HC Deb 19 December 1995 vol 268 cc1437-48

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Bates.]

9.8 pm

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

I am pleased that my Adjournment subject was chosen for this evening, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is a subject that has stirred quite a lot of debate among sections of the community, particularly among black and minority ethnic people. It is time that the House heard and understood what is being said. I welcome the opportunity of putting my case for resettlement of people in the Caribbean.

In principle, there is nothing new about the British Government providing financial assistance to people, including British citizens, who wish to resettle abroad. There have been various schemes for many years. For example, until 1988 the old supplementary benefits system provided the full cost of fares for applicants and their dependants who wished to resettle abroad. From August 1984, the scheme was restricted so that only British citizens were entitled to come within it. The maximum allowed per person was two years' worth of benefit.

According to information provided in a written answer, between 1972 and 1986 about 1,208 people were assisted under the supplementary benefits system, at a cost of £216,654.

Since 1988, when supplementary benefit was abolished and replaced by the social fund, no equivalent provision has been available. Since 1971, however, there has been limited provision available under the Immigration Act 1971. I refer to the scheme that has been run on behalf of the Government by International Social Services, which is located in Brixton. I wonder why the Government chose that location?

The scheme provides for those who are not British citizens to obtain the cost of fares for themselves and their families plus a small sum for the transportation of their effects. Between 1971 and 1975 about 2,545 people took advantage of the scheme, the overwhelming majority of them to return to the Caribbean region. The level of interest in the scheme, however, is far higher, with the number of initial inquiries reaching more than 900 in one particular year. I know from my constituency case work that many of those who inquire are turned down because they are British citizens. Clearly there is a gap in provision.

There are other schemes at a European level run by the International Organisation for Migration, the IOM. The IOM facilitates return to the country of origin. Its excellent programme for the return and reintegration of qualified African nationals began in 1983, and more than 1,250 people have been assisted, about half of them coming from the United Kingdom.

The project is now paid for by the European Union and thus, in part, by the British Government, who support the project. The IOM has a major centre that is located in London. Phase 3 of the project began in January 1995. It will assist a further 999 professionals to return to targeted jobs in targeted countries or regions. It will pay for their travel costs, the cost of professional equipment and various reintegration allowances.

Interestingly, the IOM also ran a programme last year to assist 40 professionals to return to Jamaica. Eleven places were filled by United Kingdom applicants. A larger scheme involving 50 places is likely to be run in 1996. It is hoped to expand the scheme to embrace the entire Caribbean in due course. I repeat that the Government fully support the scheme.

Today, the IOM's co-ordinator told me:

This programme has aroused a great deal of interest, and from our conversations with applicants we know that there are many who wish to return to Jamaica". She continued:

"We fully support your initiative"—

meaning my initiative—

in raising this issue, and we would be prepared to run a larger return programme if funding was available. It is now time, I believe, for a thorough review of existing provision in this area and for a more realistic scheme to facilitate resettlement. It is my considered view that that would be in the interests of Britain, the Caribbean and most certainly of those who wish to resettle. There are, in other words, coinciding interests that would make such a scheme a logical development. I also believe that a suitable scheme could be developed at no additional cost to the public purse.

There is no doubt that there is increased interest in resettlement. People have already left for the Caribbean in considerable numbers; there is a sizeable drift of thousands of people back to the region. The Jamaican Government estimate that some 2,000 people returned from the UK to Jamaica in 1994. Barbados, Dominica, Antigua and Guyana are also popular destinations for returning residents. Organisations have been set up in Britain to assist those wishing to return, such as the Organisation of Returning Jamaicans and Associates, which is flourishing. It is interesting that the person who heads that organisation, Mark Le Ban, said to me only yesterday that its management committee is made up of Jamaican people aged between 30 and 45, so it is not only elderly people who wish to return.

