HC Deb 08 April 1976 vol 909 cc621-3
9. Mr. Sims

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to publish the report on the number of illegal immigrants working in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon)

We have no plans to publish a report on this matter. It is not for us to publish the recent report of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, if that is what the hon. Member has in mind.

Mr. Sims

I have in mind the report that the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend told us, on 12th February, he had just received from his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment on the subject of illegal immigration. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that there is widespread concern about what is believed to be the extent of illegal immigration and the ease with which illegal immigrants can get work? Legal immigrants, particularly, are concerned about this.

Mr. Lyon

I recognise that there is some concern, which I share, about the number of people who may avoid immigration control in one way or another. I do not believe that the figures are anything like the speculative figures that are sometimes put about, but I am always concerned about the evasion of control.

Mr. Whitelaw

If the hon. Gentleman is so sure about the speculative figures, would not the most satisfactory way of proving that he is right be, first, to publish the report, secondly, to take action on the question of over-staying, which I have constantly put to the Home Secretary, and thirdly, to publish the Moser Report on immigration statistics as soon as it is received? Only in that way can we make people believe that there is direct control of immigration and that there can be seen to be direct control of immigration.

Mr. Lyon

The right hon. Gentleman must realise that there is no report and there is, therefore, no question of publishing it. Almost by definition, it is impossible to give statistics for illegal immigration. The fact that there has been an evasion of control means that it is impossible to register statistics about it. Speculation there may be, but I believe that the speculation that is current in the Press is wildly exaggerated, as can be seen by comparing the indications of settlement in various parts of the country, by the schools test, by housing applications, or by any other test that shows that immigrants are coming in. On the general theme, I agree that, largely because of the speculation that has been inspired, there is a need to reassure people, and we are concerned about doing that. We are looking at the whole question and considering what to do about the Moser Report when it is received.

Mr. Whitelaw

Is it not unworthy for the Minister to talk about speculation being inspired? It is important that the public should be assured and reassured. If the hon. Gentleman is insinuating that I am inspiring such speculation, I hope that he will desist from doing so. I am seeking only a proper reassurance. The Minister said that there is not a report, but my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) referred to one. As for the Moser Report, I hope that it is clearly understood that it should be published at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Lyon

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should feel incensed and think that I was referring to him. I was not referring to him, but he knows that there are people in high positions who have contributed to this speculation.

Mr. Bidwell

Does my hon. Friend agree that this line of persistent Tory inquiry should not interfere with the exercise of compassion in bringing together families, although some of the relatives may not strictly be within the immigration rules? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that this line of Tory uncivilised pressure does not influence him in any way?

Mr. Lyon

I am always acutely conscious that I am dealing with human beings, not statistics. If I can, I try to ensure that human beings have their happiness, provided that they fall within the rules.

Mr. Budgen

Will the Minister please tell the House what is his answer to the Question raised by my right hon. Friend, about the problem of over-stay? The Minister has been asked many times what the Government are doing about this problem, which is causing great resentment throughout the country.

Mr. Lyon

The problem of over-staying arises when someone is allowed in on conditional entry and then seeks to go to ground in order to avoid leaving the country. If we find such persons—and we do our best to find them—we deport them. It is really a question of control inside the country. There are things that some countries do about internal surveillance of people living in their territory, but I suspect that the great majority of Members of the House would resist any such incursions into the freedom of individuals living in this country. That is the weakness of our immigration control. We have a perimeter control, which can be avoided, but if we were to go for a tighter form of control it would mean having forms of internal surveillance that most Members of the House would simply not accept.