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Immigration Controls

Volume 80: debated on Friday 14 June 1985

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

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

2.31 pm

About 200 years ago—it was in 1729—the Irish clergyman and satirist Jonathan Swift put forward a novel solution to the economic problems of that country. He suggested that the poor should turn to baby farming and earn a living by selling their children as fresh meat to British landlords.

In the decades following the second world war, that, in one sense, became a widespread activity, not only in Ireland but in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. The difference was that the human exports from those countries came here and elsewhere not as food but as labour power for the factories of Britain and Europe.

Tory Governments of the 1950s, with the active participation, for example, of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), who is not now in his place, encouraged immigration to provide cheap labour for British capitalism. Throughout the late 1960s and the 1970s, those black and Asian workers were seen as temporary tools for the employers and industrialists of the capitalist class.

As British capitalism declined from the boom of the early 1950s and the 1960s to the recessions and slumps of the 1970s and 1980s, Tory politicians and the media encouraged working people in this country, in particular the unemployed, the elderly and those in receipt of supplementary benefit, to see immigration as the cause of their increasing problems, with talk of floods of immigrants, of the market being swamped and of alien cultures. Notable among those indulging in such talk was the present Prime Minister, who said on the television programme "World in Action" on 30 January 1978:
"People are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture… if there is any fear that it might be swamped, people are going to react and be rather hostile to those coming in."
Such talk, and the continuing decline of capitalism, fuels the condition in which racism breeds, in which the number of racist attacks increase and in which neo-Nazi organisations can try to spread their poison. It has been reflected recently in the speeches and questions of Tory Back Benchers about the decision of the European Court of Human Rights and in the disgraceful refusal of the Home Secretary and the Government to help Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka seeking asylum in Britain.

Immigrants are not the cause of bad housing, declining living conditions or mass unemployment. In all those categories, black and Asian workers, particularly the young among them, suffer even more than white workers.

In the 1930s there were 3 million without work, yet there was hardly a black face to be seen. Then, as now, the capitalist system proved incapable of organising production in such a way as to provide for the basic requirements of the population and was responsible for mass unemployment and poverty.

In 18 out of the past 20 years, there has been a net outflow of people from this country. Since 1964, 937,000 more people have left this country than entered it. Yet unemployment, in reality, now stands at 5 million. The solution to mass unemployment lies in the unity of workers in opposition to the Government and capitalism.

I wish to stress the falsity of the numbers game and the tactics of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which keep queues long on the Indian sub-continent by having too few entry clearance offices. In a debate two or three weeks ago, we tried to discuss with the Minister a secret document prepared for Ministers at the Home Office which showed that in two significant areas of dealing with immigration for settlement a system of queues operates to regulate the flow of immigrants. It states:
"in the Indian sub-continent (though not elsewhere) applicants have had to wait over two years for interviews. The number of Entry Clearance Officers in practice is the primary regulator of the number of husbands, wives, children and male fiances admitted from the sub-continent in any one year. Provided the queues do not become too long this form of administrative regulation can continue."
In India, Bangladesh and Pakistan there are approximately 17,800 wives, children and elderly dependants waiting for entry visas, according to Home Office estimates. To put that in perspective, if all were allowed to rejoin their husbands, fathers and families in the United Kingdom next week they would represent less than 3 per cent. of the United Kingdom's annual birth rate and still leave a net outflow in the year's migration statistics. If we were to spread such a number equally across all constituencies, the city of Coventry would take an extra 200 people. That would place no real burden on British society.

Time does not permit me to develop those points fully, but only to deal with the effect of the Government's attitude and the way that obstacles and difficulties are put in the way of ethnic minorities who want to visit, let alone stay with, members of their families. It causes long-term disruption to their lives and humiliation, because families are divided.

Legislation—some of it unfortunately passed by a Labour Government — upon which the present Tory Government have built and sharpened immigration laws is based on discrimination against black and Asian workers. The report of the Commission for Racial Equality on immigration control procedures showed that one in 140 blacks and Asians is refused entry to this country compared to one in 4,100 from the old Commonwealth — Australia, New Zealand, Canada and elsewhere. Someone coming from the Indian sub-continent is 30 times more likely to be refused entry than someone from the old Commonwealth. The report spoke of rules and procedures which
"appeared to operate in a climate of racism."
That is true unless one can run 100 m in less than 10 seconds, comes from South Africa and calls oneself Zola Budd. Then, of course, the editor of the Daily Mail and the Tory Government would be one's firm friends.

