HC Deb 26 February 1962 vol 654 cc921-3
19. Mr. Fisher

asked the Minister of Aviation whether, in view of the refusal of the airlines to co-operate voluntarily, he will seek legislative powers in order to obtain statistics of migration both out of and into this country by air.

20. Mr. Boyden

asked the Minister of Aviation whether, in view of the opinion of the Oversea Migration Board that the voluntary statistics collected at British air terminals are inadequate to measure the volume of migration, he will consult the Board with a view to devising a more satisfactory method.

27. Mr. Lipton

asked the Minister of Aviation if he will take steps to ensure that accurate figures are kept of migration by air to and from the United Kingdom.

Mr. Thorneycroft

In December, 1960, the Government announced their decision that migration statistics on air routes should be collected by voluntary sampling methods. This is proceeding.

Mr. Fisher

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, for the purposes which I have indicated, these samples are not likely to adequate; that migration policy is important to our economic and manpower position, as well as being in the public interest, and that, owing to the attitude of the airlines, we are receiving inadequate information upon which to base any migration policy? Does my right hon. Friend realise that the form which the passenger would have to fill in in order to provide this information consists only of ten simple questions and would take one and a half minutes to complete? Will he act now to conform to the recommendations made in seven successive reports of the Migration Board, which the Government promised to implement as long ago as 1957?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am aware that the Migration Board would like more details of everybody who comes into and goes out of the country. I suggest, however, that we wait until the results of this voluntary sample are available to the Board. It is a matter of opinion to what extent it is necessary to cross-examine every traveller coming into and going out of the country, on all sorts of details, in order to collect the relatively small number of statistics required. I have no powers in this matter. Technically, it would be possible to treat Commonwealth immigrants as aliens, but for this purpose an Amendment would be necessary to the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, which is now before the House.

Mr. Boyden

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Britain is the only country in the world which has large numbers of migrants both ways which does not do this? What are the difficulties in the way of our doing it? Is it not a scandal that a Government Bill should be based upon such inadequate statistics?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I do not want to stand in anybody's way. It is a matter for the House to judge whether every traveller should be asked all these questions. If it is thought necessary, they could be treated the same as foreigners or aliens. A Bill for this purpose could be presented to the House, but I would not say that it would be wholly uncontroversial.

Mr. Lipton

Is the Minister aware that in the not-too-distant future, and to a very considerable extent, Commonwealth citizens will be treated as though they were aliens? In any event, is not it deplorable that the Government should ask this House to pass legislation on the basis of figures regarding migration, particularly in respect of Commonwealth immigrants, which are so inadequate as to be "phoney" and misleading?

Mr. Thorneycroft

If the hon. Gentleman feels that—it is a matter for him—it is open to him to propose an Amendment extending the scope of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill for this purpose.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in the years after the war, and probably for good reasons, air passengers had to fill in a long document and that this was very much resented? Instead of cluttering up passengers with forms to fill, will my right hon. Friend obtain the information from the airlines direct?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I hope that my answers have indicated that the ordinary freedom of ordinary people should be respected.

Mr. Paget

Is the right hon. Gentle-man aware that he has clouded this matter with a good many emotional references—treating people from the Commonwealth like foreigners, cross-examination, the need for legislation and things of that sort? Is not he aware that this would require no legislation whatever? Is he aware that the problems of immigration and migration are highly important? If we are to deal with them reasonably instead of emotionally, to ask people leaving this country to spend a minute or half-a-minute providing a little information is not an excessive request.

Mr. Thorneycroft

That is a perfectly fair point of view. I am merely saying that I have no power in the matter. If such powers are sought, they should be sought from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, through the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill or by other methods.