HL Deb 18 October 1972 vol 335 cc1835-49

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, it might be for the convenience of the House if I were at this stage to repeat a Statement which is being made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place. The words of his Statement are these:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a Statement to bring the House up to date with the developments arising from President Amin's decision to expel Asians from Uganda.

"As the House will be aware, Her Majesty's Government accepted their legal and moral responsibility to allow holders of United Kingdom passports to come to this country under the special circumstances created by President Amin's unjust and inhumane action. At the same time Her Majesty's Government made intense efforts to enlist the help of the international community in offering to the Ugandan refu- gees a wide choice of destinations and as a result of these efforts 29 Governments expressed their willingness to help. I would like to give the House a few examples.

"Canada immediately offered to receive 6,000 refugees—both United Kingdom passport holders and stateless people. So far about 2,000 have been granted Canadian entry permits.

"The Government of India has agreed that United Kingdom passport holders may go there in the first instance. Already 2,500 have taken advantage of the option.

"Pakistan also responded generously, and 1,000 have so far chosen to go there.

"The signs are that a substantial further number may go to one or the other of those countries.

"Other countries that are taking substantial numbers of United Kingdom passport holders or stateless persons, or both, include the United States, West Germany and Malawi, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Austria. A number of Latin American countries have made helpful offers and the Inter-Governmental Committee for European Migration are co-ordinating arrangements for putting these into effect.

"I want to emphasise that this international co-operation was only possible because the world saw Her Majesty's Government immediately and unequivocally accepted their responsibilities in this matter. The result is that it now appears likely that the number of Ugandan Asians holding our passports who will need or wish to settle here is likely to be well under half the figure of 50,000–60,000 first mentioned.

"The position to date is as follows:

Our High Commission in Kampala have issued entry certificates to about 23,500 people, and of these some 5,000 are likely to go direct to third countries. The High Commission is now issuing entry certificates to wives and dependants who hold United Kingdom passports in their own right.

"It is also reviewing the cases of a small number of families whose applications for passports were at first questioned but some of whom, we believe, may in fact be entitled to them because they failed effectively to renounce our citizenship after independence. My earlier estimate of the people now ikely to settle here takes account of these two categories.

"I want to say at this point that Her Majesty's Government have from the beginning made clear that they do not accept responsibility for those who have been rendered Stateless by General Amin's decree. Responsibility for the Stateless refugees rests in the first place on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who is actively engaged in international discussions about their reception and resettlement.

"Turning to the arrangements within this country for reception and resettlement of United Kingdom passport holders, the position at the week-end was that nearly 15,000 refugees had been admitted to the United Kingdom. Of those 8,500 were still being given shelter by the Uganda Resettlement Board in 11 resettlement centres. I am satisfied the Board will be able to provide adequate temporary shelter in these and other centres for the increasing proportion amongst later arrivals who are likely to need it.

"The Board's other—longer-term but equally important—task is to resettle the refugees in the community at large and help them find homes and jobs. The Board now have special resettlement teams at each centre who are actively engaged in this task. This is inevitably a slow process, but having coped successfully with the reception of the refugees, the Board will now increasingly concentrate on the task of resettlement and are being provided with the additional resources to do this effectively.

"They are conscious of the need to persuade, but they cannot, of course, direct refugees away from areas where social facilities such as housing and schools are already under strain. They have been authorised to make special and generous grants towards relevant expenditure incurred by local authorities.

"Mr. Speaker, I am not complacent about what has been achieved, nor about the problems that still confront us. But I am sure the House will agree that an enormous amount has been achieved in receiving and beginning to resettle these refugees.—This reflects credit on the Resettlement Board and on the local authorities with whom they are working so closely. It reflects credit too on the hundreds of voluntary workers and private individuals who are also playing a notable part. I am sure that the House would wish to thank them all.

"In this work, I, and all of those engaged, have been greatly heartened by the fact that—not for the first time—the British people as a whole have shown themselves ready to respond with humanity and warmth to the plight of fellow human beings who are in need."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.


