HC Deb 22 July 1968 vol 769 cc40-9
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)

I apologise to the House for a second statement.

The Government have now completed the first stage of their study of urban areas facing acute social problems in the fields of education, housing, health and welfare. Many of these areas include concentrations of immigrants.

The study shows that large and expanding programmes are already having an impact in each of the main social services concerned and that in education and housing in particular, and in areas of immigrant settlement, priorities have been established within existing policies to increase the flow of aid to particular areas of special need.

Nevertheless, there remain areas of severe social deprivation in a number of our cities and towns—often scattered in relatively small pockets. They require special help to meet their social needs and to bring their physical services to an adequate level.

The Government propose to initiate an urban programme to help tackle the social problems of the communities concerned. Action will be required on a number of fronts and the programme must necessarily be a continuing one. I propose to open discussions with the local authority associations and seek their co-operation in working out the basis on which help can most effectively be provided. Corresponding discussions in Scotland would be carried out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

But I can inform the House that the Government are prepared to introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity to provide a new specific grant, in addition to the existing rate support grant to assist this programme. Under Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966, grants are already payable in respect of expenditure on staff in areas of immigrant settlement.

The new grant will be payable to other areas, including any in Scotland, that meet the necessary conditions, and in respect of any item of expenditure falling within the programme. Its percentage rate will be a matter for discussion with the local authority associations. Subject to Parliament passing the necessary legislation, the new grant will be payable retrospectively on expenditure incurred under the programme in the present financial year. The extra cost of this new and additional aid has been set against general economies made in the course of the normal processes of managing the expenditure programmes.

Meanwhile, to ensure an early start in launching the programme, the Government are prepared to sanction expenditure of some £20 to £25 million over the next four years, starting forthwith. They propose to select a number of local authorities where it is already clear that urgent needs exist and to settle direct with them projects which could proceed with least delay. In the first year, it is expected that these projects will be mainly in the field of nursery education and child care and will cover the provision of buildings, staff, equipment and. other items of expenditure.

The purpose of this programme is to supplement the Government's other social and legislative measures to ensure as far as we can that all our citizens have an equal opportunity in life.

Mr. Hogg

I am sure that the House is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that statement before we separate for the Recess. Will he note that when statements of this kind are contemplated it would be convenient if they were in the hands of the Opposition before they were actually delivered? We shall, naturally, want to digest this statement rather more fully than I have been able to, but, in the meantime, may I welcome the fact that the statement contains, not a direct relationship to race, but to an equal opportunity in life for all our citizens?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also accept that if this is to have its optimum effect where we hope it will he will have to satisfy the country that he has adequate control over inflow into the country as regards possible abuse, terms of entry, and orderly settlement where reception can be possible? Does he recognise that much of the present unrest is due to disquiet about those matters?

Mr. Callaghan

I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not get the statement first. As always in the last week of the Session, a number of statements will be made during the next few days, and under the guidance of the Lord Privy Seal I thought it best to isolate this one this afternoon to give the House the earliest opportunity of hearing it.

As regards the separate but related question of immigration—and it is separate, although obvious related—I agree that there must be continued control over the inflow of immigrants. At present, a rigid control is exercised which allows newcomers to the country to enter on condition that their entry here aids our economy in one form or another. Of course, we have arriving the dependants of those who have already been here for some time, but that is another problem.

The Commonwealth Immigrants Act of March, 1968, enabled us to clear up some of the abuses. I can assure the House that the police and others concerned are very vigilant in this matter.

Mrs. Renée Short

I warmly welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about the money to be spent on nursery projects during the first year of this aid. Are all the towns mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his Birmingham speech, likely to get some help from the aid that he has promised? If so, on what sort of basis is the aid to be given?

Mr. Callaghan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In the early stage, what the Government feel is the best way of tackling the problem is to define needs rather than areas. Once we establish the criteria of need local authorities will soon identify themselves and the areas to which they apply. One of the matters that I shall discuss with the local authority associations is how to define all major needs.

The local authorities now enjoying Section 11 help will continue to enjoy it, and I hope to expand the definition of Section 11 when I bring legislation before the House, after I have discussed the matter with the local authorities.

