HC Deb 16 November 1960 vol 630 cc388-455

3.54 p.m.

Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)

I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 7 and 8.

Amendments similar to this one have been moved over a number of years, as the Under-Secretary of State will remember, and we have on each occasion protested at the fact that the legislation covering aliens is contained, not as we should have liked, in an Act of Parliament, but in the form of an Order which Parliament has never considered, has never had the opportunity to criticise, and has never passed.

The only advantage of the present arrangement, to our way of thinking, is that it provides an opportunity for this annual debate, although, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) pointed out last year, there would be no difficulty should legislation, as we hope, one day be introduced about requiring the Home Secretary, in that legislation, to produce an annual report to Parliament about aliens so that we should have an opportunity of a yearly debate in the same way.

The Amendment raises the whole question of the position of aliens in the United Kingdom. Last year, my hon. and learned Friend referred to the presence in this country of 500,000 such people, some of them permanent residents and some of them visitors for a longer or shorter period. The first question I wish to ask the Under-Secretary is: can he tell us whether that estimate is still correct? Is it a fact that there are in the neighbourhood of half a million aliens in this country, and is it possible for him to break down that figure between people more or less permanently resident here and visitors?

Perhaps I may say, in parenthesis, after asking my first question, that I hope the Under-Secretary will be in a better position this year to answer some of the questions put to him in the debate than he was last year, when some of us on these benches were very much disappointed when, after we had put to him a number of clear and specific points, he proceeded, as seems to us to happen rather too often with Government Front Bench spokesmen, to read the brief which he had in his hand at the beginning of the debate, with rather too few changes in it and too few replies to our points. So we beg him to give us, if he can, some specific answers to the points that we shall raise today.

The first point that I want to make is the general one that the regulations which we are discussing are very many years out of date. As my hon. and learned Friend said last year, they go back to August, 1914, having been passed at that time because of the imminence of the First World War, and passed in conditions when the movement of people from one country to another took place in totally different circumstances. Some of my hon. Friends are inclined to feel that movement by road and by rail is now getting rather slower than it was in the past. But, at all events, 1914 was before the aeroplane was invented. The Under-Secretary will surely agree that the conditions of travel and the volume of passengers moving from place to place and from country to country have entirely changed since 1914.

Indeed, we are reaching a point where, like most other up-to-date nations, we shall have to have a thorough overhaul of our whole aliens procedure affecting not only aliens resident here, but also those coming here for shorter visits. One cannot escape the feeling that sooner or later, and probably sooner, the Home Office will be compelled to alter its present procedure by the sheer volume of passengers moving into and out of our airports and ports. One has only to go to London Airport—perhaps particularly to London Airport North—or Dover to see that the present arrangements for immigration control, like the arrangements for Customs formalities, are becoming unworkable because of the sheer volume of passengers entering and leaving this country.

I would invite the Under-Secretary, if he has any doubt on the matter, to pay a personal visit either to London Airport North, which is a very good example of the way in which the present arrangements are breaking down, or to Dover, and then to tell the House how much longer he thinks it is possible to make passengers put up with the slow and antiquated procedure now in force.

4.0 p.m.

The question of the handling of visitors on their first arrival at airports and ports in Britain is giving rise to increasing resentment at present. The Under-Secretary may have noticed correspondence in the Press since our last debate on this matter. I received a number of letters on the subject after the correspondence in The Times, some months ago. I should like, after the debate, to draw to the personal attention of the Under-Secretary a selection of the letters, not all of which it would be appropriate to quote in this Committee.

I do, however, wish to quote from one of them. It is from a British businessman who pays frequent visits to the Continent, and he makes a specific complaint, at the end of his letter, to which I hope the Under-Secretary will give his attention. He makes this general comment: I myself travel frequently to Western Europe and particularly to Denmark, where I am treated with utmost courtesy, the only sign of bureaucracy being that I am politely reminded in leaflet slipped into my passport that I may only stay three months and that I may not work without a permit. How different when the position is reversed. He goes on to give examples from specific cases which are within his knowledge.

One of the letters which I shall refer to the Under-Secretary is from an American subject of British origin who frequently comes to stay in this country at no charge to the British taxpayer, because she is well able to look after her own arrangements when she is here. She complains bitterly about the formalities to which she is subjected, and the difficulty of registering with the police when she moves about the country.

Finally, another letter from which I should like to quote comes from an international civil servant who makes frequent visits to this country: In Europe, since about 1956, I am never asked any questions when I enter Sweden. Holland or even Russia. He compares his experience in crossing the Soviet frontier with his experience as an international civil servant coming into this country.

I quote this brief selection from some of my correspondence because I think that they are typical of what a number of foreign visitors to Britain are beginning to feel when contrasting our arrangements with those in other European countries. Perhaps I may be forgiven for introducing a personal note, but I am constantly reminded of these things, because I married a woman of Swedish nationality and every time we arrive at London Airport we find that the children and I have to go through one set of formalities while my wife has to go through another. She goes through all the rigmarole of filling in the landing and embarkation cards every time she comes into or goes out of the country.

I should like to make one further general point. We ought to remember during this debate that this country is very much in the debt of a large majority of the aliens who have come over here, those who are permanently resident and are working in this country as the result of a labour permit, which is issued only to people who are prepared to undertake work for which British subjects cannot be found. These people are making an important contribution to our economy. As I know from personal experience, they are sustaining particularly agriculture and forestry, and are there making a very valuable contribution.

In the second place, the liberality of our immigration laws is affected by and affects what is done in other countries for the free movement of British citizens who wish to visit, work or live abroad. I think that if one were to try to make an estimate to show whether those in this country have benefited more than other persons living and working as aliens in other parts of the world, one would rapidly come to the conclusion that many thousands of our fellow-citizens have made a large contribution to their own prosperity and that of this country, which they could not have done if they had remained here, and that, on the whole, we are very much on the credit side in that calculation.

May I refer to the formalities affecting visitors coming here for short periods? They are mostly people who come for business reasons or on holiday. I hope that the Under-Secretary has studied, as I am sure he has, the Annual Report of the British Travel and Holidays Association for the year ended March, 1960, which is the last one which it has issued. He will have noticed on page 5 an outspoken plea, and I quote: Outmoded passport and other inhospitable frontier controls should be removed. There follows a series of suggested reforms which the association believes are urgently needed to expand our growing tourist business. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman has also noticed a document which is a revised version of a paper called, "Requirements of the Tourist Industry, 1960," published as a bulletin of the British Travel and Holidays Association in December of last year, shortly after our own debate in the House.

Here are a number of specific recommendations which were made. First, that the Government should extend their policy of reducing frontier formalities to the minimum, particularly so far as the immigration control is concerned. Secondly, the association urges the extension of passport-free visits, particularly for Western European residents. Thirdly, the association notes that 14 European countries, which are then listed, have simplified the procedure for the temporary entry of tourists' private cars, by the complete abolition or simplification of Customs documents. The association very much hopes that similar action will be taken here.

I hope that these views of this association, which represents principally people concerned with the tourist business in this country, have been noted by the Under-Secretary.

I turn from the question of the transient visitors to this country to that of the registration of aliens and of those living more or less permanently here. I start with a specific plea for those aliens who, after a normal trial period, when they are required to renew their residence permits at rather short intervals, are then accepted and are allowed to remain in this country on what they hope and believe to be a permanent basis. I wish to repeat the plea made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton in last year's debate that, when these people have been registered in this country for a period of years—two or three years, or even five years, which is the qualifying period for naturalisation—the Home Secretary should no longer have the arbitrary power to deport them, as he now has.

Bearing in mind that many of these aliens are married to British citizens, have children who are British subjects, and who are dependent for their work on living in this country, and who, very often, have only tenuous connections with their country of origin, it is hard that they should have this threat of deportation hanging over them during this trial period, when the Home Secretary has allowed them to stay here for a period of years.

In the course of last year's debate, the Under-Secretary undertook to make a study of aliens' registration and of the system of notification to the police, and I quote from what he said in that debate: … we have initiated a further study of the whole system of registration, notification to the police, and so on, as laid down in the Order."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1959; Vol. 613, c. 469.] The hon. and learned Gentleman added that comments made in the debate by other hon. Members would be fully considered before any decision was taken about altering any of the provisions. Has a decision yet been reached and, if so, will the Under-Secretary now tell the Committee what it is?

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

indicated assent.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I notice that the hon. and learned Gentleman nods assent. I am grateful to him. He will recall that Questions have been asked since that debate. On 10th March and in May last year I asked him whether he was aware that we were becoming very apprehensive at the delay. As he is to make an announcement on the subject today, we shall have to leave any further comment until we have heard what his decision is.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will also be able to say a few words about progress in the matter of simplifying complexities and making it easier for visiting foreigners to come to this country. References have been made to negotiations between the United Kingdom Government and the nine member countries of O.E.E.C. with a view to concluding an agreement to permit nationals of those countries to visit the United Kingdom for up to three months without a passport, bringing with them only a national identity card and a visitor's card.

I understand that agreement has now been concluded in respect of the Benelux countries and citizens of the Federal German Republic, but not yet with any other. I would like to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman what progress is being made on that front. Why has there been such a long delay, and what is the position in respect of British nationals wishing to travel on a reciprocal basis to countries concluding such an agreement with us? I appreciate that we are in a difficulty, in that we have abolished our own national identity card and exactly the same system cannot operate, but I should like to know whether we are making arrangements for British nationals to enjoy something like the facilities which aliens coming to this country are to enjoy.

The hon. and learned Gentleman may also be able to say something about the extension of passport-free day trips—although not many of my hon. Friends attach very much importance to them, because we want to see them superseded by a much wider liberalisation of travel facilities, especially by the extension of the card system which I have mentioned, in which case the passport-free day trips will lose their significance. I understand that since the last debate in November, 1959, there have been visa abolition agreements with Mexico, Bolivia and Spain. We welcome those, but I would like to know what further progress is being made. The last announcement, concerning Spain, was made on 15th June.

I want to repeat three questions which were asked during last year's debate, which I followed up in correspondence with the Under-Secretary, but which were not effectively answered. The first is a general question, to which I hope it will be possible not to give too narrow or too legalistic an answer, because many of my hon. Friends and many people outside the House are genuinely puzzled by it. Although we find it necessary to apply to aliens, including citizens of many highly developed Western European nations, the complicated formalities and regulations which are now in force, we do not apply those to any citizens of the Commonwealth.

I am quite clear of the distinction between Commonwealth citizenship and foreign nationality, and the last thing I should wish to do is to deprive Commonwealth citizens of the rights they enjoy because they are citizens of nations associated with us in that way, but many of us are puzzled to know what is the factual justification for applying these complicated regulations to citizens of Belgium, Holland and other highly developed nations who, on the whole, are less likely to find themselves in difficulties—economic or social—than the citizens of the West Indies, West Africa, Malta or Pakistan. If it is possible to dispense with these regulations in the case of Commonwealth citizens, is there really still a case for applying them to these alien nationals?

4.15 p.m.

Secondly, is it not possible to simplify the registration formalities in respect of foreigners who come to this country holding labour permits? Part of the answer given by the Under-Secretary when asked this question last year was that holders of these labour permits did not in all cases actually come to this country. That may be so, but those who do are required to leave a part of the document with the immigration officer when they arrive. There is, therefore, a simple method of checking which aliens holding labour permits have come to this country. In view of the fact that because they hold their labour permits they are required to remain in specified employment, and under the care of a known employer, is it not possible to relax the regulations in their case and not subject them to all the complexities of the regulations covering other aliens not covered by labour permits?

Finally, could not we initiate discussions, at least with the Governments of Western European and Southern European countries, for a standardisation of embarkation and landing cards if the Home Office insists on retaining these cards for another year? We believe that they could be dispensed with altogether, and many people, including those in the tourist and travel business, do not understand the validity of those cards when taken in conjunction with a short interrogation by the immigration officer. Either the answers on the cards should be adequate, or the interrogation should suffice. We believe that it would be quite easy—as many other countries have found—to dispense with these cards altogether, but if that is not the view of the Home Secretary could not he at least examine the possibilities of standardising these cards with neighbouring countries from whom the great volume of foreign visitors come? If he could do that it would facilitate travel very much indeed.

