HC Deb 04 November 1986 vol 103 cc821-8

Lords amendment: No. 6, before clause 17, insert the following new clause— . In this Part "racial hatred" means hatred against a group of persons in Great Britain defined by reference to colour, race, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 7 to 26, 30, 31, 34 and 35.

Mr. Hogg

I am afraid that I shall have to take a little longer to explain what this group of amendments seeks to achieve than I took in considering the previous group.

My hon. Friend the then Minister of State undertook in Committee to consider bringing forward an amendment to extend part III of the Bill to broadcasting, films, videos, sound recordings and other media. That is essentially the purpose of all these new clauses and amendments. It proved difficult to make the framework of part III accommodate these other media and to ensure that consistency was maintained between the offences as they affect the various forms of communication in question. For that reason, it has been necessary to rewrite part III in its entirety. I apologise for that, but it was necessary if we were to achieve the undertakings that we gave.

The result is that these amendments are very different in form to clauses 17 to 24 as they stood when the Bill was last before the House. Despite appearances, what the amendments seek to achieve is relatively simple. They retain the existing provisions of part III, but they make appropriate changes and additions to bring other media within the scope of the Bill.

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We decided that, as part III will include other media, it should be comprehensive. There are existing statutory offences, such as incitement to racial hatred in section 5 of the Theatres Act 1968 and section 27 of the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984. We thought it more appropriate to bring those offences into part III, which is what we have sought to do in the new clauses.

It might be helpful if I explain briefly each of the new clauses. The first new clause—which will be clause 17 if accepted — defines "racial hatred." Although the wording is slightly different from that which formerly appeared, there is no change in the substantive meaning. In making the amendments, it seemed appropriate that the definition of "racial hatred", which is at the centre of part III, should appear at the commencement of part III rather than be tucked away in some interpretation clause at the end of that part.

The second new clause—which would be clause 18 if accepted—is broadly equivalent to the former clause 19, which dealt with the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or gestures intended or likely to stir up racial hatred. The two changes in the wording will clarify the activities to which the offence will apply.

First, the new clause refers to the use of words or behaviour—and I stress "behaviour". That is to ensure that forms of behaviour are caught that would not necessarily be caught by the phrase "words or gestures", but which in themselves may well be threatening, abusive or insulting and capable of stirring up racial hatred. In so far as any change has been made, it has been to extend the scope of the offence.

The second significant change is that the new clause refers to the display of written material. That will catch, for example, banners and placards. It was always our intention that such activities should be caught, but we felt it right to put the position wholly beyond doubt.

The third new clause, which would be clause 19 if accepted, is equivalent to the former clause 17. The wording is slightly different, but, in effect, we are dealing with the same animal.

The fourth new clause is new to part III, but its substance is not new. Here, of course, I am referring to what will be clause 20 if it is accepted. The clause replaces section 5 of the Theatres Act 1968 and brings it into line with the other provisions of part III. It was originally intended to achieve that by way of an amendment to the Theatres Act 1968 which formerly appeared in section 2(3). However, we decided that it was more logical to incorporate the relevant provisions within the body of part III.

The fifth new clause, which will be clause 21 if accepted, is entirely new. It is intended to deal with the distribution, showing or playing of visual or sound recordings, including videos, films and sound tapes. This clause is framed in parallel terms to that dealing with the publication or distribution of written material. The offences are similar. Under the third new clause—which will be clause 19 if accepted—it is not an offence to write offensive material. The offence consists of its publication or distribution to the public or a section of it. Individuals are free to write what they like. It is only when there may be public order consequences that the criminal law comes into play. Similarly, under the fifth new clause, it is an offence to distribute, show or play to the public or a section of the public a threatening, abusive or insulting recording with the intention or likelihood of stirring up racial hatred. It will not be an offence merely to make an offensive recording.

The sixth new clause — which, if accepted, will be clause 22 — deals with broadcasting and cable programmes. The provisions are adopted from those which appear in schedule 2, amending the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 which deals with cable programmes only. The new clause brings within the scope of part III all forms of broadcasting and cable service, except transmissions of BBC and Independent Broadcasting Authority programmes.

The seventh new clause—clause 23, if accepted—is broadly equivalent to former clause 18 in making it an offence in certain circumstances to possess racially inflammatory material. Material changes have been made to take account not only of the inclusion of other media in part III but of the specific inclusion within the second new clause of written material such as placards.

