Goans: Britain's favourite migrants

From time to time the question has arisen whether the British treated Goans any diferently from the other South Asians in its African colonies. The answer is a firm yes and the British remained true to their Goan servants even when it came to migration of the UK as this excerpt for Hansard clearly shows:


GOANS: UK PASSPORTS

HL Deb 26 May 1976 vol 371 cc259-63



Lord ORR-EWING  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:

  1. (i) who authorised the issue of United Kingdom passports to Goan citizens;
  2. (ii) when, where and why this was done;
  3. (iii) whether the Indian Government had agreed to allow citizens from the territory to take up Indian nationality;
  4. (iv) whether Portugal—Goa's colonial power—was approached before United Kingdom passports were issued; and
  5. (v) how many United Kingdom passports were issued to Goan citizens.

Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE  My Lords, there is no Goan citizenship. Most persons born in Goa became Indian citizens in December 1961. British passports are issued on the authority of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to persons of Goan birth or descent only if they are United Kingdom nationals. The number is not known. There is no need to approach the Portuguese authorities.

Lord ORR-EWING  My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that this situation is perplexing to the average citizen? Goa had been a Portuguese colony from 1510 until it was captured by India in 1961, and when that occurred the citizens were offered Indian nationality. How is it that they have now somehow arrived with British nationality? Surely, the first responsibility would have been with India and the second responsibility would have been with Portugal. Is the noble Baroness aware that Goa sent representatives for many years to the Portuguese Parliament, so it was closely allied with Portugal and Goans spoke Portuguese? Is the noble Baroness further aware that a number of Goans moved to East Africa, and that the nation is very perplexed as to how it is that we are obligated to receive all these Goans, if they wish to enter Britain, if they are turned out of Malawi and other East African territories? Could the noble Baroness clarify this position for the benefit of the House and the nation?

Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE  Yes, my Lords; I think history is nearly always perplexing. The question of when Portuguese citizens of Goan descent became Indian is clearly defined in time. I agree that the situation may seem perplexing, but nevertheless it is perfectly clear what happened. As the noble Lord clearly knows, Goan people, because of their industry and ability, were immensely welcomed in British territories and British Protectorates in Africa and other places; and there they went, largely in order to serve British interests. Then they were given, by a Conservative Government—and rightly, in my view—the right to possess British passports to enable them to come to this country if they were no longer welcome in those countries where they lived.

Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS  My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware, so far as public apprehension is concerned, that the real danger is the ambiguity of all this? The public really begin to feel that we have no powers to decide who shall come and who shall not come to this country. In order to remove, in the words used by the noble Baroness, the perplexity or the ambiguity of it all, has not the time arrived when the matter ought to be presented in such a way as to clarify where our powers are and what we can do? It is from this lack of clarification that the danger will flow, because a wrongly-informed public is one that you sometimes cannot control.  

Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE  My Lords, the perplexity that I referred to was only in the case of history. There is no perplexity at all about who has a right to come here and who has not. United Kingdom passport holders—we are talking about Goans—have a right of entry only under the voucher scheme, and a very small proportion of these people are Goans.

Lord BROCKWAY  My Lords, may I ask the Minister this question. Are we not in the dilemma that the Indian Government encouraged Asians in East Africa to become citizens of African countries while we gave citizenship to those who did not do so? Is it not now possible to come to an arrangement with Malawi by which there would be phased immigration? Is it not also desirable that we should consider the position of other territories, like Hong Kong, before this dilemma arises?

Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE  My Lords, so far as Malawi is concerned, there is already phased immigration, and we have no anxieties about how that phasing will work out. I must say to my noble friend that Hong Kong is a different question.

Baroness EMMET of AMBERLEY  My Lords, can the noble Baroness explain why it is that we were not able to approach the Portuguese Government about this matter? Is she aware that when I was last in Portugal, before this revolution, the representative of Goa was then sitting in the Portuguese Council?

Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE  Yes, my Lords; it is almost never the practice to consult the country of origin if somebody applies for a British passport and it is felt that he has qualified under the usual rules to hold the British passport. No other Government is normally consulted.

Baroness EMMET of AMBERLEY  My Lords, should not we start doing so?

Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE  My Lords, I do not think that would be at all useful.

Lord GRIDLEY  My Lords, may I raise a point in a friendly question to the 262 noble Baroness? Would she consider that at the present time there is a considerable amount of apprehension in this country about race relations in general? In view of that, would it not be wise for the Government to make some sort of Statement on the situation, and perhaps curtail very drastically immigration into this country from the new Commonwealth? She will understand that I ask that question in the interests of good race relations in Britain at the moment.

Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE  My Lords, the noble Lord is always friendly and I accept his question in that spirit. We are, of course, discussing Goans and their rights to British passports. Perhaps I should not answer a general question on immigration. But I can say that of course everybody recognises the anxieties, the feelings up and down the country about it. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary made a very clear statement about this last Monday in another place. Of course, if the noble Lord wants a general debate on it, he has every right to do so by putting down an Unstarred Question or something of that kind.

Lord GORE-BOOTH  My Lords, with the same friendly intent. may I ask the noble Baroness whether I have this right? It would be helpful in any such Statement to make it quite clear that these Goans received British nationality for contributions made to parts of the world then under British sovereignty, and it would be very difficult to reverse that decision taken at that time.