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Immigration (Indian Subcontinent)

Volume 887: debated on Thursday 6 March 1975

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15.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what conclusions he has now reached about procedures for scrutinising immigration applications from dependants, in the light of the Minister of State's recent visit to the Indian subcontinent.

I gave an indication of various measures that are under consideration during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill on 23rd January, but it will be some little time before we can complete our examination of these and other possibilities.

How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile what he said in that debate—that no conclusions had been reached—with Press reports that a less strict system is already in operation on the subcontinent? In view of the recent increase in the quota of vouchers for United Kingdom passport holders, will he assure us that the Government will make no changes which result in a significant increase in the flow of immigrants from the subcontinent?

I cannot give that assurance. The object of the tour and the review of procedures was to see whether we could get away from the enormous suffering which is caused to individuals by the delays in the present procedure for getting entry certificates in the subcontinent. It is my hope that the rate will increase. What I said on 23rd January still obtains. But if the rate increases, that does not mean that the total number coming to this country will be any greater. Only a finite number have the right to come. They will simply come a little more quickly.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the reported attitude which he took up on his tour fed the fears of a number of people in this country, which is very bad for harmony between the races? Is he aware also that to remove such fears it would be desirable to give some indication when the flow of dependants is likely to cease, and about how many, in all, there are likely to be?

I do not think that anything that I said increased fear. I made it plain right at the beginning of the tour that we were concerned with a finite number of women and children of people already settled here, to whom the British Government gave the right to come to this country. We were concerned about the rate at which they were coming, which was so slow that it was causing too much distress. When they come, this pool of immigration will have dried up completely, and I expect that that will happen within a very few years.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is socially undesirable for immigrant males to be in this country without their families and dependants? Does he also agree that it would increase harmony and good race relations if they were allowed to have their dependants and wives and children with them in a normal family life?

It is always inhuman for any man to be separated from his family only by the rigours of bureaucracy and not for any reasons which the family itself has deemed to be essential.