HC Deb 13 February 1962 vol 653 cc1201-13

(1) There shall be constituted a Council, to be called the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council, to give advice and assistance to the Home Secretary in connection with his duties under this Act and to give advice and assistance to other Ministers in connection with any duties which they may have in relation to the welfare and well-being of Commonwealth immigrants into this country.

(2) The Home Secretary may from time to time refer to the said Council for consideration and advice such questions relating to the operation of this Act as he thinks fit (including questions as to the advisability of amending this Act).

(3) The Home Secretary and the other Ministers shall furnish the Council with such information as they may reasonably require for the proper discharge of their functions under this Act.

(4) The Council shall consist of not less than fifteen and not more than twenty members who shall be appointed by the Home Secretary.

(5) The members of the Council shall include—

  1. (a) five persons recommended by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations after consultation with the other Governments of the Commonwealth.
  2. (b) three persons recommended by the Minister of Housing and Local Government with special experience of the problems of settlement of immigrants in this country.

(6) Members of Parliament shall be eligible for appointment to the Council.

(7) There shall be a chairman appointed by the Home Secretary.

(8) Members of the Council appointed under subsections (5) and (6) of this section shall not be eligible to be Chairman.

(9) The terms of appointment of the Chairman and Members of the Council shall be such as the Home Secretary may determine.

(10) The Home Secretary shall appoint a Secretary to the Council, and may appoint such other officers and such servants to the Council, and there shall be paid to them such salaries and allowances as the Minister may with the consent of the Treasury determine.

(11) The Home Secretary may, out of moneys provided by Parliament, pay to the Chairman and Members of the Council and to persons attending meetings at the request of the Council, such allowances as he may, with the approval of the Treasury, determine in respect of travelling and subsistence expenses and in respect of other expenses (if any) necessarily incurred by them for the purpose of enabling them to discharge their duties as members of the Council.

(12) The Council shall make an annual report to the Home Secretary on their proceedings and the Home Secretary shall lay that report before Parliament with such comments (if any) as he thinks fit.—[Mr. Deedes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I hope that this proposal will find a wider measure of agreement than have some other parts of the Bill. What is perhaps more important, I hope that it may appear to the Committee to be a constructive addition to what inevitably has had to be a rather restricted Measure.

This Clause denies nobody anything. It offers a service which could be most valuable to the immigrants and to this country. I wish to stress the positive intentions which we have here in mind, and I feel sure that the Home Secretary will agree with them. Advisory councils or committees like this are used to meet all kinds of political difficulties, but that is not the idea here. I believe that this body, properly used, could materially assist in a most difficult job, and I will briefly tell the Committee why.

From the time when a Measure such as this became probable, some of us had hoped that the occasion would be used to improve the somewhat haphazard arrangements governing the entry of people from the Commonwealth. There is a danger which arises from free entry, in that it implies that no problem exists at all, and some people are persuaded from taking sensible administrative steps in certain respects. The reception of immigrants up to now has been casual almost to a degree and has been left a great deal to voluntary bodies, which have been doing good work. I am sometimes surprised, not at the difficulties which have been engendered, but by the fact that some difficulties have not been greater.

A council on the lines suggested acknowledges that difficulties exist. It would become the focal point for those willing and able—there are many admirable voluntary bodies which are most anxious and are able to do so—to lend a hand not merely to those who are still to come to this country but to those who are already here. It may be that the Ministries feel that between them they cover the front and that such a council would constitute a sort of fifth wheel. I cannot agree.

The Ministry of Labour would have its problems over the voucher system. The Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and, of course, the Home Office, would all have problems in their own spheres. There is no intention here to interfere with any Ministerial functions. But it would be foolish to pretend that there is not a vast amount of welfare information, guidance, advice and care which falls between all those Departments and, as the Bill now stands, is not being met.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that some time ago, before this new Clause was put down, the Home Office was being urged by the National Council of Social Service to establish a committee on these lines; that is, a body to bring the statutory Departments and voluntary organisations concerned with this work in different parts of the county into closer touch with each other. Some proposals on these lines were put forward by the National Council of Social Service group for the well-being of coloured workers, and the chairman, Sir John Wrigley, is not without experience of public administration. Indeed, a strong case was made out.

