Equality Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 4:10 pm on 15 June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor 4:10, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The time is right for the Bill. The Government have moved swiftly to introduce it following the election, after it ran out of time in the previous Parliament. All three of its main elements were manifesto commitments—the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights; a new prohibition against discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities, services and other areas on grounds of religion or belief; and a new duty on public authorities to eliminate sex discrimination and promote equality of opportunity between men and women.

The Bill builds on the Government's achievements in equality and human rights. Parliament has a long and proud record in legislating against discrimination. From the early race legislation in the 1960s and the Equal Pay Act 1970 to the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 via the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976 and more besides, these Houses have sought to combat unfairness and exclusion, ensuring equality of opportunity for all members of society. Those Acts are all underpinned by the principles enunciated in the European Convention on Human Rights, which were brought into our domestic law by the Human Rights Act 1998. They protect everyone, from children to the elderly, rich and poor, citizen and visitor alike, with no discrimination whatever.

Over the years, much has been achieved, but the picture is many-sided and shifting. Three existing commissions provide institutional support against discrimination on grounds of gender, race and disability, but further equality strands such as age, religion or belief, and sexual orientation do not have such institutional support. Nor is there any institution in this country which has responsibility for the promotion of human rights.

There are other major areas for strengthening. Currently, members of all religion or belief groups—including those with no belief—are protected from discrimination in the workplace. In addition, Jews and Sikhs are protected, under case law built on race legislation, from discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services. Yet Muslims, Christians and those of other beliefs—or non-believers—do not have the same protection. Also, there is a duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity in relation to race and disability, but no such duty to promote equality of opportunity between men and women.

It is those three areas that the Bill addresses. It consolidates, strengthens and expands the promotion of equality and human rights and the enforcement of equality legislation by establishing a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights. It remedies the anomaly whereby members of some religions are protected against discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services, but members of other religion or belief groups are not. Finally, it encourages public authorities to be more active in ensuring equal opportunities between men and women.

Those are the bare bones of what the Bill seeks to do, but it also has an ambitious social aim, which is to transform the way in which we promote equality, tackle discrimination and deliver human rights in 21st-century Britain. The Commission for Equality and Human Rights signals our commitment to a fair and cohesive society founded on equal opportunity for all, respect for the worth and dignity of each person, and mutual respect and understanding between communities. A basic foundation of the Bill is the Government's firm belief that the creation of a truly equal society is not a minority issue, but an issue for us all.

That also makes economic sense, as ensuring that everyone can participate in this country's economic success is crucial. A dynamic economy relies on harnessing the talents of every one of us and giving each individual the chance to achieve his or her potential, free from prejudice and discrimination.

A second foundation of the Bill is the belief that equality and human rights are linked by respect for the value and dignity of each person in his or her own right. Bringing the two together will help to build the culture of respect for human rights which is the underlying aim of the Human Rights Act.

The Bill is intended to set in motion a cultural shift, driven by a powerful vision of a fairer society. Much progress has been made, and I hope that your Lordships would join me in recognising the immense achievements of the existing three equality commissions in that respect—the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission, and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

At the same time, I am sure that all of us are only too aware of evidence of persistent inequalities affecting many in our society. Noble Lords may be familiar with the facts; they make for sombre reading. British Afro-Caribbean men are four times as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts. Women in full- time employment still earn about 20 per cent less than men. Disabled people are nine times as likely as non-disabled people to be out of work and claiming benefits. Gay men, lesbians and bisexual people can sometimes face discrimination and prejudice in their everyday lives. As we all sadly know, this country still witnesses shameful acts of violence against minority groups.

The Bill aims to move us towards a society which reaches out towards its diverse members and communities. It places the emphasis on the positives. The new commission will use its powers to tackle inequality robustly. It will actively promote understanding of equality, diversity, the fair treatment of disabled people and human rights, reaching out to a wide audience. It will improve compliance with the law through promoting understanding of the business benefits of diversity, as much as through its enforcement powers. It will benefit public services by embedding human rights at their core. By promoting understanding between communities, it will help to advance a stronger, more cohesive Britain. The commission will bring a new ethos and style, built on partnership working, responsiveness to stakeholders and expertise.

The Bill needs to be seen in the context of other government work on equality, including the two parallel reviews announced in February. The equalities review is led by Trevor Phillips, and is a broad review whose purpose is to look at the long-term and underlying causes of inequality and disadvantage. It is intended to report to the Prime Minister in the summer of 2006.

The second element is the discrimination law review. As its name suggests, it will focus on the whole of discrimination law. The Government recognise that the existing law, which has grown up over a period of 30 or more years, has evolved at different paces and established different levels of protection from discrimination for different people. The result is that the statute book currently contains myriad provisions, with inevitable inconsistencies, gaps and deficiencies in treatment. The work of the review is therefore intended to lead to a single equality Bill which will aim to simplify and modernise the law. The introduction of such a Bill during this Parliament is also a manifesto commitment.

