HL Deb 29 February 1968 vol 289 cc903-16

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper relating to the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, That Standing Order No. 41 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with for the purpose of taking the Bill through all its stages this day, and perhaps I might say a few words about the physical consequences of this as it affects your Lordships' comfort, and particularly in regard to eating arrangements in the event of this Motion being agreed to. House dinners will be served from 7.30 to 9 p.m. and it is intended to adjourn the House for half an hour at a convenient moment at around 8 o'clock. From about midnight coffee and sandwiches will be available in the bar, which will be open as long as the House is sitting; and, if necessary, breakfast will be served in the dining room from about 6 p.m.


You mean a.m!


I beg your Lordships' pardon, 6 a.m. I was perhaps unduly pessimistic. It is also proposed that we should adjourn again for a brief period, if this seems appropriate, in the early hours of the morning. I am sure that the House will appreciate that this is necessary in order that we can give every assistance to those who serve us.

Printed copies of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill as received from another place have been available from 10 o'clock this morning, which is very much earlier than I had expected last night. Accordingly, we propose that if the Business of the House Motion is carried we shall not move the Second Reading of our "No. 2" Bill which we brought forward for the convenience of the House so that they had the Bill before them, nor the Committee stages (this again is to clear our decks for action) of the Transport Holding Company Bill, the National Loans Bill and the Revenue (No. 2) Bill which are on the Order Paper. We shall therefore proceed directly, in the event of the passing of this Motion, to the Second Reading of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill.

I do not propose to say more than a few brief words about the purposes of this Motion which allows us to take this Bill through all its stages. I am aware in moving it that certain of your Lordships may feel that we are taking this important Bill through the House very quickly—


Hear, hear!


—but I am confident that the greater part of the House, whatever the opinion of noble Lords on the merits of the Bill, will recognise the urgency which is attached to this measure and the fact that, whatever the merits may be, the point behind this Bill, on which I hope we shall all be agreed, is that it calls for urgent decision. I think that it would be appropriate for your Lordships' House to proceed as quickly as possible to the consideration of the Bill.

Moved, That Standing Order No. 41 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with for the purpose of taking the Bill through all its stages this day.—(Lord Shackleton.)

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for informing your Lordships of the timetable for the anticipated marathon, but I rise on behalf of my noble friends and myself to protest most solemnly and sincerely at this proposal that your Lordships' House should attempt to deal with a measure of such constitutional and human importance in one day. This is no procedural delaying tactic. It is a matter of vital principle. This House still commands high respect throughout the Commonwealth, and not least as the Revising Chamber of the British Parliamentary system. That is what we are meant to be. It is quite intolerable, in my view, that we should try to revise this Bill, ill-conceived and badly drafted as it is, in the matter of a few hours.

Before assenting to this Motion I think that we should all be quite clear about how important this measure is and what enormous and far-reaching consequences it will have. Let us be clear that this Bill takes away the vested interests of some British citizens. It raises vital constitutional issues and this House—this House, my Lords—is meant to be the watchdog of the Constitution. This Bill deals with the status and nationality of over one million human beings. These surely are among the gravest matters with which any Parliament, in any part of the world, could be asked to deal. Moreover, this Bill introduces something new. It imposes for the first time restrictions upon the rights of entry to the United Kingdom of a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies who holds a British passport. This Bill will render an unspecified number of British subjects jobless and destitute where they now live and leave them with nowhere else to go, subject only to the vague assurances by the Home Secretary last night.

The Bill as now drafted contains clauses of great difficulty of interpretation, the impact of which is uncertain. What, for instance, is the position of a child who wants to join his mother who is resident in the United Kingdom and whose father is resident elsewhere, or a child who has no legitimate father? Is any one of your Lordships able to answer that question? If we cannot, we ought to be able to do so before we pass this Bill. Another question was raised in another place and was avoided by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, although he said that he would answer it in his winding-up speech. The question is this: what are the British Government going to do to an Asian citizen in Kenya if, as he is perfectly entitled to do, he goes to Paris and after staying there for a short time comes by Air France to London? What happens if he is not then permitted to return to Kenya? What happens to him and to the crew of the aircraft? Do your Lordships know the answer? Is there anybody who will be able to answer this question in the course of the next few hours? I say that we cannot shrug off our responsibilities. We must see that we understand what we are doing in passing this Bill.

