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Immigration

– in the House of Commons at 4:04 pm on 29th October 1985.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney 4:04 pm, 29th October 1985

Following the recent exchanges in the House, I will, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, make a statement about representations made by right hon. and hon. Members in immigration cases.

Ministers receive large numbers of representations from Members of this House on a wide variety of individual cases. What distinguishes those made on behalf of passengers refused entry at the ports is that they have the effect of securing an immediate change in the action that would otherwise be taken by the immigration service under the relevant statutory provisions. The service is by convention, though not by law, precluded from arranging the passenger's removal until the hon. Member's representations have been received and considered. In the vast majority of cases, the passenger is granted temporary admission. In a small minority of cases, he may be held in detention at the port.

Home Office Ministers received representations on immigration cases about 20 times a week in 1980. Last year, the average was some 70 a week. During the past few weeks there have been 200 representations a week. The increase since 1980 is not the result of some dramatic change in the criteria being employed by immigration officers at the ports in operating the immigration rules. Nor can it be explained by an increase in passenger traffic, which has increased by 25 per cent. while hon. Members representations have increased fivefold taking the year as a whole. What is happening is that hon. Members are being approached and asked to put stops on cases more often than in the past, and hon. Members are agreeing to ask for stops on cases more often than in the past.

That increase has created real administrative problems for the staff at the ports. People are being temporarily admitted who do not qualify as visitors under the rules, and who often spend a considerable time here. The diversion of staff to deal with increasing representations and the case work involved has meant that visitors who are fully qualified find themselves held up and inconvenienced at Heathrow.

Against that background, I believe that it was entirely right for my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State to bring the position to the notice of the House. I wish to make it clear that my hon. and learned Friend was not at any time sugesting that the law had been broken. In his letter yesterday to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), he described the ways in which the present arrangements are being misused.

It was argued yesterday that my hon. and learned Friend should have given specific examples to the House of the action taken by particular hon. Members. As he explained, he could not have done that without revealing the terms of the letters that they had written to or about individual immigrants and, in two cases, letters written by them to third parties. He is writing today to 23 hon. Members, whose cases are examples of the various problems that we are facing, seeking their permission to make such correspondence public.

There are obvious difficulties, for example when hon. Members make representations on behalf of sponsors of whom they have made no inquiries, and when they arrange for a stop to be placed on a passenger's removal but fail to follow up the initial telephone call with a confirmatory letter. There is also concern that some hon. Members are willing to take up cases from outside their constituencies, which the constituency Member has chosen not to pursue. Here again, some restatement of the agreed conventions of the House is needed.

Finally, there are one or two cases in which it seems to us that an hon. Member is deliberately facilitating the attempt to secure the temporary admission of a passenger whom he has every reason to believe would not qualify for entry under the rules approved by this House. I am not suggesting that, even where that happens, hon. Members have acted unlawfully; they have not. But if their actions were to be more widely copied, the result could only be the weakening of our system of immigration control, based at the ports of entry. I believe that our present system suits both our geography and our constitution and that we need collectively to consider how it can best continue to operate.

I ask the House to accept that we wish to make a genuine attempt to strike the right balance between the representations of hon. Members and the need for an effective and efficient control without the strains at present imposed on it. We are anxious to discuss these difficulties urgently with those in this House who are mainly concerned, in the hope of working out a sensible answer. In any case, there will not be any changes in our procedures before I have reported to the House.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I apologise for not being in my place when the Home Secretary rose to make his statement.

The House will wish to thank in equal measure both yourself, Mr. Speaker, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), without whom the statement would not have been obtained. Even after the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and the strange letter sent to me yesterday by the Minister of State, the reckless allegations made by the Minister of State remain unsubstantiated.

The Home Secretary appears to be totally confused about the rules relating to visitors. He said that the Minister of State had talked about the right to enter. The Home Secretary talked about the qualification of visitors —he used the phrase "qualify as visitors"—when most would-be visitors have the automatic right to enter unless deprived of it by the Home Secretary. The huge increase in representations from hon. Members to which Ministers have drawn attention proves that the Minister of State is increasingly withdrawing the right of entry from certain categories of visitor.

