HC Deb 01 August 1961 vol 645 cc1319-31

12.40 a.m.

Sir Cyril Osborne (Louth)

I apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and to the servants of the House for raising the question of immigration at so late an hour. I would not do so if I were not convinced that this is the most important and most difficult domestic problem facing this country at the present time

I well understand that I cannot ask for legislation, but I would ask my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State to urge his right hon. Friend to have immediate and urgent consultation with all the Commonwealth Governments in order to secure their co-operation for some check on immigration into this country from overseas. That is the basis of the plea that I want to make to him.

As my hon and learned Friend knows quite well, India and Pakistan have until recently exercised some control over prospective immigrants into the United Kingdom from their countries I understand that, at the same time, the British Government asked the West Indian Government to exercise similar control, but that, unfortunately, that co-operation was refused. The Indian and Pakistan Governments now complain, and I think quite reasonably, that they should be asked to exercise self-control while the West Indians refuse to do the same I think that is a very fair complaint to make.

The figures of immigrants into this country for the first six months of this year are, I think, both alarming and depressing. I would remind the House, to take the West Indies first, that in 1959 the number of immigrants coming to this country amounted to 16,400. Last year there was a jump to 50,000, a startling and frightening increase. But that is only part of the story, for, in the first six months of 1960, 16,400 West Indian immigrants came to this country.

In the first six months of this year the number jumped to 29,800, and no one looking at the figures can but be alarmed at the social complications and risks which lie behind them. They really mean that a new West Indian city as big as Bath and Colchester could be put on the map of England each year for ever unless some form of control is exercised. That, I think we would all agree, it would be quite impossible to allow to go on indefinitely.

I think that my hon. and learned Friend would agree that sheer weight of numbers makes restriction inevitable some day, and I believe that the sooner that day arrives the better both for us and for our friends overseas. But difficult and frightening as are the figures of immigrants from the West Indies they pale into insignificance compared with the figures for the first six months from India and Pakistan. They are really terrifying in their significance.

In the first six months of this year, the number of immigrants coming from India was 8.850 compared with only 2,400 in the first six months of last year. Apart from Pakistan, the number was 7,850 compared with just over 100, so that from the sub-continent of India no less than 16,700 immigrants arrived in this country in the first six months of this year compared with 2,500 during the same six months of last year.

I believe that this is a direct result of the breakdown of the co-operation that we enjoyed from the Indian and Pakistan Governments, and I want to know if it is possible to get that co-operation restored once again.

I remind my hon. and learned Friend that the West Indian population is about 3¼ million. Their annual population increase is estimated to be about 50,000 or 60,000. No one knows exactly. All these people naturally want to come to the United Kingdom, because the standard of living here is so very much higher than that in their own country. I can understand that, and if I were a West Indian I should want to go where the standard of living was so much higher, if I could get there. The population of India and Pakistan is over 500 million. Their annual increase in population is about 7 million. It is obviously utterly impossible for this country to absorb such an enormous number year by year. Yet they have just the same right to come to this country as the people of the West Indies.

If the people of the West Indies have a right as British citizens to come to England to settle, so have the Indians and Pakistanis. Indeed, they have a greater right, because if poverty is the justification for people moving from the West Indies to this country it would drive the people from the sub-continent of India here ten times quicker. The income per capita in 1959 has been calculated as follows: Pakistan, £19; India, £24; Jamaica, £132; Trinidad, £190. The standard of living in Trinidad is ten times higher than that in Pakistan. Therefore, if it were a right to come because of poverty the people of Pakistan have ten times more right to come to this country than the people of the West Indies. If we continue to receive West Indians without limit, I can see no justification whatsoever for trying to put any bar on Indians and Pakistanis, whose need is so much greater.

Because of the sheer weight of these numbers something must be done quickly, or there will be such tragedies as will frighten most of us. I will give my hon. and learned Friend one other figure. Many of the peoples of Africa are being given their political freedom. They have the same comparable rights to come to this country as British citizens. Nigeria has a population of over 30 million. That is ten times the population of the West Indies. If the West Indies are entitled to send their surplus population—60,000—here, the Nigerians would be entitled to send over 1 million every year. The position has obviously reached a preposterous state, and something must be done.