Sir D. Renton

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement, but did I understand him to say that the money allocated to the immigrant areas would not be at the expense of areas receiving large numbers under the Town Development Act? Bearing in mind that contained large-scale net increases of immigrants will merely mean that we shall have to have a still further allocation— perhaps next year—will he take very seriously the request made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) to watch and do something about the question of a large-scale increase?

Mr. Callaghan

On the question of the relationship between areas, it will not be necessary to make any specific reduction in the programme of expenditure of one local authority to pay for the programme of another local authority. As I said in my statement—the right hon. Gentleman was quite correct—the general control of public expenditure and the savings that the Chancellor has been able to make in his continuing review are enabling us to improve on this programme in the years ahead. That is a gain. The control of immigrants is a matter with which the House and the country is very much concerned, and one to which I shall continue to give my attention.

Mr. Whitaker

Will my right hon. Friend reiterate the fact that many urban areas have inherited grave and serious social problems irrespective of immigration, and resist any classical politically motivated attempts to make immigrants the scapegoats for this purpose?

Mr. Callaghan

It is for this reason that the statement I have made covers areas of need where there is social deprivation among any citizens and not merely those who are coloured or those who are immigrants. I have had the figures got out. I hope that it will not be regarded as too much of a party point if I say that they show a tremendous increase.

The expenditure on health and welfare, child care, housing and education in 1963–64 in the areas that now receive Section 11 help was £450 million. For the year 1968–69 that £450 million, in the case of those areas alone, has increased to £860 million. There has been a tremendous improvement.

Mr. Heath

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome the statement which he has made? May I say how wise I think he is that this should extend to deprived areas as a whole and not be tied particularly to the problems of immigrant areas? I believe that this in itself will help to maintain reasonable relations, if not to improve the relations which now exist.

Will the right hon. Gentleman, in observing the number of immigrants—on which he has said that he is keeping a very close watch—consider whether it is not necessary to take stronger powers for the better regulation of the flow of those coming into this country as dependants and the continued entry of those that he believes are required for our economy? This in itself would reduce some fears and tensions. The help that he will give to deprived areas will not be most effective unless these fears are removed by better control and regulation, and the reduction of the numbers coming in.

Mr. Callaghan

It was the basis of the original plan put forward by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his Birmingham speech, that expenditure must be on the basis of need. He said then that the immigration problem is only one factor—although an important factor —in the assessment of social need. I am certain that that is the right approach, and I am grateful to the Opposition for saying that they agree.

Although immigration is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, I watch the inflow of those to whom work vouchers are given and I know that their numbers are closely related to the economic needs of the country. Whatever may have been the case in the past, I do not believe that it can be argued now that large numbers of people are arriving here who are not going to contribute materially, either through a professional occupation or a skilled occupation of one sort or another.

We get into much greater difficulties over the flow of the dependants of those who arrived in the unregulated years. Although I am considering, and have considered, the use of such things as entry certificates, quotas and the rest— because I recognise that this is a very important problem and that great sensitivities are involved—I would not at this stage like to say that there are proposals which will reduce the flow of dependants, but a natural decrease will take place because the number of voucher holders arriving is now that much smaller.

Mr. Pavitt

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the day spent by his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in my constituency last Monday—and my constituency has the highest number of immigrants of any in the country—was greatly appreciated? Will he regard as a matter of urgency the problem of the September opening of schools, the need for more personnel, and the important problems that he was able to discuss with my education officer?

Mr. Callaghan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Under-Secretary of State has visited about 15 areas during the course of the Government's consideration of this study of the urban areas, and what he has been able to discuss with the local authorities has added materially to our information. It is for this reason, and the recommendations that he brought back, that we believe that in the first place, in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, provision should be made in nursery education and child care in the first year.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement—which we shall want to study in full—is to be welcomed to the extent that it seeks to provide equality of opportunity for all our citizens and to give local authorities financial assistance to achieve this?

May I ask two questions? First, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the £20 million to £25 million vote to which he has referred will be sufficient to assist local authorities in starting projects urgently needed in the confident expectation of retrospective payment? Secondly, since he has mentioned his projected talks with the A.M.C. and the C.C.A., does not he think that that is an added reason why we should move quickly in setting up an all-party committee of the House to discuss the racial matter and so remove some of the controversy from party politics?

Mr. Callaghan

The £20 million to £25 million spread over four years is intended to be devoted not only to revenue, but capital projects. I have made a detailed list of such projects which, I believe, could be started relatively quickly which would aid these areas.

