HC Deb 17 November 1959 vol 613 cc1121-30

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Brooman- White.]

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Norman Pannell (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

I am very grateful for this opportunity to raise the question of immigration from the Commonwealth, although in so doing I am conscious of some disability, in that I would be transgressing the rules of order were I to suggest any amendment to existing legislation. I shall sternly resist that temptation, and confine myself to comments on the law as it stands, and make certain suggestions regarding the application of the law. I also wish to point out certain anomalies that I believe have recently crept into that application.

As I understand the position, any citizen of a Commonwealth country or a citizen of the United Kingdom and the Colonies has the undisputed right to enter this country and, on entry, to enjoy all the rights, privileges and immunities of a British citizen. There is no limitation in that respect at all. Should the immigrant be diseased, illiterate, destitute or have a criminal record, he cannot be denied entry.

If he has not a job to go to he can seek, and obtain, National Assistance for an indefinite period. However he may transgress our laws or abuse our hospitality he cannot be deported; and after a short qualifying period of residence he is put on the register of voters and can vote in municipal and Parliamentary elections. Indeed, he can, if he so wishes, stand for election to municipalities or to Parliament. That, I understand, is the law.

In justification of this policy it has been claimed that the United Kingdom is the mother country of all the countries of the Commonwealth, not only those inhabited by people of British stock, whose ancestors originally lived here, but of countries with an alien culture, whose inhabitants, in the main, have no knowledge of English, and whose only knowledge of this country is derived from exaggerated reports of the benefits to be gained by residing here.

As a result of this policy, about 200,000 immigrants from the Commonwealth and Colonies have entered this country during the last ten years. Most have been coloured—but I do not suggest that that is any drawback—and most of them have been well behaved. Certainly, some difficulties have arisen over the large numbers that have entered, and anxiety has been expressed by the Home Office on this account from time to time. I will, however, refer to that aspect of the matter at a later stage.

There is one safeguard that has always been applied. It has always been necessary for any immigrant from the Commonwealth to prove that he is a citizen of the Commonwealth, and the easiest, the most convenient and the usual way of proving his identity has been the production of a British passport issued by the authorities in the country from which he has come. That has been some safeguard, because there has been some difficulty in obtaining passports in some countries.

We now face quite a different situation. In the debate that took place on Wednesday last, my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State stated that a passport was not the only document that could establish identity. He said that the Order governing these matters referred to passports or other documents, and that there were certain travel documents other than passports that could be accepted in proof of identity. He did not specify what sort of document he would accept, but when he replies he will, perhaps, let me know what those documents are. This is a very important matter. A principle is involved, and certain grave implications may result from the change of practice in this respect.

The remarks of my hon. and learned Friend were prompted by the arrival in this country some weeks ago of a number of immigrants from India. They arrived by air with forged passports. They were, as I understand, for the most part illiterate and without means. Because they had no passports, or no regular passports, they were refused entry to this country. A number of them were lodged in prison. Eventually, discussions took place with the High Commissioner for India, as a result of which it was established that one of the immigrants was a Citizen of India and another a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. Those two were admitted, but the other 52 were repatriated to India by air, at a cost to the British Treasury of £3,850, or £74 a head.

Several questions arise as a result of this incident. In the first place, I think that the natural question to ask is: if the Indian Government agreed to the repatriation of these would-be immigrants to India they were presumably accepted by the High Commissioner as Indian subjects and if they were, in fact, Indian subjects why were they not admitted to this country as immigrants?

The next question is: on what evidence were the two who were admitted so admitted? What documents did they produce to prove their identity? The third question is: why should the British Government pay for the cost of repatriation? One would have thought that since these immigrants arrived here illegally by an evasion of Indian regulations the responsibility, if it was a Government responsibility, should fall on the Government of India and not on the Government of this country.

I consider these to be important questions, because if we are now to abandon officially the policy of insisting on a passport for entry into this country of any citizen from the Commonwealth or Colonies we may expect a very big influx of Commonwealth citizens who are not furnished with passports. If I may cite a case coming from near my constituency, a few months ago 100 seamen in dispute with their employers left a ship that had arrived from West Africa and a difficult situation arose in that they had not passports and were loose in the City of Liverpool. Discussions took place with the Home Office and, as a result, the shipping company repatriated these seamen to Nigeria at its own expense.

That expense was very considerable, but I understand that it is in conformity with the law for the carrying company to pay the cost of repatriation. If that is so, why was not the carrying company required to bear the cost of repatriating the Indians who were recently repatriated?

If we are to accept as a precedent that the British Government are responsible for repatriating would-be immigrants who arrive here illegally from the Commonwealth, then a very expensive precedent has been created, and I think that the matter deserves very serious consideration.

