However, there is also the other side of the argument; namely, that sometimes we have got ourselves into so prescriptive a situation that it is very hard for people to get on with the job. I want to give an example which is sufficiently far in the past for it not to be seen as party political. When I lived in Ealing, if you wanted

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an extension into your roof, which a lot of rather big houses in the area wanted, you could not get the decision from the planning authority until it had been discussed by the sexual orientation committee and the racial committee. Something which obviously had nothing to do with either of those committees had to go through the format to deliver. What worried me was that it was the cause of considerable aggravation for people who just wanted an extra couple of rooms for their family. It did no good for people’s views about either sexual orientation or racial equality.

I have taken that example because it is extreme but it actually happened. It caused real problems and was promoted by the then governing party in Ealing as a wonderful example of how good it was on precisely these issues. I thought that it was a terrible example of how to distort and upset the very careful balance that you have to have between practicality and the important ethical issues with which we are concerned.

Therefore, my concern about the proposed new clause is that it can so easily lead to a simple system of adding to bureaucracy without achieving any end. The important thing is that all of us in our public lives and in our private business lives—leave alone our private lives—should seek to carry through our duties, whatever they may be—familial, business or public—in a way which constantly encourages us to ask, “Is this proposal one which disadvantages sections of the community?”. You have to be pretty careful about how you define those sections because sometimes people get left out. If you are not careful, you get a whole lot of other people added in because someone says, “Oh, you have that list, but there is this lot and another group and another set who we might have missed out”. I am much more interested in framing the legislation in such a way as to encourage people to see their duties in whatever they do in this context.

It is equally difficult to argue that we should have a note in here saying that everyone should carry out their public duties remembering that they have to tell the truth, or should carry out their public duties in such a way that they do not waste money, because, if you say that, you are assuming that people do not think of those two things if they are appointed to public office. I think that most people doing these jobs already consider them in this way. I would much prefer to look for a solution that encourages people’s training and makes sure that they have sensible ways in which to remind themselves of these importances without having these detailed requirements, which very often will be used as a necessary factor in things which really have got nothing to do with the issues that we are talking about.

There is an in-between, a balance, between these two positions. We have to be careful of producing an answer which says, “If you don’t agree with this kind of detailed listing, somehow or other you are less enthusiastic about equality than those who do”. I am very enthusiastic about equality—I have a record of fighting for it all across the board—but I have to say that I also hate bureaucracy: it makes people who are on our side in the first place less on our side because of what they have to do when what they have to do is unnecessary.

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Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, I think that it is true to say that there have been unintended consequences in the way that equality impact assessments have been applied in some instances. The views just expressed by my noble friend are widely shared in some quarters. However, I associate myself with this amendment in an effort to reform what we understand by equality impact assessments and to bring to them a sense of balance. I also want to highlight their importance and not lose sight of why we had to have them in the first instance.

Of course, there has been change. The Prime Minister mentioned that these assessments would be done away with, and there has been discussion of changing the terminology used from “equality impact assessments” to “analysis of the effects”. We need to be clear about how terminology is used in decision-making. We should focus less on the production of a document and more on impact. That needs to be clarified. More clarification is needed on intentions because it seems that government policy is veering towards getting rid of these assessments. Are we to understand that there is no longer a wish to know in advance about the impact of policies on different groups of people? If so, that needs to be said clearly.

There are concerns that too much time is taken in conducting spurious or inaccurate equality analyses, and perhaps many people conducting analyses have not always understood them. Proposed new subsection (6A)(e) refers to,

“training staff in connection with the duties imposed by this section”.

There seems to be a bit of a gap between what is expected and what should be produced at the end of the process—what we are looking for as an end result. How can we be sure that government policies do not have the effect of treating some groups of people less favourably than others if there is no evidence of consideration of the likely impact on these different groups?

A recent review of government policy suggested that there was little evidence that the impact on people had been considered when plans and proposals had been circulated. Surely we do not wish to see a return to the situation that prevailed between the late 1970s and the 1990s, when the duty under Section 71 of the Race Relations Act was applied only to local government and not to other public services such as the police. It is important to recall for the record that it was not until the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence that the public sector equality duty was extended to all public authorities and private organisations contracted to deliver services. Asserting that equality is being considered is not the same as providing evidence. The way the evidence is produced may be contentious. I have no problem with it being more streamlined and sensible.

