HC Deb 06 April 1978 vol 947 cc646-60
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

I should like to draw to the attention of the House the Command Paper on control of immigration statistics for 1977, which is published today and which contains new information, in particular extensive historical tables showing the pattern of immigration over the past 10 years. The Government's detailed reply to the report of the Select Committee on Immigration will of course be published in the normal way as a White Paper. In the meantime, I should like to take the opportunity of relieving some anxieties that have been aroused recently.

Today's Command Paper on statistics shows a fall in both primary and secondary immigration. By primary, I mean the entry of heads of households, for example with work permits, and by secondary, the admission of their dependants. The total number from the new Commonwealth and Pakistan accepted for settlement on arrival fell from 37,000 in 1976 to 28,000 last year—a reduction of 25 per cent. This reduction supports the Select Committee's view that for some time there has been very little primary immigration from these countries, and I note that the Select Committee has not challenged the accuracy of the Home Office statistics on this issue.

We can therefore confidently say that, subject to commitments to United Kingdom passport holders under the special voucher scheme, which have been accepted and confirmed by successive Governments, and to those arising out of the Immigration Act 1971 and from our membership of the EEC, there will be no further major primary immigration in the foreseeable future". The Government fully agree with the Select Committee conclusion that it is not equitable or practical to renounce previous commitments, and I can assure the House and those who would be affected that the Government have no intention of doing so.

The reduction in the immigration figures shows that there is no need to introduce a new specific annual quota. I think it important to reassure the immigrant communities on this point particularly in the light of the Select Committee's recommendation—which some have interpreted to mean quotas.

This recommendation appears in fact to have been aimed at giving greater priority to the admission of wives and children of those settled here. The figures for wives and children in the Command Paper show that the Government already give priority to them. But we accept that, where necessary, staff should be redeployed to enable even greater flexibility in giving such priority.

The Government share the Select Committee's view that, for educational and other reasons, children who, in any case, are going to settle here should spend their formative years in this country, and that where people have a choice, it is not in the interests of good race relations deliberately to postpone bringing them here until they reach working age. However, it is not the Government's view that where a child is born in the future to a wife abroad, the admission of the mother and child to settle in the United Kingdom should normally be limited to children under 12 years of age. We would not contemplate removing or refusing entry to, say, a 12-year-old girl of a family settled here. To do so would be inhumane.

The Government note the Select Committee's comments on a register of dependants and its inability to make a recommendation in support of the idea. The Government have reconsidered this matter, but remain of the view which I expressed when the report of the Parliamentary Group under Lord Franks was published: It is inherent in the only scheme which the Group thought feasible that a register would be discriminatory, would be incomplete in coverage, would involve long delay in implementation and would be very expensive, and it is clear that it could give no certainty about future numbers". The Select Committee recommends that the Government should institute an independent inquiry to consider a system of internal control of immigration. This would mean identity cards for everyone and new powers to require their production on demand. Such a major change in practice and power reaching far beyond immigration control would be objectionable in principle. In the Government's view, therefore, no useful purpose would be served by setting up an inquiry.

However, the problems of control to which the Select Committee and also the CPRS have drawn attention, particularly as regards illegal employment, are undoubtedly important. We had already taken action on this by opening discussions with the TUC and CBI about how to deal more effectively with illegal entrants and over-stayers who take work to which others are entitled. We shall pursue the discussions energetically and I shall report further to the House. Meanwhile, we shall continue to take vigorous action to enforce the immigration control. In 1977, more than 1,100 deportation orders were made and in addition nearly 500 illegal immigrants were removed.

Immigration is a part, but only a part, of the wider question of race relations. Those who have come to this country have contributed much to British life. They have the assurance that we will honour our commitments to their close dependants. The United Kingdom is now, and will remain, a multiracial society. Our overriding responsibility is to do all in our power to make it a harmonious one. We have no doubt that in this we have the support of the overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens. The Government are committed to this in their policies for employment, education, the inner cities and other matters. We seek justice and equality of treatment for all who live in this country. That is the purpose to which all of us in the House and the country should devote our energies.

Mr. Whitelaw

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement shows that basically he intends to do nothing in response to the Select Committee's report? We do not accept that as in any way satisfactory, and I shall make clear our detailed reasons for that view tomorrow.

