This new race relations bill was introduced into the Commons by the Home Secretary James Callaghan. He considered the issue of race relations to be of great social significance ‘for our country and our children’, a subject which is ‘heavily charged with emotion’ and which could ‘fan the flames of suspicion and resentment or fear’. He sought to lead the country away from ‘a prospect of strife and enmity’ towards a society in which ‘we shall all live in freedom and peace’ regardless of race or colour. He thought it would be a denial of our own history if the freedoms we have won over time were not extended to ‘other groups who have come to live here as full citizens’. He added ‘the legislation which I am proposing does not seek to put any group in a privileged position’.
In fact, until the Labour government came to power, all British citizens enjoyed equal rights within the law. Instead this new act gave powers to the state to intervene on behalf of one party to a civil dispute. In practice this meant that the complaint of a ‘coloured’ person would carry greater weight than the judgement, opinion or decision of a white person. In other words black complainants would be placed in a ‘privileged position’. As a result white people would now have to prove, to the satisfaction of the authorities, that any decision they made relating to employment or housing, which affected a black person, was not motivated by racial prejudice or discrimination. As Enoch Powell observed in his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech this was a 'law which cannot, and is not intended to, operate to protect the white population, or redress their grievances, but rather is to be enacted to give the stranger, the disgruntled and the agent-provocateur the power to pillory them for their private actions.’
The Home Secretary continued ‘there is evidence that coloured people suffer from grave disadvantages on matters like housing and jobs’. However, he provided no evidence that this was caused by the behaviour of the wider British public. In any case, it should be remembered that black people came to Britain out of their own choice to seek work, and that white society broadly expected them to be prepared to do the most menial jobs. This was the justification made by the government and large employers to warrant the influx of ‘coloured’ workers on such a vast scale, carried out with disregard to the concerns of many white people. In practice this was a false argument as all that happened was to suppress the wages of white workers dependent on unskilled work, as the pool of labour available for this kind of employment expanded through immigration. The Home Secretary ended his speech by asking whether the Conservative opposition ‘believe that it is right to legislate to make discrimination unlawful?’
The shadow Home Secretary Quintin Hogg responded on behalf of the Conservative opposition. He considered that it would be inappropriate for political parties to ‘exploit or to gain political advantage from the deep feelings which are held about this topic’. He acknowledged that ‘this country is not self-evidently under-populated at the moment and thus strict control of immigration must continue to be imposed’. However, in practice both Labour and Conservative governments would for decades preside over a hugely lax ‘control’ of immigration. Mr Hogg went on to advise that ‘we should forget the colour of their skins and treat them as equals’ warning that ‘all the evils and sicknesses of a divided society are such as will bring a curse upon us if we do not take this, the only road to safety’. At least there is an acknowledgement here that uncontrolled immigration of people of widely different cultures can lead to social problems.
Mr Hogg explained the difference between criminal and civil law. The first ‘carries a penalty and is enforced in practice by a public body’, whilst the second ‘gives a remedy but not a penalty and is enforced in practice by a privately wronged individual’. He warned against adopting any procedure that would ‘give rise to an individual right to damages in such a way as to exasperate relations. In the field of race relations, this may be of importance’. From his experience at the Bar he knew ‘what a terrible weapon of oppression damages can be and how it can embitter both the complainant and the defendant for the rest of their lives’. He finished by proposing an amendment, ‘condemning racial discrimination and the need for steps designed to improve the situation’ but concluding that the Bill would ‘not in its practical application contribute to the achievement of racial harmony’.
A Labour MP idealistically dismissed the view, expressed in some newspaper articles, that ‘there is a natural incompatibility between peoples of different races and colours. We on these benches utterly reject that notion’. He added that ‘there is no problem of a clash of race or colour so long as there is equality of status and what used to be called parity of esteem’. The MP considered it to be ‘of the utmost importance that we pass the Bill now, because we are reaching a stage when children who were born here are now leaving school and coming on to the labour market. They are not discriminated against at school. There is no sense of race or colour among school children. But these young people may encounter discrimination when they apply for jobs’. The issue which he failed to address was how it could be ascertained whether the reason a black applicant for a job was unsuccessful was because he faced ‘discrimination’ or because, in the judgement of an employer, for a variety of possible reasons, he was unsuitable to fill the post. In other words, any official investigating a complaint would need to engage in a form of mind reading in order to reach a decision.
