That emphasises, Mr. Speaker, the sense of guilt which I have about being here at all. I do not know why I suffer a sense of guilt, but I begin with a sincere apology to the Under-Secretary of State, who is among the most hard-working Ministers on the Government Front Bench, for keeping him out of bed to answer the debate at this hour of the morning.
It is not entirely my fault because, thank heavens, I am not responsible for the fatuous way in which the Government arrange business. There were some exchanges on Monday with the Home Secretary on the subject of Commonwealth immigration when the Home Secretary announced the urban programme. They were necessarily brief exchanges and incomplete. I thought that we should not break up for 10 weeks or so without attempting to clarify a little further what our policy should be on a matter of such great public concern.
We should not under-rate—I know that the Under-Secretary does not—or misunderstand the public concern. My reading of the public attitudes is that the majority are fundamentally not intolerant about the coloured minority settled here. They are most willing to accept the law against discrimination, and in saying, as we all do in the House, that we will not support the creation of second-class citizens, we carry them with us. But they are deeply concerned about the high and continuing influx, now at a rate, as I calculate it, of not less than 50,000 a year net increase. This is a rate which, as they see it, could, in another decade, add another half to what is already a formidable social challenge, leaving aside the natural increase amongst those already here. Again, they question whether we have a clear sense of direction—whether, indeed, we are in control of events.
These are not unreasonable doubts. They should not be exaggerated or in- flamed. But nor, most emphatically, should they be ignored. My estimate is that we have about 1,200,000 coloured immigrants. I am sure that most of them are here to stay. It is equally clear that, under present policies, inevitably this figure will get a lot higher. There is no easy way out and it is the height of political irresponsibility to encourage any belief that there is. Voluntary repatriation—anything but voluntary would be unthinkable—may achieve results but it would be unwise to put them too high. I do not ignore the possibilities but I do not inflate them.
Similarly, I completely reject the idea of a total halt or even a total moratorium on all immigration. It would be morally indefensible and politically impossible. It would be both these things not least because we have, at least in the past, encouraged these immigrants. We have recruited them. Immigration has not been a crime and cannot retrospectively be made one. None of these facile solutions can contribute much to a solution of the problem and we should not mislead people into thinking they can. The Government's task is to control the entry of immigration
… so that it does not outrun the Britain's capacity to absorb them …
as the White Paper on Immigration, Command 2739, published in 1967, puts it.
I shall not enter into the semantics of the word "capacity" but I am clear that it is a psychological if not a physical limit. I am also clear that we are close to that now. I accept the Home Secretary's view that the present rate of influx will tend to decrease. It has decreased. But we are still left with a formidable number arriving.
It is difficult to establish a firm measure, for example, not least because the only returns embrace the whole Commonwealth. In 1967 they are masked to a certain extent by a mass exodus of Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. We can say with certainty that we admitted for settlement 61,000 in 1967 and about 11,000 students on top of that. In the first five months of this year, 23,196 have been admitted, which, conservatively means about 50,000 a year. Of that total, 2,054 have been holders of vouchers and 19,847 dependants. So the pattern remains that the number of dependants is running at about 10 times the number of voucher holders. We know why that is and I expect that the major change which has been made could alter this pattern.
Vouchers issued in 1965 totalled nearly 13,000. In 1966 the number was 5,461. Last year the number was 4,716 and this year, at the present rate, the figure will be about the same at last year's. As time passes the annual level of about 40,000 dependants will, in respect of voucher holders already here, taper off, but I question whether it will taper off very quickly If the Home Office has made projections for the years immediately ahead, the House would be interested to have the figures.
We do not have as firm a control over this matter as we should have. No doubt the Under-Secretary will say that we have closed some loopholes with the 1968 Act. While that is true, it would be unwise to assume that serious loopholes and abuses do not still exist. The published figures do not cover the whole picture. Having studied the problem in recent months, I suggest that the pressures to get here, particularly from Asia, India and Pakistan, are undiminished. The wish to come here is as strong as ever and this means that the people concerned are alert to any legitimate opening which presents itself.
