§ Mr. Joel Barnett (Heywood and Roy-ton)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to comment on the Minister's remarks.
§ Mr. Barnett
On a poi It of order. I understood, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that on the Consolidated Fund it was open to any hon. Member to speak. We have been discussing a matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and I wish to comment on what has been said. Is there any reason why I should not be able to do so?
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
I find it hard to decide whether it is more odd or more typical of the House of Commons—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have ruled on it and there can be nothing further to it. Has the hon. Member a new point of order?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to remind him, he began by saying "Further to the point of order".
§ Mr. Lewis
Then I shall raise a point of order now, Mr. Deputy Speaker. While we all acknowledge that the calling of hon. Members to speak is completely within the control of the Chair, is it not custom and practice on the part of the occupant of the Chair to call, so far as possible, a Member from each side in turn, if there is one present and wishing to speak, to take part in the debate? With great respect, I am not for a moment suggesting that any partiality is shown by the Chair, but if two hon. Members from the same side are called to speak at a time when one from the other side wishes to speak, that might tend to show that partiality is being shown.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member raises this as a point of order. It is is hardly that. He mentioned matters of custom. It is for the Chair, as the hon. Member has acknowledged, to say who shall speak next. In practice, when a Minister has sat down the Chair moves to the next subject which has been mooted or agreed in the order of debate.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I in no way wish to dispute a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think it will be recognised that the speakers in the last debate were brief. In those circumstances it is not extraordinary that the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who has come in specially for the debate, should not be called, knowing full well that he will follow the tradition of brevity as is his wont?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Incidentally, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) had risen long before the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Joel Barnett) on the Opposition Front Bench, so I called him.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
It is extraordinary that the House of Commons should not have discussed the question of the Ugandan Asians at any time since the crisis broke during the summer. I do not want to initiate a general debate on this subject this evening. I do not think this would be the time or place to do so. I wish to speak specifically on 1443 the aspects of the subject which I tried to define when I put down my topic of the resettlement of the Ugandan Asians and the extent to which we are able to safeguard their financial interests.
The Government were right in their approach to this problem and in particular in admitting the Ugandan Asians to this country. Essentially the reason for this was that it was always understood that there were certain circumstances in which we would be bound to admit these categories of people.
When the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was Home Secretary, he said specifically:I was asked what we would do about a man who was thrown out of work and ejected from the country. We shall have to take him. We cannot do anything else in those circumstances."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 28th February, 1968; Vol 759, c. 1501.]He was speaking during the debate on the 1968 Act. I think that that statement did not have the force of law but was nevertheless a very clear undertaking. It is at least arguable that that statement was reinforced by the political asylum provisions of the convention relating to the status of refugees. I understand that the tenor of international law is that we were bound to take these people. Fundamentally it was a matter of humanity that led us to admit the Ugandan Asians.
I want to speak about how far humanity has been upheld by events—in other words how far, in tackling the resettlement problem, we have been able to behave in practice with as much humanity as we showed when we took the decision in principle. The purpose of this debate is to probe and so far as possible to try to establish how we have been able to look after this group of people and how they are settling in.
I am the first to acknowledge that the climate in which this operation has been carried out has not been easy. There is no point in denying that there has been considerable opposition in the country to the presence of the Ugandan refugees here or in denying that there are fears that go deeper than mere prejudice. I accept that a heavy concentration of immigrants is a serious problem. I accept that the housing shortage and unemployment are realities. I accept that 1444 concern for a way of life is a perfectly legitimate concern. If we look at the picture as a whole of what we have seen during the last few weeks, we can see that the best things in our own way of life, the things we most want to uphold—humanity and good sense, for example—have found expression and that in the way we have faced up to and accepted this challenge we have been able to show our way of life at its best.
The paid officials and the volunteers who have been dealing with the problem have entered into the task with enormous enthusiasm and they have sustained that enthusiasm. It is comparatively easy to rally round and to help those in dire need for a short period. It has been remarkable how the volunteers have gone on working in the camps rather than reacting for a short time to strong emotional pressure. Although there may have been some faltering in the early stages while it was being decided what should be done, and there may have been tactical errors and mishaps, I do not feel any sense of shame at the way the problem has been tackled. I believe that we can be proud of the way things have gone.
It is high time that the Government gave the House, as it is bound to do this evening, a progress report on the way the resettlement has been carried out. Housing is and has been the crux of the problem, even more so than employment. We also recognise that the two are linked, and this may be the source of special difficulties. I do not condemn local authorities which were not able or did not feel able to provide council housing for the immigrants. It would be unreasonable to say that local authorities should necessarily take on the paramount responsibility for housing the immigrants.
I congratulate those which responded to the plea. I congratulate, for example, the Aylesbury Rural District Council which has provided six council houses for immigrants. I do not condemn the Aylesbury borough authority for saying that it did not feel able to do the same. As a Member of Parliament I know only too well the pressure that exists on the housing lists. We all know of hard cases of people who have been waiting for council houses for a long time and who have strong claims. I cannot say that a local authority which decides to look after its 1445 own people rather than to house immigrants is wrong. To do otherwise could be counter-productive, because animosity and jealousy must be avoided at all costs.
I do not blame local authorities which have taken that line. To try to bludgeon them into taking Ugandan Asians could produce damaging hostility. Officially, I believe there was an attempt—perhaps "bludgeon" is too strong a word—to hurry the councils into action. There may have been some difficulty but I understand that since then the resettlement board has been acting in a "softly, softly" manner to see whether such help could be provided. That kind of discreet co-operation is the right approach to adopt.
If there is no over-riding necessity for local authorities to provide housing, the question must then be faced of how to provide the housing needed by the immigrants. Has enough been done to help immigrants to buy their own homes? I do not claim to have an intimate knowledge of the way of life of the Ugandan Asians but from what I have read and heard it seems that generally they would prefer to be home owners. That is their tradition and that is what they seek in this country.
I wonder whether something could be done to make mortgage smore easily available to immigrants or at least to find a way of topping up such loans and mortgages as may be available. Instead of insisting on council house provision, the right answer seems to be to see whether there are ways in which loans can be provided to enable immigrants to buy their own homes.
Of course there are some serious objections to that. It is difficult to set up a scheme to provide mortgages for people whose incomes, at least initially, may not be large enough. Even when two families are living in the same house, their combined incomes may still be below the required level. I also recognise that perhaps more serious difficulty of giving preference to an immigrant group over our own citizens, but I hope that it will be possible to override these two objections. In terms of the psychology of the situation, to reduce friction and to avoid excessive pressure on our council housing, some scheme of this kind would be a great advantage. There are many ways in which we help 1446 other groups through special loans and mortgage schemes.
I also hope that we will be able to give greater help to businessmen or potential businessmen in the immigrant community. There has been a strong entrepreneurial tradition among those who have come here. Cannot something be done to make loans available to these immigrants so that they can start up their own businesses, so that we can get them, as it might be put, off the backs of the Welfare State? There has been a good deal of talk about this over the last few weeks but so far nothing seems to have been done. I hope we can hear that something is under way.
Can we somehow use the assets which the immigrants have had to leave behind in Uganda as backing for loans? I know that this again raises difficulties, but some of these people own substantial amounts of money in Uganda. Although there will be some element of a gamble in this, it should be possible to construct some such scheme.
There is a precedent—not an exact one, I admit—in the experience of the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board, which operated at the end of the 1950s, and which ran an ex gratia loan scheme which lent about £7½ million to people who were evicted from Egypt at the time of the Suez operation.
This would not be an entirely novel idea. There was an interesting letter from Mr. S. C. Kothari in the Financial Times early in October in which he set out the kind of process that would be necessary. He talked about three stages in the operation—first, evaluating the assets; secondly, liquidating them; and thirdly, repatriating them. Evaluation presents some difficulties, which can be overcome, but the second and third stages are of course unpredictable. But it is well worth trying them. Perhaps we could start on the basis of relatively small amounts, based not on the total amount of the possessions held in Uganda but perhaps on £1,000 or so. If these people are enabled to set up in business they will work their way into the community and will rapidly cease to be the kind of financial burden on society which they are bound otherwise to become.
