BBC News UK Edition
 You are in: Special Report: 1999: 01/99: 1968 Secret History  
News Front Page
N Ireland
UK Politics
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
1968 Secret History Friday, 8 January, 1999, 11:31 GMT
Callaghan: I was wrong on police and race
Doreen and Neville Lawrence - parents of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence
The Lawrence family's suffering could have been avoided
Records from 1968 have revealed the full extent of Cabinet in-fighting over laws designed to deal with growing numbers of immigrants.

1968 Secret History
The home secretary at that time, James Callaghan, faced stiff opposition to his tough new immigration law and his plans to outlaw racial discrimination.

He won the argument on both issues. But on one crucial factor, with implications lasting to the present day, Lord Callaghan now admits he made a serious mistake.

Secret documents published for the first time show that as home secretary, Lord Callaghan bowed to pressure and excluded policing from the Race Relations Act.

Kenyan girl
Asian Kenyan immigrants poured into Britain
But 30 years later - amid bitter recriminations over whether the Metropolitan Police did enough to catch the racist killers of black teenager Stephen Lawrence - he says he got it wrong.

A number of top-level Cabinet ministers at the time expressed disquiet about Lord Callaghan's decision and many worried about the effect on relations between immigrants and the police.

Callaghan quote
Records of a Cabinet meeting on 12 November quote Prime Minister Harold Wilson as saying: "There is no doubt that the immigrants believe that the police discriminate against them, and the chancellor [Roy Jenkins] thinks that a number of policemen agree with Mr Enoch Powell's views on race."

Earlier that year, Mr Powell had given his now notorious "rivers of blood" speech, where he warned of violent consequences stemming from racial integration.

But Lord Callaghan remained opposed to bringing the police under the new law, even arguing against a deal to extend their disciplinary code to make racial discrimination an offence.

Enoch Powell
Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech triggered strong feelings against the immigrants
At the same Cabinet meeting, he said: "The opposition of the Police Federation to amending the code has been intense and deep-seated. And the Police Advisory Board has been unanimous in advising me not to proceed."

Lord Callaghan now admits his regrets: "This was a mistake," he told BBC Two's Leviathan documentary UK Confidential.

"We should have insisted on the police being in there at that time, but there was very strong representation and we gave way on it. I regret that we did - we should have insisted on it."

Lord Callaghan proposed the Race Relations Act as a complement to stringent new laws he was setting down to slow the influx of immigrants from Kenya.

Kenyan Asians had been given UK passports in 1963, just before the country won its independence. Five years later, they were being forced to leave the East African nation and started to arrive in increasing numbers in Britain.

James Callaghan
James Callaghan - I was wrong
Many Britons felt threatened by the new immigrants, but Lord Callaghan's attempt to tackle the problem did not win him the unanimous support of his Cabinet colleagues either.

The then Commonwealth secretary, George Thomson, told a Cabinet meeting on 15 February 1968 that "to pass such legislation would be wrong in principle, clearly discrimination on the grounds of colour and contrary to everything we stand for".

But the home secretary again managed to get his way - and in this case he still believes he chose the right course.

Stephen Lawrence
Stephen Lawrence's death led to an inquiry into racism in the police
"Tension immediately lowered. It helped to create a feeling that the government was in control instead of having an uncontrolled flow of immigrants," he said.

"I insisted on coupling that with the Race Relations Act, designed to educate and inform public opinion and to create a society in which, although the government might control who came in, once they were in, they should be treated equally."

Leviathan - UK Confidential
BBC Two Friday 1 January 6.40pm

Enoch Powell on immigration: "Britain is heaping up its own funeral pyre"
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more 1968 Secret History stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more 1968 Secret History stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | World | UK | England | N Ireland | Scotland | Wales |
UK Politics | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology |
Health | Education | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |