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I should like to know more specifically about the fears expressed by previous speakers, particularly those of a Christian religious faith. I am from, and take part in, a Christian community, as do my family. I have not heard expressed in that community the fears that have been expressed in this Chamber, and I would like to know more. I believe that most fears are imagined. Some of the fears were expressed during the passing of the Race Relations Act 1976 and the 1964 Act. I am not dismissing the fears but we should examine them logically and see exactly where they lead us.
I do not want to keep you any longer. I am concerned that the issues about the scrutiny of the Bill will lead to delay, which would lead to a dismantling of the Bill at a future time. That would be a real shame. We have
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Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, although I am generally supportive of the Equality Bill, it is disappointing that it fails to tackle some of the unnecessary discrimination in employment. I speak to two specific issues in that context. First, there is the exception that permits organisations with a religious ethos to discriminate in employment when they are working under contract to provide public services on behalf of the state. Secondly, there is the possible discrimination against teachers in state-funded faith schools.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for his incisive analysis of the problems of religion and belief as defined and deployed in the Bill, which I need not elaborate. Nor will I contest the assertions of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, except to say that as chairman of the All-Party Humanist Group, I only wish that I could share her belief that secularism is advancing across the UK. That is certainly not my impression.
The wording of the "work exceptions" for employers with a religious ethos, which permit them to discriminate in their employment on religious grounds, have been harmonised in the Bill. The new definition of exemptions for religious employers in the Equality Bill clarifies the present law by stating that any requirement that an applicant or employee must be of a particular religion or belief must be "an occupational requirement" and,
This applies to all employers, including those with an ethos based on religious belief, and is to be welcomed. However, as the Bill is drafted, the exceptions described would apply even when a religious organisation is working under contract to a public authority to provide a public service on its behalf.
By extending the exception in Schedule 9, paragraph 3, of the Bill to religious organisations working under contract to provide these public service, the Bill could potentially subject a large number of posts currently in the public sector to religious tests. This could, for instance, provide favourable employment prospects to small numbers of religious believers. Conversely, it could rule out large numbers of posts for those with the wrong religion or with none. It could threaten the employment or promotion of staff transferred under a contract from the public sector employer to a religious one.
There is no good reason for allowing religious organisations performing public functions on behalf of a public authority to apply religious tests to their jobs. These concerns are shared by trade unions, the British Humanist Association, progressive religious organisations and others, including the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, which in its recent report on the Equality Bill stated:
"We are concerned about the status of employees of organisations delivering public services who find themselves as employees of organisations with a religious ethos who have been contracted to provide the public service. They have a right not to be subjected to religious discrimination on the basis of the ethos of the contracting organisation if they are otherwise performing their job satisfactorily".
I ask the Minister to agree that the extension of Schedule 9, paragraph 3, is not satisfactory, and that it puts the jobs and job prospects of potentially thousands of public service workers at risk if their work is contracted to an organisation with a religious ethos.
Having expressed these concerns about the exceptions made for organisations with a religious ethos, I register our continuing concern about the ability of faith schools to discriminate against staff. There is no present need even to demonstrate the occupational requirement in order to discriminate on grounds of religion. In practice this means that a voluntary-aided school can impose religious requirements on all teaching posts and can also take religion into account in promotion and pay decisions without ever needing to show that the teacher being discriminated against needs to perform any religious role at all. Furthermore, any teachers in a voluntary-aided school might be dismissed or sanctioned for conduct incompatible with the tenets of the religion of the school, which could cover a wide and disputed range of conduct.
We anticipate that the tolerant majority of faith schools would not use the full extent of their powers to discriminate in employment. Indeed, many faith schools employ many teachers with many different beliefs. However, the reality is that those staff have few legal rights if they are discriminated against on religious grounds. This is surely not a satisfactory situation. The Bill could be amended in ways that would permit faith schools to discriminate by religion against employees but only according to the same rules as other organisations with a religious ethos.
I conclude by asking the Government to look again at these matters, which could restrict jobs to workers of the right religion, a requirement that, by definition, the majority of citizens can never meet.
