§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]
§ Clauses 1 and 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 7 and 8.
The object of the Amendment is to delete from the Schedule the reference to the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919. The Amendment provides the Committee and myself with an opportunity of considering the whole of the present law relating to aliens. It is a matter of some significance that, whereas we have about 400,000 aliens living in this country, and a certain number coming here every year, nevertheless the law relating to them has not yet been placed on the Statute Book in any permanent form but is still subject to the renewal, year by year, of an Act which was passed as long ago as 1919.
I suppose it is because the provisions of that Act and the Orders made under it are regarded as being so unsatisfactory that the Home Office does not dare to ask Parliament to renew them for more than a year at a time. On previous occasions hon. Members on this side of the Committee have urged that the time 572 has now arrived, and is, indeed, long overdue, when the whole of the law relating to aliens should be placed upon a more satisfactory basis.
Before the First World War this country enjoyed a high and cherished reputation for granting asylum to political refugees and all others, regardless of their country of origin and the country from which they came. We were conspicuous in our efforts to provide a home for immigrants wishing to come here. Those conditions were inevitably temporarily suspended on the outbreak of war in 1914. A temporary Measure had to be passed in 1919, but since then, apart from certain modifications of detail with regard to the law relating to aliens, the position remains in a most unsatisfactory form.
The chief charge which any liberal community would make against the present law is that it places in the hands of the Home Office complete arbitrary powers both with regard to the admission and the deportation of any alien into or from this country. Those powers of deportation operate not merely with regard to aliens who are here temporarily as visitors but also to aliens who may have been here for many years, who may well have established a domicile here, married and brought up a family. In talking of aliens we are talking not merely of temporary visitors; we are talking of nearly 500,000 people who have not the status of British nationality although they enjoy the benefits of living here and perform all the ordinary obligations of citizens.
I do not want to traverse some of the considerations which have been placed before the Committee in previous years when this Measure has come up for review. I want, however, to make two or three specific points to which I hope we shall have a reply from the Home Office. First, since the Home Office exercises complete discretion about the admission of or refusal of admission of aliens, may we know upon what principles that discretion is at present exercised?
One of the difficulties which particularly press upon those who from time to time have to advise persons wishing to come here, or British subjects wishing to employ aliens, is the difficulty of knowing what principles govern the policy of the Home Office. Is it true that anybody wishing to come here to take up employment in an industry where no British 573 labour is obtainable can obtain Home Office permission, and that a British employer wishing to augment his labour supply can obtain permission from the Home Office to bring in one or more aliens?
Is there any particular category of occupations in which it is easier, or more difficult, for Home Office permission to be obtained? What is the present attitude of the Home Office towards the admission of persons to undertake domestic service? Is the Home Office receiving a large number of applications on behalf of employers for alien workpeople of that class? If so, does the Home Office apply the same principles regardless of the country of origin of the intended aliens?
I would also to know what are the present principles governing the deportation of aliens. I suppose that in recent years hon. Members on both sides have had the experience of being consulted by aliens who have been requested, for one reason or another, to leave this country. A number of cases have been brought to my attention by those living in my constituency, and I have often had occasion to make representations about them. On other occasions I have deliberately refrained from making representations to the Home Office, because there has already been a refusal and I felt that there were no good grounds for making further representations.
But there have been a number of borderline cases in which, after I have made detailed inquiries, I have felt satisfied—as have others—that there was a very good ground for certain aliens not being deported. One of the difficulties that one has always found in such cases is that the Home Office declines to give reasons for its decision. I am riot making any wild accusations against the Home Office. I believe that it exercises and applies human considerations and does its best in dealing with each case. But I am convinced that, with the best will in the world, there must be cases where mistakes are made. The Home Office is not infallible. This complete arbitrary power is not literally a matter of life and death for a particular alien, but is very often a matter which affects not only the individual concerned but relatives he may have to leave behind if he is deported; and it is causing the greatest anguish, misery and hardship.
574 I suggest to the Home Office that this is not a state of affairs which we ought to tolerate any longer. We have moved out of the set of circumstances in which security considerations are uppermost. I would have thought that the emphasis should now he on the principles and declarations of human rights which this country has signed and of which the aliens charter, in its present form, is a violation. I therefore suggest that, so that justice is not only done but is seen to be done, a tribunal should be set up to inquire into cases in which there is reasonable doubt, supported, if necessary, by a number of hon. Members, and consider whether or not the decision of the Home Office is justified.
Before passing to another matter, may I say that I hope that the Home Office spokesman will be able to give sonic figures so that we may judge the size of this problem, because hon. Members hear only of isolated individual cases. May we know how many applications by aliens, or applications on behalf of aliens, for permission to come into this country have been refused during any convenient period—say, over the last twelve months? May we know how many aliens have been deported by compulsion or by persuasion or, shall we say, contrary to representations made by them or on their behalf?
I now pass to another matter. We have heard a great deal in recent debates about conditions of admission and deportation. It is time that we considered the restrictive conditions which are imposed upon aliens as a class, restrictions which often amount to indignities and, to say the least, considerable discrimination. I suppose that one of the most significant changes that has occurred in the law relating to aliens since we last discussed the matter is that there has been published the Aliens Order No. 597, of 1957, which is now part of the law under the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act. This Order makes significant changes—which, as far as I know, have not heretofore received very much attention in the House, in the Press, or elsewhere—in the previous practice, particularly with regard to the obligations relating to hotel registers.
I do not know whether you are aware, Sir Charles, that for many years past the sanction for the practice which has required all of us, whenever we stay in a hotel, to write our names in the hotel 575 register has curiously enough been derived from the Aliens Act and the Orders made under the Aliens Act. You will be happy to know, Sir Charles, and I am sure that a great many other people will, too, that what I have always regarded as an unnecessary indignity on British subjects is now removed. There is no longer any necessity for a British subject when he stays at a hotel to write his name in the hotel register. I hope that that fact will be made widely known, because I am sure that a great many hotel keepers and others still think that it is necessary to require visitors to hotels to write their names in the register.
The Aliens Order to which I have referred removes that quite unnecessary obligation. In its stead, it provides that in future anybody who visits a hotel for the purpose of staying the night shall merely inform the keeper of the premises of his name and nationality. He can do that orally or through somebody on his behalf. There is no need for him to register. I have never understood why the need existed, but it has been part of the Act.
The curious thing is that this requirement was apparently thought necessary for the proper protection of aliens, or the proper supervision of aliens, because we find in the new Order that this obligation is still preserved for aliens. There is not the same pre-existing requirement, but a slightly different requirement to which I will come in a moment.
There is an obligation on an alien—that is to say, any non-British subject, whether he be American, French, or any other nationality—to give a great deal of information if he spends the night in a hotel by himself, with his wife or with a member of his family. He has to inform the hotel proprietor of the number and place of issue of his registration certificate or his passport. He has to state his next destination and his full address.
As far as I understand, all that has to be done in writing. It might well be thought that this is a quite unnecessary discrimination against aliens. I hope that we shall hear from the Home Office what is the object of preserving this discriminatory obligation against them and to what extent any attempt is made to see that the liability is enforced.
576 4.0 p.m.
For the first time an entirely new requirement has been inserted in this 1957 Order with regard to the particulars which an alien has to give. Under paragraph 6 of the Schedule an alien is now required, in addition to all the other particulars that he gives to the hotel proprietor, to state his matrimonial status. According to the Order, he has to state whether he is married or single. It is not quite clear to me what he has to state if, for example, he is widowed or divorced. He might then be in a difficulty.
The curious thing is that this aliens legislation is now used for the purpose of requiring any non-British subject staying in a hotel to go and tell the hotel proprietor whether he is married or single. What is the object of that? It has not been necessary for the last thirty years. What useful information does that give to the hotel proprietor or to the police or to the Home Office, or to anybody else? Is it intended merely as some special indignity upon aliens? Is it intended that this shall be scrupulously enforced in future?
One knows that from time to time matrimonial irregularities take place in hotels, and it may well be that it is a good thing if it is part of the policy of the Home Office to take some steps in that direction, but if so, is it appropriate that it should be confined to aliens? This is only one of the requirements of a quite discriminatory nature which one discovers as a result of studying the long list of regulations which are imposed in this country on aliens.
I would have thought that if we are to have a special code of this kind, the time has come when we ought to consider what the law relating to aliens should be so that it can be placed on a permanent basis and not left for renewal year by year. It seems to me that the fact that we deal with it year by year invites the comment that it is unsatisfactory as it stands, and that it ought not to be treated as permanent. It has been criticised not only in this country as containing many injustices and provisions contrary to the declaration of human rights. It has been the subject of international criticism because it is felt that we, in our law relating to aliens, fall below the standard of some other civilised countries.
577 For those reasons I am moving this Amendment.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I support the Amendment which has been so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher).
When we deal with a subject of this kind, we do not realise how grave a subject it is for so many people, and particularly for so many who are thrown from pillar to post throughout the world and many of whom have nobody at all to look after their interests.
It is not just the plain statement of facts and figures, which really convey very little in a matter of this description, with which I am concerned. It is the human element that is involved, and it is, I think, the desire of human people to be humane towards those who have no other access to redress for any grievances they may have. In other words, we are concerned with the remedying of man's inhumanity to man. I put it as high as that.
I have very frequently listened to, and indeed, participated in, debates on human rights, and when one is faced with the real anguish and the desperate helplessness of human beings one begins to see that even if the number of persons involved were not so large, as indeed it is, each case has in itself the possibilities of a human tragedy which are practically indescribable. I know that the Minister is a humane person.
§ Mr. Janner
I think that the Secretary of State and both Joint Under-Secretaries are humane. I say, with experience of some of the cases that they have dealt with, that they are humane. But I think that sometimes they do not sit down long enough to enable them to understand the consequences of some of the actions that they take. That is really at the root of the trouble that we are discussing today.
It is in the hope that the Minister and his hon. Friends will realise that the Act as it stands indicates a wrong kind of approach to these matters that I trust they will try to see these matters from a new angle and see what can be done to remove the unhappy standard which is set, or 578 appears to be set, by the terms of the Act.
Let me take illustrations of recent incidents. We know that a large number of people were thrown out of Egypt. Let me talk about those people, since I know them, perhaps, a little more intimately than do others. Among the large number of people who, without redress, were expelled from Egypt, the majority were, I think, Jewish. I have met many of them and their circumstances have often been desperate. I agree that the Home Office has dealt very reasonably and, indeed, sympathetically with a large number of these persons, but lines have been drawn which appear to be reasonable and just, but which, in fact, it examined in the sense that I have attempted to approach this subject, can clearly be shown to be entirely unreasonable.
There are some people with British affiliations who are not permitted to reside in this country. The Hone Office has not taken account of the fact that many Jewish refugees have foreign passports but no connection with the countries whose passports they hold. In many cases the passports may have been quite proper travel documents, but in almost every case the refugees were born in Egypt and lived there since birth. Many are now refugees in France, Italy. Switzerland, or Greece. The majority have gone to Israel, where they have been welcomed with open arms, but, for reasons which can be fully explained in each case, not all of them have been able to go.
I want to give some examples in which applications to reside in this country have been refused. One concerns a doctor who is stateless. He has been allowed to obtain an appointment as a house surgeon in a hospital where he hopes to qualify for a British degree. His wife is working in Paris and, although she is stateless, the Home Office will not permit her to join her husband here. She is a capable woman, who would be able to work and not be a charge on public funds. Why has she been refused? Is it because the Home Office authorities think that they must refuse in some cases? That is a danger of the law as it stands at present, because no doubt the Joint Under-Secretary, and others in the Home Office, think that 579 they must refuse in some cases. Why should they refuse unless there is a good reason for doing so?
§ The Chairman
The scope of the debate is not that wide. Illustrations may be given to show why a law should not be continued, but to ask questions about individual cases would be out of order, and if the Home Office spokesmen were to try to reply to them I should have to stop them.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
On a point of order. I have been listening very carefully to my hon. Friend and I judge that he asked a rhetorical question. When is a rhetorical question out of order? He gave an example and asked why a refusal had been given.
§ The Chairman
I did not think that it was rhetorical. The hon. Member told us about a doctor whose wife was working in Paris and I thought that it was a case about which the Home Office was informed.
§ Mr. Mellish
On a point of order. May I call your attention, Sir Charles, to the fact that the Joint Under-Secretary sneered when you gave your Ruling and took great delight in the fact that she will not have to reply. In a case of this character, where a great deal of humanity is involved, can we not have a little softness from hon. Members on the Front Bench opposite?
§ The Chairman
The Joint Under-Secretary cannot be surprised, because I told her before the debate began that if she tried to deal with individual cases I would stop her.
§ Mr. Janner
I do not want to take advantage of the situation. I was illustrating reasons for my opinion that the present Act should not be continued.
Another case concerns a father and mother who were expelled from Egypt and who have Italian passports. Their three children are continuing their education in Nottingham. The Home Office has refused to allow the mother to set up a home in Nottingham for the children, although she is financially able to maintain them. As it stands, the law 580 does not permit those performing these duties to understand what the right approach to these matters should be. No doubt the authorities responsible believe that persecution in Egypt has stopped and that, therefore, there is no reason why stateless persons should be brought here. However, persecution in Egypt has not stopped and economic pressures are being brought to bear on people whom we regard as aliens and whose position, in many respects, is desperate.
Another illustration concerns about 10,000 European refugees who are still in China. In giving these examples I do not intend to be offensive. We are anxious that to improve the situation and not to take political advantage of it. As I said earlier, we are dealing with human beings who are being driven from pillar to post. Many of the 10,000 European refugees in China fled from the Russian revolution. Others found in China a haven from Nazi persecution. Nearly all of them now find it almost impossible to continue to live in that country, their means of earning a livelihood having been taken away.
Among those unhappy people are some aged and sick whose only wish is to spend the short time still left to them in peace and freedom. A number of Governments in Europe, particularly those of the Scandinavian countries and of Switzerland, have agreed to admit a number of these helpless people. I am sorry to hear that our country has not followed that splendid example. It is not a matter of admitting thousands of people. The admission of 50 or 100 at the most would be a gesture in the right direction and would bring considerable hope into the hearts of those suffering people.
As a matter of principle, the present law is contrary to the spirit and ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I trust that the Declaration is still the basis of our policy. Referring to the rights of asylum, in Article 14. the Declaration says:Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.I admit that that is a rather vague term. "The right to seek asylum" is obviously a meaningless expression. "The right to enjoy asylum" is not quite so empty a phrase, but the exact meaning of the word 581 "enjoy" is open to doubt. The crucial issue is the right of the person seeking asylum to be granted that asylum. Unfortunately, the Declaration remains silent on that point, but some aspects of the present law indicate that the Government are not prepared fully to support such a proposal.
The whole problem of the right of asylum is again before the United Nations and before it is further considered I should like the Government to take action which will show that the principle of the right of asylum by the granting of asylum will have our support. A non-Governmental organisation of which I have the honour to be co-chairman has stressed this point. The French Government has accepted it. I hope that the hon. Lady will this afternoon give us the satisfaction of hearing her say that she will consider the withdrawal of this legislation. As my hon. Friend has said, whatever may come in the future from a different direction can be considered when the time arises.
I strongly appeal to the hon. Lady that in our actions we should give a clear indication to our colleagues and friends in the United Nations, in the Social and Economic Council, and during our activities concerning the Declaratior of Human Rights, that we are showing a lead and will not stand in the way of the acceptance of such principles by other nations.
I put it on that high standard and I appeal to the Government to treat it in that way and not simply to regard themselves as dealing only with an individual who is of no concern. People sometimes become blasé in the courts and do not realise that the individual who comes before them is himself an entity who should be given consideration, the reason being that many similar cases have been dealt with before. I ask the hon. Lady to accept what I have said in the spirit in which it has been given and to consider the points I have raised.
§ Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)
I do not wish to take up much of the time of the Committee, but there is one point that ought to be made. I am basing my remarks on the assumption that the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), who moved the Amendment, and the hon. Member for Leicester. North-West (Mr. Janner), who supported it, will press the Amendment. If they do not, my words probably will not carry much weight.
582 My first question is to ask whether there has been any consultation with the T.U.C. on this matter, which involves a great number of problems if there is to be a sudden complete relaxation on immigration into this country.
§ Mr. Mawby
The way I was looking at it was that if the Amendment was carried we would be left with no restrictions at all. Naturally, we all wish our nation to play its full part, as it has done in its attitude towards, for example, the Hungarian refugees. We have taken on a public charge in training those people, with all the language problems, the different social conditions and everything else, and bringing them into contact with people in all sorts of industries so that they can work with their British colleagues happily and with safety. Everybody has worked together in trying to achieve that objective. The trade union movement has, as it usually does in these matters, done everything possible to try to absorb these people.
A number of people tend to say that the nation's problem could be satisfied by allowing a great number of aliens to come into the country and that they could do all sorts of jobs. There are, however, problems connected with these matters, particularly the language difficulty and the different social problems.
The fact that a number of unions have been considerably worried by the unregulated entry of colonials into the country shows that anxiety exists and that we should have some regulation whereby, by agreement, we do not depress the conditions of people engaged in particular industries and that when aliens do come into the country we will do everything possible to ensure that they are absorbed into society in the proper way.
My feeling is that, on the whole, the powers possessed by the Home Office, and operated through the Ministry of Labour, in issuing work permits and the rest are used in a reasonable manner. Borderline cases will always arise, but in the cases with which I have had contact 583 I have found the Departments concerned to use their powers reasonably.
I agree with the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West that the regulations governing the admission of aliens should be brought together into one Statute. The existing regulations are, however, fulfilling a necessary purpose and I feel that they should be continued until we can introduce a Statute which ensures that all our problems are catered for and that aliens can be absorbed into the country in such a way that they do not create any particular problem, such as that referred to at Question Time this afternoon, when the view was taken that a large number of aliens were involved in court cases.
I do not want to tar the whole of the aliens coming into the country with that brush. There are, however, black sheep—
§ Mr. Janner
That is not what was said. The question related to some of our own fellow nationals who come from the Commonwealth, which is something quite different. I listened carefully at Question Time and, as far as I remember, nobody suggested that it was a question of aliens. It referred solely to our own nationals.
§ Mr. Mawby
I accept the hon. Member's correction. The question has, however, been raised on other occasions concerning aliens as well as colonials who have been involved in difficulties. While I would not tar everybody with the same brush, there are, I think, black sheep in every family. We have our share of black sheep and, therefore, we must make certain that we do not have anyone else's share. For these reasons, I hope that the Amendment will not be pressed. If it is, I shall vote against it.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
I suppose that the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) would agree that refugees who have been given a haven in Britain throughout our history have made a considerable contribution to the welfare of the country.
§ Mr. Griffiths
In the North, we still remember the contribution made by the Huguenots, for example, to the textile industry. I thought that in what the hon. 584 Member was saying I detected an undertone of criticism or apprehension which might perhaps be directed towards the influx of colonials, for example, from the West Indies.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I think that the hon. Member is under a misapprehension. The attitude of the trade unions to this problem is quite clear and has been expressed by the T.U.C. It put no bar at all against these men coming here. There are hon. Friends of mine here who speak with far more authority on this matter than I. It is true that at branch level one meets resistance to the inclusion in the labour force of people from overseas, but it certainly cannot be laid at the door of the T.U.C., or of the leaders of the trade unions, that they place the slightest barrier in the way of workers from overseas.
I was going to refer specifically to the West Indians. I represent a constituency in the City of Manchester. There have been very large numbers of West Indians settling in that city, as, indeed, there have been in Birmingham, Coventry and other great industrial centres, in the industrial centres in particular. Sometimes people among whom they have settled have expressed some concern at the influx of those people, and we have pointed out to them that they are British citizens and have a perfect right to come to the United Kingdom.
As the hon. Member for Totnes mentioned the T.U.C., I would remind him that the view of the trade unions and, indeed, of the Labour Party on this matter is that there would be much less emigration from the West Indies than there is today if the standard of living there were a great deal higher than it is now.
It is a curious fact, however—I do not know whether the hon. Member knows it—that if he, for example, a citizen of the United Kingdom—
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)
With great respect to you, Sir Robert, I would suggest that, under the rules of order, at least as I understand them, I cannot answer anything the hon. Member has said because, although this is a debate about aliens and not British subjects, all his comments have been about British subjects.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Robert Grimston)
I think that the hon. Member should restrict what he has to say about British subjects to remarks by way of illustration.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I did not know that your function in the Chair, Sir Robert, was in the charge of the Joint Under-Secretary of State. I am, of course, subject to your judgment. You did not stop me or correct me until the hon. Lady intervened. Is she apprehensive at what I am saying?
