HL Deb 06 April 1978 vol 390 cc254-65

3.58 p.m.

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"I should like to draw to the attention of the House the Command Paper on control of immigration statistics for 1977, which is published today and which contains new information, in particular extensive historical tables showing the pattern of immigration over the past 10 years. The Government's detailed reply to the report of the Select Committee on Immigration will of course be published in the normal way as a White Paper. Meantime I should like to take the opportunity of relieving some anxieties which have been aroused recently.

"Today's Command Paper on statisstics shows a fall in both primary and secondary immigration. By primary, I mean the entry of heads of households, for example, with work permits, and by secondary, the admission of their dependants. The total number from the New Commonweath and Pakistan accepted for settlement on arrival fell from 37,000 in 1976 to 28,000 last year —a reduction of 25 per cent. This reduction supports the Select Committee's view that for some time there has been very little primary immigration from these countries, and I note that the Select Committee has not challenged the accuracy of the Home Office statistics on this issue.

" We can therefore confidently say that, subject to commitments to United Kingdom passport holders under the special voucher scheme, which have been accepted and confirmed by successive Governments, and to those arising out of the Immigration Act 1971 and from our membership of the EEC, "there will be no further major primary immigration in the foreseeable future". The Government fully agree with the Select Committee conclusion that it is not equitable or practical to renounce previous commitments, and I can assure the House and those who would be affected that the Government have no intention of doing so.

" The reduction in the immigration figures shows that there is no need to introduce a new specific annual quota. I think it important to reassure the immigrant communities on this point, particularly in the light of the Select Committee's recommendation—which some have interpreted to mean quotas. This recommendation appears in fact to have been aimed at giving greater priority to the admission of wives and children of those settled here. The figures for wives and children in the Command Paper show that the Government already give priority to them. But we accept that, where necessary, staff should be redeployed to enable even greater flexibility in giving such priority.

"The Government share the Select Committee's view that, for educational and other reasons, children who in any case are going to settle here should spend their formative years in this country, and that, where people have a choice, it is not' in the interests of good race relations deliberately to postpone bringing them here until they reach working age. However, it is not the Government's view that, where in the future a child is born to a wife abroad, the admission of the mother and child to settle in the United Kingdom should normally be limited to children under 12 years of age. We would not contemplate removing or refusing entry to say a 12 year-old girl of a family settled here. To do so would be inhumane.

"The Government note the Select Committee's comments on a register of dependants and its inability to make a recommendation in support of the idea. The Government have reconsidered this matter, but remain of the view that I expressed when the report of the Parliamentary Group under Lord Franks was published: It is inherent in the only scheme which the Group thought feasible that a register would be discriminatory, would be incomplete in coverage, would involve long delay in implementation and would be very expensive, and it is clear that it could give no certainty about future numbers ". "The Select Committee recommends that the Government should institute an independent inquiry to consider a system of internal control of immigration. This would mean identity cards for everyone and new powers to require their production on demand. Such a major change in practice and power, reaching far beyond immigration control, would be objectionable in principle. In the Government's view, therefore, no useful purpose would be served by setting up an inquiry.

"However, the problems of control to which the Select Committee and also the CPRS have drawn attention, particularly as regards illegal employment, are undoubtedly important. We had already taken action on this by opening discussions with the TUC and CBI about how to deal more effectively with illegal entrants and over stayers who take work to which others are entitled. We shall pursue the discussions energetically and I shall report further to the House. Meanwhile, we shall continue to take vigorous action to enforce the immigration control. In 1977, over 1,100 deportation orders were made and, in addition, nearly 500 illegal immigrants were removed.

"Mr. Speaker, immigration is a part, but only a part, of the wider question of race relations. Those who have come to this country have contributed much to British life. They have the assurance that we will honour our commitments to their close dependants. The United Kingdom is now, and will remain, a multi-racial society. Our overriding responsibility is to do all in our power to make it a harmonious one. We have no doubt that, in this, we have the support of the overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens. The Government is committed to this in its policies for employment, education, the inner cities and other matters. We seek justice and equality of treatment for all who live in this country. That is the purpose to which all of us in the House and the country should devote our energies."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement and for giving me the courtesy of a prior copy of it so that I was able to study its terms before 1 actually heard it. I have not yet been able to compare it with the new Command Paper on immigration control and immigration statistics; therefore I reserve any comment I should wish to make about that. I fully endorse the object of the Government in seeking to relieve anxieties, think this should be the primary object of anyone who speaks about this slightly highly charged subject. I think it would be well to emphasise the points of agreement, which I think are much more important and wider than the points of disagreement, between the noble and learned Lord's Party and my own on this subject because I believe myself that there is nothing less likely to relieve anxieties than the rather sharp and almost hysterical reactions that have come from certain quarters.

I would certainly call upon the noble and learned Lord to acknowledge that all three major Parties in this country, and the overwhelming mass of the population, whatever their feelings about the subject, are determined to pursue a commonsensical and humane policy. In particular we are all of us devoted to the principle of equality before the law, which is the most important principle of all, and we are all of us eager to endorse the principle of honouring commitments already made, which it seems to me ought to remove from this field of controversy some of the most highly charged emotional elements.

