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Asian Immigrants From Kenya

Volume 289: debated on Thursday 15 February 1968

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3.19 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the newspaper report ( The Times, January 25, 1968) that Asian immigrants are coming into this country from Kenya at the rate of more than 1,000 a month is correct; and, if so, whether these particular immigrants have an unquestioned right to enter this country, and, if so, why.]

My Lords, the immigrants to whom the noble Lord refers are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who did not acquire local citizenship on independence. They are therefore eligible for passports which exempt them from control under the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962. Numbers of them have been coming here for some years, but the rate of arrivals has recently risen. In 1967, the total was 13,600.

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his very definite Answer to my Question, may I ask one supplementary question? In view of circumstances which I think I might call unforeseen, and which are likely to deeply intensify this influx of immigrants into this country, and also in view of the fact that the vital interests of the people of this country and some of its serious problems are likely to be intensified by this fresh influx, is it not desirable that Her Majesty's Government should be considering steps to modify, if possible—to be fair to all, if possible—or to check to some extent, at least, this influx?

My Lords, this is an extremely difficult problem, not only in this country but also, of course, in East Africa, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has the matter under continuous consideration. I think it should be clearly understood that there is this statutory obligation. As The Times leader of February 13 put it:

"In order to achieve a settlement the British Government of the day"—
that was, in 1963—
"in effect handed out promises for the future in the obvious hope that not many of them would have to be honoured. The British Government has changed since then, but the obligation has not."
This is one side of the difficulty we are in; and the noble Lord has mentioned the other side. We are considering these matters very closely and carefully.

My Lords, may I put this point to the noble Lord? While, of course, what he has stated is legally exactly the position, could he give this assurance to the House: that if the Government are, as they very well may have to be, considering the whole question of whether there should be any further control of immigration into this country, they will not feel in the least inhibited by the past? Let me put it this way. Whether the Government supported by noble Lords on this side were responsible for the present position, or whether it was the Government of noble Lords opposite, may I ask that the present Government will not be in the least inhibited from dealing with this issue in Kenya, and will they make that plain?

My Lords, I hope that the tone and length of the Answer I previously gave carried no indication that I was trying to apportion the blame. The responsibility rests with Her Majesty's present Government. But the major difficulty is that if we did have legislation to remove from these people the freedom from operation of the 1962 Act, it would remove from them their right to United Kingdom citizenship and make them Stateless; and under the United Nations Convention of 1961 the United Kingdom Government are pledged to avoid any increase in future Statelessness. This is the kind of problem we have to consider before the Government can come to any conclusion on this matter.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. I was not in the least trying to say who was to blame. Let me accept that the Conservative Government were just as responsible for the present position as the present Government are. The really important thing is that our hands should be absolutely free to do what is right in the future.

My Lords, I am sure that Her Majesty's Government will be encouraged to have the noble Earl's assurance in advance that he will support them in whatever action they think it necessary to take.

My Lords, the noble Lord quoted The Times as an authority for his statement that certain undertakings were given. Can he give any other authority?—because I have heard it suggested there were no such undertakings given, and that that was only something that appeared in The Times. I do not know.

My Lords, the Kenya Independence Act of 1963 is the authority, and the arrangements then made excluded these Kenyan Asians (if I may call them such) from the provisions of the 1962 Act, which leaves them the right to apply for passports to come to this country.

My Lords, the noble Lord referred to undertakings in his original Answer, and he based that statement on something that appeared in The Times. Leaving on one side any statutory provisions, can he give any information about the undertakings he said were given?

My Lords, I cannot recall using the word. I quoted a passage from The Times as an illustration of the position. But surely an obligation in a Statute is an undertaking, and in fact an undertaking of a kind which cannot be altered or withdrawn without Parliament's agreeing a new Statute.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether Her Majesty's Government have had any consultations with the Kenya Government, and indeed with other African Governments, about this problem to try to ease the present situation? It is a problem which is causing difficulties for us, but which will undoubtedly cause even more severe difficulties in Kenya in the near future.

