HC Deb 07 February 1962 vol 653 cc455-61
Mr. R. A. Butler

I beg to move, in page 5, line 1, to leave out from "shall" to the end of line 12 and to insert: continue in force until the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and sixty-three, and shall then expire unless Parliament otherwise determines.

The Chairman

It is in order to discuss at the same time the following Amendments: In page 5, line 1, to leave out from "expire" to end of the Clause and to insert: on the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and sixty-two, unless continued by an Expiring Laws Continuance Act". In page 5, line 1, to leave out from "expire" to the end of the Clause and to insert: on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and sixty-three".

  • In page 5, line 2, to leave out "five years" and to insert "one year".
  • In page 5, line 2, to leave out "five" and to insert "three".
  • In page 5, line 2, to leave out "five years" and to insert "twelve months".
  • In page 5, line 3, to leave out from "Act" to the end of line 4.
  • In page 5, line 5, to leave out subsection (2).
  • In page 5, line 5, to leave out subsections (2) and (3).
  • In page 5, line 7, to leave out "five years" and to insert "one year".
  • In page 5, line 7, to leave out "five years" and to insert "twelve months".
  • In page 5, line 9, to leave out subsection (3).

Mr. Butler

It will be seen that the Amendment which I have moved meets the aim of all the Amendments. Perhaps I might be permitted to run over them.

The Amendment in the name of the noble Lord the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) would continue this part of the Act until the end of 1962. In the Government's view that is too short a period. After all, when the Bill receives Royal Assent there must be an interval in order to make the necessary arrangements to bring the controls into operation and to give adequate notice to intending immigrants of the date from which the port controls and voucher systems are to operate.

The Amendments in the names of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) would continue this part of the Act for only twelve months, but that would bring us only to the middle of 1963, and our proposal is that this part of the Act should continue to the end of 1963. If we are to have an annual debate on immigration policy it seems better to have it at the same time as the debate on the continuance of the Aliens Restrictions Acts.

The Amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) would continue this part of the Act for three years, which is perhaps rather longer than would accord with the general sentiments of the House. We therefore propose, in our Amendment, to continue this part of the Act to the last day of 1963. This would mean that if it is to be continued thereafter, it can be renewed, if Parliament so determines, by the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which annually passes through the House during November.

By November, 1963, the House will have had an opportunity, after rather more than a year's working of the new controls, to judge whether they are being satisfactorily operated and whether they ought to be continued. At that date the Government will endeavour to give the House the latest information which, as I said yesterday, we might then have on a variety of subjects. The House will then have fuller information to consider whether this part of the Act should be continued under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act.

I trust that the Committee will accept the fact that, in view of the many Amendments on the Notice Paper, the Government have put down an entirely reasonable Amendment which meets the spirit of all the Amendments on this subject.

Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)

We on this side of the Committee are grateful that the Home Secretary has thought fit to curtail the duration of the Act from five years to two years but we still maintain that the Act should come to an end on 1st January, 1963. It is already evident from the discussions that we have had in Committee and on Second Reading that this is a ramshackle contraption which was put together hugger-mugger and rammed through the Parliamentary machine without any proper opportunity for discussion.

The Government and those responsible for drafting the Bill put it together without being in possession of the facts which were necessary to meet the problems which they claim that the Bill is intended to meet and without the administrative forethought which would enable them to operate the Bill fairly and successfully, if it is to fulfil its purpose. I believe that by the end of this year right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee will wish to have a chance to look at the whole problem again.

It has been very clear from the debates so far that the Bill was not originally designed to cope with the problem of Commonwealth immigration, but was simply a panic improvisation to appease racial pressures inside the Conservative Party at the conference which took place last year. That is absolutely true.

I regret that the guillotine procedure farces us to bring the debate to an end at 5 p.m., and I do not propose to prevent my hon. Friends and others who wish to speak from having the chance to say a few words. There is no doubt at all that this is a panic improvisation put before the House without even those responsible being in possession of the facts. Even the facts about the number of people entering and leaving the country are still under dispute. The Home Secretary admitted not being in possession of the relevant facts when the Bill was first published.

Mr. R. A. Butler

The hon. Member is taking part in our debates for the first time. He might at least adhere to the facts, then we can attach importance to what he says. I gave the full facts yesterday and I have throughout given the figures, which have been exactly the same throughout.

Mr. Healey

The Home Secretary will recall that when the Bill was discussed on Second Reading he said that he was not in possession of the facts. The facts which he gave to the Committee yesterday were published only during December. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that when the Bill was drafted and first presented to the House the Government or the Home Secretary were in possession of the figures of immigration which were quoted yesterday.

We have had the extraordinary situation of Ireland first being put in, then taken out and then put in again, although the Home Secretary yesterday admitted that he did not know whether it was desirable for the Irish to be included in the operation of the Bill and he doubted very much whether it was possible for them to be included even if it was desirable.