I am told that the Bill is in conflict with the Declaration of Human Rights. We ought to be told about this, if it is true. I am not concerned to argue the rights and wrongs; that is a matter for the Second Reading and the further stages of the Bill. I am concerned with the vast import of this whole subject. and I ask whether it is in keeping with the great traditions of this Parliament of ours that we should force this measure through with such indecent haste and such casual regard for the suffering and injustice it may well cause in its present form.

The Bill was forced through another place in two days. The Hansard of another place reports proceedings only up to 10.30 p.m. last night. Therefore, we are going to be asked to take the Committee stage of this Bill at midnight to-night, or some time like that, without the benefit of knowing what happened in the Committee stage of another place. That really is quite remarkable. I cannot believe that it is the proper way to treat this House. This is an added argument for delaying proceedings so that we can give proper attention to the Bill.

I should like to ask the Government this question, because I know that they want to get their business through. May I ask them for an assurance that if we proceed to the further stages of the Bill there will be no attempt to enforce a closure on this vital constitutional measure? My noble friends and I have tabled a number of Amendments, but we admit that they have had to be drawn in a hurry, and this is totally wrong. But even if the Amendments that we have put down are accepted, all they can do is to alleviate some of the injustice, and they will not make this into a good measure.

We are, above all, a legislative Chamber. It is our duty not to be steamrollered by Governments. It is our duty to ensure that the laws we pass are fair to individual men and women and can be understood by them, and can be understood by them to be fair. It is not sufficient for us to be told that the Home Secretary will act sympathetically and with great flexibility and that, aided by two itinerant barristers and a High Commissioner, everything will be perfectly all right. This is not legislation. This is not the sort of thing we ought to be doing to-day. It does not make for justice. People are entitled to know what the rules are by which the game is going to be played. They are entitled to know on what grounds decisions are made, and why one case succeeds and another fails. It is our responsibility to see that these rules are clearly written into the Bill, and I know we cannot do that in the period which has been allotted for the debate.

The Government have demonstrated in another place that they do not know the answers to many of the questions that have been asked. The fact is that the Government have panicked. We shall be told that we have to pass the Bill to-night, or to-morrow morning early, because of the flood of people trying to beat the deadline. My answer is that it would be far better to have a few more hundred, or even a thousand, Asians in this country than that we perpetrate to-day a state of Statelessness, of hopelessness, of joblessness and suffering on many hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens, to many of whom pledges have been given and accepted in good faith.

If there is one thing one can say about the undertaking, if it was an undertaking, that the Home Secretary gave last night in another place, it is that it may well relieve the pressure on Nairobi and on the exodus from Kenya for a sufficient time for us to do our duty in this House to get this Bill into the proper shape. My plea to the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, is for proper time to produce a measure which will command at least understanding, if not respect. This is a matter not of Commons versus Lords; this is a matter for the Government and this House. I am quite certain that the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, must have been under great pressure by his colleagues in the Government, the Home Office and the Party managers; but this House is still master of its own procedures and I believe that we should protect the Government from the folly which they are about to commit.

I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to propose now to the House that we take the Second Reading to-day and the Committee and remaining stages next week, which should give the Government time to look at some of the obviously unanswered questions which have arisen as a result of the debate in another place and which might well arise as a result of the debate here to-day. We cannot afford, as a legislative and revising Chamber, to allow legislation to be steamrollered through in this way. I hope the noble Lord will give us this assurance: that we will not devalue the dignity of the House by going on with this charade and this farce when the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are affected. I invite your Lordships, if we do not get this assurance, to join us in the Division Lobby.


My Lords, I rise—



2.57 p.m.


My Lords. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, but I just wish to say this. As I understand it, we are not concerned at this stage with the merits or the demerits of this Bill. However, I think it would be wrong for me to disguise the fact that it is my present intention, after much heart-searching and with a very heavy heart indeed, to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. On the other hand, I equally do not wish to hide the fact that I personally find almost intolerable the pressure which is being put on us in regard to a Bill of this magnitude, a Bill which involves very deep issues indeed and which affects the welfare, the liberties and perhaps even the lives of many hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.

I also do not wish to disguise the fact that the air of panic which has surrounded this legislation has, in my view, done damage to the standing of this country abroad. Nevertheless, it is my understanding that nonsense will be made of the Bill as it has been drawn if it is not embodied in legislation very quickly indeed. What action your Lordships decide to take on the Motion moved by the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, is entirely within the discretion of your Lordships' House—and here I agree, and I know the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, will agree, with the noble Lord, Lord Byers. From that point of view, I do not myself feel that there is any question of the House being steamrollered.