I do not need to say very much in detail on the other new clauses. They reproduce those clauses in part III, as we last considered it, which deal with entry, search, forfeiture, procedure, punishment, offences by corporations and the interpretation of part III. There has been some rearrangement and certain changes to take account of other media, but no changes of substance. Amendments Nos. 19 to 26, revising the existing part III, and the amendments to schedules 2 and 3 are consequential.

This has been a fairly swift scamper through a fairly complex part of the Bill. I hope that what I have said makes the position clear to right hon. and hon. Members.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

I should like to give a broad welcome to the amendments that the Minister has just introduced. We all agree that racism or encouraging racial hatred must be evil. We have had statutes in regard to these matters for the past 10 years, since the Race Relations Act 1976 amended the Public Order Act 1936.

Difficulties at that time and since have been reflected in a reluctance to prosecute, and sometimes there have been failed prosecutions. I very much hope that the net effect of the Bill, including the specific new amendments from the other place which the Minister has described, will result in legislation being more effective.

Hon. Members will be aware that some of the other changes that the Minister did not describe in detail were made in Committee. I refer to those changes as well as to those that the Minister has just described. I hope that the net effect of the changes will result in successful prosecutions where material causes great offence. For example, some nasty items were in circulation during the Fulham by-election. At the time it was judged that a prosecution was not desirable because it would not be effective — or at least, there was a reluctance to prosecute.

More recently, there have been items which again have given many people cause for concern. For example, when visas were introduced at Heathrow airport, one of our daily papers might have been liable for prosecution had the new arrangements been in force. In one newspaper there was also a cartoon, which has been described as the "Arab pigs" cartoon. I hope that that sort of material would now be liable for prosecution under the new arrangements.

I am especially pleased that the Government have accepted many of the Labour party's suggestions. Indeed, I am sure that the Minister will agree that many of the suggestions he has described derive much of their strength from the arguments put forward by the Opposition in Committee. I particularly welcome the fact that the offences will now be arrestable. I welcome the amendment which means that this legislation will not merely be confined to public places and I welcome the fact that the provisions cover videos, tapes, cable and theatres. Although it comes a little later, I also welcome the extension of this part of the Bill to cover football supporters travelling to and from football grounds.

I must mention two difficulties which, on my interpretation, will still remain. The incitement to racial hatred has further consequences than simply that offence. It encourages some of the extreme elements in our society to indulge in racial harassment and attacks. I had hoped that the Government would find some way of making that an offence in the legislation. Alas, that was not to be.

My second concern is that some of the material which would now be liable for prosecution under the Bill will still escape because it is imported. I referred some such material to the Home Office not long ago. The material came from the United States from an organisation called New Order. The Minister of State, in a letter to me, said: the Attorney General has now looked at these papers and … takes the view that the material is extremely offensive and would merit prosecution if publication or distribution within this country could be proved. I fear that there is still a danger, despite the tightening up in the arrangements, that some such material can come in by post. However, I am not able to make any suggestion to the Government on this matter. Unless such material can easily he identified from the outside of the envelope, I do not think that we can do much about it. I would not suggest that mail coming into this country should be looked at to see whether it contains such items.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I accept my hon. Friend's last point. However, is he aware that I have received such literature in the post, supposedly posted in the United States? I have not been able to check. I sent the details to the Home Secretary, and he replied along the lines indicated by my hon. Friend. Does he agree that sonic further action is necessary to try to curb this race hate material, which is deeply offensive to so many people in our country?

Mr. Dubs

I understand my hon. Friend's point. Such material is deeply offensive, and I hope that we can find some way of dealing with it. The best way would be to tackle it at source, but that means in other countries.

Some other material which came into this country sonic years ago — I believe it was printed in Spain — came through an anonymous post box in Dublin. Again, despite all our efforts, it has proved impossible to pin down anybody in this country as being a prime distributor of that type of material. I mention that because if there were more material coming in in that way, it would, to a certain extent, negate the improvements that we are discussing.

Despite my reservations, I welcome the new provisions. We agree that racism is a scourge. It causes fear and humiliation to people who are attacked. I very much hope that this new measure will be effective. Of course, I would not be so optimistic as to say that it will eliminate all the material that it is designed to eliminate. However, I hope that it will significantly lessen the likelihood of material of that sort being produced and published and prevent racist slogans being used. I hope that it will make our society a little healthier than it is at present.

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Mr. Hind

I welcome these amendments, as I am sure most hon. Members will, especially Conservative Members. Some of us who were here for the debate about visas find it ironic that the party which was constantly accused in that debate of being racist should be the party which brings forward a major change in our race relations legislation by codifying our existing legislation in part III of the Bill and extending the legislation to videos, films and sound recordings.