For example, does the Home Office know how many young men from Asia have applied for entry this year on grounds of having fiancees in this country? This is a movement which needs to be watched. I do not wish to exaggerate the position, but I know that a number of men are coming here—I appreciate the terms on which they are allowed to enter —because they are seeking to marry girls in this country and are claiming that they have fiancees here. Are the Government satisfied that the checks onbona fide visitors provide sufficient proof? Do they know how many students—there were 11,000 last year—are settling here? Do they share my impression that a high proportion of dependants, even since the passing of the 1968 Act, are children near the 16 years of age mark? I will return to this subject.
I have seen a little of the operation of immigration control. I do not underrate the capacity of the immigration officers but, whatever we do, much lies within their discretion. However, we frame legis- lation and regulations, many decisions rest with them and I therefore question whether the task that has been given to them is a fair one. How, for example, can they positively ascertain whether all the children are sons and daughters of the families claiming them? As things are, far too much must be decided on judgment, which means that there is either too much latitude or, occasionally, injustice.
At this hour I will not spend time on the nuts and bolts of immigration control. There are bigger issues to be resolved and there is a matter of machinery which I must press. It is time that we made entry certificates mandatory. This has long been agreed as desirable and at present only one in five Commonwealth immigrants use the entry certificate. I followed closely the arguments adduced by Sir Roy Wilson about a year ago, although his argument against making the entry certificate mandatory was not complete.
He said that when we do this we are asking people to do what foreigners do not have to do, namely, carry a visa on their passports. The short answer is that there are controls over the foreigner coming in which are not exercised over the Commonwealth citizen, and we are not comparing like with like. I urge that action on those lines be taken as soon as possible. I have learned enough about this to appreciate the complexity of immigration control, and the folly of making apparently simple demands. There are some questions which the Government must face.
First there is the matter of vouchers. Some would like to see the end of "A" vouchers, relating to the unskilled, and entry limited to "B" vouchers, for those with skills. At a pinch I could accept the proposition on "A" vouchers, but certainly not that on the "B" vouchers. Simply to take skills we want, and reject everything else, would be a policy devoid of moral basis. The question is: do we continue to regard such entry as entry for settlement, or ought we to consider applying a term to it? I realise that it would involve a change in the British Commonwealth Acts, but we should surely consider the possibility of allowing British citizens to come here to learn skills, as they do now, but without necessarily acquiring the right to settle here permanently?
Is there not a case for saying that this highly sophisticated and industrial island has much to offer, and should accord Commonwealth citizens, particularly those from the poorer parts, the chance to benefit without acquiring permanent residence? Such an approach would have many advantages, because it would allow a much freer traffic among Commonwealth citizens without the anxiety which thede facto right to settle now creates. In the long run it would bring benefits to the Commonwealth, to which our present policy offers little.
Our policy towards dependants has to be considered from our view, not theirs. Can we go on admitting voucher holders without some regard to the number of dependants, and the respective dates of their arrival? Ought we not to require some voucher holders to register those particulars? Is it sensible to bring in a high proportion of young people, on the edge of the labour market, for settlement, without one day's education in this country? This was a matter on which the former Home Secretary expressed considerable anxiety last November, when expiring laws were being discussed.
I agree that the Act has since lowered the limits generally, though not in every case, from 18 to 16. I am also aware of the difficulty of imposing a limit lower than 16, but at least we ought to consider whether it is advisable for so many young people, on the boundaries of 16, to enter the country without education here, and secondly whether, by some fiscal or other means, we could find a way of reducing the number of "elderly teenagers", coming here principally for jobs.
Thirdly, ought we continually to allow immigrants to arrive, and freely gravitate towards areas of their choice, almost certainly to areas of highest concentration? It is imperative that we ensure, not merely that the immigrant has a job open to him, or a place where his skill will be needed, but a place where suitable accommodation, by our standards, is available. It must be determined and related to dependants before entry. Here we touch one of the most sensitive and psychological factors. For many of the indigenous population lack of a home is still the acutest form of social distress. If we bring in numbers of people for whom we lack suitable accommodation, we shall change that distress into something much more acute and perilous. That brings one back to entry certificates and the part which they will have to play. If these arrangements are properly administered, they will involve a delay in the entry of those coming here. But emigrants from this country to other Commonwealth countries sometimes spend months, even years, preparing their journey and making their arrangements, and by comparison—I have heard this said by immigrants—our arrangements appear easy-going, even slapdash.
