Orders of the Day — Colonial Immigrants

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5 November 1954.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]

4.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Hynd Mr John Hynd , Sheffield, Attercliffe

The issue I propose to raise deserves a much fuller debate than is possible in half an hour. I regret this particularly because since the subject was put down a large number of hon. Members have indicated that they would like to take part in the debate. Again, it is unreasonable and impracticable to expect all the Ministers concerned to be present at an adjournment debate. For that reason, I am glad to see here the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs, because in the final result, and in spite of the varied problems raised under this head, it is the Colonial Office that must take the initiative and the responsibility.

One reason I have been anxious to deal with this subject as soon as possible is that other hon. Members have put down a series of Questions in the past and have had most unsatisfactory answers, or answers which do not show that the Government have any apprehension about the scope of the problem, or are doing anything about it. My Questions were mainly directed to the employment position, and to the need for some special arrangements to send the immigrants to the right places and the right jobs. The answer was that the labour exchanges were there.

Though there are a large number of points which one could raise, I shall confine myself to the most outstanding problems. For that reason, I do not propose to survey the matter in general, because I think it is pretty well known to most hon. Members.

There are approximately 11,000 to 12,000 of these coloured colonial immigrants pouring into the country every year. This year 8,000 have arrived already, and another 3,000 are expected before the end of the year. On one day recently no less than 700 em- barked from Jamaica without, so far as I know, any prospects of work, of housing accommodation or anything else.

The cause of the problem is very obvious and affects not only the West Indies but Africa, Pakistan and other territories. I think, however, that the primary cause is the influx of Jamaicans. They are emigrating from Jamaica because of over-population and unemployment there. On the other hand, here we have full employment—indeed, a shortage of labour in some cases—to which must be added the very great attraction of social security. The argument generally advanced by these colonial visitors is that they are British citizens, and that if they cannot get employment in their own country and there is a shortage of labour here, together with a social security system which they have not got, then they are entitled to come here.

No one disputes that argument, but there are several hundred millions of British subjects of different races and colours in various parts of the world, and it would not be possible to accept the implications of that argument if the problem got out of hand. It is worth noting that the conditions in Jamaica and elsewhere have been allowed to develop under our rule and control. It is, therefore, not enough merely to say that they must put up with the conditions in their own territory and that they cannot come here and benefit by our social security.

There is, however, the technical question vis-à-vis the many hundreds of millions of British citizens spread throughout the world, as to whether or not there should not be some kind of control or regulation over the rate of influx of these people. After all, I have been arguing, very cogently I hope, on many occasions the need for a good sound immigration policy in other British territories, such as Central Africa and Kenya, because of the dangers to the native population and to their standards and their rights of an uncontrolled influx of white British citizens into their lands. South Africa is an obvious example of the danger that may arise.

Therefore, it is not simply a matter of acting in our own interests; it is also in the interests of the immigrants and potential immigrants that we should examine very carefully whether there is not some way by which it can be better regulated, even if it is not necessary in any way to restrict it.

The first question is how that regulation can be brought about, and it is a ticklish question, but it must be done, if it is to be done, in some way which will not affect the principle of the right of these people to come to a country whose citizens they are. One must approach the question with an appreciation of what are the main problems created by this situation.

First, there is the question of employment, and here I must say that I have no evidence whatever that there exists any colour bar or any colour prejudice in the factories of this country. I could certainly say that in respect of Sheffield, but there is certainly a hesitation on the part of some employers and on the part of some workers to accept without some misgivings the necessity for large numbers of people who are not used to the conditions of the country or of the employment to come pouring into the works even during what may be a temporary condition of full employment.

In Sheffield, for example, up to 18 months ago, there was a large migration of Jamaicans and others who had been advised at the ports and in London that there was plenty of work in Sheffield and that they had better go there. They went there and found that the work available for them was labouring work in the steel works in very hot conditions, alternating with taking barrow-loads of material out into very cold conditions, and they could not stand it. If there is hesitation on the part of employers to employ one of these men instead of a local man who is used to the conditions, it is understandable, and no question of a colour bar comes into it.

Then there is the question of housing, and I should like the Minister to tell us whether he has inquired into the widespread exploitation of these unfortunate people, not only by British people but by some of their own co-nationals, who are buying up slum property in many cases and packing them into it. They tell them that they can get a maximum of 15s. a week, or whatever it is, from National Assistance towards the rent, and so these people are packed into what are in many cases condemned houses, the owners of which are making a very good thing out of it.