My Lords, the whole House will be very grateful to the noble Viscount for repeating this Statement, and I am certain that those Members of your Lordships' House who may have heard—either on television, as in my own case, or perhaps more intimately—the speech of the Secretary of State at the Conservative Party Conference would wish to applaud it: not only for what was said but for the clear spirit and determination that came through in the Secretary of State's words. Clearly, the task is not as great as was once foreseen. We are going to have only some 18,000, or perhaps at the very most 20,000, refugees to deal with in this country. But I think that there are signs—and I hope that the noble Viscount will give a little more information on this—that finding the combination of jobs and homes is a little more difficult than the Board, and I think the Government and those who were concerned, at first anticipated that it would be.

I wonder whether—and I put it in this way rather than as a criticism—the local authorities have been as forthcoming as they could have been in giving assistance to the Resettlement Board, in offering accommodation and, where it exists, work that is available in their area. I think that there are some local authorities who could, perhaps have done more than they have done in regard to those who are stateless, but clearly from a legal point of view we have no responsibility. On the other hand, I think we must remember that it was this Parliament that changed the situation for the Asians in Uganda when it granted that country independence. I hope, therefore, that the Government, while having no legal responsibility, will never fail to give support to the United Nations Organisation, and those responsible, in finding homes for these refugees. We on this side of the House would wish to applaud all countries who have most generously come forward to take into their homes Asian refugees who have very little or no connection at all with those countries. They did so because this is a duty that we all owe to men, women and children who are in dire distress.

3.51 p.m.


My Lords, may I endorse the tribute paid by the Government to the voluntary agencies which are helping to cope with this problem in the camps set up so far? Having visited the West Malling camp in Kent on Saturday I had an opportunity of observing the work being done there by the W.R.V.S., St. John Ambulance, Toc H and many other organisations, too many to mention, and a host of individual helpers who have come in voluntarily to offer entertainment, lectures and help in adapting the refugees to the British way of life. Those responsible could do with more help and the voluntary co-ordinators would like persons to come forward in the areas where these camps are located to offer help, transport and other facilities for the refugees. I certainly would endorse the tributes which have been paid by noble Lords to their work.

As regards the stateless people, I think this is an important point bearing in mind that, as the Statement says, the other countries named have helped us to solve our moral and legal obligations by taking United Kingdom passport holders. A number of countries have been mentioned—Canada, India and so on—as having received our passport holders. They have accepted some of our obligation. Therefore is it not right that in seeking to persuade the world community to look after the stateless we should accept a little share of that obligation as well, with particular reference to families where some members hold United Kingdom passports and other members are either stateless or ostensibly citizens of Uganda or some third country? Is the noble Lord aware that many people have already arrived in this country who belong to families where half are United Kingdom citizens and the other half are not? In these instances the Home Office has admitted United Kingdom passport holders but held the others in detention. Does not the noble Lord consider that it would be a contribution towards meeting the needs of stateless persons, or at least those who accompany relatives holding United Kingdom passports and arrive in this country, if they could be admitted on a permanent basis?


My Lords, will my noble friend pass on to the High Commissioner, Mr. Slater, who is in this country, our warm thanks for the exemplary manner in which he carried out a very difficult task? Can my noble friend assure the House that the deputy High Commissioner has adequate staff and facilities to deal with the remainder of the problem?


My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether any Communist States have agreed to accept any of these refugees, or at any rate, indicated their readiness to consider the matter?


My Lords, I wonder whether I might answer those four contributions before we have any more. First, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, very much for what he said about the reaction and the response of my right honourable friend. I know that my right honourable friend feels this to be a tremendous responsibility and I know the trouble that he has taken to try to ensure that everything possible is done. He will very much appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said. I should like to join with those who have paid tribute to the other countries who are sharing our burden, and to tile voluntary agencies. I know that so far as we can, and so far as the Resettlement Board can—meetings are taking place all the time—we shall encourage and help them to play their part, which is so very welcome. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury for his tribute to Mr. Slater. I think there is no doubt that the High Commission in Kampala still has the necessary resources, although, of course, Mr. Slater's own position is very difficult indeed.

