My Lords, the Government are committed to implementing Article 13 of the European Community employment directive, outlawing discrimination in employment and training on grounds which include religion, by autumn 2003. The Government will consult on this matter in due course, taking account of the two recently published research reports on religious discrimination. Both reports will help to raise awareness of people's experience of religious discrimination and of the sensitive and sometimes complex issues involved in the options for tackling it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I congratulate the Government on commissioning the first-ever report on religious discrimination. Can the Minister say what were the main findings of the survey in the Derby University report? Can he further say whether there is any evidence of religious discrimination in the fields of justice, media, employment and service provision?
My Lords, the Derby University research report indicated that there was widespread concern among members of all faith groups about ignorance and indifference towards religion. People from visible minorities feel more vulnerable and there is much common ground with racial discrimination. Muslim organisations consistently reported a higher level of unfair treatment in education, employment and the media. They were key areas where people were more likely to suffer religious discrimination. The main concerns in education related to such matters as unfair treatment by pupils and, occasionally, teachers; the religious education curriculum; and collective worship. In employment, the main concerns were the attitudes and behaviour of managers and colleagues, including the key issue of harassment.
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the Race Relations Act already bans discrimination against certain religions that come under the title of ethnic minorities, which includes Jewish people, Rastafarians, gypsies and Sikhs but does not include Muslims, Christians or any other religion? Surely that is ludicrous and could be changed by a simple amendment to the Race Relations Act. We would not then have to wait for another two years.
My Lord, the noble Lord makes a very good point. I agree with his interpretation of the legislation. However, we feel that it would be right to bring forward legislation in response to Article 13 of the EC employment directive. We think that that will probably deal with some of the issues about which the noble Lord and others are concerned. The important research that has been commissioned, and now received, will inform that process and others where we may seek to make improvements and strengthen the law.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Christian Churches as well have already been addressing this issue and that the Churches' Commission for Inter-faith Relations, of which I am Moderator, has prepared a report in consultation with the Churches' Commission for Racial Justice? The report will be published later this year and will help to raise certain other issues. It is not a simple matter to define religion, but there are attempts to do so in the report. We hope that that will be useful to the Government in preparing legislation.
My Lords, we are aware of those moves and the Churches are to be congratulated on the important steps forward they have taken. They have played a constructive role. That reflects the Churches' acceptance of the multi-faith nature of our society. The importance of the research for us is that it will enable us to review the way in which we interface with faith communities. We believe that to be very important.
My Lords, I speak as a member of Sub-Committee F of the European Union Committee, where the Government have not shown quite sufficient vigour. How much are the Government prepared to resist European directives that stop religious organisations maintaining the articles of their faith in the appointment of members of staff, the standards they demand and so on? Are they prepared to support the integrity of religious institutions against European directives?
My Lords, it must be the case that the Government act fairly and properly in these matters. We listen to the representations that we receive from all sides. But I do think that Article 13 is very important and will bring a measure of relief to those faiths which believe that they suffer from religious discrimination. I am sure that the noble Lord would agree with that approach.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that there have been a number of reports on this subject? I think in particular of the report of Professor Bob Hepple of Cambridge University and of the repeated reviews by the Commission for Racial Equality recommending the need to outlaw discrimination on religious grounds. All the reports come from very authoritative sources. Can the noble Lord indicate when it is likely that the Home Office will take some steps to amend the Race Relations Act to include religious discrimination?
My Lords, it is not for me to prejudge any legislative timetable. I am sure that the noble Lord accepts that that would be quite improper. However, as I said earlier, the two reports are important. They will inform our thinking and help us further to shape policy. No doubt the reports will be widely drawn on to improve practices within religious faiths and across the whole range of public policy.
My Lords, can the noble Lord help me? I could not understand whether his answer to my noble friend Lord Pilkington was affirmative or negative. Will the Government take steps to ensure that European policy does not prevent religious foundations recruiting from people of their faith?
My Lords, I thought that I suggested that we had to take account of a wide range of institutional views. No doubt that is an institutional view on which we shall need to reflect.
My Lords, in a genuine spirit of inquiry, but also as a lawyer, perhaps I may ask the Government whether they really believe that the already Byzantine complexity of employment law can be--how shall I put it--kept within bounds as regards the extremely sophisticated and subtle elements that are now being contemplated in this field.