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Column 467

Wilkinson, John

Wilshire, David

Winterton, Mrs Ann

Winterton, Nicholas

Wood, Timothy

Yeo, Tim

Younger, Rt Hon George

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Tony Durant and

Mr. David Lightbown.

Question accordingly negatived.



That during the proceedings on the matter of the first year of the Valleys Programme the Welsh Grand Committee have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it shall meet, and that, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 88 (Meetings of standing committees), the second such sitting shall not commence before Four o'clock nor continue after the Committee has considered the matter for two hours at the sitting.-- [Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]

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DNA Testing

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]

12.18 am

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Home Office watchers, especially those of us who are closely involved in immigration and nationality matters, never cease to be amazed at the breathtaking arrogance of successive Home Secretaries or at the sustained efforts of their senior officials to manage and manipulate the House and the national news media. But the propensity of Home Secretaries to try to mislead the House at the behest of senior officials has been revealed this week in precise detail. That the issue at the heart of this attempted Home Office deception concerns DNA testing and the immigration rules is all part of a pattern of events concerning immigration and nationality which has unfolded since 1979.

The Government, in concert with senior Home Office officials, have carefully planned and introduced a series of laws, rules, regulations and procedures which, in total, now mean that many black and Asian people find it extremely difficult--even when they have clear rights to live in this country--to enter the United Kingdom, and in recent years even to visit relatives and friends in this country. The Government's "firm and fair" immigration policy is a euphemism for racist laws which discriminate on the basis of race and colour and against those who suffer the dual misfortune of being black or Asian and poor.

I accuse the Government of trying to mislead the House about a centrally organised DNA testing scheme. Last week, when announcing such a scheme, the Home Secretary said that decisions about how the scheme was to be funded had not been reached. However, a Home Office document, written by the head of the immigration and nationality department, Mr. G. N. Stadlen, makes it clear that a decision on funding has been reached. Indeed, it makes it clear that an increase in entry clearance fees will be introduced on 1 November. It is also clear, from this document and from a draft letter to the Lord President from the Home Secretary, that the Home Secretary has been and is plotting to deny the House any opportunity to debate either the principle of raising entry clearance fees, which are now £60 per person, to fund a centrally organised DNA testing scheme, or, indeed, to debate and discuss the detail of any such increase.

Last night the Government deliberately arranged a debate to discuss DNA testing and changes in the immigration rules together so as to avoid--I quote from the Home Office documents which were leaked thisweek--

"two separate rows about immigration issues in quick succession." As is also clear from the draft letter and from Mr. Stadlen's document, the Home Secretary had planned the controversial DNA announcement with the immigration rule changes to "divert some attention" from the absence of any further provisions or promises for the people of Hong Kong.

I believe that all my right hon. and hon. Friends will agree that last night's debate on DNA testing and the immigration rule changes was a shambolic farce. Many hon. Members who wished to participate in that debate

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had no opportunity to do so and the Minister, who happily is with us again tonight, was left with fewer than 10 minutes to reply to the many questions put to him by hon. Members from all parts of the House.

The Minister said that he would speak about DNA testing in reply to this Adjournment debate. I have many expectations of Adjournment debates, but never before have I witnessed a Minister from a Department which had deliberately contrived to arrange a debate to discuss two issues--DNA testing and the immigration rule changes--tell the House that as he did not have time to talk about DNA testing he would make a statement on it in an Adjournment debate the following evening.

In reply to questions from journalists today, the Home Office has made it clear that the Minister of State will say little about DNA testing tonight, so I am left with no alternative but to believe that the Home Secretary's attempt seriously to mislead the House of Commons has backfired badly. We are left with the Minister of State who, despite all his considerable powers of bluff and bluster, which were fully deployed last night, cannot conceal the Government's embarrassment. He has been left with egg all over his face as a result of the Home Secretary's and the Home Office's attempt to mislead the House of Commons and to arrange the business of the House for their convenience.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. On previous occasions Mr. Speaker has made it clear that hon. Members must not accuse Ministers of deliberately seeking to mislead the House. That is a reflection on their integrity and honour. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw that accusation.

Mr. Madden : In a moment I shall quote extensively from the document to which I have already referred. Any objective view of that document can only lead one to the inevitable conclusion that the Home Secretary, in concert with other senior Ministers, was actively seeking to mislead the House of Commons.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I have told the hon. Gentleman that Mr. Speaker will not tolerate remarks in the House which reflect on the integrity of hon. Members, whether they be Ministers or otherwise. The hon. Gentleman may well adduce his evidence and leave it for the House to draw its own conclusions, but he must not make that allegation. He must withdraw it.

