Immigration Bill (Hansard, 16 November 1987)
HC Deb 16 November 1987 vol 122 cc779-858

Order for Second Reading read

4.11 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill amends the Immigration Act 1971 in a number of necessary ways, but it leaves that Act as the foundation of our system of immigration control. The 1971 Act was the first comprehensive immigration statute and established a new system of immigration control for both Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth citizens. It sought to bring primary immigration by heads of households down to a level which our crowded island could accommodate. The Act was introduced in the belief that there is a limit to the extent to which a society can accept large numbers of people from different cultures without unacceptable social tensions. That remains our view. It is not an anti-immigrant view; it is a realistic view.

It would not be in the interests of the ethnic minorities themselves if there were a prospect of further mass inward movement. That prospect would increase social tensions, particularly in our cities. That is why we say that firm immigration control is essential if we are to have good community relations. Since the 1971 Act, mass primary immigration has, indeed, ended, but we need to keep immigration control in good repair. As right hon. and hon. Members know, there is discretion and room for compassion in individual cases, and my hon. Friend and I exercise that discretion and compassion provided—and only provided—that the framework can be kept firm.

I doubt whether any change in immigration law will ever be free from controversy, but we bring forward the proposals in the Bill calmly and dispassionately. I hope that they can be examined in the House in that spirit. It is no part of our approach to raise the public temperature on these issues.

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we could have taken a combative stance on this matter during the election campaign, but we deliberately refrained from doing so.

Mr. Hurd

If the hon. Lady thinks that my letter to Mr. Merchant—if that is the letter that she means—was combative, she has a remarkably low temperature on such matters. It was a low-key, realistic attempt to reply to inquiries about what we had in mind.

Ms. Short

I agree that the tone of the letter was not combative. My point is that the letter was written during the election campaign, thus bringing into that campaign promises of further immigration restrictions. The Home Secretary knows that very well.

Mr. Hurd

It was written because I happened to go to a meeting in Newcastle with leaders of the ethnic minorities in that city. They asked me whether I could find an opportunity to make plain the limited nature of what we had in mind. That is precisely what I did and I am glad that the hon. Lady acknowledges that it had that effect and struck the right note.

People who have arrived here in the past 40 years are varying and enriching our way of life, as earlier arrivals did before them, but new settlement has to be strictly limited. Between 1979 and 1985, the number of people coming here for settlement fell from 70,000 to 55,000. The figure for 1986 was even lower at 47,000, but there were special factors in that year following the rule changes in 1985 and a change of practice in right-of-abode cases. I do not seek to make a party point about the fall in settlement figures.

I think and hope that there is a broad political consensus that the days of unrestricted primary immigration are over. We shall continue to differ on questions of degree, but nearly all of us share a public commitment to firm but fair controls on immigration. The Bill gives further evidence of our determination to carry that commitment through in practice. However, if we are to maintain a firm immigration control we must be able to react to new demands and developments.

The immigration control system is under considerable pressure. I pay tribute to the immigration service, to the departmental staff at Croydon and to our posts overseas for the way in which they cope with the ever-increasing burden of work. Traffic through our airports and seaports rises inexorably. Last year there were 39 million passenger arrivals. There are also the pressures, which we share with other European countries, arising from the increasing number of asylum applicants. In responding to these pressures, we must be able to react quickly and effectively, and we have done so.

A year ago we extended visa controls to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and later to Ghana and Nigeria, in response to the scenes at our airports as large numbers of people arrived claiming that they were coming for a visit, and requiring careful examination.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is the Home Secretary aware that we have fewer political asylum applications per head of the population than any other industrial country, that there are fewer acceptances and that because of the attitude of the Home Office the general atmosphere in which anyone seeking political asylum in Britain is surrounded is one of unremitting hostility bordering on racism?

Mr. Hurd

I made a mistake in giving way to the hon. Gentleman. I am not talking about asylum applications and the Bill is not concerned with them. He knows that perfectly well. He deals with a subject which we have discussed often. We are discharging our obligations under the 1951 convention. The fact that there are fewer bogus asylum applications here than in some other countries is not a reason for relaxing our stance. The interpretation was before the House of Lords and we await its judgment. I have nothing further to say on that matter at the moment.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Home Secretary confirm that, since the introduction of the visa system, the refusal rate has more than doubled and that, therefore, in the past 12 months something like 20,000 men, women and children were refused visits? Will he also take the opportunity to deny rumours that he will introduce a maximum of six months for visitors seeking visas to enter the United Kingdom?

Mr. Hurd

I will come to the hon. Gentleman's second point in a moment. I cannot give the figures for refusals, but what has happened is that the procedure that used to take place, sometimes in circumstances of confusion and long delay at the airports and seaports, is now taking place overseas. It remains true that 90 per cent. of all visa applications are dealt with overseas within 24 hours of their being received. That is a remarkable record.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I assure my right hon. Friend that in my constituency the procedure is working very well and that in the few cases where there have been problems his office has been most helpful.

Mr. Hurd

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for that.

The carriers' legislation is another example of where we needed to move rapidly to maintain the effectiveness of the control. We did that and it had that effect. The measures on visas and carriers were both controversial at the time. I notice that the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) is present. Many epithets were hurled at us, but in both cases to a large extent the controversy has died away because the new system works better than the old.

Mr. Hurd

I will get on with my statement. I have gained some encouragement from those experiences. We will have to go on watching carefully all aspects of the immigration control arrangements to make sure that they are efficient and that unacceptable pressures do not pile up.

Mr. Vaz

rose

Mr. Hurd

I will gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman if he rises in a minute or two.

Before I deal with the provisions in the Bill, I will, for the convenience of the House, deal with two matters related to what I said about the need to maintain an efficient control. One matter has already been raised by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). I announced today our intention to bring forward a number of changes to the immigration rules relating to after-entry control. The immigration department has to consider applications for an extension or variation to stay from people admitted as visitors, students, business men and some other categories. The demands of that work have grown to the extent that, for many years, the department has suffered a serious backlog. At the end of 1986, it amounted to some 47,000 cases, or the equivalent of some four months' work. As hon. Members know, many delays are much worse than that. Matters cannot be left as they are. From everyone's point of view, the pressure must be eased.

At present, a person is granted several periods of leave, which together add up to the maximum allowed in any one particular category. I now propose to introduce rule changes for au pairs, business men and certain others to provide that longer periods of leave up to the maxima, which will not be changed, may be granted on arrival. That will follow careful scrutiny to establish that the applicant meets the criteria laid down in the rules. I have already taken administrative action within the present rules to ensure that all genuine students are admitted for the full duration of their courses. Those steps will remove the need in many cases for people to apply to Lunar house for purely routine extensions of their stay. Every pointless bit of paper that we can do away with reduces the delays for others.

Mr. McCrindle

I am sorry to take my right hon. Friend back to the point that he was making when I originally tried to intervene, but he was suggesting that, in his view, a good deal of controversy has disappeared since the introduction of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 a few months ago. Will he accept that, among the carriers, there continues to be a considerable controversy and opposition to the operation of those immigration controls, particularly as regards detention costs. Does he plan to say anything about that, or is there any part of the Bill that might begin to iron out the difficulties that appear to be developing between Home Office officials and the airlines?

Mr. Hurd

The Bill does not cover that point. If my hon. Friend would like to give me the particulars of his concern, I will certainly look into them.

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman, even in his most ebullient and expansive moments, surely does not expect me to range over every conceivable aspect of the immigration controls. He may want to intervene later.

I also propose to reduce the maximum period of a visit to six months, which I believe is the point raised by the hon. Member for Bradford, West. I will explain why. At present, the rules allow for a visit of 12 months, but most visitors come here for much shorter periods. A substantial number are admitted at first for less that six months, and then apply to have their permitted stay extended. Those applications give rise to work at Lunar house. Very few of them are refused. Once again, there are many pointless bits of paper clogging up the system. The application for an extension often takes longer to process than the time requested, which is absurd.

In future, I intend that, with few exceptions, visitors should be admitted for six months, rather than a shorter period, and that that should be the maximum period for a visit. That will simplify the process, reduce the work at Lunar house, and enable us to concentrate more effectively and speedily on those cases where important decisions have to be made. A maximum visit of six months or less is already common practice in other countries. Most European countries require visas for any visit longer than 90 days. There will be an opportunity to debate the rule changes when they are laid before the House.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

It is commonplace for the entry certificate officer in Kingston, Jamaica to refuse applications for people to come here to visit if they say that they want to come for six months. They are normally refused on the ground that, if they want to come here for six months, they may want to stay for good. Can the Home Secretary assure us that there will be no discrimination against people from the Caribbean who apply to come for six months under the new, relaxed rules?

Mr. Hurd

I will look into the point that the hon. Gentleman raised. Certainly nothing that I have announced will affect that, for the reasons that I have already given.

Mr. Vaz

Rather than limit the length of stay for a visitor, is not the most appropriate course to provide more resources for Lunar house, such as the staff who were promised when the visa changes were announced last year?

Mr. Hurd

There has been a build-up of resources available to immigration control. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will give particulars when he replies. However, I do not think that that is an argument against getting rid of the pointless bits of paper that I have been referring to.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Can my right hon. Friend give us any reassurance about effective systems for follow-up? One our great concerns is people who come in on one pretext and abuse that, but are not located and invited to leave when the original term expires. Can he reassure the House that a much tighter and effective system of follow-up will be put in place?

Mr. Hurd

I am coming to the question of overstaying. My hon. Friend is on to a familiar point, which raises the useful deployment of services and whether it would be sensible to go to the enormous expense of providing a comprehensive exit control. I accept the need to stiffen the arrangements and, as he knows, to a large extent, that is happening.

Mr. Hurd

I will now get on.

The intention of the changes that I have announced so far is to produce a better customer service and a tighter immigration control. The main beneficiaries of my announcements will be those who at present suffer from delays, and right hon. and hon. Members who chastise us because of those delays, which the proposals are principally aimed to reduce.

Let me now deal with the procedures under which hon. Members take up immigration cases with me or with my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I do not believe that many hon. Members find the present arrangements satisfactory. The enormous number of cases imposes considerable burdens not only on my hon. Friend, but also on the hon. Members concerned, and often results in lengthy delays. Ministers are put in the position of having to examine straightforward and routine cases for which a statutory appeals system exists. I hope that new arrangements can be found which will better achieve the objective of providing a service to hon. Members and their constituents without detracting from the proper exercise of ministerial responsibility.

At the same time, I believe that it would be right to review the arrangements for dealing with hon. Members' interventions—particularly "stops" in port cases—that have been operating over the past 12 months. I want to hear the views of all hon. Members on both issues, and I shall shortly be writing to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) with a number of proposals. I am making no proposals today, but simply signalling that we wish to open up the subject.

Clause 1 of the Bill repeals section 1(5) of the 1971 Act, which sought to preserve the position of British and other Commonwealth citizen men settled here at the time of the 1971 Act, and their wives and children, so that they could not be adversely affected by subsequent rule changes. The terms of section 1(5) are very wide. They apply to all British and other Commonwealth citizen men and boys, whether black, white or brown, who were born before 1973 and settled here when the Act came into force. The main effect is that the wives and children of those covered by section 1(5) are able to come here without having to meet the marriage tests in the immigration rules, and without having to meet the requirement that there must be adequate financial support and accommodation for them without recourse to public funds.

Fourteen years have passed since section 1(5) came into effect. It is not confined to adult men living here before 1972, their wives at that time and their children at that time. I want to emphasise that. If section 1(5) continues in force, it will have effect well into the next century on those who were settled here as boys before 1973 when they marry and have children. It has also been objected to on the ground that it confers benefits on wives and not on husbands. Following the Abdulaziz case at the European Court of Human Rights, the Government gave a commitment to end that element of sex discrimination.

Section 1(5) gives rise to anomalies and unacceptable results. Let us take the example of a family with a daughter, a son born in 1972 and a son born in 1973. If they all marry abroad and apply to bring their spouses here, the application from the wife of the elder son will fall to be dealt with on a different basis from that applying to the husband of his sister or the wife of his younger brother. Such a result cannot be right. To take a further—and actual—example, in the recent case of Husseyin, the Court of Appeal found that a woman who was the subject of a deportation order could not be deported because she married a man who qualified under section 1(5) after the deportation order, but before deportation action could be taken. That also cannot be sensible.

Those examples illustrate the anomalies and difficulties to which section 1(5) gives rise. Accordingly, we now propose to repeal section 1(5). I stress that that does not mean that those settled here before 1973 will be unable to bring their wives and children to join them. It merely means that they will have to satisfy the same requirements in the immigration rules as those who do not benefit from section 1(5). We already apply the full range of requirements in the immigration rules to those who have come to settle here after the beginning of 1973. After 14 years, it seems right now to bring these special benefits under section 1(5) to an end, and to treat everyone on the same footing. [Interruption.] May I develop my argument before the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) intervenes?

Of course, the change will affect people regardless of origin—a point that was clearly made in this week's New Statesman. However, when Parliament considered the matter in 1971, it was concerned about the rights of adult males already settled here. From previous patterns of immigration, it might reasonably have been assumed that, once those men had brought in their close dependants, the demand for entry of dependants would begin to fall away. So far, that has happened only to a modest degree, because those who were children in 1973 are still often seeking wives and husbands from the sub-continent. That is their right, and the Bill does not remove it. The Bill says, however, that it is not a right which should be exercised indefinitely without regard to the ability of those concerned to support themselves once they are here. It is no service to community relations for families to come here if they are then homeless or destitute. It is fair and reasonable that people should not come here without having somewhere to live and some means of support without recourse to public funds.

There are of course some applications now outstanding from the wives and children of section 1(5) men, and there will be more by the time that clause 1 comes into effect. It would be unfair to penalise those applying to come here from parts of the world where there are queues for entry clearance. I therefore propose to frame the commencement order so that applications from section 1(5) beneficiaries which are outstanding when clause 1 comes into effect are dealt with in accordance with the law as it stood at the time of application. 1 propose to adopt the same approach in dealing with applications from polygamous wives under clause 2.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Has not the Home Secretary said on a number of occasions how strongly he is against retrospective legislation? Does not this clause retrospectively deny rights to people who have held those rights for 14 years? Can the right hon. Gentleman see any moral justification for that?

Mr. Hurd

I have explained the justification, which I think is very clear. The proposal will make overwhelming sense to people as they grasp its impact. I have tried in the transitional arrangements to meet the point about retrospection, and I think that I have done so.

Clause 2 seeks to prevent the entry of more than one wife of a polygamous marriage where the second wife applies to come here in exercise of a right of abode which she has by virtue of her marriage. I do not wish to exaggerate the point. The number of polygamous wives coming here is quite small we estimate that perhaps 25 or so polygamous households are set up here every year. However, polygamy is not an acceptable social custom in this country. I have no doubt that it would cause serious damage to community relations if it became generally understood that men settled here could continue to bring in a number of wives each. I very much hope that, on reflection, the Opposition will not make an issue of the change. The numbers involved are small, but the principle is not acceptable. The sooner we make that clear in the law of the land, the less likely it will be that damage to community relations will result.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

My right hon. Friend will know that, in my constituency, there was a recent case of polygamy in which the intended wife was under the age of 15. Will not the Bill help to stop the awful abuse of children involved in such practices?

Mr. Hurd

I understand my hon. Friend's point. There is an overwhelming argument of common sense in favour of the proposal.

Clause 3 deals with a loophole that emerged about 18 months ago, when about 1,500 women and children arrived here. It was claimed that the children were British citizens by descent, but they had not first established that claim. When they were refused leave to enter, they claimed a right of appeal in this country, and the appellate authorities ruled that the existing provisions of the law meant that they had such a right. The number of arrivals in the past 12 months has been small, but, again, we need to close the loophole.

Accordingly, clause 3 extends to the groups affected a requirement that already applies to all other passengers arriving at our ports claiming British citizenship they should establish their claim by obtaining a British passport or other document establishing their citizenship. If they arrive here without the necessary documents, they will he able to be removed and will not have a right of appeal in this country. That will reassert, in this limited category, the principle that people seeking to come here for settlement should establish their claim to do so before travelling. It does not alter the existing discretion of the immigration officer to accept as a British citizen a returning holiday maker who has lost his passport but who can show that he lives here.

Clauses 4 and 5 strengthen the enforcement arrangements in the 1971 Act to enable us to take quicker and more effective action against those who flout the conditions under which they were allowed in. Clause 4 restricts the right of appeal against administrative deportation of those overstaying leave to enter this country, or failing to observe a condition of leave so that they can appeal only on the facts of the case and not on the merits of the deportation decision.

Those who are here for more than seven years will, however, still be able to appeal on the merits of the deportation decision. The order-making power in subsection (2) is to enable me to fulfil commitments given in the European Court, when we undertook that an overstayer who claims political asylum should be able, in certain circumstances, to appeal against deportation to the appellate authorities in such a way that they can consider the asylum claim as well as the question of overstaying.

Clause 5 is not new. As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) knows, an earlier version appeared in the Criminal Justice Bill before the election. The clause seeks to return the application of the law about overstaying to what it was before the cases of Gurde v Singh and Grant v. Borg. In the former, the court found that overstaying was not a continuing offence under the terms of the 1971 Act, and in the latter the House of Lords ruled that the offence of overstaying a period of leave could be committed only on the first day following its expiry. That seemed to us to be an extremely restrictive definition of the offence of overstaying. We propose in the Bill to restore the law to what we supposed it to be before those two cases.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

The seven-year rule in clause 4 is extremely important. It matters enormously whether the seven-year period is to count from the last time that the person affected entered the United Kingdom or is to relate to people who have lived for more than seven years in the United Kingdom. The Home Secretary will understand the difference. People who may have been living here for between 14 and 20 years could have paid a visit abroad during the past seven years and, therefore, could be deemed to be ineligible for the benefits provided by the clause.

Mr. Hurd

It will count from the last time that they entered this country. [Interruption.] However, I shall ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to elaborate on that point.

The restriction will apply to cases where there is already a right of appeal through the appellate machinery. What is at stake at the moment is a later right of appeal against deportation. There is already a right of appeal against refusal of leave to remain. In most cases we are referring to the second stage, where there is a right of appeal against the deportation that follows from that. That right of appeal is to be restricted in the way that I have described.

Clause 6 is concerned with Europe. The 1971 Act was drawn up before we joined the European Community, and in some respects it is inconsistent with European Community law. In particular, nationals of European Community states, and their family members who come here in exercise of the right of free movement, do not require leave to enter. Clause 6 makes that point. It is our intention to make an Order in Council under the European Communities Act 1972, setting out the position of people who are claiming free movement rights.

Finally, among the main provisions of the Bill, clause 7 enables me to charge for providing special immigration services and for settlement. I have it in mind that if a commercial operator—for example, an airline—asks for the attendance of additional immigration officers at a specific time or place for special reasons, that will enable charges to be made for such services, assuming that the necessary immigration officers can be made available. On charges for settlement, we already charge for visas, entry clearance and citizenship. It is also right that we should be able to charge for the grant of settlement, on the usual basis of recovering the costs of considering the application for settlement.

I have ranged fairly widely through the Bill and a few related matters, because I thought that it would be helpful to put the proposals in context. Immigration has been, and to some extent remains, one of the most difficult, sensitive and emotive subjects in political life. It needs to be handled carefully. Responsible politicians should avoid sensationalising the issue, because of the consequences that such remarks can have.

Ms. Short

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hurd

No. I have already given way to the hon. Lady.

The issue must also be approached with candour. At the general election the Conservative manifesto repeated our long-standing commitment to "firm but fair" immigration controls. We promised the legislation that is now before the House, to ensure the effectiveness of those controls. The Opposition's manifesto pledged their attachment to firm and fair immigration control. So far, so good. The Opposition have chosen our words. I hope that they will accept our policies.

Mr. Leighton

Six months will undoubtedly be enough for most visitors, but there will be occasions when a visitor could make a good case for staying here for seven or eight months. Something might happen while the visitor was here. What would happen in such a case?

Mr. Hurd

Although the percentage is slightly higher for visitors from the Indian sub-continent, only 0.5 per cent. of the total number of visitors stay for more than six months. It will always be possible on compassionate grounds to allow visitors to stay for longer than six months.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Hurd

No, I am coming to the end of my speech. I have been quite generous in giving way. Many hon. Members will wish to take part in what is to be an abbreviated debate.

When the Opposition consider how to deal with the Bill, I hope that they will resist the temptation to say different things to different audiences in different parts of town. They have slipped into the habit of saying that they believe in firm control and then denouncing as racist all attempts to improve the effectiveness of the controls. The Opposition cannot will the end without willing the means. If they attempt to do so, people will suspect, with reason, that they are trying to send different messages about their interests to different parts of the community.

The ritual denunciation of modest Government measures—such as the denunciations that I read in the press following a very reasonable meeting that I had a few weeks ago with the right hon. Member for Gorton and several of his colleagues—spread needless distress and alarm among the ethnic minorities. I recall the hubbub about the visa discussion, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) drew attention. However, the hubbub has died down, because the new system was never as it was described and denounced by the Opposition. It has proved to be workable and sensible. Many bona fide travellers from the Indian sub-continent have found that the system provides advantages. All that I am asking for is clear thinking by the Opposition. They must stop speaking on this subject with a forked tongue.

I commend the Bill to the House. It is not a major, new piece of legislation. It makes sensible and limited changes to ensure that our immigration law is flexible, effective and strong enough to cope with the pressures of movement across international boundaries which we see as we approach the end of the 20th century. I believe that such flexibility and strength is a condition of harmony in our cities.

4.49 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

The best thing that can be said about the Home Secretary's performance today is that he began to introduce the Bill in an apologetic manner. Of his 37-minute speech, the first 17 minutes were wholly devoted to matters that do not concern the Bill. I do not blame him for that. If I were introducing the Bill, I would want to talk about something else as well.

Before I refer to the Bill, I want to make two points about the approach to visitors that the Home Secretary foreshadowed in his opening comments. First, I do not believe for a moment that he would have condescended to comment today had not the letter from his under-secretary, Mr. T. C. Platt, announcing the decisions been in wide circulation at the weekend. Secondly, every time that the Home Secretary or one of his Tory predecessors has announced that there are pressures on the immigration service, the only solution that they can think of is to reduce immigrants' rights rather than to improve the service. When we come to debate the new regulations, we will make it clear that it is all very well to talk about firm and fair regulations, but it is wholly unacceptable to do that when every time the regulations are examined in practice they are found, not to be fair, but to be directly discriminatory.

