clear political direction to British posts overseas to grant a large number of visa applications.

There are many anomalies within the visa entry system. Indeed, later this week I shall be writing to the Minister of State about a constituent of mine who has been waiting since the middle of January for his 10-year-old nephew to have his visa application approved. I also think that renewed consideration should be given to establish a post in Mirpur to deal with applications from that part of Pakistan.

On the substance of the Bill, I support those speakers who have urged that this country should have a proper appeal system. That was first recommended by a committee more than 20 years ago. There is an overwhelming case for the introduction of a proper appeal system that would work quickly and effectively. The Government would not have got themselves into their present difficulties if there was such a system and it was operating satisfactorily.

There is concern about the Government's proposal to use a ferry moored off the coast at Weymouth as a floating detention centre or perhaps as a prison hulk—that is how many people described it when the proposal was first made. I have been advised by the Library that it appears that a moored passenger ship used for such a purpose falls into a legal limbo. Even the Library hinted that that may well be the reason why the Home Office has chosen to consider that proposal. Whatever the motive, I had hoped that, in his statement, the Home Secretary would have announced that the proposal was scrapped. I am sad that that is not the case.

Today it has been announced that there is a crime committed in this country every minute. Our prisons are so full that there are rumours circulating that the Government are shortly to announce an amnesty for 6,000 prisoners, convicted of minor offences. That is an appalling commentary on the Government's performance in dealing with law and order. That they should seriously propose the introduction of prison ships, moored off the coast of Weymouth, to deal with people who, for one reason or other, are refused entry to the country is appalling.

Mr. Corbyn

Hurd's hulks.

Mr. Madden

This is a nasty little Bill. It has been condemned by a number of organisations. The United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service states: UKIAS regrets the introduction of this Bill. As drafted, it will place serious obstacles in the way of bona fide asylum-seekers with a genuine fear of persecution, who seek asylum in the UK. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants states: We believe that rushed legislation directed against asylum-seekers, which seeks only to secure their exclusion from the UK, is likewise no basis for a fair and just refugee policy, which must ensure that genuine refugees have the opportunity of asylum in the UK and do not face arbitrary return to countries where they may be in danger. The Immigration Law Practitioners Association states: This Bill is unnecessary, unworkable and in contravention of this country's international obligations.

We are all aware that the Bill is being introduced following the Tamil case that led the Government into embarrassment, into the courts and resulted in an even more embarrassing U-turn.

The Home Secretary and the Minister of State have come to the House time and again to seek to persuade it that action is necessary to deal with rackets and racketeers. They have refused to accept that Tamils in Sri Lanka face real dangers and have true concern about their safety and that of their families.

I believe that the Home Office should consult the Foreign Office about the degree of the danger that is faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka. In The Observer yesterday, under the headline, Revealed: Briton who led Contra mercenaries, there was an extremely interesting article about Mr. Michael Borlace who was employed by an extremely mysterious organisation known as KMS. The article stated: President Jayawardene of Sri Lanka, in the strategically important Indian Ocean, also sought British help to keep him in power against minority Tamil 'terrorists.' Because India tended to support the Tamils, Britain did not send troops. Their dispatch would have been politically controversial. But KMS was allowed to send a private force, eventually numbering 100 men, to help establish and train a 'special task force' of Sri Lankan troops. In the article the Sri Lankan Minister for national security is quoted as saying: We have to accept that our own forces are not as experienced in this type of operation as the British are. We heard about the KMS when it was used by the Sultan of Oman to help with his terrorist problems. The article concludes: Last year — amid reports of atrocities in Sri Lanka which eventually led to unease among some KMS 'trainers' —Borlace and a team of five were pulled out of Sri Lanka and sent covertly to aid the Contras. That too was rapidly to end in recriminations and an international political scandal that engulfed the US President, although not, so far, the British Prime Minister. No doubt it is only a matter of time before that happens, but I have every confidence that embarrassment will not shroud our Prime Minister until after the general election.

The House has heard much about rackets and racketeers in the case of the Tamils and in other instances, but the Bill is almost a charter for the racketeers. It is a bonanza for them and for the printers of bogus documents, because they will be compelled to become more sophisticated racketeers and forgers.

The crooks must have cheered when they got the first wind of the Bill. The Minister of State and the Home Secretary, who have told us so much about the racketeers and the rackets, must be told that the Bill does nothing to deal with the racketeers and their rackets.

The Minister of State has demonstrated his powerlessness in regard to rackets and racketeers in Malaysia, but why does he not do a little more to bust an immigration racket that is a little nearer home and which he could do something about? Serious allegations have been made by me and the Chinese chamber of commerce in Northern Ireland against a senior RUC officer and others in Belfast.

Why has that officer not been suspended from duty pending an outcome of inquiries into those serious allegations involving an immigration racket and five-figure sums of money? Will the Minister of State explain in his reply to the debate why that officer has not been suspended, or inform the House that he has been suspended, as he should have been in January and February when the detailed and serious allegations against that man and others were submitted?

Conservative Members often claim that they have had no correspondence on matters about which Opposition Members claim that there is considerable anxiety. I assure Judge Argyle, who seemed over the weekend to make some extremely intemperate and prejudiced remarks about my constituents, that the letter that I am about to read is from a constituent who is white and is a well-known lecturer in law. He says: As the recent Tamil case indicated, even the High Court does not share the Government's view that because a person has bogus travel documents he cannot, for that reason, be a genuine refugee. Such bogus documents may indicate to the contrary, that he is afraid to approach his Government to get genuine documents. I am sure you will, but I do urge you, nonetheless, to oppose the Government's attempt to frighten airlines into acting as an additional arm of the Immigration Service. Heaven knows, the IS does not do a very sensitive job, but what kind of a job will the airlines do?

That constituent is very concerned about the Bill, as are many of my constituents. I believe that a large section of British public opinion is worried about a nasty, mean little measure which cuts across the traditional view of this country. Those who believe that they face genuine danger and seek political refuge for themselves and their families have looked to us to consider their case with sympathy and understanding and to give them refuge. I hope that the Bill will be removed, because it is a shoddy, shameful, nasty little measure which does nothing to assist the United Kingdom's reputation throughout the world and which even this Government may be ashamed of within a short time.

6.34 pm
Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

I welcome the Bill, which follows similar legislation in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany.

Hon. Members are right to ask why the Bill is necessary. We know that, although it was triggered by the 64 Tamils, the problem goes much deeper. It arises because of the changing nature of refugee movements, caused by the ease of air travel, and because there is no single definition of a refugee.

I am a member of the Migration and Refugee Committee of the Council of Europe. The Committee is closely involved with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and we have recently been examining the movement of refugees in South America. One of our recent reports, which has not yet been put before the Council of Europe, deals with the definition of refugees. We outline six definitions. There are the ultra sound asylum seekers, who are de jure refugees and are recognised as such under the 1951 United Nations convention and the 1967 protocol, and are given asylum in a third country and enjoy the economic and social rights that flow from that recognition. That is the gold standard of a refugee.

Secondly, there are also the UNHCR refugees who fit in under the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol and have the added bonus that the UNHCR feels that they should be recognised as refugees.

Thirdly, there are quota refugees. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to direct exchanges from the Eastern bloc and there are similar procedures in Chile and Argentina. Those people are quota refugees.

Fourthly, there are de facto refugees — a category within which I suspect the Tamils fall. Such refugees do not come under the 1951 convention or the 1967 protocol., but they are unwilling to return to their country of origin, on the ground of reasonable fear.

There are two other categories. The Council of Europe committee calls one group discreet refugees. They do riot fall under any of the previous four categories, but they believe that they have a special status and right to be recognised as refugees.

The final category is economic refugees, and that category is all too well known to the House.

It is clear from these categories that the problem is not straightforward, and it is not surprising that we encounter difficulties in tackling the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) referred to the 100,000 refugees who wanted to go to the Federal Republic of Germany. Clearly, there is a large—scale problem. As my hon. Friend said, the majority of those people were seeking economic gain.

In the past six years the number of people seeking asylum in the United Kingdom has tripled. Two years ago only 10 per cent. of the people granted asylum sought it: at the port of entry. That percentage has changed dramatically, and I understand that the latest figures show that about 50 per cent. of those wanting asylum seek it at the port of entry. That is where the situation in Sri Lanka and the Tamils come to the fore.

By way of background, I have lived and worked in Sri Lanka and India. I have lived in Pakistan and visited most of south-east Asia. I go to Sri Lanka every year, sometimes as a guest of the Sri Lankan Government, and sometimes under my own steam. I go at least once, and usually twice a year. I have been to the United Kingdom high commission in Colombo on every visit. I went when the new visa controls came in about 18 months ago. I questioned immigration officers, our high commissioner, Tamil politicians and the Sri Lankan media, both favourable to and against the Government. A few weeks ago, in January, I checked on the situation.

Today, there are no queues of people waiting for visas. The only time there were queues was when we initially brought in the visa requirement. There are no delays. Maybe a person will arrive with not quite the right papers. He is given another appointment a few days later so that he can be speedily dealt with. He does not go through the whole rigmarole again. He is given an immediate appointment to clarify the query. I have never had a complaint from any Tamil. I know many Tamils and some Tamil politicians in Sri Lanka, but none has complained about the visa provisions.

Hon. Members who do not know Sri Lanka may look at a map, see that it is quite a way from Jaffna to Colombo, and ask how anyone can get from Jaffna to Colombo, which is several hundred miles away. The fact is that they do get there. One has only to look at an analysis of the applications, as I did, to know that people from Jaffna are applying and that they go to Colombo. It is not for me to ask by what means they get there.

Mr. Corbyn

Although I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman's extensive knowledge of Sri Lanka, he has said that Tamil people travel from Jaffna to Colombo. He said that he does not know how they get there. Will he comment on the number of assaults committed upon people who travel by bus or train in an attempt to get from Jaffna to Colombo, or the sheer difficulty of many Tamil people in getting through Elephant pass, off the peninsula and on to the main part of Sri Lanka?

Mr. Morris

I cannot comment on the number of assaults any more than the hon. Gentleman can. No record is kept, and there are difficulties.

Mr. Corbyn

But they happen.

Mr. Morris

They happen, particularly at night. If one is unwise enough to travel at night, when terrorists attack Government troops, one is bound to find oneself in difficulty, as any hon. Member who has done national service or been in the armed forces would know. First, I look at the facts on the ground, at the high commission in Colombo. Many people from Jaffna apply in person at the high commission. They do not apply in Jaffna.

Mr. Corbyn

A few years ago—

Mr. Morris

I have been to Jaffna. Let me make it clear that I did not go last January, but I have been to Jaffna and Trincomalee on many occasions.

Secondly—I do not wish to take it any further than this — I asked the high commissioner the specific question that another hon. Member raised. I asked what happens to the applicant who is afraid that, by entering the British high commission, he may be recognised as a political dissident, someone who is vehemently opposed to the Government of Sri Lanka, and may well be on a wanted list because he has undertaken a robbery or committed some other error. I was told—this does not surprise me, having worked in many countries — that there are means whereby, through the Tamil community, applications can be dealt with without having to go through the front door of the British high commission.

The right hon. Member for Gorton, the Opposition spokesman on immigration matters, suggested that one has to go through the front door of the British embassy to get out of eastern Europe. That is absolute rubbish. My second name is not Wolfgang for absolutely nothing. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the people who sought to get out of eastern Europe before and between the wars did not necessarily do it through the front door of any British embassy. It has long been part of the heritage and success of our asylum policy that our contacts go deep in any country in which there are difficulties.

Mr. Bidwell

The hon. Gentleman is obviously introducing into the debate considerable knowledge about Sri Lanka and the two antagonistic communities. Has not what he said rather contradicted his observations? He alluded to the exodus of Jews and other persecuted minorities in Europe who did not go through the front door, as he put it. Is that not precisely what is occurring with Tamils coming here and claiming refugee status? Additionally, the more he shows how complicated it is to assess claims for refugee status, the more he shows why we cannot immediately return people who have come here. It is necessarily a long process to determine the pros and cons. In the cases in which I have intervened, if addresses in my constituency are given, it seems that the current Home Office policy is to allow most of those who claim refugee status a period without necessarily granting full political refugee status.

Mr. Morris

I re-emphasise the point that there are no complaints about the visa system in Colombo today. People from the north and the east get to Colombo. All I am saying is that, underneath, a safeguarding provision operates for those who may be "wanted" by the Sri Lankan Government because they have undertaken a robbery, which is not uncommon, the money from which is being used to support the Tigers. In the circumstances, I can understand why the Sri Lankan Government would want to arrest them, and equally I can understand why the persons involved may want to get out.

Why did the 64 Tamils not apply for visas, as hundreds of other Tamils have done? If they are good and genuine refugees, and they were in the north or the east, why did they not go to south India, as the majority of Tamils in their situation have done? Why did they travel to Colombo? If they travelled to Colombo, as they clearly must have done to get to Malaysia, why did they not use the system and get a visa, which they can quickly get from the high commission? These questions must be asked. It must be put on record that it is not the policy of the Sri Lankan Government to force any Tamil to leave the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) asked why, having gone to Malaysia, which is a member of the Commonwealth and does not have visa requirements, and having got the sanctuary that they sought there, they did not stay in Malaysia. There are many Sri Lankans in Malaysia. Why did they choose not to stay there in Dhaka?

The time has come to ask one or two questions about some of the rackets that are going on and that need to be brought out into the open. I asked to see the visa stamp in our high commission. I suppose I should not have been surprised, but I was surprised that the high commission has already had to change it twice. It has had to put on the most sophisticated watermark that it can find because it is already being reproduced on a facsimile basis by highly creative Sri Lankans, mainly of Tamil origin, I believe.

It is also common knowledge in Colombo that students come to the United Kingdom to do a course but never take their finals because they know that if they took and passed them they would be asked to return to Sri Lanka to follow their particular trade or profession. That racket has been going on for years.

I have to ask my right hon. and learned Friend why a man like Viraj Mendis is able to hoodwink the authorities, year in year out, and claim that he is persecuted when my Tamil friends tell me that he had only the most junior role in the political movement in Sri Lanka and that he is by no means a leader of it, let alone worthy of lance corporal status.

I have a large immigrant community in my constituency and I have many friends among the Bangladeshi community. We have taken in for temporary asylum about 2,000 Sri Lankans and we have said that all of them can get a job, that they do not need permission to go on a Manpower Services Commission training course and that they can avail themselves of the National Health Service, of the other health services provided by local authorities and of social security benefits. Opposition Members ought to realise that my Bangladeshi constituents in Northampton are just as concerned about the taxes that they pay as the indigenous community in Northampton, and they wonder why money should be spent on bogus asylum seekers. Any hon. Member who has had to deal directly with those who are seeking asylum—

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Morris

No. I have already given way once to the hon. Gentleman.

