HL Deb 26 July 1965 vol 268 cc1006-19

3.9 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Race Relations Bill be read a second time. I think your Lordships will agree that it is almost impossible to approach this subject without acknowledging the very great work done in this field over the years by my noble friend Lord Brockway. It is many years since, in another place, he first introduced a Private Member's Bill aimed at outlawing racial discrimination. He was not successful then; nor was he in the many other years when he tried to do the same thing. But I am quite sure that we all agree that he has made a very great contribution. He has helped to bring us to the point at which we are now, and we shall certainly look forward to his contribution later in the debate.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I appreciate tremendously what he has said, but I think it ought to be said that my noble friend Lord Sorensen was the pioneer in the matter of introducing legislation against racial discrimination in the House of Commons, and recognition should be given to that fact.


My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention and glad to acknowledge my noble friend's very great contribution.

The Bill we are discussing falls into two distinct parts, the first dealing with racial discrimination and the second with incitement to racial hatred. As your Lordships will be aware, considerable modifications have been made in the first part of the Bill since it was first introduced into another place; the effect of these has been to substitute processes of conciliation for the criminal sanctions originally intended. Should conciliation manifestly fail there is provision for proceedings in the civil courts by injunction. This change was made to avoid bringing the flavour of criminality into the delicate question of race relations.

The change in the Bill has been one of approach, not of objective. This remains that of assisting the integration of immigrant peoples into the community and the prevention of the spread of harmful and irrational prejudices. The Bill is also intended to support positive efforts towards integration in larger fields, such as employment and housing, of vital importance to everyone, but not in themselves amenable to legislative action. Colour prejudice can best be banished by change of heart rather than change of law but, that acknowledged, we are determined to use the law to banish as far as possible the wilful fomenting of racial prejudices by word, writing or insulting public example.

The first principle we must establish is that people, irrespective of their colour, race or national origin who come here for long or short periods must be treated as an integral part of the general public. For that reason the first part of the Bill is directed against the practice of discrimination in places of public resort. Two considerations in particular have guided the choice; first the necessity to deal with actual or threatened, and not with mere theoretical, abuses; second, that if legislative measures are taken too far they might revolt and offend rather than guide public opinion. The emphasis first is on persuasion, and only if this fails on coercion. For that reason it is not individual acts of discrimination that are declared to be unlawful but the practice of discrimination, meaning a course of conduct. Complaints of discrimination are to be dealt with first by conciliation committees, local in character and informal in their methods of work. It is only when conciliation has failed, and no settlement can be achieved, that a case would be reported to the Race Relations Board, to be established under the Act, whose duty it will then be to consider whether there has been a persistent course of discriminatory conduct which is likely to continue, and which should therefore be reported to the Attorney General with a view to possible court proceedings. Since the issue would be a denial of civil rights the proceedings will be taken in the civil courts and the remedy sought will be an injunction restraining the defendant from committing any further acts of discrimination. Clearly it is only in the most obdurate cases that this sanction will have to be used. If experience in the United States is any guide the great majority of cases will yield to con- ciliation, and only a very few will ever get as far as the courts. The offender will be given every possible opportunity of reforming his ways, but if he fails to do so correction will be none the less certain and effective.

To turn now to the detailed provisions of the Bill, Clause 1 makes it unlawful for the proprietor, manager or an employee to practise discrimination on grounds of colour, race or ethnic or national origin, in any of the places of public resort specified, which comprise hotels, restaurants, cafés and public houses; places of entertainment, recreation and sport; public transport operating on a regular schedule, and the premises it uses; and other places of public resort maintained by local or public authorities—for instance, municipal libraries, museums or art galleries. The clause declares unlawful the practice of discrimination on grounds of colour, race and so on, but it will still be permissible to refuse entry to a public-house or hotel, or other facilities to any individual on grounds personal to him, irrespective of his colour or race—for instance, that he is dirty, improperly dressed, drunken or a known trouble maker.

