Speech to London Rotary Club, Eastbourne

16th November, 1968

Seven months ago I made a speech in Birmingham which attracted some considerable attention. I discussed in it the present and prospective consequences of the immigration of Commonwealth citizens into this country during the last fifteen years which took place because, until 1962, this country, alone of all the nations in the world, had no definition of its own people, so that for all purposes an Englishman born in Birmingham and a tribesman from the North-West Frontier were indistinguishable in the law of the United Kingdom. It was a subject on which I had spoken and written on a number of occasions over the preceding months and years. The immediate occasion was the imminent Second Reading of the Government’s Race Relations Bill, which the Conservative Shadow Cabinet, then including myself, had decided, and publicly announced its decision, to oppose, on the ground that the Bill would do more harm than good. My speech was made in support and in defence of that decision from the point of view of a member representing a constituency in one of the areas most affected; and it was so understood both by those to whom it was delivered and by the party officials who, in the normal course, were aware of its contents in advance.

In the seven months which have elapsed since I spoke I have been the target of endless abuse and vilification. No imputation or innuendo has been too vile or scurrilous for supposedly reputable journals to invent or repeat. On the other hand, I have been borne up by an astonishing manifestation, from among all classes of people and from all areas of the community, expressing relief and gratitude that the speech was made. Through all this I have kept silence. With the exception of a five-minute intervention at the Conservative Party Conference last month, and the unavoidable necessity of answering questions put to me at public meetings, I have not once returned to the subject until now.

Sooner or later, however, I was in duty bound to take up the theme again; and since beyond dispute the question – whatever view be taken of it – is of deep national concern and since divisions of opinion upon it do not follow normal party lines, it seemed to me a subject appropriate to the platform of an organization [Rotary] which is both non-party and devoted to whatever concerns the public interest.

I am concerned with the future. I will waste little time upon the past. Only one domestic thing I ask your indulgence to say briefly in my own defence. It has been freely alleged that I was somehow guilty of a breach of discipline or of disloyalty, either to my colleagues generally or to the Party’s spokesman on home affairs in particular, in speaking as I did. There is no substance in this charge. No rule or convention forbids frontbenchers to advocate or defend, even before parliamentary debate, the line which the leadership of the Party has publicly decided to take. There is none which requires them before doing so to consult or even inform their colleagues. Such speeches are continually made and indeed expected. It is, of course, different if they intend to recommend a divergent policy; but this it was not suggested I had done. It was to the ‘tone’ of my speech that objection was taken, so strongly indeed that I was excluded from the Shadow Cabinet. Now, ‘tone’ is a matter of personal taste, de gustibus non est disputandum, and a leader is entitled to be guided by his own taste in the choice of his colleagues. What is matter of fact and not of opinion, is that neither in making the speech, nor in any of the circumstances attendant upon it, did I neglect or break any of the rules or conventions which govern honourable behaviour between colleagues.

The reaction to that speech revealed a deep and dangerous gulf in the nation, a gulf which is I fear no narrower today than it was then. I do not mean between the indigenous population and the immigrants. On the contrary, over the months and years the pressure upon me to oppose the growth in the number of immigrants has come as much from my immigrant constituents as from the rest, if not more so: in this matter I was convinced of speaking for and in the interest of all my constituents. Nor do I mean the gulf between those who do, and those who do not, know from personal experience the impact and reality of immigration. Knowledge of the facts and concern about them has been spreading rapidly in parts of the kingdom where a Commonwealth immigrant is never seen. I mean the gulf between the overwhelming majority of people throughout the country on the one side, and on the other side a tiny minority, with almost a monopoly hold upon the channels of communication, who seem determined not to know the facts and not to face the realities and who will resort to any device or extremity to blind both themselves and others.