The Bill is the most tawdry little measure that I have seen presented to Parliament during my 23 years as a Member of Parliament. It benefits virtually no one. It penalises a number of British families and families of Commonwealth citizens. Worst of all, it prejudices good community relations by pretending that there is an immigration problem when no such immigration problem exists. If the Home Secretary wants an example of that, he need go no further than consider his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) who rose, as such persons do, and referred to overstaying. The Home Secretary is aware that overstaying is a spectre that is raised by people such as the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire. However, the Home Secretary did not have the integrity to tell his hon. Friend that overstaying is a problem that has been wildly blown up out of all proportion by the populist commentators. The Bill encourages that kind of canard. It is not to the Home Secretary's credit that he did not slap his hon. Friend down when he tried to raise the issue of overstaying.

Mr. Forth

The right hon. Gentleman should know that the one issue that was raised more than any other with me on the doorsteps during the election campaign by ordinary people was that of immigration. For that reason, the measures that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has brought to the House today will be very welcome to my constituents. I did not have to raise those matters with my constituents; they raised them with me.

Mr. Hattersley

I have absolutely no doubt that the hon. Gentleman talked more about immigration than about anything else during the election campaign. That is one of my complaints about the Bill.

The deplorable thing about the Bill is that it affects so little that really concerns national life. It is less concerned with legislation than with propaganda. For example, we should consider clause 2, the so-called polygamous marriage clause. The clause has 10 subsections to deal with an average of 20 entrants a year. That is one subsection for every two entrants a year—a legislative record, even by this Government's standards, on immigration legislation.

The families that will be adversely affected by the Bill will invariably be black or of Asian origin. What is more, the families that will be adversely affected will almost invariably be poor. Indeed, the families that remain separated as a result of the new decisions implicit in clause 1 will, by definition, be the unemployed, the low-waged and the homeless. That is why I argue that the Bill is bad in content, worse in effect, but worst of all in intention. The primary purpose of the Bill, to use a phrase which the Home Secretary seems to like, but which is detested by people who respect the family life of Sikhs and Moslems no less than that of Christians, is not legislation, but propaganda.

In The Guardian last Friday the Minister of State, Home Office wrote that the purpose of the Bill was to "repair loopholes" created by "judicial activism". The Minister of State's memory must he no better than his command of the English language. By "judicial activism" I presume that he means the several tribunal decisions t hat supported appellants against the Government. I assume that it refers to the judgment that the Government had violated the European convention on human rights, and also to the Law Lords ruling in the case of Grant v. Borg. In itself, that is a sorry record. It shows the Government's belief that they must make obeisance to the law only when the law is working to the Tory party's convenience. However, the most important aspect of "judicial activism" about which the Home Secretary complains relates to the Law Lords refusing to act as the Government's poodle in Grant v. Borg, and that happened five years ago.

Clause 1, which the Home Secretary proposed with as near conviction as he could muster, breaks a promise made in 1971 by changing a rule that has been in force since 1973. The question which the Home Secrertary must ask, but which he cannot answer without condemning himself and the Government, is, "Why are we dealing with the loopholes now after 15 years, 12 years and six years?" The answer is that the Home Secretary found it convenient to find and fill what he calls the gaps at the beginning of the general election campaign. He found it convenient to fill those gaps in the most public way in a letter that he sent to a Tory candidate in a marginal constituency. Happily, the rascist card did not take the trick, for Mr. Piers Merchant lost. However, the purpose of the Bill is to enable the Government to continue polishing their image to show that the Conservative party is the party that is hard on immigration.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

As Mr. Merchant is no longer a Member of the House, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not try to imply that in any sense Mr. Merchant, who was an extremely diligent and honourable Member of the House, was in any way racist.

Mr. Hattersley

My complaint is not against Mr. Merchant, wherever he may be. My complaint is against the Home Secretary, who sent that deplorable letter to Mr. Merchant and used Mr. Merchant as a vehicle for that kind of propaganda.

As a result of the Home Secretary's behaviour, the Bill will make no material change to the life of this country. However, it will damage the interests of some of our most disadvantaged citizens. The great party of Peel, Disraeli and Salisbury now seeks a pathetic political advantage by excluding 20 Bangladeshi second wives from this country each year. I hope that that makes the Home Secretary feel proud of his legislative record.

The next justification offered by the Home Secretary for the Bill is that it ends a number of anomalies. In fact, the Bill confirms and reinforces the greatest anomaly of all with regard to citizenship. Clause 1 ensures that in all circumstances EEC nationals enjoy rights of settlement that are denied to Commonwealth citizens. Clause 1 actually confirms that an EEC national enjoys rights that are denied to British citizens. It is easier for a Frenchman living in Britain to bring his American wife into this country than it is for a British citizen to do the same. It is easier for a British citizen to arrange the entry of his wife into Germany than it is for him to bring his wife into the country of his birth and residence. Yet the Home Secretary tells us that he is trying to clear up anomalies.

If a British woman marries a foreign national, the husband will be allowed to enter this country only after the application of the primary purpose rule—a test that is intentionally weighted against applicants. However, an EEC citizen living in Britain will be able to bring a wife or a husband into this country without having to submit himself or herself or the spouse to that test.

The anomaly created by the Bill is highlighted by the changes in the procedure for registration at the end of the year. An Irishman living in Britain who may want to bring his wife to Britain will have more right to unite his family here than will a British subject. The advice that must be given, therefore, to those Irishmen who are pondering whether to apply for registration before 1 January is to remain Irish in Britain because, if they wish to bring their wives into this country, they have a better chance of doing so than if they become English by a Bill that is supposed to clear up anomalies.

The Irish will be caught in the backwash of the anti-immigration posturing, yet in defence of the Bill the Minister of State said in The Guardian that the Government have no wish to belittle the very major contribution made to our national life by the minority communities". Frankly, I prefer the honest racists, who at least spare us hypocrisy. If, as the Minister pretends, the Government want a society not marred by racial discrimination", why are he and the Secretary of State raising unnecessary fears by promoting this rotten little Bill? If racial equality is the Government's real objective, why, for eight years, have they constantly promoted legislation that has acted against the interests of the minorities, discriminated against their customs and mores and wilfully prevented the reunion of their families?

The Bill continues that squalid record, as an honest examination of its major clauses demonstrates. Let us consider them one by one. Clause 1 removes from Commonwealth citizens settled here before 1973 the absolute and unqualified right to bring their families into this country—the right which, as the Secretary of State said, was conferred on them by section 1(5) of the Immigration Act 1971. In future they will have to pass whatever tests the Home Secretary stipulates, the primary purpose rule and the demonstration that they will make no call on public funds.

The Home Secretary asked today and in his handout of a fortnight ago why the same tests should not be applied to Commonwealth citizens who settled here before 1973 as to those who settled here more recently. The right hon. Gentleman should know the answer to that question, and I believe that he does. They should not have to pass that test because they were promised exemption in 1971 by the Home Secretary of that time. If the Home Secretary wants to argue with that—I see that he is doing something approaching a nod—I shall gladly quote from a speech made in 1971 by Mr. Reginald Maudling, who was a different sort of Home Secretary in a different sort of Conservative Government. He said: There will be no new papers to be carried, and they will be allowed to bring in dependants … the purpose of the second Amendment is to preserve the current statutory right to bring in wives and children under the age of 16."—[Official Report, 19 October 1971; Vol. 823, c. 552.] That statutory right, as enshrined in the 1971 Act, has now been removed because the Home Secretary has chosen to break his predecessor's promise. As a result, there will be men in Britain today who have worked, waited and saved for 10 years to bring their wives into this country, believing that they could trust the Government's word and who will now find that they are mistaken. If, after working for 10 years and paying tax and national insurance contributions, they become unemployed, they will not now be allowed to bring their wives into this country.

I offer a second objection to the change in the rules, which is perhaps more fundamental than the first. Men and women settled in Britain should have the automatic right to be joined here by their husbands or wives and dependent children. The primary purpose rule is wrong because it requires an applicant to prove what is logically and rationally unprovable. It is a test which confuses, and is intended to confuse, the applicant. It keeps genuinely married couples apart and, according to the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, the interviews on which the test is based contain intentionally misleading questions which, almost invariably, encourage genuine applicants to give the wrong answers. Entry on the basis of the primary purpose rule is being refused to applicants who, on the criteria laid down by the tribunal in the case of Arun Kumar, should be granted entry. By every application, in principle and in practice, the primary purpose rule is discriminatory and a disgrace, and it is made no better by the Home Secretary's intention to apply it to everyone rather than only to unlucky recent applications.

Ms. Short

I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend about the application of the rule. Did he see the piece in The Guardian some weeks ago, in which the Minister of State, having visited the sub-continent, is reported to have stated that officers there regarded the rule as unjust, because it penalised the genuine cases and that the Government were thinking of bringing in a quota system instead? Will my right hon. Friend press the Home Secretary for an answer on that?

Mr. Hattersley

I understand that there are sources in the Government—I do not wish to condemn the Home Secretary to remaining in his present position by suggesting that he is one of them—who share my view of the primary purpose rule and would prefer to replace it with a quota. That would certainly be the right thing to do, as the primary purpose rule is intolerable in every particular. It is logically absurd and morally indefensible and we shall continue to fight against it, both during the passage of the Bill and thereafter.

The primary purpose rule is made no better by extending it to a new class of applicant. The Home Secretary says that it is subject to an appeals procedure, albeit an inadequate one, but he can no longer rely on everything being put right by appeals, because clauses 4 and 5 effectively remove the right of appeal from alleged overstayers. In Grant v. Borg the House of Lords ruled that the offence of overstaying was committed only the day after leave expired. I understand the difficulties of that, but everyone knows that the real punishment for overstaying is not a few weeks in prison or a £500 fine, but removal from this country. In the past, most removals have been subject to appeal, allowing examination of the compassionate reasons, which ought to result in a real judgment whether the overstayer should be allowed to remain.

I should make it absolutely clear that I will have no truck with the wilful, the casual, the frivolous or the cynical overstayers. I share the Home Secretary's belief that they should be returned home. There are, however, overstayers who have spent most of their lives in this country, who have wives, families and dependent relatives. A decent system would allow their cases to be examined on appeal on compassionate grounds. If the Bill is passed, an overstayer convicted of the new or extended offence of overstaying, which can be prosecuted over an extended period, will he subject to removal from this country if the court recommends deportation, without the case being subject to the extensive and potentially compassionate appeal that is built into the present system. I repeat that I will have no truck with the frivolous, cynical, wilful or unjustifiable overstayer, but each case must be examined on its merits. That was possible under section 3(5) of the 1971 Act, which allowed a proper appeal to a tribunal, which would consider all the circumstances. If the Bill is passed, that proper appeal will no longer be available.

Clause 3 prevents British citizens from entering Great Britain unless they can present documents proving their status. Will the Minister tell us the estimated size of the problem that the clause is intended to solve? We know that the clause concerning bigamous wives, which received so much publicity when the Home Secretary announced the Bill—from the purity of his position, I am sure that that was not his intention—affects 20 or 25 people in this country. What is the Government's estimate of the number of people entering this country claiming to be British citizens but unable to prove it instantly? The claims made by the then Home Secretary during the passage of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Bill make it almost inconceivable that people could board planes in Delhi or Islamabad saying that they are British citizens but without any papers to prove it.

How many people do the Government expect to arrive at Heathrow on an average day claiming to be British but unable to prove it? I suspect that there will be very few indeed, but I know that, by and large, they will have one of two characteristics—either they will be children of genuine citizens but unable to prove their citizenship without being in the United Kingdom to obtain the necessary proof, or they will be people born in this country who, on their return in desperate circumstances, do not appear to those who judge them to fit the stereotype of the normal British citizen. The people excluded at Heathrow who claim British citizenship but cannot prove it will not be those with Anglo-Saxon names and complexions. They will be children of Asian immigrants—children born in the United Kingdom who returned to India or Pakistan in early childhood—or children born in the West Indies to British fathers. That is a further reason for our profound objection to the Bill. Even when it does not discriminate by intention, it will do so in effect.

Our basic objection is even more fundamental. The Bill is wholly unnecessary. Its purpose is to allow people like the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire, who made his little point and scampered off, to pretend that there is a problem in the continued presence in this country of black and Asian immigrants, and of their children and grandchildren, who are not immigrants at all, but citizens of the United Kingdom, with exactly the same rights as the Home Secretary and I have. The Bill denies the natural rights of many of these people. Above all, it denies the right of family unity to men and women already living here. It panders to prejudice and will heighten rather than reduce racial tension. It is a disgrace to a democratic Parliament, and of course we shall vote against it.

5.12 pm
Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

During the last Parliament, I was honoured to spend four years on the Home Affairs Committee and its Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. During those years I had the privilege of visiting many of the places from which our immigrant community originated, particularly Mirpur in Kashmir, Bombay, Delhi, Sylhet in northern Bangladesh, and Hong Kong. In all those places, I was greatly impressed by the work of Foreign Office and Home Office staff, who have a particularly difficult job to do on behalf of all our citizens, be they black or white. Anyone who has sat in on an interview is aware of the tension created by the experience. That tension is felt not just by the people being interviewed, for whom it must be extremely frightening, having to argue their case perhaps through an interpreter and knowing that a decision so important to their future may go against them, but by the people conducting the interview. They have to get it right. They must be dispassionate and accurate, and they are not above criticism.

One occasionally hears from Opposition Members that the work of the entry clearance officers, particularly on the sub-continent, is carried out brusquely and rudely. Occasionally they are accused of racism. I saw no evidence of that when I was on the sub-continent with the Home Affairs Select Committee. Instead, I saw men and women bending over backwards to be fair. During our discussions with the Foreign Office, and the Home Office, I saw such men and women being properly trained to deal with the problems that they face. I saw the dedication with which the entry clearance officers from the Foreign Office and the Home Office went about their work, trying not only to learn the languages of the people whom they interview, but to appreciate their religion and culture.

As part of the work of the Sub-Committee, we visited ports of entry in the United Kingdom and Lunar house. This is a fair occasion on which to pay tribute to the immigration officers at our various ports of entry and at Lunar house. I found them courteous and helpful. There are occasions when tensions rise, and when it seems there is too much work for too few people. I am glad that most of the staff employed by the Home Office in this country who carry out such a difficult role are properly trained in racial awareness and in ways of dealing with people who may be tired after a long flight and confused when confronted by British officials. Indeed, the training that such officials receive properly reflects the difficult task that they carry out. They were not always so aware of the problems faced by people from far away countries hut the training is now up to standard.

I also visited the Harmondsworth detention centre and the detention centre at the Queen's building at Heathrow. Those are miserable places. They are the most depressing part of the immigration department structure. They are a scar on the reputation of this nation. Detention centres should be bigger and more comfortable. When I consider Latchmere house, which is in my constituency, I feel that they are not appropriate for people who, after all, have not been convicted of any crime.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hanley

I do not wish to give way to Opposition Members regularly.

Mr. Corbyn

I sincerely thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he agree that far too many people are held in detention? Should we not perhaps give priority to reducing the number of people wrongfully held in detention instead of building up a huge system of detention centres for people who, he admits, have committed no crime?

Mr. Hanley

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman directly. I wish that more people would arrange their affairs so that they have proper entry clearance before they come to this country and avoid being detained for any reason. It inconveniences those individuals who are detained. It is also expensive and distressing for us all. They could do more to help themselves at their port of departure and thus avoid the whole panoply of the detention process and the disgraceful circumstances in which they are held. The staff try their hardest to be polite and pleasant, but the conditions in which people are kept are less than I would expect. I hope that, when he replies, my hon. Friend the Minister will mention that.

We should consider the size of the problem that confronts the Home Office each year. The last full year for which figures are available is 1986, when more than 7 million visitors came to the United Kingdom. That is a mind-boggling statistic. Of those people, most come for short-term holidays, leave when they are due to leave and cause no trouble. They not only enrich our country financially, but they learn of the country's benefits and depart spreading the good will which I hope they enjoyed here. Many come for settlement, and during the past 10 years about 600,000 people were given permanent settlement in the United Kingdom. Therefore, in the past 10 years we have given permanent homes to far more than half a million people. Of those, the majority come from the Indian sub-continent or south-east Asia.

Opposition Members say that the Government are racist, but it is hardly the record of a racist Government to allow so many people from such wide backgrounds and origins to settle. Indeed, their accusation that our immigration law is racist is unfair, not only when one considers the numbers who have been given permanent settlement, but when one considers what the Labour Government did. The law then was much the same as under this Government. Therefore, if there are criticisms to be made, they should have been levelled as much at the Labour Government as they are at this Government.

During the past 10 years, 25,000 people have been given refugee status in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hattersley

Surely the hon. Gentleman will have the grace to concede that the primary purpose rule and all the other rules which are preventing husbands from joining wives and wives from joining husbands, which is the major disgrace of our immigration legislation, did not apply until the Conservative party came to office?

Mr. Hanley

I entirely agree that the primary purpose rule as phrased at present did not apply under the Labour Government. However, it has always been necessary to control bogus marriages, and those who sell their nationality to somebody else must be controlled. The right hon. Gentleman may be a little surprised to hear that I do not hold much truck with the primary purpose rule as it is at present instituted.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hanley

No, I will not give way because I should like to develop the point that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has made.

Mr. Heffer

I wish to give some practical examples.

Mr. Hanley

The primary purpose rule is less than perfect and in some cases people who have genuine marriages are separated because of it. I know it is hard to say this, but it is not our immigration law which separates families; it is families which separate families. People choose to leave their family home and come here before they have clearance for their family. It is inherent in our immigration rules that people must make sure that their families are entitled to come here before they come here and separate themselved from their families. Morover, if they feel that separation is unacceptable, they can always consider returning to their families, thus rejoining the family and stopping the separation. That aspect is often ignored; and, indeed, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook ignored it when he said that the primary purpose rule separated families. It is not the rule that causes separation; it is the action and wishes of individuals.

Nevertheless, I agree that the primary purpose rule needs revision and I certainly believe that it would be better if we could make the interview procedure even more acceptable than it is at present. I have sat in on primary purpose rule interviews in Bombay and Calcutta and listened to the questioning. Certainly, I did not witness any loaded questions, and when in the past examples of loaded questions have been brought to the attention of the Home Office those questions have not been asked again. Naturally, not every interviewer can get it right the first time. It is difficult to interview people on the primary purpose rule. However, I believe that the Home Office is extremely sensitive about this, and so it should be. The instructions given to ECOs are wholly fair and, where there have been abuses or errors, the procedures have been tightened up and improved.

Mr. John Watts (Slough)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would help if we had a procedure for taping interviews under controlled conditions so that there would be a validated record of precisely what transpires? Does he share my experience that on some occasions applicants allege that unsuitable questions were asked and it is never possible to establish the truth or otherwise of such allegations because there is no independent record of precisely what happened at the interview?

Mr. Hanley

I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend. The Select Committee in its report in the spring of 1985 recommended that a reliable record of asylum interviews should be made. Experiments on taping interviews were carried out. Naturally, the difficulties of that are well known, but I am glad that experiments were carried out and that it may be possible to have more immigration interviews recorded. I am sure that the difficulties of tape-recording interviews, especially where two and sometimes three languages are used, are clear to all hon. Members. There is the further difficulty of storing the cassettes. It is difficult enough to store the paper that flows from immigration interviews, let alone cassettes for each interview. However, we should have more taping of interviews and I am glad that my hon. Friend agrees with the Select Committee on that.

On illegal entrants, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook wanted to know how many people arrived in the United Kingdom without having cleared their documents first.

Mr. Hattersley

It is a question of people claiming British citizenship. Will the hon. Gentleman tell me whether he thinks that tape recording their interviews would help?

Mr. Hanley

I am sorry, but I could not hear that.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the hon. Gentleman give me a figure—his estimate or that of somebody else—of the number of people who might arrive at Heathrow claiming British citizenship without papers? Does he think that tape recording their interviews would help?

Mr. Hanley

Tape recording of interviews would help at every level.

Mr. Hattersley

What is the point of tape recording those interviews if there is to be no appeal system afterwards, which is what the Bill seeks?

Mr. Hanley

As I have said, I believe it is right that interviews should be taped. I do not find the right hon. Gentleman's point constructive. In direct answer to his question, I believe that over a relatively short period in 1986 some 1,500 wives and children arrived at ports of entry in the United Kingdom claiming to be British citizens, hut with no evidence to support that contention.

Mr. Hattersley

I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman has not answered my question. How many people have arrived under those conditions since the passage of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987, which seeks to prevent people from getting on aircraft without documents?

Mr. Hanley

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman supports that Act.

We were considering the number of illegal entrants. In 1986, some 1,582 illegal entrants were traced and about 10,000 have been traced over the past 10 years. It is wholly wrong for the Labour party not to condemn those who abuse our immigration laws because they do harm to our community, to race relations within the community and to those who are waiting to come here legally.

Mr. Corbyn

What about Zola Budd?

Mr. Hanley

What about Precious McKenzie?

Mr. Corbyn

Who is he?

Mr. Hanley

The hon. Gentleman is obviously ignorant. If he would care to stop shouting and leave the Chamber and look in the Library he will find the answer to that question.

Mr. Corbyn

I was trying to suggest that perhaps the hon. Gentleman should consider the unwholesome, not to say grossly unfair, way in which Zola Budd was rushed into this country because she is white, from South. Africa and can run, whereas 12,000 families are forced to remain in Bangladesh because of a deliberate bureaucratic decision taken by the Home Secretary.

Mr. Hanley

Zola Budd was allowed in because of rights that have been debated in the House for hour after hour. I happened to mention Mr. Precious McKenzie who was also allowed into this country, and one should balance his case against that of Miss Budd.

The Bill is merely a technical measure. Certainly, any Immigration Bill raises passions, and it is not surprising that the House has already experienced some shouting from one side to the other. It is always regrettable that this issue raises passions. However, it raises passions outside the House, too.

It is vital that we should have immigration laws that are practical, that work and are not racial or discriminatory. It is difficult to have any immigration law enforced in a country without there being tension. I pay tribute to the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service for the work that it does. The dispassionate way in which it carries out its work helps to reduce the tensions and clamour so often associated with this issue. We should see whether the Bill answers the tensions and clamour. I believe that it does. Under clause 4 I am certain that cases will be decided in a dispassionate way and that the distress that is so often caused by campaigns claiming that the Government have acted wrongly will be reduced.