I am well aware that the Home Office can no doubt put up most convincing briefs defending the present system in its entirety and in its full complexity. That is part of the duty of the Home Office civil servants. But if they had been asked, in specific cases where the Home Secretary has actually relaxed the regulations, they would have put up exactly the same sort of arguments. Had the Home Secretary sent for his officials in 1956 and said, "We are proposing to admit tens of thousands of Hungarians into this country without any kind of inspection, control or formality," I do not know what kind of brief they would have given him, but they would have said, "It is entirely impossible. Our whole system of controlling aliens will break down if this is done". Yet it was done, and the Hungarians came to this country. I do not know what proportion arriving here got into difficulties because the full rigours of the immigration procedures were not applied to them, but I suspect that it was a very small proportion.

Similarly, if he had asked his officials to produce a brief stating that in the case of aliens coming here from a specific foreign country we would dispense entirely with the regulations and treat them in all respects as British citizens, the officials would have said that it was quite impossible and that the system would break down. But this has been done in the case of citizens of the Republic of Ireland. They are not only exempt from any regulations; they have been entitled to take part in General Elections and to vote for Members of this House.

I am not suggesting that that should be done in the case of aliens from other countries. I am saying that briefs can always be produced for defending the present complex system in its entirety, and that the duty of Ministers and of the House of Commons is to look from time to time at conditions as they now are and to realise that these arrangements were devised many years ago when conditions were entirely different. I think that we should also realise that we are rapidly being left behind in this field, as in many others, by many Western European countries.

The Under-Secretary of State may get special treatment as a Minister, but, if he travels as an ordinary individual across the frontiers of Europe he will see that our arrangements compare very badly with those of almost any other country on this side of the Iron Curtain. I know that one Home Office argument is that it does not make much difference whether the French, or the Italians, or the Belgians, are liberal with their arrangements and simply subject the traveller to a cursory passport examination instead of to the full rigours of the immigration formalities which we apply, because, as they have land frontiers, it is impossible to control movement effectively anyway, but we, living in an island, are in a better position to do it, and that is the justification for the regulations.

That is a poor argument. After all, we want to encourage and develop our tourist trade as far as we can. The fact that we have so many obstacles prevents people who would otherwise come here from doing so. Is there any reason to add to them? Secondly, I suspect that all these complexities of forms, the interrogations and the registrations, very rarely help to catch the people for whom the Minister or the police may be looking. I cannot believe that a foreign agent, or a spy, or a black marketeer, or somebody engaged in some other illegal activity, would not have a perfectly valid-looking passport, probably somebody else's, and would not be equipped with all the answers, and would not be well prepared to go through the rigours of interrogation by immigration officers.

I am sceptical about the real effect of the present system. I had some further evidence of this not long ago when I put some Questions asking the Minister for information about aliens in my constituency. On both occasions he said that he regretted that the information was not available, and, as it would be very difficult to find, he could not let me have it. If he cannot tell how many foreigners there are in Swindon, when every one of them is required to visit the police at frequent intervals, when he has a stack of cards saying when they came into and out of this country, what is the purpose of these complicated arrangements?

I end by repeating the plea which has been made so often in this House. We want to see drastic changes in the present arrangements. We want to see the arrangements consolidated in an Act of Parliament which can be criticised, discussed, and passed by the House of Commons. Also, we very much hope that this will be the last occasion on which we debate the Aliens Order in this form.

Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)

I must begin by apologising because I have an engagement, which was quite unavoidable, which I must attend in 20 minutes' time. Perhaps there is a silver lining to the cloud from the point of view of the rest of the Committee.

I apologise for thus going away early in the debate, but I do not apologise for being about to repeat what I have said before, I think several times. It is some slight pleasure to me—this is not what is called provocative—that, by the accident of the batting order, this time the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will hear me, and, with any luck, I shall not hear him. I promise to read him twice, but I will give him 6d. if his speech is shorter than mine.

I do not apologise for what I have said before, because it has not been effective nor, I am sure, has it been fully understood by the Front Bench. I think that the Committee ought to dislike delegated legislation. I think that it ought to dislike temporary legislation. I think that it ought to dislike emergency legislation, especially war emergency legislation, and I do not believe that there is anyone in this Committee, when there is not some party interest involved, who does not agree in disliking all those three sorts of legistlation. Each one of them is in itself really, so to speak, an unparliamentary, and almost an anti-parliamentary, way of using the Parliamentary function. If that is true, plainly there ought to be great dislike of something which has all three vices, as this one has.

I think that it is becoming a rather ridiculous scandal that this should have gone on now continuously, I think that one may fairly say, since 1914; nearly a generation and a half; in a sense continually and almost continuously since 1914. It is absurd that this should be tolerated any longer.

I do not wish to go into the merits of the case. For all my argument cares, it really does not matter if the law as it is now applied is perfect, and if the administration of the law as it is now applied is perfect. What I object to is the basis of the law. On the other hand, right hon. Members on the Front Bench, from whichever party they come, are rather apt, when they answer objections to this kind of law, to pray in aid precedents, and to say: "You did it," and so on. They do not get into their heads what I think it is most important to insist on on this occasion always, that in these matters precedent does not tell in favour of the practice which tells against it.

Where the excuse for doing something is that circumstances are extremely exceptional; where that is the reason for doing it, as with temporary legislation, with war legislation, and with delegated legislation——

The Chairman

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I am finding it very difficult to relate his remarks to the Amendment. He is going very much wider than the Amendment.

Sir K. Pickthorn

I am sorry, Sir Gordon. It has been all right hitherto—this is rather unfairly putting my own argument against me.

The connection with the Amendment is the endeavour to insist that it is high time—it has long been high time, and it gets higher time by one every year—that this business was put on the basis of renewed legislation intended to be permanent.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I want to follow the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker), and the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) in this simple contention, that the First World War is now a long time behind us, and the Second World War is also some time behind us, and that emergency legislation, introduced for wartime purposes, should be regularised and we should have an Act now.

The only argument against these views is that we should lose this annual debate, but that is quite clearly not so. It could be so arranged that under the Act we had regulations that were debated or raised on report from the Home Office, as we are doing this afternoon.

I do not want to labour this point, because the arguments for it are well known. Indeed, the onus of disproving that these regulations should be incorporated in an Act lies on the Government. It is not for us to argue that the normal procedure should be followed. It is for the Government to put up better reasons why it should not be followed in 1960, whatever was right in 1914 or 1945.

4.30 p.m.

I want to add my plea to those of people who say that we must get away from the idea that "alien" is a sort of dirty word; that aliens are to be looked at with extreme suspicion. I am sure that the Home Office does not think so, but a feeling has been growing up that, in many ways, this country is one of the most insular in the whole world; that it is more difficult to get in here than it is to get into many countries that we regard as less enlightened. Again and again, in these debates, stories are told of the treatment at the ports of those who are not British citizens, and we hear of them being put to great inconvenience there.

It is not only that such treatment is uncivilised. We must remember that we are trying to encourage tourism. Other countries are trying to break down their barriers. I was recently in Western Germany, and, on my arrival at the airport there. I went straight from the aeroplane to the car. No one asked for documents, or looked at my luggage at all. I was deeply shocked, I must confess, but, on second thoughts, it is highly unlikely that, by not looking at passports, the German authorities let in many dangerous criminals, nor do I suppose that many excisable goods get past them.

Reference has been made to the abolition of passports. Has some agreement been reached with Western Germany and the Benelux countries? If there is any difficulty in reciprocal rights because our citizens lack identity cards, have the Home Office proceeded with the idea, put forward some years ago, that it should be possible to buy a type of return ticket on which the personal particulars were entered, and which could be used in place of an identity document?

Whenever possible, of course, the utmost humanity and consideration should be shown at our ports and railway stations to nationals of whatever sort and of whatever country. I am sure that the Home Office wants that. The general view of the Home Office is that it is an extremely decent organisation, filled with the best motives but, perhaps, a little grandfatherly and slow—even stick-in-the-mud. It is like the best sort of old-fashioned nanny. But children grow up, and wish to move from the nursery world into a somewhat newer atmosphere. This annual debate should serve such objects.

We were told in 1945 that over 1 million foreign passengers had entered the United Kingdom. What are the comparable figures today? I should think that they had grown. In 1945, 1,751 aliens were refused entry. That was regarded by the Home Office as being very few, but most of us on this side thought it a considerable number. I would be grateful if we could be told how many of these people have been refused entry in the last comparable period, and we might also be given some break-down of the reasons for refusal.

What is the position about the recommendations made some years ago at the Council of Europe? Have we got any further with them? Is it true that on aircraft there is to be a reintroduction of some of the forms one used to be asked to fill in before landing? I read of that in one newspaper, but I have not experienced it. That form seems to be one of the most pointless documents ever invented. I remember that in one debate we were all electrified to be told that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) had been travelling for some time under the name of Adolf Hitler, and that, so far, no one had caught up with him. It is hard to imagine anyone who would think of the hon. and learned Gentleman as Adolf Hitler——

Sir K. Pickthorn

It is very difficult to prove the contrary.

Mr. Grimond

I know the hon. Gentleman's extreme regret at having to stay, and possibly to hear the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, but there it is.

I want to know what happens to those forms. Where do they go? Who looks at them? Who follows them up? Who checks where one's mother was born, what were her Christian names, and where one spent the last 14 or 17 nights, and so on? If all that checking is done, the staff must be enormous—perhaps they are lugubriously still trying to prove that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not Adolf Hitler.

What about refugees—in relation, in particular, to Refugee Year? I know that more than the usual numbers are being allowed in because it is Refugee Year, but what documents must they have, what restrictions are there on their movements, and how are they to be handled by the Home Office?

I should also like more information about the check on aliens who remain here. How much police time does that take up—and what results from all this procedure? How many criminals do we pick up? What useful statistics do we compile? As the hon. Member for Swindon has said, if he cannot be told how many aliens there are in Swindon—that may be of importance, though I must confess that I do not particularly want to know it—what is the purpose? It would seem to be elementary information that could be extracted by computer from the mass of information flowing into the Home Office. Is that information extracted, and what use is made of it? And, again, what amount of police time is taken up on it?

I turn to the subject of deportation. I understand that there is some right of review by the Chief Magistrate of a deportation order made by the Home Secretary. At various times in these debates suggestions have been made that this should be regularised. I am not certain whether the review is a right or a discretion. I think that it is a discretion; that, in certain cases, people are told that they may go to the Chief Magistrate. Has the Home Office given more thought to this?

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

Is not the position that they have a right to go to the Chief Magistrate, but that the Chief Magistrate's recommendation is not binding on the Home Secretary?

Mr. Renton

I think that I can answer. In fact, every such recommendation has been accepted.

Mr. Paget

That is an entirely different point. The recommendation is not binding on the Home Secretary.

Mr. Grimond

I am very much indebted to both hon. and learned Gentlemen for their assistance.

No one doubts that the Home Office is a thoroughly humane institution, but we may not always have at the Home Office such humane people as are now there, and others could totally disregard the Chief Magistrate's opinion. There is nothing binding on them. I do not think that the position is quite satisfactory.

What happens to aliens from Scotland? Have they, too, this right——

Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)

Aliens from Scotland?

Mr. Grimond

I am sorry—aliens in Scotland.

I do not believe that passports are of any importance whatever when a person is leaving the country. Nobody can stop him leaving this country whether he has a passport or not. They can only warn him that there might be trouble in the other country. Is it a fact that those gentlemen at the airports who look at passports are simply concerned with currency regulations, and that, if there were no currency regulations at all, those men would no longer be in attendance? Under what Act or Order are they acting?

I do not know whether they are concerned simply with currency. My own experience is that they do ask occasionally how much money one has, but they never make the least effort to check the information they are given. I have three passports, so I should not have much difficulty in evading their scrutiny. Is that their only purpose? Is it, therefore, really vital that everyone should have his passport examined before he leaves the country?

I should be grateful if the Home Office spokesman could answer those questions. I like to think that these annual debates have some effect, that progress is being made, and that the Home Office is moving slightly forward and away from the idea that all regulations that have ever been are good and must be kept in force.

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has made a good point about people leaving this country. Nobody is stopped from leaving from Idlewild Airport, in the United States, provided that he has a ticket. He does not have to show his passport, but he has to get a clearance certificate from the Revenue authorities if he has been in the country for more than five days.

Perhaps I may have the attention of my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary; I shall be very brief, but I want him to hear what I have to say. The form to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred, that dealing with 14 nights abroad, has disappeared, but we are told that the Board of Trade is to institute a new type of form—why, I do not know—but that it will concern only British subjects.

