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Immigration Policy

4. Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the changes which the Government propose to make to immigration policy as regards the primary purpose rule and the admission of elderly relatives. [917]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): We announced the abolition of the primary purpose rule on 5 June in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). We have no plans at present to change the rules relating to the admission of elderly relatives.

Sir Teddy Taylor: Will the Minister confirm that that extremely important policy change will apply to current cases, that is, ones in which the refusal took place before 5 June or the appeal was made before then? Bearing in mind the fact that many of the people concerned have waited a long time already and have been subject to considerable delays, will the Minister examine the representations of the Immigration Advisory Service, which provides an excellent service? The IAS believes that there may be further delays stemming from the

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difference between a genuine marriage and the primary purpose rule. Will the Minister make sure that having sorted out one problem, we do not create another?

Mr. O'Brien: We are glad that the hon. Gentleman supports our proposals, and we hope that he will continue to support us in future. We shall review all outstanding appeals. Where the refusal was based solely on primary purpose grounds, we shall return the papers to the entry clearance officer who will issue the clearance. Where the refusal was based on primary purpose and other grounds, we shall examine the case in full. However, we shall lodge appeals in most cases.

Mr. Gerrard: I thank my hon. Friend for making the change, which will be widely welcomed. The press release that announced the change suggested that the 12-month probationary period for marriage would remain. Will my hon. Friend look sympathetically at cases where women are forced by violent relationships to leave the marriage within one year? We would not wish to see the deportation of people in that situation. Will he consider also the plight of elderly dependants? EU citizens living in Britain have more right than British citizens to bring elderly dependants into the country.

Mr. O'Brien: My hon. Friend raises several important points. The one-year rule will remain. As to domestic violence cases, he will be aware that I was a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee that made recommendations in that regard. We are currently examining the issues relating to domestic violence cases and the operation of the one-year rule.

In the case of elderly relatives, I am conscious of the paradox that my hon. Friend describes. We are examining the issues involved and we are committed not only to having fairer immigration and asylum rules but to ensuring that they are both firm and fair.

Mr. Howard: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment. Does he recognise that the changes will open up a substantial loophole in our system of immigration control? Our excellent race relations record has always gone hand in hand with firm but fair immigration control. Does not the change put that record at risk?

Mr. O'Brien: It is a pity that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not share the views of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor), who supports our proposals. The primary purpose rule was a rule without a purpose: it was unfair and arbitrary. Too often, it caught genuine marriages where the parties intended to live together permanently in the United Kingdom. The abolition of that rule without a purpose enables us to focus resources on the remaining three marriage rules that deal with bogus marriages more effectively. Compared with the last Government, our policy will be firmer but fairer. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wanted to do something about bogus marriages, why did he not deal with the immigration advisers and other such scandals? He refused to address those problems year upon year.

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Deportees (Detention)

5. Dr. Godman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent discussions have been held with representatives of the Scottish Prison Service concerning the circumstances surrounding the detention of persons awaiting deportation. [918]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: Discussions took place with the Scottish Prison Service last summer about the detention of persons awaiting deportation. These discussions found that, due to the relatively small number of persons held in Scottish prisons under sole immigration powers, it would be difficult to justify a custom-built facility solely for Immigration Act detainees.

Dr. Godman: In my view, such persons should not be detained in Greenock prison, where a serious disturbance took place recently involving convicted prisoners and persons awaiting deportation. Will my hon. Friend consider establishing a detention centre, like those in England and Wales, for persons awaiting deportation from Scotland?

Mr. O'Brien: I am looking again at the rules regarding detention in prisons. The Scottish situation involves several issues--for example, the numbers: approximately 20 to 30 persons are held in Scottish establishments at any one time. It would also be unfair to lodge all immigration detainees in one establishment, as they would be away from friends, relatives and perhaps legal representatives.

Because of the small numbers involved, it is not practical to separate immigration detainees from other prisoners. Immigration detainees are generally treated in a similar way to remand prisoners--a situation which will probably continue for some time. However, I invite my hon. Friend to discuss the matter with me at greater length because the general issues and the case that he mentioned raise important questions.

Crime (Drug Abuse)

6. Mr. Tony Clarke: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proportion of crime he estimates to be linked to drug abuse. [919]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth): My hon. Friend will be aware that the university of Cambridge is conducting an investigation into the links between drugs and crime. Not surprisingly, the preliminary findings are that such links exist, but we shall have to wait until October for the final version of the report, which we hope will be published by the end of the year.

Mr. Clarke: I welcome those comments and add my congratulations to those given earlier to my hon. Friend. Does he agree that previous studies have shown a distinct link between drug abuse and crime--so much so that the police estimate that two thirds of all crime is drug related? Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that the public will welcome the measures that he is proposing to reclaim the streets in the fight against crime and the fear of crime that flourished under the previous Government?

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Mr. Howarth: I very much agree. A raft of anecdotal evidence from chief constables and others shows strong links between drugs and crime and disorder. Our proposed treatment and testing order will address that problem. We hope that it will give the probation service and others a means to provide treatment for addicts and therefore break the link with spiralling crime. I hope that that measure will have the support of the whole House.

Mr. Malins: Does the Minister accept that a huge amount of crime is linked to drug abuse--not just the drug takers but burglars who sell the goods to feed their drugs habit? Does he agree that we should adopt a much tougher attitude towards first-time drug takers, many of whom are dealt with in the courts more leniently than those convicted of minor traffic offences?

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I am sure that he agrees that the most important issue for the Government is to deal with drug offenders and other offenders in ways that are clear and have been shown to work. We aim to break the link between drugs--possession, dealing or other aspects of the problem--and other forms of crime, including burglary. We shall pursue that clear intention and I am sure that we shall have the support of the whole House.

Mr. Miller: When my hon. Friend considers the paper presented to him by Parents Against Drug Abuse from my constituency, will he look carefully at the proposal for a national network of telephone helplines? When he considers the cost, will he also consider the potential savings to the public purse from improved advice to young people to ensure that they do not get involved in drugs at an early age, cutting the links with crime?

Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has written to me about that group in his constituency. I hope to meet him and the group in the near future. Parents, together with the education service and others, have an important role in trying to find ways, at the earliest possible stage, to prevent young people from getting involved in drugs. The initiatives that my hon. Friend describes are of interest and I look forward to discussing them.

Mr. Maclean: I, too, welcome the hon. Gentleman to his first Home Office questions on the Government side of the House. He has laid great emphasis on his new drug treatment and testing order. How would it add to the extensive powers already available to the courts when ordering a probation order with conditions?

Mr. Howarth: The right hon. Gentleman should know that there are problems with exercising probation orders in this context. Last week, I visited a probation-led scheme in Plymouth where there are problems in getting co-ordination between the various departments of the criminal justice system and the health service, for example. The whole purpose of the treatment and testing order is to bring all those factors together, to link that to what happens in the courts and to ensure that all the agencies bring all their skills and resources to bear on the problem. That has not been happening to the extent that it should have done. We recognise that, and that is the whole point of the treatment and testing order.

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