HL Deb 08 December 1959 vol 220 cc87-98

2.46 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Dundee.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair]

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

In the Schedule:

LORD SILKIN moved to omit from the enactments continued in force Section one of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919. The noble Lord said: On the occasion of the Second Reading of this Bill, I gave notice to the Government that I proposed to put down an Amendment to the Schedule. The purpose of the Amend ment, is, broadly speaking, this. The Schedule contains a list of measures which it is intended shall continue in force for another year. These are, in the main, measures which come up annually and have to be approved by this House annually. The Schedule includes, among other measures, the Population (Statistics) Act, 1938, though in fact a Bill on that matter is going through the House and will in the course of the current year be converted into permanent legislation: and so, next year, instead of having five measures in the first part of the Schedule, there will be only four. The Amendment which I have put down is designed to delete from the Schedule Section 1 of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919; and if the Amendment were carried it would mean, in effect, that we should have to find some other way of dealing with the question of aliens. There are to-day about half a million aliens in this country. Many of them are refugees from persecution, and it is perhaps appropriate that in this year, World Refugee Year, there should be some discussion about the question of aliens in this country.

Under Section 1 of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, which I want to delete, the Government are empowered to make regulations dealing with the entry and treatment of aliens in this country. Under that provision they have made the Aliens Order, 1953, which is the substantive Order under which aliens in this country are dealt with. The first point I want to make, then, is that they are, in effect, dealt with under an Order made under Section 1 of the 1919 Act. This Order of 1953 is a Consolidation Order. It consists of a number of Orders that were made in the past under the 1919 Act; and, as is the case with all other Orders made under Statute, it is not capable of amendment: it had to be accepted as a whole. And in fact the 1953 Order has never been debated in detail by either House as a whole: it has been accepted year after year under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill—sometimes with some discussion, sometimes not. But no one has ever gone through it in detail, or has been in a position to move Amendments to the Order. I hope that under this Amendment a full discussion will take place on the contents of this Order.

I want to say in the first place that nobody is suggesting that it is not necessary to have some kind of provision for dealing with the entry of aliens and for those aliens who are permitted to remain in this country. I recognise that, if my Amendment were carried, it would mean that Section 1 of the 1919 Act would go and, consequently, that the Aliens Order of 1953 would go. Therefore the noble Earl who I understand is to reply will not be surprised to hear that it is not my intention to press this Amendment, certainly not to a Division, and I hope that he will be able to give me satisfactory assurances which will permit of my withdrawing the Amendment altogether.

As I have said, the 1953 Order, which is the substantive matter about which I want to talk, is made under the 1919 Act. In fact, that Act was a continuation of the Aliens Act, 1914, which was passed on August 4 of that year, with some score of other measures, without discussion and obviously under critical and emergency conditions. We have had this Order and its predecessors coming up every year under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill for 40 years. I do not remember what happened during the 1914–18 War but presumably it came up even then, and, if so, it has been coming up for 45 years. At any rate, I can say definitely that under the 1919 Act this measure has come up 40 times before your Lordships' House and before another place, substantially unchanged, although admittedly there have been minor changes and there has been the Consolidation Order of 1953.

I hope your Lordships will agree with me that the time has now come when we should make up our minds whether the treatment of aliens, which has been established over all these years, should be regarded as a permanent part of our legislation, whether we want to make any amendments to it and whether we want to introduce legislation which will permit perhaps of annual discussions. I do not think that there would be any objection to the possibility of an annual review of the situation, although I hardly think that is necessary, if the Home Secretary is required to make an annual report, but it could be left to your Lordships' House or another place to decide whether they wanted to have a discussion on the matter. It is not every year that a discussion would be necessary. Nevertheless, I think that the time has arrived when the terms of the Order should receive detailed examination.

I think that both in tone and in substance the Order leaves a good deal to be desired, and I should like to mention a few matters which I feel ought to be reconsidered. First, there is the position of the naturalised British subject. In theory the naturalised British subject assumes all the rights, privileges and obligations of a natural-born British subject. Nevertheless, in practice, I understand that in certain cases he is still liable to deportation. I am not suggesting for a moment that this is wrong, but it is a matter that Parliament ought to consider specifically. On the face of it, it seems to me somewhat anomalous that, having accepted a person and conferred these rights upon him, we should reserve this one right to deport him in certain eventualities.