Any hon. Member who has had to deal with those who are genuinely seeking asylum is more than happy to give them as much help as possible to make their stay in the United Kingdom normal. The Vietnamese boat people are as good an example as any. They are very welcome to stay here, but the nearly 2,000 temporary asylum seekers from Sri Lanka do not, by any yardstick, fall into that category.

When assessing the position one has to consider India's responsibility. In one sense, every Sri Lankan is an Indian; all of them came originally from India. However, today Sri Lanka is a sovereign democratic state. It is overshadowed by India, but India envies the success of Sri Lanka. Hon. Members sometimes forget that one needs to distinguish between the Indian Tamils and the Sri Lankan Tamils. The Indian Tamils are to be found in the hill states. There is no question of refugee status in their case. The vast majority of them want to stay on the tea estates and they have now been granted citizenship.

Mr. Corbyn

But they do not have political rights.

Mr. Morris

They have political rights now. That is what we are talking about today.

Mr. Corbyn

Then they were a long time coming.

Mr. Morris

Lots of things take a long time.

In the past the Tamils were discriminated against because of the language problem, and they suffered; but having worked in Bengal I know that the Bengalis also suffered when Hindi became the official language of India. However, that is in the past. The Tamils are intelligent people and they do well in any walk of life.

The terrorists are active in the north and in parts of the east of Sri Lanka. For the last three or four years India has actively connived at military camps in India as well as at refugee camps, although claiming at the same time to be a mediator. India has no control over the terrorist movement in Sri Lanka, because the avowed aim of that movement is to set up a Marxist state. Is it any wonder, in those circumstances, that the Sri Lankan Government react? At the beginning, the Sri Lankan army was pretty hopeless. The Tigers are better trained, organised and financed, but I do not know where the money comes from. Atrocities are carried out on both sides, and the atrocities of the Tigers are worse than the atrocities committed by the indigenous army. The terrorists are underwritten by India.

Peace proposals of 19 December are on the table. They are supposedly supported by India but they are still rejected by the terrorists. However, despite the strife, slowly but surely the Tamils are returning voluntarily from south India to Sri Lanka. About 4,000 Tamils have already done so. Those are not my figures, or Sri Lankan Government or press figures; they are Indian figures. They are based on information that has come from the Indian immigration authorities. Since Christmas, 4,000 Tamils have returned voluntarily to live in the north of Sri Lanka, which suggests to me that the situation must be improving. It is reported that the Swiss Government are recommending that more than 40 Tamils should be returned to Sri Lanka. Switzerland does not have a hard-headed, Right-wing Government who are determined to throw out everybody that they possibly can. The Swiss weigh up matters. If the Swiss Government are thinking of returning those Tamils to Sri Lanka, it suggests that the position is improving there.

My view on the 64 Tamils and the 2,000 temporary asylum seekers is that the British Government have been duped. I question the so-called perfect stance of the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service. The other morning while driving to the House, I was listening to a radio programme during which the director of UKIA.S, Mr. Michael Barnes, was interviewed by the BBC. He said that a significant number of the 64 Tamils had been tortured. It is not the role of an independent body like UKIAS to state categorically that people have been tortured. It is entirely appropriate to say that allegations of torture need to be investigated, but it is completely wrong for the director of an independent body to state in the media, when evidence has not been produced, that people have been tortured.

Mr. Tony Banks

Is it not equally wrong for the Minister of State to say without any evidence that the Tamils were bogus refugees?

Mr. Morris

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to look again at the case that I have been deploying. I do not know whether he has been in the Chamber for the whole of my speech. I think that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was absolutely right to say that one does not tear up passports and documents if one has nothing to hide. One does not avoid going to south India, where all one's colleagues go if they are under political pressure, but. instead goes all the way down to Colombo, through all the difficulties that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) pointed out, unless one is adopting a slightly bogus approach. Furthermore, one does not leave other colleagues in Malaysia—there are many Sri Lankans in Malaysia—and move on to Dhaka, and after that to the United Kingdom, unless one has something to hide.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Morris

No. I have given way several times to the hon. Gentleman. He will have his chance in a minute, arid I am sure that he will take it.

Mr. Corbyn

This is an important point.

Mr. Morris

Yes; this is an important subject. I rarely speak on it, and today I intend to have my full pennyworth.

The right of asylum to this country is precious. Many hon. Members have commented on Chile and Vietnam. I will go a long way to support any genuine case, but I doubt whether there are any genuine cases among the 64 Tamils. I doubt also whether there are many genuine cases in the 2,000 or more temporary asylum seekers. If Sri Lankans, of their own volition, are returning to India, as hundreds have been doing so since Christmas, should not the same happen here?

As I have said—I do not often boast—no one in the House knows Sri Lanka as well as I do. Perhaps I shall need to bring the case of a genuine refugee from Sri Lanka to the attention of my right hon. Friend. There will be people who are violently opposed to the present Government and, in the future, there may well be some absolutely genuine cases. However, when I make that case to my right hon. Friend, I shall make it on good evidence and with facts. It will not be the trumped-up support of Left-wing hon. Members who get on any band wagon they can find to undermine the democratically elected Government in Sri Lanka.

As a postscript, perhaps it is time that my right hon. Friend told the Indian Government that if they are genuinely concerned about peace, it is time that they closed their camps in south India, patrolled the strait of Palk, stopped the kidnapping of young people and got the Tamils to accept the proposals on offer. That done, peace will follow. If the Indian Government do not do that, India will rue the day and Britain certainly will not pick up the pieces.

To the relief of some Opposition Members, I finish on the issue of the English language, which is at the heart of the problem. As more and more people throughout the world have English as their second language, we must ask ourselves whether we in this country, which is the home of English, will allow everyone throughout the world who has English as his or her second language to seek sanctuary here. That would be an unrealistic policy, but it is the implication behind what is happening today with the Tamils.

7.2 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In accordance with the conventions of the House, I should declare an interest, although it is non-commercial. Needless to say, I am the chairman of UKIAS.

As we know, there is a long and honourable tradition, going back many centuries, of giving asylum to victims fleeing political and religious persecution. My fear, like that of my hon. Friends, is that the Bill will undermine that long tradition.

In the memorandum that was submitted by the Home Office in December 1984 to the Race Relations and Immigration Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, reference was made to the tradition of asylum here. That does not mean that Britain should be in a position to accept a large number of refugees. That certainly is not, and has never been, my view. Therefore, one must accept that, at the end of the day, the number of genuine refugees that the United Kingdom will accept will always be rather small. I hope that the Western European countries, including our own, will act in concert, in trying to bring about joint co-operation to assist those in genuine fear of their lives, and not, as is happening at the moment, that one country after another in Western Europe is virtually closing its doors to refugees.

There should be no doubt that those who have a real fear of persecution or worse if returned to their own country directly, or sent back to a country which would return them to their own land, look upon the countries of democratic Western Europe as safety nets, if only as temporary ones.

I am reminded of what happened when the coup occurred in Chile in 1973. That was an army coup, or at least a coup that was carried out by the armed forces against the democratic Government. The reaction of the British embassy was to close its doors. There could have been no doubt that the people who were seeking refuge at the British embassy were genuine refugees. As we know, the army carried out killings and atrocities. It is to the great credit of my party that when we came to office in February 1974 we made it much easier for Chilean refugees to come to Britain. I shall never apologise for that.

Mr. Corbyn

Is my hon. Friend aware that many of those people whose entry to the British embassy was denied because the gates were slammed had sought asylum temporarily in the Mexican and Cuban embassies and that they were subsequently admitted to this country only after trying to get into the British embassy in the first place?

Mr. Winnick

I entirely accept my hon. Friend's point.

In the absence of an appeals system for asylum applicants who are turned down at ports of entry in the United Kingdom, surely it is all the more important that the referral system to the refugee unit of UKIAS should be maintained in full? Like my hon. Friends, my criticism tonight to the Home Secretary is that that referral system will apparently be eroded and somewhat undermined. I regret that. It is a crucial safeguard for cases in which the passenger is seeking asylum here on the grounds that his or her removal could lead to grave dangers that the referral system remains.

The question is raised also whether, under the Bill, asylum seekers will actually reach the United Kingdom in the first place. Although some applications for asylum are successfully made abroad—I do not question that—that decision would be discretionary and taken outside the formal immigration rules. In the main the application will be made only when the passenger is in the United Kingdom. It was clearly because the Sub-Committee recognised how vital the referrals system would be in such cases that it recommended that the Home Office should decide, in principle, to extend to all asylum applicants the right of appeal before they are sent back. What was the response of the Home Office—

Mr. Hanley

The hon. Gentleman will admit that the Sub-Committee said that that should include all asylum cases that were not clearly bogus and recommended a speedy departure for those that were bogus.

Mr. Winnick

I do not question that. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is a member of that Sub-Committee, will recognise how important it is, whether an application is bogus or not, that it should be the subject of referral unless it is blatantly bogus. I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman on that. However, where so much is at stake and, where the person is claiming that his or her life could be in grave danger, surely the hon. Gentleman would agree that a system of referral is necessary?

What was the response of the Home Office to the Sub-Committee's report? It rejected outright the need for such an appeals system in those asylum cases. It would be wrong for me to give the impression that I do not understand or that I minimise some of the difficulties that would be involved if there was a full appeals system for asylum seekers. UKIAS, as an organisation, would recognise the need for such an appeals system. I go along with that to a large extent, but I recognise some of the difficulties that would undoubtedly arise. I also accept that such a formal appeals system would, as the Home Secretary said today, probably increase the number of people applying.

The main argument put forward by the Home Office in rejecting the Sub-Committee's recommendation of an appeal system was based on the fact that there were other adequate safeguards, namely representation by Members of Parliament, judicial review and the UKIAS referral procedure. In response to the Sub-Committee the Home Office stated: the referral system is providing an effective safeguard and a satisfatory substitute for formal appeal rights…In practice therefore the referral procedure is providing a broader safeguard than a formal appeal to the immigration appellate authorities. Obviously, if the Home Office, rightly, places so much emphasis on the referral system as a subsitute for an appeal system one must question anything which would undermine the referral system.

As we know, this procedure did not operate for the 64 Tamils. I do not know whether I am being over-generous, but I imagine that the Home Secretary, if not the Minister of State, rather regrets the original decision that the referral system should not operate. They know of the application for judicial review and the climb down by the Home Office. Indeed, there is no other way to describe it.

Understandably, UKIAS and, I am sure, the UNHCR, take exception to the comments of the Minister of State during exchanges on 18 February. He said that UKIAS gave the impression that it did not wish to stamp out immigration rackets and that it was determined to bend all its efforts to allowing racketeers to succeed."—[Official Report, 18 February 1987; Vol. 110, c. 910.] I regret those remarks because there is no justification for them and when the Minister replies I hope that he will apologise or, at least, withdraw them. UKIAS does not wish in any way to act as some sort of apologist for racketeers or to bend any rules. The Home Office unit that deals with refugees, and is in contact almost daily with the UKIAS refugee unit would, I am sure, agree that there is no evidence of any attempt to bend the rules.

So that there should be no misunderstanding I stress that we should have the utmost contempt for those who trade in human misery and fear. Last night I watched a television series about the second world war and it showed black marketeers in action. They always appear when there are food shortages, wars or people fleeing for their lives. Such people always have been and probably always will be prepared to use any means to gain a profit, no matter what misery may accrue. I do not suppose that even the most fervent advocate of free enterprise on the Conservative Benches would he in favour of such racketeers.

Racketeers of course are not in the least concerned about refugees, whether genuine or otherwise. A clear distinction must be made, however, between those who trade in human misery and fear and the passengers themselves. I do not know which is the case in relation to the 64 Tamils, but we know, and the Home Secretary should know, that people who are fleeing for their lives will do anything to get any sort of document because they are frightened. Have we not seen enough in 20th century Europe, let alone in other parts, to understand what happened on countless occasions before and during the second world war when people would use any means to get documents, probably completely false, in order to reach a place of safety?

I criticise the handling of the 64 Tamils because no distinction was made between the possession of false documents and their case for genuine asylum. Initially that was not recognised, but eventually the Home Secretary made a statement accepting that their cases should be referred to UKIAS.

During 1986 the Home Office referred 441 cases of asylum seekers to UKIAS. That is hardly a huge number and it would not swamp the United Kingdom. Of them, 155 came from Sri Lanka, 148 from Iran, 38 from Afghanistan, 30 from Ghana, 18 from Pakistan and the remainder from several other countries. I resent the criticisms of the hon. Members for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) and for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) about the refugee unit of UKIAS. As I tried to explain in interventions on the speech of the hon. Member for Westminster, North, it is not for UKIAS to decide national policy over how many refugees and others should be admitted. Indeed, it would be strange for such an organisation to make such decisions. Similarly, it is not the funtion of UNHCR to decide how many refugees should be allowed entry. That must be determined by Parliament. That is our function and, finally, that of the Government of the day to decide by their majority here. There is no doubt about that.

I know of no criticism of the way in which refugee counsellors at UKIAS have carried out their day-to-day duties. If there had been any criticism either before or since the case of the 64 Tamils, surely as chairman it would have come to my notice at meetings of the executive committee or by the director informing me? The work is carried out on a professional basis, as one would expect. The people concerned are interviewed in depth and reports are made to the Home Office with recommendations where appropriate. If hon. Members have a criticism of Labour Members, so be it, but it is unfair to criticise an independent organisation which has no wish to bend any rules.

Mr. Michael Morris

May I make it clear that I have not previously criticised UKIAS and that I have used the organisation on many occasions? But does the hon. Gentleman ageree that the director of UKIAS should not have broadcast on radio to the nation that in a significant number of these cases people had been tortured in Sri Lanka—a statement which may or may not be true — until the evidence had been given to the Home Office for assessment? Moreover, who is to say who did the torturing in Sri Lanka? There is clear evidence that the Tamil Tigers have done far more torturing than the Government forces have ever done.

Mr. Winnick

I did not listen to that broadcast which goes out just after the morning 9 o'clock news when I am on my way to the House. Perhaps if I had known that it was to be broadcast I would have listened, but I am not fully aware of what the director said. However, the director, who is incidentally a former Member of this House, would be careful about what he said. One of the difficulties is that the hon. Gentleman is very keen to defend the Sri Lankan Government. I am not in a position to defend them or otherwise. I accept that the hon. Gentleman has a detailed knowledge of the country, which I do not have as I have not taken the closest interest in it. He may be right or wrong. Whatever may have been done in that country, I oppose terrorism as a means of changing things. There should be no doubt about my views on that score.

The right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) quoted the decision of the executive committee of the UNHCR at its 34th session, to which we were a party, when it discussed matters concerning asylum. I hope that the Home Secretary will note fully what it said: an unsuccessful applicant should be enabled to have a negative decision reviewed before rejection at the frontier or forcible removal from the territory. Where arrangements for such a review do not exist, Governments should give favourable consideration to their establishment. That is important, and anything which tends to undermine it should be deplored.

