4 Mar 2013 : Column 1265

House of Lords

Monday, 4 March 2013.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Housing Benefit


2.36 pm

Asked By Baroness Turner of Camden

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to assist families facing homelessness as a result of housing benefit changes due in April this year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, this Government are committed to tackling homelessness, and we do not accept that our housing benefit reforms will increase the level of homelessness. The changes do not necessarily mean that people will have to move, but claimants will have to make the same choices about affordability as those not on benefits. Reforming the welfare system in an effective manner is necessary not only to improve the wider fiscal position but to help to get people off benefits and into work.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. However, is he aware that more than 600,000 households could be affected by this change in benefits, that many people who are unable to meet the requirements under the new benefit arrangements will have no alternative but to get into arrears, and that, if they get into arrears, they will face eviction, which will result in homelessness, despite what the noble Minister has said?

Lord Geddes: The noble Lord.

Baroness Turner of Camden: What steps are the Government taking to try to deal with the consequences arising from these new arrangements in regard to housing benefit cuts?

Lord Freud: My Lords, we are expecting a number of responses by people affected by what is effectively the removal of a spare-room subsidy. Clearly some will find that they are capable of paying to retain that extra room, some will look to work, some will look for lodgers and some will look for shared tenancies. Where the options are more limited than that, apart from downsizing, we have had substantial discretionary housing payments transferred to local authorities in order to ameliorate those situations.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: My Lords, has the Minister considered the effect that these cuts are having on people? For instance, within the ward that I represent on Barnet council, one person in a two-bedroomed flat in a high-rise block will, because of the changes, have to pay an extra £14.50 per week from the beginning

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1266

of April out of the very small amount of benefits they receive. This also applies to people on low working wages. This may be all right in principle and on paper but does my noble friend believe that it is possible where there are no one-bedroomed flats for those people to move into?

Lord Freud: My Lords, I said that people will make a range of responses. Some will decide that the best thing they can do is to downsize and they will be supported in that. Clearly, in areas where there is no appropriate social housing, there is the option of moving into private rented housing. However, the essential point is that there is a limit to what the state can afford. We have had quite a lot of changes in the private rented sector, and this brings the social rented sector into line.

Baroness Pitkeathley: The Minister is concerned about the problems of caring families. Has he considered the issue of a carer who looks, say, after her severely disabled husband? The spare bedroom—the surplus bedroom as he puts it—is necessary to keep all the equipment, such as hoists and so on; and sometimes the carer needs to sleep there to have an adequate night’s sleep. What arrangements can be made in that situation?

Lord Freud: My Lords, that is exactly the kind of case that the discretionary housing payments are intended for. Where there are genuine problems of that nature, we would expect those payments to be made to support that particular family in its accommodation.

The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the pressure on the private rented sector? Many landlords operate a “no benefit claimants” policy, which causes significant problems in night shelters. Is the Minister aware of these problems caused by the shared accommodation rate and what are the Government doing to ensure that people moving on from a night shelter have somewhere to go?

Lord Freud: My Lords, there were concerns ahead of our changes to the local housing allowance that private rented accommodation would not be available. I was pleased to learn that that in contradiction to this, in the key London area, where some of the pressures have been greatest, availability in the private rental sector for benefit recipients has actually gone up 5% since we introduced the LHA changes.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, this is a sad affair. Would the Government possibly have another look at it?

Lord Freud: My Lords, when we introduced the local housing allowance changes in the private rented sector a year and a half ago, there were real concerns about homelessness, just as there are now. I stated to the Select Committee that we did not expect any significant increase in homelessness as a result of these changes. We have now run through the LHA changes—they were completed last December—and I am pleased to say that while there have been some modest increases in homelessness in London—it is up 600-odd households—that compares with predictions put out

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1267

by Shelter and the Cambridge group that up to 134,000 people could move or be made homeless as a result. Your Lordships will understand that it is important to see what the results of some of these changes are, just as much in the social rented sector as we have seen in the private rented sector.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the deepest concern expressed by a number of women’s organisations, particularly those who work with women with young children fleeing violence? What assessment has he made of the impact of the benefit changes on those women fleeing violence with young children?

Lord Freud: My Lords, we have taken steps to make sure that refuges and other supported exempt accommodation are protected. I am investigating how to do that on a strategic basis in the medium and longer term.

Schools: Careers Guidance


2.44 pm

Asked By Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will provide face-to-face careers guidance for all young people in schools.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash): My Lords, statutory guidance has been published to underpin the duty on schools to secure independent and impartial careers guidance introduced in September 2012. The statutory guidance places a clear expectation on schools to secure access to independent face-to-face careers guidance where it is the most suitable support for young people to make successful transitions, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, or those who have special educational needs, learning difficulties or disabilities.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: I thank the Minister for that reply. Has he been made aware of the serious concerns that we raised during the passage of the Education Act 2011 that the changes to careers provision would lead to a worse service for young people? Is he now aware of the growing evidence that our concerns unfortunately have proved to be justified? That view is echoed by the Commons Education Committee, which reported in January. It said:

“The Government’s decision to transfer responsibility for careers guidance to schools is regrettable. International evidence suggests such a model does not deliver the best provision for young people. The weaknesses of the school-based model have been compounded by the failure to transfer to schools any budget with which to provide the service”.

What do the Government intend to do to address these failings, in particular the overreliance on referring pupils to careers websites, when it has never been more important for children to have guaranteed, personalised, face-to-face careers advice?

Lord Nash: I am aware of the concerns to which the noble Baroness refers. However, hardly anyone—from Alan Milburn to Ofsted—had a good word to say

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1268

about the quality or effectiveness of the careers guidance provided by Connexions. That is why we gave responsibility for securing careers guidance to schools. They know their pupils best and can tailor provision to their individual needs. The £200 million we have saved on Connexions careers guidance has gone to help protect the schools budget, which itself is a pretty remarkable performance bearing in mind the state of the public finances we inherited. We know of schools which have seized the opportunity.

There is no gold standard for careers advice. It is a difficult area. The duty has been in place for less than two terms. To check on progress, we have asked Ofsted to undertake a thematic review, which will be published in the summer. Information on websites can be very helpful, and the Government are considering the Select Committee’s recommendation and will respond shortly.

Baroness Brinton: My Lords, I thank the Government for extending the duty for careers advice from years 8 to 13 from September of this year. However, in response to a Written Question on 27 February in which I asked about the status of independent careers advice in academies, the Minister reassured me that academies opened after September 2012 would be covered by the guidance, but those which opened prior to that are not. Does the Minister agree that it cannot be right that some pupils in schools have access to that advice and others do not?

Lord Nash: It is true that academies opened since September of last year will have an obligation in the same terms but academies opened prior to that do not. We have written to all those academies making them aware of this advice and asking them to change their funding agreements accordingly. Good schools seek to identify their students’ aptitudes at an early age and to give them guidance throughout their school career. We take the view that one minimum face-to-face interview at the end of one’s school career is a poor substitute for a broad education.

Lord Peston: My Lords, bearing in mind the enormous scale of youth unemployment and the fact that a large number of young people who happen to be in jobs are in jobs well below their qualification and skill levels, can the noble Lord imagine himself being transformed from the government Front Bench to being a schools career adviser? What advice would he give to the young people leaving school later this year?

Lord Nash: It will take me a second just to make that transition. We are focused on making sure that more of our pupils leave school with a good education. It is fair to say that the figures on NEETs have gone down in the past quarter for the first time in 10 years. But the advice I would give such a person is to seek some good careers advice from a qualified person.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: Is the Minister aware that in a survey conducted by Edge a year or so ago, it was revealed that teachers knew less about apprenticeships than either parents or pupils? Many schools are not providing decent advice about the range of options

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1269

open to young people. How can careers advice, which is supposed to be independent, be given by schools when the teachers know nothing at all about these options?

Lord Nash: We do not expect teachers to be widely experienced on individual careers. That is why the duty is for them to seek independent advice. All good schools should involve their local business and professional communities from an early stage in their children’s education to give them the broad experience of the careers options open to them.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, how will this be assessed? I speak only from my own experience, when my careers adviser told me that if I tried very hard I might aspire to become a supervisor in Sainsbury’s. Is similar advice still being given to aspiring young black girls in Walthamstow?

Lord Nash: Schools are held to account through Ofsted on how well students are prepared to progress to the next stage of education and employment. Linked to that, part of the leadership and management assessment would include the extent to which the school is offering a broad and balanced curriculum. Schools are also held to account by the destinations measured, but I think the noble and learned Baroness rather makes my point for me: it is not just about one interview with a careers adviser.

Council Tax: Support Schemes


2.51 pm

Asked By Lord McKenzie of Luton

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effects of local council tax support schemes on poverty.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, localising council tax support reduces the cost of council tax benefit by 10%. That contributes to our deficit reduction programme, makes councils responsible for support and creates incentives to get people into work. In designing schemes, local authorities should take into account the impact on low-income families. On 16 October, the Government announced a £100 million transitional grant to assist development of local schemes. Some 195 billing authorities have adopted schemes that are compliant with the criteria for the grant.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: In thanking the noble Baroness for that reply, I must say that it is somewhat complacent and out of touch. The Resolution Foundation estimates that three-quarters of the 326 local authorities responsible for council tax support schemes will be forced by government cuts to adopt schemes giving less support than the current national scheme. That

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1270

will see working families losing £165 a year on average and non-working families even more. Taken together with all the other cuts about to hit low-income families, including the bedroom tax that we have just discussed, the 1% capping of benefits and other tax credits, is this not going to lead to increased personal debt, more food banks, lower collection rates for local authorities, more bailiffs knocking on the door and all the misery that that entails? Why do the Government find this acceptable?

Baroness Hanham: Well my Lords, a little of what the noble Lord has said is probably overblown. We are well aware that local councils are creating their council tax support schemes. In particular, at the moment, they have been offered transitional relief, as I have already said, to help them with that. Local authorities and the Department for Work and Pensions will be working together to ensure that the worst examples of what the noble Lord has put forward do not occur.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My noble friend may remember that during the passage of the Local Government Finance Act 2012 I expressed some anxiety about the effect of the localisation of council tax benefits. But does she accept that, having kept closely in touch with the Local Government Association since then—I declare my interest as a vice-president of the association—I have been considerably reassured by the efforts that most councils are now making in order to protect the most vulnerable of their council tax payers? Will she also accept that the transitional grant to which she referred has been a considerable help to them?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Jenkin for that and I agree that the transitional grant is a great help. It enables local authorities to have extra resources this year to support what they are doing as they develop their own council tax support schemes. It is slightly disappointing that only half the local authorities in the country have felt able to take up this transitional grant because they have not been able and will not be able to bring down their increase for individuals to below 8.5%.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, with changes to council tax benefit coming on top of the changes to housing benefit, working tax credits, benefit up-rating and other changes, will the Minister tell us what the Government are planning to do to monitor and report back to this House the cumulative effect of these cuts on low-income families?

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, each of the departments involved will, of course, be receiving information about anything to do with benefits. Particularly in respect of the council tax support scheme, we hope and expect that local authorities will be able to make the necessary reductions in their own budgets to make up the 10%. After all, everybody in this country is having to make some contribution towards reducing the deficit so kindly left to us by the previous Government.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1271

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, do the Government really understand the implications of asking people who have been on benefit and who have never so far paid council tax having to find between 20% and 30% of their council tax bill for the first time? Is the Minister also aware that, as a result, many local authorities are expecting that they will not be able to collect 70% of the monies outstanding from people who have hitherto paid nothing at all? Does she not agree that this is “poll tax mark two”?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that this is poll tax mark anything. This is a change to the council tax benefit scheme for individuals based on their individual requirements. Local authorities have plenty of support in what they are doing. They are perfectly able to make their own budgets fit to help with the 10% reduction and, as I have already said, if they have brought their council tax scheme within the transitional relief scheme, they also have transitional relief to help with that.

Lord Naseby: My Lords—

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: My Lords—

Lord Naseby: My Lords, is it not the flexibility that is being offered to local authorities which is most encouraging? When I was leader of the London Borough of Islington, under the guidance of Harold Wilson, there was nil flexibility to local authorities. We had a diktat from the centre and we had to follow it. At least this coalition Government, recognising that change had to come, have given flexibility for local authorities to decide exactly how they should use the amount of help that is available.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Naseby for bringing reality into this situation. It is correct that the Government have given not only flexibility but also responsibility to local government for making its own decisions, particularly on council tax and the support that comes with that. Local authorities should be—and are—in a good position to make their own schemes and to deal with their own council tax.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on managing to shift all the responsibility for increasing poverty and problems with having to pay bills to the poorest. I recognise that the noble Baroness referred to the fact that we are all having to make very big sacrifices, but from where I sit in the north of England, the sacrifices are not being made by the better off in the south but by the very poor in the English regions. In the name of flexibility the Government have passed the responsibility to local authorities in a way that is at best dishonest and at worst sheer lying about the opportunities available to local government. They can keep their libraries and everything else provided that they take responsibility.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I would draw the attention of the noble Baroness to the fact that local government is being given responsibilities in many areas, many of which have been devolved from central

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1272

government, something that I think she would have welcomed during her distinguished years in local government. One of the things that local government wanted was access to the council tax support scheme, which it now has. It is now up to local government to provide schemes in individual local boroughs that are satisfactory at all stages. The money from council tax benefits comes into councils’ main budgets and they can use it to make changes and reductions which absorb that 10%. I encourage them to do that.

