Page 3, 2nd July 1971

2nd July 1971
Page 3
Page 3, 2nd July 1971 — Immigration Bill: great opportunity lost

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Locations: Reading, Canterbury


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Immigration Bill: great opportunity lost

011 Thursday of last week the Liberal Party divided the House of Lords on the second reading of the Immigration Bill and 40 peers, among whom were the Archbishop of Canterbury. five other Anglican bishops and Lord Longford, voted against it. In this article LORD BEAUMONT of Whitley, who is a Liberal life peer, and an Anglican priest explains some of the reasons for their action.

I_AST week the House of -1 Lords gave the 1 m m igra tion Bill its second reading. This week we start 11 mammoth re-examination of the 1 ndustria 1 Rola ions Bill. Having taken 18 days over amending it in Committee we will now take a minimum of six days to review those amendments and suggest others.

When that is finished the Committee stage of the Immigration Bill will start, and I doubt whether that will be very much less prolonged or exhausting than the Industrial Relations Bill.

Is this all worth while? In one sense, of course, it is. since we have already succeeded in marginally amending the Industrial Relations Bill for the better and we will be able to continue with the Immigration Bill the work of amendment already well started in the Commons.

In another sense it is a waste of time because neither of these Bills is nearly as important as is made out to be.

1 suppose. whatever our politics. a great many of us expected one thing in June last year when it became clear that the Conservatives had won the election, and that was strong government. And whatever we thought of the Tories this looked like being a welcome relief after the weakness of the Wilson government.

Obdurate Heath

Mr. Wilson's great political gift is that of keeping the warring factions Of the Labour Party together and relatively happy. He was so good at this that he won the '64 and '66 elections. but it was not till far too late that it became apparent that in order to achieve this the long-term problems of Britain were being neglected.

He could keep the Cabinet pulling together so long as it

had to meet crisis after crisis. But it is when long-term plans have to be made that acrimony is liable to break out among people who hold such widely differing views as to what the socialist Utopia is as, say, Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Callaghan and Mrs. Castle.

So we expected stronger government from June 19, and in some ways we have got it. Mr. Heath is totally obdurate on the necessity of selling arms to South Africa, on the lack of necessity for a prices and incomes policy, on trade union legislation and on the Common Market.

Some of these I welcome and some I don't. But I am quite convinced that there will be no change of arty of them save over Mr. Heath's dead body:

Ground rules

But strong government is not enough. What we had also hoped for was a radical approach to politics, and That we have not got. The two Bills I mentioned that we now have to deal with are cases in point.

The Industrial Relations Bill is a rather clumsy bit of long overdue industrial disputes legislation. It has considerable virtues and a number of glaring faults. But it is no more about industrial relations than it is about the Olympic Games.

We need an industrial relations Bill badly. We need a Bill which will bring together management and labour to pull together as partners in a common enterprise. All this Bill does is provide the ground rules for the battle which it is assumed must always take place between them.

Again, a magnificent opportunity has been lost in the Immigration Bill. A great many of the anomalies of previous legislation, and indeed of this Bill, stem from the

lack of a proper definition of nationality and citizenship.

Did you think that you were a British citizen? Well. as Mr. Enoch Powell pointed out on the Second Reading of the Immigration Bill, you are not. You are "a British subject, citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by birth. to whom the provisions of the Commonwealth Immigration Act 1962, as amended in 1968, do not apply."

Levelling down

Or perhaps you are not even that, but one of the other variations on the same theme. If we knew who were really citizens of Britain we could then go on to declare their rights, which ought to include an inalienable right to a passport, entry for residence and the vote.

We might then perhaps end the rather silly anomaly whereby citizens of the Irish Republic, who of all the people who come to England have most vehemently asserted that they do not want to he part of the Commonwealth, have a vote in British elections merely by being in the country.

But the list of anomalies that we might correct is endless. (We might start off, though, by honouring our obligations to the East African Asians.) So the first accusation that 1 have to level against the Immigration Bill is that it is not a simplifying Bill. It takes the sante complications that we have had in the law of this country for the last 23 years and makes them even more complicated by the invention of patrial and nonpatrial citizens.

The second accusation that I have against the Immigration Bill is that it is a Bill to take away people's rights. It puts aliens and Commonwealth citizens on the same footing.

You may think this is a good thing or a bad thing, but the trouble is that it is done by levelling down rather than by levelling up.

Terms of Bill

The statutory right for wives and children to join their husbands and fathers in this country is abolished. Time-limits are imposed on the length of stay of Commonwealth citizens. Commonwealth citizens who have been here for five years will in future be liable to deportation. The right of registration as

citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies for a Commonwealth citizen who has been here for five years is removed.

The third accusation is that it is a Bill which gives tremendous scope for any Rightwing or racialist government of the future. No one imagines that Mr. Maudling is going to start perpetrating injustice after injustice under the terms of this Bill, but more and more powers are being handed over to the Horne Secretary with less and less right of appeal, and any future government which really wanted to be racialist would find it easy to be so.,

My fourth accusation is that it is going to harm race relations in this country. The obligation to register with the police. which is regarded with great disfavour by both police and immigrants. the necessity to prove that you are a patrial citizen which will, in fact, only be enforced on people with black skins—these and other implications of the Bill will make race relations in this country worse unless we are very careful.

It is not, incidentally, even a Bill which does anything about reducing the inflow of immigrants. I am not complaining about this since the inflow of immigrants is extremely small and on balance we have a large net emigration from this country.

Rights, duties

What I am complaining about is that the Conservative Party appears to be getting a certain amount of credit from its more Right-wing supporters for doing something to reduce immigration which does not. in fact, come under the Bill at all.

What we want — what we need—is a Bill on Nationality and Citizenship which would define rights and duties. What we want is an immigration policy based not on race or our need for workers but on a considered decision about the best size of population in this country.

What we want is a system of law about immigration and political asylum which would hand all decisions over to courts of justice or courts of administrative law instead of concentrating more and more discretion in the hands of politicians.

This would have been a Bill worth the time of Parliament. What I suspect that we have got is just another squalid step on the road to illiberalism which we may be able marginally to amend but which we can never make relevant.

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