§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 7 and 8.
Some of my hon. Friends and I have tabled this Amendment for the usual reason, so that we may have a discussion on the Bill in Committee when hon. Members can raise a variety of issues. Every year there is usually a discussion of the Home Office policy about aliens, and we think it essential that this tradition should be maintained, because the whole way in which the aliens law is operated makes it all the more necessary for the House of Commons to be vigilant about how the Home Office is exercising its powers.
I do not propose to discuss in detail the general principles underlying the provisions of the law. That subject has been discussed on previous occasions. However, I dare say that many other hon. Members may wish to discuss the general issue during this debate.
One principle which, as I understand it, governs the manner in which the Home Office conducts its affairs is that, if it does not want to, it does not have to give any reasons at all why it has 370 refused a visa to somebody who wishes to come to this country. Nevertheless, in some cases the Home Office is prepared to give reasons to Members of Parliament who make representations, and is sometimes prepared to give explanations to the House of Commons. I repeat that, under the law, it need give no explanations. I trust that the Government will be able to give us an explanation today of the cases which we shall raise.
I am sorry that the Home Secretary is not here to participate in the debate. This is the main occasion during the year when we discuss the manner in which he exercises his responsibility towards aliens and his personal responsibility for the decisions which are taken. I should have thought that the Home Secretary should have attended the debate, particularly as he has shed some of his responsibilities in the Government's latest reshuffle. I should have thought that one of the reasons why the Prime Minister has carried through a reshuffle—there may be other very good reasons for the changes—was to enable the Home Secretary to give closer attention to the affairs of his own Department and longer explanations of his activities to the House of Commons.
I do not say this out of any disrespect to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of State, but the Home Secretary himself ought to have been here, particularly as we shall be discussing decisions for which he is personally responsible. It is very difficult for the Minister of State to explain why the Home Secretary has made decisions. All that the hon. and learned Gentleman can do is merely defend the decisions which have been taken; he cannot respond to the pressures exerted by or proposals made from various parts of the Committee.
It ought to be accepted as regular practice by every Government that the Home Secretary himself should be present when we discuss this Measure each year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is the Home Secretary?"] We hope that the right hon. Gentleman will come along later. Even so, I think that he should have been here at the beginning of the debate. From what we read in the newspapers, he may have some detailed concern with the efforts to get us into the 371 Common Market. I do not know what will happen to the aliens law when we get into the Common Market. I imagine that he will have considerable difficulties in working it out. I emphasise that the Home Secretary should always be here on these occasions to explain the decisions in certain cases which he has taken over a period.
I shall refer particularly to cases which concern the long-standing tradition of this country that we should exercise our aliens law in a liberal manner and that people who have political reasons for wishing to come here, on grounds of political asylum or other political reasons, should be allowed to do so. I include people who wish to come to this country or to stay in this country to advocate certain political views. I wish to refer to that principle and the application of it in a few particular cases.
I do not need to argue at length on the issue of principle itself, because the Minister of State, in the debate on 13th June, referring to the case of Captain Galvao—to which I shall return later—stated the principle in terms with which I hope every hon. Member would agree. He thanked me on that occasion for having initiated the debate on Captain Galvao—I hope that I shall get similar thanks from him today—and said:… it gives me an opportunity to affirm yet again our traditional policy of granting asylum to political refugees and of allowing foreigners who are in this country to express themselves as freely as British subjects may."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th June, 1961; Vol. 642, c. 387.]That is a very good declaration of principle. There are some people who argue that, although we should allow persons to come into this country who may have strange political views, or what some may consider to be strange political views, once they get here we should expect them to keep their mouths shut. I do not believe that that is the principle on which our liberal practice should be based. Therefore, I take my stand on the principle which was initiated at the beginning of the debate on 13th June by the Minister of State, although, later in the debate, he went on to say that, while agreeing to the principle, he was not going to carry it out.
The first case I wish to raise is that of Mr. Ralph Schoenman, who has lived 372 in this country for a considerable period and has been told by the Home Office that he must clear out. Many representations have been made to the Government to reverse their decision. The Government have not clearly explained why they are taking this action. It cannot be argued that Mr. Schoenman is a burden on public funds, or something of that sort. In any case, I would not regard that as being an excuse for removing a person from the country or for refusing a visa to stay. Nevertheless, that argument cannot be used about him, because he has an occupation in this country, and is earning his own living as an American citizen. It would be perfectly proper for the Government to let him stay.
The suspicion is, of course, that the Government are demanding his removal because he has been engaged in activities connected with nuclear disarmament. That suspicion is bound to remain—I think that it will remain whatever excuses the Government may give—but if it is the real reason for their action, then it is an improper one, and I hope that the Government will listen to representations made in the Committee today and to the others that have been made outside the House of Commons, change their mind and allow Mr. Schoenman to stay.
It so happens that the civil disobedience activities with which he has been occasionally concerned are run by a body with which I disagree, but that makes no difference to the argument. If one looks at the record of Anglo-American relations over the centuries, one sees that many of the freedoms in both countries were built up by people who were exiled from one country to another. Indeed, we probably would not have the Anglo-American alliance today had it not been for Tom Paine, who went to America and stirred up trouble there. The British Government kicked him out when he returned to this country.
If the same principles which the Government are applying to Mr. Schoenman—who has stirred up far less trouble here—had been applied to Tom Paine, then Paine would not have been allowed to stay in the United States—and many people over there thought at the time that he was causing a great deal of trouble. But the views Paine 373 advocated later became generally accepted as being wise. Indeed, the very term "United States of America" was first invented by him.
Our aliens law should be designed not only to allow people to come here if they have differing views, but designed to tolerate people with the most heretical views, because very often those views prove to be the wisest a little later. I hope, therefore, that the Government will reconsider the question. I do not want to press the argument now, because I hope that the Minister of State will be able to say that the Government have reconsidered the matter and are prepared, in this case, to abide by the best traditions of the country.
I want now to come to the other case, which we raised on 13th June and also at Question Time last Thursday—the case of Captain Galvao. I shall not say a great deal about the manner in which Captain Galvao was treated at London Airport when he came here a week or so ago, except possibly to quote what was written in the leading article of the Guardian on 28th October. This said:Portugal's much canvassed position as our oldest ally seems still to entitle Dr. Salazar's régime to carefully considerate treatment as far as the British Government is concerned. It was surely gilding the lily a bit to keep Captain Galvao … under 'technical arrest' for five hours at London Airport on Thursday. If Captain Galvao had had it in mind to ask for political asylum or even for permission to make an extended stay one can see that the Government might have had qualms"—I do not agree with the Guardian on that point, but that is its view—though in times when we showed less deference to oldest allies or to tyrannical regimes in general we made no bones about taking in political refugees of all sorts.3.45 p.m.
I would have thought that, whatever the Government's view about the main case for admitting Captain Galvao to this country, they should have taken special precautions to ensure that they treated him with full courtesy when he arrived at London Airport. Last Thursday, the Government's claim that they behaved properly towards him was disproved by what was said by one of my right hon. Friends, who made it clear that the better treatment of Captain Galvao on the second occasion he came here was largely due to the fact that a 374 Labour Member of Parliament was there to see that he got it.
I want to deal, however, with the more important aspect of Captain Galvao's case—why the Government have refused to allow him to come to this country, why they have refused the visa for which he asked some months ago, and why they persist in their refusal to allow him to come here at present. I shall not recite all the details about Captain Galvao. I mention only, in passing, that the origin of his quarrel with Salazar's Government arose because of his views about Angola.
When Dr. Salazar was originally established in power, Captain Galvao was one of his supporters, but it was Captain Galvao's visit to Angola, just after the war, when he saw the appalling conditions which prevailed, which chiefly prompted him to become a rebel against the Portuguese régime. Following his return to Portugal and his attempt to report to the Portuguese people what was happening in Angola, he was first sentenced to three years' imprisonment and later to sixteen years. His offence was that he tried to tell the Portuguese people what was happening in Angola.
One hon. Member opposite complained last Thursday that Captain Galvao was a pirate and that, when he seized the "Santa Maria", someone was killed. In acts of piracy these things do happen, but if Captain Galvao's report about Angola had been properly heeded by the Portuguese authorities in 1947 and 1948, hundreds of thousands of lives in Angola might have been saved. Therefore, the Government should take into account that here we are dealing with a man who, not merely for a matter of months but for the past fourteen or fifteen years, has been trying to rouse the conscience of the people of Portugal and of the world to the perils in Angola.
Everything Captain Galvao prophesied was proved correct. The horrors did take place and Captain Galvao should at least have the credit of being the man who tried to prevent the terrible things that have occurred. I thought that that would have weighed with Her Majesty's Government. But no. The Government said, "We are not going to give him a visa." When Captain Galvao escaped from prison in Lisbon he got sanctuary in the Argentine Embassy and 375 he has been given sanctuary by the Argentine Government, permitted to stay in Brazil, permitted to go to Sweden to give lectures there, and permitted to go to Norway.
So we have a situation in which the British Government refuse to take towards Captain Galvao the kind of liberal attitude which is taken by Norway and Sweden—perhaps we would expect Norway and Sweden to be in the highest tradition in these matters—and the Argentine. I am sorry to see the British Government acting in a manner which does not measure up even to the liberal principles of the Argentinian Government. But that is the situation and the Government must answer for it. Why is it that the British Government refuse to take towards Captain Galvao the attitude taken by the Argentinian Government, the Brazilian Government, the Norwegian Government and the Swedish Government?
What are the Government's excuses? In his various speeches, the Minister of State has used different terms to describe the dangers which he thinks will arise from Captain Galvao's coming to this country. He first said that we must not allow him to come here because he was asking to deliver lectures here. I do not see how anybody can object to someone coming here to deliver lectures. He went on to say that some of those lectures might be inflammatory—adding to his objection—and, furthermore, when he was properly incited about the case, he said that Captain Galvao's purpose in coming here was to advocate insurrection. Apparently that is the Government's main ground for their refusal to allow Captain Galvao to come here.
It is extremely difficult for any Portuguese citizen who believes in freedom to do anything other than advocate insurrection. There has just been an election in Portugal, in which opposition candidates were not able to stand and were not allowed to issue statements of their case. What is the citizen of Portugal to do? The only proper course for him is to advocate insurrection. He is allowed to go to the Argentine and to give lectures in Sweden and Norway, but in Britain, apparently, it would be too dangerous.
376 That is a denial of this country's whole tradition in this respect. I am sorry that the Home Secretary is not here, as I said, because I would have liked to have asked him what course he would recommend to a Portuguese citizen who disagreed with the policy of his own Government. There is no democratic method by which he could make his protest. There is no democratic method by which he could rouse feeling against what is happening in Angola. What ought he to do?
I wanted to ask the Home Secretary, in particular, because we are told in the newspapers—we have not always seen it in practice—that he is different from what he used to be. I would not have asked what he would recommend about such a question before the war, when he was the rising hope of the pliable, appeasing Tories. But now he has shed that mantle on to the shoulders of the Leader of the House. We would not expect the pre-war Home Secretary to have had any answer about what he would recommend to people who believed in freedom and who were living in a dictatorship.
But we now have a new, bold, adventurous, modern, up-to-date Home Secretary who is eager to bury his Munich past, and I ask him what he would recommend. What does he think the citizen of Portugal ought to do? Should he be content to leave the situation and say that it is nothing to do with him, or should he not try to rouse other peoples in other parts of the world to recognise what is happening in Portugal, and, if in other parts of the world, why not in this country? Why is it that we are not prepared to permit a man, now regarded in Portugal as one of the bravest fighters for freedom, to set foot on British soil?
There are other aspects of the matter. What is happening in Angola affects policy throughout the whole of Africa. In all parts of Africa there is deep concern about what is happening in Angola. What does the Home Office believe will be the effect in other parts of Africa of the announcement that Captain Galvao, who had dome his best to prevent the catastrophe in Angola and who is regarded by the people in Angola as one of their foremost champions, is to be excluded from our shores?
377 The people in those other parts of Africa will say what is the truth—that the Government are crawling to the Portuguese Government. That belief is confirmed by the admissions which the Home Office has had to make, showing that the whole of this decision about Captain Galvao has been governed by its conversations with the Foreign Office. It is a very serious matter when the Home Office is supposed to take all the responsibility for these exclusions but when the decisions are made by the Foreign Office.
I ask the Home Office to tell us how many other people have been excluded from this country when the decision has been taken on the recommendation of the Foreign Office. There is no doubt about it in the case of Captain Galvao, for the Minister has admitted more than once that the Home Secretary asked the Foreign Office what it thought about Captain Galvao's admission. Because the Foreign Office said that it would not like it, the Home Office agreed.
Instead of the Home Office sustaining the traditions of freedom which it is supposed to sustain, decisions have been made in the assumed interests of foreign policy. That is outrageous. This country should be honoured to have Captain Galvao coming to these shores, and I hope that the Home Office will reconsider the whole question and try to wipe out this stain by issuing, as soon as possible, an invitation to Captain Galvao to come here.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) dealt with two specific cases for most of his speech. I should like to deal rather more generally with the question of the Aliens Order and the legislation under which it has been made in the past.
The Minister of State knows that we have had these debates as an annual event, in which he and I have taken part, for some time. I assure him that we do not consider them an annual formality and that we still feel as strongly as ever that the way in which the Aliens Order is handled by the House of Commons is entirely wrong. We do not accept the form by which an Order is made which Parliament itself has never considered 378 and which we have never had the opportunity of criticising and which Parliament has never passed. We hope that an opportunity will be taken to get rid of this procedure. Without trespassing on tomorrow's debate, it seems to me that the arrival of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill will put the Government into a ridiculous situation. I shall refer to that later.
Before coming to such contentious matters, I think that my hon. Friends would like me to tell the Minister of State that we have always found him very helpful and courteous in dealing with individual cases which we have brought to his attention. We would like to thank him and his officials in the Home Office. Having often criticised the procedure under which they work, I should like to say that I have the highest regard for the efficiency and courtesy of the officers of the Immigration Service who have to operate this procedure for which they are not responsible and who, like the Customs officers, who have an equally cumbersome and, I believe, unnecessary job, do it with courtesy, efficiency and tact.
It may not be inappropriate to say a few words about the many thousands of aliens—the Minister of State will later tell us how many thousands—who permanently live in this country and make a major contribution to the business, science, learning and arts of the United Kingdom. Many of them are playing a notable part in our national life, and many thousands of others are doing jobs which we find it difficult to get United Kingdom citizens to do.
The Minister knows that the legislation operated by the Ministry of Labour admits to work in this country aliens to do jobs for which British citizens cannot be found. Indeed, there are many activities in this country—agriculture, forestry and many others—which would find themselves in great difficulty if a large number of aliens and other people from overseas were not coming in to do those jobs.
My hon. Friend referred briefly to what will happen when this country joins the Common Market. No doubt the Minister noted carefully a remark of the Prime Minister in his speech at 379 the Mansion House on Monday night. Referring to the negotiations, he said:We do not yet know whether these will succeed. I trust that they will; I believe that they must.The right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends appear to be assuming that very shortly the negotiations will be successfully concluded and that we shall be moving into the Common Market.
The Minister knows that one of the conditions of the Rome Treaty is that it aims ultimately at the complete mobility of labour, and that the first phase, which might end in 1968 as far as we are concerned, appears to require arrangements not very different from our own, but when that phase has ended citizens of the Common Market countries will be entitled to come here freely to seek jobs and work on a reciprocal basis.
That is one of the ways in which our entry into the Common Market will make nonsense of the present legislation. Therefore, we ask ourselves why the Minister is asking the House of Commons to perpetuate this antiquated legislation at a time when it is quite plain that very shortly it will have to be changed?
What consideration is being given in the Minister's Department, as it must be along with other Government Departments, to the effect on our aliens legislation of Britain's entry into the Common Market? What provision will be made in the Aliens Order which will be introduced under the Act of Parliament which we are now extending—if the House agrees to extend it—to deal with the effect of our entry into the Common Market? It seems clear to us that a large part of the present arrangements will have to be scrapped in respect of those countries of Europe with whom we are about to associate ourselves.
In all these debates my right hon. and hon. Friends have made specific complaints about the red tape and bureaucracy which are applied at ports and airports in the United Kingdom, and the way in which they compare increasingly badly with the formalities in foreign countries, particularly those of Western Europe.
380 Last year reference was made to the sheer volume of visitors to the United Kingdom which was causing grave bottlenecks at London Airport, at Dover, and at other points of entry. As the Minister knows, the volume of these visitors is constantly growing, and if he has been again, as he told us last year he had recently been, to specific points of entry, and if he has travelled in Western Europe lately, he will have noticed that the gap between the speed and efficiency with which visitors are handled, for example, at the new French airport of Orly, or in Western Germany, Switzerland, or Italy, compared with the speed and efficiency of the arrangements here, has rapidly widened during the last year.
What new proposals has the Minister in mind to simplify our antiquated procedure? Has he at last been persuaded to standardise the procedure, and to standardise embarkation and landing cards which aliens are required to fill in, at least with the other countries of Western Europe with whom we are to be associated very soon? Has he finally decided that some of these forms can be dispensed with altogether?
I want to ask the Minister one or two specific questions about which I have given him notice. Can he say how many aliens are now in this country on a permanent basis, that is to say, those who are now exempt from the requirement to notify the police when they change their place of residence? How many came in during the past year? What are the figures for entry and departure? Incidentally, can he say what the effect has been of the admission of the selected people whom we allowed to come in as a special concession as a result of World Refugee Year? In the debate last year he said that we were to admit over 1,000 of the so-called hard core cases. What difficulties, if any, have resulted from their admission? How many of them are living at the expense of the taxpayer, on National Assistance, and so on? How easy have these people found it to integrate themselves into the normal life of this country?
On another subject, can he say what extension there has been of arrangements for passport-free travel on a bilateral basis with other countries, and whether any progress has been made in the abolition of the requirement of visas for 381 visitors coming to this country? Can he also say how many aliens have been deported from this country since our last debate on this subject? He will remember that last year he gave us some figures.
Also, can he tell us the effect of the new exemption from the requirement to register with the police which he announced last year and which was incorporated in the Aliens Order which came into effect on 1st January? Have there been difficulties? Have there been complaints from the police or other authorities, or has that exemption worked smoothly?
Turning to a minor point, what arrangements have been made to make it easier for aliens coming to this country on a temporary basis—by which I mean visitors and tourists—and bringing their motor cars? How far has the procedure been simplified during the last twelve months?
In that context, may I ask whether the hon. and learned Gentleman has considered, and if not, whether he will now consider, the possibility that we might extend the system of travelling immigration officers? He is aware that if one goes by train from London to Paris the immigration formalities in the United Kingdom take place at Dover and involve the passengers standing in a long queue. In France, these formalities are conducted on the train.
At the end of the last Recess, while travelling from Boulogne to Dover on the car ferry, I was interested to note that although the Customs formalities were conducted in Dover, the immigration formalities were being conducted by one of the Minister's officials on the ship. If this can be done on the car ferry, if the immigration officer can, in that case, be on the means of locomotion, why cannot that be extended, and, instead of the immigration officers dealing with long queues in Dover, travel on the train to Victoria and conduct their business there? The Minister may say that this would create an awkward situation for visitors or other people whom the immigration officers decided, between Dover and London, they wanted to deport.
Some arrangements might have to be made at Victoria to detain those people and send them back on the next train, but the inconvenience would be caused not to the Minister or to his Department 382 or his officers, but to the aliens who were trying to get into this country in some way which was not thought to be right, and it would be a great convenience to the general public if there could be an extension of this system.
I want to refer to another question which, looking carefully at last year's debate and what was said by one of my hon. Friends and by the then Temporary Chairman, I would have thought was in order, namely, the question of naturalisation procedure. I want to refer to it briefly because I believe it to be relevant to the debate, since naturalisation touches upon the question who is and who is not an alien and, therefore, who is and who is not affected by the procedure laid down in the Bill.
There are large numbers of refugees and other permanent residents in this country—including some Poles living in my constituency and people of other nationalities living elsewhere—who have been here for many years, who propose to remain here, and who would like to become naturalised, but who tell me that the procedure is long, cumbersome and very expensive. They would like to see it made shorter, cheaper and easier. Will the Minister say a word about that question?
§ The Chairman
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but we cannot discuss naturalisation, which comes under another Act altogether.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I accept your Ruling, Sir Gordon, but it seems to me that the question of who is and who is not affected by the Aliens Order is very material to this debate. It has been traditional, over a number of years, for this debate to range fairly widely. Last year, the Minister of State made a speech a large part of which was about World Refugee Year. Matters more or less affecting aliens legislation and the Aliens Order have been discussed in these debates in the past.
§ The Chairman
I agree that the debate has been wide on this Order, but I do not think that we can discuss another matter altogether.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
With respect, Sir Gordon, we are discussing aliens, and only aliens can become naturalised. Therefore, the question of naturalisation must overlap with 383 this, because someone who becomes naturalised goes outside the scope of the Act which we are renewing, whereas someone who fails to become naturalised remains within its scope. A person's failure to become naturalised means that he is within the category that we are now discussing. I therefore submit that my hon. Friend is in order.
§ The Chairman
We are discussing the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, and Amendments to that Act.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The point made by my right hon. Friend is the point that I was trying to make. Many of the Polish people in my constituency would like to be relieved of the provisions of the Aliens Order which would be introduced on 1st January if the House approves what we are now discussing. They would like to be relieved by becoming British subjects, but they find it difficult, slow and expensive.
Whatever view the Minister of State, or you, Sir Gordon, may take about the introduction of this matter into the debate, I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will look into it and, if he cannot reply this afternoon, will find some other way of doing so, because it affects many people and it would be in everybody's interest if those people who live and work permanently in this country, and who wish to become British subjects—and if there is no objection to their doing so—could do so more easily.
Since the year before last, when I spoke in the debate, I have had correspondence about these Orders with the Minister of State. I have sometimes sought to persuade him that in the past there have been unreasonable anomalies between our aliens legislation and our treatment of people from the Commonwealth. I was doing that while in no way seeking to diminish the rights of Commonwealth citizens. The Minister of State's replies have always been in the same vein, and I want to quote two typical examples.
In Jannuary, 1960, he wrote to me explaining why it was that the provisions applying to Commonwealth citizens could not be applied to aliens. He said:Commonwealth citizens are free from all immigration control not because they have been exempted from the Aliens Order by 384 administrative decision, but because they are not aliens at all and enjoy an entirely different status in the law and tradition of the United Kingdom. They are British subjects and belong to the Commonwealth, and their free right of entry to this country is one of the ties that help to bind the Commonwealth together.Last January, in another letter, again in connection with the Bill that we are now discussing, the hon. and learned Gentleman wrote:The fact that we maintain an open door to all British subjects, regardless of race or colour, derives from our unique position as the centre of a multi-racial Commonwealth.The hon. and learned Gentleman made a number of other points which, if I am fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye tomorrow, it might be relevant for me to raise then.
