HC Deb 19 October 1971 vol 823 cc634-45

Lords Amendment: No. 45, in page 28, line 22, at end insert: (2) The Secretary of State shall, so far as practicable, administer this section so as to secure that a person's expenses in leaving the United Kingdom are not met by or out of a payment made by the Secretary of State unless it is shown that it is in that person's interest to leave the United Kingdom and that he wishes to do so.

Mr. Maudling

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Speaker

I call the attention of the House to the fact that privilege is involved in this Amendment.

Mr. Maudling

During the passage of the Bill fear was expressed that Clause 29, or powers under it, might be used to harass people or drive them out of this country against their will. I have made it clear on a number of occasions that I can see nothing in the Bill which would give anyone any power to do that which he has not got at the moment. Nevertheless these doubts and fears continued, and the Government came to the conclusion that if this scheme was to be successful, as we hope, and to be run by a first-rate voluntary organisation of which the House is well aware, it would be wise to put in this Amendment, which is declaratory in effect.

The Amendment says that this Clause shall be administered so as to ensure that people do not have their expenses met in leaving the United Kingdom unless it is clear that they wish to do so and it is in their interests to do so. Obviously no one wishes to throw anyone out of the country unless he wishes to go. The whole purpose of the scheme is to repatriate people who want to go home. We want to cover every situation in which people may be harassed or pressurised to say that they want to go, people who are not going of their own free will but because they have been harassed, pressured or blackmailed.

The purpose of the Amendment is to allay a fairly widespread anxiety in the House and outside and to make it clear, as was always the intention of the Government, that the payment of expenses of people returning should be only for people who genuinely want to go.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

This Amendment is of great importance, and we support it. The whole question of repatriation was well discussed during the passage of the Bill and, indeed, it has been one of the major issues discussed in the country as a whole in recent years. The Home Secretary is correct in saying that he has made his view clear. He summarised it when he said that the aim of the Clause was to help people who cannot fit in and want to go elsewhere, as opposed to reducing the population. On Second Reading he said: The Government do not believe in large-scale repatriation. It is wrong because it would not work and the attempt to make it work would be enormously damaging to what I see as the real objective of our policy, namely, to improve community relations among people already here. The view of the Government could not be clearer. The Home Secretary went on to say: It would not be right to pay the fares home of those who can afford to pay them themselves. If people can afford to pay and want to leave this country, it is obviously a bribe to them to go. How can we reconcile that with our desire to make one single community in this country ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1971; Vol. 813, c. 53.] The view of the right hon. Gentleman, speaking on behalf of the Government, is absolutely clear and is in contradistinction to the view of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who said: I believe there is a disposition to administer as well as to draw, the provision in the Bill in a very restrictive manner. I have to tell him … —the Home Secretary— … that if that were so, it would be at variance with what has been said to the country on behalf of this party …". The right hon. Gentleman will recall that he quoted from the Prime Minister's speeches in Ipswich in 1967 and in Walsall in 1969. The right hon. Gentleman said: Nobody who listened to what the Conservative Party has said on this subject, both during the General Election and in the years before, could have supposed that there was any intention to limit the availability. He summed it all up by saying: If my right hon. Friend administers these provisions in a restrictive manner, he will incur a grave responsibility."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1971; Vol. 813, c. 84.] This Amendment, especially in the words at the end— … unless it is shown that it is in that person's interest to leave the United Kingdom and that he wishes to do so reinforces the views expressed on many occasions by the Home Secretary, and that is why we support it.

In Committee we were informed that a voluntary organisation was to administer this Part of the Bill—International Social Service. We were told the Government's intentions. I hope I am in order in asking how the I.S.S. is to administer this scheme. Is it to be given the amended Clause and told that that is the Government's intention? Given a different procedure there are many other questions which we could ask. How are we to be sure that the person "wishes to do so" and that it is "in that person's interest" to leave the United Kingdom? What rules, regulations and instructions will be given to I.S.S.? We believe the Clause is admirable and shall support it.

Mr. Powell

I shall not use this Lords Amendment as a means for opening again the issue of the scope and importance of the system of repatriation. I am the less tempted to do so because the lion. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) has briefly, but clearly, reminded the House of the large difference of view which exists between myself and my right lion. Friend. I would simply say, as a footnote, that there is no difference between myself and my right hon. Friend as to what is one of the purposes of this Amendment; namely, to ensure that assisted repatriation, large or small as its scope may be—or ought to be—is, in the fullest sense of the term, voluntary.

