HC Deb 23 May 2000 vol 350 cc191-8WH

12 noon

Ms Jenny Jones (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I begin by thanking Madam Speaker for allowing me this debate. When I made the request last week, the decision on Mike Tyson's application to enter the country had not been made. Since then, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made his ruling. Regrettably, it is not the one that I would have liked. The issue is attracting a lot of public attention and it is therefore still relevant.

Last year, the Government published an important document, "Living without fear: an integrated approach to tackling violence against women". Its opening statement was that violence against women is a serious crime with serious consequences. The document stated that one in four women in the United Kingdom experience domestic violence at some time in their lives and that the number of reported rapes has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, a steeper rise than for any other crime. At the same time, the conviction rate for rape has dropped from 24 per cent. to 9 per cent. Seven out of 10 women aged between 16 and 29 fear rape. They fear rape and personal attack more than any other crime.

In my opinion, and that of many others, the document set out in an intelligent and coherent fashion how the Government would tackle violence against women. It was welcomed by all sectors of society. Many felt at last that we had a Government who would give the issue priority. The document was followed by a review of sex offences legislation. The newspapers anticipate a paper being published later this month by the working body reviewing sex offences. Changes to rape trials to try to increase the conviction rate have been trailed by the papers.

People's expectations of the Government have been raised. However, a high-profile convicted rapist has been allowed into the country for the sole purpose of commercial gain—not once, but twice—and under an immigration rule that I believed was designed to prevent people convicted of serious offences from entry. Mike Tyson is not only a convicted rapist. His violence towards women is well documented. I shall not mention every story that the national press has printed about him. One, however, does sum up his attitude towards women and the evident problem he has controlling his violence towards women. A national paper in America once asked him what was the greatest punch he had ever thrown. He joked that it was the punch he gave his ex-wife.

In allowing Mike Tyson into the country, the Home Secretary exercised the discretion given him by our immigration rules. What signals does that decision send out? I feel that it has weakened the Government's determination to deal with violence against women. The fact that Tyson has been let in mainly for economic benefit sends out the message that tackling violence against women may be less important than making as much money as quickly as possible. Is rape to be taken seriously, or is it only to be taken seriously provided it does not cost too much? What weight was given to the Government's policy on violence against women when the Home Secretary made his decision?

I turn to the Home Secretary's reasons for allowing Tyson entry, which were printed in the written answer to the House on 18 May. The Home Secretary said that Mr. Tyson's behaviour on his previous visit to the United Kingdom was satisfactory and asserted that any risk to the public…would be minimised by…his high media profile, the presence of his trainers and other supporting entourage, and the limited duration of his visit.—[Official Report, 18 May 2000; Vol. 350, c. 210W.] What happens if a member or members of that supporting entourage have committed or been convicted of worse offences than those committed by Mike Tyson? On 18 January, The Express published an article on Mike Tyson's first visit. It stated that one member of his team, Steve Fitch, had served a five-year term for manslaughter, which is a more serious offence than rape.

Will the Minister tell us what steps immigration officers will take to examine every member of Mike Tyson's entourage and to establish whether any of them have been convicted of a serious offence, as Steve Fitch was? If it is discovered that a member of the entourage has been convicted of such an offence, will that person be allowed into the country under the discretion that the Home Office has exercised under rule 103?

I am fairly certain that Mike Tyson would not set out to harm anybody on his first few visits to the United Kingdom. After all, he is trying to impress on people here that there is another side to his character. Last time, he turned up with a formidable public relations machine, which set out to give an impression of him that was slightly different from that which had previously prevailed. As he has twice been given permission to enter this country, it seems likely that he will able to travel here with impunity.

Having said yes twice, it is most unlikely that the Home Secretary will say no on a third or fourth occasion. The risk of the mask slipping on Mike Tyson's behaviour in Britain will increase with every visit that he makes. It is likely that he will at some time in the future start to demonstrate here the behaviour for which he is infamous in the United States. It will be interesting to see how the Home Office reacts when that happens.

As to satisfactory behaviour, it is true that Mike Tyson did not engage in any violence outside the ring when he was in Britain. He did, however, climb over the gates of the royal parks to go running. I am told that that was technically an offence but that the police chose to exercise discretion and did not arrest him. His offensive remarks about the women's groups and women parliamentarians—hon. Members who sit in the House—who criticised his entry into Britain were slightly more concerning.

