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Immigrants: Deportation Appeals

Volume 373: debated on Friday 6 August 1976

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11.14 a.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take to restore to immigrants their right of appeal against deportation following the expiration of their leave to stay, in view of the decision of the Appellate Committee of this House of 28th July last.

My Lords, the case to which my noble friend refers is that of Regina v. The Immigration Appeal Tribunal ex parte Jayaratnam Suthendran. It concerned the right of appeal to an adjudicator under subsection (1) of Section 14 of the Immigration Act 1971 against a refusal to vary a limited leave to enter or remain. We are urgently considering the implications of the decision but it is not my understanding that it affects rights of appeal in respect of deportation orders.

My Lords, while welcoming the Minister's statement that consideration is being given, may I ask whether it is not the case that until late in May the Home Office granted extended leave to many immigrants, and that the Law Lords have now ruled these extensions ultra vires? Are there not two consequences of this decision? First, since it is clear that appeals against Home Office decisions are rarely, in the course of events, made within the period of the original leave, does this not in effect deny the right of appeal itself? Secondly, are there not many cases—I have a file of them which I have myself taken up—of immigrants who acted on Home Office assurances and who now find themselves liable to imprisonment and a £200 fine?

My Lords, we are in some little difficulty, because the detailed reasons of the House of Lords Appellate Committee announced on 27th July last will probably not be reported to your Lordships until November. We are aware of certain difficulties, as my noble friend has pointed out, arising from that decision. The Government accept that it is unsatisfactory that people who apply for variation in good time should lose appeal rights as a result of unavoidable delays in considering their applications. The means of dealing with this problem are, as a result, under very urgent consideration and attention.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that Section 14(1) of the 1971 Act states quite plainly that a person who has a limited leave under the Act may appeal:

"(whether as regards duration or conditions) … against any refusal to vary it.")
Does it not pass the bounds of comprehension how the Judicial Committee of your Lordships' House could have interpreted that as denying a right which has always been upheld by the Wilson Committee, by both Houses during the consideration of the Immigration Appeals Act, by the Home Office during six years of operation of the appeal system, and this is the first time that it has ever been questioned? Does the noble Lord not agree that, if the decision of the Law Lords were allowed to stand, it would be in direct contradiction to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as to the Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which we have just adhered at the United Nations? So will the noble Lord take urgent steps to see that the position of those who are affected by this decision is restored to that which everyone believed existed before the House of Lords made its ruling?

My Lords, we are very concerned, but I think your Lordships would not expect me at this stage, until the whole House has heard the reasons why the Appellate Committee came to that conclusion—and I do not think I should attempt to do so—to comment on the decision. We realise that this creates an unsatisfactory situation. We really are concerned about it and are giving a good deal of urgent attention to it.

My Lords, if that report is not to be available until November, what will happen to these people in the meantime? I do not think that this is a matter for comment. What the House would like to know from the Minister is what action is being taken.

My Lords, I do not think I can go beyond the fact—and it is a fact—that we are considering the matter. As I understand it, the legislation is unaltered; only the interpretation of it has been changed. It is not suggested that any retrospective action should be taken against large numbers of appellants whose appeals have already been determined, but who, under the House of Lords decision, ought not to have been accorded a right to appeal. As I say, it is not suggested that any retrospective action should be taken, and we are considering ways of dealing with the situation.

My Lords, does it amount to this, that what the Minister's reply to my noble friend means is that those of us who are advising persons who have appealed out of time must tell them that no action will be taken against them by the Home Office until the decision of the Law Lords is published in November, but that the Sword of Damocles hangs over their heads and the penalty of removal may be imposed on them if that judgment seems to imply that that penalty should be imposed?

My Lords, that may well be the position because, as I said, the matter is being considered and obviously we do not want to exacerbate the situation.

My Lords, is it the case that, as reported, the Home Office has sent a letter to those concerned stating that they are liable to imprisonment or to a £200 fine, and will steps be taken between now and November to prevent such penalties from being imposed?

My Lords, I am not aware of the letter to which my noble friend refers. I really cannot take the matter any further than to. say that the Government are reviewing the whole question.

My Lords, may I suggest to my noble friend that, while there could be full justification for considering the justice of any claim on legal grounds, he should accept the point of view that any relaxation in the restraints imposed upon immigration would be likely to prejudice race relations because there is an increasing body of opinion in this country that believes that the degree and volume of immigration is well beyond the capacity of the nation to sustain it?

My Lords, that is probably another question. However, I should like to conclude all that I can say on this matter by pointing out that the Government are not anxious to exacerbate the situation. Between now and the time when your Lordships hear the reasons for the decision, I think that the Government will act in a most reasonable manner.