Those who have already resettled—including those who were born in the region as well as those who were born in Britain—are the more prosperous, the retired or professionals with marketable skills, and entrepreneurs who can afford the travel and settlement costs involved. Many of us would dearly wish to resettle but do not have the means to do so. I have had a huge number of letters from such people from all over the country, including my constituents, who are desperately seeking help to return home. Many of the letters come from those in the caring professions, seeking my help for their clients in that regard. They include the elderly, many of whom came here in the 1950s and 1960s, at the specific request of the British Government, and never intended to remain here for long. However, the streets of Britain turned out not to be paved with gold and they were never in a position to return.

There are others who are chronically ill and never likely to work again in Britain who would prefer to return home to the Caribbean. Like the retired, they are frequently trapped by a benefit system that would cut them off from the benefits that they have earned if they were to go back. One of my constituents, for example, is now retired and longs to return to the Caribbean. If she did so, however, her state pension would be frozen at its current level and all benefits for her dependent disabled daughter would be curtailed, because they are payable only in Britain. Does anyone really give a hoot whether in such a case that young lady's benefit is paid in Britain or in the Caribbean?

The social security system is similarly inflexible so far as the long-term unemployed are concerned. I include here many single parents. These people know that they could advance themselves by returning to the Caribbean. However, they would find it hard to raise even the fare and would lose all benefits immediately if they left the United Kingdom. Given the high proportion of unemployed black workers who are long-term unemployed—some 60 per cent. as opposed to 44 per cent. in the white population—it makes little sense for the social security system to close off the option of return. It would not be so outrageous for such people, properly supervised, to be allowed benefit-equivalent sums for a few months to enable them to explore that option. Far higher sums are already spent on "make work" schemes here in Britain.

Another group frequently approaches me. It comprises people who are in work—often skilled or professional people—and who would like, at least for a time, to use their skills to assist in the development of countries with which they have a connection, such as those in the Caribbean, with a view to resettlement. There is currently no structure to channel the aspirations of that group, and there are many practical and financial obstacles.

As I have said, Caribbean and, possibly, other interested countries in the region would welcome a resettlement programme. For many years, the region has been the subject of a brain drain: its brightest and best sons and daughters have migrated, mostly to Britain, the United States or Canada. The absence of those groups has a destabilising effect on the countries concerned, and is now a major obstacle to economic development in the region.

Several Caribbean Governments—including Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados—are encouraging people to return by making special arrangements to assist returnees. They have set up units in their foreign Ministries to assist the smooth return of their citizens; they have also made tax changes that are favourable to returning residents, and issued calls for nationals to return to their countries. They know that there are major economic spin-offs resulting from resettlement.

As I have said, a suitable scheme to assist in resettlement could be developed if the will existed. Clearly, it would need to be the subject of detailed work, but it is possible to state the principles on which such a scheme would be organised. First, any scheme would of course be entirely voluntary: there can be no question of compulsion, or of rescinding anyone's British citizenship. Secondly, it must be a responsible scheme, properly managed on a case-by-case basis, to ensure that those who return do so with the best possible advice and support. Thirdly, the scheme must be adequate, ensuring that those who take advantage of it are properly provided for. I personally would not support any scheme that left people worse off than they are in the United Kingdom in terms of living standards, health care and housing in particular. Fourthly, the ultimate veto over eligibility to the scheme must rest with the designation countries themselves. In fact, they could well be given responsibility for administering the scheme. I have had discussions with most of the Governments involved, and they are willing to take that responsibility.

The scheme would have to be developed in full consultation with the black community here—particularly the Caribbean community—and with the designation countries. The advantages to Britain of such a scheme would be numerous. First, it is not generally in the interests of any country to have a substantial number of people in its midst who honestly do not want to be in that country. Secondly, even with the most generous scheme, there would be substantial financial advantages.