To say that we need these immigrants, as I believe we do, is no answer because our needs should not lead to arrangements which militate against the immigrants as much as against the indigenous population. None of these policies can be sensibly examined, worked out and put into effect without more information than we have. Our information is frankly deficient. I should like to see the registration of all prospective dependants, not simply as a disciplinary or control exercise, but to give us the facts which we simply must have on which to base a rational policy. I accept that this would mean a bigger bureaucracy than we have now. I am not in the least frightened of accepting or advocating that, because we must get our priorities right.
This is now, and will continue to be, probably our most difficult social problem, and if we are to avoid the troubles which can be discerned on the horizon we must get a system of control which is seen to work effectively. The present system is not thus seen. It leaves far too much to chance. The public are sensible of its deficiencies, and the public are right. Their disquiet must not be dismissed as mere prejudice. If we ran aliens control in this way we would have trouble. We have avoided trouble in respect of aliens all my life because we do not run the aliens system in this way.
Ministers and Members must be a little humble about this. The public are not altogether wrong in their uneasy feeling that matters are not as much within our control as we sometimes have them believe. We should be open to a fundamental reappraisal of our immigration policies—I have mentioned directions in which our thinking should go—and we should not allow extremists on either side to deter us. The trouble with extremists is that they sometimes tend to harden and rigidity official attitudes instead of rendering them more amenable. With that in mind I have tried to put as reasonably as I can some of the options which lie open to us.
Speaking on a subject as large and serious as this at this hour does not encourage one to be prolix. Also it makes it easier for us to try to emulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) in approaching this subject on a fairly low key and in as moderate and unemotional way as possible.
My right hon. Friend said—and we would agree with him—that he felt that it would not be right to adjourn for a long Recess without having had a chance to ventilate some of the disquiet which still exists in this country and to give the Government a chance to dilate. My right hon. Friend is clearly right in saying that the public are still deeply disturbed about the quantity aspect of immigration and about the measures for control— whether they are strict enough or enforceable even in their own terms. One can do no more—we have done it before, but we must do it again—than beg the Government to believe that those of us who have tried to express the public's disquiet about these matters are not actuated by motives of hostility to immigrants and are not doing anything but trying to help the Government and local authorities and all men of good will to solve peacefully a problem which will increasingly become one of stress and disquiet.
I do not believe that the Government have any hope of making a race relations and conciliation machinery or any form of legislation work, unless the confidence of the people in immigration control can be secured. This confidence is essential to willing co-operation in amicable race relations.
The arguments which have been used against those of us who have repeatedly warned of the public disquiet and of the perhaps increasingly unpleasant forms it might take if reassurances were not forthcoming are wearing increasingly thin. I ask any hon. Gentleman if he could lay his hand on his heart and say, if he were back now 15 years ago in the early or middle 1950s and knew then what would be the numbers coming to Britain 15 years ahead from then and what would be the total number of coloured immigrants in 1968, that he would then have acquiesced in the nature, level and pace of control measures which were then being so leisurely discussed and so belatedly and, in my view, inadequately introduced. I cannot believe that there is anyone who could honestly say that he would then have contemplated with equanimity the situation which has now arisen.
If that is so, as I honestly believe that it is, the responsibility is even stronger for the Government, and indeed for all of us, to look now at the situation ahead and so say, "If we were wrong then", as we all were, "are we likely to be right when we view the present situation with equanimity?", bearing in mind that it is the fears of the people that have to be allayed if race relations are to be conducted as we want them to be conducted.