In an earlier speech in February I had mentioned a class in a school in my constituency where there was only one white child. I mentioned it as a fact calculated to bring home to people the size and concentration of the immigrant population. Immediately, I was denounced as lying or retailing hearsay; and though the truth of what I said was confirmed in open council a few days later by the Chairman of the Education Committee, the national press refrained from reporting it and Roy Jenkins, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a speech at Swansea three months later, who had only to lift the telephone on his desk to ascertain the truth, preferred to brand me as a liar by stating that no such school had ever been discovered. However Nemesis had not long to wait; and in September the very newspapers which had attacked me had the ignominy of having to report the existence not only in Wolverhampton but in Birmingham of such classes, as well as the 90 per cent immigrant school in my own constituency. So quickly does the incredible turn into what everybody knew all the time.

In the context of a Bill which the native inhabitants of this country were bound to see as directed against themselves, an important part of my argument at Birmingham was the fact of reverse discrimination – that it is not the immigrant but the Briton who feels himself the ‘toad beneath the harrow’ in the areas where the immigrant population is spreading and taking root. This indeed was the background against which the Opposition were justifiably claiming that the Race Relations Bill would do more harm than good. To illustrate it I described the typical situation of the last and usually elderly white inhabitants of a street or area otherwise wholly occupied by immigrants, and I did so by citing an individual case from Wolverhampton in a correspondent’s own words.

The outcry which followed illuminated like a lightning flash the gulf between those who do not know or want to know and the rest of the nation. Here were circumstances which those who know the facts know are being repeated over and over again, at this very moment, in the towns and the cities affected by immigration – often with aggravations more distressing than in the case I cited. It was ordinary, not extraordinary. Yet all at once the air was filled with denunciation: I was romancing; I had picked up a hoary, unverified legend; I had no evidence; nobody could find the old lady – no more than the class with the one white child! Where do these people live, who imagine that what I related was so remarkable and incredible that they had to conclude it was apocryphal? What do they suppose happens, or has been happening or will be happening, as the growing immigrant numbers extended their areas of occupation? They must live either a long way off, or they must live with their eyes tight shut.

I will not betray those who write to me in confidence or expose to publicity those who understandably fear it; but as I have been traduced and defamed, I will select one out of the numerous witnesses who wrote and offered me their own evidence for the truth and typicality of what I described. It is, I repeat, not something rare, not something abnormal, but something which is part of the daily life and experience of fellow countrymen of ours who happen to be less fortunately situated than Mr. Rees-Mogg or Mr. Bernard Levin.

Dr. W. E. Bamford on 17th August writes to me from 408 Garratt Lane, S.W.18. After describing his experiences in attending a patient aged 84 on the second floor of a house owned by an immigrant landlord, as a result of which ‘the police have since provided me with a police escort each time I visited the patient’, he continues:

‘I saw her with the consultant geriatrician from St. John’s Hospital on Tuesday, 13th August. His advice was that it was best to “cut one’s losses” as she would eventually be intimidated out of her home. He arranged to admit her to St. John’s with a view to rehabilitation and finding another home for her. It is very tragic that this poor old lady should now have to leave her home and possessions where she has spent most of her life, but there seems no other solution.

I am most reluctant to cause any racial disharmony. I have many coloured patients on my list and I believe my relations with persons of all colours have always been harmonious.

I would like to draw your attention to a few other incidents which involved my patients:

1. An elderly widow of 80+ had the house in which she was living bought by a West Indian lady.

The old lady was intimidated by having:

(a) Her bell disconnected.

(b) Her letters not received.

(c) When she went out, she would come back to find water had been poured on her bed.

(d) Her possessions were broken.

(e) In the darkness when going upstairs she would receive a thump on the back.

(f) She was accused of behaving immorally when she had a young technician in to do repairs to her broken possessions.

In spite of informing the police – she had no witnesses! – and the fact that I informed the M.O.H. Dr. Garland and the Health Visitor, she was intimidated out of her home eventually.

2. A widow with two young children was similarly intimidated by the knocking on the wall and the disturbance of her sleeping children at all hours of the night by West Indian neighbours. Actual damage was caused to her ceilings and walls. She had to leave in spite of appeals to the police.

3. A young English couple were intimidated out of their flat by their West Indian landlord by verbal abuse and filth smeared on and around their toilet.’

