|Previous Section||Home Page|
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Before I call the Minister, I must tell the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the amendment, but Members may raise points on the amendment during the debate.
That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 7706/89 and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Home Office on 8th January 1990 relating to rights of residence ; and supports the objective of facilitating the free movement of European Community nationals.
This debate is an opportunity for the House to note the progress of the right of residence directives and their likely impact on the United Kingdom should they be adopted.
For some 10 years, the proposal that Community nationals should enjoy a general right of residence in other member states has been under discussion in Europe. Finally, recognising that deadlock had long been reached, the European Commission, in May last year, withdrew its earlier proposal and later submitted three new draft directives in its place. It is these new draft directives that are under discussion tonight.
Hon. Members may have with them tonight Commission document 4234/90, which was deposited in the House on 30 January. It may be helpful if I give a brief explanation of what it contains. It incorporates some of the amendments proposed by the European Parliament on 13 December. It does not include the latest text of the proposals upon which political agreement was reached at the last Internal Market Council and I will mention this again a little later. It is a purely formal document issued by the Commission in response to the first opinion of the European Parliament on the original text of the proposals. However, the supplementary explanatory memorandum, which we submitted to the House on 8 January, is an accurate reflection of the latest text of the proposals.
These new measures are designed to provide a right of residence throughout the Community for categories of Community national who do not already have such a right under the free-movement provisions of the EC treaty. Their purpose is to promote the free movement of EC nationals within the Community--a principle to which the Government have long been committed. We have therefore sought to respond throughout the discussions in Europe in the most positive manner possible.
Since July, rapid progress--in the light of the earlier discussions unexpectedly rapid progress--has been made towards agreement among member states. There have been intensive discussions and at the last Internal Market Council, on 21 December, the presidency noted that political agreement on the substance of the directives had been achieved.
The important matter of treaty base, however, remains unsettled. and adoption of the directives cannot take place until the European Assembly's further opinion has been made available and considered by the Council. It may therefore be that formal adoption of these proposals will not be possible at the next meeting of the IMC, on 22 February. If this is the case, the next opportunity for their adoption will arise at the IMC scheduled for 3 April.
Column 1101I would like to stress at this point that the Government are extremely conscious of the importance of the arrangements which enable Parliament to play a full and effective part in the scrutiny of Community legislation. However, we believed that the situation which arose suddenly in December, when there seemed a strong possibility of agreement to the directives at the IMC meeting, met the exceptional criteria laid down for adoption before a debate. In the event, however, the contingency which we foresaw did not materialise, and I am very glad indeed that the House has this opportunity to consider the draft directives before the question of adoption arises.
There are, as I have said, three draft directives to be considered. They are aimed at students, pensioners, and other non-economically active persons respectively. It may be helpful to the House if I outline in brief the basic provisions of each.
First, the directive on students will apply to any EC national enrolled on a vocational or professional training course at a recognised educational establishment. The spouse and dependent children of the EC national will also benefit, but right of residence will be conditional on possession of sufficient resources to prevent the beneficiaries becoming a financial burden on the host member state. Sickness insurance will also be required where relevant--for example, in countries which operate a medical insurance system rather than a health service as in the United Kingdom.
Secondly, EC nationals who have been employed or self-employed will benefit from the directive on pensioners. They must be in receipt of an invalidity or early retirement pension, or old age benefits, or a pension in respect of an industrial accident or disease. Along with their spouse and dependent relatives, such EC nationals will be accorded a right of residence provided there are sufficient resources to prevent them from becoming a financial burden on the host member state. Sickness insurance will also be required where relevant. Thirdly, any other EC national will benefit from the Directive on other non-economically active people provided there are sufficient resources to ensure they, and members of their family admitted with them, will not become a financial burden on the host member state. Again, there is a requirement for sickness insurance, if necessary.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : Has any attempt been made to quantify the sort of resources that would be needed, concerning the definition of "dependent relatives", and the length and breadth of that expression?
Mr. Lloyd : The length and breadth of the expression is detailed in the draft directives, and is there to be seen. The mimimum amount of resources will be social security payments, whichever form they take, in the relevant country. Resources must be at least at that level.
