HL Deb 06 December 1972 vol 337 cc252-90

2.51 p.m.

BARONESS WHITE rose to call attention to the work of the Uganda Resettlement Board, to the proposed dispersal policy for Asian immigrants, to the position of local authorities and voluntary bodies concerned and to co-operation with Commonwealth and other countries; and to move for Papers. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as will be seen from the Order Paper, we have two important debates before us to-day. They relate to cognate subjects but in our view they are distinct and merit separate discussion. Had we put them into one omnibus Motion on immigration, as some suggested, we should not have obtained a clear picture of the current position concerning Uganda Asians, nor answers to certain detailed questions which I have no doubt will be forthcoming. Conversely, we should have blurred the discussion on the Immigration Rules which is to follow: a subject on which many noble Lords have indicated that they take a keen interest. So we start with the first Motion on the Order Paper, which I beg to move.

I should like to start by reaffirming our approval in general terms of Government policy concerning British Asians, and to say at the outset how much we appreciate the work of the Uganda Resettlement Board both at headquarters and at the centres, which were established with remarkable speed and efficiency in different parts of the country. I would also pay a warm tribute to the tremendous response by voluntary organisations in the country and by many individuals, who responded quite magnificently at very short notice to the appeal for help. If I mention in particular the Women's Royal Voluntary Services I am sure that that will not be taken amiss by any other organisation. I know that all did their best. but from the inquiries I have made I think everyone will agree that that organisation have taken a particular responsibility. They have of course a unique position in their relationship both with central and with local government, and we can be very proud indeed how they and the other voluntary organisations have come through what was really quite a challenge.

I know one centre quite well, as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, is aware, which is at Tonfanau on the coast of Merionethshire, near my own Welsh home. I have visited or had first hand reports of a number of others. One can fairly say that when one visits these camps—or, rather, centres, as one should call them, although most of them have in fact been Army or Air Force camps—one is much impressed by the general cheerfulness of the Uganda Asians who are here, and by their great keenness to become independent as soon as they possibly can. Standards in the camps vary, naturally, but on the whole one can say they have been very well run; there has been excellent co-operation, particularly from local education authorities; sometimes an almost overwhelming response to appeals for warm clothing, though that of course varies from one centre to. another; and a general eagerness by youth organisations and others to co-operate in social and sporting events. Of course, there have been problems of diet and the like, but I believe that these are by now almost entirely overcome.

One might ask, in view of this generally satisfactory picture: Why do we need a debate? As an emergency operation this has all been very successful; but that of course was phase 1 and we now have to consider phase 2: resettlement in the community outside the centres. This includes the fate of those who went straight to friends or relatives and did not come to the centres at all. If I might put the matter in perspective, in spite of some alarmist suggestions at the time that we were to expect at least 60,000 refugees, the actual number who have come since the first week in August is around 27,000. Some of these I think would have come anyway under normal immigration procedure, so one can say that what one might call the true refugee figure is something upwards of 25,000. But the total arrivals which have had to be dealt with in the period number about 27,300. Of these, some 21,000 went to the centres, but over 6,000 went at once from the airport to independent addresses. Of those who went to the centres, over half have already left. In other words, of the 27,000 who came between early August and the deadline just four weeks ago, more than 17,000 have been resettled more or less satisfactorily, and fewer than 10,000 now remain in the centres, some of which have been closed or will shortly be closing.

If I might paint the picture in just a little more detail, I understand that roughly 30 per cent. of the intake at the centres are children between five and 16 years of age, and that only about 5 per cent. are people over 60; although one must remember that some people in the tropics may age more quickly, perhaps, than they would here. To fill in one other quite important detail, my information is that about 10 per cent. of those in the centres are reckoned to have assets in this country which make them ineligible for supplementary benefits. Despite some, I think, thoroughly irresponsible rumours in circulation, the rest receive supplementary benefit on the same terms as other citizens in this country. It seems to be true that a fair amount of money was got out of Uganda before the crisis; but I am told that this was successfully achieved by relatively few people, and that there is not much truth in the suggestion that any significant proportion of the Uganda Asians had in fact realisable assets in this country. Many of them fearing the freezing of bank deposits put a good deal of their savings into jewellery which, in the violent conditions which prevailed when they tried to leave, just had to be left behind. All of them of course had to leave their houses, their furniture, their stock-in-trade.

What are the prospects and problems of phase 2? One obvious one is that the rate of exit from the centres, which has been very steady up to now, is likely to slow down. The first two-thirds are the easiest to move; the more difficult cases are those remaining in the centres and progress with them is bound to be somewhat slower. The problems are of course housing and jobs, and another very important One is split families. Everyone agrees, I think, that housing is really the crux of the matter. This I know is the view of the Uganda Resettlement Board itself. If I might be allowed to say so, it is not made any easier by the fact headlined in yesterday's Guardian that we shall have fewer new homes built this year than at any time since 1963, and we all know that house prices and rents are higher than ever before. This means in practical terms that to settle the remaining Uganda Asians will be a more difficult job, for example, than settling the Kenya Asians in 1968. Recent research shows that on the whole the latter have succeeded in obtaining homes, even if at a lower standard than they have been accustomed to. If the dispersal policy declared by the Government had really worked, the position would not be really so desperately serious as it is in certain parts of the country.

I know that housing has been provided or promised in at least 70 places outside the Greater London area, and a considerable debt of gratitude is due to various local authorities—the city of Edinburgh. for example, and places such as Darlington and the Lancashire towns and so on. There have been some very generous offers from local authorities in various parts of the country. I am told that it is natural enough that Asians who have been settled in camps in the South or West of England, should find it extremely difficult to adjust their minds to the prospect of going to what they regard as almost the Arctic circle. With no disrespect to the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, I can say that they think of Scotland as a very long way off. At one camp I visited the local authority in Darlington had sent a social worker to the camp to speak to prospective tenants. which I think was a good thing. The camp authorities were trying to get someone from Edinburgh to come and speak—I hope with not too broad a Scots accent—to persuade these people that that noble city was really well worth going to. I hope that that effort was successful.

More than half the arrivals are believed to be in Greater London, concentrated naturally in places where they have friends and relations. I think Brent and Harrow have taken the heaviest load, though many have gone to other boroughs. Outside London, Leicester seems to have been the principal focal point. I think we should remind ourselves that if there is local resentment in matters of housing, it falls on the local authority much more than it does on the central Government. This is a point I wish to return to in a moment. Local people who are on long waiting lists for housing cannot be expected to have their own homes deferred indefinitely, so most, though not all, of the housing on offer by local authorities is apt to be substandard: houses that are awaiting modernisation or redevelopment. That means that a great deal of it is likely to be for relatively short-term occupation. In other words, we are not necessarily finding a permanent solution to the problem. The same is true of a great many of the 2,000 or so offers of private accommodation, much of which is too small anyway for the larger families which make up a good many of the units still in the centres, and a good deal of which is too remote from possible employment as well as being accommodation of short duration. I am told that about 25 per cent. of the family units in the centres consist of 7 or more persons. That presents quite a formidable housing problem, as any noble Lords who have been concerned with local housing will appreciate.

