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Immigration (Commonwealth Governments)

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 23 November 1961

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asked the Prime Minister whether he will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the representations he has received from Heads of Governments in the Commonwealth about the legislation to restrict immigration, together with his replies.

No, Sir. Any exchanges of personal messages between Heads of Commonwealth Governments are normally kept confidential.

Could not the Prime Minister do rather better than that? Is it not a fact that, in the course of a few days, the House, in Committee, will be considering the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill? Is it not right that we should have full information before us with regard to the consultation and correspondence which has taken place between the leaders of the Commonwealth on this very serious matter?

As I say, it has always been the practice for these personal messages to be kept confidential. In point of fact, since this is pressed, I have myself seen no personal messages from any other Commonwealth Prime Minister. Comments have been received, in response to the telegrams sent out, from certain Commonwealth Governments. These are being taken into account in working out detailed arrangements for the Bill and the administration of the controls.

Does not the Prime Minister realise that at least one Prime Minister in the Commonwealth is clearly gravely dissatisfied with the consultation, or so-called consultation, which took place? I refer, of course, to Sir Grantley Adams. Will the Prime Minister say whether he accepts the facts set out in Sir Grantley's telegram of which I informed him yesterday, and, if so, is it not plain that no consultation whatever took place with the Prime Minister of the Federation of the West Indies before the Government made their decision to introduce the Bill? Is not this a really intolerable way to treat the Head of a Territory in the Commonwealth which was bound to be gravely affected by this Measure?

Well, the right hon. Gentleman sent me a letter on this subject last evening, and at the same time informed me that he was sending it to the Press. Happily, in spite of the lateness of the hour, I was able both to give him the courtesy of a reply and not to have unduly to delay its publication. I have nothing to add to what I said in the letter.

Are we then to take it from that reply that the Prime Minister thinks chat consultation is adequate with the Commonwealth, with the Prime Ministers in the Commonwealth, so long as they are told what the Government's intention is—that it is not necessary to consult them beforehand? Are we to assume that this is the kind of consultation which is taking place during the Common Market negotiations?

The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that informal and confidential discussions on this matter have gone on for a long time. As I said in my letter, the Government provided information of their intention, invited comments, and sought the cooperation of the West Indian Government in implementing any scheme outlined. That is what I understand to be consultation. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is confusing consultation with concurrence.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what I am complaining about in the first instance is that Sir Grantley Adams and other Commonwealth Prime Ministers were not consulted before Her Majesty's Government took their decision? How can one call it consultation when Her Majesty's Government make up their mind before consulting Commonwealth Prime Ministers?

Does the right hon. Gentleman really think it adequate, in view of the gravity of the consequences of this Measure, simply to inform the Prime Minister of the West Indies Federation, on 13th October, of the general intentions of the Government and express readiness, in Sir Grantley's own words:
"…to discuss any matter which might arise from time to time from the operation of the Bill"?
Does the Prime Minister really think it adequate to do this and then to send copies of the Bill
"…but without an invitation to comment…"
—again I use the words of Sir Grantley's telegraph—and finally—and this is the only other piece of "consultation"—explain the mechanics of the voucher system and ask for co-operation? How can the Prime Minister possibly defend this way of treating a very old friend of this country who carries a heavy responsibility in the West Indies, the Territories of which will, I repeat, be very seriously affected by this Measure?

The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly aware of the circumstances. This matter had been discussed and had been in the air for a very long time. Confidential and informal discussions were held, and the Commonwealth Prime Ministers knew of what might be forced upon Her Majesty's Government as the effect of recent immigration. That was well known. They knew perfectly well. In the details of operation of such a scheme, we are in consultation and continue to be in consultation.

As to the principle, we have never been consulted, as far as I know, by any Commonwealth Government, or asked for our concurrence in any of their immigration policies, which are their affair.

Does not the Prime Minister feel, in view of the reaction in the West Indies, and particularly in view of what Sir Grantley Adams has said, that it would be a courteous gesture, if no more, to invite Sir Grantley to this country and to discuss with him not merely the details of the Bill but the principle involved?

I think that throughout this matter, the right hon. Gentleman has never committed himself, and he is trying to ride away from—[Interruption.]—for what no doubt are very good reasons to him—the question as to whether we should have a system of control of immigration.

Is the Prime Minister aware that if he had condescended to attend the debate on the Bill he would not have been so foolish as to make that statement?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that I had engagements of a public nature which I could not avoid. That question is on a par with sending me a letter at 6 o'clock in the evening hoping to get it published before my reply. [Interruption.]

Order. I should be grateful if the House would make a little less noise, as I have some difficulty in hearing the exchanges.

Can the right hon. Gentleman help us on two matters of fact? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Was this matter discussed with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers when they were here in Conference not so very long ago? Were they informed of the contents of the Bill before it was published to the Conservative Party?

The Prime Ministers' Conference did not, in public in its own sessions, discuss this question as Prime Ministers.

When the right hon. Gentleman takes full responsibility for this shocking state of affairs, can he tell us whether, in this particular instance, he has not been able to find a convenient scapegoat on whom to shuffle his own responsibility?

I have a little sympathy with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) on that point, because he is a kind of born scapegoat.

Is it not a fact that the Prime Minister of the West Indies and other Premiers in those islands have persistently refused to co-operate with Her Majesty's Government in consideration of any measure to control this serious problem?

I have made it plain that we have, of course, had informal confidential talks on this matter for a long time. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] Before the point was reached when Her Majesty's Government reached a decision in principle. It was necessary to consult about its application, and that was done.