§ 3.43 p.m.
§ This Amendment raises the whole question of the law affecting aliens. It affects the rights and liberties of nearly half a million people in this country today; half a million people, some of whom have suffered very great oppression. It is important that this Committee should consider that.
§ It has sometimes been said that there are three classes of people within our community. First, there are those who live within the law, and they consist of the main body of citizens. There is a second class, above the law, and it comprises the visiting forces and the diplomats. And in the third class, with which we are most concerned today, are the aliens who, at present, really live without the law.
§ I should like to deal for a moment with those above the law; and to ask two questions, because I shall be suggesting later that all of this should be dealt 412 with in consolidating legislation. Let me deal first, therefore, with diplomats and with those affected by the Visiting Forces Act. When that Act was introduced we were told that it would be operated only on the basis of reciprocity. We pointed out at the time that under the American Constitution the Americans had no power to provide reciprocity. None the less, we were given that guarantee. On a number of occasions I have asked what America has done about providing that reciprocity, and, indeed, what—
§ The Chairman
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I do not think that this comes under the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act that we are discussing now.
§ Mr. Paget
With respect, Sir Gordon, the position is this. These members of visiting forces are either under the Aliens Act or they are not. Whether they are or they are not depends on the Visiting Forces Act. Surely, when we are dealing with the people who are affected by this legislation—and I shall deal with it very shortly—we are entitled to inquire whether members of visiting forces are aliens to be dealt with by the law which we are being asked to reaffirm for another year or by another law—
§ The Chairman
The hon. and learned Gentleman is perfectly entitled to ask whether they come under the Aliens Act.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
Further to that point of order, Sir Gordon. Halsbury's Laws of England says that there is no definition in our law of what an alien is; and, on trial, an alien is a person who satisfies the court that he is not an alien. The presumption being against him that he is one, he must prove that he is not. In those circumstances, it is difficult to see what could not be discussed under this particular Amendment because, under it, everything is the subject of discussion until we have proved that it is not.
§ Mr. Paget
Passing over, for a moment, my hon. Friend's remark—which has considerable substance, although it is also amusing—I must ask, and I have given notice to the Under-Secretary of State that I would ask, this question: what is the present position under the Visiting Forces Act? Who comes under it. and who does not? And 413 what is happening about the reciprocity that we were then promised as to its operation?
I come at once to the main body of people who are being dealt with today—the aliens resident in this country. What we are being asked to do is to continue an Act, or rather one Section of an Act, of 1919, which, in its turn, continued an Act that was passed on 4th August, 1914. That is a date of some significance, because before August, 1914, every man, woman and child within the King's dominions was under the common law of England. He had the same rights, and he had the same obligations. He was under one law.
Without debate—and one can understand this in the emergency of that August afternoon—this great change in our law took place, but it was designed to take place, and it was designed only to take place, as a wartime measure—and as a wartime measure it was stringent in the extreme. Let the Committee consider for a moment its provisions—and these are the precise provisions that we are being asked to continue.
That Aliens Restriction Act, 1914, provided for prohibiting aliens from landing; for prohibiting them from embarking; for their deportation, and for requiring them to reside in certain places or districts for registration. Finally, and perhaps most significantly of all, Section 1 (1, c), which we are being asked to continue, providedfor 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 …I do not think that it is possible, in officialised language, to lay down more completely the powers of a police State. Here we are being asked to provide the Government with complete executive powers over half a million people; to imprison them indefinitely without trial, to confine them in ghettoes—to do anything we choose. That is the power which we are being asked to confer upon the Government.
I say immediately that the best that can be said of this very formidable power is that it has never been exercised to anything like the extent to which the 414 Government would be entitled to exercise it. But we have to consider whether Governments should have this sort of complete police power over individuals. Remember, this is World Refugee Year. We have already been told that we are running a police State in Nyasaland. There is a private one here at home as well.
I now come to the next Act, which is the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919. Clause 1 continues the Act of 1914 and that is all that we are immediately concerned with. But before deciding whether we need this temporary legislation, it is perhaps as well to see what is the permanent legislation applicable to aliens, and to aliens alone, which would apply if the Committee were to accept this Amendment. The permanent provisions provide, first, a special offence for any alien who does an act calculated to cause disaffection in the forces. I wonder why it is necessary to have a special offence there. Does it really make any difference, if one takes the example of "Lord Haw Haw," whether he was born in America or in this country? What is the need for a special offence there? Why will not one law do?
The next provision is this, and it is extremely curious:No alien shall act as master, chief officer, or chief engineer of a British merchant shipunless he has acted in that capacity in a British shipat any time during the war.What war? Is that the 1914–18 war? Does the last war apply? If not, why does it not apply? Does it apply to all the very gallant people who came from the territories occupied by Hitler in the last war and helped our Merchant Service? If not, why does it not? Surely this sort of provision needs some consideration.
Then there is a provision that… no alien shall be appointed to any office or place in the Civil Service….That has been dealt with piecemeal by another Act called the Aliens' Employment Act, which apparently provides that it is all right if they are employed abroad, which had been done illegally for years before 1955, but in this country there has to be a certificate relating either to the individual or to the class of employment. I should like to know what certificates have, in fact, been 415 issued. Who are the aliens who are allowed to work here, and why, and in what jobs and why? What about the Post Office? Are there any working there? I do not know whether there are enough home-born people in this country to go into the Post Office.
I come to the last of the permanent provisions to which I want to refer, to indicate how unsatisfactory and unnecessary is this temporary law. It is the odd provision which makes it an offence for any alien in this country under the age of 45 to have a name. It is provided thatAn alien shall not for any purpose assume or use or purport to assume or use … after the commencement of this Act … any name other than that by which he was ordinarily known on the fourth day of August, nineteen hundred and fourteen.That rules out anybody who was born after 1914.
This sort of legislation requires investigation. I raised these matters for the first time in 1952. At that time the aliens law was comprised in 18 Orders, some of which were quite contradictory to each other, and it was, indeed, almost impossible for the unfortunate alien to discover what were his obligations. The situation has been improved because as a result of that debate in 1952 we got the consolidating Order, and that in the main brought together the regulations covering aliens. But I still do not feel that that is a satisfactory way to do it. One ought to have legislation.
Let us deal with the main provisions of that Order. I have the Order here, but I do not propose to refer to it in detail. I wish simply to deal with its general scope. The Order provides for three different states of affairs. There is the alien entering; there is the alien while he is here, and there is the means of getting rid of him. Each of those matters require different considerations.
First, there is the question of entry. People are inclined to look back nostalgically and say how wonderful it was in the good old days, when anybody could travel anywhere without a passport. That is absolute nonsense. We have to control the arrival of people into this country largely because we have made this country such an attractive place to come to. When the ordinary person had no rights at all, save to starve, 416 the need to keep him out was not so necessary, but when one has created a Welfare State and standards which we have morally to maintain for the people already here, it becomes necessary to lay down restrictions on the numbers who come and join this society.
The very fact that we are an advanced community makes it necessary to keep some watch on our gates. But I think it is very important to remember that the reason why we should watch our gates is basically economic. I would not go beyond that. Here I speak entirely for myself, but I would go so far as to say that there should be some control over the entry of people from outside, whether their origin is foreign or Commonwealth. Some liberally-administered restriction and guidance as to the number of people to come in are necessary. As long as we succeed in being a successful nation, we shall always need people to come in.
Full employment will always involve the existence of certain jobs which are not chosen by people when they have a free choice of jobs. Unless we have people coming from outside, that sort of job will not be manned within a system of full employment. We have very good reasons to be grateful for many of the people who come here, but I recognise that it is a process which needs some level of control.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
My hon. and learned Friend talks of control of people coming into this country. Surely control already applies to aliens. My hon. and learned Friend's argument would be more logical—although he would be out of order if he put it—if he related the question of control to those from the Commonwealth. I do not wish to go on record as supporting it, but I merely point out that there is already control of aliens.
§ The Chairman
As the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) rightly said, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) cannot discuss entry from the Commonwealth on this Amendment.
§ Mr. Paget
All I am saying is that control of the entry of aliens without some measure of control of the entry of people other than aliens makes very little 417 sense or logic. I am not quite certain what the other control is. We observe that a number of Indians were sent back the other day. Were they sent back as aliens? If not, under what right were they sent back? There is a suggestion that they were sent back because they had no passport. If I arrived here without a passport, could I be refused admittance?
§ Mr. Mellish
My hon. and learned Friend is fairly well known and I have no doubt that with his usual capacity he would "get away with it," but if he arrived at an airport without a passport, I cannot believe that the authorities would say, "It is quite all right, Mr. Paget, if that is your name. Go straight through. We have no questions to ask." I should think that at least they would hold him in some form of quarantine until they had checked his story about a passport. I do not defend passports, but I think that we should be logical about this. If he did not have a passport, I do not think he could come straight in.
§ Mr. Paget
I do not dispute that. If I arrive without a passport there is a power to hold me while they ascertain my nationality. If they ascertain that these gentlemen are Indians, do we have to let them in? What happened? What is to happen in future? If Indians, or perhaps any others from the Commonwealth, arrive without passports, have we no right to exclude them other than that of temporarily holding them until we ascertain whether they are citizens of the Commonwealth? I do not know. What does the legislation provide?
§ Mr. Hale
If I arrive without a passport I could say that I had a ticket for the reading room of the British Museum, that I am a member of Royal Automobile Club and of the International P.E.N. Club, that I have a ticket for the manuscript department of the British Museum and a student's ticket, that I have a reader's ticket for the Bibliotheque Nationale, in Paris, and have a membership card of the National Book League, and that I am a member 418 of the Royal Institute of International Affairs- and that is me. No doubt they would reply, "How pleasant. It is good of you to let us have all this information. Please go straight on. We will mark your baggage straight away with a chalk cross."
§ Mr. Paget
My hon. Friends appear to take opposite views. Is there, in fact, a sub rosa arrangement for controlling entry into this country by arranging with Dominion Governments that passports will not be issued except in limited numbers and by arrangement with us? If there is this sort of arrangement, is it legal? I find it difficult to see that it is. If it is legal it means that we can exclude members of the Commonwealth.
So much for the question of entry, except for two points which I should like to raise. I want to deal, first, with the terms of entry and residence for the man who has ample means, perhaps an American who, very reasonably and naturally, when he can afford it, prefers to live in this country rather than to live in America. By a somewhat peculiar form of egalitarianism we apparently refuse permission to live here to this sort of one-man dollar export. Where is the sense in that? Why should a man who can afford it, and who conveys a benefit to our economy by his presence, be refused on these peculiar inverted egalitarian grounds? It has always struck me as particularly silly.
Since exclusion can be justified only on the new economic arrangements which exist but which did not exist before, may I put a point which I believe to be very important as a symbol? It used to be part of our law that anybody who was a refugee from political oppression could enter these islands as a right. That ancient provision of our common law, arising from the judgment of Lord Mansfield in the eighteenth century, was enshrined in our statute law in 1907. It is the law of England that any man who is suffering from political oppression has the right to come in. Today, we are being asked yet again to suspend that law. If my Amendment were accepted, the Act of 1907 would again come into operation and there would be that right of the oppressed to come to these islands.
In these days, when, in larger areas of the world than ever before in its history, opinion is a crime, it is 419 important that that principle should be established. I am told, "Of course, executively that is our policy. We do it." My submission is that it is a fundamental principle of liberty that refuge should be enjoyed under the law and not at the will, however good a will it may be, of an executive Minister. It is important as a symbol to the world. In this World Refugee Year, is there not some imagination in making that gesture, if it be no more than a gesture, in re-establishing this ancient and fundamental law of our country, suspended ever since 1919 year by year but none the less part of our law, and in saying again that, as a right, not as something which is granted by an official, refuge will be granted?
My next question concerns what happens to the alien while he is here. Again, I am, perhaps, talking as a lawyer, but freedom is something enjoyed under the law. If one does not respect the law, one cannot respect freedom. Why should not the alien who is here be under one law with us? The regulations are very trivial indeed. There are all the questions about registration and hotel forms which an alien has to fill up, but which we do not have to fill up if we say no. Whoever looks at them? Where are they collated? Do they all go to one central place?
What about the matter of reporting to the police? If there is a report here in London, a later report in Liverpool and then, perhaps, a report in Edinburgh, is there machinery for collating all those reports? How is it done? Is it done regularly, occasionally or only in respect of particular persons who want looking after? If a man becomes a charge on us, if he goes to the National Assistance Board, or breaks our laws and is arrested, we have an immediate record of where he is. If he goes to an employment exchange we will have a record in the same way as we have of our own citizens.
But what is the point in special registration? Is it worth the trouble? If a man comes here under a labour permit for a particular job his registration is automatic through the Ministry of Labour. Such a case is dealt with, but why should not others in this country 420 be under the ordinary law of the land? One of the Laws of Exodus which has always attracted me isOne law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among us.I do not believe that we should lightly set aside Commandments of God which have so wonderfully withstood the test of time.
Cannot we bear that in mind in connection with people among us? While they are here, why should they not be under one law? Is not one law good enough for all within these frontiers? It was up to 1914. Is there so much profit in having it different now?
I now come to the last and, I think, the most important power of all, namely, the power to deport. I think that we would all agree that if a visitor does not behave himself nothing could be more reasonable than that we should have the right to ask him to take himself somewhere else. I do not dispute that. But it becomes a very different question when we are not dealing with a visitor, but with an alien whose home is Britain. We have aliens here who know and have heard no other language but our own, and see no other sights but our English sights and whose children and wives are English. Yet there is this completely arbitrary power to separate that man from his family, to deny them his support, to break his family and his home and to exile him, with a reference to the chief magistrate provided that the Home Secretary does not consider that questions of security arise. This formidable power, which, I believe, should not exist, exists in a completely arbitrary form. I cannot believe that that is right.
It seems to me that that is very inconsistent with our obligations which we have freely assumed under the Charter of Human Rights. We provide by that Charter thatEveryone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind as to national or social origin…. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person".Yet we provide for arbitrary arrest and indefinite imprisonment. Once the Home Secretary, by a purely executive act, makes a deportation order, if no country will accept the deportee he is held indefinitely in prison and without limitation 421 as to time, without any crime alleged against him, at the discretion of the Home Secretary.
The Charter further provides thatEveryone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights. …Here we are being asked to take that fundamental right, guaranteed by the Charter, away from half a million people.
Finally, the Charter states thatNo one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile".To the man whose home is here, deportation is precisely exile. How do we reconcile the regulations which we are being asked to put into effect with the obligations which we have undertaken as parties to this declaration in the Charter? I have asked that question before, but have never had an answer to it. The straight answer is that it is wholly inconsistent. It is quite unnecessary, because in performance it is liberal. We should not use powers in this sort of Draconian way. A system of recourse to the courts would really give us no less security or impose on us great inconvenience.
It is high time that this matter, which affects the lives of half a million people, was reduced to legislation. We need legislation in this matter. We are told, "Legislation would impose a rigidity upon the Home Secretary who would not be able to exercise his humane discretion in the way he does now." That is absolute nonsense. Legislation can give to the Home Secretary all the discretion which regulation can give him. In cases where humane discretion can be exercised it can be given to him by legislation. But, again, we are told "Would it really be an advantage if we were deprived of this annual debate?" I do not think that it would be an advantage but I suggest that legislation would provide an opportunity for the Home Secretary to bring us each year a report on aliens which would be debatable here and would provide a more progressive and informed debate.
Something else which required annual legislation was the Army Act. Mr. Bing, who is no longer with us, and myself made a big attack one year on the Army Act and held up the House. There was 422 then instituted, on, I think, my suggestion, a system of two parallel committees, one a Select Committee of this House and the other a Committee from the War Office. The Select Committee made its suggestions, which were then sent to the War Office, they came back to us and after being discussed were put into the Bill. We had people from the drafting office working on that Committee and by that process we drafted the new Army Act. The Army Act was accepted by the Government without a single Amendment or alteration. The Government took it solid.
Why not use the same machinery here? There are men of good will and experience here. We will serve on that Select Committee. The Home Office can provide from its experts a parallel Committee which will vet our proposals Clause by Clause and they can be passed backwards and forwards, as was done with the Army Act. It worked beautifully and we could get out an Act which would be a credit to the country instead of having these police regulations which are a discredit to a land which is traditionally the home of liberty.
§ Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)
As I understand, if the Amendment is carried there will be no control over immigration to this country. I cannot believe that hon. Members opposite want that. It would mean that the gates would be thrown open to every conceivable person; for every crook or spy, or undesirable person to come into this country.
I am surprised that the Amendment has been proposed by a party which purports to take a great interest in full employment and the conditions of working people, because if there were no controls there would be a flood of people from less happy lands and our 423 conditions here would be threatened. I am strongly against the Amendment and hope that it will be thrown out good and hearty.
I am satisfied that my right hon. Friend should have full control over immigration. The present system operating under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill seems to have two advantages. First, the system is flexible. When dealing with immigration, which is a complicated matter, we must have scope for flexibility. Secondly, there is the advantage that the subject comes up for discussion annually and we can, therefore, review the policy pursued by the Home Office in the previous year.
§ On the question of policy, I hope that it will be my right hon. Friend's intention in future to grant asylum to people persecuted for their political beliefs, as we have always done in the past. That is in accordance with our traditions.
§ Secondly, I hope that my right hon. Friend will find it possible in the case of immigrants who have been granted permission to stay permanently to permit their aged parents who live abroad to come here. My right hon. Friend should grant this permission provided that there is no Charge on public funds and that those parents are of decent character.
§ Thirdly, there are certain foreigners, men of letters, scientists and others who are self-supporting. They might want to come and live in this country. I hope that they will be allowed to do so, provided once again that they are known to be of good character.
§ Against this, each year many people who come here do so under the guise of visiting. When their term is up they endeavour to stay on and seek employment. There are others who come to Britain apparently for educational purposes but who all the time have had at the back of their minds the idea of getting work here. These people have been dishonest from the start and they should be deported. I hope that my right hon. Friend will have no hesitation in deporting them. If he does so deport them he will certainly get support from this quarter.
§ We very often hear, sometimes I am sorry to say from hon. Members opposite, criticism of officials over cases about which people are not very pleased. I 424 have never had an immigration case brought to my notice by a constituent where there has been injustice or unfairness. I should like to pay tribute to the Home Office officials, the immigration office men, and the police for their skill in handling thousands of cases every year and for doing their job admirably.
§ Finally, there are two sets of regulations, one for aliens and one for Commonwealth citizens. Aliens are subject to restrictions. I approve of this dual control and I think it right that Commonwealth citizens should have special facilities for entering. I hope that my right hon. Friend will go further and see that in all air and sea ports Commonwealth citizens receive priority in customs examination, passport control, and everything else, so that they know that they are specially welcome in Britain.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) said that if the Amendment were carried there would be no aliens law. He is quite right, in form, but there is no other way in which we can raise this debate. If my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) had not put the Amendment down we should not have heard the speeches that we have done. The prime purpose of the Amendment is to have this debate, which we have every year.
We are all grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for once again raising these great issues of liberty. Anyone who has listened to him today and in previous years must have the feeling that our aliens law is unsatisfactory in many respects, and that we cannot let it go on from year to year in this way.
The law is unsatisfactory both in form and in substance; in form because we really have an Act in the form of an Order which has never been passed, considered, or criticised by this House. As my hon. and learned Friend explained, it is a Consolidated Order based on the 1919 Act. It has never been debated. It has never been criticised. One reason why we should have the Bill is that we would be able, for the first time, to go bit by bit through the various powers which are conferred in a sort of indirect way by the House on the Government.
425 The argument that if we had a Bill we would lose the right to an annual debate is not a good one. It is not a procedural accident that we have an annual debate here. It is because great arbitrary powers are being used, and the House feels that it is right and proper that once a year there should be a discussion on any matter where great arbitrary powers are conferred on the Government.
If the Bill is introduced it certainly ought to have a provision that it should be current for only a year, so that we could continue having these annual debates. It is certainly right that where arbitrary power is conferred on a Government there should be an annual review by Parliament. Whatever law we pass it will have some arbitrary powers in it which will distinguish it from other types of Acts, and it is, therefore, proper that we should debate it every year.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Various conditions could be made, but the right of the House to have a debate could be preserved in a new Bill.
I think that the terms of this legislation, if, for convenience, I may call it that, as distinct from administration, which I shall come to in a moment, are really extremely arbitrary and illiberal. The whole thing is conceived in fear of aliens. I am talking now of the wording of the Order. Aliens are treated as though they were microbes invading the body politic. There is nothing here in the terms used in the Order, of hospitality or of the ways in which aliens can enrich our society. There are aliens who are microbes, and we should keep them out, but there are aliens who enrich our society and to whom we should be hospitable, but there is no hint of such an attitude in the terms of this Order on which the Government's powers rest.
