I would not normally seek to speak to the money resolution, but the House ought to be aware that during the previous six hours of debate 21 hon. Members addressed the House. Conservative Members spoke for a total of 210 minutes, and Opposition Members for a mere 137 minutes. We see the reason for that in the Division figures. Few Government Members turned out to support the Bill in the Division Lobby.
The Government had problems all afternoon, and we had the unseemly sight of the Government Chief Whip running around like a conscription agent dragging Tory MPs out of the Tea Room to address the House on a subject about which they know nothing and on briefs that were just thrust into their hands. They mouthed a lot of parrot-like phrases, such as the Tory party does, suggesting that there is always a need to tighten yet further the screw on immigration.
The Bill is a nasty attempt to make life even more difficult for the Bangladeshi and other communities than it was under the 1971 legislation, which I regret was not repealed by a previous Labour Government, although I very much hope that it will be repealed by a future Labour Government. Some hon. Members wish to oppose the money resolution because we believe that the Bill will cause untold difficulties for many people in our constituencies, or, in my own case, for the National Union of Public Employees, by which I am sponsored. Those hon. Members and I daily go through the experience of our constituents seeking entry for spouses, largely from the sub-continent, who, under the terms of the 1971 Act, have every right to enter the country. However, under the proposals in the Bill that right to come here will be further reduced.
Tonight we had the most disgraceful statement in the closing remarks of the Under-Secretary of State, who said that since 1971 conditions had changed, so that many of those who were eligible to come here as dependent relatives no longer meet those conditions. The reason is quite simply that in many cases bureaucratic delays, deliberately incurred under successive Home Secretaries, went on for so long that many of those children who had a right to come here have now passed the age where they can legally enter the country. The Home Secretary knows that what I am saying is absolutely correct. He also knows that the Bill builds on a whole series of attitudes of the immigration service and the Home Office which, frankly, border on the racist and the disgraceful.
I spend numerous weekends in endless telephone calls about people — [Interruption.] I am glad that Conservative Members find the matter so amusing. If they had to go through the indignity that others do on arriving in the country, they would not behave as they do. A white person who arrives at Heathrow airport has little likelihood of being detained for any length of time by immigration officers, yet the arrival of Bangladeshis on a flight from Dhaka is a signal for every immigration officer to rush to the scene and detain people for as long as possible. That happens every time a flight arrives from Dhaka, India or any other non-white Commonwealth country.
My experience is that, in the majority of cases, statistics are drawn up that seek to show that Commonwealth people from non-white countries are a greater problem than those who come from the old white Commonwealth. Those statistics are entirely false and bogus, because they are a self-fulfilling prophecy. If immigration officers detain a group of immigrants for long enough, then claim that the were forced to detain them because they believed them to be a problem, and then announce that they are a problem, inevitably the statistics will show that to be so. The previous legislation was based on that, and the Bill is also designed to do that.
I am concerned about the expenditure of public money under the Bill, and also about the many defects that there are in the measure. For example, there is the lack of a right of appeal. It is serious and ominous that those who arrive in the country as bona fide, legitimate visitors are told by immigration officers that they must leave immediately. They have no right of appeal against that unless they are from a non-visa country and a Member of Parliament can be contacted and is able to prevent their being removed.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On several occasions during the Second Reading debate, you, and previous occupants of the Chair, reminded the House that hon. Members have the right to be heard. I realise that the Government have suffered a severe embarrassment by failing to secure more than a very narrow majority for the Second Reading of this squalid and shoddy Bill. Nevertheless, will you ensure that, in the debate on the money resolution, all hon. Members are heard, as they were in the Second Reading debate?
Thank you. Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I was discussing the lack of a right of appeal. The Bill is fundamentally flawed, in that not only does it refuse to face the consequences of previous House of Commons Committee decisions that there should be a right of appeal—and recommendations from many reputable outside bodies—but goes further by specifically removing the right of appeal in cases in which immigration officers have made entirely unjust decisions.
Immigration law in this country goes fundamentally against the principles on which British law operates under which a person should be assumed to be innocent until proved guilty. People arriving at airports, especially those arriving from the Indian sub-continent, are far more often than not assumed to be guilty of attempting to enter the country illegally, until they can prove themselves legally entitled to come here.