I was debating; I was following the hon. Member for Totnes in the debate; a refreshing change in the Chamber, I think, because far too often hon. Members in debate begin by saying, "If the hon. Member will forgive me, I will not follow his speech." I was trying to follow an hon. Member's speech, and the hon. Lady tried to correct me. Does she want debate to be so reduced that in the end hon. Members simply pass written speeches to one another across the Floor of the Chamber?
I was saying that the West Indians come here as British subjects, and I was about to say to the hon. Member for Totnes that it is a curious fact that if he or I wanted to go to a West Indian island it would be quite within the capacity of the governor to prohibit our entry and to refuse to give any reasons for his prohibiting our entry, and no hon. Member of this Committee could extract a reason from the Colonial Secretary, or from any other member of the Government. It is a curious state of affairs.
Now I bring myself more precisely to the Bill before us. I want to refer to the policy of the Home Department in the deportation of aliens. I enter into this debate with a good deal of trepidation. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) are regular exercisers 586 in this annual event and I have not intervened before in one of these annual debates. Probably as a result of their endeavours there has been some improvement in the matter of the right of appeal of prospective deportees in recent times. I understand that an alien threatened with deportation now has the right of appeal to the chief London magistrate.
However, there is an important exclusion from this right; there is a class who are excluded, and it is to that class and their exclusion I want to refer. They are the people who are deported without any right of appeal to the chief magistrate, or anyone else, on the ground that they are regarded as security risks.
Before I examine the question of this group, because I think this policy is wrong, I say right away for myself, and, I should think, for most of my right hon. and hon. Friends, that we are concerned as much as anyone else that State security should be proficient; but we believe—at least. I believe—that the balance has been tilted far too much against the individual on the pretext of defending the interests of the State. I shall seek to show how the procedure could be altered to remove the remote possibility under the most liberal Home Secretary of injustice being perpetrated upon an individual.
Under the existing law, I think the Committee will agree, the Home Secretary of the day makes an impact, through his personality, on the Administration. I have hopes of the present Home Secretary. I certainly have the most painful recollections of the [...]illiberality of his predecessor. I hope that we shall have an opportunity in the near future of discussing his action in the matter of telephone tapping. However, I must not pursue that, or I shall be out of order.
I will, instead, give one or two examples of his treatment of aliens. A notable case, which received a certain amount of prominence in the Press and in the House of Commons, was the treatment of the Iraqi students, who were deported by Lord Tenby when he was Home Secretary on the ground that they were, presumably, security risks. Every possible investigation was made into their conduct, and it led everyone concerned—and everybody who knew the young men—to believe it was a ludicrous charge which was made against them. 587 They themselves certainly hotly denied it right to the end. Ministers sheltered themselves, as they do in these cases, whether in this Chamber or in their offices, behind the plea that it was not in the public interest to give any reason for the administrative action.
One of our difficulties in arguing about this group of aliens who are deported on security grounds without right of appeal is that we know very little of how the Home Secretary judges a security risk to exist among aliens. What we do know, however, is what the Government regard as a security risk among British citizens, whom I refer to by way of illustration, and it seems to me a reasonable assumption that the same tests, the same conditions are applied to aliens as are applied to British security risks.
Let us have a look at what they are. In approaching this, I start with certain assumptions. The first is that any Government have the right and the duty, to the best of their ability, to preserve State secrets, political and technical, from a foreign Power. One realises that in the modern world, in the lamentable state of international relationships, there are people who want these secrets and to get them they will employ mercenaries; and there are people whose political point of view leads them to believe that it is in the larger general world interest that those secrets should be given to other people. There are people like Fuchs and Nunn May, who were not mercenaries but who were prepared to give secrets away because of their political views. I agree that the State has a right to protect itself against those people.
Since 1948 we have had a system of so-called security procedure whereby people, first in the Civil Service, and subsequently in the Civil Service and in industry, have been deprived of their jobs solely on the ground that they held a minority political view which was believed might lead them to treacherous activities. One assumes that the Government make the same approach in the case of aliens. From the very beginning of security procedure here it was held that anybody who was accused of being a security risk should be given chapter and verse of the accusations made against him. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence available to us that this has never been the case.
588 The position today is rather worse than it was in 1948. It certainly has been extended by the present Government, particularly since the White Paper of March last year. The position now is that men and women will lose their jobs—and really this is nothing for the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary to laugh at—on the basis of information secretly laid by informers of whom they do not know, without ever being given the chance of answering the accusation made against them and without any appeal that they can make to any tribunal or court of law.
If I am right in my assumption that precisely the same standards are applied to aliens—and if I am wrong perhaps the hon. Lady will tell the Committee—surely this opens up the possibility of monstrous injustices being perpetrated. It is already on the record, and indisputable, that people such as school teachers have been refused employment in Renfrewshire because they were married to former members of the Communist Party, and that people have been dismissed from employent as cashiers in Civil Service canteens because of a similar contact.
I give these illustrations to indicate what the Government regard as a security risk. I assure the Committee that these illustrations are correct, and I am sure that the majority on both sides of the Committee will agree that it is quite absurd to regard these people as holding sensitive posts and as a danger to the security of the State. We should like to have reason to believe that the same absurd standards, the same illiterate political judgments, are not applied by the same Ministers to aliens.
I submit that security would be better served if aliens accused of being security risks had the opportunity of a right of appeal to the chief magistrate for London, as is the case with people threatened with deportation, or, if that is not possible, to sonic other kind of tribunal. I should prefer a judicial tribunal where, though sometimes in the interests of the State the case might have to be heard in camera, in the event of an individual being accused of being a security risk and being threatened with deportation, he would be confronted by his accusers and shown the documents on which the charge was based. Learned members of the tribunal would have the 589 opportunity to examine the documents and the evidence.
If that were done, and I do not see why it should not be, we would reduce still further the number of cases in which a residual suspicion of injustice remains. The Executive should not be allowed to carry out an arbitrary act without having satisfied itself and the House of Commons that it has examined and taken every opportunity of minimising injustice. However dissatisfied the Joint Under-Secretary may have been with the earlier part of my speech, I hope that she will enlighten me and the Committee on these points relating to aliens.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)
I find this subject, if not clouded in obscurity, at least mysterious and fantastic. Like other hon. Members, I have had, in the course of membership of the House of Commons, a considerable number of letters from aliens. I find that when I look into a case which requires very serious attention, and I write a letter giving all the circumstances, a reasonable request is refused, but when I feel that an alien is not on very strong grounds and I send a mere complementary slip to the Joint Under-Secretary I get a response granting the request which the alien may have made.
Can the Committee be told something about the arrangements that apply to the immigration of aliens into this country, their stay here and the procedure in their departure from an alien status to that of British citizens? I hope that I am in order in asking for answers to questions which I want to address to the Joint Under-Secretary. It seems to me that the time has surely arrived when all those who wish to come into this country should be treated very largely on the same basis, and that the matter ought not to be attended from time to time with an emotional appeal made to us which results in a great deal of heart-burning within a very few months of a particular incident.
I refer to the Hungarian refugees who came to this country. It was quite right that we should have accepted considerable numbers of Hungarians who were in such dire straits, but whatever applied to Hungarian refugees applies also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) has said, to 590 those people who were expelled from Egypt. I have raised this matter before in debate and with the Joint Under-Secretary, but we cannot seem to get any understanding of exactly how these people are controlled and how their immigration into the country is controlled.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West quoted the Nottingham case. A couple of students were allowed to live in this country. One of the parents lived here, but the other parent was not allowed to join the family, although expelled from Egypt as a result of British action. The parent held the nationality of another State, but that was a completely fictitious arrangement arising from the old Ottoman law which prevented any person of the Jewish faith from being of Egyptian nationality.
I have raised half a dozen cases with the Joint Under-Secretary on which I can get no satisfaction, when it is only a question of a member of the family wanting to join others settled here who are British subjects. Sometimes I feel that we are concerned purely with the relation of the alien to the present tension in the world; in other words, that it is a question of the cold war. Yet that theory is upset when I remember a Pole who was expelled from his country, brought over here by Army command and, after the necessary five years, became a British subject. He applied for his wife and two children to join him in this country. The Polish Government said that they could go, that they were happy to allow the family to join the father and the husband. The Under-Secretary said that the wife could come, but not the two children.
I find that difficult to understand. It is true that the children are over 21 years of age and perhaps we ought not to give them the key to the door but should kick them out of the door. We might even refuse them on the grounds that they would be a drag on the market here, but they are technicians, both highly trained, one in architecture and one in engineering. Both have passed through gymnasium and high school and university in Poland and, when they adopt the same nationality as their father, I should think that in due course they would become effective, valuable, British citizens.
If I turn from those people it is because I wonder whether in this question, and 591 in the question of the naturalisation of the alien, no real reason can be given for refusing naturalisation to the man we want to absorb, who has lived here, worked here, satisfied our laws, says that he would like to be a British citizen, makes application and gets people to act as referees. Even Members of Parliament are refused the reason why somebody who might be a future constituent is not allowed to become a British citizen. The referees may be of the highest calibre, they may have known the individual for five years or more, yet their word is of no account. I ask the hon. Lady whether the word of the police officer, who sees the applicant for half an hour or an hour, is of more consequence than all the other persons concerned who have written in and authenticated the application made by the alien?
I hope that that is not the reason why a number of people about whom I have approached the hon. Lady have had their applications refused. My own feeling is that the hon. Lady, overworked like those in other Departments, signs a lot of letters to myself and to other hon. Members without reading them—
§ Mr. Orbach
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West in saying that there seems to be a great deal of inhumanity in the treatment of people coming from abroad, and there should not be inhumanity in the Home Office, a Department dealing with the lives of individuals who have already suffered considerably.
I wonder whether I might be allowed to say a word in reply to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby), who expressed a great deal of humanity and was concerned about trade union conditions but showed prejudices that cannot be in any way justified statistically. The question of aliens and our courts is, if I may use an American euphemism, a lot of "hooey".
During the war I conducted an inquiry into what was then called the black market, when charges were glibly made by those who were not very desirous of the war being conducted for the benefit of Great Britain and her allies that aliens and Jews were responsible for most of the activities which were illegal at that 592 time in consequence of the orders and regulations. I caused statisticians to attend courts to look up every case. I gave the information I had to the Home Secretary of the time and it was accepted by him, as it was accepted by many other important members of the Cabinet of the day.
I found that there was the same proportion of aliens or Jews or British subjects, who happened to be of the Protestant or Catholic faith or no faith whatsoever, engaged in such illicit and illegal activities, depending upon the trades they were in. One finds a preponderance of them in special trades but, comparatively with the population, I found that the percentages were exactly the same. I also found, and this was contained in the report which was prepared, that by and large the Press of this country gave two and a half times more publicity to the prosecution of an alien than it did to that of a British person. Some daily newspapers, which shall be nameless on this occasion, gave ten times more publicity to prosecutions of aliens than to those of British persons.
I hope that what I have said has helped to remove any lingering prejudices which the hon. Member for Totnes may have in his mind. I appeal to the Minister to give us some idea of the procedure with regard to aliens, from the time when an alien wants to come to this country to the time when he or she wants to become a British subject.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I do not rise to attack the Joint Under-Secretary and I would not have risen except for a few remarks made earlier by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby). We do not recognise the hon. Gentleman as speaking with any authority in the trade union movement—
§ Mr. Pannell
Since I have expressed no opinion other than that the hon. Member for Totnes represents nobody but himself in the trade union movement, I need not refer to my right hon. Friend 593 the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen to what I have to say, speaking with some knowledge of the trade union movement, by way of correction of the bias he has shown.
I have been a member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union for nearly forty years. It is the largest craft union in this country. Its policy towards aliens is shown by the fact that when the Hungarians came here we issued to all branches a directive—that may be too strong a word, because it is not necessary to direct the members—saying that Hungarians must be treated in exactly the same way as any British citizens: that is to say, that for admission to the union a Hungarian should be judged solely on his trade. In other words, if a Hungarian was a qualified turner or fitter, he should be admitted to Section 1; if his skills fell below, he should be treated in the same way as a British citizen. That is the policy we have applied not only to aliens, but to Commonwealth citizens.
In parentheses, may I say that one difficulty is that the skills for which people can be recognised abroad are sometimes lower than those of people in this country? For instance, a man in the West Indies will call himself a carpenter, a fitter, a turner, or a millwright but, according to our standards, he does not make the grade. He has heard what those grades receive in this country and finds it difficult to understand why he does not qualify for the A.E.U. But, after all, the union has standards going back to 1780 when it was the old Millwrights' Society, so it is a society which is rather more aristocratic than some of the noble Lords in the other place.
The difficulty about aliens is that when they come over here they must be judged on comparable scales. We do not judge them in the hole-and-corner way of the Home Office. We put them on the job and see whether they can do it. As a matter of fact, when such people are vouched for in a trade union branch, after a fortnight or a month, people have a better view of them sometimes than the Home Office.
No one could represent the great City of Leeds, which has the largest percentage of Jews of any city in the country, with- out being conscious of the individual hardships people suffer in this matter. I noticed that when my hon. Friend the 594 Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) said that the hon. Lady had rather too much to do, and signed on the dotted line without looking, she shook her head in violent disagreement. I am pleased about that. Something was said about the liberality of the hon. Lady's predecessor, Viscount Tenby, but I do not think that was true of him. At least, I had one case to prove that. He was a very lazy man, and we were all pleased to see him go. We think that the present occupant of the office is a very great improvement upon his predecessor.
The trade union movement is very touchy on this subject. In this respect I have a particular pride in my union. We have recently sacrificed nearly 20,000 members in the Union of South Africa. We have severed all our membership in South Africa, because we do not agree with apartheid. We refuse to have any branch or organisation associated with a country which lends itself to racial segregation. Simply because our terms are the same the world over, we are the only international trade union affiliated to the British trade union movement.
That indicates that, fundamentally, the trade union movement is an international one. It is not a parochial one, as the hon. Member for Totnes would think. We believe that the matter of aliens is linked up with the question of human rights. Nobody should discriminate against a man simply because of the shape of his nose. That is anti-semitism. Nobody should discriminate against a man simply on the ground of his colour. That is a racialism of the worst type. I have always stood for equal pay because I believed that no one should discriminate against someone merely on the ground of sex. If the hon. Lady agrees with that last sentiment, she should extend that liberality to every letter she writes relating to an application for entry by an alien.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
We have had, as we always do on this subject, a very wide-ranging and interesting debate. I am grateful to hon. Members who have made their contributions, but I find myself in precisely the same difficulty as every Under-Secretary of State has done every year when hon. Members are able to keep within order while using their own case, as illustrations. I took the trouble to find 595 out from the Chair whether I should be in order in replying as I desired to do—and not, as the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) suggested, in trying to dodge—and I find that in replying to a wide debate of this nature I shall be out of order if I try to deal with individual cases.
§ Mr. Janner
Would the hon. Lady allow me to help her? Is she not in a position to utilise particular cases to illustrate her case without answering the cases which have been put forward? In my view, that would give her ample opportunity of showing her skill in replying.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
I am not blind to the opportunity which the hon. Member suggests. I was merely making the point that often some strong accusations, backed up by particular cases which hon. Members have in mind, are made against the Home Office, and, in fairness, one would occasionally like an opportunity to deal specifically with those cases.
§ Mr. Mellish
Might I put it on record that if in any way I misinterpreted the hon. Lady, I humbly apologise and unreservedly withdraw the remark.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
I thank the hon. Member for that generous withdrawal. I thought that he had rather misrepresented me.
The debate falls into two main parts. First, there is the criticism that the present legislation should be replaced by permanent legislation coupled with a recognition that some form of immigration control is very necessary for this country. There is also the minority view, which has apparently been expressed by some hon. Members, that we should allow entry to almost anyone and everyone who wishes to come to these shores.
I will deal with the first point. Strictly speaking, the debate deals solely with Section 1 of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, and if that, as the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) recommends, were to be omitted from Part I of the Schedule there would no longer be any power to keep foreigners out of the country or to secure the departure of any 596 undesirable who might be here. Whether the powers are too sweeping in the view of some hon. Members, or whether they are wisely administered, is really a different issue.
This legislation, as the hon. Member for Islington, East pointed out, has been in operation for thirty-eight years, and, while it may seem odd that it should be renewed annually under this procedure, it certainly has the merit of giving hon. Members an annual opportunity to air their grievances and for a short debate on problems affecting aliens.
I think, too, that it is worth noting that the reasons for this legislation apply in very similar degree today to that in which they applied in 1919. We are undoubtedly the most popular country within Europe for immigration. The hon. Member for Islington, East said that hon. Members have one or two cases which touch their hearts on humanitarian grounds and of constituents desiring to bring relations into the country, but we ought to get into perspective the magnitude of the problem.
There are 384,000 aliens registered as resident here at present. That does not take into account the soak-away of about 4,000 a year who obtain naturalisation. It does not take into account 140,000 coloured people who are British citizens and do not rank as aliens. The largest single contingent among the 384,000 is the Polish one. After the war, 120,000 Poles were admitted. Many of them have relatives and friends whom they desire to bring here, and they keep up a very constant pressure to add to their numbers.
It is not a case of a few hundreds seeking admission. If reasonable control of immigration—I believe I shall be able to prove that what we have is reasonable control—were abandoned it would not be the entry of a few hundreds or a few thousands that we should face. One must bear in mind the relentless pressure from the Iron Curtain countries. Also, there are 2 million unemployed in Italy, and there is tremendous pressure from Italy for Ministry of Labour permits for those wishing to fill vacancies in various trades. The prospect that we should face without reasonable control of immigration would not be, as some people think, on the scale of, say, the 16,000 Hungarians. We 597 should face the prospect of many hundreds of thousands of Europeans coming to this country.
I believe that our full employment, our democratic system and our Welfare State are magnets which would draw the unemployed in Europe, the oppressed from behind the Iron Curtain who were able to obtain exit permits, the old, the sick and the uncared for to these shores in very vast numbers if we did not have control over entry. The need for control is as strong today, for slightly different reasons, as it was in 1919.
The Government are not unmindful of the views expressed by hon. Members that this temporary legislation should be replaced by permanent legislation. Several hon. Members fairly made the point that they realise that there must still be a measure of immigration control. We have given the matter very careful consideration, but we are not convinced at this moment of the need to introduce such alternative legislation to serve the existing purpose taking priority over the many other measures which occupy the time of the House and, indeed, are in the queue for the time of the House.
Successive Governments, including that in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was himself Home Secretary, have felt that better use of Parliamentary time could be made than by using it to correct what, at worst, is a technical oddity, but which serves its purpose in protecting our social standards, giving an annual opportunity for hon. Members to air their views upon it, and controlling what would be a flood of immigration into the country were such a regulation not to exist.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary adheres to the view that, while the powers contained in the Aliens Order should be and. I believe, are, humanely exercised—if I may say so, that view was strenuously endorsed by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), in the debate in 1954—it is nevertheless essential that we should retain these powers.
First, the security considerations have lost none of their force. The hon. Member for Islington, East very fairly made the case that in the troubled times of today we still have to remember the necessity for security precautions. By far the largest pressure is that which comes 598 from would-be immigrants on economic or social grounds seeking to secure a lodgment here. That pressure is greater than it has ever been.
The hon. Member for Islington, East, asked particularly about the number of labour permits, and there was mention of domestic servants and the like. From Poland, Germany and Italy, from which countries most of them come, there have been 11,128 permit holders of which a substantial number were domestic servants. So far as Iron Curtain countries are concerned, there is no discrimination against the country as such, provided that the individuals have documents of return-ability. In other words, whether the individual comes from Poland, Germany or Italy to take up domestic service here, he must have valid documents of ret urn-ability; otherwise, his arrival here is merely a guise for immigration. If such people coming from Iron Curtain countries have valid documents of return-ability, they are considered on the same basis as those from non-Iron Curtain countries.
If it be granted that the need for control exists, we claim that our way of exercising it is sensible and effective, without being oppressive. Under the Aliens Order, foreigners coming to this country must obtain leave to land from the immigration officer. This procedure enables the circumstances of each case to be looked at and an appropriate decision made by the immigration officer.
