§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 7 and 8.
This is an annual opportunity for considering the law which governs the lives of about 400,000 human beings, for this is roughly the number of aliens living within our jurisdiction. They are governed by a law of a somewhat peculiar nature. The original Aliens Restriction Act was passed on 4th August, 1914, in circumstances in which a very full discussion was probably not to be expected. That Act was renewed by the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, and each year since then we have renewed it again. The curious thing is that, as far as I can make out from 1919 to 1952 the matter was never discussed at all.
The law governing aliens at that time consisted of the provisions of the 1919 Act together with about 20 miscellaneous Orders in Council. The matter was raised in 1952 and, as a result of the debate then, a consolidating Order was made in which some of the more exotic provisions of the regulations governing aliens were 1612 dropped and the law, so far as it consisted of regulations, was brought into a single document. That was a great advance. It made it a great deal easier for the foreigner within our shores to know what his duties under our law were. Before that they had been almost unascertainable.
The position now is that we are being again asked to renew the 1919 law. The statutory provisions are contained in that Act. There are one or two to which I should like to refer and I should also like to inquire about the justification for them. First, under Section 3 of the 1919 Act,If any alien attempts or does any act calculated or likely to cause sedition or disaffection amongst any of His Majesty's Forces he shall be liable to a maximum penalty of ten years' imprisonment.Why should it be necessary to have a special law for an alien there? If anybody attempts to commit an act likely to cause sedition or disaffection among Her Majesty's forces, he commits an offence. Why should it be necessary to have a special offence for aliens? I am sure that the Minister will agree that in general it is desirable that there should be a common law for all within our bounds.
Section 3 (2) seems much more objectionable still. It states:If any alien promotes or attempts to promote industrial unrest in any industry in which he has not been bona fide engaged for at least two years immediately preceding in the United Kingdom, he shall be liable on summary conviction …Is it really desirable that this special restriction on industrial activity should be imposed on a man because he is a foreigner?
Does that mean that he cannot take part in any trade union activity or in any agitation? Does it mean that he is required, by law, to blackleg a strike? I should like to know. I should also be interested to know how this conforms with the obligations which this country has taken upon herself in the Declaration of Human Rights.
I refer particularly to Article 19, which reads:Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.1613 And to Article 23, which states:Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.How can we make those obligations conform with this peculiar penalty applicable to an alien alone if he promotes or attempts to promote industrial unrest?
This is very vague. I am extremely doubtful whether taking part in a strike does not contravene the Section to which I have referred. I cannot believe that it is really our intention to compel black-legging. I do not know, but we should like an explanation.
Another curious obligation in the Act is thatNo alien shall act as master, chief officer, or chief engineer of a British merchant ship registered in the United Kingdom … Provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any alien who has acted as a master … at any time during the war, and is certified by the Admiralty to have performed good and faithful service in that capacity.I should be most interested to know what war. Is this, the 1914 war? If so, why was it not applied to the late war?
§ Mr. Paget
Is it the Egyptian war? Which is it?
We are being asked to renew a provision which saysAfter the passing of this Act no alien shall be appointed to any office or place in the Civil Service of the State.I gather that the Post Office is rather short of staff. Is it really intolerable that we should have an alien postman? I can imagine that in 1919, when the Civil Service was a great deal smaller than it is now, this sort of restriction may have been reasonable.
How do the health services stand in this respect? Is an alien doctor inadmissible under one part of the National Health Service, but not under another? How do these regulations apply to the dental service? I ask that this kind of thing be considered in the light of modern circumstances.
The oddest provision of all is Section 7 (1), which appears to impose anonymity upon all aliens under the age of 42.
1614 It states that:An alien shall not for any purpose assume or use or purport to assume or use or continue after the commencement of this Act the assumption or use of any name other than that by which he was ordinarily known on the fourth day of August nineteen hundred and fourteen.That, on the face of it, would seem to say that no alien born after 4th August, 1914, who, clearly, did not have a name then, can have a name now. Very odd, but that is what we are asked to reassert. It is time that the Home Office woke up to the circumstances, and tried to put this in order.
So much for the statutory part of what we are considering. Now I turn to the consolidating Order which provides the executive power over, and the duties of, aliens. This is the Order of 1953, certain aspects of which I want first to consider. The first important one concerns admission to this country. I would be the last person to say that the Government do not need, or ought not to have, a discretion as to whom they should admit into this country. Of course, that is reasonable and it is right. Equally, it is a sign not of retrogression but of progress.
In the old days, when man possessed no economic civil rights, when there were no pensions and when there was no social security, and the only right was that the employer could import foreign labour because his local labour refused the conditions which he was prepared to offer—in those days there was an open frontier Now, however, when we make a community which belongs to the people, in which every individual has a vested interest, of course we have the right, through our Government, to say who shall enter our territory. That is agreed immediately.
Nevertheless, there are one or two matters about which I wish to question the Government. The first is the question of health. The regulations provide for the exclusion of people who are suffering from disease, and the most relevant disease is tuberculosis. After the frightful upheaval of the late war people living in displaced persons camps in Europe were found new homes. Here I pay immediately all credit to the British Government. We did more than our reasonable share in providing those new 1615 homes. Finally, those people were dispersed to a new opportunity in life, but there remained the tragic residue of those whom an X-ray penalised because of a scar on the lung. Often decisions had to be taken as to whether the children should go to a new home, leaving the mother behind.
Because of that tragic residue, I urge, as I have done on a number of occasions when I have spoken on this matter, that in the case of the Hungarian refugees we should waive the medical examination. We should do our best in that respect in this country where, owing to sanitation, we perhaps have the best control of tuberculosis available anywhere in the world. I hope, therefore, that in the case of the new problem provided by the Hungarians, such a tragic residue will not be built up again. In view of the tremendous gallantry which they have displayed in their country, might we not equally display a little gallantry in that direction?
On the wider aspect there arises the question of the political refugee. The Aliens Act of 1907 provides a legal right for the politically persecuted to come to this country. So we provide by our ordinary law an obligation to receive those genuinely in fear of political persecution in their homelands and it is a noble provision of our law.
That legal right was not repealed. It was only suspended, by the Act of 1914, "and, once again, we are being asked today to continue that suspension. If this Amendment were agreed to there would be a legal right in every persecuted person to come to this land of freedom. I would like to see that.
I would like to be able to say to the Hungarian refugees, because I think it would have a tremendous moral effect in the world, "You do not come here by leave as an act of charity You come here to a land of law because our law provides that this is your home—you, the persecuted. This is the land of the free." I would like to be able to say to those in this area of persecution, which is writhing and surging and rising and dying to throw off oppression, "Here is a home which will receive you and will be proud to do so, because it is the home not only of Englishmen but of all persecuted for freedom." So I would like to see the 1616 Government have the imagination to revert to the 1907 law and say that this is the right of the oppressed.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
Before my hon. and learned Friend leaves that point, I am sure he will appreciate that there is not only physical persecution of people but also economic persecution. For instance, people in the United States have been persecuted by McCarthy and robbed of their employment. I am sure that he would offer the same facilities to those people as he is quite properly asking should be offered to the Hungarian refugees.
§ Mr. Paget
Of course, that would be the effect if we reverted to our common law. It is expressly preserved by the Statute, which we only suspend from year to year and is none the less the law of the land. If those people could show that they were suffering from political oppression, then they would have the right to freedom here. That is the position in which England once stood in the world and I would like to see her stand there again.
So much for the question of admission. The next important question concerns the rule of law. I would like to see the rule of law applied to those who come within our frontiers. It does in America. Quoting from memory, the great Fifth Amendment to their Constitution states that nobody shall suffer in life or in liberty or in limb or in property save by due process of law, and this applies to every alien as he enters America.
Why cannot the same thing apply here? This is very wonderfully expressed in the Deuteronomic law of the Jews. It is to be found in Exodus:One law shall be to him that is home-born, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.That is a very great conception. I believe that we could do a lot worse than be guided by it. After all, the Commandments of God have rather marvellously stood the test of time, but we do not apply them. Indeed, in law, if not in practice, the alien who comes into this country comes into a police State. He really has almost no rights at all. I shall be returning to that matter.
When I last spoke on this subject, which was, I believe, in 1953, I said that 1617 there were three classes of people within our community. There were the people under the law, and those were our own citizens; there were the people without the law, which were the alien visitors; and, finally, there were the people above the law, who were the visiting forces.
What is the position of the visiting forces today? We passed an Act in 1952 to regulate that position. We were told that that Act would come into force when reciprocal arrangements had been made by the other allies, including the United States. I remember Mr. Bing, who was, among other things, a professor in American constitutional law, pointing out to the then Home Secretary that reciprocal legislation in the United States would require at least three amendments of the American Constitution.
Has that happened? Has the Visiting Forces Act come into operation yet? I have particularly in mind Section 2, which confers jurisdiction upon the tribunals of the visiting forces, but excludes the jurisdiction of our own courts in certain cases. Has reciprocal legislation been passed in the United States, as we were assured that it would be?
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. F. Blackburn)
I think that the hon. and learned Member knows that he is rather straying away from the Measure which is now being discussed.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The question of the visiting forces is dealt with under another Act, and not under this Measure.
§ Mr. Paget
This is the question which I am asking. At present, do the members of visiting forces fall to be dealt with under the Visiting Forces Act, which becomes operative under its terms only when reciprocal legislation is passed elsewhere, or do they fall under the provisions which we are now discussing? Certainly, I should say, until the Visiting Forces Act becomes operative, members of visiting forces fall to be dealt with under the provisions which 1618 we are now discussing. I think that that is right, Mr. Blackburn. Anyhow, I will pass from that point.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. and learned Gentleman has now made his point, and he should leave it at that.
§ Mr. Paget
I will pass from it now, Mr. Blackburn, but I am interested to know just where we stand in that respect.
The next vitally important point from every consideration of liberty—there are a number of subsidiary points, relating to registration, and so on, but I shall not bother to go into them now because I do not think they are very important—is the power of deportation. It is a terrifying power. It is within the Home Secretary's power and at his discretion. It can be challenged by no court. It is a decision which can be arrived at upon the basis of secret information which a man never sees and has no right to see.
A man who has never seen any other country because he came here as a baby, who knows no other language and has spoken no other language with adults, whose children are British and whose wife is British, whose wife, home and background are British, can, without his having any recourse to any court, be taken from his family and background and separated from his home.
If no other country will accept him, he can be held indefinitely in prison without any charge. He can be deported upon any ship which the Minister may select, although being placed upon that ship means certain death to him. There was the famous case of the Duc de Chateau Thierry, who had committed no extraditable offence, whom the French military authorities wanted to get hold of when they were our allies. We arrested him. He said, "Here is my ticket. I want to go to America, and I have a ticket for a ship which is just leaving for America." We said, "No. You are going on a French ship so that the French can arrest you." We did that although there was no power to extradite him. That is what 1619 happened, and that is the wholly unrestrained power which we are being asked to confer upon the Government.
I read in the Sunday Press a few weeks ago an account of a man called George, who had apparently stowed away in India on one of the Union Castle boats about four years ago. India would not have him back, and we would not accept him as a citizen of ours. When the Union Castle Line boat arrives in Britain, the man is lodged in gaol, and when he goes away he is in the ship again. Apparently, this is his fate till he dies, because there is no solution to the problem of how he can ever cease being a ward of the Union Castle Line, which could not want him less. Can one do anything about that sort of case?
The really vital thing here is that these powers are purely arbitrary. A man whose whole background and life are English can be imprisoned indefinitely upon no charge, and can be banished and sent to any country no matter how dangerous he may think it. He is at the discretion of the Government, and so is his family.
I would ask the Minister to consider how that fits in with our obligations under the Declaration of Human Rights which we have ratified and to which we are a party. I do not know whether we pay any attention to it. Article 2 says:Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind "—as to, among other things,national or social origin.…Article 3 says:Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.When we make people subject to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and banish them without a charge, do we comply with that?
Article 8 says:Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights.…Do we comply with that when we deny a man who is arrested and held in prison any resort to the courts?
Article 9 states:No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.That is precisely the power which the Government are now asking us to give 1620 them, the power of arbitrary arrest, detention or exile applying to about 400,000 people now within our frontiers. It is a formidable power to ask. I ask the Government to consider how this fits in with their obligations to come to this House and ask for the power to do the very things which they are obligated not to do.
What I would ask the Government to consider is this. First, is it not time that we had an aliens Statute? I entirely agree that in this field the Home Office has to have wide discretion. I am not disputing for a moment that in my experience, at any rate, that discretion has been most humanely exercised. The fact that we had an aliens Statute would not in any way limit the field of discretion. It would be no more limited by an aliens Statute than by a consolidation Order. But it would clear up the curious and anomalous remains of the 1919 Act, which brings the Statute and the Order and the Regulations under one hat and make them consistent, and it would enable this House to consider in detail what is to be done. This is eminently the place where the collective wisdom of this House in Committee would be of very great value.
Secondly, with regard to the question of entry, I again agree, subject that I would like to see—I do not think that it would make so much difference in practice as in appearance—that very splendid legal right of asylum in this country made a matter of law rather than one of discretion; but apart from that, the Statute would retain to the Home Secretary the discretion as to whom he admitted, and upon what terms.
I say, also, that it should retain to the Home Secretary the right to deport the visitor. I do not think that there is any difficulty in drawing a distinction between a visitor to this country and the man whose home is here. That is a vital distinction. It is a distinction known to the law as domicile. If the alien is domiciled here, then I think that he should have certain rights, but if he is merely a visitor, it is reasonable for us to say to him, "We are tired of your company. We would rather you went home."
That, I think, in a Statute, could perfectly well be. But surely the man who has domicile, to whom deportation is a sentence of exile, to whom deportation is a breaking of the family, should have 1621 certain rights in his home which should be protected by the law under which he lives and which is really the only relevant law in his life. I feel that the circumstances under which we can expel somebody living here permanently from his home should be very limited indeed, and certainly should be subject to resort to the courts. It is time that this sort of thing was considered.
I believe that the application of the aliens law in this country, although there have been exceptions—there was an exception in the case of Professor Cort, of Birmingham University, which was a very unfortunate decision and there may have been others—is a good deal more liberal than probably anywhere else in the world. It seems a pity, that being so, that we should have such a Draconian law which is so subject to international criticism. Why is this necessary? Why cannot we have a law which is nearer to our performance? I would urge the Government to consider the various points which I have put before the Committee this evening.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I should like to support the Amendment which has been so very ably moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget).
I would make a special appeal at this stage to the Minister who, I know, has a considerable amount of human sympathy, and who has exhibited at various times a wide and wise understanding of a number of problems. I had something to do with the consideration of the Declaration of Human Rights. I happen to be a member of a non-governmental body which advises, and has consultative status, in relation to the United Nations.
The question of the preparation of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights was very carefully considered by nongovernmental bodies as well as by the Governments themselves. Before the actual Declaration was accepted and ratified, it took into consideration the experience not only of the last war—the terrible experience of those who had suffered under the Nazi régime, but the views of a very varied set of people who knew and understood what was the 1622 effective remedy for the distress which prevailed amongst refugees in the world.
When the Declaration was ultimately accepted it was assumed that the nations concerned would abide by the principles enunciated in it and that any steps taken by the various Governments, who expressed their view in no uncertain terms about the importance of the Declaration, would comply with the Declaration. I am sorry to say that that has not been the case. Not only in our own country, but in other countries, observance has not in many instances complied with the intention, the letter or the spirit of the Declaration. I ask the Minister to take this fact into consideration when considering the matter which we are debating and to see whether he can eventually persuade his Minister and others concerned that there are anomalies which ought to be remedied in our treatment of aliens. Something should be done on the lines indicated by my hon. and learned Friend.
Recently, we debated the position of Hungarian refugees, when everybody agreed that there was no question about whether we ought to admit them, or about return visas, age or condition of health. These considerations, it was agreed, I believe without exception, were to be ignored. Quite rightly. These are persecuted people, who have had to flee. They have shown considerable courage before being driven out of their country and it was obvious to everyone that they must be admitted. That was the end of it.
I know that that position is acute, but how does it differ from the case of a Jewish person who was forced to leave Iraq? A number of Jewish people have had to leave Iraq because of the attacks made there upon their co-religionists. I know of cases, in my professional capacity as well as in other capacities, of these people arriving in this country, men and women who cannot go back. Their nationality has been taken from them. They have considerable anxiety about relatives left in Iraq. It has been suggested that they ought to go to Israel, but in many cases they cannot do that because once they got there questions would arise out of the animus that prevails in Iraq against Israel, and because the reaction might affect their relatives left in Iraq.
1623 I know of people who have been put to grave anxiety. They have made application after application for leave to remain, without success. It is a heartbreaking matter. The officials do their best to observe the regulations, but perhaps they do not understand why people who come here for a year or two ask for extensions of stay. Perhaps they think that is unreasonable, and perhaps in some respects it is, until we look at the circumstances of some of these cases. We then see that it is literally impossible for the persons concerned to go back to the land from which they came. Most of them have learned and speak the English language and can conduct themselves properly here. Consideration should be shown to cases of that sort.
More liberal consideration ought to be given to cases of persecution, which were intended to be provided for by the Declaration of Human Rights. A man should not be kept here without being allowed to work, for example, because the strain upon him is such that he must eventually find another place to go to or be entirely broken. That kind of treatment is not in accord with the Declaration.