Another matter which I think ought to be reconsidered is the position of an alien who is brought here as a child, possibly of parents who fled their country in fear of persecution and were refugees, who knows no other country, who has been brought up here and knows no other language, yet becomes subject to the possibility of deportation. In a case of this kind deportation can be extraordinarily cruel. It is cruel for such a person to be sent to a country with which he has no ties and no associations and of which he does not know the language—to be just dumped in that country. I think that the position of such a person ought to be considered.

I am not professing to give the answer to the question this afternoon. I realise that it would be wrong for me not to appreciate the fact that although, under the Order, deportation can be arbitrary, in the vast majority of cases it follows a conviction on a serious crime, and one would hardly have much sympathy with such a person. Nevertheless, deportation becomes an additional penalty. At the end of a term of imprisonment which has been imposed such a person is subject in addition to this extraordinarily cruel treatment of being sent away from the country in which he has been brought up to a place about which he knows nothing. I appreciate that since 1956 the opportunity has been provided of making representations to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate in a case of this kind. I have no doubt that such representations are always sympathetically considered, but there is no appeal against the decision and the opportunity of making these representations is in no sense a judicial procedure. The Chief Magistrate acts in accordance with his own discretion, and that is the end of it.

Another matter which in my view deserves further consideration, though again I do not wish to express a final view on the matter, is the question of the registration of aliens. Obviously, some form of registration is necessary. If we are going to restrict the admission of aliens, there must be some registration. But is it really necessary to have the complicated procedure which we have at the present time—periodic registrations; notification within 72 hours of every change of address; attendance at the police station and so on? Could not this procedure be simplified? I should like to ask the noble Earl whether it serves any useful purpose commensurate with the amount of administration involved in carrying out this registration. I am not for the moment putting this suggestion forward as something to relieve aliens who are in this country; that is not the point of my inquiry. The point is: are we maintaining a piece of machinery which, while it may have been useful at some time, is no longer necessary to-day, or at any rate, could be substantially eased?

There is one particular example of this to which I should like to refer, and that is the alien woman who is married to a British subject and who desires to retain her nationality. It may sound extraordinary to your Lordships that there are women who desire to retain the nationality of their origin, even though they get married. Such women remain aliens and have to go through the same procedure as any other alien; and it is a source of considerable inconvenience, and sometimes annoyance, when during a journey the husband goes through one barrier and the wife goes through another, and the wife finds herself subjected to all the restrictions of an ordinary alien. Then again there are people who came here as children, who have lived in this country for many years and are of perfectly good behaviour, yet have to go on indefinitely carrying out this rather meticulous registration.

I am not asking the noble Earl to give me a definitive reply on these questions. It is not a matter, I think, on which it would be satisfactory to have a final reply from the noble Earl this afternoon. I am putting these comments merely as illustrative of the kind of matters contained in the regulations, which, if they were incorporated in a Bill and came before this House, we should have an opportunity of discussing and criticising, and on which we could put down Amendments and eventually come to some agreement. I can assure the noble Earl that there is no Party political difference about all this; it is a matter, to a large extent, of tidy administration. Moreover, I have read through the regulations and I think that their tone is rather grudging, illiberal and inhospitable, and not in accordance with the present ideas in this country. In a Bill a great deal of that could be improved upon and remedied.

As I have said before, I am not advocating any drastic change in the control of aliens; that is not the purpose of my Amendment. I think that, certainly since the war, we have acted with great humanity in admitting people to this country, particularly those who have been suffering from persecution in their own country. In this respect we have done as well as any other country in the West, and I hope that we shall always do so, particularly in the case of refugees fleeing from persecution. I should like to congratulate the Government on their recent action in accepting for treatment in this country some hundreds of persons suffering from curable tuberculosis, who will be receiving here as good treatment as any British subject would receive under the National Health Service. That, I feel, is a piece of generosity of which we can feel proud.

