HL Deb 16 December 1963 vol 254 cc4-18

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the list of Acts which this Bill seeks to prolong is clearly set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, and I shall therefore, with the permission of the House, carry out what has been the practice for some years. I shall move the Second Reading formally, and later I will try to answer any questions that noble Lords may wish to raise. I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Derwent.)


The Question is that this Bill be now read a second time. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content"? To the contrary, "Not Content"? The Contents have it.


My Lords, if I may speak with the leave of the House, I know that the procedure of this House is flexible, and I should like the House to consider that there are several noble Lords who had intended to take part in a discussion on this Bill, and whether or not it is desirable that any formal Motion should preclude them from doing so.


My Lords, I am in some difficulty. I put the Question. I paused and looked, but I did not see anyone starting to move, so I went on and completed the Question. But if it is your Lordships' wish, I dare say one can treat that as not having been completed, and as my just having put the Question. I am at your Lordships' disposal. I did look round and did not see anyone moving, and I thought there might have been some change.


My Lords, I must say I am a little puzzled. But I rather understood from what the Minister said, as did my colleagues, that if the Motion were moved formally he would answer the debate later, and that that would mean that we should go straight into Committee.


My Lords, I am sure that that is what was understood. I think that what perhaps happened was that the Liberal Party were a little slow off the mark.


Well, my Lords, if it is my fault, I must apologise. I must add that I was half-way up when the Lord Chancellor put the Question. I think as a matter of fact that, as usual, the Conservative Party have slipped in a quick one.


My Lords, I had no intention of moving too quickly. I have never been accused of that before. I should like to know what the position is—whether we are to deal with this Bill as if it had been read a second time and the House is now in Committee to deal with it. If it is your Lordships' desire that I should take it that the Question has not been completed, I am perfectly willing to do so; but I should like to be clear where we are.


*My Lords, this is a situation which has occurred more than once in my experience, and the matter has been settled, and has always been held to be settled, by the House going back and discussing the Second Reading of the Bill, as we are perfectly entitled to do, provided that no single Lord objects. I have no objection myself.


My Lords, I should like to add a personal experience of an exactly similar occurrence under one of the noble and learned Lord's predecessors. While I should have thought it perfectly reasonable to permit the House to continue its discussion, the ruling then was very definitely that, having stood up and put the Motion, the noble and learned Lord would not withdraw.


My Lords, I think that all your Lordships were expecting a Second Reading debate on this particular measure, and the only reason we are not having it at this moment is because there has been a slight slip-up between my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack and the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore. If your Lordships are agreeable, it seems to me that we should do what the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, suggests: treat the incident as if it had never happened and have a Second Reading debate.


My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships. As I say, if it is any fault of mine in not rising speedily, as I usually do, I must apologise to your Lordships' House. This Bill is a hardy annual, but I notice that one of the hardy annuals which usually appear with it, the Act relating to the employment of schoolchildren in Scottish potato picking, has now disappeared. We are to assume that Scottish agriculture will be struggling along in future without schoolchildren.

*See col. 101.

The only Act referred to in the Bill to which I wish to draw attention is the Commonwealth Immigrants Act. The objections to the Act, when it was originally introduced, were not so much that it imposed control but that, as was felt in both Houses of Parliament and in the Press, the Bill amounted to a colour bar. There is little doubt that any state or country, if it feels fit, is entitled to impose restrictions. In fact a country is bound to reserve the power to impose restrictions on immigration, otherwise there might be a flood of immigrants at a time when it was most inconvenient for a country to sustain them.

Such questions as housing and employment come into the matter, and I feel that any State must reserve the right to impose conditions. But there is no doubt that it was felt in the Commonwealth, at the time when the Bill was going through Parliament, that it was basically a colour bar, especially in view of the fact that the Republic of Ireland, which is not in the Commonwealth, was put in a special position. Of course, there is a considerable traffic the other way. I see that in the White Paper (Cmd. 2151) it is estimated that in 1962, 102,000 British people left these islands for other parts of the Commonwealth. We are now faced with the continuation of this measure, after one year's experience of it, and I feel that there are certain considerations which should be borne in mind.

