HC Deb 17 May 1976 vol 911 cc964-74
Mr. Maudling

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the treatment of British passport holders in Malawi.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Evan Luard)

There are at present about 6,800 Asian United Kingdom passport holders in Malawi. The Malawian Government have for some time made it clear that, in common with other East African Governments, they wish over a period of years to Africanise the commercial sectors of their economies. Because of the situation affecting British passport holders throughout East Africa, Her Majesty's Government introduced in 1968 a special voucher scheme to arrange for the orderly transfer of these United Kingdom passport holders to Britain. So far as Malawi is concerned, this scheme has worked successfully and until now the treatment of British passport holders in Malawi has, in general, been satisfactory.

Some weeks ago, however, an incident occurred involving Goanese residents in Malawi. Seventy-one of these, with their dependants, have now been declared prohibited immigrants and some have already arrived in this country. The High Commissioner in Malawi has been in close touch with the authorities there and the period over which the families must leave has now been extended to the end of June.

Mr. Maudling

I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he give a categorical assurance that as a result of these events there will be no increase in the overall quota for British passport holders from Africa entering this country? Why are these people being expelled? Is there any discrimination on the basis of nationality or race? Will the Minister contemplate visiting Malawi to thrash out the whole matter with Dr. Banda?

Mr. Luard

I confirm that the group which is being expelled from Malawi will form part of the overall quota of 5,000 passport holders for the whole of Africa. We have been unable to discover from the Malawi Government, despite several efforts to do so, the reason for this group being expelled and the people concerned have been unwilling to give a reason. We have been unable to discover any evidence of discrimination On the grounds of race. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am talking about this particular incident and not the general policy of Africanisation which has an element of racial—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This policy is not unique to Malawi. Very many other countries have introduced similar regulations. We do not consider that there are, at present, grounds to justify a ministerial visit to Malawi, but in order to discuss the question and to give the Malawian Government some idea of the concern felt about this matter I have asked the Malawian High Commissioner to discuss the question and he is coming to the Foreign Office tomorrow.

Mr. Faulds

Prior to these expulsions, what representations did the Government make to the Government of Malawi before the expulsions about the improper imprisonment of people holding British passports under fake charges and frequently no charges at all, which is the common practice under the dictatorship of Dr. Banda?

Mr. Luard

The Government have made representations on a number of individual cases over a considerable period. If my hon. Friend will give me details of any specific cases that he has in mind, I shall inform him what action has been taken.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will the Minister confirm that being a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies has given no legal right to come into this country since the 1968 Act and possibly before? Will he repeat the assurance which he gave to the House on 13th April and confirm that these people are perfectly able to go back to their own country of India? If he can confirm both these points, why are we arranging to bring them here?

Mr. Luard

The hon. and learned Gentleman must know that arrangements were made, in the first place, by a Conservative Government in the early 1960s to ensure that the Asian people who became citizens of the newly independent African countries were provided with United Kingdom passports and given assurances that they could come to this country. The effect of the 1968 Act was that immigration from Africa to this country was phased over a number of years. We said at that time that it would take about 10 years, and all the indications are that we have kept to that time scale and that within a couple of years most of the Asians in Africa will have come to this country.

Mr. Beith

Will the Minister of State confirm that the efforts of voluntary agencies to deal with the practical problems caused by this sudden arrival deserve some credit? Will he also tell Dr. Banda that he would do well to forget any personal and petty considerations that have entered his mind and realise that, as recent British experience has shown. African Asians are in a position to contribute a great deal to his economy as those from other African countries have already demonstrated here?

Mr. Luard

I certainly agree with what the hon. Gentleman said in the first part of his question and I pay tribute to all the organisations, particularly the United Kingdom Immigration Advisory Service, for all the very valuable work that they have done in helping to look after the Asians from Africa, who have often arrived with no home and no job to go to and who, in recent weeks, have been subjected to unnecessary and unjustified attacks in the Press. I agree that Asian families have been an important part of the economy of a number of countries in Africa. Some African Governments recognise this fact and value their presence. We should welcome the contribution that they can make to our economy when they arrive.

Mr. Mellish

Is my hon. Friend aware that most of us on this side of the House would regard Dr. Banda as a racialist of the worst kind? Is he also aware that many people believe that this nation has done all that it should have done, and that its record of receiving British passport holders is one of great honour and integrity, but that they are now saying "Enough is enough"? Is the time not about due when we should have further discussions with Canada, Australia and other members of the Commonwealth, because this burden cannot go on being borne by our own people? If we do not face up to the situation now, we shall have to do so later.