We are not being asked by the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, to submit to a steamroller process. But I feel, in view of the way this Bill has been drawn, that if we accept it we should accept it quickly: if we reject it we should reject it quickly. I therefore hope that, on the narrower issue which is now before us, my noble friends, even those who may feel bound to abstain or indeed to vote against this Bill—and I respect their feelings on this very painful issue—will feel able to agree with me in my agreement with the noble Lord, the Leader of the House.


My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in what he has said. I do so with considerable regret, because I very much dislike finding myself in disagreement with colleagues with whom I have long worked in harmony and whose integrity and conscience I deeply respect.

I myself feel that this is a bad Bill, a Bill open to both the gravest moral and constitutional objections. But it is not on that that I wish to speak at this stage. I also feel that this question is important if this House is to fulfil not only its proper constitution and functions as it is at present constituted, but what I believe and hope will be its proper functions if it is, as I hope it will be, reformed. For, surely, the functions and responsibilities of this House are not to frustrate the will of the Commons as an elected and representative body, which this is not; its functions and its responsibilities, if it is worth keeping alive at all, are to ensure that grave matters are gravely discussed, with due consideration, and that Amendments which in the view of this House may be necessary are given time, not because they should have any mandatory force behind them so far as another place is concerned, but because it is necessary for good government that, drawing on the knowledge and experience of this House, they should be considered. Therefore, it seems to me that to attempt to rush this Bill through at this stage is to set aside what are the true responsibilities of this House.

As I say, I do not myself like the Bill, although I would by no means try to throw any contempt, or anything of that kind, on those who, on an equally deep moral basis, believe that it is necessary. I do not like the Bill, and if I had been a Member of another place I think I should have voted against it. But I shall not do so in your Lordships' House because, as I have said, in my view of the functions of this House it is wrong that it should frustrate the will of the elected assembly. But the question of whether our Standing Orders should be suspended in order to enable this Bill to be rushed through is not a matter of our relationship with another pl ice: it is a matter of the proper function and dignity of this House itself if, as I say, it is to exist. If it is not to exist, then let its throat be cut and let it be finished with. But so long as it is here, and I believe so long as it continues, if it has any meaning at all it must be able to give proper consideration to grave matters—and in this case I do no: think that we are being given the time to do that. This House cannot be Mr. Callaghan's poodle, or that of any other Minister. It must bring to bear all its own experience on grave matters brought before it. I do not believe that in this case we are being given the time to do so, and it is for that reason that I support the noble Lord, Lord Byers.


My Lords, with much the same regrets as those expressed by my noble friend Lord Francis-Williams, I wish to support both what he has said and what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has said on be calf of the Liberals. In my belief, it is in any case repugnant that this House should consider all the stages of a Bill, including its First Reading, at one sitting, because it seriously impairs that system of checks and balances which is part of a fundamental constitutional principle. But, my Lords, I suggest that this is particularly the case when the ink is scarcely dry on a Bill, as in this case; when we have not had the time to consider it adequately; and when vitally important, and apparently inconsistent, statements have been made in another place by the Home Secretary and the Solicitor General, too late, as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, pointed out, to appear in Hansard, and when we can only guess, from reports in to-day's evening papers, at what was said on these extremely important matters. I believe that this Motion is treating the House with very scant respect, and I oppose it.


My Lords, this is supposed to be a Revising Chamber. We have here the tremendous benefit of the great intelligence, brilliance and experience of a group of Members of this House who, by their very nature, are considerably older than I am. I myself am happy to sit here all through the night, and if necessary all day to-morrow, to oppose what I consider to be a morally unjustifiable Bill. However, is it right that the whole future and national status of a very great many people should be decided here in the middle of the night by a group of people who are able to stay the course while we lose the tremendous advantage of the experience of those who, because of their physical capabilities, may not be able to do so?


My Lords, I rise with some diffidence, but I shall speak for only a few minutes. If I do take advantage of your Lordships in this way, it is because I am, I believe, the "father" of the Benches on this side of the House. Standing Order No. 41 has for its object—the perfectly clear object, which anybody who can read can see—to prevent exactly the kind of operation that is being performed this afternoon. It is to prevent just that kind of situation from being exploited, if I may so put it, that we have this Standing Order.

