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Clement Attlee on Immigration into Britain in 1948

Summary:
As noted in this post here, even in 1948 low level immigration into the UK from its colonies caused a number of Labour Party MPs to oppose mass immigration, and they sent a letter to Clement Attlee, as follows:“This country may become an open reception centre for immigrants not selected in respect to health, education, training, character, customs and above all, whether assimilation is possible or not.The British people fortunately enjoy a profound unity without uniformity in their way of life, and are blest by the absence of a colour racial problem. An influx of coloured people domiciled here is likely to impair the harmony, strength and cohesion of our public and social life and to cause discord and unhappiness among all concerned.In our opinion colonial governments are responsible for

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As noted in this post here, even in 1948 low level immigration into the UK from its colonies caused a number of Labour Party MPs to oppose mass immigration, and they sent a letter to Clement Attlee, as follows:
“This country may become an open reception centre for immigrants not selected in respect to health, education, training, character, customs and above all, whether assimilation is possible or not.

The British people fortunately enjoy a profound unity without uniformity in their way of life, and are blest by the absence of a colour racial problem. An influx of coloured people domiciled here is likely to impair the harmony, strength and cohesion of our public and social life and to cause discord and unhappiness among all concerned.

In our opinion colonial governments are responsible for the welfare of their peoples and Britain is giving these governments great financial assistance to enable them to solve their population problems. We venture to suggest that the British Government should, like foreign countries, the dominions and even some of the colonies, by legislation if necessary, control immigration in the political, social, economic and fiscal interests of our people.

In our opinion such legislation or administrative action would be almost universally approved by our people.”
Letter to the Prime Minister, 22 June, 1948.

Prime Minister Clement Attlee replied to them, in the following letter:
Letter from Prime Minister Attlee to an MP about immigration to the UK, 5 July 1948 (HO 213/ 715)

10 Downing Street,
S.W.1
5th July, 1948

I am replying to the letter signed by yourself and ten other Members of Parliament on the 22nd of June about the West Indians who arrived in this country on that day on board the “Empire Windrush”. I note what you say, but I think it would be a great mistake to take the emigration of this Jamaican party to the United Kingdom too seriously.

It is traditional that British subjects, whether of Dominion or Colonial origin (and of whatever race or colour), should be freely admissible to the United Kingdom. That tradition is not, in my view, to be lightly discarded, particularly at this time when we are importing foreign labour in large numbers. It would be fiercely resented in the Colonies themselves, and it would be a great mistake to take any measure which would tend to weaken the goodwill and loyalty of the Colonies towards Great Britain. If our policy were to result in a great influx of undesirables, we might, however unwillingly, have to consider modifying it. But I should not be willing to consider that except on really compelling evidence, which I do not think exists at the present time. We have not yet got complete figures on the disposal of the party which arrived on the “Empire Windrush”, but it may be of interest to you to know that of the 236 who had nowhere to go and no immediate prospects of employment, and who were therefore temporarily accommodated at Clapham Shelter, 145 had actually been placed in employment by the 30th June and the number still resident in the Shelter at this last week-end was down to 76. It would therefore be a great mistake to regard these people as undesirable or unemployables. The majority of them are honest workers, who can make a genuine contribution to our labour difficulties at the present time.

You and your fellow signatories say that Colonial Governments are responsible for the welfare of their peoples. That is true, and all the Colonial Governments have their ten-year plans of development, assisted from the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of the United Kingdom. But they, like this country, are embarrassed by shortages of skilled directing personnel as well as to some extent the universal dollar shortage. These factors prevent them driving ahead as fast as they and we would wish.

It is difficult to prophesy whether events will repeat themselves, but I think it will be shown that too much importance – too much publicity too – has been attached to the present argosy of Jamaicans. Exceptionally favourable shipping terms were available to them, and there was a large proportion of them who had money in their pockets from ex-service gratuities. These circumstances are not likely to be repeated; yet even so not all the passages available were taken up.

It is too early yet to assess the impression made upon these immigrants as to their prospects in Great Britain and consequently the degree to which their experience may attract others to follow their example. Although it has been possible to find employment for quite a number of them, they may well find it very difficult to make adequate remittance to their dependants in Jamaica as well as maintaining themselves over here. On the whole, therefore, I doubt whether there is likely to be a similar large influx.

(SIGNED) C.R. ATTLEE
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/attlees-britain/empire-windrush-2/

Despite Clement Attlee’s liberal policy, note carefully what he said here:
“It is traditional that British subjects, whether of Dominion or Colonial origin (and of whatever race or colour), should be freely admissible to the United Kingdom. That tradition is not, in my view, to be lightly discarded, particularly at this time when we are importing foreign labour in large numbers. It would be fiercely resented in the Colonies themselves, and it would be a great mistake to take any measure which would tend to weaken the goodwill and loyalty of the Colonies towards Great Britain. If our policy were to result in a great influx of undesirables, we might, however unwillingly, have to consider modifying it. But I should not be willing to consider that except on really compelling evidence, which I do not think exists at the present time.”
This strongly suggests to me that Clement Attlee never envisaged huge mass immigration levels from the Third World radically changing Britain’s demographics. In his time, he simply could never have imagined the insane levels of mass immigration that were inflicted on Britain from the 1990s onwards.

Rather, when Attlee said at the end of his letter he did not envisage another “large influx,” he was referring to just 492 Jamaican immigrants (who had arrived on the “Empire Windrush”), not even thousands, or hundreds of thousands.

Attlee regarded such Commonwealth immigration as likely to be small and not likely to cause serious problems precisely because it would remain small in numbers.

Moreover, the very fact that Attlee was – for perfectly good reasons – not in favour of a “great influx of [sc. immigrant] undesirables” into Britain would probably get him indicted for hate speech in today’s vicious, authoritarian and politically correct Europe.

Attlee would probably get expelled from the modern Labour Party, as would James Keir Hardie – the very founder of the Labour Party – given that Hardie famously opposed immigration into Scotland and remarked: “Dr. Johnson said God made Scotland for Scotchmen, and I would keep it so.”

If we could only resurrect Clement Attlee and show him Britain in 2018.

I think he would have closed the borders immediately and abandoned liberal immigration policies.

Lord Keynes
Realist Left social democrat, left wing, blogger, Post Keynesian in economics, but against the regressive left, against Postmodernism, against Marxism

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