HL Deb 03 February 1975 vol 356 cc686-709

4.17 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, to revert to the Race Relations Bill, I should like to express my appreciation of the speech delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the very forthright declaration made by my noble friend Lady Gaitskell. I hope very much that Her Majesty's Government will give facilities for this Bill. I understand their difficulties. More than two years ago the Race Relations Board made recommendations in their annual report for fundamental changes in the Race Relations Act. In this House I introduced an amending Bill which reflected those recommendations. The answer of Her Majesty's Government was sympathetic and indicated that the matter was under review. I have since had conversations with the Home Secretary, and I know that it is his desire to reintroduce in the next Session of Parliament an amending Bill, which I hope will include most of the recommendations of the Race Relations Board.

I regret that consideration will be postponed until the next Session, which will probably mean that its application will be postponed until January 1977, but I appreciate that the Home Secretary intends, meanwhile, to introduce a Bill dealing with sex discrimination. I welcome the fact that the proposals for that Bill admit in the case of sex discrimination all that we have been demanding in the case of racial discrimination. It is true that the recommendations of the Race Relations Board included the proposals contained in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. But I want to submit to the Government that this was only an incidental proposal to much more fundamental changes in the function of the Race Relations Act, and that, while a review is being made of those much larger issues, Her Majesty's Government, in view of the delay involved, should immediately deal with the problem which is raised in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

I do not think that there is any doubt among the Members of this House that when the Race Relations Act was discussed, although it was the intention of Parliament that clubs of a political character—excluding those which did not accept a specialist basis, and national clubs, whose members were of a distinct race—should have the right to determine their membership, in the case of clubs which extend to the whole community, and which have no specialist basis, race discrimination and the colour bar should not apply. I do not think there is any doubt that that was the view of Parliament. But, as my noble friend Lady Gaitskell has indicated, the terminology of the Act seems to have been such that the Law Lords could decide that it did not apply in this case.

I do not know how many Members of your Lordships' House are frequent attenders at the great working-class clubs which now exist in the North. They are the modern music hall. The whole population goes to them. I have been in these clubs in Lancashire where I have met a bank manager and a solicitor. The occasions are such that the whole community are gathered around their tables, men and women having their drinks, listening to star entertainers who are now often paid more money at these clubs than for television appearances. They are such community occasions that to apply race discrimination to them, as well as the colour bar, is a denial of the whole principle of racial equality.

I want to suggest that, in view of the fact that any amending Bill to the Race Relations Act introduced by the Government, which reviews its whole range of functions and which extends them greatly, must be postponed in application, probably until January 1977, the immediate issue should be dealt with urgently. If it is not, the racial feeling that has been occasioned by the House of Lords judgment will become intensified and race relations will worsen during this whole period. This issue is not a part of the review which Her Majesty's Government are making of the entire functions of the Race Relations Board. It is incidental to it; it is separate from it and it ought to be dealt with separately. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will agree to the passage of this quite small Bill, which will, nevertheless, have a very considerable effect in improving the race relations of this country.

I know that its programme is crowded, but this small Bill—in this House and in another place—could be adopted without postponing any urgent legislation, and its adoption would make a considerable contribution to better race relations in this land.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, in venturing to address your Lordships, I must start with an apology that I was not present at the inception of the debate as I was sitting in an Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House. I mentioned the matter to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who was good enough to say that he would not take it amiss if I intervened. Having missed the opening of the debate, and having heard what the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has said, the fact that I missed the beginning of the debate is a matter for regret as well as apology.

Although I have cause to have personal objection to racial discrimination, I do not propose to address your Lordships on the merits of the Bill. Indeed, I would not intervene if I proposed to discuss the merits without having heard the opening speeches. There are two reasons why your Lordships would probably think it wrong for me now to discuss the merits of the Bill. The first is that the Bill is to some extent controversial, and on the whole it is better for those who hold judicial office to try, if possible, to avoid becoming involved in controversy. The second reason is that I was myself a member of the Appellate Committees which decided both the Charter case and the Preston Dockers' Labour Club case, and your Lordships would certainly not approve of a Member of your Lordships' House, who holds judicial office, discussing the merits of any judgment before your Lordships sitting legislatively.

