HL Deb 22 February 1968 vol 289 cc582-91

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, with permission I should like to repeat a Statement which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has just been making in another place about Commonwealth immigration. The statement is as follows:

"The Government have watched with great concern the rapid departure from East Africa of holders of United Kingdom passports, and their arrival in this country. As the House knows, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald has recently visited Kenya where he has had full discussions about this problem with President Kenyatta and the Kenyan authorities. The Government have also been closely in touch with the Governments of India and Pakistan. During the last three months over 7,000 immigrants have arrived from East Africa, which is more than for the whole of 1966. The signs are that if no action were taken the flow would increase at an even faster rate. This sudden arrival of large numbers of people is placing a serious strain upon the services of those areas where they decide to settle. Whilst the Government is extremely reluctant to interfere with the arrival of persons holding United Kingdom passports, nevertheless it is necessary for the inflow to be brought under control.

"A Bill will be presented tomorrow bringing under immigration control citizens of the United Kingdom holding United Kingdom passports who have no substantial connection with this country, for example, by birth or paternal parentage. This legislation will not only apply a control to the present rush of immigrants from East Africa; it will also extend to persons in other parts of the world who have hitherto been similarly exempt from United Kingdom immigration control.

"There will be a special allocation of 1,500 vouchers a year for such persons. Voucher holders will of course be entitled to be accompanied or joined later by their dependants. In this way it will be more possible for immigrants from East Africa to arrive here at a rate at which they can be absorbed into the community. The effect will be that those wishing to come will have to wait their turn.

"The Government have also reviewed the existing scheme of employment vouchers and my right honourable friend, the Minister of Labour, will be announcing changes that are being introduced. These will be designed to reduce the present long waiting lists, to adapt the scheme more closely to this country's economic and social needs, and to see that as far as possible immigrants with special qualifications do not find themselves unable to secure jobs appropriate for those qualifications.

"The Bill will also contain provisions for dealing with the problem of clandestine immigration by Commonwealth citizens. It will make clandestine entry an offence, and there will be provision for substantial penalties for those convicted of smuggling in immigrants unlawfully. The period of 24 hours after landing within which an immigrant can be required to submit to examination by an immigration officer will be extended to 28 days.

"The Bill will curtail the right of dependent children, up to the age of 16, to join a single parent in this country. The original provision was intended to ensure the unity of the family but the Government has been concerned by the great increase in arrivals of children at or about school-leaving age, seeking work and often coming to live in an all-male household. The existing right of dependent children to join both parents in this country remains unaltered. Next week I shall lay before the House as a White Paper a draft of instructions to immigration officers setting out how they are to exercise discretion to admit children to join a single parent. It will also include instructions that they are not in future to admit dependent fathers below the age of 65. The present minimum age for admission is 60. Enforcement has been difficult, and some men enter at younger ages in order to take employment here.

"Finally, the legislation will give power to require that dependants can be asked to undergo medical examination at the ports of entry, and subsequently to report to the medical officer of health for treatment.

"The Government are satisfied that these measures are necessary in fairness to the people of this country and in the interests of equitable treatment for the citizens of the Commonwealth as a whole. The Government's purpose is to create a climate in which good community relations in this country can be fostered."

That concludes the Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary; but it may be for the convenience of the House if I inform your Lordships of the proposed programme for the Immigration Bill next week. Your Lordships will, I am sure, appreciate the great urgency of this Bill. It is anticipated that we shall receive the Bill on Wednesday evening from another place and we then propose to ask the House to suspend Standing Order No. 41, and, if the House agrees, we hope to take the Bill through its remaining stages—if necessary through all its stages, depending on the hour that the Bill reaches us—on Thursday, February 29.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating that Statement made by the Home Secretary in another place? Is he aware that there will be a widespread welcome for the decision of the Government to take emergency action to deal with the difficult situation that has been occasioned by the Kenya Government embarking on a policy which can only be described as racial discrimination? Is he also aware that the further proposals for amending the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 are largely taken from the speeches of my noble friend Lord Derwent and myself in the debate on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill in this House three months ago, though they fall far short of the thorough-going review of the future population composition of this country which some of us have been pressing on the Government for some time as being absolutely necessary? I feel sure that on behalf of my noble friends I can say that the Opposition appreciate to the full the urgency of this Bill, while reserving our right to examine it in detail, because this is going to be an important measure. Can the Leader of the House say whether a further statement promised by the Minister of Labour, which may be of a detailed character, will be available to your Lordships' House fairly soon?


