Commonwealth Immigration

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd August 1965.

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Photo of Mr Herbert Bowden Mr Herbert Bowden , Leicester South West 12:00 am, 2nd August 1965

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

The Government have had under review the whole subject of Commonwealth immigration, including the control of entry into the United Kingdom and the integration of immigrants in this country into the community. A White Paper covering both these aspects is being issued this afternoon.

The Government have had the advantage of Lord Mountbatten's Report on his mission to the Commonwealth countries principally concerned, and the discussions which were held with some Commonwealth Prime Ministers when they were recently in London.

We recognise the very valuable contribution that workers from other parts of the Commonwealth are making to industry and the staffing of our social services: and visitors and students from other Commonwealth countries are always very welcome here. But nearly everyone, both in this country and in the Commonwealth as a whole, appreciates that there is a limit to the number of immigrants that this small and overcrowded country can absorb. We have come to the conclusion that new measures are necessary if that limit is not to be exceeded.

The Government have decided that there must be a reduction in the rate at which vouchers are issued to enable Commonwealth citizens to come here for employment and, as from today, the rate will be reduced from 20,800 a year to 8,500 a year. Within this figure, however, a temporary allocation of 1,000 vouchers a year, to be reviewed after two years, will be made available for Maltese workers in view of our special obligations to Malta.

Applications will continue to be entertained under Category B of the scheme for persons with certain special qualifications or skills, though on a more restricted basis than in the past. The remainder of the vouchers will be available under Category A—that is, for workers who, whatever their qualifications, have specific jobs to come to—subject to a limitation of 15 per cent. on the share of those to be issued to any one Commonwealth country. No vouchers have been isued since September, 1964, to applicants in Category C, i.e., the category for persons who wish to work here, but do not qualify under Categories A or B, and it has now been decided that no further vouchers will be issued to applicants in this category.

We propose no change in the present statutory rights of wives and children under 16 to accompany Commonwealth immigrants or to join them in this country; but, save in exceptional circumstances, we are withdrawing the present concession enabling any child aged 16, but under 18, to join a parent, and any child under 16 to join a close relative other than a parent, in this country. With a view to preventing evasion, immigration officers will be instructed to apply strict tests of eligibility to dependants and will take into account whether the would-be entrant produces on arrival an entry certificate issued in the country of origin.

It has further been decided that in future immigrants should normally be expected to produce evidence of having undergone a medical test in their own countries.

We shall also seek a wider power in the coming Session to secure that, at the discretion of the immigration authorities, any immigrant, including dependants, may be medically examined at the port of entry and may be required as a condition of admission to report to a medical officer of health with a view to medical treatment being arranged.

In addition, we shall seek new powers to combat evasion of the control, including an extension of the Home Secretary's power to repatriate Commonwealth citizens for this purpose.

It is a cardinal principle of the Government's policy on Commonwealth immigration that immigrants have exactly the same rights and responsibilities as any other citizens.

At the same time, it is recognised that the presence in this country of a number of immigrants with differing cultural and social backgrounds, and in particular their concentration in a few areas where there is already a housing shortage and pressure on the social services, have given rise to a number of difficulties. The main problems are referred to in the White Paper under the four broad headings of housing, education, employment and health. There is no dramatic short-term solution to any one of them, but we are determined to do what we can to speed up the processes whereby Commonwealth immigrants are fully accepted into our community and the present difficulties are resolved.

We recognise that there are certain special pressures on the social services in some areas, not just because of an increase in numbers, but because of differences in language and cultural background. These special difficulties can require the employment of additional staff who can, for example, speak one or more of the immigrants' languages or who can do the extra work involved in providing a link between the school and the immigrants' homes. Where the need can be shown, we shall be prepared to give financial assistance to local authorities to employ such staff.

The key to removing social tension lies in action at the local level in which the local authority, the voluntary organisations and the immigrants themselves are all fully involved. The Government have been much impressed by the valuable contribution being made by the voluntary liaison committees in certain areas. The Government hope that similar committees will now be set up in other areas where immigrants have settled, but where no such committees as yet exist. As evidence of our intention to encourage these committees in their work, we shall be prepared, in certain circumstances, to make a grant available to voluntary liaison committees towards the salary of a trained, full-time, paid official.

