HL Deb 10 March 1965 vol 264 cc61-73

3.8 p.m.

VISCOUNT DILHORNE rose to call attention to the problems of immigration and, in particular, to the steps now proposed for preventing the admission of persons not entitled to enter and settle in the United Kingdom; and to move for Papers.

The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, I tabled this Motion shortly after February 4, when the Home Secretary's proposals for stopping the evasion of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act were communicated to your Lordships' House. I thought then that those proposals required careful examination and also that, now that the Commonwealth Immigrants Act had been in force for nearly three years, the time had come for its operation to be reviewed. A great deal has happened since I tabled this Motion—in particular, the Statement that was made yesterday by the Prime Minister.

I know that the subject I am raising this afternoon has great political content and arouses deep feelings, and that it can arouse great controversy and heat. But I hope that our debate will be not highly controversial, but constructive, and of a dispassionate and serious character. Difficult though it may be for me, I hope that what I propose to say will not arouse controversy. At the same time, I feel that it is our duty, no matter in what part of the House we may sit, to speak frankly, and also objectively, about the problems of immigration. We cannot ignore them as if they did not exist. When the problems are real and human, and affect people's lives and happiness, we cannot just sweep them under the carpet.

The settling in this country of large numbers of coloured immigrants is a comparatively new trend, but a large number of immigrants came to reside here before the 1962 Act was passed. We are by nature a very insular people, and perhaps we do not take so kindly to strangers as we should. It is, I think, still the case that if you move your home from one village to another in a neighbouring county you may be regarded for quite a number of years as a foreigner in the village to which you have moved. This feeling does not, I think, exist to anything like the same extent in the towns. But even in a town difficulties may arise when a large number of people from another part of England, or, indeed, from another part of the United Kingdom, go to live there.

In Northamptonshire we had the development of Corby, with the immigration of a large number of Scottish people, and that caused some difficulties for some time. I remember, too, a scheme—a good scheme—which was put into operation for providing homes for people from Birmingham in a town in my former constituency. The homes for the Birmingham people, who are very nice people—I am sure the right reverend Prelate will agree with that—were built on the outskirts of the old town, and for a time there was considerable concern lest the town would be divided into two distinct communities. That has not happened; but it might well have done if efforts had not been made to prevent it. How much more difficult it must be for immigrants with their different background and way of life to be accepted as members of the community in which they live! Yet, my Lords, I trust that there is not one of us who does not hope that this will happen. But it must, I think, be recognised that it will take time, and maybe very considerable time.

We all accept the two propositions stated in the Prime Minister's Statement yesterday: first, that immigrants resident here should be treated for all purposes as citizens of the United Kingdom, without discrimination; and, secondly, that we cannot have first and second class citizens in this country. The second proposition is really just another way of stating the first. We are all, also, I am sure, opposed to racial discrimination and incitement to racial hatred. But I should not be frank if I did not confess that I have some doubts whether the removal of racial discrimination can be effected by Act of Parliament.

As to incitement to racial hatred, it is some time since I had to consider the law with regard to that, but I am under the impression that the Public Order Act is very far-reaching and may be regarded as adequate. Still, if the law does require to be strengthened, by all means let us consider that. But the passage of a Bill dealing with these matters will not of itself be enough to prevent the development of first and second class citizens in this country. No one, I am sure, wants that to happen, and to prevent its happening much will depend on education, and also—this I regard as most important—on the character of the employment available to the immigrants. There are very difficult problems involved.

While I welcome, as I said yesterday, the appointment of a Minister to coordinate Government action and to promote the efforts of local authorities and voluntary societies, that alone will not suffice to provide a solution of the problem. It is natural that immigrants from one part of the Commonwealth should tend to congregate where other immigrants from that territory already live: for instance, that Pakistanis should go to where Pakistanis already are. This natural tendency, which I think we must recognise, of itself creates problems of housing and accommodation. This is one side, and a very important aspect of the matter. We have some 800,000 immigrants—is it not?—resident here; a small proportion of our total population, but concentrated in particular areas and putting a great strain on the resources of the authorities in those areas.

