§ 3.45 p.m.
Unofficial inquiries which I have received convince me that hon. Members are under some misapprehension about the scope of the Act to which the first Amendment relates. It enables the Government to make restrictions on the landing, registration and stay in this country of aliens. Since the Act deals exclusively with aliens, any discussion of the landing here of British citizens would be out of order, and as it does not deal with the treatment of aliens by other people it would not warrant any discussion of the colour bar.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 6 to 8.
This is the annual occasion upon which we have the opportunity to discuss the law as it affects aliens in this country. I wholly agree with you, Sir Charles, that no question of either the colour bar or British citizens arises under the Amendment.
Prior to 1914 we did not find it necessary to have any aliens law at all. The laws of England were good enough for 1331 all who were here. There was one law whether it was an alien or a home-born subject. The Prerogative had always existed which entitled Her Majesty to refuse her hospitality to anybody not one of her subjects whom she did not wish to have here, and to request people who abused that hospitality to leave her shores. However, one law was good enough for all in this island.
It was only on 4th August, 1914, on an occasion which brooked no debate, that an aliens law came into existence. It was defined as a purely wartime act. It was to exist only while hostilities were in being, and it was drawn in a form so stringent that public opinion as it was at that time would not have dreamed of tolerating it in peacetime, and that we should be considering renewing that Measure shows in a certain sense a loss in public behaviour among nations.
I need refer to only a single one of the Sections of the Aliens Restriction Act, 1914. Section 1 (1, i) provides:for conferring upon such persons as may be specified in the Order such powers with respect to arrest, detention, search of premises or persons, and otherwise, as may be specified in the Order, and for any other ancillary matters for which it appears expedient to provide with a view to giving full effect to the Order …It would be very hard to find words which provided the structure of a more completely arbitrary police authority than those words.
The Act was continued into peacetime by the 1919 Act, and ever since then it has been continued annually. It was not really until 1952 that the whole position was thoroughly debated. At that time there were 18 Orders, difficult to get hold of, which affected aliens. Some of them were very strange indeed. There was one which provided that anybody who kept a club which was frequented by aliens could be arrested without a warrant. How that came within the powers provided, I do not know; but, as a result of the 1952 debate, that and a number of other Orders disappeared and we had a single Order, that of 1953, of which there has been only one minor amendment in respect of hotel registration. That Order was designed to bring the whole of the aliens legislation or control within a single document. It was a great advance, but, unfortunately, it was 1332 not complete. There are various other bits of aliens legislation which remain to be tidied up.
I would refer to one or two of them There is, for instance, Section 3 of the 1919 Act, which is still extant, and I want to know whether that cannot be tidied up and dealt with; as to what it means and as to whether it has been operating. It provides thatIf any alien attempts or does any act calculated or likely to cause sedition or disaffection amongst any of His Majesty's Forces or the forces of His Majesty's allies,…Of course, in 1919, that may have been an understandable phrase, but today, who are Her Majesty's allies? If, for instance, an alien—and this refers to aliens—is to address American Service men here on the subject of Communism, is an offence committed under this Act?
Indeed, to put it the other way round I believe that we have a Treaty of Alliance with Soviet Russia, which is still in existence. If, on his visit, somebody who was a foreigner had been rash enough to preach capitalism to Marshal Bulganin would he have committed an offence under this Act? This is the sort of thins: to which, I think, we ought to have an answer and is worth clearing up.
The next phrase in the Act is, again, a somewhat peculiar one:If any alien promotes or attempts to promote industrial unrest in any industry in which he has not been bonâ fide engaged for at least two years …he commits an offence. Does that mean that if a Pole or any person of the various nationalities who are now in our industry were to form part of a strike picket, he would commit an offence? I would ask with regard to this—I have given the Under-Secretary notice, although rather short notice, that I was raising this question—when last this Section was acted upon, whether it is still necessary to keep it on the Statute Book, and why?
Again, Sections 5 and 6 deal with the employment of aliens in British ships and in the Civil Service. There are Defence Regulations in being to the quite opposite effect, and it may be a little confusing as to whether the Defence Regulation or this Act of Parliament is the law of the land. I think that the hon. Gentleman has convinced me that it is the Defence Regulation that is the law of the land, but are these Sections really still required?
1333 That is all that I would say with regard to the matter outside the Order of 1953, which seems, so far as I can find out, to comprise the rest of the law as it affects aliens. The first group of sections in that Order deals with the entry of aliens into this country, and I think that in a modern society, in a society of insurance and welfare, everybody would agree that there ought to be, and the State needs, some control as to the people who come here. particularly those who come to live here. I should not be going beyond the question of order if I were to say simply that so far as that is concerned, speaking for myself, I think that this ought to be perhaps a little wider than merely applicable to aliens, but, at any rate, as to the extent of entry into this country, I think that we would all be agreed as to the necessity for some special provision.
Generally speaking, I would suggest that what is required of an alien is that we should know that he would not become a charge upon our community, unless there was a special, compassionate reason why we chose to assume that charge. That means that it is quite reasonable that we should inquire whether he has means to support himself, that if he comes to work here we should be satisfied that the work he is to do is of such a nature that the community requires that work and that it does not merely compete with people who are already working here and put them out of work.
Even that is subject to the very ancient and honourable tradition that we grant asylum to political refugees. On that, we would agree, but there are various headings to be considered here which, I think, require perhaps a little more consideration. First, there is the question of health. I would be most grateful if the Home Secretary would tell us a little more about how that is operated. I think that some of the most heartbreaking places in the world are the remains of the refugee camps in Germany, where all the families have gone, except a wretched person who has a shadow of tuberculosis on a lung, it may be an old scar, and for that reason no one will accept him. His family have gone; perhaps they have come here and established themselves here.
Today, cannot we control infection well enough to make perhaps a little more risk worth while for the great humanitarian thing we would be doing by allow- 1334 ing these people to return to a home and a family and perhaps even to a hope which was almost extinct after all those years. Would the Home Secretary tell us whether we cannot perhaps be not too rigid on the health provisions?
There is another provision about which I think that we ought to be a little thoughtful, and that is the provision with regard to a criminal record. In many parts of the world, crime can mean very many different things today. Heaven knows, what we do not want are foreign criminals coming here to live a criminal life, but the mere fact that somebody has got some convictions in a foreign country does not necessarily mean that he is a criminal type.
I know one particular case concerning a girl in my constituency. She married an American. Years before, when she was a schoolgirl under 16, she had gone out with some very silly schoolgirl friends and had "pinched" some things both from Woolworths and Marks and Spencer, and that made two convictions. She was, of course, bound over and she did her probation. Years afterwards, she married an American, who went back to America. It was four years before she could join her husband and Congress had to pass a special Act to enable her to do so.
That is the danger of rigidity when we get it; but rigidities may not be merely legislative, they may be rules which have become rules of procedure, and I should like to hear from the Home Office—which, I believe, in the administration of this law is very liberal-minded indeed, and very sympathetic; I have found it always so—that with regard to that provision the particular circumstances of each case are considered and no undue rigidity is allowed to creep in.
After the immediate post-war rush, there is now room for a broader approach to compassionate cases. We should consider, in each case, whether it is likely that the person concerned will be a charge on the community. It is often convenient to argue from the particular to the general, and I shall, therefore, refer to a case which I have raised and which is being considered by the Home Office. It illustrates the sort of thing I have in mind. I have a Polish constituent who jumped his ship and who 1335 sought and was granted political refuge here about seven years ago. He was a Merchant Navy officer and he served as such, getting excellent reports from a number of British shipping companies, for six years.
He then married a girl in Northampton, settled down and opened a shop, which has been highly successful, enabling him to buy his own house. He now wants to brine his parents from that part of Poland which used to be Germany, so that they can join his family here. His father was an officer in the Polish Army before the war. He has established that he is well able to support his mother and father and there is no prospect of their becoming charges. That is one sort of case on which we should take a fairly liberal attitude.
There is another sort which seems to go in the opposite way. I find it difficult to appreciate the point of view of the Home Office on the sort of case which concerns the rich man who wants to live here for no better reason than that he likes the place. Apparently, by some sort of egalitarian principle which seems to have gone a little mad, to come here one must show that one is needed by the economy, or that there is a compassionate reason for one's admission. The fact that one just likes the place and can well afford to live here is not enough.
An ex-colonial millionaire from Canada, who has retired and who wishes to live here can do so, but an ex-colonial from America cannot do so. Why not? After all, most of us who have been in America would appreciate that if one could afford it, one would prefer to live in England. Is there any deep objection to that? Such a visitor would bring in a large number of dollars and would help our balance of payments position simply because he liked the place. Why should he not come? As the rule stands, he cannot be admitted. I hope that that aspect of the matter will be considered. Why should we not have people come here to spend money because they like the place? I wonder what the resident American in France is worth to France. I have no doubt that it is a great deal. Why should we refuse this unearned export?
So much for admission. When the alien has arrived here, what is the point of having a special law, special regulations 1336 and special registration for him? Why is our own common law not good enough for all who are resident here and subject to it? I have never been able to understand that. There is no special law for the Jamaicans when they are here. There may be differences of opinion about whether there should be a law about their admission, but nobody has suggested that any inconvenience results because while they are here they are subject to the general law of the land and not to any special and irksome regulations about registration.
Supposing that someone comes here on a short stay permit and there is no registration system; the Home Office may then say that we would not know if he overstayed his permit. That is perfectly true, but why should we care? If he became chargeable, we should immediately have a record of him. If he took employment, we should immediately have a record of him, for he would require insurance cards. If he committed a breach of the law, we should have a record of him. If he did not take employment, nor become chargeable, nor break the law, why should he not be here? Why does it matter if he overstays his permit? Is it worth all the civil servants, all the machinery, all the cost and all the annoyance to our visitors to have this constant registration and notification of changes of address, just in case a few people who are doing no wrong stay here a bit longer than their permits allow?
Up to 1914, we did not find it necessary. We do not find it necessary for Jamaicans nor for other people from the Commonwealth. In a practical if not in a legal sense, the Jamaicans are an alien element in our community. Why is it necessary to continue with this machinery and to have a special control for a few people?
In these days, when totalitarian control of the individual is spreading so widely, is there not a certain moral principle in having one law? In the Book of Exodus hon. Members will find it said:One law shall he to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.That is a good principle. The Commandments which have so marvellously stood the test of time should not be lightly set aside. What is there in our modern society which makes the ancient idea that there should be one law for the stranger 1337 and for the homeborn out of date and unnecessary?
I ask the Government seriously to consider this matter. We have to have control over people coming here, and we have to have power to put them out if they abuse our hospitality. However, while they are here, what is the point of having a special law not for our Imperial Commonwealth visitors, but for our other visitors? Why is there not one law for both?
I want now to refer to deportation and to ask a question, of which I have given notice, about Regulation 20 (5). The Aliens Order of 1953 is made under the authority of Section 1 of the Act of 1914, which is continued by the Act of 1919. Section 1 of the 1914 Act deals exclusively with aliens. It provides power to make regulations concerning aliens and nobody else, and yet the regulation provides that:A deportation order made in the case of any person shall continue in force notwithstanding that that person subsequently ceases to be an alien …The object is probably to deal with the case of the prostitute who, after a deportation order has been made, makes a marriage of convenience. That is my guess, at any rate.
What I find very difficult to understand is how it can be held to be intra vires. I cannot see how an Act empowering the Minister to make orders concerning aliens can empower him to make an order concerning somebody who has ceased to be an alien, and I should be grateful to have an explanation of that point, which is a somewhat technical one.
So far as aliens are concerned, the powers given to the right hon. Gentleman are absolute and arbitrary. Without giving any reason at all he can order anybody to leave this country and make that person a criminal from then onwards, until he goes. Indeed, he can do more than that; he can require such a person to leave in a particular ship, which is going to a particular destination. This has nothing to do with extradition. This is not the case of somebody who has committed a crime in respect of which we are under a treaty obligation to return him to his country. This is the 1338 case of somebody whom the right hon. Gentleman can put aboard a ship, knowing that that ship will take him to his execution. It is a very arbitrary power. The House had experience of the attempted exercise of this power in the case of a Spaniard, not long ago. To its honour, the House objected so violently that the man concerned, whose life was in danger, was permitted to go to Mexico.
Why cannot our deportation order be worded, "Unless you make arrangements on your own behalf to go somewhere else—we care not where—under your own steam, you will be taken on a particular ship at a certain time," or whatever it may be? What concern of ours is it, beyond our desire that the fellow should go, and why should he not have the right to go where he chooses, so long as he does go? It is time for us to consider this question. We do not want a system which gets round extradition proceedings and enables us to put people at the disposal of Governments who wish to punish them for committing an offence that our law does not recognise. Such persons may very well have committed an offence in their own country and against their own form of law, but if it is not an extraditable offence it is not one that we recognise.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Although what my hon. and learned Friend says is absolutely accurate, it does not need to be the case. A man need not have committed any kind of offence anywhere.
§ Mr. Paget
If he has not committed an offence anywhere it cannot be such a serious matter which ship he is put on. It is when he has committed some sort of offence that he is in danger.
The other point to consider is that this power is quite arbitrary, and applies to people who are foreigners only in a technical sense. A man may have come here as a baby. He may, with his conscious eyes, have seen no other country. He may speak no other language, and his wife and children may be English. Yet he can be exiled from what, in every term of reality, is his own country, and his home and family unit can be broken up on the arbitrary decision of one Minister—a decision which cannot be questioned before any court, 1339 or challenged anywhere. That is too great a power over an individual for us to continue to allow.
I am not suggesting that this is a commonly exercised power, but it is exercised sometimes. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) knows of a man who is in just that situation, who came here as a baby and developed into a petty criminal. He had a number of convictions of moderate seriousness; he was warned, and he was then convicted again for being a bookmaker's runner, taking betting slips. He then had to leave the country, forsaking his family and his home, and go to another country whose language he did not speak and which he had never before visited. These things do happen. That enormous extra punishment, which arises merely from the fact that a person was born just across the water, should not be meted out on an arbitrary basis.
4 15 p.m.
We are parties to the Charter of Human Rights of the United Nations, Article 16 of which provides thatThe family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.There ought not to be an arbitrary power to break up families which have become established here. This is an entirely different case from that of the visitor who has come here temporarily. This is the case of the person who is established here, who has established his family here, and whose family is English because it was born here. This arbitrary power conflicts with our obligations under the Charter of Human Rights.
Furthermore, Article 9 of the Charter states thatNo one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.To the man whose only home is this country deportation is exile; it is arbitrary arrest and arbitrary detention. Why in the world cannot we provide procedure whereby recourse may be had to the court in the case of this sort of person, and whereby the Minister should at least have to show cause why his order should be supported? When, in the name of individual liberty, we interfere with the valuable system which has been established in agriculture for the maintenance of good farming, it is somewhat hypocritical to close an eye to this much broader and 1340 more vital invasion of human liberty. On the whole, this law has been humanely and considerately administered.
Although I feel that there has been a great improvement since I raised this matter in 1952, six years have gone by, and I do not think that we have got the system right yet. We are passing further and further from war conditions and the people who came flooding in after the war have been absorbed. I feel that the time has come to look at this matter again to see whether we can have a more humane and liberal principle, one more in conformity with our very noble tradition at the Home Office.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I make a short statement now about our immigration policy, leaving some of the points which have been raised in the debate to be answered by my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State.
I have one or two points to make directly in answer to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and, in particular, to propose certain modifications of policy which, I hope, will meet some of the points which the hon. and learned Gentleman raised. Therefore, my words will be in the form of a general statement on immigration policy in which I shall take account of what he said about the power to deport.
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his reference to the liberal administration at the Home Office. Even in the difficult part of his speech—difficult for him—on the subject of deportation, the hon. and learned Gentleman was good enough to say that the practice had been indulged in with some care and humanity. I am grateful to him for that and I hope that the Committee will accept what he says.
Were this proposed Amendment to be made literally, and lines 6 to 8 left out, I do not believe that the result would meet the wishes of the Committee. It would mean that all control over the admission of aliens to this country and all power to deport would be lost. I presume, therefore, that the Amendment has been put down so that we can have a general discussion on this matter; but do not wish to labour that point.
1341 I would remind the Committee that the technicalities of admission and deportation of aliens depend on the Aliens Order approved by the House in 1953. This, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton says, was more or less a consolidation, and has been amended only in respect of the one small point which he mentioned regarding hotel registration. That is the most convenient document from which to understand the story which derives from, powers under the Acts of 1914 and 1919 which I have before me.
In the Schedule to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill reference is made only to Section 1 of the Act of 1919 which is continued. That is continued because in Section 1 (1) of that Act there appear in the first part the words:…shall for a period of one year after the passing of this Act be continued.These documents, read together and with the Schedule to the Order which we have here, give, in a small compass, to those who have the perspicacity to follow them, our powers under the Aliens Order. I think that it would be clear if I set them out in that manner, but that does not deal with the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton in relation to Section 3 of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919.
That is, in fact, a permanent power and I was not aware that it would be under discussion today. But in so far as it is possible for a Minister of the Crown to reply within the rules of order, I will leave it to my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary to do so. I will confine my remarks to Section 1, which is being considered in connection with the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. So much for the powers available.
If we had not these powers, any alien would be free to enter this country without let or hindrance. However undesirable an alien he might be, he would have to come in. I take it that that is not desired—and I see from the demeanour of Her Majesty's Opposition and their wisest leaders that I am right—so that we may take it that this is a general discussion on immigration as a whole.
It is anomalous that the powers we have required since the war of 1914–18—powers which it appears we shall require indefinitely—should rest upon temporary 1342 legislation. This position has been accepted for some time by Governments of all parties. It was accepted by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who sits opposite watching me with such interest this afternoon, and it has been the consecutive policy of a variety of Governments, but it is certainly an anomaly. In reading these various documents it is difficult to follow the powers, but at the moment I do not see any likelihood of them being embodied in permanent legislation, although that possibility should not be eliminated.
There is, in this long-standing system of annual renewal, an advantage to which I would draw the attention of the Committee. Once a year it gives us a chance to take stock of the use which is being made of these powers. The Home Secretary does not intervene in the debate every year, but I wish to intervene today to show the degree of importance we attach to the careful use of these powers; to show that they are being used in the national interest, and that it is important that we should have a review of them once a year.
In this country we have a long tradition of friendship and tolerance with the peoples of other lands. In view of our own history and traditions and of the extent to which our stock has been fortified by foreign immigration—sometimes friendly and sometimes unfriendly—and of our position and influence as a world Power, it would be strange were it otherwise. Ever since the war we have admitted to permanent residence, and in many cases to citizenship, in the neighbourhood of 250,000 people; refugees from Poland, from Hungary and elsewhere. That shows the liberality of our policy. Recently, we had the case of the Hungarian refugees, which, I hope, despite the difficulties, was administered with as much humanity as possible, with the voluntary aid of many persons and societies to whom I should like to pay tribute.
We grant asylum to anyone whose life is in danger for political reasons and whose existence would be likely to be made intolerable for political reasons. The hon. and learned Member referred to the case of the Spaniard in which the House exerted its authority and in which we paid attention to the views of the House. But we should not like 1343 to grant asylum, except in cases where the record is genuine; and we have to exercise our own judgment, after representations from hon. Members and others interested, as to whether to grant asylum.
§ Mr. Butler
I will come to that point later in my remarks about deportation. I was referring to the granting of asylum in general.
If we are to grant asylum, we must be absolutely sure that there is danger to the body, life and soul of the person involved. But it is impossible for us to go to the other extreme and become an immigration country in the sense in which developing countries in the new world and in the Commonwealth have been. In a small island, with 50 million people already living in it, there is no room for an unlimited addition to our numbers. I am sure that I carry hon. Members opposite with me when I say that if we are to maintain our standards of living and our level of employment such additions to the labour force would be very hard to digest, and that an increase in our permanent population, which depends on our social services, is something over which we must have some sort of power of regulation. Otherwise, I think that we should find ourselves submerged by immigration from countries whose standards of life may not have reached the level of our standard and whose social services are less comprehensive.
That is not only the view of hon. Members on this side of the Committee. There are many trade unionists and others among hon. Members opposite who frequently put this point of view to me during conversations in the corridors of this House. For that reason it has been, and remains, our policy to refuse admission for the purpose of employment to any alien who has not secured an employment permit from the Minister of Labour.
My right hon. Friend, in considering applications for such permits, has regard both to the capacity of the immigrant and to the need in this country for additional workers in the profession or trade 1344 in which the immigrant seeks employment, and in such cases he has to decide upon the grant of a permit. The conditions of stay are so adjusted as to keep the case under review. The right of permanent residence is only granted when experience has shown that it has been earned and is in the national interest. On the whole, these arrangements have worked well. They have given rise to little criticism and they should, in the Government's view, be maintained.
Most of those who want to come to this country for an indefinite period want to take employment. Their admission can be considered and regulated in the way that I have mentioned. There are others, upon whom attention has recently been focused, who want to live here more or less indefinitely without seeking employment in the ordinary sense. They are people with resources who wish to stay here because they like our way of life. There are writers and artists, for example, who want to write or paint in the United Kingdom—and what place better can there be for the practice of either of those arts?—and who can maintain themselves while they do it. Indeed, our history would be the poorer if Henry James had not been able to spend part of his life in England.
The time has come when we might take a little more helpful and less restrictive line in welcoming these people to our shores. Each case must be considered on its merits and decided on its merits. In general, it would be reasonable to allow such a visitor who is personally unobjectionable—who involves, for example, no security risk—to stay as long as he or she wishes and is able to support himself from his own resources. When there is no question of a possible charge on public funds, and no question of competition with British labour, I feel that it would accord with our tradition to be liberal in granting permission to stay. That, in future, will guide our immigration policy in respect of these provisions.
While I have no doubt that Her Majesty's Opposition will speak later on this point, I believe that I am not doing any violence to the views of the Opposition in making this suggestion, which, I hope, will be generally received in the spirit in which I make it.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
May we take it from what the right hon. 1345 Gentleman has just said that a person like Elizabeth Foster would now be allowed to stay?
§ Mr. Butler
I must stick to what I have said about examining every case on its merits. If the operative words are taken to be "a person like" I think that the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question would be "Yes." We must take cognisance of the personal issues in every case, but our attitude would be liberal in this sense.
There is another group of people who from time to time seek admission to this country. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton referred to them and I did not know that he was going to do so. I intended to make these observations in any case. I am glad, however, to be able to answer his speech in this way. People in this group seek permission to enter this country for permanent residence. They are the widowed or elderly parents of people of foreign origin who are now naturalised British subjects, or who have been accepted for permanent residence here.
Hitherto, applications from such people have been granted only when there was no other member of their family to look after them than the one resident in this country. There have been cases, however, in which it could be regarded as harsh to refuse to allow a son or daughter, for example, able and anxious to care for an aged parent, to do so just because there was another relative somewhere else. That has been the strict administration. Again, each case must be considered on its merits, but where a son or daughter permanently resident in this country wishes to care for a widowed mother, an elderly widowed father, or an old couple living together, and is in a position to do so without a charge on public funds, I shall look at any application for permission as sympathetically as possible.
So far, I have been speaking only of people who wish to settle permanently in this country.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have tried to deal with a number of the cases to which he has referred? Would he extend what he says to a young person who has become engaged to be married to someone in this country but, owing to certain restrictions, are not able to reside in this country?
§ Mr. Butler
The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to send me the particular cases and I shall ask my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State to deal with them. I would rather deal only with the major considerations of policy at present. I have passed the cases to my hon. and learned Friend and I hope that we shall be able to say something about them before the debate concludes.
So far, I have only been speaking of people who wish to settle permanently in this country. The great majority of overseas visitors are, however, in other categories and wish to reside here for a temporary period only. There is a large and growing number of students and of boys and girls coming to live with a family, often on an exchange basis, to improve their English. There are hundreds of thousands of people who come here for a short stay, on holiday, on business, to attend conferences, and so on.
Such people are always welcome so long as they are unobjectionable on security or other grounds, and they are given every facility and encouragement. They bring us valued earnings of foreign currency and their visits help international understanding, a wider knowledge of our way of life and links between us and foreign countries, thus strengthening the fabric of international understanding. The cases in this very big group which from time to time cause difficulty are those of people who represent themselves as short-term visitors but who, there is ground for believing, really intend permanent residence.
It is understandable that people in countries where conditions are uncongenial, especially if they have relatives already here, knowing an application for permanent residence would be refused, should seek to come as visitors and hope, once they have been admitted, that they will be allowed to stay. I have much sympathy with these cases, but it would defeat the whole purpose of our policy if we did not adopt a strict attitude in dealing with them. Any laxity might result in large numbers of permanent residents in the guise of short-term tourists.
I have suggested two major modifications and have sketched in broad outline how our policy works. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton asked me questions about health. In general, 1347 we must expect immigrants to be in good health, but in the case of distressed relatives ill-health would be a bar only if the immigrants were suffering from a disease actively dangerous to the public health. That is our principle in administering this policy. If a man from a refugee camp were coming to settle here, he would be expected to satisfy normal standards of good health. We must have some regard to health in administering our policy, but we shall be as reasonable as we can.
Our policy attempts to reconcile the need to maintain our standards of life and the jobs of our workpeople, both of which would be prejudiced by uncontrolled immigration. This is—
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that question, may I refer to his observation that people are welcome particularly when their coming might help international understanding? Will he explain why difficulties were placed in the way of the landing of Dr. Niemoller?
§ Mr. Butler
I am not quite clear whether a discussion of individual cases would be in order on this debate. In any case, my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will be dealing with the case of Dr. Niemoller when he replies to the debate. This was a case in which there was some misunderstanding. After a few minutes spent in telephone calls, permission was obtained from a senior officer for Dr. Niemoller to do exactly what he wanted. It was unfortunate that he did not wait, because if he had we should have shown him the courtesy which we wished to show towards him.
§ Mr. Butler
The answer was ready for him in six minutes. Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding on the point. The only delay in Pastor Niemoller's case arose from a telephone conversation from a junior officer to his senior officer in obtaining a policy ruling. The misunderstanding arose after that, but there was no sinister intention against Pastor Niemoller. If there was any misunderstanding I very much regret it, but it certainly was not the fault of the officers.
So much for our policy. The balance between our liberal tradition and an un 1348 controlled immigration is hard to maintain, but I think that we have had considerable success in maintaining it. The Committee might be interested to hear these figures, the only ones I have, which, I think, are important. In the twelve months ended 30th September last no fewer than 1,306,878 foreign passengers entered the United Kingdom. Of those 2,638—less than 0.2 per cent.—were refused leave to land.
Of those refusals 589 cases were purely technical arising from transit procedure, 523 were turned back because they intended to work here and had no labour permit, or a permit which for some reason was ineffective, 356 had insufficient means to support themselves during the period of their stay, 99 should have had a visa but had not, and 178 were stowaways, that most profitable of all sports which usually ends in disaster—to use a description by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), a sport which starts so fair and ends so foul.
I have to point out that the numbers of refusals is not a complete index of our policy of restriction. It is well known that the establishment of any sort of restriction on entry, however limited, has an effect in checking the flow of emigrants at the source far greater than the words of the controlling legislation might suggest. Naturally, intending immigrants hesitate before they incur the expense of a journey which may end in their being sent back. It is known that some carrying companies, particularly aircraft operators, refuse to carry passengers in circumstances which make it likely that they will have to carry them back at the operators' expense. It should not, therefore, be assumed that the removal of controls would give us only another 2,000 or so aliens per annum. Once the word had passed around that barriers were down, the rate of inflow would he incalculable.
I come to the question of deporting I should like to give figures of the number of aliens deported, because I think that the Home Secretary should do so himself from time to time because of the severe burden placed on his shoulders in recent years. The numbers deported have been between 100 and 200 a year. So far in 1958—at an advanced date in November—the number is only 112 1349 Some of these are cases in which deportation has been recommended by the courts. That answers part of the case made by the hon. and learned Member.
Others are aliens who failed to comply with the conditions on which they were allowed to land. That, I think, is reasonable. Where it is proposed to deport someone who has been settled here for two years or more—otherwise than on the recommendation of a court—since 1956 there has been a right of representation to the Chief Magistrate at Bow Street. That takes up part of the point made by the hon. and learned Member.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I wonder whether the right to appeal to the Chief Magistrate was drawn to the attention of people who might wish to avail themselves of it?
§ Mr. Butler
We do attempt to do so. One of the objects of this debate is to collect the opinions of the Committee and I will note what the hon. Member said.
Forty-one aliens have been eligible to make representations in this way and 23 have availed themselves of this right. Seventeen cases have actually been heard and in 14 of them the Chief Magistrate concurred in the proposal to deport. In the three cases in which he did not concur, deportation was not proceeded with.
The making of deportation orders is one of the most distasteful duties of any Home Secretary. As the right hon. Member for South Shields will be aware, it demands a complete reading of the papers and a mastery of all details of the case, but without this power I am convinced that the control of aliens would be ineffective. Its use as a last resort cannot be dispensed with. The figures quoted show that the power is used sparingly. It is not used without the most careful personal consideration by the Home Secretary, who has to append his personal signature to the order; and in the more difficult cases an impartial hearing by the Chief Magistrate provides an additional safeguard.
I hope that the Committee will agree that the very limited extent to which the power has to be used reflects the successful control exercised over the admission of aliens as well as the natural 1350 reluctance of all Home Secretaries to take extreme measures in any but the most necessary cases.
§ Mr. Butler
I cannot give the actual occasion, but it was introduced in 1956. It appears that some of the hon. Friends of the hon. and learned Member were aware of it. I shall see that my hon. and learned Friend gives further information on this point. I shall also see that the publicity given to it is increased.
To sum up the position, I submit that the control of immigration and the power of deportation are still necessary instruments of Government and that the power to use them should be maintained in the sort of spirit I have indicated and with the modifications I propose as a result of a review after a certain period in office. The object of our debate is to listen to the voices of hon. Members, representing, as they do, the liberal tradition of our country and their contacts with the public. I will undertake that as the result of the debate we shall continuously review the powers given to us. Where changes are necessary, or where a new inflection should be given to existing policy, we shall give it.
I wish to add one comment. We are dealing entirely with human beings. We in Britain have a policy which we announce ahead and then interpret at the ports, compared with some countries which allow people in more freely and then deal with them inside the country and turn them out. Ours is a preferable policy, but some strictness needs to be applied to some people coming here. That is fairer than strictness after the event, but one result of its working out with such surprising ease is that there is a very heavy toll on our immigration officers.
In places like Dover, which is particularly busy, London Airport, and one or 1351 two other rush centres, these officers deal with immigrants at the rate of one person per minute. No doctor would attempt to do that with all the intricacies of a particular case, but these officers have to do it. If they did not do it quickly there would be impatience on the part of the alien. I should like to send to these officers a message of thanks from the House of Commons for the remarkably humane way in which they interpret their duties. They are representatives of the Government. It is for the Government to take the blame for any policy which may be enforced, but, after a lifetime of public service and dealing with a variety of public services, I have been deeply impressed with the remarkable talent that they show in dealing with this human problem.