We totally reject the claim that there has been no change in the way in which the rules are being administered, and we are worried by the Home Secretary referring in his statement to changes in procedure. Will he categorically assure the House that he has no intention of imposing a visa requirement for visitors or limiting the existing rights of hon. Members?

As for alleged "abuses," they are not abuses at all. If an hon. Member was confined to taking up cases the full particulars of which he knew, as mentioned by the Minister of State in his letter, we should none of us be able to take up social security or income tax cases, because we take up those cases to get the facts. That is so in these cases as well. If an hon. Member—again, as requested and apparently required by the Minister of State — were confined to taking up only the cases of constituents he knew personally, thousands of people in every constituency would never have any cases taken up.

Other allegations made by the Minister relate to relationships between hon. Members. They are matters, if at all, not for the Government, not for the Home Secretary, not for the Minister of State but for you, Mr. Speaker, and the House.

In essence, the allegations that the Government are making add up to a whine about the actions of hon. Members being an inconvenience to the Executive. But one of the most essential functions of an hon. Member is to be an inconvenience to the Executive. If the volume of representations is a burden to the Home Office and its Ministers, let me make it absolutely clear that the administration of the rules of entry is a burden to thousands of our constituents looking forward to visits from relatives. The Home Secretary looks upon those people as inconvenient statistics, but they are human beings with warm family feelings, and they have the same right to have visits as any other of our constituents. Our efforts to help them may be a great deal of trouble to Ministers, but we are determined to go on helping them, and that is a lesson that the Home Secretary had better learn.

On Thursday, the Minister of State twice asserted that some hon. Members were "abusing their right." Yesterday in the exchanges in the House he used the word "abuse" three times. In his letter to me he used the word "abuse" nine times. Today in his statement the Home Secretary did not once use the word "abuse." Instead, he mentioned 23 hon. Members whose cases, he said, were examples of the problems that we are facing. We want to know clearly and without equivocation from the Home Secretary whether he alleges that hon. Members have been abusing their position. If he says that there has been abuse, we want the names. We demand the names, because hon. Members have the right to defend themselves against charges made by Ministers in this House. Either the Home Secretary provides the names or he resiles from the accusation. If he resiles from the accusation, the Minister of State should resign.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

The right hon. Gentleman must have worked that response out before he heard my statement. He is perfectly correct to say that I did not use the word "abuse". I used the word "misuse". If, with his knowledge of the English language, he wants to make something of that, he is welcome to do so.

The right hon. Gentleman will get the names. My hon. and learned Friend is setting about the task in the right way. He is writing today to 23 hon. Members asking for their consent that the correspondence in question illustrating those problems should be published. That is straightforward and that is what is happening.

On the substance of the matter, I reiterate that the policy has not changed since my hon. and learned Friend has been responsible for it. I will read to the House, because it is the heart of the matter, rule 17 of the immigration rules. It is what immigration officers have administered under the supervision of my hon. and learned Friend and under the supervision of Ministers of State of Labour Governments. It is, in essence, the same rule: A passenger seeking entry as a visitor, including one coming to stay with relatives or friends, is to be admitted if he satisfies the immigration officer that he is genuinely seeking entry for the period of the visit as stated by him and that for that period he will maintain and accommodate himself and any dependants, or will, with any dependants, be maintained and accommodated adequately by relatives or friends, without working or recourse to public funds, and can meet the cost of the return or onward journey. That simple requirement has existed for many years. That is what immigration officers must administer, and there has been no change in it.

The hon. Gentleman referred to visas. As he knows —and again, as has been the practice—the position is kept under continuous review. The comparison that the right hon. Gentleman made with social security benefits was illuminating. We are all the time asking as constituency Members, for example, that benefit for one or other of our constituents should be reconsidered or increased. But we do not expect the benefit automatically to be increased while our representations are being considered.

What, so far as I know, makes this facility unique is that there is a covention— which the right hon. Gentleman supports and wishes to maintain, as I do — that automatically a stop is placed and the action that would otherwise be taken is suspended. The problem is now caused partly by the increasing number of arrivals and partly by the increase in the number of representations.

It is not a matter of inconvenience to the Home Office or of administrative inconvenience. [Interruption.] The principal consequence is that under the rule to which I referred people who should not be allowed entry are allowed in. That is not what Parliament intended, and we should consider carefully among ourselves how this facility, which we wish to preserve, is to be preserved.