My object is a much more limited one, which is to make a suggestion with a view to improving the communication between Parliament and the courts of construction whose task is to ascertain the meaning that Parliament is expressing in a Statute. I venture to intervene on this Bill because it provides a striking example of what I propose and what I mean. The Act which this Bill amends in this respect, was, I think your Lordships will all agree, defective in bringing beyond any doubt to the mind of a court of construction what Parliament intended to do about clubs. In fact, all the guidance that was finally given to the courts lay in the words, provision to the public or a section of the public. Clearly, that was inadequate, because although, as I hope to satisfy your Lordships, the final decision was in accordance with the assurance that had been given by the leading Minister as to the effect of those words, that was only very narrowly achieved.

In the first case, my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest dissented and in both cases the Court of Appeal came to a different decision from that to which your Lordships' House came on final scrutiny. One must remember that the starting point is that for a number of reasons the courts do not look at the Parliamentary proceedings in order to ascertain the intention of Parliament. My own view is that this is carried too far and that in the clinching case the rule might well be reviewed. But there are powerful reasons—which are, in fact, mainly practical—why the courts do not look at the proceedings in Parliament, and the last time the matter was considered, by the Law Commission, it did not recommend any abrogation of that rule.

What could be done is this. In many cases, situations arise before the courts which Parliament does not envisage. That is, of course, inevitable, and the courts must do their best with that sort of situation, with a view to finding out within the wording of the Statute what was the intention reasonably to be ascribed to Parliament, had it envisaged that situation. However, where a situation arises which has been envisaged, then, in my respectful submission to your Lordships, it should not be left in doubt, for if left in doubt it can lead only to the unsatisfactory kind of situation which has given rise to the present Bill.

As I say, my Lords, I am not discussing the merits of the Bill, and when I speak of an unsatisfactory situation I mean that a number of courts have taken different views as to what Parliament intended and that a matter had finally to be pursued on two occasions to your Lordships' House in order to ascertain the meaning. In fact, on no less than four occasions the Act of 1968 has been brought up as far as your Lordships' House for its meaning to be elucidated, but only two of those cases are relevant to the present Bill. I mentioned that on this occasion the situation was envisaged. I say that because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, who was Lord Chancellor, was specifically asked about the matter of clubs in the context of the 1968 Act. He was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who said: I should like to ask about three clauses in the Bill. First, Clause 2, which refers to facilities and services. I wonder whether this includes clubs. Many clubs do not practice discrimination, but some do."—[Official Report, 15/7/68, col. 98.] When the noble and learned Lord replied for the Government at the end of the debate, he referred to the query that had been raised and said: My noble friend Lord Strabolgi raised several points.… Then he asked about the clubs. Clubs, as such, assuming they are bona fide clubs, are not covered."—[Official Report, 15/7/68; col. 156.] My Lords, I do not suggest that what a Minister says should bind the courts, although it might well be a guidance. What I do suggest is that when an assurance of that sort is given it should be the subject of specific amendment. It could then have been made clear that it was the intention to exclude clubs. That would not necessarily have commended itself to Parliament, which might have rejected such a proposal and instead made it quite clear, to avoid litigation and heart-searching when an adverse decision was come to, that clubs were covered. Alternatively, the matter might have been ascertained and determined finally on the sort of compromise that is contained in the Bill now before your Lordships. In other words, it might have been provided that certain clubs should be covered and that others should not. All those three possibilities could have been discussed by Parliament and the one chosen could have been inscribed in the Bill, and much expensive litigation and much money that might have been spent on better things by the Race Relations Board could have been saved.

My Lords, there is another disadvantage that could have been avoided. Inevitably, when decisions are taken such as those to which your Lordships' House, sitting judicially, came, those decisions cause much heart searching to a number of our fellow-citizens who suddenly find that they have been denied protection sought on their behalf by the Race Relations Board. They are a class of our citizens to whom it was the whole objective of the 1965 and 1968 Acts to extend the protection of the law, and it can be by no means to their advantage if they are led to think that the law is capricious in its legal and forensic institutions and is denying them a protection for which they were looking.