That is one problem, but there is another, because of the situation in regard to the allocation of council houses. Here again, it is not a question of a colour bar, but, in practically all our great communities, the allocation of council houses for letting is done on a basis of a period of residence and a period of registration. It is inevitable that these people will have a very slender chance of getting a house in these conditions. That means that the only possibility is that of buying a house, but that possibility is restricted to a very small number and gives to those who can raise the money a preference; alternatively, they must be packed into some kind of temporary hostels by people who wish to exploit them, and that is not a healthy situation.

Then, there are many social questions which we cannot possibly touch upon in the short time available this afternoon. They are the social questions which have nothing to do with colour, but are questions associated with any large settlement of virile young men removed from all social restraints, family, religious and others, in a foreign country, where they require relaxation, association with their own and the opposite sex and where, having lost all the restraints and restrictions which apply to them in their own family and religious circles, they are inclined to get into trouble. That, too, is not a colour bar.

Neither is the problem in the dance halls, where incidents have occurred in our provincial towns. In many cases a part colour bar has had to be imposed against people of a certain colour or type. In Sheffield, one dance hall which had freely allowed these boys in had quite a lot of trouble, and they have now had to impose the restriction that no coloured persons will be allowed in without partners of their own. That restriction has been generally accepted by the coloured people. It is a pity that such things have to be done, but that is not a colour bar. The fact is that these local dance halls have been generally set up for the purpose of allowing the local boys and girls to get together and enjoy themselves, and if these is a sudden influx of outsiders, whether they be Jamaicans, Poles, Welshmen or Irishmen, it upsets the balance and a great deal of adjustment has to be made.

These matters have to be properly understood. Much of the talk about a colour bar should be dropped. Of course, there are incidents. There are stupid people of all colours and races. I have met some stupid Jamaicans, and I can quite understand that some of them could easily cause trouble in any community, including their own.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Warrington

There are stupid ones in this House.

Photo of Mr John Hynd Mr John Hynd , Sheffield, Attercliffe

I shall not make the obvious comment upon that statement.

In the London County Council area there are no less than 300 coloured children, many of them illegitimate. It is impossible to get anyone to adopt them. Again, it is not because people do not like the colour of their skin; in fact, many people think that they are the most charming children of all. But when people consider the problem that arises when they have grown up sons and daughters, and all the difficulties associated with the adoption of such children, they naturally hesitate. These children are completely abandoned. Only the London County Council looks after them. This problem is becoming ever wider.

There are many things which could be done. In the Colonies the Colonial Office should establish a system for giving advice and guidance to these people before they leave their own countries. They could be encouraged or discouraged according to their suitability for the type of work available here. There should be similar advice and guidance staffs at our ports, working under the Secretary of State for the Colonies or someone else, to assist in the dispersal of these people by the Ministry of Labour to the right places and jobs. Ministry of Labour staffs should be set up for the purpose, and in the towns official as well as voluntary activities should be carried on to help these people settle into the community and prevent what happens now, namely, the springing up of a segregation system.

We should also have colonial welfare officers to ensure that these people are not exploited, and to assist them in questions of housing, work, education and social amenities, and the local organisations which already exist should be helped, encouraged and inspired to go on doing the work which they are already doing in this connection.

I want to refer to the position in Sheffield in case I am misunderstood. I am not saying that a great problem exists there. There are many thousands of these people in Sheffield today, but in the last 15 months all the difficulties appear to have been overcome. They are settling in. They are all employed. There are only six coloured people in Sheffield out of work today, and that is a normal number.

These Jamaicans are inter-marrying, and are accepted by the families of the girls they marry. They are dispersed throughout the community. There is no trouble of any kind at the present time. But what would happen should there be a recession in employment nobody knows. Quite naturally, these would be the people who probably in most cases would be the first to go, not because of any colour bar but because of the principle generally applied by trade union agreements, "Last in, first out." Should it happen, however, the question of the colour bar will be raised again, and that is why I am anticipating that difficulty and asking the right hon. Gentleman to make a clear pronouncement of what he is doing and proposing to do about it.

I hope that he will not reply merely by quoting a series of statistics and saying that the Government are fully conscious of the problem and that it is under active consideration. That is not enough. It is not enough for Parliament to depend on faith in the Executive. Parliament and the people of this country are very much concerned about this problem today, and we want from the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs a reassurance about what the Government are doing.

We want a statement of the concrete, positive plans that the Government may have in mind, and if they have not concrete, positive plans in mind adequate to deal with all the implications of the situation, I plead with the right hon. Gentleman at once to agree to the setting up of a public inquiry, as has been pressed upon him, so that the nation may know what is going on, what the problems are, and what the Government are proposing to do about them.

