Grant isolated over repatriation: Parties distance themselves from black MP's comments. Will Bennett and Colin Brown report

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The Independent Online
THE Government and the Opposition distanced themselves yesterday from the suggestion by Bernie Grant, the black Labour MP, that ethnic minorities should be helped financially to return to their country of origin.

The Conservatives were anxious to avoid risking allegations of prejudice which they faced in the early 1980s when repatriation was proposed by right-wing groups. Labour said that Mr Grant spoke only for himself.

Most black organisations are strongly opposed to Mr Grant's plan for the 'conditional return' of people fed up with racism. Under his proposal their move would be helped by government money. But one sympathetic voice was that of Linda Bellos, a black activist. In a letter to the Independent today, she writes: 'After a lifetime of work and of contribution to British society, many black people are sick to death of being treated as second-class citizens.'

Support for Mr Grant, a left-winger, also came from Winston Churchill, the right-wing Tory MP, who said: 'I think it is only reasonable and right that those who find themselves trapped in this country against their wishes, unable to return to their homeland because of financial factors, should be able to do so. I emphasise that what we are talking about, and what Mr Grant is talking about, is voluntary not compulsory repatriation.'

But at Blackpool, ministers said a voluntary scheme was already in operation. The limited scheme is for non-British citizens who want to be repatriated for humanitarian reasons.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, condemned racial attacks in his speech to the party conference on law and order. There were no calls for repatriation in the debate, although some resolutions called for an end to immigration, blaming racial tensions on the growth in the ethnic minority population. A source close to Mr Howard said: 'The conference was very strong indeed in its condemnation of racial attacks. There is a scheme in existence which has been there for over 20 years which does allow some people to be repatriated to the countries from which they have come . . .but very few people take advantage of it.'

A statement from the Labour Party said: 'His comments in no way reflect Labour Party policy. However, at a time of heightened concern about racist attacks and racial intolerance the fear must be that remarks about repatriation will damage the united determination to fight racism wherever it appears.'

Leading article, page 25

Letters, page 25