HC Deb 21 January 1988 vol 125 cc1079-81
3. Mr. Bernie Grant

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will consider collecting statistics for entrants to the United Kingdom on the basis of ethnicity.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton)

No, Sir. The statistics collected on passenger admissions by nationality are sufficient to meet all the Department's major needs for information on entrants to the United Kingdom.

As far as immigration control is concerned, we do not consider it necessary to extend the interviewing process by seeking and recording a person's ethnic origin; it would add to the cost of the control and inconvenience to the public and the passenger.

Mr. Grant

The Minister will be aware of the large number of complaints of racism at the ports of entry to this country. Does he agree that one way of ensuring that a check is kept on that problem would be by recording ethnicity? For example, if 20 Nigerians were denied entry, one could reasonably assume that they were all black. However, if 20 Americans or South Africans are denied entry, one does not know their colour.

Mr. Renton

I reject the charge of racism against our immigration authorities and officers. Both the Manchester Council for Community Relations and the Commission for Racial Equality have in recent reports said they believe that immigration officers discharge their obligations without regard to race, colour or religion, as they are required to do by the rules.

If we were to ask a question about enthnicity, it would have to apply to all passengers subject to immigration control. If we were to ask whether passengers were African, Asian or Arab in origin, the hon. Gentleman, or some of his colleagues, would be the first to complain.

Mr. Sayeed

Does my hon. Friend agree that to collect the statistics, suggested by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) would be likely to lead to their misuse, as they would reflect only one criterion?

Mr. Renton

Yes, that is right. Let us consider, for example, South Africans — be they black or white —coming into this country. If they have British citizenship by descent, they will travel here on British passports and their entry to the country will not be reflected in such statistics.

Mr. Janner

Does the Minister accept that many people wishing to enter this country — members of ethnic minorities and others — complain of the horrendous delays at Heathrow caused by the heavy burden that rests on immigration officers? Far more of the complaints in my constituency and elsewhere come from people from ethnic minorities and their families and friends seeking lawful entry as visitors than from anyone else.

Mr. Renton

I suggest to the hon. and learned Gentleman that, since we introduced the visa regime for five countries — including those of the Indian subcontinent—over a year ago, the number of complaints of difficulties at our major ports of entry has diminished substantially. However, I agree that there are unacceptable delays, and that is one reason why we have put changes in the immigration rules before the House for debate next week. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will support them.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is my hon. Friend aware that ethnicity is no more relevant to immigration control than the colour of an immigrant's hair? We ask only that immigration control should be exercised in the interests of the British people as a whole, whatever the colour of their skin.

Mr. Renton

I take my hon. Friend's point. However, I remind him that one of the first immigration rules is that immigration officers should exercise their powers without regard to race, colour or religion. I believe that they do that, and it is very important that they should.

Mr. Randall

Why does the Minister not take more concerted action to overcome deficiencies in the Home Office statistics, which refer to appalling discrimination between black and Asian people in this country? Why has he not done more?

Mr. Renton

I am totally unclear about the deficiency in the Home Office statistics to which the hon. Gentleman refers. As discussed in the Immigration Bill Committee —to which I must not refer in the Chamber—we intend to put forward changes in the rules for debate in the House next week. They will greatly help immigration officers and Lunar House to attend more to the serious and desperate cases that hon. Members bring to my attention.

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