I do not envisage that this council would sit in London simply receiving information and dispensing advice. I hope that a considerable part of its work would be to go to places where immigrants live in larger numbers; study the problems at first-hand and receive a great deal of evidence which voluntary bodies could bring and present in a proper form. As I see it, the Home Secretary ought to be able to refer to this council all the specific problems which might lie a little outside the range of his Department. He then would, or should, get answers not related to the policies of a particular Ministry but something nearer to a neutral answer. I think that that neutral role is important. There is value in having a body to act as referee, as a neutral umpire, in many of the social problems which will arise.

I warn my right hon. Friend—I am sure that he is aware of it—that between now and the end of 1963 he will receive a great volume of information and counsel, much of it conflicting, about how this Measure is working out. Some of that advice will be excellent, some of it will be tittle-tattle. The council would help to sort the one from the other, with no sort of vested interest or representation from any particular Department to influence such advice.

It is possible that some will declare that the very proposal to establish such a council admits or emphasises the colour problem, and I wish to touch on that, because it does. Were we dealing simply with Canadians, New Zealanders or White Rhodesians, such a council as this would at least be less necessary. I hope that no one will misinterpret that or make heavy weather of it. Had we admitted openly a little earlier that here there were social problems which ought to be and were to be met, it is conceivable that this Bill, at least in its present form, would have been less necessary. No one would level an accusation of colour prejudice against the British Council, which has been doing admirable work quietly for a long time on behalf of coloured students.

The council might have valuable functions in the review of this Measure and its working which will have to take place in eighteen months' time. I am more concerned with the functions of this body than with its composition. I am quite willing to admit that we have probably got this wrong and will willingly accept any changes which might be offered, but the functions seem important.

The Committee must surely recognise by now that as it stands the Bill will not solve the main problem on our hands. It may reduce the level of the flood of immigrants which we have experienced this last year to more manageable dimensions. The fact remains, however, that we already have a very large number of immigrants and in all probability the numbers will increase. The fundamental problem is not one of restriction at the ports, but of assimilation in our society.

7.30 p.m.

This Bill as it stands will not go a long way towards meeting that problem; it is not designed to do so. We are at grips here with a vast social and historical problem which elsewhere and at other times has had enormous repercussions. Those who for any reason blink at that fact are no real friends of the coloured people. Such a council would make only a tiny contribution to an immense problem, but I think it might be a practical and positive one not only for our own people but for immigrants themselves. I hope that the Committee may be persuaded to see it in that way.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

I wish very warmly to support what the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has said. Both in the specific proposal for having an advisory council of some sort—I do not want to spend a lot of time arguing details of its composition—and also to one coming to this problem with a different point of view and very strongly opposed to the Bill root and branch, this emphasises an important question.

The hon. Member was absolutely right in saying that unless we are to deport all immigrants we shall still have a difficult problem of assimilation. That problem is not substantially a problem of fact, or a problem of what are the acute physical difficulties, acute as they are. The problem is essentially and primarily a psychological one of getting people to realise the importance of living together. What is required far more than restrictions and regulations is the Government's identifying themselves more positively with the job of integrating communities.

The hon. Member said that he thought one of the difficulties was that this might be criticised as being to some extent the acceptance of colour difference. I used to feel that very strongly. I have always resisted the tendency, which exists both among immigrants and natives, to drop too easily into the assumption that we are a society based on recognition of racial differences. It suggests that we ought to have a coloured representative in the citizens' advice bureau, a coloured welfare worker in a housing department, and so forth. That is wrong. We have to recognise that in this country we do not work on a basis of colour, but on the free rights of citizens to use services.

Nevertheless, to bring home to people the importance of making an effort to understand each other it is necessary to have some kind of initiative from the Government. The hon. Member mentioned Sir John Wrigley's committee. I happen to be in a humble way, as it were, the "Sir John Wrigley" of London. I am chairman of the equivalent body, the London branch of the Council, dealing with problems of London. In going round the different areas and the Metropolitan boroughs trying to persuade people to have local community organisations and to look at these problems, we are again and again told that this is a job in which the Government ought to give a lead. We find that many local authorities are timid. Some have done great work in this field, but many are timid and are looking for a lead from the Government.

I do not want in any way to underestimate what has been done by the Government, because we have worked in closest co-operation with officials of different Government Departments concerned with this problem. I could not pay too high a tribute to their keenness and the devotion to work which they have shown, but they do this mainly because they have a deep private and personal interest in the problem. What is required is for the Government to make it clear that they attach importance to the pooling of information about community problems and the acceptance locally of responsibility for those problems.

