'SUSPICIOUS OF PLEDGE MOTIVES'

By Julian Lewis

Southern Daily Echo – 26 April 2001

On a cold November night in 1942, a family huddled in fear in the Polish village of Siemiatycze. Their ghetto was about to be raided by the Nazis. Thanks to a tip-off, they were ready to run. The alternative was the Treblinka extermination camp.

Amazingly, four found shelter, hiding in an underground bunker for almost two years until the Red Army saved them. The family included the only child to survive out of the entire Siemiatycze Jewish community. She is my cousin. Fortunately for me, my grandfather came to Britain in 1901 – which makes me a third-generation immigrant. Awareness of this background is one reason for my interest in racial persecution.

Like veteran Labour MP Tam Dalyell, I believe my record on such issues should speak for itself. I was one of the first MPs to call for the use of force against Milosevic's "ethnic cleansing". I have repeatedly pressed the government to pursue war criminals and am probably the strongest supporter on the Conservative benches of the proposed International Criminal Court to prosecute them.

In March 1999, even the left-wing Observer newspaper praised me for my work on the Immigration and Asylum Bill committee. The idea that Tam or I must sign a formal pledge drawn up by publicly-funded bureaucrats in the Commission for Racial Equality, promising not to "stir up racial or religious hatred" in the forthcoming election campaign, is insulting or sinister or both.

Either this declaration means nothing more than it appears to say, in which case it is an insult to democratic politicians to require individual signatures – especially as all main party leaders have endorsed it on behalf of their organisations – or it is a sinister attempt to stifle genuine debate on topics like the asylum system.

It is well known that a large majority of people who claim political asylum in Britain are eventually shown not to deserve it. By then, however, most have disappeared into society and cannot be removed. My suspicion is that one reason for threatening MPs with being labelled as "racists" unless they sign the CRE pledge, is to undermine the Conservative commitment to keep all asylum-seekers in reception centres until their claims are confirmed or rejected.

This is not the first supposedly harmless pledge I shall not be signing, and doubtless it will not be the last.