I remind hon. Members that he described us as a bunch of frustrated women who wanted to be men, and he went on to express an opinion about the men to whom these women might be married. I am told that the phrase that he used is a colloquial obscenity, so I am loth to repeat it. If I did so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you would tell me that I was using unparliamentary language. Mike Tyson did not attack anybody while he was here, but does the Minister agree that making derogatory and offensive remarks about women Members of Parliament is not the sort of behaviour that we expect of somebody who is a guest in this country?

The final reason for allowing entry was that not permitting it would result in a loss of economic benefit to the United Kingdom and would not enhance the UK's standing as a venue for a major sporting event. It is interesting to consider where the economic benefits of the bouts lie. I asked the Library to research some figures in relation to the Manchester fight with Julius Francis. Mike Tyson made £4 million in a two-round fight that lasted four minutes and three seconds. That means that he earned £16,460 per second. His opponent, Julius Francis, received £350,000 for managing to stand on his feet for just more than four minutes. The boxing promoters made a lot of money and, as we know, the sole broadcasting rights went to Rupert Murdoch's Sky television, which broadcasted the event on a pay-to-view basis; I think that these matches can be watched at a cost of £13 a fight. There is certainly a lot of money to be made, but the extent to which it was distributed around Manchester and United Kingdom is questionable.

Sheffield Hallam university estimated that the predicted loss to the Manchester economy of £12 million had the fight not gone ahead was highly exaggerated. The faculty's researchers calculated that the losses would probably only have been about £1.5 million. No evidence was ever produced to show that any business would be bankrupted had the fight not gone ahead. That casts doubt on who gets the economic benefits.

With regard to the UK's standing as a venue for major sporting events, I must tell the Minister that there are mixed views in the boxing fraternity about the Tyson fights, especially the one held in January. It might be wondered why I know about boxing. I have never before expressed views on the sport, which in itself is not the subject of the debate. However, I have two close relatives who were champion amateur boxers in their youth, so I might know a bit more about the subject than some hon. Members have given me credit for.

The view held is that the previous Tyson fight was not of the gladiatorial standards that we used to see with the fights of Muhammad Ali. The same might be true of this fight. One amateur boxer told me at the weekend that such fights are not so much gladiatorial as like a sick circus. Many in the boxing fraternity consider the Tyson fights to be an exercise in making as much money as easily as possible for a few people. We must ask whether the UK really wants to get a reputation as a sporting venue for such events.

I want to consider the point that I raised during Prime Minster's questions last week. Like many hon. Members, I represent a multicultural constituency. A significant part of my caseload is helping constituents who are trying to get close relatives into the country for weddings, funerals or visiting sick relations. We are not always terribly successful at that. It can be difficult to explain to a constituent why a close family member cannot be brought into the country, especially for something such as a funeral. The situation can be distressing. After Mike Tyson was allowed into the country in January, I found myself being asked why, for example, constituents could not get their mother, who had never committed an offence, into the country, when Tyson—rich, famous and convicted of a serious offence—could enter.

Our immigration rules are complex, and different rules apply to people coming from America from those that apply to people coming from the Indian subcontinent. However, the public perception is that it does not matter what crime people commit if they are rich and famous because they can circumvent UK immigration rules. That is an unfortunate message to send out.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) wishes to make a short contribution. I am grateful to the Minister and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having kindly agreed to that. There is much public disquiet about the decision second time around. On the first occasion, many people who were unhappy with the decision might have gone along with it because many seats for the fight had already been booked and because we had been told that a lot of money was at stake.

Circumstances second time around are different. Many Members of Parliament are less than happy. When I checked last night, the number of signatories to early-day motion 741 on the matter was 81 and climbing. The total could reach more than 100 by the end of the week. I had never seen some colleagues as furious as they were last Thursday when the decision was made. There was real fury and anger at the decision having been made for a second time. Public opinion and the impressions of Back Benchers must be considered—that is why we are here.