The arguments are wearing a little thin. It is no good any more telling people that the proportion of coloured immigrants is only 2 per cent. of the total population and that it will be only 4 per cent. at the end of the century, because this sounds a little hollow in urban areas where the population is 50 per cent. This is where the shoe pinches. It is no good producing the old arguments about the economic need for immigrants in industries where we have seen that the availability of cheap labour has served as a substitute for courage and inventiveness in the application of capital investment to save labour or for a real determination to take possibly unpopular decisions of rationalisation in the labour-intensive industries.
To say that we need unskilled immigrants is to beg so many economic questions that I think, knowing the overmanning that exists over a wide section of British industry, that it would be a brave man who could say with certainty that we need them. One has only to look at the position in London Transport and in some of the foundries in Birmingham to see that it is at least a highly arguable proposition.
We need doctors and nurses. But again, who can strike the balance sheet accurately and say that, if we had been prepared to take some courageous decisions to train doctors and nurses from under-developed countries and encourage them to go back to the countries which need them even more than we do, we would not have kept more of our own doctors in this country who have been emigrating to Canada at a disturbing rate during the last 10 or 15 years?
I do not want to detain the House any longer. I beg the Government to recognise that the complacency which some hon. Members and some official spokesmen have shown towards this problem has its own dangers and, if they really want a state of peaceful, fruitful co-operation in race relations in this country in future, people's fears about future numbers and the adequacy of control must be allayed now.
If I cannot address the House with the same ability as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude), I hope that I can do so with no less sincerity in the desire to analyse and to resolve what I think we all now accept as a major social problem.
It has not always been so. In many quarters, not just on the part of the Government, there has been a hypocritical view about immigration. There has been the attitude of saying, "Do not look and it will go away." But that has added to the problem and to the tensions.
The problem is not one of colour— of course, that enters into it—but of social habit and social consequences upon such matters as housing, schools, social welfare, social benefits and the like. It has also been accentuated by abuses in the entry system. Thes are matters which I have been endeavouring to probe in the comparatively short time that I have been a Member of this House. I have met with some resistance in those probes. I have been told, and it has been implied, that I was being a naughty boy to touch on such subjects. But they are real problems, particularly in my constituency. I know that the Undersecretary has recently visited Leicester, so he will be aware of the problems.
I will give some brief illustrations of the problems that arise to see how proposals may ameliorate them in future. First, maternity hospitals. Young married women in Leicester—born and brought up there—have found, having set up nice, comfortable homes with their husbands, that, when they want to have their first babies, they are unable to get into a hospital unless they are a priority case on medical or on sociological grounds. But the majority of young mothers are unable to get into hospitals because, on sociological and medical grounds, priority has to be given to those whose home conditions are not suitable. That means they do not go to the type of person I am talking about. This has built up much resentment.
When I asked about the figures some time ago I was told that such figures were not kept. I can understand why. But I wish to stress that hiding away or not looking at the problem has accentuated it.
We get the same problem with social benefits. There is much feeling—probably grossly exaggerated—that social benefits are taken in excess by the immigrants who come here. Information about that, too, is not available, and I think that this has added to the tension and misunderstanding.
There is also trouble in the schools. Up to 1967, the latest year for which figures are available, 55 per cent. of the children at primary schools were immigrants, with the problems of language, and so on, which leads to resentment and misunderstanding. Yet, at this time when we have so much overcrowding in the schools, about which the hon. Gentleman knows, the school building programme has been slashed. This has caused great bitterness and much unfairness, and I hope that the Minister will say something about that when he replies to the debate.
We have had, too, the abuse of the entry conditions, and the feeling that these abuses were not being investigated. Reference has been made to fiancées coming to this country. I obtained figures of entry, or conditional entry, permits for people coming in on condition that they got married within six months of their entry. The figure for the 12 months to 30th June, 1967, was 2,494. I asked how many of those had fulfilled the condition and got married, and how many who had not fulfilled the condition had been returned home. I was told that no statistical record was kept of that.
I believe that there has been a grave abuse of this entry condition by so-called fiancées. I have sent the hon. Gentleman details of a number of cases, which I know he has investigated, but these are only the tip of the iceberg. As I said earlier, in the year to June, 1967, about 2,494 came in, but there are no statistics relating to them. I believe that this is a door which should be closed.