Mr. Rees

I have said that out of some 30 recommendations we are not in favour of a quota or a register and that we are not in favour of internal registration. After all the talk that the Opposition have made in the past few months, surely they could have at least said something in the House.

Mr. David Steel

On behalf of my colleagues I give a warm welcome to the terms of the statement. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the White Paper, which has been published this afternoon, when summed up means that immigration has declined, is declining and will decline? Will he confirm that the trend of the figures this year demonstrates that that is likely to be so? Will he accept that the debate should now shift away from the relatively easy topic of numbers and move on to the much more difficult social problems of youth unemployment, housing and education in the deprived areas, which necessarily involve expenditure?

Mr. Rees

Yes, the right hon. Gentleman is right about the statistics. The new section shows the figures over a period of 10 years and deals with primary immigration. The figures deal with dependants and include interesting figures as a result of entering the EEC. The figures show that since we have joined the EEC fewer people have come from Europe to live in this country. The statistics bear investigation. They are new collected statistics.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we should be putting our minds to the problem of race relations with a small—it will always be relatively small—population who were immigrants, or are the children of immigrants. That is what we should be concerned about. That matters, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has at least supported what we have said.

Mr. Bidwell

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in view of what has been forthcoming from the Opposition it is a matter of urgency that the contents of the Select Committee's report—it is a wide study—and their full meaning are adequately debated in the House so that we can sort the facts from the fiction, which must further defuse the situation? If we can reach agreement between the two major parties, surely that is in the interests of race relations in Britain.

Mr. Rees

The Government will be publishing a White Paper. We shall be doing so as soon as possible. I am sure that my hon. Friend, who was a member of the Committee, would be able to tell us straight away the difference between the fact and the fiction.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement is deeply disappointing as it fails completely to grasp the widespread problem of illegal immigration, which has nothing to do with identity cards? Is he aware that one of the most important recommendations of the Select Committee—it was made totally unanimously—was that primary immigration to this country should be ended? Is he aware that at present the main source of primary immigration into Britain is the so-called male fiancé? Does he agree with the Select Committee that male fiancés should be put right at the end of the queue?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in what he says about primary immigration. Fiancés are not part of primary immigration. The hon. Gentleman shows straight away how little he knows about the matter. Primary immigration is falling rapidly. It is not only of coloured people. It covers all people from all parts of the world. The hon. Gentleman has made a statement about fiancés that is directly contrary to the report that he signed. That is why I think the quicker we have a debate the better. There seems to be confusion on the Opposition Benches. The hon. Gentleman talks about massive illegal immigration but he does not have one bit of information to justify that. He is doing what he always does. He wants to make the situation worse than it is because he believes that it is worse.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on a most splendid statement. May I remind him that in rejecting the bad recommendations of the Select Committee he has overlooked recommendations that should be drawn to the attention of the Leader of the Opposition—namely, that all existing caegories of black immigrants into this country should continue and, indeed, should be accelerated so that the 45,000 a year that the right hon. Gentleman thought to be too many should be increased to about 60,000?

Mr. Rees

I agree with my hon. Friend that a number of those who have spoken on this matter in recent weeks have spoken from incomplete facts.

Mr. Budgen

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Select Committee's proposal that male fiancés should go to the end of the queue will create only misery and uncertainty in the immigrant community and that it is much better to follow the straightforward and honourable example of the Prime Minister when he was Home Secretary in 1968 and withdraw the right of male fiancés to come into this country?

Mr. Rees

The Select Committee said that subject to this review we should make no recommendations about husbands. I have said that with regard to fiancés we would be even more flexible in what we are doing in different parts of the world. As the Select Committee says, if priorities are changed there might be a marginal change, but on fiancés—whether male or female—the Government's view is clear. We have a responsibility, and if the hon. Gentleman does not agree he should consider what the situation would be in a European context if his policy were that of the Government.

Mrs. Hayman

Will the right hon. Gentleman reiterate that the Select Committee does not recommend any different treatment of male and female fiancés? Will he assure us that he will resist any pressure to return to discrimination against husbands and fiancés of British women which existed prior to 1974?

Mr. Rees

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. There is no intention on our part to return to a discriminatory policy.

Mr. Higgins

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the latest figures confirm that it is not necessary to break our commitment to bring about a foreseeable end to immigration? Does he further agree that the imposition of a quota, far from accelerating an end to immigration, would actually delay it and would be inconsistent with the commitments which those on both sides of the House have given in the past?

