Previous Section Home Page

Column 808

the Treasury see that as an opportunity to say, "We have won the peace--here is your P45." I do not want to make a political point out of that, but Ministers must bear in mind that peace in Northern Ireland would mean perhaps another 20,000 troops made redundant. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) made fun of defence diversification. There is no mention of it in the defence estimates. They mention the fact that the Army has discovered a way of freezing blood plasma. That was done for military purposes, but it will now be used for commercial purposes. The Ministry of Defence has signed a contract for that work with a Dutch company. The process was invented in Britain, but the product is to be manufactured abroad. Nothing changes, does it ?

I am glad to see that the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), is present. I am sure that he will agree that if one wants a success story of defence diversification one need go no further than Cumbria. On the west coast, there was a royal ordnance factory called Sellafield. It was used after the war for making plutonium for nuclear bombs. Now it employs 12,000 people, only 5 per cent. of them for a military purpose, the rest for peaceful purposes. Whether or not one agrees with nuclear power, that is a success story of defence

diversification and it was Government directed.

We need a defence diversification agency so that we can start to exploit the peaceful aspects of the defence industry rather than giving such work to the Dutch, as the Government appear to do. I have done some research on the position of women in the armed forces. I know that Conservative Members are upset about women being compensated for unfair dismissal. I contacted our NATO allies. The French said that they had never dismissed women because they were pregnant. The Greeks have not replied, which may have something to do with the fact that I went to Macedonia. The Italians said that they do not have such a problem because they do not allow women in their armed forces. The Netherlands said that it never dismisses women for being pregnant, as did Canada. The Norwegians said that it is illegal to dismiss women for that reason. The Portuguese said that they have never dismissed women because of pregnancy

Mr. Brazier : Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point ?

Mr. Martlew : I am sorry, but I will not give way. I have only three minutes left and I want to wind up.

Spain does not dismiss women because of pregnancy and even Turkey does not do it. The United States does not do it. In 1990 a European judgment required the United Kingdom to change the law. The bill is coming in now and it will be £20 million, £30 million or £40 million. The Government are to blame. They should have taken the advice of their NATO allies and changed the rules.

With regard to the D-day debacle, we were in great danger of changing a ceremony to honour the 10,000 people who died into some sort of fun day. Now it is back in kilter. I wrote to the Secretary of State on 16 November on behalf of the veterans in Carlisle asking for financial help and received a reply from the then


Column 809

Under-Secretary of State, Lord Cranborne. They were given £500 by Carlisle city council, but nothing by the Government. The letter from Lord Cranborne mentioned the Royal British Legion once, but gave the Southern tourist board's address. There were six more references to tourist boards, but only one to the Royal British Legion. The Ministry of Defence gave the job of organising the affair to the tourist boards of Great Britain. That is where it went wrong. We now have a Government who do not want a policy review, a Government run by the Treasury and its Chief Secretary. Not only that--they have been played about by the tourist boards. We now have the weakest Ministry of Defence for many years : it is a good job that the Ministers who are there now were not

9.35 pm

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Jonathan Aitken) : Running like a silver thread through the six and half hours of thedebate has been a steady flow of tributes from hon. Members on both sides of the House to our Army and to its service men and women. I am glad to add my own accolade and that of the Government to the high and well deserved praise already expressed. I shall return to that theme at the end of my speech. In the meantime, I am happy to associate myself with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) at the beginning of his speech, when he said that our armed forces are the finest in the world. They certainly deserve that proud title.

However, that was the only point on which I agreed with the hon. Member for Motherwell, North, who spent 68 tedious minutes boring the pants off the House with the most feeble of knockabouts and the most flaccid of knocking copy. The only interesting moment came when he took a leaf out of someone else's book and read us a great encomium of praise for Lord Healey. I found that rather illuminating. Labour's most disastrous Secretary of State for Defence has suddenly become an icon and a guru for the new Labour Front- Bench spokesmen. In his career as a politician, Lord Healey defied the law of averages by always getting it wrong. He predicted disaster for our armed forces in the Falklands. He was wrong about that. He predicted disaster for our forces in the Gulf war. He was wrong about that. Lord Healey scrapped the TSR2 ; let us remember that on the day when Eurofighter is flying proudly. He was wrong about that too. It was Lord Healey, too, who inflicted the most savage defence cuts in recent history between 1964 and 1970. He was wrong about those too. And he is the new source of inspiration for Labour Front-Bench policies.