Therefore, my Lords, without intervening in any way on the merits of the Bill, I ask that every Government and every proponent of a legislative measure should seriously consider whether it should not be a constitutional convention that, when a situation is envisaged to which a measure is meant to extend or not to extend, that should, unless the matter is plain beyond any question, be written specifically into the Statute so that the court of construction is left in no doubt.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, if I do not attempt to follow the noble and learned Lord who has just resumed his seat it would be for two quite sufficient reasons. One is that I could add nothing from any expertise that I might profess to what he said, and the other is that he seems to me to have made an unanswerable case for the furtherance of those means of communication which in the future could well avoid the kind of contretemps to which he referred. I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for raising this issue and I wish heartily to support the intention and maybe the Second Reading of the Bill which involves that intention and that purpose. I do so for a very simple reason. I am not unnaturally attracted to a moral issue and this is, incontrovertibly, basically a matter of morals. But in this particular case it is much more than that, and I would delay your Lordships a little by reminding your Lordships that if, as my noble friend has suggested, there is a relationship between the music hall and the workingmen's club, there is an even greater, more intimate relationship between the workingmen's club and the fellowship of the Churches, particularly the Non-Conformist Churches, of about fifty years ago. It is no surprise that the motto of these particular clubs is: Honour all men. Love one another. Use hospitality, and be not neglectful of strangers. Your Lordships will well know that this is a digest of the twelfth chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, and is specifically referred to almost in precise terms in St. Peter 1–17. This is no accident. The Mowcock Methodists, the Durham miners, the Calvinists of the coalfields of South Wales began in fellowships which were associated with the Churches, and in many cases the clubs are the residual legatees—perhaps unwilling and unfortunate in some respects, theologically—of this tradition. Therefore, it would seem to me impudent as well as totally irrelevant to talk of the 3,000,500 members of these clubs as though they belong to some kind of private society. They are indubitably a section of the public, and for that reason they are entitled to be regarded as within the ambit of the Bill. It is an insufferable insult, as it would appear to me, to exclude on the grounds of an impersonal quality those who could, I think, be excluded if the quality of the particular club were personal. In this regard I find highly agreeable the argument of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, that the distinction, the discrimination if you like, between the private and that club which is a section of the public, is that the differentiation in the one case is impersonal, whereas in the private club it is strictly personal. This seems to me quite a sensible argument and would dispose of many of the difficulties in this particular case.

My Lords, there are inherent stupidities as well as obvious and large scale moral evils in this particular exclusion from the provisions of the Act of the workingmen's clubs. One is that you will by so doing create second, as well as first-class citizens of these clubs—those who are able to respond to the invitations which are lavishly expressed in the trade papers, of visiting friendly and other clubs and being welcomed therein. There will be those who are welcomed because their skins are grey or white; there will be those who are not welcomed because, it is a shame, their skin was darker than that. Furthermore, there is an added complication, and it is an even more sinister and stupid application of the provisions of this Act—that if Mr. Sherrington had come with his dartboard he would be acceptable. As a member of the darts team he would be acceptable in the very club in which, when he professed to desire a drink, he was excluded from the opportunity of having it, and wounded, as one of the noble and learned Lords said quite properly, in his spirit by the very fact that he was so excluded.

I do not know how quickly the Government will express their intention to rectify this quite obvious mistake in the interpretation as put forward from the intention which, in the first instance, intended that these clubs as sections of the community as a whole, should be free of the racial poison which infects the community so largely. But I should like to add to the argument which, without any question, has been put with overwhelming force, that one of the supreme enemies of any equitable relationships between various groups who make up this multi-national society today is cynicism. I spend a good deal of time listening to people who are quite sure that there is no longer anything like craftsmanship in the community, only craftiness. This is quite wrong and I am ashamed to think there are not a few people who ought to know a lot better, who have been rushing into print over the last few days to point out how, in their judgment, there is no such thing as justice and honour in the community any longer. But cynicism in regard to race relations is deeply imbedded, and I wish to echo what has already been said so forcibly that there are many who have persuaded themselves, if indeed they needed much persuasion, that the whole thing is a mockery and they take as their instance this particular reference to the exclusion of clubs from the actual provisions of this Bill, of this enactment.

Furthermore, the situation is urgent. It may well be that the Government may be able in due time, and quickly, to bring forward such legislation as will equate the intention of Parliament in the drafting of this Bill with the interpretation that Law Lords most properly put upon it. But it is urgent. It may well be that before long there will be increased pres-sure on unemployment. If that is so, it is likely that the relationships between black and white will be exacerbated.

