Speech at Walsall

9th February, 1968

There is a sense of hopelessness and helplessness which comes over persons who are trapped or imprisoned, when all their efforts to attract attention and assistance bring no response. This is the kind of feeling which you in Walsall and we in Wolverhampton are experiencing in the face of the continued flow of immigration into our towns. We are of course in a minority – make no mistake about that. Out of over 600 parliamentary constituencies perhaps less than 60 are affected in any way like ourselves. The rest know little or nothing and, we might sometimes be tempted to feel, care little or nothing. Only this week a colleague of mine in the House of Commons was dumbfounded when I told him of a constituent whose little daughter was now the only white child in her class at school. He looked at me as if I were a Member of Parliament for central Africa, who had suddenly dropped from the sky into Westminster. So far as most people in the British Isles are concerned, you and I might as well be living in central Africa for all they know about our circumstances.

Some problems are unavoidable. Some evils can be coped with to a certain extent, but not prevented. But that a nation should have saddled itself, without necessity and without countervailing benefit, with a wholly avoidable problem of immense dimensions is enough to make one weep. That the same nation should stubbornly persist in allowing the problem, great as it already is, to be magnified further, is enough to drive one to despair.

You here in Walsall, like us in Wolverhampton, are unable to provide school education for all our children from the statutory age because of the continuing influx of immigrants. Yet the present law makes it impossible to prevent some 40,000 or 50,000 actual or alleged dependents, mostly children of school age or below, from entering this country every year.

It is hard to describe such a policy, or lack of policy, otherwise than as crazy. The reuniting of families is something to which no one would wish to present obstacles; but there are two directions in which families can be reunited. And here the proposal put forward by the Conservative Party for assistance to voluntary repatriation has certainly a role to play. No other country on earth, having carefully fixed a quota of persons it thought right to admit on grounds of employment, etc., would then also admit in consequence an indefinite number of actual or alleged dependents without any power of control whatsoever up to age 16, and under various discretionary categories beyond that age.

There is a mistaken impression about that the inflow of immigrants unconditionally admitted as dependents will tail off as time goes by. There is no ground for supposing this. On the contrary if we continue to admit by voucher about 8,000 adult male immigrants a year with an unrestricted right of entry for dependents, the present inflow, which represents an additional million taken in every twenty years, or another two millions by the turn of the century, will be easily maintained. It follows that either the issue of vouchers must be virtually terminated, or the unconditional right of entry for dependents withdrawn, or both.

Recently those of us who live in the Midlands and in other areas directly affected have been startled to learn that a provision in the Kenya Independence Act and similar British legislation has the unexpected effect that some 200,000 Indians in Kenya alone have become literally indistinguishable from the people of the United Kingdom, so that they have an absolute right of entry to this country and thus enjoy privileges which no Commonwealth citizen, whether from Canada or Australia, Nigeria or Hong Kong, possesses. What is more startling is that the Government have remained completely supine though their attention has been drawn to this, both by politicians – I devoted an entire speech to it in October – and by non-politicians.

Then there is the whole question of legality and verification. It is almost incredible that under our law a person who has made good his entry to this country unlawfully cannot be sent home when the malpractice comes to light. The people of other countries, Commonwealth countries no less than others, have no hesitation whatever in expelling those who break the law to cross their frontiers. They must think that, to use a famous phrase, we are ‘stark, staring bonkers’ to offer all illegal entrants a prize for breaking the law, by promising that if they slip through they can stay here for keeps. It sounds like a children’s playground game, not the policy of a nation which through its own past sins of omission is menaced with a problem which at the present rate will by the end of the century be similar in magnitude to that in the United States now.

It is no kindness on the part of politicians to minimize the size which those problems will assume, even if from now onwards every possible legislative and administrative action is taken to limit it. To draw attention to those problems and face them in the light of day is wiser than to apply the method of the ostrich which rarely yields a satisfactory result – even to ostriches.

We have just been seeing in Wolverhampton the cloud no bigger than a man’s hand in the shape of communalism. Communalism has been the curse of India and we need to be able to recognize it when it rears its head here. Large numbers of Sikhs, who had been serving the Wolverhampton Corporation voluntarily and contentedly, have found themselves against their will made the material for communal agitation. They have the same right as anyone else to decide which if any of the rules of their sect they will keep, and they had found no difficulty in entering the Corporation’s employment and complying with the same rules as their fellow employees. For those who took a different and a stricter view there were plenty of other opportunities of employment. It will be the opposite to the equal treatment of all persons within the realm if employers are placed in the position of adjudicating upon the requirements of their employees’ religion. The issue in this instance, is not racial or religious discrimination: it is communalism.