In answer to other points made about jobs and homes, yes, the situation is difficult. The Resettlement Board are at the moment considering how they may be able to help with finance, both in respect of homes and also in setting up businesses. This is at the top of their agenda and is under active consideration. As for the local authorities, I think the position is rather patchy. One has to remember that there is a housing shortage and that long lists of people are waiting for houses. One is bound to have a certain sympathy with local housing authorities who say that those who have been waiting for a very long time for a house must have due consideration. Nevertheless it would, I think, be wrong to suggest that local authorities have not been generous in their response. Only the other day I was talking to the chairman of a county council about the position in his county, and he told me of how many district councils had come forward with help. Of course the provision of few houses in every district would go a great way towards solving the problems.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Viscount could direct his persuasion to Bournemouth.


My Lords, I will bear that suggestion in mind and pass it on. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned the stateless persons. This of course is very much tied up with our position in the United Nations. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs spoke in the United Nations and we have been behind and greatly applauding the efforts of the African leaders who have done their very best in this forum, and in some cases by going to Uganda. President Mobutu and President Tolbert themselves tried to assist. We shall go on using the United Nations as a forum to try to deal with this problem. It is a United Nations problem and the United Nations High Commissioner is actively engaged on it at the moment. I must say that we have taken all possible active steps to ensure that he is aware of the scale and urgency of the problem, and we believe that he is. I think that his must be the responsibility for cordinating, and if he comes with further requests for us to make another contribution no doubt we shall have to consider it.

I would say at this stage, my Lords, that we have substantial problems on our hands despite the reduction in numbers in resettling and setting up in a new life those for whom we have a legal and moral responsibility. I think that we must first concentrate on them before we take on any more. To some extent I am afraid this must be the answer to Lord Avebury's other point about the husbands of United Kingdom passport holders and their wives and dependants. There is nothing special about people in that category who come from Uganda. The policy overall is that the problem must be dealt with family by family; that is what is being done with those from Uganda as from anywhere else. But no doubt in this case one would look in particular at the position of the husband, and the country where he might be able to go or would wish to go. This may be an added complication, which does not necessarily arise in cases which do not arise under this emergency; but it is dealt with sympathetically on the merits of each case. There is no particular differentiation made for these people just because they come from Uganda.


My Lords, I was not just asking about husbands and wives, but about all relationships. For example, brothers and sisters, half of whom have British passports and the other half being either Ugandans or stateless, all arrive in this country simultaneously. What I am putting to the noble Lord is not a hypothetical problem; he has to deal with it now. They have entered this country via Stanstead or Heathrow airports. One half is legitimately entitled to admittance here under the rules laid down by the Government and the other half is not, and they are in Harmondsworth pending a decision. I am asking the Government to relax their rules just that little bit further so as not to separate families and thus act contrary to the United Nations Charter on Human Rights.


My Lords, the United Nations Charter on Human Rights is a subject that I have discussed with the noble Lord before, and I think he knows the position on it. I do not think I can go beyond what I have already stated: that we look at these sympathetically and on the merits in each case. To make an overall statement that we will be compassionate or will relax rules would I think be foolish, in view of the fact that we have these problems on our hands already, and, as I have said, that we deal on the merits of each case with the sort of people referred to by the noble Lord. The only other question was that asked by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. No Communist country is on my list as being willing to accept any people from Uganda.

4.1 p.m.


My Lords, arising out of that reply, and with full compassion for the distressing circumstances of the people concerned but also bearing in mind the distressing stories we see in the Press regarding the difficulties of housing and unemployment in this coun- try, may I ask my noble friend if he can say whether consideration is being given to the possibility of modifying the problems which now arise by postponing in categories that were previously (that is, before this recent Asian incident) being granted entry permits, so reducing for a time, or postponing, the contemplated total inflow, which according to the Press seems to have been of the order of 40,000 per annum? Secondly, could he now indicate, in view of the reply given on September 15 as to the total number of potentials who might under similar repetition find themselves in similar circumstances to the Ugandan Asians, whether it is now a fact that consideration is being given to what steps would properly be taken to deal with so large a stated potential inflow?