I conclude, as I began, by saying that the major responsibility is with the Government of the day and with the Home Secretary in particular. I have made this short statement at the beginning of the debate, including the modifications I propose, to show the care with which we are carrying out this policy. If hon. Members can add any constructive points, we shall be glad to listen and any omissions on my part will be remedied by my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
I do not think that the Home Secretary will have any difficulty in carrying the Committee with him in his view that some powers for the control of entry of aliens into this country are necessary, nor do I wish to discuss that very large aspect of the question, which concerns aliens who want to come here and to obtain a labour permit. That is the immense majority of potential immigrants into the country, and I do not think that we are criticising or, indeed, discussing the regulations which are made in that respect.
I want to address my remarks for a few minutes to the class of immigrants and potential immigrants which was referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and by the Home Secretary—those whom I would call the self-supporting immigrants, the men or women who, because they have private means or because they are professional persons 1352 well able to provide for themselves by the conduct of their profession, wish for one reason or another to settle in this country, and whom we and the Home Office are satisfied will not be a charge on public funds. I was very glad indeed to hear the Home Secretary's statement in this respect and his indication of, perhaps, a small, but I think a very important, liberalisation of Government policy in this respect.
We shall read his words and study them carefully, because what we have done up to now does not seem to me to have been very intelligent in this respect. As I understand, we have simply said that an alien of means who wished to come to live in this country could not do so because—and this was the formula used—this was not a country of immigration. If that means that it was not a country of unlimited immigration, none of us challenges that, but if it means that it is a country which forbids people to pay us the compliment of wishing to come to live here—people against whom there is no objection—it seems to me very foolish.
Apparently that was done out of what my hon. and learned Friend would call a misplaced egalitarianism. I should be the last to think that we should regard the immigration of well-to-do people into this country as indispensable in any way, but it is a useful import of foreign exchange, and if there are no reasons against it, and even if the person concerned shows no particular likelihood of making a great contribution to our national life, I can see no good reason, even in those circumstances, for keeping such a person out. I take it that that class of person is covered by what the Home Secretary has said.
I come to the other class of what would call self-supporting potential immigrants to which the Home Secretary has referred. I think it is much the more important and valuable class. It is that of professional people, writers, scientists, scholars, and others of similar professions, who wish to come and work and live and carry on their vocations in this country because they pay us the compliment of thinking that it is a good place in which to live and to work. Up to now we have simply denied them the opportunity to do so, and I think that, 1353 in this way we have impoverished our national life appreciably.
Especially because of what he said this afternoon, I want to remind the Home Secretary of an example of this. It is a case which I put before him a little time ago—the case of Mr. Richard Wright, a well-known American author, who wished to come and write his books in this country, instead of in Paris, where he lives at present. He paid us a compliment as a nation of preferring living here to living in Paris.
It is true that in his case there were considerations which may or may not—I am sure that they did not, but they should be mentioned—have prejudiced his case. There is the fact that he is a negro. I trust and believe that that had nothing to do with the decision which was made that he should not be allowed to live here. It is also true that he is an ex-Communist. When I say "ex-Communist", there is no doubt about the "ex", because he is a very vocal ex-Communist. He made a notable contribution to that volume, "The God that Failed" which was edited by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). Anyone who has read that volume will, I think, have been deeply interested and moved by Mr. Wright's contribution to it. Anyone who had written that could certainly no longer be a Communist, even if he wished to be one. There is no question about that.
Let me say at once that the Home Secretary assured me that the fact that Mr. Wright was a negro and an ex-Communist had nothing to do with the decision which was taken to refuse permission for him to live in this country. I fully accept that assurance. He was refused permission to live here simply on the ground that this was not a country of immigration. There was no allegation that there was the remotest possibility of his becoming a charge on public funds and no allegation for a moment that he wished far a labour permit, because he is an extremely prosperous writer and is making a very good income from his writing.
I am not asking the Home Secretary for a decision this afternoon, on the Floor of the Committee, but when he says that the ruling under which, quite clearly and 1354 overtly—I have his letter on the subject—Mr. Wright was excluded is to be altered in the future, I hope we may be assured that he will not only consider new cases in the light of the new ruling, but will reconsider the old cases. As the rules have now been changed, then if Mr. Wright and anyone else who was excluded under the old rule chooses to reapply, clearly their cases should be reconsidered under the new ruling. I believe that if that is done, then in these cases which have arisen already—if they are reconsidered—and no doubt in the much more numerous cases which will arise affecting writers, artists, and the like, who wish to come here because they think it is a good place to live, an important change and an improvement in our national regulations will have been made.
As the Home Secretary said, if the regulations as they exist now had existed in the past, men who have made invaluable contributions to our national life would have been excluded. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Henry James, which is an obvious case in point. We can think of another—a great American writer living with us, T. S. Eliot, who would have been excluded under these regulations as they stand.
§ Mr. Strachey
Whistler is an example of an artist who would have been excluded, and I can think of many others. Mr. Wright would be the last man to compare himself with T. S. Eliot or Henry James; he is a very different kind of writer, although he is a good one. It is well worth thinking of the men of talent, even of genius, whom we may have excluded under these regulations to the impoverishment of our national life. I think that England is a country which can claim to be particularly suitable for the exercise of these talents, a country which will attract men and women of outstanding artistic, literary and other ability if they are allowed to come here.
I hope that this change of regulations, or the way in which they are interpreted—I think it is really only a matter of interpretation—will be carried out in a really liberal spirit. I confidently hope that the change will affect the case to which I have referred, that of Mr. Richard Wright, and That it will affect 1355 the cases which will undoubtedly arise of much less well-known people than Mr. Wright who come here and who, for all we know, may contribute greatly to the cultural life of the country.
As I understand, what the Home Secretary has really told us is that there is a change of onus. Up to now, the self-supporting aliens have been excluded unless they could show very special reasons why they should come in. My understanding of what the Home Secretary has now told us is that they will now be allowed in unless, in his opinion, there are reasons why they should be kept out.
The right hon. Gentleman retains his discretion—I do not think we are challenging that—but he will now exercise it, as it were, the other way round. He will have to be satisfied there are good and sufficient reasons for keeping the self-supporting alien out rather than very special reasons for letting him in. If I am interpreting the right hon. Gentleman correctly, and if that is the case, then, I am sure, we shall welcome it very much indeed.
§ Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) said that he was not concerned, and did not think that we were, with questions about labour permits. I want to raise a question that concerns that matter, but before doing so I wish to express on my own behalf and, I am sure, on behalf of all hon. Members on this side of the House our real gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the change in policy which he has announced today.
The point I wish to raise is a narrower one, although, I think, of some importance, and I will illustrate it by a particular case which has come to my attention and of which I have given notice to my hon. and learned Friend, although I realise that there are difficulties in dealing with individual cases this afternoon. I wish to urge upon my right hon. Friend that in cases where a person who is here on a labour permit is to be sent home, the decision to send that person home should be taken on the ground of the interests of this country and not of the interests of the country from which he or she comes.
I had a case, not in my own constituency but which reached me through a doctor in my constituency, of a young 1356 woman from Yugoslavia who was working here. She had no particular love for the present régime in Yugoslavia. Her religious beliefs did not incline her towards it. Furthermore, she had no relatives living in Yugoslavia, and, therefore, had no real roots there.
The young lady was a trained pharmacist and came here to work in that capacity. I am told by my hon. Friends who know about these things that there is a shortage of trained pharmacists in this country. Therefore, such people as this young lady can contribute a service to the country and are welcome. She worked here until her Yugoslav passport expired. The Home Office then said that unless she could get a further extension of that passport her labour permit would be withdrawn. The Yugoslav authorities refused to extend the passport and the unfortunate young lady, who wished to take up British nationality and who was doing no one out of a job, was sent home. I think that cases of that kind are extremely unfortunate. The only explanation given was, quite simply, that her Yugoslav passport had expired or was in danger of expiring. It was not suggested that her presence here was not good for the country.
I know that we want to keep on friendly terms with all foreign Governments, but I cannot believe that it is going to create a crisis between this country and Yugoslavia if one of that country's citizens is allowed to remain here, even if her papers are deficient. I do not suppose that cases of that kind would be very frequent. The decision taken in such cases should be based on the benefit to this country and not on that to the country from which the person in question comes. I hope my right hon. Friend will bear that in mind when cases of this nature arise.
The only other matter I wish to raise quite briefly—I understand my hon. and learned Friend will be dealing with it—is the question of procedure at ports and airports. The figure given of one minute for people to pass through this machine, if I may so call it, is pretty alarming. I cannot really believe that in every case at Dover the examination is got through in a minute. It must mean that if there is a crowd of people waiting to be dealt with some will have to wait a very appreciable time and be put to great inconvenience, especially if they happen to be at the back of the queue.
1357 Is there no way of doing the work on the boat—I believe that it is done on trans-Atlantic boats—or, indeed, could it not be done at the air terminal or at London Airport? People coming to this country could be divided into two groups according to the countries from which they come or whether they are immigrants or tourists.
There have been such cases as that of Dr. Palling and Dr. Niem011er. I feel that when people of his eminence, and known to be of his eminence, come to this country there should be no question of telephoning a superior officer. The man on the spot should know the sort of person he is. It should be possible to devise some way by which these very long delays at ports and airports are overcome. I realise the immense job which immigration officers have to do and I fully endorse the words used by my right hon. Friend about them.
These are the only two points I wish to make, and I conclude by expressing my own appreciation for the very real change of heart in this branch of the Home Office as in so many others.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
Personally, I should like to thank the Home Secretary for the modification he has announced this afternoon in Home Office policy regarding the admission of aliens. The Home Secretary told us that our present procedure is rather anomalous. We discuss year by year the renewal of an Act dated 1919 which was never intended to be permanent, but which is extended year by year under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. That Measure, however, enables us to have an annual review of the way in which the Home Office administers the law in regard to aliens.
While I welcome the very considerable amelioration which the Home Secretary has announced today, I cannot help thinking that this is long overdue and has come about very largely as a result of the pressure which we have been able to exert upon the Home Office year after year in these debates on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.
The Home Secretary has anticipated by his answers a number of the questions which my hon. Friends and I were going to ask. He has given us figures with regard to the number of aliens who have 1358 been admitted, the number who have been deported and the number of cases which have been reviewed by the Chief Magistrate. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say of the cases referred to the Chief Magistrate, and which had to be considered on appeal, that in three cases where the Chief Magistrate decided that he could not concur with the decision of the Home Office no further proceedings for deportation were taken.
That is a result which we should all have expected, and I hope that will be the general policy and will be recognised as a precedent for the future, because otherwise it would destroy a good deal of the confidence of those aliens whose cases go from the summary court decision of the Executive to the Chief Magistrate. The Home Secretary knows that one of the criticisms always made about the very important decisions which he has to take is that hitherto they have been free from any kind of judicial or other review. I am sure that if this safeguard of compliance with the Chief Magistrate's review of the decision of the Home Secretary can be established as a precedent it will be very valuable.
Although the Home Secretary has said a good deal in trying to reassure us on the administration of his Department regarding the admission and deportation of aliens in the future, it is important that we should press home to him, and to the Home Office, the shortcomings that have undoubtedly existed in the past, and which, I have no doubt, will continue unless there is the greatest and most continual vigilance on our part to ensure that any individual alien receives proper, sympathetic consideration.
For these reasons, I do not think any apology is necessary for reminding the Committee of the four or five outstanding cases that have occurred since the last occasion on which we discussed this Measure, and which have produced a good deal of public disquiet. I am sure it is as the result of the debates that we have had here, and of certain correspondence in the Press that the Home Secretary has felt obliged to make his announcement today.
I do not wish to make more than a passing reference to the case of the Spaniard, Mr. Perez-Selles, because, thanks to a Ruling of Mr. Speaker, we were fortunate enough to have a full 1359 debate on that case on 6th March, 1958. That gave the House an invaluable opportunity of reasserting its views on the right of asylum. I think it will prove to have been a most important precedent which, I am sure, has had a considerable effect on the Home Office.
I mention that case only because, after that debate, I received a letter from a former Spanish Ambassador to the Court of St. James. This gentleman wrote before the debate took place, hoping that Mr. Perez-Selles would not be deported. He wrote:If the man is returned to Spain by the British authorities I can assure you that the moral prestige of Great Britain and Spain would be very badly shaken. On the other hand, to refuse to yield to Franco's pressure would be a wonderful contribution to keep your moral standing among Spaniards of all tendencies in and out of Spain.To me, that seems sufficient to justify the pressure that we then brought on the Home Secretary; and the result that we achieved.
Nor do I propose to say very much about the cases of Dr. Pauling and Dr. Niemöller. Following an interjection of mine, the Home Secretary sought to justify the most regrettable incident that occurred on the occasion of Dr. Niemöller's last visit to this country. I believe that certain of my hon. Friends have a good deal of data about the incident itself, but I want to confine myself to a short quotation from an item in the Sunday Times, which says that a well-known Methodist minister…has received a letter from Dr. Niemöller saying that on the last three occasions"—and I want to underline that, because it shows that it was not confined to one particular visit—he came to Britain he was treated like a suspect and criminal by immigration officers. Dr. Niemöller has asked for a written assurance that he will be treated like any other German citizen when he next visits Britain.I have the honour of knowing Dr. Niemöller personally and, like many of us in the House, I have the greatest admiration for him. That this incident should have occurred seems a most regrettable reflection on the attitude of some immigration officers. I associate myself with what the Home Secretary said about the difficulties that immigration officers, in general, have to meet in the performance of their duties, but surely there is something hopelessly wrong with the system 1360 when people of such eminence as Dr. Niemöller receive such disgraceful and regrettable treatment when they arrive at a British airport.
Unfortunately, it is not an isolated occurrence. It happens to have attracted particular attention because of Dr. Niemöller's international status. I refer to it because it is an illustration of the way in which other distinguished immigrants are sometimes treated. We on this side hope that the Home Secretary will take note of what has already been said by one of my hon. Friends in order to see whether some better procedure cannot be devised to prevent such occurrences in future.
The case of Dr. Pauling was, in a sense, even more deserving of censure. Dr. Niemöller's treatment may have been due to complete ignorance on the part of a particular immigration officer, but in the case of Dr. Pauling it appears to have been deliberate. The Home Secretary will be aware of the letter that Lord Russell—generally known as Bertrand Russell—wrote to The Times in September setting out the facts. The facts are that when Dr. Pauling arrived in the United Kingdom on 31st August, he came for two main purposes. One was to deliver an address that he had been invited to give on 15th September to a meeting of the Chemical Society of London, and subsequently, to address a meeting organised for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
When questioned at London Airport, he said that his primary purpose was to address the Chemical Society. He was then asked what evidence he had that that society had invited him. He replied that the evidence was in his baggage, which was in the Customs shed, and inquired whether the officers accused him of lying. They did not answer at first, but later made this allegation. Apparently it took Dr. Pauling a good deal of time to persuade the authorities of his bona fides.
They then said that he must leave the United Kingdom on 15th September and, when he pointed out that this would make impossible his address to the Chemical Society, they said, according to Lord Russell's letter:We do not admit people to Great Britain who come principally to take part in public meetings, especially when against Government policy.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I hope we shall have a repudiation of that by the Home Secretary or by the Joint Under-Secretary this afternoon. In his announcement of the new, more liberal and more enlightened policy, the Home Secretary today said—and I made a careful note of his words:
"Temporary visitors will always be welcome, particularly when they come to help international understanding." I hope that that doctrine will not be limited so as to exclude people who want to discuss any matter of international interest. I hope that it will not be interpreted, either by the right hon. Gentleman or by immigration officers, so as to discriminate in favour of those who may want to come here to support Government policy and against those, like Dr. Pauling, who want to criticise Government policy.
I wish to refer to one other case which is worthy of notice in this Committee, the case of Mr. Kuchenmeister. I have no doubt that the Home Secretary and, even more, his hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will be familiar with the recent decision of the Court of Queen's Bench in the case of Kuchenmeister v. The Home Office. It deserves our attention because it illustrates two things. First, it illustrates the difficulties of immigration officers, about which we have heard so much. Secondly, it illustrates the importance of the rights of the individual and shows that the courts of this country have a far more enlightened appreciation of our country's duties, particularly in the matter of public rights and liberties, than has the Home Office.
Mr. Kuchenmeister was a German national resident in the Republic of Ireland. On 6th April, 1955, he held a through ticket from Amsterdam to Dublin, a journey which involved his landing at London Airport in transit. His aircraft from Amsterdam arrived at 6 o'clock in the evening. The aircraft on which he was to leave London Airport for Dublin was scheduled to depart from London Airport at 8.40. He was, therefore, to be at London Airport for just over two and a half hours.
On arrival, he made known that he was here in transit and that his intention was to proceed by the next aeroplane to 1362 Dublin. Nevertheless, the immigration authorities, apparently having mistaken their instructions, thought that they had instructions to prohibit him from landing in the United Kingdom. He had no desire or intention whatever to remain in the United Kingdom. His only desire was to catch the aeroplane which would take him on his journey en route from Amsterdam to Dublin. He was, none the less, subjected to so many inquiries, to so much interference with his personal liberty and to so much delay that he was detained in the waiting hall until it became impossible for him to catch his aeroplane to Dublin. That is, I think. a classic example of the dilatoriness of immigration officers who, quite obviously, failed to understand their duties. This gentleman lost his plane to Dublin. As a result, he had to stay the night in the transit lounge at the Airport.
Very sensibly, I think. Mr. Kuchenmeister then brought an action against the Home Secretary for damages for false imprisonment. After a hearing in the Queen's Bench Division before Mr. Justice Barry, his rights, though he was an alien not resident in this country, were upheld by the court, and he was awarded in damages a sum of £150 as compensation for the loss and injury he had sustained. That is a very satisfactory vindication of the rights of the individual, albeit an alien, against the Executive. I hope that other aliens, if there be such in the future who are similarly treated, will have the courage to assert their rights in our courts of law.
I come now to the other modifications of policy which the Home Secretary announced in his important statement this afternoon. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) pointed out, it really has been quite absurd that, for a long time past, with some mistaken idea of trying to get some kind of equality between visitors from the United States of America and refugees from Hungary, we have quite stupidly been depriving ourselves of the benefit of the presence in our midst of a number of American citizens of wealth who have fallen in love with our country, who wish to live here, study our way of life, and spend their dollars here. I feel that we should stress this, because, welcome as is the Home Secretary's announcement, it is most important that 1363 we should signal in our debate the most regrettable consequences which have occurred in recent years as a result of the policy hitherto adopted.
The Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend referred to the case of Henry James. I wish to refer to the case of Elizabeth Foster. Elizabeth Foster is a well-known American writer. On 11th September, she wrote a letter to The Times, and I have very little doubt that it was largely as a result of her letter as well as what we have been saying on these benches that the Home Secretary made his announcement today. What happened to this lady is the kind of scandal which has been growing in the past, and I very much fear that, unless the Home Secretary gives a very positive direction to immigration officers, it is the kind of scandal which may occur in the future, not necessarily with regard to American visitors, but, perhaps, with regard to other visitors.
Elizabeth Foster wrote to say that she had arrived in this country, fallen in love with its charm, splendour and grace, and had decided to live here for a short time. She is a writer. She came here to finish some research on a hook, and she had a commission for several articles on London life seen through American eyes. She finished her research but, unfortunately, the articles, she said,will never be written, because the Home Office has not given me time enough to learn the facts which would make them interesting, accurate and saleable.She would have spent in England the dollars which she would have earned. She was not allowed to do so. She goes on to say:I do not expect, because I am a writer, to be given preferential treatment from the Home Office, but I would like to point out that we are more articulate than other tourists, for good or evil. I have always tried in my writings to further the cause of Anglo-American friendship; and this farewell, it seems, is my reward. If I did not love England so deeply I could go home and write unpleasant things about my sojourns there. I cannot forget the long hours spent on uncomfortable benches in an airless room while I waited to have my passport checked and my personal life reviewed so that I could get permission to stay another three months. Nor can I forget the occasions when I have sat in the Aliens' Police Office waiting to have my police card stamped and my personal life again reviewed. Some of the questions I have been asked have been so impertinent that once I objected strongly (I have learned better now), and was 1364 told that the answers were necessary for my file in case I committed bigamy!This is not a laughing matter. It is a glaring and grotesque illustration of the way in which certain minor functionaries in the Aliens Department of the Home Office treat distinguished visitors from America and elsewhere. It is time it stopped. It will stop only if there is a clear and positive direction from the Home Secretary that it should stop. This kind of intolerable impertinence is not necessary. It cannot possibly be necessary on security grounds. It cannot be necessary for the protection of this island against over-immigration from America. It cannot be justified on any ground. It is thoroughly bad manners, calculated to cause offence. It brings the name of our nation into discredit and disrepute.
It is for these reasons, as I have said, that we welcome this annual review of the way in which aliens administration is conducted by the Home Office. Both in our constituencies and elsewhere, we have all had cases of injustice and stupidity coming to our notice, and we hope that as a result there will be a continual tightening up by the Home Office in the interests of a much more liberal, enlightened and sympathetic administration.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)
The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) has devoted most of his remarks to criticising the way in which the Aliens Order is operated. I do not propose to follow him because I do not have at my disposal the details which he has at his. Instead, I want for a very few moments to make one or two comments about the statement of my right hon. Friend.
First, may I say how much I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend's statement of policy and how glad I am to hear, yet again, that he proposes to adopt a more liberal and humane attitude in these matters. Reference has been made to one of the two things which he mentioned, namely, the admission of what the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) referred to as self-supporting aliens. I want to say a word about the other group. If I heard my right hon. Friend correctly, he said that in future he would adopt a more liberal attitude towards the elderly relatives of 1365 aliens in this country who wish to come to live with their children. If I heard him rightly, he mentioned parents either individually or together. I urge him not to be too rigid in defining the family relationship of the people who he will consider allowing to come here.
There are many cases in which elderly parents of people living here want to come to this country, and there will be no difficulty in that provided they are acceptable people because my right hon. Friend has announced this change of policy. But there must be other cases when not merely the parent is involved. My hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State may recognise one case which I have sent him of not merely the parents wishing to come here but also brothers and sisters.
I realise the difficulties. If the door is opened too wide too many people may come in. In other parts of the world the word "family" is possibly more all-embracing than it is in this country. However, I urge my right hon. Friend not to define too closely the relationships which he will allow to come in, but to examine each case on its merits and to bear in mind that to allow relatives to come to this country is doing something which I think everybody wants, and that is to reunite a family. If he allows people to come here who can be said to be reuniting a family, he will be doing a great deal of good and will earn further praise.
§ Mr. Fenner Brockway
We have been discussing the very fundamental human question of personal rights. I want to begin by paying tribute to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), which opened the debate. I think that the utterance of my hon. and learned Friend deserves to live in the records of this House. His speech not merely revealed the detailed knowledge which he always shows, but it was deeply moving as a humane appeal for the rights of liberty. In that speech and in the speeches which have followed I think that the highest traditions of this House have been reflected. I was very glad indeed to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Merzon and Morden (Mr. Atkins). Later, I shall deal with some of the problems which he raised.
1366 Before I pass to those issues, may I ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State to clarify to some extent the statement of policy made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He said that in future there will be a more liberal acceptance to this country of writers, artists and others who come here, earn their dollars and spend their dollars, and who at the same time, we hope, add to the reputation of this country in literature, in the arts and also in freedom.
I am a little disturbed by what may be the limitations of this new policy. I do not think it ought to apply only to wealthy people who are able to come here and spend dollars. I want to urge particularly that it should apply to students who come to this country. Many of them come to our universities under terms of limitation of the period in which they can stay here. I am familiar with more than one case in which because a student has failed an examination at his university the Home Office permit for him to remain here has been withdrawn and he has been threatened with deportation.
I have in my hand a case with which the Joint Under-Secretary will be familiar, the case of Mr. Shakir, an Iraqian student at Cardiff University. Admittedly, he has failed an examination more than once, but his professor has indicated—and the Home Office is aware of this—that he is likely to succeed when he takes a further examination. Why should not that boy remain here? The Home Office has withdrawn permission for him to stay and he has had to leave this country under the threat of deportation. I submit to the Joint Under-Secretary that if we are to be more liberal towards accepting writers, artists and scientists we ought to be more liberal to the students at our universities who are learning those arts.
I want to raise two subjects of which I have given the Home Office notice. I have no doubt about the sympathetic response that the first will receive. I ask the Home Office to make smooth the course of love between two Ukrainians in my constituency who have fallen in love with girls from Yugoslavia and who at the moment, because the young couples are divided by nationality and frontier, are not able to marry and have the happiness which, surely, is the very core of human rights.
1367 I also wish to raise the case of Dr. Niemöller, to whom reference has been made. I do so despite the expression of regret which has been made from the Government Front Bench, because I have a personal statement from Dr. Niemöller which shows that his treatment, for which the Home Secretary has expressed regret, was not limited to the one occasion.
Let me first refer to the case of the two young men in my constituency who have fallen in love with girls in Yugoslavia. As the Joint Under-Secretary knows, I have had to deal with a number of cases concerning people, particularly from Communist countries, seeking refuge here. That is partly due to the fact that I represent a constituency which is cosmopolitan in character and to which people have come, not only from all parts of Britain, but from Europe, the Colonies and, indeed, the whole world.
In this case, two young Ukrainian refugees have become engaged to two girls in Yugoslavia. When the two girls asked the Yugoslav Government for permission to come to this country, the Yugoslav Government said, "Yes, You may leave for Britain, but before you depart you will lose your Yugoslav citizenship." On leaving Yugoslavia, therefore, the two girls will be stateless.
What did the Home Office here say when it was asked that these girls should he permitted to enter this country? Because they do not carry national passports, they will not be permitted to come into this country to marry the young men to whom they are engaged.
I am not saying this provocatively. I am quite sure that the Home Office will have sufficient human sympathy to overcome that kind of technical difficulty. I am strengthened in that view because I have a precedent in a constituent of the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He is well aware of this precedent.
The young man in question wrote to me and asked whether I would seek permission for the girl to whom he was engaged in Czechoslovakia to come to this country. I asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if I could take up the case as the man was living in his constituency. I ought to say that this occurred before the right hon. Gentleman 1368 became Home Secretary. The Czechoslovak Government took exactly the same attitude as the Yugoslav Government in the present cases. It said that the girl would be allowed to come to Britain to marry, but that she would lose her nationality as a Czech before she departed.
In that case, the Home Office allowed the girl to come into this country and marry the young man. In view of that precedent, I hope the Home Office will reconsider the attitude which so far it has taken and that it will allow these two girls from Yugoslavia to come to this country so that they can marry the two young men in Slough to whom they are engaged. That case seems to me to be so strong and so deep in its human implications that I shall leave it there without much doubt what the response of the Home Office will be.
The other case of which I have given the Home Office notice is that of Dr. Martin Niemöller. He is honoured all over the world. Indeed, I would describe him as one of the most courageous and noble men of our time. He is now the President of the Evangelical Church at Hesse, a position equivalent to that of an English diocesan bishop. Our admiration for him rests, first, because during the Hitler régime in Germany, when he was in charge of a parish in Berlin, he declined to accept the restrictions upon his Christian utterance which Hitler demanded of ministers of religion. Despite warnings, he spoke out courageously. I find it particularly moving that as a Christian it was his outspoken condemnation of the treatment of Jews under Hitler's orders which resulted in his being condemned to imprisonment and the concentration camp. For five years, as a result of his moral courage, he was sent to prison and the concentration camps. He did not obtain his release until the Allies had occupied Germany. A man of that record should be honoured by all of us, and when he seeks to visit our shores die should be welcomed as an honoured guest.
In case it is suggested—and I have seen it suggested—that Dr. Niemöller is now the agent of Communist policies, it is worth putting on record that for a time his diocese included a part of Eastern Germany and during that period he was as 1369 courageously critical of the totalitarian aspects of Communism as he was of the tyrannical aspects of Nazism during the period of Hitler. He believes in liberty and he has denounced the repudiation of liberty, whether under Communism or under Nazism.
I emphasise that Dr. Niemöller now is of international standing and reputation. No immigration official at London Airport ought to have been unaware of his status. He is a member of the World Council of Churches. He is welcomed in the United States of America.
I appreciate the expression of regret which the Secretary of State for the Home Department has uttered this afternoon about the treatment which Dr. Niemöller received on his last attempt to visit this country, but I am compelled to point out this fact. Dr. Niemöller has sought to visit this country five times this year. On three out of those five occasions he has met with difficulties similar to those of which he has recently complained. On 19th April and 10th May, he was questioned about the places which he was visiting, who had invited him, what he was going to do and what he was going to say. On 10th May, the questions went so far as to ask what the contents of the sermons which he intended to preach were to be. It was on that previous occasion that Dr. Niemöller, to quote his own words, said:I decided then that if this treatment should happen a third time, I should return home immediately.On the two succeeding occasions, on 21st June and on 14th October, Dr. Niemöller had no difficulties when he reached London Airport, and he thought that the Home Office had reconsidered its treatment.
