HC Deb 27 January 1988 vol 126 cc415-40 10.29 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I beg to move, That the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules (HC 1987–88, No. 208), a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th December 1987, be disapproved. We tabled the motion opposing the rules for reasons which I shall describe as briefly as possible in the restricted time at my disposal. I know very well that the Government have promised that in the not-too-distant future there will be a debate on the rules, which will enable the House to discuss the procedures in general and the changes before the House tonight, which must be approved by the House if they are to be in place by 1 February and therefore passed into administrative law. But we wished to take the opportunity of debating the proposed changes tonight because it seemed to us that every opportunity should be seized to deal with something that is wrong in principle and in our judgment will be catastrophic in practice.

I have no doubt that the Minister of State will describe the changes proposed by the Government almost entirely in administrative terms, and suggest, as the Home Secretary suggested at the beginning of his speech on Second Reading of the Immigration Bill, that the only purpose and intention of the changes is to improve the administrative efficiency of immigration control.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether more people will benefit or more will suffer by the rules?

Mr. Hattersley

My entire speech will be devoted to the proposition that more people will suffer than will benefit.

I was delighted to give way to the hon. Gentleman, because I had hoped I would have an opportunity to remind him that last time we debated these matters, after much passing of notes from the Front Bench, he announced, reading the Minister of State's note, that the primary purpose rule, as at present constituted, was invented by the Labour Government. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to check up on that, and that he will correct himself during the evening.

I was saying that the Minister of State will no doubt argue, as the Home Secretary argued, when he dealt with this subject, slightly inappropriately, on the Immigration Bill, that the purpose of these administrative changes is to improve the efficiency of the immigration and nationality department of the Home Office. No Opposition hon. Member, certainly nobody who deals with immigration matters in his or her constituency, doubts that there is a desperate necessity for administrative changes in the Home Office.

The fact is that the immigration and nationality department of the Home Office is in absolute chaos. Men and women who do no more than to apply to exercise their legal rights wait for months, sometimes years, to receive the vouchers and the visas which should be theirs automatically. Letters remain unopened in Lunar house for months. Indeed, checking up today I discovered that, on the latest information, in late December the department was opening—not reading, but opening—letters received during the early weeks of October. That is ludicrous. It is within the experience of all hon. Members who deal with such questions that people who want and need immediate attention from the Home Office are unable to obtain it.

The absurdity to end all absurdities is that many visitors to this country who want to leave at the end of their prescribed period are now unable to do so because the Home Office has their passports; they are lost at Lunar house and the Home Office cannot return them in time for the visitors to leave by the prescribed date.

In fact, the Home Office immigration and nationality department is in a shambles, for reasons for which the Government are largely responsible. Over the past eight years, this Government have complicated and extended the immigration rules. Over the past eight years, they have allowed to exist a shortage of staff in the department, which has made the delays and the late replies inevitable. Over the past eight years, the Government have built up a number of extra barriers outside the official regulations, which are in themselves time-consuming.

I give as my example the third and fourth interview. Everybody with immigrants in his or her constituency will have seen applications from genuine husbands and fiancés to join their wife or fiancee in this country, in response to which there has been a letter from the Home Office saying that an interview is necessary. When the applicants have written to the Home Office and said that there has been an interview, they have been told that a second or a third interview is necessary. Everybody knows that those extended interviews are intended to inhibit and deter legitimate immigrants from entering this country.

The position is further complicated by the subjective tests that the Government have invented. The family admitted for settlement, after careful scrutiny by an embassy or a high commission abroad, is required to submit itself to futher scrutiny after a year in Britain. That is intolerable in terms of civil rights and is an additional burden for the Home Office. Most of all, there is the problem of the primary purpose rule, to which I shall return in a moment.

Most of the administrative hurdles which have caused the chaos were created with the specific intention of inhibiting and curtailing legitimate and legal immigration. The immigration and nationality department of the Home Office and the administration of immigration will remain in chaos until the Government change their ways.

The proposals before us barely touch the problem. What is more, they could be —and I fear, with this Government's record, will be — interpreted in a way which further damages the rights of immigrants, prospective immigrants and the families of immigrants. That is only one reason why we shall vote against the proposal tonight.

We will also vote against the immigration rules, and amendments to them, whenever there is an opportunity for as long as they contain the unacceptable features which characterise them. I give as the obvious example the primary purpose rule — the obligation on the man or woman who wishes to come to this country for marriage to accept the onus of proof that the marriage is the primary, indeed the only, purpose of the application to come into the country. That rule discriminates against the black and Asian British. It disrupts and destroys genuine marriages, and it panders, as it is intended to do, to racial prejudice. The Minister of State should tell the Home Secretary that we will take every opportunity—tonight is one opportunity — to demonstrate our distaste for such rules while they remain in force.

The rules were instituted with the idea of delaying immigration. The regulations place an obligation on a junior civil servant to read the mind of a fiancé and on someone in a high commission or an embassy to try to guess the true intention of an applicant. All these things cause delay and chaos.

The vote tonight is meant to send a second message to the Government. We will not accept the exclusion of Members of Parliament from the consideration of immigration applications by constituents. The Minister of State has developed the habit, in his bland way, of saying in the final sentence of his letter to hon. Members about legitimate cases that he will notify the constituent direct when he has made up his mind about that person's future. That is meant to prevent the Member of Parliament from fulfilling his or her proper function of arguing the case of the constituent. The intention is to remove from the Member of Parliament the right to protect his or her constituent.

Now that the Home Secretary has replied to my complaint on the matter, 12 weeks after receiving my original letter, I want to tell the Minister of State that those of us with constituency cases to argue on the immigration rules will go on arguing them; we will not abandon the rights of our constituents to junior officials at the Home Office, and certainly not to the Minister of State.

I welcome the fact that we are to debate the rules in their entirety next month. As for the specific changes that the Minister of State will put forward, I have nothing to say about au pairs, although I suspect that the Minister may feel that it is a subject worthy of his attention. I will not argue with him about that. The proposal for fiancés is sensible. We welcome it. I hope that it will be implemented in the spirit in which the rules are drafted.

We are told that visitors will normally be allowed to remain in this country for six months, as distinct from what happens under the present rule, which allows— some White Papers imply that it is a normal rule—for a year. In fact, the six-month period in the new regulations is more or less what the present rule says. A period of six months will "normally be appropriate." The present rule says that that is the period that should be granted and normally it will not be reduced below six months, unless there is a special reason. In the experience of many Opposition Members, there are innumerable special reasons for visitors which result in visas or permits being granted for less than six months. One special reason which I encounter every Saturday morning is that the visitor comes from Bangladesh, Pakistan or India.

I want the Minister of State to be categoric. He has seen the tables; he knows the figures. He knows that a visitor from Bangladesh has a worse chance of getting a visa, permit or entry voucher than a visitor from any other country. He knows that it is almost as bad for people from Pakistan and that it is nearly as bad for those from India. I want the Minister to tell us categorically whether the Government mean what the regulations say.

Can we be told, clearly and loudly enough for the immigration officers to hear and understand, that six months will he the general rule for all legitimate visitors? To convince us that that is really his intention, and that it is not his intention to reduce the maximum period and then issue visas for much shorter periods within the six-month maximum, will the Minister of State consider publishing the instructions which he will issue to immigration officers telling them now to apply the six-month rule?

