HC Deb 12 February 1976 vol 905 cc594-6
3. Mr. Lawson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will ask Sir Claus Moser, as part of the inquiry he announced on 14th January, to ascertain the number of Commonwealth citizens ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom, and not yet accepted for settlement, who none the less possess immunity from deportation; and if he will state the Government's policy in general towards the subsequent granting of the permanent right of settlement to those who enter the United Kingdom on a temporary and conditional basis.

10. Mr. Mayhew

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how is the net balance figure for immigration calculated from embarkation and admission figures; and what relevance the figure has in assessing the true immigration level.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

On 14th January, I announced that I had asked Sir Claus Moser to look into the circumstances in which the embarkation of certain Commonwealth citizens was counted twice. I have now received from him a report on how this error occurred, which has shown that it was due to a lack of clarity in the revised instructions which came into effect on January 1st, 1973, and to defects in the supervision of those concerned in the counting. Although it is clear that I, and consequently the House, should have been informed earlier that the error had occurred, I have found no evidence that the officials concerned behaved discreditably or in such a way as to justify disciplinary action.

What is, in my view, of greater public importance is the significance that should be attached in general to these figures of arrivals and embarkations, and I have therefore asked Sir Claus Moser for a supplementary report on this aspect. I do not think it would be either right or necessary to ask him to range wider than this. I shall inform the House in due course of the outcome of this review.

Mr. Lawson

I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. I am glad that he is slightly extending the remit given to Sir Claus Moser, but will he please answer the second part of my Question, which concerns a matter of considerable importance?

Mr. Jenkins

The Government's policy in relation to the subsequent granting of right of permanent settlement and the revocation of conditions is that which has applied for some time. It takes place, unless there are reasons to the contrary, when someone ordinarily resident here has been so resident for five years. This recognition of the facts does not lead to an increase in the numbers settled here. I do not think it would be desirable for people to live here in a state of permanent uncertainty.

Mr. Mayhew

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that true immigration is made up of those admitted here to settle and those who, having once been admitted as visitors, are subsequently allowed to stay? Are these categories not separately calculated, and can we not have the figures for 1975?

Mr. Jenkins

The hon. and learned Member is almost exactly right. It is the total of these two categories which successive Governments have regarded as the most accurate indication of immigration. They are published each year and they were not affected by the error relating to 1973 and the early part of 1974. They are published and available. Anyone who follows these matters adds the two together and gets the final figure. I am not sure whether we can perform this simple act of addition ourselves. There is no reason why we should not. These are the correct categories to take into account in determining net immigration in any year.

Sir David Renton

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in addition to visitors here for a short-term stay, there are also other categories, such as students and people admitted for limited periods of employment, who may well overstay their time, perhaps unknown to the Home Office, but whose dependants will become permanent settlers here? Will he bear this factor in mind?

Mr. Jenkins

This point is very much borne in mind. The problem of dealing with overstayers exercises us, and in a large number of cases when they have been detected they have been deported. If a person overstays and is here illegally, that time does not count towards the necessary period of residency to achieve a permanent right of settlement.

Mr. Whitelaw

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that in considering this whole policy and reviewing the position of permanent right of settlement he will always have in mind the policy he stated to Mr. Robin Day on television, of a very restrictive policy towards immigration?

Mr. Jenkins

My policy, which I have stated on a number of occasions and repeat now, is that there is, in present or any foreseeable circumstances, a strict limit on the amount of immigration that this country can absorb. It is right and generally accepted that the rules have to be administered with a reasonable humanity—and problems of humanity do arise. Together with that strong control over immigration, we must have a most determined and liberal policy of complete equality for those settled in this country. I regard these matters as two sides of the same coin.