I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, will appreciate that I am not in any way criticising the general administration of the Aliens Order. The 500,000 people who are in this country have, on the whole, given little trouble. I do not know whether the noble Earl is fortified with the figures as to the crime among aliens, as compared with the general population, but I would say from my own impressions and experience that, on the whole, they are as law-abiding as British subjects, and that generally they have been integrated into the life of the community. Many of them are a credit to themselves and to us; they are rendering great service and fully justify their admission. There are, of course, black sheep, but, as I have said, I do not think the number of these is exceptionally large. It is rather significant that where troubles have arisen recently they have been primarily in connection not with aliens but with members of the Commonwealth—though I do not want to pursue that aspect, because it is outside the subject matter of my Amendment. I will conclude by hoping that the Government will recognise the need for bringing to an end this annual event of having to approve the Aliens Order, and will undertake to introduce in due course legislation which will give us the opportunity of looking at the Order in detail, while if they so desire, retaining the possibility of an annual review through a procedure which can be incorporated in the Bill. I submit that both on the grounds of sound and good administration and to enable our policy to be conducted as humanely as possible and in accordance with the spirit and the letter of the Charter of Human Rights, to which we have fully subscribed, it is desirable that what I ask for should in fact be carried out. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 7, leave out lines 7 and 8.—(Lord Silkin.)

3.10 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has raised two questions: first, whether this Act, under which the Aliens Order is issued, should be continued and renewed every year under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act; and secondly, the question of the Aliens Order, 1953, on which he made a number of observations which I think your Lordships will agree were most reasonably and moderately expressed, and which will certainly all be considered by my right honourable friend.

On the first question, whether we should have some permanent Act of Parliament instead of renewing this Order annually, everybody agrees that it is a little untidy, and possibly anomalous, to have laws which are obviously meant to be permanent laws —at least, so far as it is humanly possible to foresee at the present time—renewed every year instead of being embodied in a permanent Statute. While your Lordships will not expect me and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said he did not expect me—to give any undertaking with regard to the future legislative programme, the Government will give careful consideration to the suggestion on this point which has been put forward by the noble Lord. I feel that I ought to point out, however, some of the considerations which might weigh against having a permanent Act, apart from the obvious one that every Home Secretary for a long time must have always wondered:"Why should I undertake the very great burden, and perhaps the odium, of doing something which none of my predecessors has thought it necessary to do for the last forty years?".

I cannot help feeling conscious of these considerations which might be thought to constitute a disadvantage to permanent legislation. One is the opportunity for discussion, to which the noble Lord has already referred. This is an Order which does something which we believe to be unavoidable, although we do not like it, and for that reason we may perhaps want to discuss it regularly every year. In your Lordships' House, of course, it is nearly always possible to find time for any substantive Motion of any importance and general interest which is put on the Order Paper. In another place that is not so, and if there were no opportunity of discussing this Order every year under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, I think the only alternative would be to take up a Supply Day in doing it. I see that one suggestion made in the debate in another place was that an Act of Parliament should be passed of only one year's duration, in order that it might be discussed again the following year, when it was reintroduced. It seems to me that there is little difference in principle between that and going on with the present Expiring Laws Continuance Act. The noble Lord opposite suggested that instead of doing that there might be an annual report by the Home Secretary which both Houses could debate or not, as they liked. But I think the present system, although it may be untidy, does at least give an opportunity which would not recur in the same manner if there were permanent legislation.

Another advantage of the present procedure is this. Suppose that it were found possible, and desirable, to make our laws in regard to aliens more liberal than they are now, possibly under some international agreement. You would then have the lengthy process, which would occupy a good deal of Parliamentary time, of introducing amending Bills to the Aliens Act, whereas all that is required of the Government under the existing state of affairs is to submit an amended Order in Council, which is subject only to the Negative Resolution procedure in both Houses. I think that if we were to have a permanent Bill in place of this annual recurring feature in our legislative programme it would be a major piece of legislation, and it would need a good deal of Parliamentary time, which is always a problem. That is not to say, of course, that the Government rule out the possibility of having a permanent Act of Parliament at all.

When the noble Lord came to the discussion of the Aliens Order, 1953, I thought at first that possibly that might lead to a discussion of rather considerable length, and I was therefore careful to note down the particular points which the noble Lord raised. If I may say so, I think he was very successful in selecting the most salient points in the Order which can perhaps be dealt with in a short time. I could not help feeling that if we did have a permanent Act of Parliament, it would not be quite so easy for him to raise these matters in exactly that form in which he has done so this afternoon.

