HC Deb 16 May 1949 vol 465 cc1-3
1. Mr. Mitchison

asked the Attorney-General what steps he proposes to take to remove any doubt as to the illegality of covenants or conditions in leases of inns purporting to prohibit or restrict the reception of coloured travellers.

The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)

I was not aware that such covenants are inserted in leases of inns, but if the hon. and learned Member would care to supply me with some specific examples I will look into the matter. Whilst I could not express any final opinion without seeing the terms of the particular lease, it might well be, of course, that such covenants are void as being contrary to the rules of public policy upheld by the English courts. Moreover, the legal duties falling upon an innkeeper are not affected by the colour of the traveller.

Mr. Mitchison

Is my right hon. and learned Friend not aware that in column 1433 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 6th May, 1949, the Secretary of State for Commonwealth relations referred to cases of leases of this kind as regards inns?

The Attorney-General

I can only say that no specific instances of such leases have been brought to my own notice.

Mr. Gallacher

Is the Attorney-General aware that this applies not only to coloured people; and that last week I sent the Home Secretary a letter from a boardinghouse keeper to an applicant for accommodation, printed along the bottom of which is the statement: The management reserve the right to refuse accommodation to Jews"; that the Home Secretary disapproved of that, but said he had no power to do anything about it; and will the Attorney-General do anything about it?

The Attorney-General

My answer would apply to cases of discrimination on grounds of race or colour.

2. Mr. Mitchison

asked the Attorney-General whether he will introduce legislation to prohibit in leases of premises to be used as hotels of any kind, lodginghouses, boardinghouses, inns or restaurants any covenant or condition requiring racial discrimination.

The Attorney-General

No, Sir. I do not think that such legislation would be practicable. The courts have, under the existing law, full powers to decide whether such covenants discriminating between different classes of His Majesty's subjects are not void as being contrary to public policy.

Mr. Mitchison

Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the position as regards lodginghouses and boardinghouses is substantially the same as that regarding inns?

The Attorney-General

Well, no. The lodginghouse or boardinghouse keeper is not under the same legal obligations to give accommodation to travellers.

Mr. Mitchison

Does not the Attorney-General think that it ought to be the same?

Mr. John Lewis

Is the Attorney-General aware that the provision of accommodation for coloured people is one of the greatest problems facing those who are responsible for the welfare of Colonials in this country; and that the problem does not rest in leases but in the failure on the part of those people who have accommodation to let it to coloured people?

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