HL Deb 04 February 1965 vol 262 cc1258-66

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, with your permission, I should like to bring to your Lordships' notice an Answer which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary made in another place in reply to Questions about Commonwealth immigration. I will use his own words:

"The Government has taken steps to initiate Commonwealth discussions to review the whole question of Commonwealth immigration. In the meantime, there is evidence that under the existing control evasion on a considerable scale is taking place. I cannot estimate at all closely how many have gained admission and settled who should not; but I do not think their number during the last two years can be less than 10, 000. It is therefore necessary to make stricter use of the existing powers of control, and for this purpose fresh instructions are being issued to immigration officers.

"The fresh instructions will require immigration officers, before allowing entry, to subject to the fullest scrutiny, in whatever cases they judge to be necessary, the intention and bona fides of Commonwealth citizens seeking entry as visitors or students, as well as the authenticity of their travel documents; and to make a fuller use of their power to impose conditions specifying the period for which a Commonwealth citizen is admitted as a student or visitor.

"Secondly, there is evidence that evasion is taking place by those who claim to be entitled to enter as dependants under Section 2 of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1962, and immigration officers will examine with greater thoroughness than hitherto has been thought necessary the identity and the validity of the claims of persons who seek entry under Section 2. Except where very special grounds exist, I am also reviewing the present practice of admitting as a matter of discretion children under 16 coming here to join close relatives resident in this country who are not their parents.

"Thirdly, we shall, where practicable, be reinforcing the staffs in posts overseas by assigning to them experienced immigration officers to assist in dealing with applications for entry certificates.

"When persons charged with having evaded the control, or having failed to comply with conditions of entry imposed upon them, are prosecuted and convicted, and the court in consequence makes a deportation recommendation, effect will of course be given to such recommendations unless there are very strong reasons for making a special exception.

"We shall have to wait to see how effective these measures are when in operation before deciding whether any further steps are necessary, and we shall also be in touch with other Commonwealth Governments."

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for repeating Answers given in another place by his right honourable friend to Questions, the content of which I have not seen, asked in that House. The noble Lord has made a most serious statement. The announcement that not fewer than 10, 000 illegal immigrants are in this country shows the existence of a serious situation and the need to strengthen the controls and to take further steps to prevent the evasion which is now occurring.

I have a few questions to ask upon which I should like information. In the first place, does the noble Lord consider that there is any real possibility of tracing, prosecuting and returning more than a very small percentage indeed of those 10, 000 illegal immigrants? Is not the real difficulty that of tracing them once they have come to this country? In the latter part of the Statement the noble Lord referred to cases in which persons are found to have evaded the control or where, having failed to comply with conditions of entry, they are prosecuted and convicted and a recommendation for deportation is made. Can the noble Lord say whether, up to now, that has happened in more than a very few cases? Can he give an indication of the number of cases which may be brought before the courts for such breaches in the future? I should think that the number is likely to be small.

Would the noble Lord confirm what 1 think is implicit in this Statement, that there is to be no change of policy with regard to the Home Office in varying recommendations for deportation made by the courts on convictions for criminal offences? What the Statement does not deal with is the limits on those to be admitted. As we have, apparently, within these shores some 10, 000 illegal immigrants—10, 000 more than the number which it was thought this country could properly absorb—is that going to be taken into account in fixing the limits for the future, or are the limits to remain unaltered? That is a question with which the Statement does not deal. It is a very relevant question.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for the generous support he gave at the beginning of his remarks for the policy which has been adopted by the Government. If it was not clear from the Statement which I made, may I mention that the figure of 10, 000 of those we regard as having evaded the controls and entered, is taken over a period of two years? With regard to the other questions, I will answer them to the best of my ability; I hope he will forgive me if the answers are not necessarily in the same order as his questions.

