§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, the question raised in the Motions of the two noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Middleton, is one that it is good to have discussed in public from time to time, especially when we can get authentic figures from the Minister, as I am sure we shall, about present trends of immigration and the present situation regarding the health of the immigrants. I do not wish to detain your Lordships long, but I should like to make one or two points clear on behalf of noble Lords who sit on these Benches. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, say that he has no intention of raising any question of colour bar in the case of immigrants to this country, and, so far as I understood, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has the same view. But let us look at the question in perspective. The number of immigrants from the West Indies in recent years has been only a small proportion of the total number of immigrants—indeed, only a small proportion of the coloured immigrants from other countries in the Commonwealth. As regards their health, I am told that far from many of them being riddled with disease, it is not the case that West Indians are carriers of disease when they arrive in this country. It is people from Asian countries and other parts of the world who are more susceptible to tuberculosis and are more often carriers of disease than the West Indians.
In order to get the matter clear and not to allow any sort of alarmist ideas to gain currency, I should like to quote a few words from a speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of 404 Health in another place on July 27 last year, The honourable lady said [OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons), Vol. 544 (No. 37), col. 1317]:… we have 7,000 more"—tuberculosis—beds than we had in 1948. Therefore, despite the immigrant problem, we have the disease well under control. We have better methods of detection, and, despite that, far fewer cases arc being recorded. Facilities and treatments are more widely available and the preventive services, in which the immigrants share, are in an increasingly better position to take vigorous and effective action.Although some two years ago the Central Health Services Council were attracted by the idea of some action to ensure that immigrants are free from disease, that opinion was completely reversed by the Standing Tuberculosis Advisory Committee, which definitely expressed the view that the position did not indicate a serious menace to the health of the country and that the number of immigrants entering with active tuberculosis was very small. That should be made clear at the start. It seems to me that before we attempt any new departure from our established practice over many years, we should continue the methods of persuasion and advice, of increasing voluntary help and of co-operation of immigrants which are being practised at the moment.
A body called the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis have brought out an admirable leaflet entitled A Warm Welcome to a Cold Climate, in which they advise the immigrant to watch his health, to take precautions and to find out and make a note of the addresses of the voluntary bodies which have been set up to help him. On the question of health, it should be said that the danger to health seems to arise more from non-coloured immigrants, particularly from Ireland, than from West Indians. I do not think that the situation as it is justifies any sort of reversion to a restrictive policy or to any reciprocal arrangements with other countries. Other Commonwealth countries and colonial territories may think that their interests are best served by a more or less rigid screening of would-be immigrants. It has been the opinion of Governments of various complexions here over many years that that would not serve the interests of this country, and I do not think that the noble 405 Lord has produced any evidence to justify a reversal of that policy.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, brought out the point about the statistics of crime and indigence or dependence on National Assistance. Authentic statistics are not available, for the good reason that in this country statistics are not collected on the basis of the colour of a man's skin, so it is not known how many people in different categories are what we call coloured people. I was glad to hear he noble Lord emphasise that there are no grounds for believing that the proportion of West Indian immigrants who take to crime, or who depend on National Assistance, is any larger than that of any other category of the population, naive born or immigrant.
The noble Lord evidently had misgivings as to the long-term effect on this country of unrestricted immigration. I do not share those misgivings, and I would say that there is no reason to change our policy. It is a policy under which this country has permitted members of the Commonwealth and refugees from various parts of the world—people coming to seek their fortunes, or to escape persecution—to come to this country, and, on balance, there is no doubt that we have benefited as a result of that policy. Certainly in recent years since the First World War, the number of coloured immigrants has increased.
Whether, in fact, as the noble Lord said, most of them come intending to make their homes here is, I think, questionable. From all that I have read on the subject, the reason that they come here would seem to be to make their fortunes. It is much the same motive that drove countless Englishmen abroad to colonial and other territories, to go and make their fortunes and then come back to their own country. One hears already of Jamaicans who came over here four or five years ago and who, having made some money, have returned to their own country. There seems to be no reason to impose any restrictions. What is needed (and I hope the Minister will tell us something about what is being done) is a great deal more personal advice to intending immigrants and to new arrivals as to the formalities. the forms that have to be filled in, and the general ways of life in this country, so 406 that they may fit themselves to their places in this country.
