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 David Ennals Mr David Ennals , Dover 12:00 am, 24th July 1968

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.