It is well known throughout Europe that if an alien wishes to take up employment in this country he must obtain a Ministry of Labour permit. If an alien arrives at a port with a valid Ministry of Labour permit, there is no difficulty; but if, as so frequently happens, he arrives at the port saying that he is here on a visit and then, perhaps through an inadequate knowledge of the English language, produces a letter saying, "I have not been able to get a Ministry of Labour permit for you, but you come and we will 'fiddle' it when you arrive", quite rightly and justifiably he is turned back at the port. Then, of course, the constituent writes to his Member of Parliament and says that the foreigner was coming only on a visit.
The immigration officer has power to refuse leave to land and power also to attach conditions which govern the length 599 of stay and the freedom to take jobs. In my view, it is open to us to exercise control at the ports in this way.
The hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) asked specifically how we exercised our control and on what standards we judged it. I believe that, because we are an island, it is more effective. Also, it is easier for the alien to know where he stands at the port of entry, thereby preventing the necessity, after people have been let in—many of them arriving with no means at all—for sending them back, possibly at the public expense on a deportation order, which is an unpleasant and undesirable business, to be avoided if possible. I believe that, under our system, we are able to turn back the comparatively rare foreigner whom we do not want in this country at all.
Let us not get out of balance how comparatively small is the number of people turned back from the ports. During the 12 months ended 30th September last, 1,253,366 foreign passengers entered the United Kingdom, and 2,436 were refused permission to land. That is less than 0.2 per cent., or one in 500. Let us for a moment consider the type of person turned back. There are those who arrive here knowing no one, absolutely penniless or with just a few shillings—under £t—on them; they have no home, no job, and no people to go to. Is it seriously suggested that the immigration officer is wrong in not letting those people in?
§ Mr. Orbach
Does the hon. Lady suggest that any hon. Member raised that sort of issue? If such people knew nobody in this country, they would not approach any Member of Parliament. The hon. Lady is producing a very nice red herring.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not like the facts being brought home to him, but I think that the Committee is entitled to know about the magnitude of the problem.
Hon. Gentlemen have brought up individual cases which have come to them and have made accusations about the harshness of the control exercised by the Home Office. On this annual occasion, it is right and proper that hon. Members should realise the types of case which 600 have to be judged and the sort of people who, within the authority given to the immigration officers are, I believe quite legitimately, turned back.
Hon. Members may like to know what Sorts of person make up that total; they may wish to know what are the ingredients of the figure 2,400 and how they were classified. There were 512 turned back because they intended to work here and had no labour permit. There were 343 others who had insufficient means to support themselves, in very many cases having arrived with under £1 on them and knowing no one in this country at all. There were 298 who arrived in circumstances which required a visa, but who had not applied for or obtained one. There were 195 stowaways.
The number of refusals at the port is not in itself a complete indication of the success of immigration control, because, quite obviously, the fact that we have immigration control and people know that they may be turned back at the ports limits the number prepared to risk coming over and paying the fare. Aliens will hesitate to come over if they know that they may be turned back. We must keep the matter in perspective. If there were no control, there would be a flood of immigrants to this country because, without any doubt, this is the most popular country in Europe for immigration.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths
I do not think that anyone disagrees with what the hon. Lady has said, and I am wondering why site has spoken on this. Can she quote from the words of any of my hon. Friends who have said that that type of person should be admitted?
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
With respect, hon. Gentlemen have made their case on what they regard as proper grounds for an accusation against the Home Office, deliberately avoiding, if I may say so, the wider issue of the necessity for control. In this annual debate, whether or not hon. Members opposite are themselves interested, it is right that the Committee should understand the magnitude of the demand for immigration into this country and what the removal of control would entail.
The hon. Member for Willesden, East, the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) and the hon. Member for Islington, East all raised the question of deportation. In some cases, as one 601 hon. Gentleman pointed out, the alien is in this country and may have been here for years. While it is obviously essential that we should have sonic ultimate sanction in the case of aliens admitted to the country subject to certain controls and who refuse to conform to their conditions, there is, as was pointed out, a check—imposed in August last year in pursuance of the Establishment Convention of the Council of Europe—on the Secretary of State's discretion. As announced to the House on 2nd August, 1956, in answer to a Question by the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger), the provision had been made that aliens served with a deportation order should, in certain circumstances, have a right of appeal to the chief magistrate at Bow Street.
The exceptions are where the recommendation has already been made by a court, where the deportation is on grounds of public security, where the alien has landed without permission, and where, having been in the United Kingdom less than two years, he has failed to observe the condition's attaching to his stay. With regard to aliens who may have been in this country many years, the new arrangements go a long way to meet the representations made in last year's supply debate on this subject by the right hon. Member for Grimsby.
So far as the security cases are concerned, I think that, on consideration, the Committee will agree that no Home Secretary could abdicate his direct responsibility for decisions on national security grounds to any other body, however eminent, which had no such responsibility to Parliament. Such cases are very rare. We have not had a single one in the last twelve months.
Hon. Members may like to hear how the analysis of those going to Bow Street worked out. Thirty-two aliens have been told that they are eligible to make representations, and of these fifteen have not chosen to avail themselves of the opportunity. Eight cases have been held back because it was not certain that the people concerned could secure recognition from their country of origin, and because it would have been pointless for the magistrate to hear their case if the order had not been enforceable. Nine cases have been heard, and in eight of them the 602 magistrate has confirmed the order for deportation.
As the hon. Gentleman opposite rightly said, the number of deportations fell from 199, in 1953, to 121 last year and to 75 so far this year. I would point out that a very large proportion of those cases concern people deported on the recommendation of the court after a record of crime. There are also some unhappy instances of mental cases where, on medical advice, and to cover the expense involved in treatment and attendance on the patient, it has been decided that the patient would be happier in his country of origin. Through the various embassies we have been able to get them accepted, but the procedure for doing this entails public expense.
The fact that there are comparatively few deportations owes much to the vigilance and the powers of the immigration officers at the ports for dealing with the very cases which hon. Members opposite objected to my raising just now, but over which we must retain control.
The hon. Gentleman opposite mentioned the registration of visitors. He was a little unkind about paragraph 6 of the 1957 Order, but that information is supplied to the police and is not on the hotel register. If we are to keep track of a very large influx of aliens into the country, then the only way to do so is by this method of registration at their various addresses.
I do not know whether I shall be wholly in order in dealing with a matter which, I submit, is very germane to the debate today and which, indeed, is the basis of many cases put to us in the past few weeks by hon. Members on behalf of Polish visitors to the country. It is the determined and persistent attempt of a very large number of so-called visitors to this country to evade the Aliens order and immigration control by turning their visit into permanent residence. Frankly, it is one of our greatest difficulties. We welcome contact with the Iron Curtain countries and we welcome the tourist trade as such, but it will stand or fall on a basis of straight dealing. If we accept assurances and undertakings in good faith, and we treat these visitors in good faith, we feel that we are entitled to expect the same on the other side. Very substantial numbers of people from Poland, in particular, and to a lesser 603 degree from Germany and Yugoslavia, who come to this country on the most solemn assurances that they are coming only on a visit, apply sometimes within two days of their arrival, for permanent residence. If a very substantial number of these people dishonour the obligations they have undertaken it makes our task that much more difficult in being as free as we would wish to be in allowing such visits.
A new situation has arisen because of the greater freedom recently allowed in Poland in granting exit visas. I will give the Committee some figures so that it may realise the terrific increase in our problem. Last year, only 1,700 visitors from Poland came to this country. This year we have already had just on 10,000. The figure is more than twelve times as great for the first nine months of this year than it was for the corresponding period last year. From the 120,000 Poles who were received into this country after the last war there is relentless pressure to bring in not only near but almost every relative from Poland. The potential is enormous.
It is fair, I think, that the Home Office should ask hon. Members to appreciate, when pressed for assistance in these cases, that our task in allowing free visiting, as we would wish to do, from the Iron Curtain countries or any other country, is seriously jeopardised if a very substantial number of the people concerned are to dishonour their obligations and stay.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
I am sorry, but if this is a red herring it also happens to be the problem at the present time, and I think this is the occasion on which to put the Committee in the picture concerning the facts which we at the Home Office have to face.
§ Mr. Orbach
The cases which we on this side of the Committee raised concerned those who were in Poland at the moment and who were applying to come to this country. The fact that they are immediate relatives, not near relatives, of 604 children of British subjects over here, and were not allowed to come here, has nothing to do with this sort of issue.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
This debate is on the entry of aliens and, with great respect, I am sure that had I been out of order I would have been told so. I submit that the facts that I have given are relevant to our consideration of problems concerning aliens.
The hon. Member referred to certain Polish residents here with relatives abroad. We give the closest consideration to claims in relation to direct relatives of Polish or other aliens already permanently established here. If the hon. Member has any particular case he wishes to take up with me I will be only too happy to go into it, but he must know that, because of direct ties of relationship—wives and young children—and also under the distressed relatives scheme, we have allowed a very considerable number of relatives from the Iron Curtain countries to join established aliens in this country.
It is not possible in every case. I gathered from the case to which the hon. Member referred that he was speaking of children who were adult. If they are adult and application has not, in the last ten years—when at that time they might have been juveniles—been made for them to come into this country, I suggest that in those cases there may be considerations which the hon. Gentleman has not brought out.
The hon. Member also raised the question of asylum. Now that there is, we hope, perhaps less persecution in certain of the Eastern European countries, and now that those Governments are making it easier for their nationals to visit the United Kingdom, I do think it fair, in answer to the hon. Member's claim that we should, almost automatically, grant asylum to anyone from a country behind the Iron Curtain who asks for it, to say that these people are not refugees seeking asylum when coming here on visits from their own country. They have been given documentation and travel facilities by their own Government, and are at liberty to return. It would be only too easy to abuse the right to visit if anybody from an Iron Curtain country could, on landing, automatically claim asylum. I 605 think that it is necessary to make that point.
The hon. Member spoke about Jewish nationals who had been ejected from Egypt and not allowed to come here. As he knows, over 6,000 expellees have come as British nationals. Many of them have never set foot in Britain before, but have spent their lives in that territory. Among them, indeed, have been many Jewish persons.
The hon. Member knows, further, that we have accepted about 200 Stateless people. He has personally interested himself in several cases. He specifically asked the basis upon which we haw refused some other cases. We have quite considerably widened the basis of acceptance. Basically, permission is given if the refugee has some connection with this country and no stronger connection with any other country. At least, it has been on that basis that some of the cases that the hon. Gentleman has taken up with me have been allowed.
As the hon. Member will accept, those people had no direct connection with this country, and it was because it was considered that they had no stronger connection with any other country, either through race or domicile, that they were permitted to enter. I think that, in fairness, he must admit that we have generously interpreted the regulations.
§ Mr. Janner
hope that I made clear that a considerable amount of generous feeling has been shown in this matter. I did not want to sidestep that issue at all. But I want the hon. Lady to realise that another connection is not necessarily stronger just because an Egyptian Jew happens to have a passport, whether it be Italian or any other. In most cases, he has never been in the country stated. It is because the Egyptian Government have not been letting such a person have Egyptian nationality that havoc has been caused. In those cases, I beg her not to take the mere fact that the passport says that he is Italian as proof that he has any connection with Italy—or with any other country.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
The hon. Member is asking us to take any and every expellee from Egypt, and we cannot accept that as a basis. I have just said that if they have any real association with this country, as, indeed, some of them had, although they have never set foot in 606 the United Kingdom, many of them have been accepted, as the hon. Member has conceded.
§ Mr. Orbach
The hon. Lady knows that many have not been accepted, although most had relatives in this country—cases of husband and wife.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
If the hon. Gentleman likes to take up with me specific cases later I will be glad to look at them, but he knows—
§ Mr. Orbach
We have taken them up and taken them up, but have got nowhere. I thought that I would get some sympathy from the hon. Lady today, but it is hopeless.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
My recollection of the correspondence of the hon. Gentleman is by no means consistent with what he has led the Committee to believe. I can remember several cases that he has taken up successfully.
As I said earlier, this debate has ranged over an extremely wide field, and although some hon. Members have expressed annoyance because I have dealt with immigration policy and the regulations that we operate in rather greater detail than, perhaps, they wish to listen to, nevertheless it is important that we should bring home to the Committee the need for these powers. The fact that, throughout the term of office of the various Governments, it has been felt wise and prudent to renew these powers each year forces me to ask the Committee to reject the Amendment, and so ensure that the Home Office retains these very necessary powers for the control of alien immigration into this country.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The hon. Lady started her speech by saying that this way of dealing with the problem afforded us an annual opportunity for airing grievances. Were I an Irishman I should welcome that, because the Irishman would, as a rule, sooner have the grievance than the remedy. We mention grievances in this Committee not as an occasion for annual, monthly or daily airing, but in an effort to get remedies. I think that the gravamen of the case against the continuation of this Act is the fact that in 1953 all the Orders then extant were brought into one Order. It repealed all the previous Orders, but it was an Order, and we could not, therefore, discuss 607 this vital question of policy which depends on an Act passed thirty-eight years ago in circumstances rather more different from the present than the hon. Lady was prepared to admit.
The Government pride themselves on the fact that they have done away with a lot of Orders and embodied them in permanent legislation during their period of office. I beg the Government to submit to us the Order made in 1953 in the form of a Bill to replace the Measure we ask should not be continued today, so that the House can consider in detail the way in which the scheme works in the light of the circumstances of 1957.
I was sorry that the hon. Lady kept saying that the Home Office did things, and that the Home Office was being attacked. That was one of the problems which confronted me when I was at the Home Office. Somehow or other people still think that the Home Secretary is a very reasonable person who would like to do a lot of good things, but that when he would do good, some evil counsellor at the Home Office is present to prevent him.
I am sure that the present Home Secretary would not attempt to defend himself on that ground. Having been associated with him in a Government Department, I know only too well how the right hon. Gentleman insists that the Minister is responsible for the policy of the Department. The Home Office is not there to run the show, but to carry out such policies as he feels are justified by the circumstances of the time. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether we should continue to deal with this matter by way of an annual debate in which we can make no effective criticism of the details of something dependent on an Act passed in 1919. Does this procedure provide sufficient opportunity for hon. Members to consider details of a policy which, as is quite evident from the debate today, arouses the warmest feelings of human sympathy among everyone interested in the subject?
I do not object to the statistics which the Joint Under-Secretary gave to us. I think they put the question into perspective, but I ask the hon. Lady to realise that a general statistic is no answer to the kind of personal human problems raised by my hon. Friends. I was rather 608 surprised to hear that the hon. Lady had obtained some Ruling that if she wanted to answer any of these cases, she would not be allowed to do so by the Chair. I know that there was once a young lady who asked her mother beforehand what she was to ask for if a certain offer was made to her—and she got her instructions.
§ Mr. Ede
The rather unfortunate fate of John the Baptist has been continuously evident in the debate this afternoon regarding individual cases where my hon. Friends expected—as I did—that they would be able to obtain some specific answer. If we cannot enlighten a debate of this kind by reference to specific cases where we think that the regulation is now too harsh or else it has been wrongly administered, the airing of a grievance becomes even more futile than is generally the case.
§ Mr. Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in his scriptural reference—
§ Mr. Mellish
The right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot) has only just entered the Chamber.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am talking about the scriptural reference by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). The promise was made after the performance, and I think that on that account greater credit was given.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
Were this a place where it was possible—if we were meeting on Epsom Downs—I would undertake to make a small wager on our respective memories.
The hon. Lady has dealt with a good many cases, but there was one to which she made no reference at all, that of the people in China to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) referred. Some of them 609 were refugees in China after the Russian Revolution and now, apparently, they find themselves overtaken by another revolution. The Committee would like to know exactly what is happening about those people and whether there are many of them.
I was not satisfied on the main point which interests me, because in her reply the Joint Under-Secretary made no reference to it. Each year we have asked that the Order of 1953 should be embodied in modern legislation; that the Order itself should disappear and that we should depend for our regulation of this subject on up-to-date legislation, when we might have the opportunity of raising and voting on all the issues. The final decision might go one way or the other, but, at any rate, it would be a decision arrived at in the light of the circumstances which confronted us.
May I say, as I did on the last occasion when this subject was debated here, that I have every sympathy with the hon. Lady in the discharge of the duties delegated to her? I imagine that she could quite well say that she would like to meet many of the cases raised by my hon. Friends but for the appalling precedents, from the point of view of present policy, that would be created were sentiment allowed to intervene in some of the decisions she has to make. However, I appeal to her, and to the Home Secretary, to realise that often we have to deal here with very great human tragedies, sometimes for one person, sometimes for a whole family of people separated by many hundreds of miles and by restrictions in communications. Where we can on any ground at all allow human feeling to triumph over a mere regulation, I hope that we shall always allow ourselves to do so.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 10 and 11.
I propose the deletion from the Schedule of that part of the Bill which refers to the Population (Statistics) Act, 1938. It will be recollected that in 1938 the Bill was not passed without considerable discussion, and it was thought fit to make it one of those Acts of Parliament which have to be confirmed from time to time by the House.
The opposition to the Bill, during the Second Reading, took the form some- 610 times of the wit and derision which Mr. Alan Herbert, as he then was, poured upon it, and sometimes of passionate opposition by hon. Members who sat on this side of the House. It was at a time of great economic crisis, when there were tremendous economic problems in the world, and the Government of the day thought it would be a good idea if they undertook an inquiry into the reasons for the variation in the birth rate. By way of finding out why 1 million married couples in this country were childless, and discovering why people who did not have babies were not having them, the Government tried by this Act, with its very special powers, to ask very special questions about people who had just had a baby or about people who had just died.
That is the basis, apparently, of the inquiry into reasons for infertility from that day to this. On that ground alone, perhaps one should pause to inquire whether we are to have any result from those inquiries. Is there to be any report on them? What are the Government doing? After all, this began nearly twenty years ago and since then a lot of things have happened in the world, and changes in habits and population have taken place which surely are worth considering.
If that Measure were before us for Second Reading, or even Third Reading, it would be unthinkable that any of us would allow it to pass without making a protest at the humbug of trying to pretend that we can get useful information by that Measure alone about why people do not have babies. I should have to make a protest and say to the Minister of Health, "Why don't you ask, not those who have just had babies, but those who want to have them and are prevented from having them, and you might then learn something about the birth rate."
I should like the Minister to come to my advice bureau in Paddington some time and listen to the heartbreaking stories which show why it is couples cannot have more children when they want to have them—the couple, for instance, who come and say, "What can we do to get a house? If we have a baby, the landlord will turn us out, and if we go to the town hall they cannot put us on the housing list, with any likelihood of our getting a house, unless we have a lot of babies."
611 There are worse stories than that and more poignant ones. One young couple with a baby said, "Mother-in-law lets us sleep on the bed settee in her room, but we have to take the baby away first thing in the morning to a nursery and bring it back at night; she will not have it in the house in the daytime, and she will not let us stay if we have another." I know of a married woman who has already several children and would like more. She said to me, "We all have to sleep in the same room. I cannot now have marital relations with my husband, because some of the children may wake up."
These are the things that really matter. These are some of the things which ought to be brought out as factors influencing the family life of this country at the present time. I think that it would be humbug formally to allow this Act to continue in force as if it were a serious contribution to sociological study.
There are other matters about which the Minister of Health might be interested to make inquiries. Has he not been stirred by the doubts which arise in people's minds on the subject of fertility and the future of the human race as a result of H-bomb tests? Why ask a woman who has just had a baby about the reasons people do not have babies? Why not introduce powers to investigate what may be the result of a recent accident in this country? Why not ask what is happening to those innocent Japanese fishermen who were overtaken by disaster as the result of an H-bomb test? There is an immense field for inquiry there. Why does not anyone mention it?
The reason is partly, no doubt, that the Conservative Party has a rooted objection to getting information or using it when it is thrust upon them. The Prime Minister himself in the last day or two passionately rejected a suggestion from this side of the Committee that he should take some note of the number of scientists and technologists leaving this country. He replied to the hon. Member who asked the Question as if it were a wicked thing to make a note of occupations. He referred, in sinister terms, to the emergency powers in war of mass registration. Why then do we have the mockery of this Measure which gives special powers to these people to ask these ridiculous questions.
612 There is, one would have thought, another immensely important field for study in the subject of fertility, and that is what is the effect on the fertility of people whose standard of living rises. Would it not be extremely interesting, for instance, to see what is the effect in the rise of the standard of living of West Indian immigrants who come to this country? Is it not possible that scientific information of this kind would be of immense value in estimating at this time what will be the needs of the world in the future, when we are all considering the problems of raising the standards of living in the under-developed parts of the world and among the under-privileged people?