Hon. Members:

No.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I will call the right hon. Gentleman again at the end.

Photo of Mr Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Hornsey and Wood Green

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many residents here wishing to invite relatives to spend a holiday with them would be prepared to give a bond, to be produced at a point of entry, which would prevent all the hassle that their relatives undergo and would be far better than the farcial situation when an hon. Member intervenes, there is a stop and the Home Office takes six to eight weeks to investigate the case, by which time the relative has returned home, having spent his holiday here, with a great deal of bureaucratic time having been wasted?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I appreciate the point that my hon. Friend makes. A change in the law would, I think, be required to accommodate his suggestion, which would put a premium on the possession of resources. Let us consider it.

Photo of Mr Michael Meadowcroft Mr Michael Meadowcroft , Leeds West

Does the Home Secretary accept that the strength of family ties, which his party very much favours, means that families that wish to receive visitors from abroad are represented in many constituencies, and that it is inevitable that our constituents will bring cases to our attention where there have been difficulties?

Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is inevitable that an hon. Member may have to act urgently to prevent a visitor being sent back without knowing the full facts of the case at that point? Does he agree that one can ascertain the details and make proper representations only after a stop has been put on a constituent's relative, and he has, perhaps, been sent back to his home country?

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there is often a great deal of bewilderment on the part of both the visitor and the family? In many instances the visitor may not be able to understand why he has been prevented from making an ordinary visit to his family, and many families offer the very bond that his hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) suggested. Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that many Liberal Members are concerned that they are having to spend a great deal of time working on cases where the visitor should never have been stopped from entering Britain in the first place?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

Of course it is right that there are special cases and peculiar circumstances. That is why we accept that right hon. and hon. Members have a right and a duty to make representations where they know of such cases. That is what it is all about. The trouble is that there are too many cases where, for example, a stop is imposed because a Member of Parliament has made a telephone call, which is not followed by later representations. That is one of the larger examples of what is going wrong. It is because we want to preserve the facility that right hon. and hon. Members enjoy that we are anxious to overcome the strains that its misuse is putting on the system as a whole.

Photo of Mr William Shelton Mr William Shelton , Streatham

Does my right hon. Friend accept that I for one have always experienced a certain disquiet when exercising this facility? It is impossible, through a letter or telephone call to the constituent, in any way to judge the merits of the case. Nevertheless, in the present circumstances I always feel obliged to telephone the Department of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, who, in my view, does a difficult job extraordinarily well. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I find that his Department is most helpful when I telephone to ask its officials to impose a stop. I would welcome some guidance on when we should or should not exercise this difficult facility.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I think that he is right. On reflection, right hon. and hon. Members will accept that we are discussing a unique facility for Members and that with it goes responsibility for the way in which it is exercised. I agree that it is sensible that we should discuss together, in whatever way seems sensible to hon. Members on both sides of the House who are faced with this problem, exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) is talking about, which is how the facility is to be preserved and how the responsibility which Members have in exercising it is to be defined.

Photo of Mr Sydney Bidwell Mr Sydney Bidwell , Ealing, Southall

Is the Home Secretary aware that the matter is far more complicated than he seems to understand? He is a new Home Secretary and I for one would be prepared to talk to him seriously on the issue and even to lighten the burden of the Minister of State. The right hon. Gentleman must understand that those of us who represent large immigrant communities, or erstwhile immigrant communities, are bound to find that certain of the families receive visitors. One example is the Sikhs in my constituency. Through the problems in India, for example, a number of young people have come in to Britain from India. That will have given rise inevitably to greater surveillance at the port of entry and will have placed a greater strain on the immigration officers, who are complaining bitterly of a shortage of staff and the way in which they have to treat passengers at the port of entry. All that has to be considered.

I should like to involve you to some extent, Mr. Speaker, and put it in the mind of the Home Secretary that it has always been traditional in the House of Commons that, if a constituent claims that his Member has failed or refused to act for him, it is an elementary fact that any hon. Member is qualified to act for him. There are only a few occasions when I have had so to act but occasionally I do, and I find mostly that Tory Members are pleased that I do so when they are absent on holiday or for other reasons. I shall continue so to act according to the tradition of the House.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

The hon. Gentleman has a particularly heavy responsibility in this area and I am sure that he always discharges it with great care. I take what he has to say especially seriously. I emphasise that there has not been any change of policy or of the rules. However, a problem is being created and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a need to discuss the issue carefully, in whatever way is most orderly, to find a way of easing the strain. I shall put the matter into perspective by saying that 99 per cent. of all passengers arriving in this country from the subcontinent last year were admitted without difficulty of any kind.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames , Crawley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, by misusing the spirit of the regulations, hon. Members do a great disservice to immigrant communities?

