HL Deb 13 May 1970 vol 310 cc679-707

9.3 p.m.

LORD BROCKWAY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of new information now available, they will reconsider their policy towards British Asians in East Africa and Aden desirous of coming to this country, who hold British passports, have no permits to stay in their places of residence and no means of maintaining themselves. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Unstarred Question which is on the Order Paper in my name. I apologise for the late hour at which this debate begins; I apologise both to Members of this House and to the staff who serve us so well. I can only say that I made every effort to enable the debate to take place at an early hour and that when the day was arranged there was not the expectation that the discussion on defence would precede it.

Many noble Lords will remember the debate which took place in this House in February, 1968, on the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill which severely restricted the coming to this country of British citizens with British passports. That debate was remarkable because of the disquiet shown in all parts of the House. I was specially impressed by the concern of ex-colonial administrators, most of them on the Conservative Benches, who felt that this issue was one of our national honour. At the end of the debate, the Bill was carried by only 24 votes, in a Division of 194.

It is not my purpose this evening to challenge that Act. I will make reference to its principles, to which I am as strongly opposed as ever, but my purpose tonight is to appeal for humane consideration for the victims of the consequences of that legislation. I am encouraged by what the Home Secretary said on this matter when the Bill was being discussed. I will quote him in detail later. All I say now is that he assured us that the application of the Act would not be rigid and that circumstances might arise where flexibility would be shown. I shall seek to-night to show that circumstances have arisen which do demand that flexibility.

My Lords, British responsibility for the Asians in East Africa and Aden is very great. We encouraged the Asians to go to East Africa, largely to build the railway from the coast through Kenya and into Uganda. Aden at that time was part of the British Empire in India. This country has a large responsibility for the presence of Asians in East Africa and in Aden. Secondly, our responsibility lies in the fact that when these territories obtained their independence the Asians had the choice of becoming either nationals of those territories or citizens of this country. The majority, I think, decided, rightly, to become citizens of those countries. But a number decided to remain British citizens; and we gave the clearest assurances at that time that if they remained British citizens they would have the rights of British citizenship.

The present difficulty has arisen from the fact that with heavy unemployment in Kenya, in Uganda, in Tanzania and in Aden, Governments have there pursued the policy of saying that priority for work and priority for licences to conduct businesses shall go to the citizens of those countries. I deplore this. But let us face the fact that it happens in every nation State. It is a principle which we apply in our own country, and we have no right to protest when this principle is applied in the case of the new Territories in East Africa. The motivation, so far as the Governments are concerned, is not racialism. I want to be quite truthful, and I would say that in the countries of East Africa there is some racial feeling, largely because the Asian population has in the past dominated the retail trade, insurance and other businesses. But so far as the Governments are concerned, in introducing this restriction they have not been racialist in intention.

My Lords, my Question refers to the new information that is now available. That information has been given to us in this very remarkable report which has been produced by Mrs. Mary Dines, a joint secretary of the Council for the Welfare of Commonwealth Immigrants. That Council is a responsible body. It represents not only the immigrant communities in this country but also many British organisations concerned, including the British Council of Churches. Mrs. Mary Dines is a reliable person. She has a deep compassion about suffering; she has a sensitivity about human rights; she has an eagerness to end injustice. But added to these qualities is a practicality, an objectivity, an almost scientific approach to any investigation in which she is engaged.

No one could have read her report without being deeply impressed by its thoroughness. That she should have produced it in less than three weeks, with the help only of a number of volunteers, seems quite extraordinary to one who has been engaged in similar projects. I have in my hand a copy of what has not been distributed with the report, a detailed analysis of those whom she interviewed. It is divided into columns: the British High Commission reference; the name; the address; the numbers in the family; the assets in Uganda; the monthly liabilities; fares—whether they have still to be found or have been saved; the money in the United Kingdom; the date by which they must leave. No one in the Government, or in any organisation concerned on this issue, can afford to overlook the information which is contained——


My Lords, perhaps my noble friend can help me. If not to-night, perhaps at some time, he would let me have a look at this document. But can he tell the House how many heads of families, or what individuals, did this lady interview in those three weeks?


My Lords, I am always grateful to my noble friend for his interruptions, because he always leads me on to exactly the next point that I was going to make. I was about to say to him that as there is only one detailed copy of this document—there is the report, in addition, but only one detailed analysts.—I am perfectly sure that Mrs. Dines would be very prepared for my noble friend to see this document. The Foreign and Commnowealth Office already has had a copy of the report.


My Lords, may I ask whether my noble friend can help me? How many heads of family did this lady see? Has he any idea?


My Loris, if I may say so, my noble friend interrupts rather unnecessarily, because I have told him that that is exactly the point to which I was coming. I will now give him the figures. In less than three weeks, 1,189 individuals were interviewed. Those individuals represented 3,693 persons, with their dependants. My noble friend looks a little astonished; I myself am a little astonished, too. Mrs. Dines worked from dawn till midnight, day after day and night after night, and the record is all there.


My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt my noble friend, because I am sure he does not want to be inaccurate. From my reading of the report, the number of cases of families interviewed, is 1,041, and the number of people involved 3,693.