There are some prophets who tell us that it will be impossible to feed them all, that the increase in the birth rate will be enormous; and there are others who hold a different view. What chance have we of conducting such an inquiry unless we have some very different powers from those set out in the Act?
I could take the Minister to Paddington and show him two houses where, within the last few weeks, twenty of the inhabitants, coloured people, have fled the houses on the approach of the returning officer's representative and refused to be put on the voters' list because the houses are overcrowded. No doubt the landlord is responsible for that, and I hope that the authorities will make some check. People are so afraid of questions being asked that they will not admit that these circumstances exist. Therefore, if we are to make a serious sociological study, we shall have to treat them a little better than we have done and find out where they are living and under what conditions.
On all these grounds, I think that there are ample reasons for moving this Amendment and indeed forcing it to a Division unless we get full and very satisfactory answers.
The main reason we should hesitate at the present time about this Act and these powers is because of the special strain which they put on certain sections of the Civil Service and on the administrative staff of the hospitals and National Health Service. We are in a situation in which there is a crisis between those sets of administrators. The questions asked are, of course, very delicate ones. I am referring to the Schedule of the Act. It 613 is known that the penalties for withholding information or for disclosing information are very severe. Anyone who withholds information is liable to be fined £10 and anyone who discloses it when he should not can be fined £100 and sent to prison. Therefore, people have to walk very warily when they are handling this matter.
Information is collected by co-operation between different sots of administrators who have approximately the same status and who, in 1948, received the same salaries. However, the civil servant who earned £760 a year in 1948 has had a cash increase of £448 since then, whereas his opposite number in the hospital, who has to talk to him on equal terms and to supply him with information—
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)
I am afraid the hon. Member is getting too far from the Amendment.
§ Mr. Mellish
I have conclusive proof that without work by the hospital staff the Minister of Health could not possibly get these statistics. A considerable amount of work has to be done by the hospital staff.
§ Mr. Parkin
I am sorry, Sir Gordon. I am not challenging your Ruling on the procedure of the Committee, but I hope you will allow me to say that information gathered under the administration of this Act comes from the hospital employees. Indeed, the information obtained from the hospitals is regarded by the Minister of Health as the most reliable, and he attaches a tremendous amount of practical importance to the relationship between civil servants and the hospital staffs.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)
May I support my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). Sir Gordon? When it is necessary to collect statistics about fertility or infertility there are clinics attached to the hospitals which are concerned with this matter, and they use the services of the clerical workers in the hospitals.
§ Dr. Summerskill
It is impossible to collect this information without the 614 activities of the clerical workers. The doctor himself would not give the information. It is necessary, if it is to be collected, for it to be supplied by the clerical workers.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Richard Thompson)
Perhaps it might assist the Committee if I intervened at this point, Sir Gordon, to say that these provisions put no burden on the hospitals. The information which is required is obtained by the informants at the time of registering births and deaths, and is undertaken by the registrars.
§ Mr. Mellish
On a point of order. I have in my hand a document which cannot be disproved and which deals with this point. I should be quite willing to show it to you, Sir Gordon. It proves that information is collected by the administrative staff before it is finally handed over to the officers of the Ministry of Health.
§ Mr. Victor Collins (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
Hospital staffs must be fully aware that they are compiling a record from one patient in every ten and that there is a very great deal of information. I do not want to develop this point now because I hope to catch your eye, later, Sir Gordon, but I would ask the Minister whether he wishes that collection of information to continue. There is no question that hospital workers take a very great part in this work.
§ Mr. Parkin
We have had a very interesting discussion on this point. We all follow with humility the procedure of the Committee in an effort to learn something. I cannot recollect an occasion when a discussion of this kind centred so much around the point of what actually happens.
It is notable that the representative on the Front Bench from the Ministry of Health did not know what happens in the hospital when the representative of the registrar seeks information. Perhaps we might be able to enlighten him a little more on the work of his own Department. It is a regular part of the departmental arrangements for the Registrar-General to seek information from hospitals, and I know, as does anyone who is acquainted with hospital work, that his representatives consult hospital authorities on the 615 spot. They sometimes ask permission to interview people after they have had their babies, or after somebody has just died. Sometimes the patients will answer the questions and sometimes they will not. They are asked such questions as, "How many children have you had by your present husband and how many by a previous husband?" Sometimes the representatives get the information by telephone.
§ Mr. Collins
On a point of order. In view of the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary obviously is not fully informed on these things, would it not be appropriate, Sir Gordon, to ask for the Minister of Health himself to attend this debate? He might be able to enlighten the Committee still further and so assist our judgment on future occasions.
§ Mr. Parkin
In the last couple of days the Minister has said that hon. Members seeking to raise these points should study the programme of the House and should select a suitable occasion. I wish to submit to the Committe that, in addition to the reasons which I have already adduced for suspending the operation of the Act, there is another reason, which is that we are faced with a crisis of administration. One has to examine how this crisis came about and how it is likely to be resolved before one can decide the appropriate Parliamentary occasion. It might be raised on a Motion for the reduction of the Minister's salary, or on a Supply Day, when it is tantamount to a motion of censure on the Minister. The present attendance of one Government supporter on the back benches does not indicate any general anxiety that the Minister of Health might lose his job, but that is not what I am suggesting. I am suggesting that it is very appropriate that the Bill should come before us today because it gives us the opportunity to suggest that, in this period of crisis, the Minister might be absolved from this particular clerical responsibility, which is of little importance compared with the other problems with which he should be dealing.
We should do no violence to the Government or to the working of the Health Service if we suspended the operation 616 of the Act. I am fortified in my belief that this is the right way to handle the matter because the crisis arose quite unexpectedly and not because of any internal circumstance in the Ministry of Health. The figures which you, Sir Gordon, allowed me to use just now and which I will repeat show the difference between the salary of the civil servant and the salary of the worker in the hospital; they show a 56 per cent. increase for the civil servant and a 34 per cent. increase for the Health Service employee. You rightly guided me to recognise that that matter is outside the administration of the Bill; that is why this debate seems the proper place to wise the matter.
This matter may be resolved very shortly. It did not spring from any difficulty in assembling statistics about the fertility of married couples, but from the crisis in which the Government found themselves and in which the Government selected one Minister in order to make a demonstration.
§ Mr. Parkin
I am attempting to demonstrate that the Bill provides a method to help in the solution of the crisis. That is why it is right not to wait until a Supply Day to put down a motion of censure but to say, gently, that we fully understand that the Minister of Health is only a puppet in this matter. He is put up to make a token demonstration, to achieve a prestige victory in a sham fight on the subject of wages. Therefore, he has imposed a veto to the great hurt of the members of the Health Service staffs, to the great indignation of people who have had faith in the system. But that is not a long-term matter. Indeed, that may be the reason why the Minister is not here at the moment. We know he is searching hard for a formula.
This arose, of course, from those rumours about the devaluation of the £ and the wicked remarks that it was not what the Government did with the Bank Rate that mattered, but what they did with wages which would alter the opinion of people in other parts of the world and would alter the value of the English £. They had to find someone they could put up to make a gesture to 617 show the world that this Government were ready to have a show-down, and, of course, it was a mockery.
§ Mr. Parkin
If my hon. Friend will allow me to put myself right with the Chair first, I shall be glad to give way to him. The Minister of Health is in an ignominious position and has been made to look extremely foolish. He has been made to look as though he had deliberately cast aside forty years' experience of a certain process of negotiation—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but I do not think this has anything to do with the Bill.
§ Mr. Parkin
This Bill can help the Minister of Health out of a difficulty. If we relieve him of the necessity of collecting this particular lot of statistics, surely it will be easier for the representatives of his Department and the representatives of the Health Service staffs to go on with the work which is necessary and in the meantime, no doubt, he will have worked out a formula; he will have found his face-saving device to accept a new structure.
§ Mr. Parkin
I shall not pursue it unduly; indeed, in moving the Amendment no one would wish to go into full detail on any of the points. I have been led, perhaps against my will, to elaborate this point in too much detail. I would have wanted this point to have a just balance with the other points I have made—the points about research into fertility as a result of other factors and so on—but this is an important point in the case I am making. The reason I have moved the Amendment is that the Minister finds himself in temporary difficulty, a difficulty which does not arise out of the Bill, but out of all the much more important work which has to be done.
618 In order that the important work can be continued and tension somewhat eased. I think we ought to take every opportunity of enabing the Minister to announce to his workers that this particular job does not need doing for the moment. He could then assure them that after a very brief period he will be able to alter his opinion on the subject of the veto which has been imposed, not, of course, arising out of anything to do with this Bill, but because the Government needed someone who would be simple enough, or would sacrifice himself, in coming forward to carry out a sham fight.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Willis
I am sure my hon. Friend wants to be fair. If he wants to be fair, he should remember that the Secretary of State for Scotland is an equal partner in this matter and is equally responsible and should equally bear the blame with the Minister of Health.
§ Mr. Parkin
That, no doubt, will be for my hon. Friends to press later on. I have been furtively looking for a glimpse of bare knees on the Government Front Bench and expected two speeches in reply. Of course, that ought to be the case, but it is not a matter for me to press. I do not know how Scottish hon. Members feel about that, but I have no doubt that if they succeed in catching your eye, Sir Gordon, they will be able to put the point of view of those in Scotland who regard this veto imposed by the Secretary of State for Scotland and negotiating machinery as a disaster.
§ Mr. Mellish
I support the Amendment so very ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). To get myself in order from the beginning, Sir Charles, I say at once that we all recognise that this Schedule deals with the Population (Statistics) Act, 1938 and concerns the whole Act. We have put down this Amendment to give us the opportunity of discussing certain problems associated with the compilation of those statistics which are given to the Registrar-General who, in turn, makes them available to the appropriate Ministries.
It will be noticed by your good self as Chairman, Sir Charles, that on the Government Front Bench there are two junior Ministers, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health representing England and 619 Wales, and the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland representing Scotland. They are two junior partners of Ministries with which we have had a lot of argument in the past week or two. We recognise that they have not a lot of faith in the National Health Act, nor have their superiors.
The point I have to establish at an early stage in the debate in arguing this Amendment is what the National Health administrative and clerical workers, about whom my hon. Friends and I are very much concerned, have to do with this Bill. That is the only concern, Sir Charles, that the Chair will have in relating any arguments about the administrative and clerical workers in the hospital world to this Amendment. That challenge I accept straight away and will deal with the point at once in order to stop you worrying as Chairman.
I have made a lot of inquiries into this matter. At first I did not associate the Bill with the Ministry of Health, but I found that the Ministry of Health was responsible for the Bill in 1938. I had thought that it would be a Treasury matter, but it turns out to be a Ministry of Health responsibility. When I inquired further, I realised why that was so. It is because many of the statistics available on population come from sources over which the Ministry of Health has a direct control. I inquired what sort of work is done in hospitals to help the Registrar-General to obtain this information, and I was quite surprised to learn of some of the work that is done.
I ought not to have been surprised, because I know that in the hospital world, behind all the glamour of healing and treatment of patients—there is a lot of unhappiness also—many doctors and nurses and a tremendous army of administrative workers are doing work which is usually unrecognised. They are very badly paid. Behind the doctors and the nurses are the administrative and the clerical workers who are doing a magnificent job. Without them the doctors and nurses, as they themselves would admit, could not carry on their jobs. When a doctor sees a patient, the patient must have a record card. When a nurse wishes to know what is required, she needs to see that record card, on which the doctor has written certain instructions. 620 The card has to be filed and kept up to date.
The same comment applies to the population statistics to which I am about to refer. What is it that the clerical and administrative workers in a hospital do which is associated with statistics? They work in very close consultation with the Registrar-General's office. For example, the registration of all patients diagnosed as suffering from any form of cancer involves a great deal of clerical work, and this is carried out in conjunction with the Registrar-General's office.
§ Mr. Browne
As I am advised, the power to which the hon. Member refers does not lie in the 1938 Act which we are discussing, but in the Births and Deaths Registration Acts. I am certain that he is not in order in bringing together the Act which we are discussing and the question which he wishes to discuss.
§ Mr. Mellish
This is extraordinary. It is a repetition of the previous debate. You were not in the Chair at the time, Sir Charles, but the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department then told the Chairman what he was supposed to do. The position is becoming quite extraordinary. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland should look after his own business. The Chairman is quite able to tell me what to do, when to do it and how to do it.
§ The Chairman (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Any hon. Member on the Government Front Bench is just as much entitled to raise a point of order as is any other hon. Member.
§ Mr. Mellish
I was objecting to the right of anyone to tell you how to do your job, Sir Charles. Alongside you sits the learned Clerk, who, in my view, is more able to tell you how to do your job than is anyone else in the House.
The point is that the administrative and clerical workers are doing a clerical job which is associated with the 1938 Act.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am told that they are. The Minister says that he is advised that 621 they are not, but I have advice, too, and it would not be the first time that the Ministry of Health had been wrongly advised. The Scottish Office is more often wrongly advised than not.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
If my hon. Friend wants advice on the English law, no doubt the Attorney-General can supply it.
§ Mr. Mellish
As I was saying, these hospital workers are involved in a great deal of clerical work in following up the procedure of cancer registration.
§ Mr. Browne
On a point of order. The hon. Member is now referring to the cancer inquiry, and that involves the cancer registration scheme and has nothing to do with the 1938 Act or the Births and Deaths Registration Acts to which I referred in my previous intervention.
§ Mr. Parkin
I regret that the Under-Secretary of State did not follow my own arguments to the effect that the good will, co-operation and efficiency of these services depend upon what amounts to an integration. It is absurd to suggest that when a representative at Caxton Hall receives a call from St. George's Hospital about a stillborn child he asks. "Arc you seeking this information under the 1938 Act or under the Births and Deaths Registration Act?"
§ Mr. Mellish
I am trying to show what fine work is done by the members of the hospital staff. Here I am sure that I carry the Under-Secretary of State with me. They are a grand crowd of people doing a magnificent job. They get no publicity for their work and they are taken for granted. The only time they get publicity is when they do something wrong, and then they are knocked around either by the appropriate doctor or the nurse. Of course, they also get publicity when they apply for a wage increase and when an award of 3 per cent. is vetoed by the Minister. They then get all the publicity in the world.
I am trying to tell the Committee about some of the work which they do and which is not known. I have referred to the cancer inquiry and I am leading up to the population statistics. I have in my hand Form HLTIA. I hope the Under-Secretary of State will look at this. He can look it up, obtain advice, and see whether it comes under the 1938 Act. 622 This form has to be completed in order to obtain certain statistics for the Registrar-General—not for the hospital but for the Registrar-General. It has to be sent to him.
§ The Chairman
Order. If the hon. Member refers to the Schedule of the Act he will see that it details clearly the various matters which have to be dealt with, such as the age of the mothers and the dates of marriages. The hon. Member will find this on page 626. If he sticks to the Schedule he will be in order.
§ Mr. Mellish
As you say, Sir Charles, the questions include those about the age of the mother, the date of her marriage, the number of children the mother had by her present husband, how many of them are living, the number of children the mother had by any former husband and how many are living. Many of these details have to be provided and the forms filled in by the hospital staff on behalf of the patient.
This is the point which I am trying to establish. This Amendment gives us an opportunity—and it is a fair argument there is nothing facetious about it—to bring out once again what kind of a job these people are doing, and why they so bitterly resent the action and attitude of the present Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland. We are very grateful for the opportunity to throw sonic light on the fine work which they do. Unless an hon. Member is closely associated with the hospitals he can have no idea of the amount of clerical and administrative work required in running a big hospital.
I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) will catch your eye in this debate, Sir Charles, because he is an expert about medicine and about hospitals and can speak with personal knowledge over many years of the type of work done by hospital clerical stalls. I hope that he catches your eye, Sir Charles, although I do not suggest that he has any influence in that respect. He is a well-respected hon. Member who usually catches the eye of the Chair.
If I were to argue about the recent wage claim I should immediately be ruled out of order. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think I should. I do not know which hon. Member is to reply to the debate or 623 whether the reply will be from Scotland or England. It does not much matter, because we shall get the same answer.
The question is, what problems do the Government expect, in the present state of affairs among the administrative and clerical staff, if this Act is continued? Do they expect that these statistics will be supplied as readily as previously, in view of the fact that thousands of these workers are operating an overtime ban? Would not the staff regard these statistics as unimportant by comparison with the general wellbeing of the patients, which they have guaranteed? If I were a member of the staff I would say that this sort of statistics took second place and that the priority was the welfare of the patient and his medical record.
These statistics may well, therefore, go by the board. What happens then? In replying about the problems of the staff in the hospital world, the present Minister of Health made it perfectly clear, with that smug, typical lawyer's attitude of his, that he was not very much concerned about the overtime ban and that it did not matter much to him. He thought that it seemed a huge joke and that he would wait and watch events. However, those who are operating the National Health Service and who have a keen interest in it take this matter very personally indeed. We know that the work of these men has been ignored over many years and we are glad that this debate gives an opportunity to throw light on some of the great work which they have done.
I hope that in his reply the Under-Secretary of State will be a little more forthcoming than the Minister in telling us how we can restore a happy atmosphere in this service—a service of which all who are associated with it are very proud indeed.
There are no party politics about the National Health Service today; there have not been for the last few years. The work of the Service has been magnificent, and it is the pride of the world. Even the Tory Party takes some pleasure in it, for political purposes, and tries to use it to get votes. The fact is that the Service may be ruined by the stupidity of the Minister of Health in his dealings with 624 staff problems. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us what will happen if the staffs refuse to supply the kind of statistics which he wants. What will happen then? Will the Bill then become abortive?
§ Mr. Victor Collins (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
Even if I had the intention of doing so, I have neither the knowledge nor the skill to evade points of order. In any case there is every likelihood that I should become out of order. That being so, I want to deal with only one point, which I raised in an intervention when your deputy, Sir Charles, was in the Chair, and which I believe has an immediate relevance to the subject that we are discussing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has become involved in an argument concerning the items covered in the Schedule and the work which has to be done in connection therewith by the administrative staffs of hospitals. In my earlier intervention I addressed a question to the Parliamentary Secretary which he did not answer, although his colleague, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, intervened on several occasions. That probably means that what I am about to say is accepted. During this year hospital staffs have been requested by the Ministry of Health to record for the Registrar at Somerset House very full details concerning one in-patient in every ten, and to send the records to Somerset House.
§ Mr. Collins
With respect, Sir Charles, there is no question that this work is being done by hospital staffs for the Registrar, and my point is that the Minister will almost certainly have to choose whether that work, or the work referred to by the Bill that we are now discussing, is to continue to be done. The information which it is now asked should be recorded on pro forma cards in respect of these patients covers the date of birth, sex, treatment, diagnosis, condition on entry and discharge, how urgent the case was, what operations were performed, where the patient went upon discharge—
§ Mr. Collins
It is no use the hon. Member shaking his head; this information was given to me by the assistant secretary of a hospital in my own division, who read it from the card he had. The information is required for the Registrar-General, and I am astonished that the Joint Under-Secretary should shake his head and apparently be unaware of it. The amount that he does not know is quite extraordinary.
§ Mr. Parkin
Surely, if there are directions by the Registrar-General under the powers of the Minister of Health that one patient in ten has to have all her details analysed we shall have at least one in ten being subjected to questions such as, "How many children have you had by this man? How many have you had by previous men? Why have you not had some more?"—all under the Schedule of this Act.
§ Mr. Collins
I quite accept that, Sir Charles. The card from which I have been reading does not ask for information which is required under the Act. My point is that the same staffs are required to provide the information that I have just been discussing as have to provide information under the Population (Statistics) Act, which is the subject under discussion, and the Minister will have to decide whether the staffs should provide the information about the one in ten patients or the information required under the Act. If he decides that they must supply the information about the one in ten patients, he must accept my hon. Friend's Amendment. In other words, he will have to drop the Population (Statistics) Act. I submit that everything that I have so far said is completely relevant and in order. I am quite sure that you will immediately tell me if it is not, Sir Charles.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will take note of the fact that I received this information from an assistant hospital secretary in my division this morning. He is a man who has to deal with administrative work in connection with 2,284 in-patients; 44,000 out- 626 patients, 185 deaths, and figures of that kind. Those were the figures for 1956. He told me that this one-in-ten survey was one of the additional tasks which nobody knew about but which the Minister of Health asked them to do, and which they did cheerfully. But he also said—and these were his words—it was one of the very things that would have to go.
