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Discrimination and race relations policy

Race Relations Act 1965

The Race Relation Act of 1965 aimed to prevent racial discrimination. However, it was a weak piece of legislation and only spoke of discrimination in specified 'places of public resort', such as hotels and restaurants, as being illegal. The act set up the Race Relations Board to deliberate on complaints of racial discrimination. Over the following year, the board heard 327 complaints of racial discrimination. The act did not effectively address discrimination in the increasingly crucial areas of employment and housing. The emphasis was on pacification rather than criminal sanction.

Racism and legislation

Evidence of racial discrimination in housing and employment continued after 1965. Fuelled by racist National Front activities, and offensive comments by Enoch Powell, politics became heated. Given these factors, the Labour government decided in favour of more rigorous legislation on racial discrimination.

Race Relations Act 1968

The Race Relations Act 1968 was intended as a counterpart to the Immigration Act of the same year. While the Immigration Act sought to limit immigration, the Race Relations Act was aimed at enabling the more effective 'integration' of immigrant communities. Provisions were extended to cover housing and employment, the Race Relations Board was expanded and the Community Relations Committee was created to combat discrimination and prejudice through education. 

United Nations Convention on Racial Discrimination

Relations between immigrant communities and the police became increasingly tense during the 1960s. In 1968, the Cabinet decided against making racial discrimination an offence under the police disciplinary code, worsening an already bad situation. Relations between the police and immigrants were further considered in white papers in 1973 and 1975. In 1969, the Government chose to ratify the United Nations Convention on Racial Discrimination (with a reservation in respect of the Commonwealth Immigration Acts). It also sanctioned measures to eliminate racial discrimination in government contracts.

Race Relations Act 1976

The Select Committee on Race Relations, set up in 1968, produced evidence of the inadequacy of government policy on race during the early 1970s. In 1975, the government produced another white paper, which provided the basis of the Race Relations Act of 1976.

The Race Relations Act of 1976 finally extended the definition of discrimination to include indirect discrimination - any practice that disadvantaged a particular racial group. Individuals who felt that they had been discriminated against could take their complaints to the courts or industrial tribunals. The act replaced the Race Relations Board with the Commission for Racial Equality, which was given greater powers of enquiry and enforcement.