Then comes the right of deportation, to which my hon. and learned Friend referred. The question of domicile is difficult. Residence for a period does not necessarily constitute domicile, but it ought to confer the right upon a person to have a proper trial in the event of his being asked to leave the country. There are humane and not so humane persons dealing with these cases. The result may depend upon the absolute discretion of certain individuals. I would not suggest for a moment that they are prompted by anything other than common humanity, but human beings are apt to have different approaches to the same problem.
It is reasonable to allow a person who is in any of these difficulties to which I have referred to have an opportunity of putting his case before a tribunal which will not only go into the hard, cold facts as they may appear to an official eye, but can examine the full circumstances and come to conclusions accordingly.
May I refer to the stateless person, whose plight is the most serious in the world? There is no country at all to which he can return permanently, because he has no nationality. The Declaration 1624 of Human Rights indicates that that condition should not exist and that nationality should be provided for the stateless person by nations who subscribed to the Declaration. When the Declaration was being made nobody denied that, yet if a stateless person comes here he is, in a sense, regarded as undesirable right from the start. He will be allowed in if he has the right to go back to the country which has given him a pass, but a stateless person has no rights in any sense equivalent to those possessed by individuals with a proper nationality.
This is a human problem of considerable importance and is not confined merely to the wording of Orders. The possibilities of discretion which are open to the Home Office are much too wide. People can be deported and regarded as mere pawns to be moved from one place to another by an arbitrary act entirely dependent upon the outlook of the Home Secretary or the officials who have control. I myself have had the opportunity in the various capacities which I have the privilege to occupy in the Jewish community, and outside to see the serious difficulties which have arisen at times.
I appeal to the Home Secretary to regard the term "political refugee" as being applicable not only to a person who can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that because of his political views he has been driven out of his country. A much wider definition should be used to cover, also, a person who has had to flee for refuge because of his religion, because of his race, because of his colour, or other reasons. I know that tonight this Amendment will be resisted, but I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to say that at a later stage the whole law relating to aliens will be reconsidered.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
This is becoming an annual occasion. Every year for a number of years some hon. Members have taken the opportunity of calling the attention of the Government to what is generally believed to be an untirely unsatisfactory state of affairs. None of us has anything new to say. The admirable speeches which we have already heard summarise the points which have been repeatedly made by all of us over the years. If we have to go on saying them again year after year, it 1625 is only because of the inexplicable obstinacy of the Home Office in resisting what has become the almost universal desire of the House, the desire that our aliens legislation shall be liberalised in the sense that it shall be made worthy of a country which has always proudly boasted to the world that it is free.
Abraham Lincoln said in a famous quotation that no nation could exist half slave and half free. It does not matter about the proportions. No nation can really call itself free while any substantial proportion of those living within its law are regarded in any respect as second-class citizens. That is exactly the position of aliens. I do not want to go over the whole ground, or repeat everything that has been said in earlier debates. There are two basic criticisms, neither of which has ever been adequately or satisfactorily answered.
The first is that it is intolerable that the rights of a group of people, no matter how wide or limited those rights, should never be subject to Parliamentary examination or governed by an Act of Parliament which Parliament has had the opportunity to consider. I know that the position is possibly a little better than it used to be in that we have a consolidating Order and that on one occasion the House had a general debate on the consolidated Regulations. However, that is not sufficient, because the defect is that the House of Commons has no power to amend a Regulation or an Order in Council.
We are faced with the dilemma that we must either refuse to have any legislation at all, or accept delegated legislation. We either refuse the Government any powers, or give them just those powers which they have demanded. That is an intolerable situation. Time after time we have been promised that the Home Office will look at the matter. I do not know whether its officials have done so, but if they have, they have reached exactly the same conclusion as before and we have no Statute dealing with or regulating the rights of aliens.
The second basic question, rendered all the more intolerable because it has not had the sanction of Parliament in the ordinary way through an Act of Parliament, is that people are left completely in the power of the Home Secretary. My 1626 hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said that he believed that the administration of the Home Office had always been humane—apart from one or two exceptions, with perhaps some unfortunate examples. I hope that he is right.
None of us would like to think that my hon. and learned Friend was mistaken, but how does he know? How does any of us know? The House hears only of the disputed case; the House becomes aware that there might be something wrong only when a Member of Parliament hears of a case, or when a case becomes publicly notorious and there are deputations and leading articles in the newspapers. Questions in the House, and so on. We have no means whatever of knowing what the day-to-day administration is like.
My hon. and learned Friend said that he would not very much bother about the necessity of continual registration. He treated that subject a little more lightly than he would have treated it had he been an alien himself, compelled to register with the police every change of address within certain limits over a period of time. That is a serious limitation. The fact that the Home Secretary himself personally has sole discretion in matters like the grant of political asylum is most serious.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) has considerable experience in those matters—as I have myself, some experience, anyhow. My hon. Friend drew the contrast between the attitude of the House and, indeed, of the Government last night towards refugees from Hungary and from Iraq. No one would want to say one single word against a liberal attitude towards Hungarian refugees. Of course our welcome to them should be warm and there should be as little restriction as possible. But when my hon. Friend talks about Iraq, I am reminded of another matter, which no doubt he will remember, too. A few years after the end of the war there were rotting in concentration camps in Germany hundreds of thousands of people who were as entitled to sympathetic co-operation, help and understanding as those we are welcoming from Hungary today.
1627 There was a united protest from all quarters of the House against the attitude of the Home Office on that occasion. I am making no party point about it; there was a Labour Government in office at the time. It was done by the machine, and the pretence that the personal responsibility of the Home Secretary is or can be a real thing is only a pretence. There are far too many questions for any Home Secretary to take personal responsibility for them. On this occasion there was a united protest from all over the House against the attitude of the Home Office towards refugees.
In the end, we had a list of categories—how many surviving relatives a man had to have, what the degree of relationship had to be, what the degree of support was, and a great many other things which had to be considered before any individual case could be dealt with. That is all very well, but it ought surely to have been subjected, and ought now to be subjected, not to the pretended personal discretion of the Home Secretary, which, in practice, is the blind working of a blind machine; it ought to have been reviewed at the request of anyone involved by some third-party judgment, some kind of tribunal, as it has always been in the United States.
I will deal with the question of political asylum, arising out of a remark which my hon. Friend made. Are we proud of the way that works now? I would say to the Under-Secretary of State—I say it with regret and with reluctance, but I say it because I feel bound to say it, believing it to be true—that the working of political asylum and the right to it has become in this country nothing but a weapon of the cold war. We readily grant political asylum to any refugee from an Iron Curtain, Communist or satellite country. I am not complaining of that; we do grant it and we should. But the suggestion that there can be any such things as a political refugee from any other part of the world is treated with complete disdain by the Home Office as though it were an affront to common sense.
It is not an affront to common sense. There is plenty of political persecution in the Communist countries, as we all know, but they have not the monopoly of political persecution. The Home 1628 Office exercises its discretion in this matter not on the basis of the rights or wrongs of a particular case, but on the basis of what the effect of what they do may be upon the conflict of ideology in a bitterly and strategically divided world. Dr. Cort is only one example. There have been others. It is simply a weapon which each bloc of States use against the other. They give political asylum to Burgess and Maclean and we give political asylum to Petrov. There would be very much more in the idea of political asylum if the rôles were reversed.
It all arises out of the basic objection, the basic wrong, that there is no right to be heard, no right of independent third-party judgment, no right to be told what it is that the Home Office has against one, no right to be confronted with witnesses, no right to be heard on one's own behalf, or to be represented by professional advocates, no right to call witnesses and no right to know what are the reasons for an adverse judgment and no appeal from it of any kind. That situation is completely incompatible with our boast that we stand for freedom in the world.
I am not saying that this is a great evil in the sense that there are a great many people who are involved in it and a great many injustices done over it. I am not saying any such thing. What I am saying is that the potentiality is there, that it happens from day to day without anybody knowing and that in a great many cases where we did know about it we were unable to produce any results or influence the Home Office in any serious way.
I say that the matter ought to be looked at again, and ought to be looked at seriously and constructively with a desire to improve our aliens legislation and make aliens in this country equal citizens, or, if not equal citizens, at least people with equal rights before the law with those who are citizens.
§ Sir L. Plummer
I will not detain the Committee for long, but I should like to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has said and also the argument advanced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) on the question of political asylum.
1629 I do not think we ought to be too self-conscious about the very proper action which we have taken in arranging that Hungarian refugees should come into this country without at the same time being conscious of the fact that there are a great number of aliens living in this country who are political refugees but who dare not say that they are political refugees. Whether it is right or not, they have the impression from the conversations which they have been forced to hold with officials of the Home Office and with the police that describing oneself as a political refugee in any way militates against one's chance of staying in the country.
There are in the country today many hundreds of American men and women who are political refugees from the United States. They have been driven out of their country because, to use an Americanism, the finger has been put upon them. They have been denied employment, particularly in the entertainment industry and in the advertising and publicity world, because it has been alleged, without any shred of documentation, that they are enemies of the American constitution. They have therefore come to this country, the second great country in entertainments, advertising and publishing. They have been trying to get employment in this country so that they can practise their art and their training and use the facilities which they have developed in America.
There people are finding that the regulations against them are not exercised vindictively but they think—and this seems to me true from the cases which I have taken up—are exercised without imagination at all. The pretence has to be that they are not political refugees but are men coming to this country to seek employment—that they should be allowed into the country to work providing that they do not put anybody else out of work. It is a fact that men trained in these particular ways of earning a living do not compete directly with other workers over here. For example, a film director is not in direct competition, because he is an expatriate American, with a British film director; it is not the same competition as in the case of two men doing the same job in the ordinary walk of life.
1630 Nevertheless, they are treated as though they are in competition with British professional workers in an industry which is presumed to be so short of work that they are taking the bread out of British mouths. That is not the case at all. The fact is that these men are now having to work in the British film industry, many of them under an alias—many of them under no name at all—because they are not being given the ability and the power to exercise what should be the right of the political refugee in this country—to work quite openly and unashamedly in the pursuit of his particular profession or career.
I had hoped that we would this year have had a declaration that the political refugee was to be recognised once again by the Government. Surely, what has been going on in the last few weeks or a month in Hungary has made us all sensitive and conscious of the dreadful plight of the man who is a refugee, whether as a result of military, economic or political pressure. Surely it makes us sensitive to the awful position of men literally deported from their country and having to find a new life in an alien land. And. as I have said, so many of these people to whom I am referring are benefiting British industry and commerce.
There is another point, and it is this. In my experience of the cases that I have taken to the Home Office—where I have always been received with the utmost courtesy, and have invariably been offered much sympathy and advice—I find that this may happen. An alien is working here on a short licence—for six months, or some such period. He is nervous and apprehensive as to whether he will be able to stay in the country long enough to qualify for what I might call full citizenship; that is to say, until he has worked here for four years with no complaint made against his conduct, at the end of which time he is free and uncontrolled to take what job he likes.
The first six months is a time of great anxiety for the alien. At the end of that time, a policeman comes and warns him that his period of sojourn in the country has expired. I wish that we would send a plain clothes man instead of a policeman. It is not very much to ask. We ourselves get on with our police, but to the refugee—and particularly the refugee from a country where 1631 the "cop" is not on such friendly terms with the citizens as he is here—it is an assault on his nerves. He is told that he has to leave the country by a certain day. He is seen by the police, or by a Home Office official, and is told that he must get out of the country by, say, the following Tuesday, and he starts to pack.
I have had these cases. I have said, "Don't take any notice, because the Home Office does not mean it seriously." I have said that because the Home Office have told me that it is not to be taken seriously, and that if the man supplies the necessary evidence he will not be deported. If that is so, why do we tell him that he has to leave the country? If no order is to be issued against him, why do we threaten him? Why do we have a routine—and it is admitted now that it is a routine—as cruel as that?
Of course, when it happens the second time the alien does not take any notice; nor the third. He says, "Oh, this is all routine." But the first time it happens we put the alien, against whom nothing is alleged, into a state of fear and apprehension which is cruel and which he does not deserve. I should have thought that, if we are not to have a return to the law of political asylum, the Minister should order that the attitude adopted towards these people should be a humane and a considerate one.
It is not too much to ask that people who are behaving themselves in this country, who are contributing to our knowledge, our wealth and our economic future, should be treated as politely and considerately as are the rest of us. It is not too much to ask for people who have very few friends here—very few friends indeed. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will consider what I have said and will make to his right hon. and gallant Friend the recommendations for which I have asked.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
In intervening in this discussion tonight, I feel that I should ask the indulgence of the Committee, because although I have listened for a number of years to this annual discussion I have never before ventured to try to break in on that magic circle of eloquence, ability and liberal thought represented by my hon. Friends who have spoken, and who have produced such a spirited debate year after year in 1632 spite of the paucity of attendance on both sides of the Committee.
I intervene on this occasion only because I think that the Committee should now be getting a little impatient with this annual task of re-enacting Section 1 of an Act of 1919, which, itself, re-enacted panic legislation in 1914. We have this annual opportunity, and we appreciate it, of having a number of rather desultory discussions of an Aliens Order which contains 24 pages, 35 Articles and six Schedules. The time is rapidly approaching when we must try to arrive at a rather more satisfactory method of dealing with this problem.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) said, when this Order was introduced it went through the ordinary procedure of an Order or Regulation. We had no opportunity of amending it. There was, as it were, only a Second Reading debate, and we had to decide whether to accept or to reject the Order in toto. Every year we have this discussion, without any opportunity at all of making Amendments which many of us think would make of it a better and more humane Order than it is at present. The time really has come, I think, when the Home Secretary should give consideration to the possibility of introducing another Aliens Bill which would take the place of the Act of 1919, and of giving the whole House an opportunity of discussing the principles of aliens legislation, and of making certain amendments to the law as it now stands.
This problem is one which will become more and more important during the next few years. We now have talk of a common market and of a free trade area which, presumably, involves a great deal more mobility of labour in Europe than we have had in the past. Obviously, the position of aliens will become of increasing importance if economic changes of that kind are to take place. Again, we have a problem of the political refugees, to which a number of my hon. Friends have referred. Like my hon. Friends, I should like to see this country taking the lead, and welcoming political refugees from all parts of the world—and refugees from all forms of oppression, wherever they may be.
1633 When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was talking about the old Deuteronomic law of the Jews, as he called it, I could not help but recall the existing law of return which the present State of Israel has. It was one of the first laws enacted when that State came into existence, and it stated that any Jew in any part of the world who needed asylum in the State of Israel should have the right to return to the land of his fathers. It was a great, humane gesture, and I feel a little sad that when such a small country as Israel can do that, we, in this country, should be tending to take what is, I think, rather a restricted and restrictionist approach to what is a very important human problem.
These people are entitled not only to our sympathy, but to our help. I have living in my own house at the moment, three adult aliens and one alien baby. I am occasionally called upon to advise upon the various restrictions which are imposed upon them. When I take into account the restrictions imposed on them by the Home Office and also by the Ministry of Labour, I must say that at times I myself find it difficult to understand the documents which are placed before me, and it must be a task of almost insuperable difficulty for aliens not understanding our language easily to acquaint themselves with all the regulations to which they are subjected.
I should like to ask the Under-Secretary how many aliens came into the country during the last 12 months, how many came here to stay and to work, how many were refused permission and how many were deported. A number of my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee have spoken about the arbitrary right of the Secretary of State to deport aliens from this country.
I think it is only right that I should call the attention of the Committee to an Answer which the Home Secretary gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) on 2nd August, when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the steps we were taking to comply with the European Convention on Establishment. He told the House on that occasion that he had decided to provide for appeals by aliens whom it was proposed should be deported, and the Chief Metropolitan 1634 Magistrate and his colleagues had undertaken to be the appeal body.
Although that is a step forward, I think that some of the value of it is destroyed by the fact that in the last paragraph of the Home Secretary's answer he said:The procedure will not be applicable to cases where a deportation order has been made on grounds of public security …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT,2nd August, 1956; Vol 365, c. 175.]We all know nowadays, especially in view of the way that some of our own citizens have been treated in the last few months, how dangerous it is once this bogey of security is raised. It seems to me a great pity, if the Home Secretary has confidence in this appelate tribunal and in the justice of his case. that he should be reluctant to allow the tribunal also to decide cases of security.
There are, of course, a number of grounds for uneasiness which all of us must feel. I make no complaint whatsoever, as my hon. Friends have been at great pains to emphasise, of the general liberal approach of the civil servants in the Home Office. It is rather the political direction of the Home Office which causes many of us on this side of the Committee to have feelings of uneasiness about the policy that it is pursuing. There was the case of the Regional Planning Conference, the Iraqi students, the treatment of Makeriotis in breach of the Anglo-Greek Consular Convention, as the Home Secretary had to admit later. We are also bound to admit that, when we are pursuing repression abroad, that attitude of mind can become very infectious, and repression can be extended to aliens and others inside our own country.
When we last discussed these matters, on 24th November last year, the present new Leader of the Liberal Party spoke, I thought, very forcibly and convincingly. He said:The position is particularly difficult today when we are faced with the main problems of Communism. The habit seems to have grown up of branding institutions and individuals as Communist, of refusing them entry into the country, and perhaps of saying that they are 'cover-fronts' for Communism if they hold conferences. There is no means by which people who are directly or indirectly accused of being Communists can defend themselves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT,24th November, 1955; Vol. 546, c. 1704.]1635 That, of course, is the perilous position into which this country is drifting. It is so easy to make accusations and insinuations in public, but there, of course, one has an opportunity of replying to them. The most dangerous form of insinuation is the insinuation which is made behind closed doors with all the privilege which attaches to it, and to which the person under suspicion has no opportunity of replying.