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Am I right in inferring that those people from Hong Kong to whom the Government are to give the right of abode--I totally support the Government in that--will also benefit from these directives?
Mr. Lloyd : Yes--like any other British national, they will be able to take advantage of the directives, under the migratory workers provisions of the treaty, to live in any part of the Community as long as they have the resources to do so.
Although there are three separate directives, there are common threads running through them all, not least the requirement that beneficiaries of each directive should not become a financial burden on the host member state. Member states have agreed that, if the right of residence is to be available on such a wide scale, there must be some protection for their social assistance systems. Consequently, the directives have been drafted in such a way as to prevent the possibility of EC nationals going from one state to another from becoming a charge on social security funds in each, or even moving solely to maximise their entitlement to social security assistance payments.
In calculating the adequacy of the resources available to applicants, account will be taken of the personal circumstances of those involved. That will avoid the situation of a pensioner in receipt of a small pension, but with substantial personal resources, failing to qualify. Adequate resources are deemed to be resources higher than the level at which social assistance is paid within the relevant member state, as I just told my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). It is the Government's view that the provisions of the directives contain adequate safeguards to ensure that their implementation would not result in any drain on our social security system.
Each directive also makes provision for family members. In the case of students it will be limited to the spouse and dependant. Pensioners and "others" will be able to have with them their spouse and any dependent relative in the ascending and descending line. Specific provision is also made in each directive to enable the spouse and dependent children of the main beneficiary to work in the host member state. Similar provisions have been in place for a number of years in the case of migrant workers, so for most people the provisions do not add to what is already available.
The provisions about resources being sufficient to prevent claims for social security benefits apply to those dependants in the same way as to the applicant.
Each directive contains an important provision ensuring that the right of residence will exist only so long as the persons concerned continue to meet the criteria that I have just outlined.
In common with other measures relating to free movement, derogation from the provisions of the directives will be possible only on grounds of public policy, public security or public health. These are the basic provisions of the directives as they now stand. Member states have reached agreement thus far, but such an achievement is the result of considerable effort.
Amendments to the original proposals have had to be made. For example, a scheme to reimburse the host member state for social security claims made by students has been replaced with the requirement to show adequate resources. Similarly, on pensioners it was agreed that simply having a pension was insufficient. In order properly to assess the resources of pensioners and "others" it has been agreed that the personal circumstances of the applicant, and where appropriate those admitted with him, will be taken into account ; and it has been agreed that the necessary amendment will be
Column 1103made. Another amendment has been agreed in recognition of the concerns of member states about the definition of family members. Initially, those family members who were to benefit from the pensioners and "others" directives were defined by reference to article 10 of regulation 1612/68 EEC.
Several member states noted the outstanding proposals to amend that particular provision in such a way as to widen considerably the definition of family members. Such a degree of relaxation was regarded as an unwelcome development by member states, at least in respect of the right of residence directives, and as a result the directives will now specify precisely to which family members they apply.
We understand that a statement for the Council minutes will be included to the effect that the given definition of family members may be reviewed in the light of any changes to article 10 of the regulation.
It is the Government's view that, if the treaty base for all three directives is changed to article 235--I will mention this again a little later--they represent proposals which should be acceptable to the United Kingdom. Improvements have been made to the original texts, and we believe that it is in the United Kingdom's interests to signal agreement to the proposals.
Acceptance of the proposals will facilitate the free movement of EC nationals within the Community. Naturally, that will work to the benefit of British citizens who will, provided they can meet the requirements of the directives, be free to live elsewhere in the Community should they choose to do so.
We are satisfied that the directives are framed, as far as possible, in such a way as to prevent abuse, and we believe that the overall effect on the United Kingdom and its citizens will be beneficial. The Government do not consider that the number of people who might take advantage of the directive, if made, will significantly increase the numbers of persons entering the United Kingdom.
More people will be able to come here to spend their retirement years, to study or simply to live in the United Kingdom. Equally, British citizens will have the freedom to choose another country of residence if they so wish. British students will be able to move easily to study in another member state. Residence cards will be issued to those exercising rights under the provisions of the directives in much the same way as they are already issued to EC nationals exercising rights of free movement under the aspects of the treaty covering migrant workers.