EU: Budget


3.01 pm

Asked By Lord Dykes

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have received from the public on the negotiations for the new European Union budget perspective period to 2020.

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Deighton): My Lords, the Government have received a number of representations from the public on the negotiations for the multiannual financial framework 2014-20. These include letters and e-mails from individual members of the public and their Members of Parliament, charities and other non-governmental organisations and universities and research bodies.

Lord Dykes: Does my noble friend agree that it was a very good deal for the Union and for this country, bearing in mind the balance of severe spending restraints at one end but long-term real infrastructure investment at the other? Is it not now the job of Conservative Ministers in the coalition to explain properly how the EU budget system works: a modest budget in comparison with other member states, no debts or deficit, no borrowing, payments that are always less than commitments, and a budget that does more and more good with less and less spent on farming?

Lord Deighton: I thank my noble friend for congratulating the Prime Minister on the excellent deal he brought back. We accomplished our three main objectives, which were to restrain the size of the budget, to make sure that we kept hold of our abatement and to resist any new EU-wide taxes. We shrank the budget and shifted it away from the more traditional areas, such as the common agricultural policy, into growth-oriented funds. I agree with my noble friend that we are shifting towards a pattern of expenditure that is more consistent with the reformers among us.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that what we have here is a seven-year financial framework, but what really matters now is the annual budget year by year over the next seven years? Can he give an undertaking that this Government will pursue a system of zero-based budgeting in each of those seven years so that we can cut out budget lines that are wasteful and increase those budget lines which need to be increased rather than take this rather conservative approach of across-the-board cuts which cut the good as well as the bad?

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1273

Lord Deighton: The noble Lord is correct that the devil is always in the detail and that it is our traditional practice year by year to negotiate very effectively on behalf of this country to bring about a better outcome in the annual budgets. However, it was extremely important to cap the overall size of the budget as a first step in the necessary reforms that we are all in favour of.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, do the Government yet know and have the public been told whether the EU’s so-called Parliament is going to vote in secret on this budget? Is not even the suggestion that it might do so yet further proof of the EU’s innately undemocratic and profligate nature? Is it not time that we closed the whole mistake down? What useful purpose does the EU now serve at such vast expense to all of us?

Lord Deighton:I will address the narrower question; so many noble Lords have much more experience on the broader question. I do not know whether the European Parliament intends to vote in secret. If it does, that is completely wrong.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, will my noble friend comment on the reports in the papers yesterday that this budget agreement has been reached for certain sweeteners, amounting to billions of euros, being paid to practically every nation in Europe other than the United Kingdom?

Lord Deighton: In this budget we are talking about over €900 billion, six separate headings of component parts, and an ‘other items’ budget which includes a range of other things. It is a big and complex budget with many different components. There were lots of parts to the negotiation, and these particular transactions are indeed part of it.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, given that the EU budget is being reduced in real terms, can the noble Lord tell us what the consequential reductions are in expenditure in the UK?

Lord Deighton:There were three key things that the Prime Minister wanted to protect in terms of the expenditure coming into the UK. The first was to make sure that our universities were very well positioned to bid for the grants available. That part of the budget has gone up and the rewards are based on excellence, so they should do well there. Secondly, he wished to make sure that our farmers are protected in terms of the environmental programmes that they support, which he did. Thirdly and finally, the structural aid that goes to our less well-off regions has been protected at the existing base level of €11 billion.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords—

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords—

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1274

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, none the less, is it not true that the final outcome of the arrangement for the next seven years will in fact mean that the United Kingdom will be paying £500 million extra per year? Is that really acceptable under the present circumstances with cuts to our own social services?

Lord Deighton: The final outcome will be determined on a year-by-year basis depending on exchange rates, the growth of our national income and other such factors. The spirit of the question is indeed correct: our net contribution is likely to go up. That is simply because of the concessions made in the 2005 negotiation, when we surrendered some of the abatement advantages.

Bank of England Act 1998 (Macro-prudential Measures) Order 2013

Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (PRA-regulated Activities) Order 2013

Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Threshold Conditions) Order 2013

Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Financial Services Compensation Scheme) Order 2013

Financial Services Act 2012 (Mutual Societies) Order 2013

Motion to Approve

3.07 pm

Moved By Lord Newby

That the draft orders laid before the House on 24 and 28 January be approved.

Relevant documents: 18th and 19th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 26th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, considered in Grand Committee on 26 February

Motion agreed.

Charities (Incorporated Church Building Society) (England and Wales) Order 2013

Motion to Approve

3.08 pm

Moved By Lord Wallace of Saltaire

That the draft order laid before the House on 22 January be approved.

Relevant document: 18th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 27 February

Motion agreed.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1275

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill

Report (2nd Day)

3.08 pm

Relevant documents: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 14th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee.

Moved By Viscount Younger of Leckie

That the report be now received.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill now be further considered on Report.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, before we move to consideration of the matters before us today, I wonder whether I have missed something. Has this House appointed the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, to adjudicate on matters of order? I ask because my noble friend Lady Turner was interrupted disgracefully by a loud heckling by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, from a sedentary position, because of his interpretation of what is right and wrong in this Chamber. It is disgraceful that she was treated in such a manner.

Lord Geddes: Perhaps I may respond to that. I was merely reiterating what is in the Companion; to the best of my knowledge, those are the rules by which we govern ourselves.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, who gave the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, the individual right to shout from a sedentary position about whether or not one small matter in relation to the Companion has been dealt with? Surely, shouting from a sedentary position is not allowed?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, this House is self-regulating, which also means that it conducts itself with self-restraint and follows the guidance in the Companion. I am sure that all noble Lords around the House are keen to do that. It is a good idea to discuss with our Chief Whips how that is best achieved. I know that the Opposition Chief Whip has recently sent to his own Back-Benchers what I consider to be a very helpful guide about what constitutes good behaviour. We should reflect on that. Without pointing fingers, we all should behave in ways that we feel are not becoming of this place. We all want to ensure that we do our job. After all, most people here say that for most of the time we try to do it well.

Report received.

Schedule 17 : Heritage planning regulation

Amendment 70A

Moved by Viscount Younger of Leckie

70A: Schedule 17, page 248, line 6, leave out paragraph 18 and insert—

“18 (1) Section 93 (regulations and orders) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (4) after “8(5),” insert “26C,”.

(3) In subsection (5A) after “section” insert “26C or”.”

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1276

Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, government Amendment 70A corrects an error made in government Amendment 26P, tabled in Committee. The purpose of Amendment 26P was to change the procedure for making a national class consent order, to ensure that it is subject to affirmative resolution. This responded to a recommendation made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Unfortunately, Amendment 26P replaced the wrong paragraph of Schedule 17 and therefore did not achieve the intended result. Amendment 70A is a minor and technical amendment to put this right. I beg to move Amendment 70A.

Amendment 70A agreed.

Clause 57 : Commission for Equality and Human Rights

Amendment 71

Moved by Baroness Campbell of Surbiton

71: Clause 57, page 57, line 9, leave out paragraph (a)

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, the purpose of my amendment is to retain Section 3 of the Equality Act. It is of critical importance. It articulates the fundamental principles that we as a society should be aiming for and clarifies the nature of the contribution that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should make towards those aims.

From the banking crisis to phone hacking, to the horrific abuse of people with learning disabilities, recent times have reminded us that culture, ethics and principles are at least as important as the law in securing a prosperous, safe, cohesive and healthy society. As Hector Sants, former chief executive of the Financial Services Authority, succinctly put it in 2010, until the issue of culture and ethics,

“is addressed we will not be able to prevent another crisis of this magnitude from occurring again”.

Section 3 explicitly imports the cultural and ethical principles of equality and human rights into the remit of the commission. It reinforces the notion that its role is more than promoting and enforcing the law. That is essential if it is to help bring about a society in which prejudice and discrimination are eliminated, human rights routinely respected and everyone can achieve their full potential.

Section 3 requires the commission to discharge its functions,

“with a view to encouraging and supporting the development of a society”,

in which specific aims are realised. This is what distinguishes it from other bodies. As Age UK notes in its briefing, it,

“makes clear that the job of the EHRC is to change culture, not just to enforce rules”.

The commission did exactly that in its widely praised inquiry into the human rights of older people receiving care at home. It identified an emerging problem and brought it to the attention of wider society with extensive media coverage. It looked beyond strict legal compliance to whether the principles of dignity, respect and autonomy were being upheld and made proposals including legislative

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1277

reform. Is that the type of activity that the Minister associated with Section 3 when she said in Committee that the commission,

“should not be an impassioned lobbyist leading emotive campaigns”.—[

Official Report

, 9/1/13; col. GC60.]

or is it the role we want it to play—not simply a law enforcer but a body that uncovers scandals and working with others points the way forward?

3.15 pm

The Minister has said that Section 3 wrongly implies that it is for the commission alone to bring about these changes in our society. However, Section 3 was amended in this House to make clear that this was not the intention. The commission’s duty is to encourage and support others to realise their aims in Section 3 whether Government, Parliament, the courts, public bodies, business, the media or civil society. It is ironic that many of the reforms proposed or under way will hamper the commission’s ability to work with others. For example, it has lost its helpline, its capacity to make grants and its authority as a source of advice to business.

The Minister has also argued that Section 3 is too broad. This suggests that she considers the duties in Sections 8 and 9 to be more restricted. Repealing Section 3 will do nothing to reduce the scope of issues with which the commission might engage. Therefore, we must assume that the repeal is to limit what the commission can do about those issues, otherwise it is unclear what will be achieved. Ultimately these reforms, including the repeal of Section 3, will focus the commission on law enforcement, especially in the field of discrimination. Bizarrely, this will stem from a Bill to promote enterprise and growth by reducing regulatory burdens. We risk creating a body increasingly reliant on costly and intrusive legal action to have any meaningful impact.

With fewer resources, the commission will have to be more judicious in the issues on which it focuses. We will do it no favours by leaving it simultaneously less clear about its aims and more dependent on legal enforcement to achieve them. I do not believe that the Government want this either, which is why I ask them to think again about the unintended impact of this repeal.

Yesterday’s headlines remind us that our human rights protections cannot be taken for granted. It is more important than ever that we retain the principles enshrined in Section 3. Section 3 is a declaration of our commitment to those principles. It requires us to be vigilant in their protection and restless in their promotion. It provides a direction of travel for the commission and others involved in the work. It makes clear that pursuing those aims requires both enforcement of the law and the development of a deeper cultural respect for equality and human rights, and it requires the commission to provide the leadership that Britain needs to make that commitment a reality.

The case for the repeal of Section 3 has not been made. The Government’s assurances that it will have minimal impact on the commission are unconvincing. If that is the case, what will it achieve? These assurances are also contingent on there being no further reforms

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1278

of the commission’s role, yet the Government have established a review of the public sector equality duty, including some of the commission’s most significant functions.

We would not wish to risk slipping back to the time before the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, but if Section 3 goes and the equality duty is weakened or lost shortly after, I feel that is precisely where we will be heading. This is why I propose that the Government take the opportunity to reflect on the recommendations of the equality duty review and wait until other reforms have bedded in, giving the new commission some time to get to know each other and to really understand what their task ahead is, before deciding whether the repeal of Section 3 is sensible or justified.

Your Lordships may have seen a briefing from the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggesting a simpler purpose clause, but I fear that it is merely a description. There are no aims. It separates equality from human rights, rather than uniting them. It gives little or no direction and does not reflect what the Government have said about the commission’s future role. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that this late stage of the Bill is not the time to be suggesting such a proposal, with no opportunity for true debate. To debate it as good scrutineers is our job, after all. It is vital to keep Section 3 and I hope that your Lordships will support me in this endeavour. I beg to move.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My Lords, I apologise for not being able to be present when this amendment was debated in Committee. However, I have read the debate and the balance of opinion clearly lay with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton—not surprisingly, given the powerful speech she made and the one which she has also made today. It is a privilege to support an amendment moved by such a respected champion of equality and human rights, who I would like to call my noble friend. In doing so, I wish to address just two points that emerged during the debate in Committee.

