Previous Section Home Page

Column 383

genuine refugees. I give those figures to show the scrupulous nature of the individual examination of such cases. All those who asked for asylum have been or are being individually examined.

Ms. Short : Those figures are interesting, but that is the first group of people who actually got in. Some of them have been found to be genuine refugees, and they have been treated accordingly. But has not the Home Secretary now changed the procedure with the result that absolutely genuine refugees can no longer get in? That is our complaint.

Mr. Hurd : I do not agree with the hon. Lady, but if she wishes to develop the point, the Minister of State--my hon. Friend the Member for Mid -Sussex (Mr. Renton)--will deal with it later. However, I do not believe that that is the case.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the concern about the same point which has been expressed on behalf of asylum seekers who have gone through the appeals procedure and have then been sent back to their country of origin. A case involving four Tamils is currently being sponsored by Amnesty International, and that case is being dealt with. Will my right hon. Friend consider that point carefully? Without fully exhausting the appeals system, we may be returning to their country of origin people who could be regarded as being in moral and political danger in that country. There is clear evidence in a few cases that people have been persecuted on their return to their own country.

Mr. Hurd : I do not accept that point. I hesitate to say anything more because the matter is still before the courts, but I do not accept that we acted improperly in any way or in a way that was contrary to our obligations.

It is perfectly understandable that people should have expressed concern about the fact that some of the Turkish asylum applicants were being--and some still are--held in prison. I share the concern about that. At the peak, some 200 were being held in prison. Now there are 59 people being held in prison and 100 more in the accommodation provided for detained immigrants. The examination of their claims is being given priority. The alternative is to let into this country people who have no particular links here, and there is no particular reason to think that we would ever see them again if we did. That is a difficult choice for officers to make in individual cases. I very much hope that we can bring that episode to an end quickly now that the visa regime is in place.

Mr. Janman : I applaud the measures that the Government are introducing with regard to immigration from Turkey, but how will my right hon. Friend deal with the situation in future if Turkey's membership of the European Community is successful?

Mr. Hurd : Without trespassing on the territory of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, I can say that that problem is a little way off.

I will give the House the latest general figures on refugees. Last year, we received 5,100 applications for asylum and 3,700 decisions were taken. A quarter of those applying were accepted and 55 per cent. were given exceptional leave to remain. That shows the hon. Member

Column 384

for Ladywood the pattern. The rate of applications this year is about double that for last year. By the end of June, we had received about 5,000 applications.

Returning to the basic problem which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook set and which was illustrated by the interventions in my speech, it is not enough for the right hon. Gentleman, when challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), to say that he is in favour of immigration control, but that everything has to be considered on merit. We have to proceed by way of rules. Since I have had to study their attitudes, the right hon. Gentleman, his predecessor, and the Labour party have said loudly, particularly during elections--the right hon. Gentleman has also done so today--that they are strongly in favour of immigration control. Then, every time a decision comes up, every time a loophole identifies itself, and whenever any single category comes under discussion, they say that the Government should give way and that admission should be permitted.

That is not a possible way to proceed. It is possible to say that the numbers should be greatly increased and that the categories should be greatly relaxed, but it is not intellectually coherent or respectable for the Opposition to say that they are strongly in favour of immigration control and that they accept that harmony in our cities depends upon it, but that in every individual case they will have nothing to do with enforcing the rules.

I understand the short-term calculation which has led to those attitudes case by case. Control is bound to be unpopular with those who are disappointed by individual decisions. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and I come up against that time and again. We are bound to disappoint people in particular categories. The people of all races in our cities who benefit from strict control are hardly aware of that benefit, but such is life.

Administering control is a thankless task. I do not share the sneers and snide remarks that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook devoted to those who have to administer the controls. I readily admit that I and my hon. Friend the Minister of State are fair game, but it was grossly unfair to speak in that way of the immigration officers. They do a thankless job but it is a necessary task. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman wants the National Front to triumph in his constituency. The National Front had no candidates at all in the last election. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman wants to see in Britain the changes in public opinion which sent six German MEPs representing anti-foreigner far Right parties to the European Parliament, and a similar number from France. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman wants that, but his attitude towards immigration control would bring that about if it were realised. It would cause suspicion and resentment, and plenty of people are ready to leap on that bandwagon.

