§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Lord A vebury rose to move, That the Statement of change in Immigration Rules presented to the House on 8th October (Cmnd. 9914) be disapproved.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, at the outset of the debate I want to address an appeal to the noble Lord who is to reply not to repeat the allegation which has been made by the Tories on so many occasions when immigration has been under discussion that we on these Benches are against all immigration controls or that we favour much laxer controls than we have. The Minister repeated that insinuation on the last occasion that we talked about visas.
§ My party is in favour of controls which are effective but non-racist either in substance or in effect, while the Tory Party is content to open the door to millions of 1109 so-called patrials and allow them to reside here indefinitely, without restrictions on employment. If we had a genuine non-racist immigration policy we should not continue to allow Commonwealth citizens with one British grandparent to come here freely and to take jobs. Apart from EC citizens looking for work, the remaining quota voucher-holders, close relatives of persons who are already settled here, including spouses, and refugees who come here from places where they may he imprisoned without trial, tortured or even murdered, we say that no further settlers should he admitted to this country.
§ As the Minister knows, we are not talking about that subject today. We are discussing only people who are entering for a limited period, mainly as visitors or students. It was grossly misleading to refer to those categories of person as "immigrants". as the Tory-controlled press and ITN did.
§ We are talking about visitors from the five countries where a visa requirement has been imposed—India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ghana and Nigeria. We are not talking about persons who come from those countries to settle but about those who come as short-term visitors. Because those were countries from which many people came to settle when there were no controls on migration within the Commonwealth (of which Pakistan was at that time still a member), there are now many visitors from those countries coming to see their friends and relatives in the United Kingdom, as one might expect. The build-up of numbers is a function of the population in Britain of families originating in those countries and also, I suggest, of their purchasing power, since those people resident here frequently pay the fares of their visitors at this end. There is nothing peculiar or sinister about the increase. Even according to the Governments' own statistics, fewer than 2 per cent. of the 450,000 visitors from the five countries were refused admission during 1985.
§ While there was this increase in the number of visitors coming here, there was, I understand, no increase in the number of' immigration officers to parallel the number of arrivals. I am informed that between mid-1984 and the end of 1985 only one additional officer was appointed at Heathrow Terminal 3, the busiest terminal for inter-continental flights. Some additional staff were in place during 1986. According to the Minister in another place, there were between 12 and 20 more up to the middle of October, although he did not say from what previous time that increase had taken place. Certainly, however, it was not pro rata to the number of passengers. We have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on the extension of Heathrow but there has been no commensurate increase in staff or accommodation for the secondary examination of passengers when a query has arisen at the front desk.
§ The Home Affairs Select Committee made strong criticism of the facilities for secondary examination and detention at Heathrow in its 1985 report on the immigration and nationality department. In particular, the report singled out the Queen's Building as grossly inadequate. The Home Office promised to close it, but has not done so. Thus, the Home Office, knowing that there was a large and continuing increase 1110 in the number of visitors, failed to make provision for their examination by neglecting to recruit the immigration officers or to ensure that they had space in which to work. In this way the scene was set for the imposition of visas, which could be presented as a response to the intolerable pressure of numbers on a system that was unable to cope with them.
§ Let us see what the figures published so far show about visitors arriving up to the end of May 1986. That is as far as we can go. By far the largest number of visitors, as usual, came from India. Again. I hope that the Minister agrees that one would expect India, as the origin of the largest number of settlers, to show the largest number of visitors. Your Lordships may be surprised to learn that for the first five months of this year the number of passengers from India was up only 4.8 per cent. on the corresponding period of 1985. For Pakistan, the increase was a mere 3.4 per cent. Bangladesh, admittedly, showed a big rise of just over one-fifth. However, many fewer passengers originate in Bangladesh; those people accounted for only just over 2 per cent. of the five countries.
§ Of the two African countries, Ghana showed a modest increase of 6.8 per cent. while Nigeria, alone among the countries in the announcement still not to have had visas imposed, showed a marked increase of over 40 per cent. If the case relies on showing that the number of visitors was increasing unexpectedly, Nigeria is. I suppose, about the only country that might have justified it. There were, however, specific reasons for the growth of traffic, including the artificial exchange rate of the Naira, so that holidays in Britain appear very cheap to Nigerian tourists if they are able to obtain sterling.
§ However, the Home Secretary has added another argument. Not only is the number of visitors increasing but also the rate of refusals, although he emphasises that no recent amendments have been made to the instructions to immigration officers. That proves, according to him, that evasion is on the increase, because the alternative that stricter controls are being applied at the port of entry without any variation in the instructions is unthinkable. He goes so far as to say that the onus of proof is on those who prefer the hypothesis about the way that the tests are applied at ports of entry.
§ If one prefers the evasion hypothesis, one has to explain why there has been a sudden and substantial rise in bogus visitors from these five countries, with their widely varying political and social environments, between 1985 and 1986. If one takes India, there was a 62.5 per cent. increase in the number of refusals in the first five months of 1986 compared to the same period of 1985, with hardly any increase in the number of passengers. Over the Indian sub-continent as a whole, there was a 5 per cent. increase in the number of passengers and a 53.4 per cent. increase in the number of refusals. For the two African countries, a 36.2 per cent. rise in passengers may be compared to an 81.4 per cent. rise in refusals.
§ Are we to take seriously the proposition that, for reasons completely unknown, there was a simultaneous and marked increase in the propensity to evade our immigration controls among the people of these five different countries starting at the beginning of 1111 1986? That is the only way of accounting for the figures if one excludes greater strictness of interpretation of the guidelines at ports of entry. This is apparently what the Home Secretary wants us to believe.
§ It would be interesting to know what has happened to the refusal rate in respect of other Commonwealth countries. My impression is that a steep increase has occurred recently for citizens of, for example, Sierra Leone, Mauritius and Australia on which visas have not been imposed. If so, do the Government say that the conspiracy to evade our immigration controls extends to those countries, and at what point are they, too, going to be made subject to visas? Another indication of greater strictness is that on Monday this week there were no fewer than 54 people who had visas or entry certificates awaiting the outcome of appeals against refusal at Heathrow and Gatwick.
§ Again, the number of people in detention following refusal is just as great as it ever was. Today, I am told, there are 75 persons in Harmondsworth, which is full to capacity; 13 or 14 in Harmondsworth annexe, 65 in Blantyre House at Goudhurst, Kent and 30 in Stoke House, Devizes. Far from the imposition of visas and the resulting slowdown to a trickle of persons coming without authority from the five countries solving the problem of congestion of the machinery at Heathrow, there are still long queues there. There are still many people being referred for secondary examination and having to be detained for shorter or longer periods in places far afield, and no longer just at Harmondsworth, as they were only 18 months ago. There has been a big change in the last 18 months that is not limited to the five countries we are discussing today.
§ The only evidence of the evasion hypothesis given so far is the story told by the Home Secretary about a group of Bangladeshi entertainers granted leave to enter for a visit on the representations of an MP, some of whom then proceeded to overstay. Obviousy, in any system of control applying to half a million people a year, there will be some who evade the regulations and remain after their permitted time. But there is no evidence to show that people granted entry as visitors seek to remain in significant numbers. If they did so, sooner or later their history would come to light. Indeed, from time to time, an overstayer who has been in the United Kingdom for many years will come forward and seek to regularise his status. There have been cases also where the police and the immigration service have apprehended a number of overstayers at their place of work—an operation facilitated' by their concentration in low wage occupations such as catering and retail grocery.
It is not true, as frequently stated by Ministers, that we rely only on controls at ports of entry. There are checks at various points in the system such as when a person seeks employment, when he enters the social security system and when he wishes access to medical services. There are also small numbers of people arrested for some other offence who are then identified by the police as overstayers. Yet, in spite of all these checks and the vigilance of the immigration service, with its specialised intelligence unit and million pound computer systems, the Home Office itself says,
It is impossible to draw any conclusions from the figures about the extent of overstaying by a particular nationality in relation to any other.".
§ Where we do have positive evidence is in relation to passengers refused entry but then granted temporary admission on the representation of a Member of either House. In 1985, 8,500 passengers were granted temporary admission but only 338 did not leave at the end of the period granted, 220 of them from the five visa countries. In the first six months of 1986, according to the Home Secretary, there were said to have been 250 so-called absconders. But we know from the evidence of a Member in another place in the debate last week that one of those persons included in the figure had left Britain voluntarily before the expiry of his temporary leave to enter and, as anyone who does casework will confirm, this is fairly common. It is also fairly common for passengers to appear late when summoned for interview or for removal. I believe that they are also included in these statistics of so-called absconders.
