Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

HC I [Immigration and Race Relations]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [865/1485-98.
Editorial comments: 1700-44. MT intervened at c1490.
Importance ranking: Trivial
Word count: 4715
[column 1485]

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Roy Jenkins (Birmingham, Stechford)

I find myself coming back after a relatively brief interlude of, I think, 20 months to the feel of a Dispatch Box in front of me and to the less tangible return of a departmental subject from which I have been away for a rather longer interval—one of almost exactly six years. I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his kind words of welcome and am glad that my first appearance in this new Shadow rôle should be in a debate on a subject as important, even if also as delicate and in some ways intractable, as that which we are discussing today.

Certainly it was one of the aspects of my work at the Home Office which I and those who were with me between 1965 and 1967 found most worth while. We [column 1486]were then able to do something to create an atmosphere of hope. I was particularly happy, before leaving, to be able to announce the shape of the 1968 Race Relations Act, which was certainly not perfect but which I believe marked a substantial step forward. There was far from universal approval for it when my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) carried it through.

I was glad to see that the Home Secretary made an honourable and frank statement of the evolution of his party's view when he addressed the conference of the Race Relations Board at Nottingham in September and said:

“Whatever differences of view there may have been in 1968 I want to put it clearly on record with you that the Government fully endorses the principles of the Race Relations Act under which your Board is established.”

I was a little less happy to see that in that same speech he gave a rather discouraging, although not final, reply to some proposals of the board for amending legislation arising out of its experience.

I began at the end of 1965 with much weaker legislation than we have now and with a board which was only in embryo. The appointments had not been made, although they had been discussed. It was also a much smaller board. On the whole, I found it desirable to let the board build up the case for the changes it wanted and then, subject obviously to the discretion of the Government and the House, to act broadly on its recommendations. I believe that the the Home Secretary, while giving himself adequate time for reflection, might be wise to follow the same course.

The board has sense on its side in what it is proposing. These are not extreme proposals. One of them is to rid it of a rather nonsensical obligation which it has to investigate complaints which it would not regard as being worth investigating. The recommendations should be acted upon, subject only to a point to which I shall come a little tentatively later, that any legislation should perhaps be set in a broader context of anti-discrimination legislation generally.

In contrast with the Home Secretary. I want to devote the greater part of my speech to race relations rather than immigration, but I want to say something [column 1487]about immigration first. The right hon. Gentleman proudly announced his reduced figures for the first nine months. I do not dispute that reasonably low figures make the problem easier to handle. We welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Kenyan and Tanzanian position. It is a small but welcome and sensible change. I gather from what he said that it will be welcome to the Kenyan Government, who hope to stabilise the position. Today's statement was wiser than that which the right hon. Gentleman made in January. I happened then to be in Nairobi, and there was a grave danger that the statement made here for home consumption might have precipitated the circumstances which the right hon. Gentleman and all of us were anxious to avoid.

We must have limited and low figures, but in some cases the price to be paid for the limited reductions to which the right hon. Gentleman was pointing can be too high. I want to refer to three matters. First, there are still split families among Ugandan Asians. I understand that the figure is at least 250. The Uganda Asian Resettlement Board, as I understand it, is soon to be wound up, but there are problems remaining. How does the Home Secretary envisage dealing with this problem of split families, which is quite unacceptable? How quickly can it be dealt with? The second matter was brought out during Question Time today and has to do with the fact that British females have no right to bring in husbands to join them in the same way as do British husbands. I know that there is a tu quoque answer to this, and that we can exchange these opinions across the Floor of the House a good deal. We march on in the struggle for equal rights for the sexes and it is difficult to see on what basis of sex equality this absolute lack of any right at all can in present circumstances be justified.

Mr. Carr

May I get rid of the tu quoque idea? I approved of the action taken by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) when he was Home Secretary. I did so regretfully, because although there was growing evidence that men were getting round our immigration controls and coming here to marry, women were not doing so. If women were as irresponsible as [column 1488]men in this way we would get back to sex equality.

