I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
the urgent need to re-examine the cases of those husbands and male fiances whose refusal of admission to Britain is placed in question by the decision of the European court.
The matter is specific because it relates to a judgment delivered in the European Court of Human Rights six days ago, during the recess. It is extraordinary that the Home Secretary has not come forward with a statement today, and that makes this application all the more necessary.
The matter is important because the European court has on two counts found that the British Government are in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, and accordingly have been acting unlawfully for almost six years. First, the Government have been acting unlawfully because the applicants to the court have been victims of discrimination on the ground of sex, in violation of article 14 taken together with article 8. Secondly, there has been a violation of article 13 of the convention, which provides that everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in the convention are violated should have an effective remedy before the national authority, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.
The matter should have urgent consideration for two reasons. First, the law as embodied in the 1983 immigration rules — which continues and, indeed, exacerbates the sexual discrimination of which this Government have been found guilty—clearly must be changed speedily. It is essential that this House should be able to express a view on how that law should be changed before the Government reach an irrevocable conclusion. It is essential that the Government accept the spirit of the European court's judgment, rather than seek to avoid their responsibilities arising out of the judgment by changing for the worse the immigration status of wives and female fiancees. It is essential that the Government give an unambiguous commitment to abolish the sexually discriminatory primary purpose rule.
Secondly, the House must debate the matter urgently to safeguard the 3,350 husbands and male fiances whose applications have been refused since November 1979, and who share with the menfolk of the successful applicants at Strasbourg the injustice that the Government have committed. In all justice, those men must have their rejected applications urgently considered afresh in the light of their legal rights as established by the Strasbourg judgment. After some of them have had their rights withheld for nearly six years, and thousands for a substantial, if lesser, period, it would be wrong if they and their female partners, who are suffering injustice with them, should have to apply afresh and wait a further long period for interviews and decisions.
It would be wholly unacceptable if those unjustly treated men were made to wait in suspense until the Government changed the rules — and did so in a restrictive manner which would extinguish the legal rights established by the European court's judgment.
Major principles of justice are involved. Within those principles, the individual rights of thousands of men, women and families are at stake. It is the right and the duty of this House of Commons to debate and consider how best properly to safeguard those rights before the Government act in the way that the Secretary of State acted, precipitately and without notice last week, and without the House being given an opportunity to debate the issue.
In the light of those considerations, Mr. Speaker, I request that you grant my application.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,
the urgent need to re-examine the cases of those husbands and male fiancés whose refusal of admission to Britain since 1980 is placed in question by a decision of the European court.
The right hon. Gentleman and the House know that the decision that I have to take is whether to give this matter precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. I listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I regret that I do not consider the matter that he raised appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10 and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.
It is a new point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am in no way seeking to challenge your decision, but wish to put a point to you. Prior to my application there was a statement by the Home Secretary on his decision relating to Tamils, which was not a voluntary statement, but arose from your decision to allow a private notice question, as advertised to the House on the Annunciators earlier today. Therefore, no confidences are involved. The Home Secretary never intended to make a statement. He did so only because you, in your wisdom and discretion, allowed a private notice question. Because of your decision, the House was able to question the Home Secretary.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not volunteered a statement on the matter that I raised in my application under Standing Order No. 10. There are thousands of people whose personal situations are at stake and who have no idea of where they stand. Can you advise the House on how we are to obtain some explanation from the Government on how they intend to proceed as a result of the Strasbourg judgment?
Order. What the right hon. Gentleman said may or may not be true, but I do not control statements that are made by the Government. That is entirely a matter for them. I am sure that the Home Secretary listened to what the right hon. Member said. With regard to opportunities for discussing this important matter, it is not for me to advise the right hon. Gentleman on tactics, but I suggest that it would perhaps be a good topic for an Opposition day.