First, the Minister argued that the general duty contained in Section 3 “creates unrealistic expectations”. She went on to acknowledge the importance of the statement contained in the general duty and suggested that it could,

“be replicated in the commission’s own strategic plan”—[

Official Report

, 9/1/13; col. GC 61.]

or mission statement. Surely, however, that is to undermine her own argument because if the problem is one of unrealistic expectations, they would still be created if replicated in a strategic plan or mission statement.

The other main argument put forward in the debate was that repeal of the general duty would not make any difference anyway, as it is of symbolic rather than practical importance. This is the official stance taken by the commission itself. I have two responses to that: first, as a number of noble Lords noted in Committee, this justification was challenged by Professor Sir Bob Hepple of Cambridge University. He argued that Section 3 has an important legal function and that without it equality law would be “rudderless” and would lack the “important unifying principle” that Section 3 provides, and which the Joint Committee on Human Rights welcomed in its report on the Equality Bill. However,

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1279

even if the significance of the general duty were more symbolic than practical, symbols matter in politics and we should not underestimate the symbolism of removing the section. The deluge of e-mails that I have received in recent days defending Section 3 is a testament to the power of that symbolism.

At a time when politics has become increasingly managerial and uninspiring, I find it rather wonderful that the Equality Act contains an aspirational, visionary statement of intent. Moreover, the European Commission study on national equality bodies advised:

“In order to fully realise their potential in promoting equal treatment for all, equality bodies should develop a vision of their role within the administrative culture and society”.

It is a sad day if the vision enshrined in the legislation is now struck out. As the British Institute for Human Rights argues, it sends a worrying message that the Equality and Human Rights Commission,

“is to be a compliance factory with no real ambition or purpose”.

I fear that the suggested alternative put forward by the commission in its briefing, namely that it should be,

“a national expert on equality and human rights”,

and the strategic regulator for equality offers neither ambition nor visionary purpose but is, as the British Institute argues, purely descriptive, as the noble Baroness has already said. It offers mundane prose where Section 3 offered the poetry of high ideals.

I hope that the Minister will have thought again in the light of the support for this amendment in Committee and the public concern now being expressed. If not, should the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, decide to test the opinion of the House, I hope that noble Lords will support her. The amendment will cost nothing, but it will provide reassurance that the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission will continue to be framed by a vision of society in which each of us without exception is treated equally and with dignity and respect—the core principles of human rights.

Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, I associate myself with what has been said by the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Lister. I do not want to repeat what I said at Second Reading—we had a very full debate then—but I was disappointed that we continue to hear that removing the general duty was a bit of tidying up and that it would have no effect whatever on the work or legal responsibilities of the commission. The question that has been put a number of times, including by myself, was then why do it? Why do something if it will have no impact at all? I am afraid that the reply has not given me much confidence.

I strongly believe that the Government have a choice between a strong independent body that is committed to promoting and safeguarding our values, which I believe are British values, independent of the Government of the day—whichever colour—or we go for the option of a watered-down, less independent, weaker institution, which in time would be rendered merely an enforcement agency or regulator without the vision and underpinning that is so important. I cannot think of another organisation, independent or statutory, that does not have some sort of mission statement or a duty to promote or do something. This is the only organisation of its kind in this country. Are we suggesting that the

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1280

Equality and Human Rights Commission does not need such a mission or values, which were very much fought over and arose as a result of cross-party agreement when the Equality Act 2006 was debated and enshrined?

I said at Second Reading, and it is worth saying again, that the then Opposition gender and equality spokesperson Eleanor Laing, MP, spoke of how important it is that the general duty is ambitious and wide ranging. With the change of government and apparently as part of an unwritten agreement, this seems to have changed for whatever reason, and I am disappointed.

There is an opportunity here for the Government to say what sort of organisation we want. We have a choice, but I also think that maybe we need to take a step back. Perhaps this is not the right place to debate what sort of mission statement or general duty an organisation as important as this, with such a multifaceted function, should have at this stage. We evidently need more time to consider this. It cannot be resolved via this Bill on the Floor of the House.

Will the Government take this away and consider the type of organisation they want and what they want it to do? As I said, in line with other organisations, if not in this country then in the world, it should have some form of agreed mission statement incorporating its aims, responsibilities and duties to the taxpayers and citizens of this country. The Government should do this in consultation with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and bring it back to the House. Will the Minister respond to that?

3.30 pm

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, in Committee I put down an amendment to this part of the Bill. I was overwhelmed by and supportive of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, who made a most eloquent plea in support of the case then. I hoped that because of the support that she had, the Government would have reconsidered their position and accepted what everybody was pressing for, and what a number of us will, I am sure, press for this afternoon.

The Bill seeks to do away with Section 3 of the Equality Act, which sets out the guidance, principles and values that define the commission. It attracted all-party support in Parliament when the legislation was first debated. They are very important in terms of both perception and symbolism, as a number of speakers have already pointed out. With such pressure on the Government to change their position on this Bill, I hope that they will tell us this afternoon that they have decided to do so. It is not only the law that is important but the culture in which we all operate, and the commission plays a very large role in changing that culture.

We all want to live in an equal and dignified society, which is what Section 3 envisages. I hope that the Government have changed their mind since Committee and will now agree to support what the noble Baroness and her supporters so eloquently expressed this afternoon.

Baroness Brinton: My Lords, I, too, support the sentiments and comments made by all noble Lords who have spoken. I will add one further point. The distinction between compliance and a general duty implies that there is no need for anything until the

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1281

point of compliance. However, many issues that relate to people with protected characteristics are often cultural, and may not get to a point where compliance is necessary straightaway. It would be much better for that culture—for example, the treatment of adults with learning disabilities, perhaps in one or two homes before it starts to gather momentum—if there were a general duty on the sector, and if the commission could go in, offer support and start to change the culture before a crisis develops that requires compliance. I echo the sentiments of others who have spoken before, and very much hope that the Government will reconsider the deletion of Section 3.

Lord Morris of Handsworth: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. Section 3 represents more than a statement. It represents a commitment to the principles of equality—equality of opportunity, equality of dignity and the responsibility of the state to its citizens.

The EHRC needs a benchmark, a flag, by which it can promote the principles on which it was founded. It needs to be measured, not against the principles of race, disability or gender, but in a much wider context, because it makes a statement about the sort of society we are, the aspirations that we hold for ourselves, and the signals that we send far and wide.

In that context, if the amendment before this House is not embraced, we will be sending a negative statement. We will be saying that after all that we have achieved over many years in terms of race, gender, disability and children, we have turned around and are heading in a totally different direction. It is not my belief that that is the Government’s intention: I believe that the Government’s intention is to continue to improve the standards and opportunities of all their citizens. However, in any journey, we all sometimes take a wrong turn; I genuinely believe that on this occasion, the Government—with all their good intentions—have got it wrong. It is for those reasons that I ask the Minister to look again and to say to the Government that so much depends on their credibility with a vast swathe of this nation and its citizens that to take this wrong turn would be an inevitable downgrading of the concept of equality of opportunity for all. We all believe in that principle and it is in that spirit that I support the amendment, but more importantly, I ask the Government to think again.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I cannot begin to emulate the eloquence of the speech that we have just heard. I too regret that I was not present when this matter was discussed in Committee on 9 January but, after reading Hansard, it is clear to me that the debate was of an exceptionally high standard, particularly the contributions of my noble friends Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lord Low of Dalston. Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Low cannot be here today; I cannot begin to take his place, but I agree with everything he said in that debate.

There is another person who cannot be here today for a different reason. He was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, as one of those who led the way in this area of the law in the 1990s and long before that. I refer, of course, to the late Lord Morris of Manchester.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1282

It is not difficult for me—or I suspect, anybody else in the House today—to imagine what Lord Morris’s reaction to the proposed repeal of Section 3 would have been. I do not doubt for one moment that he would have regarded it as a serious backwards step, and he would have said so in his usual trenchant terms.

I want to deal first with the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, as a lawyer—I am sure that his heart was not really in it—that if we leave out Section 3 we are losing nothing. Secondly, I want to comment on the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, at the end of her reply for the Government’s decision to repeal Section 3. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, gave two reasons for his view. The first was that Section 3 was purely aspirational, so it would make no difference if it were repealed. It contained nothing, he said, that could be enforced in a court of law.

However, if that argument were correct, it surely proves too much. If Section 3 is purely aspirational, so, surely, are Sections 8 and 9. How would the noble Lord enforce in a court of law the duty under Section 8 to promote understanding of the importance of equality and diversity? How would he enforce in a court of law the commission’s duty under Section 9 to promote understanding of the importance of human rights? If the legal argument of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, were correct, it would surely mean that we should repeal not only Section 3 but Sections 8 and 9, which would leave us with absolutely nothing. Of course, the truth is that the argument is misconceived. Recent legislation is littered with examples of duties which cannot be enforced in a court of law but serve, nevertheless, a very useful purpose. For example, Section 1 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 provides that:

“This Act does not … affect … the existing constitutional principle of the rule of law”.

How is that to be enforced in a court of law? However, it serves an extremely useful purpose.

Another example that occurred to me is Section 1 of the Climate Change Act, which provides that:

“It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline”.

How—perhaps I should say, when—is that duty, clearly stated by Parliament, to become enforceable: in 2048, 2049, or when? Therefore, with respect, that argument carries very little weight. For all those reasons, I suggest, with the utmost delicacy, that the legal argument of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, should not deter us in any way from supporting this amendment.

However, the noble Lord had a second argument. He said that there is nothing in Section 3 which is not also contained in Sections 8 and 9, so Section 3 is in effect otiose. I suggest that he is wrong, but suppose for a moment that he is right: if Section 3 adds nothing to Sections 8 and 9, how is that consistent with the Government’s argument all along that Section 3 is too broad? As the noble Lord, Lord Low, pointed out, the Government simply cannot have it both ways. I suggest that he was right. In truth, Section 3 does indeed add something which is not in Sections 8 or 9, and something of the very greatest importance. It provides for the first time in legislation the unifying link between equality and other fundamental human rights. This was the point made by Sir Bob Hepple in

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1283

his memorandum, which I hope the noble Baroness has read, and which has already been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. That deserves an answer and I hope that it will get one. Indeed, the assertion of a unifying principle in Section 3 was surely one of the main objectives of the 2006 Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, himself pointed out when he was promoting the Bill. Therefore, I again suggest, as delicately as I can, that the noble Lord might in this instance have done better to follow his heart than his head.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I was not intending to speak and it is a misfortune for the House that I now do so, with extraordinary brevity. When I joined this House almost 20 years ago, Lord Alexander of Weedon said to me, “Remember, Anthony, that the House of Lords is not a court of appeal, it is a jury. Try, if you can, to speak to a jury”. I totally disagree with almost everything that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, has said today, and would do so in a court of appeal. However, when we are dealing with a jury whose sentiment has already been powerfully expressed, I do not think that it would do the slightest good if I were to explain exactly why I continue to hold the view that I did previously.

By the way, I did not promote the 2006 Act, but I certainly took part in debates on it and I did not oppose Section 3. However, being a practical person—I am no philosopher—I shall concentrate in these debates on three practical things: one is caste discrimination, the second is the abolition of the questionnaire procedure, and the third is the relationship between the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the commission. I hope that I shall not speak on anything else.

3.45 pm

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I was dealing only with the arguments which the noble Lord advanced in Committee. I thought he might be advancing them again. He has not, but at any rate I have given my answers to those arguments and the House will in due course decide.

I turn now to the reasons—and I am sorry to take so long—given by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, for repealing Section 3 as it stands. She gave two reasons and it is as well that the House should actually have them in mind. The first reason is as follows:

“But the problem with Section 3 is that it implies that the commission, uniquely, is responsible for encouraging and supporting the development of such a society. This is patently wrong and arguably insults the efforts that we all make in support of these goals, whether through the work of Parliament, government, the wider public sector, business or the community. We are collectively responsible. We might need the commission’s help, but it cannot achieve an equal society on its own”.

Section 3 provides that the object of the commission is to encourage and support the goals of which we are all aware. But there is nothing that I can find in the words of Section 3 which suggests or implies that the commission is to be solely or uniquely responsible for encouraging and supporting those goals. I fear that, in adding those words, the noble Baroness was reading words into Section 3 which are simply not there and for which there is not the slightest reason.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1284

I fail to see how it can be argued, as the noble Baroness does, that Section 3 is an insult to the work done by Parliament or government or to the public in general. Of course, the commission cannot achieve an equal society on its own. Whoever suggested that it could? So I am puzzled by the first reason given. There is no insult involved. But I am equally puzzled by her second reason, which is as follows:

“We are seeking to repeal the general duty on the commission because it creates unrealistic expectations, positive and negative, about what it on its own can achieve”.—[Official Report, 9/1/13: cols. GC 60-61.]

