HL Deb 30 April 1980 vol 408 cc1333-59

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. This Bill is about racial disadvantage, by which I mean the disadvantage suffered by a person because of his colour or race or ethnic or national origin, whether or not it is caused by unlawful racial discrimination. The facts of racial disadvantage have been enumerated very clearly by authorities such as Mr. David Smith in his book of the same title, Facts of Racial Disadvantage, where he showed, for example, that 58 per cent. of Pakistanis were doing semi-skilled or unskilled jobs compared with 18 per cent. of whites; that unemployment is significantly higher among minorities, that 31 per cent. of West Indian unskilled manual workers were in council housing compared with 56 per cent. of the general population; and that only 15 per cent. of Asian women over the age of 45 spoke English fluently or fairly well. Therefore, the information on which to base an assessment of racial disadvantage has been available for at least the last six years.

In the White Paper which preceded the Race Relations Act, 1976, the Government said that a comprehensive strategy for tackling disadvantage was just as important as the legal machinery they were then considering for dealing with discrimination. Yet for the last 14 years there has only been one piece of legislation on the statute book that is directly designed to help ethnic minorities to cope with the problem of racial disadvantage, and that is Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966, which this measure is designed to replace. Under Section 11 there was provision for a 75 per cent. grant to be paid by the Government towards expenditure incurred by local authorities for purposes arising from the presence within their area of Commonwealth immigrants. With the benefit of hindsight I think that we can identify five major defects in that legislation. First, that it applied only to minorities from the Commonwealth and thus, for example, it excluded such minorities as the boat people from Vietnam, although clearly the local authorities that are doing their job properly would have to spend extra money on meeting the particular needs of the boat people arriving in their areas. Secondly, that only those immigrants who arrived within the last 10 years were covered, whereas the 1971 Census showed already that over 40 per cent. of the people belonging to ethnic minorities were born here, and that proportion must certainly have risen to something like half in the intervening years.

Thirdly, that the grant was payable only towards expenditure on staff costs and was not extended to the needs of capital expenditure in this connection. Fourthly, that some local authorities were not making any use at all of Section 11; and if one looks at the figures as regards Greater London that were given by Mr. Timothy Raison in an answer in another place on 28th November last, one sees some quite inexplicable variations between one local authority and another. For example Tower Hamlets which claimed £40,000 in 1978–79 received nothing at all in 1979–80. Lambeth declined from £10,000 in 1978–79 to £9,000 in 1979–80. One can compare that, for example, with Ealing, which received £1.3 million or Brent which received £1.6 million. There is no rhyme or reason for the enormous disparities between the amounts claimed and received by one local authority and another. Finally, in the list of criticisms, I must say that the rules are open to misinterpretation, and there are cases where funds have not been used as the Act inended.

I should like to refer to a document which I received yesterday from Lady Murray, the widow of our late and much respected colleague Lord Murray, who is the chairman of the CRC in Gravesend. In this document, which deals fairly comprehensively with the criticism that I have mentioned, there is shown correspondence which demonstrates that Kent County Council did not treat Section 11 as meaning that a teacher should be additional to the basic establishment to be eligible for grant, although Mr. Brynmor John—who was then the Minister responsible for these matters in the Home Office—in a letter to Lord Murray said that one of the purposes was to encourage local authorities to provide additional staff. So, there was clearly a difference of view as to how the Act was supposed to work as between some local authorities, and the Home Office which administered the section.

These limitations had been clear for some time when, in the spring of 1978, there was an all-party attempt to improve matters by means of an amendment to the Inner Urban Areas Bill which was then before another place. That amendment which was, as I have said, an all-party amendment signed by Mr. Peter Walker—now a Cabinet Minister—and Mr. Nicholas Scott, as well as my honourable friend Mr. Alan Beith, was to have been moved by Mr. Alex Lyon, but it was unfortunately not selected because it was outside the long title of the Bill. I then wrote to the Home Secretary, Mr. Merlyn Rees, suggesting that there should be an all-party discussion on how to proceed on a matter where there seemed to be very general agreement. Mr. Rees agreed to see members of all parties. In the event, I actually went to see him alone but with the full approval of my colleagues in the other parties.

Mr. Rees told me on 20th July that he was then urgently reviewing Section 11 and, in the process, he was ready to receive views on the subject from all interested organisations including, of course, those which were representing ethnic minorities. Then, after this process of consultation, in November 1978 the Government issued a consultative document setting out the proposals. That was sent to some 4,000 individuals and organisations. It is worth noting that almost none of the recipients of this document objected in principle to the idea of removing the restrictions inherent in Section 11 which I have mentioned.

The next step was the introduction of the Local Government Grants (Ethnic Groups) Bill, which is, to all intents and purposes, identical to the one now before your Lordships, except we do not need the provisions that were contained in that measure relating to Scotland and Wales in case of devolution. That Bill was carried on Second Reading by no less a majority than 267 votes to seven on 12th March last year, and it was in Committee when it was overtaken by the Dissolution of Parliament.