In his winding-up speech the Under-Secretary spoke of the—
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is unfortunate that Conservative Members should try to curtail debate on such a serious infringement of human rights.
When the Under-Secretary wound up the Second Reading debate he mentioned the entry clearance queues at many sub-continent posts, the longest being at Dhaka. The others are considerably shorter. The Under-Secretary should remember that the Commission for Racial Equality's report on the operation of the immigration service was able to prove conclusively that successive British Governments had succeeded in deliberately keeping that queue at enormous length by understaffing posts in the sub-continent.
Along with many other hon. Members, particularly Opposition Members, I have had the welcome opportunity of visiting India and Bangladesh, and going to the villages in Bangladesh which dependent relatives are trying to leave. I was also able to discuss with immigration officers at the high commission posts how they go about their business, and how they decide who should be allowed to join relatives on whom they are dependent.
Two things occurred to me during my visit. The first was the sheer misery that many of my constituents and others undergo in being separated for year after year from their families by bureaucratic delays, and the unpleasantness that that must involve. The other was the misery of life for many families who exist in poverty in small villages in northern Bangladesh and who are are expected to travel a considerable distance, and at great expense, to Dhaka to be interviewed under some incredibly complicated procedure that has little relevance to the communities of the people with whom we are dealing.
For example, the Home Office is obsessed with the need to establish true family relationships. It asks the high commission staff to request birth and marriage certificates, and proof of residence and land ownership. Such proof does not necessarily exist in villages in Bangladesh or in many other parts of the world. The purpose is to seek to prove that one child out of three or four children in a family is not the legitimate child of the parents who have made an application to visit this country. The Government ignore the fact that even if one of the children is not necessarily the child of both parents, but is the child of a previous marriage of one of the partners, that child is still part of the family unit. The spirit of the European Court's decision is that family unity should be maintained and preserved by the European legislation, but the Bill goes very much in the opposite direction.
Ever since I have been a Member of Parliament I have been dealing with one family that will be adversely affected by clause 1. I refer to Mr. Hardeep Singh, who many years ago came to this country from the Indian sub-continent. For 15 years he has been arguing that his wife and children should he allowed to join him. We can imagine what misery life has been for the wife of Mr. Hardeep Singh. She has been unable to join her husband here because of endless, petty wrangling about their children. The result is that three of the children are now over 18 and therefore are not allowed to come here under the provisions of the Immigration Act 1971. That is what has happened under the Tory party, which talks such sanctimonious nonsense about the unity of family life. It has deliberately allowed the Hardeep Singh family to be separated for 15 years, with the result that the children hardly know their father. All they know about him is that he sends endless letters from England saying that he is having talks with lawyers about the possibility of their being allowed to enter this country.
In this debate on the money resolution I hope that the Minister will reply to some of the points on which he was too frightened to give way when he wound up the Second Reading debate. He made much of the fact that the registration forms that have to be completed under the British Nationality Act 1981 are widely available. If they are widely available, I should be grateful if he would get into his ministerial car after this debate and come to Islington with a supply of forms, because we are short of them. When he leaves Islington, I suggest that he should go on to Leicester, Hackney and every other place that needs the forms. When I wrote to the Minister protesting about the shortage of forms, a month later he sent me six. We are obliged to him for the six forms, but we need considerably more than that.
We need also a ministerial decision, late though it may be, to reduce or to remove the exorbitant £60 charge for registration, particularly for those on supplementary or unemployment benefit. The way in which that legislation is operating is disgraceful.
In the last four years I have addressed the House on the problems that refugees and asylum seekers face when they seek political asylum here under the terms of the 1951 United Nations Geneva convention. The Minister has often parroted the Home Secretary to a quite disgraceful extent. He has said that this country cannot cope with more refugees. He has told us that we are overburdened with refugees and that this country cannot bear the responsibility of every dispute that happens in the world. No country can bear the responsibility of what happens in every other country of the world. However, this country willingly signed the 1951 United Nations Geneva Convention and the Home Secretary gets up and proudly says that we abide by it. Therefore he should bear in mind the figures produced by the Swedish immigration service about the number of asylum applicants in Europe between 1984 and 1986. The total for that period in Sweden was 41,300; in West Germany it was 208,000; in the Netherlands it was 14,200; and in Britain it was 13,300. The figure for Britain is one of the smallest. If we compare asylum applications per million inhabitants of each country, we find that for Sweden the figure is 1,598, for West Germany it is 1,117, in the Netherlands it is 330 and in Britain it is 80. The figure for Britain is by far the lowest for any European country.