My noble friend says that that is the record. The figure of the dependants is the same, and I hope that I am accurate on the other figure. As a result of these interviews it was found that 561 persons are absolutely destitute, and that those 561 persons represent, with their dependants, 1,939. This analysis also shows that by the end of the year 486 will be absolutely destitute. Their savings will all have gone. This means that, of the 1,189 of these British citizens, 1,047 will be without any means of livelihood by the end of the year. September is likely to be the crisis.

I will not delay by giving the personal instances, deeply moving as they are which are included in this report. I will content myself by reading the summary which Mrs. Dines has provided. She says: it is not possible to describe the atmosphere of hopelessness and the insecurity that prevails among the British Asian community: the visible signs of their miserable existence; the one room shared by as many as eight people; the borrowing of a few shillings to buy flour; the children poorly clad and out of school. I pause to remark that fees are required at the children's school, and these are not available. Mrs. Dines continues: The psychological effects are, if anything, worse. Men who have worked hard and honestly all their lives are driven to living off friends or relatives whose own situation deteriorates or are forced to live off charitable organisations. They are utterly humiliated by their circumstances and by their inability to provide for their families They are sick with worry and clutch at any straw of hope. My Lords, these are British citizens, with British passports. Two years of destitution have brought a new problem. Only a fraction of these people now have any money left for their fares, even if this country were ready to admit them. Some may depend on relatives or friends; half of them say that they must go to some charity.

I am not relying, and I do not think others who speak will rely, only on this report from Mrs. Dines. We have had our own letters. I intend to refer to only two of them. One, dated April 28, is from a father of seven children, a British citizen living in Uganda. I have the letter here, and I quote from it. He says: I am now much worried as I will be residing illegally in Uganda after April 30, and I do not know what to do. I cannot go every time to my friends and beg them for rations, as I am feeling ashamed, because they have helped me since November, 1969. I cannot think what will happen for my passage. I have already spent 2,500 shillings out of my savings for my fares. As the time will pass away I will be left without a penny. I would refer to one other letter received from a man in Aden who has served for three years and five months in the R.A.F. He received on his discharge the certificate of commendation from his commanding officer. He is a British subject; he holds a British passport. He has served for three and a half years with the British Command. Yet we do not allow him to come here. I recognise that these are the victims of the "priority for work" policy being pursued in these countries, but they are also the victims of our decision, and we have a responsibility for them.

My Lords, I wish to end, as I always try to do, with positive proposals, and may I say to my noble friend that I hope he will not say to-night either "Yes" or "No" to the proposals which are made. I am only asking that he will agree to pass on the proposals to the Ministers who are responsible, so that they may consider of them. My first point is this. The present administration needs to be humanised. It is not the fault of the officials and the High Commissions in these countries: they are the instrument of the policy of this Government. But applicants in these territories with nothing to live on have sometimes to wait six months before they can even get an interview.

There is always great confusion about responsibility. The High Commission informs the applicants that it is "waiting to hear from the issuing authorities". When the applicants, in despair, write to the Home Office the Home Office replies, "It is a matter for the High Commission". Now there is a further complication. They are now being referred to the Migration and Visa Department of the Commonwealth and Foreign Office. Who is responsible? Victims wait for months and are desperate in this confusion. My first proposal, then, is that the administration should be humanised, co-ordinated and speeded up in dealing with these applications.

My second positive proposal is this. The Home Secretary, during the discussions of the Bill, used these words: It is my intention that the number of vouchers fixed is related to what I believe should be a normal flow. This is not a rigid figure. It will be flexible in relation to the circumstances to which I am now coming. I was asked what we would do about a man who was thrown out of work and ejected from the country. We shall have to take him in. So far, these persons have not been ejected, but they are being thrown out of work. They are in a worse position than if they had been ejected. One of the almost unbelievable features of the situation in these territories is that the plight of these people is so terrible that they would have welcomed deportation. I know that our Home Secretary is a humane man. He has been a great personal friend of mine for many years. I ask him to extend to the people who are in this desperate condition the flexibility which he has indicated.

The third positive proposal which I make is this. The Home Secretary, in the statement which I have read, said the number of vouchers is fixed in relation to the normal flow. Under the 1968 Act, 10,000 immigrants annually were to be admitted on employment and special vouchers. I do not possess the figures of these particular categories, but it is known that a large number have not been taken up. Last year the total number of Commonwealth immigrants was down by almost one-third. The East African allocation is 1,500 annually among the 10,000. I am asking the Home Secretary to raise that figure to meet the needs of these people, who are British citizens and hold British passports, and if the figure of 10,000 has not been reached, at least to add to the figure of 1,500 so as to attain it.

Fourthly we have to face a further responsibility. These people are impoverished because they are British citizens. If they had agreed to become nationals of the territories in which they resided, they would not have been refused work, and they would not have been refused licences to continue businesses. They are in this destitution simply because they are British; and we must face that responsibility. If an earthquake occurred somewhere, and British citizens were involved, we should all go immediately to their aid. The position of these people is as desperate as that of many victims of an earthquake. I suggest that it is now our moral obligation to help these people meet their immediate needs, and it may be, possibly by a method of loan, to help with the cost of their passages, when finally they are allowed to come here.

