Skip to main content

Clause 10—(Information From Persons Entering Or Leaving The United Kingdom By Air)

Volume 440: debated on Friday 25 July 1947

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Lords Amendment:

In page 6, line 40, leave out from "whereby" to the end of line 42 and insert "any person entering or leaving the United Kingdom by air may be required to give, to such person and in such form and manner as may be prescribed, particulars of his age, sex and marriage and of the nature of his occupation and particulars of the country in which he last permanently resided and the country in which he intends next permanently to reside.

(2) If it is not reasonably practicable to require any such person to give any such particulars as aforesaid any other person in whose company and under whose care he is travelling may be required to give those particulars on his behalf"

2 p.m.

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is an Amendment of some substance. During the Report stage my right hon. and learned Friend was asked if he would consider making more specific the nature of the information that can be required from persons entering or leaving the country by air. As was explained then, the information is required for the purpose of providing migration statistics corresponding to those obtained under the Merchant Shipping Act about migration by sea. The words of the original Clause were somewhat vague and the undertaking was given that, at a subsequent stage, the nature of the information would be made more precise, and this Amendment seeks to do that.

The House may recollect that in the Report stage on this Bill Clause 10 was really a new Clause put down without any previous discussion, either on the Second Reading or in the Committee. It is a Clause which really does not come very appropriately ink a Bill entitled "Statistics of Trade." The House may also remember that during the Debate on the Report stage there was considerable argument as to the effect and purpose of this Clause, and it was only after fairly lengthy Debate that, on the promise of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that this Clause would be amended in another place that it was passed without a Division.

I cannot regard the Amendment to which we are asked to agree as entirely satisfactory. After all, this Clause applies to anyone entering or leaving this country by air. Let us consider the particulars which have to be asked for, and given: age, sex, marriage. Will not he individual's passport disclose all those three things? Under the Merchant Shipping Act the penalty for not giving the information which is required falls upon the master of the vessel, but here you ire apparently making it a criminal offence for a person not to give those particulars which anyone seeing their passport could surely ascertain for himself. Then it goes on to say that they may be required to give particulars of the country in which they will permanently reside I am lot quite sure what is meant by that. A man can state in which country he last permanently resided but what does "particulars" mean? Does it mean that he has to give some description of the co an-try, a few adjectives or something of that sort—it is rather curious drafting—of the country in which he intends next permanently to reside?

There is one thing which a man or woman entering or leaving this country is not required under this Clause to give, and I am rather interested at the omission. There is no requirement to state nationality. I should have thought the Home Secretary would have been interested in that. Why is it that if their age, sex, marriage and residences have to be disclosed, nationality is omitted? I should like to know the answer to that. Presumably on arrival in this country by air—and it is only when one arrives by air that this Clause applies—the individual will have to fill up a form even if he is leaving this country by air in two hours' time or in ten minutes' time. It may be, indeed, that under this Clause he can be required to fill up yet another form on his departure. Of course it may be right that anyone visiting this country now should taste the delights of form-filling in this new Socialist Britain, but are we not going a little too far in making a criminal offence of these matters?

What is to be the position? Supposing someone about to leave this country by air, who has his passport and passage, refuses to give the particulars which can be required under this Clause if the Amendment is adopted. Is there any power to stop him embarking in the aircraft, because, if not, it really does not seem to serve a useful purpose. Suppose a man leaving this country says quite falsely that he intends to make his next permanent residence Timbuctoo when, in fact, he is going to Tibet. The authorities and the Board of Trade may doubt his statement, but what will they do about it? They will have no evidence to prove the falsity of it until he has left the country and taken up his residence in Tibet. I suppose that if ever he returns to this country he can be prosecuted and sentenced to two years' imprisonment or fined £100. Is there any power, where there is refusal to give the information which can be asked for under this Clause, to prevent departure? If there is not, it is really not useful to impose penalties in this way.

This Clause applies to any visitor by air. Suppose an American film star, instead of coming on the "Queen Elizabeth," chooses to come by air and lands in this country. Why should it be made a criminal offence for her not to disclose her true age to the President of the Board of Trade, because that is what this Clause does. If she comes by ship, she is not liable to any penalty. The master of the vessel may be liable, if he gives her age wrongly, but he may have other methods of finding out the truth of the matter than the President of the Board of Trade, I do not know. However, if she comes by air, what is the position? If she refuses to say what is her age, then she can be prosecuted and fined £20, but if she commits the grave offence of telling the President of the Board of Trade that she is younger than she is, then she is affected by Subsection (3) and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine not exceeding£100 or in either case to both such imprisonment and such fine.