I have begun my speech by referring to this aspect because I think it is really the most important. At the same time, there is linked with it the question of further immigration. The larger the number of immigrants who come to live here, the more acute become the problems of what is sometimes called integration. I am not at all fond of that word; it is capable of a number of different interpretations. I have tried to find an alternative word which better represents what I think we all feel about this question. I do not know if "assimilation" is a better word; I rather doubt it. But surely what we want to achieve is that immigrants who come to live here are fully accepted as members of the communities in which they live.

It is because of the difficulties to which I have referred that it is now accepted by both the main Parties that there must be control over the number of immigrants from Commonwealth countries. The Labour Party have clearly accepted that by their extension of the 1962 Act, and by the steps that the Government have announced to stop evasion of that Act: and, indeed, it was implicit in the Statement made yesterday by the Prime Minister. Quite where the Liberal Party stand on this, I do not know; but perhaps we shall hear in the course of this debate. Surely it must be recognised that it just is not possible for this country, as my right honourable friend Mr. Thorneycroft said last Saturday, with the magnetic pull of one of the richest societies in the world, with the highest standards of social services, to accept an unlimited number of immigrants as residents. I am not discussing what limit there should be; views about that, no doubt, differ. But surely it is clear that the number of immigrants must bear some relation to the progress made with regard to the immigrants already here.

I played some part in getting the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill through another place. It was the most controversial piece of legislation—more hotly opposed than any other piece of legislation—with which I had anything to do as a member of the then Government. Perhaps if both the main Parties had recognised then, as they do now, the need for control over immigration into this thickly populated Island of ours, and had concentrated on making it the best possible measure, we might have had a better Act.

However that may be, it was certainly the best Act that we could get at the time, and it hardly lies in the mouth of the Liberal Party—which opposed the Bill—or any member of it, now to seek to make Party capital, as, to my surprise, the noble Lord, Lord Rea, did yesterday, by pointing out that most of the evasion of the Act occurred during the lifetime of the last Government. If the Liberal Party had had their way, there would not have been any control at all. But I do not wish to-day to engage in recriminations about the past. Indeed, I should not have said what I have just said but for that observation made yesterday. I prefer to concentrate on the present situation and upon the future, rather than upon the past.

I want to turn now to consideration of the 1962 Act, and of the steps the Home Secretary announced on February 4. I hope that your Lordships will agree with me when I say that, if there have to be controls, it is essential that they should be effective. Whatever limit is fixed, the controls should be effective to secure its observance. I ask your Lordships to note one point. Under the 1962 Act controls were not imposed on the number of immigrants who could come to live here: the controls imposed were linked to employment and employability, and not to residence. To be allowed in, those who wish to be employed here have to be in possession of current vouchers issued by the Ministry of Labour. If I may remind your Lordships, there are three categories of voucher: first, for those who can show that they have a genuine job to go to; secondly, for those who possess skill or qualifications likely to be useful in this country; and, thirdly, for those who seek employment but have no special skills or qualifications.

Between December 28, 1963, and December 25, 1964, there were, I understand, nearly 20,000 applicants for vouchers in the first category, of which slightly more than 50 per cent. were granted vouchers; nearly 9,000 applicants in the second category, of which 8,001 were granted vouchers; and in the third category, 69,000 applicants, of whom only 2,221 were vouchered. Your Lordships will note how very few in the third category obtained vouchers. Clearly, very strict limits have been placed on the admission of those who seek employment but have no special skills or qualifications. It is also to be noted that any further restriction to any material extent in the number of vouchers issued must be at the expense either of those who can show that they have a genuine job to go to, or of those who possess special skills or qualifications.

