Members of Diplomatic Missions

New Clause – in the House of Commons at 9:47 pm on 4th May 1988.

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Lords amendment: No. 1, after clause 3, insert new clause: . At the beginning of subsection (3) of section 8 of the principal Act (exemption from immigration control for members of diplomatic missions etc) there shall be inserted the words "Subject to subsection (3A) below," and after that subsection there shall be inserted—(3A) In the case of a member of a mission other than a diplomatic agent (within the meaning of the said Act of 1964) subsection (3) above shall apply only if he enters or has entered the United Kingdom—

  1. (a) as a member of that mission; or
  2. (b) in order to take up a post as such a member which was offered to him before his arrival;
and references in that subsection to a member of a mission shall be construed accordingly.

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Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

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

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 3, in clause 11, page 5, line 31, after "3" insert "(Members of diplomatic missions)"

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

The third amendment depends on the first, and both are proposed by the Government.

The proposed amendment of section 8(3) of the 1971 Act seeks to improve the effectiveness of immigration control in relation to those who at present are granted exemption from the control by virtue of employment as a member of a mission. It has entered the lists at this late stage because the extent and nature of the problem have been identified only quite recently and the proposed solution has required careful consideration in consultation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Section 8(3) of the Immigration Act 1971 confers exemption from immigration control on all members of a mission within the meaning of the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964—together with members of the family forming part of the household. No distinction is drawn between the various categories of staff employed in foreign missions. Exemption is accorded to caretakers and drivers as well as to full diplomatic agents. More particularly, the exemption extends to all locally engaged staff—that is, someone who has come to this country for another purpose and then been taken into employment by a mission.

That leads to the rather curious state of affairs whereby locally engaged staff with no entitlement to any form of diplomatic immunity or privilege are, none the less, automatically accorded exemption from immigration control by virtue of section 8(3) of the 1971 Act.

The exemption places anyone employed as a member of a mission beyond the framework of control set out in the Immigration Act and the rules. This position is not satisfactory as it can be exploited by a number of people who would not otherwise qualify to remain in this country. That happens in a number of ways. At one end of the spectrum there are those who are here lawfully but whose conditions do not allow them to take employment—for example, people admitted initially as visitors or students, who then switch to employment with a mission when they no longer have any basis for remaining.

Then there are those who might be termed "prospective overstayers", who use missions as a safe haven. I have in mind those who are awaiting the outcome of an appeal against a refusal to extend their leave to remain. They may then seek to secure their position by taking employment with a mission in the knowledge that they cannot then be removed, even if the appeal is unsuccessful.

Finally, there are those who clearly have no basis under the rules for remaining in the United Kingdom. They include illegal entrants, those on temporary admission or overstayers themselves.

The numbers are not at all large. In 1986, 119 overstayers or illegal entrants took up employment that entitled them to exemption from immigration control, and a further 286 people, whose conditions of stay prohibited employment, had these conditions removed on the grounds of their exempt employment. The great majority of them were employed as members of missions. While the scale of the abuse is not great, so long as this method of evading removal remains, it is sadly inevitable that it will be exploited from time to time.

We are not concerned with those who are appointed as full diplomatic agents. We do not wish to intervene in that area, and that is not where the problems arise. The evidence of abuse is restricted to those in what are known as categories C and D employment with a mission—administrative and technical staff and those employed in the domestic service of the mission, such as drivers and caretakers.

The effect of the new clause will be that locally engaged staff in non-diplomatic posts and their families will no longer be exempt from immigration control. Missions will be able to continue to employ locally engaged staff in those categories if their immigration status enables them to take that employment. It may also be possible for others to be employed in those categories, but only if the mission notifies the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of their appointment in accordance with the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office needs to be satisfied that the individual is in bona fide employment and thus entitled to immunities and privileges. Where those requirements are met, the mission may be allowed to take on locally engaged staff in those categories. However, if it does, those members of the mission will be subject to immigration control. Furthermore, in accordance with the Vienna convention, the mission will be required to notify the appointment of the individual and the termination of his appointment. Those changes will improve the effectiveness of our control procedures.

