HC Deb 18 November 1965 vol 720 cc1469-76

[Queen's Recommendation signified]

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 88 (Money Committees).

[Sir SAMUEL STOREY in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to continue certain expiring laws, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of such expenses as may be occasioned by the continuance of section 3 of the Emergency Laws (Repeal) Act 1959 and Part I of, and Schedule 1 to, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1962, till the end of December, 1966, and of Part VII of the Licensing Act, 1964, till the end of March, 1967, being expenses which under any Act are to be paid out of such moneys.—[Mr. MacDermot.]

9.58 p.m..

Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)

I wish to raise one or two points and questions on whether it would be expedient to pass this Money Resolution. During the past four years, as a result of such Money Resolutions passed by the House, about £9 million, I believe, has been spent in operating two of the Acts concerned, the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1962. I understand that, since 1962, following such Resolutions, nearly £2 million has been spent in operating the Commonwealth Immigrants Act itself. According to the Explanatory Memorandum this year, it is estimated that, during 1966, £2.9 million will be spent, of which nearly £600,000 will be for operating the Commonwealth Immigrants Act.

After this period of time, it is fair for us to ask whether sums of this kind are being spent or are proposed to be spent in a manner satisfactory to the House and to the country. I think that the Select Committee on Estimates had something to say on the subject about two years ago when it described the fantastic bureaucracy and administrative confusion in the immigration and nationality department, which is covered by the expenditure under this Resolution.

I realise that it would not be in order to discuss the kind of cases which have come up from time to time in the House and in public discussion in the Press as a result of certain conduct of that department, and neither would it be in order to discuss the kind of cases which hon. Members have had to deal with as a result of what we have felt to be, and what has proved to be, arbitrary conduct of immigration officers or officials from time to time in particular instances. That will be for another occasion in the very near future.

10.0 p.m.

But when we refer back to the period of time in which this money has been spent—I refer particularly to the money spent as a result of this Resolution—in operating the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, it is fair to remind ourselves of the reasons, or at least one of the main reasons, for this expenditure. We were told when the Money Resolution was first before the House in connection with the 1962 Act that it was necessary to spend this money for various administrative purposes covered by the Act—as stated in the Resolution tonight—in order to provide a breathing space to deal with questions of race relations and the administration of such matters by control.

What is the position now, four years later? With a similar Resolution before us, after £2 million has been spent, we find that the cost is going up. I believe that it was originally estimated to be £500,000, and indeed that was the sum last year. Next year it will be nearly £600,000. It would not be in order for me this evening to discuss some of the main reasons given by Ministers for this increased expenditure, which arises from the implementation of the White Paper which will be the subject of discussion next week—such matters as evasion, the suggestion that the country is bursting at the seams, the fact that so many people are racialists, and so on. But we end with Ministers, four years later, saying that it is necessary to incur greater expenditure in implementing the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, by way of the recommendation placed before the House some months ago in a White Paper, again in order to create a breathing space. That is four years after the original Act was passed and the original Money Resolution was put before us in order to create just such a breathing space.

I am necessarily speaking briefly tonight. We have a Motion which suggests that it is expedient to spend this money four years after we were told that it was necessary to create a breathing space. That was why the 1962 Act was introduced. After we have spent £2 million in four years, I must ask whether it would not be more expedient to spend such sums of money on combating ignorance, prejudice and discrimination, rather than on concerning ourselves with restrictions and controls.

Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)

The terms of the Money Resolution before the House include the word "expedient". Perhaps I may first refer to the financial effects of the Bill and remind my hon. and learned Friend, with great respect, that the sum was £2.9 million, or nearly £3 million, not £2 million as he said.

We are told that the expenditure consists mainly of staff costs in the Home Office, Ministry of Labour and Commonwealth Relations Office. It seems to me that in the working of the Act, which is covered by the terms of the Resolution, we specifically exclude from the financial effects of the Bill any expenditure under the Ministry of Health which could reasonably be expected to arise from Section 2 of Part I of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act. Section 2(4,a) refers to health checks on entry. It appears to me that if we are to confine our consideration of the expenditure to staff costs in respect of the Home Office, we exclude any consideration of what is to be done by health checks at the port of entry if they prove disadvantageous to the immigrants concerned. The question of expenditure on health investigation does not seem to me to fall appropriately within the responsibility of the Home Office. The question of expediency must therefore be referred to again.