In over 50 cases with which I have dealt I have seen long waits for interviews stretching into years; methods of questioning which bear more relation to the Spanish inquisition than anything that would be expected of normal interviews; and assumptions that applicants are bogus. They must prove their innocence. Justice is turned on its head, in particular in relation to the notorious primary purpose rule on marriages.

I do not have time to deal with each of the Minister's refusals. I shall give an illustration of the primary purpose rule and the way that it is operated by the Home Office.' One of the earliest cases with which I dealt was that of an Indian man seeking entry to Britain to marry. The Minister here today said that that marriage was bogus and refused that man the right to enter. The girl had a baby. I asked the Minister whether he was seriously telling me that a woman would have a baby simply to let someone into the country. Since his entry has again been refused, I must assume that that is what the Minister believes. The couple have had a second baby, and are still in exile in Copenhagen. I could repeat that story for dozens of cases in Coventry, for hundreds of cases in the west midlands and for thousands of cases nationally.

Last year, in the Indian sub-continent, 46 per cent. of husbands and male fiancés were refused entry clearance, 88 per cent. of them on primary purpose grounds. Today is our first opportunity to debate the decision of the European Court of Human Rights. The court held that the Tory Government had breached article 8 of the convention and practised sex discrimination. The Minister should say today, without qualification, that that discrimination will be eliminated by giving women in Britain the same rights as men have to be joined by their spouses. There should be no equality of misery or more tightening of the laws. The Government must not remove rights from men and place greater restrictions on the entry of wives. Those families have waited for years to be reunited. Children are growing up not knowing their fathers. What will the Minister tell them today?

Unfortunately, the primary purpose rule has its roots in legislation introduced in 1977 by the Labour Government. It was made explicit by the Tories in 1980, and was further tightened in 1983. We are often told that, under the system of British justice, a person accused is innocent until he is proved guilty. The procedures used in the implementation of immigration law tear that idea to shreds. It is for the person applying for entry clearance to prove his innocence, or to prove that his visit is genuine. In the case of someone wishing to settle with a husband or wife, he or she must prove that the primary purpose of the marriage is not to gain entry to Britain.

That is the most hypocritical and ridiculous criterion. Perhaps the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should develop a love detector to help immigration officers and entry clearance officers with their investigations. If we were to examine the motives behind the marriages of many Tory Members of Parliament, I am sure that the main one would be money. Equally, I am sure that the Government would not dream of banning marriages between Tory Members of Parliament and their spouses, or between wealthy people in general, on the basis that it would lead to an unfair distribution of wealth.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the British establishment has largely maintained itself through arranged marriages?

That could easily be proved historically. It happens from the royal family down to the present leadership of the Tory party.

The judgments and refusals under the primary purpose rule are even greater than the figures I gave earlier of wives, husbands and families waiting to join people in Britain. According to a written answer given on 29 April, the number of refusals of leave to enter the United Kingdom for husbands and male fiances from the Indian sub-continent, based on the primary purpose rule, was 970 in 1983 and 1,120 in 1984. The lives of more than 2,000 people have been shattered by the decisions of the Tory Government.

The Government justify the immigration rules for husbands and male fiancés by saying that strictly controlled immigration is necessary, especially at a time of mass unemployment, for good community relations. That is completely bogus. In reality is is part of a conscious plan by the Government to divide, and therefore to rule, black and white workers in Britain. If working people are blaming one another for causing the worst conditions to be found in our capitalist society, for causing unemployment and for being responsible for unfit housing and declining living standards, the real culprits—the Government—get off scot free. Responsibility lies with the Government and the system which they represent.

I am a sponsor and supporter of the West Midlands Divided Families Campaign. The campaign, along with others in the north-west and the London area, demands that changes should be made to alleviate some of the worst aspects of the way in which immigration rules are imposed on families between Britain and the Indian sub-continent.

I shall conclude my remarks by stating some of the demands of the campaign. Some will require only administrative changes — for example, an end to all queues for entry clearance could be achieved by increasing the number of entry clearance officers in the high commissions in the Indian sub-continent. The campaign demands that all independently investigated cases be allowed entry clearance without delay on the basis of village visit reports. It urges that all family cases which have been refused should be allowed now, as independent village inquiries have shown consistently that in the cases refused the number of false applications has been negligible and that the suffering caused to families is unjustified.

The campaign urges that the implementation by the Home Office of the procedural recommendations as outlined by the CRE report should be started forthwith. It demands the establishment of British posts in Sylhet and Mirpur to save family expense and tiring journeys; the end of contacts between entry clearance officers and the Inland Revenue; the end to all investigations into non-applicant relatives, which are used to delay and refuse applications; the end of the use of age assessments of applicants and an amnesty for illegal entrants who have made Britain their home. I would add that compensation should be paid to those who have been deported by the Government.

