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(1) If any person commits any offence provided for by
(i) sections 18, 20 or 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, or
(ii) sections 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and does so with a motive of racial hatred, then he shall be guilty of the said offence with aggravation of racial hatred.
(2) In this section, "racial hatred" means racial hatred against a group of persons in Great Britain by reference to colour, race, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins.'. New clause 88-- Racial hatred --
.-Part III of the Public Order Act 1986 shall be amended as follows
In section 27(1) there shall be substituted for the words "of the Attorney General" the words "of the Director of Public
New clause 89-- Offences committed on racial grounds
.--(1) In relation to any prosecution for any offence of violence it shall be the duty of the prosecuting authority to place before the court any evidence tending to show that such offence has been committed on racial grounds.
(2) On conviction of any offence of violence the court shall have regard to such evidence in determining the penalty and if satisfied that the offence was committed on racial grounds shall impose a penalty, which shall not be more than twice the
Column 757maximum prescribed penalty. The court shall be required to give reasons for the penalty imposed, indicating in what way it has taken account of its finding that the offence was committed on racial grounds.'.
New clause 90-- Racial harassment (No. 2)
.--(1) A person is guilty of the offence of racial harassment if on racial grounds he
(a) commits any trespass or nuisance whereby any occupant of any dwelling is likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress ; or (b) uses words or behaviour or displays any writing, sign or other visual representation which is offensive on racial grounds within the hearing or sight of any person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
(2) a constable may arrest a person without warrant whom he reasonably suspects of conduct constituting an offence under this section.
(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable (a) on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine or both ;
(b) on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both.'. 11.30 pm
Ms Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), who has worked so hard on the Bill, for giving me the opportunity to speak on this important new clause. I do so as a lifelong anti-racist and someone who recently produced two reports on racial attacks. All the evidence that I gathered in compiling them convinced me and my colleagues that the law relating to acts of racial harassment and violence urgently needs strengthening. That matter is one on which we have pressed the Government before, but Ministers told us that our proposals could only make prevention more difficult. We listened to their objections and redrafted accordingly. While there is much more that we want the Government to do, the simple and limited proposals in new clause 13 offer a way forward.
New clause 13 creates a new criminal, arrestable offence of racial harassment and provides for heavier penalties to be imposed by the courts for existing crimes of violence where they are committed on racial grounds. I remind the House that those grounds are colour, race, nationality, and ethnic or national origin. The overwhelming evidence of racial harassment is that of white people abusing people of different colour or religion. Clearly, the definition we use would cover also racial abuse of white people by people of another colour. We cannot escape the unpalatable fact that racism is endemic in Britain today. Despite existing laws on incitement, nearly 30 years of race relations legislation and much good practice by racial equality councils, local authorities and others, we are experiencing a rising tide of horrific racial abuse. Only recently has public awareness been raised, and primarily because of the 14 racial murders that have occurred in the past two years and the appalling injuries inflicted on people such as Muktar Ahmed and Quaddus Ali, who suffered brutal attacks by gangs of white men and survived them. Those cases were recognised by the police and public for what they were--racially motivated violence. Intense focus on a few extreme cases, however, belies the widespread and persistent nature of less violent but deeply offensive and repetitive racial harassment. This morning, I received a letter asking why I was
Column 758"giving Blacks all this attention ?"
I tell the House why. Black people--along with Jewish and Asian people and members of other ethnic minorities--are spat upon, taunted in the streets, have their homes daubed with graffiti and their religious centres defiled. That is why the issue needs attention and our new clause is required.
Those are not the random crimes that sadly and all-too-frequently affect society at large. They are not cases of the wrong person being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The victims of racial abuse are specifically selected because of their colour or creed. They are victims twice over--of the offence itself and of racism. They know why they were singled out and that they may be singled out again. They know also that anyone from the same group is a potential victim. Little wonder that such abuse engenders widespread fear, that people become afraid to leave their homes and afraid for their children, and that many suffer a permanent sense of humiliation.
Such abuse occurs throughout Britain. In England and Wales alone, racial incidents recorded by the police in 1993 were close to 9, 000--double the number five years ago. Yet research consistently shows massive under- reporting. The real figure for racial incidents in England and Wales last year is estimated at between 150,000 and 200, 000. Those figures, I suggest to the House, are a terrible indictment of our society and surely a challenge to the Government to act, and act decisively.