No new bureaucracy need be created, and in administrative terms the directives will require a minimum of change to our current measures for dealing with EC nationals. Consequently, it is the Government's view that implementation of the proposals would create no significant costs to this country.
One important feature of our consideration of the directives has been the need for the Government to examine the question of Community competence, in particular as it relates to EC nationals who are not workers or otherwise economically active.
We have looked carefully at the development of Community law and we have concluded that the free movement of all Community nationals, whether they are economically active or not, is an objective of the treaty. The right of residence directives therefore fall within the competence of the Community.
Column 1104Earlier, I mentioned that the important issue of the legal base of the directives, which governs the majority which must be obtained for adoption, remains unsettled. The original Commission proposals were to base the directives on article 7 for students--qualified majority voting ; articles 48 and 54 for pensioners--qualified majority voting ; and article 100 for "others"--unanimous voting.
Those treaty bases are unacceptable. The United Kingdom has made it clear throughout that we consider that article 235, which requires unanimous voting, is the only appropriate legal base for all three directives, and that view is shared by several other member states. At the last Internal Market Council in December, the Commission undertook to give further consideration to the issue of legal base. We fully expect, in the light of the discussions to date, that any revised proposal which the Commission may make will reflect the concerns expressed by us and the other member states.
The Government consider that acceptance of the right of residence directives, provided that the legal bases are changed, is the proper course of action. Measures of this kind, which reduce unnecessary obstacles to the freedom of EC nationals to choose where they will live in the Community, is a good example of what the Single European Act means when it speaks of the establishment of an area without internal frontiers in accordance with the treaty. They have no effect on our right and determination to combat the evils of terrorism, drug trafficking and international crime, or to control immigration from third countries.
I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will agree that we in the United Kingdom have nothing to fear from these proposals but much to gain. We have been presented with an opportunity to further the principle of free movement in terms which the Government consider acceptable to the United Kingdom. I therefore commend the proposals to the House.
Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central) : The directives once again point up the flaws and unfairness of the United Kingdom's immigration rules. Unless the European Community's proposals, welcome though they are, are accompanied by corresponding changes in our rules, they will place some British citizens at a disadvantage compared with EC nationals. British citizens will have less right to family unity, which is at the heart of these rules, than other EC citizens coming to this country.
Europe could give us the opportunity to treat our citizens equally and fairly, which simply is not happening at present. A paragraph of the declaration signed last December by Immigration Ministers says : "There is a growing aspiration, particularly on our continent, that people should be able to move about freely beyond State frontiers : we believe that EC Member States should be all the more diligent in reinforcing their co- operation in that it provides an incentive for others, in other parts of Europe and the world at large, to develop this freedom too."
Those brave words were uttered when western and eastern Europe were beginning to change. As I shall show, some British citizens--potentially, all of us--are not as free as that grand declaration envisages. With freedom of movement, and with the move to harmonisation of the rules of the EC, we should take the opportunity to remove
Column 1105some of the restrictive rules that cause hardship and, in some cases, are quite blatantly discriminatory against British citizens. If we are to create a people's Europe, we need to go far further than the proposals allow.
We have heard a great deal recently about Hong Kong ; the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) has already intervened on the subject. This evening, we have the chance to remind ourselves about the rights and limitations of rights that are placed on people living in this country.
There are three proposals before us. The first relates to students. At present, a male student can be joined by his wife, but a female student cannot be joined by her husband as of right. When I raised that question with the Minister's predecessor, who is now the Patronage Secretary, he replied in a written answer that he did not propose to change that rule and that there were sound reasons for not doing so. It is good that only six months later, the Government have become more accommodating. Now, not only can students be joined by their spouses, but, according to the directive, they can also be joined by their families, should they so wish.
The second proposal is more far-reaching. Retired people from the European Community can come to this country and be joined by their families, as can people of independent means who have come to this country to stay for either a short or a long time. No matter how welcome that new proposal may be and no matter what its justification, it brings into sharp focus the difficulties that are faced by people in this country who want to enjoy the same rights. The proposal of family unity points up the disadvantages that British European Community nationals face and will continue to face.