In the matter of accommodation, undoubtedly there have been cases of hardship among immigrants; but, for the most part, I should doubt whether their conditions are any worse than those they left in their home country. What is different are the climate and the conditions. They need some personal help in tiding over the first few weeks or months of their stay here. I believe that the Jamaicans have set up a welfare office, and I hope the Minister may be able to tell us of its activities and development. That, I am sure, is what is needed. There must be no hindrance; there must be no walls built up round this country to keep Commonwealth citizens out. On the contrary, there must be every assistance given to those who wish to come and settle in this country, so that they may contribute, as they can, as useful citizens.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ LORD MILVERTON
My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships for long in this debate, because I have listened with great pleasure to the comprehensive quality of the speeches of the noble Lords who introduced the subject, and they have left little for others to say. The gist of most of what they said was rather an invitation to careful thought than to suggestions of definite action. Perhaps I might in a moment or two underline one or two of the things they have said. I would say, first, that 1 personally have no reason to think that the Government are not giving that attention which is needed when there is an incursion such as this of immigrants from abroad, and I have no doubt that the proper authorities are studying the problems that have been raised and are likely to arise.
The one thing I feel one ought to be clear about is that the people coming from the West Indies, and from Jamaica, in particular, are not in the ordinary sense the unemployed and the under-employed, who abound in the island, but are only too often people in quite good employment, who have been attracted by visions of the Welfare State and what they hear of conditions and opportunities in this country: they are, indeed, people whom the West Indies can ill afford to lose. The great hope for the future, as I see it, 407 is that when federation of the West Indies gets going there will be created greater opportunities for development in the West Indies, and this problem of the loss of some of their best citizens, who are needed for the development of the vacant lands of some parts of that Federation, will then be given proper attention by the very able West Indians who will be in charge of that new Government. I know that these matters are very much in the mind of Mr. Manley, the Chief Minister in Jamaica, who is a personal friend of mine, as he is of the noble Lord, Lord Elton.
Here I should like to take the opportunity of branching off to say that I hope that nothing I say in this debate will be interpreted as criticism of the fact that West Indians are coming here, or as unfriendliness towards them in the opportunities that they have been anxious to seize here. They have an indefeasible right, as has been said, to come; and they are serving, and probably will serve, a very useful purpose now that they have come. We are all familiar with the work they do in the Underground, in the hospitals of this country, as nurses, and in many other occupations. The time will come, no doubt, when, perhaps after discussion between the British Government and the Government of the Federation, they may agree together that certain conditions—I would not call them restrictions so much as conditions—for such immigration will be laid down with mutual agreement. I believe that the time has not yet come for that, and I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, that much can be done and, to the best of my knowledge, is being done at the moment by talks between representatives of the Governments concerned.
There are one or two comments that I should like to make on the difficulties which have seen such advertisement in the Press—for instance, housing. There is still a shortage of houses in many parts of this country, but I do not think there is any special West Indian grievance in the matter. If it is true that landlords are allowing eight West Indians to live in one room, surely the reply is that there must be sanitation rules and regulations, and there must be rules about overcrowding, which can be applied by the municipal authorities. If that is so, it is high time 408 that these regulations were applied, irrespective of whether it is a West Indian, Englishman or anybody else, who is breaking the rules of public health. I know that a number of statements have been published in the Press about the question of the general health of these visitors. But I have also heard, as the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, has mentioned, that tests have been made, and that the general standard of health of the average West Indian immigrant compares quite well with the general standard in this country; and it is not true to say that they are introducing here a number of people who are suffering from many undesirable diseases.