Mr. Madden : I shall gladly do that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister of State and his officials should now do what they should have done at the start and make a statement on DNA testing and the centrally organised DNA testing scheme that the Government wish to announce. They should follow that statement with a full debate in the House--I would not dare to say during daylight hours, but at a reasonable hour. Last night we had a non-debate on DNA and a short debate on immigration rule changes in the early hours of the morning, and tonight this debate is taking place well after midnight. I hope that the Minister of State will readily accept my suggestion, because it would enable the Home Secretary to give full and accurate information about a centrally organised DNA testing scheme which is vital to divided families who desperately want to be reunited in Britain. It

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would enable all those hon. Members who have many questions to ask about how the scheme will be funded and operated to put those questions with a reasonable expectation of receiving full and accurate replies.

I quote briefly from the draft letter to the Lord President of the Council for signature by the Home Secretary, which is annex A to the document written by Mr. Stadlen and discusses the timing of last Wednesday's written answer to a parliamentary question on DNA testing. It says :

"I have considered carefully whether there are countervailing Hong Kong factors which justify postponement. My conclusion is that postponement would, if anything, increase speculation on that score rather than diminish it : it will be better to proceed on the basis of business as usual' for immediate purposes explaining as necessary that any Hong Kong proposals will be forthcoming separately. Since I shall, with H colleagues' approval, be simultaneously making a possible controversial announcement about the use of DNA in immigration cases, it could well be that that will divert some attention.

I have however removed from the new Rules a measure to increase to £200,000 the minimum sum of £150,000 at present required for entry as a businessman or person of independent means. The current sum has been widely mentioned in recent days in the Hong Kong context, and increasing it now could undermine our current Hong Kong policy. I attach a copy of the Written Answer and Press Release which have been prepared for the announcement. Our officials have already been in touch about the timing of a debate on the Rules. At that stage, too, it will be very important to consider the Hong Kong dimension and I will, of course, be keeping in close touch with the Foreign Secretary for that purpose.

I am sending copies of this letter to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry, for Employment, for Education and Science, and to Sir Robin Butler." The memorandum from Mr. Stadlen, referring to the timing of last Wednesday's announcement, states in part :

"postponement would arouse expectations which we cannot at this stage be sure of meeting, leading to possible presentational problems later on. Proceeding with the rules now, by contrast, enables us to say that they have been in the pipe line for sometime and are being introduced without prejudice to the outcome of the consideration being given to the position of the people of Hong Kong."

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton) : I was under the impression that the hon. Gentleman wanted to talk about DNA. So far he has wasted 13 of the 30 minutes allocated to an Adjournment debate quoting a leaked Home Office document that has very little to do with DNA. Shall we be given a chance to discuss DNA tonight, or is the hon. Gentleman's intention once again frivolously to waste the time of the House, as he did last night?

Mr. Madden : I hoped to discuss DNA testing last night. I hoped for an opportunity to ask questions about it after the statement that I had presumed would be made last week, and in a debate in Government time at a reasonable hour. As this is my debate, I shall deploy my arguments and make my speech in my own way. The Minister must contain himself, but if he is so anxious to debate DNA, I hope that he will join me in persuading his right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House to provide time for a full debate on DNA testing.

The memorandum makes it clear that the immigration rules are not being changed to allow the amount required of business people to be increased to £200,000 because of the Hong Kong dimension. It adds that a later date of laying would enable the Home Secretary

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"to develop a defensive line or outline proposals on Hong Kong before the debate. But the Home Secretary's decision to proceed with the rules changes is premised on our ability to present them as a matter quite separate from Hong Kong, and on the desirability of disposing of the debate before the Government comes under pressure to announce its conclusion. Accordingly, I recommend that the rules be laid on Wednesday."

A section entitled "Handling the announcement" contains the statement :

"The press will now be looking out for the rules changes. I propose therefore that we publish them on the same day as laying, to put us in a position to respond promptly to enquiries and press reports." In another headed "The debate" there is the comment :

"Because the consolidated rules cover the whole of immigration control, the debate will be wide ranging and we shall prepare briefing accordingly. Mr. Renton will speak at the end. B2 are putting together a draft speech to cover the main rules changes (visas for Turkey and Haiti, students sex discrimination), Hong Kong (briefly) and DNA".

