HC Deb 26 July 1967 vol 751 cc744-8
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement about race relations.

In reply to a number of Questions on 27th April, I said that the Government were studying the first report of the Race Relations Board, the P.E.P. report on racial discrimination and other available evidence and would consider the need for and the practicability of strengthening the Race Relations Act and the administrative machinery.

Our preliminary studies are now complete. Good race relations must, of course, substantially depend upon voluntary effort and a favourable climate of public opinion. But our conclusion is that these by themselves are not enough. Further legislation is therefore necessary.

The Government have decided in principle that the Race Relations Act should be extended to deal with discrimination on grounds of colour, race or ethnic or national origins in employment, housing, insurance and credit facilities. In addition, public places will be given a wider definition than under the present Act. Details of the necessary amending legislation will now be worked out in consultation with those concerned, including the T.U.C., the C.B.I. and the nationalised industries. We propose that, in relation to employment, the new legislation should provide the fullest possible opportunity for industry to use its own machinery for conciliation.

I believe that legislation on these lines will strengthen the position of all those who are anxious to co-operate in removing racial discrimination from our national life and will provide a necessary ultimate sanction against the few who are determined not to do so.

Mr. Hogg

The right hon. Gentleman has clearly been right in considering how far and to what extent he can translate into terms of actual legislation the terms of the two important documents to which he referred at the beginning of his statement, and there can be no dispute about the ends which it is desirable to achieve. But as almost everything will depend upon the detailed proposals when they come forward in the five separate fields in which he is proposing to legislate, perhaps he will forgive me if I reserve comment until I see them.

He said that consultation will take place with the T.U.C., the C.B.I. and the nationalised industries; will he not also contemplate consulting the House, which has not yet had an opportunity of discussing these important matters since the publication of the documents? Will he also bear in mind that in recent days there have been some rather striking breaches of the Race Relations Act by Mr. Stokeley Carmichael and Mr. de Freitas? Will he give us the assurance that this legislation, when it is brought into force, will not be one way only?

Mr. Jenkins

I appreciate the right hon. and learned Gentleman's general position, and I understand his desire to reserve comment until he has seen our detailed proposals. It has been my endeavour to take soundings of opinion in the House so far as possible in arriving at this general decision. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] There have been many questions and exchanges of views and expressions of opinion in the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] I will certainly endeavour to bear in mind the opinions in both parties in framing the details. [HON. MEMBERS: "Three parties."] All three parties; I have pleasure in amending that.

Hon. Members

Four parties.

Mr. Speaker

629 parties.

Mr. Jenkins

I accept your amendment, Mr. Speaker, although it makes it a little more difficult to have detailed consultations.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned two particular cases. I assure him that it is certainly my view that any incitement to racial hatred, from whichever side of the colour frontier it comes, is equally undesirable and to be dealt with equally firmly. There are a number of Questions down to me for tomorrow about Mr. Carmichael and I had better not comment until I answer them. As for the other gentleman, any question of prosecution, as the House knows, is a matter exclusively—and it is important that it should be exclusively—for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General and not for me.

Mr. Marquand

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this statement will be widely welcomed by everyone concerned to ensure that the growing number of coloured Britons born in this country receive a fair deal? Can he say specifically whether the composition and structure of the Race Relations Board will be changed as part of this new legislation?

Mr. Jenkins

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. I would not like at this stage to say exactly how the structure of the Board will be changed, but it will certainly need changing. It will need strengthening with experience, particularly on the industrial side. It will be our endeavour to get a body which will be able to do the new job as effectively as the existing Board has done the old job.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that any extension of legislation into this field will be strenuously resisted by those who regard such legislation as a gross encroachment on the traditional freedoms of this country?

Mr. Jenkins

I regard the hon. and learned Gentleman's question as tautologous, because if he holds that view I presume that he will resist the legislation.

Miss Lestor

I add my congratulations to the Home Secretary for the steadfast way in which he has dealt with this matter. Can I ask two questions? When he says that industry should set up its own machinery for conciliation, will that be ultimately enforceable by law, and can he tell me whether the recent utterances by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), which I regard as likely to cause—

Mr. Speaker

Order. One question is enough. The hon. Lady has no more rights at Question Time than anybody else.

Mr. Jenkins

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I said in the statement that we would give industry the fullest possible opportunity to use its own machinery for conciliation, but I indicated that we intend to bring within the purview of the new law employment as well as other matters.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I fully accept the need for appropriate legislation to avoid the appalling situation which has arisen in the United States. However, will the Home Secretary give the House an undertaking that the Government will use every power of persuasion in industry and will also continue to set an example to industry in employment policy, and also in the granting of Government contracts?

Mr. Jenkins

Yes. Government contracts should now be considered in relation to the new legislation which we propose to bring in, but I am glad to have the opportunity to reiterate the point which I made in my statement to which I attach the greatest importance, which is that it would be a great mistake to think that legislation can do the whole job. The climate of opinion is overwhelmingly important, but it is our view that legislation appropriately phrased may help the climate of opinion to develop in the right direction.

Mr. Driberg

Is my right hon. Friend aware that what he has just said is entirely in line with a document which, as it happens, was today approved for publication as a discussion pamphlet by the National Executive Committee of our party, and that the new legislation should reinforce those who may not feel prejudice themselves but who are too cowardly to resist it in their neighbours?

Mr. Jenkins

I appreciate and entirely concur with what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. David Steel

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on this Bench do not wish to reserve comment but to give a wholehearted welcome to the statement which he has just made? Would he say whether, to assist consultation in the House, he will be publishing a White Paper before the Bill, giving the principles and details of his proposals?

Mr. Jenkins

I will certainly consider that, as, indeed, any other proposals, though I would not like to be taken as giving an undertaking that that would be the best way to proceed.

Mr. C. Pannell

Is the Home Secretary aware that any stand that he takes in protecting people in employment will be approved by those people who realise that every country in the world faced with this problem has had to have legislation in the end? Would he bear in mind that this country, too, has a proud record in protecting people in their places of employment, and that it is about time we brought in legislation to protect their dignity as men and women?

Mr. Jenkins

I think my right hon. Friend's thought is very much in line with my own. I am sure it was the Government's view that we should have to come to such legislation eventually. I am sure, from lessons overseas, that it is the case that the sooner the nettle is grasped and the sooner the problem is dealt with the better.

Sir C. Osborne

Is the Home Secretary not aware that there is a general feeling throughout the country, and in all sections, that one of the best ways of easing the recent tension that we all deplore in this country would be to reduce the inflow of immigrants into this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—and that unless he does so the dangers will grow, no matter what legislation is introduced?

Mr. Jenkins

Of course, we shall preserve the strict control of immigrants coming in, but as the hon. Member must know, if he follows the subject, as I believe he does, from his frequent interventions on it, those coming in at the present time for jobs are a tiny trickle, and the great majority coming in are families coming to join the heads of families who have established themselves here. I cannot myself conceive of anything which would create a more dangerous situation than to say that men, having come here, should be forced to live in isolation from their families.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is important, but we shall be debating it eventually.