The question of health has been introduced as a second fig leaf to cover the Home Secretary's nakedness. Some hon. Members opposite have made a great deal of the fact that there is a smallpox epidemic in parts of the country and that this—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] The hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) has made a great deal of the point, although it has been clear from the Answers to Questions that all the powers that the Government need for preventing entry to this country of people suffering from diseases are already possessed under previous legislation and that the powers given to the Government in the Bill are less extensive than those which they already possess.

Nobody knows, either in the Government or outside it, precisely how the voucher system is to work and, in particular, how the first come, first served, part of it will work. The Prime Minister of Jamaica has told me recently that nobody in Jamaica knows whether this will be operated in Jamaica or here, although if a young man in Jamaica wants to come to this country he must risk his whole livelihood to get the money for the fare and then he may find at the last moment, when he gets here, that he is being excluded. We simply do not know how this part of the Bill will operate. Nobody has told us.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Had the hon. Member been here yesterday, he would have heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary undertake to put in a provision to deal with exactly that point. The hon. Member was not here yesterday and he has no right to make these statements.

Mr. Healey

The hon. Member is incorrect. I was here yesterday and heard that said, but I still say that we do not know how the problem will be dealt with. The hon. Member has just confirmed what I said. All we know is that the Government have at last found that there is a problem and they propose to introduce legislation to try to deal with it at a later stage. This simply emphasises that the Bill as presented to the House is a ramshackle contraption which has not been fully thought out and which is not appropriate even for the purpose, which we do not support, for which it is supposed to be intended.

I appeal to the Home Secretary seriously to consider giving the House the opportunity to examine this whole business again at the beginning of next year. Perhaps the moral cowardice which led the Government to introduce the Bill in the way and at the time they did may be a less powerful factor in determining Government policy by the end of the year than it is today. In any event, it is conceivable that there may be another Government.

It may well be that by the beginning of next year, the country may have taken the decision to enter the Common Market. In that case, the country will be committed to work towards a situation in which Sicilians and Greeks will be able to come here more freely than New Zealanders, Canadians and Australians. In such a situation, a great number of right hon. and hon. Members opposite would want an opportunity to look again at the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, as it will then be, to ensure at least that Commonwealth subjects are not treated worse than citizens of coun tries with which we are associated in the Common Market.

There is the further possibility that by the beginning of next year we may find that we shall not be able to get into the Common Market on acceptable terms. I hope that in such a situation right hon. and hon. Members opposite will have recovered their faith in the potential of the Commonwealth and will realise that if we are to make anything of the Commonwealth in future one of the first steps to be taken is to remove the unfair discrimination against Commonwealth citizens which is contained in the Bill.

For all these reasons, I appeal to the Home Secretary, at a later stage—I understand that I cannot move our Amendment now, although I may discuss it—to consider introducing a further Amendment that would enable us to look at the whole question again at the beginning of 1963.

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)

This is an Amendment of some importance and I welcome it, because there is absolutely no reason why the aliens legislation, which is renewable every year under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, should be more favourable to foreigners than the Bill should be to Commonwealth citizens. This must be very much in the mind of the Government, as it is in the minds of all of us, and it should be our wish to do exactly the opposite.

Quite apart from the principle, it should be desirable in practice to look at this matter again and to limit it to a year, two years or whatever the period may be, because we are breaking a principle and a long tradition when we embark on the Bill. The Irish problem is by no means resolved, but is merely shelved. We have no idea, whatever, even approximately, how many Commonwealth immigrants will be admitted in any normal year under the Bill. It is left very much to the discretion of the Government, as a great deal is left to them in the Bill.

In these circumstances, I regard it as essential to limit the duration of the Bill and to review it at the end of a fairly short period. In the ordinary way, I should have been inclined to make its duration one year to bring it into line, if for no other reason, with the aliens legislation. It may be, however, that we shall not have sufficient evidence to look at the matter again comprehensibly and clearly as early as a year after its enactment.

I would, therefore, be content if, in the first instance, we review the working of the Bill at the end of 1963, as the Government suggest, on the understanding that thereafter, if it is renewed, it will be renewed on the same basis as the aliens legislation.

Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)

I should like to enter a caveat. The Home Secretary spoke about the Bill being included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which continues other Acts of Parliament in force. My recollection is that the Chair rules strictly on the administration of Acts which the House of Commons seeks to extend and that it would be found impossible to discuss at length the working of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, as it will then be, in Committee on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.

I enter that reservation because the argument which the Home Secretary, no doubt in good faith, used might have misled the House if he thought that we could have a general discussion on the administration of the Act when we deal with the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. Perhaps you, Sir William, or the Home Secretary will consider this important point.

Mr. S. Silverman

Perhaps I have time for just a sentence or two. If we adopt the procedure recommended by the Home Secretary we will not have any opportunity whatever for reviewing the working of the Bill when it becomes an Act. If we use the machinery of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill we can accept the Act as it stands and extend or repeal it altogether, but we cannot amend it. It is the opportunity to review and to amend that we require at an early date.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.