On 18th October, he arrived at London Airport for a visit of one week. He had been invited to preach at Methodist missions at Manchester, Huddersfield and Blandford, to officiate for the Reading branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and to address the Cambridge Branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I have Dr. Niemöller's personal statement in my hand, and I forwarded a copy of it to the Home Office. I quote his description of what happened at London Airport:When I faced the immigration officer, he asked me how long I should stay. His second question was for my address, which I had 1370 given as being care of the Reverend Mr. Walker, Albert Hall, Manchester. 'You don't stay at the Albert Hall!' I said that I didn't know, but that this was the address by which I could be reached. It took some time to convince the official that this was the best I could say about my address. Then he began to ask about my activities, and I told him: I am to preach here several sermons.' He asked: What will you preach?' I said, 'The Gospel of Christ Jesus'. Then he opened a book, looked at me and said, 'You will have to wait, but this has certainly happened to you before.' I agreed, but added that I should have to make a train at about 2 o'clock. The official disappeared, and I was left standing in the empty hall. All the rest of the passengers had a long time proceeded to the customs, and a new series was flocking in and out again. After a quarter of an hour, the official returned. 'What other places will you go to?' I was at the end of my patience and I said, 'I doubt whether a British Bishop coming to my country would be treated like this.' I took out my programme from my brief case and showed it to him, and left it in his hands on his request when he again disappeared. A new series of passengers arrived and was cleared out again.I have already told how, on the second occasion when Dr. Niemöller had this kind of treatment, he had decided that if it happened again he would return home immediately. While the officer was away, he therefore inquired of a hostess the time of the next plane for Frankfurt, and decided to take it, and to—leave the strain of clearing my entrance into the United Kingdom for all future occasions to those British churches and organisations that have invited me or will invite me for some sort of service.Dr. Niemöller's statement continues:At last, at 12.15 p.m., the official returned—".The Secretary of State for the Home Department said that Dr. Niemöller was delayed six minutes. He arrived at 11.25, and this brings us to 12.15, which means that he was kept waiting for 50 minutes. However, the official came back, and I quote Dr. Niemöller's words once more:The official said ' We give you two full weeks instead of one,' handing me my passport and the programme. I answered 'I have decided otherwise. I am to take the next plane back.' The official's conduct was correct, but my situation was absolutely impossible. Everybody was looking at me as on somebody who is, at least, suspect of fraud or crime, not even granted a seat, as I was on the two previous occasions, hardly able to control or to conceal my distress.I remind this Committee that this man is one of the most distinguished men in 1371 the world today, a great hero in his challenge to Nazism and all the tyranny which it represented, a great character who is the embodiment of the desire for liberty on earth—and our officials at London Airport keep him waiting 50 minutes and treat him in the kind of way which I have described! He returned to Germany, resolved to cancel all his engagements in Great Britain for 1959 and 1960, and—to accept invitations only if they are accompanied by a formal declaration that I shall not be treated worse than any other German citizen when entering the country.I have received representations from different parts of the country, mostly from Methodist churches which have asked Dr. Niemöller to address their congregations, not only in 1959 but in 1960. I have one communication in my hand now which came to me through my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stone-house). It is from the minister of a Methodist church there, and he encloses a letter from Dr. Niemöller cancelling his appointment for 9th April, 1960, unless—you can get the assurance that on entering the United Kingdom I shall have to face no exceptionally impolite treatment by the authorities.I want to make this appeal to the Joint Under-Secretary for the Home Department who will be replying to this debate. This matter would not be so serious if it had just happened once; it might have been an accident by an official at London Airport. But it has happened three times to a very distinguished visitor. I therefore ask the Joint Under-Secretary to the Home Office to give the Committee an assurance this evening that it will not be repeated, and, in particular, in the case of Dr. Niemöller, whom all of us ought to honour, that an assurance will be given that when he comes to this country to preach in our churches, he will be welcomed as an honoured guest, and will not be treated at London Airport as if he was suspected of some crime.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
It is, of course, characteristic of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) that although he had in most of his speech to deal with a very distinguished man who was quite shamefully treated in the place where he had a right to expect very different treatment, nevertheless he began his speech with the case 1372 of two very humble, undistinguished, ordinary people. I am sure he will agree with me that that is really what we are concerned with in the main.
§ Mr. Silverman
The harm which is done in these cases is not usually done to eminent and famous, distinguished international personalities. They usually have means of protecting themselves, at any rate to some extent, and if they have not, they have access to people who can do it for them. How many innumerable cases of ordinary people does the House never hear of at all?
The case which he was referring to, of the people who wanted to get married but were not allowed in because they had been told that they would lose their nationality on leaving their own country, reminds me of a case I had myself some years ago. A woman living in Rumania wanted to join the rest of her family living in this country. The Rumanian authorities refused her an exit permit because she had not got a visa to go anywhere else. The Home Office in this country refused her a visa because she had not got an exit permit to leave Rumania. I wrestled as best I could with the Rumanian bureaucratic machine and the British bureaucratic machine, until in the end, with quite commendable industry, I had produced a situation in which both authorities were prepared to act simultaneously, one to issue the visa, the other to issue the exit permit, and everything was in order; but by this time the poor woman had got completely fed up with the whole of the proceedings and had decided to withdraw the application.
The Home Secretary, in a speech which, I am sure, will be received gratefully by the Committee, said that he was going to liberalise, in a number of ways which he described, entrance into the country, but stated that he thought that the whole of the Committee would agree that we could not pass the Amendment which my hon. and learned Friend has moved without depriving the Home Office of all control over immigration and deportation, and that no one would like to leave, he thought, the Government without any such rights at all.
I remember that when the late Ernest Bevin was Foreign Secretary he once 1373 described the object of his policy as being to produce a state of the world in which "You can go to Victoria Station and buy a ticket for anywhere." I am sure he was consistent enough to realise that that meant, if he got his way and his foreign policy, as so defined, succeeded, that anyone in the rest of the world would be equally free to buy a ticket to Victoria Station. However, one is prepared to concede that in this difficult world some kind of discrimination is inevitable, some kind of control must be retained and, whatever any of us may say or think, will in fact be retained; and I suppose we are, if not content, at least resigned to that fact.
What seems to us, to many of us at any rate, to be so wrong is that the discrimination should be so arbitrary, that it can rest on the ipse dixit of one man who happens to hold a particular office at a particular time; with no right of appeal, and no kind of third party judgment; no right to be told what it is that is against one, no right to be told on whose evidence or what evidence one is refused permission, and, therefore, no effective right of making one's own case and one's own appeal and getting any mistakes reviewed.
What we have pleaded for year in and year out, at any rate since the end of the war, is not the abolition of the Government's right to control movement into this country, but the abolition of the completely arbitrary nature of that control and the substitution for it of some kind of third party judgment.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me for interrupting. The point is of such importance that I am sure he will forgive me. Not only is arbitrary judgment applied to the individual, when it is based, perhaps, on known laws, but there are also arbitrary decisions taken by the Government in private and without communication to the House; which now, as I understand it, means that the relatives of Hungarian refugees are no longer being admitted to the country except in exceptional circumstances, because of some arbitrary decision taken in the Home Office, on what basis we know not, and applying to a very large number of people who have no right to make representations.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right, and for my part I think these is something even more sinister that has crept into this business since the end of the war.
Once upon a time the claim to political asylum could be made irrespective of politics. It did not matter whether the country which granted the right of asylum thought that the reasons for which political asylum was needed were good reasons or bad reasons. It was sufficient to show that for political reasons one was not safe, and therefore the refugee was accorded asylum. Since the end of the war that right of political asylum has become on both sides of the Iron Curtain merely a weapon of the cold war. Or perhaps it is unfair to say "merely". I think that perhaps that goes too far. But if not "merely", at any rate used altogether too often as a mere weapon of the cold war, so that a distinguished research physicist can be deported from this country, like Dr. Cort, where it is confessed that nothing in our own country's interests required his expulsion, whereas every young Polish sailor who deserts his ship is immediately a political refugee.
I do not want to be drawn too far into those aspects of the matter. I welcome and rejoice at the fact that the Home Secretary has announced a great liberalisation of the use of these rights. I cannot help thinking that if the policy, which the Home Secretary announced today as being that which he and his immigration officers are going to apply in the future, had been applied in the past ten or twelve years, much preventable and unnecessary human misery might have been prevented. It is one of the minor ironies of history that this removal of inhibitions should be made in the year 1958 at a time when the great stress of such applications, for the reunification of families, for refugees from political tyranny and oppression, is much less than it has been for many, many years.
§ Mr. Paget
On a point of order. As apparently the Conservative Party is engaged elsewhere, would you, Sir Gordon, accept a Motion, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again", as very important 1375 matters are being discussed, to some time when it will be convenient for the Conservative Party to attend?
§ Mr. Silverman
One result of the circumstances to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has referred is that at any rate we on this side of the Committee have the field to ourselves. I have no doubt that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will report to all of his hon. and right hon. Friends who may happen to be interested what we have had to say; but I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton about the importance of the matter. While I am on the subject I should like, if I may without impertinence, to add my support to what my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough said about my hon. and learned Friend's speech. I know that my hon. and learned Friend is too modest to listen to compliments, but I should like to get that on the record all the same.
I was saying what an ironic thing it was that this opening of the doors should come at a moment when the pressure on the doors is less than it has ever been, and I was wishing that it could have been done earlier in the years in which we pressed for such reforms year after year. I remember that we have always made on each occasion this point about an appeal to some third party judgment, and we have heard either the Home Secretary or the Joint Under-Secretary say on each Occasion how impossible it was to submit an administrative decision to judicial review. The United States might do it. Every country in the world might do it, but the United Kingdom could not do it. We now hear that since 1956 it has been done in a very limited number of cases with results perfectly satisfactory to the Home Office.
§ Mr. Hale
On a point of order. In the course of an able speech on matters of great importance affecting refugees throughout the world and involving large expenditure of Government money, we have reached a stage, Sir Gordon, when there is not a single Conservative Member upon any Government bench. Since 1376 my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made his protest a few minutes ago, the attendance of Tory Members has been reduced by 33⅓ per cent., having come down from three to two. Surely there must be a point at which it is reasonable to submit to the Chair that the operation of the House has ceased effectively to function. If it is not possible to report Progress, would it be possible for me to move, "That the debate be now adjourned," and that the attention of people charged by Her Majesty with the government of the country and with responsibility for administering the law relating to aliens should be called—
§ Mr. Hale
In those circumstances. I will try another one. In view of the alteration in the circumstances since my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton moved to report Progress, in view of the complete emptiness of the benches opposite, in view of the fact that any short-sighted visitor to the Chamber looking at the benches opposite might come to the conclusion that the Committee was no longer in session, and in view of the importance of what we are now discussing with earnestness and sincerity on these benches, should not you, Sir Gordon, reconsider the decision not to accept a Motion, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again"? Should not we be allowed to exercise the cherished right to debate that Motion while emissaries are sent out to find out what has happened to Members of the Government, the Tory Whips and back-benchers, and should not we be allowed to express our own protest, as we are entitled, at the way in which this debate is being conducted?
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ Committee counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am naturally gratified at the enthusiasm of hon. Members opposite for coming in to listen. I could 1377 only wish, as I see them leave the Chamber again, that the enthusiasm were more durable.
I was saying that the main objection one has and always has had is to the arbitrary nature of the control of alien immigration which is inherent in our system. However it may be improved—and I recognise at once how much it will be improved, as a result of what the Home Secretary announced this afternoon—that, of course, will still remain. It will still be his unappealable decision which will determine whether an alien is admitted or not.
The argument cannot vary very much from year to year. One hesitates to reproduce all the arguments which the OFFICIAL REPORT contains repeatedly as these annual debates are renewed. But the easiest way in which to show how wrong is this arbitrary system is to pick out a particular case and show what results it is capable of producing. I want to refer only to one case and I hope that the Home Secretary will listen to it. I apologise for not having given him notice of it in advance, but I know that he already has notice of it because there has been correspondence about it. In any case, it does not matter what answer may be given today. The importance of the matter is that this kind of thing can occur and there can be no contemporaneous appeal against it.
This is the case. On 11th July, 1955, a letter was written by or on behalf of the Imperial War Graves Commission. It was sent to all those who might be interested or concerned. Among others it was sent to a Mr. Altschuler, about whom I will tell the Committee a little more in a few minutes.
The letter read:Dear Sir—The Imperial War Graves Commission are preparing the list of those whose names are to be engraved on a memorial which will be erected at Woking in Surrey. The site of the memorial will be in the Brookwood Military Cemetery in which there are over 4,000 British Commonwealth graves. The memorial will commemorate those of His Majesty's Land Forces who lost their lives, at sea or on land, outside the geographical limits of a campaign; in the Norwegian campaign and in the raids on Norway; in other raids and activities in many parts of the world, which were not connected with a specific campaign, and who have no known grave.The third paragraph says:In order to make certain that the names and other particulars are correct."—1378 and then there are these words:and to give relatives the opportunity of supplying additional information for inclusion in the printed register of this memorial which will be published, a form is attached which the Commission will be glad if you would kindly complete, and return to me as soon as possible.In due course there arrived the invitation card which I have in my hand, which reads:The Brookwood Memorial to the Land Forces of the Commonwealth. Admit bearer at the ceremony of unveiling by Her Majesty the Queen on Saturday, 25th October, 1958.There was living at that time in Nottingham a Mrs. Jago, whose maiden name had been Altschuler, and she was married to a British-born subject who had served in the Royal Air Force. She had a number of brothers, one of whom was to be commemorated at the Brookwood Memorial in a ceremony performed by the Queen. She had two other brothers. One of them was resident in Canada. The other was a citizen of Israel who had himself served in Her Majesty's Forces, or, at least, so I am told.
Mrs. Jago had not seen the brother in Israel for twenty years. I do not say that he had fought for this country but he had fought on the same side as this country and for common objects with this country. Indeed, I think he had served in this country's forces. He had been invited to attend and had applied for a visa and had been given a visa. He arrived at Folkestone on 18th October a week before the memorial ceremony. He had travelled from Israel and had come immediately from Paris.
The immigration officers asked him his reason for landing, and were apparently not satisfied with his answer. They asked him how long he intended to stay. As he had an exit permit from Israel for six months, and not knowing the import of the question or understanding the language very clearly, he thought the best date to give was the date which would be coterminous with his right to stay outside Israel, and so he said "Six months". Then the immigration officer asked him, "Would you not like to stay twelve months?" Being very ready to accept the suggestions made to him, the man replied "Yes". "Would 1379 you not like to go to Canada where your brother is?" he was asked, and he replied, "Well, yes, perhaps". So the immigration officers rang up his brother-in-law, but he was not, unfortunately, available in Nottingham at that time, as he was visiting a hospital where his mother was gravely ill, and was unable to answer until the next morning. He was told, "Your brother-in-law from Israel has come and wants to stay with you for twelve months. How do you feel about that?" The brother-in-law replied, "I knew that he was coming, and I should be glad to entertain him for two, three or four weeks, but twelve months had not entered my mind at all."
It is a most curious way of dealing with a man who was coming here temporarily, on a visa which had already been granted, in order to attend the ceremony to which he had been invited. His main object, as everybody knew, was to see his sister whom he had not seen for twenty years. Having been told that he was likely to come, and having gone to Victoria Station to meet him the previous day and having found that he was on a list of people who had not yet been allowed to land, his sister telephoned the Folkestone authorities and said, "I will give you any security you want. My brother wants to come here only for a short time. Will you let him land?" Being a simple, naive woman she said that she had certain securities and a small amount of money in the bank which she was prepared to deposit. She was prepared to do anything that they might call upon her to do to assure them that there was nothing sinister and that there were no ulterior motives of any kind. But that would no do.
So the woman said, "Can I at least come and see him?" and she was told, "Yes, you can come and see him. You will have to come down here, and you will have to be quick because we are sending him back to Paris." The woman had not much money but she took a car and drove from Nottingham to Folkestone in order to see her brother. The immigration authorities were most gracious; they said "Yes, you can see your brother, but for no more than fifteen minutes and in the presence of the police".
§ Mr. Silverman
Is this the right hon. Gentleman's policy? Of course it is not. We have known him for many years in the House of Commons and if the account that I am giving is even remotely anything like a correct picture of what took place the right hon. Gentleman will be as indignant and horrified as any other hon. Member. But these things are done in his name, in the name of all of us, and in the name of our country, and people who are not great distinguished international figures like the gentleman of whom one of my hon. Friends was speaking just now, but ordinary humble individuals with no influence, no great Powers behind them, no great wealth—
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) mentioned that the invitation from the Imperial War Graves Commission was dated 11th July, 1955. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] In that case, I misheard the date. Will the hon. Gentleman state on what date the incident occurred. He has not given notice of the case, and I am not aware of it.
§ Mr. Silverman
I think I gave the date. The incident occurred on Saturday, 18th October, 1958. I gave a date in 1955, but it was not the date of the invitation. It was the date of the general circular inviting particulars of people whose names ought to be inscribed on the memorial slab. The incident, as I say, took place on 18th October this year, and the Joint Under-Secretary will no doubt remember that on the following Saturday Her Majesty opened the Brookwood Memorial.
Why should not we have such a system as the United States of America has always had, where if the immigration officer is not satisfied and refuses permission to land, he has not the immediate power to send the unfortunate immigrant somewhere else, but the immigrant has a right of appeal, the same sort of right as since 1956 has been exercisable in a limited class of case to the Chief Magistrate at Bow Street? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman imagine that if all these circumstances had been immediately investigated on the spot by some kind of tribunal, exercising some kind of third-party judgment, this kind of blunder—I am convinced that it was nothing more— 1381 would have occurred or, if it had occurred, would not have been immediately put right?
This boy was sent back. He was not allowed in. He did not attend the memorial. The whole purpose of his visit was frustrated, and he would not have had the opportunity of having more than the fifteen minutes conversation with his sister whom he had not seen for twenty years, under the surveillance of the police, unless his sister had gone to Paris and there renewed their association. [An HON. MEMBER: "Folkestone."] No, she went to Paris. She went to Folkestone and saw him for fifteen minutes. She was not satisfied with fifteen minutes in twenty years—it did not seem enough—so she went to Paris with him.
The result was that the whole family was on the point of being broken up, because the wife complained to the husband, "It is your fault; you ought to have known how to deal with the immigration officers better and whatever they suggested you should have accepted. You should have supported him and backed him and he would have been let in. I am going to Israel with him to put it right." That did not happen. The woman is back home and the incident is over.
I quote this case not for its intrinsic importance. The world would not come to an end if the incident were never corrected, or apologised for, or known at all. It is not possible, on its own intrinsic merit, to be a subject by itself of a great Parliamentary debate. But these are humble individuals, the sport of crazy politics and crazy ideologies for many years, blown this way and that across the earth by tides and winds they can do nothing whatever to control or influence—the sport of forces greater than themselves. Why should we go out of our way to add to their miseries?
If these things happen merely by chance, because we have a system which gives the Home Secretary the sole authority—and his officials in the ports exercise it, necessarily without reference to him, and make mistakes—then surely that of itself is a good enough reason for our altering the system which can lead to errors and blunders and miseries of this kind. If by introducing into our 1382 system the right of appeal, the right of third-party judgment, which so many great countries in the world find it quite easy to make available to people, we could remove the possibility of incidents of this kind, I submit to the Committee that that alone would be sufficient ground on which to do it.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
I am very glad to have the opportunity of joining my hon. Friends in raising the matter of the admission and treatment of aliens, but I am afraid that I shall not be able to do so in the very moving and eloquent terms of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who has just sat down. I think that one, if perhaps the only, good result of the quixotic manner in which we deal with this problem, is that it gives us an annual opportunity to review what is happening to aliens and to bring to the attention of the Government and the public the way in which this branch of the Home Office is being administered.
I want to make it clear, as I think everyone does on this side of the Committee, that I am not in favour of encouraging criminals or undesirables to come here. I think that the community has the right to be protected from possible dangers of that kind. Nevertheless, many of us feel that the principles and methods used, so far as we know and understand them, often result in harsh decisions and an inflexible attitude which I do not believe is the wish of either side of the Committee.
In any event, I am certain that the skilful criminal is not hindered by the present arrangements. On the whole, they really beset the honest and decent traveller rather than hinder those who may be undesirable. I would still hope, despite the fact that under these arrangements we can use the opportunity to raise individual cases, that one day the Government and the House will find time to put such legislation as we may require for aliens on to a permanent basis, but before doing that we should have either a Royal Commission or, at least, a Departmental inquiry, which would review the long and honourable tradition of political and other asylums for which this country has been famed and see to it that the very liberal and humane sentiments which the public 1383 entertain on this matter are enshrined in whatever administrative arrangements are necessary. I hope that will be done. It is true that we should then lose the opportunity of raising individual cases, but I believe that if there were a proper scheme many of the harsh cases would never arise because a proper appeal procedure would prevent many of these difficulties.
The Home Secretary was good enough to give us some figures this afternoon. We shall want longer time to analyse them, but there are two questions which I should like to ask on these matters, so far as I understand them. First, I gather that there was a certain number of people—a year ago 343 and actually about 500 in the last year—who were turned back at ports of entry because they had insufficient means. I can understand that it might create difficulties for our public authorities if people without any physical means of support were admitted on the other hand, it is clear that a proportion of those who come here in these circumstances are political refugees or people coming in difficulties of that nature. It is quite obvious that in cases like that, fleeing from home, they would not have money or valuables. I wonder, therefore, how far the other circumstances are taken into account before admission is refused.
There was another category of some 300 who, I gather, were turned back because where a visa was required it had, in fact, not been obtained. I can understand that this might be inevitable in some cases. I understand that in Scandinavia and some other countries it is possible to make arrangements, without the individual leaving the port or airport, to see whether or not a visa can be granted in the circumstances of the case. Could not this be done here with sometimes very great advantage and the saving of additional expense on unnecessary journeys and removing so much individual frustration?
Apart from those who are turned back, we have this afternoon heard of the embarrassment and annoyance very often caused to the bona fide traveller. I pay tribute to London Airport, where at any rate some attempt has been made in a number of languages to explain why it is that those entering the country are 1384 divided into British and aliens and to explain the purpose behind the procedure. That is a useful attempt to help people to understand this unique procedure.
Nevertheless, after hearing what has been said today, and examining other facts, one is left feeling disturbed about the administration of this part of the Order. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) raised in great detail in a very moving speech the case of Pastor Niemöller. I want to add only one fact. The Home Secretary suggested that the delay caused to Pastor Niemöller was a matter of only six minutes. I find that difficult to understand.
I do not have the details in the possession of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough, but the full facts of the delay which have not been challenged, were recorded in The Times of 22nd October which said that there was a delay of more than 40 minutes—not six minutes. Although Pastor Niemöller himself refused to make any statement because he did not want to create any trouble, his son subsequently revealed that he was unlikely to accept invitations to come to this country again, unless there could be some guarantee about what would happen to him when he arrived.
As my hon. Friend pointed out, what happened on 18th October was not the only occasion on which Pastor Niemöller had been inconvenienced. He had been the victim of similar treatment on two other occasions. The crowning irony of that incident was that it occurred during the time of the State visit of the President of the West German Republic. It could not have helped the intentions of that visit.
Further, and more important, it means that our friends on the Continent, some of whom have a deep love for this country and for many of its characteristics and contributions to Western civilisation, find this sort of incident all too frequent and difficult to explain. Hon. Members may well have seen a letter from a Dane to The Times published on 11th October. The writer said that the whole of his upbringing, tradition and background had been in this country to which he was deeply attached. He had considered whether he should become naturalised, but he had felt that in his job as a professor at the University of Oslo he was 1385 probably better able to forge links between this country and its sentiments and Scandinavia. He said that he was astonished at the treatment accorded to some travellers, and that similar things had happened to him. He had been treated as an alien, and was held to be under suspicion. He asked how far the British Government wanted to strain the loyalty of the friends of British institutions.
That letter was symptomatic of the views of many people who are friends of this country's liberal background and admire our contribution to civilisation and who are puzzled by the fact that only when they come to Britain do they receive this sort of treatment. The traveller can cross boundaries on the Continent very much more easily, and yet those countries must have the same problems as we have about keeping out undesirables. I hope that this point will be noted, because we should not lose the affection of such friends as we have in Europe.
I want briefly to refer to some cases of which I have personal knowledge. I quote these cases not in the hope of receiving answers, but to show how the regulations work in individual cases. Before doing so, I must welcome the relaxations announced by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. At least some of the cases I could have mentioned need not now be quoted, because I hope they will not arise again.
The first case had a sad and unnecessary conclusion. It concerns a Pole who was naturalised and who had worked in my constituency. After nearly twenty years, he obtained information about the whereabouts of his sister. He got in touch with her and invited her to spend a holiday in this country. She agreed to come, but although application was made, permission was refused by the Home Office. The case then came to me. I got in touch with the Home Office and was told that the reasons for the refusal were twofold, first, that the lady was ill, and, secondly, that she was unemployed.
On the bald facts alone, those seem to be very poor reasons indeed. The Pole had fought on our side in the war and his sister had been in a concentration camp. They had not met for probably twenty years and certainly not for 1386 fifteen years. Here was their opportunity, but the fact that she was ill and unemployed was considered sufficient reason for refusing her permission to meet the only relative she had left in the world!
That was bad enough, but, in fact, the Foreign Office, which had made the inquiries on behalf of the Home Office, was wrong. The girl had been ill, but she had got better. She had been categorised as unemployed by the Polish authorities because she was a private dressmaker, and under the Polish arrangements, since she was working for herself, she had not been registered as being at work, so that only in a technical sense was she not at work. She was certainly able to support herself.
Eventually, I was able to bring these facts to the attention of the Home Office, which eventually gave her permission to come. The sad part about it is that by that time, for some reason which I still do not know, the Polish Government withdrew her permission to leave. Those two last members of that family, separated for that long period, are still apart and may well never meet again. The Home Office action caused unnecessary anguish. With a proper system and procedure for appeal, the difficulties could have been sorted out at a very much earlier stage.
After Suez a number of foreigners came to this country, many of them Sudanese. A lot had worked in British institutions and, in some cases, had fought alongside British troops during two world wars. I want to give one example which seems to have about its decision no logic, let alone humane considerations. One man with his family came here, having been expelled from Egypt, where for many years he had worked in British hospitals, and, more recently, in the welfare department of the Suez Canal Company.
When he was expelled, he lost, of course, his home and all his possessions, but he was in no sense a possible charge on public funds because the Suez Canal Company continued, and guaranteed that it would continue to pay, his pension at the full rate. Having had hospital experience, he found that hospital authorities were anxious to employ him. However, he could not get a labour permit.
Further, although he could not be a charge upon public funds because of his pension, which had been guaranteed by 1387 the Suez Canal Company, he was told that he would have to leave. He received a series of almost badgering letters asking to know where and when he was going, and eventually he went to Australia. He had two daughters, both of whom spoke several languages, but they were also refused work permits. Apart from all other considerations, one would think that some Government responsibility was involved, because the fact that he had been expelled from Egypt was due to action taken by this Government. But he had to go, and he is now in Australia—although he could have got a job here without harming anyone else.
I find it difficult to understand such decisions on any ground of logic, let alone of human consideration. I am very glad that the Home Secretary has told us that those who can prove that they will not be a charge upon public funds can now come here to work. I agree with my hon. Friends; I am sorry that a limitation is imposed, and that the concession applies to those who are wealthy. We should do something for those who may need assistance, especially when they have relatives in this country.
I know of a case where a man who had expert shipping knowledge wanted to work in this country. He did not want to work here for money; he had a guarantee from a New York bank. He wished to assist his brother, who had a shipping business here. But for two years innumerable letters passed between me and the authorities before he was given the opportunity to help a British firm to earn foreign currency. What is the sense of that? I gather from what the Home Secretary said that a case of that kind will not have to be raised in the House in future, and if that is indeed the case I am very glad.
We welcome what has been said by the Home Secretary about the relaxation of that system. Nevertheless, I hope that we shall go on pressing the Government to liberalise the administration of this law. I also hope that serious consideration will be given to setting up some form of inquiry so that, by a proper administrative procedure, cases such as those which have been raised today will not occur, and need not be dealt with by hon. Members. I am sure that no hon. Member minds dealing with them; it is all part of his job. But it should not be 1388 necessary. Besides, many people either do not know their rights, or cannot for some reason approach a Member of Parliament. Their happiness and future should not depend upon that. I hope that serious thought will be given to placing this legislation on a more permanent basis.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I am very glad that we have the opportunity of looking into this very human question each year. It is a question of either helping human beings to live in peace, or at least in some kind of comfort, or, on the other hand, of depriving them of the opportunity to do so by not admitting them into this country—or other countries. The matter involves principles laid down in the Declaration of Human Rights.
I have just come from a meeting of a body set up in our country for the purpose of dealing with the question of human rights, the Standing Conference on the Economic and Social Work of the United Nations. This body, from time to time, considers the question of what the world has done and should do to bring into effect what most men and women consider to be fundamental human rights. I am pleased to say that a publication issued recently by the Government has indicated that this country stands in a fairly good position in the matter of the observance of those rights. Nevertheless, in some respects we have not appreciated what we, as human beings, should do to fulfil our duties towards our fellow-men.
The problem of the admission of men and women from other places into a country, and their subsequent treatment, is not novel to this generation. It involves the most important principles of humanity. The Home Secretary is a humane man, and I suggest to him that the time has come when we should consider what sort of legislation we ought now to enact in regard to the admission of people who ask for the privilege of being allowed into this country. We must always remember that we are dealing with human beings, that they must be treated as such, and should have their cases considered in a way consistent with this.
The idea that a stranger coming into a country must become a burden upon that country is not correct. We do not 1389 have to look very far to be made aware of that. One small country, which has very little land, has nevertheless doubled its population by taking in some 900,000 immigrants in ten years. I am speaking of Israel. Israel has not found that those immigrants have placed a burden upon it; on the contrary, they have assisted in developing the agricultural, industrial, and economic as well as the cultural state of that country. I do not say that a country with resources as limited as those of Israel can cope to the full with this situation, for the time being, without outside help, but it does welcome human beings into the fold and does not turn aside any person who comes to its gates, particularly if such a person has fled from the inhuman tribulations to which so many Jewish people have been subjected.
The same has happened in this country. We have only to go to South Wales in order to see the effect brought about by some Jewish refugees from Germany. Those people who came to South Wales and other distressed areas have built factories and have provided opportunities for work to the residents. That certainly does not show that persons who come into this country become a burden upon it.
Many lands, including our own and America, have in some respects been built up in consequence of immigration. Anybody examining the effect of the admission of foreigners to countries in different parts of the world is bound to come to the conclusion that the acceptance of such foreigners, who eventually become citizens of their new country, acts not to the detriment of that country but, in the main, to its advantage.
We have lived through a terrible age. We are still within the shadow of the concentration camps, and still have reason to remember the vicious inhumanity practised by man on man. I ask the Home Secretary to search his conscience and say whether it is right to prevent an individual who has been in a concentration camp from being admitted to this country or to any other country. Is it right that—unless he be a criminal or otherwise undesirable—such a relative of an individual living here should not be allowed to come here without any let or hindrance? Is it humane to say that he should not be allowed to join his family? We talk about reunification of families; 1390 therefore, far from preventing relatives from coming in, we ought to encourage them to enter the United Kingdom, so that their lives may in some way be sweetened and their futures in some way helped; so that they may be helped to forget the terrible persecutions and indignities they have experienced, and the terrible lives they have formerly had to live under the yoke of their oppressors.
At this time of the tenth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, I ask the Home Secretary, in the light of that Declaration, to consider whether it would be advisable to change to policies that would enable a very much easier entry—of those, particularly, who want to join relatives. I do not deny for one moment that a considerable amount of sympathy has already been shown by the authorities. I work in certain circles, and I am quite conversant with the fact that the Home Office has been particularly good in assisting very many persons who have sought admission, and I thank them for doing so; but the difficulty to which I have already referred has not been met.
We need scientists. We need technicians. If a technician or a scientist applies to come here why do we not allow him to enter without let or hindrance? Why do we have to say to such men, "You cannot come in"—without any real reason being given? I know of cases where people who would have been of the greatest value to us have been denied the right of entry because they happened to be aliens.
Some of my hon. Friends have referred to lower-income immigrants. Why not let them come in? They are human beings—
§ Mr. Hale
What about the human being who has no money, or who is suffering, or even dying? What about him? I ask my hon. Friend to face this. On this side of the House we have heard of distinguished German clergymen and blokes who fought in two wars being denied entry, but what about the poor, and the miserable, and the suffering, who have no home to look for, and nowhere to go? Why not let us talk about them for a moment, as Socialists, together?
