HL Deb 11 August 1972 vol 334 cc1510-5

2.54 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to make a Statement on recent events in Uganda affecting Asian holders of United Kingdom passports. On August 9 President Amin confirmed to our High Commissioner that all Asians in Uganda who are holding British passports must leave the country within 90 days. The same order is to apply to Asians in Uganda holding Indian or Pakistan citizenship. Though he stated that there would be a number of exceptions, including employees of Government, professional people, owners of industrial and agricultural enterprises and others, the effect of this order as it stands is that the vast majority of the Asians in Uganda who cannot prove that they have local citizenship must leave the country in the stated period.

Our High Commissioner in Uganda was able to see the President beforehand and made strong representations against the proposed expulsion order. He also conveyed to him a message from the Prime Minister.

In view of the serious situation that would arise if the order were carried out, it has been decided, with President Amin's agreement, that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster should visit Kampala in the very near future to discuss the whole matter. My right honourable and learned friend will also visit Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam for discussions with the Kenyan and Tanzanian Governments, with whom we have been in touch. We are also in touch with the Governments of India and Pakistan who now have a common interest with us in this matter.


My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for making that Statement. There is little I have to say. We have, by Questions, discussed the situation in various ways during the last few days. I think that the overwhelming majority of these Indians are people with British passports, rather than Indian and Pakistani passports. We must just ask Mr. Rippon to look at the matter. I take it that this has no connection with Mr. Rippon's other commitments, but it is because he is a senior Cabinet Minister who is going to see what can be done in this desperately worrying situation. I would ask again how far the talks with the Indian and Pakistani Governments, to which my noble friend Lord Brockway has referred and on which subject we had a rather more forthcoming answer from the noble Baroness, have gone. This Statement justifies the vital need for those talks. I hope that we can be told something more than just the fact that we are in touch. When Mr. Rippon has acquainted himself with all the circumstances we should like to see the Government and President Amin concentrating on the whole problem. This is no reflection on particular departmental Ministers who have to cover such a wide range of subjects, especially when we are faced with a very critical situation.


My Lords, I should like to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, have said. We are glad that the Government are aware of the seriousness of the situation. I think it would be wrong, in fact dangerous, to add further remarks, bearing in mind the future of tens of thousands of people involved in this situation at the moment.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, for the good wishes they have offered to my right honourable friend and for the moderation of the questions which they have asked. It is without doubt potentially a very serious situation, but the object of the visit by my right honourable friend is of course to see whether President Amin might have second thoughts. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton is quite correct. There are altogether about 57,000 United Kingdom passport holders of Asian origin including dependants. As I said the other day, we had an orderly arrangement whereby British passport holders could come into this country and it was agreed upon with the Ugandan Government only in May last year. We feel that it is inhumane to the people concerned to suggest that people who have spent their lives in Uganda should suddenly be asked to uproot themselves. It is for this reason that my right honourable friend is making this journey.


My Lords, I want to be careful not to say anything which will make this situation more difficult. While welcoming the visit to Kampala by a representative of the Government and the separate approaches both to the East African Governments and the Governments of India and Pakistan, may I ask the Minister whether the situation is not now so comprehensive that it would be desirable to follow up these separate approaches to the different Governments by a conference of all of them, so that this very difficult situation might be resolved? I also want to associate myself with what others have said in criticism of what has been done on a racial basis, but, nevertheless, understanding that the Asians in East Africa who are now suffering from these decisions have declined to become citizens of their different countries. Is the Minister aware—I do not say this personally—that with Indira Ghandi, who is now Prime Minister of India. I addressed large audiences of Indians in these East African countries urging them to become citizens of East African nations, and that it is because they declined to become citizens of those East African countries that they are now involved in this situation? Will Her Majesty's Government bear that in mind when approaching this very difficult problem?


My Lords, I should have thought that if we looked at our own country we should find thousands—if not over a million—of people who are not necessarily United Kingdom citizens, but whom we are glad to welcome to these shores for their skills and for what they can contribute to us. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, that I took note the other day of the question he asked about a possible conference between all of those involved and, while we are now in the process of having personal discussions, it is a possibility which we are bearing in mind.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether she will ask her right honourable friends to consider the feasibility of helping these 57,000 Asians holding British passports by providing funds to help them to rehabilitate themselves in, for instance, the countries of their families' origin—Pakistan and India? I understand that we give President Amin a considerable amount of aid. We might even take a small amount of that aid to help these unfortunate people. I think that they require some help.


My Lords, I shall certainly bear that suggestion in mind and will draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend. But I think the immediate step is for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to go out and have personal conversations with President Amin and see whether this really is a definite decision, because for any country suddenly to have an influx of people of this magnitude is extremely damaging to those concerned and also to the country of reception.


My Lords, may I add my welcome to the visit of Mr. Rippon to General Amin? I am sure that is the right method of approach. But may I suggest that it would be very wise of Her Majesty's Government—and I hope they are doing this—to have some contingency plans in case his visit is unsuccessful, plans whereby very real hardship to these many thousands of individuals will be mitigated. There is always a danger that, when one is dealing with 57,000 people, it is such a large number that one thinks of them as being 57,000 and does not think of them as being people.

As the noble Baroness so rightly reminded us a few days ago, Her Majesty's Government have a responsibility for the British passport holders, and I would urge on them to give very serious thought, in the event of these talks being unsuccessful—and I certainly hope that they will not be—to seeing that the actual transport of these people is undertaken in as pleasant a way as possible, and that their reception, wherever it may be—if it be in other countries of the Commonwealth, as I would hope, with a proportion coming to this country—is such as to minimise the very real hardship to which they are being subjected.


My Lords, we have in fact established a Ministerial Committee and an official Committee to review possible contingency plans. As I said the other day to other noble Lords interested in this matter, although we may have contingency plans and although we may completely accept these British passport holders as our citizens, we think it only right that they should have a choice of which country to go to, and also that the best possible arrangements should be made for them if it should come to that.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that some of us, who may have had opposition to the Government on many issues, have sympathy and understanding on this occasion in the very difficult position into which they have been put? May I follow my noble friend and say, in the connotation of the word "Asian", that we must remember that a proportion of these people may well be an asset even to this country, because they are not necessarily all people who are unable to make a contribution to our economy. Lastly, as it is almost the Recess, I and most of us on this side wish the Government well in this very difficult problem which they now have to meet.


My Lords, I should like very much to thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, for his understanding of this problem and for his good wishes, which I am sure will be noted by all members of the Government. I think I made it clear that many of the people who come to our shores contribute a great deal to this country, and that would certainly be so in the case of those who happen to be Asian holders of British passports. But we think it right that anything of this nature should be done, as was agreed, in an orderly and humane way.


My Lords, while welcoming very much Mr. Rippon's visit to East Africa, and particularly his personal contact with General Amin, may I ask my noble friend whether he intends to consult on a purely unofficial basis some of his colleagues within the European Community, to sound out their feelings on this matter and to see whether in the months to come they could be of some assistance?


My Lords, I think his immediate plan is to go to East Africa right away. We shall wait and see what happens after that.