We must now apply tougher pressure in Uganda to defend the interests of our 1447 own passport-holders. I see why, when the Asians were still in Uganda, we had to adopt the kid glove approach, and I recognise that a substantial number of our own citizens are still in Uganda and that it is not easy to take a very tough line. We must be careful about it. Nevertheless, there will be greater pressure. We are all encouraged by the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary last week about the withdrawal of aid. That is entirely justified. May I, however, remind my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of the Foreign Secretary's words on 23rd October, when he said:If it is clear after 8th November that satisfactory arrangements for compensation are not being made, I will certainly take this up with the Uganda Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1972; Vol. 843, c. 164.]I do not know whether he is taking this up, but it is something which should be pressed hard now and we should be prepared to do some arm-twisting and not just to make formal representations.
Essentially, I am trying to argue that we should try to approach this problem not in terms of charity or of a typical Welfare State operation, but in good, sensible, economic terms based on the argument that if we can help people to help themselves, we can get them absorbed into the community much more rapidly.
It is, however, reasonable to ask my hon. Friend to say something about the normal charitable activity which has been undertaken, the Sainsbury appeal. I suspect that it will not have great driving force and impact, but the House can reasonably ask what progress is being made.
It would also help if my hon. Friend the Minister could say something about the running down of the camps. It is right not to regard them as permanent or even a long-term feature of the scene. There may be a few handicapped people of one sort or another who will have to be permanently or semi-permanently treated as welfare cases, but for the majority it would be better if we were a bit breezy about getting them out and did not worry about the sort of susceptibilities expressed in the Observer on Sunday by a representative of International Voluntary Service. It is im- 1448 portant that these people should not be allowed to become institutionalised. They are temperamentally very capable of working their way out into a strange community and any temptation to allow them to go on lingering in the camps will not be in their interests or in anybody else's.
I wonder whether we can give more help to those immigrants who have shown most enterprise. It is disappointing that one who goes straight into the community and not to the resettlement board should not be eligible for a house which is offered to the board. If one is to qualify for one of these houses one has to go first to a camp and I cannot see the virtue in that.
A variety of other questions could be asked—for example, about where immigrants have gone, about the way they work into the so-called "red" areas, how the education system is coping with the influx and about employment. I hope my hon. Friend can give some kind of picture of what is going on. The House should soon have a much fuller debate on this topic than is possible within the confines of a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill.
I said at the outset that I believed we were absolutely right to act as we did and that if the situation arose again we should act in the same way, but I have grave doubts whether, if there were a similar influx in future, our response could be the same. We have to be realistic about this.
I hope that by wise diplomacy we can forestall any similar action starting again. But we cannot leave this to diplomacy alone. The risks and hazards are too great. It is time not to conceal the issue but to carry out a review of our obligations and the nature of our citizenship. That has to be done, but I hope strongly that the fact that it has to be done does not lead in any way to a grudging response to those who are here already.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) on raising the subject. I agree with him that a debate on it was long overdue.
I also agree that all people in trouble should be helped in all possible ways, 1449 whether they are Ugandan Asian immigrants or immigrants from any quarter of the globe. I should be the last to say that they should not be assisted. But—I emphasise the "but"—those born and bred here should be helped in exactly the same way. No preference should be shown.
Unfortunately, we have reached the stage where anyone who tries to deal with the real problems brought about by immigration is dubbed a racialist. My record in the trade union and Labour movement is such that I do not think I can be called a racialist. My constituency has a dock area. We have always had immigrants from the four quarters of the globe, because we have had the boats coming in. The crews have come off, and have married and been assimilated. We have never had any problems. Therefore, I cannot be accused of not knowing the difficulties.
It is not being racialist to try to look at the facts. I shall deal with some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman. I wish that he had not used the expression "so-called" when he referred to red areas, because there are red areas. Perhaps it is not a good name, but I do not mind West Ham being called a red area, because politically it has always been a red area. That is the description the Government have given to what we might term the difficult areas.
I shall approach the question on an entirely different tack from the hon. Gentleman's. I accuse the Government of acting deliberately to exacerbate and create problems that they could have avoided. They knew, as we all did, that the Ugandan problem was likely to occur, though it is true that they did not know the exact date. They did nothing at all to prepare for the difficulties that they knew would occur. If they did not know about them, they should have known.
If the Government did not take action when they could and should have done, they are guilty of exacerbating the situation. It is true that they appealed to the Ugandan Asians not to go to the red areas. What a ludicrous and farcical approach! Here are poor, defenceless Asians coming here from Uganda, and the Government appeal to them not to go to where their friends and relatives are. Does not everyone know that the first 1450 thing someone in trouble will do is to go to where his friends and relatives are?
I can appreciate the Government's appealing to the Ugandian Asians not to go to the red areas, but I should have thought they would have asked the people in the red areas to meet them to discuss their present problems and the problems that were likely to arise when, as was inevitable, these Asians moved into them. But the Government did not do that.
The hon. Gentleman referred to further problems arising. I agree with him. The Government know, I know, and everyone knows that a similar problem will arise at some time in the future with regard to the Kenyan Asians. On my way back from Kenya I stopped at Entebbe. This was when the exodus from Uganda was taking place, and I met some of the people leaving the country. Incidentally, some of the stories that I heard were different from those reported in the Press. I spoke to one middle-class Asian sitting next to me on the plane. I said that he had a charming wife, and I noticed that she was wearing a number of rings and jewellery—much more than my wife has. I remarked on the tragedy of the situation, and he replied, "We knew that this was coming. We took precautions and prepared for it. Some of us had numbered accounts in Swiss banks, and in that way we got our resources out of the country".
If, as seems likely, we are to be faced with a similar problem in respect of the Kenyan Asians, I ask the Government not to sit on their backsides now and say that it is not going to happen. It may not happen, but the Government should prepare for it and say that they are ready should it happen.
I should have liked the Government to say, "We know that between 20,000 and 25,000 Ugandan Asians will be coming here. We shall appeal to them not to go to the red areas, but in addition, we shall do something tangible". Not only could the Government have set up reception centres—incidentally, they were not set up, they were taken over—but they could have helped and assisted these red areas which have been faced with this problem for many years. They could have tried to deal with the problems that are there, and are growing day by day.
1451 The hon. Gentleman mentioned housing, and it is a grievous problem, certainly in my constituency. During the war mine was the most bombed borough in London, and we still have not recovered from the damage that was done. Thousands of people were bombed out, not once but two or three times, yet the Government never offered any help. Some of my constituents have been waiting for 40 years for a house. They have brought up their families in one or two rooms in overcrowded slum conditions. Sons and daughters have had to grow to adolescence while eating and sleeping in the same room. When they have grown up they have married and moved to other areas because there are no facilities for them in my area. Older people who waited for years for houses of their own have now become old-age pensioners and have been told that they do not need that kind of accommodation.
My area has never had any help from the Government. Both Labour and Conservative Governments—and particularly the latter—have on occasion done all that they could to hamper and harm the people in my area. I shall give examples to prove that.
Housing has been cut back, there have been cuts in schooling and in grants. Earlier this evening we heard about the shortage of schools, and classes of 30 or 40 children, and there are more than 100 children who cannot get school places. I have taken up this matter with the Department of the Environment, the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Security and I have got no satisfaction. I have even taken it up with the Prime Minister, but he does nothing. I wish he would "blow his top" about it.
By all means let us help the Ugandan Asians in every possible way; let us prepare to help the Kenyan Asians when they come, as they will; but let us also help the people who are already here and have been suffering hardships for years. I do not want them to get any more than the Ugandan Asians; I want them to get the same.
