HC Deb 04 June 1965 vol 713 cc2161-76

12.50 p.m.

Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)

I am grateful for this opportunity to raise today the question of the work of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley) the Minister designated with the responsibility of co-ordinating the work of Government Departments in the absorption of our immigrant community. The appointment of my hon. Friend was widely welcomed, first, on personal grounds, because we know of his immense interest in the problem, and, secondly, because we knew in advance the immense energy that he would bring to it.

The problem with which my hon. Friend is coping is fairly simple to define, although it has many wide and difficult ramifications. We have about 1 million immigrants, two-thirds of whom have come here during the past 20 years. At the moment, Commonwealth immigrants number about two in every 100 of the population. This fact is not suffi- ciently realised outside. Many people think that the proportion is much higher. Even with the present rate of entry and the growth in the immigrant population by natural increase, the ratio will be only four in every 100 by the year 2000. This is not an enormous figure. It is much less in terms of total inflow than countries like France and Germany have coped with.

Our problem arises not because of the small total number, but because, first, of the intense concentration of these immigrants in about 30 towns. It is a problem of the 30 towns of Britain. I can best illustrate it from my City of Birmingham by pointing out that in the year 1977 one in every six school-leavers will probably be coloured. That is the sort of figure which epitomises the problem.

The situation is made worse because those 30 towns are the areas with large housing problems. They are also largely towns which have not had coloured immigration before. For example, there is not such a great problem in a city like Liverpool, which has had coloured immigration throughout the ages. Being a port, it has seen coloured seamen come and go. There is a bigger problem of absorption and understanding in a city like Birmingham, which has had immigration only rather late in its history.

Finally, it is a problem which arises from behaviour. We have had many people who have come from a different pattern of civilisation with, in some—not all—cases, lower standards in certain matters. We have to urge them to behave and accept our standards, very much as we have had to do even with white people who, in the 1930s, for example, came from slum areas to go into new housing estates. Gradually, we had as good neighbours to help them to find a higher standard and accept the better standards of those with whom they have moved in. This is the problem of the 30 towns and the accompanying social aspects.

I wish to put the following questions to my hon. Friend. He has begun the job of seeing what can be done to ease the absorption of these people. I apologise to my hon. Friend that most of my speech must be questions, but we want from him a progress report after the first two or three months of his work. Can he tell us, first, what sort of little department he has set up for himself in the Department of Economic Affairs to deal with the problems that he has been asked to tackle? Does he have a small number of civil servants working full-time on these problems, advising him and surveying the whole problem of immigration?

Will he tell us some of the impressions and ideas which he has gathered in his travels during the last two or three months? I should be interested to know what he felt after his visit to Holland and to know how the Dutch are organising—I use the word advisedly—the integration and absorption of people from Indonesia. Secondly, can my hon. Friend tell us about his travels in this country? I know that he has been going to what I call the 30 towns one by one. I should like to know whether this means that we can soon expect him to have plans to strengthen the network of local committees throughout the country helping with what we might call local conciliation and good race relations. I believe that there are about 21 such committees in existence. They need to be expanded. Has my hon. Friend come back with firm ideas of how to do it?

What is much more important, has he screwed some money out of the Treasury with which he might be able to help these committees to have welfare staff and to tackle the simple problem of establishing an office to which immigrants with problems can readily come? In my City of Birmingham, there is such an office already, but we could do with something much more. Other towns have nothing at all. Can we have some Government money for this kind of activity and can my hon. Friend hold out prospects of all this work being considerably expanded?

At the same time, what about the office of the Commonwealth Immigrants Advisory Committee under Miss Nadine Peppard, who has done such a wonderful job but who is really, if I may say so without offence, one man and a dog? She has a tiny office and one secretary. To have this immense job based on one and a half or two persons is quite inadequate. Can we have a thorough expansion?