There is no doubt at all that the local authorities which are under the greatest strain feel that they are not getting enough support from central Government. These are the areas which I have mentioned, and others of comparable density, and in the nature of things because they have already had settlers in the past, they contain a large proportion of the Ugandan Asians who went straight from airports into accommodation found by their friends and relatives. This poses some extremely serious problems, and I hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten us as to what the policy is going to be, because the local authorities are very worried about the degree of overcrowding where people have gone to live with friends and relations. That is fine for a few weeks, but not to go on indefinitely—and this for two reasons: for the conditions of the families themselves (Leicester, for example, has produced some really horrific figures of overcrowding), and also for the local authorities, who with their own rules about overcrowding are placed in a very difficult position. For example, Brent Borough Council has publicly said that for a period of nine months it will waive its regulations so far as overcrowding is concerned in the case of Ugandan Asians. But nobody knows quite what will happen after that. There are a number of houses, both public and private, still on offer in various parts of the country, but from the figures I have given there are still some 10,000 people in the camps, and most of these houses would surely be required for those who are still in the centres.

What we want to know is what the very hard-pressed authorities are expected to do. I must say, in passing, that I have no particular sympathy for a handful of local authorities who allege that they have been misled into thinking that they would get 75 per cent. grant for new housing in respect of Ugandan Asians. This statement appeared in the Press a week or two ago, but I do not see how anybody studying the circulars could have believed it. We are faced, as I say, with a serious social problem. Not only is some of the accommodation sub-standard in the purely physical sense, but some families have been put into "bed-and-breakfast" houses by their relatives, who were looking for anything on the spur of the moment, and I am told that there are still people who are being turned out for the day. There are some very bad conditions.

Many of the Asians, if they could, would have preferred to buy a house. They were accustomed to owning their own houses; but how can they do so at present prices in this country? Again perhaps I may quote Brent, and I am quoting Brent and Leicester because I think they are typical of the really hard-pressed boroughs, one in the Greater London area and one in the Midlands. They offered to waive residence qualifications for local authority mortgages provided that a local guarantor could be found. They had some 400 inquiries, but I am told that, with luck, they reckon they can offer facilities to seven of those who inquired. What happens to the other 393? I know this is a difficult problem. It is a difficult political problem, to some extent, but the Government really cannot rule the end of the settlement and then leave the local authorities to struggle with providing the means. Can we not find some way round which will not be unfair to our own people? Many Asians have bank accounts in Uganda. The records are available. At present, of course, it is impossible to realise those assets, but could not the Government use them as a basis for loans and in due course put pressure on the Uganda Government to release those sums? Individuals have very little hope of doing anything of that nature. We have cancelled aid to Uganda for the present but it is not inconceivable that later on we could use this as a bargaining lever. I hope that something along these lines will be seriously examined. The housing problem must be tackled from every possible angle if it is not to be a festering social problem in the areas of great pressure.

I know that the Minister will be aware that the 60 or so voluntary organisations banded together in the Co-ordinating Committee for the Welfare of Evacuees from Uganda are much worried about the whole housing scene. These organisations have made representations. They include the British Churches Housing Trust and the Catholic Housing Aid Society, as well a such organisations as Shelter. They are particularly concerned that arrangements for temporary accommodation are breaking down. People who have once left a Resettlement Board centre are not, according to the rules, allowed to return to it. One can understand that. But people who have never been to a centre are not allowed to go to it, even if their own arrangements have proved to be grossly unsatisfactory. As I understand it, there is a degree of flexibility, but there is quite clearly a breakdown of confidence between the Ugandan Settlement Board and the voluntary organisations on this matter, and I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that it will be looked at urgently.

Housing, I repeat, is the really difficult problem. It arouses great emotions in the localities concerned and the Government must show that their policy is capable of working. On the whole, jobs are proving to be rather less of a problem than housing, at least so far. Many Asians have some skill and had the sense to bring with them some evidence of it which is acceptable to the trade unions. I am worried about one group—the post-school age group from the ages of 18 to 23, or thereabouts, many of whom I think stand in need of technical training, and if they are in remote camps like the Welsh Tonfanau camp that I mentioned we just have no facilities to offer them. Again something ought to be done to see whether they can take up some of the private accommodation which is not suitable for the larger families but which might be suitable for two or three men or girls to take training in areas where it could be available.

I am worried about men in their fifties who ran their own businesses in Uganda, some of a quite substantial size. It is difficult for anybody of that age in any country to start again and it seems that some of these people will be very difficult to re-train for employment. I am not pretending that all of them could succeed in comparable businesses in this country, but I am certain from the inquiries I have made and talks I have had that a number of them could succeed if they could lay their hands on some initial capital. After all, one cannot start a business without something. I know that there have been extensive discussions about the possibility of a loan fund of some short, but nothing concrete seems to have emerged so far and I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on this point.

I emphasise that in helping such people we should in the long run be helping ourselves. This is a case of enlightened self-interest, because if they cannot make a go of things here they will be a continuing problem. I therefore do not regard this as charity but as something we could do from the point of view of our own long-term interest. I shall be very interested in what my noble friend Lord Sainsbury has to say about his commission from the Government to try to collect money to help, but I understand that his efforts are likely to be on a small scale so far as individual recipients are concerned and will not be able to deal with the limited but important problem of trying to find working capital for those who can prove that they have had some real business success in the past.

I must comment on the education and social services. In the stress areas there is great strain on the schools. Again, I take my two sample boroughs. It is reckoned in Leicester that there are more than 600 Uganda Asian children awaiting school places. In Brent they reckon that the number may be nearer 1,000—this in areas where there is already considerable pressure. They seem to be able to recruit particularly recently retired teachers. That does not seem to be a very great problem. On the other hand, premises seem to create a bottleneck and from the correspondence I have seen there is a consider; able amount of toing and froing about what is and what is not eligible for grant-aid; and in order to get grant some unwise decisions may be made. There is an offer of 75 per cent. grant for buildings or equipment which must last for three years but must not be permanent. This smells of the Treasury a mile away, and I am afraid that it could lead to some of those foolish so-called economies that are so dear to the bureaucratic heart. Again, I feel that central Government must take more responsibility than they appear willing to take. I have given your Lordships the proportion of young children. Many of the families will be remaining in lodgings, probably for years, or sharing houses and therefore not contributing a great deal to the local rates. In any event, this is largely a burden which I think should be shared by all of us through taxation rather than being put too much on the rates of a particular area which happens to have been the receiving area for large numbers of Asians.

Research into the Kenya Asians—I referred to this matter earlier—indicates that they make rather less use of the health and social services than the average British family; not more, as is often alleged. But in the settling-in period there is a great strain on certain services, particularly those such as health visitors. I understand that the Uganda Resettlement Board has powers and intends to help with this, but some local authorities do not seem to know where they stand. One hopes that where possible red tape will be cut and matters speeded up if there is any genuine difficulty in this context.

A word about students. There are a number of young people in this country with places at universities and various establishments of higher and further education who do not conform with local authority entrance requirements—rather, not so much with the entrance requirements as with the local authority mandatory grants. In other words, they do not have our two "A" levels and so on. The Department of Education has sent a circular to local education authorities pointing out that they have discretionary powers. I checked this morning with the organisations particularly concerned with these students and they say that while some local authorities have been forthcoming and generous, others frankly have not, and they feel there is a considerable element of unfairness and therefore some feeling of injustice as between one and another according to the attitude of the local authority concerned. I do not know whether the Minister can comment on this, though I gave notice that I would raise the question of students.