Those of us who have dealt with the Department and have telephoned and argued with duty officers on Saturdays and Sundays know that there is something called the code 3 procedure. It is a technique by which immigration officers who have no evidence which justifies the exclusion of a visitor or the limiting of a visitor's permit impose a limitation because they feel uncertain about the visitor. That is absolutely unacceptable and intolerable. I hope that the Minister will make it clear that the six months is the six-month norm, the six-month rule, and that six months will be the period allowed except when there is hard evidence to justify an alternative.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain exactly what he means by a legitimate visitor?

Mr. Hattersley

It is a visitor against whom there is no evidence to suggest that he or she will not leave at the end of the period of his or her visit. I think that I have in my constituency probably 20, 30 or 40 applications a month for a visitor's permit. Some are granted willingly by the Home Office, some are granted grudgingly after intervention, and a few are not granted at all. I cannot recall the last occasion when the Home Office wrote to me and said that a legitimate visitor, approved after my intervention, had remained in the United Kingdom longer than the period of his or her visit; yet the rumour—I am sure that the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) has spread it in his time—is that visitors come here and disappear into the inner cities. I cannot recall when that last happened in Birmingham.

Mr. Carlisle

Would the right hon. Gentleman therefore say that his judgment on legitimacy is to be followed rather than the judgment of Home Office officials or Home Office Ministers?

Mr. Hattersley

The rule which I want to see applied is that a visitor should be allowed into this country for the six-month period unless there is hard evidence to demonstrate why that should not happen. The hon. Gentleman should support that rule because, if a white South African comes here, that is exactly the rule that will be applied to him. Unfortunately, it is not the rule that will be applied to a citizen of Pakistan, India or Bangladesh.

It is our view, as I think it is of everyone who has examined the proposals, that this will not end the administrative chaos in the Home Office. That will only come about by radical changes which, in the interests of the immigration and nationality department's reputation and in the interests of prospective immigrants and their families, ought to be brought about. I offer the Minister of State four proposals for change which would end the backlog, the waiting, the unopened letters and the chaos.

First, there ought to be an independent inquiry into the administration of the department and into the staff levels of the Home Office where immigration matters are considered. I concede that the Rayner inquiry into some aspects of Government efficiency brought some benefits. If Lord Rayner could be persuaded to do such a job for the immigration department of the Home Office, I would welcome it. In any event, somebody should.

Secondly, we should abolish the probationary period for people who are already here, who have come here with visas after they have been vetted, scrutinised, cross-examined, interviewed in the subcontinent or elsewhere. The idea of double jeopardy— the interview before one comes and another complicated process after one has got here—is preposterous.

Thirdly, we need the removal of subjective tests, which are wrong in principle and time-wasting in practice. By that I mean the reading of visitors' minds, trying to determine their intention, and also the primary purpose rule, with the onus on the spouse to prove that he or she comes here for no other purpose than marriage.

Fourthly, the six-month period should be the normal practice save where there are exceptional reasons why it should not he. Instead of that, we will get additional complications. We will get them from the Immigration Bill now going through the House of Commons. All the Bill will do to the regulations is make them more difficult to apply and increase the length of the queues.

But I do not believe for a moment that the Minister of State will accept our advice. Not only is he not empowered to do so, but our advice would bring into the system something that the Government would not accept—an honest, objective and fair test of the real and honest immigrant; whereas the Government's regulations are meant to deter and inhibit even the honest and legitimate immigrant. That is why the Home Office is in the chaos that it is tonight, and that is why it will remain in that chaos until the Government take an honest and honourable view about these matters.

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

I have listened with astonishment, almost with disbelief, to what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has said. He lectures us about the delays at Lunar house, and he is right—they are excessive. One reason is the great number of applications that we received for registration for British citizenship before the end of last year.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

The delays are too long.

Mr. Renton

I suggest that the hon. Member listens for a moment.

We received a great number of applications. This is a once-for-all problem. The matter is now over and the applications are in, but they have to be dealt with. I fully agree with the hon. Member that the delays are far too great, and I will come to that later. But when we come forward with constructive proposals in this statement to deal with the delay, suggesting that we should ease the entry time limits for businessmen, au pairs, fiancés and visitors and, in this manner, as I shall shortly explain, substantially reduce the caseload at Lunar house on mechanistic, routine work in order that the immigration and nationality department can spend its time on more complex matters—including the representations made by hon. Members — the right hon. Gentleman says that Opposition Members will vote against them on principle.

What a ludicrous contradiction there is in the right hon. Gentleman's mind.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)


Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)


Mr. Renton

No, I will not give way just at the moment; the debate is a short one and I hope that both hon. Members will have time to make their own contributions.

What a contradiction there is in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. We have come forward with these proposals. I find it impossible to believe that the Labour party will oppose them, because they would achieve precisely one of the objectives on which hon. Members are lecturing us.

Then the right hon. Gentleman complains about the proposals that we may have in mind for changes in the handling of hon. Members' representations in immigration cases. We are not debating those tonight, and it would be out of order to do so, but let me repeat something, because I want to make certain that the right hon. Gentleman is not confused about this. He talked about a full debate next month on the regulations. The debate next month will be on the Report and Third Reading of the Immigration Bill. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has written to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook.

Mr. Hattersley


Mr. Renton

I should like to make this point, and 'then I shall give way.

We are still working on changes, along the lines that my right hon. Friend announced on Second Reading, in the handling of Members' representations on immigration cases. [Interruption.] It would be helpful if the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook would listen. I am trying to set him right, because he appeared to be in ignorance in his earlier remarks.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary outlined our ideas on this matter in a letter to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook on 20 January. I should like to read one paragraph of it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not object to this, but I know that he has distributed this letter widely to his colleagues. It says: We have no intention of removing the rights of an MP to write to Tim Renton or myself about individual cases. The review which we have undertaken is intended, within the balance to which I have referred above, to produce proposals for dealing more efficiently with this vast amount of correspondence. Indeed, I hope that as a result we shall be able to offer an improved service to Members and their constituents. On both points — these modest proposals and our thoughts about how to deal with changes in the handling of Members' representations—the right hon. Gentle:man is leading the Labour party into blind opposition. We are trying to do precisely what he requests to make the system better.

Mr. Hattersley

The Minister graciously informs us that the Home Secretary has no intention of preventing us from writing to him. That is not much of a concession. The idea that the Home Secretary might have any view on whether I should write to him is, at best, impertinent and, at worst, something more authoritarian. The question is not whether I or my right hon. and hon. Friends can write to the Home Secretary; it is whether he replies to us. The evidence of the past six months is that he has chosen not to write to us but to deal with our constituents without telling us how he is dealing with them. That is the question, and I should be grateful for an answer.

Mr. Renton

How gloriously pompous the right hon. Gentleman manages to sound. It brings back the worst moments when he was shadow Chancellor.

It is annoying to be lectured about delays in immigration procedures and in tackling immigration cases and at the same time be told, when we look for ways of making the procedures work more efficiently to help hon. Members, that the Labour party will oppose everything we suggest.

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

The Minister has been kind enough to say that my right hon. Friend's question was irrelevant, but he has not answered it. He has written to me on more than one occasion saying that he will reply to my constituents, but not to me, about representations that I have made. That is a matter of privilege for this House and has implications in every Department of the Executive, which has the power to decide whether to answer Members of Parliament. There is no point in anybody coming to a Member of Parliament because the answer can be given by a junior clerk, who would have dealt with the case even if the representations are made by a Member of Parliament. Will the Minister now answer my right hon. Friend's question and not make pompous and silly observations?