Mr. Boateng

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should reduce the clamour that he describes as surrounding these cases by reducing the right of appeal? If he is, that is truly a horrific concept and one that does not do him or his party any credit.

Mr. Hanley

To reduce the length of time for which an appeal can continue when there are no real grounds for that appeal is a service to the person who has no right to be here and to the host community. In other words, I do not agree that clause 4 is the ogre that the Immigration Law Practitioners Association claims. One can understand why it wants litigation to go on and on, and one can therefore see why it opposes clause 4. However, I cannot believe that clause 4 will do other than bring about the determination of a case much more quickly and fairly than at present. We should remember that nothing in the Bill removes the discretion of the Home Secretary. He can still decide cases based on his discretion. The Bill simply means that an appeal on the grounds of that discretion cannot be brought.

I should like to clear up a point that I heard on the radio this morning. Clause 1 will not prevent the entry of wives and children of Commonwealth citizens who settled here on 1 January 1973. It is remarkable that people should say that it will. All it does—we have heard this from the Home Secretary—is to require those people to satisfy the same tests as others. Therefore, it is vital for fairness that there should not be two, three or four different classes of individuals living beside each other who, because of the accident of a particular date, happen to find themselves with or without certain special privileges. The Conservative party agrees with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook who pointed to some of the illogicalities that will exist even after the Bill becomes part of immigration law. I am sure that many of us would like some of the old privileges to be removed so that all people are treated in the same way. I believe that the Bill is one step on that road. I certainly expect there to be other Immigration Bills to come.

It is wholly fair that anybody who comes to this country, even if they have been here before 1973, should have to face the same tests as others as to the genuineness of their marriage and the ability to keep their family in this country without being a burden on the state. Too many of us believe that the rights — rights they were — enshrined in 1971 and in operation from 1 January 1973 are inviolable. Those rights were provided in order to serve a need at a certain time, but now, 17 years later, it is fairer that we should have rights that are common to all people of the same circumstances. I believe that to hark back to the rights of the Immigration Act 1971 and to treat the removal of those rights as damaging, racist and discriminatory is wrong. It removes elements of discrimination and makes people more equal. In future we will look back and ask why we did not do it earlier.

The Select Committee found that the number of cases involving polygamy is extremely small but the subject did raise amazing passions among the people who brought the subject to us, particularly the Bangladeshi community. There were many people within the Bangladeshi community in the United Kingdom—the evidence is in the report of the Select Committee—who felt that it was unfair that certain people should enjoy what was effectively a privilege because of the choice of religion. We recommended in one of our reports that action should be taken to stop immigration abuse caused by polygamous marriages. We are glad that it will be brought into law by the Bill. The numbers are small but we should adhere to the principle.

Unlike some Labour Members, I do not believe that nuclear warfare is imminent. I believe that because of our defence stance nuclear warfare is well away. But I believe that bad race relations are more likely to cause blood on our streets than nuclear warfare any day. It is vital that we have a harmonious community and that passions are not whipped up for politial causes when Bills of this sort—technical measures—are introduced. I feel that the Bill should be not so much welcomed as accepted. It is not the sort of Bill to make one raise flags and say that it will make a vast difference to the nation. It will remove certain discriminatory elements and make immigration law simpler and easier. I hope that our record for accepting people for settlement will be seen in its proper context. We are an open and welcoming community. Some Labour Members are utterly wrong and crass in the open-door immigration policy that has been voiced by some of them.—[Interruption.] Our immigration law is necessary for good race relations. The Bill will do nothing to harm them.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is there not a rule about an hon. Member making an unsupported, totally bogus, totally incorrect and totally wicked allegation without giving way and then finishing his speech?

Madam Deputy Speaker

I thought that the hon. Gentleman had finished his speech. I understand that that is the case.

5.40 pm
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) commented correctly and sufficiently on the speech of the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). I was surprised by the hon. Gentleman's declaration that he had been a member of the Select Committee that studied the problems of the Bangladeshi and other immigrant communities. The views that he has formed and the opinions that he has expressed to the House bear no relation to my understanding, or that of my hon. Friends—who are in more direct contact with the Bangladeshi community—of their problems.

Mr. Hanley

rose

Mr. Shore

I am not giving way. I have been generous in mentioning the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hanley

rose

Madame Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he is not giving way. The hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) had the Floor for a long time.

Mr. Hanley

On a point of order, Madame Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman has just attacked me in his speech, and I wish to refute what he said. Is it not in order for me to intervene? Is that not a custom of the House?

Madame Deputy Speaker

It is a custom of the House for an hon. Member who has been named in that way to have an opportunity to reply. However, the hon. Gentleman had the Floor for about 28 minutes. Does the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) want to give way?

Mr. Shore

Only if the hon. Gentleman promises to be brief.

Mr. Hanley

What I said is wholly consistent with the reports of the Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. The right hon. Gentleman will notice that the report on the Bangladeshi community was unanimous, comprising the votes of three Conservative Members and two Labour Members.

Mr. Shore

The report drew attention to the problems of housing, homelessness and separated families in the Bangladeshi community. I wish that some of those problems had been reflected in the speeches of Conservative Members.

I listened carefully to the Home Secretary's speech. I particularly wanted to learn why he considered it necessary to introduce this technical measure. Unfortunately, I did not receive a proper answer. The Home Secretary rightly said that the problem of mass primary immigration had passed and that it had been dealt with by the Immigration Act 1971. He gave figures to demonstrate that the number of people who have been coming to Britain in the past 10 years has fallen steeply. It is now down to about two-thirds of the level of about 10 years ago.

With regard to the control of immigration, why is the Bill necessary? The right hon. Gentleman said that amendments needed to be made to keep the control firm and fair. He did not specify why we need these further controls to keep it firm and fair. He mentioned the overload or strain and stress on the officials who administer the entry clearance system. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) rightly said, that excuse is not acceptable. The alternative way of dealing with that problem is to increase the resources of manpower at Heathrow, at other places of entry and in our missions abroad so that we can deal with the problem more expeditiously without overloading officials in the way that they have been overloaded from time to time in recent years.

We were told that this legislation was necessary to enable the Home Office to react to new developments. I hardly consider the main provisions of the Bill to be new developments. They seem to be the old problems that have been with us from the beginning. As I said, my basic question about why this measure is being introduced was unanswered.

The two central features of the Bill are deeply objectionable. The first concerns the powers that will make it even more difficult for men who have been lawfully resident in the United Kingdom for at least the past 15 years—many of whom are now British citizens—to be joined by their families. The second feature concerns the provisions that severely limit the right of appeal for those who are already in Britain and who have, in the words of the Bill, failed to observe the conditions or limitations on their leave to enter.

In theory, some provisions of the Bill will affect all immigrants, but in practice—little has been said about the practical effects of this proposed legislation — as clause 1 makes plain, the main weight of the Bill will fall on Commonwealth citizens, particularly the Bangladeshi community—the most recent of the communities that have arrived in large numbers in Britain—where the problem of divided families is most serious and acute.

The right to family reunion is enshrined in section 1(5) of the Immigration Act 1971. It promised that nothing done under the Act would make the wives or families of Commonwealth citizens who were settled in Britain before 1973 less free to come to and stay in Britain than they were when the Act was passed. Those promises, which were made by a previous Conservative Government, will now be withdrawn by clause 1 without serious or proper explanation or consideration of the effect that that will have.

Commonwealth citizens who have been in Britain for at least 15 years, including those who came in the 1950s and 1960s, and who have often had to endure long and cruel separations from their families, will now be required to show that they are able to support their families without resort to public funds and that they possess accommodation sufficient to house them before entry certificates are granted. It may be said that after 15 years the great majority should be able to support themselves and their families and that they should have been able to find a home, but when we consider the conditions of housing and unemployment as they affect the areas of immigrant settlement in the United Kingdom, the formidable obstacles that these requirements will present become obvious.

This is not the Britain of full employment as it was when the last Immigration Act was passed. Even according to Government figures, unemployment is over 2.8 million. It is in the inner-city areas, where the immigrant communities have most heavily settled, that unemployment rates are at their highest. The Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets and elsewhere is notoriously industrious and hard working. The scourge of unemployment has visited them in the past eight years with exceptional severity. Many, through no fault of their own, are now dependent on unemployment pay and supplementary benefit. Many more have not been able to acquire housing for themselves or their families.

In Tower Hamlets, where the largest number of Bangladeshis are concentrated in Britain, no fewer than 1,200 families are homeless and living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Many thousands more live in grossly overcrowded conditions. In a borough where 84 per cent. of housing is controlled by the council, homes can be found only if the council makes sufficient housing provision.

Before this Government came to power, in the 1974–79 period, about 900 new homes a year were provided, either by the Tower Hamlets council or the GLC. Two years ago the GLC was abolished and, to my certain knowledge, for the past three years not one new council home has been built in Tower Hamlets. There has been a massive reduction in the provision of rented housing, accompanied by a growing number of families from Bangladesh joining their husbands and fathers, who are already settled in Tower Hamlets. The result is a housing crisis more serious than any to be found elsewhere in England and in any period since the 1940s. The local council sought to diminish the problem by the wretched expedient of declaring Bangladeshi families to be intentionally homeless. They are accused of being intentionally homeless because, by definition, they left homes in Bangladesh to join their husbands and fathers here.

Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)

I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman's observations about homelessness as it affects the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the recent initiative by the London borough of Camden in offering cash incentives to homeless Irish families so that they can return to Ireland should be extended to others of different races, not only in that borough, but in Tower Hamlets?

Mr. Shore

That would be absurd. Surely the hon. Gentleman cannot believe that after all these years of waiting and coming at last to the United Kingdom to join their husbands or fathers those families would willingly accept a payment for their return fare to Bangladesh. That would be totally unreasonable and wrong.

To subject pre-1973 Commonwealth immigrants to the requirement that they must provide suitable accommodation for their families as a condition of entry is to erect the most formidable obstacle yet against family reunion. If the Government really want to solve the problem and to ease the great strain of family separation, they should drop the clause and radically increase housing investment programmes in Tower Hamlets and similar boroughs.

One of the extraordinary things about the Select Committee was that, with its majority of Conservative Members, it recommended that something had to be done to improve the housing programme in Tower Hamlets. It is no good the Home Secretary claiming, as I think he did in justification, that section 1(5) of the 1971 Act is contrary to the European convention on human rights in the sense that it discriminates sexually. If that alleged sexual discrimination is to be put right, the answer, as the Home Secretary well knows, is to extend to women the rights now enjoyed by men, not to remove them.

In principle, clause 3, which also limits rights of access and denies the children of British citizens resident in the United Kingdom right of entry and to have their appeals heard in the United Kingdom, is equally objectionable. One of the first cases arose in my area and it opened up what had not previously been thought to be a right attaching to the children of citizens resident in the United Kingdom. The Home Secretary has been misinformed by his officials if he thinks that the proposed power is necessary. With the introduction of visas for Bangladeshis, Indians and Pakistanis coming to Britain, when fines were imposed upon airlines for bringing them to Britain without a passport or proof of citizenship, those rights were taken away. I have not heard of such a case in the last nine or 12 months.

We need clear answers on several questions relating to clause 1. If a British citizen's child living overseas obtains a United Kingdom passport or certificate of entry, does the parent in Britain still have to satisfy the authorities that the child can be maintained without recourse to public funds and that adequate accommodation is available?

I think that the Home Secretary answered my next question about clause 1. I hope that the small print will be satisfactory. My query concerns people in the pipeline—those who are applying for entry certificates — and whether they will be affected by the new provisions.

The Home Secretary already has the power to deport overstayers. He has administrative powers and powers of criminal prosecution under the Immigration Act 1971. The exercise of both powers is subject to appeal. The appellate authorities have rights to decide and hear appeals on the ground that compassionate circumstances might outweigh the public interest in deporting an overstayer. Further, a prosecution against an overstayer must be brought within three years of the date when overstaying began. Clauses 4 and 5 radically reduce the safeguards. Clause 5 makes overstaying a continuing offence and those affected will, therefore, be liable to criminal prosecution however long they have been here. On appeal, there will be no obligation on the court to consider compassionate circumstances.

Clause 4 is exceptionally severe. Once again, on appeal there will be no requirement that decision-makers take into account circumstances which might be compellingly compassionate. In addition, the clause embraces all those who have been in the United Kingdom for less than seven years. That is an exceptionally long time. In those seven years a person might have married and founded a family. The interests of the wife and children will not now have to be considered on appeal. That is a major loss and change.

Some people overstay because of the fear of persecution for reasons of politics, religion or race. Clause 4(2) enables the Secretary of State to exempt a class of person from the operation of the clause. Are the Government prepared to undertake that people who have applied for asylum as overstayers, or who raise asylum as an issue, will be exempt under clause 4(2) so that on appeal all their circumstances will be judicially considered? I think that the Home Secretary went a long way to meet that point, but I should like to be clear.

Clause 4(2) states that the seven-year rule applies to any person who was last given leave to enter the United Kingdom less than seven years before the date of the decision in question". As I read it, and as I believe the Home Secretary confirmed, that would mean that someone who had been in the United Kingdom for 10, 15 or even more years could still be caught if he had gone abroad for any period during the past seven years and was given leave to enter the United Kingdom on his return. That would be appallingly restrictive.

Even now, unless there are adverse reports on an individual's character and behaviour in the United Kingdom, the Home Office accepts that anyone who has been in the United Kingdom for 10 years and has not spent long periods abroad should be allowed to remain here. We seem to be moving far more restrictively against people who, under the terms of the Bill, have already established a long period of residence in the United Kingdom.

The Bill will have no noticeable numerical effect on the number of people allowed into the United Kingdom. Its effects will be concentrated upon certain communities, especially the Bangladeshi community. It will cause great distress, by prolonging the period for which families are divided and by removing the rights of appeal against bureaucratic decisions on deportation. Far from promoting racial harmony, it will increase the sense of distrust and alienation among the immigrant communities.

If the Home Secretary cannot give assurances on the questions that I have asked, the Bill will be judged as an intolerably illiberal, discriminatory and racist measure. If the Home Secretary accepts the points that have been made and limits some of the worst effects of the Bill, it will still richly deserve to be rejected by the House.

6 pm

Mr. John Watts (Slough)

More than a quarter of my constituents are of Commonwealth and Pakistani origin, so they and I have a keen interest in any measure on immigration or nationality. They have a special interest to ensure that such matters are considered dispassionately and sensitively.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) criticised the Bill for causing unnecessary fear. Yet the right hon. Gentleman and his Labour party colleagues have made exaggerated and inaccurate descriptions of the effects of the Bill, such as suggesting that it removes the right of those settled here before 1973 to bring in their wives and children. During the recent election campaign, in my constituency and in other areas, they went round in an evil and disgraceful way stirring up unnecessary fear about the requirement to register by the end of this year under the British Nationality Act 1981. They told the people in my constituency that if they did not register they would be deported next year. It was done purely for party political purposes, but their stratagem turned round and hit them in the face. Despite the fact that they transmitted this lying and evil message over public address systems and loudspeakers in my constituency, it did not secure the election of the Labour candidate for Slough. It never will.

My constituents are interested in ensuring the firm and fair control of immigration. There is no difference of interest or view among my constituents, whether they come from the Asian, Welsh, Irish, Polish or English communities. Indeed, I have received more representations from Asian constituents that our control over visitors and the admission of dependants and our action in dealing with overstayers is too lax than I have had from any other section of the community. It is not difficult to understand that. Someone who has been settled in Slough for 20 years, having come originally from India, Pakistan or east Africa, who has established himself and his family in a business and who is a full and responsible member of the local community does not wish his position to be undermined by those who try to find loopholes in our immigration control or try to exploit the system.

The Bill, which has been so roundly denounced by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, is fairly modest, but it is necessary and important. It requires that a dependant who will be admitted to Britain should be accommodated and supported by the sponsor—the father, husband or mother — without recourse to public funds. That elementary provision is sensible. I recall my local government experience as leader of Hillingdon council, which had to deal with a flood of people arriving at Heathrow who had made no arrangements for accommodation and who tried to use the provisions of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 to obtain accommodation ahead of local people. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), who was chairman of the housing committee in Hillingdon, and I had to deal with a constant stream of such applications. To protect the interests and defend the rights of Hillingdon's ratepayers and residents who were waiting for housing, we often had to have recourse to the Court of Appeal and even to the House of Lords.

In the light of my experience in Hillingdon when I stood for Slough in 1983, I suggested in my election address that we should make further modifications to the immigration rules to require sponsors to show that they could accommodate and support dependants without recourse to public funds. I was pleased when, in the previous Parliament, the Government changed the rules applying to the dependants of those who had settled in Britain after 1973. I am also pleased that the Bill extends those rules to the dependants of all people settled here.

Labour Members made great play of the right that was available to those settled here before 1971 to bring in children under the age of 16 and wives without let or hindrance. I remind them that those dependent children would now be 16 years old. We should question why that right has not been exercised during those 16 years. Perhaps the sponsors — the husbands and fathers — are more responsible than Labour Members: they would not wish to bring a wife or children to Britain unless they could support and provide them with proper accommodation. Husbands and fathers from Asian backgrounds do not have a different attitude from the rest of us about their responsibility to support their families. Indeed, they are much more responsible towards their families.

Mr. Boateng

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that to be in receipt of housing benefit is to be disqualified from the privilege of family unity?

Mr. Watts

I am suggesting that those who have had the right to bring in wives and children for the past 16 years and have not exercised that right may have a better sense of responsibility than Labour Members.

If a wife or a child is admitted as a dependant, it should be as a dependant of the head of the household, not of the British taxpayer or ratepayer. I find that those of my constituents who come to me for assistance with processing applications on behalf of dependants are willing to accept these sensible requirements. They see nothing amiss in being expected to accommodate and support their relatives without recourse to public funds. They assume that that should be the case. That is all the Bill does. It puts into law what most people of all communities would accept as a sensible provision.

It is right to apply the principle that only one wife of a polygamous marriage should be allowed to settle here, for the reasons advanced by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Boateng

Is that a problem in Slough?

Mr. Watts

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall come to a problem relating to polygamous marriages that has arisen in my constituency, and concerning which I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider an amendment to the Bill.

There is a problem when a second wife has married her husband after he has acquired a residence of choice in this country. In such a case, it is the first wife who is eligible to seek entry for settlement. The second wife cannot claim that right, even in circumstances in which it is established that the first wife has no wish ever to exercise her right to come to the United Kingdom. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that we should consider allowing either one of a husband's two wives to exercise the right to apply for entry for settlement, if there is an undertaking from the other wife that she would not wish at any subsequent time also to exercise that right. I have two constituency cases in mind, about which I have been in correspondence with my hon. Friend the Minister, so he will recognise them.

Consideration should also be given to making sufficient provision for another category of visitor that is not covered specifically by our present immigration rules. I refer to mothers who come here as visitors to look after their children during term time when they are in fee-paying education in this country. I have had two or three such cases in Slough in the past year or so. In one, there was a satisfactory arrangement under which a multiple-entry visa was issued, allowing the mother to come and go within a period of 12 months to look after her children while they were at school. I have a current case, as yet unresolved, about which I have made representations to my hon. Friend the Minister of State and about which I do not want to go into details on the Floor of the House. My hon. Friend will know the case that I have in mind. We need some specific provision in the immigration rules to cover such cases. When a mother can show that she has the means to support herself and her children and to pay school fees, it is wholly reasonable that she should be allowed entry for short but regular visits during term time to look after her children.

A major problem relating to the admission of dependants is often the difficulty of establishing that a relationship is what it is claimed to be—that a child is the son or daughter of the claimed father. That is a problem especially for children from some parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Mr. Watts

Because there is inadequate documentary evidence—registration of births—it is not easy for such people to establish conclusively that a relationship is as claimed. I note that there have been some experiments recently with DNA fingerprinting to help establish relationships in such cases. I ask my hon. Friend to consider making such testing much more widely available—on a voluntary basis—so that whenever there is uncertainty in the mind of an entry clearance officer about the paternity of a child whose father wishes him to come here as a dependant the test can be made available to provide conclusive proof one way or the other. It is most unsatisfactory when a constituent finds that he cannot establish that his child is his through documentary evidence that will satisfy the immigration authorities. Yet this new scientific method, which I understand can give conclusive proof, is not widely available. While it is right to take every necessary step to ensure that the claimed children of men and women who are settled here are indeed their children, we should also be prepared to make available the facilities for establishing such relationships scientifically, now that we have the method.

Mr. Madden

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the difficulties standing in the way of applicants obtaining a DNA test is that many of them cannot afford the £400 to £500 that is charged for such tests? Would he support such charges being covered by the legal aid system?

Mr. Watts

If such tests were more widely available, the costs would probably come down. They are a facility that should be made available on a voluntary basis, as I said earlier. I do not believe that anyone should be forced to take the blood test, but it is reasonable that people should incur some expense to establish the facts that support their cases.

Mr. Hanley

It might assist my hon. Friend to know that a pilot scheme is under way at the Foreign Office, in which 40 tests have been done. The scheme concluded at the end of September. This might be an appropriate moment for our hon. Friend to state whether he has heard of any preliminary reports about that test. My hon. Friend may also have seen in yesterday's newspapers a report that the DNA test is now commercially available for £120.

Mr. Watts

I am sure that bit of information will be welcome to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). I am grateful to my hon. Friend for amplifying those points.

We heard earlier one of the ritual denunciations of the primary purpose rule by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), I do not pretend that the primary purpose rule works perfectly in every case. There have been cases in which I have been satisfied that the rule has worked unfairly against the interests of constituents, and I have made representations to my hon. Friend about them.

However, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook completely ignored the valuable protection that the primary purpose rule gives young women — and sometimes young men — from exploitation by being forced into marriages solely for the purpose of evading immigration control. If Opposition Members are honest with themselves, even if they do not wish to acknowledge these facts publicly, they will know that cases have been brought to their attention by the victims of such exploitation.

Mr. Boateng

Not one.

Mr. Watts

Perhaps when certain hon. Members have been in the House for a little longer, their experience will be the same as mine. I could cite up to 10 cases that have been brought to my attention in the past four years in which people have been inveigled into marriages that they subsequently found had been entered upon solely for the purpose of allowing the spouse to evade immigration control. They then found themselves stuck in a marriage that was not working, with a spouse to whom they did not want to be married any more, and they wrote asking me to ask my hon. Friend to get rid of the offending spouse.

