Speech on the Commonwealth Immigration Bill in the House of Lords
Violet Bonham Carter, 29/02/1968
My Lords, I rise to support the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for the rejection of this Bill, this panic measure I can call it nothing else scrambled together with indecent haste, and which the Government are now attempting to force down the throat of Parliament within the space of three days. Perhaps they think that that is the easiest way to make us eat our own words or, rather, eat their words. This procedure is in itself an insult to Parliament, to both our Houses. I think it means the temporary suspension of Parliamentary Government, and on these grounds alone it deserves to be rejected by us with contumely. But there are other and graver grounds for its rejection. Our Government, whatever its complexion, is the trustee of the honour of this country. Only once in my experience and it is a quite long one now have I seen the honour of this country so Xagrantly violated and betrayed, and that was at the time of the Munich settlement.
‘A clear and unequivocal declaration’
The situation which this Bill is designed to meet is of the Government’s own making and creation. It was not the measures of Africanisation or Kenyanisation in Kenya long ago which started the panic rush to get into this country; it was the Government’s own attitude to these measures. Had the Government made at the outset a clear and unequivocal declaration that they meant to keep their word to our Kenyan fellow citizens, that they meant to honour their pledge of United Kingdom citizenship in the fullest sense of the word, the rush would never have started. Your Lordships may have read Dr Michael Young’s letter, to which my noble friend Lord Wade has already made allusion, which appeared in The Times last Tuesday. I should like to read to your Lordships a quotation from that letter describing a survey carried out by his own institute in Nairobi, which revealed that
so long as entry remains open, movement will be gradual and easy to absorb. Three-quarters
of the business community
claim British citizenship, but about 40 per cent. of these hoped to remain in Kenya for the rest of their lives, and the same proportion would advise a boy of their own community to remain there.
My Lords, this suggests that, in spite of their discriminatory legislation, the Asian community were in no hurry to leave until the Government, led by Mr Duncan Sandys and Mr Enoch Powell strange bellwethers to lead and to stampede a Labour Xock panicked and threatened to break faith; and that is how the rush began. And as a result, we have this Bill, which The Times, a normally temperate newspaper describes as
probably the most shameful measure that Labour Members have ever been asked by their Whips to support.
How many, I wonder, are going to put their consciences before their Whips tonight? I know one who is going to: Lord Willis.
‘All great political issues are matters of right and wrong’
It was once said by some great statesman I am afraid I cannot remember which, but it is always safe to attribute such sayings to Mr Gladstone that ‘all great political issues are matters of right and wrong.’ If this is true of any issue, it is surely true of the one on which we must here and now make our decision tonight. The Asians in Kenya are, as we know, a gifted and an industrious people, for whom we have a very special and direct responsibility. For we uprooted them from their own native land and we transported them to Kenya to make railways there, a task which was beyond local skills to perform. And they have lived there every since. When Kenya was given Independence they were given the choice, as we know, between opting for Kenyan or United Kingdom nationality, and they freely chose to become our fellow-citizens, for one reason, because they trusted us. They believed that our word was our bond. It never occurred to them that a British passport would be treated as a ‘scrap of paper’.
For some of us it is shaming and humiliating that it should be this, their trust in Britain, that is making them workless in Kenya to-day and may well make them Stateless throughout the world to-morrow. The pledge we gave in 1962, I think, at the time of the Independence Bill or was it 1963? was a clear one. Mr Macleod, all honour to him, has quoted it. He quoted it in an open letter to Mr Duncan Sandys. These are words used in another place by the Colonial Under-Secretary:
There is no question of anyone becoming Stateless as a result of this Bill’s provisions
that is, the Kenya Independence Bill. Why, this Bill is nothing less than a decree of Statelessness for every Asian in Kenya who is not admitted to this country, and they will be Stateless for one reason only: because they trusted Britain: because they believed we would keep faith with them. These are not arguments, these are just cold, hard facts.
What are the Government going to oVer them? Not bread, but a stone. It is making them a derisory oVer of 1,500 work permits a year. How many years of queuing would that mean? Perhaps twenty years, or more. Many will be dead before they reach this country. We must more than double this Wgure, even if it should involve postponing the entry of other immigrants from our Commonwealth who enjoy dual nationality. But, to add insult to injury, a new privileged class has been created called ‘Belongers’. I Wrst heard of them from the noble Lord the Leader of the House, and he was good enough to apologise to me for using what he called an ‘ugly name’. It is true I dislike the name, but I like the concept it embodies even less. Belongers will be endowed with a new status: they will be given the right to jump the queue and get into this country ahead of other Kenyan and U.K. citizens.
Who and what are the belongers? I asked the question, and I was told that you qualify as a belonger you must have an English grandfather: I believe that grandmothers were thrown in last night in another place. Though sex discrimination has been eliminated, racial discrimination remains. A belonger usually has a white face, Of course there are exceptions to this, as to every rule. Someone objected to me that, for instance, the Duke of Edinburgh would not have a dog’s chance of becoming a belonger and jumping the queue because he has not the right sort of grandfather. Well, what a loss to this country that would be! It just shows what nonsense the whole thing is; and what pernicious nonsense. It is racialist through and through.
‘A flagrant breach of faith’
We have heard in this debate we have often heard it urged by the defenders of the Bill that to keep our word would damage race relations in this country. May I suggest that it is the Government’s duty to set a good example in race relations, if they wish ordinary citizens to practice it. Their example has been deplorable. I believe that the Government’s attitude and action have already done untold harm to race relations here in this country and not only in this country, but with our friends abroad, but particularly, as we see, in India. I have read in the papers that India threatens to leave the Commonwealth. We are also, as noble Lords will be well aware, in danger of falling foul of our obligations under the Charter of Human Rights. It is because I believe this Bill to be a Xagrant breach of faith, because I believe it to be a betrayal of the trust of thousands of our fellow citizens in Kenya, because I believe it to be a stain on the honour of this country, that I beg your Lordships to reject it.