The campaign demands that applicants should have a right to be accompanied by an independent person who is capable of monitoring interpretation when they attend entry clearance interviews.

I and other Labour Members have said persistently in recent months that tape-recording facilities should be allowed here, at ports of entry and at high commissions in the Indian sub-continent. I do not accept the statement made by the Under-Secretary of. State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he concluded his visit to Pakistan and Bangladesh earlier this year. He said that the cost of providing official tape recordings of interviews of a proper standard would be disproportionate to the benefits. When an experiment was conducted in 1978, tape recording was ruled out by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and by the Home Office because of problems of extraneous noise and the difficulties caused by operating with inadequate facilities. It was suggested that a recording of a suitable standard could be produced only by the use of sophisticated equipment in rooms which had been sound-proofed.

If those are the difficulties that have to be overcome before an interview can be recorded on tape, what are the problems of translation and understanding that already exist between entry clearance officers and those they interview? If the questions and answers could not be recorded properly on tape, I suggest that the present system does not allow for a proper understanding of questions, answers and translations.

In a letter to me dated 23 May the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs stated that many people talk softly when they are in strange circumstances and it would be disturbing for them to be asked constantly to speak up. He told me that applicants might be put off by sophisticated recording equipment of the sort that would be needed to produce proper recordings and that much of the value of spontaneity of interviews would be lost. I suggest that it would not be lost to those being interviewed. If people are put off, as it were, by the presence of strange equipment, they are even more put off by the harassment that they suffer by the nature of the interviews that take place, which involve the examination of family trees, age assessments and questions on many other issues. This is the process that confronts those who are trying to join their families.

The west midlands campaign wants interviews to be tape recorded so that the recording can back up accounts of what questions were asked and what answers were given. It demands that documents should be accepted in accordance with civil law and that the burden of proving them insufficient should lie with the immigration authorities. It demands that adjudicators of immigration appeals must be appointed by the Lord Chancellor's office and should include those with legal experience and members of the ethnic minority communities. It demands also that legal aid should be available for all immigration appeals.

The campaign wants various legal changes to be made. It says that the burden of proof should be lifted from the applicant and placed on the Home Office so that it has. to disprove a relationship. That is a demand which I have supported in my earlier remarks. It demands that appellants should be present at their own appeals; that no children under 18 at the time of first application should be disqualified from future applications; the abolition of the requirement that men settled after 1973 should be able to support and accommodate wives and children; the abolition of all fees for entry clearance; and the provision under the immigration rules of the same right of family reunion to all residents in Britain as is presently accorded to EEC nationals.

I support every one of the reforms that the west midlands campaign for divided families has put forward, but 1 have to say to the House—and, more importantly, to those working people outside this Chamber—that the real need is to abolish the racist immigration laws and controls. For that we need a new Government. We need to end the system which supports and allows the conditions which breed racism and enables racist ideas to develop.

A warning needs to be given in the House. While unemployment, particularly among young people and school leavers, is allowed—in fact, designed—to rocket under the Tory Government's economic policies, there will be those in the National Front, the British Movement and other neo-Nazi organisations who will turn to young white school leavers and give them the simple equation, "If we were to get rid of 3 million black people in Britain there would be 3 million jobs for those registered as unemployed."

We have seen the effects of the attempts at recruitment by the neo-Nazi organisations at football clubs not only here but on the continent of Europe. We have seen it in the events of the past month at football matches. This House, the Labour party, and anyone concerned with ending the conditions which breed racism and ending the effects of those conditions, and the immigration controls used by the Tory Government, must explain to young people that there is only one solution. Capitalism, with all its attendant problems of unemployment, bad housing and poor living conditions, has to be abolished. The roots of racism lie in those economic conditions. Socialism must be built in Britain so that all the millions of people, whether black or white, whatever their cultural or religious differences, can live in a harmonious society, free from the conditions that capitalism has imposed, and free from all the racist smears put forward by neo-Nazi organisations and, unfortunately, echoed by hon. Members in this Chamber. It must all be confined where it belongs—in the dustbin of history.

2.52 pm

Immigration is an emotive subject. There are always those who are willing to exploit people's fears that an insufficiently tough control will imperil their jobs and the jobs of their children. There are also plenty of people on the extreme Left who see concern about the control among the ethnic minority communities as a splendid opportunity to stir up trouble and create division and conflict in a society the destruction of which they are presumably anxious to hasten.

