HC Deb 13 July 1959 vol 609 cc32-4
46. Mr. Brockway

asked the Minister of Labour on what grounds Her Majesty's Government has refused to ratify the International Labour Office Convention against racial discrimination in employment.

The Minister of Labour and National Service (Mr. Iain Macleod)

I would refer the hon. Member to the White Paper, Cmnd. 783, which was published on 26th June.

Mr. Brockway

Is it not the case that when this Convention was before the International Labour Conference it was carried by the overwhelming majority of 189 to 24, with only 13 abstentions, that Her Majesty's Government's representative voted for it, that Sir Alfred Roberts, the workers' representative, voted for it, and that only one employer voted against it? What is the reason for turning down this reasonable Convention?

Mr. Macleod

It is purely a practical reason. Certain matters of discrimination are mentioned. Her Majesty's Government have said, in the Note which they have laid before the House, that they are fully sympathetic to the principle of the convention. However, to take a simple point, if we accepted the Convention, it would be necessary to legislate that equal pay and equal conditions for women in employment should apply throughout an industry, and it has always been the principle of all Governments that they should not interfere in matters which are subject to ordinary industrial negotiations.

Mr. Lee

I realise the principle which the right hon. Gentleman is arguing. Would not he also agree that this is a vital principle for the nation to accept? As was said by my hon. Friend, we did not show any antagonism to it when it was before the Conference. Would not the right hon. Gentleman also agree that there are many aspects of legislation dealing with conditions of employment which contravene generally understood barriers? I think that the right hon. Gentleman could agree to ratify this Convention.

Mr. Macleod

I do not think this is so. This is purely a practical point. There is nothing controversial between the two sides of the House on the desirability of opposing all forms of discrimination. It simply means that this House would have to legislate on industrial conditions, and it has always regarded that as something for the two sides of industry and not for the Government.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says. Would he at the same time consider taking advantage of some opportunity to discuss this matter with both sides of industry? I am sure the right hon. Gentleman realises how important it is, having regard to our responsibilities, that we should make known our desire that there should be no racial discrimination of any kind in this country?

Mr. Macleod

I pointed out the difficulty that arises, for example, on the question of sex discrimination—this is not limited to racial discrimination alone—and I should be glad to take an opportunity to discuss that with the two sides of industry.