Mr. Renton

No, I shall not be led down that path, for the simple reason that, providing the business managers can agree, we shall have a debate on these proposals. We do not wish to ram our suggestions through the House; we shall have a debate about what the hon. Lady has said. This not a matter of privilege; that suggestion has already been raised.

What we wish—the hon. Lady must take my word for it—is to have a procedure that will enable officials and Ministers, whoever they are, to deal efficiently and effectively with the complex and difficult cases that concern hon. Members. I suggest to the hon. Lady—I know the correspondence to which she is referring—that she waits until she hears our proposals and we shall then debate them. If she still finds them wrong, she can tell us so.

Let me move on to these modest rules changes. What we are debating tonight implements the proposals which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced on 16 November during Second Reading of the Immigration Bill, and which were laid before the House on 14 December. I hope that the confusion of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has been clarified. These rules are totally separate from the Immigration Bill and from any rule changes consequent upon the passage of the Bill.

I stress again to the House that the purpose of these is to prove the effectiveness of the immigration control and to provide a better service to the genuine applicant. We are introducing them now rather than waiting until after the passage of the Bill, because we believe that these improvements are urgent in view of the current pressures on immigration control.

Here I come back to the point made by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said on 16 November that the immigration and nationality department's backlog of work at the end of 1986 was some 47,000 cases. At the end of 1987, it was about 77,000 cases, the equivalent of seven months' work. I find no comfort in that, and that is why I am suggesting some changes. If the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook were not so blind, and such a mixture of obduracy and apathy, he would support rather than vote against them tonight.

It is common ground that the present position is unsatisfactory, both for the applicants and for the staff seeking to deal with this volume of work. To give hon. Members who might not have as many immigration cases as others an idea of the scale involved, I point out that the immigration and nationality department received over 250,000 new cases last year, an increase of 10 per cent. over the position three years earlier.

Mr. Vaz

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Renton

No; the hon. Gentleman may have a chance to catch your eye during the debate, Madame Deputy Speaker.

The Department received about 750,000 pieces of correspondence last year. The public inquiry office alone dealt in 1987 with a record number of 192,000 personal callers, an increase of over a quarter in one year, and 162,000 telephone inquiries. The problem is not the result of any lack of commitment on the part of the staff in the Department. They have given excellent service in maintaining immigration control to Governments of all parties. At the root of this is the fact that some 2.5 million members of the ethnic minorities live in the United Kingdom, and there is continuing immigration of work permit holders, business men and others, and continuing family reunion. Understandably, this gives rise to an increase in the number of visitors to this country, which will continue.

Hon. Members have no doubt witnessed this increase themselves in their constituencies and surgeries. Within the Department, the speed at which applications can be resolved is itself influenced by increasing complexity in case law, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) will know, and a diversion of work caused by dealing with inquiries about unresolved cases. Against that background, we need to ensure that our procedures represent the most effective and efficient means of conducting fair but firm immigration controls. It is against that background that we are bringing in these changes.

What is at the heart of what we are proposing? One of the principles underlying the present immigration control is that a person is granted a period of leave on arrival and further periods of leave in this country. These together allow him to stay, if he so chooses, either until he completes the maximum period allowed or until he reaches the point at which he is eligible to apply for settlement. This has been a sensible principle and it is one which in some cases will need to be maintained. For example, students on long-term courses are usually admitted for the duration of their course. On the other hand, a student embarking on a series of short courses may not always be clear whether he will continue his studies in the United Kingdom, or for how long. The immigration and nationality department will need to be satisfied that he or she continues to attend classes, and to have sufficient money to pay his fees and support himself and any dependants.

The rule changes establish the new principle that, once a person has been given entry into a particular category, he should normally be given the maximum period allowed in that category up to the point at which he or she would have to leave the country or seek to remain on a completely different basis. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook gave the impression that the changes would be trifling and would have very little effect. I have to tell him that he is wrong. I certainly hope that he is wrong; I believe that he will be wrong. The proposal will remove the need for extensions of stay within the same category and will take about 40,000 cases annually from the total completed workload at Lunar house, which in 1987 was some 233,000 cases. That is a reduction of nearly 20 per cent.

There will he a number of benefits from this approach. Many people who now have to apply to the department for an extension of stay will not in future have to do so at all. Others will have to do so much less often. The resources of the department — hon. Members on both sides of the House should approve of this—will be able to be deployed to deal more quickly with non-routine applications, thereby improving both the effectiveness of immigration control and the service to the genuine customer and, I hope, to hon. Members. That is the principle behind the rules changes, and that is why I find it incomprehensible that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is not advising his hon. Friends to vote for them.

I shall now deal with the effect for particular categories. Au pairs are currently admitted to the United Kingdom for 12 months and they may apply at the end of that period for a further 12 months' stay, bringing them to the two-year maximum permitted. The rule changes will enable the immigration officer to admit an au pair on first arrival for the full two-year period of her stay here.

Business men and self-employed persons are currently admitted for an initial 12 months, with subsequent extensions of stay of 12 months at a time up to four years, at which point they are eligible to apply for settlement. We are keeping the requirement that business men and self-employed persons are first admitted for 12 months only. This will enable us to ascertain at the end of the initial year that the person has set up or entered into the business for which he was admitted. Provided we are satisfied of this, the person will normally then receive a single extension of three years to bring him to the four-year point.

We believe that these changes will be widely welcomed by foreign business men wishing to establish businesses and create jobs in this country. They will particularly benefit business men from the ethnic communities, as Indian business men, for example, represented some 10 per cent. of all business men receiving an extension of stay in 1986.

The present provisions for persons of independent means, sole representatives of overseas firms as defined in the new paragraph 32, writers and artists are the same as those for business men, except that, after an initial 12 months, a sole representative may be granted a three-year extension of stay. The rules changes will accord the same treatment to all four categories and will permit them to be admitted for up to the four-year maximum on arrival.

For visitors, we propose two changes, one in the rules themselves and one in procedure. The rules change is that the maximum length of a visit will be reduced from 12 months to six months. The procedural change—I repeat this to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook—is that, with very few exceptions, all visitors will be admitted for six months on entry. This contrasts with the present practice, whereby, although many visitors are admitted for six months, a sizeable minority are admitted for shorter periods but may apply for an extension.

I believe that this reduction to six months is entirely justified on its merits. Six months is an adequate — indeed, very generous—provision for a visit. It will meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of non-EEC visitors, who totalled about 5.4 million in 1986. In fact, less than 0.5 per cent. of all visitors apply for an extension beyond six months. It will nevertheless reduce the scope of abuse by that small minority who use the present period of 12 months to establish a more permanent basis of stay. Moreover, it will benefit the genuine visitor who will no longer have to come to the immigration and nationality department to seek an extension of stay, and remove a large number of applications for the department itself.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) was absolutely right to point out that the winners under these proposals far outnumber the losers.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)


Mr. Renton

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall not give way. I wish to make haste and finish my remarks. Many other hon. Members wish to speak, and time for the debate is short.

The effect of the changes is that more visitors will potentially benefit from the procedural change of admitting them for six months than will lose from the reduction to six months. In fact, there will be about eight times as many winners as losers. Taking 1986 as the most recent example for which figures are available, about 280,000 visitors were admitted for less than six months, while less than 10 per cent. of that number — about 25,000 — were granted an extension of stay for more than six months. That shows the degree to which more will benefit than will lose. It does not apply just to visitors from countries such as the United States and Australia, although they will benefit too. Nearly 24,000 visitors from India were admitted to the United Kingdom in 1986 for less than six months, while only 5,000 were granted an extension of stay for longer than six months.