§ Mr. Janner
I know that my hon. Friend would not accuse me of not having 1391 those people in mind. Whilst I spoke first of all, about relatives and other classes, I have just referred to that class of person who is capable of being helped. I would certainly be the last person in the world not to ask the Home Secretary to have consideration for the type of case that my hon. Friend has in mind. On the contrary, if we are in a position to help such individuals—as it seems to me that we are—there is no reason at all why they should not be admitted.
I am making this appeal tonight because I have seen the kind of misery to which my hon. Friend refers. I have come into contact with these cases. As I said, I do not want to overlook the fact that consideration has been shown in many cases—hon. Members on both sides of the House must admit that, and it is proper that we should—but we are asking the Home Office to adopt a new outlook; to exercise a new vision in this matter, and not to give the immigration officers the idea that the Home Office does not want people to come in.
Let us now say that on principle we do want people to come in; that we want the right kind of people in—and the right kind of person is the one who is not proved to be a criminal, or criminally inclined. I know that the Home Secretary has made an important announcement this afternoon. I want to apologise to him for not being present when he spoke. As I said, I was at this meeting that was dealing with a very similar problem. I have, however, been told about the concessions he proposes to make, for example in regard to aged relatives—I think that he said aged relatives.
Why not any relatives—a brother, or a sister? Families have been decimated. In some cases, there are perhaps two or three left from a family consisting of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of near and distant relatives. Why not let such a person into this country, automatically? How can we humanely refuse such a thing? I do not understand.
It is not the fault of the immigration officer, but of the directive that he is given. The onus should not be placed upon the immigration officer, who must make up his mind on the spur of the moment, on such information as he may extract by some means that may be good or may be bad. Some of them may 1392 have a different outlook from that of others. They should all be given a directive to admit, where possible, rather than to refuse admission. Let the directive be positive, not negative.
I make this appeal to the Home Secretary because I believe that he really wants to do something about this. I think that he could persuade his colleagues, and I am certain that he would have no difficulty in persuading the country, in such a matter as this. A humane outlook would remove a considerable amount of misunderstanding and would place us, as a country, in a very good light.
I make another appeal. Why not let a husband join his wife in this country? She may be an alien. Is it her fault that she is an alien? She may be working here, or have a business here, and she may have married a man from outside. Why not let that man come in—unless, of course, he has a criminal record? What harm will he do? Of the men who have been refused admission, there are many who fought either in the British Army or in Allied armies, and who cannot stand what is going on in their own countries.
They may not be persecuted, perhaps, but they do not feel happy, and, for example, cannot live in a country in which there is Communism or in which Fascism is again rearing its head. Let us give them the chance to come here. What is there wrong about that? I cannot see why this new approach should not be made now. We are grateful to the Home Secretary for announcing that he intends to broaden the categories of people whom he will allow in, but may I ask him, having heard what he has heard today, to reconsider the whole matter. This country should be a beacon to those who will acclaim the Declaration of Human Rights in a few weeks' time. Today we have the opportunity to indicate our belief in those human rights, and that we intend to put the Declaration into full effect. If we do that, we shall encourage all the other peoples by our practical example.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
I hope that my hon. Friends will not feel that I am detracting from the very powerful cases that they have put this afternoon in favour of some relaxation of the restrictions on aliens and of a more 1393 humanitarian application of others. I entirely support what they have said, and, with others, I welcome the Home Secretary's statement about the measures he has taken to liberalise these Regulations. There is a marked trend on the Continent at the present time to reduce regulations. It would be very pleasant if this country could follow very rapidly on that trend and do the same thing here.
I want to refer to an aspect of the Aliens Order to which no reference has been made this afternoon. It arises from a statement which was made by the hon. Lady the Member for Chislehurst (Miss Hornsby-Smith) at a conference on tourism, organised by the British Travel and Holiday Association, last May. She was talking about immigration control, by which I take it she meant the Aliens Order that we are now discussing. She said, in the course of that speech:Admittedly, the whole apparatus of control betokens distrust. Distrust of whom and what?She went on to draw attention to four categories of persons of whom we might be distrustful.
The first category was that of men from another country who come over here in the guise of visitors and then try to obtain employment. The second category was,that rare bird…the foreign intelligence agent.The third was foreign criminals and lunatics. I want to make reference now to the fourth category. This is how the hon. Lady described this fourth category:Then there are the young girls—hundreds of them—sometimes under 18, who pretend to come on so-called visits either socially or 'in order to improve their English. Some tell us that they are here on a visit, coming to visit uncle'. He is not their uncle at all. Some have a single ticket and no money. Sometimes unable to speak the language, they naively produce a letter from their English sponsor or host which, in effect says: 'You would not qualify for a labour permit, so pretend you are my niece coming on a visit' If the unfortunate girl succeeds in getting in here and is then worked like a slave, you blame the Home Office for allowing it.I have taken up this point because I believe that the Aliens Order is not the appropriate Measure for dealing with this problem. In the speech to which I have referred the problem is of the girls who come to this country mainly for domestic work on a Ministry of Labour permit and who are either unaware of 1394 the regulations or ignore them. These cases are made a justification for the continuation of this Order. I feel that the Order has little application in these cases. I do not think it is effective in dealing with some of the problems involved in this category and it certainly would be inapplicable to the main problem involved in the girls coming to this country.
I do not think that anybody needs to make out a case in favour of girls coming from the Continent to this country to do domestic work. This is a class of labour for which there is a great, and it would seem a continuing, demand in this country. There is no doubt at all that the supply does not by any means cover the demand. Therefore, there should be no question of these girls putting out of work English girls who desire to do domestic work, work which is indispensable to a very great many women in the professions, and to mothers of young families. There is an acute shortage of English girls to do this kind of work.
But there are difficulties about the immigration into this country of girls from other countries. There are those who come under a Ministry of Labour permit and are able on the whole to find conditions satisfactory to them when they come over. There are, however, many others. All girls who come over under the age of 18 are ineligible for a Ministry of Labour permit, but some who come are as young as 14 or 15. They come on an au pair basis, which should mean that they come into this country in exchange for girls who go on the same basis to the countries from which they have come. In fact it very often works out that the girl on an au pair basis is employed as a domestic servant, has a very small wage, no insurance benefits and no legal protection. Sometimes, again, unscrupulous employment agencies charge high fees to both girls and employers and have no interest whatever in their welfare.
There are many problems associated with this type of work. The employment agencies are one of them. Not all the employment agencies are licensed, and I understand that the licensing arrangements are not uniform throughout the country. There is very little inspection 1395 of these employment agencies, with the result that it happens that some of the unscrupulous agencies bring over young girls who often are in bad health or are even mentally defective or epileptic. Some come from broken homes where the parents are glad to get rid of them.
Some girls who come here are lonely and do not know what to do when they get here. Sometimes they miss their train connection because they are held up by the Customs or by regulations which cause delay of the kind which has been mentioned already in the case of more distinguished people. This means that the girls arrive at the London terminus and their employers are not there to meet them.
There are many types of problem, not one of which is tackled by this Aliens Order, and all of which points to the need for the Home Office to look upon these problems as special ones to be dealt with in a special way. Since the war, because of the need for domestic help in this country, there has been almost an invasion of girls from the Continent. It seems to be growing. Voluntary organisations which are concerned with the problem try to meet the girls when they come to the London stations and to give them advice and help. That work has grown so enormously that an International Travellers' Aid Association was set up two years ago. It has a small kiosk at Victoria station and helpers with arm hands. Girls who are stranded, or do not know the language, or have not any money, go to them and are advised and helped.
I would ask the Home Secretary to look at this special category to see whether he could take appropriate action so that these girls might be looked after. There is a great need to supplement the work which is done by voluntary organisations.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Norman Hulbert)
Order. The hon. Lady must not discuss the work of voluntary organisations too much.
§ Mrs. Butler
I beg your pardon, Sir Norman, I was not aware of that. What I meant to say, instead of voluntary organisations, was that the kind of voluntary work being done—I hope that is in order—is the kind of work for which the need is growing very much. 1396 It would seem that the Home Office could very appropriately look at such matters as the appointment of women immigration officers. They could be at the ports to meet these girls who come over for genuine employment. They could also be of help in talking to some of the other girls who come for different reasons. Probably they would be able to deal with that problem more effectively than it has been dealt with hitherto under the existing arrangements.
There is need also for a contract of service for girls employed in this country, particularly those who do not come under labour permits. The Home Secretary will know that the Status of Women Commission—
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. This Bill deals with Home Office control of aliens and the hon. Lady must not suggest the use of voluntary organisations and what happens in them.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
On a point of order, Sir Norman. We are being asked to continue certain powers which the Home Secretary at present possesses and my hon. Friend is reluctant to see those powers renewed unless the work of the Home Office is supplemented by the work of voluntary organisations.
§ Mr. Janner
Further to that point of order. Surely my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) is entitled to make suggestions about the manner in which the immigration officers shall work? She is entitled to suggest that the Home Office should make further inquiries in respect of people who are admitted. Surely it is in order for her to suggest that voluntary workers should be used by the Home Office?
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Lady is perfectly entitled to say what she thinks the immigration officers should or should not do, but in this debate she is not entitled to say whether a voluntary organisation should be set up to take over such work.
§ Mr. Hale
On a point of order, Sir Norman. In this Bill be are dealing with homeless people throughout the world who may seek habitation here. Surely 1397 it is eminently in order—if I had had the good fortune to catch your eye I should do so—to say that we should do a little more about the refugee problem than we have done, although I concede that we have done a very great deal, and the whole question of the reception of large numbers of emigré populations created for example, by the Hungarian battles, which were the whole subject of debates on this Act on a previous occasion.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I have not called the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). Is he rising on a point of order?
§ Mr. Hale
Yes, indeed, Sir Norman. I rose on a point of order, and I said that I rose on a point of order. I would not rise in the course of someone else's speech except on a point of order. I rose to say that the whole question of Hungarian refugees was fully discussed on the last two occasions, and a great deal of debate went on about how they should be accommodated. We had the ancillary problems of what to do about their relatives. It seems to me that the refugee problem is one of the most important questions in the world today. It was precisely on that point, as I understood it, that my hon. Friend was speaking. I venture to suggest to you that the question of the organisation of some method of dealing with the refugee problem is not merely a part but a principal part of the whole question of how we should treat poor aliens—refugees or not—who seek admission to our shores.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I think this is quite simple. The only thing which is in order is the administration of the Aliens Order and anything bearing on that.
§ Mrs. Butler
I apologise if I have been out of order, Sir Norman. I was trying to show that since the war this has been a new problem. This Aliens Order is an emergency Order which was set up at a particular time and it is not relevant to the problem as it is today with reference to this particular category. When you called me to order, I was referring to the Status of Women Commission, which I did not appreciate came within the category of a voluntary organisation because it is an organ of the United Nations. I was hoping that the Home Secretary 1398 would consider lending what support he can to our representatives there supporting the plea for an International Labour Office convention on foreign workers or foreign trainees.
This is really an international problem and one which will become increasingly important. This kind of visitation to this country of girls to do domestic work is what the Home Secretary himself this afternoon said is a means of promoting international friendship and co-operation. If they are happy when they come here and if they are well received, they will take back good will to their countries, and that is most valuable. Therefore, it seems that this problem has reached a point at which it merits the special consideration of the Home Secretary. It is not adequately covered by the Aliens Order which we are discussing. I apologise if I strayed out of order. It was only my intention to try to illustrate what I had in mind and to commend the suggestion to the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Hale
One problem which arises out of this Aliens Order is how to deal with the poor and suffering. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner)—who always speaks with passion and sentiment on this matter and whose speech on the last occasion I read with very great interest—if in an interruption I slightly misrepresented what he meant to say, but I do not think I misrepresented what he was saying.
We should not concern ourselves so much with the question of whether Pastor Niemöller lost his temper after waiting half an hour with the Customs officials, as with the poor and suffering in the world who have no home to go to and are turned away from our shores. It might be all right to say that if we are forming a Labour Government we should have a Haileybury qualification clause.
§ Mr. Hale
I am obliged to my hon. Friend, who accepts that proposition, which I think was generally accepted at the time, but that kind of definition cannot be imposed on admission to a great country which for 100 years has boasted of giving right of asylum. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West, in the speech to which I have referred, spoke of the poor and 1399 suffering from Shanghai. He said that here was the new State of Israel faced with quite exceptional problems. I am sorry if he is not following me; he seems to be raising his eyebrows somewhat.
§ Mr. Hale
My hon. Friend referred to Jewish refugees in the Far East awaiting admission to Israel. I read his speech last night. I happened to see those refugees. Although I am the last person to boast of some achievement, if I did something to help their admission I am glad of it, and I believe I did so. The one thing which impressed me about the refugees in Shanghai was when they said that the Chinese Government had treated them with kindness—the misery of their delayed exodus was to be attributed to the influence of the Russian Government. That seemed one of the material things in assessing international relations, and the way in which our country is judged is not on how it deals with questions of power but with questions of pity and commiseration.
That is why, on personal grounds, I rather object to some of the emphasis in this debate on persons who have learning, those who have served in wars, or contributed to closing the dollar gap. I have a defective liver and hardly a penny left in the world. I am the sort of person who would be excluded from any country but my own. I have known moments when tests might be applied to me which could make the retention of my domicile difficult. That is why, speaking seriously, I have sympathy with those people who face a much more difficult, more miserable and more unhappy situation. We should look at their position seriously for a moment.
The difficulty about the tests which have been applied up to now is that if the twelve Apostles presented themselves at Dover tomorrow the only person who would qualify for admission is Judas Iscariot, because the thirty pieces of silver would provide him with the assurance of maintenance for a sufficient period to obtain some sort of job as a spiv, which would permit an extension to be granted.
§ Mr. Hale
The others would have no chance at all. Hon. Members representing fishing ports would talk about competition.
I have always feared that the day would come in a long and active life when I should find myself saying, almost by accident, "Let us take a realistic view". I have despised that kind of thinking for a very long time. Nevertheless, I am inclined to think that we might take it today. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, realism is to do something which one knows to be spiritually wrong in the hope that it may be economically or politically profitable. Idealism is to advocate in one's opponents the setting up of a series of principles which one has not been able to live up to oneself. We have to take a line between those two.
I am quite conscious of the fact that Oldham today is suffering from unemployment at a level almost unprecedented since the war, although I will not develop that point because it would be outside the terms of the Aliens Order. I am also conscious that the admission of an increasing number of aliens would he unpopular as a consequence of this.
What I want to say quite briefly, and I hope with sincerity, is that we could be generous in this matter. I do not say this in the spirit in which some people have said it—suggesting to the Home Secretary that he should apply his conscience to this matter. I have never had any doubt that his conscience is probably a good deal better than mine, although it may be that my emotions are a little more active on some limited subjects. I have heard him speak on these questions, and my own experience with the Home Office is that they have always considered these cases with a sincere desire to do what is right.
Nor do I suggest for a moment that our record in this matter or in the treatment of refugees is inferior to that of any other country. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West spoke of the very honourable record of Israel, and I accept what he says, because Israel has more difficulties than we have and, in spite of her difficulties, she has a record which does her very great honour. In referring to comparable countries of Western Europe, however, I think our record is pretty good, and in the work for 1401 the refugees our record is pretty good. In the field of human rights, we ratified the European Declaration first. I hope that the Home Secretary will now consider the debate which took place in another place two days ago and the question of the acceptance of the optional Clauses and the nomination of a judge, which comes up for consideration, I think, six months after the ratification by Iceland and Austria took place last September. In other words, it is due in February. Perhaps even here I am straying outside the ambit of the debate if I develop the point in detail.
Upon our conscience, all of us, and making no party political points about this, are those homeless people who sought refuge here in the years before the last war. Upon our conscience is the fact that the application of this law sent many people back to what ultimately was the gas chamber. Upon our conscience, thinking of each of these, should be the realisation that we said too little about it. I am not here today to wonder who saw the menace first, who appreciated the details first and who had the knowledge first. On all our consciences now should be 200,000 refugees on the border of Kuwait; and the stateless men, the victims of our policy, who are wandering about Europe seeking a home; and the men, admittedly isolated individuals, stateless, who have been sent from port to port, deported from country to country.
I do not wish to say this in any critical sense: I do not say that we can throw our ports open today and admit everybody. I know that there must be qualification tests, and I know that, curiously, those tests must be a little unfair, a little ungenerous, and a little unkind, because in many ways one can make an ethical case in complete contradistinction to the economic case. We are told of the distinguished medical expert who could contribute to our civilisation, but he could also contribute to many other people's civilisation, and I am a little more concerned about the man who cannot contribute to anyone's civilisation but who wants to live. He has a wife and a family who matter as much to him as they would to anyone else.
Both parties have failed in this matter. I think I am right in saying that we are now giving less than £3 million in various contributions through various funds to the 1402 refugees throughout the world. The right hon. Gentleman could say, "Let us start afresh in this matter on a non-party basis. Let us say that the world is still full of the victims of our mistakes, that we bear not merely the responsibility that the rich man bears in any street to the poor but the responsibility that politicians, who have erred and strayed very often like lost sheep, bear to those who are victims of their mistakes and their errors, sometimes of their folly and sometimes of their failure to provide."
Why should we not do this? We are not talking now of large sums of money. I was astonished only yesterday to discover that on the employment of 6,000 disabled men we are losing between £400 and £500 a year each. It may be worthwhile. I do not criticise that. I know of the difficulty, but we are spending no more on the millions of refugees throughout the world. We can afford to do more. It would be right to do more.
I venture to say to you, humbly, Sir Norman, and through you to the Committee, that I cannot think of any form of activity anywhere which would do more to raise the prestige of Britain throughout the world, which would do more to say to the Arabs, "Here is a Christian people still trying to do the Christian thing in relation to the refugees of the Middle East", which would do more to confound the countries behind the Iron Curtain by saying that here are a people who are not serving a narrow policy but are serving a kind of ethical mystique in trying to restore a sense of international decency.
This sense of international decency must be restored before we can even rely upon international contract and international treaty. If we build it up from that foundation, it seems to me that of all the activities to which we could have regard this is one in which a not-large sum of money could serve an immensely large purpose and could give satisfaction everywhere to make people who are concerned about suffering and about misery conscious of the fact that a great country can take its part.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
I had intended to make two or three short points. The first concerns the dangers which face the very large number of young girls who come here to day as 1403 domestic servants or to do similar work My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) has spoken about that already, and with much greater documentation and many more constructive suggestions than I have at my disposal. The second point is that we should operate this Order to provide a great sanctuary for the refugees of Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has spoken of that with much greater eloquence than I can command.
I will confine myself, therefore, to saying a few words briefly in support of the point which my hon. Friend has made. He is absolutely right in suggesting that we can be generous in this matter and that we can do the right thing at a very low cost in comparison with what we spend in so many directions. Indeed, over the last four years the United Nations Refugees Fund has had a grand total of money of about £5 million from all the nations of the United Nations. It is now trying to set up a new fund to tackle the problems of the refugees who are still in the camps of Europe, and for this purpose it wants only £1,600,000. Our share of that on a generous scale would be very modest indeed.
I remind the Home Secretary that today in Europe, all these years after the war, there are still 160,000 refugees without any sort of settled home of their own. These 160,000 people, refugees and exiles from their own countries, do not include the many scores of thousands of pathetic people in Western Germany who have come from Eastern Germany or people in similar situations in other parts of Europe where the Iron Curtain runs.
Of that 160,000, very nearly 50,000 are still living in refugee camps. The United Nations reports that a high percentage of the people in these camps, particularly Ole women and children, have never known any sort of normal existence. Here is a human problem in which we should do everything we possibly can to help.
I hope the announcement that the Home Secretary made this afternoon, and which has been universally welcomed from both sides of the Committee, will help to ensure that Britain does its fair share in providing a sanctuary for some of these refugees in the camps. The United Nations has started a campaign 1404 to clear the European refugee camps by 1960. That means finding homes for about 50,000 people. I hope that we will do our share in that job, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West that not only ought we to be concerned with the kind of people who, on being turned back at the frontiers, make the headlines; we must also pay attention to those who get turned back and about whom nobody ever hears because they do not have famous names.
I want to take up in particular one aspect concerning what the Home Secretary said. He announced that he would try to do more in the way of reuniting families, and we all agree with that. He said, however, that in the matter of applying the regulations to refugees we would still have to refuse the entry of refugees who were not in a state of good health. Of course, we do not like to ask for the admission of people whose disease would cause public danger in this country, but that kind of case must be relatively rare. What is important in dealing with the refugee problem is to try to offer sanctuary for family groups and not to separate people simply because some are healthy and some are sick or, even worse, not to condemn a whole family to continue life, if life it can be called, in the refugee camps because one member of the family is elderly or sick and we refuse to allow them in.
It is reported by the United Nations that nearly one-third of the people who still remain in these camps suffer from some sort of physical, social or economic handicap which prevents them from being self-supporting. If we can bring in people in family groups so that those who are sick or elderly have a reasonable chance of being supported by the other breadwinning members of the family, we should be doing a humane job. It is on that kind of line that we should move forward.
The British Government, I understand, have given support to a proposal which came from this country that next year should be a World Refugee Year. The Council of Europe, meeting at Strasbourg, has welcomed this initiative from Britain, and I am glad to hear that the Government have associated themselves with it. I hope that they will give all possible aid to a world-wide campaign 1405 to stir people's consciences on the refugee problem. I hope that they will give generously to the funds of the United Nations in assisting the refugees, and I hope, in particular, that the Home Office will exercise the humanity which, we know, it wants to exercise in doing as much as it can to provide a home within Britain for a fair number of these refugees in the camps.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Orbach
This afternoon's exercise has been in no sense a debate. We have had a statement from the Home Secretary which all of us have welcomed. In support of the changes that the right hon. Gentleman envisages, Members on this side and one Member on the Government side have brought to his attention cases which, they hope, will, in the new and changed circumstances, receive more sympathetic consideration than when they were first brought to the attention of the Home Office. I hope that it means that not only is the front door slightly open and that there is no need any longer for us to ask aliens to go through the back door, but that the door is to be opened a little wider so that some of the individuals who have approached me may receive consideration again for their cases.
Before I raise their specific issues, however, I want to discuss, as I did last year on the same exercise, the question of those people who, having been here for some years and having been on the aliens register, are anxious to have their names removed from that register. I want to direct the attention of the Committee to the people who are seeking to change their status from that of alien to becoming a citizen of the United Kingdom. In answer to a point of order, Sir Norman, you rightly said that, in the main, we were considering this afternoon the administration of the Aliens Order. I will not, therefore, deal with the question of policy, but will deal with the question of administration specifically with regard to this issue.
We have been concerned this afternoon, in a number of cases of eminent people which have been brought before us, at some of the crass stupidity which these people have had to face from time to time from. I am sure, an isolated individual who happens to be employed in the immigration service. I want, however, to raise the question of individuals who, 1406 having been in this country for over five years, apply in the normal way for naturalisation and get certain referees to agree that they are responsible and reputable people who ought, therefore, to be given the privilege of becoming citizens of this country.
For some time, these people have to pass through a series of formulae, one of which is advertising in the Press the fact that they wish to become British citizens. After that, they receive in due course a visit from a police officer. I drew attention to this last year, and I do so again today, because the information which reaches me and many other Members of the House is to the effect that many of the questions directed by the police officer on occasions of that nature are not only unnecessary, but sometimes intimidating and, on occasion, rather impudent. I should like the Joint Under-Secretary to direct his mind to this question.
What I have had reported to me is that in innumerable instances—I am not quoting one case, but scores of cases—people of a certain faith have been asked whether they have a particular political affiliation. Every single Jew who has reported to me that he has made an approach to be naturalised—in some cases, the applicant has received a certificate of naturalisation and in other cases it has been refused—has reported to me that in the past five or six years he has always been asked the loaded question—I am sure it is loaded—"Are you a Zionist? Have you been a Zionist?" It is not "McCarthyism"; I do not know what "ism" it really is—whether it is part of the opportunist State that we have in existence at this time.
At the same time, I want to raise the matter of the refusal of the Home Secretary to grant a certificate of naturalisation which he has a perfect right to do—
§ Mr. Renton
I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I have to reply to this debate, and, of course, I shall be in some difficulty if it is held to be in order that naturalisation, as well as the control of immigration, is the subject of the debate. It does not appear in the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1918, or in the Orders made under it.
§ Mr. Orbach
Surely, we are not only discussing the question of the control of 1407 alien immigration, but the question of deportation and the stay of aliens in this country. I am dealing with the question of the stay of aliens in this country, and with their change of status. They have not yet changed, but I am talking about their possible change to a different status. I think that, in these circumstances, I am perfectly entitled to say that, and I hope that on this occasion I shall receive a reply to the question which I raise.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. This Bill extends the Aliens Order, and it it not in order to discuss the changed status of persons from aliens to British subjects after naturalisation.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
Further to that Ruling, Sir Norman. Surely, it is perfectly permissible for my hon. Friend to discuss the way in which we treat an alien while he is waiting for naturalisation?
§ Mr. Orbach
That is exactly what I have been doing. I am not doing anything more than that. We have been discussing this afternoon the cases of aliens who are not in this country and are not under our jurisdiction. If we can do that under the Bill, then surely we can discuss the position of people who are now aliens but who may one day want to become something else? They may not have an opportunity of doing that, because they may die, may return to their own countries or may be prevented from doing so by the actions of people who operate under this Order. I am referring to them, and I am asking whether we have not reached the stage in our society—and this is the question which I put to the hon. and learned Gentleman in all this series of issues brought before us this afternoon about distinguished visitors wanting to come to this country—when we are getting very near to having political police. Is not that the most dangerous thing we could possibly engage upon at this particular time?
I trust that I shall get a response from the hon. and learned Gentleman showing his displeasure at the questions which are put to a number of people who, I am sure, we should welcome on all other grounds as being perfectly satisfactory people who should he granted the privilege of citizenship of this country. I leave that question there, because I may be ruled out of order if I proceeded any further with it.
1408 I now wish to deal with three or four individual cases which I have brought to the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman's Department, and which I hope may now be reopened as a result of the statement made by the Home Secretary this afternoon. We have had raised already the question of Mr. Wright, a distinguished American author who wishes to come to this country and who would write here and perhaps receive royalties for the books he wrote, either from Macmillan's or other publishers in this country or publishers abroad, and might spend—or so we hope—that money over here.
I wish to raise the case of a very humble person who came to this country on a visit for six months from the United States. She was humble from the point of view of distinction in letters or art, but she had plenty of money. She came here and found that her best friend was dangerously ill, having had a coronary thrombosis. I secured for her an extension of her visitor's permit from six months to nine months, and from nine months to twelve months. I tried to get a further extension, but the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary, who is absent from the Front Bench at the present time, flatly turned down my application on the grounds that this lady had been here quite long enough.
This was in spite of the fact that I could bring evidence to show that she was prepared to have deposited each year in this country 15,000 dollars for her upkeep, and that she only wanted to remain here in order to look after a very great personal friend. This person was not only a personal friend of the applicant, but also a personal friend of my own. The application was refused, despite the fact that I was prepared to vouch for both of the individuals concerned. The hon. Lady quoted the Immigration Control Order, and wrote me a long letter in which she told me the same story which she had told me in innumerable cases which I had brought to her attention over the past few years, to the extent that I have to repeat today what I have said previously. I am sure that the hon. Lady never read the letters which she had signed and sent out so frequently.
The second is the case of a Pole who was not an immigrant to this country, but who applied for his wife and children 1409 to come here under the Distressed Relatives Scheme. He was not an immigrant, because he was brought here with the Army of General Anders. He could not go back to Poland, and, indeed, did not want to go back there. In due course he became a British subject and applied to the Home Office for permission for his wife and two children to join him here. The Polish authorities said, "We have no objection to your leaving, and we will give you an exit permit."
The hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary at the Home Office replied to the effect that the wife could come, but not the two children. They were over 21. I hope that the regulations about which we have been told by the Home Secretary today will permit, even at this late date, the wife and the two children coming to this country. This is a family unit. There are four people in quite an ordinary family, and yet the hon. and learned Gentleman's colleague wrote, I must say callously, to me saying that the woman could come, but not the two children. They must remain behind, and the family is split up for ever.
The third case is that of a young person who left Egypt as a result of our action over the Suez business. She was stateless and because she was Jewish she had no opportunity of becoming an Egyptian subject. Under the old Ottoman law and the existing law, no Jew, even if born in the country and even if his parents and grandparents were born there can become an Egyptian subject. So she left, or was thrown out, and she took the first plane which brought her to Paris. She therefore became chargeable to the French authorities, who looked after her for a while. In the meantime, since she had been a nurse in Egypt, she communicated with one of our great hospitals and obtained the offer of a post at St. Mary's Hospital. I have a letter from the matron which I sent to the Ministry of Labour, but that Ministry told me that because she was a stateless person it was the concern of the Home Office, which flatly turned her down. I hope also that that is a case which I can now bring up again as a result of the Home Secretary's statement.
The last case is that of a little old lady who lives in Munich, who wished to come 1410 here to her only living cousin who lives in my constituency—a Polish woman who came here, worked diligently, and, in our property-owning democracy, acquired a lodging-house and now makes enough to keep herself and her cousin, if she could get her over here. The only reason for her being turned down and not being granted a visa was that she had made two previous applications and both of these had been turned down. No reconsideration of the circumstances was made this year. I hope that this is another case—it is the last I shall mention—that the Department will be prepared to take up, and to take up a little more sympathetically than it has in the past.
Other speakers have said that this is a real human problem, and we ought to have controls and exercise those controls. I hope the day will come when we shall no longer have controls. I do not think it is as far distant as many hon. Members would suggest, because I am not so certain that this nationalist idea which is being engendered even in this Committee has not had its day. However, it is not the purpose of this debate to discuss internationalism or nationalism.
My appeal to the hon. and learned Gentleman is that in the consideration of the administration of the control of aliens, their deportation, or their change from their status, there should be some direction from the Home Office which will serve to stifle the xenophobia of some of the small mean-minded people who have authority placed in their hands. That is all I am asking for today. It is only a small number of mean-minded people. I have seen many aliens and British subjects receive at the hands of our authorities at airports and at seaports the very greatest consideration and the very greatest kindness, and I should not like in any way to generalise and suggest that there is anything but a minority of people who are responsible for mean-mindedness. However, it is for the Home Office to see that all of it is stamped out.
§ Mr. Christopher Boyd (Bristol, North-West)
Possibly, and to avoid all doubt, I ought to mention that my wife is an alien and that, therefore, I may have an interest in the subject of this debate. If, therefore, it is out of order for me to continue to speak in this debate, I will not.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
Of course it is not out of order. It is a very good reason for speaking.
§ Mr. Boyd
However, I have had some opportunities which I might not otherwise have had of seeing how the Aliens Order works in practice. So far as my experience of the administration goes, I would say that the tributes which have been paid to those who administer the Order have been well deserved. It is not always a pleasant task which the officials have.