Mr. Jenkins

I am not disputing that there is a problem, although it was concerned mainly with fiancés rather than husbands. The marriage contract is a little more permanent, at any rate, than the undertaking that a marriage might take place in certain circumstances at some stage in the future. I am not inviting the Home Secretary to open what could be a wide door to abuse, but there is a problem which must be considered seriously unless we are prepared indefinitely to proceed on a direct basis of sex discrimination. That would be difficult to do. Even within the rule which gives husbands greater rights than wives, some intolerable delays are taking place.

A case was raised by a constituent about which I wrote to the Home Secretary a short time ago. He has not had time to deal with it. I make no complaint of that, although it was a few weeks ago that I wrote. I know that the Home Office grinds a little slowly. An extremely well-established Pakistani, a British subject holding a British passport, with a good job at Birmingham University, clearly here for permanent settlement, with a permanent job, had a wife whom he wished to bring in. He came to see me and said that his wife had been to see the high commissioner in Islamabad in June. He gave me a letter, which appeared to say that she was to come back in September. I looked at the letter and said, “I quite see that a delay from June to September is not desirable and that you are getting a little impatient, but, after all, September has gone by and three months, while long, is perhaps tolerable.” He said, “With respect you have misread the letter. It does not say that she is to come back in September 1973; it says that she is to come back in September 1974” .

That delay of 15 months between the first and second interview, in a case of the reunion of husband and wife is unacceptable. There is a suspicion that this is being done not because of an intolerable administrative burden; it is being welcomed in that it produces satisfactory statistics by reducing the numbers. To the extent that that is so, the Home Secretary should not congratulate himself upon statistics that are produced by these inhumane methods which cannot fail to [column 1489]interfere with family life and cannot be conducive to good relations. When the Under-Secretary of State goes on his tour in the New Year, he should, as he must, deal with questions of possible abuse and also try to ensure that there is more speed and courtesy in treatment by the immigration departments of the high commissions in dealing with genuine cases of this sort.

I agree with the Home Secretary's unequivocal acceptance that we have a coloured population of about 1½ million; that successive Governments, and Ministers in successive Governments, are responsible in varying degree for their being here—not least the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) when he was Minister of Health; that, except at the margin, they are here to stay; that it is moonshine and misleading to pretend otherwise; and that on every ground of morality and expediency they must not be treated as second-class citizens.

The Home Secretary, however, is sometimes stronger on liberal sentiments than he is on positive action. I am not quite sure that he appreciates—and this emerges a little from the balance of his speech between immigration and race relations—the strenuous and unremitting nature of the struggle there must be if the avoidance of second-class status is to be a reality and not just a pious aspiration.

I should like, without, I hope, wearying the House, to offer some reflections on how the problem looks to me, coming back after six years, compared with how it looked when I left it in the autumn of 1967, and to try to see, in a relatively non-controversial way, where progress has been better than might have been expected and where, on the other hand, the problem has proved less tractable.

In attempting such a survey I have been much aided in the last week or so by the successive reports and evidence collected by the Select Committee. We all owe a considerable debt of gratitude to the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) and other members of the Select Committee which produced a great deal of valuable work. We in the House have more reason for gratitude to the Select Committee than has the Select [column 1490]Committee to the Government for the response it has received.

What, for instance, has happened to the response of the Department of the Environment to the housing report, which is nearly two and a half years old? The response on police-immigrant relations has been forthcoming, after a delay of just over a year. How much time is likely to elapse before a response is received from the Department of Education and Science to the latest report on education? I see that the Secretary of State is here. I shall willingly give way to her if she wishes to answer that question now.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

By Easter.

Mr. Jenkins

I am glad to hear that. It will set a standard which I hope the Secretary of State for the Environment and other Departments will note. I forget whether Easter is early or late this year, but it is a great deal nearer to us than the two and a half years for which we have awaited the response of the Department of the Environment. But paper response, important though it is, is still well short of implementation.

I return to the attempt at a survey of the development of the position over six years. The pattern is a jagged one. Some things are better than one might have expected, others less good. The employment opportunities, particularly for girls in London, have proved better than looked likely. In the PEP report, which was a basic document in those early days, it was not thought likely that by this relatively early date girls would be so well established in secretarial jobs, in department stores and in food shops as they are. There has been progress and acceptance here to an encouraging extent.