The United Kingdom is virtually alone in its generosity to visitors to stay for 12 months. Most west European countries—for example, France and West Germany — require all visitors to obtain a visa if they intend to stay more than three months. Some countries—for example, the Nordic countries—limit a visit to, say, three months in any six-month period. Some countries, such as Canada, limit a visit to a short initial period on entry, with the possibility of an extension of stay. Our proposal has none of that bureaucracy. For most visitors, it will do away with the need to seek an extension of stay. Six months will also be no less a period than that permitted to a British person wishing to visit many other countries—for example, a British visitor to India.

On Second Reading, some anxiety was expressed that a six-month maximum for a visit would not properly take account of compassionate reasons for a longer stay. As my right hon. Friend then said, it will always be possible on compassionate grounds to allow visitors to stay for longer than six months. The same situation arises now, when there are compassionate reasons for a visitor wishing to stay more than 12 months. Discretion will, however, continue to be exercised only very sparingly and in genuinely deserving cases.

Finally, I should also mention that affianced people of both sexes will be admitted for six months, instead of three months at present. This will reduce the need for a fiancé to apply for an extension of stay if, for example, through illness, a marriage has to be postponed.

The changes relate only to time limits and to the length of extensions of stay. They have nothing to do with primary purpose. They have nothing to do with third or fourth visit interviews for those seeking settlement in this country. The criteria for entry into such categories remain unaltered, as do those for extentions of stay. The changes that we are introducing for au pairs, business men, visitors and others will enable us to give them—

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Renton

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall not give way.

Mr. Faulds

It is a perfectly valid point.

Mr. Renton

I know the hon. Gentleman well. His points are always valid. I hope that he will be able to make them in his own speech.

The changes will enable us to give more generous periods of stay than at present. Therefore, transitional provisions are not needed. This is the last point that I have to make to the House.

We shall start to implement the changes with immediate effect from 1 February. There will, however, be certain visitors already in this country, or who will arrive before 1 February, who will be among that 0.5 per cent. annually who wish to stay longer than six months. For those people, paragraph 18 of the statement of changes will enable them to seek an extension of stay as a visitor for up to the 12 month maximum.

My hon. Friends and, I hope, Opposition Members will see that the rule changes represent a sensible and balanced new approach to immigration control. They will cut bureaucracy and red tape in just the way that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook urged. They will improve service to the genuine customer, and they will enhance the effectiveness of immigration control. I commend them to the House.

11.9 pm

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

This debate is taking place a few days after a meeting between the Minister of State and a group of black religious leaders. After that meeting they issued a statement, which said: we have sought to impress on Mr. Renton our vigorous opposition to the present immigration policies of the British Government. The effect of these policies time and again, for the communities that we represent, is that families are divided, individuals are restricted or even prevented from visiting their relations here, people are deported and losing homes, jobs and even families, others are being detained for days, weeks and months as they seek to get into Britain. This must lead us to the conclusion that even current legislation and the way it is put into effect is racist. New legislation like the current Bill deepens the frustrations and anger already present in the black community — something which could have consequences undesirable to us all. Those black leaders pressed four specific points on the Minister of State, urging him to take note of their representations and, when we reach Report stage of the Immigration Bill, to withdraw grotesquely offensive clauses which will create considerable difficulties as far as black and Asian communities are concerned.

That delegation was made up of Canon Ivor Smith-Cameron of the General Synod of the Church of England—

Mr. John Carlisle

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is referring to a meeting which took place at the Home Office and which has nothing at all to do with the motion before the House—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. I have understood the hon. Gentleman's point of order. It is for me to decide what is relevant.

Mr. Madden

The delegation consisted also of Rev. Barry Thorley, vicar of St. Matthew's, Brixton; Pastor Io Smith, co-chair of the Conference for Christian Partnership; Mr. Ivan Weekes JP, secretary for community relations, Methodist division of Social Responsibility; Rev. Kennedy Bedford, executive secretary of the community and race relations unit of the British Council of Churches; Ms. Leela Ramdeen, chair of the Cardinal's Continuing Committee for the Caribbean Community—[Interruption.]—Sheikh Gamal Solaiman, head imam of the Islamic cultural centre, Regent's park mosque—[Interruption.]—and Dr. Gurdeep Singh Sethi, Sikh author and journalist.

One benefit of televising the proceedings of this House would be that black and Asian citizens of this country could see and hear the derision with which the names that I have just read to the House have been greeted by Conservative Members.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has produced, as always, an excellent briefing document, which states: The main aim of the new rules is to reduce casework, and thus reduce the chronic and growing delays in dealing with applications, in the immigration division of the Home Office at Lunar House. In the briefing, we argue that the new rules will not, of themselves, produce the administrative benefits claimed for them and that their only certain result will be a restriction on visitors' rights which will particularly affect family visitors. We put forward alternative proposals … for improving administrative efficiency while protecting the interests of applicants. The joint council has produced the booklet "Out of Sight" which is a useful commentary on the effects of the introduction of the new visa control system. I recall the Home Secretary, before the introduction of visa control, telling the public that those of us who were extremely sceptical about the effects of the new visa controls were scaremongers. I remember the notorious letter from the Home Secretary to Piers Merchant, the failed Conservative candidate for one of the Newcastle constituencies in the general election, that those of us who criticised the introduction of visas were troublemakers and professional pessimists. I object strongly to the fact that the Home Secretary — the architect of the present administrative shambles at Lunar house—has not even seen fit to attend the House tonight, still less to speak in the debate. I believe that the senior Minister, rather than the Minister of State, should take responsibility for that administrative shambles, which now pervades the Home Office, and be called to account to explain to the House what he is doing to resolve the crisis.

To my surprise, the one thing that we did not receive from the Minister of State, although we were often treated to it in the Standing Committee on the Immigration Bill, was the delivery of third-rate poems and fifth-rate limericks. Rather than the laid-back nonchalance and apathy with which the Minister has treated the serious criticisms made of the administrative shambles over which he now presides, the House would have benefited from some real information on what he intends to do about it.

If the Minister thinks that the new rules will reduce case work in the Home Office by the 25 per cent. that he has claimed, he is seriously mistaken. What will he do for the many people who come here genuinely and legitimately, particularly elderly people, who wish to stay with relatives and friends? Many of them will want to stay for far longer than six months, but tonight we are discussing the reduction of the legal limit from 12 to six months. Under Government pressure, the Immigration Bill has removed rights of appeal in such cases. Will the Minister seek to deport elderly people who wish to spend longer than six months with their relatives and will he stop us from being able to represent their cases in compassionate terms? If he thinks that he will then see a reduction in the number of representations and letters to the Home Office, he is again seriously mistaken.

What will the Minister do about other genuine and legitimate visitors who come to be with a sick relative, or a woman who is having a baby? They will often want more than six months here, and we shall doubtless be asked to make representations applying for extensions of leave. Will the Minister deport those people? Is he really going to say that Members of Parliament will be powerless to make representations on their behalf? He is entirely wrong if he thinks that the new rules will result in the benefits that he has mentioned.

Let us not be under any misapprehension. In the Home Office, there are now 150,000 unopened letters; it takes a month for the letters even to be sifted into categories. In B2, the work has reached a level of seven cases per officer. One poor officer has 69 case files on his desk. There is an 18-month backlog in case work inquiries. It is indeed a shambles. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that the only responsible action that the House can take is to press for an independent inquiry into the administrative chaos that now grips all sections of the Home Office.