For these and a number of other reasons many of us are not very happy about our present policy towards aliens, and we would all agree that this Measure should be extended only for a limited period. We really must ask the Under-Secretary to tell us what plans the Home Office has for the future of aliens legislation. A year ago we had a number of questions put to the Home Office, and I should like to run through them in the hope that on this occasion we may have a reply to the points which I am going to put.
First, there is the point which was touched upon by earlier speakers, about the possibility of having a tribunal to consider the appeals of aliens who are refused permits to enter this country. Has the Home Secretary made up his mind about that? If so, could he take the Committee into his confidence and tell us what the policy of the Government is in that respect? If it is possible for America, whose forms and procedures we do not always slavishly accept or follow in this country, to have a tribunal to which aliens refused permission to land can appeal, I would have thought it was possible for us to go as far as that and provide machinery for appeals in this country.
Also on the last occasion when we debated this subject, the noble Viscount the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) spoke very movingly of the treatment to which, according to him, aliens were subjected at ports of immigration into this country. He described the conditions which he had seen, and ended by saying:What is being done about that? Can we get to 25th November, 1956, and come down to this House on another day's debate and be told that something has happened about Harwich, about Folkestone and Dover and the other ports?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT.24th November, 1955; Vol. 546, c. 1692.]It is not quite 25th November, but I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to 1636 tell us that he himself from his own personal experience is now satisfied about the way in which aliens are treated at ports of immigration into the United Kingdom.
There are two other points that I should like to put to the Under-Secretary. The first is one that was put last year but to which we did not have an answer which convinced me or many of my hon. Friends, and that is why we insist upon visas for aliens holding refugee passports. If he could tell us a little about that we would be grateful.
The last question I want to put is whether we are now doing or have done anything during the past 12 months to implement the Council of Europe's recommendations about a uniform form of refugee passport. The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), who, at that time, was Under-Secretary of State, was only able to tell us that there were already 16,000 of these in stock and that it would cost £5,000 to scrap them and print new forms—a point of view which elicited from my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) the observation that it would be much cheaper to give them all a copy of the Bible, which contains much sounder information about the way to treat strangers in one's own country.
I should like to think that although we may not always follow the recommendations of the Council of Europe, the Home Office in the past year has taken, at any rate, some action to implement its recommendation about the issue of refugee passports. I should appreciate any information which the Under-Secretary can give to the Committee.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. W. F. Deedes)
Like the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), I too am a newcomer to this annual event. The form of the legislation which we discuss is always a feature of these debates, and, whatever views we may hold about it, it at least affords this chance of a wide annual review—and I stress the word "wide"—which may not be possible on other occasions, and which I think most hon. Members who take part in the debate welcome.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who opened
1637 the debate, has, I know, strong views about the draconic powers of the Government in this field—views, I think, shared by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I shall not be able to satisfy him on that score any more than my predecessors on this side or the other side of the Committee have been able to do in preceding years, but I can at least attempt to answer some of the questions he put.
As a basis for my reply, I will at once answer the question asked about the numbers of aliens under discussion. Last year, the total number, of foreign passengers landed was 1,152,139, compared with 1,069,000 the year before. Those refused entry numbered 2,152, or 018 per cent. compared with 0.16 per cent. in the preceding year. The number deported was around the hundred figure, and that has been falling for a number of years. Those figures should be put against a background of about 350,000 aliens now in this country.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton, who was good enough to tell me he might not be able to be present during my reply, asked a question about employment in the Civil Service, and I should like to call his attention to a small Act, the Aliens Employment Act, which was passed in the last Session which has altered the position as to the employment of aliens in the Crown service. I will not elaborate on it now; it was not on our list, but was a Ministry of Labour Act. I think it will answer the main point made in that respect by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton asked a question about health and the exclusion of those suffering from disease, particularly tuberculosis. All I would say about that is that medical examination at the port is not necessarily primarily directed at tuberculosis now. The treatment and prospects in that disease have changed radically, so that that would no longer call for absolute exclusion. In any case, a clinical examination at the port would not always disclose tuberculosis. But I think it is not to be expected that a country would or should let in without any check people who could become a physical danger to others.
1638 The hon. and learned Gentleman asked also about the case of Mr. George Barnard. I should like to add a footnote to what he said. Mr. George Barnard was a perpetual traveller on a shipping line and had spent most of his time in Ceylon. Neither India nor Ceylon would ultimately accept him, and we accepted him out of the—I hesitate to say out of the kindness of our hearts—but we accepted him.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton, as did, I think, nearly every other hon. Member who took part in the debate, mentioned the Hungarians. I should like, if I may, to say a word at the end of my reply about our stewardship in that respect, which will, I think, answer most of the points made in the course of the debate.
The hon. and learned Gentleman expressed a most earnest plea for those who felt themselves politically persecuted, that they should be free to enter this country without any let or hindrance at all. Indeed, he went further and said he would like to see that all who felt the desire to come should find the gates open. I am sufficiently familiar with what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said in earlier years on this subject not to question the very sincere idealism and the force with which he holds these views, that the gates should be open or far more widely open than they are now. I do, however, question whether any Government, of whatever political complexion, responsible for this very crowded island could countenance a situation in which the gates were as completely open to all and sundry as he and certain other hon. Members would desire. As to our policy in that regard, I shall have a further word to say in a few moments.
Reference has been made to deportation. I was glad that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale mentioned for the first time in our discussions the alteration which was made this year, which involves the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate who has been good enough to assist my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary; and I should like to offer a short report on the situation. It is too soon to put the new arrangements under review; there are a few cases pending where an alien will have the right to make representations to the Chief Magistrate, but none has yet reached a 1639 stage when he has been required to make a recommendation. One such case should have been heard last week, but it was postponed sine die on account of the alien's state of health.
The hon. Member for Rossendale and one or two other hon. Gentlemen have referred to this question of permanent legislation and have asked what the Home Office view is for the future. That question, as I know hon. Gentlemen will agree, has been asked certainly in all our recent debates since the war. I agree it is odd that we should still be operating under an Act which we renew annually and which has operated now, I think, for thirty-seven years. It is fair to say, on the other side, that, apart from the dissatisfaction which hon. Members express about certain aspects of the policy and the facility with which they can, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton did tonight, allude to passages which are palpably not as happily expressed as they would be if we were preparing an Act de novo, there is, of course, not a sense of urgency, in that no one is at the moment labouring under a grievance or suffering positive hardship due to the nature of the legislation under which we operate.
As I think hon. Gentlemen who spoke to this will agree, it is not so much permanent legislation which is sought, certainly by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne who spoke to this, but, of course, much more freedom of entry to be incorporated in any fresh legislation which the Home Office should bring forward. I am not certain in my own mind whether that would necessarily be the consequence of fresh legislation. I would add that I am not altogether certain in my own mind whether a different law, however devised, would necessarily bring better results.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton did conclude his remarks, as he is usually good enough to do, by saying that he thought the application of our law was a good deal more liberal than that to be found anywhere else in the world. I do not seek to over-emphasise that. The administration of this law is bound to lead to slips, to difficulties and to hardships. But I should like to stress this to all hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, that we have got to 1640 hold the balance now, or under any further legislation which might be introduced, between several considerations, not all of which are necessarily compatible.
In answer to what has been said, I should like to suggest what those considerations are. I do not think we should find that they have varied very much between Governments or that they have varied in principle much since the war. The first, obviously, is to avoid being swamped, a danger which has diminished but not dsappeared in the post-war decade, which must limit immigration, subject to specific exceptions, to people who can make some kind of contribution to the national economy.
The second consideration, and this has been touched on tonight, is that of security, which is hard, and often impossible, to defend publicly but which really cannot be dismissed as entirely negligible. The third, I would suggest, is maximum freedom for those who want to visit us, subject to those two first considerations. The fourth is readiness at all times to contribute to the relief of genuine distress. Our attitude in that, I think, has been proved by our actions. The fifth is recruitment of labour where it is needed, in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour. Finally, there is education, on reasonable conditions; that is, for students to come from abroad. Against the background of our national needs and difficulties, I must say that I believe those to be reasonable considerations and to form solid foundations for our immigration policy.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) spoke of the Declaration of Human Rights. I took a full note of what he said, and I heard his views with sympathy. The hon. Member thought that many more individual cases should be treated as we have treated the Hungarians during recent weeks. He will, I think, accept that there will always be exceptional calls upon humanity, such as this recent action in relation to Hungary, which must be treated quite apart from anything else. He also mentioned the question of deportation, and I hope that he heard what I had to say about the recent action that we announced.
The hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) raised the question of 1641 police. They are not invariably in uniform. There are certain rare occasions when it is not a bad thing—I do not say this harshly; the hon. Member will know what I mean—that the visit should be an impressive one. The police are not invariably in uniform, but I will certainly consider the psychological aspect of what I think the hon. Member was seeking to say.
I should like to add a word, since the question was raised by all speakers, about the Hungarian refugees. We have been urged—we were urged last night—to relax the immigration laws completely and not to allow red tape to impede the instincts of humanity. Every one associated with this operation has been of one mind and I think that our actions have proved it.
One of our chief immigration officers was in Vienna on 10th November. Four other officers left on 13th November, arriving next day, and the first refugees, as the House knows, arrived here on 17th November. By tonight, there will be a total of over 600, I believe, within these shores. Three hundred and fifty came by train yesterday and there will be another 217 by train today. Our immigration officers have not been sitting in Vienna. They have been out, down on the frontier and in the schools where the refugees are gathered, and it has not been easy to maintain contact with them.
The point was not raised tonight, but it is extremely important that it should be made clear, that there has been no skimming of the cream in selecting the refugees who should come here. I know that a number of hon. Members feel strongly about this. From the first, we have realised the difficulties that would be created for the Austrians. Instructions were given that there should be no skimming of the cream. Families are viable units for obvious human reasons, but otherwise there were no priorities.
Questions were asked about papers and documents. The refugees are arriving with authenticated nominal rolls accompanying each party. They give only particulars of name, age, occupation and religion, and nothing else. Nothing else is required of them. We have not asked for passports or documents of identity. We have completely waived all question of returnability and we have provided 1642 for immigration and health clearance in Austria, so that no delays will be occasioned here by those considerations. The refugees will go to hostels overnight, they will be registered by the police next morning and they will then be free to go to relations and friends, which, I am glad to say, a number are finding—more than we expected. Finally, the Ministry of Labour will help to place them in employment.
§ Mrs. Alice Cullen (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I am very glad to hear that there is no screening of the refugees, because there are rumours abroad that the Government will be very choosey as to the people they accept.
§ Mr. Deedes
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her observation.
Perhaps I might add a word of tribute to the British Council for Aid to Refugees which has been working—
§ Mr. Deedes
—and treating this emergency as a quasi-military operation and has been doing all that is possible—
§ Mr. Deedes
—to bring these refugees here as quickly as may be.
The figure of 2,500 was questioned by an hon. Member tonight. I think it is already clear to the House that that figure is not to be regarded as final and unchangeable. It was based on the original estimate of 20,000 refugees in Hungary. It was essential to give straight away a working figure on which the organisations could get to work and it was really a case of he gives twice who gives quickly. I do not think it was a situation which called for arithmetical gestures. What was needed was swift, practical action, and I think that the account I have given suggests that something of that sort was done.
§ Mr. R. Brooman-White (Rutherglen)
My hon. Friend has mentioned the British Council for Aid to Refugees. Can he confirm that the public response to that Council has been a very fair measure of public feeling in the country and that an enormous volume of offers of aid of all kinds, including the acceptance of people, 1643 placing them in jobs or providing schooling facilities and other things, has been received?
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I hesitate to intervene on this, but the question goes beyond the Amendment.
§ Mr. Deedes
I agree, Sir Rhys. In general, I am quite sure that what my hon. Friend says is true.
The hon. Member for Deptford referred generally to what we have done on behalf of refugees. If it was not the hon. Member, I apologise. Those who have misgivings might pause to consider the record of successive British Governments. A total of 280,000 refugees have found sanctuary here, including the Germans and Austrians before the war, numbering 70,000. Since the war there have been the Poles numbering 120,000; the European voluntary workers refugees, of Central Europe, 90,000; the Czechs, in 1948, 2,000; the "Two thousand" scheme, 1,880; and now the Hungarians. That is a record in relation to refugees which bears comparison with the record of any other country. Her Majesty's Government's policy has been invariable and what we are seeking now to do for Hungary is no exception.
I want in conclusion to answer the question which the hon. Member for Rossendale fired rather as a final shot concerning visas for refugees. I can only give him the latest figures on the subject of passports. As the hon. Member knows, we have agreed to accept the standard form, but it was not thought unreasonable—the House accepted it last year—that stocks of the old type of form should be used up. Last year, the figure was quoted as 16,000 copies unused. It has now been reduced to 10,500, so that in 18 months or so they should have been cleared and then we should be using the standard form which it is desired we should use.
The hon. Member asked a question about visas for refugees and this shall be my final word. I apologise for keeping the Committee so long, but a great number of questions have been asked and they could only be answered in a general way. As the hon. Member knows, refugees coming into the United Kingdom must obtain a visa from the British visa issuing authority abroad. Generally, the 1644 refugee should meet with no particular difficulty—at any rate, when he does that; but the consequences of abolishing it would present us with certain difficulties, of which the Committee should be informed.
I do not seek to make heavy weather of any of these considerations, but they should be borne in mind. First, there would be a heavier burden on the immigration staff at the ports. They would have to exercise a little more care in permitting the entry of a traveller without a visa, and the effect would be to slow down disembarkation. Secondly, inevitably there would be some increase in the number of those who were refused permission to land. I say that because they are now filtered out by the visa officers abroad. Refusal at the port obviously presents hardship for the refugees because additional documentary evidence, if it is desired it should be produced, cannot always be produced at the port of entry.
Finally, there are security grounds, which cannot be dismissed. The risk of admitting refugees without any period of settlement at all in the country of their first asylum has to be borne in mind, and it is helpful if immigration officers can have the guidance which visa endorsement on a passport gives. It is possible that in future we shall be able to look at this again, but I do not wish to minimise the security dangers, and I say in answer to the hon. Gentleman that it would be a mistake to believe that we could in the immediately forseeable future allow these visitors into the United Kingdom without previous scrutiny—because that is what it amounts to.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I have been a Member of this House for eleven years, and it has been my rich privilege to mix with people abler than I and to hear their views expressed and to share in their work. I am now beginning to think the time has come when this membership ought to cease because, for the first time, I have had the experience of listening to a speech which I quite utterly failed to understand. I felt that someone was talking on a wavelength to which my receiving apparatus was not wholly attuned. We have just listened to the Joint Under-Secretary of State.
1645 Let me say at once that my own experience of the Home Office has been singularly fortunate, and I regard it as one of the most civilised of Government Departments. Whenever I have approached it, usually about individual cases, I have been treated with considerate and careful attention, and the Department has displayed a humane and sympathetic interest. Indeed, if some of the junior officers of the Commonwealth Relations Office could be sent for a little training to the Home Department before embarking on their careers I think it would be a good thing for the community.
However, we cannot justify the grant of arbitrary powers by this House merely by saying that they will be exercised humanely. It is never a defence of giving arbitrary, exorbitant, dictatorial powers to say, "Do not let us worry about them, for we are very good in the use of them."
Having listened to the Joint Under-Secretary's speech tonight, I was left wondering what the discussion is about. I wondered if I dozed off and awoke to find another subject under consideration. For his attitude has really been a statistical attitude. If ever there was a "gentleman from Whitehall" as visualised by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), then this is the sort of attitude he would have manifested. We might have been listening to a lecture on how to exterminate unpleasant insects by the most kindly and by the most appropriate process.
We are living in what claims to be a Christian country. We attend in this Chamber for Prayers. We talk about the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and if we believe in that there are no such people as aliens. There are no such people as aliens. I recognise that in a chauvinistic world there is a certain limited amount of nationalism, and most of us are prepared to concede that we have economic standards, and that it may be necessary to have some provisions to prevent too many poor people from entering into a rich country and thus impoverishing the standard of life of the people there, but we cannot allow that the theories of those who say that the laws of their economics provide a balance must apply to human beings.
We have had today another extraordinary demonstration of the fact that 1646 property, from the Tory point of view, must not be under control; that we must not put any control on wealth; that we must not put any control on economic privilege; but that, from the Tory point of view, if some poor, suffering humanity menaces us, we must have control. There are the Tories, the people who an hour ago were condemning controls and talking of freedom and talking about liberty and, indeed, quoting the words of that extraordinary manifesto about setting the people free. If we talk about people, then they do not believe in freedom. When we talk about individuals, they believe in class war. When we talk about human beings, they think in terms of economic privilege.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State used an unfortunate phrase. He said, "We are not skimming off the cream" of the refugees. What is the cream of the refugees in his view? The rich? The Tory? The anti-Communist? The healthy? What is the cream? I listened to the very able speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I agreed with every word of it but one sentence. He said this country stands at the head of other countries in this matter.
I have said there is a humane administration at the Home Office. I believe that to be true. But there is a good deal of the whited sepulchre about our general attitude. The Joint Under-Secretary of State said we cannot admit people whose health would contaminate our fellows.
How many of us remember the denunciations of hon. Members opposite of the National Health Service which offered to cure aliens as well as British subjects. How many of us remember those long speeches we listened to at midnight voicing the complaint that we were curing aliens of disease in this country at the expense of the National Health Service.