Mr. Rees

I agree fully with what the hon. Gentleman has said and with what he put in his letter to The Times recently.

Miss Joan Lestor

I warmly welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about the Select Committee's report. The reason that some of us have been critical of the report is that, for example, the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) have already put different interpretations on their own recommendations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that when people talk about ending immigration it is a great pity that the Select Committee report repeats the error of many other discussions on immigration and discusses it mainly in the context of colour, ignoring the fact that there is a good deal of immigration, to which my right hon. Friend has referred, by those who are not coloured or identified by the colour of their skin? The effect of that on race relations and on black children born in this country is disastrous.

Mr. Rees

On the last point, I suggest that the statistics, at which I was looking before they were published, repay close investigation. As my hon. Friend said, people talk as if the immigration that is taking place were that of 10 or 15 years ago. It has changed very greatly. The statistics should be looked at.

I should like to be clear about the Select Committee's report. A report has been put before the Government by an all-party Select Committee. We shall give it the close attention that it deserves. What I have been saying today relates to those matters which seem to me to have caused the greatest concern and on which I felt the Government should make clear their view at an early stage.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Have we not been told for 15 years and more that immigration has declined, is declining and will decline? Is it not a fact that the total acceptances for settlement last year, when adjusted for the deferment of husbands, about which the Home Secretary will know, and with any reasonable allowance for illegal overstaying, amount, once again, as they have continuously for the past 18 years, to between 50,000 and 60,000? The Home Secretary has proposed to do nothing about that aspect. Does he realise that the concept of a multiracial Britain has no support outside a very small political circle and that the country wants to see something done about the inflow and the size of the community already here?

Mr. Rees

The hon. and learned Gentleman, when talking about what has been said about statistics in the past and so on, can have his own view. I have published comprehensive statistics which give the figures over the last 10 years. I suggest that the hon. and learned Gentleman reads and studies them. If he makes even the most conservative or radical estimate, whichever way he wants to put it, as to what might happen in future, I suggest that he will see that we shall have a very small immigrant population in this country. I have just returned from the United States of America. Considering what that great country has done in the face of its major problems in the last 10 or 15 years, I suggest that, if we cannot deal with our relatively small problem, we have no right to lecture the rest of the world. I believe that we should put our own house in order.

Mr. Ward

I should like to express to my right hon. Friend the appreciation certainly of my immigrant community of his rapid rejection of those proposals of the Select Committee which would have turned this country into something akin to the East European or Fascist States of which we have heard so much lately.

Has my right hon. Friend yet discussed with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services the question of the issuing of national insurance numbers which the Sub-Committee recommended should be dealt with as a matter of great urgency?

Mr. Rees

With regard to the first point, I say to those Members who jeered at what my hon. Friend said that, when we get to the pitch of everyone having to produce documents in a country such as ours, which I believe to be superior to those of Eastern Europe and South Africa, it is a matter not of jeering but of principle.

With regard to national insurance and the way that it was put in the report, we shall be looking at that matter. I am responding not to the Select Committee report, but to what my hon. Friend said. We shall be looking at that matter.

Mr. Montgomery

Are the Government bound by the resolution that was passed at the Labour Party conference in 1976, that the 1968 and 1971 Immigration Acts should be repealed?

Secondly, does the Home Secretary agree with paragraph 41 of the report of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration: There are no reliable figures about immigrants now resident in the United Kingdom"? If he agrees with that, does it not make a nonsense of his statement this afternoon?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong again. I am responsible for immigration figures. The report was concerned with immigration. Figures for those inside the country arise from the census report. We shall publish a White Paper on the census soon. Questions have been asked in the past. For the next census, an appropriate question will be asked. There is confusion in some people's minds between the two. There is no question but that we want the information to be able to carry out the proper education policies and so on.

With regard to the first point, what the hon. Gentleman said about the Labour Party Conference or what was in the manifesto is another matter. I want to get rid of the 1971 Act, and so do the present leaders of the Opposition. They voted for the 1971 Act. Not all of them voted at the time. I have no doubt that that was for very good reasons. The 1971 Act on patriality was an attempt to deal with nationality. It is for that basic reason that I want to get rid of the 1971 Act. It is easy for people to stand up and say "We want a new nationality law." I judge the people who want to do that on whether they have responded to the Green Paper that I published on that matter, because it is very complicated. The facile commentator on this matter simply stands up and says "We are going to have a nationality Act" but never says a word about what he would do about it.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is my right hon Friend aware that we are deeply appreciative of his clear statement that the Select Committee's suggestion about carrying identity papers would mean the kind of police checks which are totally unacceptable to the majority of people in this country? Will he actively resist any attempt to give extra powers to police forces to check on immigrants at their places of work without having very clear evidence that some crime has been committed?