I repeat, the commission’s job is to encourage and support. How does that create any expectations, positive or negative, that the commission can do the job on its own? What is the evidence that there is any such unlikely expectation and, if there is, that it is due to Section 3?

We are being asked today to repeal a very recent piece of legislation which was regarded as of some importance at the time and was well considered. We should not do so unless good reasons are given. The reasons so far given on behalf of the Government are, to my mind, wholly unconvincing. I therefore support the amendment.

Baroness O'Loan: My Lords, in putting my name to the amendment, I would like to endorse the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in relation to the magnificent contribution made by my noble friend Lady Campbell in the context of human rights.

The general duty created by Parliament in Section 3 of the Equality Act 2006 is a profoundly important obligation. It is not vague. Its terms are absolutely clear and quite brief. As Liberty has said, the fact that the commission has not yet fulfilled its potential —and despite its early failings to deliver on its mandate—should not mean that its crucial powers and functions are compromised or circumscribed.

We have heard a description of what Section 3 actually does. It asks the commission to exercise its functions to encourage and support the development of an inclusive society that encourages people to achieve their potential, values diversity, respects the dignity and worth of every citizen, and respects, promotes and protects human rights. It does not, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, said, require the Equality and Human Rights Commission to establish a fair and equal society. That would be vague and impossible of performance. Rather it provides the vision that is necessary to guide the operation of equality and human rights law in this country. It is not uncommon for such a purposive section to be included in legislation. It provides a very necessary statutory underpinning to the operation of equality and human rights law.

When one seeks to work legislation of this type in a day-to-day context, provisions such as this are profoundly important. The legislation that applied to me as Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland required me to carry out my functions in the way that I thought was best calculated to secure the confidence of the people and the police in the police complaints system. If you were so minded, you could argue that that was similarly vague, but it was not vague at all; it was very precise.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1285

Section 3 provides the principles that are absent from the Equality Act 2010 and which are necessary for the interpretation of that Act. Without it, there would be gaps and deficiencies and, ultimately, Parliament would be required to legislate further on this issue. There is widespread unease and concern, articulated not only in this House this afternoon, at the proposal to remove Section 3—the lobbying has come from wide sectors of society.

I refer to the response of Justice to the Home Office consultation in 2011 on this issue. Justice pointed out that the objectives set out in the general duty were,

“agreed by all political parties in Parliament following amendments proposed by Conservative MPs”.

Justice also stated:

“The General Duty provides a clear mandate which the EHRC must have regard to when deciding how to act. By repealing the General Duty, the mission and very purpose of the EHRC would be altered, and the UK’s commitment to the Paris Principles would be fatally undermined”.

The commission achieved its fundamentally important United Nations “A” status only three years ago. It had to demonstrate compliance with the Paris principles in order to do that. The achievement of “A” status gave it full participatory rights at the UN Human Rights Council and access to other UN bodies. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission had had such a status three years previously. That status, with the opportunity for influence and engagement, is important in the context of the international credibility of this country.

Reference has been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, to Professor Sir Bob Hepple’s statements. He has stated that repeal will remove the unifying principle to which both the Lord Chancellor and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred when promoting the Equality Act 2006—the link between equality and other fundamental human rights. At the core of the commission’s general duty, and implicitly underlying the specific rights against discrimination, harassment, victimisation and the positive duty to advance equality, is respect for and protection of each person’s human rights.

This is not merely a political statement. It is the difference between the commission pursuing a society in which everyone is treated well and one in which law can be complied with simply because everyone is treated equally badly. When the Commission for Racial Equality investigated ill treatment of black prisoners prior to the creation of this commission, the defence given by the prisons was that white prisoners were treated equally badly. That was a legally sound defence. However, the operation of Section 3 ensured that a use-of-force policy against young men in detention had to be abandoned when the commission intervened. Had Section 3 not existed, the Home Secretary could have simply reconsidered the matter and reissued the policy.

I have seen no evidence that Section 3 has been in any way a hindrance to the operation of the commission, equality law or business. It is a necessary framework within which our equality and human rights law operates. The commission is facing the harsh reality of trying to maintain its UN “A” status while suffering from 76% budgetary cuts and 62% staffing cuts. It will struggle.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1286

If Section 3 is lost, the commission will be reduced in status and clarity of mission and purpose. That would be detrimental to the governance of our society.

Baroness Hollins: My Lords, I, too, support these amendments, and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Campbell of Surbiton on her perseverance in this matter.

The lack of respect shown to patients at Winterbourne View and at Mid Staffordshire shocked all of us. Laws must start with values and principles and not rely solely on regulation; nor should they assume, for example, that all public servants automatically hold and understand those values. The Government say that legislation is no place for declaring a mission but I disagree, and there are many people in the Chamber today who also disagree. For example, the Care and Support Bill includes principles which are perhaps individually unenforceable but they are critical because they remind us all that the primary purpose of care and support is ultimately to support the well-being of people. If we want to know how well our care and support system is doing, the well-being of older and disabled people and their families is our litmus test. Section 3 serves the same purpose. It imports these enduring values and principles into the duties of the EHRC and reminds it and us that, above all else, its role is to ensure that, as a society, we are upholding them.

A much celebrated initiative of the EHRC has been its inquiry into the human rights of elderly people receiving care in their own homes. The inquiry uncovered how the human rights of some older people were being placed at risk by care providers who required their staff to carry out tasks such as helping people to wash, dress or eat in time slots of 15 minutes or less. The dignity of older people was not being respected by a system which most assumed to exist principally for that purpose. It also highlighted how, as a consequence of outsourcing home care to private and voluntary sector providers, coupled with a narrow judicial interpretation of the meaning of “public authority” under the Human Rights Act, the majority of older people receiving care in their own homes could not rely on the Act to protect them.

That inquiry looked beyond existing law. It identified anecdotal evidence of an emerging situation, investigated it and made recommendations, including for law reform but equally for practice. It involved a particular constituency—older people—in circumstances where the values and principles of dignity and respect were being placed at risk but in which there were not at that time any legal cases to claim that human rights had been breached. This is not the sort of work that can be undertaken by charities. Charities are not the experts in equality and human rights. They can provide evidence but not leadership. They look to the EHRC to lead and promote.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, I shall intervene just briefly. I was in hospital when this was debated in Committee, but I was very taken by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton—the Surbiton charioteer, as I think of her—who spoke

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1287

with a verve and passion and with considerable conviction. Everybody has spoken in like terms and it seems to me that there has to be a convincing answer from my noble friend on the Front Bench if we are not to go along with this amendment in one way or another.

There is a place for the declaratory. This House said that last Thursday, when, by a pretty large majority, it passed what was in effect a declaratory Motion. There is a place for the aspirational in legislation. There are many precedents and it would take too long even to begin to give examples, but I hope that my noble friend will, at the very least, say to the House this afternoon that she will reflect further on this, if she cannot accept the amendment now, and come back on Third Reading with a definitive answer. I hope that the door will not be shut today.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I also intend to be brief. Having listened to all these speeches, which are so resonant of what has been said on many other occasions, I particularly congratulate my noble friend Lady Campbell on her brilliant speech. Equally, we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lester, a marvellous argument from the legal viewpoint about why it would be quite absurd to get rid of this clause. Section 3 helps us to achieve that commitment to equal opportunity, and to dignity and respect for others from different ethnic backgrounds, for those with disadvantages and for older people who, as we have just heard, will live much longer and have to cope with increasing disabilities as they grow old.

4 pm

One issue which struck me is the time it has taken to achieve the steps towards equality of opportunity that we already have, and how long we will need to complete the task. This clearly indicates to us that we need every form of additional commitment to let us achieve it. A tiny example is Business in the Community, which has played an important role in lots of ways. It set up a committee looking into this subject, called Opportunity 2000. Surprise, surprise, a little further on, guess what it decided to change the name to? Opportunity Now. That is what we need: opportunity now to achieve this with all the added bits of legislation. There is clearly no time and no need to get rid of this clause. It would be quite absurd, and I say to the noble Baroness responsible for replying that she will need to use her considerable influence on her Government to achieve what we all want. She will have to do it because it would be quite absurd to resist the opinions that we have heard and the excellent background to what has been said.

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I have appreciated the arguments made on this by many noble Lords, including many noble friends. I can say only a limited amount from the position that I occupy, but I should at least remind your Lordships of the position that the commission has taken on the removal of Section 3. This is not a new position since I became chair, but one that was already taken when my predecessor Trevor

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1288

Phillips chaired the commission. It is summarised in one sentence. It is not a sentence of high enthusiasm, but it states the balance of the issues. It says,

“on balance, the Commission concludes that the changes currently proposed are unlikely to have a significant adverse impact on its work”.

That is partly because other sections still preserve the wider duties, but it is also because the very task of an equality and human rights body is, by its nature, aspirational. That is to say, nobody goes into this domain without profound aspirations for respecting the human rights of each and every one of us in this country and their equal treatment.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I am greatly honoured to follow the lead offered by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and all the speeches that have been made today. When you are on the Front Bench, it is always easy to put your name to amendments but on this occasion I felt that it was very important that the Government heard the voices of the Back Benches of your Lordships’ House. I felt—as has been proved to be the case—that people would feel passionately that the Government are in the wrong place and that Section 3 should not be removed.

I have two questions for the Minister. The first partly follows the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill. It concerns the recent briefing from the EHRC, which states that, on the one hand,

“that the inclusion in its founding legislation of a unifying principle to bridge equality and human rights is important”,

but that, on the other hand, perhaps the answer to the dilemma of Section 3 would be a simpler purpose clause which described the commission,

“as the national expert on equality and human rights”,

and the strategic regulator for equality. It is not quite the poetic and aspirational language in the current legislation. Do the Government regard this intervention at this stage of the Bill as helpful or not?

I think that it muddies the water quite considerably. It adds force to the argument put by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. Let us be clear, the Government started by wanting to delete the section completely for reasons which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has demolished. However, if they want to change it and if the EHRC is suggesting that it should be changed, this is surely not the place to do so. This has to be a matter of great consideration and discussion among all the different organisations and across both Houses of Parliament. That was the import we gave Section 3 at the beginning in 2006. I suggest that the latest intervention by the EHRC on this matter serves only to underline the case that we should not go down the route proposed by the Government.

My second question is why does not one single stakeholder organisation—I apologise for that phrase, but I cannot find a better one—agree with the noble Baroness and her Government? Why does she think that Sir Bob Hepple has given the advice that he has about Section 3? Has she had discussions in the past month with the bodies which care about this matter? If so, what is the outcome of those discussions? Given that the Government are in absolutely no doubt that all these organisations are concerned about this and

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1289

do not want this change to happen, have the Government had discussions with them? Have any discussions influenced their position? I hope that their position will be that they will accept this amendment. Certainly, from these Benches, we are adamantly opposed to the deletion of Section 3. If the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, decides to test the opinion of the House, we will be with her.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, this has been an important debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed. We have covered an important matter about which we all feel strongly. We all want a society based on equality of opportunity which respects human rights. I pay tribute, as I did in Committee, to all noble Lords who have worked hard in this arena over many years. I especially pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, not just for everything that she has done but for the very open and straightforward manner in which she and I have discussed her amendments at various stages of the passage of this Bill. I really am grateful to her for that.

A lot has been achieved since we last debated this issue. We have appointed new commissioners and the commission’s budget has been announced. I will come back to these points later today when we debate the accountability of the commission in the final group of amendments. First, I shall be absolutely clear about what this Government seek to achieve via this Bill. We want a strong and independent Equality and Human Rights Commission which promotes and protects equality and human rights. We want it to be recognised and respected as the national expert in these areas as well as for being a strategic enforcer of equality law.

Under the leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, who is respected and renowned the world over for her evidence-based approach, we are confident that the commission’s work will be respected, but in order for her, her board and its successors to determine their priorities and agree a coherent strategy, we must first be clear on the purpose of the commission.

The commission has done some good work since it was established in 2007—most recently, the inquiry into the home care of elderly people and the disability harassment inquiry, among other things, which were referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. Let me be clear: removing the general duty would not prevent this kind of work taking place in the future. I will explain in a moment why that is the case. However, we also have to acknowledge that the commission has not been universally acclaimed as a national institution. Indeed, it has been criticised for the way that it has been run. Poor financial management resulting in qualified accounts was the most serious evidence of its failures.