The point that I am now trying to make is that, as far as I can see, if legislation which is now pending is accepted by the House the distinction will disappear. It will not disappear in the way that I urged on the House and on the Minister of State, by the liberalisation of the aliens legislation, but by extending the narrow and restrictive practices of the aliens legislation to all overseas people—Commonwealth citizens and aliens alike. That is something that we very much deplore.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
If I am fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye then, I shall hope to elaborate that point. The point I am now making is that the distinction between Commonwealth citizens and aliens, about which the Minister of State has spoken with such pride in recent debates, now seems to be disappearing, which is an additional reason for reconsidering what we are being asked to do this afternoon.
I conclude by reminding the House of the end of the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the new Leader of the House. He finished with some remarks about the difference between the two parties—about the policies advocated by my hon. Friends and myself being about equality whereas the policies advocated by the Conservatives were about opportunity. On this matter our policy is 385 about treating human beings like human beings, wherever they come from and whatever the colour of their skin, whereas Conservative policy, as embodied in successive Aliens Orders and as expressed by the speeches of hon. Members opposite, seems to be about short-sighted, reactionary, and restrictive bureaucracy, insularity, narrow nationalism, and "red tape".
For those reasons I hope that the Committee will support my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale.
§ Mr. Marcus Worsley (Keighley)
I feel that I should be slightly cautious about entering this debate, because I know that hon. Members who have taken part in these debates over many years form rather a select band. It may be incautious for a newcomer to enter the debate, and I do so only to make a relatively narrow point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) is a frequent speaker in these debates. It is not in his capacity as a past tutor of the Leader of the House that I wish to follow him, but because I think it does no harm for somebody on these benches to say, this afternoon, that this sort of temporary legislation for the control of aliens is bad constitutional practice. That has been said very often by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton, and there is no harm in my saying it once more this afternoon.
Bad constitutional practices often get Governments into messes, and that is the situation in this case. Tomorrow, we are to be invited to consider a new Bill, which I believe to be necessary but which will have the effect, if passed in its present form, of controlling aliens by means of an annually renewable Bill and Commonwealth citizens by means of a Bill of five years' duration. It seems indefensible that the period for aliens should be one year and for Commonwealth citizens five years. For this reason the Government must consider for the first time the necessity for introducing permanent legislation in respect of aliens.
I appreciate that the present situation is a new one, in respect of which a Government cannot be expected immediately to produce legislation, because of the many changes which are taking place— 386 not least those referred to by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) in regard to the Common Market. This I see, but I think that, because this is bad constitutional practice, it would be only right for my hon. and learned Friend, when replying for the Government, to say that it is their intention not just to prevaricate over any issue. When the European situation has been cleared up the Government should undertake to bring forward permanent legislation.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
If the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Worsley) is claiming the privilege of a maiden speaker in this annual enterprise of ours, I am very happy to pay him the compliments which maiden speakers always deserve. I do it with the greatest sincerity, as the principal point he advanced is the point which I have always considered to be the main point of principle which we ought to examine.
After all, although the debate has always been allowed to be a wide-ranging administrative debate, it does not really arise in that way. It arises only on the narrow question whether Section I of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, should be continued for a further twelve months. On that peg we hang administrative discussions and particular questions. I entirely agree with the hon. Member that the principal anomaly about which the House should be concerned in this matter is the continuance of this emergency legislation for one year at a time, annually, for now almost forty-five years, with no end of it in sight.
In 1919, this was intended to be an emergency power to deal with an emergency situation following the First World War. I think that the House would never have been content to give to one Minister of the Crown the absolute power which he has under this legislation had it contemplated that it would go on from year to year for half a century. The House did not think of it in those terms at all. It thought of dealing with an emergency situation by giving the Home Secretary an absolute discretionary power, for which ultimately he was responsible to Parliament, but for a period designed to deal with that emergency.
387 When it continued from year to year for three or four years the House was prepared to tolerate that. But when an emergency situation, following the end of the First World War, is still regarded as an emergency situation to be dealt with on an emergency basis sixteen years after the conclusion of the Second World War, I think that the hon. Gentleman is perfectly justified in saying that surely the time has come when this legislation ought to be put upon a permanent basis.
I admit, and I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman will probably make this point, that the situation in this respect is not as bad as it was a few years ago, because then we did not have the benefit of the Order in Council which set out a number of detailed provisions such as might or might not be incorporated during the Committee stage of the Bill. But that does not alter the question of principle and I ask whether the time has not come when the House should be given an opportunity of adopting a code for the admission, permission to remain, and deportation of aliens on a more permanent basis?
This view is reinforced by what both of my hon. Friends have said about the Bill which we are to discuss tomorrow. I have no intention whatever of attempting to discuss that Bill now. But it is relevant to point out that the Government themselves say that the principles which they now propose to apply to the admission of British citizens into this country are largely those which we are now applying to the admission of aliens. In this case—rightly, I am not complaining of it—we are to do it by legislation. There will be a Committee stage. I am thankful to acknowledge that the Committee stage will take place on the Floor of the House, so that we may all look at this and try to introduce safeguards, alterations, and modifications such as we should like to introduce, had we the power, into similar legislation dealing with the admission of aliens into this country.
We are doing this in the Bill to be discussed tomorrow on the basis of legislation. We can deal with questions like the right of appeal; the right of publicity; the right of representation; the right of consultation with witnesses and the right 388 to call evidence in cases where permission to land is refused or, and more important, in cases where deportation is recommended. We can do all that in Committee on the Bill which will be before us tomorrow. Surely the time has come when we ought to have the opportunity to deal with that on the Floor of the House in the case of aliens.
Let me say a word or two about the situation as it is now. One of the most important matters resulting from giving the Home Secretary these arbitrary powers is the effect on what has always been one of the proudest boasts of Great Britain—our liberal attitude to the problem of political asylum. By this legislation no one in this country, except the Home Secretary himself, has any power to influence or control decisions about political asylum which surely everyone would admit is fundamental to questions of freedom and democratic liberty.
It is true that the Home Secretary assumes responsibility. If we get the opportunity, we can raise such matters on Adjournment debates, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) in the case of Captain Galvao. We can put down Parliamentary Questions and get Answers, so long as Mr. Speaker thinks that we are not interfering too greatly with the rights of other hon. Members who have Questions on the Order Paper. Once a year we have the opportunity which is presented to us today. But they are ex post facto rights. By the time we have the opportunity to exercise them the question has been decided, and in most cases the person involved is no longer here. Surely we ought to have more than that. Surely in a case such as that of Mr. Schoenman, or Captain Galvao, there ought to be a right of appeal, some third-party judgment.
They have it in the United States of America. There is no Minister there who has the completely arbitrary powers which the Home Secretary has in these matters. If a man is refused admission, he can appeal and call evidence and make the Government state the reasons for the refusal of permission. Why, in this country, should not rights no less than those be exercisable? How unfortunate it is in these circumstances if this power is not exercised liberally.
389 4.30 p.m.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker), who paid a compliment to the Minister which I should like to endorse. It is certainly true that if any of us in the House of Commons has a personal case in which we are interested we have the sympathy of the Minister in looking at it. We do not always agree with his decision—very often I do not—nevertheless, we acknowledge his courtesy and sympathy and his worth in looking into a matter and explaining what has happened.
But that is not enough. There must be many cases which no Member of Parliament ever hears of so that there is never any personal representation. It must be remembered that this is a matter which the House of Commons entrusted to the personal discretion of the Home Secretary of the day and not to the discretion of the Minister of State. Under the law it was the Home Secretary who decided that Mr. Schoenman should not remain here for another twelve months. It was by the Home Secretary's personal decision that Captain Galvao—who did not want to come here at all at the relevant time, but was in transit to Sweden; his plane came here and he had to wait a few hours before he could get his next plane and did not want to leave the airport—should be kept under lock and key in circumstances of the greatest indignity while he was waiting.
I agree with my hon. Friend that we make nonsense of the responsibility of Parliament if the Minister who is responsible is not here to tell us what happened and why. The Minister of State will do his best, but, assuming that the law has been properly carried out, he will be giving us only hearsay evidence. Only the Home Secretary knows what happened. He personally decides. That, at any rate, is the fiction which we are asked to accept because this is what is laid down by the law.
It is very difficulty to justify what was done in either of these two cases. There is an antithesis between them. Mr. Schoenman was not allowed to remain here because he believed in non-violent resistance. Captain Galvao was not allowed to enter because he believed in violent resistance. I suppose that the only people whom the Home Secretary 390 will admit are those who do not believe in any resistance at all, the apathetic upon whom the fortunes of the Government depend, those who do not care, those who do not know, those who accept no responsibilities and no obligations, those who are prepared to risk nothing and those who believe nothing which seems important enough to them to take action about it.
All these harmless, nameless people the Home Secretary will let in, but if one believes something about the threat of mass human suicide or extermination one is an undesirable alien and asylum cannot be granted to him. He cannot even be allowed to remain free in the lounge of London Airport, waiting for an aeroplane to take him somewhere else.
This is not in accordance with our traditions. The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is not. In the mid-nineteenth century, when so many European nations were struggling for some kind of liberty, a great deal was said about the unity of Germany and of Italy. Today, no one threatens the unity of Italy. Where would the unity of Italy have been if the Home Secretary of that time had taken the same attitude to Garibaldi that the present Home Secretary takes to Captain Galvao? In the dangers, uncertainties and insecurities of our time political asylum has become a complete mockery. It is little more than an instrument in the cold war.
If Captain Galvao, instead of being a Portuguese rebelling against the murderous tyranny of a Portuguese Government, had been a Hungarian exile who had taken his part with his comrades in the Hungarian revolt a few years ago, he would have been welcomed with open arms. I am not saying that he should not have been—of course he should—but, if we make discriminations on political lines so that we admit to political asylum those with whom we agree, and exclude those with whom we do not agree, that is not the exercise of political asylum as we have always understood it. One great glory of British freedom will have been sacrificed for no advantage of any kind.
These things need explanation; they need justification. If Captain Galvao was refused permission for some other reason—some more respectable reason, if 391 it exists—I am sure that the Home Secretary would come to the House of Commons this afternoon and tell us what it was. In the case of Mr. Schoenman I suppose that this argument might apply. He might say that if one is an alien and allowed to come into this country one should not make a deliberate practice of disobeying its laws. A case might be made for saying that the position is quite different in that respect between British citizens who refuse to comply with the laws for a certain political purpose and aliens who refuse to do so.
I think that that would be a very dubious proposition and I would not agree with it, yet I could see that at least an arguable case could be made for such a proposition. But the Home Secretary does not make it. He tells us that this is not his reason for not allowing Mr. Schoenman to stay. If it were his reason we could debate it, we could examine it and at least there would be something to be said for it, but apparently the Home Secretary does not think there is anything to be said for it. He does not think that that is a sufficient explanation. He does not think that would be a justifiable ground, so he assures us in all solemnity that it had nothing whatever to do with it. If it had nothing whatever Ito do with it, what on earth had? Are we not entitled to know?
After all, Mr. Schoenman was asking very little. He had been here for many years, and he not only assisted Earl Russell in his political or rebellious activities. Earl Russell happens, I suppose, to be one of the most distinguished philosophers in the world who is engaged upon his own work at times when his public conscience does not lead him to take part in other activities for other purposes. Mr. Schoenman is his personal secretary. They are engaged together now on work, quite apart from all these more questionable matters, in which Earl Russell needs this man's assistance. He is not easily replaceable. The work will be finished shortly. He was asking for one year's extension; nothing more.
If the Home Secretary thinks that the activities of those of us who want to see an end to nuclear insanity will be significantly reduced by the lack of assistance 392 from Mr. Schoenman, he should perhaps think again. Mr. Schoenman's presence will not add much to it and his absence will not take much away from it. If the Home Secretary thinks that his connection with it is irrelevant, then his refusal of permission to stay becomes inexplicable and is certainly unexplained.
I conclude by repeating what I said at the beginning. Let us re-examine these things. Let us have a Bill to put these matters on a firm basis. Let us introduce into that Bill a right of appeal and a right for a man to make his own case, in public if he likes, for admission or for not being thrown out, or against whatever it is that is being threatened. Let us relieve the Home Secretary of what must be a very burdensome and difficult responsibility. Let him make his decisions in the first place but, like all other decisions where human liberty is concerned, let them be referable from the arbitrary decision of one man in secret to a public tribunal in accordance with the public law of the land.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
I rise so that it should not be thought that some of the views expressed in the course of the debate represent those of the Committee. I feel certain that I am speaking not only for my hon. Friends, but for the vast majority of hon. Members opposite when I say that a great many, although not all, of the things which have been said in the debate are contrary to the wishes of the Committee.
I am aware, as is every hon. Member, of the great responsibility which is placed upon the Home Secretary in respect of the admission or refusal of admission of aliens, but he must accept that responsibility, and I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who debated the Committee stage of an imaginary Bill to put this provision upon a permanent basis, moving his Amendments in Committee and giving answers to some of them. If there were the Committee stage of such a Bill and he were to move those Amendments, I should most certainly disagree with them.
The decision whether to admit an alien is not one which can possibly be debated in public before a tribunal, with evidence being given. A great deal of the information is secret. A great 393 deal of the information is private. The matter must be left to the Home Secretary, as it is under the Act of 1919, which we renew every year.
As some hon. Members have said, it was an Act introduced in a condition of emergency. Unfortunately, the emergency has continued ever since, sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse. We have a great many aliens in this country, and there are a great many others w ho seek to enter the country. The vast majority of aliens who come here do so for a short time on a holiday. They are welcome and every facility should be given to them to come here. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) that the facilities for checking them should be improved, as they have been in many Continental countries. He mentioned various ways in which that should be done, and I am in entire agreement with him.
The hon. Member told us of difficulties with the immigration authorities. I hope that he had better luck with his car in the Customs, because the delays at Dover in that respect are a scandal to the administration of this country, when people of whatever nationality endeavour to come to this country or to return to it. He did not tell us about that.
We have a vast number of aliens here. The great majority of them do very useful work, and we are very pleased to see them, but let us not forget that a very small proportion of them are undesirables and in many cases have been the subject of deportation recommendations made by courts of law. They cannot be returned to their own country because that country is on the other side of the Iron Curtain, and we have to retain them here. We have to be very careful not to allow this sort of person into the country. Once such people are here, if they are undesirables we cannot dispose of than, and they form an undesirable part of the country's population.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I disagree with the hon. and learned Gentleman on a question of law with great diffidence, but when I had to administer this law I was never given the advice that any alien was in the position which the 394 hon. and learned Gentleman has just described. When they are here they are liable to deportation not necessarily on the order of the courts, but because the Home Secretary makes an order to deport them.
§ Mr. Doughty
The point is that they cannot be returned to their country. They cannot be returned to the country from which they came and of which they are subjects. They represent a small minority.
§ Mr. Ede
This is an important point. I have known American citizens in this country who were the subject of a deportation order made by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, now Lord Chancellor. The United States decided that it did not want them. It managed to persuade Czechoslovakia that they could go there. As far as I know, they were not delivered by steamer to Czechoslovakia, but the position was that if they could get there they were permitted to go, and, in fact, they did go.
§ Mr. Doughty
They may have gone, but in many cases they cannot be deported. First, there is an argument as to which nationality they have. No country will take them. Even if the Home Secretary satisfies himself about the country from which they come, and even if that country recognises them as citizens, there are certain countries, such as those behind the Iron Curtain, to which they cannot be deported. We therefore have to take great care, when we admit aliens, to ensure that if they turn out to be undesirable it will be possible to deport them.
We have many people of nationalities living here. The vast majority are good citizens. I am entirely in favour of the right of asylum, which goes back to the Huguenot days and the days after the French Revolution. Aliens came here because their own country was not safe for them. It was called political asylum. But let us not extend it too far. Let us not forget that many of the ordinary criminals whose extradition is sought by other countries claim that they are here as political refugees.
395 In many cases that is wrong. It is one of the excuses which they use to show why they should not be extradited. Nor can it be said that in each case in which a person is a political refugee, automatically he is entitled to asylum in this country. I do not agree with that. I do not support the idea that our liberty and very fair administration should be extended so far.
Two hon. Members referred to two cases. So far, what they have said has been uncontradicted. I propose to contradict them now, because I do not wish it to be thought that the House of Commons leaves such statements uncontradicted. One case was that of Mr. Schoenman, who is secretary to Lord Russell. He is an alien. He is taking part in political movements in this country. Whether these movements be right or whether they be wrong is not a question which concerns us. Aliens must not take part in movements of that kind in this country. If they do, they render themselves liable to deportation.
The second case was that of Captain Galvao. Whatever his views about the Government of Portugal, the Government of Spain, the Government of this country, or the Government of any other country may be, he is a pirate who has committed murder and grievous bodily harm.
§ Mr. Doughty
If the hon. Member wishes to interrupt me, especially if he wishes me to give way, he should not sit on his very small backside.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am obliged. I apologise to the hon. and learned Gentleman for being provoked into a sedentary interruption.
It may or may not be true that Captain Galvao has some personal responsibility for the one solitary death which took place on the liner which he took. He may have. If so, so much the worse. It was all part of an activity designed to bring to an end a policy of genocide conducted by the Portuguese Government in Angola. How can the hon. and learned Gentleman be so indignant about one murder and so utterly acquies- 396 cent in the murders Captain Galvao was trying to prevent?
§ Mr. Doughty
If I were to indulge with the hon. Gentleman in a debate upon the conditions in Angola or Portugal, I should be hopelessly out of order. I merely say that I entirely disagree with his insinuations and the facts which he has stated. That is why I rose to my feet earlier, so that it should not be thought that the views expressed in the debate were those of the House of Commons.
On many occasions people disagree with the views of the Government of their country. Hon. Members opposite frequently do. That is what they are here for. But if they were to seize one of our liners, murder its captain and put its crew in peril, as a result of which an innocent member of the crew suffered grievous bodily harm, would they expect to escape the laws of this country because they said that they did not approve of the laws or conduct of the Government of this country? Of course not. Yet when this gentleman, if that is the correct description to apply to him, arrives in this country and is treated in the very proper way in which he was, there is indignation on the part of those who apparently support his action.
What would have happened if he had been allowed to enter this country and the Portuguese Government had demanded his extradition for murder or piracy? Could that request have been resisted? Could we possibly not have returned him? It would have caused difficulties and troubles. I am sorry that he saw fit to come to this country, where he certainly is not wanted, and I hope that he will never try to do so again.
I repeat, and make no apology for repeating, that I am in favour of asylum being granted in proper cases. I am delighted to see visitors here. I am delighted to see many foreign people living in this country as good citizens. During the war I saw many Poles—Air Force, Navy and Army—and their courage and the assistance they gave to this country were second to none. But I do not want this hospitality abused and our country made the dumping ground for those we do not want and whose countries are too hot to hold them. I hope that the Measure and the proper regulation of aliens will be continued.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
The hon and learned Member for Surrey East, (Mr. Doughty) said that he rose to make it clear to the Committee that he disagreed with the previous speakers. Most of us think that that was an act of supererogation. It seemed abundantly obvious to start with.
I turned up the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debate of two years ago, partly because I was not here last time—I think that I was in hospital—and partly because I always like to check my memory and find out what I said on a previous occasion. I think that the position was stated by the hon. Member for Charlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) in a single sentence with some clarity. I quote him from memory. I probably quote him inaccurately. I apologise if I do.
The gist of what the hon. Member said was that in a free society where we enjoy security it is an unhappy position that there should be a section under a dictatorship. I do not think that "dictatorship" was the word he used. I am not trying to misrepresent him. That was the sense of it. I am sure that he would concede, perhaps even more readily than I, that these powers are normally not exercised with brutality. The Home Office is thoughtful and considerate. It is the fear of the unknown that is always the gravest fear—the lack of understanding of the law, of the situation, or of the powers. It is the insecurity, accompanied by the fear under which people have to live so long as we have this legislation.
The Minister of State is an astonishingly pleasant fellow for a Tory, but he will rise and talk like the Daily Herald, or rather like Mr. Harold Hutchinson, of the Daily Herald, who was writing the other day. Mr. Hutchinson divides politicians into those who are dominated by emotion and those who are dominated by reason. This is surely the basic theory of Stalinism. Is love a fact, or is it an emotion? Am I to go to Oldham and say to my constituents, "You say you love your missus, but this is a bourgeois emotion. She is just a tax rebate"? [Laughter.] Surely this is true. On this theory all the things we are talking about are emotions, are they not? We are talking about the right of asylum. It is an emotional concept. Much of our Constitution is an emotional concept. 398 The right of asylum was a thing that mattered.
When the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East talks about "undesirable aliens", by which he means foreigners he does not like, we recall the great days—the remarkable days—when the liberalism of Britain in this conception evoked the admiration of the world. One of the comments I have about recent events in Trafalgar Square, which may seem irrelevant, but it is relevant to this, is that the one thing which came out of Trafalgar Square was the admiration evoked all over Western Europe by the tolerance of both sides. We do not happen to live in France, where the police are getting a bit snaphappy with machine-guns and serious things have been happening. But Algeria is in the Common Market, too, and it may well be that we shall have a problem to consider in this respect.
Apparently, I am to say that an individual is a dot, a statistic, and that the members of the Cabinet are individually dots and collectively dotty. It is the James Jeans conception of dots living on dots, innumerable dots, worlds as many as the grains of sand on all the seashores. On that conception the right of asylum is an emotion; the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Human Rights are scraps of paper; Picasso's doves are a couple of lumps of pigment on a canvas and Christianity is the Dead Sea scrolls. This is it. Of course it is!
If hon. Members go to the streets of Oldham they may find people who want to blow bubbles. They may find that people are worried. They may find that chauvinism is an emotion. But in every back street and in every main street there hon. Members will find people who are preaching the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God and who are not concerned to support the hon. and learned Member's definition of "undesirable aliens".
In the days to which I have referred Lenin was reading in the British Museum. The Tchaikovskyite philosopher anarchists produced ladies who followed the policies of Maria Breshkovskaia and Sophia Petrovskaya, and who were received here almost as honoured guests, and they were a bit bomb-happy. They had their philosophy about it. The 399 philosophy they preached was that to throw bombs was a crime, but in the circumstances it was necessary and they got to atone for it. This was in the days when Russia was ruled by a near relative of our own Royal Family, but these people were received here.
One of my hon. Friends referred to Munich. We must never forget that in the period of Munich refugees were seeking life. It was not merely liberty. Refugees came here who were fleeing from the fear of persecution and from the fear of the gas chamber. They were deported by our stipendiary magistrates, but the stipendiary magistrates were not responsible for it. They were administering the law that Parliament had made and they were administering the Statute we are now discussing. People were sent back to perish and die.
But that is not the end of it, for it happens even now. There may be people coming here from the tyranny of Ghana, who are Commonwealth citizens—although they are probably more likely to go to Nigeria and I fancy that they do. We must realise that tyranny exists even now in the Commonwealth. It should be remembered that it is an offence even now for a Commonwealth citizen of Ghana coming to this country to speak evil of the dictatorship in Ghana.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Harry Legge-Bourke)
I am sorry to have to stop the hon. Member, but he must not anticipate the debate on the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, which will be forthcoming tomorrow. We must confine ourselves to aliens in this debate.
§ Mr. Hale
Thank you, Sir Harry, but I have no desire to pursue the point further. I am merely saying that, after all, we are talking about the situation in the next twelve months if this Bill is passed. That period of time will be affected if the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill is passed, but I hope that the attitude of my hon. Friends will hold it up.
