HL Deb 02 August 1965 vol 269 cc23-32

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to make a Statement similar to that which my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council has just made in another place about Commonwealth Immigration. If I may, I will use his own words, which are as follows:—

"The Government have had under review the whole subject of Commonwealth immigation, including the control of entry into the United Kingdom and the integration of immigrants in this country into the community. A White Paper covering both these aspects is being issued this afternoon.

"The Government have had the advantage of Lord Mounbatten's Report on his Mission to the Commonwealth countries principally concerned, and the discussions which were held with some Commonwealth Prime Ministers when they were recently in London. We recognise the very valuable contribution that workers from other parts of the Commonwealth are making to industry and the staffing of our social services; and visitors and students from other Commonwealth countries are always welcome here. But nearly everyone, both in this country and in the Commonwealth as a whole, appreciates that there is a limit to the number of immigrants that this small and overcrowded country can absorb. We have come to the conclusion that new measures are necessary if that limit is not to be exceeded.

"The Government have decided that there must be a reduction in the rate at which vouchers are issued to enable Commonwealth citizens come here for employment and, as from to-day, the rate will be reduced from 20,800 a year to 8,500 a year. Within this figure, however, a temporary allocation of 1,000 vouchers a year, to be reviewed after two years, will he made available for Maltese workers in view of our special obligations to Malta. Applications will continue to be entertained under Category B of the scheme for persons with certain special qualifications or skills, though on a more restricted basis than in the past. The remainder of the vouchers will be available under Category A; that is, for workers who, whatever their qualifications, have specific jobs to come to, subject to a limitation of 15 per cent. on the share of those to be issued to any one Commonwealth country. No vouchers have been issued since September, 1964, to applicants in Catgory C, that is to say, the category for persons who wish to work here but do not qualify under Categories A or B, and it has now been decided that no further vouchers will be issued to applicants in this category.

"We propose no change in the present statutory rights of wives and children under 16 to accompany Commonwealth immigrants to, or join them in, this country; but, save in exceptional circumstances, we are withdrawing the present concessions enabling any child aged 16 but under 18 to join a parent, and any child under 16 to join a close relative other than a parent, in this country. With a view to preventing evasion, immigration officers will be instructed to apply strict tests of eligibility to dependants, and will take into account whether the would-be entrant produces on arrival an entry certificate issued in the country of origin.

"It has further been decided that in future immigrants should normally be expected to produce evidence of having undergone a medical test in their own countries.

"We shall also seek a wider power in the coming session to secure that, at the discretion of the immigration authorities, any immigrant, including dependants, may be medically examined at the port of entry and may be required as a condition of admission to report to a Medical Officer of Health with a view to medical treatment being arranged.

"In addition, we shall seek new powers to combat evasion of the control, including an extension of the Home Secretary's power to repatriate Commonwealth citizens for this purpose.

"It is a cardinal principle of the Government's policy on Commonwealth immigration that immigrants have exactly the same rights and responsibilities as any other citizens.

"At the same time it is recognised that the presence in this country of a number of immigrants with differing cultural and social backgrounds, and in particular their concentration in a few areas where there is already a housing shortage and pressure on the social services, has given rise to a number of difficulties. The main problems are referred to in the White Paper under the four broad headings of housing, education, employment and health. There is no dramatic short-term solution to any of them, but we are determined to do what we can to speed up the processes whereby Commonwealth immigrants are fully accepted into our community and the present difficulties are resolved.

"We recognise that there are certain special pressures on the social services in some areas, not just because of an increase in numbers but because of differences in language and cultural background. These special difficulties can require the employment of additional staff who can, for example, speak one or more of the immigrants' languages or who can do the extra work involved in providing a link between the school and the immigrants' homes. Where the need can be shown we shall be prepared to give financial assistance to local authorities who employ such staff.

"The key to removing social tensions lies in action at the local level in which the local authority, the voluntary organisations and the immigrants themselves are all fully involved. The Government have been much impressed by the valuable contribution being made by voluntary liaison committees in certain areas. The Government hope that similar committees will now be set up in other areas where immigrants have settled but where no committees as yet exist. As evidence of our intention to encourage these committees in their work we shall be prepared, in certain circumstances, to make a grant available to voluntary liaison committees towards the salary of a trained, full-time, paid official.

"While recognising that local conditions vary, the Government consider that there is also a need for closer co-ordination of effort on a national basis. To this end we propose to establish a new National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants which will be composed of individuals who are able to bring special knowledge and experience to bear on the problems arising from Commonwealth immigration. This will replace the existing National Committee. It will be the function of the new Committee to co-ordinate the work of voluntary liaison committees, to extend the range of existing information work, to organise conferences, arrange training courses, stimulate research and the examination by experts of particular problems and generally to promote and coordinate effort on a national basis.