We also—at least, I also, and I think in this respect I speak for my Party—agree with the end part of the Statement made by the noble and learned Lord, that, in considering the future of what the noble and learned Lord has called the multiracial society—I am not sure that I altogether like the term myself—general social legislation is of far greater importance than legislation directed to the particular problem of race relations. He has, quite rightly, emphasised policies for employment, education and the inner cities, think that, although I myself might have put education first, as the longer-term value, I would emphasise the same points. So there is a very broad measure of agreement.

I do not want to anticipate what I believe will be a statement in the country by my right honourable friend Mr. William Whitelaw on the same kind of subject. I think that the Government have stolen the march there by 48 hours, but I do not want to anticipate—even if I were in a position to do so—what he may be saying. I should like, however, to express considerable disappointment—I do not put it higher than that—because the Statement contains nothing about what, to my mind, was one of the most important of the recommendations of the Select Committee, which was that the Government should give priority to a British nationality law. I believe myself, and have been saying for years—at one time I persuaded my Party, and I hope that I have persuaded them still—that a great deal of the misunderstanding and of the nonsense which has arisen about this subject has arisen by reason of the fact that we, almost alone of the civilised countries, have lost any rational British nationality law of any kind.

I was myself much heartened by the fact that the Select Committee unanimously asked the Government to give priority to this subject. We were on the verge of doing so. I think that we published our intention of doing so in 1973 before we were unfortunately turned out of office. This was almost the least of the misfortunes which befell this country as a result of that calamity, but it was none the less a misfortune. The Labour Government have dragged their feet almost indefinitely about it. They produced, I think, a Green Paper—not even a White Paper—on the matter approximately 12 months ago. But I really do think that they ought to pick up their skirts (if I may use the phrase) and break into a gentle trot, because I believe this is one of the more important and far-reaching subjects dealt with by the Select Committee.

I would agree with the noble and learned Lord that the demand for an independent inquiry, if it would mean identity cards, would raise very much wider questions of public policy than are involved in the question of immigration. But I am not quite sure why the Government Statement was so certain that that is what the inquiry would mean, because recommendations Nos. 4, 5 and 6 of the Select Committee's report have nothing to do with identity cards and could well suggest various practical ways of enforcing control that would not have involved identity cards at all. However, I think that the question of identity is one that must arouse the interest of anyone who has travelled on the Continent of Europe. We find that they are living fairly happy lives even though they sometimes require one to produce a pièce d'identité in order to establish who one is. That is a much wider question than immigration. I do not want to pursue it now.

There is one other thing, which was not contained in the Select Committee's report or in the Government's Statement, that I should like to press on the noble and learned Lord; and that is the question of reciprocity. We seem to let people into this country when the countries from which they come do not provide anything like reciprocity of treatment to our own nationals who want to go there. Is it not time that we did, delicately and diplomatically, press upon our Commonwealth and other friends that Britain is independent too, and that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander? A proper immigration law and a proper nationality law are, after all—if carried through with a due regard to international law and commitments, and humanity—part of the sovereignty of a country. It is, I believe, time that people stopped talking as if, when we ask for no more than other countries demand for themselves, we should be called racists, when all we are doing is saying that Britain is independent, too.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that we warmly welcome his Statement, so far as it goes? In particular we welcome the fact that it concludes with a recognition of the enormous contribution that many immigrants have made to the national, economic, cultural and sporting life of this country. In all these matters very much depends on the tone which is adopted. In the case of the Select Committee, I think that it was not at all helpful, indicating, as it did, that immigration from the New Commonwealth and Pakistan is a problem which has to be dealt with. This Statement, which concludes with a welcome to immigrants from the New Commonwealth who are already here, helps to redress that balance. The Statement redresses the balance in some other ways. Relieving anxieties, as it says, is very important.

Is it not important to begin by stating that the figures show no cause for anxiety whatsoever, and that the number of immigrants coming here, both from the New Commonwealth and Pakistan and from foreign countries, is absolutely trivial compared with the population of this country? It is a lie—and a racist lie—to say that immigrants are responsible for the difficulties that we face in unemployment, in housing and education. The more often we get up and say that in public, the less likely it is that this lie can be exploited by racist elements such as the National Front.

Do we not repudiate altogether the racist premise that it is only immigration from the New Commonwealth and Pakistan with which we are concerned? Would it not be better, therefore, in any Statement such as this, not to confine attention to those sources of immigration, as the Statement does? That is about the only criticism that I have to make of it.

With regard to the quotas, is the noble and learned Lord aware that we very warmly welcome the repudiation of any suggestion that a quota should be imposed on immigration from the Indian subcontinent or anywhere else? Does the noble and learned Lord not agree that if we did impose a quota, while at the same time maintaining the sanctity of our obligations, this would merely defer the date on which primary immigration would be brought to an end? Because the quota would simply result in the creation of an enormous queue composed of persons to whom we had such an obligation, which would, in the end, have to be honoured.