12.13 pm
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Ms Jones) on gaining the debate and on her excellent work to further the issue. Her seeking the debate and her other activities demonstrate that the affair is not of interest to Scotland alone. Like others, I supported those protesting in England last January, and I warmly welcome the support shown by English colleagues and friends regarding Mike Tyson's coming to Scotland. The United Kingdom Government have retained responsibility for the matter, which is therefore a UK issue. Equally, however, I welcome the many voices in the Scottish Parliament that have stuck to the real issue, which is about violence against women. We must not lose sight of that. Before I deal with that problem, I want to raise a matter that arose from the process by which the Home Secretary's decision was made.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central)

My hon. Friend mentioned the Scottish dimension, which is important. Will she comment on the cynical attempts of the Scottish National party to exploit the issue, in particular its attempt to undermine the devolution settlement that, just two years ago, it fought side by side with other political parties in Scotland to achieve?

Mr. Roger Gale (in the Chair)

Order. I would be grateful if the hon. Lady would confine her remarks to the subject of the debate.

Mrs. Fyfe

Thank you, Mr. Gale. My hon. Friend made his point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Baillieston (Mr. Wray) met the Home Secretary on 3 May. On 12 May, triumphant quotations in the Scottish press from the organisers of the bout said that Mike Tyson's visa was waiting for him. I immediately sought a meeting with the Home Secretary. On 17 May, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and I met the Minister of State with responsibility for immigration and asylum. At 4.30 pm, we were told that no decision had been made and that Ministers had not seen the paperwork. However, in a written response to a parliamentary question tabled that day for answer the following day, it was clear that the decision had been made sooner than we thought. At what time on Wednesday was the parliamentary question planted? What consultations did the Home Secretary have between 3 and 17 May? What was the hurry to reach a decision on 17 May in light of the emerging protest in the Scottish Parliament and in Westminster, on which he was fully informed? The decision is inexplicable. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West on that matter.

The reasons for granting the visa that were given on 18 May were greeted with incredulity and derision in Glasgow. We were told in January that the visa was granted because of exceptional circumstances—tickets had been sold and businesses would go bankrupt if the event was cancelled. Exceptional circumstances means not routine, but because the first visit created a precedent, it appears that Tyson must be allowed entry on the second application and, presumably, again and again. Did the Home Secretary realise in January that a legal precedent would be set for a second application? If so, why did he not tell us? The House of Commons and Labour Members of Parliament played fair with the Home Secretary in January. We thought that we understood the position; evidently, we did not.

The Home Secretary said yesterday that he was worried about public order on the streets and was satisfied that there was no danger of that being a problem. That is an outdated attitude. What about private disorder? What about beatings, batteries and rapes behind closed doors? What about the women who hope that their man's team wins on Saturday because they will be battered if it does not? What message does the feting and lionising of this man, whose has a string of violent actions against women and men, send to young men who are growing up? Plenty of other famous boxers must be more credible role models. It has been denied that Mike Tyson committed the crime of rape against Deirdre Washington but, as my hon. Friend said, there is a string of other violent incidents in his adult life, which is too long for me to recount. Were those all based on false allegations?

I am sorry that many women and men will be saddened and sickened by the decision. People are already saying that money talks. The only way to convince them otherwise is to introduce fair legislation that lets people without wealth and influence get into the country for family funerals and weddings and to visit the sick. The current message is that that is a lot less important than a boxing match.

12.19 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this issue. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Ms Jones) for securing the debate. She and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) set out a strong and resolute case. I do not expect them to agree with what I am about to say, but I want to explain the circumstances that led to the debate.

I completely understand the strong feelings that have been expressed in the House, in Scotland and in the United Kingdom generally, which is why I welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter.

Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside)

Would the Minister care to say what consideration she gave to the representations made by the representative of the Scottish Parliament, the Deputy First Minister, who I believe contacted her on the matter? Will she say how those representations were considered by the Department, and whether that could have influenced the Home Secretary's decision?

Mrs. Roche

If the hon. Gentleman is patient, I shall deal with that aspect.

My hon. Friends have set out clearly their arguments against agreeing to Mike Tyson's wish to enter to the United Kingdom. In dealing with the application for entry clearance, it was necessary for us to weigh all the relevant arguments for and against his admission. In his statement to the House, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary explained the basis on which we reached the decision to allow him entry. We did not reach that decision lightly, but did so after a careful assessment based on the history of the application and the need for fairness and consistency.