There is just one witness, just a few examples; but let no one object that they are ‘just a few’. Ask those who know and they will tell you whether all that is exceptional.

Let no one object, either, that there are bad British landlords too, that British people bully and maltreat British people, and so on. I know. I have never said or implied that immigrants are more predisposed to vicious or spiteful behaviour than the indigenous population. Though their customs and their social habits and expectations may be widely different, there is no reason to suppose they are more malevolent or more prone to wrong-doing. That is, however, not the point. With the malefactors among our own people we have got to cope; they are our own responsibility and part of our own society. It is something totally different when the same or similar activities are perpetrated by strangers, and above all when they occur in the course of an increase in the numbers of those strangers and an extension of the areas which they occupy – an increase and an extension to which the victims perceive no end in sight. Surely only very clever people could fail to understand so simple a point.

The issue is not, as some people appear to imagine, one of being nice to the immigrants or strangers in our midst, however diverse, their race or culture. The issue is an issue of numbers, now and especially in the future. And so I come to the question of numbers, and of the increase in numbers; for it is the very heart of the matter. As Lord Elton once put it: ‘If it were known in my home village that the Archbishop of Canterbury were coming to live there, we should undoubtedly ring a peal on the church bells. If it were known that five archbishops were coming, I should still expect to see my neighbours exchanging excited congratulations at the street corners. But if it were known that 50 archbishops were coming, there would be a riot.’

First, let us get our sense of perspective. Let us look at present numbers. There are today in this country about one and a quarter million Commonwealth immigrants, though the basis of the statistics is far from perfect and the number is likely to be more rather than less. Suppose that any Government fifteen years ago had declared: it is our intention that by 1968 one and a quarter million Afro-Asians shall have entered this country and settled in it. People would not have believed their ears. Of course, no government, no party would have dared to put forward such a proposal; if they had, they would have been hissed out of office. Yet the thing is no less absurd or monstrous now that it has become a reality than it would have seemed to everybody beforehand. It never was proposed or argued on grounds of supplying labour or skill. Indeed, it could not be; for that has nothing to do with immigration. The doctors, aliens as well as Commonwealth citizens, who have made it possible, by getting a few years of postgraduate experience in Britain, to expand the hospital service faster than would otherwise have been possible, have no more to do with immigration than have the au pair girls admitted for a year or two to give domestic help or the workers moving temporarily from one Common Market country to another. Those who still talk about needing immigrant doctors, dentists and teachers, are not really talking about immigration at all. As for unskilled labour, the mere attempt to justify mass importation of it would have been exploded by economists and trade unions alike: the remedy for shortage of labour in a developed economy is more capital and better organization. In short, it is only now that this has happened and the people of Britain are faced with a fait accompli, that all sorts of excuses are invented and we are told in terms of arrogant moral superiority that we have got a ‘multi-racial society’ and had better like it.

Yet if that were all, it could be endured. With their almost incredible tolerance the English – it is virtually only England which is affected – would settle down to live with what they neither asked for nor wanted nor were warned of nor understood. But the present, this one and a quarter million reality – however inconceivable it would have been in prospect – this is not all. People look to the future, and, as they do so, they remember that they have been betrayed and misled in the past. It is our duty not to betray or mislead them again.

It is easy to understand how enormously strong is the temptation for all politicians to baulk at this vision of the future, and not least for my own Party, the Conservative Party, which formed the government of the country during the crucial years and would fain close its eyes and ears to the wholly unnecessary and avoidable havoc its own inaction wrought – a tragedy which need never have been enacted. If Britain had provided herself in 1956 instead of 1962 with what every other nation under the sun possesses – a law defining its own people – what a world of anguish past and future would never have been! Even those of us who inveighed against the British Nationality Act 1948 from the outset and who from inside and from outside government urged legislation over the years, feel an oppressive sense of guilt and humiliation. The temptation to close our eyes to the future is correspondingly strong. But it is a temptation that has to be conquered.

Even more dangerous is the too common taunt: ‘You did the wrong; you have no right to talk about it now.’ Woe betide the nation that will not let its rulers admit their errors and try to remedy the consequences: there is no surer way to persist on a disastrous course until it is too late than to attach the penalty of mockery to those who say: ‘We have done wrong.’