We have to divide aliens into two classes. Indeed, the Joint Under-Secretary of State himself said so last year in as many words. He saidWe can divide the aliens who come into the country into two categories. First, there are those whom we allow to come for various 426 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1958; Vol. 595, c. 1430.]I agree that there are these two classes, but in the eyes of the law they are the same. Persons in either seem, as my hon. and learned Friend said, to be "without the law." They can be deported arbitrarily. Although there are these two categories they are treated in the eyes of the law as though there were no difference between them at all and I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that we should now distinguish between these two categories of aliens in our law.
Let me take them separately. First, temporary residents and those who are seeking entry. We must have powers to exclude aliens and remove aliens who come in by a cheat, or who do not keep the rules which are imposed upon their entry. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that the reasons for excluding such aliens should be basically economic. We should have the right to find out whether they have means to maintain themselves and to see that they do not take on work without a labour permit. These powers are bound to be arbitrary. We cannot have such powers of picking and choosing between whom we let in without arbitrary powers, including the right to refuse entry and including the right to deport. That is why we must have an annual debate, whatever form this legislation may take, because it would have to include these arbitrary powers about people trying to enter the country.
I find it a little disturbing that, in these annual debates we have, and which I have been reading again, each time some specific cases are raised. That is one of the merits of the debates, but I wonder sometimes whether the few cases that are trenched up, so to speak, and drawn to the attention of Parliament and which do show harsh and discourteous treatment on occasions, are the only cases which are occurring. I agree that in this matter our officers have a very high standard, but, nevertheless, cases do arise which are drawn to the attention of Parliament and in which those standards are not maintained, and 427 I cannot help wondering whether there are not humble and poor people who do not get drawn to our attention, because, on the whole, it is the better known and famous people we hear about. I wonder whether there are humbler people who suffer just as much as the better known ones, I do not say in great numbers of cases, but sometimes, and who do not get to our attention. These can be dealt with only by the most rigid administration and careful control by the Home Office and the best we can do here is to raise the matter in Parliament from time to time.
It is a fine thing that in this country, once a year, we raise questions of aliens who are without rights in our law and debate them in this House. I doubt whether this happens in any other country in the world, that people without rights are able to have their cases considered in the highest place in the realm.
I should like to make two points on this question of people seeking entry and temporary residence and that kind of person, and the alien who is turned away at the port or, indeed, who is deported. It seems to me that we should give him the right to decide himself where he wants to go if he has the means to get there, anywhere in the world, instead of putting him aboard a plane or a boat and shooting him back again without giving him any right at all to go somewhere else. It does not seem to me that we have this right to shoot him back if he wants and is able to go somewhere else.
My hon. and learned Friend mentioned some Indians who recently claimed they were British subjects who had not on them full evidence of that. It seems to me that someone who claims to be a British subject coming to this country always ought to be given some time and some chance to establish that, and ought not to be just shot back again. We ought to give him the right to prove his claim of being a British subject. The status of being a British subject is very important, and anybody who claims it ought to be given reasonable time under supervision to try to establish his claim.
I am much more concerned with the second class of aliens whom the hon. and learned Gentleman called the permanent residents, whom I would call the settled aliens class. I have in mind people who were admitted and who, after 428 some period of residence, a year or two, have been accepted, although subject to deportation. They should become settled aliens and should have certain legal rights, including the right not to be deported from this country. I do not mean the person who is just here temporarily, and who cannot claim all the full rights. It does not seem to me to be enough to say that these people have a right of representation to the Chief Magistrate, which is now granted—since 1956, I think. First of all it is not a right, and secondly it is not an appeal to a court.
The hon. and learned Gentleman made this clear last year when he said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1958; Vol. 595, c. 1429.]That right—if that is the right word to use—is not any answer. What I should like to see in this country is that a settled alien whom we have accepted should be allowed to stay, and should not be deportable unless, I agree, he is proved guilty of certain offences in a court of law. He should not be arbitrarily deportable by the Secretary of State.
I do not see what we should lose if we made this change. The power to deport a settled alien is very rarely used, and when it is used it brings no credit to this country. If the argument is, as it may be, that it is used only in a very few cases and so does not do any harm, then that seems to me a most dangerous and illiberal argument, because it is arbitrary exceptions that undermine liberty. Our liberty as British subjects rests on the fact that there is no exception to the rule of habeas corpus whatever, no matter what argument there may be about security and public order. If there were any exceptions to that our rights would be destroyed. However rarely the Secretary of State's power of deportation is used the fact that it exists and the fact that it may occasionally be used undermines the liberty of every settled alien. The power of the Secretary of State to deport without reason given or to detain for long periods can destroy liberty.
There is one question which I do not think has ever been mentioned in these 429 debates, concerning one class of person. I refer to the man who is deprived of naturalisation and thus can be deported. He reverts to the status of alien. This comes under the provision of this Order. Because of this he can be arbitrarily deported by the Secretary of State. This seems to me to be wrong.
I think we should take great care before conferring on any alien the right of being a British subject. Once we grant that right, it should be an absolute right. We should not have British subjects of two kinds in this country. A British subject of any kind, whether by birth or by naturalisation, should have inalienable rights and those rights—this basic status—should not be able to be taken away from him.
Australia recently passed a law—originally it had our law in this respect—saying that anyone who had been naturalised should not be deprived of that status, except on the one condition that he had make a false statement to achieve his naturalisation. Apart from that, in Australia, once he has been granted naturalisation he has all the inalienable rights of a British subject. I think that we should be as liberal as Australia in this matter. Once we grant a man the status of a British subject, we should not be able to reduce him again to the status of an alien.
We are not voting on this, because we need an aliens law, but we do not want an arbitrary aliens law. We want to be a liberal country that looks a liberal country and we ought radically to overhaul our legislation and, whenever we possibly can, reduce to the greatest possible extent any arbitrary element in our law.
There is a lot of the arbitrary element in our law regarding aliens. We ought to reduce that as much as we can as a matter of principle. It should be seen and known and spoken to the world that we welcome foreigners who wish to live among us and accept that they should have the right of residing among us in full security—that we are hosts to them as distinct from those whom we chose to keep out and those who are temporarily under the particular provisions which we lay upon them.
I hope that this will be one of the last occasions on which we debate this Order in this form. I hope that in the next 430 Session we shall have properly consolidated legislation bringing in many other matters, as my hon. and learned Friend said, and also a very much more liberal Measure which would change the tone, temper and atmosphere of our aliens law.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I think that there is a slight difference of opinion between the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker). I had the feeling that the hon. and learned Gentleman would require far more drastic reforms than perhaps would his right hon. Friend.
I feel that it is worth remembering, when we see the opposite end of all this, what happens in the countries which are still holding the families of people who have been allowed to immigrate into this country and the enormous amount of difficulty that arises when one attempts to assist a man or his family to come from the Iron Curtain countries. I think that we can still say that we can hardly be accused of illiberality. By comparison, I should say that our immigration laws are infinitely superior to the emigration laws of the iron curtain countries, and for that we ought to be deeply grateful.
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton for proposing what he is proposing today, because he gives me an opportunity to ask the Government to give attention to one matter which, I think, will become of increasing importance.
It is essential that we should never place under the Aliens Order of 1953 or, indeed, under any other Aliens Order those who have been deprived of their British nationality for any reason and who want to come home. In particular, this may arise as the result of what is now happening in Cyprus. Perhaps it is a question of giving a warning rather than asking for immediate steps to be taken, but I want to ask the Government this very seriously. If the result of the present negotiations in Cyprus is such that those at present enjoying British nationality but have the desire to remain in the island of Cyprus should later want to come back to the United Kingdom—yet in the meantime have been 431 deprived of their British nationality-can we be assured that we shall not have these people subjected to the Aliens Order?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I see what the hon. and learned Gentleman means, but I was speaking of those who have been United Kingdom citizens who have settled in Cyprus and who are faced with the choice of whether to remain in the island and surrender their British nationality or, alternatively, to retain their British nationality and not be allowed to live in the island. I do not want those people who have decided to stay on in the island to find themselves in the position that, should they want to come to the United Kingdom again, they would have to go through the procedure to which an alien would be subjected.
That is the warning which I wish to give to the Government. I realise that this question has not yet materialised because it has not been decided whether Cyprus will remain in the Commonwealth or not. If it does remain in the Commonwealth, then the question does not arise. If it does not remain in the Commonwealth, I do not want to see people who wish to remain in Cyprus having to surrender their British nationality and having to go through the Aliens Order procedure in order to come back to the United Kingdom. I hope that I have made this point clear to the hon. and learned Gentleman.
There is another matter which I want considered. I have no statistics to give to my hon. and learned Friend, but I want to draw attention to Article 7, paragraph 4, of the 1953 Order. Under that, permission is given to the immigration officers to require a medical examination to take place. I have had great concern expressed to me about the state of health of some of the people coming into the country, and this may be due to the fact that the power of the immigration officers to require a medical examination is permissive and not compulsory. This is particularly causing concern in respect of immigrants from Italy, many of whom appear to be suffering from tuberculosis. I think that it is very important that we should 432 not unnecessarily allow the great improvements that we have made in fighting this disease to be undermined under the immigration laws.
§ Mr. Paget
Is the hon. and gallant Member aware that we have been so successful in the treatment of tuberculosis here that a good many of the facilities are not being used at the moment? Is it not grossly inhuman that we should have unused facilities and should not allow people, who would otherwise die, to make use of them?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am not suggesting for a moment—and I hope that the Committee will not think that I am trying to suggest—that these facilities should not be made available on reasonable grounds. Nor do I say, if the medical examination proves that there is some disease, that necessarily the person should be debarred from coming into the country. I am saying that it is very important at the moment that if people suffering from one disease or another do come into the country their disease should be detected.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am not saying that necessarily they should be excluded, but it is important that they should be detected as suffering from a particular disease at the moment of entry and not be allowed to roam at large and to infect other people. As I say, I have no statistics at the moment, but I know that this matter is causing very considerable concern among those responsible for trying to place immigrants in employment, and I ask my hon. and learned Friend to give it his attention.
§ Mr. Hale
I do not want to do an injustice to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), because he rose to make a very serious and a very proper point. I hope that he will forgive me for commenting on his first sentence, because it seems a little significant if all we can say in this palladium of liberties is that we are a little bit better than Stalin. It seems to me that our standards are deteriorating and that there is general evidence that that might be true. I know that the remark was made casually and I do no want to exaggerate it, but surely we can go further than that.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I could not agree more. It was certainly not a remark made casually, because I have been endeavouring to re-unite a family some of whom are in my constituency.
§ Mr. Hale
Surely we should be better than Stalin, and surely we are. Even so, we have great difficulty in obtaining permission from the Home Office and I have had many cases in Oldham, particularly with men of Polish nationality, where the difficulty of getting relatives over was not due to the difficulty of getting an exit permit from an Iron Curtain country but also an entry permit from the Home Office. To be fair, generally in the end we succeed, but after pressure.
The only other observation on which I should like to comment was made by an hon. Member opposite who popped up unexpectedly, spoke so briefly and disappeared so soon after he sat down that I have forgotten who he was and therefore I am not able to adopt the proper technical manner of referring to him.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
I think that my hon. Friend must be referring to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) who apologised to me for the fact that he had to leave and asked that if anybody referred to him I would explain his absence.
§ Mr. Hale
No one has accused the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Hutchison) of leaving without having a reason. He said that the immigration officers were very nice fellows and, of course, they are. Sometimes when we are dealing with cases we may be a little unjust to them, because sometimes they have to deal with a law which no one understands, which no one has defined and which it is almost impossible to apply. Some of the nicest people in the world are Income Tax inspectors and Customs officers, because they are a little sensitive about general public reaction to their posts. Therefore, they are extremely nice and generally most helpful. My wife says that they are so nice that she objects to having to say that she is a regular cigar smoker in order to help me. It seems so unkind. The present Income Tax inspector at Norwood is so helpful that I have now a completely detailed statement of how 434 much I am swindled out of and in whose aid I am being swindled. No one could ask for more.
I should like to correct something I said in a recent debate. I said that if the twelve Apostles had arrived in Liverpool the only one who possibly would have been admitted would have been Judas Iscariot, because he might have had something left of the thirty pieces of silver. Although money seems to have been devalued since then, I find that I am historically wrong. I forgot that Jesus Christ was an enemy alien, under the Enemy Aliens Order. He lived under Tiberius who was an enemy of this country. But the Witenagemot were much more enlightened than the Government of this country in the time of Mussolini and knew their enemies. Therefore, that would not have been possible. I apologise, therefore, for what was a minor historical discrepancy.
I admired so much what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said and agree with him so much—indeed I think completely—that I need not traverse the same ground, but this debate and this procedure is an abuse of the process of the House of Commons and is really a reflection upon our democracy.
The point has been made that some of these regulations made in 1920 are now nonsense. But we have never been allowed to discuss or amend them. There is no procedure afforded to us whereby we can bring them under attack. All we are allowed to do, in the very narrow ambit of the Rulings properly made by the Chair in accordance with the rules of the House, is to pass the Second Reading on the nod, because we cannot discuss the contents of the Bill and table an Amendment to remove the enabling Clause which permits the whole of the legislation to be made, but which does not permit us to deal in any detail with quite terrible regulations made by the hard-faced business men constituting the Government of 1920—hard-faced but very unsuccessful business men, particularly in the national sphere.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton has pointed out some of the anomalies, which are quite astonishing. An alien cannot be a mate on a trawler if it sails in foreign 435 waters. He can be a director of a large company if it sails in very dirty waters indeed. He cannot be a second lieutenant, but he can be a warrant officer, and anyone who has ever served in the Armed Forces knows that no warrant officer would stand any impudence from a second lieutenant. I have been both and I got the sack from the more important job. An alien cannot be a civil servant. He cannot be a member of a jury. He cannot vote at an election.
§ Mr. Hale
I said that he could not be a member of a jury, but he can be a member of a coroner's jury. Why this is, I do not know. An alien can be an Englishman by birth and nationality, but an Englishman cannot be a friendly alien. He must be an enemy alien. On the other hand, a Portuguese civil servant or an officer is entitled to special status. Because we share a common democracy with President Salazar and General de Gaulle and Dr. What's-his-name in Germany, we have a special type of specially admitted immigrant who is entitled to V.I.P. treatment in relation to aliens.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton made one remark very clearly and fairly with which I entirely agree and which I think he knew when he said it would be liable to misrepresentation. He said that we ought to establish a basis on economic ground. I agree, though "economic" is often translated as "financial" and I should have disagreed very much about that, as, I am sure, my hon. and learned Friend would have done.
It may be very reasonable of us to say to those who come here seeking work that in the interest of the maintenance of full employment and development of our industry we have to apply some reasonable sanctions, but the real trouble is that the one crime that can be committed by an alien in this country is to be poor. My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) made a very important point that there are no classes of aliens in the Section and that the tourist who comes for a fortnight is an alien, subject to 436 exactly the same rules. He has to register and fill in a form and give all the particulars. He must select a reputable inn, which is not so easy now that we have swept the prostitutes under one side of the carpet and they have come out as call girls on the other. Having done that, the alien must not visit a club where other aliens go, because the club can be swept off the register if it is frequented by undesirable aliens, and the definition of an undesirable alien is that a police officer thinks him to be undesirable.
I, who have been treated as an undesirable alien in at least two British Colonies, one French Colony and for a time in Paris, have a certain feeling about this. It is very easy to become undesirable. The simplest way is to have political opinions that are not shared by the Government of the country. It is quite true. I spent only three days in Morocco and the French Government made a protest. I was hardly there long enough to be detained.
What is really wicked about the present rule, made under the 1920 Order, is that we have talked about bringing in the seething millions "yearning to breathe free". Indeed, we have days on which we make speeches about democracy and freedom and the right to breathe and the right to vote, but the real case against the alien is that he can be recommended for deportation if he is convicted by a court of summary jurisdiction of any offence in respect of which a sentence of imprisonment could have been imposed—it does not have to be imposed.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State will say that all these cases are considered carefully by the Home Office and that no Order is made until we are satisfied that there is reason for it but, as has been said, year after year we raise cases of real hardship. I recall the one of the Chinese business man who had lived with his wife and family in Liverpool for twenty years, respected, prosperous. He committed an offence.
The second rule is that if an alien is found wandering without means of support he can be recommended for deportation; in fact, he can be ordered for deportation on that ground alone. 437 What does a man do if he is wandering without means of support? We used to say that in the Welfare State he would apply for National Assistance. Yet the third rule is that he can be ordered for deportation if he has received National Assistance on any one occasion within the preceding three months.
Those are the regulations which we are not allowed to discuss. Those are the provisions that we tell the world are now representative of our standard of British democracy. My hon. and learned Friend was a delegate to the Council of Europe and I took his place when his term of office ceased. Both of us were members of the committee which was engaged in trying to break down customs formalities, to abolish triptyques for cars and to make passports work. As a result of the labours of that committee, improvements were made in Western Europe at every frontier but ours.
I do not suggest that the Home Office is inhuman. I know that Government Departments go on and on until someone stirs them up. The point of this occasion is to try to stir up the Home Office. Members of the Council of Europe used to ask, "Why is it that Britain used to lead the world in penal reform? Why is it that Britain used to regard the right of asylum as part of its constitution—certainly an unwritten but nevertheless a vital part—and why is it now that the right of asylum has virtually gone?" The tragedy today is that it is not quite true that the right of asylum has gone, but it is true that the right of asylum is administered politically. There is still a right of asylum for the runaway who leaves a Communist country, but there is no right of asylum for the Communist who leaves a dictatorship country. I challenge anyone to deny that.
It has been said that there are half a million aliens concerned in this matter, many thinking men living here with their relatives, many of them men who have made their contribution to our economy for years. Is it right that we should go on imposing this arbitrary, old-fashioned series of laws, which are never discussed in the House, which are an insult to the man of foreign birth, and which are unfair to our own conceptions of decency and democracy? 438 We are now starting on a Parliament in which we know that nothing will be done; we are starting on a Parliament in which some of us wonder what we are here for. We are approaching a time in which democracy is weakening. We look across the Channel and see the foundations of democracy much weaker in most of the countries with which we are allied. What is there now to prevent the Home Office saying that it will introduce a Measure for discussion by the House? What is there to prevent the Government saying, "We have given an undertaking, we will consider the whole question, we will provide opportunities for debate and we will submit our proposals to the House? "
What reason is there in 1959 for a Measure which was never discussed, which was passed on the nod in 1920, which has been the subject of constant criticism here and abroad and from both sides of the House, continuing merely because someone is too idle to look into it, or merely because someone does not want to face a controversial debate, or merely because Amendments might be tabled and a discussion might follow? Would it not be a step on the road to making the House of Commons a little more of a living entity if we tried to legislate in this matter and, in doing so, if we discussed with our friends in the Council of Europe the possibility of a general liberalisation of measures in that direction?
Some of the economic arguments have never been true. It still is true in Italy that the poverty of the south does not drive people to the north, because they prefer the sun and the poverty to the industrial régime. It is true that in the Colonies poverty in the Caribbean is driving people here. As my hon. and learned Friend said, most of them are doing useful jobs, perhaps not terribly well-paid jobs, making a sensible and useful contribution to our economy. The wrong thing is that the poverty should be allowed to exist which drives them here, and maybe for us that problem is to find a colonial policy which would remove the necessity for people coming here to jobs that are not highly remunerative in our eyes but are still valuable in theirs.
In the main has not the time come? I know that sometimes, when we have been in the House for some years and 439 have raised this question so often, we feel that it is becoming almost a mechanical process, almost a repetitive act. Indeed, it is becoming almost one of those annual formalities at the commencement of a new Parliament like the formal movement of the Outlawries Bill. Yet it is still one of the great human problems we must discuss.
My hon. and learned Friend said that we are discussing it in World Refugee Year. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely mentioned tuberculosis. It is only fair to the Home Secretary to say that in one small but courageous gesture he admitted a colony of refugees who had at least one tuberculosis sufferer in each family. They went to the small voluntary settlement in Lanark. It is not the kind of thing we need boast too much about, but we can admire the spirit of the people who organised that settlement and the sacrifice of those who run it. Indeed, some of the refugee organisations are a model of their kind. What is important, what is significant, is the number of people who have been deeply moved by that gesture. I am not referring to the people who have criticised it but to those who have said, "Well it is not much, but thank God we have done it. At least it is worth while. At least this is an example."