My final comment is to highlight something positive that took place in the past two years. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, using its unique powers under Section 11, conducted an impact assessment on Her Majesty’s Treasury, among other government departments, to assess the extent to which the Treasury had met its legal obligations to consider the impact of

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the 2010 spending review decisions on protected groups. This was a really positive piece of work and I commend it the Committee—it is on the website and your Lordships can read it in the report. The work was embraced by the Government and government departments that have not done this before. It was a first instance; it had not happened under the previous Government and was the first report on this scale. It gave a set of recommendations for how to target spending to ensure more effective use of public money and greater fairness across government overall. It was a very significant work, so we have some good practice on how it can happen. I urge that we look at ways of reforming but retaining this very important legislation.

7.15 pm

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I am grateful for the debate on this amendment. It might be worth saying for the record, and for the purposes of clarity, that the amendment that we are debating now is to Section 149 of the Equality Act and that the Bill in front of us does not propose to amend that bit of the Act. This is of course different from the general duty for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which this Bill will amend. I say that because, as I said in an earlier debate today, it is important to keep reminding ourselves that the two are different things.

Let me say first that I understand the concerns raised in this debate but that I would put myself absolutely shoulder to shoulder with my noble friend Lord Deben in what he says. Like him, I absolutely support equality but I do not support bureaucracy, particularly because I do not want processes to undermine our ability to extend the support for equality beyond those of us who feel passionately about it. It cannot just be the same people who believe in equality; if we are to improve equality in our society, we have to get everybody on board. We need to be mindful of that in how we design our approach to achieving that end. We all want the same thing: the better consideration of equality issues by public bodies when they are designing services and policies. Where I think we differ, and this is obviously what we are debating, is the method for achieving it. I will explain why I believe this Government’s approach is the right one.

The implementation of the public sector equality duty in 2011 marked a significant change in approach compared to previous equality duties. We wanted to move away from the bureaucratic box-ticking and form-filling to make sure we make real progress on equality. I understand that we in the Government have to deliver on that outcome; that is what we will be judged on. We believe that this amendment would be a regression to the previous practice of too much process and bureaucracy, with not enough focus on real equality outcomes.

Because it has been referred to, let me refer directly to the speech made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to the CBI about equality impact assessments. This is really a point in response to my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece, but what the Prime Minister was saying that day was that EIAs are not and never have been a legal requirement to ensure what we are committed to achieving, which is public

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services that do not marginalise or discriminate but which ensure that people are treated equally. They are an intensive resource that can take key staff away from planning and delivering better public services.

If that is not bad enough, worse, they are often produced after key decisions are taken, so they can be a sort of reverse-engineering exercise: a decision has been made and the decision-makers then go back and look at the equality impact assessment form, rather than thinking about the effect of their policy on equalities at the time of their forming it. For that reason, departments were asked to call a halt to the production of equality impact assessments. It was not of course to stop in any way their absolute requirement to have due regard to the public sector equality duty.

Public bodies should consider the potential equality impacts of their policies throughout their design and delivery. Records of this can be used as evidence of due regard to the relevant equality aim and there is no need to create additional unnecessary paperwork. The public sector equality review is taking place at this time but it is important to stress, going back to the point made by my noble friend Lord Deben, that we want to make sure that it delivers the outcome that we all seek to achieve. We feel strongly about it and we are absolutely committed to the need for the public sector to deliver policies and services that ensure an outcome in support of everyone. We want to ensure that it delivers that aim.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked in a previous debate whether we would be taking evidence. We plan to hold a series of round tables that will allow us to gather evidence from the VCS, legal advisers to public bodies, equality and diversity practitioners, trade unions, inspectorates and the private sector. We are also developing a questionnaire to enable public service professionals to provide their personal experience of working with the duty. The involvement of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in the review is critical and, for this reason, the commission is represented on the independent steering group that oversees the review. We are also working closely with the commission as we develop the evidence-gathering for it. The noble Baroness referred to the Schneider Ross research. In evidence-gathering to date, so far we have focused on analysing existing research and case law, but we will look closely at that research as part of this. I realise that we are keen to make progress, so I hope that in this short debate I have given the noble Baroness enough reassurance for her to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Thornton: I thank the Minister for her remarks and, indeed, I am also mindful of wanting to make progress. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Deben, for their remarks.

