HC Deb 17 April 1970 vol 799 cc1746-8

Order for Second Reading read.

12.56 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As one who commonly complains that there is too much legislation passed, and that we have too many laws and add to them too quickly, it may seem slightly strange that I am proposing the Second Reading of another Bill today, but I hasten to explain that this is a Bill the sole purpose of which is to repeal Acts on the Statute Book; and that not only is it a Bill of pure repeal, but is a Bill for repeal upon principle.

The Bill relates to the Race Relations Act, 1965, and the Race Relations Act, 1968. I expressed in both those years during the debates on both those Bills the view that legislation was inappropriate in those fields and that the lawmaking power was being abused or misused by passing those provisions into law.

There is a difference between the two Acts. The Act of 1965 was, in a sense, a normal Act in that it purported to be regulating public order. Section 6 is the main provision of it which survives after the 1968 Act, and that Section is the one which restricts freedom of speech and writing and under which a number of criminal prosecutions have taken place. That Section substituted the intention to stir up racial hatred for, in the preceding law, the intention to cause a breach of the peace or the doing of something whereby a breach of the peace might be occasioned.

As was pointed out, not only by me but by many others, at the time, this was an innovation in our law having, I think, no precedent, except, perhaps, that in earlier times of the religious laws by which the expression of opinions or beliefs was in itself an offence. Since religious toleration became established by law there has, so far as I know, been no legal provision striking at the expression of opinions by the people of this country.

Section 6 of the 1965 Act did that explicitly. Under that Section it is a criminal offence to express opinions even though they are not intended, and are not likely, to cause a breach of the peace, but simply because it can be alleged, and proved, that they are likely, or intended, to stir up racial hatred.

A Measure like that passes through the House not without doubts and hesitations, but, as this Act did, because of the words "racial hatred", which are words calculated to arouse the antagonism and disapproval of anyone who hears them. Who, it may well be asked, can be in favour of racial hatred, and if we are to punish only those who use words which are intended to stir up racial hatred, why should anyone bother about that? It is quite easy for them to avoid the proscription of the law by not using words which will do that.

The difficulty about that argument is, first, that intent to stir up hatred is a very abstract and subjective matter, on which different people can arrive at different conclusions. What, for example, is one to say about a eugenic treatise advancing a seriously held opinion, rightly or wrongly—and I put this merely as an example because I know nothing about the science—that certain elements of the population are eugenically inferior to others? Would it then be argued, can it not be argued, that that falls within the proscription of Section 6 of the 1965 Act?

Indeed, in earlier debates in the House, when similar proposals were being considered, at least one hon. Member, speaking on behalf of the party which is now the Government, asked whether it was seriously contended by my hon. Friends that somebody in England should be at liberty to advocate the complete cessation of Commonwealth immigration. That was asked as a rhetorical question because, to the spokesman of the Labour Party on that occasion, I presume it seemed inconceivable that anyone should defend the right of an individual to advance that opinion outside the House. And yet, would this be a free country if people outside the privilege of the House were not entitled to advocate the cessation of Commonwealth immigration, or assisted repatriation, which is part of the official policy of the Conservative Party?

That, too, was mentioned by the spokesman on that occasion from the Dispatch Box as something which was obscene and indecent, and ought not to be permitted by the law to be said outside the privilege of Parliament.

I mention those matters only to show how subjective and how variable is the test of what are words which may stir up racial hatred.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and, 40 Members not being present, adjourned at ten minutes past One o'clock till Monday next.