HC Deb 12 June 1956 vol 554 cc247-50
Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make illegal discrimination to the detriment of any person on the grounds of colour, race and religion in the United Kingdom. The Bill which I am seeking leave to introduce would define such discrimination as: a person exercises discrimination where he refuses, withholds from, or denies to any other person, facilities or advantages on the ground of the race, colour or religion of that other person. It is very difficult to estimate opinion on this matter. There are under-currents of feeling, it may even be in the subconscious, which will respond under favourable conditions towards, or retreat under unfavourable conditions from, racial equality. But, Sir, I would say that broadly speaking the British people recognise that identity as human beings is greater than differences of race, colour or religion.

I think that has been the experience of most of us. I remember very well, one Sunday morning, joining a train for Birmingham into which immigrants from the West Indies had entered. It was the first day of snow during this year and they came in garments which were more suited to their islands. Nevertheless, in the whole of that long compartment the English passengers gave their places to these West Indian immigrants, and, not only did that, but spontaneously offered friendly advice, so that they could adjust themselves to our conditions.

I would say that the towns which have employed West Indian and other coloured conductresses, and our own experience of the railway porters announcing the stations on the underground trains of London, show that the feeling of our people towards them is one of friendliness and of encouragement. But there is a minority which is causing ill will, with serious effects. This is demonstrated in a remarkable series of monthly publications by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, at Chatham House. That minority is not only endangering the feelings of coloured people in this country towards the British people, but may have serious effects internationally as well.

I recognise that there must be a limitation of the powers of legislation. Often acts of discrimination are due to prejudice, to ignorance or to irrational repulsion, and those can be removed only by education or experience. More often they are due to social and economic conditions and fears: to housing overcrowding, concern about the under-cutting of standards if unemployment comes. Those can be removed only by social and economic solutions.

I also recognise that in seeking to establish the rights of coloured people in this country, we must not invade the personal rights of our own citizens. Probably the greatest effect of colour discrimination is where the private landlady refuses lodgings to a coloured person, but I would regard it as going beyond the legitimate sphere of legislation if we were to say that persons should not have the right to decide who should enter their own homes as lodgers.

There are, however, three spheres under the responsibility of the community where legislation is justified and necessary. Frequently, these are places where licences must be obtained from public representatives. The Bill which I seek to introduce would make discrimination illegal in inns and hotels, in common lodging houses, in restaurants and cafés, in dance halls, in concert halls, or in other places of public entertainment. I recognise that it is a minority of such places which impose discrimination. Indeed, the British Hotels and Restaurants Association has already made arrangements with the Barbados Government to bring workers to Britain.

The second sphere in which my Bill would operate would be in the cases of leases covering houses, flats and premises. Any covenant or provision would be illegal in such leases on the around of discrimination. The evidence of the Royal Institute of International Affairs shows that there are such cases. It may not be so now, but, until recently, a large company owning flats in London would not accept any coloured person as a tenant.

Thirdly, my Bill would make illegal the action of an employer of more than 50 persons to refuse to employ or to promote a person on the grounds of race, colour or religion. It would also say that no person shall be entitled to act in consort to prevent such employment or promotion. The last meeting of the International Labour Office asked Governments to end such discrimination, and that proposal is in line with the declaration of our own national trade unions.

Sir, I urge that a legal declaration by this House against discrimination is necessary: first, to end the kind of cases to which I have referred; secondly, to prevent reaction in the Colonial Territories when migrants from those territories return to them, and where they often exert great influence; and, thirdly, to exert an influence in territories such as South Africa which now practice discrimination.

Recognition that all persons are born equal in rights and dignity, whatever their race, colour or religion, is the fundamental condition of social justice, liberty and peace, and I hope that the House will give me permission to introduce the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Brockway, Mr. Sorensen, Mr. Hale, Mr. Benn, Mr. Orbach, Mr. Miss Lee, Mr. Mikardo, Mrs. Castle, Mr. Janner, Sir L. Plummer, Mr. J. Silverman, and Mr. Allaun.