My hon. Friend and I will continue to apply a strict but fair system of control, not because we are prejudiced or inhumane, but because we believe that control is needed if all the people who live in our cities are to live together in tolerance and decent harmony. Several Hon. Members rose

Column 385

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. It will be evident to the House that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that we can have very brief speeches.

8.24 pm

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) : The Home Secretary's speech ranged very widely and it is tempting to follow him, but because I am aware of the brevity of the debate, which has been supplied by the Opposition out of their own time, I shall pursue the matter of most immediate concern to myself, and probably to most right hon. and hon. Members in the House this evening--DNA tests and the so-called over-age reapplicant. Those are people who originally applied for entry certificates when they were children, who were refused because the entry clearance officers were not convinced by the evidence of their relationship to their parents, who have subsequently been vindicated by DNA tests and who are still to be denied entry certificates on the ground that they are now 18 and not dependants. I believe that a grave injustice has been done to them and their families, and instead of being remedied, that injustice will be perpetuated by Government policy.

Before I deal with that major theme, I want to discuss two important but lesser matters relating to the written answer given by the Home Secretary to the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) on 14 June and to remarks made by the Minister of State in the Adjournment debate on 21 June.

My first question concerns the scheme to be introduced later this year for organising DNA testing on a regular basis. In his written answer on 14 June the Home Secretary refers to

"the implementation of a Government scheme later this year in relation to first-time settlement applicants".

Why does it apply only to first-time settlement applicants? Certainly DNA tests will be a valuable and conclusive proof of relationships when claims made on behalf of first-time applicants are in dispute. But the Home Secretary surely knows of the heartache and grievances felt not by first- time applicants, but by those who may have applied several times before, who have exhausted at least once the whole protracted appeals procedure and who have still been turned down. Why should they be excluded from the presumably faster and cheaper DNA testing scheme that the Government are to introduce? I hope that the Home Secretary or the Minister of State when he replies to the debate will answer that question.

My second question refers to the cost of DNA testing. The cost is heavy. My information is that a man and his wife with a family of three children will face a bill of some £2,000 for DNA testing. In his written answer the Home Secretary appeared to recognise that, when he said that it was necessary

"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. 463-64. ]

That clearly suggests a scheme in which there would be a contribution from public funds as well as a fee charged to applicants.

However, in the Adjournment debate of 21 June, the Minister of State said :

"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."

Column 386

On the face of it, the Home Secretary and the Minister of State seemed to be saying different things, but the Minister of State continued :

"We recognise, of course, that the tests are expensive, particularly where several members of the same family are applying."--[ Official Report, 21 June 1989 ; Vol. 155 c. 472.] Can we get this clear? Is it the Government's intention that a small family will have to meet the whole cost of the DNA test whereas a large family will be assisted by the taxpayers' contribution to the DNA bill? I hope that the Minister of State will clear that up when he replies to the debate. Better still, I hope that he will agree that all the cost should be borne by the taxpayer. Most applicants come from poor families, and it is wrong that children who have a right to join their families should be denied the opportunity of a DNA test simply because their parents cannot afford it.

Ms. Short : DNA testing appears expensive, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware how expensive existing procedures are. Our staff in the sub-continent are kept at much expense and provided with housing, so there are potential savings in using DNA. It is a cheek for the Government to say that people must pay for DNA tests when it is likely that they will lead to the Government saving money. Instead, the Government will extract more money from poor people for exercising their legal rights.

Mr. Shore : Savings may be made, but we are not in a position to say definitely. It is intolerable if people who are entitled to a DNA test, in the firm belief that it will provide the necessary evidence to join their parents and obtain an entry certificate, are unable to do so simply because they do not have the money. We surely cannot justify such a position. The analogy by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) with legal aid for poor people who cannot afford our system of justice is surely applicable in this case.

