24 NOVEMBER 1961, Page 3


THE Government has given two more examples of the timidity which prevents it from form- ulating consistent policies, and from sticking to such proposals as it, has introduced. The Im- migration Bill has had to be modified; and now, it seems, is to be re-modified, not out of deference to public opinion, nor in the light of informed criticism, but because of political pressure from the Right—and also because the Bill's implications had not been properly worked out. The wages pause, too, has been allowed to shiver just when there were beginning to be signs that it might work; work well enough, at least, to encourage the Government to move on to the next step—the establishment of a coherent wages plan.

In both cases the Government can put up the same defence: that it does not wish to restrict either immigration or wage increases as such; it merely wants to regulate them so that they do not weaken the country's economic and social structure. And naturally it is difficult to present a Bill convincingly with the argument, 'we don't want to do this, but we have to do something.' Yet it should not have been beyond the Government's powers to convince the public that legislative action was necessary in both cases; and that in both cases it was as fair as is humanly possible. Yet this, in both cases, Ministers have singularly failed to do.

The reason they have failed over the Immi- gration Bill, is that they have been reluctant to admit that it is not immigrants, but coloured immigrants, who are the cause of their worry. All the indications are that industry hail every- thing to gain from immigration, ia providing a reservoir of labour. One of the chief trials of British industrialists is the chronic lack of mobility, and therefore of flexibility, of labour: but immigrants, who have pulled up their own roots at home, are much less concerned about where they live—if work moves they are pre- pared to move with it. For similar reasons they work harder, on balance; and traditionally they are prepared to work dirtier. They have proved of immense value to the national economy; nor, as yet, have there been any signs that they are depriving Britons of jobs by undercutting them in the labour market. Rather the reverse : their availability helps to create work.

Where immigration has caused trouble is simply in the accommodation market. In• London and many provincial towns the new- comers have been forced into districts which have become slums—ghettoes, almost; and this has created colour hostility where none existed before. It is not, of course, simply a matter of colour : the Irish in the mass can be quite as unpopular. But the Irish assimilate more quickly; and they are not so immediately recognisable as different if trouble arises.

What the Government could have done, if it had had the courage, would have been to admit that the British people are no more resistant 'to colour prejudice than the people of, say, Chicago; and that consequently it is advisable, for the sake of the immigrants themselves (and of the Commonwealth, for in the long run the Commonwealth's fabric is just as likely to be damaged by repetition of the Notting Hill/ Nottingham episodes as it is by any restrictions on entry), to erect some temporary filter system, and admit that it is a colour filter. And there are many valid arguments available: that immigrants cannot be absorbed if they arrive in excessive numbers; and that Britain ought to have the right to exclude individuals on health or security grounds. But even this could only be justified if at the same time the Government took steps to break the ghetto system, and to spread the immi- grants more evenly throughout our cities—and, indeed, throughout the whole country.

But the Government is reluctant to make this move, and for easily discernible reasons. In order to do so Ministers would require to obtain ' powers they do not now possess, and use powers they are reluctant to invoke.lt would mean a much more intensive—and expensive—housing cam- paign, coupled with interference in the ordinary rights of citizens, both as owners and as tenants. Quite apart from the unpopularity of any such project, there would be grave practical diffi- culties. So the Government has taken the easy way out of imposing restrictions on entry, with the pre- tence that the design is not so much to restrict as to regulate immigration.

But it is only a pretence—as the attitude to the Irish has demonstrated. They were included in the original proposals because otherwise the Bill would all too obviously have shown its colour design. Then, after what must have seemed like a safe interval, it was admitted that for practical reasons control of Irish immigra- tion might not be possible—which had been known all along. But the Government had mis- calculated. Not only was the Labour Party far More united, and far more effective, in opposi- tion on the immigration proposals than could have seemed possible: the Tory Right, too, seized the opportunity. The right-vb. ingers do not necessarily want restrictions on Irish entry, but they were delighted to have such a gift of an opportunity to lambast the Government for its.. Empire-dissolving policies---and to express their general dissatisfaction. So, once again the Government was forced on to the retreat.

For the moment what the Government will have to do, if it does not want to look uncom- monly shabby, is set up a Commission—not, so help us, of Inquiry, as that would achieve only delay, but of action, if such an idea is not too startling: with authority to take on a certain range of tasks, and with an injunction to stir up the appropriate Ministries, Housing and Labour in particular, (as well as the local authorities) into doing something to mitigate the unpleasant side- effects of immigration, instead of simply wringing their hands and blaming each other. If the Gov- ernment's aim is to avoid the growth of colour prejudice in this country, it is a worthy one; but to avoid trouble simply by refusing immigrants because of the colour of their skin is inherently an ignoble expedient, unworthy of , British tradition.

Over the wage pause the position has become a little clearer from the Prime Minister's interven- tion on Tuesday, but not much; and the fact that he felt compelled to intervene is itself a symptom of the prevailing Government malaise. When Mr. Lloyd is up he is up, and quite effective he can be from the Government front bench. But when he is down he is out; he is reminiscent of nothing so much as a crab left stranded and upside down by a receding wave, feebly waving his legs in the air, and hoping that the next wave will set him right way up again.

Mr. Macmillan had the sense to admit that recent events have been a setback ; but in truth the pause has never worked really satisfactorily. To begin with it \\ as unfair- inevitably--tothose next in line for wage increases when it was im- posed: and it has since become unfair to those wage-earners in the public sector who have to watch ,helplessly while workers in private enter- prise continue with their claims as if nothing had happened—Equity, for example, demanding more for a bit-part player with a single line in a soap opera, 'Is mum in?', than most, teat; qrs earn in a fortnight.

Show business, admittedly, is a special case: but electricity is not, and Mr. Macmillan's defence in his reply to Mr. Grimond that we must not move to 'a sort of fascist society where we should impose our will' really will not do. For what we have now, on that thesis, is a society divided into a fascist segment where the Govern- ment deems it right to impose its will, coupled un- easily to a free segment where the Government dare not intervene.

Society is not in a healthy condition when a body such as the Electricity Council, which owes its existence to State sponsorship, can casually flout the Chancellor's express wishes and esCape unscathed. If the pause is to work, the public needs to be persuaded not that it is just—because a standstill order of this kind can never be just— but it is justified. Exceptions may be allowed where the pause is unworkable (where, say, an industry simply lost all its skilled workers) or where it is absurdly illogical, as it was at London Airport; or even in fringe cases such as Equity, which are sui giweris. But nobody can be expected to take's Government seriously which the workers in one nationalised industry to exploit their bargaining powers, simply because those powers happen to be considerable. And with the new confusion over whether 'pause' or 'restraint' is the operative word, the future remains uncer- tain. For the Government to have slipped:up on this issue can only breed mistrust; and mistrust is no basis on which to rebuild a tottering economy.