At the Liberal Assembly this year, a resolution passed on the Commonwealth included reference to this particular problem, and I should like to read the preamble to the resolution and the part which refers to this problem: This Assembly affirms its belief in the future of the Commonwealth as a free association of free peoples, concerned to foster world peace and prosperity, individual freedom and the rule of law. Recognising that the Commonwealth is passing through a time of change, this Assembly calls upon the Governments of all Commonwealth countries to give priority to co-ordinating policies of Commonwealth development and puts forward the following programme as a basis for action: … The resolution asked for: Commonwealth consultation toward an agreed policy for immigration, exclusion and expulsion and rights of political asylum for Commonwealth citizens. This is not only a question of immigration. It is a question of the exclusion of Commonwealth citizens who intend to come here; and the expulsion of Commonwealth citizens once they are here; and also, as we have seen on more than one occasion during the past year, of the right of political asylum for Commonwealth citizens, which is not nearly so extensive as the right of asylum for foreigners—and that seems a very odd position to be in.

The main point is that I should like the Government, at the next Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, to take up this whole question, in order to see whether they cannot get an agreed policy on these subjects of immigration, expulsion, exclusion and the right of political asylum. All fit in together, and to look at one, to the exclusion of the others, would be a mistake, because they are all very important. I feel, therefore, that we should have an agreed Commonwealth policy on these issues.

There is, I think, in the Act we are now considering one great weakness: that the measures, and the decisions under them, apply to the dependent territories as well as to the independent territories. The independent territories, by and large, can look after themselves. They all have Governments; they all attend the Prime Ministers' Conference, and they are members of the United Nations. They are well able to look after the rights of their own citizens, and are never backward, I am happy to say, in so doing. But this does not apply to the dependent territories of the Commonwealth; that is, those that are still colonial territories. Their citizens have no independent Governments to speak for them; they are not members of the United Nations; their Prime Ministers, if they have any, do not attend the Prime Ministers' Conference, and their peoples are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, just as we are.

There are very few people concerned. Even last year the figures for entry to this country were only 5,961, and that figure includes people from a number of territories which will soon be independent. So the number of people coming from the residuary colonial territories—those which will not in the near future, or even in the foreseeable future, be able to stand on their own feet as independent members—is very small. In fact, my Lords, we are discussing 2,000 or 3,000 people a year, or some number of that order; so in this case there is no problem of numbers. But there is a great moral problem and, I should have thought, almost a legal problem. These people are, after all, citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. We the Government and Parliament of this country, so far as they are concerned, are Caesar, and I think they should be entitled as of right to come here, to come to Caesar, whenever they want to, without any let or hindrance. These are our own people, being citizens of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, and I feel that the least we can do is to enable this particular small class of person to come here without any Immigrants Act or restriction or quota, or anything else.

The Government must sooner or later make up their mind what they are going to do with these people. On the Bahamas Bill the other day the noble Duke the Duke of Devonshire informed me that at long last, very belatedly, the Government are considering this problem. It will not brook delay very much longer. This is one way in which I think they can help the people of these various small territories, whose fate at the moment is very much in the air. My Lords, that is all I have to say on the Bill. I ask the Government to look at this problem to which I have referred and see whether, before the next Bill comes up, whatever Government are then in power, they will introduce an amending Act to make sure that the right of these people from the dependent territories to come to this country is unfettered and unqualified.

2.53 p.m.


My Lords, again with the leave of the House, I should like to follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, by making a few comments on the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1962, which is renewed in Part I of the Schedule to this Bill. My comments are by way of explanation of our attitude to the proposal to renew this Act, and also of request to the Government to consider the problem of immigration from Commonwealth countries overseas in its broadest context. Our attitude, I think, can be put in one sentence: we do not like to see this Act renewed by the present Bill, but we accept the regrettable necessity for control of immigration to this country from Commonwealth countries overseas.