Mr. Lawrence : Is not the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's argument that it is iniquitous that people who cannot afford to come here under their own steam should not be subsidised by having their fares paid by the British taxpayer? Is that not the same argument?

Mr. Shore : I do not think that it is ; that would carry the issue to a point that I would not accept. The argument about separating children from their parents because they do not have the money to provide the necessary proof cannot be accepted by any sensible and civilised person who holds the values that should be predominant in our public life.

My main concern is about an applicant being refused entry as a child whose relationship is proved by a DNA test but is over 18 when the new evidence comes to light. Clearly, in such a case a great injustice has been done. I know of many cases in my constituency where the husband has been separated for years from his wife and children because documentary evidence has been judged inadequate. I also know of cases where one member of the family has been separated from his parents and brothers and sisters because, while they have been given entry certificates and come to the United Kingdom, he or she has been denied entry on the ground that in his or her case the evidence is unsatisfactory.

I have no doubt that in most cases those who grant or refuse entry certificates, the adjudicators and the other bodies to which those who are refused entry appeal, are

Column 387

careful and conscientious in their work, but apart from human fallibility we all know that Bangladesh in particular and the Indian sub-continent in general are societies that are under-documented for the purposes of immigration control. The question is what should be done to remedy that injustice, even though the injustice was unwittingly committed.

Mr. Hind : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Shore : No, I will not ; I must finish.

In his written answer on 14 June, the Home Secretary said, and he restated it this evening :

"In many cases over-age applicants are likely to have settled into independent adult life and may also have married and established a family of their own overseas and I do not propose to waive the requirements of the rules in these cases."--[ Official Report, 14 June 1989 ; Vol. 154, c. 464. ]

Those cases, of course, will include many people who were wrongly refused entry clearance when they first applied. This is a harsh and unfeeling decision. When an injustice has been committed, and when that injustice has been proved by the results of DNA testing, the onus is on the Government to remedy their mistakes and to redress grievances.

I did not understand from the figures given by the Home Secretary how many people will be involved. Perhaps the Minister of State can give a clearer statement about the number of people over the age of 18 who will be eligible. But numbers are irrelevant to the issue of proven injustice. That injustice should be removed, and it can be removed only by giving the entry certificate that was previously refused or by offering a substantial sum in compensation for the hardship caused to the individual concerned and his family. When considering that question, Home Office Ministers appear to have omitted two immensely important considerations. The first is the strength of links of families from Bangladesh and the Indian sub-continent. Our family structure in Britain is becoming increasingly atomised, with the physical separation of parents from children once they reach adult years and each adult child establishing his separate residence. Families of the sub-continent are very different. Different generations live together ; adult members of the same family, even when married, often live with their brothers and sisters and parents or remain in close proximity to them. It is not enough, therefore, to say that once the child has ceased to be financially dependent on his parents it does not matter if they are compelled to live thousands of miles apart for the rest of their lives. It matters enormously. The second factor that should not be overlooked is the adverse affect on the ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom and on our progress towards the fairer system that we all want.

I conclude what was meant to be a brief intervention by saying to the Home Secretary that I seriously hope that he will reconsider DNA testing, but not in the aggrieved spirit that he showed in his speech tonight. I hope that he will have the humanity and courage to come back to the House with a revised decision.

8.36 pm

Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge) : You have asked hon. Members to be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall be.

Column 388

The right hon Member for Birmingham Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was rather churlish, as he often is. Being his near neighbour in the area, and having known the people whom he represents for some time, I found it astonishing that he did not once mention his countrymen.

Mr. Hattersley : We will only begin to make progress on this subject when people such as the hon. Gentleman realise that the Moslems in my constituency are my countrymen. That is the crucial division between Conservative and Labour Members.

Sir John Stokes : I shall not comment on the speech made by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), but it was good to hear him speaking again. We all know what an English patriot he is and we remember his stance on the Falklands war. We only wish that we could hear his views on Europe given from the Front Bench.

