HC Deb 10 November 1988 vol 140 cc518-44 5.10 pm
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will confirm that this debate is on a motion which states:

That this House takes note of the draft revised guidelines for handling Members' representations in immigration cases. I should be grateful if you would confirm that, if the House takes note of the draft revised guidelines, they carry absolutely no requirement for Members to observe them and are merely for the convenience of Ministers. Will you confirm also that if Ministers in the Home Office were to seek to impose sanctions on those of us who have absolutely no intention of observing the guidelines, we would be in order to call for your protection? I should be grateful if you would confirm the standing and status of the draft guidelines, because it is important that they should be clearly understood before the debate takes place.

Mr. Speaker

I am pleased to help the hon. Gentleman on that point. This is a take-note motion; it is not a motion to approve.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

I ask the House, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is this a further point of order?

Mr. Bidwell

I am not accustomed to raising points of order, Mr. Speaker, but it is to do with these proceedings. As you know, I have a more-than-average interest in the matter. I went to the Vote Office and obtained the Foreign and Commonwealth Office draft guidelines. I assume that we are also discussing the guidelines that were issued on 18 July. Both documents were issued on 18 July. For that reason, I want to know whether we are to have the presence of a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, because we may wish to put direct questions to him as well as to the Minister with responsiblity for immigration.

Mr. Speaker

At this rate we shall not even have a reply from the Minister.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I say to hon. Members that it is unfair to their colleagues. Every hon. Member would like to have his say, but he must bear in mind the legitimate rights of his colleagues in the Chamber. It is now getting on for half-past 5. This debate must end at 7 o'clock.

Mr. Barnes

My point of order relates to the correctness of the Hansard report on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. From what has been said about the matter, and from what you have said, it is clear that there is no mention of the second vote being called for by the Second Deputy Chairman, yet that is supposed to be part of what has occurred. If that is incorrect, what happened when the vote was challenged and the Ayes were called may also be incorrect. You have heard the tapes. Will you confirm that that is what occurred?

Mr. Speaker

I have made a careful and considered statement on that matter. Will the hon. Member please read it? I think that he will find the answer to his question.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Campbell-Savours.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I do not feel that it is necessary to address me with some contempt in the way that you use your voice, M r. Speaker. The point is that there is a sense —[Interruption.] It is the truth. There is a sense of grievance on this side of the House over the fact that, on that occasion, there was no call from the Government Benches during the course of a Division. The Bill has slipped through, against the wishes of a majority of Members of Parliament as expressed. The Division took place after the business was over. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) did not shout in the same way as he did on a previous occasion. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) also did not shout. In our view, the Bill should have fallen at that stage. Those who supported the Bill were given a second bite, and we believe that to be absolutely unfair.

There is a sense of grievance that remains on Opposition Benches, which is being talked about in the Tea Room, throughout the House, and throughout the Opposition. Even at this late stage, even though there is no precedent in "Erskine May", that Division should be overturned, and the majority view of the House as expressed before the Division was taken should be the one that holds.

Mr. Speaker

That is not the case. Hansard clearly shows exactly what happened. As I said in my statement, there were at least two occasions when I was in the Chair last night and I had to put the Question a second time for the convenience of the House in exactly similar circumstances. The Hansard record is absolutely clear. I have looked carefully at it again. I have further discussed it with the Deputy Speaker who was in the Chair at the time, and I have ruled that it is in order.

Mr. Terry Patchett (Barnsley, East)


Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)


Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has already raised a point of order on this matter. He may not care much about his colleagues, but I ask him to have some consideration for them. I shall take Mr. Terry Patchett first.

Mr. Patchett

I am worried that the reputation and the democratic procedures of the House were tainted on Wednesday evening. I accept that the two Bills involved were complementary to Government policy, but the official Government Whipping tainted the procedure for private Bills, which left a nasty taste in the mouth of anyone who believes in the democracy of this House. For some reason or other, a "No" Division turned out to be an "Aye" Division. I do not understand it. The ruling taints the reputation and democratic procedures of the House. A "No" vote turned out to be an "Aye" vote. We voted against the motion. Conservative Members may say that a vote was taken, but the House voted not to go through the Lobbies. It was quite clear that there were no Ayes, but there were plenty of Noes.

Mr. Speaker

The easiest thing for me to do is to send my considered statement to the hon. Member, and he will see exactly what happened.

Mr. Skinner

On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. What has characterised the last few points of order is that some hon. Members who mentioned the matter did not play a part in yesterday's proceedings, but have read Hansard. They listened to the tapes, but they were not involved in the debate. Right across the whole length and breadth of the Opposition there are people who have taken the view that something is wrong with that vote.

You have heard representations from a Tory Member who is well known with regard to procedure, and who has pointed out that corrections have been made. You have also heard my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), who hitherto has not been involved and who told you about a mirror incident in relation to the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill, which was also a private Bill.

We are now dealing with a Bill that will aid and abet that evil regime of South Africa, and some of us will never let this matter drop. It should be looked at further, so I ask you, once again, Mr. Speaker, to listen to those tapes and to come back with a further report before the Session ends.

Mr. Speaker

I have already looked at the matter and have been into it in great detail. I have given my ruling. I call Mr. Renton.

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

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of the draft revised guidelines for handling Members' representations in immigration cases. The draft revised guidelines were circulated to every hon. Member in July and copies were placed in the Library. I welcome this opportunity today—even at this late hour—first, to explain our reasons for the draft and, secondly, to outline what the effect of our proposals will be.

Across Government Departments there is a convention of long standing that hon. Members may make representations to the Minister concerned on behalf of a constituent. The House is understandably jealous of that convention. In immigration it played a particularly important role when no appeals system was available, but it has developed beyond that. Hon. Members' representations today are as likely to relate to outstanding applications as to unsuccessful ones. Equally impotant in immigration, an hon. Member's representation is no longer the only way in which an applicant is able to obtain redress. Since 1969 there has existed an appellate system. This is operated independently of the Home Office, as its transfer in April 1987 to the Lord Chancellor's Department has emphasised. It is an effective remedy; for example, in the last four years about 20 per cent. of appeals to adjudicators have been successful.

Because these two systems have developed separately, there are inherent contradictions in the way in which they operate. The current guidelines to hon. Members—which were introduced by my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary in a previous existence in 1986—seek to lay down some ground rules for the inter-relationship between the two systems. I believe that most hon. Members have found these guidelines of considerable assistance.

The guidelines have been a significant document in establishing a clearer understanding of the respective roles of the Department, the independent appellate authorities and the Minister. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I are concerned to provide a more satisfactory service to hon. Members which, at the same time, enables Ministers to carry out their functions properly. We have looked, too, at the arrangements for hon. Members' "stops", particularly in the light of the new visa arrangements. That was the purpose of our review of the guidelines.

The present volume of hon. Members' representations is an important element. We received 18,000 letters from hon. Members in 1986 on immigration and related matters. Following the visa decision, there were some 13,000 letters in 1987, and the level of correspondence is likely to be the same this year. That means an average of some 250 letters received by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and myself each week. The implications of that are clear. Frankly, with that number of letters, Ministers cannot give detailed personal attention to every case. It is sometimes difficult to pick out the important case and give it the attention that it deserves.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Renton

No, if my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall not give way because time is short and I think the House would like me to make progress so that as many as possible Back-Bench Members from all parties may speak. I hope that my hon. Friend will make his own remarks if he is able to catch the attention of the Chair.

Better arrangements are therefore needed. Our proposals relate, first, to correspondence and, secondly, to "stops". The draft revised guidelines make two changes in relation to correspondence: first, they make explicit for the first time what is our long-standing practice, that Ministers will not normally intervene to take the decision in outstanding entry clearance and after-entry applications.