In the past couple of years things have started to improve. Indeed, the past two sets of accounts have been clean and substantial savings have been made. I pay tribute to all those who played their part in that, which includes several Members of this House. However, when an organisation seriously underperforms, it would be negligent not to understand what caused those problems and take steps to put things right. As most successful leaders, whether they are in business or politics, will testify, when things go wrong in an

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1290

organisation it is often because the organisation lacks clarity of purpose. Indeed, they will argue that for any organisation to be successful, it needs clarity of purpose.

The general duty is not a core purpose. It is a statement with which we all agree, but it is not a purpose. As I said in Committee, that statement for the general duty includes the requirement that:

“We must encourage and support the development of a society in which: People's ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination. There is respect for and protection of each individual's human rights”,

and goes on. If the statement were enshrined exclusively in statute and described as the commission’s general duty, that would imply that the commission is responsible for encouraging and supporting the development of such a society on its own.

I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, questioned my reasoning, but I stand by it. The Government’s argument remains that several institutions—Parliament, the Government, other public sector organisations, business and everyone—are collectively responsible for achieving the kind of society that that general duty sets out. Having such a wide-ranging and unrealistic general duty would make it harder than it should be for the commission to prioritise its work. That would be the case for any organisation given that general duty.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill of Bengarve, made clear in her contribution the commission’s view of what the Government are proposing, and I am grateful to her for that. She said that while the commission lacks enthusiasm in the language that uses for the Government’s proposals to remove the general duty, it none the less acknowledges that it would not impact significantly on its work. She also agreed that that general duty is aspirational, the nature of the Equality Human Rights Commission is for it to be aspirational and that that is not required to be set out in statute.

The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and other noble Lords referred to the memo from Sir Bob Hepple and questioned the unifying link that Section 3 provides between equality and human rights. The commission can perform its functions under its duties in respect of equality under Section 8 and of human rights under Section 9, so that any unifying link between these two concepts provided by the duty is not essential. As the commission made clear in the briefing distributed at the end of last week, it sees the general duty as symbolic rather than practical.

The Government are clear that the commission’s core purpose is to promote equality and to protect human rights. These duties are set out in Sections 8 and 9 of the 2006 Act. They are supported by a suite of enforcement powers in that Act, such as conducting inquiries and investigations, issuing compliance notices or entering into agreements with organisations and instigating or intervening in judicial reviews or other legal proceedings.

4.15 pm

In her opening remarks, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, referred to the banking crisis and argued that the removal of the general duty would

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1291

prevent the commission becoming involved in addressing the kinds of problems associated with that. I would make a different point. To put it in its simplest terms, Sections 8 and 9, covering equality and human rights, should inform the commission’s strategic and business plan—in other words, its proactive work—and its enforcement panels are what authorise it to act when it suspects unlawful activity is occurring. So there is in the Act, without the general duty, the clarity that is necessary to inform the activity that the Equality and Human Rights Commission rightly needs to be able to carry out, which is important to it and what it is there to do. As I stated in Committee, the repeal of the general duty will neither stop nor hinder the commission’s ability to fulfil its important equality and human rights duties. I believe that by providing the clarity which will come through removing the general duty we will help it become more effective.

There is nothing to stop the commission reflecting the contents of the general duty in a mission statement, if it feels that that would help it in its work. Several noble Lords asked me to respond to the proposal circulated by the commission at the end of last week about an alternative to the general duty, reflecting some other kind of language. Let me be absolutely clear: the Government are not proposing an alternative to Section 3. We are clear that Section 3 is not required; if the commission decides it wants to produce its own internal mission statement, that is a matter for it.

Amendment 72, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, is about monitoring duty and seeks to halt the changes to Section 12 of the 2006 Act. I reiterate the point I made in Committee that this change is being made to ensure that the commission reports on progress against its core equality and human rights duties. It is a consequence of the changes that we are making to remove Section 3. It will also amend the reporting cycle from three to five years. As I also stated in Committee, I should like to be clear that there is nothing to stop the commission reporting more frequently if it wishes to do so. Our change would simply reduce the risks of overburdening the commission with reporting obligations and of it being unable to fulfil its duty of monitoring progress adequately.

The commission has had a difficult birth, but it has also done some good work. I believe that, with a clarified legislative mandate, the commission will continue to promote equality of opportunity, tackle discrimination and protect and promote human rights. It will be able to do so more effectively than before and so will gain the respect we all want it to have as our equality body and national human rights institution.

I hope that, in responding in this way to the noble Baroness and all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, I have given an assurance of what we expect from the commission as well as of the importance we attach to it and to the work it does. I hope that I have also been able to give the noble Baroness the assurance she needs that, in making these changes, we believe the result will be that the commission will be able to exercise its responsibilities more effectively than it has been able to until now.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1292

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, I thank all the supporters of my amendment because they have expanded the argument by bringing forward evidence with brilliance and accuracy. I also thank the Minister. She is right to say that we have spent honest time together discussing this issue in great detail and she has tried hard to understand and reflect upon the arguments, but I have to say that I am disappointed with her reply. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, suggested, I thought that perhaps we could come back at a later stage to discuss an alternative that would meet the requirements of noble Lords who have participated in this debate. Like many organisations—I would say all of them—we feel that this is an area of enormous significance in terms of culture change in this country. I do not feel that Section 3 hindered in any way the difficulties faced by the commission when it came to merge.

When three major commissions at different stages of their growth and liberation are merged and, at the same time, another three strands are added, people are brought together to work on a totally new concept. I am not surprised that the commission had a difficult few years. I have merged two organisations and it took me five years to get them to work together successfully and well, so I do not think that that is a good argument. I do not agree with the arguments around wideness and ambivalence or on the fact that Section 3 somehow takes the rudder away from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It does not; it just puts some passion into those sometimes very dusty legal arguments.

I have reflected deeply on this and worked hard to understand all the arguments for and against, but at this time we need to listen to and test the House to see what it has to say.

4.23 pm

Division on Amendment 71

Contents 217; Not-Contents 166.

Amendment 71 agreed.

Division No.  1


Addington, L.

Adonis, L.

Ahmed, L.

Allenby of Megiddo, V.

Alli, L.

Alton of Liverpool, L.

Anderson of Swansea, L.

Andrews, B.

Armstrong of Hill Top, B.

Avebury, L.

Bach, L.

Bakewell, B.

Barnett, L.

Bassam of Brighton, L.

Beecham, L.

Berkeley, L.

Best, L.

Bilimoria, L.

Bilston, L.

Blackstone, B.

Blood, B.

Borrie, L.

Bradley, L.

Bradshaw, L.

Bragg, L.

Brennan, L.

Brinton, B.

Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.

Brookeborough, V.

Brookman, L.

Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, L.

Browne of Ladyton, L.

Butler-Sloss, B.

Cameron of Dillington, L.

Campbell of Surbiton, B.

Campbell-Savours, L.

Christopher, L.

Clancarty, E.

Clark of Windermere, L.

Clarke of Hampstead, L.

Clinton-Davis, L.

Collins of Highbury, L.

Colville of Culross, V.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1293

Condon, L.

Corston, B.

Coussins, B.

Crisp, L.

Davidson of Glen Clova, L.

Davies of Coity, L.

Davies of Oldham, L.

Davies of Stamford, L.

Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.

Dear, L.

Desai, L.

Donaghy, B.

Drake, B.

Eatwell, L.

Elder, L.

Elystan-Morgan, L.

Emerton, B.

Evans of Temple Guiting, L.

Falkland, V.

Farrington of Ribbleton, B.

Fellowes, L.

Filkin, L.

Finlay of Llandaff, B. [Teller]

Flather, B.

Foulkes of Cumnock, L.

Gale, B.

Gibson of Market Rasen, B.

Giddens, L.

Glasman, L.

Golding, B.

Gould of Potternewton, B.

Grantchester, L.

Greenway, L.

Grenfell, L.

Grey-Thompson, B. [Teller]

Griffiths of Burry Port, L.

Grocott, L.

Hannay of Chiswick, L.

Hanworth, V.

Hardie, L.

Harries of Pentregarth, L.

Harris of Haringey, L.

Hart of Chilton, L.

Haskel, L.

Haworth, L.

Hayman, B.

Hayter of Kentish Town, B.

Healy of Primrose Hill, B.

Henig, B.

Hennessy of Nympsfield, L.

Hereford, Bp.

Hilton of Eggardon, B.

Hollick, L.

Hollins, B.

Hollis of Heigham, B.

Howarth of Breckland, B.

Howarth of Newport, L.

Howe of Idlicote, B.

Howells of St Davids, B.

Howie of Troon, L.

Hoyle, L.

Hughes of Woodside, L.

Hunt of Kings Heath, L.

Hussain, L.

Hussein-Ece, B.

Hylton, L.

Janner of Braunstone, L.

Janvrin, L.

Jay of Paddington, B.

Jones, L.

Jones of Whitchurch, B.

Jordan, L.

Kennedy of Southwark, L.

Kennedy of The Shaws, B.

Kidron, B.

Kingsmill, B.

Kinnock, L.

Kinnock of Holyhead, B.

Laming, L.

Layard, L.

Lea of Crondall, L.

Leitch, L.

Liddell of Coatdyke, B.

Lipsey, L.

Lister of Burtersett, B.

Lloyd of Berwick, L.

McAvoy, L.

McConnell of Glenscorrodale, L.

McDonagh, B.

Macdonald of Tradeston, L.

McFall of Alcluith, L.

McIntosh of Hudnall, B.

Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.

McKenzie of Luton, L.

Maclennan of Rogart, L.

Mallalieu, B.

Mar, C.

Martin of Springburn, L.

Masham of Ilton, B.

Massey of Darwen, B.

Maxton, L.

Methuen, L.

Mitchell, L.

Monks, L.

Moonie, L.

Morgan of Huyton, B.

Morris of Aberavon, L.

Morris of Handsworth, L.

Morris of Yardley, B.

Noon, L.

O'Loan, B.

Ouseley, L.

Patel, L.

Patel of Blackburn, L.

Patel of Bradford, L.

Paul, L.

Pendry, L.

Peston, L.

Pitkeathley, B.

Plant of Highfield, L.

Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.

Prosser, B.

Quin, B.

Radice, L.

Ramsay of Cartvale, B.

Rea, L.

Rees of Ludlow, L.

Reid of Cardowan, L.

Rendell of Babergh, B.

Richard, L.

Rogers of Riverside, L.

Rosser, L.

Rowe-Beddoe, L.

Rowlands, L.

Royall of Blaisdon, B.

St John of Bletso, L.

Sawyer, L.

Scotland of Asthal, B.

Sherlock, B.

Simon, V.

Singh of Wimbledon, L.

Slim, V.

Smith of Basildon, B.

Snape, L.

Stevenson of Balmacara, L.

Symons of Vernham Dean, B.

Taylor of Blackburn, L.

Taylor of Bolton, B.

Temple-Morris, L.

Tenby, V.

Thornton, B.

Tomlinson, L.

Tonge, B.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1294

Touhig, L.

Tunnicliffe, L.

Turnberg, L.

Turner of Camden, B.

Uddin, B.

Valentine, B.

Wall of New Barnet, B.

Walpole, L.

Warner, L.

Wheeler, B.

Whitaker, B.

Whitty, L.

Wilkins, B.

Williams of Baglan, L.

Williams of Crosby, B.

Williams of Elvel, L.

Wills, L.

Wilson of Tillyorn, L.

Wood of Anfield, L.

Young of Hornsey, B.

Young of Norwood Green, L.


Ahmad of Wimbledon, L.

Alderdice, L.

Anelay of St Johns, B. [Teller]

Astor of Hever, L.

Attlee, E.

Baker of Dorking, L.

Bates, L.

Bell, L.

Berridge, B.

Black of Brentwood, L.

Blencathra, L.

Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.

Bottomley of Nettlestone, B.

Brabazon of Tara, L.

Brittan of Spennithorne, L.

Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.

Brougham and Vaux, L.

Browning, B.

Buscombe, B.

Butler of Brockwell, L.

Campbell of Alloway, L.

Cathcart, E.

Clement-Jones, L.

Colwyn, L.

Cope of Berkeley, L.

Cotter, L.

Courtown, E.

Craigavon, V.

Crickhowell, L.

De Mauley, L.

Deben, L.

Deighton, L.

Dixon-Smith, L.

Dobbs, L.

Doocey, B.

Dykes, L.

Eaton, B.

Eccles, V.

Eccles of Moulton, B.

Eden of Winton, L.

Edmiston, L.

Elton, L.

Erroll, E.

Falkner of Margravine, B.

Fearn, L.

Fellowes of West Stafford, L.

Fink, L.

Fookes, B.

Fowler, L.

Framlingham, L.

Freeman, L.

Freud, L.

Garden of Frognal, B.

Gardiner of Kimble, L.

Gardner of Parkes, B.

Geddes, L.

Glasgow, E.

Glenarthur, L.

Gold, L.

Goodlad, L.