It is extraordinary that the Opposition have again tabled such a motion. Anyone listening to speeches by Opposition Members would imagine that we are being unduly restrictive in our rules of entry. If one were to go outside this place and ask someone in the street, "Is that true?" they would say, "No, over the past 25 years this country has been extraordinarily generous in letting many people into this country, some of whom have done very well, and how glad we are about it." We have allowed many people into this densely populated island, with all the pressures that that caused, and about 40,000 or 50,000 people are still allowed to come here every year. Surely common sense says that there must be strict immigration controls, in the interests not only of the indigenous population but of immigrants.

We must control immigration, as it says in the rules, so that visiting students do not overstay and illegal immigration is curbed as far as possible. We must control the plea of marriage to support entry into this country because of the danger of it being used for bogus reasons. We must be careful not to let in people who claim to be refugees but are not really so. In a notorious case some time ago, some clerics made fools of themselves over a man who was not a refugee and went back to his country.

The Opposition do not appear to have a clear policy, except to say, "Let them all come in." They are saying the same thing about the millions of Hong Kong Chinese.

Ms. Short : We are not.

Sir John Stokes : I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on making this change to the rules which will be of benefit to everyone in this country. [Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) will let me say a few words. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) said on 20 June.

"Good though the changes are, they are too late."--[ Official Report , 20 June 1989 ; Vol. 155, c. 293.]

In the past 25 years, we have allowed hundreds of thousands of immigrants into this small island so that we now have ethnic minorities of several million people and in some cases, as we all know, their birth rate far exceeds that of the indigenous population. This is primarily a problem for England, as the other countries in the United Kingdom have much smaller immigrant populations. Why are we English Members of Parliament here today? I ask that question of the Opposition, too. Are we not the trustees of this beloved England for posterity?

Column 389

What is the future of our country to be in another 25 years, even if all immigration is stopped tomorrow? What will be the effect on our religion, morals, customs, habits and so on? Already there have been some dangerous eruptions from parts of the Moslem community. Having served with the Moslems during the war, may I say that I greatly admire many of them and their religion. I also very much like the letter which my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office wrote to Moslem leaders and which was published in the newspapers today. It is foolish to ignore the problems and the fears that those dangerous eruptions engender among the ordinary people whom we are supposed to represent.

We must not allow our feelings of guilt over our treatment of immigrants to cloud our judgment. We in England are a gentle, kind, tolerant and peace- loving people. We have already absorbed large numbers of newcomers. Except occasionally, there have not been the riots and bloodshed that some people prophesied. The burden of receiving and coping with these newcomers in our midst has fallen not on the intellectuals, Labour Members of Parliament and others of that ilk but on ordinary English working-class people. Surely they are entitled to a voice here.

Vast changes have been made in the cities because of the large numbers of immigrants living there. The local English people were never asked about this. They never had to vote on it. They must have views about the future of this influx. They look to us to safeguard their position. Everyone here- -immigrant or non-immigrant--wants to safeguard our position. As I said, fortunately we have not had much bloodshed or rioting, and relations generally are good, but as the figures on those who are still coming in are published, more and more people are starting to say, "Will this go on, or can we say that enough is enough?" This is a small attempt to have a little more control, and very wise it is. It should be welcomed by everyone in the House and outside.

8.43 pm

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : The Home Secretary began his speech somewhat censoriously by suggesting that the Labour party was using immigration issues in an opportunistic way and then, to justify his Government's policy, reiterated the view that racial harmony depends upon a firm, fair immigration policy. It is by his tests, of firmness and fairness--especially fairness--that it is right to judge the proposals on DNA profiling. In their present state, the right hon. Gentleman has not resolved the doubts about their application. I do not believe that they meet the test of fairness.

The aim in testing only first-time settlement applicants is to avoid the possibility of disputes which, in the past, have been protracted and troublesome to immigration authorities. The repeated application cases most require the assistance of DNA testing. I should like to hear from the Minister of State why he proposes to confine the use of DNA testing in this way. Is it simply on grounds of cost?