I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends that, to a large extent, the Bill is a panic reaction. I trust that it was not meant to be a pre-election attempt to play the immigration and race relations card and to demonstrate that the Labour party is not in favour of effective immigration control. As I said during an intervention in the Home Secretary's speech, we all know that, whether in government or opposition, the Labour party is committed to effective immigration control. [Interruption.] I do not know why the Home Secretary is tut-tutting.

Perhaps the Home Secretary will give us some idea whether the Bill's Committee stage is to be taken on the Floor of the House. Irrespective of whether it is taken here or upstairs, I hope that the Government will be willing to respond to constructive amendments. If we are to have the Bill, it is vital to maintain the referral system and to overcome some of the obvious difficulties of asylum seekers reaching the United Kingdom.

For the reasons that I have given, and bearing in mind the nature of the Bill, we are perfectly right to pursue our reasoned amendment.

7.22 pm
Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

Perhaps predictably, the debate has ranged widely over immigration policy, the status of refugees and the role of the independent service, although the Bill is a fairly narrow measure. I plan to concentrate on its contents and to seek some assurances from my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State.

Before doing that, however, I should like to say something about the background. Like most of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I believe that the Bill is in accord with international trends. It cannot be said that we are taking initiatives that are at variance with the approaches to this vexed problem that have recently been adopted by other countries in Western Europe and elsewhere. The Bill takes note of the need for the humanitarian treatment of genuine refugees.

There has been an understandable indication from Conservative Members that we must consider the growing tendency of what the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) rightly called the trade in human misery. We must therefore recognise the need not to give the impression that we have, or can have, an open door. A balance has to be struck between humanitarian acceptance of some people seeking asylum and the pressure of public opinion, which we are supposed to represent, to limit the number of people whom we accept.

The Bill achieves that balance. Its basic requirement is that airlines and shipping companies must accept responsibility for people who arrive without proper documents. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that 149 foreign airlines are effectively being asked to become experts in United Kingdom immigration rules. That is far from the purpose or likely outcome of the Bill. What is likely, however, is that airlines which have been prone to overlook immigration details relating to United Kingdom procedures because their commercial interests run along the lines of carrying passengers rather than concerning themselves too much whether they will be admitted at one of Britain's airports would be required to balance the commercial pressure to fill an aircraft seat against the need to recognise that, if they do not take appropriate measures, their commercial interests may be affected when a passenger arrives in Britain.

I do not see that that is other than the correct approach. It is not at all a bad thing that airlines and shipping companies which bring people to the United Kingdom should be engaged in a partnership with the Government to control the traffic that is at the heart of this brief Bill. I therefore support the Bill's purpose, but some airlines, British and foreign, are worried about one or two of the details.

Perhaps I should declare an interest, in that I advise British Caledonian Airways, to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred. The questions that I shall ask, however, are asked on behalf of all airlines, which increasingly accept the need for the Bill, but which are understandably anxious for clarification about where they stand in regard to some of the details.

What would happen to a passenger in transit through the United Kingdom, perhaps merely transferring from one London airport to another? The passenger might say, when he is boarding in a third country, that he wants to transit through the United Kingdom and therefore to be freed of the necessity for complete immigration documents which would normally be required. If he then changes his mind, perhaps because his aircraft is diverted or delayed, and says when he arrives in the United Kingdom that he wants to stay, what happens? Airlines have a right to know whether they will be liable. Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend will give some thought to how an airline will be able to prove that the passenger indicated on boarding an aircraft in a third country that his intention was merely to transit through the United Kingdom. That is a detail, but it is of considerable importance to the operation of the measure.

Secondly, airlines are asking whether the £1,000 fine per passenger will be in addition to the detainee costs, which are already a source of considerable financial pressure to some airlines, or whether the fine will somehow be set off against those costs. Hon. Members may know the answer, but so far I have heard nothing to tell me whether that would be an acceptable way to proceed.

Thirdly, what mechanism is proposed for airlines to dispute the fine in specific cases, such as the transit cases to which I have referred? It is important to have a mechanism that is practical in its operation. Although one appreciates the urgency with which the legislation is being introduced, it is incumbent upon the Government to let us into their thinking about the detailed operation of the Bill.

Finally, in relation to clause 1(4), how can we ensure that acceptable proof will be forthcoming as to the falsity of a document? How can one define "reasonably apparent?" Who is to judge whether the appearance of a document was such as reasonably to persuade airline personnel at the port of embarcation that it was the genuine article? What kind of evidence will be acceptable, and who will exercise judgement?

I do not know how many Members have wide experience of embarking on aircraft in certain Third-world countries, but in the period immediately preceding boarding a jumbo jet headed for this country there is, to say the least, some confusion. Airlines in those countries may also have greater difficulty training their personnel to be as vigilant in checking travel documents as their counterparts are at British airports.

For all those reasons, therefore, although the general aim of the Bill is acceptable and the detail is understandable, I believe that some points still need to be dealt with. My right hon. and learned Friend may say that they should be dealt with in Committee, but although we are today discussing the principles of the measure I believe that a deeper understanding is required of certain areas before one can accept the principles. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will be able to give me some reassurance. I appreciate the reasons for the measure, and it is right and proper that it should be dealt with as a matter of urgency, but I hope he will accept from me that it would be wrong if, in a few months' time, we discovered that the operation of the legislation had not been given adequate attention at this stage.

7.33 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Many organisations have stated their opposition to the Bill. Although the Bill was conceived in enormous haste and the Government are attempting to rush it through Parliament, there has nevertheless been a significant amount of lobbying and a considerable number of declarations of opposition. I have received such declarations from the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service, the British Refugee Council, the Immigration Lawyers Association, Rights and Justice, the Iranian Community Centre and many others, including organisations in my constituency, such as the Islington Indian Association.

A common theme of all the objections is that the Government have created difficulties in the way in which they have sought to deal with the Tamil asylum seekers. They have created a racist hype in the media about the problems that Tamil asylum seekers have gone through and they have decided that the best way out is not to consider the causes of the problem or the ways in which, historically, people have sought asylum but to push through this nasty, shameful little Bill. In future, people seeking political asylum in this country will be able to get here only if they have a valid exit permit from their own country, if that is required, and a valid entry document for this country. Those conditions would certainly have excluded many of the people who have gained asylum in this country in the past century.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) pointed out, many Jewish refugees fled from Russia in 1905 and From Nazi Germany in the 1930s. If the Bill had been law at that time, they could not have come here. There are also the victims of the Iran-Iraq war, the Fascist junta in Chile, and so on. The list is endless. The Minister should come clean about it. He should be honest enough to say that he is turning his back on all the asylum problems in the world. The racist connotations of not having anything to do with the problems of the Third world show that the Minister is working in concert with other European Governments to turn their backs on problems which in many cases were created by west European Governments in the first place.

The situation in Sri Lanka is given as the main reason for the Bill, but it is only part of the reason—albeit an important part. In my view, the Tamils have been used as scapegoats. For the past three years the Government have constantly told us that everything is normal and satisfactory in Sri Lanka and that it is quite all right for people to go back there. If that is so, why are so many Tamil asylum seekers leaving prosperous livings in Jaffna. Trincomalee, and other areas of Sri Lanka to come here? I know that some of those who have been granted exemptional leave to remain, although not political asylum, are living in appalling conditions. They are living in utter misery. Have they really left good jobs and careers in Jaffna because they prefer to live in a bedsit in north London, or is there some other reason?

The other reason is the political oppression in Sri Lanka. There is no doubt about that at all. The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris), who clearly has great knowledge of Sri Lanka, constantly maintains that there is no problem, when it is obvious that there is a serious problem. He would do well to talk to those who have sought political asylum here before he makes such sweeping statements.

Mr. Michael Morris

I have never suggested that there is no problem in the north or the east of Sri Lanka. There is fighting going on there day and night. That is common knowledge. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has been to Sri Lanka a couple of times—

Mr. Corbyn

Just once.

Mr. Morris

From even one visit he should know that two thirds of the population live perfectly quietly, Tamils side by side with Sinhalese, Moors and Moslems, and that there are a million Tamils living absolutely harmoniously with their Sinhalese neighbours.

Mr. Corbyn

There are certainly places in Sri Lanka where people live harmoniously together, and there have been times in the past when the whole country has been fairly harmonious. Nevertheless, there have been communal riots on a number of occasions. There were appalling attacks on Tamils in 1983 and there have been appalling problems ever since that time. It does no good to ignore that. It also does no good if the British Government, instead of seeking to bring peace to Sri Lanka, as they claim, are busy training Sri Lankan army officers, supplying arms to Sri Lanka and allowing KMS to recruit mercenaries to go into Sri Lanka. Far from bringing peace, is that not simply stoking up the fires of war, and is that not one reason why the British Government should look at the matter with a little more care?

The build-up to the Bill was especially disgraceful. Considerable numbers of Tamil people have been arriving in Europe to seek political asylum. Some of them are from prosperous backgrounds, while some come from great poverty, but they have one thing in common. They come to Europe with nothing, seeking political asylum. Attempts have been made to place every obstacle in their way, from the visa requirement, to the restriction on interventions by Members of Parliament, to the introduction of the Bill.

When the Home Secretary tried to bundle those asylum applicants out of the country in that disgraceful and hideous way, there was a demonstration at the airport. Fortunately, those people did not leave and the case was referred to the courts. The Home Secretary contested the matter all the way through the courts, and only when he lost did he concede that he has an obligation to examine each case in detail. But he can do nothing with grace, so he introduced the Bill as his method of backing down in the face of the court's judgment.

If only one of those applicants is shown to be a legitimate applicant for political asylum who is subsequently granted refugee status in Britain, the Home Secretary should resign. He is trying to throw out people who may have a legitimate right to be here within the terms of the 1951 convention. We have seen many handstands from the Secretary of State, and if only one of the cases is found to be just, he should resign.

Although the Government have tried to emphasise their anxiety about Tamil asylum seekers, they have failed to notice that other European countries have taken many more Tamil asylum seekers than has Britain. The number involved is extremely small, but I understand that the Government are trying to get together with other European countries to turn their backs on the Tamils altogether. The Indian Government have taken many asylum seekers. The attitude of Europe, led by the British Government, towards asylum seekers in general has been disgraceful. They were heavily censured by Mr. Poul Hartling, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He said that the growing xenophobia of European Governments and of the European media towards asylum seekers did them no good, and he compared the number of asylum seekers which the poor countries were prepared to accept with the attitude of European Governments.

Although I hope that the Bill will be defeated, I have my doubts in that respect. The Government should think for a moment about the effect that it will have on asylum seekers from other places. Earlier, I mentioned the Iran-Iraq war. I have supported several people who have applied for political asylum, some of whom have had horrendous difficulty in escaping the horrors of that war. They have crossed from Iran to Iraq, fled to a third country and then applied for political asylum here. The Kurdish people, who seem to be persecuted throughout the middle east, would have no opportunity to apply for political asylum here, because they could not get here to do it. They would not have valid exit documents, because in Turkey, even the existence of Kurdistan is denied, never mind the Kurdish language or the use of Kurdish names. If they reached a third country and applied to travel to Britain, they would be caught by the Government's privatisation of immigration law—handing responsibility to the airline—and could not obtain tickets to travel here. What will happen to those people?

It is all very well for the Home Secretary to say repeatedly that Britain can play no part in what is happening in other parts of the world. It is just not true. The British Government play an enormous part in what happens in other countries. I have mentioned the Government's military involvement. The bombing of Kurdish villages in Iraq during the past few weeks originated from NATO bases in Turkey. Britain supplies military equipment to Turkey. Who is supplying arms to the Fascist dictatorship in Chile? The British Government are almost alone in the world in being happy to continue supplying arms to the Government of General Pinochet.

I hope that the Bill will be understood for what it is —a squalid, nasty little measure to refuse the right of political asylum to genuine seekers of asylum. Had the Bill operated from before the first world war, many Jewish people who fled from pogroms in central and eastern Europe or from the horrors of Nazism would not have got into Britain.

The Government say that they are introducing the Bill to crack down on immigration racketeers. That is not true, because the Bill encourages people to use forged documents, provided that they are good forgeries. Bad forgeries are out, but good forgeries are acceptable.

Mr. Tony Banks

Perhaps the Government could get some advice on forging British passports from Mossad, which seems to be very good at it.

Mr. Corbyn

Absolutely. It is extraordinary that a Bill should be introduced that seeks to differentiate between the standards of forged documents.

Ministers should understand that when people are fleeing for their lives to seek political asylum abroad they will resort to forged documents. Indeed, hero films are made about people using forged documents to get out of Nazi Germany and other places. People make money explaining how these things are done. Is it surprising that they go to immigration racketeers who are prepared to fly them abroad? Films have been made about this. Films were made about events when Israel was founded in 1948.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the history of the smuggler goes back to the Scarlet Pimpernel?

Mr. Corbyn

Quite. My hon. Friend makes his own point on this.

Nothing is more evil than the exploitation of those who are already exploited, and asylum seekers are, by their definition, already exploited. The Bill does nothing about that evil. It simply makes the victim a victim for the second time—but this time a victim of the British Government.

Many of the organisations which oppose the Bill highlight the need for an independent appeal against decisions made by immigration officers. Until fairly recently, an asylum seeker arriving in Britain who was denied admission by an immigration officer had several courses open to him. He could ask for his case to be put to the Minister, and the Minister would have to consider it. He could ask a Member of Parliament to stop his removal. That was inadequate, but at least it was something. The asylum seeker could also ask for his case to be referred to the UKIAS. Those three safeguards have been removed by the Bill. A member's right to intervene is now apparently a concession which the Minister can remove at any time. Are we satisfied that the Minister will have an even-handed approach to Conservative Members and Labour Members? He certainly did not in the Tamils' case. As cases will no longer be referred automatically to the UKIAS, will its role as an advisory organisation constantly diminish and be brushed aside?

The Bill does not provide ministerial control, but provides for asylum cases to be dealt with by immigration officers at the port of entry. We have debated many times the record of immigration officers at the port of entry and their rather subjective analysis of whom they believe to be trying to evade the immigration laws. It is still the case that there is a much greater likelihood of being stopped and severely questioned at any port of entry if one is coming from Bangladesh than if one is coming from South Africa, Canada or Australia.

In the 34th executive session of the UNHCR, the British Government, unless they now wish to deny it, endorsed the following: Recognised the substantive character of a decision that an application for refugee status is manifestly unfounded or abusive, the grave consequences of an erroneous determination for the applicant and the resulting need for such a decision to be accompanied by appropriate procedural guarantees and therefore recommend that …an unsuccessful applicant should be enabled to have a negative decision reviewed before rejection at the frontier or forcible removal from the territory. Where arrangements for such a review do not exist, governments should give favourable consideration to their establishment.

