HC Deb 20 May 1976 vol 911 cc1687-93
3. Mr. MacGregor

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further proposals for immigration controls he is considering to assist local authorities charged with having to house immigrant families who come to the United Kingdom with no advance provision for their housing or other financial support.

6. Mr. Hordern

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now revise the immigration rules to ensure that no immigrant, from whatever authorised method of entry to the United Kingdom, is allowed to enter the United Kingdom unless he or she can demonstrate that he will not be a charge on the provision of social security services.

8. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied with the liaison between his Department and local authorities on the reception of immigrant families.

14. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans for issuing further orders under the Immigration Act 1974 to tighten the restrictions on new immigrant entrants and their dependants.

21. Sir George Young

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with current provisions for admitting voucher holders from Malawi; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

I have no plans to reduce the annual quota of 5,000 special vouchers for United Kingdom passport holders, whether from Malawi or elsewhere. I recognise that a very small proportion of the families who are admitted under the voucher scheme may be unable to provide for themselves immediately on arrival, but it would be undesirable and inconsistent with the object of the scheme to refuse them admission on that account. I keep the operation of the scheme under review, but it would not in general be feasible to arrange with local authorities in advance for the reception of individual families.

As to the dependants of persons settled here, there is a general requirement that a sponsor must be able and willing, without recourse to public funds, to support and accommodate his dependants seeking to join him. This requirement has not and does not, however, apply to the admission of the wife and children under 18 of a Commonwealth citizen who has the right of abode or was settled in the United Kingdom on the coming into force of the Immigration Act 1971.

Mr. MacGregor

Is the Home Secretary aware that these recent incidents—admittedly involving a small number of families—have created enormous resentment among ordinary working people and pensioners, especially those with incomes under £3,000; that in our current economic conditions they do our immigration policy and social security system no good in the public eye; and that they are unfair to the immigrants themselves? Will he, in consultation with the Foreign Secretary, use our considerable muscle over relevant African Governments to introduce a tighter system that ensures that these cases do not arise again?

Mr. Jenkins

I am certainly aware that there has been considerable concern and resentment about this much-publicised but somewhat isolated, case. It is easy to criticise others, but, on the information available to me, I do not think that the local authority handled the matter particularly well. However, I am aware of the problem and am anxious—as I know the hon. Gentleman is from the way in which he phrased his supplementary question—that there should not be any unfair repercussions on other immigrants.

People in this category of United Kingdom passport holders from Africa countries are in general well able to support themselves and they quickly become useful and, quite often, prosperous members of the community. It is highly desirable that they should be able to do that from the beginning. That is one reason why we are having them in somewhat faster—but not above the 5,000 total. If racially discriminatory policies are pursued in other countries and these people are thrown out of work and have to wait a longer time to come here, there is more danger that they will be destitute when they arrive.

Mr. Lipton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been various loopholes in the immigration controls, of which unscrupulous people have taken advantage? Will he see what can be done to stop up these loopholes, which are a matter of concern to both the indigenous and the legally immigrant population of this country?

Mr. Jenkins

I am aware that there are attempts to exploit loopholes in various ways. The extent can sometimes be exaggerated, but it certainly exists. In the interests of the immigrant community, the community as a whole, and good race relations, we need strict immigration control. Therefore, I am endeavouring in all possible ways to stop up such loopholes.

Mr. Hordern

Does the Secretary of State now recognise that he was wrong to criticise the West Sussex County Council over its handling of the case that has been mentioned? It is intolerable that any local authority should be made responsible for carrying out what is national policy. Furthermore, there is the strongest objection to allowing immigrants into this country who immediately become dependent upon our social security services. What does he propose to do about reducing the number of entry vouchers?

Mr. Jenkins

I do not propose to reduce the number of entry vouchers. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have considerable respect, must see that, having accepted this obligation, which we inherited from the previous Government, to deal with the problem more slowly while people in other countries, for reasons into which I do not wish to go, pursue discriminatory policies against these people, would almost certainly guarantee that a greater proportion would be without funds when they came here. We want to deal with this limited, but difficult, problem in an orderly way, so that the people who arrive, as in the great majority of cases, are able to support themselves on arrival.

Mr. Bidwell

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the story of the Malawi Asian family in West Sussex has been ballooned out of all proportion to its importance to the British people, and that the most intelligent of them understand that? Does he further agree that in principle there is nothing against a destitute British pass-holding family being accommodated in a swanky hotel in West Sussex for a limited period, provided that they have a legitimate right to be in this country? Does he also agree that the Tory backwoodsmen should have their attention drawn to the action taken by Lord Carr, when Home Secretary, in facing the 1972 Ugandan Asian exodus fairly and squarely, and in principle—

Mr. Speaker

Order. There are many supplementary questions on this Question.