My fifth positive proposal is that further effort should be made to reach a tripartite agreement between, first, the countries concerned: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Yemen; secondly, India and Pakistan, and, thirdly, ourselves. India has said that she will agree to accept permanently those who surrender their passports and to accept temporarily those who wish to retain British citizenship if we will subsequently agree to accept them. This is obviously a matter for negotiation. My proposal is that we should send an envoy who is trusted in East Africa, India and Pakistan to negotiate a settlement of this tragic problem.

I have only two further points to make. The first is to meet the argument, which I know will be put forward, of the difficulty of accepting more immigrants. I would say only that in this case the difficulties would not be as great as they often are. These people are accustomed to the British way of life. They speak English. They are small shopkeepers, tailors, shoemakers, who would gladly go, not to London or Birmingham where there are big immigrant populations, but to small towns. There are craftsmen, bookkeepers, taxi drivers among them, who could easily fit into our methods of industrial and social life. The tragedy is that if they had come here two years ago they would have become easily adjusted; they would have had their savings, It is by our failure that they are destitute.

My Lords, I want to conclude by saying this as sincerely as I can. A deeper issue is involved than our convenience. In essence it is one of our national honour, our pledged word. These people have been admitted to British citizenship. They were assured, when they accepted British citizenship, that they would have all its rights. They hold a British passport, which reads: Her Britannic Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass free without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary. Britain is the only country in the whole world which does not allow free entry for its own citizens. We cannot justify that. I am asking at least that the destitute victims of our policy should be admitted here.

9.33 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour I shall try to obey the injunction about shorter speeches of which we were reminded earlier to-day, but had the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury been able to be here he would, I know, have wanted to express, not only the concern of the Church of England in this matter but also that of all the Churches associated in the British Council of Churches, of which he is the active President. That body has recently received a report of its Standing Committee on Migration arising from a visit paid to East Africa earlier this year by one of its members who is the convenor of the Methodist Committee for Community Relations. Because of the grave concern which this report aroused about the plight of British citizens in East Africa, the Council has recently asked the Home Secretary to receive a deputation to discuss this matter with him as one of great urgency, not only to the Churches in these Islands but also to the Churches in Uganda and Kenya. I heard only yesterday that the Home Secretary has just agreed to receive such a deputation.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in his comprehensive survey of this very difficult problem, referred to another report on the situation of British Asians in Uganda, published recently by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which is as yet the most representative voluntary body on work in this field. This report has been described to me by those who have seen the situation at first hand as extremely moving and fair on the humanitarian and moral aspect of the whole issue. As the noble Lord has already pointed out, it leaves us in absolutely no doubt that the position of these people holding British passports is progressively declining, and to me one of the worst features of this is that if and when they do eventually come to this country their economic condition will be such that they will be dependent on friends and relatives, and inevitably will gravitate to the large cities, such as London and Birmingham, instead of to smaller towns where their particular skills could more quickly be absorbed and where they would be in an environment more in accord with their own tradition.

In the face of the progressive destitution of those who are without any doubt British subjects I hope the Government will, as a matter of urgency, be able to accord them the highest possible priority on the Commonwealth list, on the grounds that they have a claim upon us, by virtue of their citizenship and their economic plight, that perhaps other applicants for entry vouchers do not have at the present time. I hope the Government will also consider whether they cannot give a pledge that the quota to be allowed admission from Uganda will be increased over, say, the next two years, so as to give the maximum encouragement to the Uganda authorities to give a fair deal to those who remain in that country meanwhile. Perhaps the Minister who is to reply to-night will be able to tell us whether the Government feel able to pursue renewed consultations with other Commonwealth countries with a view to encouraging British Asians in East Africa to emigrate elsewhere than to Britain.

My Lords, whatever is or is not done to speed up the rate of entry of these unfortunate people, there will remain a problem of widespread destitution which is rapidly getting beyond the resources of the voluntary bodies who are endeavouring to grapple with it. I would ask the Minister whether the Government will consider, at the earliest possible moment, inaugurating a Commonwealth fund for the relief of destitution, and doing it with a handsome contribution. I am confident that if the United Kingdom would give a generous lead in launching such a fund there are people of many different nationalities who might later contribute to it.

I was not a Member of your Lordships' House when the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill was debated, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has already reminded us, it was a matter which brought a sharp division of opinion. It was a Bill which seemed to many to sacrifice principles and long-term considerations for apparent short-term gains. The comment made by the most reverend Primate on that occasion was that ethical grounds always have practical consequences. My Lords, it is the practical consequences of that Act with which we are dealing to-night. I hope the Government will be ready to reconsider their policy towards this group of those who are Her Majesty's subjects.

9.40 p.m.


My Lords, I follow with pleasure the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, who has contributed in emotional terms all and more than I had planned to say. Also, I appreciate the opportunity of following the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester. I should like to run very briefly through what two Governments have done, with a view to setting this matter in its correct proportions. I want to be fair, because it is not only the Labour Government, but also the Conservative Government who have jointly been responsible for this move to restrict immigration. Eight years ago, I understand, one quarter of the inhabitants of the earth had an absolute right to come to these Islands and dwell here for ever and ever, and it was the passing of the 1962 Act which brought that risk, if it was a risk, under control. I often think it might have been a greater risk than we ever imagined. For example, Southern India is often unhappy under the Government of Delhi, and had Southern India decided to come in a body to this country it would have had the right to do so.