In World Refugee Year, when the number of refugees is increasing in the world, when in Tunisia and Morocco new problems are arising, is it not the opportunity for the Joint Under-Secretary of State to make a gesture which would cost the country nothing in money but which might gain it a great deal of prestige? Cannot we say, "We realise that these old and antiquated regulations were born in war and developed in a spirit of hatred at a time when we had suffered and when the minds of hon. Members of the House of Commons were full of the memories of the carnage and destruction of a four-year war. Now we are in a time of peace"—indeed, in such a period of peace that we do not need to have a Foreign Secretary—" and we have reached the point at which we should reconsider this matter"? There is ample time to do it, so would it not be possible for the Joint Under-Secretary of State to rise and say that today? If he did, he would have a much greater stature than he has shown so far.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
I should like to add a few brief words to the very moving pleas which have been made by my hon. Friends who have so ably put our Amendment to the Committee. I do so partly because I feel, like them, that this is a totally unsatisfactory way of discussing our aliens legislation. Is it not time that we were given an opportunity to discuss legislation which can stand on its own feet and to treat the subject in the way it deserves?
I support my hon. Friends because I believe that our present aliens legislation is not only illiberal and antiquated but utterly unrealistic. Every year that goes by the methods of travel, the kind of people who travel and, of course, the speed at which they travel change dramatically, and what may have made sense two or three years ago does not make sense any more. I could go from London this evening and be in Athens, Stockholm, Helsinki, Moscow or, indeed, Pekin in a matter of hours. Anyone who travels frequently on the Continent of Europe and comes here is painfully reminded every time he reaches this country just how badly our arrangements compare with those abroad, particularly in Western Europe. Are we not in danger in this field, as in many others, of being left behind by Continental countries?
I speak with, perhaps, some personal feelings on the subject because, like other hon. Members, I am married to an alien. My wife was a Swede when I married her. We discussed whether she should change her passport to a British one. I saw no particular reason—I hope that during our lifetime we shall find questions of nationality mattering very much less than they do now—why she should do so. Consequently, every time I come into the country with her and every time we go out of it I am reminded very vividly of what happens to other aliens, although I am bound to say that the regulations do not appear to be applied always as they should be applied in the case of my wife.
First, I should like to ask the Joint Under-Secretary to say a few words about the effectiveness of the regulations now in force. I was shocked and horrified by the very brief speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison), which my hon. Friend 441 the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) mentioned. The hon. Gentleman used the old cliché about our having to have these regulations because of crooks and spies. Does the Joint Under-Secretary really ask the House to believe that a spy, a smuggler or any other criminal would not have a perfectly respectable-looking passport and would not know the answers to all the questions that he was asked at the frontiers, such as the name of his father, and, in some cases, the name of his maternal grandmother, his religion and so on? Is not a crook or spy in present conditions perfectly able to satisfy the immediate requirements of the most complicated frontier system that any country can organise?
Is not the effect of the regulations simply to hinder and hamper the ordinary innocent traveller and to create an enormous mound of bureaucratic paper which may or may not be sorted and checked from time to time? I very much doubt whether it is checked. I say that because I was responsible for bringing to this country a party of four aliens who are now working in Scotland. I hope the Joint Under-Secretary will not penalise them if I mention their case. Through ignorance, they did not comply with the registration rules and did not register with the police for a year. They came here on a labour permit. Apparently, no one checked up on them. When they were suddenly made aware of the fact that they should have registered with the police the necessary steps were immediately taken. I may be partly to blame for what happened. This is the kind of thing which makes one wonder about the regulations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) is married to an American citizen, and he tells me that every so often she has to go to the police and register. She has a grey alien's card. My wife, a Swede, does not have an alien's card and has never been to the police since she came to live permanently in this country. Perhaps she should have done. The point is that the regulations do not appear to be operating in a very efficient way. Neither I nor she knows exactly what her legal position is as an alien married to a British subject.
442 5.15 p.m.
I ask the Joint Under-Secretary to tell the Committee whether the Home Office and the police are really hampered in dealing with bad cases affecting Commonwealth citizens or aliens from the Irish Republic who do not have to comply with the aliens regulations, as against citizens from foreign countries. Is it really an enormous help to the police and other authorities to have all the forms filled in and all the other requirements which are imposed upon foreigners, as against Commonwealth nationals? If there is really a strong case for applying these measures to aliens from foreign countries, is there not then, logically speaking, a case for applying them to Commonwealth citizens as well?
I am not urging the extension of what I consider to be illiberal measures, but I cannot see the sense of applying to a Scandinavian, a German or a Belgian a whole set of complicated regulations which it is not necessary to apply to an Indian, a Cypriot or a West Indian, who may, very likely, be a man of a lower standard of living and, through no fault of his own, at a lower stage of development. Is the distinction between foreigners and Commonwealth citizens valid, and what effect does it have on the various requirements for controlling their movements and so on here?
What is the position regarding citizens of the Irish Republic? I have just heard an hon. Member say that they are not aliens. They are not British citizens. What are they? Perhaps it is just as well that we should not pursue this matter too minutely, because they are in an extraordinary position. However, does not the fact that we are apparently enabled to allow, with no ill effects—at all events, no ill effects have ever been mentioned in the House—many thousands of citizens of a foreign country to enjoy all the rights that we have, including voting in our elections, without any difficulty, cast some doubt on the necessity for the measures which we apply against other categories of aliens?
I want now to say a word about the forms which aliens are required to fill up. These are a scourge to travellers, particularly on the Continent of Europe, who may cross four or five frontiers in a matter of hours, and each time they 443 cross a frontier they have to fill in a form. Usually the questions are slightly different and the forms slightly differently arranged. Will the Joint Under-Secretary explain exactly what happens to the alien's card which my wife fills up every time she comes to this country, where it goes and whether it is collated? Evidently nothing happens to it, because she takes no further action except to fill in another one next time she comes into the country. There must be a great stack of my wife's alien's cards in Scotland Yard or somewhere else.
If this ludicrous form-filling has to continue for some years to come, cannot some steps be taken to standardise the forms that we require with those required by other European police systems? It has been found possible in the case of motor cars, by international negotiation, to devise a set of answers covering all the questions that can possibly be asked at any frontier in the world—no matter how ludicrous the questions are—and all these answers are included on one piece of paper. A number of copies of the document—a triptyque—is then made, and when the traveller crosses a frontier he has simply to tear a page off, date it and sign it. That procedure is most convenient.
If this form-filling has to continue at every European frontier, could we not adopt some procedure of that kind and allow travellers to carry a book of coupons giving all the possible answers so that, when required, they could tear out a page, date it and sign it and give it to the frontier officer? How much simpler the lives of immigration officers would be if they could get the right answers in the right place in a language which all could understand. Confusion very often arises through people not understanding the language in which they are required to fill in a whole series of different forms at every frontier that they cross.
But that is second best. What we should really like to see is the necessity for form-filling and for passports and visas swept away altogether. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary was in the House earlier this afternoon when I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what progress had been made with negotiations for developing pass- 444 port-free travel between Britain and certain European countries. His Answer was a very depressing one. As I understood it, he said that this only applied to a few O.E.E.C. countries, that the proposal was first made in March, that there was a meeting in September and that no decision had yet been taken.
At a time when in most of Western Europe passport-free travel is an established fact—and the police systems of those countries seem to be able to operate perfectly satisfactorily despite it—is it not time that we got on with the job of giving British citizens the same right as so many European citizens have of travelling round Europe without these ridiculous formalities?
I want now to turn to the question of people who come to work in this country. I think it fair to remind the House—I do not know how many thousands there are of them, but there is quite a number—that these people are all doing jobs in Britain which British subjects do not want to do. That is the only basis of which they are allowed into the country. The Under-Secretary knows very well that to get a labour permit a person has to satisfy the authorities that he is doing a job for which no British citizen is available. There are some thousands of such people in agriculture and forestry and they are doing jobs which our people will not do, and are making a very valuable contribution to the economy of the country. Here, again, is there no possibility of some relaxation?
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) referred to the fact that, of course, their cases are very well tied up because they have to have a labour permit. But, of course, as well as a labour permit they are subject to all the other regulations with which any other alien entering the country Has to put up. Despite the fact that they have a labour permit for a specified employment and for a year at a time, nevertheless they have to register with the police in the same way as an alien who is not doing a useful job. Is there not a case for some relaxation there?
I want to say a word in further comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South. He referred to the swindlers, I think he called them, who come here claiming that they are coming as visitors and then, once they are in the country, change their argument and apply 445 to stay on in a different capacity. I quite understand that this must irritate Home Office officials and others concerned very much indeed. But sometimes the circumstances of an alien do change.
I beg the Under-Secretary and his Ministerial colleagues to consider as sympathetically as they can cases of foreign students coming to Britain to study. I have in mind a case at the moment and, although I am not going to try to insert it into the debate, it is a typical case of a student who came to this country in a perfectly bona fide way. He wanted to improve his English and then to take a course which would give him a technical qualification. It is clearly a good thing both for him and us that he should do this.
This young man asked to be admitted as a student and was allowed to come here as such. After he had been here a number of months he found it much more difficult than he had anticipated to make ends meet. At the same time, his father at home became ill and was unable to make him the allowance which he originally proposed to make. This boy came to me one day and said, "Can you ask the Home Office to ask the Ministry of Labour to allow me to do a little work in order to supplement my allowance so that I may be able to continue my studies?"
This is not a case of an alien who originally came to this country because he wanted to work here, but of one whose circumstances had changed since he arrived in the country to study. When he came to see me I said that it was going to be very difficult indeed to put the matter up to the Home Office, because one thing about which the Home Office never seems to be persuaded is when someone comes into the country on one understanding and then tries to alter it. But there are cases which are perfectly genuine as far as students and young people are concerned who want to spend a short time either in an educational establishment or in order to see the British way of life. The Home Office ought to feel very glad to make it easy for them. Even from a narrow, propaganda point of view, every month that a person of that kind stays in the country is worth a great deal to us.
The main idea I am trying to put before the Under-Secretary is that the 446 world is growing very small very rapidly and that Europe, whatever our views about political integration or about the Inner Six and Outer Seven and all the rest of it, is becoming one part of the world inhabited by Europeans, and that frontiers are becoming less important. This is something which European Governments have understood much more realistically than we have.
I consider that our present arrangements are not only antiquated but are entirely unrealistic, and I hope that this debate may make the Government and some hon. Members opposite consider very seriously whether it is not time to overhaul the whole system. It is a disappointing fact that we have had only two speeches from the back benches opposite, one of which can only be described as a thoroughly reactionary speech. The other speech was that of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) in which he urged caution rather than liberality.
I am sure that there must be many hon. Members opposite who feel as we do, that it is time a drastic change was made.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, Northwest)
I rise to endorse, to some extent, some of the remarks made by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee and also, perhaps, to bring a somewhat different note into the debate. It ought, perhaps, to be clearly understood that this Amendment is the only way in which the matters discussed today can possibly be dealt with in the Chamber in view of the Standing Orders of the House as they are at present.
I think that every hon. Member should know—most of us probably do—that we can in no way move Amendments to the regulations themselves. We cannot amend the Acts with which we are dealing except by an Amendment to repeal the Act as a whole. Consequently, whatever points have to be put can only be put by means of an Amendment asking for the deletion of the whole Act.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I think that the hon. Gentleman has overlooked the fact that when the Home Office Vote comes up for debate there is nothing to prevent this subject being raised in Committee of Supply.
§ Mr. Janner
We can only debate the fundamental points involved in the regulations themselves, by today's methods.
I wish to emphasise the fact that there is an occasion this year, in particular, for the Government to show more liberality than they have done in the past. I am not saying for one moment that we lag behind many other countries in this matter, and I would not even suggest that our officials who deal with this peculiar, intangible set of provisions are not, in the main, sympathetic and well-intentioned persons who do their duty in a humane way. But there are, of course, cases in which a few are bound to be influenced by prejudices which they themselves may have, or who may misinterpret the real desire for a liberal outlook which prevails, or should prevail, in the country. I am quite certain that no one in this Committee would suggest that every alien who seeks admission should be entitled to be admitted into the country. But I do say that we must realise that the basis on which we sometimes discuss this subject is an entirely wrong one.
I think that, generally, our approach to the question of the admission of aliens is wrong. Those countries which have been liberal over this matter have not suffered in consequence, and neither did this country when Hugenots and other people, including Jewish people, were admitted. On the contrary. Only a short time ago, when he was opening the World Refugee Year here, sponsored in the first instance by our own country, the Prime Minister pointed out that the generous admission of refugees from Nazi oppression into this country, the majority of whom were German and Austrian Jews, had proved of great benefit to Britain, not only in the field of scientific research, but also the development of new industries and trades. Work had been provided for many British people in areas of the country where unemployment at the time was a grave menace.
Those are not my words, but I entirely agree with them. I am paraphrasing what was said by the Prime Minister in a speech in which he intended to display to the world that we were realistic in our outlook on the matter of admitting 448 aliens. I am proud, we can all be proud, of the fact that we have taken the lead in sponsoring the World Refugee Year. We set up national and local committees to collect funds, but I do not think that that is enough. It is true that the Government have promised special financial contributions and I hope that during the year the contributions will increase. They have also agreed to accept a small number of handicapped refugees who hitherto have not been admitted to any country because of their precarious state of health.
But the situation is still serious for those refugees left in Europe and in China. It is serious that, so many years after the war, they are still confined in refugee camps, and there is no hope for them unless we—if I may venture to put it in this way—take a realistic lead in the matter. I believe that we are prepared to do that. There are such camps in Austria, Germany, Italy and Greece. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will feel it right to say that the Government will consider adopting as liberal an outlook as that of Sweden. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) referred to Sweden in a different sense, but I think that he may be proud to be married to a lady who has come from that country which, according to the size of its population, has and is taking such a lead in dealing with this situation.
I believe the hon. and learned Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary to be a humane man. I feel that I should pay him that tribute. I believe that his colleague is also a humane man. I wish him to realise that it only needs the Home Office and the Government to make it clear that it is not generally detrimental to a country when aliens are admitted, and that the benefit of any doubt should be given to the alien. If he clarified the position he would have the country behind him. Does he think it unreasonable that victims of persecution, whether political or religious, who have been given asylum here should ask that their near ones and dear ones may be allowed to come and join them?
I know that we shall be told that aged parents are now allowed to join their children. But there are other almost equally deserving cases involving men and women scattered all over the world 449 who have no home but some of whose relatives may have settled in our country. Surely there is no reason why they should not come, particularly if their relatives here are in a position and prepared to support them, or when they themselves are in a position to support themselves, and where no difficulty will be created in any sphere of employment.
Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman will say that he will carry through the measure of good will which he announced last year and enable those families to be united. The position for many of them is serious. I know perhaps as well as any hon. Member of the seriousness of this matter, because for many years I have been connected with the Jewish Board of Deputies and our movement has had thousands of cases to deal with. I know what is happening to so many of my co-religionists throughout the world. I know that there are men and women in this country who are anxious to look after their own relatives -ind ensure that they would never become a burden on the State. These people are prepared to give an undertaking that their relatives will not avail themselves of the facilities provided by the Welfare State, such as the National Health Service. But their relatives, in some cases, have been refused entry into this country because they happen to be under a certain age. or because they are not parents, although they may be foster parents or brothers or sisters of the applicants. But because they are not parents they do not come within the regulations which allow relatives to enter.
It has been suggested by, I think, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) that some people come to this country originally for a specific period and then ask to remain permanently. There may be some who come with the intention of trying to stay permanently, and I understand his view. I will go further than did my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon, who referred to the case of a student. I think that it is a tribute to our country that a person who genuinely came in intending to return to his own land, after he has lived here a year or two, should find that the ideas and ideals of our country are such that he is anxious to remain and perhaps eventually to become a citizen. 450 Why not look at this matter from that point of view?
The Joint Under-Secretary knows that when these cases are examined he will find many persons who could be of great value to the country, who, after their student days, for example, having qualified highly in the scientific world, could become educationists or teachers and help in many spheres. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that there are many potential scholars among the students who come to this country who might be of great assistance in important activities where there is a shortage of personnel.
Apart from lending a generous hand, is it not worth our while, rather than sending away a student who has come here and qualified with high degrees, to try to persuade him to stay, without interfering in any way with the employment and other facilities that are open to our own citizens? I would not for a moment advocate that in a sphere in which there was unemployment, an alien should be asked or allowed to come, except under exceptional circumstances, to take up work of that nature. But the person with brains, with capital, or with experience, or the person who can bring foreign currency into this country because of his business connections in other parts of the world, could easily be allowed to come in with great advantage to our country.
I make this appeal because I consider it to be a reasonable one. I believe that if our immigration officers and officials were given this type of lead, they would be enabled to carry out their duties all the more easily. My hon. Friends are right when they suggest that a Bill could be introduced to deal with the problem as a whole.
Nobody wants competition that would adversely affect the employment prospects of a British subject. What we do want is a humane approach to this matter and, all circumstances being properly considered, to bring in those people—like the Huguenots and the Nazi victims. They can help us, as their predecessors did in South Wales and in other areas, to provide work for those who have been deprived of their work by such tragedies as the closing of pits or mills.
§ Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
There has been complaint from hon. Members opposite that the speeches from this side of the Committee have been too few and too short. I cannot speak at all without getting their gratitude, at least for making the speeches from this side less few, but in spite of the other half of their complaint I shall do my best to be even shorter than any of my predecessors from this side.
I shall make that ambition the easier by omitting to answer the speeches that have been made from the benches opposite, almost all of which—I mean this in no disrespect; in the circumstances of our procedure and of their purposes perhaps it was necessary—have been of the nature of Second Reading speeches for a Bill which has not yet been drafted. To answer a case of that sort would not be of any great value.
I wish to make only one point. I am not certain whether either of my predecessors from this side of the Committee made quite clear what they feel about what seems to be the main question of the afternoon's debate. I want to make clear that there is at least one person on this side who is in the awkward squad on what seems to me to be the main question, that is to say, that I dislike delegated legislation, I dislike temporary legislation and I dislike legislation which is done to meet a war situation.
What we are being asked to do today is, in a particular respect, to continue legislation which has all those three bad qualities. A habit has grown up on the Treasury Bench—I have said this before, but it was three or four years ago—of thinking that with every year that passes the objection gets less, as if precedents and prescription were a help in this connection, but of course they are not. All the objections to delegated, temporary, wartime legislation when it has been in existence for only one or two years, get greater when it has been in existence for three years, four years, and so on. Now this practice has gone on for a generation and a half.
I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, who, I understand, will wind up for the Administration, will, if I may say it without being what is called provocative, have a better case than his predecessors, 452 or even himself, have often had in the past. I hope also that part of his case now will be to say that the Government are convinced that delegated, temporary, war-time legislation in any matter, except where it is demonstrably and absolutely indispensable that it should continue, ought not to continue longer than for what has now become 36 years.
I do not share the anticipatory nostalgia which several hon. Members opposite have had for the speeches they made this year and last year and the proviso which they put into all their arguments that, of course, we must find some way of doing all this again every year. I see the point, and I think there is something to be said for it, but I do not share their uncritical nostalgia for our having this debate, or something very like it, every year. What I do share—
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
No. I sat and listened to every word from the hon. and learned Member. I heard a great deal from him and I do not want to hear any more. In any event, this is my last sentence. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will assure us that he agrees with hon. Members opposite and with me on what seems to be the main point that this sort of thing ought not to go on any longer.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
The hon. Member would have embarked upon it; he would have been swimming in it all the time.
§ Mr. Silverman
In any case, nostalgia is about the past, not about the present.
Without wishing to embark upon an orgy of nostalgia, it is true that we have had an annual debate on this subject for very many years. Indeed, the only advantage that I can think of in dealing with our aliens legislation in this way, by continuing it, as it were, from year to year under the Expiring Laws Continuance Acts, is that it provides us with 453 a special opportunity, in addition to the debates on the Home Office Estimates, and so on, for reviewing the Government's aliens policy.
That, however, is not the real purpose of the discussion. The reason why we have had these debates year by year all these years is the fundamental objection which we have, and which, I am glad to know, the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) shares, to the principle on which we are handling these matters.
There are two aspects of this question. One is what one may think of the actual administrative handling of aliens questions. I am in full sympathy with all those who have pleaded with the Government for a more liberal aliens policy than they have ever displayed. But that is not the essential thing. The essential thing is the thing of which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) gave so brilliant an exposition in his opening speech, namely, the fundamentally wrong principle of having one section of people living under our law, within our territory, who have by law no protection whatever against administrative tyranny.
I do not say that there is any administrative tyranny. I think that there may occasionally be cases when decisions are taken which are more harsh than they need be. There are many cases where great generosity is shown. The objection is that we do not have one law for the home-born and for the stranger living with us.
There is no reason in the world why all the powers which the Home Secretary exercises arbitrarily should not be exercised equally or more effectively if, in each case, there were for the alien as there is for the citizen some appeal to third party judgment. If an alien is to be expelled, or, indeed, if he is not to be admitted, or if any other measure is to be taken against him, there is no reason at all in principle why the accusations which are made against him should not be made in open court, proved in the ordinary way and answered by him, if he can answer them, in the ordinary way. The United States of America has clone this for very many years. There is no insuperable difficulty about it. Obviously, in principle, it is better that things should be done in that way.