The Opposition spokesman fell back on two slogans, both pretty familiar. One was, "Give us a proper defence review," and the other was "Down with the Treasury-led exercise, Front Line First'." Then he dug out a polished phrase from the Walworth road admen and said that the Government were running the British Army like a branch of McDonald's. All I can say is that when I have finished with him tonight I hope that he will feel like a sliced hamburger.


Column 810

After the monotony of the opening Opposition speech, it was refreshing to hear a much shorter, more serious and statesmanlike speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who reminded the Government of their promise to give the Army adequate resources for first-class equipment. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) touched on that subject too, and spoke of our moral obligation in that regard.

I shall return to the subject of the Army's equipment programme later, but we can be quietly proud of the fact that we are placing a Challenger 2 order and negotiating a further extension to it, we have the AS90 order, and the Warrior order is completing. The My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater was right to remind us of what can fairly be called the tension in Ministry of Defence planning between resources for peacekeeping duties and those for high-intensity conflict. It is important to realise that we are equipping our Army with a careful eye on the long term, so it is a wide-ranging capability-based Army, which has to balance its manpower- intensive peacetime operational commitments with its more fundamental role involving war-fighting capability.

Mr. Brazier : I share the concern that was eloquently expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), to which my hon. Friend the Minister is referring. I put it to my hon. Friend that, while the individual orders he mentions are welcome, we are now spending the lowest proportion of the defence budget on equipment since shortly after we took office. It is difficult to see how that can be compatible with a better-equipped, high-intensity capability.

Mr. Aitken : I feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) is letting his understandable frustration at having sat through the debate for six and a half hours without getting called make him say things that are rougher than are justified. The Army is pretty satisfied with the equipment programme, as I know from all levels. It is important that, whatever the money spent, we give the Army the equipment to run a high-intensity, all-arms capability at formation level--a formation that can go to war as part of NATO or some other coalition, as was the case in the Gulf.

Without that war-fighting capability--perhaps this is what my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury is afraid of--the British Army would become a mere gendarmerie, capable of providing a battalion here or a battalion there, but without the ability to go to war in a high-intensity conflict. That latter scenario is no part of the Government's vision. As my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) eloquently reminded us, the world is a dangerous place and the British Army must be prepared for the most serious of conflicts, as it has been in the past.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) asked me about the new Reserve Forces Bill. We hope to introduce legislation in the 1994 Session. He asked whether the two battalions in Northern Ireland were really necessary. They are required by the General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland, although, as my right hon. Friend


Column 811

well knows, force levels in Northern Ireland are kept under constant review to match the changing nature of the threat. The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) raised a constituency point about Benbecula. He will know from my visit to his constituency and from the fact that I was glad to receive a delegation of his constituents that I am well informed on the issue and I take his points seriously, as will the Government before reaching any decision.

My hon. Friends the Members for Upminster and for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) raised the issue of training, which is most important. If the Army is not well trained, it will not have high morale and it will not for long keep its position as top of the first division of premier fighting forces of the world. Proper resourcing of the programme of Army training is a high priority for the Government. We have a major package to develop our two key training areas of Salisbury

The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) made points about what went on in the miners' strike and about Polaris ; he said almost nothing about the Army. I can make one point to him. There is no question of our finding posts for redundant service men by dismissing Ministry of Defence police, and I am glad to set the record straight there. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) did the House a service by revealing the exciting contents of Mr. Larry Whitty's circular. It did, indeed, prove that the Labour party has been making an extraordinary amount of political capital out of D-day, both outside the House and inside the House, where it has tabled early-day motions criticising the Government. That is a real case of facing both ways and of humbug, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for revealing that. In response to my hon. Friend's exhortations about being more businesslike at Ministry of Defence headquarters, I can tell him that we are doing just that in the defence costs study, to which I shall turn in a moment.