Another issue, which I hoped that the Home Secretary would resolve, concerns how the scheme should be funded. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) drew attention to the apparent contradictions between the statements made by the Minister of State and the Home Secretary on the extent to which there was to be

Column 390

public funding of DNA testing. There appears to be some intention that certain categories of individual should be assisted by the taxpayer, but it is possible to interpret the Minister's utterances as meaning that the cost is to be borne by all immigrants. That would certainly not be an appropriate or fair test. If the Minister can clear up this point now, I shall be grateful to him.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton) : It might be convenient to the House if I clear up that point, which was raised also by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). There is no intention that the taxpayer should pay any part of the cost of DNA tests. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have said that many times. The only exception lies in the possibility of legal aid for DNA tests. We have said many times that, if we introduced a general scheme for DNA tests--as we are proposing to do on a voluntary basis--the scheme's cost would not in any way fall on the taxpayer.

Mr. Maclennan : The whole House will have been shocked by the Minister's intervention. It is clear that the system cannot be fair unless there is some financial support from the taxpayer. Undoubtedly, the taxpayer will save considerably through the use of DNA testing rather than the alternative methods of verification which are presently employed and which involve searches and expenditure, especially in Bangladesh and on the Indian sub-continent. It is clear that DNA testing can operate only when rich or relatively rich applicants seek to employ it. By no standard can that be regarded as fair.

Mr. Hind : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclennan : This is a short debate and many hon. Members with major constituency interests wish to speak, so I shall not give way. DNA testing can prove, almost beyond peradventure, the paternity of applicants. Should this system be available to those who, it transpires, have been refused entry to this country but are now over the age of majority? Here again, I appeal to the Minister to reconsider the situation. The Home Secretary spoke of the importance of there being rules in giving the assurance of fairness. In respect of this important issue--we have not yet been told precisely how many people are estimated to be affected by it--the Home Secretary is saying--

Mr. Renton : Eight thousand.

Mr. Maclennan : In that case, this is almost a de minimis problem. The question must be answered : what are the rules? It is clear from what the Home Secretary said that it is to be a wholly discretionary operation. By his own test, we should have rules if we want to instill a sense of fairness.

A number of criteria may be prayed in aid by those who wish to argue compassionate grounds, which have been referred to in another place by the Minister's colleague. There are wide circumstances in which it may be possible to argue a compassionate case, but equally, it is possible that those could be construed extremely restrictively to deprive the offspring of those entitled to live here of the right to join their families. It is incomprehensible for a party in government which proclaims the virtues of family life to argue in that way. It will be incomprehensible to

Column 391

many fair-minded people that people whose right to be here can now be established will be denied that possibility because of an exercise in discretion by a Secretary of State.

I am afraid that the great opportunity offered by the perfection of this technique has been missed. There was an opportunity to put an end to much of the misery and uncertainty involved in establishing paternity and family links, which flow from a lack of documentation, especially in the Indian sub-continent. It must be a matter of deep regret to those who wish to see racial harmony fostered and sustained by a fair immigration policy that the Government have thrown away so cavalierly this great opportunity.

8.52 pm

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : I want to begin by saying to my hon. Friend the Minister that he probably has the most unattractive job in the whole Government. He is confronted daily with cases of human misery in which he has to take extremely hard decisions, not only on the basis of each particular case, but on the basis of how it fits into the general framework. Men and women all over this country and around the world are accountable to him and are busily engaged in trying to interpret the wishes of this place and of the Minister against a background of similar heartbreak and difficulty. I pay them tribute for the way in which they carry out that task.

I have no personal experience of being an immigrant or a would-be immigrant. I was fortunate enough to be born, strictly speaking, a cockney, and I have never had any doubt about my eligibility to be a British citizen. However, that does not mean that one cannot experience some of the difficulties vicariously. When I was working at Conservative central office, I was the director of community affairs for four and a half years. One of my tasks in that interesting period was to extend throughout the Conservative party mechanisms whereby members of that party could become far better acquainted with the new citizens who had arrived from different parts of the world, about whom, in their ignorance, many members of the party were anxious and towards whom they were hostile.