§ The other day I had a case where a passenger was told to report on a Sunday for interview. He turned up on the Monday because of a misunderstanding which was caused by his representatives. The representative admitted this in a telephone call to the chief immigration officer, but the passenger was nevertheless detained and my application for him to be granted temporary admission was refused. He was no doubt counted as one of the 250 absconders in the Home Secretary's figures. However, my experience of asking for temporary admission generally has invariably been that the passengers do leave, as I am sure Mr. Waddington would confirm.
§ I have some anecdotal evidence myself of a tougher attitude by the immigration authorities on temporary admissions which bears out the argument that higher refusal rates were the result of subjective changes in the perception by the officers of travelers bona fides In several cases recently the immigration authorities have refused to grant temporary admission although I am sure that they would have done so in similar cases in the past. I have been told of cases where a person has been travelling at regular intervals to the United Kingdom and has never had any problems at the port of entry. Yet, for the first time this year, when there has been no change whatsoever in the passenger's circumstances, he or she has been stopped at Heathrow or Gatwick.
§ The reasons that passengers come under suspicion appear to fall into a standard set of rules. If the passenger is young, male and single he is deemed likely to be coming here to meet a potential marriage partner. The Immigration Rules say that the parties to a marriage must have met, so that where a marriage has been arranged, or is being arranged, between say, a woman in Britain and a man in India, then either the girl has to go to India or the man has to come here as a visitor. Since the girl would have to be escorted it is cheaper and simpler for the man to come here. But if, when he arrives at the airport, he omits to say that his visit is for the purpose of meeting a girl to whom he may later wish to get married, he would be failing to disclose material facts and this would rule him out as a visitor. It is the suspicion that this is the reason that the young, single men come here which causes the 1113 immigration officers in large part to refuse them entry, although there is nothing wrong with coming here in order to meet a potential marriage partner. That is not prohibited within the rules. If in addition the young man is unemployed or self employed on family land, he is then treated as having an economic incentive to break the rules and to seek to remain.
§ None of this needs to be made explicit, however, unless the passenger appeals from his country of origin against the refusal. Of course he seldom does so because of the difficulty of presenting a case from many thousands of miles away. However, the fact that many of the appeals that are lodged are successful, in spite of all the odds against the appellant, should be noted carefully. The immigration service is not infallible and many of the 6,000 passengers from the five visa countries who were refused entry in the first six months of this year were undoubtedly genuine visitors.
§ On one matter, however, I agree with the Minister—having discussed it with him frequently, both in person and in writing; that is, that a system which relies so heavily on the representation of Members and which places huge burdens on the Minister and his office, is profoundly unsatisfactory. It seems that if the passenger or his sponsor is unable to get hold of the Member he may be sent back on the next plane. That means also that the length of stay of somebody who is granted temporary admission depends on the time that the Minister takes to reply to his correspondence. It means that although the passenger may be able to spend a few weeks at home with the relatives, he collects a refusal stamp on his passport which is bound to make future travelling much more difficult.
§ Nevertheless, to make this change in the right of representation of members without any previous discussion or examination of the implications, I think, is wrong and shows a lack of respect for Parliament. I believe that it will create some difficulties. I wish to give the Minister one example, and to ask him this question, of which I gave him very short notice. What happens in the case of persons who arrive here at an airport and claim the right of asylum as political refugees? Let us say that they are citizens of one of the five visa countries. They come here irregularly—as they must do if they are genuine political refugees, because they would not approach the British Consulate in the country of origin and ask to be given a visa formally if they knew they were under the threat of attack by the authorities in their own country. They therefore come here, for example, with false passports from some third country. They present themselves at the airport. They are identified as citizens of one of the five countries and they are automatically refused admission.
§ What happens then, when the Member of Parliament makes representations? Unfortunately the wording of the new rules regarding representations is obscure. Although the change comes into effect on Monday, Members in another place have told me they do not have the faintest idea how it will operate. I feel that unless it is clarified it will create a great deal of difficulty both in the offices of Members of another place and in the Minister's office.1114
§ I think that it is incumbent on us to make some alternative suggestions. What I had been advocating, with some agreement from the Minister, was that passengers who arrive without entry certificates to stay with relatives would normally be granted leave to enter for a limited period, but that they would not be given a right of appeal against refusal of an application for leave to vary or extend their stay. If this had been coupled with a system of overnight appeals—such as was advocated by the distinguished former Minister, Mr. Timothy Raison, in the debate in another place last week—I believe that the pressure would have been substanially eased. When a passenger asks for a stay of one or two months on arrival at Heathrow, the immigration officer had to bear in mind, until the visas were introduced, that if that person was not a genuine visitor then he could use the appeals system to extend that two months to six or more. While he never acquires a right to stay permanently he may at the end of that period have established himself so that he could continue to be here illegally for a long while.
§ The Minister was not altogether unsympathetic to that scheme but said that it would be unacceptable to the agencies acting on behalf of visitors. They would have been against any change that, as they saw it, deprived passengers of any rights of appeal. But a person arriving without an entry certificate had no right of appeal against refusal of leave to enter anyway. The most he could expect, if refused, is six or eight weeks on temporary admission waiting for the Minister's reply. The agencies argued that most people who arrive without ECs were given leave to enter and they would have lost their rights of appeal. But would that not have been preferable to the system that has now been adopted, where the whole examination process has been transferred to the countries of origin, and representations by Members eliminated in all but a handful of cases?
§ The result of conducting the examinations overseas and of the visa system as a whole will be to exclude a great many genuine visitors, to clog up the appeals system still further, and to increase public spending by £14 million a year. Severe hardship will be caused to hundreds of families whose reunions will have to be postponed or even cancelled for the sake of excluding the handful of evaders. Our relations with India in particular have been damaged and our Commonwealth links weakened. Encouragement has been given to extremists who were always conjuring up false visions of the black hordes threatening to descend on us from all over the world. Finally, at what is supposed to be the world's foremost airport, we presented a disgraceful spectacle, one which was more reminiscent of a refugee camp in the third world.
§ This is not a happy episode for your Lordships, the Home Office, or the large communities of people in this country from the five countries. Even at this late hour I hope that the Home Office will think again about this scheme. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Statement of change in Immigration Rules presented to the House on 8th October (Cmnd. 9914) be disapproved.—(Lord Avebury.)
§ Lord Harvington
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may put a point to him. I think 1115 that inadvertently he misled the House. I checked quickly in the Library to make sure that I was right. Liberia was never part of the Commonwealth, and we do not owe any responsibility to it. In fact, the president of Liberia, the country being under the protection generally of the United States, paid a state visit to Her Majesty the Queen not so long ago. Therefore, I think that the noble Lord will agree that Liberia ought not perhaps to be included among the various Commonwealth states that he said might be affected badly by this policy.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, I think the noble Lord may have misheard me. I was talking about Nigeria, not Liberia.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, it surely serves the cause of humanity if those who travel long distances to visit this country do so in the knowledge that when they arrive they will be admitted. Apart from the money which is squandered on air fares by the rising numbers of those who are refused entry—and we have heard how the numbers have risen, from 13,000 in 1981 to 22,000 in 1985, over half of those people coming from the five countries now under discussion—there is the anxiety felt by many tens or even hundreds of thousands more who never know until the very last moment whether they will be admitted. That situation has been remedied by the introduction of a system whereby visas will be issued before departure.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the question of evasion, saying that he doubted whether the propensity to evade had risen. He quoted the example which the Home Secretary gave in another place of the groups who purported to be Bangladeshi performers, of whom he said some had been given permission to enter but had disappeared. In the example quoted of the figures given by the Home Secretary, out of 201 who applied for entry, 138 were granted permission to enter and 103 disappeared. That is some percentage.
It seems to me that sooner or later some government or other were bound to act when faced with the excessive burdens on the present system produced by the relentless pressure of people from third world countries to reach these shores. As the Home Secretary said in another place, it is a pressure that has manifested itself in surges, periods of relative calm and then large numbers coming in. Over the last few years at different moments we have had surges from Sri Lanka, from Bangladesh and this summer from West Africa.