There is another group of students about whom I am particularly worried as a purely human problem. They do not come within the terms of reference of the Uganda Resettlement Board because they were already in this country before the operative date in August. Many of them are this year in their final year. Their trouble is that their source of finance in Uganda has been cut off because of what has happened. I repeat that they do not come within the terms of reference of the Board. I am told by the organisations that are trying to do what they can for this group of people that there are about 300 of them. Christian Aid has offered £5,000 which, among 300 people, will not go far. Some of these young people have had to give up even in their last year and waste all their earlier efforts. This is a great pity. I fully recognise that they do not come within the Board's scheme; but cannot we, simply as a question of humanity in a particularly difficult situation, try to give them something more in the way of help, and particularly those who have put in a great deal of time and find themselves cut off from their source of supply owing to the troubles in Uganda?

Nearly everything I have mentioned so far is basically a matter of administration within a generally acceptable policy. My final point goes beyond this. In all my recent inquiries in preparation for this debate—among staff at the centres and at the Board, among voluntary workers and especially among youth workers—there is deep and mounting distress over the problem of split families. There should be no dubiety about this because they are very worried indeed about these families. By "split families" I mean those where the mother and children are British subjects and are here by right but where the father or sometimes another bread-winner, an older son or brother, is now stateless and is either in detention in this country or in one of the European camps. Present policy is that the family should join the breadwinner whenever and wherever fie ultimately settles; for example, Bolivia and Ecuador are being mentioned.

I am not speaking of families where the entire family is stateless, because clearly they are the responsibility of the United Nations Commission for Refugees. I am speaking of those where the greater part of the family is British and is fully entitled to stay here but which, if it does not have a bread-winner to support it, will moulder on on supplementary benefit for the rest of its days. This policy to my mind, although I fully understand why it was adopted, is both inhumane and economically wrongheaded. If vast numbers were concerned it might be another matter, but my information—I checked this yesterday—is that there are about 200 stateless breadwinners abroad and about 70 in detention here. In other words, this is not a vast problem. We are under an obligation to support their families. For reasons of language alone many of the breadwinners will find it very hard indeed to make their way elsewhere and the utter misery of these families is upsetting all those who are responsible for them. I am told that some of the mothers are becoming so distraught that they are not caring properly for their children. Those who know Asian families will appreciate that they are closely knit units. If the mother is left without support she may go to pieces. And provided that there are members of the immediate family who are here and entitled to stay, which gives one a specific classification so that one does not open the floodgates, what real purpose is served by keeping out of the country or in useless detention the men who could support these families? I hope very much indeed that this situation can be reconsidered. I do not expect the Minister necessarily to give assurances to-day but I ask him to take this very seriously, to take counsel, and to put what I believe is the truth of the matter to his colleagues. I believe that the original decision, so far as this particular group was concerned, was quite out of proportion to the facts. The human argument seems overwhelming, and the economic saving would, I hope, be equally convincing.

My Lords, I have tried to give a balanced and factual account of the Uganda operation as I see it. It seemed to me and to my noble friends that the time had come now, one month after the deadline, when we ought at least to take stock. I have not touched on the international aspect, except in this matter of split families, but the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, will no doubt tell us what he can about that. I have said nothing of the causes or of the misery in Uganda, which I fear is extending now to Africans as well as Asians; and our own white British subjects are also, of course, now being threatened. A paranoic dictatorship has, I am afraid, the same characteristics the world over. But on the whole we can be proud of the response in Britain. I was deeply moved by a small experience that I had last week. I was at a camp not far from London and a few days previously some—I would call them "louts" tried to raise a hostile demo. outside the centre and tried to recruit support from a hutted camp for homeless families half-a-mile down the road. I was proud that not one single person from that camp for home- less families joined them. One outspoken mother told them to get out and to leave the Asians alone. She said, "They are our friends". She and her companions recognised that there are no barriers in homelessness. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady White, for introducing this Motion this afternoon, especially as I understand that the task of opening the second debate will also fall upon her. It is appropriate at this particular point in time that we should review the progress of the resettlement of the Uganda Asians. but I should like to say at the outset that in my view the Government were absolutely right to say that this country had a legal and moral obligation to accept the Uganda Asians; and they are to be commended for having made their view clear on that without hesitation. If I have reservations, it is partly because of the lack of advance planning and, secondly, because I believe it is a mistake to give the impression that the moral and legal obligation arose only following that extraordinary statement by General Amin. It would seem to me that Parliament came face to face with this legal and moral obligation in 1968 when the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, which became the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968, was before the House; and a number of noble Lords will remember the all-night Sitting in this House when that Bill was debated. The new factor was the desperate plight in which the Uganda Asians found themselves. It was clear that they were in the position of refugees, and that called for the sympathy which has been so well known in this country over many years and many centuries. But if that is so. we must not be too legalistic in considering some of these problems of borderline cases—because this is very largely a humanitarian matter.

When General Amin made that extraordinary statement to which I have referred, I not only said publicly that I thought we had a legal and moral obligation, but I also said that I thought we ought to welcome these refugees. especially in areas where there was not overcrowding. I said that with the very best of intentions. In fact, I was hoping to draw off some of the numbers from the overcrowded areas in London and the Midlands. But a great deal of wrath was brought down upon my head and I had a great many letters and telephone calls of a very abusive nature. On the other hand, there were some very encouraging offers of help and expressions of good will. Some of those offers, for a variety of reasons, have not been taken up, but it should be made clear that the expression of good will and offers to help are appreciated. It may be that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, will care to take the opportunity of joining me in making it known that this willingness to help is understood and appreciated.

The argument about whether we should accept the Uganda Asians, is, I know, still continuing, but it is becoming somewhat irrelevant. The practical questions are: how is this scheme of resettlement working, and what are the lessons to be learned? If one looks back over this whole period since immigration became a matter for discussion, one finds that those engaged in social work, in voluntary service of one kind or another, in community relations work, and in teaching, found it one long story of improvisation. There is no exception in the case of the Uganda Asians although in some respects the composition of those coming is different. There have been a great many more children in the families coming in than was the case with earlier inflows. I would agree—and I believe there is general agreement on the part of those who accept our responsibility—that dispersal is desirable; but it is not so easy to achieve. If we were living under an authoritarian Government it would be a different matter: there would be direction of labour and a great deal of other direction. If we had had the planned reception which was adopted in Holland in the case of those coming from former colonial territories, it would have been a different matter. But that is not so, and it is too late now to embark on the Dutch experiment. Therefore, it would seem to me that the Resettlement Board, although doing their best, have comparatively little power; and, having that in mind, if I have criticism to offer I hope that it will be as constructive as possible.

My Lords, I believe that the initial period of resettlement is over—and here, I think, I am expressing a somewhat similar view to that expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady White. By the "initial period" I mean that period during which the most enterprising have found a means of livelihood and in which many of the local authority offers have been taken up. We are now faced with a two-year programme for those now in the camps; and this view was reinforced, so far as I was concerned, by a visit that I made to Hemswell Camp, in Lincolnshire, last Friday. At Hemswell I saw a graph showing that since the first week in November there has been a dramatic drop in departures from the camp, in the numbers both of those going after making their own arrangements and those going under provisions made by the Board. I should perhaps mention that last Friday when I went to Hemswell the weather was just about as bad as it could be: it was pouring with rain and blowing a gale, and I saw the camp therefore in far from favourable circumstances. But I should like to say that in my view those in charge were doing the very best they could in the circumstances in which they found themselves. I should be interested to know whether that particular camp is to be a long-term camp. I understand that some of the other camps will be closed and that some of the occupants of those camps may be moved to Hemswell. If that is so, we shall have to think seriously about the conditions in what I have referred to as "long-term" camps. With the best will in the world, I do not think it is enough to set up camps and to designate red and green areas. Something more than that is required.