We are, therefore, discussing a situation today in which we are to renew this Bill for a further twelve months, to be followed by a statutory Order. We are thus discussing a situation in which 400 we must assume that this will be the law for the next twelve months. Tomorrow's debate is, at the moment, hypothetical. I shall not refer to it, because we do not know whether the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill will be passed, although I hope that it will not. But that is the position.
The Minister of State put forward a second line of defence two years ago—an astonishing one. We always hear on the Floor of the House about cases which cause trouble and difficulty but one would be astonished how many times cases go through well. For every one that is disputed, one hundred cases go through, we were told. I am mentioning that figure from memory, but I think that I have fairly represented the purport of the argument.
It is rather like the taxi driver who said, "I kill only one person in 100, so you are safe in my hands for the next 99 goes". It is not an argument to say that a system works tolerably well, for one is bound to inquire and to wish to discuss the occasions when it fails. The apotheosis of realism was reached last night in the Adjournment debate when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation said words to the effect that the real trouble is that accidents are fortuitous and that is does not matter, statistically speaking, whether an accident kills 100 or one because it might have killed only one, and if it happens to kill 100 it busts the statistics.
I do not believe that we can accept that point of view. This is realism to the extreme. It is basic theory which might be applied to someone looking at pictures by Picasso and trying to find out what was the chemical content. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has already referred to Mr. Schoenman and has put forward a reasoned argument on this subject. It is said, and we believe, that this Bill has nothing to do with this case whatever. If it has nothing to do with it, what has?
No one suggests that Mr. Schoenman is not a distinguished young man who came here to complete his education and is now working with one of the most distinguished philosophers in the world. I thought that it was implicit in the argument that it was suggested that he 401 was refused because he was suffering from some sort of tendency to sit down in Trafalgar Square. What is it? It is said that this man is defying the law because he is contemplating a breach of Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839—yes, 1839—which deals with scrubbing tubs in the street and the letting off of fireworks. It used to deal with prostitutes, but they have all gone. It enables the Commissioner to make an order, to protect people going to churches, and theatres, and so on, and, of course, it can be operated on a very extensive scale, because, on this occasion, it extended from Temple Bar to Parliament Square.
Francis Thompson used to do a lot of sitting about in gutters. He spoke in his finest poem of a Jacob's Ladder from Heaven to Charing Cross. He spoke also of Christ walkingNot of Gennesareth, but Thames!Had He done so He might have contravened the Act of 1839. Let us remember that Christ, in any event, was an alien. Would hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest that He was undesirable? He was certainly a political and He was finally condemned on political grounds. Pontius Pilate was anxious to wash his hands of the case until he was reminded of the wrath of Tiberius whose régime was being undermined.
We have had a dissertation upon piracy which would not have been understood in the reign of Elizabeth I. Sir Francis Drake is reputed by most English historians. Reference has also been made to Thomas Paine. Thomas Paine was rather an unsuccessful corset manufacturer and, apparently, there was no more demand for corsets on the eastern seaboard of the United States than on the western seaboard today. But he did not only go to the United States and indulge in political agitation. He went to France and before he went he was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly. They got "fed up" with him after a while and condemned him to death, but they failed by mistake to execute him and he returned to us to gain fame and honour.
Thus, one cannot lay down the proposition about undesirable aliens, because one never knows, when one talks about half-naked Indians—
§ Mr. Hale
—yes, half-naked Indian fakirs—whether one will find out later that the person, the half-naked Indian in question, has become as world famous as Mr. Gandhi, a man of sanctity and political sagacity and the great man of his time.
That is one of the reasons for our objections to this Bill. It is one of the reasons why my hon. Friends and I consider that we are putting forward the correct, the Socialist conception of the brotherhood of man when we urge that the weak and defenceless should be as welcome as anybody else.
One of the most moving stories in the New Testament is that which concerns Christ, when he said:Then shall the King say unto them … For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was a stranger, and ye took me in.They said, "But when did we do this to you?" and Christ replied:Inasmuch as we have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.That is the argument my hon. Friends and I are putting forward; that it should be done to the least of these people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne spoke about the non-resister who was to be sent back to America, and of the other cases in which complaint was made of the resistance of a subject of Portugal. But let it be remembered that to qualify if one comes from Hungary one must prove that one is a violent resister, and not a non-resister.
There was a long letter in a newspaper, I think the Guardian, the other day, which referred to a distinguished man—a man of exceptional qualifications—who was offered a job in Britain. He was the only man that the advertiser would accept, but he came from Eastern Germany. He could not enter, because, coming from Eastern Germany, he would not have been in a position to be sent back should he prove undesirable. That is what the position is; we cannot have anyone from that part of the world because of the deportation difficulties in case they break the law. Is that true? Is that really the situation?
403 Does this not mean that we are saying that we can only accept people under certain circumstances, even if the need for them to come here exists? Are we saying that we cannot have people here who sympathise with Communist rule despite the fact that they might be able to help us to understand these matters better? It seems to me to be the end of international understanding.
A very powerful leading article has appeared in The Times in the last day or two. The hon. Member will say, when we talk about the Common Market—and I am one of those who passionately believe in the ideal of a united Europe, if we can get it—"Well, you haven't read the Treaty of Rome. They have to have a job. They can't come from Italy unless they have a job. They cannot come from Algeria." I know that it is only for the first eight years—but of course they will have a job.
As The Times said, one at once gets an organisation for providing jobs. It will probably be run by the Lonely Hearts people or someone like that, but of course these people will have a job. Any Algerian who is on the run will be able to buy a temporary job in Britain. I do not say that is necessarily a bad thing; I only say that it is singularly bad to provide an opportunity for an organisation to make these people pay for "phoney" jobs, and that it would increase instead of mitigate the problems that would arise.
I believe—and, heaven knows, I do not regard myself as a chauvinist, and I am usually attacked as one who is not sufficiently exultant about the unfurling of the Union Jack—that Britain has in the past contributed in many spheres things of moral value. I believe that our tolerance and decency today are things that are admired throughout the world.
I referred to the public image of Trafalgar Square, and I know that to be true. People said, "This sort of demonstration could not have passed off so peacefully in many countries, apart from Britain and Scandinavia." It could not have passed off in very many other countries that claim a high standard of civilisation. This right of political asylum, of trying to find a home for the persecuted, for refugees from oppression of all kinds and not drawing standards, 404 not laying down lines of demarcation, not having one law to apply to persons of one nationality and another to apply to those of another nationality—all that is part of the fundamental decency that Britain has represented over these years. I hope that we shall get back to it.
All this business has now got mixed up with espionage fears. We are now told, "If we allow these people in, our secrets may be betrayed." At the same time, we find that broadcast stations have been operating in Britain, apperently finding the getting of secrets to be a singularly simple job. The answer is not to have any secrets; it is highly immoral to have secrets.
The answer would be, as I have suggested before and as I now very seriously suggest again, "Throw open the Foreign Office, as the Duke of Bedford throws open his place, at half-a-crown a head every Saturday morning, charge an extra bob for tea, and an extra two bob for any treaty you may have." That is the absolutely fundamental answer to the reasonable interests of trying to create understanding between nations. If they know how to kill 10 million of us in four minutes they know enough. The only trouble about that scheme is, of course, that after the first fortnight the Foreign Office would not have any visitors.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
I hope that, after his magnificent burst of oratory, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), will forgive me if I come from the general to the particular, but one point that has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and was touched on by the hon. Member for Oldham, West in his peroration has been worrying me for a long time. This Measure is renewed year by year, and was originally emergency legislation. I am worried about the secrecy involved in it. The effect of that secrecy is sometimes not quite appreciated, and I should like very briefly to give the House an instance of how it has affected innocent people very seriously indeed.
Within this legislation is the absolute right of the Home Secretary to allow or to withhold nationalisation of aliens living here. I was not prepared to speak in this debate, but I am sure that my 405 hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State will well recollect the case I have in mind. I shall not mention any names, because enough damage has been done already. The case has to do with an alien who has lived in my constituency ever since the end of the war. He fought in the war on our side. He is married to a Sussex woman, and has a couple of children. He has a business which has had its ups and downs—it has certainly had its downs. He has not done very well in business. He has not been bankrupt, but he has had bad debts, though he has paid those back.
Not long ago this man applied for naturalisation—
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Renton)
I am afraid, Sir Harry, that we are here in very great difficulty. My hon. Friend has, without notice, raised an individual naturalisation case. In any event, as I understand it, we cannot discuss naturalisation, because that takes place, not under the Aliens Order or the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, but under the British Nationality Acts of 1948 and 1958. Although I am always sympathetic to hon. Gentlemen who want to raise matters in the House, and do the best I can to help, I am afraid that my hon. Friend is in a position of difficulty for himself and of impossibility for me.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Perhaps it might help if I say that I should have thought that anything that affected the individual concerned which was consequent upon the Aliens Act would be in order, but that anything beyond that would come under another Act, and would not be in order.
§ Mr. Gough
I am very grateful to you, Sir Harry, but I think that I can make my point without going further into the details of the case. Suffice it to say that this man's application was eventually turned down. It was supported by people of very considerable substance within the neighbourhood, but it was turned down. The point is that because the application was turned down without any rhyme or reason whatever being given for it—and I have never to this day had the slightest inkling of an idea, either from my hon. and learned Friend, who discussed it with me, or 406 from the Home Secretary, or from anyone else why the application was turned down—a great deal of harm has been done to this man. He is still in this country as an alien, and now imagines that he is an undesirable alien. The Home Office has not gone to the extent of having him deported, so is he desirable or undesirable?
The much more serious point is that all round the neighbourhood the finger of suspicion has been pointed at the police—
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I am sorry to have to stop the hon. Gentleman, but my difficulty is that the decision as to whether or not the man should be naturalised was taken under an Act different from the Measure we are discussing. I think that in this debate the only part on which the hon. Member would be in order would be on whether the man should remain in the country or be deported. I am afraid that he cannot go further than that.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order, Sir Harry. It is perfectly true that in this debate no one can complain about the granting of or refusal to grant a naturalisation certificate; that is done under a wholly different procedure and a wholly different Act. But, as I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, it relates not so much to the result of the application but to the state of secrecy; the inability to know reasons; the inability to know why; the inability to know what is against one in order to have an opportunity to answer it. All that, of course, is part of my own case against this Act. Would not the hon. Member be entitled to be heard if he confined himself to that aspect of the matter, and did not complain of the refusal of the naturalisation certificate? Would he not be illustrating one of the most difficult aspects of our present argument?
§ The Temporary Chairman
As I have explained, it is in order to raise the question of whether there should be secrecy under the operation of the Aliens Act but not under the British Nationality Acts. That is a separate issue, and I am afraid that the hon. Member must not go on referring to it.
§ Mr. Gough
I was going to say, Sir Harry, that I am only too grateful to you 407 for putting the position so clearly, because that is precisely what I want to say. What is the position of this man? He is not my constituent because he is an alien. He wants to know his position. Is he desirable or undesirable? I as a Member of the House have no means of finding out whether he is desirable or not. The point I wanted to make really was that all this kind of emergency legislation—and this is a typical example, which has been renewed year by year from 1919 up till now—always has within it, and must have within it, this element of secrecy.
I bow to you, Sir Harry, for having allowed me to go so far, and I merely wish to put forward the view that there is this danger of secrecy in this type of legislation. It is for that reason that I support my hon. Friend who said he thought that it was high time that we brought this type of legislation permanently on to the Statute Book.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
When I first came into the House the hon. and learned Gentleman who is to answer this debate was a National Liberal with a capital "L" and I was an international liberal with a small "l". But today he will be speaking not as a liberal in the real sense of the word but as a rather reactionary conservative. I hope that I am wrong, but that is the assumption that we are making. I wonder what Mr. Gladstone would have thought of him, because under Mr. Gladstone's régime they even let in Karl Marx and Garibaldi, and a good many other people too. In these days we say that we are proud of that because we represent the free world.
I cannot help thinking that there is a political angle in the attitude of the Home Office. If a Russian from a visiting Russian cultural delegation or from a concert group or ballet group decides to come into this country, he is almost invariably given political asylum without very many questions being asked, and, as far as I can see, there is no objection to that. I wonder how far that policy would go at the present time. If a Russian escapes from a Russian ship it is taken for granted almost axiomatically that he must be welcome as a political refugee if he can be used 408 in the propaganda cold war against the Russian Government.
I wonder what would happen if Mr. Molotov decided to arrive here. That would be a problem for the Home Secretary, would it not? The right hon. Gentleman would not know whether to use Mr. Molotov in the propaganda cold war against the present Government of Mr. Khrushchev or under what Section of the Aliens Ant he could deport him as an undesirable alien. One cannot help thinking that there is one rule for Russian political refugees who come here and quite another for all of these other refugees.
I wonder how the Secretary of State for the Home Department informs people that their presence is not required in this country and that they are undesirable refugees. When I first came to the House, one of the first cases which I had to take up was that of an Estonian lady who had escaped from Estonia and had gone to Ireland. She was given a job in a London hospital and arrived there without the necessary authorisation. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) had to deal with the case and, acting on advice, he said that her case had been considered and that he regretted that within 48 hours, or some similar time, she would have to leave the country. The letter ended, "Your obedient servant, Chuter Ede". Whenever this lady comes to the House of Commons she recognises the sedate and dignified figure of my right hon. Friend and says, "That is my obedient servant." This case was taken up and I must say that my right hon. Friend was liberal. The lady was allowed to stay.
What are we going to do about the Schoenman case? America has its own ideas about undesirable aliens, too. There was a time when American policy with regard to deportations and permission to leave the country was summarised by the fact that they would not allow Paul Robeson out and would not allow Charlie Chaplin in. They eventually allowed Paul Robeson out, but they have not yet allowed Charlie Chaplin in as they look upon him as an undesirable alien. It is quite possible that when the Home Secretary decides to deport Mr. Schoenman it will be explained that he is the secretary of Lord Russell who has 409 been organising demonstrations in Trafalgar Square, in Scotland against the Polaris and outside the Russian Embassy, too, and that he is a dangerous and undesirable alien whom the Americans will not want to get back. I wonder what they will do then?
I do not understand why it is necessary for the Home Office to end Mr. Schoenman's permit to live in this country. When I first met Mr. Schoenman he was in a very dangerous and seditious place called the London School of Economics. Who knows, an American immigration officer may say, "This man has had an education in a very undesirable and seditious place." I wonder whether if Mr. Schoenman had not been connected with the Committee of 100 but had been involved in, say, throwing a bottle at a referee of a football match he would have been deported. I doubt very much whether the Home Office would have taken so much interest in him.
Here is a gentleman whose crime is not that of being violent or disorderly at all. He has not been accused, as in the case of Captain Galvao, of murder. His crime is that he is against mass murder. This is a form of passive, non-violent resistance which, after all, cannot be said greatly to endanger the life of a civilised community, and yet we are taking this measure against him just because he happens to be a political nuisance. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of State thinks that Mr. Schoenman is going to the British Museum, after having been in the London School of Economics, and is going to expand upon the theories of Karl Marx. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is liberal, in any sense of the word, he ought to consider this case.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) referred to Tom Paine. I am sure that Tom Paine would have great difficulties at this time, because he is the man who did not believe in passports. He said "The world is my country and mankind is my religion." That is a rank, seditious, subversive doctrine in the opinion of those who are in charge of the Home Office. I wonder what would have happened to George Washington. They certainly would not have allowed him to come because in the time of George III 410 he was regarded as a liberal. It is only when we consider this matter and try to avoid prejudices that we, find there is very little logic in the case at all. The hon. and learned Gentleman speaks of undesirable aliens, and in the back streets they call them "bloody foreigners". It is part of the insular attitude of British people, and it is an attitude which is certainly not consistent—
§ Mr. Doughty
Is the hon. Member suggesting that there are no such people as undesirable aliens in this country?
§ Mr. Hughes
Of course, I do not suggest that. There are undesirable aliens, just as there are undesirable politicians. Dr. Johnson said:Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel".I would say that patriotism is the first refuge of a discredited politician. In this attitude we are trying to appeal to the basest, crudest and cruellest emotions of the lot. Therefore, I hope that our Amendment will be carried. After all, we are supposed to be part of what is called the free world. We are prepared to destroy the universe in order to maintain the traditions of the free world, and here we are about to agree to this pettifogging piece of intolerance by a puppet of a police State. That is what it comes to. That is the logic of it. Therefore, I hope that our protest will have some effect upon the policy of the Government, and that is why I support the Amendment.
§ Mr. Ede
A few years ago Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, as he then was, produced an Order made under this Act we are renewing which brought all the provisions relating to aliens into that one Order. In that new Order he combined a large number of Orders and cancelled all the others. Since that time every year when I have had the opportunity I have pressed the advisability of making that Order an Act of Parliament.
I renew that suggestion today, because if it were adopted every one of these provisions during the Committee stage would have to be examined in detail and one by one added to the Bill so that in the end we should have an Act of Parliament which had been fully considered by the House. So far there has been no indication that anything on those lines will be done. But merely as a 411 matter of form this afternoon I think it is essential that one should once again ask the Government whether they can put that Order through the House in the form of a Bill.
The first excuse always is, "It is much easier to alter an Order than it is to alter a Bill. If we put this into a Bill which received the approval of the House we cannot amend it unless we have a new Bill to secure that end." I think it is desirable that a matter of this kind should be enshrined in a Parliamentary Measure which has had the definite approval of the House so that all its details can be accepted as the law of the land. I rather regret that the hon. Members for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot), for whom I have the friendliest of feelings—I do not know whether I would be allowed to call them my hon. Friends—have not mentioned this point this afternoon, as it is the most important part of this issue.
I do not wish to discuss the question of Mr. Schoenman. I am sure that in view of the fact that he took this political line he will be allowed back into the United States of America. I did not interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman to mention a case—I forget the name of the man, but he was a doctor—
§ Mr. Ede
That was the name. He was employed in a hospital in this country. As soon as the American Government knew that he had certain objections to the line of policy that they were pursuing, they served him with his military service papers and ordered him back to the United States to perform his military service. It was quite certain that if he went back he was going to be prosecuted under one of their numerous statutes dealing with people who do not share the general American view. Although the United States was founded largely by nonconformists, it is a bad thing to be a nonconformist in America today.
When he declined to return to America the authorities notified the British Government that they would not be prepared to receive him back, and, on that, efforts were made to deport him. Czechoslovakia expressed a willingness to 412 employ him. He was a most distinguished man in a branch of the medical profession. He went to Czechoslovakia; the Americans did not get him and we lost his services. Is this gentleman who is the secretary to Earl Russell, who is by no means persona grata in America, going to be in that position? Have the Government any idea on that point?
The only other matter I want to deal with is this case of Dr. Galvao. In my constituency there is a terrace of houses known as Garibaldi Terrace, and I am bound to say that a lot of the youths of the borough think that in some way it is a memorial to a biscuit which was a great favourite in my earlier days, although it is not seen so often today. Garibaldi was invited to South Shields when he was in this country, and the borough presented him with a sword in recognition of his services to the cause of liberty in Europe and particularly in Italy. But the number of people who died as a result of Garibaldi's efforts to unite Italy was far greater than the number of deaths which the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) attributed to this Portuguese captain.
Everyone who has ever been a liberal, either with a small "l" or a big "L," and has put no word in front of it to destroy the liberalism, will, I think, want to know why this man, who is resisting a tyranny that is at least as great as that of either the Bourbons or the Sicilian Government, is persona non grata in this country.
I cannot think that our treaty relations with Portugal, long as they may go back and little as they have assisted us in recent years, can demand that we should take this particular action against this man. Let us be quite certain of this: it is generally believed by the ordinary people of this country that this man is excluded from this country because he opposes Portugal's policy in Angola—I know of very few people in this country who do other than adopt the same line—and it gives a wrong conception of public opinion in this country. I hope that the Minister of State, in his reply, will be able to give us some reason, consistent with that small part of his Liberal past that survives, which will justify the action that has been taken.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I should like to echo the views expressed by a number of hon. Members about the 413 courtesy which the hon. and learned Gentleman always shows in replying to all the points made in these debates. We are very grateful for that. I must at the same time say that I agree with those who regret the absence of the Home Secretary. This is a particular subject that we are debating on which the Home Secretary has to make personal decisions which no one else can make. Cases have been raised which by the law of the land, are in his sole personal discretion. This debate, although there is not a large number of participants, is none the less one in which the rights of liberty are raised, and I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will convey this view to his right hon. Friend because this matter will come up each year, and each year the same things apply.
We are debating today the restrictions on the immigration of aliens and tomorrow we shall be debating the restrictions on the immigration of Commonwealth citizens. One thing that seems absolutely essential is that Commonwealth citizens should have greater rights than aliens of entry into this country. This brings me to the question raised by a number of my hon. Friends and by one hon. Member opposite: whether or not we ought to have a permanent Act dealing with the restriction and control of the entry of the aliens.
There is a very powerful case for this. We are operating this law now without it being a real law. There are a whole lot of Orders which we have never discussed and which we have not been able to amend, and there is a strong case for our being able to do so. If we are realistic, we must accept that if we had such an Act it would give very great discretionary powers to the Secretary of State and we should not have an annual debate about them. This is something that I always bear in mind. We should not have been able to hear the speeches of the hon. Gentleman who demanded a permanent Act because we should not have had this annual debate, and it is of great importance that we should have it.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
This point has emerged in previous debates. The suggestion was that an Act would provide for an annual return by the Secretary 414 of State which would provide an occasion for annual debate.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
That suggestion has been made in regard to a number of different Bills from time to time and never accepted. Once the Government get permanent legislation they do not do that sort of thing. Although we may say that we would like an annual debate, we only get an annual debate if we renew the Act each year. It will be quite extraordinary if we can debate annually the rights of aliens to come into and to reside in this country and not debate annually the rights of Commonwealth citizens to come in and to stay in this country. This would be a most extraordinary difference of treatment. Because of this annual debate we have been able to raise individual cases, argue them and get answers from the Government. We have on a number of occasions influenced the Government of the day as the result of raising individual cases, and, what is more important in some ways, as a result of these annual debates over the years, in which I have taken part in quite a few and read them all, we have brought about changes in Government policy which would not have occurred but for these annual debates, or would not have occurred so quickly.
Regarding individual cases, I feel rather strongly about the case of Captain Galvao. Here is involved the right of asylum. The hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) said, "You can take the right of asylum too far". That is perfectly true. But we can also not take it far enough. We have to get the balance right. It seems that in this case we have not taken it far enough. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said that when Garibaldi came here we understood what we were doing. We did not regard our own attitude to the country from which he came, but we regarded his own rights as a political refugee.
What I dislike in the Government's treatment of this case, which has emerged from a number of Answers given by the hon. and learned Gentleman previously, is that the real factor has not been whether Captain Galvao is a political refugee in the proper sense but 415 our attitude towards Portugal. There has been this very great interference of the Foreign Office and our foreign political attitude. This seems to be a very dangerous thing. If this comes in—and the hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested it in a number of Answers—it really undermines the whole idea of asylum and it will not go far enough if we apply new ideas of this sort. Someone said that he might be extradited if he came here. He went to Norway and Sweden and he was not extradited.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Applications for extradition might be made. Whether or not he would be extradited is a matter for the courts and very likely he would not be. It offends me as an Englishman who believes in liberty that countries like Norway and Sweden will allow this man to go in and lecture, with all the difficulties and troubles, if there are any, while Britain will not. I cannot believe that we are properly applying the doctrine of asylum when we have so different a practice in this case from those other countries.