It is my privilege and pleasure to work very closely in industry with Swiss nationals, and I am always apologising to them for the trouble that they have to go through on their arrival here, which is in contrast to the reception one gets from the authorities at the other end. A man shows his passport at Zurich, or wherever it may be, and is then admitted into the country without question. I believe that the trouble is that the staff at the airports and seaports, though very willing, are not sufficient in number. If we are to have this questioning and inspection, we must have adequate staff.

I do not know whether my hon. and learned Friend has ever arrived at Harwich from the Hook of Holland by steamer in the early hours of the morning. If he has not, I recommend him to make a trip there to see what goes on. There is no worse place for foreigners to arrive. There are very few facilities at Harwich Station, and not so long ago these foreigners were treated rather like cattle.

I do not understand why we go in for all this form-filling at all. It is very embarrassing to arrive at London Airport, in an aircraft carrying 80 or 100 other people, and then to see foreigners being herded away and made to queue up because there are not enough staff to deal with them. That is particularly the case when several aircraft arrive at the same time. Whatever may be said about the tourist industry, it is one of the greatest trade benefits to the country, bringing in foreign currency.

I know that my hon. and learned Friend has no responsibility for the Customs authorities, and that the Customs officials do their very best in difficult circumstances. Last year, I complained to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I told him that it had taken some friends of mine 65 minutes to get through the barrier after they had landed. One of those friends is a man who is investing vast sums of foreign currency in this country. Luckily, he took it very well, but that sort of thing is happening every day of the week. I ask my hon. and learned Friend to take the matter up with the Treasury and with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation and others to see whether we can get some cohesion in these matters. It is not just a matter concerning my hon. and learned Friend's Department, but all those concerned.

Again, I should like to have my hon. and learned Friend's attention. It is very difficult to make a speech that I want him to hear if, while I am making it, he is talking to other hon. Members. He is usually very good about that. As I was saying, I should like him to consult those concerned to see whether we can get some cohesion in the treatment of these foreigners who come here to spend money buying British goods and to see that they get better treatment than they get at present.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

Whatever irksome regulations there may be with regard to the admission of aliens I want to begin in the few short words which I shall address to the House by paying tribute to what I think is the wonderful record of this country in regard to the admission and treatment of aliens. I think that it has a wonderful record. I certainly admire it in every way. It is pleasant to think that it is recognised that as a result of the admission of aliens this country has benefited in many ways.

I agree with what some hon. Members have said in regard to one important point. With this history of liberality it is unfortunate that year after year we have to get up in this House to protest against what is temporary legislation. It seems to me to be a very unfortunate thing indeed. We get the first control in regard to the immigration of aliens in the Act of 1905. The 1914 war came along and we had control of immigration then and now we have the Alien Order of 1953 which governs the present position. This is all temporary legislation which has been enacted as a direct result of an emergency—a war.

It has been said that we ought to have an Act of Parliament which sets out the position of aliens. I want to say as strongly as I can that that position ought to be recognised by the Home Office. It is not really only a question of this matter coming up year after year and having the advantage of being discussed in the form of temporary legislation which has to be renewed. As already said by a number of hon. Members such review can easily be provided for in an Act of Parliament by some report made annually by the Home Secretary or in some other way.

The reason why we protest against this is that if we discuss the matter today all we can do is to put down this Amendment and talk about it. If we had an Act of Parliament setting out the position of aliens: what they can do and what they cannot do; how they can be admitted; and what restrictions are required, the House would have an opportunity to put down Amendments and discuss the whole matter in detail. We should have an Act of Parliament with regard to aliens which could be discussed in the greatest detail so that we know where we are. We have never had that opportunity. It seems wrong that we should have a considerable number of people who are aliens living in this country, admitted to this country, and that we should merely under a temporary order deal with the way in which they are restricted, the way in which they are admitted and the way in which they are treated. Why should not we have an Act of Parliament setting out the law with regard to this matter so that we can deal with it?

This point has been pressed on the Home Office again and again every single year and no satisfactory answer has been given to it. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will not answer me by saying that we have an opportunity every year by this temporary legislation of discussing the matter because that is thoroughly unsatisfactory and I hope that the Home Office will recognise that something must be done with regard to this matter.

There are two other points with which I want to deal. First I want to deal with the point that has been referred to—the question of aliens who live in this country, who have been here since the early days of their birth, who were a few months old when they came to this country; they have always lived here; they are married to Englishwomen and have children who are British. Then such an alien commits an offence and there is a recommendation for deportation. It has been mentioned that he has some sort of privilege in that he can ask the chief magistrate to review the decision. It is utterly wrong that that should be so. If there is to be a right of appeal let it be to a court of law. Let us have it out in the open and see what the position is. We do not know what is the view of the chief magistrate, and what considerations he takes into account. When the Under-Secretary of State was asked about this matter last year his answer I think was that it would not be in the public interest to disclose how the chief magistrate dealt with the matter. It seems to me to be wrong that it should be done in this way. If there is to be an order of deportation there should be a right of appeal to a court of law.

My second point—and the main reason why I have spoken today—is one which I wish to put particularly to the Under-Secretary. In the debate last year he dealt with the different categories of aliens admitted to this country. I plead with him today to abolish those categories. I have made a number of applications for the admission of aliens, it may be an aged mother, a sister or a brother or other relatives wishing to join their families here. I readily admit that I have always received splendid treatment from the Home Office. The Minister always deals with such cases sympathetically and does what he can. But—in this case it is a very big "but"—surely the position ought not to be related to categories of aliens?

I recognise that if aliens have a criminal record, or are suspected of having done something wrong, and, therefore, it is undesirable to admit them from that point of view, there is a perfectly good case for refusing admission. I recognise that we must take into account the need to ensure that they do not become a charge on the State. I also agree that if there is any danger of them taking work from British citizens they should not be admitted. But, subject to those provisos, why should not aliens be admitted freely? Surely it ought not to be a case of saying that we are restricted to particular categories of aliens.

I know that there is, in cases of distressed relatives, a general discretion; but, broadly speaking, the Home Office asks whether an alien fits into a certain category and, if not, the alien is not admitted. I make an earnest plea to the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Government ought to consider this matter in accordance with our tradition of liberality. It would do no harm to admit aliens in the way I have suggested.

I am thinking of many cases which I have put forward. Some time ago I had the case of a woman in one of the Iron Curtain countries who wished to join her brother in this country who was a British citizen. Her brother was in a good position and ready to undertake that his sister would not be a burden to the State. I tried three times to obtain permission for her to remain. I got very sympathetic replies from the Home Office but the answer was always "No." The lady could come for a short time, as her brother was undergoing an operation, but she could not stay permanently.

There are many cases that I know of, of young people who want to come to this country on a visit extending over three or six months, or some such period. I am inclined to the opinion that the Home Office is far too suspicious of such cases. The view is taken that if a person comes here, he may want to stay. I know of a number of cases where permission to come to this country has been refused on that ground. Listening to the people making the application and from the details, there was not the slightest question of them wanting to remain.

Recognising as I do the British tradition of liberality and the great work which has been done for aliens in the past, I say to the Under-Secretary that surely the door ought to be opened a little wider. Surely the way in which the Government should look at the question is that, where the considerations which I have put forward apply, generous treatment ought to be accorded to aliens and they ought to be admitted.

Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)

I believe I am right in saying that we have had control over immigration into this country since 1905. It is clear to me that were this Amendment carried, there would not be any control whatsoever. I cannot believe that to be the aim of any hon. Member. It would mean that every conceivable person, every crook, spy or any sort of scallywag, could come into the country and take up residence here.

Mr. Paget

The hon. Gentleman says that we have had control since 1905. We are now being asked to continue an Act of 1919. If we do not, we go back to the 1905 position.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

My hon. Friend will be able to explain that. The information was given in the debate last year.

I should have thought that hon. Members opposite were as interested as we on this side of the Committee in maintaining full employment in this country and having a rising standard of living. Without this control over immigration we should have a flood of people coming into this country from less happy lands and our standard would go down. I am quite certain that hon. Members who support the Amendment cannot have consulted the trade unions. I am satisfied in my own mind that they would not support a vast flood of immigrants to Britain.

I am satisfied with the present arrangement. To me it seems not a bad procedure that we should discuss immigration in this way each year. There is a certain flexibility about it and in dealing with such a subject we need flexibility.

Mr. Paget

If the hon. Gentleman regards this as a convenient procedure for discussing the matter, why does he complain about our putting down this Amendment? How could we discuss the matter unless the Amendment were put down?

Mr. Clark Hutchison

Of course, it could be discussed. I do not complain about the Amendment being put down, but I should complain were the Amendment carried.

We are given a chance of reviewing the policy of the Home Office over the previous year and of putting Questions to the Minister concerned. On the question of policy I hope that my right hon. Friend will continue to give asylum to people from overseas who are in any way persecuted for their political beliefs. That would be in accordance with our traditions. I hope that he will find it possible, in cases where people have been granted permission to reside in this country, to give permission for their aged parents to come here also. That seems to me reasonable, provided the parents are of good character and will not be a charge on public funds. Thirdly, there are many people, such as scientists, authors and artists, who may wish to live in Britain. Such people are self-supporting, and I think that they should be allowed to come here, again provided they are of good character.

5.0 p.m.

Against all this, there are many people who come to Britain pretending to be visitors or who come for purposes of education. When their time is up they make every excuse for staying. From the first they have been dishonest. These people should be deported, and deported quickly, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will not mince matters with them.

From time to time we hear criticism of the way certain aliens and others have been treated at the ports by officials. I must make it clear that no case of bad treatment has been brought to my notice by a constituent or by anyone else. I think that I am right in saying that about 1⅓ million foreigners come to these shores every year. It must entail considerable organisation to examine them, to inspect passports and everything else. I think that we owe a debt of gratitude to the officials, the immigration authorities, who carry out their job extremely well and expertly, and to Home Office officials and the police.

There are two sets of regulations governing immigration, one being for aliens. They are reasonably strict, and I think rightly so. On the other hand, Commonwealth citizens can come here freely, and there are no regulations concerning them. I strongly favour that distinction, and I hope that it will be retained. Also I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that at every port, airport or point of entry to the country passport control, Customs and everything concerning passengers is made easy for the Commonwealth visitor and that he gets priority so that he knows that he is particularly welcome to Britain.

Mr. Martin McLaren (Bristol, North-West)

I rise to refer to one very limited part of the control relating to aliens in this country, and that is the record of visitors which has to be kept in hotels. I think that it would surprise many people to know that that is a control under the Aliens Order which applies not only to aliens but to every British subject who moves about in his own country.

Article 19 (1), as amended, of the Aliens Order provides: Every person of or over the age of sixteen years who stays at any premises to which this Article applies shall, on arriving at the premises, inform the keeper of the premises of his full name and nationality. Later, the application of the Article is stated to be to any premises whether furnished or unfurnished where lodging or sleeping accommodation is provided for reward. That includes every hotel and boarding house in the country. This is the statutory origin of the book which we all know so well and in which on arrival everyone has to write down his name and nationality. If a person fails to do that he is guilty of a criminal offence under the Aliens Order. I venture to think that, in the year 1960, that is a burdensome control.

This provision of the Aliens Order, if it is needed at all, ought to apply only to aliens and not to British subjects moving about in their own country. I feel that it is no longer a necessary part of the control of aliens, and I do not think that the control of aliens should be such as to harass and burden ordinary English people moving from one place to another in their own country, whether on business or holiday. I ask my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State to look at this provision which, I think, would make either John Bull or Lord Palmerston turn in his grave.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

As one who has taken part in these annual debates on many occasions, I should like to say that I welcome the opportunity which this Measure gives us of reviewing year by year the policy of the Home Office in its treatment of aliens. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have pointed out that, from a Parliamentary point of view, it may be unsatisfactory that the powers under which the Home Secretary acts with regard to aliens are not enshrined in permanent legislation but depend upon an Act passed at the time of the First World War and Orders in Council made thereunder.

I think that we would all agree that, from the point of view of purity of procedure, it would be more desirable if permanent legislation were enacted, but, nevertheless, I think that we must recognise that the present practice which has gone on for about forty years, anomalous though it is, has a certain pragmatic sanction. It enables us to review the policy of the Home Office in a more effective way than we could if there were an annual review. One knows from comparison with other matters that annual reviews of policy are by no means always satisfactory.

