HC Deb 01 February 1973 vol 849 cc1585-8
3. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how much money was spent in renovating Piddlehinton Camp so as to make it habitable for the Ugandan Asians; how long they were there; and to what future use this camp is to be put.

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

The preliminary estimate of the cost of preparing this camp for use by the Uganda Resettlement Board is somewhat less than £50.000. The camp was used as a resettlement centre from 19th October to 17th November. The camp is, I understand, surplus to the requirements of the Ministry of Defence, which will be disposing of it under the normal procedures.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

Is not £50,000 a lot of money, even in the circumstances, for a camp which had not been occupied for seven years, which was totally unsuited to people coming from a tropical country, and which is about to be demolished at any time?

Mr. Carr

Yes, I am afraid it is a lot of money. Of course, it was not easy to provide for the needs of a large but unknown number of refugees, as we had to last summer. We had to search out all the possible camps of this kind which could be used. In the event the camp was needed for only a short time, and with the wisdom of hindsight we might even argue that we could have done without it. But it was almost impossible to foresee that at the time the decision to prepare it was taken.

7. Mr. Evelyn King

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the cost attributable to the use by Ugandan Asians of Hobbs Barracks, Lingfield; how many were housed; on what days it opened and closed; and what was the average cost per head.

Mr. R. Carr

Hobbs Barracks was used by the Uganda Resettlement Board as a resettlement centre from 13th October 1972 to 12th January this year. During that time 1,652 refugees passed through the centre. Final figures for the cost of using the camp as a resettlement centre are not yet available, but the average cost per refugee is estimated to be about £100.

Mr. King

In the light of these costs and other likely costs to follow, will the Home Secretary accept that most of the Ugandan Asians will in the end, quite naturally, join Asian communities in the big cities, and that attempts to scatter them around the countryside in groups of one or two houses, whether or not they are humane, are likely to be fruitless?

Mr. Carr

I agree with my hon. Friend that it will not be easy to get the sort of dispersal he is talking about, but it has from the beginning been the Government's policy—rightly so—to do their best to achieve that. We owe it to those areas of the country where there are problems of over-concentration and overcrowding. However difficult, we should seek to do this in the interests of those areas and of the refugees.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

The Opposition are impressed by the economy shown by the Uganda Resettlement Board, rather than the contrary. Will the Home Secretary say how many refugees are still in the camps, and will he convey to the Uganda Resettlement Board the considerable admiration that many of us have for the work it has done?

Mr. Carr

Yes. I have previously paid tribute to the work of the Uganda Resettlement Board and to the many thousands of people and voluntary associations who are helping it, and I certainly pay tribute again. I agree that, on the whole, this has been an economical operation. Hon. Members who are worried about this should realise that in terms of total public expenditure there is a substantial reduction in terms of the aid expenditure that would otherwise have been spent in Uganda. We would rather it were spent in Uganda, but I have made clear from the beginning that we could not spend it in both places. The number in the camps is now 6,000, or slightly less.

19. Mr. Douglas-Mann

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will take steps to admit the husbands of holders of British passports who have been expelled from Uganda in order to alleviate the hardship to the families concerned, to ease the burden on public funds of supporting these families, and to end the sexual discrimination involved in the present practice.

Mr. R. Carr

Earlier this week I met the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who has responsibility for Ugandan refugees in camps abroad, including the husbands to whom the hon. Gentleman refers. I discussed with him what could be done to speed up the reuniting of families. He is now consulting with other Governments and he will be in touch with me again in the near future.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I suppose I must be grateful for that somewhat uninformative reply. Does the Home Secretary agree that in the light of his disgraceful statement last week, when he spoke of accepting our responsibility for United Kingdom passport holders by admitting them through the special vouchers scheme, there is no longer any danger of a precedent being set which would affect people expelled from other countries, and therefore no longer the slightest justification for imposing hardships and sexual discrimination in immigration matters by separating families.

Mr. Carr

The hon. Gentleman is not putting a very integrated picture of the situation. We must remember that these families were separated in the first place only because of our speedy action in having been willing to remove wives and children to safety, but it was made clear to both husbands and wives that this would mean a period of separation. I assure the House that we wish to see them re-united as quickly as possible. There has been a United Nations response, those who are concerned accept this situation, and we are anxious to help them to deal with that responsibility as best we can.

Mr. Nigel Fisher

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there are not only compassionate grounds for re-uniting these families but also material ones, in that these are breadwinners who could support their families if they were allowed to come here, rather than that their families should be supported at the taxpayers' expense?

Mr. Carr

Yes, it is urgent for economic as well as for other reasons. I repeat that I have had a most useful discussion with the High Commissioner. He has been in touch with one or two other Governments, and will be in touch with me again in the near future.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Home Secretary appreciate that if the United Nations chooses to remove these non-British passport holders from the United Kingdom their families will have to join those passport holders somewhere else? Does he realise the upheaval which this will cause to the heads of these families?

Mr. Carr

We made clear to the families before they left Uganda, and before separation, that they might have to be re-united in a country other than this. We shall help them to be re-united elsewhere.

Mr. John Fraser

Since the right hon. Gentleman has discretion to admit these United Kingdom passport holders if he cares to do so, why should they be treated less fairly than fiancées who are able to come to this country and remain here after marriage if separation may cause unreasonable hardship to wives?

Mr. Carr

The hon. Gentleman should realise that this is a special refugee situation of great tragedy for those who are affected. We wish to re-unite them as soon as we can. The United Nations is accepting responsibility, and I am working in close co-operation with it. Britain has taken full responsibility for a very large number of people.