We do not like this Act, and the main reasons why we opposed it, as your Lordships will remember, when it came before the House just over a year ago, still appear to be as valid as they were at that time. We opposed it because it discriminated, on grounds of colour and race against persons wishing to come to this country. I say immediately that this was not the intention of the Bill; but it certainly was its effect. We have only to look at the persons who have been kept out to see that that has been the effect of this law. The vast majority of the persons who have been kept out of this country, as I have no doubt the noble Lord opposite would agree, would have come from India, Pakistan and the West Indies. The next reason why we opposed it was because the other Commonwealth countries had not been consulted about the terms of the proposed ban on their citizens, and far less agreed to it. It was, in fact, imposed unilaterally by the Government here. Finally, we opposed the Act because, for the first time in our history, it introduced a legal barrier against the free entry of Commonwealth citizens into this country; a principle of which we had all been proud.

But we must be realists, my Lords, and we have to face with realism the enormous potential increase in Commonwealth immigration since July, 1962; that is to say, since the ending of the long period of free entry. The figures which were given by the Home Secretary in another place were, I thought, extremely convincing. I believe that if all the Commonwealth applicants in the last sixteen months had been free to come here we should have had at least 500,000 immigrants, or as many as came here during the last six years before control started—the noble Lord will correct me if my estimates are wrong. I am also informed that current applications are running at the rate of about 500,000 a year. If we had allowed this flood of immigrants to come in, we should have created a grave social problem, and the difficulties would have been as serious for the immigrants as for our own people.

In these circumstances, the case for some measure of control has, I think, become unanswerable. What we oppose is the Government's way of doing it. We should like the Government to make another effort at consultation; to consult with the Commonwealth Governments and invite them, if they will, to make their own arrangements about restricting the numbers of people coming to this country from theirs. In that case, our own restrictions, imposed unilaterally by this Government, would be temporary—they would not be, as the present restrictions appear to be, permanent; that is to say continuing from year to year—pending agreements with Commonwealth Governments about restrictions of their own. And as soon as these agreements had been reached, we could lift our restrictions.

We believe that Her Majesty's Government are responsible for doing a great deal of harm to Commonwealth relations by their unimaginative attitude to the whole problem of immigration. The immigration problem cannot be solved by control alone. If we fail to integrate the immigrants into the communities where they live and work, I believe that we shall soon have a serious race problem on our hands. The Government should not stand aside, as they are doing at the present time, and leave the whole responsibility to individuals and local authorities in the areas where these people live. They should give financial assistance, particularly in matters of housing and education, to local authorities and voluntary bodies who are trying to help the immigrants. But that is not enough. The Government should do more than merely help the local authorities, local people and local bodies: they should legislate (and we shall do this if it has not been done before the next General Election) to make illegal incitement to race hatred, whether against non-Europeans or Jews, and to ban racial discrimination in public places. These are some of the things which the Government could do to help immigrants who come to this country, who are here already, and who will be coming under the Act which is in force and which will be renewed in the next year.

But, of course, measures limited to this country alone are not sufficient to make a big reduction in the number of people who want to come here from overseas. The reason for the rising tide of these would-be immigrants is clearly the pressure of poverty and unemployment in the underdeveloped areas in the Commonwealth in which they live. We shall fail in our duty to the Commonwealth unless we do far more than we are doing at the present time to remove the conditions which produce these immigrants. We should like to see much more money spent on economic aid to the underdeveloped countries in the Commonwealth, and we should certainly do that if we had the responsibility for doing so.


My Lords, would the noble Earl answer one question before he leaves this particular subject? He now says that the chief tide of immigrants is likely to come from Pakistan and India, and that the best way of stopping the tide of immigrants is to raise the standard of living of those people. How does he propose to raise the standard of living of 500 million people to such an extent that they will not want to leave their country?