Mr. John Carlisle

Perhaps I have a little more experience of these matters than my hon. Friend, and certainly more than the majority of Opposition Members. My hon. Friend will know that this problem causes the greatest distress, particularly to the young women concerned. He is therefore right to bring the matter to the attention of the House. Since the Government changed the rules, such instances are becoming fewer, and so they should. However, those involved in them certainly suffer a great deal of distress. Many of my hon. Friends have encountered similar experiences of suffering to those that my hon. Friend has described.

Mr. Watts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for substantiating my point.

The other requirements of the Bill — to establish claims of citizenship before departure, tightening the grounds for appeal by overstayers and making overstaying a continuing offence — are minor but important improvements in our system of immigration control.

Firm and fair immigration control has the overwhelming support of my constituents, regardless of their racial origin, because they recognise that such control is a precondition for harmonious community relations. That is something for which we all strive.

6.20 pm
Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

The kindest thing that I can say for some of the speeches by Conservative Members is that they demonstrate how difficult it is to defend the indefensible. I regard the Bill as pretty indefensible.

Like others who have spoken in the debate, I regard clause 1 as the most objectionable part of the Bill, because it repeals the guarantees for Commonwealth citizens settled in the United Kingdom on 1 January 1973 and, more important, the guarantees given to their wives and families. One can raise several serious objections to that repeal. The first has already been mentioned by the Opposition. It is the fact that the Government are going back on clear undertakings given to the people concerned. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) reminded us of what Mr. Reginald Maudling said during the passage of the Act. I should like to quote something else that he said on Second Reading on 8 March 1971: I do not intend that the position of those already in this country, the rights of those already in this country to bring in their dependants, shall be changed. That is what we promised in the election. If the Rules as drafted do not make this clear, they will certainly be amended." — [Official Report 8 March 1971; Vol. 813, c. 47.] When the Bill came back to the House from the other place on 19 October 1971, Mr. Maudling said: By these Amendments we are giving statutory form to the undertaking I gave on Second Reading that people already accepted for settlement in this country would not be prejudiced by the Bill."—[Official Report, 19 October 1971; Vol. 823, c. 552.] Those undertakings have been repeated over the years since then.

I noticed as recently as 5 November in The Independent a comment by Mr. Abu Sayeed on behalf of the Commission for Racial Equality in Tower Hamlets. He was commenting, as the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) has done, on the implications of the proposal for the Bangladeshi community. He said that many Bangladeshi men in that area had been waiting for up to 10 years to be joined by their wives and children. He was quoted as saying: The Home Secretary came to visit us a few months ago and said we had nothing to fear. It seems that was wrong. It is hard not to understand the sense among that community of being let down as a direct result of this legislation.

I say with all respect to the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) that if he were having his rights removed in the same way, I doubt whether he would view it in the calm and dispassionate sense that he did earlier.

The Bangladeshi community is very much at the forefront of our thoughts when we examine the legislation, because Bangladeshi men have tended to be resident in this country as heads of households without being joined by their families. That was underlined by the first report from the Home Affairs Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration, published on 10 December 1986. Paragraph 6 states: Although family reunion has often been delayed by immigration control procedures, many Bangladeshi men have themselves delayed sending for their families and are now doing so long after their original migration to Britain. The Bangladeshis are the last of Britain's main ethnic minorities to reunite their families here. Surely the fact that these people are the last of those communities does not justify us putting obstacles in the way of that reunion.

Conservative Members have put forward the argument that the tests that are being laid down are not in any sense onerous. I accept that one can make a good superficial argument that those who wish to be reunited with their wives and families should be able to prove that they can house and support them without recourse to public funds. However, some Conservative Members did not seem to have any sense of compassion. The story of the Good Samaritan appears to have fallen on somewhat stony ground among some Conservative Members.

In any case, the operative point is that made by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney. In real life, it is almost impossible for some of those people to meet those conditions. We are talking about people who, by and large, are resident in our inner-city, deprived areas. If they are looking for housing, it has to be local authority housing, because nothing else is available at a price that anyone with below an astronomical income can afford.

There is an awful catch-22 situation. No local authority will provide housing for a family until the family is here. The applicant cannot get housing until his family is with him, and he cannot get his family to join him until he has housing. I do not know how one could regard that as a fair and reasonable test to be met.

We are talking about the families of men who have lived in the United Kingdom for at least 14 years, who, in many cases, have paid their taxes and have not been eligible for child benefit. Their children have not benefited from the education services, and their families have not benefited from the National Health Service. Now we are penalising them. That is an unacceptable approach to ask us to support.

I was also taken by the point made by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook about the implications of the legislation for all United Kingdom citizens. It is one of the most significant and long-term effects of the legislation. It will affect all British men who marry foreign spouses. They will be covered by the legislation and could be subject to the same tests and the other restrictions that any Government seek to apply at any given time. Alongside that we have clause 6, which enshrines the freedom of movement for EEC nationals and their families. They do not need permission; they do not have to pass any tests. Under EEC law, an EEC national has the right to bring in not just his spouse and children under 21, but his parents and even his grandparents. Thus, there is a crazy Alice in Wonderland situation where EEC nationals living in Britain have stronger, better rights than British citizens. As someone who supports British membership of the Community, I find that hard to accept.

As has been said, the other objectionable part of the legislation is clause 4, which restricts the right of appeal against deportation of anyone who is accused of overstaying, and has been resident in the United Kingdom for fewer than seven years. The present arrangements are that the appellate authority has the right to decide whether compassionate circumstances outweigh the public interest in a deportation case. That right disappears under clause 4. The appeal authorities will be limited simply to examining the strict point of fact whether the person has or has not overstayed. No opportunity will be given to the person to explain the circumstances. That renders the business of appeal absolutely meaningless. Deportation has a major impact on any individual. It has a massive impact on the family, which could be entirely innocent.

As the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney sensibly reminded us, seven years is a long time. It is a period in which someone can put down firm roots in this country. He can establish a business or a family, marry a British citizen or have British-born children, yet we are saying that the appeal body will not be allowed to take any of that into consideration when it examines the case. That gives the authorities virtually an arbitrary power to deport in such cases without their decisions being subject to proper independent review of all the circumstances. At the very least, I should have thought that if the Government have to go down that road, why on earth must they have a period such as seven years? Why can it not be limited to one or, at the most, two years within which that draconian power is to be exercised?

Like the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney, I am concerned about the impact of the change on refugees. Clause 4 as drafted would prevent overstayers who have sought asylum in this country and face deportation from explaining why they genuinely fear going back to their native land. That must be the whole nub of their case against deportation, that they genuinely fear that their lives are at risk if they are returned to their native country. Any appeal is rendered pointless if that argument cannot be placed before the appellate authority. Like the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney, I hope that the powers given to the Secretary of State in clause 4(2) will be used in such a way that these people will be excluded from the implications of the clause.

There has been much agreement in the House that immigration control is a regrettable necessity. However, it must be even-handed and fair. Much more important, it must be seen to be even-handed and fair, and I am afraid that on that test the Bill fails. It is the first immigration legislation that we have seen since 1971, and it is a matter of regret that all it seems to be doing is trying to plug so-called gaps in a system of control. Some of those alleged gaps are important rights that are enshrined in past practice or legislation. Others result from decisions of the courts that the Government now seek to reverse. No one disputes that the impact in terms of numbers will not be dramatic. The legislation establishes dangerous precedents and will create new problems and anomalies. The best epitaph on the Bill was a comment in the editorial in The Independent on 5 November, which said that the Bill was "petty and unnecessary". That is a good description, and that is why I and my hon. Friends will vote against the Bill.

6.31 pm
Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)

Much of the detail of what I wanted to say about the Bill has already been said by some of my hon. Friends. I should like to add one or two comments and, perhaps, broaden the discussion on immigration to bring in the possibility of some form of voluntary resettlement.

I welcome the Bill. My hon. Friend the Minister of State visited my constituency during the election campaign and witnessed an extremely successful result. He will welcome the news that my constituents welcome the Bill, which effectively implements our manifesto commitment to ensure that controls over settlement become even more effective.

I and my constituents especially welcome clause 1. As we have heard at some length, it will extend existing criteria to pre-1973 immigrants. I endorse the statistical point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). Since the Government were elected in 1979, the number of Commonwealth immigrants has fallen to approximately 44,000 per year and immigration from the new Commonwealth and Pakistan has fallen to its lowest level since 1962. It went down to approximately 22,500 in 1986 from a peak of 68,519 in 1972.

I shall certainly vote for the Bill, but I remind the Minister that there are many aspects of immigration policy that the Conservative Governments from 1970–74 and since 1979 have not implemented, even though we have made several manifesto commitments to some form of voluntary resettlement. In our 1970 manifesto we said: There will be no further large-scale permanent immigration". Since then we have received more than 600,000 into the United Kingdom. They are now permanent residents and that is against the wishes of the British people. According to figures that I have seen, from the early 1960s there was no discernible reduction in the numbers of immigrants until about 1980. The reduction started in 1980 and that is a great credit to successive Conservative Home Secretaries and the Prime Minister. Even since 1980, the number of immigrants who have come to Britain and taken up permanent residence is nearly 250,000. I hope that the Bill will lead to further reductions in the number of people coming in. More important, perhaps it will start to deal with the excessive numbers of immigrants who are already here.

There has been some talk about illegal immigration and about people coming Britain and overstaying. Many people in the United Kingdom are incensed about illegal immigration. A letter to The Daily Telegraph from my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) in 1975 said: On the wider question of immigration I find there is much distress in middle-class circles on the question of illegal immigration. I can assure the House that there is much distress in working-class circles as well. It is felt that the statistics are totally wrong and that the Government is doing nothing to combat the problem. As it is the number of immigrants that worries people, the authorities would be well advised to tackle this if they are to be able to sell further race relations law to the population. That letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar was true in 1975 and remains true.

In our 1970 manifesto, from which I have already quoted, we pledged to bring in a scheme of voluntary resettlement. Since the 1970 election, all that we have had—although of course there were two different schemes running concurrently before — is the pathetic International Social Service of Great Britain. That Government body reduces the number of people who apply to return to their country of origin under the 1971 Act and in the financial year 1983–84 it spent the mean and measly sum of £1,175 per head on resettlement. That beats even the London borough of Camden in meanness in helping people to return to their country of origin.

The Bill applies tighter controls about fitness to stay to people who came here before 1973. This coupled with a generously funded, voluntary resettlement programme that was well publicised and available to all would achieve a net outflow to reduce the degree of swamping that the Prime Minister rightly spoke about in her famous speech in 1979. Our 1979 manifesto spoke about assisting people to return to their country of origin.

Mr. Boateng

rose

Mr. Corbyn

rose

Mr. Janman

I shall not give way because I wish to continue with my speech. Our 1979 manifesto said that we would help those immigrants who genuinely wish to leave this country but there can be no question of compulsory repatriation". I endorse in its entirety that statement of intent.[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman does not appear to be giving way.

Mr. Corbyn

The hon. Gentleman does not appear to be doing anything.

Mr. Janman

As I say, I endorse in its entirety that statement of intent which we have not yet implemented.

Mr. John Carlisle

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Janman

I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Boateng

Now we see.

Mr. Carlisle

I can understand the sense of hearing a reasoned voice on the argument rather than the unsound voices of Opposition Members. Will my hon. Friend remind the House that the system of voluntary repatriation has been in existence for some time and was in existence during the early 1970s when the Labour Government were in power and could have repealed the system? The Labour Government had the opportunity to withdraw that system, but did not do so. One of the reasons why the system is not taken up is that it is not publicised enough. In many cases, the information is suppressed by Labour councils which discourage people who ask about the system. Those people are told either that it does not exist or that the amount of money available is not as much as it could be.

Mr. Janman

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Luton. North (Mr. Carlisle) for amplifying that point which I had perhaps missed. On the wider topic I shall quote from The Daily Telegraph of 1975 some comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), who, when referring to those well meaning calls of racial tolerance that were made by people—

Mr. Corbyn

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to read at great length newspaper cuttings of more than 10 years ago simply because the Government Benches are so short of speakers that they wish to fill up the debate with the abuse of history as reported by The Daily Telegraph?

Madam Deputy Speaker

It is not out of order to read from newspapers, but I hope that the hon. Member will not be tedious or go on at great length and that he will paraphase what he has to say. Many hon. Members wish to speak in this important debate.

Mr. Janman

It occurs to me that it is normally Labour Members who are always calling for freedom of information. In quoting from this text, I am merely imparting information to them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, referring to well meaning calls for racial tolerance, said: The popular appeal of these speeches is often limited by the fact that they are delivered by people like me who patently do not have our tolerance tested day after day by intimate personal contact with the problems and difficulties which we urge others—white and coloured—to overcome. He was reported to have said that: Enoch Powell was right to argue that it was not so much the right of settlement which had created problems as the number of people who had exercised it. Much more recently than 1975 my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) wrote an excellent article in the Sunday Telegraph in which he called for a voluntary and generously funded resettlement programme. Such a measure is not unique. I have already mentioned the initiative taken by the London borough of Camden. Although I support its principle, the complaints that I have about the initiative are that the amount of funding involved is far too measly and that it is discriminatory in that it gives the opportunity only to the Irish community and not to other ethnic communities. We should exercise that borough's principle on a national basis.

Mr. Boateng

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Janman

I do not wish to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

A second example of that principle being carried out by Socialists—not just Conservatives—is France where for many years there has been a voluntary resettlement programme.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman. I have been wondering when the Chair will direct him to address his remarks to the contents of the Bill. He has already spent 12 minutes talking in general terms and has not once addressed the Bill.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. As the hon. Member knows from his considerable parliamentary experience, Second Reading debates are very wide. The hon. Member who has the floor is in order.

Mr. Janman

I was talking about the impact that the election of a Socialist president had on the voluntary resettlement programme in France, where the grant was increased from £1,000 per person to £15,000 per person for those who wished to return to the country of their origin. The scheme was so successful that in 1985 20,000 people left France under the auspices of the programme. In Germany there is also a civilised and humane method of reducing what is seen to be an unacceptably high immigrant population. A grant of £2,600 per head, plus a refund of pension contributions, is given to those immigrants, mainly Turks, who wish to return to their original country. About 20 per cent. of the Turkish immigrant population—about 300,000 people—has now gone. Belgium, another of our European Economic Community neighbours, has a scheme based on similar principles.

The Kohl Government in West Germany have made a commitment to halve the total of 4.5 million immigrants in West Germany without compulsion. I ask the Minister of State why we cannot start to move in that direction and why we cannot have a clause added to the Bill that will enable a similar objective to he met in this country under a British Conservative Government. Several noises of annoyance have been made by Labour Members, but the Labour party is extremely hypocritical on this point. Its leader went to India and made noises that would lead people to believe that the party's view was one thing, while its then shadow home affairs spokesman tried to assure people in this country that its policies would lead to only a small rise in immigration.

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) really takes the biscuit when he goes on about immigration that took place hundreds of years ago from Britain into Ireland, and yet expects the British people to continue quite happily to accept mass immigration into their country now. No party has won a general election with a mandate to allow mass immigration. Yet we have now taken millions of legal and illegal immigrants. The true figure is unknown, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham stated back in 1975.

I welcome the Bill and the fact that it honours the commitment that we gave in the recent Conservative manifesto. I assure the Minister of State that it will be warmly welcomed by all my constituents, including many in the considerable Sikh community in Grays who, like the community that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) has in his constituency, can see the wisdom of firm and fair immigration controls which, if anything, go to protect their interests more than those of any other section of the community.

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

I pay tribute to my predecessor, Ernie Roberts, for his many years of service to the people of Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. He has many years left to work for the Labour movement, and I wish him every success in his work, endeavours and projects.

I rise to speak against the Bill. I have the distinction of both being the daughter of immigrants and representing a constituency in north-east London which, for more than a century, has been a classic centre where immigrants have been welcomed. My parents came to this country in 1950 as immigrants from rural Jamaica. Contrary to what Conservative Members might have us believe, they came—a whole generation of black and ethnic minority immigrants came—not to sponge, not to swamp anyone else's culture, not to provide objects of derision for Conservative Members, but to work. They came for a better life for their children. They also came with pride, as citizens of Britain and its Commonwealth, and believing in that citizenship.

In the quarter-century that has elapsed since 1950, to see what has happened to that notion of citizenship of Britain and its Commonwealth—that once proud ideal — is very sad indeed. We have seen increasing restrictions placed on movement, related to what are, in effect, quasi-racial categories: new Commonwealth, old Commonwealth, patrial and non-patrial. We all know what those categories really mean.

We have also seen an erosion of nationality rights. In my constituency, I have to deal every week with people who are frightened and confused by the new requirement to register. The squalid fact is that that requirement to register, at £60 a time, has made over £6 million for the Government. There has been a shortage of forms, there has been confusion, and there has been fear. None of that has been helped by some of the speeches that I have heard from Conservative Members this afternoon.

Above all, in the past quarter century we have encountered the notion that immigrants, far from being people who cross oceans in good faith seeking to work and seeking a better life, are a kind of plague or contagion. No measure is too botched up, too legally illiterate or too racist to keep them out. Immigration legislation in this country has a squalid and racist history, beginning with the first Aliens Act 1905, which was rushed into being, as some hon. Members will know, to keep out the victims of anti-semitic persecution in Russia, the Jewish victims of murder and pogroms in eastern Europe. As immigration legislation started, so it has gone on, and the Bill is no exception to that tradition.

All the Bill's provisions are unpleasant or unnecessary, or both. I shall not bother to go into the provisions to stop the "great plague of polygamy" that is apparently sweeping the country—particularly Slough, we gather. Even on the Government's figures there are only 25 cases a year, and there is no need for legislation to deal with that problem.

I shall not expand on the provisions that give more rights to immigration officers. Labour Members who deal with hundreds of cases a week know that, far from needing more rights, immigration officers systematically abuse the rights that they already have. Nor shall I expand on the provision that gives the Government power to charge immigrants in the future when they apply for indefinite leave to stay. Let me simply say that the Government intend to make money out of charging people who may have been here as students, and who are probably poor. I ask the same question about that as about the charge of £60 for the right to register: why should black people and other ethnic minorities, who have contributed to this country—who pay their rates and taxes—pay over and above that for their rights of citizenship?

I should like to speak at some length about what I consider the most pernicious and dangerous clauses in the Bill. Let me start by examining the number of limitations that it places on the right to appeal. Overstayers of fewer than seven years can be deported with no appeal, and the same applies to those who come to this country without a passport. These clauses cut across a fundamental principle of government and rule, which is that when people are deprived of basic rights by the Executive, namely immigration officers, they ought to have a right of appeal to the legislature, namely the courts.

I want to talk also about the other "great plague" that the Bill is intended to address, the "plague" of overstayers. The Bill makes overstaying a crime for the first time—not on the first day on which the individual knows that he has overstayed, not within three years, but in an absolute sense.

Contrary to what the frenzied protestations of some Conservative Members might lead us to believe, only 1 per cent. of visitors to this country annually overstay. Moreover, if all overstaying is made a crime—and we know who are the potential overstayers: they are the black and other ethnic minority residents—the police will be given a licence to harass those residents.

That is not only my view. When the issue was last debated in the House, Mr. William Whitelaw, as he then was, expressed from the Conservative Benches his reservations about allowing the police to become involved in what he described as a delicate matter. The Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration said that when it came to dealing with overstayers the role of the police should be minimised. People were aware that if overstaying was made a criminal offence in an absolute sense, the way would be opened for a pass law to be brought in through the back door. However, far from taking notice of their own Mr. Whitelaw and their own Committee, the Government choose not to minimise police involvement in overstaying, but to maximise it, and to criminalise whole sections of the community. We will see what damage that will cause to police community relations.

Let me conclude by referring to the provisions that would remove from those who came here before 1973 the right to bring in their families. We have heard Conservative Members talk about that provision as if it were an anomaly, as if it were a quirk of fate, or a misdrafting. Let me remind them, in case they have forgotten, that the right of settlers before 1973 to bring in their families without let or hindrance was a promise made by successive Tory Prime Ministers. Reginald Maudling and the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), when they held the post of Home Secretary, promised during election campaigns that, whatever else happened, the right of people settled here before 1973 to bring in their families would be sacrosanct, but the Government have reneged on that promise.

The Government say, "We must see whether those people can afford to keep their families, and whether they have houses in which to put them." Far from African, Afro-Caribbean and Asian people rushing to bring their families in when they have no money to support them and nowhere for them to go, it is precisely because they are so anxious to give their families somewhere to live that so many Bangladeshi, African and Afro-Caribbean males have lived in one room and scrimped and saved for years. There is no evidence that people rush to bring in their families when they have no home and no money. All the evidence shows that they have suffered and deprived themselves, that they have had two jobs and worked night shifts, as well as triple shifts, in order to be united with their families.

Conservative Members have referred to the stress that is caused by arranged marriages. If they want to know about stress, they should sit in my surgery. I have heard of girls attempting suicide because they have had to wait so long for entry clearance for their fiancés. Elderly people, who have worked all their lives here, have been unable to bring their children to this country because of the immigration laws. I have seen parents who have had to face the fact that their children would be deported. Women have come to my surgery in tears because their husbands were to be deported.

Conservative Members talk about stress and human misery. This Conservative Bill, which will split families and cause great human misery, will lead to even greater stress. Let there be no more hypocritical talk about stress. The Bill takes away an absolute right to bring in families, and it flies in the face of the Tory boast that it is the party of the family. The, Bill is cruel, inhumane and unnecessary. It breaks a solemn promise. Furthermore, it is racist.

Conservative Members have shed many crocodile tears. They have said, "We need firm and fair immigration control to prevent unacceptable social tension, and we are introducing this Bill to help immigrants." The constant piecing together of incoherent and racist immigration laws that serve no real purpose apart from propaganda heightens tension and stress and makes people feel that they are unwanted. It does more to create division than anything else that I can think of.

Since I was a child, immigration legislation has been used as a vehicle for people to air their racism. This Bill was born out of racism and it will do nothing to improve community relations. It represents a breach of faith with a generation of people who came here with the best intentions and the highest hopes. Their aspirations, their family life and their children are constantly denigrated in the kind of debate and argument that is used to promote legislation of this kind. The Bill is a disgrace, and I urge the House to oppose it.