What does the hon. Gentleman mean by contamination? People coming in with one of those contaminating diseases? I can understand that if a genuine leper arrived at a port there might be some necessity for his segregation temporarily. What else? In a Christian country, is the test to be that a man has to be kept out if he is not very well? If he has the palsy? In a Christian country, is the test 1647 to be that he is to be kept out if he is poor—if he is suffering?
The amazing thing about the Joint Under-Secretary's speech was that he produced the figures of the numbers of aliens who came in last year and that he produced them with a flourish as much as to say, "Look at what we are doing for the world." He quoted the number of the tourists. Of course. The number of the tourists, the chaps who came here to spend money. Those we made welcome because they were coming for three months to have a look round Britain and to spend money. Of course they are welcome. If that is the attitude of the Home Office, if that is the record of its achievements, it is a very frightening thing.
Let us look at the test. The hon. Gentleman said that some hon. Members on his side want to see the gates wide open. He said that was not quite correct, and said that they want to see the gates opened a little wider. Which is fair enough. But who to? In this country we preach the faith that it is more difficult for a rich man to enter into Heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. It is easier for a rich man to come here through the eye of Dover or the eye of Folkestone or the eye of Harwich because he does not have to report for three months, he does not have to be asked any questions, he does not have to be interviewed, he does not have to produce his passport, and he can travel freely all over the place.
Then comes the man who says, "I am told that this country is Christian, and I am poor, and I am suffering, and I am persecuted and helpless, and I have been pushed about the world as a stateless person because of the war you took part in starting, and I have no home, and I have no relatives, and the very town in which I lived exists no more, and I have no nationality." What do we say to him? We say, "Have you got any money? Have you got a health certificate?" If he says, "No," we say, "Go back."
In years gone by when we have discussed this matter, when we have raised these subjects and when we have said that we believe in the United Nations and that we believe in the Declaration of Human Rights—I will 1648 lower my voice because I should hate to awaken the only Tory on the benches opposite—when we have said these things, we hoped at least that there would be some effort at international consideration of what are admittedly grave and difficult problems.
The Joint Under-Secretary says, "Look what we are doing for the Hungarian refugees." Why are we doing it? It is because there is a sense of utter shame at the situation which we have allowed to arise. There is a sense of shame because no one knows better than the hon. Gentleman that the refugees from the last war are still wandering homeless and helpless in Europe, in Austria, in Germany, and in the Sinai Peninsula which has just been invaded there are 200,000 refugees, on the borders of Kuwait, now the richest State in the world.
What do we do? We do nothing. We subscribe miserably inadequate sums to international funds designed for the care of these people and say that we believe in the brotherhood of man. I sometimes find myself rather helpless to understand some of these discussions. When I listen to bishops saying that it is all right to burn Arab children to pieces because our economic interests were involved, I find myself theologically adrift, and I believe that there are many others who do. I recall, of course, the helpful remark of a very distinguished canon of the Church, Sidney Smith, who pointed out that it was impossible to believe in the apostolic succession without realising that some at least were descended from Judas Iscariot, but that is, after all, a rhetorical rather than a moving explanation.[HON. MEMBERS: "The Tory Member is awake."] There are times when I have been tired myself, and I can understand that the atmosphere of the Chamber is very soothing.
One of the great problems at the moment is the question, what is an alien? We are living in a very different world from that of 1913. We have to know the definition. In the course of these ten years we have given independence to countries like Burma and Ceylon. If we give independence to Cyprus, what happens to the Cypriots who live happily in this country? Each and every measure of emancipation creates its own problem. The establishment of Israel created its 1649 own problem. Many of us are in doubt about what is an alien.
Many people are coming into this country from the British Colonies. Twelve months ago there was opposition. People were writing articles in the sensational Press saying that Jamaicans were normally engaged in keeping brothels. Now we see Jamaicans working happily, and I hope prosperously, on every suburban station and in every transport organisation, and helping us to get more cosmopolitan and understanding. If we had another million of them we might take a different attitude towards debates like this. We are beginning to realise that we have not the monopoly of freedom, of culture and of understanding. Certainly, in the last week or two we have realised that we are very far from having the monopoly of statesmanship.
What are we going to do? Before this Order comes up again I hope that the Home Secretary, for whom I have personal regard, will take the initiative in this matter. If we are to face the problems of the future we can divest ourselves of a little hypocrisy. When we signed the Declaration of Human Rights we either meant something or did not, and we ought to decide whether we meant it or not. I can forgive any Government saying that these things are so wide as to be impracticable. I would not agree, but I could understand at least an honest Tory approach to the matter, but to say, "We signed it, but",—or "We meant it all, but"—or "Of course it will come about some fine day, but "—these are the answers of Tories to any kind of progress.
Has not the time come for facing the really acute problem of aliens created especially by the events of the last few weeks? Has not the time come to realise that we owe a duty of shame to the Hungarians and a duty of atonement to the Egyptians? When international problems are becoming more acute, could we not convene an international conference to consider these matters?
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Godfrey Nicholson)
The hon. Member is wandering a little from the subject of the Amendment. I hope that he will address his remarks to the Amendment.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Hale
I am much obliged, but I will try to draw your attention, Mr. Nicholson, to that part of the Order which 1650 particularly relates to this matter. Primarily, of course, it is this—which I will now quote. I am sorry, Mr. Nicholson, but having looked it up I now find that if I had dealt with that we should be talking about double taxation in Austria.
Article 20, relating to deportation, states:The Secretary of State may, if he thinks fit, in any such case as is mentioned in paragraph (2) of this Article make an Order …requiring an alien to leave and to remain thereafter out of the United Kingdom.After referring to the deportation order, which is not operated without the approval of the Home Secretary, it states:If the Secretary of State deems it to be conducive to the public good to make a deportation order against the alien.…The matter then goes further.
Subsection (5) states:A deportation order made in the case of any person shall continue in force notwithstanding that that person subsequently ceases to be an alien; and for all the purposes of this Order any such person shall be deemed to continue to be an alien.Therefore, we have the situation at the moment that without any order from a court and without any crime having been committed, but on the strength merely of some report submitted to the Home Office by some undisclosed person, whose name may not even be indicated to the person who is the subject of the report, an order for deportation may be mad; without any right of appeal.
After all, an alien has not the normal means of access to Members of Parliament that is enjoyed by the average person in London. Most of us welcome an alien if he comes, of course, but ht; does not know the ropes so well as the average inhabitant. As my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) has said, the alien is often inhibited by the forms and by the presence of the police and so on.
The point which I was trying to make, Mr. Nicholson, when you very properly called my attention to the possibility that at any moment I might be tempted to wander, is that when we have Hungarians coming to this country we have a highly political people coming in. Such was the case with the Poles. We all welcomed the Act for the resettlement of Poles, but the great majority of the Poles who are 1651 settled in this country belonged to and supported an aristocratic and dictatorial régime. If one of them fell by the wayside and became unpopular, a couple of letters from a couple of Poles to the Home Office saying "This man has Communist sympathies" could start the ball rolling.
I want to see the gates wide open and people welcomed in the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty, which were the solace of the American nation after the hysteria of 1916–17. When we take in large numbers of refugees, the process of secret trial becomes wholly inapplicable. I do not believe that there is anyone here who believes that the freedom and liberalism of 1913 exists today. I do not believe that anyone who has been a Member of the House of Commons has not seen in the atmosphere of cold war and hysteria a gradual retrogression in relation to our standpoint on liberty.
But what does it mean now? The Joint Under-Secretary of State referred to the little chap in Oldham. The hon. Gentleman really ought to reflect before he makes use of some expressions. The little chap in Oldham was not allowed to come here because he was poor and suffering and because we wanted to welcome refugees. He did not come here because our big heart was moved by the spectacle of the suffering poor. He came here because he was fit, because he was able-bodied and because we wanted workers to make cotton. Perhaps it was a miscalculation. The time has come when we are not sure whether we want so many workers to make cotton. But we did not want his wife with him. We did not want his aged father, or his tiny child, unless he settled down, became domiciled here, and obviously had a capacity to make good. No, we brought him in because we were short of workers, just as we tried to bring in other workers because there were some industries whose attractions were so inconsiderable to our workers that we found it easier to get recruits from abroad. It was not the great heart of the Home Office beating at that time.
It is wrong to say that our standards are the highest in the world. I believe that the United States is poles in advance of us in this matter, although, as I have said, I believe there was a period of hysteria under Attorney-General Mitchell 1652 Palmer and again, thirty years later, when Senator McCarthy was establishing a certain power. In the main, however, the great strength of the United States has been built up on the reception of aliens.
In the main, once an alien becomes domiciled in the United States, once he has passed the examination of Ellis Island, he is given a chance of amalgamating himself as part of an international society, and he becomes entitled to the fullest hearing in public before any question of deportation is considered. So far as I know, that is the law of the United States, but I do not claim to be an expert. The grounds for deportation are not nearly so wide as they are in this country. Let us remember that there is no test. Nowhere in this Order is there any test. Nowhere in this order are any provisions laid down. Nowhere in this Order do we say that we can deport an alien because she is a prostitute, or because he is a pimp or because he is an habitual criminal. The test is if the Home Secretary thinks it is for the good of our society that the alien should go.
I do not want to overpaint the picture. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) said that sometimes these weapons are used as part of the weapons of a cold war. But let us consider the test of political asylum, and consider it fairly. Is there anyone in the House tonight who would challenge the following supposition? If there arrived at a British port today two men, one of whom said he was a Tory, a refugee from Communist persecution in the Soviet Union, and another who said he was a Communist, a refugee from right-wing persecution in the United States, is there any doubt who would be admitted? Is there anyone in this Committee who would get up and challenge that? But, once we admit that supposition, once we admit that the test is political, once we admit that the test will in the first instance be applied by investigating officers, who probably still think I am a Communist because of what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said this afternoon—which was quite flattering to a genuine Socialist—they will perhaps ask this question at the port, "Are you going to see the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) or the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale)?" 1653 —though they do not put it like that—and, after hearing the reply, they will say, "Well, this is a bad start, this is a corrupting influence."
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
A good spy would say that he was a Tory, of course.
§ Mr. Hale
That is true, and I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend. It is only the honest man who gets included under this Order, because the dishonest man would say that he had a passionate admiration for the Prime Minister and thought his action in Egypt was right. Though it is difficult to say that and look as though one believed it, a man capable of a certain amount of dissimulation would do it.
I beg the Joint Under-Secretary of State to look at this matter again. I ask him to read the debates that have taken place in the last few years. I believe that he will find they were very good debates. I ask him to say that this is fundamentally an international question, and that there must be international consideration of it. The Home Office has a great historic record in this matter, for all the revolutionaries of Europe came to England. Refugees from radical movements came to England. Refugees from Tory movements came here. Marx came to England and Lenin read in the British Museum.
§ Mr. Hale
And further back, of course, the Huguenots came and enriched our national and industrial life. It was a good thing. It added to our national heritage. Cannot we try to think of it on those lines again? The Joint Under-Secretary of State gave us some figures of the number of deportations. Is there any reason why these investigations should not take place in public? Has anyone ever advanced a single valid reason why experienced judges should not consider the question of deportation if an Order is under consideration? Is there any reason why a man should not know the names of his accusers?
This argument applies as much to the other form of secret police action as to this security test. Many people do not appreciate that when a man is tried for treason in time of war, if a man is tried on a charge that he has conspired with the enemy in time of war, he is tried 1654 before the courts of law. Witnesses are called. Of course, a hearing can be taken in camera if a public inquiry prejudices the national safety. No one objects to that. But the man charged with treason, suspected as a spy, in time of war is entitled to know in detail the evidence against him. He is entitled to know the names of the witnesses who have sworn against him. He is entitled to confront them in court, whether in a public or private hearing. He has the chance of defending himself and of saying, "This is not true."
The fear about the secret inquiry is this. I do not believe that the Home Office, however humane, by the consideration of documents and by the private interview of the prospective deportee, can ever hope to administer justice, and to administer it fairly and impartially. Certainly it can never hope to convince the public that justice has been done as it should always appear to have been done. That is the magnitude of the problem.
The Joint Under-Secretary could add very greatly to his Parliamentary reputation in the House if he would take the problem seriously and say, "It is really part of the British heritage and tradition, cherished much by our fathers, that we are seeking to preserve. It is also part of the British way of life and part of the British philosophy. Much more than that, it is a substantial contribution to international understanding, to an increased degree of tolerance, and to the spread of the doctrine of kindliness and humanitarianism among the international brotherhood of men."
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 19 and 20.
The lines I seek to delete refer to the Education (Exemptions) (Scotland) Act, 1947, which gives the Secretary of State power to grant exemptions to school children to take part in the potato harvest. When it was introduced its Long Title described it as an Act to make "temporary" provision for these exemptions. By now "temporary" is beginning to have a hollow ring. Year after year the Secretary of State asks us to extend the Act for a further year. Surely we 1655 are getting to the stage where the use of children for the Scottish potato harvest can no longer be regarded simply as a temporary emergency post-war measure. Surely it is becoming a general agricultural habit in the community. It is to that problem that we should address ourselves tonight.
Scotland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, has very many serious educational problems. Indeed, our educational problems are among the most serious aspects of our general national problems in Scotland. The problem of exemptions for potato picking is now one of the most serious of our educational problems, and it must now be regarded as such.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who is concerned with the Department of Agriculture has interested himself very greatly in this matter since he took office, and I should like to pay tribute to him for that. The Rose Committee was set up to investigate the matter, and we now have an opportunity to consider its Report. The Report mentions the magnitude of the problem and describes how there were in 1955 about 26,000 exemptions of children of 13 years and above in Scottish schools.
I put some Questions to the Secretary of State this afternoon to elicit the latest information about the extent of the problem. I discovered from the answers that the problem of child labour in the potato harvest, far from growing less as the years go by, is increasing greatly. I was told that this year there were 27,387 children exempted for the potato harvest compared with 26,000 the previous year, and that this year's total is not complete yet because one or two figures are still outstanding. It looks as though the final figure for 1956 will be over 28,000.
This is a Scottish problem of very great importance. The figures vary widely between area and area, and the variations conceal the acute gravity of the problem in certain parts of Scotland. I am particularly concerned about the situation in the east of Scotland and especially in Dundee. This afternoon I asked for a break-up of the figures. The figures provided by the Secretary of State are staggering. I am informed that the percentages of children aged 13 and above granted exemption are 1.5 in Glasgow; 2.8 in Edinburgh; 8.4 in Aberdeen; and 42 in Dundee. These 1656 figures are percentages of the total number of children of 13 years and above on the school rolls.
Only one local authority in Scotland has a higher percentage than Dundee, and that, curiously enough, is the county authority of Moray and Nairn, the constituency represented by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I hope that he can take pride in the achievement of his county in this respect. Not only are there tremendous variations between area and area in Scotland, which create acute problems in those areas which make the biggest contribution to the potato harvest, but there are tremendous variations between different schools in any one area, and variations which run very much along lines of income groups within the community.
It is the poorer children, in the main, who go to the potato harvest, the less well-educated, the less intelligent children and those with the shortest period of education in front of them. When we look at the figures for Dundee, which is a typical illustration of what is happening in the rest of Scotland, we find how striking is this variation between the social groups.
We find, for instance, that in one of Dundee's junior secondary schools, St. John's, according to the figures which the Secretary of State provided this afternoon, 70 per cent. of the children of 13 and over on the school roll go to the potato harvest for a period of three weeks. We find that in the case of two other junior secondary schools, Stobswell Boys' School, it is 63 per cent. and another, Stobswell Girls' School, it is 58 per cent.
When we come to senior secondary schools, the Morgan Academy, in my own constituency, for instance, we find that the percentage drops from 63 per cent. to 14 per cent. In the case of Dundee High School, not one single student is drawn into the potato harvest.
I would refer the Minister to some of the comments in the Rose Report on this matter. Educationalists are quoted as pointing out thatgenerally the children who apply for exemption are the weakest scholastically.Another quotation is:The children who take part come from the poorer homes and are the children who are in greatest need of education.1657 It is this kind of thing that, I think, is making the annual potato harvest, with all its exemptions, an educational problem which we can no longer afford to postpone dealing with, as we have been doing year by year since 1947.
The educational consequences are well-known to every Scottish Member of this House who gets representations about them from teachers in his own constituencies. The exemption period comes just as the children are settling down after the long school holiday and in the middle of the winter term, which is known to all teachers as the best one for teaching children before they come into the period after Christmas when winter illnesses begins to catch up. It is generally the children who are to leave school at 15, in any event, who go to school for a few weeks and then—off they go to the potato fields
This is producing a record of truancy and many problems of delinquency among children. I am sure that the great majority of those who go into the potato fields suffer no particular harmful effects, but there is a substantial minority on whom the effects are very harmful and they have an unfortunate effect on the schools when they go back to them. It is well-known that contractors in the potato business go out of their way to pirate children from one another. By offering the children big money, they are giving them false ideas about the value of money and laying up all sorts of social consequences for the children in the future. On general educational and social grounds, it would be a very good thing if we could bring the use of child labour in the potato fields to an end.
The question to which we have to address ourselves, and the question to which the Rose Committee did address itself very conscientiously, is whether the use of children in the potato fields is necessary. Is it inevitable? Is there no other way of dealing with this problem? I would draw the attention of the Committee to the Middleton minority Report of the Rose Committee, in which Mr. George Middleton, General Secretary of the Scottish T.U.C. and one of the members of the Committee, dissents from the main finding of the Committee that it is inevitable that we should go on for the time being using children.