There is also the question of possible expenditure arising from the treatment of any illness which is discovered in an arriving immigrant but which is not sufficient at that moment to demand that that immigrant be refused entry. It would, of course, be out of order for me to say that I can conceive of no illness which would qualify a man for deportation, and I therefore will not say it. But it is possible that the immigrant may be discovered to suffer from some treatable disease which does not lead to a refusal order, and this must impose upon the Ministry of Health the possibility of spending money on urgent medical services, treatment, convalescence and all the other facilities which it would be proper for a civilised country to place at the disposal of an arriving immigrant—

The Chairman

The hon. Member is going into too much detail. All he can do is question the Money Resolution. before us.

Dr. Kerr

Thank you, Sir Samuel. I will try to keep in order. I have referred to Erskine May and I should like to draw your attention to it, with great deference. According to Erskine May, Money Resolutions are seldom debated on Report since an adequate opportunity for debate has already been provided in Committee. This is not true on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. We do not have the advantage of the debate in Committee until next week.

The Chairman

It is in Committee that it is in order to discuss these details. It has been ruled over and over again that the only time to discuss the details is in the Committee stage when an Amendment has been put down.

Dr. Kerr

Thank you for your Ruling, Sir Samuel. I referred to Erskine May, which seemed to suggest that a Money Resolution was discussed after the Committee stage had been taken, and I felt that in this case this was not the procedure. But I accept your guidance. I shall seek an early opportunity to raise this matter for discussion.

I merely draw attention to the use of the word "expedient" in the context of a Financial Resolution. To exclude some of the most expedient action which any responsible and civilised Government would undertake seems to raise certain queries, and I ask that particular attention should be given to this point by my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary when he answers the debate.

Mr. Maurice Orbach (Stockport, South)

My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) raised the question of the administrative costs and pointed to the fact that the Select Committee on Estimates, meeting two years ago, made some observations about the bureaucratic cost of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act. I ask for an assurance that, during consideration of this Bill, the Home Office has gone into the question of costs up to date and has adjusted them, that the increased costs coming are necessary and proper and that we are not merely getting an inflation of the original figure, which has already been condemned.

It is not possible for me to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wands-worth, Central (Dr. David Kerr), but I hope to take the opportunity to do so next week. But has the original cost been pared down to take account of what the House has declared and are we getting a genuine estimated cost for 1965–66?

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

We all know that it is extremely difficult to conduct a debate on a Money Resolution and if we do not know it already we find out very speedily. But my hon. Friends have done it tonight with extreme care and skill. I have seldom seen the eye of a needle so skilfully widened and it is therefore quite right that we should pursue the matter and put a few more questions, because it is a matter of great interest and relevance to this discussion that the Commonwealth Immigrants Act only figures in the Bill because it is, and was introduced as, a temporary Measure.

That situation makes it all the more incumbent upon us to examine this Money Resolution carefully. Of course, all Money Resolutions should be examined carefully but in a case where an Act is temporary it is all the more necessary for us to see what changes are made from year to year. Many people in the country do not appreciate that the Act was not introduced as a permanent piece of legislation. It was only got through the House because it was said that it would last only twelve months and that we should have full opportunity to reexamine it after that period. Thus, many of us who are concerned with the subsequent debates on the subject are not limited in any way by the Money Resolution.

We now have a peculiar situation under the new White Paper on Immigration, part of which we shall be discussing next week. The White Paper proposes many further measures for limiting or controlling immigration in different forms and this Money Resolution presumably indicates how much the Exchequer will have to contribute to deal with the new proposals involved in the White Paper.

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting wider than the Money Resolution which applies only to the Bill which will continue the Commonwealth Immigrants Act and not to the White Paper.