My purpose in reintroducing the identical Bill is two-fold. First, there has not been any statement of policy from the Government on what they intend to do about Section 11, even though when they were in Opposition they did give a partial welcome to the measure. If they have changed their minds in the last year, then perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply will be able to explain why. If they are still of the same mind, they can facilitate the passage of the Bill. My right honourable friend the Leader of the Liberal Party put a Question to the Home Secretary on 25th February, and was told at that time that the Government had no plans for reintroducing the Bill, but they were currently reviewing the operation of Section 11.

Secondly, if the principle is still accepted on all sides—and I can imagine no reason why it should not be—then I should like to create the opportunity for pursuing several important questions of detail which arose in the debates last year and which were never properly resolved because of the Dissolution. Mr. Keith Speed, who was then speaking officially for the Conservatives, said that he was happy about grant-aiding local authorities for the purpose of removing disadvantages from which an ethnic group suffered, but he had doubts about the second and third objectives mentioned in Clause 1(2). Those are: (b) securing that the services provided by the local authority are as effective in relation to ethnic groups as they are in relation to the rest of the community; (c) promoting good relations between ethnic groups or between ethnic groups and the rest of the community. Mr. Speed thought that those provisions gave scope for positive discrimination which, of course, is a naughty phrase not only to the Conservative Party, but equally to Mr. Merlyn Rees. I was not clear how it could be maintained that, if one makes services as effective, but no more so, for black people as for white, it constituted positive discrimination. We never learned how that interpretation could have been put on the clauses, because the point was never reached in the Standing Committee.

As to the promotion of good relations between persons of different racial groups, that was, it may be remembered, a duty that was laid on the local authorities by Section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976 with, at that time, the warm approval, I think, of all parties, although Parliament never gave them any money to pay for it.

Another point that ought to be resolved is the proposal that was made by Mr. Alex Lyon that, in order to qualify for grant under the Bill, local authorities should be obliged to make a survey of the needs of their ethnic minorities, and to draw up plans for meeting them which, of course, they are not obliged to do under Section 11. There is no question of fitting the applications for grant under Section 11 into any sort of comprehensive strategy of local authorities for dealing with the question of disadvantage.

As there was no sign of action on this front, and as in our view the defects of Section 11 become ever more acute with the lapse of time, we thought that it would be necessary to give an airing to the subject now. An increasing proportion of people belonging to ethnic minorities have been here for more than 10 years, but their problems have not gone away as it was naively imagined that they would in 1966. I think that it will become impossible to use numerical formulae of any kind, such as are built into the application of Section 11—for example, the requirement that 2 per cent. of the population must be of recent Common- wealth immigrants—now that it has been decided by the Government not to ask either an ethnic origin question or a parental birthplace question in the 1981 Census.

Furthermore, there are the 15,000 Vietnamese I have already mentioned who probably need special help in acquiring English; and no doubt there will be other refugees, such as those who have been received in this country in recent years from Latin America, Ethiopia and South Africa, none of whom count for grant under Section 11 because, of course, none of those places are in the Commonwealth. It may be of interest to your Lordships to be reminded that in 1979, contrary to popular myth, there were more people accepted for settlement in the United Kingdom who were foreign nationals than Commonwealth citizens.

In November 1979 I wrote to about 100 local authorities asking them whether they approved of the Bill and, if not, what were their criticisms of it. I had an extremely good response from 76 authorities, and of those who expressed any opinion at all there was a majority of six to one in favour of the broad principles of the Bill. Quite a few referred to the consultative document rather than to the Bill, and one of their commonest objections was to the short-term nature of the grant, a point that was recognised by Mr. Brynmor John when he said in his Second Reading speech that: … in some instances longer-term funding should be provided".—[Official Report (Commons), 12/3/79; col. 62.] It was the fact that so many local authorities, including Conservative-controlled ones such as Wandsworth, Kensington and Chelsea, and Harrow, were so overwhelmingly in favour of change on these lines that encouraged us to test the feeling of the House and prompt Ministers to give some indication of their plans. I should mention at this point that not only does the Bill have the support of the majority of local authorities, but I received a letter this afternoon from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro—who told me that he wanted to be present but unfortunately could not make it—who wanted me to know that in his capacity as chairman of the Board for Social Responsibility of the Church, he is in no doubt that the board would, in principle, support the Bill. He says that the matter was recently discussed in the General Synod on a Motion of the Bishop of Guildford, and although no formal decision was reached, the response was such that it could fairly be said that those responsible in the Church of England for this area would be in sympathy with the intention of the Bill. I am very glad to know that the Church has been discussing the matter and that this is the general view, as outlined by the right reverend Prelate.

I suppose that we could continue for some years more using Section 11. We could, if this Bill is passed, merely redistribute the same amount of money more equitably, spreading the jam more thinly, as the London Borough of Enfield put it in its reply to our questionnaire. Or, we could increase the resources available so that the existing programmes are maintained and new ones instituted. Mr. Brynmor John said, when he introduced the Bill last March, that an extra £50 million was to have been provided over the next three years, and that in 1982–83 the grant would be 70 per cent. up on the grant for that current year.

