ON THIS DAY    26 November      Graphics version >>   BBC News >>
Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
1968: Race discrimination law tightened

The new Race Relations Act has come into force, making it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services to people because of their ethnic background.

The Act has extended the powers of the Race Relations Board to deal with complaints of discrimination; and set up a new body, the Community Relations Commission, to promote "harmonious community relations".

Presenting the Bill to Parliament, the Home Secretary, Jim Callaghan, said, "The House has rarely faced an issue of greater social significance for our country and our children."

One of the most controversial areas of the Act has been the exclusion of government services, such as the police, from legal proceedings.

Opposition MP Quintin Hogg said it was unfair to treat private employers more strictly than public employers.

"Why should the ordinary subject be liable to an action for damages, as the Home Secretary has decided that he should be, but the Home Secretary get off scot free?" he asked the Commons.

'River of blood'

Race has become a major issue following the speech in April of the right-wing Conservative MP, Enoch Powell, against immigration into Britain from Commonwealth countries.

He spoke of a "river of blood" should immigration continue, and his remarks caused outrage among MPs.

Mr Powell was sacked from the shadow cabinet soon afterwards for his racist views, but the government was taken aback to find some sections of the media applauding the speech.

Thousands of workers staged strikes in protest and marched to Downing Street in support.

'Fair but tough' promise

Mr Powell's speech came after the sudden influx of Kenyan Asians into the country, driven out of Kenya by draconian laws denying them employment.

At the beginning of the year, up to 1,000 Kenyan Asians, who hold British passports, were arriving in Britain each month.

Amid growing unrest, the government rushed through the Commonwealth Immigrants Act in March, restricting the number of Kenyan Asians who could enter the country to those who had a relative who was already a British resident.

The new Race Relations Act is intended to counter-balance the Immigration Act, and so fulfil the government's promise to be "fair but tough" on immigrants.

In Context
The Race Relations Act 1968 was the second in a family of three laws on race relations in Britain.

It was intended to strengthen Britain's first-ever race relations legislation, passed in 1965, which made it illegal to discriminate in any place of public resort, such as hotels or cinemas.

The 1965 Act was brought in against strong resistance to combat the "colour bar" - the common practice of banning non-white people from using public services or entering public places.

However, discrimination in other areas was still widespread, and the Act was superseded and strengthened by the 1968 legislation.

Both Acts were replaced by a third Race Relations Act in 1976, which significantly strengthened the law.

For the first time, it defined direct and indirect discrimination, and also founded the Commission for Racial Equality.

Following the Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence, the 1976 Act was amended in 2000 to include the police for the first time.


Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
^^ Back to top |