4.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Hopkinson Mr Henry Hopkinson , Taunton

I am sure the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) for raising this important topic today. Like him, I regret that we have not more time for a full debate upon it. The influx of Jamaicans and other immigrants from the West Indies has aroused great public interest and caused serious concern in many quarters. I myself have had a number of letters from Members of Parliament on the subject, particularly deploring the arrival of British citizens from overseas without adequate means of support or prospects of employment. I can assure the House that this matter and the problems that are arising from it are receiving very careful attention on the part of the Government.

Photo of Mr Tom Iremonger Mr Tom Iremonger , Ilford North

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it has been stated in the Jamaican Press very recently that the Government are encouraging people to come to this country from Jamaica and giving the impression that the way is wide open to thousands of "Dick Whittingtons?"

Photo of Mr Henry Hopkinson Mr Henry Hopkinson , Taunton

I saw that statement in the Press. As far as I know nothing has been done by the Government of Jamaica to encourage irresponsible emigration to this country. They actively discourage it.

Photo of Mr Henry Hopkinson Mr Henry Hopkinson , Taunton

I really must get on, for I have very little time. I must say a word or two about the background to the suggestion by the hon. Member for Attercliffe that some control ought to be exercised over the arrival of these people.

As the law stands, any British subject from the Colonies is free to enter this country at any time as long as he can produce satisfactory evidence of his British status. That is not something we want to tamper with lightly. In a world in which restrictions on personal movement and immigration have increased we still take pride in the fact that a man can say Civis Britannicus sum whatever his colour may be, and we take pride in the fact that he wants and can come to the Mother country.

Photo of Mr Henry Hopkinson Mr Henry Hopkinson , Taunton

That is another matter.

As the hon. Member for Attercliffe said, it may be that we may find ourselves forced into the position of introducing a measure of control over immigration, but this is a matter which concerns not only us and affects not only the Colonies. It affects the whole Commonwealth and raises all sorts of difficult questions and involves legislation. Therefore, this is not a matter I can properly discuss today.

I will now say a word about the magnitude and the nature of the problem as it affects the immigrants once they arrive in this country. There is no detailed information about the numbers involved up to June, 1951. Since then statistics show that in 1952 and in 1953 the number of West Indians was roughly equal, at slightly over 3,000. It has now jumped, as the hon. Gentleman said, to 8,000 in the first nine or 10 months of this year.

As far as we can understand, it is not due to any deterioration in conditions in Jamaica or the West Indies. On the contrary, conditions are improving there as a result of development and other factors. It is largely due to the additional transport facilities that have been made available simply because there is the demand for them.

The hon. Member asked me what arrangements are made for the reception of migrants at the points of arrival. What happens is that people either have addresses to which they can go or they are met by friends or relations who take them to the nearest employment exchange at the first opportunity. In addition, there is a welfare officer, appointed by the Jamaican Government, who meets every boat and is ready to assist any who have need of his assistance.

He and his assistants advise people on the best way to reach their destinations and how to contact the nearest employment exchange. They direct those who have no definite plans to places where they stand the best chance of employment. Once they are there, they register with the employment exchange and the matter, of course, becomes one for the Ministry of Labour. But, at the same time, the Colonial Office always remains ready to help any person who is transferring to a job in a different region and, in particular, where the normal facilities for getting accommodation are not open to him.

That really brings me to what is, at present at any rate, the most important social problem arising out of this influx of migrants. That is the shortage of suitable housing which results in large numbers of newcomers congregating in sub-standard houses and congested conditions which are liable to create tension and ill-feeling with the local residents. The shortage of housing is a national problem, but it is true that in certain areas—I see hon. Members opposite are well aware of them—local housing difficulties have been aggravated. It is not my particular field, but I understand that, so far, local authorities have found themselves powerless to provide an immediate remedy.

But I should like to say that, according to my information, it is not a fact, as has been stated sometimes, that overcrowding by Jamaicans in certain areas has been used to enable other Jamaicans to jump the housing queue. I have looked into that, and I am sure that is not so. Of course, in the long run this problem can only be solved by building more houses and I can assure hon. Gentlemen that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is very much alive to the question.

The hon. Member for Attercliffe referred to employment. Generally speaking, this does not at present constitute a serious problem and it is certainly not the Ministry of Labour's experience—and I am, again, speaking for another Department—that there is an increasing amount of discrimination against coloured workers by employers. I would like to say quite frankly we have very little evidence of the colour bar coming into this question. There have been isolated rows, but little more.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Robinson Mr Kenneth Robinson , St Pancras North

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree it is only labouring jobs which are open to these men and that many quite capable of doing skilled or semiskilled work do not get those opportunities? In particular, those who do clerical work have found it virtually impossible to find clerical jobs.