Experience tells us—this is partly based on the very wise remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Deben—that while public bodies and people know that they must have financial probity and regard to the truth, they do not always know that they have to understand the impact of their decisions on different groups. We have mountains of experience telling us that people simply

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do not think about the impact of the decisions that they take on disabled people or other groups. That is why we have this legislation and why it is so important. I will read the comments made by the noble Baroness, and we will then decide what we want to do next. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 28ZC withdrawn.

Amendment 28ZD

Moved by Baroness Thornton

28ZD: After Clause 56, insert the following new Clause—

“Equality Act 2010: caste discrimination

(1) Section 9 of the Equality Act 2010 (race) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (5) for “may” substitute “shall”.

(3) After subsection (5)(a) insert—

“(5A) A Minister of the Crown may by order—”.”

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, in moving this amendment I declare an interest as the Minister partly responsible, along with my noble friend Lady Royall, for supporting the amendment to the Equality Act 2010 to give power to the Minister to add caste as a strand of race discrimination in the Act, following a period of research to establish whether caste discrimination exists in the UK and requires a legislative response.

That research took place. It was conducted by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in 2010. In the past two years, the Government have failed to act. What is even worse—I hope to stand corrected by the Minister if I am wrong—they have failed to discuss with or consult effective groups and organisations in all that time.

The report that I referred to states clearly on page 48:

“Firstly, the overlap between religion and caste. Some of the cases might have been either caste or religious discrimination. This does not mean that caste discrimination laws would be redundant. Ravidassias and Valmikis may be protected under religion or belief discrimination laws. However, low caste individuals of other religions or none will not always be covered, nor would the harassment using offensive caste language. Thus, without legislation specifically prohibiting caste discrimination, such discrimination would only be partially reduced by law”.

Most recently, the EHRC stated:

“The … Commission supports the enactment of Section 9(5) of the Equality Act 2010, which provides that a Minister may by order amend the statutory definition of race to include caste and may provide for exceptions in the Act to apply or not to apply to caste. The Commission notes the findings of the government-commissioned National Institute of Economic and Social Research … paper on caste discrimination. In light of this, the Commission would suggest legal protection under the Equality Act 2010 for those experiencing discrimination in Britain should be as comprehensive as possible”.

During the past two years, despite questions and requests, the Government have ducked the issue. They have said that there is no consensus on it. However, the organisations that deny discrimination—the Hindu Council and Hindu Forum—do not like and have never liked the proposals, and it is not surprising that they resist change. They pray in aid an exchange of letters between the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the research organisation—I wonder whether the Minister

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is familiar with it. In September 2012, Dr Hywel Francis MP, chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, received a letter from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, stating:

“This is an emotive issue in which the considerations as to whether to legislate or not are finely balanced. For instance, as I have indicated, there is no consensus of opinion among the wider Hindu and Sikh communities as to whether such legislation is necessary. You also mention the evidence that is currently available through reports such as the NIESR report from 2010. While the NIESR report considered that: ‘Evidence of [caste] discrimination and harassment was found’ it also acknowledged that ‘proof either way was impossible’. Ministers are therefore considering the arguments presented by a range of stakeholders together with whether legislating would be a proportionate response to the significance of the problem and the scale of the issue domestically”.

I have two things to say on this. First, the letter sent to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, by the director of the research body concerned was completely clear in stating that,

“I think it would be useful to clarify our conclusions from the study, as your two quotes may leave some confusion. Our statement that ‘proof either way was impossible’ was a philosophical point over the nature of knowledge and proof. Unless a discriminator admits to discrimination, one can rarely be certain discrimination has occurred. This equally applies to, for example, race and sex discrimination, the existence of which we do not doubt. Notwithstanding the philosophical point, the evidence strongly suggests that caste discrimination and harassment, including of the type which would fall under the Equality Act, exists in Britain. I hope this clarifies our findings”.

Secondly, the bodies which do not want this legislation are part of the reason why such discrimination exists, so of course they do not want it. I therefore think that the ambiguity in that report has been cleared up.

On the discussions that have taken place, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, hosted a meeting between Ministers and the Hindu Council and Hindu Forum in 2011, soon after the report was published. However, neither the alliance that is fighting caste discrimination, the ACDA, nor, to my knowledge, any stakeholders representing victims of caste-based discrimination were invited to that meeting. I also understand that the response of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, to Parliamentary Questions—one of which was mine—in which she stated that there was no consensus on using Section 9(5) was based on views expressed at the meeting convened by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. I also understand that when the two Ministers—Lynne Featherstone and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma—attended a meeting of the alliance in January 2011, they refused to comment on the report’s findings.

