HL Deb 14 November 1979 vol 402 cc1266-79

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"I am today publishing a White Paper setting out the Government's proposals for revising the Immigration Rules. The Immigration Act 1971 requires the Home Secretary to lay before Parliament a statement of any changes in the Immigration Rules, and the statement may be disapproved by a Resolution of either House. My purpose in publishing our proposals as a White Paper is to enable them to be debated before I lay that statement of the new rules. The White Paper is the result of a comprehensive review. The new rules will be clearer, easier to operate and firmer in a number of critical areas.

"We shall end the automatic rights of entry of the husband or fiancé of a woman settled in this country. But it is not my intention to keep out the husband or fiancé of a woman who was born in the United Kingdom and whose marriage is not contracted for immigration purposes. The object of the new rules is to prevent the exploitation of marriage as an instrument of primary immigration. We cannot permit that to continue. I have not overlooked the fact that some girls will have been born abroad because their parents happened to be out of the country (for example, in Crown service or business) at the time of their birth. It is my intention to consider such cases sympathetically for favourable treatment outside the rules.

"We undertook to end the practice of allowing permanent settlement for those who come here for a temporary stay. The new rules will provide that visitors and students will not be able to remain for another temporary purpose if this carries with it the prospect of eventual settlement. Visitors will be prohibited from taking employment. People who wish to set up in business or stay here as self-employed persons or as persons of independent means will have to meet stricter requirements and will need first to obtain entry clearance.

"We undertook to limit the entry of parents, grandparents and children over 18 to a small number of urgent compassionate cases. Children aged 18 or over will qualify for settlement only where the circumstances are of the most strongly compassionate nature, though special consideration will be given to daughters under 21 who formed part of the family unit overseas and have no other relative to whom they can turn. Parents and grandparents aged 65 or over and widowed mothers already have to show that they are wholly or mainly dependent on children in this country who can support and accommodate them. In future they will also have to show that they are without other relatives in their own country to whom they can turn and that they have a standard of living substantially below that of their own country. Parents and grandparents under 65 will not qualify for entry, save in the most exceptional compassionate circumstances.

"We also said we would severely restrict the issue of work permits. This is not a matter for the Immigration Rules, but my honourable and learned friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment is answering a Written Question on the subject today.

"The White Paper explains that the Government will consider on the basis of the present rules all applications made before today.

"The other changes in the White Paper are the result of the comprehensive review which I have mentioned. Obscurities have been cleared up, anomalies have been removed, and the scope for abuse and evasion of the control has been reduced.

"The Government believe that firm immigration control is essential in order to achieve good community relations. The new rules will not affect our commitment to certain United Kingdom passport holders being admitted under the special voucher scheme, nor to men lawfully settled here who wish to be joined by their wives and young children. We shall continue to welcome the genuine visitor and the genuine student. What we are determined to do is to deal strictly with those who seek to evade or manipulate the control."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.42 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for repeating the Statement. There are one or two comments that I should like to make. First, quite early on in the Statement, he says, in effect, that the White Paper gives the details of all the proposed controls and that he will enable them to be debated before the new rules are laid. I hope that the noble Lord when replying will give us an assurance that time will be given for debate on those rules to take place in this House as well as in another place.

A year ago the present Prime Minister spoke about the country being swamped with immigrants. It was not true then and we said so; and it is not true today. At the election the Conservatives said three things. First, that they would maintain a register—that seems to have been dropped. They said that they would establish a quota—that seems to have gone by the board. They said that there would be restrictions on husbands and fiancés—half of that appears to have been dropped because the only restrictions left are those which affect Asian women. At one stage it would seem that the argument was about numbers and now, when we come down to it, it is about the abuse of the regulations.

I remind the noble Lord that in 1977 we introduced measures to deal with marriages of convenience, and for the most part they seem to have worked. So two and a half out of the three election proposals have now been dropped and I contend that what we are left with is both racist and reactionary. The attack is on an arranged marriage system. I contend that it is not for Governments to attack minority cultures. The practice will change with time, but such a practice must change at the pace which can be set by the ethnic minorities themselves and not by regulations of Governments.

Before we have the proposed debate we need more facts. For example, prior to the election we held an inquiry into overstaying. I believe that the results of that inquiry showed that it was not the coloured people who were overstaying. Will the Government now publish the results of that inquiry and will they make those facts available to both Houses? I believe that the major primary immigration is over, and has been for some time.

As regards the other proposed changes, what of the children who have been left behind to go to university or to look after elderly grandparents and who will now no longer be able to join their families? Many of them will be entirely alone. What about the parents and the grandparents who cannot join their children? It is inhuman to try to prevent a family from looking after its elderly people. That is entirely lacking in compassion. It will make little difference to the total number of black people in Britain, but it will cause the utmost pain to the families affected. I contend that it is being done solely to satisfy racial prejudice.