We were strongly aware of the objections that were raised to Mike Tyson's being admitted when he last visited the UK, in January, and of the immediate reaction to the news of his intended return. It is understandable that concerns should be expressed about his well-publicised criminal record. I have strong sympathy with those concerns. As I said last week, like all right-minded people, I consider the offences of which Mike Tyson has been convicted to be deplorable.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

Does my hon. Friend recognise the concerns about the criminal records of some of Mike Tyson's entourage, and of others associated with the event?

Mrs. Roche

That point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. Anyone who seeks to enter the United Kingdom will be considered under the immigration rules.

It was necessary for us to base our entry clearance decision not on Mike Tyson's previous convictions alone but on a careful assessment of the relevant circumstances in accordance with the immigration rules. The primary purpose of the immigration rule that allows entry to be refused to those with criminal convictions is to protect the public from the risk of serious crime. In this case, we were bound to take account of the fact that Tyson's behaviour during his previous visit in January was satisfactory. As on that occasion, he will be subject to close media attention throughout his visit and surrounded by his supporting team. As a result, the opportunity to reoffend will be minimal. It was therefore decided to grant entry clearance for a brief period that will be focused entirely on the fight.

Mike Tyson's case has been dealt with on the basis of its exceptional circumstances. Given that there would be no significant risk to the public in allowing him to enter, the benefits of allowing the fight to proceed appear to outweigh the arguments for preventing it.

Consultation was raised. We consulted the Administration in Scotland and took account of their views in reaching a decision. I spoke to Jim Wallace, the acting First Minister, before the decision was taken.

Mrs. Fyfe

Did that discussion with Jim Wallace take place because he telephoned the Minister of State, or did she get in touch with him first?

Mrs. Roche

I am trying to remember; I think that I telephoned him. Certainly, we knew that he was anxious to talk to us, but we placed the call because I wanted the Administration's view, particularly about the implications for public safety. My recollection is that I placed the call to Jim Wallace on the Thursday.

Mr. Roger Gale (in the Chair)

Order. I appreciate that the hon. and learned Gentleman is a Member of the Scottish Parliament, where personal names are used, but we are still in the House of Commons, where we refer to Members by constituency. The acting First Minister is the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland.

Mrs. Roche

That is certainly correct, Mr. Gale, although I cannot promise to remember his constituency precisely. I think that I have been affected by the refreshing informality of the new Parliament, something that I warmly welcome.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

On the matter of precision, will the Minister tell us the exact date and time of her conversation with the acting First Minister?

Mrs. Roche

Yes, I can be precise. It was on the Thursday—[Interruption.] I spoke to him twice. The first occasion was on the Wednesday, from my office in the Home Office. On the Thursday, I was on a visit and I spoke to the hon. and learned Gentleman that morning after he had obtained some information from me.

Mr. Connarty

I am looking for the date, not the day. There are many Wednesdays in the month.

Mrs. Roche

Last Wednesday was the first time I spoke to him and I did so again on the Thursday morning.

Mr. Connarty

When exactly did the Home Secretary take the decision?

Mrs. Roche

If my hon. Friend can contain his impatience, seeing that I have about three minutes left, I shall deal with that point, which was raised earlier.

I saw my hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton, South-West and for Maryhill on the Wednesday afternoon. I told them that a decision was imminent and that neither the Home Secretary nor I had seen the papers. Those came up in the early evening and a decision was taken. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary personally advised the acting First Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland of his decision.

I emphasise that Mike Tyson's entry clearance is strictly for the purpose of the proposed fight and for a single entry only. He will come here to prepare for that fight and leave once it is over. We have made it clear to him that there is no automatic presumption that he will be allowed entry again. If he wants to return, any application will be considered on its merits at the time. As we said, we are considering the rule again. My right hon. Friend published a consultation paper on the subject.

Our decision to admit Mike Tyson had no bearing on the abhorrence with which we regard violence against women. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West was kind enough to point out activities undertaken by the Government, and our commitment to combating violence against women remains resolute. She also raised the important question of family visits, and will know that the Government—

Mr. Gale (in the Chair)