Looking back over the debates of recent years, at any rate, it is noticeable that the debates on this subject by no means follow a uniform pattern. Almost every year some special and distinctive question has arisen in the previous twelve months which causes the Committee concern. For example, in 1958 the Home Secretary made a very important pronouncement in which he intimated to the House a very considerable measure of liberalisation regarding the admission of those aliens who wanted to come here, not because they wanted to obtain a labour permit and to work here, nor because they were visitors, nor because they were the elderly or dependent relatives of aliens already here, but because they wanted as artists or writers or persons of culture to enjoy the hospitality of this country and spend their time and money here.

There was the year when the Committee had occasion seriously to criticise the conduct of the Home Office concerning a number of particular individuals—Pastor Niemoller was one and Dr. Pauling was another—individuals of distinction who had met with difficulties on arrival. I think that it was largely as the result of the debates at that time that the position of a large group of people was very considerably eased. If we did not have this annual debate we should be deprived of the pleasure of listening to the speeches which we have heard, including that of the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) who, I thought, rose primarily to protest against the anomaly that we were having this debate at all.

Moreover, we must remember that although, looked at from a purely formal point of view, the powers given to the Home Office by existing legislation appear to be highly arbitrary and illiberal, we are not really so much concerned with the formal statutory form of the legislation. We are far more concerned with the way the policy is administered. Here I join with others who have paid tribute to the generally liberal and humanitarian approach of the Home Office and its officials in dealing with aliens problems. In many ways, I suppose, the Committee can take pride in the reflection that, on these occasions, we take such trouble to concern ourselves with the interests of a large group of people coming to this country who, ex hypothesi, cannot in an electoral sense be the constituents of any one of us.

I wish to put to the Under-Secretary of State several questions with which I hope he will deal in his reply. They are questions about the admission of aliens, questions about those who come under the au pair system, and questions about the deportation of aliens. First, I add my plea to those already made that there should be a relaxation in the present conditions in which dependent relatives of aliens already here are admitted. In that connection, I urge the desirability not only of relaxation but of letting the House of Commons and the public know as clearly and concisely as possible what are the principles actuating the Home Office at present in this respect. Some of us who are approached from time to time about particular cases would. I am sure, be grateful if we were able to answer with a good deal of confidence about what the attitude of the Home Office is likely to be in a particular case.

We know the general policy with regard to elderly relatives, but can the hon. and learned Gentleman tell us whether there has been any change in the past twelve months? Are the categories of those who are admitted because they are dependants of aliens already here rigidly circumscribed by defined criteria? Is there any element of discretion available to the immigration officer, to the Aliens Department or to those in charge in the British Consulates overseas who have to advise before people set out whether they are likely to be admitted or not?

I wish to ask, also, about those visitors who come to this country quite genuinely as visitors and who then, during the period of their visit, find an opportunity to take up employment here. I appreciate quite well that, unless there are some clearly defined rules about this, the door would be wide open to abuse. Without rules on the subject, people would be able to come under the guise of a temporary visit, obtaining leave to enter for that purpose, whereas, in fact, they might have at the back of their minds the intention to seek employment here. It is quite right that everything should be done to stop that kind of abuse. On the other hand, one does from time to time come across quite genuine cases of people who have come here for a visit and who, being here on a visit, may wish, for a variety of reasons, to stay. Such a person may, for example, wish to get married, or take up some employment which becomes available.

If in such cases the Home Office is satisfied that there is a genuine reason for transforming a temporary visa to land and be here into a permit from the Ministry of Labour to take up employment, is it in all cases necessary for the alien concerned first to leave the country and go back to the country from which he or she came, and then make a fresh application? Unless that is absolutely necessary, it ought to be possible to avoid the irritation and unnecessary hardship which is otherwise entailed.

5.15 p.m.

What is the Home Office doing with regard to the many foreign girls who now come to work in Britain on what is called the au pair system? I read in the Sunday Times last Sunday that Britain now has an intake of 40,000 au pair girls a year and that reports recently of exploitation have led the National Council of Women to press the Government to introduce protective legislation. It will be appreciated that I am not now arguing against the admission of aliens. I am urging that appropriate steps should be taken in this class of case to protect those alien girls who are admitted to the country. It is suggested by the National Council of Women that agencies should make absolutely clear to the girls concerned what will be their living conditions, wages, hours of work and duties here before they leave their homes, and that employers should be vetted.

I understand also that the Home Office has been asked to agree that the minimum age for au pair girls should be 17, that women rather than men should interview them at the port of entry, and that there should be an officially approved letter given to a girl to show what is required of her. I do not believe that this requires legislation, although legislation might be required to compel local authorities to tighten up their system of licensing employment agencies. Since this particular problem regarding the admission of these aliens has been ventilated in the Press and brought to the notice of the Home Office, I hope that this is a suitable opportunity for the Minister to say something about it.

I come now to the power of the Home Office to deport any alien at any time, for any reason, or without giving any reason, and without being answerable to anybody. I can quite understand that the exercise of this power my be necessary as a long-stop safeguard for the protection of our country's security. I am sure that the Committee would be interested to know how many orders of deportation have been made during the last twelve months, in how many cases the order of deportation has been referred to the chief magistrate, and in how many cases the Chief Magistrate has made a recommendation different from that of the Home Office. I gather from an interjection of the Minister just now that, although there is no statutory obligation so to do, the Home Office has, at any rate in the last twelve months, although, I think, not previously, invariably acted on the recommendation of the Chief Magistrate.

That is all very well, but the Committee should now ask itself whether it is necessary for the Home Secretary to retain the drastic power of arbitrary deportation in all cases. Would it not be possible now to consider the aliens who are in this country as falling into two categories, at any rate for this purpose? Could we not distinguish between aliens who have been in the country for a minimum period of years—I do not mind whether two years, three years, or a slightly longer period of years is taken for this purpose—and those who have not been in the country for that period?

As regards those who have been in the country for a minimum period of years with the permission of the Home Office, either with or without a labour permit— and, if with a labour permit, with one which has been renewed—and have come to regard this country, quite properly, as their permanent home, notwithstanding their alien status as non-British subjects, could we not say that they should not be exposed to the dreadful possibility of deportation, except in certain circumstances?

I suggest that of the circumstances in which the right of deportation should be retained there should obviously be the case of aliens who have committed a criminal offence and been recommended for deportation by a court of law. We all, I think, would agree that that would be reasonable.

One can understand that there are other cases in which deportation may be necessary. I then suggest that, unless there has been a recommendation for deportation by a court of law, the Home Secretary should not exercise a right of deportation in respect of an alien who has been in this country for, say, three years unless the alien has the right to present an appeal either to the Chief Magistrate or to whatever is the appropriate tribunal. The tribunal can then sit, let the alien argue the case, and reach a decision which should be binding on the Home Secretary. That would go a long way towards satisfying those of us who are proud, as I am sure that we all are, of the consideration the administration of this country has always shown towards aliens and are anxious that our reputation for liberal and humane treatment should be preserved and maintained.

That leads me, finally, to say a few words about the subject raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), namely, the formalities which occur at ports of entry. I hope, as he and other hon. Gentlemen have hoped, that something can be done to simplify the existing arrangements, reduce all unnecessary form-filling, and facilitate the ordinary flow of visitors into this country in order to make the first arrival by tourists as pleasant and attractive as possible.

I am aware of, and welcome, the relaxations introduced with regard to passports. On that subject, I venture to comment on what the hon. Gentleman said. As I have always understood, any British subject has a perfect right at common law, which has never been taken away by Statute, to leave the country without a passport whenever he likes and to return to the country with or without a passport whenever he likes. As I understand it, that is one of the cherished rights which British subjects have always enjoyed at common law. I have exercised it. I have claimed the right to enter the country without producing a passport. One may have to satisfy officials of one's British nationality, but there is no difficulty about that in the case of most British subjects.

The production of passports has become very much of an irksome formality. Many people travel with out-of-date passports. They are perfectly entitled to do so if they are entitled, as I think they are, to travel without passports at all. No attempt is made as far as I know to check whether the passport is still in force or whether it belongs to the person producing it. The procedure has become very much of a tiresome formality and I doubt whether it still serves any useful purpose.

Mr. Renton

The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) has asked me to apologise for his absence. I want to thank him for having initiated the debate, because the Government welcome it even more than usual, owing to the fact that the past twelve months have been an eventful period in the history of our aliens' administration. It has coincided with the greater part of World Refugee Year, in which this country played an important part, of which we can be proud. Also, during the past twelve months we have had the first large-scale review for many years of our system of police registration under the Aliens Order.

I shall be making statements about both those matters. In due course, I hope to reply to as many as I can of the many points raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Swindon raised fifteen points which I noted, of which five at least were based on wrong assumptions. Others concerned other Departments for which I cannot answer today. That was true of other points raised in the debate. In any matter on which I am unable to reply or which concerns another Department I will, as the case demands, either write to the hon. Member about it or get in touch with my colleague in the Department concerned.

First, I want to join my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) in the tribute he paid to the work of the Immigration Service, because there has again been a very large increase in the number of passenger arrivals and departures through our ports. Immigration officers have dealt with large numbers of people and, in spite of what has been said in the debate, I want to place in on record that, as far as my evidence goes, they have dealt with those large numbers of people with humanity, courtesy, and the minimum of fuss.

The hon. Member for Swindon and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked me to state the numbers of aliens and others who have been coming and going through our passport control. The latest figures I have are for the year ended 30th September of this year, when the total number of passengers each way, British and alien, was well over 11 million. That was an increase of over 1 million during the year.

During that period no less than 1,698,160 foreigners came here. That was an increase of nearly a quarter of a million, or 14.6 per cent., over the corresponding period of the previous year. That is a striking and satisfactory indication of the popularity of the United Kingdom as a holiday and tourist centre, although not all those who came where tourists, of the attraction of this country to foreigners generally, and of our liberality in admitting them here.

Of the total number which came, 2,618 were refused leave to land. That is an exceedingly small proportion of the total. It is only one out of every 650 who tried to come.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

Can the Minister say whether any of those 2,000-odd who were refused permission had been given by our consuls in the various countries from which they came authority to say that they would be allowed to land?

Mr. Renton

I cannot answer that question without notice, but I will try to find that out and let the hon. Gentleman know.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked me to break down the figure of those refused leave to land. The figure breaks down in this way: 182 had no travel document; 23 had no visa in circumstances that required a visa; 905 had no labour permit, although it was clear that they came here with the intention of getting work; 399 had insufficient means of support and no labour permit; 137 were stowaways; 43—which is a very small number—were rejected as undesirable on medical grounds; 375 were seeking permanent residence but were ineligible for it under our policy, and 264 were what we call "technical refusals" connected with transit procedure. They had no return-ability to their own countries and were not claiming political asylum, and were in no sense refugees. The remaining 290 were undesirables of miscellaneous kinds.

I think that if I get rid of all the figures it may help a good deal. The next figures which I have been asked to give are those of foreigners who have been deported. There was only one hon. Member who suggested that we might get rid of deportation. I think we must all agree that no system of aliens control could work without the sanction of deportation as a last resort. But deportation is on a small scale.

In 1958, 131 were deported, and in 1959 the number was 86. In the first ten months of this year the number was 93. I think it is material for me to point out, as so often the expression is used about people being deported by the Home Office, that, of course, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary takes responsibility for everything that is done in the Home Office and by the Immigration Service. This is one matter where the Statute requires his personal attention and signature and that is on a deportation order.

In answer to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, I would point out that this is a matter—and I think I am right in saying the only matter—in which the Secretary of State for the Home Department has any jurisdiction with regard to Scottish affairs. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's question I must tell him that aliens Who are picked up in Scotland and are required to be deported are, in fact, deported by the Home Secretary and not by the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Grimond

May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman two questions? The first is that as, technically, there is only one Secretary of State or, rather, that as all Secretaries of State act for each other, is this a particular onus placed on the Home Secretary or upon a Secretary of State? Secondly, does the appeal to the Chief Magistrate—this discretionary appeal—operate in Scotland as well as England?

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying that the constitutional position is that there is only one Secretary of State, but there is also only one Immigration Service—not one for England and Wales and another for Scotland. As a matter of administrative convenience the Home Secretary has always been responsible to Parliament for the whole of the Immigration Service. That is the reason why, in practice, he has dealt with this question of aliens control, including deportations. But, of course, if the Home Secretary were to be absent abroad another Secretary of State, including the Secretary of State for Scotland, would be fully empowered under the constitution to act on his behalf. What I described earlier was the practice. The hon. Member——

Mr. Fletcher

What about the Chief Magistrate?