Before the 1962 Act there was the curious anomaly that this one quarter of the earth's population enjoyed full citizenship of two sovereign States, with two passports, each of them, as it were, on the gold standard at par. Each of them had the right to come here and dwell for ever, and the right to dwell and prosper in his own land. All we did under the 1962 Act was to remove one of those rights, the one least important to the individual concerned, his right to come here, leaving intact his right to dwell in his own country as its full citizen. Therefore, so far as I can see, no injustice whatever was done to anyone by the 1962 Act; it was perfectly fair, it was reasonably prudent and there was nothing wrong in it anywhere.

I suppose those who opposed it—and I believe those who opposed it included those on the present Government Front Benches—did so out of a kind of sentiment, just as we retain on our pound note to-day a promise to pay one pound on demand. What is that one pound? It is a bit of whimsy, a relic of the past, and so long as it does not matter, why bother? And I suppose that was the feeling of those who did not like that 1962 Act. It was disposing of a pleasant sentiment of Commonwealth unity unnecessarily. Events have shown that it was wise and prudent.

The 1963 Kenya Independence Act brought us up against one of those very difficult problems of decolonisation, because the Kenya independent Government—the Africans that is—refused to grant automatic Kenya citizenship to every inhabitant of Kenya. We pressed them to do so, at least so I understand from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, during the course of that all-night sitting. We pressed them hard and they refused. And in order not to create a class of stateless persons, which is contrary to our own principles and latterly would be a contravention of an international agreement, we agreed to recognise non-Kenya citizens who were inhabitants of Kenya as full British citizens—this is what I understand—with the right, unrestricted as before, which they had before the 1962 Act, to come into this country and to dwell here at will without any control.

As I understand it, this applied to the two categories of inhabitants of Kenya whom the Kenya Government—black, indigenous, African—would not accept automatically as citizens of Kenya: those were the whites, mainly of our own stock, and the browns mainly from the Indian Continent. How right the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, is to say that we encouraged them to go there! Without them the Uganda railway could not have been built, and Kenya would never have come to the prosperity, to the primacy that it holds among our colonial territories. They were indispensable at the time. They have had 70 years of doing good work. I think I may say that they were despised by both of the other communities; but they were disliked by the Africans and (I am quite certain wrongly) despised by the white community of Kenya.

The white community of Kenya have had the most extraordinary prejudices quite apart from their prejudices against the Indians. No Jew could be a member of the Muthaiga Country Club until after independence. At one time no official could be a member of the country club. The bureaucrats were not admitted. It was in the reign of Governor-General Northey that officials became members of the club. They had had their passionate prejudices, one of which was contempt for the Indians.

It is understandable that the Indians are a closed community of their own. They object to employing others; but everybody, from a child of five to the grandmother, works in the Dukha, and they have their own little societies, religious, welfare, everything. There is nothing wrong about it, but it creates prejudice. They are separate, little homogeneous communities of their own. I am afraid that I disagree with the noble Lord Lord Brockway, on this point: it is not because they are holders of British passports, British citizens, that they are being hounded. It is because they are Indians, Asians, and because the Indians are disliked. I have seen it for half a century. I am sure that that is the correct interpretation of what is happening.

Of course, the Governments out there are as hypocritical as any other Governments, and they try to pretend that it is because they are not citizens. But the Indians saw the red light. Why are they not citizens? It is because they were being down-graded and preyed upon in the days just before independence and after. They saw what was coming to them; that there was no future. That is why many of them would not become—


My Lords, if I may intervene, I think the noble Earl is really stretching this point. Of course there are many Indians who accepted their rights under the Constitution to become Kenya citizens. Many of them have done so, and they are in no difficulties whatsoever with the Administration or the people of Kenya.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for his correction that they are not in any difficulty. That is equally true of a good many of the white settlers. It is open to anybody to predict that when the time is ripe further Africanisation will be foisted upon them. I do not know. All I am sure about is that a great many of the Indian communities are greatly disliked. I recall that the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack assured this House during that long, all night debate, that he had been out there and was absolutely convinced that it was not the ordinary African alone, but that the highly educated African shared this dislike of the Indians. However, we are expressing our views, and I have the strong feeling, and have had it for forty years anyway, that the Africans dislike the Indian community, and that that is at the root of what is happening.

By the 1968 Act the United Kingdom removed the right of work and residence in the United Kingdom for a number of people (I think the total was estimated during that debate at about 2 million), but we dealt very much and very specifically, with those from Kenya. Kenya was the focal point of that debate. The reason why we did it was an unfortunate one: it was because at that very moment the Africans were in the process of removing from the Asians their right to work and dwell in Kenya. That is the point where the clash comes. We started forming a queue just as the African Administrations were turning on the heat, and we turned what the Asians thought, rightly or wrongly, was their refuge in trouble, into a stopped earth where they could find no refuge. That is the objectionable part of what we did.