7.3 pm

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

Much though I should like to remain in the House after making my speech, I have a long-standing commitment that unfortunately forces me to leave the Chamber immediately afterwards. I apologise to the House. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for not staying to hear the subsequent speeches.

The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) made a most eloquent speech. She spoke with much compassion and commitment and, indeed, with a great deal of knowledge. According to the traditions of the House, we had hoped to hear a little more about the marvellous things that arc being done in Hackney and Stoke Newington. We should have liked to hear more about what Hackney council is doing; we hear so much about it in the press. However, the hon. Lady did not refer to such pleasant matters. I am wondering whether that is because the hon. Lady feels that there is not much that can be said for that council.

However, the word "racial" was repeated with passion time and again, and I think that I should address myself to that matter. According to the hon. Lady, a great deal of unfairness and injustice has been perpetrated in the name of racial equality. The hon. Lady told the House about her origins, and said that she is the child of Jamaican immigrants. I have just as much right to speak as she; we have much in common. I was born in Maputo in Mozambique and came to this country as an immigrant at the age of 10. I am now a Member of Parliament, as is the hon. Lady. What more could be said about equality in this great country than that both of us are Members of Parliament and that we sit on opposite sides of the Chamber? It speaks volumes for the way in which successive Governments and generations have dealt with delicate and difficult immigration problems. We have assimilated waves of immigrants at different periods of our history, but difficulty has always arisen over the large number of immigrants.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

The hon. Gentleman says that his party makes immigrants feel at home and that they are assimilated. Why, therefore, are there no black Conservative Members of Parliament?

Mr. Ashby

The hon. Gentleman is another example of how wonderful this country is. He is an immigrant. He was not born in this country.

Mr. Boateng

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) to he so nauseatingly patronising?

Madam Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order for the Chair, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.

Mr. Ashby

It is the kind of intervention to which we have grown accustomed from the Greek chorus on the Opposition Back Benches.

Mr. Boateng

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West to describe Opposition Members as Greek?

Mr. Ashby

That is a very racist remark. I am sure that there have been Members of Parliament with Greek origins. One hon. Member was elevated to the other place and sits in the House of Lords. He is of Greek origin and is very proud of it. At the last election there were large numbers of Conservative candidates from the ethnic minorities. The fact that they are not Members of Parliament is due to the democracy that brought the hon. Members for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington to this place.

My constituency has a very low immigrant population of about 0.03 per cent. Therefore I speak for the indigenous members of our community — the non-immigrants. As I am an immigrant, perhaps I am more qualified than most to do so.

I was quite surprised to hear the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) attacking the Bill on housing grounds as much as anything else and also apologising and saying that there must be local authority housing in his area to cope with the Bangladeshi immigrants. He will be aware that the Select Committee on Home Affairs report on immigration stated that a year ago in Dhaka there were almost 12,500 people who had registered to come to this country and the majority of them said that they had relations in Tower Hamlets. No local authority could cope with that number. Indeed, the figure of 12,500 was thought to be an underestimate.

As many as 30,000 people are believed to want to come to this country and in particular to the right hon. Gentleman's constituency. How could Tower Hamlets cope with up to 30,000 people? What effect would that influx have on the indigenous members of the right hon. Gentleman's community? What would have been the effect on race relations? What would have happened in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency if 30,000 people from Bangladesh had descended on Tower Hamlets? That is the kind of problem that all Governments have had to face and that is why we must have immigration laws and that is why we have had to control immigration.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ashby

I will give way when I have finished this point.

It was a Labour Government who were the first to introduce immigration legislation in the big immigration measure, the Race Relations Act 1968.

Mr. Corbyn

The hon. Gentleman is doing valiant service for his party in defending the entire party against his dinner appointment at 7.30 pm. Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on the fact that he is talking nonsense, because the Immigration Act 1971 clearly gives a right of entry to dependent families from the Indian subcontinent? This Bill diminishes, if not removes, that right of entry. Bureaucratic delays by the Home Office have created this appalling queue of misery throughout Bangladesh. The hon. Gentleman should address himself to removing that queue of misery rather than raising this old canard of racist nonsense that he presumably reads in The Sun every day.

Mr. Ashby

The hon. Gentleman wants to substitute a queue of misery in Bangladesh with a queue of misery in this country. That is asking far too much of the people of this country and too much of the cause of good race relations. To create such a queue in this country would provide the kind of emotional bloodbath that was suggested about 10 years ago. We have been able to achieve good racial harmony only because there have been restrictions.

The Labour party has always said one thing in opposition and quite another when in power. We are not debating the immigration laws, although we are all aware that the Opposition would like to see the immigration laws removed. The Opposition are aware—they have been very tactful in this respect—that they would be hung, drawn and quartered by their own supporters if they enacted such a policy. We all remember too well that the Labour party conference in 1981 approved a motion opposing the Government's British Nationality Act 1981 on the ground that it continued the racist traditions of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 — a Labour measure—and the Immigration Act 1971. The Labour party also said that the British Nationality Act 1981 was deliberately ambiguous in its definition of citizenship and thus gave unexplained discretion to the Home Office and immigration officials. There have been further debates on the strength of that.

Small wonder therefore that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), the Opposition spokesman on home affairs, had to state that his right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) was not correct in his interpretation of Labour party immigration policy. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook stated that the Labour party would increase immigration by about 1,000 people per annum.

That was stated during the election campaign. However, we are not really debating the immigration laws. In the Bill, we are concerned with closing the loopholes and of removing the manifest unfairness that exists in law at present. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington mentioned the clause that removes the rights of the second and third wives of polygamous manages to come to this country and said that there were only 25 cases.

It was Martin Luther King—

Mr. Boateng

The hon. Gentleman should not quote Martin Luther King.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must be allowed to make his speech in his own way.

Mr. Ashby

It was Martin Luther King who said that injustice for one is injustice for all. One injustice is one too many and 25 injustices are 25 too many. Those people are jumping the queue. We have heard from the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) about the queues of misery. Those people are all waiting and hoping to come to this country in the same way as Dick Whittington wanted to come to London because he thought that the streets were paved with gold. Many people are waiting in a long queue to come to this country, but others are jumping that queue. It would be a manifest injustice if the loophole were not closed.

Similarly, we must consider the people who have broken the rules of entry or who have overstayed. It has been argued that the decision by the courts that the offence is committed only on the day after those people knew that they were overstaying is overwhelming and should remain. However, the purpose of the legislation was to make that a continuing offence and the fact that it was not very well framed and allowed such an interpretation does not mean that the law should be changed. Everyone who overstays is breaking the law and jumping the queue.

Overstayers break the intention of the law and that is another injustice. That kind of injustice cannot be rectified through marriage when families with children seek asylum in a church; those people are still jumping the queue. Anyone who overstays does so knowingly, and is aware that he is breaking the law. It should be a continuing offence.

It is manifestly wrong that arguments should be made against a proper section of the Bill intended to overcome that injustice. It is wrong to suggest that the section would license the police to harass the black community. We cannot have no-go areas either geographically or in the law. If the rules of entry are broken and a person overstays, it cannot be harassment on the part of police officers to go around—

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Turner

This will give the hon. Gentleman time to collect his papers. Does he agree that the Bill should contain a clause which provides for appeal against injustice in view of the misery caused to people who wish to bring their fiancées into the country? Surely the hon. Gentleman would agree that that is a case of injustice. That is what Opposition Members are complaining about. There is a lack of humanity and compassion and a failure to recognise that the lives of many thousands of people will be smashed as a result of this pernicious piece of legislation.

Mr. Ashby

The hon. Gentleman will know that there is now a great industry of advisers and quasi-lawyers who are preying on those who are attracted to this country. They demand a great deal of money to find loopholes in the law and to evade the intentions of Parliament. They enable people to jump the queue. That is the injustice. Opposition Members talk about compassion—

Mr. Corbyn

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to complain that advisers are helping people to jump the queue when they are merely telling people what the law is?

Madam Deputy Speaker

It is in order for the hon. Gentleman to make a speech in the way that he wishes, and it is for us to listen to that speech. Hon. Members can all make their speeches if time permits.

Mr. Ashby

Of course, we must have a great deal of compassion for those who are waiting in the queue to come to this country. However, some people are preying upon others and encouraging them to jump the queue and come to Britain by pretending, for example, that they have British nationality. They are brought here only to have their hopes dashed. I am thinking particularly of the Tamils. It is very hard on those people, but it is right to have firm, proper laws which everyone understands, including those abroad, so that they know exactly where they stand.

The purpose of the Bill is to remove those acts of injustice. We have all heard of the sad cases of Filipino women advertising as brides. We must try to stop the loopholes and get back to some sanity. I do not believe that this will be the last Bill of its kind. I am sure that the people whom I have come across, who are looking for ways to get around the law and advising acts of illegality abroad—there are many cases of that—will look for ways to get around this legislation as well. No doubt the result will be that in five or 10 years there will have to be another Bill to cover further loopholes.

The intention of Parliament is paramount and the Bill carries out the intentions of Parliament in the previous legislation. It merely deals with unfairnesses and injustices and brings fairness and justice to all. That is the whole point of the measure.

7.25 pm
Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) on the content of her maiden speech, which was most appropriate to today's debate. She echoes the sentiments of most of us on this miserable measure and the Opposition's struggle to make a real contribution. It is among the Opposition that feelings about this are most profound. The Minister should pay close attention to that because he will have to deal with the details of these matters in the future. To me, the Minister is a newcomer. I have had long experience as a Member of Parliament in dealing with these matters, but so far I have had no experience of the new Minister with responsibility for immigration. I shall be happy to visit him before long for a heart-to-heart chat about how he might become an outstanding immigration Minister loved by the ethnic minorities. He is deemed to be not just the Minister for immigration but the Minister for race relations, and I am sure that he will fulfil his duties with great distinction.

I shall be brief, as I know that many Opposition Members, if not Conservative Members, wish to contribute to the debate, but I wish first to dwell a little on the background. In those far off days when I served as an Opposition Member on the Committee that considered the 1971 legislation, we knew that we were in for trouble. I readily deemed that legislation to be a racist measure because at the same time as human movement in the EEC, in western Europe, was being made freer, movement from the Commonwealth was being made more difficult. That was the essence of the situation and I led the first Opposition march in London in consequence of that.

Things have not improved since. Many of us were gravely disappointed that under the Labour Government of 1974–79 no major moves were made, although w hen Mr. Jenkins was Home Secretary he sought to mitigate the 1971 Act to some extent. That gave rise to a National Front march across London, the counteractivity of the liberalisation movement in which I was deeply involved, and the inquiry by Lord Scarman which emanated from that. It was the first time that racists and Fascists, leaning on the barbarities of the Nazis, had dared to march across London, and there are symptoms of that among Conservative Members. I say "symptoms" because the majority of Conservatives with whom I have had dealings over the years have wanted to do the decent thing. If they did the decent thing today, they would throw out this shabby Bill.

One of the things on which Conservative Members dote is the honouring of pledges. I well recall the Home Secretary in 1971—Mr. Maudling, whose memory is greatly revered by many Conservatives—making the categorical pledges to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington alluded in her brilliant speech. The Government are going back on those pledges.

We must remind ourselves that the Bill seeks to deal with a diminishing number of people as the whole issue was generated by the recruitment of cheap labour in the Caribbean and in the Indian sub-continent by, among others, Mr. Powell, the former right hon. Member for Down, South recruiting labour for Britain's medical services when he was Health Minister. He was no paragon of virtue when he jumped on the bandwagon of racist activity succouring the National Front. I do not know how the present situation has arisen. The present Home Secretary was a reputed Tory wet of yesteryear, and I do not believe that his heart can be in the present measure. We need further mitigation and changes. The Labour party gave a categorical pledge to get rid of the British Nationality Act, which deprives children born in this country of the right automatically to be regarded as British citizens, and we talked about reviewing the 1971 Act. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), to his credit, said that nothing short of the repeal of that Act would do and I recall him making those assertions on a previous occasion.

The situation is being made harsher. In one of the last parliamentary questions before the general election, I asked the Prime Minister to disown any candidate who sought to stir up enmity between white and black people. That is exactly what measures of this kind do and what some, though not all, Tory candidates tried to do. Conservative Members know that that is so. The Bill is a backward step. The Minister should be seeking to meet the problems of the ethnic communities and to ease their difficulties in a practical way. Changes are needed in the rules. The primary purpose rule puts applicants wishing to come here into a clamp. The catch question is whether the applicant wishes to marry the woman just to obtain a job in Britain, as though that were a crime, or because he really loves her. Under the rule, the couple must already have met. The girl here may be a fiancée or already a bride. A child may even have been born, but still the authorities dig their heels in and claim that under the rule the husband wishes to go to Britain for economic reasons.

I must get another aspect of this off my chest today. As I have said before, the rules must be changed with regard to old people, who must be wholly or mainly dependent on someone in this country and have no other close relative to whom they can turn. That rule can be interpreted so widely as to include a daughter living 50 miles and many villages away and who never sees her mother, although there may be three sons in this country, one of whom feels an essential responsibility towards the woman who is the grandparent of his children here. All that must be sorted out. It all needs to be extended and changed so that there will be a little humanity. It is a matter not of figures, but of the human treatment of human beings.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

It is a particularly offensive rule. The more an adult child tries to assist his aged parents overseas by sending money and the rest, the more he undermines the chances of his parent, or parents, being able to come here in their old age, because it would be argued that they are wholly or mainly dependent on a sponsor in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Bidwell

I know that my hon. Friend has considerable experience in such matters, as do many Opposition Members.

I appeal to the better Tories to do the right thing, simply be reiterating that it was a piece of electioneering. It was designed to show that a Tory Government would be tougher on immigration than a Labour Government. That was what it was all about. It was designed to divide black workers from white workers. It was designed to divide white workers. That letter on Tory notepaper sent to Mr. Piers Merchant in Newcastle was designed to try to save his seat and to be part and parcel of an intended Tory victory based on confusion in such matters.

Tory Members should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for bringing this miserable Bill to the House. I invite the best of them to screw its scruffy neck.

7.36 pm
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

I have great pleasure in congratulating the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) on her maiden speech. She accused Conservative Members of some hypocrisy, and I would be fulfilling that description if I pretended to agree with everything that she said. It was indeed an eloquent speech and I am sure that she will serve her constituency well. I am glad to see her in the House if only as another of the 41 women Members.

I support the Bill. I look not to its immediate enactment or even to its effect a few years hence, but well into the future—20 or 25 years. What sort of society do we want at that time? Do we want a society in which racial harmony is so normal that it is the accepted thing, and we cannot imagine a time when it did not exist? Do we want a society in which the immigrant population and the host community are fully integrated and do not notice each other's colour or racial origins as something special or different? Do we want a common community in which it will be perfectly natural for members of the immigrant community to sit in the House as Members of Parliament representing among their constituents both the host community and the immigrant community, a community in which white people will speak for black people and black people will speak for white people, and for that to be accepted as normal?

Without wishing to disparage a maiden speech, I must say that my major criticism of the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington is that we should have heard more about the interests of her constituents who belong to that host community, as well as about the interests of her constituents who are members of the immigrant community.

Mr. Boateng

Will the hon. Lady assist the House? What is to be described as the host community and what is to be described as the guest community? Am I a host or a guest, having been born in this country? These are highly emotive and insulting phrases and the hon. Lady ought to mind her language. It does the hon. Lady and her considerable abilities no service to talk in such a way.

Miss Widdecombe

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. As the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington consistently spoke about the immigrant community, I imagine that she made the division, and I was trying to find an acceptable alternative to describe the indigenous community. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was offended, but I think that it is perfectly all right to comment on a division made by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington.

In 20 to 25 years will we have that sort of harmonious society, or will we have a society in which immigrants and, for want of a better word, host, indigenous whites —[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—look at each other with distrust? Do we want a society in which every action of the police is regarded somehow as harassment and provocation, when it is carried out in the normal course of investigations of crime? Do we want a society in which grievances are encouraged and the rights of the immigrant community are continually advanced as being in conflict with the rights of the indigenous population?

If we want a harmonious society in which we could not believe that anyone even thought of discriminating on grounds of race, we must work out the best way to work towards it. In doing so, we cannot ignore the necessity of providing reassurance to the immigrant community, that we shall ensure that racial discrimination is against the law, as it is, and that there is no difference whatever between the different sections of the population, and to those sections of the population which regard themselves as the host community, that we shall carefully protect their traditions and take their worries seriously. That second point is important.

I do not have a large immigrant population in my constituency, but for two years I contested a constituency which did. Nobody ever came to my surgery and churned out the sort of nonsense that I often hear attributed to us. I never hear people say, "We don't want these people here. We want them sent back." I never heard that sort of nonsense. However, I heard consistent representations to the effect that people were worried that, for example, 80 per cent. of a class of children did not speak English as their first language.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where was that?"] That is a worry; it is not a statement of prejudice or dislike.

Mr. Bernie Grant

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Vaz

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

No, I shall not give way now, although I may later.

Mr. Vaz

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

No, I have said that I will not give way and I ask the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) to observe the order of the House. In reply to the sedentary interventions coming at me, the answer is Burnley in Lancashire.

Mr. Bernie Grant

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Lady to cast aspersions on schools in Burnley in Lancashire without naming the school concerned?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

That is a point of argument. It is not a point of order for me.

Miss Widdecombe

What the hon. Gentleman has just said entirely illustrates my point. It is not an aspersion that 80 per cent. of a class do not speak English as their first language, and it should not be regarded as such in a society that is truly integrated. If we are to have a society in which that sort of statement is not regarded as an aspersion, we need to have some practical enactment or reassurance.

Mr. Boateng

Is this it?

Miss Widdecombe

Yes, this Bill is it. Most of the objections that I have heard tonight, which I believe to be valid and to have force, are about the practical enactment of the provisions on the length of detention and the nature of interviews. Those are valid objections, but they can be addressed at their own level. They do not invalidate the Bill. It is a question of tightening the practice, not the principles of the Bill.

We have heard objections to several parts of the Bill. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) made a valid point about asylum, and I hope that it will be addressed in the replies to the debate. Apart from that, it seems that those who argue against the new provisions and penalties for overstaying are effectively saying that the longer one gets away with it, the more all right it should be, and that we should not penalise people if they have been getting away with overstaying for longer than others. That is an upside down way of looking at the law. Overstaying may be a continuing offence because it is not a once only offence. One does not overstay simply on the day when one's permit runs out. If one continues to overstay, one continues to recommit the offence. If we are to make overstaying an offence — if Opposition Members wish to see it removed completely as an offence, that is one sort of argument — it seems perfectly reasonable to enact the law fairly and universally. It does not cease to become an offence simply because it has been going on for rather a long time.

I accept wholly the argument that if an overstayer is being sent back after a fair period of time in the United Kingdom, it can cause genuine heartache. I accept that people can become attached to the country, put down roots, have a family, make a way of life, want the best for their children and not want to return to their land of origin. But all those considerations apply in the deliberations of any offence. There is always suffering when an offence is discovered and brought to book. However difficult it may be, if overstaying is an offence—I accept that for Opposition Members a completely different argument is philosophically tenable—we must reasonably require that the law is enforced.

We have heard about the 25 cases of polygamy—not a great many—and I wonder that they are worth all the fever and heat that they have generated among Opposition Members. But, speaking as a woman, I find polygamy and arranged marriages wholly at odds with what the European Court of Human Rights has said about the equality of women. Both are offensive and should be particularly offensive to the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, as she, too, is a woman.

Essentially the Bill seeks to plug gaps, not to introduce an entirely new philosophy, and to plug gaps is to reassure. A future of racial harmony depends on reassuring equally both immigrants and those who regard themselves as the hosts.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

No, I will not.

Miss Lestor

As a sister?

Miss Widdecombe

I cannot resist that.

Miss Lestor

So that I may follow the hon. Lady's arguments closely, will she explain whether a black person born in this country is an immigrant or a member of the host community?

Miss Widdecombe

If my understanding of the law is correct, such a person would be a member of this country.—[Interruption.] If Labour Members would be quiet, they may be given an answer to the question. Do hon. Members want an answer?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."]— Then listen. Such a person is a member who has immigrant origins but who has become a member of the host community.

Mr. Boateng

I thank the hon. Lady. Now I know what I am.

Miss Widdecombe

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would enlighten me at some time, because I am not sure what he is.

Labour Members on the Opposition Back Benches have been inaccurately described as the Greek chorus. The purpose of a Greek chorus is to introduce melodic euphony into proceedings. I have not noticed any of that being introduced tonight. The reactions of Labour Members bode ill for the future of race relations in this country because any mention of the word "immigrant" from Conservative Members is racist, but when they mention it they are expressing a legitimate grievance. Any mention of "host community" from Conservative Members is racist, but when Labour Members condemn that community they are again expressing a legitimate grievance. Until we all start acknowledging that there are problems caused by immigration and that we all want to overcome them and want a society where in 25 years we will no longer be talking in these terms, we have to reassure both sections of the community.

I stand by my contention that the Bill is the answer to a lot of worry and fear on the part of one section of the community and that it will not materially harm anybody in the other section of the community, except those who deliberately seek to violate the law.

7.52 pm
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) on her eloquent speech. We have witnessed a piece of history as she is the first black woman to speak in the Chamber.

I am worried by some of the comments made by Conservative Members and I wonder whether we should suggest at business questions that a racism awareness course be introduced for Conservative Members. Conservative Governments have an obsession with restricting the rights of black and Asian people. It is an obsession born out of prejudice.

The Bill is another example of a refusal by the Government to accept that Britain is a multiracial society and that people of Afro-Caribbean and Asian origin should have the same right to family life and family unity as others. As has happened many times before, those who are least able to help themselves will be made scapegoats and will be punished. The police, so often placed in near impossible situations of racial tension — situations created by the policies of the Government—will have to intervene to separate black and Asian families and to criminalise them because they want to stay united.

At a meeting organised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) in the Palace of Westminster a couple of weeks ago, the Home Secretary declared uneasily that the Bill would be controversial. I am certain that there was a substantial element of guilt in that statement. The Home Secretary has to pander to the fanatical elements in his party. That is the best way to get on in the Conservative party. After many years of being responsible for the immigration service, the right hon and learned Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington) was rewarded with a higher office. After whipping the black and Asian community, he now spends his time whipping the Conservative Back Benches.