The totals of the figures I have given show that, out of a total of 97,415 applications, vouchers were issued in 20,824 cases. I want to contrast that figure with the number of immigrants admitted to this country last year. But before I do so, may I digress for a moment? I should not like it to be thought that I do not recognise the valuable work done by immigrants in our hospitals, our transport services and in many other spheres. The total number of recorded Commonwealth immigrants last year was, I understand (the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will correct me if I am wrong), 406,601. That is the gross figure. The net figure is, of course, far less—75,000-odd. But whether you contrast the figure of vouchers issued with the gross or the net figure, it is apparent that the controls under the 1962 Act operate only over a very small part of the field. That is the first point I wish to stress. If the number of immigrants who got in when they should not have done—not less than 10,000 in the last two years—is taken into account, the contrast is even more striking. If one assumes that 5,000 came in last year, then we have vouchers issued 20,824, and net immigration of 80,000-odd.

The first question I want to put to Her Majesty's Government, in the light of these figures and our experience since 1962, is whether the area of control should not be enlarged. If there has to be a limit to the number who can come and reside here, should not the number who wish to reside here, and not just those who seek employment, be subject to control? Is not too much attention now paid to the employment factor, and insufficient to the other factors involved? Under the Act, admission cannot be refused to the wife or child under sixteen of any Commonwealth citizen resident here, or seeking to enter with a Commonwealth citizen who is allowed to enter. As the question was asked by my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard some days ago, may I say that the word "child" in this context covers step-children, adopted children and illegitimate children? I do not suggest that the controls should operate to separate husband and wife and family. What I do suggest is that it is the number of residents that matters, and that the controls should apply to all who seek to come to live here. That would mean that, whatever limit is fixed, the husband, his wife and his dependants would count against that limit.

I should like to know the Government's attitude to this point. Is it not the case that vouchers are now issued without any regard to the number of dependants who will, consequent to the grant of a voucher, get an unqualified right to admission? Such a change as I suggest would involve amendment of the 1962 Act, and I shall have something more to say about that later.

Conditions restricting the period for which a Commonwealth immigrant may remain here, with or without conditions restricting his employment or occupation while he is here, can be imposed on all Commonwealth immigrants except voucher holders and wives and dependants. Should it not be possible to impose such a condition on a voucher holder? Suppose that someone comes here to take a job of limited duration. Should it not be possible to impose a condition limiting his stay to the duration of his job? At present, that cannot be done. If the job is genuine, he can get a voucher; and even if the job is to last only six months he will be entitled to remain here for the rest of his life. It is also a curious fact that if a man is allowed to enter subject to a condition, for instance, that he should stay for, say, only six months, no similar condition can be imposed upon his wife and dependants. Is this right? Does it not provide a very considerable loophole? Does it not enable a dependant to jump the queue of applicants for vouchers?

Students (that is to say those who wish to attend a course of study at a university, college, school or other institution) cannot be refused admission. There is no requirement that the student should be under a certain age, or that the course of study should last more than a certain time. It may be that it will last for only a few weeks. The wife and dependants of a married student are entitled to admission. His entry can be made subject to the condition that he leaves the country when the course is over. But no such condition can be imposed on his wife and dependants. Should not this situation be altered? Is there not a gap here, and a gap of some magnitude? This, too, of course, would involve legislation.

On February 23 the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said that one of the ways of evading the Act was for someone to claim to be a dependant under sixteen, when, in fact, he was not. The noble Lord said, if I may quote his words: It is not always easy to expose a false claim of that kind, especially when supported by a genuine passport, and it is thought that a considerable number have succeeded in gaining admission in this way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 263 (No. 42), col. 681, February 23, 1965.] I must confess that I found that statement rather puzzling. Does not the genuine passport reveal the holder's date of birth? Is it suggested that genuine passports contain false entries? Do the passports issued to individuals show dependency? It is all very well for the Home Secretary to tell the country that stricter use will be made of the existing powers of control, and that fresh instructions are being given to immigration officers. How can they establish that an incorrect age has been given? How can they establish that a claim of dependency is false? They cannot detain the would-be immigrant until they have made inquiries in the immigrant's home country. We have no Ellis Island, and I am not suggesting that we should have one; but I cannot believe that, with the best will in the world, immigration officers will be able to detect many of those who seek entry by pretending to be dependants under sixteen.