I was grateful for the compliments to the Royal Anglian Regiment made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). I agree with his point about the importance of extending the hand of military friendship and co- operation to the emerging democracies of eastern Europe, including Poland and Hungary. We are trying to do that through the partnership for peace programme.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) feels that there can be reductions in the Procurement Executive and rationalisation of the medical services. That point was also raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell. However, I thought that my hon. Friend was being unfair when he spoke of the unsatisfactory nature of the new Territorial Army commitment to the Falklands. Contrary to his gloomy forecasts, recruiting for that particular TA platoon is going extremely well. There have already been more than 53 volunteers for the 40 places available. That is a signal that this is quite a popular move.

Many speeches tonight have dealt with the defence costs study exercise, known as "Front Line First". Indeed, almost every speaker touched on that in some way. I am glad to tell the House something about it and to turn, with some relish, to the Mutt and Jeff act


Column 812

on the subject from Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. Their speeches were so bereft of constructive criticism, let alone originality of thought, that we can safely assume that Labour's shadow ministerial team has spent the past few months deeply immersed in an ideas-cutting internal exercise known as "Front Bench Last". Even further behind are their own Back Benchers. When the debate started, there was the amazing total of three Labour Back Benchers in the House, compared to 32 Members on this side, indicating that we take defence 10 times more seriously than do the Opposition. As a substitute for any sort of understanding or comprehension of what we are about, the two Opposition spokesmen performed predictably as a couple

As for the parrots crying "Give us a proper defence review", let me remind the House that we have had our policy review. It was called "Options for Change". My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater reminded us, in a fine speech, that our policy is just as valid today as it ever was. We keep those policies and commitments as set out in "Options for Change" under review and the results of our analysis have been published in greater detail than ever before in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994". That White Paper shows that the "Options for Change" policy remains fundamentally valid, although, of course, there are changes in the plans and in some of the plan details in accordance with changes in the strategic environment.

Turning to "Front Line First", I am amazed at the noises from Opposition Members suggesting that they are totally hostile to the study. Surely they do not oppose our efforts to study new methods for saving the taxpayer money and for spending it more effectively on the front line. Surely they are not opposed to the principle of trying to concentrate resources at the sharp end of defence--the front line. When they demand instead a wider defence review and they go on about the need to review our commitments, does that mean that they want to give up certain policy commitments ? In which case, let them say which ones they want to give up. We wait with bated breath to hear the announcement. Or do they want to use the cloak of a defence review to fulfil their conference resolutions to make cuts in the front line ? In which case, we need to be told which cuts in the front line they have in mind.

As usual, we did not get a single policy idea, except one. We did get one policy. Here it comes. Was it a bird ? Was it a plane ? Was it a missile ? No. It was a defence diversification unit. That was the only new, original idea that the Labour party had for defence policy. For the Government, the whole point of "Front Line First", as the very name makes clear, is not to cut or diminish the operational military capability effective as the front line. I believe that we are going to succeed in that objective.

That is why I feel confident in also dismissing the Opposition's second parrot cry, which simply denounces the whole exercise as Treasury-led. Anyone who has been following "Front Line First" from the inside would gladly give credit to the best and brightest minds in the services and in the Department for the radical and lateral thinking and new ideas that have led the whole exercise internally from within the system.

I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for


Column 813

Epsom and Ewell was well informed on that point and paid tribute to those internal efforts. It was our own idea to take an

across-the-board look at the way in which we do business in the support and administrative areas of defence to see whether we could not only makes sensible savings, but shift resources from tail to teeth.

It was our plan not only to hand pick 33 study teams, but to invite suggestions from individuals, service men, service women and departmental officials who felt that they had proposals to contribute. Those individual contributions provided the teams with a rich harvest of reforming ideas. That is not surprising because

Dr. Reid : May I remind the Minister that the definition of "Front Line First" and of the front line was asked for not by a Labour Member but by one of his hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), who is now here ? Perhaps the Minister can explain to his hon. Friend, as his colleague could not, what the Minister means by the front line.