To give an example of how overburdened the present system has become, it was revealed by a former Minister of State in the debate in another place that the Minister of State at the Home Office had to adjudicate on some 4,500 visitor cases a year where Members of Parliament had exercised their right—they will stop—and where the Minister of State therefore had to decide whether to overrule the immigration officer's refusal of entry at this end. The situation was becoming intolerable for all concerned, not least for the immigration authorities, which have an extraordinarily arduous and grinding job at which they may be busy at all hours, as many noble Lords will have seen.
1116 Obviously, Heathrow itself does not have the capacity to accommodate an indefinitely expanded immigration service. I doubt very much whether a future Labour Government would repeal the visa system, just as past Labour governments never repealed the Immigration Act 1971. However, the Government have been accused of acting in a racist manner by singling out for treatment five countries whose populations are not white. The problem has been caused by the influx from these countries. Therefore, the Government had the choice of taking action to deal only with those countries which were presenting the problem or they could require visas for visitors from all countries. There was hardly a third course. The Government could not have pretended that certain other specific countries were also causing a problem when they were not. This would have been met with general ridicule and some offence would surely have been taken by those countries which had been falsely identified.
If the Government had made the visa requirement universal they would then have been acting as France recently acted, when visas were introduced even for visitors from the United States. as part of the French Government's actions to counter terrorism. If such a requirement had been introduced by the British Government in this case—and I have my doubts whether it would have been possible to sustain such a policy against pressure from countries in respect of which there were plainly no good grounds to apply the system—it would have had the advantage of preempting any future but now unforeseeable need to introduce visas for visitors from yet more countries in the future. The Government chose the British rather than the French way—to deal only with the problem in hand. They had a perfect right to do so. To say that it is racist to do so is to my mind nonsense.
It is not an accident that the problem has been caused by those five countries. They are among those which have provided enormous numbers of immigrants to this country in the post-war period. Then we operated a free immigration policy for Commonwealth countries and there are still great numbers of people who would like to join immigrants from those countries already here—generally their direct families and other relatives or people who want simply to visit them. To a large extent the law allows for that but it sets limits. That is the background to today's pressure. I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will disagree with that.
The second accusation which is made against the Government, although it was only touched upon by the noble Lord, is that they mishandled the introduction of the system, thereby giving rise to the general misery that we saw at Heathrow on those three days in October. I do not know whether Her Majesty's Government could have foreseen the aeroplane loads of people who came in to beat the deadline, particularly from third countries, in the Gulf and elsewhere.
I am inclined to give the Government the benefit of the doubt. Not all situations are foreseeable. No doubt there were unscrupulous entrepreneurs scaring people into trying to beat the deadline. On the other hand, the Government had to take into account the needs of those bona fide travellers with long planned journeys for whom the sudden introduction of a visa require 1117 ment, when the mechanism was not in place for the issuance of visas, would have been tantamount to cancelling their journey. Perhaps that is what the Government should have done. However, it was a question of balance; it was not an easy calculation. I do not think the Government should he harshly criticised.
In conclusion, I think that the introduction of visas seems to be another one of those steps no doubt regrettable in an ideal world but necessary in the real world to maintain control and to suppress abuse of the immigration laws of this country.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Lord Brockway
My Lords, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was so thorough and comprehensive, and was supported by such a remarkable citation of facts, that I can be brief in my contribution to this debate. I shall confine myself to incidental comments. Perhaps I may first apologise to the noble Lord. Lord Reay, for my inability to hear, which prevented me, despite his strong voice, from following the whole of his speech: therefore, I shall be unable to reply to it point by point and in detail. What I heard impressed me as making a case which it is desirable to answer, and I have not often regretted my lack of hearing more than when I listened to the noble Lord. I hope that some of the comments which I shall make during my remarks may be accepted by him as being some reply to his contribution to this debate.
My first remark must be to say how appalled I was by the reception given at Heathrow to the many visitors from India who anticipated the day when visas would he applied. Surely the Government must have foreseen that. Surely, when a government take action they have a duty to look at the consequences of that action. All who know what happened at Heathrow are disturbed by the kind of reception given to visitors to this country.
Secondly, the inability to have a staff to deal with those who were coming to this country makes me sound the warning that I hope the staff at the British Commissions and Embassies in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ghana and Nigeria will be adequate to deal with the problems arising from the applications for visas. I say that with some reason, because when the decision was taken by the Government to require permits from those who held British passports in East Africa and in India, the delay was often shocking many people travelling many miles to the High Commission or the Embassy, and remaining homeless in New Delhi for days because the staff was not adequate to deal with their problems. The warning has now been given that if, instead of personal appearance, they write letters, that may mean delay, and I ask the Government very sincerely to take steps in order to prevent what might otherwise occur.
The Prime Minister of India has been criticised for describing the imposition of these visas as racial. How can it be otherwise described when it is applied only to five nations which are non-white in character, and not applied at all to any white nation? How can it be regarded as otherwise when we now impose the necessity for visas on five non-white countries, three or four of them being within the British Commonwealth, 1118 and at the same time freely admit into this country without visas residents of the United States of America (although that country requires visas from us), residents from the Dominions and other countries of the world which have white governments? How otherwise could it he regarded by the Prime Minister of a non-white country? I even believe that, although permits have been demanded from those who hold passports from East Africa and India, they are not demanded from those who hold passports from South Africa. In view of those distinctions, how can this be described otherwise than a racial measure?
I want to conclude with a very earnest appeal to the Government. It may be that in present situations the system of visas is a better system than the arrival of persons in this country who may be turned back. However, if the system is to be adopted, I beg the Government not to have racial discrimination as part of it, but rather to make it general, to make it apply to white governments as well as to non-white governments, because it is only by acting in that broad way that there will be a realisation that this Government stand against discrimination on the ground of race.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord Saint Brides
My Lords, I shall begin by paying a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for the sincere and eloquent speech to which we have just listened. There are some points he made with which I strongly disagree; and indeed having looked at this matter as objectively as I possibly can, I must say that I believe that the Government have acted rightly and sensibly, and in a way not designed to obstruct legitimate visits to this country, but to make the whole process more manageable by our own authorities and less harassing and less uncertain for the would-be visitors.
I base this belief on my 13 years' experience as a British diplomat post-independence in Pakistan and India—I spent five years in India and eight in Pakistan—and also on my experience in the Commonwealth Office in Whitehall. At that time Pakistan was a member of the Commonwealth and Bangladesh was still part of Pakistan. Nearly seven of those 13 years were spent as a High Commissioner, first in Pakistan and later in India. So far as I have been able to discover, no other ex-member of any diplomatic service in the world has headed his country's missions in both countries one after the other and, as it were, lived to tell the tale.
Throughout my service in the sub-continent, immigration from both countries into Britain, movement from both countries into Britain, was an important and highly sensitive element in our relationship and at times a source of much grievance and difficulty. Successive British Governments of both major parties, and we, their representatives in the field, laboured hard both in India and in Pakistan to dispel misunderstandings and to allay sore feelings, not always with success. The sore feelings came, and still come, from the disquiet and distaste with which members of those two proud and gifted nations hear or read reports of their fellow-citizens being quizzed and scrutinised, and, as they see it, harassed, at Heathrow and elsewhere so as to ascertain their suitability 1119 in terms of British law in the past for permanent settlement in this country, or now for acceptance as legitimate visitors. If the roles had been reversed, we too in Britain would have found the situation disagreeable.
The sore feelings which our measures inevitably arouse in South Asia can only he met by patient explantation of the compelling reasons that have led Parliament here to establish machinery for controlling and limiting immigration and visits into Britain, even from countries with whom we enjoy, and wish to maintain, a longstanding friendship. It is necessary to combat with firmness the odious and quite mistaken notion, I would say to Lord Brockway, that the British people or any British Government, including Her Majesty's present Government, are opposed for racist reasons to immigration from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean as such.
It is, or by now should be, generally understood that the reason why we have had to limit immigration for permanent settlement here even by our traditional friends is that, with the best will in the world, our ability to add to our workforce from abroad by large—and I stress the word "large"—infusions is perforce not inexhaustible. I believe that we have developed over the years what is on the whole a fair and effective system for sifting applicants and determining their entitlements under law, and the priorities between them, and for dealing with all would-be visitors.
It was always apparent that, except in the easiest and most straightforward cases, the job of sifting could well be better done in the applicant's country of origin—that is to say, before his or her departure for Britain rather than on arrival. This is because the necessary interviews and inquiries can be quite searching and detailed, and it is far easier for the applicant to introduce the evidence that may be called for by the interviewing officer in support of his or her claim before leaving his or her home country than in a queue at Heathrow after a long and tiring journey by air. The language problem alone can be formidable. Here too it is in the interests of all concerned, including the applicants, that good interpreters should be on hand. These, as I know from long experience, are bound to be more readily available locally than they could ever be at Heathrow.
