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Heath told ministers to help 'white' immigrants

Public records: Heath told ministers to help 'white' immigrants
Revelations about immigration policy, EC negotiations and the Royal Yacht emerge under the 30-year rule

Edward Heath A Member of Parliament since 1950, Sir Edward
was Prime Minister of Britain from 1970 to 1974

Edward Heath tried to change the immigration rules to make it more difficult for blacks and Asians to settle in Britain even after Parliament rejected the measure, cabinet papers newly released show.

Mr Heath, who was Prime Minister from 1970 to 1974, asked ministers if "administrative" means could be used to favour incomers from Australia, New Zealand and Canada rather than those from Africa, the Caribbean or the Indian subcontinent.

Documents kept secret for 30 years but released today by the Public Record Office show that Mr Heath's Cabinet originally agreed to include the measures in the 1971 Immigration Bill, even though ministers knew they would be seen as discriminatory.

Three years after Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech, Reginald Maudling, who was Home Secretary, told ministers that immigration from the "new" Commonwealth had to be restricted to prevent a "resurgence" of Asian and black immigrants that would upset public opinion. He told the Cabinet: "Such a resurgence would inflame community relations in Britain. The success of our policies aimed at improving community relations [is] basically dependent on the Government maintaining firm and demonstrable control over the admission of immigrants."

Minutes of the meeting show ministers knew the proposals would lead to "charges of discrimination" against the Government but thought them "necessary and defensible" given "the propensity of 'new' Commonwealth immigrants to settle permanently and to bring their dependants".

The Cabinet agreed to adopt the so-called grandparent concession that Commonwealth citizens with a parent or grandparent born in Britain should be exempt from immigration controls, accepting that it would "broadly benefit" whites.

"Although such a concession would probably attract some criticism as being discriminatory in favour of the 'white' Commonwealth, it was defensible as being a clear reflection of our unique relationship with the 'old' Common- wealth countries," the minutes said.

The concession was added to the Bill but defeated at committee stage in the Commons. At a cabinet meeting on 13 May, ministers accepted would not be possible to try to reinstate it. But Mr Heath, who was knighted in 1992, said they should still investigate if it was possible to achieve the same result by easing rules for white immigrants in practice.

He told Mr Maudling and the ministers involved that they should look at "the feasibility of achieving by administrative measures the aims which the rejection of the grandparental concession had frustrated".

The 1971 Act, which has formed the basis of Britain's immigration rules until now, was introduced on 1 January 1973, amid criticism that its complex entry system clearly favoured whites over blacks and Asians. The records show that despite the criticism Mr Heath's measure attracted, other ministers had wanted to go even further, calling for the complete abolition of immigration controls for the old Commonwealth.

However the minutes show that the Cabinet as a whole believed that was a step too far. "It would be difficult to defend against the charges that we were discriminating against the 'new' Commonwealth and giving to nationals of the 'old' Commonwealth a special status which it could be argued was contrary to the concept of the Commonwealth as a multi-racial institution," the minutes recorded.

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