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Immigrant's Childbirth At London Airport

Volume 376: debated on Friday 29 October 1976

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11.7 a.m.

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, with reference to Lord Brockway's Question on 26th October (Col.271), why the immigration authorities at first required the airline to carry the woman in question back to India, bearing in mind her condition which would normally have precluded her carriage by air.

My Lords, we understand that the International Air Transport Association have an agreement that requires women who are more than thirty-two weeks advanced in pregnancy to produce a medical certificate of fitness to travel before being accepted by a carrier. The medical inspector at Heathrow examined the passenger referred to in the noble Lord's Question at 9 a.m. and again at 11.25 a.m. on 21st October and certified that she was fit to travel to Bombay that day. An airline then accepted her as a passenger.

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for that reply, and I would apologise to him for having to press this Question in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, who is on another visit. Bearing in mind that the woman gave birth a few hours later, is the noble Lord satisfied that that certificate was properly issued?

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Harris has gone very carefully into this matter. I can only say that I myself have studied, albeit late last night, all the papers involved. There was no evidence at all of the onset of pregnancy. It came very suddenly.

I am sorry, of labour—I think perhaps on reflection I can say there was no outward evidence of pregnancy either. Labour started at 2.50 p.m., the doctor was called, and the doctor delivered the baby soon after 3 o'clock. As I say, there was no evidence at all of the onset of labour.

My Lords, since this Question refers to me, while the original mistake was in India when the woman was allowed to travel on a plane to this country although she was eight months pregnant, may I ask whether it is not also the case that if the immigration authorities at Heathrow demanded that she be returned, the airlines could have no alternative except to accept her on the plane?

My Lords, as I understand the situation, it is up to the airline to decide whether or not they will accept a passenger. I am not so sure that any demand can be made upon them to take the passenger. What they want is evidence that a person who is 32 weeks or more pregnant is fit to travel.

My Lords, is it not the case that all airlines operating into the United Kingdom are required to give an undertaking that they will return any passenger who arrives without the proper entry certificate? Can the noble Lord confirm, therefore, that this pro-vision was not used to insist that the airline took their passenger home again?

My Lords, I cannot answer that from personal knowledge. I just do not know.

My Lords, I am sorry to have to press this point, but this is a matter which has given rise to a lot of public concern. Can he also confirm that the immigration authorities did not, as reported, wait until the baby's head appeared before calling the doctor for the delivery?

My Lords, there is no truth whatsoever in the statement made by the noble Lord. I do not attribute it to him. Undoubtedly he is relying on what he read in the Press. There is no evidence of that whatsoever. We have gone very carefully into this matter. There were a lot of things in the Press report that have no truth whatsoever in them: for example, that Securicor guards stood around and laughed, and that they would not move until they were shown the head protruding; there is really no truth whatsoever in that.

My Lords, may I say to the Minister that, while the woman was first ordered to be returned to India, we are grateful that the Government have permitted the woman to stay in this country.

My Lords, this is so; but I would point out to your Lordships, although perhaps it is not necessary, that this situation has arisen because this lady came to this country without a certificate of entry. There is abundant evidence that this kind of thing goes on. There is also abundant evidence that women arrive claiming to be the wives of people over here but they are not the wives of people over here at all, and the immigration authorities have a responsibility to the people of this country to see that people who present themselves for admission are entitled to come here.

My Lords, did not the husband in this case have the marriage certificate in his pocket?

My Lords, with great respect to my noble friend, that has nothing to do with it; what is important in cases of this kind is a certificate of entry.