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Immigration Clearance

Volume 78: debated on Thursday 2 May 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any proposals to reduce the waiting times before first interview for application for entry clearance in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Dhaka.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent representations he has received about the length of time an applicant for an entry permit to the United Kingdom has to wait for an interview in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

Since the beginning of the year, I have received delegations from two organisations, and received one letter, specifically about delays in dealing with entry clearance applications in the Indian subcontinent, but the matter has been mentioned by a number of other organisations and individuals in discussions and correspondence about immigration control generally.

We have increased the number of entry clearance officers at Dhaka and our immigration section there is already the largest of any of our posts overseas. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is taking steps to ensure that the most effective use is made of these resources.

Is the Minister aware that the annual number of applications processed has declined considerably? Is he aware that the productivity of entry clearance officers in the subcontinent has decreased by 36 per cent. per officer? What will the hon. and learned Gentleman do about that? Is the decrease due to the complexity of the rules that have been made by this Government? Will the hon. and learned Gentleman make a statement?

The present rules governing the admission of wives and children are exactly the same as the rules that obtained under the Labour Government. The point that I was seeking to make was that there are now more entry clearance officers in Dhaka than there were at the time of the Labour Government. We realise that this is a serious situation, and we are doing our best to relieve it. Two years ago we increased the number of entry clearance officers. As a result, there have been two extra entry clearance officers at Dhaka for the past two winters. Steps are being taken to keep staffing levels at full effective strength, with five additional postings for six months each being made to cover staff leave and so on. In addition, first-time applicants are to be given a measure of priority over those who have previously applies and been refused permission.

I am sure the Minister will agree that it is to no one's advantage to have such lengthy waiting times before interviews are conducted. In some cases, 22 months pass before the first interview is conducted to decide whether a man's wife and children can join him in this country. Cannot extra efforts be made, especially in Dhaka where the waiting time seems to be longest, to make a big clearance of the queue once and for all so that applicants may be dealt with more humanely?

It is important to give priority to first-time applicants. One of the difficulties in Dhaka is that many people, having had their applications refused and appeals turned down, apply repeatedly. That is very much to the disadvantage of people who, having been here for two or three years, decide to call for their wives and children. We must put this matter into perspective. A comparison of present waiting times with waiting times under the Labour Government shows that we certainly have nothing of which to be ashamed. The waiting time in Bombay was 12½ months in 1979; it is now only six months. The waiting time in Islamabad was 19½ months in 1979; it is now 10¾ months. The waiting time in Delhi is now precisely the same as in 1979. The waiting time in Dhaka was 22 months in 1979; it is now 23 months. Those are not grounds for indicting the Government.

I listened with interest to what my hon. and learned Friend said. Is he aware that any reduction in the waiting list abroad would only mean an increase in the number of unemployed people in Britain, in particular in Leicester and Bradford? Will he reconsider his policy, which is negative and undesirable?

We must apply the rules. Our entry clearance officers have to ensure that there is no evasion, but equally that people receive their entitlement. I cannot go along with my hon. Friend if he is saying that we should now alter the approach which has been adopted by successive Governments over the years and deny to a man who has settled here the right to bring in his wife and children. But my hon. Friend is correct to draw to the attention of the House the difficult social problems involved. I assure the House that if those queues were to be removed tomorrow, we should face enormous problems with regard to schools, social services and hospitals, for example, in Tower Hamlets. A high percentage of the people in those queues would go to our inner city areas. However, that does not mean that we shall alter the policy which gives to the people settled here the right to bring in their wives and children.

Is not one of the significant causes of the delay the Government's excessive zeal in finding reasons not to admit people—in particular, the primary purposes regulations which prevent from entering people who otherwise would legitimately be able to join their families?

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman mentioned that point. We are often told that we are now applying more oppressive control than was the case under Labour. That is a load of old nonsense. The highest refusal rate of families in Dhaka occured in 1977 under the Labour Government, when it was over 60 per cent. The refusal rate in Dhaka last year was only 50 per cent. I remind the hon. Gentleman that since the introduction of the 1983 rules, the failure rate for husbands and fiancés has decreased.

Do not confidential papers, recently leaked, show that the Home Office is using administrative means deliberately to stop people with a clear legal right to enter this country from doing so? Will he take the opportunity of next Thursday's debate on the Commission for Racial Equality to apologise to the commission for his premature criticism of its immigration control policy, and announce that there will be a substantial increase in entry clearance officers on the Indian subcontinent so that the queues of people, predominantly families, can exercise their legal right to enter this country to join their husbands?

I was content that there should be a debate on immigration next Thursday, but I understand that the Opposition chose otherwise.

If I am wrong, I withdraw the remark. I am entitled to make the point that on three separate days I and the Home Office have been happy to have a debate on immigration, but for some reason that has not been satisfactory to the Front Benches of the two—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—I am not having it said that we are ducking a debate.

Order. This question has gone on for a long time. I know that it is of great interest to the House, but we should have the answer without an argument about a debate.

My trouble, Mr. Speaker, is that I have forgotten what the question was.

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that the figures that he has just quoted show that in no way are those entitled to come to this country being unjustly inhibited? Does he also accept that the enterprise of the Asian community in Leicester contributes to employment, not unemployment?

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for what he has said. No impartial and reasonable person looking at the figures that I have mentioned today could for a moment say that the Government are failing in their duty. The very important matter raised by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has a bearing on my hon. and learned Friend's point. The briefing paper that appeared in The Guardian was used by the journalist to suggest that queues were being used deliberately to limit immigration. Queues exist—and they existed under the Labour Government—because the number of people applying to come here exceeds the capacity of the resources available to deal with them. That was the case under the Labour Government and it remains the case today.

We want the debate on the Commission for Racial Equality report. It was certainly not at the request of the Opposition Front Bench that there should be a further delay in having that debate.

The Minister's answers to the question at issue, today and on previous occasions, suggest a deficiency on his part as regards both statistics and humanity. There is serious doubt about the figures that he has quoted today. Last year, 1984, was the first year when the number of applications processed for entry were fewer than the numbers received. Is that not a sign that the Minister is using bureaucratic methods to increase the delays?

If the hon. Gentleman were right, we would not be sending an extra entry clearance officer to Dhaka and we would not have sent two extra officers for the past two winters, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary would not be making sure that extra staff go to Dhaka this year to see that there is no shortage of entry clearance officers as a result of leave or sickness. If the hon. Gentleman doubts my statistics, perhaps he will challenge me and say where I am wrong.