Clause 2 of the Bill provides for the constitution of the Race Relations Board, and of the local conciliation committees which the Board is required to appoint. The Home Secretary will not be responsible for the actions of the Board in individual cases but will be answerable for the way in which it conducts its affairs in general and the Board must submit an annual report to him to be laid before Parliament. The independence of the Board from direct control by the Home Office has been emphasised by making the appointment of the whole-time staff subject directly to the consent of the Treasury. We expect members of the Board will serve part-time but they will be assisted by a small full-time secretariat. The local conciliation committees will serve in a voluntary capacity, but they too may require some full-time assistance. If so, it is intended that the appointments should be made by the Board and the officials concerned treated as servants of the Board on post to the committees.

Clause 3 deals with proceedings for enforcement in England and Wales, and Clause 4 with enforcement in Scotland, the two systems being essentially the same. Proceedings will be brought by the Attorney General or the Lord Advocate, and will be for injunction only and not for damages. This is because the object is not so much to provide compensation for individuals, who may, in fact, have suffered no financial loss through the discrimination practised against them, but to put a stop to a course of conduct which is aimed against a whole class of people and which is contrary to the interests of the public as a whole. Before an injunction can be granted, the court, which in most cases will be the county court, will have to satisfy itself that there has been a persistent course of discriminatory conduct which is likely to continue. It will be for the court to decide the form of injunction, which may be to restrain the defendant from committing further acts of discrimination either against specified individuals or against a specific class of persons, such, for instance, as coloured people in general. Where a person is in breach of an injunction it would be for the Attorney General—or Lord Advocate—to move the court to commit him for contempt.

Clause 5 of the Bill deals with discriminatory restrictions on the disposal of leases, and applies to tenancies existing whether before or after the passing of the Bill. It operates in two ways. First, it provides that where the consent of a landlord is needed to the disposal of a tenancy, any refusal of consent on grounds of colour, race, and so on, should be treated as unreasonable; but with the exception that this will not apply where the tenancy is in a house where the landlord himself lives and where he shares some accommodation with the tenant. Secondly, it converts any covenant which prohibits the disposal of tenancies to people of a particular colour, or race, into one requiring the landlord's consent to disposal; and the provisions of the first part, including the special saving, will then apply. It may be asked why tenancies of the second type are not to be declared void altogether. The answer is that, particularly in the case of certain existing leases, this might have the rather curious effect of depriving a landlord of the right to refuse consent to the disposal of a tenancy to a coloured person even on perfectly legitimate grounds—for instance, that he was an undischarged bankrupt.

I now turn to the part of the Bill dealing with incitement to racial hatred, which, in my view, is designed for only a tiny minority of people in this country. For example, the various Fascist groups, which attempt to achieve notoriety by posting their sticker labels and by their pamphlets, are no more than a few loud-mouthed individuals, who have almost no support from the public at large. Nevertheless, at a time of social strain, these people can attract quite disproportionate publicity by exploiting and intensifying unthinking prejudices about race and colour.

We now have substantial numbers of coloured people in our midst who are only newly arrived and whose need for full integration into society the Government accept. The apostles of racial intolerance may have little effect on people with long-established roots in this country, but it may be quite otherwise with the newcomers. They find it difficult to believe that inaction does not imply some sort of tacit assent, and remarks about sharing the common detestation of such views, however well meant, do little or nothing to convince them to the contrary. The key to integration is a willingness to come together. The Race Relations Bill is a first step in this process, and the proposal to make it an offence to incite to hatred on grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins is, I believe, an essential part of this first step.

The problem, as always in matters of this kind, is to frame a provision which will penalise indefensibly scurrilous and inflammatory speeches or publications, without curtailing legitimate freedom of comment and controversy. Although there have been no recent public disturbances on a substantial scale, we in the Home Office—I am sure it was also the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent—receive continuing complaints of anti-Semitic or anti-colour articles in Fascist news-sheets and flyposting of the "nigger neighbour" variety, and under the present law, unfortunately, highly offensive remarks can be disseminated and a scurrilous campaign mounted on a sufficient scale to produce a considerable effect, without falling foul of the law. A situation could arise where a determined man, with sufficient backing behind him, could exploit the present situation and do a great deal of harm. It is this potential bad case that Clause 6 is designed to deal with.