There will obviously be exceptions to the normal rule. An hon. Member's letter may explain why an urgent decision on a case is needed, and I may be able to convey that decision in my reply. We shall, as at present, operate the system flexibly. But where there are no special considerations, my reply will simply indicate, as fully and helpfully as possible, where progress on the application now stands.

Secondly, the guidelines introduce arrangements to enable hon. Members to correspond direct with the immigration and nationality department on routine inquiries. This change addresses directly our concern to provide hon. Members and their constituents with the best possible service. I shall return to the arrangements for it in more detail shortly.

Our proposals for "stops" involve two changes. The first results from experience of the changes in permitted "stops" introduced in November 1986. At present, a "stop" in relation to a passenger refused entry because he did not have the entry clearance required under the immigration rules will be permitted only if there are exceptional and compelling circumstances. A "stop" for other passengers will be permitted where there is new and compelling evidence which was not available to the immigration officer. In both cases, the passenger has a full right of appeal from abroad.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)


Mr. Renton

With respect to the hon. Lady, I should prefer to get on. I suggest that she makes her remarks during the debate and hope that she catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Because this appeal right is available, the change we therefore propose is that for any passenger refused entry, whether or not the immigration rules require him to have an entry clearance, a "stop" will be permitted only if there are exceptional and compelling circumstances which the immigration officer has had an opportunity to consider but has not taken sufficiently into account.

The effect of this change is that, in all cases, hon. Members will first need to be satisfied that there are exceptional and compelling circumstances which merit special treatment and, secondly, that the immigration officer must be given an opportunity to consider these special circumstances. This reflects the position in law that the power to give or refuse leave to enter the United Kingdom is exercised by immigration officers. With the final version of the revised guidelines, we shall provide hon. Members with fuller details of contact points at the ports and airports; immigration service officers at senior grades will normally be available to discuss cases of difficulty with hon. Members. If an hon. Member is satisfied that the exceptional and compelling criterion is met and that the immigration officer was aware of it before refusing a request for deferment of removal, he or she may contact my private office direct, or out-of-hours the Home Office duty officer, to request a "stop". I should emphasise that in all cases where an hon. Member wishes to request a "stop", he should contact my private office or the duty officer, not the port or the immigration department.

The second change again reflects the existence of an appeals system. It affects deportation cases and illegal entry cases which have been reviewed by the courts. All cases leading to deportation have rights of appeal, which are exercised before removal. Similarly, no illegal entrant whose case is to be reviewed by the courts is removed before that review is complete. We have therefore decided that where an appeal has been dismissed and the removal arrangements put in hand, it is wrong to continue to allow "stops" which require the Minister to review again, on the same facts, a decision on which an independent review has already taken place. In future, a "stop" in such cases will be allowed only where there is new and compelling evidence which has not previously been taken into account. The position on "stops" for illegal entrants whose cases have not been reviewed by the courts remains unchanged. The procedure will be the same as I have described for port "stops". My private office or the duty officer should be contacted direct if a "stop" is to be requested.

We are also proposing a common time limit for the submission of representations in "stop" cases. The time limit in the current guidelines ranges between 12 and five days. Because under the new system the hon. Member will have available details of the particular circumstances behind the "stop" request, we have set a time limit of five working days for the receipt of representations. Where the Minister upholds a decision to remove, the delay of four working days between the date of the Minister's reply to the hon. Member and removal remains unchanged. As at present, hon. Members should continue to contact the port direct where the issue is whether a passenger under refusal should continue to be detained or be granted temporary admission. That is not a matter in which I would normally expect to intervene.

I mentioned briefly earlier the new arrangements to enable hon. Members to communicate direct with the Department if they wish. That is not a totally new idea. Hon. Members already write direct to local tax offices, local social security offices and so on. Many also already write direct to regional passport offices and I hope that they will continue to do so. We have, therefore, devised new arrangements so that hon. Members may, if they wish, write directly to the immigration and nationality department. Details are contained in the annex to the draft guidelines and the relevant telephone contact point will of course, be included in the final version of the guidelines.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Renton

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his observations in a speech during this short debate.

Much of hon. Members' routine correspondence may benefit from this approach. A random sample of one week's letters from hon. Members suggests that one third could well be routine inquiries. We envisage that it will provide a swifter and therefore better service for hon. Members on routine matters and, equally important, that it will free Ministers to deal with the difficult cases which merit careful scrutiny.

Hon. Members may also be aware that similar arrangements to those being set up at the Home Office will be introduced at the same time at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In answer to the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell), may I say that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who regrets that he cannot be present, wrote to all colleagues in July to give advance notice of these new arrangements. They will deal with routine inquiries from hon. Members about immigration applications made overseas. A special unit will be set up to handle these inquiries. It will, equally, remain open to hon. Members to make specific representations to FCO Ministers direct.

I should like to take this opportunity to announce an important proposal to improve the service that my Department provides to Members of Parliament and to members of the public.

Mr. Madden

The closure of Lunar house.

Mr. Renton

Not at all. Something rather different.

Hon. Members will be pleased to learn that the Government wish in principle to establish a regional public inquiry office in Birmingham. We have set in hand consultations with staff and their representatives with a view to recruiting and training personnel for the new office as soon as possible. I hope to be able to announce further details later in the year. I know that many hon. Members have in the past suggested a regional public inquiry office to help members of the public with their immigration problems. This announcement today will be welcomed by all who are anxious to see my Department provide an improved standard of service for those personal callers who wish to resolve their particular immigration problems over the counter.

In that context, I can tell the House that the benefits of the changes in the immigration rules, against which the Opposition foolishly voted earlier this year, are now beginning to show and that at Lunar house both the public inquiry office and the telephone inquiry bureau are offering a much improved performance. [Interruption.] We are taking active steps to recruit additional staff, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) will be the first to join me in sending good wishes from the House to all those members of staff and management who have worked so hard to make these improvements possible. We are taking active steps to recruit additional staff, including part-timers, and have started a major recruitment advertising campaign. At the same time we are introducing, wherever possible, improved working procedures to ensure that applications are processed as promptly as possible.

Finally, it is a parliamentary convention that hon. Members deal with their own constituency matters and not, save in exceptional circumstances, with one another's. We attach particular importance to that principle in dealing with immigration matters.

Ms. Short

But it is only a convention.

Mr. Renton

I referred to it as a convention. I recognise that some hon. Members have a particular specialist interest in immigration and that some people first arriving in this country with no links will not have an evident constituency Member and so are likely to approach the Member for the constituency in which they first arrive or first find accommodation, but these are exceptions to the general rule. My office will continue its practice of normally accepting representations only from the constituency Member. The draft revised guidelines remind hon. Members of this convention, and we have taken this opportunity also to record our practice that the constituency is normally interpreted as the constituency in which a person lives, rather than works, although obviously in many cases these may be the same.

I emphasise that the revised guidelines are in draft form. If points are made during today's debate, or if hon. Members wish to write to me about them in the next few days and it seems to us sensible to include them in the final version of the guidelines, we shall do so. These are sensible and balanced proposals aimed at giving a better service to Members of Parliament, consistent with immigration procedures and the independent appeal system. I recommend them to the House.

5.46 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I cannot begin without saying how unsatisfactory it is that the House is left with an hour and a quarter to debate these matters. We had nine minutes of wholly legitimate points of order before we began. Had they not been put, we would have been left with one hour and 20 minutes. That is wholly unsatisfactory for debating a topic which concerns the rights and interests of hon. Members and, far more important, the welfare and perhaps the lives of men and women who seek entry to this country.

