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On 25 January 2010, we published a policy statement in response to the consultation exercise on our proposals for specific duties. We would want public bodies to take steps such as developing and publishing equality objectives and reporting progress against them, and publishing their gender pay gaps and BME and disabled employment rates. We want them to do this in a standardised manner which allows citizens to track progress and compare public bodies. We believe that this package will lead to better policy, better public services and less bureaucracy and that it will be an asset for all. It will increase focus on the equality outcomes which we all wish to see.

Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, could consider that we have been here before. I am surprised that the noble Lord and those supporting this amendment, and indeed all the organisations that they have prayed in aid, have not beaten a path to our door asking for a meeting with us. It is not too late; they can certainly come and talk to us now. However, it seems that we have been in permanent session, meeting people about aspects of the Bill, for months and months. I reflect that the noble Lord and I had one very small exchange in the Cloakroom last week. It occurred to me then that perhaps we could have had a longer discussion had he and his colleagues come to see us to discuss the matter in more detail. Therefore, I invite him to do that.

The structure of a general duty underpinned by specific duties has worked successfully for the current duties. Why change an existing successful structure? We want to build on that, so I ask the noble Lord and the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Coussins, not to press their amendment.

Lord Low of Dalston: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask her how she responds to the point made by, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, that the specific duties do not apply to private and voluntary sector bodies. Could the Minister consider what the Government might do to take care of that point?

Baroness Thornton: Certainly we will take on board and consider that point, but I have the feeling that the generality of the legislation applies to everyone. I

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think that we shall need to have some discussions about this. I am getting a nod that that is generally the point of view. I probably need to write to noble Lords about that in specific detail, because I think that there are more details to give.

Lord Ouseley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the very thoughtful, and indeed helpful, response, suggesting that those of us who tabled the amendment have a discussion with her and colleagues.

I am disappointed that the Government have not been able to change their mind on this, not even with the persuasion of the three of us or others. It is a closed mind because many of the organisations which support this have been in dialogue with the Government. They have been in dialogue with the Government's equality office and with all those who have been drafting the Bill. They have had discussions and briefings with those who have been drawing up responses to amendments. I find it difficult to accept that there is not an understanding about the importance of this amendment. It could be a lot stronger-I do not think it could be much weaker, but it is appropriate and proportionate. Bearing in mind the urgency of tonight and not wishing to waste anyone's time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 46 withdrawn.

Amendment 47

Moved by Lord Wallace of Tankerness

47: Clause 148, page 96, line 4, at end insert-

"but subsection (1)(b) does not apply to the protected characteristic of religion or belief."

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, as we have heard in the discussion of the previous amendment, Clause 148 brings existing public sector duties in relation to race, disability and gender together into a single duty and seeks to extend the duty to cover age and sexual orientation as well as religion and belief. Under Clause 148(1)(a) the authority must have due to regard to the need to,

while Clause 148(1)(c) covers the need to,

We find these subsections entirely laudable. For the most part we can support subsection 1(b) as well. However, we wish to draw the line at the inclusion of the protected characteristic of religion and belief in the public sector duty that would be established by subsection 1(b). We find that problematic, hence this amendment. My noble friend Lord Lester has spoken on this issue on Second Reading and in Committee. In Committee other noble Lords raised concerns as indeed did the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York.

I want to state why we believe that religion and belief is different as a protected characteristic and why we believe that this clause is potentially both unworkable and divisive. The protected characteristic of religion

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and belief is different because whereas race, age and gender are very obvious, a person's religious beliefs are for the most part-perhaps not in the case of the right reverend Prelate-not quite so obvious.

The other point is about intrusion. A public body would have to be intrusive to find out people's religions and beliefs. It is a characteristic, which is not innate at birth. Beliefs can change-they are not immutable. Moreover, as I said earlier, to use the phrase that my noble friend Lord Lester regularly uses, one person's belief is another person's blasphemy. Very often beliefs are irreconcilable. That, too, makes it different and in turn can raise very fundamental issues about freedom of expression. So I believe it is a different characteristic.