Goschen, V.

Greengross, B.

Hamwee, B.

Hanham, B.

Henley, L.

Heyhoe Flint, B.

Hill of Oareford, L.

Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.

Hooper, B.

Howard of Lympne, L.

Howard of Rising, L.

Howe, E.

Howell of Guildford, L.

Hunt of Wirral, L.

James of Blackheath, L.

Jenkin of Roding, L.

Jolly, B.

Jones of Cheltenham, L.

Jopling, L.

Kakkar, L.

Kilclooney, L.

Kirkham, L.

Knight of Collingtree, B.

Lang of Monkton, L.

Lawson of Blaby, L.

Lexden, L.

Lindsay, E.

Lingfield, L.

Liverpool, E.

Loomba, L.

Lothian, M.

Lucas, L.

Luke, L.

Macfarlane of Bearsden, L.

MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.

McNally, L.

Maddock, B.

Mancroft, L.

Marland, L.

Marlesford, L.

Miller of Hendon, B.

Moore of Lower Marsh, L.

Naseby, L.

Nash, L.

Neville-Jones, B.

Newby, L. [Teller]

Newlove, B.

Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.

Northbrook, L.

Northover, B.

O'Cathain, B.

O'Neill of Bengarve, B.

Oppenheim-Barnes, B.

Palmer of Childs Hill, L.

Palumbo, L.

Parminter, B.

Perry of Southwark, B.

Popat, L.

Randerson, B.

Rawlings, B.

Razzall, L.

Ribeiro, L.

Ridley, V.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1295

Risby, L.

Rogan, L.

Roper, L.

Ryder of Wensum, L.

Seccombe, B.

Selborne, E.

Selkirk of Douglas, L.

Selsdon, L.

Shackleton of Belgravia, B.

Sharkey, L.

Sharp of Guildford, B.

Sharples, B.

Sheikh, L.

Shephard of Northwold, B.

Shutt of Greetland, L.

Smith of Clifton, L.

Spicer, L.

Stedman-Scott, B.

Steel of Aikwood, L.

Stewartby, L.

Storey, L.

Stowell of Beeston, B.

Taverne, L.

Taylor of Holbeach, L.

Teverson, L.

Thomas of Gresford, L.

Trefgarne, L.

Trenchard, V.

Trimble, L.

True, L.

Trumpington, B.

Tugendhat, L.

Verma, B.

Waddington, L.

Wakeham, L.

Wallace of Saltaire, L.

Wallace of Tankerness, L.

Warnock, B.

Wasserman, L.

Wei, L.

Wheatcroft, B.

Wilcox, B.

Younger of Leckie, V.

4.36 pm

Amendment 72 agreed.

Amendment 73

Moved by Lord Harries of Pentregarth

73: After Clause 57, insert the following new Clause—

“Equality Act 2010: caste discrimination

(1) The Equality Act 2010 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 9(1)(c) (race) insert—

“(d) caste;”.”

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, this amendment seeks to add the word “caste” into the Equality Act 2010 and I will very briefly sketch in its background. The Dalit communities in this country, which are about 480,000 strong, have been concerned for some time about discrimination against them. The previous Government, aware of this, introduced an order-making power into the Equality Act 2010 and to assess the evidence commissioned a report from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research. The NIESR concluded that there was discrimination in the areas covered by the Equality Act; namely, education, employment and the provision of public goods and services. It recommended legislation as one of the ways of dealing with this.

The present Government, understandably, wanted time to consider this issue but on Friday gave their response. They recommended that discrimination be tackled by education first rather than by triggering the order-making power in the Act. The Dalit communities in this country are deeply disappointed by this long-awaited response. Indeed, there are more than 400 community leaders from all over the country expressing their feelings outside the House at the moment. I find it disappointing and genuinely distressing because not only are the recommendations a distraction from the real issue but they could cause a great deal of hard feeling and resentment and be seriously counterproductive.

I want to explain briefly why I believe this to be so. It is natural in every society for people to mix with other like-minded people—those with the same education, background, religion, class or occupation. If sometimes

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1296

this goes along with feelings of superiority to other groups this is reprehensible but when it is manifested only in social life it is not a matter for legislation. By focusing on education there is a huge danger that these kinds of social distinction will become blurred and confused with the real issue of discrimination in the public sphere when people are not employed or are harassed in their jobs because of their caste. An education programme, however sensitive—and frankly one wonders how on earth this one is going to be costed—is likely to be regarded as patronising and interfering, while at the same time distracting from the essential issue.

We hear that there is opposition to triggering the order-making power. I find it very difficult to work out what are the grounds of this opposition. The NIESR is a highly reputable academic body, well used to doing this research, and it has concluded that there is clear evidence of discrimination in the public sphere. Therefore, I wonder about the Government’s second recommendation, which is that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should be asked to look again at the evidence. Is there something flawed with the original evidence? Why is it being asked to look at it again?

Another possible reason is that discrimination does indeed exist, as the Government seem to accept, but should be tolerated. That position would be quite unacceptable to all your Lordships. So we come to the third reason. Is the law really needed? We know that in the case of legislation on race nothing has been more effective in reducing racial prejudice than the law. It has had a most powerful educative effect. Nothing could be more significant and effective in reducing discrimination on the grounds of caste than to have a clear-cut law saying that discrimination in the public sphere will not be tolerated. India, Bangladesh and Nepal all have laws against discrimination on the grounds of caste. The problem in those countries is that the caste system is so deeply entrenched that the laws are not properly enforced. The situation in this country is very different. The law is, on the whole, effective. If other countries see nothing shaming in having a law, why should we?

There are something like 200 million Dalits in the world and the institutionalised prejudice against them is one of the most degrading and humiliating forms of rejection invented by cruel human beings, of which being confined to jobs such as manual scavenging is only one expression. It is indeed a surprise and a shock to learn that caste prejudice has come to this country. It is not, of course, in that extreme form but we need to show that in any public form it is totally unacceptable. We can do that quite simply and clearly by accepting this amendment.

At the moment, when a person believes that they have been discriminated against because of their caste, they have no legal means of redress. Someone I once interviewed had had a good training in India as a medical technician and was employed by the NHS in this country. All went well until this person asked their Asian boss for leave to go back to India for a family wedding. There then followed a set of highly intrusive questions about their family background, after which the person’s life was made hell for the next year, which nearly brought on a breakdown. The trade union that

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1297

he consulted thought that he had certainly been the subject of unfair discrimination and harassment, but had to advise him that at the moment it was not possible to bring a case for discrimination on the grounds of caste.

Even if there are likely to be few such cases, it is essential that there should be a proper means of legal address for those that exist. I appreciate that the Government are serious in wanting to do something about caste discrimination but I honestly believe, for the reason I have given, that their education programme could turn out to be highly counterproductive. No less importantly, it will blur the issue and distract attention from what is really needed: a clear legal signal that discrimination in this country in the public sphere—in education, employment and the provision of public goods and services—is quite unacceptable. I beg to move.

4.45 pm

Lord Deben: My Lords, I put my name to this amendment because it seems a very fundamental and simple question. Is it right that a person who is a subject of Her Majesty in this country shall not be able to claim against discrimination when they would be able to in India or Nepal, or indeed in Bangladesh? Is it right that when we have clear evidence that caste has become a feature in this country, they have no defence against it?

I have had very informative and helpful discussions with the Minister responsible in another place and the usual extremely well thought-out discussions with the noble Baroness. It is with considerable sadness that I have to say to her that I am not convinced by the Government’s argument. First of all, it has only just become the Government’s argument. In opposition, the Conservative Party said that this was necessary because it was the only way in which more than 400,000 of Her Majesty’s subjects could properly be protected. If it were possible for the Government to explain to the House that in taking office there were circumstances of which they were unaware that changed their mind, then I would be happier.

However, that is not the argument that has been put forward. What has been suggested is that we need to have yet another investigation. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, rightly says, the investigation by the previous Government was not by some small, unimportant body without respect, but by exactly the people to whom one might turn to find that answer, and their answer was unequivocal. It seems difficult to suggest there should be yet another investigation unless there is a clear statement of what has changed since that one, what was missed out by that one or what the Government felt should further be looked at which had not been looked at. Yet that is not anywhere in the Government’s response.

I believe we have to look at this extremely carefully for a reason which will be perhaps more understood on these Benches than anywhere else. If there is one thing that really annoys people about immigration, it is when people bring to this country attitudes that are wholly contrary to the traditions of Britain. That is why people have reacted so firmly against the attempt, for example, to introduce Sharia law into this nation.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1298

Most people in Britain feel that we have a society that should be welcoming, but it should be welcoming on the terms of the tolerance that has been so much part of our history.

There are, after all, fewer Jews in this country than there are Dalits. They are wholly protected under the laws. There are fewer Sikhs in this country than there are Dalits, but they are wholly protected under the laws. Most people would say that there is no place for discrimination by caste in Britain. If there is no place for that discrimination, how can it be that all the other discriminations for which we think there are no place are covered by the law but this one alone is not?

I have to say to my noble friend that I find the arguments used deeply distressing because they go like this: first of all, that we do not know quite enough about it so let us have a further investigation. Frankly, having had the investigations up to now, if it turns out that there are no cases, what harm will have been done? We will have protected people and they will feel protected. If it turns out the investigation that took place under the previous Government was unnecessary and its findings were not true, then we have done no harm. However, if we leave it for another year—and I am told, with some authority, that we will have to wait only a year for a further investigation—we will have another year in which people have no recourse, and at the end of that we may still have no recourse, because there will not necessarily be a legislative opportunity for us to bring this home to the Government.

The second reason that I find so difficult to hear is that we will not deal with it that way anyway, but will deal with it through education, with or without the investigation. Here I do not want to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, except to say: what do people say in this education? A Dalit in a class says “Okay, I shouldn’t be discriminated against, but what happens if I am?”. The fact that there is now education on this means that the answer will be, “Tough luck, because there is nothing you can do about it, as we have specifically refused to ensure that there is an opportunity for you to take your case”. That is a recipe for lack of integration, poorer community relations, and a worse situation than would have arisen had we had no education or had not raised the matter in the first place.

The third reason that comes up is one that I find more distressing than any other. Every Minister who speaks about it—and we have two Ministers of particular quality here—assures me that they are totally committed to the eradication of discrimination, which includes the eradication of discrimination on the grounds of caste, but that theirs is a better way to do it. I believe that a decision has been made somewhere else that is not on this ground at all, and is not worthy. It is no good listening to those who, in their own circumstances, have a view of caste that is different from that of the majority of us in this House.

In Britain no one should suffer discrimination on the grounds of anything that they cannot help. They cannot help their sexual orientation and their colour; they very often cannot help their religion, or they have chosen that religion; and they cannot help their gender. What on earth is different when they cannot help their

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1299

caste? You can change the name from “untouchable” to Dalit, but you cannot change the fact that some people are treated in an appalling way, simply because of the person they were born.

I have absolutely no doubt that it would be utterly wrong for us to say to the world that we had the opportunity to protect people from this disgraceful discrimination but decided not to do it because we had to have another investigation. I invite all noble Lords to look back on the history of the fight against discrimination. What happened at every point? Those who did not want to change suggested that we looked again and examined it once more. They said, “Let education deal with it; it’ll all come right in the end”. It was only when we changed the law, however, and made it wrong not only morally but legally as well, that we actually had a change in attitudes and gave the protection which was needed.

I want to finish by saying something very tough: if anybody in this House has any history of discrimination—whether it is the small amount that Catholics have today, which is still real, or the great amount that people have because they are of colour or Jewish or in any other minority group—let them make sure that they do not fail the Dalits, because they have a greater responsibility than those who are lucky enough not to have suffered discrimination as a subject of Her Majesty.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I have seldom listened to a more powerful speech in this House. I agree with every single word that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, except for one very minor point which has to be mentioned. The Government are not proposing to undertake any further investigation, but simply to review the investigations that have already taken place. Therefore, what they are proposing to do is of even less consequence than he credited them with.

We already know, from the study undertaken by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research—which was mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, in introducing this amendment—that caste discrimination actually occurs in the United Kingdom. That study confirmed that discrimination and harassment of the type that would be dealt with under the Act exists in the UK, as was reiterated only the other day in a letter from one of its authors, Hilary Metcalf, to my noble friend Lord McNally.

The Government now recognise the existence of caste discrimination. As the Minister for Equalities said, in words very similar to those used by my noble friend Lord Deben just now,

“We obviously do not think that anyone should suffer prejudice or discrimination, whether it is because of caste or any other characteristic. Such behaviour is wrong and should not be condoned, whether or not it is prohibited by legislation”.