I have one small suggestion to make in that respect relating to the organisation of the offices to which aliens have to go from time to time to register—I do not know what it is exactly—to put themselves in order with the law. The organisation seems to be based on the assumption that long queueing is unavoidable. It may have been unavoidable in the early years after the war when large numbers had to be dealt with, but I should think that by now it should no longer be necessary that the offices should be organised for long queues and run in such a way that every person who goes has to go to at least two offices in turn and spend at least half a day queueing at each place. There is seating accommodation for the queue, and all is very nice in that way, and it may be quite necessary that the aliens have to go to the counter twice, first to be put on a list, and then on being called in turn for interview.
However, it does seem now, when a number of temporary civil servants are being laid off, that perhaps a few could be retained to speed up the processes, where necessary, to clear the queues. A shopkeeper who has a long queue in his shop knows that possibly the tail of the queue may drift to another shop where the queue is cleared faster. I certainly tend to do that myself. These aliens, however, have no choice, and have to wait however long it may be necessary. I hope that, where necessary, it may be possible to recruit a few extra staff to clear the queues.
We all welcome—I have not heard anybody who did not welcome—the Home Secretary's concession. I want to ask a question about that. Does it apply to cases which have already come up to the Home Office and been turned down under the rules as they stood before?
1412 That affects some constituents of mine. I can think of one case in particular where the parents-in-law from Poland wanted to come over, either to stay preferably, or at least to pay a visit. They were allowed to come on a visit on the strict understanding that my constituent would make himself responsible for ensuring that they went back to Poland after the period, which undertaking he gave. It was not a very pleasant duty to have to send his parents-in-law back to a country where they very much disliked being. None the less, he carried it out, and they have gone back. I wonder whether the case can be reviewed and taken up again with the possibility of his being able to invite them to come to stay with him permanently.
I am very glad that the question of refugee camps in Europe has been raised. I had the opportunity of visiting them this year on behalf of the United Nations Association, with an hon. Member from the other side of the Committee. The number of refugees remaining in the camps is, of course, very much smaller than the 9 million who were there at the end of the war. Of those remaining, the majority now are unwilling to leave. At any rate, large numbers still prefer to stay where they are in the new housing which is gradually being built for the purpose of clearing the camps. However, there are still some who would like to come to this country and even if we allowed all those who would like to come to this country to enter it would not make a large reduction in our surplus of emigrants over immigrants for one year, as the number would be, perhaps, about 10,000, and the emigration surplus is very much greater. If there is any doubt about the figures I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will correct me.
It is surely very relevant to this topic that every year a larger number of people, round about double, are going out as emigrants from this country than are coming in as immigrants into this country. We can afford a little relaxation. No doubt this entered into the mind of the Home Secretary in making the easements he has announced.
It may well be, too, that the number of the people clamouring to come here, and who would come if there were a relaxation, is no longer anything like as 1413 great as it was, and that it will continue to diminish year by year, unless we have another war or another major convulsion. It is possible that the number of those who want to come under the easement of the regulations, could come without any great disaster following.
I am very glad my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) mentioned, though she had some difficulty in keeping in order, the question of those who come from other countries, especially from the Continent, to learn the English language and who earn their keep meanwhile by domestic work. I know of a number of cases where in practice these people work for far more hours than would be allowed by any proper industrial agreement, and I very much agree that there is need to ensure that there is some kind of agreement before they arrive as to the terms on which they come in.
Once in this country they are much more helpless and defenceless against their employers who may take advantage of them or who may be tempted to do so. The pressure of housework, in any case, is pretty heavy, and a hardworking housewife may be tempted to make the very utmost of the opportunity presented by having in her employ a foreign girl who is not able to rush back to her parents without substantial expense and who probably is not so well able to argue her case, who, perhaps, is even more accustomed to being told what she is to do than we in this country are, who do not always do what we are told, if we think it unreasonable.
I wonder if something can be done about that, whether through the Home Office, through the immigration officers making some inquiries; whether some arrangements could be made, perhaps, through the labour permits being combined with some statement of what the normal conditions of work in this country are. Perhaps the position could be eased a bit in a way if the aliens were not so strictly limited to certain occupations.
Frequently a choice of job is not open, and the possibility of going to another job is often the best way of limiting exploitation in a given job. The fact is that these people sometimes do change jobs and I wonder whether this limita- 1414 tion is enforceable on the jobs they do. I have certainly heard of a number of cases where a person who has come into the country has not stayed at the job on which she began but has moved to another where she has found better treatment. It rather seems as if these restrictions may not be enforceable and that those who stick to the original job suffer while the enterprising ones who manage to evade the regulations get a better job and perhaps stay longer in the country. It seems, therefore, that it may not be worth while continuing these restrictions.
I hope too that the limitations in relation to health will be very much more leniently applied in the future. I wonder also whether the Home Office might not be eased in mind if it tried a system of country quotas of immigration. We know that the standard of living in this country may be affected differently according to the standards of social services and employment opportunities in the countries from which these immigrants come. If there were some fair system of quotas for different countries these could be fixed bearing in mind the standard of social services in the country from which the immigrants were coming.
Other things could be borne in mind as well. The system might even take into account the treatment of British citizens desiring to go to the other country concerned. There could be some mutuality and therefore some possible basis of negotiation between the two countries on the level of the quota. One might then find that in some countries the number of would-be immigrants to this country would be well below the number that we could allow to come in. Therefore that whole category would be virtually free of restriction and thus trouble would be avoided and administrative costs greatly reduced.
I was glad to hear the words in which the Home Secretary emphasised the value of multiplying our contacts with other nations. I hope, therefore, that we shall be able to proceed at each of these annual stock-takings with further concessions, until we are able to do without any substantial amount of restrictions in this context. Whatever the exact technical form of the procedure, I hope that we shall continue to have this annual stocktaking. If putting these provisions into permanent legislation were to make it 1415 more difficult to modify regulations from time to time, I should not like to see it happen. I know that it has been done in the case of the Army Act and it may be all right for that Measure, but I am doubtful about a change of method in dealing with this topic which might diminish the scope for discussing it every year.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington acid Hackney, North)
There has been considerable criticism today and many instances given of alleged ill-treatment, if I may use the term, on the part of immigration officers of persons desiring to come into this country. No doubt the treatment accorded was unjustified in those cases, and no doubt we shall have some explanation with regard to them. I should like to say from the outset that, within the limits of the policy, I have found the most sympathetic consideration given by the Home Office to those cases which I have put before them. I said "within the limits of the policy", and I was very glad to hear today of the much more liberal approach announced for the future by the Home Secretary.
I hope that that liberal approach will not be restricted to the instances which the right hon. Gentleman gave. If I remember some of his words rightly, he was referring, for example, to a widowed mother being brought over to this country. I have in mind this sort of case. I dealt with one some time ago where there was a refusal to admit. There was an alien mother here, a refugee, who had a son who was mentally ill and who, as a result of that illness, had certain lapses from time to time. He was sent out of the country. He is now in Austria, and this poor mother has to go back and forth from this country to see her son who has been refused admission here, although she is perfectly able to look after the boy and he cannot possibly be a burden on the country in any way.
It may be that that is not one of the cases which will receive sympathetic consideration, though I think that it should receive it. But I hope that the Home Secretary, in implementing the more liberal policy which he announced, will not restrict that policy to the instances which he mentioned, as it seemed from his words that he would be doing. I hope that he will give consideration to 1416 cases generally and not on any restricted basis.
I should like to approach the matter in another way and to ask what should be the consideration on the part of the Home Office which would justify the exclusion of aliens. I can visualise it as being quite properly said, "If a person were not of good character or if the alien was a person who might become a burden on the country, or if there were reasons of national security or the possibility of interfering with the employment of citizens in this country." Those quite clearly, are considerations which would entitle any one who is administering the law to say where we would have to draw the line.
I mention these reasons particularly because I should like to go back to an examination of our position in respect of aliens in years gone by. Before 1914 this country had the wonderful record of being open to everyone. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said, there was one law for everyone, British citizen or alien—one law for them all. Everyone pointed proudly to Britain as the country that held its doors open in hospitality to aliens. There was, of course, the prerogative in the Crown which enabled the deportation of undesirable aliens, but apart from that there were the open gates.
What happened? In 1914 the Aliens Restriction Act was passed. I have taken the trouble of looking at the record of the debate in the House when that Measure was introduced. The extraordinary thing was that one hon. Member only was bold enough, despite cries against him of "Sit Down", to ask how long this was to go on. He had an assurance that it was only for the duration of the war. Indeed, the words of that Act are significant. Its provisions were to last as long as…a state of war exists between His Majesty and any foreign power,"—and let the Committee note the words—or when it appears that an occasion of imminent national danger or great emergency has arisen.…Those were the words which were used. The 1914 Act was enacted to last only during that period.
In the 1919 amending Act those words were deleted. Why? The war had ended, there was no occasion of imminent 1417 national danger, and no great emergency had arisen. The same provisions have existed year after year since 1919. Year after year we discuss the Order. So it goes merrily on.
In the 1953 Order, which apparently consolidated all the other Orders, we read of the varying restrictions in respect of admission and landing rights, the registration of aliens, the need to notify one's removal from place to place, all under penalties. Why? There are thousands of law-abiding aliens in this country—there is nothing criminal about them in any way—but they are obliged to register specially if they go to a hotel or move from their ordinary place of living, under penalty of being summoned before a magistrate and fined or sentenced to imprisonment.
Why do we do this year after year? An hon. Friend of mine spoke about not desiring permanent legislation. I disagree with him very strongly, and I do so for this reason. When an hon. Member dared to mention naturalisation today he was ruled out of order. There are many things that we cannot discuss under the Order, and there are many matters relating to aliens that we dare not question, and each year we are limited in the scope of our debate. Is it not time, bearing in mind the way in which this legislation was originally enacted, that once and for all we have before the House a Measure dealing with aliens which would enable us to discuss the whole subject in detail so that we could ascertain the principles which ought to guide the Home Office in its administration and discuss why it is necessary in 1958, forty-four years after the original Act was passed, to have this type of legislation in being? The time has come when the Government should put a. Bill of that kind before the House so that unrestricted, in a general debate we may discuss the position of aliens and whether there should be restrictions, how they should be applied and what ought to be our policy.
Take, for example, the registration of aliens. How ridiculous, harrowing and harassing the restrictions are in many cases, and how completely and totally unnecessary they are. Discussion would throw light on the matter.
There is also the matter of deportation. The Home Secretary reminded us that 1418 there was a limited right of review in certain cases. That right did not exist until two years ago. Until then, when an order for deportation was made against a person there was no such right. There was a completely arbitrary power on the part of the Home Office to order deportation, and no one could question it in any way. As a result of discussion in the House, and due very much to Members on this side of the Mouse, we achieved a limited right of review by the Chief Magistrate. But this applies only in the case of people who have been resident in this country for more than two years. The Home Secretary said there had been seventeen cases, and he proudly said that fourteen had been upheld. The fact that there were three cases in which the view of the Chief Magistrate was that there should be no order for deportation shows how necessary it is to have a right of appeal.
What about all the other cases? There is no right of appeal in the case of a recommendation by a court for deportation. The Joint Under-Secretary knows that an order for deportation is often made in a magistrate's court, the magistrate who had heard the case saying that it is a proper case for deportation, and the Home Office making an order. But are there not many cases where, if one examines the facts afterwards, facts which were not before the magistrate, facts which might be gone into more carefully and representations which might be made on behalf of the accused person, it is shown that an order for deportation ought not to have been made? Why should there not be a right of appeal in such a case?
What about cases where a deportation order is said to be made by the Home Office for security reasons? Who are the judges of security reasons—the Home Office? It is completely arbitrary action. Why should there not be a right of appeal in those cases?
Take the cases of aliens who have been in the country for not more than two years. They have no right of appeal. Some years ago I was concerned in the case of a Pole who was arrested and against whom an order for deportation was made. If the information that we had was correct and the Pole was to be deported, there was a real danger that he would be shot. That may be right or it may be wrong; I merely say that 1419 those were the facts. An attempt was made on legal grounds to prevent deportation, but it failed, and the Pole was sent abroad. What happened to him I do not know, but why should there not be a right of appeal in such a case? I suggest that in every case of a deportation order the person against whom the order has been made should have a right of appeal.
What does it mean if one says that? At the present moment the Home Office has arbitrary power, and does not give its reasons even when asked by Members of Parliament. Not a single reason does it disclose about deportation, naturalisation and such matters. Is that right? This is a human problem, for the person who is deported suffers, and it affects not only him but his family and relatives. Whenever a deportation order is made the person concerned should be given the opportunity to put his case before some appellate tribunal to decide whether the order is right or wrong.
I very strongly urge upon the Joint Under-Secretary that that point ought to be looked into very carefully, and that sympathetic consideration should be given to the arguments I have put forward. Is it not true to say that in the 1914–18 war, when the Aliens Act, was enacted, the primary consideration was national security, and rightly so? Surely, in the world today, with the trouble and suffering and everything that we have, although national security plays its part, the primary considerations ought to be considerations of humanity. I hope that the Home Office will advance considerably further in the liberal policy which has been announced today.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
Like my hon. Friends, I have gradually become reconciled to the rather curious Parliamentary procedure that we follow when we are discussing the Aliens Order. In theory, I would like there to he a new Bill, subject to amendment, but in practice I am quite happy with the situation in which we have this annual occasion of reviewing the way in which the Home Secretary is using his powers.
In 1953 we were able, as a result of one of these annual debates, to obtain some consolidation of the legislation, and today we have heard from the Home Secretary of three concessions which he 1420 has made as a result, I think, of the pressure which has been brought to bear during the last two or three years, particularly by many of my hon. Friends who have been most assiduous in this matter.
Like my hon. Friends, I should like to thank the Home Secretary for the concessions he has made. We shall, of course, await with interest to see how the concessions work out in practice. It is not very easy at the moment to know exactly what the Home Secretary meant by his reference to making things easier for temporary visitors. We shall look forward to some elucidation from the Joint Under-Secretary as to what the Home Secretary had in mind in that respect, and also with regard to his reference to easing the position of aged parents.
The Home Secretary took some pride in the fact that only 0.2 per cent. of the aliens arriving in this country were refused leave to land, but it does not seem to me that this is a matter that we ought to consider in terms of percentages. For one thing, the total of misery is quite disproportionately large to the number of people who are involved. Although 0.2 per cent. may seem very small, 2,638 people turned back in the last year seems to me to be very large indeed.
As some of my hon. Friends have mentioned, one of the tragedies of the situation is that most of these cases do not come to light. Yet there are seven cases every day, seven cases which in some instances may be cases of heartbreak—perhaps 50 cases of heartbreak a week. Yet it is only when we get distinguished visitors like Dr. Pauling or Pastor Niemöller being treated in this way that the matter comes to light.
There are cases, too, in which constituents write to their Members of Parliament, and there are occasions when the vigilance of the Press is responsible for bringing these matters to light. That, of course, was what happened in the case of the Hungarian stowaways, whose plight was brought finally to the attention of the House through the vigilance of the News Chronicle and the Daily Express. I should like to thank the Home Secretary for the humanity he personally showed in dealing with the question of the Hungarian stowaways, but the sad and regrettable part of it was that they should have been treated so 1421 badly previously that such a degree of humanity was called for from the Home Secretary. The hon. Gentleman very properly paid tribute to his Department, and particularly to the immigration officers. That tribute has been echoed by hon. Members, mainly on this side of the Committee, but also by two hon. Members who ventured to join the discussion from the benches opposite.
While we can all agree that those tributes are justified, by and large, I cannot help feeling that it is a little surprising how often there seems to be an intolerable delay in giving permission to aliens to come to this country and how often there is a lack of imagination in handling them when they have arrived on our shores. Sometimes, too, there seems to be a failure to try to understand the position in which the aliens find themselves. And sometimes, there seems to be an inability to overcome the language difficulty which is involved.
While one pays tribute to the Immigration Department, all those cases are bound to be set against the many examples of kindliness and courtesy on the part of the immigration officers. Every time we blunder, as the Home Office blunders all too frequently, it counts against us in the eyes of the democratic world.
I read with some shame—and I hope that the Under-Secretary read it, too—a letter which appeared in the Manchester Guardian of 25th October. It was written by Mr. Adrian Piggott, who described how in July he left Surrey Docks for Leningrad. In his letter, he went on to describe how 200 people were formed into a queue and how nothing then happened for 40 minutes. He said that eventually a door was opened, but it took another 40 minutes to get the passengers through to the ship. A number of aliens were involved, of course. The part of the letter which shamed me was when Mr. Piggott said:Contrast this laborious and insolent process with the courtesy and celerity displayed at Leningrad.When it is possible for one of our fellow British citizens to make such unfavourable comparisons between our treatment and the Russian treatment of aliens, it is a matter which calls for the most urgent and drastic review by the Home Secretary.
1422 I remind the Under-Secretary of some of the cases which have been mentioned and ask him to deal with some of the questions which are worrying many hon. Members. I do not want to deal with the case of Pastor Niemöller in detail, because my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) dealt with it so adequately. I like to think that Pastor Niemöller is one of my own friends. I believe him to be a man whom we should be proud to welcome to this country. Indeed, I believe that if the population had a choice between welcoming Pastor Niemöller, who was an enemy of Hitler, and welcoming the President of a State which is still paying pensions to ex-Nazis, it would have no hesitation in welcoming Pastor Niemöller in preference to the President of the West German Republic.
What interests me about the case is that from my knowledge of Pastor Niemöller I cannot believe that he acted in a mood of irritation or bad temper. Pastor Niemöller is a man whom I can describe without exaggeration as of Christian humility and not the sort of person to be knocked off his balance very easily. If he assures me that on three occasions he has been subjected to this treatment, then I think that the apology which the Home Secretary offered was the very least we could do in these circumstances.
I do not regard the most serious aspect of the case as being the fact that Pastor Niemöller was delayed for 40 or 50 minutes. The important aspect of the case was that the immigration officer asked Pastor Niemöller what he intended to say when he delivered his addresses in Methodist churches. It is an intolerable position that a minor official in the Home Office should be in a position to question a distinguished foreign theologian about the views he is to propound in the sermons which he is to deliver in British churches. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to assure us that steps are being taken to ensure that similar misunderstandings and inadvertencies do not happen upon a subsequent occasion.
The case of Dr. Linus Pauling seems to be very much on all fours with that of Pastor Niemöller. After Dr. Pauling had had his unfortunate contretemps with the Home Office, The Times stated that the Home Secretary was preparing 1423 certain measures which it was hoped would avert similar occurrences in the future. A report to that effect appeared in The Times last Monday, and I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to tell us what progress has been made towards ensuring the avoidance of the same sort of misundertanding in the future. The case of Dr. Linus Pauling was commented on most adversely in a number of British newspapers, and we cannot afford to lay ourselves open to criticism in that way.
There are many individual cases which hon. Members could raise. I had not intended to raise any, and therefore have not given the Joint Under-Secretary any notice that I was going to do so, but I would ask him to look again at a case which was brought to his right hon. Friend's attention by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that relates to the brother of an Italian lady who is married to one of my right hon. Friend's constituents. The brother had been unemployed in Italy. He therefore found employment in Germany, and when he finished his work there he accepted an invitation from his sister in Leeds to pay her a visit. He arrived at Harwich from the Hook of Holland and was questioned because he had with him only a single ticket and not very much money. The sister had agreed to pay his fare back to his home or to Germany, or possibly to join the French Foreign Legion.
When this gentleman arrived with very little money, with only a single ticket, and with no job, but, not unnaturally, with all his personal possessions, which consisted only of his clothes and other similar immediate personal belongings, he was refused permission to land. The immigration authorities sent a telegram to his brother-in-law in Leeds, and the brother-in-law promptly telephoned back and made it plain that the Italian was not coming here to work and would not be staying indefinitely. The immigration officer apparently then told the Italian that he would have to consult a senior official before he could give permission for the Italian to stay, but that that senior official was not available. The Italian was therefore returned to the Hook of Holland from Harwich.
That again, was the sort of unimaginative bungling on the part of some official which the Home Secretary should 1424 ensure does not happen again, or at least does not happen twice in the case of the same official. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has an unfortunate legacy in having had as his predecessor one who was not the most dynamic and energetic of Home Secretaries within living memory, but if there is any slackness in the Home Office the right hon. Gentleman must deal with it seriously, and must ensure that unfortunate incidents of this kind do not occur as frequently as they are shown to have occurred from the discussion that we have had today.
In his absence I thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the humanity and courtesy he showed on the occasion of the unfortunate incident of the Hungarian stowaways, but the right hon. Gentleman may remember that on 21st January he told the House:I have given instructions for a full and immediate review to be carried out of the arrangements for dealing with illegal immigrants who were refused permission to land in this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1958; Vol. 580, c. 898.]I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us whether any progress has been made here. This is one of the more tragic features of our aliens position, and perhaps I may put the following point to the hon. and learned Gentleman.
Visitors who have no documents of authority—and that usually means stowaways—or British subjects who are unable to prove that they are British subjects, are normally returned at once on the boat on which they arrived to the country from which they came. In a number of cases, it would no doubt be possible for a British subject to prove with time that he had that status, or for an alien to find some asylum in some other country. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary whether it might not be possible for us so to arrange that when people do arrive in those circumstances they may be allowed to stay here for a limited time, so that if they are British subjects they can establish that fact or, if they are aliens, they can find somewhere to go other than to the country from which they have fled.
The subject of deportation orders has been touched on by a number of hon. 1425 Gentlemen, and I want to correct one impression that seems to have been prevalent during this discussion. A number of hon. Members have referred to the victims of deportation orders having a right of appeal to the Chief Magistrate. I think that this is misunderstanding that stems from some remarks made by the Joint Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Miss Hornsby-Smith), in the 1957 debate on this Bill. On that occasion, she said that there was a right of appeal to the Chief Magistrate at Bow Street. For the convenience of the hon. and learned Gentleman, I may say that she is reported, to that effect in volume 578, column 601, of the OFFICIAL REPORT.
As I understand it, there is not really a right of appeal to the Chief Magistrate, but aliens who are subject to deportation orders have a right to apply to him to have their case reviewed, and the Chief Magistrate then makes recommendations, or gives advice to the Home Secretary. That is not quite the same thing as saying that the alien has a right of appeal. There is no judicial process whatever, and I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will confirm my reading of the position.
Another point about deportation is that it is not the general practice of the authorities, I believe, to issue and enforce a deportation order, other than on conviction by a court, except as a last resort. Is there any procedure by which application can be made to the Chief Magistrate when a deportation order is threatened, but has not actually been made?
My next point refers to permits to stay. I understand that it has been the practice in a number of cases, although an application to stay has been made in good time, to delay the decision on it—sometimes until months after the expiry of the date of the previous permit. That, of course, leaves the individual in suspense over the whole period. The renewal may be granted rather late in the period and, again, for only a very limited period, so that, as soon as it has been granted the person has at once to apply again for a renewal. Such a situation obviously causes a great deal of uncertainty and unhappiness among aliens who are subject to these permits, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will look into this and see whether any alteration can be made.
1426 Those are the main questions on which we seek the guidance of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and we also hope that we shall obtain from him one or two other concessions which the Home Secretary may have generously left to him to make. I have a great deal of sympathy with those of my hon. Friends who criticised our whole aliens policy as being one that seems to stem from fear of aliens rather than from appreciation of the opportunities that we would derive from a more liberal policy. We have not had the benefit of any contribution from the Liberal Party in spite of the fact that every speaker has used the word "liberal", whether from the Conservative or Socialist Benches. And we have had only two speeches from the Government supporters.
I would therefore conclude by quoting from an article which appeared in the Daily Telegraph last Saturday written by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). I quote it because it reflects the views of hon. Gentlemen in many parts of the House. He wrote:It is our strategy and public relations which lack vision. They can be criticised not for what, through lack of imagination, we deny humanity, but for what we deny ourselves.Throughout our history we have enriched ourselves by a diverse but usually generous immigration policy. Yet our policy today seems dominated by a notion that immigration must be, for us, an impoverishing concession. It need not be.I hope that even if the Joint Under-Secretary of State does not listen to us he will listen to his colleague, and that the concessions which the Home Secretary announced will be only the first stage of a progressive liberalisation of our policy.
§ Mr. Renton
Although I have had to wind up a good many debates in this Chamber in the last three years, I do not think there has been one in which so many detailed questions have been put to me and so many good, constructive suggestions made. If I have a nightmare tonight I may find myself standing at this Despatch Box and having, without notice, to answer a debate on a very important general problem and twenty Adjournment debates all at once. However, I will do my poor best.
The policy which has been set forth very fully today by my right hon. Friend—for the first time I think for several years the Home Secretary himself has 1427 taken part in this annual debate and has deployed his policy—has been welcomed on both sides of the Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The Home Office has been praised for the way in which, broadly speaking, our Aliens Order is administered. There have been detailed criticisms, of which examples have been given, affecting individual cases, both of decisions, taken at a fairly high level, whether an alien should be allowed to come here, and also of the way in which immigration officers are alleged to have mishandled matters when aliens have presented themselves.
I shall be saying a good deal in detail about the work of our immigration officers. Before I go any further I would remind the House of their tremendous task. Last year about 9 million people passed through the immigration controls, including British subjects, both native and from Commonwealth and Colonies. More than 1¼ million foreigners were admitted and there was a vast variety of cases, in terms of length of stay which could be granted. In every single case it was the duty of the immigration officer, a duty imposed by the House of Commons for which my right hon. Friend was responsible, to find out why the alien had come and how long he wanted to stay.
It is in the interests of the alien himself that the perfectly reasonable questions asked by the immigration officer should be answered. I know how difficult it is and how easy misunderstandings are. Nevertheless, those cases to which our attention has been drawn where misunderstandings have arisen will be noted by us and will, I am sure, be noted also by those who have to administer this control.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that no doubt those responsible would notice what has been said. Will the Home Secretary make it part of his duty to call their attention to what has been said in set terms?
§ Mr. Renton
That is certainly a matter for consideration, but the whole of this administration engages in considerable detail the attention of my right hon. Friend, the other Joint Under-Secretary, and myself. These things do not pass unnoticed, I can assure the right hon. 1428 Member. Somewhat unexpectedly, the need for permanent legislation does not seem to have been stressed so much today as might have been considered. Several hon. Members have pointed out that if we had permanent legislation we might not have this annual debate. I should make the further comment that I suppose there are very few permanent Acts of Parliament which earn the right to an annual debate and the further comment that if we had permanent legislation there would obviously have to be a certain amount of flexibility in its administration and in the terms of the policy which has to he administered. So the net result might not be so very different.
The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) pointed out that Members of Parliament have a duty to fulfil with regard to this policy and in drawing our attention to it. I say on behalf of my right hon. Friend that we welcome the interest hon. Members show, not only on this annual occasion, but also in the correspondence we have with them. Although the administration is extremely thorough in the scrutiny of all the cases which come—every file contains a tremendous amount of detail—nevertheless it is good for us that there are Members of Parliament to jog us from time to time and to point out some of the difficulties and the inconveniences suffered by individual aliens
I deal first with several points raised by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), several technical points of which he was good enough to give me notice. The first concerned interpretation of the 1919 Act—not of Section 1 of that Act, with which we are concerned today, but Sections 3 and 4, which I think it would be out of order for me to discuss and about which I shall inform the hon. and learned Member privately. He also raised a point, which was certainly in order, on the Aliens Order, 1953. He pointed out that paragraph 20 (5) reserves the right to deport someone who ceases to be an alien and thought it might be ultra vires; but, if he turns to the case of Cox v. Ede, of which I shall give him the reference, he will find that it is all right.
The hon. and learned Member asked why people who are deported should not have the right to go where they like. The answer is that they have the right to go 1429 where they like, provided they will be accepted there. It is no use having deportation powers unless there is a country to which the alien concerned can return. That is why, in the case of those who are not given the right of permanent residence here but have temporary permits only, we have to insist rather carefully on the question of returnability.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Renton
With great respect, I think that is a separate point.
The hon. and learned Member and others also referred to the representations which may be made to the Chief Magistrate when an alien has been here two years on temporary permit and then is ordered by my right hon. Friend to be deported. As a matter of policy, not as of right, such an alien is always given an opportunity of making representations to the Chief Magistrate. That is in no sense a right of appeal. It is proper that I should stress that because doubt has been raised about it in the debate, by the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) among others. This policy was announced in the House on 2nd August, 1956, and it has been working very satisfactorily. As my right hon. Friend said earlier, there were three cases last year in which the Chief Magistrate recommended that in spite of the deportation order having been made, it should not be carried out, and it was not carried out; but this is a matter in which my right hon. Friend must retain a responsibility, and it is a responsibility to the House.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who is now on the Front Bench, although he spoke from below the Gangway, asked whether we would reconsider those old cases which fell outside the policy of permitted immigration prior to my right hon. Friend's statement today. There will not be an automatic reconsideration of those cases, but if fresh applications are made they will be considered on their merits in the light of the new policy.
1430 My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) raised the very important point that the decision to return a foreigner to his own country should, he maintained, depend on the interests of this country and not on those of the foreign country. He laid down as a general proposition that even though the foreign country were not prepared to extend the alien's passport, we should always let the alien stay. If it were possible to carry out a policy of such extreme liberalism, we should defeat our immigration control altogether. It would be a very pleasant thing to do, but it would mean that it would be very difficult to get rid of undesirable aliens, and it would also mean that every alien who came here as a bona fide tourist for a short casual visit would be able to extend his stay indefinitely and become permanently resident here. We should find this country flooded with a great many people who preferred to live here rather than in their own countries.
§ Mr. Kirk
My hon. and learned Friend has taken my argument a good deal further than I took it. I was referring merely to people who were already here on labour permits and the only reason why they were being sent back was because their passports were expiring. That was as far as I went. I did not suggest that every tourist should be allowed to stay for ever.
§ Mr. Renton
I have not extended my hon. Friend's case; I have simply pointed out the logical extension which must necessarily follow from it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] With great respect to hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, I thought I had already explained this. We can divide the aliens who come into the country into two categories. First there are those whom we allow to come for various sound reasons which are well known and who have permanent residence. There is no trouble about that. They are here, we accept them and we take the responsibility of having accepted them as permanent residents. Secondly, there are all those who come here as temporary residents, for one reason or another.
It is essential that if those temporary residents are not to become permanent residents they shall have a travel document which will get them back to their own country. We therefore have to 1431 ensure that they get back to their country before that travel document expires. Whether they come here for work, for pleasure, on compassionate grounds or for any temporary purpose, we have,to ensure that those people get back before their travel document expires; otherwise, we would never get rid of them and we should have thousands of them here on our hands.
