Orders of the Day — Immigration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th July 1968.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Boardman Mr Thomas Boardman , Leicester South West 12:00 am, 24th July 1968

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.