If we consider figures for the proportion of population to refugees, we find that the most extreme example is Jordan, where one in four of the population are refugees. In Sweden, one in 195 are refugees and in Britain the figure is one in 400. Similar comparisons can be made on a European basis which will show that this country is doing the least for refugees and asylum seekers, yet we have had the most disgraceful examples of the way in which the Government operate in connection with the asylum seekers.
The Earl William was taken out of service only after a terrifying night of hurricanes, during which legal asylum seekers were tossed around until the ship finally ran aground on a sandbank, and they were taken off the ship 24 hours later. It was only by a stroke of luck that there was not serious injury or death among those on board. I regret to say that that ship was taken out of service, not as a result of representations from me or my hon. Friends, but as a result of the hurricane. I would be grateful if the Minister of State would give us an undertaking that there will be no repetition of the use of the ship — [Interruption.] I am glad that Conservative Members find the hurricane funny. I was referring to the way in which people were locked up in dangerous conditions on board that ship. I realise that it is far too late in the evening to ask Conservative Members to take anything seriously, so perhaps they had better shut up and listen instead.
Recently I drew attention to one case of asylum seekers who had arrived in this country and the way in which they were treated. Mr. Abdul Behvand and his wife Parivash Moosavi are an Iranian couple. Mr. Behvand is an opponent of Ayatollah Khomeini's regime and an opponent of the Islamic republic. He has been active in trade unions—[Interruption.] He was an active member of trade unions in Iran. After several of his — [Interruption.] I am delighted that Conservative Members find the prospect of trade unionists being executed in Iran so amusing. Conservative Members are producing a disgraceful performance after a disgraceful showing of ignorance and an uncaring attitude in the debate on Second Reading earlier.
When the Iranian family concerned were able to escape from Iran, they went first to India and from there to Sweden, where they sought political asylum. Their application for asylum in Sweden was refused—[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I take no pride in that. It was disgraceful that they were refused asylum in Sweden. They were then escorted from Sweden to London by two immigration officials, to join an Iran Air flight to return them to Tehran. They were absolutely terrified at the prospect of what would happen to them, their three children and Mrs. Moosavi, who was seven months pregnant at the time. Fortunately, in the transit lounge at Heathrow airport they met an Iranian man who was able to put them in touch with agencies in this country and myself and we were able to stop them from being removed from this country. Their case was then considered. Five weeks later, unusually, they were told to report to Heathrow airport on a Saturday morning for an interview on the question of their right or otherwise to remain in this country. There was no such interview. It was a piece of double dealing and duplicity of the worst order. They were told that they were to be put on a plane that evening to return to Sweden, which had already tried to send them back to Iran.
I made representations the same day in an attempt to prevent their removal from this country, but those representations were unsuccessful and I was given a totally misleading interpretation of what they had said to a Farsi interpreter that day. I had them interviewed by an interpreter whom I knew and trusted and was given a quite different version of what they and the immigration service wanted. I communicated that information to the immigration service at 4.30 pm. The plane was due to take off at 7 pm. The immigration service refused to allow them to remain in this country for at least another two days so that I could contact the Minister and discuss the case with him. As soon as I put the phone down after speaking to the immigration officer, and before I could even ring a solicitor, the family was bundled on to a plane two hours before it was due to take off.
At that point, out of sheer panic, Mrs. Moosavi slashed her wrist. The Scandinavian airline crew, who regarded all this with some concern, said that they were not prepared to take off with the family on board, so the family were taken off the plane and given permission to remain in this country for a further four days during which representations could be made. Legal action has now been taken against the Home Office Office so that the case for political asylum can be properly considered.
