HC Deb 17 February 1970 vol 796 cc218-24
Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend section 6(1) of the Race Relations Act 1965. My purpose is to achieve an important, but I hope not controversial, change in the Race Relations Act, 1965. It may assist the House if I straight away remind hon. Members of the text of Section 6(1), which says: A person shall be guilty of an offence under this section if, with intent to stir up hatred against any section of the public in Great Britain distinguished by colour, race, or ethnic or national origins—

  1. (a) he publishes or distributes written matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting; or
  2. (b) he uses in any public place or at any public meeting words which are threatening, abusive or insulting,
being matter or words likely to stir up hatred aaginst that section on grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins. That wording imported a fundamental change in our law governing the liberty of speech. Whereas until that Act the test had been an utterance not calculated but liable to disturb public order, Section 6 established that the actual words used in speech or writing might constitute the offence.

The change was debated at great length in Committee. Now we have had five years in which to weigh its effect. There has been a small number of prosecutions, of which the most notable was that of Michael X. I think it fair to say that in the light of our experience many are doubtful today whether the Section is conducive to racial harmony. This is not idle speculation. Both Mr. Frank Cousins, in his capacity as Chairman of the Community Relations Commission, and Mr. Mark Bonham Carter, Chairman of the Race Relations Board, have expressed their doubts on that score. They have made it clear that they would support the repeal of the Section. I have their words by me, though I shall not take up the time of the House by quoting them.

Others, I know, consider that Section 6 as it stands infringes freedom of speech and may appear to give special privileges to immigrants. It must seem to those who concern themselves with race relations, therefore, that it is not a particularly helpful contribution.

I want in fairness to strike a cautionary note. In contrast to the views I have mentioned, there are Jewish leaders who consider that one effect of Section 6 has been to reduce the amount of anti-Semitic filth which has been in circulation. I would not treat that lightly; It must be weighed. Nevertheless, on balance, I submit that the case for repeal is strong.

In many directions since 1965 speech, writing and expression have become a great deal freer—too free for some tastes. Censorship, at least for the time being, is in low regard and so are those who would defend themselves by it. I see great force in the words used by the then Home Secretary, now the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, in defending the Section. He said, in effect, that society cannot continue in a sensible, ordered, integrated form if there is complete and utter licence to say precisely what one likes on any occasions.

Against that, I think that there is much said in anger, even in hatred, on public occasions that is best forgotten and not proceeded against and not made into perhaps a cause célèbre. That is also part of the British tradition. We owe a lot, as the world recognises better than we do, to this concept of liberality within a context of order. I would like to think that the immigrants in this country could now share that valued tradition. On balance, I think that it would enhance rather than diminish their status, and it is that consideration, above all, that leads me to propose this change.

Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South) rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to oppose?

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Winnick

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I disagree with the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), but I appreciate that he has genuine motives in seeking to introduce the Bill. I know that many people in favour of both the 1965 and 1968 Acts nevertheless believe that Section 6 of the 1965 Act does not do anything for racial harmony and should be removed.

While I oppose the right hon. Gentleman, I sincerely understand his motives and do not question them in any way. But it is important for the House to recognise what is being proposed. The right hon. Gentleman quoted from Section 6(1) and I would like to do so. It says: A person shall be guilty of an offence under this section if, with intent to stir up hatred against any section of the public in Great Britain distinguished by colour, race or ethnic or national origins—(a) he publishes or distributes written matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting … I have given the matter a great deal of consideration and it seems that if we are to repeal the Section it would lead to certain action. I would like to give the House my opinion of what would happen.

First, it would take away the protection which certain minority groups have at the moment against deliberate attempts to incite race hatred. Much of what used to be written, foul offensive racialist slander, can no longer be written as a result of this Section. If we were to do what the right hon. Gentleman advocates we would be taking away this basic protection from many minority groups. Secondly, it would encourage the extremist, lunatic racialist fringe which now has to be more careful in what it says and writes.

I say with all seriousness that, bearing in mind what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, if we were to do what he is advocating it would be considered a victory by this small, minority, racialist, fringe which wants to see the ending of the whole of the Race Relations Act, Section 6 included. Any repeal of this Section would once again foul our society by these groups, who deliberately want to stir up race hatred.

I would remind the House of the events of Notting Hill in 1958. Before they took place a number of small groups of people were deliberately inciting race hatred. There was no legal action which could be taken against such groups then. They were not breaking the law, but that stirring up of hatred led to the disturbance we all know about in the summer of 1958.

I hope that we will not take any action which will give encouragement to groups in our society who desire to stir up hatred against people because of the colour of their skin or their racial origin. The Section applies to all people in the country. I have not got the latest figures, but, going by 1968, it seems that there were four cases under the Section concerning nine white people and three cases concerning six coloured people.

I know that it is sometimes argued that the more sophisticated type of racialism is not covered by this Section, and I accept that. We know that there are some people who, in a more sophisticated way, stir up prejudice, if not hatred, against minority groups. But I see no reason why we should remove a law which acts against the more offensive type of hatred. If there are certain weaknesses in the Section I do not see why we should undermine it completely, since it does give protection to minority groups.

As a Member of Parliament and a citizen of this country I deeply regret any restriction of freedom of speech, but any legislation passed by this House is an infringement on some people's freedom. Any law we pass restricts the freedom of action of some people. I believe that we are justified in taking action against those who want to abuse freedom of

speech. If the situation changed, and if there were not the sort of groups I have mentioned, I would be the first to see Section 6 done away with altogether.

