HL Deb 16 December 1954 vol 190 cc461-3

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how soon they intend to appoint a Committee to inquire into the problem of British subjects from the Colonies who migrate to find work in this country.]


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are giving close and urgent attention to all the problems involved in this matter. A number of complicated issues is involved. The Government will announce to Parliament as soon as possible their decision on these matters; I am sure the noble Earl will appreciate that I cannot anticipate that announcement.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount two supplementary questions? The first is: do the Government intend to appoint a Committee or an Inter-Departmental Committee to inquire into the position of these Colonial workers in this country. The second is: can the noble Viscount assure us that "as soon as possible" means fairly early in the New Year and with no longer delay than at any rate a few months, as this matter is one of great urgency and during any delay which may occur the problem is getting worse?


My Lords, may I answer the second question first? Certainly "as soon as possible" means as soon as possible, and I should hope that it would not be a matter of months before we could make a statement. As regards a Committee, I am not quite sure what the noble Earl had in mind. So far as I have heard, there are two sorts of suggestions current. One is for a Committee about social conditions or something of that sort. That is one which I dare say would be quite useful, but it would, I gather, concern itself with people now in this country. On that matter I should certainly have an open mind. The other idea, as I understood it, was to set up a Committee to consider whether anything should be done, and what. Frankly, if you set up a Committee of that kind it would have to get its information from Government Departments who are, or can easily be, in possession of all the information. I would say, without giving an absolute commitment, that if the Government are in possession of all the information, I think it rather rests with the Government to say to Parliament and the country what they themselves think the action should be.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount whether the inquiry is going to be confined just to one Colony, or is it going to be widened out to cover the whole problem of dealing with immigrants or visitors from each of the Colonies? I think this is a problem which should be dealt with on a very wide basis.


I could not possibly agree more with the noble Viscount. When he says "inquiry," I have said that I do not think an inquiry into what should be done is a good idea. An inquiry about particular social conditions, say in one or two places here in this country, may be quite another and subsidiary matter. But I could not agree more with what the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, has said. One could not possibly deal with this matter piecemeal. The noble Viscount knows—he was either Colonial Secretary or Commonwealth Secretary at one time—that no other country in the Commonwealth has dealt with it on that basis. Nearly every country in the Commonwealth, including a great many of the Colonies, but not our own country, has legislation and powers in these matters. If you are to deal with it at all you cannot possibly deal with it as a matter affecting this or that Colony; you must deal with it as a comprehensive problem covering the whole of the Commonwealth and all its peoples.


My Lords, without wishing the noble Viscount to commit himself on this point, may I ask whether he would consider the desirability of publishing a White Paper, particularly in regard to the question of reciprocity in practice as between the various parts of the Commonwealth, before, or at the same time as, the Government make their announcement?


I do not think it would be wise to publish such a paper before the Government make their announcement. I would gladly consider the suggestion that when an announcement is made some such Paper should be produced. I may say that it would be a fairly complicated Paper. I am not sure that even the noble Lord, with his knowledge, would completely comprehend it. One of the most difficult matters I have found to carry in my mind in this connection is the infinite varieties of legislation which exist in a large number of Commonwealth countries and Colonial territories. Broadly, as I say, nearly all of them have legislation which gives them wide powers covering both immigration and deportation which, incidentally, is not covered at all in this country. Though they broadly follow the same sort of pattern in giving fairly wide powers, there are an infinite number of variations in the exact form; and whether to try to record all these variations would be helpful, I am not sure. I will certainly consider with my colleagues the general suggestion. Might I add this? Going back to 1918 or one of the very early Imperial Conferences, it has been agreed that it rests with every country in the Commonwealth to decide these matters for itself—indeed, to decide, I think it was phrased, speaking from memory, "the composition of its own population."

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