HL Deb 19 December 1966 vol 278 cc1838-50

3.3 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is a long, complicated and, I think important Bill, I will try to be concise, consistent with clarity, but I am sure that your Lordships' will excuse me if I begin with two personal references. The first relates to my noble friend, Lord Stonham, who is now in hospital. Normally, he would have been replying for the Government Front Bench I know that all of us are responsive to his personality and have admiration for his ability, and that every one of us, irrespective of Party, will hope that he has a full and an early recovery.



My second reference is to my noble friend Lord Sorensen, who will be replying as deputy to Lord Stonham. It is not generally known that Lord Sorensen was the pioneer of legislation on the subject of racial discrimination. He introduced his Bill nearly twenty years ago; and because of that fact I am hopeful that his reply from the Front Bench will be sympathetic to this Bill.

My Lords, this Bill has very authoritative support. There are three specialist committees of the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants, of which the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury is the Chairman. One of those committees deals with employment, the second with housing and the third with legal questions and welfare matters. All those special committees have considered the terms of this Bill in detail. They have gone through it clause by clause. They have recommended certain amendments which those associated with me have been glad to accept.

All those three specialist committees of this National Committee responsible to the Prime Minister have endorsed this Bill in the form that I bring it before your Lordships' House to-day. Further than that, the National Committee have recommended to the Prime Minister and to the Home Secretary that a Bill endorsing the principles of this measure shall be brought to the Houses of Parliament. I regret very much—and I have had a letter from him expressing his sorrow—that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot be present to-day; but he has asked another representative of the Church to speak in his place.

In addition to that very substantial authority behind this Bill there is Ministerial support for an amending Bill. The Home Secretary and the Minister specially responsible for the integration of the immigrant community have both indicated—and on this I will speak later—that changes are necessary. The Chairman of the Race Relations Board has also indicated this. Mr. Maurice Foley, the Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, said in Manchester on September 18: There is mounting evidence that the Race Relations Act is inadequate. In addition to those authoritative views of the Committee dealing with the Commonwealth immigrant and the expression of views by Ministers I was greatly heartened, as I listened to the debate in the House of Commons on Friday on the Bill introduced by Mr. Orbach (it is similar to mine, though not quite so extended because of the definition in the Long Title), by the speech from the Conservative Front Bench made by Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke. He reminded the House that Mr. Thorne croft, speaking for the Opposition when the Bill of 1965 was being considered, said that it was inadequate because it did not deal with jobs and homes, which he described as being "where the shoe pinches". Mr. Fletcher-Cooke said he had a great deal of sympathy with Mr. Orbach's Bill which sought to widen the scope. He said—and I quote his words: I think that the scope of the conciliation procedure may well have to be extended to jobs and homes".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 738 (No. 119), col. 942; 16/12/66.] These are the most urgent extensions which the Bill urges.

The Bill differs from the measure which Mr. Orbach has introduced, in that it deals with religious discrimination as well as racial discrimination. May I, at this point, apologise to the House for the three typographical errors in the printing of the Bill? Religion is not mentioned in the employment section and in the definition of "discrimination", and the subjects of the Bill are transferred in the title at the end. I take full responsibility for these mistakes. There had to be speed in handing the typescript over to the Officers of the House and I had not read it as carefully as I should have done. I think that all of us would wish to pay tribute to the accuracy and speed of the Officers of this House and for the amazing way in which, during the night, official publications are printed and delivered to our homes by first post in the morning.

My Lords, I recognise that religious discrimination is comparatively rare in this country. It does sometimes take place in the case of those of the Jewish faith, and also with Hindus, Moslems and Sikhs. I regret very much that I am not able to propose that this Bill should extend to Northern Ireland, where there is evidence that religious discrimination is widespread. But I hope that the adoption of this Bill may be regarded as an example to Northern Ireland. Again, I am glad to quote Mr. Fletcher-Cooke.


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is not acting in accordance with our Rules in quoting a statement made in another place during the present Session, unless it was made on a point of policy by a Minister of the Crown.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. More than once he has corrected me on points on procedure in this House. I acknowledge it. Therefore, I would only say that the spokesman for the Conservative Party on the Front Bench suggested that religion undoubtedly is just as much a division as race, and expressed the hope that the question of religious discrimination would be included in any Bill.

The best evidence of the need to extend the scope of the 1965 Act is in the experience of the Race Relations Board. I have been provided with the number of complaints which have been received by that Board up to and including Friday, December 9, last. This document shows that, of the 198 complaints presented to the Board, 148 were outside the scope of the present Act. Of those 148, 66 referred to employment. And I would emphasise that number, because it is larger than all the complaints received by the Board which were legitimate under the Act. The second category of complaints relates to housing, where the number of complaints, which again I want to emphasise, was 29. The comment may be made that that number is small, but the House should remember that only three of the fourteen local committees, who are to be responsible for forwarding complaints to the Board, have yet been formed.