Only yesterday I telephoned the Department of the Environment, the Home Office, the Department of Health and Social Security and the Prime Minister's office about a lady who had 1452 been turfed out of her dilapidated room at the back of a shop—she did not know her legal rights—and is now homeless. Although she has been able to store her furniture temporarily in a friend's home, she is unable to stay there herself, because there is no room. Neither the Government Departments that I telephoned nor the local welfare services have been able to find her a place. I could quote dozens of similar cases. There is not even room for this lady in a half-way settlement home. The half-way settlement homes in my constituency are similar to the Ugandan Asian resettlement camps, but there are certain differences.
If this lady were able to get into a half-way settlement home she would, rightly, have to pay an economic rent, clean her accommodation, pay for her food and cook her meals. The Ugandan Asians in resettlement camps get a home, furniture, linen, lighting and fuel. They get food, which is cooked for them, and contractors clean their apartments—paid for by the taxpayer. They do nothing to keep their apartments clean. They are also supplied with entertainment and television sets. Good luck to them; God bless them; may they get all this for as long as they want it. All I want is for my constituents to have the same. Motions have been tabled asking for old-age pensioners to have free television licences. If the Ugandan Asians can have television sets why cannot the old-age pensioners?
Because there are no school places available in the area where they live children are being bussed out to the areas where they came from originally, and the local authority pays the cost. But it is not the local authority which pays, it is the ratepayer. The local ratepayer pays for this in his rates, but he cannot get a house or get his children into school—or even the money to pay for it, because the Government have imposed a freeze.
The freeze is also hitting local authorities. My local authority wants a 12 per cent. increase on its rate income to maintain existing services. The Government have told it that it cannot increase its rate income. Yet here we have to provide a lot more accommodation and additional help and support.
I agree that we should give financial aid to these people. But why should a Mr. X, a Ugandan Asian, who has two 1453 teenage sons capable of working—although he does not want them to work but to attend college—get £28.40 a week in social security benefits until next March, plus a £41 grant? Some children in my constituency cannot get school places, let alone attend college. When I investigate this matter I am told that the reason why Mr. X gets more than my old-age pensioners, unemployed workers or sick workers is that he pays a very high rent, because he has a luxury flat. My poor old devils would like a luxury flat, if there were any, and some assistance. Unfortunately, they get neither.
I was pleased to learn that his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury has offered a flat to a Ugandan couple. God bless him and the couple. The Liberal Party believes in free immigration for anyone. Even its leader, who is not in the Chamber, has offered a flat, as have three other hon. Members. God bless them all. But there are thousands of people in this country who have been homeless for years. If the Archbishop of Canterbury has some flats available, I can give him a list of names of people from my constituency who would be pleased to take them. Why should there not be fair shares for all? If the leader of the Liberal Party has a spare flat, I can give him a copy of the list. I understand that the offers of the three other hon. Members have not yet been taken up. If they contacted me I could give them the names of people who have been waiting and suffering just as much as some Ugandan Asians.
A disabled ex-Serviceman living in Fulham, married to an ex-Servicewoman, was forcibly ejected from his small shop because of a development project. He had nowhere to live in Fulham, so my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) asked whether I would help the man, as he had friends in Newham. They came to my constituency and were put up temporarily. They could not remain there, however, and they went to Slough. About five weeks ago I wrote to the Departments concerned. Each Department said that it could do nothing about the problem.
We often speak of integration. I have suggested that we might start integration in these camps. Some of my old-age pensioners would like the opportunity to live in them. Why can accommodation not 1454 be offered to them? It would show that there is no question of racialism or preferential treatment.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury rightly said how nice it would be to give the Ugandan Asians grants for mortgages to help them to buy houses. I agree. However, I ask him not to differentiate again. There are people in my constituency who would like to have help with mortgages. They, too, have difficulties in finding the necessary money. The man who has lost his business and is still homeless suggested that money should be given for businesses. By all means. But give money also to the people here who fought in two world wars and who have been waiting for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years for a decent home.
The Uganda Resettlement Board has been in existence since about August. I asked the Home Secretary yesterday how many discussions he had had with the board. He has not met the board yet. Some of his officials have, but he has not.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Lane)
I want to put the matter straight. I do not know what words the hon. Gentleman thinks he is reading, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary met the chairman and members of the board in the first few weeks of the board's existence and he has met them at regular intervals since.
§ Mr. Lewis
The Home Secretary should look at the reply that I received to a Question yesterday or the day before, when he said that his officials had met them but he had not. The reply is in HANSARD.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury touched on the question of what is to happen about rehabilitating the Ugandan Asians. I read in the Daily Telegraph that Mr. Praful Patel, the leader of the Asian population in this country who is on the resettlement board, had travelled to a number of camps and had found them to be so comfortable that some of the people in them did not want to leave. Others who had left wanted to go back. I wrote to the Home Secretary asking whether that was true. The right hon. Gentleman replied that he had not seen anything of this and I had to tell him what page in the Daily Telegraph—
§ Mr. Lewis
I am merely going by what Mr. Praful Patel was quoted in the Daily Telegraph and in The Times as having said, and which he has never denied. It is true that this was a week or so ago; I do not have the exact date. Perhaps the circumstances are different now. But he said it—I see the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) nodding—and even more recently he said that some Ugandan Asians were going back to the camps. If that is not true, perhaps we could be told.
The position is being made worse and more difficult by the Government. Apparently we cannot increase rates to maintain the existing services, so goodness knows how we shall deal with all the extra demands that are made. However, Newham worked out a marvellous scheme for doing what the hon. Member for Aylesbury suggested, namely, giving young couples a chance of buying houses by paying something down before they were in need of the house, or when they were courting. The scheme was blessed by the previous Secretary of State for the Environment. It was going through, and then the Treasury stopped it. Therefore, the Government are aggravating the housing situation and causing more difficulties. We have asked for extra money to build schools and apparently it cannot be provided.
I hope that the Government will go out of their way to help the people I have in mind and will give them every assistance.
The Prime Minister sent me a letter dated 5th December—I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will not say that there is anything later. I quote what the right hon. Gentleman said:I must ask you here to recognise that there is a fundamental difference between, on the one hand, the reception over a very short period of time of a large number of refugees who arrive with no money, no jobs to go to"—and he went on to make comparisons with people already here and homeless people. The right hon. Gentleman may think that "there is a fundamental difference", but I assure him that my constituent who is unemployed, who has 1456 been turfed out because of a rapacious landlord, because he does not know his legal rights or because of the Government's rent legislation, and who has no money, does not see any fundamental difference. That is true. It is no good the Prime Minister saying that because one person has two sore fingers which have both turned septic, another person in the same position is not so bad because the sore fingers are on his left hand. I can assure him that that is not the case.
The Prime Minister suggests in his letter that we must help these people to maintain their community spirit. I agree. But that help should be given to my local people. Why should my local people have to go elsewhere because they cannot be re-housed in the area in which they want to be re-housed?
Incidentally, I said that I would quote the exact number of children who are being locked out. The Prime Minister says it is 129. I said that I thought it was over 100. There are 129 children of secondary school age who are being locked out or sent out.
I can only say what I have read in the Press, but it has not been denied that a multi-millionaire, a Mr. Mdvanhi, who is alleged to have £180 million, and to be a friend of General Amin, originally went to Bombay. He said that he had a Ugandan passport. But he eventually came here as he discovered that he had a British passport. I do not know whether that is the case, but I hope that we are not showing a preference to that man because he happens to be a millionaire. If we are to be fair to all, let that principle be applied strictly. I understand that another one was let in recently because he is supposed to be stateless.
I understand that £1 million a month is being spent on resettlement. How much of that money is going to local authorities in the red areas to overcome their problems? I should like an assurance that none of the inhabitants or the ratepayers of these areas are having to foot any of the bill.