The next question that I should like to ask is: how did these Indian immigrants get here? I pay tribute to the Indian Government for the efforts that they have made to restrict emigration to this country. It was stated by an Indian official in September, 1958, that for the previous three years the Indian Government had done their best to discourage emigration to this country. They insisted on regular passports issued only after a literacy test and an examination proving the good health of the would-be emigrant. They insisted, also, upon a financial guarantee of 1,500 rupees, roughly £112. But although this Indian official said that these restrictions had been applied in that manner the number of emigrants from India in the three years preceding 1958 had been 5,100 in 1955, 5,600 in 1956, and 6,600 in 1957.

Are we to suppose that all those immigrants conformed with those regulations introduced by the Indian Government, and that they all came here after giving to the Indian Government a financial guarantee of 1,500 rupees? It is quite clear that, although these restrictions have been introduced by the Indian Government, they have been flagrantly abused. There is a clear example of that, I think, in the case of the 54 Indians who recently attempted to enter this country.

It is quite obvious that, in regard to passports, the Indian emigration authorities were duped: the passports were forged, and the authorities did not detect the forgery. But why were those people allowed to leave India without a financial guarantee, the main purpose of which is to provide for repatriation? The British Government would then have been put to no expense, but would have taken that guarantee money in order to repatriate them.

This is a subject which concerns not only India but every country in the Commonwealth. Until now, there has been a restriction on emigration through the need to be in possession of a valid passport. Now that necessity has

apparently gone, since my hon. and learned Friend has stated that other documents will be accepted as proof of identity. There are thousands of British Commonwealth seamen on ships which touch United Kingdom ports, and, in future, there will be nothing to prevent their walking ashore and, provided that they establish their identity as British Commonwealth citizens, they will be able to enter this country and settle here if they wish.

Even in the case of India, although we are told now that the restrictions are being strengthened and that greater vigilance is to be exercised at seaports and airports, there will still be ways of evading the regulations. It will only be necessary for the would-be emigrant to travel a few hundred miles from India, and, once he is outside the jurisdiction of that country, he will be able to secure transport to this country. If he can then prove his identity as an Indian citizen, there will be no option but to admit him.

Some years ago the Home Office became anxious, as I said, about the situation developing in this country as a result of unrestricted immigration from the Commonwealth. It endeavoured to make arrangements with Commonwealth countries for some restriction to be imposed. Those efforts met with some success, but I submit that, in every case, the restrictions which those Commonwealth countries agreed to impose were, as in India, dependent on the issue of passports. Thus, we have a new situation arising if we are now to extend the privilege of entry into this country to those who can merely prove their identity as citizens of a Commonwealth country. If they can produce a certificate or identity card furnished in their own country of residence, we shall have no option but to accept them here as bona fide immigrants.

We can, I think, as a result expect an increasing flow of immigrants into this country—immigrants without means, destitute and perhaps in bad health. A serious situation has developed as a result of the recent decision of the Home Office, and I ask my hon. and learned Friend to let me know how his Department intends to deal with it.

10.45 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell) has raised a broad issue and a number of particular questions which fall within it. I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to deal at length with this very important broad issue, a very fundamental one, but I would simply remind him that under our law every British subject or Commonwealth citizen who satisfies the immigration officer of his British nationality is entitled to come to this country and to stay here, and to stay here as long as he wishes.

To alter this position, legislation would be required, which it would be out of order to discuss on this occasion, and Her Majesty's Government would, in any event, be reluctant to depart from the traditional position of our country as the centre of the Commonwealth in which all Commonwealth citizens are free to enter.

Dealing with the more particular matters raised by my hon. Friend, he asked me how it happened that the Indian Government agreed to repatriate these people when they could not regard them as Indian citizens. Perhaps before I deal with that I should answer his second question, which is: on what documentary evidence could these people—who had undoubtedly come from India, as it turned out—be admitted? I think that my hon. Friend has had in mind, both during his recent Questions on this matter and in his speech tonight, a batch of 37 passengers who were refused leave to land on 24th October. They—like all other people who come here, and of whatever nationality—were asked—as has to be asked under Article 7 of the Aliens Order—to establish their identity and nationality. This they must do in every case, either by furnishing a valid passport with a photograph, or else by means of some other document satisfactorily establishing identity and nationality.

The other documents which can be produced are. of course, of quite considerable variety. It is for the immigration officer in each case to decide, in accordance with the Order, whether the other document complies with the Order. If I may give an example of the sort of other document which frequently is found to comply with the Order, not necessarily only in the case of Commonwealth citizens but in the case of others, I would refer to the travel document which is issued by us and by other countries to Stateless people. In two particular cases, on the occasion on 24th October, difficulty of proof of nationality was eventually overcome.

Mr. N. Pannell

Would a document proving that a person is a Stateless person give him a right to enter this country as an emigrant from the Colonies and Commonwealth?

Mr. Renton

No, Sir; it would not.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)rose

Mr. Renton

Might I deal with one point at a time?