I shall be brief and not give examples to substantiate the general points that I shall make, but I assure the Minister that I, and no doubt my right hon. and hon. Friends, can provide examples to substantiate every one of the fears and doubts that overcome us when we consider these proposals.

I welcome the announcement that an office is to be opened in Birmingham. That is long needed, much appreciated and absolutely essential. I take it for granted that interviews will be held in Birmingham and that families living in that area will not be required to travel to Felixstowe or to London. I take it from the Minister's silence that that obvious reform is what he has in mind.

This is an arbitrary extension of the powers of the Government and, like all such arbitrary extensions, it is dressed up with the pretence that it is done solely to improve efficiency. That is the traditional excuse for authoritarian action which may be and often is crucially damaging to the interests of men and women who are entitled, even under the present rules, to enter this country, but who are wrongly prevented from doing so by the present method of immigration screening.

For the three categories particularly affected—immigrants refused entry, temporary residents threatened with removal and applicants facing long delays—it is often only the intervention of Members of Parliament which prevents them from being subject to unchecked action by the Executive. The object of a parliamentary system is to allow the legislature to check the Executive in matters of general policy and specific application. The only check that exists on the behaviour of the Executive in the specific application of immigration rules is for Members of Parliament to intervene in specific cases of visitors, asylum seekers and alleged illegal entrants.

It is no good the Minister saying that there is a perfectly adequate system of appeals which does not involve Members of Parliament and therefore Members of Parliament can in part be detached from the entire process. Many of the people who come to this country to visit relations are entitled to do so. Others are asylum seekers, in fear and at risk of their lives if they stay in their home country.

Some are visitors who have not overstayed but who are suspected of doing so. Such people are not best equipped to deal with the complicated Home Office bureaucracy and, if they are able to deal with it, they do so under two adverse circumstances. First, there is the intolerable delay. One of the main jobs of an hon. Member in this area is to try to speed up the Home Secretary and his Department. We all have letters from a year or more ago that tell us that the Home Office will reply as soon as practically possible. That is often 14, 15, 16 or 17 months later. The hon. Member's job is to find justice in terms of time.

Ms. Short


Mr. Hattersley

I shall finish my speech quickly as I do not want to stand in the way of my hon. Friends who also want to speak.

The second reason why the intervention of the Member of Parliament is essential is that the appeal system does not offer any real redress to the majority of people who are found to be unsuitable in their application to enter but who should have been allowed in in the first place. Let us suppose that a man from Islamabad comes to this country for a religious festival or a wedding in—I pick an example at random—the Sparkbrook constituency. If he is turned away, it is no consolation to him to say that all he has to do is to return to Pakistan and appeal, and that he may be let in in a year and a half's time. The wedding will be over and it may be impossible to finance another trip after making an appeal. It is possible to appeal only after returning to the port from which the trip has been originally made. That is not an appeal in practical terms.

The Minister, in his circular and in his argument today, has failed to suggest that the general duty of Members of Parliament to intervene on behalf of constituents is in any way protected by the exceptions that are made in the circular. I shall not read them all, but we are told that Members of Parliament may have the opportunity to place a stop on immediate removal if he or she can demonstrate that there are exceptional and compelling circumstances or if there is new and compelling evidence, according to the different categories of intervention.

That is wrong in principle and unworkable in practice. It is the civil servant against whom we appeal who decides whether an appeal is possible. The matter goes to the Minister only by the good will and grace of the civil servant, so the idea that Members of Parliament have any rights in those matters is wrong.

I should like to give an example, which I think the Minister has heard about already. Two months ago, a professor of mathematics at a British university, whom I know only by reputation, was returning to London from a mathematics conference at McGill university in Canada. He discovered, to his delight, that he was sitting next to a professor of mathematics from an Indian university, who was renowned throughout the world as an expert in some branch of the subject. To the Indian professor's delight, the British professor said that he had four graduate students who would like to talk to him. He asked him to stay overnight and come to the university. The Indian professor agreed, but when he innocently got off the plane in London, he was arrested, incarcerated and told that, as he had no visa, he must return the following day.

I telephoned the Minister's private office and was told that it was not a matter for ministerial intervention. The Minister's private secretary said that the Minister was away for the weekend and could not be disturbed, but, after he had been disturbed, the message came back that it was not a suitable case for intervention by a Member of Parliament because there was nothing urgent about it— nobody was dying. I confess that I can think of compassionate cases, involving sickness or physical necessity, which are more urgent than that. However, the response from civil servants when we ask for ministerial intervention clearly makes nonsense of the idea that there are exceptions. We oppose the measures because the exceptions are vitiated by the fact that only the civil servant is allowed to decide whether an exception applies.

I want to speak briefly about correspondence with the Home Office. I intend to send all immigration letters to the Minister and I expect serious answers from him. I do not expect him to write to me saying that the matter has been passed to Lunar house. It is intolerable that Members of Parliament should be told that they are not entitled to receive the Minister's judgment. It is no good the Minister saying that the work is too much for him. The truth is that if we are dealing with any subject, other than ethnic minorities and the immigration of ethnic minorities, additional resources would be made available and there would be a Minister who was able to deal with the job as it went along.

Mr. Renton

The right hon. Gentleman is making a mountain out of a molehill. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wrote to him on 18 July and gave an undertaking that hon. Members will receive full replies directly from the Minister, if they specify that. The right hon. Gentleman knows that. However, once the guidelines come into effect, we shall obviously not feel able to intervene in any case where the guidelines indicate to the contrary. We shall, of course, provide to any hon. Member who writes to us the information that is available about the application and the stage that it has reached. I hope that that sets the right hon. Gentleman's fears at rest.

Mr. Hattersley

The Minister has done the opposite. He has referred to my correspondence with the Home Secretary, so I shall remind him of its terms. After a meeting with some of my hon. Friends, I went to the Home Secretary and said that in future we would write to him and we expected him to reply to us. He was courteous enough to say that he would reply. I give notice that I intend to take up and persist in that offer. I shall expect him to give genuine consideration to the letters rather than to write a Lunar house letter in another guise. My hon. Friends and I are not prepared to see the interests of our constituents subject to the inadequacies and inefficiency of Lunar house. I gladly join the Minister in extending good wishes—and sympathy—to the people who work at Lunar house. The problem is not the people who work there but the burdens that the Minister has placed on them with unnecessary and arbitrary immigration regulations.

Ministers have an obligation to satisfy hon. Members that their constituents' interests are being properly respected and looked after. I do not accept that a Minister should determine what is a routine matter and what is a matter of principle. It is quite routine to send a letter saying that one expected a reply a month ago or was promised a reply two years ago if one is expecting furniture to be delivered, awaiting the availability of a new car or inquiring about the time that it will take to tarmacadam a road. In immigration cases, timing is essential. We are not in a mood to be told that Ministers will not co-operate with such routine.

The drift of the Minister's proposals is more important than the details. In the past eight years, hon. Members have become increasingly detached from arguments about imigration cases, as the Government wish. An attempt is being made to exclude us from defending the rights of constituents. That is parallel with the Government's consistent determination to keep out greater numbers of legitimate immigrants and visitors and to pursue the casual overstayer—the innocent overstayer—with a severity that the misdemeanour does not warrant.

5.59 pm
Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

Having held the job that my hon. Friend the Minister of State holds, I should say that I greatly admire the patience, good sense and courtesy with which he carries out his ministerial responsibilities and that I believe that he is right to propose these changes.