I have not seen the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs inviting some of these people to his landed estates in Scotland. I believe that he has acres and acres of land. He could probably put some up. I have not seen 1457 the Prime Minister "blowing his top" to see that they go to Bexley. They are not going to the constituency of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). After all, Finchley has not got a housing or schooling problem. Why should the Prime Minister not say, "We can help these people to leave Leicester and Newham and go to Finchley, and to the Liberal Party's constituencies"? That would be helpful. There are no housing and schooling problems in those areas. They would not interfere with the local people, and it would be helpful to see that they are spread around.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the £1 million a month he is referring to is merely the cost of the reception camps for the Ugandan Asians, and does not include the massive cost to the Government and local authorities of providing all the other services needed for these refugees?
§ Mr. Lewis
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I obviously under-estimated. But I am concerned not so much with the amount of money as with the principle. I do not see why my constituents, already poor and hard-pressed, should have to meet additional expenditure which they can ill afford.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury mentioned Lord Sainsbury. Being generous, I am calling on the Deity to bless these people, and I ask Him to bless Lord Sainsbury as well. But Lord Sainsbury never set up a fund, to which the Government could contribute £50,000, for my constituents.
We had in my constituency a disaster at Ronan Point. There was loss of life when the building collapsed. Did the Government give us £50,000 then? Not on your—well, there is an unparliamentary expression that might be used. Of course they did not. When we have a disaster we have to fight and scramble. Not only does no one come forward with help but every obstacle is placed in the way of the local authorities in coping with it.
§ Mr. Lewis
I do not trust this Government now. Is it not this Government who are paying out the £1 million a month? Is it not this Government who are preventing my constituents from having more houses? Is it not this Government who have done all the things I have mentioned? I said earlier that both Governments had made things difficult; I mentioned that some of my constituents had been waiting for 30 or 40 years for decent housing. I am not saying that either Government are blameless. But I am dealing with the situation as it is, and I am asking this Government to do something to help areas like my constituency.
§ 11.23 p.m.
§ Mr. David Knox (Leek)
I assure the House that I shall not take as long as the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) has taken—as usual. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) for raising this subject. Like him, I regret that it has not been debated in the Chamber before now. Somehow in the last few months we have got our priorities wrong.
I agree strongly with my hon. Friend's support of the Government in admitting the Ugandan Asians to this country. It was a clear-cut matter—on moral grounds because a previous British Government had given their word; on legal grounds because, as passport holders, they had the right to come here, and, above all, on humanitarian grounds because that is in the British humanitarian tradition. It is all very well for some people to talk about aliens moving into our society; it would have been alien to British humanitarian traditions not to admit these people.
§ Mr. Winterton
A previous Government passed an Act to regulate the intake of immigrants. Does not my hon. Friend feel that the present Government should perhaps have brought pressure to bear upon countries like India and Pakistan much more strongly from the beginning 1459 to accept back a larger number of their own people?
§ Mr. Knox
The Uganda Independence Act 1962, and the Kenya Independence Act 1963 gave these people the right to a British passport and the right to come to this country. So the ultimate obligation rested on the British Government to accept them, given the circumstances which had arisen, which were precisely the circumstances which had been foreseen and which led Governments in the early 1960s to include such provisions.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury that the climate in which the Ugandan Asians are being rehabilitated in Britain is not very good. That is a criticism against all of us in public life. For about a month—August—we allowed one newspaper in particular, the Daily Express, and certain people in our society to lead public opinion in a way not in our finest tradition. It was not until September that those of us who took a rather more liberal and moderate view started to speak, and it has struck me that the British people have responded well.
The hon. Member for West Ham, North spoke of hon. Members to whose constituencies Ugandan Asians were not moving. I hope that he will not criticise me on that score, because at an early stage I suggested that councils in my constituency should make housing available to Ugandan Asians.
I am more than proud to say that the Leek Urban District Council and the Biddulph Urban District Council in my constituency have made houses available to Ugandan Asians. I note that the Labour-controlled Kidsgrove Urban District Council has not made the same gesture.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
We have never been free of a housing urgent waiting list of about 7,000 or 8,000. It is physically impossible to offer housing.
§ Mr. Knox
I was commenting on the hon. Member's statement that certain hon. Members had not encouraged their councils to take Ugandan Asians. I was merely showing that some of us had given a lead.
The first families have started to arrive in my constituency. They are settling in quickly. I have visited them, as have 1460 some local council dignitaries. What is moving all of us is the large amount of good will among people in North Staffordshire who have welcomed the Asians into their new homes. Furnishings have been readily provided by the local community, and clothing has also been provided, for the families who have come into my constituency were not dripping with diamonds and jewellery, as was the family that the hon. Member for West Ham, North, mentioned.
These people had been deprived of their material goods and have come to this country with nothing. Their neighbours in Biddulph have gone out of their way to welcome and help them. The Asians are more than happy to be in North Staffordshire.
The head of the household of one of the families and the son in another have started work already, in one instance within one week of arriving. These families are the sort of people who want to stand on their own feet and be independent. They are not sponging on society. They are not getting benefits that people already in this country do not get. They will stand on their own feet; that is why I endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Aylesbury about the provision of funds to help certain of the Ugandan Asians to start businesses of their own.
Many of them have great commercial enterprise. They added substantially to the economy of Uganda, and Uganda will suffer greatly from their departure. I am sure that they can contribute to our economy. But, having lost a substantial amount of their material goods, they need some help, at least temporarily. I hope that some means may be found to provide small amounts of capital to enable them to start businesses here. I am sure that the money would be repaid by them if other means of repayment could not be found.
The hon. Member for West Ham, North spoke at great length about the problems of the red areas, suggesting that those problems were caused entirely by immigrants. I accept that problems are caused by a young population, immigrant or otherwise, but I ask the hon. Gentleman and others who feel like him to remember that many advantages accrue when a young population group moves into an area.
1461 We have to remember the advantages that the indigenous population enjoys from having immigrants—hospital doctors and nurses, and the many who work on public transport. These people are not "scrounging" on our society; they are contributing to it and to the national income and the national wealth, and we all benefit. I ask hon. Members to talk less about the burdens of immigration and more about the advantages that accrue to our society.
The hon. Member quoted a letter from the Prime Minister in which my right hon. Friend seemed to make the legitimate observation that there was a difference between those now arriving from Uganda and those who have lived here for a long time. There is a difference initially, and for a short period, precisely because those now arriving and recently arrived are refugees, and as most of them have arrived with no material wealth it is right that additional help should be given to them in the first place. But as soon as they move out of camps they will take their chances with other families. The family in my constituency, where the head of the household started work last week, is not now enjoying any advantages from the Welfare State.
In his intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for West Ham, North, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) mentioned £1 million a month, and what he called the other substantial costs involved. As soon as these people find employment they will be taking their luck with everyone else, and will not be imposing an excessive burden on the social services, or any other service, other than what is enjoyed by the indigenous population. In the past few weeks I have been proud of the warm welcome given by my constituents to the families who have moved into North Staffordshire. I have been proud, too, to support a Government who have kept their word about the Ugandan Asians.
In one respect I part company from my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. If a problem should arise in connection with the Kenyan Asians, by all means let us negotiate and use diplomatic influence with friends in other countries to persuade them to take some of those people.
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
Would the hon. Gentleman now extend the com-1462 passion and kindliness that he has shown in his speech to the people of Wales?
§ Mr. Knox
I did not think that I was talking about the people of Wales.
Although Ministers may be doing all they can, through diplomacy and in other ways, to make sure that there is no problem about Kenyan Asians, or to ensure that, if there is, they are able to go to other parts of the world, in the last analysis I hope that if there is nowhere else for them to go we shall treat them exactly as we have treated the Ugandan Asians. We gave our word to them; I, for one, wish us to keep that word.
§ 11.40 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
I, too, shall be brief, Mr. Speaker. Last August, when we had our last debate of this kind on the Appropriation Bill, I had the privilege of sitting in the Chair during a good part of the night, and I understand the problems that you face.
I represent part of a red area, namely, the Wembley, South division of the borough of Brent. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will recall, I had a deluge of letters of protest at the beginning of this influx of Ugandan Asians, or even before they arrived. In the event, a large number have come to the borough of Brent.
