Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Timid Rulers

The British Nationality Act of 1948 ratified the existing situation, but created no new rights or obligations as there had never been a distinction between citizenship and nationality of the subjects of the Monarch and all Commonwealth citizens were subjects of the Monarch.

The faith in the 19c in free trade and the free flow of goods and labour and services within the Empire did not admit of distinctions. The ideal of Empire followed by that of Commonwealth was imagined to be the strengthened by all being united by a set of common rights and obligations. As the Dominions were given self-rule the people remained British subjects, but the colonies gained control over their people and of immigration. every British subject had the right to enter Britain, to vote, stand for Parliament and join the forces

Immigration is not an ideological conflict between left and right, but practical people using common sense and Utopians pursuing unrealistic ends which ignored human nature.

David Renton told the House of Commons on 5th December 1958: “It was not due to a deliberate act of policy formally announced and embodied in our law. It is not even a policy which gradually grew up and became established by custom, so far as I have been able to discover. It is simply a fact which we have taken for granted from the earliest days in which our forebears ventured forth across the seas.”

From 1951 Utopians tried to change human nature by legislation. An early example of Governmental “positive discrimination” was in 1951 when Tom Driberg asked Minister of Food, Mr.Webb “If he would reaffirm the ruling by his predecessor that licenses of caterers be revoked if they operate racial discrimination.” Dugdale asked Churchill, to ensure official hospitality is not provided or accepted in any hotel that operates a colour bar,” ”I do not propose to offer new instructions.”

Also in 1951 the first attempt at introducing laws against their own people was Reginald Sorensen’s (L) anti-colour bar bill. Fenner Brockway (later Lord) (L) made nine attempts to introduce a bill against “race discrimination” in successive years through the 1950’s and 60’s

The Empire Windrush excited comment and as it was heading across the Atlantic Tom Driberg (L.) remarked on the shortage of employment here. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, Creech Jones (L) explained that the Jamaicans had booked their own passages and the employment situation had been explained to them but were prepared to take their chances. (2) It docked on the 22 June 1948, and two days later, J.D.Murray and ten other Labour MP’s wrote to Prime Minister Clement Atlee, asking for legislation to prevent an influx. Atlee replied, that he thought they would “make a genuine contribution to our labour difficulties at the present.”

The Conservatives were also divided. Just before giving up the Premiership because of a stroke Churchill told the owner of the Spectator, Ian Gilmour:” I think it is the most important issue facing this country but I cannot get the Cabinet to take any notice.” – Inside Right. A study of Conservatism, Ian Gilmour( Quartet. 1977)

There were 2 who agreed with him in the cabinet the fifth Marquess of Salisbury and Oliver Lyttleton wanted to legislate to close the loophole that allowed any Commonwealth citizen automatic right of entry; while, Maxwell-Fyfe, Lord Swinton and others considered deportation for criminals sufficient Oliver Lyttleton “ Wanted to impose a deposit of £500 on immigrants “if there is to be any means of controlling the flow of coloured people who come here largely to enjoy the benefits of the welfare state.” He asked officials to list the disparity in mutual admissions between Britain and other commonwealth countries. Many had entry quotas, thirty had entry permit systems or even required prior permission before entry for residence and some even dictation tests.

Commonwealth immigration into this country was one-sided: In…Frederick Erroll(C) asked the Under Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations to publish a list of Commonwealth countries, which limit the entry of British nationals, he demurred, “Most of the Governments have powers to restrict the entrance of British subjects.”

The first cabinet discussion was in 1952 after a debate on magistrates.

The National Assistance Board reported that between September 1949 and August 1950 twenty colonials were repatriated. It was said that in 1949 in Liverpool, Stepney and Teeside there was already a significant number of unskilled, white unemployed.

There is a note of an informal meeting held in the room of Lord Munster on the 6th of April 1954 where Lord Swinton called for a bipartisan approach with Labour, "Nothing could be worse than to put half the Commonwealth and all the Labour party against us on a difficult issue. This was followed by a meeting between party spokesman on Colonial affairs in the Lords when Lord Listowel, former Labour secretary of State for India supported the restriction of Commonwealth immigrants and a bipartisan approach, "Everything should be done to stop the matter becoming party politics." Note of an informal meeting at the Home Office on 12th of April 1954. both in(CAB124/1191)

In cabinet in October 1954 Churchill told Home Secretary Maxwell-Fyfe, “ that the problems arising from the immigration of coloured people required urgent and serious consideration.” Maxwell-Fyfe emphasised that there is no power to prevent these people entering no matter how much the number may increase. There was a loophole in British Nationality that allowed any commonwealth citizen automatic entry and with cheaper travel and the magnet of the welfare state, many wanted to take advantage. This was the theme of debate.

