From immigration control to ‘induced repatriation’

First published in Race & Class 20/1, Summer 1978.

In various issues of Race & Class – but particularly in ‘Race, class and the state’ (Vol. XVII, no. 4) – we have shown how successive British governments, whether Tory or Labour, have used Nationality Laws and Immigration Acts to adjust the intake of labour into Britain.

At one end of the spectrum is the Nationality Act of 1948 which merely by conferring British citizenship on the citizens of the colonies and the Commonwealth, made sure that post-war Britain aid its hands on all the workers it could get – and if they came as settlers to the mother country, so much surer was Britain of their continued labour. At the other end is the Immigration Act of 1971 which, in response to the economic recession of the 1960s and 1970s, finally terminated all black settler immigration and installed instead a system of contract labour on the lines of the European gastarbeiter.

With the enforcement of the 1971 Act (in January 1973) all primary immigration virtually ceased. The only immigrants who were allowed in, beyond the specific needs of the British economy, were the dependants of those already settled here and such special categories as UK passport holders from East Africa and ‘male fiancés’. It would have appeared therefore that the Dutch auction on immigration had also ceased and that the two major political parties could get down to the more serious business of ‘race relations’. For they both held the view that to improve race relations, to make things better for the coloureds’, you must first restrict their numbers.

But the inexorable logic of that philosophy which for a while had engendered a bi-partisan policy on immigration and even facilitated the passage of anti-discriminatory legislation in the Race Relations Act of 1976 – finally caught the fancy of Margaret Thatcher in an election year. And at the end of January 1978 she announced that her party would ‘finally see an end to immigration’ – not just for the sake of race relations (though that too) but in order to preserve the British way of life and allay the majority’s fears, for ‘this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.’ Before translating this statement into policy terms, however, the Tories prepared to await the recommendations shortly to be made by the House of Commons (al party) Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration.

Whether the Select Committee was hustled into Thatcherite recommendations by the Tory woman’s speech or had arrived at them spontaneously or through an overwhelming desire for ‘consensus’ is not certain. What is certain, however, is that the recommendations of a Committee representing all major parties (and ‘wings’ of parties) had given a ‘certificate of respectability’ to the Tory proposals that were to follow. In fact when Thatcher’s henchman, Willie Whitelaw, came to outline Tory policies on race and immigration some two weeks later, they had the ring of the Select Committee – and the purpose, it would appear, was the same: to move from immigration control to induced repatriation.


Primary immigration

Scour as it might, the Select Committee could not come up with any fresh ideas for the control of primary immigration. A few refinements, though On the level of Britain’s economic needs, a further reduction should be attempted – with regard to doctors, etc. (who at present enter without special permits) and to nursing auxiliaries and hotel and catering workers (mainly southern European). The entry status of husbands and ‘male fiancés’ should be revised. A new Nationality Law – which is in the offing anyway would tidy up some of the anomalies and so help to reduce immigration. And there should be an annual quota for immigrants from the Indian subcontinent meaning dependants.

The Tories went one better. While pledging themselves to stricter ‘work-permit free employment’ and ‘a new British Nationality Act’ they promised to end, without review, the automatic entry of ‘non-patrial’ husbands and ‘non-patrial male fiances on the ground that the ‘abode of the husband in a marriage should normally be viewed as the natural place of residence of the family’. And as for a quota system, this would not be applied to ‘the Indian sub-continent alone in a discriminatory fashion’, as suggested by the Select Committee but to ‘all forms of entry from all non-EEC countries right across the board’. Except that, a limited ‘register for eligible (sic) wives and children from the Indian Sub-Continent’ would first be established before introducing the ‘across the board’ quota system!

Secondary immigration

Already in these recommendations and proposals the Select Committee and the Tory party are beginning to slide over from ‘primary immigration’ into the immigration of dependants. And it is here in the matter of dependants that the axe really falls. The report recommends that children over 12 years old born abroad to those settled here should not be allowed to join their parents), and ‘it may well be necessary on social grounds to adjust the Immigration Rules in the future to ensure children are only admitted if they are below school age’. Dependants such as parents, grandparents and children over 18 should not be allowed to join families unless accommodation and means of support by the sponsor is approved by the authorities.

Again, the Tories do better – except in regard to the recommendation about children over 12 being refused entry. They pledge to restrict the entry of parents, grandparents and children over 18 to those who can prove urgent compassionate grounds’. And as for those who entered Britain after 1 January 1973, they would not only forego automatic right of settlement but would, even if allowed to settle, have ‘no automatic entitlement for wives and dependants’. The message is clearly that unproductive additions to working-class black families are unwanted. If you want family life, ‘go home.’