In support of my constituents I asked my hon. Friend whether the Uganda Resettlement Board would do its utmost to dissuade the Ugandan Asians from going to areas like Brent, where we already have more than enough immigrants. I do not blame the Government for failing to do that. They had no power, I gather, unless they were to reassume the wartime powers of direction of labour, and I imagine that there would have been great objection from both sides of the House if they had done that in order to try to regulate where these unfortunate people should go.
According to the figures given to the borough council by the resettlement board we have had about 2,000 Ugandan Asians in the borough of Brent. But to judge from the number of children who have arrived, it is estimated that the number of adults must be about twice 2,000, unless there is an unusually high number of children per family among these people.
1463 No council houses have been offered by the borough of Brent to these Ugandan Asians. That could not possibly have been done.
§ Sir R. Russell
Because there are already 7,000 of our own people on the waiting list in the borough, and there would have been the most fearful resentment if any council houses had been offered. But what the borough council did do—it is a Socialist-controlled council—was to offer them 100 per cent. mortgages, making the same offer available to our own people, which I think was only fair. It would have been quite impossible for the local authority to allocate any council houses in the situation we have been caught up in for a long time in the borough as a whole. I agree also with the idea of loans for setting up business which my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) suggested; but, here again, they must be offered on the same basis for our own people; otherwise, enormous resentment will be caused.
I am grateful to the Government for making a new school available to give about 400 or 500 places next year. It will probably not take all the Ugandan Asians, but it will cream off some of our own people from other schools, and make other places available for the Ugandan Asians.
I am glad that the Wembley employment exchange has managed to place 85 of the Ugandan Asians in employment. We are lucky in the Wembley employment exchange area in having a rate of unemployment of only ½ per cent. at present. It must, I think, be the lowest in the country, and we are very fortunate.
§ Sir R. Russell
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury for raising this topic. It is important that it be discussed, and I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary what hope he can give of our being able to spread the Ugandan Asians more throughout the country instead of having them concentrated so much in any one area.
§ 11.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Cecil Parkinson (Enfield, West)
I came back tonight to take part in this 1464 debate. I apologise to the House for the fact that I missed the opening speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison). I have taken the opportunity, whilst sitting next to him, of finding out roughly what he said. I hope the House will forgive me for not being present for the whole debate.
Like many hon. Members, I have received a very large number of letters on the subject of the Ugandan Asians. I have not found them easy to answer. I find myself slightly less committed than my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Knox whose speech I listened to and admired tremendously. I am much more committed than is the hon. Gentleman to the fact that the Government did the right thing than is the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). I wholeheartedly back Her Majesty's Government on this matter. What was done was right and absolutely necessary. If it had not been done it would have had the most diabolical consequences both for the people concerned and for the overseas reputation of our country.
When one receives letters from constituents it is tempting to say "I am aware of your problems, I sympathise with you." It is much harder to try to put the other point of view. People write saying, "Our old-age pensioners are not being properly looked after; look at all the money spent on the Asians." I try to reply that what is spent on the Asians is the equivalent of a one-off shot of £1.50 per pensioner.
It is extraordinary that our pensioners should be the most generous, compassionate, and willing to help needy people. When one puts to the pensioners the fact that by forgoing £1.50 they might be contributing towards saving the lives of 20,000 people it is not difficult to persuade them that it was a sacrifice—if money had been available to them—well worth making.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
I agree. But if the hon. Gentleman is right—and I accept that he is right—instead of £1.50 from the old-age pensioner would it not be better, if this is a good principle, to put 22½p on the surtax or income tax, so that the very wealthy could pay much more, which would be more acceptable.
§ Mr. Parkinson
I do not say that the £12 million would necessarily have been available to the pensioners. I said, "if the money had been available to them". This is another argument.
In our treatment of the old-age pensioners, although we have not been as generous as had been hoped we have a fairly reasonable record. Even taking the most simplistic argument one could find—and the arguments of the hon. Gentleman were very simplistic—there is an argument to be put forward which is acceptable to the people. I do not think that people react simplistically; or, if they do, it is not in our interests to pander to that attitude. Occasionally we might try to mention the other point of view and suggest that these people constitute a special case.
It is not good enough to say, in regard to a person in one's constituency whose business has become bankrupt and who needs help, "Why do you not give the money to him instead of the man who was deprived of all his assets at very short notice, expelled from the country in which he has always lived and from which he has been shunted abroad?" It is not correct to say, "Here is a man in the same position as the man in my constituency whose business failed."
I never heard those arguments when Hungarians wished to escape from a Communist régime during the uprising. Then it was most noble and honourable to invite them into one's country and look after them. I never heard that argument used in connection with the Jewish refugees from Europe in the 1930s. It was not necessary to do so.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
There were not 25,000 or 30,000 Hungarian refugees. They did not all go into the red areas. By all means have them here, but do not send them into the red areas—or, better still, do something to encourage them to go to other areas.
§ Mr. Parkinson
The hon. Member is now watering down the impact of most of his earlier remarks. I am quite sure that most of us who listened to his arguments did not get the impression that he is now giving, that he welcomes the Ugandan Asians and that it is simply the areas to which they are going, that he objects. If he reads his remarks tomorrow 1466 I do not think that he will draw that conclusion from what he said. If he had said that originally, and had been saying that during the last few weeks, many of us would have been a little happier about his attitude to the Ugandan Asians. That was not, however, the impression that I or anyone else here tonight could have been tempted to draw from his earlier remarks.
These people do not want to come here and—let us face it—we were not particularly happy about their coming. They were in danger. Their lives were in peril. The only mistake they made was to opt to hold a British passport. That put their lives in danger. I accept that they were reluctant to come, and I, for one, gave them a reluctant welcome, but I still joined that little gang of Members to whom the hon. Member referred in a rather sneering way, who wrote to the resettlement board and invited families to come and stay in their homes for a short time.
The hon. Member has exacerbated the problem that he claims to care about. I do not believe that these people are the parasites, spivs and hangers-on that the hon. Member gave the impression they were.
§ Mr. Parkinson
The hon. Member did not say it, but throughout his speech ran the implication that these people would be a drain on our nation, and that they had opted to be that drain. The basic reason for their expulsion from Uganda was that they were too successful. They controlled too much of Uganda's economy. The implication of what the hon. Member said rang loud and clear. It was that these people came here to be parasites. It is no good the hon. Member's shaking his head. By making that implication the hon. Member will create the ill will, misunderstanding, and difficulties about which he is hypocrite enough to pretend he cares.
Sooner or later the hon. Member should start to read his speeches, and to weigh them not just against his narrow, sectional constituency interests but against what is good for human beings who are deprived of their possessions, their livelihood and their homes and are forced to live in a land that they do not want to come to. Sooner or later we, as Members of Parliament, will have to stop thinking about 1467 what sounds well and reads well in our constituencies and start to think about what is right and honourable, and what we as a country should be doing to help those in real need.
I would not have spoken tonight, but I felt that the hon. Member and what he stands for must be confronted. It is not good enough to pretend to be a friend of the poor and the needy and to turn one's back on the people who are truly poor to the extent that they have nothing, and are needy to the extent that they have been deprived of their livelihoods, their prospects and all their possessions.
Sooner or later the hon. Member and people like him must begin to consider just what they stand for, and must realise that it is not good enough to put narrow, sectional interests before the interests of people who have nobody to turn to and no prospects except for us to do what we said we would do 10 years ago.
The Ugandan Asians have a great contribution to make: their background suggests that they are far from being a drag on our society. The report of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration which shows that the Asians have revealed themselves as the most law-abiding and hardworking of our immigrant populations gives reassurance that these people will not be a problem.
I share my hon. Friend's concern whether the country can absorb many more, although if a similar emergency situation should arise, I hope and believe that the Government will do the right thing. I hope that they will work hard through all the usual channels, and some which are not so usual, to ensure that this eventuality does not occur, but the hon. Member for West Ham, North, and others like him should realise that there comes a time to do what one believes is right, even though it is not necessarily popular at the moment.