Because I believe that there is still a necessity for it, we should not take any action along the lines advocated by the right hon. Gentleman. It is necessary to protect all people in our country, all minorities, as well as the majority. The Act covers illegal action taken by whites or coloureds. The right hon. Gentleman quoted a case, about which we know, concerning a coloured person. It is extremely important, when we look at the experience abroad and certainly in America, that we do not allow these poisonous people, putting forward racialist filth, to do their utmost to stir up hatred. Because there is a need for this Section, it is with reluctance that I have to oppose the right hon. Gentleman's application.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 116, Noes 197.

Division No. 66.] AYES [3.55 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Emery, Peter McAdden, Sir Stephen
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Eyre, Reginald MacArthur, Ian
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Fletcher-Cooke, Charles McMaster, Stanley
Awdry, Daniel Fortescuc, Tim Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Gibson-Watt, David Miscampbell, Norman
Bell, Ronald Glover, Sir Douglas Monro, Hector
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Goodhart, Philip Montgomery, Fergus
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) Goodhew, Victor Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
Berry, Hn. Anthony Gower, Raymond Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Biffen, John Grant, Anthony Mott-Radclyfte, Sir Charles
Blaker, Peter Grant-Ferris, Sir Robert Murton, Oscar
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Nichols, Sir Harmar
Bossom, Sir Clive Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Onslow, Cranley
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Osborn, John (Hallam)
Braine, Bernard Harvie Anderson, Miss Page, Graham (Crosby)
Brewis, John Hastings, Stephen Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Hawkins, Paul Peyton, John
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Pink, R. Bonner
Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus, N&M) Hill, J. E. B. Pym, Francis
Bullus, Sir Eric Holland, Philip Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Hordern, Peter Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Chichester-Clark, R. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Clark, Henry Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Ridsdale, Julian
Clegg, Walter Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Cooke, Robert Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Russell, Sir Ronald
Corfield, F. V. Kaberry, Sir Donald Sinclair, Sir George
Costain, A. P. Kerby, Capt. Henry Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Currie, G. B. H. Kershaw, Anthony Summers, Sir Spencer
Dalkeith, Earl of Kirk, Peter Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Dance, James Kitson, Timothy Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow.Cathcart)
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Knight, Mrs. Jill Temple, John M.
Drayson, G. B. Langford-Holt, Sir John Tilney, John
Eden, Sir John Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshaiton) Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Waddington, David
Elliott, R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Longden, Gilbert Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Walters, Dennis Williams, Donald (Dudley) Wylie, N. R.
Ward, Dame Irene Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Weatherill, Bernard Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard Mr. Richard Sharples and
Wiggin, A. W. Worsley, Marcus Mr. William Deedes.
Alldritt, Walter Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Allen, Scholefield Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Archer, Peter (R'wley Regis & Tipt'n) Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Armstrong, Ernest Gregory, Arnold Moyle, Roland
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Murray, Albert
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Neal, Harold
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Newens, Stan
Barnett, Joel Hamling, William Ogden, Eric
Beaney, Alan Hannan, William O'Halloran, Michael
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Harper, Joseph O'Malley, Brian
Bessell, Peter Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Oram, Bert
Bishop, E. S. Haseldine, Norman Orbach, Maurice
Blackburn, F. Hazell, Bert Orme, Stanley
Blenkinsop, Arthur Heffer, Eric S. Oswald, Thomas
Booth, Albert Henig, Stanley Paget, R. T.
Boston, Terence Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Bradley, Tom Hooley, Frank Park, Trevor
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Huckfield, Leslie Parker, John (Dagenham)
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Hunter, Adam Pentland, Norman
Buchan, Norman Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Carmichael, Neil Janner, Sir Barnett Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg
Carter-Jones, Lewis Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Chapman, Donald Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Probert, Arthur
Coe, Denis Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Rees, Merlyn
Coleman, Donald Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rhodes, Geoffrey
Concannon, J. D. Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Crawshaw, Richard Kelley, Richard Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth(St.P'c'as)
Cronin, John Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Roebuck, Roy
Dalyell, Tam Latham, Arthur Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Lawson, George Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire, W.) Leadbitter, Ted Sheldon, Robert
Davies, E. Hudson (Conway) Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton, N.E.)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Lipton, Marcus Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
de Freitas, Rt Hn Sir Geoffrey Lomas Kenneth Silverman, Julius
Slater, Joseph
Dempsey, James Lubbock, Eric Small, William
Dewar, Donald Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Snow, Julian
Dickens, James McCann, John Spriggs, Leslie
Dobson, Ray MacColl, James Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Doig, Peter MacDermot, Niall Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Driberg, Tom Macdonald, A. H. Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) McElhone, Frank Thornton, Ernest
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) McGuire, Michael Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Eadie, Alex Mackenzie, Alasdair(Ross&Crom'ty) Tuck, Raphael
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Mackintosh, John P. Urwin, T. W.
Ellis, John McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
English, Michael McNamara, J. Kevin Watkins, David (Consett)
Ennals, David Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Weitzman, David
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Wellbeloved, James
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Wilkins, W. A.
Faulds, Andrew Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield, E.) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Finch, Harold Mapp, Charles Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Marquand, David Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mayhew, Christopher Winnick, David
Foot, Rt. Hn. Sir Dingle (Ipswich) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Mendelson, John Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Ford, Ben Mikardo, Ian Woof, Robert
Forrester, John Millan, Bruce
Fraser, John (Norwood) Miller, Dr. M. S. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Galpern, Sir Myer Milne, Edward (Blyth) Mr. Sydney Bidwell and
Garrett, W. E. Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Mr. John Lee
Ginsburg, David