HC Deb 14 April 1970 vol 799 cc1208-10
Q3. Mr. Iremonger

asked the Prime Minister if he will call a conference of Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth countries concerned to discuss arrangements for the permanent settlement in Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Pakistan and the United Kingdom of British passport holders who wish to emigrate from the African Common-wealth nations of which they are unwilling or unable to become citizens and the stopping of all other immigration into the United Kingdom forthwith and finally.

Q5. Mr. Judd

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his communications with Prime Ministers and Presidents of Commonwealth countries concerning the position of unemployed British citizens and passport holders in Commonwealth countries.

The Prime Minister

There are no plans for a special conference and there have been no such communications but there is continuing contact with other Commonwealth Governments on immigration matters.

Mr. Iremonger

Why should we shut out thousands of people who have an absolute right to come here while we are letting in hundreds of thousands of people who have no particular right at all?

The Prime Minister

The House took the decision on this extremely difficult matter. It raised difficulties for many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House. This was a decision of the House. There will be general agreement that my right hon. Friend has administered that decision with considerable humanity and fairness on the basis that he did not wish to allow queue-jumping. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, I need not go into all the arguments on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and during the Third Reading.

Mr. Judd

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that whatever our criticisms of racialism wherever it occurs, and even our reservations about the motives of some of those who have sought British citizenship in the past, citizenship is such a fundamental human and civil right that the Government at all times have its protection in mind? Could he assure the House, in view of the predicament of some British citizens abroad, that any administrative actions or policy pronouncements are the considered collective view of the Cabinet as a whole?

The Prime Minister

Yes, sir. My right hon. Friend in administering this matter is acting within general Government policy. I know my hon. Friend will have the fullest regard for and will support his fairness in administering it. Difficult individual questions are involved. Sometimes if one is lenient in one particular case it means being unfair to other people who might have a stronger case. Whatever the legal position, it is a fact that more than half of those who have registered for entry into this country were not born in this country or in Kenya, but were born in India. We have extremely friendly and constructive discussions continuing on this matter all the time. I do not think I should add to what I have said.

Mr. Thorpe

Has the Prime Minister read the recent report of the British Council of Churches showing the destitution in which many Kenya Asians of British descent are living today, and can he say whether there is any precedent in our history for a British passport holder being detained without trial in a British prison for the offence of trying to enter Britain?

The Prime Minister

I cannot comment on any questions affecting trials or matters of law. As for the question of destitution and hardship, naturally the Government have studied this report and are concerned about what is said in it. I am advised by my right hon. Friend that we have no details of any case where the delay in issuing a special quota voucher has caused great hardship to the applicant. I read a very moving Press report this morning. Inquiries are always made at our High Commission in Nairobi about any special hardship cases. Those who would try to evade the immigration controls and the laws made by us by attempting to jump the queue lead to their experiencing some degree of hardship, and it is also unfair to others in the queue who may have a stronger case.

Dr. Gray

Will my right hon. Friend agree that it would be shameful if British passport holders became homeless refugees, and that, in the last resort, they must be allowed to come to this country?

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend said in answer to a similar question. He has exercised control with great humanity. But the House should realise what the situation would be if it were to relax all controls or, as my hon. Friend seems to be suggesting, there were some question of repealing the Act.