As to the question of the queue, can the noble and learned Lord say when the Government will be in a position to say something about the one positive and helpful recommendation of the Select Committee on the 5,000 quota vouchers which were made available originally to United Kingdom passport holders of Indian ethnic origin in East Africa, and subsequently extended to the people who migrated from East Africa to India? When will they be in a position to respond to the recommendation of the Select Committee that this quota should be made available on a global basis and not divided into separate sub-quotas for each individual country, which has resulted since 1972 in the build-up of an enormous backlog of applications from India?

Is the noble and learned Lord aware that we very warmly welcome also the rejection of the idea of the register of dependents, and that we endorse what the Home Secretary had to say about this at the time when the report of the Parliamentary group under Lord Franks was published? We think it is a pity that the idea should have been resuscitated by the Select Committee.

We also warmly welcome the firm rejection of any system of internal controls. Would that not be absolutely countrary to everything we stand for in this country? I refer not only to the introduction of a system of identity cards; but probably, to enforce it, the police would have to go round on a house-to-house basis, knocking at doors late at night to find out whether any illegal immigrants were behind them. When, from time to time, this has been done by the police in the past, vigorous protests had to be made to the Home Secretary and he at once acted to stop the practice. I hope that when the statement by the Conservative Party is issued on Saturday it will follow the restrained tones that the Home Secretary has adopted this afternoon.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for what has really been a broad welcome to this Statement. Its purpose has clearly been to relieve anxieties and I hope that that may be the result of the publication of the Statement. 1 assure the noble and learned Lord that there was not a deliberate intention on the part of the Government to shoot Mr. Whitelaw's fox, if I may put it that way, although he may well feel a sense of indignation that that may be the consequence of the publication of this Statement.

The noble and learned Lord reaffirmed the view that the Home Secretary has expressed that our overriding responsibility now is to do all in our power to make our society a harmonious and tolerant society of people who must learn to live together. We have been very good at it down the centuries; the fact that I am here making this speech now is perhaps an illustration of that degree of tolerance. I hasten to add that my forebears were here first anyway, but that is merely by the way. That, I am glad to note, is an attitude which has been reflected in what the noble and learned Lord said, and I think that is the view of the vast majority of people in this country too.

There is clearly a responsibility on the Government, and we accept it, to deal with those areas of the greatest difficulty where the worst problems arise; in the inner cities and depressed urban areas, and there are the proposals of the Government for improvements in the fields—I am very willing to put education first—of education and employment. Although it must be faced that unemployment in the inner cities, affecting the young immigrants in particular, is one of our serious problems. Of course I reaffirm his own commitment, as a devoted lover of the common law, to the whole concept of equality and to the honouring of commitments.

As to British nationality law, I am not sure that the present Government have been very much more laggard than their predecessor in this respect. But we have published the Green Paper—it is a complex matter. We have sought views and opinions on the matter, and we have been in close touch with Commonwealth Governments, who may have their own views. We hope to publish a white Paper setting out our practical and definite proposals as soon as practicable. I share the impatience of the noble and learned Lord about lack of reciprocity, and we have used what influence is available to us to discourage policies in other countries which have resulted in the rendering homeless of their inhabitants who may indeed have been there for decades, if not generations.

Lord Avebury also welcomed the Statement, and I share his recognition of the contribution that the immigrants have made. I am glad to note that he agreed with the major points that arise from that Statement. With regard to the queues to which he referred, it is true that there still are queues and delays, but much as been done in recent years to reduce them, without I think relaxing the necessary checks against attempted abuse. The queues fell throughout 1977, and so did average waiting times. I am grateful for the reception which the Statement has received.


My Lords, I wish briefly to add a few words to the welcome which has already been given to the Statement, for not only is it a humane document and a Statement which we were afraid might not come out as humanely as it has, but it seems to me to be a very wise Statement. We are going through a rather bad economic time at present, but we hope to get out of that and, when we do, we shall need these immigrants, as we have needed them before, to help in our economic progress.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her characteristic intervention, if I may say so; I know the work she does in the United Nations and has done for so long in this field, and the Government welcome her words.


My Lords, there is one point about which I should like a comment from my noble and learned friend. I welcome the Statement very much indeed, being myself the son of an immigrant, and I welcome the cool and rational language in which it is expressed. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, referred rightly to the highly charged atmosphere which surrounds this particular problem, and in this highly charged atmosphere words are enormously important. If some of those who have made recent statements about immigration had been a little more careful about the choice of the words they used, perhaps we should not have had what the noble Lord called the hysterical reaction.

On this point, may I ask my noble and learned friend whether in future Statements of this kind he would ask his colleagues in the Government to avoid words like "primary" and secondary "? Such words have a very clinical sound about them, and I know from experience that they cause a certain amount of offence, or if not offence then bewilderment. Statements of this kind are read very carefully by members of the Asian and African communities in this country. The noble and learned Lord himself subsequently used much more understandable phrases like "heads of households" and "dependants; perhaps we could stick to that kind of phraseology and avoid words like primary" and "secondary".


My Lords, I am certainly happy to take that advice from a great communicator, which know my noble friend Lord Jacobson has been throughout his distinguished career in Fleet Street and journalism. The point is well taken and I entirely agree with it.