§ Mr. Collins
This assistant secretary is paid £13 a week, and the increase which was refused was in his case 8s.
§ Mr. Collins
I am glad that my hon. Friend asked that question because it puts the matter in the correct perspective. No one needs to remind hon. Members of the wonderful work done by these people—the self-sacrificing work which they carry on, especially in cases like that of the man to whom I have referred, who has spent all his life in hospital administration. He is qualified and has sat for examinations. He has been asked by his wife, "Why go on when the wage that you are getting is less than that earned by an industrial worker?" That is a completely relevant point.
§ Mr. Mellish
And does my hon. Friend realise that by this overtime ban the staffs are punishing themselves severely, because they have to work overtime to obtain a decent standard of living?
§ Mr. Collins
That is true. I know these people very well because I was a member of a regional hospital board. I was chairman of the mental health committee of that board for four years, and under the care of my committee were 17,000 beds. I know something of the great work done by these people, and the tremendous sacrifices that they make. It is an almost unheard thing for them to say "We will not do an extra job unless we get paid for it." Many have been doing a great deal of overtime for which they have not been getting paid. The man to whom I am referring does work for which he does not get paid. I see him in his office at nights working as secretary of the League of Friends of the hospital—an organisation of which I am president. That is an extra job which he does.
627 Which jobs will not continue to be done I do not know, except that they will be the ones which the staffs regard as of no immediate importance to the welfare of the patient. If a job requires to be done for the patient's health, and if it concerns his life, the staffs will stay up all night and do it, whether or not they get paid for it. The patients will not be allowed to suffer. But if the job consists of the gathering of a mass of statistics for which the staffs see no immediate purpose, and if it is just another of the extra burdens put upon them by the Minister without thanks or acknowledgement, it will not be done. Such jobs are being dropped already.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary not to evade this question. This statistical work is being done by loyal, decent, underpaid and overworked people. They have been shocked to their very core by what has happened in the last few weeks. They feel that some of the work which they are doing—work which, in the Army, we used to call by a very descriptive term—need not be done any longer, and they are not going to do it because they are not paid for it.
Will the Minister therefore state which work he wants dropped? Does he want the staffs to drop the work in connection with the one in ten patients, or does he want them to drop the work in connection with the Population (Statistics) Act which we are now discussing? If he decides on the latter, he should accept this Amendment, because then the staffs will understand what he intends. But if he gives us what amounts to no answer at all, or attempts to evade the issue, then the administrative staffs throughout our hospitals will know that the Government not only expect them to go on being overworked and underpaid, but want them to continue to go on working for nothing, or to go on working under false pretences for the Government.
§ Mr. Orbach
I am very happy indeed to notice that we have refrained from accepting the advice given to us by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. His interventions in the debate have shown quite clearly that he has no associations with hospitals and knows very little about them.
I want to show my interest in the matter by telling the Committee that I 628 have just been reappointed chairman of one of the biggest groups of hospitals. I have been chairman of that group for the past six years. I noted, Sir Charles, that in the Schedule to which you drew our attention on a number of occasions the matters on which particulars may be required are, one, registrations of birth or still-birth, and two, on registrations of death. Anybody who has any association at all with hospitals will know that in a big maternity department the registration of births—still-births in particular—is very often effected by one of the clerks at the hospital because of the state of health of the mother may prevent her from doing this. Certainly in one of the hospitals with which I am associated, where we have over 2,000 births a year, registration in this way takes place very frequently indeed. In the case of registration of death, where there is, of course, great distress on the part of all those associated with a deceased person, then the hospital staffs play a very great part indeed.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland should be well aware that, even if it is not true that the recent request for information with regard to carcinoma comes under this Act, morbidity, particularly in hospitals, does come under this Act. The administrative clerks who are employed in the record departments would be responsible for this work. I am very concerned about this matter, because I have a staff which is discontented but which, with all the good will in the world, desires to see that any ban on overtime which they might exercise does not in any way interfere with the complete recovery of the patient. I am appreciative that they will find it extremely difficult to supply the information that this Act requires. These people are not only very badly paid and every—body accepts that except the Minister—but they are heavily overworked. These people have been led to believe in the past that the very small remuneration which they now receive would be increased from time to time because of the exigencies of the services they are required to render.
I think it is trying to side-step the issue to suggest to this Committee that hospital administrative staffs and record clerks play no part in the collection of the vital statistics that are asked for in 629 this Schedule. I therefore support my hon. Friends in saying that it is asking too much of them to provide this information or other information which is outside the immediate health of the patients under the care of the medical staffs over and above the work they now do when we have a Minister of Health who goes against the grain in refusing them the modest increase for which they ask.
§ Mr. Mellish
Would my hon. Friend confirm from his personal experience that there is a grave likelihood that when the staff at his hospital decide what work they will or will not do the provision of the sort of statistics which are asked for here is not work with which they will deal?
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Orbach
That is obviously the case. I am not dealing with the 2,000 patients which my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) was discussing. In my hospital there are not only 5,000 in-patients but an out-patients' roll of half a million per year, which I think means the highest number of statistics in the country. With the great strain of discontent put upon medical staffs over the last few years, the Minister ought to say, "You can forget all about these statistics. We will have somebody else to do them"—some other section of the Civil Service which has received better treatment than these people who have been discriminated against by the Minister should be asked to keep these statistics.
§ Mr. Willis
I rise only to make the point that exactly the same position as is obtaining in the English Health Service is also obtaining in the Scottish Health Service. We have the same serious position arising in our hospital services which has been indicated exists in England. Up to the present, the Secretary of State has been rather quiet about the matter. I am glad to see that the Joint Under-Secretary of State has not been so quiet, although I am bound to say that his interventions have not been very helpful. We have the same dissatisfaction in Scotland amongst these excellent workers in the Health Service.
I think we ought to have some indication from the Joint Under-Secretary of State of the position in Scotland. It took a very long time for my hon. Friends 630 to get any indication from the Minister regarding what was happening in the Health Service, and the effects of the recent events upon the work being done in it.
Of course, it is very relevant, when we consider whether or not we should continue with this Act, to consider whether we are likely to have our decision implemented in the circumstances that have arisen. Therefore, we ought to be told by the Joint Under-Secretary of State what the present position is in Scotland arising out of the dispute. What effect has it had on the clerical work being done? Is it, in fact, affecting the work that is done in connection with this provision? I think that we are entitled to know. After all, we are being asked to continue something, and we ought to be told what the effect is. Where is it having an effect? It must be having an effect somewhere even if it is not in connection with this Act.
I should have thought that the information asked for in the Population (Statistics) Act was of less importance than the clerical statistics required in order to achieve the recovery of the patient. If, as the Minister is suggesting, this work will not be affected, then there will be an effect somewhere else. If the men who perform this work decide to go slow or to stick to rule, or something like that, then obviously less work will be done. If it will not affect this work—which is not so important—then it will affect something else. That is logical. We ought to be told when we impose the work necessary in this provision upon these men what other work is to be stopped. The Under-Secretary of State ought to give us some indication of the position in Scotland. Up to the present we have been told nothing at all about the position of the National Health services in Scotland.
§ Mr. Willis
Of course it is disgraceful. The Secretary of State, who is himself responsible for a great Health Service, has been content to let an English Minister reply to English Members and say nothing more about it. We ought to have some indication of what the present position is. How is the clerical worker being affected? Is he being affected in such a way that we ought not to continue the provisions of this Act?
631 The public in Scotland would like to know what the position is. After all, they are the consumers and the people who might ultimately suffer. Actually, I do not think they will suffer because the people engaged in the Health Service are of such a character that they would do anything rather than allow the patients to suffer; but, if that is so, something else has got to suffer. We ought to know what the picture is.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
While I agree with everything that my hon. Friends have said on this important subject, I differ from them in the conclusions that they have drawn.
It seems to me that quite enough has been said by my hon. Friends to make it abundantly clear that the operation of this Population (Statistics) Act cannot possibly be effectively carried out either in England or in Scotland without the good will and assistance of the administrative and clerical staffs in the hospitals. The whole of those staffs are aggrieved by the veto of the Minister of Health on the 3 per cent. increase recently awarded by the Whitley Council.
I regard this Bill as a capitulation by the Government to the protests which we have been making in the House in recent weeks and which have been sustained by a great volume of protest throughout the country. It is quite obvious to me that the Government, from the Prime Minister downwards, have been looking for an opportunity gracefully to overthrow the absurd veto of the Minister of Health. It seems quite irreconcilable to assume that the Government could both intend to proceed with this Bill and at the same time persist in that veto of the 3 per cent. increase.
I may be wrong, but I do not think I am. No doubt the Minister is speaking with the authority of the Government. In parenthesis, I should like to say that it is somewhat significant that neither the Minister of Health nor the Secretary of State for Scotland are with us. Now I begin to understand their absence. Obviously, it would be difficult for the Minister of Health to eat his own words and personally to retract the veto that he has imposed.
The Prime Minister was in a great difficulty the other day. What has happened? The Government have brought forward 632 this Bill. They are asking the Committee to renew for another year the operation of an Act which they know cannot possibly be carried out without the good will of the administrative and clerical staffs, and they know that since the imposition of this overtime ban, since this policy of "meticulosis", they must do one thing or the other. They must either withdraw the Bill or they must concede the right and just claim for the 3 per cent. increase. I do not think they are deceiving this House or the country by the subterfuge. They have decided to proceed with the Bill and, having taken that decision, they must obviously be deemed to have taken all the decisions that are consequent upon it.
One of the inevitable consequences of proceeding with the Bill, as has been pointed out with such cogency, is that the Government will have to concede the demand for the 3 per cent. increase. If they were not intending to concede that demand, they ought not to have the effrontery to ask Parliament to renew the Act for another year. I understand that it may be humiliating for the Government to go back on a decision of the Minister of Health, but I give them credit for having come to the conclusion that it is inevitable that they should do so.
It seems to me that this is the kind of way in which they have decided to do it. The country is very interested. The whole of the medical staff, patients, the medical profession and everybody else are watching this. They all know that the whole of the arbitration machinery would fall to the ground unless the Government withdrew from a foolish decision which was made when the Minister of Health imposed this veto.
If I am right in assuming that it is now only a matter of a few days before the Government announce the repudiation of the veto by the Minister of Health, I think I could excuse them for having tried to produce that result by this rather circuitous method of presenting to the House a Bill which would be completely inconsistent with any other decision of the Government.
§ Dr. Summerskill
May I say a few words before we have a reply from the Government Front Bench. What has been most striking about this debate is the way in which the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and, in part, 633 the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health have endeavoured to curtail the debate. Indeed, if the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland had had his way, he would have stifled the debate entirely. Fortunately, Sir Charles, we have been protected by you whom we all recognise as an authority on Parliamentary procedure.
I suggest that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health should familiarise themselves with the business of their Departments, because by trying to stifle us tonight they have revealed undoubtedly that they know nothing about the subject under discussion. There are present in the Chamber a large number of hon. Members who are very familiar with the subject, and I regard it as an affront to us that on an important matter of this kind the Government have thought fit to send two representatives who are obviously ignorant of the whole subject.
In order to emphasise the points made by my hon. Friends, I want to say, first of all, that in my opinion they are entirely justified in raising this matter tonight because this is the very first occasion that we have had to illustrate the points which we made during last week when the question of the 3 per cent. cut was raised. Only yesterday the Minister of Health came to the House and tried to defend himself once more, and I then asked whether he was aware that the most important part of the successful treatment of a patient was to keep detailed records.
This Measure is precisely related to that point. The Schedule says that on registration of births or stillbirths the age of the mother, the date of the marriage and the number of children of the mother by her present husband have all to be recorded. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health should have known before he came here this evening that in a maternity hospital all these details have to be taken, and then given back to the Registrar by a clerical worker. Does he think that women go into our maternity hospitals to have their babies without all these details being taken? Does he think that the doctors, the nurses and the midwives take all these details?
Here we come to the enormity of the offence of the Minister of Health in not 634 conceding the Whitley award. Once more the Government have taken action hastily without recognising what the repercussions would be. The repercussions will be such that, very soon, we shall have the Minister of Health coming here and having to admit that he has made a mistake.
Here was an opportunity for my hon. Friends tonight to show how important these clerical workers have become. We are here discussing the Population (Statistics) Act, 1938, quite a small Act, which my hon. Friends have sought to amend. It is an Act which calls for the work of these clerical workers, and we should not forget the vast range of functions which they are called upon to perform, not only during the day but at night also when patients come in.
On behalf of my hon. Friends, Sir Charles, I thank you for realising the importance of the debate and protecting us when the representatives of the Government made every attempt to stifle discussion and stop my hon. Friends from speaking.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)
When I visited the hospital in my constituency on Tuesday of this week, I was amazed at the discontent which prevailed there, in what previously, before the decision of the Minister of Health, had been one of the happiest institutions which it has ever been my pleasure to visit. If the work provided for under the 1938 Act is to be done efficiently and well, we must have harmony in the Health Service. This enormous job can be done only if every unit in the Service is co-operating to achieve the aims of the Service. The co-operation which has characterised the Service for so many years is being destroyed by the most stupid act imaginable, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will convey to the Minister the spirit of our debate this evening. The Minister ought—
§ Mr. Edwards
Yes; we must not overlook Scotland.
The Minister of Health has a special responsibility in this matter. First of all, he knows or should know intimately the responsibilities undertaken by the workers in the health services, because for many 635 years he was each year the guest speaker before the union concerned. Indeed, he was its adviser. I hope I may be forgiven for saying that he received a modest fee for his advice before becoming Minister. It is a very bitter and cruel blow to the workers and to the union that a Minister who was so closely associated with them in their work, and received modest fees for his work—
§ Mr. Edwards
About £5 a week I believe—£250 a year. There is no reason why it should not be known.
It seems to me that a good service would be done by the Parliamentary Secretary and the Joint Under-Secretary of State if they conveyed to their Ministers the feeling displayed in this debate today.
§ Mr. Mellish
My hon. Friend is very well known in trade union life, and I hope he will take the point fairly from me when I say that it is not only the staffs in the health services about whom we are speaking now. The whole matter is much wider than that. The entire trade union movement has gone on record as bitterly opposing the decision of the Minister. We have now not just the immediate issue, as my hon. Friend knows, but the whole principle of Whitleyism being maintained in this country in future. The full ramifications of the problem are very great indeed.
§ Mr. Edwards
Yes. The point my hon. Friend makes is of fundamental importance. All our relations in industry and the public services are in jeopardy. During 100 years we have built up one of the most efficient systems of collective bargaining in the world. Indeed, it is the admiration of the world. The result is that we have fewer strikes in this country than in almost any other. Apart from Western Germany and Holland, we lose fewer days per thousand of the industrial population through industrial disputes than does any other country in the world.
We are witnessing now the beginning of an offensive against our collective bargaining system. The workers in the health services are being attacked, and in the past those workers have been the most co-operative trade unionists in the country. That is why we feel so strongly. 636 It is not a political issue. It is no longer a trade union issue. It has now become a national issue, a threat to the harmony of the country's services, particularly the Health Service.
Though we do not expect the Parliamentary Secretary or the Joint Under-Secretary of State to be able to do anything about it today, we beg them to convey to their Ministers what we on this side of the Committee feel about the decision of the Minister of Health and the effect of that decision upon the Health Service.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Richard Thompson)
We have had an interesting and wide ranging debate on this matter, although at times, in listening to it, I was hard put to it, I confess, to realise that what we were discussing was whether we should go on keeping some population statistics or not. It seemed to me that we were discussing very much wider matters. I make no complaint at all about that, but it might be worth while if I brought the Committee back to what the Bill tries to do and what the effects would be if the Bill were not re-enacted. More than one hon. Gentleman asked me about that.
The information derived from the Population (Statistics) Act, 1938, is essential for the purpose of establishing more accurately than we could otherwise the trends in the size of families and fertility of women and thus making realistic estimates of the size of the population and its components in future years. The information is obtained by the registrar of births and deaths at the time of registration of births and deaths. It is strictly confidential and is not included in the public registers. It is processed and analysed in the General Register Office and is regularly published, with commentary, in the Registrar-General's Annual Statistical Review.
The hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) began by asking whether we ever obtained any result out of all this work—did we ever get something which brought all the figures together and enabled some conclusions to be drawn? The answer is that we do get this Annual Review, which I commend to the hon. Gentleman's attention; it contains a great fund of information.
§ Mr. Parkin
Would the hon. Gentleman say what effect it has had upon the 637 birth rate? Would he say how many people who are prevented from having babies because they cannot get houses are comforted by reading the Registrar-General's Annual Statistical Review?
§ Mr. Thompson
The hon. Gentleman will realise that questions about housing are for my right hon. Friend.
Those who make use of the information provided in this way are people such as the Government Actuary and the Registrar-General. They would be very much handicapped in their duties if the additional information obtained under the 1938 Act ceased to be available as a result of the wish of some hon. Gentlemen opposite to drop the Act from the Schedule.
If the Act were not continued, the authority for obtaining all this additional information would cease from 31st December, and registrars would be unable to demand it. The continuity of a long series of statistics would be broken. That would greatly detract from their value, and that, I think, would not really appeal to the Opposition as a whole, for although I realise that this debate has been raised to draw attention to certain matters, I think the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), for instance, is not really opposed to this kind of information continuing to be available. I do not think he would want his words today to have their logical, technical effect of bringing this enactment to an end.
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Gentleman has sought to restrict the matters for discussion, and if he and the Minister refuse to make statements when we ask them to make them, or we are not helped in putting a case, we have to take every legitimate means we can of trying to put our point of view.
§ Mr. Parkin
The hon. Gentleman has not touched yet on the relative value of the sort of statistics which have to be compiled by the clerical staffs. It is not good enough to tell me that the figures come out in the Report of the Registrar-General. If something has to be sacrificed, he should tell us what it is he is prepared to sacrifice. Moreover, since he has said that we have until 31st December before any of these arrangements are in jeopardy, would it not be a very proper thing to agree to postpone 638 the remaining stages of the Bill in order that we can defer a decision on the Act until the Minister has had an opportunity of making a statement that he is going to consider the increases and withdraw his veto? If he will not, is that an indication that the Government are not prepared to make any concession this year?
§ Mr. Thompson
—that I proposed to deal with the remarks the hon. Gentleman made in a little more detail in a minute or two. I will turn now to his speech. He started by mentioning matters of housing and things of that kind, H-bomb tests and so forth. Part of the value of these statistics is that they provide such information as fertility information, and I should have thought that if that flow of information is to be continued—and I thought the hon. Gentleman wanted it not only to be continued but to be made more ample and more detailed—that would be a reason not for failing to re-enact this legislation but for re-enacting it and, perhaps, contriving if possible that the information supplied should be even fuller than it is now. It does not seem to me that this would be consistent with his professed purpose, which was to stop this Act from being brought into force again.
The hon. Gentleman, like several of his hon. Friends, made great matter of this, that hospital staffs were greatly involved in the preparation of these statistics and returns, and that, therefore, in view of the dispute which exists now, we should be in some difficulty in obtaining all this information in future unless that difficulty were resolved. I think I have put the matter fairly. It is one on which a number of other hon. Members also commented in their speeches.
I must make this quite clear. The Act of 1938 puts the duty of supplying the information required by the Act on those persons who are required by law to give information for the purpose of the registration of a birth or death, primarily on the near or distant relatives. There is no express obligation upon the hospitals as such under the Act of 1938 or in the Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1953.
639 A good deal of this discussion has been conducted on the basis that it is the hospital staffs who will have to supply—or, rather, go on supplying—all this kind of information. That is not the case.
§ Mr. Mellish
Is the hon. Gentleman saying the hospital staffs do not do any of this work in conjunction with the Registrar-General?
§ Mr. Thompson
I am saying the great majority of it does not fall upon hospital staffs and does not fall upon people in the National Health Service.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Who does the hon. Gentleman think takes the particulars of this kind when a woman has a pre-natal examination? The Registrar-General or the hospital staff?
§ Mr. Thompson
This is quite relevant to my answer.