Mr. Renton

I am coming to that. Since 1956, an alien who has been here for two years or more is given the chance to make representations to the Chief Magistrate, and that applies to those who are picked up in Scotland as well as to those who are picked up in England and Wales, unless, of course, deportation was recommended by a court, in which case there is no right to make representations to the Chief Magistrate, nor is there a right in a security case.

The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) suggested that we should reconsider the question of deportation and divide foreigners into two types, those who have been here for, say, two years and those who have been here for a shorter time. Of course, that is already done to the extent of distinguishing between those who are allowed to make representations and those who are not. The hon. Gentleman agrees with us that, in any event, those whom the court recommend for deportation should be deported. However, I will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said and will inform my right hon. Friend about it.

With regard to what has happened since this right to make representations to the Chief Magistrate was conferred in 1956, the position is this: 67 aliens have been eligible to make representations and of those only 34—just half—have availed themselves of the opportunity; 31 cases have actually been heard by the Chief Magistrate, and in 26 of them he confirmed the proposal to deport. That means that there have been five cases in which reference to the Chief Magistrate prevented deportation. There is no case in which deportation has taken place where the Chief Magistrate did not recommend it. So that whatever is the constitutional and statutory position about this opportunity to apply to the Chief Magistrate, in effect it has been regarded by us as a form of appeal against deportation and respected as such.

I should like to add that, as there were over 400,000 aliens registered with the police at 30th June this year the number of deportations, is really very small. Of course, some of the aliens deported had come here for short visits and had never been required to register with the police. One therefore has to look at the matter in the light of that even larger number.

This, perhaps, is the right moment to attempt to answer the question put by the hon. Member for Swindon, about how many aliens there are in this country. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was referring to the short-term aliens as well, because at the peak of the year—during the summer months—there are always over 100,000 alien visitors in this country at any one time. But the number changes every day throughout the year.

As I say, the number of aliens registered with the police is 400,000, and the figure that I gave in the debate last year, of there always being at least half a million aliens in the country, is one which can stand bearing in mind, and that number has been increased by the total number of aliens coming here.

Next, I want to respond to the invitation of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he is the only hon. Member who has spoken in the debate who was good enough to give me notice of the points that he intended to raise. It was much appreciated. This is a brainwashing experience for me, and prior notice of this sort helps me in my task on these occasions.

World Refugee Year was a great success and we should congratulate all those private individuals in this country who initiated it, including my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway). We should record the remarkably enthusiastic and generous response of our people in all parts of the United Kingdom. The total sum raised throughout the world was £28½ million, two-thirds of which was from voluntary sources. The United Kingdom contribution, £8¼ million, was the highest of any country. The United States came next and Norway and New Zealand also made important contributions.

Her Majesty's Government made it clear that the United Kingdom contribution was to be mainly financial and £½ million came from the Treasury towards the £8¼ million, and that was in addition to the much larger sums which we contribute in various ways each year for helping refugees all over the world.

Since the war, this country has accepted more than a quarter of a million refugees.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. F. Blackburn)

I was not here earlier and I do not know how wide the debate has gone, but I hope that the Minister will not go too wide on the question of World Refugee Year, which seems to me not to arise on this issue.

Mr. Renton

The point I was about to make concerning World Refugee Year is strictly relevant to the debate, because it concerns visas given under the Aliens Orders for refugees coming from the Continent of Europe.

Mr. Paget

On a point of order. I have taken part in these debates for the last fifteen years and it has always been the custom for this to be an opportunity given to and taken by the Government to account for their administration of the law with regard to aliens, the treatment of aliens, and what has been happening to aliens. World Refugee Year concerned aliens. Surely the Government should not be deprived of the traditional opportunity of giving us an account of what they have done.

The Temporary Chairman

Before taking the Chair, I took the opportunity to look up one or two previous debates and I noticed that on more than one occasion the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) had been called to order. I said to the Minister that I hoped that he would not go too wide on that aspect, because we were not discussing World Refugee Year; but what the Minister has now said puts the matter in order.

Mr. Renton

As I said, the Government's contribution was intended to be mainly financial, but as part of World Refugee Year we decided to admit those refugees in Europe most in need of help. Those were chiefly handicapped refugees unable to emigrate to other countries because those countries would not have them and families which had been debarred from emigration because at least one member of the family was handicapped.

The United Kingdom Committee for World Refugee Year, however, asked us to help the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees in his attempts to clear all European camps of the hard core of people whom it had been found impossible to settle elsewhere. We readily agreed and the Home Office co-operated with the British Council for Aid to Refugees in making the detailed arrangements. Those arrangements have consisted of getting three groups of people away from the camps and settled in this country.

First, 200 refugees, mainly from camps in Italy, were chosen a year ago and arrived in this country earlier this year. Secondly, in the light of the experience gained in choosing that first batch, we revised the criteria for selection and included those suffering from incurable disability, but who could be cared for by their families, and also those suffering from curable T.B. or other curable illness which had previously debarred them from coming.

Using those criteria, set out very fully in a Written Answer earlier in the year, a selection team from this country went to Italy, Austria and Germany during May and June to interview 1,228 refugees whose names had been submitted by the United Nations High Commissioner. A disappointingly high proportion of those did not even turn up for interview, but 673 were interviewed and of those 495 were accepted. We granted visas to them and all, but two or three came here.

5.45 p.m.

The United Kingdom Committee then asked Whether a further effort could be made and, although World Refugee Year had meanwhile come to an end, we readily agreed that a selection team should go to Germany and Austria when the United Nations High Commission and voluntary organisations had had a chance to prepare a fresh list of candidates and do some necessary preparatory work. The team will be going abroad immediately after Christmas.

Thanks to the generosity of the voluntary organisations and of individuals in this country, adequate sponsorships have so far been found. Dr. Lindt, who recently retired from being United Nations High Commissioner and whose work for refugees I am sure every one will agree to have been outstanding, has paid tribute to the liberality of our criteria in selecting refugees and to the work of our selection teams. He said that the flexibility of our approach had made our scheme unique and even revolutionary and that it further illustrated, to use his words, the generosity of a nation which had already done so much during World Refugee Year. We have also had a most appreciative letter from the Federal German Government.

The number of refugees who may come here as the result of the final phase of the operation cannot yet be estimated, but it may well bring the total to well over 1,000. However, we are not thinking in terms of a specific target, for our purpose is not merely to think of a number, but to meet a real need, namely, the clearing of the camps of the hard core of handicapped cases.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked me whether refugees admitted under the World Refugee Year arrangements were subject to any restrictions as to movement and employment. The answer is that they are not and that they can take any employment that they wish.

Mr. Grimond

I am extremely grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for the information he has given. Can he say whether the hard core of handicapped refugees coming here indefinitely will become British citizens, or will have documents as refugees?

Mr. Renton

They are in the same position as others whom we admit for permanent or indefinite residence. They remain aliens and they will be expected to be in possession of a document showing what their status is. That is all. I will deal with registration in a moment, but it would be outside the terms of the Order to discuss their possible applications for naturalisation.

Now I come to the important question of registration. As I announced in last year's debate, we have been engaged in a thorough study of the existing provisions of police registration of aliens to see whether changes might now be made without detriment to our general aliens control, the need for which is inescapable. The present provisions have been in operation for more than forty years and at this stage they could not have been drastically modified without full consideration by all concerned. Ordinary tourists and holiday visitors do not have to register at all if they are staying here for three months or less.

Last year, well over 1½ million foreigners landed here and the vast majority did not have to register. The number who came and who had to register for the first time was fewer than 80,000. Altogether, there are at present over 400,000 foreigners who are registered with the police and required by the Aliens Order to notify changes of permanent address and of employment. Those 400,000 foreigners fall into two distinct groups, and I would invite the Committee to try to follow me in understanding the difference between those two groups because it is vital to the consideration of the matter.

The first group are those who wish to stay here longer than three months, but whose stay is, nevertheless, on a temporary basis. Many of these are people with Ministry of Labour permits, and we expect them to stay in the job that they have been given permission to take, or in some other job approved by the Ministry of Labour during their first four years. After that, of course, they are free to take any job they like.

Then this first group also includes other foreigners who are here on a temporary basis for longer than three months, such as students and girls who are staying here au pair. In this first group, altogether there are about 125,000 people registered. All of them are subject to conditions and we have to ensure that their conditions are complied with. This can best be done with the aid of the police.

Registration is not a great burden. Once an alien has registered, he does not have to report regularly to the police, as sometimes people loosely and, indeed, wildly suggest, but merely has to tell the police of changes in personal circumstances, such as change of employment or of permanent address. We are, however, taking the opportunity to introduce two or three minor relaxations with regard to this first group of people who were here for more than three months, but on a temporary basis.

The period allowed for reporting changes will be extended from three to seven days, and when the Home Office has granted a foreigner an extension of stay he will no longer need personally to report this to the police. That will save the re-registration which normally follows after the first year of employment in this country.

I come to the other and larger group. They are those foreigners whom we have accepted for residence here permanently or indefinitely. They are not subject to any restrictions on the length of time that they may stay here, nor on the employment that they may take. These people number over a quarter of a million, and they include many refugees who made their homes here among us and became a valued part of our community. They also include many foreign spouses of British people, and they include those people who, on various compassionate grounds with which the Committee is familiar, we allowed to come here for permanent residence and without being subject to conditions. A large proportion of the people who are permanent residents in this second and larger group that I have mentioned are those who came here originally on labour permits and who, having been here for four years, have had the restriction on their choice of employment removed.

It is the registration of all these people—over a quarter of a million of them—whom we have accepted for permanent residence and whose removal would be contemplated only if they grossly abused our hospitality, that we have had particularly in mind in considering whether or not they should continue to have to register with the police. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has decided that the public interest does not now require this large group of people to be subject to the degree of supervision which police registration involves. He has, therefore, decided that they should be exempt altogether from registration. They will no longer be required to report changes of address or employment, and their only future obligation will be the simple one of still retaining a document giving evidence of their identity and status. It is an obligation which they have always had and it is not unreasonable bearing in mind that, after all, they are foreigners.

This substantial relaxation of policy will benefit more than two-thirds of the foreigners now registered with the police, and will do so without detriment to the effectiveness of our system of aliens control. The necessary amending Order has been drafted and will be laid before the next meeting of the Privy Council. We hope to make the change effective from 1st January and the Order will be laid before the House at the first opportunity in the usual way.

In due course, all those benefiting from this concession will be told of the change and they will also be told of the arrangements to be made for formal endorsement of their registration certificates showing their new status. I hope that this decision to exempt over a quarter of a million resident foreigners from police registration will be generally welcomed, for it is a prominent measure of liberalisation of our control and will, no doubt, be recognised as such.

One effect of the changes that I have mentioned is that Ukrainians, with whom my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) and my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) have been concerned, will be exempt from registration, for they are all long-term residents and it follows that the police will no longer have to concern themselves with a nationality entry in their registration certificates. This will remove the source of irritation to which my hon. Friends referred last Session.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North-West (Mr. McLaren) asked me about hotel registration, and I must tell the Committee candidly that we are not altering the arrangements relating to hotel registration. Naturally, in the course of our study of the registration provisions under the Aliens Order we took account of the provisions relating to registration by hotels, but my right hon. Friend's conclusion, after taking account of the views of the police, is that registration in hotels is of help in enabling the authorities to learn the whereabouts of particular aliens and is of considerable value to the police in their immense task in the prevention and detection of crime.

But what about British subjects having to register as well? It is very difficult, it seems—I have been into this very closely—to insist that aliens should register in hotels unless everyone who goes to a hotel is asked to register. But there are adequate safeguards to see that British subjects are not lightly prosecuted for a possible technical offence under these provisions, and indeed the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions would be required before any prosecution took place.

Mr. Paget

What has been worrying me is where the power to make the regulation requiring a British national to register comes from.

Mr. Renton

There is a power in the Aliens Order. I will ascertain which one it is before the end of the debate. It is a power which applies not only to aliens but also to British subjects.

This is a convenient moment for me to deal also with a point which is linked to the point just raised by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred to the power to require British subjects to show their passports. That also is a power which is derived from the Aliens Order; Article 7 of the Order refers to it.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Paget

I quite agree that it is in the Aliens Order. I can find that. What I cannot find is the power to put it in the Aliens Order. The Aliens Order can be made only pursuant to the authority delegated by the legislation which we are being asked to renew, and all I can find in this legislation is that it gives power to make Orders for the regulation of aliens. I cannot discover any power to make Orders for the regulation of anyone else. It is true that it is done, but it seems to be done entirely ultra vires.