If I may, I will give a few observations from my own personal experience. I only do so because I think it better to speak from one's personal experience. In Yorkshire the committee, of which I am chairman, is very concerned about this aspect, and therefore set up a sub-committee with the specific job of dealing with the green areas. The membership of this committee is quite small; there are only three, all with many contacts in Yorkshire, and one of them a member of the national co-ordinating committee. Perhaps I could give an illustration of what they have done. Very early on I had a telephone call from York, with an offer. The prospects did not seem very good in persuading Uganda Asians, for example, to go to York, or to find jobs there. A group was gathered together. I was asked to go and speak to them but I was unable to, and a member of the subcommittee went. I will not go into the whole story. The ultimate outcome was that someone went from York to Hems-well, and eventually some families have been settled in York with jobs.

Again in Harrogate a somewhat similar experience occurred. A member of my sub-committee met the town clerk. I think I am right in saying that the town clerk of Harrogate himself went to Hems-well; a relationship was built up between the Uganda Asians and the town in the green area. and some families have settled with jobs in Harrogate. While I was at Hemswell I learned that a group of people had come back from Hawick in Scotland. The noble Baroness, Lady White, referred to Scotland. I understand that they took the trouble to go from Hawick to Hems-well to explain what a desirable place Hawick is, and as a result of that I think some Uganda Asians went there. I hope I have pronounced it correctly; I shall be told if I have not.




I apologise most deeply for not pronouncing it correctly. The conclusion I arrive at on this particular matter is that if we are going to make this movement into green areas realistic, then we shall require field officers on a regional basis maintaining this contact between the camps and the areas which are not overcrowded. After all, many of the Uganda Asians know so little about these parts of the country. I do not think it would involve duplication, because these are areas where there are no community relations officers and no community relations camps. Undoubtedly, as the noble Baroness pointed out, there are many problems: the problem of the elderly, the problem of large family units, families where the head of the household is over the age of 45 and does not have a particular skill, and of course families where the head of the household is a Ugandan citizen or a stateless person and was not admitted to the United Kingdom in company with, or to join, his wife and children, who travelled on British passports. This is the problem of the split families. It has given rise to a number of tragic situations. Both on economic grounds and on humanitarian grounds, this plea for the split families should be met.

It would be a mistake to regard this as entirely one-way traffic. There is some potential traffic the other way. It is not only the problem of heads of families trying to gain admittance. Curiously enough, there are some families wishing to leave but for various technical reasons they appear to be having difficulty in doing so. I give one example, because it is known to me, concerning a Mr. J. C. Patel. It is not surprising his name should be Patel. He was born in India, studied in the United Kingdom and was called to the Bar, went via India to Uganda, where he set up and developed an intensive law practice. He was registered as an Ugandan citizen, but he had the experience that others had: when he sought to have his Ugandan citizenship confirmed, it was denied to him and his passport was torn up. That was in Uganda. He obtained a one-way travel document to this country, and came here with his wife and children. He came in company with his two brothers-in-law, one a doctor of medicine and the other a pharmacist, and their families. So you have three families. It is a very complicated situation, as the families have several different nationalities within them.

It so happens in this case that all three families want to go to India. Their one aim in life seems to be to obtain travel documents to enable them to leave the United Kingdom for India. From such information as I have, it is not a case of difficulty in getting permits to enter India, but the fact that they have not got the travel documents. Probably somewhere in the files of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, there will be a letter about this case, but I am quite willing to write about it, if necessary. I mention it to show that there are three families anxious to move from this country to India, but for technical reasons they appear to be unable to do so.

Then I should like to support the plea which the noble Baroness, Lady White, made about students. I think my illustration is slightly different from hers. The information comes to me from some-one I know in Stratford-on-Avon. Here, a girl who was a second-year biochemistry student from Makerere University was admitted to Birmingham University and into a hall of residence. The Warwickshire County Council paid, after a few days, an interim grant to cover this term, but apparently no payment could be made for next term unless she could produce a certificate from the Ugandan Government, where her father was a civil servant, showing the family income for last year. I am bound to point out that it is in fact impossible to obtain such a certificate, and it would appear to be irrelevant since the family have lost everything. I hope there will be some way of breaking through officialdom, if that is necessary, in order to enable this girl to have a grant.

Another plea I should like to make——and this supports the remarks of the noble Baroness—is for some form of loans for those who could start Ito in useful productive work, but whose assets are in Uganda. I do not think this is being unfair to other people in this country. I think the procedure should be through a bank or other similar institution, but the security could be backed by the Government, and ultimately recovered from Uganda, or by repayment from those to whom the loans are made. I do not think that would be unfair to the members of the host community, because it really is not charity.

I come back to this question of resettlement. A number of these Uganda Asians are shy by nature; they are shy about moving to what are to them strange parts of the country. Most of them have heard of London, Birmingham and Leicester, but that is about all. A few may have heard of Bradford or Manchester if they have friends there. Apart from the questions of jobs and accommodation, there is this desire to have at least one or two others of their own community with whom they may talk. They would like to know that in the place to which they go they will have someone to tell them where to buy the food they like and to which they are accustomed. It is also helpful if there is an opportunity to worship according to their religion with others of the same faith. These are all factors which have to be kept in mind in trying to deal with this problem of dispersal. It is not easy. It is for that reason that I think that field work is required in the regions to assist the Resettlement Board and to assist those in charge of the camps.

Some may say, "Why go to all this trouble for these people; why not think about our own folk?" It may be that the readiness to help that we have met, the goodwill we have come across, could be harnessed to help others in this country, including, say, the West Indians who came several years ago. I would not deny that at all. I hope that this will lead to more help for others who are out of work and require to be resettled. But we have here a specific job to do; we have accepted these refugees, they have their problems, and the sooner they are resolved the better for all of us.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, may I add my thanks to my noble friend Lady White for tabling this Motion. As the Motion mentions voluntary bodies, may I crave the indulgence of your Lordships' House to say a few words about the Uganda Asian Relief Trust, of which I am the Chairman. The Trust was set up at the initiative of the Home Secretary, and has the full support of all religious leaders. My other Trustees include two distinguished former Colonial civil servants with special knowledge of East Africa; namley, Sir Gilbert Rennie, and Sir Walter Coutts. Bishop Patterson is the representative of the most reverend Primates the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York for community relations; and a Dr. Prem, of the Standing Conference of Asian Organisations in this country. The Government have made a contribution of £50,000, and our rather optimistic target is to raise another £200,000 from industry, commerce, charitable organisations and the general public. I should like to say at this juncture that established Asians who have been in this country for a number of years have already made very generous contributions to the fund.

The aim of the Trust is to enable Ugandan refugees to adapt themselves to Britain and to become full and self-supporting members of the community as soon as possible. We seek to fill the gaps, to provide the sort of help not available from the Uganda Resettlement Board, local authorities, or from the Supplementary Benefits Commission. As many of your Lordships will know, the responsibility for the care of the Ugandan refugees, once they leave the camps, passes largely from the Resettlement Board. What the local authorities can do is, in some cases, rightly limited, and when the wage earner of the family is in employment then of course the Supplementary Benefits Commission's help ceases. The appeals for help that we are getting may seem to some rather trivial, but I think that they are basic if we are to ease these refugees into the community. The requests that we are receiving are for bedding, blankets, linen, cooking utensils, floor coverings, warm clothing and fuel for the winter. The majority of refugees were deprived of all their possessions, or virtually all their possessions, before they came here, and though they may have a job they still have no savings for these absolutely essential purposes.