454 I expect that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will say that it does not matter very much because out of all the hundreds of thousands of aliens who live amongst us or who have lived amongst us for so many years there are but very few cases in which the Home Secretary has exercised the powers to which objection is taken and that he has always done so with restraint and only in the most obvious and unanswerable cases. It may well be that the hon. and learned Gentleman will say that. I think that there is a large measure of truth in it. But it does not amount to a defence at all. The fewer the occasions on which one needs these powers, the weaker is the case for having them. If there were more cases, then, obviously, the argument in favour of having an open hearing, an open trial, with some kind of third party judgment and some kind of appeal would be greater.
It is very difficult to see why, after all these years, the Home Office clings so obstinately to these arbitrary powers. Not very many nations have them now. We do not really need them. It does not do our name in the world any good to have people say that aliens are more harshly and arbitrarily treated in a liberal country like ours than they are in many other countries whose contributions to liberal progress in the world are so much less than ours. So much for the principle.
I come now to the administration of it. Those of us who have had a good deal to do with these questions and with individual cases would probably agree that a wide gulf is fixed between the attitude of the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State personally in individual cases when their personal assistance is sought by hon. Members and the way in which cases are treated by the officials who are often left to administer matters themselves. It is of the nature of this kind of legislation that there is no opportunity for third party judgment or appeal the only remedy is in the House of Commons.
That, of course, is a partial and an unsatisfactory remedy, first, because it can arise only in the very limited class in which an individual case comes within the knowledge of a Member of Parliament who feels moved to take it up. There must be very many cases similar 455 to those which hon. Members have taken up which nobody has ever taken up because no hon. Member has ever heard of them. This is of the nature of this kind of administration.
Now and again there is a sensational case involving, perhaps, some alien would-be immigrant with a famous name or an international reputation for one thing or another. A decision is taken about him. The newspapers get hold of it, and then a Member of Parliament raises the matter in the House. There is a discussion here and pressure from outside. Perhaps, in the end, a different decision is reached. But, in the very nature of the case, this can happen only in exceptional circumstances of that kind. The man with an international reputation stands in far less need of protection and help than does the humble person who has no international reputation, no influential friends, and, perhaps, very slender means. His case is never taken up. No one knows how many such cases there may be.
As I think we all know, when cases are taken up the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary look at them with great care and sympathy and, in the end, they do the right thing. Sometimes I have been lost in respectful admiration when I have watched the hon. and learned Gentleman, in correspondence with some hon. Members of the House, struggling between his genuine desire to do the right thing, on the one hand, and the duty which he feels to be loyal to his officials on the other. Sometimes there is quite visible between the lines of his letters a conflict within his own mind about how far he can overthrow an official who has, perhaps, come to a wrong conclusion. In the end—one does not always need to press hard, but sometimes one does—a decision is reached which is, perhaps, the right one.
All these matters ought not to be left to be dealt with in this way. Let us suppose that there is a case which an hon. Member takes up and then, after the fullest investigation, the Home Secretary decides that he cannot help. The hon. Member who has taken up the matter is still not satisfied. The Home Secretary, it is true, remains answerable to the House of Commons for what he does.
456 6.0 p.m.
How can we implement that accountability? We can only do it by a vote against the Home Secretary, the Joint Under-Secretary or the other Minister concerned. But then there comes the question of collective Government responsibility. If the matter comes to a Division in the House of Commons, people who vote in one Lobby or the other are voting at the same time on two quite different questions. One is whether they wish to pass a vote of censure on the Government, knowing that if the vote were carried against them the whole Government must resign, and not wishing to do any such thing, and, on the other hand, voting for and against the particular decision on which the debate arose. It is an impossible position, and it means that in the long run the Minister can never be effectively challenged in the House of Commons.
I want to conclude, because I do not want to prolong the debate in which, I think, most of the points have already been made very adequately. I, too, want to add my appeal to the Joint Under-Secretary. I dare say that he cannot give us a positive or constructive answer this afternoon. Ultimately, the decision, as one realises, must be the decision, in the first place, of the Home Secretary himself, and, beyond that, it is of so fundamental and far-reaching a nature that one would not expect it to be offered to the House of Commons in new legislation except after a considered Government decision.
But my appeal is to the Government through the hon. and learned Gentleman. First, we say to him that these powers are in their nature distasteful. They are manifestly not necessary. They add nothing to the effective control of undesirable aliens or undesirable immigration. These powers, remaining as they are and renewed year by year, are an offence against the whole spirit of a Constitution which is based upon equality of rights and equality before the law. If all that is admitted, and I suggest to the hon. and learned Gentleman that none of it can be seriously disputed, what case is left for retaining these powers? Why should we not then, so long after the original Aliens Order, abandon these proscriptive powers, these delegated powers, these arbitrary, unappealable powers, and put in their place something much 457 more in accordance with the spirit of our law and with the spirit of our democratic Constitution?
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)
First, I should like to say that we are grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) for raising this matter by putting down an Amendment to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and thereby enabling us to have this valuable annual debate. I am grateful, also, to all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, and especially to the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), for the temperate way in which they have pressed their case, on which I well know most of them feel strongly, because this is a matter on which strong opinions can rightly be held.
I think that it is agreed that this country, like all other countries, must have some control over the immigration of foreigners. Indeed, the debate has proceeded on that assumption. We have had this control not since 1914, as the hon. and learned Member suggested, but, in fact, since 1905. With respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, I do not think that he was quite accurate legally in saying that up to 1914 all aliens in this country had always been subject to the same laws as the rest of us. Unfortunately we know quite well that in the past there have been some very unpleasant discriminatory laws against a certain section of the community from time to time. Quite apart from that, this country, like many others, has had various laws which have appeared to discriminate against aliens, and of course, our own laws with regard to elections are an obvious example.
We have had this control since 1905, but the present Aliens Order of 1953 derives its authority from Section (1) of the 1919 Act, which provided that for one year the power conferred by the 1914 Act to make Orders in Council in time of war or emergency should be exercisable at any time. In form, therefore, our powers are temporary, although, to my mind, it is unthinkable that they should be brought to an end. Having an annual debate, whether as the result of this temporary legislation or as a result of permanent legislation, has 458 the advantage that the Government can be asked to explain how these powers are being used, and can benefit, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) suggested, from the criticisms and suggestions put forward by the House.
I would point out to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton and others, who have suggested that if we have permanent legislation, there should be annual renewal or the opportunity for annual debate, that it is a fairly rare thing for our permanent legislation to contain such provisions. When we do go to the trouble of permanent legislation, we often have to be prepared to accept the fact that it is there for a number of years anyway, and there may not be enough parliamentary time for annual debate.
Further, the hon. and learned Gentleman asked, as others have done, whether we would end this system and introduce permanent legislation. What I have to say is that the Government are not unmindful of the views, which are in no way inherently unreasonable, which have been expressed on this aspect of the matter, but, like their predecessors, they are unable to regard the need for the permanent aliens legislation as an urgent one at present. The case for permanent control of aliens is conceded in principle, and the matter will be attended to at a convenient time, but I cannot give an undertaking at the moment as to when that time will be.
I will have a statement to make later in my remarks, however, which concerns the point about which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton felt most strongly of all, namely, the control exercised over aliens once they have been admitted to this country. I will deal with that later.
I hope that it may be of use to the Committee if I broadly summarise our present immigration policy, which, although it is flexible, has been evolved with much thought and patience during the past generation or so, and, of course, in recent years, has frequently been influenced by what has been said in the annual debate. I propose to describe this policy in broad terms, and without going into all the exceptions and refinements which obscure the main picture and make a description rather difficult.
459 The first point to bear in mind is that ours cannot be a country of free immigration. In a closely-populated island of 50 million people we have our own problems of overcrowding, with all the housing, travelling and employment difficulties which arise. Owing to our free and democratic way of life, our tradition of hospitality, our Welfare State and our high standard of living, many foreigners would like to come and live here permanently. It is unthinkable for us to accept all of them, but I should like to say, in passing, that this Order which we have is not, in our opinion, contrary to the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, and if the hon. and learned Gentleman will refer to Article 29 of that Declaration, I think that he may be in agreement with me. Of course, we accept all those who want to come here for a short visit of up to three months, provided that they will not be a charge on public funds and are not undesirables.
For longer visits, many of which lead to permanent residence, we receive seven main categories of aliens. The first of these is the refugees. In spite of what has been said by some hon. Members, this country can claim to have a proud record of giving hospitality to refugees since the war. We have admitted no fewer than a quarter of a million, including as recently as 1956, only three years ago, 14,000 from Hungary.
In this connection, it is right to mention political asylum, because it has been suggested in the debate that that has become a political matter. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it clear in last year's debate on Perez-Selles, the Spaniard, that there is no question of there being political considerations when deciding whether asylum should be granted. So long as it is proved that the person concerned would suffer in life or limb or liberty for political reasons on his return, then he has what we still regard as a claim to political asylum, and my right hon. Friend administers the law in that spirit.
The second category of those who come for longer visits is the foreign workers with Ministry of Labour permits. The third is the foreigners of independent means adequate to support 460 them while they are here. I thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton was under a delusion about them. They are able to come and my right hon. Friend mentioned that in last year's debate as an exception to our policy of admission.
Fourthly, there are students who come here and about whom the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) spoke. Students can remain here while diligently pursuing their studies, but what they cannot do is remain here indefinitely after several times failing the examinations in which they came to qualify. A number of them do that and, having done so, sometimes feel too ashamed to return to their own countries. They then switch—if that is the right word—the reason for their remaining and hope to take up employment, even though they do not have a Ministry of Labour permit.
Fifthly, there are the wives and dependent children of people already here, including the members of visiting armed forces. Sixthly, there is the elderly parent scheme, and, seventhly, the distressed relative scheme. I shall have something to say about those two in greater detail later.
We do not admit people who are undesirable, for example, mental cases, people suffering from various diseases, spies, or bad characters, and we have to exclude those who have no valid passport enabling them to be returned, if necessary, to the countries from which they have come—unless they establish a case for political asylum, which is the exception to that rule.
We use the power to deport undesirables. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was quite right to say that it is not a power which is exercised on a very large scale. Deportation is not one of our major industries, but, nevertheless, every country which has an immigration control has found it necessary to have a power of deportation. We will bear in mind what the hon. Member said about safeguarding the rights of the individual in the exercise of this power.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Of course, there must be a power to control immigration and aliens and that must include the power to deport in suitable cases. I am 461 not objecting to that. What I was pleading for, especially in the case of long residence, for some years, was that such a power should not be arbitrarily exercised in the sense of leaving the deportee without any appeal to any kind of third-party judgment. That seems to me to be the main point.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Renton
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I hope that I can reassure him by reminding him that since 1956 any person who has been here for two years, which is not a very long period, and is not being deported on the recommendation of a court can appeal to the Chief Magistrate. It is also right for me to point out that in every single case—although there have not been many—in which the Chief Magistrate has said that he did not think the man ought to be deported, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has not deported him.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
On what grounds does the Chief Magistrate allow the appeal? Is this a case of substituting his discretion for that of the Home Secretary, or does he simply see that the formalities of deportation are all in order?
§ Mr. Renton
This is not a statutory right and it is not a formal appeal—although I used that word. The Chief Magistrate is placed in the position of someone able to advise the Home Secretary having considered the representations which the alien concerned may have made—and having considered them in the broadest way, not merely regarding technicalities.
§ Mr. Ede
At what stage in the proceedings does this reference to the Chief Magistrate take place? Has the Home Secretary signed the deportation order at that stage, or does he say to the Chief Magistrate, in effect, "Subject to any advice which you may tender, and which appeals to me, I propose to deport "? Or has the deportation order actually been made?
§ Mr. Renton
I think that I am right in saying that the deportation order has actually been made, but the person on whom it is served is automatically informed of his right to make representations to the Chief Magistrate. If he is, 462 so to speak, successful in making those representations, the deportation order is then rescinded. I think that that is the procedure, but I will make sure about it and get in touch with the right hon. Gentleman. There would be very little difference between that and a conditional deportation order subject to confirmation if the Chief Magistrate did not sympathise. From the point of view of procedure, there is not very much in it, but I will find out and let the right hon. Gentleman know.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for reminding me of this power. The power remains a purely advisory power invoked on the initiative of the deportee and without any binding or judicial effect, so that, as has been made clear, it is not a right of appeal.
§ Mr. Renton
That is so. Although there is what one might call an opportunity for an appeal against a deportation order, it is not a right. It is something which has been conceded by the Home Secretary so that he may be quite sure about the exercise of his power in the individual case. In substance, justice is done and appears to be done in this matter.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
Is it possible for the hon. and learned Gentleman to tell us how very wide terms, which are matters of opinion, like "undesirable" and "bad character", are interpreted? Presumably, there must be some rule of thumb to guide immigration officers about what constitutes an undesirable alien or bad character. Presumably, the hon. and learned Gentleman cannot go into details of the exact instructions which are given, but can he tell us whether there is a rule of thumb and how the definition is worked out?
§ Mr. Renton
There are, of course, detailed instructions which it would not be right for me to give to the Committee, and security considerations are involved as well. The Aliens Order itself gives some guidance. If the hon. Member will be so good as to refer to it, I think that he will find some guidance given in paragraph 4 of the Order. I shall not read it to the Committee, because he can refer to it.
So that the Committee may understand how the policy to which I have referred 463 in very broad outline is being administered, I shall give some facts and figures, which, I hope, may be of interest. In the calendar year which ended on 31st December last nearly 10 million people, British as well as alien, passed through out ports. Of those about 1,300,000 were foreign arrivals. Those numbers, of course, are rising all the time with increased travelling and this year the number of foreigners may well exceed 1½ million.
Of the foreigners who came here and were admitted last year, 780,000 were tourists or holidaymakers or other short-term visitors and 185,000 were businessmen on short visits. Of the remainder, 150,000 were foreigners resident here, but returning from absences abroad, while a further 100,000 were passengers who were only here because they were in transit and, after a brief change of aeroplane or ship, moved on.
That leaves about 100,000 others who were newcomers and were admitted to this country for an initial stay of longer than three months. One of the two biggest groups within this total of 100,000 are the holders of Ministry of Labour permits who, with their wives and children, accounted for about 40,000. A very large part of the remainder were either students or young foreigners coming here to learn the language under au pair arrangements, whose numbers have been increasing in recent years.
Of those aliens in the total of nearly 1½ million who came to our ports in the twelve months ended 30th September this year—I move now to further detailed statistics for which I have material available—only 2,743 were refused leave to land. That is, less than one in 500 of the total number who applied to land. In the principal categories among those who were refused to land were, first, 558 who, strictly speaking were in transit, who were allowed to go further after remaining here for a short time. I have to mention them and include them in the major figure, because that is how the statistics deal with them.
§ Mr. Renton
This will be a little difficult for me to explain and for the Committee to follow these figures. They are most important and go to the root of the discussion. I therefore hope that 464 I shall be allowed to give them without interruption.
The next category of those aliens refused leave to land was 803 who were turned back because they intended to come here more or less permanently to work here, but did not have valid Ministry of Labour permit; 111 were stowaways; 356 had insufficient means to support themselves during their proposed stay here, and, of course, had no one able to support them; 80 had no valid travel document or had no visa in circumstances in which visas are required. Also, 67 were undesirable on medical grounds and 72 were intending students who for one reason or another were ineligible. They had not managed to get a place in a university or other training place. There were 46 seamen and 228 were classed as undesirables in the various ways in which that classification can arise.
Now we come to what we may call the hard core of heartbreak cases, about which we have heard quite a lot this afternoon. They were the 300 people—and only 300 out of 1½ million—who came here ostensibly for short visits, but were refused because, clearly, they intended to remain permanently and were not eligible to do so, or had no valid reason for doing so.
So much for the figures relating to those who landed during the twelve months ended 30th September this year. Their numbers have to be considered in the light of the numbers of aliens who were already here and still remain. As I said earlier, since the war this country has absorbed a quarter of a million refugees. A proportion of them have died or acquired British nationality by naturalisation or have gone abroad and for those reasons they are now outside the scope of the Aliens Order.
At present, we have about 400,000 aliens registered with the police and they have been here for more than three months. I am very sorry to burden the Committee with so many figures, but they are significant because they indicate clearly that our aliens policy is being administered in a liberal and generous manner. The most significant figure of all is that of 2,743 refused leave to land. As I have shown, a small proportion of those cases must have caused disappointment to the foreigners concerned and to their friends 465 and sponsors. I suggest that our immigration service to some extent can be tested by the way in which those cases are handled.
I am sure that the Committee will wish to join with me and with several hon. Members who have spoken in paying tribute to the considerate and humane, as well as efficient, way in which our immigration officers do their difficult work. For every case raised in this House, or which becomes sensational in on way or another, there are hundreds of others which are handled so well and so tactfully that no more is heard about them. The same is true of our Aliens Office, in Princeton House, Holborn, where no fewer than 100,000 people called last year and had their cases dealt with, most of them satisfactorily.
Now I want to say a further word about the policy itself. The Committee will recollect that last year my right hon. Friend announced two extensions of policy which otherwise had remained unchanged for some time. First, he decided that foreigners of independent means adequate to support them here should be admitted for permanent residence if there is no risk of their competing for employment with British labour.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I apologise that I have not been present all the time during the debate, but I had to attend a meeting. I know of a particular case in which an American alleges that he has been refused entry although he is able to support himself and wants to come here for a year or eighteen months to do what he describes as research. If he is able to support himself, as I understand he is, he must be under a misapprehension because, from what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, presumably this American is eligible to come in without any question.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Renton
I hope that the hon. Member will let me have particulars of that case. I would very much like to look into it. There are already a number of Americans who are engaged in research here, helping us as well as, no doubt, interesting themselves, and we welcome them. But there are sometimes circumstances which prevent their 466 coming. If the hon. Member will let me have particulars I will look into the case to which he has referred.
I now turn to the extension of the scheme, which my right hon. Friend made last year, for admitting elderly parents whose children, or one of whose children, was already here. He said that where a son or daughter permanently resident in this country wished to care for a widowed mother, an elderly widowed father, or parents who are an old couple living together, and was in a position to do so without a charge upon public funds, he would consider any application for permission as sympathetically as possible.
§ Mr. Janner
Can the hon. and learned Member say whether, in the same way as he has treated those of independent means who come here, he will allow relatives who are not so elderly to come in? In some cases the age limit is a rather heavy burden. Will the Home Secretary consider such applications, and perhaps allow such people to join their families in this country?
§ Mr. Renton
I hope that the hon. Member will not press me to make a snap decision. I will carefully consider what he has said, as I will consider all the speeches which have been made, to see whether any detailed explanation is required. But I must not give undertakings in the middle of a debate. AH I wish to say about these two concessions is that they have been liberally administered, and that we have found that they have been appreciated.
Our policy remains flexible. Necessarily, we have to leave a good deal to the exercise of discretion on the part of immigration officers and our aliens department, within the framework of the policy laid down. Outside the parent and child relationship—as to which we assume that there is generally a case for allowing them to come together in our country—we think it best that each case of family relationships, involving cousins, uncles and aunts, and so on, should be considered on its merits, but with a bias towards the mitigation of hardship or distress.
I now want to deal with some of the more detailed matters which have been raised. I have spoken for some time. but perhaps the Committee will bear with me.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton asked about the application of the Visiting Forces Act. I would invite his attention to paragraph 24 (3) of the Order. He will find that the visiting forces of a good many N.A.T.O. countries, including the United States, are exempt from the operation of the Order. Indeed, I think that only the Greek, Turkish and West German forces have to be considered apart from those mentioned in the Order. The hon. and learned Member asked me about reciprocity. I hope that I shall not be out of order in saying that reciprocity is part of the agreement attached to the N.A.T.O. Treaty and that according to our understanding it is working satisfactorily.
I should point out that the wives and families of members of visiting forces are not regarded in the same way as members of those forces themselves. Wives and families are subject to the Aliens Order, but once it is established that the person wishing to come in is a wife or dependent child of, for example, an American soldier stationed here, there is no doubt about his or her being allowed in.
§ Mr. Renton
Not without notice, but I will get in touch with the hon. and learned Member on the matter.
The hon. and learned Member also asked about people arriving from India with forged passports, whose cases have attracted a good deal of attention recently. I answered some Questions about them last week. The hon. and learned Member asked why those Indians were sent back, and under what power. I must, again, refer him to the Aliens Order. He will find, in paragraph 7, that every adult landing here must produce a valid passport or other document establishing his identity and nationality. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), who courteously informed me that he would not be able to be here for the whole debate, intrigued us all by the array of documents of identity which 468 he produced from his pocket on the spur of the moment.