I know that some people will say that I say this because I am colour-conscious. This is not true. If the West Indians' skins were as white as snow, it would still be necessary to control the number coming into this country because of the social consequences that will arise from such a great influx of people. We have reached the stage when we cannot absorb them at the rate at which they are coming.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

I know that the hon. Gentleman would not desire to convey the impression that he is colour-conscious or preaching racialism. Can he tell me why he has not attempted in his speech to deal with other problems of immigration, in some cases not involving British subjects? Examples are immigration of Southern Irish people, Cypriots and others. Why is he making his case solely on the question of coloured immigration and not on the question of immigration as a whole?

Sir C. Osborne

I have given way, but it is rather late and we must press on.

Mr. Loughlin

It does not matter. We have all night.

Sir C. Osborne

I will make my speech and present my case in my own way, as I am entitled to. The problem is one of sheer numbers and the difficulty of absorbing—

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Hugh Fraser)

Sheer colour.

Sir C. Osborne

Of course, colour adds to the problem, but even if their faces were whiter than any in the country, the problem would still remain. Those who deal with housing problems and with hospitals, and those who read what the B.M.A. said recently about the incidence of certain diseases amongst the immigrants, must be startled, and in some cases frightened, by the problems which are being created.

I want to be very careful about this. There is one other aspect which is vital to us as a nation. The arrival here of large numbers of immigrants from India and Pakistan could give rise to a religious problem. I wish to speak carefully and advisedly about this subject. All men and all nations are entitled to their ways and views. I want to be careful not to give offence on this issue.

Mr. Loughlin

The hon. Gentleman is giving offence now.

Sir C. Osborne

I have said nothing yet. In The Times of Monday of this week there was this report. Under the headline "Church made into Sikh temple. Vicar's reference to 'heathen rites'", it says: After six hours of hymns and prayer and holy readings, what is thought to be the largest Sikh temple in Europe was opened here today. The decision to convert a Congregational church into a Sikh place of worship has not been welcomed by everybody in this town. That is what The Times, a responsible newspaper, said. The report continues: Here in Smethwick we see a building in our main street that for a very long time has been used for Christian worship and work being renovated, decorated, and adapted as a temple for the black people to preach what we have always spoken of as heathen rites', writes the Rev. J. H. Chamberlain, Vicar of St. Michael and All Angels, Smethwick, in his parish magazine. 'Yet how many people are at all worried about Christian England so going into reverse? …What hope have we in our materialistic and decaying Christian England of converting the heathen in our midst?'". That is the question posed in The Times, the most serious newspaper in the country. To my mind this is the most serious problem emerging from this unrestrained immigration. I wonder what my hon. Friends among the Congregationalists think about this happening in Smethwick?

If unlimited immigration is allowed for ever and the numbers grow as the means of transport is perfected, the conversion of our so-called Christian civilisation will be towards what we always term a heathen form of worship, and more and more of our churches will be used for the purpose to which I have referred. England is in danger of being no longer even nominally a Christian country.

Mr. Loughlin


Sir C. Osborne

I am very concerned about this. If I could speak to my friends in the churches, I would say that the sooner they bring back their foreign missions and concentrate on saving their home bases, the better it will be for the Christian religion in this country. [Laughter.] This is the development. Hon. Members may laugh, but I have shown that the figures from India and Pakistan in the first six months of this year are over 16,500 against 2,500 last year. These figures have increased, because the co-operation which we enjoyed with the Indian and Pakistan Governments in checking immigration to this country has broken down. If that breakdown continues and there is no restraint, and if we get the same proportion of the population from India and Pakistan to this country that we have been getting from the West Indies, we shall have millions coming here every year. To me that is no laughing matter. I think it the most serious problem with which we have been faced for a long time.