The Statement says that the new rules will be applied from today. Is that so, my Lords?—before either House has debated the proposals or the rules have been laid? Does that statement tie up with paragraph 13 of the White Paper which seems to imply something slightly different? The developing countries have moved towards equal treatment on nationality law for the men and women citizens of their countries. Now we are creating three categories of citizenship: men and women born in Britain and women who were born overseas. The White Paper begins by saying that: Immigration officers will carry out their duties without regard to the race, colour or religion of the people seeking to enter the United Kingdom". That is as may be, but our contention is that these proposals are sex discriminatory and are quite unworthy of a British Government.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord about three matters. As regards refugees, is he aware that, in two of the places where they are referred to, only the convention and not the protocol is mentioned and therefore they are technically deficient? Moreover, is he aware that the immigration officer is given a very wide discretion as to when he should refer applications for refugee status to the Home Office; that the immigration officer is not instructed to inform the passenger of his right to contact the United Nations High Commissioner or the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service; that there is no objective machinery for determining claims to refugee status; and that, as regards all those matters, the requests made by the UNHCR representative here have not been satisfied?

As regards parents and grandparents, is he aware that very few are permitted to enter under the existing rules, that they are not even separately distinguished in the statistics, and that the few parents and grandparents who will be denied entry as a result of the harsher provisions now contained in these draft proposals will be caused very serious hardship? It is incompatible with the Tory Party's claim to be the party of the family to deny entry to those few parents and grandparents and children between 18 and 21.

If it is the intention of the Home Secretary invariably to use his discretion to admit, outside the rules, the husband of a United Kingdom citizen—a woman herself born outside the United Kingdom, although the child of a United Kingdom-born citizen—why could that not have been embodied in the rules themselves? Is he aware that the provisions regarding husbands are retroactive, in that they apply to the husbands of women who were not born in the United Kingdom, although they have hitherto had that right up to the time that these rules were published?

How could the Minister claim, as he did in answer to the Question that I put to him on 7th November, that the number of husbands entering Britain under the previous rules, is evidence of abuse when, if one looks at the immigration statistics themselves, in each of the last six years the number of wives entering the United Kingdom has exceeded the number of husbands?

Finally, these changes will not satisfy the commitment in the Tory Manifesto to an immediate and substantial reduction in net immigration. But it will have the effect of causing grave hardship and anxiety to a few families, and of undermining community relations by creating needless anxieties among the ethnic minorities.


My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, have asked me a series of questions which persuades me—indeed, that is the intention, as indicated in the Statement—that some further discussion in your Lordships' House would be desirable. Of course, this would be arranged through the usual channels. I say to the noble Baroness that this has nothing to do with attacking minority cultures. About three-quarters of an hour ago I specifically gave an assurance on this point to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. I shall certainly look into the question asked by the noble Baroness about the project within the Home Office on "over-stayers".

I come to the points which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised with me about refugees. In order to get the matter straight I shall say this to the noble Lord. The paragraphs with regard to those claiming refugee status under the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees and its 1967 protocol, and to those seeking asylum in the United Kingdom, are being revised to make it clear that a refugee or an asylum claim has precedence over other parts of the rules, and that where such an application is well-founded the person is not to be removed to the country in which he has a well-founded fear of persecution. This is already our practice, but the drafting of the current provision of the rules has been criticised, and we want to make it clear. I am very pleased that I have this opportunity to make the point absolutely clear.

At this stage it might be the wish of the House that I do not burden your Lordships with any other remarks, except on one matter. Several times this afternoon I have been asked for statistics. The statistics show something without a peradventure. It is that after long and earnest consideration by political parties on both sides of the House; after one Home Secretary, in the shape of the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Callaghan, in 1969 had brought down a bar on many forms of immigration; after deep thought in 1974 and debate in your Lordships' House in which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, warned your Lordships of the dangers of a wave of immigration if something was not done about the particular problem of husbands and fiancés; after the Home Secretary of the day, Mr. Roy Jenkins, took the view that he would make a concession in this matter, and bearing in mind the fact that clearly this is a very difficult problem, it is absolutely certain that the numbers of both husbands and wives coming into this country have enormously increased, and increased in particular from the Indian sub-continent.

It is for that reason, and because we are certain that many of these partnerships are arranged to the detriment of girls living in this country, that we felt it right to make the Statement to your Lordships today.