On the question of policy, we have had real influence over the years. One consequence of this debate is that it enables us to keep our figures up to date year by year and we are very grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for briefing us up to date on the number of deported aliens, resident aliens and the other figures which he always gives us each year. Since 1956—I think as a result of the annual debates in this House—aliens who have been here for two years have a right when threatened with deportation to go to the Chief Magistrate. Although the opinion which he gives is only advisory, it has been accepted by the Home Office, and the figure amounts to quite a lot. Sixteen per cent. of the cases, judging by the figures which the hon. and learned Gentleman gave us last year, were turned down by the Chief Magistrate. That means that something like five out of 31 were accepted. These cases were, in effect, treated like appeals by the Home Secretary although it is only an advisory opinion. Last year, we obtained a very great improvement. 416 Police registration methods were completely overhauled and changed and 250,000 aliens were taken out of registration altogether. We are very grateful for that. Again, that was something which came out of our annual discussion and the pressure of debate.
I wish now to raise a question which was raised last year. The hon. and learned Gentleman will, I am sure, have given his mind to it. What is the legal authority under the Act by which British subjects, United Kingdom citizens, are compelled by law to write their names in hotel registers? Taken unawares last year, the hon. and learned Gentleman gave us the wrong case. I do not blame him for that, except that he should not give any opinion when taken unawares, but, of course, I realise that he does not carry all these things in his head all the time.
However, the result was that at the end of last year's debate we still did not know what the legal authority for this requirement was. We cannot find it ourselves in the Act and we should like to know. It is said, although it does not sound very probable, that this legal obligation laid on United Kingdom citizens arises out of the very Act we are discussing. That is what we have been told in the past, and that is why I ask the question again now.
Some hon. Members have referred to the possibility of our entering the Common Market. Entry into the Common Market would, of course, very greatly affect our present aliens law; we could not work our present Order at all even during the early stages of joining the Common Market, still less with the greater liberty of movement which would come in the recruitment of labour offers of employment and so forth in a few years, with very great, perhaps complete, liberty of movement throughout the Community as a whole. I take it that the Home Office, which is a very efficient Department of State and always looks ahead, has been giving its mind to this problem. It would be interesting if the hon. and learned Gentleman could tell us a little about how he thinks our aliens law and the administration of Orders under the Act will have to be changed or whether the whole thing will go into the melting pot.
I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne 417 (Mr. S. Silverman) and other hon. Members in saying that the real issue at the bottom of all our discussion of this subject is arbitrary power. We are giving arbitary power to a Minister of the Crown over a large number of residents who live here with us in this country. I, for one, do not object to at any rate the right to prohibit the entry of aliens. That seems to me to be necessary. I do not object to the right of deportation of aliens who may not have been here very long, about whom we do not know very much and who turn out to be "bad hats". I am not against that. It seems to me, nevertheless, that we should carry much further the idea, introduced in 1956, of aliens with two years' residence having certain rights to go to the Chief Magistrate.
I suggest that we should make a distinction between what one may call settled aliens and recent aliens. The settled alien is someone who has lived here, let us say, for two years, that being the period taken by the Government in 1956 as the criterion. We should distinguish between such settled aliens and others who have not lived here so long. Aliens who have lived here for two years have behaved during that time. I am not talking about people who come before the courts, and so on, who can be deported under a different arrangement; I am talking about those who have lived here, who are settled here and who have been useful residents. These people, I submit, ought to have an absolute right of appeal against a deportation order. I do not suggest that in no circumstances is it right to make a deportation order, but I submit that settled aliens ought to be regarded as having acquired a certain measure of right, after having been among us in this country, and they ought to have an absolute right of appeal not to the Chief Magistrate, whose opinion is only advisory, but to someone who can, outside the Government, determine whether it is right to order their deportation or not.
One has always to decide what points one wishes to raise and what not to raise on this occasion. Those are the matters of concern which I wish to ventilate, and I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to deal with some of them and with the points which my hon. Friends and other hon. Members have put to him during the debate.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Renton
This is the forty-second time that the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act has appeared in the Schedule to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. It is an interesting historical fact, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Worsley) may care to take note, that, until 1948, the question whether it should be left out of the Schedule to the Bill was never mentioned in the House at all.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) may claim the credit for having been the first to break the spell in just about thirty years. I believe it was in 1948 that he, by moving a manuscript Amendment, became the first hon. Member to have the matter raised. It has been raised every year since then. This is the fourth occasion when I have had to reply to the debate.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) that these debates are valuable. I acknowledge the help which I have had from both sides of the Committee on each occasion. I say quite candidly, having some responsibility, under the Home Secretary, for the administration of this part of our law, that it is not an easy task. We are anxious to be humane and liberal. At the same time, we have to be consistent so that justice may be done. This is undoubtedly a very valuable occasion for hon. Members to express their views. We take very careful note of them and benefit from the debate.
On each of the three previous occasions, and again today, the Government have been pressed by hon. Members on each side to introduce permanent legislation to deal with aliens control. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley said that it was a bad constitutional practice to operate in this way. The right hon. Member for Smethwick, I think, hinted at the advantages of it. Be that as it may, on each of the last three occasions we have conceded the need to do something in the matter, in other words, the need for having permanent legislation, but we have said that it cannot seriously be considered urgent.
The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker), the right hon. Member 419 for Smethwick and others drew attention to the fact that in this Session we are to have a Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, and I think that their suggestion was that there might have been advantage in dealing with the question of aliens at the same time. There is, however, a very strong reason for not having permanent legislation this Session, and that reason was touched on—I do not say in the sense that they agreed with me—by the hon. Member for Swindon and by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot).
The reason is that negotiations have started with a view to our entering the European Economic Community. The Treaty of Rome contains provisions relating to the freer movement of workers and the right of establishment and under regulations approved by the Council of Ministers in June this year it seems that administrative control of the movement of workers by each member country of the Common Market is envisaged. We cannot yet say what the final decision will be. It would not be wise or practicable to draft permanent legislation to replace the Aliens Order until Parliament has reached a final decision about our entering the Common Market and we know the terms on which we are to do so.
As was said by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher), whose contribution we have not had this year—
§ Mr. Renton
I am glad that that is a possibility. The hon. Member aptly and succinctly put it last year in this way:… 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1960; Vol. 630, c. 413–4.]That is a very natural point of view.
The essential feature of our aliens control is that foreigners wishing to enter the United Kingdom must first obtain leave to land. That leave is normally granted by an immigration officer. I know that this is familiar to hon. Members who follow this subject from year 420 to year, but it is not always appreciated by all hon. Members or, indeed, by the public and Press. That is why I am pointing out the foundations of the policy. The immigration officers are empowered to attach conditions to the grant of leave to land, and those conditions generally govern the foreigner's length of stay and his freedom to take work here. The immigration officers are also empowered to turn back those comparatively rare cases of foreigners whom we are not prepared to admit.
I come now to the figures, of which I always have to give a great many. This may be some strain on the attention of hon. Members, but I shall do my best to give the figures clearly and rather slowly. During the year ended 30th September, the total number of passengers using United Kingdom ports increased from just over 11 million to more than 12¼ million. That includes airports and seaports, inwards and outwards traffic, British and foreign passengers. Out of that total, the number of foreigners granted leave to land—that is, incoming foreign passengers—was 1,787,566. That was an increase of 89,406, or 5.2 per cent. over the corresponding period in 1959–60. I suggest that that increase is a further welcome sign of the United Kingdom's popularity with tourists and other visitors. These short-term visitors, tourists and others, accounted for more than 1¼ million of the foreign passenger arrivals during the year.
As the British Travel and Holidays Association has pointed out, tourism in 1960 became our fourth largest export. I am, therefore, glad to mention, as the hon. Member for Swindon invited me to do, two recent developments which should help to stimulate this important trade. The first is the abolition of visas with effect from 1st June, 1961, for people of those Latin-American countries which are still subject to the visa requirement. It is a pleasure to be able to tell the Committee that the whole of the American Continent, from the far north to the far south, is now visa-free as far as we are concerned.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
Is this on a reciprocal basis? Are we visa-free as far as they are concerned for travel from this country?
§ Mr. Renton
I should like to check that. For the most part, this is reciprocal. There may be one or two exceptions.
The second development which should help the tourist trade is this. There has been an extension since last April to France, Monaco, Switzerland and Liechtenstein of arrangements under which people of certain Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries may come here without passports for social or holiday visits of up to three months provided that they bring their national identity cards and complete a visitors' card which is obtainable free of charge from the British Travel and Holidays Association through travel agents. If a visitor arrives and does not happen to have one of these cards with him, he can be supplied with one and can complete it before he goes further. A warm tribute is due to the Association for the contribution which it is making to this new scheme. The hon. Member for Swindon asked me for the number of people who took advantage of it. During the year ended 30th September, over 70,000 visitors from O.E.C.D. countries took advantage of it.
I wish now to deal with the question of refusal of leave to land. That is, so to speak, the negative side of our policy and one way in which hon. Members can be most easily shown how it is working. Viewed against the background of over 1¾ million arrivals of foreign passengers refusals of leave to land numbering 3,235 can be seen in proper perspective. This represents only 0.18 per cent. of arrivals, or one foreigner in 552, and compares with 2,618 in the previous year.
Refusal of leave to land is not undertaken lightly by immigration officers. The Committee may wish to have some indication of the kind of cases involved. The total of 3,235 includes 251 technical refusals—that is, passengers who came here merely in transit. They did not want to visit the country, but had to come here because in the course of their journey their aeroplane landed here or their ship called here. Of the remainder, 466 people had insufficient means to support themselves during their proposed stay. 422 One thousand one hundred and forty-eight people were refused admission because they had come to work here, but did not have valid labour permits. Two hundred and sixty-two people had no travel document and 56 had no visa in circumstances which required one.
Four hundred and forty sought permanent settlement for which they were not eligible, 84 were unacceptable on medical grounds, and 141 were stowaways.
§ Mr. Renton
Captain Galvao was one who was refused a visa for which, the hon. Gentleman will recollect, he applied. That is not quite right, because in the first place he applied for a visa when he was in South America, but was refused one. He would not come into these figures because he was not a passenger, but he became a passenger after 30th September, and the figures that I am giving relate to the twelve months ended 30th September. I use that date each year, because it is the most convenient date for this debate. Therefore, Captain Galvao will come into next year's figures.
That leaves 384 people who are best described as miscellaneous undesirables, including people with criminal records and security cases.
§ Mr. M. Foot
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman say how many were criminal cases and how many were security cases out of the 384?
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Can the Minister of State assure us that they are separate categories in his Department so that the figures can be obtained if a Question is tabled? Or are all the cases lumped together?
§ Mr. Renton
Naturally, they are in separate categories. I have tried to simplify the matter by going into a considerable disintegration, if that is the right word, of the figures. I felt that it might be a burden to hon. Members if I went into too much detail. I am trying to give a fairly broad picture. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me or 423 tables a Question, I may be able to give him the answer.
As has been acknowledged today, as on previous occasions, the efficient and smooth working of the control depends on the diligence and good sense of our immigration officers. Some hon. Members may have seen a film entitled "The Net", which B.B.C. television showed a little while ago and which faithfully and vividly portrayed the work of the Immigration Service. If that film is still available, I should like to arrange, if possible, for hon. Members who did not see it to have the opportunity to do so, because it shows the difficulties of the work, its great variety and importance and what can be achieved by immigration officers in sometimes stopping very evil things. Theirs is indeed difficult as well as important work. I have visited a number of ports in recent months. I have seen them at it and my admiration increases all the time.
Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Immigration, Mr. C. P. Ruck, became an immigration officer in 1919, the year of the Act which we are considering, and has been in the service ever since. He has been chief inspector for over ten years and he is due to retire in January. I know that it is unusual to pay tribute to officials who are about to retire, but his part in the work has been so outstanding that I feel it right to mention it to the Committee.
Just as hon. Members are rightly concerned about refusals of leave to land, they are equally vigilant about deportation. It must be generally accepted—the hon. Member for Islington, East was good enough to accept it last year in at least a limited sense—that no system of immigration control could be effective without the ultimate sanction of deportation. It is, however, used only when really necessary.
Over recent years, there have been about 100 deportations a year. In 1958, 131 people were deported; in 1959, there were 86; last year, 106; and in the first ten months of this year, 76. Of the 106 who were deported in 1960, exactly one half had been recommended by the courts and the other half were cases in which the Home Secretary decided under Article 20 (2, b) that 424 deportation would be conductive to the public good.
Of those 53 cases, 19 people were mentally disordered, 16 were criminals in respect of whom the court had made no recommendation, six were destitute malingerers, four were persistently unsatisfactory workers, four were people who refused to leave after their time had expired and three were students who refused to study. The remaining person was a prostitute.
Every one of the 106 cases received the personal scrutiny first of myself and then of my right hon. Friend, who had to sign the order. In no case since the system was introduced in 1956 has deportation ever been carried out after the Chief Magistrate had considered a case and advised against it. Whenever an alien has been here for two years or more and where there has been no recommendation by a criminal court and it is not a security case, the foreigner has a right to make representations to the Chief Magistrate.
Since those arrangements were made, 84 aliens have been eligible to make representations, but only 43 have availed themselves of the opportunity. In 31 of those cases, the Chief Magistrate concurred in the proposal to deport. In nine cases, he did not concur and there are three cases pending.
In last year's debate, I announced an important relaxation of our regulations for registration with the police, namely, that foreigners who have been accepted for permanent residence were to be completely exempted from police registration. These included, among others, many people who had been here under Ministry of Labour permits for four years or more.
The Aliens Order, 1960, followed the announcement and the change came into effect on 1st January this year. On that date, 405,000 aliens were registered with the police, but as a result of the Order over 280,000 became at once and automatically exempt. By 30th September, the number of exemptions had risen to 295,000, so that the number remaining registered with the police is 120,000. All those who benefited by the change were told by the police that they had benefited. The police endorsed their documents and carried out the whole operation with 425 smoothness and efficiency. We hope that that big once-and-for-all operation will result in some saving of administrative duties for the police as time goes on.
The hon. Member for Swindon asked me how many aliens are in permanent residence. I have given the answer by telling him how many people are now exempted from registration with the police. I should give the hon. Member an estimate of what we think are likely to be the additional numbers. I can give only a gross figure, because to make a net figure would mean making a calculation, which it is impossible to make, of the number of aliens who die and the number who decide not to stay here, although they have been accepted for permanent residence, and who go elsewhere. They do not necessarily return to their own country; they may emigrate elsewhere. The gross number of the estimated addition to the permanent population of aliens is 16,000 next year. It was probably nearly that figure this year.
The hon. Member for Swindon also asked me about World Refugee Year. The Committee will remember that in last year's debate I gave a detailed survey of the contribution which the Government were making to World Refugee Year, with particular reference to handicapped refugees admitted to this country under special Home Office schemes. I said that although World Refugee Year had then ended, we were sending a third selection mission to Germany and Austria to select further refugees from the camps and for whom sponsorships were available in this country.
In the early part of this year, that mission selected another 390 refugees, thus bringing the total to over 1,100, nearly all of whom were handicapped refugees of long standing who had previously been unable to find anywhere else to go and who were kept in camps on the Continent. We feel that this contribution towards the solution of the refugee problem is one of which we may justly feel proud. I should add that there are some residual cases which are still being considered, and that it is probable that a few more of those people will be admitted this winter.
The hon. Member also asked me whether I could say something about 426 how these people are settling down. Well, of course, he will understand that once they have come in here under the Home Office scheme they are looked after either by private agencies or by voluntary agencies, or they just live as ordinary citizens, and it would be quite impossible for us to keep, so to speak, our "tabs" on all of them; but we do hear of the occasional case which goes wrong. For the most part we feel that this scheme has been well justified and is, broadly speaking, giving satisfaction.
One of my hon. Friends asked me, as did the hon. Member for Swindon, about our methods of handling traffic at the ports, seaports and airports. Of course, in this context one has to remember that the London airports, London Airport itself and Gatwick, are now handling a vast amount of traffic, by far a larger proportion of traffic than at any individual seaport. I myself have had a good look at this during the last few months. I visited a number of ports and London Airport to see what our Immigration Service was doing with a view to minimising the delay, and of course the irritation which delay always causes. One must remember that it is not merely a question of handling the alien traffic; it is a question of handling all the 12¼ million passengers, including the British.
We have considered this matter very carefully. I do not want to burden the Committee with a lot of detail about my own observations on this matter and of what is being done, but let my say that at London Airport we have introduced this summer an entirely new marshalling system which hon. Members may have seen in operation and which is undoubtedly enabling the traffic to be handled more quickly there.
I have satisfied myself that the system of on-passage working to which the hon. Member referred has been extended as far as we can get it to go at this moment. After all, on-passage working is only feasible when the shipping company has both the facilities and the will to provide accommodation for the passport officer. Sometimes the facilities are just not available, and also, of course, we really do need a Tannoy system—a broadcasting system—in a ship so that people may be reminded that the passport officer is available. Not all ships have this, but we 427 shall extend the system as and when we can. It is working to a very great extent at the moment. For example, in trans-Atlantic liners it works between Cherbourg and Southampton as a matter of regular practice.
There has been no mention in the debate today of the burning question of segregation, which I have looked into very closely myself—segregation, that is, of holders of British passports and others. They are not any longer called aliens, in glaring notices. I think that segregation is unavoidable. I am sorry, but it is. Segregation undoubtedly saves a very great deal of time, and if we did not have segregation I think that the delays in handling many of the foreigners would be greater, and, of course, the delays in handling the British would be very much greater. On balance, we feel that segregation is well worth having when it really does save time, and we find, also, that the number of complaints which we get about it has been steadily dwindling over the years, because, I think, need for the system has become more generally understood.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
As the hon. and learned Gentleman has been criticised in the past about this, I should like to say at the airports, anyway, it seems to be done so tactfully now as to cause no irritation at all. I am grateful, and I should like to thank him for the progress which has been made.
§ Mr. Renton
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that. I think that the new arrangements at London Airport especially are so tactful, so unobtrusive, that people hardly realise that there is segregation going on.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me to give the legal authority for asking British people to sign hotel registers. A very fair question, if I may say so. Last year, I unintentionally may have misled the Committee, because I think, without checking it back, that I said then that this had been tested in the courts, but, in fact, it has not been tested in the courts. I am very sorry unintentionally to have misled the Committee last year. As it has not been tested in the courts it is not for me to attempt to give an authoritative ruling, because it is not for me to express an opinion on a matter of vires.
428 Therefore, with that qualification, and for what it is worth, I invite the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the Aliens Restriction Act, 1914, because it is the 1919 Act which carries forward the powers of the 1914 Act and the authority for making the aliens orders is basically in the 1914 Act. What the 1919 Act did was to say that those orders could be made even though there was no emergency.
Therefore, in the 1914 Act we have to refer to Section 1 (1, i) wherebyprovision may be made by the Order (i) for conferring upon such persons as may be specified in the Order such powers with respect to arrest, detention, search of premises or persons, and otherwise, as may be specified in the Order, and for any other ancillary matters for which it appears expedient to provide with a view to giving full effect to the Order".As I say, it is a matter for the courts to interpret. We cannot. All that we can say is that in our opinion, so that we may have effective control of aliens, it is necessary to ask our own people to comply with certain formalities.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
While being grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his explanation, I would say that the earlier this is tested in the courts the better. It seems to rest on an extremely flimsy foundation.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I may not quite have followed, but I understand that it may be claimed that the Section of the 1914 Act to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred gives the Home Secretary the power to require this, but has the Home Secretary ever required it? Has he ever made an Order which asks for it? If so, under what authority did he claim to take that power?
§ Mr. Renton
No, I think that the hon. Gentleman has not quite followed. The point is that the 1914 Act gave power to make orders, and the order in question with which we are concerned is the Aliens Order, 1953, which is the Order in which these powers were used, including the point about hotel registration.
I should just for the sake of completeness point out that provisions dealing with hotel registration were amended in 429 the Aliens Order of 1957, and there it was dealt with by way of repeal and re-enactment.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Fletcher
My recollection is that it made quite a distinct difference. It introduced a change which provided in future that whereas aliens were required on registering at an hotel to give their names and addresses there was no such obligation on British subjects. My recollection is that it was because of the 1957 Order that it is now abundantly clear that no British subject staying at any hotel in the United Kingdom has any obligation to give either his name or address in writing.
§ Mr. Renton
The position, as I am advised, is that Article 19 (1) of the Aliens Order, 1953, as amended by the 1957 Order, requires every person aged 16 and over who stays at an hotel or boarding house to notify the keeper of the premises of his name and nationality. This applies equally to British subjects as to aliens, but aliens have to furnish certain additional personal particulars which British subjects do not have to furnish. Nevertheless, I am advised that British subjects have to register and the only people who can say that this is wrong are the courts.
§ Mr. Fletcher
There is nothing in that Order which obliges a British subject to register in writing. The obligation is to give his name and address, which he can do verbally.
§ Mr. Renton
That is a very much narrower point than that which the right hon. Member for Smethwick asked me. The interpretation of the law, even of delegated legislation, is not a matter for us. It is a matter for the courts.
§ Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
As there is an ambiguity about this, and it is obvious that a British subject ought not to be compelled to do it, would it not be advisable for the Home Office, without waiting for an order of the court, to alter the Order and make clear in it that that should not be required?
§ Mr. Renton
I do not think that the hon. Member appreciates the difficulty. If we wish to have control over foreigners, a certain amount of cooperation from our own people is required. That is why, for example, we have to require British people to produce passports at the ports, otherwise we should not know whether or not they were foreigners. It is as simple as that.
A great deal of discussion has taken place in the debate about two individual cases, with which I propose to deal. The first is the case of Schoenman. The right hon. Member for Smethwick also asked about the case of Galvao. I wish to make it abundantly plain that Mr. Schoenman has not been asked to leave the country because of his views about nuclear disarmament. He has been asked to leave for the very plain reasons which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has given to the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), who showed an interest in this case.
I shall quote from a letter which the hon. Member received from my right hon. Friend. I can, of course, lay the whole letter if necessary, but I will now quote this essential part of it:The reason why I did not feel able to extend Mr. Schoenman's permit to stay was, as you were good enough to recognise, his breaches of the law. My conclusion is now strengthened by his subsequent refusal to be bound over to keep the peace, for which he is just completing a two months' sentence of imprisonment. I am not at all concerned with his views; but I cannot in fairness to others allow an alien to stay in this country who not only breaks our laws but actively and publicly helps to organise breaches of the law by other people.Those are the reasons why Mr. Schoenman has been asked to go, and I hope that now that these reasons have been heard by the Committee they will be well understood and the position will be perfectly plain.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) asked me a number of hypothetical questions. Normally, one is ill-advised to answer hypothetical questions, but, greatly daring, I will answer this one. He asked me whether Mr. Schoenman would have been deported—and so far there is only a question of his being asked to leave—if he had thrown a bottle at a football match. 431 If Mr. Schoenman had thrown a bottle at a football match and it had done no harm whatever, obviously he would not have been deported, but if he had thrown it intending to hit and hurt the referee and, perhaps, had killed him, it is probable that he would have been deported.
