HL Deb 25 January 1973 vol 338 cc267-78

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of your Lordships I should now like to repeat a Statement on immigration policy that is being made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"Control over the rate of Commonwealth immigration was first introduced in 1962 and has since been strengthened by successive Governments because it has been generally recognised that there is a limit to the rate at which any nation can absorb new immigrants without endangering good community relations. The Government is convinced that at a time when our housing and educational resources and the social services generally are under severe strain this policy must not only be continued but further strengthened.

"Britain has a responsibility towards those residents of Commonwealth countries who, following independence, retained their citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies and therefore their right to United Kingdom passports. With this in mind, it is all the more important to reduce the immigration of citizens of other countries—both Commonwealth and non-Cornmonwealth—to the inescapable minimum.

"The instrument for controlling the immigration of both Commonwealth and foreign nationals is now the 1971 Immigration Act which came into full operation on January 1. The Government wishes to make clear, in particular to employers in this country, that work permits under the 1971 Act will be issued very sparingly indeed and that this stringency will apply to Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries alike.

"Following the recent debates in the House and in another place, I am today publishing revised Immigration Rules—one set for E.E.C. and other non-Commonwealth nationals and a second separate set for all Commonwealth citizens. These amended rules reflect the Government's determination to ensure strict control of immigration: but so far as is consistent with this, I have attempted to meet the clearly expressed wish to give the freest possible access to Commonwealth citizens with close family ties with this country. There are four points to which I want briefly to draw attention:

"First, Commonwealth citizens with a grandparent born here will not have to obtain a work permit or be subject once here to any form of supervision; but will be granted entry clearance which will enable them to come to work and settle here for as long as they like. Since they will not be patrials with an unrestricted right of abode as defined in the Act they will, of course, remain liable to deportation as well as requiring the initial entry clearance to which I have referred.

"Secondly—and because of what I have just said—Commonwealth citizens who marry women resident here or with a right to reside here will themselves be admitted for settlement provided they have a grandparent born here.

"Thirdly, the maximum period of stay of young Commonwealth citizens coming here for a working holiday will be extended from three to five years and the new rule emphasises that the period for which they are initially admitted will normally be 12 months.

"Fourthly—and more generally—I am making a number of changes relating to visitors, dependants, family deportation and appeal arrangements, which take as much account as possible of the views expressed in the recent debates. One example is that for all visitors the minimum initial period will ordinarily be six months and a longer period is readily to be granted.

"The arrangements I have just outlined apply to substantial numbers of people in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, but in practice those wishing to come here for permanent settlement from these countries are likely to be few. I intend in any case to keep the working of these rules under the closest possible scrutiny and to make timely changes if these prove desirable.

"I turn now to the question of United Kingdom passport holders. When Asians resident in Uganda were summarily expelled last year, the Government immediately accepted its obligations to our passport holders who had nowhere else to go and the people of this country responded with characteristic generosity to the plight of the refugees. But the mass expulsion from Uganda and the necessity to cope with it has regrettably created a new situation. The Government considers that to have a similar burden thrust on us again would impose unacceptable strains and stresses in our society and not least would endanger our ability to cary out our duty to those immigrants already resident here.

"The Government therefore thinks it right at this time, when we have just swiftly and honourably accepted the Ugandan Asian refugees and when there is no threat to United Kingdom passport holders elsewhere, to make it clear that while we shall continue to accept our responsibility to United Kingdom passport holders by admitting them in a controlled and orderly manner through the special voucher scheme, this is as much as it is reasonable and realistic for us to do if good community relations are to be maintained in Britain.

"I make this statement now so that the Governments and individual people concerned may be aware of the exact nature of Her Majesty's Government's policy in this matter.

"Our first responsibility as a Government is for the well-being of all the people in this country. No one should be in any doubt about our determination to discharge that duty through effective control over entry from overseas; through orderly arrangements for those whom we admit; and through the pursuit of positive policies to maintain and improve good community relations."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.