Ignorance of the law may be no excuse, but in matters of personal relations, there is no doubt that ignorance of custom, language and religion is often a reasonable excuse for feeling strange and, because of the way in which human nature works, consequently feeling condemnatory in one way or another. I believe that the work we did then played a small part in the creation of a wider understanding within the Conservative party--

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) : It has failed here.

Mr. Rowe : We were more successful in some parts of the country than in others. I believe that that played some part in changing the climate of opinion. However, there is still far too much prejudice in this country. It is noticeable in many statistics and in the accounts people give to Members of Parliament of the way in which they have been treated. One must, of course, always be extremely careful about the natural tendency of those who belong to a minority, whatever it may be, when they do not get what they want, to assume that their failure to do so is directly attributable to their membership of that minority, when

Column 392

that is frequently not the case. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that there is still too much prejudice and too much difficulty for the minorities in climbing the ladders which at least now exist for them to climb.

Such difficulty is one of the ingredients in the unfortunate riots and protests over the Salman Rushdie book. I believe that the law on blasphemy should be repealed rather than extended. It is flouted to the point where it is absurd to retain it and it is therefore unworkable. It is also philosophically unsound, because it is rooted in theocracy and I believe that theocracy is a recipe for bad government and oppression. A theocratic Government are very different from a society under God.

It is perfectly clear that the pressures are made worse when many people come in at great speed and, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, there is no division between Government and Opposition about the need for immigration controls. I sometimes think that hon. Members of all parties are rather like small children who, behind the security of their garden gate, poke fun at other small children and then run back into the security of their front hall because they know that the children will not cross the fence that has been erected. That fence of immigration control has been erected by both parties in this House equally. It is salutary for Opposition Members to remember the large part played by their own party in building those walls.

I should like to distance myself considerably from the remarks of my respected and revered hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes), who echoed an argument which I hope is dead, or at least nearly dead. In an ideal world, there would be no frontiers and people could move from one part of the world to another without let or hindrance. Indeed, in our favoured corner of the world that is exactly what we are constructing. This debate has already shown some of the difficulties that we shall encounter if we are successful in that construction. Clearly, this is not an ideal world, and it is essential that we have a firm and fair immigration policy. In the troubled and worrying debate about Hong Kong, it is important that my hon. Friends, Ministers and others should be sparing in their use of the argument about millions of people ; if we are to be a great deal more generous about the numbers of people from Hong Kong whom we eventually receive into this country--and I believe that we have a duty to be generous--that argument will have done no good to those people's chances of having a proper reception here. We should not use massive figures such as 3.5 million or 5 million people, because that will stir up anxieties that we should not invite.

I seek the reassurance of my hon. Friend on one element of the policy. I share the view of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) who, in November of last year, pointed out his anxiety that married couples should be reunited as quickly as possible when it is proved that they have a right to be together. It is a flaw in our immigration policy that, where people have established a bona fide right to be together, they can then be denied that right by administrative procedures stretching over many years.

Do I understand from what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that, if children below the age of 18 are proved by the DNA process to have family bonds, there will be no question of the procedures being extended once these children become more than 18, and

Column 393

that their age will not then be used as a pretext for excluding them? If that were the case, it would be grossly improper. It is easy to discover that, by sheer inadvertence or lack, somebody's case has been extended for two or three years by the administrative procedures and that that person has somehow fallen foul of his or her right to enter this country. It is easy to turn that into a matter of policy. I stress that that would be a shabby way in which to proceed. In conclusion, I turn to the other side of the coin. Unless something has happened to her aeroplane, my wife is in Madras at the moment, where she is working for some weeks with a skilled paediatrician who is still in Madras because of his Christian belief that he has a duty to return to the people of Madras the benefits that he has enjoyed. He is the only member of his class in medical school to have remained in India. That is a commentary on the whole business of immigration. The fact that some countries have too great a readiness to admit foreign nationals can easily lead the home country to become emasculated. That is undesirable--

Ms. Gordon rose --

Mr. Rowe : I shall not give way, as I am just about to end my speech.