We want to pursue these amendments because the clause will impose unreasonable burdens and demands on public authorities. If one particular religious group has some provision made in respect in public education, then surely almost every other religious group could come along and expect similar provision from the public authority. In many parts of the country, we look to religious organisations to provide some basic public services. Many care facilities, the length and breadth of this country, are provided by religious organisations. If public funding is made available to help and assist some of these religious groups to make that important provision, might not other religious groups ask for similar public funding? That could lead to an inefficient use of resources.

We could also get some very odd requests coming from people who consider themselves religious. I cannot remember the figure, but, under the question of belief, the most recent census produced a very high percentage of Jedi believers. Do they count for the purposes of this provision? The provision could lead to resentment. In some extreme situations, what is intended to be a very good and purposeful provision in a Bill that is intended to draw people together could end up being divisive, bringing the particular provision into disrepute and, I fear, leading to a silo provision of services. There could be a particular provision for one religion, a different provision for another and a different provision for yet another. That would not be healthy at a time when we want to bring communities together.

It is quite proper that our law prohibits direct and indirect discrimination based on religious identity. However, we believe that Clause 148(1)(b) takes it well beyond that. There is nothing more unsatisfactory in politics than to say, "I told you so", but I fear that if this comes to pass there will be an opportunity to say that. I hope it will not happen but "I hae ma doots". I beg to move.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I have listened to the impassioned speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, with rapt interest and deep attention. It follows from the passionate speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in Committee. We have heard very persuasive language. However, I have to apologise to the noble Lord because my feelings have not changed one iota. I still do not agree with the practical consequences or the intentions behind these amendments and would go as far as to say that perhaps the noble Lord has misunderstood the outcome of what his amendments would achieve.

2 Mar 2010 : Column 1405

I wonder if the noble Lord is aware that by removing only religion or belief from the protected characteristics, which will be provided by the public sector equality duty, he is creating an anomalous position. If the amendments were carried and the Bill were to be altered then we would be in a situation where some religions would be covered by the duty because they would also come under the heading of race. For example, the Sikh community and the Jewish community would remain covered by the duty because they are legally defined as races. The same would apply to Hindus who are nearly 99 per cent Indian in origin. Those who would be left out in the cold would therefore be Christians, Muslims and Rastafarians. We would end up in a situation where a public authority charged with providing a service would be legally obliged to take into account Vaisakhi and Yom Kippur but not Friday prayers or Eid. I wonder if this was the result that the noble Lord was looking for.

The noble Lord is already aware of course that Section 75(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 means that public authorities are required to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity:

I am not suggesting that just because religion or belief is included in one piece of legislation it is a given that it should be included in another. However, the latest research on the impact of this provision provided in the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland's report Keeping it Effective-Reviewing the Effectiveness of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998which was published in 2007, said that the research on the impact of Section 75 on individuals found that the impact and outcomes on individuals had been positive, although partial. In general, the commission concluded that individuals of different religious beliefs will have benefited from the steps taken by public authorities to better understand their needs in terms of service delivery, for example, through increasing accessibility in the delivery of services to take into account times of worship. There are also examples of recruitment and selection policies being amended to mitigate the adverse impact for individuals of different religions.

It would appear, therefore, that the success in Northern Ireland is further evidence to ensure that the public sector equality duty applies to religion or belief as well as other protected characteristics. The report states that it has been particularly helpful in,

We on these Benches believe that it is a vital part of the public sector equality duty and it is of the utmost importance to ensure that communities are brought together in social cohesion.

8 pm

If religion or belief were struck out of the Bill, it could mean that specific needs of Muslim women were not taken into account with regard to the local swimming pool, for example. I probably should declare

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an interest as a Muslim woman. If that happened and the pool was built and opened without due consideration for religious needs, it would simply mean that, at some point after the event, the local authority would realise the error and be forced to provide specific alternative provision. The noble Lord refers to silo provision. That would be more likely to arise by taking out the provision and adopting the amendment. Indeed, it exists at present.

That will cause difficulties not only in funding but in an acceleration towards segregation. We are opposed to that and believe that a big part of community cohesion comes from providing mainstream resources for all to use. That may mean that special services are provided as part of those mainstream services. To continue with my swimming pool example, it could mean that there are special classes for women, not Muslim women specifically but women generally. All could use the mainstream provision.