There is a particular aspect I wish to mention. Earlier, we were talking about particular problems of students and the need for giving some advice and direction to people who are to administer this Measure about the part which education can play in training those from the Commonwealth. This is a field in which it seems that the Home Office will be groping—if I may be allowed to say so—rather blindly, in spite of the Secretary of State knowing a bit about education. It will be very difficult for them to see the picture of what kind of load of students can be taken in this country and what particular field needs students in the Commonwealth. We have to marry vacancies in this country with the demand for certain types of education and training in the Commonwealth.

These are difficult problems which require the pooling of a great many different views. The views of people in the Commonwealth, the views of educationists here and the views of people who have to look at social problems created by bringing overseas students to this country all constitute a task requiring the focusing of very different viewpoints. That is work which an advisory council of this kind ought to do.

I would welcome something on these lines, not that it would perform miracles, but because it would be a centre for pooling information. As the hon. Member said, it would be rather like the Central Housing Advisory Committee, which focuses the best opinion on problems connected with housing management. So, in the case of community living, this council could focus attention, pool it and spread it abroad. I think that that would be extremely valuable.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I am sure that we are all obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) for the manner in which they have proposed and supported this new Clause. I have given considerable thought to it since it appeared on the Notice Paper and I have certain definite things to say about it.

My attitude to the Clause has been adjusted slightly during the course of our discussions, especially in relation to the idea of a statutory council, because in certain respects the relationship of the Secretary of State to Parliament has been improved during the passage of the Bill through Committee. For example, the Bill is now to be reviewed at the end of next year after a comparatively short time in operation. Then it will be reviewable yearly in respect of Part I. That will bring the Secretary of State and other Ministers to Parliament more than was the case before.

We have also written into the Bill a good many of the duties of the Secretary of State, notably in respect of residence, wives, children and students. That has improved the Bill in this respect. It would enable Parliament more easily to assess the way in which the Secretary of State carries out his duties. All this will be made clearer when, as I announced earlier this afternoon, we publish the instructions to the immigration officers on Friday of this week. Hon. Members can then read and study them.

In the circumstances, the need for what I will describe as a statutory council seems to me to be less than when the Clause was originally put on the Notice Paper. There is also a basic difficulty, which is that when questions of policy arise in relation to the Bill they must be decided by the Government of the day. I am convinced that whatever body of right hon. or hon. Members formed the Government, they would take the same line and wish to be answerable to Parliament for questions on which they were responsible.

It seems to me that, when my hon. Friend said that he did not wish the council he proposed to interfere with the functions of Ministers and referred rather more to welfare, he was really taking the same point as I am now taking. It would be wrong for an outside body to come to conclusions on broad issues such as I have mentioned—issues requiring the exercise of political judgment. It would be up to the Government to reach conclusions and then put them before the House.

Further, we do not think that it is necessary for a council like this to be concerned with individual cases. Decisions on these must be taken by Ministers. They must be taken on the responsibility of the Minister concerned, who will be answerable for them to Parliament.

But I should now like to go on to say, in answer to the two hon. Members who have so far intervened in the debate, that there may be particular problems in the operation of the Bill on which the Government would value advice from time to time. I do not have in mind broad issues of policy or individual cases, but rather such questions relating to the welfare of immigrants and, as my hon. Friend said, their assimilation into the community. For these and more limited purposes I do not think that we need what I will describe as a statutory body, with all the formality which that would involve.

I suggest a plan on the following lines. First, I think that we can achieve what we really want by a small body of advisers being attached to the Secretary of State and appointed by him. Secondly, I contemplate that matters should be referred to this body by the Secretary of State ad referendum. I have in mind—this was mentioned by the hon. Member for Widnes; this shows that we are moving on the same lines—my Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders, which has examined the many difficult matters referred to it.

I should like to say here that my hon. and learned Friend the new Solicitor-General, who had put his name to the Clause before his appointment, has been a most useful member of my Advisory Council and I should like to say how much we shall miss his services on the Council. I have every reason to believe that he is in sympathy with what I am now saying that something in the nature of an advisory council would meet the main objectives of the Clause.