It is wholly appropriate to have a firm and fair immigation policy. Where our techniques have improved to the point at which we can remove doubt speedily, I believe that we should turn that speed to the advantage of the applicant and not allow the adminstrative procedures to drag out.

9.4 pm

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : The Home Secretary was hopelessly wrong to make a connection between immigration policy and good community relations in our inner-city areas. If he needs a connection, he should study very carefully the speech by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) because that was the kind of speech which causes great unpleasantness and distrust and also causes a great deal of damage to good community relations in Britain. That speech echoed sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) in a short debate last week. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will distance himself from the comments which have been made by his two hon. Friends. It is important that in their official policy the Government make it absolutely clear that the extremist statements that we have heard are not part of Government policy.

The Home Secretary's written reply to a parliamentary question on 14 June which set out the Government's policy on DNA testing is a recognition of the success of such tests. As this is our first debate of this length on the subject, we should pay tribute to the work of Professor Alec Jefferies of Leicester university and others who have worked in this area for several years. We should also place on record our appreciation of the work of groups like the Divided Families Campaign, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service which have worked very hard urging the Government to initiate pilot studies and to publish their report.

Three years have passed since a press conference was held on 10 January 1986 at Dhaka airport when the

Column 394

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department first announced the pilot schemes. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) will recall the number of attempts that he and I made in Committee to press the Minister to publish the report as quickly as possible. Although many promises were made, it was several years before the report was published.

When the report was published, the greatest sigh of relief came from those who had waited in queues and those waiting to have relatives brought to this country. Those are the kind of people who visit me, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) and other hon. Members at our surgeries at weekends. Those people waited in hope that the Home Secretary would announce a fair policy which would reunite them with their families.

I am reminded of a quote from the oldest book of all :

"Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginnings of days, nor ends of life".

The orphans of the Prime Minister's immigration policy, they waited in queues. Those people have waited for a statement and they have been cruelly misled. The Home Secretary has let them down in several vital respects.

It is right that we should place this debate in the context of overall immigration control. As the Home Secretary said that the Minister of State was fair game for any criticism, I hope that he does not mind if I mention the unprecedented crisis which now grips the Home Office. There is a crisis at Lunar house, where my constituents must wait up to two years to receive decisions on nationalisation applications, and there is a crisis besetting the passport offices. There is also a crisis besetting hon. Members who, when they write to the Minister, must wait upwards of six weeks for a reply. Those who were present in this House on 16 November 1987 will recall the Home Secretary's statement at column 789 that he hoped to initiate an immigration policy that would provide a better customer service. The reality is quite different. If the Home Secretary, the Minister and the Home Office want to know about that customer service, they should speak to people who wait in the queues at Clive house and Lunar house for decisions from the Minister of State. I want now to consider the cost of the scheme. I was shocked to hear the Minister's reply to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). It is outrageous that poor families will have to pay a substantial amount to satisfy the test criteria. There have been various estimates, ranging from £100 to £130 per applicant. In addition, there is the threat that entry clearance fees will be increased, allegedly to pay for the test. That is an additional economic barrier for those who seek to come to this country. The taxpayer has benefited and will continue to benefit from the DNA test. There will be an enormous saving of time in the preparation of documents, explanatory statements and other documents before the tribunal, and also a saving of the tribunal's time. A recent answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) stated that the cost of an appeal was approximately £85. If that is right--I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong--it will result in a substantial saving.

I now refer to over-age applicants. It is manifestly unfair that, now that the Government have acknowledged that thousands of mistakes have been made, people who legitimately and fairly applied to come to this country and who knew instinctively that they were the children of their

Next Section

  Home Page