Ms Ruddock : Very much so. My hon. Friend makes an important point. That Bill not only had a wide consensus of support outside the House, but was supported by the Labour party and other parties in the House. We regret that the Government could not see fit to support the Bill introduced by a member of their own party.
Under the present law, few of the perpetrators of racial offences are caught and even fewer are punished. The Government have no information on clear-up rates and no plans to gather any. Suffice it to say that the Attorney-General gave his sanction to prosecutions under incitement law of a mere 14 people in the past seven years. Yet last week no less an authority than the Prime Minister told the House that the existing law was adequate to deal with racial hatred. Well, the victims do not think so. Most of them do not report the offences against them because they do not expect any remedies. Often, they have no confidence in the police. Yet the police in turn say that the laws are inadequate and that they lack resources.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Will my hon. Friend make a comparison with the 1950s and 1960s, when the Conservative Government of the time refused to act on race discrimination, always arguing that special laws were not necessary ? A Labour Government in 1964 started the process of putting on to the statute book
anti-discrimination laws which have undoubtedly helped to ensure that people who do not have a white skin can obtain employment.
Ms Ruddock : My hon. Friend's point is well made. He does well to recall those times and that history. Let us hope that history will not repeat itself tonight and that the Government might have learnt some lessons in the intervening years.
Column 759New clause 13 gives clarity to the offence of racial harassment and enables the police to arrest without warrant the perpetrators, where they are suspected. It ensures that racial motivation must be examined as an aggravating factor in other violent offences and that, on conviction, the double burden of the victim is reflected in the sentence. Both proposals have wide support, including that of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Anti-Racist Alliance, members of the police forces and all political parties in the House. Both proposals provide an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate that they are tough on racially motivated crime and that they care about the victims.
As the Commission for Racial Equality says in its briefing to us today :
"The law has a vital part to play in setting and reflecting standards of public behaviour."
Racists are beginning to campaign actively in Britain. No longer are they kept underground. They are standing for elections and in one case won a local by-election. It is time that the House took racial abuse, racial harassment and racial violence much more seriously and that the Government implemented proposals, if not our proposals, to do something more constructive about it.
We believe that acceptance of new clause 13 would send a powerful signal that the House is determined to take at least one vital step on the path to ending racial abuse in Britain.
Mr. Maclennan : I support the move to create a specific offence of racial harassment. That is also the aim of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) to which the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) referred, and which has cross-party support. However, I shall concentrate mainly on new clause 50, which I tabled.
The purpose of the new clause is to deal with the problem of racism when violence is committed against the person, or when an offence against public order has taken place and the motivation is racist. The virtue of that approach is that, in my view, it would make it easier to obtain convictions than would the creation of a specific offence of racial violence.
No tariff of penalties is attached to new clause 50, as few of the offences covered by it currently attract the maximum penalty permitted under the law ; but, if racial hatred is proved, the judge may sentence accordingly in most cases. Racially motivated attacks have, alas, become more prominent and numerous. There have been a number of vicious assaults--and, indeed, murders--of mostly young Asian men.
There are no reliable figures showing the true extent of racially motivated attacks, although a number of police forces are now beginning to record Home Office-reportable offences. In the Metropolitan police district, in the 12 months to September 1993, the police reported 2,110 allegations of reportable offences and 1,730 racial incidents classified by area. They broke down those incidents by offence groups. Common assaults constituted 14 per cent., assaults 18 per cent., abusive language 25 per cent., criminal damage 29 per cent. and all other offences 14 per cent.
The police also classified the victims of the racial incidents, revealing that 46 per cent. were Asian, 22 per cent. black, 18 per cent. white Europeans and 4 per cent.
Column 760dark-skinned Europeans. Other victims formed the remaining 10 per cent. Six per cent. of all the incidents were recorded as being anti-semitic. Those figures, however, give no evidence of the seriousness of the offences committed. Some of the smaller groups have suffered some of the more horrific offences, particularly the anti-semitic ones.
For some time, the Commission for Racial Equality has argued in favour of a specific offence of racial violence. The law does not recognise any such category of offence ; as a result, the police have not routinely counted the attacks and are not required to investigate racial motivation.