1658 I want to draw attention particularly to the point he makes about the great slowness in developing adequate mechanical means of lifting the potato crop. I know there are difficulties about this. I have asked Questions about this matter from time to time during the few years that I have been in the House of Commons, because I cannot believe that enough energy or effort is going into finding a mechanical potato lifter.
I am not very mechanically minded, but I recall that during the war I spent a short time on the shores of the Solway Firth looking for an aeroplane which was so high above me that it could not be seen. It was 30,000 feet above me and it was dropping bombs on a target in the Solway Firth to an accuracy of within 100 feet. Those bombs were being dropped as a result of a man in the south of England, more than 500 miles away, pressing a button.
This is the kind of technological society in which we live. I refuse to believe that a society that can do that kind of thing cannot invent a machine for digging potatoes out of the ground. The Government have not given enough attention to it and we have not devoted enough resources to it. My objection is that this has simply been regarded as a praiseworthy, but rather minor agricultural problem. I suggest that it be not looked at in this light, but as one of the most serious of our educational problems.
Then, of course, there is the evidence that if farmers went about their business in the right way, had a bit of ingenuity and enterprise and were willing to be a bit untraditional about their methods they could do without using children. I am very pleased that the Joint Under-Secretary has taken the trouble to pay a visit to a Scottish farm in Laurencekirk which uses progressive techniques. Its owner, Mr. John Mackie, is a well-known Scottish farmer. For years he has done without children very successfully. I have never heard any complaint about his efficiency as a potato farmer, or from his other potato workers, some of whom I have met. They are quite competent in their potato picking under his arrangements. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will tell us that, following his visit, he will take steps to have the method he inspected extended.
1659 The problem we come down to under this educational exemption is whether or not Scotland ought to go on allowing its children to be used in such tremendous numbers in the harvesting of the potato crop. Farmers tell us, and they have been supported so far by the Government, that we cannot afford to go short of potatoes. Far be it from me to underestimate the value of the humble "spud", but I submit to the Minister that the real question is whether we can go short of educated citizens. Potato harvesting is having an undeniable effect on the quality of the children that are coming out of our schools, particularly the junior secondary schools, where is perhaps our most urgent problem of curriculum.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) is no longer with us in the Committee, but I will nevertheless say that although we are all interested in the price of potatoes we have not been paying enough attention to calculating the educational price that goes into every plate of potatoes that we eat. I am satisfied that the educational price of potatoes in these days is far too high and that we ought to stop paying for potatoes in terms of employing children in the potato fields.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
I have no quarrel with the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) for raising this matter tonight. His view is opposite from mine on various, but mainly educational, grounds. For some years now there has been a difference in emphasis on the importance of lifting the potato crop and its effect on education. I am certain that it is still necessary to retain this exemption in the Bill.
I am fortified in that belief by the Report of the Committee on Employment of Children in the Potato Harvest, Cmd. 9738. This was a powerful Committee. It included Mr. James T. Allardice, who had been President of the Educational Institute of Scotland, Mr. John McEwan, Director of Education for Lanarkshire, Mr. John Allan, Chairman of Fife Education Committee, and some farmers.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
The hon. and gallant Member says that Mr. Allardice was a member of the Committee 1660 and a former President of the Educational Institute of Scotland. Will he make it plain that the E.I.S. officially opposes the scheme?
§ Captain Duncan
I was merely trying to point out that this was a powerful Committee. With the exception of Mr. George Middleton, of the Scottish T.U.C., the Committee was unanimous, thereby showing that, on balance, the Committee thought that it was still necessary, in this difficult matter, for children to help with the potato harvest.
Some people tend to exaggerate—and Mr. George Middleton says so in his minority statement—the harm done to education. Although I am prepared to admit that some harm may be done, it is not always appreciated in Scotland that other countries have similar provisions. Page 11 of the Report shows that not only Northern Ireland and Eire, but Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States of America, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland and Denmark have various exemption schemes to help to get the potato harvest lifted.
§ Captain Duncan
In Scotland we have a unique problem, because of the importance of our seed potatoes, particularly in four counties, one of which I represent—Fife, Perth and Kinross, Angus and Kincardine. It is important to realise that other countries have the same difficulty and have to give exemption in a similar way. I must stress how important is the potato crop in Scotland, especially in the eastern counties. The Report says that 300,000 tons of seed potatoes are sent to England annually and that the English have to have seed potatoes at least every other year, or their potatoes would deteriorate.
If there were interference with the seed crop in Scotland, the English potato harvest would be affected. In addition, we export 20,000 tons abroad, a trade which is of great value to us and one which is expanding. If anything were done to hit the English potato harvest it would have its effect on our imports because we should have to import potatoes from abroad to meet the demand.
A particular problem in Scotland is the shortness of the harvest. In England, 1661 potatoes are ready for harvesting from August to November, and there is a fairly long period during which frosts are not normally expected. But in Scotland potatoes are not ready for harvesting until the end of September or the beginning of October and frost may be expected at the beginning of November. I am not talking about the earlies in Ayrshire, and so on, but about the main crop. In these circumstances, there is a sudden demand for labour in Scotland so as to get the potatoes safely into the pits or the sheds before the frost comes because, otherwise, not only will there be the loss of the crop, but a loss of income to the farmer.
I should like to stress the expense incurred by the farmer in growing potatoes today. By the time he has done the necessary cultivation, and paid for the large amount of artificial manure required to make the crop grow, it has cost him about £80 an acre, a very heavy outlay. There are only one or two alternatives to this business. We must get the crop after it is grown, and, in my submission, it is essential, not only in the interest of Scottish farmers, but also in the interests of English farmers, that crops should continue to be grown on roughly the present acreage.
What are the alternatives? It may be said that we ought to use adult labour. But the Report says—and I think that the Government will agree with it—that there just is not that adult labour in such quantity available for a concentrated period of six weeks. There may be 50,000 names on the employment exchange registers, but what is the good of a married woman in Dumfries or a disabled person in Inverness when 60,000 able-bodies people are wanted in Angus?
It was suggested by the hon. Gentleman opposite that we ought to go into Mr. John Mackie's scheme of piece-work. That can be done, and, indeed, is being done, Where adult labour gangs are available which can go from one farm to another; but until there are sufficient of these adult gangs, that scheme of piece-work it not the answer. It was also suggested that they might be got from Eire. But it is not everybody who can get these gangs. Some gangs do come from Eire, but, as I say, not everybody can get them. There just is not the suitable unemployed labour in Scotland to carry out this work which is concentrated 1662 into such a short period of the year.
§ Mr. Thomson
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is an expert on this matter, but I understood that Mr. Mackie did not use imported adult labour. He worked his scheme with local adult labour. Cannot that be done in other places?
§ Captain Duncan
Of course, we all use adult labour in addition to the children. I had all the local adult labour I could get last year and 20 children from one of the hon. Gentleman's schools, Logie School. This year, I had children from Rockwell School, in Dundee. These children served me very well and I was lucky to have them.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman use the same kind of digger as Mr. Mackie uses? Or does he use the old-fashioned spin-digger?
§ Captain Duncan
I use the spin-digger. If the hon. Member would come to my farm, and try using the Mollinson digger which Mr. Mackie uses, he would find that the children were hanging about waiting for the digger to be mended, because I have so many stones on my hill farm.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I think that the hon. Member is going into the matter in too much detail. It was ruled in 1948 that hon. Members could discuss generally an Act which was being continued, but could not do so in too great detail.
§ Captain Duncan
I am sorry, Mr. Nicholson, but I was provoked by the inquisitive nature of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser).
I was about to say that the third alternative is mechanisation. I am not: sure that I agree with hon. Members about what they call the lack of effort: being put into mechanisation. An immense amount of research is going on. Only last week, I received an advertisement, from a firm in Stonehaven, which spoke of a new attempt to solve the problem. We see examples at the Highland Show, for instance, the Packman. But none of these, up to now—I regret to have to say it—will work on all the soils in which we grow potatoes in Scotland. I wish that one of them 1663 would. The average machine is very heavy and will work on flat soil without stones, but when we take it on to the hillsides, where so many of our potatoes are grown, it will not work. Even if we have two or three men by the side picking up the stones, the machine will break down because stones are caught up in the machinery.
All those three alternatives have failed up to now. In the circumstances, I must regretfully admit that I must support the Government in continuing this procedure for another year. None the less, I hope that in the not too far distant future we shall be able to produce a machine which will do the work. The failure to do so has not been for want of trying, because the agricultural machinery industry is very eager to solve the problem. There is a fortune for somebody who can produce a machine which will do the work. If only it will do it at reasonable cost to the farmer—£700 to £800—and will do it in all sorts of soil and all sorts of conditions, I believe that not only will it make a fortune but it will also solve this problem and save us from having to consider this difficult matter year after year on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
We have just had a most depressing statement from the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan). He started by telling us, more or less, that there is no reason why we should not continue this provision; but that conflicted with his regrettable acceptance of the necessity for it and his hope that, sooner or later, we should find a mechanical way of doing the work.
Earlier, he asked why we should not use children for the work and said that they do it in Canada, America and other countries. One place in which they do not do it is England and Wales. Let us stay a little nearer home when we are considering the matter. We did not always have to do it in Scotland to the present extent, where we have children from the cities taken into the country areas. There may be some change about that in the future. Simply because they do it elsewhere is not a valid reason for doing it in Scotland.
§ Mr. Ross
It is a reason, but not a valid reason. We have prided ourselves very much in Scotland, sometimes with very little justification, on how high we set education, as something to be loved for itself, but we still come across this conflicting interest of education as against agriculture. The hon. and gallant, Gentleman, certainly with belated regrets, is prepared to throw education overboard. If there were no children available next year for the harvesting of the potato crop, I wonder whether it would be harvested? I am prepared to say that it would be.
§ Mr. Ross
One of the bars to getting the thing properly done, either by adult labour or the development of a machine, is the knowledge that the Government are prepared to continue this provision year after year. We have only to take the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) to realise that this year there have been more children employed in gathering potatoes even than in previous years. I can remember speeches by the Under-Secretary of State, telling us of how his hopes were high of soon getting rid of this enactment. That was two or three years ago, yet here we are, depending on it more than ever.
I sincerely hope that the Committee will not be too ready to accept what the Government have to say about the necessity for the provision. It was introduced in 1947, I think, for an initial period of a few years, but since then we have had this request for a continuance, and it is about time that it stopped. Let us see exactly how it works out. It is not 27,000 representative children of Scotland who are affected. The greater proportion of that 27,000 consist of those children whose secondary education is already limited by the fact that they are at junior secondary schools, and have probably only three years of secondary education.
Figures have been quoted time after time—I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) quoting, last year, the figures for Glasgow—which have proved quite clearly that it has not been the children from the senior secondary schools—who get five years of education—who have given up part of their time for this work. It is mainly the 1665 children from junior secondary schools who are exempt in this way.
Let us never forget what this provision does. It takes from local authorities the power to say "No" to a child who is seeking exemption. That power rests with the Secretary of State. If the application is made, it is the Secretary of State who decides; not the schoolmaster or the local education authority, but the gentleman in Edinburgh. The agricultural point of view has been given, but it will be found that not a single educationist in Scotland is prepared, on educational grounds, to support this. The E.I.S. has never been willing to support it. It agreed to it reluctantly.
My own Ayrshire education authority has opposed this repeatedly but, despite that opposition, Ayrshire children have had to go on picking potatoes. It is said that this year 452 children were involved. I do not know whether the arithmetic of the Scottish Office is up to its usual standard, but in an Answer today it was stated that that represents 30 per cent. I am not prepared to accept that. That means 30 per cent. of the children over 13 years of age in the schools of Ayrshire. I should have thought that there were more than 1,500 such children in Ayrshire schools. Perhaps the Scottish Office will look again at its statistics. In any case, according to that Answer today, there are 452 children who are off school for an average of eight days.
Kilmarnock headmasters were asked to provide a report on how this matter works out, and the report was published in last week's Kilmarnock Standard. It said:Potato harvesting and education don't mix. Kilmarnock headmasters consider the exemption of pupils for the potato harvest a hindrance to education.There is no doubt that it is a hindrance. It is not merely a question of 452 pupils. Hon. Members ought to consider what happens when 30 per cent. of the pupils in one class axe away for eight days. The teacher might just as well shut the books for those eight days, because at the end of that time the 30 per cent. have to try to catch up with the others. The teacher has to make up his mind whether to go ahead and forget what those children have lost in those eight days, which automatically means that 1666 they lose far more than eight days' education, for a child of 13 or 14 years of age will take a long time to catch up, if he ever does; or the teacher has to let the remainder of the class mark time for eight days and wait for the stragglers to come back. That is the difficulty.
When we are dealing with junior secondary schools, where the oppertunities of education are limited in time as compared with senior secondary schools, it is time that Scottish Ministers, who have time and time again expressed their hopes of great things from these junior secondary schools, dealt with this problem, which is seriously handicapping teachers in those schools. I have heard hon. Members say that it does not really matter, that potato harvesting does not do the children any harm. Far more good would be done if they were in school, and far more good would be done to the others who are kept waiting while the potato harvesters are away.
In the interests of the whole aspect of education as well as of the children, this problem must receive serious consideration from the Secretary of State. Consider the position in Moray and Nairn. No wonder the Secretary of State is not here, for 48 per cent. of the children over the age of 13 are away potato gathering. Remember, too, that this is outside the ordinary potato gathering holiday. This is not all the potato digging that they do, because they probably do it on Saturdays as well. It is shocking that Scotland, which places so much importance on the education of its children, should permit this sort of thing to continue.
We never hear an hon. Member on the other side of the Committee showing any concern about this at all.
§ Captain Duncan rose—
§ Captain Duncan
The hon. Member is not being fair. He said that I take no interest in the educational aspect of this matter. I started my speech by saying that there was a divergence between education and farming. The hon Gentleman ought to be fair.
§ Mr. Ross
I think I said at the start that I should try to deal with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech on the subject. I emphasised that he had said, first, that there was no reason why we should not do it because Canada and Australia and other countries did it, and then, in the end, used the technical argument and said that as we have not got mechanical harvesters we must carry on with this practice. What I was saying was that, generally speaking, throughout the year little interest in this problem is evinced by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of this Committee. Their attendance this evening, or their lack of it, proves that.
I believe that this potato picking does children considerable harm. It may well do them physical harm as well; accidents have been caused to children. Heavy responsibility is thrown on those who are looking after them at the time. Educationally, it is harmful. From the point of view of the organisation of the schools, it is an educational hindrance and the sooner it is stopped the better.
There is another point which must be stressed. Let us not deceive ourselves by referring to 27,000 representative children. It is 27,000 children mainly from the working-class families of Scotland who get this exemption. It has been pointed out in the past, and, no doubt, will be again, that it is the poorer children who are involved; but we have not reached such a happy state of prosperity that the children have to go out to augment the family income when they really should be in school, getting the benefit of what education is provided for them.
I, for one, am not prepared this year, or any other year, to give the Government an easy passage for this Bill for yet a further year. I hope that the Committee will seriously think of opposing the granting of this Bill for yet another year.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I should like to underline what 1668 has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), that the whole effect of this Act is to place the responsibility on the Secretary of State for Scotland to decide what the necessary labour force will be in order to uplift the potato crop. Then, having arrived at an estimate of that, he serves notice on the local auhority that, on the application of the parent, the children should be exempted from attendance from school.
I should like to refer to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) when he said that Scotland is not the only country in which children were exempted in this way. I want to challenge him on that. I know he referred to the Rose Report, but I would ask him to be good enough to read paragraph 30 again. The last two sentences merely say:We also obtained information about the potato harvest in Northern Ireland, Eire. Australia … In each case we were informed that school children assisted in lifting the potato crop and in no case did we find any evidence of more advanced mechanization than in our own country.Perhaps "challenge" is too strong a word, but I suggest to him that his interpretation might be going too far.
§ Captain Duncan indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Hannan
I respect the hon. and gallant Gentleman's knowledge but, making due allowances, I suggest that because of climatic conditions, longer light and so forth, it may well be that children are able to assist in the long evenings to a greater extent without exemption from school. It is exemption from school which is the kernel of our exception to this Bill.
The problem is, of course, essentially one of measuring the importance of the ingathering of the potato crop, which is important, against the educational needs of the children. That we can admit. But, like my hon. Friends who have spoken this evening, I too am of the opinion that, just as in the war, in the organisation of D-Day, and the rest of it, if this country and Scotland were put to it and were really up against the issue, the crop would be ingathered.
1669 9.15 p.m.
It is quite evident from paragraph 9 of the Report that the Committee had been considering one way out: that was, to limit the acreage of potatoes and to match that acreage to the estimated labour force that would be available. One has only to refer to paragraph 9 for an indication of that. It states:As regards the acreage of potatoes we were referred to the Annual Review and Determination of Guarantees, 1954 … where it is stated that the Government do not regard it as practicable or desirable to try to set precise commodity production targets in free market conditions.I suggest that the maintenance of a free market influenced the Committee in its considerations to a greater degree than did the educational interests of the children.
It is true, as the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus said, that the Committee pointed out the importance of the risk which farmers or purchasers had taken in the ingathering of the crop in the limited period that is available, but in the last sentence of paragraph 12 the Committee said:Apart from the grower's (or merchant's) interest there is also that of the public as consumers.The hon. and gallant Member did not tonight mention the consumer. In his opening sentence he mentioned education, but his speech was that of the farmer and the interest which that community has in education is not extremely high.
