Orders of the Day — Immigration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th July 1968.

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Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Stratford-on-Avon 12:00 am, 24th July 1968

Speaking on a subject as large and serious as this at this hour does not encourage one to be prolix. Also it makes it easier for us to try to emulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) in approaching this subject on a fairly low key and in as moderate and unemotional way as possible.

My right hon. Friend said—and we would agree with him—that he felt that it would not be right to adjourn for a long Recess without having had a chance to ventilate some of the disquiet which still exists in this country and to give the Government a chance to dilate. My right hon. Friend is clearly right in saying that the public are still deeply disturbed about the quantity aspect of immigration and about the measures for control— whether they are strict enough or enforceable even in their own terms. One can do no more—we have done it before, but we must do it again—than beg the Government to believe that those of us who have tried to express the public's disquiet about these matters are not actuated by motives of hostility to immigrants and are not doing anything but trying to help the Government and local authorities and all men of good will to solve peacefully a problem which will increasingly become one of stress and disquiet.

I do not believe that the Government have any hope of making a race relations and conciliation machinery or any form of legislation work, unless the confidence of the people in immigration control can be secured. This confidence is essential to willing co-operation in amicable race relations.

The arguments which have been used against those of us who have repeatedly warned of the public disquiet and of the perhaps increasingly unpleasant forms it might take if reassurances were not forthcoming are wearing increasingly thin. I ask any hon. Gentleman if he could lay his hand on his heart and say, if he were back now 15 years ago in the early or middle 1950s and knew then what would be the numbers coming to Britain 15 years ahead from then and what would be the total number of coloured immigrants in 1968, that he would then have acquiesced in the nature, level and pace of control measures which were then being so leisurely discussed and so belatedly and, in my view, inadequately introduced. I cannot believe that there is anyone who could honestly say that he would then have contemplated with equanimity the situation which has now arisen.

If that is so, as I honestly believe that it is, the responsibility is even stronger for the Government, and indeed for all of us, to look now at the situation ahead and so say, "If we were wrong then", as we all were, "are we likely to be right when we view the present situation with equanimity?", bearing in mind that it is the fears of the people that have to be allayed if race relations are to be conducted as we want them to be conducted.

The arguments are wearing a little thin. It is no good any more telling people that the proportion of coloured immigrants is only 2 per cent. of the total population and that it will be only 4 per cent. at the end of the century, because this sounds a little hollow in urban areas where the population is 50 per cent. This is where the shoe pinches. It is no good producing the old arguments about the economic need for immigrants in industries where we have seen that the availability of cheap labour has served as a substitute for courage and inventiveness in the application of capital investment to save labour or for a real determination to take possibly unpopular decisions of rationalisation in the labour-intensive industries.

To say that we need unskilled immigrants is to beg so many economic questions that I think, knowing the overmanning that exists over a wide section of British industry, that it would be a brave man who could say with certainty that we need them. One has only to look at the position in London Transport and in some of the foundries in Birmingham to see that it is at least a highly arguable proposition.

We need doctors and nurses. But again, who can strike the balance sheet accurately and say that, if we had been prepared to take some courageous decisions to train doctors and nurses from under-developed countries and encourage them to go back to the countries which need them even more than we do, we would not have kept more of our own doctors in this country who have been emigrating to Canada at a disturbing rate during the last 10 or 15 years?

I do not want to detain the House any longer. I beg the Government to recognise that the complacency which some hon. Members and some official spokesmen have shown towards this problem has its own dangers and, if they really want a state of peaceful, fruitful co-operation in race relations in this country in future, people's fears about future numbers and the adequacy of control must be allayed now.