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for making that Statement in your Lordships' House, may I say that we on these Benches regard it as a disturbing one? We realise that something has to be done, and we realise the reasons why it has to be done with such urgency, but we shall want to study the details of the Bill particularly to see that there is proper provision made for such things as appeal procedures. In view of the pledges which were given by the former Colonial Secretary in a previous Conservative Government in, I think, 1963, may I ask the Leader of the House whether the Government will do their utmost to involve other countries—it is welcome to know that India and Kenya are involved—so as to ensure that no Kenyan Asians or others covered by this Statement face the prospect in the future of being stateless persons? This would be something for which we could not take responsibility in this country.


My Lords, if I may reply now to the two noble Lords who have spoken, may I first thank them both for their remarks. I am in substantial agreement with what they have said, although I should not like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, to think that he and his noble friend Lord Derwent have a monopoly of wisdom in these matters. Certain of the developments and tendencies have been apparent to many of us. It is a very difficult situation, and I wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that this is a disturbing Statement. But it is one that the Government have felt compelled to make, and I am sure that most of your Lordships would feel that it was compulsion rather than desire which has driven us to adopt a measure of this kind.

My Lords, there will be an opportunity to examine the clauses as soon as the Bill is tabled. I do not think we shall find that they are too complicated, but of course we must look at them. I recognise the noble Lord's concern in this matter. Obviously with every day that goes by the situation becomes more serious, and that is why we wish to treat the matter with urgency. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, asked me about the statement by the Minister of Labour. I am sorry that I cannot say when it will be made, but I will inquire and let him know personally in relation to the discussions on this Bill.


My Lords, while reserving any further comments until the Bill is introduced, may I ask my noble friend these questions? First, is it not a fact that when independence was given to Kenya in 1963 the pledge was given to Asians who did not accept Kenyan citizenship that they would be permitted to come to this country under a United Kingdom passport? Secondly, is it not also the case that the Indian Government, of which Pandit Nehru was then the Prime Minister, supported by Mrs. Indira Ghandi, now the Prime Minister—and incidentally by myself—urged the Indian community to take Kenyan citizenship? Thirdly, is it not the fact that the great pressure now resulting from Asians coming from Kenya is due to the panic warnings given by Mr. Duncan Sandys and other colleagues about the probability of legislation being introduced? Finally, while the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was defended on the grounds that it was non-racialist, because it referred to all Commonwealth immigrants, are not these proposals entirely racialist, entirely based on colour, because they are applied only to Asians and those of colour, and not to white people?


My Lords, I will do my best to answer my noble friend Lord Brockway, who clearly has been more deeply concerned and more involved in these affairs than I have. Certainly it is true that British nationality was allowed to those who did not take Kenyan nationality. I think I ought to make clear—and I should have made this clear earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Byers—that there is no question of losing their nationality. This is the basic dilemma that confronts us, and why it is so vital that we get the right sort of machinery. What is proposed is that a queue shall be established which we hope will be more orderly and provide a more orderly situation than exists at the moment. I would rather not comment on the actions of Mr. Duncan Sandys in this area. I suspect that they are a good deal more embarrassing to the other side than to this side of your Lordships' House; and in a matter in which we wish to co-operate sensibly I would rather not pursue that more fully.

I must at once say to my noble friend Lord Brockway that this is not racialist, and it is unfortunate to attach that term to this measure. The essence of this measure relates to those who are sometimes called "United Kingdom belongers". Those who belong to the country and have their associations with it are naturally those we should expect to come here. These particular citizens in Kenya are not U.K. belongers and never have been. I must make clear that this Bill and its provisions will apply to all U.K. citizens, wherever they may be, within the terms of the Bill as it is produced. The fact that they will apply mainly to those who are of a different colour is because it will apply to those who have not been belongers to the United Kingdom. I assure the noble Lord that the Bill is not drawn in racialist terms as he suggested.

