Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I agree that if it can be done by Third Reading, it should be done. I shall not move those amendments today. It would waste the time of the House. There must be an offence called "wasting House time". Instead I shall leave the issue. The Government will no doubt then consider the matter. If they are able to table an amendment in time for Third Reading, so be it. If not, it is always open to any Member of the House to table amendments in order to raise the issue at that stage to see whether it is necessary to leave it over.

As regards the positive duty, I do not press the Government to attempt to get that right by next Thursday. That is unreal and not fair to them.

Earl Russell: My Lords, as one who in the past has made one or two critical remarks about the Government's attitude to this House, I feel it incumbent on me to express my intense pleasure that on this occasion the Government have listened to this House, have thought hard about the advice of this House, and have taken the necessary action. I express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, and through him to the Home Secretary.

I have in the past made far too many criticisms of hastily drafted legislation to be in a position to make any complaint if the Government, determined to get it right, take a little time to do so.

27 Jan 2000 : Column 1679

Finally, does the Minister understand why, when I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, I was reminded of a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Healey? When he was Secretary of State for Defence he said that offering defence cuts to the Left is like throwing herrings to a sea lion. I am not a sea lion.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, from these Benches, I add our appreciation to the Government without any sense of smugness or crowing. It is a real tribute to the quality of debate in this House and to the capacity of the Government to listen and respond to rational argument. Many Members of this House will deeply appreciate this move.

However, one point of clarification is needed in the light of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lester. Does the stop and search power come under the heading of direct discrimination rather than indirect discrimination? There is a great deal of confusion about this. It was widely reported in the press during the past week that driving home through London the Bishop of Stepney was stopped for the eighth time. I have never been stopped when driving through London or Oxford. Is the stop and search policy something which we have overlooked? Does it count as direct discrimination? Is it inadvertent indirect discrimination? We need clarification about the stop and search policy and what is and what is not allowed.

4 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, perhaps I may give some help. If the police stop and search black people more than white people in a given area because of prejudice or stereotyping, that is direct race discrimination. If the police impose a requirement for granting bail which applies equally to everyone in a formal sense--such as one has to have fixed employment or a fixed address--and that hits disproportionately at gypsies, although it is not intended to but has that effect, and a member of the Roma community challenges that decision and uses figures to support the challenge, that would be indirect discrimination.

The problem is that these are not watertight concepts. Very often a complainant needs to bring a case raising both. If one reads Dr Marion Fitzgerald's evidence to the Royal Commission on criminal procedure she explains why the concept of indirect as well as direct discrimination is very important. I hope that I have clarified the position, but if I have failed, all I can say is that I have also failed in the courts to explain it as well.

Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, I warmly welcome the news that the Government have ensured that the provisions of the Race Relations Act on indirect discrimination will apply to public bodies in respect of their functions. This is a decisive step towards meeting the aspirations of the findings of the Macpherson report that our public bodies set themselves the highest standards and that they are seen to keep them and that they lead by example.

27 Jan 2000 : Column 1680

I thank my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton for the way in which he has conducted the dialogue on this Bill. As promised, my noble friend and his colleagues have kept their door open so that alternative views can be discussed. We should be proud that at last we have a listening government.

The Government's handling of this Bill has been exemplary. In the course of the dialogue they have listened. Their announcement shows that they have also acted. I commend my noble friend on that. I express a debt of gratitude to all noble Lords who contributed to this Bill and especially to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, whose knowledge of the Race Relations Act is second to none. He spoke not only with the vested interest of the architect of the Act itself, but as someone who cares passionately about fighting discrimination and promoting human rights.

I also pay tribute to the officers of the CRE for their close working with the Government in this matter. This Bill is the first major piece of legislation in the field of race relations since 1976. It follows three reviews of the Race Relations Act by the CRE, which went largely ignored by previous Home Secretaries.

The CRE's latest review in 1998 recommended some 50 changes to make the Act stronger and more effective. This Bill has a long way to go in realising those aims. But this step taken by the Government should be applauded. It makes our country a better place to live for all its citizens.

Your Lordships may be aware that the chairman of the CRE, Sir Herman Ouseley, will be retiring from that position in the very near future. I believe that this Bill will serve as a tribute to his reputation as someone who has stood up and can be counted on when fighting for racial equality. The Government's announcement could not be more timely to a man who gave all of his time and eloquence seeking equity and justice.

I am pleased for the many millions of people who have over many years suffered discrimination on racial grounds in whatever form. If anyone deserves a tribute for perseverance in the face of adversity it is the black community, which has been the victim of both direct and indirect discrimination.

I said in Committee that I believed that this Bill had the potential to be one of the Government's flagship Bills. It has kindled the beacon of equality about which the Home Secretary spoke in another place last year. It is now the responsibility of all to see that the beacon burns brightly as an example to Europe and beyond for many generations to come.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I would like to echo the tributes which have been paid to my noble friend for the work that he has done on this Bill and indeed for all that he has done to promote racial equality going back over a period of 25 or more years and for most of the time that I have been in political life. I remember very well the signal contribution that he made to the original Race Relations Act in the middle 1970s. Because he has been involved in every single piece of legislation since then, the words that he has spoken

27 Jan 2000 : Column 1681

both in this House and in the discussions we have had with the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, have fallen on receptive ears.

I thank not only my noble friend but also the Home Office and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, not just for what he has done on the Floor of the House, but for the careful way in which he has listened to representations behind the scenes and brought in experts to take account of the views which your Lordships have expressed. I believe that we should be tremendously grateful to the Home Office. It is not very often that I find myself saying these nice things about the Home Office, but this is one occasion on which we can be completely unreserved in expressing our gratitude for the way in which it has handled the discussions on this Bill and its final outcome, which seems to be wholly admirable.

With some hesitation, perhaps I may add one word to what my noble friend said as regards the stopping and searching of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Stepney. From reading the account of that incident in the newspaper, it seems that the police acted unlawfully. It is clear that when the Bishop asked the police why they had stopped him they had no reason whatsoever to do so. But they went further and required the right reverend Prelate to open the boot of his car when they had no possible excuse for that action.

I believe that disciplinary action should be taken against police officers who exceed their responsibilities and step outside the law on stop and search which is perfectly plain. One has to have a reasonable excuse for believing that a law has been broken before someone is stopped. In the case of the right reverend Prelate there was no such excuse.

That matter aside, I repeat that we have an excellent offer from the Government. It would be churlish not to accept their condition that they need a little more time to put it in place. I am perfectly happy with the solution that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, offered, with the rider suggested by my noble friend that if anyone wants to return to this matter they can do so at Third Reading. I believe that the House should be well content.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, in adding my congratulations to those of Members on all sides of the House on the responsiveness of my noble friend, I should like to add one point. He is responding to a much more diverse House than during the passage of the previous race relations legislation. He has taken full advantage of the range of experience that your Lordships have and which can be called on. That fact should now stand the Government in good stead for future legislation. When we come to consider the future of this Bill I hope that, with the experience of my noble friends, we can also look at the definition of public authorities. That has not been mentioned and I would not seek to raise it in any amplified way now.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page