My Lords, I am sure we are all very grateful to the noble Earl the Leader of the House for having repeated the Statement to us. It is a fairly long and detailed Statement, and presumably we shall have a further opportunity to debate it when the rules are formally laid before us. We on this side of the House, entirely agree that it is necessary to control immigration into this country, although I must say, recalling how much we have owed during our long history to immigrants from various sources, that it seems to me that the phrase used in the Statement, "inescapable minimum", might have been expressed a little more generously.

May I turn to the four particular points stressed in the Statement? It is of course remarkable that although Parliament quite deliberately excluded grandparents from the substantive Act, they are now to be brought in under the rules. One can see the reasons why the Government thought that this would be their best way out of the dilemma in which they were placed. It is true that the person dependent upon his grandparents for his right of entry here remains liable to deportation and therefore must be of good behaviour unless, under the second point, he chooses to marry a woman here, when the right of deportation, as I understand it, lapses, and he can behave as he pleases. I think that we should have been happier had the right of the Commonwealth citizen who marries a resident here with a right to reside here been absolute, without the necessity to produce a grandparent.

On the third point, the question of the working holiday for young Commonwealth citizens, we are entirely in favour of extending hospitality to young Commonwealth citizens but it would be helpful if we could be told a little more as to just what is expected of them in this five years. As I understand it, they are allowed to take employment which is incidental to a holiday. Five years is a fairly long holiday.

As to the other points of detail, we shall wish to study them when we have had an opportunity of looking a little more closely at these extremely detailed rules. I must express my own sense of disappointment that the disparity between the provisions for the families of E.E.C. citizens and those from the Commonwealth has not been in any way altered: citizens from the E.E.C., who can come here, as we all know, without let or hindrance, can also bring their families on a very much more generous scale than will be possible for a Commonwealth citizen. I must admit that I had rather hoped that in their revision of the rules the Government might have altered those conditions in favour of Commonwealth citizens.

Finally, the very important passage at the end of the Statement concerning United Kingdom passport holders is one with which I think we have general sympathy. I am sure it is wise for the Government to make it clear that we regard the mass expulsion from Uganda as being a most deplorable act, one that we trust will never occur in any other part of the Commonwealth. We are therefore giving clear warning that we wish to maintain, as the Statement says, in a controlled and orderly manner through the special voucher scheme the arrangements for United Kingdom passport holders. In saying that, one must recognise that situations can arise when it is difficult to conduct affairs in a controlled and orderly manner; but we certainly all hope that the warning, quite rightly given in this Statement, will be observed by those whom it concerns. At this point I do not think I can usefully make any further comments or put any further questions on the rules. We have four documents containing them which we shall have to study in detail.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my Liberal colleagues, I should like to thank the noble Earl the Leader of the House for repeating this Statement. It is a lengthy Statement which will have to be studied carefully, as will the rules to which it refers. However, I have one or two questions. I understood the noble Earl to say that work permits under the 1971 Act will be issued very sparingly indeed, and that this stringency will apply to Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries alike. May I ask whether the expression "non-Commonwealth countries" covers citizens of member countries of the E.E.C.? This terminology may be important. There is to be one set of rules for E.E.C. and other non-Commonwealth nationals, and I hope we may read from that that people from the Commonwealth will not be at a disadvantage as compared with those from the E.E.C. It is not quite clear from my reading of the Statement.

Secondly, I welcome the small step towards removing the discrimination between men and women which we discussed on the Immigration Bill. As I understand it, Commonwealth citizens who marry women resident here, or with a right to reside here, will have a right of entry, subject of course to the proviso which was referred to. But, following that, I hope that relief will be granted to that other category, that other problem, of the split families, who are not mentioned in the Statement. At this stage, I merely say that I hope that in that case humanitarian considerations will soon prevail. On the subject of work permits, the noble Earl will remember that we had a great deal of discussion on the Immigration Bill as to whether it is right that those who came here with a work permit should be tied to one particular employer. Will that position be altered by these new rules, and will it apply to those coming for a working holiday? It would be unfortunate if someone coming for a working holiday of up to five years were to be tied to a particular employer.

I do not think one can deal by question and answer with matters of really great principle. The special voucher scheme will, I hope, be discussed more fully in debate. I merely note what the noble Earl has said. I am anxious to see the links between this country and the Commonwealth maintained, but I am not happy about the grandfather test. It could so easily mean that there would be one rule for, say, Australians and Canadians, and another for West Indians, and that is coming very near to a colour test. But, subject to that proviso, I welcome what the noble Earl has said.