Hon. Members will recall that, during the election campaign, Conservative Members, especially the Prime Minister, were keen to be associated with the black and Asian community. Hon. Members will recall the poster campaign launched during the 1983 election campaign with pictures of black and Asian people with the slogan saying: Labour says he's black—we say he's British. There was no hint then that the black Briton—whether guest or host, I am not sure—would be robbed of his rights of citizenship. Hon. Members will know that the Prime Minister is a patron of the Durbar club, ostensibly an Asian business man's club. In an article in the Sunday Times on 2 October 1983 we were told: Most members see the success of the Asian trading community in Britain as being due to hard work and dedication in a strange country where they have had to try harder to succeed, and to the quality of humility, central to the Asian way of business. Of course, the closeness of the family is in the end seen as a key element to trading and to uniting the community for success. I hope that hon. Members will realise that the Bill will go against the whole nature of the family unity. What hypocrisy and double standards. The Conservative party fraternises with the Asian community at election time and stabs it in the back when the elections are over. If one is white and wants to bring a wife into this country, nobody cares. As the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) said, one can advertise. An advertisement was published in one of yesterday's newspapers. It said: Meet beautiful Phillippine girls. Choose from hundreds of lovely ladies like Rosemarie for friendship and marriage. Whatever your age and circumstances. I would have asked the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) and the Home Secretary, if they were not out having dinner somewhere else, whether that case would come under the primary purpose rule or does it not apply when white people seek to bring wives into this country?

Every hon. Member here today who represents inner city seats knows what it is like to be involved in an immigration surgery. We can compare notes on the hours it takes us to work through immigration cases. Since 11 June, I have taken up over 1,000 immigration cases at my surgery in Belgrave road. Leicester. Yesterday morning 157 people called for advice and assistance. They were in a panic and in utter confusion over their rights of citizenship and settlement. Every day projects such as the Leicester rights centre, the self-help project, the Belgrave residents association and the citizens' advice bureaux are inundated with queries on immigration and nationality.

It is impossible for any hon. Member to remain detached from the suffering of his or her constituents unless the hon. Member happens to come from Slough. Families called Patel, Chouhan, Omarji, Singh, Parmar and Lakhani are just names on the Home Secretary's computer, but to me and to their families and friends those names cannot be recited without deep emotion.

I want to bring to the attention of the House two cases that will be affected by the Bill. First, Mr. Reed came to the United Kingdom on 27 September 1982 aged 15. He came for medical treatment. He arrived from St. Vincent where the treatment was unavailable. He needed an artificial limb, having walked on crutches following amputation at the age of six. He was given six months leave to enter. He forgot to apply for an extension before his leave ran out. He subsequently applied and was refused. He had no right of appeal because he had overstayed. However, he had a right of appeal against deportation at which he argued the compassionate circumstances of his case. There were numerous circumstances. He needs permanent, continuing treatment in the form of maintenance and repair of his limb. He supports the household of his sister who is a single parent, his family in St. Vincent can no longer look after him, and he is employed and they are not. Under the Bill, Mr. Reed would have no right of appeal on the merits of his case.

The second case is that of Mr. Mohammed. He came to Britain in 1965 from Bangladesh. His wife and two of his children joined him in 1982 and he is now applying for his third child to join him. He worked in the United Kingdom for nearly 20 years paying tax and national insurance out of his wages, but he claimed no benefits—neither the married man's tax allowance nor child benefit. He is now exercising his rights, preserved under the Immigration Act 1971. He is trying to bring in his son. Under the Bill he would he unable to do so, because he would not be able to show that he could look after his family without recourse to public funds.

This is a squalid, unnecessary and unwanted Bill. It represents all that is rotten and racist about Conservative immigration law. I came here 21 years ago, when I was nine years old, from a colony called Aden, to where my parents had gone from Bombay—not from Greece. I came on promises that were made to those born in what was one of the last posts of the British empire. The 1971 Act promised to Commonwealth citizens those same rights, but the Bill breaks those promises.

Conservative Members proceed without compassion, with no regard for the harshness and bitterness of the queue, lacking even the most basic understanding of the effect of their policies on black and Asian families. They are utterly inflexible when confronted with legitimate criticism.

Those who have spoken against the Bill want to bring to the attention of the House the misery of those who wait in the queue and are subjected to horrifying delays—those who are, in the words of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, "out of sight." Thousands of people want what we have—the right to enjoy a family life. They are denied it and we speak for them.

Moving the Second Reading of the Immigration Bill in 1971, the then Home Secretary, who has been quoted so often in this debate, said: I commend the Bill to the House as a Bill carrying out faithfully the undertakings which we made at the time of the General Election … as a Bill which has been misinterpreted, no doubt unintentionally because of its complication; a Bill which does not affect the community already here and, above all, a Bill which is justified as a contribution to helping us to get the framework and the atmosphere in this country within which alone we can hope that the work of organising unity between the various communities can successfully progress."—[Official Report, 8 March 1971; Vol, 813, c. 57.] Subsequent events have proved him hopelessly wrong. Good community relations are too important to be put at risk by this legislation. I am certain that the black and Asian community in Britain will mobilise against the Government and that the verdict of history will be very harsh indeed

8.1 pm

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

This is a sector of policy that has interested and concerned me for a number of years. There is little in past immigration measures of which Conservative or Labour Members can be proud. Some of them I have described in other places as being reprehensible. Some of them clearly have been racist in intent. One of the worst examples was the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, which has been referred to by hon. Members.

During the 1979 election campaign, as a candidate I dissociated myself from some of the contents of the Conservative party manifesto. It was badly thought through and it caused offence and worry to the "immigrant population"—there has been a long debate about what we mean by that—in the constituency in which I was a candidate.

Having looked at the measures in the manifesto during the election and those in the Bill, having read very carefully what was being said by organisations, such as Greater London Action for Racial Equality and JCWI, which was quoted by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), and by Harrow Community Relations Council, I wondered whether we were going down the same road and with the same sort of approach that I had opposed before. The worries that have been put forward by those organisations and the views that we have heard from Labour Members are a storm in a teacup. This is a package of modest tidying-up measures, yet they are being described in terms that are so ludicrous that they defy description.

What is the worst aspect of what we have been hearing from those organisations and Labour Members? They have stirred up worries for people who will not be affected by this measure. I listened to the LBC radio station recently, when the solicitor who gives advice was present, and his two-hour programme was taken up by people telephoning and asking, "Will I be affected by this new Immigration Bill? I have been told that I will be thrown out of the country if the Bill is passed." Time and again the solicitor had to explain that the Bill would not affect them.

The same is true of my constituency mailbag. I have received many letters from people who have believed the nonsense put about by GLARE and JCWI, which tried to turn this into an election issue and failed—certainly in my constituency. Fears have been stirred up that do not exist. That is what I deplore most about the actions, of Labour Members.

Immigration laws must be well understood and clear. I recognise the sentiment of the hon. Member for Leicester, East about the hours that it takes to try to get through the complexities of an immigration case — someone who is under the threat of deportation or someone who is concerned because another member of the family is not to be allowed to enter the country. Sometimes two identical cases are dealt with in different ways, and one wonders why that is. But the law is not understandable. This measure will help some of those cases because the law will be made more understandable. It may make the law tougher, but the reality of the matter is that people will understand the rules by which they can enter Britain. That is particularly true with regard to clause 1.

I do not want to discuss constituency cases, but what worries me is the recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, which said that section 1(5) of the Immigration Act 1971 was sexually discriminatory. One constituent of mine will be directly helped by the Bill, so, for her, the quicker it comes on to the statute book the better.

The provisions of clause 3 are reasonable. Why should people who have no right to enter come to this country and expect to be allowed in if it can be established on the ground in other countries—I recognise the difficulties in that regard — that they should not embark on an aircraft? That would certainly be the case if any of us wanted to enter certain countries. When working in foreign countries I have had to deal with their immigration rules, which are tough, so I see no reason why the Government should not introduce this measure.

Some Labour Members have completely missed the point. Good race relations are the issue that we should be discussing. Good race relations are what this modest measure is all about. I want to reflect what was said to me during the election campaign by members of the ethnic minorities who live in my constituency. There is a large Asian population in south Harrow, Pinner and even in the stockbroker belt of Hatch End. When I was canvassing door-to-door they did not raise matters of immigration. I had a huge mailbag during that election campaign, but I did not have one letter about immigration policy. I received many letters from Asian parents who were desperately concerned about education. They were worried that what had happened in Ealing and Brent might spread into the borough of Harrow. They were concerned about things that affected their families — jobs, inflation and education.

As the hon. Member for Leicester, East said, they were concerned about protection from discrimination, racial attacks and harassment. When hon. Members read in Hansard what the hon. Member for Leicester, East said, they may think that the Bill will lead to racial attacks and harassment. That is a most offensive way of describing the Bill. The hon. Gentleman spoke in generalised and silly terms about the measure. It is no wonder that he did not go into detail or attempt to deal with each clause individually. The hon. Gentleman made allegations which he knows are not true.

Mr. Vaz

The hon. Gentleman is saying that the proposals will lead to mass immigration and that that will not lead to good race relations. Let us consider Leicester. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) is here. Leicester has experienced massive immigration. Almost 60,000 Asians have come to Leicester in the last 20 years. Race relations in Leicester are excellent. Each community respects the culture of the other.

Mr. Hughes

I accept everything that the hon. Gentleman says, apart from his first words. When hon. Members read Hansard they will see that there is no relationship between the first words uttered by the hon. Gentleman and anything that I have said so far. Again, the hon. Gentleman is simply seeking to misrepresent and make points that have no bearing on the Bill.

Mr. Jim Marshall

The hon. Gentleman accuses my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) of making allegations. Some minutes ago in his own speech the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) referred to section 1(5) of the Bill and said that he knew of at least one person—I understood that the person was female—who would welcome the Bill. Why would she welcome it when it restricts the rights of males rather than extends the rights of females?

Mr. Hughes

It would help if the hon. Gentleman read the Bill. He talks of section 1(5). I was referring to section 1(5) of the Immigration Act 1971, not this Bill, although I did talk about clause 1 of the Bill.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes

No. The hon. Gentleman had his chance and he messed it up. He is referring to something that is not in the Bill. I am talking about clause 1. That will be clear in Hansard.

The 1983 campaign has been misrepresented. I fail to understand the arguments. How can it be racist to say that a person is British, as Conservatives say? Members of the Labour party say that the same person is black. The Labour party is intent only on dividing the nation. We say that people who are in this country are British, whether they are black, Asian or caucasian. If one seeks to create a divide between those people, as the Labour party seeks to do, that is racist. The Opposition do not like to accept that, but it is true.

Mr. Bernie Grant

Does the hon. Gentleman remember the Conservative propaganda in the 1983 election campaign? Conservatives said that they intended to tighten the immigration rules to keep people out in order to look after the people already here. They talked about improving race relations. Can the hon. Gentleman name one single action that the Conservative Government have taken to improve the lot of the black minority in Britain?

Mr. Hughes

The British Nationality Act conferred the right of abode and British citizenship on people who had never had that right and who had been denied it by previous Labour and Conservative Governments. They were given that right for the first time. That is what happened, and that is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Pat Wall (Bradford, North)

The hon. Gentleman says that we make a distinction between British citizens and black citizens. Under the Government's legislation, 220 million people in the Common Market have more rights than British citizens and 9 million patrials in white Commonwealth countries have rights that are denied to black people, and yet he says that there is not something different between a black and a British citizen.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman is well known for his opposition to membership of the European Community. He is entitled to that view, but the matter is outside the Bill and he knows it.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I hope that my hon. Friend accepts that there is no question of the Bill being racist because black Frenchmen are entitled to come here without restriction, as are white Frenchmen. That might be wrong, but it certainly is not racist.

Mr. Hughes

That is a more than sufficient answer to the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall).

A Bill which affects race relations is now being examined by a Standing Committee. It is not a Home Office Bill; it is a Department of the Environment Bill. I refer to the Local Government Bill, clauses 17 and 18 of which repeal part of the Race Relations Act. People have different views about that, but I regret that provision and I hope that the Home Office is examining it. It would be unfortunate to take away local authority powers to promote good race relations. The principle of the Bill is welcomed by Conservative Members, but I am not talking about the principle. I hope that the Home Office will make representations to the Department of the Environment and that clauses 17 and 18 will be reconsidered.

Time has moved on since we heard the Opposition's arguments. It is like being in a time warp. Backwards and forwards across the Chamber we have heard arguments about who is British and who is not, and what a host community is. I am sad to hear such matters mentioned because one must make a simple declaration—most black and Asian people in this country are as British as I am. Most of them were born here. Most of those who live here but were not born here have lived here for a long time. That must be recognised by hon. Members on both sides. We must stop the silly debate about what a host community is. I am not getting at the Opposition, or the Government, in particular. The debate is sterile. We shall achieve a society that sticks together and succeeds when that is in the forefront of everyone's mind and we try to work together.

Some of the Opposition's arguments lead me to the sad conclusion that they are interested not in good race relations, but simply in a good argument and row about immigration proposals that are modest, fair and reasonable and will not he opposed by the black community in my constituency at least.

8.19 pm
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

This is a sad parliamentary occasion. It is made sadder by the spectacle of a Government whose declared aims and objectives seem to be completely contradicted by the aims and objectives of the Bill. For many years the Government have told us — most recently at the general election — that they believe in family life and unity, yet the Bill will divide families and, for some, destroy all hope of living together in Britain. For many years the Government have told us — most recently at the general election that — they believe in individual freedom, yet the Bill introduces new restrictions and removes rights of appeal from many people who are oppressed by the state. For many years the Government have told us—most recently at the general election — that they believe in promoting better community and race relations, yet the Bill will undoubtedly make that task harder, not least because it requires the police to pursue overstayers, which will lead inevitably to complaints of harassment and may provide further sparks for community conflict.

We have heard much about section 1(5) of the Immigration Act 1971. Successive Home Secretaries, of both Governments, have, rightly, endorsed the clear commitment that was made in section 1(5). We have not been told about the overriding reasons for the repeal of that important promise that was given to people settled here before 1973.

In the notorious letter to Piers Merchant—penned, significantly, in the middle of the general election campaign—the Home Secretary said: The Government is committed to changing Section 1(5) of the Immigration Act 1971 following a decision by the European Court of Human Rights that its effect is sexually discriminatory. The provision gives an absolute right to those settled here before January 1st 1973 to bring in their wives and children. This provision very significantly complicates the operation of our immigration control and in particular means that many people can come into the country without having to meet the normal maintenance and accommodation requirements of the Immigration Rules. The Government believes, therefore, that there is a strong argument for change. That strong argument was not deployed by the Home Secretary in his letter to Piers Merchant, nor was it deployed by the Minister of State in his article entitled "Firm but fair controls", which appeared in The Guardian on Friday. The drift of the article was disingenuous. On section 1(5) the Minister said: What principle justifies a child born on December 31, 1972 having different rights in relation to bringing a wife or children to settle here in the future from one born the following day? The principle is the promise which was made by a Conservative Home Secretary, and which has been repeated by Conservative and Labour Home Secretaries during the 16 years between that Act and the Government's reneging on the promise by this Bill.

In 1982 Lord Whitelaw supported that principle. He said: The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook rightly referred to the danger of breaking up families. I remind him, however, that the Government have remained firmly committed, as they said they would, to allowing in the wives and dependent children of men settled here. The new rules did not in any way affect the continued acceptance of wives and children. Nor have the Government any intention of going hack on that commitment."—[Official Report, 28 June 1982; Vol. 26, c. 644.] It will be interesting to see how the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) votes on the Bill, because he was Prime Minister when those clear promises and undertakings were given to men who had settled here before 1973. It will be interesting to see how the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), a former Conservative Home Secretary, votes, because he repeated the promise. It will be interesting to see how the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) votes, because he gave the promise, too. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and my noble Friend Lord Callaghan also repeated those undertakings.

There is no compelling argument for the changes, except the overriding need of the Government, who have urged themselves on since 1972, to stop as many black and Asian people as possible from coming into Britain. They decided that a neat way of stopping some more would be to repeal section 1(5) of the Immigration Act. Those who have the misfortune to be unemployed or to live in modest accommodation will lose their right—their expectation—to have their families joining them here. The promise has been broken. Many will be from Bangladesh, but others will come from other parts of the Indian sub-continent.

Many references have been made to the Opposition creating needless fear and alarm. In his letter to Piers Merchant, the Home Secretary mentioned the introduction of visas for visitors. He said: We shall continue with a policy of firm controls., equitably administered and operated in a humane and compassionate manner. I am glad that the introduction of visa controls last year on visitors from India, Pakistan. Bangladesh, Ghana and Nigeria has gone smoothly and is clearly seen not to have adversely affected the rights of legitimate visitors. The trouble makers and the professional pessimists have been proven wrong again. The Home Secretary may have been describing me as a trouble maker and professional pessimist, but I have been proved right. Before the introduction of visas I said that it was a deliberate and racist attempt to stop black and Asian people from visiting their relatives and friends. The official figures for July show that 12,000 men, women and children were refused visas, and I will make a small bet with the Secretary of State that the 12-month figures show that upwards of 20,000 men, women and children have been refused visas to visit their relatives and friends. That refusal rate represents a doubling of the refusal rate for visitors coming to Britain before the introduction of visas.

The ombudsman is investigating a complaint from me on behalf of a constituent about why it took seven months for our embassy in Islamabad to grant a visa to a 10-year-old boy to visit his uncle in my constituency. The ombudsman's inquiry seems to be taking almost as long as the entry clearance officials in Islamabad to issue that visa.

I am sad that the Home Secretary turned the screw a little further tonight by announcing that the maximum period for which a visitor can remain in Britain will be six months. The only reason for that was to stop bits of paper floating around Lunar house. I often have the impression that Lunar house cannot be seen for bits of paper floating inside and out. If the Minister thinks that the introduction of a 50 per cent. reduction in the time that visitors can remain here will result in a decrease in the number of bits of paper, I must tell him that as a result of his announcement tonight there will be a large increase in the number of bits of paper written by hon. Members who represent constituents such as mine. The second objective of the introduction of visa controls is to stop Members of Parliament from having any ability to intervene on behalf of their constituents whose relatives and friends are refused visits to this country.

In conclusion, I must add my voice to those of my hon. Friends who have described the Bill as a squalid little measure that is all about introducing new restrictions. Sadly, it takes no opportunity to buttress existing rights—still less to create new ones.

Mr. Madden

I shall not give way, as I want to finish.

I would have much preferred the Home Secretary to come to the House to introduce guaranteed time limits, for instance, by which entry clearance applications could be considered. I should have liked him to come here with new appeal procedures that provided speedy opportunities for people to appeal against refusals, to give them a proper opportunity to present their cases to the authorities. As we all know, the number of appeals that are successful is substantial, which underlines the inferiority of many of the administrative decisions that are taken. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) said. I should dearly have liked the Home Secretary to come to us with new provisions to ensure that many more elderly parents and grandparents could come to this country to live out their remaining days with their families, who are settled in this country and are making an important contribution to its economic and social life.

This squalid, nasty Bill breaks firm promises that were initially made 17 years ago and have been repeated over the years. Many Conservative Members have asked why we object to the Bill so much. It is because many of the people who received those promises believed in them. That is why they do not believe Ministers who stand at the Dispatch Box and say that those who do not seek to register as British citizens will not lose any rights or benefits. The people concerned do not believe that. When one breaks solemn promises that were made 17 years ago, can one be surprised at not being believed? If we are serious about the business of building and promoting better community and race relations, we can build only on the basis of mutual confidence. That confidence is smashed when promises are smashed. We can build only on the basis of mutual trust, and when promises are broken it, too, is broken.

The Bill does not show the way to achieving good community and race relations in our country. We should be building confidence, creating new rights and defending existing ones, not introducing a squalid, unnecessary and unjustified Bill, which underlines that notice which so many black and Asian people have embedded in their minds — "You are not welcome here". That is the message of the Bill, and it is one that I wish we had not been given today.

8.24 pm
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott), who is no longer in the Chamber. The hon. Lady served with me on Westminster city council, where we became used to her contributions, which were always intensely interesting, if not always based as much on logic as emotion.

The hon. Lady is also one of the small minority of women in the House. Some of us feel from time to time that the facilities in this place discriminate against us, and that, by failing to select more women candidates, the population has shown itself a little prejudiced against women. However, whereas the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington might call for legislation to correct that, I would grant people the right to their prejudices. It is foolish to try to legislate to control people's natural wish to keep the company of one sort of person or another. There is nothing wrong with that—it is a perfectly natural way for people to feel.

I sympathise with the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) who said that he had to spend so much of his surgery time sorting out the Patels from the Khans who want to come and stay here. I deplore the fact that these decisions sometimes rest on a degree of fabrication. Occasionally, people have to manufacture reasons to be able to come and stay here. The decision rests with a bureaucracy that may well be unsympathetic to the individual concerned, and I deplore that.

An example from my own constituency comes to mind. Before I became an hon. Member I helped a gentleman—in my capacity as a councillor—to bring his sister into the country. I subsequently learned that he had set up a household and a family, and that the person concerned was probably not his sister. He had used that ruse merely to get me to help him bring her into the country.

I agree strongly with the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) who said that we need stronger arguments for a change in the legislation. Since the 1970s, the House has regularly got itself into a tizzy about immigration. The Bill is another attempt to patch up what is obviously a leaky ship. Those leaks deeply concern many of the indigenous people of this country who are worried that, in some areas, their society is being fundamentally changed by the culture of a people from far away.

Even Labour councils such as Camden must sometimes acknowledge the burden that the problem places on our community. Camden council is trying to send back to other countries people who have landed themselves on its doorstep and asked for accommodation to be provided at the ratepayers' expense. As councillors in Westminster, we were constantly up against that problem. Sometimes we had to house families from abroad—I remember in the not-too-distant past a family of 10 members which came from an African country and cost our council thousands of pounds in accommodation, because under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 we were forced to take responsibility for it.

I sympathise, and I should be surprised if other hon. Members — including Opposition Members — did not share my sympathy, with the feelings of the citizens of this country who believe that people can arrive here and climb on to a raft of welfare benefits for which the indigenous population has already paid out of its earnings.

It is wrong that the discussion about immigration is always based on paternity, nationality and whether relatives are already living here. It is nonsense for us to offer rights in perpetuity to certain people to come here. I do not believe that we have such obligations to people in countries in which our writ does not run, and whose laws are not governed by this Parliament. To accept such a responsibility would be an open-ended commitment by this country's citizens to support people who have decided that they may have a better standard of life here.