I take no pleasure in telling the House that harrowing story, but if the House ignores the plight of legitimate asylum seekers fleeing the horrors of the Islamic republic in Iran, passes legislation of this kind and supports the Government's attitude, terrible disasters of that kind will happen to other people from equally oppressive regimes.
I ask the House seriously to consider the plight of political asylum seekers. I believe that 35 Members of the House are direct descendants, if not actually the children, of people who have sought political asylum in this country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) said, they may be descendants of Jewish people who fled the pogroms in Russia in 1905 or the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s, people who fled from Spain at the end of the civil war or people who fled the horrors of Fascist or authoritarian regimes elsewhere in the world. I ask the House to consider seriously the whole question of refugees.
I spend a great deal of time dealing with problems of immigration and of asylum seekers and all that goes with that, because my constituency is one to which people come from many parts of the world. Forty-one different languages are spoken in my constituency and we take pride in that. In a moving speech my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington spoke of the pride with which many Caribbean, Asian and other people came to work and to make a contribution to this country and were told that citizenship would be theirs. Some 25 years of oppressive and frankly racist immigration and refugee legislation has forced those people into the most appalling circumstances. People in my constituency and elsewhere who are technically illegal immigrants are afraid to go to the doctor or the hospital in case their names are given to the Home Office, and frightened to work openly or to join a trade union in case the employer phones the Home Office.
In a civilised, democratic society it is not acceptable for people to have to lead a twilight existence on the fringes of society because they could be shopped to Big Brother at the Home Office at any time. The Bill will criminalise such people, but they are not criminals. They are bringing up their families in the best way that they know and making the best contribution that they can, but all that the House can offer them is the smug self-satisfaction of racist headlines in The Sun whenever we raise the problems caused by immigration laws.
We shall oppose the Bill in Committee because this is an uncivilised piece of legislation which will further drive decent, hard-working, respectable people into the ghetto of being technically illegal immigrants. The Bill will prevent legitimate visitors from visiting this country. It will continue the misery and horror of family separation for black people from Africa and the Caribbean and for Asians, but not for white people, who are protected by the 1971 Act—the most racist piece of legislation on which all the rest has been constructed.
I look forward to a future Parliament which will repeal the 1971 Act and this Bill, and which will put an end to the racism implicit in our immigration legislation.
I did not intend to speak in the debate or on the money resolution, but I listened to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and I do not believe that it does immigration or our immigrants any good to overstate their case and to speak as he spoke. Therefore, I enter the debate to make three short, sharp points.
First, I had no hesitation in voting against the Bill because some clauses are unacceptable, particularly those on deportation without the right of appeal.
Secondly, I, too, deal with dozens of immigration cases and the main problem—this is relevant to the clause on homelessness—is the long delay in determining cases—I do not mean in approving cases; I mean in reaching a decision. I constantly have people at my surgery saying, "It is promised that somebody from the Home Office will come and interview us, but nobody has come." We are even receiving letters from the Home Office saying that there is a long waiting list, it has all the papers from abroad and it knows that it must hold an interview, but the process is taking a long time and it cannot promise when the case will be dealt with. I hope that as a consequence of the Bill there may be some money in the system to speed up the procedure.
Thirdly, in the light of the hon. Gentleman's speech, I wish to place on the record my sincere appreciation of the way in which the Minister and his staff have dealt with the cases that I have referred to him since the general election. He has not approved them all, but at least I believe that they have been dealt with fairly. They have certainly been dealt with courteously and I appreciate the way in which the Minister does his job.
A vote for money for this Bill is entirely unnecessary.
Apart from the emergency debate on the arrival of a planeload of Tamil refugees fleeing from violence in Sri Lanka, it is over a year since the House debated immigration. At the end of October 1986 the House debated a proposal to introduce visas for people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ghana and Nigeria. The debate took place in an appallingly emotive climate. The announcement of the introduction of the visitors' visa system led, not unnaturally, to an increase in the number of Asians and Africans arriving at our major airports, rightly fearful that the visa system would prevent them from visiting friends and family. That influx, of overwhelmingly short-term visitors, was used by the gutter press deliberately to inflame racial tension. Far from being visitors, they were made out to be a massive wave of permanent immigrants. They were victims of long delays, appalling overcrowding, rudeness and, on not a few occasions, open racism. They were made out to be the perpetrators of the chaotic scenes which shamed the country and its claim to be a civilised society.