On the other hand, the position of young males is much less good, particularly among those of West Indian origin. The 1971 census showed that there was 16.2 per cent. unemployment amongst boys born in the West Indies compared with a national average among boys of 8 per cent. That was in a period of higher unemployment than now. But the discrepancy was worse than it looked, because those born in the West Indies were concentrated to an unnatural extent in areas of high employment, whereas the indigenous population was spread over [column 1491]the whole country including the areas of heavy unemployment. This group of boys who have just left school and should be in their first or early jobs but are not is clearly a sensitive group from the point of view of future attitudes and race relations. Indeed, there is a depressing indication of a hardening of exclusive, hostile attitudes amongst precisely this group and its immediate predecessors.

Mr. Christopher Woodhouse (Oxford)

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the statistics which he has been quoting give an indication of the level of employment amongst boys of West Indian origin born in this country?

Mr. Jenkins

I think that it is less, but not significantly less. The figures which I have relate to those born in the West Indies. There might be a slight improvement when the figures which I was relating—namely for those born outside the country and the figures for those born in Britain—are taken together. I have no doubt that the same pattern would be reflected, but possibly to a lesser degree, if the category which the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) has mentioned were taken instead of the category used in the figures which I have given.

We have not exactly moved to a less equal performance in education, but we have become more conscious of inequality. That is partly because of the work of the Select Committee. There is not just a culture conflict for those born outside the country. It persists amongst those born in the country as part of an interlocking pattern of deprivation and poor opportunity. To some extent it is bound up with the white problem in the same areas. In that context there is also deprivation and poor opportunity. It is not specifically a colour problem. Where there is difficulty and a culture conflict, and where other adjustments have to be made, the problem is accentuated to that extent. It is not unique to the minority groups but on the whole it is worse for them.

There are some brighter spots. The Asians do very nearly as well as the average in London although, for some reason, a little less so outside London. The West Indians generally have more difficulty. Language can be crucial. That [column 1492]may sound paradoxical in view of what I have just said. The West Indians are not entirely free from language difficulties. Not nearly enough has been done in that direction. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Education and Science is listening to the debate. To take one example, there are a number of people among the Ugandan refugees who came here last year who were teachers in Uganda and who are not teaching in this country. They are, on the whole, doing jobs which are less useful and perhaps less worthy. Of course, I do not like to say that any job is less worthy than another, but the fact is that they are doing jobs which are less closely related to their talents than those which they were doing before they left Uganda.

Given the great shortage of teachers in many parts of Britain and given the language problem amongst minority groups, it seems to have been a great waste of opportunity not to have put those from Uganda with teaching experience on a short crash course. Very little effort would have been necessary to make them fully qualified to teach in this country and to enable them to make a substantial contribution to the problem.

The Pathway Unit has been operating in Southall in the London Borough of Ealing for three years. It is a limited project which has cost only £25,000. Nothing has grown from the project during the past three years. At the same time, as is undoubtedly the case, the cost of employing people in industry without adequate knowledge of English has greatly increased. There are other countries which have faced the same problem. For instance. Sweden has been spending far more money—I accept that the spending of money is not the object—and employing far more resources in dealing with the problem of people working in the country who do not know the country's natural language. That underlines the importance not only of an early response but an adequate response from the Department of Education and Science to the Select Committee's report.

Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Russell Report on adult education refers specifically to the problem which he has been discussing? Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Education and [column 1493]Science if she will turn her attention to it?

Mr. Jenkins

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) for raising that important and informative matter. I shall be glad to let the point ride off me and on to the right hon. Lady. I hope that she will pay attention to it.

I now turn to the important matter of police relations with minority groups. The background should be hopeful. It is often forgotten that amongst the coloured or minority groups the crime rates are below the average for the host community. The crime rates for the Asians are about half the rates of the host community. I think that we would all express the view, “Long may that continue” . It should be the foundation for good police-minority group relations. To the extent that it is, it greatly increases the chances of such relations continuing. To the extent that it is not, it greatly reduces those chances.

The position of police-immigrant relations is patchy. In some ways it has improved. We have more coloured policemen. We now have about 70 coloured officers. That is a small number. It is less than one in a thousand. It is less than one-tenth of 1 per cent. That bears no relation to the fact that approximately 3 per cent. of the population is coloured. However, there has been progress since 1966 when, I think, the first coloured police officer and certainly the first in the Metropolitan Police, was appointed.

