HC Deb 25 January 1973 vol 849 cc653-64
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Robert Carr)

With permission, I should like to make a statement about immigration policy.

Control over the rate of Commonwealth immigration was first introduced in 1962 and has since been strengthened by successive Governments because it has been generally recognised that there is a limit to the rate at which any nation can absorb new immigrants without endangering good community relations. The Government are convinced that at a time when our housing and educational resources and the social services generally are under severe strain this policy must be not only continued but further strengthened.

Britain has a responsibility towards those residents of Commonwealth countries who, following independence, retained their citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies and, therefore, their right to United Kingdom passports. With this in mind, it is all the more important to reduce the immigration of citizens of other countries—both Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth—to the inescapable minimum.

The instrument for controlling the immigration of both Commonwealth and foreign nationals is now the 1971 Immigration Act which came into full operation on 1st January. The Government wish to make clear, in particular to employers in this country, that work permits under the 1971 Act will be issued very sparingly indeed and that this stringency will apply to Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries alike.

Following the recent debates in the House and in another place, I am today publishing revised Immigration Rules—one set for EEC and other non-Commonwealth nationals and a second separate set for all Commonwealth citizens. These amended rules reflect the Government's determination to ensure strict control of immigration: but, so far as is consistent with this, I have attempted to meet the clearly expressed wish to give the freest possible access to Commonwealth citizens whose close family ties are with this country. There are four points to which I want briefly to draw attention.

First, Commonwealth citizens with a grandparent born here will not have to obtain a work permit or be subject once here to any form of supervision; but will be granted entry clearance which will enable them to come to work and to settle here for as long as they like. Since they will not be patrials with an unrestricted right of abode as defined in the Act, they will, of course, remain liable to deportation as well as requiring the initial entry clearance to which I have referred.

Second, and because of what I have just said, Commonwealth citizens who marry women resident here or with a right to reside here will themselves be admitted for settlement provided they have a grandparent born here.

Third, the maximum period of stay of young Commonwealth citizens coming here for a working holiday will be extended from three to five years and the new rule emphasises that the period for which they are initially admitted will normally be 12 months.

Fourth, and more generally, I am making a number of changes relating to visitors, dependants, family deportation and appeal arrangements, which take as much account as possible of the views expressed in the recent debates. One example is that for all visitors the minimum initial period will ordinarily be six months and a longer period is readily to be granted.

The arrangements I have just outlined apply to substantial numbers of people in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, but in practice those wishing to come here for permanent settlement from these countries are, we believe, likely to be few. I intend in any case to keep the working of these rules under the closest possible scrutiny and to make timely changes if these prove desirable.

I turn now to the question of United Kingdom passport holders. When Asians resident in Uganda were summarily expelled last year the Government immediately accepted their obligations to our passport holders who had nowhere else to go, and the people of this country responded with characteristic generosity to the plight of the refugees. But the mass expulsion from Uganda and the necessity to cope with it has regrettably created a new situation. The Government consider that to have a similar burden thrust on us again would impose unacceptable strains and stresses in our society and, not least, would endanger our ability to carry out our duty to those immigrants already resident here.

The Government therefore think it right at this time, when we have just swiftly and honourably accepted the Ugandan Asian refugees and when there is no threat to United Kingdom passport holders elsewhere, to make it clear that while we shall continue to accept our responsibility to United Kingdom passport holders by admitting them in a controlled and orderly manner through the special voucher scheme, this is as much as it is reasonable and realistic for us to do if good community relations are to be maintained in Britain.

I make this statement now so that the Governments and individual people concerned may be aware of the exact nature of Her Majesty's Government's policy in this matter.

Our first responsibility as a Government is for the well-being of all the people in this country. No one should be in any doubt about our determination to discharge that duty through effective control over entry from overseas, through orderly arrangements for those whom we admit, and through the pursuit of positive policies to maintain and improve good community relations.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

In making this statement and in laying the new Immigration Rules before the House, the Home Secretary has now split the rules on European and EEC citizens, from those concerned with Commonwealth citizens. Since important issues are involved in both, we shall, of course, seek time to debate them. The only opportunity that the House has to debate the major change which is made in our whole immigration structure as a result of entry of the EEC—indeed, the only control that Parliament can exercise—arises in a debate on the Immigration Rules. I hope that the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House will recognise the importance of parliamentary debate and discussion on this major alteration in our way of controlling immigration policy.

This statement reveals clearly the need for a complete new policy of citizenship. On the first page of the statement, the right hon. Gentleman announces that Britain must do all she possibly can to restrict immigration to the minimum. On the second page the door is open wide to all those who have a grandparent born in this country, and on the last page it is closed to those who hold British passports and are citizens of this country.

Let us make no bones about it. We are still in a position of having a shaky, illogical and unjustifiable policy, and it is high time that we had proper discussions about citizenship.

I should like to ask the Home Secretary the following questions. First, does he believe, in straight constitutional terms, that it is right to overthrow a decision taken in Committee by this House, and a decision that was taken in the House of Lords, with regard to the position of people whose grandfathers were born in this country, by means of administrative rules? I must ask the right hon. Gentleman that question because it seems to some of us, to say the least, constitutionally a very dubious exercise.

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman say something about the position with regard to appeals for those who wish to come to this country for a short time? We on this side of the House welcome the Home Secretary's recognition of the position of those who want to appeal against refusal of entry, and he has now made this equivalent for all Commonwealth citizens and for aliens as well. We would ask him whether he would allow appeals against refusal of a right to visit to be made in this country, because of the obvious extreme difficulties involved in returning to Australia or Canada for someone on a short visit to this country.

Thirdly, what controls does the right hon. Gentleman propose to exercise for those who take or keep a working holiday for up to five years, as the House will recognise that after four years a person can apply for citizenship and the removal of restrictions? This could be a very wide loophole, although not one which the Opposition would wish to oppose if the Home Secretary can give us proper assurances.

Finally, at the end of his statement the right hon. Gentleman referred to what we all recognise to be the extremely difficult position of United Kingdom passport holders in other parts of the world. As national Governments cannot always control the circumstances of crises, will he give the House the assurance that there will be full consultations with other concerned Commonwealth Governments, so that we can avoid being put in the almost impossible position of a crisis in which our compassion and decency as a country is placed on one side of the scales and the concern of the Home Secretary to avoid a flood of refugees is placed on the other side of the scales?

Mr. Carr

I note what the hon. Lady says about the debate of both these sets of rules. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is listening, and I feel sure that we shall look sympathetically on such a desire, which I imagine is widespread throughout the House.

The hon. Lady refers to the need for this country to have a new policy of citizenship. I have already made clear that the Government have already embarked upon such a review, although I think it should be repeated that this is a very complex matter and, while we shall work hard on it, it would be foolish to imagine that the answers will come quickly and easily. But the review is going on.

But, having said that, we ought to make it clear that we need not be ashamed or in any way feel ourselves wrong in recognising close and genuine and recent family ties with this country. That does not, however, in any way belittle the fact that we need a review of citizenship.

The hon. Lady said that in making this concession, this relaxation, towards those with grandparents born here we were overthrowing a decision of the House. That is not so. There is a fundamental difference between the full grandpatriality which would have existed had the Bill gone through in its original form and what is in these rules. First, these people will still be subject to control in a way that the full patrial will not. The entry clearance can be refused, and they remain subject to deportation. Moreover, full grandpatriality as originally proposed could have been changed only by a new Act of Parliament. This relaxation I am announcing today can be changed as easily as it has been introduced, or modified or removed. I said particularly that we wish to keep the results of all these changes under very close review, and would not hesitate to introduce changes if necessary.

As to the hon. Lady's question about appeals by short-term visitors, I see the point she makes. I am afraid that I have to say "no" to her actual question, because we believe that experience both here and in other countries has shown that to grant the right of appeal here to people who come without proper documents would lead to an enormous pile-up of the appeal machinery and have dangers concerning our immigration control. But we shall be as reasonable as we can, and I think that what I have said about normal visitors is symptomatic. Also, by better publicity in the countries concerned we shall do what we can to indicate to people how easily they can get clearance documents and, although they do not have to have them in order to come in, stress to them that it will ease their passage and make the danger of misunderstandings at the ports much less if they get entry documents before coming.