Perhaps this part of the Bill, now a weapon in the hands of the police to help stamp out unpleasant racist attitudes in our community, will be reciprocated by many of those who are stimulating the opposition to the police in our communities, especially those who are encouraging the more divisive elements in our ethnic communities to reject the attitudes of the police. I am thinking particularly of Mr. Bernie Grant who, following the Tottenham riot, deliberately stimulated anti-police feeling. I am also thinking of the attitude of many Labour councils which keep the police out of schools because they are regarded as racist and against our ethnic communities.

I hope that we will see an end to some of the ridiculous directives from some local education authorities, especially the Inner London education authority, where black coffee is now to be treated as coffee without milk and Blackheath is to be known only as the heath. Perhaps this policy will encourage the community to recognise that we need a colour-blind policy, under which everybody is treated equally and the divisions and differences between our various communities are not rammed down the throat of the adult population and schoolchildren. Perhaps it will lead to change. I commend these thoughts to the House and wholeheartedly support this progressive piece of legislation.

Mr. Alex Carlile

I should like to join other hon. Members by broadly welcoming these new clauses. It is very rare that we can look at a piece of legislation and say that it simplifies the law. In this case we can see provisions which simplify the law by providing a comprehensive code, all of which is to be found in one short statute and in one place, to deal with the incitement of racial hatred.

The incitement of racial hatred is hateful and insidious. We all condemn direct personal violence: such violence is easily perceived, whereas the incitement of racial hatred is difficult to perceive. Its particular insidiousness is the way in which an emotive appeal can be achieved, especially among young people, many of whom may not fully understand the form, force or purpose of the incitement. I hope that those who produce publications and videos and who demonstrate in an attempt to stir up racial hatred will recognise that this is a powerful new piece of legislation in our armoury, which all of us wish to use to create an anti-racist and even-handed society.

I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) was a little unhelpful. He failed to realise that the provisions in these new clauses are indeed even-handed. They apply equally to those who are white and may wish to stir up racial hatred against those who are black, as to those who come from a non-white ethnic group and who wish to stir up racial hatred against white people. It seems right and proper when we legislate that such even-handedness should be apparent from the beginning in these statutory provisions.

The use of the word "behaviour" in Lords amendment No. 7 is infinitely preferable to "gestures" which appeared formerly. I am still a little worried about how far these provisions will cover the use of certain emblems which may be used for racial purposes. One always tends to cite the swastika as an example, but other emblems with racist intent are used by various groups. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that the provisions in the new clauses will be sufficient to deal with at least those emblems which are readily identifiable as racist.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

While I also welcome the amendments as a major step forward in protecting minorities from discrimination, I wonder whether there is an anomaly in one of the amendments which may have been overlooked, or whether I am misinterpreting what I am reading.

Lords amendment No. 7(2) states: An offence under this section may he committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the written material is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and are not heard or seen except by other persons in that or another dwelling. In clause 8 "dwelling" means any structure or part of a structure occupied as a person's home or as other living accommodation (whether the occupation is separate or shared with others). Does that mean that material which is threatening, abusive or insulting may be displayed in a hotel foyer or in a lodging house? Those quotations would appear to mean that they are dwellings and so exceptions to the amendment.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

I, too, support these amendments. In doing so, it is important that the whole House believes that this is not merely cosmetic legislation. It would be a tragedy if the Government were securing these laws merely to give themselves a cloak of respectability without any determination that they should be used effectively against all those who seek to encourage or further racial hatred, regardless of their colour.

