HL Deb 16 October 1968 vol 296 cc1346-56

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Race Relations Bill, has consented to place Her interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time. My pleasure in doing so is tinged only with the regret that my noble friend Lord Stonham is unable to make this speech himself. We all owe him a great debt for the way in which he took the Bill through its Second Reading and Committee stage and no one is more sorry than I that he cannot be with us to-day. When, in July, he moved the Second Reading, he said that he did so in the confident belief that your Lordships would give a lead to the country in unanimously supporting the principle enshrined in the Bill—the principle of equality of opportunity, the right of all sections of the community to equal treatment in housing, employment and the whole range of goods, facilities and services which are available to the public.

I believe that we have given that lead. There have been some disagreements between us. Some noble Lords opposite think that in certain respects the Bill goes too far in dealing, for example, with small employers and landlords who have at their disposal only a small amount of residential accommodation. They have criticised the provision about advertisements or about the appointment of assessors to the courts. Other noble Lords. on all sides of the House, think that it does not go far enough in that it makes certain exceptions from the general provisions, does not give power to the Race Relations Board to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents or does not make provision for mandatory injunctions.

I respect and understand the views of those who disagree with the Government on the detailed provisions in the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said in Committee, we need not apologise for disagreeing with each other. As he said. That is what Parliament is for. We all put our points of view with sincerity, we argue them and, if necessary, we settle the matter by a majority vote at the end. I believe, however, that we have now reached the stage where there are no major differences of principle between us and that we have improved in a number of ways the Bill which was brought to us from another place. A good many people genuinely felt that the Bill was defective in that it would have permitted the establishment of "separate but equal" facilities and it was right that we should put the matter beyond doubt. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said on introducing the Bill in another place in April, one of the main objects of the Bill is that it should serve as a declaration of public policy that racial discrimination is anti-social, unacceptable and unlawful. It would have been intolerable if anyone had seriously thought that in making this declaration we were at the same time saying that "equal but separate" provision was all right; such a doctrine has no place in our society and I am glad that we have been able to make this abundantly clear.

We decided yesterday to give the Race Relations Board discretion in special circumstances to authorise the investigation of complaints which would otherwise have fallen outside the time limit of two months. As several noble Lords have mentioned in the course of our debates, serious injustice could have arisen if the time limit had remained absolutely rigid—if, for example, nothing could have been done in the case of a person who genuinely did not realise that he had been the victim of discrimination until after the two months had passed. Giving the Board this discretion is a useful provision which I am sure we can rely on them to exercise judiciously.

My Lords, several of the Amendments to which your Lordships have agreed have been rather technical—those, for example, concerning the validity and revision of contracts and those concerning conduct relating to acts abroad. These were matters which your Lordships probably felt had not been given sufficient attention in another place. These Amendments and a number of others of a technical nature have been important in enabling the Government to produce a Bill which is now I think comprehensive, fair and, above all, workable in practice.

Prejudice cannot be overcome by law alone but the overt manifestations of that prejudice in acts of discrimination can be controlled; and while prejudice can be overcome only in the long term, it is discrimination that causes resentment and tensions—and resentment and tensions are in their turn a breeding ground for prejudice. We have, I believe, provided an opportunity to break out of that vicious circle, to establish once and for all the right of our citizens to equality of treatment, irrespective of the colour of their skins or their racial origin while quite rightly rejecting the argument that by securing these rights we are creating a privileged class.

The clauses of the Bill which make discrimination unlawful and provide for enforcement have attracted a great deal of attention and comment ever since the Government first introduced the Bill; and they have occupied much of the time which your Lordships have devoted to consideration of the Bill. It is natural and in my view right that this should have been the case; but these provisions must be seen against a wider background of voluntary action in the field of race relations; and I am particularly glad that this has not been overlooked in the course of our debates. Legislation alone is clearly not enough. Other steps must be taken to increase our understanding of the fundamental causes of racial discrimination, to promote harmonious community relations and to combat other social problems such as a shortage of housing, which themselves encourage prejudice against minority groups.

It is in this context that the creation of the Community Relations Commission as the successor to the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants as a central and co-ordinating body to encourage the establishment of harmonious community relations is so important. I should like here to pay my tribute to the work of the National Committee in pioneering the way ahead for the Commission. Their contribution to the solution of one of the most important—if not the most important—social problems facing civilised societies to-day has been invaluable and will provide a firm foundation on which the Commission can build. Equally important in support of this legislation is the new urban programme designed to supplement existing expenditure on the social services in areas of special need. Against this wider background the Race Relations Board will have a most significant part to play in implementing the new legislation and in securing good race relations in Great Britain. I am sure your Lordships will wish them well in carrying out the important task which lies ahead.

My Lords, may I say, in conclusion, that I am confident that there is no Member of this House who attaches more importance to this Bill than I do. This is partly because I do not believe that the main conflict which faces us in the world to-day is a conflict between capitalistic countries and a monolithic Communism, the gap which exists between Russia and China and in the Communist countries of Eastern Europe all bursting to be free. This is not, I think, the state of affairs. The real conflict for our children and their children will be the conflict between the one in five who are white and spend 90 per cent. of the world's income, and the four in five who are black, or yellow, or coloured and have to make do with 10 per cent. Part of that problem we are beginning to see in this country.