Some may suggest that we are proceeding in a cart-before-the-horse fashion, and should get the law sorted out before the new commission. I disagree. It is essential to get the new commission in place so that it is there to start using the new law as soon as the law is in place. There is also an urgent need to provide institutional support for the strands of equality law that currently do not have such support: age, religion or belief, and sexual orientation, as well as independent institutional support for the promotion of human rights. It is also vital to minimise as far as possible the period of uncertainty for the members and staff of the existing commissions, so that the transition to the new one can be as effective as possible.

In this way, the Bill before this House marks a major step in revitalising the cultural, institutional and legal framework for equality and human rights in this country.

I turn briefly to the detail of the Bill. Part 1 establishes the Commission for Equality and Human Rights and defines its purpose and functions, including its enforcement powers. The commission, as I have said, will take on the work of the three existing equality commissions. It will also take responsibility for the new equality areas of age, religion or belief and sexual orientation. It will also have responsibility for the promotion of human rights.

Clauses 1 to 7, with Schedule 1, establish the new commission and set out provisions concerning its constitution, membership, planning, consulting and reporting arrangements and other internal machinery. Schedule 1 provides for at least one commissioner to be disabled, and for a disability committee to oversee the commission's disability-specific work. It also specifies that there must be commissioners with special knowledge of Scotland and Wales, and committees to advise the commission on its work in Scotland and Wales.

Clauses 8 to 13 set out the commission's promotional and enforcement duties in relation to equality and diversity, disability and communities; and its promotional duties in respect of human rights.

Under Clauses 14 to 21 the commission will have general powers to publish information, give advice and guidance, arrange for research and so on. It will be able to issue statutory codes of practice to assist compliance, and to conduct general inquiries into problem areas for equality and human rights, such as the employment of disabled people in particular sectors.

Clauses 22 to 34 are designed to provide the commission with tools to enforce the discrimination legislation. This range of powers is based on those of the existing commissions, with some modernisation and increased flexibility.

The remaining provisions in Part 1 concern the transition from the existing three commissions to the new one.

Part 2 of the Bill contains provisions that prohibit discrimination and harassment on grounds of religion or belief. This applies to the provision of goods, facilities, services or premises—for example, leasing or selling a house or flat—and in the areas of education and the provision of public functions.

Clauses 45 to 47 draw closely on existing provisions in other areas of discrimination law and establish the key concepts of discrimination, which includes direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and victimisation, and harassment.

Clauses 48 to 54 make it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief in the provision of goods, facilities or services, to discriminate against or harass a person on those grounds in disposing of or renting property, the provision of education or the exercise of other public functions. Various exceptions are provided, for example in the case of Parliament, faith schools, the security agencies and the courts.

Clauses 55 to 57 extend the prohibition to discriminatory practices, advertising demonstrating an intention to discriminate, and causing another person to discriminate or harass. Clauses 58 to 65 create general exceptions from Part 2. Clauses 66 to 72 contain detailed provisions on how individuals who feel they have been discriminated against may bring proceedings against a person on grounds of committing an act that is unlawful under Part 2. Clauses 73 to 80 contain various general provisions.

Finally, Part 3 contains provisions prohibiting public authorities from discriminating on grounds of sex when carrying out their public functions, and creating a duty similar to that which already exists for race and disability, so that public authorities must have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equality of opportunity between men and women when exercising their functions. This represents a major advance in equality between men and women and complements the duties already available on the statute book for race and disability.

I have written to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, about various changes made to the Bill since it was first introduced in March 2005, and have arranged for copies to be placed in the Libraries, so they are available to all those who are interested.

The Bill is naturally of substantial interest, not only to many in this House, but also to the many stakeholders and communities who share an interest in equality and human rights, whether through experience of discrimination or involvement as employers, unions, the voluntary sector or otherwise.

I should like to emphasise how intensively the Government have consulted on proposals. We listened carefully to the issues and concerns in the more than 440 responses—from a wide range of individuals and organisations—to our 2004 White Paper. I am pleased that the Government have been praised for our willingness to engage with stakeholders on these issues, and I fully expect that engagement to continue as the Bill progresses through the House.

I shall mention two other matters before I conclude. First, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, drew to my attention just before we started this afternoon the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee's comments on the Bill. Its conclusion on the power delegated in Clause 65(1) is as follows:

"In our view the power in Clause 65(1) requires considerably more justification, in the absence of which the House will wish to consider whether it finds such an extensive delegation of power to be acceptable".

That is broadly about the ability by delegated power to increase the terms of the exception in relation to Part 2 of the Bill. Of course we need to consider that carefully. The House will know that the Government rarely go against a view of that committee.