We had what may appear a very peculiar request the other day for a secondhand bicycle. When it was looked into it was not such a strange request. The head of an Asian family had found himself living accommodation for himself and his family and he had found himself a job, but the living accommodation was on a highway or road where there was no public transport. He had no means to go the several miles from his living accommodation to his work, and that is why the secondhand bicycle, which he was prepared to ride to work, was needed. There are, for example, craftsmen who could get jobs immediately but who lack the necessary tools. We hope to provide those craftsmen with this basic need. I want to accentuate the fact that the grants will be strictly limited to individual families, and that they will seek to provide only strictly basic needs.

May I now say a word about education and the point raised by my noble friend Lady White? In collaboration with the World Universities Service, we are arranging to give grants to post-graduates who were committed to their courses before the Amin decree and who without this aid would not be able to complete their studies. I am sure that your Lordships will all agree that this is the sort of aid that is so worth while providing. Although the Trust is a registered charity, may I suggest that its work is motivated not only by normal compassion and the desire to help these unfortunate people, but also by enlightened self-interest. It is in this country's interest to ensure that the newcomers are in a position to make a full contribution to the community without delay and without undue suffering. Most of the refugees, as many of your Lordships may know, are determined to succeed and determined to be self-supporting as soon as possible. But many need help on the way, and we hope to be able, if we get the funds, to provide some of that aid.

Another important and attractive feature of the Trust is that it has virtually no overheads, so that all the monies collected will be distributed to those who need them. The office and the secretariat are provided by the Uganda Resettlement Board. May I say in passing that although the secretariat is very small it is very enthusiastic and hardworking. The Trust does not contemplate for one moment having a network of field officers. It intends to work very largely through local authorities, with either housing departments or social service departments, and in certain cases through voluntary agencies.

In conclusion, may I express support for the Government in accepting their obligations vis-à-vis these unfortunate British passport holders, who were deprived of virtually everything that they possessed, and who were driven from a country where most of them had for many years made their homes and made no little contribution to its welfare. May I also applaud and express my humble pride in the resolute action of the Government in speeding the integration of the Uganda Asians into the community.

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, I start from the decision to admit to this country the Uganda Asian holders of British passports. In common with previous speakers, I believe that this was a fine decision, a very creditable one and one which reflects much honour on Her Majesty's Government. As a result of this decision, some 27,000 people have come to this country. If all these people were gathered together and placed in a large football stadium, they would not even half fill it. One might therefore think that the problem is small and manageable, so why are there such grave difficulties in handling it? I submit that the principal difficulty is the existence already in Britain, before any Uganda Asians arrived, of several million homeless or very inadequately housed people, on top of whom this new wave of immigration is descending.

I believe that we should look very carefully and rather critically at the policy of dispersal. If one takes the history of the successive waves of immigration which have reached this country from overseas since the Middle Ages, one sees quite clearly that almost never have they, of their own accord, dispersed themselves right the way across the country. People have settled in clearly defined places, whether it was the Flemings in the Middle Ages, the Huguenots in the 16th or 17th centuries, or the Poles or the West Indians in the present century, and the reasons are not very surprising. Such factors as religion, language, kinship and culture all draw immigrants naturally together to specific settlement points. They draw them together so that immigrants can give each other mutual help and support. If we try to fly in the face of this natural tendency, I very much fear that we shall be making the problems worse, and not better. If I may take here the example of Leicester, my information is that some 2,800 Uganda Asians have already settled rather quietly in that city. I know that they may be overcrowded and that there are many problems, but how much has this cost in terms of social service expenditure? I believe that it has cost the city of Leicester some £600, of which three-quarters is being borne by the central Government. It is in this context that I would suggest to the Government that they very seriously consider the channelling of funds through the Indian and Pakistani community organisations within Britain. These are the people in the most intimate and close contact with the new arrivals. I believe that if that is done it will be found that the money is extremely well spent.

I come now to the deeper problems of resettlement, and it is very difficult for me to follow on from what the noble Baroness, Lady White, has said, because she covered the field so very comprehen- sively. Nevertheless, I must start with the question of housing and homes. Several thousand Uganda Asians have gone into temporary accommodation, and time is now running out for permanent solutions to be found. In particular, just one small factor like Christmas will produce difficulties. English families have generously offered accommodation which they had spare and surplus, but at Christmas-time they like to have their own relatives back home and they will very reluctantly be saying, "We provided this accommodation for two or three months, but now we really feel that we cannot do any more." The consequence is that Uganda Asians are turning to local authorities and to voluntary housing aid centres and are asking, "Where is the permanent solution to come from?" At the present time, both local authorities and voluntary bodies do not have the resources to provide a permanent solution. I should therefore like to ask the Government what extra new housing is being put in hand for this specific purpose; and I do not just mean the refurbishing of condemned properties at a cost of, say, £150 a house. Also, what is the Government's policy in regard to the larger Uganda Asian families who have already been mentioned—those with seven or eight persons in a family—who need a house with four or more bedrooms? We know that there is a national shortage of four-bedroom houses, so what steps are being taken to meet this added demand? Furthermore, is consideration being given to the purchase of vacant houses, to the buying of houses as they come on to the market, perhaps for subsequent letting to Uganda Asian families who cannot afford house-purchase? Is it contemplated that, when necessary and in appropriate circumstances, compulsory powers will be used?

If I may turn to the question of jobs, I think we should all be most interested to hear from my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross what progress is being made. What is the attitude of Government Departments and nationalised industries to the employment of Asians from Uganda? We have heard so often that the police, the social services and the health services are all seriously undermanned. Is there no scope, or is there some scope, for the recruitment of some Uganda Asians into these posts, which so badly need to be filled? Then, closely linked with the question of jobs is that of retraining. This, I feel, will be extremely necessary if these Asian people are to get the jobs in this country that they are capable of doing. They are capable, but they must be brought up to date. They must be instructed in our systems and in our ways of doing business. Some of them will require language training. It has already been pointed out that the camps are dispersed around England, some of them in remote places, some of them distant from the present centres of training. Surely, my Lords, the training must be taken to the Asians where they are, in the camps if necessary.

Then, if I may touch briefly on the subject of loans, we have recently heard that the proposed loan of £10 million from this country to Uganda has been cancelled. Surely those funds could be used to provide collateral for the refugees who have come to this country and who will need that collateral if they are to obtain mortgages for their houses and loans with which to start their own businesses. When it comes to mortgages on houses, I urge the authorities, both local and central, to take into account the total family income of would-be purchasers. I know that that is not the existing practice of building societies or local authorities, but I feel that an exception should be made in this case. In addition, it may be necessary for central Government to guarantee lending authorities, and, with this £10 million loan available as collateral, surely those guarantees could be quite considerable and far-reaching.

I was delighted to hear of the creation of the Trust Fund, to be headed by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury. He has given it some publicity now: I hope it will get maximum publicity throughout the country, because when the initial announcement was made and was reported in the Press, unfortunately no address was stated to which contributions could be sent. I hope that this fund will be used for a little more than just immediate relief. Could consideration be given to using it for such purposes as deposits for mortgages and as equity for the starting of businesses, even where the bulk of the capital will come in by way of loan?