My Lords, I welcome the Statement which my noble friend has just made and congratulate him on its detail. It is a fairly balanced solution to what undoubtedly is a complicated question. Over the past 15 years in this House we have had many discussions on immigration. At times the discussion has centred on the matters which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, so often raises, and which have been effectively dealt with in the Statement. But over the years there have certainly been anxieties on this side of the House and I think on the Cross-Benches about the whole question of immigration. Admittedly it is a very sensitive matter which has habitually raised great emotions. I ask my noble friend to bear in mind, and to reassure his right honourable friend the Home Secretary, that there remains in this country widespread anxiety that, under the guise of emotion such as we have heard today and at other times, increases in immigration may occur. There is undoubtedly great anxiety that the scale on which immigration has occurred in this country in the last 15 years has imperilled the rights and privileges of native citizens. This has manifested itself in housing, health and education. It is on those grounds that I hope my noble friend will remind his right honourable friend of the strength of feeling there is that emotion may cause an excess and a bending of the rules of immigration.


My Lords, I recognise that the Government are committed to equality between the sexes, although that might not go down very well with the noble Lord, Lord Barnby. Perhaps he does not even believe in equality between the sexes. Will the Government consider changing the legislation, because that is what will be necessary—not changing the rules—so that the right of British men born overseas to marry and to settle in Britain with foreign wives is taken away from British men? I ask this question bearing in mind the equality between the sexes which the Government are supposed to support.


My Lords—


My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but it is usual on these matters, after the two initial statements, for each question to be answered separately. If my noble friend can do that and then turn to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, it will be easier for the House.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Barnby for his intervention. In essence, my noble friend was saying something which was in the manifesto of his political party and mine at the last election—at least, I think it was in the manifesto—namely, that firm immigration policy leads to good race relations. I believe that that is right and I know that that is what my noble friend believes.

In answer to the noble Baroness, no, we are not at present, as I made clear when I answered Questions earlier this afternoon, considering the introduction of a nationality Bill, not because it is something that we do not want—indeed, we do and I believe that there is common ground on this—but because I am afraid I must say to the House that we are simply not ready to introduce that particular legislation at present.


My Lords, in answer to a supplementary question from me last week, I understood the noble Lord to admit that there was some dichotomy within the Conservative Party manifesto at the election. If he has read beyond what he has just quoted, he will find that the Conservative Party put itself forward as a party which was going to control immigration in the interests of better community relations in this country, but it then went on to insist that the rights of all British citizens today should be equal. Does this White Paper not contradict that pledge? Is it, therefore, not the case that the Government are introducing legislation which is completely opposed to the mandate on which they were elected?


My Lords, it is a great pleasure to answer questions from the noble Lord. He asks me the same questions from week to week and I give him the same answers. The answer to the noble Lord is, no. I give that answer because we made it clear in our manifesto that we believe that a firm immigration policy is the necessary precursor to good race relations. We also made it quite plain in our election manifesto that we would change the rules governing the entry of husbands and male finacés in order to deal with the exploitation of marriage as a means of primary immigration of men for work. I must say that I cannot think of a practice which is more likely to lead to worsened race relations. That is why I have no hesitation at all in following my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and making this Statement to your Lordships today.


My Lords, the noble Lord and all Members of your Lordships' House will know that I do not agree that firm immigration controls in fact are an aid to good race relations. You have often heard me say hat they do the direct opposite. How ever, that is not my reason for rising. My reason for rising is to ask the noble Lord to beg his right honourable friend to look at this again. With regard to the statistics he is quoting, there is evidence that in fact there are more wives coming than husbands, which merely indicates that people want to marry in that particular way. What he is in fact doing is to penalise people who have obeyed the law because certain people are breaking the law.

Would it not be better for his right honourable friend to look for a tighter way of making sure that there is not evasion, rather than this blanket refusal to allow people to exercise a right they already have? The analogy to what he is doing would be if my noble friend Lord Sainsbury were to close his supermarkets in order to stop shoplifting. This is the analogy to what is being done. Will the noble Lord ask his right honourable friend to look at this matter much more seriously, because all that is happening as a consequence is that there will be more unpleasantness—and we have too much already.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the way in which he has put his question. I must say that in the time that I have been in your Lordships' House together with the noble Lord I have learned to listen carefully to what he says. Certainly I shall draw the attention of my right honourable friend to what the noble Lord has said. That is not just a form of words. Deliberately these proposals, which are of course much wider than the specific point about the entry of husbands and fiancés, have been put to Parliament in the form of a White Paper so that it would be possible for both Houses of Parliament, if the Members of both Houses wish to do so, to debate these matters before the order for the rules is actually laid.