The need for legislation is clear. Existing religious discrimination legislation only partially covers caste discrimination. Reliance on this was deemed inadequate. There is a real danger, if the UK Government do not accept and deal with the issue of caste discrimination, that the problem will grow unchecked, with devastating consequences for thousands of people in the UK. The report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research contends that relying on the Indian community to take action to reduce caste discrimination and harassment will be problematic. Instead, it recommends that legislative steps be taken to provide redress for victims.

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I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment. It is very simple and it would right a great wrong. However, if she does not feel at this point in the Bill that she can accept it, fairness, justice and truth will be served if she agrees, with her ministerial colleagues, to meet the ACDA and other organisations that have been consistent and vigilant in their search for equality for Dalits in the UK. The Government owe them the courtesy of a hearing. I beg to move.

7.30 pm

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, in supporting the amendment, I remind noble Lords that when Section 9(5)(a) first came before the House, it had significant all-party support. I refer noble Lords to a statement by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, on 11 January 2010, reported in col. 341 of Hansard.

The previous Government sensibly decided that they needed to test the evidence. They commissioned the most reputable body in the country to examine the issue. It came up with a clear statement that there was evidence of discrimination on the basis of caste. I will repeat briefly its summary. The study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research stated:

“The study identified evidence suggesting caste discrimination and harassment of the type covered by the Equality Act 2010 in relation to … work (bullying, recruitment, promotion, task allocation) … provision of services … and … education (pupil on pupil bullying)”.

There is an important qualifying note that states:

“Pupil on pupil bullying is not directly covered by the Equality Act 2010. However, the actions of a school may be covered where it deals with bullying in a particular way because of a protected characteristic (e.g. race, sex)”.

So the most reputable body in the country for this kind of research produced evidence of discrimination; we should be quite clear about that.

What does this mean in practice? I made a point of interviewing somebody who claimed that he had been discriminated against on the grounds of caste. He had trained in India in the medical field and was extremely well qualified. He came to this country and worked in the NHS. Everything went fine for a year with the man’s job. Then he applied to his supervisor for leave to go home for a family wedding. His supervisor inquired where he lived, and who his family and other contacts were. From that moment, the relationship changed totally. The person in charge clearly felt that this man’s family and caste were beyond the pale. Life was made absolute hell for him. He took his case to the trade union, which said that he had certainly been discriminated against on the grounds of caste but that there was nothing in legislation that would enable it to bring a case on those grounds. He had to leave his job. I am glad to say that he got another job in the NHS which has gone extremely well. This person was extremely well qualified and well balanced. I was absolutely convinced that he had suffered discrimination on the grounds of caste alone.

The main question before the Committee today is: why have the Government delayed on this for two whole years? I can quite understand their initial response that they needed time to think about it, but why two years? There seem to me to be three possible reasons.

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The first is a general reluctance to legislate and the realisation that there is a major educational problem to be tackled. Would not the Minister agree that one major tool of education, as we have seen in the issue of race relations, is good law? No one can doubt that the law on discrimination on the grounds of race has had a powerful educational effect. Secondly, people speculate that there is pressure from India. India has very good legislation in theory about that; the problem there is in implementing it in practice. India has good legislation. I see no problem coming from India. On a recent parliamentary visit there myself, I inquired about that but could find no evidence for it. Thirdly, people say that opposition must be coming from some people. Where is that opposition coming from? I must report that there have been increasingly unsatisfactory replies from the Minister in charge of this area. An expression that keeps occurring in letters is,

“those communities potentially most affected … by the introduction of legislative protection against caste discrimination”,

could affect,

“a wide range of Hindu and Sikh communities, not limited to those of any particular caste.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has puzzled over this. We wondered what the implication of this would be for race relations or abolishing apartheid in South Africa. Are we to say that we should not have abolished apartheid in South Africa because other people in the country might be affected by the legislation? That seems absurd.

A letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, was answered by the Minister on 17 May 2012 in which she tried to clarify what was meant by that. After the phrase which I have cited, she said:

“The legislation does indeed refer to ‘caste’ in general, not to any specific caste. Its coverage would therefore be significantly wider than simply an alleged discrimination against the people of the Dalit communities by other, higher-caste Hindus and Sikhs. Against this background, I do not feel it is helpful to partition the debate into ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ communities or to read such meanings into the phrase ‘those communities potentially most affected’”.

Very briefly, there are two points to be made here. First, however widely this might be interpreted, we cannot get away from the fact that there are victims and people who are perpetuating this discrimination. That is a fact. Secondly, even if it does extend more widely, if that discrimination on the grounds of caste, by whatever caste or whatever other caste, offends what is in the 2010 Act—issues of education and the public provision of goods and services—it must still be made illegal. Indeed, it could be interpreted more widely, but if discrimination occurs against another kind of low caste, in Indian terms, rather than the Dalits, we surely ought to try to stop it. I find the answers in those letters increasingly unsatisfactory.

Finally, there is widespread support from other communities. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has made it clear that it supports the amendment. There is strong support from all the UN bodies. I will not cite them because of shortage of time. We have to set this against the worldwide background. My view is that the discrimination against Dalits is an even worse evil than the worst excesses of apartheid. It is even more humiliating in some ways

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and it is occurring on a much wider scale. There are 270 million Dalit people in the world. We know that in this country there are 200,000. We have to set it against that kind of background. Therefore, it is desperately important that we include in our law in this country, and make it quite clear, that discrimination on the grounds of caste is totally unacceptable. That is the view of the whole range of Dalit organisations in this country.

I very much hope that the Government will be able to claim the credit of accepting the amendment which we are putting forward today.

Lord Avebury: I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for her sterling work in getting Section 9(5)(a) on the statute book. In 2010, I moved the amendment with the full support of the Government after a meeting attended by large numbers of people representing the anti-discrimination organisations up and down the country and at which the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, was present. I think that she was suitably impressed by the unanimity of the views expressed at that meeting.

I should also like to pay tribute to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for his sterling work as chair of the All-Party Group for Dalits and for the support that he has always given to the promotion of this provision in the Equality Act. I have worked out that it is nearly three years since the House agreed to insert that provision into the Equality Act, giving the Government the power to add caste to the list of protected characteristics. The Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance had presented evidence that caste discrimination existed in the UK, and the Dalit organisations represented by the ACDA and CasteWatchUK had unanimously requested Parliament to act on the matter. Giving the Government this power was a first step, followed rapidly by, as we have heard, the commissioning of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research study, to confirm what the ACDA had already discovered. The results were published on 16 December 2010 and indeed it found the required evidence, although I am sorry to say that the study was a fairly perfunctory exercise. Even so, it produced the required evidence of discrimination.

When the Government were first asked for their reaction to the NIESR report, they were cautious, but immediately indicated that the coalition was looking for ways of avoiding the issue. They said that this was a different Government from the one that had commissioned the NIESR study and that it had to be considered in the context of their own equality strategy. They needed to consider whether activating Section 9(5)(a) would be “reasonable and proportionate”—words that are repeated in most of the Government’s pro forma statements since then—bearing in mind that a lot of people would be affected by it.

Of course, if there is a great deal of caste discrimination, a lot of people would be affected, but we had understood previously that there were doubts about the existence of discrimination. Now there was at least tacit acknowledgement that this “abhorrent practice”, as the Government called it, was occurring here. But the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, seemed to have already

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made up her mind that legislation would not deal with the issues behind it. Equally, one could say that legislation did not stamp out the societal roots of racism, misogyny or homophobia. However, it was the main tool for dealing with the overt manifestations of prejudice and a powerful signal of society’s disapproval of the underlying ingrained attitudes of hatred and prejudice against the other.

Having acknowledged that caste discrimination exists, it would be grossly illogical to forgo the use of a weapon against it that is proving effective in the case of all the other protected characteristics in the Equality Act; that is, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, and sex and sexual orientation. I suggest that there would have to be some reason of principle as to why caste should be treated differently from all those other characteristics. Of course, there is none. We have to analyse the statements of Ministers both verbally and in writing to see what the Government’s real motives are.

