With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about claims for asylum by travellers without proper documents.
Many Western countries have become increasingly concerned in recent years at the large number of people who seek entry with forged or fabricated passports or visas or without any documents at all. Very often they or the organisers of their journeys know that they have no legitimate claim to entry but hope that the absence of documents will hinder the immigration authorities in securing their return. At the same time, large numbers of people who aim to find a more secure or prosperous life in Western countries have been abusing asylum procedures as a means of evading immigration controls. Last year, during the United Kingdom presidency, the Ministers of the Interior of the European Community set work in hand on these problems. Last week I sent a message to the Belgian presidency expressing the Government's hope that this work would be pressed forward urgently.
In December and January, 600 people arrived here and sought asylum, the large majority of whom did not have the right documents. It is only recently that members of the public and of the House have become generally aware of the problem which faces us, so the Government have been considering what action to take to prevent evasion of visa requirements and the abuse of asylum claims as a means of securing entry.
We have decided to introduce legislation tomorrow to give power to impose a charge on carriers who bring to this country people who require leave to enter the United Kingdom but who carry no valid passport or other identity document, and those who have no valid visa where one is required by the immigration rules. The charge would he £1,000 for each passenger without valid documents and would be applied from midnight tomorrow. The carrier would not be liable to pay if he could show that the passenger had the necessary valid documents when he boarded the ship or aircraft or, in the case of forged documents or visas, that the forgery was not reasonably apparent. Payment would be enforceable, if necessary, by civil action in much the same way as detention and removal costs can already be recovered from carriers.
This change in the law would reinforce the messages already given to airlines and other carriers that they have a responsibility for ensuring that those who wish to travel here have obtained the necessary papers before they do so. A similar provision already operates in many other countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and, more recently, West Germany and Denmark.
In the case of the Tamils who were last week given leave by the court to move for judicial review, I have to take account of the passage of time—more than two weeks—since their arrival and of the fact that the litigation is likely to take further time to resolve, given the rights of appeal on either side. Moreover, I understand that the United Kingdom Immigration Advisory Service has already been able to interview many of the applicants. In these circumstances, and in the light of the outcome of last week's court proceedings, I have decided that the most sensible way forward is to refer to UKIAS each of the 64 cases and thereafter to reach fresh individual decisions in the light of all the relevant facts, including any representations UKIAS may wish to make. In doing so, I shall of course take account of any other representations I receive, including those from hon. Members. In the circumstances, I would expect to receive representations by Wednesday 18 March and to take decisions after that. My willingness to proceed in this way has been conveyed to the applicants' solicitors and UKIAS.
For the future, however, we need to change our procedures to ensure that we are properly protected against immigration rackets which take advantage of our generous procedures. In particular, we must not allow procedures which were intended originally as safeguards to become the vehicle by which those who have no entitlement to come here, whether as refugees or in whatever other capacity, achieve their ends.
Accordingly, the present arrangements under which my Department refers cases to UKIAS will be revised and I shall be inviting UKIAS to join in discussions to that end. I should stress, however, that the present arrangement does not involve the reference of all cases, and for the avoidance of doubt I must place it on record that in future there will be cases which will not be referred to UKIAS and that therefore applicants for asylum can have no expectation in future that as a result of the arrangement arrived at in 1983 or otherwise there will in their cases be such a reference. Similarly there will be instances in which early removal is necessary in the interests of immigration control and it would not be right for me to defer removal on a Member's seeking to put a stop on the case. It follows also that those who seek to challenge in the courts decisions to refuse asylum cannot expect that they will automatically be allowed to stay here until proceedings are completed.
The Government remain fully committed to their obligations under the United Nations 1951 Convention to genuine refugees as defined in that Convention. The decisions on individual cases which I make as Home Secretary will respect that obligation. But we have to find the right means of preventing abuse of the asylum provisions and preventing evasion of the visa requirements which Parliament has endorsed. The policies which I have announced aim to strike that balance.
Is the Home Secretary aware that in making that statement he is having to swallow a great many of the words uttered by his right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State the week before last? The Minister of State told the House on 17 February that it was
obvious, from the examination carried out by the immigration officers at the port, that the claims made by these people were manifestly bogus."—[Official Report, 17 February 1987; Vol. 110, c. 770.]
The Home Secretary has now decided that he disagrees with the Minister of State, and that he is not satisfied that the claims are manifestly bogus.