The hon. Member for Islington, East mentioned the case of Küchenmeister, which has already been through the courts. He asked what steps were taken to ensure that there would be no repetition of the difficulties which arose then. The trouble in that case was that there was a technical difficulty of what is called a tarmac transfer of a passenger in transit. After the High Court case was over, stringent steps were taken to ensure that what had happened at London Airport on that occasion did not occur again.
The hon. Member for Islington, East also mentioned the case of Dr. Pauling I hope I may say with regard to that case that, to an extent at least, all is well that ends well in that Dr. Pauling eventually got here for exactly the meeting for which he had asked to come and at the time he wanted to came. I can reassure the hon. Member, however, that it is not the practice to exclude foreigners simply on the ground that they propose to address meetings, whether hostile to Government policy or not, but that special considerations can arise relating to the auspices under which such meetings might be held.
In case there is doubt about the position of those holding Communist or crypto-Communist views, I hope we can agree, on bath sides, that we are all against Communism but in favour of freedom of speech. To the extent that that creates an administrative dilemma, which has to be resolved in the first instance by immigration officers, a careful balance has to be taken and common sense used. In any event, this is a matter which is always under the consideration of my right hon. Friend with his statesmanlike approach to these matters.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not for one moment suggesting that Dr. Pauling has either Communist or crypto-Communist views.
§ Mr. Renton
No; I have not suggested that at all. I hope that the mere fact that I went from one point to another so quickly, as one does in a debate like this, will not be considered an implication on my part with regard to Dr. Pauling. It was nothing of the kind.
§ Mr. Orbach
The hon. and learned Gentleman used the words "crypto-Communist" very glibly. I would like him to define exactly what is a crypto-Communist, so that the immigration officer may know. He might take a Zionist for a crypto-Communist.
§ Mr. Renton
When one enters into difficulties of this kind, one can say that one Member's definition is likely to be as good as any other's.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) made an interesting and very long speech and I want to refer to some of the points he made.
§ Mr. Renton
No. The hon. Member did not put any points and I must answer those which have been made. I have given way a great deal. I want to do justice to the speeches which have been made and I will try to do so.
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough asked whether we would make smooth the course of love for some Yugoslav girls who want to come here. The Home Office is always ready to aid the work of Cupid, but the trouble is that in these particular cases Cupid has so far done his work entirely through the post.
If and when these applications reach us, as they no doubt will from the hon. Gentleman, we shall consider them with sympathy and so on, but I cannot give a decision upon them in the middle of the debate. I must point out, however, that this question of returnability will necessarily have to apply, because we have quite often found that young women have applied to come here to marry foreigners, and, having got here on that pretext, do not marry the foreigners, 1433 so that, unless they have documents of returnability, difficulties at once arise. I do not say that that is the position in this case. I am merely explaining the kind of caution which we have to observe in this kind of case.
§ Mr. Brockway
Is not the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that these two men in Slough are the most respectable and honourable characters, that it is they who want to marry the girls, and not merely a case of the girls wanting to come here to marry them, and that the initiative has not only been taken by the girls, but has been taken by the men in a quite responsible way?
§ Mr. Renton
When Cupid's work is pursued other than by the post, we shall then see whether these gentlemen are still of the same mind, and I hope, for the sake of all concerned, that they will be.
The hon. Gentleman asked me to clarify my right hon. Friend's statement on the newly announced extension of policy regarding writers. My right hon. Friend stressed that, of course, the people who were included in this policy were writers who would be self-supporting, and I think that was clearly understood by the Committee; at any rate, it was by the right hon. Member for Dundee, West. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough asked that it should be extended to students as well. We already have a large number of students coming here, and we insist that they should either be self-supporting or that they should be supported by some fund or other, provided, perhaps, by other people in this country or abroad. Quite candidly, I do not quite see the purpose of the hon. Gentleman pressing me for yet another extension of this policy, because I think that the point he made is already dealt with.
§ Mr. Brockway
I am sorry, but the case which I made, which is typical of many cases, is that when students have been allowed here for a period and have failed their examinations they are not allowed to remain at the university, even if there is hope of them succeeding in examinations at a later stage.
§ Mr. Renton
That is the point I was making. Each of these cases has to be considered on its merits, and there must be some limit to the number of times that students coming here and occupying places at a university are allowed to fail examinations. We naturally have to accept the advice of the university authorities in that regard.
I hope that it will not be thought, if I do not refer to Pastor Niemöller, that we have ignored what has been said since my right hon. Friend spoke. When he was interrupted, he referred to Pastor Niemölller and said he regretted what had happened. The only comment that I would make is that, with great respect to this famous gentleman, who is now in advanced years and whom we all respect, there is quite a serious conflict of evidence on the actual facts. A great deal of factual material was put before the Committee by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough and by other hon. Members, and all that I can say, without wearying the Committee with another mass of factual evidence to the contrary effect, is that there is a conflict of evidence. I think I must leave it at that and leave the Committee with the regrets which my right hon. Friend expressed.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who wrote a very courteous note saying he could not be here for the winding up of the debate, said that the right of political asylum was no longer being used for its original and proper purpose. I would respectfully differ from him. I would refer him to the speech which my right hon. Friend made in the case of Perez-Selles, which was raised on the Adjournment, and which remains, I think, a very clear and certainly a binding statement of the Government's policy in regard to political asylum.
He drew attention to a case which we shall be glad to look into to see exactly what practice was followed there.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) referred to a Scandinavian example which, I must confess, I did not quite follow at the time, but I shall be glad to discuss with him. My own experience of travelling from one Scandinavian country to another before the war provides an 1435 example of the kind of difficulties which can arise over people of one country trying to cross the frontiers of the other.
I found myself travelling with a party from Yorkshire who were going to attend an Esperanto congress in Stockholm, and they were quite convinced that with Esperanto spoken with their strong Yorkshire accent they could get anywhere, and they were immediately in conflict with the passport control. I really honestly believe that, but for my poor words in halting German, they might never have got to that congress. I mention that just as an example of the way in which misunderstandings can so easily arise. There was fury on both sides, of course. The customs officers were furious because they thought they had people who understood every language, and the people wanting to attend the congress were furious because they thought that their language could get them anywhere.
This brings me to the very important question which has been mentioned very much today, about the way in which our immigration officers carry out their duties. A great deal of public attention has been drawn to these two instances in the last few months, but we must get this into focus. We have to remember the large number of people passing through the immigration control. I stress that the cases to which the hon. Member referred and to which other hon. Members have referred cannot be taken as representative of a general tendency. In each case the amount of difficulty involved was, if I may say so, not always the fault of the immigration officer. It was very frequently the unwillingness, perhaps the natural unwillingness, of the alien to answer questions. Sometimes if there is a slight language difficulty in the first two or three questions that makes the whole procedure wrong from the word go.
However, it is the duty of the immigration officer to understand what the alien is trying to explain, and to be in a position to make a detailed report to my right hon. Friend if called for. However, my right hon. Friend does agree that questioning should not be irrelevant or go beyond what is necessary to enable the immigration officer to decide whether leave to land can properly be given, and if so, for how long. We have no reason to believe that, as a general proposition, questioning is open to that 1436 objection, and we shall take measures to ensure that what I have just said on this subject and what my right hon. Friend wishes is brought to the notice of all members of the immigration service.
That brings me to what I may describe as the only totally libertarian speech of the debate, which was that made by the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). He would like us to sweep away the Aliens Order, and, even though it meant doing away with this extremely agreeable annual debate, abolish the immigration policy. He asks what can possibly justify the exclusion of aliens.
As on other occasions in this Chamber, one is thrown back to the words in Richard II. They are so well-known to all other hon. Members but not to me that I have to read them. They are the words of John o'Gaunt:This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall, Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North, must remember that although it is less true that there is the office of a wall and that this country is in any way isolated now from Europe, it is more true than ever perhaps that we are the envy of less happier lands. [An HON. MEMBER: "What, under the Tories?"] Indeed, in a debate of this character I would never have ventured to make the point that it is not only our Welfare State, our democratic system itself but even our Government which attracts people from all over the world. If the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North has any imagination, and I believe he has, he must realise that it would be quite impossible for us to follow his advice. However, I welcome the advice given on both sides of the Committee in this most interesting, useful and helpful debate.
§ Mr. K. Robinson
A little time might have been saved if the Joint Under-Secretary of State had given way to me. He was very good about giving way generally, but he would not give way to 1437 me because I had not made a speech earlier. I should like to explain why I did not make a speech. I came here to raise the case of Dr. Pauling, about which I had some correspondence with the Home Secretary and with the hon. and learned Gentleman, but my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) dealt with the case in some detail. The hon. and learned Gentleman's reply, however, was totally unsatisfactory. So was the letter which he wrote to me when I wrote to him about this case.
The hon. and learned Gentleman did not deny any of the facts alleged in connection with that case. They were facts indicating gross discourtesy on the part of the immigration officials towards a very distinguished scientist indeed, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society and Nobel Prize man, but a scientist who happens to hold views on the H-bomb which are somewhat inconvenient to his own Government and possibly to the present Government here as well.
The hon. and learned Gentleman did not say anything about the statement which the immigration officer is alleged to have made that, "We do not admit people to Great Britain who come principally to take part in public meetings, especially when against Government policy." Nor was there the slightest expression of regret but merely a statement that all's well that ends well. I do not think that is good enough in a matter of this kind. Dr. Niemöller has been extended an expression of regret in the debate, and I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will, on second thoughts, express his regret at the treatment which was meted out to Dr. Pauling at London Airport.
§ Mr. Paget
We have had a very good debate. I certainly recognise that one requires some aliens law, and my Amendment was put down for the purpose of providing this debate.
I was a little sorry that the main point of my speech was so entirely passed over without reply from either the Home Secretary or the Joint Under-Secretary, and I hope that the reason for this is that they could not think of any reply. I recognise at once that we must have rules, laws and regulations about admission, and I recognise that we must have rules and laws about expulsion, but while 1438 the chap is here what is the point of all this registration and the time that must be wasted on it? Why should he not be under the ordinary law of the land? During this rather long debate neither Minister nor any speaker has suggested any reason why it is necessary to have special registration for our foreign visitors but not for our Jamaicans and others from the Colonies, or whether registration, with all the nuisance it causes, is worth the trouble to anybody. Since no one has sought to answer it, I hope that it is at least a subject which is being considered, and subject to that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Parkin
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 9 to 13.
Unlike the movers of the last Amendment, who desired particularly to discuss the administration of an Order, the supporters of this Amendment will desire to make the case that the law as represented by the Population (Statistics) Act, 1938, should be withdrawn altogether and incorporated in a new piece of legislation if the task which was in the minds of those who promoted the Act so many years ago is to reach any sort of completion or state of usefulness.
When I raised the point last year the Minister said—no doubt he is thinking of saying the same thing tonight—that it seems an odd thing if one wants more statistics to move to delete those that one has. I hope he has his procedure right tonight. I hope he has someone beside him who will say "No" at the same time as someone else says "Aye", or he may find himself suddenly deprived of the means of operating the existing law, which will in any case continue until 31st December.
As to my broad criticism of the operation of the Act, I would express doubt whether such slender information as is obtained over such a vast area can be of any value unless it is followed by a more intensive study of a smaller sample. Last year the Minister said that the figures were of great value to the Government Actuary and to the Registrar-General himself who liked having a lot of figures and would be very upset if he was interrupted in the course of years of compiling a whole series of these statistics.
1439 But no one has told us what specific scientific use has been made of these figures in examining the problems of fertility, and it was the interest m the variations of fertility in the population which prompted the original Act. The time has come to review the operation of the Act and to try to get some report not only from the Minister but from other sources who may say that they have or have not received benefit from the Act or that they would not like modifications or would like further research of a more detailed character about certain aspects of the problem.
We must decide, in the first place, what it is that we want to find out. I suppose that there are two categories of persons about whom we want information. First, there are the people who passionately want children and cannot have them. It is well known that that continues to be a large section of the population. A number of people who would very much like to have children cannot have them in spite of most patient medical treatment, advice and even operations. The number of such people is so great that the adoption societies nowadays have no difficulty at all in getting children placed; in fact, people have to be on a waiting list to adopt a child. That is surely sufficient in itself to show that there is this section of the population wanting to know what medical research is going on and what results have now been obtained from the investigations which have been carried out.
The second category is of people who ought to have children and who do not. This problem is of more general sociological interest. In any case, one would have thought that the value of statistics of this kind was greatly vitiated by the fact that the method of compiling the statistics can, of course, pay no regard at all to the numbers of the population who may have chosen artificial means of prevention of child bearing.
The statistics compiled from birth certificates and death certificates cannot really give an accurate biological trend unless we have some way of eliminating those cases in which the absence of children has been deliberately brought about. Last year the Parliamentary Secretary recommended me to read the figures as com- 1440 piled by the Registrar-General, and no doubt he has brought his copy with him. Perhaps we may have a look at that and go through some of the tables together.
The Appendix at the end of the volume which deals with fertility analysis starts, perhaps not surprisingly, with Table AA and, perhaps not surprisingly, when one starts to study a volume of statistics, one is inclined to start off several trends of thought on contemplating the first lot of figures. The first figures we see are the number of maternities and the proportion of legitimate and illegitimate children from mothers in their early teens at the date of maternity. The figures are not very great, and they are for the most part a record of individual, pathetic family tragedies.
I do not think there is any need to attempt to draw any conclusion from them, except that one is prompted to follow this trend of thought. We are told frequently these days in different quarters that the age of puberty is falling steadily in the countries with a higher standard of living. That is generally accepted. The people who know about it say, "Yes, it is perfectly well understood." The age has fallen even more in the United States than in this country. We used to think years ago that quick maturity had something to do with tropical countries and sitting round in the sunshine, or passionate natures or something of that kind. That seems not so; but if we feed people better they mature sooner. It is not sufficient to note this as a matter of general interest, because it has the most profound implications for our social welfare policy. If it is true, it ought to be the subject of investigation under the Act since, if it is true, it calls in question the whole education policy of the country. If it is true, we may be planning a structure of schools which is inappropriate, because the present structure of the succession through one type of school to another is based on the assumption that the transfer will take place at an age when the child is not troubled by the emotional disturbances of puberty. It is calculated that that period will be safely passed at one stage or another. However, it may be necessary to alter the age of transfer.
This is an example of the great need in this country—indeed, in any Welfare State—for some sort of co-ordinating planning machinery to bring social trends of this 1441 kind to the attention of separate Departments. That is a very powerful argument for introducing a new Bill and a new policy and new methods for extending these researches into fertility and instituting follow-up inquiries.
I have discussed with the Parliamentary Secretary the desirability of some sort of inter-Departmental welfare system. There are many examples where one Department in the Welfare State works in ignorance of what another Department is doing. Money is often wasted in that way. I should like to see not only an expansion of this work under the general aegis of the Registrar-General, but its growth into, if not a Ministry of Social Welfare—the "overlord" project of a few years ago did not come to much—at least a central office of social planning to be responsible for collecting and forcing on the attention of the Ministers concerned this neutral information of the kind we are now discussing.
If it calls into question the educational structure, it also brings forward another problem, and that is that it widens the gap between the age of puberty and the age at which individuals will be economically independent, able to get married, and able to have children.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. I hope that the hon. Member has now made his point and will not seek to go into greater detail on that matter, because he must confine his argument to why he wants or does not want the Act which we are now discussing to be continued.
§ Mr. Parkin
I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Thomas. I was about to make a new point, which was that there was an ever-increasing period of years during which a large part of the population was undergoing some kind of training for education, a period during which the children of 100 years ago would have been married, domesticated and starting to have children, but a period during which modern children are precluded from so doing.
Without scientific investigation, one can only guess at the effect of that. That is why I suggest that we need more scientific investigation into the effect of deliberate abstention of normal childbearing over an extended period of education.
1442 We have been pushing up the school leaving age and getting more and more people into the universities. If we now learn that the age of puberty is getting lower we shall have to ask ourselves whether it is biologically or socially damaging for a woman to defer—
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member is pursuing an interesting argument, but we are not concerned with the consequences of the statistics after they have been obtained. What we are concerned with tonight is the question whether or not we want the Act, without going into all the details as to alternative proposals and the consequences that spring from it.
§ Mr. Orbach
On a point of order. Surely we are discussing the expenditure of £8,000 on population statistics. Did I hear you rightly, Mr. Thomas, to say that we are not concerned with what happens to these statistics and are not entitled to say whether we ought to be concerned about the expenditure of £8,000? Surely we are entitled to ask whether the statistics have any value, whether they are being used, and for what purpose they are collected.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member and the Committee must understand that we are not considering alternative statistics or proposals. We are simply discussing these population statistics and their collection.
§ Mr. Orbach
I was following my hon Friend very closely. He was discussing the statistics that are at present available. He was not discussing alternative ones.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for his assistance, but he can leave it to me to tell an hon. Member when he is not in order.
§ Mr. Parkin
I hope I misunderstood you, Mr. Thomas, but I was grieved beyond measure to hear you apparently rule that statistics could be an end in themselves—because that is the very basis of my case. Surely we are as entitled today to discuss whether we should renew the Act as our predecessors were entitled, twenty years ago, to discuss whether they should pass the Bill in the first place. May I have your ruling on that point? Since, presumably, this debate takes the form of a Second Reading debate—and 1443 you will know from the records that in the debate twenty years ago there was a very wide discussion upon the social causes of infertility, especially in South Wales—
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member must realise that a Second Reading debate entitles hon. Members to say what they want to have put into a Bill as well as to debate what is already there. That is not our privilege tonight. Tonight our responsibility is to discuss the Population (Statistics) Act, and to say whether we wish to approve or disapprove of its continuance. I should tell the Committee that it is a matter largely for our own common sense whether we are going to keep to these statistics or open up discussions of all kinds of issues which could be hinged upon some of the statistics provided.
§ Mr. Parkin
You will recollect, Mr. Thomas, that in 1938 Members representing South Wales constituencies made passionate pleas to the effect that the collection of statistics which were supposed to show certain hereditary tendencies was a piece of nonsense and humbug unless, at the same time, we investigated the social causes for people in South Wales not being able to have children during the depression.
Tonight I was not thinking of widening the discussion in that way. I was suggesting that there might be a direct relationship between the biological possibility of fertility and the deliberate imposition of a social system which made it physically impossible for young people to have children between the age of puberty, which may now be 11 or 12 years of age, and the age of leaving school.
I am trying to make the case that we should have some scientific guidance, because nobody—and least of all yourself, Mr. Thomas—wants to hear my guesses as to whether or not people have more or fewer children because they go to school for a longer period. I am moving that this Section should be eliminated, on the grounds that it is totally inadequate—and I hope that, to that extent, I am in order—and should be replaced by a better system of collecting statistics. However, I have made that 1444 point, and I will not weary the Committee further with it.
Having left Table AA, I will turn very quickly—the intervening tables deal with standard regions, and with occurrences of multiple births, legitimacy, plurality and stillbirth proportions, which are possibly of some scientific interest, although I do not know what social importance they have—to Table GG. This, again, opens up the possibility of interesting and important parallel inquiries, because when we look at the analysis under the standard regions we find a great difference between the live births per 1,000 females in the different regions. The highest is in the northern region, and the lowest in the London and south-eastern region, and I could pursue a series of guesses as to what may account for that difference.
We know that in the London and south-eastern region there is a much lower birth rate amongst ages twenty to thirty. The biologist or the medical research worker might be able to tell us why there is such a great difference between that rate and that in the northern region. As against 126 per 1,000 females in London, in the northern region we get 159, or 164 at ages twenty-five to thirty.
That may be explainable by methods of feeding, physical type of population, or it might be that in London a lot of young women have to go out to work after marriage in order to pay the very high rents demanded. I do not know if that is the answer, but it is worth further investigation, and if these statistics are worth anything at all they are worth a little study by Members of Parliament, who have to ask Ministers what use they are making of them.
Table QQ is fascinating. It is concerned with those cases where the proper information has not been given. What they have done here is to take all the cases where the fullest information has not been given and to divide them up amongst the other tables in, so it is said, proportion. I should have thought that that needed some explaining. If it was necessary to have this special legislation in order to get confidential details from people who were registering births and deaths in order to get this analysis to which I have just referred, that is one thing. But, apparently, it really does not matter because in cases where people 1445 do not give all the information, apparently one just adds up those cases and divides them amongst all the other tables just as if one had got all the information that was sought.
I look forward eagerly to the Minister's reply. I hope it will be full and adequate. I think we have made a case that, after twenty years, the time has come to review the working of the Act and to initiate—as we are spending the vast sum of £8,000 a year on clerical work—co-ordination of this information. I should like to hear that the Government are prepared to consult scientists and medical authorities about the further information desirable and to introduce a scheme of subsidising the smaller follow-up schemes conducted by scientists and biologists, who know what information they want and how to get it.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) in proposing the discontinuance of this Act. I do so from a specifically Scottish point of view.
My first objection is that this is one of the Acts with which we are becoming far too familiar these days, and in which Scotland is with England in a piece of legislation which does not adequately take account of the very different circumstances and problems of the two countries. This Act, which we are asked to continue for another twelve months, lays down that exactly the same sort of population statistics should be obtained in respect of Scotland as in respect of England and Wales. I am grateful for the presence of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland on the Government Front Bench. He knows very well that Scotland's population problems are essentially different in many important respects from those of England and Wales. If we are to keep this kind of Act on the Statute Book there should be a separate Schedule dealing with the population problems of Scotland.
Perhaps the outstanding difference in the population statistics for Scotland relates to that most fundamental of all Scottish problems, the steady drift of population from Scotland, partly overseas but mainly south of the Border to England and Wales. There is an average net loss of population from Scotland to England and Wales of about 25,000 per year. Indeed, last year the figure rose 1446 to more than 33,000. That is a very serious matter. It is generally agreed, by those who try to follow this subject, that the statistical information is extremely inadequate. One would have thought that this inadequacy of information would have been met. It will be most interesting to hear whether the present Schedule to the Act had been adapted to Scotland to the extent of finding out the various matters and—
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member is now out of order. The Amendment suggests the omission of the title of the Act, but it is out of order to discuss alternatives to the Act.
§ Mr. Thomson
I beg your pardon, Mr. Thomas. I have almost completed this point, which is that the present Act is very unsatisfactory from the Scottish point of view and, in particular, does not meet the problem of declining population. Scotland wants legislation of its own to give information on this point.
Another matter I want to raise with the Scottish Minister is that during proceedings on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill last year both the English Minister and the present Scottish Minister gave answers from the Government Front Bench. We are always glad to say a word for the Scottish Office. The Scottish Minister was very much more forthcoming and more interesting than his English colleague on that occasion. He was asked a very pertinent question about why this Act dealing with population statistics should be renewed annually. It has been with us now for twenty years and the kind of information asked for is the kind which Governments want on a permanent basis. When the Joint Under-Secretary was asked why this legislation could not be on a permanent basis, he gave what I thought was a very cogent reply. He said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1957; Vol. 578, c. 646.]1447 That seems to be as cogent for England and Wales as for Scotland. Certainly it is a very weighty consideration. No greater question hangs over our heads than the effect on our future population of the hydrogen and thermonuclear explosions going on all over the world. We in Scotland have had reason in the last week or so to feel particularly alarmed about this because there has been some rather disturbing evidence from Scotland of the rise in the levels of radiation.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Will the hon. Member relate that matter to the Population (Statistics) Act?
§ Mr. Thomson
I was relating it to the argument about whether we should make this Act a permanent piece of legislation instead of an annual Act. There seemed to be strong arguments for making it an annual Act. The Scottish Minister gave this particular reason last year for retaining its annual character until we decide what further questions need to be asked. I was about to go on to ask the Minister if he will now report to the Committee what further consideration has been given to this very important matter. Clearly there is no point in us this evening giving this Act another year of life if the Minister tells us that, in view of the urgency and gravity of these questions about radiation and the effect on fertility, the Government are to introduce a new Act asking for a new set of data.
In considering this matter the Minister should recall that there has been a report of greatly increased radiation on mountainsides in Perthshire. We are all very worried about this. I should like to hear from one of the Ministers—the Scottish Minister, I hope, as he made the original comment and is entitled to have the credit of seeing the matter through—what the Government have done about this matter and what their intentions are.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member will realise, of course, that we cannot tonight discuss the effects of radiation in Scotland. Having made his illustration, he had better leave it as an illustration.
§ Mr. Thomson
Very well, Mr. Thomas. I of course how to your Ruling, but I 1448 hope you will agree that, since this argument has been adduced by the Government as the main argument of the Scottish Office for keeping this Act as an annual Act and not making it a piece of permanent legislation, we are entitled to ask what the Government have been doing about this question since we last considered this legislation.
I hope that we shall hear from the Government that they have given this question very earnest consideration and have decided that certain facts must be ascertained on this subject. I hope that they will tell us whether it is their intention in the very near future to introduce a Bill on population statistics which will be adequate to deal with both the problems of Scottish population and Scottish emigration and also the general question, which affects Scotland and England equally, of the effects of hydrogen bomb explosions on the fertility of the race in this country.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
We have had two very good speeches on the subject so far, and I am sure that we shall have many more from both sides of the Committee.
When we consider that it is twenty years since the House passed the original Act, it does not say very much for the present Government that year after year they come to us and tell us that the Act of 1938 is so important for the collection of vital statistics that we cannot allow it to lapse. The obvious question arises: if we cannot allow it to lapse, why do they not stir themselves and produce permanent legislation? It might well be thought that year after year valuable Parliamentary time is taken up by hon. Members going over the same thing. Surely the Government's responsibility is to accept their own arguments about the need for these statistics and to produce legislation which will satisfy us that they have all the power required so that we shall not need to be troubled year after year, as we have been troubled since 1948, annually re-enacting this legislation.
We have been given a variety of reasons for doing it in this way. Last year, if my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) will permit me to say so, we had a rather strange debate on 1449 this matter because we talked more about health service workers than about statistics.
§ Mr. Ross
They were important and they were relevant, otherwise the discussion would have been out of order.
I remember asking a blunt question—why did we not have permanent legislation? I was the most surprised man in the Committee when we had a blinding flash of intellect from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who said that the reason was that,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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1957; Vol. 578, c. 646.]Year after year since 1948 the Government have re-enacted the Act, and it was not until last year that we realised why we could not have permanent legislation. We were told by a junior Minister, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, that for ten years all Governments had been concerned about the genetic effects of radiation. Do they ask us to believe that? Are we to believe that this is what is holding them up, that they do not know the questions to ask and that the reason we are re-enacting this Act year after year is because we had some pretty bad legislation in 1938?
It was a very heated piece of legislation, so heated that in the Schedule to the 1938 Act all that the registrar was allowed to do was set down. He was told the questions he was allowed to ask. Tomorrow morning someone will go to the registration officer in the Gorbals or Kilmarnock to register proudly the birth of a son or daughter. What we are discussing now determines certain questions which the registrar is allowed to ask him—the age of the mother, the date of the marriage, the number of children his wife has had to him as her husband, or to a former husband if there were one, and how many of such children are alive.
By continuing the Act, those are the questions that we are allowing the registrar to ask. Why on earth must this be done every year? Why can it not be put into a simple Bill and given permanent legislative effect? In fact, we do not 1450 need this provision with our modern, up-to-date ways. All we need to do is to give power of regulation to the Secretary of State over his underling the Minister of Health to bring forward questions, to change or to add to them, as they find out all these wonders that they have never thought of before. That is all related to births.
In the case of death, three questions are allowed: if the deceased was a man, whether he had been married, and, if so, whether he was married at the time of his death. That is what this vital piece of legislation is about. If it is a woman who has died, the questions are whether she had been married, the year of her marriage and its duration, and whether she had had children by her husband or former husband. The age of the surviving spouse is also called for.
I was surprised to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) talking about information which it had been possible to get. Somebody must have slipped up and got away with it. In other words, the administration of the Act has been fairly bad. Was it in England or in Scotland? I am sure that it was not in Scotland, because the statistics given by my hon. Friend were obviously the English and Welsh statistics.
Everyone is compelled to answer these questions under penalty of £10. Indeed, if somebody answers one of these questions at the registration office at Kilmarnock and the clerk who has taken the answer happens to say to some other clerk, "His wife was so-and-so" and gives away the information, under this nice piece of legislation there is liability to imprisonment for two years. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shocking."] It is not only untidy but incompetent of a Government to come here year after year with different reasons and excuses to seek power to continue this legislation.
This is not something that is temporary. The Government obviously want to carry on asking these questions for the next 10 years. As far as I can gather, their trouble is that they want to ask more questions, but they do not know which questions to ask. We can understand that from Ministers who do not know what answers to give to Questions which they are asked here, even when they are given notice of them, but is it not time that they made up their minds?
1451 For years, the Registrar-General and the Registrar-General for Scotland have been drawing the Government's attention to the need of permanent legislation for the gathering of real statistics in relation to the population. When we read the Preamble to the 1938 Act and then consider the questions that this House instructed the Registrar to ask, one wonders whether the Act was worth the Title. According to Section 1, it was related tothe compilation of statistical information with respect to the social and civil condition of the population".These are matters that we have very much at heart. There is no doubt that the collection of these statistics is vital, Obviously, they are important in relation to housing conditions and future housing policy. They are important for educational policy, where to build schools and what size they should be, for the time when children reach school age.
I do not doubt that good use is being made of these statistics. For the third year, if not the fourth or fifth, in succession, I draw to the attention of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that one of the outstanding things that was said by the Royal Commission on Population in relation to this subject was that there was a great gap in our knowledge because we were not gathering the correct or sufficient statistics.
How much longer is he to come along year after year and put us off with some strange new brainwave or another new reason why this provision has to be temporary and cannot be made permanent? I have no desire to see this valuable piece of legislation lapsing, but I think it is about time that Ministers of the Crown, who are responsible for Departments and the virtue of whose policy may well depend upon the accuracy of statistics and the accurate interpretation of statistics, should have it in mind to bring in legislation that will enable them to get what statistics they need, not just from year to year but in permanent form.
May I ask, on the administration of this Bill, and as a matter of interest, how many people were charged with contraventions of this legislation for refusal to give information? Are there any people employed in the service of the Registrar-General who had access to information who were charged with having given away this confidential information? It 1452 would be interesting to know, from the point of view of the old controversy in the House as to whether these questions should be asked at all, because people would resent them. That was the argument then, whether there was any merit in the doubts expressed at that time.
I think we are entitled to some further explanation from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland of his reference to the difficulty about the genetic effects of radiation and to what extent this process of further consideration is nearing completion. Obviously, it has not been completed; otherwise, we might have had permanent legislation. We have had plenty of legislation since he made the statement—legislation no one ever dreamed about—so that the Government cannot say they did not have the time. In the Scottish Department, too, we have had further legislation, so that there has been plenty of opportunity. The Department has plenty of draftsmen who are busy doing all sorts of strange and wonderful things with United Kingdom legislation, and bringing in Scotland every now and again.