The British Government supported that recommendation, but the Bill is the direct opposite of it.

In the third report of the Home Affairs Committee in 1984–85 on "Refugees and Asylum, with Special Reference to the Vietnamese", appeal rights were referred to in recommendation 22, which said: The Home Office should decide in principle to extend the right of appeal to all asylum applicants". The Government responded: The main category of asylum applicants without such a right of appeal is those refused entry at the ports. For this category of applicants there are other safeguards: representations by Members of Parliament, judicial review and the UKIAS referral procedure.

The sordid series of statements from the Secretary of State and from Ministers over the past month have taken away all those safeguards. The Secretary of State has said that he is prepared to remove people while judicial review is pending, which means that people cannot stay here. He has already curtailed, and in some cases removed, the rights of Members to make representations and he has removed the UKIAS referral procedure.

I hope that the Bill will be rejected, although I have my doubts about that. As others have said, some of the motives behind the Bill are the sheer racism of the British media, and the worst examples are in the Murdoch press in its reporting of the Tamil asylum applications. The language used was deliberately emotive. The Government have refused to recognise the world concern about the refugees and asylum seekers and the need to do something about them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) spoke about the proposals to bring in prison ships—Hurd's hulks as they will be called. They will be used to hold these people in detention pending investigation of their cases. What greater condemnation can there be of the Government's attitude towards the problems of divided families, or, more important in this debate, asylum seekers and refugees than that the Government should be contemplating spending money buying a ship in which to lock up these people while their cases are being considered?

The House has to look seriously at the problems of asylum seekers. It is no good turning our backs on them and closing our eyes. That will not wish the problem away. The problem is there, for all sorts of complicated political or commercial reasons. Wishing it away will not solve the problem. All that the Minister is trying to do is to appeal to the basic sense of xenophobia in the media, in the country and throughout Europe. They want to turn their backs on the problems of the rest of the world. I hope that there will be a greater sense of civilised values on this side of the House when we come to vote against the Bill than has ever been shown by the Tory party.

7.53 pm
Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

Like a number of hon. Members, I declare a partial interest. As has already been said, one hon. Member was a refugee and there are some who are the children of refugees. I am the grandchild of two refugees. My grandfather left the Soviet Union not with papers properly prepared for him by the authorities, but with a bullet inside him.

I am a member of the Race Relations and Immigration Sub-Committee of the Home Affairs Select Committee. My most fulfilling work in Parliament has been serving on that Committee. I have enjoyed the non-political companionship of people deeply dedicated to race relations and to studying dispassionately the immigration laws and the practices that the Government adopt in carrying out those laws. We have not had the sort of histrionics that we heard earlier from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). We have dealt with these matters in a calm and rational atmosphere. The cries of racist bias and of pandering to the vicious majority and so on are not heard. We discuss matters based on facts. The Sub-Committee consists of three Conservative and two Labour Members of Parliament, and we hope that we carry out an honourable role for the benefit of Parliament.

Our report on refugee status and political asylum, with special reference to the Vietnamese, has already been mentioned, but it must be remembered that that report was produced with evidence from 1984 and published at the beginning of 1985. The immigration and refugee statistics that were used as the basis for that report were the figures for 1983. It must be admitted that circumstances have changed since then. Not only that, but the pattern of those asking for refugee status in the United Kingdom has also changed inasmuch as the major problem of the Vietnamese boat people was not that of' direct asylum seekers in this country. Those people went to Hong Kong, so the practice today of people actually arriving here in the United Kingdom seeking asylum in large numbers has caused a different picture to be painted and a different set of problems to be faced.

Mr. Bermingham

I am a member of the Sub-Committee and was also a signatory to the report. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when we considered the report we looked also at the question of eastern European refugees coming, for example, through Austria after fleeing from Czechoslovakia and elsewhere, and that the principles that we enunciated about asylum have not changed in the past three years?

Mr. Hanley

The hon. Gentleman is a trusted friend and colleague on the Committee and I value his work greatly. Together we visited the Traiskirchen refugee camp where, for some time, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Terlezki) waited while his refugee application was being processed. I do not deny what the hon. Gentleman has said, but he may have misheard me or not quite picked up what I said. The difference has been that over the past three years, instead of dealing with refugee applications from a large number of people in Hong Kong, in the past six months many people have been arriving in the United Kingdom and claiming refugee status at ports of entry. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with that.

Mr. Bermingham

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those who fled here from eastern Europe or Germany in the 1930s, or from South America in the 1970s, came direct to the United Kingdom, made their applications here, and did not use an intermediate stage, as the Vietnamese did?

Mr. Hanley

Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am talking about the main point of pressure compared with 1984. Then it was the Vietnamese boat people; now it is the Tamils. If the hon. Gentleman casts his mind back a few years, he will recall that the Ugandan Asians were direct applicants to the United Kingdom and were dealt with specially because of that. I am not trying to make any grandiose claims or statements. I am merely setting out the fact that the report, to which the hon. Gentleman is a cosignatory, did not contain any reference to the Sri Lankan situation because that was not then a major problem.

The number of people who applied for refugee status from Sri Lanka in 1983 was 226, more than ten times the previous year. In 1979 there was one applicant from Sri Lanka for refugee status, so the Government are confronted with a very different problem now. The recommendations of the Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration must be seen in the light of the circumstances in the spring of 1985, based on research in 1984. I very much regret the fact that the Liaison Committee cannot find sufficient funds to allow the Sub-Committee to go to Sri Lanka to investigate the matter directly.

While the Sub-Committee was studying these matters, its members spoke to people in a number of European countries—in the Netherlands, where the treatment of refugees and of immigrants of all sorts is second to none, in Belgium, France, Switzerland and Austria. In Switzerland we discovered that 1,800 Tamils had been admitted within the previous four months. I am sure that all hon. Members agree that Switzerland is hardly regarded as particularly racist. It is a welcoming, peace-loving country. We found that the number of Tamils who had gone to Switzerland was so large that the country could not provide for them and was considering expulsion.

One reason why the Tamils were coming so quickly was that they had apparently learnt in West Germany that they were entitled to a daily financial allowance, immediate housing and other rights while their cases were being considered. It is therefore important to consider the countries through which those Tamils had passed. Many had bought tickets through Aeroflot and had then been passed from Sri Lanka to the centre of the Soviet Union, where they changed planes and were taken to Moscow.

Many of the Tamils were then taken from Moscow to East Germany where, in a wicked exploitation of the border position between east and west Berlin, they were passed from east to west Berlin since there are no border controls on those entering west Berlin from the east. Once they were in west Berlin, the numbers were mounting up so greatly that they were passed to West Germany and from there, because the numbers were so vast that there was fear of possible outbreaks of violence in the area where they had been housed, they were passed to Switzerland and to other countries bordering West Germany, including Austria.

Many Tamils coming from Sri Lanka have not been able to prove their refugee status. Many may be able in time to prove that they are genuine refugees, as I am sure will some of the people who have recently arrived in Britain. It is not necessarily true that a person who claims refugee status is entitled to do so. It seems that many Opposition Members do not want to admit that many of the Tamils are jumping on to the bandwagon which, as we can see from the Bill, could hurt genuine refugees. I hope that the Opposition realise that that will be on the consciences of the bogus refugees for the rest of their lives.

The Bill has been introduced because of suspected abuse by many hundreds of people. One important point in the current problem of the 64 Tamils who were to be deported from Heathrow is that they passed through Malaysia and Bangladesh on their way to the United Kingdom. There is no doubt that they would have been safe in Malaysia or in Bangladesh, but there is little doubt that their economic position would be better in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Corbyn

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations convention and that the Tamils were only in the transit lounge at Dhaka airport and never entered Bangladesh?

Mr. Hanley

The hon. Gentleman is aware, of course, that both are Commonwealth countries. I should have thought that most reasonable people would recognise that a person who feared for his life in a country such as Sri Lanka would, as soon as he reached Malaysia, welcome the fact that he was not under threat. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that Malaysia, because it is not a signatory to the United Nations convention, would therefore have persecuted these people? Is he saying that they would have been expelled from Bangladesh?

Mr. Corbyn

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are cases of people being sent back to Sri Lanka from Malaysia and that, if they had come directly to the United Kingdom, they would have been sent back?

Mr. Hanley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that bogus applicants are sent back, wherever they are discovered?

The benefits that can be claimed by a person with refugee status — some can be claimed even when a person is under investigation — are immense. One can understand the pressure on a person to claim refugee status in a country which he feels will be most generous to him.

It is sad that the right hon. Member for Gorton said that the Government are racist in introducing this legislation for base motives. He should recognise that, in 1984, 50,000 immigrants were allowed settlement in the United Kingdom, 50,000 in 1985 and, provisionally, 47,000 in 1986. Admittedly, that is not as generous as the 70,000 and 80,000 under the Labour Government, but it is certainly not fair to say that the Government are racist when almost 50 per cent. of all those who have been granted settlement in the United Kingdom are immigrants from the Indian sub-continent and from the New Commonwealth. It is certainly not fair to say that the Conservative party is a racist party when last year alone there were 29,000 Sri Lankan visitors.

Mr. Madden

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the figures he has mentioned for 1986 represent the lowest figures in 24 years for those granted settlement in Britain?

Mr. Hanley

I certainly accept that the figures are the lowest for many years, but that is not evidence that the Government are racist. If no people from the subcontinent were allowed permanent settlement, I could understand that accusation. But when I was in India with the Sub-Committee, I asked how many British citizens had been granted nationality in India since 1947. One official told me that there were fewer than 10. Another said that not a single person from the United Kingdom had been granted Indian citizenship. This country's record stands up very well.

This country's record on refugees stands up well also. Some Opposition Members have said that it does not. But since 1979 more than 8,000 individuals from all over the world have been granted asylum in Britain. Perhaps it would be a harsh Government who would say, "If you are granted asylum, stay. If you are not, go." But this Government do not do that. They allow exceptional leave to remain. That is a way of dealing with cases where there is no proven merit for refugee status. Nevertheless, the Government's compassion has allowed people in difficult circumstances to stay, usually in the long term, not temporarily.

In 1985, 907 Sri Lankan Tamils were granted exceptional leave to remain on an annual basis. In 1986, 1,600 Sri Lankans were granted exceptional leave to remain. The Conservative party is not, therefore, a racist party. The Government are not deliberately trying to expel all Tamils who come here. Those figures are in addition to the 20,000 Vietnamese who have come here. Many Opposition Members have said that some of the Sri Lankans want to come here because Britain is a Commonwealth country. I remind them that we have had no connection over the years with Vietnam. The Government's action towards the Vietnamese is purely humanitarian.

I have some assurances to seek from my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State. First, I hope that he will not fine airlines that bring in asylum seekers who are found to be genuine. The powers set out in the Bill are discretionary, not mandatory. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will judge each case on its merits. I hope also that he will not fine an airline where it is shown that it has been a party to bringing a person into the United Kingdom who otherwise would have faced death, torture or persecution. I am sure that in judging each case on its merits my right hon. and learned Friend will meet some of the fears and reservations that have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Secondly, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will advise airlines that, should they be fined for carrying people who should not be allowed into the United Kingdom, the costs should be passed on as a form of contractual term to the agents who organised the parties. Some Labour Members have said that the traffickers in human flesh are not to be punished by the Bill; they have contended that the wrong people will be punished. It is only right that the airlines should pass on their charges to those who have organised such parties. That would be easy to do if the organisers ever tried to arrange a further trip for such passengers. The Sub-Committee has visited Bangladesh and it knows of so-called agents who provide a full package, including forged documents, for their willing customers.

Thirdly, I ask my right hon. and learned Friend for an assurance that asylum seekers will be able to apply for asylum in the United Kingdom at posts abroad. If the 64 Tamils had arrived in Malaysia and had been able to stay locally and have their cases dealt with by the British high commission, that would have been a sensible way or attempting to prove their asylum status. It would have been a sensible way for us to recognise our international obligations under the United Nations convention. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will guarantee that asylum seekers will be able to apply for asylum from third countries. I agree very much with what has been said about the difficulties of applying for valid documents in the country of departure, but I do not believe that in many cases applicants have bothered to ascertain whether they can obtain a visa in Colombo or not.

Fourthly, I ask for an assurance that my right hon. and learned Friend will brief airlines properly on what constitutes a bogus passport or travel document. Members of the Sub-Committee have been privileged and honoured to be able to investigate the department of the Home Office that looks into forged passports. We have been shown films and scientific techniques, many of which are extremely high-tech while some are not. I think that most members of the Sub-Committee, including the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), would agree with me that there are fairly easy ways of being able to spot a bogus passport. When we were at terminals 2 and 3 at Heathrow only two weeks ago we were able to find during one hour—this was agreed with the officials—five bogus passports. A quick eye had spotted one of them, but with a little training one could understand how the. bogus passport could also be spotted by an intelligent airline official.

It is important that the airlines are briefed properly without breaching national security. To brief an airline on all the bogus elements that could be introduced to a passport would be to instruct on how to forge more successfully. There is a level or briefing, however—it is a level to which I believe the Bill relates—that is possible and proper. I hope that special video cassettes and training sessions will be introduced at; Heathrow so that those involved can be informed properly of the more obvious types of forgery.

Mr. Tony Banks

I am following the hon. Gentleman's arguments closely and waiting to hear whether he believes that it is right in principle that an airline should be put in the position of having to decide whether someone should come to the United Kingdom, with or without documentation. In principle, does the hon. Gentleman think that such a provision is good?

Mr. Hanley

I believe that airlines should be responsible for their passengers. British Airways has to check the validity of the visas of all those who are travelling to the United States. It is a normal procedure. It is remarkable that in the past airlines have not made such cursory checks of passengers on certain routes. Such a checking procedure would be perfectly acceptable and not in breach of any human rights. It would be unfair, however, if airlines and shipping companies were not trained properly to discover certain of the more obvious forgeries. The equipment that can reveal whether the paper of a passport has been altered is extremely cheap. Airlines and shipping companies should have the opportunity of being trained to a level that does not damage our national security.

Fifthly, I ask for an assurance that my right hon. and learned Friend will ask, through his colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for proper research to be carried out into the areas from where the refugees come and where they claim to be in danger. My right hon. and learned Friend might remember that I asked him about a week ago whether he had received a report from the high commission in Colombo on the problems in the areas from which the 64 Tamils had originated. He said that he had not at that time. It is vital that we use our Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff with experience of the locality to investigate the problems in the areas from which Tamils and others come. If persons are claiming that their lives are in danger—64 is a large number, and they come from the same area—surely we can use the Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff without endangering anyone very much. If it is held that asylum seekers come from an area where there is no great danger, surely there will be no harm to our own staff carrying out closer investigations in the area.

