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Immigration Rules

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Before I call the Minister on the next business, I must tell the House that I have received a manuscript amendment to leave out "takes note" and insert "disapproves". The manuscript amendment is proposed by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), and I have decided to select it.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House takes note of the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules for Control on Entry of Commonwealth Citizens, the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules for Control after Entry of Commonwealth Citizens, the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules for Control on Entry of EEC and other non-Commonwealth Nationals and the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules for Control after Entry of EEC and other non-Commonwealth Nationals—[Dr. Summerskill.]

10.20 p.m.

I beg to move, to leave out "takes note" and to insert "disapproves".

As I understand it, we have until half-past eleven to discuss immigration rules. I know that a number of my hon. Friends wish to take a part in the debate and I do not intend to take long in introducing the amendment, the effect of which would be to disapprove the immigration rules that were laid in March in relation to marriages of convenience.

Before I turn to those matters, I should point out that for some weeks I have been importuning my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for a debate upon the motion that I set down to annul the rules. I am glad to give him credit for arranging the debate. However, it seems to be inappropriate that on an issue of this importance, when hon. Members have moved to annul the Statutory Instrument, there should be any question of importuning.

The control of the House over the Executive in relation to delegated legislation should mean that within the 40 days allowed for a Prayer to be debated, that debate should be arranged if there are substantial numbers of Members who wish to debate it. I am sorry that it was not debated in the 40 days. I am even more sorry that the Government have tabled a motion to take note, instead of allowing me to proceed with the motion that I set down to annul the rules.

When I raised this matter with the Lord President he took the view that the Government could never put down a motion for debate which was to annul their own rules. I do not suggest that they should do that. I suggest that the procedures of the House should have operated in the proper way, whereby anyone who wishes to move to annul delegated legislation should be allowed to debate it if a substantial group of Members agree to do so. If that right is not asserted or exercised, the House will have lost control of delegated legislation. I hope that my hon. Friends may think that that is at least one good reason for voting against these rules tonight.

The second reason for voting against these rules tonight is that whenever the issue was raised by the Home Secretary in statements to the House, before these rules were tabled, he never at any stage mentioned that in addition to marriages of convenience, the rules would allow the deportation of the non-indigenous people who married and who had invalid marriages which were intended to remain lasting but which, as a result of disagreements between the parties, did not last 12 months. Under these rules, the party who comes here for the marriage and enters into a genuine marriage but whose marriage fails to last 12 months—and ends in either separation or divorce within 12 months—will in future be deported There is no provision in the rules which allows the exercise of discretion, as a normal form, in respect of that power.

The almost automatic effect of a breakdown in a marriage between a non-indigenous person and someone born here is that the non-indigenous person will be deported in the 12 months. When somebody has sold up a home, given up roots and come here with the intention of settling and marrying a girl, he is subjected, on top of the breakdown of the marriage, to the further indignity of being shipped straight back. I do not think that anybody intended that that should happen. Neither the Home Secretary nor the Under-Secretary intended that it should happen. When I raised the matter with them, they were as surprised as I was.

The truth is that the Cabinet took a decision to do something about marriages of convenience. It was left to the officials to define what should be done. These rules have been written by the officials. This is an extension of a political principle that was agreed by the Cabinet.

Another reason for voting against the rules is that they go further than the political masters intended. I do not believe that the political masters intended that people who enter into genuine marriages should, in the trauma of the breakdown, be deported.

The crux of the issue is the marriage of convenience. This matter arises because in 1974 we changed the rule to allow a man to come to this country for marriage and to settle here automatically upon marriage. We were pressed to do so from all parts of the House. In the debate on the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger), every speaker was in favour of changing the rule. The only hon. Member who raised the issue of bogus marriages was my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). At the end of that debate, I said:
"I end with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington"—

On a point of order. I am not known for my interventions on points of order and I am not deeply involved in the issues which my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) is rightly discussing, but surely this issue should not be debated in this Chamber after 10 o'clock. Surely it should be debated in a Committee or through the normal channels with the Minister.

My hon. Friend disagrees. If he is prepared to argue the point, we should be able to debate at this time other matters of equal importance. I do not dispute the sincerity of my hon. Friend the Member for York, but there are other issues which could also be debated at this time of night.

On a further point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friends will appreciate my sincerity. Could you advise me how this matter can be raised elsewhere?

That is not a matter upon which the Chair can advise. It is not in any way a matter for the Chair that this debate is taking place now.

This issue represents an intrusion into the lives of 4,000 or 5,000 people, most of whom intend a genuine marriage, who may have to face the kind of intrusive questions which these rules allow. That is a matter serious enough to be debated on the Floor of the House.

As I was saying, at the end of that debate, I said:
"I end with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. He referred to a danger which might arise if there were a change in the rules. If there were a change, it is inevitable that at some time or other we should come across a bad case in the way that he indicates."
—namely, a marriage of convenience—
"The real test for us as a civilised community is whether we can stand up to the kind of criticism which would then be voiced."—[Official Report, 21st June, 1974; Vol. 875. c. 940.]
The answer is clear from the tabling of these rules: we cannot.