Mr. Aitken : My hon. Friend gave a very good answer and I shall give my own answer later. I was saying, to remind the House, that it was our internal people who seized the opportunity to tell us about the things that they thought that we were doing less than efficiently. Well over 3,000 individual suggestions have been received from within the services and the Ministry. Those range from suggestions about packaging standards and better uses of fax machines and computers to proposals for tri-service rationalisation, civilianisation and privatisation.

All those suggestions were passed on to the appropriate study team and many of the suggestions will be followed up in the normal course of business. Those 33 teams have been looking across the board at the defence environment and at every aspect of the way in which we manage and support the front line to see whether we can do it better and more economically.

The teams have been considering big issues such as the management of spares, on which we spend £4 billion each year, and the central organisation of the Ministry, but, at the same time, they have been examining more routine activities that do not normally receive high-level scrutiny, or certainly did not during the cold war. There are a multitude of examples, but I shall give only one or two. I have mentioned such matters as staff travel arrangements, the provision of fire cover to the three services, internal financial management, the management of our scientific research and development budget and new information technology systems.

Many clear messages have emerged from the evidence that has been given to the teams. Message No. 1 is that the Ministry of Defence and headquarters at all levels were widely seen as excessively bureaucratic, despite recent reductions in bureaucracy. Several teams have been addressing the problem in different areas and have proposed significant reforms.

Message No. 2 is that future defence operations, and


Column 814

hence command, training and support, are seen as being increasingly carried out on a joint service basis. In many areas, therefore, the proposed programme of reform and rationalisation will follow from that. Emerging from the studies is the prospect of scope for savings and better defence solutions.

Message No. 3

Dr. David Clark : What is the front line ?

Mr. Aitken : The parrot is on again about the front line. Let the hon. Gentleman listen to the messages and he might learn some new cries.

Message No. 3 is that reductions in the state of readiness Message No. 4 is that we need greater delegation. The process of delegating responsibility from the centre has not yet reached as far down the chain of management as we intended. We need to give our commanders and managers more freedom about how they meet defence objectives.

As the summarised messages from the study group show, the sheer depth and weight of the in-house activity gives the lie to the Opposition's parrot cry, "Treasury-led exercise."

Dr. Clark : Where does the front line begin ?

Mr. Aitken : The hon. Gentleman keeps on about the front line. It is extraordinary that he does not know where it begins.

Dr. Clark : Perhaps the Minister will tell me.

Mr. Aitken : I shall tell the hon. Gentleman exactly. In essence, the term "front line" refers to the overall operational capability that our fighting units--warships, battalions and combat aircraft, for example--need to fulfil the military tasks placed on them. They are set out in detail in the White Paper. For that capability to be maintained, our fighting units have to be properly supported, directly or indirectly, by the remaining parts of the services and by the Ministry of Defence itself.

Support areas make a vital contribution to front-line capability. That contribution is, by and large, distinct in its nature and susceptible to separate analysis. That is precisely why we set up the defence costs study. We wish to ensure that front-line units receive the essential support that they need, but with the best value for money and at the least possible cost. I think that that is a pretty sensible definition that meets the points raised by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith).

I have been asked a great deal about timing and when we shall make our announcement. I understand that there is a natural impatience and a natural urge to end uncertainty. Those points were well made. A massive study that aims to improve efficiency and administrative support areas to enable our armed forces to discharge their military tasks to the full surely deserves a welcome in principle from the whole House, as it has received a welcome in principle from the services and the Ministry of Defence. They understand what we are trying to do and, on the whole, the exercise has been well supported. It certainly does not deserve to receive the sort of parish-pump whingeing and parrot cries that we have had from the Opposition. I recognise that the House will be disappointed--I


Column 815

hope that it will be understanding--that I am constrained from giving further details tonight. That is because the study process has not yet been completed.