Much greater use could be made of staff in our posts abroad in trying to find out the genuineness of otherwise of the claimed activities in the areas from which asylum seekers originate.

Sixthly, when the Sub-Committee asked for an appeal procedure, it recommended that it should apply to all serious asylum seekers. It mentioned that bogus applications should be processed as speedily as possible and that research should be carried out into ways of dealing with them. The secondary interview section at Heathrow—the staff of which work extremely hard in difficult circumstances — should be able to conduct speedy investigations into asylum seekers.

I take this opportunity of paying tribute to the staff at our ports of entry, especially in the secondary immigration sections. They have to obtain files from Lunar house, or wherever, at short notice and absorb a tremendous amount of information. They have to use their intelligence and knowledge, which has been accumulated over many years in some instances, along with their experience. We are well served by those people. We are particularly well served by the people who work at Lunar house, who do an extremely difficult job, often reviewing documents and literature from a number of different countries in different languages and from countries where the backgrounds, habits, family ties and so on are so different.

Our system should be praised, not criticised. If, on balance, after a secondary interview, one of our Home Office immigration officers — or if abroad, a Foreign Office entry clearance officer—comes to the conclusion that a person is bogus and that there seems to be no good reason for an appeal to be granted, then speedy departure should be executed. However, that should not be to the country from which the person is claiming asylum because of torture or persecution. The non-refoulement clause, with which we and other nations agree, means that asylum seekers, whether they are bogus or not, should not be sent back to their country of origin. They should at least be given another chance to try again.

The three fail-safe clauses that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned as the reason why a full appeal procedure should not be upheld were persuasive at the time. The fact that the UKIAS would be able to interview cases where there was genuine doubt, that hon. Members' representations were part of the system, and that judicial review was provided caused the Sub-Committee therefore to accept the Government's conclusions.

In genuine cases where, after secondary interview, we believe that there is merit, there should be an appeal procedure. Those who hear a refugee appeal should be appointed by the Lord Chancellor's Department, not by the Home Office. I am grateful that my right hon. Friend has allowed immigration appeal cases to go to hearings with appointees from the Lord Chancellor's Department.

I still believe that the Bill is necessary, but only as long as it is discretionary and the Government exercise their discretion. I do not believe that the Bill could be justified if it were mandatory. There is not one hint or suggestion from the Government that they intend to do other than exercise their discretion wisely and to consider each case on its merits.

I shall remember tonight's debate for one reason—the speech of the right hon. Member for Gorton. It was a bitter, vicious, twisted and dishonest contribution. It concluded with some of the most disgraceful descriptions of Members of the Government and Conservative Members. The contribution that followed the right hon. Gentleman's was that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) who, in a calm and dispassionate manner, explained the problems in a way that we would expect of right hon. and hon. Members. This problem involves human beings; it is not a matter where cheap political stabs should be made by a cheap political individual.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure that on reflection the hon. Gentleman might choose to withdraw that allegation.

Mr. Hanley

I shall withdraw it, but I wish that you had been here to hear his contribution—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I was present, but whatever the right hon. Gentleman said at that time does not justify the remark that the hon. Gentleman has just made. I hope that he will withdraw it in an unqualified manner.

Mr. Hanley

I withdraw in an unqualified manner. What remains for the public to read are the words that the right hon. Gentleman used earlier, and I know that they will be as disgusted as I was by his final contribution. He insulted many millions of people in this country who understand that to get better race relations—which we all want — we need an honest and strong immigration policy. It is sad that many Opposition Members seem to believe in an open-door immigration policy, yet they also criticise the Government for unemployment, the lack of health care, the lack of education, and the lack of housing, and they fail to realise the pressures upon all those matters that unrestricted immigration causes.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Hanley

We are dealing with a human problem in a humane way. We shall meet each problem as it arises, but we shall not be guilty of trying to pander to base motives, which the right hon. Member for Gorton was doing.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I can see that four hon. Members are trying to catch my eye. I understand that the Front Benches are hoping to start winding up the debate at 9 o'clock. With a little elementary arithmetic, all four hon. Members might get in.

8.26 pm
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

The speech of the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) started with a review of the history of asylum, with which I could not disagree to any great extent, because I was a member of that Sub-Committee. It was with great regret that it degenerated into cant and political ideology and a meandering attack with little or no purpose.

The Bill, once again, is the Government's instant reaction rather than a thought-out solution to a problem. One asks, "What on earth has prompted all of this?" Legislation that is a reaction instead of being thought through is often bad legislation. This legislation says, "If you do not have the right documents the carrier is liable." That does not go to the heart of the refugee or political asylum seeker's problem.

History has shown that those who flee for their lives rarely, if ever, either take enough money or have the right documents. It is difficult in an east European country, a dictatorial state in south America or a dictatorial state in the far east to pop into the British embassy and get the necessary visa. The minute that one pops into the British embassy one tends to get arrested when coming out, because countries of that ilk do not wish to see their citizens flee from their territories. They have no wish to allow them to go. The political refugee is rarely, if ever, a man or woman with money and rarely a man or woman with documentation. How does the airline or ship check the documentation of the political refugee?

This country was once called the cradle of modern democracy. It was the hub of a civilised society that catered for the revolutionary who had fled his native state. It catered for the person who was at ideological war with his native state. Whether that ideological war was from the Left or Right mattered not to this nation. That is how we have had in our time extreme Right-wing and Left-wing dissidents. The House should remember that Karl Marx was once a refugee in this country.

Why is it, in the 1980s, that this country has begun to turn its back on an honourable history of catering for refugees and for those who seek political asylum? I am beginning to wonder — I say this with great sadness— whether this measure has been prompted by the colour of the political refugee. In pandering to that publicity campaign which is engendered by the second-rate media that we have, I wonder whether we do great harm to the true concept of the refugee. What is the ship's captain to do when he comes across a rowing boat which contains people who are fleeing, perhaps, from a far eastern country, a south American country, or from the Eastern bloc? Is he to say, "I say chaps, do you have the documents because if you don't I can't take you on board because that will cost me £1,000 a head."?

Mr. Tony Banks

Perhaps my hon. Friend was not here when I asked the Home Secretary precisely that question. He said that there would be time on a boat for the captain to radio ahead and find out. But what would happen if the captain were told over the radio, "I am sorry, we are not prepared to accept them, so if you bring them in you will be fined £1,000."?

Mr. Bermingham

I would hope that the captain would carry on regardless, but I fear that some ships' captains would not.

I intend to be brief. It is a brief Bill, but it is a sad Bill. It flies in the face of the Geneva convention. It flies in the face of what was said by the Select Committee of which I had the privilege of being a member. Three years ago that all-party Committee of the House recognised that even in the 1980s there was a need to protect political refugees. It seems that because of pressure, a mere three years later there is a pandering to a baying clamouring call at the Home Office door, "Exclude, exclude." In seeking to exclude a small minority of people who are subject to oppression this sledgehammer of a measure will fall upon refugees from the four corners of the earth.

We were once a nation proud of our determination to protect minorities and their rights, and to accept onto our shores those who are oppressed. It is a sad day in 1987 when we seek to exclude all the oppressed.

8.32 pm
Mr. Geoff Lawler (Bradford, North)

The crux of the Bill, and the point that Opposition Members, including the: hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) have missed, is the balance that must be achieved between the right of the genuine asylum seeker and the right of our citizens to be protected from people trying to enter who have no right to come to our country and who are not, in any sense genuine-asylum seekers. It is important to get the balance right. That is what the Bill is about.

Most Opposition Members fail to see the difference between genuine asylum seekers and those who try to abuse the system. During the debate on the introduction of visas they made no discrimination and offered no recognition of the fact that people try to abuse the system in an attempt to come to the United Kingdom. Opposition Members are falling into the same trap tonight.

The Bill arises primarily because of the asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, but we are also talking about people from the Indian sub-continent, for example, who have sought to come here since the introduction of visas. Some have come here without valid visas in their passports. The numbers involved are large. A total of 502 people from India, 255 from Pakistan, 295 from Bangladesh have attempted to come here, but only a tiny proportion of them had valid visas. The majority did not have the required stamp.

There is no political reason why people from those countries should seek to come here, evade immigration controls and abuse the visa system, but they have done that. The Bill tackles that problem, as it does the problem of those who claim falsely that they are asylum seekers.

It is no coincidence that the rapid increase in asylum seekers over the last few months coincides with economic pressure to emigrate from certain countries. The economic pressure is brought about by specific demographic factors and the large increase in the numbers of young men who seek a better economic life elsewhere. The potential for abuse has also increased and it affects the whole Western world.

The abuse is occurring in all countries which are attractive to potential refugees. For example, in Switzerland, whereas in 1980, 80 per cent. of asylum seekers were accepted, by the beginning of 1986 the figure had fallen to 8 per cent. In France the figure was 95 per cent. in 1976, but last year only 43 per cent. were accepted. Denmark, which had a record for never turning away anybody who turned up on its borders claiming to be an asylum seeker, has introduced visas. Belgium, which had 7,500 applicants in 1985–86 and which uses the UNHCR to determine who is genuine — the most unbiased determining body in the world — accepted only 52 of 7,500 as genuine asylum seekers. What more proof could one want that this is a serious problem which affects the whole of the Western world?

Mr. Meadowcroft

By demonstrating the small percentage of acceptances, does the hon. Gentleman not make the point that the system is working? The system is obviously able to discern between genuine and non-genuine cases. If the Home Secretary had had his way, all the Tamils would have been sent back, but when they were examined only a minority were considered to be in danger or to be genuine refugees. The system, if it is allowed to operate, obviously works. It is the Home Secretary who is not discriminating between the two types of case.

Mr. Lawler

The hon. Gentleman misses the point. Although a small number of cases are genuine, many people have gone to great expense not only for their fares but for forged documents. They may have been put in detention so the large majority who are not genuine suffer human misery and expense. Surely it is better to stop that misery occurring and to save that money.

The 64 Tamils who arrived were interviewed and it was deemed that they were not genuine refugees and were to be returned. As other avenues are blocked and tougher immigration controls are introduced it is natural that other means will be found to try to enter a country for economic betterment. There will always be people who are willing to gain entry to a country which they are not entitled to enter, and, unfortunately, there will always be agents who are ready to exploit them and to make the necessary arrangements—for a handsome fee.

Unfortunately, some airlines are ready to transport such people. Surely it is now time to stop these official stowaways and to stop trade in human cargoes. People are being taken round the world when the airlines know that they do not have the required documentation to enter the country to which they take them. It is time to put a stop to that irresponsible attitude.

Some of the Opposition speeches, including those from the Opposition Front Bench, show that in their opinion the airlines are totally incompetent and incapable of inspecting visas. When I go to America my visa is examined at the British Airways desk, or Virgin Atlantic or the desk of whichever airline I am using. I have no reason to doubt that other airlines are capable of assessing whether a person has a visa which at least looks like the genuine article. It is a slur on airlines throughout the world to suggest that they cannot examine documents. Some irresponsible airlines do not check, but responsible airlines have proved that it is possible.

Mr. Tony Banks

What happens when a person has no valid visa and claims, when he—or she—arrives at the airline desk in the country of embarkation, that he is in danger of his life and so wants to escape as a refugee? One is asking the airline to decide whether that person is a refugee. That is different from asking it to examine a person's credentials.

Mr. Lawler

The Home Secretary spelt out the ways in which a genuine refugee can seek to leave his country—he may turn up at the British embassy or consulate in that country. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) has reminded us that this is a discretionary measure, not an obligatory one.

In supporting the Bill, I am not concerned about the bogus asylum seeker or visitor, nor the middle man who unfortunately profits too much from this trade in human misery. I am concerned about the genuine asylum seeker. Unfortunately as with visas, those who observe the rules are not the ones who cause extra controls to be imposed. However, it is to their benefit in the long run that this measure—as with visas—is introduced.

Opposition Members ignore the fact that if some action is not taken to prevent the abuse it is the genuine asylum seeker who suffers. Let us consider the Tamils. We were given graphic evidence of the racket that was perpetrated to enable those people to enter the country. What is the climate of opinion about other Tamils or any other refugees who may have genuine cause? Unfortunately, great resentment is built up among the home community —of whatever colour. One may talk to Indians, Asians or West Indians of various ethnic origins and discover resentment against people who try to come to the country and evade controls. That feeling must be borne in mind with regard to good race relations in this country, but the Opposition persistently refuse to acknowledge it. They are in great danger of seeking to damage race relations in Britain.

At the next meeting of UKIAS, I hope to be co-opted to the council. I am concerned about the credibility of this organisation and other organisations that have jumped in, feet first, and appear not to practise any discrimination or to recognise that certain people who seek asylum and seek to come here as visitors make bogus claims. I am concerned that those organisations and the Opposition always seek to oppose anything done to protect the genuine visitor or asylum seeker—they seek to oppose every form of control that we impose.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that he was in favour of firm immigration control—that claim was repeated by other Opposition Members. If they are in favour of such control, it is about time that they spelt out exactly how they would implement that control. Everything that we have done to try to tighten the loopholes has been consistently opposed. The Opposition cannot oppose everything and still claim to be in favour of immigration control without spelling out what alternatives they would implement. How would the Opposition stop bogus asylum seekers or bogus visitors who come here to the detriment of the rest of our community and to the detriment of genuine refugees? If they do not impose any control, they will open the way for racketeers to profit.

The Opposition Front Bench has argued that we are encouraging racketeers because we are asking for better forgeries. The logic of that argument is that we do not need passports—if we have no passports the racketeers are out of a job. That is an absolutely nonsensical argument. We will make life much more difficult for racketeers because some of them will be unable to produce the required goods because their phoney, amateurish work will, I hope, be quickly discovered by airline officials.

In Committee, I hope that we shall have the opportunity to discuss what would happen to someone who requires a visa in an emergency. For example, one of my Muslim constituents may suffer a death in the family. A phone call may be made to Pakistan on a Friday or a Saturday because a visa is urgently required, but the embassy is closed. As a result of this necessary legislation, perhaps some hot line could be set up or access given to the British embassy on a Friday or a Saturday. The same practice could be introduced in other countries from which visas are required. In that way, we could deal with a potential problem in line with assurances given by the Home Secretary at the time when visas were introduced.

In the past financial year, the cost to the British taxpayer of removing those refused entry to the United Kingdom and returned home was £1 million. That figure is not insignificant in itself, but no value can placed on the cost of human misery and the damage done to the rights of genuine asylum seekers by those who try to evade controls and enter the country on bogus claims. If this Bill succeeds in some small way towards making airlines meet their part of the responsibility, it will significantly reduce those costs.

Many speakers have pointed out that the country has had a long history of accepting genuine political asylum seekers. I hope that that tradition will continue. It will continue as long as the threat of abuse is minimised and prevented. For that reason I give the Bill my strong support.