At a noisy meeting at the Central Hall, Westminster, on an occasion which I believe is annual and which may be familiar to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the police appear out of uniform and, to some extent, free from inhibition. On such an occasion, in October 1966, my words to them, couched, as always, in moderate terms, when describing the desirability of having some coloured policemen in their ranks were greeted with a noise which I did not take to be the sound of enthusiasm. Such an event would be impossible today. That is substantial progress. None the less, prejudice still exists amongst the police as prejudice still exists amongst the police as amongst every category of group and body within the country.

It is not surprising or directly blame-worthy that prejudice exists amongst the [column 1494]police as amongst other groups. However, it is more dangerous amongst the police because it endangers future relationships. Considerable efforts are being made. They are being made by the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and by a number of other high-ranking officers. For example, the Chief Constable of Birmingham has done a great deal. A great deal can be done by determined effort. It can be done by lower-ranking police officers.

A great change has occurred, for example, in Lewisham in the course of the past year. That has been achieved as a result of a determined effort to deal with a situation which was not very good and which has become a great deal better as a result of that effort. There could be dramatic results from facing the problem and making a vigorous effort. The Home Secretary has a particular responsibility. I hope he will quickly press on with a complaints procedure containing an independent element.

One other matter I want to raise takes on a somewhat more critical note than I have adopted hitherto in my remarks. I refer to the passport raids that took place in London on two days in October. I believe that those raids were most disturbing and created uncertainty and resentment. I believe that they are also contrary to assurances given by the Home Secretary that the 1971 Act would not be implemented in a way that would lead to harassment.

These raids were co-ordinated police operations. I understand that in the first raid about 15 police officers and one immigration officer were involved. They arrived early in the morning and cordoned off a block of buildings near Tottenham Court Road. They conducted a house-to-house search, asked for passports, and those who could not immediately produce them were taken off in vans to Leman Street Police Station—a police station in a different part of London—and they were detained there for several hours. A few illegal immigrants were caught—nobody objects to that—but they were a small proportion of those detained and a tiny proportion of those who were subjected to these mass raids. It was a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I do not believe that this fishnet technique—a technique involving pulling in a number of people [column 1495]and throwing most of them out again without any apology and causing grave inconvenience—is a process which will lead to good relations with a peculiarly law-abiding, but necessarily somewhat nervous, section of the community.

Mr. Bidwell

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the retrospective effect of the 1971 Act, to which the Labour Party were resolutely opposed, inevitably imposed this new burden on the police?

Mr. Jenkins

I remember making this point when I wound up for the Opposition on the Second Reading of the 1971 Act. The incident I have illustrated proves that that point still has some force. I believe that, even with the Act on the statute book, it should still be possible to operate it in a way which would avoid a repetition of this incident. I very much hope and believe that that is the Home Secretary's intention.

I read his speech made in Nottingham in September with a great deal of interest and perhaps I may quote from it again. He said:

“The point I want to stress today is that we in this country have a strong tradition of personal liberty, and once a person is in the community we do not expect him to carry an identity card or be subjected to inquiries and control at every end and turn.”

It seems to me that that principle includes the fact that as a result of a mass raid people should not be carted off to a distant police station and kept there for a period of time because they have not been able immediately to put their hands on a passport.

There is one other very disturbing feature of this raid and a subsequent raid on 25th October. Who authorised this raid and at what level was it authorised? I know that it was not the Home Secretary, and I believe that he has said so. It was not the Commissioner of Police, nor apparently was it even the local Commander of Police, who was unaware that these raids had taken place until after they had happened. If this technique of mass raids of this sort, amounting almost to a dawn raid and involving the cordoning off of an area, is ever again used—about which I am very doubtful—I am certain that it should be authorised at [column 1496]least by the Commissioner, if not by the Home Secretary himself.

We should have an assurance tonight from the Under-Secretary of State that the level of decision making on a point of this sort will be raised substantially, and that there will be no repetition of this casual entry operation, merely on information being laid, without any senior person either in the police or in the Home Office being consulted and asked for authority in what can be a dangerous procedure. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State, after consultation with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, will apply himself to this when he replies tonight.