I conclude by drawing the attention of the Committee to three or four facts. In England and Wales, there has been no exemption of children in the last two years. In an intervention in this same debate last year, one of my hon. Friends implied that when parents in England kept their children from school to pick hops, the parents could be fined. That is an indication of the difference in attitude between the two countries.
There is great opposition among local authorities and in the ranks of teachers and headmasters to this practice. It started out as a temporary measure for something like two years and it has now taken on the appearance of becoming permanent. It seems a strange anomaly that while the Education Act provides for compulsory education to the age of fifteen, by the continuance of this Act we are 1670 allowing exceptions and exemptions to be made for this one purpose. I believe that if we apply our minds and spend more money on the development of science and research, a mechanical tool could be produced which would save us from continuing an Act which we believe to be a very bad one.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
In my view, the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) examined his case fairly in dealing with the need for potatoes and the need for education. On balance, he decided that the need for potatoes was more urgent than the need for education. That, I think, is a fair summary of his argument.
The hon. and gallant Member missed the main point in the support which he sought for his argument. The economy of this country depends very largely on the export of the skill of its workers. Our greatest export trade is in shipbuilding. Engineering follows. If we are to maintain those exports and if we are to maintain the economy of our country on a reasonable basis, those skills which are essential in our heavy industries must be fostered, and they can be fostered only by proper, full and free education.
That is not happening just now, and that is why I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman allowed his judgment to fall on what I am sure is the wrong side. It is all very well to say we export 40,000 tons of potatoes, but, with due respect to the potato and the farmer, those exports are not nearly so important as the exports of our shipbuilding industry, of precision goods and our other engineering products. The continuation of those exports and their command of the market depends in the long run on the education we give to the children who presently are being partly deprived of it.
It is unfortunate the Government should show their bias in this matter. In my view it is not so much an agricultural question as an educational question, and I should have thought that the Joint Under-Secretary of State would have been deploring the absence of children from school, and I should like to have heard—
§ Mr. Thomas Hubbard (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
I hope my hon. Friend is not going to start tonight another split in the party opposite.
§ Mr. Rankin
I should have liked to have heard the hon. Gentleman. He would need to declare that he had a vested interest in the matter. Perhaps that is the reason why he is not taking part in the debate. He represents an area which is a great potato growing area in Scotland, and when the Bill which became the Education (Exemptions) (Scotland) Act was debated in 1947 he supported it because he admitted that we had always employed children in his part of the country and he thought we should continue to employ children in his part of the county because he regarded them as essential. It would be a very difficult thing for the hon. Gentleman, placed in that situation, to oppose this proposal, because his potato interests are much more deeply entrenched than are his educational beliefs.
I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Angus and the Government will realise that, for the reasons I have indicated, the balance ought to come down on the side of education, and agree that education ought not to be continually disturbed in this way.
There is another danger. When our late colleague and friend Joe Westwood introduced this Measure he said it was for two years, and no one doubted that statement. Despite it, many of my hon. Friends opposed the Measure then, even although it was introduced to last for only two years and at a time of food shortage. Does that food shortage exist today? Or do the Government fear that the food shortage is coming and that food will follow petrol? Perhaps that question takes the debate a little too wide. However, this Measure initially was introduced to last two years, and it was introduced in a period of very serious food shortage, and thus there was some defence for it as a temporary solution. That has now disappeared, but despite the disappearance of the reasons which activated the promotion of the Act it looks today as if child labour were going to become a permanent feature of our economy in order to satisfy the farmers.
The Joint Under-Secretary has said that it is difficult to obtain a machine that will do this work. I understand that the difficulty is that farmers cannot get a machine which does not lift too much earth. If I am wrong perhaps I shall be told where the difficulty lies, but as far as I am aware 1672 that is the problem. It seems that children are to be sacrificed for unnumbered years ahead because we cannot get a machine that will lift less earth than is lifted by those which are in use today. There is the danger that this exemption will become a permanent practice and there is the further danger that the number of children employed is obviously increasing.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) will recollect that in 1947 we were told that 22,000 children would be required. Tonight we are told that the number is 28,000. That is a most serious increase. When will the number cease going up? I hope that we shall have some indication of the Government's attitude towards these two points—the danger of child labour becoming a permanent feature of the economy of the country, and this continued increment in the number of children who are called upon to do this work.
My hon. Friends have referred to the danger of dislocating the child's educational life. It is a very serious danger. I am sure that the Joint Under-Secretary will not minimise the risk that dislocation of his period of education is to the child during and after school time. He loses contact with the class and with the atmosphere of the class. Consequently, when he returns it takes some time, and not merely a matter of eight days, to re-accustom himself to the discipline of education. He finds himself out of pace with the rest of the class, and the teacher finds himself or herself in danger of having two different groups within the same class at the same time. This is a very serious educational danger and arises from the inevitable dislocation which takes place as a result of calling upon some of our children to save the potato crop.
A few weeks ago, within the recollection of every hon. Member and under the guidance of the Joint Under-Secretary we were passing a small Measure to penalise children who did not attend school. We enacted it to ensure that children would attend school in their own personal interest and in the interest of the nation. Tonight the Government are pushing throught a Measure designed to ensure that perhaps the same children will be able to be absent from school 1673 without suffering any of the penalties contained in the Measure with which we dealt a few weeks ago.
That is consistency in educational outlook if you like, but what can we expect from a Tory Government? My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard) suggested that I should not try to split the Tory Party. Who needs to try and split the party opposite tonight? Where are all the Tories? Looking for another leader? There is a desperate search on just now. Nothing I could say would split them any more than they are split now.
§ Mr. Rankin
But this is part of their education, the part neglected by the party opposite. I am glad that my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee put education before "tatties". We can live without the "tatties", but we cannot live without education. We have heard it said often in the House that we will not starve because children do not pick potatoes. It is a far more grievous thing to deprive children of their necessary education than it is to deprive the country of a few potatoes—
§ Mr. Rankin
No, not the whole crop. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, as a farmer, knows that. We may lose some potatoes, but it is doubtful if we eat all our potatoes. The issue tonight, as I have said, is simple: it is far worse to deprive children of their necessary education than it is to deprive the country of a few potatoes. The hon. and gallant Member posed the question, and my answer is that I hope my hon. Friends, if necessary, will press our attitude to this problem in the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
Here we have the old vicious circle. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) says that if we do not allow children to pick potatoes then the farmers will not sow the crop, and that if the crops are sown, and we do not use the services of the children, the crop will not be gathered.
1674 One reason that has been given is that we cannot get a machine to harvest potatoes. I agree to this extent, that I doubt whether it is a practical proposition for any engineer to invent, and put into the process of manufacture, a potato harvesting machine which will work on a variety of soils and which can be sold as a commercial proposition to farmers. I do not believe that this will ever be done.
Some years ago, I played a part in the creation of three agricultural machines, one of which was a machine for planting flax, a transplanting machine which was purely automatic. Then there is the cutter and binder for harvesting hay, and there is also the combine harvester made by Massey-Harris. The combine harvester is not designed to be sold to the small harvester of grain, nor is the threshing machine. Such machines are very expensive, and one is generally used by a group of farmers. I believe that this principle will have to be applied to a potato harvesting machine if we are to have one to do the job. We can have one. I have seen one with different sets of tines for different soils, but it is very expensive and not an economical proposition for the individual farmer. It would have to be used to harvest the crops on several farms.
It is said that no satisfactory machine has been designed. The truth is that no satisfactory machine has been designed at a price which the individual farmer would consider economical. When milking machines were introduced, it was a job to sell them to small farmers. Most of the machines went to New Zealand and the North American continent. The potato harvesting machine must come, and it can be done if the Government and research organisations get down to the task of manufacturing one which will be a commercial proposition, perhaps being hired out to various farmers in a locality. I am sure that that is how it will be done.
We have hop picking machines, cotton picking machines and the planting machines to which I have referred. Years ago there was the problem of St. Vitus' Dance resulting from manual manipulations in repetitive processes. It was often argued that manual operations could not possibly be replaced because of the nature of the material or the job 1675 to be done. Nevertheless, the engineer has provided machinery to replace those manual operations. He had to do it, especially during the war, and his tempo in development of that type is increasing. Processes relating to most difficult products are now being achieved by machinery which would have seemed absolutely impossible only fifteen years ago. I believe that this development will lead to the production of a potato harvesting machine.
There are different types of land and stone. We should not grow anything in the soil if there were not stones in it, for soil without stones is not fertile. I have known stones to be imported to provide aeration in soil. It may be that the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus was talking about hefty stones; in that case, I do not know how the soil is ploughed. However, if the land can be ploughed and an ordinary mechanical digger can be used to put the potatoes on the surface, surely a machine could run over the ground and harvest the potatoes, even if the ground is excessively stony. If a digger can go on the ground, surely a harvester could do so. The only problem is the separation of the potatoes from the stone.
I would agree that it might be difficult to use such a machine on, say, three-quarters of an acre of very hilly land, but that is no reason why there should not be such a machine, for there are thousands of acres in the country where a heavy machine could lift, sort and bag potatoes. I am quite certain that these areas exist. Because they do surely it is worth while manufacturing such a machine and putting it out on hire to farmers, so that we can relieve our educational system from this frightful disturbance which takes place every harvest time.
It has been said that potato lifting does not do any harm to children. It is all right for the sons of farmers and for country bred children to say, "It is great fun; we have a good time". It is probably all right for the country schools. I started my education in a country school, and when I went into the city and met my colleagues in the urban areas I found that their education generally was much more lively than mine. I think that perhaps we had more fun than education. 1676 That may have been typical of country schools in my day, but I do not know whether it is now.
Teachers tell me that in the schools in the urban areas from where these children are drawn sometimes 25 or 30 children are withdrawn from a class of 40 or 50, and the schools do not know whether to go on or to hold back because the children are away for eight days. Hon. Members in the teaching profession are better equipped to talk about this problem than I am.
In my school days, when we came back from the harvest, during the First World War there was turmoil in the schoolrooms for some weeks as a result of our recounting stories which we had gathered in the countryside and from being on the farms; and I fear that our education was seriously handcapped.
I hope that we shall this evening continue to oppose the continuance of this provision, because I am convinced, after reading the history of inventions and discoveries, that no one will move until this labour is not available. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) will have read of the time when men and women and boys were employed to pick coal and sort it before screens came into use. People said that it would be impossible to get the coal without using women and children to pick it, but when the screens came the work was done automatically. I am sure that engineering, which has given us so many mechanical devices of all sorts in connection with agriculture and food processing—some of them almost human in their operation—could provide a machine which would be not so much a commercial proposition for individual farmers but one which could be hired to farmers so that they could get in their potatoes.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
We all recognise the very natural concern of the Committee for the education of our children. There can be no doubt at all that the interruption of the educational curriculum is not a good thing however healthy and beneficial the occupation of potato-lifting may be in itself.
The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) said that the Government were biased in this matter, but I hope that by the end of my remarks he will agree 1677 that we are not biased. As mentioned by a number of hon. Members, it is nine years since the Education (Exemptions) (Scotland) Act was passed as a temporary expedient for two seasons until 1948, and not for several years as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) thought.
I would say, in passing, to the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan), whom I do not see in his place at the moment, that the provisions of the Act to which I have referred were fixed at the time and that it would not be possible for us to change them. It is right for us to ask whether this Measure is still necessary. If so, should we make it permanent? If we are not to make it permanent, what is being done to remove the necessity for it? These are questions which I think the House would like me to consider tonight.
What would happen if the Amendment were carried? Next year, children of 13 and 14 could not be exempted from school attendance for potato harvesting, but the Amendment would not prevent school holidays being adjusted so as to allow schools to be closed for potato-lifting. Hon. Members opposite are under some misapprehension about what happens in England and Wales. I am informed that in the North of England schools are closed for potato-lifting and that between one-third and one-half of the potato crop in that area is lifted by children.
§ Mr. Macpherson
Yes, but let me tell the hon. Member that educational opinion is divided on whether it is better to close the schools or to grant exemptions. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson), to whom I am very grateful for the moderate way in which he moved the Amendment, is under particular pressure in this matter, as I fully understand. He asked why the number of pupils being used this year was higher than last year. The answer is that the crop is heavier. That is why we are 1678 using more exempted children than last year. We expect that the numbers will be between 27,000 and 28,000, of whom about 17,000 worked locally and about 8,000 were transported.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock referred to children from junior secondary schools and said that they were being particularly penalised in comparison with children from the senior secondary schools. The proportions vary considerably from area to area in this respect. The proportion of senior secondary school pupils exempted in Dundee, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, is 5 per cent., in Glasgow 13 per cent., in Fife 18 per cent., in Ayrshire 20 per cent. and in Moray and Nairn 55 per cent.
Can we do without these 27,000 or 28,000 children? In December, 1955. we felt that we must have an impartial inquiry into this matter. The Secretary of State for Scotland, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) said, appointed a very strong Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Hugh Rose and to make sure that full weight was given to the desirability of dispensing with children if at all possible and leaving them to get on with their studies, the Committee included one chairman of a county education committee, one former president of the E.I.S. and one Director of Education. I take this opportunity of thanking the Committee on behalf of the Secretary of State for the time and thought it gave to the question.
The question put to it was, "Is it still necessary for children to be granted exemption from attendance at school for work in the potato harvest". The Committee reported in March of this year, and its Report was presented to the House in April.
The Report said:… for school children education is of paramount importance. This consideration has been uppermost in our minds throughout our deliberations. …It might have said that education is of paramount importance not only for school children, but for the nation. We all agree with that. In spite of receiving written memoranda from 53 education authorities and other bodies, as well as oral representations from four education authorities and the Educational Institute 1679 of Scotland, the Committee concluded, with only one dissentient:…we are forced to the conclusion that it is still necessary to exempt children from attendance at school to assist in lifting the potato crop if the acreage devoted to this vital crop is not to be drastically curtailed.That conclusion reflects very great credit on those members of the Committee whose instincts and training were to hold the opposite view, but who nevertheless were able to approach the problem with complete objectivity and accept the conclusion to which they believed the evidence ineluctably led.
Why is it so vital to maintain the potato crop? It is because, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus said, such a high proportion is used for seed. He quoted a figure of about 300,000 tons required for England and Wales every year—although, of course, potato farmers buy only every other year, that amount is exported annually. Actually, slightly less than that amount goes to England and Wales from Scotland, but, including exports abroad, the figure is 300,000 tons. In addition 200,000 tons are required for seed in Scotland out of a total crop of 1,700,000 tons.
The Committee said:A reduction in the amount of Scottish seed would, therefore, in turn involve the import of ware potatoes from abroad on a considerable scale and add to the country's adverse trade balance.As the House knows, we had to import potatoes last year, because we had inadequate supplies and in fact we were almost 300,000 tons short. The fanning community is quite emphatic that without this help from children, the acreage would in fact be drastically reduced.
I must endorse the view of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus that we cannot expect farmers to waste precious acres, precious seed, precious labour, not to mention fertilisers and fuel and so on, in planting potatoes which they fear they may not be able to harvest through lack of labour. There is no doubt—and this is the Committee's conclusion—that withdrawal of children would mean a drastic reduction of acreage. What are the chances of getting more labour? The Committee considered that the chances were extremely remote. The Committee also considered, 1680 although perhaps not so deeply, how better use could be made of the labour available.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East spoke about the study which has been made since 1952 by the East of Scotland College and the article which appeared in October setting out their conclusions. It was along those lines that the demonstration which I saw at Laurencekirk by Mr. John Mackie was conducted. That is not a new system, and the Garnet Wilson Report referred to it, but it is a system which is worth studying. In the particular circumstances it worked well, but no one has suggested that it would be ideal in all circumstances. It is one way of using less labour. As the article said, what it means is thatthe same acreage can be lifted at the same time and at the same cost with approximately half the number of pickers.But I would point out to the Committee that there may well be farms so situated that if the children were taken away the growers could not replace them with a quarter of their number.
Reference has been made to casual labour. Casual labour on the farms has fallen since June, 1948, by something like 45 per cent. We all know how industries seek for female labour throughout the countryside and are prepared to send out and bring it in. All that one can say is that in this great shortage of labour it is most important that the best and most economical use should be made of the labour available.
What is the alternative? What else can be done? The Rose Committee said:We are of opinion that the production of a harvester or harvesters capable of operating efficiently under Scottish conditions is the only feasible alternative, in the immediately foreseeable future and under the present circumstances of full employment, to the exemption of school children.The Committee made the following recommendations:… an immediate and continuing review of the technical and other problems involved in the development of a potato harvester be initiated and that steps be taken to ensure that the utmost assistance and encouragement to research be given through official and other channels with a view to accelerating the development of efficient machinery …What has been done? We immediately initiated that review. In conjunction with the Scottish representatives of the Potato 1681 Marketing Board and of the Scottish substation of the National Institute of Engineering at Howden we considered how we could accelerate progress. We are very indebted to the Chairman of the Board of the Scottish Agricultural Machinery Testing Station, who happens also to be Mr. John Mackie, for the energy with which he took up this challenge.
We knew already, of course, that the development of a satisfactory harvester has always been an important item in the programme of research of the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering. A potato harvester is being developed and has been tested to cater for moderate crops and is designed to be drawn by tractor and operated by the power take-off. As a result of our review, additional facilities at the Scottish substation are being made available and steps are also being taken to intensify from early next year—it takes a bit of time to gather the staff together—the work already being done there, particularly on the development of devices for separating the potatoes from clods and stones.