8.46 pm
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

The hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawlor) has accused us of not protecting the genuine asylum seeker. I contribute to the debate purely on the basis of protecting the genuine claimant.

I am interested in the principle of imposing a penalty of £1,000. That figure does not represent damages, compensation or a criminal penalty. Airlines already pay compensation to the Government for detention, and that is a considerable disincentive to carry the wrong people. The figure in this legislation does not represent compensation or a criminal penalty. In British law, it is extremely unusual to have a penalty of this nature.

If I came to the House and said that there ought to be a penalty of £1,000 for anyone causing a death at work through a breach of the Factories Acts, building regulations or the use of construction regulations, it would be opposed by the Conservative Front Bench. If we were to say that those who pollute our rivers and cause untold damage to wildlife as well as to human beings should suffer a penalty, that would be resisted. If we insisted there should be a minimum penalty of £1,000 on those who cause death by dangerous driving, or some other form of extreme anti-social behaviour, it would meet resistance. However, in the context of those who seek political asylum in this country the Government see fit to introduce a mandatory penalty that is unrelated to criminal law.

I am also concerned about the obligation on an airline to be liable to pay a penalty when a person arrives without a visa when he is required to have one under immigration rules. A great many people arrive without being clear, in their own minds, about entry requirements. They arrive as visitors from non-visa countries, but if one questions them closely and their true intentions are discovered, they will probably require a visa.

Let me give the House an example that I dealt with fairly recently. A young girt arrived from an African country and sought entry as a visitor. Her true intention was to stay as long as she could. If she had formed her views, it would have been clear that it was her intention to settle here. Therefore, under immigration rules she was a person who arrived without a visa but who required one because it was her intention to settle here. She was allowed to enter on a visitor's admission. She sought to remain permanently because of the conditions in her home country. Like many people, she told a story that was not as close to the truth as it ought to have been. Like the Cabinet Secretary, she was economical with the truth.

While looking accidentally at some Foreign Office papers, I discovered that the Foreign Office had evidence that the girl's father had been murdered by the African regime that ruled her country and that her foster father was missing and was also believed to have been murdered by the regime. When those facts were made apparent, the Home Office—to its credit— noted them and admitted the girl under the exceptional circumstances provision.

That is an example of someone who had a case for remaining here permanently, but who had not clearly formed the right intention in her mind. If she had been closely questioned in the African country, an airline official might have elicited what I found out when I spoke to her and, therefore, would have denied her entry because she would have required an entry certificate under the immigration rules.

Similar circumstances apply to many people who come as visitors, but intend to stay as students, business men or people of independent means. It would be wrong to introduce penalties where a judgment is involved and clear lines cannot be drawn. No great harm is done by admitting people as visitors and looking at their cases calmly and dispassionately.

If a duty is imposed on an airline, it will sometimes fall on a person who is unqualified to make the required judgment. Sometimes the duty will be exercised by an airline official who is cautious by nature. We have all come across public officials, civil servants and others who are excessively cautious and with whom we get very frustrated.

Some airlines have corrupt officials. I do not want to stigmatise individual countries, but there are some parts of the world where getting on an airline is an exercise in corruption. There are raffles for boarding passes and corruption is rampant. The Minister knows the countries to which I am referring and he ought to understand that the Bill will be another reason for corruption, not among those who, according to Ministers, want to cheat our system, but among those who operate the screening system. Should the screening system be at the door of the concentration camp or prison, or should it operate in the United Kingdom, where cases can be dealt with more calmly?

I talk with some feeling about refugees because the British Refugee Council has a residential hostel in my constituency and I have to deal with refugee cases, week in and week out. I have thought back over the cases that I have dealt with for the British Refugee Council and as a constituency Member and asked myself whether people who seek political asylum here should have to go through a trial by ordeal. Along with the penalty, we are almost reintroducing a medieval process.

People will have to go to British posts in the country that they are seeking to leave or take the risk of putting their case before an airline and getting it to take a chance. I remember a woman who was eventually admitted to the United Kingdom, after I had had a long argument with the Home Office. She was seeking refuge from the Soviet Union. Should she have gone to the British embassy in Moscow or taken a chance with Aeroflot? In many cases the airline is controlled by the Government from whom a person is seeking to escape. The right way was the humane way adopted by the Government. They considered the case carefully in this country.

We are told that people should make applications for visas and explain their case in the country from which they are attempting to escape. However, only this morning we heard on the news that some East Germans have been sent to prison for making inquiries at the West German embassy about emigration to West Germany. That is a good example of what may happen to people who have to run such a gauntlet. Not only were those people denied entry to West Germany, but they were imprisoned.

I have dealt with several applications for political asylum from people from Afghanistan. Are they really expected to present their case to the British post in Kabul or to take their chance with an airline coming out of Afghanisatan? It is a preposterous idea.

In some countries there is no British post. Some years ago the British Government and many others closed facilities in Haiti when Duvalier was in control, because they had so many applicants for political asylum. Ambadassors were stationed round Haiti and merely sent in on visits. It is cruel to suggest that people should make application in the country from which they wish to escape.

Ministers fail to understand the communications problems in many countries. We have two or three posts in Nigeria and a couple of posts in Ghana, but anyone who has tried to travel by road in Ghana will know that it is extremely difficult to get from one end of the country to the other. A person could exhaust all his savings and resources in making a journey to an embassy which, as far as I remember, does not even operate an appointments system.

The right way to handle the matter is to allow people to come to this country to present their case for political asylum and for us to examine it dispassionately. When people present a case for political asylum, it should be dealt with as quickly as possible. If a person comes here and presents a case for remaining and the case is dealt with slowly—it can take a year or two—the person becomes accustomed to living here and finds it extremely difficult to leave if the application is turned down for genuine reasons. In addition, the longer that a person coming from a country ruled by a dictator stays in this country, the greater becomes the risk of persecution if he has to go back. The finger of suspicion is pointed at people who spend a long time in another country and are known to have made an application for political asylum.

Another reason why the idea of making an application in the country from which a person hopes to escape is unsatisfactory is that ambassadors and diplomatic officials are loth to disturb cordial, if not friendly, relations between the British Government and the country from which political asylum is sought. It is natural that an ambassador will not want his staff to give political asylum visas to people from the country to which he is accredited. It will make his job much more difficult.

I can quite understand diplomatic officials refusing entry in those circumstances. That is why it is necessary to allow these matters to take place here. Even then, it is well understood that the British Government are often loth to give political asylum even to people from Russia, East Germany, Poland, Hungary and so on because they do not want to queer the pitch with a country with which they may have trade agreements or with which they are trying to establish a more cordial relationship. The Foreign Office and the Home Office often say, "We shall not give you political asylum, but we shall grant you leave to remain here under exceptional circumstances." That is political asylum by a nod and a wink, which does not queer relations between this country and other countries.

Mr. Bidwell


Mr. Fraser

I shall not give way. I am bound to try to finish my speech by 9 o'clock.

If the problem of those who, rightly or wrongly, seek political asylum in this country were one of Californian film directors arriving at Heathrow, or of nabob Indian princes, or the modern equivalent of the Phanarian princes of the Ottoman empire, we would not be faced with the Bill at short notice. The inescapable conclusion is that we have such a Bill because people come from the poorer parts of the world.

Why the necessity for speed? Time and again, in our constituencies, as political parties, as the House, we face injustice. When we ask for time, we do not get it, and no rapid Bills are introduced. If we must make a choice, why put the person who seeks asylum at risk? There are adequate penalties already. A quick, objective, dispassionate examination of cases here is the answer. The Bill is wholly unnecessary and will be gravely understood in many parts of the world, to the disadvantage of the reputation of this country.

9 pm

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

To clear up any misunderstanding I make it clear at the outset —otherwise, Conservative Members will claim not to be clear on the point — that Labour Members believe in firm immigration control, but not immigration control that is racially or sexually discriminatory. I further make it clear that, of course, we are against racketeers who make money out of unfortunate people who wish to claim political asylum. I accept that the refugee problem is growing. Indeed, we have only to look at Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong—a territory, which, after all, is our responsibility—to realise how difficult the problem can be. I do not believe that we have addressed ourselves as firmly to the problem of Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong as we should have. I was interested in the speech made by the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison). I shall read it again carefully tomorrow. It casts at least some doubts on the Government's approach to the difficulties that have been described.

I have three concerns about the Bill. First, it is unsound in principle. Secondly, it will not work sensibly in practice. Thirdly, it has not been properly thought out. The press release issued by the Home Office, and indeed most hon. Members' speeches, suggest that the Bill is concerned only with refugees. However, on examination, one can see that it goes wider than that. I contend that some of the respects in which it has not been properly thought out relate to its impact on groups other than refugees.

If the Bill is given a Second Reading, what will be the arrangements for its further stages? Will it be debated in Committee on the Floor of the House or in Standing Committee? If on the Floor of the House, how soon and for how long will it be debated? Some hon. Members are concerned about the details, and want to be sure that there is adequate time in Committee to go properly into the details and not just rush through them.

The Bill has been reprinted. The second version of the Bill states: To be substituted for Bill previously delivered. Note: This Bill is being re-issued because Clause 1(5) was not printed in italics. That is fair enough, but there is another difference between the two versions of the Bill to which the Minister did not refer. The latest version of the Bill states "A.D. 1987." The first version of the Bill stated "A.D. 1985." I wonder whether the Bill has been lying in the Home Office for a couple of years and has just now been trotted out. If so, has the misprint been hidden by an attempt to justify the second printing of the Bill? Perhaps I have an unduly suspicious mind. [Interruption.] The Ministers may laugh, but I think that they have been caught out.

There are other issues. I wonder whether the reason for the swift introduction of the Bill was the arrival of the 58 Tamils. I share the suspicion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that questions of electoral advantage underlie the hasty introduction of the Bill. I have before me a letter from the Home Secretary. It begins, "Dear Colleague." I hasten to say that I was not one of the colleagues to whom the letter was sent—nor, I am sure, were any of my hon. Friends. I believe that it was sent only to Conservative Members. It refers to the Home Secretary's justification for the Bill and to his view that increasing numbers of people from the Third world have become footloose.

The letter then refers to the five countries for which visa restrictions were imposed and refers to the five countries from which the bulk of the mischief was coming. The letter continues in a similar vein on a later page. It says: Sri Lanka just happens to be the main sore point at the moment. It is a revealing letter that was sent to the Home Secretary's own hon. Friend's about the basis of the Bill. The Home Secretary looks at me in some astonishment. I have the letter here, if he wants to see it.

What is the real need for this measure? The Government already have the power to impose on airlines the cost of detention and the return fares. If the Government are certain that the Bill will achieve what they say they want it to achieve, I cannot understand why the Home Secretary is also anxious to acquire a ship to provide more detention accommodation. That point was clearly highlighted in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). At the very least, it seems to be a belt and braces exercise by a Government who are not entirely certain that this measure will have the intended effect. Or is it simply, as the Minister of State said in a speech in the House in October of last year, The problem facing immigration control over the past year could not have been solved by extra staffing. There is insufficient detention accommodation." — [Official Report, 27 October 1986; Vol. 103, c. 132.]

This country has traditionally been a haven for refugees. I refer to those who may have feared persecution for their religious or political beliefs, or for other reasons. However, in recent years we have taken very few asylum seekers, compared with other countries. In fact, 95 per cent. of refugees in recent years have gone to Third world countries. That helps to put the problem into perspective. My information is that in recent years Pakistan has taken over 3 million refugees and that the Sudan has taken over 1 million refugees. Compared with that, the number of refugees that Britain has taken is very small. According to the Government, we have taken 2,500 Tamils, compared with over 8,000 refugees who have gone to Holland and 20,000 to both France and Germany.

According to the figures that have been published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Britain is very low down the league table in the number of asylum seekers that we have accepted, compared with other European countries. According to these figures, in the first six months of 1986 we took just over 1,000, out of over 80,000 for the whole of Western Europe. That figure is very much below the figues for countries such as Denmark, which took three times that number, Germany, which took 42,000, and most other countries which took more refugees than we did.

We must keep the problem in proportion and not become quite so hysterical as some people are at the thought that a few hundred people have applied for admission to this country. Of course we have to separate those who are genuine from those who are bogus, but we should not be quite so outraged when we remember that we have taken only a few refugees, whereas most other west European countries have taken far more.

As for the precise effect of the Bill on refugees, when the Minister of State referred in his speech to the 58 or 64 Tamils, he made a great deal of the fact that some of them had come with inadequate or forged documents. However, in a recent hearing before an adjudicator concerning an appeal against an asylum refusal by someone from an African country, the Home Office presenting officer said: How can you be a genuine refugee? You state on your own evidence that you acquired a passport validly obtained; how can you be a refugee? The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot allow their officials to cast doubt on whether an applicant for asylum status can be such if he happens to have a passport, and, at the same time, claim that the Tamils who arrived cannot be genuine because they did not have proper passports. The Government are trying to have it both ways and they should not be able to do so. A happy footnote to that problem is that the appellant in the case that I quoted was successful and was allowed to remain in this country.

Turning to the more specific issue of the 58 Tamils, the Minister has said in the House on several occasions that none of them had a claim to stay as a refugee. Indeed, he was so certain of that that he deliberately short-circuited all the safeguards that the Government had claimed for people coming here as refugees. Other hon. Members have already referred to the report of the Home Affairs Sub-Committee and to the fact that there were three safeguards: the representation that could be made by Members of Parliament; judicial review; and UKIAS referrals. The Government have sought to prevent all three coming into force for those people.

However, to my mind there is now pretty clear evidence that at least some of those 58 Tamils had been beaten or tortured in Sri Lanka before they left. Some Conservative Members have cast doubt on that, but I have before me a statement from a doctor in Sheffield who examined six patients at Foston Hall in Derbyshire on 26 February. I believe that that is where many of those Tamils are currently being held. Although I do not want to detain the House to the extent of reading through all those reports, there seems enough evidence in that doctor's statement to suggest that several of the Tamils had been beaten in detention in Sri Lanka and that some had been tortured. Therefore, they appear to have a genuine claim for asylum status in this country. Indeed, the UNHCR in London is prepared to say that at least some are mandatory refugees; that is to say, they should have an undisputed right to claim asylum under the United Nations convention.

Mr. Wheeler

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Can he explain why those people did not exercise their right to become refugees in the land that they arrived in first? I believe that, in the first instance, that was Malaysia and, in the second, Bangladesh, where presumably they would have been perfectly safe. Why did they move from two countries of safety to a third?

Mr. Dubs

I cannot answer that in detail—it is one of the issues that UKIAS is considering at the moment—except to say that I understand that neither Malaysia nor Bangladesh is a signatory to the United Nations convention on refugees. Therefore, those people would not have had an assurance that they would not be returned to Sri Lanka from those countries. Indeed, that is why their removal to Bangladesh at this stage has been opposed by people who say that that would be a short step to their being returned directly to Sri Lanka. That is part of what the argument has been about.