I want to repeat what was said during that debate, and most of my remarks are taken from the speech of the noble and learned Lord now sitting on the Woolsack, not to criticise impertinently what he said but because it was a telling speech, and he told us the things that weighed in my mind as valid. Among the first things he said was: we are not saying … 'You cannot come here'. What we are saying is, You cannot all arrive to-morrow'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29/2/68, c. 931.] Secondly, numbers have been bandied about, and the number of vouchers for the whole of the Commonwealth, as I understood it, mentioned by the noble and learned Lord on that occasion was 8,500 a year. He added, to reassure us, that it was proposed to have a new category of vouchers simply for Asians in Kenya. The number was to be 1,500 a year, which he estimated, when multiplied by the suitable number for the size of the family, would mean 6,000 or 7.000 people a year. Fourthly, his figures of the communities who have this right of British citizenship being taken away from them showed that the number in Kenya was 167,000. At the rate of 7,000 a year, that would mean that the queue was 24 years long.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said, quite rightly—and I know it—that many Indians are content and have taken Kenyan citizenship. The noble and learned Lord said (col. 932): it will depend greatly on how it is worked. The Government of Kenya is a civilised Government. I should like to ask how this system has worked. A little more than two years have passed (it was in February, 1969, that we passed the Act, and it is now May, 1970, two years later), and I should like to know how it has worked. Is the quota still 1,500 heads of families a year? Do they come? Is Kenya all right? Has the "civilised Government" of Kenya worked happily with us, and we happily with them, since that happened—because that was the imponderable of which the noble and learned Lord spoke? I do not profess to know the answer. All I know is that the trouble has extended to Uganda. Of that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has spoken so fully that I merely say that there is some slight discrepancy in my figures—I have a slightly different set from his, or have read them differently—but I have nothing to add. But it is a distressing state of affairs, which I have felt was bound to come.

Is there a quota, or is it taken out of the Kenya quota? What is happening in Uganda? We have had no debate on this matter since the great debate when we had a new Act, which the noble and learned Lord, like many others, said he did not like. But we had to protect our own citizens and we had to protect race relations in this country. What has happened? Has a grip been taken of the Uganda problem in the same way as we took a grip of the Kenya problem, and has the grip on the Kenya problem proved successful? I profess ignorance. I have come up to-day because we have not debated this matter in detail. We have had many anxious questions on this matter from the admirably persistent noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, but we have not really had a debate and have not been able to get out of the Government what is happening.

My impression, from summing up the totals which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, mentioned, is that the number of totally destitute persons in Uganda now is around 9,000 or 10,000. That is tending to be cumulative and is rapidly increasing, because the resources of those religious communities of Indians who are helping each other are being exhausted. It is true that they are British citizens and are citizens of no other State, and if we are not responsible, who is? Nevertheless, I feel it is not entirely because they are British citizens that they are suffering in this way. It is an incompatibility of communities, such as one finds again and again all over the world, so often with the Jews but also with the Indians when they go elsewhere, and we have to cope with it as best we can.

A question has been asked as to whether the quota for the Commonwealth is fully taken up, and whether, if it is not, it could be used to absorb Asians. I do not know the answer to these questions, but I have come up to support the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, at least in this. I have for a large part of my life been interested in all the communities of Kenya. I have tried to do battle for Somalis who have had a raw deal and for Indians who are now in trouble, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give us some honest account of what they are trying to do in conditions which I recognise are the postscripts of these extremely difficult decolonisation processes.

9.59 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to speak briefly, but I hope forcefully, in support of my noble friend's Question. Some reference has been made to the debates that we had in this House in 1968. I am not one given to lauding debates in this House, but I must say that the debate we had on the Commonwealth Immigrants Act two years ago was one of the most impressive experiences I have had in this House. There can be no doubt that if this House had then been reformed on any rational basis, as was proposed a year later, the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill would have been rightly thrown out by this House.

I am sure that there were some members of the Government Front Bench who, at breakfast time on that morning when the debates were over and the Act was passed, said to themselves, with a sigh of relief when the dirty work was done, "Thank goodness, that's over! Something can be worked out now. It will all blow over. All the people who have spoken against this Act will find in due course that their fears were not really founded. Things will work themselves out." For two years we heard little of the situation of Asians in East Africa. But now, two years later, we are faced with the realities and the consequences of the passing of that Act in that week in February, 1968.

Reference has been made to the report of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and to the support of the representatives of the British Council of Churches. I should like to refer also to the reports which have appeared in the Press week after week over this year. The Press has done a magnificent job in spotlighting in case after case, inquiry after inquiry, the destitution which is coming increasingly upon the Asians of East Africa. I must say that every time I read such a report I feel a sense of outrage and of anger that such a situation could come about by the deliberate act of a Government of this country, and a Government which I support.

There are of course many injustices in this world: many injustices about which we in this House, and particularly on this side of the House, protest. There are many injustices which are the direct concern and responsibility of foreign Governments and which are not, mercifully, our direct concern. There are many injustices which are the heritage of our past, which we, in our policies, try over a long period to rectify. There are injustices which come about by the incompetence or the bloody-mindedness of individuals, bureaucrats and the like, and which we can take up and rectify. But I know of no other situation where injustice of this kind, and on such a scale, has been created, not for any of those reasons but by the deliberate and conscious act of policy of a Government. Without that act of policy, enshrined as it was in the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, this situation, which we have heard so movingly described, would not be with us. I understand now more of the bitterness which young people in the United States feel at the policies of their Government when I read of the direct consequences of the direct policies of our Government. And the justification given for this policy—given then and given still—cannot be upheld.