Similarly, of course, if in a facetious mood she gives an incorrect answer as to her sex or marriage or as to the nature of her occupation. Why is it that we are making such methods of inquiry with regard to visitors to this country? The Parliamentary Secretary said it was intended to deal with migrants, but it deals with all persons entering or leaving this country by air. The President of the Board of Trade said, when we were discussing this Clause before, that he would certainly give consideration to the question of bringing the penalties for failure to give correct information, or for giving false information, into line with the Merchant Shipping Act, Section 76 (3) where the maximum penalty is £20—very different from what is provided here. In this Amendment we are imposing a terribly heavy penalty on a person who recklessly states his wrong age, his wrong sex, that he is married when he is not or he is unmarried when he is, most of which information is available from his passport; or if he recklessly gives wrong particulars of the country in which he last permanently resided or of the country in which he intends next permanently to reside.

I do not consider that this Clause is properly placed in the Statistics of Trade Bill. I agree that to some extent some of the points which have been raised in the Debate have been met, but as it stands it is using a sledge hammer to stop a very small number landing by creating criminal offences of the kind it does under Subsection (3). The only real purpose of this Clause is to indicate to the public the serious thing it is if a Socialist bureaucrat is not obeyed and a lady does not tell the Board of Trade her true age.

I cannot see what this Clause is doing in the Bill at all.

On a point of Order. Are we discussing whether this Clause is in the Bill or not?

We are discussing whether the House agrees with the Lords in this Amendment to the Clause.

That remark was made in passing, but surely we are entitled to discuss the Clause.

Yes, the Amendment in relation to the Clause. There are one or two points to which I should like to draw the attention of the President of the Board of Trade. The first one is that which has been raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), as to particulars of the country in which the -person last permanently resided. Can we be told under what conditions this word "permanently" is used? What is the qualification for saying whether one resides permanently in a country? There must be some standard by which this question can be answered and I should like to know what it is. Assume that one is coming from Russia, would one have to write a thesis on "I chose freedom"? One is also asked to whom one is married or whether one is married, but this country does not recognise the marriage laws of a number of other countries. Take, for instance, a divorce in Reno. That does not operate in this country. If someone is divorced according to an action taken in Reno and lands here, if that person states those facts he or she would leave himself or herself open to penalties under Subsection (3). I must say that this Clause and this Amendment do not meet our requirements. Could the President of the Board of Trade answer the particulars about nationality put by my hon. and learned Friend? It seems to me that this Clause, as drafted originally, was for another purpose, and this is a face saving device.

I am not sure what the Opposition what. We are indifferent whether this Amendment goes in or not. The Opposition asked for it and we agreed to it in another place. If they do not want it we will vote with them and restore the Clause to its original state.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman did say in reply to me that he wanted to bring the penalties under this Clause into line with the penalties under the Merchant Shipping Act. Has he anything to say about that?

It does not arise in relation to this Amendment. This Amendment is to Clause 10 (1) which is giving a definition as to the particulars which may be asked for. If hon. Members want the wide Clause as originally drafted it is all right by us. If they want the Amendment it is equally all right.

Could the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us what

"particulars of the country in which he last permanently resided"
means? Is it a matter of a name?

This is the wisdom of another place in defining a matter which they think should be inserted.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has already spoken and cannot address the House again on this point.

Surely we can have the opinion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in regard to the points put by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manning-ham-Buller)? He asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman several points, including why nationality was not mentioned and what sort of particulars were going to be required. Surely it is within the powers of the right hon. and learned Gentleman—and I admire his powers—to tell us.

Anyone who has followed the Debate in another place will be familiar with this. I assume that all hon. Members interested in this matter will have followed the Debate in another place. However, if hon. Members want to know why nationality is not here, it is because it is unnecessary inasmuch as the nationality of people can be got from the travel documents which they have. If hon. Members want to know what "particulars" means, it is a phrase which is always used in connection with giving a definition of a place of residence and particulars of that place of residence. It is a perfectly familiar phrase for that.