The concept of family unity should be the cornerstone of our policies in this aspect of immigration law. The Minister has been at pains to point out that, even with the new rights, the spouses of people coming to this country and their families will not be a burden on people living in this country. I can see why he made that point, but as I listened, it occurred to me that he was at pains to stress that they would never become a burden on people in this country. What machinery is he proposing is to ensure a continuous assessment of people so that they do not reach a point where they might want to rely on resources from this country?
If family unity is the principle on which the rules are based, that unity must be just as important for rich people as for poor. There may come a time when someone living in this country will, for one reason or another, want to take advantage of some benefit. That seems to argue for examining the rationalising of benefits and public support provisions throughout Europe. I appreciate that that is not the Minister's responsibility, but we should consider that point. I come to the heart of my criticism of the proposals. I do not oppose them on their merits, but I believe that they point up the difficulties for many in this country. At present, a Frenchman can marry a woman from Pakistan, for example, and can enter the United Kingdom if he is a worker within the meaning of European legislation. He could also be joined by his children under 21 and by his parents because they all come within the European Community's definition of "family".
Column 1106A British citizen living in England, for example, does not have that automatic right. To marry a non-European Community national, he has first to satisfy the primary purpose rule--rule 50--in the immigration rules. He has to prove that the primary purpose of the marriage is not for his spouse to gain admission to this country. There are other tests that have to be passed. If he wishes his family to join him, there are even greater and more formidable hurdles. They have to satisfy the immigration authorities that they will have adequate accommodation and that they will not be a burden or otherwise come to rely on public funds.
Furthermore, some British citizens have to satisfy the authorities that they are related to their children. Last summer, there was a great deal of controversy about the Government's proposals to impose DNA testing on people who wanted to prove that they were related to their children. Under these rules, the Frenchman to whom I referred does not have to bother with any of that. It is sufficient for him to arrive at Dover or at Heathrow and to say, "This is my wife, these are my children and these are my mother and father. I'm coming in here."
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicestershire, East) : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just a question of the immigration rules, which, as he has rightly pointed out, are discriminatory, but of the use of delays in the operations of the Home Office? Such delays have now become an accepted part of the way in which immigration is conducted in this country. Administrative delays are used as a means of immigration control. It is not just a question of satisfying the tests that my hon. Friend has outlined, but of having to wait in Bombay, New Delhi or Islamabad for many months before an interview is granted and of then having to wait while the information is passed from the Foreign Office to the Home Office. There are then delays at Lunar house, which are still quite prevalent. Does my hon. Friend agree that those delays, which are not part of the rules, exist and cause much hardship and anxiety?
Mr. Darling : I am glad that my hon. Friend raises that point. I know that he has a great deal of experience in these matters. Both the Foreign Office and the Home Office use the weapon of delay as an instrument of control. I am dealing with the case of a constituent who hopes to be joined by his wife. A great deal of delay arose because we had to discover whether the Home Office or the Foreign Office should answer our correspondence, and indeed, whether a Minister or something called the correspondence unit should answer my letters. The delays are inordinate. No one will tell me what they are trying to find out.
The declaration to which I referred at the beginning of my speech talks about free movement and a free people's Europe. Some British citizens living in this country do not enjoy the freedom that will be conferred on European nationals under the regulations. It is wrong that the Frenchman to whom I referred is placed at a great advantage compared with an English, Scots or Welshman who wants to do exactly the same thing as the Frenchman. It is ironic that an EEC national of another country should have more rights than a Briton. The Government will have to address that problem.
The same problem arises with children. Under the EEC regulations, young people under the age of 21 are counted as children. Under the United Kingdom immigration
Column 1107rules, a child is counted as a child only if it is under the age of 18. I suspect that all hon. Members consider that if they have children they will always be the parents of those children. Nothing magical happens at 18 or 21 to stop them being their children. Under the EEC regulations, the definition of family does not have a cut-off point.
The regulations are welcome, but they point up the difficulties faced by immigrants. The Government are not prepared to tackle those problems. The Minister should tell us whether, in the people's Europe that we are now entering, he is prepared to consider the plight of many people resident in this country who find it increasingly difficult to be joined by their families--to whom they are closely attached--or to marry the person of their choice. I suspect that the Minister will reply in the negative.