Yet the evidence about this issue is thin even to the point of being threadbare. When I asked the Under-Secretary for evidence about the number of marriages of convenience that they had come across, she said:
"The operation of the Immigration Rules as they stand does not permit any precise figures to be given, but I am satisfied that there is a substantial abuse by people from a wide range of nationalities."—[Official Report, 18th February, 1977; Vol. 926, c. 383.]
If we do not have the figures, how do we know that a substantial number of people have abused them?

Although a great body of steam is now being generated by the Opposition about spouses coming here for marriage, when I gave the figures in the 1974 debate for the number of men who came here for marriage from all over the Commonwealth in 1968, I told the House that of the 1,676 men who came in the last full year before the rules were changed in 1968, 1,500 came from India. In 1975, the first full year after the change of rule, 3,598 men came from the new Commonwealth and Pakistan. Of those, 1,104 came from India—the country with the largest number of men coming here. The United States sent 923, the next largest number of people coming here for marriage. The figure for India is significant. Fewer people came here in 1975 than in 1968. There is therefore no evidence of a substantial abuse by the type of marriages which are the subject of these rules. Personally, I do not believe that there has been an abuse on the scale that would justify the kind of rules that are being introduced.

I shall not give way. If I do, other hon. Members will not get a chance to take part.

The truth is that we have been panicked into taking this step by the kind of racial hostility evinced in the last 12 months. Although I accept—and I always did—that there are a number of bogus marriages, I do not accept that the rules should be changed in this way. When I was considering a change of rules in 1974 I asked the advice of the most experienced man in England—the then Under-Secretary of State at the Department. He advised me not to include a provision for a 12-month residence period because that would lead to intrusive questions by immigration officers. For that reason I did not put that proviso into the rules at that stage. His fears were justified. In the period since I left office there has been an increase in the number of intrusive questions asked by immigration officers, even without the powers contained in the rules.

I do not deny that if we could identify what was a marriage of convenience and what was a genuine marriage without intrusive questions about relationships, that would be helpful. But on this I take the same view that I take about scroungers of supplementary benefit: one must accept that the odd case will get through the net if the only alternative is intrusive questions.

If it were necessary to do anything I should go back to the 12-month residence period which I was prepared to accept in 1974 and which is contained in these rules. But the rules also allow an immigration officer to ask any questions he likes where he has "reason to believe" that a marriage may be one of convenience. He does not have to show any just cause for believing that. He may simply dislike the people involved. There is no check and no suggestion that there should be a prima facie case that the marriage is one of convenience.

The hon. Member does not need to give way. He cannot be pressed to do so.

If we are to give these powers to immigration officers we should be precise about the circumstances in which questions might be asked. There should be "reasonable cause" for believing that the marriage is one of convenience. The circumstances should be based on empirical facts and should be stated in the rules—for example, overstaying or being the subject of a deportation order. That could have been laid out more precisely in the rules.

We must not arrive at a situation in which people who have been through a genuine marriage are asked intrusive questions about their private circumstances. We should be grateful to the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants which has brought to our attention a number of cases involving questions which none of us would like to have asked of us about personal relationships between the spouses. That kind of opportunity is open even to the immigration officer with the best of intentions. Without in any way seeking to criticise the Department that I once represented—

The fact of the matter is that some immigration officers in fact go beyond the reasonable use of their powers, but even those who reasonably use their powers can frequently be mistaken in asking the kind of question that is offensive. My right hon. Friend said that he introduced these rules because he feared that the abuses of the system were themselves a danger to good race relations in this country. However, in terms of the minority groups, the danger to race relations here comes from the threat posed by these rules. If we find in fact that over the coming months and years a great number of people are asked questions that they find repulsive and intrusive, we shall have more serious tensions in the minority groups.

The threat is particularly difficult for those who married within the Asian arranged marriage system. My right hon. Friend has said that we do not want in any way to criticise that system and that it is not that system that the rules are intended to go against. Nevertheless, where arranged marriages take place within the cultural pattern of the Asian sub-continent, it is much easier for the immigration officer to believe that these may be marriages of convenience, because there may not have been any prior association between the parties.

Some of the questions asked initially were such as "Come on love. Did the light of love dawn in your eyes overnight?" That was in relation to a perfectly genuine arranged marriage, arranged within the proper cultural pattern. That question was found to be grossly offensive. Only today, just before this debate, a solicitor who is well versed in these cases—he handles hundreds of them a year—told me that in one case recently a police officer went to investigate an alleged marriage of convenience, arriving at 5 a.m. to ask questions of a couple who had lived together for four years in Libya before they came to this country, after an association lasting that time. When the police officer heard what was the background, he said to them "I have a lot of personal questions here but I am not going to trouble you with any of them."

What I should like to know is this: if that background history had not been told to him and had not been available to the couple what kind of personal questions would have been asked? The answer is that we would have had the kind of questions that the JCWI has indicated.

I know that instructions are being given to the officers to try to limit the area of questioning. I have tried that myself many times. Indeed, I remember that the former hon. Member for Cambridge, David Lane, used to say that he was always trying to fine-tune immigration control. After two years in the office. I can tell the House that trying to fine tune immigration control is like trying to make water go up hill. The truth of the matter is that this is a work that simply cannot be achieved.