I should like to give another quotation from another responsible newspaper, the Economist. On 24th June it stated: No doubt it will be said that permits"— that is work permits— would always be granted liberally for Commonwealth citizens, at any rate, in areas that are not already 'overcrowded with immigrants'"— I wish to emphasise this— and especially for jobs for which Englishmen find themselves increasingly too fastidious;". That is a nice word. We are to bring coloured people in to do jobs which we are too fastidious to do. already public transport undertakings, hospitals and some local authority services could ill do without the West Indians who perform unsavoury or unpopular duties. But if a work permit system is formalised, the logical consequence of it could be job-reservation, differential wages, less favourable treatment of Commonwealth than of European citizens if Britain joins the common market, and all sorts of problems when the particular jobs for which new immigrants have been given work permits run out. I want to ask my hon. and learned Friend whether the coloured people are being brought to this country, as the Economist says, to do the unsavoury and dirty jobs that we are not prepared to do? Does my hon. and learned Friend think that their children will do the same sort of jobs? Or are we to have a constant stream of new immigrants to do the jobs that we are not prepared to do? That is the problem. Obviously the coloured people who come here and educate their children will not allow their children to be treated as second-class citizens and made to do the dirty work.

This was the attitude taken by the Romans in the third century. They brought people in from over the frontiers to do their dirty work and to do their fighting, as hon. Members have suggested that we should get the black people to fight for us because we are not prepared to do the fighting ourselves. We are going the same way as the Romans went.

I have received thousands of letters from people in all parts of the country and representing all parties. There is a genuine fear about the social consequences of unlimited immigration—colour or no colour—whatever the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies may think about it; and I can tell him pretty straight that one day he will alter his mind on the subject.

There is a genuine fear that the Government are sitting on a powder keg and that unless they act it will one day blow up with the most violent consequences. If my right hon. and learned Friend wishes, I will willingly send him, as homework, at least a thousand letters from various parts of the country to support what I have said. There is a feeling that the Government have been terribly weak, too timid to make up their own minds and afraid of giving offence to people overseas.

I plead with him, as I have pleaded with various occupants of the Home Office for the last ten years, to contact again the Governments overseas and to try to get their co-operation to help us solve this problem before we have to insist on some control. I do not think it unreasonable that English people should say that in their own country they want their own way of life and they want their rights safeguarding—and they want it now. I beg of my right hon. and learned Friend that he should take up the matter with the Home Secretary and ask for some action as quickly as possible.

1.3 a.m.

Mr. Norman Pannell (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

I wish to make a very short but factual contribution to the debate. Those of us who have spoken on this problem of immigrants have often been accused of wishing to apply a colour bar, and that accusation has been made in this debate. We have denied it and have explained that we are concerned not so much with the colour as with the habits and codes of conduct of the people who come into this country from the Commonwealth. That is the point which I wish to emphasise.

Recently I put a Question to the Minister of Health asking him what effect immigration had had on the incidence of gonorrhoea since 1952. The reply was "About a half." In other words, the Ministry admits that although the immigrants were only an insignificant proportion of the total population of the country, they were responsible for roughly 50 per cent. of the increase in this serious disease since 1952. Even so, according to my information, that is an under-estimate. I refer hon. Members to the British Medical Journal of 22nd July, 1961, which contains an article headed "Venereal Diseases in Immigrants and Adolescents." This article refers to a recent study by the British Co-operative Clinical Group under the auspices of the Medical Society for the Study of Venereal Diseases.

The review was comprehensive; 84 clinics in England and Wales and three in Scotland were able to provide complete information from 1952, 1954, and 1958; and 18 other clinics gave partial information for 1958. It stated that during the period 1954–58 the numbers of cases of gonorrhoea at all the clinics of England and Wales rose by 60 per cent. for males and 54 per cent. for females. The numbers taken were 15,387 attacks on men and 3,054 attacks on women during 1958. All these patients attended clinics in England and Wales, and they represented 67.8 per cent. of the national total of cases in males and 55.6 per cent. of the total in females.