I should be speaking for too long if I dealt in detail with all the extensions of the scope of the Act which this Bill proposes. But there are two extensions, in addition to employment and housing, to which I wish to refer. First, all places of public resort are included, and not only those listed in the 1965 Act. The danger, of course, is that When one lists places legal sanction may be given to places not included in the list. I will say only that there is some evidence of discrimination in shops, offices, holiday camps and night clubs.

Secondly, the Crown, which is not at present bound by the Act, is included in this Bill. It would make Government Departments and their agencies subject to the Act. In another place on Friday, Mr. Foley indicated (I will not quote him but only paraphrase his words) that Government Departments are taking steps to apply non-discrimination. But I would urge on this House that it should also apply in all Government contracts by a clause as automatic as the present fair-wages clause.

I pass to the two principal extensions suggested in this Bill. The Bill would cover discrimination in employment, whether by employers, trade unions, labour exchanges or private agencies. The evidence is overwhelming that discrimination takes place now in the sphere of employment. I have in my hand a bundle of complaints endorsed after investigation in the City of Manchester alone. In these complaints there is instance after instance where coloured persons with good qualifications have been told that vacancies were filled, and subsequently, when non-coloured applicants applied for the same jobs, they have been given them.


My Lords, the noble Lord said that the complaints have been endorsed. Could he say by whom?—because this is rather important.


My Lords, investigation was carried out by the Campaign against Racial Discrimination and all those complaints have been forwarded to the Race Relations Board. I recognise that most coloured persons can obtain jobs, but they cannot obtain jobs appropriate to their qualifications. Indeed, one of the dangers in the present situation is that the coloured workers in Britain are becoming a second-class in the working class. There are mills in Yorkshire where white workers will no longer accept employment at night time, and all the night shifts are now carried out by Pakistani workers. A Birmingham heavy industry firm employs only coloured workers on the shop floor at £8 a week for a 50 to 60 hour week.

I think the greatest evidence of the inability of coloured workers to obtain employment according to their qualifications is shown in the survey which has been carried out at Southall by a number of students who have lived with the immigrant community. They have detailed case histories of 150 Indian graduates. Of these, 88 per cent. are in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs. It is estimated that two-thirds of the Indian graduates in Southall have teaching qualifications. I recognise that Indian qualifications sometimes are not as high as those upon which we insist in this country. I would urge, in view of the shortage of teachers, that opportunities should be given to them to have courses of training. I commend the experiment which has been carried out by the Bradford education authority, where they are giving those from Commonwealth countries with qualifications the opportunity to become efficient for teaching in this country.

The worst feature of discrimination in employment is among the school leavers. The Home Secretary said on October 11, not in another place, that the danger in job discrimination comes with the second generation. He warned that school leavers may work up the kind of resentments that are rife in America. Again, I recognise that most coloured school leavers now obtain jobs, but emphatically not in accordance with their ability.

The Minister, Mr. Foley, said three years ago (and the number has grown since) that sons of coloured immigrants who had been educated for several years in Britain could not find openings as apprentices, and daughters, though fully qualified as shorthand typists, could not obtain office jobs. This is borne out by the Report of the Commonwealth Immigrants Advisory Council and by the Report of the Inner London Education Committee. Many of these school leavers were born in this country; they have become adjusted to our way of life; they are as British as we are British, and to allow discrimination to take place in their employment is a denial of the principle of human equality in which all Members of this House believe.

The second important extension of the scope of this Bill is that discrimination is made unlawful in the sale and lease of housing accommodation, in the advertising of the same, and in covenants restricting the sale or letting of any interests in land or housing. Again, the evidence is so extensive it is difficult for me to select. I know of three instances relating to senior members of the staffs of Embassies and High Commissions in London. Their solicitors had arranged for the lease of accommodation, but when the estate agents found that they were coloured, the fulfilment of the contract was refused. I will satisfy myself with quoting from the Milner Holland Report on Housing in Greater London. It says: There is, we find, a marked degree of reluctance among private landlords to let to coloured tenants, and where these lettings occur the rents arc in general higher. The Committee said that higher negotiating fees are charged to coloured people; and they cite cases where registration fees of 10 to 15 guineas were charged for finding accommodation consisting of one shabby room, and charges as high as £50 even when no results followed.