Churchill foresaw, “The rapid improvement in communications was likely to lead to the continuing increase in the number of coloured people coming to this country, and their presence here would sooner or later come to be resented by large sections of the British people.” However, he did not think “the problem had assumed sufficient proportions to enable the Government to take adequate counter-measures.”

Frank Allaun (L) asked Home Secretary, in April 1956, to “consider helping West Indians by giving advice on arrival concerning jobs, industrial re-training and housing problems rather than leaving it to charitable institutions as at present.”(17)

Even then there race riots in three English areas as warning signs which the rulers ignored. In 1948 between 31 July and 2August in Liverpool – two weeks after the Windrush docked. Then the following year in Deptford on the 18th July and Birmingham between the 6th and 8th of August.

Thomas Reid (L), who had spent 25 years in the Ceylon Civil Service and was a former Financial Commissioner in the Seychelles, was told by Churchill,” Governments of most colonial territories have powers to restrict the entrance of British immigrants” (Vol.523. He also wanted to know how many had taken permanent residence Maxwell-Fyfe, ”Such information is not available.”(3)

MP’S also wanted to know how many unemployed immigrants were in their cities: In 1948, Mr.W.Griffiths (L) asked how many men of East and West African and West Indian origin are registered as unemployed in Manchester and what were the comparable figures for 1945, 1946 and 1947, and was told by Mr.Ness Edwards that the statistics are not available. In 1951,Mrs. (Bessie) Braddock asked Anuerin Bevan, about how many immigrants were signing-on in Liverpool, as they were having considerable difficulty finding employment and was told “There are no separate records; Woodrow Wyatt, asked about Birmingham, in 1955.
There was a view that immigrants were dragging standards down but there was no help from national Government and local councils had to struggle to cope with the influx at a time when they were busy with slum clearance which was set-back. Immigrants had to exist on welfare benefits, live in overcrowded conditions and were exploited by their own people who had bought up large Victorian houses in inner cities. Few local authorities had accommodation for them and only began teaching English, training nurses in foreign languages and limiting overcrowding after the 1961 Housing Act.

In 1953, Rupert Spier(C) wondered how many Aliens had had free treatment on the NHS in the previous 12 months and was palmed off, by Conservative Minister of Health Iain Macleod, “I regret this information is not available.” “In early 1954, Kenneth Robinson Labour asked the Mr. Macleod, what measures he was taking about immigrants with TB and was told, “Action would be too expensive to make it worthwhile.” (12) Seven years later at a fringe meeting during the 1961 Tory conference Macleod, now Colonial Secretary, announced, ” I believe, quite simply in the brotherhood of man – men of all races, all colours, all creeds.” (13) In 1960 one of Macleod’s speeches “One World” was published by the Conservative Political Centre.

Sir. Somerville Hastings (L) remarked, it is hard for these people arriving in large numbers with wives and families without notice and needing accommodation; the problem existed in Brixton too and MP Marcus Lipton(L) warned… and Sir.H.Williams() that in Croyden many were housed in the International Language Club. Mr.Dugdale complacently, “The present system is adequate.”

Driberg asked if the immigrants were being helped with jobs, accommodation and welfare as were the European Voluntary Worker’s. Mr. Ness Edwards, stated that the immigrants, “come on their own initiative.” Three Conservatives in 1954 asked practical questions. Sir Waldron Smithers asked if it was the Governments policy to import unemployment.” In October William Steward was told that “there are no statistics for the number of immigrants,” and Peter Remnant that immigrants could draw National Assistance straightaway.