I come to the Amendment itself, and I wish to ask two questions of detail about it which are really matters of interpretation, and then to make a point of more substance.

The first question relates to the expression a person's expenses in leaving the United Kingdom …". I assume that in the case where the expenses paid include the travel expenses for members of a family or household the person here is solely the head of the household or head of the family because, if it could be interpreted more widely, we would have what I feel would be the absurd requirement that it should be ascertained that each member of a family—which might include members who were minors and very young indeed—wish to leave the United Kingdom. I hope that that is not ambiguous. I take it that the intention is that these tests, as it were, which have been introduced by the Amendment should apply to the head of the family. That is the first point on which I should be grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's clarification.

The second point was trenched upon by the hon. Member for Leeds, South and relates to the phrase, "it is shown that". There is nothing in the Amendment which indicates to whom it must be shown. The natural interpretation of the Clause, in the absence of any indication, would be that it would be shown to the Secretary of State.

After all, he is the only authority who is mentioned in the Clause. If the requirement were that this should be shown to the Secretary of State, we should have a familiar position. We should have a position which exists under many Statutes where the Secretary of State acts on a judgment he has formed and, having formed that judgment, he is responsible to the House and is open to criticism upon the facts of the case for the judgment at which he had arrived. But if there is to be an agency, as we have understood, for the discharge of the Secretary of State's functions, then it would appear that the requirement was merely that it should be shown to the agency.

If this is so, if it is only the agency and not the Secretary of State as the Secretary of State to whom the fulfilment of these conditions must be shown, then at least two difficulties arise. One has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Leeds, South. What are we to be told and what control is there to be over the procedure of this body which is exercising, as deputy or agency, a statutory function and is also applying public money in its discharge of a quasijudicial function which is involved in the words "it is shown"?

7.45 p.m.

The second question which arises is: how are we to call that body to account for its administration? Is the Secretary of State to be as completely responsible to this House as if there were no agency interposed between himself and the exercise of the power which he takes by this Clause of the Bill? That is the second question to which I hope my right hon. Friend will reply: to whom does it have to be shown that these conditions are fulfilled?

I now come to the two new conditions which are inserted by the Amendment. To the second of those, I take it there can be no possible difficulty, namely, the condition that the person "wishes to do so". The difficulty I see is in regard to the first of the two conditions, namely, that it is in that person's interest to leave the United Kingdom. I entirely accept the explanation given by my right hon. Friend for the purpose of those words and entirely accept that it is desirable as far as possible to exclude an extorted consent, a pressurised wish. But I am afraid that the Amendment goes far beyond the fulfilment of that intention.

As the Amendment stands, it would not be sufficient for the applicant fully to satisfy whatever authority is concerned that he wants to go home. But under these terms, the authority could then go on to consider in its own discretion and on its own judgment whether, in its opinion, it was in his interest to do so. That seems to me to be highly objectionable. If we are to provide assistance for repatriation, then having once established that the applicant is genuinely desirous of going home it does not seem to me right that persons who may well have no idea of the cultural or other background of the individual, and in any case persons whose business it is not to form such a judgment, then go on to calculate whether, in their view, he will be the gainer by going home or not.

There are many people who would gladly go home and who would accept assistance to go home of whom, to anyone else, it could be demonstrated that it was against their interest. They might be going home to worse conditions economically. They might be going home to a country—one can think of such a country at present—torn by strife. Yet I do not think it can be the intention of this House to withhold from such persons, if their genuine voluntariness is established, the opportunity of returning home.

I say to my right hon. Friend that, in the haste of the concluding stages of this legislation in another place, this Amendment was dangerously misdrafted. Though I accept that he may be able to impose—we do not know this—on the administration of the Clause the very narrow limitation he indicated in moving the Amendment, the words as they stand are unconscionably and unacceptably wide. We are at this stage of the legislation, under the pressure of our procedure, but we ought not to be putting into this Clause a discretionary expression as wide as that.

Mr. David Steel

I have some sympathy with the final point made by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). Indeed, I would say that there would have been a difference in drafting if the Amendment had suggested, not that positively it must be shown that it was in the person's interest, but negatively that it should be shown that it was not against his interest. That would have been a clearer phrase than the affirmative wording of the Amendment.