The Minister of State told the House on 18 February that the Government would
contest … any application for judicial review.
The Government have now completely reversed that stand on the 64 Tamils in order to dodge the adverse outcome of a judicial review. Is the Home Secretary aware that it is because he fears that if he does not abandon his position
in the House of Commons he will be knocked off it in a court of law? That is why he has announced this change in his position. He is now coming to the House with news of a hasty piece of panic legislation. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that legislation has nothing to do with general immigration control, but is to meet what he views as a special situation?
Opposition Members are against bogus refugees who wish to exploit Britain's hospitality, and we certainly condemn greedy-for-money racketeers who prey on the vulnerability of people such as the 64 Tamils. Is the Home Secretary aware that even people who are the prey of greedy-for-money racketeers may, all the same, be bona fide refugees and that the problem arises in finding a procedure to identify bona fide refugees? The Home Secretary has recognised that by deciding, as he has put it, to reach fresh decisions on the 64 Tamils and to refer each of the cases to the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service.
Can the Home Secretary answer my questions? What, in future, will be the position of bona fide refugees without visas who arrive in this country under his newly announced legislation? Is he aware, for example, that if someone such as Mr. Shcharansky arrived as a refugee from Russia without a visa, the airline carrying him would be fined under the legislation that he has announced? [AN HON. MEMBER: "Quite right, too."] Oh, SO Mr. Shcharansky should be turned away because he does not have a visa. The Prime Minister would not have been able to meet him in those circumstances.
Is the Home Secretary aware that the same goes for other seekers of political asylum from eastern Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, South Africa, Chile and elsewhere? In those circumstances, is it not clear that the words of the Minister of State were baseless when he said :
we are determined to honour our obligations under the United Nations convention in the treatment of refugees."—[Official Report, 18 February 1987; Vol. 110, c. 909–911.]
and that foreign airlines are now to have delegated to them responsibility for implementing or failing to implement the United Kingdom's commitment under the United Nations convention?
The fact is that a problem has arisen that the Government have found themselves unable to cope with without panic legislation. If that problem exists, the Home Secretary would be better advised to consider carefully how to deal with it rather than rushing through the House of Commons legislation which he may well repent.
I am not all that clear after listening to the right hon. Gentleman where the Opposition stand on the basic question of immigration control. Last year they proposed to leave open the loophole for so-called visitors, which we have closed. Now, they propose to leave open, although the evidence is clear before them, the loophole for so-called refugees. In the face of their determination to leave every available loophole open, it is less and less clear how they can claim to be in favour of effective control.
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's points, we obey the law and, as a Government, we are under the law. We made the attempt to remove the 64 but were prevented from doing so by the intervention of the court. Since then, there have been judicial proceedings and in view of the course of those and the line taken by the court, the likelihood of no immediate outcome in sight, given the rights of appeal, has led me to take this action. That simply illustrates the point that I was trying to make to the House —that our present procedures are well adapted to meet the needs of individual refugees coming into this country under the United Nations convention. They are not well adapted to people who come here, and who are coming here in increasing numbers, claiming a right of asylum to evade the controls. That is why we propose to change the procedures.
The great majority of refugees will not be affected in any way. Until the recent increase in the number of applications made from abroad, most applications for asylum have been made in this country by people who are already here. Genuine refugees do not usually have to travel very far to obtain immediate safety because they can find refuge in neighbouring countries. If they have links with this country or particular reasons which they wish to argue for coming here, applications for asylum here can be made by people given temporary refuge elsewhere. It is also open to those who wish to come to this country, for whatever reason including asylum, to apply for a visa and make arrangements at one of our posts abroad and many asylum seekers do that. In practice, I do not believe that the difficulty to which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn attention will arise.
Is not my right hon. Friend aware that the 64 Tamils referred to had found sanctuary in a safe country but were then transported to the United Kingdom for economic reasons and for gain by an individual or individuals? Is he not further aware that all the Western democracies are having to find other ways to contain the flow of people from Third-world countries who arrive for bogus reasons? Is he not also aware that there is a substanital increase in the forgery, alteration and counterfeiting of passports and other travel documents?