The House will draw is own conclusions from the diatribe about capitalism with which the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) opened his speech. I do not think that there are many people in Britain who have failed to notice that black people are not queuing to get into Socialist countries such as the Soviet Union. Black people are queuing in their anxiety to get to the West, to get to countries where prosperity has been created and is still being created under the capitalist system. The hon. Gentleman was talking sheer nonsense when he connected his absurd attack on capitalism with immigration control, a subject which deserves serious and not frivolous debate of the type in which he indulged.

The hon. Gentleman's complete ignorance of the whole subject was, incidentally, fully demonstrated by what he said about Zola Budd. I should have thought that everyone in Britain now knows perfectly well that Zola Budd was admitted to Britain and was entitled to come here as the minor daughter of a British citizen father. No power on earth — certainly no power given to any British Government—could have prevented her from coming. We should not display such ignorance and try to confuse her application for naturalisation, which is an entirely different matter, with the question of her right to come here.

The hon. Gentleman was also talking nonsense when he spoke about our "racist" immigration laws. If he had troubled to read the immigration rules he would know that they are applied to all, regardless of race. He would also know that the first effective immigration rule orders immigration officers to carry out their duties without regard to race. He spoke about the number of people refused at our ports of entry and said that more people were refused from some countries than from others. I should have thought that it was patently obvious that more people would try to come here from countries where there was chaos, economic depression and so on than, for instance, from Australia, New Zealand or the United States of America.

It behoves us to discuss these matters calmly and with a bit of common sense, knowing the mischief that can be wrought by intemperance and a complete distortion of the facts such as that indulged in by the hon. Gentleman.

No western Government operate or could operate without immigration control. No doubt many Socialist countries could, because their problem is not to keep people out but to keep them in. But countries in the West, where there is prosperity, have all found it impossible to operate without an immigration control, and without dashing the hopes of many people and telling them that they cannot live in the country to which they wish to come, however much they may want to do so.

I notice from the Order Paper that the title of the hon. Gentleman's debate is "Family reunion", and it should be said at this stage that we, like our predecessors, have recognised that there must be provision in the rules for people already here to be joined by their families. Over the past 10 years, that policy has resulted in the admission of about one third of a million wives and children of men settled here. If the hon. Gentleman took just a moment to read the immigration rules and learned something about immigration control, he would discover that our system of immigration control was biased in favour of the admission of families and that, as a result over the past 10 years we had seen the admission of no fewer than one third of a million wives and children.

The hon. Gentleman complained about the process of entry clearance in the Indian sub-continent. He likes to dissociate himself from the actions of the previous Labour Government, but it is right to remind him that now our effective staff in Bangladesh dealing with entry clearance is greater than the effective staff when the Labour Government were in office. What is more, people do not have to wait as long in the Indian sub-continent for their applications for entry clearance to be heard as they did under that Labour Government.

The hon. Gentleman complained about the refusal of family applications. He must be living in a little world of his own if he does not know that a great deal of fraud has been involved in applications in the Indian sub-continent over the years and that entry clearance officers have always had a difficult job separating truth from fiction. Obviously the entry clearance officers have to judge whether a person is telling the truth, and it is difficult to see how it would be possible to do without a system dependent initially on a judgment made by an individual officer.

However, the decision does not just depend on an individual officer. There is a sophisticated appeals system. Anyone who is aggrieved by the decision of the entry clearance officer can go before an adjudicator, and often he also has the right to go on from the adjudicator to the immigration appeals tribunal.

The hon. Gentleman has made his point about the tape recording of entry clearance interviews. I have not come across very many cases where on appeal there is much dispute about what the applicant and his or her witness said at the original interview. Far more often matters turn on the significance of what admittedly was said. I do not think that this issue can be as important as it is cracked up to be.

I am sorry; I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman, He left me very little time in which to reply. In any event, tape recording in the Indian sub-continent is not a matter for me.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the judgment of the European Court does not amount to a sweeping condemnation of the Government's immigration policies. On the contrary, the court accepted that the 1980 rules had the completely legitimate aim of controlling primary immigration and protecting the domestic labour market. The court rejected the allegation that there had been degrading treatment, and it also rejected the allegation that there had been discrimination on grounds of race. It also said that there had been no violation of article 8 which protects the right to family life and said that there was no general obligation on a country to allow a couple to settle in that country even though one of them was a national of it. The only violation which the court found was one of sex discrimination, because the rules made it easier for women to join men than for men to join women.

We have already made it clear that we shall abide by the court's decision and make rule changes to bring ourselves into compliance. But there is no question of our allowing our general policy of firm immigration control to be undermined. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait to hear precisely what we intend to do. He will not expect me today to describe to him the detailed—

The Question having been proposed after half-past Two o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at one minute past Three o'clock.