The third feature of the proposal I am making is that, for the reasons I have explained, this body should concern itself largely with questions of welfare. My hon. Friend said that such a body should go places and see for itself. That may be a very valuable feature of its activity. I believe that the sponsors of the Clause are animated by their desire to see immigrants assimilated properly into our society.

I should like to acknowledge here the excellent work done for the welfare of immigrants, not only under our local authorities, but by organisations such as that of which the hon. Member for Widnes is chairman, the London Council of Social Services, and also the Standing Conference of Councils of Social Services. I especially recommend the work they do. I think, also, of the work done by the High Commissioners' offices, the work we attempt to do in Government offices, and the work done by voluntary societies.

But what has impressed me, not only when I was Minister of Education but also when I was Minister of Labour and now more particularly at the Home Office, is that there is not a great deal of correlation or co-ordination between all the worthy bodies which work in this field. I cannot but feel that it would be helpful to have some small advisory body to whom the Secretary of State could turn when issues arise which cause him or the public concern.

7.45 p.m.

The hon. Member for Widnes mentioned students. The new Clause on students has not been called, but I dare say there will be an opportunity of discussing students more on Report. I would not exclude referring questions concerning the welfare of students to this body, although it would have to be careful not to cross the wires with the British Council, the Department of Technical Co-operation, which has worked for students in a very forward way since it has been appointed, and other agents at present working for the good welfare of students.

I may be asked what is the body I have in mind and what its nature would be. First, it would be small. It would not consist of representative interests or countries, but would be independent and impartial. It would not deal with individual cases. It would deal with them only in so far as they came into the field of welfare. However, the body would be available for the Secretary of State to refer matters to, and, in particular, questions affecting the welfare of immigrants in the consideration of which Her Majesty's Government feel that impartial help would be of value.

If my hon. Friends feel that something on these lines would be helpful, I would proceed to work something out on these lines. I think that that is the most efficient way to deal with this matter—in an informal, but yet practical, way. If we did this, it might give confidence to many who feel anxious about the operation of the Bill. It is because the Clause has been put forward in that spirit that I would endeavour to respond in as constructive a way as possible.

Mr. Lipton

Before the Home Secretary concludes, will he clarify one point? He referred to the London Conference of Social Services, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) is associated. He referred also to the High Commission for the West Indies in London, where, as he knows, there is a very excellent migrant services division which has been doing very good work for a number of years and which is to be expanded for the purpose of co-operating with the Government in the working out of the Bill. Can the Home Secretary tell us to what extent, if at all, these two bodies and any other appropriate bodies will be brought into the Advisory Council to which he has just referred, and which he asks us to accept in place of the body proposed in the Clause?

Mr. R. A. Butler

I would not suggest that this body should take over the work of these agencies. We must be sure that the main work is devolved, because personal attention to the needs of immigrants will be assured only if this work is devolved and done humanely by the bodies which understand it. All I think the advisory council could do would be to bring certain matters to the attention of the Secretary of State and, if he had matters which concerned him, he would refer it to this body, which would put itself in touch with the other agencies.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

Before the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) rises to withdraw the Clause, as I believe he is about to do, may I say, on behalf of some of my hon. Friends, that we are very glad that the Home Secretary has seen his way to meet the suggestion underlying the Clause, at any rate partially. There is no doubt that some sort of Advisory Council would be helpful to whoever fills the office the right hon. Gentleman now occupies.

On reading the Clause, I felt that it did not cover same of the points which I should like it to cover. For example, there is a reference to the three persons to be recommended for appointment to the council by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I should have thought that the Minister of Labour would have had something to say and should have been included and have had the right to appoint members to the Advisory Council, if it had been set up and the Home Secretary had accepted the Clause.

Therefore, perhaps the Clause as it stands is not entirely satisfactory. Nevertheless, something ought to be done and I am delighted that the Home Secretary has met the hon. Member for Ashford and his hon. Friends at any rate half-way. When the constitution of the Advisory Council which the Home Secretary has promised us is drawn up. will he be willing to make it something a little wider than merely to deal with welfare?

There are, occasionally—and undoubtedly there will be in the future—other questions on which such an Advisory Council could usefully proffer advice, and it would be a pity were it to be confined solely to welfare. That would not give the Home Secretary of the day very much elbow room. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will allow the constitution of any body which is set up to be wide enough to include advice on other matters.

Mr. Deedes

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his response to this proposal, and in view of the nature of his reply I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.