HC Deb 25 January 1990 vol 165 cc1037-9
4. Mr. Haynes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made towards a common visa regime within the European Economic Community after 1992; and if he will make a statement.

12. Mr. Ron Davies

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made towards a common visa regime within the European Economic Community after 1992; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peter Lloyd)

European Community immigration Ministers have agreed to a common list of countries whose nationals require a visa to enter a Community country, to the adoption of common questions to be put to applicants for short-stay visas and to exchange information about people to whom visas should not be issued. Those and other relevant developments are described in more detail in the immigration declaration, a copy of which is in the Library.

Mr. Haynes

Does the Minister agree that the refusal of visas for two teenagers to attend their murdered uncle's funeral was nothing short of disgraceful? Will the Minister tell me about the stupid question that they were asked—how many water buffalo their father had? I want to know what will happen in the future. The Government brag about compassion from the Dispatch Box. They should get off their backside and let us have some real action.

Mr. Lloyd

In the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred, the decision was reversed following further investigation, and the two were allowed into this country. The hon. Gentleman will agree that immigration officers have an extremely difficult task, which they set about with objectivity, honesty and fairness. The very fact that last year 3,000 overstayers and illegal immigrants had to be removed shows that a great many people seek to get by immigration officers dishonestly.

Mr. Ron Davies

Can the Minister really justify a visa system for people seeking asylum? Does he recall that when he deported two Tamils back to Sri Lanka, they were brutally tortured on their return? Does he not think that, in view of that, it would be far better to have an independent appeal system so that all applications can be considered objectively and independently?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman's last point does not match his first because an appeal system would come into play when an application had been processed and turned down. Visas have been introduced for quite a number of countries in the past few years but still the number of applications for asylum has increased. That suggests that the demand for visas has not prevented people from making asylum claims when they have grounds to do so.

Sir John Stokes

On visas and passports, can my hon. Friend explain why, when a Frenchman returns to his own country he goes through an exit marked "French passports" whereas when an Englishman returns to England he goes through an exit marked "EEC passports"? What has happened to the British passport?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend knows more than I do about the notices posted in French entry areas, but "EEC passports" naturally include British passports. British passports remain exactly what they were, as reliable as ever and just what my hon. Friend would like them to be.

Mr. John Greenway

I recognise that the free movement within the Community of European Community nationals is an important part of the single European market, but does not my hon. Friend agree that the combating of drug trafficking and terrorism is of far greater significance? Will he ensure that post-1992 we maintain proper controls against drug traffickers at our ports and airports so that the fight against drug trafficking—as evidenced by the recent seizures, for which the country and the House should be grateful to the police and Customs and Excise officials for their work—can continue?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is essential that we should retain our own frontier checks to ensure that we exclude terrorists, drug pushers and illegal immigrants. We intend that that will be done after 1992. Our colleagues in the EEC understand, appreciate and, I believe, support our determination.

Mr. Darling

Does the Minister accept that there is a need to review our procedures before 1992? In that connection, can he tell us why the Government decided to pay compensation to three Kurdish refugees who alleged ill-treatment at the hands of immigration officers when they sought asylum in this country? Will he set up a full independent inquiry, and does he accept that there is now a need for an independent watchdog to look at the immigration service in the light of the growing number of abuses and also in the light of the fact that the amount of information-swapping between European countries is now growing and is beginning to get out of control?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's contention. I do not believe that there is a growing number of abuses. We have certainly accepted that in four of the cases under judicial review the original decision should be set aside, but as these are still part of the judicial process, I think that it would be wrong for me to comment further now. If there is anything more to be added at the end of the process, we shall certainly say so.

Miss Emma Nicholson

I thank the Minister for his Department's careful scrutiny and subsequent lifting of two deportation orders on prisoners in Dartmoor—one on grounds of political persecution and the other on personal grounds. Will he confirm that the current system, which is very fair and good, will remain?

Mr. Lloyd

I can confirm that to my hon. Friend. The system works both ways. We hear only when people complain about the results, but there are many applications which, after careful inquiry, we can concede, and we are very happy to do so.