Baroness Flather: My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, has already spoken most eloquently about caste discrimination. I add my voice to it as well. I do not think that I will do as well as him, but I will bring something different to my speech: a personal experience and knowledge of this heinous practice. In doing so, I hope that I may try and convince your Lordships that caste discrimination exists in this country and that it blights people's lives in the same way as all other discrimination.
It is very difficult in many ways to describe what constitutes a caste. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, gave the traditional view that there are four castes. Well there are four castes, but it is not just about that. It is about the practice of discriminating against a person who is not of your own caste. Sometimes this can even happen among the people of the higher castes. The highest caste will discriminate against the one lower; that one will discriminate against the one lower and so on and so forth. It is a practice that needs to be examined and, if possible, tackled.
When I was a child, caste was very much part of our lives. As we are of the third class-the merchant class-we had to have a Brahmin-the highest caste-to cook our food because if someone from a higher caste came to our house, they would not eat our food because we were not of the same caste as them. We had two kitchens: one where meat was cooked and another where a Brahmin cook prepared food. I grew up expecting people to demand that food be cooked by someone from their own caste.
The Indian constitution was formulated by a wonderful lawyer called Dr Ambekar, who was from the lowest caste. He was very anti-caste. He added provisions to the constitution saying that people should not be discriminated against on the basis of caste. He also outlawed one other very dreadful practice; the practice of dowry. Asking for a dowry is outlawed in the constitution.
Laws are made but people do not follow them. The constitution is not followed so the caste system exists. The saddest part is, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, that it has been extended to other people and other religions in the Indian subcontinent. To me, it is very sad to find that the Sikhs now have four temples in every town, each one being for a different caste. That is appalling because the founder of the Sikh religion said, very categorically, that they are all brothers and sisters.
Islam says its followers are all brothers-it talks only about brothers and not about sisters. They do not call it caste, but Biradari, or Jati, or some other name and people will not marry into another caste. To me, that is very sad.
Baroness Warsi: My Lords, on a point of clarification, when the noble Baroness refers to discrimination on the basis of caste or to the brotherhood in Islam, is she referring to that as a cultural practice or as a religious practice? If it is religious, what is the religious basis for it?
Baroness Flather: My Lords, it is not a religious practice. I refer to it only as a cultural practice for Muslims from the Indian subcontinent. I have been to Pakistan four times and, the first time I went there, I was shocked to learn that people did not marry outside what they considered to be their caste. I refer to that and not to the Muslim religion. The Muslim religion does not recognise the caste system and it does not exist in other parts of the Islamic world.
Christian converts came mainly from the lower castes who thought they could escape the caste system, but everyone treated them as lower caste. You cannot escape simply by calling yourself something different.
The lower castes were mentioned in a schedule to the constitution, so they became known as the "schedule castes" and now we call them Dalits, which means downtrodden. They have asked for that name. People from the Indian subcontinent have come to this country and have brought these customs with them. It is a
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There is also verbal abuse and people who do not receive the same pay. I used to be a teacher and I know there is abuse in schools. The Christian boys got very short shrift from the others. I know very well what goes on and I beg your Lordships to consider this as a serious issue and to find a way to root out this dreadful practice in this country.
Lord Parekh: My Lords, I greatly welcome the Bill and see it as a tribute to the Government's commitment to equality. The Bill does a number of things that are long overdue. It comes as a climax to a long struggle for equality, which began nearly 45 years ago. As time is limited, I shall concentrate on those aspects of the Bill which puzzle me and where I would like some clarification and possibly some reinforcement. I have six points.
Given the provenance of the Bill and the fact that women constitute 51 per cent of our population, the Bill has much to say about gender equality. I welcome that, but I would have thought that measures similar to those proposed for gender equality might be introduced for other characteristics; for example, pay audits refer mainly to women and have nothing to say about the disabled or the ethnic minorities. There is a provision in the Bill for a women-only shortlist but no provision whatever for ethnic minorities or for the disabled or others. Women enjoy only 19 per cent of the representation in the House of Commons, which certainly needs to be rectified, but the representation of ethnic minorities is less than 2 per cent. I would have thought that the same arguments made about gender representation should also apply to ethnicity and other areas.