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for the reception which they have given to the Statement which I have repeated. I should like, first—and I hope I shall not be thought to be dealing summarily with their comments—to say that I very much hope that in an area as complicated as this, and with the emotional overtones that it has, we can avoid too much detail at this stage. In one way or another, I should be happy through the usual channels to ensure, when we have all had time to digest both the Statement and the two sets of rules now before Parliament, that either on the discussion of those rules or on a separate occasion, or both, as the case may be, we can explore this subject further. I think that on this particular issue that would be the wisest course. With that said, and with that assurance of the possibility of further exploration of this whole area, may I turn to some of the points which have been made to me?

I think that the question of the grandparents is something which we could explore further when we look at the rules. But what I can say straight away to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, is that this is something which applies both to the old and to the new Commonwealth, although numerically, of course, it would be disingenuous to say other than that quantity-wise this rule is likely to apply much more to the old Commonwealth. So far as the conditions of working holidays are concerned, which point was put to me by the noble Baroness and was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, be it five years or be it three years the conditions for both cases will remain unchanged. I am not absolutely clear here, I must say, on the question of the single employer, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, will allow us to look at that point further when we debate the rules.

As regards disparate treatment for E.E.C. and Commonwealth dependants, all I should like to say is that we have made changes here favourable to the Commonwealth so far as the treatment of dependent grandparents is concerned. On the very important question of United Kingdom passport holders, I can only echo what the noble Baroness has said. We have discussed this matter on many occasions in the past and I hope that I have made my position, and the Government's position, clear: that we consider the expulsions from Uganda totally deplorable and that it is a situation which I very much hope we shall not see repeated. I think it has been right for the Government—and I am glad to see that the noble Baroness appears to concur here—to make our general position clear at this stage, in a period of calm. I should like to take this opportunity of assuring your Lordships that there is no sign whatsoever at present of a possibility of a recurrence of the situation that we have had to face, which I think was faced honourably. On that I would not wish to be drawn any further at the present time. The question of split families is also one which we might explore further. All I should like to say is that I recognise that there are very deep humanitarian interests involved here, which we have very much in mind.


My Lords, I appreciate that this matter must be discussed in a debate, especially by those of us who have not been able to read the Statement, though we have listened very carefully to what the noble Earl the Leader of the House has said. But may I ask him three questions? The first is in relation to grandparents. If I remember rightly, a proposal about them was turned down by Parliament when the matter was previously discussed. Is this not really a case where there will be racial discrimination? Is not the number of those who are non-white and whose grandparents were born in this country insignificant compared with the number of those who are white? My second question is in relation to husbands who wish to join their wives here. My mind was alerted with hope as the noble Earl began his announcement on this matter, but when he went on to say that husbands would be permitted here only if their grandparents had been born in this country, then I recognised that this acceptance of principle would mean very little indeed in practice. My Lords, out of the 300 husbands who are now isolated in Europe and are unable to joint their wives here—and I say this with some knowledge—I doubt whether there will be five who will have had their grandparents born in this territory. It means that this inhuman treatment by way of splitting families will continue. It also means that we are adopting a 19th century view regarding husbands and wives, in which the wife is regarded as the possession of the husband.


My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? I understood that this was a Statement and that the noble Lord was putting questions following it. I also understand that we are going to have a debate on the Statement in due course. Although I have great sympathy with many of the points which the noble Lord has put, surely it is not right that Ministers should be subject to lengthy remarks after they have made an official Statement, and that the proper procedure is to ask questions.


Hear, hear!


My Lords, I am very sorry. First, I had understood, as a matter of fact, that Back-Benchers were allowed to make remarks on a Statement just as Front-Benchers are, but if that is not true—


My Lords, perhaps I should intervene as a matter of order has been raised. I must say that I very much sympathise with the general tenor of what my noble friend has said. It is true that we have somewhat relaxed our rules, and it is not strictly obligatory upon a Back-Bencher to couch his supplementary remarks on a Statement in the form of a question. But I think it is accepted that any remarks that are made following a Statement of this kind, especially in the particular circumstances, should be as brief as possible.


