My Lords, this is a timely debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for tabling it. It is time that we looked at this issue from all our different points of view, so this is a good opportunity for us to point the finger where it should be pointed.
Before I came to your Lordships’ House, I was involved in race relations as a member of the Commission for Racial Equality, as was the noble Lord, Lord Morris. Why was I involved in race relations? It was because at the time you felt that you had to be involved. If you were not a white person, things were not that good, so you wanted to be involved. If you could do something, you felt that you should do it.
The whole issue of the “Empire Windrush” is interesting. Everyone who was involved, even if we had no connection with the “Empire Windrush”, knew that it was an iconic event in race relations when the ship arrived. Films were made about it and it was on the news. Everyone knew about it, regardless of whether we were old enough to understand or whether we had any connections with it.
The Home Office has a real problem. It does not know anything about historical immigration events. Immigration has gone through different phases and people are here for different reasons. Home Office staff who have to deal with these issues should have at least an inkling of what has gone before, but they do not seem to. If they did not know about the “Empire Windrush” then they did not know about Southall, where two British Army officers went to India and recruited from the men who had served with them in the war. So, the Southall community started because they brought Sikhs back with them. Immigration did not just happen; a lot of things led to different people coming to different areas.
Initially, there were three groupings for Indians: A, B and C. Group C was for totally unqualified people. Callaghan said that he would drop group C, but he gave people between a year and two years beforehand so an awful lot of category C people, who were not qualified in any way, came here. At the time, even the Indian Government said, “If you let in all these people in one go, you will have problems because you have to find them work and housing and look after them. You shouldn’t do it”. That is very interesting to note but I know that that is what happened. A lot of people coming at once was probably not the best idea.
There was also a feeling that once the first generation was here and the second generation went to British schools, there would be no problem; they would all adapt and become British. This does not just happen. How did the British do in other parts of the world? They never learned even the rudiments of the languages of the countries that they were in. It is amazing that the Government thought that everything would change in one generation. As your Lordships know, it did not and it still has not. A lot of things were not thought through, such as English. There was no compulsion to learn the English language but there should have been. Language is the beginning of everything. If you cannot speak or understand, you are deaf and dumb. You do not know what is going on around you, which is extremely bad.
I was elected as a councillor in Windsor and Maidenhead in 1976; I was the first minority woman councillor. Of course, everybody used to come to me with their problems. I used to go to people’s houses. They had put their brown envelopes on the mantelpiece. They had not opened them because they could not read; they could not understand what was said. At first, I used to ask permission but then I stopped; I just went to the mantelpiece, opened the envelopes and told them what the letters said. They were all sorts of communications, mainly from the Government or institutions. These people did not know what the letters said or what they should be doing. That is a pretty bad way to treat immigrants. They did not know anything, so they did not do the things they needed to know about, such as look after their health, or know what sort of food to eat. There are still problems there.
We have a lot of illegal immigrants. When there is a desire to stop illegal immigrants or find them, how do legal and settled immigrants respond? It is an interesting question. They respond in two ways. Of course, they feel unsettled, especially if they have any doubts about their own position, but they also want the illegal immigrants to be found because they feel that illegal immigrants threaten their position. It is not all one-way, where they do not want anybody to find the illegal immigrants; they want them to be found.
This brings us back to the Home Office. Why are there so many illegal immigrants in this country? Is the Home Office not supposed to keep an eye on people who come to this country? It is no good starting to turf them out and so on once they are here. The Home Office should be stopping them from coming here in the first place. It is not functioning to any kind of standard. Everything takes too long. Even English people trying to get a visa do not know when their passport will come back. It is a very serious situation. The Home Office cannot function with all those responsibilities and should not be one huge department like it is. Immigration in particular needs its own department and people who know the history of migration to this country—why people have come, where they have come from and what the situation is.
It is no good saying that we do not want the illegal immigrants—clearly we do not. They should be stopped from coming, rather than being picked out once they are in this country and have merged with the rest of the population. When you start doing that you upset them and other people that they are working with. As has been said clearly, you are bound to worry people. On the other hand, if you do not do anything about illegal immigration you do not reinforce the position of those who are here legally.
As a councillor I used to get a lot of people coming to me with their problems—little problems and so on. My MP at the time was Dr Alan Glyn. He was brought up in the traditional English way and he thought that documents mattered. If you are Indian or Pakistani you do not need to spend more than £2 or £3 to get any kind of document with as many seals as you want on it. You go to the marketplace and find a man who does that. Dr Glyn would say, “But they have documents”. That is not the point. We have to realise that not everybody functions like the British do. People from other countries have other issues to worry and think about. They want to come here—why would they not?—so they do what they can to find a way to come here.
There is a huge number of illegal immigrants in this country. I do not think that there is any way now either to find them or to send them back without causing a lot of problems for people who live, have families and have made their home here. It is not the way forward, which is for the Home Office to function properly, systematically and without such great periods of time elapsing. Unless we can get the Home Office to function properly nothing can change. If the Home Office functions properly maybe not many more illegal immigrants will come.
Trying to pick out illegal immigrants in the population is not only very difficult but probably impossible. We need an efficient Home Office that can try to stop illegal immigrants coming to this country. We need Home Office staff to know the history of migration to this country. For them not to know what the “Empire Windrush” was is incredible, because it was one of the most iconic incidents. All the people who came on the “Empire Windrush” had worked here in the Air Force during the war. They went back to Jamaica, they did not like it too much and they came back. They were people who had served here during the war. There was no way that there should have been any problem later on with that generation or their descendants. If anything is to be done it should be done to the Home Office.