Nothing in the proposed amendment resiles from the United Kingdom's commitment as a signatory to the Vienna convention. Our approach is not inconsistent with that adopted by other countries to the employment of locally engaged staff in our missions abroad. On the contrary, the proposed amendment simply puts into practice the advice already given to missions by the Vice Marshall of the Diplomatic Corps that they should not employ persons who would not otherwise be permitted to work in the United Kingdom. Equally, the proposed amendment will not apply retrospectively. Those already employed by a mission will retain their exemption from immigration control while they remain in that capacity.

The new arrangements will be fully explained to missions before the amendments come into effect. The proposed consequential amendment to clause 11 would simply provide the amendment to section 8(3) to be brought into effect by means of a commencement order.

I commend the amendments to the House.

Photo of Mr Stuart Randall Mr Stuart Randall , Kingston upon Hull West

It is interesting to note that, at this stage in the passage of the legislation through both Houses, we are now raking up this type of amendment. I find it interesting that the Minister says that the Government have only now identified this problem. I get the impression that this is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Certainly the Minister has not impressed on me the need for the amendments. He has not explained the extent of the problem to which he has referred and which has resulted in the amendments being tabled in another place and accepted by the Government.

If there is abuse we would have no truck with it. I notice that the Minister giggles. When we were in Committee the Minister used to become insulting, rude and—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Conservative Members know that every time the Minister was on the ropes in Committee he behaved in that way. It is interesting that, after all these weeks, we get such giggles from the Minister when we again debate immigration.

The Minister should explain in more detail the scale of the problem. In which embassies and missions has this abuse been perceived to have taken place? Exactly how did he come across this problem? How was it perceived? What agencies were used to find out about this? Were the police involved or was it just the immigration service? The House must be clear that there is a need for this information. I have made it clear that I would not in any way support any abuse of diplomatic immunities or the breaking of the law. There is no dispute about that. We are trying to obtain from the Minister what was miserably lacking in his speech. We have no insight into the matter.

I would welcome any Conservative Member standing up and explaining in detail the nature of the problem. I am willing to give way, but no hon. Member stands up because nobody understands the detail of the problem. The Minister must give us more information about which countries are involved and how the problems were identified. We need to know the nature of the abuse and who was doing the abusing. Was it the drivers, the cleaners or people who had failed on an appeal process or who had an appeal outstanding? We need to know more if we are not to divide the House on the amendments.

Photo of Mr Stuart Randall Mr Stuart Randall , Kingston upon Hull West

I think that it would be valuable to the House if the Minister explained in more detail what is happening in other countries.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

In the unreal world, when the hon. Gentleman might be responsible for immigration law in this country, what would he do, if he discovered that 119 people would have deliberately defrauded international law, if it were not for this clause? If he discovered that a further 280 people had abused or were about to abuse the privileges of international diplomatic immunity, would he have acted in the way that the Minister acted or would he ignore it, because 400 people are too few?

Photo of Mr Stuart Randall Mr Stuart Randall , Kingston upon Hull West

The hon. Member has come up with some statistics—[HON. MEMBERS: "You asked for them".] Hon. Members are baying for an answer and I shall give them an answer, as I always do. The hon. Member has come up with those statistics, and I do not know whether they are just made up. The hon. Member knows much about these matters, because he is a member of the Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. [HON. MEMBERS: "He was".] He was. I do not know why he left. He was a member of the Select Committee and he has studied these matters. He has come up with figures which are revealing. Are they authentic or are they made up? If they are authentic, the hon. Gentleman seems to have given the House much more information about the matter than the Minister has. That is the sort of detail that we all want.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz , Leicester East

My hon. Friend mentioned the figures given by the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). Does he recall that, in Committee, when reference was made by the Government in clause 4 to the seven-year limit, the hon. Gentleman volunteered the information that that was the limit that had been adhered to in the Limitation Act 1963? That is another example to show that figures and statistics are being made up by the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes, and are being misused in this way.

Photo of Mr Stuart Randall Mr Stuart Randall , Kingston upon Hull West

I do not know whether the figures are authentic, but I will give way to the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

The hon. Member may have done the same research as I have to find the figures, but that is irrelevant. I am certain that that would not have happened, as the hon. Gentleman's research is painfully shallow. I asked the hon. Gentleman questions. I asked how, if those figures were the truth, he would have acted when confronted with that information. Will the hon. Gentleman have the courage and decency to answer my questions and not prevaricate?