There is no doubt that in times of stress it is easy and highly likely that people will look around for those whom they can blame. I therefore believe that it is in the public interest—whatever the particular difficulties and long-term prospects of a new kind of Race Relations Bill which will deal with many of the problems yet unsolved—for this particular and simple Bill, if acceptable to your Lordships' House, to become statutory. Mind you, in the immortal words of Bruce Bairnsfather: If the Government can provide a better 'ole I am quite happy to go to it. But I cannot see that this is the kind of problem that brooks delay. I certainly think it is a monstrous iniquity, and I can speak in the spiritual presence, I am sure, of my ecclesiastical colleagues who, were they here, would speak on behalf of the Churches they represent. I speak on behalf of the Church I represent, and say that we regard it as an enormity, a piece of social injustice which can be put right, which ought to be put right and, in the terms of Lord Avebury's Bill, I think, can, in fact, be rectified.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I did not put my name down to speak, but I hope your Lordships will allow me to intervene very briefly, just to make two points. First, I would remind your Lordships as to the function of this House when sitting in its judicial capacity. That function is solely to interpret what Parliament has enacted. When any of their Lordships sit in a judicial capacity their personal inclinations, individual desires, must be suppressed in favour of the task that is allotted to them; that is, to decide what Parliament has enacted. Parliament is supreme, and Parliament passes measures by the use of the English language and must be assumed to intend what it means. There was a case a little time ago in which somebody suggested that an Act of Parliament might really be disregarded, because Parliament had been misled when it put a particular measure on to the Statute Book. One could not tolerate that for one moment. Parliament is supreme; and what Parliament enacts must be followed. Those of your Lordships who sit judicially and who are given the task of deciding what this means must fulfil this task to the best of your ability. There have been about four cases that have come to this House arising out of the Race Relations Act. I think that in at least three of them, five Law Lords—and different Law Lords—have not been able to arrive at the one conclusion. Therefore, I think it would be difficult to say that in passing the Race Relations Act Parliament made its meaning entirely clear ; and I think that my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale, in regard to clubs in particular, has demonstrated that that was so.

What was meant by the words of Section 2 of the Act? The section reads: It shall be unlawful for any person concerned with the provision to the public or a section of the public (whether on payment or otherwise) of any goods, facilities or services to discriminate…". What about a West End club? Was a West End club one that was concerned with the "provision to the public or a section of the public?". Those words gave room for very considerable doubt—and a doubt that met with different answers by those who had to endeavour to solve the problem. That is my first point, that I do not think it can be said in this case that Parliament made its meaning entirely clear. Nor can it be said that those who sat judicially were in any way giving a fair wind to any false policy or to any wrong approach. That was not their task. Their task was, to the best of their ability, to decide what Parliament had enacted. I would support entirely what my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale has said, in regard to a situation where a Minister has answered a specific question and perhaps has informed your Lordships or another place as to what is the intention of Government. It would be very desirable in all these cases if that could be introduced specifically into a Bill.

Like my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale I do not wish to speak to this as a measure. The only other point I should make is in regard to subsection (3) of the new Section 4A. The subsection reads: Nothing in this section shall render unlawful an act which is done on the ground of race or ethnic or national origins by or on behalf of an association the essential nature of whose objects and activities is to provide goods, facilities or services for persons of a particular descent or particular ethnic or national origins including the provision of opportunities for social intercourse between such persons. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has really acknowledged— indeed, has pointed out—that those words could be applied so as to defeat the purpose that he has in mind. Could not any association make a rule saying that the object of the association or club is to provide goods, facilities or services et cetera for those born in London, for those born in the United Kingdom, or for those of a particular nationality?

I think that there can be no doubt— and I believe that the noble Lord has said so—that the only sanction following these words (if they were passed) in favour of what he so ardently desires, would be the sanction of public opinion. As it seems to me, these words if enacted could not achieve the purpose, if the purpose is to make it unlawful in any circumstances for a club to have a colour bar. I repeat that I do not wish to express an opinion in regard to the Bill itself, but I hope that those two points might be of some help in this debate.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, one thing has been achieved in the course of this short debate. It is that the two noble and learned Lords from the Cross-Benches have made a very earnest plea for greater clarity in draftsmanship. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, has explained in this forum very much the point he had in mind when he made his speech on the Preston Dockers' Labour Club case in the Appellate Committee, when he made some interesting suggestions in a general context in relation to drafting and interpretation. What has happened, now that this House sitting judiciously has considered the 1968 Act twice, is that they have established what was the policy, so it would appear, of the Labour Government who introduced that measure as a Bill. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, the then Lord Chancellor, said that it was not intended to include clubs, then that is what has been achieved at the end of the day. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, shakes his head, but I am referring to a quotation from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner. If he did not intend to include clubs, that is what the law now is and that is what this House, sitting judicially, has decided that it is.