My Lords, the important point is that we are determined, and indeed it is vital, that this country shall make a success of its race relations. It is a highly delicate and difficult area. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary hopes soon to extend the provisions of the Race Relations Act. We must be realistic in this matter. I cannot imagine a more difficult decision that the Government have had to take than this one, and I ask noble Lords to consider the consequences of the rush to this country and our ability to absorb it. It is not merely the happiness of white citizens of the United Kingdom that is at stake; it is the happiness of our fellow citizens who are themselves Asian or coloured.


My Lords, arising from what the Leader of the House has just said, and while viewing with a certain amount of sadness the Statement he has made, may I ask my noble friend and the Government, particularly when they are dealing with the abuses that arise from dependants, or so-called dependants, coming to this country, that they will allow proper and real dependants, the real children of immigrants who are here, to enter this country? It seems to me that that is the basis of healthy integration which is necessary for the immigrants who are already here.


I entirely agree with my noble friend. In fact the ratio at the moment is that for every one voucher holder there are something like three dependants. The purpose has always been to avoid the splitting of families. A certain amount of deliberate family splitting is going on already, but there is certainly no intention to change the general policy. My noble friend will see, when she looks at the Bill and we explain how it operates, that her sentiments are fully taken into account.


My Lords, could my noble friend say whether the restriction applies to citizens of the Republic of Ireland?


My Lords, we have common citizenship with the Republic of Ireland and that puts us in a different situation, but I am embarking on a field with which I am not so familiar as my noble friend Lord Stonham is, so I had better be careful. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has the answer.


My Lords, while appreciating sincerely the difficulties which Commonwealth immigrants cause in this country, particularly in the spheres of education and housing, may I ask whether the Government will take into consideration that the Asian children who come from Kenya have English as their mother tongue and would not cause difficulties in education, and that they are living according to European standards and so will not cause the difficulties which have arisen in housing and in other respects?


My Lords, it seems to me that my noble friend is approaching this problem from a class basis. I hope he will not take this too much to heart, but he made a case on particular grounds. It does not significantly alter the problem. I appreciate that many of these Asians are English-speaking and that quite a lot have skills we would wish to have here. It is simply a matter of the rate at which this country can absorb them without danger to our own national multiracial unity within this country.


My Lords, in view of the great amount of business before the House this afternoon, would it not be better, whatever our views, to await the Bill?


My Lords, may I ask for one clarification from the noble Lord the Leader of the House? Did I understand correctly that white Kenya citizens holding British passports are to take their place in what he called "the queue" with others?


My Lords, it entirely depends on whether they fall within the definition of United Kingdom belongers, which is not, I may say, a phrase which appears in the Bill. They may or may not fall within the category of the Bill, but it is intended to apply to all, regardless of colour, and if the noble Baroness will await the Bill, she will have an opportunity to pursue that point.


My Lords, I am not familiar with the term "United Kingdom belongers" and I shall be grateful, if not now then later, to have a more precise definition of it.


My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that the position of these Asians coming from Kenya is rather special, both on account of their British passports and on account of the fact that they are being driven out of their own land and will not have anywhere to lay their heads? Has it occurred to Her Majesty's Government that it might be possible temporarily to reduce the flow from other sources where the need is not so urgent?


My Lords, I very much take my noble friend's point. They are in a special category, because they are United Kingdom citizens. This is what makes this particular problem so much more painful May I say to my noble friend that the Government have wrestled with this problem in every sort of way, including the way in which he is looking at it, but it has been decided—this is the present view of Her Majesty's Government—that it would be undesirable to reduce the number of vouchers that are at present available to Commonwealth citizens. I do apologise to the noble Baroness for the word "belonger", but I think it is one of those ugly words whose meaning, however, is quite self-evident.


My Lords, I regret that it is not so. I never heard it before and I dislike it. I should welcome a definition. I think that in a proposed Bill of Parliament we are justified in asking for an accurate definition of a term which is going to determine the destiny of thousands of people to whom we have an obligation.


My Lords, is the noble Lord the Leader of the House aware that my noble friends and I are wholeheartedly behind the Government in their desire declared in this Statement to create a climate in which good community relations in this country can be fostered? May I venture to suggest that our next step should be to examine together the Commonwealth Immigrants Act and how it can best be amended to achieve this end?