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames , Crawley

Would my right hon. Friend agree also that if this state of affairs continues, we shall have no option but to put visas on at the point of departure?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I have already answered a question about visas. I agree with my hon. Friend that one of the problems and one of the symptoms of strain in the machine is that visitors who are wholly entitled under the rule that I have read to come into Britain on a visit are held up and inconvenienced, especially at terminal 3 at Heathrow, because of the increasing number of people who are not so entitled but who present themselves.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

Is the Home Secretary aware that one of the greatest abuses to which Asian and black people in Britian take exception is that they and their relatives are interrogated for many hours while white Americans who come over from the United States are allowed through immigration control, with virtually no difficulty whatsoever? This creates enormous problems in places such as Birmingham and elsewhere, which adds to the festering situation.

What does the right hon. Gentleman expect Members to do when they are knocked up in the middle of the night to find that someone, perhaps soaked to the skin, has come from Heathrow upon being told by an immigration officer, "Unless we hear from your MP by early in the morning, your elderly father will be sent back home"? Is that not an outrage to the integrity of our affairs? Does the right hon. Gentleman expect hon. Members to be sitting at home every day and every week, including weekends and holidays, to placate the demands of the immigration service as required by Home Office Ministers?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, with his long experience in these matters, should place that sort of imputation on the way in which immigration officers do their job. Where there are specific complaints of maltreatment of something approaching that, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues should take them up. I know from my own postbag and from the letters which I am asked to sign of the great care that the immigration service and my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State and officials in the Home Office devote to investigating all such allegations and dealing with them faithfully.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lawler Mr Geoffrey Lawler , Bradford North

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he will find widespread support among the minority communities for any attempt to stamp out abuses of the immigration system? The minority communities have suffered quite enough in the past from those who have been only too willing to encourage them to attempt to deceive immigration authorities, and they have usually paid the penalty. Is he further aware that they will not thank anyone who, through his abuse of the system, further restricts the rights of those of us who seek to help visitors who are refused entry and who we believe sincerely are genuine?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

My hon. Friend is entirely right on both counts. It is crucial for good race relations in Britain that the immigration system we operate should be seen to be fair. I think that the whole House will agree with that. It would not be a good thing if the system were seen to be weak or open to misuse, and that is the problem.

Photo of Dr Maurice Miller Dr Maurice Miller , East Kilbride

Is the Home Secretary aware that it may be that those who are abusing the system are some of the immigration officers themselves? How can he have any confidence in some of his immigration officers when he hears, for example, that a young man from India has come to Britain as he wishes to attend his sister's wedding in Scotland, that she is a British subject who is marrying a British subject and that they are to live in a house that is owned by a British subject, and yet there is difficulty in allowing that young man to come for a week to attend the wedding? Can he have any confidence in immigration officers when difficulties arise in a case such as that?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I have read to the House the rule governing visits and the House can judge whether that rule is arbitrary, unfair or tyrannical. I do not think it is, and it has been there for a long time. Immigration officers are being criticised in the House. They do a remarkably difficult job under increasing strain—it is the strain we are talking about—and they do it with great patience and responsibility. I am surprised that the debate should have taken this turn, because the criticisms made are unjustified.

