7 OCTOBER 1972, Page 4

A honourable and necessary action

When, in February 1968, at the. behest of the Conservative Shadow Cabinet, a Labour government decided to restrict and control the entry into this country of British citizens, distinguished, not merely by the fact that they carried British passports, but also by the fact that they had dark skins and came from East Africa, The Spectator described the particular piece of legislation required-to legalise that action of exclusion as — in the words of a leading article "A Shameful and Unnecessary Act." In our issue of February 23, 1968, the late Mr lain Macleod, a former editor of this paper, who was also a former Colonial Secretary, and who at the time was Shadow Chancellor, wrote that Britain was under an obligation to receive into this country Asian holders of our passports who were being expelled from East Africa, and added: It is, of course, true that no one said in terms to the Asian community, "we are providing for you a privileged backdoor entry etc." But the Kenyan constitution is devastatingly clear. So is Hansard. So are all the statutes. And so, therefore, is my position. I gave my word. I meant to give it. I wish to keep it.

We believe that Macleod was morally and legally right in stating, with absolute clarity, that this country was under a distinct and definite obligation to receive within its borders the expelled Asians of East Africa. And, given the unique pathos of the position the Ugandan Asians now find themselves in, we believe that nothing has so become the record of the Heath Government as their acknowledgement of that obligation.

There is no doubt that a large number of people in this country, and in particular a large number of party members who will be attending the Conservative conference at Blackpool, do not believe that there is any such obligation. And they have not been helped to realise that there is such an obligation by the decision of the Attorney-General, Sir Peter Rawlinson, and of the Foreign Secretary, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, to rest the argument for admission on a reading of this country's duties under international law: for many of our citizens refuse utterly, in their present nationali§tic mood, to accept that we are beholden in any way to rules and provisos imposed on us in the past by agreement as to behaviour between the nations of the world. It is therefore necessary to state unequivocally that it is the law of our oWn 'country which %obliges us to receive our citizens. Although the Immigration Act of 1968, which restricted the entry of our citizens from East Africa and was in definite and even blatant contradiction of specific, legal pledges, publicly entered into, after a great deal of open political debate, and with minimal political opposition, by this country, it did not remove ultimate rights conferred by earlier Conservative legislation. It is these rights which the British Ugandan Asians are now exercising.

The Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962 for the first time imposed restrictions on the hitherto accepted right of entry to Britain of the citizens of independent Commonwealth countries. In 1963 Mr Duncan Sandys introduced the Kenya Independence Bill to the House of Commons. This Bill incorporated a constitution for the new state of Kenya. It was known that a number of white and brown British subjects might find life in the new state unpalatable; and that they might, at some date in the future, wish to leave the area of jurisdiction of Mr Kenyatta's new government. 'IIf they did not continue to enjoy an alternative citizenship, they would become stateless. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of the Colonial Office Mr John Tilney therefore made it clear that "There is . . . no question of anyone becoming stateless as a result of the Bill's provisions." Clearly it was intended that anybody living in Kenya — and the same was to apply to those living in other former colonies in East Africa — was being offered a choice between British citizenship, with all that that involved, including a right of entry to this country, and the citizenship of the new state. And, even if the independence acts were not clear, subsequent legislation was. In 1964 Parliament passed the first of two British Nationality Acts. Dated March 25, 1964, it was described as "An Act to facilitate the resumption or renunciation of citizenship of the, United Kingdom and Colonies," It entitled subjects of the Crown in colonies or former colonies to register as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies; and it entitled them, as citizens, to enter Britain. It seems, however, that Parliament still felt that Britain's duty in respect of such people was not spelt out sufficiently clearly. So, later in 1964, another Act — the British Nationality (No. 2) Act — was passed. The statutory description of that piece of legislation was even clearer: it was "An act to provide for the acquisition of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies by certain classes of persons who would otherwise be stateless." As Macleod said : "How can one argue now that we did not know?"

It is true that the whole question of who were British citizens, and who enjoyed a right of entry to this land, was never put to the voters. But it is also true that there was no question, in 1963 or 1964, of British opinion being opposed to the then Government's plan to make citizenship available to those of the Queen's subjects who, because of their race or colour, might find life in the newly independent CommonWeatth states intolerable. It is worth recalling that Mr Enoch Powell, who has been foremost in 1972 in denying that there Was or is any such obligation as we have described, was a member of the Government in 1963, when Kenya was made independent; and, though he had left the Cabinet by 1964, he did not oppose the provisions of the two nationality Acts of that year. There can be no question, therefore, of the nature and extent of the obligation freely entered into. It was not until 1968, when the country became aware of the size and character of the problem of coloured immigration to Britain, that the Labour Government of the day decided to restrict the right of entry of some, though not all, British passport holders. At that very moment, however, both the Home Secretary, Mr Callaghan, and the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Mr Maudling, made it perfectly clear that, in the event of an emergency — such as has been created by General Amin in Uganda — a government of either party would fulfil the initial obligation, entered into in the legislation of 1963 and 1964. We take the same view now as we took in 1968 — that the act of restriction was shameful and unnecessary — but it is only right at the same time to acknowledge the promptness and honour with which the present Government has fulfilled the secondary pledge of Mr Callaghan and Mr Maudling. Thus the legalities; thus the contracts made with British passport holders.

