HC Deb 13 November 1972 vol 846 cc35-42

Mr. Douglas-Mann (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement concerning the deportation of refugees from Uganda with close relatives in the United Kingdom but who are stateless or hold Ugandan passports.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Robert Carr)

The Government have made it clear from the outset that, while we accept our obligation to admit United Kingdom passport holders expelled from Uganda, responsibility for other refugees is a matter for the international community as a whole.

We have admitted the dependants of United Kingdom passport holders regard- less of nationality, and we have also allowed a small number of stateless people to remain in the resettlement centres until the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees can make arrangements for their resettlement. But we cannot accept responsibility for citizens of Uganda. However, in accordance with the normal immigration rules, which apply the whole time, particular cases are examined in the light of compassionate circumstances, and for the present, in order to allow for further international consultation, I am deferring the return to Uganda of a number of Ugandan citizens of Asian origin who have arrived in this country.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I welcome the latter part of the Secretary of State's announcement. I hope that he will note that there is widespread concern in the country and in the House at the report in yesterday's Observer that Asians have been deported to Uganda. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that to return Asians to Uganda today is like sending Jews back to Hitler in the 1930s and that there is a strong case for granting political asylum in the circumstances in which an Asian has come to Britain with a Ugandan passport.

Will the right hon. Gentleman note that adopting a purely legalistic approach at present and excluding the 100 or so people who have wives, children or other close relatives here is likely to destroy a great deal of the good will which has been generated by the actions of the Government so far? Will he note also that to admit British wives or children and to refuse their husbands who have accepted Ugandan passports to retain their jobs is not only an affront to the principle of equality between the sexes but is to undertake an unnecessary burden for supporting the wives and children who might otherwise become self-supporting?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake that no further deportations of Asians to Uganda will take place without his express approval, which I sincerely trust will be withheld?

Mr. Carr

We must be a little careful about the words we use. I have deported no one. I have felt it necessary to refuse entry to some. There is more than a legalistic difference between refusing entry and deporting. We have accepted our legal and moral responsibility in this matter, and I believe that as a country we have done it generously. The Government also have a duty to ensure that we do not accept everybody else's responsibilities as well as our own.

I want to be compassionate. We will be compassionate. The hon. Gentleman talked about husbands being separated from wives and children. In some of the cases he has in mind, and perhaps even in all of them, the wives and the husbands were specifically warned before they left Uganda that if we were prepared to take the wives and the children temporarily for their safety they would be expected to reunite as a family in a third country, not in this country. This warning was given.

Mr. Robert Hughes


Mr. Carr

We therefore had no obligation to take these people. We took on for compassionate reasons a responsibility which was not ours, because under immigration rules responsibility goes with the head of the family. That is not purely a British custom. It is an international one. In spite of that, we took some wives and children who were themselves United Kingdom passport holders, even though the heads of their families were not, but we warned them that the heads of families when they left should not come to this country but should go elsewhere and we would facilitate their wives and children joining the heads of the families elsewhere. I believe that this was not un-compassionate. We could have just refused to take in these people.

Mr. Powell

In view of the necessarily abbreviated terms of my right hon. Friend's original reply and also of what he had added to it, will he confirm that the United Kingdom and Colonies citizens whom the Government have committed themselves to admit are those who so far as is known have or can claim no other citizenship?

Mr. Carr

If I have understood my right hon. Friend aright, that is the case, with the exception of the dependants of United Kingdom citizens—that is, the wives, aged parents and children, who are always admitted under immigration rules.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I have much respect for the Home Secretary's humanity, but neither his answer nor the question asked by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) appears to have any understanding of a situation in which people are leaving within hours a country in which their lives are in danger.

On 18th October the Home Secretary said, in reply to a question from me about the husbands of women who are British citizens, that they will normally be expected to reunite in third countries, but we are getting them here to safety at this stage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October, 1972; Vol. 843, c. 266.] I fully appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman may wish them to reunite in third countries, but what possible definition of "safety" can it be for people to be put on flights back to Entebbe when we know perfectly well what will happen to them when they get there?

Mr. Carr

With respect to the hon. Lady, she ought to get this into perspective. To the best of my knowledge, about 10 people have been put on such flights. We are looking at each case individually, and I have said that pending further international consultation I am deferring the return of any others for the time being.

I believe that, while we have a genuine compassionate duty to these people, we also have a duty to our own citizens in this country. We have a duty, also, to try to see that people in other parts of the international community take up their fair share of the burden of dealing with the result of President Amin's inhuman action.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am sure that the House recognises the difficult position of the Home Secretary, and I for one would not question his decision not to admit people who have no claim on this country, but the fact remains that to return any of these people to Uganda in present circumstances is to send them to a fate upon which one does not need to speculate. We know what it is likely to be.