Of course, economic conditions in the West Indies at the moment encourage the enterprising young man and woman to come over here. And I suggest, with the greatest respect, that when they do come, there is a certain amount of muddled thinking in the trade unions of this country. It is all very well to have these high-minded slogans about equality and so forth: "Workers of the world unite—so long as you are not foreigners, whether black or white, and so long as you do not want to unite with me". That is a question which that powerful body, the Trades Union Congress, might well consider. It is not a matter about which I can offer any helpful suggestion at the present moment, except to say that this is an aspect about which there is a great deal of illogical and muddled thinking and which does require careful thought, not only on the part of Government but also on the part of the trade unions. One hears of instances of refusal to accept West Indians on buses and in other places. I do not attach very great importance to such cases, because they have not been universal; and in many instances the matter has been settled. But they are indications, as my noble friend Lord Elton has said, of trouble which might come. I do not feel that the time has yet come for having definite restrictions; and when it does come it would be better for the matter to be worked out in mutual agreement and with mutual restrictions upon which the Governments would agree together.
I know it is true that if I want to go, shall we say, to Kenya, or to some other Colony like that, I have to get an entry 409 permit and to fulfil all sorts of conditions. But: there is a little difference, even in that case, because this country, if I am allowed to say so, is not an undeveloped, vacant country which naturally has to restrict the numbers of immigrants who come at a time because it cannot digest too many at a time, and which must, therefore, insist on quality because it is building the foundations of a new country. We are not in that position, and there arc different considerations which arise when considering immigrants. I am not suggesting for a moment that health conditions, and so forth, are not a highly desirable thing; but, apart from that aspect, I feel that this is not the time to have any restrictive rules brought in. It is merely a time to do what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pleaded for; that is, to think very carefully about the future. I personally have sufficient faith left in the Government to believe that they are doing precisely that.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ LORD COLYTON
My Lords, the question of West Indian immigration into this country is one which has aroused acute interest and, indeed, controversy, over the past few years. Curiously enough, it is not a matter which hitherto has been debated in your Lordships' House. Indeed, so far as I can ascertain, it is at least a year since it was debated in another place. For that reason, I think we should be all the more grateful to my noble friends who raised the matter here this afternoon.
I am not sure whether the last occasion on which it was debated in another place was when I, as Minister of State, replied to an adjournment debate on November 5, 1954. That was towards the end of the first year when West Indians, and particularly Jamaicans, began to come here in great numbers and a real problem presented itself. As my noble friend Lord Elton said, in 1952 and 1953 the figures amounted to roughly 2,000 a year. They then jumped in the next year to 9,000 and, in the year following, up to 26.000. I understand that for the first eight months of this year the figure is roughly 23.000, so, as my noble friend said, it wilt be about the same as last year. That means that although the rate of immigration is still increasing, it is not increasing in anything like the same ratio as it has been in the past. That, I think, is the 410 first important point, and it may well be that, although the influx of immigrants is still obviously causing local difficulties, that is the reason why there is not the same vociferous demand for a ban on immigration from the West Indies as we found a few years ago.
Of course, emigration from the West Indies is no new phenomenon. According to the Report which Dr. Senior and Mr. Manley wrote at the request of the Chief Minister of Jamaica, no fewer than 500,000 West Indians went to the United States in the years between 1820 and 1950. Others went, as has been said, to Panama, Cuba and elsewhere. Now we find that certainly part of the Commonwealth is blocked to them. We find that they are not popular in West Africa on the whole, and, above all, that the United States Immigration Laws from 1921 onwards have been increasingly drawn up so as to prevent immigration from the West Indies. That culminated with the unfortunate McCarran Act of 1952, which led to the flow of immigration front the West Indies, except of seasonal workers, being virtually dried up. Having regard to the economic situation of the territories, to the full employment and prosperity of this country, and the freedom of any kind of ban on entry into this country, it is not surprising that that flow was diverted here.