If this is to be changed—and this is where I am a little anxious—then, first of all, we must decide to what it is to be changed. Here I am very much in agreement with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, that if, under this Bill, someone wishes to escape from the rigours of even this proposed stricter and more restrictive law, then I have little doubt that, with ingenuity, he can do so. I shall come back to that point a little later.

My Lords, perhaps of more importance is the fact—and this is something which, it appears, no other speaker is concerned with this afternoon—that I do not know what organisations or associations are covered by subsection (2) of the proposed new Section 4A. This is of some importance, because if the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, is right, and he usually is right, in thinking that the Government are proposing much more sweeping legislation in due course, I have little doubt that he, at any rate, anticipates that there will be included in this legislation some powers whereby the Race Relations Board can investigate—and, indeed, force evidence to be brought before it—the activities which it is entitled, under its remit, to look after.

If the proposals in this Bill are the law at the time when extended powers are given to the Race Relations Board, all the activities embraced by subsection (2) will be covered and will be capable of being investigated. This means, I think—and I should like to know what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, thinks it means, or what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, intends it to mean—that almost any association of people, however informal and for whatever purpose it is set up, unless it is done specifically for the purposes dealt with in subsection (3), will be caught by the law as it will then stand, and will then be susceptible of investigation and inquiry by the Race Relations Board.

The noble Lord, Lord Soper—and I entirely agree with him—said that there may possibly be, in times to come, an occasion or a period when there is a danger of pressure being applied by one colour to another because of something like unemployment. There may be an occasion when race is used as a lever or as an excuse for some act to relieve frustration. I believe that one of the points one has to consider most carefully when seeking to legislate on race relations is that the balance should be right.

I personally abhor the facts of the Charter case and what happened to Mr. Sherrington, but I do not believe that people, in seeking to put them right, spurred on by abhorrence of these things, should wholly disregard areas of privacy and personal choice of such a small and intimate character that the records of the law are not suitable to delve into them. This in itself, I am afraid, is the other side of the problem, and it is a side where an injudicious use of power would be liable to stir up the trouble that the Race Relations Board, and everybody else concerned with this problem, is trying to prevent. I am therefore worried about the extent of subsection (2). I am worried anyway, because 1 do not know how small an organisation would have to be in order to be caught. I made this point to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, when he introduced his Bill. I do not believe I received an answer to my question then, as to what was meant by the wording which is largely reproduced in this Bill today.


My Lords, may seek to indicate it now? I think we would all agree that where there is any association of people, who are joined with a specific purpose, that specific purpose should apply to their association. The only purpose of this Bill would be that, where you had an association of people which was broad-based and brought in the whole of the community, racial discrimination and colour bar should not apply.


My Lords, that is extremely interesting. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, had a slightly different interpretation of the area he thought ought to be covered. If I may respectfully say so, I do not think the Bill is apt to draw the line in either of the noble Lords' places. If that is so, it is a serious fault. Maybe there are reasons other than the one I gave, but the one I gave is, I think, good enough. Therefore, I am very concerned about this being done in that way. This is a major matter of principle—the extent to which the club should be covered, the definition of the club that is intended to be caught and the one that is still intended not to be subject to this rule.

I am anxious that this House should not give a Second Reading when we are so far apart as appears to be the case about the principle involved. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will be able to give some assistance on this point. I hope that he will be able to give us some enlightenment about the Government's policy as a whole. However much this decision or the facts that gave rise to it have upset people, I would rather see a fully considered and total piece of legislation, if legislation we need at all, rather than doing it in bits and pieces in the way now suggested. I believe that the full inter-relationship of this Bill with something that may come along in the next Session may not be fully understood. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will be very careful about this, and that the Government will not readily accept it without seeing where it fits into their general scheme of things.

If noble Lords are worried about the urgency of doing something on the facts of broad political clubs and the rules they make, is it not right that we can rely in this regard upon the other side of the accepted principles of the Race Relations Board, which is: example, education and persuasion? That can be done without any exertion at all of new powers. I was delighted to hear that the Trades Union Congress and other organisations were bringing about a certain campaign to try to enlighten those who still run a colour bar in these clubs. I see no reason why that should not be done widely, and why it should not fill the gap until such time as the Government propose further legislation.

I cannot see that this Bill is so urgent, particularly in the light of those campaigns that are going on, that we should throw caution to the winds and allow a new principle to be established, a new principle of associations which appears to be very widely based and which, in itself, will lead to a lot of litigation as to the extent of the prohibition of the discrimination which they may practise. Therefore, I am afraid that I strike a note rather contrary to what has been said this evening. I do not do it because I wish to support racialists; I do it because I wish to see a balanced pattern of legislation. I am afraid that if this Bill is passed we shall have failed to consider properly what we are doing, let alone fit it into the wider context that is most desirable.

