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I sincerely hope that the Minister will see the justice in Bryan Ruppert's case in his response tonight.

10.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle) : I first congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) on obtaining this debate to discuss the case of Mr. Bryan Ruppert, a 26-year-old American citizen who has sought to remain in the United Kingdom as the homosexual partner of a British man, David Green. I recognise that the issue raised in the case may be difficult and sensitive for some hon. Members, and I do not intend tonight to discuss the general issues arising from homosexual relationships, with which we are not concerned here. Instead, I want to concentrate on the specific matter of the position of homosexuals in the context of immigration control. The House may find it helpful to have brief details of the case to which the hon. Lady has referred. I must commend the hon. Lady for her diligence in pursuit of this case. She wrote to me about it on several occasions last year, and I have explained to her the policy which applies in cases such as this in the letters which I have sent to her.

I have also set out for her our assessment of this particular case in the light of all known circumstances, and I do not think that she added anything to those circumstances in what she told the House this evening. Although the hon. Lady is therefore fully aware of our position, both on policy and as that policy bears in this individual case, I am happy to take this opportunity to set out the position for the House.

I am also aware that Mr. Ruppert's case has attracted the interest of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). Furthermore, as the hon. Lady has already told the House, several noble Lords raised the case last year, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) explained the Government's position in his replies. As there have been further developments in this case since that time, the debate has provided me with a useful opportunity to record the current position.

The facts are clear enough, and so, I would submit, is our policy on how cases such as Mr. Ruppert's are considered. I recognise that the hon. Lady will not be able to agree with much of what I have to say, but I hope that she will be in no doubt about the policy by the

I shall deal first with the background. These are the facts of the case-- the hon. Lady has outlined many of them already. Mr. Ruppert entered the United Kingdom on 22 November 1991 as a student, when he was granted leave to enter for six months on condition that he did not enter or change employment, paid or unpaid, without the consent of the Secretary of State for Employment, and did not engage in any business or profession without the consent of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He was also admitted to the United Kingdom on condition that he would leave on completion of his studies. Those are, of course, normal conditions under the immigration rules for persons coming here as students.

In March 1992, Mr. Ruppert's representatives

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sought permission for him to remain here indefinitely on the basis of his homosexual relationship with a British man, Mr. David Green. His case was assessed carefully under the rules. The position is that the immigration rules make provision for the spouse of a person settled in the United Kingdom to be granted limited leave to remain. But Mr. Ruppert was not the spouse of anyone settled in the United Kingdom, and the relevant requirements of the rules had not been met.

Furthermore, an application had been made on Mr. Ruppert's behalf for leave to remain for employment, but that is a purpose for which entry clearance is required prior to entry to the United Kingdom. He was not admitted with such entry clearance, so the application was refused. Mr. Ruppert appealed against this decision to the independent appellate authorities established by Parliament to resolve such disputed matters. His appeal was dismissed on 20 October 1993. Mr. Ruppert's representatives confirmed at the appeal hearing that he was prepared to concede the case under the rules, but that he wished to call evidence to be heard in support of a recommendation. In accordance with this request, the adjudicator formally recorded the appeal as dismissed but, upon hearing all the evidence, as the hon. Lady has described, made a recommendation to the Secretary of State for the case to be reconsidered, so that leave to remain outside the rules could be granted to Mr. Ruppert on the basis of his relationship with a British man settled in the United Kingdom--in other words, with Mr. Green.

It may be helpful if I comment briefly on the effect of a recommendation such as that made by the adjudicator after an appeal hearing. While a recommendation by an adjudicator is not binding on the Secretary of State, considerable weight is attached to it. The application was therefore reconsidered carefully in the light of the adjudicator's comments and recommendation.

As I said in my letter of 10 December to the hon. Lady, in reviewing the case my officials took account both of the recommendation and of the representations made by the hon. Lady. But, as I explained then, it was not felt that Mr. Ruppert's circumstances were of such

The current position is that Mr. Ruppert has now been here for almost two years without authority. As is normal in such cases, deportation action has been commenced against him.