Those who approach me are all too often those who are most dependent on social benefits and health and welfare services—and, indeed, are most likely to be subsidised in various ways for their housing costs. They are also likely to be tenants of local authority housing. It would not take too much imagination to calculate a social-benefits equivalent sum for a given number of people each year that could be used as a basis for a budget for a resettlement scheme. Given the lower costs of living in the Caribbean—even after weekly benefit equivalent payments—substantial sums would be available for investment in housing, social care and health insurance. Many variations are possible.

The existing IOM scheme could well be developed substantially to cater for more of those in work who wish to return. If the costs of this part of the scheme came from the existing Overseas Development Administration budget, that would not be a bad thing: it would certainly be a more effective means of helping the countries concerned than the current practice of sending them highly paid consultants to perform key jobs there.

An enhanced resettlement programme would be in the interests of Britain, not least because it would be a recognition of the huge damage that Britain has inflicted on the Caribbean both now and in the past. Having created and exploited those countries through slavery and colonisation, Britain is abandoning them now that its economic interests lie elsewhere. Having stolen so much it would be more than fitting at this time in history for Britain to at least facilitate the return of those who wish to go back to those countries.

Some people have said that even to mention this matter is to cause damage to race relations in this country, and that to argue for a resettlement scheme is to give in to racism. I have even been accused of adopting the agenda of fascists and racists. Even the Secretary of State for the Home Department told me recently that he feared that an enhanced resettlement scheme would make black people feel unwelcome here. That is rich, coming from someone who has set back race relations by at least 20 years in the relatively short time that he has been in office. I am not convinced by these arguments. This is about creating positive choices for black people, about setting our own agenda for once, and about remembering where we came from.

Some black people will want to stay in Britain, and the fight for racial equality will continue. I shall continue to play my part in that struggle. It is true that some people want to leave because they are sick and tired of the racism that they face in this country. They are fed up with fighting racism, and I see no reason why they should be forced to do so. Others do not feel at home in Britain and some people despair of the predominant values and culture of this society and fear for their children growing up in such a climate. Others simply wish to return to live with their families and, of course, that feeling is more common nowadays because of the absurdity of current immigration rules which keep families apart. I hope that the Minister will address that point when he tries to sum up at the end of the debate.

Against the background of all that has been done to black people historically, the House has no right to deny those people a choice about their future. We know what is happening to black people at the moment. We know about the tragic events less than a week ago in Brixton where there was a tragic death, the second in six months, of a young black person at the hands of the police. I understand that that young man was cornered in a park. He had a knife and he threw it away. The police then descended on that young person and beat him very badly. That was witnessed by several people, and I understand that the Police Complaints Authority is investigating. That was a tragic event by any stretch of the imagination. It is similar to what happened to Rodney King, and I am sure that the Minister and some of the police officers who were around would say, "What happened to Rodney King was terrible". It is my understanding, and witnesses will eventually come forward to prove it, that that is precisely what happened to young Wayne Douglas in Brixton. What concerns a number of people is that the police refuse to learn from their mistakes in the past. They should automatically have suspended the officers concerned on full pay and had an immediate inquiry into the matter.

The media played a part in this notorious affair because they should have given some prominence to yet another death within six months at the hands of the same police force and through the use of side-handled batons. Those two young black males are the first people to die as a result of the introduction of the side-handled batons that were imported from the United States of America—the same batons that killed Rodney King.

We have heard no one mention anything about that at all. I asked the Home Secretary a question on the occasion of the first death. He gave me an answer to the effect that it cost too much to find out how many people had died as a result of the introduction of the side-handled batons law. We now know—and I will tell the House—that two young black men have died as a result of such batons. They are the first to die. That in itself should require some statement from the Home Secretary. Perhaps the Minister replying to this debate will deal with that point, but I doubt it as he is involved as part of the race card that the Government are playing in relation to all these matters.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

On that point, does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most deplorable aspects of events in Brixton is that, far from the mainstream media considering issues such as the deaths in custody or the use of side-handled batons, they have sought scapegoats such as Rudy Narayan, The Voice or the Caribbean Times newspapers? The mainstream press is criticising the ethnic press simply for printing the facts when the mainstream press would not. Would it not be more appropriate if those same papers exposed some of the issues that my hon. Friend has talked about in relation to police brutality?

