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Immigration Control: Proposed Inquiry

Volume 413: debated on Friday 24 October 1980

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11.19 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 whether, in the light of the judgment of Mr. Justice Woolf that an investigation on the control of immigration would be within the powers conferred on the Commission for Racial Equality by Section 43(1)( b) of the Race Relations Act 1976, and his observation that without the Home Office's co-operation such an investigation may not be worth while because of the limited ability of the CRE to require persons to furnish

written information or to attend to give oral evidence, they will accept the spirit of the court's judgment and undertake to provide the CRE with full answers to all questions they wish to put in connection with this investigation.

My Lords, the proceedings to which the noble Lord refers were instituted on a friendly basis and the Government are considering the judgment in the same spirit, but we need time for this consideration. It is too soon for us to be able to answer specific questions about the next steps.

My Lords, as Parliament has decided that the Commission for Racial Equality has power to conduct investigations of certain types, and the courts have now declared that these investigations could properly extend to the workings of the immigration control system, would not the obstruction of the proposed inquiry by the Government, either by the withholding of information or in any other way, be to cock a snook both at the courts and at Parliament? Would not the noble Lord in particular agree that he should now make available to the Commission for Racial Equality copies of the instructions given to immigration officers, which go to the heart of this matter, and since that would amount to publication will he place copies of those instructions, as he has been asked to do many times before, in the Library of the House?

My Lords, practically all the questions which the noble Lord is asking me in supplementaries are premature. It is for the commission to determine the scope of any investigation pursuant upon the court judgment on 14th October, and we shall then have to see where we go. Meanwhile, the Home Office and the commission are having informal discussions.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister a question which is not premature? Can he assure the House categorically that he and the Home Office regard the work of the Commission for Racial Equality as a valuable service to race relations in this country? Will he therefore assure the House that his department will give it the fullest possible co-operation in its further activities?

My Lords, I have previously in your Lordships' House expressed the support of the Government for the work of the commission. So far as any possible investigation pursuant to this court judgment is concerned, I think there is nothing that I can add to what I have already said to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

My Lords, while taking up the point that the noble Lord made, that these were friendly proceedings between the Commission for Racial Equality and the Home Office, would it not be an extremely unfriendly act if, having reached a decision in the courts, the Home Office was to refuse to comply with the spirit of that judgment as well as the letter?

My Lords, the recent judgment has of course been helpful in clarifying the scope of the commission's powers. But although the court found in favour of the commission in regard to the proposed investigation the judgment, as the noble Lord I am sure knows, also made it clear that the grounds on which the commission could conduct an investigation are limited.