The British West Indies have, in the past, only too often been regarded at the economic despair of the Empire and Commonwealth. Governments of all political Parties must share the responsibility for the lack of foresight and imagination which led to the West Indies being treated as the Cinderella of the colonial territories, so that at the end of the great period, when the price of sugar slumped, estates and plantations were allowed to fall into decay and no attempt was made to put them on an economic basis or to build up other substitute industries. It is perfectly true that in recent years a great deal has been done through grants under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act and the Colonial Development Corporation. Some £30 million under the former and £9 million under the latter have been given to the West Indies in the past eight years. We must all hope that the coming in the near future of the new West Indian Federation will bring a powerful impetus to the investment of British and 411 foreign capital, and an all-round advance in development which will go some way to redress the present unfavourable situation.
But meanwhile unemployment still remains high, especially in Jamaica. On the other hand, the death rate has decreased by one-third while the birth rate has gone up by roughly 2.5 per cent. a year, which is almost twice the increase in the birth rate in India. It is quite clear, I think, that external finance, and we hope particularly from Britain, whether from official funds or by private investment, will be urgently needed in the West Indies in the coming years. I feel strongly that it is not asking too much of the various West Indian Governments, and the Government of the Federation when it comes along, to do their share to help to solve this problem by actively encouraging measures of birth control so as to secure a proper balance between the rate of increase of the population and the economic potentialities of the Territories. I should like to say this, with all earnestness, to my many political friends in the West Indies. This, then, is the real answer to the problem of West Indian immigration to this country: it is, to improve economic conditions in the islands so that there is no longer the desire to emigrate, and to secure a balanced population by means of birth control.
However, those are long-term aims, and we are faced with this problem as it is to-day. I should like to take this occasion to pay tributes to the efforts of officials of the Colonial Office and of the Jamaican welfare service, in collaboration with the local authorities, to find the solution to the many difficulties with which they have been confronted during these last two years. The rate of increase is now going down and it seems quite probable that, with the employment situation not altogether as favourable to-day as it was a few years ago, reports are going back to the West Indies giving a rather less favourable and attractive picture to their friends and relations, and we may well find that the numbers will decrease still further.
In the meantime, large numbers are still coming in. and certainly in many parts of the country, and particularly in some of our great cities, the presence of 412 what one might call these undigested elements presents grave difficulties. I should like to take as a typical example the city of Birmingham. I would, in particular, draw your Lordships' attention to a report published last month by the Central Council of Birmingham Young Conservatives dealing with the whole problem of coloured persons in this country. It is an excellent little report and I would commend it to all who are interested in this problem.
The first point (which was made by, I think, the noble Earl sitting on the Bench opposite) is that it is not solely a West Indian problem. In the case of Birmingham, for example, out of some 30,000 coloured persons in the city, 20,000 are West Indians and 10,000 are Indians and Pakistanis. According to the figures which I have been able to get. Indians and Pakistanis are entering this country at the rate of 7,000 to 8.000 a year. En a city such as Birmingham, where the problem appears to be typical of the problem throughout the whole country, it seems to me that there are two main points which stand out. There is certainly resentment among the Birmingham people at the presence of these immigrants, though, by and large, it is not due to the fact that they are coloured: it is due to the fact that they have come in in droves and have swamped in an almost unmanageable way the sections of the town where they have gone to live. I am told that in Birmingham there is an almost identical feeling about the Irish who come into that city and, to be fair, I believe it is true to say that on the whole the West Indians behave themselves far better than do the Irish in Birmingham.