I do not believe that we should allow wide-ranging powers of this kind, which can be offensive and will undoubtedly be used occasionally in offensive ways.

The real test is this: in 1974 the real pressure came not from Asians or blacks or the new Commonwealth. It came from white university professors at Oxford who were married to white university professors at Harvard and were writing to The Guardian and claiming that it was despicable that they were treated in such a way. The great pressure from all the posh newspapers, with all their cases, was always in terms of whites. Under these rules, whites can be asked questions. Who is it among us who thinks that we shall turn up a case of offensive questioning of a white couple in the future, as distinct from a black couple?

The reality is that the number of bogus marriages—which is small—is spread right across the nationalities and right across the spectrum between aliens and new Commonwealth people. But the real burden of these regulations will hit the black members of the community rather than the white members. That in itself seems to be a condemnation of them. I hope that the House will vote against them tonight.

10.41 p.m.

These proposed changes in immigration rules are designed to check or control abuses. As such, the Opposition view is that they fall short of what is ideal or desirable in two directions. First, viewed simply as a piece of control mechanism they are likely to be cumbersome to operate and capricious and uncertain in their effect, particularly the control after entry provisions.

Secondly, and flowing from the shortcomings that I have mentioned, the rules contribute only modestly and uncertainly to the proposition put forward by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in her broadcast on 28th April that in relation to immigrants from the new Commonwealth and Pakistan
"there should be an immediate and substantial reduction in numbers coming in".
The basis of my right hon. Friend's proposition is that since the present Government came into office immigrant numbers, as denned by my right hon. Friend, have increased, are increasing and for that reason they ought to be diminished.

The figures, as officially defined, show that in 1973, the last full Conservative year of office, immigration was at the level of about 32,000. In 1974, the first year of the present Government, the figures rose by one-third to 42,000. This was partly caused by the steps taken by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) to remove the deportation provisions which applied to a number of people who had already settled here. But the increase was also largely due to the very sharp increase in settlement by reason of marriage resulting from the changing of the 1974 rules by Roy Jenkins.

In 1975, the Government's second year, immigrant numbers as thus defined rose again to about 53,000—two-thirds as high again as the 1973 figure. The provision of the hon. Member for York about accelerating the removal of the deportation provisions had no effect at all because the numbers here were almost exactly the same for 1975 as for 1974 whilst the acceptance for settlement on marriage figures went up dramatically from about 5,000 to about 8,000 between 1974 and 1975. In 1976 total immigrant numbers are likely to be about 60,000, exactly double what they were in 1973.

It is all very well for the present Home Secretary to say, as he did in his speech in Wales on 29th April,
"That there should be strict control of immigration is common ground. We cannot sustain any fresh and substantial influx of people from overseas."
The Home Secretary has been a member of a Government who have presided over a virtual doubling of numbers in their short and inglorious term of office.

With due respect, what I talked about was immigration overall, and that has nothing to do with the changes in the rules that we are discussing tonight. The hon. Gentleman is abusing the rules of the House and is not talking about the facts of the matter.

The Home Secretary is being unnecessarily vindictive. I am simply stating the facts as they are relevant to the debate. The Home Secretary went on to say:

"But there is also wide, and I believe genuinely popular support for the proposition that it would be morally wrong and socially destructive to exclude the close dependants of immigrants who are already settled here".
The right hon. Gentleman again went on to make it quite clear that what he meant by the
"close dependants of immigrants who are already settled here"
were wives and young children. How then does the Home Secretary account for the fact—and I quote from an Answer which the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) gave last month—that
" In 1975, 37 per cent. of those people from the New Commonwealth and Pakistan who were allowed to settle either on arrival or on removal of the time limit on their stay were not wives and children, or male UKPH"—[Official Report, 26th January 1977; Vol. 924, c. 599.]
That means that well over one-third of 1975's total immigration as thus defined or about 20,000 individuals, were not in the Home Secretary's category of "close dependants". If the right hon. Gentleman meant what he said, and restricted immigration to close dependants, the wives and children of male United Kingdom passport holders, the figures now would be back to the 30,000 we had in 1973. To the Opposition one thing is crystal-clear—that these measures to control abuses affecting perhaps a few hundred cases will not realise the Home Secretary's aim of restricting immigration to wives, children and close dependants.

However, in spite of the limitations to which I have referred, the rules at least have the merit that they have focused attention on, and have made some attempt at the control of, an area of immigration which has been growing rapidly, which is not within the Home Secretary's own priority grouping of wives and young children, and where abuse seems to me—and I think to the Opposition as a whole—to be indisputable, with rapid growth in this area dealt with by the rules.

There is little time. I want to give other hon. Members time to make their own speeches.

Admissions or acceptance for settlement on marriage—the areas with which we are specially concerned here—rose from under 3,000 in 1973 to close on 10,000 in 1976, a three-fold increase in this category. The figures for men rose from 137 in 1973 to no fewer than 4,000 in 1975.

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I write my own speeches. He and I have debated these matters often enough.