My second group of questions concerns employment. I fully understand the Government's decision not to introduce into the Race Relations Bill, which is now being considered in Committee, provisions about discrimination in employment. My view in a nutshell is that the employment world—the trade unions and the employers—has its own representative institutions, which should be challenged to tackle voluntarily the job of ending discrimination in employment. We should, so to speak, give the unions and the employers a couple of years' notice that within that time they should solve the problem themselves, otherwise we may have to resort to fair employment practices legislation as in other countries. If we give them that challenge to do the job themselves, is my hon. Friend beginning to help them with it?

In particular, is my hon. Friend having consultations with the unions and with the employers about education of their members and the activities of their members to reduce discrimination in employment? Is he having consultations about the suggestion, which we have raised many times, that the big stores, Government Departments and places with employees in the public eye should begin, as a matter of deliberate policy, to have coloured employees so that the nation as a whole and all the world can see that it is our considered policy as a nation to have no discrimination in places of employment?

What has happened to the idea that we should begin to have some coloured police? I have seen the Questions recently in the House. Applicants have been turned down on various grounds. There was, however, an idea of bringing over, for example, some Jamaican police on an exchange visit with our own police and putting them on traffic duty in spectacular positions in various cities to show that we mean business. The Jamaican police are a fine body of men and an exchange visit of that kind would be very good.

I hope that very soon Her Majesty the Queen will give a lead in this and that on her State occasions and her official visits she will have, say, an aide-de-campe and army officers from Jamaica, the West Indies and Africa accompanying her to show that she is head of a multi-coloured Commonwealth. Her Majesty could give a very good lead in this way.

Further, what about apprenticeship? Has my hon. Friend managed to get an acceptance of wider opportunities of apprenticeship for coloured people, bearing in mind that one in six of all school leavers in Birmingham in 1977 will be coloured?

Most important of all, what about dispersal? Thirty towns cause the trouble. Can my hon. Friend hold out some hope of us having a system, perhaps linked with the voucher system, under which there will be greater dispersal of arriving immigrants?

I come to my fourth group of questions, which are about education. There are desperate needs for increased courses for teachers in the problems of immigrants and in the problems of the areas from which immigrants come. These courses should provide background information for teachers, thus enabling them the better to handle the immigrant children arriving. There is a need for special textbooks and for courses of training for teachers in the handling of immigrant children. At the moment, such courses are few and far between. Could we have more of them?

Lastly, what about the consultations which I hope my hon. Friend is to have—I heard a whisper about this—with the television and radio networks in this country with a view to improving the amount of radio and television time devoted to helping people to understand the problem of immigration, the problems of the areas from which immigrants come, their habits, their backgrounds? Above all, coloured people should appear on television doing jobs as ordinary people instead of being the coloured man who is suddenly thrust into the middle of a programme. There should be a coloured doctor or a coloured actor just behaving as an ordinary member of the public, instead of being the coloured man in the play. This would go a long way towards securing acceptance.

I could have asked many other questions, but I want to leave time for others to speak. We are trying to create a society without prejudice in these matters. My hon. Friend has had a couple of months to start his work towards this great objective. We shall be very in- terested indeed, and I am sure very delighted, to hear what progress he has made.

1.3 p.m.

Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)

May I, first, congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) on securing this Adjournment debate. I, too, have an interest in many of the questions he put to the Minister.

The prospect of the Minister's being able to do an effective job in helping the two-way process of adjustment between our recent immigrant communities and our own way of life have been greatly enhanced by the Government's change of policy since the Second Reading of the Race Relations Bill. Now that the Minister's positive measures are to have as their background the process of conciliation, where clashes of interest occur, there is a far better prospect of his securing good will and collaboration in carrying them out.

