HL Deb 19 June 1978 vol 393 cc813-5

2.49 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is lawful, under the Race Relations Act 1976, for a local authority to create racially segregated housing areas.


My Lords, it is for the courts to decide whether any action is lawful or not. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has however made clear the Government's policy that authorities should afford people a real choice.


My Lords, is it not a fact that in Section 1(2) of the Race Relations Act, 1976, it is declared that segregating a person from others on racial grounds is treating him less favourably; and that treating a person less favourably is discrimination under that Act? So how can there be any doubt in the noble Lord's mind that asking people of any ethnic minority to go into a given block of flats or to segregate themselves in a particular area of a local authority is contrary to the law? And if it is contrary to the law, why wait until the courtsdetermine the matter retrospectively? Why should the Department not issue guidance to local authorities which may be comtemplating unlawful action of this kind?


My Lords, the difficulty that we face is in being able to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the facts presented by the noble Lord are, in fact, the facts. The Greater London Council claim that their policy has been misrepresented; that this is not what they intended. In the absence of absolute certainty as to what the situation is, it is very difficult to move.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is nothing morally or fundamentally wrong about segregation? If people of a particular colour, a particular race or a particular religion wish to live together, there is nothing wrong with that; it depends on themselves. After all, do wealthy people not usually live together, and do impoverished people not live together? Has that not always been the position? If people from Bangladesh feel that it is better, safer and more secure to live by themselves, what is wrong with that?


My Lords, most of us would accept what the noble Lord says, if we could be sure that a particular group wanted that. But we are not certain whether a particular group—in this case, the Bengalis—want that. That is what we are trying to find out. My noble friend Lord Avebury will be pleased to hear, if he does not already know it, that the Committee for Race Equality will be meeting the Greater London Council fairly soon; first, to determine the situation and, secondly, to find out what the position really is.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he feels that one good outcome of this has been the fact that about 500 of these people met together and expressed their views to the chairman of the Greater London Council, so that we now have a better understanding of the needs for the future?


My Lords, in one way I agree with the noble Baroness. But, in another way, it is a pity that this situation became evident in the way that it did.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister if it is true to say that, whether or not it is lawful and even if it is desirable in the very short run, it is completely undesirable in the longer term and we should not do this?


My Lords, this is one of the matters which, as I have already said, the Government hope to establish.


My Lords, has my noble friend any sympathy with the view that the less we talk about race relations the better those relationships will be?


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, if these people wished to be segregated for their own protection, that would be a terrible indictment of the society in which we live, suggesting that it is not able to afford them real protection? But contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has said, it is fundamentally repugnant to people in this country—unlike, for instance, the South Africans—to put people of any race or colour into separate housing areas apart from those of other races.


My Lords, I do not think that I can add very much to what I have already said, other than the fact that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment met the leader of the Greater London Council within the last few days, and made it perfectly clear that the Government's policy is that authorities should afford people a real choice. I understand that the leader of the Greater London Council has assured my right honourable friend that families will be allowed a real choice as to where they live.