5.8 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, let me begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for bringing this important matter before the House. As I said on the last occasion that we were having a debate along these lines, the noble Lord's dedication to the cause of minority rights is widely known and respected. May I, on a personal note, say how much pleasure it gives me to follow my noble friend Lady Gaitskell. She has spoken vigorously on many occasions for the under-privileged, both as a Member of this House and as a member of the British delegation to the United Nations. Nothing would have given Hugh Gaitskell more pride than to hear her speaking this evening so forcefully for the cause of racial equality to which he dedicated his life. May I also at this stage refer to the important speeches made by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest. They have raised a number of significant questions, both for the present Government and their predecessors. Their words repay careful study, and careful study their words will receive.

Let me make it clear that we on this side of the House have, as I am sure have many other noble Lords, much sympathy for the aim of the Bill. There is no doubt that the decisions of the Appellate Committee of this House in the cases Race Relations Board v. East Ham South Conservative Club and Race Relations Board v. Preston Dockers' Labour Club have caused grave concern—concern not only among minority groups but also among all those in this country in the majority communities who strive for tolerance and an end to discrimination. None of us would question the Committee's judgment or that of other members of the Judiciary in interpreting the law as it is, the law as it leaves us, the legislators. The Race Relations Act of 1968 was drafted with the intention of excluding from its provisions bona fide private members' clubs. In these two cases the Court of Appeal initially found that the members, associates or guests of the clubs were "a section of the public", but this view was not upheld by the Appellate Committee. The sum effect of its decisions seems to be that any club which operates a form of scrutiny of prospective members is not taken to be open to "the public or a section of the public".

These decisions have most significant consequences. This is most easily exemplified in the case of some 4,000 clubs which are affiliated to the Working Men's Club and Institute Union and which have a total membership of about 3½ million people, of whom about 1 million are also associate members of other than their own clubs. Of course, there are many other clubs affected by the judgments of the Appellate Committee which are not members of the Club and Institute Union and which also play an important part in the life of the community.

The Government are committed to ensuring fair and equal treatment for all, regardless of colour. This is important in recreation and the use of social facilities, just as it is in employment and housing. There is no true equality if a man is excluded on racial grounds from sharing the recreation of his fellows: a society supposedly integrated in work and segregated in leisure is dangerously divided. I believe it to be a denial of the principles for which all Parties represented in this House stand. I have much sympathy, therefore, with the principal aim of the Bill, to extend the application of anti-discrimination legislation to clubs except those with a genuine ethnic base. In our society, colour is not an acceptable ground for exclusion.

It follows that the Government wish to correct such injustices. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is aware that I have assured the House that the Government are conducting a wide-ranging review of all existing race relations legislation. As part of this review, we are considering what is needed to correct the situation created by the Appellate Committee's judgments in the two club cases. We are looking at the scope and effectiveness of the 1968 Act; we are examining the roles and powers of the Race Relations Board and the Community Relations Commission; we are considering how best to act positively in this crucial and delicate field of community relations. The Government do not think it wise or practical to act on the clubs' issue in advance of these wider proposals for strengthening the law against racial discrimination; there might well be some interplay between the review as a whole and the issue of clubs in particular. But my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has given an assurance that the interval between the introduction of the new sex discrimination Bill and legislation to strengthen the Race Relations Act will be as short as possible. The Government would not contemplate a marked imbalance in the respective powers of the Board and the Equal Opportunities Commission for longer than was strictly required by the demands of the legislative timetable.

In view of the past history, I am also especially concerned that new legislation in this field is as free from ambiguity as we can make it. It is my conviction that the Bill now before us is far from precise. There are several minor points which no doubt some redrafting could correct; but there is one major area where, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, the effect of the Bill is at least highly debatable. Clause 1(3) exempts from the new provision any act which is done— on the ground of race or ethnic or national origins by … an association … to provide goods, facilities or services for persons of a particular descent or particular ethnic or national origins … This is a brave attempt to get over the difficulty of the cultural association which is identified by a label which refers to racial or national origins. We are not, however, persuaded that the attempt is successful. The Bill as drafted would unquestionably permit of discriminatory clubs, for example, confined to persons whose national origins lay within the United Kingdom or Europe. Thus it would be possible to form "patrial" or "European only" clubs which would be outside the scope of the legislation and would, in my judgment, gravely undermine it. It would be ironic indeed if in legislating against the discrimination which now exists we were unwittingly to give legal sanction to such discrimination in another guise.