Asked if Jamaica were sending their criminals, and was told,”they actively discourage it. Lipton asked “How do they and was fobbed-off: “I must get on.”
Cyril Osborn(C) intended to call for limitations in 1955 under the 10-minute rule, but, Cabinet records show, his party put pressure on him to drop it. (10) His own Government attacked his efforts in private members debates in both 1958 and 1961 and pressured him to soften his 1965 attempt of 2 March. He told the Grimsby Telegraph that he expected to be ganged upon by both sides. (38
Sir J.Lucas(C). asked if machinery existed for Jamaica to know how many immigrants had criminal records Mr.Lennox-Boyd (later Lord Boyd) replied, ”there is not”. (11) M.Stewart (L) was concerned that local authorities could not cope and thought Government should give a lead, but was dismissed ”this matter is actively being considered” by Mr.Hopkinson (later Lord Colyton), Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Sir F.Medlicott was told by an indifferent Major Lloyd-George that it was “not practicable to ensure the immigrants welfare”(11)

Marcus Lipton, (L.), persistently questioned Tory ministers about integration. Mr.Lennox - Boyd told him it was not appropriate to suggest to colonial Governments that they legislate to reduce immigration.” The Government left assimilation to ill-equipped local authorities. In 1954 Lipton led a deputation from Lambeth Borough Council to the Home Office proposing ways of helping immigrants on arrival, like transit camps to instruct them on British life. In reply to the Queen’s speech of 1958 he said, “It cannot be left to local authorities who are already overburdened.”(14)
John Hynd (L) got a 30-minute adjournment debate on the 5th of November 1954, “One day recently700 embarked from Jamaica without…any prospect of work, housing or anything else.” He also excused the colour bar in Sheffield dance halls because of the knife fights.

“When all this has been said, however, it cannot be held that the same difficulties arise in the case of the Irish as in the case of coloured people. For instance an Irishman looking for lodgings is, generally speaking, not likely to have any more difficulty than an Englishman, whereas the coloured man is often turned away. In facr, the outstanding difference is that the Irish are not – a different race from the ordinary inhabitants of Great Britain , and indeed one of the difficulties in any attempt to estimate the economic and social consequences of the influx from the Republic would be to define who are the Irish.”
(Report from the Committee on the Social and Economic problems arising from the Growing Influx into the United Kingdom of Coloured Workers from other Commonwealth Countries, Appendix2, draft statement on colonial immigrants, para3, 3 August 1955, CAB129/77)

As Commonwealth Secretary Earl Home, warned that they should not give the impression that Commonwealth citizens from India, Pakistan and Ceylon would be less favourably than those from the Dominions otherwise there could be retaliation.

(Colonial immigrants, memorandum by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations) 2/9/1955, CAB127/77

At the Cabinet meeting of 3 November 1955, Alan Lennox-Boyd fought against legislation to stop Colonial subjects alone. This he claimed, would be would leave them open to accusations of racial discrimination and would harm our relations with the mooted West Indies and the future West Indian Federation of with the Commonwealth.

(Colonial immigratants, memorandum by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations,2/9/1955)

In September 1955 a joint sub-committee of the London Labour Party executive and the L.C.C. Labour Group reported on immigration in London. It discussed housing and welfare but opposed “action by the Government to restrict immigration, but called for urgent Government action to assist the integration of immigrants”

Eden appointed a Committee of Ministers, of the Lord Chancellor, the Lord President, the Home Secretary, the Commonwealth Secretary, the Colonial Secretary and the Attorney-General “to consider what form legislation should take, if it were to be decided that legislation to control the entry into the United Kingdom of British subjects from overseas should be introduced; to consider also the intended effect of such legislation upon actual immigration, how any such control would be justified to Parliament and to the public, and to Commonwealth countries concerned; and to report to the Cabinet.”

(Colonial immigrants, note by the Prime Minister 20 November 1955, CAB 129/78)
In a Commons clash of 29 October 1958 Dr.Edith Summerskill, Labour front bench spokesman, asked Osborne if he would really stop sick people entering? He asked what, would there be any power to refuse a ship of Lepers from West Africa?” She replied, “I hope not” (18) Osborne remarked on the Utopians dream of “creating a multi-racial association that will be the envy of the world.” He instigated a debate on the 5th of December 1958 at which Labour spokesman Arthur Bottomley stated, “ We on this side are clear on our attitude to towards restricted immigration. We are categorically against it.”(19) Supporting Osborne Labour’s Frank Tomney, remarked on elected representatives ignoring their constituents. “We have been sent here by the electorate to give expression to issues which concern them.”
In May Osborne wrote to Labour leader Hugh Gaitskill who ignored him. His secretary responded, “The Labour Party is opposed to restriction of immigration as every Commonwealth citizen has the right as a British subject to enter this country.” (21) The deputy leader, George Brown, appointed Conservative MP Sir Aubery Jones to run his Prices and Incomes Board in 1965. Their views were also identical on immigration. On the 28th of March Brown told a meeting at Sheffield, “It is mad to talk of restricting immigration. Let them all come.” (24)