Then the second, and by far the most serious, point to note is the impact of these people on the social services. Reference to this matter has already been made this afternoon, and I will not go into it in any detail. Housing, National Assistance, hospitals and other social services certainly have been affected by the presence of these immigrants. It is all the more noticeable in a place such as Birmingham, which has a particularly enlightened policy towards slum clearance. Whether it is true that they have had specially favourable terms in regard to National Assistance or not, many people believe it to be true. It is these things, these social effects of the West Indian 413 invasion, which have caused difficulties, not the fact that the people concerned are colored. They have been absorbed into industry without any major friction, except for one or two of the restrictions and warnings which have been given in regard to the possible disadvantages in the event of a trade recession
So the demand which has been made of the Government from time to time to limit the number of immigrants is on these social grounds and not on grounds of economics or on racial grounds. I have given a great deal of thought to this question of introducing legislation to control or ban immigrants from the Commonwealth countries to the United Kingdom. I say at once that I should be very reluctant indeed to see any general restrictions on the personal movement to this country of members of the Commonwealth unless it proved to be absolutely unavoidable. As I said once in another place, it was, I thought, a matter of pride to us that anyone who could say "Civis Britannicus sum" had the right to enter this country and to live here. What I do confess at once is that I should like to see some sort of control over the entry of undesirables, and some sort of means of deporting undesirables once they came to this country and misbehaved themselves in some way. But even that, I know, from examining the problem, presents very great difficulties. I should like to see something of that sort, but I believe that in the main the policy of not introducing any general control has been right. I believe the Government have been right not to be too hasty in being pushed into action on this matter. I cannot help feeling that, although West Indian immigration clearly still presents many difficulties, unless there is any very marked change the Government agencies, together with the local authorities, will slowly but surely overcome those difficulties and thus help to solve this problem, which at one time seemed to many of us to be almost in tractable.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (LORD MANCROFT)
My Lords, this is an important subject and, as my noble friend. Lord Colyton has just pointed out to us, it has not been debated in Parliament for some 414 considerable time. Nor deed has it featured recently, either in the Press or in the public attention. We are, therefore, grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Middleton, for having given us a chance to debate it this afternoon. I will try to answer the questions that have been put to me and give your Lordships some idea of how I think the picture looks at present and, more daringly, I will try to make a forecast of what I think it may look like in years to come. But I must tell the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, at once that I shall have difficulty in giving him authoritative figures—that is the difficulty throughout the whole of this problem, because so few of the statistics from which I could quote to your Lordships in answer to this question contain any reference to colour. I think that is something to be proud of, although, of course, it makes it difficult for me to give your Lordships any precise picture.
I can be fairly accurate though, when I give the total numbers of West Indians in the country at the moment—and I should think that between 75,000 and 80,000 is probably a fair estimate. As your Lordships know, however, these folk are freely admissible, and there is no power to question them on arrival as to why they are coming, and for how long. That is why, to say the least of it, the figures are imprecise. As to the rate at which they are coming, my estimate is that this year we shall probably see about 30,000. I can tell the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, that I think West Indians make up more than half the coloured migrants —I think that in that respect his figures are not quite right. That is the situation at the moment. It is impossible to forecast the future or to guess if this is the peak. There is always the imponderable, such as the risk of economic difficulties here or in the West Indies. But I suspect that my noble friend Lord Colyton, is probably right when he suggests that it is unlikely that this geometrical progression will be continued.
As my noble friend Lord Milverton has pointed out, these 30,000 are not by any means the "rag-tag and bob-tail" of the West Indians. Many of them are skilled workers who have come here to try their hand at more lucrative work, and undoubtedly their loss will be felt in the West Indies. This shows how slender 415 is the link between the immigration figures and West Indian unemployment. Anyhow, as your Lordships well know, standards in the West Indies have recently risen considerably, and we hope that this may continue. There is a danger that this drain of skilled workers may be to the detriment of the West Indies, when they launch out upon federation and at a time when they want as many of their best citizens as they can have at home. But my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Governors of Jamaica and Barbados and Mr. Grantley Adams have discussed this matter in detail and are keeping in close consultation.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Elton that there is a danger, and has been a danger in the past, of unscrupulous travel agents over-promoting immigration and painting too rosy a picture of what the immigrants might find here. But there has been recent legislation in Jamaica to control them, and I think the situation is better. I agree with my noble friend Lord Milverton that it is important that the West Indies Governments should be alive to welfare problems over here; in fact I am sure they are. Mention has been made this evening of the excellent Report by Dr. Clarence Senior and Mr, Douglas Manley. That Report is difficult to obtain here, and perhaps it might be for the convenience of your Lordships if I put my copy in the Library for those of your Lordships who would like to read it.
