HC Deb 13 December 1961 vol 651 cc451-3

3.33 p.m.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it an offence to discriminate to the detriment of any person on the grounds of colour, race or religion in the United Kingdom and to incite publicly contempt or hatred of any person or persons because of their colour, race or religion. This is the seventh time I have sought leave to introduce this Bill in respect to racial discrimination. On this occasion, I have added Clauses which would make public incitement of hatred or contempt also an offence.

I should like to acknowledge my indebtedness to my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer), Clauses from whose Bill I have incorporated in mine. If I have the opportunity later of reading the names of the sponsors of my proposed Bill, I think that the House will find that it now has influential support among all three parties in the House.

On previous occasions when I have introduced this Bill against racial discrimination, the First Reading has been allowed, but it has been obstructed at later stages. I want to ask hon. Members opposite who are opposed to the Bill to come into the open and challenge it now, on this Motion.

All through these last eight years, since I first introduced the Bill, it has been necessary. It has never been more necessary than now. Rightly or wrongly, the impression has been spread in the Commonwealth, in many parts of the world, and amongst sections of our own people, that the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill which is now before the House will exclude persons on the ground of their colour from coming into this country. It is, therefore, imperative that, at this moment, the House should pass a Measure which makes it clear that discrimination on the grounds of race or colour shall no longer be practised within our own territory.

The Bill is moderate and reasonable. I recognise that one cannot end racial discrimination by legislation. It is largely due to ignorance, to prejudice and to a sense of racial superiority. This will be ended only by education, by experi- ence and by the acceptance of a broader social ethic. The Bill recognises that we have no right to lay down a code of personal conduct unless it invades a public right. Therefore, the Bill would be limited to public institutions and to a relevant social contract which has the authority of the law.

It would make racial discrimination illegal in hotels, restaurants, common lodging houses, places of entertainment and dance halls. I will give two illustrations from that series. First, I have the names of eight hotels in one area of London which will not allow any coloured persons to have accommodation. Ironically, those hotels are members of British Travel and Holidays Association, to which the Government give a subsidy to attract visitors from abroad.

When I raised this matter in the House, the Government replied that the victims should prosecute the hotel owners, but it is a mistaken view that all visitors to hotels are protected under the present law. That is, indeed, true in the case of travellers, but if a coloured family, evicted and homeless, sought accommodation in one of those hotels it would be refused by the owners.

It is now quite frequent that coloured persons are excluded from dance halls, particularly so if they do not have partners with them. The argument is that it causes trouble among white men, who do not like to see coloured men dancing with white girls. I suggest, however, that the responsibility should be placed on the owners to deal with these troublemakers rather than to exclude coloured persons from dance halls.

The social contract with which my Bill deals is in the refusal of leases for houses or flats, or the inclusion in a lease of any clause which prohibits a coloured person from occupying the premises. This very frequently occurs. Again and again, I am receiving letters from Africans and others who, when they have telephoned for accommodation have been told, "Yes, come along. You may have it," but when they have reached the estate agents they have been denied the accommodation because of their colour.

Recently, we have had a very striking instance of this discrimination. It was the case of a counsellor of an African Embassy in London. For four months he sought accommodation. Again and again the negotiations were near completion and then, when it was discovered that he was an African, they were ended. He used these words: My Ambassador has had the same difficulty. I know several diplomats from other newly independent African States who have had the same trouble with the colour bar. It will be a disgrace if this country allows diplomats from other countries to continue to be treated with that discrimination in our midst.

The Bill would also make it an offence publicly to incite contempt or hatred on the grounds of race, religion or colour. I submit that spiritual incitement in this way could be as disastrous to the well-being of the community as direct physical incitement. Indeed, those who know the circumstances in Notting Hill, and other areas where disturbances have occurred, know that it is the incitement to contempt and hatred on grounds of race or colour which has frequently led to the disturbances.

I submit that a nation which permits discrimination in public relations has no right to call itself civilised, or to belong to the human family. When a child is born it is not its physical form or the pigment of its skin which makes it sacred—it is the spiritual life, the personality, within. If we are to reflect the Christian ethic, we should embody that principle in the law of our land.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Brockway, Mr. J. Griffiths, Mr. Creech Jones, Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas, Mr. Grimond, Mr. Wall, Mr. Fisher, Sir G. Nicholson, Mr. Critchley, Mr. Greenwood, Mrs. Castle and Sir L. Plummer.