I suggest that it can never be easy for a junior Minister, however vigorous and able, to co-ordinate policy and measures over spheres of action in which at least five different Cabinet Ministers have responsibilities—the Ministers of Labour, Housing and Local Government, Education and Science, and Health, as well as the Home Secretary. If this task of coordination had had to be undertaken in the face of clashes of interest between our immigrants and our own people, fought out in criminal proceedings in the courts, as the Government proposed on the Second Reading of the Race Relations Bill, the Minister's task would have been far more difficult and, I believe, far less congenial to him personally.

I am glad, therefore, that what our party urged, both in the debate on immigration on 23rd March and in the debate on the Second Reading of the Race Relations Bill, namely, that clashes of interest should be resolved by conciliation machinery and not by criminal processes, has led to this welcome change of Government policy.

In this I should like to pay tribute also to the work of the unofficial all-party committee, to the hon. Member for Northfield, who has put forward important Amendments, and to the Minister himself, who has, I believe, fought hard for the change of policy which the Government have now made—that is, since the Second Reading of the Bill.

Our party has made its policy clear. It has two sides. The one side has called for a drastic reduction of the entry of male workers who are voucher holders. This may seem a tough statement. It is meant to be. It is meant to provide time for us to adjust ourselves to the immigrant concentrations now found in 30 towns, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Northfield, and to the additional numbers as those wives and dependent children, who have not yet joined their husbands and fathers, come in.

On the other side, it has called for an equally tough programme for ensuring that, once here, immigrants should be treated in every way as equal citizens. It is in this spirit that we are discussing the Race Relations Bill. It is in this spirit that we welcome the appointment of the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley) as the Minister responsible for co-ordination. We await with interest his account of his responsibilities, the action he has been able to take, and his proposals for the immediate future. In particular, we want to hear what he is doing in relation to housing, health, education and, above all, fair employment.

I have been far from satisfied at the Minister of Labour's replies to my own questions about the access of immigrants to apprenticeship schemes and training schemes in industry. From my talks with a number of immigrants, I am sure that more could be done to make full use of the qualifications, both technical and often professional, that some of those immigrants who are now employed as skilled and unskilled labour have to give to this country.

Nor have I been satisfied by the replies to my questions by the Secretary of State for Education and Science about the steps he has been able to take or is planning to take, especially in helping immigrants, both children and adults, to improve their knowledge of English. I believe that a White Paper on immigration and education is due shortly. That will be very welcome. In the meantime, perhaps the Minister will indicate the main measures that he is proposing.

We welcome the appointment of the Minister to this task of co-ordination and we await with interest his first progress report.

1.9 p.m.

Mr. John Hunt (Bromley)

I am very grateful for the opportunity to make a very brief contribution to this debate. As one who has played a small part in the establishment of an all-party approach to the problems of immigration, I warmly welcome the tone which was set by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) in his excellent speech at the beginning of the debate and which was followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair).

Happily, there is now a wide measure of agreement between both sides of the House on the imperative need for a strict control of the further entry of immigrants. At the same time, having controlled the intake and contained the problem, I believe that we as a nation, both individually and collectively, must now face the need for a radically changed attitude towards those coloured immigrants who remain with us. This is why I so warmly welcome the work which is being done by the Minister and pay a sincere tribute to the humanity and common sense with which he is tackling the problem.

As the hon. Member for Northfield rightly said, it is important to put the problem in perspective. At the moment at the highest estimate 2 per cent. of the population are coloured immigrants. I refuse to believe that the British people are incapable of happily absorbing such a tiny proportion of coloured people into our national life. It is surely ironic that we as a great sporting nation should welcome cricketers from the West Indies once every three years and for five days share our interests and lives with them and their fellow countrymen and say what grand chaps they are and what a wonderful sense of humour they have, and as soon as the match is over both sides retire to their respective shells of insularity, indifference and sometimes open hostility.