For all these reasons, the then British Government in 1969 made mandatory so far as dependants were concerned application through the system of entry certificate officers which had been established in our High Commissions and Embassies, so as to simplify and localise the task of establishing entitlement to work and settlement or to visits. This arrangement was thus, after 1969, a halfway house towards the full visa system that has now been introduced in respect of the five countries.
As has already been mentioned in this debate, there is a complicating factor in India and Pakistan that I think is perhaps not always sufficiently taken into account in this country. A certain proportion of would-be immigrants and of would-be visitors are, and have long been, not what they claim to be, and have been encouraged in their attempt to circumvent 1120 our controls by crooked travel agents in their countries who make a business out of gulling the innocent. In my time, these agencies would offer to lend the unwary villager in Gujarat, Sylhet or Sheikhupura the rupees with which to buy at vast—and quite improper—cost, a passport, an air ticket to Britain and the promise of a job if the operation succeeded. The loan would be repaid in sterling from the applicant's earnings or welfare receipts here at the exorbitant rates of interest which for long have been what moneylenders in South Asia charge. I understand that this kind of sharp practice is still going on. It stands to reason that immigrants who are being exploited and victimised in this way can be identified and helped more effectively by processing their applications in their country of origin than by waiting until they get here to do so.
As I have said, my firm belief is that the Government were right in what they did. Experience shows, however, that steps of this kind are very apt to cause umbrage or worse in the countries—especially the Commonwealth countries—whose citizens are affected. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister, when he comments on the Motion, will be able to tell us that full advance information about this new step was sent to our posts so that our High Commissioners could give timely warning to the governments concerned, and so that our information officers in these countries could brief the local media. Of course, such measures are not always wholly effective in allaying local resentment, but they go some way, and sometimes a significant way, towards doing so.
My Lords, I am sorry that whatever advance information was given to the Prime Minister of India did not deter him from accusing our Government of racism. For my part, I regard this statement as unjust and ill-founded.
§ 3.57 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester:
My Lords, I support Lord Avebury's Motion, and am very grateful to him for bringing it forward. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, has rightly pointed us to the background to today's pressure of people wanting to come to Britain for whatever reason. Without wishing to be unduly personal about the average age of the House of your Lordships, I suspect that the great majority of us grew up in the last days of the British Empire, and we realise all too well that it is because of those days of Empire, and not least because of the English language, that the very considerable number of people from Commonwealth countries, as the Empire evolved into Commonwealth, have come to live and work here. Many of them came in the days of the industrial boom—in some ways a false industrial boom—when after the war they were wanted in our country's factories and many of them in the Health Service and the other fields of British life.
The result is that we now have substantial communities of ethnic minorities in various parts of the country, many of whom have relatives in the countries that we are discussing today. Quite a number of those are in the Greater Manchester area, the area for which I have diocesan responsibility. Our vital concern must surely be for good race and community relations in our country. We also have to show that we are glad that Britain is a multiracial, multicultural 1121 society today. We believe that these communities substantially enrich our life, and we are glad to have them here.
This point is not irrelevant to questions of visa regulations or what we do about immigration procedures. These must be seen against the great need for improving racial relations in our country today. There is a very deep concern among many sections of the churches about race relations in our country at present.
A statement is being released to the press today, I believe, signed by quite a number of us—I have signed it myself—"Immigration and racial justice: Christian statement". Among the many points that it makes, it expresses,our deep concern about the racism in our society and its increasing reflection in our immigration laws and practices … Existing legislation already strikes at the root of the family life of our coloured brethren—demand for further legislation can only in the end degrade the society which requires and enacts it even more than it does its victims".The statement goes on to deplore what the Government have now brought in front of us and imposed.We therefore deplore the imposition of visas on people from four Commonwealth countries … and on people from Pakistan. We cannot avoid comparing this with the fact that South African citizens, who are neither Commonwealth nor EEC nationals, can enter this country freely, whilst all visitors from these five countries, many of whom have the closest family connections with people living here, are to be subjected to the rquirement that they should apply for permission before they even leave the country where they live".The matter of race relations, and in particular the terrible situation of racial harassment and attacks, is not unconnected with immigration procedures or what we do about visas. I had discussions last week with officials of the Manchester City Council Housing Department in which we were looking at the awful situation of racially motivated attacks, normally white on black although sometimes it can be the other way, in council housing property, which in some ways is becoming increasingly segregated: a most dangerous situation.
This is not unconnected with what we do about visa regulations and immigration procedures, because signals are sent out to our population as a whole by what is done there. If the signals are that some British people in this country' are undesirable, then this simply encourages the latent racism in our society today.
Of course we must have immigration procedures. Of course we must have restrictions on immigration, as the noble Lord, Lord McBrides, has made clear. But the point that worries many of us is that we are in danger of imposing restrictions which are not fair and which are by no means non-racial across the board, and so we send the wrong signals to our community as a whole.
Already we have problems of this kind facing coloured people, black and Asian people, coming to our airports. I do not suppose that we want to be too anecdotal about this, but if I may give just one example to your Lordships, I was fortunate enough, earlier this year, to go on study leave to India and Bhutan. When I was in Bombay I was taken around the city by a delightful Moslem woman who was in fact brought up and educated in Manchester, at a grammar 1122 school there, and who speaks perfect English. She told me, sadly—she is now resident in India—that she hesitated a great deal to come to Britain again because she felt that she had experienced such rudeness and discourtesy in immigration procedures when she came to Heathrow Airport.
We had another example of this too—and admittedly I can give only one side of what must be a complex story—when we had a visit from young people from the diocese of Bombay. They came here just a few weeks ago to visit my own diocese. My youth officer went down to meet them at Heathrow Airport—and I have given full details of this incident to the Minister—and they encountered similar discourtesy. Although we understand that there are great pressures, and that this is one of the things that the visa system is supposed to be designed to meet, their treatment was, from my reading of it, quite inexcusable. The point I make is that we have a problem over racism deeply embedded in our society, and it shows particularly at points of entry when people come from overseas. This is not a situation with which any of us on any side of the House can be satisfied.
Perhaps visas could be justified if the system was really going to deal with these kind of difficulties that we experience at airports now, or if widespread abuse could be proved. But I believe that the noble Lord. Lord Avebury, has given the answer to that in the figures with which he started this debate. Whatever abuses there have been, they could not possibly be described as being widespread. None of us would deny that there is such abuse and that it must be watched and checked where possible.
I would go along with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in saying that if it was decided that visas were necessary in order to meet situations of this kind, then they should have been imposed universally and right across the board. Otherwise it has laid this country wide open to the accusation of racism. I was not personally surprised—although I was sad—to see the comment of the Prime Minister of India on this matter.
What we are doing by bringing in a visa system for these selected countries is bringing it in to countries where it is most difficult to operate. Whatever has been said by the noble Lord, Lord McBrides, about the value of having interpreters in these other parts of the world so that people can be properly interviewed before they decide to come to Britain, there are all sorts of other factors there which make it extremely difficult for people to get visas without undue hassle.
May I, with your Lordships' permission, simply read from an editorial in the Guardian recently which some of your Lordships may have read and which was quoted in the House of Commons. They sent a reporter out there to live with Bangladeshi communities:It wasn't, he found, like queuing for a US visa in Grosvenor Square. To the contrary, it was a battered, inevitably, cynical, mess. We don't send our best people to Dhaka, said an FO mandarin in Whitehall…. The secretarial back-up was pathetically inadequate, the job itself pulverisingly arduous. Endless travel, endless queues—around 12,000 long; endless waits and—in a land where paperwork is naturally scanty—judgments which time and again, could be based on no more than whether the supplicant immigrant seemed 'shifty or not.'1123 We are now proposing to translate a visa system into that situation where already there is great difficulty. I have had personal experience of this, to the extent that one of my clergy spent time in Bangladesh meeting families out there, and also our community relations officer did the same. He is a Baptist minister in my area. I have myself sat down with the Bangladeshi Divided Families Association in my own diocese, and with the help of an interpreter listened to situations where they were trying to get members of their own family in through the maze of restrictions, with very great difficulty indeed.
I think of those people whom I was interviewing —this was some time ago now—and of the problems that they are going to have when their relatives want to come in order to join them for family occasions. I think that all of your Lordships would agree that this is something that any British person, or those with residential qualifications, have a right to expect to be able to do.