I recognise that we must be careful not to invade personal rights in this matter, as, for instance, where a woman takes lodgers into her home. The Bill does not apply to any dwelling where the person letting the accommodation shares any part of the premises, except for the purpose of access. It does not affect any tenants who share with a landlady or landlord facilities for cooking, eating, toilets or washing. The letting must be of entirely separate accommodation.

I should like to sum up on these two extensions to housing and employment by quoting a speech by Mr. Bonham Carter, the Chairman of the Race Relations Board, last Saturday in Chicago, after investigating American methods. He used these words: I am now convinced that, whilst legislation cannot in itself provide the equal opportunity we must be seeking, it is none the less an essential prerequisite in tackling the problems of discrimination. Those problems undoubtedly face us today in terms of both housing and jobs, and they are likely to become more and more intractable unless we take action in time. My Lords, we are asking the House to pass the Second Reading of this Bill to encourage the Government to take action.

There are other provisions to which I will only briefly refer. The Bill applies to discrimination in credits, hire-purchase, mortgages and insurance; and again I have with me many instances of discrimination in these spheres. It applies to clubs, except where the membership of those clubs is specifically limited. I want to say at once that I am not sure that we have the wording of this clause right to express the differentiation, and I shall be happy to consider Amendments if this Bill reaches a Committee stage.

The second main feature of this Bill is to change the structure of the administration under the Race Relations Act. It is now generally recognised that further powers must be given within the structure of the administration if it is to be effective. The Home Secretary said on October 11: They"— that is the conciliation committees— find that the very process of conciliation, which is central to the whole idea, is hindered by the lack of powers to compel alleged discriminators to talk to the local committees. This Bill is not so radical as the Home Secretary; it does not propose any extension of powers of the local committees. The task of the local committees is to seek conciliation, and in my view the temper in which they endeavoured, by persuasion, to reach a settlement would be prejudiced if they were given any compulsory powers.

We propose that enlarged powers should be given to the Race Relations Board so that they can investigate complaints which the local committees have not been able to settle. To do that, in our view they should have power to subpoena witnesses, to take evidence on oath and require the production of relevant documentary and statistical evidence. If a complaint is upheld under the Bill, the Board would be entitled to make orders to the discriminator requiring him not to contravene the terms of the Bill, and to pay any damages for loss to the victim of the discrimination. An appeal would be allowed from those orders to the High Court. The Board's orders would he registered in the county court, and in the event of any breach by the discriminator the Board could bring proceedings to enforce the order as an order of the court. To enable the Board to fulfil their enlarged responsibilities, their membership under the Bill would be increased from three to eight, including one legally qualified member.

In his speech on Friday, it appeared as though Mr. Fletcher-Cooke thought the Bill would give the Board, or others, the power of criminal sanctions. This is not so. In the case of any breach of an order by the Race Relations Board, which would be passed on to the county court, the county court would not have authority under criminal law, but it would have the power to ask that the order be obeyed, and if it were not obeyed the ordinary procedure of contempt of court would follow. There is no proposal for appeal to criminal court.

Finally, there are provisions regarding incitement. Under the Bill the promotion of contempt is added to the incitement of hatred. Contempt can be more dire in its consequences than hatred. One can hate an equal; contempt implies inferiority, the extreme denial of the principle of human equality. Secondly, the Director of Public Prosecutions, as well as the Attorney General, is authorised to prosecute in a case passed on by the Race Relations Board. Thirdly, club and private associations are prohibited from publishing and distributing, even among their own members, material which contravenes the Bill. This issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, in the case of the Viking Club. Those of us who support the Bill take the view that the distribution of material inciting religious or racial hatred, or contempt, is poisonous. If any club or association were distributing drugs among its members, they could come within the law. In our view, this propaganda is as disastrous to the spiritual life of our community as the distribution of drugs would be to its physical life.

We have resisted pressure to include religion in this section of the Bill. We have done so because we want to maintan the fullest liberties of freedom of speech consistent with social welfare. Religion is a matter of choice. It is within the realm of opinion. To be a member of a particular race is a matter of creation. It is decided by birth, and no one can choose his parentage.

I have tried to explain clearly the provisions of the Bill, and to justify them. In the background there is the fundamental issue of the equal value of all persons, irrespective of their race and colour, or their religious opinion. This nation is proud of its democratic toleration and its dedication to liberty, which deep down is based on that spiritual concept. We have an Act on the Statute Book which embodies these principles, and the purpose of this Bill is to advance it to fulfilment. We are not wedded to the letter of the Bill. Your Lordships may amend it if you please, but I beg you to preserve its spirit. Giving a Second Reading to this measure which I have tried to present to this House will encourage the Government to conclude the task to which they have put their hand. I beg to move.