I would refer the right hon. Lady to the 1938 Act itself and to the Schedule to that Act, which, indeed, she quoted. If she will have a look at that, as I have no doubt she has done, she will find that these particulars are of a kind which are not, I agree, in every case but are in a great number of cases perfectly capable of being reported by the parents or other relatives concerned at the registrar's office, which is the proper place to file that kind of information.
§ Dr. Summerskill
This is such an astonishing statement the hon. Gentleman has made. Does he not realise that when a woman is going to have a baby and goes to hospital she does not go to the Registrar-General before she goes to the hospital to give all these particulars? She goes to the hospital; she is examined; and then all these particulars are taken from her. Surely he realises that he must be realistic? This is elementary. I should have thought that this was one of the first things he would have learned in his Department—or in his social life.
§ Mr. Thompson
Of course this kind of information has to be made available at the hospital. What I am saying is that the 1938 Act lays no express obligation on the hospital authorities to furnish that information to the registrar. That is the point.
§ Mr. Thompson
—and has intervened on more than one occasion in mine, and there are other hon. Member's speeches also about which I want to say a word or two, and I should like to proceed.
§ Mr. Parkin
I wondered if the hon. Gentleman did not want to say a kind word about those people who do this work.
§ Mr. Thompson
I should be out of order, in view of the Ruling your predecessor in the Chair, Sir Charles, made, in attempting to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Paddington, North in the excursion he made into this pay dispute, as he was apparently under the impression at the time that it was the hospital staffs in the main who were going to be involved in the collection of these statistics, an impression which, as I have shown, is not correct.
§ Mr. Mellish
On a point of order. You have allowed a debate, Sir Charles, in the last hour or so in which matters concerning the dispute and the unhappiness of the staffs have been raised, in relation to the question whether these statistics should be available. Are we not entitled in the Government's reply to the debate to get some assurance about how this dispute can be dealt with and solved in order that the happiness of the staffs may be restored and that we may have good statistics? Is that not right?
§ Mr. Parkin
Is it in order for the Parliamentary Secretary to ignore all the parts of my speech relevant to the matter 641 in question and then, as it were, to raise a point of order of his own to refuse to refer to any of the rest of my speech?
§ Mr. Thompson
I am grateful for your Ruling in that matter, Sir Charles.
I should now like to proceed with the point I was making about the remarks of the hon. Member for Bermondsey. First of all, let me assure him with complete sincerity that I entirely take his point about the excellent, loyal and cooperative work done by this class of employee about whom this dispute has arisen. I agree with him about that.
Secondly, he asked me what problems we expect in the provision of these statistics because of the present differences in the hospital world. He also wanted to know what would be the general effect of the overtime ban on this kind of return. This information is not, in the main, provided by hospital staffs. A great deal of it is of a very routine character and is provided by patients or their relatives to the local registration officers. Because of that, I do not expect that we shall run into any great difficulty. Events will show.
The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) referred to the details of treatment and diagnosis, and similar matters, which had to be entered on cards. Apparently all these remarks were made under the impression that this kind of information was required under the Act by the Registrar-General.
§ Mr. Collins
It is within the recollection of the Committee that I made it perfectly clear that this was a recording being taken this year at the request of the hon. Member's Department for the Registrar-General. I introduced that only to ask a question—whether that work should be done or this other work to which hon. Members have referred.
§ Mr. Thompson
The kind of information in question here which we require as priority is that which is called for in the Schedule to the 1938 Act. The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury suggested that we could not have it all ways. As I said to the hon. Member for Bermondsey, I do not think it likely that the information on the kind of subjects which 642 the Act requires will be seriously affected at all.
§ Mr. Thompson
I would not go as far as the hon. Member for Bermondsey; I would not even say that it amounted to much of a risk. My own view is that just because so much of this information is not required from hospital sources, we shall continue to get it.
The hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) spoke about the registration of births and deaths in hospitals. He is not now in his place, and perhaps if I deal with his remarks briefly that will be in accordance with the wishes of the Committee. In those casts the information which is supplied to the registrar by the hospital would generally be on a voluntary basis and not under any requirement of the law. The legal duty falls on the relatives.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Not everybody has relatives. A great many old people who die in hospital have no relatives. In such a case the Registrar-General is dependent entirely on the cooperation of the hospital staff for the information they have in relation to the time of death and other matters. The hon. Member cannot slip over that point quite so easily.
§ Mr. Thompson
The time of death is not information under the Schedule of the Act required to be provided to the registrar. Nevertheless, I take the hon. Member's point that sometimes there is a situation in which an elderly person dies in hospital who has no ascertainable relatives. In such a case there may be no obvious person to supply the information. I said earlier that there is a voluntary arrangement, not laid on the hospital by law, whereby the registrar is informed of these matters. I do not think that providing the information in the kind of case which the hon. Member mentions will make all that difference.
In replying to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) I am perhaps treading on egg shells, because I do not know whether he expects me to discuss Scottish matters. He asked what different effect we expected the continuation of the pay dispute to have on the flow of information for the registration offices.
§ Mr. Thompson
My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State advises me that he expects no effect whatever.
§ Mr. Willis
I have no objection to the hon. Member doing his best to assist the Committee in bringing the debate to a close, but I must most vigorously protest that on every occasion concerning this matter there has been an English Minister speaking for Scotland, although we have our own Scottish Secretary of State and a Joint Under-Secretary of State responsible for these services. I think it is time that these gentlemen accepted their responsibility to the House in that connection.
§ Mr. Thompson
That is not a matter for me. When my hon. Friend intervened a little earlier his intervention was not particularly well taken by some hon. Members opposite.
The right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) was extremely severe and censorious when she made a few concluding remarks for the party opposite. I say this with a due sense of humility, speaking of someone who has great experience of the hospital world, as no one in the Committee would deny for a single moment. I recognise that she has devoted her life to these matters. Nevertheless, considering her remarks as a whole, it seemed to me that she, too, assumed that the great bulk of the work involved in providing these returns would fall on hospital employees under the National Health Service. It has been my object to maintain that this is not so and that therefore the concern in this matter is misplaced.
In conclusion, I do not believe that we should allow a dispute which we all hope will be temporary and which nobody supposes will be permanent to hold up the re-enactment of this useful Act, which we have re-enacted regularly since 1948 when it originally expired and which in 1952 hon. Members opposite were anxious not only to re-enact but to incorporate in more permanent legislation in order to make it a much better Act.
I hope that the hon. Member for Bermondsey and his hon. Friends, who this evening have maintained their point of View and made very interesting speeches on a matter of great current concern, will 644 feel on reflection that, while it has not been possible to say much on that part of the problem in debating this rather limited Bill, they will be well advised to think again and withdraw the Amendment. I cannot feel that any of the purposes that they have had at heart in these matters would be served if we did not re-enact the Act for a further period of one year.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Ross
We have had an explanation of why this Act should be re-enacted for another year. In the course of that explanation we have been told so much about the statistics being so vital and necessary that it promotes the obvious question, to which we have had no answer, of why on earth we are doing this on a yearly basis. The Parliamentary Secretary has referred to the 1952 debate. I spoke in that debate and I said that the Royal Commission on Population had spoken of the inadequacy of population statistics and the desirability of obtaining a full measure of the tendencies in relation to population.
A long time has passed since then, and the Government have had ample opportunity to introduce a serious Bill to deal with the matter. We have had a long explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary in reply to the debate, but he has not once justified the fact that the Act is being continued for only one more year. He hardly referred to that fundamental fact in relation to an expiring law. I suggest, therefore, that we should now have the opportunity of hearing one of our many Joint Under-Secretaries of State for Scotland. He might tell us why we have not been able to secure a permanent Bill for Scotland embodying all the requirements in relation to population statistics which in England are thought by the Registrar-General and others to be very important.
What about the Registrar-General for Scotland? It is now over a fortnight since the House of Commons reassembled and we have not yet had any meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee. In our usual speedy way in that Committee, we should have been pretty well on our way by now to dealing with an important Bill of this kind.
I presume that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will reply to my questions. Therefore, I ask him 645 to tell us, first, how important this flatter is for Scotland. Secondly, if it is important, why, after all these years, is this purely temporary legislation? Thirdly, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will answer the question, which was put so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). I hope that he will tell us whether the efficiency of his Ministry will be jeopardised by the events now taking place in relation to clerical workers, who may not be directly responsible for the administration of the provisions of the Act but who, if they withhold their cooperation, will jeopardise the collection of these statistics and will impose more work on the staff of the Registrar-General for Scotland.
We have had no information at all on the wider and more important aspect of the effect of this dispute on the hospital services in Scotland. Silence has again descended upon St. Andrew's House, and any speeches made in the debate have been made by English speakers. Here is the Joint Under-Secretary's great opportunity. He has no Secretary of State for Scotland, no Lord Advocate and no Solicitor-General for Scotland to worry about. I doubt whether he has even a Parliamentary Private Secretary to worry about. Let him seize this chance and make a name for himself in Scotland by telling us what is happening. It would not be a bad idea if, at the same time, he resigned in disgust at the way in which his colleagues have handled affairs in relation to Scotland.
§ Mr. J. N. Browne
I am sure that it is not necessary for me to repeat the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. Therefore, I will confine myself to answering the questions asked by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). He asked how important this Measure was for Scotland. It is not more or less important for Scotland than it is for England. Whatever Government are in power, it is very necessary to have this sort of information.
§ Mr. Browne
The hon. Member is very keen on planning ahead and one cannot possibly plan ahead without the fullest information about births, marriages, deaths, the medical side, housing and schools. These are the bases on which information is given to the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Browne
I was also asked why we should continue this Act as temporary legislation, and why we did not enact it permanently. Before permanent legislation can be enacted, consideration needs to be given to how far the needs of research into the hazards to man of nuclear energy and allied radiations justify the obtaining at birth, death and marriage of further information on the genetic effects of those hazards. These are new hazards. The nation may well decide that a new set of information is needed and, therefore, we do not want to enact this Measure into permanent legislation which limits the questions that we can ask. And we want to be quite sure that we are asking the right questions.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock also asked whether the efficiency of the administration was being jeopardised. I can honestly assure him that the efficiency of the administration to which we are referring tonight will not be jeopardised in any way by the dispute.
§ Mr. Willis
It is all very well for the Joint Under-Secretary to say that the dispute will not affect the operation of this legislation, but we are asking, and we are entitled to know, about the present position in Scotland. We do not know and we are being asked to make a decision concerning this legislation without that knowledge. The hon. Gentleman has already been asked twice, and I will ask him again to give us an idea of the situation in the Scottish hospital service as a result of the present dispute so that we can make up our minds whether or 647 not the re-enactment of this legislation is desirable and whether it is desirable to continue to impose this additional burden on the clerical staff.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Ross
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 14 and 15.
These lines refer to the Education (Exemptions) (Scotland) Act, 1947, the Act being continued for another year. It is probably as well to get into the picture right away, and we can see from the Explanatory Memorandum that the Act:…authorises the employment of children over 13 years of age for ingathering the potato crop and secures their exemption from attendance at school for that purpose where the Secretary of State is satisfied that other labour is insufficient.The first thing this means is that for another year the Secretary of State proposes to take out of the hands of local education authorities the power to refuse any application for exemption from parents of children who wish those children to harvest potatoes. In all other cases of exemption the local authority can say "No", but where it is a matter of the ingathering of the potato harvest the Secretary of State takes the power, as he has done since 1947, to over-ride the local authority and to insist that if the parent applies for the child to be taken from school to pick potatoes, then it must pick potatoes.
Many local authorities throughout Scotland refuse to co-operate, which means that they do not give any great information to the children about this requirement. When, however, parents make application, they are helpless and more or less have to allow the children to go.
It was laid down when the Act was introduced in 1947 that it would last for only two years, so that by 1949 there should have been the usual power given to local authorities to grant or to refuse as they thought fit in accordance with their own estimate of the needs of the children or of agriculture in relation to exemptions. But it has gone on all this time, and year after year a variety of Joint Under-Secretaries of State have told us that they hoped that next year would see the last of it.—[An HON. MEMBER: "No."]—Oh, yes, they have said that. 648 As a matter of fact, I have a note of all the hopes that were expressed.
One hoped that the time was in sight, but the time was not yet in sight. That was in 1956. If we go still farther back we find that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) looked forward to the time when we would be able to dispense with the Act. But it goes on and on and on, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) was the torch bearer last year. Now we have a third one at the Box tonight, the latest Joint Under-Secretary. Will he give us more hopeful information?
The fact is that last year more exemptions were given to the children for the harvest than the year before. There were about 28,400 exemptions, about 1,000 or so more than in the year before. Therefore, instead of things getting better, they are getting worse. As most of us who have been interested in this matter know, the number of exemptions went down between 1948 and 1955, from 40,000 to 26,000. Then last year they went up to 28,400. Can we be told what happened this year?
We cannot always judge by the steady reduction year by year in the number of children granted exemption, because holidays are now changed within schools to suit the potato harvest. This does not happen in England, so there is every reason why this should be a matter of amusement to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department as it appears to be.
The total number of children used in Scotland in 1956 was 41,500, and the difference between the exemption figure and the total figure is explained by the fact that in certain parts of the country holidays have been staggered. Education has actually been chopped and changed in order to suit the requirements of those responsible for harvesting potatoes. This may be suitable for some people, but it is not suitable for anyone concerned with education or with its administration in Scotland. This is not just a matter of two or three days. Often, as the figures given by an hon. Member show, it means three weeks; in one case it was 25 days, and in many others these exemptions were in addition to the actual "potato holidays" given. So here we have a situation in 1956 where we still depend on 649 over 41,000 Scottish children to harvest potatoes.
We have to take the word of the Rose Committee that, if children were not available for this work, the potatoes would not be harvested. We can send Sputniks into space, but apparently we cannot get spuds out of the ground without the aid of schoolchildren. What a crazy civilisation we have. I want to discover exactly what is being clone to get rid of this provision. It is nothing of which we should be proud. Indeed, we ought to be ashamed of it. We keep on telling the world that education and the care of children means more to us in Scotland than anyone else, but we find that in England a parent who keeps a child from school to go hop picking is subject to a fine. That is not the position in Scotland; children are given help by St. Andrew's House to enable them to harvest potatoes.
What I say is emphasised if we discover which children do the potato harvesting. In Scotland we have senior secondary schools where the children have to spend at least five years, junior secondary schools where the children spend at most three years, and the private, independent schools, which are called public schools in England. Practically 90 per cent. of the children who harvest potatoes in Scotland come from the junior secondary schools. They are the three-year people.
The hon. Gentleman who last year was in charge of agriculture is this year in charge of education in Scotland, and he knows that what I am saying is true. The junior secondary schools are the schools to which the children go from the primary schools. In most cases it means that there is a break. They go to the new school at the beginning of September. Going to a new school is in itself a cause of restiveness, and the children do not quickly settle down. However, they are hardly there before they are away for three weeks for the potato harvest.
In the debate last year it was stated that 42 per cent. of the children over the age of 13 in Dundee went potato harvesting. If one takes it that most of them came from the junior secondary schools, it means that for three weeks those schools were marking time. Thus, there is one upset added to another upset, and it is long after Christmas before the children settle down. Yet we wonder why there are problems in relation to junior 650 secondary schools. That happens when the child is 13, and it happens the following year also. We are denying vital weeks to children who are getting less secondary education than others.
Very few children indeed from the senior secondary schools go potato harvesting, and I doubt if any at all go from the private, independent schools, certainly not more than a handful. My hon. Friends and I are concerned about this from a class point of view as well. It appears to be the children of the working class who do the potato harvesting. If a similar attitude were taken to that of those in the private schools, I wonder how the potatoes would be harvested. That is the challenge that the Government would have to meet. Those responsible for research into agricultural machinery would also have to meet it, and I am sure it would be met.
There are farmers who do not require school children to gather their potatoes. I do not say that that is possible in all circumstances, but I should like the Joint Under-Secretary responsible for agriculture to say whether there is any more evidence that farmers have been using adult gangs for potato lifting and whether the hopes held last year by the hon. Member for Dumfries about the development of an efficient potato harvester have become any brighter. The hon. Gentleman then told us about the difficulties of the development of such a machine and gave us an assurance that they were being tackled with skill and vigour, not only by the Government research establishments but by other enterprises which were being encouraged as far as possible by the Government. May we be told how far advanced that development is now?
It is not right that one section of the population should suffer an educational handicap year after year. My hon. Friends and I realise the importance of the potato crop to Scotland from the point of view of consumption and the supply of seed potatoes, and it was a Labour Government which introduced the Act, but it was introduced as a temporary measure and we hoped that we should get rid of it long before 1957.
We are determined to raise this subject every year. We must never feel that so long as children are available we do not need to push on with research 651 into agricultural machinery or to organise gangs of adult workers to lift potatoes. We lift all our early potatoes in Ayrshire without using children, and I am sure that, with proper organisation, this could be done throughout Scotland. I know the difficulties—we have heard about them from the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan)—but we ought not to be complacent about the matter.
This is a clash between agriculture and education, and it is education which suffers every year. We have enough to worry about in Scottish education without having to argue this case every year. I hope we shall be given some satisfactory information by the Joint Under-Secretary.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I wish, briefly, to add some words in support of what my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) has already uttered in protest against the continuation of this provision. It is readily conceded that it was introduced in time of stress in the immediate post-war years, and those who know the great interest which many of my hon. Friends take in education will appreciate that it was with the greatest reluctance that it was introduced. Since then, however, many years have passed. The Conservative Government of 1951 stated that the economy would be improved so greatly that we thought that by this time the present Government would have examined this problem. Local authorities are once more protesting to Members of Parliament at the continuation of this practice. The City of Glasgow has sent a letter to all Glasgow Members of Parliament asking that this provision should be opposed because of the interference with the education of many Glasgow children.
The Rose Report on the Employment of Children in the Potato Harvest showed that in 1955 the number of children employed in this work was 40,608 of whom 26,009 were exempted. In 1956 the figure employed had risen to 41,500 with 28,400 exemptions. Local authorities have power to exempt children at the age of fourteen in cases of exceptional hardship in the home. My figures for those children show a tendency to decrease, 652 which is an earnest of the desire of local authorities that education facilities should be maintained at the highest possible level. In Glasgow, for example, the number of exemptions for exceptional hardship in the home was 706 in 1953–54, 677 in 1954–55, and 506 in 1955–56.
§ Mr. Hannan
I have made a mistake. I should have said that those were the figures for Scotland, not for Glasgow. They show that the last thing local authorities will do is to grant exemptions to such children.
In paragraph 8 the Rose Report stresses the importance of the potato crop, as did the Joint Under-Secretary in our debate last year. It indicates that in proportion to population the acreage in Scotland devoted to potatoes is twice that of England and Wales. It mentions the dependence of England and Wales on seed potatoes from Scotland—Scotland provides half the needs of England and Wales, due, of course, to climatic conditions.
What progress has been made in research into the virus disease to which the Report refers? Are we not entitled to expect that England and Wales should make a greater contribution towards that research? I should have thought it better that more money should be spent on that purpose in the interests of the education of Scottish children than that there should be interference with their education.
The Report refers to the effect on the balance of payments position which the production of potatoes in Scotland has. That reference makes some of us smile, because it is hardly for the Government to take that line when by their own actions they have endangered the balance of payments position in so many other ways because of their intense desire to maintain a free market rather than plan production, which would help the situation immeasurably. Educationists have protested vehemently at what is happening. Some of them say that the children who apply for exemptions are those who are weakest scholastically and that those who take part in the potato harvest 653 frequently come from poorer homes and are the children in greatest need of their education.
Paragraph 27 of the Report says:We enquired into the possibility of assistance from the Armed Forces and were told that the potentiality is negligible as the number of service units in Scotland is small but in any ease such assistance as is available is taken into account before school children are called upon.In this matter we are treading on difficult ground. We recognise what the first task of the Army must be, but it is time that we faced the issue. In the interests of the country's economy it would be better for education to be preserved and assisted and some alternative source of labour found. Despite what the Report says, has the Joint Under-Secretary any information about the number of Service units in Scotland at any time? How many men in the Armed Forces are in Scotland? While there should be no compulsion, could not some appeal be made to the Armed Forces for men to be used for this purpose? These men would be needed for only six weeks and we all recognise the importance of the harvest.
I refuse to accept the argument that the potato harvest makes a great contribution to the solvency of the nation when it is clone in this way. Indeed, a very strong argument can be advanced that the opposite is the case, that in the long run more resources for education would do more to solve the country's economic problems.
