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Mr And Mrs James Todd

Volume 932: debated on Wednesday 25 May 1977

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

7.43 p.m.

Perhaps I should also tell the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) that the Chair deprecates the futility of conducting a debate with no Minister present. This affects ministerial responsibility, otherwise there is no sense in conducting a debate of this nature.

I respect your comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been in touch with the Home Office and told the officials there that I intended to mention the subject of Mr. and Mrs. James Todd of New Zealand. The Private Office in the Home Office raised no objection and said it would do its best to see that the Minister arrived here as soon as possible. I expect that the Minister will arrive very shortly.

Frankly, I do not see the purpose of this exercise. If the Minister comes in at the tail end of the Minister's speech, how can he possibly reply to utterances that he has not heard? I should be interested to hear from the hon. Gentleman how long it is since the hon. Gentleman gave notice to the Home Office.

I gave notice to the Home Office about a month ago that I intended to raise this matter on the adjournment.

I was referring to the notice the hon. Gentleman gave the Home Office on this occasion.

On this occasion I telephoned the Home Office half an hour ago to inquire whether it was reasonable for the Minister to come to the House. The Home Office agreed that it was reasonable. I said that I expected to speak within half an hour or so, and it agreed that that was reasonable.

The officials there know of this case because we have been in correspondence about it. I have given them warning that I intend, through normal means, to raise this matter on the Adjournment, so they are fully prepared for this debate. I do not expect that I shall raise any new questions of which they are not aware.

I shall attempt briefly to outline the case of Mr. and Mrs. Todd of Oxshott in my constituency. They are New Zealanders who are under a deportation order to leave this country. Their children were born in this country and are British citizens with British passports. Mr. Todd has a New Zealand passport and is a New Zealand citizen. His wife was previously a German citizen holding a German passport. On marriage she decided to become a naturalised New Zealander.

Their story briefly is as follows. Mr. Todd was born in New Zealand but did not enjoy the blessing of English patriality, because his great-grandfather had emigrated to New Zealand. In 1959 he went to the United States on a scholarship course and met his future wife. They were married four years later and came to live in England. He persuaded his wife to hand in her German passport and take out a New Zealand passport.

The couple then came to Oxshott in my constituency where Mr. Todd took up a situation in the Daneshill Preparatory School. In 1967 he was appointed joint headmaster. He had no formal qualifications such as would be required in this country. He became acutely aware of this and set about obtaining qualifications. He had the New Zealand equivalent of British A-levels, but they did not count. It would have meant that he would have to study for his English A-levels at an English college. He took the sensible course of returning to New Zealand to obtain the necessary qualifications at Canterbury University in that country. He took the whole family home with him. He thought it right in principle that the children should for a short period of time live in the country of his birth.

Mr. Todd made the usual arrangements. He let his house in Oxshott and retained his share in the preparatory school where he had been working. He left the country in 1970. At that time, he had verbal assurance from the Home Office that the Immigration Bill, then in the pipeline, would not affect his position. He had asked in particular whether it was safe for him to leave the United Kingdom and whether he would be able to come back. He was given a verbal assurance that that would be the case. He returned to the United Kingdom in 1974, having completed his university course.

Mr. Todd returned with his three children, who had all been born in England and hold United Kingdom passports, and they then entered their respective schools here. Of course, at the time he knew the stipulations of the Immigration Act 1971, but the family were allowed into the United Kingdom providing that he did not take on any permanent work. So we have the situation of the parents entering this country on sufferance but their children entering as of right.

The ironical situation in this tangle over the nationality laws is that Mrs. Todd, having been born a German, could, if she can obtain her German passport back, stay here under Common Market regulations. But he cannot stay here under British regulations. Mr. Todd's mistake was to leave the country and go back to New Zealand. If he had settled here, there would have been no difficulty.