Mr. Grant

I am indebted to my hon. Friend for that intervention because I had missed that point. I am glad that she reminded me of it. She is absolutely right. Far from looking for the culprits who caused this position to occur, the mainstream press has looked for a number of scapegoats, including Rudy Narayan, who represents no one except himself and who is not a voice that people in Brixton follow. Poor Rudy will probably end up in the courts and be charged for inciting riots when, if the truth were known, he could not incite himself to riot on any occasion. Such scapegoating, and the attempts of the Government and their cohorts to scapegoat people who are trying just to bring to the public's attention a serious situation in the black community, are deplorable.

As I was saying, the House has no right to deny people a choice about their future. Against the background of all that is happening and has been done to black people historically, the House owes it to them to allow them to exercise that choice. In raising this matter, I speak on behalf of many people in Britain. I hope that the Minister will carefully consider what I have said and agree at least to commission a study of how the current very limited resettlement arrangements could be suitably expanded.

I had a meeting with the Home Secretary and the Minister on this point. The Home Secretary felt that he could not support the scheme because, to put it in his words, if he were to do so, it might encourage elements to believe that black people were not welcome in this country. The Home Secretary went on to say that black people were welcome here, that they were worthy people and that they have had made a substantial contribution to Britain. That was the first time that I had heard that particular Home Secretary make such remarks. I am pleased and indebted that he found it necessary to make them. I wish that he would make them more often.

Ms Abbott

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Grant

Most certainly.

Ms Abbott


Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. Before the hon. Lady launches off, may I remind her that she is addressing me and should face the Chair?

Ms Abbott

Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker. Does my hon. Friend agree that, welcome though it is to hear the Home Secretary say those positive things about race relations, they come ill from someone who is promoting the Asylum and Immigration Bill, which is profoundly racist and aims to criminalise, not just immigrants and asylum seekers, but black African people as a whole, especially in relation to its provisions for passport checks on employees? Someone, although not myself, might accuse him of hypocrisy in that regard.

Mr. Grant

Yes, again my hon. Friend is right on the mark—absolutely correct.

Only this morning the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and myself were all at the first sitting of the Standing Committee on the Asylum and Immigration Bill. Any independent observer, anyone who had not been nobbled by the Home Secretary and his people, would look at that Bill and see that the motivation behind it was clearly racist.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but the general burden of his Adjournment debate is about people leaving this country, not people coming to it. I think that he should return to that.

Mr. Grant

I am always willing to take guidance from you, Madam Deputy Speaker. But for some people, in order to leave the country they first have to come into it. I am concerned both with people coming in and with people going out; some people cannot do one without the other. However, I accept your general point, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I mention the Bill because it has a clear bearing on black and minority ethnic communities here. That is because the Home Secretary will require employers to ask people to provide documents to establish their right to be in this country—and we know from experience that the people who are asked for the documents will be black people.

That happens all the time. It happens when black people go to Europe. It even happens with groups of schoolchildren. The immigration officers in France, Germany and Belgium allow all the white children to go through, but they stop the black kids and ask them for special explanations about why they should be able to walk through like everyone else.

The Minister may pooh-pooh that idea, but if he does so, it shows that he is totally ignorant about the effects of his and the European Union's policies on black British citizens. If he adopts the attitude that that is a load of nonsense, and that everything is rosy in Britain, it simply exposes his personal racism in that connection. I will listen carefully to what he says, because a reasoned argument has been put forward, and I want him to address the points that have been raised.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not mean to do so, but he rather gave the impression that he was accusing another hon. Member of racism, which would definitely be unparliamentary.