As to evidence of abuse, I hope that the Minister concerned will give us more details of exactly what abuse is envisaged here and what exists. The hon. Member for York at least made the fair point that there is apparently no very solid evidence but there is prima facie evidence. I am complaining that these rules tinker with the margin of the problem that the country is worried about though the Government are not. The country is worried about the massive increase of tens of thousands of immigrants, not about a few hundred cases of abuse. Lord Franks said in his report that in 1975, of the 8,000 individuals accepted for settlement on marriage, only 2,700 were originally admitted openly and explicity as fiancées, so that nearly two-thirds of those who came in in 1975 for settlement on grounds of marriage came in in the first instance as students or visitors. That suggests that at the very least the carefully-drawn-up rules relating to admissions as fiancées, which used to exist, and which are now subject to amendment, entirely failed to regulate or control admissions in that category.

I suspect that there is abuse, as the paragraph to which I have just referred demonstrates, but the Opposition believe that the rules have a number of substantial defects. I suggested at the outset of my speech that they were likely to be cumbersome, capricious and uncertain. I illustrate this contention by asking the Minister to look at the new rules for control on entry.

We start necessarily from the position that the woman in question is settled in the United Kingdom, because here we are dealing with her husband. The husband applies in India, Pakistan or some other Commonwealth country for entry clearance. The entry clearance officer then has to verify, first, that the man was or was not, as the case may be, over 12 months married when his application was made and that the couple intend to live together permanently.

There must be immense scope for abuse in this prescription of a 12 months cut-off point. Apart from the existence of forged documents in the Indian sub]continent, of which many hon. Members are only too painfully aware, it will be relatively easy to prove, apparently convincingly, that a marriage had lasted for more than 12 months. What art, speculation, foresight or insight will have to be discovered by our wretched entry clearance officers in addition to their more mundane qualifications to discern the intentions of men and women regarding marriage? Clearly the foresight necessary to discern the intentions of fiancés will need to be even more pentrating, because there will not be a track record of marriage.

What is particularly disturbing is the disincentive built into the rules for anybody honestly to apply for admission as a fiancé. In the first instance, such people are allowed in for only three months if they are cleared by the entry clearance officers as fiancés. If a fiancé marries somebody other than the original fiancé applied for when he or she came in for three months, that person is forced to leave under the new immigration rules. However, if someone comes in as a visitor, particularly on business or on holiday, when he or she can stay for six months, or as a student, when he or she can stay for 12 months or more, he or she can fall in and out of love two or three times and suffer no penalty at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hope that I am persuading Labour Members to vote against their own Government. We believe that half a loaf is better than no bread at all, so we shall leave them to squabble and fight this out on their own.

Those who are allowed to come in as visitors or students can stay here for more than 12 months. It is ludicrous to have a 12 months cut-off point. It means that the settlement becomes absolute if they marry or stay married for one month after the 12 months and they are then spared from every kind of penalty or attempt at control which the rules bring forward. This highlights the ludicrous shortcomings of the marriage rules on control of entry.

The Home Secretary must realise that if, by forged or genuine documents, a man managed to prove that he had been married in India or Pakistan for 12 months and two days or 12 months and two weeks—he may not have lived with or had any intention of living with the woman he married, nor have any intention of living with her after coming into this country—he would be accepted for settlement without any restraint, question or limitation.

This seems an unnecessarily artificial and complicated procedure. It may be the fault of the Civil Service draftsmen, as the hon. Member for York suggested. It seems an unnecessarily crude, haphazard and capricious way of trying to make a cut-off point.

I come back to where I started: half a loaf is better than no bread at all. We are worried about the thousands coming in, not the few hundred who may be in breach of the regulations. The Government should be doing something about this matter. They should not tinker marginally with the problem in this crude and unsatisfactory way.

10.54 p.m.

I promise to be brief in view of the large number of hon Members who wish to speak in this debate. Before making my three or four substantive points, I should like to make two passing references to the appalling speech made by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison).

I hesitate to use that term here. I was going to say that the kind of reference to the numbers game that we have heard from the hon. Member for Barkston Ash would have done that extremely Right-wing Fascist group credit. It would also have done justice to the views contributed in recent years by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell).

We have heard a typical example of the numbers game at its worst, played for purely party political purposes. If that is the level of debate that we can expect from the Opposition, I am sure that immigrants will come to the correct conclusion when deciding how they will cast their votes at the next election.

I found the condescending tone underlying the hon. Member's speech a little sickening. He made it sound somehow improper for a person with a coloured skin to fall in and out of love several times—as if that was something that white Anglo-Saxons simply did not do. Nevertheless, this is indicative of the condescension that the hon. Member has exhibited. I found his speech totally appalling.

We are told that these rules are aimed particularly at stopping marriages of convenience. I have a constituency with a large number of coloured immigrants, and in my experience—and I spend a great deal of time dealing with their problems—we are taking a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. In my three years as the Member for Leicester, South I have not had to deal with one so-called marriage of convenience, either directly or indirectly. If this practice is as widespread as we are told and as some national newspapers for political purposes appear to believe, we should have figures that indicate the seriousness of the situation. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) that if this is serious we should be given figures so that we can be aware of the seriousness of it.