One appreciates that the general policy of this Government is to control spending far more strictly than did the previous Government, but there are necessary exceptions. As Mr. Peter Walker warned several times before the election, if we are not going to spend money on eliminating racial disadvantage, we shall be storing up very serious trouble for a few years hence, and there will be a far greater burden placed on the community by false economies now.

What would we be able to do under this Bill that we cannot at present do under Section 11? There was, in fact, a very comprehensive list of suggestions set out in the consultative document; I shall not weary your Lordships with a recitation of them all, but I shall just very briefly mention some examples. The first is staff and facilities for ethnic record-keeping. This is an important facet of the proposals, because if local authorities do not keep ethnic records, they cannot monitor their own performance and see whether they are complying with the terms of Section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976. The second example is hostels for homeless young people, an extremely important and essential duty of local authorities and one which they are obviously not able to carry out under Section 11 because, as I have mentioned, that does not cover capital expenditure.

The third is advisory staff and literature in other languages to improve take-up of services. Here again, any local authority which has a substantial number of refugees in it might wish to print literature in their own language so as to help them, when they first arrive, to have access to the social services that are available to people, whether immigrants or natives. The fourth is social facilities to combat the isolation of women in the home. I have mentioned the large percentage of women of Asian origin of 45 years and over who do not speak any English and who, therefore, tend to be very isolated and unable to play their full part in the social life of the community. Finally, the development of youth clubs, which I need hardly emphasise, is an extremely important development in certain inner city areas where historically this kind of facility has been notably lacking.

In the memorandum placed in the Library by the Home Secretary about the disturbances in St. Paul's, Bristol, we are told: The police, like other agencies and representatives in the St. Paul's area, were taken by surprise at the turn of events Whatever the proximate cause of the violence may have been, is it not at least possible that the young people there, sensing the hopelessness of their aspirations and condemned to what they see as a perpetually second-class citizenship, were lashing out against what they see as the forces of white supremacy? I spoke to Mr. Peter Courtier, the ACRO in Bristol, this morning and he told me that the CRE there submitted a number of schemes on behalf of voluntary groups in the area concerned with ethnic minorities, but that the county council did not support any of them under the Urban Programme; that the city council did submit one or two schemes on behalf of voluntary bodies, and one of those was concerned with youth facilities for recreation and evening education, but it was given priority No. 7 in the list and was, therefore, not selected. He tells me that since the riots this project has been resubmitted as a special case and has now been approved.

I hope that we do not have to wait until riots take place in other areas before we give attention to the problems of racial disadvantage. Certainly Bristol had no more reason to explode than many other areas of other cities; an ominous grafitti has appeared in some areas of South London—"Bristol first, Brixton next". And Mr. David Lane said in a speech to the Young Conservatives in Leicester on 1st December last year: I have never accepted the inevitability of racial violence in London or in Midland or Northern cities, which has been prophesised so insistently by Mr. Powell and others. But my optimism assumes that politicians and others will he aroused to take preventive action in time. Indifference or inaction will turn today's problems into tomorrow's violence". We are not talking in this Bill about conferring any special privileges on minorities, but—if I may paraphrase Mr. John—about translating a notional equality of eligibility into a real equality of access to community services. The facts of life shown by those many different surveys I have mentioned, conducted by academics, Government departments and independent institutions like the Tavistock Institute, the Runnymede Trust and PEP, are that minorities and particularly blacks get the short end of the stick in almost every area of life: in education, housing, health, employment and social services. We believe that a just society is one that gives all its citizens, irrespective of their colour, race, ethnic or national origins, the same benefits and the same chances as anyone else. This Bill would be a small step in that direction. I beg to move.

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

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to give a warm welcome to this Bill and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for introducing it. There is no doubt in my mind that it is needed, and I believe that the need for it can be seen even more clearly as a result of recent events, as I shall mention in a moment. As the noble Lord has explained, the Bill is almost the same as the Bill of the same name which was introduced by the last Government, except for the powers relating to devolution which were in the last Bill but which are not in this one. In all other respects the terms, provisions, and purposes of the two Bills are identical.

The main purpose of the Bill, as the noble Lord said, is to replace Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966 with wider powers to help disadvantaged people who belong to ethnic minorities. Perhaps I should say here that I know that some of us, including some of my noble friends, do not particularly like the terms "ethnic groups" or "ethnic minorities", and so on, but it is difficult otherwise to find a comprehensive and all-embracing term to cover the various minorities, black, coloured and white.

For some time now there has been wide and growing agreement that Section 11 has become out-of-date, and that was why the last Government brought in their Bill last year. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has chosen the right moment to introduce his Bill even if the actual timing has been somewhat coincidental. Recent events certainly have—and here I would wholly agree with him—underlined the fact that the existing provisions for helping disadvantaged people who belong to ethnic minorities are out of date. The events that I have particularly in mind recently are the disturbances this month in Bristol. Whatever are found, as a result of the various inquiries which were announced in your Lordships' House on Monday by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, to be the underlying causes of those disturbances, they have undoubtedly served to focus attention on the need to do more to help our inner city areas and to assist those members of ethnic groups who are at a disadvantage.