It is absurd that literally thousands of cases should go to Ministers for their decision—especially visitors' cases in their present quantity. It is also absurd that Ministers should be regarded as a regular court of appeal against decisions made under the statutory appeal process. My hon. Friend is right to want to tackle the problem. It is like the Home Secretary being asked to decide thousands of cases on appeal against decisions in the magistrates courts. Ministers should not have to tackle problems on that scale, but that is what is happening with immigration cases at the moment, and it is right to try to get to grips with the problem. Ministers should be able to concentrate on the really important questions that will have a decisive influence on the life of the immigrant concerned. The enormous burden of less important cases makes it remarkably hard for Ministers to concentrate on such issues.

The question has always been: what should we do about the problem? I have to confess that in my time we failed to do anything effective and merely operated the system. In theory there was always the attractive option —an option favoured in the Wilson report—of setting up an immediate court of appeal or adjudication system that could pick up cases virtually the next day and decide whether immigration officers had made the right decision. We have to acknowledge that the scale of visitor entrance and the multiplicity of ports of entry have made that a practical impossibility, and we therefore need the kind of approach contained in the draft guidelines.

At this stage—the stage between the publication of the draft guidelines and the appearance of the final guidelines —my hon. Friend should consider one or two matters carefully. First, I do not entirely agree with the wording of the draft guidelines as they affect the philosophy of how to approach constituency cases. There is a firm convention in the House that we do not pick up each other's cases— certainly not without permission—but that is based on respect among hon. Members, and Ministers should avoid putting themselves in a position in which they may be seen to be policing that convention. I hope that my hon. Friend will think again about the present wording, which seems to me to imply—to a greater extent than is wise—that Ministers will determine this issue. I have never heard of Ministers in other Departments saying that they will not pick up a case because it comes from outside the constituency of the hon. Member concerned, and it would not be right for the Home Office to take that view. I do not think that such a change would undermine what my hon. Friend seeks to do, and I hope that he will think about it carefully.

Mr. Marlow

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Raison

No. I shall follow the practice of not giving way.

Secondly, it should be made explicit in paragraphs 9 to 14 that, although the members of the Minister's private office will take certain actions' regarding removal or otherwise, they are at all times the servants of the Minister. The wording of that part of the guidelines seems to have a flavour of giving them a more free-standing role than is proper. It is only a matter of wording, but the Minister must always be responsible for the actions of his private office and there should be no doubt about that in the guidelines, although over the years successive Ministers, including myself, have been superbly served by those in their private offices.

I am not sure that I entirely agree with the statement in paragraph 10 that removal will be deferred only where there are exceptional and compelling circumstances … which the immigration officer has had an opportunity to consider but has not sufficiently taken into account. It is right that the guidelines should contain such a provision, but if there is to be further consideration at all we should at least be prepared to consider factors that have not been considered by the immigration officer. The guidelines circumscribe too narrowly the conditions in which matters should be reconsidered. After all, the point of going to the Minister is to bring before him new factors not necessarily considered by the immigration officer.

Let me come to what is in many ways my most important point. The quid pro quo of a speeded-up system that rightly imposes fewer burdens on Ministers is that there must be an acceleration of the rate of handling of appeal cases. We all know that in many cases it takes far too long to deal with appeals. I know that my hon. Friend is very keen to improve the administrative machinery. He has taken a number of effective steps, and we were glad to hear his announcement today. Nevertheless, I hope that he will do all that he possibly can to ensure that the appeal process is speeded up. I know that much of the responsibility for that lies with the Lord Chancellor, but it is a matter for the Government, and it is a matter of great importance.

My hon. Friend did not touch on one aspect of the process which has concerned the House. Perhaps he can report on whether the new guidelines on asylum cases, which were very much improved after a good deal of discussion, are working satisfactorily.

Having said that, I believe that my hon. Friend is right to introduce procedures. I hope that he will think about the points that I have made but I shall certainly support him if there is a Division tonight.

6.6 pm

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I was surprised to hear the Minister say that he proposed to introduce the guidelines with the intention of improving the service to Members of Parliament. I am not aware that hon. Members have shown any sign that they are dissatisfied with the service that they have had—in the sense in which the Minister has interpreted it. I should be interested to hear whether any of the proposals arise from recommendations made by hon. Members who have had occasion to deal with him frequently on immigration matters. The House feels that the changes in the guidelines have more to do with administrative convenience than with the strengthening of hon. Members' democratic effectiveness.

Immigration cases obviously are exceedingly difficult for officials to handle, and it can bring Governments into disrepute with foreign Governments if they are not properly handled. It is wrong to treat hon. Members as though they are in some sort of adversarial relationship with the Home Office and its Ministers and officials when they are seeking by their intervention to make the handling of a case more sensitive and to ensure that there is no miscarriage of justice.

The fact that rules are being tightened to reduce hon. Members' effectiveness and limit the circumstances in which hon. Members can intervene will transfer to hon. Members a considerable amount of work that should properly be handled by officials and Ministers. They are to be expected to make difficult judgments about whether exceptional and compelling circumstances exist which have or have not been taken into account in the quasi-judicial procedures. I believe that hon. Members' duties are properly discharged if they make a prima facie judgment, but what is now proposed is that hon. Members should establish—as though they were a court with the ability to sift and evaluate evidence—whether certain factors have been sufficiently taken into account. That is especially true in respect of visitors, those seeking asylum and illegal entrants. They are asked to judge whether there is new and compelling evidence.

I admit that the Minister did not have much time to explain the matter to us, but it appeared that he proposed to issue detailed information about what had happened in the judicial review, so that it would be possible for Members of Parliament to consider whether what they had been told was in fact a new point that should be taken into consideration. If that is the case, an extraordinary complexity has been added to the procedure, which, far from simplifying the process, will greatly complicate it.

I do not wish to repeat the points that have been well made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who speaks with more personal familiarity of these cases than me and many other hon. Members, but I wish to raise one or two points that he did not touch on.

In the case of a person seeking asylum, the Minister apparently will not agree automatically to defer removal where there is a safe third country to which that person may go. How is it to be determined what is a safe country? Is the Minister proposing to issue a list of safe countries? Is it to be countries that are subscribers to international conventions which show that they are suitable places for people to go to? I believe that, if it is a purely subjective judgment being operated by the official, it would be appropriate for Members of Parliament to intervene and give their appraisal. The Minister should not bind himself in advance, but should consider each case on its merits.

On the question of deportation and illegal entry, the Minister's prior decision to intervene only if there is new and compelling evidence appears to be unacceptably binding his hands.

The proposal that the procedures on stops should be exercised within five working days is impossible to present as one which is in the interests of Members of Parliament or those whom they are seeking to serve. In the light of the new heavier responsibility that the Minister is putting on Members to evaluate evidence, it will be much more difficult for them to do so if it has to be packed into that confined time. Speaking as one whose post and communications with Lunar house are perhaps more difficult than those of other hon. Members, I believe that the Minister should look very hard at that proposed reduction from 12 to five days. I cannot see what advantage there is in that.

With regard to the constituency Member and his role, it is a generally correct principle that hon. Members should not take up each other's cases, but exceptions to that should be recognised by the Minister. There are some hon. Members who almost as a point of principle will not take up immigration cases. It is bad for our race relations policy and for our relations with other countries if an individual is deprived of a right by finding himself in such a constituency. I hope that the Minister will take that point into account when interpreting his guidelines on constituency Members.