Although the passport is the best evidence of one's identity and nationality it is not the only evidence. Various other travel documents are officially recognised. Provided there can be documentary proof of identity as well as of nationality I understand that this paragraph of the Order can be complied with, because it refers to "passport or other document."
§ Mr. Renton
I am sorry, but I must get on. I am trying to deal with this point, which is not a very easy one. I have given way a great deal, and I must now press on.
In interpreting paragraph 7 of the Aliens Order it is material to bear in mind that Section 1 (4) of the 1914 Act provides that the onus of proof whether or not a person is an alien, and, indeed, of his nationality, lies upon that person. Therefore, anyone who fails to prove that he is a British subject or Commonwealth citizen is liable to be dealt with under the Order as an alien. That was the position of the people who recently came from India. They had no valid documents of identity and nationality. The Office of the Indian High Commissioner, whose assistance was invoked, could not say that they were Indians, and they therefore fell to be dealt with as aliens of unknown nationality and were returned to the country from which they had come and which in this case was willing to accept them back, namely, India.
The hon. and learned Member asked what would have happened if they had proved that they were Commonwealth citizens. As I said in answer to a Question last week, they would have had the right to stay here.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
The point is not quite clear. Is not the fact that India was prepared to take them back at least a very considerable beginning towards evidence supporting the view that they were Indians, in which case they would have been Commonwealth citizens and the results which the hon. and learned Member described would have flowed from that fact?
§ Mr. Renton
No. It was entirely a matter for the Indian Government. The 469 High Commissioner here accepted that there was no proof that they were Commonwealth citizens, and she had no proof that they were Indians. The question whether India was prepared to take them back was one for her and her Government.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton, the right hon. Member for Smethwick and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne have criticised some of the detailed provisions of the Aliens Order, especially those in paragraphs 13 to 19, dealing with registration. I was asked why it was still necessary for foreigners who had been documented on their way in, and would be documented on their way out, to register with the police from time to time while they were staying here in hotels or lodging houses. I am somewhat paraphrasing the point, but I think that I have accurately represented it.
Hon. Members will be glad to know that we have initiated a thorough study of the whole system of registration, notification to the police, and so on, as laid down in the Order. This is quite a major exercise, because other Government Departments are interested and concerned. So, too, are all the police forces in the country. We are anxious that the implications of any change in the present provisions can be fully assessed. The comments made by the hon. and learned Gentleman and by other hon. Members will be fully considered before any decision is taken about altering any of the provisions. That is all I can say about this at present, but we are anxious to ensure that people are not put to any greater trouble than is necessary to ensure effective control.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major LeggeBourke) raised two points. First, he asked what will happen to people who are now citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies resident in Cyprus when Cyprus has independence. That is a nationality point, and it would be quite wrong for me in a debate on aliens control to anticipate the legislation which might have to come. Secondly, my hon. and gallant Friend raised the question of people coming here who were suffering from various illnesses which they might spread. He was interrupted, and it was pointed out to him that sometimes people 470 should be welcomed here so that they could receive treatment which we have the opportunity to give.
It is right to mention what we have done in connection with the World Refugee Year. The United Kingdom Committee for the World Refugee Year proposed, in a letter in July of this year, that this country should admit 200 refugees from Europe as part of our contribution towards the activities of the Year. The Committee suggested that there should be, first, 50 people described as "difficult to resettle", but not necessarily ill, and, secondly, 150 others consisting of single people suffering from tuberculosis or other illness who could be cured and then settled here, and also families with at least one sick person other than the breadwinner needing treatment. We have accepted that proposal, and we have done so on the understanding that the primary purpose is to assist the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in his Camp Clearance Programme in Europe. A team has gone out to help the High Commissioner choose the people to come.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I think that my hon. and learned Friend has missed the principal points which I tried to make. I was not asking him to give any ruling about the nationality of people now living in Cyprus. I was asking him, first, to give me an assurance that anybody who has to change his nationality and return here will not be put through the rigmarole of the Aliens Order, 1953. Secondly, I asked him if he would give an assurance that the whole question whether someone should be subjected to a medical examination would be examined again, not with a view to keeping them out, but to ensuring that, if they are suffering from a disease, it is known from the moment they enter the country.
§ Mr. Renton
With the vast number of people—10 million altogether, including 1½ million who are foreigners—coming through our controls, it is impossible to arrange that there shall be a medical examination in every case, but there is power in the Order for a medical examination to be held. Sometimes that examination results in a person being classified as undesirable. For example, he may have venereal disease. In another case there may be good reason for letting the person in, although he is 471 not healthy and strong. In that case the facilities of the National Health Service are available to him. I will ascertain the extent to which the facilities of the Health Service are drawn to the attention of those people and whether they can be put in touch with hospital authorities. I will consult my hon. Friend at the Ministry of Health about that.
The right hon. Member for Smethwick, who has also apologised for being unable to attend the rest of the debate, said that we should provide an opportunity for people who come from one country to whom we refuse leave to land to go to yet another country. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is sometimes done, but there must be willingness on the part of the third Power to receive the person concerned. It is no good trying to send a person to a country which will not have him. The right hon. Gentleman also suggested that we should take great care to give those people who are unable to prove Commonwealth citizenship the chance to prove it, because that is what they claim to have when they come here. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we go to very great lengths in that respect. We wish to acknowledge the help given to us by the High Commissioners and the colonial authorities.
I think that I have dealt with nearly all the points of detail raised in the debate. Those which I have, through pressure or inadvertence, overlooked I will give attention to in the course of the next week or so and will contact the hon. Gentlemen concerned.
To conclude, travel between countries is increasing rapidly every year leading, we hope, to better understanding between the peoples of the world. Our country is a magnet to millions of foreigners, who have a genuine desire either to come here to see how we manage to achieve so much as well as we do, or to share our lives with us, our lives being very often so much happier than theirs. We should like to help them all within reason, but our first duty is to our own people—the duty to protect their standards of work and comfort. We also have a duty to- 472 wards the people of the Commonwealth which must come before our desire to help aliens.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is determined to see that our aliens policy strikes the right balance between those motives and is administered as humanely as possible. We are grateful to the Committee for the constructive help which the debate has given, which will enable us to administer the Aliens Order in an even more enlightened way between now and what will no doubt be our next annual debate.
§ Mr. Ede
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman intend to make any reply to the speech of the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn)? This is the first time that I have ever agreed with the whole of a speech by the hon. Member for Carlton and I hope that it will be a long time before I so embarrass him again; but I think that he is entitled to a reply.
§ Mr. Renton
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), mainly because this gives me an opportunity of apologising to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) for not having mentioned his speech. I realise that he feels very strongly, but this point was made in earlier speeches. I dealt with the plea for permanent legislation fairly fully, although I happened to do so in reply to those earlier speeches.
§ Mr. Paget
We have had a profoundly unsatisfactory reply. I do not say that because I wish to criticise the hon. and learned Gentleman personally. It is an unsatisfactory reply because it is a profoundly unsatisfactory situation. The Under-Secretary made no case at all for continuing indefinitely this process of illiberal temporary legislation and not proceeding to introduce legislation that would make the foreigners—this large body of people—human beings under the law instead of people who exist only under an arbitrary Order.
The manner in which the hon. and learned Gentleman dealt with the question of the Indians illustrates as well as anything could why it is that we should have some proper legislation. He said that this was justified because paragraph 7 of the Order imposes the obligation on these people, whether or not they are 473 aliens, to produce passports, and gives the immigration officer the right to exclude them, whether they be aliens or not, if they do not produce passports or other documents.
If that is the case, the Order is plainly ultra vires. It is an Order made under powers, which we are renewing, given under the Act of 1914, which enacted thatHis Majesty may … by Order in Council impose restrictions on aliens….On aliens—and on nobody else. Section 1(1) of the 1914 Act also contains powers(a) for prohibiting aliens from landing in the United Kingdom …The Act gives the Government no power whatever to impose any restriction on anyone who is not an alien, and if this Order, which on the face of it it does, deals with people who are not aliens, it is plainly ultra vires. When the Government rely on an Order that is now shown to be without any power at all I advance that as a fairly good reason for their reconsidering this matter and getting it on to a properly-thought-out basis.
The next matter I raised was reciprocity. The Under-Secretary of State says that he cannot do these things without notice. He has had notice of two years' standing—and has also had notice of some days' standing—of this question. I say quite boldly that there is no reciprocity here, and that we are in the undignified position that we once imposed on Egypt and China of granting consular jurisdiction because we are forced to accept that our law is not good enough for our visitors. And we are in that position without any reciprocity of any sort, kind or description, although we were assured that we would have it—
§ Mr. Renton
What I would have required notice of was the precise American Statute to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred. He very kindly gave notice that he would, in general, raise the question of reciprocity.
§ Mr. Paget
I asked the hon. and learned Gentleman to produce it. If he produces that Statute, I will eat it.
Now, I should like to deal with the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarkable statement that these regulations are 474 in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which we are parties. He quoted Article 29 as the Article on which he relied. That Article says:1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.What on earth that Article has to do with it, I do not know. Let the Committee consider the case I posed and which is not challenged. It is the case of a man who has come to this country as a baby, who has known no other country, who has seen no other country, who has heard no other language, who has married here, whose children are English, and whose wife is English. Without doubt, that man, on the arbitrary decision of the Secretary of State, can be taken away, can be exiled, have his family broken up and his means of providing for them taken from him. And if no other country is prepared to accept him, he can be imprisoned indefinitely, without trial or appeal, at the will of the right hon. Gentleman.
Let us see what the Declaration of Human Rights has to say about that sort of thing. Article 2 says that everyone is entitled to these rights and freedoms without regard to nationality or status. Article 7 states:All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.All are entitled to equal protection
Article 8 says:Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals …These we totally deny.
Article 9 says:No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.Every one of those acts we are providing for.
475 Article 10 statesEveryone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal …It is quite futile to say that these regulations are in accordance with the Declaration of Human Rights. They are, of course, in flagrant breach of them. I do not for one moment say that in the performance of the regulations the greatest regard is not had to duty and that sort of thing, but that is not what the Declaration of Human Rights is about. It is not a declaration as to whether an Executive in its discretion shall behave liberally, but a declaration of rights, and it is these rights that, in an utterly arbitrary manner, we are removing. Let us at least recognise what we are doing.
In a sense, the Government reply has shown—and, I think, of necessity because of the unsatisfactoriness of the whole situation—so little understanding of what we are complaining about, and what even the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) is complaining about, that we regard this as profoundly unsatisfactory. It must be understood that if, next year, we are not offered permanent legislation and a proper scheme for putting this matter in order we shall certainly not be content with a reply from the Joint Under-Secretary of State. We shall expect the Secretary of State to come here next year to explain the situation if he has not done better in the meantime. Having said that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 15 and 16.
This is our annual occasion to scrutinise the operation of this annual Act of Parliament and, as has been said on previous occasions, this is one of the Acts within this general group which we do not wish to see permanent. Indeed, the sooner it can be ended altogether the better.
May I begin as usual by making what has now become the annual grumble that this Act of Parliament relating to exemptions to Scottish schoolchildren for the potato harvest should be discussed 476 at this time of the year. This is the very time of the year when the potato harvest has just finished and when it is impossible to get an adequate picture of exactly how many children have been exempted and what the conditions have been. Yet we are put in the position of granting the Government power to continue doing this next year. It would be more desirable if at least a month or two elapsed and if this matter could be discussed in the early part of the year instead of at present.
As far as one can ascertain the facts, it seems as though there is a continued run-down in the number of school exemptions that are being demanded by the Secretary of State from a number of local authorities. According to the figures which I have, ten years ago, in 1949, there were as many as 47,000 exemptions required in that immediate post-war period. By 1957 it had come down to 22,000. In 1958 16,000 children went into the fields, and I am informed that this year the figure probably runs at under 11,000—about 10,800.
Of course, we welcome these fairly substantial reductions which have been taking place during the last few years. But I say to the Minister that although we welcome these reductions, we shall not be satisfied until this method of harvesting Scottish potatoes has been brought to an end, and until the great damage that has been done to the education of a group of Scottish children who ought to be in school is brought to an end as well.
One of the problems in reducing the number of children who get exemptions from school in order to go to the potato harvest is that each year with each reduction the inequality of the burden of this form of child labour becomes greater as between one area and another. Today only one of the four cities of Scotland—and that is the city which I have the honour to represent, Dundee—provides its annual quota of children from its schools, and mainly junior secondary schools, to go to the potato fields. The other three cities, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, do not provide their quota, unless the situation has changed.
One finds great discrepancies between one county and another in the kind of contribution that they are expected to 477 make. If my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay) catches the eye of the Chair he will be able to explain in more detail what this means in terms of educational sacrifice in the County of Fife. For this reason, one should feel no sort of complacency, even though the figures are diminishing. Because they have come down I think there is a danger that people tend to sit back. Hon. Members who have been accustomed to speak in these debates in previous years no longer feel compelled to speak because their local authorities are no longer concerned, and it is left to fewer of us each year to raise these questions. Of course, I make honourable exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan).
The real danger is that people feel that problems become less acute because the numbers involved are fewer. But very often those who are left tend to become forgotten. I hope the Minister will assure us that there is no question of the children in Dundee, Fife and other authorities who are making this contribution being forgotten by the Scottish Education Department.
We also face the question whether, even with the existing reduction, it might not have been possible to reduce the figures still further in the recent harvest. It still strikes me as very strange that at a time when the Scottish unemployment figures are running at more than 80,000 people it should still be necessary to recruit the labour of 10,000 children from the Scottish schools. This is in addition to those children who go into the potato fields in the ordinary way during special school holidays. These are merely the exemptions. It seems puzzling that the Ministry of Labour and the Scottish Office cannot between them get more people from the lists of unemployed to go out and do this job. I know the kind of arguments that are always used. I know the kind of miraculous subtraction sums done by expert committees who look at the lists of unemployed. Nevertheless, I am still puzzled. I feel sure that if there were a greater will, it would be possible to get more recruits from that source.
I do not always understand the way in which the Ministry of Labour operates in these matters. A personal case was recently brought to my attention of a 478 young woman in my constituency who had been very ill and had been looking for a job after her illness. Within a week of going to the employment exchange after her bad illness she refused a job in a hospital, never having worked in a hospital before, and was promptly disallowed unemployment benefit. Yet we have these large numbers of people at the labour exchanges, some of them having been there for a long time, and it seems to be administratively impossible to obtain any reasonable quota of people from them. I hope the Minister will have a fresh look at that problem.
There is a good deal in the argument that if one wishes to seek adult labour one should not seek it mainly in the ranks of the present unemployed but that one should encourage people who are not in normal employment to go out and help. I was recently in a town in a rural area, with a pretty high standard of living, with more than its fair share of television sets, refrigerators and that sort of thing. I found that a number of the housewives there went into the potato fields to augment their household incomes. I would add that these potato fields were organised in a modern manner and the housewives could earn a reasonable income without undue hardship. I am sure that if the farmers generally were to modernise their methods and bring them up to the level of the best, they could recruit a great deal more adult labour than they have done so far.
Then there is the question of mechanical aids for harvesting, the machines that may be substituted for child labour in the potato fields. Some of us suspect that over the years the farming community has been much too slow in adopting machines or in pressing for the development of suitable machines, simply because they have felt the Government would make the labour force of young children available to them.
I was particularly interested to notice that only a month or so ago the Potato Marketing Board ran a demonstration of mechanical potato harvesters very near my own constituency. The Board was kind enough to send me an invitation, but, unfortunately, because of certain political events taking place at about that time, I was prevented from going. Otherwise, I should certainly have been 479 there I must, therefore, rely on various reports of this demonstration which I have received. I hope that the Committee will be given a first-hand impression of it before we finish discussing the matter tonight.
I was struck by the words of the chairman of the Potato Marketing Board, Mr. J. E. Rennie, who himself attended the demonstration. He said:The potato harvester is ten years behind the combine harvester, but I feel that by the end of the 1960s k may be very nearly the universal method of potato harvesting.I hope that that will be so. But I hope very much that the practice of sending children out to the potato fields will cease before the end of the 1960's.
One of the people able to attend the demonstration was Sir Garnet Wilson who, eight years ago, I think, was chairman of one of the official committees set up to look into the problem. He is, of course, a very noted and distinguished person in Scottish education. When he investigated the matter, as chairman of that official committee, Sir Garnet Wilson made a recommendation, turned down by the Government, that it should provide a prize on a fairly handsome scale to promote the invention of a satisfactory mechanical potato harvester. Therefore, I imagine, he looked at the nine machines on view at this demonstration with particular interest. This is what he said:A number of farmers are seeing the writing on the wall. They foresee children being no longer available, and they are taking precautions by purchasing harvesters.This is all very good, and, so far as it goes, we welcome it. But we are bound to ask why on earth they have not begun to do it before. Does this not prove the point which we have repeatedly made from these benches that it is the slowness of the Government to move in the matter and their unwillingness to give a real push behind the development of a mechanical harvester that has allowed farmers to go on feeling that it would be a good deal cheaper for them to continue to have children from the classrooms than it would to keep up with the mechanical inventions of the times?
I am not qualified to offer any opinion on the efficiency of the machines which were on view. The price range was quite wide, from £125 to £800, and, with 480 the general development of mechanisation in agriculture at the moment, I should not have thought that it was impracticable for farmers to move very quickly towards the mechanisation of potato harvesting.
I hope that the Government will show us tonight that they are prepared to do everything they can to accelerate the process. I hope that they took due note of the fact that, among the visitors attending this interesting demonstration, which I so much regret I could not visit, there were some visitors from the Soviet Union. Indeed, there was the chief of the Soviet Union special bureau on potato machinery. He also commented on what he saw, saying:A considerable part of our crops in the Soviet Union are worked by machines, but they are much more complicated than those we see here.Not very long ago, it was customary in this country to regard the Soviet Union as a rather backward, peasant country. Now that the Russians have succeeded in photographing the back side of the moon and sending the photographs back to us, and now that we have Soviet visitors attending our agricultural demonstrations and telling us, "You are making progress but, really, your machines are not anything like so complicated as those we have", we had better remember that there is some danger that Scotland may, in due course, come to be regarded by the Soviet Union as a rather backward, peasant country unless we get a move on.
I have one point to put to the Minister in connection with the recent potato harvest. I have here Circular No. 417 about arrangements for the potato harvest which the Scottish Education Department sent to the local authorities in the summer. In that circular, the Scottish Education Department makes this comment:In certain areas, some farmers have in the past offered higher rates of wages than others, and this practice, which is greatly to be deplored, has caused discontent among children receiving the lower rate".I see that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is smiling at that, but I hope that he and other Members of the Committee are aware that what is being described here in rather elegant officialese is a black 481 market in child labour which has been going on in Scotland, in various places, including my own constituency, during recent years. It is a kind of auction in child labour which is socially undesirable.
I want an assurance from the Minister that he has no evidence from the recent potato harvest that any farmers have still engaged in this thoroughly objectionable practice. As he knows, we had something of a major scandal about it in Dundee. He was good enough to take action about it and, I hope, to stop it. I hope he can assure us that in Dundee and elsewhere the farmers are playing the game and have not been making this serious problem even more serious in some of its consequences by engaging in that sort of auction for the labour of school children.
The Minister who is to reply, I understand, is the Minister primarily responsible for education in Scotland and not the Minister responsible for agriculture. I will conclude by reminding him that this is one of the most irritating education problems in Scotland today. The children who go off on these exemptions—I am not speaking now about potato holidays—are principally children from the junior secondary schools or, if they come from senior secondary schools, they are children of 14 and 15, who are to leave their senior secondary schools, in most cases, within the next year or so. They are just those children for whom the last year of their education is most valuable.
It really will not be possible in Scotland to tackle adequately the very important matter of the junior secondary school so long as this annual exemption for potato picking goes on. The children who go out into the potato fields come, in the main, from the poorer families or—let us face it—from the families who attach less importance to education and who feel, perhaps, that it is more important to have a little more extra household income than to have their children receive a proper education.
Every school teacher in Scotland with experience of the problem will say that it is really impossible, in most cases, ever to get the children back into normal education routine when they return from the potato harvest. They have had a whiff of the freedom of working life and 482 they resent coming back to normal school discipline. Not only that. They have had earnings which, even by modern standards, are fairly attractive to them, and they have become accustomed to spending a lot of money on smoking in the freedom of the potato fields or in the evenings on entertainments. Two or three weeks later, when they return to the schools, they find they no longer have this unexpected pocket money. All sorts of problems are created—petty pilfering, an increase in juvenile delinquency, and so forth.