In view of what I have said, I think that I had better not comment on particular cases. My hon. Friend is entirely right in his general point that this is an international problem. For the first time more and more people in the Third world have the means, knowledge and the will to try come to Europe, North America and Australasia in search of a more prosperous or more secure life. The present procedures are not adequate to meet that particular pressure. Many countries with which we are in touch have found the same experience and are looking for the right answers under their systems. As I have explained, we are in close touch with our partners in the European Community to exchange experiences on that. However, I did not feel that we could wait until those exchanges were completed before announcing the action that we propose.
Is the Home Secretary aware that every hon. Member despises and condemns the actions of racketeers? However, the more that the Government place restrictions on immigration, such as visas, the more they force refugees into the hands of racketeers. Is it not wholly unreal to put the restrictions on the airlines and shipping companies? How else are people to get out of countries? Are they supposed to come in rowing boats? What on earth does the Home Secretary think is going on if he believes that people under oppression are able somehow to get out of countries without using means of transport? Is the Home Secretary claiming that there are to be no means of appeal whatever and that there is no interview other than that by his own staff—[Interruption.]
Does the Home Secretary not accept that for centuries Britain has had a reputation as a haven for people fleeing from oppression and that some hon. Members in all parts of the House would not be here if that were not the case? What price that reputation now, and what price the Home Secretary's reputation as a liberal Conservative?
If being a liberal means that one denounces racketeers while opposing every effort to deal with them, I disclaim that label, because that is what the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) has just done. In reply to the question by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), I answered the point about the genuine refugee. The hon. Member for Leeds, West asked about a right of appeal. Carriers who consider a penalty to be unfair may make representations, including representations to Ministers. The penalty is not automatic but discretionary. If such representations are rejected, the carrier can refuse to pay and can challenge his liability when he is sued in the courts. That seems to be a perfectly reasonable procedure.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the legislation he is introducing tomorrow to fine carriers will be widely welcomed? Does he agree that it appears that our immigration laws are too loose to cover this problem? Why can we not change the immigration laws at the same speed at which we change the fining of carriers? Will he tell the House how much it costs the taxpayer per day to house these immigrants? Surely it is a gross abuse and waste of public money to allow this sort of spectacle to go on.
Under existing agreements the financial responsibility for detention costs and for the homeward passage falls on the airlines in respect of those people who eventually return to the countries from which they came. It is only in cases where eventually they are granted asylum or entry to Britain that the cost falls on the taxpayer. Of course I do not exclude any future revision of the immigration rules. We have often done that in the past.
The legislation that I have announced will put the onus where to a large extent it belongs—on the carriers. My hon. Friend will know that many airlines already follow this practice in their dealings throughout the world. They regard it as an elementary precaution to make sure that those whom they carry have the right eventually to go to the country to which they are being carried. We are proposing by legislation to impose that responsibility on all carriers whether or not they are carrying voluntarily. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the last part of my statement, which talks about the new procedures that we propose to work out. The legislation on carriers and the new procedures when added together will provide an effective way of blocking this loophole while preserving our obligations under the United Nation convention. I am keen to preserve those obligations and, indeed, under international law we are bound to preserve them.
I welcome the decision to allow careful representations to be made in the case of the Tamils. Of course, that should have occurred at the beginning when they came here. However, is there not a contradiction between the commitment that the Home Secretary gave again today and which the Prime Minister gave a short time ago about continuing the long and honourable tradition of this country of giving help to those fleeing from persecution, and the restrictions and obvious difficulties, because of the further restrictions, faced by anyone wishing to claim such refugee status?
Is the Home Secretary also aware that, while it may be expected from some Government Members, it was extremely disappointing to note that, in his response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), the Home Secretary seemed to be playing the race card in this pre-election period? Those who play the race card, whether from the Front Bench or from the Back Benches, usually end up by being totally discredited. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will rethink what he said.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman's first point, there is no contradiction. However, there is a balance which must be struck between the solidity of immigration control and our obligations under the 1951 convention, which applies to individuals who have well-grounded fears of personal persecution. The measures that I have announced and the discussions that we shall have with UKIAS will enable us to strike that balance.
I entirely disagree with the hon. Gentleman's second point, which was bad history. It was the Leader of the Opposition who, in India, raised that general question. As often happens, he spoke to please a particular audience without regard to the impact of his words elsewhere. Ever since, those who know more about the matter than he does have tried to pick up the bits and emphasise the desire of the Opposition to maintain effective immigration control. However, the fact is that their reactions to what we have had to do, first of all on visitors' visas, and now on the right of asylum and our proposals for closing those loopholes, illustrate, to put it mildly, that they still have not thought the thing through.