When my noble friend Lord O'Hagan asked a Question in this House on March 24 last, my noble friend Lord Shepherd replied, at column 1333: This control is essential in the interests of the large numbers of Commonwealth immigrants already here, to whom we have as great an obligation as we have to those United Kingdom passport holders who have not yet been able to come here". My Lords, I would ask my noble friend who and what representatives of Commonwealth immigrants over here were consulted in order to ascertain whether they considered this law and this policy to be in their interests. The noble Lord knows well that every body concerned with race relations and with integration, every representative body of the immigrant and coloured communities in this country, are united in condemning this Act as a shoddy piece of work.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend: would those authorities for whom he speaks accept an uncontrolled flow of immigrants into this country to the tune of 2 million or 175,000? Because that is what the noble Lord is saying when he condemns this Act in those specific terms.


My Lords, if we are coming back to the 2 million figure, it is necessary to expose it. My noble and learned friend on the Woolsack dragged this spectre in front of us during the original debates. My noble friend on the Front Bench knows well that the vast majority of that 2 million were persons of dual citizenship. The number of persons of single citizenship is much smaller. They are mainly residents in East Africa.


My Lords, could we take in, uncontrolled, at this moment of time, 175,000 people?


My Lords, my noble friend again haunts us with the spectre of planeloads and boatloads all turning up in the course of a week. That was happening during the week when the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was being debated, because it was clear that there was a danger, which matured, of the Government giving in to the pressures brought against them by the Right Wing of the Conservative Party. But apart from that, if a firm declaration of principle and policy had been issued—and even if now a declaration of principle and policy is issued—this sudden invasion, which is quite unfairly and wrongly dragged into these debates, would not be realistic at all.

My Lords, I have drawn attention to that—and I must say that I am not sorry to have done so, for, as my noble friend knows, I feel deeply and strongly about this question. My noble friend Lord Brockway has put forward proposals which go some way towards a solution. It may be that now we have reached such a state that it is necessary to compromise in order to get us back on to the right road; but in the long run the only solution is for the inhabitants, the citizens, of East Africa who wish to come to this country to be free to do so. While I welcome any move that the Government may make towards ameliorating the situation that they have created, they cannot escape the fact that it is their creation and, in the long run, as my noble friend has said, their responsibility.

I do not expect that this Act is going to be soon repealed, although I hope that at least something of a positive nature will be done. But I hope that over the coming years—perhaps not now but over the coming years—when the pressures of the Election are over, when my noble friends are returned, as I know they will be, for a further term, they will reflect upon that Act, upon what preceded it and what followed it. I hope that they will progressively work towards removing the hardships and miseries that it has produced and, looking forward into the future, that they may care to investigate how such a situation can be prevented in future—because what that Act and its consequences to-day have shown are that minorities of citizens, particularly if they are beyond the seas, are intensively vulnerable to pressures; particularly when both Parties feel those pressures sweeping over them and give way to them. This situation could not have arisen in any of the countries to whom we endowed Constitutions. I hope that it will never again happen here and that meanwhile steps will be taken to stop the rot which set in two years ago.

10.9 p.m.


My Lords, I shall be very brief, and I should like to emphasise that I am speaking as a Cross-Bencher and that my remarks on Party political lines or about Party politics are from this "No-man's land," as it were.

A few weeks ago the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, said in this House, speaking of the Labour Party: I belong to a Party which I believe is the possessor of a strong sense of compassion !". We shall all be anxious to hear how that sense of compassion is going to filter through from this Labour Government to the situation mentioned in the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. But there is more than compassion at stake. Even a few years ago the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Waiden, was talking about the rights attached to the statement Civis Brittanicus sum. It is painful to me that in the evening of Empire this Government should be the only Government in the world that does not allow free entry of its own citizens.

Why are these Asians where they are? Because in the days of the Raj their ancestors were encouraged, or at least allowed, to move between one part of the British Empire and another. To the descendants of these people we gave a safeguard, a last resort—a British passport. Many of the Uganda Asians and others accepted that pledge, and are now in "No-Man's-land": declared non-citizens of the country in which they have always lived and almost prohibited from entry into the United Kingdom. The present policy of Her Majesty's Government is not compassionate. It is not honourable, in that it does not honour fully the promises inside the British passport. But there is another issue. Her Majesty's Government have taken a firm stand against racial discrimination in Rhodesia, South Africa and also in this country. No doubt we shall see members of the Labour Party protesting peacefully if the Springbok cricket tour takes place. I submit to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that there is something more than incongruous in Her Majesty's Government's taking a high moral view on these issues. A Labour Government will not stop the Springboks coming here, but a Labour Government do stop coloured British citizens from coming here; or, at least, they make the obstacle course of entry so tortuous that many never get to the end.

