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Race Relations Act

Volume 885: debated on Thursday 6 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he intends to publish a Green Paper in advance of legislation to amend the Race Relations Act; at what date; and if he will make a statement.

Before any new legislation is brought before the House, I shall make known the Government's proposals so as to give all concerned a full opportunity to express their views. I would not at this stage like to commit myself as to the exact form in which we will communicate the proposals.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable anxiety on this issue, particularly amongst community relations councils and community relations officers? Does he agree that it is vitally important that the Government should not make up their mind too early, particularly in view of the fact that the Select Committee on Race Relations has now decided to investigate the organisation of race relations administration in this country?

Yes, I am aware of the Select Committee's decision and I welcome it. I hope that it will be able to proceed with reasonable expedition. I do not think that my hon. Friend, or my hon. Friends generally, will wish us to lose the time scale which I have in mind for race relations amending legislation in the next Session, in which we shall also have to consider the form of the organisation of administration. I am anxious to do that. In the natural order of events that will involve my publishing to the House and the country some indication of the lines on which we wish to proceed by at any rate the late summer. I hope that the Select Committee will bear that in mind.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there are managements and unions that do not consider it necessary to give wider powers of general investigation to the Race Relations Board? Further, does the right hon. Gentleman remember that the Select Committee, which reported only last July, came firmly to the conclusion that the case for extended legislation had not been made out?

Yes, I am aware of that. I have already indicated that we must take serious account of the Select Committee's report. I have done that and I have studied its recommendations. I indicated previously that, on the whole, I do not share its view on this matter. I am open to argument from all quarters before I announce any proposals. Our proposals are not imminent, but I hope that the matter will be announced in reasonable time so as to enable us to legislate during the next Session.

As Section 6 of the Act has proved almost totally inadequate in dealing with the problem of racial incitement in the most blatant cases, will my right hon. Friend look with favour at an amendment to that section? Will he also consider the position of clubs which purport to be open to the general public?

I have already indicated that I believe that the judgment of the House of Lords raises an issue, and that we must consider how best to deal with the problem. I shall consider any proposals which are brought forward regarding Section 6. I must express a little scepticism as to whether race relations Acts can effectively deal with the right of people to express their views, however objectionable we may find them.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that most English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish people dislike the present Race Relations Act? Is he aware that they feel that it discriminates against them and that they further feel that the right hon. Gentleman does not always take their feelings fully into account? Does he appreciate that they would deplore any extension of the Act?

The hon. Gentleman would be a little presumptuous to speak even for most English people. To announce quite as full a catalogue as he did is to carry presumption towards the ridiculous.