Mr. Luard

It would not be appropriate for me to comment on what my right hon. Friend said about Dr. Banda. The incident involving this group of Goanese people does not appear to be part of the Malawian Government's general policy of Africanisation. It is a specific act concerned with a specific incident, the details of which we have not been able to discover.

I recognise the views of many people in all parts of the House and the country on immigration, but we are now talking about a group whose forebears were taken to Africa from Asia at the will of the British Government. It was on these grounds that it was decided by a Conservative Administration that they should have the right to acquire British passports and the right to come here at the appropriate time. We have already taken action to phase this transition over 10 years. I do not believe that anybody in this House feels that we would be justified in preventing people with United Kingdom passports from coming here or that we should suggest that they go to Canada or any other country. It would not be appropriate to open discussions with the Canadian, Indian or any other Government about this group of people.

Mr. Shersby

Will the Government inform the Malawian Government that the British people will not tolerate the expulsion of Asian holders of United Kingdom passports for the flimsiest of reasons? Is the Minister aware that an influx of Asians on the scale which is possible by June could not be dealt with by local authorities in the areas of our major airports? I refer specifically to my own borough of Hillingdon. Will the Minister consult the Home Secretary with a view to setting up a national resettlement bureau to deal with the whole question of immigration into this country because the burden should not fall on the local authorities alone?

Mr. Luard

When I see the Malawian High Commissioner tomorrow I shall express the concern which has been expressed in the House and also the concern about the possible implications and dangers of a large-scale expulsion of people from Malawi. I appreciate the hon. Member's point about the special burden which falls on particular local authorities, but I must make it clear that we have no evidence to suggest that there is about to be a large-scale exodus of the kind he has indicated or of the kind which took place in Uganda. If such a situation did arise, we should have to consult all concerned about what arrangements should be made to receive these people.

Mr. Molloy

Is my hon. Friend aware that if he believes that it is some remarkable coincidence that a few hundred people from Malawi, all of the same race, were accidentally put into this category by Dr. Banda and that that is not racial discrimination, there is no point in his going to see anyone? They would see him coming a mile away.

I reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby)—namely, that there are sections problems for areas near the great airports. They are not new problems because of this emergency. Many people who have a right to come here, including Asians who are entitled to do so, happen to want to settle in areas near the great airports. This has created immeasurable problems for the local authorities concerned.

I emphasise the point made that we do not want simply a casual acknowledgement that something will be done. We want a firm acknowledgement that my hon. Friend and Home Office Ministers will contact the local authorities concerned so that a real contribution can be made to try to resolve what could be not merely a grievous problem but a dangerous problem.

Mr. Luard

It would be wrong to assume, merely because all the members of this group are Goanese, that these people have been expelled by Dr. Banda because they are Goanese. That is not the impression we have at present. I must make that clear.

I have already said that I understand the concern that is felt about the special burden that is placed on certain boroughs. I believe that most of the controversy which arose recently about a family which was placed in a four-star hotel should more properly have been directed at the authority concerned and at the way in which the problem was met, rather than directed as an attack on the family concerned. I shall consider whether I should have consultations with other Departments about the arrangements that should be made.

Sir Bernard Braine

Is there not another aspect of this distressing situation? Is it not extraordinary and wrong that those who are said to be United Kingdom citizens should be treated in this summary and uncivilised way by a Government who have been major recipients of British taxpayers' money over a long period? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that although everyone on both sides of the House who has had anything to do with overseas development assistance considers its use as a political weapon to be wrong, we cannot continue lavishing British taxpayers' money on Governments who behave in this way towards those who are alleged to be United Kingdom citizens? Will the hon. Gentleman bear that in mind when he sees the Malawian High Commissioner tomorrow?

Mr. Luard

The hon. Gentleman has said that all Governments have accepted that it is wrong to use aid as a political weapon, but I agree that the Malawi Government should bear carefully in mind that they are recipients of substantial aid from this country.

Mr. Madden

Reference has been made to the publicity that was recently given to the placing of Asians in an hotel. Does my hon. Friend agree that it called into question the adequacy of the provision of housing by certain local authorities, including hostel accommodation? Does my hon. Friend agree that the recent sale by the East and West Sussex County Councils of a property in their ownership at a public auction for £55,000, which was sold a week later for £75,000 to a member of the Lewes District Council, is a matter that calls into question the whole housing policy of the authority?

Mr. Luard

Although it is not for me to comment on the policy of the authority, I agree that it seems strange that a four-star hotel should have been thought suitable for housing a homeless family of this sort. I repeat that the authorities which happen to have the two main London Airports within their territories face a special burden. We should all think about whether the burden should fall entirely on them or whether some other arrangement should be made.