I was also asked another hypothetical question by the hon. Member, which I hope it will not be irrelevant to answer. He asked what we would have done about Molotov. That is essentially hypothetical, because the first thing that Molotov would have had to do would have been to obtain leave to get out of Russia, and that is not a difficulty in which people are placed here.
§ Mr. Renton
I am talking about the present circumstances. As the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne is interested in the debate, I am obliged to congratulate him on having stolen a march for the anti-party over the Establishment concerning the debate in getting his name on the Notice Paper first.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale have expressed anxieties about Galvao, as did the right hon. Member for Smethwick. I must be frank with the Committee. I do not believe in repeating things which I have already said and, therefore, I have little to add to what I have said on the Adjournment on 13th June and what I have said since in answer to Questions. It is material for us to bear this point in mind. There is the so-called "right of asylum", but it is much more a right on the part of the Government to grant asylum than a right on the part of the alien to have it. It is a matter of discretion, which is exercised by the Secretary of State.
It has always been the case that the Secretary of State, in exercising that discretion, bears in mind not only the danger to the life and limb or liberty of the person who applies, but also other factors which may be material. In this 432 case, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary considered that it was material to bear in mind that Captain Galvao wished to use this country as a base for insurrection against another Power which happens to be a N.A.T.O. ally. I know that hon. Members do not agree with that point of view, but that is the reason for the decision and I have nothing to add about it.
§ Mr. Renton
I am answering for the Home Secretary. It is no part of my duty to answer for the actions of other Governments. All I can do is to give our reason, and that I have done.
§ Mr. M. Foot
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman say that the establishment of N.A.T.O. has altered the traditions of this country about political asylum?
§ Mr. Renton
There is no question of our tradition of political asylum having been altered. The point is that it was never an absolute right to come here.
There are some people in the position of Captain Galvao, who was not able to go to his own country. Indeed, we are told that his life might have been in jeopardy had he done so. It is very fortunate for him that when he first applied he was in a country which was willing to accept him. Other countries are willing to accept him. What we have to consider is whether, in the circumstances of having a N.A.T.O. ally, we are prepared to allow this country to be used for the purposes of insurrection against that ally; and we are not. There is no question of our having altered our laws or practice relating to political asylum.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman saying that there is one right of asylum for people from N.A.T.O. countries and another right of asylum for people not from N.A.T.O. countries?
§ Mr. Renton
No. There is the case of a Portuguese from East Africa to whom a right of asylum was given the other day.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman again, but he will agree that this is a very important matter. We all 433 accept that the right of asylum is the right of the Government to grant; it is not the right of the refugee to receive. What we are talking about is the fact that in the United Kingdom this right of the Government to grant asylum has always been exercised on the broadest and most liberal grounds. What we are objecting to is that the grounds have now been limited—indeed, most tragically and catastrophically limited—by what the hon. and learned Gentleman has just said. Are we to infer from what he has just said that if Captain Galvao had come to this country from Portugal, instead of from the Argentine, we should have handed him back?
§ Mr. Renton
No, I am not saying that. I do not accept that the right of asylum has been limited by the fact that we have certain allies or in any other way. I simply say that the right of asylum has not since the Aliens Act, 1905, which first started any kind of alien control, been absolute, and my right hon. Friend considered it right that it should not be exercised in these circumstances. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can make his view any plainer and I cannot make my view any plainer, so we must just agree to differ about this.
§ Mr. Ede
I recall the case of Gerhard Eisler, over which I was severely attacked at the time—at first, Eisler flew out of the United States and landed on a steamship belonging to Poland, which put in at Southampton, where he was removed from the vessel. The United States tried to get him extradited, saying that he had committed a certain offence.
I was advised at the time that there were two steps to be taken. First, there was the decision of the court whether he could be extradited and whether the treaty covered the offence that he had committed. If the court decided that he could be extradited on that, there was a duty on me, as Secretary of State, to consider whether he was a political refugee. I have not got the case in front 434 of me. I did not know that it would be referred to this afternoon or I should have looked it up.
It so happened that the court found that Eisler had not committed an extraditable offence. He had not committed perjury; he had made a false declaration. On that highly technical point the Chief Magistrate of the day decided that Eisler was not extraditable, and, therefore, the second point did not arise. However, I was clearly advised at the time that if it was decided that Eisler was extraditable it would still be my duty, as Secretary of State, to consider whether he was a person to whom I had to grant asylum.
§ Mr. Renton
Quite frankly, I am not prepared to argue about a case which I have not had the opportunity of studying. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not attempt to deal with that point. I take note of what he said.
There is one other thing that I might say about Captain Galvao. All of us are to some extent at cross purposes in all this. When the matter first arose, Captain Galvao was already in a country—Brazil—in which he had obtained asylum. He applied for a visa, which was then necessary, to come here, and he put forward as his reason for coming not that he wanted political asylum but that he wanted to make a lecture tour. Even when he came here the other day the ground that he put forward was that he wanted to make a lecture tour.
Naturally, in view of the circumstances, and in view of what had been said by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale in the course of the Adjournment debate, we considered the question of political asylum, but, whether it was based on a desire to come here to lecture or on a political asylum ground, we came to the conclusion that the overwhelming factor was that he could not be admitted on any of those grounds in view of his professed intentions with regard to a N.A.T.O. ally.
§ Mr. Renton
I generally conclude my reply to debates like this by apologising for not having answered all the points that were raised. I hope that I am not unduly flattering myself, but I do not think that I need to make that apology on this occasion. I think that I have covered every point that has arisen. I am grateful to hon. Gentlemen who have made very constructive contributions.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I would not seek to take part in the general nature of the debate as I have not been here throughout, but I have been listening during the last few minutes to what has been said about the case of Captain Galvao. I, and, I am sure, my hon. Friends, give the Minister of State every support in upholding the decision which has been taken in this case.
What seems to me to be material is what fell from the lips of my hon. and learned Friend, that if Captain Galvao came here he would organise insurrectionist activities. It does not seem to me to be material whether Portugal is a member of N.A.T.O. or a member of any other organisation, or even, as she is, our oldest ally, provided that she is a friendly Power. We could not possibly entertain in this country one of the nationals of a friendly Power of any description if we felt that he would conduct insurrectionist activities.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
The only people who can come to this country and organise insurrectionist activities are persons in wartime who are operating against nations with whom we are unfriendly and at war.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Those very words are sufficient for me to agree with my hon. and learned Friend that the decision taken is the right one.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
The noble Lord has said that we ought not to grant political asylum to any alien who would use his refuge here to pursue insurrectionary activities against his country of origin. 436 Does he not know that in practically all the cases in which political asylum has ever been granted in this country that has been the situation?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I think that this man was not asking for political asylum. He was asking for a visa to come here and indulge in insurrectionary activity, or what the Government deemed to be insurrectionary activity. That is enough to keep him out.
When the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was Home Secretary he prevented a Communist from coming to this country to attend a demonstration or conference at Sheffield, or some other city in the North, on the ground not that the man was a Communist but that he, being a Communist, intended to indulge in collective Communist propaganda with others. That was the ground for the man's exclusion. That case is parallel with that of Captain Galvao. The right hon. Member for South Shields should come over to this side of the Committee and support us.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The Minister of State has, as he usually does, dealt with the debate in a full and interesting manner. The House is indebted to him for the amiable manner in which he has spoken. He has attempted to deal with most of the points raised, but I cannot say that he has dealt with them all satisfactorily. In fact, in some respects, he has left the position rather more confusing than before.
I shall, therefore, recapitulate the position as I see it, and deal with one incidental matter first—the question about the obligation or not of British subjects to register at hotels. Speaking for myself, I thought this matter was finally dealt with when we discussed the Aliens Order, 1957, which was ventilated in the House and was deliberately introduced as a measure of amelioration of the position of British subjects. I will remind the House of what it said.
It revised the earlier law and drew a distinction for the future between British subjects and aliens. Previously, there had been no such distinction. It introduced a new Article 19, which provides that every person—and that includes British subjects—over the age of 16 who stays at an hotel must inform the owner 437 of his full name and nationality. He does not have to register in writing but he has to state his name and nationality. If he says, "My name is John Smith and I am a British subject", that is the end of the matter; he has the absolute right to stay there and no one has the right to ask him any further questions.
If, on the other hand, he is an alien, then Article 19 provides that he is obliged on arriving at the premises to produce his passport or registration certificate, to give his full name and address, and to register in writing. It can now at least go out from the Committee that if any British subject wants to stay in an hotel and says that he is a British subject, then that is an end to the question and he has an absolute right to stay there without being pestered as though he were an alien.
I now come to individual cases. I recognise that there is a distinction between the cases of Mr. Schoenman and Captain Galvao. I am not sure that I entirely agree with the decision of the Home Office not to renew the application of Mr. Schoenman, who is Earl Russell's secretary, to stay here for a further period of time. I can see that if the Home Office takes to itself the right to exclude aliens who have committed breaches of the law, and the right to deport aliens in certain circumstances, then there may well be a case for saying that Mr. Schoenman has not produced the same claims for renewal of his visa as several other persons who have lived here without any connection with the law.
I do not press that, however, but I do want to press the case of Captain Galvao. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) and others of my hon. Friends who have spoken, and I disagree with the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). This seems to me to introduce a question of principle in which the Secretary of State and the Home Office have taken a line which is in violation of the cherished traditions of this House with regard to political asylum. I cannot for the life of me see what N.A.T.O. has to do with it.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am glad to hear that. I agree with the Minister of State that it is the right of an alien—one on which this House has always insisted—to claim asylum if he is persecuted in his country of origin. If he is opposed to the régime because it is tyrannous, and is unable to go home without being persecuted and imprisoned, he has the right to come here or go to Sweden or to Norway or to any other country which he may choose.
We have always claimed to uphold that right and to exercise the privilege and obligation of giving such people asylum—giving them the right, not, as the Minister of State said, to preach insurrection but to state their case before a British assembly, to explain the grounds on which they want to accuse their own Government, be it Portuguese, Hungarian or any other, of tyranny, or, as in this case, to tell the British public the facts about Angola.
Here we have a person of great reputation and ability who wants to inform the British public about conditions in Portugal and Angola in a way in which few other people can do. That is something we should give him the right to do in order that this country can be informed about the matter. It is shameful and disgraceful that we should have fallen behind Scandinavian countries and others in denying Captain Galvao the right to come here, although in the nineteenth century we treated Garibaldi and others differently. It is monstrous that we should even be thought of as saying that if he had not been from a N.A.T.O. country he would have been admitted, but because Portugal is a member of N.A.T.O. we will not admit him. How far can one get with that argument?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I do not think that it can be said. Suppose Portugal became a member of the Common Market? The right hon. and learned Gentleman began by referring to the Common Market. If we were both in the Common Market we should not then have any right whatever to refuse Captain Galvao's admission. That is my understanding of the position. What absurdity we will get into if that situation arises.
439 I therefore hope that when Captain Galvao renews his application the Home Office will have second thoughts on this matter and will allow him to come into the country. I say that because the Minister of State started by claiming—and, with the exception of Captain Galvao, he was justified in claiming—that, on the whole, the Home Office administers the aliens legislation in a humane and liberal spirit. Broadly speaking, that is true. It is merely because of the one or two exceptions which arise to point the rule that we are so incensed. These exceptions raise a serious matter of principle.
I have said on previous occasions, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said today, that we welcome these annual opportunities of criticising the administration of the Home Office with regard to aliens and for making suggestions for improvements, which we have done over the years since 1948. It is very largely because of these debates and suggestions made in various quarters that there is now a more humane and liberal operation of the Act than that which existed a few years ago.
It is because of this annual survey that the Minister has been able to give us a number of figures, in which we were all interested, indicating the number of aliens who, until recently, were liable for registration, but who are no longer so liable, and the number who, until recently, were subject to deportation at the ipse dixit of the Home Office, without any appeal, and who now have a right to present their case to the Chief Magistrate at Bow Street, with the result that there has been a substantial fall in the number deported.
All these liberalising measures are very satisfactory. Whereas some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who, unfortunately, could not be here to-day but who has previously taken part in these debates, have urged that the aliens legislation should be placed on a permanent basis, it is of value to have these annual debates, although from time to time it has been suggested that it might be tidier if the 440 legislation were on a permanent basis and no longer treated as purely temporary.
However, it does not lie in the mouth of the Minister of State to claim credit for that, because we cannot discuss the mere temporary renewal of these powers without at the same time remembering that the Government are also asking for much wider powers to control immigration from the Commonwealth. The last thing I want to do is to anticipate tomorrow's debate, but in considering whether this Bill should be renewed for a year, it is relevant to bear in mind that tomorrow the Government are to ask for power to limit immigration from the Commonwealth for a minimum period of five years, without any opportunity during that time for the House to criticise how that immigration control is administered, even though it will obviously present much greater problems and cause many more headaches and heartaches for more members of the Commonwealth then the numbers involved in alien immigration control.
I ask the Minister to explain how it is consistent to say that power to control the immigration of aliens should be limited to one year, while at the same time the Government ask for sweeping powers to control immigration from the Commonwealth for five years.
§ Mr. Fletcher
We probably shall, but we are now dealing with this Measure.
What is more odd is the Minister's reason for pointing to the advantages of having this Bill as a purely temporary measure. He said that one of the reasons for having this Measure renewed every year and why it should not be embodied in permanent legislation was that very soon we might have to consider the position of the countries of the Common Market and that, if the Common Market negotiations came to fruition, the countries of the Treaty of Rome would have various rights which they would not have if the aliens law were embodied in permanent legislation.
§ Mr. Renton
I said that it would not be possible for us to formulate permanent legislation dealing with aliens until we knew what position would emerge as 441 a result of the negotiations for entering the Common Market.
§ Mr. Fletcher
If the negotiations about the Common Market are brought to fruition—and the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South and many of my hon. Friends object to them, although the Prime Minister hopes that they will materialise—in all probability the result will be that people from Common Market countries will have rights in connection with coming to this country which they would not have if our aliens law were embodied in permanent legislation. They would have rights over and above those of Commonwealth citizens whose existing rights will be taken away by the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill which the House is to discuss tomorrow.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
The hon. Member is in a great muddle about this. Spokesmen for the Opposition have repeatedly said in the last hour or so that they welcome these annual occasions when these matters are discussed. Let us keep it as it is. That suffices for the Common Market negotiations. If the hon. Member and his hon. Friends amend tomorrow's Bill, that will put it under the same limit. He cannot complain about the situation as it is.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am not at all confused, and I hope that the noble Lord is not. I hope that I shall have the support of the noble Lord in saying that we shall be in a very unsatisfactory position unless the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill is amended in such a way that Commonwealth subjects are not placed in a position worse than that of aliens. If the terms of that Bill as at present—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson)
The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) is on somewhat dangerous ground. It is not out of order to draw the contrast between the two Measures, but when the hon. Member goes on to details about the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, as he seemed to be doing in the sentence which he just began, he begins to move out of order. I am sure that one or two of his earlier sentences were out of order. I hope that he will manage to keep within the appropriate confines.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I appreciate that this is a subject in which the borderline between what is in and what is out of order is difficult to draw. I thought that you had drawn the line exactly, Mr. MacPherson, and that I had made the point with the assistance of the noble Lord and that between us we had shown the incongruity between the provisions of the Bill which we shall be discussing tomorrow and the grounds on which the Minister was appearing to take some credit for asking that this Measure should be renewed for twelve months and not embodied in permanent legislation.
I thought it important to make that paint because it is very difficult in the context of this aliens legislation not to bear in mind that tomorrow we shall be embarking, for the first time, on a new phase in which we shall have to consider both immigration from the Commonwealth and what may happen if we join the Common Market.
There was one matter with which the Minister did not deal entirely satisfactorily. It was our plea, made this year as previously, that some recognition should be given to those aliens who, having obtained a permit to work and live here, after a period of years, three or two, or one, or whatever was a reasonable period, had established de facto residence here. We felt that after a given time they should have certain rights exempting them from the 1iabilities to deportation and so forth which the Home Office could rightly claim to exercise in respect of aliens generally.
Those were the only two paints which I wanted to raise. I hope that when we review the position of aliens next year we shall have an even more interesting debate, because we shall then be able to consider the position both of aliens and of immigrants from the Commonwealth.
§ Mr. Ede
The Minister of State said that Captain Galvao was a person not very friendly to a country with which we are united in the N.A.T.O. Treaty. I have taken the opportunity to look at the Extradition Act, 1870, which deals with the handing over of criminals. Section 3 (1) reads:A fugitive criminal shall not be surrendered if the offence in respect of which his surrender is demanded is one of a political character …443 There is a duty that he shall not be surrendered.
The Section continues:… or if he prove to the satisfaction of the police magistrate or the court before whom he is brought on habeas corpus, or to the Secretary of State, that the requisition for his surrender has in fact been made with a view to try or punish him for an offence of a political character.I accept the Minister of State's view that he could not give an answer straight away, but, so far from the right of asylum being inherent in the person who wants to come here, there is a duty on the Secretary of State to grant asylum if he is convinced that the accusation is of a political character.
§ Mr. Renton
I am familiar with the Extradition Act to which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn attention, but I must point out that we have not so far treated Captain Galvao as a fugitive offender.
§ Mr. M. Foot
I want to comment briefly on the replies which the Minister has made to some cases which I raised at the beginning of the debate. The replies were extremely unsatisfactory, but it would be churlish to deny that in some other parts of his speech he made announcements which were extremely welcome to us. We welcome very much what he said about efforts to abolish passports and about the Government's action on World Refugee Year. There were some parts of his speech which we regard as satisfactory. That merely proves how objective we are and how objective is the manner in which we approach these debates.
I was somewhat alarmed by the way in which he gave figures to us. He gave them in detail. There were 384 miscellaneous undesirables kept out of this country last year. I cannot understand why the Home Office lumps together criminals and security risks. I do not see why they should be in the same category. If we were given a list in which there were seven or eight different categories, I think that at least a distinction should be drawn between criminials and security risks.
Most of the persons with whom we are concerned and who wish to come to this country for political reasons come under 444 the very broad heading of so-called security cases. I hope that in future when the Home Office gives these figures it will distinguish carefully between those who are criminals and those who may be regarded as political criminals, because there is a very great distinction between the two categories, although the Home Office does not seem to draw it very carefully under its present definition.
I want to comment on the Minister's reply on two cases, the first being that of Mr. Schoenman. As I understand it, what the Home Office is saying is that the reason why it will not continue his permit is that he has been thought to be engaged in organising attempts to break the law.
§ Mr. Foot
Has he been convicted of an attempt or was he dealt with under the Act of 1361, which is rather different from someone committing an offence? The Act of 1361 requires people to give assurances that they will not commit an offence in the future. Moreover, everyone knows that the Act of 1361 is an absurdity. It was introduced to deal with entirely different circumstances. It is a ridiculous anachronism. Apparently the reason why the Home Office is refusing to extend this person's permit is that he committed an offence—although that is not the correct wording; he refused to give assurances under that Act, which everybody regards as an absurd anachronism. These seem to me extremely feeble grounds on which to withdraw the permit from Mr. Schoenman.
In any case, whatever hon. Members feel about it, this was pre-eminently a case in which the Home Office should have exercised some generosity. Although the Americans have the advantage over us in some respects in conducting their alien laws, in the sense that people can make appeals, in other respects this country has an advantage, and it would have been much wiser for the Home Office to exercise some magnanimity in this case. The exercise of magnanimity is not always the exercise of wisdom, but why not exercise it here instead of insisting on applying the law when the ground on which it is done is the apparent failure of Mr. Schoenman to abide by the Act of 1361?
I turn to the case of Captain Galvao, which I agree raises much bigger and 445 broader principles involving the whole of our attitude towards those who wish either to seek asylum in this country or to come here to give lectures. I do not think that much time need be wasted in drawing the distinction between the two. Originally Captain Galvao wanted to come here to give lectures. The Minister says that the reason Captain Galvao was denied a visa in the first place was his professed intentions towards a N.A.T.O. ally. The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) quite rightly said that N.A.T.O. has nothing to do with it. But the noble Lord is in favour of excluding anybody from this country who seeks to come here with professed insurrectionist intentions towards a friendly nation of any kind. I thought that the noble Lord was a much better Liberal, or at least a better Whig, than that, because under his definition he would destroy the whole principle of political asylum which this country has maintained for years. In every important case of a person who sought political asylum in this country it has been precisely because he wanted to stir up an insurrection in one way or another. That is why he had to leave his own country and why he came here. The noble Lord would destroy the whole of this tradition by the principles which he lays down.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Does not the hon. Member realise that there is a distinction between asylum and stadium? There is a distinction between coming here and keeping quiet and coming here and going into the arena and organising a lot of insurrectionist activities.
§ Mr. Foot
If the noble Lord had been here at the beginning of the debate he would have heard me dispose of that distinction by quoting what the Minister said in the debate which we had on Captain Galvao in January, for he said that he did not want to draw a distinction between a person coming here and having the right to say things when he got here.
It would be a monstrous derogation of the principle of political asylum if we said that we were prepared to let people come to this country as long as they kept their mouths shut when they got here. That would not have established this great liberal tradition throughout our history. Does the 446 noble Lord think that Garibaldi came here to keep his mouth shut or that Mazzini came here in order to be absolutely silent? Many of them came here for one main objective, because here in this country they could say things which they were denied the right to say elsewhere. That is the glory of this country. That is the glory of the principle of political asylum. I am sure that the noble Lord when he thinks about it will wish to retract, because to denounce that whole principle and go back on it would be a very sad action, even if it is only the noble Lord who is preaching it.
§ Mr. Foot
It goes back even earlier than that. It has been said that most of the troubles started with the beginning of the Christian religion. Christ was, perhaps, the first heretic. A great deal of trouble was started then, too. If this country had excluded Karl Marx, be would perhaps have gone somewhere else in any case.
The noble Lord has to decide whether he believes in freedom or not. If he believes in freedom, he must say, "I must allow opinions, however objectionable I may find them, to be expressed". He has now denounced the tradition and said, "If I do not like somebody's opinion, or if he is a potential source of danger in the future, he must be suppressed". We do not have to argue any further with the noble Lord. He has abandoned altogether the traditions of freedom for which this country is supposed to stand in this respect.
The Home Office still claims that it has not gone so far as that. It says that it has kept Captain Galvao out because of his professed intentions towards a N.A.T.O. ally. If Captain Galvao had come to this country straight from Portugal, what would we have done? Would the Home Office have decided to send him back to Portugal? It would certainly have offended against the principle enunciated by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) if it had done that, but would the Government really have done it? Would they have sent him back to serve out the rest of his sixteen years' sentence in a Portuguese gaol? It appears 447 from their answers that they might have done, because they say that we must not allow somebody into this country who is going to preach against the interests of our N.A.T.O. allies.