The clause achieves this by penalising deliberate incitement to racial hatred, oral or written. We are determined, however, that legitimate public debate and controversy should not be inhibited, and have therefore defined the new offence closely to ensure that it shall bite only on the race-mongers. It is designed to operate selectively against the leaders and organisers, and not be capable of becoming a weapon used against the ordinary man in the street engaged in ordinary conversation or discussion of the issues and events of the day.

The new offence in Clause 6 has three limbs. First, the matter or words complained of must be threatening, abusive or insulting. It is, in fact, hard to conceive of some or all of these criteria not being met in the sort of cases I have been describing, but reasonable discussion would not be affected. Secondly, the matter or words complained of must be likely to stir up hatred against a section of the public in Great Britain on grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins. This will be a question of fact, which will turn on the circumstances of the particular case; but it must be shown that it is on one of the prohibited grounds. It is not necessary for there to be more than a likelihood of the stirring up of racial hatred. For example, a breach of the peace does not have to be shown or proved. The presumption will lie that the person concerned intended the natural consequences of his action, and the rule will apply that a person must take his audience as he finds it. Thirdly, there must be not only a likelihood but also the intention of stirring up hatred against a section of the public. This will make it clear that ordinary discussion, even if misinformed, will not be caught by the section, but only the person deliberately pursuing a course of conduct which in its way can cause as much harm to our fellow citizens and do as much damage to the fabric of society as the crime, say, of housebreaking.

A distinction is drawn between written matter and spoken words. Spoken words come within the clause only if they are spoken in a public place or at a public meeting. A man privately in his own house or at some other place may say what he pleases; but what he says in a public place or at a public meeting must be assumed to be intended to be published to the whole world and is dealt with on that basis. Written matter is also limited. Any method of publication or dissemination comes within the clause—it does not have to be done in a public place—and so the sly letter box campaign will be included; but publication of written matter strictly among members of an association does not provide cause for action. This is necessary if the affairs of clubs, businesses and even political Parties are not to be liable to unjustifiable interference.

It is especially important that any legislation prohibiting the expression of certain views, however undesirable or disreputable they may be, should not be misused for other ends. We must remember that the issues, which give rise to passionate feelings, and possibly even violence, in one generation, pass away and become almost forgotten by the next. The law, however, does not change so quickly, and it is important that the law made to deal with one situation should not be so drafted that it may be misused later on to deal with another. As an additional safeguard, therefore, Clause 6 requires that the Attorney General's consent must be obtained before proceedings may be instituted. This is an important safeguard against proceedings being taken in circumstances which would penalise or inhibit legitimate controversy, and will ensure that their use is confined to the ringleaders and organisers of incitement to racial hatred. This clause will serve to check effectively the emergent Fascist leader. The maximum penalties of two years' imprisonment and a fine of £1,000 upon conviction on indictment will enable the courts to hit this sort of person where it hurts—both in his person and in his pocket—without making a political martyr of him, and without infringing the liberties of ordinary men and women.

Clause 7 of the Bill re-enacts Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1936 in extended form. This section provides that any person who in any public place or at any public meeting uses threatening. abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned shall be guilty of an offence". Section 5 of the 1936 Act is directed primarily to securing that public meetings and demonstrations in public places take place without breach of the peace. Freedom of public speech and demonstration is of little value unless this can be assured and, at the same time, those not taking part are entitled to expect that they shall not become occasions for brawls and disorder, in which members of the public may be injured. The purpose of the section is esssentially preventive—either to prevent disorder when a breach of the peace seems likely, or to limit and end disorder that has occurred. This can be effected only by immediate police action, for which Clause 6 is not designed to provide.

As Section 5 of the Public Order Act now stands, it does not state in clear terms to the man in the street that it covers such conduct as the dissemination of pamphlets and waving of banners at public meetings, or the sale of offensive literature in streets. The view has been expressed, and has much to commend it, that in law the word "behaviour" as it stands is sufficient to cover all these activities, and that accordingly no amendment of Section 5 of the 1936 Act is necessary. On balance, however, we have thought it right to take the opportunity to re-write Section 5 in extended form, so as to make its scope completely and unequivocally clear, particularly to those likely to be directly affected. The present penalties in Section 5 of the 1936 Act (which are, in fact, set out in the Public Order Act 1963) will continue to apply. Thus on summary conviction an offender will be liable to three months' imprisonment or a £100 fine, or both, and on conviction on indictment to twelve months' imprisonment or £500 fine, or both.

Taken together, the powers contained in Clauses 6 and 7 will enable the police to deal with the rabble-rousers in the street and with the backroom organisers who now are careful to keep on the right side of the present law. Without infringing our cherished liberties of speech and of the Press, these clauses will, I am sure, enable effective action to be taken to prevent the evil of incitement to racial hatred becoming established in our society, and will help to encourage the integration of coloured immigrants and the maintenance in modern conditions of our long tradition of tolerance.

My Lords, for two thousand years we have welcomed to these shores—and sometimes it has been a welcome too warm for comfort—the people of many races. They have broadened and enriched our economy and culture. They—and it applies literally to all of us—are an integral part of our democracy and the British way of life. In recent years we have welcomed perhaps a million Commonwealth citizens who are easily distinguishable by their colour. They have made an important contribution, and will make an even greater one. Their coming has created problems in our crowded island, problems which are being and will be solved by the good will and sense of our people, assisted by measures towards integration promoted by local and central Governments. This Bill will make its contribution towards that integration, and as such I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Stonham.)

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, in spite of the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, this Bill has a rather strange history. It has been through the other place, but it has never had a Second Reading. What happened in the other place was this. A Bill of the same name was introduced, and it depended almost entirely on the sanction of the criminal law; and the Opposition moved against it on the ground that it should be subject to civil law and that there should be conciliation machinery. The Government resisted this proposal. There was a Division, which the Government won, and the Bill was then sent to Committee.

On the first morning of the Committee, the Home Secretary announced that the night before he had put down Amendments making the Bill subject to civil law and setting up conciliation machinery, which is what the Opposition had asked for. Most of the members of the Committee, when they appeared in the Committee, had not even seen the Amendments, because there had not been time. Many Members of the other place wanted the Bill withdrawn and to have a new Bill, on the lines suggested by the Home Secretary, with a Second Reading. However, they did not succeed in this. So, as I say, this is the first time that this particular Bill has had a Second Reading.

I do not want to be depressing, but I do not know how much there is to be said for this Bill. I do not know what, if any, effect it will have. I suppose that it is an effort, and there is nothing very much to be said against it. It does not deal with any of the questions (because, as the Home Secretary said, it is almost impossible to deal with them through legislation) which cause most friction in integrating immigrant communities. It does not deal with housing; it does not deal with jobs; it does not deal with matters such as apprenticeships, and so on. What the Bill does, I think, is to express a pious hope that these conciliation committees will be able to help; and, indeed, they may.

There is this further point—and perhaps it is a good thing. Under this Bill I think it is unlikely that there will ever be any prosecutions. I find that the Home Secretary and the Solicitor General agreed with this view. And I gather that they would not argue against the thesis that it would be almost impossible for the prosecution to succeed.


Perhaps I might interrupt the noble Lord. When he says it is unlikely that under this Bill there will be any prosecutions, I imagine that he is confining his remarks to the first Part of the Bill.


The noble Lord is right. But in any case we hope that there will never be any prosecutions under the Bill, and that, if it has any validity, it will be possible to do something without bringing in the law.

I have said that there is very little to be said against the Bill. There are, however, two matters about which I feel rather strongly, and perhaps I may explain them in some detail, because I intend to put down Amendments on the Committee stage to deal with them. The first matter arises under Clause 5. It arises particularly with houses which are sub-divided: it does not, I think, apply to flats. What can happen under the clause is this. A landlord—and let us suppose that he is a good landlord—lets out his house in tenancies of one and two rooms, as is not uncommon in crowded areas. Two tenants may under the terms of their tenancies have to share a kitchen or lavatory, or both. As we all know, sharing a kitchen in the best circumstances is not too easy and, I understand, it apt to lead to friction.

In the sort of area to which I am referring the tenants who take one or two rooms are (shall I say?), on the whole, orthodox Hindu families: it does not matter what they are but let us take two orthodox Hindu families. Of course, when the people who are to share the kitchen take their tenancies they ask who is going to share the kitchen, and, if they are satisfied, they take the tenancy. But let us suppose that two Hindu families are doing this sharing and that one of them decides to leave and sub-lets to an English family. In such a case, what is going to happen in the kitchen? The orthodox Hindu has a form of cooking which, as a rule, is very highly spiced and scented and rather obnoxious to people who are not used to it. What will happen in the English family? Almost without doubt they will at some meals be going to eat beef; and I cannot see an orthodox Hindu sharing a kitchen with somebody cooking beef.