This is the significant point. Of the men 51.5 per cent. were born in the United Kingdom, 24 per cent. in the West Indies and 24.5 per cent. in other countries. Thus, of the men who were attacked by gonorrhoea in 1958 nearly 50 per cent. were immigrants, although they probably represented only 1 per cent. of the population. The report says that it appeared that 54.9 per cent. of the increase in gonorrhoea in males between 1952 and 1958 was attributable to men from the West Indies. It goes on to say that, assuming that of the 115,000 immigrants from the West Indies in 1958 100.000 were men and 15.000 were women, it was calculated that the known incidence of gonorrhoea per annum in West Indian men was 36.9 per thousand as compared with 1.1 per thousand among people of similar age who were indigenous subjects of the United Kingdom. The incidence was thirty-five times greater among West Indian immigrant men than among indigenous subjects of the United Kingdom. A similar proportion applies to women.

The figures I have given relate to the year 1958, when the number of immigrants from the West Indies was calculated to be 115,000. The number has doubled in the meantime. It is quite clear that this great increase in the incidence of gonorrhoea, almost entirely attributable to immigrants from the West Indies and other countries, represents a serious danger to the health of this country. That emphasises more than any other fact put before the House the need to deal urgently with the problem.

1.7 a.m.

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)

At this hour of the morning, I shall not seek to make a long speech, but I think that a view contrary to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) should be expressed. My hon. Friend is, if I may say so, predictable. He raises this matter of Commonwealth immigration in and out of season, generally out of season even from his own point of view. Whenever he asks a Question in the House he fills a plane load from the West Indies, and when he makes a speech he fills a boat load because people are anxious to get here before the Government accept his view and shut the door in their faces.

My hon. Friend is predictable also in what he says. No matter how much he may deny it, he always takes a racial line on this issue. His plea is a little like Hitler's—let us preserve the purity of the British race. Colour is his theme, and colour is his prejudice. Hon. Members talk of social strains and stresses. What they really mean is colour prejudice. Let us at least recognise this attitude for that it is. It is not objectionable from my hon. Friend's point of view. He is entitled to his prejudices, as we all are. Nevertheless, I believe that it is a foolish prejudice, a short-sighted prejudice, and a very insular prejudice in the modern world and in the modern Commonwealth as it now is, of which we are still the centre.

It is estimated that there are now 350,000 coloured people living in Britain. This is much less than 1 per cent. of our population; it is not much over one half of 1 per cent. I agree with my hon. Friend that the most worrying feature of the trend of immigration in the last year or two is not so much the actual numbers coming in from the West Indies as the potential number who might Dome in from India and Pakistan. The Asian figures, which were held by agreement for some time, are now rising very rapidly. As my hon. Friend says, there were about 8,000 immigrants from each of India and Pakistan in the first six months of this year, and millions more could come if they wished. They have a perfect right to come, as he said. I ask my West Indian friends to recognise this point. West Indians say that they have a right to come, and so they have, but so, of course, have the teeming millions of India and Pakistan. There is a limit, obviously, to the numbers whom we can absorb—

Sir C. Osborne

My hon. Friend said that it was prejudice on my part.

Mr. Fisher

I did not interrupt my hon. Friend perhaps he will not interrupt me.

I would not say that the right is absolute, nor that it is indefinite for ever, or unlimited, but I do say that we should not restrict unless and until we have to. In my view, Commonwealth citizens should be allowed to come here as long as there are jobs for them to fill—because that is why they come. They come here for work and for no other reason. Where would London Transport be but for the West Indian immigrant? It would be at a standstill.

Consider, too, which we must, the position in the West Indies. We have a responsibility there and one cannot look at this problem without being conscious of that responsibility. The West Indies have an explosive problem of over-population and unemployment. Emigration is the only safety valve, and Britain is the only country to which they can emigrate. Thirty thousand people came here last year from Jamaica alone, because they had no work at home. That was the only reason why they came.

The capital cost of providing work for 30,000 people in Jamaica is £60 million. 'Where is that sort of money to come from? Certainly, it will not come from private enterprise, which invests only for profit. I make no complaint of that, but it is a fact. The money is certainly not coming from Her Majesty's Government, who recently have had to cut down aid to African Colonies, in particular to Tanganyika, which needs it desperately, to save the West Indian Conference in London and give a little money to the poorer and smaller Caribbean islands. We do not have unlimited funds to provide £60 million a year to employ the Jamaicans in Jamaica.