My right hon. Friend said that he was deferring a decision on whether to send these people back so that consultations could take place. Has he in mind direct consultations with the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, who has accepted responsibility for dealing with stateless Asians? Why cannot the House be told that? If it has not been done, can it be done now?

Mr. Carr

I thought I made it clear on an earlier occasion—perhaps I should have repeated it today—that we have been from the beginning, and still are, in the closest and most regular contact with the United Nations Commission for Refugees on this subject, but its formal responsibility is for stateless people. The real problem arises with the relatively small number of those who are Ugandan citizens. We have so far seen fit to return eight but there are probably another 40 in this country whose return I am deferring pending further international consultation. I am aware of how serious it is to send people back to Uganda, but I must, in the interests of this country, put up some warning to those Ugandan citizens who are in Uganda that there are other countries in the world to which they might go, and that they should not automatically think that they have only to get on the first flight to Britain to put their problems at an end.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of us who represent red areas have experienced these problems? [Laughter.] It is not a laughing matter. One sympathises with refugees from any country, but it must be understood that some of these people had the opportunity of becoming British passport holders and voluntarily relinquished that chance.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if the Government's appeal to British passport holders from Uganda to refrain from going to red areas is ignored, the problems there will be greatly increased? As it is, serious problems are arising in our constituencies because hundreds of school children are unable to get school places. If we say that Ugandans and other stateless Asians can come to these areas to join their friends and relatives, an already difficult situation will be exacerbated. Will the right hon. Gentleman be careful not to set a precedent whereby stateless persons from any country will be able to claim the same rights of entry into, in the majority of cases, these red areas?

Mr. Carr

However controversial the subject may be, and however much some people may wish that we did not have this obligation, I believe that the majority of people in this country would wish to see us honour our obligations, and to do so generously, and not meanly. I believe that we have done that, but I feel that in making these decisions I have a responsibility not to put on people obligations which we do not have, or which other people have to a greater extent than we do.

It is easy to plead the case of one particular family, but I have to bear in mind, as does anyone who holds my office, the danger of setting a precedent and opening a door through which, if I were not careful, many more passport holders could come. I want to be as compassionate as I can, but I must bear that double consideration in mind.

Mr. Deedes

Can my right hon. Friend give the House any information about the airlines which might have been involved, as I understood there was a clear understanding between the airlines about this traffic? Secondly, can my right hon. Friend confirm that under the new rules under the Immigration Act married women and dependants may be discouraged from coming to this country in advance of the head of the household? Thirdly, has my right hon. Friend considered how helpful the Government of India might be about this if they were consulted in the right way?

Mr. Carr

On the first point, I have from the beginning of this crisis caused by President Amin's actions been in close touch with the airlines. On the whole they have been helpful, but it is a difficult situation. Anybody can get on an aeroplane if he has a ticket from Uganda. He need not fly straight to this country but can fly elsewhere and then come here, and even though the airlines are co-operating to the full—and on the whole all of them are doing so most of the time, and as far as they are aware of what is happening are prepared to co-operate—some people get through who should not.

On the second point, there would be no change. It is normal practice that wives, children and dependants cannot precede the head of the household. In this case we allowed some wives and children to precede the heads of their households who were not entitled to come here, but on the understanding—not general, but specifically conveyed to both wives and husbands—that when they wished to be reunited it would have to be in a country other than this one.

On the third point, the Government of India have been co-operating. When I say that some of these people, before getting on the first plane to London, ought to realise that there are other countries in the world in which, because of ancestral connections, they would be willingly received, and that other countries might have a primary duty towards them, India is one of the countries that I have in mind.

Mr. David Steel

I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said but would he enlarge on the sending back of the 10 Asians to Uganda? Were they sent back with express ministerial authority? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the policy of deferring the return of the other Asians is to be maintained until he tells the House otherwise?

Mr. Carr

I assure the House that the 10 Asians were sent back with express ministerial authority. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is in direct charge of this from day to day. He sees every case, and consults me about difficult matters. I shall consider the second part of the hon. Gentlemen's question, but for the moment I am deferring returning any more Asians.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) has raised a basically critical point. May we at least ask the right hon. Gentleman to retain, if necessary in detention, any citizen who, if returned to Uganda, might be in danger of his life?

Mr. Carr

I give that assurance, and, as the hon. Lady probably knows, I can do that for up to 60 days. That allows a period for international consultation, and for going fully into each case.

Some of these cases which turn up at the courts are not as simple as they appear at first sight, and not as simple as some newspaper reports make them. There were, for example, the two orphans about whom I know a number of hon. Members have been particularly concerned. On the evidence given to the immigration officer, I am satisfied that he took the right decision. I do not criticise him. These two young people did not give precise and full information to the immigration officer about their circumstances. They claimed to be admitted as students. When it was found that no arrangements of any kind had been made for their studies, entry was refused. Had the full story been given, a different decision might have been taken to begin with.