But I emphasise the education problem. We want to ensure that as many of our young people as possible stay on at school at least for a full three years in secondary school. In Scotland we lag behind England in the number of children attaining this elementary educational qualification. One of the obstacles to reaching this goal—goodness knows, it is a modest goal—is the annual roundup of children to go off and earn a bit of money in the potato fields.
I should have said that the fact that steady reductions have been made in the numbers brings its own dangers of complacency. I should have thought that it also brought an opportunity, if the Government were prepared to rise to it. I should have thought that, now that the figures have been brought down from nearly 50,000 to round about 10,000, there would be the opportunity, if the will were there, to say to the farmers, "Next year will definitely be the last in which you can enjoy these educational exemptions. After the Bill has been passed through the House it will not be brought forward again, and by the potato harvest of 1961 you must have made arrangements to manage without taking children from the schools."
It may be that in order to do this we might have to extend the idea of potato holidays for a certain time. For my part, I think that potato holidays are a great deal less damaging educationally than the practice of taking from schools which continue to remain open a certain proportion of their children. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs will disagree with me here, but I should have thought that it would have been far better to let the Fife local authority deal with this problem itself in the light of its own circumstances 483 and in the knowledge that it will have to face its own electors on this matter and no longer to impose on it the obligation to release children who are carrying on their normal work.
This is why we have raised this issue tonight. I wish to ask the Minister to take this opportunity to lay down a very definite time limit on the continuation of this form of child labour from the schools of Scotland.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
It is two years now since I troubled the Committee on this subject which arises annually. If we were in America, I think that I would request that the speech that I made on 21st November, 1957, should be put in the Congressional Record, because I propose, in broad outline, to repeat, with alterations to suit the progress of events, the speech which I made then.
If we do not get child labour for the potato harvest in Angus, Perthshire and Fife, potatoes will not be grown. That is one of the facts which we must face, whether we like it or not. In this part of Scotland, we export seed potatoes to the English and to dozens of other countries, such as South Africa, Israel and Cyprus. It is a very valuable trade, not only because of its extra earnings in foreign currency, but also because of its help to the English, who cannot grow seed potatoes for themselves to produce the potatoes for the consumer in Britain. It is therefore essential in the interests of the consuming public in Britain as a whole that potatoes for seed should be grown where they are being grown in this part of Scotland.
I agree, however, with the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) that if we could get the potato crop lifted by mechanical means we should not ask for child labour. The real question is: can this be done? The fact that machines are now being used on certain farms shows that the inventors and the developers of inventions have been at work. I think that the hon. Member was a little unfair to the farmers when he said that we were too slow in pressing on with these developments. We were not. If the hon. Member had attended the demonstration in my constituency, which is just outside his constituency, after the 484 election on 14th October, he would have seen the immense interest which farmers take in these demonstrations. As the hon. Member was not there and as it may be of interest to other hon. Members, I should like to say a few words about it.
There were nine machines at the demonstration, but we must exclude one—the one which cost £125—because it was not a proper harvester at all. The average price of the machines was between £600 and £800. To me, that is the sort of price which farmers who want to lift potatoes by machinery are prepared to pay. I should like to congratulate the inventors on being able to devise a machine at that sort of cost. The machines were fairly light, which is an essential requirement. Here again, I congratulate the developers of these machines. Our main difficulty was in deciding whether these machines would do the job in all weathers and on all soils.
The demonstration in 1957 was not a satisfactory demonstration. It was an exhibition of what machines do on a perfect day, in perfect soil with no stones or hills. This year's demonstration, which was organised by the Potato Marketing Board, was, in this respect, a great advance because the demonstration took place in a stony field, and I think that it can be said that the stone problem has now been solved. I think that I can say that every one of the machines dealt pretty adequately with the stones, some better than others Unfortunately, however, the demonstration was during a period of very dry weather, when the potatoes came out of the ground very easily, and there was no mud or dirt to cling to them. What has not yet been proved is whether these machines will work in wet weather or on very wet soil.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East asked whether this would be the last year of child labour. I wish that it were, and I think that the average farmer wishes that it were, but until these machines have been tried out in all weathers, many farmers will not spend £600 or £800 on them. If the weather is wet at digging time, the machine will not be of any use and then, in very difficult circumstances, the farmers will have to get labour of some kind. I think, therefore, that we must still wait 485 a year or two before we get the perfect machine.
I will not mention names, but there was one machine which was mounted entirely on rubber, which I thought was the nearest approach to solving the problem. If it can be developed to work La wet, foul weather, with the potatoes covered in mud, and at the same time eliminate the stones, I believe that we shall be very near to solving the problem.
This machine is being very heavily ordered. When I made inquiries about buying one myself, the salesman said, "We are not asking people to buy any, because we are hopelessly over-sold already". That is an argument in favour of the farmers who, whenever they see something that will do the job, are ordering it at such a rate that a firm cannot expect to fulfil the orders next year, and many of us, including myself, may well be disappointed if we want a machine which we think would do the job.
I am saying all this because I want hon. Members to appreciate that we do not want this Act continued any more than they do. I think that the hon. Member for Dundee, East overstated the effects on the children of going out to the potato fields. He talked about juvenile delinquency and the fact that the children had money in their pockets. It may be so in certain cases in his constituency, but my experience is that the mothers of these children are pretty hot on getting the money out of them when they get home, because they want to clothe them and buy them new boots for the winter. I think that this idea that juvenile delinquency results because the children get £1 or 25s. in their pockets for harvest work, which they do sometimes, is rather exaggerated and is unfair to the general run of children.
Whilst I do not agree with the hon. Member about juvenile delinquency, I agree with him about the education argument; but there are some counter-attractions and advantages. The children go out in the open air, normally in fairly decent weather—they do not work in bad weather—and they get money which will help to clothe them in the winter. I do not propose to argue against the edu- 486 cation point at all, but there is something to be said on the plus side, because the children set themselves up for the winter in health and in clothing. That is something to be set against the admitted difficulties over education.
I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member will not press the Amendment to a Division, because we are all on his side. The hon. Member is a little more impatient than we are, but I counsel him and his hon. Friends to be a little more patient. We are all after the same thing, which is to get a 100 per cent. mechanised harvesting. The Royal Highland Society and the Potato Marketing Board are anxious to achieve that.
There were 4,000 farmers at this latest demonstration. Everybody is keen to find the machine and if we can get the right machine this Act can be dropped once more. I would end with one short story. There were nine machines operating and each had l½ acres to do. Not one finished in the hours allowed, but alongside a pair of machines there was a body of bairns and they finished the 1½ acres in a day. Until we get a fast machine—as fast as the children—the problem remains. We must see to it that the machines are not only 100 per cent. efficient but as quick at the job as the children. I hope and believe that in the next few years, thanks to the inventiveness of the agricultural engineering industry and the speed with which inventions are developed, the answer will be found and we shall be able to dispense with this Act in future years.
§ Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
As a new Member I make no apology for intervening in the debate, because I am a member of an authority which is possibly the most affected by the Bill. It may be a coincidence that in the debate I follow the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) because I unsuccessfully opposed him in 1955, and I hope that I shall be successful in opposing his views today. I do not agree that if there are no children to gather them no potatoes will be planted. As long as there is a profitable market farmers obviously will plant and grow potatoes.
As the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland knows, we operate in Fife a rather rigid scheme of exemption for potato gathering in close co-operation 487 with the farmers. As a result, we have reduced to a large extent the number of school children who undertake potato gathering, and because of this rigid scheme we have been able to delay the start of potato gathering by children to the last possible moment and thereby compel farmers in Fife to recruit as much adult labour as possible. This is largely responsible for the great reduction in the number of children employed last year. I do not know the figures for this year.
It is significant that there has been a fairly large increase in the number of young unemployed people in Fife. Most of them have been engaged in potato harvesting this year, and since the harvest has been gathered in there has been a considerable increase in the number of school leavers and young people at present unemployed in the county. The rigid scheme of exemption resulted, as I have said, in a considerable reduction in the number of children who undertook potato gathering, and, more important, a considerable reduction in the number of school days lost. Despite the effectiveness of the scheme, however, there is still an unwarrantable interference with the education of children in Fife, and not only with the education of those who actually gather the potatoes but also of those children who are left in school.
I intervene in the debate because of the tremendous feeling and the strong representations which have been made to the Fife Education Committee in the past year. As the Joint Under-Secretary may know, representatives of the Committee have been on more than one occasion to St. Andrew's House to plead with him to curtail the number of exemptions allowed. In addition, many representations have been made from town councils throughout the length and breadth of the county. As Scottish Members know, there are more burghs in Fife than in any other county of Scotland and, therefore, the number of representations that have been made can be well imagined. Strong representations have also been made by the teachers' organisation, the Educational Institute of Scotland.
I have been in an anomalous position in the past two years, as chairman of the committee responsible for this matter 488 in Fife, in having to defend the Government's position to some extent because some members of the committee did not wish to put into effect the Minister's representations to allow children willy-nilly to leave school. As a result of the rigid control in the Fife scheme, we were able to reduce the bad effect on children in schools.
There are many adverse effects on children who go potato gathering, and I should like to spotlight one or two of them. Despite the conditions laid down in the circular issued by the Department, referring to the provision of hot meals and of sanitary arrangements, we have had cases of young adolescent girls mixing with adult labour in the fields and being provided with the most primitive sanitary conditions. As the Joint Under-Secretary will agree, it is almost impossible in harvesting to ensure that adequate sanitary conditions can he. provided.
Again, many farmers, instead of providing the meals required of them by the circular, offer bribes to the children by saying that if they do not take a hot meal they can have a 1s. or 1s. 6d. thereby getting round the terms of the circular. Reference has been made to the difficulty that children experience in getting accustomed after harvest time to normal school discipline, but one of the worst features is that, in mixing in the fields with adult labour, they sometimes do not hear the choicest language. Many of the teachers in Fife report that the most foul language is repeated by the children who have been potato gathering. That is the negation of education.
In addition, there is gross interference with the class work, because while the children from various classes in the different departments in the school are actually gathering potatoes the children left in the class are more or less marking time, and a valuable period of two or three weeks is lost to the education of the children in the county.
As I say, Fife county has possibly more children engaged in the gathering of potatoes than any other county in Scotland. We regret this eating into of education time because the minimum number of attendances Fife requires is 406 per year. With the extended curriculum in the schools today, that is the minimum number of attendances 489 required for children to obtain the higher level certificate in senior education. The education of those leaving at the age of 15 should not be cut into more than absolutely necessary.
It seems to me that the success of the Government's policy in Scotland in creating a high level of unemployment makes it unnecessary to continue the Act. The fact that there is plenty of adult labour available means that there is no need for the exploitation of child labour in the gathering of potatoes.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I think and hope that the Committee will agree that it is most fitting that this matter should have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson), whose city is the one of the four cities in Scotland most concerned in this matter, and my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay), and that they should have taken a leading part in the debate on the Amendment. It is true, as the Joint Under-Secretary of State will claim, that we are making progress in this matter. As has already been mentioned by my hon. Friends, in 1949, 47,000 exemptions were given to children to participate in this work, and in 1955, 45,000, until last year there were fewer than 18,000, and, as my hon. Friend has said, probably today the number is about 10,000.
My interest in this debate is to show there are others in Scotland concerned about this matter as well as hon. Members from the areas immediately concerned. I have never myself accepted the view that because one represents a city constituency all things happening in the counties and agricultural areas should not receive one's attention. I think it is a good maxim that one ought to take that interest. We learned during the war that apparently it is only in wartime that the city dweller becomes concerned with food production. However, my concern is because of the education problem and the injury which has been perpetrated to many children—I do not care whether they are in Dundee, Fife, or elsewhere—by the Act.
I think, with my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East, that some farmers—not all, but some—are due severe criticism because of their inaction in this matter. When the Act was passed, in 490 1947, it was done under great duress by my right hon. and hon. Friends who were faced with a greater problem than the community has been since, and it was because education authorities in those days insisted that if there was to be a stigma in the using of children in this way it was much better, from their point of view, as they insisted, that it should be the responsibility of Ministers and not of education authorities. Since that day there have been changes and, of course, the numbers have been coming down.
I thought I detected in the remarks of the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan), with many of which I profoundly agree, a little inconsistency. I think I am right in thinking—it is within the recollection of the Committee—that the hon. Member said that potato harvesters are not satisfied that the machine will be effective in very heavy weather, in wet weather, and he went on to say that the children were not used in wet weather. It seems to me that his argument falls down, for if the machines cannot be used and the children cannot be used I should much prefer that the machines should be kept for the dry weather, and not that children should be used.
§ Sir J. Duncan
I am sorry if I was misunderstood. What I said, or meant to say, was that the children were not used when it was raining. They are used when the ground is wet. The machines cannot be used when the ground is wet, whether it is raining or not.
§ Mr. Hannan
I had not finished. I was about to say that what the hon. Member was really saying was that children can be used in worse weather than the machines can. That is true, is it not?
Of course, this strengthens the argument for acceptance of the proposition that this Act should be done away with. I admit at once I am not an expert in agricultural matters. I have not all the knowledge in the world about agriculture, but I have a right, as one who is interested in these matters, to exchange confidences and words with those who are in the industry. I am told that, contrary to the assertion which is made, if the children were not used the potatoes 491 would still be ingathered, and that if the farming community were told, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East suggested, that in two or three years' time this Act would come to an end, and that the farming community had in that time to find alternative labour, they would do it.
Moreover, I am told that adult labour is certainly more efficient than child labour. But, of course, the farmers would have to pay a greater amount of money in wages for adult labour than they are paying for child labour. This is the information that I have. It will not be denied, I hope, that there are farmers in Scotland—at least one—paying adult wages and employing only adult labour for ingathering potatoes and making a success of it. If that is the case, then it is for others to do likewise.
What I think the hon. Member for South Angus omitted was one of the most important points. The Rose Committee, which has been referred to, referred to damage which was being done to education and pointed out quite firmly that there were good social and moral reasons why the employment of children in the potato fields should be ended. It is bad for children to find adult farmers bidding for their services in front of the children. In that way they gain a wrong impression of the value of their services to the community. The unfortunate acquisitiveness in society is at the moment on the upsurge and has been given impetus by the recent election.
The Government should clearly consider the effect of the continuation of this Act on the children's education, particularly when the Joint Under-Secretary of State recognises that committees have been appointed in past years to consider the status of the junior secondary school and the effect on children putting in their time in the junior secondary school from the time they pass the so-called 12-plus examination, with for those leaving at 15 apparently no social purpose at the end, but only marking time, and with the teachers marking time, till that period is over.
We have to give them a different view, a different aim and a different purpose in life. One of the things that would make a contribution to that and help in the educational field would be 492 for the Government to accept the Amendment, or, at least, to give an assurance to Scotland tonight that this Act will end in two or three years' time. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will go a little further and tell us what contribution these 10,000 children make. What does it mean in tonnage of potatoes? Can he give us any idea of the contributions that they are making in the overall labour employed? It would be very interesting to know that and it would, I hope, show that it was not worth while going on with this business.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson), who moved the Amendment, said he feared that there might be only a small number of people taking part in the debate, and that encouraged me to do something which I might not otherwise have done as a representative of an English constituency, to take part in the debate.
I do not pretend to know Scotland at all well, although it is the country of roy ancestors, but I do know something about education. I am quite sure that at the present time it is extremely important to get children, particularly those whose minds are not the very quickest, to take education seriously and to understand what it means and its increasing importance in the modern world. I do not believe that we shall ever get a child to take education seriously if he sees that the attitude of the adult world is that education is a sort of frill that can be thrown off when one feels that one has something important to do, or because one cannot get the right machines or recruit the adult labour or get the potatoes in without taking away a number of 13-and 14-year-olds every year from their education. If that is the adult attitude to education, we cannot get children to respect it.
I understand from what one of my hon. Friends said that in the great majority of cases the children who do this work are those who would leave school at the age of 15. That is what one would expect, because one will not find very many whose parents have ambitious hopes for the future of their children's education. They will be like some of the children that we find in England in what we call the second grade modern schools. I think that it is 493 a very dangerous development if we start thinking that some of the children have only second-class minds, that education will not mean much to them any way, and that we can afford to interrupt it. In my judgment, for a child to leave school at 15 is a considerable handicap if it is to grow up in this modern world and try to make a success of life. For children who are going to do that, a very serious objection is that they should have their education further interrupted.
Whenever we consider child labour, the question which one ought to ask oneself is, should I be content for it to happen to my child? I do not believe that any parent who understands what the modern world is like would be content for it to happen to his children. I do not believe that any hon. Member would be content to allow it to happen to his children. We ought to realise that if we allow this to happen to children we are incurring a grave social cost. In the balance sheet of agriculture, in addition to any money payments, this is running up a debit with society in that it is interrupting the education of those children and making it more difficult for them to be trained and educated in the way required in this modern world.
We have heard about the cost of the machines and the cost and difficulty of recruiting adult labour. If we have any respect at all for the conditions in which children ought to work, child labour ought to be at least as expensive as adult labour. If we are to comply with the regulations which my hon. Friend quoted and see that proper provision is made for the feeding of the children, for their moral and physical welfare, and for the general conditions in which they work, we shall be lucky if we find at the end of the day that it has not cost a good deal more than adult labour. If we get it cheaper, it will be by not properly observing the conditions that should be observed in the middle of the twentieth century when child labour is employed.
This Act was passed twelve years ago in. a general mood of gloom on both sides of the House. That was in 1947, two years after the war, and the community might be excused in those conditions for feeling that anything concerned with food should have a very high priority. We are not in that posi- 494 tion today. It ought now to be possible to put a term to the operation of this Act because I think that all the history of child labour in any form proves that as long as it is allowed there will always be someone to prove that it is absolutely necessary and that economically the country would be ruined without it.
A distinguished economist, Nassau Senior, proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the whole of England's export trade would be ruined if we cut down the hours that children were allowed to work in factories from ten to nine. As long as we allow child labour, someone will always say that it is absolutely necessary. I admit that perhaps we cannot cut it off immediately, but I hope that the Minister will look favourably on the suggestion made by one of my hon. Friends that the Government should be in a position to say that after, perhaps, two years this will not be allowed any more. I think that once it was clearly known that it was coming to an end it would be quite surprising how some of the difficulties in dealing with the potato harvest quoted today would melt away. It would become perfectly clear that ways other than the using of child labour fourteen years after the war would have to be found.
§ Mr. A. V. Hilton (Norfolk, Southwest)
I rise to make a brief intervention in the debate, because I represent a constituency which grows many hundreds, running into thousands, of acres of potatoes in Norfolk. Soon after the war, we had a similar position in Norfolk and the same argument was put forward, namely, that if we did not allow children time off to pick potatoes we should not be able to grow them because they would never be harvested. I was amazed to hear an hon. Member opposite advance a similar veiled threat in this discussion a few moments ago.
In the eyes of some people, we in Norfolk are regarded as rather backward and we always look to Scotland as giving a lead in educational matters. I am astonished to know that this sort of practice still persists there. I am proud to say that we in Norfolk, although some people consider us to be backward, left this idea behind us years ago.
495 At the time, the same arguments as we have heard today in favour of the employment of children were advanced by the farmers in Norfolk. Many of them are Scots who have come south and are now among the best farmers, not only in Norfolk, but in the country. They opposed us when we wanted to stop our youngsters having time off from school for this purpose, but when we said that the practice must stop, they realised that they had to find alternative methods.
We have heard about the new harvesting machines which are on the market. I agree that not all of them are satisfactory all the time, but most of them are satisfactory for the majority of the time. To repeat my main point briefly, we in Norfolk at one time had this same practice, but we decided to put a stop to it. I am sure that what we in Norfolk did about ten years ago, our friends in Scotland can do now in these enlightened days of 1959. Therefore, I support my hon. Friends from Scotland in this matter.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)
As a farmer and a Scot, I rise to defend myself against some of the remarks which have been made about this subject. My first point is that child labour for the gathering of potatoes is not cheap labour. Anybody who is under the impression that it is cheap simply does not know what he is talking about. It is very expensive labour.
I do not think that it ever did any child any harm physically. I gathered potatoes from the age of 8 until I was 15 and nobody would say that it has done me any harm. Educationally, however, it does harm the children. It is a bad thing and we should do all in our power to get this practice done away with. It is easy labour. In other words, it is on tap and farmers will use it if it is available. But it is not cheap labour, and it does not do the children any harm. I make those two points first.
As I have been quoted obliquely by some of my hon. Friends, I would like to correct them in some ways about the cost of using adult labour and to explain how we farmers could help by better organising the adult labour. Most of the gangs in which the school children 496 are used are mixed gangs of adults, male and female, and children, with the result that the gangs must work at the speed of the children. In consequence, the adult labour is to a great extent wasted.