I remember the previous Minister of State, previous Home Secretaries and the present Home Secretary, among others, telling us that the introduction of visas would resolve all the problems: they were being introduced only to reduce the queues and the inconvenience at Heathrow and other ports of entry. What has been the reality? I am told that, on Home Office figures, 17,000 people have been refused visits to this country; Foreign Office figures show that 34,000 have been refused visits. All are black or Asian. If the Minister is to reply, I ask him to apologise to me and to other critics of the visa control system. We have been proved right, and he has been proved wrong.

I want to refer to a very disturbing and worrying case. Sylvian Laurent, a 19-year-old Dominican girl, arrived at Gatwick airport recently at 10 am. She had come here for a two-month holiday in my constituency with her grandmother. She carried with her a visa, issued by the British authorities, valid for six months. She also had a letter from her grandmother inviting her for the two-month holiday. In addition, she had a letter from an employer, who happens to be her uncle, who owns a firm based in Dominica, confirming that after the holiday she would return to Dominica to take up a job. She also carried a letter from the Labour Commissioner at the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Immigration and Labour in Dominica stating: Sylvian's grandmother was pleased with her performance at high school, and decided to reward her with a two months vacation commencing on 14 January. She is expected to take up employment … on 14 March. I have known the applicant and her prospective employer for quite some time now and would be grateful for the issuance of the relevant visa to facilitate her travels, since, to my mind, she is a genuine visitor. Immigration officers questioned that girl from 10 am until 5 pm. They refused the grandmother access to Sylvian throughout the day. She was tired, frightened and anxious, and it is not surprising that she refused all offers of refreshment. Finally, she was refused entry. She was allowed in to be removed within a few days. Had she not contacted my office and had I not stopped her removal and made representations to the Minister, she would be on her way back to Dominica within days of this debate.

How could immigration officers have suspected that she was coming here as a student, when she was travelling with her school certificates which she wanted to show her grandmother, because she was very proud of them, or that she was coming here to work, when she had a letter stating clearly — had the officers read the letters they would have known this—that she had a job to return to with a firm in Dominica? I cannot understand that. If my powers to intervene had been removed, that girl would have been sent back within a few days of this debate.

I delivered a letter to the Minister's office today asking for a full explanation why the immigration officers were not prepared to accept that Sylvian was a genuine visitor. I stated that Sylvian and her family were so distressed that she was asking that the six-month stay to which her visa entitles her should be granted and that she should have a personal apology from the Minister.

That young woman came here with a visa. I believe that she was treated most disgracefully. I am also aware, from the many cases that are referred to me, that many others who are entitled to come here are also refused visas. Those people are genuine and legitimate visitors. Unless the Minister gives a categoric assurance tonight that the overwhelming number of applicants will be given a six-month visa, black and Asian people will treat these rules with the same contempt as they treat all our laws, procedures and rules concerning immigration. They d o not believe the Minister or the Government.

Since 1971, claims about abuse have been the traditional excuse for introducing more and more restrictions on entry to this country. The rules will do nothing to resolve the administrative difficulties that they are supposed to put right. I hope that the Minister will ensure that the chaos is dealt with and that all legitimate and genuine visitors to this country, especially black and Asian visitors, will be treated properly, fairly and equally.

11.24 pm
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I cannot answer the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) in the voice of passion and indignation that he adopted throughout his speech. However, I doubt whether he represents the true voice of the Asian and black people in this country.

There is a pleasant irony in this debate. These small measures are liberalising measures which are brought forward for two main reasons. The first is to try, as usual, to assuage the criticisms of the Labour party. The second is to try to reduce the administrative chaos.

I reflect, as one who has taken an interest in these affairs for some time, that if, for instance, Mr. Whitelaw, as he then was, had been introducing these measures a few years ago, there would have been the usual Tory pantomime. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) would have been going round the Tory party with an offensive early-day motion and we would have got about 100 signatures to a motion saying that we did not want these liberalising measures.

There would have been a much-publicised meeting of the Home Affairs Committee and Mr. Whitelaw would have come out sweating and swearing. Later in the week, on advice, the Daily Mail would have wondered whether the Prime Minister supported Mr. Whitelaw in his time of travail. We would then have voted against the liberalising measures.

But here we are about to go into the Lobby in support of liberalising measures which might have been brought forward by any Administration — perhaps not by a Labour Administration, because Labour Administrations are so often tougher on immigration than Tory Administrations—and we shall agree to them.

Yet my hon. Friend the Minister said that he was surprised that the Labour party intended to vote against these small but liberalising measures. I cannot say that I am surprised. The Labour party has always huffed and puffed about any proposals which have any effect of controlling immigration. In doing that they reflect the view that was so passionately, but I would suggest so mistakenly, put forward by the hon. Member for Bradford, West.

I would contend that the hon. Gentleman does not represent the voice of the Asians and the blacks in Britain at the present time. I have some small credentials for claiming to know their voice. The first parliamentary election in which I took part was in 1970, when I unsuccessfully opposed the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell). There were a number of immigrants in Small Heath in the late 1960s and 1970s. Immigration was certainly an important issue when I first contested Wolverhampton, South-West in 1974.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Spark brook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke in rather proud terms of having had to deal with 20, 30 or 40 cases a month. If we are swopping the number of immigration cases with which we have had to deal, my recollection is that when I was dealing with those cases in the days before the introduction of visas—I have checked my recollection with my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), who was the Minister who had to deal with them — I was dealing with 30 or 40 cases a week.

It may be that my views on immigration are not widely shared on the Labour Benches, but I did have, and do have, widespread contacts with a cross-section of the black and Asian community in the west midlands. All I can say is that I have not received many representations to the effect that the new visa system is unfair, racist or authoritarian.

Constituents come to me and ask me whether I can help them with individual problems, but as far as I can judge the visa system is in general supported by the immigrant community. I suggest to the Labour party, with all decent diffidence, that if it continues to adopt the tone that is adopted by the hon. Member for Bradford, West it will be to its electoral disadvantage.

It is certainly noted by the white community that the Labour party votes against all reasonable changes in the immigration rules, even if they are of a liberalising nature. The tone that the hon. Member for Bradford, West adopts is increasingly the tone that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook adopts. I am not surprised that the Labour party adopts this tone, but it is not the tone that is adopted by the broad mass of the immigrant community. It is adopted by those gentlemen who are employed by the race relations industry and by those Asians and blacks who wish to become Labour party candidates, but it is not the voice of the broad mass of the immigrant community who are now happily settled in this country.

I enjoy the irony of this debate. I dare say that if those of us who wish to keep a strict control on immigration had observed these liberalising rules we might have objected to them. We shall not object to them, but I suggest that it is extraordinarily unwise of the Labour party to oppose these rules on the grounds that they do.

11.31 pm
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

Although the Minister has been in his present job for but a few months, I know that he appreciates all too well that the immigration rules are not only a creature of the law, but a rather peculiar creature of the law. They are not a statute but they have the effect of a statute. They probably have a more direct effect on the everyday lives of people, and on their hopes and aspirations, than many Acts of Parliament, but they are not subject to the same law-making process of statutes, or to the same process of amendment.

I am sure that the Minister recognises that there has been a great deal of litigation, much of it entirely fruitless, because of the way in which these rules are created and amended. I am sure that he recognises, as a realist, that parts of these rules bring United Kingdom law into disrepute — and nothing more so than the primary purpose rule; although I am bound to concede that the production of a wholly objective test to replace the primary purpose rule would be extremely difficult. Nevertheless, surely something better than the primary purpose rule can be devised.