A Conservative MP in opposing the proposal asked whether the supposed need ‘to act against racial discrimination is so strong a cause as to justify methods which, in my view, would not be contemplated for a moment outside this sphere’. He was concerned that ‘inquisitorial powers to investigate complaints or allegations of racial discrimination, not publicly but privately, will then determine whether legal processes can be brought against someone whom it is decreed has offended’. He added that such new powers ‘takes us some way beyond where the law stands now’, by suggesting that ‘the British people cannot be trusted to act properly and that now they must be coerced. We are passing a vote of no confidence on our own people, and I cannot accept that’. Unfortunately the views of ‘our own people’ counted for little when confronted with the liberal obsession over the concerns of ethnic minorities. The MP concluded ‘I do not believe that one can achieve justice for a minority by inflicting injustice on the majority, no matter how good and how noble the cause’.
Another Conservative MP asked the question ‘whether legislation can play a part in the amelioration of race relations’ and whether it is right for it to be so used. He believed that the proposals ‘would make very deep and damaging encroachments into the proper sphere of personal decision’, adding that ‘the trouble is that everyone thinks that his own particular concern is of unique importance that justifies this kind of interference with personal freedom’. This observation gets to the nub of the main issue raised by this kind of legislation namely, whether it is right that the state, in pursuit of its own collectivist egalitarian agenda, should be empowered to interfere with, and overrule the liberty of, citizens pursuing their own personal and private decisions with one another. The MP concluded that the aim of the Bill was not to grant full political and legal rights to citizens, since they already had these. Instead its purpose was ‘concerned solely and exclusively with the intention to achieve social equality’.
A Liberal MP disagreed with the utopian view that ‘there is nothing wrong with humanity, that people are nice, and will always behave in the right way provided we give them the right environment’. He considered that this was not necessarily true since we all have weaknesses and ‘certain innate tendencies which are less attractive than others. We are easily frightened, our security is easily threatened, and thus the whole problem of racial discrimination arises’. He concluded that ‘in this crucial field of human activity Parliament should give a lead and set a good example’. However, in response, it must be questioned whether it is really necessary to set up a state bureaucracy to police the behaviour of citizens ‘innate tendencies’ on this matter.
A Conservative MP who had recently been elected maintained that ‘while Governments can lead, they cannot in the end compel against the general will, unless they finally revert to totalitarian methods’. He observed that constituents who had raised the issue of immigration ‘recognise the objectives behind the Bill as humanitarian’, but believe that ‘it is misconceived and may well have an effect opposite to what is intended’. He concluded that ‘we cannot legislate to make people better humans in their hearts, but we can educate and lead them, and show them by good example. This is necessarily a slower process, but it is more effective in the end’. He did not know it but this Bill was only the start of a continuing government agenda on race aiming to compel people to become ‘better humans’, not by education and example, but by compulsion. However, another Tory MP took a different view declaring ‘we cannot alter human prejudice and make people tolerant by law. Nevertheless legislation can make a contribution. It can influence the way in which people behave although not the way in which they think and feel. It can certainly stop obvious acts of prejudice and it can remove the excuses’.
Reginald Maudling, Conservative deputy leader, wound up the debate for the opposition, claiming that his party was ‘just as opposed in principle to racial discrimination as the Government, and furthermore was not opposed to legislation on this subject. However, we are against this particular legislation since we believe that it will not, in practice, contribute to the achievement of racial harmony’. He added that ‘there are many frailties in the human mind and spirit which are morally wrong but cannot be made into crimes. Certain things which happen as a result of these infirmities can and should be dealt with by law, but there is a definite limit in practice where one can go in this direction’. He concluded that ‘the Bill will create more resentment than it will deal with and, in the long run, therefore, will not aid the cause we all have at heart but may, in fact, impede it’ since ‘it definitely encroaches on individual freedom and individual liberty, and will be unworkable in practice.’
David Ennals, the Home Office under secretary closed the debate. He believed that ‘there is evidence of a degree of racial discrimination and that the law can, within limitations, play a part’. He added that ‘we have to deal with the social problems involved in immigration’, fearing that ‘we may have a flashpoint in this country if we do not extend the field of legislation’. He disingenuously opined that the legislation ‘will apply to the whole population, and should one of white pigmentation believe himself to have been the victim of discrimination his right to lodge a complaint will be no less than that of a coloured citizen’. In practice, as he would have known, this eventuality scarcely ever happened. The minister concluded that ‘we cannot change men's hearts by law but we can outlaw the actions that can flow from prejudice. I believe that the very passing of law can influence the course of events and the course of thoughts in people's minds’.
Like the first Race Relations Act three years earlier, this Bill was supported by Labour and Liberal MPs and opposed by Conservative members. It became just one part of an incremental legislative creep in which the politically correct class increasingly sought to meddle and interfere in the private behaviour and relationships of ordinary citizens.