On the point about working holidaymakers, under the 1971 Act the position is now different from what it was, and at the end of their five years, although they have an automatic right to apply for registration as citizens with a right of abode in this country, they no longer have an automatic right to get it. Therefore, that is why I felt able to extend the maximum period from three years to five years; because the control would still remain.

Finally, on the very important point about United Kingdom passport holders. I appreciate what the hon. Lady said about that. This is a grave national problem. Other Commonwealth Governments have been fully informed about the way our thinking has been developing. We understand their problems, and I think that by and large they understand ours. I can only say that of course we are ready to talk to any Commonwealth Government who would like to come to talk to us about it.

Mr. Maudling

I was largely responsible for seeking the approval of Parliament to the Act which these regulations implement. Therefore. I suppose that I am the main cause of my right hon. Friend's recent headaches. Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on the good sense of his proposals today, which I hope will be generally accepted?

Mr. Carr

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, to whom I would say that my headaches were very short and the advantages of his Bill very great.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Home Secretary none the less aware that the reason why the majority of the House rejected the proposed regulations was that the House thought that they were a nonsense? Just as the right hon. Gentleman's mind has been wonderfully concentrated by a defeat in this matter, we are still in an Alice-in-Wonderland situation.

First, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is broad support for the suggestion of the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) that there should be a citizenship law introduced for the avoidance of doubt? Secondly, are we not still in the position that a British husband may be joined by his non-British wife but that a British wife may not be joined by her non-British husband, and that this has caused grave stresses?

Finally, while I accept that legal obligations and social stresses very often conflict, surely with regard to United Kingdom passport holders we cannot have it both ways. Either we accept an obligation or we reject an obligation to admit them. If we accept the obligation, how does the right hon. Gentleman square that with the idea of controlled and orderly entry, and what does he mean by it? What does it mean to a person who may or may not be expelled? We hope that it may not happen, but one simply cannot pretend that the problem does not exist.

Mr. Carr

I must say to the right hon. Gentleman once again that the very fact that we have announced that we are to make a review of our whole British citizenship laws is an indication that we think that the time may have come when changes will be needed, but it is a complicated subject the resolution of which will not be easy or quick.

On the point about the husband and wife dilemma, I am following what was done by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) when he was Home Secretary, and for a reason which I understand and fully support—I understand it much better now that I am Home Secretary, perhaps, than I did previously—namely, that it is a fact, although I am sorry to say this, that men were coming into this country in order to marry as a means of obtaining settlement. Women, to their credit, have not yet started to do that. If they were to start. I should have to treat women as severely as men. But in order to maintain the strict control over immigration which I believe the whole House accepts now to be necessary I am afraid that this present rule is necessary, with the pressures upon us.

On the third point, about United Kingdom passport holders, what we are saying is that we have a responsibility—we admit that—but that we must, if we are to accept it in an honourable and decent manner, be able to take it on board in an orderly and controlled way and that everybody cannot come in tomorrow. What I have said is that we announced a scheme following the 1968 Act, we believe that we can continue to operate on that rough sort of order of magnitude. We were doing so before Uganda even, and we have been doing so for some time. But at a time when there is no crisis we think that it is both right and honourable to announce to the world that we cannot do more than that.

Sir G. Sinclair

Will my right hon. Friend recognise that many of us on this side of the House welcome his reassurance that the strictest control will be imposed on immigrants coming here to seek residence? Will he recognise that many of us welcome his statements about British passport holders in East Africa and elsewhere, based as they are on a heavy responsibility to protect all communities in this country from the extra strains that would come from another unexpectedly large and rapid influx? Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend give us some reassurance that, before they are finally made, these rules can be revised as a result of the Commonwealth consultations that are now in progress?