As my right honourable friend Mr. Merlyn Rees, the former Home Secretary, pointed out in another place on 3rd April, the day after the Bristol riots, and again last Monday when Statements were made in both Houses, the existing provisions under Section 11 are indeed out-of-date and need to be revised. I share Lord Avebury's views about the weaknesses of the existing provisions. He has already mentioned a number of them, so that I do not need to remind your Lordships about them again.

There were, I think, two additional matters which perhaps the noble Lord might have alluded to, but which certainly can be added to those which I recall he mentioned in moving the Second Reading. First, a further serious weakness of the 1966 Act is that the problems which need to be dealt with are wider than can be covered by the problems relating to language and customs which come under that Act. Again, under the existing Act, immigrants have to be in a particular area in substantial numbers, and that means that there is—and the noble Lord may have alluded to this—undoubtedly a statistical difficulty here. It means that some areas which are too small to meet that requirement have to be left out, even though they ought to have the sort of special help which would be possible under this Bill.

The Bill is clearly designed to overcome those weaknesses and deficiencies that the noble Lord mentioned and of which I have also reminded your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, also mentioned the reference made by my honourable friend in another place in moving the Second Reading of last year's Bill about the provision of grants, when he said that the consultative document which the then Government had already issued the previous year before introducing their Bill rather overemphasised the short-term nature of the schemes envisaged under it.

It turned out not only in Lord Avebury's survey but also in the course of the discussions that went on on that consultation document that what the local authorities—those of them who were concerned about any matters under these proposals—were concerned about was the short-term nature of the measures which could be undertaken under the proposals as they then stood. As the noble Lord has indicated, my honourable friend said that the Government at that time were prepared to adopt a more flexible attitude and recognise that in some instances longer-term funding should be provided. I mention this only to emphasise that this really shows the value of these consultations. Although that particular consultation document perhaps did not fall within the category of Green Papers, it demonstrated the same sort of principle.

I do not intend to detain your Lordships by going into the matters of principle more fully. The noble Lord has already given a thorough explanation of the Bill.

I also regard it as of great importance that this reform would widen considerably the categories of services for which money could be provided; notably the broad social service category, including especially the health services. There is only one other matter to which I should like to refer, and that is the survery undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, last November to see what local authorities thought of the proposals in the Bill. That was a useful piece of work, and I am grateful to him for passing on a digest of it.

What struck me particularly about it was the spread of agreement among a large number of local authorities about the need for these provisions, and the fact that these included some of the more sizeable local authorities, but also that there was a great variety of local authorities throughout the country who felt the need for this reform, including, may say, local authorities controlled by different political parties. I very much hope that this spread of support which has emerged as a result of that survey, and indeed in the course of the consultations earlier, will be reflected in your Lordships' House tonight and that noble Lords in all parts will speed this Bill on its way.

7.17 p.m.


My Lords, I take rather a different view of this Bill because for many years, in fact since 1959 when my late husband was Secretary of State for the Colonies, I have known many of our friends who are the subject of this Bill. I have met them in their countries of origin. I have also met them since they decided to come to live amongst us. This Bill refers to them all as "ethnic groups" which, like the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, I dislike as a term, but it is a term that perhaps we have to use tonight. This term ethnic groups, means a group of persons distinguished by colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origins". The noble Lord seeks by this Bill, as we know, to replace Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966. This section of the Act was put in as a result of very high immigration figures, and the obvious need to help those members of the Commonwealth who were strangers to our environment and whose language and customs differed from our community. But in 1968 the number of immigrants from the Commonwealth was 136,000; in 1978, 10 years later, there were 82,000. But taking Africa and West Indies together, in 1968 there were 34,000 and in 1978, 10 years later, that figure was halved and it was 17,000; whereas those who decided to return to their original homes in Africa and the West Indies totalled 12,000 in 1978.

Clause 2 of this Bill asks for grants to be paid to local authorities for removing disadvantages from which an ethnic group suffers. We are all well aware—and sometimes only too well aware—that this group suffers from disadvantages. Their housing on the whole is not as good as we should like, they do not always have equal opportunities of employment and they sometimes find themselves with a lower standard of education. In 1975, for instance, it was found that mothers among them with children under five worked longer hours than other mothers with children of the same age. In Leicester, 85 per cent. of coloured mothers with children under five worked; in Manchester, 77 per cent.; in Bradford, 44 per cent.; and in Wolverhampton, 41 per cent. compared with the national average of 50 per cent. of all mothers with children under-five. Section 11 provides help in all those areas and to implement it the Government expect to contribute in excess of £40 million during the current year under the Act.

To remove—that is the wording of this Bill—all disadvantages is, I am afraid, utopian and will take many decades to bring about, much as we should all like to see it. The next part of the Bill asks for expenditure to secure: that the services provided by the local authority are as effective in relation to ethnic groups as they are in relation to the rest of the community". The services are there. The local government offices are staffed by people trained to help all the citizens of our country and I cannot believe, as the Bill implies, that those who belong to the ethnic groups are treated in any way differently from the others, and Section 11 covers that. In Clause I (2)(c) the Bill asks that expenditure should qualify for a grant for promoting good relations between ethnic groups or between ethnic groups and the rest of the community". Here again, I suggest that Section 11 and the money provided is able to promote what the noble Lord has in mind.