As your Lordships know, there is little screening of intending immigrants, but I can console my noble friend Lord Colyton by telling him that more use is being made of the denial of passports to criminals or known "bad hats." I think that is a practice that we clearly need to encourage. When talking about social behaviour, I have no statistics to go on, but generally the West Indians over here have proved themselves cheerful, sociable and very well behaved—indeed, many of them could give some of us a healthy lesson in good manners. There is no disproportionate amount of crime amongst them.
I have been told that a few West Indians tend to veer towards living on immoral earnings and the drug traffic.
416 There is not much evidence of that. Perhaps it is the case that when a West Indian does turn to crime he happens to turn to these particular forms of crime; but the police tell me that the figures certainly are nothing to worry about. There have been some disputes and disturbances with white people. but again nothing serious, with the possible exception of one near-riot at Camden Town in August, 1954. Certainly, there has been initial white antipathy, and it exists in places to-day—there is no denying it. While, in the main. I think it is dying down, in a district like Paddington, near where I live, there is no getting away from the fact that it is still strong. Communism seems to have made little progress with the West Indians. and they do not take very much notice of offensive Fascist attacks upon their colour. This promising situation which I am describing could certainly become very difficult if we had serious unemployment. I think everybody realises that.
My Lords, I have said that there is no colour bar as such, but it is useless to deny that there is some form of prejudice. On the whole, the West Indians have settled down well. They have the advantage of being a friendly people, and the double advantage not only of speaking English but also of playing cricket. There has been little assimilation or fraternization with white people. Accommodation difficulties arc acute in some places, but there again the refusal of a landlady to take in a coloured immigrant is "news" and her acceptance of a coloured immigrant is not. I readily admit that the housing situation, which I think is probably the most difficult facet of this problem, is in some places acute, and I will say more about that in a moment. Therefore I think we can say that the situation at the moment is easy and may, with luck, get easier. I am talking about the present. It is the future that I am worrying about.
I come now to the subject which one or two noble Lords have raised—that of miscegenation, which is nearly as difficult a subject as it is a word to pronounce. Here again, I have no reliable statistics to offer the House, but I am told that it is not really a serious problem; and as 40 per cent. of the immigrants now coming in are women, that may again reduce the chances of future trouble. It is certainly true that a high proportion of 417 these West Indians are illegitimate. I am also told that there is a high proportion of coloured children in the care of local authorities and voluntary organisations. Here again, I can find no evidence of this. I do not believe the number is excessive or the position acute, though here again there is the risk of trouble in the future.
A number of your Lordships have discussed the welfare question. Here, I agree cordially with everything that has been said. A great deal is being done to help immigrants to settle down. I quite agree with the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, about the importance of all the authorities who are concerned, both here and in the West Indies, telling people what happens and giving them the fullest possible information. I think most of the authorities and voluntary organisations here are doing a good job in meeting the immigrants. advising them on jobs, clothing, accommodation and social conditions. The churches are helping and, on the whole, I think the voluntary system and the welfare services are working pretty smoothly. Certainly, the local authorities are also doing their best. In particular, in the Midlands, the West Midlands Commonwealth Council. which consists of many local authorities, has done excellent work.
Let me now turn to the question of health, which several noble Lords have mentioned. They have raised the point that these West Indians are particularly vulnerable to tuberculosis and venereal disease. That is not the evidence available to me. I have inquired carefully into this matter. I have no statistics to give your Lordships, but the general impression is that the West Indians give us no particular T.B. or V.D. problems. I feel, therefore, that on this matter my noble friend Lord Middleton is overpessimistic. I cannot find, either, that the arrival of these West Indians in the country is in any way increasing the delay in hospitals—in fact, the opposite appears to be the truth. I can console my noble friend by telling him that the West Indian Governments are all aware of this problem and are anxious to see that they do everything possible to control it—if, indeed, it is a problem, which I doubt. They are conducting campaigns for mass vaccination and mass inoculation in the West Indies which I think 418 will be a comfort to the noble Lord and to the medical profession in this country. They are well aware of their responsibility in this matter.