It is ironic that the European convention on human rights provides that everyone of marriageable age should be free to marry. In theory, we are all free to marry, but not if we choose to marry someone, for example, from the Indian sub-continent. Although in theory the primary purpose rule applies to everyone, in practice it is applied only to spouses from certain parts of the world.
If everyone in the House is in favour of family unity, we should give it some substance and not simply use the words as a slogan to collect votes at election time. I fear that many hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members, say one thing to their constituents and vote the other way when given the opportunity. Europe gives us an opportunity to harmonise rules. We are not talking about primary immigration. We are discussing the need to treat our citizens equally. If the regulations are put into effect, the extraordinary result will be that people living in continental Europe will have greater rights to live with their wife, mother, father or children than people who live in Britain. People in Britain will wonder how that can be the case.
It will be open to a British citizen to go to Paris or Germany and become a worker in the sense of the EEC regulations and then come back to Britain to get round the British regulations. We should avoid that ridiculous position.
I wish to deal with three further points. I understand that the regulations are at a preliminary stage and that the Government will come back with definite proposals. As I understood it, the Minister welcomed this opportunity of a preliminary debate on the substance of the directives. No matter : I shall make the points anyway, because they have some substance--
Mr. Peter Lloyd : I commended the draft directives to the House and said that, although the Government were determined to see that the legal base was changed, we believe that the political agreement that has already been reached is sensible and satisfactory and we hope that the House will agree with us on that.
First, I refer to harmonisation--
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on this point, about which we should be absolutely clear. It is my understanding that there will not be an opportunity to discuss the regulations again, providing that the understanding to which the Minister referred materialises and that the regulations
Column 1108obtain a two-thirds majority at the Council of Ministers, possibly at the end of next month. If my hon. Friend thinks that there may be an opportunity to exercise other matters at large, that is one thing, but I believe that there will be an opportunity in respect of these regulations also.
Mr. Darling : I fear that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall now preface my three points with the obvious remark that these issues arise now and will arise again and again and again, because they do not directly fall within the scope of the directives. My hon. Friend has made a good point about the directives, because the discussions are between Ministers, and the House will not get an opportunity to discuss them further, despite the fact that the constituents of many hon. Members will be concerned, not only with the directives and the subject matter that they cover, but with the matters that they could have covered but do not.
At long last, I reach the three other points that I have wanted to mention and on which I shall be grateful for the Minister's comments. First, what is happening about the Schengen agreement? No debate on immigration rules would be complete without a reference to it. We are not a party to the treaty, which is between the Benelux countries, France and West Germany, but we send observers. Completely against the odds, the Schengen agreement was not signed last December because of objections mainly from European non -governmental organisations that were concerned about the ramshackle bureaucracy that it would create, together with the potential for discriminatory practices in the control of movement.
I should be grateful if the Minister could let us know the Government's view on the current state of the Schengen agreement, because it has some bearing on this country. There is no doubt that it is the blueprint for the regime that will prevail after 1992 and it is referred to when the Trevi group of Ministers meet from time to time.
My second point is entirely connnected with the directives. Undoubtedly, as we move towards more harmonisation and common rules throughout the EEC, we shall need safeguards and an appeals system. The Minister has talked about the test of whether someone will become a burden on the public purse. There are always two or three interpretations of individual circumstances. The need for an appeals system in this matter, just as with every other immigration rule, is growing greater by the day. As the decisions of immigration officers often cannot be questioned and hon. Members' rights to intervene have been severely curtailed, the quality of the decision-making is deteriorating. That is not in the interests of any view of justice or of the good workings of Europe. The time for an independent watchdog to supervise such matters is long overdue, but I dare say that we shall return to that matter on many occasions.
Thirdly, our system for dealing with emergency applications to enter this country leaves much to be desired. The directives are about the right of families to come to this country. I need hardly remind the Minister that, only two weeks ago, we had the appalling spectacle of a family trying to come to their father's or their uncle's funeral in this country and being cross-examined by an immigration officer about the number of water buffalo that one of their relatives had owned when he lived in Pakistan.
That sort of thing is thoroughly distasteful, and we really ought to avoid it. What we need is an efficient and speedy system of resolving these problems.