It seems to me that this Standing Order is right in principle. During the many years that I have sat in your Lordships' House I have, of course, frequently known occasions when the Standing Order has been suspended, with the general consent of your Lordships' House and for a very good reason. But this is not the case to-day. Your Lordships are clearly in two minds, if not more, as to whether the Bill should go forward at all; but certainly arguments have been adduced as to why this Bill should not go through in the exaggerated panic conditions in which it is being introduced to-day. I hope that the course proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in relation to this Motion will be followed by your Lordships.

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Faringdon on his unusual title, which is a new one to me in your Lordships' House. I have listened with great seriousness and care to what your Lordships have said. I would first thank the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for giving me notice that he was going to raise this point; and, of course, I accept his statement that he is not pursuing this for dilatory reasons.

This matter, of course, is one on which people will always argue, but I certainly do not propose to argue with the noble Lord on this. I thought that his speech, and the speeches of certain other noble Lords, represented the most powerful plea I could have heard for proceeding with this Bill to-day. There are a number of very important questions which have yet to be answered. I do not complain at the noble Lord's asking them—I will not even accuse him of making a mini-Second Reading speech—but they are essentially questions which need to be answered, either on Second Reading or on Committee. I would not accept for one moment that when your Lordships take on a heavy responsibility—and it is for your Lordships' House to decide to do so—it will become a charade, which is a word I should prefer not to apply. Nor am I going to deal with constitutional issues. I have always disliked the arguments raised when we start arguing on the position of another place.

But, my Lords, it is for us to decide whether the urgency of this measure is such that we ought to proceed with it to-day. We have Standing Orders which are designed to ensure that business is conducted in an appropriate fashion. It is right that we should have them, and it is right that we should allow sufficient time to deal with ordinary business in an orderly fashion. But, my Lords, there are times, as we all know, when matters of great urgency come up; and one of the great glories of Parliament, and indeed, if I may say so, of your Lordships' House, is the great flexibility with which we are able to face such difficulties.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, asked me to give him an assurance that the closure would not be moved at any time. The very last thought I should have had is that a closure would need to be moved. There are, indeed, very stringent views expressed, but the right inevitably remains. But I am sure that your Lordships will conduct this debate and the subsequent Committee stage with expedition and we shall not go in for needless repetition. Although it is clearly impossible for me to give any promise, I hope, as Leader of this House, that it will never fall to me to have to move the closure in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord, may I take it from that statement that if, by any chance, a closure were to be moved, or the question put, the Government would really argue against it?


My Lords, that is going to be a matter for the House to decide. It would be foolish for anyone to give an understanding in circumstances which are hypothetical and which, in the light of the noble Lord's assurance, will not arise. But this is one of the undoubted rights that rest in the House. I cannot take it away from the House. I just say that I hope it is one that we shall never have to exercise.

I accept what the noble Earl and other noble Lords have said, that this is a matter on which there is a great deal of heart-searching. We should all agree that this is one of the intolerable dilemmas in which either course that is followed raises difficulties of a profound social and moral kind. The essence of this particular Bill is that it should be proceeded with quickly if it is proceeded

with at all. If noble Lords, when they have heard the discussion, feel strongly enough about the Bill, it will be open to the House to reject it on Second Reading. I hope your Lordships will not do so; but that is the simple statement of the position.

By passing this Motion to-day we are taking away none of your Lordships' rights from you. It will be possible to close it down at any particular time. I therefore ask your Lordships, with very great consciousness that we are asking you to undertake very heavy responsibilities, to pass this Motion. The urgency and the case will be deployed on the Second Reading; and some of the questions the noble Lord, Lord Byers, asked, will be answered then. It is for your Lordships to decide whether to suspend the Standing Order; and I am content to leave it to the House to do so.


My Lords, I was not aware that the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon was the Father of the House. I am very much interested to know whether there is any disputed paternity. In the absence of my noble friend Lord Salisbury through serious illness, which I very much regret, I should like as the next most senior Member to beg your Lordships to accept the Advice which the noble Lord the Leader of the House has given us. We are the masters of our own procedure. We have our own views about whether this is dilatory or not; but surely it would be entirely in accordance with all the precedents of the House during all the years that I have sat in it, and in accordance also, venture to say, with the spirit of the House of Commons in which I sat for pearly twenty years, that we should accept the advice of the Leader of the House; that we should pass this Motion now and then proceed to discuss this very difficult and controversial measure on its merits. I would beg the House to accept the advice of the Leader, and as an old Deputy Leader of the House I should like to give your Lordships that strongest advice.