There are other factors which must be considered at the present time when most people want to see the British birth rate stable or falling. It is encouraging that there are indications that the same thing is happening to a very large part of the immigrant population. There are substantial indications that the birth rate among West Indians has fallen to a greater extent and more quickly than might have been expected. The crude figures show that the number is down to two-thirds of the figure in 1970.

The broad conclusion seems to be mixed. Small towns have found ways of dealing with the problem. I am referring to small towns where the problem exists and is not merely academic—such towns as High Wycombe, Slough, Rochdale and Rugby. Small towns paint a rather more encouraging picture than do some of the large conurbations, but since three of four of the people concerned live in the large conurbations it is no good pretending that we have dealt with the problem just because we have coped on a small-town basis.

Opinion on this subject in this country has stood up moderately well, despite sporadic attempts from a number of people, some with powerful voices, to stir up suspicion without providing constructive solutions. While there may have been some cases of hardening opinion. I think that this has not gone very far and action can be taken to prevent its going too far.

I come to a number of specific points. I refer first to the winding up of the Uganda Resettlement Board. Some 20 per cent. of Ugandans in this country are [column 1497]still unemployed, although out of camps. What machinery have the Government to deal with the remnants of the problem?

My second point relates to the Pakistan Act. Many of the forms which need to be filled in by Pakistanis are complicated and inevitably lead to queries. Where queries have to be settled verbally, this has to be done by people going to an overcrowded office in Croydon from other parts of the country. I have raised this matter with the Home Secretary and I believe that he has applied himself to it. I hope that he can work out a solution which to some extent will provide for decentralisation of the procedure.

My third point relates to the position in regard to the Civil Service. A circular was issued from the Civil Service Department on 19th November, which on the whole is a good circular. It related to employment and to another very important consideration—promotion prospects. However, there was one gap in that circular. No machinery was set up to monitor and review the situation. Everybody who has been concerned with this subject in detail knows that monitoring is an essential follow-through procedure as outlined in the circular. I do not want to over-burden the Under-Secretary of State with too many specific points, but this point is one among other specific points on which I should like a reply. I hope that the monitoring procedure can be set up as quickly as possible.

In conclusion, therefore, I wish to make three broad points. First, even with the very small addition which the Home Secretary intends, I do not think that there is enough positive help and action. The Home Secretary is not complacent. I do not think that any of us could accuse him of that. But I doubt whether he is quite sufficiently activist. I doubt whether he has yet given indications of taking his urban co-ordinating rôle within his manifold other activities and making it sufficiently central to his attention. He will need to do this to make sure, for instance, that the Department of the Environment does not take another two years to reply. I hope that he will do something about that very quickly. I hope that there will be a general indication of a greater sense of central direction than we have had hitherto.

Going a little wider, I think that we are probably moving towards a position [column 1498]in which we need a new structure for dealing with the whole problem. I am not sure that it is wise to go on indefinitely with the Race Relations Board and the Community Relations Commission as entirely separate entities. Their work is different, but it overlaps to a great extent. United States experience suggests that it is easy to have too many agencies dealing with these matters.

It is also the case that we are to have anti-sex discrimination proposals introduced. We have the Green Paper. The problem is sometimes the same as that which confronts us when we are dealing with minority groups. It is similar, it overlaps, but it is not identical. It appears from the Green Paper as though certain aspects will be dealt with here which are not satisfactorily dealt with in terms of race relations, and that certain aspects relating to sex discrimination will not be dealt with which will be dealt with in race matters. It might be considered whether we should not get a broader, more embracing and therefore more acceptable approach to the anti-discrimination problem if we moved towards a unified structure, not only for the different aspects of race work but for anti-discrimination work of all kinds.

I put that suggestion forward tentatively. What is important is to have effective machinery for both types of discrimination, and I do not claim to have reached a final judgment.

My third and last point is that there is no doubt that the problem which we are discussing is and remains a major challenge to our civilised values, to our traditions of tolerance and to the basic beliefs of us all—certainly all of us on this side of the House—in the equal rights of human beings. It is as fundamental to what we believe in or should believe in as any subject which can be debated in this House. It is also one of the factors which may be crucial to social peace in the future. It must not be neglected. It should not be seen through rose-tinted spectacles. But still less should it be viewed with either complacency or despair. Approached in that way, I believe that it is a problem which can be solved on a basis of which we can all be proud.