The popularity which we as a Parliament might have lost by doing what we did would have been nothing compared with the unpopularity that we would have earned had people started to die in concentration camps simply because they had a British passport. There comes a time when one must stop taking the short-term view, the constituency view, 1468 the view that will collect a few cheap votes, and start thinking about what is right and proper. By any reasonable application of the tests that I have mentioned, the hon. Member for West Ham, North has failed tonight.
§ 11.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
I am very touched by the compassion shown by the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Parkinson)—
§ Mr. Evans
Yes, and one to which I fully subscribe. The hon. Member's argument was that we have too many people in this country, that we have only limited space and resources, and that we need a population policy before we reach the limit. I only wish that his compassion had been extended in the past. I wish that the party opposite would decide not to preach to the Asians or anyone else but to have a population policy—no question of a colour bar, or anything else.
Our modern technology will allow us to produce what we want with a population of 35 million—and I do not care whether the people are Ugandans, Welsh, Irish, black or ginger. We want no colour bars, but compassion is nothing without a passion for survival.
§ Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North)
I shall not follow closely the argument about the population policy presented by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans), but I am concerned at some of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Parkinson). He said that he was reluctant—I think he implied that, whether or not that was exactly the word—to welcome Ugandan Asians because of the problems involved. I hope that I do not misinterpret him.
I gave a wholehearted welcome to the Ugandan Asians, because I felt we had a responsibility and that, at that time, we alone could fulfil it.
§ Mr. Parkinson
I agree with my hon. Friend that I said I was reluctant to welcome them, but that was against the background that I accepted that they were equally reluctant to come, and that the combination of circumstances was one which neither party welcomed.
§ Mr. Roberts
I would point out that there was no pressure on me—politically, anyway—to extend that welcome. It was done because I felt it my duty so to do but I disagree completely with my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Knox) when he says that in similar circumstances, in a similar situation for other countries, he would say in this House and to the people that he could say to other Asian groups, and others who hold passports which apparently give them an opportunity to come to this country, "All can come in", because I will not be prepared to tell the Government that I am ready to support such an entry in future.
The time has come when we should say, and say it clearly, that responsibility is not ours alone but extends internationally and to the whole Commonwealth.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West said that he would welcome—and had extended a welcome in his own home—Ugandan Asians. That is something which I am in a position to do, but many people in this country do not live in the sort of house in which I live. They do not have the opportunity to do exactly that. The Archbishop of Canterbury and I have that in common. He has extended the welcome which I could do and have not done.
§ Mr. Fred Evans
Will the hon. Member tell me how many houses Cardiff Corporation has awarded to Ugandan Asians?
§ Mr. Roberts
Oh, no. The hon. Member is close enough. He lives just over the hill, not far away. He is completely wrong, because we have made an allocation. It may not be generous enough by the standards of what the Caerphilly Urban District Council offered. I shall check the figures and let the hon. Gentleman know in due course. But the truth is that the city council made an offer—not generous enough, but no doubt generous by comparison with the 1470 standards of other local authorities in Wales, and no doubt by that comparison generous by all standards.
§ Mr. Roberts
I did not quite get the gist of the last part of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but I assure him that we have allocated houses and we have extended a welcome.
A welcome can be extended, as was done by my city authority, and no doubt by Caerphilly UDC, but that welcome is a reality only when it is backed by the people in that authority's area—the ordinary people who live in the council houses, who are on the waiting lists for council houses and are residents there.
The vast majority of our people will approve the welcome that we have given in Cardiff, and Caerphilly, and as a nation, to the Ugandan Asians, because nothing else could be done—but they sound a warning to the Government to negotiate now and ensure that a situation does not occur again in which Britain alone has to accept responsibility.
I have welcomed the Ugandan Asians in their exodus. I have said, "Yes, come to the United Kingdom." My welcome—not a reluctant one—has been on record from the beginning. But when it is said that we must extend to them privileges that we do not extend to our own people, it must be recognised that politics—political and democratic life—is the art of the possible. We must, of course, tell our people that they must welcome the person who was a successful businessman in Uganda, playing a prominent part in the organisation of Ugandan business, but we cannot go further and say that we must give him the chance to extend his business opportunities in the United Kingdom, by way of assistance—whether by loan or grant—that we do not offer to the people who reside in this country. That is something that many hon. Members and many Christian people would like to say that we should do, but it is something that our people will not tolerate. If we are foolish enough to do it we shall create a lack of harmony, and the welcome that 1471 has been given will be destroyed. I sincerely hope that the Government will not err in that direction.
§ 12.10 a.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
What a tragedy it is that this debate did not take place in August. I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Knox) when he expressed regret that the Government did not see fit to have this matter discussed by the House of Commons when the difficult situation arose in Uganda.
I believe that my colleagues on this side of the House have been unfair and unjust to the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) who, I believe, in the debate tonight has reflected very accurately the deep feelings of the great majority of the people of this country. If a Member of the House of Commons cannot come to this Chamber to reflect the genuine feelings of so many people, the future of Parliament is indeed in jeopardy.
I did not agree with the Government in the decision to accept the Ugandan Asians. As I indicated earlier in the debate in an intervention, I believe that the Government should have taken far stronger action right from the start with President Amin. They should have negotiated much more forcefully with the Governments of India and Pakistan in an endeavour to have many more of the Ugandan Asians accepted back into both India and Pakistan. But these people are here, I accept that they are here, and they should be treated on an equal basis with the indigenous population, whether in housing, education, welfare or health.
Where the hon. Member for West Ham, North is right—and I believe that he made the point forcefully—is that despite the advice given to them by the Uganda Resettlement Board many of the Ugandan refugees have gone to the "red" areas where there is already a high concentration of immigrants, and many problems result from this in education and welfare. In education in particular, it is necessary to provide extra teachers and extra staff in order to teach these refugees English.
I shall not criticise the way that they live. In fact, I believe that Asian families could often teach many of our indigenous 1472 families a thing or two about family responsibility. This is an important aspect that is perhaps overlooked when we are talking about the problems that will result from the Ugandan Asians having come here.
I wish here and now to criticise the Government for their lamentable public relations over their handling of the Ugandan Asian situation. As I indicated at the beginning of my remarks, there should have been a debate on the subject in the House. This may well have taken a great deal of the heat out of the difficulty and reduced the problems and the emotions that were generated amongst people in this country who felt that these new arrivals were being given preferential treatment, particularly in housing, where the Government urged local authorities, many of which already had a difficult housing situation, to put these Ugandan Asians ahead of people who had been on the waiting lists for perhaps five, 10 or even 15 years.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) made an interesting point when he said that this country is one of the most heavily populated in the world. Indeed it is, and unfortunately immigrants produce the largest families; so that the more immigrants we allow to come here, the more acute becomes the population problem. The Government's duty is to review their immigration policy. It is possible that as many as 200,000 or 250,000 British passport-holders in East Africa could come here if Governments in that continent followed the bestial racial policies of President Amin. Already there are flickers of fire in Kenya. I hope that the flickers do not burst into flames.
The Government—whether a Labour or Conservative Government—in the interests of the indigenous population and the immigrants already here, should impose a total ban on further immigration from all sources into this country by heads of families for five years. That would allow the indigenous population to get used to coexisting with the many other, perhaps alien, communities that have come here in recent years. It would allow us to catch up with the backlog in education, hospital and welfare facilities. Only if this is done will there be satisfactory coexistence between immigrants and the indigenous population.
§ Mr. Winterton
No, I would not, but—bearing in mind the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968—neither would I make a decision to accept them here irresponsibly without first trying to disperse them and approaching other nations which do not have such an acute problem as we have, to see whether they will accept them.
§ Mr. Winterton
If this country had a firmer immigration policy, General Amin would not have adopted the policy he has. He adopted that policy because he knew that he would get away with it.
§ Mr. Fred Evans
Would the hon. Gentleman repeat what Balfour did in 1917 with the Arabs and Israelis?