Photo of Michael Mates Michael Mates , East Hampshire

How much has this misuse of privileges by a few Members of Parliament cost the taxpayer?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

The law provides that if a case drags on beyond two months, the cost of returning the person concerned to the country of origin ceases to be the responsibility of the airline and becomes the responsibility of the taxpayer. As the work load that we are discussing increases, it becomes more and more difficult to deal with every case in two months. We estimate that the cost to the taxpayer this year arising from these strains is likely to be about £1 million.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

Does the Home Secretary understand that the strains to which he refers are caused by a thoroughly inefficient system that is too often operated without kindness, compassion or courtesy, and that it leaves genuine visitors in long queues waiting for interpreters and sometimes locked up for the night, or longer? In many cases, it is unfair to blame individual immigration officers because there are not enough of them, but to blame Members of Parliament who are trying to help their constituents in this awful system is like blaming doctors for death or disease.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

If the hon. and learned Gentleman studies the categories and the ways in which we believe that the system of Members' representations is being misused, then, because he is a fair-minded man, he will be forced to the conclusion that this is one element, though not the only element, in the strain that I am talking about. That strain does a disservice not mainly to the administrators, but to the genuine visitor who is qualified to enter and to the whole system that we are trying to preserve.

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Leicester South

I have 18,000 constituents who might want to make use of this service. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is not the function of any hon. Member to act as judge and jury in deciding whether or not an individual should be allowed entry, but only to make responsible and proper representations to the Home Office?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

That is right. That is the heart of the matter.

Photo of Mr Ernest Roberts Mr Ernest Roberts , Hackney North and Stoke Newington

It is quite clear from what the Home Secretary has said that he is straining at a gnat. Is he aware that last Thursday in the House, the Minister of State said that 1 million Commonwealth and Pakistani people had been allowed into the country last year and that he had representations during 1980 in only 1,000 cases and was expecting representations from Members in 4,500 cases this year? In other words, 1,000 was less than 0·01 per cent. If it is 4,500 this year, it will be less than 0·05 per cent. The Minister has referred to the rule. I have been in discussion with the Minister of State since last Friday—five days—about a black man whose brother is a British citizen. That British citizen has signed a statement, which I have here, with the Bangladesh High Commissioner saying he will keep, look after and be responsible for him and will see that he returns. That man has been refused entry into the country, kept on remand at public expense, and questioned during those five days. Can the Home Secretary look into that case? It constitutes a disgusting state of affairs, and I am very angry about it. It is one of the worst cases I have had for some years and it arises only because the man is black.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I cannot comment on the hon. Member's individual case, but he is perfectly entitled to put it. There is no dispute about that. I will give again the figures which relate to his first point. Representations by Members in port refusal cases have grown from about 1,000 a year in 1980, 1981 and 1982 to 3,532 last year. Up to 22 October this year the total was about 5,000. That is the fivefold increase I was talking about, and that is what is creating the strains. In view of the general conclusion made by the hon. Member, I should add that the proportion of refusals to entry has remained basically static during this time. It is not true that immigration officers are turning away or refusing entry to a larger proportion of people.

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Milton Keynes

I am afraid my right hon. Friend is deluding himself if he thinks the situation will get any better. Would it not be better to get rid of all this nonsense by considering a visa scheme?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

As I have said, there are problems about any moves towards visas. I have said, and I chose my words carefully, that the matter of visa regimes is kept under continual review.

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Tottenham

Will the Home Secretary reconsider the answer that he gave in reply to the suggestion that there should be a bond system? Does he accept that if he were sympathetically to consider such an idea, he would be extending the bail system, which is totally unacceptable in matters of immigration? Secondly, I have no doubt that the whole House accepts that the system is under tremendous strain. In this get together of hon. Members to consider suggestions, will the Home Secretary acknowledge and assure the House that he will double the staff in the Private Office? If the system is under strain, surely it is a matter of the number of people employed.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

It is partly that, but primarily that under the misuse of the system quite large numbers — [HON. MEMBERS: "What misuse?"] "Misuse" is the word that I have used for the past half hour. One consequence of misuse of the system is that large numbers of people, whom Parliament did not intend under the immigration laws to be admitted as visitors, are being admitted as visitors.

Photo of Mr John Whitfield Mr John Whitfield , Dewsbury

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this House, having listened to a characteristically hypocritical statement from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I should be grateful if the hon. Member would rephrase that and withdraw the word "hypocritical."

Photo of Mr John Whitfield Mr John Whitfield , Dewsbury

I withdraw that word, Mr. Speaker, and say the misleading statement by the right hon. Member for Gorton—Members would do well to read the excellent letter that the Secretary of State wrote to the right hon. Gentleman and to read the six forms of abuse that the Minister of State has listed in that letter.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not read them all out.