The noble Lord dealt first of all with deportation, then with the treatment of residents and, finally, with the general control of aliens. He suggested that it was particularly harsh that a naturalised British subject should be subject to deportation although he had been naturalised; but he also said that he did not think it was wrong that that should be so. He also mentioned that in the case of refugees, deportation can be extraordinarily cruel. It is in fact extremely rare for a long-resident alien to be deported. The noble Lord gave a hypothetical case of someone who has been brought up here. I have been unable to ascertain whether there is any actual case of that having occurred, and I think that possibly his example may be theoretical rather than real. All cases of deportation of people resident in this country for at least two years, as the noble Lord proceeded to mention a little later, have since 1956 been subject to review, if leave is given, by the Chief London Magistrate. Leave is always given to submit the case to the Chief London Magistrate, unless the deportation is a result of a judicial recommendation in court—in which case, of course, it would be unnecessary to review it—or is a case of a spy, in which event it would not be desirable to have it reviewed. In all other cases, the person against whom the deportation has been ordered is entitled to have his case considered by the Chief Magistrate.

Since 1956, there have been only 47 people who have been informed that they have this right, and 19 of them have not accepted the offer to have it considered. Of the 24 cases which have been considered by the Chief Magistrate, 19 orders have, in his opinion, been right, and only in 5 cases has he recommended that a deportation order should not be confirmed by the Home Secretary. I may add that in all these cases the Home Secretary has accepted his advice, although, as the noble Lord said, there is no question of judicial right: it is purely an advisory matter.

With regard to the treatment of aliens while they are actually here I thought, if I may say so, that the noble Lord put this matter in a very uncritical way. He gave instances of the alien woman married to a British subject; also of people of long-standing residence; and he was good enough to say that he did not think it would be a good plan for me to try to give him a definitive reply about this. With that I agree, because, as I think he is aware, the Home Secretary is extremely anxious, as the noble Lord and all your Lordships are, to administer this Order in the most humane manner possible. And as I think the noble Lord said, this is a question for discussion, whether you want to discuss some individual case of hardship, in which case any of your Lordships, of course, has a right to submit it to the Home Office, or whether your Lordships wish to discuss in a general way some possible amendment of the Order. My right honourable friend is always glad to consider any representations of that kind, and he will certainly not do so in an unsympathetic way.

The noble Lord went on to say that he was not advocating any drastic changes in the control of aliens. He said that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has acted with great humanity, and he was kind enough to congratulate the Government on having admitted lately a number of people for some special medical treatment which they could not get elsewhere. I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord said, and I do not think he brought forward any particular matter of detailed criticism. What he said was that the general tone of the Aliens Order was, he thought, rather illiberal. I would suggest to your Lordships that although we do try—though all Home Secretaries have tried, and particularly, I think, the present Home Secretary—to act with the greatest possible measure of humanity and liberalism in this matter, however you look at it aliens restriction is an illiberal thing.

We all agree that it is necessary in our modern society. It is necessary from the point of view of labour not to admit too many competitors into our labour market without a permit from the Ministry of Labour; we are all agreed on that We are all agreed that we do not want the country flooded with people who might come here only to take advantage of our extremely highly organised welfare services. We all agree that we must have regard to national security. Indeed, I do not think there is any disagreement in principle about the need for this legislation. But although we try to make it as liberal as possible, there is no getting away from the fact that it is essentially an illiberal thing to do, whether we have the power renewed every year or whether we have a permanent Act of Parliament.

Which procedure would give your Lordships' House and the other place a greater control over the way in which our policy is administered I cannot say. I would suggest that if we are to have a permanent Act it would be not only a major piece of legislation but in many ways, perhaps, controversial. We should have to decide whether it was going to be the Home Secretary who was to have the responsibility, as he has now, or whether it was to be some judicial body. You cannot have it both ways; either the Home Secretary must be responsible or not. We might possibly have to decide whether the question of Commonwealth immigrants was brought in or not. In any case, a permanent Act would be a major piece of legislation, and while I do not say that the Government should rule out making an attempt to do something of that kind, I could not honestly say that it is so urgent that it ought to have a very high priority among all the other legislative projects which are now competing for a fairly limited amount of parliamentary time. But I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin for the very reasonable way in which he has submitted his views to your Lordships. I will certainly convey them to my right honourable friend, and they will most certainly be considered by the Government.


I said that if I received satisfactory replies from the noble Earl on the points I raised I should not press the Amendment. I thank him for the kind words he said about the way I moved this Amendment, and I should like to reciprocate by expressing my appreciation of the manner in which he has dealt with it. I do not think I want to continue the discussion. I am perfectly content to leave the matter where it is, on the assurance that what I have said will be brought to the notice of the Home Secretary and will be considered by him. I would add only that I should be grateful if at some time I could be informed of the result of that consideration. Subject to that—I am sure the noble Earl will be able to give me that assurance—I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.