§ Mr. Winterton
I was not even a twinkle in my father's eye in 1917. I do not wish to live in the past but rather to look forward to the future and to ensure that the problems that have arisen from our accepting these Ugandan refugees will not be repeated. The Ugandan Asians are here, we have accepted them and we must treat them equally in every respect with our other citizens, but for heaven's sake let the Government anticipate what might happen in the future and get on the Statute Book an immigration policy that is in the interests of the people of this country.
§ 12.19 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Lane)
I welcome the debate and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) for the way in which he started it and to other hon. Members for the way in which they have carried it on. It is time for the House of Commons to take stock of the position.
I will deal as briefly as I can with the points that have been raised. I am 1474 grateful for the general support that the Government have had from those who have spoken for the decision they took and the action which has followed in coping with this emergency. It is a good time, too, to be taking stock, because the first phase, the reception phase, is now complete and we embark upon the second phase of moving the remaining refugees out of the centres into the community.
I pay tribute first, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, to what has already been achieved in dealing with this emergency—I am glad that my hon. Friend said this too—with humanity. I pay tribute to the Uganda Resettlement Board. In the time that has been available, it has done a remarkable job of organisation and improvisation. Similarly I pay tribute to the Government Departments and staffs involved, particularly the Department of the Environment, the Department of Employment, the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Social Security. Their officials have often worked fantastic hours in unfamiliar situations. I hope that it will not be thought out of place if I pay particular tribute to members of the immigration staff of the Home Office, who from the beginning have been very much in the front line of this matter, again in situations often unfamiliar to them.
Similarly, we ought to acknowledge the help given by local authorities. I am thinking of not only the local authorities all over the country—not only in the "red" areas—which are now dealing with the permanent settlement of the refugees, but also the fewer local authorities which have had the reception centres, and still have them in most cases, in their areas and have done superb work, particularly on health and education.
Tribute is due also to a very large number of private citizens, first those who, from the start, wrote offering accommodation and help to refugees, and the thousands of others who have worked with voluntary organisations at the centres and in places where the refugees came to settle. I am thinking particularly of the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, the Red Cross, the St. John's Ambulance Brigade, Community Service Volunteers—of whom about 70 are still working, full-time in the centres, all hours of the 1475 day and night—and the Citizens Advice Bureaux. I am thinking, too, of representatives of the Asian community in this country who have helped very much indeed.
Altogether, the response of the people of this country in this unexpected emergency has on the whole been very praiseworthy, though I am conscious also—this point emerged in the debate—of the indignation felt by a number of our fellow citizens and the great concern still felt about the danger of any repetition of this episode. I would only say that that is very much in the Government's mind.
Last, but not least, I pay tribute to the Asian refugees themselves. They are appreciative of what we have done, uncomplaining and anxious simply to get out of the centres as quickly as they can and to get down to work in the community.
To those of us who have seen this operation at first hand, it has been a very moving and human situation.
I now give the House a brief situation report on where the operation now stands. Up to the beginning of this week, about 25,500 refugees had arrived in this country as a result of President Amin's decree. The resettlement board had opened a total of 16 centres. The total number of refugees who have been in the centres at one time or another, a number of whom have now moved on, amounts to 21,000. Of that number, those who have moved on into the community from the centres total 10,800.
Several hon. Members have said that housing is the crux of this matter. We have been offered over 1,900 houses or flats by local authorities, and in that sector 460 refugee families, amounting to more than 2,000 people, have already been placed in homes by the board. Side by side with that we have had about 2,000 offers of private accommodation, and in that sector already 500 refugee families, more than 1,500 people in total, have been placed by the board. That adds up to between 3,600 and 3,700 people already found homes by the board and is in addition to those who have found homes temporarily or permanently through their own efforts.
I am grateful that more than 1,300 employers have offered help in finding 1476 jobs for the refugees. About 1,700 refugees—breadwinners, not families—have been placed in jobs through the Department of Employment.
Those are the bare figures of the stage which we have reached. During recent weeks an average of 1,000 refugees have been leaving the board's centres every week either under the special arrangements made by the board of the sort I have described or under their own steam. One of the board's centres, Piddlehinton, was closed in the middle of November. Another at Plasterdown will close within a week or so. Further closures will follow as the numbers under the board's care decrease, and that will do more than anything else to lower the cost of the operation.
Focussing on the main problem with which we are concerned, that leaves at the beginning of this week about 10,300 refugees still in the board's centres. Of those, about 1,000 are interested in the possibility of moving on to third countries—I mention particularly Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Fiji, Germany and Sweden and several countries in Latin America—and interviewing is going on into these possibilities. Some of the refugees will be moving on from this country to several of those countries over the next two or three months.
But that will still leave the bulk of the 10,300 to be found permanent homes in this country. Over 6,000 of them could be found housing in the local authority accommodation which is still on offer. There is in addition private accommodation, but that it not always very easy because in many cases it is offered only temporarily. I shall come later to the question of more long-term housing.
Looking at the resettlement problem which remains, the next stage will be more difficult than the phase which I referred to earlier of the initial reception in this country. We now have the stage of permanent resettlement for the remaining considerable number; but it is a manageable problem. The board is doing its utmost, and the Government are giving it every support, to maintain the momentum of the movement of the refugees out of the centres, although it may not be possible to keep it up much longer at the rate of 1,000 a week.
One or two of my hon. Friends have been right to point to the dangers of 1477 institutionalisation. But we must watch the risk of perhaps over-hasty settlement in the community. We want to get the people not merely out of the centres but settled well and satisfactorily in the community with the sort of good will described by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Knox). But a number of problems concerning the harder cases—large families, disabled people and old people—have still to be solved, and we shall have to take special care and make special efforts to get these people settled in the community.
§ Mr. Michael Roberts
My hon. Friend has said that it is much more difficult to establish permanent resettlement. Does he recognise that if a similar problem were to occur in respect of the Asian community of Kenya and other areas, it would cause almost insuperable difficulties for us?
§ Mr. Lane
I agree, incidentally, with what my hon. Friend said earlier about problems of this kind being basically international, but on the point on which he has interrupted me I did not make myself clear. I was trying to say that the phase on which we are now concentrating—resettling the remaining refugees in the community—will be a more difficult phase than the initial phase of receiving them and caring for them in this country.
To tackle the problem of permanent resettlement, the board has resettlement teams working in every centre. The teams are interviewing the refugees and trying to match their needs to homes and jobs all around the country. There are 100 civil servants working in the centres alone. The board is making a detailed record of those who remain in the centres, including their family circumstances and their various skills and experience, so that we can complete the operation as effectively as possible. The operation will be measured partly by our success in dispersing the refugees.
Dispersal is difficult. The House recognises the problems. Much has been said about it during the debate. I only add that, having absorbed the initial wave of those who in many cases had friends or relations already here, who would naturally be in areas of considerable immigration concentration already, we are now dealing mainly with those who have no connections already in this country. 1478 These people are awaiting our advice in the centres. I hope that we can effectively persuade them to go, as far as possible, to other parts of the country. I do not want to raise the hopes of the House, but I think that it may be a little easier from now onwards.
I will now deal with some matters which hon. Members have raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury asked whether we had done enough to help home purchase. As we know, these people have a considerable tradition of home ownership. We always envisaged that at least at first we would have to rely on rented accommodation. That has been the case so far, principally with local authorities. In addition to local authority accommodation, there may be some scope for at least semi-permanent housing in some surplus Government accommodation, but not on a large scale.
We hope later—I agree with what hon. Members have said—that there will be more possibilities for those refugees who wish to take out mortgages to own their own homes. In some local authority areas this is already being tried.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury raised the possibility of a special loan fund from public funds over and above existing arrangements. I can only say that we must look at the matter very cautiously. We must try to avoid the belief gaining ground that in this respect refugees will be given preferential treatment. That has been well illustrated by what has been said by the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). I do not want to say any more than that about loans for housing.