My hon. Friend asked what sort of document is relevant as an alternative to a passport to prove identity and nationality. I gave as an example of the type of document—not necessarily in the case of Commonwealth citizens, but in the case of anybody—the special types of travel documents which are issued by the Home or Foreign Offices of our and other countries. It so happens that travel documents are issued by us more to Stateless persons than to other people. We happen generally to issue passports, but sometimes countries issue travel documents to their own nationals.

Mr. Dugdale

The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell) talked of tests of literacy and of means. I want to be quite certain, as I think is the case, that there is no question of either a literacy test or a test of means.

Mr. Renton

There is no test either of literacy or means.

I was about to mention the two cases where the lack of a passport was a difficulty which was overcome. In one case the man said that the passport was in his baggage. He was detained on shore in custody until his baggage was produced, which was not for some time afterwards, and the passport was found in his baggage. My hon. Friend might rightly say that that was not a true example, but that is what happened in the case he had in mind.

The other person concerned presented a forged Indian passport, which was patently forged, and claimed that he was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, having been registered as such the last time he was residing in this country. We made inquiries and, from the particulars which he gave of himself, we were able to identify him conclusively as the person to whom the passport had been issued. He was, therefore, acceptable by us as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and allowed to land.

The remainder of the party was, as my hon. Friend rightly said, returned to India. It is a fact that the Indian Government were not prepared to accept them as Indian citizens, but they were prepared to admit them to India because it was quite plain from the travel arrangements which they had made to get to this country, via Genoa in Italy, that they had, in fact, come from India.

My hon. Friend asked why the cost of returning these people to India was not borne by the Government of India. That cost was borne by public funds of this country as a somewhat unusual expedient and because of the special circumstances of the case. Normally, a traveller who arrives in this country without any document establishing his identity as a British subject, and unable to convince the immigration officer of his status, is returned by ship or aircraft, the same one in which he came, or, at any rate, one belonging to the company or organisation which owned the ship or aircraft in which he came. The expense is normally borne by the carrying company.

The recent case related to Indians who had travelled overland through Italy; most of them had been sent back to France and then returned by the French Government again to this country. Some time was taken up in trying to establish their identity and nationality, and when those efforts failed to yield any positive result it was decided that they must go back to the country from which they had come, namely, India. It was found that the only means of ensuring their early departure was to charter a special aircraft. Although the Government of India expressed their willingness to receive them back into India, they were not prepared, on the information available, to regard them as citizens of India.

Therefore, there was no ground for suggesting that that Government should pay for the cost of their return to India. We were, therefore, faced with the alternative of letting these people stay here although their nationality had not been proved, or of paying for them to be sent back to India, and we chose the latter course.

As I say, it was an exceptional case.

Mr. N. Pannell


Mr. Renton

I have little time in which to answer the points already made. I am doing my best.

My hon. Friend asked how these Indians got here and I have told him, broadly, how. I do not think that I should enter into too much detail, because Her Majesty's Government have no responsibility for answering for the way in which people come here. All that we are answerable for is what happens to them when they arrive. We are answerable for the question of their admission. Whether they have a right to admission is something they have to establish, but once that right is established we have no alternative but to admit them. If they fail to establish their right to come and stay here it is Her Majesty's Government's duty to see that they do not remain, and to arrange for their return to the country from which they came.

My hon. Friend says that we must expect an ever-increasing flow of immigrants from the Commonwealth. That is a matter upon which it is impossible to form reliable estimates, but I would give these figures, from which my hon. Friend can draw his own conclusion. The total coloured population in the United Kingdom is estimated at about 225,000, of which 125,000 are from the West Indies, 40,000 from India and 20,000 from Pakistan. Between 1955 and 1957, the net inward balance of migrant

coloured people was about 40,000 a year. In 1958, it fell to 27,000, and the total for the first 10 months of 1959 is estimated at 19,000. The 1959 figure which I have given includes about 14,000 from the West Indies, 3,000 from India and 1,000 from Pakistan.

My hon. Friend had another point which he wished to raise.

Mr. N. Pannell

I wanted to ask my hon. and learned Friend why the carrying company was not required to bear the expense of returning the Indian illegal immigrants.

Mr. Renton

When the carrying company is a company which is identifiable as having brought the people concerned all the way from their own country to this country, especially if it has brought them in a considerable batch, the matter is quite simple, if they have all arrived together, in one ship or aircraft from that country. But in this case, although these people went in one ship from India to Italy they then found their own way overland, and arrived by various means in this country. It was not a very simple matter. There was no means whatever by which we could require the shipping company which brought them from India to Genoa to return them.

A rather similar point is concerned in the question which my hon. Friend asked me about the Nigerian seamen. He mentioned that there were 100 of them. I am advised that there were only 77. They were the crew of the steamship "Apapa", who went on strike on 24th June whilst the ship was docked at Liverpool. Eventually, the strike was settled. The shipping company voluntarily, and with the consent of the men, took them back to Nigeria and no question of Her Majesty's Government having to ask the company to pay the cost of repatriation arose.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Eleven o'clock.