I should like to ask whether the Government in fact consulted with the leaders of ethnic minorities over this matter which is so vital to their welfare and happiness and security in this country. Whom did they consult? Sadly, to the best of my knowledge we do not have leaders of ethnic minorities, with perhaps one exception, represented in your Lordships' House. I look forward to the day when perhaps there is a reformed House of Lords and that is put right. But at the moment this does not apply.
This makes it all the more necessary that governments should consult with those who are genuinely leaders of their communities and who know the situation on both sides of the oceans and can see how this would operate overseas. I know that members of the Government are concerned about some of the factors that I have put before your Lordships this afternoon, and particularly the matter of good race relations in this country. I would support the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and ask, even at this late stage, whether there could not be a withdrawal on this one and the setting up of some kind of proper inquiry or commission in order to meet the admitted abuses, but in order as well to produce a system which is fair and non-racial.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Lord Thurlow:
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot share the views just expressed by the right reverend Prelate about alleged racism. I spent some 20 years or so serving in different Commonwealth diplomatic posts, and I strongly repudiate the suggestion that any of the members of our diplomatic staffs and, within my experience, faithfully serving immigration officers, are racist in outlook. Indeed, I fear that the right reverend Prelate has been carried away emotionally by what must be great pressures from the large Asian population in his diocese.
I endorse the views of my former colleague Lord Saint Brides, on the advantages of going over to the system of visa control in these five countries from which there has been substantial abuse of our regulations. I know that it is always possible, if you take five coloured Commonwealth countries and you 1124 do not have the same rules applying to the former dominions, to allege that there are racist motives. We constantly hear this kind of talk. It is normally a question of comparison, of like with like, and it is certainly not in these cases.
The right reverend Prelate gave us the ancedote about the difficulties of his friend in Bombay. I hope and believe that the effect of the introduction of visa controls in Delhi and Bombay will be greatly to ease the difficulties, to enable bona fide cases to come to this country with courteous treatment at the High Commission offices, without too much delay and with great advantages compared with the system of the past, with these appalling pile-ups at Heathrow. As Lord Saint Brides said, the staff at Heathrow are not as well equipped as our immigration officers at our diplomatic posts to handle difficult cases.
I should like to draw attention to one aspect of the controls that inevitably carries risks. Immigration officers have to exercise a great deal of discretion. It is necessary to have the help of classifications of classes of people who can be accepted and approved; rules as to the periods of stay that can be approved. But no rules of thumb can go more than a certain distance in covering the wide spectrum of cases. So immigration officers have to exercise a great deal of discretion. In periods of pressure it is difficult for them not to slide into a negative attitude.
How are we to guard against this? What we are talking about is basically a question of fundamental human rights: the human right of free movement for legitimate purposes. This human right is of the utmost importance and of growing importance in the world today to enable all countries to have a healthy circulation of ideas and cross-fertilisation. It is easy for an immigration officer to have difficulty in understanding the reasons for which some applicants may wish to come, if they wish to come not to study at established higher education institutions or to work, sponsored by commercial firms, but to find individuals with whom they wish to work, such as writers or artists, whom they can only choose for themselves, where they wish to do their work and what influences they wish to work under.
I had experience in India of being subjected to visa controls at the time when the Government of India felt themselves obliged to introduce visa controls for all Commonwealth citizens because of the great problem they had three years ago with infiltration by Sikh terrorists from this country and Canada in particular. I was working with 25 others on an important research project. I personally was there for 18 months. We were free, thanks to the previous liberal regime of the Government of India, to come in when we wished, to stay as long as we wished and to go where we wished on the subcontinent. This was a great benefit. Then, as an incidental result of the Sikh problem, visa controls were imposed. We had to queue up in Delhi, Bombay or wherever we were. We had no assurance on how long our colleagues would be able to stay. To cut a long story short, we had to bring our project to a premature end. I quote this to illustrate that it is inevitable with a system of controls that there will be results that the Government themselves for their part might never wish to promote.
1125 So, when controls are introduced, Parliament has a greater responsibility to keep the respect for the fundamental human rights in the front of the minds of officials. I recall, as many of your Lordships will recall, that Mr. Bevin, as Foreign Secretary, looked forward to the day when passports would he totally abolished. That day was obviously distant at that time, and is more remote now because the dangers and difficulties of our society have increased. Nevertheless, let us not—in confronting the necessity to deal with the problems of abuse—lose sight of the overriding priority of principle that governs the human right of free movement across frontiers for legitimate purposes.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, at the conclusion of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, I noted with respect and some admiration that he quoted a former Foreign Secretary of this country, Mr. Ernest Bevin, as expressing a wish that is the wish of the idealist ever—that we should reach a stage in world affairs where no passsports were necessary and when anyone could travel across boundaries and across countries without let or hindrance. I hope that with due longevity we may reach that stage, but I doubt it. Therefore, because of the necessity for immigration control especially in this island home of ours, crowded as it is, I say at the very outset that immigration control has unfortunately to be effected. I make no provisos. I utter no qualification except for one: that it must be effected with justice and without the suspicion of racial bias. Having said that, may I at once make it clear that we on these Benches support the Motion so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Indeed, we would have put it down ourselves had he not with great perspicacity and promptitude done so himself. I do not want, from this Dispatch Box, to throw across the Floor accusations of racialism. I do not think it would do any good, I do not think that very probably it would have any justice in it. What I do throw across the Floor from this Dispatch Box is the accusation against a government who have done it before, of ineptitude, insensitivity and a dangerous lack of diplomacy.
Perhaps I may turn for a moment to the very experienced speech, if I may so describe it, of the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides—and he will note that I have given him his correct name, unlike another participant in this debate, who thought that he ought to have either a Scottish or an Irish ancestry—a speech in which he gave this House the benefit of all his diplomatic skill and experience. He reminded us that he was High Commissioner in both India and Pakistan. I am going to say quite frankly that he would not have handled this matter as the Government handled it, whatever the rights or wrongs of the Immigration Rules that we are discussing.
Do your Lordships recollect what happened some five and a half years ago when we were debating in this House the British Nationality Bill, suddenly rushed upon a world and upon the Commonwealth without any consultation at all at proper levels and which, (because the Bill had already been passed in the other place) led at Second Reading to my noble and learned 1126 friend Lord Elwyn-Jones and myself not opposing the Second Reading but asking that consideration of the measure be adjourned until proper consultations had taken place?
I venture to do something which is almost unforgiveable. It is to quote a very short portion of the speech which I ventured to make to your Lordships on that occasion. I wish that I could quote somebody else's speech: it would be much more courteous and forgiveable; but I rather like the paragraph that I am going to quote to your Lordships and I cannot resist the temptation. It was a speech made on 22nd June, 1981. This is how the Official Report reads:We have heard speeches tonight about Gibraltar. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter"—and I am delighted to see him in his place—is a man of temperate habits and temperate speech. He is a master of the rounded phrase and we were all absolutely delighted to hear him. What did he say that Gibraltar felt about that Bill? 'A smack in the face', were the words the noble Lord used. What a great exercise in public relations, when good, old, loyal, Gibraltar, putting up with all it has put up with over the past years, regards a Bill of a Conservative Government, of all Governments, as 'a smack in the face'! And Hong Kong. Forget the ethnic minorities in this country for a moment. What does the official document say? We heard the noble Lord, Lord Geddes"—again from the Government Benches, I say in parenthesis—on this matter. We were all delighted with his speech and with the speeches of others who spoke of Hong Kong and of Gibraltar. What does Hong Kong say in an official document that I received from the Hong Kong Government Office?— 'There is fundamental, deep-seated and emotional opposition to the Bill among Hong Kong people'. What a great exercise in public relations has the Government carried on in order that Hong Kong people should feel that way!No consultation with the dependent territories, no consultation at top government levels with the countries of the Commonwealth, leaving poor Mrs. Thatcher to go to India, having to argue with Mrs. Gandhi that the Nationality Bill was not as bad as she thought it was; that it was not really racialist; and unfortunately, whatever else she achieved on that visit (and I am sure that she achieved much)—not convincing Mrs. Gandhi before she left that it was not a racialist Bill and that it was not in fact a very bad Bill".—[Official Report, 22/6/86; Col. 946.]And, my Lords, the Government learnt no lesson. No consultation on the Nationality Bill! We had to come back on Gibraltar. With the help of various Members of this House who refused to vote—on whipped lines, if I may say so—we achieved British nationality for Gibraltar. We had a debate in this House on Hong Kong where we tried to undo injustice and to achieve from various government undertakings some amount of justice for the Hong Kong ethnic minorities and for other citizens of Hong Kong. These were matters that could have been dealt with if only there had been proper consultation and consideration before the British Nationality Bill was passed by Parliament.