May I welcome the rather meagre moves that my right hon. Friend is taking tomorrow to deal with this? However, I advise him that many thousands of people in this country will be angered that these liars, cheats and queue jumpers will have the right to be considered to stay here. Can my right hon. Friend advise me why he has disregarded the comments made by the Sri Lankan authorities about those in Malaysia who pointed these people out as racketeers? Will he promise me, as the Member for the Heathrow area, that people who demonstrate in our terminals and strip off their clothes will not see that as an opportunity to gain a quick entry to this country?
The answer to my hon. Friend is that the Government operate under the law and I am sure that he would wish the Government to do so. He has asked me why I did not send those people back where they belong, and I shall rehearse the history of that. We come under the courts and must accept the legal proceedings. Even in his most ebullient moments, my hon. Friend would not suggest that the Home Secretary of a Conservative Government should ignore the rule of law.
The right hon. Gentleman pretends to be preventing the abuse of our immigration procedures. Does he not realise that a direct result of his intended legislation will be the prevention of genuine refugees seeking asylum in this country? He must comprehend that. Does he not realise that this whole unhappy episode will be one of the less glorious chapters of his tenure of the Home Secretaryship?
I vividly recall the hon. Gentleman huffing and puffing in a similar way when we discussed visas and visitors. That change, which was vigorously opposed by the Opposition, has now settled down and is accepted by many people in the ethnic communities as a great improvement on the previous turmoil. That is what we did against the huffing and puffing which we have experienced again, and I think that that will happen again.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement this afternoon will be welcomed? However, two key questions remain to be answered about these Tamils. First, why did they choose not to go to the British high commission to seek visas, unlike hundreds of their compatriots, many of whom were much poorer than those people? Secondly, why are reports coming from the press and the Government in India, that hundreds of Indian and Sri Lankan Tamils are returning voluntarily to Sri Lanka, whereas we seem to believe that they require asylum?
For the reasons that I have already given, I shall not comment on these cases—indeed, I cannot. However, it is important that all concerned benefit from a balanced view of what is actually happening in Sri Lanka and what is not, and my hon. Friend has contributed to that.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that Opposition Members are not objecting to his clamping down on the racketeers? There is no doubt of the rightness of that. However, we feel strongly that the draconian measures that are proposed will, as one of my hon. Friends has said, keep out genuine refugees. How does the right hon. Gentleman propose to ensure that genuine refugees are not kept out? It is impossible for them to bring with them certificates from their commissioners of police from the places in which they are persecuted saying, "This man is a genuine political refugee. We are persecuting and torturing him." Does the right hon. Gentleman expect them to bring such certificates with them?
The hon. Gentleman says that he is not objecting to dealing with racketeers, but he is not helping in any way. We have not heard a single idea from the Opposition about how we could effectively strike the balance that I am talking about between the right of refugees under the United Nations convention and the absolutely crucial need to maintain an effective immigration control. All that Opposition Members have done is to suggest that what we are proposing is wrong. The House will have the opportunity to discuss this in detail when we come to the legislation because, unlike the West German Government, we do not have executive powers to do that without legislation—I am not complaining about that.
I repeat that if, between now and then, the hon. Gentleman does his homework about the way in which genuine refugees come here, he will find that the majority are here anyway because they come for other purposes. Others, like Shcharansky, of whom the right hon. Member for Gorton made great play, come here by agreement and understanding, so this would not apply. Others go to countries which are much nearer to the places where they feel persecuted, and if they have a particular link with this country, they can apply from that country and their cases can be discussed in the ordinary way. That is how genuine refugees exercise the right of asylum in this country, and none of those means will be blocked or affected.
Order. I have to protect the rest of today's business, and as there are two other statements after this, I shall allow questions on this to go for a further 10 minutes—[Interruption.] Order. I shall allow a further 10 minutes and take that into consideration when we come to the debate that is to be held shortly.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that legislation that is rushed through in a panic is usually the worst kind of legislation, especially when it deals with questions of civil liberties and when strong passions are aroused? If he is genuine in wishing to strike the right balance and to seek to protect the ancient right of people to come to this country when they are escaping from persecution, will he not consider postponing the introduction of the Bill until he has had a little time to think about it?