Since 1946, I made up my mind to do away with all child labour for the gathering of potatoes and I have used nothing but adult labour. I have organised it in such a way that the adults earn big pay for the job. It costs me just a little less than if I were using the children. One might almost say that it costs the same, but it is done with fewer people who earn bigger money.
Scotland is now down to a potato acreage not much bigger than she had before the war. Before the war, we got our potatoes up without this legislation. The reason that we do not do so now is that we do not have the same amount of adult labour as before the war. The explanation is that, in many ways, people are better off. Therefore, bigger wages are needed and the work must be organised so as to give the people bigger wages if we are to use them. That is what I and a number of other farmers have done. We have organised our adult labour better and made better use of it. We no longer have mixed gangs, we pay our people piece-work rates and the job is organised in that way. We farmers could help to make fuller use of the adult labour that is available and make less use of the children.
I agree with what the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) said about the machines that are on the way and the fact that farmers are as enthusiastic as they can be when they come. That is something which I am bound to say, because I am chairman of the committee which is responsible for spending the Government money to help in the research work for this job. I cannot agree, therefore, with my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) that there is not enthusiasm for the job.
I disagree also with my hon. Friend about the Soviet machine. I have seen it in the Soviet Union. All the ideas that have been put forward about potato gathering have been built into one huge machine, which is almost the length of this Chamber, but the Russians admitted to me that so far they had never had it in the field. Our machines, which have been built to suit our small 497 farms, have come on very well in the last few years and I think that within the time mentioned by the chairman of the Potato Board, we will see this problem solved.
We have had the employment of school children for potato gathering since 1947 and I am afraid that we farmers have become accustomed to it. I agree that the practice should be done away with as soon as possible, but I ask for adequate warning to be given to enable farmers to reorganise themselves to do without this labour, which, I am sure, nobody on either side of the Committee desires.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield. East (Mr. Mackie) has informed the Committee that what we on this side have been saying for a long lime is quite practical and that if the farmers like properly to use the adult labour which is available and to study the economics and proper organisation of the job, they not only can lift the potato harvest, but they can do it more cheaply and leave the children at school. That is the case we have been making year after year. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) wants to make his maiden speech, I shall be glad to sit down, but he should not make his maiden speech while seated in his place.
What we are asking, very temperately, tonight is that if, because of inadequate preparation or inadequate warning of our Amendment, the Government cannot see their way to accept it now, the least they should do is to say that this practice of employing school children for the potato harvest will end next year, the year after or, probably, in a couple of years' time. That is a reasonable proposition.
This is the miracle-working Government. Only yesterday they told us that they would solve Scotland's unemployment in seven years. They have been tinkering with these matters without solving them for the whole of their eight years of office since 1951. How therefore, can we be confident that they can solve the question of not making our bag of chips dependent upon children who are deprived of their education by going into the fields? My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East says that it 498 never did him any harm. It is all very well for him to talk about what he did. When I was a boy, I used to deliver milk, not because I liked doing so. I do not suppose that it did me any harm, but I would not send my own two children out to do it. Which is the more important, the education and well-being of the children in the care of their teachers in school or the picking of the potato harvest? Let it be remembered that while the harvest was due for collection there were 80,000 people unemployed in Scotland.
The employment of school children for the harvest affects the education not only of those who gather the potatoes. What about the children who are left? If he has had any contact at all with teachers—the Committee knows that I was myself a schoolmaster—the Joint Under-Secretary will know only too well that if six people go out of a class for a fortnight, education stops for a fortnight, not for the six, but for the whole class. When those who have been absent come back they have to be brought up to the standard of the rest. There is a disturbance of education not only for the children directly affected but also for those who are being educated alongside them, and it is not merely a question of the 18,000 but also of all who should have been educated with them at the same time.
Things are bad enough in our junior secondary schools in the last year, since children who know they are to leave at the age of 16 are unsettled and it is difficult to organise a three-year course. To have this disturbed further by the will of the Secretary of State superimposed upon that of the local authorities, and to be asked to accept it tamely here year after year, is too much.
Then there is the question of the schools in the areas. I am sure the Joint Under-Secretary will agree with me that discipline is not always best maintained amongst the wandering gangs of potato pickers. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East referred to boys and girls gathering potatoes with adults. With all due respect, that is not always best for the children and there have been times when they have got out of hand. My hon. Friend should realise this in view of the amount of damage done and in view of the number of complaints from headmasters.
499 What happens is that the lorry picks them up, takes them to the fields and probably takes them to a school, to which they do not belong, where they get school milk. Has my hon. Friend no knowledge of the lack of discipline amongst these children? Does he remember a case in Aberdeen last year where a schoolmaster had occasion to discipline certain children who had been picking potatoes? The schoolmaster, exercising his right, talked to them. Half an hour later they were out in the street in the lorry and they shouted things at him. Like a good Scottish schoolmaster, he thought it was time to take action and, when he did so, he was summoned before a court and technically he was guilty of common assault.
How does the Minister think that the staffs in schools affected in this way feel about such a thing? How does he think the parents feel about it? This is not doing education any good from the point of view of the children, of their curricula or of the staff. I hope sincerely that the Minister will give us a better answer tonight than he has done in the past. I have the feeling that so long as the children are available and the Government are prepared to allow exemptions, so long will the farmers say that they cannot do without them. I hope that the Minister will change his mind about this and put the education of the children and the discipline in the schools first. 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak. I shall not be long. This debate brings back my old Ayr County Council days, because in the Labour group on that council we had decided and completely harmonious views about this matter. One of the most distasteful things that we had to do each year was to deal with the question of granting exemption to children so that our potatoes should be harvested. This always aroused a strong, sometimes bitter, controversy in the county council, and then when the matter was remitted for the exemptions to be made by the local education committee, again this distasteful task confronted us.
I shall deal with the point touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), because I paid 500 considerable attention to the matter when I was a member of that committee, and also as convenor of two schools in Ross and Ardrossan. I hope that the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie), who has come from Scotland to represent an English constituency, will pay some heed to my point.
We found that parents who were seeking the necessary documents for the exemption of their children were from the lowest income groups. At the time I was convinced that children going out into the potato harvesting field were hardly suitably clad to do the job because they wore the flimsiest of clothing. So I tried to get clothing issued which would be suitable for the inclement weather which can be experienced during potato harvesting. During the actual lifting the rain often stops, but there can be bitter winds in the bleak harvest field and I was not at all sure that this was the best place for our children.
I was buttressed in this opinion by the headmaster, who was utterly opposed to the practice. On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock, he said that when these children returned after three weeks, he had the alternative of taking the entire class back three weeks and starting over again, or of starting a new class for those who had been exempted for the potato harvesting. He said that because of the shortage of teachers he could not follow either course, and he maintained that until the end of the school life of that junior school at 15 years of age those children did not get any further education because they were trailing behind the class all the time, not being able to take in the education because of the period they had missed.
If we recognised that, in the main, it is the poorer homes from which the children are being recruited, we should have a better idea of how harmful is this practice. Just along the road from the junior secondary school of which I was convenor there was the Ardrossan Academy. No children from the Academy were recruited and they were much better clad. They would in many instances be better suited physically to do the work, and they would be of a higher age group; but they were not asked. I believe that the main cause 501 for the requests for exemption was economic difficulties in the home through unemployment, long terms of sickness, and so on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock elicited from the Minister of Labour last week the fact that there were more than 6,000 unemployed in Ayrshire. Is the Ayr County Education Committee, confronted with those figures, going to permit the use of child labour when more suitable labour could easily be recruited from the employment exchanges?
I think that we have now gone far enough in this matter. It is appalling to think that education committees which are appointed for the specific purpose of securing the best education they can for the children under their control are being turned into potato harvesting exemption committees. I agree that the potatoes must be lifted, but it is appalling that we should be asking education committees to help in this distasteful fashion. I am sure that they would all be very relieved if the Government could take the burden from them. It has been there far too long. If such notice were given, I am sure that alternative methods for harvesting potatoes would be undertaken by the farming community.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
The question has been asked once again, and answered in different directions, whether allowing children to be away from school for potato harvesting does them any harm. I have no doubt at all about it. Of course, it harms the children. I am sure that it does no harm to a great many children of farmers and farming folk, but I know that it does a great deal of harm to children from the housing schemes and towns and villages who are not accustomed to working in the countryside, and they are probably children from poor homes who are having the poorest education opportunities. It must do them harm to be taken away from school for three weeks.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and other hon. Members have said, it does great harm to the other children in the schools from which children are drawn for potato harvesting. I do not think the Joint Under-Secretary will deny that it does some harm, at least educationally, to 502 such children. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) is right when he says that it does consequential harm to children, particularly town children, to have this three weeks of freedom from school books, lessons and discipline. Surely, the Joint Under-Secretary will, in any case, say that he wants to end this system of recruiting children at the earliest possible moment and he wants to see the work undertaken by adults and mechanical harvesters used in it.
I think it is not inappropriate to consider for a moment the origin of the 1947 Act. The 1945 Act discontinued the practice of exempting children from school attendance for the purpose of engaging in gainful employment. The 1945 Act raised the school-leaving age to 15 and provided that from the date at which the leaving age was raised it would not be permissible for education authorities to exempt school children for work.
Before the war potato harvesting was undertaken by school children and by adult workers, mostly Irish. The school leaving age was raised in the spring of 1947. Then we all got a shock to discover that, although we had used very large numbers of children for this purpose in 1946, we could not use any children at all in 1947. Incidentally, there was a difference between the Scottish Act and the English Act. The Scottish Act was far too tightly drawn to allow any children at all to be used for this purpose, and so we had to bring in another Act of Parliament.
The Act was intended to deal with a situation very different from that which exists today. In the first place, the Secretary of State gave directions to the farmers about the potato acreage which they could plant. He had the job of procuring food supplies for the nation and he had to give directions to the farmers about the potato acreage. Thereby, as I think the Committee would agree, he had a responsibility for securing that the potatoes were harvested, and so he had to help the farmers obtain the labour.
Incidentally, as the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) knows very well, shortly after 1947—it was 1948 or 1949, but probably 1948—the farmers of Angus were very anxious that the directions should be discontinued. I was an Under-Secretary of State at the time, and 503 they told me that I was asking them to put far too large an acreage under potatoes and that all sorts of diseases were occurring because we were compelling them to plant too big an acreage. I learnt a lot about the eelworm pest among potatoes at that time. As a result of the agitation, we discontinued the directions. However, the following year the Angus farmers planted 1,500 acres more with potatoes than they had done when they were given directions.
There is another great difference in the situation. Then, a very large number of children had to be recruited for the job, and we had to have city children in very large numbers. I had the duty at the time of explaining to the education authorities in Scotland the responsibility of the Secretary of State not only for education, but for agriculture. Some members of education authorities very properly told me that the Secretary of State might be responsible for both education and agriculture but they were responsible only for education and they did not see why they should incur the odium of granting exemptions to children to pick the potatoes which the Secretary of State had directed should be grown.
It was in those circumstances that I undertook at that time that a Minister would assume responsibility for deciding how many children could be exempted, thus relieving education committees of the odium of making that decision. The position is very different now. We used to take thousands of children from the cities and billet them in the potato growing areas. That billeting has been discontinued. The number of children needed for this job has been reduced to a very small proportion of our school children.
Despite what was said by the hon. Member for South Angus, and even by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie), I have never been satisfied that farmers have done enough to get machines to do this job, or to get improved machines. I remember making a speech drawing the attention of the hon. Member for South Angus to the number of spin diggers still in operation in Angus because the farmers there would not invest in the kind of machines which I had seen being used by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East on 504 his farm. If my hon. Friend had continued to use spin diggers, which have now been used for twenty years, he would not have got the good results which he obtained from adult labour. I have no doubt that the fanners who are most dependent on children for potato harvesting are the farmers who are still using spin diggers.
§ Mr. Fraser
My hon. Friend did not use them last year. The farmers who are most dependent on school children for potato harvesting are the least progressive farmers. The most progressive farmers are those who do without the children. It is those progressive farmers who have reduced the number of children required from 50,000 to 10,000. It is not the most progressive but the least progressive farmers who need those 10,000.
If, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) suggested, we were to discontinue this legislation from an early date, if we were to permit the children to be employed on the potato harvest of 1960 but not 1961, I have no doubt that we would harvest all the potato crop in 1961 without children. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to say that this legislation will not be continued for another year and that we shall not see it appear in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill of next year.
My hon. Friends have made a generous offer. They have said that they will not press the Amendment to a Division tonight, and they have not asked that the children should not be available in 1960. They have asked that this should be the last time that this provision should appear. It should be remembered that when we introduced this legislation in 1947, we asked that it should be continued for only three years. We thought that in three years we would be able to do without the services of school children—at least, we thought that it was important that we should do without them at the earliest possible date.
In 1947, farmers told me that if only they could get a potato harvester costing between £600 and £800, they would gladly do without the children. There 505 has been a great change in the value of money since then, and if they were willing to spend £600 to £800 in 1947, they should be willing to spend between £1,200 and £1,400 now. However, although their incomes have risen tremendously since 1947, farmers are not willing to spend any more on a potato harvester today than they were prepared to spend in 1947. In view of the change in the value of money, that means that they are prepared to spend only half what they were prepared to pay twelve years ago. I do not want to make it necessary for farmers to indulge in gross extravagance in the purchase of mechanical harvesters, but I certainly deny the hon. Member for South Angus the right to stick to his figure of £600 over a period of twelve years.
I should like to make one other point to the Under-Secretary. If he cannot say to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East that this will be the last year of renewal of the Act let him say that he will not continue it without having an inquiry by an independent committee. I call his attention to the fact that before a Labour Government continued this Act we set up an independent Committee to inquire into this business so that we might have an objective examination of the position. Objective people would be able to consider the educational as well as the agricultural aspect and could examine the availability of adult labour to undertake the work and the practicability of getting mechanical harvesters in the future.
That Committee examined all those things and came to the view—I think it was in the year 1950—that we should need the services of children for another year or two, but that did not mean for another ten years. I cannot remember exactly what the Report said, and I wish I had remembered to look at it beforehand, but it certainly did not say that we should need them for another ten years. We needed them in the meantime and we got them in the meantime, but we ought not to do this any longer.
If the Under-Secretary says that this Act will not be written into the Bill next year, he will be giving the farmers warning now, in November, 1959, that they will not have the school children in October, 1961. They will have two years' warning and I think that is fair. 506 If he cannot give that assurance, I hope that at the very least he will say that before he asks Parliament to continue this Act again he will have the whole matter examined by an independent committee.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
We have had a very temperate and illuminating debate tonight. As was said by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), whom we are so glad has joined our debate today, it is now twelve years since the Labour Government brought in the Act of 1947 providing for the exemption of children over 13 from school attendance for potato lifting in Scotland. There has always been anxiety over the interruption of the children's education and that we all understand. We well understand, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay) said, that anxiety is apt to grow because of the growing inequalities between different districts. That is a point which the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M, Thomson) also raised.
We all understand these anxieties and we do the best we can to reduce them to the lowest possible levels. The hon. Member for Norfolk, S.W. (Mr. Hilton) said that his area had got rid of the practice of employing children on potato lifting years ago. That is true, but we ought to be quite certain that we are comparing like with like in these things. Circumstances are not entirely alike in his part of the world and in Scotland. Incidentally, when I was dealing with the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, I attended a demonstration of potato lifting machinery in his part of the world. The point is that in England farmers can be reasonably sure of a much longer lifting period; and the acreage is not proportionately so great as in Scotland. They also have a larger agricultural casual labour force.
I also understand the anxiety about possible differential treatment between junior secondary schools and senior secondary schools. It is very difficult to make proper comparisons in this matter, because the comprehensive schools also count as senior secondary schools. I can tell the Committee that of the total number of exemptions granted this year, which the hon. Member for Dundee, East correctly stated as being 10,858, junior 507 secondary schools accounted for 8,172 and senior secondary schools for 2,686, which is roughly 25 per cent. The figure has been running at about that rate for some time. So far as I know, there were none from grant-aided schools, because the cities in which such schools are mainly situated are now no longer contributing to potato lifting. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) is aware that children do not now go from Glasgow to lift potatoes.
We were very glad to welcome the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) to the debate. I listened with admiration to his maiden speech. I recall attending a demonstration on his farm of his methods of potato lifting and organising adult labour, when I was most hospitably received. In passing, I want to pay tribute to the work that he has done as chairman of the committee that has been advising the Department of Agriculture on agricultural machinery. He laid stress upon the fact that adequate warning should be given to farmers. We have always undertaken to give at least a year's warning before the present scheme is ended.
As the hon. Member for Dundee, East said, this is almost an annual event, and it is right to ensure that we are not continuing the Act unnecessarily. It is some years now since we began deliberately to reduce the exemptions, year by year. We have already made considerable progress with the reduction of the number of children exempted from school to assist in potato picking. This year, as I have said, about 10,800 exempted children were employed, which is about two-thirds of the number employed last year, and only one-quarter of the number employed in the peak year of 1949. The acreage under potatoes has decreased considerably since then, but in the last two years the curve has more or less flattened out. In fact, there has been a slight increase.
Admittedly, this year's exemptions were somewhat lower than we might have expected. They numbered nearly 12,000, but we were lucky with the weather and the harvest. In any case, there would have been a considerable reduction in comparison with the 16,234 exemptions granted last year. There have been reductions in every education authority 508 area and nine counties—including Ayrshire—in which children exempted last year were not called upon to provide any this year.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) gave a most interesting account of the demonstration held at Tealing this year. I join in the tribute he paid to both designers and developers.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson
Can the hon. Gentleman complete the statistical picture and tell us how the 10,000 is broken up between the authorities? Can he give us an estimate of the number of children who go into the potato fields in potato holidays, as distinct from being exempted from attending school?
§ Mr. Macpherson
I would give the hon. Member a very long list. Many education authorities provide children for the work. Perhaps he will allow me to give one or two examples, which have been particularly mentioned in the debate. In Fife, 5,494 exemptions were granted in 1958, but in 1959 the number was reduced to 3,182.
The number of days for which exemptions per child were granted was also reduced. That represents very considerable progress. In Lanarkshire there was a reduction in the number of exemptions granted from 1,048 in 1958 to 327 in 1959. We are running it down. I have not the figure here of the number who work during the special school holidays—some schools have four terms—but I shall be glad to provide the hon. Gentleman with that figure.
Although no machine has yet been developed which is capable of performing under all the wide variations of climate and soil experienced in Scotland, there has been a considerable advance over the last few years in both the efficiency and reliability of potato harvesting machines. That has been shown at annual demonstrations. There is now a fair selection of adequate harvesters available, at least for the more easily worked land, and more models are now going into production, as the hon. Member for Enfield, East knows.
It is reasonable to assume that this progress will be maintained and that, 509 provided that other circumstances such as the weather are not abnormal, we can continue to run down the scheme at about the present rate. Therefore we are now able to foresee the abolition of the exemption scheme within a reasonable time with a minimum disturbance to the farming industry.
Perhaps I might remind the Committee of what the hon. Member for Dundee, East said last yearIf he"—that is, me—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."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November. 1958; Vol. 595, c. 1464.]The Government recognise, as the hon. Member for Enfield, East said, that farmers need notice in advance to enable them to plan for the changed circumstances. With so much depending on the weather and the number of machines now being put on the market, it is felt that it would not be reasonable to give less than three years' notice of the discontinuance of the scheme. We feel that we are now in a position to do so.
Accordingly, I can tell the Committee that we propose to seek the approval of Parliament to the re-enactment of this Measure now and for the next two years—that is, for the next three harvests—but not after the 1962 harvest. After 1962. it will still be open to education authorities, as it is at present through the system of staggered holidays practised in Perth, Angus and Kincardine, to arrange their school terms so as to allow school children to take part in potato harvesting during their holidays.
As I said in last year's debate to the hon. Member for Dundee East that is a matter entirely for the local authorities to decide. It is for them, rather than for him or for me, to decide which is the best way of dealing with this, but I have no reason to suppose that those authorities which at present grant separate holidays will discontinue the arrangement after the termination of the exemption scheme if they consider that to continue it would be in the best interests of the agriculture of the area and would not affect education to any serious extent.
With that assurance and the certainty of the ending of the scheme within a 510 measurable time, running down from the notified exemptions of roughly 12,000 at the rate of about 5,000 a year over the next three years, we hope to end the scheme in 1962. On that understanding, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for replying so precisely. It makes us feel that the debate has been well worth while. He will understand, however, that my hon. Friends and I are rather disappointed that he has not been able to set an earlier date. I proposed a continuance of the scheme for one more year, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) suggested that two further years might be reasonable. The Minister has suggested three years. That is a little longer than we would have expected, but I must say that we are very happy indeed—at long last, and after many years of debate—to have got the Government to commit themselves to a final date for finishing the scheme.
