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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK
UK to right 'immigration wrong'
Enoch Powell
Powell's anti-immigrant rhetoric prompted the 1968 law
Tens of thousands of east African Asians left without the right to live in any country are to be allowed to take up full British citizenship after 30 years of waiting.

Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes says the government to right what he calls the "historical wrong" inflicted by the Labour government in 1968.


We are righting a historical wrong which has left a number of overseas citizens without any right of abode

Beverley Hughes
Home Office Minister
The passports of about 35,000 British overseas citizens, many of whom had worked for colonial administrations, were made effectively worthless by new immigration rules.

Ms Hughes has announced an amendment to the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum Bill to give those people the right to live in the UK.

Empire legacy

In a written Commons answer, the minister said: "We are righting an historical wrong which has left a number of overseas citizens without any right of abode, either in the UK or elsewhere."

She said British overseas citizenship status was a legacy of the end of Empire compounded by immigration acts in 1968 and 1981.

"We have a moral obligation to these people going back a long way," said Ms Hughes.

The decision affects about 35,000 people who have been unable to become citizens of former colonies now independent of the UK.

But less than 500 British overseas citizens a year have applied to live in the UK in recent times, says the Home Office.

Ms Hughes added: "They are likely to see it as an insurance policy in case their circumstances change in the future."

Roy Hattersley, deputy Labour leader
Hattersley nearly resigned in 1968 over immigration law
The people involved are mostly Indians who worked in the British colonial civil service, or as doctors or teachers, given British passports when countries like Kenya became independent in the 1960s.

In the years after independence for countries like Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania, people who moved from colonial India became increasingly unwelcome in many of those countries.

They thought they could count on their British passports for protection.

But immigration changes - which stated that a parent or grandparent had to be born in the UK to be allowed to settle in Britain, made their passports worthless.

The rule was introduced to allow white people in similar circumstances to have the right to live in the UK.

That episode has long been attacked by many Labour figures as a mark of shame on the party's history over race relations.

'Bitterness'

Former Labour deputy leader, Roy Hattersley, has said he almost resigned as a junior employment minister over the bill.

Fiona Mactaggart, Labour MP for Slough, called the immigrants law was one of the biggest injustices in British post-war immigration history.

"It has created a lot of bitterness because the divide in citizenship was specifically racial," Ms Mactaggart told the Guardian.

"British overseas citizenship was created to give second class status, while those whose heritage was white were allowed to settle in Britain.

"As a result, that racial division has been inherent in British immigration and nationality laws for 30 years."

See also:

12 Jun 02 | UK Politics
10 Jun 02 | UK Politics
17 Mar 99 | UK Politics
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