However, in my view—maybe I am the only person who thinks this way—no amount of legislation, whether under this Bill or Section 11, will promote good relations. That can come about and succeed only if we want it to be a success. Perhaps it is like a marriage; two people decide to live together and they are normally fairly happy and content with their lot. Occasionally there are rows and misunderstandings—perhaps like Bristol—and both partners have to work really hard to re-establish their former harmony. That is where, in my view, the numerous voluntary organisations can and do play a vital part in promoting the good relations we would all like to see. From the churches and meeting places, which should also include carnivals in the streets, to the schools and the homes, I suggest that more can be done in this sphere by people of goodwill than can ever be done by Act of Parliament.

There is another side to this coin. Many of the ethnic groups are now of second generation; they were born and educated here and have grown up here and are now part of our country. They pay their rates and taxes as we do. Although we do what we can to smooth their path, is it not time that we stopped alluding to them and treating them as though they were different? It seems to me that Section 11, backed up by the large amount of money the Government provide and aided by the voluntary agencies, is adequate to deal with this problem. I shall therefore oppose the Bill.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, is opposed to the Bill, because she takes a very progressive view on most matters, particularly social matters, and often I tend to agree with her. I am sorry that on this occasion not only do I not agree with her but I doubt whether her late husband would have agreed with her either.

I have said in your Lordships' House more than once that the problem facing this country is not an immigration problem but a race relations problem, and it is necessary for us to address ourselves to it as such. So far we have not done so, and if the attendance in your Lordships' House is anything to go by, we are still where we were because when, recently, we were discussing some immigration rules, this House was packed. This evening the House is nearly empty, so we still have not got the point. This country has a race relations problem with which it must deal because unless it deals with it there will be difficulties, and it cannot be dealt with merely by talking about immigration or tightening the immigration rules. The noble Baroness illustrated my point beautifully when she used the illustration of the West Indians and the extent to which they are already going back. But the situation vis-à-vis the indigenous population and the people of West Indian origin in this country has not improved. On the contrary, it is getting worse. We know that most of the youngsters with whom we have problems—I know a great deal about this—are of West Indian origin. Therefore, the fact of West Indian migration having ceased has not changed the subject because the subject always was what it is, namely the need to break down certain barriers.

Of course, all people—I was going to say of a certain class, but I mean people who are working, say, at a certain level or are living in certain areas—have problems in common and those problems are tackled by programmes for inner city areas or programmes of urban aid or by the social services. Yes, those are all ways of dealing with those problems in common, but over and above them, the people who are distinguished by the colour of their skin have additional problems, and that is what we are talking about. It is that racial disadvantage with which we must deal. That racial disadvantage requires additional effort and for that effort there is need for additional resources. I do not know that it is absolutely necessary for the Government to provide the resources in the way we have agreed. For example, the Government could decide that the Commission for Racial Equality should have a very large budget and be required to cooperate with local authorities in dealing with the problems in their areas. That would be one way of providing the necessary resources.

What I am quite certain about is that the resources need to be provided; what is more, that they need to be aimed at the problems, where the problems are, and where they can be dealt with. Of course, Section 11 of the 1966 Act does not enable us to do that. After all, Section 11 does not apply to the second and third generation blacks in Liverpool, yet they are as racially disadvantaged as are those in Brixton—in many instances more so.

Therefore, we must try to bring ourselves to look at the issues properly and recognise that we have certain problems, that the problems are the result of racial differences and of certain attitudes to race, that those attitudes need to be broken down, that the consequence of those attitudes is that there are certain disadvantages that people of a certain colour suffer, and that that situation must be removed if we are to create a cohesive society.

These are principles which we must all accept and on which we must all work, because unless we do that, we are bound to have trouble. I find it difficult to understand why, following the evidence from the United States—and there is a lot of it—this country has not learnt the lessons that are there to be learnt. The Americans have reached the stage where they have to indulge in positive discrimination. Do you know why they have to indulge in positive discrimination, my Lords? It is because over the years they have allowed their blacks to suffer discrimination which has put the blacks at great disadvantage, and now today the only way that they can balance the situation is by positively discriminating in favour of the blacks.

We do not want to get to that stage. We do not have to get to that stage. What we need to do at this stage is to remove the obstacles. One thing we have done. We have passed a law making discrimination illegal. It deals with overt discrimination. But we must deal with covert discrimination as well; and dealing with covert discrimination is more difficult and requires many of the resources we have been speaking about.

Legislation will not of course remove these obstacles—not by itself. What legislation does is to declare the public's attitude to certain matters. That is what we do when we pass legislation. We make certain declarations, and when we pass legislation such as that now before us, in addition we provide some resources to help carry out the declaration that we have made, to help to attain the objective that we have set. That is what we do.