"The Government wish to pay tribute to the valuable work of the Commonwealth Immigrants Advisory Council under the chairmanship of Lady Reading"—

in which I am sure this House joins with special heartiness—

"We have, however, decided that the advice which the Council has hitherto made available to the Government can in future be most effectively provided as part of the work of the new National Committee. We therefore intend that the functions of the Council should now be included in those of the new Committee.

"The Government are determined to ensure that Commonwealth immigrants are absorbed into our community without friction and with mutual understanding and tolerance. We believe that we shall be fully supported by public opinion and can rely on the full co-operation of all the national organisations, local authorities and voluntary organisations and of the immigrants themselves."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the House will be grateful to the noble Earl for informing us of this very lengthy and important Statement made by the Lord President. So far as I can see, the Statement really falls into two parts: the first dealing with the number of immigrants allowed into this country and the second dealing with the treatment of those who come here. It really is very astonishing, when one's mind goes back, as one's mind does, to the difficulties in getting a certain Act passed, to find it being said now that the Government appreciate, as indeed nearly everyone does, that there is a limit to the number of immigrants that this small, overcrowded country can absorb. Your Lordships will remember that this spring we were very concerned about the extent of evasion, and I indicated then certain action which I suggested might be taken to prevent evasion of the limits, whatever limits there might be. Are we to have details in the White Paper of what steps it is proposed to take to prevent evasion; and can the noble Earl undertake that the legislation to prevent evasion, foreshadowed in this long Statement, will be introduced early next Session?

We were told to await the results of the Mountbatten Mission. Can the noble Earl say whether the White Paper reveals to what extent these conclusions are based upon consultation with other Commonwealth countries, and to what extent other Commonwealth countries agree with them?—for, listening to the Statement, it seems to be on matters primarily within our own control, which we need not have waited since last March to accomplish.


My Lords, may I also thank the noble Earl the Leader of the House for this Statement? The matter is very delicate and very difficult, and I think one may say—I hope without sounding patronising—that Her Majesty's present Government have a very difficult task in trying to get this question into focus and balance. When one is in Opposition one does not know the exact position, and the present Government have had only so many hundred days, whatever number it is, in which to learn the position. I think this Statement is courageous, and I wish them well in tackling this very difficult and delicate problem.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, for the restraint he has shown on this important occasion, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, for the positive sympathy which he has revealed. I can assure him that no Minister should ever mind being patronised. There are experiences much worse than being patronised, and if he adopts the tone habitually, as he always does, we are always very grateful to him. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, asked me about the measures to be taken to deal with evasion. Some of those measures are outlined in the White Paper. He will understand me it I say that it is not thought advisable to put everything down in black and white before the Bill is published. In fact, it is more prudent in some cases to wait for the Bill. As regards the Bill, I cannot give him an absolute assurance. As an old Minister, he knows it is very unwise to say exactly when a Bill is coming forward. But this one will be brought forward as soon as the Parliamentary timetable admits, and I would say a very high priority will be given to it.

The noble and learned Viscount asked me about consultation with the Commonwealth. We have, in fact, consulted the Commonwealth pretty thoroughly. We did not think it right to try to secure agreement; this was a matter in which in the last resort we had to make up our own minds. But we have made more elaborate efforts than noble Lords opposite did to consult the Commonwealth, and I thought that that was at least a most valuable exercise. If the noble and learned Viscount at the end of the day takes credit to himself and his colleagues for having been wise a little sooner in this case than in some other cases, I congratulate him. I think that Opposition would be a thankless task if one were never able to make suggestions which bore fruit, and we are very grateful to anybody in any part of the House who has collaborated in this result.


My Lords, I desire to press the noble Earl—I did not ask him to say at what date the Bill would be introduced—to do all he can to see that this Bill to prevent evasion is introduced as early as possible next Session. We were seriously concerned about the extent of evasion when we discussed this matter in March. The months have been going on. I know that what can be done has been done to prevent it, but I have no doubt that there are many loopholes still. I do urge the noble Earl to do what he can to secure that those loopholes are stopped. When we have seen the White Paper we may want an opportunity to have a debate upon it after the Recess, but I do not propose to put any further questions to the noble Earl on this matter.


My Lords, I can assure the noble and learned Viscount that his desire for speedy legislation is shared by the Government.


My Lords, I am sorry, but I cannot share the satisfaction that has been expressed in regard to the Statement which my noble friend has made this afternoon. I wonder whether he could answer one or two questions which go through my mind at this moment. First of all can the noble Earl tell us whether, as a result of this Statement, the Commonwealth immigrants will suffer disadvantages as against alien immigrants? How does this figure of 8,000 compare with the number of alien immigrants who might be admitted to this country? Is there any limitation with regard to the number of aliens? Secondly, relating to the latter part of the noble Lord's Statement, what steps do Her Majesty's Government intend to take with regard to the further education of our own people to ensure that a better spirit exists? Finally, may I reiterate the remark made by the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, with regard to the opportunity for a debate on the White Paper before we get to legislation. Will this be possible?


