Immigration (Port of Entry) (Amendment)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 18th January 2000.

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Conservative, Canterbury 3:35 pm, 18th January 2000

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend entry requirements at air and sea ports to provide three channels of entry, one for European Union citizens, one for subjects of Her Majesty and Her successors and one for others; and for connected purposes. I seek to introduce the measure to draw attention to an old injustice. I am grateful for the support that I have received on it from hon. Members on both sides. The countries of the inner Commonwealth, those who recognise Queen Elizabeth as their head of state, are, on the whole, those with the closest ties of kinship with this country. A high proportion of the population of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many Caribbean countries have close relatives in this country.

The present immigration arrangements at our airports baldly reflect the law. What used to be the old British channel has been replaced by the British and EU channel, while everyone else is funnelled through the second—the "others"—channel. That reflects the legal reality of the EU, but there is more to life than legal and economic relationships.

In that frightening moment in 1940 after France had fallen, when Winston Churchill said that civilisation itself lay in the balance, this country did not stand alone. Those countries stood with us. We owe them a colossal debt. For example, a higher proportion of Australians and New Zealanders died in the two world wars than British citizens. Montgomery said that the fighting spirit of the Australian 9th division was an example to the whole 8th army.

Today, many men and women who were comrades of those who died are still alive. As one Canadian journalist put it to me, his father-in-law fought all the way through the second world war as a pilot, yet he will have to go through the "others" channel if he visits this country, while the Luftwaffe pilot, bless his heart—I mean him no ill—would come through the home channel for British and EU citizens. The Commonwealth division also fought with great distinction in Korea.

That may seem like ancient history, but it occurred within the lifetimes of some hon. Members who are currently in the House. Much more recently, Australia and Canada were among the first countries to declare their support in both the 1990 Gulf war and the 1998 Gulf crisis. In the Falklands war, New Zealand lent us one of its warships. Whatever one may think of the Kosovo operation, New Zealand was the only country outside NATO to provide troops in support, while Canada provided the fourth largest number of pilots flying missions.

Every time the ties of blood, language, loyalty and affection are raised in the House, people talk about changes in economic relationships. There has indeed been quite a big change in economic relationships: for example, those with New Zealand have changed since the butter agreement was phased out, which had an adverse affect on its economy. The same point could be made about many Caribbean countries as regards the Commonwealth sugar agreement; but Canada and Australia own a much bigger part of this country's industry than do most of our EU partners. We are the second biggest investor in both those countries. Surely, however, there is far more to life than economics. When the chips are down, again and again, we have found that shared ties of blood, values and heritage count for more.

We enjoy the same legal system. Indeed, many Caribbean countries are still plugged into our legal system. We all speak the same language, except the important French-speaking community in Quebec; but what is arguably one of its most important symbols, the Vingt Douze regiment, selected the Queen as its honorary colonel-in-chief.

I remember, some years ago, making my way through a huge crowd of holidaymakers in Cairns—it is now a favourite holiday spot for surfers—and seeing, in a prominent place, a war memorial that, if I remember rightly, started with the words, From this distant outpost the following gave their lives…". I asked myself what made those men and women from Cairns—people such as my great-uncle, who came over from Perth, or like a cousin from Canada, who was in a Scottish-Canadian regiment—come such a long way to share in a cause that they could so easily have shirked. I realised that the ties of kinship and values do matter.

I am not proposing a great legal change to the rights of entry, but only suggesting that, as a gesture of welcome, we should establish a third channel in our principal airports, so that residents of countries that recognise the Queen as head of state have a fast channel of their own. Given the sacrifices of so many Indian soldiers in two world wars—my grandfather served in the Indian army in the first world war—I should love to extend provision of such a channel to the Commonwealth generally, but doing so would create very considerable problems both with asylum legislation and with the difficult position of certain countries vis-a-vis the Commonwealth, including Pakistan. For the moment, therefore, I am arguing only for countries that recognise our Queen as head of state.

All those generations ago, Benjamin Disraeli said that symbols play such a big role in the imagination of our people, and that the monarchy was the most important of those symbols. As they come to our airports and seaports, let us give a warm welcome to citizens of countries that share that pre-eminent symbol, with all that it represents, by giving them an entry channel of their own.

I am grateful for the support that I have received from both sides of the House in promoting the Bill. I now ask the House to support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Julian Brazier, Mr. Charles Wardle, Mr. Ken Maginnis, Mr. Joe Ashton, Sir Teddy Taylor, Mr. Gerald Bermingham, Mrs. Ann Winterton, Mr. Crispin Blunt, Mr. Owen Paterson and Mr. Andrew Robathan.