What should be done now? I go all the way with my right hon. and hon. Friends in what they have said, and I shall not go over the same ground except to emphasise one or two points. I believe that for the time being there should be no more entry work vouchers. We must stop and draw breath until we can see the size of the problem, and how to deal with it.
I believe that we must also pause while we take stock of the number of dependants who come in. I share the views of my hon. Friends about dependants coming in, except that here we have an obligation, but we must know how many there will be. It is reasonable and proper that every person who has been admitted to this country should be asked to say how many dependants he claims will qualify, and whom he wishes to come to this country. He should give sufficient basic information to enable the dependency to be verified, and details of age, and so on, to be ascertained. This will cause delay, but this will be a small price to pay.
With that information—for which I suggest there should be a time limit of, say, six months—we would be able to assess, first, the number who want to come in, and, secondly, we would be able to assess the areas likely to be affected, because we would know that people in the Leicester area, or the Birmingham area, or wherever it is, have so many dependants whom they want to bring in.
With that information we can make some provision. We want to know the ages of the children for school places. We can then see whether we have the resources to meet this requirement and do something about it. We should also consider the granting of conditional or limited entry vouchers. I see no reason for drawing a distinction between the conditions of entry for aliens and people from the Commonwealth. I recognise the historic ties between ourselves and the Commonwealth, and there may be a need for some distinction but the problem is such that entry on the same sort of conditions as apply to aliens, which would permit people to come here to learn or hire or apply their skills for a limited period, with a right to apply for residence, with discretionary power for the Government to grant or refuse it, is a reasonable provision, which would go a small way to removing some of our present problems.
We should also encourage and assist those prepared to return home. There will not be many, but there are some whom we could with advantage both to their home country and ourselves give some encouragement to go back. But we should not just think of those here. We have talked about "A" and "B" vouchers. It would be wrong to admit the skilled but keep out the unskilled. It is right that those who come here with enterprise and skills should be enabled, helped, encouraged and persuaded to learn to apply those skills for the benefit of the millions of their countrymen whom they have left behind. If we denude those countries of these people we are doing no service to them. This can go a little way towards helping to solve the immigrant problem.
There should also be a review of the distribution of social benefits. There is a general belief that this is abused. I do not know whether it is true or false. We have been told in general terms that the social contributions made by immigrants are greater than the benefits they are drawing, but this is not the general impression given by people where tension is building up. More frankness would help. By announcing his proposals for aid to these areas the Home Secretary to some extent acknowledged that there was a drain on social benefits in the areas affected. This point requires examination.
These are the main causes of the troubles and some ways in which they could be reduced. A great deal has been said about the problem in the past few months, and we now need some action.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has performed a valuable service by challenging the Government's immigration policy on this occasion. That challenge seemed all the more effective for its studied moderation. My right hon. Friend showed beyond dispute that the present control is not effective, that the formidable numbers which still come in are greater than our people can absorb without aggravating the shortage of houses and the position in schools, hospitals and maternity homes. Above all, my right hon. Friend has pointed out that the Government have failed to carry out even their own policy as set out in the White Paper of August, 1965, which he quoted.
I suggest that in this, as in all other matters our first duty is to our present constituents, wherever they may have come from. Our aim, I hope, is to help all of them to obtain an ever-improving standard of living. But, with the best will in the world, that is made more difficult if considerable unspecified net increases in the number of immigrants are to take place each year. Especially is it made more difficult in those towns and cities which already have large numbers of immigrants.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman) seemed to me to go to one of the most crucial parts of the problem when he referred to the need for the registration of dependants of those already here. If such registration were to take place, we could at least measure the size of this large and so far open ended commitment without departing from any principle. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will on this occasion give a sympathetic hearing to that suggestion.
