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Mr Talish Khan

Volume 961: debated on Friday 26 January 1979

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Thomas Cox.]

4.9 p.m.

I am raising today the case of Mr. Talish Khan, the 18-year-old son of my constituent Adalat Khan of Derby. That is a statement of fact to the Inland Revenue. However, it is a matter of controversy to the Home Office and the immigration authorities, which is why, after much thought, I have had to raise the case of this father and son in the House today.

Mr. Adalat Khan came to Derby in 1965 and to the United Kingdom for the first time in 1963. He is a guard on British Rail, and he has made his permanent home in Derby, where he has the respect and esteem of his community. I first got to know him in 1974, when he was the pay-train guard on the Derby-Matlock line. His train took me home at weekends. At that time, he showed me pictures of his wife and his three sons when I got talking with him—his sons Talish, Hatif and Atique. He told me that he hoped to bring the eldest and the youngest to Britain one day. The middle boy had a background of mental backwardness and he was to be left to grow up with relations in Pakistan.

Mr. Adalat Khan had, of course, the right to apply for his dependants to join him in the United Kingdom at any time. It was only after 10 years in Derby—he was well established; he had his own house—that he did so apply. His wife, Asmit Begum, and her sons Talish and Atique applied to the British High Commission in Islamabad on 24 April 1975.

It was not until 23 August 1976 that they were actually interviewed at the High Commission in Islamabad. The High Commission staff follow the procedure described in the Bible for Susannah and the elders—that is, to interview separately all the parties in an application and anyone with them.

Mrs. Asmit Begum, Talish Khan and a relation, a Mr. Sadique or Saudat, were interviewed separately. Talish Khan was then 15 years old. He was interviewed through an interpreter in Punjabi.

I accept that the immigration authorities have a difficult job. They are faced from time to time with tricksters and with forged documents. So discrepancies in accounts secured in this way, after the interrogation at the High Commission, must be taken seriousl—and there were discrepancies. There were discrepancies concerning how the family had come from their village to Mirpur city and thence to Islamabad; where they had stayed; how many there had been in each bedroom at night, and what they had eaten; what was the exact relationship of Mr. Sadique to Mrs. Begum and to Talish; how many people had slept in the room where Talish slept that night; did they eat mutton curry or vegetable curry; how many chapatis; and when Talish saw his father, had it been at the airport or the air terminal.

There were discrepancies in the answers to these questions, which are, I submit, more understandable when one understands the Punjabi villager's attitude to name and number than, perhaps, when they appear in cold print. The fact is that we are talking here about an adolescent boy from the countryside, up in Islamabad for the first time, being interviewed by people who may well have seemed to him to be hostile—indeed, he has so deposed—and saying things which led to minor discrepancies in his account as against his mother's and his mother's cousin's account.

Mrs. Asmit Begum goes further and alleges that at this interview the High Commission staff suggested that if she would settle for taking the youngest son and leaving the big boy behind, she could get in. This, of course, is strenuously denied by the immigration officials. Nevertheless, it is curious that official odium has hung over Talish Khan in particular, not just then but ever since.

Initially, all three applicants were refused. I made representations about this case to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), who then had responsibility for these matters at the Home Office. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me even more forcefully two years later now, that there had been a wilful misunderstanding of the circumstances of this family. I pointed out to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that the existence of Adalat Khan's wife and all three sons was well documented—unusually well documented for cases of this kind. They are acknowledged in correspondence right back in 1971, when a UKIAS mission in Mirpur city saw them. They were being interviewed then about the difficulties which Pakistani fathers had in securing tax relief for children and dependants still back home in Pakistan. There is correspondence between the mission and Mr. John Ennals which specifically mentions the family.

So that is a matter of record. Those documents are there to be seen. As a result of that correspondence at the time, the UKIAS was able to get for Mr. Adalat Khan the tax relief for his sons, including Talish, which he still enjoys. So as far as the Revenue is concerned, Talish Khan is the son of Adalat Khanm—full stop.

My hon. Friend exercised her discretion, perhaps to the annoyance of some of the officials concerned. She let in Mrs. Asmit Begum and she let in Atique, the youngest son, although there were discrepancies in Mrs. Asmit's evidence also. In a letter to me in 1977, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said:
"Although there are still some unexplained discrepancies in this case I am prepared, on the balance of probabilities, to accept that the relationship between Mrs. Begum, Atique and Mr. Khan is as claimed and the entry clearance officer will be instructed to grant them visas. However, I am not satisfied that the discrepancies between the statements made by Mrs. Begum and Talish have been sufficiently resolved, and I am afraid that I do not feel that he can be given the benefit of the doubt."
She went on to say that he had appealed, as, indeed, he did.