7.45 pm

In that first exchange on the subject, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, spoke about consultations and meetings with people right across the caste system to ensure that both sides of the argument were put. Obviously, people who are the targets of discrimination are in favour of the legislation, while communities containing those who discriminate are on the whole, although not unanimously, against it, as we have heard. People in those communities who think legislation is the right answer may be reluctant to speak out if they do not agree with the views of their leaders. However, no rational person would give equal weight to the two opposing sets of views any more than they would nowadays to men who continue to oppose gender equality, or people who believe they belong to a superior race.

Since then, as we heard, the matter has been raised repeatedly with my honorable friend Lynne Featherstone, then Minister for Equalities, until we received her reply, particularly to a letter from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, to the Home Secretary, that she did not consider that it would be advantageous to have another meeting on the subject. We came to the conclusion that Ministers’ policy was to avoid discussing the subject—an unusual breach of the usual courtesies. We found it hard to believe the Government’s mantra, repeated by my honorable friend, that they were,

“still carefully considering the NIESR .... report together with the various representations that have been received on this matter, within the broad context of our Equality Strategy”.

A variation on that theme arose, however, from the Answer to a Written Question by my noble friend Lady Verma, who said that—we have heard this before—

“there is no consensus of opinion in the UK with regards to the need for legislative protection against caste discrimination, even among those communities potentially most affected by it”.—[

Official Report,

23/11/11; col. WA240.]

As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, explained, we interpreted the expression,

“those communities potentially most affected by it”,

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as meaning the Dalits, who are obviously the targets of this brand of discrimination, and we pressed for details of the organisations that were referred to in this Answer. It turned out that my noble friend actually meant the higher castes from which those doing the discriminating are drawn. It was as if we had said in the old days that we could not legislate against racial discrimination because there were organisations representing white people who were potentially most affected, and that because they were against it, there was no consensus. As the noble and right reverend Lord put it, that is tantamount to saying that this argument would have meant doing nothing about apartheid.

The most significant expression of anti-legislation views, of which the Government were aware, according to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, was at a single meeting chaired by my noble friend Lord Dholakia on 15 March 2011, attended by the Hindu Council and the Hindu Forum, at which a note was taken of the speeches by two officials of the Government Equalities Office.

No official of the department was able to attend a meeting that I chaired on 29 November at which representatives of Dalit organisations throughout the country unanimously renewed their demand for action. When I sent a copy of their statement to the Secretary of State and Minister for Equalities, she merely observed that it was not clear whether commencing Section 9(5)(a) would be the best and most proportionate way of addressing the issue. On the other side of the equation we have the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as has already been mentioned, one of the functions of which I understood from the Minister’s reply to Amendment 27, which we discussed earlier, was to make recommendations on how best to achieve equality. The EHRC has said plainly that it believes in implementing this legislation, as can be seen from the announcement on its website.

Many other organisations were referred to briefly by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. NIESR has reiterated its finding as recently as 8 January and the evidence collected strongly suggested that caste discrimination and harassment, including the type that would fall under the Equality Act, exists in Britain. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has drawn the Government’s attention to the recommendation in the UN’s Universal Periodic Review that the provision be implemented. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has made recommendations on the subject, but none of these considerations is reflected in the responses we have had so far from Ministers. It would be useful if my noble friend could at least acknowledge that they are being given the due weight that should be attached to the views of national and international organisations. Fortunately, in democracies the views of minorities do not prevail in the end. If the Government come to a decision not to do anything about caste—as appears likely from everything that they say on the subject—I hope that they will at least allow a free vote on the subject when it is debated on the Floor of the House.

Internationally, there is certainly a consensus that caste should be treated as a protected characteristic. It is now up to the Government to show that while

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legislation is thought the best and most appropriate way of dealing with all the other protected characteristics in the Act, caste is in some way qualitatively different and therefore needs a different set of remedies. They must show also that the nature of caste discrimination is fundamentally different from discrimination with regard to the eight existing characteristics, each of which has its own peculiarities. What they all have in common—and also share with caste—is that a person with the characteristic in question is seen as being worthy of disrespect and of being treated in a less favourable manner than someone who belongs to the same group as the discriminator. If the Government can conjure up a description of the process of discrimination that applies to the eight existing characteristics but not to caste, I would be surprised—but I hope that the noble Baroness will make an attempt in her reply.

I will end on a marginally less pessimistic note. In her letter of 6 December, the Secretary of State said that she hoped to make an announcement on this matter in the new year. I interpret that as meaning January. At least we will know where we stand. Both those who believe passionately in the need for this legislation and those who believe that caste discrimination should be tackled by other means will be able to take the Government’s views and decision into account when they make up their mind on how to vote in future elections.

