Qualifying Bodies

Part of Clause 12 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th July 1976.

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Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield 12:00 am, 8th July 1976

The amendment has commanded a great deal of support on this side of the House, and were there not a Trappist vow in operation on the Government Benches I feel that it would have attracted a great deal of support there as well. No one can be happy about subsection (2).

The Home Secretary has just said that he will give consideration to one of the arguments put by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle)—that is, the contrast between the provisions of the Bill and those of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act—but I find it surprising that it is that inconsistency which has alerted the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that the provisions of the clause are so unreasonable. It would appear as though all the arguments deployed before had no effect on him, but that when he sees an inconsistency between the clause and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act he begins to move.

But the thing goes further and deeper than that. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) laid great emphasis on the question of precedent, and he has been attacked for it, notably by the Secretary of State. He was right to lay emphasis upon that question. We have had with us, although he is not present now, the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), who has interrupted speeches or made short speeches time and again saying "What are you fussing about? All this was done in the Sex Discrimination Act. There is no ado about it. Why should we not do it again?"

That is a dangerous argument. Having said that, however, and to some extent agreed with my hon. and learned Friend about the validity of his argument on ground of precedent, I would go further, or perhaps in a slightly different direction, and say that I am not so much troubled about where it leads as to where it has led. This is not the thin end of the wedge; it is the thick end. There may be worse to come, but this is bad enough. We lay down in an Act of Parliament in a peremptory manner that these bodies shall have regard to gossip or suspicion. It is evidence which tends to show—not evidence which shows, but evidence which tends to show. That is what it comes to.

The Home Secretary says that these are very reputable and respectable bodies. Some of my hon. Friends have emphasised the weightiness of these bodies. It is said that they will use their discretion. They can always use their discretion. They can do that now without any Bill or Act. The purpose of the subsection which we are seeking to delete is to tell them at least in some degree how they are to use their discretion. It has no other purpose. If they would do this anyway, we would not have the subsection. It is to persuade them to do something that they would not do but for the subsection. That is the whole purpose of it.

I think that it goes further than that. This is the around of objection on which again my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells laid a good deal of emphasis. He referred to the presumptuous nature of a prescription of this kind. I think one can go further than that, because, when we reflect upon it, this is a proposed law to define what is permissible in the realm of thought and conduct.

The Home Secretary may say that the whole Bill is about that. It tells people how they are to behave in the matter of race relations. I and some others present here now object to the whole principle of this kind of law anyway—what has been called over and over again the educated use of the law. It is political law, but there are also political laws which do not have this particular character of seeking to be educative and to mould men's minds. That is what this is seeking to do.

But while it is true that the whole Bill is a Bill to put a procrustean clamp on men's minds, this particular subsection is more than that, because it purports to define good character and to that extent to define the boundaries within which a difference of opinion may be exercised without being outlawed by the State. This is a particularly pernicious element in this kind of legislation. As has been pointed out, in a sense it is very extreme in that direction because it also embodies guilt by association. That is bad enough. We can strike anyone dead through guilt by association.

I remember speaking once at Leeds University. I found leaflets distributed saying that I was a dreadful person. I may be, but the reasons given were not very convincing. I was a member of the Monday Club, and also in the club were so-and-so, who were also members of some other organisation, of which so-and-so were members, and those people on some occasions had said this or that. It was all set out. Therefore, it was said that I was an awful rogue. That was guilt by association at two or three removes. Here, all that I have been describing—the pernicious character of the Bill—is attached to anything done by servants or agents, or which has at some time been done by them. It is guilt by suspicion and on association.

To return to my theme of the definition of the permissible in the realm of thought, this is peculiar to subsection (2), because this is a clause defining good character and saying what shall be taken into account as evidence of bad character.

It seems to me, as it has to at least one of my hon. Friends, that when we reach an area where hysterial takes over in the thinking of the Home Secretary and those who advise him. I should not say "those who advise him" because I do not know. Perhaps they wring their hands and weep bitter tears and cannot do anything about it. The Home Secretary must carry responsibility for those things which are done, never mind his advisers and, I suppose, never mind the ambience of junior Ministers who surround him. This attack on discrimination, which is now a phobia, a neurosis, a hysteria, is something which ought not go unchallenged. Subsection (2), which carries that attack into the definition of "good character", is the occasion to challenge it.

I have always attacked this criticism of discrimination. I have never hesitated to defend discrimination in this House or in any public place. I have said, and it is obviously true—I cannot think how it is not recognised by the Home Secretary—that discrimination is the essential human character, the very principle of progress, the observation of differences and the evolution of differences on which all progress depends. The Home Secretary is exercising that func- tion of discrimination at this moment as he looks at his piece of paper. That is what this argument is all about.

When we come to the question of race, ethnic origins and all these things, who is the Home Secretary, and who is Parliament, to say that there should be one view about these things? How do they know how much differences of race matter? I would have thought that the science of genetics is one of the youngsters of science. It has made tremendous strides over the last few years, but it got started only about 10 years ago. The Home Secretary does not know whether race matters. No one knows and no one will know for quite a while.

Great strides have taken place, but whether the inferiorities that one observes are inherent and predominant, in the sense of being things to be estimated in millennia, or things which can be dealt with by environmental treatment, by priming the pump, I do not know, the Home Secretary does not know and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, sitting next to him, does not know either. No one knows.

What on earth are we doing having a law about it? It is the Lysenkoism of Western democracy, and the Home Secretary, who is a person of education, culture and perspective, is lending his authority, and his name, to statutory Lysenkoism by the banning of certain views of essentially scientific matters which probably runs against the evidence. In any case, whether the evidence is totally inconclusive or not, the Home Secretary is quite incompetent to prescribe for others what they shall think about the significance of race.

The right hon. Gentleman is proposing in his legislation that anyone who thinks that race matters a great deal shall be subject to the sanction of indefinite imprisonment. In subsection (2) he is proposing that anyone who takes a different view from him and his political associates about the importance of race, and the differences between different races, shall be treated as a person of bad character.

I have a certain amount of understanding, I hope sympathy, of why people adopt this rabid view. They are, of course, people whose own racial connections have been bitterly bruised in recent times. I blame Adolf Hitler more than I blame the Home- Secretary, because it has been almost impossible for a long time—