It is not the intention of the Home Office to make any present change with regard to the arrangement for deportation of those persons who are convicted. With reference to the question about the 10, 000 illegal immigrants (as the noble Viscount described them) over the last two years, I should think it unlikely that any substantial proportion of them could be traced. It might well prove difficult also to establish that there was any reason for deportation, because they might not necessarily have committed any offence.

With regard to the question of the numbers who have been admitted subject to conditions in recent years, the noble Viscount was right in thinking that the number was indeed small. Up to the end of 1964 those who were so admitted numbered only 251—that is, those who had been admitted and who were not later relieved of the conditions imposed on their entry. So that is 251 from the beginning of our taking records up to the end of last year. Of that number 25 were still within their permitted period of stay, and 140 had gone home. Of the remaining 86 seven had been deported and two made the subject of recommendations for deportation which were still under consideration. The remaining 77 had not been traced. They are the exact figures, and, as I have said, he was right in thinking that the numbers were small.

As to the question of tracing immigrants if they have evaded controls, or if they have come in with a false statement, or, in the case of students, if they have not behaved as they said they would when they were admitted, it is extremely difficult to trace them because they are absorbed into communities. Often when the police have attempted to trace them they have found it extremely difficult to do so. I am not sure that I have answered every one of the questions.


My Lords, may I remind the noble Lord that I asked the very important question: is the fact that we have now in this country 10, 000 more immigrants than we wanted to admit—10, 000 more than it was thought this country could safely absorb—being taken into account in fixing the limits of admission for the future? Having regard to that fact, is any variation of limit being made for the future? The Statement is entirely silent about that. One further question relates to students and visitors. Is there not some evasion with regard to the holders of what are called work vouchers, as in the case of a person wrongly holding a voucher which really belongs to somebody else?


My Lords, with regard to the first part of the noble Viscount's further question, which I agree is important, I would say that it is quite obvious that an unplanned-for entry of 10, 000 must, to some extent, exacerbate an already difficult situation. Although we must relate that 10, 000 to a total of some 800, 000 plus, it must be taken into consideration. But the question of the future level of vouchers is in fact a matter for the Government as a whole and not solely a matter for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. Therefore, I cannot answer directly on that point, but if the noble Viscount wishes to put down a Question on the subject I will do my best to answer him.

With regard to; he vouchers—and I think the noble Viscount had in mind the "A" and "B" vouchers which, substantially speaking, are the only kind now being issued—if somebody were to come in on a voucher who was not the person to whom the voucher was allocated he would not be included in our crude evasion figure because he would already be allowed for, although I am not disputing that he would be an evader. Similarly, if anyone came in on a forged voucher he might not be counted in our crude evasion figure; but we do not have reason to think there is a substantial amount of successful evasion in this way.


My Lords, could my noble friend say whether the ports of the Irish Republic are a channel for illegal or irregular immigration to this country? If so, can he say whether his right honourable friend is looking into that aspect of the matter?


That aspect of the matter has been under continuous review, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, will agree that it was under review during his administration. But, substantially speaking, control of immigration from Ireland was not considered a practical possibility. We have no means of knowing whether any immigrants from other parts of the Commonwealth come in through Ireland; but we do not believe there is a substantial number who come in by that route.


I am not sure that we are both on the same point. I was not on the matter of the immigration of citizens of the Irish Republic, who I know are in an exceptional category. But if it is the case that ports of the Irish Republic are being used for irregular and illegal immigration, could not the Home Secretary make representations to the Government of the Irish Republic with a view to this being checked and prevented?


My Lords, I will certainly refer my noble friend's suggestion to my right honourable friend. But since there is no control of that kind at the Irish Border it would seem, from immediately looking at the matter, that it would be extremely difficult to find a means of discriminating, when they simply come over freely.


My Lords, is it not a fact that, in practice, if somebody comes from Ireland who is obviously not an Irishman, inquiries are then made at the port of entry?


My Lords, the position may well be as the noble Lord said. But it would be difficult to define exactly "someone who is obviously not an Irishman."