My Lords, I want to be fair. The age of unspoken tolerance towards coloured people in this country is past. Her Majesty's Government, and indeed the Conservative Party, have been severely handicapped in behaving reasonably since the prophet of outspoken intolerance began to thunder out his apocalyptic message. In the context of race relations in this country Mr. Powell has caused the publicly unutterable to be publicly uttered; the privately unthinkable to be discussed in every pub; and as the tide of tolerance went out, the Government were left high and dry and the British Asians were swept out to sea. I think it would be optimistic to expect the Government, with an Election in the offing, to honour those original promises to these people. But if they are going to knock Powell they must knock Powellism; and all of it. What does Mr. Powell represent? He does not represent compassion, for he appears to have the tender social conscience of a Marie Antoinette. Nor does he stand for a practical answer to honouring past promises. The eccentricity of his intellectual fireworks prevents that. But he does represent gut politics—"felt in the heart and along the veins ", as Malcolm Arnold put it; and if the Labour Party is to be a party of compassion, or honour, or reason, it must stamp on Powell and Powellism.

I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to "do a Crossman" and to tell us what is really going to happen to these Asians. Has Powellism won, or will they be assured of a speedy entry to this country? Or will their fate be betrayed? The present policy is storing up a reservoir of bitterness in the hearts of these suffering Asians. Were they to be admitted soon, all the hatred earned by the rejection by their so-called mother country could be avoided, and their skills used. I would make a personal appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. He has "ticked me off" before for the manner in which I have raised this subject in your Lordships' House, and no doubt will do so again. But I hope that, when he does so, he will not think I am being impertinent or personal if I remind him of something that he said to be just outside this Chamber.

The noble Lord told me that his sons were born in Singapore. Does he feel that on moral grounds his children have more justification for being here than a destitute Asian who is a British citizen? I hope the noble Lord will not think that I am attacking him in a personal way: I am simply trying to illustrate the moral fundamentals behind the juggling that has gone on, with the production of frightening numbers to overwhelm one's sense of compassion for individuals. Because if we stand back from Powellist tactics and the 1¼ million Yellow Peril quoted by the Government in the debate on the 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, and remember that these people are individuals, it is not enough for the Government to exaggerate the commitment that we already have towards racial harmony in this country; it is not enough for them to produce bogy plane-loads of Asians. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that they are now too "broke" to afford to try to get on planes, and in any case most airlines will not take people with British passports in Africa unless they have an assured destination.

So I appeal to the noble Lord to give a humane answer to the problems of these British Asians, and to keep a restraining hand on his imagination when he is quoting figures about the numbers who can come in, and when he is quoting the amount of trouble that the Government have already taken towards keeping race relations in this country in a good state.

10.17 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Brockway has raised to-day a Question very proper to be considered. Some noble Lords have sought to reargue the question which we debated on the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, whether this ought to be the only country in the world to which, because they have United Kingdom passports, millions of people who have never been here, whose parents have never been here, and who have no real connection with this country, are entitled to arrive in any numbers they like, at any time they like. I do not propose to re-argue this issue again. But the question whether there should be controls, and whether the controls are being operated properly and with compassion, is of course a very proper subject for discussion. I am not for one moment criticising my noble friend for putting down the Question; indeed, I do not propose to say anything on behalf of the Government. But I should like, as Lord Chancellor, to say just two or three sentences to my noble friend, as sometimes I am entitled to do.

My Lords, we in this House have a privilege which the other House does not share, of having much more time, and so every Wednesday we have a Motion for discussion which the other House cannot afford the time to do. As my noble friend Lord Brockway knows, by the agreement of the Whole House there is an arrangement as to how the subjects for discussion on Motion are to be chosen. Roughly, out of every 30, 9 are accorded to those who sit on the Conservative Benches, 6 to the Government, 4 to Liberals and 4 to Cross-Benchers. In addition, any noble Lord who wants information can any day ask a Question; and there are also Un-starred Questions. The original object of an Unstarred Question was what it said: it was to be a request for information. But it has now ceased to be that, and it has become another Motion for discussion. It does not take six people an hour and a quarter to ask one Question. So really this has just become another ordinary Motion, whether you add "for Papers" or whether you do not, but without the agreement of the House as to who is to put them down.

I have looked at the figures, and I find that there has been a great increase every year for each of the last three years in the number of Unstarred Questions. It does not seem to me that this need affect the House, or cause anybody any difficulty, in October, November, December, January, February, March or April. But, as my noble friend knows, when we come to May, June and July the pressure of time on this House is enormous. The Unstarred Questions are still going on. We had one yesterday; we have had one today; we have one tomorrow. We are coming back after the Whitsun Recess on June 9, and there is an Unstarred Question down for June 9, and another for June 10. It adds one and a half hours to the work of both Front Benches, to the time when any Minister can start to look in his Despatch Boxes; and it makes difficulties for the attendants in getting home.

I would also draw my noble friend's attention to one other fact. Although the subject of tonight's Question is, I am sure, a very proper one to raise, now that we are already sitting five days a week I do not know how this House will be able to manage in June and July if this practice continues. Because it is not a question of the Government's getting their Bills through: the Opposition have just as much right to say, "We want to have sufficient time to examine those Bills properly"; and there are Private Members who have introduced Bills. They, too, must have an opportunity of getting their Bills through.

In all friendliness, I point out to my noble friend Lord Brockway that a very large proportion of all the Unstarred Questions are asked by two noble Lords, one on that side of the House, one on this side of the House. So, although I think that this is a very proper Question to have raised tonight, while this matter is under consideration at the moment by the proper authorities of the House I would venture respectfully to suggest that we are going to get into very great difficulties in getting through legislation in June and July unless at this time of the year a good deal more restraint is shown by Members in the number of Unstarred Questions they put down. There is nothing to stop 12 Members every day from putting down an Unstarred Question, and I foresee that when we come back very great difficulties will arise.