On the question of a direct approach to the immigration and nationality department, I have no quarrel whatever with a facility being made available which hon. Members in some cases may feel is appropriate. If that reduces the burden of work on Ministers' Departments, that must be welcomed and justified. However, it must not take away the Member of Parliament's judgment whether that facility is the appropriate one to use in the circumstances. The Member of Parliament has a constitutionally important right to be able to call to account the Government through the Minister, and not for the action to be taken in his name by some junior departmental officials.

I recognise that the scale and volume of these cases is such that it is appropriate for the Minister to review the effectiveness of the existing rules, but the size of the problem is to some extent being diminished—partly through substantive changes in the law—and therefore it is not the appropriate time to change the guidelines in the manner recommended by the Minister. I was unhappy about the changes, and especially about section 5 of the Immigration Act 1988, which I believe is doing a number of people grave injustice in removing effective judicial review.

The Member of Parliament's stop is the only safeguard which exists to give an effective remedy to those whose right of appeal can be exercised only once they have left the country, which represents a substantial number of cases. That cannot be satisfactory, and the Minister must reconsider that.

6.16 pm
Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)

I believe that the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) and I are two of the most frequent correspondents with the Home Office on this subject. That has been confirmed informally, if not exactly statistically. I pay tribute to the Minister's private staff for the way in which they deal with these problems and the courtesy that they extend to hon. Members.

On the last occasion that the guidelines were discussed in the House, my principal anxiety was the large number of visitors with modest means who were arriving in Britain and being turned back at the airport, having been told that they could not afford to come for a holiday. That caused distress to many people. I am happy to say that, by and large, the introduction of the visa system has eliminated that misery at the airport, at least for those who come from the countries about which I am concerned.

My principal anxiety now is about marriages and fiancées joining their husbands-to-be. Undoubtedly there are bogus marriages between people who go off after the formalities have been approved by the Home Office; plainly they never intended to have a genuine marriage. However, I believe that there are substantial numbers of genuine relationships which are not getting through the system. If a marriage was proved to be genuine, either immediately or over a period, I would like it to be made possible for that couple to be able to surmount the hurdles presented by the Act.

It is absurd to say that Members of Parliament cannot get satisfaction from local offices and from individual departments. We receive many thoroughly satisfactory letters from DHSS offices and from inspectors of taxes, and I am prepared to try to get a satisfactory answer from the immigration and nationality department. If I do not, I shall be on to the Minister very quickly.

The matter which concerns me about the guidelines is the time limits, and especially the five-day time limit. Will the Minister ensure that the same conventions for time limits, which were agreed in the previous guidelines, are observed so that there is no change of administrative practice by his Department? It was only the willingness of his Department to accept a holding letter, when one could not get the full representations in within the five days agreed by his predecessor, that actually made the existing system in some cases tolerable. I hope that there will be no administrative changes. I associate myself with the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), and I hope that consideration of them will continue.

6.19 pm
Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

When the Minister introduced the revised guidelines today he presented them as though they were just and reasonable and were intended to assist hon. Members and perhaps, as a by-product, to assist himself because a burden will be lifted from his shoulders. I do not believe that that will happen. He should ask himself why he receives so many thousands of letters every year from hon. Members. It is because reality is much more stark than he would have us believe.

I want to use this opportunity to express my concern and the concern of many of my constituents who originated in the Indian sub-continent about the long delays that occur when dealing with applications for the entry clearance of their relatives.

I am sure that everyone would accept that someone legally settled in this country is entitled to have his wife and children, below a certain age, to join him here. Many of my constituents, however, face delays of months and even years on receiving decisions on applications they have made for their families to join them in Oldham.

Over the years those delays have built up to such an extent that I took one case to the ombudsman to see if he could investigate exactly what had happened. Some considerable time later the ombudsman prepared a report and submitted it to me. It informed me that the wife of Mr. Ali, the constituent concerned, was interviewed at the British High Commission in Dhaka on 23 April 1986— after the application had been made on 27 March. She was told that her husband would have to be interviewed in the United Kingdom before the matter could be dealt with properly. I received a letter from my constituent complaining about this on 27 March 1987, because, nearly a year later, no further action has been taken. In other words, his wife was interviewed and told that her husband would have to be interviewed here and yet, a year later, that had not happened.

I asked the ombudsman to consider the case, which he examined carefully. He outlined a catalogue of disastrous actions, which I would love to read out to the House, but I know that hon. Members would not want me to delay them. I hope that the Minister will consider the case. One of the examples given by the ombudsman was that the application had been placed on the wrong pile and did not reach the top of that pile as was expected at a certain time. He added: unfortunately at about that time the entry clearance officer had suffered serious family problems which had necessitated his absence from the office from July to September during which time no action had been taken on … the application. The Principal Officer said that the ECO's outstanding cases should have been taken over by another officer during the ECO's absence, but this seemed not to have happened. It is all extremely loose and unfortunate, especially for my constituent. I have every sympathy for the entry clearance officer, who was facing some difficulties of his own, but I have just as much sympathy for my constituent. He had to wait a year between when his wife was interviewed and when he was interviewed to see whether she could join him with their children. That placed his marriage under some strain and caused him problems.

Although the Minister may have sympathy for my constituent, he may suggest, as was suggested to the ombudsman, that it was an unusual case. The ombudsman reported:

The Principal Officer said that the Head of Immigration Section in Dhaka had every reason to believe that this had been an isolated case It is not an isolated case. I asked the Oldham council for racial equality to find some similar examples and I could give details of the cases it gave me, but time is short. They include people who were interviewed in Dhaka in the middle of 1986. The second interview of the relatives, to be held in Liverpool, was delayed for eight months. A further interview was required, but that suffered an 11-month delay. Between the three interviews, 20 months had elapsed. After two years had passed no decision had yet been reached. That is not the isolated case of which the ombudsman spoke; it is just one of many cases that can be substantiated.

When the Minister speaks about trying to help us and helping himself, he should think about the people we should help—those people who wait months, even years, for their wives and children to join them. Let us do something to expedite their cases. To suggest that the best thing to do is to write to Lunar house is nonsense.

6.27 pm
Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

The proposals are sound and sensible, and I believe that they should have been implemented long ago because the system was becoming increasingly unsatisfactory and often abused. Few hon. Members would not agree.

I have been as guilty as anyone in seeking stop notices on arrivals, often without being in possession of the full facts. I did it because it was expected of me. Any hon. Member who was approached in those circumstances had to give good justification for not asking the Minster or his office to intervene. It was well known that a stop notice was practically automatic—that is what happened if an hon. Member was co-operative. Because of the weight of correspondence to which my hon. Friend the Minister has referred, people were coming in illegally and staying five or six months before the Home Office dealt with their case.

I am amazed by the dedication that has been shown by my hon. Friend, by his predecessor—the Government Chief Whip—and my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) who all spent hours and hours on the cases. Given the weight of correspondence imposed upon them, it was impossible for any human being to reach the right judgment in every case. Therefore, the guidelines are right.

The Minister is correct to talk about the need for exeptional and compelling circumstances because we must be able to make representations on those cases which we genuinely believe to be worthwhile. I have had two or three cases recently when my hon. Friend has taken into account those circumstances. They have not all been coloured immigration cases.

Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

What colour were they?

Sir Dudley Smith

I can talk about this because I represent an area of high immigration. I want to see justice for those who genuinely want to bring in people who have a right to enter. This issue cuts right across the world. My hon. Friend frequently brings his judgment to bear on compassionate cases, and we are grateful for that.

I wish to sound a note of dissent. I am not sure about this business of writing to Lunar house, except in highly technical cases. People outside this place have a touching faith in Ministers' ability to get things done. As a Member of Parliament of some experience, I have found that if I go to what they regard as second best they will ask me why I did not approach the Minister if they are turned down. So I might have to go to the Minister in the end, anyway. We must certainly reserve the right to approach him if we have any doubts about a case.

