Byline: Gavin Cordon
THE cornerstone of Britain's immigration legislation was deliberately framed to make it more difficult for black and Asian immigrants from the "new" Commonwealth to settle in Britain, according to official papers made public for the first time today.
At the same time, Edward Heath's Conservative government tried to ease the rules for whites from the "old" Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand and Canada seeking to emigrate to the UK, even though ministers knew it would be seen as "discriminatory".
Files released to the Public Record Office under the 30 year rule show that, when the attempt failed in the House of Commons, the Cabinet agreed to try to get round the defeat through "administrative measures".
The thinking behind the Immigration Bill was set out by Home Secretary Reginald Maudling at a meeting of the Cabinet in Downing Street on January 5, 1971.
Maudling told colleagues that it would be necessary to apply "more stringent" restrictions on Commonwealth citizens in order to prevent a resurgence of "new" Commonwealth immigration.
"Such a resurgence would inflame community relations in Britain, " Maudling warned.
"The success of our policies aimed at improving community relations (is) basically dependent on the Government's maintaining firm and demonstrable control over the admission of immigrants."
Ministers broadly backed the proposal even though they acknowledged that it would lead to "charges of discrimination" against the Government.
"But given the propensity of 'new' Commonwealth immigrants to settle permanently and to bring their dependants, this safeguard was both necessary and defensible, " the minutes noted.
At the same time, the Cabinet agreed that Commonwealth citizens with a UK-born parent or grandparent should be exempt from immigration controls - a move designed to "broadly benefit" the whites of the "old" Commonwealth.
"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' Commonwealth countries, " the minutes said. …