Of course the voluntary organisations will have to do the job, but the local authorities will need the funds to help the voluntary organisations to do that job. This is where the Bill comes in, but, as I said earlier, it could possibly be done in other ways. However, what is required, and what I hope the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will announce, is a commitment by the Government really to deal with this matter and to provide the necessary resources.

We must provide these resources. We must take seriously not only the question of racial discrimination but also the question of racial disadvantage, because it is racial disadvantage that makes youngsters rebel in the way that they do. They regard the situation as hopeless, and they regard themselves as not belonging; nothing that they can see suggests that they belong; nothing that is done indicates that they are wanted. That is why they rebel, and that is why we must give them hope; we must do things that make them feel that they are wanted. One advantage of a grant would be that many of these youngsters could have a second chance—for instance, through grants to the further education colleges. This is the kind of thing that is required. I have taken more time than I intended to take. I hope that, whatever the final outcome of this particular debate, the Government will firmly fix their minds on the need to deal with the racial disadvantage which exists in this society and which must be overcome.

7.37 p.m.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for describing his Bill to us with his usual clarity. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, I found the remarks of my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve, speaking from her wide experience and with her usual sympathy and compassion, most persuasive. The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, speaks with such invariable charm that I find it quite impossible to venture to cross swords with him in the debate. In fact the mere idea of crossing swords with the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, I find very difficult to conceive.

I wish, in three or four sentences, to say why I am not attracted by the method that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has suggested for the revision of Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966. I do not like the method for two reasons. The first is that the whole aim of this Government, and of most local authorities, is to rely upon the general rate support grant, rather than upon specific grants. A plethora of specific grants tends to complicate administration and to confuse responsibility.

The second reason is that it is my impression that special schemes centrally laid down for ethnic minority groups sometimes tend, contrary to intentions, to segregate such groups further. I like very much what my noble friend Lady Macleod said about what the supreme aim should be with ethnic minority groups. I, too, feel that the aim should be as far as possible to treat their members in the same way as other members of society, with as few as possible being treated as special cases. I can well believe that, in cases where an ethnic group forms a high proportion of the total population, it would be right that this factor might be taken cognisance of in the computation of the rate support grant, as indeed are other factors concerning inner city areas.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, may well be right when he says that Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966 needs to be looked at again, but I suggest that this should be done, after fresh consultation with the local authority associations, by action initiated by the Government themselves. For those two simple reasons, really, I am not enamoured of the method that Lord Avebury has chosen to revise Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966. I would find it very difficult indeed, therefore, to vote for his Bill as at present drafted.

7.40 p.m.


My Lords, although my name is not on the list of speakers, I wonder whether I might ask the indulgence of the House to intervene, having listened to the debate. I speak as an ex-local government chief officer, and it is for that reason that I am a little puzzled and bemused by some of the things said by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and by the noble Lord, Lord Pitt. As a local government officer, if one went through the various departments—particularly, I must say, in the area where I worked—one found that whether you were on the housing list did not depend on where you came from, who you were or what you were. What mattered was that you subscribed to the rules and regulations of the housing department. Houses were allocated according to the points system regardless of who you were and where you came from; and I would submit there was no discrimination. I think I would be right in saying that there is no housing department in this country which would discriminate.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Baroness? There was a survey carried out not so very long ago—I am sorry the noble Baroness has not read it—in which several local authorities were in fact questioned about their housing policies, and it was discovered that quite a few of them were discriminating.


My Lords, I think they may have different points systems. I may be wrong, and the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, may well be right, but certainly the local authorities with whom I have contact had exactly the same points system for everybody in their area, no matter who they were; they just had to subscribe to the points system. Secondly, when it comes to youth clubs, for instance, certainly in the area where I worked everybody was entitled to join a youth club whoever they were, and thought was given to every single person.

I am sitting on a committee of inquiry into the education of children of the ethnic groups, set up by the Department of Education and Science. Certainly I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, that there are problems there, but I would submit that it is not a problem of colour but of culture. It is a problem of how we can weave the culture of the people who have come to this country into our culture, so that both the indigenous population and those who have come to this country can be woven in together.

Finally, my Lords, having worked extremely closely with the Community Relations Committee I have learned that one of the great things is that those who have come to our country want the dignity of being treated with equality. They do not want a better service or a worse service; they want the same service. If they do not get the same service, and if they ask for more than is given, nobody realises more than the great friends I have in the ethnic minorities that it will be counter-productive. As I say, I would submit that very often it is a question of culture, not of colour, and that we do not want to discriminate one way or the other for any group in our community.

7.44 p.m.


My Lords, the provisions of this Bill are very wide, and they have enabled the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to express his long-standing and deep concern for ethnic minorities and the difficulties which they face. But, although your Lordships who have also spoken in this debate clearly share the noble Lord's concern, not all noble Lords who have spoken see the solution to the problems we have been discussing as being best met by the provisions of this Bill. I should like to make it clear that the Government share the concern which has been expressed, but if the principle of equal opportunities for all our citizens is to be genuine, then I suggest that we must recognise the extent of the problems which face all people whose circumstances call for special help and who live, usually, in the most deprived parts of our inner cities.