In conclusion, my Lords, I urge Her Majesty's Government not to hide them- selves behind the Uganda Resettlement Board and the local authorities. I hope that both the Board and the local authorities will be made effective agents. If this cannot be done, then central Government must do the job themselves. I also hope that all the voluntary agencies, both those within the Asian community and the British ones, will be really used to the maximum so that we can now move on from the first phase of receiving people into the country to begin the long-term work of resettlement.


My Lords, may I make one short point which has not been made so far ill this mini-debate? These Uganda Asians are extremely capable people. After all, they ran Uganda; and, given half a chance, they will soon establish themselves in this country, and within a generation or two they may be running this country. But they cannot do it from these remote camps; and I was astonished when I saw that the Government were popping these people into the most remote areas of this country. I do not quite know why. If only they could find camps somewhere near where the jobs are, these people would soon find jobs. They will then earn money and buy themselves bicycles and cars, and they can stay in the camps until they save up enough money to get housing of their own. In my part of the world there is an acute shortage of any person who can do a decent job of work of any sort, kind or description. We used to have a Polish resettlement camp near us in which Poles lived for a great many years. From that camp they established themselves, and they are now prominent in local business, and so on. Why on earth cannot something like this be done for the Uganda Asians?

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester was to speak in this debate, but at the last moment he became a victim of influenza; so, after a brief consultation with the most reverend Primate, I ask leave of the House to say a few words from these Benches. This is a matter in which, of course, the Churches have been deeply involved from the beginning. The most reverend Primates have bolic help to some of these refugees. They taken their part in offering at least sym- have been, naturally, the subject of criticism about this. It has been said that their charity was not as secret as it ought to have been, but anybody who knows the ways of the media to-day will recognise that it is extremely difficult to keep to the principles of the Gospel in that particular matter. The Churches have also been criticised from a well-known quarter because they are alleged not to have taken their share in support for the Stateless Asians. But the British Council of Churches has issued convincing evidence to answer that charge, and has shown by its various negotiations with the Government and others that the Churches have been fully conscious of that problem and anxious to do all that they could to help in its solution.

Of course, the Churches share in the general approval that has been given to Her Majesty's Government for the action that was taken so promptly to receive these refugees with British passports with the least possible formality and with a great deal of practical help. I think it is the duty of all of us who are in any way leaders in society to help our country to realise what has been done and to develop a legitimate pride in it. I was very moved when I heard an interview on the radio between the commanding officer of the first of the refugee camps, at Stradishall in Suffolk, and a B.B.C. interviewer. The interviewer framed his questions obviously in order to produce, if possible, the most provocative and exacerbating answers from that commanding officer, but to every question he was able to give a positive reply showing the British spirit of hospitality and toleration at its best. I took great pleasure in writing to him personally to say how he had increased my own pride in my country that day.

As Bishop of Leicester, I am only too well aware of the way in which this problem impinges upon local communities, and I have to be understanding about the feelings of many citizens of Leicester when this developed. It has to be remembered that we already had some 30,000 Asians in Leicester, and there was already overcrowding, difficulty about school places and problems of that kind. But when full allowance has been made for all of that, I am hound to say that I feel that our own City Fathers did not act in the wisest and in the most generous way by taking such a very hostile line to the reception of these refugees. I must say that I looked with considerable embarrassment on the television screen to see an advertisement which our City Fathers had inserted in the papers of Kampala with the message, "Do not come to Leicester!". With the idea of dispersal and its obvious benefits I had complete sympathy; but I had to say publically that I regretted very much that action had been taken which ran the risk of giving, Leicester a name throughout the world as the most inhospitable of cities. I am sure that it is not so; but these are the sort of things that happen when fear and suspicion have reached a certain point.

I hope very much that the Government will be able to listen with understanding and sympathy to the requests for the most flexible possible treatment of split families. Many of us will remember the short but moving speech by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich during the debate on the Address. He put this point so strongly that it is hardly necessary to repeat it. But I should like to urge upon Her Majesty's Government that they take their main stand in this matter on the grounds of humanity. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady White, and others, quite naturally, have urged upon the Government the view that there is an enlightened self-interest which can be followed in this matter. But I would urge on Her Majesty's Government this point: I believe that if there is one thing which is characteristic of the younger generation in our country, it is a sense of our duty to human beings as such.

If the Government will take a bold view here and put on the most generous plan that they can, I do not think they will be disappointed in the response. They may as well face the fact that, whatever they do, they are bound to be criticised. I personally believe that they ought to be tremendously generous in the financial field; because when cities like Leicester have to carry the main burden of the social problem, it is of some help if those in charge of the matter locally can say that, at any rate financially, the central Government are carrying the burden and are treating this as something which the whole nation should stand as far as it can. If the Government do everything, if they say, "We will give the money so that you can build houses and provide schools; we will pay for everything", there will still be criticism from those already in need (as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton) who will say, "Why should these people have it and not our people who have been waiting for so long?" There is no answer to that, except that we believe that we are faced with a desperate human emergency in which we have to be human beings before we are even British or English. If Her Majesty's Government can face that point, I think they will get a response from the nation which will surprise them. My Lords, I must end by doing what I should have done at the beginning; namely, thanking the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity of discussing this matter.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I have been asked a very large number of questions and I will see whether I can spread out the answers and get them in the right order. I must say that it has been very heartening to hear the number of speakers this afternoon saying how much they have approved of the Government's policy in relation to this emergency and also to hear the good words that have been said about the Uganda Resettlement Board. I should tell the House that the Director of the Board is here in the Chamber. Therefore, the detailed points that have been made by noble Lords will not have passed him by, and even if I do not answer all the questions (and I am afraid that I may not be able to do so) they will be noted and noble Lords will not have spoken in vain.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wade, when he says that the people of Britain have risen to the occasion in the way that they so frequently do in an emergency—and I am very glad to hear that this includes some of our newer citizens, the Asians who have already established themselves, about whom the noble Lord. Lord Sainsbury, has spoken. It is only a mark of the response that comes from so many sources that we have the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, himself being prepared, with his co-trustees, to take charge of this fund. We must all be grateful for this and for the funds that are being contributed. I hope that the Government's example has been of assistance in this matter, as it sometimes is in fund raising.

My Lords, I was going to set this matter against the international background, because not only have we had at home rather a remarkable story but similarly so abroad. But the Motion does not specifically refer to this and no noble Lord has touched on the matter, so I suspect that it might be to the advantage of the House if I got on with other things—although there is rather a splendid tale of international co-operation to tell, if this were the right moment to tell it.


My Lords, with respect, the Motion does mention "cooperation with Commonwealth and other countries". But, of course, it is up to the noble Viscount to decide whether this is the occasion to speak of it.


My Lords, I think that I ought to try to concentrate on the specific points raised. Where the international field impinges on speeches that were made is in relation to the Stateless; and I should like first to deal with them. Apart from about 60 Stateless former Uganda residents in this country, there are enormous numbers overseas. They are not (and I am afraid that I must say this) a British responsibility. We have taken into this country an enormous number of people in an emergency in a very short time. I think it has been recognised in all quarters of the House and in all parts of the country that we could not take also the responsibility for the Stateless. That does not mean that we have not been concerned about their fate; it is just that we have not been able to open our doors "wholesale" to them as well as to the others. We took the lead in bringing this problem to the attention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and we have pledged a quarter of a million pounds to his fund for dealing with this problem.