My Lords, I realise that the noble Lord has taken a profound interest in this subject for a long time and I should not like him to think that the anxieties which are in his mind are being ignored. As regards a debate, of course that is for the usual channels, and I have no doubt it will be possible to arrange a debate at a time suitable to all. The noble Lord is aware that one cannot easily make a comparison between the number of aliens and the number of Commonwealth citizens who are admitted here, because the aliens ordinarily come in for a limited period in the first place. They have to register with the police and are confined to employment approved by the Ministry of Labour, and they are freed from these restrictions only after four years' residence. Therefore the numbers cannot be compared. With regard to the foreign workers who settle here, I am advised that the number of aliens accepted as permanent residents of the United Kingdom is under 20,000 a year, and even with the restrictions just announced it seems likely that the total number of Commonwealth immigrants will remain larger than the number of alien immigrants, at any rate for the next few years. Doubtless when it comes to a debate the noble Lord may wish to follow up that matter further.

As to the question of education, I think that is obviously in the minds of all who will be directly concerned in this matter, and particularly the members of this Committee. I agree with the noble Lord that there is a tremendous task to be accomplished, and I do not think it is a reflection on the British people but on human nature. I think it will be the primary responsibility of the Government and of the community as a whole.


My Lords, I am bursting with questions but I shall follow the example of my noble and learned friend and wait until I have seen the White Paper. There is, however, one question arising from the Statement which I should like to ask now. It says that as from to-day the numbers of immigrants will be reduced. I suppose that applies to the number of vouchers issued from to-day and that those who are on their way will be allowed to land.


My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right in that assumption.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware that there are others, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Royle, who will be distressed at the Statement which has been made, and we reserve until the debate the opportunity to express our views. In the meantime, I should like to ask three questions. First, how many Commonwealth Governments have agreed to the proposals which have been included in this Statement? Second, could he inform us of the number of illicit entries by immigrants from Canada, Australia and New Zealand as visitors, compared with illicit entries from other Commonwealth countries? Third, in view of the need in our economy and our public services, particularly the Health Service, for more and more workers, how is it consistent to keep from this country our fellow citizens in the Commonwealth who might contribute to those essential services?


My Lords, I fully appreciate that the noble Lord's concern is as great as that of the noble Lord, Lord Royle. We all know his devotion to this cause over many years. I am afraid I am not at liberty to disclose the number of Commonwealth Governments which have agreed. It was not a question of trying to secure agreement; it was a question of consultation. I should not like the noble Lord to suppose that we just tried to obtain a number of agreements. We had to make up our minds after full consultation.

In regard to the number of visitors from Canada, Australia and New Zealand as compared with immigrants from other Commonwealth countries, I am afraid I should need notice of that question. Finally, the noble Lord asked possibly the widest question one could ask: how is it compatible, when we need manpower in this country, to exclude citizens of the Commonwealth? I can only say that all the economic aspects of the matter have been considered in conjunction with the social requirements, including our duty to those we do admit, and a balance has been struck in a way which seems fair to the Government; but I cannot expect the noble Lord to agree that it is in all respects ideal.


My Lords, does the noble Earl realise that there is one most important fact which was rather glazed over in the Statement and to which no noble Lord has referred? At the present moment the net inflow of dependants is running at something over 50,000 a year. In June the net inflow was 4,762. Does the noble Earl not realise that that means that, whatever may be the measures announced to-day for reducing the number of male workers entering this country as immigrants, they will have little noticeable effect on the grand totals arriving, which are still much greater than we are able to absorb?


My Lords, the noble Lord will not expect me to agree with his final point, which is a statement rather than a question. In effect, he asked me whether I was aware that the present large number of dependants would continue to enter this country. I would merely point out that under the proposals there is at any rate some provision for restricting the number of dependants.


My Lords, will the noble Earl urge his colleagues, especially the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Education, to assist the Commonwealth Institute to develop its work in this country, its work being to make known to the people of this country the background of those from overseas? May I ask him, in particular, whether he will enable the Commonwealth Institute to do work in Wales, which neither the former Government nor the present Government have enabled it yet to do.


The noble Lord has raised a question, which he would hardly expect me to be fully prepared to answer at the moment. I am sure the work of the Commonwealth Institute in Wales ought to be promoted in every way, but offhand I cannot commit the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


My Lords, I should like to reserve a sense of disquiet about the Statement to-day to which we have just listened. I am sure it will be within the conscience and mind of this House that the principal objection to the previous Bill was this racial discrimination by which many people were debarred from what they believed to be their true Commonwealth status and privileges. If it is within the competence of the noble Leader of the House to give us the information, I should like to know whether the forthcoming Bill will include such recommendations as were excluded previously, for Irish people coming either from Eire or from Northern Ireland to this country.


The answer is that there will be no change in the position of the Irish. If the noble Lord expects me to differ from that conclusion, I am afraid he has asked the wrong person.