There are some welcome parts in these rule changes, but at first sight they seem to be largely another set of gratuitous and unnecessary restrictions. However, what we have heard so far tonight from the Labour party has been no more than the beating of breasts. Indeed, I feel bound to say that we have heard them beating their breasts so hard that I can hear the echo of the Labour party's conscience from its period in government.

I should like to put to the Minister a number of questions that are put in a genuine spirit of inquiry, so that we can hear his answers on issues that are the subject of this debate, and so that I can decide how to vote tonight and advise my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Will the Minister tell us exactly what is the reason for reducing the visitors' leave period? Will he confirm that visitors whose maximum stay is reduced from 12 months to six will be able to apply while still here for variation of leave for special reasons?

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carlile

No, because I do not want to take too long.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government have no plans to change the rules so that in future visitors will be unable to apply for variation of leave for special reasons while they are still in the United Kingdom? Will the Minister also confirm that visitors will still have a right of appeal if they are refused variation of leave for special reasons? Will he also tell us whether he really believes that the immigration and nationality department will be saved a great deal of time by this change? Or is it not more likely that the Department will be faced by a huge number of applications for leave to remain, and possibly appeals thereafter?

I ask the Minister to confirm that the reduction to six months is an attempt to produce a standard, to standardise entry leave for visitors, and that generally six months will be the period that is permitted.

Mr. Vaz

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carlile

No, I shall not give way. I wish to proceed with my speech and thereby give other hon. Members the opportunity to participate in the debate.

Will the Minister confirm that there will not be discrimination against visitors because they come from Bangladesh or other parts of the Indian subcontinent? Will he confirm that visitors will not have their period of leave determined by reason of the country whence they come? [Interruption.] If the Minister can hear me above the braying from Labour Members sitting behind me who are not prepared to take their chance to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will he confirm that the reduced maximum stay for visitors will not result in a worsening position at entry clearance posts abroad? Will entry clearance officers at British posts abroad issue visas more readily to persons wishing to travel to the United Kingdom for personal and family reasons? I trust that he will understand that this is an especially important consideration in the Indian subcontinent.

The proposed changes place a limit of four years' stay on persons of independent means, writers and artists unless they apply for permanent settlement. Will the Minister explain why this change is taking place? These people are not a drain on public funds and they may do a great deal of good in enhancing the reputation of the United Kingdom abroad, without ever intending to settle here permanently. With the restrictions proposed to paragraphs 121 and 122 of the rules, many of those who are admitted as persons of independent means, writers and artists may lose the right to seek settlement if they have been abroad for lengthy periods during their four years in this country. Will the Minister confirm that those persons will not be handicapped because, for good reason, during the course of their work they have been abroad for lengthy periods during their four-year stay?

Finally, will the Minister explain why there is such a differentiation between business men and ministers of religion, missionaries, members of religious orders, journalists and representatives of broadcasting organisations? Why are the Government choosing to discriminate in favour of business men as opposed to foreign correspondents, for example?

I ask the Minister to demonstrate that the Government are seeking to follow a logical strategy that makes the immigration rules, House of Commons 169, as amended, appear to be a coherent code for immigration officers to administer and for those who are seeking to understand the rules. I hope that we shall hear an answer from the Minister that will enable us to take the view that such a coherent policy is being applied. As I read the proposed changes, it appears that is not the position.

11.38 pm
Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

My comments will be shorter than I had intended them to be, because of the time constraint that has been placed upon the House, but I hope that they will reflect clearly the speech that I had prepared.

It was fascinating listening to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). During the consideration of the Immigration Bill in Committee he talked about the immigration rules, and throughout this evening's discussion of the rules he talked about the Bill. He read out long quotations from various sources. The hon. Gentleman makes Senator Biden seem like an original thinker.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Spa rkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) made a dishonest statement—perhaps I should say an inaccurate statement—when he said that when I intervened on 16 November during the consideration of the Immigration Bill I said that the primary purpose rule — he stressed "as currently instituted"—was introduced by the Labour Government on 22 March 1977. I said no such thing, and the record bears me out. It is a fact that the primary purpose rule was originated under the Labour Government on 22 March 1977. My hon. Friend the Minister confirmed that, and added that the rule dealt specifically with marriages of convenience. On the record is the honest case.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Minister that it is total hypocrisy and humbug to vote against the rule changes which will help those who are trying to visit this country and stay here some time longer. A total of 40,000 cases a year will be saved by the introduction of the rules. There are 7 million visitors to this country. I have been to Lunar house and seen the extent of the documentation there. It is not always possible to introduce new technology there, when the documentation must be kept in original form, when the documentation of personal interviews is, by its very nature, copious and detailed. I believe that the rule changes are wholly desirable. For my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) to admit that the changes are liberalising and that he will vote for them gives added confidence to all of us on the Government Benches.

We have been through the figures, which show that five times more visitors from India will benefit than will lose; from Pakistan, five times more; from Bangladesh, over twice as many.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)


Mr. Hanley

I have no time to give way. I shall speak to the hon. Gentleman outside the Chamber later.

To say that the rules are racist is blatantly dishonest, because more than 10 times more visitors will now receive six months on entry than will be limited by the six-month maximum. Moreover, as my hon. Friend said about business men, the rules will apply irrespective of nationality. Business men from India, representing more than 10 per cent. of all business men, will receive an extension of stay; indeed, they received extensions in 1986. The business men from India who will benefit from the rule changes number more than the total from the United States, Australia and Hong Kong.

I wish now to comment on some of the quotations from the brief from the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service, which was quoted at length—including the joke, which did not go down very well—by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). I shall be selective in a different way. UKIAS said: The reduction to 6 months is not of itself objectionable and visitors will still be able to apply for variation of their leave for special reasons, and they will have a right of appeal if refused. That is from UKIAS's brief, which Opposition hon. Members—and I—approve of so much.

It is no wonder that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did not want to talk about the change with regard to au pairs, because UKIAS said, "This is welcome." It is also no wonder that Opposition hon. Members did not choose to quote the statement that the change proposed for writers and artists is a change for the better. In other words, UKIAS welcomes these changes. I am glad to say that.

If UKIAS is not good enough for Opposition hon. Members, may I quote the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants?

Mr. Corbyn


Mr. Hanley

I have already told the hon. Gentleman that I shall not give way.

If Opposition hon. Members are not happy with UKIAS, they will certainly be happy with the JCWI, which tends to take a line that is against the Government's views on immigration. I wish to quote from the brief, which has been selectively quoted by Opposition hon. Members, the following passage: JCWI welcomes the more realistic period to be granted to fiances and fiancees. We also welcome the move towards giving people the length of stay for which they are eligible and which they want: the present system creates unnecessary bureaucracy and is very unsettling to applicants, who cannot be certain how long they will be able to stay. In other words, JCWI welcomes the changes in substance.

Since the JCWI and the UKIAS seem to approve of the changes, since the changes will benefit vastly more people than they will harm and since they will get rid of 40,000 cases a year from Lunar house, everybody—not just on the Government Benches—should welcome them. But there should be an urgent review of staffing levels and administrative systems throughout the immigration and nationality department. My hon. Friend the Minister knows that. He is also man enough to admit it. Therefore, I hope that during the year ahead we will see even further changes for the better.