The Government, with equal ineptitude, lack of diplomacy and insensitivity, rushed through these Immigration Rules and gave eight days' notice of the effective date, with all the horrific and uncivilised results that occurred at Heathrow Airport bringing a lasting shame upon our nation!—words which I say without any hesitation at all. And, not Mrs. Gandhi this time but her son has to talk, because of lack of consultation, about the racialist element of these Immigration Rules. My Lords, insensitivity, ineptitude—and I am taking it for granted that it is all 1127 necessary for the purpose of my submission to your Lordships—five nations, all of them with black citizens, selected and one other African nation left out. South Africa! South Africa insists upon every one of your Lordships who wants to visit that country having a visa. And when they come here—and it is only white people from South Africa who can leave those shores except in the most extraordinary circumstances—white South African citizens today, and on the day of Heathrow Airport's shame, enter this country without any need for a visa at all.
Forget the question of injustice, forget the question of racialism and just think for a moment of the effect jointly of the Nationality Bill brought in without consultation and of Immigration Rules of this kind brought in without consultation! Just think of the effect upon the black communities of our Commonwealth!
It does not need a lot of imagination. Before you label those who handle these rules—and I am not talking about their effect and their eventual justice—in this way, the Government deserve the greatest criticism because it is not the Government who are so thought of in the black communities, in Africa, in the five countries concerned and among the black citizens of our own multi-racial country here: it is the British people who incur the criticism and the belief about racialism. And so the Government have done it to all of us, not just to themselves.
What are we left with? I could wish, as I know the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, could wish, that this House could express its view tonight on these rules. The change has been passed in another place: it has been brought into effect already. It may be that a favourable vote would be obtained but it is hardly likely that the exercise would he worth it. I say frankly that I should prefer, rather than have a vote which might be against this Motion—although I do not think it would be a very substantial vote against—that this House. with its reputation for justice and for acting in a responsible way towards the Commonwealth and towards the world outside, should not have a vote registered against this Motion.
What do we do? My Lords, we turn to the Minister and we say this. The Government did not consult before. For Heaven's sake have such consultations now as will make these rules work with some amount of understanding. See to it that the 39 officers the Government are sending abroad as visa enforcement officers (at a cost incidentally of £14 million, as was admitted by the Minister—not money worthily spent) and the arrangement set up in the various countries concerned are as humane as possible. Tell your immigration officers in this country, many of whom are worthy, patient souls doing a difficult job, that, if there is one example such as was mentioned today by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, of racial offensiveness or indeed of any offensiveness at all to a would-be visitor to this country, whatever his colour, it will be a serious disciplinary offence and it must stop if it is occurring—and it is occurring. In future, if we have to deal with this question of immigration, as we have to, do not let us blunder as the Government have allowed us to blunder on this occasion.
§ 4.34 p.m.
The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)
My Lords, we have indeed had a useful debate on this very important subject and I am grateful to all your Lordships who have taken part. The changes we are discussing here today were debated in another place last week. On that occasion there may have been more heat than light. Some of the comments which have been made elsewhere have been misleading and caused unnecessary fears, particularly in the minority communities. I hope that some of those people will read what your Lordships have said today and particularly the very notable speeches of two noble Lords who have served this country so well overseas. I shall return to that in a moment.
The changes in the Immigration Rules before your Lordships apply a visa requirement to the citizens of Bangladesh, Ghana, India and Pakistan. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has announced that a visa requirement will be applied to citizens of Nigeria in due course. I must make it absolutely clear that what we are discussing is not a question of immigration policy: it is an administrative measure.
A visa requirement means that those citizens must obtain a visa, whatever the reason for their journey to this country. A visa is one form of the documentation which immigration law describes more generally as entry clearance. Entry clearances are issued by British missions abroad to applicants who wish to come to the United Kingdom to show that they qualify for entry. Entry clearance is mandatory both for visa nationals and for everybody who comes here for work, settlement, marriage leading to settlement or as the dependent of a person in one of these categories. In other cases entry clearance is available but optional.
The new visa requirements affects mainly visitors and students of the nationality concerned. Most people coming here temporarily from non-visa countries choose not to obtain an entry clearance but instead make their case for entry on arrival. For the citizens of Bangladesh, Ghana, India and Pakistan (and in due course Nigeria) this is no longer an option. They must instead apply abroad for a visa. Applications for visas to come here for a visit or study are considered under exactly the same criteria in the Immigration Rules as claims at the ports of entry for a visit or study. This is not a tightening of immigration control, because the only effect is to move the point at which the decision is made.
There is no operational reason for requiring people legitimately living here to obtain re-entry visas whenever they wish to leave the country, perhaps for a holiday or a business trip. We thought that it would be better instead to exempt them from the visa requirement. The same arrangements will apply to citizens of Nigeria, when that visa requirement is introduced. These arrangements also replace the previous more limited exemptions for Sri Lankans.
People who are exempt do not need to take any action to obtain the exemption; they can be admitted without a visa after a trip abroad. However, in order to ensure that possible difficulties are reduced to a minimum we have introduced a new arrangement whereby people who are planning a trip abroad may 1129 obtain a passport endorsement confirming the exemption. Natually,—
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, will the noble Earl allow me to intervene? This is an important question, and the agencies do not know the answer to it: that is, where the person goes when he is a returning resident to obtain the exemption stamp on his passport. Does he have to go and queue at Lunar House or is there a simpler procedure that can be adopted?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, information has been sent out and it is a point to which I replied in an earlier discussion on this matter.
Naturally the details of the exemptions, particularly for workers and students, are quite complicated and are necessarily set out in the Immigration Rules in legal language which may be less than comprehensible. In order that they can be easily understood by all, we have produced a comprehensive information leaflet which explains the exemptions, and other aspects of the arrangements in simpler language. A copy is in the Library of your Lordships House and copies have gone to a number of advisory organisations and can be obtained by individuals from the immigration and nationality department.
Having transferred the point of decision, what is crucial is that there should be satisfactory arrangements abroad for issuing visas quickly and efficiently. As your Lordships know, staff reinforcements are being sent to the British missions in the Indian subcontinent and Ghana, which are establishing new visa-issuing operations. All except one of the first group of 31 officers from the immigration service are now in post. In India we have opened a new visa-issuing office in Madras in addition to the three other Indian offices, as well as two in Pakistan and one in Bangladesh.
Applications can be made either by post or in person and interviews are not often necessary. So far we have been able to deal with most applications on the day they have been made. It may be that at peak periods in future there will be short waits for visas. We are determined that these should be as short as possible. There may be cases where a person requires a visa at short notice because he has to travel urgently. In cases of dire emergency missions have arrangements to issue visas out of normal working hours, and priority would be given to cases where a visa was needed quickly for unforeseen reasons.
I should like to turn from the effect of the new visa requirements to the reasons we had to make the change. The cheapest and generally the most effective form of immigration control is to check every passenger arriving at the point of entry to the country. The control at the ports is very good for checking large numbers of passengers quickly to ascertain either that they have the right of abode here, or, if not, that they qualify for entry. The bureaucracy is minimal. However, the control must distinguish from the flow of passengers the few who cannot be allowed to enter the country. These passengers have normally had long journeys and friends and relations may be waiting outside. If the outcome is that the passenger is refused entry he has to go, having wasted much time and money. This is distressing and such cases should be 1130 kept to a minimum. Our ports of entry were never designed for large numbers of cases which entailed detailed interviews and lengthy inquiries. I agree with my noble friend Lord Reay that these difficult cases must be resolved overseas before departure wherever possible. That is why in 1969 the Labour Government of the day, with Conservative and Liberal party support imposed such a system for dependents coming to join men settled here. Now the case of any person coming for work or settlement is decided abroad.
The problem now is basically the same. In the past 18 months there have been a series of problems at the ports. In May last year there was a rush from Sri Lanka which led to the imposition of a visa requirement on Sri Lankans. Since then there have been substantial increases in people arriving in the United Kingdom posing as visitors but whose real intentions have appeared to be to establish themselves here. In late summer and autumn last year there was a rush from Bangladesh. From the beginning of this year the increase has been more sustained.