It was, of course, a matter of pain to me when many of my noble friends and those on the Liberal Benches thought that the Government were wrong in introducing the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, but I thought then, and I think now, that the first essential in this field is that we must be able to control the rate of immigration. There must be a rate beyond which it is impossible to assimilate or integrate those who come in large numbers within a small space of time, and the situation in which enormous numbers had a legal right to arrive at any time was one which simply could not go on. Secondly, I thought, and still think, that it is essential, in view of its importance to immigrants, that immigrants should have a right of appeal against decisions of Home Office officials, however well-intentioned, and as the House knows the Government have given a pledge, which I now reaffirm, that that will be done.

Thirdly, we must have a law against racial discrimination. We all appreciate, of course, that people's minds cannot be changed by the law, but the law can set the standard and it can provide, as this Bill does, for machinery to test to see how far unlawful discrimination is being carried on. Of course, in the last resort our most important weapons in this field are the conciliation bodies of the Board and those of the new Commission.

My Lords, I must not conclude without expressing appreciation of the attitude with which the Opposition have approached this Bill. They have said that there will be no question of anybody being forcibly transported from this country, that there are to be no second-class citizens; and on this Bill from the start they have been anxious, I am sure, to see whether, free of matters of mere Party politics, we could not all join together to make the best Bill we could. As your Lordships know, that has been very much the view of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary who equally, very often against the judgment of the Government, has decided to accept Amendments proposed by the Opposition in order, so far as possible, to keep this matter free of Party politics and try to get the best Bill that we could.

Here in this House we have tried to do the same, the Government putting forward Amendments to meet points which have been raised. I am equally grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and others for the fact that they have followed us in that spirit and on many occasions not pressed to a Division Amendments which, in other circumstances or in other Bills they might have done. There was a slight fall from that yesterday when the lawyers "had at" the assessors, but this was a perfectly reasonable argument on both sides. There was a great deal to be said for both points of view. It must now be for another place to say what they make of that.

In a very fully attended Committee of 135 the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and I put forward these two different views, and your Lordships' House then decided that the other place was right and that we ought to have assessors. Yesterday, with 42 fewer Members present, the House took a different view. It was not that they were converted by new arguments; only one man changed his mind. Being interested, as I inevitably am, in the practices and procedures of this House, the other place will no doubt have to consider the interesting question: are the Lords more likely to be right when there are fewer of them, or are they more likely to be right when there are more of them there?

My Lords, I should like again to say how grateful I am to all those in all parts of the House who have taken part in what I think have been first-class debates on the many different aspects of this Bill. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, I do not know whether it would be convenient for me to make my very brief remarks now or on the Motion, That the Bill do now pass. There is a good deal of disquiet in insurance circles about the inclusion of insurance in this Bill. I have a small interest to declare, but I would explain it in this way. Most life insurance in this country is conducted either by mutual companies whose profits entirely belong to the shareholders or by companies where the vast bulk of the profits go to the shareholders. Therefore the admission of any badly underwritten life into the life fund is automatically to the detriment of the existing shareholders.

Now, there is a general belief in underwriting circles, and indeed outside underwriting circles, that, for instance, Oriental lives tend to be shorter than European born and bred lives. In this country for British lives there are tables of mortality that go back for 200 years, so the underwriters are on pretty sound ground when they underwrite. If they have to take immigrants' lives it will take a generation or two before any comparable statistics are built up, because they have not been able to find in the countries of origin that similar sorts of tables exist.

An underwriter might wish to quote a different rate for a man who is an immigrant from a tropical country, for instance, than for an existing white life in England. The disquiet is that this could be called racial discrimination. Can the Government assure us that the inclusion of insurance in this Bill is not intended to fetter the underwriter's discretion, ordinary commercial discretion, in any way, because that would go some way to reassure them? I think the Government can be reassured, on the other hand, that there is such intense competition in this particular field that the chances of anything that would amount to discrimination against an immigrant life are really virtually nil. But there is that disquiet, and if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, to whom I have mentioned this point, could be kind enough to give some assurance it would be a help.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, at Second Reading my noble friend, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, described immigration and its attendant problems as the greatest social problem of our generation. I do not dissent from that viewpoint, nor do I dissent from the remarks of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack about its international implications. It is a problem which arouses deep, and indeed violent, feelings in this country. I should like to echo what my right honourable friend in another place, Mr. Hogg—a man who I would claim has made as great a contribution as anyone else in this country to the rational discussion of this problem in recent months—said on the Second Reading of this Bill in the other place. He said that it would be a disaster for this country if any of the major political Parties were to attempt to draw purely Party advantage from this grave problem. I believe—I see that it is also the noble and learned Lord's belief—that it is in this non-partisan spirit that your Lordships have approached this matter.

