April 1968: Race Relations Debate
The second reading of the Race Relations Bill took place on 23rd April 1968. It was introduced by the Home Secretary James Callaghan who stated ‘The House has rarely faced an issue of greater social significance.… we are called upon to lead the country… away from a prospect of strife and enmity and towards a society in which we live in freedom and in peace… no matter what be our race or our colour.' The Bill was overshadowed by Enoch Powell's infamous ‘Rivers of Blood' which took place just three days before the second reading. 1968 was designated a ‘Year of Human Rights' by the United Nations. This positively influenced the debate with some calling the Bill ‘a fitting contribution' to the year. Even without this backdrop, the Bill was a contentious issue with over 50 Members of Parliament wishing to give their views, and that of their constituents. The Speaker requested that they be brief so that “the varied opinions of the House on this important topic” could be heard.