I must emphasise that, contrary to some speculative press reports, no final decisions on "Front Line First" have yet been reached by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

The final phase will take a few more weeks to complete. I expect my right hon. and learned Friend to announce the outcome of the study well before the summer

Mr. Martlew : Will the Minister give way ?

Mr. Aitken : No.

I am confident that "Front Line First" will achieve the objective of making substantial savings. It will achieve the objective of improving the efficiency of defence support and administration while not diminishing--it may even succeed in enhancing--the front-line capability of Her Majesty's armed forces.

Mr. Martlew : I am grateful to the Minister for saying that the results of "Front Line First" will be announced before the recess. Does he agree that the House should have an opportunity to debate that announcement before the House rises ?

Mr. Aitken : I have no doubt that the "Front Line First" proposals will be debated by the House, but the arrangement of such a debate is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. It does not help good relations between parties when, after the usual channels have arranged a debate on a date suggested by the Opposition, an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman repudiates his own Whips and says that it is unfair that the debate should be held today. That was a deplorable performance by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew).

It follows from what I said that the "Front Line First" process will not have a negative impact on the Army. One positive aspect of our financial restructuring is that the Army's equipment programme is in robust shape. I refer particularly to the Challenger 2 tank order. I remind the House that 127 of the new, impressive Challenger 2 tanks are on order from Vickers. In December, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State announced that we expected to place an order for up to 259 more, subject to contractual negotiations. The tender for Vickers has been received and is under negotiation. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East asked me a specific question about attack helicopters. Six companies have responded to our invitation to tender with strong bids and we expect to place a contract with the winner in the middle of next year. Several hon. Members, notably my hon. Friends the Members for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) and for Weston-super-Mare, asked the familiar question about support helicopters and the EH101 helicopter. The invitation to tender has been issued to Westland for the EH101 helicopters and to Boeing for Chinooks. We hope to have a mixed fleet, but its number and composition must depend on prices, which are under negotiation. We hope to make an announcement before the end of the year.

I am not able to go through the full equipment programme, but I should like to say that we have


Column 816

ordered the AS90 and that we are coming to the end of an order for about 750 Warrior vehicles. We have placed a £200 million order for long-term orders of ammunition, which has been a great boon to Royal Ordnance, although one would not think it from the comments of the hon. Member for Motherwell, North.

We shall introduce the high-velocity missile for the Army's close-air defence capability and we hope to introduce the new Rapier field standard C short-range missile system, which is expected to enter service in the Army next year. The comprehensive equipment programme

Vital though the Army's equipment programme is, its service men and service women most deserve the compliments and congratulations of the House. Some of us have had the privilege to see the Army on active service in recent months, particularly in the often perilous environments of Northern Ireland and Bosnia. I was privileged to travel with General Michael Rose for some days just before Christmas. We know that the superlative professionalism and dedication to duty of our forces earns them their unequalled high reputation and respect.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater that, even if the Northern Ireland commitment comes to an end, the Army is at its right strength. I do so not least having recently read David Fraser's fine biography of Rommel, in which he mentioned that the German army, even at the nadir of its fortunes after the first world war, had to stay at a strength above 100,000 because that was the minimum required for it to be able to revive and increase in number at a later date. The Army is at the right level today.

I remind the House about one particular episode that to me, and I think to many others, caused a lump in the throat and symbolised all that is finest in the ethos and achievement of the Army. I am referring to that astonishing moment on Sunday 20 March this year when the band of the Coldstream Guards, immaculate in full dress uniform, marched out in the football stadium in Sarajevo playing "The Peacemakers."

That scene was not only an imaginative and colourful initiative by a remarkable general, General Rose, about whom many tributes have rightly been paid tonight ; it was a signal that peace and normality were beginning to creep back to the hitherto bombarded and beleaguered city of Sarajevo thanks to the fine generalship of General Rose. Above all, it was a spectacle that shone around the world because it symbolised the British Army's long tradition of military excellence and its proud record of getting difficult tasks well done.