There is, too, the assistance of the I.C.E.M., the inter-governmental organisation which arranges for emigration—in fact to South America. We had a team in Kampala; and they are already dealing with people who are in the camps in Europe. Of course, a large number of Stateless people have already gone to Canada; quite a substantial number to the U.S.A., several hundreds to India, and there are still offers open for about 1,400 of them in Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium, in addition to the South American contingent. It is against this background that one has to look at the position of those who are in this country.

When the words "humanity" and compassion "occur in this context, I think it has to be recognised that the Government did show some humanity and compassion in accepting them here in the first place. We had no responsibility to do so, but in fact we did accept a few who came with their families. These are heads of households, and very often they had United Kingdom passport-holder wives and dependants with them. We have had to make it clear that the obligation to grant refuge to those from Uganda does not extend to these 60 or so people, and they have been refused admission. But we have made no attempt to send them back. They are in camps—I believe in one camp largely—on their honour. Their arrival here has been reported to the High Commissioner for Refugees, and we hope that he will make arrangements for them to resettle with their families in third countries, just as as other Stateless people are being encouraged and helped to do by the Commissioner. When one thinks of the burden that this country has already undertaken in this emergency—I am afraid that one has to deal with this as a matter of principle even when dealing with the case of any family and any individual—I think the record of this Government is not an uncompassionate one. I do not think I can go beyond a statement of principle here.

There is, however, just one point which might be of interest. Supposing any of these families wanted to take advantage of the I.C.E.M. offer to go to South America—and I do not think one wants to be scornful of these offers from Equador, Bolivia and other places in South America to take people in this category—although I do not think we should be prepared to assist financially and directly in the payment of the fare for a Stateless head of family, we would be able to contribute to the I.C.E.M. on payment of the fares of United Kingdom passport-holder families and dependants; so in this particular respect we should be able to do something about the matter.

I must now turn to the home front. It is worth remembering that it is less than four months ago since all this started, when the Board was set up on August 23. Phase 1, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade, has said, was to arrange for the arrival at the airports and camps for those who had been expelled. There were teams of civil servants and voluntary workers at the three main airports; and for seven weeks they were on duty during nights and weekends as well as during days, working seven days a week, to welcome refugees and advise them on their immediate needs. Some of the volunteers lived under pretty rough conditions during the whole of that emergency and others travelled long distances to get to the places where they were needed. I must say it is nice to see in the Gallery some of the uniforms of those bodies who were involved.


Hear, Hear!


But, uniformed or not, I really think that no praise is high enough for the W.R.V.S., the British Red Cross and St. John Ambulance Association and some of the lesser-known bodies—not just the nationally-known ones—who have helped in one way or another. We can be truly proud of them and truly grateful for what they have done. Incidentally, the Uganda Resettlement Board is not aware, so far as I have been advised, of any lack of confidence on the part of the Co-ordinating Committee for Welfare of Evacuees from Uganda. I hope that the noble Baroness is not right on this point: it is not something that I have been advised exists at all.


My Lords, with great respect to the noble Viscount, has he read the letter on the question of housing which was sent on behalf of the Co-ordinating Committee to his right honourable friend Mr. Carr? I have a copy which I could show to him.


My Lords, I should be glad to look at it. To be perfectly honest, I have read so much paper in preparation for this debate to-day that I am not sure whether I have seen that particular letter or not, but I do not recall it.

The first thing that the Board had to do was to tackle the immediate personal problems, so we got in touch with local authorities throughout the country, asking them to make council houses available. In addition, upwards of 2,000 private people offered to take Asians into their homes. Arrangements were made for students to continue their courses of education in this country. On this particular point, I do not know that the facts are altogether as some noble Lords have said. The noble Baroness, Lady White, and the noble Lord, Lord Wade, referred to particular cases. But United Kingdom passport-holder students are eligible for the special grant arrangements, even though they are attending courses which were started before President Amin's decree. The only requirement is that their permanent home was in Uganda at that date. We have heard about post-graduates. It is no news to me that the practices of local education authorities differ: that variation is not confined to the support of people who come from Uganda and who are going to university. But if there are particular difficulties about this matter I shall be grateful to receive information about them so that they can be followed up.

However, one must not underestimate what has been done in perhaps a less conspicuous but rather remarkable way. For instance, my noble friend Lord Mowbray tells me that he went to the camp at Donniford, near Watchet in North Somerset. The Somerset County Council are taking all the 300 or so children to local schools every weekday, with the exception of about 25 children of nursery age—and they provide a teacher for those children at the camp. So I do not think we can complain of the way in which local authorities have been handling this matter of education. One does not want to give a wrong impression.

Another important point concerned jobs. The Department of Employment put its machinery at the disposal of the Resettlement Board, and straight away, or very soon, local authorities were given assurances that the Board would meet the full cost they incurred on temporary accommodation needed for the reception of Uganda Asians in their areas. More than 1,300 employers generously offered jobs for the refugees to the Resettlement Board. Whether the offers included nationalised industries specifically, as my noble friend Lord Hylton asked, I do not know, but I see no reason why not. Indeed, I cannot imagine that there would be any discrimination or hesitancy from the nationalised industries over making jobs available if the candidates were suitable for them. In the meantime, it was plain that the proportion of refugees with no satisfactory accommodation to go to in this country was a great deal higher than had been at first thought—perhaps partly due to the Boards efforts to discourage people from settling in areas of particular strain like that of the right reverend Prelate who has just spoken, though I do not think we have been particularly successful in that respect.

So we had to ask for the assistance of the Department of the Environment (yet another Government Department) to cooperate in making available old military and R.A.F. camps, many of which had not been used for a long time. Again, one had an outstanding response and people worked round the clock to get them ready. By the deadline of November 8, 16 of these centres had been opened and were fully staffed by civil servants and voluntary workers, who received the refugees as they arrived from the airports, tired, shocked sometimes and very definitely needing rest and reassurance. Within a few days, schools, health and community centres had been set up in all these places; and laundries, libraries, rest-rooms, classes in English language and in the British way of life soon followed. In all, no fewer than 21,000 refugees came at one stage or another into the resettlement centres; so it is not a bad story of instant reaction to emergency. The noble Baroness gave various figures which I am sure are accurate—I think she got them from the same sources as I did.

Now we come to Phase 2, which is probably what this debate is mainly about and which the noble Lord, Lord Wade, referred to in those terms, and the emphasis is now switched: it is now a question of the longer-term process of moving the families out of the camps. Teams of resettlement officers were established to each of the 16 centres to interview families, match up the needs of the families with the accommodation—whether public or private—which has been offered to the Board, and take account of the jobs available and the skills of the people concerned. This interlocking of a job, a skill and a house, and the size of house, is no mean task, even for experienced people in this field. We have about 100 civil servants engaged full-time in this work, and their success is fairly apparent. I agree with the noble Lord who said that a great deal of value has been in towns like Darlington which have sent their officers to the camps to explain what life is like in places where the refugees might go. This has happened in quite a number of cases.

As the noble Baroness said, at December 1 we had about 10,000 people left in the camps. During the past few weeks about 1,000 people per week have left the centres. By the end of last week the resettlement teams themselves had placed more than 2,000 people in local authority accommodation, and many other families are at the moment considering offers made to them of houses in many parts of the country. It is not true that there is an absolute bar on readmission to the camps; in cases of exceptional hardship people can be taken back. About 30 have come back in the past few weeks. Obviously we do not wish to encourage this. I agree with the noble Baroness that one must expect the rate of resettlement to start to fall as we get to the more difficult cases. But I hope that we shall still be able to go ahead and resettle people during the next few weeks.