While recognising that local conditions vary, the Government consider that there is also a need for closer co-ordination of effort on a national basis. To this end we propose to establish a new National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants which will be composed of individuals who are able to bring special knowledge and experience to bear on the problems arising from Commonwealth immigration. This will replace the existing National Committee. It will be the function of the new Committee to co-ordinate the work of voluntary liaison committees, to extend the range of existing information work, to organise conferences, arrange training courses, stimulate research and the examination by expects of particular problems and generally to promote and co-ordinate effort on a national basis.

The Government wish to pay tribute to the valuable work of the Commonwealth Immigrants Advisory Council under the chairmanship of Lady Reading. We have, however, decided that the advice which the Council has hitherto made available to the Government can in future be most effectively provided as part of the work of the new National Committee. We therefore intend that the functions of the Council should now be included in those of the new Committee.

The Government are determined to ensure that Commonwealth immigrants are absorbed into our community without friction and with mutual understanding and tolerance. We believe that we shall be fully supported by public opinion and can rely on the full co-operation of all the national organisations, local authorities and voluntary organisations and of the immigrants themselves.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

May I put three points to the Leader of the House on that statement?

First, would the right hon. Gentleman accept from us that we on this side of the House will certainly support any reasonable steps for improving the lot of those immigrants who are here?

Secondly, while we recognise that, so far as we have been able to study it, the statement goes a long way towards a drastic reduction in the number of immigrants, could the right hon. Gentleman give us some information as to the split between A and B vouchers which he envisages and the total number of those who will come in under the plans he has announced? Would he accept that we on this side would put priority in favour of uniting families over and above and ahead of importing new male workers?

Thirdly, do I understand from the right hon. Gentleman's reference to new powers being taken that the Government intend to introduce new legislation, going in some respects further than the Commonwealth Immigrants Act? If so, will it be laid before us as soon as the House resumes?

Photo of Mr Herbert Bowden Mr Herbert Bowden , Leicester South West

To deal with the last point first, it is necessary, of course, to review Part I of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act before 31st December this year. We shall take the opportunity in the autumn of so amending that as to take the new powers required under my statement. We accept and appreciate that the Opposition will help us on the question of immigrants who are already living here and on integration. There is a great deal of work to be done; it will be uphill work and will probably take a long time.

On the question of allocation of new vouchers—8,500, of which 1,000 are for Maltese—the allocation of the vouchers over the last two years under A and B, slightly over 5,000 have taken up B. We do not assume that there will be any difference under the new arrangement, which will mean something like 2,000 under A.

It is our endeavour, too, to unite families. We want them to be immigrants' families, with wives and children under 16 years of age. As the House is aware from the statement which was made by the Home Secretary earlier this year, there have been 9,000 to 10,000 evasions. It is evasion which we regard it as important to prevent.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

Is the Leader of the House aware that this would seem to be a quite large departure from the previous policy of the Government? May I ask him how the figure of 8,500 is arrived at? Is it approved by the Mountbatten Report? Secondly, is it intended to cut the number of white immigrants or only of the coloured immigrants? Thirdly, will he bear in mind that over 19,000 aliens were permitted to arrive in this country in 1964, and that 42,000 work permits for aliens were issued? Is it intended to cut the alien intake as well?

Photo of Mr Herbert Bowden Mr Herbert Bowden , Leicester South West

One has to compare like with like. The Commonwealth immigrant who arrives here with or without his family is allowed to settle at once. The alien is allowed to settle after four years. So it is not really comparing like with like to compare work permits with vouchers. During the last full year, 1964, 55,900 Commonwealth immigrants settled. There were fewer than 20,000 aliens who settled in that year. That is the figure in any year. One has to relate the figures to actual settlers, and not the numbers who come in for seasonal work. Many aliens who come in with work permits come in for only a matter of months—in fact, 75 per cent.—and they return in the first year.