The Home Office has been more generous than this in other cases. There have been quite a number of other cases in which it has not done this. This is to its credit, but it makes it all the worse. The Home Office are not showing any generosity in the case of Captain Galvao, although in this country at present there are a number of Algerians who are stating to the British people their case for a free Algeria. Before Mr. Bourguiba became Prime Minister of Tunis, he visited this country. He is regarded as one of the statesmen of the world. He came here at a time when he was bitterly opposed to the policies being pursued by our French N.A.T.O. ally. He behaved very well. He came over here to lecture and do all the things which the noble Lord would have stopped him doing. He came here to say why he wanted a change of régime in Tunis. There are other people allowed in this country. I am very glad that they are allowed here. They are people who are allowed to come here and state why they think that the policy of our French N.A.T.O. ally in Algeria is an offence.
If it is proper for persons to come here and criticise in the strongest possible terms the policy being pursued by our French N.A.T.O. ally, why should special favour be shown to Portugal, because that is what it comes to? One of the most sinister aspects of this, as I said earlier—the hon. and learned Gentleman did not deal fully with this—is that it was done under the guidance of the Foreign Office. I do not believe that it is any business of the Home Office in dealing with any of these questions to ask what the Foreign Office thinks about it. The Foreign Office has nothing to do with it. The question whether we are to grant political asylum to foreigners or allow them to come here to lecture depends on our view of principles which this country wishes to sustain. It does not depend on the convenience of our foreign policy, particularly when it happens to be a foreign policy—this makes it all 448 the worse—which, so far from being expedient, is causing us the most grievous damage all over the world.
It is the stupidity of it, for one thing. On the whole, a great deal can be said for British colonial policy over recent years. We have shown that we wish to develop independence in the countries of Africa. We have on the whole a fairly good record. The Government in their stupidity and the Foreign Office advising the Home Office, in its even deeper stupidity, says, "Do not allow this chap Galvao in because it will help us with Portugal if we do not let him in", not recognising the great damage it does to the reputation of this country all over Africa.
In five or ten years' time Captain Galvao will be acclaimed as one of the men who have established freedom in Angola. He will be a hero in Africa. How does the hon. and learned Gentleman think the Home Office will look when the history books are written? The Home Office will appear as mean, pusillanimous and squalid in dealing with this problem. Each answer the hon. and learned Gentleman gave only made it worse. There is one way—a very simple way—in which the Government can remedy the situation. It would not cause a catastrophe. It probably would not make a scrap of difference to the speed at which the revolution takes place in Portugal—and every good democrat must pray for a revolution in Portugal. We want to see that tyrannical régime overthrown. But it will not make all that difference whether Captain Galvao comes here or not. The Home Office should say, "We think we were wrong. We will now make up our own mind instead of consulting Lord Home about it. We will make up our own mind and admit that perhaps we were wrong. Let us restore the better tradition of this country. Let Captain Galvao come here." That is the one way in which the Home Office could wipe away this wretched stain from its record.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 9 and 10.
The debate on the subject covered by this Amendment is an annual event, which has been described more than once as an old story. We hope and pray 449 that tonight will be the last occasion on which we have to debate it. The Act which we wish to delete from the Schedule gave power to local authorities to grant exemption to children aged 13 and over in Scotland to assist in gathering in the potato harvest. The knowledge that such a practice has continued in recent years came as a shock to many hon. Members who have participated in our debates, because the practice has not obtained for years in England and Wales. Some of my hon. Friends who have taken part in these debates have told us some of the reasons why England and Wales have not required the assistance of children in the potato harvest.
Our main objection has been on educational grounds. Taking young children of these tender years away from school and interrupting their education is an action for which society will have to pay in the years ahead. This is particularly so at a time when most progressive countries and progressive peoples recognise that at 15 years of age, when 80 per cent. of the children leave school, there is a great need to encourage them to enter into further technical education if Britain is to play her part in the future.
The Amendment is designed to give the Opposition a further opportunity of questioning and probing the Government about their intentions and to discover what is the position to date. We know from the record that the Under-Secretary of State in last year's debate made a statement which encouraged us to believe that after the harvest in 1962 this practice would, thereafter, cease. By moving this Amendment we have given the Government an opportunity, if they so desire, either to justify the continuation of the Measure or to restate their attitude towards it.
This practice has been long discarded in England and Wales and it is important that all children, including those whose minds are judged to be of a second-rate character—and I do not agree that there are only some minds capable of university education and that it is only to that type of mind that we should pay attention—should be considered as being of equal value to society. But if there are differentiations and we are going to accept that this type 450 of work should only be followed by certain children under 15 then, of course, it would mean that we do not take education seriously.
One of our greatest objections to the practice is that, for the most part, the parents of such children are not of the type to be ambitious about their children's future and it therefore devolves on others to try to protest these children from some of the practices which most countries have left behind. There is a dangerous tendency that those who are not ambitious on their children's behalf may not necessarily object to the practice, but it must be remembered that no child can afford to interrupt his or her education.
The Act was passed in difficult days and in spite of the opinions of local authorities which, at that time, did not want to see the children's education interrupted. But in the immediate postwar years food production had a high priority. I understand that it came even before housing. But those days have been left far behind. I realise that food production is still extremely important but the priority, the degree of importance, and the circumstances have changed to such an extent that the Government would be right and justified in now disposing of this Measure.
The figures have been declining over the years, and while I do not wish to delay the Committee, a few figures may be of interest. In 1949, 47,000 such children were exempted from school. In 1955 the figure was still 45,000. In 1957 it dropped to 22,000, and two years ago my hon. Friends and I were gratified to find that it had gone down to about half that of 1957—to 10,900. I appreciate that when asking for the number of children exempted it is difficult for the Under-Secretary to supply the exact figure because it is close to the harvesting period and an exact figure is difficult to provide.
However, my hon. Friends and I are initiating this debate in order to demonstrate our opposition to the continuance of the Measure and to give the Government an opportunity to state their intentions and to have on the record a categorical assurance that it will come to an end next year and that no attempt will be made to re-enact it. We recognise 451 that for this Government that may be difficult because we consider that they are dedicated to procrastination and that circumstances, however feeble, may prompt them even yet to change their mind. It is only fair to remind the Committee of what was said by the hon. Gentleman's predecessor, the then Under-Secretary, as far back as 1959. He said:Accordingly, I can tell the Committee that we propose to seek the approval of Parliament to the re-enactment of this Measure now and for the next two years—that is, for the next three harvests—but not after the 1962 harvest … With that assurance and the certainty 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, c. 509–10.]As I said last year, that statement started with an assurance, almost a certainty, but ended with a hope, and that, for the purposes of the Opposition, is not quite sufficient.
What has happened? Has the aim of the rundown of 5,000 exemptions each year taken place? In his reply last year the Under-Secretary was still talking about intentions. He said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1960; Vol. 630, c. 452.]To many people those words might seem emphatic, but, and some of my hon. Friends are disturbed by the opening phrase:It is our intention …Will the Under-Secretary take this opportunity of saying that this is, to use a popular music hall expression, "positively my last appearance at the Box on this Act." Or perhaps he will say, rather like the statement of another famous gentleman: "This is the last territorial claim I have to make." We shall be pleased to hear him utter those words. I have no need to develop this argument further, for I have sufficient trust in the hon. Gentleman to know that he is trying his best, but, for purposes of the record, I hope that he will utter the words we wish to hear—that this Measure is going 452 to expire and that he will not require to come to the Box to ask for a further renewal of it next year.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
This subject is a hardy annual, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) said, and it appears, from what the Minister said last year, that this is possibly the Minister's last appearance at the Box to speak about it.
I must say a few words about my experience of the development of machinery to take the place of children. The argument has always been that the farmers did not want the children if they could get a machine to lift the potatoes equally well. I gave some examples last year and said then that I was bitterly disappointed that the whole might of the engineering industry had not yet invented a machine that could lift potatoes satisfactorily.
This year I have seen three different kinds of machines working and have heard of another, but the answer is the same. In spite of all the ingenuity of our engineering industry we have not yet got a machine to lift potatoes satisfactorily. It may be on the way. Farmers of my acquaintance now say that in five years' time we shall probably have one. Many ingenious people are thinking up either improvements to existing machines or new lines of approach altogether, but the solution has not yet been found.
My experience this year has been that on good soil, without stone, fairly flat, and in good weather conditions, there are machines that will work. Most of them work slowly, too slowly, but even if they work slowly I think that farmers, by adapting their harvesting methods, could make them work. The problem therefore remains as to what to do about lifting potatoes on hilly land, and stony land, and in bad weather conditions, and here I must give the Government a warning. In spite of the weather potato lifting has not been too bad this year. We seem to have got in the crop very well. Last year, conditions were appalling and we had to go back to the old spinner to get the crop out of the mire. That might happen next year or the year after. What will the Government do then?
453 This problem concerns only part of Scotland—Angus, Perthshire, Fife and the Lowlands. We farmers do not want to be entirely in the hands of the merchants, who have gangs of men and married women who are more or less regularly employed. The farmers do not want to be in the hands of the merchants, because if they allow the merchants to lift the crop they are virtually at the merchants' mercy as to price.
Although this may be the last appearance of the Minister on this subject, I must warn the Government that, agriculturally, we have not yet got the answer to machine lifting. We may get that answer in four or five years' time, but, meanwhile, the Government ought to have a reserve plan. If we were to get bad weather next year the Government might have to do something in a hurry to make sure that this important crop in these counties of Scotland was harvested.
I hope that engineers will really put their backs into it during the coming year and produce a satisfactory machine. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Maryhill on the educational aspect; on the other hand, we have here a practical agricultural problem, and that is why I give this warning to the Government.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. J. A. Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
In our debate on this subject last year I had the pleasure of following the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan), when I expressed several reservations based on much the same grounds as those just mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan). Those reservations resulted largely from the weather conditions of last year. I think that everyone in the agricultural community agrees that the weather last summer and autumn, and right up to Christmas, was quite very bad.
It is difficult to say what an average year is, but I think that this year's potato lifting has probably been an average one, not nearly so good as that in 1953—in which year I myself lifted the whole of my 60-acre potato crop with a harvester—and nothing like as bad as it was a year ago. On the other hand, it is generally admitted that labour 454 has never been more difficult to get than it has been this year. When farmers have wanted gangs of 20 people they have had to make do with gangs of eight or nine. That has made the job difficult.
The present costs of lifting an acre of potatoes by hand labour can be very little short of £11, but as in potato harvester trials the costs have been less than £5 an acre there is every possible incentive to invest in a machine if one can be convinced that it is satisfactory. Many growers have invested in a couple of potato harvesters to handle 50 or 60 acres and, given reasonable conditions, two harvesters will lift the three acres a day that one would expect a gang of 20 pickers to handle.
Investment in a machine is no obstacle whatever, and my misgivings are that much less, I freely admit, not only because of the better weather conditions this year but also because I believe that the engineers are on the verge of a new break-through to the sorting of potatoes with a harvester by electronic means. It may not be long before we see something on those lines although, at the moment, the major difficulty does not lie in the actual physical separation of the potatoes from soil or stones, but in the machines travelling across the ground in excessively wet conditions.
I think that it would still be extremely inadvisable for a potato grower to put away his diggers and his baskets, or whatever he uses, but I still think that a machine is a worth-while investment. I have great confidence that not only will the ingenuity and skill of engineers give us a practical proposition before long but, above all, that there is nothing like sheer necessity for making a machine work.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. R. Brooman-White)
As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) has reminded us, when we debated this subject last year, continuing the annual sequence of debates that has been pursued for so many previous years, I expressed the hope that that would be both my first and penultimate speech on the theme. I do not think that that hope will be disappointed. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) 455 stressed the point of this theme, because there seemed a slightly funereal note in the hon. Member's reference to my last appearance.
As to the misgivings expressed about the use of the word "intention" in previous statements, I can only point out that everything is an intention until it becomes an act. Today I think I can give the hon. Member for Maryhill the assurances which he wanted when the subject was raised. This is the third occasion on which those assurances have been given. I think that after this year's renewal of the Act it will sink below the surface and will be seen no more. I repeat for the record the words that I used last year and which my predecessor used the year before that, namely, that the 1962 harvest will be the last harvest at which releases will be given. I hope that with that assurance, the Committee will accept the principle established, I think, by Humpty-Dumpty, that what I say three times is true.
We are greatly encouraged by the remarks made by my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) and for South Angus on the subject of the development of agricultural machinery. The development of machinery continues to be one of the most important items in the research work done at the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering in Bedfordshire, and hon. Members may be sure that the same applies to the work which is being done in Scotland at our substation at Calder. I can confirm reports of the work that has been done. There have been successful laboratory tests of some ingenious electrical gadget which seems to be capable of distinguishing between a potato and a stone and a clod.
I do not think I need delay the Committee by adding much more because I think what I have already said covers the subject. I would say one word on the sequence of figures which have been given. Figures relating to notifications of exemptions are the easiest to deal with for purposes of comparison. Last season in 1960 about 11,600 exemptions were notified. This figure included 3,600 for one week only, to meet the situation to which my hon. Friend the Member for 456 Edinburgh, West referred. Measured by even our standards, this was a year of unprecedentedly bad weather. The number of exemptions notified in 1961 was 5,250.
To run through it again, the exemptions notified in 1951 were 45,000; in 1955 just under 32,000; in 1958, 17,600; in 1959, 11,800; in 1960, 8,000, excluding the emergency 3,600. This season the number is 5,250 in comparison with 8,000 last year. The 1962 harvest is still to come, and after that the arrangement will finish. With the repetition of the previous assurances, I hope hon. Members will see fit to withdraw their Amendment.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) will be delighted to have heard the assurance that this is positively the last appearance of the Under-Secretary of State at the Box on this subject. We have had many debates on these matters, and in every such debate we have discussed the practicability and the difficulty of getting machines to do this work. Hopes have always been expressed that in a few years' time a suitable machine will be devised.
The hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) said that it might be four or five years before we get a machine that will do this job. I remember very well the introduction of this Measure. I remember the discussions which took place with the engineers and the farmers. Each year from 1947 to 1951 I went to see the machines. I also saw the children harvesting the potatoes. In 1947 when the Act first came into operation the hope was expressed that within three years we would have a machine to do the job. That is why we made the Act run for three years, subject to continuation thereafter.
I realise that it has proved more difficult to get a satisfactory machine than was envisaged in 1947. The hon. Member for South Angus also said that farmers were reluctant to pass this work over to the merchants. The merchants use gangs of married women. The hon. Gentleman said they were employed more or less full-time. My experience is less than his, but I should have thought they were employed more or less full-time during the month of October but not throughout the whole year by the merchants.
457 We in Lanarkshire do not grow so many potatoes as are grown in Angus or in Fife, but we grow quite a lot. We also have quite a lot of married women working with the potatoes. We still have some Irish workers employed on this task, As a matter of fact, there is a large hutted encampment near by my old home which is regularly used by Irish workers brought over by the potato merchants, and it is only fair to say that the potato merchants have been a little more successful in recruiting adult labour to do this work than the farmers have been.
If the farmers require to pass this work over to the merchants after the 1962 harvest, I think that this sacrifice on the part of the farmers will be more easy to wear by the community than the continuation of this practice of exempting selected children from school each October in order to do this work.
When the Under-Secretary was speaking the impression may have been created that 1962 would definitely be the last season in which children would be employed for harvesting. The hon. Gentleman knows that this is not so and that it would be erroneous to draw any such conclusions from his speech. There will continue to be many children employed on potato harvesting. In Ayrshire at present I believe that a great proportion of the early potatoes are harvested during the children's summer holidays. The Under-Secretary will know whether this is true or not.
§ Mr. Fraser
I suppose it depends on the season, how early and how heavy the harvest is. However, children are employed in that part of the country during the normal summer holidays, harvesting potatoes—I agree, with other workers. But, likewise, in the areas where the potato crop is largely main crop and where there is a huge acreage, it has been the practice over a number of years to have what are called potato holidays, and, as far as I know, this practice still continues.
§ Sir J. Duncan
That is one of the troubles. Perthshire has already decided not to have potato holidays next year.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Fraser
It has been the practice up to now, I understand. In any case if Perthshire, with its quite considerable acreage, can see the wisdom of not having the potato holidays next year, hon. Members must not be surprised that those of us who come from those parts of the country with a much smaller potato acreage are unwilling that the children in those areas should continue to be exempted for the purpose of the potato harvest. In any event, it is clear that children will continue to be employed in some cases on this work. It is a good thing, however, to terminate this Act.
In the early years of this Act it was possible to ensure that children were drawn from the senior secondary schools as well as from the junior secondary schools. That was the case even in the large cities. Though there were no potatoes to be harvested in the City of Glasgow, large numbers of Glasgow children were sent to different parts of Scotland, and were billeted there during the potato harvest season. Great care was taken to ensure that the children were the children of poorer parents, and that the children who were leaving school at 15 years of age, in any case, were not going to do all the work.
I remember that the Rector of Glasgow High himself took a great interest in seeing that Glasgow High made its proper contribution. Only he did something that not many of the other headmasters were aware of. He sought to arrange that the Glasgow High children were sent to the wettest parts of Scotland to do the potato harvesting, because they all took their books with them, and he wanted them to have this time off to get ahead with their school work, notwithstanding that they were exempted for that period. He realised that the children from other schools wanted to earn as much money as they possibly could, and sometimes there were complaints that there was too much wet weather and that not enough hours were worked. He did not mind his boys and girls, many of whom were over the age of 15, not earning as much as he wanted the children from the 459 Gorbals and Bridgeton schools to earn during this period.
We are delighted that this is the last year in which we shall be asked to approve this Act. We are delighted to see that the figures are down considerably in 1961 on those of 1960 and that 5,250 was the number required in 1961. If that figure is further reduced, as I know is the Under-Secretary's intention, in 1962, it would appear to many of us that by 1963 it should be possible to have the potatoes gathered without the use of children being made available under the Act.
§ Mr. Hannan
I understand that Ministers, both senior and junior, when they know that protests are to be made, make agreeable noises in response to these representations. We have had a little more than that tonight. We have had a very good reply from the Under-Secretary—one which we, of course, accept entirely—and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir H. Legge-Bourke)
I do not know if it would be for the convenience of the Committee to consider taking together this and the next Amendment to leave out lines 30 to 38.
§ Mr. Fraser
I would not object, but the names down to the following Amendment are those of hon. Members who are not in the Chamber at the present time, and I imagine that it would be very inappropriate for me to say that I would agree on their behalf; nor, I think, is the Minister here. I think that it would be better if we took the Scottish Amendment by itself.
§ Mr. Fraser
This Act which is being continued is the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act, 1943. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us in the course of his reply how this Act is working and to what extent the tribunals set up under it are 460 being asked to adjudicate on the rent of furnished accommodation.
I notice from the Explanatory Memorandum that we still have twenty-nine tribunals in Scotland. My impression is that some of them are not being called on to do very much under the Act. They are not having applications made to them for determination of a fair rent as provided for under the 1943 Act. I believe that the Act was brought in to extend to the tenants of furnished accommodation some of the protection, if not all of the protection, that was enjoyed by tenants of unfurnished accommodation.
Since then we have had the Rent Act, 1957, and it is a fact that a great many occupants of unfurnished accommodation do not now have even the little bit of protection that is given to the tenants of furnished accommodation under the provisions of the 1943 Act. I have said that I do not think that these tribunals are being kept very busy. I believe that in many parts of Scotland the Act has virtually become a dead letter. I wondered why this was so. I sought to get an answer over the weekend. I was told by quite a lot of people in local government whom I consulted that the truth is that not many people in Scotland are aware that they have this kind of protection; that is to say, that no matter what rent is asked for furnished accommodation, tenants are not aware that they can refer the matter to a tribunal set up under the 1943 Act, and get determination on the rent.
I must say, however, that on probing this a little deeper I got the impression that where the protection afforded by the Act was known among the tenants of furnished accommodation, the tenants were none the less very unwilling to make any application to the tribunal because, even though they might get a determination from the tribunal which had the result of greatly reducing the rent payable for that accommodation, the poor tenant who made the application did not enjoy security of tenure and very soon afterwards was given notice to go.
True enough, he left accommodation which, if let as it had previously been with the same amount of furniture, had a rent determined by the tribunal and the landlord could not ask for any higher rent from a succeeding tenant. But this was little consolation to the tenant who 461 had already lost his accommodation and who probably, after going round looking for a place elsewhere, might very well be asked to pay more in his next place than the amount he had protested against in the premises he had left.
Because of this kind of disappointment with the operation of the Act, people living in the relevant parts of Scotland, mainly in our congested towns and cities, have tended to ignore the protection, such as it is, afforded by the 1943 Act.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to comment on the proposition I have just made. During the weekend, I heard of a few cases when I was in Bridgeton. I have in mind particularly a woman who came into the election committee rooms when I was there. I am not saying this for the purpose of the election in Bridgeton, because, of course, it will be over and the votes will be counted before anything I say can possibly be reported in the Scottish newspapers. I think it important that one should realise how some of our fellow citizens have to live.
This woman who came into the election committee rooms was very distressed, wondering when she would have a council house or accommodation provided by Glasgow Corporation. She said that she, with her husband and family, were living in one room which measured 9 ft. by 9 ft. Someone went back to the place to see whether she was telling the truth and returned to say that she was. Nine ft. by 9 ft. was the size of the room. The landlord had provided a plain wooden table and two plain wooden chairs, and he called the place a furnished house. He charged £2 13s. a week for this accommodation, plus a payment for electricity, plus a payment for gas, plus a payment for washing out the close.
The woman told us that, after she had paid all this bill, including the 1s. for washing out the close, she had asked the landlord why she had to pay the 1s. since she had washed out the close. The landlord said that he would give her 6d. back, and he did. But he had collected the 1s. from all the other tenants in the building for washing out the close.
Clearly, this woman was not interested in the protection she might be given under the 1943 Act because she knew that, if she had the rent considered by the tribunal and it was reduced to a more 462 reasonable figure for the accommodation she had, she would have no security of tenure.
§ Mr. Fraser
Husband and wife and, I think, two children, and another one expected. A family of that size in a room 9 ft. by 9 ft. is bad enough, but, I am distressed to say, in that particular corner of Glasgow, it is really a very tiny family to be living in one room.
Can the Under-Secretary of State look at the Act again with a view to strengthening it before he continues it for another year? I do not think that anyone will wish to vote for the Amendment. We do not wish to discontinue the Act now, but will the hon. Gentleman, before he has to deal with the continuation of it one year hence, strengthen the Act a little to give some security of tenure to a person like that who might wish to go to the Rent Tribunal and ask for a reduction in rent?
The Act applies only to those areas of Scotland which the Secretary of State determines. It does not apply to the whole of Scotland. Section 1 begins with the words:Where the Secretary of State is satisfied on representation by, or after consultation with, the council of any county or burgh that it is expedient that the provisions of this Act should have effect in any areahe may order that the Act shall come into force in that area. In addition to strengthening it, will the hon. Gentleman extend the Act to give the Secretary of State power to decide the areas in which tenants of unfurnished accommodation who are being asked exorbitant rents might apply to a tribunal for the determination of a fair rent?
I hope that he will consider that. He knows the City of Glasgow fairly well, although he probably does not represent the part of the city which has the worn: overcrowding and in which there is the greatest distress among people who live one family to a room, sometimes rather a large family to a room, with no possibility of getting anywhere else to live. Many such people are completely at the mercy of the landlords who can charge what rent they like.