Mr. Jenkins

I agree that Lord Carr faced this issue with courage and from the point of view of principle. I think that one must face this issue as a matter of principle. I agree that it must be handled with reasonable sensitivity to the feelings of the people who were accommodated in the way that they were. Such a matter is almost inevitably ballooned out of all proportion. The job of all of us is to try to bring the matter back into proportion. One of the two families concerned did not come here under the voucher scheme, because the wife was patrial and was entitled to be here in any case.

Mr. Tim Renton

The Home Secretary referred to dealing with this problem in a limited and orderly way. Is not the danger that it may cease to be either a limited or an orderly problem? Does he agree with two propositions: first, that the possession of a United Kingdom passport should in no way be thought of as a passport to the social services and, secondly, that the reception of a large number of immigrants and their families places an intolerable strain on local authorities which have to deal with them, and that therefore they should be dealt with on a national basis?

Mr. Jenkins

If there were anything approaching a major problem, such as arose in 1972, it would have to be dealt with on a national basis. The circumstances surrounding the two families have been ballooned out of all proportion. The number of people who arrived last weekend was many more than the Press suggested, and none of them constituted a burden on the local authorities where they arrived. To set up an elaborate national organisation to deal with a limited problem would be bureaucracy run mad and not sensible future planning.

I talk of a limited and orderly way, because we have managed to reduce the problem substantially in scale. While we cannot be certain what the future will bring, we are less likely to have difficult problems if we face the matter in a rational way now.

Mr. Greville Janner

When considering the assistance of local authorities in receiving immigrants, will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to cities such as Leicester, which have assimilated large numbers of immigrants and require help with their problems?

Mr. Jenkins

I am aware that when large numbers of immigrants come in, as happened in 1972 and on certain other occasions, there is a concentration and demand upon the resources of certain cities, of which Leicester is one and Birmingham is another. There are other cities as well. I agree that a considerable strain is imposed on local authorities. I pay tribute to the efforts of local authorities and, indeed, of individuals living in those areas to deal with the problem, often in difficult circumstances.

Sir G. Young

Are the Government unable to persuade other countries in the free world to offer refuge and hospitality to the victims of racialism in Malawi?

Mr. Jenkins

Many United Kingdom passport holders, formerly resident in East Africa, have gone to countries other than the United Kingdom, with a view to settlement. No doubt many more will do so. That is a reasonable allocation in view of what is happening. Obviously we cannot act by unilateral diktat in this matter. I agree that it is desirable that there should be dispersal when these problems arise. But, if that does not occur, they are passport holders of this country and not of other countries.

Mr. Faulds

Would it not be totally dishonourable if Britain were to welsh on her obligations in respect of a limited number of immigrants, the more particularly since those obligations devolve upon Britain as part of her post-imperial responsibilities?

Mr. Jenkins

I assure my hon. Friend and the House that I have no intention of welshing on any obligations at all. My hon. Friend's historical analysis is correct. It arose, I think, from the arrangements made by Lord Duncan Sandys in the early 1960s. It presents a problem, but I am convinced that the way that we have proceeded with this substantial but not huge increase, in a limited and orderly way, has enabled us, at any rate so far, to accommodate the Malawi Asians within the total of vouchers that we announced some time ago. That has proved to be the correct approach to this limited, but difficult, problem. We are determined to discharge our duties both to the individuals concerned and to the people in this country.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), may I ask hon. Members not to use the expression "to welsh" as long as I am in the Chair? It is highly offensive to the people from where I come.

Mr. Faulds

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I withdraw that unfortunate word. As a Scot, I know no other.

Mr. Speaker

To scotch is not as bad as to welsh.

Mr. Whitelaw

Does the Home Secretary agree that in handling what I accept is an extremely difficult problem, it is very important to take account of the strong feelings of the British people? It is impossible to pretend that when the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) says that "enough is enough", he is not reflecting the mood of the British people. We have to take that very seriously.

Nobody wishes to welsh—I am sorry Mr. Speaker; I beg your pardon. No one has any intention of going back on the obligations that we have to British passport holders, but does the Home Secretary agree that Lord Carr said, after the Ugandan Asian problem, which he carried through correctly, that any further influx of that order could not be handled by a British Government in that way? Was Lord Carr not correct? In having orderly entry under the voucher system, is it not possible to make as certain as possible that those who come have means of support and somewhere to go when they arrive?

Mr. Jenkins

On the subject of the unfortunate word "welsh", I have every reason to be as sensitive about this as you, Mr. Speaker. But the Oxford Dictionary says that the word can be spelt with a "c", and is a northern racing term. Therefore I do not react as strongly as you do.

On the more serious matter, I take the view that it is my duty as Home Secretary and the duty of the House, to take account of the natural reactions and feelings of our people. But it is important to explain the facts of the situation to them and to guide those reactions into rational and humanitarian channels wherever possible. I hope and believe that we can contain this problem. The number of United Kingdom passport holders remaining in Malawi is relatively limited.