Photo of Mr Stuart Randall Mr Stuart Randall , Kingston upon Hull West 10:15 pm, 4th May 1988

The hon. Gentleman is obviously suggesting that his figures are untrue. When we all read Hansard avidly tomorrow, we shall realise that the hon. Gentleman is playing with words and that he does not believe that those figures are true.

I shall answer the question. I have already said twice that, if there were abuse on a large scale, Labour Members would have no truck with the breaking of the law and the abuse of diplomatic missions. Perhaps the Minister will confirm the figures of 119 and 280. I am not walking into a trap. The hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes is grinning away. I know his tricks, but if there is large-scale abuse, we must take measures to prevent it. The Minister has failed to convince me that there is abuse on a large scale. He told the House clearly that he tumbled upon the fact. It is a new phenomenon for him. He said that the problem has only recently been identified.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

We have become accustomed to the hon. Gentleman assuming the dormouse position in Committee, but he appears to have been singularly sleepy a few moments ago when my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) quoted the figures that I gave in my opening remarks. I said that the hon. Gentleman was asleep and I repeat that, in 1986, 119 overstayers or illegal entrants took up employment which entitled them to exemption from immigration control and a further 286 people whose conditions of stay prohibited employment had those conditions been removed on the ground of their exempt employment. My hon. Friend, with his mastery of mathematics, added up those figures and came to the figure of 400. That is precisely the figure that I quoted, but, once again, the hon. Gentleman was thinking so hard about what he could say to oppose this sensible amendment that he just was not listening.

Photo of Mr Stuart Randall Mr Stuart Randall , Kingston upon Hull West

The Minister and his hon. Friend have got the matter completely back to front. The Minister knows that to be so, because, on the one hand, he talks about figures for 1986 and, on the other hand, he talks about the new phenomenon. He cannot have it both ways. He either perceived the problem in 1986 or he has just perceived it. If I were in his position, I would explain when the problem was first perceived and mention the number of cases identified each year so that we could be clear about whether the problem was growing, diminishing or remaining stable. What kind of people were involved? The Minister has given us nothing tonight and, as usual, the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes has put the cart before the horse and muddled both the House and himself.

I shall not spend much time on this, but we want clarification. The Minister has not justified the need for legislation to deal with the problem. Certainly, the figures that he has given have not shown us the extent of the problem. Will he tell us what forms of abuse he found? If it is a new phenomenon, what other nasties did he find under the stone?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz , Leicester East

I take up my hon. Friend's comment about nasty things being hidden beneath the stones. It is refreshing to see the Minister of State in his place, and perhaps he will tell us something about the unopened letters at Lunar house. We hear his dulcet tones on "The World at One", but it would be more helpful if he made a statement on the current position at Lunar house.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. Before the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) is tempted to follow that road, I wish to make it clear that I find it difficult to associate Lunar house with the amendment.

Photo of Mr Stuart Randall Mr Stuart Randall , Kingston upon Hull West

Though tempted, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I accept your ruling and shall not follow the path that has been put before me by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). I merely say in passing that the new clause makes clear reference to the documentation that is necessary for those seeking admission who have the right of abode. I think that my hon. Friend is suggesting that some of the documents that might be needed for admission might be caught in the administrative mess that the Minister has created both at Lunar house and Petty France. I shall take the point no further than that.

The Opposition are unhappy with the Minister's performance. He has failed to convince us of the need for change. He has failed to tell us about scale and he has failed to get the numbers right. I wish that he would give us a thorough and clear explanation that would give us the sense of conviction to vote for the amendment.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

If I permitted myself a smile during the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) it was because I am normally a cheerful fellow, and because of the hon. Gentleman's remark that if there was abuse in the immigration procedures the Opposition would wish to put a stop to it.