What worries me about these rules is the unease that they have caused among the coloured immigrant population. Rightly or wrongly, they believe—in my opinion their impressions are correct—that the tightening of the rules is aimed in their direction. I believe that whether the House likes it or not, or the Home Secretary likes it or not, there will be a different attitude on the part of white immigration officers towards white Anglo-Saxons coming from the United States from that towards coloured immigrants from the Indian sub-continent. No matter how the Home Secretary lays down the rules governing the procedure, this attitude will come through. I believe that these rules will act to the detriment of coloured immigrants, as opposed to white immigrants.

It is unfortunate that we should introduce the rules now. My experience in Leicester is that race relations are improving there and throughout the country generally. The rules will add a sour note to a situation that was beginning to improve.

Finally, I wish to quote from a letter sent to me and to other hon. Members by the National Association of Community Relations Councils. Referring to the immigration rules, it says,
"We believe they are objectionable for their implicit racialism, for the way they discriminate on the grounds of sex and for the manner in which they allow government officials to intrude into the privacy of individuals. Above all, as an organisation working to achieve racial equality we are acutely aware of the damage these new Rules are doing to race and community relations."
I accept that point of view. It is my intention to support the amendment moved so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for York.

11.1 p.m.

Ostensibly the purpose of these changes in the rules is to deal with abuses which have been taking place with marriages of convenience—not arranged marriages within the cultural patterns of the Indian sub-continent but bogus marriages entered into for the sole purpose of conferring right of entry. Where these take place they harm the good name of the immigrant community and they are not something in which anyone can take a pride.

It is right for the House to consider how they can be dealt with. But why is it necessary to introduce changes of rules when the existing rules of control appear to offer opportunities of dealing with them? I am not satisfied that the change is necessary. The formulation of the rules of control already operating, providing, for example, that
"the fact that any applicant satisfies the formal requirements of the succeeding paragraphs in not conclusive in his favour",
shows that the existing rules have clear possibilities of enforcement within them.

Speaking in another place Lord Harris said in the debate initiated by Lord Avebury that these existing controls were inadequate. We need to know why. The reason for the changes must be that there has been some dramatic rise in bogus marriages of convenience. As yet, however, no one outside the Home Office has seen figures which demonstrate this. Has there been such a dramatic rise?

Lord Harris said that evidence within the Home Office left no doubt, but that in the nature of things no precise indications could be given. We accept that precision is not possible, but surely we can have a firm estimate. He said that circumstances gave rise to suspicion and went on,
"we believe that there have…been several hundred cases a year of that kind, in which men were seeking settlement on the basis of marriages which seemed dubious, to say the least of it."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10th May 1977; Vol. 383, c. 223.]
Several hundred does not seem to merit such fierce and wide-ranging rules. We need to be fairly convinced of the scale of abuse before we go further.

There are serious disadvantages. One is the clear sex discrimination which is inherent in it. Having taken such steps over recent years to eradicate sex discrimination in various spheres including this one, the House must be satisfied that there is some justification for such an extraordinary step backwards.

There is the problem of the time element in dealing with the cases still in the sub-continent. If an entry certificate officer in an overseas post is in doubt about the validity of an intended marriage, he may refer the case to the Home Office. How long can such a process be allowed to go on? Should there not be a time limit after the expiry of which the applicant should be allowed in?

There is the rare but nevertheless significant problem of the case where the husband has to be removed when the marriage breaks down. I do not say that the husband should not forfeit his right if the marriage breaks down within a short period after he has entered the country. But we must make clear that any actions in the courts resulting from the breakdown of marriages should be allowed to be completed before a person is removed.

The rules chip away at the freedom and sense of security of the immigrant community in this country. It is most worrying for this House to set up machinery to provide powers which enable such extensive snooping into the lives of people in some parts of the immigrant community, people who already have reason to feel insecure and under threat. Insecurity is one of the most dangerous threats to good community relations.

When this matter was raised in another place by my noble Friend some progress was made and some helpful indications were given by the Government. It was made clear that there was no intention by the Government to interfere with the pattern of arranged marriages with the cultural pattern of the sub-continent. The hope was expressed—and there was an indication from the Government that this need is recognised—that the police should not be used in these cases unless it is unavoidable. This work should be carried out by immigration officers and not handed over to the police unless there are special reasons for doing so. My noble Friend also asked that those who are under investigation should be asked to discuss the matter at the immigration office and that home visits should not be necessary.

Lord Harris made clear in his reply that it was not considered necessary appropriate or desirable to interrogate couples on the sexual side of their marriage. Thank goodness for that! It bears repetition that it is unnecessary to the main purpose of the rules that such inquiries should take place.

The House has cause to be concerned and suspicious about the introduction of these rules, even with the concessions, unless it can be convinced that there is no alternative way of dealing with the problem.

11.6 p.m.

As a small but controversial preliminary, it may be of interest to the House and the country to know that the Benches opposite are packed for this debate, having been almost empty for our preceding debate on youth unemployment in the United Kingdom. That is a fact worth recording.