My second point is a simple one. As is widely acknowledged and was repeatedly emphasised by Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister, the ethnic minorities are inadequately represented in the higher echelons of the Civil Service, the judiciary, and among chief executives of NHS trusts and other public bodies. Many of us had hoped that the Bill would propose some way of rectifying that situation. So far I have seen nothing in the Bill that will do much to rectify that gross under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in the upper echelons of the Civil Service and the judiciary.
My third point concerns placing a positive duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity, to counter disadvantages and to foster good relations. The duty, as formulated in the Bill, remains rather vague. There is no provision to monitor public authorities. The Bill says that the Government will make proposals later for specific duties, possibly in the form of instructions or secondary legislation. I hope that they will bear in mind the need to give real bite to the general positive duty to promote equality of opportunity and to foster
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I have the same feeling concerning the need to tackle socio-economic disadvantage. Tackling that is a public policy issue and the law can only do so much but we should ensure that it does everything it can. Public authorities are required to show that they have taken into account the differential socio-economic impact of their policies and that the course of action they propose to take will deal with those differential impacts. Placing the duty is not enough. We also need to ensure that public authorities are required to publish alternative strategies by which they try to identify what impact different strategies will have and that those strategies deal with socio-economic disadvantages. There is no use simply putting the duty in formal terms, unless there is a backup mechanism of some kind.
My fourth point has to do with the fact that disadvantage and discrimination occur for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways. There is direct and there is indirect discrimination, but as the Macpherson report pointed out, and as the report that I was privileged to chair on behalf of the Runnymede Commission pointed out, discrimination can also occur through the culture of an organisation, through the attitudes of its members, unwitting prejudices, thoughtlessness and stereotypes-in other words, a kind of sexism or racism which is built into the practices and procedures of the organisation, which shapes its culture and results in discriminatory or disadvantageous treatment. I should have liked the Bill to have moved beyond simple forms of direct and indirect discrimination and to tackle ways of organisational culture.
I want to move, briefly, but importantly, to the complicated notion of positive action and the situation where it can be regarded as lawful. Positive action, as it is defined in the Bill, is, in some form, already lawful and many organisations practise it. It seems to imply that, where people are equally qualified, you might take into account the fact that someone belongs to a particular gender or a particular race. However, there is a different way in which the problem can be conceptualised.
Take a hospital. The example given is of a school where all the teachers are women and we are thinking of a male teacher as a role model. Let me give a slightly different and less hackneyed example and a real one. Take a hospital whose obstetrics and gynaecology department is all-male. Many women would like to be seen by a female gynaecologist, but there is none. A vacancy occurs. We have two candidates, a male and a female, with equal medical or academic qualifications and equal professional experience. The woman doctor could be appointed, either as a form of positive action, or by simply saying that the needs of the organisation require that her gender is an important part of the qualification itself. In other words, what is called positive action here is not simply an add-on in a situation where there is equality of qualification or experience, rather it is built into the structure of the assessment criteria themselves, so that she is appointed because she has an additional qualification, by virtue of her gender, which others do not have.
My last point has already been made and has to do with the procurement policy of the Government. They spend somewhere between £175 billion and £220 billion per year on goods, facilities and services supplied by the private sector. This is a very powerful weapon by which to ensure equality. This is what the Americans did in the 1970s and 1980s in a very big way. This is what was also proposed here when the GLC was in swing, in the form of contract compliance. The Bill needs to provide clear guidelines as to how the procurement policy or contract compliance is to be executed, there should be rigorous monitoring so that the policy is not misused and it must be enforced as powerfully as it can be.
I have expressed some doubts and reservations about the Bill, but that was simply in the hope that we take them into account, and as and when another opportunity arises to propose a Bill, perhaps we might be able to go back and take these points into account. I have no wish to put down amendments on any of this, because the Bill is extremely important and nothing should be done to delay its passage through this wonderful House.