It is not a matter for me, but I do not believe that the House will be asked to consider this issue in anything approaching a panic. That is partly why I made the statement that, if the House eventually agrees to the legislation, the penalties would be effective from tomorrow night, to make sure that the House has reasonable time to consider them. I entirely accept that that is desirable and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is not a good idea to pass legislation in a panic. However, he is not facing the situation that we must face as the Government, which is that this is a loophole from which countries in Europe, North America and Australasia suffer and of which they are feeling the effects even more than we are. We cannot delay unreasonably before finding the right means to stop that loophole. Otherwise, we should look amazingly foolish. Those who obstruct what we are trying to do would bear a heavy responsibility.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be welcomed by many people who are deeply uneasy about this current case? Can he say, because it is part and parcel of what has happened, whether he has any knowledge of what Malaysia and the other countries affected are doing to stop these immigration rackets from proliferating?
I do know that the Malaysian authorities have arrested several people in connection with the fraudulent acquisition and sale of passports. We shall supply the Malaysian authorities with any information that we hold on forged documents, which may help them with their inquiries.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the vast majority of people in this country are thankful for the steps that he is taking to deal with bogus immigration? Is he further aware that the attitude that we have heard from the Opposition is quite untypical of the vast majority of all classes of people living in this country? In a small island, we simply cannot take in people from every country in the world, irrespective of whether they are bogus.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I worked out for myself one morning that, at the moment, 15 countries in the Third world have war or civil war at least as bad as, and in many cases considerably worse than, anything that may have been happening in Sri Lanka. The fact that we are not dealing only with the Sri Lankan Tamils adds to the importance and the vividness of the difficulties that we face.
Have not the Government done an embarrassing U-turn today to avoid greater embarrassment in the courts shortly? Will the Secretary of State make some amends for the lack of co-operation of his Department with those seeking to represent the Tamils, by allowing those with relatives here temporary admission while the inquiries are undertaken? Does he not understand that by introducing a procedure which denies those seeking refuge here independent judicial review, he is introducing a system which is arbitrary and denies justice? It is a recipe for injustice and he will rue the day that he introduces this procedure.
I said that I would receive representations and I gave a date by when I should like to have them; that would cover both the temporary and substantial questions of detention. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's basic point. Like all Opposition Members except for the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), he has not faced the problem. To use those objectives and such rhetoric before he addresses the problem with which we must deal shows a shallowness which is not right for someone with his experience of the matter.
Further to my right hon. Friend's reply, does he agree that, unfortunately, communal violence in Sri Lanka is of long standing? Does he agree that most of the Tamil community there could claim to be in fear of their life or in danger of persecution and that they amount to some 2 million people, not to mention the Sinhalese community which has also been attacked from time to time and which numbers 11 million?
The United Nations convention and our practice in the matter draw a clear distinction between people who live in a troubled part of the world—as I have said, there are many troubled areas—and wish to lead a more prosperous and secure life here and those who individually have a well-founded fear of persecution. Only the latter category is covered by the United Nations convention and therefore by our international responsibilities. We must strike the right balance so that we can continue to honour that obligation to the second category while excluding the first, and my statement aims to achieve that.
Is the Secretary of State aware that his statement represents a further massive stride away from civilised behaviour by the Government? Is he aware that he should recognise that all asylum seekers are victims and not the cause of the problem? Instead of trying to appease European xenophobia by his racist remarks, should he not consider the root causes of the problem in Sri Lanka and other places and perhaps, just perhaps, question the sense of the British Government selling arms to fuel the flames in Sri Lanka at present?
As I have tried to make clear, it is not just a question of Sri Lanka; the question goes wider than that. It is not uncivilised or wrong. Indeed, it is essential for the countries of Europe, working together to the extent that they can, to find a way of preserving, or in some cases instituting, effective immigration control. If we do not do that, the future for race relations and harmony in the United Kingdom is bleak.
My right hon. Friend will know that his welcome legislation will take some time before it is enacted. What guarantee can he give the House that we will not be treated to this same spectacle of intending refugees with similar spurious qualifications before that legislation is enacted?