The curious thing about this is that Atique, the younger son, has not been interviewed at all. There was, therefore, no way of saying whether, under interrogation, he might have made the same slips as between vegetable curry and mutton curry as his older brother. It is certainly true that had he been interviewed he would have confused the air terminal and the airport, just as his brother did. A boy coming up from the country would naturally think that the air terminal, if that was the only place he had ever visited, was the airport. That is where he saw off his father on his return to the United Kingdom.

I was not satisfied, and still am not, about this difference in the treatment which the young child, Atique, received as against Talish Khan, who is now a big boy beyond adolescence. Mrs. Asmit Begum came here to join Mr. Adalat Khan, bringing her youngest son, Atique, with her. Talish Khan was left behind, to the distress of himself and his mother. I have seen letters in translation to his parents explaining his present circumstances, and I have also seen letters from his doctor in that district of Mirpur. It is quite clear not only that he has been distressed by what has happened but that it has also had a continuous, deleterious effect upon the health and circumstances of Mrs. Asmit Begum when, after many years—it is now 20 years since they were married—she was finally able to join her husband in Derby.

The adjudicator heard this case in Birmingham in June of last year. I myself gave evidence for Mr. Adalat Khan on our close acquaintance over many years and about the fact that I had seen pictures of Talish Khan long before the application had ever been made in Islamabad. Certainly the pictures of Talish Khan indicate a family resemblance to his father far greater than a photograph of my older son would show to me, and I can testify to that fact. Thank heavens some hon. Members do not have to go through these procedures far away.

I gave evidence on 12 June, and the case was concluded by the end of June. It was conducted with great tenacity by Mr. Adalat Khan's solicitor, Mr. John Waldron. I am somewhat astonished at what happened next. The adjudicator did not give his ruling on this case until 13 December last. That was an unconscionably long delay. The ruling is a terse and laconic document There are a few short paragraphs itemising the evidence, but not commenting upon it in any particular. The adjudicator said that it was a difficult case which had given him a great deal of anxiety. He said that he must be satisfied
"that the decision of the Entry Certificate Officer was wrong. The discrepancies which appeared before the Entry Certificate Officer and there were many of them have not in my view been resolved by the evidence which I have heard. In paragraph 9 of the explanatory statement the Entry Certificate Officer states that he would have thought that many of the differing accounts would not have taken place in a genuine family relationship. Certain explanations have been given by the witnesses but I am still not satisfied".
The appeal was accordingly dismissed.

What concerns me is that the whole of this process of appeal, which is still continuing—it still has one stage to go—has turned upon the issue of whether the immigration officer in Islamabad was in some way guilty or innocent, and whether he made a decision which should now be challenged, because beyond reason it can now be shown to be wrong. No one has ever suggested that. It is the strong contention of everyone who knows Adalat Khan's family that a mistake was made perhaps an honest and honourable one.

I make no comment at all upon the allegations and various suggestions made to Mrs. Asmit Begum at the time. I submit from everything that I know of this family and everything that is acknowledged by other Departments of State involved in the case that Talish Khan can now be seen to be the son of Adalat Khan and should be admitted to this country.

I believe that we should look not just at the alleged transcripts of the interviews at that time but at the documentary evidence and photographs that have been examined at leisure since. I am sure that these outweigh the original discrepancies over how many chapatis there were and who had vegetable curry or mutton curry.

I know that Mr. Adalat Khan still has the opportunity to appeal to the tribunal, and he will do so. But in cases of this kind a great deal of money is involved for the appellant. There is no question of legal aid here. Mr. Adalat Khan, on a railway guard's wages, has already spent nearly £500 on an appeal. It will be more than £1,000 if he has to have proper representation for the tribunal to which he can now appeal against the adjudicator's decision. He may well have no great hope of success there if the premise upon which the case is heard remains the same.

Time is going on. The bewildered 15-year-old boy who was interviewed in Islamabad is now more than 18. How can we have one Department of State acknowledging him as his father's son while another will not? Why is it not possible to do any more on appeal than rake over the discrepancies of the original interview and not look at further evidence?

Mr. Adalat Khan deserves well of his country of adoption, in which he will spend the rest of his working life. In Derby we would like to think that he is a citizen of no mean city. But meanness, suspicion and incomprehensible delay have been the portion of this divided family so far. As their Member of Parliament, and now as their personal friend, I appeal to the Minister to end their problems.

4.23 pm

Of course I recognise the eloquence and the commitment which my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) has put into the presentation of his constituent's case today. He has given evidence before the adjudicator, and I pay all due weight to what he has said in the House.