We found that the Potato Marketing Board was to organise the first of an annual series of demonstrations in Cambridgeshire with a view to stimulating manufacturers and also to encourage producers to try out these machines. As a result of our discussions, a demonstration was arranged in East Lothian, on similar lines to that held in London, through the good offices of one of the members of the Potato Marketing Board and Mr. Watson, on whose farm it was held.
Hon. Members may be inclined to sympathise with the feeling of Mr. Middleton as expressed in the Minority Report that if we can make progress in a few years from piston driven engines in the aircraft industry to jet propulsion, surely we can achieve a satisfactory potato harvester if we put enough effort and willpower into it. Hon. Gentlemen have said that tonight, but I really must ask the Committee to appreciate the difficulties which we are trying to overcome. At least they are different from those with which the analogy is drawn. In the first place, practical experience is limited almost entirely to the time of 1682 harvesting, that is, to a couple of months or so in Scotland.
The Committee will be interested to know that next year we are proposing to put up a Dutch barn at Howden which should enable us to make practical experiments at other times of the year. It is not just a question of lifting potatoes, getting them out of the earth and putting them into a clamp or store. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence), who made a helpful speech, appreciates that; if I may say so, I thought his contribution was intended to be mechanical rather than political.
The real problem which we face in providing machinery is to lift potatoes without bruising them. If the skin is broken, the tuber is liable to disease and to deterioration, and it is not easy to invent a machine which will separate the tubers from the earth clods and the stones without causing cuts and abrasions. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus said, the ideal machine would have to suit all types of soil—thick loam, thin sandy soil, stony ground, flat ground, slopes—and all climatic conditions.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Could we not have different machines for different soils? It is not necessary to have one machine which tries to do everything.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I said that the ideal machine would have to do these things, in which case we should get the advantage of mass production.
I think the House will be interested in two of my experiences in this connection. I was at the demonstration in Cambridgeshire when a Scottish harvester demonstrated proved rather a disappointment, although it did far better at East Lothian, How it would have operated in stony soil it is difficult to judge. The other example I should like to give is of the demonstration in East Lothian. A well-known farmer, whose land was practically next door to the farm on which the demonstration was being carried out, said that on the very same day he had had to give up working his potato harvester, which was of the same kind as that being demonstrated. That gives some idea of the difficulties we have to face.
As the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East said, the cost of the machine 1683 is not unimportant. It is no good achieving the perfect potato harvester if it will cost more than an economic price.
I ask the House to bear in mind that the present kind of potato harvester covers only 1 ½ to 2 acres a day. The suggestion made by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East is, therefore, not altogether realistic—the suggestion of hiring out to a great many different people—particularly if it were a very slow-moving machine, even on the road.
I must give the House the chance to appreciate these difficulties. I do not for one moment say that they are necessarily insurmountable, and I give an assurance that they are being tackled with skill and vigour, not only by the Government Research Establishment, but by people of enterprise and an inventive turn of mind, and we are giving every encouragement. I do not believe there is any one solution to this problem, but I must make clear that we are not behind other countries in the provision of agricultural potato harvesting machinery, as is confirmed by the Rose Committee.
§ Mr. Hannan
The hon. Member says we are not further behind than other countries. In Paragraph 30 the Report says,In each case we were informed that school children assisted in lifting the potato crop. …Is that statement to be read as suggesting that extensions to holidays are asked for and granted in other countries?
§ Mr. Macpherson
No, I cannot give an answer to that. I am not responsible for what goes on in those countries. We all know that the harvesting period is different there; and I am not well enough informed as to what their school terms are. I should not like to commit myself on that.
I have one further observation to make. So long as this Act is on the Statute Book, it is surely extremely important for us to consider the welfare of the children and how best we can attain that within the needs that we have to meet. There have been occasions when adequate supervision has proved impossible because of local education authorities not insisting on children 1684 reporting at the schools before they go to the potato harvest.
I would appeal most earnestly to all education authorities to co-operate with us in this, so long as we have to continue this enactment, for without that cooperation we cannot look after the children in the way that we would like to. We do not intend to keep this Measure in operation any longer than is necessary, but I must tell the House quite frankly that that time is not yet in sight.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 25 and 26.
We have been considering a number of items which have been in operation for five, six and seven years, but I turn now to an item which, because of somewhat fortuitous circumstances, has been in operation for almost sixteen years. Section 259 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, provides thata county council or a town council shall not without the consent of the Minister concerned borrow money to meet any expenditure of a capital nature … unless the resolution to borrow has been agreed to by two-thirds of the members of the council present and voting at the meeting at which the resolution is passed …Section 4 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1951, amends that by omitting the words:… unless the resolution to borrow has been agreed to by two-thirds of the members of the council present and voting at the meeting at which the resolution is passed …In essence, that means that before a local authority in Scotland can borrow money for expenditure of a capital nature it must obtain the consent of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I fully appreciate that the Act of 1951 was introduced under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill of that year, as a temporary measure and as a continuation of what was previously included in the Defence Regulations. But I want to say in defence of the Labour Government of that time that it was necessary that they should do so because their policy in 1951, and in previous years, was a policy of control—the control of expenditure and investment in the public as well as in the private sector.
1685 That system of control, however, does not exist today. The Conservative Party has quite openly indicated that it does not favour a policy of controls. Today, the control, or restriction, or limitation—whatever one likes to call it—appears to exist only where local authorities are concerned. Perhaps I should put it in another way. Whatever the financial disabilities which the private sector of industry may have to endure as a result of the Government's economic policy, such as the result of the credit squeeze, local authorities have to endure not only similar financial disabilities but many other restrictions which do not apply to the private sector.
For example, in addition to the restrictions imposed under the Bill before us this evening, local authorities in Scotland are further restricted as a result of the notorious Circular 8774, issued by the Scottish Office, which restricts local government expenditure, and they are further affected by the policy of the Government in refusing to give grants to local authorities for certain services under the Distribution of Industry Act. Obviously, the intention of the Government is to restrict the development and the progress of what we may call essential social services.
I want to give some indication of the effect of this policy of not allowing the local authorities the freedom to borrow, of the restrictions which are being imposed under the circular referred to and of the Government's failure to encourage local authorities in the development of their schemes of social progress under the Distribution of Industry Act. I have before me an abstract of the estimated capital expenditure for the City of Glasgow for 1955–56. The total estimates amount to £18,800,000 for that year, and of that sum housing represents over £11 million, and education £4 million. Borrowing powers have been sanctioned by the Scottish Office for about £15 million of the £18,800,000, but borrowing powers have not yet been sanctioned for £1,425,000, and the Scottish Office has still to approve a further £2½ million.
What are the projects which are still involved, which still await borrowing sanction or the approval of the Scottish Office? There is the question of playing 1686 fields to the extent of £44,000; road improvements to the extent of £50,000; and housing development to the extent of over £2 million. We have educational projects to the extent of £700,000. There is a sewage purification scheme, £20,000; residential accommodation for the old folk, £20,000; and clinics, £50,000.
I submit that every one of these projects is absolutely essential to Glasgow and its citizens, but, because of the policy which the Government are pursuing, Glasgow is denied the benefits of these social developments. In Glasgow, we find that out of an estimated capital expenditure of £18,800,000, almost 21 per cent., almost £4 million, still awaits tire sanction of the Secretary of State to borrow or his approval to the projects themselves.
Why is it that local authorities should be picked out as the one institution which has not been given freedom to embark upon schemes of capital expenditure? Is it because there is some evidence of extravagance or of waste? Is it because there is a suggestion that local authorities are embarking on unjustifiable expenditure? Surely no one on the Government Front Bench would suggest anything of the kind. Indeed, I am satisfied that the Front Bench recognises, as we do on this side of the Committee, that local authorities are very careful, carrying on their administration effectively and efficiently.
There is an important distinction here. At present, all projects which are grant-aided, which represent, after all, probably by far the bulk of local government, capital expenditure in Scotland, automatically go to the Secretary of State for approval. Control is still in his hands. What disturbs me is the state of projects which are not granted, where the local authority, in the matter of clinics, for instance, or playing fields, or whatever it may be—hon. Members will recall that Glasgow, with over I million population, is spending a miserable £40,000 on playing fields—is denied the right to carry on. Local authorities are even compelled to beg the Secretary of State to approve of such expenditure, to approve even of their borrowing for that purpose.
Surely the time has come for us to do away with this pin-pricking little enactment which we have been continuing for the past sixteen years, and grant to the 1687 local authorities the freedom which they seek and to which they are entitled. After all, the 1947 Act provides all the safeguards that the Secretary of State or anybody else could demand. In other words, the council would not be empowered to borrow except by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting at the meeting. What other safeguard does the Secretary of State require? I submit that that is an adequate safeguard, recognising, as I do, the quality of the people who comprise our local authorities and recognising how they are guided in many instances by the officials of the authorities, who would never embark on madcap schemes that were not in any way justified.
I move this Amendment in the sincere hope that the Secretary of State will this year go a stage further than he has ever gone before. I hope he will accept it and not merely say that he will consider it seriously and that probably next year we shall be able to dispose of this provision. I ask him to do so tonight.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
In supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes), I am surprised that the benches opposite are almost entirely empty. Five hon. Members, including the Minister, are the extent of their occupation. I should have thought that on occasions such as this, when we are discussing one of those principles that have always been so vital, we always understood, to Members opposite—the principle of freedom, setting the people free and in this case setting the local authorities free—hon. Members opposite would have been packing their benches; but the evidence is that they are not as interested in this matter as they would have us believe.
I have read the debate that accompanied the passing of the 1950 Bill and I noticed the concern then expressed by a number of Members who are still with us but are not present tonight. It might not be fair to go over them all by name but I can hardly resist mentioning, for example, the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan), who said:I take the view … that local authorities ought to be regarded as responsible citizens and bodies, and that they should be free to maintain the dignity, integrity, and good order 1688 of their burghs without interference from Whitehall, or St. Andrew's House, or with as little interference as possible.The hon. and gallant Member went on to say that the existing measures of grants and the grant system provided an adequate check on local authorities but that so far as the local authorities were raising money themselves, not being assisted by the central Government, they ought, in his opinion, to be free. But the hon. and gallant Member is not here tonight to advocate the case. Having seen him on the benches opposite a short time ago, I thought that he certainly would have been present now.
I was struck, too, by the remarks of Mr. Clyde, who is not now a Member of the House but who subsequently became Lord Advocate. He was then the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, North and he talked of local authorities beingcribbed, cabin'd and confined' by centralised control for far too long."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 28th November, 1950; c. 1768–9.]
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Nixon Browne)
Is the hon. Member quoting from the Committee stage of the 1951 Bill, or from the similar debate to this one?
§ Mr. Lawson
I am quoting from the Second Reading, which was taken in the Scottish Standing Committee.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
It was about the only time that the hon. and learned Member did speak.
§ Mr. Lawson
If the Joint Under-Secretary wishes the date, it was 28th November, 1950. There was quite a variety of similar remarks by his hon. Friends.
We on this side, perhaps, do not talk as much about freedom as do hon. Members opposite, but we are, in fact, much more concerned with freedom and the evidence of our past practice is ample. We have been concerned with a whole variety of freedoms—freedom from fear of unemployment, from fear of the sack, as we used to call it, from fear of the landlord and from lying off sick in case one could not meet medical bills, and so on.
I, too, am very much concerned that the local authorities should have freedom, especially where their freedom can in no way jeopardise the interests of the 1689 nation. I agree that where the central authority is making a contribution towards a local authority's expenditure there should be central authority control. But what we cannot get over is the fact that where there is no such contribution, where the local authority is itself raising money, it is not permitted to spend the money—not, indeed, permitted to raise the money unless it has prior sanction from the central authority.
Quite apart from the question of freedom, there arises the question of independence, and the business of preparing statements which, in many cases, ought not to have to be prepared, and all such consequential irritations. We plead with the Government to leave the local authorities with this amount of freedom. It is not very much for which we ask. We believe in responsibility among local people. We have often been told by hon. Members opposite that they trust the local authorities. Let us have a little trust on this occasion.
There are two arguments I should particularly like to mention—not at great length—which, in my opinion, justified the denial of this freedom to local authorities. When the Act was passed the strongest argument in its favour was that at that time private enterprise was circumscribed by limitations—for instance, on industrial building. There were other limitations, too. It was quite fair to argue that if private enterprise was limited by Governmental controls local authority enterprise should be, also. However, those controls have been abandoned. Whether they ought to be introduced again is not for us to say tonight; but they have been abandoned, and private enterprise has been left free to get on as it thinks best. So the basis of the argument which was applied in 1950 and 1951 does not apply now, and we would ask the Government to look at the matter from that point of view.
Another argument which legitimately applied then was that in those days, in 1950, and until recently, the local authorities had a certain advantage. They raised money from the Public Works Loan Board and they got money at a lower rate of interest than that which they would have had to pay had they to go to the open market. They no longer have that advantage. I do not deny that there are occasions when they may raise money through the Board after 1690 permission has been granted, after the schemes for which they want it have been very closely scrutinised, after they have given every assurance that they cannot possibly raise the money in any other way.
Indeed, so close is the supervision that it seems impossible for them to raise money now through the Board. Theoretically, it is possible for them to raise money in that way, but for this type of expenditure the local authorities must go to the open market and for this type of expenditure they have no chance of going to the Board. They must go to the open market and pay the recognised rate on the open market. Thus, there remains no argument why in this respect local authorities should be treated differently from private enterprise.
There remains no other argument, unless, of course, we are arguing that the general economic interests of the country demand such a policy. But when we argue this way we certainly cannot argue that the general economic interests of Scotland appear to be receiving very favourable treatment at present, or have been so doing over the past few years.
The possibility of local authorities acting in ways designed to stimulate employment in their respective areas is very relevant to this Bill. It is very well known that Scotland suffers more than does any other region in Great Britain. It is well known, for example, that the average unemployment in Scotland has tended, over the post-war years, to be about three and a half times higher than that of London and the south-eastern regions and to be double that for Great Britain as a whole. It is not merely the extent of present unemployment in Scotland that is important for us but the fact that, year by year, Scotland goes on losing her people. There is a net loss of about 22,000 per annum. Some go overseas, and a large number come into England. But, despite this net loss, this high proportion of unemployment continues.
Not only when unemployment in terms of actual percentages is considered do we appreciate how Scotland is badly off and the importance of local authorities spending money which they themselves raise to publicise the attractions of their areas and to stimulate the coming of industries 1691 into them. We should take into account, for example, the fact that according to the latest figures, for August and September, showing the ratio of unfilled vacancies to the number of registered unemployed, there were in London and the south-eastern regions 2.8 unfilled jobs for every person registered as unemployed.
In Scotland, however, the position was the other way round. There were 26 persons registered as unemployed for every unfilled job. Scotland would find itself very much at the bottom of any league table showing relatively the worse position of Scotland compared with the rest of the country. If Scotland is to overcome her difficulties a special effort is called for by Scottish people. It is called for by Scottish private enterprise. It is unfortunate that Scottish private enterprise is not making that effort.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. F. Blackburn)
I do not wish to stop the hon. Member, but I should be glad if he would limit his remarks to the effects of this part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Lawson
I appreciate that I was going rather far, but I was trying to make the point that here is legitimate expenditure on the part of the local authorities.
§ The Temporary Chairman
If the hon. Member will limit his remarks to expenditure by local authorities, he will be in order.
§ Mr. Lawson
In the past few months I and other hon. Members representing Lanarkshire have been attending meetings of the Lanarkshire Planning Committee, which has been discussing the steps that could be taken to prepare sites and to publicise their advantages in an effort to attract industries into the area. This is very important for Scotland, and it is this, among other types of activity, that could be denied to local authorities.
The Joint Under-Secretary may reply. "If a local authority came to us with a scheme of this sort, we should grant it powers to go ahead". However, there is always a doubt. For example, we know that advance factory building in Scotland has been stifled. We cannot understand why, in activities of this kind, there should be any question of the local authority having to go to the central authority for permission.
1692 In the interests of Scotland, sound local government and freedom, the Government should do what we ask. There is no longer the argument which applied in 1950 and 1951, of local authorities having certain advantages over private enterprise. Indeed, the position is reversed. We urge the Minister to withdraw this provision.
§ Mr. Willis
I support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes), not that I have any hope that it will be successful, particularly in view of the deplorable position of the country compared with what it was when we tried to obtain this concession last year, and also considering the enormous disadvantages that we now suffer as a result of the fatuousness of the Government's policies.
The crux of the matter is the loans raised by local authorities for which no Government grant is received. Can we be told the amount of capital expenditure which they represent? Last year, the Joint Under-Secretary could not tell us. He asked for something, but did not know what it was, which was absurd. I do not think it can be a large sum. The figures relating to Glasgow, produced by my hon. Friend, included an enormous amount of grant-aided expenditure, and I think that the non-grant-aided expenditure would be very small. It is said that the expenditure, though non-grant-aided, receives assistance through Exchequer equalisation grants, but it concerns in the main large cities which receive little or no such grant.
What is involved in this expenditure? Does the hon. Gentleman think that local authorities will indulge in an orgy of capital expenditure if they do not have to obtain the approval of the Secretary of State? The Government have already made it almost impossible for local authorities to borrow because of the burden of interest charges, and no local authority today wants to borrow if it can avoid it. There is not the slightest chance of a local authority losing its head and making unnecessary capital expenditure demands.