In other respects these guidelines are sensible and I hope that they will be ratified. I think they will work smoothly.

6.31 pm
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

The Minister comes before the House as living proof of the Government's incompetent handling of immigration policy during the past 10 years.

On 16 November 1987 the Home Secretary came before the House to tell us that the Immigration Bill, which became the Immigration Act 1988, would provide a better customer service. Let us quickly examine the record: it is a catalogue of incompetence.

At Lunar house, 267,000 letters lie unopened. That has earned the condemnation of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which described events at Lunar house as scandalous. There are delays in dealing with applications for naturalisation of up to two years. It takes nine months for a person wanting to join a spouse here to be interviewed in posts abroad. This year 77,000 passports were at Lunar house until the Minister discovered them, started to photocopy them—not in person—and sent them back to applicants. People have to wait for up to a year for applications for dependants to be considered.

The Immigration Act 1988 came into force on 1 August this year, further restricting the rights of appeal of citizens of this country and of those seeking to come here, and breaking promises made by successive Labour and Conservative Governments. Yet, in his letter of 18 July to hon. Members, the Minister said, in paragraphs two and four, that he intended to provide a better service for hon. Members. We did not believe the Home Secretary last year and we do not believe him now.

A fundamental shift in the rights of Members to intervene in immigration cases is being proposed. Since my election last year as the Member for Leicester, East, I have taken up more than 4,500 immigration cases. I give a third of my parliamentary salary to employ an extra person in my office just to deal with those cases. Each week I send on average 25 letters to the Minister's private office. They do not inquire after his good health; they are inquiries about applications for leave to remain and about delays in cases. Every letter is vital to the people who come to my surgeries and who live in my constituency and in those of other hon. Members. These people have an absolute right to go to see their Members of Parliament, and Members have an absolute right to contact the Minister and expect a reply.

The Minister is trying to transfer the correspondence from his office to Lunar house, which has often been affectionately called Loony house by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). And what is happening at Lunar house? Two hundred and sixty seven thousand letters lie unopened, the morale of members of staff is low, there are delays, and there is chaos. Apparently, the ability of the immigration service to hold on to staff at Lunar house is so limited that they are losing them daily to the insurance companies in Croydon.

I join in the tributes paid to the Minister's private office, which I have found extremely helpful. When I ring the office, Colette, Sharon, or Trixie or Dixie, or whoever works there, are helpful, and we come to know the people we are dealing with. When we visit the Minister's office we know that his private office lies just outside his door and that members of staff are present to consult him on matters of importance. I do not want to write to Lunar house. I shall join my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) in continuing to write to the Minister.

I welcome the establishment of an office in Birmingham. It would be nice to have a local immigration and nationality office in Leicester, Bradford or Manchester. On the analogy with local tax and DHSS offices, it would be useful to have these offices in our constituencies.

I do not think that the Minister understands the hardship and distress that people undergo queuing at Lunar house or going to the passport office and waiting for a response. I, too, deprecate the idea of removing our right to intervene and stop the removal of people who enter this country. Under these guidelines, anyone who enters the country, visa national or non-visa national, cannot have a Member of Parliament intervene on his behalf unless he can demonstrate exceptional and compelling circumstances. That is a matter of grave importance.

The Minister tells us that we can always contact the out-of-hours telephone number, which I have done several times. When I ring it, I do not speak to the Minister. I get a civil servant who then contacts another civil servant at the airport—and they make the decision.

I have tried to get in touch with the Minister about matters of importance during the summer recess and at times in the parliamentary Session when he is globe trotting in his other guise as the Minister with responsibility for broadcasting. When attempts have been made to contact him, he has not been able to give us a reply. In one particular case, the Minister had gone on holiday to an island in the Outer Hebrides and was not contactable. His private secretary informed me that there was no way in which I could contact the Minister but that they would send a helicopter to drop his box. Apparently, there was no one else on the island and there were no telephone communications with it. The Minister failed to read a document that was dropped in the box, so the person concerned spent an extra week in custody at Heathrow.

I do not intend to honour the guidelines telling us not to intervene in the cases of people who live in other constituencies but come to us because their Members are not sympathetic. I have given notice to the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) that I am raising this matter about him this evening. It concerns a case of a month ago and a person who lived in the constituency of the hon. Member for Northampton, North. This person went to see the hon. Gentleman to ask him to put a stop on the departure of another person. The hon. Gentleman refused, so this person went to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook, who put a stop on the departure. The person then came to me, and I did, too.

The hon. Member for Northampton, North was so furious that he rang the Minister's private office and said that he refused to accept any other stops and that the person would have to leave the country. These guidelines mean that people who live in constituencies with unsympathetic Members become the prisoners of the prejudices of those Members. People should not he put in that position.

I am not prepared to accept the time limit of five days. It is utterly impossible to process representations within that time. If a stop is put on, for example, on a Sunday evening, I come to Parliament on a Monday and my first opportunity to see my constituent would be on the Friday of the week following the stop, by which time five working days would have been completed. These are complex matters; people may require the intervention of linguists who speak, for example, Punjabi or Gujurati. We must ensure that they get more advice—

Ms. Abbott

Does my hon. Friend agree that five working days are particularly problematic in the cases of people who seek asylum as refugees? I have often had to make inquiries abroad about people who are fleeing and five working days are not enough time in which to do that. The risk then is that people may be sent back to death or torture.

Mr. Vaz

I agree. These cases are complex and cannot be dealt with quickly—that is what the Minister tells us in his replies. He says that there must be investigations, meetings and interviews. That cannot be done in five days. I shall not honour this time limit; I shall stick to the original limit of 12 days and supply my representations in that time—

Mr. Madden

The Minister laid great emphasis on setting time limits within which hon. Members must make their representations. My hon. Friend has illustrated the long delays that our constituents suffer, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond). Does my hon. Friend agree that it is now imperative that the Home Office sets time limits on its own considerations, and the Foreign Office does likewise?

We and our constituents are suffering from the unacceptable delays to which my hon. Friend has referred. Time limits are to be set on Members. Time limits on Ministers are long overdue.

Mr. Vaz

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Minister may find that the guidelines are challengeable in the courts and that they will result in the abrogation of his responsibility as the Minister responsible for immigration. In my view, it is open to people to challenge the guidelines on the ground that they fetter the Minister's discretion to intervene. Much could have been done to improve the service. The recruitment of more staff, the allocation of more resources and assurances that immigration officers would act quickly in dealing with cases would be more helpful than restricting the rights of hon. Members to intervene.

How many people did the Minister consult before he came to his decision about the guidelines? How many law centres, Members of Parliament and people associated with immigration matters did he consult? He came to Leicester recently and attended a luncheon given by Leicester Inner City Conservative Association. In a letter dated 24 August the association said: We are extremely fortunate to obtain the services of Mr. Timothy Renton, M.P.". The association proposed to charge £8 per head for the luncheon, but nobody wanted to go to see the Minister and the association had to offer free meals.

The right of hon. Members to intervene in immigration cases is a lifeline to many of my constituents. Hundreds of thousands of people in this country and abroad look to their Members of Parliament to intervene in this way. I do not know whether the House realises it, but yesterday in all parts of Britain we celebrated the festival of Diwali, the festival of light. It is a very important Hindu festival, but many people could not take part in celebrating it because they are anxiously waiting for husbands, wives, children or other dependants who are locked into the bureaucracy of the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Today the Government say that the time limit will be five days. Next week they will say it is to be 24 hours and then they will abolish it completely. I hope that hon. Members from all parties will join us in refusing to allow our rights to be abrogated in this way and will help us to ensure that this lifeline is retained for our constituents.