In the meantime, in addition to what I said about the public accommodation, 1,500 refugees are in private homes throughout the country. We could not take up all the offers from private homes. Some of them were for a short period, perhaps with Christmas in mind; in some cases the houses were very isolated, and some houses had only one room available which was not big enough for the whole family. Nevertheless, offers are being taken up by the Board, and last week about 50 families were placed in private accommodation. I hasten to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wade, that we should all wish to express our gratitude for the wonderful response from the ordinary people all over the country to the problem presented by President Amin and his cruel decree.

This is not going to satisfy noble Lords who have asked about housing and loans. The situation about housing is fairly complex. We have the local authorities' side, and for the most part we have to rely on them. It is no use my noble friend Lord Hylton asking whether we are going to use compulsory powers; the Government have no compulsory powers to buy land for housing accommodation. This is a matter for the housing authorities. The Board is not empowered to make grants in respect of long-term facilities like housing. But we still have available another 1,400 houses offered by local authorities for renting. At the moment I do not think that it would be right to conclude that the need cannot be met under the present arrangements.

The matter of mortgages is very difficult; it goes with the problem of loans in general. No doubt in due course, when the Ugandans get settled, they will be able to raise their own loans and mortgages; but the arguments against providing this assistance from Governmental funds are fairly substantial, and they have already been touched on to-day. I think it was the right reverend Prelate who said that we have to be careful in the race relations field because we could do a great deal of damage if the belief gained ground that public money was being made available to Uganda Asians but not to the existing population—who would just as much like to have it, I assure your Lordships. We have to be cautious about this.

In the end the question of giving money or lending money is a commercial judgment for the lenders, the banks and other institutions; it is not prima facie a role that the Government ought to assume. It is something that we are of course considering, but it raises substantial difficulties. Certainly if it is a matter of pressing the Uganda Government to release funds in Uganda, my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir says that we have done nothing but press them. We are hoping that as they sell, as they say they are doing, the properties and assets of the Uganda Asians, they will do what they say and pay the money into the individual's bank account. There will be no let-up on the pressure to see that there is no expropriation, and if possible we will get the money out. I do not think that this is an easy problem to solve, either on loans for setting up businesses, or on mortgages.

My noble friend Lord Hylton asked about jobs. The Department of Employment have been providing officials to serve on the resettlement teams. The Confederation of British Industry will be shortly notified of the job skills which we have collected. We now have a good idea of the job skills of the Asians, and we can circulate this information. We will certainly give the information to the nationalised industries and Government Departments that have vacancies. As for retraining, the arrangements are absolutely normal. They are just the same as they are for natives of this country who want or have to change their jobs. In that respect I hope that is a satisfactory answer to my noble friend.

My Lords, I am afraid that there is still a great deal to be done. We cannot rely on Lord Sainsbury's Trust to do more than it legitimately and properly says it will do—and he has set out the terms of reference of the Trust—and we have to continue our efforts as a joint exercise between Government and the local authorities. We have to continue to give the assistance which we are at the moment permitted to do. There is no room for complacency. In fact there are these 10,000 refugees still in resettlement centres. Some of them are old, some are handicapped and crippled, and some of the families are large by ordinary British standards. Some have no breadwinners to support them. There can be no short cut to the resettlement of these families. On the question of large families, I believe that some local authorities are alive to the situation and are preparing offers of houses which are larger than normal. In the case of all local authority houses we have sometimes to wait a little while, because the authorities are either waiting to get possession of them themselves, so that they can offer them to the Board, or the houses are being decorated prior to being relet to the new Asian tenants.

I can end on a cautiously optimistic note. I did not hear that a meeting between the Government and the leaders of the city of Leicester went very badly, or anything of that sort. I hope that the right reverend Prelate is a little less depressed than he was at one stage about the city council. When I was at Leicester about ten days ago I found them far from being fierce. It seemed to me, when talking to some of those working in the area where Asians had gone to settle, that although there may be problems at least there did not seem to be a great deal of I was glad to find how friendly the whole of the environment and atmosphere in Leicester was.

The Board's original 16 centres are now already being reduced to 14. One was closed last month, and another is about to be closed. I do not think that Hemswell is to be closed at the moment. We do not classify any of our settlement centres as long-term, and I hope that they will not have to be long-term. But certainly the one the noble Lord, Lord Wade, visited will not be one of the first to close.

The stock of houses at present on offer by local authorities from all over the country should be able to accommodate up to, or possibly more than, 6,000 of the 10,000 people at present in the resettlement centres. There is in addition the private accommodation. Then, nearly 1,000 refugees have so far expressed interest in the possibility of re-emigrating to other countries which have generously offered to take them.

I will not give your Lordships hostages to fortune, but from the figures I have given I hope the House will agree that in the three and a half months of its existence the Uganda Resettlement Board—backed, and I think not ungenerously backed, by many different Departments of Government; supported by many generous local authorities and many extremely welcome offers of help from private individuals, whether in the way of housing or employment—has not only demonstrated its ability to handle this distressing problem with efficiency and humanity, but has shown that there is really no question of the Government's sheltering behind it, as my noble friend Lord Hylton put it. Why should we wish to shelter behind it, my Lords? We are working in co-ordination with the Board, and we are proud of it and of the work it is doing. We want to assist it, not to shelter behind it. It has already reduced the size of the problem to manageable proportions, and I am fully confident that it will, in continuing its work, succeed finally in solving it altogether.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that I speak for us all when I say how grateful we are to the noble Viscount for his thoughtful reply to the points made in the debate. I must admit that there were moments when the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and I exchanged glances when we were not quite satisfied with some of the answers we received, but we shall certainly take advantage of the noble Viscount's suggestion and we may write to him on particular points. The only two matters on which it seemed to me that he did not really meet the gravamen of the arguments that have been put forward were, first, the long-term need of more housing assistance from central Government in the pressure areas. I just do not believe, even on his figures, taking into account the bad condition of some of the temporary housing, that we are going to deal with the situation in an equitable way between the entire community and the community in particular areas unless the Government, as time goes on, at any rate, keep a very close eye on this matter of the need for more housing.

Secondly, I am sure the noble Viscount will not be surprised when I say that I was not happy about his reply on split families. He appeared to me—though I may be incorrect in this—to be speaking of Stateless families and not split families when he was referring not only to the sixty to seventy bread-winners who are in detention in this country, but to the numbers in the camps overseas: because I do not think there is a vast number who have the remainder of their family in this country. I may be wrong; he may be able to correct me on this. The figure that I was given was of the order of 200 overseas, plus those in this country.


My Lords, I do not know how many families there are in this country who have a Stateless husband, say, in a camp overseas. I do not know about that. I was talking about the sixty Stateless heads of households who are in this country with their United Kingdom passport-holding families.


My Lords, what I was very much concerned about was an extension of that to those overseas. I tried to explain in my speech that it was this particular group where the family has a right to be here if it wishes. I must not trespass on the next debate, but the noble Viscount is really suggesting that one member of the family is more important than the interests of the wife and children. But we can discuss that on the next debate. Apart from that, as I say, I was disappointed in what I took to be the noble Viscount's reply. But I am sure we are extremely grateful. I am also very grateful indeed to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It has been useful that we should have had this discussion, if only to express our gratitude to everyone who has tried to help, and indeed has helped, in this situation. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.