My right hon. Friend has already shown that the 1968 Act has had only marginal effect on the numbers coming in. By the time we have the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill in the late autumn we shall have an even clearer picture of what is happening; we shall by then have had at least six months experience of control under the new Act. We shall also have a clearer picture of the need for further legislation and of more effective administration. Meanwhile, I hope that the Under-Secretary will assure the House and the country that the Government will accept and implement their own White Paper of nearly three years ago, and will do us the courtesy of considering the Conservative Party's detailed policy on immigration control.
My hon. Friend the Member for Strat-ford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) said so rightly that we, that is Parliament, must secure the confidence of the people. I suggest in all seriousness that we are more likely to do so if the Government steal the Conservative Party's policy on immigration than if they reject it. Above all, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell us that he, too, is grateful to my right hon. Friend, and that after this debate, whatever he may find himself able or unable to say during it, he will get busy on the valuable suggestions made by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
I at once say that I welcome the opportunity given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) to deal with this important question. The right hon. Gentleman does not have to apologise to me or, I think, to the House, for having us up at this time of night, or day.
These are important questions. They are questions that divide parties and people, and the Opposition party here, as in the country, is divided on the issue of immigration control. Some would like to stop all coloured immigration— no more voucher holders, no more dependants. The hon. Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman) suggested that there should be some temporary hold up of dependants. But there are other hon. Members opposite, like the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) who would certainly like to see a total stop. There are others who want to maintain control but take a limited number of people on vouchers and, more important, to retain the right of dependants, wife and children up to age 16, to join the father in this country. This, of course, is the policy of the Government. I do not believe that there is a great difference between the policy of the Opposition Front Bench and of the Government on this issue. Neither do I think we should seek to create difficulties. Some proposals have been put forward by the Conservative Party and the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to them as Conservative Party policy on immigration. I should like to look at that in answering the debate and I hope that soon there will be an opportunity for my right hon. Friend's proposal for an all-party Select Committee to look at some of these questions. This may give a further opportunity of analysing proposals which come from one side of the House or the other.
Once one accepts, as the two Front Benches do, that there is a case for some limited number of people to come here for employment for particular jobs and that their dependants should be able to come, the room for manoeuvre is not great. Since the Government came to power there has been a substantial reduction in the number of voucher holders admitted. In 1963 30,000 voucher holders were admitted; last year it was less than 5,000. This Government have related the issue of vouchers much more closely to the economic needs of the country. My hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State for Employment and Productivity indicated in reply to a Question recently the numbers admitted in 1967—doctors 938, nurses 41, scientists 246, engineers 276, civil engineers 147— I need not give them all.
These are people who clearly make a contribution in providing skills which the country needs. We are not involved in a system of cheap labour. This was so in the past, but it is not the case today. We cannot simply shuffle off responsibility for people who have been admitted in time gone by.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked if people with employment vouchers should be admitted unconditionally. If we make a comparison between those from the Commonwealth and those who are aliens, we find that the figures for aliens are far greater than those for Commonwealth citizens. In 1967 the total number of aliens admitted for employment was 45,867, nine times as many as those admitted from the Commonwealth. Of course, had we admitted all those from the Commonwealth who applied for vouchers, the number would have been very much higher. This proposal would add to the administration. Aliens are admitted for employment initially for six months or a year. They can then apply for an extension and it has to be decided whether to extend the term. After they have been in approved employment for four years, the condition is removed. My impression is that Commonwealth citizens wishing to come here would wish to extend their permitted stay and at the end of the four years we would find that after a very substantial administrative burden the situation was not very much different. However, these are points which could be looked at.
The main problem, however, does not lie in the field of employment vouchers but in that of dependants. The Government remain of the view that men who come here to live and work should have the right to have their dependants with them. This was written into the 1962 Act and is accepted by both Front Benches. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) asked, if we lived our time over again, would we all do the same? I do not suppose that we would, but we have to live with what has happened in the past. That Government are pursuing a policy of control which is not identical with that of 1962. It is much more stringent than anything done by the previous Government. We have, however, to live with what has happened in the past. When people have come here and settled in employment and have the right for their families to join them, we cannot simply remove that right.