11.44 pm
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Some of the changes to the immigration rules, especially those which refer to au pairs, fiancés, people of independent means, writers, artists, business people and the self-employed, are broadly to be welcomed, though they are long overdue. These changes and those for visitors are aimed essentially at reducing the number of times an overseas national must apply for his stay to be extended while he is in the United Kingdom.

In regard to the changes for visitors, which are perhaps the most important of the rule changes, there are serious doubts whether the Government's aims and intentions will be fulfilled, with the threat that visitors' rights will be diminished.

The Home Secretary, who is not here, announced on Second Reading of the Immigration Bill that under the new rules visitors, with small exceptions, will be granted stays of a maximum of six months. When he made that statement, had he read the draft instructions to immigration officers? The instructions, which are unpublished, determine in practice how the rules are to be operated. We are doubtful whether the Home Secretary's statement will be fulfilled in practice.

The Government's track record on the treatment of visitors is far from satisfactory. When the Home Secretary introduced the new visa requirements in 1986, he said: The changes have been made … because of the pressure on Heathrow airport in particular. He said later: The changes will improve conditions for all passengers arriving at our ports and for all those in this country who come to greet them.—[Official Report, 27 October 1986; Vol. 103, c. 86–91.] I have documents from members of the immigration service which show that nothing at Heathrow has changed since then.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

As the hon. Gentleman is referring to evidence on the working of the visa system, it may be useful to him and to the House if I give him a straight quotation from my borough's community relations officer—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. An intervention must be a direct question or a very brief comment.

Mr. Arnold

It is a very brief comment. I want to quote the experience of my borough's community relations officer, a Labour councillor, who went to see the operation of the visa system. He said that he was sceptical before his visit to India, but now he thinks that everything is being done fairly. That is what a Labour councillor has said.

Mr. Randall

That was an abuse by the hon. Gentleman, bearing in mind that so many hon. Members want to speak.

As I was saying before I was interrupted, there have been no changes at Heathrow. There were three-hour delays in 1985–86 before the visa system was introduced; in 1987 we have the same delays.

Detention figures indicate that between 14 October and 13 November last year 173 people spent the night in appalling conditions on the floor at Heathrow, with no blankets, no food and no drink. That was not the most busy time of the year. I understand that among those who had to stay in those conditions was a pregnant woman. I also understand that the premises do not comply with the fire regulations. So the problems that the Home Secretary claimed the visa system would eliminate still exist at Heathrow. The Government have failed to tackle the root causes of the problems which are the grossly inadequate administrative systems and staff numbers at Lunar house.

Several right hon. and hon. Members referred to the chaos at Lunar house. Clearly, the magnitude of the problems makes the Government look administratively incompetent. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and other hon. Members said, an independent inquiry is required to investigate and report on the scandal there.

I should like to ask the Minister five brief questions. First, will he increase staffing levels at Lunar house to cope with the growing demand, or will he rely only on efficiency improvements? Clearly, black and Asian family visitors suffer most from the 1986 visa system. It appears that this is because entry clearance officers abroad are changing the criteria for issuing visas. If these rules are approved, it is likely that the same pattern of refusals will occur in the future. Problems for visitors will increase substantially, especially for family visitors who wish to stay for periods beyond six months. Family visitors will tend not to be guaranteed a six-month stay initially. Family visitors tend to be refused entry because of suspicions about their finances or intentions.

We must all admit that there are difficulties in accurately assessing the precise effect of the new rules. What happens in practice is determined largely by the contents of the unpublished document "Instructions to Immigration Officers". Those secret instructions describe how the rules should be operated in practice. Accordingly, I ask the Minister, secondly, to tell us where in "Instructions to Immigration Officers" there is any reference to the discretion that an officer has outside the rules to decide what period of stay is stamped in a visitor's passport.

Thirdly, on what grounds under the new rules and new instructions will an immigration officer grant a stay of less than six months?

Fourthly, in practice does the Minister really expect significantly fewer people to be granted stays of less than six months?

Fifthly, will the Minister tell us what will happen to code 3 applicants, who are regarded by immigration officers as suspicious and are therefore allowed entry of less than six months? Is there a risk that they will not be admitted at all?

Tonight's debate has demonstrated that the Home Office function that deals with those foreign nationals who wish either to visit or to stay in Britain for a limited period is an administrative shambles. It is highly questionable whether the benefits that the Government claim will arise from the new rules will materialise. If so, the current incompetent administration at the Home Office could continue. Visitors will not benefit unless the vast majority are given visas which last for six months, without any increase in the visa refusal rate as a result of immigration officers refusing entry to those who previously would have been granted permission to stay for shorter periods. A certain consequence of the new rules is that visitors, especially family visitors, will find it much more difficult to extend a visit beyond six months, if needed. They will not be able to appeal against a decision that they should leave. That is why the Opposition will vote against the changes.

11.53 pm
Mr. Renton

In the short time available, I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) for his useful intervention and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) for pointing out so succinctly that, including those from the countries of the Indian subcontinent, five times more people will benefit from the rule changes than will suffer — a point singularly not taken on board by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall). I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) for his helpful speech. It is nice to get such help, even at times from an unexpected quarter.

To both the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) I give an assurance, repeating what I said earlier, that six months will be the norm for visits. I give them both that assurance. Exceptions will be limited to cases where there is a specific reason for granting less than six months, such as passengers in transit or people who come here for short-term medical treatment. I hope that, on that basis, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery will be able to persuade his hon. Friends in the Liberal party — all those who are here—to vote with us tonight.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery asked me some other questions. On his question about variation of leave and its still being possible to apply for that within six months, yes, I can assure him that that will remain the same, especially for compassionate reasons. Rights of appeal will remain unchanged, and there will therefore be an appeal right for those who make in-time applications. I will reply to his other, detailed questions by letter.

I turn now to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). The House will have heard tonight, from the tone of high-pitched indignation with which the whole of his speech was delivered, what we have suffered in the Standing Committee on the Bill for 62 hours. For 62 hours we have had that noise delivered to us. I do not see what was his point in reading out that list of people from the British Council of Churches. I invited them to come to my office—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I would like to see the Minister's handsome face, even if only in profile.

Mr. Renton

You bowl me over, Madam Deputy Speaker, with your kind words. Thank you very much.

I invited them to my office. We had an extremely useful and friendly discussion—far more friendly, I fear, than it would have been if the hon. Member for Bradford, West had been with us.

I can assure the hon. Member, as I said earlier, that on compassionate grounds people will be allowed to stay for more than six months, as they are now. But I have to say to the hon. Gentleman, who demanded an apology for misquotation of figures, that I have already given him in Committee the answer to the figures that he misquoted about the Foreign Office list. I have already told him that the figure that he quoted was not of total refusals but that it did not allow for applications that had been withdraw n or that were still pending receipt. I told him that in Committee, and I am amazed that he came back to that here tonight.

Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Renton

No, I will not, because I have only a minute or two more.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West made one point with which I would particularly agree, when he referred to the huff and puff that we hear from Opposition Members on this issue. They lecture us when we aim to improve procedures. They lecture us when we try to bring more efficiency into the difficulties that certainly exist at Lunar house at the moment. They tell us that they will vote against these reasonable rule changes. They tell us nothing at all about what they would do. Why do they not tell us their policy, their proposals? The simple reason is that they are scared to bring their policy and their proposals on these issues into the open.