The proposed new clause that stands in my name would have the benefit of effecting a change in the attitudes of the police and the prosecuting authorities, and this would assist greatly towards eliminating a scandalous development in our civil society. In the past the police have been criticised for ignoring or condoning racism. I do not believe that our police forces are generally guilty of these faults. It is extremely encouraging that, in his very first speech following his appointment, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Paul Condon, attacked racism in the police force. There are many ways in which, following the Scarman inquiry, community policing initiatives have helped to stamp out this behaviour. Alas, it appears that amendment of the criminal law is necessary if the attack is to be made more effective.
The proposed new offence of racial aggravation would enable a court to convict where there was evidence of an offence of violence and proof of racial motivation. The court could take that into consideration and impose a more severe sentence accordingly. Proof of racial motivation would not be a necessary ingredient for conviction, but if there were such proof it would allow a condign punishment to be inflicted. I regard this as the most likely means of effecting the change that the Commission for Racial Equality advocates. Equally, the creation of a new offence of racial violence could bring the law into disrepute as it would be difficult to prove motivation and difficult to obtain conviction. Consequently, to the horror of racial attacks would be added the frustration of failure to secure conviction.
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : In a sense, there is a coming together of all parts of the House in the presentation of these new clauses. I have the honour--and I welcome the opportunity--to deal with the cluster at the tail end of the group. As hon. Members will no doubt soon begin to gather at the Bar of the House in anticipation of a Division, it behoves me to be reasonably brief.
Some of my hon. Friends may not necessarily agree with all points in the arguments in favour of the Opposition's new clauses. Some of these are complicated points of law, which Members who are not lawyers may find slightly more difficult to handle. We have to face the very great problem of an adequate definitional basis for singling out racially motivated attacks on persons and the great complexity of making definitions stick in law. That is an obvious difficulty with which lawyers on both sides of the arguments will have to grapple, often at great length.
None the less, I believe that it is the will of the House that something more must be done. Thus, I listened with great interest to the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), as
Column 761he enunciated his reasons for proposing new clause 50--on his own to start with, but then accompanied by one of his distinguished colleagues.
New clauses 88, 89 and 90 are technical, but they deal with the fundamental problem. They are, to some extent, similar to the Opposition's new clauses, although there are slight differences in wording. The principal element of new clause 88 is that the Attorney-General requirement would be replaced with a Director of Public Prosecutions requirement. Good legal opinion suggests that that would be a considerable improvement.
New clause 89 relates, at least a little, to the first part of Labour's new clause 13, and new clause 90 relates to the second part of that provision. I believe that the latter is the most important amendment in the group.
Although they have not been selected by the Chair--I make no complaint about that--new clauses 86 and 87 were part of the grouping in logical terms because they provided definitions
Mr. Dykes : I was referring to them tangentially, but I accept your criticism, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and withdraw my comments immediately. Part of the reason for tabling the new clauses was that some hon. Members of all parties are disappointed that the legislation proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) has not yet progressed as far as we had hoped that it would. We live in an increasingly multi-ethnic community, but there is a growing problem in my constituency, in north-west and north London and in Greater London as a whole, and there is a particular problem south of the river.
The Government would be wise to consider new legislation now to intensify the definitions of racially motivated attacks. Every day, the newspapers are full of dreadful stories of people who are attacked because of their racial origin or the colour of their skin and for no other reason.
We already have a good basis for new legislation. Existing legislation has been strongly supported by successive Conservative Administrations. Now is the time to go further. Of course, lawyers can always argue about the specific wording of technical clauses. The new clauses are technical, but they are human and moral, too. It behoves us all to accept the new clauses and I support them with great pleasure, hoping that the Minister will respond positively. If he wishes to delay matters by saying that the Government need more time to consider the new clauses, the House might accept that, but I would not do so with too much ease because the problem is now urgent.
Although this point is on a wholly different level of human behaviour, I share the anxiety felt by many hon. Members about the fact that many young members of the Metropolitan police are still harassing or stopping too many black youths--who are usually driving cars--for no other reason than the colour of their skin. That has been admitted repeatedly by senior police officers at Scotland Yard. Although the matter is not dealt with in the wording or intent of the new clauses, I mention it deliberately at the end of my remarks in the hope that it will also be considered by the Minister of State.
Column 762(Ms Ruddock) said, we need a new law to deal with racial attacks. Such attacks are vile criminal acts which make people's lives a misery. The victims' lives are blighted by fear for themselves and their children.