Is the Joint Under-Secretary of State satisfied that the payment made to these children is safeguarded? I would refer to a report which appeared in the Daily Herald on 15th November, 1957, of a case not in Scotland but in England, which shows the sort of thing that can happen. Has the Minister any reports from local authorities or those who supervise children of any shortcomings in this regard?
The report concerned a girl in the North of England who called a meeting of six of her chums because, after three and a half hours at potato lifting, they were each paid 2s. 6d. The girl wrote to the local trades council asking whether they had been paid the right amount. The trades council, after making inquiries through the National Union of Agricultural Workers, found that the girls 654 should have been paid at the rate of 1s. 2d. an hour. Though the girls may not be able to recover the sums owing to them in this instance, it is hoped that in future that rate will be respected.
These are things which are exercising the minds of hon. Members on all sides of the Committee. Probably the Joint Under-Secretary will make the usual Departmental answer, but we ask him seriously to keep probing and to seek co-operation from the Armed Forces. That might go a long way towards helping to solve the problem.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) referred to the employment of children. I must say frankly that unless we get this labour, particularly in the midland part of Scotland—Angus, Perth and Fife—potatoes just will not be grown by the farmer, or seed potatoes for the English farmer. If we cannot get children we shall have to import potatoes. Indeed, this year, even with the children, we have had to import.
This is a practical problem and I want to show its practicality. It is necessary that these things should be said. I do not in the least quarrel with the speech made by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). He put the case very moderately, admitting that there was something to be said on the other side. I do not disagree with his speech. Speaking as an Angus farmer, and I am pretty certain for the majority of farmers in Scotland, I say that we would like to get rid of this labour and to mechanise the work as far as we could.
A demonstration, to which I could not go myself, was given by the Potato Marketing Board last September. Anybody who went to it would realise the interest shown by the farmers in getting machines that will do the work. The Potato Marketing Board chose one of the nicest fields for the machines to work in. It was a nice day, the soil was friable, there were hardly any stones and the hills were not very steep. In spite of that, out of a wide range of harvesting machines there were only two, so my friends who were there tell me, that were potentially suitable, even under the most perfect conditions of soil, climate, temperature dryness of the atmosphere and stonelessness of the soil.
That was an exhibition rather than a demonstration, showing that the Potato 655 Marketing Board is doing its best to encourage manufacturers to produce machines. It showed the interest of the farmers because of the enormous number of farmers who went there to find a machine that would work.
Some of our farmers can now use machines, and I have seen them at work on more and more fields. The more we can do that on the land which is good, provided that it does not get too wet and the machines will work and not get clogged up, the fewer children we shall need. That will be much cheaper and more economical, provided that the machines are reasonably economic. The Board is encouraging the production of machines at an economic price. We do not want a thing costing more than £1,000 and weighing two and a half tons, but something costing about £600 which does not weigh more than one and a half tons.
We are all most keen to get rid of this Act as soon as possible, but I am not holding out hope that it can be done in the next year or two. I believe a solution is on the way. The Government and the Potato Marketing Board are doing their best. I only hope that when the Board stages its next demonstration the farm will not be so perfect and that we shall get a better idea of what the machines can do. The sooner we get a machine the happier we shall be.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord John Hope)
It is rightly the duty of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who is in charge of agricultural affairs to come to this Box and justify the continuation of this Act. The onus must be on the Government leach time to justify it. Against that background, I say straight away that we still regard this Act, as we always have regarded it, and as hon. Gentlemen opposite did when they were in office, as something wholly undesirable in itself and as a regrettable necessity for the time being.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan), I thought that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) moved the Amendment in very reasonable terms. I do not find anything to quarrel about in the spirit with which he addressed himself to this 656 problem. He perhaps a little overdid the accusation of undue optimism on the part of Ministers; I can find no evidence for that in past debates. Indeed, last year my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) who was answering a similar Amendment at this Box, said that the solution was not yet in sight.
It would be as well for me to tell the Committee what has happened since last year. I do not think hon. Members would want me to go into basic reasons that have been trotted out from this Box for so many years. It would just be repetition, but I can say one or two things which are not entirely without interest or relevance. I think it is recognised not only on both sides of the Committee, but by experts in the industry, that the only alternative to the use of children is the mechanical harvester. Definite progress has been made since last year. What we saw this year—I went myself to have a look—is considered by those who know about these things to be a very marked improvement. What was seen was better in terms of efficiency. It is not being the least bit over-optimistic to say that very definite progress has been made throughout the year.
It is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus said, that the conditions for the trial in Fife were absolutely ideal, but that was not entirely owing to the nature of the soil and the gentleness of the slope, but largely to the fact that there had been a few extremely fine days just before it. It was absolutely fascinating to watch those machines at work, and there is little doubt that in perfect conditions they have just about got the answer. One would hesitate to say that they had got the answer in bad conditions.
§ Lord John Hope
Yes, it is far better that they should be able to work in good conditions, but they can get the potatoes out when the soil is very heavy and wet, as unfortunately, the mechanical harvester cannot. That is one of the awkward facts one has to face. Nevertheless, I thought I ought to dwell for these few 657 minutes on this question of the alternative, because it is a burning question. Distinct progress has been made. Those concerned are getting down to the problem for all they are worth. Farmers are also very keen that they should be able to dispense with child labour and get mechanical harvesters as soon as they are reasonable propositions. They are already retailable at round about the reasonable figures my hon. Friend gave and so the economics of the matter should not create any great difficulty.
Another change since last year about which I should tell the Committee is one which is to be welcomed. Billeting has been abolished; it has gone for good. There was not any this year and will not be in future. That is a change which is very much for the better.
§ Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)
Would the hon. Gentleman explain a little more about the operation of billeting? I am interested in the situation of those who have to go from Glasgow to Perthshire.
§ Lord John Hope
The answer is that they no longer have to and did not do so this year. There was no billeting this year, whereas there has been in the years before.
I was asked what the exemption figure was this year. The answer is 22,000. When talking about these figures we ought not to ignore that that does not mean all those 22,000 children were on the job all the time. We have not got the breakdown of the figures, but we are getting it for this year, and it will be interesting to see what one might call the "child day" figures to show how many of these children are away on the job.
§ Lord John Hope
It was due more to a reduction in acreage than any other factors. Nevertheless, it is a welcome figure so far as it goes.
658 I am well aware that a few local authorities have expressed themselves as unable to co-operate more than they are bound by statute to co-operate. One understands that perfectly well, because local authorities dislike this practice as much as anyone on either side of the Committee dislikes it. That being said, I wonder if it is asking too much to ask those authorities to look at this question again in terms of the national interest, provided we accept, as I am sure they would, that this is a regrettable necessity and there is nothing better to put in its place. If a thing is necessary in the interests of the country—my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus argued that this is necessary, and we all know it is at the moment—it seems not to be going too far to ask people to make the best of it rather than the worst of it.
I will give an example of what I mean. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson), whose absence we regret, although, of course, we understand it, would, I am sure, have made an interesting contribution had he been able to be present. He has been very worried about pirating of child labour in Dundee. He has been in touch with the Secretary of State, who is going to see those concerned so that as far as lies in his power he can get rid of this in future. This could be stopped much more easily by the co-operation of local authorities than by anything else. They could withdraw exemption in cases where children do not report for the approved scheme. They could withdraw exemption if a child is sent on a pirate scheme, but a local authority which is not co-operating is not making efforts to find this out. It is a bad thing, and we want to stop it. We feel we can ask for co-operation on this, certainly in regard to Dundee.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
The hon. Gentleman has been making a plea to local authorities for greater co-operation. When he examines the figures which have been given by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) about the number of children from junior secondary schools and the very small number from senior secondary schools, does he not think that if this scheme has to last even for another year, 659 a plea might be made to senior secondary schools rather than having all the children coming from junior secondary schools?
§ Lord John Hope
The hon. Lady has strayed a little from my field. I do not want to say that my plea tonight for co-operation excludes any other plea. I certainly would not say that, but I want to confine myself to my part of the business, which is to appeal to local authorities for co-operation, knowing that we do not like the scheme and recognising that they do not like it. We are all in this on either side of the Committee and in the local authorities. I will not detain the Committee any longer. I have done my hest to show why it is reasonable that we should renew these powers and why, at the same time, it is reasonable to ask that as long as we have to do this unpleasant job we should have cooperation from those local authorities who so far have felt that they could not co-operate.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
I suppose that I have more responsibility for this Act which we are about to continue for another year than has any other hon. Member because I was Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in the years immediately after the war. With the then Secretary of State, Mr. Joseph Westwood, we discovered that the Education (Scotland) Act, 1945, which was put on the Statute Book when Lord Rosebery was Secretary of State and the present Minister of State, Lord Strathclyde, was Under-Secretary of State, made a specific provision that no local authority would be permitted to allow an exemption from school attendance for the purpose of engaging in gainful employment. That was a decision which they took at that time with their eyes open. Many of us who are still here were in Parliament at that time and approved of that decision being taken.
The late Mr. Westwood and I learned by 1946 that if we raised the school leaving age by 1947, which we proposed to do, this provision in the 1945 Act would become effective and it would not be possible for a local education authority to grant exemption to one school child for one day to go to harvest potatoes. We had to bring in this Measure. As my hon. 660 Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said, we brought it in as a temporary Measure hoping, in 1947, that in the not very distant future we should be able to manage without calling on the services of the school children.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State has been extremely fair in his presentation of the case for the continuation of the Act. He said that he believed, and he was supported by the experts in his belief, that the only way to get rid of the Act was to get a satisfactory mechanical harvester. I do not think we ought to take that view. I tried to interrupt the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan), and had I been permitted to interrupt him I should have asked him how many old-fashioned spin diggers there were still in Angus. It is a great mistake to think that there is no half-way house—nothing between the old-fashioned spin digger, with twenty school children behind, and the mechanical potato harvester which would employ no school children at all.
Those farmers who now manage without school children do not use the old spin digger. They have been using a more modern elevator digger, lifting two or three drills of potatoes at a time and leaving them behind the harvester in great heaps. Adults are then employed to gather those potatoes into barrows or carts and take them away. In many cases they can lift the potatoes with a potato fork instead of by hand.
I am not saying that if every farmer in Scotland wanted to buy one of these diggers he could do so tomorrow and I am not saying that every field in Scotland is appropriate for using one of these diggers. Nor am I saying that if every farmer had these diggers he would easily get sufficient adult labour to do all the harvesting. What I am saying—and I have no doubt at all that I am fully justified in saying it—is that there are far too many farmers in Scotland who are not as anxious about making an improvement in the present position as the hon. Member for South Angus would have us believe. There are many who are anxious not to use children and to get them away from the farms, but there are too many who are not anxious, otherwise we should have more of these modern diggers and not so many of the old spin diggers.
661 By all means let us give every possible encouragement to the engineers to produce a mechanical harvester which will lift potatoes in all conditions. For about ten years we have had harvesters which will lift potatoes in ideal conditions.
I used to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that I had seen the harvester gathering in the potatoes in ideal conditions. But it is a good many years since I last stood at that Box. It is not for me to blame the engineers for not producing a more successful harvester, but it is a good many years now since we have had the harvester which would lift in ideal conditions. If we can see that it will be difficult to produce one which will lift in any conditions, however, it seems to me that we ought to be looking for a second best—not something which involves a wholly mechanised operation but one which is more mechanised than the old spin digger, employing adult labour at a fair wage.
In this connection I would say that although the wages paid to the children may look to some to be high, nevertheless the wages paid to the adult workers in this industry are about the lowest of all. I should have thought that as this is an operation that has to be carried on almost entirely in the month of October in Scotland—it may sometimes be possible in the last week in September and the first week in November—it is necessary to pay the adult workers higher wages than they could get elsewhere in Scotland. They will have to be paid the average wage of the industrial worker. What they get is £7, as against the average industrial worker's £10. They cannot be obtained at that rate, so they will have to be paid extra if they are to take over from the children.
§ Lord John Hope
The hon. Member has rather suggested that there has not been any advance in these machines, as used in ideal conditions, since he last spoke from this Dispatch Box—
§ Lord John Hope
—but, in fact, there has been a tremendous advance. As I understand it, far fewer potatoes are cut than was the case even a few years ago.
§ Mr. Fraser
I was not suggesting that there had not been an advance. I thought I said that it was not for me to criticise 662 the engineers who had been working on this task. What I was doing was quarrelling with the hon. Gentleman for saying that it will always be necessary to have this system until we have a mechanical harvester which will pick the potatoes in all conditions. That is a policy of despair, and I do not subscribe to it.
I am delighted that billeting has gone. We do not like to see these children going from their homes and working in the potato fields quite early in the morning. I have seen some of these lads leaving Dundee and other cities to work in the potato fields. I have seen the sort of thing described by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) in his representations to the Secretary of State. There is no doubt that sending children from large cities like Glasgow to places as far as Perthshire, and even Ross-shire, was the worst aspect of the scheme.
The children seemed reasonably happy. They were big and strong youngsters. In fact, I had to look up to some of them. There are a good many hefty lads of fourteen and fifteen years of age nowadays. But there were a good many who were not really suited to this kind of work and who should not have been separated from their parents. I sincerely hope that the Joint Under-Secretary is right when he says that the billeting system will not be renewed in future.
Questions have been asked about the part played by the senior secondary schools. In the earlier years of the operation of the scheme under the Act senior secondary schools played quite a worthy part. I went out of my way to canvass the idea that senior secondary school children should play an important part, together with the juniors, and I could name some very well known senior schools which were making a good contribution to the scheme. But one gets the impression that as the years go by fewer and fewer secondary school children are playing their part. If that is not the case it would be better to have figures to disprove the allegation.
I know full well that the parents of junior secondary children will in those cases be more willing that their children should harvest potatoes than the parents of senior secondary children. I have no doubt that school teachers, headmasters, and the like, will in many cases 663 be more disposed to junior secondary children doing this work than to senior secondary children. But from many points of view it is more desirable that the senior secondary children rather than the junior secondary children should do this work because the junior secondary children are about to finish their education. They are getting away from school at the earliest possible moment whereas the senior secondary children will be at school much longer—for two or three years—after they are beyond the scope of this Measure.
If we could be given any figures, I am sure that we would be pleased to have them, and if they show that the proportion of senior secondary children participating in the scheme has not declined it would be a part answer to many of the allegations that have been made by education authorities in Scotland about the unfairness of this scheme.
The Joint Under-Secretary, in dealing with the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East with the Secretary of State, said that it would be easier to control or to deal with pirate schemes if the local authorities would co-operate. I think that this is probably too big a job for the local authorities. After all, what are pirate schemes? It is not the farmers but the potato merchants who lift the potatoes on many farms. They go into Dundee and the other cities and they recruit and take out children who have been exempted by an order made under the Act. I am not complaining about the order.
It was I who had to put this provision in the Act, and I did so at the request of education authorities who said that they did not want responsibility. They thought that I should take the responsibility for that. That is why the provision is in the Act. When the children have been granted exemption, the potato merchants hire them, take them into the fields and ignore the provisions. I am not saying that all potato merchants do this. I imagine that most potato merchants observe the provisions of the Regulations, but there are those who do not and who do not take the children to the fields in a covered vehicle which gives the children protection, but drive them in open lorries.
The Regulations also say that children should have a hot meal in the middle of the 664 day. Some of the potato merchants do not give them a hot meal in the middle of the day, and if they give them a cup of tea they describe that as a hot meal. That is not a hot meal. If people who engage children are not doing that, then the Joint Under-Secretary will agree that it is not the responsibility of the local authority to pull them up for it. It is the responsibility of the Department of the Minister of Education or of the Department of the Minister of Agriculture. The Ministers, of course, are responsible in this respect for what the Departments do.
I would say without any hesitation that we should blacklist the person who is participating in this scheme, is using the children who have been granted school exemption and who does not comply with the Regulations, but takes the children out in open lorries, with their legs dangling over the side, driving along country roads, being twisted round curves and subject to danger. That sort of person, who fails to give them a hot meal in the middle of the day or does no more than give them a cup or can of tea, should at once be blacklisted and ought not again be able to employ any children who come under the scheme. It may be that it is not easy to catch up with these people. When one catches up with them they have already committed the offence once or twice.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord John Hope
I must intervene. Surely it cannot be right to say that the Government must bear the responsibility for children working under schemes which the Government have not authorised. The point of authorising a Government scheme is to indicate that the scheme is all right. If children get themselves taken out on a different scheme, that is not the Government's fault. Bearing in mind that what matters most is the children's own welfare, the local authority could stop this sort of thing by withdrawing exemptions. It is not right to blame the Government.
§ Mr. Fraser
But the education authority does not grant the exemptions. It plays the part of postman in this matter. It is the clerical officer, not the executive. It does not take the decision. It is the Secretary of State who says to the education authority, "You shall examine X number of children." The education 665 authority decides which of the children who apply will be granted exemption up to the number required, and it does the medical examinations.
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes, but if the Secretary of State has granted exemptions I hope it is not going to be suggested that the children are authorised to get an exemption just to work for Farmer Smith, for example, and then go straight back to school—because they do not do that.
§ Sir James Henderson-Stewart (Fife, East)
I think we are confusing two things, are we not? The children who work under he Department of Agriculture scheme are the responsibility of the Department. But there are a great many children—I do not know whether it is a half or a third—who work in their holidays, not under any scheme at all, and I do not think the law says that the Department is responsible for them. Is that not so?
§ Mr. Fraser
I wonder where those children come from. The Dundee children do not get potato holidays in October.
§ Sir J. Henderson-Stewart
But arrangements are made. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that in different parts of Scotland there are potato holidays.
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes, but I am saying that there are those pirate schemes. The children are exempted from school on the direction of the Secretary of State, but they do not all work all the time on those jobs under the supervision of inspectors employed by the Secretary of State. That supervision has always been much less for the children who live at home than for the children who are billeted. The one advantage about the billeting of children was that they were supervised all the time, whereas the others are not. I have seen this sort of thing in Lanarkshire and I remember taking action myself to blacklist one of my own constituents who had taken children out to pick potatoes without fulfilling the conditions of the Regulations.
All I say is that we in Parliament have approved Regulations which have been put before us by the Secretary of State. We are most unwilling that children 666 should continue to do this job any longer than necessary, but for so long as we permit this thing to be done we are obliged to ensure that the children are given whatever protection we have written into the Regulations. I merely ask the Under-Secretary to ensure that they will get that protection in future.
The other point I wish to raise concerns the possibility of getting some of those machines that are somewhere between the old spin digger and the new mechanical harvester which we all appreciate has not been so perfected that it can do the job fully. If we can get more people to take the elevator diggers and employ adult labour, as they can in many places, it would reduce the number of children employed and I am sure we all wish that to be done as soon as possible.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
I am interested in the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) about using more adult labour. In paragraph 23 of the Rose Report, this matter of adult labour and the possibility of obtaining further adult labour seems to be dealt with conclusively. It gives the figure of unemployed at October, 1955, as 45,779. It breaks down the figure of unemployed into different categories, telling us that many were registered disabled persons, that many were married women whose circumstances greatly limited their mobility, that some were short-term unemployed in the process of moving from job to job. Eventually it reaches the conclusion that, out of the 45,000, between 3,000 and 4,000 were available, so that we can in fact wipe out the possibility of obtaining adult workers and, on that basis, unless a machine can be found, we must continue to use child labour.
§ Mr. Fraser
I have always taken the view, and I still do, that the adult labour should not be obtained from the ranks of the unemployed but from the ranks of the otherwise employed. Many people employed by the local authorities and the like, perfectly fit young men, might be attracted from local authority work temporarily, during October, to harvest potatoes. But that could be possible only on the basis of offering more wages for harvesting potatoes than they would receive in their normal jobs.
§ Mr. Lawson
I would subscribe to the view propounded by my hon. Friend, and I had the impression that I was supporting his contention against the use of unemployed, in this sense; I agree that the job must be made more attractive.
The sole point I want to make is that it is not enough to look at the unemployed in Scotland, reduced in the way I have described, and say that this exhausts the resources and, therefore, children must be used. There is the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, but there is the further point that we must bear in mind the proportion of the total population employed. We must not take it for granted that it is only the unemployed or registered unemployed who are, in any circumstances, available for work.
We must appreciate that in Scotland, as I think my hon. Friends will agree, because of the lack of job opportunities as compared with England and Wales—particularly as compared with the Midlands and the London area, though the situation may well be different in Wales—the proportion of the total population employed or available for work is substantially lower in Scotland than in the Birmingham region, the London region or, in fact, in the English and Welsh regions taking the two together.
