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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: One of the curious features of our constitutional arrangements is that unlike every other democracy that is written down in an intelligible form in a document of not more than 100 pages, we have to read Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland legislation and a whole lot of local government legislation. The Greater London Authority Act is three times longer than the constitutions of most other countries. Out of that opaque mess, one must somehow try to extract principles.
I understand that the motive behind this amendment is to probe rather than to remove Scottish and Welsh matters from the purview of the Race Relations Act. The only points that I wish to emphasise are that, first, whatever the niceties of devolution, it is obviously essential that every public authority in the United Kingdom--and we are looking at Great Britain because it applies equally to Northern Ireland--must comply with the duty not to discriminate on racial grounds.
As I understand it, the reason that the Scottish Administration and the National Assembly for Wales have been included in the schedule in that way is in order to include as much as possible without violating the agreement that was reached about the powers of the Scottish Parliament as such. But as I understand it too, under the devolution legislation for Wales and Scotland, the national minimum standard--the Race Relations Act 1976--is not in any way to be derogated from either in Scotland or in Wales. They are not matters which have been devolved to be amended by the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly. It is vital that our rights as citizens not to be discriminated against should not vary according to the particular part of the territory of a particular nation or region of the United Kingdom in which we happen to be at any one time. That seems to me to be the principle and I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that that is the purpose of what is in the schedule and in the devolution schemes.
If the Committee were to accept the amendment, it would have the effect of removing from the scope of the Bill all non-legislative functions of the Scottish Administration and the National Assembly for Wales. This amendment would leave Scottish Ministers in the Scottish Executive and their civil servants, as well as the National Assembly for Wales, outwith the extended scope of the Race Relations Act. I am not sure that that is what the noble Lord intended but that would be its effect. That is certainly contrary to what we are trying to achieve.
The amendment would create an anomalous situation contrary to the fundamental principle which we hold dear and which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, clearly supports; namely, to have a consistent approach to race relations throughout Great Britain. We believe that principle to be extremely important. Therefore, race relations is a reserved matter.
The inclusion of the Scottish Administration and the National Assembly for Wales is intended to ensure that the Administrations in Scotland and Wales are covered by the Bill while treating their legislative powers in the same way as those of Westminster. In our view, that approach is clearly correct and is the right way to proceed. As Members of the Committee will recall, the Scotland Act and the Government of
Perhaps I may clarify the two points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I can confirm that there was the necessary consultation in relation to the coverage of the Bill, and satisfactorily so. The coverage in Westminster, in Scotland and Wales will be analogous. It is simply, as the noble Lord said, because of the different constructs of the Administrations that the wording is different. It is the basis on which those Administrations are constructed which leads to the different wording. However, I confirm that the effect is the same. Therefore, on that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
He said that there had been consultation but he did not say whether it was the Ministers or the Parliament and Assembly which had been consulted. I am concerned as to whether the Parliament and Assembly have been consulted, particularly in the case of the Scottish Parliament because although, as he rightly says, those matters are reserved, matters of the administration of law are not reserved. Have the Parliament and Assembly been consulted or only the Ministers?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall make clear to him in correspondence exactly what has been undertaken by way of consultation so that there is clarity. I am happy to provide copies to other Members of the Committee interested in the issue and I shall place a copy of the letter in the Library.
The reasons are that we all know how incidents in war can lead to considerable controversy, sometimes over a very long period. For example, there is still a great deal of controversy over some actions which were taken, for example, in the Falklands war--the sinking of the "Belgrano"--in World War 2 and in World War 1. I happened to see recently a very
It does not seem to me that we want long recriminations in relation to what happened in the very difficult and special circumstances of active service to be dragged through the courts on a racial basis. I have no objection to people discussing incidents which happen in war. That is obviously entirely valid. But it is not an appropriate basis from which to mount court cases and so on under legislation of this character.
I should make it clear that the phrase "active service" is relatively narrow. Of course, quite often our Armed Forces act in aid of a civil power; for example, in Northern Ireland they are not on active service but they are acting in aid of a civil power. In that situation they are subject to the law in all respects. Indeed, there has been some controversy about that, as noble Lords will recollect, and criminal cases have arisen out of actions taken by soldiers pursuing their duties in Northern Ireland that have been quite controversial.
My amendment does not attempt to exclude the Armed Forces when they act in the aid of a civil power but only when they are in a war situation on "active service". That is the situation of greatest danger, when decisions have to be taken quickly. At that time I do not want our Armed Forces to have to look over their shoulders wondering whether they will finish up in court arguing the situation on a racial basis or, for that matter, on any other basis. I beg to move.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I do not agree with this amendment. Whether on active service or not, members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces ought not to practise direct racial discrimination. They should not practise that as employers and they should not practise it in carrying out their duties on behalf of the Crown. They are obliged not to do so under international law and they are also obliged not to do so in the employment field under the Race Relations Act 1976. In that Act there is a provision that deals with complaints of racial discrimination against the Armed Forces in a particular way so that they do not go to an employment tribunal under Section 54, unless the complainant has made a complaint to an officer under the service redress procedures applicable to him and has submitted that complaint to the defence counsel under those procedures and the defence counsel has made a determination, and so on.
Perhaps it would be right for there to be no colour-bar, no race discrimination in the Armed Forces for the reasons given by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, in an earlier debate today. It is absolutely vital that the Armed Forces cannot discriminate on racial grounds, whether on active service or otherwise. In my respectful view, it would be deplorable if we were to
Lord Burnham: It appears to me that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is not aware that this Government, and previous governments, have been guilty of serious racism. At no stage have they sent Irish regiments into Northern Ireland. If that is not racism I do not know what is.
My noble friend's amendment would cover the problem of "on active service". It is a remarkably familiar song to me because at present I am involved in singing, with other Ministers on the Government Benches, the Armed Forces Discipline Bill, where almost exactly the same conditions apply. We consider that it is not possible to use standards of normal behaviour when the Armed Forces are "on active service". We believe that the words "on active service" cover the requirements of the Geneva Convention with regard to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act. However, it is not sensible to expect that Armed Forces on active service should be bound by the same conditions as pertain in more peaceful and more normal times. Therefore, I have much pleasure in supporting my noble friend's amendment.
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