Here at home, the British people responded instinctively with uplifted hearts and spirits at that Sarajevo episode because it reminded us that in today's international turbulence and strategic uncertainty

AGRICULTURE --

Ordered,

That Mr. Andrew Hunter be discharged from the Agriculture Committee and Mr. Roger Knapman be added to the Committee.--[ Sir Fergus Montgomery, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]


Column 817

EMPLOYMENT --

Ordered,

That Mr. Richard Spring be discharged from the Employment Committee and Sir Ralph Howell be added to the Committee.--[ Sir Fergus Montgomery, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]

LIAISON --

Ordered,

That Sir James Kilfedder be added to the Liaison Committee.-- [Mr. Lightbown.]


Column 818

Mr. Bryan Ruppert

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

10 pm

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) : Today I wish to raise the case of Bryan Ruppert. Bryan Ruppert is an American citizen. He first met his partner, David Green, in the autumn of 1989 in a translation class in Germany where they were both studying for a year as part of their degree courses. Their relationship began within a few weeks, taking them both by surprise. By the end of the year, they had already visited each other's homes, met families and friends and travelled together in Europe.

Bryan spent the last few weeks of the 1990 summer vacation with David and his family before they had to part to complete their studies. With the exception of 10 days at new year, when Bryan visited David in the United Kingdom, they were separated for 13 months. That was a most difficult time for them both as they tried to cope with the separation and their studies, as they wondered how they would be together again in the future.

David stayed at Birmingham university to do a postgraduate degree, and Bryan arranged to go to Birmingham on a British universities north America club scheme, which allowed him to work in the United Kingdom for six months. By the time they met again after the long separation, they had no idea whether the relationship would be able to last but, within a couple of weeks, everything was exactly the same as it had been in Germany. They were absolutely sure of their commitment to each other.

They decided to apply for Bryan to be allowed to stay on the basis of his relationship with David, and submitted their application in March 1992, including photographs, letters from their families and even copies of telephone bills. They were very optimistic. The refusal came in June. They had not prepared themselves for that devastating blow. While they were trying to come to terms with it, their solicitor filed an appeal and they knew that they would have a very long wait ahead. Bryan's temporary work permit had expired at that point, and he was not able to work for 30 days, and David's studies took a turn for the worse. They had been stressed since the application was originally submitted, but this was worse still. They decided that the best way to face up to their situation was From the first time that I met them, I was impressed by their straightforward honesty, integrity and commitment to each other. I was not the only parliamentarian who felt that way. Bryan and David began a letter-writing campaign to peers and MPs of all political persuasions. They received many sympathetic letters of support from hon. Members and noble Lords and Ladies, and they were able to meet several of them in Westminster.

The year-long wait before their appeal was heard dragged slowly. Bryan could not leave the country even when his uncle died in January 1993. Both men were under considerable strain. It could be argued that this was a good test of the relationship, and so it was, but what a horrendous way to have to prove that a


Column 819

person loves someone.

The appeal was heard in September 1993. The men's submission agreed that their circumstances were not covered by the immigration rules, but pointed out that the Home Office Minister had discretion to allow leave to remain, outside the rules. The men felt confident that, if their case was examined on its merits, Bryan would surely be allowed to remain. Fortunately, the adjudicator at the appeal, Dr. Popper, agreed, and wrote a strongly worded recommendation that the Minister overrule the previous decision. The men felt that Dr. Popper argued their case so well that they simply could not see how anyone could refute it : they were overjoyed.

Clearly, Bryan and David had an established relationship that had lasted for some time, and there was no suggestion that it would not continue permanently. Their relationship is stable and loving and it was not entered into primarily to enable the appellant, Bryan Ruppert, to enter the United Kingdom. David Green owns his own house, and both men are well able to maintain themselves--there is no question of recourse to public funds.