If we spend more on economic aid to these countries, there would be fewer people who would want to leave their homes and come over here. Obviously it would not stop immigration from these countries altogether, but clearly we must raise their standard of living by means of economic aid, as I was going to suggest, by doing what we can to improve their trade with the outside world. We should do much more to increase the volume of Commonwealth trade and to stabilise commodity prices, because these are two things which would make an immense difference to the economic progress of these developing countries. I am quite certain that if the Government had a more sympathetic and imaginative attitude to the whole immigration problem they would realise that the measure of control proposed in this Bill is not enough. They should take a much more active part in helping immigrants to settle down in this country and in removing the conditions which oblige them to come here.

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, I want to make only two comments, the first in relation to the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, that the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was a measure against coloured people. This is not the place or the time to go into all these arguments again, but when that Bill was before this House I took a prominent part in supporting it, and I should very much resent being accused of having been a party to any measure which had a basis of objection to colour. I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, that although a number of people advanced that argument, and have used it, the implication, as I gathered from his speech, that that was the almost universal view of the Act throughout the Commonwealth, is not, in my opinion, a correct statement.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said that he admitted the regrettable necessity for restriction of immigration, but in effect it has been a restriction of coloured people. That may be true; but what an astounding argument that is! If there is a law saying that, in the interests of this country, certain things are not to be, if it so happens in application that the majority of people affected by it are coloured people, are we then to exempt them from the law to which others are subject? That seems to me an extraordinarily illogical attitude to take. To my mind, the interest in this Act from beginning to end is the interest of the people of this country and of the immigrants themselves. There is no use going into all those arguments again. The idea was that people who had work to come to would gladly be received, but we wished to avoid having a growing community in this country who did not fit in and who perhaps had nowhere to live and no work to do. I thought it desirable that there should at least be some contradiction of this idea that there is a coloured basis for that Act I personally would deny any trace of that idea behind it.

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, as I said that I would try to answer questions, may I first of all try to answer the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore? He gave a general welcome to the renewal of this Act, but he raised a question which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, also raised; that was the question of consultation. I would say that we continuously consult with the High Commissioners and Governments as to the operation of the Act. When alterations are going to take place, we let them know in advance, and we discuss the alterations with them. That will continue. The main point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, was the question about what virtually come to Crown Colonies, Dependencies: that is, countries which are not independent. It is not quite as easy as he said. He is quite right in saying that the number of dependent territories is steadily decreasing as they are becoming independent. It is true that if his suggestion were adopted now the rate of immigration to the United Kingdom would not be affected so much as it would have been at one time, because more and more countries are becoming independent.

Nevertheless, I think this must be remembered: the total population of the remaining Colonies—that is, the dependent Colonies—is almost 10 million, and they still include a number of territories, such as Malta, British Guiana and Barbados, from which a considerable number of immigrants come. Of course, these three territories may gain independence in the foreseeable future, but there are at present no plans for granting independence to Hong Kong, which has a population of 3½ million people. The Government do not feel it right to give the inhabitants of the remaining colonial territories—that is to say, those inhabitants who have no personal connection with the United Kingdom—a right of entry which is not available to the rest of the Commonwealth. From our point of view the question is as simple as that. We do not think that these dependent territories should have rights that the independent territories have not got.

I would go further. If we were to do now what the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, suggests, parts of the West Indies would have rights that other parts of the West Indies have not got. We cannot believe that is right. The noble Lord raised a point about the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. Of course, it is up to any of the territories concerned to raise this question, and it is a matter which must be under continuous review as more and more countries become independent.


My Lords, could the noble Lord explain why the Government do not think it right? There is a great distinction between these two types. Why do they not think it right that they should be admitted here?


My Lords, in view of the numbers involved, which, as I say, at the moment are somewhere about 10 million, if we find it necessary—and I think this is generally agreed—to restrict and control Commonwealth immigration, we think that the restriction should apply to both kinds of territory. We are still controlling immigration. If we could do away with all immigration control in the Commonwealth, then they would both be on the same footing.

As regards the questions raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel: as my noble friend Lord Milverton said, he again raised the question of this being a colour bar Act on the basis, so far as I can make out—and I do not think I am misquoting him—that there are more people of colour than white people who have not been permitted to come here, who have been refused vouchers. That is entirely natural because there are many more coloured people than white people applying to come in. So obviously there would be more. I think the noble Earl will realise that if there were only one country to which the control was not applied it would completely flood us with applications and would take all the "C" vouchers. During this last year, after informing all the High Commissioners, we did restrict "C" vouchers to 25 per cent. for any one country.