Mr. Renton

I gather that the hon. and learned Gentleman is challenging the vires authority of the Order. I am not sure whether this point has ever been challenged in the courts.

Mr. Paget

I raised it last year.

Mr. Renton

If this is the point which the hon. and learned Member raised last year, I think I replied to him pointing out the position. I will get my file of what I call "Pagetry", because the hon. and learned Member has raised a large number of technical points, many of which, I think, are out of order. I have them all noted. I explained to him that he must have been referring to Article 20, paragraph 5. The vires of that was challenged in the case of Cox against Ede.

Mr. Paget

What was the name?

Mr. Renton

The name was Ede. I think that he was Home Secretary at the time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) asked me whether I would go to Harwich and watch the early morning boat arrive one day. I am now in the happy position of assuring him that I did so on 22nd September. It was the boat to which he referred, from the Hook of Holland. The number of aliens who landed, at about 7 a.m., was 157, and there were also 324 British people on the boat, making a total of 481. I saw them start to come off the boat and I saw them going through the passport control. The whole operation took 33 minutes, and I do not think that is too bad.

One is always sorry for anyone at the back of the queue, but even if we had double the number of immigration officers, which I do not think we could conceivably justify, there would still be a bit of a queue and somebody would still be at the back of it. All these people were cleared in good time to catch the first of the trains to London. The control was completed by 7.30 a.m., and the first train left at 7.42 a.m.

Sir A. V. Harvey

I thank my hon. and learned Friend and congratulate him on his enterprise. There have, however, been cases in the winter, no doubt owing to bad weather, in which passengers have missed the trains, but I thank my hon. and learned Friend for the trouble which he has taken in this matter. The position shows a vast improvement over that of a year or so ago.

Mr. Renton

I do not wish to mislead my hon. Friend. I was about to concede this—that the boatload which I saw, being in fairly late September, was a lighter boatload than sometimes arrives, and at the peak of the holiday season, when these boats are very crowded, a vast number of people have to be taken through the control. Although we do what we can to get relief immigration officers from places where the traffic at the time is not as busy, necessarily the excellent performance of this occasion will not be maintained all the time. We keep a watch all the time. The Immigration Service does its best.

Having been not only to Harwich, but also to Dover, which takes the largest number of passengers, and to London Airport, in recent weeks and seen the passengers going through the control, I have been impressed by the expedition with which they are handled. The occasional difficult case which arises is not allowed to hold up the whole of the queue, because if it is obvious that someone has arrived whose case presents difficulty he is given a chair on which to sit and his case is dealt with at greater leisure after the main queue has passed through. It is a great problem, but if we are to have immigration control at all, and I think it is generally conceded that we must, then it must be effective.

The hon. Member for Swindon asked about visitors' card arrangements and how far agreement on this subject had been reached with various other countries. This is a Home Office matter, and I think that I am in order in replying that agreements have been reached with Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the German Federal Republic. Agreements have not been asked for by Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Negotiations are not yet concluded with Italy and France. The question of reciprocity and of the issuing of identity cards or something in lieu of them to United Kingdom subjects is a matter for the Foreign Office, but the then Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs gave a Written Answer, at the end of July, saying that the matter was still under inter-Departmental consideration.

The hon. Member for Islington, East asked me about au pair girls and referred to the approach on the subject which was made to me by the National Council of Women. I hope that the Committee will bear with me if I give a rather full answer about this, because it is important and, although I shall shortly write to the council, I feel that I ought to put my views rather fully before the Committee. Some interesting and instructive comments have appeared in the Press about this matter, which has excited a lot of attention. Since the National Council of Women saw me, and made various suggestions about this problem, we have been making extensive inquiries and have given very sympathetic consideration to the possibility of making a change in the existing system.

Under the present arrangements, which have prevailed for many years, we allow women and girls over 15 to come here to learn the language while staying with British families. They are not allowed to undertake employment, but they are allowed to perform light household duties. In return, they receive free board and lodging, and in many cases some pocket money. The approximate number of girls who come here in this way is difficult to estimate. In spite of all that has been said about our system being elaborate, it is not so elaborate that we can distinguish the exact number who come for this purpose, but I do not think that there can be fewer than 5,000 here at any one time. That is a mere estimate on my part.

Some proportion of them get into various kinds of difficulty and trouble while here, not always through the fault of the families with which they stay. A small proportion of the families no doubt have abused the system and made the girls lives unpleasant and uncomfortable, but some of the girls who come here are not always of a satisfactory type. The families with whom they have lived were not to blame for what happened.

I want to emphasise at once that, according to the best information we can get, the proportion of girls who, for one reason or another, find themselves in difficulty or danger, or are exploited by their hostesses, has been very small in relation to the total number coming here. This in itself is not, of course, a reason for complacency. We have to think not only of the welfare of the girls themselves, for whom the families and countries from which they come have some responsibility, but also of the good name of our country. We have a tradition of humane treatment of visitors, and if a considerable number of foreign girls were exploited or exposed to danger our reputation would suffer. Our inquiries have included consultations with Swiss, Dutch, Austrian, German and Italian welfare authorities.

Mr. Paget


Mr. Renton

Not Spanish. I am not quite sure why not, but there is a good reason.

We have had these consultations in an effort to do all we could to get to the bottom of this and have also consulted the various social agencies in this country, religious and otherwise, and other Departments concerned. As a result of the consultations we have a fair picture of the situation as it now is. We therefore do not feel—my right hon. Friend indicated this in reply to a Question put by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) the other day—that any further special inquiry is called for at the moment.

The National Council of Women made some suggestions which have been referred to in this debate. The first was that the lower age limit of au pair, which is now 15, should be raised to 17. On present information we are not convinced that such a change is necessary. Our inquiries suggest that few girls under 17 run into moral danger, or are exploited by unscrupulous hostesses. Comparatively few foreign girls under 17 come here on an au pair basis and most of them do so under arrangements made by parents or friends. If we raised the age to 17 we should exclude those girls who come under satisfactory arrangements to learn the language when they are of an age to learn it easily, and it would cause hardship. So far as we can see it would not do a great deal of good to others if we prevented them coming.

Another suggestion made by the National Council with which I had much sympathy is that, to secure au pair arrangements and to see that they are properly understood by the parties to the agreement, there should be a standard letter of invitation to the foreign girl. I do not think that this would be likely to have any great effect in stopping such malpractices as exist. Some years ago a system rather like it was tried out by die Home Office, but it did not work well and did not produce satisfactory results.

We know from past experience of the use of documents more formal than the model letter which has been suggested how easy it is for people who want to disguise the facts or to misrepresent them to do so. At the moment, the immigration officers judge from informal correspondence in the possession of the girl when she arrives, and from conversation with her, whether the arrangement which has been made is a bona fide one. I am sure that this is likely to be a more effective method than the use of stereotyped letters.

The National Council also asked that there should be effective control of employment agencies. As hon. Members are aware, there is an I.L.O. Convention concerning fee-charging agencies which would require them to be registered. That Convention cannot be ratified and implemented in this country without legislation. Extensive consultations about such legislation have been undertaken and the question of its introduction at a convenient opportunity is being kept in mind.

The fourth suggestion made by the National Council was that au pair girls should be interviewed by women immigration officers. There are no women immigration officers. The service is staffed by men because many of the duties are unsuitable for women. It would be extremely difficult to organise it on the basis of some of its members doing only duties of a particular kind. Apart from that, it would be impracticable at the ports, because it would mean that au pair girls would have to be isolated from the stream of arrivals and dealt with by women officers. We have no evidence that they are not being satisfactorily dealt with by the men. Therefore, we do not feel that this is a suggestion we can act upon at present. I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me the opportunity to say this.

As in previous years, my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn), whose views on all constitutional matters I always greatly respect—indeed, I recollect with great pleasure collaborating with him sometimes when we felt that legislative forms were not being well observed—the hon. Member for Swindon and others, all suggested that we should replace our present law on the subject of aliens by up-to-date permanent legislation. In previous years we have conceded the need for this, but have pointed out that, however unsatisfactory the position may be from the technical point of view, the need for permanent legislation cannot seriously be considered as urgent. That is still the position today.

I would point out that any legislation on this subject would have to retain the advantage of flexibility which the present system allows. Circumstances are changing all the time and policy has to be evolved to meet the changing circumstances. I say this in support of our view that the matter cannot be considered urgent. Nevertheless, I take note of, and will express to my right hon. Friend, the views which have been expressed in this debate. Surely the real issue before us today, apart from the opportunity we have of reviewing the administration of the Aliens Order, is whether or not the present control over foreigners should lapse and to what extent policy should be adjusted. It is right that we should use this opportunity in that way.

6.15 p.m.

As my right hon. Friend who is now Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance said some years ago when replying to one of these debates, this country is still a magnet to vast numbers of people who would like to come here for one reason or another, but whose presence here would create difficult social and economic problems. We have high standards of living and a system of social security of a very high order and we wish to maintain these things but we could not maintain them if we admitted every foreigner who felt inclined to come and live here.

Employment opportunities are not unlimited and the interests of our own people make it necessary to preserve a firm control over employment of foreign labour. Nevertheless, we claim that our policy has been as generous, liberal and humane—as some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Islington, East, have been good enough to acknowledge—as we could possibly make it. I think that this is proved by the large number of foreigners who, in fact, have been admitted here since the war and who we now allow to live here as long as they wish.

Although I have made an extremely long speech, and I do not like making long speeches, I am in a dilemma, for I still have not replied to a great many of the points made in the debate. I have no doubt that it would be the wish of those hon. Members who have spoken that I should attempt to deal at least with some of them.

The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), who was good enough to acknowledge our generous treatment of foreigners, suggested that we should enlarge the categories of relatives who should be admitted, categories which I explained in some detail last year. Candidly, I doubt whether there is much between us, but I should like to study carefully what the hon. and learned Member said. I cannot give an undertaking to oblige him, but I should like to consider carefully the exact implications of adopting his suggestion. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield asked whether I would convey to the other Ministers concerned the question of various forms which have to be filled in. I will, of course, do so.

In the course of what I have already said, I have dealt with nearly all of the fifteen points made by the hon. Member for Swindon. He made several statements that were based on quite wrong assumptions and I wonder whether I may briefly correct one of them in particular. The hon. Member said that the immigration control broke down in the case of the Hungarian refugees in 1956 and 1957 and had broken down in the case of the Southern Irish. That was an extraordinary statement to make. The Hungarians were intentionally let in as refugees, which they obviously were. As for the Southern Irish, they have never been subject to our immigration control other than that to which British people are subject and the position of the Southern Irish has been governed by special legislation throughout.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Islington, East and other hon. Members whether we could consider the embarkation and landing cards which are filled in and it was pointed out that other countries do not have them. My fairly recent experience of travelling to one very near other country was that they do have them. These cards are a great saving of time on arrival at the port. So long as the card has been filled in by the foreigner, he has only to hand the card to the immigration officer, who, in many cases, can see at a glance the purpose of the visit. That enables the passport to be stamped quickly. It is that sort of thing which enabled, for example, the 157 aliens to be checked in 33 minutes when coming off the boat at Harwich. Without the cards, there would be serious delay at our immigration control.

I am in the happy position of not having to detain the Committee any longer. I am grateful to hon. Members who have spoken in this debate and I shall be interested to pick up later other of the various points which have been made.

Mr. Weitzman

Will the hon. and learned Member please give us one more piece of information? Can he give us the reference to the case of Cox v. Ede, which he quoted? I cannot find it reported.

Mr. Renton

There is no doubt about its having been reported. I will try to find the reference to the law report for the hon. and learned Member.

Mr. Paget

We are extremely grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary for his long and careful speech. In particular, I am delighted at the recognition at last that aliens, generally speaking, when they are here can be under the same law as everybody else. I have quoted before in these debates—and I have always been greatly impressed by it—the law of Exodus: One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you. That is a deep and profound principle and it is one the approach to which we welcome.

The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) who moved the Amendment and who has expressed his regret at not now being here, and said that he was mistaken in his remarks concerning the Hungarians and the Irish to the effect that in these instances the aliens law had broken down. The hon. and learned Gentleman has entirely misunderstood what my hon. Friend was saying. He was not saying that in these instances the law had broken down. He was saying that these instances demonstrated that the law was unnecessary, that if it was unnecessary to apply it to the Southern Irish—and, I might add, unnecessary to apply it to the West Indians—if it could be waived for the Hungarians and a sudden large immigration of refugees could be accepted. The whole thing would have broken down if the various people had remained under the ordinary tight restrictions. That is what my hon. Friend was saying.