The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, realise that when I said that, I was not suggesting that we could in any way change the situation as it is now. I was saying that we should take this as a warning about being too complacent about current rates of immigration and what the future position might be.
I would never argue the case for complacency. We cannot be complacent. We have to look into the future to see what it holds for us. In doing so, we should not go back upon obligations, and it would not be in the interests of the country or of the people here to say that a wife and child should not join those who have been here over the years.
It is clear that many of those who are now coining in as dependants are dependants not only of those who arrived before 1962, but of those who arrived before 1965, when the situation was tightened. During the period of a recent survey at London Airport, 42 per cent. of the dependants who arrived were the dependants of men who settled here before 1965. At the present time, dependants account for 90 per cent. of all new arrivals for settlement.
It was conducted only over a fortnight. We recognise that that was a brief time from which precise conclusions should not be drawn, but it included enough people to draw some conclusions which I thought that it would be helpful for the House to have.
In 1967, of a total of 61,000 people admitted, 53,000 were dependants. That inescapable conclusion is that any measures to reduce substantially the numbers coming for settlement would have to restrict the rate of arrivals of dependants. A number of the proposals put forward by the Opposition would deal with such matters as permanent entry certificates or registration of dependants. All these are matters of interest. If, however, we wished to slow down the rate of entry, we would have to take measures to restrict the rate of arrival by removing existing rights of entry.
I was asked about boys of working age. It will be recalled that it was our concern about boys in particular joining single parents and coming in at about the age of 15 and going on to the labour market which led us in this year's Act to include measures to deal with this problem and to take away the right of a child to join a single parent. This action has had substantial effects. It is too early to say what will be the long-term effect of the change, but the initial consequences have been most marked. In the figures for April, May and June, there were only 19 boys aged 14 to 15 who were admitted to join a single parent, and only 70 to join both parents. These figures show a great reduction.
Another matter which caused us concern in the debate on last year's Expiring Laws Continuance Bill was the question of elderly fathers. The raising of the qualifying age for admission from 60 to 65 has had a dramatic effect on the number of aged fathers who have been admitted. In the three months from April to June, only two dependants over the age of 65 were admitted. It is an extraordinary reduction.
Among the remedies proposed by hon. Members opposite is one, which the right hon. Member did not make on this occasion but he certainly did in an earlier article, to reduce the age of admission of children. He is, as he said, worried about the numbers coming at the age of 14 or 15. The published statistics do not reveal the breakdown of ages of child dependants, but the survey to which I referred provided evidence that the 14–15 age group does not account for a disproportionately high percentage of dependants. I am speaking of the situation now, following the Commonwealth Immigrants Act. In fact, well over half of the dependants admitted were under 10, and the remainder are spread fairly evenly through the age group 10–15. In any case, it would be difficult to justify reducing the age below 16, and the numerical consequences of so doing would, I think, be slight. Apart from that, if we were to say that dependants could come in only at 13 or 14, that might mean that the children simply came in earlier rather than at a slightly older age. It might speed up the arrival, but would not affect the total numbers.
Now, the question of compulsory entry certificates. The Opposition appear to be committed to this approach. While it may have considerable advantages in reducing some of the difficulty which now arises when people appear at our ports with doubtful entitlement to admission—this is a real problem—the one thing it cannot do by itself is reduce or affect numbers of dependants coming here so long as those dependants have a right of admission. It would be interesting to know whether the Opposition would contemplate some limit to the issue of entry certificates and whether the statutory right of entry would be honoured under the obligatory certificate system, or whether they would take power to have a quota of certificates.
Hon. Members will recognise that it is really an administrative question whether the decision is taken entirely in the country before departure or whether an opportunity is given for the decision to be taken at ports of entry. There is no question but that there is every advantage in the decision being taken overseas rather than cause the hardship which arises when people arrive at ports without entry certificates and are refused admission, but the transference of responsibility from the port to the overseas entry certificate office is simply a matter of administration and unlikely to affect actual numbers. It must be recognised that it would not affect numbers, though it may be more tidy administratively. There are advantages and disadvantages.