Although major airports can cope with considerable flows of passengers, the Immigration Service found extreme difficulty in coping with the substantial increases in the number of difficult cases, as they require disproportionate staff time. The changes in the pattern of passenger traffic caused serious congestion at the ports this summer. Our detention accommodation was full and on occasion passengers who needed detailed interviews had to sleep in the terminal building overnight. This was only avoided as a general practice by the routine use of hotels. Because there was no detention space passengers who had been refused entry but could not be removed immediately had to be given temporary admission, even if the Immigration Service judged that there as an undue risk of absconding.
This state of affairs clearly could not be allowed to continue and we had to act. We therefore examined carefully a number of options, including that of providing more immigration staff at airports. The amount of money spent in sending extra staff abroad would provide considerably more staff at home. Unfortunately, this would not have solved the problems. That is why we decided to extend visa requirements. It was unncessary to introduce a univeral visa requirement when the problems at the ports were caused by only a few nationalities. The citizens of Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Nigeria and Pakistan accounted last year for about half of all cases where a passenger was removed after refusal of entry. These were the, only nationalities which each accounted for more than 1,000 such removals. The increase in arrivals of doubtful passengers in the first months of this year was largely accounted for by these nationalities.
The figures from Heathrow and Gatwick of passengers refused leave to enter were 68 per cent. higher for these nationals in the first six months of 1986 than the same period in 1985. This is only a very small proportion of the total passengers arriving from these countries, but it is these difficult cases which cause the problems at the ports. The selective extension of visa requirements was an operational response to the cause of the operational problems and was influenced by no other considerations.
1131 The need for the new visa requirements was shown starkly by what happened after my right honourable friend's first announcement on 1st September of the Government's decision. The pressures on the ports soon began to build up further; we were unable to interview all the passengers whose claims were doubtful, and many had to be released on temporary admission after a short interview at the initial control with a future appointment for a detailed interview.
Let us consider the figures from Heathrow Terminals 3 and 4 of passengers who needed a detailed interview. For the citizens of the three Indian subcontinent countries, these increased from 262 in the week before my right honourable friend's announcement, to 677 in the week ending 27th September and 1,152 in the week ending 4th October.
In view of these problems my right honourable friend announced on 6th October that the visa requirement for the Indian sub-continent nationalities would take effect on 15th October. This was a little earlier than we had hoped for but, as I have explained, the staff abroad made commendable efforts and the new arrangements there were working well in time. Your Lordships have previously discussed the rush to Heathrow to beat this deadline. I do not wish to dwell on that except to point out that what happened then was no more than a compression of the problems which had been building up during previous months.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, began his speech this afternoon with some party politics. I must return that ball to him. The Liberal party has said that it will replace the 1981 British Nationality Act with a new law giving one class of citizenship to all citizens in the United Kingdom and its remaining colonies. What the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, did not tell us was that effectively what the Liberals are proposing is the right of abode in Britain for millions of people who neither have it nor expect it, such as about 3½ million British dependant citizens in Hong Kong.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, that is absolutely untrue. If the noble Earl read the document more carefully, he would see that special arrangements were made for Hong Kong. I wrote the document and I can remember that Hong Kong was not included in the category of British citizens in dependencies to whom full citizenship would be granted.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, the noble Lord's party has said that it will repeal the 1981 Act, and that is the consequence of it. However, we are at long last getting a little more detail from the noble Lord opposite, because his party is very good at knocking down some bridges but not very good at putting anything in their place.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about immigration staff at Heathrow, and said, if I remember rightly, that it had increased by one. In August 1985 there were 587 immigration staff at Heathrow and in August 1986 there were 654. I fear that the noble Lord's figures are wrong, and I brought that fact to his attention on 17th October. The noble Lord also quoted some detention figures but of course I am sure that he, among all your Lordships, will be aware that of the figures he quoted 72 remain in detention having been refused entry before 14th 1132 October. Of course there are others who arrived earlier, and there are the after entry cases as well.
Perhaps I may also correct the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, with regard to absconders. Absconder figures do not include people who report back a little late or leave voluntarily. A person is only recorded as an absconder if he fails to report back and cannot be found. If he is subsequently discovered and removed, he is taken off the absconder record. Perhaps I may bring the House up to date on absconders. The latest national figures for absconders from temporary admission for January to September 1986 show a total of 620, of which 530 were from India, Bangladash, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana. This compares with a total for the whole of 1985 of 388.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me about asylum. Our obligations under the United Nations Convention and the internationally agreed refugee procedures remain unaffected by the new visa requirement. The present arrangements under which those applying for asylum remain here while applications and representations made on their behalf—including those of honourable members and noble Lords—are fully considered, will continue. I should stress, however, that if there is evidence that our procedures are being abused simply in order to evade the new visa requirement, we shall have to consider whether any change in those procedures is necessary. I hope that clarifies that point for the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, quoted overseas reaction to what we have done. Of course the reaction in India to the change in visa arrangements was not universally condemnatory but showed some understanding for the reasons the Government had to take this action. The Hindustan Times reported:It is expected that the new system will mitigate the unpleasantness that has obtained on account of what has often been described as race-driven partiality among British immigration officials. There will no longer be grey areas since the coming and not coming of people for those countries that will require visas will be clear and definite".
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, before the noble Earl, who is always courteous, goes on to another point, can he give a simple explanation to the House as to why consultations did not take place beforehand? There might then have been newspapers in India other than the one he has managed to single out which gave favourable comment. Are not the Government's public relations very bad?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, if the noble Lord will wait a few moments I shall come on to consultation because that point was raised by the noble Lord and others.
On 4th September the Nigerian Prime Minister, Major-General Babangida, said as regards visas for Nigeria, that this was a "technical and administrative" matter:It is not political. That's the way I look at it".The noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Brockway, and the right reverend Prelate, said that what we were doing was racist. I cannot agree with that. It is quite clear that it is not racist by any reasonable standards. Visas are already required for 1133 the citizens of Poland, China, the Congo and Burma. I make that white, yellow, black and brown. To say that what we are doing today is racist is utter nonsense.
My noble friend Lord Reay rightly brought once again to the attention of the House the problems that were faced by people arriving from the Indian subcontinent but not direct from there. I said earlier that I hoped that I would be able to give your Lordships' House some of the figures. The approximate figures are that on 14th October 400 people arrived on Kuwait Airways; 250 came on Gulf Air; 150 came on Egyption Airlines; 290 came on Thai Airlines; and 100 came on Aeroflot or Polish Airlines. One must remember that those flights land at Terminal 2. So in total about 1,400 arrived by indirect routes in addition to the 1,500 who arrived direct.
To say that we could forecast that is staring a little too carefully into the crystal ball. Notwithstanding that, as your Lordships will he aware, over a period of time the number of immigration officers at Heathrow was increased from between 12 and 20 extra staff, and for the final period 24 additional officers were at Heathrow on 14th October.
The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, mentioned the situation at Heathrow. We have already discussed that in some detail and I think it would be wise not to go back over well-trodden ground. He said in particular that the Government should take care to make sure that our overseas posts work well. I can confirm that reports from our posts in the Indian sub-continent and Ghana indicate that the visa regimes are operating smoothly. All personal applicants are being seen and more than 90 per cent. are being issued with visas on the same day. In addition, a substantial number of postal applications are being processed on the day of receipt. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, will be pleased to hear that, and that the right reverend Prelate might believe me rather than what he reads in the press.
The noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, made a very telling speech, and I am grateful for his support with his enormous experience of 13 years in India and Pakistan. He mentioned in particular the interpreters, a point we discussed earlier in our debate. I am grateful for that observation because they are a very important part of the immigration scene. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord who, according to Dod's, is the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, of Hasguard in the County of Dyfed. He now becomes the noble Lord, Lord McBrides, and becomes Scottish and joins me. I hope that the Church christens people a little more accurately in the future.