Under this Bill, if the landlord, who wants to run his house properly, and to avoid friction, says: "I am afraid that, as regards this second tenancy—the subletting—owing to the sharing of the kitchen, I cannot accept anyone but a Hindu family", he will be committing an offence. It may be a Pakistani, or any of a number of others, but if he sub-lets in this way then under this Bill he is committing an offence, because he has said: "I will not take anybody of any race other than a Hindu, due to the sharing of the kitchen." It does not apply to actual rooms in which they are living: I am talking of the kitchen and the lavatory. A landlord wants to act with the best possible motives, because he does not want friction in the house and he wants his tenants to be happy. But under the Bill he cannot say, "I cannot give a licence, except to a Hindu family, so long as tenant No. 1 is there." The same thing applies to lavatories. As many of your Lordships know, the use of lavatories in India differs from the way in which English people are accustomed to using them. In case your Lordships think I am exaggerating this, down in the docks, among the dock labour force, they have had to build lavatories for Hindus. The Indians regard our method of using lavatories as obnoxious, and we should think their method obnoxious, certainly if we had to share them. But they are both equally good for the respective people concerned.

This Bill is meant to be a Bill to avoid friction, and if the landlord has absolutely no option in those circumstances it must, in my view, be wrong. The Amendment I hope to put down on Committee stage is to take the sharing between tenants of either a kitchen or a lavatory out of this clause so that the landlord, not on the actual tenancy of the rooms, can say, "We will not have such-and-such a tenant, because he would have to share the kitchen or the lavatory with this other class of person". I think that must be right if we want to avoid friction. This is not a question of colour or race; it is a question of habits and customs. I think there should be something in the Bill to try to put this right.

The only other matter I want to mention is one which the noble Lord explained in detail to some extent, but rather glossed over. It is Clause 6(1). May I read it, taking paragraphs (a) and (b) separately: 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
being matter or words likely to stir up hatred …". That is as regards publication of things pushed through letter-boxes, and so on. I said rather doubtful words about this Bill at the beginning, but I believe this subsection is the most important part of the Bill.

Paragraph (b) reads like this: 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 … (b) he uses in any public place or at any public meeting"— the important words are "any public place"— words which are threatening, abusive or insulting, being matter or words likely to stir up hatred against that section on grounds of colour, race"— and so on. In my view, this goes much too wide and really interferes with free speech.

Let me take an example. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and I get into a taxi and I say "I will pay this". It is a long way and the fare is 10s. I fumble in the dark and tip the driver a penny, thinking it is a two-shilling piece. The driver, not referring to my race, or to my religion, says, "You bloody Jew", meaning that I have given him only a penny. Under this Bill he is committing an offence. If he did not mention the word "Jew" he would not be committing an offence, but in fact he is. I see why the Government want this put into the Bill, but why must we have this very wide power which might go very wrong, particularly when sometimes—if I may mention the East End of London—people are a bit outspoken? This is already adequately covered as regards words, but not publications, by the existing law.

I recommend your Lordships to turn to Clause 7, where it goes into Section 5 of the Public Order Act. There it says: Any person who in any public place …

  1. (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour …
with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned … Surely that is enough for an offence, and covers this other point. In my view, the clause, as it is drawn, goes much too wide. There may be a quarrel between a man with a fruit barrow and some Indian. They have an argument and the man calls the Indian a damned nigger—regrettable, I agree, and it is not something your Lordships would say; but it does happen. Under this Bill he will be committing a serious offence. If there is then a fight in the street, he doubtless would be caught under the Public Order Act. But those words would create an offence, and I submit it is going much too wide. On the Committee stage, I shall move an Amendment to delete Clause 6(1)(b). I hope your Lordships will support me on that, because I do not think one ought to have such vagueness in a new Statute. Apart from that, all I can say is I hope the Bill will have sonic good effect.