Baroness Deech: My Lords, I wish to address the impact that the Bill will have on the professions of law and medicine and in particular the position of women and ethnic minorities in those professions. By virtue of Schedule 19, the NHS is a public authority for the purposes of Clause 145 and therefore it will have a duty to advance equality of opportunity between men and women, a subject in which I have a special interest. I chaired for a year a Department of Health committee which produced a report this October entitled Women Doctors: Making a Difference. This initiative arose because of two factors relating to equality. One is that the majority of students starting to study medicine is now and has for some time been female. The other is the need to retain and use to the full the value of the medical workforce, given the expense of training and the cut in hours imposed by the European working time directive, which has made full utilisation harder.
Both men and women medical students need and deserve to have a work-life balance, but the profession of medicine is exceptional in the demands it makes of doctors, especially women. Other professions have long hours, anti-social hours and a demand for continuity on the part of the person receiving the services, but in none is it as intense as in medicine. There have been many reports into the best way to keep women doctors in and at the top of the profession. My report was different in two respects. It focused on remedies, not reasons, as the ground had been well covered, and its thrust was to get women back to full-time work, assuming they want it, while admitting that there will always be periods in the woman doctor's life when she has to train or work less than full time, because of child or elder care. So we focused on returning and retaining; we examined the difficulty women doctors seem to experience in getting into leadership positions, focusing on fair nominations to committees, mentoring and the need to share the limelight in the royal colleges and journals. We looked at flexibility in terms of hours and place in order to facilitate it and we spent a great deal of time examining childcare.
There is one big gap in the otherwise admirable ideology underlying this Bill, and it relates to the position of women, the protected characteristic of the female sex. While in relation to other protected characteristics, such as race, the law seeks to remove barriers, in the case of women and the disabled it may be more subtle: making reasonable adjustments. It is not sufficient to say to women that they are free to get on with it, any more than it is to the disabled. The ramp, or helping hand, has to be put in place. In the case of women, that is childcare. There will never be true equality in the workplace until there is national, affordable, indeed subsidised childcare in all its varieties.
We expect women at one and the same time to occupy half of all top positions, to earn the same salaries as men and yet to be good mothers. It is regarded as a valid life choice to abandon work and stay at home once children are born, with all the risks that that choice entails if the male partner leaves the home, or the career ladder is left behind. The only way to square the circle in medicine and other demanding professions is to enable the woman both to be a good mother and a good professional in relation to her patients by enabling childcare. When a typical man goes to work, he is provided with a secretary and a computer; when a self-employed man entertains potential clients, he gets tax relief. A typical working mother would like and has more need of a child carer and tax relief on that. The childcare costs that she incurs at work are necessarily so incurred. The tax that it is proposed should be recovered from bankers would be well spent on extending childcare vouchers. A parliamentary staffing allowance for MPs, if it continues to exist, is as validly spent, if not more so, on a child carer than on a secretary, and many women would support me in saying that the childcare is the more essential. Promoting equality without the infrastructure is only half the battle.
I now turn to law, where I declare an interest as chair of the Bar Standards Board regulating barristers. I was dismayed to see Clause 45, which singles out the Bar, with one or two others, for special treatment in the area of equality. There is no need for Clause 45. The Bar put together an equality and diversity code as far back as 1995. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, issued a famous report on equality and access at the Bar, which laid out a blueprint which has been faithfully followed to encourage diversity and inclusion within the legal profession. Considerable work has been done by the Bar in relation to school visits and in engaging students at all universities. The Inns of Court spend £4 million in supporting students, and as far as pupillage goes, 23 per cent of new pupils are from black and other ethnic minority backgrounds. There is no case for singling out the Bar. The only problem with the legal profession is the Government. Their desire-
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I declare an interest as a barrister. I wonder whether the noble Baroness is aware that the provisions she is talking about were put into the race and sex discrimination Bills and had the support of the legal profession for good reason.
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