The noble Earl mentioned also India and Pakistan. The control of immigration from those countries has, of course, been partly due to the difficulties of Indians and Pakistanis in getting passports and foreign exchange. This has meant that, instead of an even flow from these countries, at one moment there has been very heavy immigration and at other moments rather slow immigration. But the idea of letting the countries themselves control their immigration has been tried and it has not worked, and one of the reasons why it has not worked is that each has different passport rules and different exchange rules.

Let us remember this quite clearly. If we are going to impose an immigration policy because we think we have been forced into that position—and the noble Lord opposite has agreed with that—we cannot hide behind other people's skirts. It is our responsibility, and it is for us to make the rules and not to suggest that the other countries should make their own rules as regards emigration to this country. It would be very unfair on many of those countries and there would be some sort of Dutch action going on as to how to get round their numbers, and so on. This is a British Government responsibility. We do not think it is the responsibility of the independent countries.

I do not think there was any other material point which the noble Earl raised that I have not answered—he will correct me if I am wrong. We are very interested to hear what is the policy of the Labour Party, but we did not quite get the details we should have liked, and, speaking for myself, I am just as foggy about it as when the noble Earl began to speak.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could he tell us whether he has any evidence of forged "C" certificates and illegal immigration?


My Lords, it is known that there have been certain forged certificates. The numbers we do not know until they are presented at our immigration points. Speaking only from memory, I think the number that have actually been refused entry on forged or falsified vouchers is something like half a dozen. But what the numbers in existence are we cannot tell.


My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, is in a foggy condition. It is an awfully unfortunate position to be in. Foggy dew is dangerous at any time, so it has been said in song, and there is no need for him to be foggy about this at all. I am quite sure that he must have studied the debates in another place. They have been open to all Members of this House to read, and it is quite clear, as my noble friend has said already, that the necessity of a restriction in regard to what we can economically and socially afford to take here is undoubted. But when you come to consider the other matters which are brought in you cannot get away from the actual expressions of opinion which have come from many sections of the Commonwealth with regard to its effect. It is true, of course, as was almost certain from the beginning when the Act was brought in, that the largest number of persons affected are likely to be from the coloured races within the Commonwealth. But there are people in this country who go on developing the acuteness of the colour problem themselves by talking in the other direction from those who want to give more freedom and liberty to the coloured races.

However, this is the real point why this matter was raised in the House of Commons. What we have to see to is that the relations between this country and all sections of the Commonwealth, whether they are mainly white, mixed or preponderantly coloured, should be on the finest and most mutual and co-operative basis we can establish. And it is already admitted that there will in the future be a growing two-way traffic in this matter. While, therefore, we do not oppose the idea of having an Act ultimately on the Statute Book which gives us the right to restrict in certain conditions, according to our views, the immigration concerned, yet we say that it would be right and proper for the British Government to say: "We must go on with this for another twelve months, perhaps, but in the meantime let us not merely have a formal consultation, but let us negotiate some firm position for the future in regard to the Commonwealth."

When the noble Lord says that as long as the Conservatives are in power it is entirely their responsibility to control this traffic altogether, then I do not agree with him. I think that he should be willing to negotiate with the representatives of the Commonwealth in all these varying conditions which I have mentioned, not only with regard to immigration, but with regard to the migration of people from this country in the other direction. That is what we want. We want to see proper control ultimately, but it must be by agreement after negotiation. That, surely, should be the right of the free members of all the Commonwealth.


My Lords, may I just say to the noble Earl that I pointed out that consultations on these matters are continuous.


I do not know exactly what is meant by "consultations" in view of almost the last remark the noble Lord made before he sat down. In fact, what he said was that so long as the Conservative Government are in office this is their policy. That is not negotiating; it is not even having a decent consultation.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.