However, no Minister has explained properly, in the extended correspondence that we had with the Government over the past three years, why caste should be treated differently from age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation—the protected characteristics that are already covered by the Equality Act.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1300

The Minister Helen Grant MP wrote to us on 5 February, saying:

“We need to be satisfied that it is the most appropriate and targeted way of tackling a specific problem before legislating”.

I respectfully suggest that Parliament wisely decided that legislation was indeed the right way to tackle discrimination across the board after many years of trying to apply remedies to particular kinds of discrimination such as for race—with the Race Relations Board—or gender, by compliance with the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Nobody ever said that before including race and gender in the Equality Act, we needed to be satisfied that it was the most appropriate and targeted way of dealing with the problems that still remained. Legislation was seen as the top storey of the edifice of ways of tackling discrimination of all kinds. The onus is on the Government to prove that, in the unique instance of caste, we should return to non-legal remedies which proved insufficient in respect of the nine existing protected characteristics and are no substitute for the right to take complaints of discrimination to court.

The original reason given by the Government for failing to enact Section 9(5)(a) was that there was no consensus on the need for legislation even among the communities that were potentially most affected by it. We naturally interpreted that as meaning the Dalit communities whose members are the victims of this discrimination. However, it emerged in a letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, of May 2012, that the reference was to the wider Hindu and Sikh communities. In that sense, there is never a consensus for legal measures against particular kinds of discrimination. The policy of ending apartheid in South Africa was vociferously opposed by certain groups within the white population. At one time, plenty of men’s organisations were opposed to women’s equality, including, I may say, Parliament itself, and there are still institutions opposed to LGBT rights. Fortunately, the absence of consensus was not used as an argument for blocking legislation for the rights of racial minorities, women or gay people.

However, I realised quite recently that some Hindus and Sikhs believe that what we are seeking to do labels their communities as a whole as persecuting Dalits. I assure them that nobody has any such idea, any more than the Equality Act labels native British as being intrinsically racist, or men as being intrinsically misogynist. There are already cases where litigants such as the Begraj have done their best to use the existing law to make a claim on caste discrimination grounds in the courts. However, there has been no suggestion that a handful of cases point to a general pattern of conduct among people belonging to certain religions.

5 pm

Recently, the Prime Minister raised an additional objection that needless red tape, as he calls it, and additional unnecessary cost burdens for business might be caused by this provision. That is not the case. Employers would already have the duty to prevent caste discrimination as part of their general duty of care towards their staff, and to take remedial action if it occurred. The difference would be minor one-off

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1301

familiarisation costs, plus, of course, the liability of the employer to court proceedings and payment of damages if this amendment is passed, as identified by the Bill’s impact assessment.

The apparent rarity of caste discrimination, judging from the NIESR report, and the fact that employers would already be looking carefully at race anyway, of which caste would be a subset, means that the amount of extra work is likely to be minimal. One suggestion in the letter from Helen Grant MP is that gender reassignment is included in the protected characteristics because of our obligations under EU law rather than because the Government considered that it was wrong in principle to discriminate against transgender people.

The recommendation of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, echoed in the UN’s universal periodic review of the UK, that we should include caste in the protected characteristics is also a legal obligation according to the advice obtained by the National Secular Society from lawyers Gráinne Mellon of Bedford Row Chambers and Lionel Nichols, fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford.

However, there are no sanctions against non-compliance and whether or not the CERD recommendations should be treated as obligatory depends more on the Government’s sense of loyalty to their international commitments than on legal principles. However, it is not good to see the UK in the company of states which flout the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The Government’s proposals, which we received only a couple of days ago, reminded me of Groundhog Day. We are back where we were three years ago, with the Government commissioning a study, this time on whether caste discrimination is likely to be more effectively addressed by legislation or by other unspecified solutions. This is another act of procrastination, as has already been said, because the question is precisely the one they have been considering since the NIESR report in December 2010.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has been asked to undertake this study, expressed its opinion shortly after I and a few colleagues had a meeting with its legal director, John Wadham, on 25 September last year. It supported the activation of Section 9(5)(a) and issued a statement to that effect which is on its website. I suppose that now Mr Wadham has left the EHRC, it could do a U-turn, but the legal arguments have not changed, nor has the experience of unsuccessful attempts to combat discrimination over many years prior to 2010. I am surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, has accepted such a thankless task, particularly as the Government have given no undertaking that if the EHRC reaffirms its opinion that legislation is the right way forward, the Government will take its advice. Will the Minister clarify that point and indicate what budget the EHRC has been given for this operation?

As for the Government’s other proposal, what funding has Talk for a Change been given for the educational programme on this complex and sensitive issue? In its section dealing with alternatives to legislation, NIESR said that,

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1302

“the educational approach is only relevant where people are unaware of caste, i.e. in organisations where senior people are not Asian”.

However, NIESR emphasised the educational side-effects of legislation. It said:

“Because of discrimination legislation, employers, educators and providers of goods and services developed non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. These not only provide structures for redress, but also lead to much greater understanding of the issues and reduce the acceptability of such discrimination and harassment. In the case of caste discrimination, this educational effect is particularly necessary because the vast majority of the population is almost entirely ignorant of caste issues”.

Therefore, legislation would have meant that money being spent on both EHRC and Talk for a Change could have been saved. I do not believe the Government’s antipathy to legislation is really to do with the cost. What is certain is that, just as the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor are bent on reducing the means of legal redress available to victims of human rights violations—about which we read in the press every day—as part of this mindset, there is a doctrinal aversion to this proposal in the Cabinet, which is not going to be eliminated by any number of studies and failed alternatives. It is time for the House to make a decision.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I want briefly to intervene in order to support the amendment that has been laid before this House by my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and to support the powerful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

As I heard their speeches, I was thinking of two things that I have in my study. One is a poster on the wall that says:

“God so loved the world that he did not send a committee”.

I recalled that it was William Wilberforce who, after the abolition of the slave trade, said that the next great challenge was the abolition of the caste system. Here we still are setting up yet more committees and more inquiries. I really do not believe that that is the signal that we want to send today.

The other thing in my study is a terracotta pot that I brought back with me from Uttar Pradesh two years ago. When a Dalit has held that pot, they are required to break it, because nobody else must touch it if they have drunk from that pot. That is what it means, in simple terms, to be untouchable. Those two simple things motivated me to speak in this debate.

I know that my noble friend has pursued this issue with great vigour and doggedly over the years, and I think that the House ought to support him today not least because, as we discovered in the earlier amendment, the importance of making declamatory statements is sometimes crucial in advancing a cause. The Minister should perhaps recall the wise advice that was given to her on an earlier amendment by my noble friend Lord Cormack. He suggested that if she were not able to accept that amendment today, it would be wisest to come back at Third Reading. The same is true with this amendment. She ought to go away and think about it further if she cannot accept the amendment today, not least because of the declamatory nature of not accepting it.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1303

What signal will that send to the extraordinary number of people who remain in India as Dalits, some 170 million of them in addition to the 400,000 in our own country? When the House considers that every single day in India every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit; every day three Dalit women are raped; two Dalits are murdered; two Dalit houses are burned; 11 Dalits are beaten; that many are impoverished; some half of Dalit children are under-nourished; 12% die before their fifth birthday; vast numbers are uneducated or illiterate; and 45% cannot read or write it is quite clear that we do not need more inquiries or studies. We have to be certain about what it is that we want for ourselves. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, is right: there are values that we hold dear in this country that we stand for and believe in. We must stand firmly on those principles, not suggest to others that somehow or other to import those kinds of conditions into the United Kingdom would ever be acceptable. Furthermore, however important things such as trade relations are—and they are important to British industry in developing cordial and good relations with India or China—none the less, the stand we take on upholding not just human rights but human dignity, and the belief that no one is untouchable and that every person is of equal value, certainly in the sight of God and as they certainly ought to be in the sight of their fellow human beings, are important. For those reasons, I am happy to support the amendment of my noble friend.

Baroness Flather: My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words as the only person here to belong to a caste. As far as I know, there is no other Hindu in the Chamber.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: Yes, there is. There is the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.

Baroness Flather: I apologise to the noble Lord. We know very well what a terrible and shameful thing the caste system is for us Indians. Two issues are the most shameful in Hindu culture—caste and dowry. Both have significant effects on people. Dowry leads to the aborting of girl foetuses and the killing of girl children. Caste puts people down; a whole group of people are there to do the worst jobs that no one else will do. That can never be right.

The problem is that Hindus are discriminating against other Hindus. Very few British people understand the caste system or even know what caste means, other than that there are higher and lower castes. Hindus in this country discriminate against lower-caste Hindus. That is so appalling and unacceptable that I cannot understand how it can be allowed to go on. In India, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, the caste system is getting worse, not better. When India became independent in 1947 and Gandhi started a campaign to allow lower-caste people to do all different levels of work, we all thought that by now there would be no caste system in that country. There was a great hope that the caste system would die out. It has not done so but has got worse. People have killed their own children because they have married a person in a different caste. There are organisations in Delhi that find and

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1304

bring back young people who run away from their villages to escape the wrath of their parents. They pick them up and bring them to their parents, who have them killed. It is not a joke in India. It is horrible.

We have heard that there are laws in India, Bengal, Bangladesh and Nepal. Those laws are not enforced. No one cares about them, and a few rupees will buy you the willingness of anyone from a different caste to help out, so there is no question of the laws being effective. That also applies to the laws against dowry and aborting girl babies. None of those laws is enforced. A law that is not enforced is of no use whatever.

If we were to pass the amendment, we would be making the clearest statement that society can make that such behaviour is unacceptable in this country. We also need to state to our own people, the Hindus: “You cannot come here and behave as if you are in India because there are laws here that will be enforced and will not be overlooked”. I know how some children were treated in schools when I was teaching. That was some years ago, and things have got worse, not better. Unfortunately, there are Hindu organisations that are against the amendment and feel that it is targeting them and saying that high-caste Hindus are the ones to blame. Well, they are to blame if this discrimination happens, because they start it. I hope that today noble Lords will accept this amendment. It is a very small thing, but it will mean a lot to 400,000 people.

5.15 pm

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: My Lords, speaking from a Sikh perspective, I give my full support to the amendment. Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, taught, “Ask not a person’s caste but look to the inner light within”. At a time when even the shadow of a lower caste person was said to pollute the food of a higher caste, he instituted the system of langar, where people of all religions and social backgrounds were, and are, welcomed to share a gurdwara meal. The historic Golden Temple in Amritsar, recently visited by the Prime Minister, has, as he will have noticed, four doors at its sides, signifying a welcome to all people regardless of religion or supposed social difference.

Emphasis on the equal dignity of all human beings is central to Sikh teachings. I was slightly bemused by the readiness of some, including ministerial advisors I have met—and we see the same misinformation in the ministerial statement—to display their ignorance of basic Sikh teachings and, in a near-colonial way, to conflate caste, class and all undesirable social discrimination and religions on the subcontinent in the word “caste”. Attitudes of superiority and inferiority are found in all societies. We should remember the media headline “Prince William marries a commoner”.

Caste has a very precise meaning attached to practices associated with the Hindu faith. It has its origin in the desire of the Aryan conquerors of the subcontinent in pre-Vedic times to establish a hierarchy of importance, with priests at the top followed by warriors, those engaged in commerce and then those engaged in more menial tasks. The conquered indigenous people were considered lower than the lowest caste. Accident of birth alone determined a person’s caste. Sadly, thousands

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1305

of years latter, and despite legislation by the Indian Government, which has been referred to, this hierarchy of importance still lingers on.

I have gone into detail because it is important to understand what we are talking about when we discuss discrimination on grounds of caste. It is discrimination arising from supposed Hindu religious belief, but what passes for religion is not always all it seems. Caste in no way relates to underlying and uplifting ethical Hindu teachings. It is simply questionable culture that has, over the years, managed to attach itself to Hinduism in much the same way as discrimination against women—

Baroness Flather: The caste system was established very early in Hinduism. The Sanskrit for caste is “varna”, which is also the word for colour. The noble Lord mentioned the Aryan conquerors, who were supposed to be lighter skinned. They wanted a division not only on the basis of who would do what but on the basis of colour.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: I thank the noble Baroness for that. I repeat: caste in no way relates to underlying and uplifting ethical Hindu teachings. It is simply questionable culture that has, over the years, managed to attach itself to Hinduism in much the same way as discrimination against women is seen by some as part of their faith.

The Sikh gurus were acutely aware of such negative cultural practices, and they openly discussed and criticised the prevalence of rituals, superstitions and cultural practices contrary to underlying ethical teachings. At a time when all religions all around the world were emphasising difference and exclusivity, the Sikh gurus stressed the importance of showing respect for sister faiths. The fifth guru, Guru Arjan, showed his respect for Islam by asking a Muslim saint, Mian Mir, to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple. The ninth guru, Guru Tegh Bahadhur, gave his life defending the right of Hindus to freedom of worship at a time of forced conversion by the Mogul rulers. At the same time, the gurus taught that people of all faiths must respect fundamental human rights and the equality of all people, including full gender equality.