It is also important that the Government, in particular the Home Office, should be at pains to ensure that the conditions in which racial hatred flourishes are not furthered by Ministers. I have a letter from Anne Owers, general secretary of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which states: On 21 October, there was an arson attempt at JCWI's office. Two people broke in with the sole aim of starting a fire. Fortunately, the Fire Service was alerted in time to prevent serious damage. The arson attempt followed racist letters threatening violence to JCWI and members of our staff. It is clearly a result of JCWI's uncompromising public stand against racist immigration and nationality laws, and in particular our recent opposition to visas for people from the Indian subcontinent and West Africa. We believe that the government's decision to impose visas only on people from those countries, and the inflammatory media coverage over the last few weeks, have encouraged and legitimised racist attitudes. Attacks on black people and those who support them are an inevitable result. JCWI was lucky. If the fire had not been noticed in time, we would have lost more than our building. We would have lost our unique records, detailing British immigration and nationality law, practice and policy over the last nineteen years. There could have been serious injury to staff members. We have to improve the security of our building. Earlier, I spoke about the responsibility of the Government, particularly Home Office Ministers, to exercise responsibility and restraint in discussing matters relating to race. Therefore, I was deeply disturbed by the Home Secretary's speech on Friday night, which was widely reported. The Daily Express's version was: Home Secretary Douglas Hurd yesterday brought immigration to the forefront of the next General Election with a blistering attack on Labour's race policy. He said their policies were wrong and stupid. And he accused leader Neil Kinnock and Shadow Home Secretary Gerald Kaufman of speaking with 'forked tongues'. Then he lashed Left-wing councils by accusing them of racial witchhunts that divide communities … He said there was a limit to the number of newcomers that any society can absorb without coming under strain. 'We have tightened the rules preventing the admission of those who are likely to become a burden on public funds. We shall further ensure that our immigration controls remain in good repair. There is wide support for our system of immigration control, which is firm and fair. It would be a great boon if it could be accepted by all political parties. The rules apply to all regardless of race, they do not seek to block people already settled here from being joined by their spouse and children.' Labour's pledges to scrap the two Acts would result in a large increase in the numbers of people eligible to settle in Britain, he said. In his remarks, the Home Secretary sought to contrast the statements of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), who rightly said that the Labour party was pledged to repeal the Immigration Act 1971 and the British Nationality Act 1981, with alleged statements of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that the net result of scrapping that legislation would be an increase of only 1,000 people into the United Kingdom. Such remarks, coming within days of the controversial debate on the wisdom of the Government's decision to introduce visas, were inflammatory. The Home Secretary's speech was designed to frighten considerable sections of the British public and to confuse and divide our community. It was wholly unhelpful to the promotion of good race and community relations.

Mr. Hind

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hesitate to interrupt, but we are debating part Ill of the Public Order Bill, not a speech given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last week. With due respect, we are going a little wide of the subject.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Chair follows the debate carefully. The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) is relating his remarks to Lords amendment No. 6.

Mr. Madden

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was following the spirit of the earlier remarks of the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind). My conclusions are certainly different from his, but my remarks accurately mirror his remarks.

Our debates on race are of fundamental importance and no Labour Member in any way underestimates their importance or that of the promotion of good race and community relations. We have considerable interest in ensuring that good race and community relations are promoted, regardless of colour, race and sex. I appeal to Home Office Ministers and the Conservative party to ensure that the debate is conducted on the basis of fact and I urge the Home Secretary to show much more caution and responsibility in any further utterances which he may wish to make on the subject.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and I trust that he will continue to abominate secondary legislation.

Although I welcome the new clause, I regret that it does not deal with incitement to religious hatred. I have studied the case of Mania v. Dowell Lee which was before the House of Lords. The basic argument was that religious hatred, in certain circumstances, could be construed to be racial hatred. I regret that the opportunity to deal with the problem of religious hatred has been missed.

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Mr. Douglas Hogg

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to respond to the four points that have been raised. The speech of the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) was typical of him and it did no credit to the cause that he is seeking to promote. Anybody who knows my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is perfectly aware that no Minister has done more to promote good race relations. I am sure that when the hon. Member for Bradford, West reflects on his remarks today he will regret them.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) questioned whether emblems would be covered by the Bill. I refer him to the definition clause, where he will see that written material covers emblems. I trust that that reassures him.

The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) raised a complicated matter. If the hon. Gentleman studies the definition clause—it is a far-ranging clause—he will see that, in certain circumstances, a hotel would be classified as a dwelling. The residential parts—that is, the bedrooms— would be a dwelling but the common parts would not. Probably—I say probably because in the end this is a matter for the courts — the same approach would be taken to boarding houses. The bedrooms in a hotel and in a boarding house would be treated as a dwelling for the purpose of the Bill, but common parts of either building would not be treated as such. I trust that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) for his kind observations. I shall always treat with suspicion the process of secondary legislation, but I must say—as a candid man—that I suspect I shall use it on occasion or at least advocate to the House that we use it.

Religious hatred is a difficult and important matter. The Government have decided not to include religious hatred in Part III of the Bill because we came to the conclusion that attempts at control would be unenforceable. It would open up too many concepts and too many circumstances in which the law would be required to intervene. If such a provision had been contained in the Bill, we would have created for ourselves unenforceable legislation. I hope what we have done is to restrict our efforts to those areas where we can hope, reasonably, to enforce the law. In that event I commend the amendments to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

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