As my hon. Friend said, there has been a steep rise in the number of racial attacks. In 1988, 4,407 racial attacks were reported. By 1993, the figure had risen to 8,779, an increase of 100 per cent. in five years. Forty per cent. occurred in London. It has been estimated that the figure represents an under-reporting of the true figure, because only one in 20 of such attacks are reported to the police. The Minister told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that there were probably 130,000 to 140,000 racial incidents a year, and there is good reason to believe that that is also an underestimate. As my hon. Friend said, there have been about 14 despicable racially motivated murders in the past two years.
Why are so few racial attacks reported ? There is such a great deal of under-reporting because, at one level, there is no confidence in the police. There is a perception that they will not take complaints seriously, and there have been examples of the police blaming the victim. On top of that, the victims know that there is no specific law making racial attacks an offence, so they do not believe it is worth their while reporting incidents to the police.
In 1985, I introduced the Racial Harassment Bill under the ten-minute rule. It was the first Bill presented to Parliament to make racial attack a criminal offence. It dealt mainly with housing, but it had three aspects. First, it provided that the perpetrators of racial harassment should be evicted from their homes, instead of the victims having to flee for their safety. Secondly, it provided that racial harassment should be a specific offence, as suggested in the new clause. Thirdly, it would have imposed a duty on the police to investigate and report in every such case. The Bill also provided a schedule of offences that would be legally punishable, including graffiti, racist verbal abuse, and so on.
Since I introduced that Bill, there have been some successes. For example, the definition of what the police record as a complaint of a racial offence has changed and some local authorities have taken up the matter with their own hotlines and have improved their guidelines in their departments to take action against racism when they have come across it.
Of course, the biggest success is that Front-Bench Members of the Labour party have accepted that they would make racial attacks a criminal offence. Indeed, that has been accepted by many Conservatives Members, including the hon. Members for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and for Finchley (Mr. Booth). There is overwhelming public opinion in favour of the introduction of a law along the lines of the new clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford. Despite all the support, this Bill represents the 27 measures cited by the Home Secretary at the Conservative party conference. It includes, for example, action against anti-hunt demonstrators, but it does not take action against racist criminals. That is an insult to the black and Asian communities and to all decently minded, anti-racist people in the country.
When the Home Secretary went on a tour of the east end, he said : "Good relations is not just legislation ; but advice, information, help and education--measures that create mutual understanding".
Column 763He does not talk about advice, information, help and education when it comes to tackling other crime. Let us deal with punishing the offenders in racial circumstances. As for mutual understanding, the Prime Minister said that we should have a little less understanding and a bit more punishment. Why does not that apply to racists ? Why do the Government turn that on its head whenever we talk about racial offences ?
When the hon. Member for Finchley introduced his Bill recently and it was talked out by some Conservative Members, the Minister of State, Home Office said that the Government could not legislate until there had been a serious and thorough investigation by a Select Committee. Select Committees have reported and said that there should be an offence of racial harassment. It is nine years since my Bill came before the House--nine years of increasing racial attacks and of murders. Surely that is a serious and thorough enough investigation. The Government have adopted a complacent attitude. They have not shown any moral lead to combat racism. New law is needed. There was a survey of youths in Leeds who were committing racial offences. They knew that it was not a crime when they were confronted. It needs to be made a crime. There needs to be pressure on the police to enforce action against racists, since some forces would still be reluctant to do so unless there is a law for them to implement. The state, especially, must make its anti- racist position absolutely clear in the law.
One other reason for such a law is the rise of the British National party. It is a most dangerous organisation, not only to black and Asian communities, but to the whole community. It is a threat to democracy and I would not be opposed to banning it. Neo-Nazi organisations have been banned in Germany, for example. If the Government say that there would be civil liberties problems in banning the BNP, they need to make its activities illegal and make the racist attacks that it carries out illegal. That is why a new law is so important.
Racism is a scapegoat creed. Its real sources are unemployment, bad housing, poverty and hardship, which stem from the economic failures of the Government and of capitalism. Law will not solve that problem, but it will go a long way at least in showing that the state is seriously against the racist outcome of those problems.
Wherever racism rears its ugly head, there is death. Whether the Ku Klux Klan, the apartheid regime, racial attacks in this country or the holocaust of Nazi Germany, racism equals death. It is in multicultural, multiracial societies where people live together that one has harmony ; those societies equal life.
