HC Deb 16 May 1968 vol 764 cc1374-8
7. Mr. Gresham Cooke

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will take steps to set up a register in which all immigrants residing in the United Kingdom would be asked to enter claims they have to wives or children still residing overseas and to arrange that such a register shall be closed in six months' time.

24. Sir D. Renton

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will ask all male Commonwealth immigrants over the age of 21 years on their arrival in the United Kingdom to state the names, addresses and ages of dependants or further dependants whom they wish to join them in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Callaghan

The compilation of a register of dependants was attempted in 1965 but found to be of little practical value. Nevertheless I am having the matter examined again to see if such a system can be introduced.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that sympathetic response. Will he bear in mind that a register would give immigration officers something to work on, towns like Birmingham and Bradford would know the number of immigrants to expect in future, and the matter would then be brought under control?

Mr. Callaghan

If the register was accurate and was maintained accurately, I have no doubt that that would be so, but there were practical difficulties last time. I would not want to foreshadow now that it would be possible to introduce it, but it would be much more administratively convenient if we did so, and it would do no harm to anybody who seeks to come here. That is why I am considering whether it is possible to overcome the administrative difficulties.

Sir D. Renton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what is worrying people more than anything else is the open-ended commitment to admit a large and unspecified number of dependants, and would not the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and myself enable that commitment to be first measured, and then limited, in addition to helping to stop evasion?

Mr. Callaghan

That is an exaggeration of the position. A number of dependants have not yet joined the breadwinner who, because he came in before 1962, was not registered. Since then there has been control and the number of vouchers issued each year has steadily declined. Once the backlog has been worked off it will be possible, on the basis of the average size of a family, to say how many will be coming here.

Mr. Mapp

Is my hon. Friend aware that a declaration of family responsibility by voucher holders already here, and voucher holders who will be coming here in future, would be a considerable asset to his Department in arranging that sort of thing? Will my right hon. Friend promise to look sympathetically at the principle of that suggestion?

Mr. Callaghan

That is exactly why I am having the matter re-examined. I recognise the advantages of having a register if we can get one. That is why I said in my original reply that I am looking into the matter with great care.

9. Mr. Gurden

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has now made of the number of immigrant children to be allowed into Great Britain as dependants during the next three months, in order that local authorities may be enabled to plan to provide educational and other facilities.

Mr. Callaghan

It is not possible to give a reliable estimate.

Mr. Gurden

As it is the Government's policy to keep an open door for all dependants, does not the right hon. Gentleman have a responsibility to let local authorities know just what the commitments are to enable them to meet their statutory obligations with regard to services such as education and welfare?

Mr. Callaghan

If I understand it aright, it is the policy of the House of Commons, including the Conservative Party, to allow dependants to come here. The hon. Gentleman may dissociate himself from his party, but that has been the view and the policy of both parties in this country. I believe that it is humane and civilised and that we should maintain the right of dependants to join the breadwinners in this country. Once the backlog has been worked off, we shall be able to determine much more accurately what is likely to be the number of children arriving. I asked specifically what is the number involved, in view of the rather emotive phrase "open door." The number of children arriving over the last six months has been going down. Last October it was 3,835. That was the first of the months for which I asked. In March it was 2,661, which was 1,200 fewer.

Mr. Victor Yates

Is my right hon. Friend aware that although priorities have been offered to the city of Birmingham, the council has not applied for any additional building in recent times? Does not that attitude smack of humbug and hypocrisy?

Mr. Callaghan

Officials of the Home Office are in touch with the city of Birmingham at the moment. I shall wait with interest to see what practical proposals the council puts forward for dealing with this matter.

Mr. Hogg

I understand that it is the official policy of the Labour Party to keep these matters out of party politics, which hardly seams to be the tenor of the last supplementary question. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will answer this supplementary question, which is not unkindly meant: does he realise that a great deal of the anxiety revolves around abuse, namely, suppositious relatives coming in under a false guise, and will he constantly attend to the question of how to prevent impersonations and fraud?

Mr. Callaghan

I am aware that there is a widespread belief that evasions are practised. I can only say that the investigations which I carry out show that a great many of the intended evasions are prevented, and they do not enter the country where there is an attempt at evasion. Clearly this will go on. People want to come to this country. The attempts to evade will continue, but I do not at the moment believe that there is a great deal of evasion, although there is no doubt that there are many attempts at it.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the recent demand of the Birmingham City Council to keep all immigrants of this kind out of Birmingham is totally impracticable? Is my right hon. Friend also aware that this is part of a politically motivated campaign, and will he call on the official Opposition to dissociate themselves from it?

Mr. Callaghan

I think that that question was not addressed to me. At any rate, it bounced over my head on to the benches opposite. I am waiting to hear what proposals Birmingham City Council has to put forward which are practical and which can be carried out in a free society such as we have.

19. Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimates he has made of the number of dependants who are entitled to entry under the present Commonwealth Immigration Act, but who have not yet availed themselves of such entitlement.

Mr. Callaghan

The average rate of settlement from both old and new Commonwealth countries since the Commonwealth immigration control was introduced has been 57,000 annually. There is a backlog of dependants who have not yet joined the men who were admitted before the passing of the 1962 Act as well as the families of those admitted since the Act. In the light of the drastic cut in the issue of work vouchers as well as other restrictions enforced in the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1968, the numbers entering for settlement will begin to fall when the arrears have been overtaken. But it is not possible to make a reliable estimate as to how many will seek to enter the United Kingdom in a particular year.

Mr. Biffen

In view of the rational and dispassionate basis on which the right hon. Gentleman wants this subject discussed—I refer to his answer to a supplementary question on Question No. 17—does he not think that that spirit would be very considerably enhanced if this information were made available? Will he commission a study to obtain a general guide as to the extent of the present commitment?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, Sir. I have, in fact, instituted recently at London Airport a new series of questions to try to determine how dependents are now arriving, related both to the work vouchers now being issued, to those issued since 1962 and those issued before 1962. It will be only by a process of extrapolation that I shall be able to make deductions from that.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the figure is too high? What steps does he propose to take to reduce it?

Mr. Callaghan

That question has been debated many times. It is the policy of both sides that dependants should not be prevented from joining the breadwinner; and at present they are the overwhelming majority of people arriving here.