With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman said about a change of policy of the Government, I think that he is referring to 1962. He will recall that at that time we were discussing entry into the Common Market, when any alien would be free to enter this country in any circumstances.

Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

But how is the figure of 8,500 arrived at?

Photo of Mrs Lena Jeger Mrs Lena Jeger , Holborn and St Pancras South

Would my right hon. Friend say, first, whether his statement today has any relevance to immigrants from Eire? Secondly, will he say whether these proposals were discussed and agreed with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers? Thirdly, will he say whether the effect of these new proposals is to put citizens of the British Commonwealth at a disadvantage as compared with aliens applying to come here? For instance, are the new health checks to apply equally to aliens, or is it to be easier in future for an Italian waiter, who may have fought against this country, to come to work in Soho and to settle here, than for a British Commonwealth citizen who may have fought on our side?

Photo of Mr Herbert Bowden Mr Herbert Bowden , Leicester South West

I omitted to answer the question by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) on the figure of 8,500. It is difficult to arrive at any figure that is acceptable here to everyone concerned, but the Government's view was that we had to reach a figure at this stage which would be fair both to the countries of the Commonwealth and our own. Our figure of 8,500 was the sort of figure we thought reasonable at this stage, taking into consideration the ability of this country to absorb more immigrants.

To reply to my hon. Friend, the position is that citizens of the Republic of Eire are already included under the Commonwealth Immigrants Act—Parts I and II—but because of the practical difficulties, and they are great, it has never been possible to apply it.

My hon. Friend must be aware that the Mountbatten Mission went out specifically to get the views of the Commonwealth and that discussions took place with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers at their conference. The final decision must rest with Her Majesty's Government here, but the Commonwealth and Colonial Governments have been advised of the statement which I have made today.

As to the balance of advantage which my hon. Friend feels aliens may have over Commonwealth immigrants, I would point out that many more Commonwealth immigrants are permitted to settle, and they settle at once and not in four years. Aliens have to register with the police; Commonwealth immigrants do not. Alien visitors are allowed for three months only; Commonwealth immigrants have full citizenship at once, and have the vote which they can use if they wish. Commonwealth immigrants automatically become citizens of the United Kingdom after five years, whereas aliens have to apply for naturalisation.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

Without wishing to criticise the statement, at any rate till we have had a chance to consider it fully, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he recollects that about 16 months ago, on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, the present Prime Minister led an attack and divided the House against it on the argument that quotas and control arrangements could be satisfactorily worked out by mutual agreement within the Commonwealth if only fresh negotiations and consultations were undertaken with Commonwealth Governments? How wrong he was!

Photo of Mr Herbert Bowden Mr Herbert Bowden , Leicester South West

If the right hon. Gentleman will turn up the debates at that time he will find that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it quite clear that the question was one of consultation with the Commonwealth. We have endeavoured to consult, through the Mountbatten Mission and in discussions with the Prime Ministers at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

Photo of Dr David Kerr Dr David Kerr , Wandsworth Central

Will my right hon. Friend agree that his statement is grave and bitter disappointment to a number of us on this side who fought the recent election in constituencies containing a high proportion of Commonwealth immigrants and did so without finding it necessary to sacrifice the principles we held to for so long?

Will he tell the House what will be the Government's attitude over the very widely differing patterns of marital and personal relationships which prevail throughout the Commonwealth and what would be a fair basis for admissions of families?

Would he also tell the House what special arrangements are in hand to deal with the quite unusually difficult problem of admitting 1,000 Maltese a year?

Photo of Mr Herbert Bowden Mr Herbert Bowden , Leicester South West

If my hon. Friend fought the last General Election on the same manifesto as I fought it, he fought in favour of controlled immigration. The Home Secretary has very much in mind the differences in marital status between different nationalities. Provided that they are the wives and children under 16 of immigrants, there will be no difficulty whatsoever.