This is precisely the sort of problem which the Government will seek to resolve when they draft their own legislation. Definitions will require the most careful and detailed consideration. It is also important, as I have said, that any changes we make in the existing law affecting clubs should be interrelated with the other changes which flow from the review of race relations legislation which the Government are now conducting. In view of the criticisms made earlier by noble and learned Lords, on this occasion when we amend the 1968 Race Relations Act we really must do our best to get matters right. The consequences of failing to do so would cause a great deal of disquiet, and not only to the minority communities in this country.

Obviously it is not my intention this afternoon to invite the House to vote against this measure. On this side and, I am sure, in other parts of the House, we sympathise with its objectives, and I can only urge the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to withdraw his Bill pending the completion of our review and in anticipation of comprehensive legislation which we intend to introduce and to which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary attaches the greatest importance.

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am disappointed, though I cannot say I am surprised, by the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. I suppose the introduction of my Bill will have at least partly justified itself because it has led to a very strong and forthright statement on behalf of the Government that legislation will be introduced to cover the question of discrimination at clubs, and will in effect reverse the rulings which are the subject of this debate when the equal opportunities legislation is on the Statute Book and when the consultations have been completed.

However, I do not think I should let the debate end without making some comment on the points which have been raised in criticism of the Bill. Perhaps I should also take this opportunity of thanking noble Lords for their extremely valuable and welcome support of the principle involved, and also for the way in which they have expressed their views. I should like to pay a particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, whose speech I much appreciated; it was one which I thought was extremely powerful. When she described prejudice in clubs as being "primitive and irrational", she was certainly not exaggerating. I hope that her words will be widely listened to and borne in mind when discussions take place between the TUC and the clubs, and when those who are members of committees have occasion to decide on the admission of black Africans to membership of their clubs.

The criticisms made by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, must be taken into account. I certainly would not dismiss them as having no bearing on this situation. I think one must reply to the question, addressed to me in particular, as to whether the Bill had the effect, and possibly the intention, of dealing with small and, as I think he called them, "trivial" situations. He asked on the other hand: should we not regard some areas of privacy as being worthy of preservation? The principle set out in the 1968 Act was that domestic situations were always treated as private and beyond that Parliament did not express in so many words any opinion at all—though I take the point which was made about the statement of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, during the Committee stage of the 1968 Act.

I would have thought that "a section of the public" ought to have been interpreted in the light of the definition implicitly contained in the 1965 Act. If one looks at Section 6(2) there, it says: Publish' and 'distribute' means publish or distribute to the public at large or to any section of the public not consisting exclusively of members of an association of which the person publishing or distributing is a member. The implication of that definition is that an association is a section of the public, because otherwise it would not have been necessary to provide for that exception to the definition in Section 6(2). If one looks at the question of the interpretation of the words as they stand, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, invited us to do, I should have thought that one construed the Act by reference to the 1965 Act and one could disregard, as, indeed, the court did, references to other legislation such as the Copyright Acts which were dealt with in those cases of Charter and the Preston Dockers' Labour Club.

The answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, is that unless one states what is the minimum size of an association, then obviously there is no minimum. The Bill as it is drafted covers any club or organisation of individuals comprised within the definition of "an association" and makes no distinction as to whether it consists of three or 300 members. Surely the logic of this is that in other public situations, such as a public house or restaurant, we do not ask whether or not the establishment is a popular one; we do not say to the proprietor of a restaurant, "How many customers do you have in the course of an evening?" and if he has only two or three then we exclude him from the provisions of the Race Relations Act. No more, therefore, should we do so in the case of a club. But the noble Viscount must know that, in practice, the Race Relations Board do not set out to look for situations involving one or two people, and that if their powers of investigation are increased, as many of us hope, they would confine themselves to the important cases of principle—such as the one with which we are mainly concerned this afternoon—in which 3½ million people are members of clubs affiliated to the CIU. The Race Relations Board are extremely unlikely to deal with the case of a purely social get-together of two or three people, a coffee morning or something of that kind held under the auspices of the local Mothers' Union. So the noble Viscount was raising difficulties which would not exist under the terms of this Bill.

