HC Deb 27 July 1972 vol 841 cc2044-5
17. Mr. Fry

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with the workings of the Race Relations Board; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lane

The Board has the Government's confidence in carrying out its extremely difficult duties.

Mr. Fry

In view of the circumstances, such as those known to my hon. Friend and affecting one of my constituents, who has suffered considerable mental anguish together with financial loss, without recompense, as a result of the tardiness of the Board in dealing with a totally frivolous complaint, will he not agree that it is time that this Board, the very existence of which is an insult to the fair-mindedness of the British people, was abolished or at least made legally accountable for losses caused by its ineptitude?

Mr. Lane

The Board on the whole has done valuable work. I am well aware of the particular case to which my hon. Friend draws attention. I know from conversations with the Chairman of the Board that he has very much in mind the need to deal with all these cases as rapidly as possible. I would remind the House that if they are to be dealt with fully, pace is not the only criterion.

Mr. Bidwell

Will the hon. Gentleman agree that the Race Relations Board, with its conciliatory role, has a substantial part to play in the future development of racial harmony in this country, and more especially the bringing about of equal education and employment opportunities? Will he disown entirely the inference in the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) that immigrants have anything to do with unemployment?

Mr. Lane

I have said that the Board has a useful rôle to play and I do not want to go beyond that at the moment on the general question of immigration. This is a very sensitive area and there are difficulties and genuine irritations for individuals of the sort to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) has drawn attention. I hope that the House will accept that the Board is apt to be criticised from all sides and I feel that it deserves the understanding and general support of us all in what it is attempting to do. If its work can be improved the Chairman of the Board and its members are anxious to do everything possible to improve it.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Many people on this side of the House would think that the Board was not too strong but too weak. I wonder whether the Minister has given any consideration to the proposals put forward in the Race Relations Board's Annual Report about ways in which the workings of the Board might be made much more effective and might avoid certain difficulties, particularly the difficulty about having discretion in whether to take up cases and having the right in certain cases to award or to seek the award of damages?

Mr. Lane

We have already given a great deal of consideration to the proposals in the Board's latest Annual Report. Some of them involve fundamental changes and it is too soon to make a definite statement on them. We should wait a good deal longer before taking decisions in order to judge the general public's reaction. However, I am well aware of the point which the hon. Lady made.