Mr. Carr

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome to the general content of my statement. I assure him that the Commonwealth rules can be revised at any time. New rules can be produced at any time, and certainly as a result of any outcome of the Commonwealth consultations that have started.

Mr. Bidwell

May I ask whether, in the interval between the rejection by the House of the rules as they stood and today, the right hon. Gentleman—or the Foreign Secretary—has undertaken consultations with Commonwealth Governments?

Secondly, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to assure us that, notwithstanding that Pakistan is not yet technically part of the Commonwealth, he will honour the position of Pakistan citizens in this country and that he will address his mind to the question of the separate State of Bangladesh and the effect on its citizens in this country who are not designated Commonwealth citizens by virtue of the 1948 Act?

Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House and the nation as a whole that, whatever the future has in store for us on this issue, he, the Home Office and any British Government will never discriminate on grounds of colour, race or ethnic origins?

Mr. Carr

I assure the hon. Gentleman about that, and he will see that basic statement at the beginning of both sets of rules.

On the question of consultations, the immigration policy and rules of any country are its own affair, and it is our experience that other countries not only do not expect to be consulted about these matters but often would prefer not to be. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that nothing has been done without prior knowledge of the Governments most likely to be concerned, and I repeat that we are ready to talk whenever they want us to.

The new Act and the rules operate only in respect of those who arrive here after 1st January of this year. Anyone who was here before then is not affected.

Sir Robin Turton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be considerable disappointment that the initial period of entry for visitors and those coming on working holidays from Australia and New Zealand is identical with that laid down in the rules that were rejected? Is there any reason why these young people who come here after a long and expensive journey should be treated any worse than those coming here for that purpose from the European Communities?

Mr. Carr

I assure my right hon. Friend that they will not be treated any worse than those coming from EEC countries. I believe that when my right hon. Friend has had time to study the rules he will find that that is so, but if there is anything in the rules which makes him think otherwise I shall be glad to have it drawn to my attention.

My right hon. Friend expressed his disappointment—regardless of the comparison—at the shortness of the initial period. The normal initial period that I am proposing for young holidaymakers is 12 months, and six months for all visitors, with an explicit statement that longer periods should be freely given. This is a difficult matter to decide. Having looked at all the risks, and having looked, too, at the experience of other countries, I have come to the conclusion that it might endanger the integrity of our basic immigration control to give much longer initial periods without any chance of checking on what people are doing.

Miss Lestor

I support the Government in upholding the right of British passport holders in Uganda to come to this country. There is, nevertheless, considerable disquiet among many people that the application of the policy of allowing only British passport holders to come to this country from Uganda has excluded some members of a family. What does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do about the small but significant number of people, particularly men, separated from their families who have been allowed to come here?

Mr. Carr

I am very much aware of this intense and pressing human problem. It is not only a British practice, rule and experience but an international one that responsibility lies with the head of the family. What we did in these unfortunate cases was at least to provide—which it was not our obligation to do—a temporary haven for wives and children for the sake of their safety, but we made it clear that we would expect, and would help, them eventually to be reunited with their husbands in third countries.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is visiting Europe and looking into this problem, among other things. He will be in London next week, and I hope to have meetings with him. I assure the House that I shall make clear to him that he will have our full help in solving this problem and getting the families reunited as soon as possible.

Mr. Powell

While I note the distinction between patriality under the 1971 Act and what is proposed in the rules in regard to persons with one grandparent born in this country, may I ask my right hon. Friend to recognise the undesirability and danger of a rule-making power under an Act being used either to alter a principle that has been decided by the House or to introduce a new major distinction of policy that was not considered in the course of that legislation?

Mr. Carr

I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend. Under the Act and the rules—and, indeed, under the rules applying under previous Acts—it has been common practice to remove certain categories of people from the current system of control. For example, under the previous system doctors and various other people have at times been removed from the need to have entry vouchers.

The same applies under the new system. It is our practice to remove from the need for work permits certain categories of people, realising that we can always restore them when needed. I think that that amount of flexibility is important and meets some of the objections that my right hon. Friend made to incorporating such a wide patriality clause in the Bill.