6.42 pm
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I shall be brief because we look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

I welcome the guidelines. It is essential that the Minister should have time to give proper consideration to exceptional cases, which require his discretion or which contain anomalies that need to be properly examined. He cannot be expected to do that if at the same time he is expected to give his individual and personal attention to routine inquiries.

If the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) carries out his stated intention of continuing to send anything and everything to the Minister, cases that require time, ministerial intervention and careful consideration will suffer. I do not understand why hon. Members handling immigration cases should think that they should be able to handle them in a way that is different from the handling of other cases. If a constituent comes to see me or telephones about a tax problem, I do not rush off to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. If a constituent telephones about a social security problem, I do not go to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. I go to my right hon. Friends only when I am fully satisfied that I cannot get the matter resolved expeditiously and satisfactorily at a different level. I expect to have to react in the same way to immigration cases.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

I am sorry, but there is not enough time.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said that this was an authoritarian measure. I can imagine few things more authoritarian than an hon. Member being able to intervene arbitrarily in the procedures and course of justice and put on a stop, even though that hon. Member has very little information. It is right that hon. Members should take the responsibility that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) felt they should not have to take. Hon. Members must satisfy themselves that they are intervening with just cause, and not merely for the sake of it and automatically. If the guidelines encourage a greater sense of responsibility on the part of hon. Members and greater efficiency and discrimination in the Minister's office, they will be most welcome. I support them.

6.45 pm
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Conservative Members have asked why hon. Members should have more rights in immigration matters than in matters affecting taxation or whatever. I shall enlighten them. Immigration matters are nearly always matters of life and death and of extraordinary personal significance. We intervene on behalf of people who fear that if they are deported they will face death. We intervene on behalf of children and grandparents coming to visit their families, sometimes because of sickness or because a member of the family may be dying.

Immigration matters require greater powers of intervention by hon. Members because the personal issues involved are of such serious moment and, increasingly, because the decisions by immigration officers at ports of entry are arbitrary and unfair. In such cases we are the only recourse. Week in, week out, I have to deal with people who have been stopped at the airport because the immigration officer thinks that they are not coming here for a holiday. The immigration officer does not have to prove his case, and people are just sent back.

If Conservative Members did the work on immigration cases that my hon. Friends and I do they would understand the seriousness of the issue. The only substantive reason given by the Minister for altering the guidelines is that hon. Members are putting on too many stops. He said that there was too great a weight of correspondence. I and my hon. Friends argue that if the only problem is too great a weight of correspondence, why does the Minister not make more staff available to deal with the correspondence? It is no part of the job of a responsible Minister to curtail human rights on the basis that too many people are exercising those rights. It is wholly illiberal to curtail people's rights on the basis that too many are seeking to exercise them.

Many times in his speech the Minister said that the Government wished to provide a better service. The guidelines will not provide a better service; they will simply mean that many more people will be turned away at the ports. We would not have to exercise the right of stop so often and at such an increasing rate if it were not for the increasing number of apparently arbitrary decisions by immigration officers at the ports.

The Minister claims that he wants to provide a better service for our constituents and for people seeking to visit their families. If the Minister is anxious to improve the service and human rights, especially in the case of refugees who had their right of appeal curtailed in legislation presented earlier this year, then, even at this last minute, he should withdraw these rules which thoroughly interfere with the rights of hon. Members and provide the staff to answer our queries.

6.49 pm
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate briefly in this debate. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for the courtesy and speed with which his Department has handled difficult asylum cases involving citizens from Romania and the Communist bloc and north African workers in my constituency.

I wish to focus on one point that has arisen from the debate. We want people to come to this country from abroad and we are keen to encourage the tourist industry, but we must bear in mind that entry into this country is a privilege, not a right.

As Members of Parliament, we should consider our role in examining the cases of people who wish to come to this country and remember that we are not the final arbiters. We can merely plead one side of the case.

I have often received touching accounts of difficult situations, which I have put to Ministers, and argued cases in court, but that is not the whole of the matter. There is often another side to the case. It is for those people charged with the arbitration of those matters to decide such cases. This country has one of the fairest systems in the world. Nowhere else in the world is one allowed an appeal against a refusal of a visa and an appeal against a refusal of right of entry. We must consider our role in that light.

Members of Parliament can play an important role. I am glad to have played that role and been of help to some of my constituents who have found themselves in difficult circumstances because they have been refused entry to this country. However, if some of us refuse to co-operate with the system, it will break down to an even greater extent than has been suggested by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). It will create chaos and give some people a privilege. The Home Office's operations will come to a stop while a person's case is taken out of the file and submitted to my hon. Friend the Minister, who will then write a letter. The case will then go back in the file, but, in the meantime, progress on all other cases will be halted. Cases will not, therefore, be handled fairly.

Mr. Hattersley


Mr. Hind

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) will tell the House, "I do not care what the Government decide or what system is put forward. I have no intention of co-operating with it." I say shame on him. It is grossly unfair to constituents of both Conservative and Opposition Members.

Mr. Hattersley


Mr. Hind

This is a fair system. I welcome it and hope that it will work. I am sure that we shall do everything to make it work, but I cannot say the same for Opposition Members.

6.53 pm
Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

I must, of necessity, be brief, but I wish to give one example of an inhuman attitude by an immigration officer in Delhi. The Foreign Office reconsidered the case—a chap who wanted to come to his brother's wedding—but said that he could not come because he had a farm 170 miles from Delhi and only a 16-year-old son to leave in charge of it and he did not know the name of the bride in Britain. That was given as sufficient reason to refuse him entry for a visit.

The appeal process is a farce because the purpose of the visit has long passed by the time the appeal is heard. We have heard a great deal about these matters from Conservative Members and even more from Opposition Members who are deeply involved. The right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), a former Minister who dealt with immigration matters, showed that all is not right. The immigration system is inhumane. It is subject to considerable delays and needs a thorough overhaul. Hon. Members are right to protest. Those who apply for entry to this country, whether black, brown or white, should be treated by hon. Members in the same way as they treat their constituents.

6.55 pm
Mr. Renton

This has been a short but worthwhile debate. I am grateful to hon. Members for the sensible points that they have made regarding a matter that relates directly to hon. Members' conventions and privileges. I appreciate the realistic view that some hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members, have expressed about representations and what they can achieve, and I shall reflect upon all the comments that have been made. We shall shortly publish the guidelines in their final form, with a view to implementation on 3 January 1989, and we shall ensure that all hon. Members receive clear advance notice of that.

I wish particularly to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), who has great knowledge of this subject, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) and my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) for their support of the draft guidelines and for the messages that they asked me to pass on to my private office, which I shall certainly do.

I wish to deal with the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury about the UKIAS referral system for dealing with asylum applications in this country. I am pleased to be able to tell him that the revised system, which came into operation on 1 September, is running smoothly and in a good co-operative spirit. As he will know, we consulted carefully and at great length about this with both UKIAS and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

There is no guarantee that any individual case will be referred to UKIAS, but it is expected that referral will be the norm. So far, only a handful of cases have been referred to me, as the Minister involved, where UKIAS and our immigration service have not been able to agree on the appropriate treatment of the refugee applicant. So far, that is working well. I hope that the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott), who raised that matter with me, will take comfort from that answer.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury raised the difficult question of receiving representations only from constituency Members. We should not have hard and fast rules about that.