We need a law ; we need the state to come out firmly to say that racism will not be tolerated. That is what the big march the other week by the Trades Union Congress was about. Tens of thousands of people came on to the streets demanding action against racism. The new clause goes in that direction.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : At this time of the evening, hon. Members should remember that speeches do not need to be interminable to be immortal. I shall therefore make a relatively short speech. Virtually everyone in this country and everyone in the House abhors
Column 764racism, which is against all the traditions of tolerance and liberalism in this country. However, there are a small number of evil men who are determined to harass individuals because of their race, their religion or their colour. That is against all the traditions of this country and against what the House stands for.
In my constituency, I have seen some of the evils of racism and anti- semitism. Hate mail and holocaust denial are all too common. The hate mail that I have seen--some of which I have received--is sheer, unadulterated filth. Many of my constituents fled from the horrors of Nazism in the 1930s and they find a chilling echo of 1930s German in some of the mail that they receive today. They served this country well in war and they have a right to spend the evening of their lives in peace.
One of the other obscenities that we have seen is the daubing of cemeteries with Nazi propaganda. Surely at the very least people should be allowed to rest in peace when they have died. It is one of the tragedies of life in this country that if one visits a synagogue or a Jewish school one can guarantee that there will be security men on guard. It is surely wrong that a place of religion or a place of education should need a security officer because the worshippers and the children want to feel secure.
There are weaknesses in the law. There is sometimes a failure to prosecute. I have seen leaflets that have been circulated in London university which are certainly an incitement to death, but nothing has been done to prosecute those who produce the leaflets. There are other weaknesses in the law to which I hope that our right hon. Friend the Minister will address himself. I refer, for example, to the power of constables to arrest. If a constable is on duty at Hyde Park corner and hears a racist speech, he can arrest the law-breaker there and then. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) and I have some experience of Hyde Park corner as we used to speak there many years ago, in the dark days of the last Labour Government, but we never got arrested because we were not racist.
If constables see someone distributing racist literature through letter boxes in Tower Hamlets or elsewhere, they do not have the power to arrest them there and then. I should like my right hon. Friend the Minister to look at the power of constables to carry out arrests to try to curb racial hatred and racism. I hope that he will give an assurance to the House this evening that he will look at the problem. I should also like him to give an assurance that when the Bill goes to the House of Lords he will consider the possibility of amendments being tabled. By then, he will have had the benefit of the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs.
Mr. Marshall : I have great sympathy with the point made by my hon. Friend. When I went to Scotland at the age of six I remember being told in the playground of the Harris academy in Dundee that I was a foreigner. The situation was aggravated when my mother told me to tell the others that we ruled them from Westminster. That did not go down well then, and I do not think that such comments go down terribly well in Scotland today. There is no doubt that what my hon. Friend has said is right.
There is an evil and a cancer afflicting our society.
Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green) : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have been following his remarks closely. He seems to be arguing--and I agree--that there should be changes in legislation. Will he dissociate himself from the words of the Prime Minister, who said in the House some days ago that there was no need for any change in the law ?
Mr. Marshall : I must apologise to the House for the fact that my good nature has prolonged my speech in that I have given way twice. I thought that I made it quite clear to the House that I thought that my right hon. Friend the Minister should look at the power of arrest by constables, which obviously involves a change in the law. I asked him to consider making arrangements for an amendment to be tabled in the other place once he had received the report of the Select Committee, as he will have done by the time the Bill passes to the other place. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give us an assurance on that matter this evening.
Mr. Winnick : It will be most welcome if the Minister of State, when he responds, says that the Government are sympathetic to new clause 13, but bearing in mind the unfortunate remarks that he made when the Bill of the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) was being debated we have little hope that the Government will support the new clause.
Mr. Winnick : That is the very point that we are trying to establish today. It is not enough simply to deplore--as we all do--the racial attacks on and harassment of people because of their colour, religion or racial origin. The question is what the House is going to do about it. What laws can we enact to help victims of racism ? The amount of racial violence is disturbing. The official figures from the Home Office refer to nearly 8,000 racial attacks in a given year. I believe that the true figures on racial violence are much higher. The Minister of State, in an intervention in a previous debate--indeed, in the evidence that he gave to the Select Committee on Home Affairs--accepted that figures on racial harassment, as opposed to violence, are very high. The Minister corrected me by saying that he wanted to make it clear that the figure that he gave to the Select Committee on Home Affairs referred to racial harassment. Leaving aside the amount of racial violence, the Government, through the Minister of State, accept the amount of harassment that occurs simply because of the victim's colour of skin or racial origin.