Column 1109Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock) : The hon. Gentleman talks about an efficient and speedy system. Surely the system will be far more efficient and speedy if it is simply a matter of rules laid down by the House being interpreted honestly and with integrity--as they are--by the professionals concerned, rather than those professionals having to put up with the interference of Members of Parliament, who are concerned not so much with whether the rules are being properly applied as, for obvious reasons, with getting votes in their constituencies.
Mr. Darling : That is a fatuous point. I am aware of the hon. Member's views on these matters, but it would not be particularly useful to go into them. Most hon. Members will know that, with the best will in the world, officials interpreting any rules, whether about immigration or any other matter, make mistakes. It seems to me that there is a great deal of merit in having an appeal system. My experience is that, if one knows that one's decision may be questioned or queried, it tends to be of a higher quality than it is if one knows that it will never be looked at again.
Lastly, I should like the Minister to talk about what is happening generally about the imposition of a common visa regime in respect of third countries. Quite clearly, that has a major bearing on the way in which these directives will work. It seems to me that, as Europe grows larger, in the political sense--perhaps by the day--there will be more movement. It will be a Europe in which people move across the old borders. There will be increasing demands from those who wish to marry or to form relationships with people outside Europe, and those demands will have to be considered and accommodated.
I hope that we shall be able to avoid having a web of rules. I hope that we shall be able to avoid an extension of bureacracy--an extension which I fear we could get. If, at some future time, the Government come forward with proposals to remove the obvious difficulties that we have created by conferring rights on EEC nationals while ignoring the plight of a large number of our own citizens, many people in this country will be profoundly grateful. At long last they will begin to think that all British citizens are treated equally, rather than that some getting treatment at the expense of others.
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South) : The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) has done the House a service by drawing attention, in the main part of his speech, to the fact that the document highlights a new dimension of inconsistency between immigration rules under British law and immigration rules under EC law. As the hon. Gentleman said, there is no doubt whatever that much greater rights are now being given to EC nationals than are available to our own citizens. That matter should be the subject of a proper, and perhaps detailed, debate in the House.
Before turning to the kernel of that argument, let me begin, as so often on these nocturnal occasions, with a ritual protest about the inadequate way in which the House continues to scrutinise EC legislation. Rarely have we seen a more shameful example of our weak powers and unsatisfactory procedures in that regard. It is a matter of record, in Hansard recently, that during the past 12 months the European Commission sent to the House 765 directives or documents, consisting of well over 10,000 pages. A great many of them have become, or are in the
Column 1110process of becoming, law applicable to our subjects. Those documents, if they are scrutinised at all before being rubber-stamped, are scrutinised in late-night debates lasting only one and a half hours. They come to us in indigestible lumps. The situation is totally unsatisfactory, and this directive is a classic example of the need for better scrutiny.
Mr. Cormack : Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a very good idea if, once every two weeks, we were to devote a day to these matters? Does he agree that that would have the added advantage of helping the Government in their legislative desires and ambitions?
Mr. Aitken : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I would be in favour of the extra day and of curbing some of the legislative excesses. I have a suspicion, perhaps an unworthy one, that tonight in particular my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench have indulged in skilful stage management by putting on the debate as late as possible, when the House is as empty as possible, with the Minister making as technical a speech as possible, thereby luring us all into such a comatose state that we do not notice what is happening.
A radical change is being instituted in our immigration laws. We are right to draw attention to it. Let us begin by reminding ourselves of the status quo on immigration law. This is a highly populated island. Successive Governments for over a quarter of a century have exercised a policy of strict and, on the whole, fair immigration control. The basis of that control is a mixture of laws and immigration rules, which are carefully worded, which have been lengthily debated and which on the whole are precise.
The EC directive drives not merely a coach and horses through our immigration laws but, in effect, a whole succession of European juggernauts, which will completely change much of the basis of our immigration laws. For example, the directive extends the right of residence in Britain not merely to all 280 million EC nationals but to their families and relatives, many of whom will not even have to be EC nationals themselves. It may not add up to the River Tiber--
Mr. Peter Lloyd : I am sorry to interrupt the flow of my hon. Friend's argument, but he seems to be developing the line that the directive is making a huge change. It is not. The big change came with the signing of the treaty, which enabled those who are economically active to move freely about the Community. The directive will add a few much smaller groups. It defines them and makes it possible for them to move under the treaty. It is not the vast change that my hon. Friend suggests.