At the appeal, reference was made to the considerable support for the application from their respective parents ; it was noted by the adjudicator as genuine and warm. More support came from Bryan Ruppert's employer, from Members of all parties in both Houses of Parliament, and particularly from Lord Scarman who, in a hand-written letter, wrote :

"I cannot believe that this"

referring to the gay relationship

"is any reason why the application should be refused. A homosexual relationship between two consenting adults is, in itself, perfectly lawful. I know of nothing scandalous, disreputable or criminal in the conduct of either Mr. Ruppert or Mr. Green."

He went on :

"I would think that these two young men have much to contribute to their country if this application be granted."

If Bryan and David had been a heterosexual couple, they would have been able to marry. Even if they had not been, their application would have been considered outside the rules in accordance with Home Office guidelines, which state :

"Although there is no provision under immigration rules for a person to be allowed to remain in the United Kingdom on the basis of a common-law relationship with a British citizen (or person settled here), it is policy to consider granting leave to remain to such persons on the same criteria as

Bryan and David's relationship has lasted for four and a half years and survived a year's separation shortly after they first met. Clearly, the Home Secretary and his officials have power to grant leave to remain, outside the immigration rules, to those in heterosexual, common-law relationships. Cannot the Minister accept the sense of grievance and injustice that my constituents feel when the basis of rejection is that their relationship is homosexual ? Dealing with its own staff, the Home Office accepts the validity of same-sex relationships. In 1993, it issued a notice to staff regarding transfer allowances :

"The Department will consider paying the married staff permanent transfer allowances to single staff on the basis of an established relationship (including same-gender partnerships)."

The Home Office defines an established relationship as one in which

"the member of staff and the other person or persons have been permanent members of the same household for a period


Column 820

of six months".

So the Home Office recognises same-gender partnerships and has a policy for dealing with common-law relationships. Surely there is no reason why it cannot apply its own policies to gay men and lesbian women who currently have to find alternative methods of remaining together.

Although the Minister has argued that English law does not accord any legal status to those in homosexual relationships, and immigration practice merely reflects the general position, the same logic is obviously not applied to those in heterosexual common-law relationships. This policy of discrimination can only further alienate the gay community and encourage deceptions--as we saw in the case of the gay immigration officer Mark Watson, who is now in gaol simply because he wanted to be with the partner he loved. Tonight, the Minister can respond to the debate in several ways. He can simply read out a statement prepared by his officials reiterating the view that Bryan Ruppert's circumstances are not comparable with those of a heterosexual couple, or are not sufficiently compelling to warrant the exercise of discretion outside the rules. That would again mean dismissing the adjudicator's recommendation that leave to remain be granted for Mr. Ruppert in the light of the relationship which those men have and the distress which a separation would surely cause.

Bryan and David are here tonight to watch the proceedings, and I sincerely hope that the Minister will not lightly dismiss the strong arguments in support of their application. Will he not at least offer to have another look at the case ?

The recent case of Javier Lizarzaburu--which I understand may be on his desk at the moment--gives grounds for a review of the whole policy, as it governs same-sex immigration cases. Mr. Lizarzburu's appeal tribunal found that the most appropriate context in which claims for a person in a same- sex relationship should be considered was through the adaptation of the married immigration rules, and not as an application for indefinite leave. His appeal was therefore allowed. I am asking the Minister to consider Bryan Ruppert's case on its merits. Alternatively, he can agree that lesbian and gay relationships should be treated in exactly the same way as unmarried heterosexual relationships. As I have shown, the Home Office does accept homosexual relationships, and further, such relationships have been acknowledged by the

Same-sex partnerships have also been recognised for immigration purposes. For example, the category of "person of independent means" used to require a close connection with the United Kingdom for an applicant to be given leave to remain. In the case of Sum Yee Thong, an immigration adjudicator determined that a gay relationship did fulfil this requirement, and the Home office did not appeal against that decision.

Providing for the immigration of same-sex partners does not require a change in the law. All that is needed is a change in the guidelines, so that stable same-sex relationships fall in the same category, and are verified in the same way, as unmarried heterosexual relationships. There is not even any argument that such a change will lead to an increase in immigration, as the numbers involved are very small.


Next Section

  Home Page