From surveillance to pass laws

But perhaps the most damaging aspect of the report is the recommendations it makes for the surveillance of the black community. Already, from the village in the Indian sub-continent to the British social security office, blacks are checked and scrutinised, women sexually examined. The Committee now recommends that the Department of Health and Social Security should ‘introduce without delay new procedures to tighten up identity checks ..’,  ‘the police, the Immigrants Service Intelligence Unit and other authorities’ should be given powers to seek out illegal immigrants and overstayers, and new powers should be sought ‘to provide effective sanctions’ against employers who knowingly employ them. And finally the government is recommended to hold an independent inquiry to consider ‘a system of internal control of immigration’. The Tories for their part ‘agree’ with the Select Committee’s recommendation for the setting up of an inquiry into such a ‘system of internal control – a system presumably of identity cards and pass laws for those legally here – but promise in the meantime to ‘intensify counter measures against illegal immigration and overstaying. They will do even more: they will ‘improve’ existing ‘arrangements.. to help those who are really anxious to leave this country’ voluntary repatriation of course, but aided. Again the message to the black community is clear: if you want to live in peace, go home.

Quite clearly all the talk about primary and secondary immigration is a lot of nonsense. What the Select Committee and the Tory party really want is to reduce the number of ‘coloured immigrants’ irrespective of whether they are dependants or not. And since primary immigration, as the Labour government has pointed out, is down to a trickle’ – new workers on permits in 1976 were something in the order of per cent of total immigration the cuts have to be made on those overseas, mainly from the Indian sub-continent, waiting to be reunited with their families here. The result, whatever the aim, is to divide black families even further leaving it to the wage-earner to face the impossible question whether he wants to go on working and living in Britain if he cannot have his dependants with him those for whom he came to work here in the first place. But even if, for the sake of their livelihood and his, he is forced to remain, he would be subjected to ‘a system of internal control (for how do you distinguish between an ‘illegal immigrant and a legal one when they are all black) that would make life untenable.


The crude economics of the strategy would indicate that Britain no longer needs the workforce it was once desperate for and would like to lay them off – preferably in their countries of origin. All the Immigration Acts from 1962 onwards had pointed to this end – culminating in the Act of 1971 which finally established a system of importing workers when they were needed and sending them back when they were not. And all the lmmigration Acts – because they were aimed at ‘coloured immigrants’ and therefore tied to race – were preceded by and sought justification in the philosophy that fewer blacks make for better race relations. The economic strategy in other words, threw up the philosophy and the philosophy engendered the Acts. But the 1971 Act applied to future immigration; there was always the question of what to do with those who had settled here before then. So that even when primary immigration was virtually ended, the philosophy continued to be applied this time to the dependants of those who had settled here.*

*More West Indians are leaving Britain than coming in

But alongside that another philosophy, springing from the economics of recession still based on the premise that fewer blacks make for better race relations begins to emerge: one that would eventually provide the justification for repatriation In the deliberations of the Select Committee, the new philosophy is only half formed, and tempered with reason. Minorities, they say should pay ‘greater regard to the mores of their country of adoption -if only because such customs as arranged marriages encourage the immigration of ‘male fiancés’. Of course, if the immigrants wished to maintain such a custom, they should be encouraged to observe their own ‘traditional pattern’ of ‘the bride joining the husband’s family’. And in that same spirit of sparing immigrants any further culture shock the Committee recommends that, in future children should only be admitted if they are below school age.  But even so, all that the Select Committee seems to be saying is: if you are here, be like us, if you cannot, go home.

In the hands of the Tories, however, the new philosophy (coupled with the old) emerges full fledged and stark:people of an alien culture are threatening to ‘swamp’ Britain, the British way of life is in danger, the majority’s fears must be allayed. Hence the Tory proposals. But lest they did not go far enough, the minion Whitelaw declared in effect that there could not be one law for the white and another for the black – and policies of ‘reverse discrimination’ which put minorities in a privileged position should be rejected because of the dangers to racial harmony. Let them learn English instead – through language classes, in factories and workplaces and this will help them to get employment and promotion. And in the same vein Mrs Thatcher has pledged to amend the ‘incitement to racial hatred clause in the Race Relations Act (1976) so that ‘intent to offend’ has to be proved to form the basis of a prosecution*. Indeed she will ‘look at the whole Act when we come into power.

*If the proposed register of dependants to establish a quota system is anything to go by, the current concern to ascertain immigrant birthrate, and hence the size of the coloured population’ at the end of the century, is an ominous sign. That children born here would be British at least by the year 2000, however, has escaped statistical consideration.

**That the statement of Tory philosophy was made (by Margaret Thatcher) before the Select Committee report is not to the point: one did not grow out of the other, but they were both travelling in the same direction at the speed of their respective motivations. What is to the point, however, is that the Šelect Committee report justified the Tory statement that preceded it and gave a fillip to the Tory proposals that followed it

***The prosecution of Kingsley Read for his notorious statement on the murder of a young Asian one down, a million to go’ – foundered precisely because, under the 1965 Act then in operation, intent to inflame racial hatred had to be proved.