When the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was shadow Home Secretary, he told us that he would cancel the British Nationality Act 1981. His successor, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), told us that he would cancel the Immigration Act 1971: all this—and only 1,000 more immigrants a year. We all know that that is impossible, that it is a total contradiction.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes said that Labour's policies on this issue were dominated by hypocrisy and humbug, I would add another ingredient—hysteria. Those are the characteristics that dominate the Opposition's immigration policies. If they have the gall to vote against these reasonable amendments to rules tonight, they will be confirmed in that hypocrisy, humbug and hysteria.

I warmly commend the rule changes to the House.

Question put:

The House divided:Ayes 202, Noes 257.

Division No. 157] [12 midnight
Abbott, Ms Diane Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Clay, Bob
Allen, Graham Clelland, David
Alton, David Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Anderson, Donald Cohen, Harry
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Corbett, Robin
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Corbyn, Jeremy
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Cousins, Jim
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Crowther, Stan
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Cryer, Bob
Barron, Kevin Cummings, J.
Battle, John Cunliffe, Lawrence
Beckett, Margaret Cunningham, Dr John
Beith, A. J. Darling, Alastair
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Bermingham, Gerald Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Bidwell, Sydney Dewar, Donald
Blair, Tony Dobson, Frank
Blunkett, David Doran, Frank
Boateng, Paul Douglas, Dick
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dunnachie, James
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Eadie, Alexander
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Eastham, Ken
Buchan, Norman Evans, John (St Helens N)
Buckley, George Fatchett, Derek
Caborn, Richard Faulds, Andrew
Callaghan, Jim Fearn, Ronald
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Fisher, Mark
Canavan, Dennis Flannery, Martin
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Flynn, Paul
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Foster, Derek
Fraser, John Moonie, Dr Lewis
Fyfe, Mrs Maria Morgan, Rhodri
Galbraith, Samuel Morley, Elliott
Galloway, George Morris, Rt Hon A (W'shawe)
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Morris, Rt Hon J (Aberavon)
George, Bruce Mowlam, Marjorie
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Mullin, Chris
Godman, Dr Norman A. Murphy, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin Nellist, Dave
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) O'Brien, William
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) O'Neill, Martin
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Grocott, Bruce Patchett, Terry
Harman, Ms Harriet Pendry, Tom
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Pike, Peter
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Heffer, Eric S. Prescott, John
Henderson, Douglas Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Hinchliffe, David Quin, Ms Joyce
Holland, Stuart Radice, Giles
Home Robertson, John Randall, Stuart
Hood, James Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Reid, John
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Richardson, Ms Jo
Hoyle, Doug Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Robertson, George
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Rogers, Allan
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Rooker, Jeff
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Rowlands, Ted
Illsley, Eric Salmond, Alex
Ingram, Adam Sedgemore, Brian
Janner, Greville Sheerman, Barry
John, Brynmor Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Short, Clare
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Skinner, Dennis
Kirkwood, Archy Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Lamond, James Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Leadbitter, Ted Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Leighton, Ron Snape, Peter
Livsey, Richard Soley, Clive
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Spearing, Nigel
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Steinberg, Gerald
Loyden, Eddie Stott, Roger
McAllion, John Strang, Gavin
McAvoy, Tom Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
McCartney, Ian Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Macdonald, Calum Turner, Dennis
McFall, John Vaz, Keith
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Wall, Pat
McKelvey, William Walley, Ms Joan
McLeish, Henry Warden, Gareth (Gower)
McTaggart, Bob Wareing, Robert N.
McWilliam, John Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Madden, Max Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Williams, Rt Hon A. J.
Marek, Dr John Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Wilson, Brian
Martin, Michael (Springburn) Winnick, David
Martlew, Eric Wise, Mrs Audrey
Maxton, John Worthington, Anthony
Meacher, Michael Wray, James
Meale, Alan Young, David (Bolton SE)
Michael, Alun
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Tellers for the Ayes
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Mr. Frank Cook and
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Mr. Frank Haynes.
Aitken, Jonathan Aspinwall, Jack
Alexander, Richard Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Allason, Rupert Baldry, Tony
Amess, David Bellingham, Henry
Amos, Alan Bendall, Vivian
Arbuthnot, James Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Benyon, W.
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Bevan, David Gilroy
Ashby, David Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blackburn, Dr John G. Fairbairn, Nicholas
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Fallon, Michael
Body, Sir Richard Farr, Sir John
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Favell, Tony
Boscawen, Hon Robert Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Boswell, Tim Fookes, Miss Janet
Bottomley, Peter Forman, Nigel
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Forth, Eric
Bowis, John Fox, Sir Marcus
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Franks, Cecil
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Freeman, Roger
Brandon-Bravo, Martin French, Douglas
Brazier, Julian Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bright, Graham Gill, Christopher
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Glyn, Dr Alan
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Goodhart, Sir Philip
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Goodlad, Alastair
Browne, John (Winchester) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Gorst, John
Buck, Sir Antony Gow, Ian
Budgen, Nicholas Gower, Sir Raymond
Burns, Simon Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Burt, Alistair Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Butcher, John Greenway, John (Rydale)
Butler, Chris Gregory, Conal
Butterfill, John Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Ground, Patrick
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Carrington, Matthew Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carttiss, Michael Hampson, Dr Keith
Cash, William Hanley, Jeremy
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Hannam, John
Chapman, Sydney Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Chope, Christopher Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Churchill, Mr Harris, David
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Haselhurst, Alan
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hayes, Jerry
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hayward, Robert
Colvin, Michael Heathcoat-Amory, David
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Heddle, John
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Cope, John Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Cormack, Patrick Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Couchman, James Hind, Kenneth
Cran, James Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Holt, Richard
Curry, David Hordern, Sir Peter
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Howard, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Day, Stephen Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Devlin, Tim Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Dover, Den Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Dunn, Bob Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Durant, Tony Hunter, Andrew
Dykes, Hugh Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Eggar, Tim Irvine, Michael
Emery, Sir Peter Irving, Charles
Evennett, David Jack, Michael
Janman, Timothy Page, Richard
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Paice, James
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Patnick, Irvine
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Key, Robert Pawsey, James
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Kirkhope, Timothy Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Knapman, Roger Porter, David (Waveney)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Portillo, Michael
Knowles, Michael Powell, William (Corby)
Knox, David Price, Sir David
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Raffan, Keith
Lang, Ian Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Latham, Michael Redwood, John
Lawrence, Ivan Renton, Tim
Lee, John (Pendle) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Riddick, Graham
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lightbown, David Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Lilley, Peter Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Roe, Mrs Marion
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Rost, Peter
McCrindle, Robert Rowe, Andrew
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Sainsbury, Hon Tim
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Sayeed, Jonathan
Maclean, David Scott, Nicholas
McLoughlin, Patrick Shaw, David (Dover)
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Major, Rt Hon John Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Malins, Humfrey Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Mans, Keith Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Maples, John Shersby, Michael
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Sims, Roger
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Mates, Michael Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Maude, Hon Francis Soames, Hon Nicholas
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Miller, Hal Squire, Robin
Mills, Iain Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Sumberg, David
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Moate, Roger Thurnham, Peter
Monro, Sir Hector Tredinnick, David
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Trippier, David
Morrison, Hon Sir Charles Waddington, Rt Hon David
Moss, Malcolm Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Moynihan, Hon C. Warren, Kenneth
Needham, Richard Watts, John
Nelson, Anthony Wheeler, John
Neubert, Michael Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Wood, Timothy
Nicholls, Patrick
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Tellers for the Noes:
Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W) Mr. Richard Ryder and
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Mr. Stephen Dorrell.
Oppenheim, Phillip

Question accordingly negatived.