In the sphere of employment I believe that a potentially dangerous situation is building up, particularly with regard to coloured school leavers because, as has been pointed out, they are steadily increasing in numbers and in some areas youth employment officers are finding already that the barriers of prejudice and discrimination are going up against these coloured youngsters who want to go into white-collar clerical jobs to which their G.C.E. qualifications entitle them. In industry great difficulty is being experienced in the admission of coloured youngsters into apprenticeship schemes. Has the Minister any plans short of legislation to deal with this problem and to avoid what I fear could build up into an explosive situation as a result of bitterness and resentment on the part of those who find themselves deprived of their opportunities?

I strongly reinforce the plea made by the hon. Member for Northfield about the use of the powerful and influential medium of television for the improvement of race relations. I, too, would like to see more coloured people invited to take part in general interest and current affairs programmes, not to discuss colour but to talk with specialist knowledge of, for example, scientific, legal and medical matters.

I also agree with the hon. Member that we want more coloured actors taking part in television plays and serials, portraying coloured people as ordinary people with ordinary emotions rather than angry agitators with racialist chips on their coloured shoulders. This happens at the moment and does a great deal of damage. I should like to know whether the Minister has had talks on this matter with the I.T.A. and the B.B.C. I am sure that we at Westminster have a special responsibility to get public opinion away from dangerous paths of racial prejudice and intolerance.

I congratulate the Minister who is, as it were, our spokesman in these matters, on the sympathy, enlightenment and understanding with which he is approaching his task, and I say with other hon. Members that we await his first progress report with lively interests and anticipation.

1.15 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. Maurice Foley)

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) on introducing the Motion, and also to congratulate the hon. Members for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) and Bromley (Mr. Hunt) on their comments and to say how much I have appreciated in the past, and I hope will have cause to do so in the future, this kind of constructive approach to what is a difficult and delicate matter.

Whatever controversy there may be about numbers coining to the country, there ought never to be controversy on the attitudes which we take towards those who are at present in our midst. In particular, we should recognise that the vast majority of immigrants who have come from Commonwealth countries are here to stay and that, therefore, we ought to rethink our attitudes in the light of this.

One of the first things that I wanted to do when I was appointed was to try to assess the nature of the problems and examine some of the work that was being done. As my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield has said, I have made a number of visits to different localities where there is an appreciable concentration of Commonwealth immigrants. I have visited most of the London areas, the West Midlands, the West Riding of Yorkshire, and a series of towns like Nottingham and Gravesend. There is a number more which I must still visit.

The object in going to these places was to talk with the officials of the local authority, with elected representatives on councils, with voluntary organisations, leaders of the churches and councils of social service, and so on, as well as the leaders of immigrants' organisations, to try to get a picture of the nature of the problems in the community and what was being done about them. I also wanted to find out what more might be done and how the Government through their various Departments might be able to assist.

In addition, I have had talks with the High Commissioners and staffs from the countries of origin of the immigrants as well as talks in London with the national leaders of the Campaign against Racial Discrimination, the British Caribbean Association, and so on. One therefore starts with the tremendous advantage that there has been a great deal of work done by such bodies as the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants and its Advisory Officer, Miss Nadine Peppard, the Advisory Council on Commonwealth Immigration, under the chairmanship of Lady Reading, and the Institute of Race Relations.

I should like to give, first, broad impressions of what I have seen. Reference has been made to the location of immigrants. Here I must candidly say that people will move to a particular area, whether from the north-east of England, or from Scotland or from the Commonwealth to areas where there are employment possibilities. This accounts for the concentration in three or four areas of so many Commonwealth immigrants, and this creates and adds an extra strain on the already overloaded social services in those areas.

It would be wrong to pretend that there are no difficulties and problems. Serious and grave problems face local authorities who are trying to tackle this question, and there are difficulties for the immigrants, many of whom come from countries far away where the climate, the culture and their traditions are so different. Many who come from the Asian Sub-Continent have no English and their religion is entirely different. Many of them come from a rural background and are projected into the complexities of living in an urban society. There is a great need for help so that they may adjust and adapt themselves. We must devise ways and means of shortening this transitional period to the minimum.