10.23 p.m.


My Lords, I will not follow my noble friend the Lord Chancellor on his remarks about Unstarred Questions except, if I may, to add this: I agree with him that it is a subject that clearly merits discussion. My experience of Unstarred Questions is that on the whole they are debated in an empty House late at night and very rarely reported in the Press, and I suppose in the end the only satisfaction lies with the noble Lord who has asked the Question and the officials who have had to produce the answers. I think it is something which clearly the House itself will need to look at in due course.

My Lords, the debate to which noble Lords have referred, the debate on the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill of 1968, was a debate of considerable emotion and strong feelings. I well remember that debate. I had the task of winding it up. I made it clear then, and I am prepared to repeat it again, that that was one of the duties which I did not like undertaking: but I was convinced that it was right to undertake it, not because I was a Minister but because I believed that the Government were right in bringing that legislation forward in order that we could buy time to deal with grave social problems that exist in this country. Those problems were not social problems created by immigrants, because the social problems were already there, but they were being aggravated seriously by an uncontrolled influx of immigrants, not only uncontrolled so far as the Commonwealth itself was concerned but uncontrolled from East Africa.

We are in this situation to-day because a grave mistake was made by the Conservative Government—and I do not put this in any political sense—when the legislation providing for the independnece of Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda was passed. We made a very grave mistake in making it possible for citizens who clearly should have been citizens of the country in which they intended to reside to become citizens of this country. We should never have given them the choice of being able to say that they intended to reside in that country but would keep their options open and possess citizenships of a country which in many cases few of them had ever visited.

I have heard a great deal tonight about passports, and the duty of this country to those persons, and I accept that we have a responsibility. We should not forget that well over a half of those who have applied under our special voucher system to come to this country for residence were born in India. They have no connection, other than the possession of that passport, with this country. However, the Act was passed by Parliament and we had this responsibility. We have said that we do not deny the right of those individuals to come to this country and take up residence. We have said we need to have time and we need a form of control in order that we can deal with the social and economic problems.

I ask my noble friends who feel so passionately about this subject—and I feel this equally—if we have responsibility to whom do we hold to-day a greater responsibility? Is it those who hold a British passport but have no direct connection with this country, or to the children, the grand children, the children yet to be born, of Commonwealth immigrants of this country who, on their date of birth, will be British through and through? They will have no other country to which to call. This will be their only home; they will have nowhere else to go. I suggest that we have a great duty to ensure that they can live in peace and harmony with those who, shall we say, come from this country: I am speaking of terms of English, Anglo Saxon stock. This is a great dilemma, and I cannot but feel that our main responsibility is to those who cannot come here by free choice. This is a responsibility that goes on through generations and perhaps for centuries.

I recognise the problems in East Africa. I will certainly undertake to consider the points that were put to me by my noble friend, Lord Brockway, and the right reverend Prelate. I will certainly ask that those points be examined and will draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to them. I would not wish to say anything more than that, except that we are deeply conscious of the problem.

Of course, there is one way out. We could consider a change in the whole method of Commonwealth immigration into this country in order to deal with this immediate problem in East Africa. But here again one has to consider whether this is the time, or should one do it? Clearly, this is something to which all of us will have to give our thoughts: general principles and whether it is practicable. As I have said, I will consider and consult with my right honourable friend on the points made.

My Lords, in conclusion I would only say to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, that I do not think I have "told him off". I criticised him because he used the word "Stateless", because I believe it is wrong for these people——


My Lords, as the noble Lord has mentioned me specifically, may I ask him to expand on the nature of the free choice of people who are destitute in one of the countries referred to in the original Question of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and about their coming here? What is the nature of free choice which these people have on coming here if they cannot live where they are already?


My Lords, we made it clear that these people have a right. We do not deny them their right under their citizenship. We have said that we need time to absorb them. We have a system of quotas which takes into account their particular position and their relations with the authorities. These are dealt with by our High Commissions overseas. These people are not Stateless.

We hope that the authorities in Kenya and Uganda will see that it is not only a question of humanity but, in the end, also good business sense that these people should not be hounded out of their countries. One should pay some tribute to the authorities in Kenya and Uganda because, while clearly they have a policy, they have been (shall we say?) relatively soft in the manner in which they have carried out their policy; and I believe that this will continue.

My Lords, I will look at the points that were raised by my noble friend Lord Brockway and the right reverend Prelate, and I will certainly communicate with them when we have the Department's considered views. But I close with these last few words. We are in a grave dilemma. We have—not just because of Mr. Powell—a race problem in this country. We have had, right throughout our history, periods when, if it was not the Welsh, it was the Irish; before them it was the Scots, the Poles, and the Huguenots—the lot. We are a rather conservative people: we do not like strangers. We are changing, just as I believe we shall change in the field of our friends from the Commonwealth. There is at this present moment among many of our people genuine fear about what is happening. This is why I believe it is necessary to buy time to be able to bring others into the nation and be one nation and not, as we can find throughout the world to-day, a divided nation—and I fear that, from what one can see, the division is becoming deeper and more savage. My Lords, I would not wish to see that in this country.