I am sure the Minister will go into more depth regarding the need to take into account the different needs of those with distinct religions or beliefs. It is important to note that we would have to implement all these specific demands, which would be beyond the scope of any public authority. However, it would help the process of community cohesion if all needs were at least considered, and if people felt that they were heard and mattered in the provision of local services. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, talks of funding in silos. I submit that we already have such provision as all beliefs are not taken into consideration when providing services generally. We have a shortfall of services which results in specific silo funding and provision thereafter. I am sure that the Minister will share some of our concerns about these Liberal Democrat amendments and the potentially divisive unintended consequences that I believe will follow.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford: My Lords, I have been asked to speak by the Chief Rabbi and by Sir Iqbal Sacranie. It is interesting that Jew and Muslim should come together in asking for this. It makes me wonder whether the noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, might not have a distinguished role to play in the Middle East.

The original measure is about protecting not religion but people against discrimination. It is important to understand that, and to be careful. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is very western in his suggestion that people can just change their religion, but often a group of people are brought together and assumed by others to be one group. The assumption can be made, certainly in Bradford, that all Asian people are Muslim. The Sikhs and the Hindus will then feel that they are being discriminated against and overlooked because of that assumption. I can imagine that happening in other ways in other cities where the demography is different. There needs to be close attention to the faiths of different groups who live together in our cities but who have different needs and concerns.

I hope that we will resist the amendment and allow people of religion-which is so intrinsic and not something that people can change just like that-to be recognised,

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and ensure that others do not ride roughshod over what are deeply held and sincere sensitivities in terms of their lifestyles.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, Amendment 47, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is similar to Amendment 111, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in Committee. I said that we would consider it further, and we have thought very hard about it. In 2008 we held a mini-consultation on applying a second limb of the equality duty, advancing equality opportunity in relation to religion or belief. My noble friend Lady Royall has reviewed responses to this consultation and we have also discussed it further with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in some of our meetings on the Equality Bill and in other places.

During our consultations, officials from the Government's equality office met representatives from religious and belief groups to discuss our proposals to extend the second limb of the duty to religion and belief. The majority of religion and belief groups supported the proposals, including the Church of England, the Catholic Bishops' Conference and the Evangelical Alliance. Most public bodies also responded in favour of the proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said that it would impose an unreasonable burden on public authorities to seek a variety of needs. As was said in our earlier debate, there is a duty to have due regard. Therefore, a public body is required to consider whether a need exists and whether it can meet that need. After carrying out that exercise, there is no requirement to meet a request if it is not reasonable to do so.

As I mentioned in Committee, the evidence available through the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the equalities review states that some people with religious beliefs, for instance Muslim women, or those without religious beliefs, are suffering disadvantage or their needs are not being met. The equalities review identified a Muslim penalty in terms of labour market participation and the fact that Muslim employees are less likely to achieve the same success as non-Muslims with the same qualifications. One in five Bangladeshi and Pakistani women reported experiencing negative comments about, for example, wearing religious dress. The amendment would build a hierarchy of equality into a duty. As this was much more adequately explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, I shall not go into the fact that Jews and Sikhs also will be covered. That has already been adequately covered in the debate.

I hope noble Lords will agree that advancing equality of opportunity in relation to religion or belief is necessary. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I am grateful to those who have taken part, and to the right reverend Prelate for suggesting that my noble friend Lady Northover and I might do some useful work in the Middle East. Some of the criticisms are a travesty of what was being proposed. The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said that we were trying to write religion and belief out of the Equality Bill. This is a narrow amendment referring to Clause 148(1)(b), which is not exactly

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writing religion and belief out of the entire Bill. It is unfortunate that the attack should be made on the basis of a misrepresentation of the proposal.

If a council wishes to take into account different interests when planning a swimming pool, it will not be prevented doing so simply because a specific statutory duty has not been set out. Indeed, it might be good practice to do so. We are concerned about having a specific statutory duty exposing public authorities to judicial review by thin-skinned or zealous people. I am not necessarily talking about mainstream religious groups of different faiths but those who are on the extreme wings who might want to try to pick a fight. That is where the concern lies as the Bill currently stands.

