HC Deb 14 January 1964 vol 687 cc42-5

3.44 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, and to incite publicly contempt or hatred of any person or persons because of their colour, race or religion. This is the ninth occasion when I have introduced a Bill dealing with racial discrimination. This has not been an academic exercise; it has been a progressive process. Each year support for a Measure on this subject has grown. When I first introduced a Bill ten years ago, I could obtain as sponsors only some of my hon. Friends on the back benches. Today, if the House gives permission for the Bill to be introduced, the list of sponsors will show that the Bill has the support of the Front Bench of the Labour Party, the Liberal Party and many hon. Members opposite. I hope that the Bill will pass during the present Parliament, but I am quite confident that on the tenth occasion of introducing it, in the new Parliament, it will not only have the opportunity to be considered but will have a majority in the House.

The Bill consists of three parts. The first would make it illegal to practise discrimination in public places, in hotels, common lodging houses, places of entertainment, dance halls and restaurants. On previous occasions I have emphasised that this Measure does not include private lodgings. I recognise that the scope of the law should be limited to the public sphere, because we have no right to insist that a woman should take into her home a lodger of whom she disapproves. In consequence, this provision has been limited to licensed common lodging houses. On this occasion, however, I wish to include some expansion of that Clause and to include multiple dwellings where the landlord is not an occupant.

The Housing Bill now before the House gives local authorities special power of intervention in such dwellings. It recognises that multiple dwellings are in a special category. They are often owned by a distant property company and are not private dwellings and should, therefore, be subject to the law. Incidentally, the effect of extending the Bill in this way would be to protect white rather than coloured persons. In multiple dwellings, discrimination is most frequently practised against those whose presence is inconvenient because the house has been bought by a property company, or a landlord, to accommodate immigrants, often the victims of appalling exploitation. The fact that one is prepared to extend the Clause in this way indicates the catholic view of the sponsors of the Bill. We are concerned, not with any particular race, but with ending discrimination whatever the race or colour may be.

The first part of the Bill also includes public houses and hotels. Every month I am given cases of racial discrimination in these places. I hold in my hand a report of a court case on 6th December, 1963, in which, dismissing charges of threatening behaviour and obstruction against ten white people and one coloured person who had demonstrated outside a public house in Herne Hill, the magistrate remarked that to be dealing with a case in which a form of apartheidwas being practised in a public place in this country was revolting and repulsive. This, happily, is exceptional, but it happens sufficiently often, as my correspondence and, I am sure, that of other hon. Members shows, to be a discredit to our public life.

I have a number of cases of hotel discrimination. There is an instance concerning a not unknown hotel in London where the lady at the desk said that two rooms were available and then noticed that one of the visitors was a Sudanese. She then regretted—and I quote her words—that a colour bar was in operation at the hotel and that the Sudanese could not be admitted. At present, hotels are subject to law concerning travellers only. They should be brought into a Bill against racial discrimination so that protection is given to all who apply for accommodation.

The second part of the Bill would make illegal discriminatory refusal of leases for accommodation. This is quite frequent with coloured people. On the last occasion that I spoke to a Bill such as this I referred to an official at an embassy who had been repeatedly refused a lease for a flat because of his colour. Since then I have received another case concerning the first secretary of an embassy in London. When his solicitor telephoned for a fiat he was accepted as a tenant. The following day the solicitor received a letter which contained this paragraph: It is with reluctance that we must express our unwillingness to agree to the assignment, and, quite frankly, the reason is that the assignee would appear to be a negro gentleman". I had a second case concerning the wife of a high-ranking official of the United Nations who was refused a flat when it was found that she was coloured, although she had paid a deposit on it.

Unhappily, religion is sometimes the cause of refusal. The Bill applies to Northern Ireland. It has been discussed in the Stormont, where the Government said that it was unnecessary. But I have considerable evidence that discrimination in accommodation is practised there, and I believe that members of the Stormont are coming to London to give details of this. Where is our human tolerance if a house, a home, is denied because of one's faith?

The third part of the Bill would make the incitement of hatred and contempt on the ground of race, colour or religion illegal. I hesitated here in the interests of freedom of speech, but I came to the conclusion that slander against people of a particular race or faith may be more serious in its public consequences than slander against an individual, which is already illegal.

At Christmas we are all happy when we receive cards of affection and greeting from a host of friends, but I received a card last month which shocked rather than pleased me. It was headed "Yule-tide Greetings" and was from the Council for the Final Solution of the Jewish Question. I hold it in my hand. It is too revolting to describe to this House. Yet it has been printed, and I found subsequently that it was even publicly advertised. We have laws against pornography and obscene literature. Racial obscenity is the worst obscenity of all. It is a small minority who belch this poison, but it can affect many minds. A humanly civilised society would not give those who spread this disease the protection of the law which they now receive.

It is said that legislation cannot cure the evils of race discrimination. It cannot; but in public places and in public expression the law can give a lead. Nine countries in Europe other than the Communist countries have legislation against racial discrimination. The Bill now before the American Congress is near to this Bill in its provisions. India and many of the new Governments of Asia and Africa have outlawed discrimination. Much of the world is moving forward to a recognition that racial demarcation is a betrayal of the human family. I ask the House: is this country, whose great pride is democratic tolerance, to be left behind?

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Brockway, Mr. J. Griffiths, Mr. Creech Jones, Mr. Grimond, Mr. Tiley, Mr. Greenwood, Sir B. Janner, Mr. Critchley, Mr. Hale, Mr. Mellish, Mrs. Castle, and Mr. Lubbock.