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Racial Discrimination

Volume 606: debated on Thursday 4 June 1959

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The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what report he has received from the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis regarding the death of a West Indian citizen in the Kensington area in the early hours of Sunday, 10th May; and if he will make a statement.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in view of the recent murder of a West Indian in the streets of Notting Hill and of attacks upon the property of coloured residents in that area, he will issue a public statement deploring such manifestations of colour prejudice and violence; if he will draft extra police into the district to ensure the preservation of law and order and the protection of the persons and property of coloured British citizens; and if he will use the resources of his department to initiate the vigorous and sustained education of public opinion about race relations by all means and through all media available.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many extra police have been assigned to the North Kensington area since last September.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will state the number of prosecutions of North Kensington residents during the last twelve months who have been concerned respectively in acts of violence, drug trafficking, prostitution, living on the earnings of prostitutes or keeping disorderly houses.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to what extent Her Majesty's Government has investigated the causes of racial tension in certain areas where violence and incitement to violence have occurred; and what proposals are under consideration for combating the dissemination of racial prejudice and removing the causes of racial strife.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will move to appoint a Select Committee or other ad hoc body to examine the problems of areas which have received large numbers of immigrants from overseas.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal
(Mr. R. A. Butler)

I will, with permission, and for she convenience of the House, now answer Questions Nos. 61, 62, 72, 73, 74 and 75 together.

I would appeal to anyone who can help the police in their investigation of the recent deplorable murder of a coloured man in Notting Hill to do so.

It is the duty of the police, which they will discharge impartially, to maintain law and order; and I am satisfied that the Commissioner of Police has made adequate dispositions for this purpose.

Racial discrimination has no place in our law and responsible opinion everywhere will unhesitatingly condemn any attempt to forment it. I am satisfied from consultations which I have had with my colleagues mainly concerned, and from consultations which have taken place with local authorities, voluntary bodies, the official welfare organisations and the police that everything possible is being done, and that every effort will continue to be made in areas where there is a large coloured population to encourage their effective integration into the community.

Standing arrangements exist, on both the Ministerial and official levels, for the effective co-ordination of the work of the Departments concerned; and I do not consider that any special inquiry is called for at present.

As regards the extent of crime and violence in Notting Hill, I am informed by the Commissioner of Police that the number of North Kensington residents prosecuted for offences committed in the area in the year ended 31st May, 1959, were 75 for acts of violence, 7 for drug trafficking, 131 for soliciting, 11 for living on the earnings of prostitution and 5 for keeping disorderly houses.

I should perhaps add, in order to put the position in perspective, that the Commissioner informs me that during the past six months the great majority of the cases of serious assault reported to the police sub-divisions covering this area—118 out of 156—involved white persons only and that only 16 involved white and coloured persons.

While deeply appreciating the Home Secretary's statement, may I ask him whether he will agree that there was very little evidence of racial hatred before certain organisations became active in that area? Is it not significant that these organisations are allied in thought to organisations which created racial enmity in the 1930s? Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take any action about those organisations?

We are watching the situation closely and I have discussed this matter with the police authorities. If there is any evidence whatever that any activities are being undertaken which are calculated to lead to a breach of the peace or of public order, the police will take steps under their existing powers to deal with such organisations.

As there is very deep and genuine concern about this matter on both sides of the House, and as it is rather complex and difficult to cover by Question and Answer, will my right hon. Friend agree to receive a small deputation of hon. Members of all parties to discuss the situation in detail, from both short-term and long-term points of view, since some of us on both sides have made as close a study as we can of this matter and have also personally visited the area and feel that we can make some constructive and practical suggestions?

Yes, Sir. I saw my hon. Friend yesterday and suggested to him that if a deputation of hon. Members of all parties wished to call upon me I should be only too glad to receive it. I have already received representatives of the local authority and of the voluntary societies concerned with the area, and I should very much like to see any hon. Members who are interested.

While welcoming the Home Secretary's statement, particularly his firm remarks on racial discrimination, may I associate myself with the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) and express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider this matter in conjunction with other hon. Members interested and will not rule out the advisability of appointing a small committee to produce an urgent report? It is a matter on which all of us feel considerable anxiety lest a further outbreak may occur.

Yes, Sir. I think that the situation will have to be watched literally from day to day and that the more contact I can have with those who have knowledge of the subject the better.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that while it is perfectly true, as he said, that racial discrimination forms no part of our law, there is nothing in our law to make racial discrimination itself illegal? Does he not think that the time is rapidly approaching when there ought to be?

Part of what I said was that it was not known in our law, and perhaps deliberately to take action against it might not be so effective as the hon. Member might think. That is why I do not want to step into that part without a great deal more consideration.

Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the Press that it can play a very big part in preventing these racial troubles and that very often the way the Press reports matters can bring in people who should not be brought in and that it creates a situation which makes it possible for racial hatred and racial struggles to take place? In Liverpool, we have a very big coloured population and we have no difficulty at all. We have not had difficulty for some time. The right hon. Gentleman might care to study what is done in Liverpool to prevent this sort of thing and he might suggest to the Press that it should be very careful about reporting matters connected with racial discrimination.

It is, naturally, possible to fan a particular incident, or to treat the matter wrongly. My contacts with the Press indicate that it is willing to take a responsible view of this matter. I have studied the position in Liverpool as well as that in other large cities where there is a colour problem and I shall study all the evidence that can be brought to me and maintain my contact with the Press.

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that in 1937 and 1938 the House gave serious consideration to a somewhat comparable situation in the East End of London, at the time of the Fascist agitation. By common consent, the House unanimously passed the Public Order Act, 1937, which makes possible prosecutions against those who foment disturbances of this kind. In the consideration now being given to the situation in Notting Hill and elsewhere, will the right hon. Gentleman consider whether that legislation is adequate for the present situation? If not, will he seek to introduce new legislation?

Yes, Sir. If any hon. Member has any views on the Public Order Act, perhaps he will put them to me. I have studied the legislation in question, but as at present advised I Think that we have sufficient powers. However, it is a matter which will continue to receive constant attention.