Now, the registration of dependants and the concept of compulsory registration. The Home Secretary has made clear that he is re-examining this possibility, although the idea has been tried once and found of little practical value. It is necessary to be clear what its value might be. So long as dependants continue to enjoy unrestricted statutory right of admission, no system of registration can have any effect in limiting numbers. It can provide information but it cannot limit numbers. It would not alter the rate at which the registered dependants would be admitted unless the Government were prepared to regulate the flow by a quota system.
So long as the dependants' statutory entitlement to come here is honoured, there is no way of regulating the flow which does not entail some interference with their freedom to come as they choose, and the possibility of prolonging their separation from parents, which would not accord with the spirit of the legislation. I recognise that information is important. If we had the information arising from registration, we should know a little more about what the tail of dependants is, but it would not deal with those who have already come here and would not, therefore, provide a complete answer. But, as I say, my right hon. Friend is examining the proposal again in view of the points which have been made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The question of repatriation was also raised. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) that unless there were very substantial inducements, this would not mean that any large number of people would return home. The majority of those we are talking about are, whether some people like it or not, our citizens. They came here to settle, and they are here. There is no point in imagining that with just a little extra money in their pockets they will go back home. The House and the country must understand that for most of these people now this country is their home. We must treat them as our responsibility and our citizens. It is true that the Ministry of Social Security can provide assistance, and it may be that the additional publicity that the debates have given to this may mean that a rather larger number of people will take the opportunity of doing this. But I do not believe that there is any solution to be found in voluntary repatriation on a large scale.
This brings me to my last point, the question of the evasion of control. The Government are very anxious to ensure that the immigration control is maintained and is effective. That was why as recently as February, in the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, we took a number of measures to tighten control and to remove some of the possibilities of evasion. I have already referred to some of them. We were concerned whether some youngsters were the age they said, and we were also aware of some evasion among old people. We made a legal obligation on would-be immigrants to come properly through the immigration control rather than in little boats and by other clandestine means, and these measures have been effective.
But there have been cases where one suspects that there may have been evasion, and we are trying to find a way to deal with them. The hon. Member for Leicester, South-West spoke of the question of fiancees. We are looking at this very carefully. There is reason to believe that some immigrants seek to use this as a means of gaining entry. We are anxious to ensure that if a marriage does not take place those who have been admitted under those circumstances are required to leave the country.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it is too early to make sharp conclusions about the numerical results of the passing of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, but it is worthy of note that in the three months following its passing the number of dependants admitted is substantially below the number for the same period last year, and the upward trend that we had seen is at present downwards. That is only over a brief period, and we shall know more in November, when we shall have had a six-month period instead of only a three-month period.
The hon. Gentleman is misquoting me. I said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) had pointed out that the 1968 Act had so far apparently had only a marginal effect, and a study of the figures I have seen for March, April and May seems to bear that out.
That is what I am saying. I am saying that although it is marginal it has had the effect of producing a lower figure of dependants over that period—11,000 compared with 13,000 last year. The reduction has come from a fall in the number of aged dependants and the number of boys coming to join a single parent, and I do not think that any of us imagined that this could reduce the main bulk of the dependants who are coming. I have made it clear that it is not simply by administrative means that we can do this. It could be done only by actually removing the category of dependants who can join those who are here, or limiting it.
Reference was made to social problems. There are some, though they are sometimes greatly exaggerated. When hon. Members feel that they must express concern—and I am referring to hon. Members who are not here—they deepen the concern. But there are social problems, and it was for this reason that my right hon. Friend announced the urban programme on Monday. Some people thought it was the first assistance that we were giving to local authorities. But it was the present Government and not the previous one who in 1966 introduced the Local Government Act, which provides assistance to local authorities, and we are now proposing substantially to broaden this by the programme that has been announced.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and assure him that the Government are by no means complacent in looking at the admittedly difficult problems of immigration. Also, we are not complacent about immigration control and seek to ensure that it is effective, but we believe that there is a fundamental principle—not a privilege but a right—that it would not be proper to take away, that of a mother and her children to join the father who is already in this country.