With 20 per cent. unemployed, the unemployment problem in Jamaica is, as I said, an explosive one. Where there is severe unemployment of those dimensions, there is, to quote the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister nearly twenty-five years ago, inflammable social material at the mercy of the man with a political match to ignite it. There are plenty of men with political matches in the Caribbean, and some of them would not stop at arson. These are our Colonies for which we are directly responsible. We have a responsibility too, of course, to the Commonwealth as a whole which we cannot possibly overlook. If, by introducing restrictive legislation, we deliberately run away from the colour issue, which my hon. Friend has raised this evening, we in Britain should be setting a very poor example to East and Central Africa. These are some at least of the considerations which should weigh with hon. Members and should certainly weigh with the Government before they, by their actions here, deliberately ignite a fire that they may later be unable to quench.

1.14 a.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) gave some alarming figures for the immigration into this country from various parts of the Commonwealth. As I see it, the problem is between the Commonwealth, which up to now has had an unrestricted right for its people to enter this country, and our own people and our own housing capabilities.

None of us would deny that these people from the Commonwealth are doing most useful jobs of work, for instance in the transport system of London, as has been mentioned. That is a classic illustration of a service which would probably come to a standstill but for this particular labour force. But we must look at this matter in a wider sense. Many hon. Members have the problem in their own constituencies, and in my own division it expresses itself as a problem of housing. There are people who have waited for years to be housed, only to find that an immigrant who has just come to this country gets a house. That is probably to some extent due to the ingenuity of the immigrant, but the fact that he is living in the area has given rise, and does give rise, to a considerable inter-racial feeling.

Until seven years ago—probably only five years ago—there was no racial feeling whatever. Where there is now it may be looked upon as a question of jealousy between those with, and those without, accommodation; but the fact is that this feeling exists. In an era of full employment there is no jealousy about jobs, but there is jealousy when it comes to accommodation and overcrowding. Most of the immigrants go into the large cities which are already overcrowded, and that is where the problem lies. It is not so much a racial problem, although because a person is coloured he or she is more conspicuous.

In Wandsworth very few families who are coloured have ever been rehoused by the local authority. I have been into this matter very carefully and it is a fact that the coloured person who is rehoused is conspicuous. However that fact does not provide an answer as to what we are to do about this influx of immigrants. My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) has said that there may come a time when we have to put a limit on the number of people entering this country. One hon. Member mentioned the Irish, but that immigration, I think, is a result of an agreement made some time ago and it is a matter which we should find extremely difficult to control. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and it would be very difficult, physically, to check immigration from that country, whether desirable or not.

Mr. Loughlin

Being of Southern Irish extraction, I used the Irish as an illustration and nothing else.

Dr. Glyn

I am sure we all feel that Irish ancestry is part of many people. I was using the point just by way of illustrating the practical difficulties involved.

Nor can we eliminate the question of political asylum, although it is only a tiny part of the total immigration into this country; nor should we like to limit the number of students coming into this country, for we hope that when students from the Commonwealth or, in fact, any other part of the world go from here they take some part of what we have been able to offer them. We know why many of our Commonwealth brethren come to this country. It is purely a question of the standard of living. The answer is to raise the standard of living in their own countries, but that is part of an expensive and long-term policy.

The great difficulty, as far I can see, is this tremendous housing shortage in this country. We in the cities are already overcrowded. The coloured immigrants—I am going to use the word quite frankly—do come in, and, poor things, they cannot find any other accommodation and they live in crowded conditions. Nevertheless, however they live, they accentuate the problem because they are taking up accommodation which many of our own people, who have been on housing waiting lists, feel they themselves should have. I would point out to my hon. and learned Friend that perhaps the time may have come when we find that in the cities we really cannot absorb them—from the housing point of view. I leave aside the question of jobs, because there are plenty of jobs.

We may be spoiling inter-racial relations in this country by virtue of overcrowding. I myself do everything I possibly can to foster good relations between those of our Commonwealth brethren already in this country and our own people, and I have done everything that is possible in my own division to that end, but I still feel that there is certainly a case for very rationally looking at this purely and simply from the point of view of shortage of accommodation in the cities and a breakdown of relations which is occurring as the result of overcrowding.