That is why the Secretary of State for the Environment has introduced the concept of enterprise zones; that is why we have retained resources for the urban programme; and that, particularly, is the reason why the Government believe that the greatest help they can give to all our citizens—including, of course, ethnic minorities—is to do everything possible to put the economy of the country back on to a healthy and prosperous footing. Unless we can achieve that, efforts to meet the needs of all disadvantaged groups will be fruitless, because there will not be jobs, demand or wealth for people to secure.

I do not believe that the view I have just expressed differs in any real respect from that of the previous Government, which originally introduced the Bill on which this Bill is based. In November 1978 the previous Administration issued a consultative document, and in paragraph 4 of that document this was written: The Government's basic analysis is that a great deal of the disadvantage the minorities suffer is shared with the less well-off members of the indigenous population, and that their most fundamental needs, for example for jobs, housing, education and health services, are essentially the same as those of the general population. It is, therefore, through the main expenditure programmes that these needs should be met, and the Government—like its predecessors—has not thought it right to contemplate meeting all the needs of minorities from special funds separate from main programmes". Those are the words in the previous Administration's consultative document of November of two years ago.


My Lords, will the noble Lord go on reading the document? There is another sentence, or another paragraph, just after that, which says something else.


My Lords, clearly the previous Government and this Government will be seen, as I say a little more, not to be seeing matters entirely eye to eye; but the paragraph which I have just quoted I think illustrates the point which has been made by many noble Lords in this debate, which is that this Bill goes off in a direction which many noble Lords feel is ill-advised, in that it would set up a wider-ranging, special fund involving significant additional resources. At the moment, the level of expenditure grant aided by Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966 amounts to a considerable sum. The 1978–79 grant was paid on a total expenditure of just under £39 million, and we know from the figure given in connection with the previous Government's Bill that additional expenditure was proposed for that of some £10 million in the first year if that Bill had become law, rising to some £24 million additional expenditure in the third year, at 1978 prices, if that Bill had become law. Moreover, legislation of the kind which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is laying before the House would require not only that but additional staff, both centrally and locally, at a time when we are trying to restrain the growth of staff in the public service.

Having said that, may I say that I realise it is only natural to want to spend public money on objectives which each one of us considers to be desirable. I have done it many times myself. Indeed, I have ventured to make speeches to your Lordships, and I have certainly listened to a lot of speeches from noble Lords in all parts of the House, saying that this is what we want to do. But I must remind the House that, although total spending grant aided under Section 11 has reached some nearly £40 million, there are now reasons for looking very carefully at extra expenditure. Apart from the need to restrain public expenditure at the present time, many of the problems of community relations I think need solutions other than the mere spending of money; and I am bound to say that the Government are not persuaded that this measure is the best or the most effective way of helping ethnic minorities.

The whole object of the Bill is to enable grants to be paid in respect of work with ethnic minorities in a way which appears to cover not only people who are newly-arrived in this country but also subsequent generations. Such a policy would have the disadvantage of identifying positively people whose families have been citizens of this country for many years and who, certainly in some cases, could resent being picked out in this way.

I was interested in preparing for this debate to learn of an article published last winter in New Community which told of recent research on a cohort of 16-year-olds and which, although finding that ethnic minority children are likely to suffer educational disadvantage—which was what I would expect for a variety of reasons—this no longer applies when you look at the cohort when it refers to second-generation immigrants. It is a finding of that kind which one must take to heart and not always lead to the conclusion that, because people have come to this country from overseas, they therefore continue in the family in subsequent generations to be deprived and to look upon themselves as deprived. I do not believe that that is the case. I do not deny that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury (and Lord Pitt made the same point) may well have a point in saying that Section 11, as it is administered at present, focuses too narrowly on the problems of being new to this country.

Soon after taking office, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced in another place that he proposed to undertake an early review of the operation of Section 11. The noble Lord mentioned this. I want to tell the House that the review has reached an advanced stage and that it has been looking at precisely the sort of points which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boston, in his speech. It has already become clear that there may be scope within the framework of the present legislation for changing the current administrative criteria which restrict the scope of Section 11 grants. But any changes could have implications which need to be studied carefully, and would need to be discussed not only within Government but also with such other interests as the Commission for Racial Equality and the local authority associations.

After listening to the speech made by my noble friend Lord Amory, I think that it would be highly necessary for the Government to discuss seriously with the local authorities what their views were. We certainly hope to be able to make an announcement about the outcome of our review before too long. Meanwhile, I think that my noble friend Lady Macleod was right in claiming that Section 11 is none the less playing a useful part in encouraging equal opportunities. Nearly 90 local authorities now receive grant aid which, in the last financial year, totalled approximately £33 million. For instance, £6 million was paid out last year to the Inner London Education Authority. Without this sort of aid, many authorities would have difficulty in meeting the special needs of ethnic minorities living in their area. These are not simply obvious needs like language teaching. Increasingly, grant aid under Section 11 is helping with the provision of staff and dealing with a range of social problems including housing advice officers, careers and employment advisers and social workers. Moreover, there is no sign of any falling off in the rate of applications for new ventures.