I should add that from time to time I get the opportunity to see individual cases, and there is no doubt in my mind that the exploitation of immigration control in the way we have been talking about in the last few minutes does in fact occur. If one attaches that to the statistics concerning the increase in husbands and fiancés one can only be led to the conclusion that exploitation is occurring more and more. I would just say to your Lordships that if this is the case and it is not ended, then it brings into disrepute the system of an arranged marriage arranged within the country not for the purpose of primary immigration, and that is yet another reason why I believe it has been right to make this Statement today.


My Lords, may I ask two short questions. First, has consideration been given to the question whether the new rules are in compliance with the provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights, and in particular Articles 8, 12 and 14? I do not expect the noble Lord to have those immediately in his mind. Perhaps we can be informed in due course whether that question has been examined and what conclusion has been reached, because I greatly fear that the Government and this country may be in grave difficulty under the terms of the convention.

Secondly, in relation to girls who will have been born abroad because their parents happen to have been out of the country and for whom consideration should be given, the Statement says: It is my intention to consider such cases sympathetically for favourable treatment outside the Rules". Does that mean that in any given case a wide discretion will be given to the Minister whether to apply the rules or not? Is this a customary way of dealing with rules? Should there not be an attempt at any rate to spell out in the rules the exceptions that are contemplated? Otherwise the purpose of having rules at all seems to be minimal.


My Lords, if I may reply to the first question which the noble and learned Lord has put to me, consideration has been given by my right honourable friend as to whether the changes proposed in this White Paper are consonant with the provisions of the European Convention, particularly the articles that the noble and learned Lord mentioned. My right honourable friend believes that the Government have a perfectly respectable argument for doing what we are proposing. The answer to the noble and learned Lord's first question, therefore, is, Yes, we have taken this seriously into account.

So far as the second point is concerned, if I may say so, the noble and learned Lord has, with his customary accuracy, hit the nail on the head. The matter which he raises is something which has concerned my right honourable friend in trying to decide how to present the White Paper to your Lordships' House, as to whether or not the exceptions outside the rules for girls born abroad could be framed in the White Paper. It is true that at the moment we simply refer to exceptions and give an indication of the sort of exceptions the Home Secretary would have in mind. Your Lordships might like to go into this in more detail if the House comes to debate these matters further.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, in the light of the Statement, may I ask whether the Minister is going to advise British women who are abroad, that if they become pregnant they had better come back for their confinement.?


My Lords, there is not the slightest need to do anything of the sort, precisely because the White Paper refers to the discretion of the Home Secretary.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may first declare an interest, and secondly therefore seek the approval of the House to put a further question to the Minister. It seems, in looking at paragraph 50 of the White Paper, that even British women born here are going to have no automatic right to bring a spouse into this country. What they have is the right to seek permission to do so.

They have a number of obstacles to overcome. In the first place, they will have to establish that they were born in this country. Having established that they were born in the country, then there may be a clearance permit issued for their spouse, or their fiancé, to enter the country. It is only "may", it is not automatic. One has to look at the three clauses contained in paragraph 50. Therefore it seems that not only are British women who were born abroad going to have great difficulty in coming back into the country with their spouses, and it will be dependent on the Home Secretary's discretion; it also seems as though the Home Secretary is going to have to exercise discretion in relation to those British women who are born here in this country.

May I link this with the provisions in relation to EEC citizens. A woman, a member of certainly those EEC countries—and there are a number of them—which provide equal rights for citizenship to men and women, such as France, Italy, Germany and Denmark, would be able to marry outside the EEC. Would the Minister confirm that they would then be able to bring into this country a spouse from South-East Asia or from any other part of the world, and that that would place them at a very great advantage compared to British women?


My Lords, I appreciate the concern which the noble Baroness, as chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, has about this aspect of the White Paper but, if she will forgive me saying so, I think she is disregarding the reason why paragraph 50 appears in the White Paper. It appears there because the Government believe, and I think many of your Lordships would agree, that we are entitled in this country to take steps to prevent primary immigration through marriages which are arranged for that purpose and for that purpose only.

Regarding the noble Baroness's question about the EEC, it is technically correct to say that a woman who is an EEC national, if I may put it that way, and who comes here to work, may bring her husband and dependants with her. But there is no evidence to show that many are seeking to do that, and, when such women are wanting to do it, those marriages are not being used for the purpose of primary immigration. Therefore although there appears to be a contradiction between the effects so far as EEC nationals are concerned and the effects so far as other men and women are concerned, it is only an appearance; the fact of the matter is that those EEC cases have nothing to do with using marriage for the purpose of primary immigration.


My Lords, one point which the Minister—-


My Lords, it is of course for the House to decide, but noble Lords may feel that, having spent 33 minutes on this subject and having a long list of speakers wishing to take part in today's debate, we might leave this matter until we come to debate it later on.