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have had consultations with the Government of Kenya over a period of some months. But, as your Lordships will be aware, the Kenya Government is pursuing a policy of Africanisation with some vigour, and in July they passed the Kenya Immigration Act, which has really exacerbated the present situation and brought about the increase in the flow of immigrants from Kenya.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty's Government have informed the Kenya Government that they deplore a policy of racial discrimination against Asians?

My Lords, in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said in reply to the Question and the first two supplementaries, may I ask him whether he could agree with me that a Kenya Asian who holds a British passport as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies has more right to enter this country and to seek work here than foreign nationals of other Commonwealth countries such as Pakistan and India? Could he also agree that the Kenya Asian who has lived under British rule since birth until Kenya independence in 1963, and in many cases speaks English in his family, domestic life, is far more likely to be a suitable immigrant to Britain, and to have a far greater adaptability to life in this country, than those from the Asian mainland? Further, would the noble Lord agree that the discriminatory legislation against British subjects in Kenya, which has, as the noble Lord has said, precipitated this exodus, is something which, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has just mentioned, should be taken up with the Kenya Government? Moreover, could he give an undertaking to ask his right honourable friend the Minister to take steps to talk these things over with the Kenya Government? Furthermore, is he aware of the damage that may be clone to the Kenya economy and to the stability of that country, especially as the British taxpayer is providing quite substantial funds for the maintenance of that economy?

My Lords, I would not agree that there is any difference between the citizens of any country coming here, who come here with the consent of, and by agreement with, the United Kingdom Government. There cannot be any difference if they enter in accordance with our laws. With regard to the standard of what I might call education, and of the commercial ability and acumen of the Asians, I understand it is generally agreed that they are high; and these are matters, of course, for the consideration of the Kenya Government, including the extent to which the more or less induced departure of these Asians from Kenya may prove a handicap to the future of that country. The position with which we are confronted in this case is that legislation of the kind which has been suggested might well mean that these people would have a British passport but that the only place they could not come to on that passport would be Britain. That would be a very serious matter indeed.

My Lords, may I ask whether my noble friend would agree that the position of these Asians from East Africa is to some extent in the nature of the position of refugees, and refugees who have a very particular and special claim on our hospitality?

My Lords, these people are British citizens and have the right to come here, and when they exercise that right they can scarcely be regarded as refugees. But, at the same time, all the facilities which we have in this country for the assistance of immigrants who come here are, and will be, made freely available to them.

My Lords, I am sorry to intervene again, but in view of the fact that the noble Lord has said it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government that in all the circumstances these people shall be allowed to come here (and I am not arguing about that) would he ask his right honourable friend to take up the matter again with the Kenyan Government, so that this influx can be slowed up as far as possible? According to the Answer given by the noble Lord, the Kenyan Government is pressing these people to get out quickly. I rather doubt whether that is the case. I think there is some uncertainty on the part of the Asians, and perhaps further consultation with the Kenyan Government might have some effect.

My Lords, the Trade Licensing Act was passed in Kenya only last month, and this restricts the opportunity for the Asians to work and prosper in their own country. Other than that they are not being forced out. With regard to making representations to the Home Secretary, I said in answer to the original Question that he is giving continuous and anxious consideration to this matter, and he has most certainly done all he possibly can in the way of representations to the Government of Kenya, and will continue to do so.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether it is true, as has been stated in the Press, that the number of persons throughout the Commonwealth, as distinct from East Africa, who are entitled to by-pass the Commonwealth Immigrants Act by means of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies is not 190,000 but 370,000?

My Lords, there is no question of "by-passing" when people possess rights; but so far as Africa is concerned, according to the estimates made last November which were published in another place, the total number is 230,000, of whom 167,000 were then resident in Kenya. The figure that he has quoted must take into consideration parts of the world other than Africa. If that is so, then the total figure which he quoted is still not correct.

My Lords, does not the Minister think that this matter of race discrimination by the Kenya Government should be brought up in the relevant Committees of the United Nations and condemned?

My Lords, this is a matter for consideration by the responsible authorities. I think I have given sufficient indication to show that this is already a matter for consideration by the United Nations.