Mr. Aitken : I was not born yesterday. I have read the document. Of course it is true that hitherto workers have had the right to move freely around the Community, but this is a big extension and not a trivial add-on, as the Minister suggests. I shall come to the precise definitions, woolly and vague as they are. They include not merely pensioners but a category of non-economically active persons and, most interestingly, a massive extension of the dependant category. We shall consider that closely.
I do not wish to over-dramatise the position. Before the Minister interrupted me, I was about to say that I do not think that the changes in the immigration rules will amount to the Tiber foaming with much blood, but it will be a case of the immigration headquarters at Croydon
Column 1111bulging at the seams with new applications. We should recognise that there will be a significant and substantial extension. One asks the question : have the British people been consulted about the changes? Can even the Minister understand the implications of the changes that he is pushing through? The reason I ask that follows the Minister's intervention. I am not sure that he can have satisfactorily read the directive ; certainly I shall be fascinated if he can satisfactorily explain the definitions of families who will be able to come in.
I shall read to the House two or three lines from the Government's explanatory memorandum. The paragraph headed "Policy implications" deals with the rights of dependants of EC nationals to exercise their right of residence in this country. It says :
"The new wording specifies that the family members who may benefit from the provisions of the Right of Residence Directives are those currently covered by Regulation 1612/68."
That is the change to which the Minister referred as not very great. The paragraph continues :
"It is, however, proposed to include in the Council minutes a statement as to the possibility of a review of the given definition of members of family in the light of the outcome of proceedings on the proposal for a Regulation amending Article 10 of Regulation 1612/68."
What does all that Euro-jargon mean? It means that no one has a clue what the definition of dependant, families or relatives of EC nationals who will have the right of residence in this country will be. If ever there was a foggy, inadequate, vague definition of dependant, this is it. The Government's explanatory memorandum, which is a polite title for the verbiage that I have just read, shows how extraordinarily vague the category of dependant will be.
As the category of dependant cannot be satisfactorily defined, will the Minister give a definition of the phrase "non-economically active persons"? We are giving right of residence in this country to pensioners and other non-economically active persons. I am anxious about that phrase, because I suspect that it will mean the unemployed, the unemployable, the underclass and the "don't want to work" class.
I say this with some feeling, because I represent a constituency that was much troubled by what was known as the "dole-on-sea" phenomenon a year or two ago. As a result of boarding house keepers placing advertisements in the poorer districts because they could not fill their rooms, they were able to recruit large numbers of people who could not find work or, as we more often thought, people who did not want to work, to the south coast by a sort of magnet approach. All sorts of social problems flowed from that migration. I do not like the notion that we shall have a dole-on-sea syndrome with people from, not just the north of England, but the whole of Europe being attracted into a district. That is wrong and we need a much more precise definition than anything given in the explanatory memorandum.
Column 1112That would no doubt be agreeable but, once again, the immigration consequence of the document needs to be considered.
Hong Kong has been referred to tonight. In this House, certainly on the Government Benches, we are contemplating a battle royal on the subject of Hong Kong. The heavy artillery of the Foreign Secretary and the big guns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) will shortly be locked in combat. We shall hear a great deal about the flow of Hong Kong immigration and whether we should give 50,000 passports.
If we look closely at the document and consider its implications because of the new rights given to EC nationals, residents and their families, we see that there is a huge, not just loophole, but bolthole, in the EC rules for Hong Kong residents and many others. The House may not be aware, but the easiest place in the European Community to get a passport today is Portugal. All one has to do is buy a modest residence, keep it for three years--one does not have to live there--and having done so, one can get a Portuguese passport and thus become an EC citizen and resident.
Therefore, any Hong Kong nationals who are denied passports and entry into Britain simply have to club together, so that somebody buys a small villa in Portugal at a low cost. Within three years, under these extremely vague rules, they can bring in their entire family, dependants, and presumably many other relatives, without any of the checks and balances that exist under our immigration rules. If the British public want this, and it is intended by Parliament, so be it. However, such immigration by stealth, round the back door, through those EC methods, is not what this Parliament has yet accepted as right.