|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Before the noble Lord sits down, as regards Amendment No. 163, he has indicated helpfully that nothing in the Belfast agreement seeks to confine the definition of religious discrimination only to direct religious discrimination. The noble Lord has also indicated that religious discrimination is a matter of particular concern in Northern Ireland, as everyone knows. Can he tell the Committee what is the policy reason--if there is nothing in the Belfast agreement--for confining the definition of forbidden discrimination by public authorities only to direct religious discrimination and not including indirect religious discrimination?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The policy conclusion was that Clause 61--I think the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, mentioned this--simply reproduces Sections 17 and 19 of the 1973 constitution Act. That is a policy conclusion that we have reached. I do not believe that this is the right occasion to go beyond that. I do not mean that reply to be dismissive. I simply have to say what the facts are.
Lord Monson: In the light of the interesting explanation given by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for which we are grateful, I hope I may put one question to him. Just as Scotland was the experimental testing ground for the poll tax, to the great annoyance of the Scots, is there not a danger that Northern Ireland is set to become the experimental testing ground for outlawing forms of discrimination which will not be illegal on the British mainland, such as discrimination on the grounds of age and sexual orientation, to the probable annoyance of the people of Northern Ireland?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I entirely disagree with that. The agreement is the product of much heartache and compromise. There has been careful consultation upon the Bill. I do not think that anyone in Northern Ireland could conscientiously--nor have I found this expressed--think Northern Ireland was being used as a testing ground. In fact, quite the opposite used to be the
Lord Monson: Is the noble Lord, Lord Williams, saying that there is much more discrimination on the grounds of age and sexual orientation in Northern Ireland than in England, Scotland and Wales, because I do not think that is the case?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: One needs to be quite careful about one's suggestions on these occasions. What I am saying--I think fairly--is that Northern Ireland has been an unhappy, divided society. It has been divided sometimes on the basis of true discrimination, and sometimes on the basis of suspicion. What we are trying to do is to set a new map for Northern Ireland in changing circumstances. As the circumstances develop, the map may, of course, need to change. I am not suggesting for one moment that ageism is more rampant in Northern Ireland than here; what I am saying is that we are trying with our colleagues there to set a new opportunity for change to do away with suspicion, which is sometimes just as corrosive and dangerous as real fact.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: Before the noble Lord sits down, I should say that his comments have encouraged me greatly. I do not distort the words of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, but for the first time the belief has been encouraged that Northern Ireland will be the trend setter. It would be no bad thing if Northern Ireland blazes the trail for all the protections to be introduced here. I would welcome that.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I entirely agree with the noble Lord's comments. I am most grateful for his generosity. This has been the position in the past, of course, not simply in the context of law but in the context of industrial development. I refer to remarkably imaginative schemes to which both governments have been party. I am most grateful to him for that support.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I find myself much in sympathy with what the Minister has said. As he said, the purpose of the Bill is to implement the agreement. Indeed, if we were to accept some of these amendments,
I am reassured to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that the other forms of discrimination are already outlawed as regards public bodies and others by the common law and by other statute law. The Minister is quite right to say that the nub of what we are trying to do is to tackle the religious and political discrimination which has led to 3,000 deaths and untold other agony. That is why this matter is given a high priority within the agreement and within the Bill. The other forms of discrimination, important as they are, need to be tackled in other ways. I do not believe in using this measure as a vehicle to seek a huge extension of those rights at this stage.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: On one matter at least my noble friend Lord Williams and I are totally at one. As he said, the groupings have been somewhat disorientated. Unlike many of our decisions, that is not irremediable and no doubt in due course we can rely on the Chairman of Committees to assist us in sorting that out. For the moment I am content to say that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for his great assistance in the course of this debate and for the support of my noble friends Lady Lockwood and Lady Turner and of the noble Lord, Lord Rix.
I respectfully add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. In this respect Northern Ireland is a trend setter. The people of Northern Ireland know of some of the problems which can occur when matters of this kind go wrong. That may not be anyone's fault. It may be due to the inevitability of certain historical processes. They know better than most that that can happen. It is perhaps fitting that one day history will accord to them the label of pioneers in this respect.
For that reason, I accept what my noble friend says. There is a limit to what can be achieved in any one piece of legislation. We cannot put right every human wrong; we cannot dry every human tear. I would be content if what we achieved was to implement what was in the agreement.
It seems to me that there are some things which are so obvious that if someone were asked, "Why aren't they in the agreement?", the answer would be, "Because they are too obvious to need saying". I should have thought that that was true of two matters in particular. One is indirect discrimination. If my noble friend will allow me to say so, it is rather curious that it is proposed to include indirect discrimination, as I understand it, in relation to goods and services, but it is perfectly all right, so far as this legislation is concerned, to discriminate indirectly in relation to the provision of other matters which are within the control of public authorities. That is something I do not understand. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and others are better placed than I to say whether it is the case. I should have thought that if you had said to those who gathered at the table to produce the agreement, "You have not mentioned indirect discrimination. Is that because you think indirect discrimination is all right?" the answer
In relation to the distinction between the duty not to discriminate in Clause 60 and the duty not to incite other people to discriminate in Clause 61, I confess again that that is a distinction which, first, I find hard to follow, and, secondly, I find difficult to envisage as arising from the agreement. I cannot believe that those who sat down to produce the agreement would have said, "Of course we don't believe public authorities should discriminate, but we don't care if they incite other people to discriminate". They would have said, "That is something which we expect to be included in the legislation". If the Government do not address that, they will miss one of the essential underlying points of the agreement. It is perfectly all right to incite people to discriminate on grounds of race, gender or dependency, but you must not incite them to discriminate on grounds of religion. It is a curious distinction and I believe that the alibi that it does not arise from the agreement does not hold water.
I appreciate that my noble friend has a difficulty. The matter does not lie entirely in his view of the logic of the legislation, but I hope that the Government will be able to think again about this. I propose to give them that opportunity. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.