I now turn to what seems to me to be the most important point and the one which has been swept aside in a rather cavalier fashion. It is whether this temporary legislation, this legislation by regulation, is good enough or whether we should have a law upon the subject. The Home Office says, and with a good deal of justification—my hon. Friends and I agree with a great deal of it—"Look how humane we are. Look how kind we are. You do not want legislation." That is what every monarch says. It is what every colonial Power says to the demand for liberty—"Our rule is just. It is better than the rule you can provide yourselves. Our rule is humane. You do not need liberty. You do not need the law. Our rule is a kind rule."

The fundamental question is whether people are to live under the law or under an arbitrary will. The argument is an age-old one and is always the same. To some extent, it is better to live even under a bad law than under no law at all, even though the arbitrary will under which one exists is a kind will. That is the general point which we have sought to advocate.

Here we have a law which we are being asked to renew. It is a law of quite Draconian power. It puts half a million people under the unrestricted will of a single man to incarcerate without trial and without limit of period, to banish, to break families, to expel. We are asked to give that Draconian power to a single man. That is precisely what the Bill does. We are told, "Ah, but this great power is so kindly, so justly, so humanely administered that it does not matter that absolute power should be in the hands of this man over the lives of half a million people." Of course that is relatively true. But it is still not a good enough answer.

6.30 p.m.

When the hon. and learned Gentleman says, "Yes, we accept the need and demand for a law but we do not accept its urgency", I say that in this sort of circumstances, of which the urgency has been postponed year after year for nearly half a century, there is a certain point where the urgency of liberty emerges. The time has surely at last come when something should be done. Look at this Government's legislative proposals. They are pretty trivial, are they not?

I would urge upon the Government once again what I urged last year with reference to another case where one had dealt year by year with temporary legislation. That case was the Army Act. Simply because we obstructed, the Government came and asked terms; and from that emerged a system which has worked quite extraordinarily well. We set up a Select Committee of the House working in parallel with a professional committee of the War Office. We made the proposals, they went to the professional committee, they came back to us, Parliamentary draftsmen were attached to us, and at the end of some eighteen months' work we produced a Bill, and that Bill was accepted by the Government and brought to the House without one single Amendment. The Bill which we made in that Select Committee was accepted and brought by the Government without the alteration of so much as a comma, and was accepted by the House. I believe it is a good Act and has vastly improved both the administration of the Army and the liberty of the citizen in relation to military law.

Why not do the same here? Why not set up a Select Committee of the House—there are plenty of people who will serve on it—to work with a professional committee which could bring forward the Ministry's difficulties? Let us get the Measure into form. Then, I believe, it will be very possible to present it as an agreed Measure.

It is not only the liberties of foreigners, although I regard them as important, which are affected. It is also the liberties of our own citizens. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) brought out the question of those regulations which are alleged to impose obligations on our own citizens to register in hotels, obligations to produce passports, and so on. The Government can make a regulation only in so far as they are empowered to do so by an Act of Parliament.

The empowering Act is the Act which we are being asked to perpetuate. It is under that Act that the Aliens Order is made. What that Act provides is that His Majesty may … by Order in Council impose restrictions on aliens or any of us, and later on, amongst other things and subject to those governing words, he might prohibit aliens from landing in the United Kingdom and various other things. It is all subject to the governing words may impose restrictions on aliens. We are now told of a case called Cox v. Ede. It does not appear to be in the index——

Mr. Renton

I was very incautious, because I allowed myself to be drawn into giving an answer while still on my feet without checking my reference. The position is this. I was asked about the vires of Article 19 dealing with hotel registers and I said that the vires of it had been decided in the case of Cox v. Ede in which case the vires of Article 20 dealing with the deportation orders was decided. I must apologise to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Paget

That, of course, is entirely and completely off the point, because we are not dealing with deportation orders, and I would say that it is almost clear beyond dubiety that the regulation, in so far as it seeks to impose a duty upon a British citizen to register at an hotel or to produce a passport, is ultra vires. It is quite plainly outside any power which is granted by this Statute, and the Aliens Order purports to be made under this Statute.

I do not think these sorts of things, these details, are so very important in themselves. What I am saying is that it is exceedingly important that for this sort of reason we should clarify the thing. Let people's rights depend upon the law instead of this odd evasion of the law in things too trifling for people to challenge in the courts.

I will just give one other reason why this law needs tidying up. I do not know whether hon. Members are aware that according to the law as it stands now it is still a criminal offence for any alien under the age of 46 to have a name. Here is what is provided: An alien shall not for any purpose assume or use or purport to assume or use or continue after the commencement of this Act"— this is 1919— the assumption or use of any name other than that by which he was ordinarily known on the fourth day of August, nineteen hundred and fourteen. Any alien born after 4th August, 1914, is committing an offence by having a name. That, surely, is a sort of muddle which does need clearing up.

Take another of these things: No alien shall act as master, chief officer, or chief engineer of a British merchant ship"— unless he has acted in that capacity in a British ship at any time during the war. Which war? This was 1919. Are we here excluding the very gallant men who served in the Merchant Navy and faced the U-boats in the last war? I do not know.

This is the sort of muddle that exists, and the Under-Secretary of State says it is not urgent. For nearly half a century it has not been urgent. Surely it is time to get on with it. I feel that we ought to give the Government notice that next year if this is not done we must seek to revert to the method which worked in the case of the Army Act, which seems to be the only way we can kick a reluctant Government into doing their duty, and that is by the weapon of obstruction.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 10 and 11.

This Amendment, if accepted, would have the effect of refusing the Government permission to continue the Education (Exemptions) (Scotland) Act, 1947. The Amendment affords the Opposition further opportunity of expressing our hostility to that Act and gives the Government further opportunity, on the other hand, of trying to justify it or of amplifying the statement which the predecessor of the Joint Under-Secretary of State made in a similar debate last year.

This Act has for its purpose the granting to local authorities of power to exempt Children of over 13 years of age in Scotland from attending school so that they can engage in the seasonal potato harvesting. To many people in this day and age it comes as rather a shock to learn for the first time that such a practice still continues, diminishing though it is, and they cannot understand why it does when in England and Wales the practice was given up about ten years ago.

The reason for the Act was the frightful difficulty in the immediate post-war years of keeping our industry going and carrying out rehabilitation. But however difficult the conditions were in those years and however necessary was the Act then, many people, including the Government, who made a qualified admission last year, have now come to recognise that the Act ought to go. We have thought so for several years and have taken the opportunity from this side of the Committee year after year of voicing our opposition to it. In view of the Government's assurance last year during a similar debate I do not intend to go over all the arguments again. Most of us are conversant with them, but I think that we owe it to the Committee to refer briefly to some of the facts.

In 1949 there were 47,000 exemptions to children over 13 years of age to enable them to engage in potato harvesting, and the local authorities were given power to grant those exemptions. In 1955 the figure was 45,000. In 1957 the figure came down rather rapidly to 22,000, and in 1958 it was 16,000. Last year we were delighted to learn that the figure was down to 10,900. We were very pleased with the progress and we had hoped that in the interval since this subject was last debated the Government would have tabled an Amendment designed to rescind the Act. We on this side of the Committee have held all along that if the Government had simply said that they intended to act, other arrangements would have been made by farmers to get their harvests in.

The first question that I should like to ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is whether at this stage he can give the number of exemptions granted during the past year. We recognise that this debate follows very closely on the harvesting season and that the hon. and learned Gentleman may have difficulty in giving the figure, though we should be grateful for it. This debate is initiated once again to show that there is no complacency on our part in this matter and that we still want to know whether it is absolutely necessary to continue this Act until 1962. Even with the smaller numbers engaged in this work there is still inequality between one area and another. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) mentioned during a similar debate last year that Dundee was the only city in Scotland that still provided some children for the potato harvesting.

There is another form of inequality. A predecessor of the present Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland admitted last year that 75 per cent. of these children came from our junior secondary schools, compared with only 25 per cent. from the senior secondary schools. This was precisely the point on education that we used to make—that, in the main, these children came from homes where parents did not have the same high interest in the future well-being of their children and that far too often the attraction of a temporary relief to their economic hardship was sought through the children being exempted to enable them to do this work. The Rose Committee on the Employment of Children in the Potato Harvest, which reported in 1956, condemned the educational damage that was being done, and the social and moral danger to many of these children.

I should like to come to the immediate problem and refer to the assurance given on 11th November—a significant date—of last year by the then Joint Under-Secretary of State. He assured us that the Government were now able to foresee the abolition of the scheme within "a reasonable time". What was the reasonable time? He thought that three years were a reasonable period so that farmers could be given due notice to enable them to make alternative arrangements.

6.45 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman's actual words were: Accordingly, I can tell the Committee that we propose to seek the approval of Parliament to the re-enactment of this Measure now"— that was last year— and for the next two years—that is, for the next three harvests—but not after the 1962 harvest. Later, the hon. Gentleman said: With that assurance and the certainty"— I ask the Committee to note that word— of the ending of the scheme within a 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1959; Vol. 613, cc. 509–510.] On the face of it, that seems clear enough. First, the hon. Gentleman starts with that assurance and certainty and before the end of the paragraph that assurance and certainty become a hope to end the scheme in 1962

It was on the strength of that assurance, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East, who had moved an Amendment, withdrew it. Our purpose today is to ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will reaffirm without any qualification or equivocation the assurance that was given last year. Is it certainty or is it hope? Can the hon. Gentleman use other language to make quite clear that the Act will come to an end? If he can, we shall feel more satisfied that those in agriculture to whom the Act applies will find means now to deal with the residue of children whose education is still being damaged.

I am encouraged by a report which I saw in today's Glasgow Herald that the Perth and Kinross Education Committee has recommended to its county council that in future no schools shall be closed for the potato harvest but that pupils shall be exempted on a reducing scale for the years 1961 and 1962. This is one of the largest potato-growing areas, yet the education committee there has accepted the position. We should like to hear from the lips of the Joint Under-Secretary, who has lately assumed office and from whom some of us have a little hope that some of the Government's pledges will be carried out, that this pledge will be honoured. We hope that we shall have that assurance in his speech today.

Mr. J. A. Stodart (Edinburgh, West)

I think that it would be fair to say that there have been two schools of thought over many years on this matter. Indeed, in my recollection two schools of thought were expressed by hon. Members opposite in a debate similar to this last year. I well remember the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) giving it as his opinion that lifting potatoes for a fortnight or three weeks did children no harm.

I have grown potatoes for many years and have experienced the invaluable help which school children have given, particularly during the war years, in gathering the crop. I am in no doubt that, on balance, it is undesirable to interrupt education and take children away from school, but I disagreed with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) when he said that this debate follows closely upon the potato harvest. Alas, it does not follow on it, but is taking place in the middle of it, in this most disastrous year for both the corn and the potato crops in Scotland.

I say to hon. Members opposite that to lift 128,000 acres of main crop potatoes during October—and it is very rare that one can get started before October, as the corn harvest has not finished, and once November arrives there are dangers of frost—would need 40,000 to 45,000 adult gatherers. If, however, we are prepared to run the risk of lifting throughout November, then, clearly, with the longer period, we could bring that number down to about 25,000 to 30,000.

I must confess, however, that though I admit the undesirability of taking children away from school, I have a certain amount of misgiving as to what is to happen after 1962, unless another source of labour can be provided. Of course, one thinks immediately of the possibility of using the unemployed. But it is generally true to say that the black spots of unemployment are in areas where main crop potatoes are not grown in very large acreages.

There is no lack of desire by farmers to get a machine which will eliminate the need not only for schoolchildren but for hand labour altogether. Many thousands of pounds have been invested in search of it, and I am glad to say that I believe that progress is now being made. At the recent harvester trials I noticed that only 4.8 per cent. of the potatoes lifted by a mechanical harvester were severely damaged. The rate of damage has been one of the things that we have been up against in finding a machine that would take the place of manual labour. That rate of 4.8 per cent. is astonishing when compared with the 9.5 per cent. damaged among the potatoes picked by hand.

The cost of machine lifting was estimated at £4 17s. an acre compared with £9 8s. by manual labour. Obviously, therefore, there is every inducement to find an alternative so as to do away not only with children being taken away from school, but with the potato squads as we know them.