I suppose that we have to consider the new instructions issued by the Home Secretary as a step in the right direction, albeit a small and shuffling step. I acknowledge the courage of the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the rules against the considerable pressure from other members of the Labour Party.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) said that he has a number of immigrants in his constituency. I do not have so many, but perhaps I have had a larger and more sudden influx of immigrants into my constituency. The hon. Gentleman must be naive to think that cases of arranged marriages are likely to be brought before hon. Members. Of course they will not be. The whole point is that they should be kept as quiet as possible.

Order. Time is very short. If the hon. Gentleman does not wish to give way, he must not be pressed to do so.

I was interested in the theological discussion between the Liberal spokesman and the Home Secretary about arranged marriages and marriages of convenience being entirely separate. I spent part of the Easter Recess in India in order to get a first-hand view of the matter. I came to the conclusion that a large number of the traditional arranged marriages are bogus marriages and marriages of convenience. The information that I received from many circles was that the market in illegal immigration by other means has almost collapsed because the market in arranged marriages is going so well. At about £1,000, it is still cheaper, safer and more easily organised than the previous forms of illegal immigration.

Many of the traditional marriages that are carried out are marriages of convenience. However, I agree that such marriages form only a small part of the settlement by marriage of people who come into this country. If hon. Members opposite would listen they might be surprised to hear that, according to the figures that I have been able to glean, the ratio between male spouses and fiancés entering this country as opposed to those entering by statutory right is about 60 to 40. That is a dramatically increased ratio, and perhaps the Minister can give us some more figures when she replies to the debate. I dispute the figures.

I am not frightened but I shall not give way at all. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) ought to be experienced enough to know both the rules and the timing of the House. I have only a small amount of time in which to speak.

I dispute the figures. I listened to the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) talking about the figure of male fiancés in 1968–69, but my impression was—and this can be only an impression—that the figures were not shown separately up to 1973. I therefore feel that the proposal does not go far enough. The time has come for a quota to be imposed on male spouses and fiancés. I ask the Home Secretary to provide a quota. The immigration figures of male spouses and fiancés from all different countries during the years 1970–73 should be averaged and, in order to be generous, that number should be doubled or trebled. That would form a quota basis for future numbers coming into the country.

Finally, I am surprised that hon. Members opposite are supporting what I consider to be a strongly racialist view.

That is the view that it is a good thing for fiancés, male or female, to come from the ethnic countries of the immigrant communities. Surely that is racism. Those who are living in this country should primarily wish to marry other people living in this country—therefore combining the new ethnic groups and the old ones in this country—instead of going back to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan or wherever for a husband or wife.

I hope that the Minister will give us more figures when she replies.

11.15 p.m.

I am glad to have the opportunity to explain the intention and the effect of the new rules. It is clear that there has been a great deal of misunderstanding and even misrepresentation, the most blatant of which we have just heard, whereby we are told that the rules are directed against the arranged marriage. That is definitely not the case because they are directed against marriages of convenience. The decision in 1974 to admit husbands and fiancés was designed to enable spouses to spend their married life together in the United Kingdom if that was the country of their choice.

There are three new features in the general structure of the rules that are designed to counter abuse, and that is the sole reason for the rules. First, there is specific power to refuse a man settlement where the marriage is believed to be one of convenience and there is a rebuttable presumption that the marriage is of that description where the husband has overstayed, or was under the threat of deportation before marrying, or where he was admitted for marriage and ended up married to a woman other than the one originally named as his prospective bride.

Secondly, settlement through marriage is now entertained not at the outset but after the marriage has subsisted for 12 months with checks made in certain cases as necessary at the end of that time.

Thirdly, the husband will have no automatic claim to settlement where the couple have no further intention of living together again at the end of the 12-month period or where the marriage has been terminated—

I assure the House that there is no argument against the rules that I have not considered. I hope that the House will listen to my explanation of them.

The husband will have no automatic claim to settlement where the couple have no further intention of living together, although the circumstances of the case will be taken carefully into account in deciding whether he can stay.

The need for the rules has been disputed. As my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) has said, the possibility of abuse was foreseen when the rules were amended in 1974. However, he did not accept these rules. It is also true that the after-entry rules, requiring, as they do, that all the facts of the case must be considered before settlement is granted, whether on the basis of marriage or anything else, have afforded some defence against the sham marriage.

But the decision that was taken in 1974—

as to how the provisions concerning the admission of husbands should be administered could not be regarded as immutable. The scale of the abuse and the number of cases getting through that were almost certainly bogus was such that it was wrong to let the matter drift without resolute action to deal with the issue. The only reason that we have been unable to give precise estimates of the scale of the abuse is that we can judge matters only on the basis of those cases where the circumstances attracted suspicion.

I shall deal with every point if the House will listen. A check that was made last year over a period of many months of cases in which the marriage was shown to be a sham, or was in all probability a sham, suggested that there were several hundred cases of that kind per year involving men from a wide range of nationalities.