At least this debate is taking place at a time of relative calm, when unemployment figures, scandalously high as they remain and doctored as they certainly have been., are in a period of slight decline.
The fact that the climate is in a better state than it was a year ago and during other major debates on immigration poses direct questions. Why should we vote money for a Bill which is based, according to the philosophy outlined in the Minister of State's reply on Second Reading, on the question of the number of immigrants in this country, when the number is falling? Why should we vote money for the Bill when guarantees that were given to Commonwealth citizens settled in the United Kingdom by 1973 with regard to the settlement of their wives and children are now 14 years old and the numbers so entitled must be declining sharply.
The Government claim that unemployment is falling and that our economy is better placed to face the future than almost any other economy in the world. If all that is true, why is the Bill necessary? Why is it necessary to take petty and vindictive steps against, according to the Government, a small number of people? The Bill arises not from any real change in circumstances with regard to immigration or from any extra economic pressures within British society or from any particular change in circumstances in the rest of the world. I can assume that it arises from the prejudices of the Home Office or from promises given to Tory conferences. The removal of section 1(5) of the 1971 Act is an attack upon the Bangladeshi community as the last numerically large group of immigrants to come to this country. Does it include the 9,000 people going through the system now. What will be their status?
With my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) I share one of the largest Bengali communities in our country. They suffer some of the worst conditions of any members of our society. They are made homeless in Tower Hamlets. They have been subject to terrible racial attacks in the Brick lane area. In Bradford a report recently produced shows that the Bengali citizens suffer some of the worst housing conditions of any section of the population. Some 75 per cent. of wives and 93 per cent. of children are covered by the provisions of the 1971 Act. Now, more people will suffer the arbitrary measures of primary purpose and the adequate means test.
The issue of polygamous marriages faces, perhaps alone now, the Bengali community. During the few short months in which I have been a Member of Parliament I have not had to deal with a case in which somebody has tried to bring in a second or third wife. However, I have experienced objections and obstructions from the Home Office against people attempting to bring one wife here because they made an appeal, perhaps five, 10 or more years ago, for another wife to be brought to this country.
I support my right hon. and hon. Friends in their opposition to the removal of the right to appeal. The Government call people involved in that issue "over-stayers". Some of them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said, may be seeking refugee status. The Home Office is putting a great deal of pressure on such people, despite the fact that Pakistan remains a dictatorship, and despite the obstruction to political parties in Pakistan, the fact that no general election has been called and that local elections have been interfered with. The Home Office is putting pressure on the people fleeing from that regime and coming to this country. Indeed, I have been involved in a case this week in which a political refugee from Pakistan was summoned to the Home Office. Such people, who had been given political refugee status in this country, are now told that it is all fairly normal and that they should go back. That pressure is beginning to build. If we allowed the Home Office to make decisions about appeals what would happen to the 55 Tamils whom I spoke about earlier? The courts found that 54 of them had the right to stay here, but the Minister said that none of them had such a right. One out of 55 is not a good record and if the people who wish to appeal will have to rely on this process it does not bode well for the future.
The Government refer to these people as overstayers. Some of us remember the British overstaying on the Indian sub-continent for 200 years. They did not require visas, and some of us remember that the primary purpose of that overstaying was to hold down the Indian sub-continent by force, to divide and rule and to exploit the natural resources and people of that country. That has also been the philosophy of Tory Governments towards the working-class people of Britain.
The Bill could have contained sensible proposals. It could have abolished primary purpose. I am sure that even in the immigration service—especially out in the substations—nobody believes in this arbitrary, Catch-22 system.
The Bill could have changed the support and accommodation rules. I do not know whether hon. Members will agree, but I seem to be permanently carrying letters from banks, building society statements and letters from employers saying so and so works for so much money. I do not know how many hours is spent on this nonsense, but it must be a drain on the economy. We are dealing with a money resolution and it seems that that is a waste of money.