We should have other criteria on which to decide who should or should not come to live in our country. There are places in other parts of the world where that is done. It is clear that citizenship of our country is a great prize, which many millions of people would dearly love to possess, but that does not mean that we have to award that prize on the basis of long since finished obligations that our country once undertook. There is another method of dealing with such a valuable prize—

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

The hon. Lady mentioned the lack of rights of people who come from countries where our writ does not operate. Will she explain to the House when our writ finished? She said that it has long since passed. What is the cut-off point for our writ?

Mrs. Gorman

The hon. Gentleman is asking me for precise detail or a date. From the time when we no longer had an obligation to those countries, we were extremely unwise to extend British citizenship to them, but that is a fact of the past. I am talking about immigration control in the future. I am putting before the House the proposition that, as many people wish to come and it is absurd to suggest that we can accommodate them all, we should instead prize and value our citizenship so that those who can demonstrate their ability to support themselves and their families, if they are allowed to bring them, should be permitted to come here on the basis of paying for that privilege.

At the moment our citizens often pay for the cost of people who wish to settle here, but cannot support themselves. One cannot settle in Jersey, Guernsey, Switzerland, Monaco, or half a dozen other countries unless the judiciary and the Government of that country decide on the individual case and unless one can demonstrate that one has substantial resources to support oneself. A case might well be made for that principle to apply here. That would remove a great deal of the legitimate concern of our citizens, who sometimes feel that they are being swamped with people who arrive here without resources and make demands on our very limited housing, education facilities and job opportunities.

As we know, in many parts of the country unemployment is still acute, although we also know that the situation is improving day by day. We shall begin to improve our education system by giving more choice to parents. I greatly sympathise with the parents of Dewsbury whose children were sent to a school in which the dominant language and culture had altered substantially—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It should not—[Interruption]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady is entitled to a hearing.

Mrs. Gorman

It is understandable that our citizens often feel that they have those worries thrust upon them. If our education system is more diverse, as our Government intend to make it, and if it becomes possible for parents to choose the school for their children rather than be directed there by a heavy-handed Labour authority, that will alleviate some of those people's fears. But we still do not have an open-ended obligation to take people into our country just because they would like to come here.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Does not my hon. Friend agree that all the babble on the Opposition Benches is indicative of the fact that the Opposition do not have a policy in this area? For example, is it not strange that when the Leader of the Opposition went to India he had to have a visa, but when we imposed a similar requirement on visitors coming here the Opposition could not even agree to that?

Mrs. Gorman

I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful contribution.

The hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) referred to the Common Market. Our laws are being harmonised, whether we like it or not, with those of the EEC. The citizens of Europe have rights to come here, as we have rights to go to their countries. That is entirely different from allowing open immigration for not only individuals, but their extended families so that they can come here and settle among us.

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

The hon. Lady talks about fairness and open immigration. I should like to give an example of a case that I dealt with in Manchester, in which a woman had waited so long to come to this country from Pakistan that she gave birth to a baby before she could come here. The baby did not show on the passport. That poor woman, who came from a village, was put on an aeroplane and the baby was kept in Pakistan by the immigration authorities. She had to go through the humiliation of proving that she had given birth and had been breast feeding a baby. If the hon. Lady were that woman, would she be in a tizz, as she put it?

Mrs. Gorman

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman. He brings to our attention a case where lack of humanity and compassion are demonstrated, but that is because of the law as it stands, which discriminates against people coming to this country on the grounds of paternity and family relationships. I advocate a system that would allow people to come here in their own right, by permission of the host society, if they can demonstrate that they can support their relatives—whoever is allowed to come—under the terms of the legislation.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is often a lack of humanity and compassion. We have heard from Opposition Members that sometimes families who wish to look after elderly relatives are kept apart, but there is no reason why those families should not be reunited in their country of origin. There is no reason why this country should accept into its welfare and pensions structure people who have spent the rest of their lives contributing their work effort to a different society.

Mr. Bidwell

The hon. Lady may be alluding to my contribution to the debate. I feel deeply about the matter as the Member for Southall. If the son is getting a livelihood here and making an important and valuable contribution to the British economy, and if he still feels a sense of responsibility to his widowed mother, is the hon. Lady saying that she must not join him here?

Mrs. Gorman

There is no reason why the son cannot support the mother in her country of origin. It may be cruel to a person who has lived all his life in a foreign land, speaking another language, existing in a foreign culture, to root him up and bring him to this country. It would be much more sensible for the mother to remain there, looked after in her own society, even if supported by the resources earned in this country by members of her family.

Bills such as this would not need to be brought to the House from time to time if we rethought the structure of our immigration policy and took into account the legitimate worries of our citizens. I speak not only of our white citizens but of our black and brown ones who are concerned that too many too soon could cause too many problems. We should reconsider our attitude to immigration and base it not on the past obligations to the empire, but strongly on the current wishes and desires of the great majority of our people.

8.51 pm
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

I hesitate to follow the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), and I shall resist any temptation to be controversial. However, I will say that, although the name and the sex have changed, the message remains the same. The hon. Lady's speech could well have come from the lips of her predecessor.

Every time I hear a Government Minister, especially a Cabinet Minister, attempting to talk down a Government Bill—as the Home Secretary did by saying that these are purely technical changes, plugging a bit here and plugging a bit there—I think that the House has a right to feel that the Bill has far deeper meanings than the Minister would have the House believe. I am driven to the conclusion that the Home Secretary, having stood up to the Tory Right on capital punishment, and having resisted the temptations at the Tory conference to go down that path, has given in to the Tory Right on another issue, its next pet hate—immigration. He has said to them, "You cannot have hanging, lads, but we will keep a few more blacks out of the country for you." That is pandering to the Tory Right at the expense of human feelings and emotions and will lead to distress.

I am tired of the crocodile tears of Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) said that the Bill was modest, fair and reasonable. I hope that when it becomes an Act the hon. Gentleman will come along to my office and explain to Bangladeshi citizens why they are no longer able to have their wives and families join them in Britain. That is a right that they were guaranteed 16 years ago, but the Government now intend to withdraw it. My Bangladeshi citizens will find it difficult to accept the Bill as modest, fair and reasonable, because it will shatter the prospect of family life that was held out to them under the terms of the 1971 Act.

The Home Secretary, the Government and all Conservative Members are impervious to the distress that successive immigration changes have caused. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), I wish that they would come along to my surgery and hear the distraught wife say, "Why me? Why have they refused my husband when the husband of the girl next door has been given permission to join her in this country?" There is no rational reason, other than the whim of the entry certificate officer, why one should have been given a certificate while the other was refused. I wish that Conservative Members could be there when the distraught father comes along and says, "What more evidence do I have to produce to convince them"—meaning the Home Office—"that these are my children?". One cannot offer any rational explanation.

Mr. Thurnham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Marshall

No, I will not. Conservative Members have been playing ducks and drakes with the time of the House for the past one and a half hours and it is my intention to be relatively brief to enable another of my hon. Friends to participate in the debate.

Mr. Boeteng

Two.

Mr. Marshall

I cannot guarantee that Conservative Members will not waste more time.

The Bill will make the situation even worse. The House has long recognised that section 1(5) of the 1971 Act is racially discriminatory. If the Government had any sense of decency, they would remove the discrimination, not by reducing the existing rights of males, but by extending the rights of females so that the rights of the two sexes would coincide. It is predictable that the Government should continue to be perverse and in the name of equality reduce the existing rights of one sex rather than advance the rights of the other. Consequently, the Government have decided to repeal section 1(5) and to remove the absolute right given to Commonwealth citizens by the 1971 Act.

We should remind ourselves again and again that an absolute guarantee was given in 1971, but now, at the whim of the Government, the House will remove that guarantee. What will these people face instead? They will face two new hurdles. The first is the employment test that is implicit in the no-resort-to-public-funds test, and the second is the accommodation test. A great deal has been said about the accommodation test, but the employment test is equally pernicious, if not more so.

The employment test will apply at the moment of application for the family to come and join the father and husband and everything that has gone before will be ignored. The man may have been in permanent employment up to the day of application, with all that that means in terms of the contribution in taxation and national insurance. All that will be to no avail at the moment of application if he is unemployed and unable to give the guarantee that his family will not resort to public funds. That is grossly unfair and hon. Members should vote against the Second Reading. I wish that we could defeat the Bill on Second Reading, but parliamentary arithmetic dictates otherwise. Despite protestations from the Government Benches, the Bill will do nothing to improve race relations. On the contrary, it is likely to make them worse. It will further diminish and tarnish our international reputation and we should vote against those consequences.

8.58 pm
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), in his excellent speech, said that he thought that the Bill was a further turn of the screw. Many Conservative Members think that that is what the Bill does. For one category of immigrant, it makes it more difficult for them to enter our country. On the other hand, I disagree with the hon. Member for Leicester. South (Mr. Marshall) who said that it would make race relations more difficult. We have to consider the Bill in relation to all the legislation that the Government have put forward on immigration. There has been a policy of firm control of immigration which basically has been based on fairness. I challenge Labour Members to say that the legislation has led to a deterioration in race relations.

As someone who lived in and represented a constituency in Glasgow, where there was a substantial number of immigrants, and who now represents an area in Southend where there is a similar number, I have gained the impression that race relations have improved. Whereas 20 or 30 years ago immigrants were regarded as a burden and a problem, there is now a much greater realisation that immigrants have made a considerable contribution to society. The aging immigrant community is better behaved. Recorded offences among immigrants are lower and their family unity is remarkably strong in comparison to the rest of the population. We have the second highest divorce rate of any European country, after West Germany. Children of immigrants have shown remarkable scholastic performance.

I accept that there are problems coming from racist minorities, but by and large race relations have improved. There is no doubt that the legislation and the Government's policy of being firm but fair have made a real contribution. I accept that clause 1 is a change of policy and I accept that it is significant because it was laid down almost as a pledge. It is difficult to justify that, simply because of the date of arrival, one group is entitled to bring in a fiancée or a member of their family, while others have to go through a strict employment and income test. I wonder whether it would help race relations if, in areas of massive housing stress, serious unemployment and social problems, we limited immigration. Those various turns of the screw may cause unhappiness and distress, but the basic policy of firmness and fairness has made a considerable contribution to the improvement of race relations. Conservative Members who have supported those measures would support the Government 100 per cent. in their endeavours to ensure that every citizen has guaranteed full and equal rights.

I think all hon. Members are aware that, whereas we have tight control on new immigration, our Community obligations make it inevitable that we must offer the freedom of settlement, employment and welfare services to about 200 million people who live within the confines of the EEC. I do not wish to argue that issue tonight because that happened some time ago. I believe that in various ways we regret that decision, but that is a wider issue. The Bill places greater restrictions on Commonwealth citizens coming into the country, yet many of those people live only miles away from—in some cases next door to—citizens of foreign countries who are entitled to come, settle, live and work here and to obtain all the advantages of our welfare state. I refer to France's overseas territories.

If one is a citizen of British Guyana, under the legislation one will have great difficulty getting into this country. One has to wait for months to get an interview. One has to apply and prove all sorts of things. One has to show that there are resources in the United Kingdom to support one. However, a person living in French Guyana is regarded as a citizen of a French overseas territory, part of the French Republic. Under the legislation we are tightening control of immigration from a former British colony, yet we are opening a wide door to every citizen of French Guyana, which is only next door. Citizens of Jamaica or other West Indian islands will find it difficult to get into the country under the legislation, but again there are other islands in the West Indies which are part of France's overseas territories — Martinique and Guadeloupe. Are citizens of those islands, which, by some administrative quirk, happen to be regarded as part of France, to have virtually unfettered entry to this country? We are placing tight controls on the Asian sub-continent. But plenty of islands in the Indian ocean and elsewhere are, for the purposes of Community law, part of France. It seems that citizens of places such as Reunion, Mayotte, and St. Pierre—which, of course, is in a quite different part of the world—will be automatically entitled to settle and work in this country, and to be given the advantage of the welfare servicies that it provides.

Is there nothing that we can do about this? Like others, I accept the reality of our membership of the EEC, but it appears that laws that are linked with that membership discriminate against our country as they do against no other country. For example, we have an appalling trade balance in the EEC. A major part of that is because West Germany has a special arrangement whereby goods can flood in from eastern Europe through East Germany under something called the inner German trade agreement. I have asked whether anything can be done about that. The answer is, apparently not.

Here we have another nonsensical administrative nightmare that discriminates against our people, our country and our Commonwealth citizens—people who have been our friends and allies, and who fought for us in the war. I have no objection, in the interest of good race relations, to telling many of my constituents and others that it will be more difficult for them to get over the hurdle, because we must try to persuade them that strong immigration at a time of serious housing stress would make race relations more difficult. But how can I, in all honesty, say that it should be more difficult for them, when citizens of countries just beside them — in the West Indies, Guyana and elsewhere—have unfettered rights of entry, simply because they are regarded as part of France's overseas territories? How can I tell my West Indian constituents, "Life is more difficult for you; if you were a Frenchman living in Guadeloupe or Martinique, it would be okay—anything goes"? How can I tell a constituent who comes from British Guyana, "We can do nothing for you, but if you were in French Guyana, the doors would be open and all the resources of the state would be available"?

The Government must try to do something. I appreciate the difficulty of getting anything done in the EEC. We have been trying to reform the CAP for decades; yet nothing happens, and nothing will happen. The Government know that as well as I do. We have been trying to do something about the nonsense of the inner German trade agreement. Again, nothing happens and nothing will happen. But here we are dealing with real people, real families, real friends of Britain. We have a duty and an obligation at least to raise in the Council of Ministers the nonsense and unfairness of what we find when we compare ex-British citizens with present French citizens.

I hope that the Government will accept that there is an anomaly. I have great hopes of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Some time ago I raised with him another nonsense which I felt would put British lives in danger—the Common Market's grand plan to allow mutual recognition of firearms certificates. That would mean that, despite all our controls, people from the Common Market could walk into the streets of London, or elsewhere, with a Kalashnikov, or any other gun, so long as they had a firearms certificate from their own country. I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend, unlike certain Cabinet Ministers, has taken up the matter. He is fighting it tooth and nail, and I believe that he has a good chance of stopping it, although it is subject to a majority vote.

My hon. Friend the Minister has a good record on these matters. He knows them back to front, because he used to be in the Foreign Office. Here is a little crusade for him. Let me at least ask, if we are to support this law as a law of fairness and objectivity, that my hon. Friend should go to Brussels and say, "We are bringing in tough rules to control immigration, but we want something to be done about the absurd nonsense whereby French Guyana receives wonderful liberties and opportunities that are not available to British Guyana, and people coming from French islands in the West Indies receive benefits that are not available to former British islands in the West Indies."

I hope that in his reply my hon. Friend the Minister will say that he will take up the matter and, if possible, get something done about it. I hope that we shall hear what he has to say about an obvious and great injustice.

9.9 pm

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) on a most eloquent, moving and passionate maiden speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) pointed out that it was a historic occasion because she was the first black woman ever to speak in the House of Commons. After her performance today, I am sure that the standard of debate in the House will be enhanced.

We listened carefully and with interest to the Home Secretary's speech in order to try to establish the purpose of the Bill. He said that the Bill was needed to reinforce fair and firm control. He referred also to the system being overloaded. However, at the end of the Home Secretary's speech most hon. Members were bemused and were no clearer about the need for the Bill. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) suggested that the Bill does nothing for immigrants, but she added that it gives the impression that something is being done for them.

With one exception, the Bill takes away basic rights and privileges. It is negative and unfair. It is also a wasted opportunity. Furthermore, it is incoherent. The Bill should seek to unite families, improve race relations and enhance basic human rights—for example, by improved rights of appeal.

The Conservative party claims to be the party of the family. In 1979 it published a paper entitled "Family Policy", which referred to putting the family at the centre of the political debate. One of the five tasks that the first Thatcher Government set themselves was "to support family life". That rings hollow, as one of the consequences of the Bill will be that many families are kept apart. The repeal of section 1(5) of the 1971 Act will mean the removal of the right of those who settled here before January 1973 to bring in their wives and children. A promise has been broken.

Article 16 of the United Nations declaration of human rights says: Men and women … have the right to marry and to found a family. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state. The Bill does not protect family life. It attacks it.

The European Court of Human Rights found recently that the application of section 1(5) is sexually discriminating. There are more rights for men than for women to unite with their families. Why have the Government taken away rights from men instead of giving them to women? If the aim of the Government is to improve family life, why should they not level up rather than level down?

Mr. Thurnham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Randall

I will give way when I have finished making my case.

The effects of the Government's decision are restrictive and seriously detrimental for family life.

Mr. Thurnham

The hon. Gentleman has referred to levelling up. Will he explain exactly what he means by that? During the period of the previous Labour Government, immigration rose by 30 per cent. whereas under this Government it has been reduced by about 40 per cent. When the Leader of the Opposition went to India, he said that he would repeal the existing legislation and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Whip calculated when he was a Home Office Minister that that could lead to 10,000 more immigrants. Is that what the Opposition want?

Mr. Randall

The numbers game is not the issue at stake. I have tried to show that through the European Court of Human Rights findings the Government's action has resulted in families being prevented from uniting and that has been the thrust of my point. The hon. Gentleman's intervention was irrelevant to my case.

I believe that there is a serious erosion of human rights in the Bill. For example, it removes the effective rights of appeal in deportation cases. Secondly, the right to attend appeal hearings where a person's claim to British citizenship by descent is challenged. The Opposition are not asking for more people to become eligible for settlement. We are merely asking for people to have a fair hearing.

There is immense scope for improving race relations in this multiracial society in which we all live. The Bill is a wasted opportunity for introducing new measures to improve the working of our society and to remove the many inequalities of opportunity that exist for black and Asian people. Instead, the Bill will be seen by many people to be petty, nasty and irrelevant to their needs. That is no way to enhance race and community relations in our country.

Clause 1 deals with the repeal of section 1(5) of the Immigration Act 1971. As I have already mentioned, promises were made that those who settled here before 1973 had a clear-cut right to bring their wives and children here. Many people who will be affected by the repeal have been here for many years. Many of them have also served their country in times of war — certainly in the Falklands. Many have paid rates and taxes and, often, because their families are overseas, they have not made many claims on the education or health care systems. Indeed, many have made a net financial contribution since coming here. Now they will he ruthlessly penalised by the Bill.

Currently those settled before January 1973 need only to prove relationship in order for the spouse to join them. The Government seem to be moving the goal posts. They are now creating a new set of more difficult criteria which need to be satisfied before settlement can take place. Again, the consequence is that it will be more difficult for families to be united in the United Kingdom.

Will the Minister of State tell us whether it is one of the Government's aims to use those additional criteria to restrict black immigrants from entering this country because of inadequate housing, especially in the south-east and in London? For those settled here before 1973, the new criteria for settlement of families are a "Catch-22" on housing. Councils will often not provide family-type accommodation until all the family members are in the United Kingdom, yet entry clearance will not be granted unless family-type accommodation is already available in the United Kingdom before the family arrives. The Bill will create great problems for many families to whom this and previous Governments have made promises about their rights.

Mr. Watts

The hon. Gentleman refers to council housing as if it were the only type of housing available. Does he recognise that the vast majority of people in the Asian community—I speak from the experience of my constituency—want to own their homes and that the vast majority of them do? That is how they provide housing for their families, not by going to the local authority for a council house.

Mr. Randall

Frankly, I do not care whether it is private or public housing. In parts of London, there are thousands of homeless people, so it is not right for any politician to die in a ditch about whether it is private or public housing. People in bed and breakfast accommodation live in appalling conditions and it is the Government's responsibility to sort it out.

Any claim for housing and other benefits could disqualify a spouse from gaining admission for settlement in the United Kingdom. For example, a man could be made unemployed through no fault of his own a couple of weeks before his wife's arrival. He would fail the maintenance test because he would have to resort to public funds. Families should be together when the man is unemployed, but the Bill would keep families apart because of the recourse to public funds.

The repeal of section 1(5) would extend the primary purpose rule to all spouses coming to the United Kingdom for settlement. That would open the way for the same discriminatory tests for those settled here before 1973. The primary purpose rule is discredited. It is unacceptable to many of the people directly affected by it and to many entry clearance and immigration officers. It is the wrong basis for deciding people's lives and futures.

The repeal of section 1(5) would have a serious effect on the number of homeless people and those living in bed and breakfast accommodation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said that there are 1,200 families in bed and breakfast accommodation in Tower Hamlets.

Mr. Hurd

It is not the repeal of section 1(5), but the section itself which has a bad effect on homelessness.

Mr. Randall

I take the Home Secretary's point. The measure would remove people's privileges and rights and, therefore, they would be susceptible to the primary purpose rule. That would be a consequence of the Government's action.

The purpose of the housing investment programme is to provide housing investment to satisfy defined need. It is a disgrace that the Government do not collaborate with councils with chronic housing problems to provide housing to meet needs and to stop wasting massive sums of money to keep hundreds of families in bed and breakfast accommodation. If housing is needed to bring families together it should be provided. There is no excuse for a country as wealthy as this not making available adequate housing to meet people's needs. The Prime Minister's antipathy towards local government is at the root of the homelessness problem in our inner cities and especially in London.

Clause 2 deals with the admission of polygamous wives. The Government have introduced a clause with 10 subsections to deal with a matter which produced only 25 cases last year and 75 cases in the past three years. That seems absurd. With such small numbers, it would clearly be far more appropriate to consider each case on its merits. The Government seem to be trying to create a problem so that they can be seen to have produced a solution. It is a sop to the Tory party conference. To play with people's lives in that way is a disgrace. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell), who has vast experience in race relations matters, believes that this was done for political purposes in relation to the general election and I am inclined to accept his judgment.

Clause 3 removes the right of appeal in the United Kingdom from people claiming to be United Kingdom citizens by descent. Since last May, the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act has been in operation. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how many people will be involved. I suspect that the numbers are tiny. The immigration appeals tribunal decided that people claiming to be British citizens should be able to make a claim on entry to this country and have a right of appeal in the United Kingdom if required. It seems that as the Home Office has failed to change the views of the appellate authorities it now wishes to change the law by means of clause 3. The consequence will be that children who could be eligible will be kept out of this country if their claim to be British is challenged and will thus not be present at their appeal hearings. The clause seeks to limit the legal remedies available to people challenged by the Home Office when those remedies need to be strengthened.

