HC Deb 08 May 1984 vol 59 cc738-41 3.45 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the deportation of Mrs. Afia Begum. Mrs. Begum has a perfect legal right to be in this country as the wife of somebody who had permanent residence in the country. On 15 March 1982, her husband, Abdul Hamid, was tragically killed in a fire in their tenement house in the east end. Further to that, Mrs. Begum arrived in this country and was told by the Home Office that the basis on which she would be allowed to stay in this country had in fact changed. Since then, she has been the subject of an unremitting war waged by the Home Office to try to ensure that she is deported from this country. An unprecedented number of representations have been made by Members of both Houses of Parliament asking that she be allowed to remain permanently in this country in order to look after her baby and to care for her sick and elderly father. For the last year, she has been in hiding while the Home Office has been hounding her like a criminal throughout London.

Last Thursday morning, at 6 o'clock, a police raid was made on the house where she was staying with her daughter, and she was picked up. Further urgent representations were made to the Home Office by a number of hon. Members asking that she be not deported. Indeed, on Thursday evening, my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and I attended the Home Office to plead her case. We were informed on Friday afternoon, after the House had risen, that our representations had fallen on deaf ears and that Mrs. Begum was to be deported the following morning.

We have since learnt that, during the afternoon of Friday, Mrs. van den Heuvel, the leader of the Socialist group in the Dutch Parliament, sent a telegram to the Home Office saying that she would be making an application to the Dutch Ministry of Justice yesterday morning to ask that Mrs. Begum be allowed temporary leave to remain in the Netherlands while her case was heard at the European Court of Human Rights.

My reasons for making this application, Mr. Speaker, are that it is unprecedented for somebody to be deported from this country while the case is before the European Court of Human Rights—it is due to hear the case later this month—and while there is a Bill before the House which, if it were carried—it has already been given a Second Reading—would have the effect of altering the law to prevent the Home Secretary from changing the basis on which somebody is regarded as resident in this country.

Those are the reasons, Mr. Speaker, together with widespread disquiet about the way in which this poor woman and her baby have been hounded by the Home Office and by immigration officials, and thrown out of this country, after being dragged from their home at 6 o'clock in the morning, and the fury that runs through the Asian and Caribbean community in this country that —compared with the way that the Government bent over backwards to bring Zola Budd here at the drop of a hat, because she was white and was from South Africa — Mrs. Begum, the widow of somebody tragically killed in a fire who, if her husband was still alive, would have a perfect right to stay here, has been bundled out of the country as if she were a criminal. She is no criminal but a victim of circumstances.

I believe that a debate is necessary so that the Home Secretary can answer for his actions in this matter, and we can tell the House that we want Mrs. Begum back here until the case has been heard at the European Court of Human Rights and that we want her status as a resident of this country to be restored, instead of the disgraceful way in which she has been treated.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the deportation of Afia Begum from the United Kingdom last Saturday. I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member has said, but I regret that I do not consider that the matter which he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10. I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask you to consider, Mr. Speaker, that, because of his action in deporting Afia and Asma Begum at the weekend, the Home Office Minister responsible be named—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Points of order must be to the Chair, and not a continuation of the application.

Mr. Cohen

I request, Mr. Speaker, that you consider naming the Minister responsible for this action and suspending him from the House. I will give you four reasons for doing that, the pre-emptive consideration—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is doing what I asked him not to do. Under a Standing Order No. 10 application, hon. Members cannot make a further speech. I cannot allow that to happen.

Mr. Cohen

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was asking you to consider naming and suspending the Minister responsible. I have four reasons. The Minister pre-empted consideration by this House either under my Entry Clearance (Change of Circumstances) Bill or by direct debate. He perverted the course of justice by deporting the woman and her child before their case had been heard by the European Court of Human Rights. He failed to use the agreed ways in which hon. Members and Members of the European Parliament can make representations. He has brought Britain into disrepute by victimising a poor woman and her child. On those grounds, the Minister should be named and suspended. The Minister's actions are those of a coward and a lout.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I allowed the hon. Gentleman to continue because he raised this matter last week. The lady in question is his constituent, but his point of order is an abuse. It is not possible to make a second speech on a Standing Order No. 10 application.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to question your ruling on the Standing Order No. 10 application or your reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), but may I put to you a matter which I believe to be within your jurisdiction? I refer to the protection from the Executive of the rights of the House of Commons. When my hon. Friends put to the Minister of State, Home Office their view that the matter should be reviewed and that Afia Begum should be allowed to remain in this country, the House was still sitting. The Minister made the decision that Afia Begum should be removed from the country after the House had finished its sitting on Friday. Afia Begum was removed on Saturday and the House has not been able to sit again until today.

It is certain that, if the Home Office had refused the justified and valid request that Afia Begum be allowed to stay, both of my hon. Friends who have an interest in the case would have come to the House and sought to raise the matter. If you, Mr. Speaker, had denied them their request for the matter to take priority—as you have a right to do and as you have done today — they would have sought to raise the matter in some other way before Afia Begum and her child were removed from the country.

By bundling Afia Begum and her child out of the country on Saturday, not only did the Government commit a crime against human values; they prevented my hon. Friends from using their valid parliamentary rights to raise the matter while Afia Begum was still in the country.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to advise the House on how the House of Commons can use its undoubted rights instead of those rights being pre-empted by an arbitrary, administrative act by the Executive, deliberately designed to bamboozle hon. Members out of their right to speak up for their constituents. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to advise us on how the House of Commons can preserve its rights when Ministers seek to bypass them.

Mr. Speaker

The Chair cannot be responsible for administrative decisions on the part of the Government. The matter was raised on Thursday with the Leader of the House during business questions. The timing is not a matter for me. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) correctly raised the matter at the first opportunity under Standing Order No. 10. The only decision that I have to make under the Standing Order is whether the matter should take precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. I regret that I cannot decide that it should.

Mr. Kaufman

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It was, I hope, apparent from my point of order that I fully understood that you had no role, and would not seek one, in an administrative decision by a Government Department. You pointed out that my hon. Friends had used the opportunity that was available to them to raise this matter in the House. The problem is that, because the Government made their decision after the House concluded its sitting last Friday and before it reassembled today, they pre-empted my hon. Friends, not from raising the case but from raising it while something could still be done to prevent Afia Begum from being removed from this country.

That is the point that I wish to put to you, Mr. Speaker. I am not suggesting that you have a role in administrative decisions or any right to say anything about them. The right of Parliment to intervene and stop the Government from doing something has been prevented by the Government surreptitiously and deliberately taking action while Parliament was not sitting.

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that, on reflection, the right hon. Gentleman will understand that it cannot be for me, as Mr. Speaker, to rule that no administrative actions of any sort can be taken while the House is not sitting or, specifically, during a weekend. I cannot help the right hon. Gentleman. There are other ways to raise this matter if, as it appears, the lady and her daughter are in Holland.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. One of the arguments used by the Government about extra-parliamentary action is that Parliament exists. Members of Parliament have been elected to raise matters. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has pointed out, action was deliberately taken by the Government when Members of Parliament were not in a position to raise the matter with Ministers, which surely strengthens the view that Parliament is not able to carry out its functions.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to give careful consideration to the matter as two of my hon. Friends who are much involved with the case were not given any notice of the Government's action. The Home Secretary must take full responsibility for what has happened. I hope that he will not try to pretend that it was a decision of a junior Minister—he must take full responsibility.

The Home Secretary so deliberately organised matters that the lady was thrown out of Britain in a humiliating way, at a time when my hon. Friends were not able to do anything about it. When there is such a clear abuse of parliamentary democracy and customs, apart from anything else, that strengthens the hands of those outside who say that they must demonstrate, sit down and so on because Parliament has not carried out its functions. The Home Secretary is directly responsible for bringing the House into disrepute—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I can add nothing to what I have already said. These are not matters for me, and I do not see how they can possibly be so.

Mr. Corbyn

Could you advise us, Mr. Speaker, of what I can tell the family of Afia Begum and her friends and relatives in a number of London constituencies about how we are to obtain an answer from the Home Secretary about why he took his decision, why he bundled the lady and her two-year-old daughter out of the country without an opportunity for the matter to be raised in debate in the House, and why a matter which is entirely within the discretion of the Minister of State, Home Office is apparently not subject to debate in the House? Many people in my constituency and other constituencies find it amazing that hon. Members cannot raise matters relating to decisions taken by Ministers and make the Ministers answerable in the House for their actions.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has not been a Member all that long, but he will know that there are many ways of raising this matter. It is not for me to advise him on parliamentary tactics.