My Lords, I suspect that one of the reasons why we have had the international support that we have received right across the world is because of the way in which we have handled this situation, which includes our willingness to continue to take the quota—although it was recently reduced—of other United Kingdom passport holders from other countries, and not to cut down just because we have a flood of people from Uganda. I believe that it would be irresponsible for us to try to penalise the United Kingdom passport holders, who have been on lists and in queues for years and years in many countries, just because we have had to take this action in an emergency for Uganda. I do not think there is any intention on the part of Her Majesty's Government further to reduce this situation.

As for the overall situation, I think it is interesting just to look at the figures. There were at the end of the 'sixties over 70,000 Commonwealth citizens (they were not all United Kingdom passport holders, but Commonwealth citizens altogether) who came here: 74,000 in 1967 and 71,000 in 1968. Even with the Ugandan Asians, we think that the total Commonwealth entry for 1972 will not exceed 60,000. So we have already cut down; and to cut down further would, I think, be a mistake. As for people holding United Kingdom passports in other parts of the world, this is a delicate question. I do not think it is matter on which I should comment this afternoon. It would be for other members of the Government, and not, I think, as a matter of a supplementary on this issue.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for his comprehensive reply I would ask him whether he can clarify the figures. If he is correctly understood and the contemplated inflow from the Uganda incident is not likely to exceed 20,000, and if it is the case, as has been stated by the Press, that the overall inflow prior to this was around 40,000 per annum, how can it be that this year the total will be only 60,000?


My Lords, that is done by the simple arithmetic of adding 20,000 to 40,000.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount whether he saw a report in the Press that the British High Commission in Uganda were issuing the so-called stateless people with British passports so that they can become British citizens? Can he either confirm or reject that?


My Lords, that is not right. What has happened is that there were fairly complicated procedures, both under Ugandan and under British legislation—though I think it was mainly Ugandan legislation—whereby people who at the time of Ugandan independence were citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies had various procedures to go through in order to become Ugandan citizens. Some of them got a certain distance along the road but failed on some of the technicalities to complete the acquisition of Ugandan citizenship. Those people therefore did not lose the United Kingdom citizenship which they previously held. It is with the comparatively small number of those people—they comprise one of the categories—that the High Commission in Kampala is now dealing.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to put one further question—and I have been trying to put it for some time. While I appreciate what the noble Viscount said about consideration and family difficulties, does he recognise that in Uganda the danger of the breaking up of families is now probably the most urgent question? I welcome what the Government have done in new categories, but even that has aroused the danger of further break-up of families, with wives and dependants being allowed here and the fathers and husbands not. But is the noble Viscount aware that it goes much further than this, in that there are dependants who do not have British passports when the head of the household has; and in that way the family is broken up? It acts in the opposite direction. There are dependants who have not got British passports who have to stay in Uganda, and their old father who has been dependent on them comes here without any support at all. I beg the Government to look at the whole problem of the division of families which is resulting from these different categories.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount whether he has read the pamphlet by Mr. Anthony Lester about the millions who we are told may descend upon this country? In order to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Barnby. I should add that these thousands or millions who are said to be able to come to this country have dual citizenship I do not think they would want to come to this country from their nice warm climates. They have the citizenship of the country in which they are living, as well as British passports, and that is quite a different matter from people who are turned out with only British passports.