My Lords, I am not proposing to ask the Minister any further questions and to disturb him in that way, because this is a very complicated matter and we should like to have a little time to think it over and digest it. But may I offer from these Liberal Benches our general support and our encouragement to the noble Lord and to Her Majesty's Government in any humane and common-sense measures which they seek to solve this very difficult and delicate problem?


My Lords, I am thankful to the noble Lord the Leader of the Liberal Party, not for the first time, for his most generous support, for which we are very grateful.


My Lords, I wonder if, on the first part of his Statement, I may ask my noble friend whether the white Commonwealth is to be included in these consultations, and, if so, if it is with a view to getting its help to relieve us of our burden as far as other parts of the Commonwealth are concerned. Also, may I support my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth in asking whether it would be possible for the Republic of Ireland to be included in these consultations, not only with regard to illegal entry but with regard to the immigration of people of the Irish Republic. Finally, may I ask my noble friend whether he would agree with me that the questions which have been put by the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, have been rather tougher than the line of the then Government during the passage of the 1962 Act?


My Lords, my Statement, of course, referred to the whole question of Commonwealth immigration. It therefore referred alike to what I might call the "old" Commonwealth and the "new" Commonwealth countries, all of whom, quite naturally, have been already, and will be continually, brought into these consultations. Whether the old Common- wealth countries can make a contribution to the general problem, as I hope they will, remains to be seen. With regard to the question of the Irish Republic, we have of course debated this matter during the passage of the Bill and on a number of other occasions, and I do not think it would serve any useful purpose if I restated the arguments now.


My Lords, could my noble friend satisfy my curiosity? How many women dependants can a man from a Moslem country claim?


My Lords, I am afraid that that, like marriage and the common cold, is going to remain one of the great unsolved problems of the world. I do not know that I can go further than to say that until now we have admitted the fiancé e of an immigrant here, and we have admitted a Common Law wife. But I do not know of any cases where we have admitted more than one wife for one man—at least, otherwise than by accident.


My Lords, following the reference by the Leader of the Liberal Party to the complexity of this subject, which obviously will have to be discussed at greater length on another occasion, I wonder if I may ask the Minister whether, for the assistance of your Lordships, it would be possible to publish a comparative study of the immigration restrictions existing in the various Commonwealth countries at the present time. We could then compare our existing legislation with legislation operating in other Commonwealth countries to-day.


My Lords, that, of course, is not a matter for my right honourable friend. But I will see that notice is taken of the noble Lord's suggestion in the proper quarter.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether, in view of the very large number of illegal immigrants that this Statement reveals, the security aspects of this matter are being studied?


My Lords, I do not quite know what my noble friend means by "security aspects", but I can assure him that, despite what we have said about strengthening the effectiveness of the control by immigration officers, I have learned enough in my brief experience at the Home Office to pay a very sincere tribute to the efficiency of the immigration officers in this matter. I do not think that there is any real danger that people who could be regarded as security risks are likely to find it easier to gain admission, nor indeed have done in the past.


My Lords, in order to tighten up the immigration authorities' organisation, will Her Majesty's Government see that a number of ex-British Indian policemen and/or ex-British Indian I.C.S. men are employed in that Department as advisers, because the Englishman is not capable of understanding the Oriental mind unless he has lived in the East for many years?


My Lords, I will certainly see that notice is taken of that suggestion. But my view so far is that it is not advice that we lack; it is the means to control effectively and completely what is a very difficult and always delicate situation.


My Lords, as it seems so difficult to keep people out, is there not a strong argument for letting them in?


My Lords, from the questions asked, I think it is fairly clear that the House may desire an opportunity of considering and debating this Statement and the whole question of controls. Therefore I do not propose to put any further questions to the noble Lord now; nor do I propose to raise any controversial questions about the attitude of respective Parties during the passage of the Act to which the noble Lord, Lord Royle, referred.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for his restraint in this matter The question of a debate is, of course, a matter for the usual channels. I can only say that personally I should welcome it.