Photo of Mr John Whitfield Mr John Whitfield , Dewsbury

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. Hon. Members should read that letter, which is in the Library, and acquaint themselves with the six forms of abuse which definitely exist. I have a lot of knowledge of those six forms. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the official Opposition are in danger of becoming the party that supports illegal immigration just as they support racial violence in our inner city areas?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I do not entirely go along with all my hon. Friend's criticism of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman slightly misinterpreted the mood of the House. This is a serious problem which affects the whole House. I hope we can continue this debate with the thought that there is a real problem. It is not one that we invented. The strain is real and is being felt increasingly on the ground. As my hon. Friend said, it may get worse. I am deeply worried about it. I hope that between us we can find a parliamentary way in which this issue can be sensibly discussed and the right way found to maintain a facility to which the House attaches great importance.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

Does the Home Secretary accept that a system that allows 5,000 representations so far this year to be made to Members of Parliament evidently needs review as to the conventions that apply not only to Members of Parliament but to the rules? When discussing these matters with those of us who are ready to meet him will the Home Secretary consider the possibility of amending rule 17?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I think that rule 17, which I read to the House, is a sane and thoughtful piece of work. I do not see defects in it. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the rest of his remarks.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

As one who has lived and worked in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, may I say, with respect to these complicated cases, that I have the utmost confidence in my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington). I believe that the decision to require Sri Lankan visitors to have visas is right. That system is working well. Bangladesh leaders in Northampton and I believe that a simpler system is needed, whereby people can come to Britain on holiday' for three or four weeks. I should be more than happy to work with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to find a way around this problem.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

Will the Home Secretary admit that the Minister of State lost his temper and made false allegations and that that is the cause of the whole problem? The Minister of State should apologise to the House.

It is understandable that the Home Secretary does not understand the operation of immigration control. He told my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) that his story about what happened in Scotland was not typical, but he was wrong. These problems for our constituents occur every week. Genuine family members come here to visit their relations but they are turned away. Their only way in is by ringing their Member of Parliament. This causes an enormous amount— [HON. MEMBERS: "Their Member of Parliament— not you."] Let me say to those Conservative Members who shout that one of the reasons why Opposition Members are troubled by people who do not live in their constituencies is that they are telephoned by people who say, "My MP is racist and will not represent me."

Hon. Members:

Withdraw!

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Let us keep the temperature down.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

I believe that Labour Members should compile a list of the people who frequently approach them. The origin of this problem is the fact that too many genuine visitors are refused entry. If they were not refused entry, there would be no need for Members of Parliament, the Minister and the visitors' families to be troubled, and everyone would be happier. That is the solution.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

The hon. Lady is ignoring the fact that the proportion of refusals is no higher than it used to be. These facts are clearly established, but they do not suit the hon. Lady's doctrine. She does not do herself or her constituents any service by protesting so vehemently and passionately about matters — the views of other hon. Members—of which she cannot have much knowledge.

On the hon. Lady's first point, I think that it would be a poor day if a Minister could not come to the House at Question Time to explain something and volunteer views on a matter that was causing all of us genuine concern. That is what my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State did, and I think that he would have been wrong not to do so.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed , Bristol East

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the ability of Members of Parliament to make representations to the Home Secretary is a particular privilege and that, if that privilege is abused, it will damage us all? Is my right hon. Friend aware that on one occasion, when I refused to assist a person whom I thought was trying to obtain immigration clearance improperly, I was clearly told, "That does not matter. I can ring up a certain right hon. Member and he will get me clearance without any questions."? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it must be possible for hon. Members of good will on both sides of the House to agree to keep to a convention that assists us all?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has neatly encapsulated what I was trying to say.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

Does the Home Secretary agree that, so long as visitors who are refused entry to Britain are denied any right of appeal, the rights of Members of Parliament to stop removal and have a review of the immigration officer's decision are of great importance? Does he also agree that the serious allegations by the Minister of State are clearly a smokescreen behind which the Government are preparing to introduce a visa requirement for citizens of the new Commonwealth and Pakistan who wish to visit Britain in the future? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking, therefore, that no such visa requirement will be introduced without the clear approval of the House, in order to avoid the embarrassment that the Government might incur by introducing visa requirements while the House is not sitting next week? Will the right hon. Gentleman give a clear assurance that, if visa requirements are introduced, no impediment will be put in the way of the children of British citizens to prevent them from coming here and, if refused entry, from exercising their right of appeal here?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that there will be no change in the visa regimes next week while the House is prorogued. The hon. Gentleman's first point was not accurate. Parliament has granted a right of appeal, but—

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

Exactly; a right of appeal in the country of origin. By using the facilities about which we are talking, some hon. Members are prescribing something that Parliament has not prescribed—in effect, the right of someone to stay here while his case is looked at. That is not what Parliament intended.