Similarly, for the local-born community who receive the immigrants the assumption that nothing needs to be done and that they will just get on together is not correct. There is on the part of a small number a great deal of hostility, and on the part of the vast majority there is indifference. Yet at the same time, in talking with leaders of churches and voluntary bodies, one can discover the potential good will which is there to be harnessed and put to work. The work of local committees in this respect should be encouraged. They should play a rôle of effecting mutual understanding and creating a climate of good will and tolerance.

I should like to see these committees expanded in other areas. I have visited some local areas and found absolutely no dialogue whatsoever between the immigrant organisations and the local authorities or between the immigrant organisations and the local voluntary bodies. They exist in the same town, they work side by side with one another, but the immigrants live in a particular sector of the town, and the rest of the people are indifferent to their needs. The work of the local committees, where there is the involvement of the voluntary bodies, of the local authorities, and of the immigrant organisations, is in desperate need of extension and strengthening.

In response to a question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield, one of the tasks which I hope to undertake is to consider closely and sympathetically how we can expand these local committees and give them more urgency and meaning—

Mr. Chapman

And more money.

Mr. Foley

The question of more money will be gone into in due course—and to examine carefully the kind of support required in terms of full-time personnel.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northfield raised a question about my own office. Hon. Members will recall that I was asked to take on this work in a personal capacity as the Chairman of a Committee of Ministers. I have managed to establish a small department of civil servants in the Department of Economic Affairs, which acts as a focal point in Whitehall. These people are working exclusively on these questions. This means that there can be more effective coordination of effort and day-to-day liaison with their opposite numbers in other Government Departments. Similarly I have contact with the Ministers from the Departments referred to by the hon. Member for Dorking—those responsible for housing, health, education, home matters, and so on.

Arising from my visits, there is constant reporting back and information, and individual Ministries are considering what more they can do in this respect. I have been impressed in my visits by the sincere efforts being made at what I might call the professional and technical level—by public health officers, welfare officers, directors of education, medical officers of health, and so on—but it seems to me that many of them are working in isolation, as if they are the only people dealing with this problem. I think that we shall find shortly that different Government Departments will promote dialogue and discussion and bring together people concerned with particular questions—medical officers of health, town clerks, and so on—who have a problem in their area so that they may pool their experiences and sort out how they can help each other and how the Government can give them support.

Similarly, the work being done by the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants has effected, on an informal basis, the kind of co-ordination effort required among local committees. I was fortunate to be present a short time ago at a national conference of representatives of such local committees. People were able to pool experiences and to consider what the next steps should be. The worst possible thing is that people in a given town should feel, "We have this problem. No one else is interested; no one else cares". The fact that they can be taken out of their isolation and have a dialogue at their own level with people doing the same kind of work is to be encouraged much more. It is this kind of simple approach which can be so effective in sustaining effort and encouraging new effort and ideas.

The Department of Education and Science will shortly be issuing, not a White Paper, but a circular to local authorities giving advice on the education of immigrants. It would be wrong for me to anticipate its contents, but I am sure that it will be a positive step forward. Included in this is the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield about courses for teachers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, in a statement in the House in March, said that the Department was organising a series of courses for teachers. I have discovered at least a dozen local authorities which are promoting such efforts. I have had discussions with some of the leaders of the National Union of Teachers who are concerned with this matter.

The cumulative effect is likely to advance new ideas because there is no textbook and no set formula for the teaching of English to immigrant children and adults. There is improvisation, unorthodox methods, imagination, and trial and error. I am pleased about and encouraged by the efforts made by teachers. I recall that at a school in Birmingham, Mr. Brazier and his staff have produced a primer in teaching English. This book has been built around the lives and experiences of five children—one from India, one from Pakistan, one from the West Indies, and two local born—who live in the area. I should like to see many more imaginative efforts of this sort.