Mr. Foot

I was directing my remarks to that part of the White Paper which is dealt with under this Bill, Sir Samuel. I realise that it is only one part of the White Paper but under the White Paper's proposals are made for extending the control over immigration into this country.

The Chairman

Order. We cannot discuss those proposals now but only what come under this Resolution Bill.

Mr. Foot

I understand that, Sir Samuel, but I would have thought it proper for us to establish tonight that the debate which we shall have in Committee on the Bill will not in any way be limited by the form of the Money Resolution. What some of us are seeking to ensure now is that our rights of debate in Committee on the Bill are not in any way circumscribed by the Money Resolution which we now have to pass.

It would not help us much next week if we were told, when we wanted to discuss something in the Bill, that we cannot do so because we have passed a Money Resolution which has laid down a figure. We want to clear up the matter now rather than be called up by the Chair next week. I would rather be called up by the Chair tonight than next week, although perhaps that will happen on both occasions.

We want to be clear that this Money Resolution will not limit the fullest discussion of the fresh proposals made in the White Paper in so far as they are covered by this Bill. If we can have an undertaking of that nature it will go a considerable way to relieving any anxiety we might have about it. But on the basis of this Money Resolution and the explanation given in the Explanatory Memorandum it is difficult to understand whether this will be so or not because the numerous proposals which are included in the White Paper will, in my opinion, cost more than is suggested in the Explanatory Memorandum.

10.15 p.m.

Therefore, I want to make sure that the amounts to which we are now agreeing do not in any way limit the full debate which many of us will wish to have next week on a matter which we regard as of the first importance and of the first principle for the country, and which we wish to have debated so that everybody in the country can understand it. I hope that the Financial Secretary will assure us that the Resolution is drawn in such a manner that the debate will not be limited in any sense whatever.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I want to ask about the provisions of Part VII of the Licensing Act, 1964, which are to be continued and for which we are now being asked to approve money. I want to ask one straight question of the Government so that perhaps we can avoid discussion later. How much are we being asked to provide for the continuation of these provisions of the Licensing Act and how long do the Government propose to go on having a licensing planning provision, about which we have debated so often in the past?

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Niall MacDermot)

I have listened fascinated to the debate, as I always do when hon. Members attempt to keep within the rules of order for a debate on a Money Resolution. I am a mere Financial Secretary and I can give very little assistance to my hon. Friends. All I have come to do is to debate in Committee the terms of the Money Resolution which, as I understand it, is all that is in order. I have been asked many intriguing questions which I cannot answer and, if I could answer them, I would be out of order in doing so—whether the money which it is proposed should be made available could be better used in other ways, whether the Minister of Health will have sufficient powers to exercise proper controls, and whether the Home Office has worked out its costs properly. All these are matters of which I am in complete ignorance, but I suggest that the Committee is not concerned with it. The only question is whether the terms of the Money Resolution are satisfactory.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) of course directed his mind exclusively to a relevant matter, namely, the terms of the Resolution and whether debate in Committee on the Bill itself would be restricted by the terms of this Money Resolution. I can assure him that I have drafted it to the best of my powers— at least, sanctioned it; I must not pretend too much—in the fervent hope and belief that it will not restrict my hon. Friend in any way. It is in the most general terms and I cannot see any way in which it would restrict debates in the Committee stage of the Bill. I am comforted by the thought that my hon. Friend has not suggested one.

The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) asked an interesting question, but even though it dealt with a financial matter, namely, how much Parliament would be asked to provide if a particular provision were renewed, that is something which should be raised in the Committee stage of the Bill itself, and I am unable to assist him.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to continue certain expiring laws, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of such expenses as may be occasioned by the continuance of section 3 of the Emergency Laws (Repeal) Act 1959 and Part I of, and Schedule 1 to, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 till the end of December 1966, and of Part VII of the Licensing Act 1964 till the end of March 1967, being expenses which under any Act are to be paid out of such moneys.

Resolution to be reported.

Report to be received Tomorrow.