In response to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford, there are distinctions between protected characteristics with regard to a person's gender, race, age or belief. It may be that a large number of people do not change their beliefs, but some do. They do not necessarily change between faiths. One of the sad reflections of recent times is the number of people who move from belief to non-belief. I do not think that the right reverend Prelate does believe that that has not been happening, and it probably gives him grief too. This is an important point and I wish to test the opinion of the House.

8.10 pm

Division on Amendment 47

Contents 46; Not-Contents 132.

Amendment 47 disagreed.

Division No. 2


Addington, L.
Alderdice, L.
Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, L.
Avebury, L.
Barker, B.
Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.
Chidgey, L.
Craigavon, V.
Erroll, E.
Falkland, V.
Falkner of Margravine, B.
Garden of Frognal, B.
Hamwee, B.
Howe of Idlicote, B.
Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.
Lee of Trafford, L.
Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Maclennan of Rogart, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Neuberger, B.
Newby, L.
Northover, B.
Palmer, L.
Razzall, L.
Roberts of Llandudno, L. [Teller]
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Shutt of Greetland, L. [Teller]
Stair, E.
Steel of Aikwood, L.
Stern, B.
Teverson, L.
Thomas of Winchester, B.
Tonge, B.
Tope, L.
Tyler, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Wallace of Tankerness, L.
Walmsley, B.
Watson of Richmond, L.
Wilson of Tillyorn, L.
Young of Hornsey, B.


Adams of Craigielea, B.
Adonis, L.
Afshar, B.
Alli, L.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Astor, V.
Astor of Hever, L.
Bach, L.
Billingham, B.
Bilston, L.
Blackstone, B.

2 Mar 2010 : Column 1409

Borrie, L.
Boston of Faversham, L.
Boyd of Duncansby, L.
Bradford, Bp.
Bradley, L.
Brett, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Brookman, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Browne of Belmont, L.
Buscombe, B.
Butler-Sloss, B.
Campbell of Surbiton, B.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter of Coles, L.
Cathcart, E.
Clark of Windermere, L.
Colville of Culross, V.
Colwyn, L.
Corston, B.
Crawley, B.
Davidson of Glen Clova, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Deech, B.
Dundee, E.
Eames, L.
Elystan-Morgan, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Filkin, L.
Fookes, B.
Gale, B.
Geddes, L.
Golding, B.
Greenway, L.
Griffiths of Burry Port, L.
Harris of Haringey, L.
Hart of Chilton, L.
Haskins, L.
Haworth, L.
Henig, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howarth of Newport, L.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Jones, L.
Jones of Whitchurch, B.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Leitch, L.
Lindsay, E.
Luke, L.
Lyell, L.
McDonagh, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
Macfarlane of Bearsden, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
McKenzie of Luton, L.
Martin of Springburn, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Mawson, L.
Maxton, L.
Montrose, D.
Morris of Bolton, B.
Morris of Handsworth, L.
Morrow, L.
Murphy, B.
Noakes, B.
Norton of Louth, L.
O'Cathain, B.
O'Loan, B.
Ouseley, L.
Paisley of St George's, B.
Perry of Southwark, B.
Pitkeathley, B.
Puttnam, L.
Quin, B.
Radice, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Rogan, L.
Rooker, L.
Rosser, L.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Sawyer, L.
Seccombe, B.
Selsdon, L.
Sewel, L.
Shrewsbury, E.
Simon, V.
Skelmersdale, L.
Smith of Finsbury, L.
Smith of Leigh, L.
Stewartby, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Bolton, B.
Taylor of Holbeach, L.
Tebbit, L.
Thornton, B.
Tomlinson, L.
Tunnicliffe, L. [Teller]
Turner of Camden, B.
Verma, B.
Waddington, L.
Wall of New Barnet, B.
Walpole, L.
Warsi, B.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Wilcox, B.
Wilkins, B.
Young of Old Scone, B.

Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 9.20 pm.

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