The right hon. Gentleman has already spoken and cannot speak again.

Surely I am entitled to ask a question by leave of the House. The reply of the right hon. and learned Gentleman is still further provoking. If he says the particulars of nationality are already apparent from travelling documents, can that not apply, too, to the other particulars which are asked for? Why is this necessary?

2.15 p.m.

I want to speak on a more serious point than has been raised so far. First, I want to support strongly the remarks made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller). This Amendment affects one who is very dear to the President of the Board of Trade and who might be described as the precious pet of the Board of Trade—the gentleman with dollars in infinite abundance. The House will realise that I am referring to Mr. Rank. He has got to import a large number of ladies of dubious ages into this country in order to swell our film trade receipts. If, in fact, the President of the Board of Trade is going to force these ladies from Hollywood to disclose their exact ages, Mr. Rank will pot be in a position to bring in the millions of dollars which he has promised to us. I attach very great importance to the Board of Trade's statement about the great number of dollars which they hope will be earned in the United States of America by exporting British films.

I strayed into a path which I should have avoided. I should have stuck to the particulars which are mentioned in this Amendment. I beg the President of the Board of Trade, whose wintry charms appeal even to film actresses, not to go—

I do hot know whether that remark is out of Order, but I do not think it has anything to do with the Clause.

It is a tribute to the President of the Board of Trabe and I hope that the President, realising his responsibilities for the film trade, will take some notice of these really substantial points raised by my hon. and learned Friend. We are very anxious to get on with the Business in order to come to the Companies Bill, but if the President of the Board of Trade adopts a sort of Gandhi-like attitude and will not answer the points put to him it does not help. A little courtesy would do no harm, and might speed up business.

I should like to ask the President of the Board of Trade what exactly is meant by "entering the country." As the House will be aware, many people come to this country by air en route for Europe, and they may land at one of our airports for purposes of refreshment or refuelling. Is it intended to imply by the phrases used in this Bill that persons who land here en route for other countries are to be subjected to this formality? The second point I wish to raise is why we require only "his" age and not "her" age.

Is it intended that this shall not apply to women at all, and is it after all true to say that the President of the Board of Trade is not so harsh as he appears to be and is ready to exclude women from this requirement? I should like to have those two points clear in my mind, and I am sure that right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench do no: wish members of the Opposition to hi, lacking in clarity on points of law.

I am in some difficult) on this matter not having heard the whole of the discussion, but I have listened to the last two or three speeches, in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been asked to give further information. I have had the honour of watching and listening to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for years, and have a great appreciation of his capacity to give information.

The hon. Gentleman must confine his remarks to the Amendment which we are discussing.

The Amendment is concerned with persons entering and leaving the United Kingdom, and we very much want more information as to what precisely is meant. I was trying to show that I believed that it would be very easy to obtain that information. I do not think I should be justified in asking for anything which was difficult, but this information is easy to obtain and I am suspicious of a matter of this kind which affects important and useful people coming into this country. This matter A entering and leaving is one on which we have always expected full information, and for that reason, realising how able the President of the Board of Trade was, I was asking him whether he would assist us in a matter of this kind affecting conditions of egress from or entry into this country. Why is it necessary in all cases to ascertain the exact occupation of the person concerned? Is this a kind of Gestapo inquisition in which the Government really want to know whether a person is a Communist for instance? Communism might be considered an occupation, and we who stand for liberty should assure ourselves that this provision is not to be used as an opportunity for persecuting the Communist Party.

If you say it is out of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am bound to accept that—

If the hon. Member does not know, then I will rule that it is out of Order.

I fully accept that when we are dealing with a matter of describing the occupation of a person and the country to which he belongs, that does not cover the political side of anyone coming into this country. In other words, we have arrived at the position where the Government may not make any political inquiries concerning anyone coming here, and I am rather glad that we have had that laid down so clearly, because I was a little afraid of this position.

I rise to say that I think that this Amendment is a considerable improvement of the Bill and that I am not worried about the position of Communists as the result of it. I am, however, very seriously worried about the aggravation of the Communists, and I must say that the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has made a thorough study of and has become an expert in the laws of aggravation.

Question put, and agreed to.