A Question recently put to the Minister of Labour brought the reply that Scotland compared with England and Wales taken together had a working population, expressed as a percentage, which was 2 per cent. less than the English and Welsh working population. Putting it the other way, the total of the English and Welsh population employed or available for work was 2 per cent. greater than the proportion for Scotland. Two per cent. might seem very small, but applied to 5 million people it produces a substantial number, 100,000 I think.
Thus, if the proportion of the Scottish population engaged at work or available for work were as high as the English-Welsh one, there would be very many more than 45,000 unemployed; or, if it is put the other way, if the job can be made sufficiently attractive—that is the point—for adult workers, there are adult workers in Scotland available for the job. There are 100,000 of them on the basis of the proportion in England and Wales. The proportion would be much higher if we were confining ourselves to 668 a comparison with the Midlands or with London. Certainly, on the basis of the Scottish and the English-Welsh proportions, there are 100,000 more people available for work or who could be induced to make themselves available for work if the job could be made sufficiently attractive.
I suggest that instead of adopting the hopeless attitude that until the machines have been perfected we can do nothing except continue to make child labour available, we should be telling the farmers to find adult workers. I am confident that if they were presented with the alternative either of adult workers or no workers, they would quickly get the adult workers.
The Department might make this kind of inquiry. It could look over the farms as a whole and find out which farms can do these jobs without child labour and whether there are any real material differences between the farms that can get on without child labour and those which seem to find it necessary to call in the child labour. If on examination it is found that a good many farms can manage without child labour, possibly because of the better organisation of available labour and because of better incentives and better payments, we should clamp down and say that no more child labour will be made available in the school periods. On this basis, I certainly support what my hon. Friends have said.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Willis
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 21 and 22.
The Amendment relates to the provision in the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1951, which made it obligatory for local authorities to seek the approval of the appropriate Minister for non-grantaided expenditure. We think once again, as we did last year, that the time has come when this rather pinpricking procedure might be abolished. In view, however, of the rather hopeless state into which the Government have managed to get our economy. I do not entertain much hope of success; but that is due not so much to the unworthiness of the argument as to the incompetence of the Government.
As I understand it, the Amendment concerns something like one-twentieth of the capital expenditure incurred by local 669 authorities—at least that is my calculation according to the figures given by the Joint Under-Secretary in last year's debate. The hon. Gentleman said that the non-grant-aid capital expenditure covered about one-fifth of the total capital expenditure of local authorities in Scotland. He then proceeded to give the figures for the amount that was stopped as a result of this procedure and it came to roughly 5 per cent.: £3 million stopped, £10 million approved. That is roughly one-quarter, and one-quarter of one-fifth gives us the proportion of one-twentieth of the total capital expenditure. Therefore, the amount that we are considering is not considerable in the context of the total of local government capital expenditure in Scotland.
The first argument that I expect the Joint Under-Secretary will trot out tonight is that this procedure obtains in England and Wales and, therefore, that there is no reason why it should not apply also to Scotland. When the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, was passed it was not thought necessary to apply this to Scotland. That was very wise. I certainly do not subscribe to the doctrine that because a thing is desirable in England it is necessarily desirable in Scotland, and on this provision my view is that the Scottish local authorities probably require it much less than the English because Scottish local authorities are certainly not so spendthrift as English local authorities. I have learned from my experience on the Select Committee on Estimates that English Departments are very much less careful than the Scottish Departments. That is in accordance with the Scottish character. So I hope we shall not hear the argument about England and Wales. What we are considering is Scotland.
I want the hon. Gentleman to consider the difficulties and the safeguards there already are. In the first place, local authorities are up against a Bank Rate of 7 per cent. How many local authorities are going to borrow money for the kind of work which is not State aided, not carrying a grant, at a rate of 7 per cent? Not many would do it. Nobody will ever convince me that any local authority in Scotland would do it without a very good cause indeed.
670 Secondly, it is not as easy to borrow money as it used to be. Local Government has had a number of obstacles put in its way. It has first to try the money market, and if it is not successful there it goes to the Public Works Loan Board, and the Board is not under any obligation to lend the whole of the sum sought, but only a bit of it. In view of the increased difficulties and the increased Bank Rate, no local authority will be spendthrift or undertake this procedure. It would help us, of course, if we could have the figures for this year to see how they compare with last year's. Have they been greater or have they been less for the actual expenditure under this heading?
I would point out also that there is the safeguard of the two-thirds majority. If our proposal were accepted that safeguard of the two-thirds majority would be effective again. In most local councils it is no easy thing to get a two-thirds majority. My experience of organisations is that it is difficult to get a majority of two-thirds and it certainly would be in most of the local authorities in Scotland.
The introduction of the block grant scheme, while not directly affecting this, will exert an indirect pressure on local authorities and cause them to tend to look at this kind of expenditure rather more carefully until they can see how the block grant scheme will work out. While not directly affecting them it will have an indirect influence, acting as a brake on the local authorities.
Then there is the integrity of the council itself. When the Bill of 1951 was going through to amend the 1947 Act a number of hon. Members on the other side had a great deal to say about giving the local authorities greater freedom. Indeed, we hear a good deal about that from them even now, and the Government are very enthusiastic over their Bill to promote a new block grant system, saying that it will give the local authorities greater freedom, though I think the Government are deceiving themselves if they think that they are really giving them greater freedom.
Here now is a way in which the Government can help if they are really sincere in saying they wish to give the local authorities greater freedom over their own affairs. This measure of freedom 671 would not be a very large one. The proportion of the expenditure affected is one-fifth, and according to the last figures the Government were stopping a quarter of the one-fifth. However, here is one way in which the Government could set the local authorities a little freer. Instead of only saying in speeches in the country and in this Chamber that they trust the local authorities, and believe they are doing a good job, and that they wish to encourage them, they could in practice show their trust, show their belief in their good work, and encourage them by giving them the responsibility to make their own decisions over expenditure without continually having to come to Ministers for their approval.
There are several reasons, which I have not tried to classify in order of merit, which altogether amount to a very good case for giving local authorities the right themselves to undertake this capital expenditure without seeking the permission of the Minister. These reasons are supported by the fact that we want to encourage and strengthen local authorities. That is extremely important at the present time. I hope that the Minister will be rather more favourably disposed this time. I hope that I shall have a surprise at the end of the debate and that he will say, "We have great pleasure in accepting the Amendment as a token of our sincere desire to strengthen local authority government in Scotland."
§ Mr. J. McInnes
I intervene for a few minutes only because we have already exceeded our time schedule. I will not go into the history of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1951. I am sure that the Committee appreciates that the provision which we are discussing has a long history. It has been in force for almost 17 years. It was first put into effect in Defence Regulations. It was amended in 1951 to exclude the two-thirds majority to which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) has referred, and today it is confined to this temporary basis.
It is important to remind the Committee that this provision does not concern itself with capital expenditure that is grant-aided. It is confined to capital expenditure which is not grant-aided. Grant-aided capital expenditure must find the approval of the Secretary 672 of State for Scotland. That procedure is not needed in the case of non-grant-aided capital expenditure, except as provided for in this enactment. In other words, the enactment provides that local authorities must obtain the consent of the Secretary of State before they can borrow money for non-grant-aided capital expenditure.
There is a vast difference between grant-aided capital expenditure and non grant-aided capital expenditure. For example, grant-aided capital expenditure necessarily involves a considerable amount of Government money. It is only natural, therefore, that the Secretary of State for Scotland should exercise a degree of control over such capital expenditure. But non-grant-aided capital expenditure, to which the Act refers, does not contain any element of Governmental money. In essence, what the Government are doing is to exercise control over local authorities in borrowing money that does not cost the Government a single penny. I know that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland may say to me, "What about the element of Exchequer equalisation grant?" I shall be glad if he will not ask that question, because it is recognised now that that element is infinitesimal in the issues which we are now discussing and, therefore, should not be taken into consideration at all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East pointed out that the total capital expenditure, working on the figures which the Joint Under-Secretary provided in a similar debate last year, is approximately £80 million, grant-aided and non-grant-aided. Of that £80 million, £60 million was granted in respect of grant-aided expenditure, and of the balance the local authorities applied fur borrowing powers in respect of £20 million the Secretary of State authorised approximately £16 million and refused £4 million. So what, in essence, we are discussing tonight is the mean, despicable, niggardly attitude of the Government in wanting to exercise control of 5 per cent. of the total capital investment of local authorities in Scotland.
Why do the Government persist in desiring to exercise control over only 5 per cent. of the total capital expenditure throughout Scotland? Is it because they feel that local authorities are extravagant? 673 Is it because they feel that local authorities are likely to embark on foolish or needless projects? If the hon. Gentleman feels that way about it, I think he will find that there is a terrific deterrent in the 7 per cent. Bank Rate.
Indeed, rather than embark on foolish projects, what are the projects that would come under this enactment? Public libraries and markets, houses for old people, and things of that kind? No local authority would embark needlessly on such projects but, because of the 7 per cent. Bank Rate, there is even less opportunity for them to do so. Indeed, there are local authorities in Scotland who have decided not to build any houses because of the effect of the 7 per cent. Bank Rate.
If time permitted I could have quoted about twenty different speeches from hon. Gentlemen opposite about giving the local authorities the maximum freedom. They say that Conservative policy is so designed as to give local government the maximum liberty and freedom, the maximum opportunity to local authorities to run their own affairs. Indeed, when the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Joint Under-Secretary were speaking on the introduction of the White Paper dealing with local government finance, the right hon. Gentleman said that the effect of the financial proposals—…we genuinely believe will be to give to local authorities not only greater freedom but, hope an even greater sense of responsibility…In winding up that debate the Joint Under-Secretary said:Increasingly local authorities have been in danger of becoming no more than local offices of central Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1957; Vol. 400, c. 1087 and 1133.]Does the hon. Gentleman genuinely believe that, or is it the nebulous parrot cry that typifies a good deal of the stuff that comes from the benches opposite. Why does he not practise what he preaches? Here is a small, mean, despicable Measure that really means nothing and local authorities desire to get rid of it. The County Councils Association has said to the Government, "Get rid of this as quickly as you possibly can." Glasgow Town Council sent the hon. Gentleman a letter the other day asking him to get rid of this Act.
That is the general feeling of local authorities, so if the Government really desire, as they say so frequently, to give the maximum liberty and freedom to 674 local government, here is a glorious opportunity to put their teaching into practice. I hope that we shall tonight find the Joint Under-Secretary indicating that he has decided that he will not proceed with this Measure.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
The people of Scotland, and, in particular, those concerned with Scottish local government, will judge by the Joint Under-Secretary's reply the sincerity with which he and his right hon. Friend proclaimed that the purpose of the general grant was to give local authorities more freedom. The hon. Gentleman has been put to the test. We understand from the Gracious Speech that later this Session he will introduce a Measure to give us this general grant in place of the percentage grant. It is said that that is for the purpose of giving local authorities more power over their own affairs. We have come to his assistance. He need not draft a Bill to give them that power. All he has to do is to accept the Amendment.
Lest anyone should think from what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) has said that the projects are in the main frivolous, I will mention the latest one which has been brought to my attention. Hamilton Town Council has discovered that it is committing an offence under the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1951, by discharging untreated effluent from the sewage works into the Clyde. It has been told by the Scottish Office that it cannot obtain consent to borrow money to build plant to enable it not to continue committing the offence. However, the Scottish Office made a very helpful suggestion, stating that it would give the Town Council borrowing powers to buy a suction tanker to enable it to take the untreated sludge from the sewage works to the town dump. The Town Council did not think that funny and is not taking the advice.
I mention this instance to show that there are works of great importance which local authorities want to carry out but they are prevented from doing so by the provision with which we are dealing. If the Joint Under-Secretary does not make a concession, local authorities will regard it as utter hypocrisy to say that the purpose of a general grant is to give them more control over their own affairs.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Browne
I do not think that many of the hon. Members who have just entered the Chamber have come to hear me wind up this very important debate.
I am grateful to the hon. Members for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) and Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) for the moderate way in which they put their case. What has been said about the position of local authorities is substantially correct. I think it fair to say that the local authorities do not like this Measure, but they understand the need for it. Having said that, I must say that the Government are very much indebted to local authorities for their statesmanlike appreciation of the position and for their restraint. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) twitted me—
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
Is not it true that when he replied to the debate last year the Minister said that the Couny Councils Association had asked him to dispense with this Regulation?
§ Mr. Browne
That has already been said and we have not denied it.
The hon. Member for Hamilton twitted me and said that if we did not accept the Amendment we should be making a mockery of the proposals which my right hon. Friend has suggested. He said that local authorities would not then have more power over their own affairs. Capital works in this day and age are not the concern of the local authority only. They have a broader national implication. Local authorities have shown in this matter, as in so many others, how much they understand the part which they can and do play in helping the national economy.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East knows better than I do that the conflict between national and local interests is sometimes very great. We know that before one criticises a local authority for making demands which seem contrary to the national interest, one must appreciate that the man on the spot is very often 676 subject to very heavy pressure, pressure from local interests which cannot always be expected to appreciate their own needs in the wider perspective of the national interest. That is the answer to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East who says that local authorities should have more freedom.
One cannot always expect the small local authority—or, sometimes, even the big one—under local pressure and urgent need in the narrow perspective to say that, although it would like something, in the national interest it should not ask for it.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
If it is so much against the national interest for Hamilton Town Council to build a sewage plant, how can it be in the national interest for someone in Hamilton to build a dance hall or a petrol station?
§ Mr. Browne
The capital expenditure of local authorities is so much larger and it is in the national interest that it should be controlled. There are the Capital Issues Committee and many other similar devices for dealing with dance halls.
§ Mr. Browne
If a man wants to spend his own money. The expenditure is not as great.
Hon. Members are trying to convince themselves that local authorities are taking the same attitude which they have adopted. I make no complaint about that, but in fact local authorities have shown an increasing co-operation with the national effort and I will give figures which will bear out that statement. Whatever hon. Members may say, local authorities are fully aware of the position and are co-operating.
The number of applications approved has dropped from 1,440 to 1,338, 7 per cent.; the value of the number of applications dropped from about £10 million to about £9 million, a saving of 8 per cent.; even more significantly, the number of applications rejected has dropped from 230 to 107, about 54 per cent.—
§ Mr. Browne
—and the value of the applications rejected has fallen from 677 £3,790,000 to £1,657,000, a drop of 56 per cent. That shows quite clearly that this year local authorities are showing greater restraint than last year and are limiting their requests to essential capital works which my right hon. Friend has been able to approve.
§ Mr. Fraser
Perhaps those figures merely reflect the fact that the local authorities have not been able to get the money.
§ Mr. Browne
No. They have asked for less and have been granted a greater proportion of what they have asked for.
§ Mr. Willis
Do not those figures provide the best argument that we have had up to the present in support of our contention that the local authorities ought to be trusted? It might be that some of the factors which I mentioned in my speech have contributed to this result. Interest rates have. The fact is that the result is being achieved.
§ Mr. Browne
I will go as far with the hon. Gentleman as to say that the local authorities are showing that they are worthy of the confidence which the Government place in them. We do not think that this matter can be left entirely to the local authorities. It is very significant that the local authorities asked for less and that a higher proportion of their requests has been granted. The figures fully justify the need for the Measure and the sincere vote of thanks which I have just paid to all local authorities for their understanding and co-operation. Hon. Members opposite know just as well as I do that control by the Government is necessary to ensure that all the resources available are used to the best advantage in the national interest.
§ Mr. Fraser
If the Government controlled private enterprise in the same way as they control the local authorities we would agree.
§ Mr. Browne
A great deal of private enterprise is controlled by the Capital Issues Committee. There is a great deal of control by high interest rates and the action of the banks. I agree with the hon. Member that some sections are free from control. They are the people who are spending their own money. What is the alternative? Regiments of civil servants 678 and snoopers, goods under the counter and tons and tons of paper. I venture to suggest that the cost to the nation in terms of manpower and of frustration would be greater than the amount of any slight saving on things built by private enterprise many of which would be approved in any case.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central, thought that non-grant-aided borrowing for capital expenditure, having no element of the taxpayers' money, should be free from control. I have said that control of all capital works is essential in the national interest.
This is the third time I have wound up a debate such as this. As each year goes by I become more thoroughly convinced that this is a workable, well-understood and necessary Measure. I hope that hon. Members opposite, who are supporters of Government control and who put this Measure on the Statute Book in its present form, will not divide against it.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this Schedule be the Schedule to the Bill.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
This is the only opportunity of raising a very short point about the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, which appears in Part II of the Schedule. As I remember it, some of my hon. Friends were attacked rather bitterly by hon. Members opposite for putting down an Amendment in respect of this provision last year because we wanted to retain the provision and used that device in order to discuss the matter.
On this occasion we have put down no such Amendment, but we wish to have information from the Minister about this very important Measure. The rent tribunals have been in danger recently of destruction altogether. Some of their responsibilities have been taken away from them. Applications under the Act have kept up in numbers, and in 1956, so far as I can see from the Annual Report of the Ministry, there were rather more applications to the tribunals than there were the year before. In view of that, one wants to know what the intentions of the Ministry are in regard to the continuance of these tribunals and whether it has in mind any extension of 679 their provision in view of the possibilities of increased need arising from the operation of the Rent Act.
There is no doubt that many people will be dispossessed under the Rent Act and may be forced into furnished accommodation, at least temporarily, and may have to face very high rent charges. It is only right that there should be full provision to meet their needs. Already cases are arising and coming before the rent tribunals. I wonder whether the Minister can say whether the Government have plans for the reinstitution of some of the tribunals which were closed down some time ago, or at least to make preliminary preparations in case that should be necessary.
I do not want to delay the Committee because I know that there are other matters coming forward this evening, but I know the staff of the tribunals have been very much concerned about their future and the security of their work and also because of what they feel to be the rather unfair treatment to which they have been subjected in regard to pay and conditions. I am told that some discussion has been going on between the staff and the Ministry for a year and a half or more in regard to their pay position and the way in which their pay should or should not be related to equivalent Civil Service grades. Although I gather that the latest position is that they have accepted an offer of the Ministry made in September this year, that has not yet been paid.
These are anxieties which I think it highly desirable to be cleared up. After all, they are not a very big staff. If there is any way of bringing them within one of the main negotiating bodies, or of having them treated as equivalent to certain grades in the Civil Service so that these problems will not arise again, that will give great satisfaction.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will recognise that these bodies are giving valuable service and providing important protection not only in the way they serve the public in the cases which go for hearing, but also because they provide valuable information for many people who call for advice and help. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some information about 680 their future development and will also say a word about the salaried position of the staff.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)
I must say a few words in reply to the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop). I am obliged to him for what he has said.
Under the provisions we have been discussing this afternoon the rent tribunals will continue in operation until March, 1959. As the hon. Member knows, the work with which the tribunals are now dealing is more limited in scope than it was before the passing of the Rent Act. For all practical purposes they are concerned with furnished lettings with a rateable value of not more than £40 in London and more than £30 in the rest of the country.
The work of the rent tribunals has diminished. They have been dealing with a smaller number of cases in 1957 than in 1956. That is due to the general fall in the number of applications which have been made to the rent tribunals. There has even been a decline in the number of cases in respect of furnished lettings during the third quarter of this year as compared with the corresponding quarter of 1956. Nobody is in a position to be dogmatic about it, but it is conceivable, as the hon. Member said, that there will be an increase in the number of these cases as a result of recent legislation.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Does the hon. Member know that in the North-East, in the Newcastle tribunal area, so I am told, the numbers are being maintained, and, if anything, have been slightly higher?
§ Mr. Bevins
That may be the case in the North-East; I am not in a position to contradict what the hon. Member said. It is, however, true of the country as a whole that the tendency is for these applications to decline in number. Because that has been happening, the Government have been applying their minds to the possibility of reducing the number of rent tribunals without, of course, putting applicants to undue inconvenience in having their cases heard. My right hon. Friend is at the moment in the process of trying to bring about a number of amalgamations, which will not 681 inconvenience applicants because these tribunals go to the place of the applicant rather than expect him to go to the tribunal wherever it is based.
Dealing with the other question which the hon. Member asked, I am afraid that I am not in a position at the moment to give him a definite answer about remuneration, but I am certainly prepared to look at the matter.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Preamble agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time and passed.