The practical view was Maurice Edelman (L) in a Daily Express feature, “Full stop! We Cannot Accept A Two-Nation System.” (25) George Rogers (L) told the Daily Sketch,” The Government must introduce legislation quickly to end the tremendous influx from the Commonwealth…Overcrowding has fostered vice, drugs, prostitution and the use of knives.”(26)

Norman Pannell addressed the Conservative conferences of 1958 and1961 on the perils of admitting criminals and the sick. In 1961 the debate was stage-managed with so little time was allowed that Osborne could not speak and stood outside in the rain handing out off-prints of a letter of his from the morning’s Telegraph. (28) Pannell remarked that though Butler had disagreed with limiting numbers, had agreed with his suggestion of deporting immigrants who commit crimes but nothing had been done.

The Commonwealth Immigrants Bill Second Reading on 16th November 1961 showed the cross-party nature of the opposite views. Frank Macleavy (L) said, “We cannot afford to be the welfare state for the whole Commonwealth , we have a responsibility to our own people from a trade-union pint of view.”(30) Trades unionist J.J.Mendelson retorted, “ Keep the Labour Movement out of this.” Furthermore, James MacColl, (L), “ the tradition of the Commonwealth only became interesting when they became part of the tremendous challenge to us to show what we could do to bring together peoples of different races in one great community.”(30) Conservative Nigel Fisher concurred, “it brings to an end the tradition of free entry for all citizens of the Commonwealth… it (is) inimical to our concept of a Multi-Racial Commonwealth.” (31)

He and Charles Royle (L), had been Co-Chairman of the British-Caribbean Association. Royle believed that the “only way we will achieve world peace is by “everyone becoming coffee-coloured.”(32)

An amendment were united two from the Tory right Robin Turton and John Biggs-Davison and two from the Labour left Michael Foot and Sidney Silverman.


1 Eminent Churchillians.Andrew Roberts. Wiedenfield and Nicholson.


(16 June1948, col.421)

3 Roberts. Op cit pp216-7

4 (3 June 1948 col.101)

5 Griffiths(Vol.452 15/June 1948. p 233

6 Vol.536 Wyatt

7 Vol.486. 12/4/51 Braddock

8 Hastings

9 Lipton

10 Sir.H.Williams

11 11 O

12 Driberg

13 Jamaica sending criminals

14 osborne on poles

15 Roberts. Op cit. p235

16 Pilkington

17 Lucas Vol.532.written answers

18 StewartVol.535. c958 7/4/55

19 Medlicott (7/4/55

20 Inside Right A study of Conservatism. Quantam1977. p134

21 Driberg Vol.486. 4/4/51

22 New Statesman, Spotlight Column, written by Anthoney Howard. 1961.

23 Tory conference

24 Lipton Vol.531

25 Allaun.April 1956

26 C777

27 Summerskill

28 5/12/61

29 ditto

30 2R 16/11/61

31 First race act

32 Grimsby Telegraph. March 1965.


34 Brockway C247

35 Recommended Reading

36 1 Back Street New Worlds. Elspeth Huxley(1964)

37 2 Churchill, Race and the Magpie Society in “Eminent Churchillians.” Andrew Roberts.1994)

38 3 Inside Right. The Conservative…Ian Gilmore.(Quantam)1978

39 # Like the Roman, Simon Heffer’s biography of Enoch

40 # The Unarmed Invasion. Lord Elton. (Geoffrey Bles (1965)

Immigration: What is the Answer. Norman Panell and Fenner Brockway. (RKP) 1965

A Question of Colour. Peter Griffiths. (Leslie Frewin.(1966)

One World, Iain Macleod CPC(1960)

Winds of Change, T.E.Utley and John Udale CPC (1960)

(20) 5 December 1954. Col.1588.

# Birmingham Post 26th February 1963 .

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