Anyone who served on the Committee which considered the Bill would know well that when we were discussing clause 5 and seeking to make overstaying a continuous criminal offence, as it was originally intended to be in the 1962 legislation, the Opposition were against us closing the door on this evident abuse of immigration control. Those who overstay their permission to be in this country are consciously or knowingly breaking the conditions under which they were permitted to enter. It is therefore only logical that overstaying should be a continuous offence, yet constantly the Opposition argued against that in Committee. Against that background the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West had the gall to say that if there was abuse of immigration procedures the Opposition would be against it. That is a statement of such hypocrisy that it is not surprising that I broke into a slight smile.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott , Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Does the Minister agree that it is rather unfair to accuse my right hon. and hon. Friends and me of being against any sanction for abuse of immigration legislation? Surely he is aware that there are good administrative sanctions against overstayers that operate every day of the week and every week of the year, as I have reason to know. We know that adminstrative sanctions exist and we have never argued against them. We have argued against double jeopardy.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

This issue arose many times in Committee. It was explained many times to the hon. Lady that there is a need for criminal procedures as well as administrative procedures and that the original intention was that overstaying should be a continuous offence. We explained also that it was our intention to bring it into that position again.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West has the beguiling characteristic of being able to turn a silk purse into a sow's ear. I presented an amendment to the House, which was approved in another place without a Division, to the effect that we should plug this minor gap in relation to those in non-diplomatic positions employed by embassies who find themselves outwith immigration controls as a result of taking up that employment. I should have thought that that was a fairly simple proposition on which hon. Members on both sides of the House could agree.

However, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West got himself into a great tangle over the figures. Are they too big or two small? I made it abundantly clear that the figure that we were talking about from the 1986 statistics was about 400. We did not learn from the hon,. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West whether he would support a figure of 600 or whether he would not support a figure of 200. He owes the House an explanation about that.

I quoted the figure and evidently the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West did not listen. What is wrong with the figure? Is it not large enough? Would he like a bigger figure or would he like a smaller one? Will the hon. Gentleman tell us? [Interruption.] Obviously, he will not. He is also permitting himself a little giggle, and perhaps that is not a bad thing.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

I will give way to the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) because I have already given way to the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott).

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng , Brent South

Over the months of discussion about this Bill, has it not sunk in that the Opposition's objection to this clause and to many others that the Government have presented is directed not simply to the clause but to the fact that the clause is an unpleasant little accretion on an already monstrous edifice of injustice? That is what we object to. That should surely have sunk in amidst all the suavity and charm.

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng , Brent South

Yes, charm of a somewhat jaded and lethargic kind, but charm none the less. Has not our true objection to this nasty, sordid little measure sunk in?

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Brent, South was not a member of the Committee. I am sure that his hon. Friends could have made use of his expertise and wisdom because those qualities were at times sadly lacking on the Opposition Benches in Committee. He might have added something to their deliberations.

If the hon. Member for Brent, South is seriously suggesting that, having become conscious of the ability of those who came to this country as visitors subsequently to obtain employment when they were not permitted to do so —for example, as a driver or gardener in a diplomatic mission—and therefore be outwith immigration control, and, having perceived that gap in the rules, we should do nothing about it, he is making a very odd case. I should have thought that there was a general acceptance that we should do something about that omission once it had come to our attention. After detailed consultation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that is precisely what we are doing tonight.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West asked which mission had been involved. The problem has arisen in several cases. It would not be helpful to identify any particular mission as a major offender, but if he wants to continue to pursue that point with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, he might like to do that in detailed and private conversations.

I have already explained that exempt employment had been exploited by overstayers, illegal immigrants, and prospective overstayers, including students and visitors, whose immigration conditions preclude employment. Having detected that, it is only right to put an end to that practice, as we are doing tonight.

As it stands, section 8(3) of the Immigration Act 1971 provides for all members of a mission to be exempt from immigration control in a way that is not demanded by the terms of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations. There is evidence that that form of employment has been exploited by those who would otherwise have no basis for remaining in this country. So long as this potential abuse remains, it is likely to be exploited in future. For that reason, we are taking this opportunity to improve the effectiveness of our immigration control arrangements in that regard.

I commend the amendments to the House, and I find it hard to believe that the Opposition will vote against them.

Question put and agreed to