Mr. Hordern

Before the Minister makes that sort of remark about the West Sussex County Council, will he do his best to inform himself of the situation facing the authority? Will he recognise that it is intolerable that a local authority should be made responsible for the actions of what is, after all, national policy? Will he recognise that there are a great many people who are highly affronted at the continued number of immigrants who come to this country without any means of support, and who fall immediately dependent upon our social security system? What does the hon. Gentleman propose to do about it?

Mr. Luard

I have already said more than once that I understand the concern of the authorities which, almost exclusively, share this burden. None the less, I think that they should consider what are suitable premises for looking after families of this kind. As regards the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I understand that of the 5,000 British passport holders who came here within the past year, only 100 became dependent on public assistance. The great majority of these families have friends and relations in this country. They go to stay with those friends and relations when they first arrive, and they come here to work, not to depend on public assistance.

Mr. Maudling

I do not think that the Minister quite answered my first supplementary question. Will he give a categorical assurance that the Government will not increase the overall quota for British passport holders?

Mr. Luard

I think I have made it clear that this group will form part of the 5,000 United Kingdom passport holders. There is no intention, at present, of increasing that number. If there were to be a sudden emergency—I do not visualise anything of the sort that happened as a result of events in Uganda four years ago—obviously we should have to look at the matter again. However, at present we have no intention of increasing the quota.

Mr. John Page

Will the hon. Gentleman give instructions to the British High Commissioner in Malawi to refer all requests for entry vouchers to the Indian High Commission in Malawi, in accordance with the outline of his statement some weeks ago? It is obviously more natural and more ethnically appropriate that those who are now being expelled should go to the Goa Province of India rather than come to this country.

Mr. Luard

I have already pointed out that these people have British passports. They were given to them by a Conservative Government to enable them to come to this country if they were turned out of the country in Africa where at present they are situated.

Mr. Luce

As regards the question of the provision of temporary accommodation, will the hon. Gentleman show a greater sense of urgency about the whole problem? Does he realise that a number of the Asian families who have recently come to this country think that we are stark staring bonkers to provide them with luxury accommodation when many people in the country are suffering real hardship and need? Will the hon. Gentleman get together with other Ministers and show a greater sense of urgency towards the whole problem?

Mr. Luard

I entirely agree that luxury hotel accommodation is totally inappropriate for a situation of this kind. I have already said that I shall consider with other Departments whether special arrangements should be made. It should be borne in mind that the number of cases of this kind is not all that great. For example, it would be no good buying up or building large premises for housing people in that situation when the total flow is, on the whole, a relatively small one.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall take another three questions before the Business Statement.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will the Minister stop being mealy-mouthed and make a definite statement that it will be Government policy that there will be no overseas aid available for Governments who indulge in practices which would be criminal under the Race Relations Act in England? Secondly, is there any limitation on the number of people who can come in under the 5,000 passports, or am I right in thinking that there could, for instance, be a wife and five children as well, which would make 30,000 in all and not 5,000?

Mr. Luard

I shall no more make a statement of that kind than a Conservative Government would have done between 1970 and 1974, or any other Government. It has never been the policy of British Governments to declare specifically that they will not provide aid except in particular circumstances. I have already said that I think that the Government of Malawi should bear in mind that through their policies they might make British Governments in future look more carefully at policies of this sort.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop


Mr. Luard

I confirm that when we are talking about 5,000 vouchers we are talking about vouchers for heads of families. The number which comes in depends on the size of the family. Ordinarily it would not be as high as 30,000 but between 15,000 and 20,000.

Mr. Kimball

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that my constituency in North Lincolnshire played a large part in dealing with the tragedy of the Uganda Asians? At that time we built up a wholesome respect for the devious ability of the Asian business community, but will he assure the House that there is no question of a frame-up in this instance to achieve the same sort of queue-jumping?

Mr. Luard

I must repudiate what the hon. Gentleman said about deviousness on the part of the Asian community. Most of the people who have had anything to do with Asians from East Africa—those who have already established themselves here—have the highest respect for their industry, their thrift, and their business qualities of every kind. I have absolutely no indication that there is any attempt at queue-jumping. I should have thought that the unfortunate Goanese families themselves would hardly have deliberately chosen the very embarrassing situation in which they now find themselves. These are families who would in any case have been enabled to come here within the next year or two. All that has happened to them is that they have had to do it in the most unfavourable circumstances possible at very short notice.

Mr. Sandelson

Is my hon. Friend aware that most decent Members of the House on both sides strongly deprecate the community slander contained in the question of the hon. Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) and that it is deeply resented by all decent people in the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] That is a question. Will my hon. Friend confirm it?

Mr. Luard

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I think that I indicated what I thought about the insinuation contained in the question of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball).