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12.27 am

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): It is a pleasure to be able to address two issues. One is of interest to only a couple of my constituents, and the other is of interest to all of them—and, indeed, to the welfare of many of our fellow citizens on the mainland.

Mr. X, who is a United Kingdom citizen, met Mr. Y, who is a foreign national, on holiday in March 1998. They kept in touch, met again by arrangement and decided to live together. They decided that Mr. Y would come to England to study and to improve his English, and made such arrangements. Mr. Y entered this country in March 1999 on a student visa, and was given leave to remain until June 2000. Since his arrival, he has lived with Mr. X and has continued his studies.

In June 2000, Mr. Y applied for leave to remain on the basis of a subsisting relationship with a British citizen. His application was rejected, and an appeal was launched. It was rejected because, at the time that it was made— 20 June 2000—Mr. X and Mr. Y had been living together in England for only 15 months. By the time of its rejection—28 September 2000—they had been living together for 18 months. They are more than able to maintain themselves, without recourse to the public purse. Four days later—2 October 2000—new immigration rules took effect. They set out 10 requirements to be met by an applicant seeking leave to remain as the unmarried partner of a British citizen.

In this case, nine of the 10 requirements were met. The only one that was not—immigration rule paragraph 295D(vi)—requires that

The adjudicator had no problem with the meaning of "two years"; the problem was when that was to be assessed. At the time of the adjudication, the relationship had persisted for two years and seven months. The adjudicator asked for specific assistance in identifying authority, in terms of when that period should be measured, but writes:

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The Home Office concedes that this is a genuine relationship. The couple have numerous letters of support from friends, neighbours, family and employers; theirs is clearly an exclusive, stable and loving relationship. The adjudicator makes the point that Mr. Y could have sought to extend his student visa, waited a few more months and then applied in March 2001. The adjudicator says:

He points out that the decision was made only a matter of days before the European convention on human rights came into force. Finally, the adjudicator says:

The implication is that he would be doing so, were he to reject the application.

I wrote to Lord Rooker on 6 February on those two points. I wrote again on 18 March and again on 1 May, but I have received no reply. I wrote on 9 May asking for a meeting, but I have had no reply, despite the fact that I was supported by the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). In a letter dated 17 May, he says that he believes that

I wrote to the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration on 24 June, and the right hon. Gentleman wrote on 25 June, asking for a meeting, and again I have had no reply. Still I have heard nothing.

Mr. X and Mr. Y have been very patient, persistent and wholly honourable in their use of the immigration procedures. I urge the Minister to ask his hon. Friends to get to grips with their responsibilities and make the necessary decisions.

The second issue is a much more public matter. On 8 March, a drug smuggler was jailed for 26 years for leading an operation to bring a record £90 million consignment of cocaine into Britain by yacht. He and five of his accomplices were caught by 150 Customs officers on the Isle of Wight after the smugglers' landing was hampered by storms at the end of a 3,000-mile voyage across the Atlantic from the Caribbean. They had planned to unload 879 lb of cocaine on a private beach at Orchard Bay house near Ventnor, but the weather and the failure of their outboard motor forced them to deposit their cargo on another beach at Windy bay, about a mile away. They were trapped and arrested after members of the gang had spent hours carrying large bales of cocaine along a treacherous cliff-top path to their destination.

Officials knew about the smuggling because the men had been kept under surveillance by excise men from the Cowes Customs house, among others. I understand that the smuggler had paid £657,000 for the Orchard Bay property. Customs officers on the island had been tipped off that something big was about to happen, and Operation Eyeful, which was a joint investigation with the National Crime Squad, began. It resulted in the successful apprehension of five smugglers.

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The right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) was customs Minister at the time and he welcomed the conviction, saying:

Therefore it is extraordinary that it should now be proposed that the customs facility on the island should be withdrawn to the mainland. That proposal has met with astonishment and incredulity from all quarters on the island. It is inconceivable that people who are not based on the island could have access to the intelligence that is required in that small community. Those who turn up from the mainland in a motor car with London number plates are unlikely to be as effective as island-based Customs officers in obtaining the necessary information about what is going on. That is the first point.

Secondly, Cowes is in the process of developing still further as the world's centre of yachting, and a great deal of effort is being made to build up the businesses there. The Customs officers in the Customs house do a bit of all sorts of different things, some of it related directly to Customs and some to immigration because there is no one else there. They provide Customs clearance for boats, which is especially important during the yachting season. They deal with all non-EU traffic and some intra-EU commercial traffic needs for Customs documentation, and they provide import and export document processing, which enables local businesses to have manual endorsement. Finally, the officers carry out checks on movements of small craft and light aeroplanes, using small boats. That is an important role and not one that can easily be done from a base on the mainland.

Thirdly, much smuggling still happens in the UK, particularly along the south coast through what are called non-canalised points of entry. It is easy to know when people are smuggling when they are going through channels that are conveniently marked red and green in places such as Dover. It is rather less easy to be sure of what is going on along the 57 miles of the coastline of my constituency. The Lord Lieutenant of the island, Mr. Christoper Bland, wrote in the Isle of Wight County Press:

that is, of Customs and Excise—

This is especially apposite in the light of what my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said.

That has been added to by the high sheriff of the island, Anne Springman, who reminds me that in the old days the high sheriff was Customs and Excise and a great many other things besides. She points out that the Isle of Wight has been

That has been the position, if not for longer. A number of Mrs. Springman's forebears have been high sheriff of the island over that period. She should know. She says:

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It is not only in the interests of my constituents that I am asking for the Government to take action to ensure that the Customs house in Cowes remains open. That is also in the interests of citizens throughout the kingdom. I ask the Minister to promise before the House rises for the recess that the Customs house will still be open when the recess ends.

12.38 am

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I have no illusions at this hour that the House is anxious to hear what I have to say about the debate. Having listened to most of the debate, I know that questions were rightly addressed to the Minister, and colleagues will want to listen to his words. However, it has been noticeable that a number of issues have been raised again and again during the debate by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. It would be convenient—it might even help the Minister—if I took a few minutes to put these issues into their different categories.

The issue of regeneration was raised in different ways by the hon. Members for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes). The hon. Member for Hull, North asked, interestingly, for the demolition of a number of properties to aid a regeneration project, while the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire talked about the closure of a mine and a jobcentre.

The reason why those matters are important to hon. Members and their constituencies and the context in which they were proposed is that it would appear that the Government's regeneration efforts are not having the desired effect on the ground in the areas where that should be happening. It is therefore absolutely appropriate for hon. Members to raise the issue to try to ensure that what happens on the ground reflects the rhetoric that we hear nationally.

A similar thing occurs if one considers what I have broadly defined as planning issues. That definition subsumes housing and telecommunications masts, which more than one of my hon. Friends mentioned. I noted that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and my hon. Friends the Members for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) and for Castle Point (Bob Spink) expressed their anxieties—all in their different ways—about the possible impact of the recent rather fuzzy and ill-defined announcements made by the Deputy Prime Minister on housing, for example, and about the likely impact on my hon. Friends' constituencies in particular.

At the same time, very real concerns are now arising in my constituency about the apparently uncontrolled development of telecommunications masts—something with which the Government claim to have dealt, although it is perfectly obvious from what my hon. Friends have said that the issue is not being dealt with on the ground and that it is still causing very considerable worry.

The subject of roads came up over and again. My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley) was the first to mention them. The A303 was then mentioned by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), but other hon. Members claimed some interest in the A303, and my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) then connected the A30 to that.

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I know that part of the country only slightly, but I drove down those roads recently. That was a very pleasurable experience for me, but it is perfectly obvious that it is not always a pleasurable experience. The Minister has an interest in that matter as well, so I would expect him to give a very full and informed reply about the A30, A303 and connected roads because his constituents want to hear about it, too. That matter will therefore claim the particular attention of the House.

Health—in particular, hospices—was mentioned by a number of my hon. Friends. In particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Castle Point, for Rayleigh and for Tiverton and Honiton mentioned hospices. I have a constituency interest in the issue, and it interests and worries many hon. Members because there is a feeling that the hospice movement has been shortchanged by the Government. We are repeatedly told that huge amounts of money are going into the national health service, but we would like to hear how much of it is going to hospices, because they must surely have an equal claim on the moneys that go to health and other areas—not least, to the defence medical services, which were mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and for Newark (Patrick Mercer).

It would appear that those services are now in a state of critical decline. Again, given the boastful nature of what Ministers have said recently about the defence budget generally, I would hope that the Minister could give some reassurance that defence medical services will receive some of that money.

Under the heading of constituency issues, but rather unusually as this stands on its own, was the point about arms exports made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). Again, it appears that the Government are getting into a real muddle about arms exports. The issue is certainly global, but my hon. Friend asked some very specific questions about two specific cases, and I hope that the Minister can give an assurance that they will at least be considered in the DTI and dealt with properly.

Schools were a subject raised by my hon. Friends the Members for West Derbyshire and for Tiverton and Honiton and by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). There are real local problems with regard to schools. What seems to be happening is that schools are being obstructed and bedevilled by what the Opposition consider to be the centralising tendency. I am delighted to see the Minister for School Standards sitting in his place. I suspect that he is probably here to answer the short Adjournment debate, but I am glad to see him because he should know that bureaucracy is causing a number of real problems in schools, so I hope that he will study this debate tomorrow and get his official to do so.

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