Mr. Rees

I am pleased that my hon. Friend agrees with what I have said.

On the question of illegal employment, she knows, because she was at the discussions that took place in the appropriate body in Europe, that there is concern about illegal employment. There is concern on the part of both the TUC and the CBI. We want to find a means of dealing with that problem which is not a creeping method of using identity cards. Illegal employment is a matter which should be dealt with. I tell the House firmly that it is our intention to find a scheme with which everyone will agree.

Mr. McCrindle

Does the Home Secretary accept that the genuine fears about immigration among the indigenous population can sometimes be mollified or reduced when the statistics relating to immigration are published? In those circumstances, is the Home Secretary satisfied that the frequency of publishing immigration statistics is satisfactory?

Mr. Rees

We publish them four times a year. We publish them once a quarter. We publish the annual figures. The annual figures this year give the 10-year historical survey. We publish enough figures. We are up against those people who do not understand or do not want to understand them.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have already been standing. Mr. Flannery.

Mr. Flannery

Did my right hon. Friend notice the appalling and sickening unanimity of silence on the Opposition Benches when he was making his principled and honourable statement? Is it not a measure of how far we have to go in having a humane and compassionate view about coloured people in this country? Will he accept from me, and from these Labour Benches, the congratulations of all of us on that report, which is an immense contribution to racial harmony in this country? I hope that some hon. Members opposite will accept it for the contribution that it is.

Mr. Rees

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. Sometimes this place, by the nature of the line down the middle of the Chamber, is not the best judge. I know that many Opposition Members—we shall find out when the speeches are made tomorrow—are concerned about race relations. Whatever divides us on matters of this kind, it is my job to get consensus, and I shall do my part.

Mrs. Bain

In view of the assurances given today that we shall honour our commitments to dependants, will the Home Secretary look carefully at the recent evidence given by Strathclyde Community Relations Council? Is he aware that a very extensive survey undertaken on the Indian sub-continent shows that, where dependants have been refused entry to the United Kingdom, the level of success of appeals was the lowest throughout the whole of the United Kingdom and that this is causing a great deal of concern to a well-integrated and very harmonious community in the West of Scotland?

Mr. Rees

I understand the successful aspect of race relations in Strathclyde. If the hon. Lady would like to have a word with me or the Under-Secretary of State, of course we shall look at that matter. But I must make it clear that, in terms of looking at the information and at the points of entry from the Indian subcontinent or anywhere else, it is the job of entry officers to be absolutely satisfied that the information is correct.

Mr. James Lamond

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his excellent statement will bring reassurance to all my constituents in Oldham, East, when it is properly understood, and in particular to the many thousands of immigrants who live there? May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the remarks he made about redeploying staff more flexibly will mean that the lengthy periods of waiting for interviews in such centres as the one at Dacca in Bangladesh will be reduced?

Mr. Rees

I cannot give an answer in respect of each entry control post. Certainly the greater flexibility could well mean that there will be a reduction in the waiting period. It is not, perhaps, generally recognised that the implication of many of the recommendations in the report is an increase in the amount of immigration, in the short run, at some ports of entry.

Mr. Stanbrook

Will the right hon. Gentleman cut out the eyewash about commitments and come clean with the British people and be specific about what he means? Is it not a fact, for example, that the only legal commitment is to the wives and young children of immigrants who have already settled here before 1st January 1973 and that the only moral commitment that matters is the interests of the British people here as a whole?

Mr. Rees

I am sorry that the hon. Member describes what I have said as eyewash because I have used exactly the same words as have been used by the Leader of the Opposition and other Opposition Front Bench spokesmen. The hon. Gentleman is, therefore, disagreeing with people other than me. He misunderstands the situation. The 1971 Act contains certain commitments. The hon. Gentleman will remember that when the rules were put to this House by a Conservative Home Secretary, they were turned down because a number of Conservatives voted with the then Opposition. Rules also have the force of law—

Mr. Stanbrook

indicated dissent

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman cannot just shake his head. Rules were approved by this House. Whether in the Act or in the rules, there are commitments and this Government will stick by them.