That is the matter which I wished to raise. One recalls that, when the 1971 Act was going through the House, these matters were discussed in great detail. In Committee there was long argument about patrial arrangements and whether they were the most suitable. It was decided in the end the people whose forebears had gone from the United Kingdom to other parts of the Commonwealth would, if their fathers or grandfathers had been born in this country, have the right to return. The unfortunate thing about Mr. Todd's case is that it was his great-great-grandfather who was born here, and therefore Mr. Todd has been caught in the tangle of this legislation.

I do not think that it was the intention of anyone in the House at the time that such a situation should arise. No one could then clearly foresee that further legislation would come about by which we became members of the EEC and whereby nationals of the other countries of the Community would, through Common Market arrangements, have the right to come to this country and live here.

Therefore, we have the curious situation, apparently, that the only means, unless it is possible for the Home Office to relent in some way, for Mr. Todd to stay with his children, who have a right to stay here, being British subjects with British passports, is if his wife, who was born a German, can obtain from the German authorities her German passport again. Then the Todd family from New Zealand will have a perfect right to stay and work in this country.

I believe that such a situation was either unforeseen when the legislation was going through Parliament or his arisen since because of the development of events. But it has trapped this family most unfairly. What is being said now is "Your children can stay here but you, the parents, must be deported". I do not believe that it is right that that should happen to any family under our jurisdiction.

I know that the Minister has been looking at this case. I have corresponded with him. I know that the Home Office within the rules has done all it can to help the Todd family, but sooner or later the law will have to take its course. I hope that the Minister, when he reads my speech, will be able to give some fresh thought to how it may be possible for the Home Office to settle matters satisfactorily so that the Todd family does not have to split up, with the children being in one country and the parents in another.

7.55 p.m.

Before I call the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), who was not present when I made my observations earlier, I point out that there is no Minister present, as he will have observed, and there are no officials in the Box either. Therefore, I read to him from page 285 of "Erskine May" where it clearly states:

"The Chair has deprecated the introduction of such subjects in cases where due notice has not been given to the Minister concerned."
Half-an-hour's notice is not due notice. The fact is that there is no Minister here. I have no ministerial responsibility as such. My job is to conduct the affairs of the House from the Chair. In my opinion, what is happening tonight is a gross abuse of the practices of the House, and I propose to report the whole matter of tonight's incidents to Mr. Speaker.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I very much respect what you have said, but is not the reason why we are in this predicament that another hon. Member took various actions as regards legislation before us in order to delay that legislation? That is why we are in this parlous state, business having ended much sooner than we thought it would. It derives from action taken last week by another hon. Member and not by us.

Order. Let me deal with one point of order at a time.

The whole question revolves around whether due notice has been given to a Minister. In my opinion half-an-hour or an hour is inadequate notice. It is not due notice. In any case, no Ministers are present. What is the purpose, then, of addressing an empty House on a subject? Such an action downgrades the whole of the House of Commons to the status of a debating society. A speech becomes a soliloquy.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I telephoned the office of the Minister concerned and it was perfectly accepted that I should go ahead with this debate. If it had been stated in any way that it was inconvenient and that the notice was too short, I would have respected that and would not have pursued the matter. But notice was accepted. I explained that it was short notice and the Home Office said that it would try to get a Minister here as soon as possible. On that basis I went ahead with my debate.

In such circumstances, in my opinion the hon. Gentleman should not have proceeded with his additional Adjournment debate, because it served no useful purpose.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I accept your view that an attempt to speak now is an abuse of the House, but surely if, on an occasion like this, an hon Member who seeks to raise matters which affect his constituency—which is what I should like to do—has informed the Government Whips' Office, which I have done, do you not think that it is reasonable for hon. Members to be allowed to speak, in the sense that normally it is a practice of the House that there are Whips available on both sides of the House?

I do not necessarily seek an answer from a Government Whip, but I should like to make a speech about my constituency problems. I think that a Minister would have been here for my speech if one could be found.

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I submit that my constituents are interested in what I have to say in this House about the problems in my constituency. Certainly if the authorities of the House say that this is a gross abuse of the procedures, I should have to accept that view. But I ask you whether it is not possible to take this unique opportunity to talk about our constituencies. No doubt a Minister will arrive in a moment, but until then we could use this unique occasion to the advantage of our constituencies.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that the Government Whips have nothing whatever to do with it. The hon. Gentleman cannot ask a Government Whip to discuss his constituency problems. I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that when an hon. Member addresses empty Benches, with the occupant of the Chair as the sole other individual present, what we are doing is conducting a debating society. I would also remind the hon. Gentleman that there are opportunities every week for hon. Members to raise constituency matters through making an application for an Adjournment debate.

The whole question revolves around the presence or non-presence of a Minister. I do not see a Minister present and I therefore think that the whole process is an abuse of the House.

I do not seek to argue the points with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I must point out that I have tried to get a debate on the problems of West Cornwall for the past five years and there has been no parliamentary time for me to do so.

It amazes me to learn that the hon. Gentleman has been unable to get an Adjournment debate for five years.

There is now a Minister in the Chamber. I should like to take advantage of the Minister's appearance. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) was present before me. I do not think that he was.

I do not wish to speak before my hon. Friend. However, I should like to take advantage of the Minister's presence and give notice now that I should like to talk about the problems of the police in my constituency. I think it is a responsibility that comes within the purview of the Home Office.

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) who has indicated that he would like to give notice now—at five minutes past eight—that he wants to initiate a debate. As he knows, due notice ought to be given. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that this is due notice, I have another interpretation.

I had not quite finished speaking, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when my hon. Friend interrupted me. If I may, I will conclude my speech.

I see that the Under-Secretary is present and I know she has heard of the case of Mr. and Mrs. James Todd. I am sorry that I was not able to give her more adequate notice. I hope that she is aware of the facts of the case. It would please me very much if she were able to make a short statement about the present situation and the deportation order that lies over Mr. and Mrs. James Todd.

I thought that the hon. Gentleman had finished speaking about 15 minutes ago.

8.4 p.m.

I did not hear the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I can give him a few facts about this case which, naturally, have been hurriedly produced.

Mr. and Mrs. Todd, aged 35 and 33 respectively, lived in this country from 1964 to 1970 but then left to live abroad. They returned in March 1974, saying that they wished to settle here. They did not qualify under the immigration rules, but were none the less granted entry for two months to allow Mr. Todd to make a case for staying as a business man. However, though their solicitors started corresponding with us in April 1974 and despite our granting the Todds leave to remain further until 31st July 1975, no evidence of entitlement to remain under any heading of the Commonwealth rules has ever been forthcoming.

On 8th September 1976 the Home Office gave the solicitors a time limit of one month in which to produce satisfactory evidence that Mr. and Mrs. Todd had a claim to stay. When we had no real response, we refused on 26th October to revoke their conditions or to extend leave to remain. As a consequence of the Subramaniam judgment, the Todds had no right of appeal. The case attracted some publicity at that stage, but the Todds are still here despite having had over the years the clearest possible warning that they are not entitled to stay without establishing a claim under the Rules and the necessity of their either doing so or taking their departure.

The next step is to serve notice of intention to deport them as persistent over-stayers under Section 3(5)(a) of the Act. They will have the right of appeal against both the making of a deportation order and destination, and this will compensate for their lack of right of appeal against the refusal to vary their stay. Pending the hearing of any appeal that they may make, should there be any further material developments—and certainly in view of the hon. Gentleman's speech tonight, which I shall read in Hansard—their case will be reviewed in the light of these developments.

Is the hon. Lady aware that under EEC rules if Mrs. Todd is able to reclaim her German passport the Todds would actually be allowed to stay in this country, but they cannot do so under British nationality rules even though the children have British passports? The parents have New Zealand passports and therefore the family is divided. The children have a perfect right to stay here and they are entering their schools, but the parents will be deported. That seems to be grossly unfair.

I am not able to give the hon. Gentleman the up-to-date situation with regard to what the German authorities have decided on any application that Mrs. Todd might have made to them. But certainly when I have read the hon. Gentleman's speech I shall give him the up-to-date facts of the case and in particular an answer to that last point.