There were special obligations to the Maltese when Malta became independent, and because of our changed defence arrangements in Malta.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that instructions will be issued to immigration officials to enforce these new regulations, certainly totally, but also with humanity and compassion? Secondly, can he assure the House that no special powers of deporting Commonwealth citizens without the intervention of the courts are intended to be created by the Government by legislation?

Photo of Mr Herbert Bowden Mr Herbert Bowden , Leicester South West

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that immigration officials will be instructed to deal humanely with immigrants. The object is to prevent evasion, and not to keep out legitimate wives and children. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary already has the right to refuse entry to immigrants. He proposes to take powers, to be used very sparingly, so that if, within the first six months of their residence here, they are found to have evaded the immigration laws in coming in, they may be repatriated.

Photo of Dr Shirley Summerskill Dr Shirley Summerskill , Halifax

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the necessity for medical examination will be warmly welcomed, but that if it is to operate effectively it will require a big increase in the number of doctors in Britain, and also aid from Britain to the underdeveloped countries to improve their medical services if tests are to be carried out there?

Photo of Mr Herbert Bowden Mr Herbert Bowden , Leicester South West

Many of the Commonwealth countries have already offered this facility of medical examination at source, that is, in the immigrant's home country. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will seek powers to carry out a further medical test if he feels that this is desirable. The reason for that is that there will be a certainty of a medical test where it is felt that it is necessary.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

In connection with the people arriving here as students, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is intended to set up some organisation to make sure that they report to a school or college for training? Secondly, is it possibly intended to have a permit which lasts throughout the training so that at least a good proportion of these students go back to the country from whence they came, to better the standard of living and the skills of those countries?

Photo of Mr Herbert Bowden Mr Herbert Bowden , Leicester South West

We are anxious to welcome as many students here as possible. We want to ensure that they are, in fact, students. This is where part of the evasion has taken place. Those who are genuine students—and in this respect we shall secure the help of the High Commissioners in many cases, and that of the educational establishments to which they prefer to go—will be permitted to stay for the duration of their studies. At the end of their studies, when they have obtained their qualifications, if they wish to remain in this country as residents, or to seek work, they will have to obtain one of the vouchers which may be available.

Photo of Mr David Ennals Mr David Ennals , Dover

Would my right hon. Friend be prepared to go a little further with regard to the reunification of families? Is he aware how strongly hon. Members on both sides of the House feel about the importance of this? My right hon. Friend mentioned wives and children. Will immigration officials sometimes be prepared to consider allowing "grannies" or dependent younger sons to come in? Would not he agree that it is important that real dependants should be brought in?

Photo of Mr Herbert Bowden Mr Herbert Bowden , Leicester South West

The House should be aware of what has been happening here. Many young men of 18 to 20 who have come in as part of a family to take up work here have not been members of a family. Our object is to make sure that those who come in are members of a family. The question of grandmothers and other relatives is one for the Home Secretary. Compassion will no doubt take its proper place, but it should be understood that we could not accept a number of uncles who might want to come here and seek work, and so avoid having to obtain vouchers.

Photo of Mr Nigel Fisher Mr Nigel Fisher , Surbiton

While specifying an exact and perhaps arbitrary number of new entrants may be a little rigid, would the right hon. Gentleman accept that many, I hope most, hon. Members on this side of the House, as well as on the benches opposite, can accept the broad outline of his statement, and in particular the inherent right of a man to have his wife and children living with him? Is it too much to hope that in future this issue, admittedly inherently political, can be kept out of divisive party politics in this country?

Photo of Mr Herbert Bowden Mr Herbert Bowden , Leicester South West

I was under the impression that during the last debate on this subject, earlier in the year, the House had more or less agreed that—certainly between the two Front Benches.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

We must pass on to the other business of the House.

Photo of Mr Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, as I have raised this matter in the House over the last 12 years, and as the House and hon. Gentlemen opposite have come to the point that I have been advocating during that time, would you give me permission to ask a question on the right hon. Gentleman's statement?

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

I am always sorry when I have to do this, but so many Members want to ask questions, and have justifiable reasons for wanting to do so, that I have to harden my heart, however painful it may be.