I am in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, in his call for removing racial discrimination, wishing thereby to see the consequences of its removal. But I do not think that we should fall into the trap of thinking that the answers to these problems necessarily lie in the field of resources alone. We must surely also be willing to persist in efforts to remove grievances and to fight prejudice and misunderstanding. This, I suggest, is not a job for Government alone. We all have a part to play. The ethnic minorities must play their part in making a wholehearted contribution to the community; but at the same time the problems of the minorities must be met with sympathy and understanding. Life in this country must not be allowed to become a matter of different cultures subsisting in self-contained compartments. I must say that some of the speeches of my noble friends have been made because they fear that the consequence of this Bill would be to perpetuate that situation. All healthy cultures develop; in the context of race relations they can do so only if we break down the barriers, and particularly the barriers of prejudice and intolerance.

It is against this background that the Government believe that in the present situation it is better to strive to improve the working of Section 11 than to replace it. We think it is open to question whether the proposals in the Bill would achieve better results. They certainly would be more costly. This is unacceptable at a time when restraint on public expenditure is such a vital element in trying to improve the economy for everyone. The single best thing that the Government can do for the ethnic minorities is to lay the foundations of a prosperous and healthy economy. At the same time, the Government do not underestimate the gravity of the problems which face us in the short term. I hope that the Statement about Bristol that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary made on Monday proves that the Government are ready to take steps to promote and try to improve race relations.

This debate I think has been valuable and has enabled the Government to make clear that the operation of Section 11 has been actively and genuinely reviewed. However, the Government take the view that the noble Lord's Bill could not be practicably implemented in the present economic situation, even if doubts did not exist (as they do) about the principle of what the noble Lord proposes. I hope therefore that following this debate the noble Lord will not wish to proceed to Committee stage.

7.56 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for the information that he has given us about the review of Section 11 of the Local Government Act which is now being conducted by his right honourable friend. I welcome his hint that perhaps the criteria for the award of Section 11 aid might be changed by administrative means that would not require legislation; because whether or not your Lordships agree to give this Bill a Second Reading this evening, I had not anticipated that it would go through all its stages in both Houses by the Summer Recess but I simply felt that by means of the Committee stage we should be able to ventilate some of the problems raised in the other place and which I mentioned earlier.

Before I ask your Lordships to agree to a Second Reading, as I intend to do, I hope I may deal with one or two points raised particularly in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. He said, as if I had claimed that it was a job for the Government alone to improve race relations, that this is not a job for Government alone and that we must involve voluntary organisations and bodies of all kinds. I did not say that we should not involve them. I am not suggesting that this Bill is a panacea for the removal of disadvantage. I support the efforts that the Government are making through the Commission for Racial Equality and the local CRCs to tackle the job in a variety of ways. To suggest that because we are proposing that certain resources should be devoted to the removal of disadvantage, we are ignoring all other means of tackling the problem is, I think, a little unfair of the noble Lord.

The noble Lord said that in the present economic situation we could not afford to increase the grant aid made available under Section 11, grant aid which, he said, was running at something like £40 million a year. As I said in my speech tonight, we have two options: either to redistribute the amount presently being made available by the Government under Section 11 so as to widen the scope—or, as I put it in the words of the London Borough of Enfield, to spread the jam more thinly but probably more equitably than at the moment—or, as the previous Government intended, to increase the amount of resources we are putting into the removal of disadvantage.

While I never said and do not say now that resources are the only key to the solution of this problem, I am in agreement with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, that what we have done is to go to the opposite extreme: we have hidden our heads in the sand and, as he said, the situation has not improved but got worse with the longer period that people belonging to the ethnic minorities have been in the country. With respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, it is not a question of recent arrivals. As I said earlier, this was a mistake that Parliament made at the time of the Local Government Act of 1966 in thinking that the problem would disappear with the lapse of time and that the only people we needed to help were those who had arrived in the last 10 years.

The noble Baroness herself recognised that people who have been here much longer than that suffer from disadvantage. She mentioned in particular housing, employment and education. She said that to remove all these disadvantages was to aim at a kind of Utopia. I agree that in the present economic situation we probably have not the resources to do everything that we should like. In common with certain other priorities that the Government have selected as being immune from the cuts—namely, defence and law and order—the problem of racial disadvantage is of such overriding importance that it would be a mistake to exclude it from this special consideration.

Therefore, my Lords, I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading so that we can go into a Committee and discuss more fully the objections that the noble Baroness and others have raised this evening and so that we can continuously monitor, by the discussions that we are having in this House, the developments that the Home Office are bringing forward with regard to the consultations with local authorities and the revision of Section 11. This is the way in which we can keep a close eye on what the Government are doing, and I hope that your Lordship will agree to a Second Reading.

8.1 p.m.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Lord Amherst of Hackney)

My Lords, the Question is that this Bill be now read a second time. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content". I think the Not-Contents have it.

Several Noble Lords: Content!


Clear the Bar.

8.5 p.m.


My Lords, Tellers for the Contents have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 50. A Division therefore cannot take place, and I declare that the Not-Contents have it.