Mr. Bernie Grant

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Renton

I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman.

When my right hon. and learned Friend the Patronage Secretary introduced his guidelines, there were no hard and fast rules on the subject. If my right hon. Friend reads the new draft carefully, he will see that there are no hard and fast rules now, but it is a difficult matter. He will realise that a constituency Member finds it extremely irritating to discover that another Member has taken up a case involving one of his constituents in which he has declined to intervene because he did not think the case was good enough, after having looked into it and discussed it with the immigration service.

Mr. Grant

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Renton

No. I have told the hon. Gentleman that I will not give way.

The constituency Member finds that another hon. Member has taken up the case, is in touch with my private office and is requesting that the removal be deferred. We shall continue to operate tactfully and carefully in this matter.

The hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) raised a difficult point, which worries many people, about delays in immigration service interviews. Priority is given to entry clearance interviews, but some delays may occur during peak periods. With improved working procedures, we are trying to shorten those delays.

We heard nothing tonight from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about what he would do to improve immigration procedures. However, that is typical of his attitude to those problems —all words, all opposition and no constructive suggestions.

Meanwhile, we will continue to improve procedures at Lunar house and services to Members of Parliament. That is why I recommend the draft guidelines to the House.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 240, Noes 165.

Division No. 486] [7 pm
Adley, Robert Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Aitken, Jonathan Batiste, Spencer
Alexander, Richard Beaumont-Dark, Anthony
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bellingham, Henry
Allason, Rupert Bendall, Vivian
Amess, David Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Amos, Alan Benyon, W.
Arbuthnot, James Bevan, David Gilroy
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Ashby, David Body, Sir Richard
Atkins, Robert Boscawen, Hon Robert
Atkinson, David Boswell, Tim
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Bottomley, Peter
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Baldry, Tony Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Bowis, John Kirkhope, Timothy
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Knapman, Roger
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Bright, Graham Knowles, Michael
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Knox, David
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Lawrence, Ivan
Buck, Sir Antony Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Budgen, Nicholas Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Burns, Simon Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Butler, Chris Lilley, Peter
Butterfill, John Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Carrington, Matthew Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Carttiss, Michael Lord, Michael
Cash, William Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Chope, Christopher McCrindle, Robert
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Colvin, Michael MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Maclean, David
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) McLoughlin, Patrick
Cope, Rt Hon John McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Cran, James McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Critchley, Julian Malins, Humfrey
Currie, Mrs Edwina Mans, Keith
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Maples, John
Day, Stephen Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Devlin, Tim Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Dickens, Geoffrey Maude, Hon Francis
Dorrell, Stephen Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Meyer, Sir Anthony
Dover, Den Mills, Iain
Durant, Tony Miscampbell, Norman
Dykes, Hugh Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Emery, Sir Peter Monro, Sir Hector
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Evennett, David Moore, Rt Hon John
Fallon, Michael Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Favell, Tony Morrison, Sir Charles
Fenner, Dame Peggy Moss, Malcolm
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Mudd, David
Fishburn, John Dudley Nelson, Anthony
Fookes, Miss Janet Neubert, Michael
Forman, Nigel Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Forth, Eric Nicholls, Patrick
Fox, Sir Marcus Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Franks, Cecil Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Freeman, Roger Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
French, Douglas Page, Richard
Fry, Peter Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Gale, Roger Patnick, Irvine
Gardiner, George Patten, Chris (Bath)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Patten, John (Oxford W)
Gill, Christopher Pawsey, James
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Glyn, Dr Alan Porter, David (Waveney)
Goodhart, Sir Philip Portillo, Michael
Goodlad, Alastair Powell, William (Corby)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Price, Sir David
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Raffan, Keith
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Gregory, Conal Redwood, John
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Renton, Tim
Hanley, Jeremy Riddick, Graham
Hannam, John Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Harris, David Roe, Mrs Marion
Heathcoat-Amory, David Rowe, Andrew
Heddle, John Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Sackville, Hon Tom
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Hind, Kenneth Shaw, David (Dover)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Irvine, Michael Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Jack, Michael Shersby, Michael
Janman, Tim Sims, Roger
Kilfedder, James Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Twinn, Dr Ian
Speller, Tony Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Viggers, Peter
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Squire, Robin Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Stanbrook, Ivor Walden, George
Stanley, Rt Hon John Waller, Gary
Steen, Anthony Walters, Sir Dennis
Stern, Michael Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Stevens, Lewis Warren, Kenneth
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Watts, John
Sumberg, David Wells, Bowen
Summerson, Hugo Wheeler, John
Tapsell, Sir Peter Whitney, Ray
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Widdecombe, Ann
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Wiggin, Jerry
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Wilshire, David
Temple-Morris, Peter Winterton, Mrs Ann
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley) Winterton, Nicholas
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Wood, Timothy
Thornton, Malcolm Woodcock, Mike
Thurnham, Peter Yeo, Tim
Townend, John (Bridlington) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Tracey, Richard
Tredinnick, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Trippier, David Mr. Alan Howarth and
Trotter, Neville Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.
Abbott, Ms Diane Clay, Bob
Allen, Graham Clelland, David
Alton, David Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Anderson, Donald Cohen, Harry
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Armstrong, Hilary Corbett, Robin
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Cox, Tom
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Crowther, Stan
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Cryer, Bob
Barron, Kevin Cummings, John
Battle, John Cunliffe, Lawrence
Beckett, Margaret Cunningham, Dr John
Beith, A. J. Darling, Alistair
Bell, Stuart Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)
Bermingham, Gerald Dixon, Don
Bidwell, Sydney Doran, Frank
Blair, Tony Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Blunkett, David Eastham, Ken
Boateng, Paul Fatchett, Derek
Boyes, Roland Faulds, Andrew
Bradley, Keith Fearn, Ronald
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Buchan, Norman Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Buckley, George J. Fisher, Mark
Caborn, Richard Flannery, Martin
Callaghan, Jim Flynn, Paul
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Foster, Derek
Clark. Dr David (S Shields) Fraser, John
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Mowlam, Marjorie
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Mullin, Chris
Golding, Mrs Llin Murphy, Paul
Gordon, Mildred Nellist, Dave
Gould, Bryan O'Brien, William
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Patchett, Terry
Grocott, Bruce Pendry, Tom
Hardy, Peter Pike, Peter L.
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Haynes, Frank Prescott, John
Heffer, Eric S. Primarolo, Dawn
Hinchliffe, David Quin, Ms Joyce
Holland, Stuart Radice, Giles
Home Robertson, John Redmond, Martin
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Richardson, Jo
Howells, Geraint Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hoyle, Doug Robinson, Geoffrey
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Rogers, Allan
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Rooker, Jeff
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Ruddock, Joan
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Sedgemore, Brian
Illsley, Eric Sheerman, Barry
Janner, Greville Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
John, Brynmor Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Johnston, Sir Russell Short, Clare
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Skinner, Dennis
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Lamond, James Snape, Peter
Leadbitter, Ted Spearing, Nigel
Leighton, Ron Steinberg, Gerry
Lewis, Terry Stott, Roger
Litherland, Robert Straw, Jack
Livingstone, Ken Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Livsey, Richard Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Turner, Dennis
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Vaz, Keith
Loyden, Eddie Wall, Pat
McCartney, Ian Walley, Joan
Madden, Max Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Marek, Dr John Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Meacher, Michael Winnick, David
Meale, Alan Wise, Mrs Audrey
Michael, Alun Worthington, Tony
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Morgan, Rhodri Tellers for the Noes:
Morley, Elliott Mr. Frank Cook and
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Mr. Robert N. Wareing.
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of the draft revised guidelines for handling Members' representations in immigration cases.