HC Deb 23 October 1968 vol 770 cc1334-7

Lords Amendment No. 1: In page 1. line 13, at end insert: ( ) It is hereby declared that for those purposes segregating a person from other persons on any of those grounds is treating him less favourably than they are treated.

6.0 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Elwyn Jones)

Temporarily I am taking the place of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his hon. Friends who will no doubt be here on the wings of speed to deal with the first Lords' Amendment which falls for the consideration of the House. I see that the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) wishes to intervene and I most gladly give way to enable him to do so.

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

On a point of order. For the information of the House, can you tell us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman has moved to agree or disagree with the Lords' Amendment?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

I was hoping that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would come to that very soon.

The Attorney-General

I shall invite the House to agree with the Amendment and I shall be even happier to invite my hon. Friend to explain to the House why this course is being taken.

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Ennals)

I owe you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the House an apology for not being here on time.

The purpose of the Amendment is to make it clear that the provision of separate but equal facilities is unlawful under the Bill. As originally drafted, the Bill said that "discriminate" meant to discriminate on the ground of colour, race or ethnic or national origin. It was to meet some criticisms that on Report the Home Secretary introduced an Amendment which substituted the definition which appeared in the Bill passed by the Commons, namely, that a person discriminates against another person if he treats him "less favourably".

It was argued in Committee and on Report, and later argued in another place, that this could leave a loophole for the establishment of separate but equal facilities. The Government never accepted that this interpretation could be put upon it, but the argument that the Bill would have permitted the establishment of separate but equal facilities was made, and it was felt that it would be helpful to make a change which would remove any sort of doubt, and that is the purpose of the Amendment.

Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)

I assume that the thinking behind the Amendment is that an individual of whatever colour might seek to get round the Bill by providing separate accommodation or other separate facilities for different races or colours when he would be assumed to be indulging in racialism.

I should like to ask the Minister about the reverse case in which people of a certain race wish to be segregated for particular purposes. Just after the war I had the experience of evacuating a lot of ex-prisoners of war from various parts of the world on one of Her Majesty's ships. We evacuated many races, including Indians, Pakistanis and British, and we had to provide their own food, kitchens, cooks, eating places, lavatories and so on. This was done to the satisfaction of all.

Clause 8(11) provides that employment can be refused on a ship if it results in persons of different colours or races being compelled to share sleeping rooms or messrooms or sanitary accommodation. I assume that if separate spaces are provided, people of different races or colours could serve in the same ship, and that is probably happening now, although it does not happen aboard H.M. ships, where recruiting occurs regardless of colour and where, so far as I know, all share the same messing, cooking, and so on.

However, there may be occasions when members of certain races, for various reasons, require separate accommodation. We are hoping to disperse the racial communities in this country, but some of them do not want to be dispersed, or at least will not do so for many years. They may wish to continue living in their communities and abiding by their own customs.

I do not know why there is so much distinction made for ships, but in work places in this country people of different races may want their own places for eating and their own cooks for reasons similar to those which I experienced in ships. We recently saw the Minister himself attending a function at which he sat on the floor without his shoes and put something over his head—I do not know why he did that. If certain racial groups want to have their own accommodation for whatever reason, eating or otherwise, what would be the legal position? Would an employer be in trouble if he provided such facilities? I think that too much attention is being paid to the individual who may wish to practise racial discrimination and not enough to the problem of the groups who may wish to have their own accommodation, for whatever reason it may be.

Mr. Ennals

By leave of the House, Clause 8 deals with ships. It was considered that in ships people would be living in close proximity and that their living accommodation would be almost a home for the time being. In this legislation we have accepted that there are certain exceptions. We deal with the normal situations in this country, but if there were to be a situation in which a small group of individuals, of whatever colour, asked for separate treatment, I think that it would be very difficult for an employer to provide it. Certainly, if he did there might well be others who would think that such provision was an infringement of the Bill.

It would be helpful for people not to ask for separate provision in the circumstances of many races working or operating together. On the other hand, if a minority group wished to have a club of its own providing separate facilities, that would not be covered by the Bill. Clause 1 deals with a general definition to which exceptions are made in Clause 8 and other parts of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendment agreed to.

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