Let us take as our starting point the calculation of the General Register office that by 1985 there would be in this country three and a half million coloured immigrants and their offspring – in other words that the present number would have increased between two and threefold in the next seventeen years – on two assumptions, current rate of intake and current birth rate. I have been endlessly accused of using this figure without regard to those assumptions. I did not. In my previous speech I expressly qualified it as being ‘on present trends’, and to the consideration of those two assumptions I now address myself.

The first assumption is that the rate of net inflow continues as at present. It has not, indeed, diminished since the estimate was made, but I am willing to suppose that, especially with the substantially greater limitations which a Conservative government has undertaken to apply, the rate would be markedly reduced during the period in question. For the purposes of argument I will suppose that it falls at a steady rate from 60,000 in 1968 to nil by 1985. In that case the total in the latter year would be reduced by about half a million, that is to three million.

I now turn to the second and more crucial assumption, the birth rate. There are those who argue that the longer the immigrant population is resident in this country, the more closely their birth rate will approximate to that of the indigenous population, and thus, of course, to a rate of increase at which their proportion to the total would remain static. Now, I have no doubt that an immigrant element thoroughly absorbed into a host population does tend to have the same birth rate, and I have no doubt that among our Commonwealth immigrants the small minority to whom that description can be applied, may soon show evidence of this. But to suppose that the habits of the great mass of immigrants, living in their own communities, speaking their own languages and maintaining their native customs, will change appreciably in the next two or three decades is a supposition so grotesque that only those could make it who are determined not to admit what they know to be true or not to see what they fear. On the contrary, there are grounds for arguing that the immigrant birth rate is more likely to rise during the next two or three decades; for instance, the proportion of females must increase as dependents join male workers, so that a given total of immigrant population will yield more family units.

Let me take you and show you the process actually happening. In the country borough of Wolverhampton, as recently enlarged to a total population of 267,000 in 1967, the proportion of immigrants and their offspring was 5.13 per cent on the basis of the 1966 sample census, though of course, as the borough now includes large suburbs which are wholly white, this percentage gives no idea of the proportions or concentration in the inner zones of the borough. Now, that immigrant population, which forms 5.13 per cent of the whole, produces no less than 23 per cent of the births; that is, while one in twenty of the population is an immigrant, one in four of the births is an immigrant birth. I am not referring to births in maternity beds – there, the immigrant proportion is higher still, one in three – but to total births; and before anyone calls me a liar, I might mention that the figures are those of the borough Medical Officer of Health and may be found reprinted amongst other places, in The Lancet for 26th October.

The procession, and the rate at which it gathers numbers year by year, can be traced as it moves upwards through the schools. Here are the percentages of immigrant children in the Wolverhampton schools last April, reading upwards: infant schools 17.1 per cent, junior and infant schools 12.7 per cent, junior schools 10.9 per cent, secondary schools 9.7 per cent. However, even those figures do not fully reflect the rate at which births have been rising hitherto, because they include not only children born to immigrants in this country but children who have immigrated when of, or under school age – and Asian and West Indian children of school age are still arriving in Wolverhampton at the rate of 800–900 a year. The idea that the size of the immigrant population, even without any net intake at all, is destined from now onwards to increase little more rapidly than that of the indigenous population cannot seriously be sustained in the face of the sort of reality I have described. The only prudent assumption is that the present trend will continue for at least a decade or two. This is the assumption which underlies the Registrar General’s projection, and gives the figure of three million for 1985, after allowing, as I have done, for reduction of intake. I am reassured that I am not far from the mark when I noticed that a year ago the Home Office spokesman, who can hardly be accused of wanting to play the numbers up, arrived at two and a half million in 1985 as the lowest figure he could foresee after making the utmost allowances both on intake and on birth rate.