I calculate that this is the fifth occasion in the two Houses on which this subject has been discussed. It illustrates a fundamental point, which is that if a clear case is made out that there is a need to amend Clause 29, the Amendment should have been considered and a more generous attitude taken to it in Committee. The reason why we now question the drafting is that, at the very last stage, after five separate discussions, the Government have now conceded a point that they might have conceded earlier.

To go back over the history of this matter, those of us who looked at the Bill originally thought that the repatriation provision in Clause 29 was dangerous, We did so for two reasons. The first was that it was liable to misinterpretation among the immigrant community already here. The second was that it was liable to misinterpretation by any future Administration.

When this argument was first put forward on Second Reading, the Government shrugged it off. However, in Committee, the very divisions of opinion in the Conservatice Party about what was promised before the election and what was the intention about the scale of repatriation made us more convinced of the need for this Amendment. We query the drafting now simply because of the lateness of this obvious concession which, had it been made earlier, would have done much to remove some basic objections to the Bill.

Mr. Bidwell

Without doubt, the Home Secretary's statement in Committee in answer to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) was a complete slap down to any notion of repatriation on a massive scale of those immigrant families who have come to this country in the past 15 years or so. The wording of the Lords Amendment ties up the position completely, so much so that I am obliged to rethink the attitude which I took in Committee, which was that it was wrong to put a Clause of this kind in the Bill at all. Indeed, that was argued from the Opposition side of the Committee. However, I think that history will judge whether the Clause was necessary.

These words add almost a new Clause to the Bill and contradict completely the earlier contributions of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. However, although the singular form is used— and that he wishes to do so"— the fear has been expressed that, under deportation arrangements or as a result of harassment, it would not remain in the singular but might be extended to wives and children and, having once got under way, might be extended still further. We no longer fear that situation, so long as we have a Statute of this kind.

In that connection, I am obliged to refer to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, because the concept of repatriation or assisted passages back to people's lands of origin on a fairly large scale, to which he has referred, especially in speeches outside this House, needs to be rebutted completely. That is not only an inhuman concept, which is now dealt with in this fundamental way by the Home Secretary; it is not in the national economic interest to do so.

In this case, the hard material facts of life go hand in hand with the genuine emotional content of our nation, which believes in the community and in a fair deal for all but which also believes that, when people are recruited overseas for employment in this country, they should have the right to be accompanied by their wives and families. That is the position in the Common Market, and it is now enshrined in this enactment in that Commonwealth citizens working here are given the statutory right to have their children and other dependent relatives with them. That is the view of both sides of the House, and it is underlined by this Amendment from the other place.

The possibility of harassment, pressure and campaigning in order to build up a head of steam amongst the indigenous population which might turn rapidly into a campaign of hatred against newcomers is no longer on the agenda. Certainly it is made less possible by the inclusion of these words.

When the concept of massive repatriation was first mooted, the indigenous working class population in my constituency at first considered it seriously. However, it then turned into a laughing matter. People felt that if there was to be a large-scale expenditure of public money on the repatriation of immigrants and their dependants, they, too, would like the chance to obtain assisted passages to other countries. Several Commonwealth countries give assistance to people who wish to go there as emigrants, but not all of them.

Another possibility advanced by my constituents was that other Commonwealth countries might go in on a large scale for paying the return fares of their immigrants who wanted to come home. Most hon. Members probably have experience of cases where people have emigrated to Canada, Australia or New Zealand, have been disappointed with their lot in those countries, and have wanted to return home. My information is that it is a hard grind to get back home, and I have relatives who have been in that situation.

To summarise, it is welcome news that large-scale repatriation with advertisements on display in post offices and so on is a non-starter. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South-West has been rebutted completely by the majority of his own party and by the united resolve of mine.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Clinton Davis

I have not overindulged the right hon. Gentleman in much praise during the debate but I congratulate him on the Amendment. The effect of which is to put an end to suggestions that people who genuinely did not want to go home of their own free will would be forced to do so. The only criticism that I make is that it is a pity that it was not suggested much earlier, because there has been great anxiety on the part of many immigrants about this provision. The right hon. Gentleman has been as good as his word in Committee, when he spelt out his feelings about the matter. They are now accurately reflected in the subsection.