However, we are in difficulty. It is time some of my hon. Friends realised that in 1968 a system of appeals outside the Home Office was set up precisely because of the feeling that the capriciousness of an individual Minister might be too great a burden for individual immigrants to satisfy. We established this system and I believe that the system should be gone through where that is possible. Therefore, what I say in reply to this debate must not prejudice the hearing that is about to take place.

My hon. Friend was wrong to suggest that the burden of proof upon a person seeking to enter this country is that of "beyond reasonable doubt". It is not. It is that of "the balance of probability" That is the significant difference, because the civil burden of proof is much lower than the criminal burden of proof, which is "beyond reasonable doubt".

Mrs. Asmit Begum applied to join her husband Mr. Adalat Khan on 24 April 1975 with Atique Rehman and Talish Khan. In that part of Pakistan from which they come documentary evidence is incomplete and unsatisfactory. There has never been a regular system of recording births, marriages and deaths. My hon. Friend asks me why one Department recognises a person as a man's child and another Department does not. I urge him not to press me on that issue because there are matters which have been discovered on the tax system which do not bear close inspection. He cannot fairly adduce the recognition by one Department as conclusive evidence that that relationship exists. Nevertheless, I understand that a young village boy of 15 who is unsophisticated and is coming to a big city can make some errors in his statements. Allowance is made where possible.

My hon. Friend was in error in saying that these people were first interviewed on 23 August 1976. That was the second time they had been interviewed. They were interviewed a month earlier without documentary evidence, and were asked to return with somebody who was in a position to confirm their application. All three were then refused. Notice of appeal was received on 22 December 1976.

This is a Home Office ministerial prerogative, and whether my hon. Friend is right or wrong in speculating about the effect on officials is neither here nor there. I emphasise that it is a ministerial discretion. In the event, my hon. Friend allowed the case of Mrs. Begum and Atique but did not allow the case of Talish.

The matter therefore proceeded to appeal. My hon. Friend has made a great deal about vegetable and mutton curries and chapatis. I agree that, taken in isolation, these are matters which one should examine seriously. It is obvious that a discrepancy on such a matter could be easily explained. For example, there was the discrepancy between Mrs. Begum and Talish as to where they spent the previous night. Mrs. Begum said she had spent all night at Mr. Sadique's house in Mirpur city and travelled there the day before. Talish, on the other hand, said that Mr. Sadique and his family had always lived in Rothowa village and that they had travelled up from that village for the interview. That may be explained, but it is not quite the discrepancy which has been outlined by my hon. Friend.

The appeal was heard by the independent adjudicator on 12 and 30 June 1978, whereupon the adjudicator dismissed the appeal. My hon. Friend appoints the adjudicator but is not responsible for the conduct of the case. Therefore, I shall not go into the quality of the decision. It is a matter which I shall draw to the attention of the chief adjudicator.

I can be more forthcoming in agreeing that it is unacceptable to me that there should be six months' delay between the conclusion of the hearing and the announcement of the decision. I will make that known to the chief adjudicator, and indeed he is probably aware of it. It is an undue and unnecessary source of hardship if a person, who is already in a tense situation is kept waititng six months for a decision.

There was a further appeal on 20 January this year. Leave was granted to appeal to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal. I am pleased to be able to inform my hon. Friend that that appeal may well be able to be heard within the next four to six weeks. Therefore, we are almost in a position in which the second appeal is to be heard.

I return to the problem that is before the House. My predilection is that as Parliament has set up a procedure, we must adhere to it unless there are overwhelming reasons why one should intervene. Where there is a short delay between this debate and the hearing of the appeal, I have decided in this case not to intervene.

In this case, even if the appeal were unsuccessful, the Home Secretary has a discretion outside the rules where there are exceptional compassionate circumstances. My hon. Friend said that the tribunal was able only to consider the state of affairs as it existed at the time of the ECO's decision where new evidence has come to light and which, if it had been available at the time, may have changed the decision. That also can be put to the Home Secretary so that a decision can be reached. I shall await the appeal, and I promise my hon. Friend that, if it is unsuccessful, I will look carefully and sympathetically at the points he has put to me.

This is one of the most difficult tasks that I have. My hon. Friend will be aware of the care I take and the anxiety I undergo in making such decisions. I have the responsibility of saying whether a family is to be united and whether a son is a proper son of the family. My hon. Friend knows that in a minority of cases other relatives are claimed to be children of the family. I freely confess that these are not easy decisions.

As ever, I shall look, with the utmost sympathy and known knowledge of what it means to the family and the young man concerned, at the points that my hon. Friend has made. If the appeal is unsuccessful, those points can be put again and we shall still have the discretion that I have mentioned.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to Five o'clock.