Having said that, I should not wish to hide my concern at some features of the Bill. I personally regret that the ceilings in relation to housing and employment were set so low as to catch what has been termed the smaller operator. I also regret that the Government were unable to meet us, on either Report or the Committee stage, in our attempts to raise those ceilings, or at least to introduce more flexibility into their operation. While ventilating these criticisms, I also should like to say that I personally feel that it is a pity that we were not able to persuade the Government to knock more sense into Clause 6, the clause regarding advertisements. It was also, in my view, a pity that the Government were not able to be more responsive to the Amendments which were so ably advanced by my noble friends Lord Aberdare and Lord Sandford and which would have legalised discrimination in certain fields of education where that discrimination is patently in the interests of racial harmony and integration. By the same token, I felt that it was rather unsatisfactory that my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn received no satisfactory explanation of the question which he posed and which arose on Clauses 1, 6 and 16 of the Bill; namely, what sort of actions constitute discrimination which do not involve discrimination against somebody.

It would be churlish of me if I were not to recognise that in certain respects this Bill leaves us in a more satisfactory state than it came to us. I welcome the small Amendments to Clause 7 in regard to estate agents which the Government introduced in response to criticisms voiced by my noble friends Lord Conesford and Lord Brooke. I likewise, welcome the Amendment to Clause 9 to ease the position of charitable trusts, an Amendment again made in response to a suggestion from my noble friend Lord Brooke. I should like to congratulate my noble friends Lord Conesford and Lord Dilhorne for their persistence and skill yesterday in carrying the Amendments to Clause 19, thereby deleting those odd creatures, the compulsory assessors, from the Bill. Despite the special pleading, if I detected such a note, in the remarks of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack on the interpretation which he placed upon his mathematical calculations, I only hope that the Government will not seek in another ph ce to re-create those odd creatures whom we have now succeeded in deleting from the Bill.

I should like to say how sorry I am that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who introduced the Bill is not with us at present, and to express the hope that he will soon be back with us fully restored to health. I would congratulate him and also his understudy, the noble Baroness, and her understudy, if I may put it that way, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, upon the courtesy with which they have taken this Bill through your Lordships' House.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, I wish only to make one comment on the speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. In all my interventions he has treated me with such invariable courtesy that I hope he will not mind my making this friendly comment in reply. I share the view which was expressed by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, that the other place will accept the Amendment which was carried in this House yesterday, being convinced. I hope, of the wisdom of the step then taken. The only comment I wish to make is on the noble and learned Lord's arithmetic. He has a good joke in saying that the attendance was greater on the occasion on which I was defeated than it was on the occasion when I succeeded. What he did not mention was the comparative figures. On the occasion when I was defeated I was defeated by 70 votes to 65; on the occasion on which I succeeded, the vote was 57 to 36. I think that the proportionate figures may be as important as the total. If I may mention one other new factor, though I do not know what importance either he or I should attach to it, I had yesterday some Liberal support. I think that on the previous occasion I had none.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, may I reply to the question which was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke? The matter of life assurance companies is not an easy one. It has received a lot of friendly discussion between the life offices and the Home Office. The matter is primarily now not one for the Government but, in the first instance, for the Board, and any question of construction is a matter for the courts. I can certainly say that it was not intended that the Bill should interfere with the exercise of normal commercial judgment. The life offices do discriminate between one person and another, and they would probably have been insolvent a long time ago if they did not. Therefore they are not expected to do other than exercise normal commercial judgment, provided that the discrimination is based on evidence and not on a mere guess. In the case of one insurance company, it was found that they were basing their rates for coloured people in England on statistics which were applicable 26 years ago to Negroes in Tennessee. That does not seem to be sound. But in the absence of evidence they should not assume that coloured people are worse risks than white people.

This is what the Bill is about. It is not intended to interfere with the commercial judgment of employers, house agents or insurance companies; but an assumption that coloured people are bad workers, bad tenants or bad risks is precisely the sort of discrimination which the Bill was designed to prevent. If an Indian came here at the age of 30, the time when he arrives may be perfectly reasonable at which to fix rates having regard to statistics that may be available on lives in India, but it would be unreasonable to apply the same standard to a Jamaican who was born here and who was the son of a Jamaican.

All I can say as a whole, therefore, is that it is not intended to interfere with the life offices' exercising normal commercial judgment, provided that that commercial judgment is based on evidence. It is one of the purposes of the conciliation machinery to give employers and firms an opportunity to demonstrate that they have not been discriminating, in the face of allegations to the contrary. The noble Lord will remember that there is provision for assessors who can sit with the Board, and that is the sort of case where assessors with specialised knowledge in the insurance field might very well be useful.

I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, for what he has said. I am fascinated to know that he is of the opinion that the House is more likely to be right when there are few people here than when there are a lot of people here. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has raised the interesting additional question as to whether you look at the total figures, or whether it is not better to have a large proportion among a small number, rather than vice versa. Finally. I should like, if I may, to join in the tribute which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has so rightly paid to the part which Mr. Hogg has played throughout in relation to this Bill, and I should like that to be my last word.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.

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