I accept that, my Lords, and I try to maintain the courtesies of this House. It is because of that that I was trying to put my points in the form of questions. My last question is this: before the debate on these proposals occurs, will Her Majesty's Government consider the proposal which I have made for months, that there should be a conference between Her Majesty's Government and the Governments of Kenya, Tanzania, India and South-East Asia, where there are large numbers of non-whites with British passports? It would be impossible, I agree, to receive them en masse; but is it not desirable that before any emergency occurs there should be a conference with those Governments to try to reach an agreement?


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies I should like to put one question. I tried to follow the Statement he made but I was a little confused, or perhaps I misunderstood his reply in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, on one specific point; namely, whether Commonwealth citizens—that is, citizens from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and so on—will be at a disadvantage as compared with citizens from the E.E.C. It seemed to me that the reply by the noble Earl the Leader of the House was not altogether explicit. Perhaps he would clarify it.


My Lords, I think it would be right and proper, especially in view of the feeling of the House on this matter, to be fairly brief in my replies. So far as concerns what the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has said about grandparents, this is again a matter, like the question of the links between husbands and wives, which I believe we should better explore, in whatever depth we wish, when we come to discuss the rules. But what I should tell your Lordships is that what the Government have now embodied in the rules, which are before Parliament at the present time, was in response to a very strongly expressed view in the country as a whole and in Parliament. It is a recog- nition that something should be done where there are close family ties between those who happen to be in a Commonwealth country and others here. The attitude which was taken on another issue was in another context; and I myself believe that this is something which should be looked at both on its merits and bearing in mind the expressions of public opinion which have been made on this, which have been very strong. Again, I would assure the noble Lord that this is a rule which, if it is accepted, will apply to the new Commonwealth as it applies to the old Commonwealth.

So far as the question of a conference is concerned, I was glad to hear the noble Lord preface his remarks here by saying that this is a point of view which he has put before your Lordships on more than one occasion. I remember a great many occasions. I rather doubt whether a formal conference is the right approach here, but what I would say to the noble Lord is that there has been close consultation on these issues with a large number of Commonwealth countries, and we propose to continue such consultation. But the noble Lord's point is taken.

So far as the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is concerned, I know that he was asking it from the point of view of greater elucidation and from an attitude of perfect neutrality so far as the Common Market is concerned. On the particular point he made, the fact is that in certain respects under these rules citizens of the Commonwealth will be getting better treatment and in certain respects not so good treatment as citizens of the European Economic Community. Here again, this is perhaps a matter which we can go into later, but broadly speaking that is the position.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House two questions of fact? When does he foresee that we shall have the opportunity to debate the rules which are to come? That is the first question. The second concerns the particular problem of the split families—and I am speaking now of the people who have been thrown out of Uganda and where the head of the family is in one of the centres in Europe and the family is here. As the noble Earl may know, various representations have been made to his right honourable friend the Home Secretary by many of us who are interested in this subject, and we were given an assurance that the representations that we made would be given full consideration. Can the noble Earl tell us whether the Home Secretary has yet made any decision upon that particular problem?


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, may I say that this is a matter which very deeply concerns us? We are fully aware that the Government are to have consultations with the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees in the near future, and therefore perhaps one ought not to expect any definitive reply this afternoon; but I would ask the noble Earl to be in no doubt whatever that this is a matter on which there is very strong feeling indeed.


My Lords, perhaps I may take the second point first. I think I have already recognised that we appreciate there is very strong feeling on a very difficult issue here. It is an issue which has a very clear humanitarian side, and it is also one of great practical difficulty and one which has considerable international implications. I can assure the noble Baroness that there have already been consultations with the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees. To give a direct reply to the direct question of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, the Home Secretary has not yet made a decision on this particular point. So far as concerns when your Lordships will debate this question, the rules lie for 40 days. This is, of course, a matter for the usual channels, but I think it is the intention, as I understand it, that we should debate these rules towards the end of next month; but I shall keep the noble Lord informed about this.