463 One of the reasons why there is criticism of council rents in Glasgow is that, very often, when people living in these miserable conditions in a single room are able to move away into a corporation house, they pay far less rent and rates for the corporation house than they previously paid for their single room, particularly if it was a furnished room, with no amenities at all in the centre of the city.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will try to do something to give further protection to tenants, even to tenants of unfurnished accommodation. In any event, does he agree that it is slightly misleading for any of us—this applies to me as well—always to discuss the Act as if it applied only to accommodation made available with furniture? It does not. The Long Title reads:An Act to make provision with regard to the rent of houses or parts thereof in Scotland let at a rent which includes payment for the use of furniture or for services.I draw attention to the words "or for services". The Act really does apply to all those unfurnished dwellings in Glasgow which are let with gas and electricity services provided by the landlord and payment for which is included in the rent. There are many such dwellings, but it is not often understood that the Act applies to them.
Section 2 contains similar words:Where a contract has, whether before or after the passing of this Act, been entered into whereby one person … grants to another person … the right to occupy as a resident a house or part of a house situated in an area in which this Act is in force in consideration of a rent which includes payment for the use of furniture or for services …It is clear that, if the landlord provides a supply of electricity, as he does in houses which are subdivided, with only one meter measuring all the electricity used in the whole house as it originally was, so much per week being charged to each tenant occupying the individual rooms, the dwellings are covered by the provisions of the Act.
I should like the Under-Secretary of State to do his utmost to ensure that the people of Scotland for whom this Act was intended to afford protection, and, since we are continuing it in this Bill, the people for whom we are now legislating to give some protection in the 464 year ahead, are made aware of the fact that this protection is available to them. I should like him to give us an assurance that he will seek to ensure that the people who take advantage of the Act and make application to the rent tribunal and have a fair rent fixed, will not be thrown on the street by the landlord who has been upset by the tribunal's determination of a fair rent.
§ Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)
I should like briefly to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has said. Fortunately, I do not represent a constituency in which there is much furnished accommodation and, therefore, I am little concerned with the operation of rent tribunals. However, it is my firm impression that there are large numbers of people who are entitled to get the protection of these tribunals but who know nothing about them. Also, there are large numbers of people who, even though they know about the tribunals, are frightened to go to them, particularly because they have fears about their security of tenure. I should like the Under-Secretary of State to give us an assurance about how these tribunals are working in Scotland.
The cost of these tribunals in Scotland is significant. I observe that there are 29 tribunals and that the total expenditure on them is only £2,200, which works out at about £75 per tribunal. In England and Wales there are 41 tribunals on which the total expenditure is nearly £105,000, which means that the expenditure on each tribunal is about £2,500 a year. Obviously we must take account of the much larger number of houses in England and Wales compared with the number in Scotland and perhaps, proportionately, a rather higher number of units of furnished accommodation
On the face of these figures, they lead to the conclusion that very much less advantage is taken of the rent control provisions in Scotland than in England. It must be a profoundly unsatisfactory situation that there should be an average expenditure on each of these tribunals in Scotland of less than £100 a year. Many of them cannot be functioning at all. There is a need for them. If the Under-Secretary of State says that the need for them is such that we must continue this legislation, it seems to me that 465 he is under an obligation to ensure that full advantage is taken of the tribunals. I repeat that I am not in the least satisfied that that is happening in Scotland.
I should like some statistics about the number of people who go to the tribunals, the number of cases in which they are successful and the number of cases in which they are unsuccessful. In particular, I should like an assurance from the Under-Secretary of State that a real effort is being made to get over to people who may be affected by the rent control provisions the fact that the tribunals are available and that they ought to use them to the fullest possible extent in their own interests. That is very important. The figures and my general impression of how the tribunals are working in Scotland represent a pretty serious situation.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)
It would appear that this Amendment seeks to remove the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act, 1943, from the provisions of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I appreciate, however, that it is really a probing Amendment and that what the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) and other hon. Members opposite would really like are a few observations on the working of the Act in Scotland.
The Committee is probably aware that the Act provides for the setting up of rent tribunals in Scotland to fix reasonable rents, first, for furnished accommodation, secondly, for unfurnished accommodation where there are services provided, as the hon. Member for Hamilton stressed, and, thirdly, unfurnished accommodation where there is some sharing—of, for example, the kitchen—with the landlord. There are these three types of accommodation which the Act is intended to cover. Amendments to the scope of the original Act made by the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, 1949, provide temporary security of tenure to the applicants under the original Act. One must recognise that this temporary security can be extended.
The 1949 Act also enables the rent tribunal to fix reasonable rents for unfurnished houses which were let for the 466 first time after September, 1939, and before July, 1957. That is another type of unfurnished accommodation which is covered indirectly by the 1943 Act. A further amendment was made by the Rent Act, 1957, which restricted the operation of the 1943 Act to dwellings of which the rateable value was not more than £40.
For the purpose of the working of the Act of 1943, Scotland is divided into 29 districts, each of which has a separate tribunal to which application to fix a reasonable rent may be made by the landlord, the tenant, or—and this is a quite interesting point—the local authority. I imagine, therefore, that if there were a local scandal there would be nothing to prevent the local authority from taking action. That would meet the difficulty that some tenants might be afraid to take action because they might he thrown out of their accommodation. I should like to make inquiries about the point that the hon. Member for Hamilton raised—obviously it is something which occurs to one's mind—and to write to him to let him know the result of my inquiries.
The hon. Member went on to suggest that tribunals should deal purely with unfurnished lettings in addition to the types already covered by the Act. He asked me to consider that and to try to ascertain whether there appeared to be any undue unfairness. I am certainly prepared to look at the matter and write to him about it. I must say, however, that I do not think there is any requirement for the sort of provision that the hon. Member is seeking, because such evidence as I have shows, as one would expect, that landlords in Scotland have acted in the main in a reasonable and fair manner towards the tenants of decontrolled houses.
This is an alternative explanation to the one that occurred to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan), who suggested that there were relatively few appeals because the tenants were afraid to use the machinery. I suggest that it may be because the landlords are acting in a reasonable and fair manner.
§ Mr. Millan
I would not accept that. It is not just a question of tenants being afraid. Sometimes tenants literally do 467 not know that such machinery is available. Will the hon. Gentleman examine that suggestion?
§ Mr. Galbraith
Yes. I am glad that the hon. Member has mentioned that. It is something with which I should like to deal later in my speech.
I have made the suggestion that, on the face of it, landlords seem to be acting in the main in a fair and reasonable manner. Proof of this is to be found in the fact that under the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1958, during the period from 6th October, 1958, to 31st July, 1961, only 41 applications were made to the Scottish courts for orders for possession in respect of decontrolled houses of over £40 rateable value. Therefore, agreement would seem to be being reached between the landlord and the tenant in most cases and there would seem to be no grounds for suggesting that wider extension is required, as the hon. Member has suggested, or that a gross scandal is being perpetrated.
Further proof of that is that usually when anything of this nature is taking place, one gets inundated with correspondence, not only as a Member of Parliament in a constituency sense but also at the Scottish Office as a Minister. The recent lack of this correspondence is another indication to me that the fears mentioned by the hon. Member are not, perhaps, entirely justified. All these things do not, however, alter the fact that I will, as I have said, look into the matter.
A further sign that might be taken either way—that people are not using this machinery because they do not know or are not using it because they are happy—is the fact that the number of applications to the tribunals have fallen off in recent years. It is not that they have always been low in number, but that there has been a definite falling off.
The hon. Member for Craigton asked for figures. I can give the figures for the last three years, which might be helpful. In the year ended March, 1959, 129 cases were referred; in the year ended March, 1960, 91 cases; in the year ended March, 1961, 80 cases; and in the six months of this year from 468 April to September, only thirty cases have so far been reported. The hon. Member for Hamilton and the hon. Member for Craigton will suggest that this is proof that the Act is a dead letter; that is what they were suggesting—[Interruption.] At least, they suggested that further publicity should be given to bring the Act to the notice of the public.
The same point was made, as I dare say the hon. Member for Hamilton is aware, in the Second Report of the Council on Tribunals. I am glad to be able to say that we have just carried out a publicity campaign. New posters and explanatory leaflets were distributed to all tribunals, to all local authorities and to all Citizens' Advice Bureaux. It might interest the hon. Member for Hamilton to know that the Town Clerk in his constituency has been particularly helpful in this matter. Every effort has been made to publicise the functions of these tribunals and to bring them to the notice of those most likely to be affected.
The work of the Scottish rent tribunals was recently considered by the Council on Tribunals in its First Report for 1959. The Council said that it had received no complaint about the work of the Scottish tribunals—in fact, the Council was rather more complimentary about the Scottish tribunals than about the English ones—and that so far as it had seen them in action they had been found to be perfectly satisfactory. I think we can agree that this is a very good Report. In fact these tribunals appear to be doing a reasonably good job, admittedly on a modest scale, because the needs do not seem to be, perhaps, quite so large as the hon. Gentleman has suggested. I hope that with this explanation the hon. Gentleman may feel disposed to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
The Under-Secretary of State gives me the impression of being complacent. He has given figures to show the fall-off in the number of appeals which the tribunals have dealt with in the past three years, and from what he has said one would gather that the Scottish Office is quite pleased with the operation of this system of tribunals.
The hon. Gentleman also told us that recently there had been instituted a 469 publicity campaign, in which posters and leaflets had been issued to the local authorities. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he might go a step further in this direction and ask the local authorities to advertise in the local Press, in addition to putting up posters. Some posters can be seen by only a few people. Through an advertisement once a month, say, in a local newspaper, there is a greater possibility of many more people seeing it and knowing the rights to which they are entitled.
I wish to support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) on the question of protection. It is all right to say that there is a degree of protection in the Act at present, but I think that it is something like three months in the initial stage, and then there is the requirement to apply for an extension. Consider the possibility of a young married couple with a child living in a furnished room and having to go to the tribunal to appeal against excessive charges by the landlord with whom they are living.
It does, to say the least of it, make conditions quite impossible. To suggest that the tenant in those circumstances can appeal to the tribunal for a further extension is merely aggravating what is already a most terrible set of conditions in which to live, conditions which, I must say, are largely brought about by the housing policy of the Government. To some extent, therefore, the Minister must accept a great deal of responsibility.
Only this afternoon I received a reply from the Secretary of State setting out the gross average annual value of municipal houses in the large burghs in Scotland. This shows that in Fife, in particular, we have a very high gross annual value. When this is related to the values which have been placed on private rented property one can see right away where the landlords of furnished accommodation are having the temptation—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson)
I did not follow the earlier part of the hon. Member's argument, for my attention was drawn elsewhere, but he does not seem to me 470 to be in order. This Amendment is concerned with rents and other matters connected with furnished lettings.
§ Mr. Gourlay
I am trying to draw an analogy, and draw attention to something which is happening in Scotland at present and which is giving the landlords of furnished accommodation an incentive to go even beyond some of the ridiculous charges which they are demanding.
Surely, if local authorities are to be encouraged by the right hon. Gentleman to increase rents to the gross average annual value which has been placed on the houses by the assessors, the right hon. Gentleman is giving an added incentive to these landlords of furnished accommodation still further to increase their charges. That is the point I am trying to make, and I hope that in so doing I am keeping within the rules of order. In addition, the rent policy of the Government has had an adverse effect, too, on the amounts which are being charged by landlords for furnished accommodation.
This brings me to the real scandal behind this Act. In some of the accommodation which is provided, and which is described to a rent tribunal and accepted by the tribunal as being genuine furnished accommodation, one finds only an old, tatty rug in front of the fireplace or a rickety table which the tenants have to discard, or keep outside the house to make room for their own furniture, so that they may live in reasonable conditions.
Those are the very people who, the hon. Gentleman says, have access to the rent tribunal. Many people have no knowledge of how to go about making an application to the tribunal. The average person is scared of having to appeal to a court or a tribunal of any character. Those of us who have contact with members of the public realise how difficult it is for many of them to read and understand a simple form or an instruction because of the language used. As Members of Parliament we often have to give guidance in such cases.
The Under-Secretary should undertake to look at the main provisions of these Acts. As he said earlier, this is a probing Amendment. I suggest that he should do more probing behind the 471 scenes and find out why so many people are not taking advantage of the tribunals.
§ Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)
I support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) and his desire to achieve a more widespread publicity campaign about the provisions of these two Acts, more particularly in Glasgow than anywhere.
As the Under-Secretary recognises, the tendency in Glasgow is for factors and property owners not to rent houses, but to try to sell them. There are now 3,800 empty houses in the city which they refuse to rent. They are looking for purchasers. Many of these houses are being bought by Indians and Pakistanis, who furnish some of them and then let them at exorbitant rents. In the Gorbals area, in particular, Pakistani and Indian landlords are asking exorbitant rents and, in most cases, providing very little furniture. My attention has been drawn recently to a case in Bridgeton. I have been surprised at the lack of knowledge on the part of tenants and citizens generally of their position under these two Acts.
I reinforce the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Craigton and I hope that the Under-Secretary will ensure that maximum publicity is given to the provisions of the Acts so that tenants and citizens can appreciate what can be done on their behalf by the tribunals. By so doing, I should like it to be appreciated that we very much condemn the attitude of Pakistani and Indian landlords who are charging exorbitant rents, in some cases as much as £3 to £3 10s. a week. I hope that as a result of publicity there will be an end to that type of case in Glasgow.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
I take it that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) is not suggesting that only Indians and Pakistanis charge exorbitant rents. As we know, this practice is characteristic of many people. Unfortunately, there is also the power to evict, and with people in such a position of insecurity as is characteristic of these tenants high rents which we would never hear about might be charged.
472 I should like a little more detail about how the tribunals are functioning and what information they are unearthing. I should have thought that any report from the tribunals would have told us a variety of things, and that the hon. Gentleman would have been in a position to have told us about them.
A valuable feature of the Act is that the local authority has the power to institute proceedings. How extensively is that power used? Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how many of the cases that he has mentioned were brought by local authorities? If the number is considerable, we shall feel that a valuable power is being used, but if it is very small it would seem that there is not very much to the power.
Can the Under-Secretary tell us what the tribunals have discovered? What rents are being charged, and to what have the tribunals reduced the rents? Can he tell us what happens? Have tribunals the means to follow up cases that come before them? We understand that for three months the tenants are protected. Have tribunals any means of discovering what happens after the three months? If it is found that after three months the tenants bringing the cases apparently disappear, it would suggest that the object of the Act is being defeated. If there is a general knowledge that a tenant who brings a case may later feel obliged to leave the premises, this might explain the considerable decline in the number of cases brought before the tribunals.
I should have thought that the Minister ought to have made it his business to ensure that he was informed about these things so that, knowing that this Amendment would be moved, he would have been in a position to give us the required information. I hope that he will tell us more about these things.
§ Mr. William Small (Glasgow, Scotstoun)
I noticed the complacency in the Under-Secretary's reply. He felt that there was no real need for protection of tenants.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) spoke about the difficulties in Glasgow. A great deal of exploitation takes place not in the cities but in coastal resorts. There one can often find furnished accommodation, at a price, between October and May, 473 but between May and September one has to pay the tourist price or one is out. Because of the long-term risks when one has to live in a coastal area, one pays through the nose. Much of this may be due to the fact that knowledge about this protection is lacking.
If the Under-Secretary would look at his 29 areas and discover from which of them the appeals come, he would find that very few come from the areas I have mentioned, because security is more important than taking matters to law. If one tries to obtain protection before the law, one finds that one is turfed out during the summer period. I emphasise that these are the areas in which exploitation really takes place.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
We should be grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the explanation he gave of the Act. I am sure that it came as a surprise to many of us that is covers such a wide category of accommodation. It lends purpose to the suggestion that perhaps people do not know enough about this, particularly those who might be affected and might benefit from it.
This is a technical Amendment. Without it, we could not discuss this matter, and we are happy that the Government have decided to continue the Act for another year. In saying that, we are entitled to point out that, since 1943, at various time the original Act has been amended and strengthened. It may well be that, in some of our criticisms, we are suggesting that the Government could still further strengthen it. The Government will have a considerable opportunity for doing so, since the new Housing Bill for Scotland will provide them with an indirect vehicle.
We must appreciate that simply because there have been only 89 cases, the Measure is not a dead letter. The Government themselves are convinced of that, otherwise they would not continue it. What usually happens? Somebody goes to the tribunal and the Press is present. This is the kind of story that is headlined in the local newspapers and receives wide publicity. I remember such a case in a seaside resort such as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small) mentioned. Such publicity has a salutary effect upon would-be exploiters of the homeless.
474 From that point of view. I sincerely hope that the Government will not feel that they should let this Measure go next year. Protection is afforded by publicity of the few cases that arise. The Act stems from 1943, which is eighteen years ago. Thus we have a new generation of tenants who did not live through the difficult periods in the war, when people were probably more tribunal-conscious, and did not face these problems in 1949, when the Labour Government had to discipline the landlords through the three months' guarantee of security of tenure.
It may well be that a large number of people who could benefit from the Act know nothing about it. I was glad to learn from the Under Secretary of State that only recently he has taken up with local authorities the question of a publicity campaign. I hope that he will also remind them that they, too, have powers under the Act. In many cases it is far better for a tenant to act through his local authority than to do battle with the landlord on his own. I hope that we can have, if not this year, then fairly soon, a better analysis of the working of the Act.
Which are the areas where it is being used most? I suspect, like my hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun, that if we go to Saltcoats and Troon, and to where I live, in Ayr, we might find that the wish of tenants to get out during the summer months leads to the tribunals being much more used. Every year the pressure on accommodation in Scotland increases. The Under-Secretary gave us figures showing that local authority house building is to drop between this and next year.
§ Mr. Galbraith
The hon. Member must not try to get away with that again. I thought that I indicated to him earlier today that to be fair he must look at all public provision of houses. He is returning to the argument about local authority housing again and is leaving out the S.S.H.A. and the new towns.
§ Mr. Ross
The new towns have a special connotation in relation to areas like Glasgow, but the generality of houses to let depends on local authority building and the hon. Gentleman cannot deny that that number is to fall from 18,000 to 16,400 next year. The pressure will be increased and the more that 475 people go into furnished accommodation, whether furnished accommodation with services or partly shared services, there will be greater danger of exploitation.
The Government are wise to continue this Measure. What the hon. Gentleman has said shows that he knows his own housing policy and knows the dangers within it of the continued shortage of houses in Scotland. If he will bend himself to a far better and more realistic housing programme, in the foreseeable future we may be able not only to move the Amendment but actually to mean it.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I must apologise to the Committee for rising to speak too early. I thought that the first two contributions from hon. Members opposite were all that was intended. I apologise for inflicting myself on hon. Members again.
I will try in a somewhat rapid fashion to answer some of the questions put to me. I must, however, continue to cross swords with the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). I am certain that he does not want to give a false impression of the amount of housing being provided by public means of one kind or another in Scotland. Over the four years, 1959 to 1963, the total figure will be more or less the same, with only a slight drop of 400.
§ Mr. Galbraith
That total completely leaves out of account something which hon. Members opposite do not like to discuss—the houses provided by private enterprise. Each house provided by private enterprise releases another house. However, I should be out of order if I pursued this line and I will now try to answer some questions.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock asked me in which areas the tribunals were used most. As is to be expected, those are the areas of largest concentrations of population, Glasgow and Edinburgh. On the other hand, Ayr is by no means at the bottom of the list.
The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) asked whether I had any idea of what the rents were reduced to. In 3,529 decisions so far issued, the tribunals approved the contract rent in 816 cases and reduced the rent in 2,713 476 cases. That indicates that the tribunals were doing their job. I would like to consider the detailed questions which the hon. Member for Motherwell put, and perhaps write to him about them later.
I was asked what happened after the expiry of three months. The answer is that if the tenant is wise he goes back to the tribunal and asks for an extension of three months, in that way getting a certain amount of protection. I was asked by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock how many cases were brought by the local authority in the last three years. I cannot give him the figures for the last three years, but I can tell him that since the Act started 290 cases have been brought by the local authorities.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I have a mass of figures here and I dare say that if I had time I should be able to obtain that figure, but I cannot do it immediately. I am sorry about that.
As regards publicity, I should prefer, without being in any way complacent, to give the new publicity which has been instituted an opportunity to do its work rather than to follow the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay). He seems to have less faith than I have in the natural tendency of human beings to complain. I am convinced that if there were the difficulties which have been suggested we should hear about them; and we have not heard about them. It will be interesting to see whether the new publicity brings about an increase.
With that undertaking and that further reply to questions, I hope that the hon. Member will withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Galbraith
It will be brought to the notice of local authorities and citizen's advice bureaux, and they will be provided, for example, with posters.
§ Mr. McInnes
Could we not follow up this point and invite local authorities to do some advertising?
§ Mr. Galbraith
I was trying to reply to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs, and I apologise to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) if I did not make it clear that I think that one step at a time is a good way to proceed in this matter. Let us see what happens.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the information about the administration of the 1943 Act and also for his undertaking to look at two suggestions which I made, the first that he might consider providing, by Statute, for greater security to be given.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I do not want there to be a misunderstanding here. I did not say that I would revise the Statute. I undertook to look into the extent of the problem, which the hon. Member seemed to think was larger than I think it is. I gave no undertaking about legislation.
§ Mr. Fraser
I am sorry. I have been thanking the hon. Member more than is his due. I thought that he said that he would consider whether the security afforded was sufficient. I said that it was not. There is no doubt that the three months granted by the 1949 Act is inadequate security.
If the Under-Secretary of State recognises the kind of citizen who is normally exploited by these landlords, or who is likely to have to refer these questions to the tribunal, he is bound to realise that even being given three months' security is enough in itself to upset the tenant very much. Let him think of the young woman with one child or two children, who has been married for three or four years, who is living in one of our towns or cities in Scotland, who has no prospect of any accommodation being made available by the council and very little prospect of finding any privately-owned accommodation to rent other than that which she occupies. Hon. Members can imagine the effect on this young woman when she is told that she has security in the tenancy for the next three months after she has obtained a reduction in rent of, say, 10s. a week.
§ Mr. Lawson
It might almost be put the other way round, namely, "You have notice to quit in three months' time".
§ Mr. Fraser
I was coming on to that point. To tell her that she has security for the next three months is another way of telling her that she gets out at the end of three months, unless she can bring her case back to the tribunal and get an extension for yet another three months. This is no way in which to encourage people to carry on their lives. I do not want to overstate the case, but many of these people are being looked after by local authorities in local authority homes at present. They are people who just cannot find any accommodation.
The Under-Secretary says that if there were any scandal we should have heard about it by way of correspondence. He knows that in some towns and cities there have been so many housing scandals over the years that they have become commonplace and are no longer news. People do not talk about them. A few years ago my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) used to make speeches in the House of Commons to the effect that there were 2,000 empty houses in Glasgow with "for sale" notices on them. In 1957 the Secretary of State proudly proclaimed that the Rent Act would remedy all this.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Secretary of State said that there would not be 3,000 empty houses had it not been for rent controls. He said that the Rent Act would remedy this state of affairs. The figure is now 3,800. It is a scandal. The other day I went round the streets of Bridgeton and saw some of these hideous tenements which ought to have been pulled down long ago. They have stood for the last 100 years. They are totally lacking in modern amenities and will never be improved. What we are pleased to call dwellings are standing empty with "for sale" notices in the windows. This is one scandal. Another scandal is that in the same area there should be so many people living bundled together in single rooms. There are families with six and seven children living in single rooms in the same area.