After 1985, we may perhaps allow ourselves to hope for a decline in the rate of reproduction; but if the following seventeen years, instead of multiplication by the factor or two, as between 1967 and 1985, resulted only in multiplication by a factor of one and a half, the total immigrant and immigrant-descended population at the end of the century – to be precise, in 2002 – would be four and a half million, or three and a half times the present number; and that is assuming no further net immigration at all after 1985. Bearing in mind that the assumptions which produce this figure are deliberately pitched low, it will be seen that my reference at Birmingham to something ‘in the region of 5–7 million for the year 2000 on present trends’ was neither random nor ill-considered.

Now, if that minimum figure of four and a half million is expressed as a percentage of the projected population of the United Kingdom for the year 2000, it works out at a little over 6 per cent. But of course it is monstrously fallacious thus to divide the immigrant population into that of the U.K. as a whole. I do not know what would be the aspect of a United Kingdom where uniformly one in eighteen of the population – in Easington and Exeter, in Aberystwyth and Aberdeen, in Antrim and Eastbourne – was an Afro-Asian. But that is not how it would be. The very growth in numbers would increase the already striking fact of dense geographical concentration, so that the urban part of whole towns and cities in Yorkshire, the Midlands and the Home Counties would be preponderantly or exclusively Afro-Asian in population. There would be several Washingtons in England. From these whole areas the indigenous population, the people of England, who fondly imagine that this is their country and these are their home towns, would have been dislodged – I have deliberately chosen the most neutral word I could find. And here for the first time this morning I offer a subjective judgment, because in the nature of the case there can be no other and because on such a matter it is the duty of a politician to make and to declare his judgment. I do so I hope, not unduly moved – though why should I not be moved? – by the hundreds – no, thousands – of my countrymen who speak to me or write to me of their fear and foreboding: the old who rejoice that they will not live to see what is to come; the young who are determined that their children shall not grow up under the shadow of it. My judgment then is this: the people of England will not endure it. If so, it is idle to argue whether they ought to or ought not to. I do not believe it is in human nature that a country, and a country such as ours, should passively watch the transformation of whole areas which lie at the heart of it into alien territory.

On these two grounds then – the prospective growth of numbers with its physical consequences, and the unacceptability of those consequences – rests the urgency of action. We can perhaps not reduce the eventual total of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population, much, if at all, below its present size: with that, and with all that implies, we and our children and our children’s children will have to cope until the slow mercy of the years absorbs even that unparalleled invasion of our body politic. What I believe we can do, and therefore must do, is to avert the impending disaster of its increase.

There are two, and, so far as I can see, only two measures available to this end. Both are obvious; one is far more important, and far more difficult, than the other. If further net immigration were virtually to cease at once, that would reduce the prospective total for 1985 by a further half million, and would have a somewhat more than proportionate effect on whatever is to be the rate of increase after 1985; for, as I have pointed out, the inflow, consisting as it does mostly of dependents, forms the basis for new family units in the future. I say ‘virtually cease’, because of course no one would wish an absolute veto on the settlement of individual Afro-Asians in this country in future, any more than of other aliens. But let there be no prevarication about what is meant. What is meant is that we could cease to admit not only new settlers and their dependents, but the dependents or remaining dependents of immigrants already here. The first half of this presents no human difficulty: if we admit no new settlers, there is no problem about their dependents. The problem attaches to the reservoir of dependents who have not yet joined immigrants already here. In this case we have to decide between two evils, the denial of entry to an immigrant’s dependents and the consequences of the prospective growth in numbers. But here the minor issue merges into the major one, that of repatriation.

I have argued that on any prudent view, quite apart from any subsequent immigration, the future prospect is unacceptable. Hence the key significance of repatriation or at any rate re-emigration. A policy of assisting repatriation by payment of fares and grants is part of the official policy of the Conservative Party. It is a just, rational and humane policy; it accepts that a wrong has unintentionally been done to the immigrant by placing him in a position where the future is as pregnant with trouble for him as for the rest of the population, and it accepts the duty of reinstating him as far as possible. As my colleague, Mr. Boyd-Carpenter, pointed out in a speech at Blackpool recently which has received too little attention, it would provide the fair answer for the immigrant here whose dependents were not permitted to join him. The question is what would be the practical scope and application of such a policy.

