HL Deb 26 May 1971 vol 319 cc1168-74

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, this may be a convenient moment for me to repeat a Statement which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made in another place. It reads as follows:

" The Government have now completed their review of the position of United Kingdom passport holders. We have had discussions with Governments in East Africa with a view to facilitating more orderly movement of United Kingdom passport holders to this country and reducing the waiting time for vouchers. Discussions with the Government of Uganda were interrupted by the change of Government there, but have been resumed.

" The Government have decided to double the rate of entry of United Kingdom passport holders by the issue of 3,000, instead of 1.500. special vouchers a year for heads of households. This increase will take effect from June 1. In addition, over and above this there will be a once-for-all allocation of 1,500 vouchers. These will be issued over the next six months.

" The Government have also decided at the same time to reduce the number of Commonwealth citizens entering this country to take up employment. They intend to cut from 4,000 to about 2,000 the annual rate of admission of employment voucher holders. My honourable friend is today circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT the changes in the voucher scheme to effect this reduction. In brief, no more category A vouchers will he issued to independent Commonwealth countries (other than Malta) for unskilled or semi-skilled employment; and a reduction will be made in the issue of category B vouchers.

" I believe these steps will provide the best attainable solution of a difficult human problem of conflicting rights and interests which has long given concern to both sides of the House."

My Lords, that ends my right honourable friend's Statement. I have arranged for copies of the details of the changes in the voucher scheme to be placed in the Library of the House.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for repeating that Statement. It deals, as he says. with an immensely difficult human problem—one far more, difficult, I think, than many commentators have been prepared to accept. In so far as the steps outlined in the Statement represent a contribution to the solution of the East African problem, we welcome them. May I ask the noble Lord three questions? First, have other Commonwealth countries been consulted over this change, and, if so, what has been their reaction? Secondly, since the noble Lord talks of consultation with Uganda and Kenya, may we take it that the increase in the rate of entry will not be offset by an increased pressure on those two countries? Thirdly, will the noble Lord make clear what will be the effect on this agreement of the Immigration Bill, if and when that reaches the Statute Book?


My Lords, I should like to join on behalf of my Liberal colleagues and myself in thanking the noble Lord for repeating this Statement. We certainly welcome the decision to double the number of special vouchers for United Kingdom passport holders and we particularly welcome this announcement of a once-for-all allocation of 1,500 vouchers, for which, as the noble Lord is aware, a number of Members of another place and Peers have been pressing for some time. I hope that it will meet cases of very real hardship.

I should like to ask two questions on the latter part of the Statement. The noble Lord said that the Government intend to cut from 4,000 to 2.000 the number of employment voucher holders to be admitted. I understand that at present the maximum is 8,500 but that only about 4,000 are being taken up, so does this not really mean that the maximum is to be reduced from 8,500 to 2,000? If that is so, I think the Statement has given a rather false impression, and that point needs to be clarified. Lastly, if this new legislation is to be put into operation at a comparatively early date, what is the point of making these changes with regard to the admission of employment voucher holders?


My Lords. I should like to thank both noble Lords for what I think has been, in general. a welcome for the Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, asked me about consultations with Commonwealth countries other than the parties directly concerned, in which I would include India, with whom we have had direct consultations. as well as the three African Governments. In answering this question, it is necessary to distinguish between numbers and policies. It has not been the policy of successive Governments to consult with other Commonwealth Governments on changes in the numbers admitted to this country under the voucher scheme. But where changes in policies are concerned, as in the Immigration Bill, there have been consultations with all the Commonwealth Governments over the new structure of control proposed in the Bill.

The noble Lord asked me about the phasing of the new arrangements in East Africa. I can tell him that we feel that, as a result of negotiations that have taken place, there is a reasonable prospect of regulating in a more orderly and systematic way the numbers of those wishing to leave East Africa and the numbers of special vouchers that are available.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, asked what will be the impact of the Immigration Bill on the scheme that I have announced to-day. The answer is that this is an interim scheme, a change in existing voucher arrangements relating to the control of Commonwealth immigration which have continued at varying levels since 1962. The Bill itself, as noble Lords will know, replaces the separate streams of control of aliens and Commonwealth citizens with a single system of control for all those who do not have the right of abode. There will be a work permit system for everyone in that category, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment is working on that and will make a Statement in due course.