It is undeniable that the unexpected entry into Britain of some thousands of East African Asians does and will create problems, in welfare and housing provision, in employment and economics; but it is also vital to recognise that the East African Asian immigration problem is not the same as the general problem of Commonwealth immigration. Indeed, it would not be going too far to say that there is no problem of Commonwealth immigration which can be so simply described. There is a specific problem of immigration from the West Indies: there is another, and quite separate, problem of immigration from Pakistan. The West Indian who settles in Britain of course poses a challenge of identity to this country, and creates difficulties for our social welfare system at the same time as he makes a contribution to our wealth. But the challenge he poses, the difficulties he creates and the contribution he makes, are different from the challenge posed, the difficulty created, and the contribution made by the Pakistani, or Indian, or Chinese, immigrant. And, further, all these challenges, difficulties and contributions are different yet again in the case of the East African Asian. It is clearly true to say, for example, that the problem of absorbing a West Indian, brought up in an essentially Christian, essentially British, tradition and ethos, is different from the problem of absorbing a Pakistani, whose ethos and tradition are entirely different. In both cases, however, there will be an underlying loyalty on the part of the immigrant to the country from which he has come, however well he is absorbed into the life of this country. The existence of that underlying loyalty, that underlying sense of identification, will delay where it does not prevent the transformation of the immigrant into a truly British citizen, identifying himself with the character, hopes, fears and ambitions of this country. In the case of British citizens of Asiatic race expelled from East Africa, however, there can be no such underlying commitment to the country from which they have departed: the absence of such commitment is inherent in their departure. It is true that they have a religious and cultural identity different from our own. But of all immigrants in our country the East African Asians are likely to be the most willing to adopt the ethic of citizenship of Britain.

Where a problem exists — other than the immediate, practical, problems of provision — it exists because, in addition to the East African Asians, we are trying to absorb various other immigrant populations as well; and, further, such immigrant populations are continually — though, in the last couple of years at a slightly reduced rate — being added to. There is no obligation on the part of this country to these other immigrants and no reason why the Government should not reduce our intake of them; or, indeed, altogether stop the flow. Even here, however, though the flow of immigration under the present Government has not been reduced to the extent promised at the last election, there are grounds for believing that the problem is on its way to a solution. On January 1 the Conservative Immigration Act of 1971 will enter fully into force, and this will further tighten the existing system of control, and further reduce the number of Commonwealth citizens coming to Britain. If the Government felt, in the face of mounting Public concern, that such immigration should stop, while Britain tried to cater for her own passport-holders, there Would be no reason why they should not act accordingly.

There is a further point to be made regarding the undertakings entered into regarding the East African Asians by previous governments. It was stated with immense clarity by the Prime Minister in his letter to the Monday Club. Mr Heath was reply ing to a motion passed at a special meeting of the Club opposing the entry of Asians from East Africa. He said that when he had spoken to the Club before the last election he had dwelt on the contrast he found between the prevarications and broken promises of the Labour Government, and the willingness and determination of the Conservative Party to make promises and keep them. It was not then the view of the Monday Club, he continued, that a Conservative Government "should attempt to find quibbles and excuses to enable it to run away from Britain's obligations." In such terms, too, did lain Macleod write in The Spectator in 1968: "It would surely be a strange footnote to the strong and justified Tory charges of broken faith against the Labour Government if we now campaign to break our own undertakings."

That obligation of honour is not a paltry one. Nor is it an obligation that can be denied with any degree of plausibility whatever. As Mr Maudling said, speaking on the 1968 Act: There is no doubt about the rights whiCh these people possess. When they were given these rights, it was our intention that they should be able to come to this country when they wanted to do so, We knew it at the time. They knew it, and in many cases they have acted and taken decisions on this knowledge. I am certain there can be no going back on those simple facts.

It is worth emphasising that those words were spoken even as Mr Maudling prepared to support a piece of legislation which reduced and restricted the rights of which he spoke. But it was his intention, and the intention of his party as well as of the Labour Government, by speaking with such 'force and simplicity, to restate emphatically that, though the rights were being reduced, they were not being removed: they would continue in force and they could be exercised in an hour of trial. That hour is now come for the Ugandan Asians and, if legislation itself were not enough to explain and enforce an obligation, there are the words of present and past members of the Government to perform that task. With less elegance than Mr Maudling, but with even greater simplicity, Mr Callaghan, again in 1968, said: I was asked what we would do about a man who was thrown out of work and ejected from the country. We shall have to take him. We cannot do anything else in those circumstances.

The Heath Government has acted to discharge the obligation it understood this country to possess and, albeit tardily, the Labour Opposition has come to its support. The Prime Minister and his colleagues have behaved with the utmost propriety and honour; as well as with courage and fidelity to their past engagements. The Ugandan Asians are coming: the question is, in what spirit will they be received? And how can what is undoubtedly a problem be turned to the national advantage? A national advantage, both moral and material, can be procured only if, whatever may be done about other Commonweath immigration, we welcome them in an open and hospitable spirit. But further, the addition to our population of this industrious, loyal and beleaguered minority must be made into an opportunity to restate our national identity. One way or another we have in this country a substantial coloured minority. Their presence within our borders need not lead to any dilution of the national identity, provided we spell out, clearly and forcefully, what that national identity is; and provided we can educate the sons and daughters of the minority in the terms of that identity. Throughout the ages this country has been revitalised and renewed by injections of fresh blood from outside. There is no reason why that cannot happen again. The native people of this island need not retreat into their laagers because a coloured minority has come to live with them. Rather can they go forth to provide the newcomers with a new home, not merely in the material sense, but in the moral, cultural and patriotic sense as well. The challenge to do this is what we — and, in particular, the Conservative Party — now face.