The document goes on to deal with the Government's DNA scheme, which is a serious matter :

"It does not indicate how the scheme will be financed, beyond reiterating that the cost will not be met by the taxpayer. The intention is to make a separate announcement on the funding arrangements shortly before the scheme comes into effect, to avoid a rush of applications aimed at beating the associated increase in the settlement fee.

Although no part of the DNA proposals involves changes in the rules, it is certain that the Opposition and the lobby will use the opportunity offered by the rules changes to argue the case for over-age reapplicants. Consequently we see advantage in combining the two announcements, thus avoiding two separate rows about immigration issues in quick succession."

And so it goes on, in much the same vein.

I know that the Minister is anxious to discuss DNA. May I, therefore, put six questions to him--very quickly--which I very much hope that he will try to answer either tonight or in the debate that I hope we shall be allowed shortly?

First, by how much will entry fees increase on 1 November, as foreshadowed in the internal Home Office document? Secondly, will applicants be required to pay anything for undertaking DNA tests? Thirdly, will there be a flat- rate increase in entry clearance, or a variable increase? Fourthly, what are the projected public expenditure savings to the Home Office and appellate authorities? Incidentally, I put down two questions for answer today--to the Home Office and Foreign Office--seeking that information, and have as yet received no reply. That is not surprising ; obviously the Minister will be falling over himself to give the information tonight. Fifthly, will the Minister publish full financial details of the operation of entry clearance, bearing in mind that the total cost of an entry clearance officer was given in 1986 as £100,000? Sixthly, will he give a firm assurance that so-called "over-age children" who confirm their application to join their families here by positive DNA tests will be treated sympathetically? Like many other people, I feel that it would be a tragedy if the position set out in the internal Home Office document were translated into reality.

I believe that the way in which the Home Office has sought to deal with the matter raises serious issues. I do not think that anyone who gives a fair and objective interpretation to the Home Office document or to the way

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in which the Government have sought to orchestrate the announcement of the matter--in my view, there has been a deliberate attempt to mislead and conceal--can feel anything other than grave concern. This is a crucial matter, to which many divided families have been looking forward for many years. I believe that they deserve better treatment than they have been given by the Home Office and the Government. I hope that the Minister of State will do what he did not do last night and give some clear and full information about the way in which the scheme is to be operated.

12.37 am

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton) : I have rarely known such an abuse of the procedures of the House as we have just heard from the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). He spoke for 17 of the 30 minutes allocated to an Adjournment debate, simply quoting from a leaked Home Office document which, while it certainly bears on DNA, has very little relevance to it.

In his final remarks the hon. Gentleman described DNA as "a crucially important matter", yet in the rest of his speech he went out of his way to show that his only interest in the subject was to stir up political trouble. He has no real interest in it ; if he had, he would have given me time to answer serious questions rather than try to stir a political pot. He talks as though he is simply--in his own words--out to frighten the black, the Asian and the poor. Why this contemptible attitude? Is the hon. Gentleman so frightened of his own position in his constituency that that is all that he can do? At the end of last night's debate I had only seven minutes in which to answer, rather than the 15 for which I had asked. Why? Because the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) went on and on talking. When I rose to reply I was constantly interrupted by points of order, not least by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), the shadow Leader of the House, who said that I was speaking for the second time in the debate when I had not even spoken for the first time. It showed an extraordinary lack of knowledge of what was happening in the House. By his contempt of the House, the hon. Member for Bradford, West has shown that his only interest in the matter is just to try to stir up a bit of political trouble. I feel sorry for his constituents if that is the only service that they can get from him.

I return to the ludicrous charge by the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary misled the House about charging for DNA tests. There is no question of that whatsoever. We made it clear from the outset that any DNA scheme will not be funded out of taxpayers' money. Our policy is that the cost of the entry clearance process should be met by the applicants themselves rather than by the taxpayer. I see no reason why the costs of DNA tests should be treated any differently.

We recognise, of course, that the tests are expensive, particularly where several members of the same family are applying. With this in mind, my right hon. Friend made it clear last week that

"The level of the fee to be charged for"


"applications will need to strike a balance between not imposing too great a burden either on the individual applicant or on the taxpayer."--[ Official Report, 14 June 1989 ; Vol. 154, c. 464. ]

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If, for one moment, the hon. Member for Bradford, West would unblock his ears and listen I should tell him that, beyond this, no final decision has been taken, whatever he may have read in national newspapers. Once we have worked up the detailed arrangements--

Mr. Madden : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Renton : No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have only a few minutes left. He took up a great deal more than half the time and, unlike him, I want to talk about DNA.

