I have received a few representations from Opposition Members since my right hon. Friend's announcement on 16 November during the Second Reading debate on the Immigration Bill. We believe that many hon. Members find the present arrangements unsatisfactory. We are therefore seeking a new arrangement which would provide a better service to hon. Members and their constituents. I hope within some weeks to put forward proposals for change, on which right hon. and hon. Members will, of course, have the opportunity to comment.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he realise that the right of MPs to intervene in such cases represents the last appeal for many families wishing to be reunited in this country? Hon. Members on both sides of the House, including me, have brought justice to individuals who have every right to enter this country.
Yes, of course I understand that, but it is precisely to provide a better service for MPs and thus for their constituents that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I are examining the possibility of bringing new proposals to the House. I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are two sides to the coin. In answer to his letter of 14 October we have twice asked for further particulars—on 6 November and 11 February—so that we can trace the case. So far, the hon. Gentleman has not replied.
When I was a member of the Home Affairs Committee I visited Lunar house and the ministerial correspondence unit at Harmondsworth. It became clear to me that, with more than 12,000 letters received by the Minister last year, he is being overburdened with unnecessary correspondence from hon. Members. Is it not inherent in hon. Members' responsibilities that they should not act merely as a filing tray or rubber stamp, but should consider carefully applications on immigration cases—particularly before they write to the Minister on routine matters?
I thank my hon. Friend and recognise his expertise in these matters. I would say seriously that if we can reduce the casework backlog at Lunar house it will help MPs, because they will have fewer representations from constituents wondering what has happened to their cases.
As there are 200,000 items of unopened mail at Lunar house, is it not undesirable that Members of Parliament should be made to deal with Croydon and face delays? Will the Minister tell the House that he will go out into the cities and provinces to speak to organisations that deal with immigration before he puts any proposals on this issue before the House?
The hon. Gentleman has already done enough damage to Lunar house by arriving 45 minutes late on Monday last week for a meeting there which he had asked me to arrange. No sooner had he left Lunar house than he was running to the national newspapers to tell them about difficulties there. I shall not anticipate the details of the proposals that we shall put before the House, the aim of which is to provide a better service for Members of Parliament, including the hon. Gentleman.
Is my hon. Friend aware that constituents of mine are most grateful to him for the able and considerate way in which he has responded to their problems and exercised his discretion?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the staff at Lunar house, who have to cope with literally hundred; of thousands of pieces of correspondence every year.
We look forward to the Minister's proposals for improving services to MPs. However, may I make it absolutely clear to him that MPs guard their rights jealously and that if those rights are weakened it will be immigrants who will lose, rather than MPs? Will the Minister be increasing the number of staff and the building space at Lunar house as part of the review to make sure that adequte services are provided to MPs?
I have many powers, but it is beyond me to increase the building space at Lunar house. The building is there and I cannot increase its size.
The Labour party must stop facing in two directions at once on this issue. Opposition Members cannot lecture us about the delays at Lunar house and, at the same time, vote against the changes that we introduced three weeks ago to remove 40,000 cases a year from Lunar house. That is sheer hypocrisy.
That is obviously correct. Of course we shall preserve the rights of Members of Parliament, but we wish to arrive at a better procedure to enable everyone—Members of Parliament, Ministers and Lunar house—to concentrate on the really urgent, difficult and, at times, desperate cases.