I have had discussions with Lord Hill and Sir Hugh Greene about what further might be done in television and radio. Both were most sympathetic. Both are anxious about and recognise the rôle that television and radio can play in creating greater understanding and a better climate. As a follow-up to this, there will be meetings at which leaders of the immigrant organisations will be present so that we can get a cross fertilisation of ideas. I hope that this will be taken a stage further within a matter of weeks.

On employment, the difficulty is that of determining facts in relation to alleged discrimination. This is the kind of subject about which people often get very emotional and mix up fact and fiction. We need access to the real facts. The question of children leaving school and taking up apprenticeship is in its infancy. So far as we are aware of difficulties, we can take the necessary steps to meet them. The problem arises when there are established patterns and standards for apprenticeship entry at the age of 16. If someone of 18 years of age wants to serve an apprenticeship, this causes great difficulties. If the answer is "No", it is usually taken to mean that this is because of the colour of the person's skin. I have come across cases of sheer discrimination, but we are now starting to emerge from this difficulty.

It is evident from my discussions with them that youth employment officers and directors of education are anticipating the problem and planning for it. I hope that we will be able to solve these questions of discrimination. I place a great deal of hope in the work of local committees in creating a better climate of understanding. I hope that they will tackle questions like the positive promotion of normality of relationships both in work time and leisure time activities.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary dealt fully with the question of coloured policemen when he spoke at Llandudno on 1st May at the annual conference of the Police Federation. His remarks were quite widely reported at the time, and I do not think that there is need for me to go into them further. The other suggestions of my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield are being processed and considered. I would like to think that decisions might be reached quickly on this, but there is a lot of consultation to take place.

The question of dispersal, of housing, is, I think, one of the most difficult issues of all to deal with. There is, in fact, no short-term answer to this. I have said, and I really believe this, that in so far as we establish a sensible economic plan on both a regional and the national basis then there will be, in turn, a much more even spread of people and we shall avoid the problems of heavy concentrations in one area or another. In the short term, however, the only thing which can be done by the Government—and this is being tackled by the Government—in areas of heavy concentrations of people is to refuse to give development certificates to industry. It is the only way to deter expansion and further movement into those areas. It is a matter which we have taken up, and taken up vigorously.

In terms of future dispersal, it is a question of what local authorities themselves may do in relation to their development programmes, slum clearance projects, loan policies, and so on. One way in which I think a good deal more could be done is through the development of housing associations of a multiracial kind, which can be the means of effecting dispersal.

But there can be no question of moving people from one area to another. Once a person is accepted in this country he is free to come and go where he likes, and we should be chasing an illusion if we were to imagine we can say to someone who has a voucher or is a dependant of a man who has already arrived here, "You can come, but you must not go to Birmingham; we will send you up to Newcastle"; because we live in a free society in this country, in housing and in jobs.

There is another reality. Solving our housing problem virtually means somehow developing an economic plan in which perhaps industry can itself develop without over-concentration in particular areas.

My final remark on this whole question is that it is, above all, a matter of education. No matter how much we may devise by legislation, we cannot legislate for people's consciences, and the question of race relations, to me, is a matter of conscience, of morality; it is a question of education. I would hope that through our membership of the House of Commons, through our membership of various Churches, through our association with voluntary bodies, we shall be able to give a clear lead, and demonstrate that it is only by our personal attitudes and personal involvement that we shall solve the question of living with people whose skin is of a different colour.

Here we are, within two weeks of the conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. It is the racial difficulties and differences and incidents which hit the headlines in the Press, and they are reported throughout the world. If we want to demonstrate that we are members of a multiracial Commonwealth we have to put our own house in order in this country, and efforts to this end by the Government, by the Churches, by the voluntary bodies must play an indispensable part. It seems to me that in these ways we can visibly demonstrate to the rest of the world that people of different religion and colour, now living here together, can live here together in peace are harmony.