The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) queried the provision that it has to be in that person's interest to leave the United Kingdom". It is difficult to think of any other adequate form of words which ensure that there would be no harassment on the part of certain people to induce others to say that they wanted to go home. It does not require the use of one's immagination too much to see how pressure can be brought upon people to say that they "voluntarily" wish to go home. The provision is just, and it is right that those two matters should be read conjunctively. I therefore hope that, as we near the end of our debate on perhaps one of the most important provisions in the Bill, the expression of opinion which has emanated from the right hon. Gentleman on this matter will be taken to heart by hon. Members opposite who have not always shared that view. This matter will reinforce the work of those who are engaged in the important duties of trying to create and preserve good relations between races. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Maudling

With the leave of the House, may I say that congratulations from the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) are rare indeed, though no less welcome? I should be out of order in saying timeo Danaos, et dona ferentes, but the hon. Gentleman will know what I mean. [Interruption.] "I am scared of compliments from the other side" is a rough translation.

As the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said, it is important that the work to be done under this Clause is undertaken by the International Social Service. We all recognise that it is a fine organisation, and we are indebted to it for taking on this job. I am particularly glad that it is doing so, because it stresses the fact that in the Government's view this is a social welfare operation. For that reason we cannot draw the Clauses too tightly. We do not want a rigid scheme. We must have a good deal of flexibility. It must be dealt with on a common-sense basis by practical people who know how to deal with individual cases which, as we have often said, cannot necessarily be specified in black and white in the Statute.

That is why I think that the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), although always valid, are not entirely consonant with the spirit of the scheme, the principle of which the House has generally endorsed—that it should be a social welfare or social service scheme worked by a private body at the invitation of the Secretary of State. Of course, the Secretary of State remains fully responsible to Parliament for what happens and for accounting for the money which he passes to that body to do that job. However, I hope that there will be as little interference as possible by Government Departments in the work of the International Social Service.

On the specific points raised by my right hon. Friend, first, I think that I am right in saying that "person" in the new subsection (2) would have the same meaning as "person" in subsection (1).

My right hon. Friend's second point was: to whom is it to be shown? The Amendment reads: The Secretary of State shall, so far as practicable"— that is a wise provision, because it is a difficult thing to draft— administer this section so as to secure that a person's expenses in leaving the United Kingdom are not met by or out of a payment made by the Secretary of State unless it is shown As I read it, it is for the Secretary of State to determine how this showing should be done. It will certainly not be by reference to him personally, and I should not have thought by reference to the Home Office. It is the job of the people administering the scheme to administer it, but it is the Secretary of State's responsibility to see that the scheme is drawn up in a way which enables them to administer it properly and efficiently.

That applies to the next phrase.

that it is in that person's interest". If one is legalistic, it is easy to say that the drafting is wide and loose. We thought about it a great deal. It is difficult to find anything better in the context of a social work organisation. As I interpret it, in common sense the person concerned will be asked first if he wants to go. This is fairly clear. This question should be asked. It may be that he wants to go only because he has been bullied and pressurised. We are trying to provide for that by saying that if he is applying we should make sure that it is in his interest to go; in other words, that he is not being bullied or pushed into doing something contrary to his interest by saying he wants to go. That is why it is difficult to lay it down in statutory form. To leave the provision only about wishing to do so and having nothing about its being in his interest would not meet the point.

Mr. Powell

In what objective sense could it be said to be in the interests of an East Bengali, who otherwise fulfilled the conditions, to return to his home village knowing perhaps that it had been devastated and was still in a dangerous area? Could anybody be satisfied that it was in his interest, and would the intention be that assistance should be withheld from him to return home?

Mr. Maudling

People will be satisfied that it is in his interest. If be wants to go back to his home and knows about those dangers, I see no reason for declaring that it is not in his interest to do so. The purpose is to prevent people being pressurised, not to prevent people genuinely using free intentions of their own.

Mr. Bidwell

I gather that the point which the I.S.S. should bear in mind is that he has not got the means to go home. This is what it would have to inquire into.

Mr. Maudling

The whole scheme is based on means in the original Clause 29. The purpose is that, in the best drafting we can devise, the scheme is not to be administered on a pedantic basis, but on a common-sense basis by a good organisation, and that the Secretary of State shall be accountable to the House for its administration. This seems the best way to meet the widely expressed wish that the scheme should not be used for any form of compulsory repatriation or of harassment or bullying.

For that reason I ask the House to accept the Lords Amendment.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]

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