I come now to consultation, a very important point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. Of course we should always prefer to consult those who may be affected before making important changes, but it would not have been practicable to undertake consultation on a matter such as the extension of visa requirements. This would have prolonged the period in which people were tempted to anticipate new arrangements, and this carried a substantial risk of further increasing the pressure on immigration control and precipitating the visa decision. When the initial decision was taken on 1st September the four high 1134 commissioners and the one ambassador were immediately invited to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be told. Steps were simultaneously taken to ask British representatives abroad to inform governments.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, if the noble Earl will once more give way, I promise not to intervene again. Is he saying that courtesy to the representatives of these dominions in this country did not dictate any prior notice of what was happening and any opportunity for giving views about these immigration rules? Is that the standard of courtesy that Her Majesty's Government are now extending?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, anybody in a responsible position who looked at this carefully would have seen that the situation could not continue because of the extremely difficult circumstances that occurred at Heathrow. In order that this situation could be remedied as soon as possible it was quite right for Her Majesty's Government to take the action that they did. Furthermore, for the nationals of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh an information sheet for everyone affected was issued. Copies also went to organisations which represent or give advice to the minority communities, and are being sent to all entry posts abroad.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, during the 13 years in which I was in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office there were continual contacts with these governments on the question of immigration. It was the one question on which they would never co-operate and never had any sympathy for our desire to limit the numbers. We told them constantly that it would make social conditions impossible here if we took too many. So there was consultation and contact all the time.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for that comment and for that piece of very useful experience.
The right reverend Prelate said that he had written to the Government, and indeed I have already replied to him. Perhaps I may remind him that the Manchester Council for Community Relations in the report of its visit to Terminal 3 which lasted 2## days found that there was no racism in the attitudes of the immigration officers. The right reverend Prelate asked me to take this back and look at it again. No, my Lords, the facts clearly speak for themselves. I am glad that the Church is concerned because many of us are concerned about the Church. I am particularly grateful for the vast experience that the noble Lord. Lord Thurlow, brought to our debate, particularly because of the time he has spent in Ghana and in India. The Government are grateful for his support.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said once again that we handled this badly. I do not think that I shall ever convince him. I have tried to put clearly on the record the situation and the action that my right honourable friend had to take, which we believe was the right action. Of course we would have been criticised for whatever we had done because it is impossible to get the timing just right. If no notice was given there would 1135 have been justifiable criticism of introducing requirements heartlessly and without adequate preparations. Too long a period risked scenes even worse than those witnessed at Heathrow. The Government therefore settled for a period of notice consistent with giving everyone adequate warning and being sure to have all the necessary arrangements in place abroad.
The decision to extend visa requirements was announced by my right honourable friend more than six weeks before the first change took effect and we gave eight days warning of the actual implementation date for the Indian sub-continent. This is a longer period than has been possible on previous changes in visa arrangements. The extensions to Argentinians and Sri Lankans took effect immediately after the announcement, and seven days notice was given of the date when Iranians would need visas.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, mentioned as did other noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate, the question of South Africa. The reason no visas have been imposed is that they are not required as an operational measure, and we are not in the business of punitive measures. I believe that the noble Lord was wrong in saying that South Africa requires visas for British citizens. It does not. Of course, there are a number of Commonwealth countries whose citizens still do not need visas to come to this country. There are many on my list and I name just a few: the Bahamas, Zambia, Swaziland and St Lucia. Therefore, to say that our action was discriminatory against the Commonwealth countries—Pakistan is not, of course, a member of the Commonwealth and has not been since 1973—is erroneous.
I am pleased to be able to report to your Lordships that the new system has begun successfully. The ports still have a backlog of work to clear but all the signs are that the new visa requirements have considerably improved the situation. Few passengers who need visas are arriving without them. The ports are less congested. The few passengers who need detailed interviews are no longer experiencing the delays that were commonplace. This is better not just for the passengers but also for friends and relatives waiting to meet them. People with visas can travel here knowing that they are unlikely to experience difficulties on arrival. Normally they need just a brief interview. They can be refused entry only in limited circumstances—for example, if a visa was obtained by fraud—and then can appeal while still in this country. The changes will benefit all who have genuine reasons for coming to this country, at the expense only of those who would like to establish themselves here when they are not so entitled.
I recommend the changes in the Immigration Rules to your Lordships.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, the noble Earl did precisely what I asked him not to do at the beginning of my remarks. He introduced extraneous and false allegations about the immigration policies of other parties when obviously he has not had the opportunity of studying them closely. I do not want to go into this in detail now but if I send him a copy of the paper to which he referred. in which we deal with nationality 1136 issues for Hong Kong and British dependencies, and if he reads it carefully, I hope he will withdraw the allegations that he has made this evening in as public a manner as he has made them, because they are completely false.
Apart from that one discordant note I feel that this has been an extremely useful debate. It has been just as useful from the speeches which supported the Government as from those which were against the Government. Several valuable points were made which I hope the noble Earl will take on board. For example—the noble Earl did not reply to this point—both the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Reay, said that it would have been better to extend visa controls over the whole spectrum of countries rather than confine them to the five. The example of the French, who have introduced a system of that kind, was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Reay. I believe that the number of refusals is increasing
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way for a moment since he quoted what I said on this matter? I did not say that the French system would have been preferable. I said that it was an alternative which the Government could choose but that they were perfectly entitled to make the choice they did. It would be quite wrong to describe the Government's choice as racist.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, of course I accept the correction and that the noble Lord merely said that it was one of the alternatives open to the Government. However, it is an alternative that has not been properly examined by the Government. I hope that the noble Earl will take on board—because the suggestion came from two participants in the debate—whether it would not be preferable to have a universal system of visas rather than lay the Government open to the charge (which, by the way, I did not make in this debate although the noble Earl attributed it to me) that this measure is racist.
It is not so much a question of whether the Government's intentions were racist or whether they were being racist, in effect, but of how they were seen by the community. That is what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester was speaking about. If the Minister consults community relations councils, the agencies who represent immigrants and leaders of the black communities in this country, as well as the authorities in India, which have been quoted in this debate, he will find that the impression left in the minds of these people is very different from that which the Government seek to convey. That may be simply a question of presentation or it may be that the information was not given in proper form to our high commissions and embassies, as the two noble Lords who were formerly in our diplomatic service in those parts of the world suggested should have been done. As the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, said, full information ought to have been in the hands of the posts in advance so that they could immediately have explained the implications to the heads of Government in those countries.
The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, made a point of some importance. He said that the proper numbers of 1137 staff should he in post in the overseas countries. The Minister replied to that indirectly by saying that so far most of the applications for visas had been dealt with on the same day. He hoped that except in periods of undue pressure that state of affairs will continue. But it is not just a question of applications for visas; it is also the increase in the number of appeals which will have to be dealt with in overseas posts and the preparation of explanatory statements for those appeals by, presumably, the same entry certificate officers who are looking at the visa applications.
I do not think that we have explored that matter this afternoon and there is no time to go into it now. However, I hope that on some other occasion the noble Earl or his colleague in another place will he able to confirm that we have not only taken care of the immediate problem of receiving and processing visa applications from the five countries but also that they will not suffer the long backlogs in the preparation of explanatory statements that, unfortunately, applies to dependants and others who have been required to apply for entry certificates since 1969, as has been said in this debate.
The situation for them was not just a transfer of the place where the examinations are conducted. What happened after 1969 when these applications were processed overseas was that the rate of refusals increased substantially and that the number of appeals also increased. Delays at each stage in the process went out into the middle distance and people who were subsequently found to have a perfectly legitimate claim to come to this country—for example, the children of persons already settled in the country—had sometimes to wait upwards of two or three years before they could substantiate their claim.
It is appalling that a family should be divided for such a long time. In the case of a visit it destroys the whole objective. If applicants have to wait for two or three years for an appeal to be processed, the reason for the visit vanishes into the distant past. I hope that on some other occasion the noble Earl will be able to say that we have a system in place not only for dealing with visas but also for processing appeals.
I think that now we are at the end of this debate we have to consider carefully the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. We must ask ourselves whether it is worth while testing the opinion of the House or whether we should accept the verdict of the other place, which has already been passed, and try to make the most of a bad situation. I am sorry to say that I feel we have no alternative but to do the latter and to watch very carefully how this system works. We cannot share the optimism of the Minister. We have already seen that the number of people in detention has not gone down, in spite of the 72 persons that the Minister says are left over from cases that arose prior to 14th October. That still leaves a larger number of detentions, excluding those people, than there was 18 months ago. In addition, the noble Earl has indirectly revealed a fairly shocking fact. There are 72 persons now in detention following a refusal of leave to enter who have been in detention for about four weeks. If that is the way the system is operating, there has not 1138 been much of an improvement since the introduction of visa requirements.
However. as I said, it is late in the day. Not only is it late in the afternoon of this debate but late in the process of the introduction of visas, which has already come into effect. Much as I should have liked to test the feeling of the House I feel that our duty now is to watch the way the system is operating. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.