Photo of Mr Henry Hopkinson Mr Henry Hopkinson , Taunton

I have not had that point brought to my attention, but a very large proportion of these migrants are unskilled labour.

I would give two examples: the Birmingham City Transport undertaking now has 250 coloured conductors and our information is that they are giving satisfactory service. There is also an employment exchange in the Midlands which has placed trainee polishers, trainee hot-press operators, carpenters and engineering machinists, so some progress is being made. Even in the London area, where the main impact of the arrival of these immigrants has been felt, the position, according to my information, is well under control.

The hon. Member for Attercliffe asked what would happen in the case of a recession. I think the hon. Gentleman is right there, because the principle of last in first out would tend to apply. But in the present circumstances of a high level of employment I feel that this subject is academic and that there is no advantage in my going into it in greater detail today.

I was asked about the general subject of welfare and I have some information to give on the subject. The principal cities where these migrants have settled have displayed an active interest in their welfare and have taken steps to help the processes of assimilation. In the London boroughs, such as Lambeth and Kensington, the need for some active steps to bring West Indian migrants into contact with local residents has been realised and help is being given to them to adjust themselves to their new environment. Meetings, discussions and tea parties have been arranged and work is done by such voluntary bodies as the National Council of Social Service and the British Council of Churches, who have displayed great interest in this social problem and have sponsored committees to help deal with it.

It has also been realised that education is of the highest importance in helping this process of adjustment. I simply quote the example of Birmingham and Manchester, where the city councils have set up evening institutes to cater for the special requirements of the migrants. Both those institutes are doing very good work.

I was asked whether we would consider setting up a committee. That suggestion is already being considered by my Department and the other Departments concerned. We are not at the moment in a position to make a statement, but it is our intention to do so as soon as we have been able to go into all these intricate problems, involving the possibility of legislation, if that is thought necessary, to impose some measure of regulation or control upon this flow. There are other complicated questions which have been mentioned, involving the living conditions of the migrants once they arrive in this country.

Photo of Sir Edward Keeling Sir Edward Keeling , Twickenham

May we have an assurance that the statement about that committee will be made before we adjourn for Christmas?

Photo of Mr Henry Hopkinson Mr Henry Hopkinson , Taunton

I cannot give any assurance on that point this afternoon. In case hon. Members may think that we are merely giving this what is described as "active" consideration, I would explain that it is far more than that. We are very well aware of the importance of the problem, of its urgency and of the deep concern which it causes in many parts of the country and we are determined to press on with our work and to see that a satisfactory solution is evolved.

Photo of Mr Cuthbert Alport Mr Cuthbert Alport , Colchester

Although we appreciate his sympathetic answer, my right hon. Friend should realise that many hon. Members feel that a representative of the Home Office might have been present for this important debate and that, indeed, it might have been answered by a representative of that Department.

Photo of Mr Henry Hopkinson Mr Henry Hopkinson , Taunton

My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State to that Department offered to remain here, but I thought I should be able to carry on by myself.

4.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

I wish the Minister had been a little more specific in what he said. The problem is even more urgent than he has admitted it to be, for immigra- tion this year is proceeding at four times the rate of previous years and the problem is quadrupling in its impact. This makes it all the more important for the Government to show that they intend to bring the whole problem under control. It cannot be left to the voluntary efforts of local authorities, who are already overburdened by a multiplicity of duties. It is not fair to leave them to do the best they can in the face of this very serious problem.

The right hon. Gentleman should also bear in mind that there is competition between the various shipping lines for this trade, with undercutting of rates and foreign shipping lines competing. Some lines are offering the inducement that, if the migrants take passages with them, the shipping line will have a representative waiting for them at Waterloo to look after them and make the necessary arrangements. In view of these circumstances, we cannot leave it to uncoordinated and sporadic private enterprise to solve the problem as best they can. I hope that we shall shortly have a statement of the Government's intentions in the matter.

4.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tom Iremonger Mr Tom Iremonger , Ilford North

I am sure that we are all well aware of the problems of unemployment and overpopulation in the West Indies. I hope the House will bear in mind that, whatever the long-term solution may be, it will not be by wholesale immigration into this country, and that if we are to interchange population between the different parts of the Commonwealth we should be having migration from this country and not immigration into it.

I believe that unless action is taken to discourage people coming into this country we shall be fostering what is certainly now dangerous and may well prove in the future to be a delusion.

The Question having been proposed after Four o'Clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-nine Minutes to Five o'Clock.