Clauses 4 and 5 substantially limit appeals against deportation. Under clause 4, anyone given permission to enter Britain less than seven years before a deportation order is made will no longer be able to present compassionate circumstances to the appeals authority. That effectively removes the right of appeal against deportation. It may create considerable anomalies. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said, the seven-year period starts from the last time leave to enter was granted, so a person who has been here for more than seven years but has travelled outside the United Kingdom on holiday might not be able to exercise full rights of appeal against deportation. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that, as it could have a very serious effect on some people. I should also appreciate the Minister's comments on the effect of clause 4, and perhaps also clause 5, on asylum seekers.

Clause 5 addresses the question of overstaying. Currently, the Home Office has two sets of powers against overstayers. First, it can deport them under the 1971 Act. In those circumstances, the person has a right of appeal. Secondly, deportation can arise through prosecution in the courts, as overstaying is a criminal offence. In the latter case, no effective right of appeal would exist as compassionate circumstances would not be taken into account. The Bill would not give new powers to the Home Office to remove overstayers, but more overstayers would be criminalised and fewer would have the full right of appeal.

The Home Office already has adequate powers to remove overstayers. Those powers ensure that the appellate authorities can review a deportation decision and take into account compassionate circumstances. That safeguard is vital, as some people have been in the United Kingdom for many years and have roots here, for example, asylum seekers. The Government's adoption of this criminal route to deportation could encourage blackmail, for obvious reasons. I should appreciate it if the Minister of State would tell us what measures he will introduce to minimise that threat.

I have listened to the whole debate and I know that most Opposition Members cannot understand why the Bill was introduced. It is a mystery Bill, and a nit-picking Bill for bureaucrats. There are no positive measures to improve the community and race relations. It represents a lost opportunity by this incompetent and insensitive Government. It discriminates against British people. As the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) said, Germans, French and nationals of other EC member states can bring to Britain wives, children, parents and grandparents, but British people do not have that right in their own country. Why should not British people be treated in the same way?

The Bill is about criminalising people. As well as removing fundamental rights of appeal, it contains broken promises from this Tory Government and is full of petty restrictions. In addition, it removes rights of reunion for mums, dads and children. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will vote against this nasty, vindictive, negative and irrelevant Bill.

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

I join the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) in at least one thing—paying tribute to the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) on her maiden speech this afternoon. I congratulate her and hope that we shall hear her speak many more times in the House. She must be proud to be the first black woman to have spoken in the House of Commons. I was glad that she paid tribute to her predecessor, Mr. Ernie Roberts. He had a reputation for being a very good constituency Member and was a decent member of the Labour party.

There were many other things in the hon. Lady's speech, some of which I shall refer to in due course, with which I did not agree. There was one comment which she made at the start of her speech which I found very sad. She told us about her parents who emigrated here from Jamaica in 1950, and she said that ever since then there had been decline. However, in 1950 when her parents came here, there were about 200,000 people in Britain from the New Commonwealth which then included Pakistan. There are now nearly 2.3 million people here from those countries. Does the hon. Lady not regard as some measure of progress the fact that things have changed in this country and that the ethnic minorities, about whom she is rightly concerned, have increased so greatly in number in the mere 30 years of which she spoke?

I shall deal with one specific point in her speech, which was taken up by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West, about clause 5 which refers to overstaying. The hon. Lady appeared to be under the impression that we were making overstaying a criminal offence for the first time, but that is not so. The 1971 Act made overstaying a criminal offence, and when the Labour Government were in power in the mid-1970s they did nothing to change that. It is only now, as a result of two court judgments, which we believe have weakened the deterrent effect of this offence, that we think it is right to return to the original position. In passing the 1971 Act Parliament intended that those who offended against the immigration laws should be liable to prosecution through the courts. Illegal entry is a criminal offence and we see no reason why the same deterrent effect, both the prosecution procedure and possible deportation, should not also apply to overstaying.

I regret that the debate has been punctured with cries from Opposition Members, not least the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and the hon. Lady, that the legislation is either racist or discriminatory. It is a tragedy that whenever the Government propose anything to do with the sensible reinforcement of the controls on immigration, Opposition Members go on to autopilot and, without any thought of the consequences for their constituents and for the Afro-Caribbean or Asian minority communities, start shouting hostile, frightening words. They should think twice before doing so because such accusations can only bring discredit to those who make them. They should wonder whether the status and acceptance of the ethnic minorities is not harmed by those words. Above all, they should consider whether they should cause this worry among the ethnic minorities—

Mr. Vaz

rose

Mr. Boateng

rose

Mr. Renton

No, I shall finish this point first and then give way — without any attempt to explain to their constituents the technical details of the Bill.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Renton

I said that I would give way to the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng).

Mr. Boateng

Will the Minister take on board the fact that we well understand the technical details of this legislation and that it is because we and our constituents understand them that we are worried? This is a racist Bill in intent and effect. If the Minister had any decency he would withdraw it immediately.

Mr. Renton

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. From the comments that hon. Gentlemen have made on overstaying, appeal rights in relation to deportation for overstayers and the abolition of section 1(5) of the 1971 Act, it is clear that they do not understand the Bill and have not tried to explain it to their constituents.

None of our proposals is racist. The Bill seeks better race relations. Our proposals — this point was made strongly by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) in a powerful speech — bear equally outside the European Community countries on all who wish to enter the United Kingdom, either as visitors or for settlement, no matter whether they come from the Caribbean, the United States or the Indian sub-continent.

Our proposed changes are clearly and evidently non-racist. The abolition of section 1(5) of the 1971 Act has rightly taken up a great deal of time. After the Bill has been passed, every British citizen and all Commonwealth citizens settled here who wish to bring in a wife or dependent children must ensure that those dependants go through the same tests regarding marriage or accommodation and maintainence without recourse to public funds. If anyone is to be affected by this change, it is fair to say, as Ian Macdonald did in his article in The Guardian last Friday, that those most affected are likely to be white British citizens who were born here or settled here before 1 January 1973. They will now have to go through the tests as well.

This afternoon my right hon. Friend announced the limitation of visas to six months. Among the greatest number of applicants for initial visas of more than six months extending to 12 months are Australians and Americans. However, I hear no voice raised in the House today saying that they are being discriminated against.

The fact that the changes we are proposing in the immigration rules are of universal application ensures that they cannot fairly or justly be described as racist. It is possible to see racism in the Bill only if one defiantly refuses to understand the facts behind it. If we were to say that Britons or Bangladeshis who had been here from before 1 January 1973 were to continue to benefit from section 1(5) and that no other Commonwealth country immigrants would benefit, that would be racist. However, we are not suggesting any such exclusions or omissions. Those who continue to say that the Bill is racist remind me of people with hearing aids who ask a question and then switch off the aid before they can hear the answer.

Labour Members, beginning with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, have had a problem dealing with the Bill because they do not know whether to regard it as too big or too small a Bill. That came over in the contributions from the Opposition Front Bench. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, it is a modest Bill.

Mr. Renton

I am grateful for the support.

The Bill deals with a number of anomalies and fills loopholes that have emerged in recent years. We believe in fairness between immigrants and that, if we see loopholes in immigration controls, we should fill them. That is the reason behind the Bill.

I was surprised by the concern of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West about the clause that makes it impossible for a second polygamous wife to enter this country for settlement purposes. I believe that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is in favour of women's rights, but he also appears to be in favour of polygamy. I find that an odd attitude—[Interruption.] As my right hon. Friend has made plain, we are talking about 25 households a year. A few years ago the Select Committee recommended that we should stop allowing second or third polygamous wives to enter the country. We have accepted that recommendation and are getting on with it. That is the long and short of the matter.

Mr. Renton

I will give way to the hon. Lady with pleasure, but I do not believe that she was present during the debate.

Ms. Ruddock

I would like to take the Minister up on one point. I wonder how he sees that women's rights would be served by forcibly excluding a woman, even if she is a second or third wife, from joining her husband when she is legally contracted to be in that relationship.

Mr. Renton

As I have already said, the House of Commons Select Committee recommended—

Mr. Corbyn

Answer the question.

Mr. Renton

I will answer the question. The Committee recommended that, as the entry of polygamous wives into Britain was not an acceptable custom, it should not be continued. That was the recommendation of the Committee. I see no objection to it and we are going ahead with putting it into law.

Mr. Corbyn

rose

Mr. Renton

I shall not give way; I want to move to the abolition of section 1(5).

Fourteen years have passed since this section came into effect. Those who were adult males at the time have therefore had 14 years in which to bring in their wives and dependants. The point that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did not pick up is that those who are receiving the benefit of section 1(5) are not those who were adult males at the time of the 1971 Act but the young children who had then just been born.

Mr. Corbyn

rose

Mr. Renton

I want to finish this point, so the hon. Member is wasting valuable debating time.

Mr. Corbyn

rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is fairly clear that the Minister is not giving way.

Mr. Renton

Those who are now benefiting from section 1(5) are the children of adult males who were born just before the Act came into force. This section discriminates against women, children and the siblings of those children, and increasingly does not protect those whom it was intended to protect.

When the 1971 Act was passed there was doubt among the minority communities about their future in this country. However, I am glad to say that the current position is different. It is clear that section 1(5) was inserted into the 1971 Act to offer reassurance on this point. Our commitment to racial harmony and to the rights of those who have legitimately settled here to remain in this country and make their future here has been made clear on many occasions. There is no longer a need for section 1(5), particularly when its operation is unfair in effect and produces results that no sensible person could claim to be right. It is anomalous and discriminatory and we shall abolish it to ensure that all who come here as spouses and children will have to undergo the same test.

Mr. Hanley

Before my hon. Friend departs from clause 1, he might like to know that in an intervention in my speech the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that the Conservative Government introduced the primary purpose rule. I have researched this matter in the Library and discovered that on 22 March 1977 the Labour Government introduced the primary purpose rule when they changed the immigration rules. Is my hon. Friend aware of that fact?

Mr. Renton

Yes, I am; and it is right and proper that my hon. Friend should remind the House of it in view of the cant that we have heard from Labour Members. The first primary purpose rule was introduced in 1977 by a Labour Government to deal specifically with marriages of convenience.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the Minister be kind enough to tell us what it said and compare it with the present one?

Mr. Renton

I have it here, by mere coincidence. It was the first limited introduction of a primary purpose rule that was restricted to marriages of convenience. If the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten its contents I shall send them to him in a letter tomorrow.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Renton

No. I want to get on. I shall send the details to the right hon. Gentleman tomorrow.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Both Front-Bench spokesmen cannot be on their feet at the same time.

Mr. Renton

Many Opposition Members have said that the appeal rights under clause 4 will be truncated. This is another instance of the Opposition's dismal lack of understanding about the Bill. Clause 4 does not in any way truncate or diminish appeal rights by a court. All that it does is limit the right of appeal against administrative deportation. The right of appeal to a higher court following prosecution and recommendation for deportation will not be affected. The hon. Members for Brent, South, for Kingston upon Hull, West and for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) might have taken that on board before making their speeches.

I shall explain, because the matter is important and I realise how strongly the House feels about appeal rights. In many of the cases affected by clause 4, the appellant will already have had an opportunity to argue the compassionate circumstances of his case before an adjudicator when exercising his right of appeal against refusal of an extension to stay. It has become clear that in many cases people appealing against a decision to deport them do so with the main aim of using the appeal system to extend their stay here. It is wholly reasonable in our opinion that such a person should have the restricted right of appeal which will in future be available, given that the Secretary of State takes all the compassionate factors of each case into account before deciding to make a deportation order. Those are the facts and hon. Members should have considered them more closely before making their remarks.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) for his wise and sensible speech. For a long time he was a member of the Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. I thank him for his tribute to the immigration officers and to the Home Office and Foreign Office. He is right that when the Labour party was in office it did nothing to change the Immigration Act.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes asked me about the tape recording of interviews in the Indian sub-continent. The matter has been looked into carefully. I looked into it myself in 1985 when I was in the Indian sub-continent. Based on the need for interpreters in the United Kingdom and overseas to listen to the tapes, the cost involved and a number of other factors, we decided that it was not practical to tape-record interviews. The Sub-Committee considered that carefully.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) for his speech. He asked about registration. I was distressed to hear him say that the Labour party had been stirring up fears about what is to happen on 31 December when the basic right to register for citizenship will end. Such action is to be deplored. The ending of the right has been known for six years. Plenty of forms are available.

Mr. Corbyn

Where?

Mr. Renton

We have sent forms to citizens' advice bureaux throughout the country and to community relations councils. If anyone is in any doubt, they have only to get in touch with Lunar house in Croydon.

My hon. Friend asked me about DNA testing, which could be an important development—[Interruption.] If Opposition Members are interested in immigration practice, they should listen to what I am about to say on DNA testing, because it concerns some of them closely. The last few test results in the 40-case field trial are expected soon. A report will be prepared, a copy of which will be placed in the Library. We have yet to decide the Government's policy on public funding of DNA testing. We shall decide it in view of the results of the trials. Meanwhile, commercial testing is available and I expect it to be used increasingly.

I listened with care and interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), because I recognise the great problem with the number of Bangladeshis in his constituency. He said that the housing crisis in his constituency is more serious than anywhere in Europe. I must ask him: why make it worse by extending the protection of section 1(5) to husbands as well as to wives? It must be reasonable, given the problem in Tower Hamlets, Camden and similar boroughs with immigrants who are immediately rendered homeless, that those who bring spouses and children to Britain should show that they can maintain them without recourse to public funds. That must be common sense.

Mr. Shore

rose

Mr. Renton

I will not give way to the right hon. Gentleman, because I have very little time left.

Mr. Shore

rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister has made it clear that he is not giving way, and time is getting short.

Mr. Bidwell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a firm tradition in the House that if a Minister alludes to an Opposition Member, he should allow an intervention in his speech?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is a matter for the Minister.

Mr. Renton

In the 1970s, the Conservative and Labour parties understood — this did not change when the Labour Government were in office between 1974 and 1979 — the need to restrict the number of people who emigrated to Britain. There was a tacit understanding that the numbers could be only as many as could be absorbed by our housing, hospitals and community services, and that immigration should not damage the standards of our existing communities, which were increasingly multiracial and of all ethnic origins.

That consensus went by the board at the Labour party conferences in 1981 and 1982, when the debates on nationality and immigration led to the adoption of the nationality and immigration section of Labour's Programme '82. It states: The repeal of the 1971 Immigration Act and the 1981 British Nationality Act will be among the highest priorities for the next Labour government. That remains official Labour policy. The Labour leadership has swept it under the carpet in the hope that it will not be noticed, but today we heard nothing of what the new Labour Opposition would put in its place.

In India, the Leader of the Opposition repeated that Labour would repeal the 1971 and 1981 Acts. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) tried to play that down by saying that Labour's policy would lead to an increase of only a thousand immigrants a year—10,000 is a more likely figure. So be it. If that is Labour's policy, let Opposition Members say so clearly and openly, and stop attacking these minor reforms as racist while giving no hint of what they would put in their place. Humbug and hypocrite are the names that properly apply to those who speak on these matters from the Labour Front Bench. They may try to fool the ethnic minority by saying that they are promising much, or the majority of the country by saying that they are promising little, but they will not fool the House of Commons. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 258, Noes 221.

Division No. 70] [9.59 pm
AYES
Adley, Robert Dover, Den
Aitken, Jonathan Dunn, Bob
Alexander, Richard Durant, Tony
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Dykes, Hugh
Allason, Rupert Eggar, Tim
Amess, David Evennett, David
Amos, Alan Fallon, Michael
Arbuthnot, James Farr, Sir John
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Favell, Tony
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Ashby, David Fookes, Miss Janet
Atkinson, David Forman, Nigel
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Batiste, Spencer Forth, Eric
Bellingham, Henry Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bendall, Vivian Fox, Sir Marcus
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Franks, Cecil
Benyon, W. Freeman, Roger
Bevan, David Gilroy French, Douglas
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fry, Peter
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Gale, Roger
Blackburn, Dr John G. Gardiner, George
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Gill, Christopher
Boswell, Tim Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Bottomley, Peter Glyn, Dr Alan
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Goodlad, Alastair
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bowis, John Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Gow, Ian
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Gower, Sir Raymond
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Brazier, Julian Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bright, Graham Greenway, John (Rydale)
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Gregory, Conal
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Browne, John (Winchester) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Grist, Ian
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Ground, Patrick
Buck, Sir Antony Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Budgen, Nicholas Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Burns, Simon Hampson, Dr Keith
Burt, Alistair Hanley, Jeremy
Butler, Chris Hannam, John
Butterfill, John Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Harris, David
Carrington, Matthew Haselhurst, Alan
Carttiss, Michael Hawkins, Christopher
Cash, William Hayes, Jerry
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Chapman, Sydney Hayward, Robert
Chope, Christopher Heathcoat-Amory, David
Churchill, Mr Heddle, John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Colvin, Michael Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hill, James
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hind, Kenneth
Cormack, Patrick Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Couchman, James Holt, Richard
Cran, James Hordem, Sir Peter
Curry, David Howard, Michael
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Day, Stephen Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Devlin, Tim Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Dickens, Geoffrey Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Dicks, Terry Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Neubert, Michael
Irvine, Michael Nicholls, Patrick
Jack, Michael Patnick, Irvine
Jackson, Robert Renton, Tim
Janman, Timothy Rhodes James, Robert
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Riddick, Graham
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Ryder, Richard
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Scott, Nicholas
Key, Robert Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Kirkhope, Timothy Shersby, Michael
Knapman, Roger Squire, Robin
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Stanbrook, Ivor
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Steen, Anthony
Knowles, Michael Stern, Michael
Knox, David Stevens, Lewis
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lang, Ian Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Latham, Michael Sumberg, David
Lawrence, Ivan Summerson, Hugo
Lee, John (Pendle) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Lightbown, David Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Temple-Morris, Peter
Lord, Michael Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Thorne, Neil
McCrindle, Robert Thornton, Malcolm
Macfarlane, Neil Thurnham, Peter
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Maclean, David Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
McLoughlin, Patrick Tracey, Richard
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Trippier, David
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Trotter, Neville
Madel, David Twinn, Dr Ian
Major, Rt Hon John Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Malins, Humfrey Waddington, Rt Hon David
Mans, Keith Walden, George
Maples, John Waller, Gary
Marland, Paul Ward, John
Marlow, Tony Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Warren, Kenneth
Mates, Michael Watts, John
Maude, Hon Francis Wells, Bowen
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Whitney, Ray
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Mellor, David Wiggin, Jerry
Meyer, Sir Anthony Wilkinson, John
Miller, Hal Wilshire, David
Mills, Iain Winterton, Mrs Ann
Miscampbell, Norman Wolfson, Mark
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Wood, Timothy
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Yeo, Tim
Moate, Roger Young, Sir George (Acton)
Monro, Sir Hector Younger, Rt Hon George
Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Tellers for the Ayes:
Moss, Malcolm Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and Mr. Stephen Dorrell.
Mudd, David
NOES
Abbott, Ms Diane Boateng, Paul
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Boyes, Roland
Allen, Graham Bradley, Keith
Anderson, Donald Bray, Dr Jeremy
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Ashdown, Paddy Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Ashton, Joe Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Buchan, Norman
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Buckley, George
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Caborn, Richard
Barron, Kevin Callaghan, Jim
Battle, John Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Beckett, Margaret Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Canavan, Dennis
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Cartwright, John
Bermingham, Gerald Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Bidwell, Sydney Clay, Bob
Clelland, David Janner, Greville
Clwyd, Mrs Ann John, Brynmor
Cohen, Harry Johnston, Sir Russell
Coleman, Donald Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Corbett, Robin Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Corbyn, Jeremy Kennedy, Charles
Cousins, Jim Lambie, David
Cox, Tom Lamond, James
Crowther, Stan Leadbitter, Ted
Cryer, Bob Leighton, Ron
Cummings, J. Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Litherland, Robert
Cunningham, Dr John Livingstone, Ken
Darling, Alastair Livsey, Richard
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Loyden, Eddie
Dewar, Donald McAllion, John
Dixon, Don McCartney, Ian
Dobson, Frank Macdonald, Calum
Doran, Frank McFall, John
Douglas, Dick McKelvey, William
Duffy, A. E. P. McLeish, Henry
Dunnachie, James McTaggart, Bob
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth McWilliam, John
Eadie, Alexander Madden, Max
Eastham, Ken Mahon, Mrs Alice
Evans, John (St Helens N) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Martin, Michael (Springburn)
Fatchett, Derek Martlew, Eric
Faulds, Andrew Maxton, John
Fearn, Ronald Meacher, Michael
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Meale, Alan
Fisher, Mark Michael, Alun
Flannery, Martin Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Flynn, Paul Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Moonie, Dr Lewis
Foster, Derek Morgan, Rhodri
Foulkes, George Morley, Elliott
Fraser, John Morris, Rt Hon J (Aberavon)
Fyfe, Mrs Maria Mowlam, Mrs Marjorie
Galbraith, Samuel Mullin, Chris
Galloway, George Murphy, Paul
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Nellist, Dave
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
George, Bruce O'Brien, William
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Godman, Dr Norman A. Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Golding, Mrs Llin Patchett, Terry
Gordon, Ms Mildred Pendry, Tom
Gould, Bryan Pike, Peter
Graham, Thomas Prescott, John
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Quin, Ms Joyce
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Randall, Stuart
Grocott, Bruce Redmond, Martin
Hardy, Peter Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Harman, Ms Harriet Reid, John
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Richardson, Ms Jo
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Heffer, Eric S. Robertson, George
Henderson, Douglas Robinson, Geoffrey
Hinchliffe, David Rogers, Allan
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Rooker, Jeff
Holland, Stuart Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Home Robertson, John Rowlands, Ted
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Ruddock, Ms Joan
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Sedgemore, Brian
Howells, Geraint Sheerman, Barry
Hoyle, Doug Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Short, Clare
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Illsley, Eric Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Ingram, Adam Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Soley, Clive Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Spearing, Nigel Wigley, Dafydd
Steel, Rt Hon David Williams, Rt Hon A. J.
Stott, Roger Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Strang, Gavin Wilson, Brian
Straw, Jack Winnick, David
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Worthington, Anthony
Thomas, Dafydd Elis Wray, James
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Turner, Dennis
Vaz, Keith Tellers for the Noes:
Wall, Pat Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Allen McKay
Wallace, James
Walley, Ms Joan

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).

    c858
  1. BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE 22 words
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