Mr. Grant

I withdraw any such remark, Madam Deputy Speaker. Of course the Minister is not a racist. He may act as though he were one, but I know that he is not. On that basis, I withdraw the remark.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

I think that the whole House is following my hon. Friend's arguments carefully. Does he agree that, bearing in mind all the matters that have been raised during today's lobby on the Asylum and Immigration Bill, and also by himself in this important debate, even at this late stage the Government could refer the Bill to a Special Standing Committee, where all those points could be raised?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry, but this is going way beyond the subject of the Adjournment debate. I must ask the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), the Front-Bench spokesman, not to lead his hon. Friend astray in that way.

Mr. Grant

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for getting us back on the rails.

We shall of course fight the Asylum and Immigration Bill thoroughly in Committee. If the Minister thinks that he is in for an easy ride he had better think again, because there will be substantial opposition both inside and outside the Committee. For the various reasons that I have outlined, there is a need for people to be given the option of returning to the Caribbean. I have also stated that the Caribbean Governments would welcome a scheme that encourages people to return. In fact, the president of Guyana recently told me that he wrote to the Prime Minister and asked him to let Guyana have Britain's unemployed skilled workers, because there was plenty of work for them in Guyana. I understand that the Prime Minister replied that because of the social security regulations, it would not be possible to do that.

I believe that imaginative schemes could be developed to give people hope and to assist young people, graduates and skilled and qualified workers who feel that there is a glass ceiling through which they cannot break. Those people could be given an opportunity of a life—or part of a life—in another area of the world. They could benefit that area, and also benefit themselves.

I have proved this evening that there are already two schemes running. The first is run by the Government, and contains within it the principle of return from this country to the Caribbean and to other countries of the world. The other scheme is run by the IOM, which has a centre here in Queen Anne's Gate in London, and is supported and financed by the Government. There are no reasons why the Government should not extend the existing schemes along the lines that I have suggested.

If the Minister dares to ask me why the British taxpayer should pay for this scheme, I will remind him that a Conservative Government in the 1950s and 1960s sent people to the Caribbean and used British taxpayers' money to recruit bus drivers, London Transport workers, nurses and others. The Minister of Labour at that time was Enoch Powell, who I am sure the Minister has heard of. The Government at that time paid for people to come here, and now some of those people wish to return. For various reasons, they might not have the means to do so. We are suggesting that the Government should use taxpayers' money to do that. Such a scheme would result in savings to the Treasury and, for no other reason, the Government should support it.

9.42 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Timothy Kirkhope)

I very much regret the fact that the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) has again decided to raise the question of voluntary repatriation. I noted his speech this evening, and the contributions which came from the Opposition Front Bench from the hon. Members for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott).

The only saving grace of the debate is that it gives me an opportunity to restate the Government's total opposition to any scheme which actively encourages people who are lawfully settled here to return to their country of origin. Nobody who has a legal right to live in this country should be under any pressure to leave. The Government are not in the business of advocating that our own citizens emigrate to the country where their parents, grandparents or ancestors were born. I deeply resent the remarks of the hon. Member for Tottenham about my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who has done so much work to improve race relations.** [Interruption.] Regardless of what the hon. Gentleman may say from a sedentary position, Britain has greatly improved race relations, and I am proud of that fact and want it to continue.

I am also saddened by the hon. Gentleman's determination to try to use tonight's debate to provide his own conclusions about the recent disturbances in Brixton before an inquiry has been completed. The Government condemn what they see as a violent minority who attack police officers and property and who attempt to besmirch the good name of the vast majority of the people of Brixton, who are decent, caring and law-abiding citizens and want to remain that way.

I firmly believe that any measure designed to encourage repatriation or emigration by members of the ethnic community would do untold damage to race relations. It is the persistent taunt of thugs and racists that black or Asian people should "go home". If the Government set up a scheme actively promoting repatriation or immigration of ethnic minorities as a good thing, that would be to endorse the racists' odious views. I do not believe that the House would want that.

