Visas

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1990.

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Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson 12:00 am, 9th May 1990

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has received concerning delays in the processing of visa applications at United Kingdom high commissions and embassies.

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington , Clydebank and Milngavie

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has received concerning the procedure for processing visa applications at United Kingdom embassies and high commissions.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

We receive a number of representations, both from hon. Members and from the public, about entry clearance procedures and delays at our embassies and high commissions.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson

Will the Minister give the House some assurance that Government policy will be changed soon to ensure that people who are applying for visas to this country are treated in a humane way rather than a squalid one and are not subject to the delays in which many representations have said the present policy results? Such practices do the British Government and the British people no credit and I hope that the Minister will ensure that the current situation is not allowed to continue.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

I can assure the hon. Lady that we keep our systems, procedures and facilities under constant review. I look into any complaints about individual cases that are brought to us. If the hon. Lady has any, perhaps she could let me know so that I can have them investigated.

We strive to treat the different categories of visa applicants on a different and fair basis. The House may be aware that the vast majority of visit visa applications in the Indian sub-continent are dealt with within 24 hours, but settlement visa applications obviously require a longer procedure and more inquiries.

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington , Clydebank and Milngavie

Is not it obvious to the Minister that something more needs to be done, as the complaints are always from black countries rather than white ones? The Government should get rid of the suspicion that their immigration policy, either operated at Lunar house in this country or at their overseas embassies, seeks to ration applications and treats unfairly those applications from members of the black Commonwealth. Something more active needs to be done than what the Government are now proposing.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

I totally reject the suggestion that then is some discrimination on grounds of colour in our visa policy. We get complaints about delays and the procedures from many countries, including eastern European ones. It is not without significance that the total number in the queue awaiting interview at the end of 1979 was 42,800 whereas now it is 7,104.

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

Was not it the Labour party that gave two amnesties to illegal immigrants? Was not it this Government who promised firm but fair immigration controls? When issuing visas for visiting the United Kingdom, we must take great care and that means taking time. Sometimes it is understandable that such care meant taking time at our embassies.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

On that matter, as on many others, my hon. Friend is entirely correct when he states the Opposition's policy. In the case of applications for settlement in this country, we need to make certain inquiries, and if we are to do that fairly, a little time required. Equally, we seek to deal with all applications for visit visas as quickly as possible, and the greatest number of those are dealt with within 24 hours.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell , Daventry

Bearing in mind the recent events in eastern Europe and the large number of people who will want to travel from there either for holidays or for working holidays, will my hon. Friend keep in mind the possibility of relaxing the visa provisions so that, apart from anything else, we do not build up large quantities of unconvertible foreign currencies to match the visa applications that are extremely expensive for the applicant?

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

We keep the possibility of relaxation under constant review and we have just agreed, under a European Community initiative, that we are prepared to negotiate a visa abolition agreement with the German Democratic Republic. We are responding to the increasing demand from eastern Europe wherever possible by allocating increased resources for the visa-issuing procedures in those countries.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

But does not the Minister accept that there is widespread and genuine concern both in the House and beyond about the confusion, overcrowding, long waits and delays that many hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on his recent visit to India, have experienced? They have seen the queues, the confusion and the unfortunate circumstances in which people have to queue. Instead of dealing with this in an ad hoc way, as the Minister implied in his earlier reply to my hon. Friends, would he seriously consider initiating a special and systematic review of the staff complements and procedures in our embassies and high commissions for dealing with the problem, to see if we can alleviate it and treat people in the civilised manner they deserve?

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

I hope that the hon. Member will appreciate that there are substantially fewer people queueing now than 10 years ago and delay times are substantially less than they were a year or two ago. I do not think that a review at any one moment is a sensible way forward, because we wish to allocate resources to meet requirements that change from time to time, even from month to month, and vary between different countries and different posts in the same country. Therefore, we believe that the best way forward is to keep under constant review the queue lengths, number of applicants and resources we have, particularly of manpower, at each post.