Once we have worked out detailed arrangements for financing the DNA scheme, we will of course make a further announcement to the House. That announcement will be made before the scheme is implemented overseas. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are conscious of the need to avoid erecting a financial barrier which might constitute a deterrent to genuine family applicants. There has been no deceit whatsoever. Quite the contrary. My right hon. Friend has set out in full the way that we are going. Certain steps now have to be taken. For example, we have to negotiate contracts and prices with commercial suppliers. I repeat that when we have reached a final decision on the matter a further announcement will be made to the House. I hope that for once the hon. Gentleman will give up a little of his sound and fury and that he will go home and think seriously about DNA.

Mr. Madden : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Renton : No.

The hon. Gentleman, and other hon. Members, have argued that special consideration should be given to over-age re-applicants who were refused as children on relationship grounds and who do not meet the requirements of the rules relating to adults. I accept that this is a particularly difficult issue. For that reason, we gave it a great deal of thought. I listened very carefully to the points that were made in the debate on the immigration rules last night, but again I say to the hon. Member for Bradford, West that the subject of the debate was not DNA but the immigration rules. DNA is not mentioned in the immigration rules.

Mr. Madden : The Minister mentioned it.

Mr. Renton : I did not mention it ; the hon. Gentleman raised it. In the very short time that was available to me last night I made it absolutely plain that I intended to talk about DNA tonight, not in a debate on the immigration rules.

In particular, I listened to a characteristically thoughtful contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller). However, I cannot agree with my hon. Friend or with the hon. Member for Bradford, West that this is simply a matter of reversing decisions that have turned out to be wrong. It is not as simple as that.

Mr. Madden : Why?

Mr. Renton : The hon. Gentleman should know, because he studies immigration matters quite carefully, that dependency lies at the heart of the question as to what decides who, other than spouses and fiance s, are allowed

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to join family units in the United Kingdom. That means that, under normal circumstances, only young children or elderly dependent relatives are given leave to enter.

The immigration rules now make generous provision for the admission of children on the basis that it is desirable for children to spend their formative years with their parents. Once a child has reached the age of 18, however, he is regarded as an independent adult. The rules provide for the admission of children over the age of 18 to join parents or relatives settled here only in the most exceptional compassionate circumstances. It seems to me that a person who once applied as a child cannot automatically be admitted regardless of his present age and circumstances. Many of those involved, after all, have now settled into independent adult life and will have established jobs and families of their own overseas.

This said, and having considered the matter very carefully, we decided that it would be right to relax the requirements of the rules in certain circumstances where a person previously refused entry as a child is now able to establish relationship by means of DNA evidence. A re-applicant will be expected to show that he is still wholly or mainly dependent on his United Kingdom sponsor, as that was the basis of his original application as a child. We will also look for some compassionate circumstances which distinguish the particular case from the generality of over-age re- applicants.

Subject to those requirements, we will be prepared to consider each case on its merits with a view to exercising discretion in suitable cases. I hope that this goes a substantial way towards reassuring my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, and I hope that it will go some way towards reassuring the hon. Member for Bradford, West--although I doubt it, as his ears are permanently blocked--that we will approach these difficult cases compassionately and sympathetically, while maintaining the basic distinction between children and adults which has been a settled feature of our immigration policy for many years. DNA is a powerful and important new technique. There is no doubt that it has a good deal to offer in the immigration context. But I believe that the proposals which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced last week and which I have outlined tonight will go a long way towards making disputes about relationships, which have dogged so many immigration cases, a thing of the past. I do not anticipate any immediate reduction in Home Office expenditure, but I remember going on Sylhet village visits with our entry clearance officers from Dacca and I know the great lengths to which they went to establish whether relationships were genuine and as claimed. I hope that, when DNA is rooted and bedded down in our system, some of those village visits will not be necessary in future.

I am sure that most fair-minded people will regard our proposals as a fair and reasonable way forward. I should like to think that even the hon. Member for Bradford, West, with all the bile and anger that he appears to find it inevitable to bring to these difficult immigration matters, on mature reflection will accept the reasonableness of our proposals.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at thirteen minutes to One o'clock.

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