The hon. Member for Maryhill said that alternative arrangements must be made by 1962. If there were no other alternative, would he accept the growing of, say, only half the crop of potatoes in the country? That would be an alternative arrangement that farmers could make, but it is one which would have to be weighed up very carefully by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State, in company with his colleague who looks after the agricultural interests of Scotland.

While I hope that alternative arrangements will be possible, I beg the hon. Member for Maryhill to give us some idea of the alternative labour which he proposes could take the place of the children who have been of such invaluable help to the farming community.

Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy, Burghs)

In following the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), I am glad to note that he supports this side of the Committee in regretting the break in education that potato harvesting causes our children. We also regret the important circumstances in which the potatoes have had to be gathered this year. But that is something rather unusual, and we should not discuss this question on the basis of special circumstances, but of normal circumstances. I shall refer later to what the hon. Gentleman said about alternative sources of labour.

This has been described previously as the hardy annual debate in the House of Commons. However, a certain quantity of the wind of change has been through St. Andrew's House, and we now have a new Joint Under-Secretary of State looking after this subject. I sincerely hope that he will bring a fresh mind to this terrific problem and will give us the assurance that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) has asked for.

Debate on this subject is also a hardy annual among education committees, particularly those which are called upon to release substantial numbers of children for potato harvesting. Reference has already been made to the unfairness as between different authorities. Fife has been called upon over many years to provide quite a large number of children for this work, while the capital city, Edinburgh, has gone completely scot-free from making any contribution towards lifting potatoes.

In last year's debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) said that as far as he knew—and being a farmer himself he was in a good position to know—very little physical harm had come to children who had gathered potatoes. I believe that that is a matter of opinion. A great deal depends upon the class of home from which children come, and, in the main, those called upon have come from poorer sections of the community, for the simple reason that they have been required by their parents to go in order to supplement the family income.

Some hon. Members opposite may not accept that view, but that very largely is why many of the children take the opportunity. If they had been properly clad and if the conditions laid down in regulations by education committees had been properly observed by farmers in the past, some of the hardships and physical difficulties which have emerged during harvesting would not have been encountered by many of the children.

7.0 p.m.

As the Joint Under-Secretary stated last year, 75 per cent. of the children come from junior secondary schools. It seems in some way a mockery that the Government have in recent weeks been telling us how much they are concerned with further education, particularly for the children who leave school at 15, for they, in the main, are the children who are required to be exempted from school attendance so that they may gather potatoes. It is children of that type who are more in need of the full educational opportunities which are available than the more gifted children.

The Department requires a minimum of 400 attendances per school year, and yet in this respect it is quite unconcerned in giving permission to education authorities—in some cases forcing it on education authorities—to release children for this purpose. It will be very wrong if education is regarded as a frill which can be very easily interrupted purely at the whim of the farmer.

I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to tell us that the farmers have taken notice of what was said by his predecessor last year, that it is the intention of the Department no longer to release children for this purpose after 1962. I also hope that tonight the hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us that the farmers have started to take sufficient steps to ensure that they will not come to the Department in 1962 pleading for an extension of the scheme, because at the present time, and judging by the remarks of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West that seems very likely to happen. I appeal to the Joint Under-Secretary to make sure that the farming community knows that it is up to itself to start now and prepare for the 1963 harvest which will have to be ingathered without the assistance of school children.

Another point about the 75 per cent. of these children who are away from school for this purpose is that many of them in present circumstances are being taught in oversized classes, classes which according to our present regulations are far too large to give the children the type of education to which they are entitled, and, in very large measure, by unqualified teachers. Sufficient damage has been done to education in the past from these aspects without increasing the damage by continuing attendance exemptions beyond 1962.

It is a very sad reflection in these days when we hear so much about Polaris missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles and world-wide telephone conversations with the aid of earth satellites, that we cannot find the answer to what is in comparison with those things a very simple problem. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West appears to dissent. He may not think it is a simple problem, but I am sure that ten or twenty years ago our people did not think that we should by this time have made the tremendous achievements that we have in the past two years in launching satellites and having telephone conversations with their aid.

Consequently, what we require is a still greater amount of money for research to enable us to find a machine for potato lifting. As has been said, there have been considerable improvements over the years. Therefore, we hope that by 1962 the answer will have been found and that the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to tell the House, "I am very pleased to say that no longer will school children be required for potato lifting."

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay) has made a speech in which he rather set the interests of the farmers against the interests of the children. At any rate, that is the impression he gave me. That is a pity, because the hon. Gentleman, who was my election opponent some years ago, has had the experience of reading past debates—he referred to this as a hardy annual—and he must know that it is not really a contest between one set of interests and another.

I assure the hon. Member that the farmers are just as anxious as anybody else to avoid having to employ child labour for lifting potatoes. As the hon. Member far Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) said last year, child labour is not cheap, it is not very efficient, but it is still more efficient than any machine that we have. If we could only get a machine which was 100 per cent. or even 85 per cent. efficient in all circumstances, we should all buy it.

For the first time I have tried, this year, to lift my potatoes with a machine, and I am very disappointed to have to tell the Committee that it was not a success. I will not disclose what type of machine it was, but I have seen three tried out and all of them broke down. None was satisfactory. Besides that, they were all extremely slow. There are machines which will work quite satisfactorily indeed in good weather on flat land which has no stones, or very few stones, on it, but when we come to the more difficult land on hillsides, which has stones on it and which is as wet as it is today, we really have not yet got a machine which will do the work.

Last year, my hon. Friend's predecessor in office said that the scheme would come to an end in 1962. The experience this year of appalling weather conditions—in my part of Scotland 30 per cent. of the potatoes are still in the ground—makes one wonder a little whether the Government ought not to be a little more "cagey" about repeating that assurance this year.

I want to be frank about this. If we are to grow potatoes—I believe that it is necessary to grow roughly the present acreage in future, not only to provide potatoes for the housewife at a reasonable price, but also to provide seed for England and abroad—we must get down, in practice, to the problem of how else we are to get them up. It will be generally agreed that we now know how to grow potatoes. We put them in the ground, we have the right fertilisers, and we know how to restrict the size of the, crop or increase it, but the minute we try to get them out of the ground the problems arise—particularly this year, when one cannot get them out of the ground at all.

If there are surplus unemployed somewhere else, will the Government face the expense of hostels in Angus for the unemployed of, say, Glasgow? I do not know. Broadly speaking, there is not a surplus of unemployed in the Angus or other potato-growing areas which could be used. It is a fact that a certain number of unemployed are used. Adult gangs are used regularly, in addition to children, and they are working now, but if one asks the employment exchange for another gang one finds that no more are available. All the available men, and even the women, are out. Consequently, if we are to find adult labour for the potato lifting period the Government will have to face the fact that they may have to reopen hostels in order to bring in the unemployed, perhaps even from England, to get the potatoes lifted.

The alternative is machines. Last year, I paid a tribute to the inventiveness of manufacturers and the money that they were spending to this end. I have been disappointed this year. I can say with absolute conviction that every farmer whom I know in my part of Scotland is only too anxious to get a machine, and will pay from £600 up to even £1,000 for an efficient machine which will do an 85 per cent. job. If he could only get a machine which could be used in all weathers and all soil conditions that would be the solution to the problem, but, quite frankly, with this year's experience, I do not see that happening by 1962.

I say to the Government that if they are to stick to 1962 they must put up an alternative method of gathering potatoes. I believe that unless they do that, we shall materially reduce the acreage of potatoes grown in this potato-growing part of Scotland.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. R. Brooman-White)

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay) called this debate a hardy annual. I have it in my notes that it is a repeat performance, for many hon. Members, perhaps, a too frequently repeated performance As hon. Members know, this is my first appearance, and I will begin by assuring hon. Members opposite that we are confident that it will at least be my penultimate appearance on this subject.

To the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan), I cannot add anything to what my hon. Friend said last year, but I cannot detract from it, either. It is our intention to ask the House next year to renew this law once again to cover the 1962 harvest. That will be the last harvest for which releases will be given, and the last time that the Government will ask for this expiring law to be revived. After that, it will finally be allowed to expire.

I must make it clear that I refer only to the exemptions, as my hon. Friend said last year. After 1962, it will still be open to education authorities, as it is at present, through the system of staggered holidays operating in some of our counties, to arrange their school terms so as to allow school children to take part in potato harvesting during the holidays. That is a matter entirely for the local education authorities.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

In the debate last year the Joint Under-Secretary of State stressed that this was a matter purely for the local education authorities and the hon. Gentleman this very moment has just stressed the same matter. Is he not aware that the Secretary of State for Scotland is the Minister of Education for Scotland? If it is found that staggered holidays are bad, from an educational point of view, will not the Secretary of State take some responsibility for examining this matter in Angus, Perth, and Kincardineshire, where that is done? I am not asking him now to say that there must be no staggered holidays, but he ought to be quite sure that damage is not done to the children of the poorer families in those areas.

Mr. Brooman-White

It is our intention to stick to the present position, whereby it is completely open for local education authorities to make what arrangements they think best, similar to those which they have at present, if they consider that would be in the best interests of agriculture in the area and that they can do it without adversely affecting education to any serious extent.

Miss Herbison

Who will be the judge whether or not there is an adverse effect on education? The then Joint Under-Secretary made the same point last year. Who will judge it—the people who are to make the decision about staggered holidays, or the Secretary of State and Her Majesty's inspectors of schools as they go round and see the results?

Mr. Brooman-White

The hon. Lady must not press me to go beyond last year's statement, which still stands, and which is the statement on which the agricultural communities have been asked to plan ahead to meet this, from the agricultural point of view, difficult problem.

All hon. Members concerned with this subject know very thoroughly by now the argument that from the educational point of view, these arrangements are regarded as undesirable; and also, from the agricultural point of view, the arguments which have been stressed by my hon. Friends the Members for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) and Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) why it has been, and for the moment still is, necessary to carry on with these arrangements.

I can also say to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West and the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs that the agricultural authorities are confident, and have expressed their confidence, that they can meet this programme by a variety of arrangements.

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs said that, in this age of rocketry and space travel, we should find a machine which could do the simple task of separating the "spud" from the mud. The answer to that is that such a machine has not yet been found. Having re-emphasised the general undertaking of future policy which my hon. Friend gave last year, I can only add a few words in connection with the peculiar difficulties which have been experienced in the current season. It had been our intention to let the number of school children released for this work decline substantially in this year—in fact, to taper it off to disappearing point by 1962. Though this was our intention, like so many other things this season, it fell a victim to the weather.

The original number notified for release was 8,500, compared with an original notification of 11,800 last year, though slightly fewer actually went last year. I cannot give the hon. Member for Maryhill the final figures for this year, because owing to the prolonged season and the fact that the potatoes were not gathered, some work has continued, and no interim report has been made by the local education authority. What happened this year was that about 8,000 exemptions were originally approved, and it rained and continued to rain until the National Farmers' Union for Scotland said that the work was being held up and made representations to us for more help. An additional 3,600 exemptions were then allowed, but these were limited to five days per child, in order to cause the minimum inconvenience to the educational programme. The last of the second batch of exemptions concludes this week.

For a gloomy year, there is some satisfaction in the fact that, despite the abnormality of the weather, we have been able to dispense altogether with exemptions in 10 counties and three big cities, but we have not been able to do so in Dundee, which is so very close to the main potato growing area. If, through a lucky personal chance, some hon. Members do not know already how frightful this summer has been, they may appreciate the extent of the farmers' exceptional problems if I tell them what happened in one or two areas.

In Angus, after three weeks' exemptions and holidays the average number of days worked was nine, and a large proportion of the crop, as my hon. Friend has said, was left in the ground. That was also about the figure for Perth and Kinross. Aberdeenshire got in only about 4 days' work out of three weeks and in that county since emergency exemptions were authorised at the beginning of this month, there had up to Monday of this week been only a couple of days worked. In Kincardineshire, potato lifting holidays are the rule, but by the time the children were due to return to school only half the crop was lifted. Three hundred exemptions for five days were, therefore, authorised, but as in the case of Aberdeen, only a couple of days had been worked.

I am making this point to emphasise that this year was altogether exceptional, and the fact that emergency measures were taken this year does not have any bearing on the general undertakings which I reaffirmed at the beginning of my speech. In the light of that, I very much hope that hon. Members will not wish to press their Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Schedule agreed to.

Preamble agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time and passed.