Photo of Mr Harvey Proctor Mr Harvey Proctor , Billericay

Is not the real cause of concern the fact that there are no automatic checks to ascertain that visitors, including more than 900,000 last year from the new Commonwealth and Pakistan, leave the country? Will my right hon. Friend and the Home Office investigate the possibility of using modern technology and computer science to ensure that these checks are made automatically?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

As my hon. Friend knows, there are problems. That point is one that we must consider.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the current position is totally unacceptable to a civilised country and that it is getting worse? Does he know that this month I have had six cases, with another one today, concerning people kept in detention? Does the right hon. Gentleman know that Mr. Patel was kept in detention for three weeks and that it took me 12 days to get any information out of the Home Office? I should have thought that even a murderer would be told why he had lost his liberty. I was even told that I could not get a reply because the appropriate Minister was at the Conservative party conference and I would have to wait until he returned.

Is it true that there is a shortage of staff at the ports and that untrained personnel are manning the immigration desks? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise the distress that this is causing and the burden that this is imposing on constituency Members of Parliament — perhaps not constituencies like the right hon. Gentleman's but the constituencies of my colleagues—who must cope with the system's inadequacies?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

The hon. Gentleman should realise that the policy which has been pursued for many years is to minimise detention—to use detention only when there are serious reasons for supposing, for example, that a person might abscond. The proportion of people refused entry who are then detained has been decreasing while the proportion of those who are granted temporary admission has been increasing. Between 1977 and 1984 the percentage of those refused entry and then granted temporary admission has increased as a percentage of all passengers refused entry from 22 per cent. to 47 per cent.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Dickens Mr Geoffrey Dickens , Littleborough and Saddleworth

Is it not a fact that the Home Office is anxious that elderly parents and close relatives of people from overseas who are living in this country should be able to visit their loved ones? Is it not also a fact that there has been a surge of young people coming to Britain as holiday visitors, that many of them seek to change the status of their visit once they are here and that many of them disappear into the woodwork?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

My hon. Friend has characteristically stated both wings of the problem, which can only be resolved by having a sensible rule. I am glad that I started by reading out to the House rule 17. I think it is a sensible rule.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The Home Secretary has demonstrated a misunderstanding of what concerns Opposition Members. In dealing with the analogy of a person whose Member of Parliament seeks to obtain for him or her an increase in social security benefit, he says that the social security benefit is not increased while the application by the Member of Parliament is being considered. When the Member of Parliament's application is being considered, the social security benefit is not removed. The person whould be removed from the country unless the hon. Member made the application. That is the whole basis of the stop procedure.

The Home Secretary said that he wishes to discuss these matters with the hon. Members concerned. If he is willing to have discussions now, why did the Minister of State not ask for discussions before making his reckless allegations to the House last Thursday? Throughout the exchanges today the Home Secretary has consistently used the word "misuse" and consistently withdrawn from the word "abuse" which was used by his hon. and learned Friend. Does the Home Secretary confirm and endorse the word "abuse" as used by the Minister of State? If he does, we want the names of the hon. Members who are said to be conducting the abuse. Unless he comes clean on this, it is he, his hon. and learned Friend and the Prime Minister who are guilty of an abuse of the House.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

The right hon. Gentleman is working himself up again. He will get the names. That is clear from my statement and from the action that my hon. and learned Friend has taken today. I endorse every word of the letter that my hon. and learned Friend wrote to the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

If the right hon. Gentleman had contained his passion long enough to read to the end of that letter, he would have seen that my hon. and learned Friend was suggesting discussions.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

That was one of the final points in the letter that he wrote yesterday. That is the point that I have been emphasising today and on which I should like to end.

I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. I can see that he does not want this done through the usual channels because he thinks that procedure is too narrow. I have some sympathy with that view. We need to work out among ourselves a way in which the stop facility—which I am not trying to abolish, but which I am trying to bring within proportions—will work. I am trying to find a way in which we can discuss it on a parliamentary basis and make it work.