To complete the picture, the hon. Lady asked me to meet an all-party group of hon. Members to discuss the case. In my letter of 17 February, I explained my reasons for declining to do so. In short, as no new information had come to light in this case and there were no more developments which needed to be reviewed, I had to say that, with respect, I saw little purpose in a discussion of the kind envisaged. Finally, in my reply to a question from the hon. Lady on 15 March, I referred to the views that I had expressed earlier. I now turn to questions of policy. It may be helpful if I explain the decision in the context of our immigration policy on homosexual relationships. As some hon. Members will already know, there is no provision in the immigration rules for a foreign

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national to remain in this country on the basis of a homosexual relationship. The hon. Member for Selly Oak has made it clear that she is aware of that. Consequently, applications fall to be considered exceptionally outside the rules.

The policy on the admission of homosexuals to join or remain with a partner settled here is kept under constant review, and each application is considered carefully on its individual merits. Discretion will not normally be exercised in an applicant's favour unless compelling compassionate circumstances are present. As hon. Members are aware, the immigration rules provide for the admission of spouses. In such cases, the very fact of marriage and the presence of children of the marriage are factors which go to establishing the genuineness of the relationship. In cases of heterosexual common-law relationships, the presence of children of the relationship, and whether the couple intend to marry, are factors which may be taken into account in deciding whether a relationship is genuine and subsisting. Clearly, such factors are not present in homosexual relationships.

As hon. Members will know, English law does not afford any legal status to homosexual relationships. Immigration practice in relation to homosexuals reflects this general position. It would be illogical to try to construct an immigration policy which did not accord with the general position. It is true that some countries do, in some circumstances, recognise homosexual relationships. But most countries, including the majority of our European Union partners, afford them no legal status.

It is quite clear that the majority of member states are not prepared to contemplate the admission of homosexual partners, and any movement away from our current policy would therefore put us out of step with them and with the resolution on family reunification policies which was signed by EU Immigration Ministers in Copenhagen in June last year.

Dr. Lynne Jones rose

Mr. Wardle : I will give way to the hon. Lady in a moment. It may be helpful if I provide the House with brief details of that resolution, which is to be applied to the family

Under the terms of the resolution, a member state will normally grant admission to a resident's spouse and the children, other than adopted children, of the resident and his or her spouse. Other children, including adopted children, may also be admitted. Member states have also reserved the possibility of admitting other family members for compelling reasons which justify the presence of the person concerned. It is clear from what I have said that nothing in the resolution confers the right of admission to a person in a homosexual relationship with a national of a member

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Dr. Jones : I thank the Minister for giving way. Does he agree that currently Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand recognise same-sex partnerships for immigration purposes ?

Mr. Wardle : Some countries do--the hon. Lady is certainly right about Australia, Denmark and Norway--in certain well-defined cases. I think that that is a point on which she may wish to reflect. On previous occasions when cases have been referred to the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the United Kingdom's refusal of leave to remain in the United Kingdom on the basis of a homosexual relationship constituted an unjustified interference with private life, contrary to article 8 of the convention and discrimination, compared with heterosexual couples, contrary to article 14 of the convention, they have not been upheld by either the court or the commission.

The European Commission on Human Rights has found that the absence from the United Kingdom immigration rules of settlement rights for non-nationals in respect of stable, private relationships other than family relationships does not disclose any violation of the convention.

As I told the House in my speech on 20 July last year, the Government intend to lay reformulated immigration rules. This process has taken some time, not least because we offered an extensive period of consultation, and were naturally anxious to assess fully the views of those who responded. But the process is nearing completion, and I expect to be able to lay the new rules before the House very shortly. They will not, however, make any new provision for homosexual partners. To do so would afford them, as I have already sought to make clear to the House, a status not present elsewhere in our law. In conclusion, Mr. Ruppert's relationship with his partner is of comparatively short duration and, so far as is known, there are no compelling compassionate circumstances present in his case which would suggest that discretion should be exercised in his favour. Furthermore, nothing that the hon. Lady has said has persuaded me to change my mind.

I am, of course, very much aware of the considerable support which Mr. Ruppert's application has attracted, and due weight has been given to all the representations which have been made on his behalf. However,

As I have said, I have heard nothing this evening to persuade me to alter my view. If the hon. Lady can offer any compelling evidence in the very near future, she should do so, but I am bound to tell her that, from what she has said and what I know of the case, no such compelling evidence would persuade me to change my mind. I can see no reason to overturn the decision that has already been reached. Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-four minutes past Ten o'clock.

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