The figures given yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, seem to me to confirm this view. Unauthorised entry at a rate of 5,000 a year over the last two years means an average weekly entry of 96. For the four weeks of February that would mean 384; and only 129 were refused admission in that month. It must and should be easy to check in the countries of origin the validity of claims to dependency, and I assume that the Commission of which we were told yesterday will be considering ways and means of doing that. I welcome the appointment of that Com- mission and I hope that it will be successful. But, at the same time, is it not apparent that no further inquiry is necessary in regard to some of the methods of evasion that have been used, and no doubt are still being used? Is it not clear that inquiry overseas with regard to them is not necessary and that what is required is revision of our domestic machinery?

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, also told us on February 23 that numbers of people admitted for an ostensibly temporary purpose, mainly as visitors and students, have stayed on."—[col. 681] On February 4 the Home Secretary said that it was proposed to make fuller use of the power to impose conditions specifying the period for which a Commonwealth citizen is admitted as a student or visitor. It is no good making fuller use of the existing power to impose such conditions—or, indeed, widening the powers to impose conditions—unless there are ways by which a breach of the conditions can be found out; and if there are no means of doing this, making fuller use of the existing powers is just a waste of time.

Are there any means of discovering breaches of conditions? So far as I am aware, there are none. If a student is allowed to enter on condition that he stays only six months to attend a particular course at a particular institution, are any steps taken to see that he does in fact go there? Are any steps taken to find out whether he has complied with the conditions? Once he has entered this country, is he not free to go where he likes? And if, at the end of his studies, he decides to break the conditions imposed on his entry, can he be found out and traced? Can the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, tell us how many people who have broken the conditions imposed have been traced?

We were also told by the Home Secretary that, when persons were prosecuted for having evaded the control or having failed to comply with conditions of entry and were convicted, if the courts made recommendation for deportation effect would be given to that unless there were very strong reasons for making special exemptions. It would be interesting to know how many have been prosecuted; how many prosecutions are pending for having evaded the control; how many prosecutions have been brought, or are pending, for having failed to comply with conditions of entry; and also to know how many recommendations for deportation have in fact been made? With 10,000 having evaded the controls in the last two years, I suspect that the number of prosecutions brought or pending is very small indeed.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble and learned Viscount at this point? Is he aware that at the end of January last, that is, 31 months after the Act came into force, conditional entry had been imposed in only 350 cases? Many of that number have complied with the conditions, and so there could not possibly be many convictions.


The prosecutions, according to the Home Secretary's statement, would be either for evading control or for failing to comply with conditions of entry, and I was dealing with both heads. We know, according to the noble Lord's statement, that there are 10,000 immigrants here who ought not to be here. They have, presumably, either evaded control or failed to comply with conditions of entry.


My Lords I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Viscount again, but there is here a point of importance. If conditions are not imposed on entry, then, of course, people are not evading the control, in the sense that they are not doing anything illegal if they do not go home. They commit an offence only when they do not go home in compliance with conditions.


That really reinforces the force of my argument as to the need for an amendment of the law. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. I was seeking to draw attention to the number of prosecutions brought or pending, and saying that the fact that that must be a very small proportion of the total number of cases is indicative of the fact, as I believe it to be, that the machinery requires to be improved; and the noble Lord's intervention on an important point, I think, underlines that.

The noble Lord will agree with me that there has been very considerable anxiety, and I think there still is, about the extent of the evasion. No doubt it was partly to allay this anxiety that the Home Secretary made his statement. At the time it sounded most impressive, and I would say, quite frankly, that the Home Secretary could not have done more without amending the 1962 Act. I recognise that. That leads me to this point, which I want to stress. Should not the Home Secretary seek to amend the 1962 Act, and to do it without delay? The Prime Minister told us yesterday that the degree of evasion was almost fatally eroding the Act". Can we not at least do something to stop evasion, by amending that Act now? Need we wait, indeed should we wait, until the mission of which we were informed yesterday has reported? I imagine it will take a considerable time for the mission to complete its task, much longer than 100 days. Then it will have to report and its report will have to be considered. That may lead to legislation which will have to be drafted, and it seems to me to be likely that many months, it may be years, will pass before that legislation is enacted. During that time the evasion will continue to go on as it is going on to-day. Are we not in a position to legislate now in some respects without waiting for the mission to complete its task?