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

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for the clarity with which he has put the case for this Bill and, if I may say so, the moderation with which he has put it. But I am afraid that I am going to say that I hope the Bill will not go any further this afternoon. I will not go into great detail about the Bill—in fact, when I have finished, I hope that I shall have a vote of thanks from the House for the brevity of my speech. There are fifteen speakers on the list, and other noble Lords will no doubt go into details and raise matters which they think are wrong in the Bill.

My objections to the Bill are these. The principal Act, the Race Relations Act, which is in force now, has been passed only a year, and it has been operating for only a few months. As the Government described it when it was in your Lordships' House as a Bill, it is experimental. There is a good deal that is not yet known about its working and, as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, said, it is not yet working fully. There are, as I think noble Lords said, three conciliation committees out of the fourteen which are to be set up. So there is limited experience as to how the Bill is in fact working. There are various ways going on of which I understand Her Majesty's Government want to know the results. There have been certain accusations—I have no idea whether true or untrue—against certain of the conciliation committees. I take it that they are probably teething troubles. They, too, ought to be sorted out. This really does not seem to me to be a moment to try—I am not being insulting but I cannot think of the right word—to "mess about" with the principal Act, particularly by a Private Member's Bill, because Her Majesty's Government have said that, as soon as they have the necessary information, if they find it is necessary to introduce new legislation, they will do so.

I do not think I can do better than quote to the House—and this being a Minister's statement I may quote it—a couple of paragraphs from a speech made by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department in the other place on December 16. He said this: If we are to effect change we must make sure that we find the right solution, and if it be shown that additional legislation is required we must be careful to see that we introduce practical legislation, which will provide real remedies and which is not open to easy evasion. This is the important part of his speech: To do this we need more factual information than is now available. We welcome the survey which is now being conducted by P.E.P. on behalf of the Race Relations Board and the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 733 (No. 119), col. 936; 16/12/66.] That Bill, as your Lordships know, was eventually withdrawn and from reading the Report of the debate it seems that it was withdrawn for the same reasons that I am asking your Lordships this afternoon not to give this Bill a Second Reading. It is too early and if the present legislation is found, after more experience, not to be satisfactory, it should be altered by the Government. Those are my main reasons for suggesting that we should not go further this afternoon with a Private Member's Bill.

I have said that I am not going into great detail. When I thought there might be only two or three speakers I had quite a lot to say about this Bill, but I shall refrain in view of the length of the list of speakers. I will make only one or two brief remarks, in the first place with regard to certain things said by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. The noble Lord mentioned clubs. Much of this Bill, as it is drafted, in my view not only goes too far but is unenforceable. In fact, as the Bill is drawn, any private club will have taken away from it the right not to admit people to the club regardless of the grounds. In other words, if it wants to say, "We do not want people from Central Africa"—I shall use that phrase as an example—"in our private club", the committee will not be allowed to take up that stand although it is a private club. So in spite of what the noble Lord said, I think that part of the Bill goes too far.

The noble Lord also talked about complaints. He gave us certain figures regarding the number of complaints, but he did not go far enough if he was going to give numbers; he did not say how many of those complaints were found to be genuine. I interrupted him, for which I again apologise, when he said that certain complaints had been endorsed. I hoped he would say whether it was done either by the Race Relations Board or by the conciliation committees, but in fact they appear to have been endorsed by a body which might have an interest in endorsing them.

I now want to refer to a couple of points in the details of the Bill itself. The first is a matter of principle, which one can talk about on Second Reading. It appears in Clause 2(i) of the Bill. In the principal Act the offence was to "practise discrimination", and Her Majesty's Government, when introducing the Bill, took great care to explain why they chose this wording. They were particularly anxious that an isolated case of a man losing his temper or behaving stupidly should not cause a prosecution, but a course of conduct should cause a prosecution, and in my view they rightly made a strong point about this. This Bill seeks to reverse the position so that any isolated act of discrimination will be liable to prosecution. As to paragraph (iii) of the same clause, the Government were anxious to stipulate with some exactitude the places where discrimination should not be practised. This Bill seeks to go very much further, and the reason I object to this particular paragraph is that I believe it is unenforceable in this form.

I was going to say something about Clause 3 (1A) which deals with employment. I know other noble Lords will be dealing with that, and also in particular with Clause 3 (1F) which deals with insurance. I dislike both these clauses, but my principal objection to them is that they are completely and absolutely unenforceable in their new form. I do not want to say anything else, except that I should like to go back to where I started and say that it is much too early to try to amend the principal Act and I think it should be done by the Government when they have the information. It may be that I have it wrong and that Her Majesty's Government want this Bill, in which case I hope they will explain to us in some detail why. If, of course, they do not want this Bill, then they will tell us so.