§ Mr. Galbraith
Without saying whether I agree or disagree with the hon. Gentleman, I would suggest that this is surely a different point from what we 479 are dealing with. The hon. Gentleman is saying that it is a scandal that houses should have "for sale" notices on them, but what we are dealing with is the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The Under-Secretary has put point to a doubt in my mind. If the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) had been making the point he is said to have been making, he would have been out of order. I thought that he was in a rather lengthy way illustrating a point which was, in fact, relevant, and I was hoping that the illustration would be cut reasonably short.
§ Mr. Fraser
I am grateful to you, Mr. MacPherson. Many of these houses are made available with services provided and they are covered by the Act of 1943. The Under-Secretary was at pains to explain to us that the Act did not cover only furnished accommodation but also accommodation made available with services provided and other categories. An example would be accommodation where the occupant of the dwelling is able to share a kitchen or other facilities which are made available by the landlord to other tenants. A common example is a sub-tenancy where the main tenant of the house makes one room available to another family which shares the kitchen. This one room, even though it is unfurnished, is covered by the provisions of the 1943 Act, although we have described it as the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act, 1943. Many of these houses are included in those which are now standing empty in an area in which there is the greatest need for houses. Of all the areas in the United Kingdom, this need especially exists in the City of Glasgow.
This is an example of what I would describe as a scandal, yet we have been given to understand that the Under-Secretary is not having any correspondence about it. The reason is that people have got accustomed to this type of scandal in Glasgow.
§ Mr. Galbraith
From time to time one has people coming along and asking for help to get a house. That indicates that there is a shortage of houses. No one would disagree about that. I am saying 480 that one does not have the same complaints about furnished houses. That is all I meant. In that sphere there does not seem to be the same difficulty as exists, we admit, with regard to other houses.
§ Mr. Fraser
I asked the Under-Secretary to consider whether the protection of the Act might be extended to other houses. He said that he would have to look at it, although he did not hold out much hope that it would be possible for him to do anything in that regard. But in his latest intervention he has shown that he knows that there is a need to do something about it. He has just admitted that there is a shortage of unfurnished houses. That is what he said; that his constituents, like ours, come to see him complaining about the shortage of houses.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Under-Secretary should not be so sure, because his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government denied that only last week in the debate an the Gracious Speech.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I promise that this is the last occasion on which I shall interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I do not know all about what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing said, but all the hon. Gentleman has to do is to read the White Paper which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State issued and in which it is recognised that there is a great housing problem in Scotland. That is all I was saying.
§ Mr. Fraser
I have read the White Paper, but I was going to restrain myself from making any comment on it until we come to discuss the Housing (Scotland) Bill, on which occasion I shall have further advice to offer to the Under-Secretary.
The case for the Rent Act in 1957 was that there was an adequate supply of houses to meet the needs of the people. There was parity between supply and demand, it was stated at that time. The Under-Secretary knows that no such parity exists in Scotland now and that that is particularly true of the larger towns and cities in Scotland. In these circumstances all I was suggesting—I thought in a modest way—was that the 481 protection which we in Parliament see fit to offer to certain categories of people by extending the 1943 Act should be extended a little further to offer protection to other people in other types of houses—poor houses, very old houses and decrepit houses. In the circumstances of there not yet being parity between supply and demand, what was the justification for the removal of control by the 1957 Act?
There are, of course, limits to which hon. Members can go in discussing these matters on the Amendment before the Committee. I think I have said as much as need be said at this stage, but I beg the Minister to consider whether he can use the Measure now before Parliament to improve and strengthen the Act still further. It has been continued for many years. It was first passed in 1943, and this evening the Under-Secretary has given us a catalogue of Amendments that have been made since 1943 to strengthen and improve it. He has a further instrument now before Parliament which he could use to improve it further. I hope that he will take advantage of the opportunity there given. Having said that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 30 to 38.
This Amendment relates to the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, a Measure comparable to the Scottish one that the Committee has just been discussing. We move it, in the first place, because we believe that before Parliament gives its approval to the continuance for a further period of this Act, there are certain matters about its working on which the Government should inform us. We move it, secondly, because we think that there is at least a case for arguing that there have been such changes in the whole nature of housing and rent problems since 1946 that it is proper to take this opportunity to ask ourselves whether, instead of continuing this Measure year after year by means of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, it should not be replaced by permanent legislation that could be of a rather wider character than is this supposedly temporary Act.
482 The 1946 Act has been amended—in some respects extended and in others reduced in scope—by some half-dozen subsequent enactments. We are now reaching that time which occurs in all subjects when it is necessary to see where we have got through an original Act and a string of amending Acts and ask ourselves whether it is time to look at the problem afresh and, as I say, to replace this temporary Measure, that has to be extended by such Bills as this, by permanent and more satisfactory legislation.
That is what is in our minds in moving this Amendment. We do not move it in the sense that we should simply like to see this Act come to an end here and now and nothing be put in its place; that certainly would not be the view of any of us on this side nor, I would hope, of any hon. Member in any quarter of the Committee.
Let us take, first, the working of the tribunals, on which we think we should have further information from the Government before we prolong the life of this Measure. The Franks Committee considered the English and Welsh rent tribunals just as it considered the Scottish tribunals, though its comments about the English and Welsh tribunals were rather less cordial. The Committee said that it had received a number of complaints, and it made a number of suggestions. I am not at all sure that I would agree with all the criticisms made by the Committee, nor with all its suggestions, but we are entitled to ask the Government's view of some of the things to which the Franks Committee drew attention.
For example, the Committee held that it should be an inviolable rule that the chairman of a rent tribunal should be a lawyer. It also said that it was assured that it was Government policy that that should be so. To what extent, in fact, is that policy in operation? I do not necessarily commit myself to the view that a rent tribunal would be bound to be better if it had a lawyer as chairman, because the determination of a reasonable rent is certainly a matter in which common sense, wide experience and knowledge of the locality are at least as important as knowledge of the principles of law. But it would be interesting to 483 hear the Government's view on this matter.
Allied to that is the next matter which the Franks Committee raised of the difficulty that may arise in getting a sufficient number of properly qualified people, whether lawyers or not, to sit on these tribunals and do the necessary work. The Franks Committee expressed the view that there ought to be rather more remuneration to people who did so. What is the Government's view about that? Do the Government share or reject that particular criticism by the Franks Committee? If they reject it, will they give us their reasons for doing so? If they share the Franks Committee's view, what steps are they taking to move in the direction that the Franks Committee indicated?
The Franks Committee also urged that the panels from which these tribunals are constituted should contain a number of valuers so that there should be no difficulty, whenever it might be considered desirable, in getting the services of a valuer for a tribunal. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us what is the Government's view on that and what progress they have made or intend to make to meet that point to which the Franks Committee drew attention?
The Franks Committee also suggested that some machinery of appeal from rent tribunals ought to be established. There is, of course, at the moment appeal over the question of the jurisdiction of the tribunals and certain other purely legal points. There is not straightforward appeal on the amount of rent that it fixes. I do not at all share the view of the Franks Committee here, because I am inclined to think that if such machinery existed it would tend to work more to the advantage of that party to the dispute who could more confidently engage in litigation than to the advantage of the party who for any reason—and we know what the reason usually is—was hesitant about doing so. It is not for me to say whether it would be the landlord or the tenant who would be more likely, if appeal facilities existed, to make use of them but I think hon. Members can form their own judgment on that. Again, perhaps the Government will give us their view on that matter.
484 To leave the no doubt valuable but slightly jejune recommendations of the Franks Committee, and to come to another matter concerned with the work of these tribunals, it has for some time been the policy of the Government to reduce the number of the tribunals and consequently, of course, to increase the area which each tribunal on the average must serve. From time to time there have been criticisms in the House by hon. Members whose areas were affected and who doubted whether, with this extension of the area which each tribunal served, it could in fact really meet the needs of the locality.
The last Report from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government tells us that this policy of reducing the number of tribunals had been pursued with such success in 1960 as to cause a reduction in the number of tribunals by one. The result of that is that a very considerable area of Surrey now has to be served by one tribunal whereas it was previously served by two. I wonder if it would be wise for the Government to continue with the idea that the number of these tribunals can be progressively reduced.
Something significant is happening to the number of cases brought before the tribunals. When the 1957 Rent Act was passed it excluded from the jurisdiction of the rent tribunals houses above a certain rateable value that had previously been within their jurisdiction. It was inevitable, therefore, that as a result of that Act there should be a sharp reduction in the number of cases that come before the tribunals.
More recently, the trend appears to be upwards again. I refer again to the last Report of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. We are in something of a difficulty here. The last Annual Report we had from the Ministry deals with events up to December, 1960—that is now nearly twelve months ago. If we compare the year 1960 with the year 1959 we find from that Report that 700 more cases, an increase of about 15 per cent., were brought in 1960. Further, whereas at the beginning of the year 1960 the tribunals had before them some 400 cases that had been brought to them and not decided—that was the position at the beginning of the year—at the end of the year there were nearly 600 such 485 cases before them still awaiting decisions. So far as that year goes, it would appear that a backlog of work was piling up. The Parliamentary Secretary may be able to tell us that the figures for such part of 1961 as has already expired are more encouraging and that the backlog is being worked off. If not—if the trend which was apparent in 1960 is continuing—we shall have to look again at the idea that progressively the number of rent tribunals can be reduced and that this will be a diminishing part of our whole legal and administrative structure.
Indeed, I do not think that it will be a diminishing part, for this reason. The effects of the Rent Act crop up on every side. Many of them were foreseen. Nearly all the evil effects, which it was denied by the Government would happen, have in fact happened, and several other things that were not foreseen have happened. One of its impacts on rent control is that the tribunal is required to determine the rent which it thinks in all the circumstances is reasonable, but one effect of the Rent Act is to alter those circumstances. As the months go by, people move out of unfurnished accommodation. If a tenant dies, or for any other reason there is a change of tenancy, the new tenancy is uncontrolled and the rent leaps up. When furnished premises are brought before it the rent tribunal naturally has to look at the rents of comparable dwellings, furnished or unfurnished, in the same street. The effect of decontrol, therefore, must be to cause rent tribunals to take a different view of what is a reasonable rent when they make comparisons with houses in the same street let unfurnished. The fact that they may change their view and consider that a higher rent than formerly is reasonable does not make it any easier for the tenant to pay that higher rent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), who moved the Amendment relating to the Scottish Act, quoted some infamous cases of scandalously high rents for furnished accommodation, and I believe that every one of us from English or Welsh constituencies, certainly every one of us from urban constituencies and from the Metropolis, could quote our own experience of cases where families are having 486 to pay up to half of their income in order to have one or two rooms to live in. That can, apparently, go on side by side with this Measure continuing on the Statute Book. This is why, as I said before, we have a further reason for raising the matter.
As it now stands, whatever the Minister may be able to tell us about its working in the last twelve months, the Act is becoming progressively less adequate to the situation created by the Rent Act. We have, therefore, to ask the rather wider question, whether instead of continuing this Act by temporary legislation the Government ought to announce their intention to replace it by permanent legislation of wider scope.
One of my reasons for urging that course on the Government I mentioned in our recent debate on the Gracious Speech devoted to housing. I pointed out then that out of the tragic procession of homeless families going into hostels and institutions in London five out of eight were people who had been turned out of furnished accommodation. Why is this? The reason is rather curious and interesting. Years ago, we always supposed that the tenant of furnished accommodation was in a less desirable position, less secure and less protected as a tenant than he who dwelt in unfurnished accommodation. One of the effects of the Rent Act, however, is that this is becoming progressively less true.
The tenant of unfurnished accommodation has a landlord who is not subject to any control. The tenant of furnished accommodation has at least the very limited and rather timid protection accorded him by the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act. The result is that increasingly landlords letting rooms furnished are deciding that it is a better bet for them to let the rooms unfurnished instead. Out goes the tenant of the furnished accommodation. The landlord is left with a little gold-mine of uncontrolled accommodation either to let himself at the shocking rents at which unfurnished rented accommodation is now being let or to sell to someone else who will carry through the process. While he is doing that, the family who lived there are looking 487 desperately round and, in the end, they have to accept hostel or institution accommodation.
The Minister might take the opportunity of this debate to remedy the many lamentable omissions from the Minister's speech in the recent housing debate and tell us, for goodness sake, what the Government propose to do about this situation for which they themselves in the Rent Act are largely responsible.
I pray in aid here—I think that is the phrase—the leading article in The Times newspaper. A profound knowledge of the circumstances of our less fortunate citizens is not, I think one may fairly say, one of the most striking characteristics of leading articles in The Times. However, even The Times was obliged to say in this matter that certain aspects of our rent policy do not make sense. That is profoundly true. The situation wherein it pays the owner of furnished rooms to drive his tenant out is one of the things which do not make sense.
We therefore believe that, now that we have come to the point in the year when we have to consider this matter again, the opportunity should be taken to say, "We will let it continue this once, but obviously we cannot just let it slide or the situation will become even worse. But this will be the last time, and, before the House of Commons is again asked to prolong this temporary Measure, the Government will prepare something permanent and of wider scope." Part of that wider scope today would need to be the extension of the power to determine the rents of furnished and unfurnished accommodation by tribunals. I do not believe that we shall deal with the desperate situation which is boiling up in London and some of our cities unless some provision of that kind is made. A proposal to that effect was made a short while ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans), who brought forward a Bill in which there was provision for the determination of the rent of unfurnished lettings by tribunals as an immediate measure to deal with the hardships which are being created.
I should like to mention one other peculiar feature. If a person answers an advertisement concerning unfurnished accommodation, it is possible that he will 488 find that the unfurnished accommodation is owned by a company which also deals in furniture, and that one of the conditions of his getting the tenancy is that he should obtain the furniture for the premises from that company. It would be interesting to know whether when he had done that—we can imagine on what terms he would do it—the law would regard those premises as furnished or unfurnished. I mention that to show the Minister the sort of thing which happens as a result of the Rent Act and the situation which the Ministry has created.
Another field in which the scope of this legislation ought to be widened concerns the degree of security of tenure which is given to anyone who appeals to the rent tribunal. At present it is three months at most with the possibility of further extension by not more than another three months. We know how this is supposed to work. Once the tribunal has determined the rent, the landlord should not continue to charge more than that rent even if there is a change of tenant. The hope is that, since he has nothing to gain financially from evicting the tenant who took him to the tribunal, he will not evict him. We also know, however, that, although there is nothing to be gained from it financially, there is such a thing as evicting a tenant in spite or revenge because he has taken the landlord to the tribunal. It was that in part which, it was hoped, security of tenure would cure.
Surely the length of security of tenure should have some relation to the time that it might take a reasonably diligent person to find other accommodation suited to his needs. Does anyone deny that it is harder now than some years ago for someone who is given notice to quit to find accommodation suitable to his needs? If he has an average size income and an average size family, how long will it take him to find suitable rented accommodation for his needs in London after he has been turned out of his home?
I wish that the Parliamentary Secretary would take up the challenge that I offered the Minister in the housing debate and which the Minister ignored. Where is all the furnished accommodation to let which was to have been brought on the market by the Rent Act? I do not deny that the stuff which is advertised 489 in the evening newspapers is very useful for the needs of a limited number of people, but it is no answer to the problems of the majority of our fellow citizens who are seeking homes. Will the Parliamentary Secretary or anyone else tell us where there is an abundant or even a tolerable supply of rented accommodation at a rent that a person with an income of, say, about £12 a week can reasonably be expected to pay? Somebody turned out of furnished accommodation because his three months' or six months' security of tenure has expired must try to find accommodation of that kind. All we are asking for in the present instance is that he should be given a little longer in which he might find it.
Then there is the question of actually getting the cases before the tribunal in the first place. There are, alas, a great many ways in which a man or a family living in one part of a house can make life almost unbearable for the people who live in the other part of the house. There are a great many tenants who would like to brine their cases before the tribunal but who are deterred not only by the fear that they might be turned out but that even if they remained in life would be hardly worth living there afterwards.
It was to remedy that situation that in the Act local authorities were empowered to bring cases before the courts. Can the Government tell us to what extent that power is being used? I think I am right in saying that no recent official figures have been given. Will the Government consider circularising local authorities, particularly in those areas chiefly affected, reminding them of their powers in this connection?
A case was drawn to my attention recently in which a sanitary inspector, visiting a house in the course of his ordinary duties and requiring in the course of those duties to see the rent book, noticed that a rent was being charged above what was legally permissible under the Act. He, in my judgment, very properly drew the attention of the council to the matter and it was put right. The astounding thing is that some members of the council designated his action as snooping and suggested that he ought not to have done it.
490 I rejoice at any opportunity where people who break this law by overcharging rents are brought to book. Because the tenant is usually in the weaker position and may for many good reasons hesitate to bring the case himself, we ought to see that full use is made of the power of local authorities to bring cases under this Act. In my judgment, however, in the end we shall have to go further than that. We shall have greatly to widen the powers of local councils to acquire property. That is what the Government ought to be considering with regard to the problem of the London homeless.
I have given the Minister a fair number of points to answer, but I think it possible that before he rises to do so, a number of my hon. Friends may have further points to raise. We are glad that this annual opportunity has given us a chance, particularly now, when the housing shortage and the problem of the homeless is so much in the public eye, to draw attention to at least one direction in which the Government could do something to improve the situation.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) was right when he raised the whole question of this renewal procedure under which year after year we are asked to continue a number of Acts. This Act with which we are now dealing and which the Government seek to renew has been on the Statute Book for some fourteen or fifteen years—quite a long time. I shall, if I may, refer to that aspect of the matter again in a few moments. Certainly the Government should consider now whether or not the time has arrived when the content of the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, with the added legislation, should be made permanent.
Before I deal with that I should like to look at the whole scope of the work which the tribunals have been doing in recent years. We know that it has been the Government's policy to reduce the number of tribunals. Of course, we watch this process of reduction very carefully, because in the view of many of us, certainly of those of us who sit for urban areas, it is essential for these 491 tribunals to continue in some form, preferably under permanent legislation. Certainly some form of machinery should be there.
From the 1960 Annual Report of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government we find that whereas in 1957 there were 60 tribunals in England and Wales, in July, 1960, the number had been reduced to 43. We should be told clearly by the Government spokesman whether or not he is satisfied that this number of tribunals adequately covers the ground and the volume of cases coming forward, for, contrary to what we were led to believe, the number of cases going to the tribunals is increasing. We were told in 1957 that as the result of the operation of the Rent Act passed that year there would be a great change round in accommodation and that there would be available accommodation for people to rent.
All of us on both sides of the Committee know that the prediction of the then Minister of Housing and Local Government has been proved to be quite unfounded, and it is admitted by all London Members that there is not only insufficient housing for people who want to rent it but that there is also a severe shortage and that the position is becoming worse. Contrary to what we were told at that time, that there would be more accommodation available, we find that people have been forced into this so-called furnished accommodation, into one room, and crowded up into slums and semi-slums, many of which properties are let off as furnished accommodation.
My figures, extracted from the 1960 Annual Report of the Ministry, indicate that, whereas in 1957 there were 4,912 cases, and although in 1956 there was a slight decrease and in 1959 a slight decrease again, the number of cases during that year jumped to 5,384. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary may have more recent figures. He should have. His Ministry's Report is now due, if not overdue, but, as far as I know, it is not available to hon. Members. Presumably it will be published in a few months' time. The current Report takes us only to July, 1960, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman whether he will give us the upward or downward movement in the 492 number of cases coming to the tribunals in recent months.
There is in my part of London a very effective tribunal. It is probably one of the largest in the country. It covers a very large number of people and houses and embraces nine boroughs. It does a very large volume of work. I am told that members of the tribunal are at present busier than ever, in spite of the fact that some of the references to it have lapsed. This so-called Islington tribunal, which in fact covers a number of other boroughs, meets four or five times a week. I know the value of the work these men and women do and I should like to thank them now for that work.
We ought to make it clear to the hundreds of thousands of people who might need the protection of these tribunals whether or not their cases would be covered by their jurisdiction. I would remind the Committee that the tribunals cover all furnished lettings even though the furniture might be sparse and consist of a bed or a table on three legs. Anybody who is in furnished or partly furnished accommodation can claim the protection of a tribunal.
I would say to my constituents and to the constituents of any other hon. Member that if they find themselves in a furnished room or semi-furnished room and they have doubt about the rent that they are paying or the security of their tenure they should go to the tribunal. I say that because I want that information published in my local paper so that people shall know that they have that amount of protection. I do not apologise for using the House of Commons for that purpose.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I am sure that the hon. Member would not wish his constituents to be misled and that he will remind his constituents that there is a limit on the rateable value of the premises and that only where the rateable value is below that limit do they come within the jurisdiction of the tribunals.
§ Mr. Evans
That is correct, but I find it necessary to say these things in short, simple terms. I am sure that anybody so financially placed as to be in the better type of furnished accommodation 493 will not be confused. I am anxious to make this clear to the people who really need the protection of the tribunals.
As I understand the Act, even though a room has no furniture in it, if some service is provided by the landlord, the tenancy comes under the jurisdiction of the tribunal. Therefore, a person living in part of a house where no furniture but some service, such as electricity or gas, is provided, can seek the protection of the tribunal.
There has been a tendency—it is rapidly growing—since the passing of the Rent Act for landlords to cease to let accommodation as furnished, to take out the bed, so-called, and the table with three legs, and let it as unfurnished accommodation, because they know that whereas the tenants of furnished or semi-furnished rooms have same protection from the tribunal, tenants of unfurnished rooms are not protected. That is another aspect of the racket going on, in London in particular, because of the desperate shortage of accommodation.
§ Mr. Evans
No doubt it is bad in Cardiff, too, but to me it is worst in my own locality.
I hope that anyone who is in doubt—am not addressing hon. Members now, because I do not suppose any of them live in furnished accommodation; I am speaking to the populace generally—will seek the protection of the tribunals. Because of the desperate situation in London in particular, I feel it necessary to remind them of the protection which they may obtain.
We know that the tenant of furnished accommodation or accommodation which is unfurnished but where some service is supplied can appeal to the tribunal about his rent and security of tenure. We also know that the landlord can make a reference to the tribunal if he thinks that it should investigate the rent charged. The local authority, too, is empowered under the Act to refer cases to the tribunal. I should like to know whether the Parliamentary Secretary can give us the proportions of cases referred to tribunals by landlords, tenants and local authorities respectively. We do not get very 494 much information about the work of the tribunals. The section in the Ministry's Annual Report is very scanty. We ought to be given further information and should not have to wait for this occasion to prise it out of the Parliamentary Secretary. At the moment the cases are not analysed and we are not told enough about what is happening. I think the Ministry might try to help us about that.
We also know that, according to the Act, as soon as a tenant makes a reference to the tribunal his notice to quit is inoperative. We ought to make that realised fully in the country. My experience makes me believe that it is necessary to emphasise it. Week after week people come to me, with children hanging round their mothers' skirts, saying that they have received notice to quit. No one can help feeling emotional about such appeals, and I feel compelled to speak about it here because of the plight of many of my constituents.
§ It being Ten o'clock. The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.