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British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill Money

Volume 170: debated on Thursday 19 April 1990

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Queen's Recommendation having been signified

Motion made and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill, it is expedient to authorise—
  • (a) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any administrative expenses incurred by the Secretary of State under that Act;
  • (b) payments into the Consolidated Fund.—[Mr. Patnick.]
  • 10.29 pm

    I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, especially as it concerns the allocation of additional resources for the purpose of immigration control. I listened carefully to what the Foreign Secretary had to say about the operation of immigration control under the Government. It is right to place the Bill in the context of the Government's approach to immigration control over the past 10 years —[Interruption.]

    Order. Will hon. Members not remaining for the debate on the money resolution please leave the Chamber quietly?

    The Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary seemed unaware of the misery, anxiety and distress caused by the Government's immigration and nationality policy.

    I had an opportunity recently to see the way in which the Government have failed to provide the necessary allocation of resources to solve the problems in posts abroad. In particular, I refer to the position in Bombay, Karachi, Islamabad and Dhaka. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has visited, as I have, the Mahatma Gandhi building in Bombay. I visited that building a month ago and found that people who want to apply for entry clearance, not just to come here as visitors, but—

    Indeed it is. We are debating the money resolution and my argument is that the allocation of resources for this Bill will have a direct effect on the way in which the Government conduct immigration policy. My argument falls within the scope of the money resolution because resources will be denied to those who want to apply to come to his country from other posts.

    Order. The money resolution refers to this Bill, not to any other immigration measure.

    Indeed, Mr. Speaker. However, my argument is that the money that will be allocated for this Bill should be allocated for other purposes of immigration control to ease the burden on people who apply to come to this country from other posts. I want to refer to the position in Peking which will be directly affected by the Government's proposals.

    If the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department was to visit Bombay—as I did—he would note that people who want to make applications must arrive at the building at 6 am. When I arrived at 10 am there were more than 400 people waiting to be interviewed by the immigration authorities. By 11 am—

    I am finding it very difficult to relate the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the money resolution. Can he tell me and the House how his remarks relate to the money resolution?

    Certainly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The resolution concerns the allocation of resources for a piece of legislation to do with immigration control. My argument is quite simple. If that money is to be made available for the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill, it should also be available for other aspects of immigration—

    Order. No, the hon. Gentleman must remain within the terms of reference of the money resolution, which refers to administrative expenses. His remarks must be directed to that in relation to the Bill.

    I am sure that the Government would accept that if money is being made available—

    No, I will not give way.

    If money is being made available in this money resolution to make it easier for people to come here from Hong Kong, administrative expenses should be made available in other posts. That is my argument. I hope that the Government will be able to provide those extra resources.

    The hon. Gentleman may not be aware of the fact that five years ago I visited the building in Bombay that he has described. I was part of a delegation that was so ably led by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler). Does the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) agree that for every category of immigration applicant, the numbers waiting now are less than half what they were and that the queues have shrunk beyond all recognition—

    Order. The hon. Gentleman should not try to lead further astray the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), who is doing his best to keep within the terms of the money resolution and the guidance that I have given.

    I am doing my best, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall not be tempted down the road suggested by the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who is well aware that the queues in Bombay currently stand at six months for people who wish to apply to join spouses in this country—

    I shall not be tempted down that road. The wait is six months in Bombay and a good deal longer elsewhere.

    The situation in Peking will be affected by the money resolution, especially for those who seek to come to Britain through Peking and have to be referred to Hong Kong. I am speaking specifically about the case of my constituent, Mr. Peter Flack, a British citizen who went to China as a teacher, seconded by his local authority—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] If Conservative Members will contain themselves, I shall try to explain how Mr. Flack's position is directly dependent on the money resolution. If additional resources are to be provided for Hong Kong, will the situation of persons in Mr. Flack's position—a British citizen who is married to a Chinese citizen—be improved? Currently, a case that is dealt with in Peking must first be referred to Hong Kong. In this case, Peng Ling, Mr. Flack's wife—who was involved to some extent in the uprisings in Tiananmen square—could not make an application to go to Hong Kong from China. She first had to apply to join Mr. Flack through the British embassy in Peking. She was told that she would have to wait from March 1990 until November 1990 to get an interview.