Therefore, I do not think that the fact that, in this instance, they went to one or two countries on their way is evidence that they could have sought asylum there. In contrast, when people come to this country from India and return there, they normally would be safe in India. That is why their security in India is not called into question, whereas the security of such people in those other two countries is called into question from time to time, and has been in this instance.

Mr. Michael Morris

Is it not a fact that Malaysia, as a member of the Commonwealth with Sri Lanka, does not require a visa for entry and that, like so many others, these Sri Lankans could have stayed in Malaysia?

Mr. Dubs

I am not aware that they could have stayed in Malaysia. I repeat that my understanding is that Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations convention. Therefore, there is not the safeguard that there might be in some other countries that those people would be safe if retured there. All that is the basis of an investigation into their particular claims and will no doubt come to light in due course.

In contrast to what some Conservative Members suggested earlier, there is evidence that some of those people were tortured and beaten up in custody in Sri Lanka and that the UNHCR believes that some are mandatory refugees. If they were returned to Bangladesh it is likely that they would be sent directly back to Sri Lanka, and Home Office Ministers do not deny the accuracy of that.

It is of particular regret that for the future the Home Secretary has said: there will be cases which will not be referred to UKIAS…therefore applicants for asylum can have no expectation in future that as a result of the arrangement arrived at in 1983 or otherwise there will in their cases be such a reference."—[Official Report, 3 March 1987; Vol. 111, c. 733.] One consequence is, presumably, to prevent applications for judicial review in future. The reason why a judicial review was embarked on and why the courts upheld the rights of the Tamils was, perhaps, the Home Secretary had not adhered to his procedure. Now he has changed the procedure so that in future he will not be as embarrased as he was over the Tamils.

We do not condone bogus refugees or racketeers who exploit refugees for financial gain, but people applying for asylum have the right to have their cases considered fairly. Surely that is what the argument is about, because the Minister tried to prevent the cases of the Tamils from being considered. He will admit that they all had a brief interview—some people say not more than 20 minutes and others only 10 minutes — and much of the background in the case of each Tamil did not come out in the interview. Yet the Home Secretary decided to remove them without having the sort of information that he should have had.

We have a right to ask the Government several important questions and, indeed, some have already been asked. First, how can a genuine refugee gain entry to the United Kingdom? In his speech the Home Secretary suggested several possible ways, but most of them would not apply to the Tamils. In reply to a question from the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) I quoted a letter from the British high commission in Colombo to an applicant. It states: You have applied for entry clearance with a view to admision to the United Kingdom as a refugee but there is no provision in the immigration rules for entry clearance to be granted for this purpose. That makes it clear why people, such as the Tamils, could not be considered for visas, had they applied to the British high commission in Colombo.

The Minister may reply, "There is a limited provision for hardship cases." How many people have been granted a visa to enter the United Kingdom under the hardship category? We know the numbers of people from Sri Lanka who have been granted visas to come here on holiday, but how many have been granted entry under the hardship category? I doubt whether the Minister can find more than one or two. No doubt he will tell us when the time comes. By telling people that they must have the right documentation before they can step on a plane, many people who would like to prove that they are genuine asylum seekers will not have that chance. Therefore, we shall be slamming our doors on those who are entitled to be considered as genuine refugees.

Secondly, even if a traveller on arrival in the United Kingdom eventually proved that he or she is a genuine refugee, what is to stop the airline nevertheless being fined? Many hon. Members have said that the fines procedures is discretionary, but it is a curious law that says, "Don't worry too much, if they are hardship cases, we shall not apply the law." That is not how it will work. The fact that there is a threat of a fine on airlines will mean that, if they are in doubt, they will say no. People will therefore be kept out. I should still like the minor assurance that if somebody comes here and proves to be a genuine refugee, the airlines will not be fined.

What instructions and guidance will the Home Office or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office give airline staff all over the world? Our immigration procedures are pretty complicated. I doubt whether any hon. Member, including Ministers, understands them fully, but we are asking airline staff to make quite difficult judgments at counters overseas about how our immigration procedures work. It is therefore no wonder that the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) asked a few quite sensible questions about how the Bill will affect airlines. I hope that the Minister of State will answer them.

Will the Home Office give airline staff guidance? Will British Airways and British Caledonian be given a little do-it-yourself guide to immigration rules and procedures? How are they to administer these new provisions?

It seems that the Bill is even more muddled than I have so far demonstrated, as its scope goes beyond refugees. We have already discussed the fact that it will apply to anybody who comes with an obviously forged passport, but what about non-visa countries? It is not clear to me after close examination of the Bill whether it is intended to apply simply to visa countries as defined in the appendix to the immigration rules, or whether it will apply to other countries, the citizens of which require a visa to enter the United Kingdom for certain purposes.

I have looked pretty carefully at the Bill and at the legislation to which it refers. Clause 2(2) says: In this Act any expression which is also used in the Immigration Act 1971 has the same meaning as in that Act. Section 33(1) of the Immigration Act 1971 provides: 'entry clearance' means a visa, entry certificate or other document". The Bill refers only to visas. I presume, therefore, that it deliberately does not mention entry certificates. If I am wrong, the Minister of State will say so.

There are circumstances, however, such as are laid out in paragraph 27 of the immigration rules, in which people coming to the United Kingdom to seek employment have to have a visa. The possession of a work permit does not absolve the holder from complying with visa requirements. People can in theory get work permits for the United Kingdom from any country and people coming for work must have a visa.

It is therefore likely that airline staff would have to establish the purpose of a journey to discover whether the intending traveller ought to have a visa. A visitor from the United States, for example, could be coming on holiday, in which case he or she would not require a visa, and would therefore just buy a ticket. If, however, an American wants to work here, my understanding of the immigration rules is that he or she requires a visa.

This is a pretty complicated predicament to put before airline staff. They will have to elicit the purpose of the visit before deciding whether a person can travel. I hope that it is not as absurd as that. I simply put the question because it is the only interpretation that I can reach.

The danger is that airline staff will play safe and say, "This is a nightmare for us. It is far too complicated, so let's say no." Home Office Ministers have talked about other countries with systems of fines. I think that they will find, however, that those countries have a more or less universal visa regime. I do not advocate such a system, but it is certainly clearer for airline staff because there is then only one question—whether the passenger has a visa—and the dilemma remains only for refugees. We do not have a universal visa regime, so the burden on airline staff will be greater. The Minister said that there was nothing exceptional about fines and listed other countries with such a system, but I believe that several have special safeguards for refugees. The United States and Canada have a different approach, as do Denmark and Australia. Our system will be far more rigid. That is another reason why the Opposition are so concerned about the effects of the Bill.

The United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service has been harshly criticised, although it was well defended by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). All the information that I have shows that under the existing procedures UKIAS does not make representations if a claim is obviously not genuine. Moreover, it has traditionally not made representations regarding asylum seekers coming via India because there was no reason for people to fear persecution if they were returned there. In other countries, however, such safeguards do not apply. Of the latest 50 cases in which UKIAS was involved, it made no representations in 22 cases. Of the remaining 28 cases, 13 were granted leave to remain, four were refused and 11 are still pending. I believe that UKIAS has behaved extremely responsibly in this matter. I hope that the Minister will confirm that and not allow a slur on its reputation to remain.

I believe that there is great merit in the Sub-Committee's suggestion that there should be an appeals system in this country. The Government rejected that recommendation when it was made, but I believe that they should have examined it again in detail before introducing this legislation. If, as they claim, refugee pressure is increasing throughout the world we should devise a fair and decent system. I believe that the best course would be an appeals system here. The procedure could be speeded up to filter out people with no prima facie case so that the system does not become clogged. I believe that that would be a sensible and proper path. We should be devising a method of identifying genuine asylum seekers, which is at the heart of the problem.

If the Government will not accept that solution, I hope that they will consider more sympathetically the role played by UKIAS in the past and allow it to continue in the future. The worse possible option is simply to slam the door on people who may be in danger for their lives and say that they cannot come here unless they can find some convoluted way of getting the necessary documentation together. In practice, the Government's action will fly in the face of the long established tradition whereby this country has provided a haven for people in genuine fear for their lives. The Government are slamming the door on that tradition. That is why many of us will vote against the Government and in favour of the Opposition's reasoned amendment.

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

We should be grateful to the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) for the helpful, restrained and sensible way in which he summed up the debate—so very different from the thoroughly unbecoming way in which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) opened our proceedings, when he imputed evil motives to all and sundry and then skulked away without having the grace to stay to hear what Members of this House think of right hon. Members who behave as disgracefully as he did.

Mr. Dubs

I defend what my right hon. Friend said and the fact that he informed the Home Secretary in advance as to why he had to go away. When such an apology is given, the Minister of State should not be so churlish as to refuse to accept it.

Mr. Waddington

When a right hon. Gentleman telephones and says that he will be absent from the latter stages of the debate, one does not imagine from that message that he will spend his time in the debate making personal attacks on right hon. and hon. Members.

The Government are taking action to meet a serious threat to immigration control. We are taking action as other countries have been forced to take action. Today, more and more people can travel, and more and more people realise that, by travelling, they have a chance to improve their lot abroad. They or the agents to whom they go for advice have not been slow to realise that the willingness of Western countries to grant asylum to vicitms of persecution can be exploited to the advantage of people who are not refugees, but economic migrants. That point was made forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris).

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler) said, the British people are rightly proud of our treatment of refugees. When we think of the Hungarians who came here in 1956, the Chileans who came here after 1973, the Vietnamese and the Iranians, we can be proud of our record. But nothing could be more damaging to the interests of genuine refugees and nothing more damaging to community relations than for the idea to get about that our hospitality was being exploited and nothing was being done about it. We owe it to genuine refugees to ensure that, while their interests are secured, those who try to abuse the system do not get away with it.

We observe the convention meticulously and will continue to do so. But there are some misconceptions as to what we are obliged to do and what we are not. First, we are obliged to give asylum to someone outside his own country who does not wish to return there because he has a well-founded fear of persecution. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees wants us to go very much further; he says that we should also give sanctuary to those who are "of concern". For instance, the UNHCR says that no one should be returned to Sri Lanka, whether a refugee or not. That should be borne in mind during our deliberations.

In The Times the other day, a Mr. Plender said that the argument between the Government and the UNHCR was not about numbers but about fair procedures. He was entirely wrong, because for a long time the UNHCR has been urging us to go much further than the convention and grant refuge to people who clearly are not covered by the terms of the convention. The House knows that we have recongised that there may be people who, although not convention refugees, should not be returned to the place from which they have come, and we have given many such people exceptional leave to remain. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) for emphasising that.

We do not and could not accept that anyone who turns up here from a troubled part of the world, such as Sri Lanka, can stay; yet that is what the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) suggested. How that is reconcilable with the cry that has come from Labour Member after Labour Member that they believe in firm immigration control, I do not understand. The absurdity of the proposition was emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South.

Mr. Bidwell

The right hon. and learned Gentleman alludes to those who have been allowed to stay, but is it not the case that the time is limited? In other words, it is not permanent leave to say stay, but limited leave to remain for 12 months. That shows that the Home Office has not made up its mind. The way in which the Minister referred to this exceptional leave suggests that it is not that way. The fact that the Home Office engages in such activity shows how difficult it is to determine whether one has refugee status. It was to this that I referred when I intervened in the speech of the Home Secretary.

Mr. Waddington

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension because a refugee does not have indefinite leave to remain but leave to remain for a definite period. Somebody who gets exceptional leave to remain gets his stay extended on an annual basis and eventually, if conditions in his country have not improved, he is allowed to stay permanently.

Mr. Madden

As the Minister chose to refer to me, I would be pleased if he would refer accurately to what I said. At no stage did I say that all refugees who seek to come here should be allowed to enter. I argued, I thought clearly, that there should be a speedy and effective appeal system to which applicants for asylum would be referred and through which their applications would be dealt. If applications are found to be justified then they should be allowed to enter, and if found to be bogus they should not be allowed to enter. I would have thought that that would be clear to anybody who listened carefully to my speech.

Mr. Waddington

I understood the hon. Gentleman also to say the first thing.

We are obliged to examine claims for asylum. We are not obliged to give someone refused asylum on arrival here a right to appeal to an independent authority before removal. I shall try to explain why successive Governments have not gone down that road of giving a right of appeal to someone who is refused recognition as a refugee at a port of entry.

There were 28,000 port refusals in 1986. If there had been a right of appeal against refusal, each one of those 28,000 could have put up his hand and said, "If you refuse me entry, I shall utter the magic word `asylum'." Each would then have had the right of appeal. That is the critical reason why successive Governments have shied away from giving a right of appeal to unsuccessful claimants for asylum.

Experience abroad shows what happens when one gives that formal right of appeal. In Canada, as the result of such a right of appeal, recently. even after the Canadian authorities had worked out what they called "a fast track system" to deal with what was thought to be abusive claims to asylum, so great was the pressure of the system that eventually they had to introduce other measures.

There is a very good reason why, over the years, successive Governments have shied away from giving a right of appeal in this country. It is not apparent to me yet how such a system could work in practice. Where it has operated abroad, it has usually resulted in the most appalling problems.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes was entirely right when he referred to the report in 1985 by the Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration, mentioned that it was based on evidence taken in 1984 and talked of how much the position had changed since then.

Mr. Tony Banks

Surely the Minister cannot be seriously suggesting that a significant number of the 28,000 people refused entry in this country would then have said that they were going to claim refugee status. The overwhelming majority were people coming here as visitors, who were then refused entry. I have a file in my constituency — I have put many of these cases to the Minister — showing that people, having been refused entry, make a voluntary departure. The Minister cannot seriously claim that a significant number of those 28,000 claimed refugee status.

Mr. Waddington

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is not being honest with himself'. There is an argument, which is going on even now, that we should give a right of appeal in this country to people who are refused entry as visitors. I ask hon. Members to face this question. If we continue to resist the plea to give a right of appeal in this country to people who are refused entry as visitors, how on earth can we give a right of appeal in this country to those who are refused entry as asylum seekers? It is plain as a pikestaff that those whom the Opposition are always saying should have a right of appeal in this country as visitors would procure for themselves that right of appeal as visitors as a result of uttering that magic word "asylum", which would then give them access to the appeals procedure.

Mr. Corbyn


Mr. Waddington

I should like to continue for a little while.

We are obliged to give asylum to those with a well-founded fear of persecution. We are not obliged to give refuge to those who come from troubled parts of the world. Under the convention, we are obliged to examine claims to asylum. We are not obliged to give someone refused asylum the right of appeal before removal, and. I do not believe that we could do so. We are certainly not obliged — I may be coming closer to the point about which the hon. Member of Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) wished to ask me — to refer cases to the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service. In fact, the present system of referral to UKIAS started in only 1983. No one says that we were in breach of the convention before then. Indeed, in 1981, long before the system of reference to UKIAS was set up, the UNHCR accepted that our procedures then conformed with its recommendations.