As my hon. Friends have said, there is little doubt that racial gangs are operating. They are not exclusively responsible for the sort of violence that we have seen in recent months in the United Kingdom, particularly in the east end of London. No one suggests that the fascist gangs are exclusively responsible, but they are behind many of the attacks. I find it inconceivable that we already have laws on the statute book against incitement to racial hatred--those laws are not in dispute and, as I understand it, no one wants to repeal them--yet at the same time organisations exist which are designed purely to stir up as much racial propaganda and agitation as possible and to
Column 766cause attacks on people. That is the only reason why gangs such as the National Front and the British National party exist. By acting as they do, they break the present law.
As well as passing new laws, it is important that existing laws are properly implemented. Much more could be done by the police to ensure that some of the racial attacks do not occur. When they do occur, the police should ensure that the offenders are brought to court.
Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South) : I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that the law should be much more strongly enforced, but my difficulty with the new clause--I entirely support the motivation behind it --is that the level of proof required to get home in court will be much higher. One will have to prove harassment and that it has a racial motive. I fear that many guilty men and women will go free if the clause is included in the Bill and it is bad law for a case to be brought, only to fail.
Mr. Winnick : I understand some of the hon. Gentleman's arguments, but the offence will be in addition to existing laws on violence. No one is suggesting that it is the only way in which the alleged offender can be brought to court--it is an additional way. One of the purposes of new clause 13 is to demonstrate society's abhorrence of such attacks. In effect, the new offence would show that they are totally unacceptable and that it is unacceptable for violence to be caused to a victim simply because of colour or race. It would be an additional factor to be taken into account when sentencing and not the only evidence that came to court.
Mrs. Roche : Further to that argument, is it correct that in such cases one would charge offenders with the new offence of racial harassment or violence and also--if an assault had taken place--with actual or grievous bodily harm ? If one could not get home on one element of the new offence, one would be able to fall back on existing law.
As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), I am reminded of the debates within and outside the House about how we should deal with racial discrimination. At that time, most Conservative politicians and the Conservative Government argued strongly that however wrong such discrimination was--they did not deny that it was taking place--legislation was not the right way to deal with it.
Time and again, Fenner Brockway moved ten-minute Bills in the early 1960s, arguing strongly that it was essential to introduce laws to deal effectively with racial discrimination. He turned out to be right. Employers who said that they had no objections, but that their customers would object if they employed people who did not have white skin, were not going to change their ways until the law made it impossible for them to continue to discriminate. Now, no one is surprised that banks and other institutions employ people who do not have white skin. If people objected in a bank and said that they did not want to be served by a cashier because he or she happened to black, they would clearly need psychiatric help. No one objects.
Column 767It has been clearly demonstrated that, however much discrimination still exists, legislation was necessary. The same applies today. Just as it was right to legislate then, it is right to do so today, when we are faced with the amount of racial violence and the number of attacks on people in parts of London only two, three and four miles from here. People are literally terrified of going out late in the evening. They are terrified when their children go to school. Why ? It is simply because in the main they are of Asian origin and the bullies pick on the women and children. They are the defenceless victims of racism in many parts of the country and in the east end of London.
We must not merely deplore racism. Government action is necessary in this Parliament to ensure that the victims of racism get the protection that only Parliament can give. The Government must act, and act quickly.
Many of us know from our constituents about the impact of racism on their daily lives. From representations that we have received from individuals and from black, Asian and Jewish organisations, we know that the law needs to be strengthened. Harassment penetrates every aspect of victims' lives. It is not an isolated incident, but something that occurs every day. In many cases it goes on for years and years.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, people feel threatened and unsafe in situations in which most of us would not feel the slightest threat--in their own homes, at school and in places of worship. The current law is often ineffectual when dealing with those fears.
Those people are looking for some action. We may be told that more time is needed to conduct more inquiries and reports before anything can be done, but racial harassment is not new. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) has said, Bills were proposed years ago to draw attention to the problem. Although the Government may have time to wait for the outcome of reports and inquiries, the people in our constituencies who are suffering harassment every day do not. They want to know why the Bill contains nothing to deal with the problem and why it is necessary to debate a new clause to deal with it at this stage in the Bill's proceedings.
For many years those people have had to seal up their letter boxes to stop petrol being poured through and their homes set on fire. They have had to deal with graffiti on their houses, abuse in the street and physical attacks. A great deal of such harassment goes unreported because people feel that nothing will be done, that the law is ineffective and will not be brought into play.