I would remind my noble friend, Lord Middleton, that this matter was examined carefully two years ago and Her Majesty's Government then came to the conclusion that the administrative difficulties and the cost of instituting any effective check, either here or in the West Indies, would be quite disproportionate to the amount of danger, if danger there is, to public health in this country. The situation has not changed in those last two years, so far as I know, but Her Majesty's Government are fully aware of the situation and are watching it carefully. As I see it, however, it shows no cause for alarm.
I should now like to say a word about employment. There is little difficulty in finding suitable work here for most of the West Indians. They settle down well, and employers are glad to have them; and their fellow workers. on the whole, get on well with them. although there are one or two regrettable exceptions, notably the Stratford Locomotive Shops, where the trouble may have arisen from something quite different from the colour question. On the whole, West Indians work cheerfully and well. In September, 1956, there were about 4,500 out of work, which is a degree of unemployment appreciably above the normal level. But the reasons are fairly obvious. First, the lower standard of skill which some West Indian workers have makes it more difficult to fit them into an equivalent job in this country. Secondly, there is the fact that many have only recently arrived and may 'take time in finding themselves suitable jobs. A third reason is, of course, the recent recession in the Midlands. If major unemployment were to recur in this country, however, the situation might well be very different from that which I am now describing. I can add that, so far as I know. there has been no real abuse of public funds by coloured people. The occasional "work-shy Willie" may be unmasked, but we have some, too, and there is nothing particularly serious in that situation.
What is serious, however, is housing. This problem is so familiar to your Lordships that I need not go into it in any detail. It is certainly our most difficult problem. There has been serious 419 overcrowding and "racketeering" by coloured landlords, but I believe that local authorities in areas where this is particularly prevalent are well aware of the problem and fully alive to it. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, who hit the nail on the head when he suggested that there was a need for assimilating this problem with the housing problem as a whole. Indeed, Lambeth do not even record on their housing waiting list whether an applicant is coloured or otherwise. Special arrangements are made for the welfare of immigrants in housing areas where they concentrate. Birmingham soon appointed a liaison officer.
It is certainly no good pretending, however, that all these difficulties and the overcrowding can be ended tomorrow. The problem is being tackled, however, and I saw in the Jamaica Star last month an article which showed that the West Indians themselves are well aware of our housing shortage. Housing is the most difficult problem and the least satisfactory picture that I have to put before your Lordships. The other problems are not as serious as they were feared to be when we had the first influx two years ago. I hope that I have not given any impression of complacency in discussing the present, because we have present problems enough; but it is the future which gives us our real anxiety. The facts I have given are sufficient to show your Lordships that the various Government Departments concerned have made it their business to keep in touch with developments, and that we have all watched these developments carefully since the increase of immigration from the West Indies first began to attract the attention of the public and the authorities two years ago.
Your Lordships will now expect me to make some reflections on the conclusions to be drawn from these facts, and the first reflection I should like to make is this: the situation has changed a good deal in the last two years and it is probably a little too soon to say whether or not conditions have yet stabilised. There can be no doubt that in 1954 there were certain things which appeared to all of us to give rise to more than a little anxiety. Apart from the mere fact that the numbers coming here from the West Indies had 420 greatly increased, and seemed likely to go on increasing, there were complaints from a number of local authorities about the housing situation which was appearing in their areas as the result of the uncontrolled influx of West Indians into them. There were complaints from friends of the West Indians that insufficient was being done to look after their welfare. I have, I hope, shown your Lordships how that situation has improved. There were apprehensions as to what might happen in the event of any trade recession on a scale leading to substantial unemployment among the West Indians. That fear, of course, still exists.
In many of these respects. however, the situation to-day gives less cause for concern than it then did. Arrangements for welfare have been improved and continue to improve. With isolated exceptions, their employment is now generally accepted and tolerated, and though the amount of unemployment among them is higher than in the population as a whole, it has not yet given any real cause for concern. I must, however, emphasise that we have so far only the experience of about two years on which to work. I certainly cannot make any confident forecast as to what may be the position in ten, or even five, years' time.