Mr. Corbyn

The Minister will recall that his Government supported the executive committee of the UNHCR recommendations that there should be consideration of an appeal against refusal of asylum in each country and that, in defence of the report on Vietnamese refugees by the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Government pointed out that there existed the right to go to UKIAS, the right to go through a Member of Parliament to the Minister concerned and the right for the case to go to judicial review? Since all those avenues have been removed by the Bill, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman concede that the only defence for an asylum application would be if there was a right of appeal?

Mr. Waddington

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as every other hon. Member that things have moved on apace since 1985. I do not believe that anyone thought in 1985 that all the countries of Western Europe would be faced with the sort of problems that now beset them.

I am sure that we are all grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) for his contribution to the debate. We know that he speaks with authority. He had to bear the responsibilities that now are mine, but he did not have to do so for quite so long, which means, no doubt, that he is more mentally alert now than I am. He did not suffer quite the same hardship. We listened with great attention to what he had to say. I can tell him that we shall not abolish the referral system. We feel, however, that it must be examined. I am going to meet UKIAS before very long. I cannot tell my right hon. Friend what progress the Bill will have made by the time that we reach conclusions. We shall not let the grass grow under our feet, however, and I shall be more than happy to talk to my right hon. Friend as matters proceed.

I see difficulties in my right hon. Friend's suggestion that however abusive an application appears to be, UKIAS should be consulted. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) said, time is of the essence. That is the answer to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) who asked "If a case for refusal is stong, why not refer it to UKIAS?" He wanted to know what would be lost by not doing so. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) could not have been more wrong when he said that no harm would be done by somebody being admitted as a visitor and all these matters being resolved later. It is the experience of all Western countries that once someone establishes a foothold, he is difficult to dislodge. Those who have no genuine claim to asylum manage eventually to stay in the country to which they have gone merely as a result of the effluxion of time. That is a real difficulty that we must all face.

Mr. Meadowcroft

How does the Minister protect himself from the charges that, by not referring to UKIAS, he is excluding the possibility of it making a judgment that is different from his own? Surely there is protection for the Minister as well as for the person who is seeking asylum. It is the arrival of the Tamils which has sparked off the introduction of the Bill, and although the right hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested that the UNHCR is changing the definition, a minority of them have been adjudged by the UNHCR to be refugees within the terms of the 1951 convention. That would not have been the position if the Minister had had his way and not referred them. How does he protect himself against that charge?

Mr. Waddington

My right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury found it possible to protect himself when he was performing the duties that I now carry out. That was before there was any system of reference to UKIAS. Before it was possible to make that reference, there was confidence in the integrity of the refugee unit within the Home Office. There was confidence that its conclusion would be right. That is how things operated in the early days. I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's arguments.

Hon. Members have been rightly concerned about the possible effect of the Bill on genuine asylum seekers, which has been the main issue during the debate. The Bill will make it more difficult for people to travel without proper documents and then use our generous procedures to establish a foothold. Until recently, the vast majority of asylum seekers were not those who just turned up at ports, and a moment's thought tells us why. Since the second world war, our neighbours in western Europe have not, thank God, been creating refugees. We have not been the nearest safe country to a refugee-granting state, and those genuinely fleeing from persecution normally seek refuge in the nearest safe country. Indeed, it is the nearest safe country that has the duty to protect them.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friends the Member for Westminser, North and Northampton, South on this issue. There is nothing mysterious about millions of refugees arriving in Pakistan. Why are there millions of refugees in Pakistan? Because they have escaped from Soviet aggression in Afghanistan.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Waddington

The nearest safe country of refuge is Pakistan. There is no mystery in the flow of Tamils to south India from Sri Lanka. Indeed, one might expect that if a Tamil living in north Sri Lanka was unsuited to the life he was facing, the place to which he would go would be southern India.

We do not gain much by trying to draw parallels with the situation, for instance, in Germany before the war. The situation with which we are faced could not be more different. We are not faced with a flow of people claiming refugee status from countries close to us; we are faced with a flow of people claiming refugee status who — sometimes for almost inexplicable reasons — have travelled halfway around the world to choose Britain as a place to go.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

It would be of great help if my right hon. and learned Friend could assure me that if a refugee from Soviet Russia arrives with forged papers—often, that is the only way that a refugee can arrive—those papers will not be an automatic reason for refusal of asylum.

Mr. Waddington

I can give my hon. Friend that undertaking.

Asylum seekers have almost entirely come from three categories. The first is people who have been here for a while—for instance, students who have been here since before the fall of the Shah who are now coming to the end of their studies and who have decided that their country has changed out of all recognition. The next category is those who have applied to come here at one of our posts abroad on the basis of a close connection with this country, and I shall return to that in a moment. Then there are people who have come here as part of a carefully worked-out programme which was engaged in by the Government of the day, the sort of programme whih resulted in Hungarians, Chileans and Vietnamese coming here.

I shall deal with the question of applications to our posts abroad. I assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury that there is no difficulty in getting to our high commission in Colombo. Indeed, far from it being ringed by soldiers, there is normally one policeman outside. It is obvious that there is free access to our high commission in Colombo, because in the first seven months of 1986 1,070 Tamils were granted entry clearance. They are not the hardship cases; I am now talking about ease of access to the high commission.

A person cannot claim refugee status in our high commission in Colombo if he is a Sri Lankan because, by definition, a refugee is somebody who is outside the country to which he fears to return. The basis on which anybody would claim entry to this country would be on the basis not of entitlement to asylum, but of hardship. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), the former Home Secretary, said in mid-1985, we have always been willing to hear applications in Colombo from Sri Lankans on the basis of hardship. Since then, 51 people have applied for severe hardship visas, five have been issued, 32 refused and 14 are pending.

Mr. Tony Banks

Very generous.

Mr. Waddington

The hon. Gentleman says that that is not generous, but the point that is being made is that people cannot apply to our high commission in Colombo. The opposite is the truth. People do apply to our high commission. However, a Sri Lankan cannot apply for refugee status in Sri Lanka and hope to succeed. What he can do is apply at one of our posts outside Sri Lanka. That right is still available to Sri Lankans. They can apply at posts in Madras, Delhi, Bombay, Kuala Lumpur and Dhaka.

Only in 1985 did we begin to see a change in the pattern of asylem seekers at the ports. As a percentage of all applications, they went up from less than 10 per cent. in 1984 to 34 per cent. in 1985. I can confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South said — in December 1986 and January 1987 there were more applications at the ports than inside the country. That means that there has been a complete change in a matter of 12 months or so. There is no apparent reason for such a change, unless it is that people are making asylum applications as a device to beat our immigration controls. That conclusion is shared by our European partners and is borne out by the figures. Precisely the same criteria are applied to assessing a person's entitlement to asylem now as in the past. The success rate for port asylum cases plummeted from 23 per cent. in 1983 to 2.3 per cent. in 1985.

The same problem has had to be faced by country after country. The most startling figures come from Denmark and Belgium. In Denmark, 3,000 asylum applications were made in one month—August 1986—which forced the Government to threaten legislative action against carriers and to refuse access to asylum procedures to people coming from third countries. In Belgium, where until recently the UNHCR ruled on asylum applications, there were in 1986 only 52 grants of refugee status out of 7,500 applicants for asylum. The moral must be that we must stop asylum abuse before it gets too strong a hold or it will overwhelm us as it has threatened to overwhelm others.

In the face of that threat it is absurd to say that the Bill is unnecessary. It is even more absurd to say that it is unworkable. It is one of those rare beasts—a Bill which has begun to work before it has achieved its Second Reading. That is the answer to the point about retrospection made at the opening of our debate. Already there has been a drop in the number of people arriving at our ports, mostly without documents, claiming asylum. In the week ending 14 February, 95 such people arrived. The next week 41 arrived, the week after that 48, and in the week ending 7 March only 12 arrived. In the week ending 14 March only 18 arrived, and only four of them had forged documents. The House can assume from that that, indeed, the Bill's provisions have been made known to carriers and have already had a salutary effect.

The right hon. Member for Gorton said that carriers would be obliged to be experts in British immigration law. What utter nonsense. All that they will have to do is ensure that a person has a valid passport and a visa. The Bill applies only to visas, not to other forms of entry clearance required by non-visa nationals to come here, for instance, for settlement.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle), we will help airlines as much as we can so that they will know how to carry out these new duties which are already carried out by a number of responsible airlines. If someone disputes a penalty, he will be able to challenge our demand for payment and take us to court. He will be able to judge whether a document is false. If he disagrees with the conclusions reached by the Home Office, he can challenge our determination in court. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 138, Noes 217.

Division No. 120] [10 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Ashton, Joe
Alton, David Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)
Anderson, Donald Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Barnes, Mrs Rosemary
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Litherland, Robert
Bermingham, Gerald Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Bidwell, Sydney Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Boyes, Roland McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Buchan, Norman MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Caborn, Richard Madden, Max
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Marek, Dr John
Campbell, Ian Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell-Savours, Dale Maxton, John
Canavan, Dennis Maynard, Miss Joan
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Meadowcroft, Michael
Cartwright, John Michie, William
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Clarke, Thomas Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Clay, Robert Nellist, David
Clelland, David Gordon O'Brien, William
Clwyd, Mrs Ann O'Neill, Martin
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Park, George
Cohen, Harry Parry, Robert
Coleman, Donald Patchett, Terry
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Pendry, Tom
Corbett, Robin Pike, Peter
Corbyn, Jeremy Prescott, John
Crowther, Stan Radice, Giles
Cunningham, Dr John Raynsford, Nick
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Redmond, Martin
Deakins, Eric Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Dewar, Donald Richardson, Ms Jo
Dormand, Jack Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Dubs, Alfred Robertson, George
Duffy, A. E. P. Rogers, Allan
Eadie, Alex Rowlands, Ted
Eastham, Ken Sedgemore, Brian
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Sheerman, Barry
Fatchett, Derek Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Fisher, Mark Skinner, Dennis
Foster, Derek Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Foulkes, George Soley, Clive
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Spearing, Nigel
Freud, Clement Steel, Rt Hon David
Garrett, W. E. Strang, Gavin
George, Bruce Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Godman, Dr Norman Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Golding, Mrs Llin Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central) Tinn, James
Hancock, Michael Torney, Tom
Hardy, Peter Wallace, James
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Wareing, Robert
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Weetch, Ken
Home Robertson, John Welsh, Michael
Howarth, George (Knowsley, N) White, James
Howells, Geraint Wigley, Dafydd
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Williams, Rt Hon A.
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Winnick, David
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Woodall, Alec
Janner, Hon Greville Young, David (Bolton SE)
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
John, Brynmor Tellers for the Ayes:
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Mr. Don Dixon and
Leighton, Ronald Mr. Ray Powell.
Amess, David Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Arnold, Tom Bright, Graham
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Buck, Sir Antony
Baldry, Tony Burt, Alistair
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam
Bendall, Vivian Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Benyon, William Carttiss, Michael
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Body, Sir Richard Cockeram, Eric
Boscawen, Hon Robert Cope, John
Dorrell, Stephen Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Dover, Den Lyell, Nicholas
Durant, Tony McCrindle, Robert
Eggar, Tim Macfarlane, Neil
Fallon, Michael MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Favell, Anthony MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Maclean, David John
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Fletcher, Sir Alexander Madel, David
Forman, Nigel Major, John
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Malins, Humfrey
Forth, Eric Malone, Gerald
Franks, Cecil Maples, John
Freeman, Roger Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Fry, Peter Mather, Sir Carol
Gale, Roger Maude, Hon Francis
Galley, Roy Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Garel-Jones, Tristan Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Glyn, Dr Alan Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Goodhart, Sir Philip Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Gow, Ian Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Gower, Sir Raymond Moate, Roger
Gregory, Conal Monro, Sir Hector
Griffiths, Sir Eldon Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Grist, Ian Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Ground, Patrick Moynihan, Hon C.
Grylls, Michael Neale, Gerrard
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Neubert, Michael
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Newton, Tony
Hampson, Dr Keith Nicholls, Patrick
Hanley, Jeremy Oppenheim, Phillip
Hannam, John Ottaway, Richard
Hargreaves, Kenneth Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Harris, David Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Harvey, Robert Pawsey, James
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW) Pollock, Alexander
Hawksley, Warren Porter, Barry
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Portillo, Michael
Heathcoat-Amory, David Powell, William (Corby)
Heddle, John Powley, John
Hicks, Robert Price, Sir David
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Proctor, K. Harvey
Hind, Kenneth Raffan, Keith
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Rathbone, Tim
Holt, Richard Renton, Tim
Hordern, Sir Peter Rhodes James, Robert
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Roe, Mrs Marion
Hunter, Andrew Rowe, Andrew
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Ryder, Richard
Irving, Charles Sackville, Hon Thomas
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Jessel, Toby Sayeed, Jonathan
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Shersby, Michael
Key, Robert Silvester, Fred
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Sims, Roger
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Knowles, Michael Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Knox, David Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lang, Ian Speller, Tony
Latham, Michael Spencer, Derek
Lawler, Geoffrey Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Lawrence, Ivan Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lee, John (Pendle) Stanbrook, Ivor
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Steen, Anthony
Lester, Jim Stern, Michael
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Lightbown, David Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lilley, Peter Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lord, Michael Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Sumberg, David Warren, Kenneth
Taylor, John (Solihull) Watson, John
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Watts, John
Temple-Morris, Peter Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Terlezki, Stefan Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Wheeler, John
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Whitfield, John
Thorne, Neil (Ilford S) Whitney, Raymond
Thornton, Malcolm Wiggin, Jerry
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Wilkinson, John
Trippier, David Winterton, Mrs Ann
Twinn, Dr Ian Winterton, Nicholas
van Straubenzee, Sir W. Wolfson, Mark
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Yeo, Tim
Waddington, Rt Hon David Younger, Rt Hon George
Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Waldegrave, Hon William Tellers for the Noes:
Walden, George Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and
Waller, Gary Mr. Peter Lloyd.
Wardle, C. (Bexhill)

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 60 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading) and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Neubert.]

Committee tomorrow.

  1. ESTIMATES 36 words
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    2. ESTIMATES, 1987–88 (NAVY), VOTE A 22 words
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    4. ESTIMATES, 1987–88 (ARMY), VOTE A 61 words
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    6. ESTIMATES, 1987–88 (AIR), VOTE A 46 words
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    8. SUPPLEMENTARY, ESTIMATES 1986–87 57 words
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    10. ESTIMATES, EXCESSES, 1985–86 96 words
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    12. CONSOLIDATED FUND (No. 2) BILL 52 words
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    2. CONSUMER SAFETY 44 words
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