    I hope that in his reply the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will tell us whether, under the terms of the money resolution, he will allocate resources to process those cases more speedily. It is my contention that for someone to wait for eight months to join a British citizen in this country is an onerous length of time—

    Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but he must not invite the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to go out of order. I shall be a little more specific because I realise that money resolutions are not always easy to understand. This money resolution refers specifically to clause 4(1) and (2), dealing with administrative expenses. Any remarks within that scope will be in order, but any remarks outside would be an abuse of our Standing Orders.

    I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am drawing my remarks to a conclusion. The administrative expenses that are provided for in clause 4 and in the money resolution should also be used to deal with the scandalous delays at Lunar house in Croydon. The Government are still unable to complete the task that they began in 1981 and to clear the backlogs. I very much hope that some of these resources will be directed to that effect.

    10.37 pm

    You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that unlike one of my hon. Friends who also represents the city of Bradford, I do not have the same propensity for speaking on money resolutions. Nevertheless, as I contributed to the Second Reading debate, during which there were numerous references to the financial administration of the Bill, I should like to ask the Under-Secretary of State a number of questions that I hope he can answer. If not, I should be grateful if he would write to me, because there will be considerable interest in several aspects of the Bill.

    One of the difficulties that now arises from the Government's decision to resist committal of the Bill to a Committee of the whole House is that many hon. Members will be anxious to raise matters relating to the Bill, but will not be members of the Standing Committee, and will therefore have great difficulty in getting the information that they will need to answer the numerous inquiries that we shall all undoubtedly receive.

    As you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, clause 4 provides that the Hong Kong Government will pay the Home Office for the costs of the administrative provisions of the Bill and the Act, if the Bill is enacted. Paragraph 38 of the explanatory note states that the scheme would be financed by fees paid for by applicants for consideration under it and by extra fees paid for registration by successful applicants.

    It is my view, which I am sure is shared by many others, that it is unacceptable that people should have to pay even to have their applications for full British citizenship put into the hat or lottery by which applicants will be considered under the scheme. There is no indication of what the fee for entering one's application will be. but as it is expected that the additional cost will be about £800,000 per annum, clearly it could be substantial.

    I hope that the Minister will tell us what the application fee will be and that, if the application is not successful, the application fee will be refunded. I hope that he will also tell us what the registration fee will be for applicants who are successful in the lottery. On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to the staff implications projected in the explanatory note. We all share his amazement at the suggestion that only seven extra staff will be needed to process the estimated half a million applications. That assumes a much higher level of productivity than the Home Office nationality division, which has 361 staff in Croydon and Liverpool and processed 70,800 citizenship applications in 1988.

    It is stated that the majority of places would be distributed in the first tranche as quickly as administrative processes in Hong Kong permitted. The Hong Kong immigration department is already very busy. I can bear testimony to that, because I have had discussions with the director of administration for the scheme. He is well aware of the enormous administrative burdens that will be placed on him and his staff under the scheme.

    If the scheme is to be administered with the speed that Mr. Donald Tsang, the director of administration, intends —he told me last week that he hopes to have the first passports in the hands of applicants by the end of this year or early next year—many of us are worried that the projected staff implications set out in the explanatory note may not be realistic. I strongly suggest that the Minister make urgent inquiries into the staff implications in his explanatory note. Many of us believe that it would be wholly impossible for the targets that the Hong Kong administration has set to be met.

    As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) made clear, the scheme has direct implications for the granting of British citizenship here to people who now have to wait two years and one month on average for the granting of British citizenship. Many of us would be worried if further resources were stripped from the British nationality division in Croydon and Liverpool to help deal with the flood of applications anticipated in Hong Kong.

