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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt but it is at this point that everything breaks down. The Governments case depends on construing the race directive as excluding colour when it says race and ethnicity. I have tried to ask in Questions for Written Answer whether any other country has interpreted the directive in that way and have got no answer. Could the Minister write to those who have taken part in the debate to answer this question: when the race directive was made and this Government exported the Race Relations Act to it, did we take the position that it would leave out colour? Was that a policy decision we supported? If so, it was contrary to the UN definition that we used in our own race relations law and that is in the preamble to the directive. I do not expect her to answer that now, but whoever interpreted it in this way acted in a way I regard as manifestly unreasonable.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, my advice is that in the formulation of the race directive, many of the protections were limited to racial, national and ethnic origins because the directive expressly excluded differences of treatment based on nationality and stayed silent on the question of colour. The legal basis
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Using the powers of that act did not allow for the provisions that it transposes from the race directive to be extended or expanded to cover colour or nationality. That meant that although historically our domestic legislation has recognised and covered five separate dimensions of race, including colour, the new requirements imposed by the race directive could only be introduced on the grounds of racial, ethnic and national origin. The result has been, as noble Lords have reflected, that the protections of the 1976 Act now operate on a two-tier basis. The noble Lord knows that the provisions relating to the burden of proof are only one of the areas where the transposition has resulted in an anomaly; others are those relating to discrimination, indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment, as well as the several race exceptions.
It was recognised at the time of the introduction of the Race Relations (Amendment) Regulations that these anomalies would be created. The then Minister, Beverley Hughes, explicitly acknowledged that the Government would certainly want to take the first opportunity to bring all the relevant provisions into line on nationality, colour and the three dimensions in the directiverace, national and ethnic origins. We did that in relation to Section 54A, entitled Burden of proof: employment tribunals, and Section 57ZA, entitled Burden of proof: county and sheriff courts.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked about the actual impact on the ground. I am thankful that we are not aware of any cases where this has been a major issue. That does not mean in any sense that we have not got to address the problem that has been created. There is a need for total clarity with regard to the protections available through the law. It is an important issue and is already being addressed. These anomalies can only be rectified now by primary legislation.
Finally on the burden of the noble Lords task this evening, yes, we will be introducing a new equality Bill. The Prime Ministers recent announcement of the draft legislative programme included reference to it. We are committed to introducing the Bill during this Parliament. The noble Lord has already emphasised that it will be widely welcomed in this House but intensely scrutinised as well. We look forward to that. We are proud of our framework of discrimination law but it has become complex. One of the major challenges in these nine pieces of legislation and 100 more that surround those key elements is to bring together, harmonise, consolidate and simplify the law, and to remove inconsistencies. That is one of the key reasons we intend to introduce the equality Bill. It will make the law clearer and easier to use by simplifying and harmonising the patchwork of protections that we have. Simpler law will make for simpler guidance from bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission. As a result, employees and customers will have a better idea of
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On the noble Lords comments on the wider issues relating to the Bill, both in the way the new law should be framed and what the Bill should contain, I have to ask for his continuing understanding and patience. We all want a law that is clear, consistent, balanced and positive, which I am sure it will be. As for what the Bill should contain, I am grateful to him for having made his views so clear this evening. They are now on the record. We expect to make a detailed announcement shortly. His views and those of everyone who has spoken this evening will be taken seriously, and the opportunities will be taken to meet them.
There has been immense interest in the Bill. We had 4,000 responses to the consultation, which in itself has been a reason for careful and deliberate work to develop our response. I accept that people have grown impatient, too. We want to respond to the conspicuous appetite for a strong Bill by taking steps to strengthen the framework as well as to harmonise and consolidate the existing law. The Bill is intended
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To return to the specific issue of the debate, some of the responses to the Green Paper identified the same types of anomaly which the noble Lord has brought to the attention of the House this evening. As I said, the Government have already indicated their intention to rectify anomalies similar to the one which he has raised. The Bill will provide the opportunity to do that. I hope that, with those assurances, he can have the confidence that he sought in the spirit of the debate. We look forward to the detailed Statement and to the debates that we will have on the Bill.
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