Mr. Greville Janner

Does my hon. Friend not think it a pity that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) has preferred not to give his views to the House today but rather to reserve them for Leicester tomorrow? May I thank my right hon. Friend for providing the facts today so that the fictions of tomorrow will be obvious?

Mr. Rees

I have much greater faith in the right hon. Gentleman because I think that when he speaks tomorrow night what he says will be very close to what I have said.

Mr. George Gardiner

Is it not the case that there will be a general suspicion that the only reason why this statement was made today is that tomorrow the Conservative Party proposals to deal with this matter will be published? The Home Secretary claims that there has been a 25 per cent. reduction over the past year. Can he give any guarantee that this rate of reduction will be continued?

Mr. Rees

That is why the figures for the past 10 years have been given. They show variations, for particular reasons. The hon. Gentleman knows, from his journalistic experience, that there can be no guarantees about numbers. Everything in those statistics shows that the decline in primary immigration—which has been going on for some time—and in secondary immigration, will go on. The hon. Member says that the statistics were published today because of a speech to be made tomorrow. I am glad that a month ago I arranged for these figures to be published today. It shows that one can be lucky sometimes.

Mr. Clemitson

Reverting briefly to the question of nationality laws, mentioned in the Select Committee report, may I ask what constructive suggestions my right hon. Friend has received on this subject from the Opposition?

Mr. Rees

To answer the question directly, none.

Mr. Townsend

Is the right hon. Gentleman yet able to recognise that the problem into which the Government have got themselves on immigration has largely arisen from their two amnesties for illegal immigrants and from their general relaxation of the immigration rules when they first came into power? Does the Home Secretary appreciate that the Government's reaction to this all-party Select Committee will be found disappointing by people throughout the country?

Mr. Rees

I cannot help the hon. Gentleman on his last point. He must read the Select Committee report and the figures. As for the amnesties for those who entered illegally before 1973, the hon. Member must offset against that factor the figures I have given for deportations every year and for administrative removals from this country. It is not the case that there has been any failure in that respect. I believe in a firm immigration control. Matters are firmly handled. I also believe that if we talk always about this matter we shall forget the major problem that concerns a small immigrant community. We need to deal with that. It is being dealt with in other parts of the world. We should put our minds to it as well.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he bears a heavy responsibility in that he has to acknowledge that there are many members of the Conservative Opposition who want to represent this matter as a racialist issue and to frighten the ordinary people of this country by talking about the nation being swamped, in the hope that they will get some political gain? Is my right hon. Friend aware that if such people were to succeed there would be grave repercussions throughout the world and Great Britain would be marked as a racialist nation? May I beg my right hon. Friend to pursue the arguments he has pursued this afternoon so that people can understand the situation and not be misled by some of the racialist attitudes which have been exhibited in the House today and which will probably be exhibited in other parts of the media in the weeks to come?

Mr. Rees

As for the nation being swamped—I believe that that word has been used by an Opposition Member—the figures today show clearly that we are not being swamped. Anyone who gives that impression is wrong. That is why the figures have been published in this form. The figures speak for themselves. Any changes in policy need to be related to the fact that the sort of immigration that we had in the 1960s is over.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Does my right hon. Friend confirm, in his general argument, that, for example, the total number of West Indian immigrants accepted for settlement on arrival in 1977 was down to 131? Does he also confirm that emigration figures for immigrants do not exist and that what we are getting are mixed figures? Does he confirm that Bangladesh has fewer than 3,000 admitted for settlement annually, on the basis of the 1977 figures, and Pakistan 3,700? Do not these colossal reductions over previous years show that there will virtually be an end to immigration without any question of quotas and so on? What is the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) going to say tomorrow, when he announces his policy, about quotas for West Indians and fiancés when there was only one male West Indian allowed in for the purpose of marriage during the whole of 1977?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman was called to ask a supplementary question.

Mr. Rees

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for summarising the points that I have put. He represents part of the Bradford area. The figures for the small number of people coming in from the West Indies do not tell the other side of the story. There is an impression—I cannot say more than that—that a large number of West Indians are now returning, when they retire, to the country from whence they came.

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