Why does the Home Secretary not admit, as the court case later this week would force him to admit, that a series of cursory 20-minute interviews three weeks ago has nothing to do with Britain upholding its obligations under the United Nations convention? When did he last phone the high commission in Colombo to find out the real position in Jaffna, the north and east of Sri Lanka? Does he realise that one of the families of economic refugees fled because their three-year-old daughter was shot dead? Does he realise that other families fled because their homes were bombed in the villages where they lived? Does he realise that they have relatives in Coventry and elsewhere, which enables them to come here? [Hon. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Yes, I am doing my job as an elected Member of Parliament, which is more than I can say for the bunch opposite. If the Home Secretary had occupied the same post in the 1930s or 1940s he would have sent thousands of people back to Germany, Italy and Spain and to their deaths.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that all carriers should act responsibly towards the country that gives them landing rights? If the £1,000 fine is not sufficient, will my right hon. Friend be prepared to review the landing rights of companies which abuse the particular procedures of our country?
The sum involved is roughly in line with what other countries have instituted. We would propose in the legislation to take powers to revise that sum if it seemed inadequate, but that is a matter which the House may want to discuss. The House may also wish to discuss my hon. Friend's second point. He asked what would happen if this arrangement were not enough. The experience of other countries and our expectations are that this will be a powerful deterrent.
In response to a question, the Home Secretary said that the penalty on the airlines was discretionary, not automatic. If that is so, surely the airline will have responsibility to distinguish the bona fide from the bogus refugees? Faced with a fine in those circumstances, is an airline not likely to turn away bona fide refugees? Therefore, will the Home Secretary answer this question, which he has so far failed to answer and on which human lives may depend : how is a refugee without a visa—there will be such people, just as there were Jews in the 1930s in such circumstances, as I have cause to know—who seeks asylum in this country from oppression to find it if there is no provision for refugees without visas to be admitted without the airline being fined?
I think that I have answered the right hon. Gentleman's question already. I have gone through the different ways in which refugees normally successfully obtain asylum here. First, they can come here through some agreement. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Shcharansky previously, but he did not do so this time because that case would not be affected in any way by our proposals. Secondly, refugees can come here on some other basis and then seek asylum. Thirdly, they can go to a third country and argue that, because of a particular link with this country, this is where they need asylum. In practice, as opposed to theory, the right hon. Gentleman's point is not likely to be valid.
On a point of order Mr. Speaker. Earlier this afternoon we had a statement on bogus asylum seekers. I myself did not want to get in to ask a question of the Minister. I was just here, sort of observing an interest and seeing what was happening. You will know, Mr. Speaker, that there are perhaps one and a half times as many Conservative Back Benchers as there are Labour Back Benchers, You will know that during that statement, probably about one and a half times or twice as many Conservative Back Benchers sought to catch your eye as Labour Back Benchers.
You, Mr. Speaker, are the guardian of interests of individual Members, and you will know that each individual Member is equally important, irrespective of the party that he represents. I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, in future circumstances, if it appears that there are a preponderance of Members of one side of the House or the other who wish to involve themselves in a particular statement, debate or whatever, that you take account of the balance of Members on either side of the House. I know it is a very difficult situation for yourself, but today it was very much one-sided. There were many more Members on this side of the House who wished to question my right hon. Friend than there were on the other side of the House. Given that, and given that each individual Member is as important, pari passu, as any other individual Member, I wonder whether in future you could take account of the balance on interest in a particular statement when people catch your eye?
It is always a difficult balance. As the hon. Member will know, I am reluctant to cut off question time after statements. Indeed, I gave that statement a long run, much longer than the other two statements. It is always a matter of deep regret if I cannot call on the statement every hon. Member who wishes to participate. I can only seek to be fair in giving them priority when the matter arises later. I always do that. It is a question of balance every day. I wish that it were possible to call all hon. Members, but the constraints of time do not allow it.
On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. I fully accept what you have said, and most hon. Members will believe that you are more than generous in the amount of time that you gave for that statement today. My point is not with your generosity and the amount of time that you give for a statement, but the balance that you give. There is a 100 per cent. chance that a Labour Member would have caught your eye today. There is probably a 65 per cent. chance that a Conservative Member would have caught your eye today. I just wonder whether, in the future, if there is a predominance on one side of the House or the other of people who wish to catch your eye, you would take account of the proportions of those hon. Members.
That might have happened today. I always have to calculate and balance these matters. I seek on every occasion to be totally fair to both sides of the House.