Several Hon. Members:

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I will take the points of order after the statement. I can anticipate what the points of order are likely to be about.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I will take the points of order afterwards, as is my usual practice.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

No, this point of order has to do with this business.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I will take it afterwards. Later—

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall, Sir, that I was the Member—the hon. Member—[Laughter.] I wish that you could all say that about yourselves—to whom the original accusation was made that certain hon. Members had abused the immigration procedures. Yet I have listened to many hon. Members called to ask questions who have no concern with the immigration problem, including an hon. Member from some obscure point in the north of Scotland whose only connection with immigration could be occasional English visitors. The advice which is always available at your elbow and which is supposed to be totally impartial saw fit not to let you sight me on this matter. I think that it would be advisable—I say this, Sir, with the deep affection in which I hold you—to look again at the sense and rationality of postponing points of order which are relevant to the business under way until after other bits of business, which totally removes the relevance of the point of order. This is a major matter which should be re-examined, since I believe, Sir, it is a new development under your admirable Speakership.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

May I take one at a time? I sighted the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) earlier this afternoon and I sighted him yesterday. With the best will in the world, I cannot call every hon. Member every day. The hon. Member was called yesterday and I think that that was fair enough.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I assure you that my point of order has not lost its relevance because of any delay. I apologise for straining the patience of the House, but an important side issue has emerged from the exchanges about the immigration rules. It has been revealed that the Minister of State, Home Office, has written to 23 right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House asking for their permission to make public the correspondence that has passed between them and him. I assume that the correspondence will be made public by publication in Hansard or by copies being placed in the Library. However, the correspondence between an hon. Member and a Minister must be on the basis of confidentiality between the hon. Member and his constituent. No hon. Member has a right to reveal correspondence unless he has the explicit permission of the constituent to whom the correspondence refers.

Could I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that it is a very dangerous practice for Ministers of the Crown of arty Government to come to the House and make an accusation about Members abusing their position and then defend that accusation by challenging them, on the following day, to allow him to publish the correspondence? I am glad that the Leader of the House has remained in his place, because this is a very serious intrusion into the way in which Members of Parliament carry out their work on behalf of their constituents.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I do not think that that is really a point of order for me, but, as I understand it, what the Secretary of State said was that he would seek the permission of those hon. Members to whom he had written to publish the correspondence. That is what I understood him to say.

Photo of Mr Trevor Skeet Mr Trevor Skeet , Bedfordshire North

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I know that you are in an invidious position when it comes to the statement on immigration. My particular locality of north Bedfordshire has the highest immigrant population in the United Kingdom—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Does this not sound like an extension of Question Time?

Photo of Mr Trevor Skeet Mr Trevor Skeet , Bedfordshire North

Not entirely, Mr. Speaker. [Laughter.] I am simply saying this, Mr. Speaker, and I want your guidance on it. When matters of this prominence come up and it is necessary for the Government possibly to bring in some code where they will have consultation with various Members — not only the 23 who have been nominated today—I think that it is only right that those Members who come from areas where there is a lot of evidence should have the opportunity to take part in that debate, which was referred to in the national press.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister, in the exchange over the immigration rules, repeated once more the insinuation and the allegation that a number of Members of Parliament have been acting improperly, and he now confirms that he has written to 23 of them. Presumably he will ensure that the names of those 23 will appear in The Daily Telegraph tomorrow. The issue, however, is that the Minister made a series of wholly unsubstantiated allegations against individual Members. He has failed to support those allegations with any detailed argument whatever this afternoon—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. What is the point of order for me?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

The point of order for you, Mr. Speaker, is this. Should not the Minister withdraw those allegations in their entirety? He is casting a slur on the character of individual Members of the House in the matter of the operation of the immigration laws.

The second point, Mr. Speaker, on which I look to you for guidance, is that the Minister is suggesting that he will write to those 23 and possibly seek discussions with them. Is that not a matter for the whole House, for public debate, rather than for private discussion among Members representing areas with a high proportion of immigrant people who are suffering disgracefully under the immigration laws?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I am not responsible for any statements or allegations that are made by any Member in the House, as long as they are in order.