He said that example, education and persuasion should provide the solution, and that he could not see that this Bill was so urgent that a new principle ought to be established that would lead to a lot of litigation. First of all, I should have thought that we knew by now that example, education and persuasion, while necessary, are not enough in situations of this kind. This is the reason why Parliament has successively found it necessary to enlarge the scope of race relations legislation; and I am sure we have not yet reached the end of this process. If he does not see that the Bill is urgent then he cannot have had very much dealing with members of minority communities; nor has he listened to the comment which has been made by them or by persons concerned on their behalf, particularly since the decision in the Sherrington case. Nor do I accept that a new principle is established by this Bill. It merely extends the principle which is already set out in the 1968 Act; that discrimination should not be permissible where a section of the public is concerned. What we are really doing is simply extending the meaning of the words "section of the public". It would not lead to a lot of litigation, as I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, pointed out. There have so far been four cases which, because of the opaqueness of the 1968 Act, have come before this House sitting in its Judicial capacity. What I am doing in this Bill is simply clearing up one area of opaqueness which has led to two out of those four cases. While admittedly the interpretation has been made, and it is not likely that any further club cases will come before your Lordships' House sitting in its Judicial capacity, it is nevertheless important that Parliament should state what it really meant. I do not believe that a lot of litigation would result.

I am also disappointed—and this is the last remark I want to make—that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, should have mixed up, as I see it, the role and powers of the Board and Commission with the question of how those powers which are at present conferred on them are exercised. The sweeping review which is being undertaken and which will result in changes which are modelled on the equal-opportunities legislation is one matter—admittedly of great importance—and how those powers are exercised at the grass-roots is another. We have to consider the situation as we find it and not as we should like to see it on 1st January 1977, as 1 think the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, said. He does not anticipate that any legislation introduced in consequence of this review would become effective before then. This is precisely my point. We have to wait almost two years while this sore of race relations is festering away in the clubs. That is why it is extremely disappointing that the noble Lord did not feel able to accept the Bill this afternoon.

Before I sit down I should perhaps deal with the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that it would be possible under the terms of this Bill to form patrial or European-only clubs. I recognise that this is a major problem. Once one admits that bona fide clubs having national memberships, such as I imagine the London-Welsh Rugby Club, should obviously be permitted to exist, how does one draft a Bill in such a way as to exclude what I call the overtly racialist clubs which exclude all except Europeans, for instance, or except Londoners, as I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, mentioned? I do not see any way around this problem and, having discussed it with a number of lawyers, 1 am convinced that, however long the Home Office may choose to look at it and however skilled their lawyers may be, if one is to admit the London-Welsh one will also at the same time make it possible (1 say no more than that) for a patrials' club or a whites-only club in some other form to come into existence.

However, it is one thing for the East Ham Conservatives or the Dockers' Labour Club at Preston to say that they will exclude a black person without actually having a rule to that effect in their constitution, and quite another for them, looking at Clause 1(3) of this Bill, to bring a resolution before an annual general meeting or a special general meeting and ask their members solemnly to affirm that they will practise racial discrimination. Those who have been to the Dockers' Labour Club and inquired of the members what they feel about it, as opposed to what the committee feel about it, find there is quite a lot of shame and disgust at the decision of the committee. I believe that if racialists on the committee were to introduce such a provision into the rules, or to attempt to introduce it, at an extraordinary general meeting, in 99 cases out of a 100 it would be defeated. In the one case where the Dockers' Labour Club, or any other similar institution, inserted such a provision into its constitution, I believe that the CIU, or whatever the parent body might be (because the Conservative clubs or Liberal clubs also are affiliated to similar organisations), by disaffiliating them, would ensure that that rule was rescinded. Otherwise they would be denied the benefits which they obtained from association with a large number of similar clubs up and down the country. This would be the sanction against explicitly racial rules being written into the constitution.

My Lords, having said all that, I know that it is useless for me to persist in the face of opposition from the Government. In legislation of this kind it is necessary to have the support of the Government of the day. Therefore it would be foolish for me to carry this Bill to a Division. I hope that as a result of what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has, said, and as a result of the efforts being made by the TUC and those who are on our side at the clubs, we can exercise education and persuasion, as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, suggested, in such a way that the damage can be minimized. However, I think our failure to take this Bill any further this afternoon will have adverse results. It will allow racism to become more strongly entrenched in the clubs and those who have refused to take it further have the very serious duty to do everything in their power to ensure that the effects are minimised.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn

Bill, by leave, withdrawn.