The Government are committed to creating a fair and integrated society. We are working hard to reduce racial discrimination.

Mr. Bernie Grant


Mr. Kirkhope

I repeat: we are working hard to reduce racial discrimination, to tackle racial violence and to ensure that everyone, irrespective of the colour of his skin, enjoys the same opportunities in this country. Good race relations need to be constantly worked at; we all, including the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, know that. Any Government-sponsored measure that implied to ethnic minorities that they were unwelcome could only have a detrimental effect on race relations. There is absolutely no place for such proposals in our work.

I know that the hon. Member for Tottenham has a number of proposals. He raised them with the Home Secretary in my presence on 6 December. As he has said, the Home Secretary was certainly not persuaded that the hon. Gentleman's proposals deserved further consideration. He does not intend to change the present arrangements. As the hon. Gentleman has also said, the Government fund a small humanitarian scheme under which people with few savings—not British citizens—can be given basic financial assistance to return overseas, when it is in their best interests to do so and they wish to go. The assistance is limited to the travel fare and the cost of transporting a small number of personal possessions.

About 60 people a year benefit from the scheme. They are mainly elderly people, often without close family ties here; and most of them return to Jamaica. The important point is that only those with very low savings of less than £3,000 are eligible for full assistance. The scheme is low key and the assistance is limited. That of course is deliberate. The scheme does not set out to persuade people to leave Britain. It seeks to help those whose hearts are set on returning home, where they have satisfactory future arrangements and the only significant obstacle is the cost of the travel. We see no reason to change these arrangements, and we have recently agreed to extend the current scheme for a further five years.

I turn now to some of the suggestions that the hon. Member for Tottenham has made. He has said that he thinks that British citizens should be eligible for help. Our objection to that is straightforward: we do not think it appropriate for the Government to pay for the removal of British citizens to a foreign country. There would in any event be numerous practical problems in administering such a scheme, which would be wide open to abuse and which would attract all sorts of opportunists to apply. Effective administration would be difficult and expensive and the Government can see no good purpose in pursuing such ideas further.

Another of the hon. Member's ideas is that young unemployed people of Afro-Caribbean descent but who were born in the United Kingdom should be encouraged to emigrate to Africa and the Caribbean. He appears seriously to think that the Government should pay for such young people to leave our country. We value our young people in this country. [Interruption.] The hon. Member may laugh but we value our young people. I find his idea not only outlandish but offensive. I cannot believe that sending young people to a country of which they probably have little no or experience would help them in the least.

We take the problem of unemployed people seriously. That is why we are committed to having a dynamic economy in which jobs are created for them, not destroyed. The Labour party would, as we all know, destroy jobs through its schemes and ideas. The way to help unemployed young people is to train and educate them so that they can find jobs. We are trying to do that more and more. The answer is not to send them back to the country from which their ancestors came. A Government-funded emigration programme is emphatically not the answer.

Mr. Grant

The Minister says fine words about how the Government want to do things about unemployment. Among black young people aged between 15 and 25 in Tottenham, unemployment is 65 per cent. What are the Government doing to get those people jobs?

Mr. Kirkhope

The hon. Member is well aware of the schemes that the Government employ to try to give jobs to, and provide training for, young people. There are schemes operating in his area that he surely must be aware of. He should give credit to the people involved with that. Some of those people are paid directly by the Government, some are indirectly paid and some are voluntary workers. He knows well of the schemes. I will be delighted to discuss the matter further with him at another time. The Government are concerned that young people should have jobs in this country and not be encouraged to leave the country.

What would the receiving country think of us if we sought to export young people in that way? We have no information to suggest that those countries would be keen on that.

Mr. Grant

I have.