It has been a common experience for wives to write to the Home Office—indeed, one of my constituents did this very thing—complaining that their husbands left them after getting the requisite stamps in their passports. It became clear that time after time settlement was being gained by deception. It may be that some people will regard the extent of the abuse as trivial, but where abuse is known to occur it is only right that it should be tackled, as my right hon. Friend has made clear.

It is also the case that a disturbing number of organised rackets have grown up since the rules were changed in 1974, especially in the Metropolitan Police area. In some cases the police have been able to bring prosecutions for bigamy and forgery but in others it has unfortunately been impossible to track down the organisers. That is usually because false identities have been assumed. Men of many different nationalities have been involved, but the ingredients of the cases are almost always the same. Duplicate birth certificates have been produced that have been obtained at St. Catherine's House only shortly before the wedding by women who have turned out on investigation to be known prostitutes. In some cases it is suspected that the women are not actually free to marry. Indeed, this is often true of the men as well, and on occasions false passports have been used.

Why were the previous rules inadequate? Where the facts came to light in good time there was, I admit, no problem in dealing with the more obvious types of case given prominence in the Press, such as that in which a brother went through a ceremony of marriage to his own sister. Nor was there any great difficulty in rejecting applications in other types of case where the woman had admitted, on inquiry, that she had been coerced or bribed into a sham marriage or had herself taken the initiative in making herself available for such a marriage.

The real trouble was that in a large number of cases settlement had to be granted because the semblance of a genuine marriage had been sustained, despite considerable grounds for doubt as to the husband's real motives.

The Minister began her last sentence with the words "the real trouble". This is a complex question in which there is more than one real trouble. One of the real troubles is that many people who have contracted genuine marriages have been idiotically harassed and humiliated by immigration officers.

That is yet another point to which I shall come if the House will permit me.

The real trouble was that in a large number of cases settlement had to be granted because the semblance of a genuine marriage had been sustained. In some of these cases doubts which were created by such matters as the inability of the parties to agree on essential details of their acquaintance were reinforced by the fact that they had not lived together, attributing their separation to accommodation difficulties or delay in arranging a religious ceremony, and appeared to have no definite plans to do so.

The ability now, under these rules, to defer for 12 months the decision whether to grant settlement to men on the basis of marriage will, in the Government's view, be a valuable safeguard because it will be harder for a couple to maintain the semblance of a genuine marriage for as long as 12 months when the marriage is bogus.

I wish to emphasise again that the rules are not aimed at arranged marriages within the Asian culture, many of which are often, as has been said, more likely to endure.

The Asian-culture marriages are often more likely to endure than Western marriages. These provisions are aimed at bogus marriages. In most cases inquiries will not be made. [Interruption.] I hope that hon. Members can hear these important points.

In most cases inquiries will not be made. They are made only in a minority of cases, where the circumstances suggest that it would be right to undertake them before granting settlement to the husband.

In all cases the marriage will be assumed to be genuine—this is in the instructions—unless the facts suggest that it is not. Where possible the couple will not be interviewed in their home but asked to attend for interview at an immigration service office. There will be only some cases in which police will have to be used. In all other cases the immigration service will be used. Only when it does not have the resources to conduct the interview or where the possibility of criminal proceedings arise will the police be used.

I come now to the criticism that the rules, overtly aimed at bogus marriages, in fact go a good deal further and reach out to the genuine marriage that has broken down, perhaps through no fault of the husband, who may as a result be sent away.

Let me first deal with the philosophy underlying this provision. The decision in 1974 to admit husbands and fiancés freely was designed to enable all spouses to spend their married life together in the United Kingdom if this was the country of their choice. There is no provision which confers on a man from overseas a prescriptive right to spend the rest of his days here on the basis of a marriage where at the time the decision is taken it is already plain that there is no longer any question of the parties intending to live together as man and wife. To have conceded such a principle would have left a wide area of potential abuse, particularly in those cases where the marriage has quickly broken down and where it would be difficult to decide whether the marriage was a sham or not. I have made it my personal concern to see that the instructions to Home Office staff strike the right balance.

If I may elaborate on what has been said in another place, the first consideration will be to ascertain whether the husband may qualify to remain under some other provision of the rules, for example, if the Department of Employment is prepared to approve his job. If that approach fails, careful consideration will always be given to any representations that it would be an undue hardship for the husband to have to leave the United Kingdom. Particularly sympathetic consideration will be given if the wife has died or if there are children of the marriage and it would clearly be in their interests to allow the husband to stay.

If there seems any real chance of a reconciliation between the parties, a further extension may be given, and it may also be appropriate to give such an extension if there are legal proceedings arising from the breakdown of the marriage.

Furthermore, all these cases will be referred to senior civil servants and where necessary to Ministers, who can then use their discretion. It has already been made clear that my right hon. Friend—

Division No. 146]


[11.30 p.m.