Surely, we are entitled to a progress report—shall I put it?—on how far they have got in the way of making up their minds about the kind of statistics which they know will be necessary before they can bring in the permanent legislation? If we do not get reasonable replies to our questions and to our arguments tonight, I think it might well be a matter for consideration on this side of the Committee whether or not we should mark our objections and our opposition to the Government playing with the country in the matter of these statistics. They are carrying on from year to year, suddenly, about a week beforehand, remembering that they need to include the 1938 population statistics. Is anybody doing any work on this at all? I think the country is entitled to know, and I hope we will get a serious reply to the very serious arguments that have been advanced on this subject.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)
I hope the Minister is briefed with full answers to the questions put by my hon. Friends. We really are puzzled as to why the Committee should be subjected year after year 1453 to this apparently footling process of reenacting this little Measure of seven Sections and a Schedule, asking questions which are apparently of little value.
We are told that this costs £8,000 a year. We want to know whether the country is getting anything for its £8,000? All that is suggested is the Registrar-General's statistical survey, which, I gather, is published annually. I have looked at it. It looks like a logarithm table. Even if we include Table QQ it would seem to be a doubtful £8,000 worth. My hon. Friend read out some of the questions asked.
§ Sir F. Soskice
He read out all of them. Why when registering a death one should be asked to say in the case of a deceased woman whether she had children by her husband or her former husband it is very difficult to understand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) discovered a number of exciting possibilities lurking in the somewhat sterile text of this odd, scraggy little Measure. It seemed to him to throw some light on such tantalising questions as the precise age of puberty, and so on. I am bound to say that I cannot discover anything like that in this little Measure.
I should like to ask how much of our £8,000 is attributable to answering the question I have read out. How much is it worth? Are we getting answers to the question whether a deceased woman had her children by her husband or her former husband and if so how many of them?
Surely, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said, the Government can make up their mind whether the statistical information which is derived from the operation of this Act at an annual cost of £8,000 is worth having or is not. If it is worth having surely, as my hon. Friend has pressed upon the Government, this should be made a permanent Measure and we should not be subjected to the somewhat farcical procedure of being invited to come here year after year to make up our minds whether we want another £8,000 worth.
1454 Let the Minister be candid with us. Is the reason simply that somebody in his Department has forgotten all about it, that this little Measure has been lying in an in tray and everybody has forgotten that it is going to expire, and therefore, at the last moment, it is slipped into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill? The Government have not yet told us how much the country has to pay for the privilege of putting the name of this Measure into this Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.
§ Sir F. Soskice
I must confess that I agree with my hon. Friend. I can detect all sorts of sinister possibilities in the administration of this Government, and I think we really have unearthed something here which shows the fundamental instability of their approach.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department quoted from a speech of John o'Gaunt and referred to other countries envying this country. I must say, as one of my hon. Friends has said, that this country under a Conservative Government is really hardly the envy of other countries.
I hope that the Minister will address himself seriously to the problem of informing us why we should again approve this Measure. As he will have divined from speeches on this side of the Committee, Her Majesty's Opposition are not animated by any passionate hostility to this Measure, but we cannot see its point. If it has any point, why not put it in a permanent Statute? If it has not any point, why waste the time of the Committee and the money of the country by putting it annually into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Richard Thompson)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) seemed to think the Government were in some danger of forgetting 1455 this modest Measure, but I can assure him that if we were in that peril the annual debates we have on it, and which we always anticipate, would certainly protect us from becoming complacent about it.
The conclusion I draw from the debate we have had is a rather startling one. It is that, although the object of this Amendment is to exclude the Population (Statistics) Act from the Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and thereby do away with it, nevertheless all the hon. Members who have spoken appear to be warmly in favour of more and more elaborate statistics of the kind, which, of course, are collected under the machinery of this Bill.
Perhaps I should say first a few words to the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin), whose speech I enjoyed. He of course was very much in favour of more elaborate statistics, and he also wanted reassurance that the information we collect was really put to some profitable use. That seems to me a very reasonable request. Nobody in their senses would collect this immense corpus of information every year for the fun of it. Obviously, the figures compiled are of no interest at all to the ordinary citizen. They are quite meaningless to him, but I must make it very clear that in plans of various kinds for the future it is essential to have a reasonable estimate of the future number of citizens in the country and what proportions of them are likely to be of different ages.
There are, of course, all kinds of refinements of this, but it is true that the information is essential to establish more accurately than we could otherwise the trend in the size of families and the fertility of women and thus make a more realistic estimate of the size of the population in future years. The Government Actuary, the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and other Government Departments would be handicapped in the work which they undertake if they did not have at hand this information.
The hon. Member made a point about planning education services. It is absolutely essential, as he pointed out, to have these figures which are likely to vary over the years. The hon. Member wanted to take the process a little 1456 further, and I agree that it would be a fascinating exercise, but the moral surely of that is that we want to continue the Bill and possibly enact it in permanent form and not do away with it. Of course it is not only Government Departments that make use of this information. Research bodies, people in industry and those in commerce certainly use—perhaps "look forward to" is the wrong expression—the annual publication by the Registrar-General of his Report.
§ Mr. Parkin
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government are satisfied that the statistics as at present drawn out form a reasonable basis for future planning of housing and education? Is he really saying that it is better to ask a woman who has just died how many children she had by different men than to consider the social effects on the family of changes in the education system and the difficulties of the housing situation?
§ Mr. Thompson
I am quite sure that the Registrar-General does not ask a woman who has just died anything. The point is that all this must be taken together. If it is taken together, as it is, it provides this valuable information which is not obtainable from any other source.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) made one or two special points. I am not quite sure how right I would be in following them very far because I recall, Sir Gordon, that your predecessor in the Chair pulled him up on one or two occasions. I think that I could answer one point which he made and which came not only from him. He was wondering whether further consideration would be given to the effect on fertility of nuclear radiation and matters of that kind. I can tell the hon. Member that we are giving very careful attention indeed to this matter. We are considering whether, in the light of the information which is becoming increasingly available to us, we should not, perhaps, enlarge the scope of the information that we seek. In a matter of this kind, obviously, we have to take advice from scientific bodies of one kind or another which have views on this subject. We are, of course, in touch with the Medical Research Council; also the British Medical Association, the Royal 1457 College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Society of Medical Officers of Health, the Royal College of Midwives and the Central Midwives' Board. We have done this simply because we take a serious view of the very questions which the hon. Member posed, but we have not yet completed our consideration of the information which we have had, and that is going on now.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson
In one place at least the Government seem to be making a little progress. Will the hon. Gentleman undertake to inform the House of the progress by publishing the replies that he has in a White Paper?
§ Mr. Thompson
No, I cannot give such an undertaking tonight, but I think it will serve the hon. Member's purpose if I repeat what I have said, that we are alive to the fact that there may be information available to us from other sources, that there may be advice which we should take in connection with the sort of questions that we might ask in future, and that we are giving very serious thought to that.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) was, as always, perfectly straightforward and forthcoming in his approach to the subject. He asked why we go through this every year. He said that the kind of questions which we asked—he was referring to the Schedule of the Act—were not very complicated ones, and asked whether it would not be simpler and more sensible to embody them all in permanent legislation.
The hon. Member asked me one specific question. He wanted to know how many people had been prosecuted for offences under the Act. I am glad to tell him that there has been only one prosecution for refusing the additional particulars. It was in 1939, and it resulted in a conviction.
§ Mr. Thompson
I cannot tell the hon. Member about the geographical location off the cuff, but I am sure he will be glad to know that there has been only one case.
As to why we do not incorporate this in permanent legislation, it has not proved possible to find a place for it in the programme for the present Session of Parlia- 1458 ment. Even if it had been possible, I doubt very much if we could have enacted such a Bill before 31st December, by which time the powers under this legislation lapse unless we re-enact them tonight.
§ Mr. Ross
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the statement he has made means that the legislation is ready and that the Government have made up their mind what they want in it? That equally means that they have made up their mind about the additional information for which they will ask arising out of considerations in relation to the genetic effects of radiation.
§ Mr. Thompson
No, all I said was that it was not possible to find a place in the present Session for legislation of this kind, and that is what I maintain. It is perfectly fair for the hon. Member to ask "Why not?" I would refer him to what I have said in answer to his hon. Friend about the additional considerations which have come to us from the learned bodies which we have approached in connection with further information which might be necessary, perhaps under a new Bill. We have not completed our consideration of those matters, and until we have done so it would be appropriate if we continued, as we have done for a number of years, a process in which the Government of which the hon. Member was at one time a member also played a modest part.
To sum up, I want to deal with the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport. He asked whether we were getting value for money with the expenditure of this £8,000, whether these rather dreary statistics represented good value for the taxpayer. I can assure him about that. At the beginning of my speech, I spoke of the purposes for which this information was used, the fact that it was not available from any other source, the fact that not only Government Departments, but industry, commerce and research bodies constantly rely on it for the information which it gives.
For those reasons alone, it would be wise for hon. Members not to press the Amendment to a Division. Although we may have some differences, I am confident that most of us want not less but more information on these subjects. We 1459 would do better to build on the foundation of the legislation we already have rather than attempt to bring to an end this flow of information by pressing the Amendment.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I am worried by the explanation of why we cannot have permanent legislation on this matter. The Parliamentary Secretary said that there was no time between now and 31st December to bring forward permanent legislation. Since we have a Bill of this kind at this time every year, the same position is likely to arise every year. Are we to be compelled to accept the explanation that there is no time between now and 31st December to bring forward permanent legislation?
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson
I do not want to detain hon. Members from the much more important business which is immediately ahead of them, but the Minister has made a most important announcement. First, he told me that the Government are investigating the effects of radiation after hydrogen bomb explosions, and doing so on a fairly big scale, and secondly, he told my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) that he believed in the principle of permanent legislation. That was certainly what I understood him to say. He said that once he had gathered the information and had considered what fresh questions ought to be asked, the Government would have permanent legislation in mind.
In the first instance, I directed my remarks to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and I was especially concerned about the effect that permanent legislation might have on solutions to Scottish population problems. If the Parliamentary Secretary is now saying that the Government are now considering permanent legislation in the long run, as they certainly should be, the least we can expect in the way of courtesy from the Joint Under-Secretary is some sort of indication that there will be a separate Scottish Bill.
§ Mr. Thomson
With respect, the basic issue before us is whether this sort of legislation should be annual or permanent. I was merely submitting that if, as the Government have announced, the legislation is to be permanent, there should be separate permanent legislation for Scotland and England because of their separate population problems.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
This is a different Bill from that Bill. We are discussing whether this Act should be continued. We are not discussing some prospective Bill which may be introduced in the future.
§ Mr. Thomson
With respect, my hon. Friends and I have to decide whether to vote against this Bill tonight. Those of us who represent Scottish constituencies are very concerned about the inadequacy of the Bill for meeting the special population problems of Scotland. The Joint Under-Secretary has so far said nothing. I should be prepared not to press my, opposition to a Division if I could have an assurance from the Joint Under-Secretary that any permanent legislation will deal with England and Scotland separately.
§ Mr. Thomson
On a point of order. I put certain questions to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland before you were in the Chair, Sir Gordon, and I have not had an answer. I understood the hon. Gentleman to rise in his place.
§ Amendment negatived.1461
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 14 to 16.
In our debates on the earlier two Amendments, we were discussing whether or not the annually approved legislation 'concerned should be made permanent. In the case of the first no adequate explanation was given why the legislation should not be made permanent, except, perhaps, that its position of being annually approved gave the House a chance to discuss it. Whether that argument would appeal to the Patronage Secretary I am not sure. In connection with the Amendment that we have just been discussing, it was generally agreed that the piece of legislation concerned should, in due course, be put into permanent form.
Now we come to an Act which is generally agreed by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to be particularly suitable for this annual review, because both sides of the Committee agree that this is not the kind of Act that we want to see on the Statute Book. We want to see its life made as short as possible, and its working ought to be reviewed at regular intervals. In our debates last year, the Joint Under-Secretary put the position very clearly. He said:It is rightly the duty of the Secretary of State for Scotland…to come to this Box and justify the continuation of this Act. The onus must be on the Government each time to justify it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1957; Vol. 578, c. 655.]Against that background I say that we still regard this Act, as we have always regarded it, and as hon. Members opposite regarded it when they were in opposition, as something wholly undesirable and a regrettable necessity for the time being. It would be agreed by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee that that is the starting point for this discussion.
I submit that if the Committee is to discharge its duties adequately tonight and make up its mind whether this admittedly objectionable Act should be considered for another twelve months, it must have a certain amount of information as to how 'the Act has worked during the last twelve months. First and foremost, it should have information whether other workers in Scotland could tackle the job of harvesting potatoes without having recourse to school-children.
1462 For that reason, I put down a Question to the Minister of Labour on 17th November asking him how many unemployed persons in Scotland took up, through employment exchanges, work in the potato fields during the potato harvest, and the Minister's reply was:I regret that the information is not available,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November. 1958; Vol. 595, c. 108.]That is a rather remarkable reply, because this is the heart of the problem. It is the basis for the whole argument whether it is necessary to have this Act for another year. The only argument for having it continued would be that the only way of getting the potatoes out of the ground is by using school-children. How can we say whether that is a sound argument if the Ministry of Labour is not prepared to find out whether unemployed workers are available to tackle this job?
But there are equally important questions. This is not only a question of getting potatoes out of the ground, or of where the hands are to be found for doing the job; it is also a question of the effect of this system on the education of our children. In anticipation of this debate, therefore, I put down three Questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland, in which I sought to find out from him how many children had, in fact, been given exemption for the recent potato harvest. I sought to find out how they were divided between the different Scottish schools and between the different local authorities, and also for how long they had been taken out of the classes and put into the potato fields.
I submit that it is really impossible for us to make up our minds how the Act is working and whether its continuation for another year is essential unless we have the answers to these kind of questions. What, however, did the Secretary of State tell me? He said:Education authorities have themselves not yet collected all the information which would enable me to give the required answers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1958; Vol. 595, c. 115.]I understand the Secretary of State's difficulty about this, and I apologise for giving him such little notice of these Questions when I put them on the Order Paper because they involved gathering together a certain amount of information, 1463 but I had assumed that no Government would have dreamed of asking the House to continue the Act, which they themselves have said is an objectionable Act and one which is only put forward each year of necessity, without having this sort of information available.
It may be said by the Government that the harvest was so recent that one cannot have these figures as quickly as this. All I would say is that if that is the situation it really is improper to bring the Act forward at this time. The Scottish Office really ought to make representations to have the timetable of this arrangement changed so that by the time the matter comes before us we are in possession of the fullest possible information about how many children had to go to the last potato harvest so that we can decide whether they should go the following year. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will do something about the matter before it comes before the Committee again.
We are bound to carry on our discussion tonight on inadequate information and we must make the best of what we have. I want to look at the picture as far as one is able to see it. I think the first thing that has to be said is that there has undoubtedly been an improvement in the situation during the last twelve months. There is no doubt that fewer children have been called upon to break their schooling and go into the potato fields than was the case twelve months ago.
I take this opportunity to pay a personal tribute to the Joint Under-Secretary for the way in which he acted in one particularly glaring scandal associated with the potato harvests. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there had grown up in my constituency what amounted to a black market in child labour. There was a situation in which the potato merchants, who were quite clearly breaking the law in a number of respects, were going round picking up children and offering them higher rates of pay than the rates under the official scheme.
I must inform the Committee that when the attention of the Secretary of State was drawn to the matter he acted at once. I went out into the potato fields at the crack of dawn one morning and saw this happening. I must confess that I did not pick any potatoes, but I brought 1464 back the information. The Joint Under-Secretary came along and attended to the matter personally.
That scandal has, I hope, been stopped completely. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman could tell me tonight whether from reports of the recent harvest he knows if in any parts of Scotland the merchants have been running these pirate schemes in which there is a sort of auction of the children. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can tell me that it has been stopped and that all potato harvesting involving the employment of school children has been carried on under the official scheme and under proper supervision.
When one comes to the official scheme itself, one finds, from the best figures available, that in 1956, 28,400 children were given exemptions; in 1957, 22,000, and, in the present year, the Secretary of State told the local authorities that they must give exemptions up to a figure of 17,680. That is quite a substantial reduction over those years, and I should like to know the reason, as it is probably the most important question in this whole discussion. If he could tell us that this reduction of, roughly, 5,000 a year is to continue, we could then see an end of the practice within three or four years. That, of course, would be a very fine thing and would greatly alter our attitude.
Is the drop due to decreased potato acreage, and, if so, is it likely to continue? According to the figures I have been able to get, two years ago there were 162,000 acres under potatoes. Last year that figure dropped to 144,000, but this year, according to the Scottish Digest of Statistics, the acreage was 148,000. The drop in the first two years would account for the decrease in the number of children employed, but the 5,000 reduction in the number of children so employed this year does not seem to have been accompanied by a similar fall in acreage.
I wonder how far that circumstance is due to increased mechanisation? In these debates we have always been told that the only way to release the children from the work in the fields is to use mechanical harvesters, and my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan), if he is fortunate enough to 1465 catch your eye, Sir Gordon, will be able to deal with this in more detail than I intend to do.
In last year's debate, the Under-Secretary who deals with agriculture said that the only alternative to child labour is the mechanical harvester. Is this really so? Obviously, if one can decrease the potato acreage without harming food supplies, that is one way to reduce the need for the children. Another way is 'to increase the efficiency of the organisation of the harvest. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), who had some responsibility for this in the Labour Government, has repeatedly stressed that we should try some sort of compromise mechanical harvesting. He has mentioned a modern elevator-digger that does three drills at once, so I understand, and gathers the potatoes into big heaps. If that sort of mechanisation could be accompanied by the organisation of adult labour, one could do away, to a large extent, with the need to use children.
At the edge of one potato field that I visited in the East of Scotland I found cars parked. The potato harvesters make good money on piecework because of sensible organisation and drive to their work in their own cars. I do not suggest that that could be applied everywhere, but it could be applied over a much wider area than at present is the case.
It really is crazy to send nearly 18,000 of our children from their class rooms into the potato fields when Scottish unemployment is at its highest post-war peak. If the Minister will look at the Report of the Rose Committee—which is more or less the bible on this subject—he will discover that when it discusses unemployment it does so on the basis of a figure, in October, 1955, of 45,800. It concluded at that time, after a lot of subtraction, that there was not any force of workers to be found from the unemployed, but the present figures, in October, 1958, are not 45,800 but 85,800, almost double the number there were three years ago.
Has the Minister really tackled the problem of getting more adult workers into the fields at a time when we have this staggering increase in Scottish un- 1466 employment? Between September and October this year the unemployment figure rose by 6,000, and in Dundee 2,000 children are being taken from the classrooms when more than 4,000 of the workers in the city are unemployed. I am convinced that more could be done in this direction. I know how the Rose Committee—whose authority we all recognise—made this large figure of unemployed workers almost dissolve by subtracting this, that and the other category, but I am quite sure we could get more adult workers if we went the right way about it.
Relative to our population, we have a smaller labour force. Therefore, there are more people at home not gainfully employed, but they would go to potato harvesting if the attraction of the work were put in the proper way. The way to do that is to make it financially attractive. I am sure a lot would come forward if better pay were given. I have indicated what one firm can do in the way of attraction to potato harvesting, but there are other ways. Instead of merchants "shanghai-ing" children, why not put advertisements in local papers with a view to getting labour? Why do the employment exchanges not have attractive posters offering such employment? This is a national emergency. We get a little jaded about it because it has gone on for so many years, but it is a continuation of the wartime harvesting emergency. In those days one appealed to people's patriotism. Why does the Scottish Office not now encourage more workers to go to this work and allow the children to stay in the schools?
In recent years we have all welcomed the end of the billeting of children outside their areas to assist in the potato harvest. Many abuses were associated with that practice, and everyone agreed that it was a good thing when it came to an end, but we have to face as one of the consequences the unequal and unfair incidence of the burden of the potato harvest on the children of the four major cities of Scotland. Dundee is the only one of the four which is asked to interrupt the schooling of its children and take them out of the classrooms to go to the potato fields. According to the Scottish Office, we sent 2,000 this year. Other authorities do not have to do that. This year the Scottish Office asked Fife 1467 to give 5,000 exemptions—about half the total exemptions—while in Peebles and Selkirk the number was only 90. There are great inequalities. Education is so important that it seems hard luck that one particular group of children should have to make such heavy sacrifices.
Equally there is a social inequality involved in helping with the potato harvest. Undoubtedly it is the children of working-class parents rather than the children of better-off parents who do it. Thirdly, there is a glaring educational inequality. I have heard it said that 90 per cent. of the children come from junior secondary schools. The Minister is aware of the remarks which were made in the Rose Report by Mr. George Middleton, General Secretary of the Scottish T.U.C., in which he said,More serious, however, in my opinion are the observations made by the educationists that 'generally the children who apply for exemption are the weakest scholastically' and 'the children who take part come from the poorer homes and are the children who are in greatest need of education'".If there is a case for taking children from school during the school year to help in the potato field, I should have thought that there was a stronger case for taking them from the senior secondary schools rather than from the junior secondary schools. They have more education ahead of them and they are the children on academic courses who, in due course, will take jobs in which they will have to work with their heads rather than with their hands, and it does no one harm to have a little experience of manual work. I am not objecting to that side of it; I am objecting to the junior secondary school children being penalised in this way.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton introduced this Act in 1947 he said that he had been pressed by educationists to secure that this burden should be as evenly shared as possible. Clearly it is not being evenly shared at the moment. My hon. Friend began with bright ideas, but in practice it proved very much more difficult, and now the idea of justice in this matter has been abandoned. I have no doubt at all that if this duty of leaving education and going to the potato harvest had been imposed equally on all school children—I am not suggesting that it could have been or should have been—then there would have been such an outcry from 1468 middle-class parents and from parts of the country which are unaffected by it at the moment that the Government would have been forced to bring it to an end long ago.
There should be no doubt about the educational damage which it does to the children who go to the harvest. School teachers in Dundee tell me alarming stories about the difficulties which they have with the children when they come back from the potato harvest. Their education has been interrupted—that is, for children who in any event are almost at the end of their course, with only another year or two years to go, and in many cases it is difficult to get them back to school at all. They grow accustomed to having a good deal of money. When they return to school they no longer have as much money and there is a definite rise in delinquency and pilfering. It is a very serious matter that we should allow this state of affairs to drag on year after year in the way in which I am afraid that we are allowing it to drag on.
Nothing is more important today than the education of our children, and we cannot afford to allow this wastage of educational interest and educational ability to continue. The Labour Party have recently announced a new educational policy no doubt the Minister has studied it very closely. One of our interesting proposals is that, as a compromise to raising the school-leaving age to sixteen, we should try to give all children a three-years' secondary course. In other words, they would complete the third year of the course in the year during which they reached the age of fifteen. That proposal will be seriously damaged if it is accompanied by the continuation of these exemptions for potato harvesting. It will be very difficult to get any good out of that final year at school if school children continue to be taken away for the harvest.
I said at the beginning that this was an eminently suitable piece of legislation for an annual Act, that it was something to which hon. Members on both sides of the Committee objected and that we wanted to look at it closely year by year and to end it as quickly as possible. That has been said for eleven years and still we go on. I hope we can bring it to an end quickly. I begin to wonder, however, 1469 whether we should not look seriously at its longer-term future and try to decide what will be the future demand for labour in the potato fields and how it will be met.
My objection is not basically to teenagers working in the potato fields, picking raspberries in the summer, helping with the harvest or anything like that, as long as there is proper supervision and there is no hardship or exploitation of the children. In the summer holidays, it is a good thing to do. Our objection is to the educational damage and interruption that is caused.
I would have thought that potato holidays, in which the whole of the school community of an area was on holiday at the same time, would be a lesser evil than interrupting the school term for a section of the pupils, breaking up the classes and throwing the whole school machine out of gear for a long time afterwards. I do not want to see the children of my constituents victimised indefinitely, as they are by the present situation and the way it works. We should hear from the Minister not merely his view of things for twelve months ahead, but what he thinks about the longer-term future and what can be done about it.
In this election winter, the Government are making a great virtue of abolishing controls relating either to the circumstances of wartime or to the shortages of the immediate post-war period. Essentially, this piece of legislation is the result of a post-war shortage and abnormal conditions. The Government's energies in relation to these controls are being badly misdirected. I wish they would devote their activities, not so much to abolishing the machinery for industrial arbitration tribunals as to using all their ingenuity to bring to an end as quickly as practicable the interruption of the school year for so many Scottish children so that they may go off and pick potatoes in the potato fields.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I am glad to support my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) in his Amendment to delete lines 14 to 16 of the Schedule. This gives the Joint Under-Secretary the opportunity of putting forward good reasons why this legislation should be 1470 continued and of saying what progress has been made in eliminating the need for calling upon thousands of our school children to assist in the potato harvest.
Like my hon. Friend, I am glad that the figures are going down. Two years ago they were 28,000, then they were 22,000, and now they are something like 17,000. We must underline that the 1947 Act was introduced as a temporary measure and that it is now eleven years old. We would have thought that by this time, with the advance of techniques in other industries and in other ways, the Department would have been able to report progress in this regard.
The Rose Committee, which has been accepted as making the latest authoritative statement concerning the problem, had this to say in paragraph 33:…the production of a harvester…under Scottish conditions is the only feasible alternative, in the immediately foreseeable future and under the present circumstances of full employment, to the exemption of school children.That was as far back as 1956. I am quite sure that the Rose Committee could not foresee that this Government would contrive to have 85,000 unemployed people in Scotland. While it is no part of our case that the unemployed should be dragooned into some of the worthless schemes that we had in the inter-war years, may I ask whether it is not possible to induce the unemployed to go into the fields and help in this way by offering them decent conditions?
Many of us are still suspicious that it is the farmers themselves who are not prepared to offer decent conditions and so obtain adult labour. In these days, with the great need for the schools to retain the interest of children and young people and the need to train pupils to pass on to the senior secondary schools, it is a shame that children who are attending the junior schools are used for this purpose and that many of them are denied the opportunity to participate in the higher education for which they may be fitted. The farmers and the Government must make their contribution in producing conditions conducive to eradicating the need for these children to be employed on this work.
The Rose Commitee made a special point of dealing with research. The minority report of one, written by Mr. 1471 Middleton, the secretary of the Scottish T.U.C., dissented from the Committtee's conclusion that at a time of a high level of employment there was no alternative to child labour. He pointed out the advances that have been made in aeronautics, atomic energy and the rest. His opinion is that if the same energy and the same money had been employed in trying to find an alternative means of lifting the potato crop, it could have been and would have been found by this time. He points out that as far back as 1950 another Committee came to the same conclusion. My hon. Friends agree with Mr. Middleton.
In the Glasgow Herald of 12th November, information was provided about an experiment that had been carried out quite close to Glasgow. I do not claim any originality for this information. The Glasgow Herald account was a very good report, and I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary's attention has been drawn to it. It relates to an agricultural engineer who has a smallholding of only six acres at Hardgate in Dunbartonshire. He is a past chairman of the Institute of British Agricultural Engineers. The significant point is that largely on his own he has been struggling to produce an effective machine. This was his fifth attempt. Why has he been allowed to struggle on his own, as it appears from this report, in competition with the might of massive European organisations?
He recently gave a demonstration of the possibilities of his tractor. It weighs 7 cwt.; it has sufficient impetus to do the job and yet is sensitive enough to be halted in its operations. It can cover two acres a day, and move over furrows at 1½-2½ m.p.h. This feature should appeal to the farming community because it is labour-saving in effect. It normally requires 24 workers to clear three or four acres a day, but the machine can do two acres a day with only five workers. That seems to be attractive enough. The onlookers, who included not only farmers but mechanical engineers, thought the machine would have great possibilities at a price of £600 if mass-produced. Can the Joint Under-Secretary tell us how much money is being spent on research?
I would draw the attention of the hon. Gentleman to another report in the Press. The Scotsman described some of the con- 1472 ditions to which my hon. Friend has referred. To his great credit, the hon. Gentleman attended to complaints made in my hon. Friend's area last year. Nevertheless, the following sort of thing perturbs those who are interested in the educational side. There is t o be a special meeting in Moray and Nairn between the education committee, the farmers, the headmasters and the N.F.U. officials to deal with complaints made by the headmaster of Elgin Academy.
The report says:The meeting is the outcome of a letter sent by Moray's leading head master…to the education committee expressing strong disapproval' of the conditions on a number of farms. 'A few farmers have no idea how to handle children and a great deal of harm has been done to the school from which they come.'…The points that the headmaster makes are these:some farmers showed stupidity and lack of consideration; pupils and adults should not be employed at the same farm; the association of schoolchildren, particularly girls, with some of the adults could be most harmful; pupils were paid 10s. less for doing the same work as women, and this rankled; farm employees should not he allowed to have any dealings with the pupils; and there was a lack of supervision of the children during their mid-day break.The statements made by the headmaster are serious. He is one to whom the community always looks for veracity and straightforward dealing in these matters. Whether the Joint Under-Secretary can give us any information on this subject I do not know, but I draw his attention to it, and I am sure that he has sympathy with the cases which have been stated. It is the great danger in certain places of such conditions as I have tried to describe being repeated that incenses us and makes us extremely anxious about the condition of the children vis-à-vis their education.
We want some good reasons from the hon. Gentleman for the continuation of the Act for another year. There is a growing impatience on the part of the public and feeling that if the same energy were applied in this field as in many others we should have overcome the problem and the children's education would he able to continue placidly.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
Last year the hon. Member for Kilmarnock 1473 (Mr. Ross) told the Committee, in moving an identical Amendment on 21st November:We are determined to raise this subject every year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1957; Vol. 578, c. 650.]The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) said that this was an eminently suitable subject for an annual debate. Today it fell to the hon. Member to move this Amendment, and we always appreciate his courtesy. We fully understand his anxiety over, to use his words, the educational damage and interruption which this Act involves. But he did say that undoubtedly there has been an improvement in the last twelve months. The hon. Gentleman asked for a certain amount of information, much of which I hope to be able to give him now and some, perhaps, later.
We on this side of the Committee do not in any way regret or complain of the determination of the Opposition to question the need for the continuation of this Act year by year. We shall be as pleased as they when the Act can be allowed to lapse. But that time has not yet come, and there is no prospect of being able to dispense with the services of children next year. It is as well to say so now. We have undertaken to give ample notice before the Act is discontinued so that growers may plan planting accordingly. We are faced with the physical fact that, if we are to give ample notice we must proceed now, and on legislative grounds also we must proceed now, and we have to do that although we are aware that the full information is not available at the present time.
If we cannot yet dispense with children for potato lifting, we can show that good progress has been made towards the time when we shall be able to do so. Perhaps I may illustrate this. The Secretary of State notifies education authorities of the maximum number of exemptions which may be allowed by each authority each year. The maximum period of exemption is fifteen school days. In 1949 there were 47,000 exemptions so notified. This fell in 1951 to 45,000-odd, in 1957 to 24,000 and in 1958 to under 18,000. I regret that it is impossible for the full information to be made available at present.