I shall recall two simple cases that I have been dealing with recently, not by far the worst. The first relates to two brothers who live in adjacent houses. They are both quite comfortable, with nice houses and good jobs and they want to bring their parents, who are aged over 70, to this country. They have been told that they cannot do so because they are in receipt of pensions in Pakistan amounting to the magnificent sum of £700. Those elderly people cannot have children; they will not break up and remarry; they will not be a burden on the economy. Why has entry been refused?
In the spring I applied on behalf of an old man of nearly 90 who is blind and crippled with arthritis for a multi-entry visa. His son asked that it be done quickly so that the old man could visit in the summer because he could not stand the winter weather in Britain. He has no intention of staying here permanently; he has been here on 20 occasions in the past and he comes only for short visits. That 90-year-old man was told that he would have to travel 300 miles to be interviewed. How will he do that? That is the degrading treatment that these applicants are receiving. Finally, because he could not be dealt with through the immigration office in Islamabad, on the same basis that he would be looked after by the airlines, I managed to obtain the concession of a multi-entry visa. However, I applied on his behalf in the spring; the visa arrived in the autumn, by which time he could not make the visit because the weather was bad.
That sort of treatment, coupled with the visas for five nations arrangements and this Bill create a climate in which Asian people in my constituency feel that they are being treated like second-class citizens.
My predecessor as the hon. Member for Bradford, North said in a debate on the visas for the five countries that only 1 per cent. have been refused in India and only 2 per cent. in Pakistan. He said that, overall, less than 5 per cent. of people would be refused entry, yet my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West told us tonight that the figure is likely to be 20,000. My predecessor said that 95 per cent. of applicants would be dealt with in 48 hours. In Bradford visitors, especially if they are male, of marriageable age and not already married, have no chance of getting a visa to come here for a wedding within two months, let alone 48 hours.
Different rules apply to the people of Asian origin in my constituency. Nine million Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders have patrial rights which are denied to Africans, West Indians, Asians and other black citizens of the Commonwealth. In addition, 220 million Common Market citizens have rights denied to British citizens. Residents of the USA and South Africa can come here without visas, but people from the New Commonwealth have to get visas.
Added to that is the reality of economic hardship. In July 1986 only 30 per cent. of Bradford's school leavers had jobs. The figure for Asian children was less than 10 per cent. Asian and black workers suffer double the general unemployment level. They also suffer the problems caused by the tightening of the screw, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West said.
I should like to have talked about the history of the people brought here, of the numbers and the fact that half a million more have emigrated than have entered. The real problem of immigrants is the colour of their skin; it is not a question of numbers.
The Government claim that the economic position has improved, but in Bradford large-scale unemployment still exists. Pay is the lowest in Britain, and it is even lower for Asian workers. In Bradford 30 per cent. of schools were built before 1906 and they are still in use. In our city there are massive deficiencies in house improvements and renovation. It is one of the worst-treated cities in terms of urban aid and housing grants.
I oppose the Bill because it adds to the indignities and pressures on the 15 per cent. Asian community in my constituency. It is yet another move to divide the people. Far from being on the verge of economic upsurge, which would have made the Bill unnecessary, we are on the verge of a further recession which will make racism an even bigger weapon in the hands of the Conservatives. They have already used Mr. Honeyford and halal meat to distress the Asian and Jewish communities.
I stand for the unity of all working people against unemployment, poverty, bad housing and bad schools. In that struggle and the search for unity, we can have no truck with any form of racialism, so I ask the House not to vote money for this mean and squalid Bill.
The Secretary of State spoke of the need to eliminate every pointless bit of paper that we could get rid of, in order to minimise delay for others. It is good to see at this late hour so many Conservatives on the Government Benches, because they were not there this afternoon. They were not here earlier this evening—[HON. MEMBERS: "We were here. Where was the hon. Gentleman?"] They are more enthusiastic about the money than the measure. That must he a great comfort to the Minister.
We were told that we must get rid of every pointless bit of paper. Having heard the arguments for the Bill ad nauseum, having heard the contributions from the Conservative Benches, having seen the opening of the Pandora's Box that the Bill represents, having heard the racism that Conservatives express every time the topic is discussed, having seen the divisive nature of the Bill between black and white, this Bill is the pointless bit of paper that we should be getting rid of.