On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 168; Not-Contents, 54.

Aberdare, L. Ailwyn, L. Ampthill, L.
Aberdeen and Temair, M. Albermarle, E. Arwyn, L.
Addison, V. Allerton, L. Ashbourne, L.
Audley, Bs. Fraser of North Cape, L. Moyne, L.
Balerno, L. Gage, V. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Gaitskell, Bs. Noel Buxton, L.
Bathurst, E. Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.) Nugent of Guildford, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Garnsworthy, L. Pargiter, L.
Berkeley, Bs. Geddes of Epsom, L. Perth, E.
Bessborough, E. Glendevon, L. Phillips, Bs
Beswick, L. Granville of Eye, L. Platt, L.
Birk, Bs. Greenway, L. Plummer, Bs.
Blackford, L. Grenfell, L. Popplewell, L.
Blyton, L. Gridley, L. Powis, E.
Bowles, L. [Teller.] Grimston of Westbury, L. Rathcavan, L.
Boyd of Merton, V. Hall, V. Rhodes, L.
Brain, L. Hawke, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Brock, L. Hemingford, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Heycock, L. St. Helens, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Hill of Wivenhoe, L. St. Oswald, L.
Brown, L. Hilton of Upton, L. [Teller.] Salter, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Hirshfield, L. Sanderson of Ayot, L.
Buckton, L. Hives, L. Sandford, L.
Burden, L. Horsbrugh, Bs. Sandys, L.
Carron, L. Howard of Glossop, L. Segal, L.
Chalfont, L. Hurcomb, L. Sempill, Ly.
Champion, L. Hylton-Foster, Bs. Serota, Bs.
Chorley, L. Ilford, L. Shackleton, L. (L. Privy Seal.)
Citrine, L. Inchyra, L. Shepherd, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Jellicoe, E. Silkin, L.
Colgrain, L. Jessel, L. Simonds, V.
Colville of Culross, V. Kennet, L. Somers, L.
Colyton, L. Kirkwood, L. Sorenson, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Lansdowne, M. Stocks, Bs.
Cottesloe, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. Stonham, L.
Craigavon, V. Long, V. Stow Hill, L.
Craigmyle, L. Longford, E. Strabolgi, L.
Cranbrook, E. Loudoun, C. Strang, L.
Crathorne, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Strange. L.
Darwen, L. MacAndrew, L. Strange of Knokin, Bs.
Daventry, V. McLeavy, L. Stratheden and Campbell, L.
Denham L. Maelor, L. Swanborough, Bs.
Derwent, L. Mancroft, L. Swinton, E.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Tangely, L.
Douglas of Barloch, L. May, L. Thurlow, L.
Douglass of Cleveland, L. Merrivale, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Dudley, L. Mills, V. Uvedale of North End, L.
Eccles, V. Milner of Leeds, L. Vernon, L.
Effingham, E. Milverton, L. Vivian, L.
Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Mitchison, L. Wedgwood, L.
Elton, L. Monsell, V. Wells-Pestell, L.
Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Morrison, L. Wigg, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Morton of Henryton, L. Winterbottom, L.
Falkland, V. Mowbray and Stourton, L. Wolverton, L.
Falmouth, V. Moyle, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Fortescue, E.
Airedale, L. Gladwyn, L. Nathan, L.
Amulree, L. [Teller.] Harmsworth, L. Nunburnholme, L.
Arran, E. Henley, L. [Teller.] Ogmore, L.
Asquith of Yarnbury, Bs. Hertford, M. Parmoor, L.
Barrington, V. Hunt, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Iddesleigh, E. Ravensdale, L.
Bethell, L. James of Rusholme, L. Rea, L.
Brockway, L. Kilbracken, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Byers, L. Lichfield, L. Bp. St. Albans, L. Bp.
Canterbury, L. Abp. London. L. Bp. St. Davids, V.
Carnock, L. Lytton, E. Soper, L.
Clwyd, L. MacLeod of Fuinary, L. Stamp, L.
Coventry, L. Bp. McNair, L. Swaythling, L.
Faringdon, L. Mersey, V. Wade, L.
Ferrier, L. Merthyr, L. Willis, L.
Foot, L. Middleton, L. Winchester, L. Bp.
Francis-Williams, L. Milford, L. Windlesham, L.
Gifford, L. Moynihan, L. Wootton of Abinger, Bs.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.