The total number of West Indians settled in this county at present. as I have said, is about 75.000 or 80.000, and that amounts to under 15 per cent. of the population of Great Britain; and on the assumption that it increases continuously at about the same rate, this figure would increase to about 225,000 in 1961, and to 375.000 in 1966. It may well be that in general the presence of West Indians in these numbers would not give rise further to difficult social problems, at any rate if they continued to be absorbed into suitable employment. If, however, the numbers were to increase at a greater rate or any unfavourable economic developments made it impossible to continue to employ them, the situation obviously might became more difficult. Experience may well show that in the course of the next few years we shall be able to absorb any influx which comes along, but I am sure your Lordships will agree that it would be unwise to take too rosy a view of the future. I am bound to say that we should be failing in our 421 duty if we did not at any rate contemplate the possibility of a situation arising in which action by Her Majesty's Government became necessary.
Certainly I should wish to make it clear to your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government have not just contented themselves with marshalling facts and reviewing social and political considerations. They have carried their study of the problem beyond this and have given some preliminary consideration to measures which might become necessary if, unhappily, it should appear that some control had to be imposed over rates of immigration. In the course of examining possible legislative and administrative measures, we have been impressed by two main considerations. In the first place, any attempt to impose restrictions upon the entry into the United Kingdom of any class of British subject would involve a great breach of our traditions. It is true that many of the self-governing and non-self-governing parts of the Commonwealth impose restrictions on the entry of British subjects into their territories and that there could be no complaint on the ground of equity if the United Kingdom were to follow suit.
But any comparison of this kind not only overlooks the fact that the political and economic conditions of the United Kingdom are different from those of any other parts of the Commonwealth, but it also ignores the special position of the United Kingdom as the Mother Country which has always welcomed to its shores British subjects of every colour, creed and race from other parts of the Commonwealth. It is perhaps unnecessary for me to say more than this. It would, however, be wholly repugnant to Her Majesty's Government, in the absence of a compelling need, to have to introduce any restrictions on the movement of British subjects into the United Kingdom. It is equally clear from our examination of the problem that, apart from administrative difficulties, any attempt to impose legislative restrictions would give rise to great difficulties of decision as to the scope of any such restrictions and the exceptions to be made from them.
It is not necessary for me to go into details this afternoon, but I am bound to say that one of the greatest difficulties in this connection is that of framing any 422 workable scheme which, whatever its object and whatever assurances might be given, would not be open to the suggestion that it was an attempt to introduce racial prejudice and to base our policy on a colour bar which would be contrary to all our traditions. I repeat, however, that it is necessary to contemplate the possibility that in the interests alike of the immigrants themselves and of the inhabitants of these islands it might be necessary to think in terms of some measure of control. Her Majesty's Government are satisfied that, if the necessity arose, it would be possible to devise legislative and administrative measures which could be put into operation at short notice and would be reasonably effective. But, for the reasons which I have given, Her Majesty's Government would be unwilling to contemplate measures of this kind in the absence of conditions which would be properly regarded as justifying action. I hope your Lordships will agree that Her Majesty's Government are wise in declining to take any precipitate action in a matter of fundamental principle.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, I should like to thank all your Lordships who have taken part in this debate. I hope, and think, that it has served a useful purpose in enabling us to pool our thoughts on a very important subject in an atmosphere which has been cool and reflective, and in which we have been looking forward to possible problems ahead rather than coping with a crisis. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has made, if I may say so, a characteristic reply—courteous, lucid and far-reaching. If f understood him, he has told us that there is no cause for anxiety at the moment, that there may be cause for anxiety in a few years' time, but that the Government are watching the situation. I think that that is a very satisfactory reply, and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
My Lords, I understand that I cannot be allowed to say that I withdraw my Motion, but I believe that I shall be in order if I say that I do not move it.
§ House adjourned at twelve minutes past five o'clock.