Lord Deben: This is not a repeat of the same cast on this subject—I did not mean that and I beg noble Lords’ pardon. I say to the Government that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, was too kind about the previous Government spending time thinking about whether there was enough trouble here to necessitate legislation. I find it utterly impossible to explain to somebody how it is that in this country we do not apply an absolutely clear rule that people are not discriminated against because of what they are—from people who are homosexual at one end to people who are of a particular colour at the other, or people who happen to have particular views. All of them become vulnerable unless we hold to that view, because we are all a bit odd in one way or another. We expect to be treated perfectly properly whatever our position, background, colour, sexual orientation or anything else.

It is impossible—this is a very difficult thing for a politician to say—to build a case for suggesting that caste is different from any of these other things. Having been a Minister for longer than most, I am always suspicious of Ministers who write letters in which certain sentences are almost incomprehensible. It means that they do not want to write the sentence that they ought to write because they suspect that if it is comprehensible people might think that it is not adequate. I make no such claim in these circumstances. However, those of us who listened to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, read out a sentence, had some difficulty in understanding what it meant—whether or not we believed that it might mean something with which we might agree.

All that I say to Ministers is that there are no formulations. Whatever may have been written down, there are no formulations which can get out of the

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simple statement that it is wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of their caste. I want to say something even tougher. The standards of our nation are not up for grabs. If people want to live in this country according to any system they have to accept the fundamental standards that we have. If you really want to cause difficulties, you do so by saying that “this is a very old view of theirs”, and they have it and it may be pretty nasty: I am afraid that that is not on. In this country we treat everybody equally and properly. That is the basis of our democracy. We cannot accept anything less than that. I do not care what organisation thinks differently.

You could go even further with this argument. You could argue that the positions of all sorts of totalitarian regimes are acceptable, because you can still find some people who support them. But you cannot possibly argue that, and we should not. I hope that the least that the Minister will be able to say is that although this may not be precisely what she wants, she will go away to make sure. I think that there is an overwhelming majority in this House and in the other House who say that caste cannot be treated in any way that is different from race or sexual orientation.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, we have had another powerful debate and the speeches have clearly been impassioned and important. As this issue is so important, the Government have given careful consideration to whether the power in the Equality Act 2010 that would make caste an aspect of race should be exercised.

Let me be clear. We do not think that anyone should suffer prejudice or discrimination, whether because of caste or of any personal characteristic. Such behaviour is wrong. It should not be condoned, whether or not it is prohibited by legislation. However, before bringing in legislation, a responsible Government will ensure that that is the most appropriate way of tackling a specific problem; that the solution does not go substantially wider than the problem that it is meant to address; and that it does not create needless red tape, additional and unnecessary cost burdens for business. That is the essence of what this Bill is about.

Turning to the NIESR research, I am aware that it suggests that some caste discrimination and harassment may exist in areas covered by discrimination legislation. The report also states that it is impossible categorically to determine whether caste discrimination within the meaning of the act has occurred:

“Proof either way was impossible, particularly because evidence was gathered from a single person only”.

That is not saying the same as that there is now a compelling case to legislate. Using the letter of my noble friend Lord McNally, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, made her point about whether NIESR had shown that discrimination had occurred. We do not believe that the debate turns on whether there is any discrimination on caste grounds. The debate is about whether legislation is a proportionate response, given the range and nature of the problem.

In response to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, we are not resisting legislation in deference to high-caste views. We are wary of adopting a legislative

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approach, because we are concerned that that would not be a proportionate solution. The noble and right reverend Lord’s analogy, relating as it did to race, is not therefore appropriate. That said, we must consider whether legislation is necessary. There are examples in the NIESR report of incidents, such as vandalising property or threatening behaviour, that may constitute criminal activity and so would already be captured by domestic law.

Your Lordships should—and, I am sure, do—bear in mind that once legislation was enacted, ensuring the prevention of caste discrimination would become the legal responsibility not just of every public authority but of every private employer, service provider and school throughout England, Scotland and Wales, irrespective of their size or location and of whether they had ever encountered caste or even knew what it was. While I understand the arguments made by my noble friend Lord Deben—

8 pm

Baroness Thornton: Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness—

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I will finish the point that I was about to make. It is not that the legislation would catch all of those public bodies; it is that the process of ensuring that they are properly familiarised to comply with the law could, in our view, be disproportionate to dealing with the discrimination that we are discussing.