Therefore, in the light of the Minister's statement, for which we are grateful. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, Southwest)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 40 to 48.
This part of the Schedule relates to the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, which applies to England and Wales but not to Scotland for which there is a separate Act. The Act was to continue in force until 31st December, 1947, but since that year the Government of the day have found it necessary to ask for it to be continued from year to year.
During the immediate post-war years, following the loss of housing accommodation by enemy action and the then lack of building, there were probably very good reasons for the Act to be continued in order to protect those people who had to live in furnished accommodation. However, judging by the statements of Government spokesmen over the last three or four years, one would have thought that the housing problem was largely solved and that it would be unnecessary now to continue this Measure.
During the lifetime of the last Government, we were told repeatedly by the 511 Minister of Housing and Local Government, and categorically by the present Parliamentary Secretary's predecessor, that the housing problem would be—I think the expression was "in equation". One wonders, therefore, why the Government should again ask for a continuation. If the Government's claim were true, it would be no longer necessary for large numbers of people to continue to occupy this type of accommodation, as they could get vacant accommodation and furnish it for themselves. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will do his best to explain why, in the opinion of the Government, this Act should continue.
Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will give the Committee the up-to-date facts and figures relating to the working of the Act and of the tribunals. We are able to get some figures from the annual reports of the Ministry, but they are out-of-date by the time we come to consider the renewal of this Act. I therefore hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us up-to-date information about the number of tribunals and the amount of work which they are now doing.
So far as I can make out, there has been a considerable run-down in the number of rent tribunals. I believe that in 1953 there were 65 and that in 1957 the number had dropped to 60. The last figure that I have was given to the House a year ago by the then Parliamentary Secretary. It was for November, 1958, when we were told the number of tribunals was 48. We know that the Government have been following a policy of reducing the number of tribunals and that they have amalgamated tribunals in order to achieve this reduction. I should be glad if the Minister could tell us whether that policy has been carried any further, whether there have been more reductions and, if so, exactly in what parts of the country those reductions have taken place.
As to the number of cases that the tribunals are handling, the report of the Ministry gives us the precise figures as at the end of 1958, almost a year ago. We see from the annual report of the Ministry that a year ago the number of cases being dealt with by the tribunals was near enough the same number as were handled in the previous year. 512 Between 1957 and 1958 there appeared to be no sharp decline in the general level of work undertaken by the tribunals. It would be interesting if the Parliamentary Secretary could give the figure, say, for the period up to the end of the third quarter of this year, and, on the basis of that figure, give some estimate of the total number of cases that the tribunals are likely to handle in this current year. If the Parliamentary Secretary, either now or in correspondence, could give figures relating to the various areas of the country, it would be useful in our consideration of the Act. Of course, I am particularly interested in the Islington tribunal which covers a large part of North London.
I wish to refer to a particular aspect of the work of the tribunals. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with the change in the work performed by the tribunals arising from the passing of the Rent Act in 1957. Before the passing of that Act it was not obligatory on a landlord of furnished accommodation to give his tenant a rent book, but there was one hopeful aspect of the Rent Act which laid down that the landlord of furnished accommodation was obliged to give his tenant a rent book. We had agitated for this for some time, and the Government inserted that provision in the Rent Act which did, apparently, make the decisions of rent tribunals enforceable.
Prior to that provision in the Rent Act, it had been found almost impossible to enforce the decisions of rent tribunals. The enforcing authority is, of course, the local authority. Only the local authority can take action in the courts to enforce the decision of a rent tribunal. Before the 1957 Act, local authorities had no reliable evidence about the evasion of decisions by rent tribunals and it was very difficult for them to take offenders to court.
We thought that, following that new provision requiring every landlord of furnished accommodation to provide the tenant with a rent book, matters would be very much easier. I regret that I have no reliable or comprehensive information about the situation since. Here again, perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary could help us about what has 513 happened since the provision of a rent book to the tenant of furnished accommodation has been compulsory. My information is rather sketchy. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us something more factual and comprehensive about how the decisions of rent tribunals are now being enforced.
My impression is that, although some landlords are providing rent books to their tenants, they are not, in many cases, even where they provide rent books, inserting the necessary information which can enable a local authority to trace who the landlord is and thus be able to enforce the decision of a tribunal if the landlord has failed to comply. Apparently, landlords in certain cases fail to insert their own names and addresses, and local authorities are again put in a difficulty.
I hope that I have not asked too much of the Parliamentary Secretary. I have asked for information on several matters. I am sure that he will do his best, but, if it happens that he is not suitably informed at the moment to give us an answer, I hope he will send the information through the post to me and to other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Janner
In this case, as in the case of a previous Amendment, it is quite obvious that the purpose of raising the matter is not to dispense with the particular Act but to elicit information and, perhaps, to offer certain criticisms of the Act itself.
Before I go further, I should like to compliment the Government on their choice of Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry. If I may say so, they have, in their difficulties, chosen someone who, I am quite sure, will be able to help them out and, I hope, will be able to assist us in finding some remedy for the difficulties and tangled problems which have arisen as a consequence of the removal of the Rent Restriction Acts by the Rent Act of 1957.
It will be interesting to see the reaction of the Government to my hon. Friend's proposals. If they say, as I assume they will say, that they must retain the Act, I am afraid that that will be an admission by them that my hon. Friend's contentions are correct. For example, my hon. Friend referred to retention of rent tribunals, which we have always felt were a necessary asset in the protection 514 of tenants. I suppose that their retention will be advocated by the Government, and perhaps they will use that as a stepping stone towards increasing the powers of tribunals. I think that the tribunals have played a remarkably useful part in giving security to tenants, and I felt it a shame that the Government would not accept the principle of tribunals fixing rents for houses generally, thus retaining a roof over the heads of many people. That is a matter m respect of which the Parliamentary Secretary faces a difficult task.
It is obvious today that there is still a great need for a check to be kept upon the rents charged by some landlords. We on this side have never contended—and it is worth while to point this out again and again—that we have a complaint against all landlords. What we have always said is that there are some landlords whose activities should be carefully watched, and if it is found that their activities are wrong they should be curtailed.
I do not think it would be fair of me to ask in a maiden speech from the Dispatch Box for a lot of replies, but I should like to know what steps are taken to make the public acquainted with the provisions of the Act so that if they are affected they may have recourse to the tribunals. Our great difficulty always was that, in spite of the provisions of the Rent Restriction Acts, many people did not know their rights. As a matter of fact, it will be remembered that time after time emphasis was placed on the fact that there was in the Rent Restriction Acts a provision that local authorities should ensure that the rights of tenants under the legislation were know to the tenants themselves. If tenants had exercised their rights under the Acts which have been destroyed by the Government vast sums of money which had been overpaid would have been recovered.
We are now placed in the difficult position of being without the protection afforded by the Rent Restriction Acts. It may be that one day the ends will be tied together when a Labour Government is in office, but it will be a difficult job after years of tangled conditions in respect of the rights of tenants I should like to know what is done to publicise the fact that tenants who are being overcharged have a remedy. I do not know whether 515 the Parliamentary Secretary has had an opportunity to get that information. If we cannot have it now, I hope that we shall have it at some time, but it is important that tenants should know their rights so that they may take advantage of the remedy available to them in respect of excessive charges.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Sir Keith Joseph)
I should like, first, to thank the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) for his courtesy to me personally. Both he and the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) have asked a number of questions which I will try to answer. First, however—and I think that I speak for both sides of the Committee—I would like to pay a tribute to the chairmen and members of the rent tribunals, which are the subject of this discussion. Hon. Members, on both sides, know of the care, impartiality and diligence with which they discharge their duties and it is proper for us here to acknowledge their services.
I will now try to address myself to the questions which I have been asked. First, of course, despite the great progress made under this Government, there is still a housing problem in the large centres of population. The two hon. Members who have spoken will know that the rent tribunals no longer deal with all furnished accommodation, but only with furnished accommodation of a rateable value falling below the value at which decontrol has occurred. This is also of great help in securing just that mobility of labour which, as we heard in yesterday's debate, the country has always had and must continue to make possible for the population. So much for the need for the tribunals.
On the more detailed questions, my predecessor last year said that there were then 48 tribunals, but he announced the intention to reduce the number by one. That reduction has occurred. The work of the Colchester tribunal has now been divided between the neighbouring tribunals of Norwich and Southend. Thus, the number of tribunals, which last year was 48, has now fallen to 47. The number of cases, too, has fallen slightly, from 4,800 in the year ended June, 1958, to 4,633 in the year ended June, 1959. I 516 do not have with me detailed figures for Islington, but I will, if I may, send them to the hon. Member for Islington, Southwest as soon as I can.
The hon. Member asked about rent books. He is quite right. The Rent Act provided that it should be an offence for a landlord not to supply a rent book and not to give certain information in that rent book. I cannot, at this short notice, give the hon. Member statistics about prosecutions. My impression is that there have been very few. Again, I will find out this information and send it to the hon. Member, unless he likes to put down a Question.
Concerning publicity, to which the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West referred, I should have thought that there was ample local publicity in local newspapers. Certainly, bodies such as the Citizens' Advice Bureau are well informed about the work of rent tribunals. I will, however, look into this question and consider whether anything more might be necessary.
There is one question that I was not asked, but I am sure that it will interest the Committee to know that, while the estimate of cost for 1959–60 was £93,000, we are this year combining service to the public in maintaining the number of tribunals with service to the taxpayer by reducing the cost and we expect the cost to fall by £2,000 to about £91,000. I hope that I have now covered all the questions I was asked and that I have managed to satisfy the hon. Members who asked them.
§ Mr. A. Evans
In view of the reply given by the Parliamentary Secretary, whom I thank for the attention which he has given to my questions, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 50 and 51.
So far today we have been discussing matters that have been raised every year for a number of years, but it is some time since we had a discussion on the issues that are raised in this Amendment. Part II of the Licensing Act, 1953, re-enacted the war-time legislation which dealt with licensing problems in what are described as war damaged areas. The unwelcome visitations of 517 enemy aircraft destroyed a number of licensed houses, wrecked others, and also, unfortunately, destroyed and wrecked the houses of their customers.
In the schemes for rebuilding the towns and cities where this damage occurred the Coalition Government enacted the legislation which is now Part II of the consolidating Licensing Act, 1953. It provided for what were called licensing planning committees half the members of which consisted of members of the local planning authorities and half of members of the local licensing bench, presided over by chairmen appointed by the Secretary of State. A chairman had a casting vote in the event of an equality of votes. He had no first vote, but if the two sides divided equally he was then given a casting vote.
I do not think we have had any report on the progress which these committees have made with the task which was committed to them. I think it is about time that we heard what the view of the Department and of the Secretary of State is about the way in which these duties have been discharged and the results which the committees have managed to achieve.
During the time that I was responsible for the administration of the law my chief difficulty was to find suitable chairmen, and I should like to know what is the present position of the chairmanship of these committees. Chairmen were apt to take on the job and then, after a very short experience, ask to be relieved of what they had undertaken. Of course, it is very desirable in a service like this that the chairmanship of a committee should be reasonably continuous so that a settled policy can be arranged.
One of the difficulties which troubled the committees in their earliest days was the problem of the house which had been so completely destroyed, or nearly completely destroyed, as to be unusable, and the possible effect of the lack of use on the continued existence of the licence for the premises and site. There was a special clause in the law, which still remains as a Section of the Act, dealing with the provision of temporary licences. Is the Joint Under-Secretary of State in a position to say how many of these temporary licences have now become permanent through the re-erection of the 518 house which was destroyed or by the removal of the licence to some other site?
I see my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) here. He will recollect that in South Shields there was one house which apparently disappeared in the market place, but which in some remarkable way, with no licence ever being granted for rebuilding or for the use of materials, mysteriously during successive nights managed to get back into a condition of affairs in which liquid refreshment could be comfortably consumed on the premises, and no question of a temporary licence therefore arose in that case. There were other cases where, for one reason or another, temporary licences had to be granted, and I should like to know how far those provisions still remain in working order in the areas in which the temporary licences were granted.
I think that the licensing planning provision, by and large, has worked well, and in the lay-out of rebuilt towns which in some cases, as in the case of my own constituency, now include an added area to deal with housing estates, the distribution of licences in proportion to the population has been considerably improved by this method of dealing with the matter. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether any consideration has been given to the extension of some similar provision with regard to the large housing estates which have been built on the surroundings of the old towns where the population which used to be in the centre of the town has been moved out and the requirement for licences in the old part of the town has decreased.
One of the difficulties in the areas not subject to licensing planning has been the fact that in a very large number of cases the new populations have been inadequately served in the grant of licences in their area. Of course, if we take the whole of an urban district or borough and take all the old licences and add them in and then divide the population by the number of licences granted, it is very difficult to say from the average that new licences are required.
As chairman of a licensing bench I was faced with a similar problem that arises from the amalgamation of breweries whereby houses very close to one another and formerly in the hands of two brewers. 519 now belong to one brewer, owing to the amalgamation, and where with the reduction in the general consumption of alcoholic liquor it is very doubtful whether the continuance of both can be justified. We had two cases where there were four houses, two pairs which now belong to the same brewers, and where there was not a sufficient trade for one of the licensees to be a full-time licensee. He had another employment from which he expected to get his living and run the pub as a sideline.
It seems to me that it might be helpful if, in view of the success that, I think, has attended the work of the licensing planning committees and in view of the large shift in population that has now taken place in practically every technical urban district in the country, this principle could be introduced into some amending law which would enable licensing justices to consider every area as a whole and, possibly, in conjunction with the town planning committee, do something to see that the distribution of licences is more in accordance with real modern needs than the actual facts at the moment show to be the case.
This is the first time that we have had a discussion on this Measure. As far as I know, it appears to be working well and I think that the general acceptance of the principle by the people in the licensing and planning areas should encourage the Minister to consider whether the general application of this principle over a wider area than that over which it at present operates might not be to the general advantage.
I realise that to ask for detailed statistics of this matter this year would be unfair to the right hon. Gentleman. I should be grateful for such statistics as he can produce, and I hope that he will not apologise to the Committee for giving the figures to us. I trust that if we have a similar discussion next year we shall be able to have a general survey of the situation which will enable the right hon. Gentleman to give a fully detailed reply.
Finally, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is likely that any of these licensing and planning areas will be regarded in the near future as having fulfilled the purposes for which this peculiar arrangement was set up. 520 If so. what provisions will be made for the future licensing of houses in any areas which may be removed from control under this part of the Licensing Act?
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dennis Vosper)
I am a little diffident in answering the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) because if anybody in the Committee has expert knowledge of this subject it is the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Vosper
Indeed, I found when studying the papers in connection with the Act that one of the amending Acts, now consolidated, is known to the Home Office as the "Ede Amendment Act". As the right hon. Gentleman has said, this matter results from the Licensing Planning Act, 1945, which has been consolidated in the Licensing Act, 1953. He has quite correctly explained the purpose of this machinery, which is to co-ordinate the functions of licensing justices and local planning authorities in the redistribution of licensed premises in war-damaged areas.
Those last words are important. The original Act of 1945 was, of course, due to expire in 1951, but experience showed that there was a continuing need, and arrangements have been made for it to continue in force on an annual basis under Expiring Laws Continuance Acts. I say that because no doubt in 1945 il was thought that this purpose could be achieved in a shorter period of time than has proved to be the case.
The arrangements—and I say this for the record—are that the Home Secretary was able to constitute an area where there was extensive war damage as a licensing planning area, and in each of those areas a licensing planning committee was set up composed, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, of equal numbers of representatives chosen by the licensing justices and by the local planning authority, the chairmen being appointed by the Home Secretary. I am advised that in recent years, at any rate, there has been no difficulty in finding chairmen for these committees. I can 521 only assume, therefore, that possibly the work of the committees has been somewhat easier and there has been less of a tendency to change chairmen.
Provision was also made for the inclusion in these areas of overspill or reception areas to which a substantial transfer of population from the licensing planning area was expected. The function of these joint committees is to secure after full consultation, that the number, nature and distribution of licensed premises accord with local requirements, having regard in particular to actual or proposed redevelopment. All this is familiar to the right hon. Member for South Shields, but it is just as well to place on record the existing machinery.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me two things apart from the difficulty of finding chairmen. In the first place he asked me to give a progress report of work done under the Act, and he was right in suggesting that it has not been debated in this Committee in recent years. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that much of the information is kept by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and I have been able to obtain some statistics from him.
Originally 33 licensing planning areas were set up under the Act. However, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Act provides that after consultation with the licensing planning committee my right hon. Friend can revoke his designation of an area as a licensing planning area if satisfied that there is no longer any need for special licensing planning machinery in that area. In fact during the last five years there have been five such revocation orders made. In the first eight years of the Act no revocation orders were made. It may interest the right hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members to know that these are in Wallasey, Birkenhead, Bath, Lowestoft and Exeter, the last named being made only three months ago. That leaves us with 28 areas, and in addition there are the 11 overspill areas in the neighbourhood of London and 10 in the provinces which are associated with main areas.
During the last three years my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and 522 Local Government has received 150 proposals for the removal of licences, of which 143 have been confirmed, 2 refused and 5 are at present under consideration. During the same period 67 licences have, by agreement, been surrendered or extinguished in licensing planning areas. I have no information about the number of licences granted for temporary premises. The committees can authorise these without reference to the Minister, but presumably some of the removals I have mentioned have replaced temporary licences. It may interest the right hon. Gentleman to know that in South Shields in the past three years 10 removals have been applied for and confirmed and 4 licences have been surrendered or extinguished.
There is no doubt, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that the machinery has worked well and will obviously continue to do so in the foreseeable future. As I said at the beginning of my speech, no doubt fourteen years ago, when the Act was introduced into the House, it was expected that it would have come to an end by now. The fact is that redevelopment has been a more involved and lengthy process than was then envisaged, and in most of the remaining 28 areas there remains a considerable amount of work to be done. During this period it seems essential that this joint effort, for that is what it is, between the planning authority and the licensing justices should continue in force.
On the other hand, the machinery was always envisaged as being of a temporary nature. Hence the reason for the debate on this Measure, and I should think that in some areas the time has come when we should examine carefully how much longer the need will continue. This is in reply to the right hon. Gentleman's point as to whether my right hon. Friend has need to look at some of the areas. Five Orders have been revoked and the time has come when I think consideration should be given to some of the others.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to suggest that this machinery should be extended to those areas being redeveloped on account of demolition, slum clearance or other development of city and town centres, or—at least, I understood it to be his suggestion—development not associated with extensive war damage.
523 I can understand this approach, because in many towns today, particularly the one I represent, the work of peacetime development is overtaking war damage work, and it seems at first sight somewhat illogical that these joint committees should apply only to what is in effect a diminishing problem, that of war damage, and not to the growing problem which faces us today in general redevelopment.
Having had intimation that the right hon. Gentleman would raise the point, I have given a little thought to it, and I would say that if we are to accept his suggestion, it would be a matter not for temporary legislation but for some permanent legislation on another occasion, because we should be increasing and extending the work of what was originally purely a post-war and temporary Measure, for licensing planning is at present confined to areas which have suffered war damage. The number of areas is limited, and my right hon. Friend cannot designate further areas under the Act as it now stands. On the contrary, as time passes, and for reasons which I have put forward, I think that more and more revocation Orders are likely to be made.
On the other hand, the areas which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind are much more numerous and, presumably, will increase during the next few years. If we are to apply licensing planning to these areas, it would mean extending it over a substantial and, I think, increasing part of the country. It would mean that in these areas the licensing laws would thus become different for a considerable time from those in the rest of the country under Part I of the Licensing Act, 1953.
I think this is a matter which affects not only licensing justices but local authority associations, such as the one of which I think the right hon. Gentleman remains President. It is open to these bodies to express their views upon the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, and no doubt his words will come to their attention. For my part, and for that of my right hon. Friend, I intend to examine particularly the need for the existence of joint committees in those areas where I would have thought war damage was a thing of the past. At the same time, following the right hon. 524 Gentleman's suggestion, I shall be interested to see any representations along the lines the right hon. Gentleman has indicated tonight.
During the lifetime of this Parliament, although not in this Session, there will be opportunity for examining the provisions of the licensing laws, and no doubt any desirable change could be undertaken on that occasion.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has performed a useful service tonight in raising this subject, which, I think, needs to be ventilated, and it will give my right hon. Friend a chance to examine some of the original areas under the present legislation and those interested in the subject a chance to express their views upon the possible extension which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested.
§ Mr. Ede
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the courtesy and lucidity of his reply to the remarks which I made, and I particularly welcome what he said at the end, that when the licensing legislation that we are promised is brought before us in this Parliament consideration of the points which have been raised tonight will not be lost sight of. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Preamble agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time and passed.