But if Tory pledges still appear to fall short of the emerging Tory philosophy, it is because in British race policy, the philosophy, the rationale, comes first – then to be taken up and embellished by sections of the media – thereby creating a ‘climate of opinion’ – demanding legislation.  In the days following Thatcher’s interview (30 January) the Daily Mail, in a series of articles on immigration with titles such as ‘They’ve taken over my home town’, gave ‘real life stories’ of culture swamping. Four days before the Select Committee report (13 March ) BBC television, in a programme meant to elicit a whole range of views on immigration, afforded Enoch Powell a field day during which he enlarged on his idea of ‘induced repatriation.’

The Tory proposals were published on 7 April and in the countrywide local elections (4 May) Tory candidates were able to reiterate and justify Tory proposals. All of which has gone to create a climate of opinion favourable to Tory immigration policies and Tory philosophy. But if legislation, at central government level, has still to await the results of a general election, no such impediment stands in the way of local governments with a Tory majority. One such authority, Slough, has offered a homeless woman (married to ‘an American serviceman’) and her child a loan to leave the country rather than meet its obligation to house her. The deputy leader of another Tory-controlled council has warned its community workers that publishing advice to squatters or advising West Indians (and other groups) on what to do when arrested for suspicious loitering** or ‘demonstrating with the Grunwick pickets’ could constitute political activity, incurring cuts in staff and finance.

But the most devastating consequence of all this Tory activity and more particularly (because more appealing), the shadow Prime Minister’s lurid statement about culture swamping, has been the terror unleashed on the black communities. Down in the ghetto – far removed from Thatcher country – the majority, whose fears the Tory lady wished to allay, have literally taken the law into their own hands and begun to terrorise the black population. And it has not stopped at knifings, beatings and harassments. Altab Ali, a Bengali going home from work, was stabbed to death in the East End of London. On his tenth birthday, Kennith Singh, returning from the corner shop with his mother’s cigarettes, was battered to death and dumped on a rubbish tip in Plaistow. And shot gun attacks have been mounted on rubbish tip in Plaistow. And shot gun attacks have been mounted on West Indians in Wolverhampton.

For the white maggots that feed on the psychopathic fancies of a super race, ‘go home, nigger is no longer a dream but a promise which, to be fulfilled, needs only their unremitting activity.

*For want of a better word this is a repatriation scheme. It’s easier and cheaper to pay their fares than give them houses at the expense of Slough people R. Stephenson, deputy leader, Slough Council (Glasgow Herald, 29 April 1978).

**The notorious “Sus law is one of the principal weapons used by the police to harass young blacks. (Almost half the arrests for 1976 in the London area were of blacks.)


Viewed in terms of electoral politics, the Tory tactics would appear to be no more than a vote catching exercise, cynically exploiting the racialism of the white working class. But the philosophy from which the tactics emanate is ingrained in the philosophy of archaic, free- enterprise capitalism, which Margaret Thatcher and her cohorts espouse. For enlightened capital, the appeal to narrow nationalism and racialism is not only unnecessary but, in terms of social cost, counter-productive. Hence the Race Relations Act of 1976 was aimed at dismantling institutional racism (its economic function was over) while still allowing racialism to divide the working class. Since then however, the Labour government in its role as agent of the ruling class, has persuaded the unions, the alleged representatives of the working class, to adopt its interests as their own in a social contract.

And to leave the black working class out of such a contract would be to invite a militancy which could infect the rest of the class. (This was precisely the significance of the Grunwick strike.) At the same time the rise of the National Front has shown that the continuing division of the working class on racialist lines not only weakens Labour’s electoral base but gives also a fillip to fascism which is not in the interests of corporate capital: you don’t need to defeat the working class when you can co-opt it. Hence Labour has disassociated itself from the recommendations of the Select Committee, inveighed against Tory immigration proposals as unnecessary, ‘inhumane’ and pointing to a ‘pass law society’, and been visibly active in ongoing anti-racist, anti-fascist campaigns.

Tory thinking, however, has.continued to remain in the past.* The racist and anti-working class sentiments of Thatcher and Joseph (he who inveighed against lower class fertility rates) reflect the anxieties and fears of a decaying bourgeoisie. And not unnaturally they figure that to defeat the class by dividing it there is no better ploy than race which while speaking to the social and economic frustrations of white workers, provides them at the same time with a national vision, the surrogate for revolution. The strategy is to defeat the class, the tactic is to divide it – and they both stem from the ideology of outmoded capital.

*Of course, the Tory party, like any other, is not homogeneous and contains within the more long-term conservatism of Peter Walker, Ted Heath et al.

In the process, however, the Tories have stepped into National Front country – in National Front guise. But, given their ideology, they cannot (to mix a metaphor) deliver the NF goods. Their thinking on race, for instance even in its ‘induced repatriation’ phase cannot proceed to its logical conclusion of compulsory repatriation or to the final solution provided by fascism. (How else would you stop the swamping of British culture by the blacks?) What it does however, is to lend orthodoxy to fascist thinking and soften up the working class for fascist blandishments – and fascist ideology.