Baroness Thornton: My point relates to “disproportionate”. We have legislated in our discrimination law about Travellers. There are actually not very many Travellers in this country but they suffer terrible discrimination. There are thousands of Dalits living in the UK who potentially can be discriminated against, so I am not sure what the proportion is that the noble Baroness is referring to.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The noble Baroness makes a helpful point in drawing a comparison with Gypsies and Travellers. It is domestic case law, not specific legislation, that has determined what we are discussing for Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers and Scottish Gypsy Travellers. They are distinct racial groups who are covered by our equality legislation. It is case law that has done that, rather than legislation.

Lord Deben: As the Minister referred specifically to me, I will say that I have great difficulty with “proportionality” here because it seems to me that if one person is discriminated against, I have a duty to protect them. I do not understand proportionality in these terms. If the law does not reach a position in which someone is found to be discriminated against in the serious ways we are talking about, we had better put it like that. To say that it is disproportionate is like saying—let me be very blunt—that if not many people are murdered, we do not actually need to have a law on murder. I am sorry, we do; it is not acceptable. It is the one area where disproportion is not credible. This is what really worries me about this argument.

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I understand the point that my noble friend makes, but it takes us back to the point about evidence. I refer again to the NIESR research, which suggests that some caste discrimination and harassment may exist but also says that,

“it is impossible to categorically determine whether caste discrimination and harassment within the meaning of the Act has occurred”.

Lord Avebury: I am so sorry to interrupt the Minister again; I know that she has been very patient. However, if the argument is that you do not deal with this problem because very small numbers of people are discriminated against on the grounds of caste, what does she have to say about gender reassignment, which is one of the protected characteristics? Should we have avoided placing gender reassignment on the list of protected characteristics because not many people are affected by it?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: In simple terms, the protected characteristics are characteristics that we all share; we all have a sex, a race and an age. I think the point in dispute was debated on previous legislation.

I will conclude by saying that we have thought long and hard about this legislative power and about why making this change in a Bill designed to encourage enterprise and streamline regulation would be inappropriate. However, I am very happy to accept the noble Baroness’s proposal of a meeting. We also acknowledge that uncertainty as to what is to happen on the issue of caste discrimination in Great Britain helps no one.

My noble friend made reference to the letter that he received from my right honourable friend Maria Miller and her reference to the fact that we expect to be able to make a fuller announcement on the Government’s intentions on this matter shortly. I certainly will do all in my power to ensure that, as far as is possible, we do so before we get to the next stage of this Bill.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: The Minister has quoted a couple of times from the report to the effect that it was not clear that this particular form of harassment was carried out on grounds of caste. If she looks at the report, I think she will see that that refers to something quite specific and in no way undermines the overall

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conclusion that there is clear evidence of discrimination on the grounds of caste. I think she will find that that uncertainty about caste refers to a particular kind of harassment. It does not undermine the main findings. In the light of her reply, I wish to go back to the evidence that I gave just now about my personal interview with someone who clearly had been discriminated against on grounds of caste. When they went to their union adviser, while they were very sympathetic, the union adviser said that a case could not be taken on the grounds of caste because it was not in the law. Will the Minister suggest on what grounds that person should therefore go to law if there is no law at the moment which applies to a person’s being discriminated against?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Without the full facts of the case, I am afraid that it is not possible for me to respond to an individual case in that way. The best I can do is, as I have indicated, to say that I am very happy to have a meeting to discuss matters further outside the Committee. However, I know that it is important that we now draw the debate today to a close.

Baroness Thornton: I say a big thank you to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, because I am honoured to be fighting alongside them again—the old team is back. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Deben, enormously for his comments. I remember some issues from when I was a Minister—I think “contaminated blood” was the one that haunted me. The Government just got it wrong: we got it wrong all the way through. This Government came and dealt with it in the way in which my Government should have done. This is one of those issues. The Government are getting this wrong and they need to remedy it. I have enormous respect for the Minister and I am very grateful that she has agreed to have those meetings. I am hopeful that when we have those meetings we will make some progress. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 28ZD withdrawn.

Committee adjourned at 8.09 pm.