Allaun, FrankFlannery, MartinMendelson, John
Archer, PeterFletcher, Ted (Darlington)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Atkinson, NormanGeorge, BruceMitchell, Austin Vernon (Grimsby)
Bean, R. E.Gould, BryanNewens, Stanley
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Hatton, FrankOvenden, John
Bidwell. SydneyHayman, Mrs HeleneParry, Robert
Bray, Dr JeremyHooley, FrankPavitt, Laurie
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)Richardson, Miss Jo
Buchan, NormanHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Jeger, Mrs LenaRooker, J. W.
Canavan, DennisKerr, RussellSandelson, Neville
Carmichael, NeilKinnock, NeilSelby, Harry
Carter-Jones, LewisLamond, JamesSkinner, Dennis
Clemitson, IvorLatham, Arthur (Paddington)Spearing, Nigel
Colquhoun, Ms MaureenLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Cronin, JohnLoyden, EddieTorney, Tom
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Lyon, Alexander (York)Whitehead, Phillip
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)McDonald, Dr OonaghWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Douglas-Mann, BruceMcNamara, KevinWise, Mrs Audrey
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Madden, Max
English, MichaelMagee, BryanTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Faulds, AndrewMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)Mr. Ian Mikardo and
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Maynard, Miss JoanMr. Stan Thorne.

has decided that Home Office officials should not question parties to a marriage—

Order. I warn the hon. Lady that she must not interrupt if the Minister does not desire to give way.

It has already been made clear that my right hon. Friend has decided that Home Office officials must not question parties to a marriage as to their sexual relationship and that where cases are referred to the police, they will be asked to follow the same principle.

But it is not only in relation to questions about the state of the marriage that there has been criticism of the way in which these interviews have hitherto been conducted. I hope that it will be plain from what I have said that these rules are necessary, that they will be applied with flexibility and understanding and that it is alarmist to suggest that men who contract a genuine marriage which both parties intend to subsist are penalised by the rules. I commend them to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 65, Noes 140.


Aitken, JonathanGilbert, Dr JohnPage, John (Harrow West)
Anderson, DonaldGolding, JohnPalmer, Arthur
Archer, PeterGoodhart, PhilipPardoe, John
Armstrong, ErnestGrant, George (Morpeth)Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Ashton, JoeGrist, IanRadice, Giles
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Hardy, PeterRoderick, Caerwyn
Bates, AlfHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Beith, A. J.Hart, Rt Hon JudithRoper, John
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodHattersley, Rt Hon RoyRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Bishop, E. S.Hooson, EmlynRoss, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Boardman, H.Horam, JohnSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertHuckfield, LesShore, Rt Hon Peter
Brotherton, MichaelHughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Hunter, AdamSims, Roger
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)Small, William
Buchanan, RichardJackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Budgen, NickJohn, BrynmorSnape, Peter
Campbell, IanJohnson, James (Hull West)Stallard, A. W.
Cant, R. B.Jones, Alec (Rhondda)Stanbrook, Ivor
Carlisle, MarkJones, Barry (East Flint)Steep, Anthony (Wavertree)
Cartwright, JohnJones, Dan (Burnley)Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Judd, FrankStoddart, David
Cohen, StanleyKaufman, GeraldStokes, John
Coleman, DonaldLamborn, HarryStott, Roger
Concannon, J. D.Luard, EvanSummerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Conlan, BernardMabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Cowans, HarryMcCartney, HughThomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)McElhone, FrankTinn, James
Cryer, BobMacFarquhar, RoderickTomlinson, John
Cunningham, G. (Islington S)MacKenzie, GregorUrwin, T. W.
Davidson, ArthurMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Davies, Denzil (Lianelli)Mallalieu, J. P. WWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Marks, KennethWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Deakins, EricMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Watkinson, John
Dodsworth, GeoffreyMayhew, PatrickWellbeloved, James
Doig, PeterMeacher, MichaelWhite, Frank R. (Bury)
Dormand, J. D.Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)White, James (Pollok)
Duffy, A. E. P.Moate, RogerWhitlock, William
Dunn, James A.Moonman, EricWilliams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Ennals, DavidMorris, Alfred (Wythertshawe)Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Evans, John (Newton)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Woodall, Alec
Ewing, Harry (Stirling)Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Woof, Robert
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMoyle, RolandWrigglesworth, Ian
Ford, BenOakes, Gordon
Forrester, JohnOgden, EricTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)O'Halloran, MichaelMr. Ted Graham and
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Orme, Rt Hon StanleyMr. Joseph Harper.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules for Control on Entry of Commonwealth Citizens, the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules for Control after Entry of Commonwealth Citizens, the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules for Control on Entry of EEC and other non-Commonwealth Nationals and the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules for Control after Entry of EEC and other non-Commonwealth Nationals.

Division No. 147]


[11.41 p.m.

Anderson, DonaldBray, Dr JeremyCowans, Harry
Archer, PeterBrown, Hugh D. (Provan)Cox, Thomas (Tooting)
Armstrong, ErnestBrown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Cronin, John
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)Cryer, Bob
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Buchanan, RichardDavidson, Arthur
Bates, AlfCampbell, IanDavies, Denzil (Llanelli)
Beith, A. J.Cant, R. B.Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodCocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Deakins, Eric
Bishop, E. S.Cohen, StanleyDoig, Peter
Blenkinsop, ArthurColeman, DonaldDormand, J. D.
Boardman, H.Concannon, J. D.Duffy, A. E. P.
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertConlan, BernardDunn, James A.