I would suggest that the respects in which we could legislate are these. First, to provide for control over the number of people who wish to come and live here. As I have pointed out, that is not the case at present. Secondly, should we not without delay amend the 1962 Act so as to make it possible to impose conditions as to their length of stay on voucher holders who come for employment of limited duration? Thirdly, should the Government not take power to impose similar conditions on wives and dependants to those imposed on the men on whom they are dependent?—for that, again, cannot be done now. Fourthly and finally (and surely this is most important) should not the 1962 Act be amended so as to provide machinery whereby a breach of conditions imposed can be found out and the offenders traced? What that machinery should be may be a difficult question to resolve; I recognise that, But the visit to Commonwealth countries by the mission is not, I think, likely to afford any help with regard to this.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, told us—and, again, if I may, I will quote his words—that numbers of students admitted for an ostensibly temporary purpose have stayed on. Is this not an obvious way in which controls are being evaded? And it will not be stopped by just imposing conditions on those students, unless the breach of those conditions can be detected and the offenders traced. Again I ask, should not this loophole be stopped and stopped without delay? Is there any point in waiting for the report of the mission before stopping it?

I can well see that further legislation on this subject is not a task that this Government would very willingly undertake—or, indeed, I would say, any Government. It was only after long deliberation and with considerable reluctance that the Conservative Government introduced the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill. But we came then to the conclusion that it was our duty to do it, and I suggest that it is the duty of the present Government to amend that Act, and to do so without delay so as to stop evasion which it is clearly within our power to stop. I believe it is not only in our own interests, but also in the interests of the immigrants already here and all those who wish to come here, that it should be stopped, so far as we can stop it, and as soon as possible.

I have spoken for long enough. I know that there are a number of aspects on which I have not touched—for instance, the question of health examinations—but I feel I have spoken long enough. I have made the main theme of my speech the need for amending legislation, without delay, for, in my view, the need for that is urgent. It may be that we cannot, until we receive the report of this mission, completely stop evasion; but we can do a great deal about it, and that is something that can be done by us. An amendment on the lines I have suggested can be made without visits to overseas countries.


My Lords, may I clear up one point which I did not quite follow? That is the first of the proposals which the noble and learned Viscount put forward. Is he putting forward that there should be an overall restriction on the number of immigrants into this country, and that a figure should be fixed by the Government and no more should be allowed in?


What I was suggesting in the first proposition I put forward was that the control should be related to the number of people who intend to reside here, not just those who come here for employment. Whatever limit there may be—and a lot of factors will have to be taken into account in considering the limit—I was arguing that if it is important to control that number, if we have got to restrict immigration so as to limit the number of those who intend to reside here, ourlegislation should be geared to that—not just to employment—with the effect, if I may repeat it, that you count against the limit, whatever it is, not only the person who comes for employment but also the wives and dependants. You would against that limit count all who intended to reside here. It is a different approach from that of the 1962 Act; and, in the light of experience, I would suggest that the 1962 Act in that respect had too narrow an approach.

I have made the main theme of my speech the need for amending legislation without delay. If amending legislation is not introduced the situation may well deteriorate, and that none of us would wish to see happen. As I said at the beginning, it is not my desire to provoke controversy or engender heat in this debate. I hope that what I have said will not do so. I trust, too, that because I have said so much about the need for amending legislation it will not be thought that I do not regard the need to make proper provision for immigrants who are here as most important. That I do regard as important. But that will take a long time to accomplish, and so far as amending legislation is concerned that is something that we can deal with now. I hope we shall be told that the Government will introduce amending legislation without waiting until the mission has reported. I beg to move for Papers.