Immigration (Screening Procedures)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd February 1979.

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Photo of Mr John Ovenden Mr John Ovenden , Gravesend 12:00 am, 22nd February 1979

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will publish the criteria on which the immigration officials reach decisions concerning the admission of fiancées of British residents and the advice issued by his Department on what methods may be used to obtain the necessary information on which to base decisions.

Photo of Mr Laurie Pavitt Mr Laurie Pavitt , Brent South

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will hold an inquiry into the examination of women by his immigration officers, giving the full text of instruction and legal provisions extant since the passing of the first Act and publish the report of his findings.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with the fairness of the screening procedures for immigrants' dependants and fiancées by the immigration authorities.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I have nothing to add to what I said in the House on Monday 19 February.

Photo of Mr John Ovenden Mr John Ovenden , Gravesend

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a widespread feeling among the minority communities in the country that the immigration procedures, adopted particularly at Heathrow, are discriminatory either in principle or in application? Does he accept that the only way to allow a proper and informed discussion on this matter is to publish the regulations that have been issued to immigration officers, so that we can judge whether they are fair and whether they are being properly applied in individual cases?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

The regulations have been published. I have looked through the regulations very carefully this week. There is a problem. The instructions give advice to immigration officers as to how to deal with abuse. They describe methods of doctoring passports, and so on. It would be very foolish to publish that information. I dealt with the medical aspect at length a few days ago. Indeed, I gave the figures which show that only 0·8 per cent. of those who arrived from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1977 were refused admission. It is only 0·1 per cent. for all those arriving, about 12 million people. I do not believe what my hon. Friend says. Although there may be problems from time to time, I do not accept the general stricture.

Photo of Mr Laurie Pavitt Mr Laurie Pavitt , Brent South

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the sense of shock and abhorrence that most of us feel about these events was not allayed by his announcement of two professional inquiries on Tuesday? Will he make sure that there is a public announcement about the results of the inquiries? Is my right hon. Friend also aware that the hazards of life and death for would-be immigrants and members of the prison service exposed to X-ray by unqualified radiographers is a responsibility that cannot be met by mere instructions? Qualified radiographers must do these jobs.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

It is important to look at the use made of the X-rays, not only because of what has happened recently. Indeed, we are considering the whole nature of medical examinations. We went into this at great length the other night. I am sad that all that was said in the House the other night was not reported, whereas the original allegation was.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

On Tuesday I listened with interest to what my right hon. Friend said, but will he now go further and say whether the inquiry that he has set in train, in consultation with Sir Henry Yellowlees, will include the practices of our immigration authorities on the Indian sub-continent? Secondly, will the results of the investigation be published?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I see no reason for not publishing the results of the inquiry in this country and abroad.

Photo of Mr Cyril Townsend Mr Cyril Townsend , Bexley Bexleyheath

If a major mistake was made by immigration officials recently, will the Home Secretary tell us whether any official has been reprimanded as a result? Does he appreciate that the whole of our immigration policy has been discredited by that episode?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I do not think that is so. This was the action of a doctor, and in terms of the rules. It was done after signing a paper. There is no need for disciplinary action. It was wrong to have done it, and I have stopped it happening again.

Photo of Mr John Page Mr John Page , Harrow West

Since many of us have watched the immigration officials at work, will the Home Secretary pass on to them our admiration of their courtesy and dignity, often under great provocation?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

The immigration officers work under the Home Office. They are civil servants in the Home Office. I shall pass on the comments of the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

My right hon. Friend said that he cannot publish the detailed guidelines that are issued, but can he publish parts of the guidelines or at least give the House the general criteria of guidelines that are issued to immigration officers? That would be a response to the widespread concern that this case, and others, have revealed.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

It would be helpful from my point of view to do that. But there is information in general that I would not want to publish. The criteria are in the immigration regulations. Although it looks like covering up, it is not. We have gone a long way recently in what we have said. We must see what comes out of the inquiry.

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Ashford

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we deplore the virginity tests and welcome his instructions to stop them? Secondly, when does he expect the investigations into the medical examinations and the X-ray examinations to be completed? Urgency is important, especially because of what is happening in the Indian Parliament. Thirdly, although we expect high standards from immigration officers, will he ensure that no changes are made that will assist those trying to abuse or evade our immigration controls?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

On the latter point, the answer is "No". It is important that there is firm immigration control. If there were not, it would give ammunition to those who want to make something out of it. That is absolutely firm.

On the inquiry, I had a wide discussion with Sir Henry Yellowlees on Tuesday evening. I must now give him time to set up the inquiry and make the necessary arrangements, and I cannot give a date.