§ Mr. Winterton
I believe that a valid point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell), who indicated that the Brent Borough Council was offering 100 per cent. mortgages to Ugandan Asians but, at the same time, was not discriminating against its own citizens. Since June 1970 the Government have gone a long way to encourage local authorities to offer 100 per cent. mortgages not only to those who have become refugees in this country but to our own people. If this were done, I am sure that the heat of indignation would disappear from this difficult situation.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
I agree that the situation is difficult. I have a large immigrant population in my constituency, like the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell), who probably has the same problems. A number of houses are becoming decontrolled and the owners are selling them. Many tenants have lived there 20, 30 or 40 years, and are now elderly. They cannot get mortgages because of their age, and could not afford to pay them anyway. If immigrants come in, and can and do buy these houses as the old people are moving out, it causes problems. Will the hon. Gentleman try to deal with that as well? It creates difficulties.
§ Mr. Lane
I do not want to be drawn into a debate on immigration as a whole, or on housing as a whole, but I acknowledge the difficulties mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.
I was telling the House about the stage reached by the Uganda Asian Relief Trust. It is intended not as a help for housing or for jobs but to meet certain limited needs of the refugees as they set up new homes—for example, furniture, household equipment, initial supplies of fuel, and, in some cases, craftsmen's tools.
We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, the chairman, and his fellow trustees for launching the appeal and administering the funds. The Government made an initial contribution of £50,000. Already, something like £25,000 has been raised, mainly from the public, including donations by the Asian community here. That is only a start, and we hope that further contributions will be forthcoming. I am glad to tell the House—just this week the trust has been able to make its first allocations up to a total of £50,000 to local authorities where 20 or more refugees are known to have settled, to help meet the basic needs I have mentioned of the families concerned. Varying figures of allocation out of the total of £50,000 have gone to Brent, Newham, Staffordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cardiff, Enfield and, I hope, Cheshire. I emphasise that this is 1480 for minor purposes and is separate from the mainstream of the special Exchequer help to local authorities.
I turn now to the provision of jobs. I have to acknowledge the great help that many employers have already given, but I want to make a fresh appeal to employers to see whether there are not further jobs they might be able to offer to refugees, many of whom have skills which are in demand in certain areas. At the same time, to help in the matching process, the resettlement board is compiling an up-to-date record of the skills and qualification of those still in the centres.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury mentioned the entrepreneurial traditions of many of the refugees and asked whether more might be done to set some up with small loans to start them off in their own businesses. This is being actively considered by the board, in consultation with the banks and the Government. I stress that this is basically a commercial matter for the banks, but we are pursuing it as vigorously as we can in the hope that something may soon be got going. I cannot say anything more definite than that now. But I take the point very seriously—and that leads me to deal with a point about assets in Uganda, which are obviously directly linked with possible loans in this country.
Asians subject to the expulsion order of 9th August have not been deprived of title to the properties they own there, provided they registered them as required under Decrees 27 and 29 of October, 1972.
Abandoned or non-registered property vests in a government board in Uganda. Businesses have been advertised for sale at the valuations given to them by owners. Prices paid are to be credited to the accounts of the owners, although for the present the accounts are blocked.
There is no doubt that in international law these people are entitled to their assets or to compensation, but everything will depend on how the Ugandan legislation works. The Ugandan Government are aware of our views.
We have particularly sought and received assurances from the Ugandan Government, most recently on 20th November, covering the security of the persons 1481 and the property of our nationals. President Amin has taken steps to ensure that properties are allocated by the appropriate board to qualified candidates and to prevent unauthorised seizure of properties left behind by departing Asians.
However, if the Ugandan measures lead, in effect, to expropriation, we shall demand prompt, adequate and effective compensation.
We all recognise the difficult problems that local authorities have had, even before the Ugandan episode occurred—problems of housing and education in particular. The hon. Member for West Ham, North mentioned this. We had some banter between the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Michael Roberts) about authorities offering accommodation for refugees.
I acknowledge the generous offer of my own authority, Cambridge City Council, to refurbish special houses which had been temporarily derelict, in order to take—for some time, at least—between 10 and 20 families. I hope that they will be going forward soon.
The hon. Member for Wembley, South, talked about the problems of Brent. Yesterday I happened to see a deputation from the London Boroughs Association which included an alderman from Brent who was able to bring us up to date with the difficulties that Brent has had to face and how it has been coping.
The Uganda Resettlement Board sent out two or three circulars to local authorities, most recently at the beginning of November, explaining fully the special Government financial help that is available to them.
If the arrangements that we have suggested through the board for grant aid give rise to any anomalies or difficulties in practice, we will look at them again to see whether there is any way, within the general guidelines we have laid down, in which the Government can be more helpful.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
What if local authorities feel that the grants are insufficient and that they are being expected to bear an unfair financial burden? Will that be negotiable?
§ Mr. Lane
We have not yet heard from the hon. Member's local authority, and until we do I cannot give him an answer. I sometimes wish that the hon. Member for West Ham, North would spend rather less time putting down Questions and rather more reading the answers that he is given.
I take four of the hon. Member's points. He criticised the Government for acting deliberately to create problems which they could have avoided. I reject that absolutely. He said that the Government should have met people from the red areas. We have met people from red areas and other areas regularly for the past few weeks, and Ministers have been out seeing for themselves how the problems have developed in the areas.
I reject the hon. Member's charge that the Government have not done enough to help areas like his own with their normal housing problems. I remind him of the Housing Finance Act, which is bringing considerable benefits to West Ham. He said that these people were not doing enough for themselves.
§ Mr. Lane
It was fully implied. The hon. Member has charged us with treating the refugees too well compared with our own people. In the centres they are increasingly involved in the business of cooking, cleaning and all the general work around the centres. There is no discrimination in social security benefits. If they are justified these are awarded on the same basis as for everyone.
The hon. Member's final charge was a ridiculous hearsay story of weeks ago about the centres being too comfortable. I repeat my invitation to him to come and see them for himself. Let us have a little less of this long-distance ill-informed criticism.
§ Mr. Lane
The hon. Member ought to get Mr. Praful Patel's name right before he starts to quote him.
We have been reviewing the situation of some Ugandan citizens—that is, in contrast with the United Kingdom passport holders about whom we have been mainly concerned—about 30 or 35 in number, whom we have been obliged to detain in this country during recent weeks. 1483 These are Ugandan citizens who have attempted to come to this country and who have been refused entry. Some have been detained in difficult and crowded conditions.
After careful consideration, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has decided on humanitarian grounds to transfer from places of detention to resettlement centres those citizens of Uganda who have arrived here without entry clearances and who have been refused admission. However, the refusal of admission to the United Kingdom will stand and we shall continue with our international consultations with a view to their resettlement in third countries. I must make it clear to the House that these Ugandan citizens will be in the centres under restriction and will not be there for the purpose of arranging their settlement in this country. That is also being made clear to each of the Ugandans transferred to a centre.
§ Mr. Fred Evans
Can the compassion and anxiety that the hon. Gentleman has shown in his speech be extended to the people of my own small country, Wales? When will the hon. Gentleman cease to deny to people imprisoned in London the right to speak their own language?
§ Mr. Lane
I have enough problems at the moment without trying to take responsibility for Wales.
Through the three or four months of this operation so far some mistakes have certainly been made—it would have been surprising if there had not been in the circumstances. But on the whole we have seen a creditable response to what has been a national emergency.
Looking ahead, I am cautiously optimistic of the next phase. The Government are giving full support to the work of the Uganda Resettlement Board and are working in the closest liaison with it. This must continue, as it has been hitherto, to be a combined operation of the Government, the board, the local authorities, volunteers and many others.
We are determined to carry this operation through to a successful conclusion. We are determined that the refugees will be settled with the maximum dispersal 1484 and with the least possible burden on areas where already there are considerable strains on the social facilities. We are determined that the refugees will be settled with a prospect of a good new life, of making their own way and contributing to the community. We are determined finally that the refugees should be settled with the minimum of delay in the strange surroundings into which they have been flung but in which, I hope, they will invariably be made welcome.