Mr. Kirkhope

We have no evidence of that. I would be extremely surprised if they were as keen as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

The BBC "Newsnight" coverage of the issue on 6 December made a helpful contribution to rational debate. What I found especially striking were the stories of old people who had visited their countries of origin in the West Indies after decades away and their bewilderment at how much things, and they themselves, had changed. Many saw their lives clearly now as being firmly based in Britain. They did not want to return. If that is the case for people of their generation, who were born abroad, how much more true would it be for people born in the United Kingdom who have British attitudes and presumptions about life? Life in the West Indies could come as a cultural shock—and not inevitably a pleasant one—for them.

The hon. Member referred to a number of other schemes that involve financial assistance with the travel and other costs of movements between one country and another. I acknowledge the presence of those schemes. There is, for instance, a European scheme under the Lomé convention, to which I think the hon. Gentleman alluded, that encourages, as a form of overseas aid to Jamaica, young Jamaican professionals to take up posts which would otherwise be filled by foreign experts. That scheme aims to boost the Jamaican economy.

Similarly, the International Organisation for Migration assists refugee and asylum seeker movements, usually under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I must emphasise again the limited nature of such schemes and the Government's belief that they should and must remain limited.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary told the hon. Member for Tottenham when we met him on 6 December, the Government are totally opposed to encouraging voluntary repatriation, let alone emigration. To do so would send out all the wrong messages to ethnic minority communities and, worse still, play into the hands of racists. That is well recognised by many influential sections within those communities and I am pleased that they have not been slow to criticise the hon. Member for doing so. I emphasise that the Government's view is that everybody in Britain, regardless of race or creed, should have a fair chance. They do not think that there should be measures that discriminate between races, as the hon. Member's suggestions seem to.

The hon. Member has long been interested in this subject, but I simply do not agree that the extension to the current very limited arrangements that he has in mind would provide a solution to race relations problems or necessarily help the individuals with whom he says he is concerned. The way to improve race relations is positive participation by all ethnic minority groups in British society, so that they are not socially excluded or disadvantaged in any aspect of life here. This country is greatly strengthened by the different ethnic groups that make up our population. We have all gained from their commitment to Britain's success in every field: economic; social; artistic; and sporting. I totally reject the suggestion that the Government should actively encourage members of those communities to leave this country because they would be better off elsewhere.

Ms Abbott

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) is aware, I do not support his scheme for repatriation in the shape that he proposes. However, the Minister fails to understand that my hon. Friend's proposals have struck a tremendous chord in the black community. That is a symptom of the deep alienation, disaffection and unhappiness that many black people of all ages feel about their lives in this country. I have listened carefully to the Minister but much of what he has said reeks of hypocrisy. Moreover, he clearly fails to understand the reality of life for many black people in this country.

Mr. Kirkhope

The hon. Lady is entitled to her point of view. She says that the hon. Gentleman's proposals have struck a chord with the black community, but they have been received with great unhappiness in many sections of the ethnic minority community in this country. I believe that the Government's view on this matter reflects the majority's view. It also reflects the view that race relations are important to the Government and the country as a whole.

Mr. Grant

I am aware that a group representing the Asian community, and one or two people from the West Indian community, went to see the Home Secretary recently. The West Indian Standing Conference voted almost to a person in support of my scheme. My scheme has nothing to do with the Indian sub-continent, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka; it concerns the Caribbean. Which Caribbean groups support the Government against my proposals?

Mr. Kirkhope

I shall not get into a contest with the hon. Gentleman on which groups support his proposal. As far as I know, he has been unable to persuade the Opposition Front Bench, although the presence tonight of the Opposition spokesman for the inner cities seems to show some support from the Labour party for his ideas. The Government do not support his ideas and have no intention of doing so. I have no idea whether his proposals might become Labour party policy. He must discuss that with his Front Bench spokesmen.

Tonight, I invite the hon. Gentleman to join me in pursuing policies that promote good race relations rather than those that he put forward, which might jeopardise them.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Ten o'clock.