While I have the greatest respect for a sister faith, I also believe that Hinduism without the old-fashioned concept of caste will be infinitely stronger. Similar negative cultural clutter exists in all our different faiths. Its removal would help religions work together for a fairer society, and it is in that spirit that I support this amendment.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I fully support this amendment because it deals with a problem which ought not to disfigure our national life. My only point is somewhat technical. I notice that in one of his quotations, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned race, of which he said caste is a subgroup. I believe it is quite reasonable to suppose that the definition of race in the Equality Act, including ethnic considerations, will include caste. The fact that an additional power was taken to make orders in relation to caste puts that, in the context of the Equality Act, in a certain amount of doubt. However, it is quite important that we recognise that “ethnic” is a broad consideration and

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1306

idea. According to the

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

, which I suppose has a special authority in some parts of the House, “ethnic” means,

“relating to national and cultural origins … denoting origin by birth or descent, rather than by present nationality”.

It also has the definition of pertaining to or designating a,

“population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition”.

In effect, that is what caste is. In the context of the 2010 Act, the fact that a separate order-making power was introduced may have been unnecessary. However, it is worth recognising, as the quotation used by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, shows, that caste can be regarded as a subgroup of race which, of course, is a characteristic that is at present the subject of antidiscrimination provision.

It looks to me as though we have here the necessary push behind this, but I would like the Government to consider it. It may be a reason for reconsideration at Third Reading, separate from other things that have been said, but it is important for a view to be taken about this matter.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and others proposing this amendment, to which I give my full support. I do not want to delay this debate too much because it is quite clear what many of your Lordships think. However, I will make three brief points. First, I go back to the theme touched on by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and others about the Government’s plans to address this underlying issue by way of education. We have just been reminded about dictionary definitions. Education is from “educere” to lead us out; to lead us out, surely, into greater truth and the fullness of that truth; for us to flourish as human beings; and to become the best human beings we can be. Within that, I believe, the spirit of God leads us into the fullness of that truth of all being valued in the sight of God.

Secondly, we need consistency in how we approach these issues. Yes, there should be education but not only education. As we have been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, where does that lead? If it does not lead to the possibility of those who are being educated to treat others equally, to have the law support that as well, we let them down and fail them. Surely, our law is but the right ordering of our society. As we have been reminded by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, this issue is about the public arena.

Thirdly, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has drawn our attention, having had this debate, if we should turn away and not support this amendment, we are giving a worse signal than if we had never had the debate. We need the debate and we need it to be in the open. Having got to this point, we cannot let ourselves turn away. That would cause more harm, more damage and more discrimination. I hope very much that the Minister will accept this amendment and, if not, that it will have the support of all the Benches.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Perhaps I may follow especially what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, with which I agree.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1307

However, first, I recall that the previous Government, led by the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Thornton, met with a large group of Dalits, introduced by my noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. As I recall, they listened to them for the best part of three or four hours and were deeply affected by what they learnt from them. It was decided to include a power in the 2010 Act precisely to deal with the problem about which they had heard and to get the necessary research, which they did, and then to deal with the problem of legal uncertainty. As I understand it, the whole reason for the power was because it was necessary to deal with the problem of legal uncertainty if the Government were satisfied that there was evidence of discrimination.

During the debates that then took place, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, played a conspicuous role. I was looking back to some of the things that she said. She referred to a study, Hidden Apartheid—Voice of the Community—Caste and Caste Discrimination in the UK. She said that the study,

“illustrates that there is a real and widespread problem, whereas that does not appear to come back from the Government's consultations”.—[

Official Report

, 11/1/10; col. 340.]

She also referred to a “serious problem”. I pay tribute to her for that.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, rightly suggested that it is strongly arguable that the concept of race, notably of ethnic origins, might be capable of being extended to cover caste. I agree with him that that might be possible, especially when one considers the position of Jews and Sikhs. In the Jewish free school case, the Supreme Court had to deal with a dispute between orthodox Jews and Jews outside the United Synagogue. The Supreme Court interpreted the notion of ethnicity to include descent and held on the fact that a school was discriminating on the basis of descent as part of race.

Many years before, in the Sikh Mandla v Lee case—in which representation was made by an extremely able young advocate, now the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg—a school refused to allow a Sikh boy to be a member of the school if he wore a turban. The House of Lords decided that the word “descent” as part of ethnic origins was capable of being construed to treat Sikhs as being protected by the Racial Discrimination Act.

We are in the position in which some 300,000 Jews—as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, indicated in his extraordinarily powerful speech—and 300,000 Sikhs in this country are protected against race discrimination as ethnic groups, but Dalits are not yet protected. It would take a case all the way to the Supreme Court to try to prevail in the way that Sikhs and Jews have done.

Noble Lords will have read in the newspapers that there was indeed a test case brought in an employment tribunal by Vijay and Amardeep Begraj. After a 36-day hearing, the judge recused herself on the application of the defendant after a visit from two West Midlands Police officers. As a result, there is no determination of their complaints of caste-based discrimination, caste-based victimisation and caste-based harassment. They ran

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1308

out of money, and I cannot imagine how it would be possible for anyone in the Dalit community to be able now to bring a case that could go before a tribunal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. It would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds for the costs of both sides.

Therefore, one of the overwhelmingly strong reasons for supporting this amendment is not, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that it is declaratory. The whole point is that it is not declaratory: it would bring the Dalits within legal protection. They would at last have effective remedies.

5.30 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I was trying to say—and perhaps my voice was not particularly helping—that it was more that we had made a declaratory statement in the earlier amendment and I felt that it would be a negative declaratory statement if we were not to pass this amendment because of the message that it would send, not just to the 400,000 Dalits in this country but to those living in India.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am most grateful. Contrary to the impression that I might create, I am not simply a cold-hearted lawyer: I value symbols very much indeed.

I finish with this about education and legislation. It is almost 50 years since, in 1967, in its first annual report, the Race Relations Board summarised the role of legislation in this way: First:

“A law is an unequivocal declaration of public policy”.


“A law gives support to those who do not wish to discriminate, but who feel compelled to do so by social pressure”.


“A law gives protection and redress to minority groups”.


“A law thus provides for the peaceful and orderly adjustment of grievances and the release of tensions” ,

and fifthly:

“A law reduces prejudice by discouraging the behavior in which prejudice finds expression”.

Gandhiji is no longer alive, but I have no doubt that his spirit would guide us in a vote if it is decided to divide the House.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, I strongly support what has been said. As my noble friend Lord Deben, with whom I do not always agree, made his powerful and convincing speech, I could not help but remember a conversation I had with my father—who loved India and travelled there often before the Second World War—in 1947, 66 years ago when India became independent. I thought of that conversation, too, when the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, was addressing us a few moments ago. My father said, “India will have its independence, and I hope that that will mean the end of the caste system”.

As a young boy of seven, I had not a clue what he was talking about. He sat me down and explained the plight of the untouchables, which had moved him many times in his visits to India. Here we are, 66 years on, and there are people not only in India but in our

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1309

own land who do not have the protections for which my noble friend Lord Deben and others have argued so articulately this afternoon.

A few months ago, we had a fine debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Popat, who is sitting on the Front Bench now. It was to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the admission of the Uganda Asians. From all sides of the House, people spoke with passion, conviction and affection for the way in which that community adapted and adopted itself and enriched us all in the process. It was right that we should pay our tributes. But is it not sad that there are still 400,000 in this country who do not enjoy the full protection of the law in the way in which the Ugandan Asians rightly do?

I very much hope this afternoon that the House will not need to divide. I hope that it will carry this amendment by acclamation. If there is any chance at all of the Government not being able to accept the amendment, I hope—and here I repeat what I said in an earlier debate and echo what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said—that at the very least, my noble friend the Minister will think again and come back at Third Reading. If she cannot do that and does not feel that she can discuss with senior colleagues in the Government the need to do that, the House has a duty incumbent on it to strike a blow—brief but effective.

If we wanted to be convinced of the need for that, we need only reflect on the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, a few moments ago when he talked about the expense of going to law. Do we wish to create a situation where the only way of seeking redress of the basic grievance of not being treated equal is to go to law? No, we do not. If the amendment cannot be accepted and if there cannot be a promise to come back at Third Reading, I hope that it will be carried.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, it was with enormous pleasure and humility that I put my name to this amendment on behalf of these Benches. It is true what the noble Lord, Lord Lester said. In 2009-10, I attended a meeting of hundreds of Dalits and their organisations and found myself completely convinced that there was a gap in the law. Our equality legislation did not cater for this group and it was something that we needed to resolve. That is all that is before us today.

I thank the movers of the amendment and I particularly want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Deben, because I thought his speech was extraordinary. All we want and all that we need to do is to add “caste” to,

“colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins”,

under the race characteristic of the equality legislation. It is not actually a very big thing to do, but it is a very important thing that we have to do today.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate and thankful to the Government for introducing this Bill, which will support British businesses in cutting unnecessary costs and red tape, boost consumer confidence and help to create more jobs.

I wanted to speak briefly on the amendment of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, relating to the inclusion of caste when considering cases of

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1310

discrimination. This is not a new debate; indeed, when the Equality Act was published in 2010, a specific provision was included to allow for caste to be added as an aspect of race at a later date. Later that year, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research undertook an extensive government-commissioned study into the prevalence and severity of caste discrimination in the United Kingdom and concluded that it does in fact occur in many of the areas covered by the Equality Act, such as education and the workplace. That led me to conclude that government action is indeed required as a matter of some urgency.

As a man with Indian ancestry, I am all too aware of the deep-rooted prejudice and unfair treatment that results from allowing the caste-based system to persevere. The Minister may be aware of the religious concept of untouchability, whereby certain individuals are declared untouchables due to their perceived association with impurity and pollution. As a result, they are ostracised and isolated from the rest of society in order to protect and preserve the quality of the majority.

In particular, across much of south Asia, the Dalit community has suffered greatly from this deep, ingrained form of discrimination. Dalits are a community considered so lowly in the social hierarchy that in some circles they are in fact excluded from the caste system altogether and completely segregated by social customs.

Historically, in countries such as India, Dalits have also been physically separated from the rest of society, housed outside the main villages and entitled to perform only the most menial of jobs. This horrendous social mentality still prevails in some rural communities, although thankfully it is becoming less common. Today, the Indian constitution outlaws discrimination based on caste and provides for the reservation of seats in the House of the People and the states’ legislative assemblies for those who have been historically disadvantaged due to the caste system. There are also programmes to promote and provide educational and employment opportunities for those such as Dalits. Many people in this country will be completely unaware of the existence of such a caste system and its history in suppressing minorities here. This is why it is particularly important that we acknowledge the potential extent of the problem in the United Kingdom.

I was instinctively drawn to support this amendment. Following further reading and a highly reassuring discussion with the Minister this morning, I am now very much aware of how seriously the Government are taking this matter. They have been very clear that nobody should suffer prejudice because of their caste, and as such have developed the Talk for a Change programme to work with the communities affected by this discrimination. As with so many of the most deep-rooted cultural ills, education and awareness is the key to prevention and this is exactly the approach this programme will take. I also appreciate that there will be a political focus on the Hindu and Sikh communities where the problem is most prevalent. Such assertive action is extremely welcome and is necessary both in the name of protecting vulnerable individuals and in maintaining our reputation as a country that embraces progressive and tolerant attitudes.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 1311

The Government have also been clear that they have no plans to remove the provision contained within the Equality Act which allows for caste to be included at a later date. This again reassures me that they are maintaining a flexible approach to tackling this problem and were we to enforce the type of legislation called for in this amendment we would simply be pushing against an open door.

We must realise that, as a nation which has so proudly and successfully championed the fusion of a diverse range of minority communities with modern-day Britain, we have inevitable responsibilities. These responsibilities should be seen as challenges to relish; ways in which we can assist our new communities and help them to integrate better into what many see as the mainstream of British life.

Our Prime Minister has made the point that Britain is open for business, and I believe that furthering our commitment to fairness and equality in our boardrooms, offices and factories can only serve to make us an even more attractive nation to do business with. I believe that the Government share this sentiment and I look forward to following the progress of the Talk for a Change programme.

If a Division is called, I shall certainly vote not-content.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this very important debate. Let me start by being absolutely clear: the Government recognise that there is some evidence of caste prejudice and discrimination taking place in the United Kingdom. Such behaviour is wrong; no one should suffer prejudice or discrimination, whether because of caste or any personal characteristic, and it should not be condoned whether or not it is prohibited by legislation.