As to the numbers, this is a somewhat technical point but an important one. The noble Lord. Lord Wade, is quite right in saying that at present the total of vouchers for the Commonwealth is 8,500. For the last three years not more than 4,000 of these have been taken up by those who have come here to work, and we are now reducing that figure by approximately one half, to 2.000. The total number available under the interim scheme will be 2,700, and the details will be available in your Lordships' Library.


My Lords, may 1 be allowed to congratulate my noble friend on this constructive contribution to dealing with an extraordinarily difficult problem and on the care- ful and systematic study that has obviously gone into it? May I ask him whether the new figure of 3.000 a year applies to all United Kingdom passport holders in the Commonwealth, or only to those from East Africa?


Only to those from East Africa.


My Lords, as one who moved the rejection of the Bill, when I was given the support of nearly all the Conservative Ministers concerned. may I ask whether, under these proposals (and I should like to study them in detail before making further comment) any significant number of the British passport holders in East Africa will be allowed to come into this country? Is not the doubling of the figure quite insignificant compared to the number of people to whom we gave a pledge that they would have citizenship rights and all the rights of carrying passports? While I appreciate that the Home Secretary has said that this is a matter on the consciences of other members of the Government, as it must be, is it not possible for Her Majesty's Government to do something more to meet these obligations into which we have entered?


My Lords, I do not agree that the number is insignificant. It represents an increase of 100 per cent. over all, with an additional special allocation for those in extreme need over the next six months. It has to be related, and is most usefully related perhaps, to the size of the waiting list, to the number of those who have made application in East African countries, which is something in excess of 8,000. So, on the numbers I have announced, it would take something in the order of two years to work off that waiting list. But, of course, others may be added to it subsequently.


My Lords, am I to understand from the noble Lord's answer to my first supplementary question that there have been no consultations with other Commonwealth countries? Would he not agree that this is not simply a question of changing the numbers? Is it not inconceivable that the Commonwealth Governments should learn of this for the first time after this Statement was made?


My Lords, I am advised that this is in line with what has been the policy of successive Governments, including the noble Lord's own Government at the time of the 1968 Act. I ought to correct what I said in answer to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor. The new quota of 3,000 applies to all United Kingdom passport holders anywhere in the world, though it is expected that in practice it will have effect only in East Africa. Unfortunately, the position is the reverse of what I said.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a simple but important question about Gibraltar? Are the people of Gibraltar in any way affected, or may we take it that the arrangements and undertakings given to them, that they should have free admittance into the United Kingdom, remain in force?


My Lords, I can speak with absolute certainty on that. The changes that have been referred to will not in any way affect the entry of Gibraltarians into Britain.


My Lords, regarding Commonwealth consultation, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that this was urged during the period of the previous Government as well as during that of the present Government, and it is not only the East African nations which are concerned but also India? Would it not have been better to have had discussions with all these Governments before a decision was reached? And have they been informed of the decision?


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord did not pick up what I said earlier: the Government of India has been consulted about these changes.


My Lords, could the noble Lord give an estimate of the total numbers of people in East Africa with these passports who may be expected to apply for entry?


My Lords, yes; the total number is of the order of 150,000 in the three East African countries. How many would wish to come to this country is an extremely difficult question to answer. I gave a figure of something in excess of 8,000 people, heads of families, who have so far made application. Whether larger numbers will wish to come here, go to India or remain in East Africa will depend very much on conditions in East Africa.


My Lords, this new figure of 3,000 has to be looked at in relation to the total figure of 150,000. It might take fifty years to deal with them.


My Lords, I do not think that when the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, was at the Home Office at the time of the passing of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act in 1968 he would have made that assumption. I do not think we can assume that every United Kingdom passport holder in East Africa will necessary want to come here. Many of them were born in India and have very close links with India.