The question whether it will be sufficient or not is a matter to be discussed. It must be considered against the general background of Government expenditure, but on the basis of the information that I have been given it will make a substantial impact in the areas of greatest need.

As for the question of an all-party committee, I am at this moment ready to submit proposed terms of reference to the parties concerned, and I hope for the cooperation of everyone in setting it up.

Mr. English

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the areas concerned will appreciate the aid offered by his proposals? But does not he also think that in respect of education, at least, it would be simpler and cheaper if he accepted the proposal turned down by Her Majesty's Opposition when in power and, I understand, by the Front Bench here, to restrict the immigration of non-English-speaking people, irrespective of the colour of their skins?

Mr. Callaghan

The restriction on aliens, as distinct from Commonwealth citizens, if that is what my hon. Friend refers to—

Mr. English


Mr. Callaghan

Well, that includes many aliens, anyway—[Laughter.] I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not qualifying for reference to the Race Relations Board.

The aliens who come here do so, on the whole, for a relatively short period, and, therefore, do not use the educational services which we are discussing. The disabilities which we are trying to remove under education are those which were pinpointed by Plowden—poor schools, overcrowded schools and children in trouble—and the criteria of need which chat Committee established.

Sir E. Boyle

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the discussions with the local authority associations will cover both the additional projects which can be approved over the next four years and also the level of financial aid which will be given by the Government? Is he aware that, from the point of view of an authority like Birmingham, with severe needs, the level of financial aid which can be made available is important as well as the quantity of extra projects which may be approved by the Government?

Mr. Callaghan

The answer to both questions is, "Yes, Sir."

Miss Lestor

While, of course, being very interested in and pleased about this announcement of help for immigrant areas, may I ask my right hon. Friend what plans he has or has discussed for the very real problem of the number of non-English-speaking children, coming, particularly to my constituency, who will be leaving school within the next few years with an inadequate education, especially so far as this relates to speaking English, because this will be the main problem which we will all have to face, in terms of employment, in the near future?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes. That would, I think, qualify under Section 11 as it is drawn now, but the question of adult education for such people is one of the matters which I would want to discuss with local authorities, to see what help they needed under this programme.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the very important housing effort in Birmingham depends not only on finance but also on the necessary land being made available?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that what he has said about nursery schools will be received with considerable satisfaction generally? When does he expect the consequences of these measures to be felt in the constituencies, and what arrangements are particularly likely in reference to the rather complicated situation in London in respect of the I.L.E.A. and the London boroughs?

Mr. Callaghan

I could not answer my hon. Friend's query about the I.L.E.A. and the London boroughs at the moment, but I would hope to see projects started in the current year, if, as I understand, Parliament were willing to give retrospective sanction to such expenditure as may be incurred. In other words, subject to the Queen's Speech, which I obviously cannot foresee, I hope that legislation might be introduced early next Session.

Mr. Tilney

Since there are areas of old immigration, such as Merseyside, which have been much more successful in integration than other areas, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that such areas will not be penalised because of their success?

Mr. Callaghan

I emphasise again that the approach is on the basis of need and not of area or even of whether the immigration is new or old. Where these areas exist, we should try to pinpoint them, and then they will identify themselves—whether they are old areas, where integration has gone well, or new areas, where it has hardly started.

Mr. Orme

On the subject of the extra aid for day nurseries, the area which I represent does not have a large immigrant population, but has a large special area problem such as my right hon. Friend mentioned. Is it not a little ironic that, in that area, day nurseries are now being closed, yet my right hon. Friend is proposing extra grants? What measures will he take to see that these facilities which he proposes are used by the local authorities concerned?

Mr. Callaghan

There is, of course, a distinction between day nurseries and nursery schools, but I would ask my hon. Friend to leave this over for us to have discussions with the local authorities during the Recess, when, perhaps, I can report further later.

Mr. Sandys

While welcoming measures to help local authorities with special difficulties, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in view of the acute overcrowding in certain areas, he does not consider it to be reasonable that immigrants who wish to bring in dependants should be required to satisfy the immigration authorities that there is adequate accommodation available in the area concerned?

Mr. Callaghan

This is a problem which needs, and is under, consideration, but I know of no way, so far, in which it can be successfully solved.

Several Hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must protect the business of the House.