My Lords, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, I should not wish to suggest that anything we do is intended to break up families. But, while it is true that one has to deal with these questions of citizenship with compassion, one must do so also with a certain amount of reality. I dealt with the situation where the dependants came here and the husband or father was, say, a Ugandan citizen: and I told the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, the way in which we have handled that. The converse case, I imagine, is one where the dependants are over the age of 18 and are citizens, perhaps, of Uganda. In such cases I am not certain that I see why, in these circumstances, we are bound to give priority to accepting these people when we are so very busy trying to receive and resettle the holders of our own passports. I will look at this matter, but I think that our priorities are right and that if we go too far we shall do grave damage not only to those whom we are trying to help in that category but to the much larger numbers of Ugandans who are now coming here and trying to be resettled.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has drawn my attention to a pamphlet. I have been reading about this subject a great deal to-day, and I have also been reading about the visit of Her Majesty the Queen to Stirling. I am afraid that I have not yet read the pamphlet, but certainly no figures that I have seen suggest that figures which have any relation to millions come into this at all. It is an absolute figment in this context to speak in terms of millions; indeed, we all hope that such a situation as we are now facing is not going to apply anywhere else.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether or not West Germany is the only Western European country that has accepted some of these unfortunate Asians? Would he further say whether a request was made to the French Government, and, if a negative reply was received from that Government, whether any reason was given for such a refusal?


My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount a question on a rather different aspect of the matter? Could he do anything to help to achieve a more accurate prediction of the times of arrival of aircraft? This is one of the problems that is worrying volunteers—and I am speaking now chiefly on behalf of the Red Cross. The volunteers may be told that the aircraft will arrive at B o'clock in the evening, and so they call up their people at 8 o'clock, and are then told, "No it may arrive at one o'clock. "And at one o'clock they are told, Sorry, it may arrive some time to-morrow morning." This is a problem. It would also be very helpful if we could know how many Asians are likely to arrive on any one flight.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Merrivale asked about other European countries who have offered to help. Sweden and Austria, as well as West Germany, have offered to take United Kingdom passport holders. I believe that, in addition, Belgium has offered to help with stateless persons, so more than one country is involved. I frankly do not know about France, but the invitation was sent to as many countries as we could, and I should be very surprised if France was not one of the recipients of our invitation to assist in this matter.

I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster. Those who meet planes at the best of times are subject to disappointment, and in the sorts of circumstances she has mentioned it must be quite maddening for volunteers, who are giving up their time to do this work. I will see if I can do anything to try to cure the defects.


My Lords, may I ask a supplementary question? Does not my noble friend feel that it would be right to try to insist that the French, and other European countries, should try to help us out by taking some of these people, especially as we are about to enter into partnership as one of the Nine?


My Lords, I very much doubt whether it would be wise to try to insist on anything. We are dependent upon the good will of other nations, with which we have been richly rewarded, and to attempt to take a tough line about this would, it seems to me, be likely to be counter-productive. We have been very lucky, and we are very grateful to those who have already assisted us.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether my information is correct? I am told that it is fairly easy to find jobs for the Asians, especially in East Anglia, but that the great stumbling block is housing. A considerable number of Asians have been placed in jobs, and given housing; but at the moment, so I am told, housing is the great stumbling block. Local authorities are doing their best, but many of them already have very long housing lists. Many of them cannot do very much. As I said on an earlier occasion, when the noble learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, was making his Statement, I think this housing aspect must be treated with very great urgency.


My Lords, I am sorry: I do not have with me details of the situation regarding jobs and housing. This is a matter which is not normally my responsibility. If there are problems in East Anglia I will draw them to the attention of my right honourable friend; indeed, the honourable Member for Cambridge, who deals with this aspect is himself an East Anglian and he will see whether something can be done.


My Lords, may I ask one short—


My Lords, I hesitate to intervene but we have well over 200 Amendments on the Local Government Bill. I think that my noble friend has had a long interrogation on this Statement, and I would suggest to your Lordships, with all due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, that we might now pass on and return to the Local Government Bill.


My Lords, I certainly would support the appeal made by the noble Leader of the House. I make only one suggestion. This is a subject in which there is very deep interest and concern, and clearly we do not want to ask the Government to make a Statement every week as regards progress. But I wonder whether the noble Earl would consider ways and means by which Members of the House could be kept informed of progress that is being made. That might perhaps save having to make Statements.


My Lords, I will gladly respond to that. I do not for one moment underestimate the importance of this problem, in social, human and political terms. It is one which deeply engages the attention of your Lordships' House—and rightly so—and I think it right and proper that, through the usual channels, we should see how we can best give effect to the wish which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has expressed and which I think corresponds to the feeling generally in your Lordships' House.