Every local authority in Scotland has recently been confronted with ever-increasing rate burdens. The Government have made difficulties not only 1693 about borrowing, but about outstanding loans. The result is that local authorities are putting up rates by from 1s. 0d. to 5s. 0d. in the £. Is it likely now that local authorities will suddenly make unnecessary demands upon our capital resources? I cannot think so. I should think that there was no necessity for this provision. It is unfair for local authorities to have to bear not only higher interest charges, which private enterprise has also to bear, but the additional burdens of preparing information for the Secretary of State and then awaiting his approval. This places them at a disadvantage with private enterprise, which can go ahead, provided that it pays the interest charges.
When we took certain powers from local authorities I remember that Government supporters making great speeches in Scotland about their pride in local government and our infringement of the rights of local authorities. It has been fortunate for local authorities that we took those powers away or they would now be suffering from a rate burden that would cripple them. We believe in having a strong local democracy, and that local authorities are composed of responsible men and women who are anxious to serve the community. They have to go to their electors every year and receive approval of what they have done. This provision is an insult to them and to local officials, and I sincerely hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. J. N. Browne
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) for the way in which he moved the Amendment. Let me start my reply by giving in one or two words the history of this matter, so that we can get it on the record.
Ministerial control in England and Wales over capital borrowing by local authorities has been in existence for more than half a century. In Scotland, no Ministerial consent was required provided that that there was a two-thirds majority of the members of the council present and voting. In 1939, central control was introduced by a Defence Regulation. In 1947 the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, brought back the pre-war position, but the Defence Regulation still prevailed. 1694 In 1950, hon. Gentlemen opposite moved the Act of 1951, which replaced the Defence Regulation by the temporary legislation which we are now considering. The Government consider that the provisions should be extended and I hope that my silver-tongued oratory v/ill enable hon. Gentlemen opposite to agree with me.
§ Mr. Browne
Local authorities were informed before the Bill was introduced, and they have not objected, but the County Councils' Association has expressed the hope that the control will be dispensed with as soon as possible. The reasons for this control are quite simple. Ever since the war, the demand for capital resources has greatly exceeded the supply, and successive Governments have found it necessary to ensure that the resources of the country are used to the best advantage.
Two hon. Members have said that it is unfair that local authorities should be controlled and private enterprise should go free. But I would remind them that, in borrowing, private enterprise is, of course, strictly controlled by the Capital Issues Committee, which exercises a most vigilant restraint.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
It is not only private enterprise borrowing, but private enterprise capital investment—all those new petrol stations and beautiful new offices which have been built and which are to be so convenient for handling petrol coupons in future.
§ Mr. Browne
This is one of the instruments that the Government use to control capital expenditure. Local authorities', have many essential capital projects such as housing, educational building and major road works which are grant-aided—
§ Mr. Browne
—and, as the hon. Gentleman interjects, are not affected by this Bill.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes), who gave us many figures, himself confirmed that many of the figures he gave were in respect of grant-aided expenditure and not really relevant to the discussion tonight.
§ Mr. McInnes
I stressed the importance of the non-aided services such as the matter of playing fields and two or three other things. These are the matters which disturb me.
§ Mr. Browne
The hon. Gentleman deluged me with figures, but I was going to say that over a large field of non-grant-aided expenditure this instrument which we are now discussing is the only means that the Secretary of State has for exercising a restraining influence. Town halls, parks, recreation grounds and improvements to local amenities are desirable, but are not necessarily essential.
§ Mr. Browne
They are not necessary if they mean diverting the resources of the country from developments necessary to maintain our economic solvency.
Local authorities generally understand this and the Government are indebted to them for this understanding. They have refrained from seeking borrowing sanctions on non-essentials, although, of course, they cannot always be expected to judge local projects against national needs. Nor has my right hon. Friend been unsympathetic or without understanding in this matter. In the first ten months of 1956, of 1,670 applications that came within the scope of this Bill, 1,440 were approved and 230 rejected, that is, 86 per cent. of the applications were approved.
§ Mr. Willis
Would the hon. Gentleman tell us the value of the applications refused, so that we may see what this Bill actually achieves?
§ Mr. Browne
The hon. Gentleman will do that if the hon. Gentleman will give him an opportunity. The 1,440 approved applications involved a capital expenditure of £10,081,700, and the 230 rejected applications would have involved a capital expenditure of £3,790,380. To save the hon. Gentleman working it out, that means that 86 per cent. of the applications were approved numerically and 73 per cent. were approved in terms of £ s. d. That means that this Section has restricted non-essential expenditure by about £3¾ million, and the existing restrictions have no doubt saved even more in projects that have not been put forward.
1696 That is the object of the exercise. It covers nearly one-fifth of the total capital expenditure of Scottish local authorities, so that the provisions are doing useful work in the national interest. We are grateful to hon. Members opposite for putting them on the Statute Book in their present form and we are firmly convinced that they should be continued meantime.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 38 to 41.
We are now dealing with the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946. The Government are asking the Committee to agree that this Act should be continued for a further year. It will expire on 31st March next year unless we decide tonight that it should be continued until 31st March, 1958.
The main purpose of the Act is to deal with the rents of furnished lettings. It is made effective by the 61 rent tribunals throughout the country. I believe that the number of tribunals has been reduced from 80 to 61. There is little doubt that there is a continuing need for the jurisdiction which these tribunals give.
If we look at the work which they have done over the past year we see that there is a continuing need for them. The latest figures available to us are those contained in the Annual Report of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for 1955. The Minister may have more recent figures and may choose to give them. If so, we shall be obliged to him. But tonight, looking back on the work of the tribunals, we have to content ourselves with and make our judgment on the figures published in the Annual Report.
We find from these figures that in 1955 there was a large increase in the number of cases dealt with by the tribunals. The number of cases in 1955 was over 14,000, compared with nearly 8,000 in 1954. That is a considerable increase but we know that it was due to special circumstances—to the operation of the Housing (Rent and Repairs) Act, 1954. The cases under that Act have probably reached a peak and will decline from now.
We have to look more closely at the figures of cases taken under the main Act which we are now discussing. If we 1697 examine them closely we find that the number of cases being taken by the tribunals has been fairly well maintained. It is true that there was a decline from 6,300 in 1954 to 5,900 in 1955—a slight fall in the number of cases taken under the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946. That decline is insufficient for us to argue that the time has come for the tribunals to end. The cases continue to come in week by week, and we take the view that the rent tribunal, as constituted under the Act, is the most suitable means of dealing with them.
These tribunals have recently been the subject of an inquiry by the Committee on Administrative Tribunals which was set up last year. That Committee has considered a memorandum presented by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and has also taken oral evidence from some of the Ministry's leading personnel—about whose evidence Questions have been asked in the House. The Parliamentary Secretary will recall that Questions were put down concerning statements made before the Committee by the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Ministry.
There were, at that time, some rather alarming statements published in the Press to the effect that the Permanent Under-Secretary had declared that rent tribunals might be abolished this year. We were annoyed about it, and thought that the House had been outraged to some extent by the expression of an opinion on a political issue with which the Minister alone was competent to deal.
I want now to make it clear that, having read the Minutes of Evidence, I think that the evidence given by the various people in the Ministry was, on the whole, fair and helpful. Some of the phrasing, it is true was unfortunate and some of the sentences used would have been better left unsaid. They verged closely on matters which should be left to the Minister to decide. I think it is regrettable that the newspapers should be so misleading on such matters.
Tribute should be paid to the members of the tribunals and to their clerks. They do a great work, week after week, helping poor people—
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I am trying to follow the hon. Member's 1698 argument, but he seems to be arguing against his own Amendment in this matter.
§ Mr. Evans
Well, Mr. Blackburn, I think you will find that these discussions often do appear to be contradictory; that the technique of dealing with them is that one puts down an Amendment which appears to try to bring an Act to an end, but that that does not prevent one from giving the pros and cons, and arguing not only that it should end, but, also, that it should continue. It seems to me. therefore, that I am quite in order in arguing in this way.
As I was saying, the members of the tribunals and their clerks do very fine work. So far, they have dealt with about 100,000 cases. Those cases are brought by poor people who are in difficulties about the rents of their furnished accommodation. From my small experience of the working of these tribunals, I am sure that they inspire trust in those who go before them. It is a vital factor in this kind of work that the people who appear before these tribunals are inspired with confidence and with an impression that they are receiving a sympathetic and considerate hearing.
These tribunals lack the majesty and awe of the normal courts. They were designed for that purpose, so that they did not intimidate poor and simple people. I do not think I can do better to illustrate the value of this type, of tribunal as against the ordinary court than by reading what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Key) when this Measure was initiated and the tribunals were launched. He was talking about his work on the Ridley Committee, which originally suggested this form of tribunal, and said:On the Ridley Committee, I think all of us were impressed with the evidence which was given to us by witness after witness of the fact that, if you were going to deal with this rent business adequately and properly, then you had to take it away from the courts and set up tribunals which should deal with it. It may be without reason, though I do not think it is quite true, but in the minds of a great number of the poorer people there is a great dread of ever having to go to court to get a decision; and that when, to get their grievances decided, it was necessary to go to a police court or magistrates court, they hesitate very much to do it. We felt that with tribunals it will be very different, 1699 and that they will be prepared to go to these tribunals, and particularly if they consist of ordinary people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1945; Vol. 415, c. 2015.]There we have the underlying idea behind the rent tribunals. I am sure that that was a valid argument in 1946, and I believe it remains valid today. Perhaps we can improve some of the methods of the tribunals, but their essential purpose and their form of jurisdiction should be retained.
I should like to refer to the remuneration of the members of the tribunals. I am not going to express any opinion about it, but it has been suggested that the remuneration of the members and their clerks is inadequate in view of present-day costs. While I express no opinion about it, I should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary—though he may not wish to comment on it now—would bear that matter in mind and consider it.
Despite the Amendment, I hope that this Act will be continued for another year. It is possible for an hon. Member—
§ The Chairman (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Order. If I had known that that was the line which the hon. Gentleman was going to take I would not have selected this Amendment, which seeks to discontinue the Act.
§ Mr. Evans
May I explain that I have considered the matter very carefully since the Amendment was put down, and that, on balance, it seems to me that I would be well advised in due course to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. Although this may be rather unusual, I suppose it is permissible for me to have second thoughts upon this matter, Sir Charles.
§ Mr. Evans
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), who will follow me, will support the Amendment more fully than I have done. It is true that I have put an argument both for and against the Amendment, and that I am not sure at the moment on which side I am coming down.
1700 In conclusion, I express the hope that if the Minister at any time decides to alter the structure or method of procedure of the tribunals he will not allow the administrative convenience of his Department to be uppermost in his mind. I hope that he will always remember that it is essential that we should ensure, as far as possible, that the poorer people have the idea that there are no barriers to justice in their housing affairs.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
I want to raise a point which would involve an alteration of the Act if my suggestion were accepted and carried out. It is one which I have raised before, and relates to the degree of security which tenants who go to the local rent tribunals are able to get under the law as it stands.
I am told that if notice to quit has been given by the landlord before an argument as to rent comes before the tribunal, the tribunal has no power to give any kind of future security. I suggest to the Minister that that matter ought to be looked into.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) has said, the number of people going before these tribunals proves that there is a great deal of unhappiness, I was going to say, but, certainly, a very great deal of discomfort in the country; and particularly is that so in my own part of London and the constituency I represent, which is almost entirely residential. There is very little industry in South-West London, in Wandsworth, Putney, Battersea, Wimbledon or Mitcham, which are the places under the jurisdiction of the tribunal in my district.
Over the last ten years during which it has been operating, the tribunal in my area has had before it 2,467 cases, an average of 246 a year. Already this year it has had 265, so that it seems clear that the difficulty which the tribunals were set up to deal with is not decreasing in any way in the south-western area" of London. This matter of security, therefore, becomes all the more important. I notice that of the applications which the South-Western District Tribunal has had to consider, 606 were from landlords, and 1,811 were from tenants. Rents were reduced in 1,138 cases. That would seem to show the necessity for the continuance of tribunals.
1701 If, however, the tribunals cannot give the tenants, once they have come before them, security without their having to come time and time again, or not at all when notice to quit has been given already, if my information is correct—and very often the landlords do that if they find tenants beginning to object—it seems to me that the value of these tribunals which the House thought it saw when the Act was originally passed is very largely diminished. It is interesting to note that in my area there have been no fewer than 178 applications for extensions of security in the last ten years. Tenants have had to go back to ask for it, and apparently they may have to go back time and time again.
It seems to me that to make the Bill really useful to the people it was supposed to benefit, this matter of security, once a decision has been given by the tribunal, ought to be very much more clearly defined; the tenant ought to be given some long-term security so that he does not have the continual worry of having to ask again for an extension of his tenancy.
I suggest to the Committee that, at any rate on the experience of the figures in South-West London, there is a case for continuing the Act but that it ought to be amended to meet this complaint about security. I ask the Minister to take seriously into account the question of trying to improve the aspect of the Act which deals with the security of tenants, so that we may have more satisfaction from the courts than we appear to be getting at the moment.
§ Sir L. Plummer
On a point of order. I wonder whether we could have your guidance, Sir Charles. Last year, when we were discussing the 1955 Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, we spent some time dealing with the Road Traffic Act, which was subsequently superseded by a new Act, which destroyed it completely. Now we are discussing the rent tribunals, and we are to have tomorrow the Second Reading of a Bill which, if it does not utterly destroy the rent tribunals, at least will limit their scope very considerably. Are we each year to go on discussing Acts which are due to die?
§ The Chairman
We can consider that point when the Bill which comes up for Second Reading tomorrow becomes law, 1702 which it has not done yet. If what the hon. Member states is the case, no doubt this law will not be continued next year but will be superseded by the Bill which may become law.
§ Sir L. Plummer
Are we not m the position now of spending a great deal of time discussing something that may well die within a few weeks?
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
I shall take my hon. Friend's hint and not take up too much of the time of the Committee at this stage.
One of the points which made a number of my hon. Friends and I doubtful whether the Act should be continued for a further year is our doubt as to whether it does, in fact, provide adequate protection for tenants. When we discussed this point a year ago my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) and my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) made the point that a number of prosecutions failed, or it was difficult to bring prosecutions in respect of rented property, because of the absence of a rent book.
On that occasion, the Parliamentary Secretary's predecessor said that that was a point which the Government would consider. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is now in a position to give us the results of the consideration which, I have no doubt, he and his right hon. Friend have given to this point.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. Enoch Powell)
This debate has been different from those which have preceded it today in that hon. Members who have spoken have been more anxious that the words concerned should stand part of the Bill than that they should be omitted from it. Nevertheless, it is useful that the reasons for renewing these powers should be at least briefly considered on this occasion.
The tribunals set up under the 1946 Act have, as is well known, three main functions: their functions in respect of furnished houses, those in respect of unfurnished houses let for the first time since 1939, and those in respect of the cost of services.
As regards the volume of work under those three heads—and here, as the hon. 1703 Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) suggested, I am giving the figures for the year ended 30th September, 1956—the number of cases in respect of unfurnished accommodation and of services amounted to 5,713. I have included in that a small number which relate to Crown lessees and to the security of tenure of members of the Auxiliary and Reserve Forces. And so we have that group of cases accounting for 5,713. The remainder, which relate to furnished houses, numbered 5,215.
As the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) observed, the Bill which is to come before the House tomorrow will, if it passes in its present form—it would, of course, be quite out of order to debate the merits or the likelihood of that event—dispense with the first two of those functions of the tribunals, that is to say, rather more than half of the cases with which they deal. I shall, therefore, concentrate my remarks on those dealing with furnished accommodation, and the "furnished cases", if I may so describe them, break down as follows. There were 5,215, and of that total, 3,880 were first applications; in 2,796 of those cases the rent was reduced. The remainder were 801 applications for reconsideration, and 1,534 applications were for renewed security of tenure. Those cases, also, may be affected—although, of course, I cannot go further than that tonight—by the Bill which the House is to consider tomorrow.
If the rateable value of dwellings, to which the jurisdiction of the tribunals applies is limited, then a difficult minority of all those cases will no longer come to the tribunals for assessment. More important, I think, is the clear connection between the control of furnished and unfurnished lettings, and one of the purposes of this whole Act is the prevention of a form of evasion in the rent control of unfurnished premises. Thus, in the next 12 months, and we are not concerned tonight with any longer period, the work and functions of these tribunals, even in respect of furnished premises, may be substantially altered, or reduced; but until we know just where we stand under forthcoming legislation, and until its initial effects can be judged, it would be premature to remove the protection at present afforded for furnished lettings.
Even if the renewal is for only 12 months, and, again, I remind hon. Members 1704 that we are not concerned at the moment with a longer period, it would clearly be right that the functioning of tribunals should now be considered both in regard to economy and to efficiency. An hon. Member asked me about rent books. I think he will find his answer to that in the Bill which we are to consider tomorrow.
I should not be in order in dealing with the question raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), because what he spoke about would mean a substantive amendment of the law; but I can tell him that there will be opportunities for debate on that in coming weeks.
In most areas of the country this work of these tribunals is now falling to a trickle. By way of illustration, I can tell the Committee that at the end of last quarter three tribunals had no cases outstanding and four more had only one. In the same quarter, two decided no cases, four decided only one, three decided only two, and six dealt with only three cases. So that it is clear that a review is necessary, with probably some streamlining and some effort at combining efficiency with economy in the near future.
That is what is called for, and I can give an undertaking that that will be carried out; but, subject to this, I think that there is sufficient ground for the Committee to agree to further renewal, for the next 12 months, of the 1946 Act.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Preamble agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment: read the Third time and passed.