While the numbers of children notified have dropped over that period by five- 1474 eights, the acreage of potatoes has dropped by little more than one-third. That is some measure of the progress that has been made towards dispensing with the services of children.
§ Mr. Macpherson
Perhaps I might be allowed to develop that point later. In 1956 we were able to end billeting in schools, and in 1957 we were able to end billeting in camps. This year the exemption of children from cities other than Dundee was discontinued altogether.
As regards Dundee, we undertook this year to reduce the number of exemptions notified from 3,000 to 2,000 and, at the same time, to end the private permit schemes under which farmers, but not potato merchants, were permitted to employ some 300 extra children with whom they made private arrangements. That caused some disarray, and it was good to get rid of it. Although Dundee Education Authority declined on principle to co-operate fully in the scheme, they did agree that teachers could be enrolled to assist in arrangements for marshalling children at schools before "embussing" and arranged for the police to do all they could to check breaches of the regulations. As a result, the irregularities which caused complaint were virtually eliminated, and I am assured that the arrangements for the potato harvest in Dundee this year were better than they have ever been.
I thank the authority for what it has done, and I am sure that the results are as much a matter of satisfaction to it as they are to my right hon. Friend. I also thank the hon. Member for what he has said. We had a happy co-operation in this matter, and I was grateful for his assistance.
The hon. Member asked whether there were any reports of pirating from other parts of the country. I am glad to tell him that there have been no such reports this year. He also asked about the position in Fife and wondered why the exemptions there should be as high as 5,000—the number was reduced from 7,000 in 1956 to 6,000 in 1957. Although exemptions are permitted for fifteen days in the year, the Fife education authorities 1475 prefer to limit the maximum period of exemptions to ten days a year. Consequently, there is a higher ratio of children exempted.
The hon. Member asked about senior secondary schools and he felt that the burden was not equally shared. Last year the total number of exemptions granted was 22,000, and of those, 5,071, or 23 per cent., came from the senior secondary schools, and so the burden is not very unequal. He spoke of imposing a burden—and the word he used was "imposing". However, it should be remembered that it is the parents who have to apply for the exemption. The children are not detailed to parade for potato lifting. It is the parents who have to make the application.
§ Mr. Hannan
Is it made perfectly clear that it is only at the parents' request that the child will be exempted? Is it made clear that it is a voluntary act on their part?
§ Mr. Macpherson
Certainly. Unless the parent applies for the child to be exempted, the child is not exempted. That is well understood.
As a representative of Glasgow, the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) will be glad to know that no more children from Glasgow are now being used. The hon. Member raised the general question of labour, his point being whether we could not entirely dispense with the use of children now that more labour is available. He referred to the Rose Committee, which pointed out that out of the total number of unemployed at any one time only a small proportion was available for potato lifting, owing to factors such as location, age, suitability, and family responsibilities.
In general, one cannot expect people to go very long distances for what is essentially a very temporary employment with any one employer. Even within the season, potato-lifters may shift from employer to employer, and it is very difficult to direct them to do so outside a certain area. That restricts the availability of labour. Incidentally, may I remind hon. Members of what the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) said on this subject last year:I have always taken the view, and I still do, that the adult labour should not be obtained from the ranks of the unemployed 1476 but the ranks of the otherwise employed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November. 1957; Vol. 578. c. 666.]That is the answer to the hon. Member for Dundee, East. It is in that direction that we are gradually building up a labour force available for potato lifting. From year to year names are being recorded of women who are prepared to do this sort of work, and the farmers make their own connections, some at a distance, some locally, and so forth. That is how we are gradually overcoming the problem. The registered unemployed have been used wherever possible, and the close co-operation between the Ministry of Labour and the Department of Agriculture, particularly at local level, has materially assisted in making available the services of suitable adult workers to farmers, and so reducing the call on children.
I was asked about potato merchants. I would tell the hon. Member for Dundee, East that in 1957 potato merchants used 1,000 children from the Dundee area, but this year no children were needed. Enough adult labour was found.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Maryhill about mechanical harvesting and the progress made in that direction. As he knows, the need for a satisfactory harvester is fully realised, and every possibility that would help with the development of a satisfactory design is carefully considered. I am afraid that I cannot give him a figure of the total amount spent on this. He knows that experiments are going on at Howden, in Scotland, and a similar development is being carried on at Wrest Park, in Bedfordshire. I cannot give him a total figure for the cost.
He referred to the trial held on 11th November, when Mr. Wallace Henderson demonstrated a machine on which he has been working for a long time. The hon. Gentleman asked what help Mr. Henderson had been given. Some people prefer to make developments on their own, and in any case a prototype has always to be produced. Once it has been produced it must go through its tests, and when those tests have been completed it may be recognised as a commercial proposition and developed on a commercial basis.
§ Mr. Hannan
Would not the Minister think it of value, because of the importance of this matter, that the Department 1477 should approach this man? Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the Department has interested itself in viewing this machine and assisted by encouraging and straightening out difficulties? Can the Department take the initiative in meeting this man?
§ Mr. Macpherson
Yes. Mr. Henderson is a very well known character in Scotland, and is well known to the Department. A representative of the Department was present at the trials.
He mentioned some complaints that had been received. The best thing is for complaints to be made at once so that an inspector can go immediately to the place concerned and try to rectify the faults. If there is something wrong, he is empowered under the Regulations to withdraw the labour. Apart from that, at the end of each year a Departmental committee considers complaints that come in from the various local authorities and sees how they can be overcome. On the question of wages, it is that committee which recommends wages for children. The agricultural wages are determined by the Wages Board.
I think I have said enough to show that very considerable progress is being made, and I would assure the Committee that we are working as quickly as we can towards the reduction of the number of children used, and agriculture is under notice that in time this Act will go. That does not necessarily mean that no children will work in the potato fields for, even when the Act goes, it will still be open, as the hon. Member for Dundee, East suggested, for local authorities in great potato-growing areas to arrange their school years in such a way as to allow children to work in the fields during the potato-lifting period. The hon. Member for Dundee, East thought that this was a better way. I would not like to express an opinion on it because, so long as the Act is in being, it is a matter wholly for the local authorities to decide for themselves. I hope that I have said enough to convince the Committee that we are moving in the direction in which I believe hon. Members on both sides wish us to go.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson
I do not wish to delay the Committee, but the last point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman is rather 1478 important. The Minister says that the question of exemptions of potato holidays is a matter for the local authorities themselves. His position is rather inconsistent in the matter, because, of course, the demand for exemptions from local authorities is something imposed over their heads by the Secretary of State.
When it comes to exemptions, the Secretary of State has no hesitation about stepping in and overriding the local authorities. I should have thought that the Secretary of State would have decided that a potato holiday was the lesser of two evils. I am not saying that this is final, but if the Minister would consider the matter and decide that the potato holiday was the lesser of the two evils, then there would be nothing wrong in what he is saying to the local authorities, that that is the way they must do it.
§ Mr. Macpherson
The hon. Gentleman suggests that we should say to the local authorities that this is the way in which they must do it. It would require new powers to do so. In the meantime, we have powers, in cases where local authorities have not decided to close their schools, to notify them of the maximum number of exemptions up to which they can go. All I was saying was that if and when this Act goes it will still be open to the local authorities to arrange their school year so as to allow children to lift the potato harvest.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 20 to 22.
This Amendment and the Act to which it refers, the Accommodation Agencies Act, 1953, are rather different from the other Acts and Amendments which we have been discussing tonight. I understand that this Measure originated as a Private Member's Bill introduced in 1953 by the then hon. Member for Ilford, North after an Adjournment debate at about 6.30 in the morning. We have not yet reached so late an hour tonight, and some of us hope that we shall not. As I say, it was a Private Member's Bill and was eventually supported by the Government.
I looked up the debate on the Bill and found that there was hardly any at all. The Second Reading of the Bill was not debated and the Third Reading took up 1479 some five columns in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The Bill was introduced to deal with an abuse then rampant in London and elsewhere in the country. Agencies were being set up which sought sums of money from people on the promise that they would try to assist them to get housing accommodation.
It has been said that in London alone these bogus agencies made some £100,000 in the year or two prior to 1953. The Measure expired on 31st December, 1957. It has been extended once, and we are being asked to extend it again. It provides for the prosecution of people who accept money for registering persons or promising them that they will find them accommodation.
I doubt whether there have been many prosecutions under the Act because I believe that the knowledge that such prosecutions can be instituted has stopped the business going on. I do not know to what other shady business these agencies have turned and in which they are now indulging, but I have no doubt that they have found other sources of income, to deal with which, perhaps, someone will have to introduce another Bill.
I want to look at two points in regard to the Act. The first is its effect on local authorities. The second is whether or not it is really necessary to continue the Act now.
For many years, local authorities have been urged by successive Governments and by Reports of the Central Housing Advisory Committee—issued when the present Minister was its Chairman—to operate exchange bureaux of one kind and another. As far back as 1945, the Committee suggested that local authorities should investigate the possibility of exchanges with private landlords. Its third Report, issued in 1949, went further, and actually recommended local authorities to do all they could to secure the co-operation of private landlords in getting exchanges, and in large conurbations to consider, with them, methods of improving the interchange of information about tenants who wished to move.
The Minister, in Circular 3149, issued shortly after that Report, asked the local authorities to do all they could in that respect. Again, in Circular No. 8 of 1952, the Minister asked local authorities to facilitate the exchange of tenancies 1480 between persons moving between one area and another, and suggested that the authorities might assist in this as far as possible. The Ministry said, as did the Advisory Committee in 1953, that these exchanges would probably mean a good deal of extra work for local authority staffs.
Many local authorities have arranged these exchange bureaux. For many years the London County Council has operated one for their own tenants, for those in borough council houses and for tenants of private landlords in the London area, but I would like to look at a development in the West Midlands that was, in a way, stultified by the present Act.
The Northfields Divisional Labour Party in Birmingham some three years ago suggested that it would be a good thing if all the local authorities in the west Midlands regional area were to get together to operate a central bureau for council and private tenants in that area. This idea was taken up by the regional council of the Labour Party and discussed at a meeting of Labour Party local authority representatives. It was a completely democratic process, and, arising from it, the Wolverhampton Town Council called a meeting of local authorities in the area to discuss such a project.
Eventually, it was arranged that the scheme should be administered by the officers of the Birmingham Corporation. I am informed that everybody was perfectly happy to join in. They were to make a more or less nominal charge to those registering for transfers. Everyone had agreed on this when suddenly the Town Clerk of Birmingham—who would have been responsible for administering the scheme—advised that under this Act a charge could not be made.
I do not think it was the intention of the Act—which, as I have said, was primarily designed to get at people who were deliberately profiteering from the housing shortage—to react against local authorities in this way. Nevertheless, several local authorities did carry on and started the exchange bureau which, I am informed, is operating reasonably well. I am also told that other local authorities, when they found that a charge could not be made and that they would have to meet the cost by a small charge on the rates, contracted out of the scheme. I do not know of what political colour those 1481 authorities are or were, but their contracting out has meant that people in those areas do not get the benefit of the scheme, whereas but for the Act they could have been able to take advantage of it.
In that respect I think some consideration should be given to the position of local authorities in this matter. The Act was never intended to react against local authorities in this way. It was intended to deal with a situation which had grown up, as everyone will agree, due to housing shortage, particularly in the urban areas where people were deliberately profiteering because of the shortage. The Act was intended to end in January, 1957. I do not know whether the sponsor of the Bill thought the shortage would end then, but it has been re-enacted ever since.
I come to the general question of whether it is really necessary to continue this Act, and I refer first to a paper called the Weekly Newsletter, the Editor of which is Mr. George E. Christ, who seems to be a very well-informed man and has access to information which is extremely reliable. On 17th November, 1956, referring to the Rent Act, 1957, he said:The main object of the Government's new Rent Bill is to crack the ice and get the river flowing again. It will do that by getting houses and flats to let back on the market.That is a nice sentiment, and we are asked to continue the Act because the Government are of opinion that there is still a shortage of houses and a danger of people profiteering in that field. I would also refer to the speech of the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government on the Second Reading of the Bill which eventually became the Rent Act, on 21st November, 1956:It follows that upon an objective basis, and one which has been broadly accepted, I think, we are now within sight of, and should in twelve months' time or so be level with, an equation of the overall supply and demand for homes.It was his view then that in twelve months, by November, 1957, the supply and demand for houses would be equated, but he went on to refer to an article in the Manchester Guardian, which said:many thousands of controlled houses which have been standing vacant for months— 1482 simply because it pays the landlord to wait for a buyer when a tenant leaves rather than let again at the controlled rent—we get a market that should be adequate in size to keep free rents down to an economic level.The hon. Gentleman said:That is a calculation which, the Government believe, will be proved correct.It would appear that the Government at that time were quite convinced that as a result of the Rent Act and the fact that houses which had been empty for months would become decontrolled the housing problem in many parts of the country would be solved by then. The Parliamentary Secretary went on to say:If they…the landlords—are to get the value out of those houses they will have to continue to let them at a market rent at which they can find tenants and they will have to bid for those tenants.…—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1760, 1768–9.]Obviously he was of the view that by this time, nearly two years later, landlords would be running around the streets looking for tenants. Nevertheless, we are asked tonight by the Government to carry on this Act, which was designed to deal with circumstances of acute shortage where people might profiteer at the expense of others looking for homes. Yet two years ago we were told by the Government that in twelve months—twelve months ago—the housing shortage would disappear and the demand be equated by the supply and landlords would be bidding for tenants. I am an innocent sort of chap and cannot reconcile these two things.
The effect on local authorities I am certain was not intended at the time the Act was passed. Have the Government rejected the type of approach of the Parliamentary Secretary? Do they now admit that the Rent Act has not solved the problem as it was expected to be solved, because it is still necessary to have this protection to tenants who are thirsting for accommodation and cannot get it? While this Act is being extended they can be caught by bogus estate agents and perhaps another £100,000 may go into their pockets.
§ 11.45 p.m.
Mr. A. Bienkimsop (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)
I do not want to take much time because my hon. Friend the Member 1483 for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) has admirably put the questions which we all want to ask, but there was a further point which the Parliamentary Secretary might elucidate. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will also say something about the operation of the Act and state whether there have been any prosecutions. I do not mean that that would determine whether the Act has been of value, because obviously it is the potential value which counts in deterring people from taking action which they might otherwise take. Have there been any prosecutions?
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
Would the Parliamentary Secretary also tell the Committee whether his Department keeps a watch upon the type of bogus agency at which the Act is aimed? Does it watch the growth of this type of agency, particularly in the Metropolitan area? Information has reached me recently that since the Rent Act began to operate this kind of agency has been on the increase in the Metropolitan area.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)
I assure the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) that the only hon. Member who regards him as an innocent chap is himself. I do not.
I do not want to be inveigled into a discussion of the Rent Act, and you, Sir Charles, would not allow me to be so inveigled; nor do I want to comment on the Government's housing record, which is one of which we are not ashamed. Clearly a considerable housing need remains to be satisfied in London, Liverpool and other of our large cities, and the Government are very conscious of that at present.
The hon. Member asked two broad questions, which were supplemented by two questions from his hon. Friends the Members for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop). The hon. Member for Islington, South-West asked whether my right hon. Friend kept watch on these bogus agencies. As far as my right hon. Friend is aware, over the last three or four years there has been a reduction in the activities of this sort of agency, but if the hon. Member, as 1484 I gathered from what he said, has information which leads him to the contrary conclusion, I should be very glad to have it.
The hon. Member for Islington, North asked, first, whether it was necessary to continue the Act, and secondly, what was its influence on local authorities which were serious in the matter of trying to facilitate transfers and exchanges between tenants of both municipal and other houses. The Committee knows the purpose of this modest Act, and I do not propose to dwell on it at this time of night. I think it has probably had a salutary effect in discouraging frauds of the sort that Sir Geoffrey Hutchison had in mind when he promoted the Bill under the Ten Minute Rule. I agree that the principal effect of the Act is not so much in prosecutions as in the moral effect on certain gentlemen whose activities we all join in deploring.
I can tell the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East that the number of prosecutions has been very few. There was one in 1955, there were two in 1956, there was one in 1957, and so far there has been none this year. I do not pretend that this is an important piece of legislation, but I feel that it has achieved a small but useful purpose during the last few years and that it would be a mistake, partly for the reasons implied by the hon. Member for Islington, South-West, to throw it overboard at the moment.
The position concerning local authority schemes for exchanges, I understand, is that in the West Midlands a number of local authorities joined together and tried to improvise a joint scheme to facilitate exchanges and transfers, not only in the area of one authority, but as between people living in the various areas of that conurbation. Whether it is right for such a group of local authorities to charge a fee to people trying to benefit from these facilities, or whether the cost should be borne by the rates is debatable. I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member that there would be no objection to the cost being borne by the rates, because clearly it could not amount to much in terms of £ s. d. Under the existing law, so I am advised, it would be an illegal procedure for those local authorities to charge fees for that information.
1485 Under the present procedure of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, it is not possible to amend the provisions of the Act. What we can and ought to do is to examine the position in relation to the local authorities which have undertaken this scheme and decide whether it is right that a change should be made to enable them to proceed, if they so wish, by making charges so that they will be free from any legal obstacle. We might well do that.
If we come to the conclusion that it is desirable to do something to allow local authorities to proceed in the way they wish, it would be a matter of considering whether the Government ought to provide facilities for legislation—it would be a modest business—or more appropriately, perhaps, whether it would be a matter for a Private Member's Bill. If the hon. Member will be good enough to leave that part of his contribution to me, I undertake to have it examined and to communicate with him later.
§ Mr. Reynolds
I am perfectly satisfied with the Minister's reply to both points. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 39 to 48.
The Amendment is one that we have to put down to elucidate information every year. I regret this, because every year it is fairly late in the evening by the time we reach this subject. I wonder whether the order of batting, so to speak, might from time to time be slightly amended to bring relief at least to certain Ministers. However that be, I think we would all agree that the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, is of real importance. It is all the more important that we should discuss it at this moment because of the radical changes that the Government have made in the whole operation of rent tribunals, thus affecting very much our decision as to whether the Act as at present constituted should be carried on for a further year.
Naturally, we have each year used this opportunity to try to get as much information as possible about the intentions of the Government concerning the operation of the Act, and that is our 1486 chief intention again tonight. I express my gratitude to the Minister's Department for furnishing me with the most up-to-date information which it has about the cases that are coming before the tribunals.
I gather, for example, that during the first three-quarters of this year, for which information is available, the number of cases remitted under the 1946 Act has increased considerably, as one would rather expect from the effect of the Government's action in the 1957 Rent Act.
It may be remembered that some time ago I suggested in the House that that might be the case. I asked what, if it proved to be the case, the Government's attitude would be towards the number of tribunals that would be required. We were concerned because last year the Parliamentary Secretary indicated that the Government intended to reduce the number of tribunals by an amalgamation. The hon. Gentleman argued that there had been a trend downwards in the number of referred cases.
I give the Parliamentary Secretary the point that a considerable section of the work of the tribunals has been taken away from them by the Government's own actions. The document which indicates the powers of rent tribunals, as amended by Government actions, is a very miserable document. There is not much that has not been considerably amended or left out of it. Only one or two sections remain in different paragraphs of the explanatory leaflet. Even the section dealing with the 1946 legislation on furnished lettings does not operate as fully now as it did. Because of the Government's action in 1957, only accommodation of below a certain rateable value now falls to be referred to the rent tribunals. That is what the Parliamentary Secretary himself said in this Chamber when we last discussed this matter.
Even then, the hon. Gentleman was not giving the full horror of the picture, in that there is another category which is taken out of the purview of the tribunals. This is in connection with properties which may be under the rateable value but in respect of which there have been changes of tenancy and the properties. in that way, have come out of the operation of the control Acts. I understand 1487 that in those cases, whatever the rateable value, the furnished letting might be affected in the sense that the tenant might not be able to take his case to the rent tribunal. This is a very severe disability, as is well-known to those of us who have had cases presented to us, in relation to both furnished and unfurnished lettings.
There are many cases throughout the country, and especially in constituencies like mine where many people have not yet been made fully aware that when the tenancies change of properties of a rate-able value under £30 in the country and £40 in London, rent control goes. Not only does rent control go but the protection that there might have been to tenants of furnished apartments within those properties will be affected. It may well be that not only may the tenants be removed from their accommodation but they may also be unable to take their cases to the tribunals for reference.
This means, as I said, that we are left with a very much reduced field for the operation of the rent tribunals. In a sense, therefore, it is a matter of some interest that, in spite of this reduction in the field, there has been an increase in the number.
The first point which I am anxious to clear with the Parliamentary Secretary is what the intentions of the Government are in regard to the number of tribunals, what has happened during the course of the year since he last spoke to the Committee on the matter, and what the intentions of the Government are with regard to the future. Do they intend further to reduce the number of tribunals? Do they intend to do away with them altogether? We should like to know. Presumably they intend to maintain them or we should not have had them included in the list, but we should like to know what the intentions of the Government are. It is a matter of great anxiety to us.
We well realise that the rent tribunals cannot give complete protection to tenants who are facing very real difficulty as against some landlords. I have never been one who has suggested that all landlords were rapacious, but we have made it clear, and it is understood, that there are all too many rapacious land- 1488 lords or landladies. We have recently had evidence of that in the Press.
The other day there was a startling case of some people who had been to a rent tribunal on a case coming under the Act and the tribunal had reduced the rent, and when they returned to their accommodation they found the doors locked and barred, and the landlady refused to let them in. They had to find accommodation in a police station overnight, because neither the police nor anyone else could secure admission for them. There are landladies and landlords of that type. Finally, because it is the law of the land, they were able the following day to secure admission to their accommodation.
These are the problems which arise. From one's own experience, one can say that there are hard cases of tenants in such conditions, which I suspect may well increase because of the need of people to find other temporary accommodation in the difficulties forced upon them by the Government. Naturally, we are anxious that the protection shall be as effective as possible for tenants put in this difficult situation. We are worried about the position of many of those who have been forcibly moved out of the protection of the Act. We are concerned because steadily the whole system of control is being eroded away by the development of new tenancies, and we fear that the Act that we are continuing for a further year is, in effect, becoming something of a dead letter. That is the danger. It is because of all these anxieties that I am asking the Parliamentary Secretary to give us all the information he can about experience during the past year and let us know what the intentions of the Government are for the future.
Naturally, as a representative of Newcastle-upon-Tyne I should like to know what the position is for tribunals covering that area of the North-East, because there we have been concerned about the operation of these proposals and there have been many cases affecting constituents of mine; but we also want something of the general picture.
§ Mr. A. Evans
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is in a position to give an adequate reply to the statements which have just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1489 East (Mr. Blenkinsop). I was surprised when my hon. Friend said that figures recently supplied to him by the Department show that, far from there being a reduction in the number of cases taken by the tribunals, there has been an increase in recent months. That is contrary to what the Government have been telling the House and country was likely to happen.
The most recent Report of the Ministry told us clearly that the scope of these tribunals was on the decline. We were told in the Report that the jurisdiction of the tribunals had been reduced by the Rent Act, 1957. The various heads under which reductions had been made were set out. Yet now we have been told, unofficially, that, on the contrary, the number of cases has increased. This is a surprising development. The Government, assuming that the number of cases which tribunals would hear would decline, set about reducing the number of tribunals.
I would ask how far this work of reduction has been carried, how many amalgamations have taken place, and how many tribunals there are now in England and Wales. I hope we shall be given an explanation of the apparent inconsistency between the Government's statement and the more recent figures given by my hon. Friend.
It is clear from information which has come to me from one part of the Metropolitan area that there has not been any reduction in the number of cases coming forward. The number of cases submitted to the Islington tribunal, which covers, I believe, nine boroughs and is one of the largest tribunals in the country, is tending to increase. For the last five years there has been no reduction in the volume of work with which this tribunal has been called upon to deal. I suspect that any decline which there may be is localised, and that in the large urban centres the amount of work is not decreasing.
I would draw the Parliamentary Secretary's attention to that part of the Rent Act which affected the work of rent tribunals. There was one favourable section in that wretched Act, under which, for the first time, those who let furnished lettings were obliged to give tenants a rent book. It cannot be made too clear to all those who let furnished lettings 1490 that they are now obliged to provide their tenants with rent books and that failure to do so can incur penalties as laid down in the Act.
We should not leave this subject without a word of thanks to members of rent tribunals. The members and their staffs do vital and difficult work and a word of thanks to them should go from the House of Commons. They are not overpaid. Indeed, from such information as I have about their salaries, I doubt whether they are adequately paid. I understand that it is the Minister's responsibility to appoint these people and arrange their remuneration. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will say something about that matter.
I understand that a salary claim is pending. This is a small and isolated body of people who do not qualify as civil servants and who seem to have no classification. They therefore fail to get the attention which they deserve. I hope that their claim will be considered speedily and adequately. In the past, there have been delays in dealing with the remuneration of these very deserving public servants, and it is up to the Minister and hon. Members to see that they receive prompt and adequate remuneration for their services.
§ Mr. J. R. Bevins
I am obliged to hon. Members for having addressed the Committee with such brevity, for we are—
Notice taken that 40 Members were not present Committee counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Bevins
This interest in rent tribunals is quite unexpected. However, in spite of the number of hon. Members present, I propose to emulate the brevity of hon. Members who have spoken on the Amendment.
The two main questions with which hon. Members opposite are preoccupied are, first, the alleged increase in the number of cases going before rent tribunals, and, secondly, whether the Government have been right to re-arrange the rent tribunal structure, as we have done in the last few years.
However, before dealing with those questions, I want first to remove a misconception which has crept into the 1491 debate. If there is a change of tenancy of a furnished dwelling where the rateable value, in the case of London, is below £40, and outside London below £30, the fact that there is a change of tenancy does not disqualify the second or successive tenant from the protection of the rent tribunal. That was my impression when hon. Members were speaking and I have taken the opportunity to confirm it. In other words, vacant possession of those properties below £40 or £30 rateable value does not mean that the new tenant loses the protection of the rent tribunal.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
This is important. This is different from the ordinary position of the new tenant coming into occupation and losing the protection of rent control and being unable to enforce repairs and so on by the landlord. I am glad to have that correction, because I understood that with furnished letting, too, there might be a loss, especially if the part of the accommodation occupied was part of a larger property whose tenancy had changed. I now understand that the protection remains.
§ 12.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Bevins
The hon. Member is quite right in his present understanding of the matter.
The arithmetic of the matter is the heart of it, because it is upon that that the hon. Member has based his allegation. The number of cases decided by the tribunals in the twelve months ended June, 1953, was about 7,500, and in the twelve months ended June, 1958, it had fallen to 4,800. If the hon. Member will look at the Annual Report of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government he will see that the number of new applications to tribunals fell in 1957 to approximately 5,300. I rather think that he may have been misreading the figures supplied today by my right hon. Friend, which cover the first three quarters of the present year. Those figures show that in the first three quarters about 3,600 cases were received. About 400 cases were awaiting decision in that period. We, therefore, have a total of rather more than 4,000, to which we have to add about one-third to allow for the probable cases which will accrue during the fourth quarter. On the best assumption I can make that is likely to give us a figure, for the whole year, of 5,380 new applications, as compared with 5,361 for 1957.
1492 According to my arithmetic there is no evidence—comparing the first three quarters of this year with the first three last year—of any increase in the number of applications to tribunals to determine reasonable rents, but there has been a small increase, of about 100, in the third quarter, as against the second quarter. That is a very small increase.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Is not the hon. Gentleman quoting from the Annual Report the total of cases awaiting decision and cases received during the year? I think that he is adding the two together. Would not it, therefore, be fair to add them together for the current year as well? I do not think that his comparison is completely accurate.
§ Mr. Bevins
I must confess that when I first looked at the figures I fell into the same trap as the hon. Member has walked into, but if he will reflect upon the matter he will see that the cases awaiting decision for the second quarter of 1958, namely, 404, are probably all included in the figure of cases received during the previous quarter. They were received in the first quarter and were awaiting decision during the second quarter.
It is quite true that there has been a deliberate reduction in the number of tribunals during the last few years, but there has also been a big reduction in the number of applications relating to furnished lettings, and certain types of case have gone out of the picture altogether. If we take the year from July, 1955, to June, 1956, we find that there was a total of about 12,800 cases, and we had 61 tribunals throughout the country. During the corresponding period from 1957–58 the total number of furnished letting cases dropped to 4,800. At that time we had 48 tribunals in operation.
That, of course, is a drop, but it is nothing like the corresponding drop in the total number of cases dealt with. In fact, if one goes back three years one finds that the average number of cases being dealt with by the average tribunal was about 210 a year, whereas the figure at present is down to something like 100.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the position in the Newcastle area. I understand that Gateshead and Newcastle had separate tribunals until the middle of 1958. Since that time there has been 1493 a combined tribunal for Northumberland and Durham. Before the amalgamation, the average number of cases per quarter—as regards the 1946 Act; not security of tenure cases—was about 23. Since the amalgamation, the number has averaged about 28 or 29, and I am informed that the new tribunal has not come across any serious difficulty in carrying out its work.
As I say, in the four years between 1953 and 1957 we have reduced the number of tribunals from 65 to 60. With the passing of the Rent Act and the removal from the tribunals of all jurisdiction over unfurnished premises, we started to review the size of the organisation, and we have now cut down the number to 48.
We have one further amalgamation in view. What we are trying to do in the reorganisation is to bring about such economies as we can consistent with the reduction in the work of the tribunals, but at the same time we are trying to give the members of the public the service to which we think they are entitled. Most of the amalgamations have taken place in urban areas where transport is good and where distances to the tribunal offices are fairly short. On the whole, I do not think that there has been any serious inconvenience to members of the public.
So far as the future is concerned, I think that we have to see how this matter develops. The Act will continue in force for another twelve months, and at the end of that time we shall see what the demands on the tribunals have been, and in the light of that information we shall decide what our future policy ought to be. 1494 The cost of the tribunals this year is estimated at about £93,000 as against £104,000 last year, so that we have saved about £11,000. Of that expenditure, about one-third goes in fees to members and the bulk of the balance goes in staff salaries. My information is that there are no outstanding pay complaints. This matter was raised by the hon. Member, I think, twelve months ago. The staff have had pay increases which are related to those awarded to civil servants since the Report of the Royal Commission on the Civil Service.
The emoluments of the chairmen and of the members of the tribunals, as the Committee knows, are quite modest, but we have been able, on the whole, to secure the services of very worthy people. They seem to be satisfied with the remuneration they receive.
I think that deals with the principal questions that have been asked tonight. It I may just recapitulate very shortly, the position is that over the last few years there has been a drop in the number of cases coming before the tribunals. At the moment the number is fairly steady. It may go up or it may not. It is impossible to forecast at the moment, but we have taken advantage of the drop in the number of cases to reduce the number of tribunals. We shall pursue that policy as far as we can compatible with the interests and convenience of the public.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Preamble agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time and passed.