I believe that ignorance of the realities of Commonwealth immigration leads people seriously to underestimate the scope of the policy and thus to neglect and despise the chief key to the situation. Perhaps it is the historical associations of the word ‘immigrant’ which create in those remote from the facts the picture of individuals who have left their homes behind for ever to seek a new future in a far-off land, rather in the mood of those Victorian pictures of the emigrants’ farewell.

Of course, there are many cases where individuals have uprooted themselves to come here; but in the mass it is much nearer the truth to think in terms of detachments from communities in the West Indies or India or Pakistan encamped in certain areas of England. They are still to a large extent a part, economically and socially, of the communities from which they have been detached and to which they regard themselves as belonging. A recently published study of one of the West Indian islands put it thus:

‘Migrant communities in Britain are linked to their home societies by an intricate network of ties and obligations. There are strong social pressures for members of a community to send back money to their families in the island, where most of them expect to return eventually ... the ideology of migration and the social networks formed around it are so closely connected that it is rare for migrants to abandon one without leaving the other. Thus migrants who decide to stay permanently in Britain often cut themselves off from the others.’

This description could apply, even more strongly, to the communities from India and Pakistan, whose total numbers now exceed the West Indian, and whose links with their homes are kept in being by a constant flow not only of remittances, amounting to many millions of pounds a year, but of personal visits and exchanges, the scale of which would astonish anyone not closely acquainted with the actual phenomenon of Commonwealth immigration in this country. The annual holiday ‘back home’ in the West Indies or in India or Pakistan is no rare feature of life in the immigrant communities.

Against this background a programme of large-scale voluntary but organized, financed and subsidized repatriation and re-emigration becomes indeed an administrative and political task of great magnitude, but something neither absurdly impracticable nor, still less, inhuman, but on the contrary as profoundly humane as it is far-sighted. Under an agreement between Ceylon and India for the repatriation of more than half a million Indians over fifteen years, 35,00 return to India each year with their assets. The government of Guyana is anxious to promote the re-emigration to that country of West Indians and others who can help to build up its economy and develop its resources. A cursory survey carried out by a national newspaper six months ago indicated that over 20 per cent of immigrants interviewed would contemplate availing themselves of an opportunity to go home. It need not even follow that the income from work done here in Britain would be suddenly lost to the home communities if permanent settlement of population were replaced by what many countries in Europe and elsewhere are familiar with – the temporary, albeit often long-term, intake of labour.

The resettlement of a substantial proportion of the Commonwealth immigrants in Britain is not beyond the resources and abilities of this country, if it is undertaken as a national duty, in the successful discharge of which the interests both of the immigrants themselves and of the countries from which they came are engaged. It ought to be, and it could be, organized now on the scale which the urgency of the situation demands, preferably under a special Ministry for Repatriation or other authority charged with concentrating on this task.

At present large numbers of the offspring of immigrants, even those born here in Britain, remain integrated in the immigrant community which links them with their homeland overseas. With every passing year this will diminish. Sometimes people point to the increasing proportion of immigrant offspring born in this country as if the fact contained within itself the ultimate solution. The truth is the opposite. The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or an Asian still. Unless he be one of the small minority – for number, I repeat again and again, is of the essence – he will by the very nature of things have lost one country without gaining another, lost one nationality without acquiring a new one. Time is running against us and them. With the lapse of a generation or so we shall at last have succeeded – to the benefit of nobody – in reproducing ‘in England’s green and pleasant land’ the haunting tragedy of the United States.

The English as a nation have their own peculiar faults. One of them is that strange passivity in the face of danger or absurdity or provocation, which has more than once in our history lured observers into false conclusions – conclusions sometimes fatal to the observers themselves – about the underlying intentions and the true determination of our people. What so far no one could accuse us of is a propensity to abandon hope in the face of severe and even seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Dejection is not one of our national traits; but we must be told the truth and shown the danger, if we are to meet it. Rightly or wrongly, I for my part believe that the time for that has come.