    We should be anxious if there were any suggestion that the fees that applicants here for British citizenship have to pay will be increased still further. We should be worried if the burdens on the Hong Kong administration were underestimated by the British Government in the Bill and the explanatory note, and resulted in even longer delays than our constituents now experience in obtaining British nationality.

    The Under-Secretary of State will need to consider my final point, and I should be grateful if he could write to me about it. On Second Reading, several hon. Members, including me, referred to the urgent need for several reforms of the scheme which would have important implications for cost and the level of administration. We referred to the urgent need to introduce both a right of explanation and a right of appeal for applicants who are refused British citizenship under the proposed scheme.

    Obviously, more administration will be required if applicants are to be told why their applications are refused and if an effective and comprehensive right of appeal is introduced. The Government will be pressed hard in Committee on those matters. In readiness for our debates, they should have clear information about how the administration would need to be improved to facilitate the suggestions that many hon. Members have made in tonight's debate and what the implications would be for the financial package.

    I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary could tell us what the application fee and the registration fee will be for those who are granted British citizenship, and if he could give some indication of what contingency arrangements have been made to facilitate the improvements to which I have referred. Can he give information to justify what many of us believe is a ludicrously low estimate for the additional staff requirements, which the Government believe to be just seven extra officers?

    Those are important matters, and I apologise for delaying the House. For the reasons that I have given about the inability of the vast majority of Members to participate in the Committee proceedings, it is important that we have answers tonight or early letters in reply.

    10.47 pm

    The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) has placed me in some difficulty, as you made clear to him, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the Bill deals only with Hong Kong. It is difficult to reply to his points. I shall not mention that the queues in the Indian subcontinent are much shorter than in 1979 when we came to office, nor that there was a further sharp fall last year compared with 1988 because we had increased the number of entry clearance officers. However, I can set his mind at rest on the matter of cost. It will not affect immigration activities in any other way because the cost will be met by the Hong Kong Government, as the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), who seems better briefed, said.

    The hon. Member for Bradford, West wondered at what level the fees would be set. We do not know because they will be set by the governor when the Bill is on the statute book, as we hope. I am certain that he will want to set the fees at a level that is reasonable for those who will apply. I am interested that the hon. Gentleman is worried about this subject. According to most Opposition Members whom I have heard, only very rich people in Hong Kong need apply. The hon. Gentleman has a principled approach and I know from his comments that he understands that many of those coming will not be wealthy, but will have skills and can make a large contribution.

    The hon. Member for Bradford, West asked why only seven United Kingdom officials were mentioned in the explanatory and financial memorandum, which he considered was too small a number for the large exercise of processing all the applications. The seven officials who will be stationed in Hong Kong will not be responsible for administering or processing the scheme. They will be there to receive the recommendations of the governor on who should become British citizens, to satisfy themselves that the recommendees are of good character and, if they are, to register them as British citizens. Their job comes after the selection exercise has been carried through. We estimate that seven officials will be quite sufficient for the purpose as their job is not to administer the scheme, but to register those whom the scheme produces.

    The hon. Gentleman also asked about charges and costs, and he is right that those questions will no doubt arise in Committee. He asked a specific question about appeals. We have never had appeals on questions of British nationality, only on rights of entry and abode. Basically we are dealing with nationality and I believe that a selective scheme of this nature is not susceptible to the appeal process. No doubt that matter will be discussed again in Committee.

    I hope that the House has been helped by my short account of the factors that lie behind the estimates provided in the explanatory and financial memorandum. I hope that the House will support the motion.

    I am grateful to the Minister and I thank him for his kind remarks about what I said. Unlike some of my colleagues, I believe that the Bill will open doors to non-European rights to nationality in this country for the first time in 30 years. I see it as a way to try to improve the overall standard of nationality and immigration procedures. In addition to the other points that I have raised in principle, can the Minister tell me whether the application fee, as opposed to the registration fee, will, in principle, be refunded to those applicants who fail to acquire British citizenship?

    That is a matter for the governor, but I believe that he is not minded to do so.

    Question put and agreed to.