The committee also refers to Clause 16(3), which is about codes of practice. I can tell the House that we have already accepted the recommendation on that clause.

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, is unfortunately not able to be present this afternoon, although he would have liked to have been. The House will know that he was the first Minister for Disabled People in 1970, and played a key role in establishing the right of disabled people to participate in every aspect of society.

Lastly, I wish simply to note the positive reaction and welcome which the Bill received from all sides of the House on Second Reading in the other place in April. I look forward to a positive and constructive debate today, and as the Bill passes through its subsequent stages in this House. The Bill is good for individuals, good for our communities and good for the social and economic strength of our country. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

Photo of Baroness Miller of Hendon Baroness Miller of Hendon Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland - Not In Shadow Cabinet) 4:28, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his clear explanation of the objects and contents of the Bill. I also thank him for his courtesy in sending to me and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in advance of today's debate, an explanation of the amendments the Government have made to the Bill since its Second Reading in the other place.

No right-thinking person could be opposed to the prevention of discrimination on the grounds of a person's race, sex, age, religion or disability. That is why my honourable friends welcomed the general concept of the Bill when it was presented to the other place before the election.

However, I must ask about the timing of the introduction of the Bill in the other place and its reintroduction to your Lordships' House now. An equality and discrimination law review is in hand, and there will be new regulations on age discrimination in October 2006, before the Commission for Equality and Human Rights will be in place. Will the Act be in force before the review is completed and how can we be sure at this stage that the review will not conflict with some of the provisions that we are now considering?

We agree that combining the activities of the commissions that, until now, have had jurisdiction over these matters should make for a more consistent approach, more consistent standards and, where appropriate, more consistent rules of procedure. That is not to say that the proposal has received universal approval. I have received a communication from none other than the Mayor of London—who is not generally regarded as being opposed to the principles of equality. He states:

"It is regressive to force different equality strands . . . within a single body, which is not independent from government".

It is rare that I find myself either quoting Ken Livingstone or agreeing in any part. But the lack of total independence is clear in many clauses throughout the Bill.

As is so often the case, even when there is a broad consensus over objectives, the detail of how those objectives may be achieved needs looking into. We hope that we can improve some of them. The first that I wish to highlight is the provision in Clause 3 that,

"The Commission shall exercise its functions . . . with a view to the creation of a society in which", and so on. We do not believe that it is the function of any unelected quango to create any sort of society or to engage in social engineering. Its "fundamental duty", as the Explanatory Notes put it, is to enforce the laws laid down by Parliament to create what is ultimately wanted.

The same clause requires the commission to ensure that,

"there is mutual respect between communities", and so on. I will not read the whole paragraph now. But how can anyone legislate to make one love one's neighbour? At a later stage, I shall invite your Lordships to consider some less high-flown language on the commission's fundamental duty. I shall not take up further time today elaborating on that point.

I remind noble Lords that almost a year ago the Prime Minister announced the creation of a Women and Work Commission to examine the problem of the gender pay gap, mentioned by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Later last year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer hosted a summit on the same subject. Will the new all-embracing commission advise on those and similar topics, rather than ad hoc overlapping commissions being set up from time to time?

It is interesting that, despite his warm words about women at work, not only did the Prime Minister in his recent reshuffle forget to appoint a Minister for Women, but, when he realised his mistake, he had run out of funds and the unfortunate Minister, unlike her colleagues, had to work for nothing—never mind about equal pay. Should that not be a matter for the EOC to investigate?

We support the principle of bringing the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Disability Rights Commission together under one umbrella. Certainly, there are cases where individuals or groups suffer from discrimination on multiple grounds—race and sex, for example. It is sensible for there to be what several speakers in the other debate described as a one-stop shop. Indeed, we have been lobbied by people who believe that that is very helpful. It is equally sensible for the one-stop shop to operate on one set of standards, one set of rules and one methodology.

However, that gives rise to my first question. We currently have three commissions, with three able, effective, and, might I say, forceful chairmen. Under Schedule 1, the new commission will consist of between 10 and 15 commissioners, an ex officio chief executive who is also a commissioner, and a chairman, all of whom, apart from the chief executive, are appointed by the Government. It will be impossible for either the chairman or the chief executive to be involved in the day-to-day duties of running what until now have been three full-time, major organisations.

Leaving aside the fact that the Secretary of State is empowered to appoint "one or more" deputy chairmen, can the Minister say how the Government expect the new commission to operate, even though it will be given power to regulate its own proceedings? It seems as if the Disability Rights Commission has succeeded in persuading the Government to ensure that there is a separate committee to handle its existing functions, while Northern Ireland is to have its own commission.

At present, there is diverse expertise in the existing commissions in the separate fields of their work. Will the staff of the new commission be expected to be multi-skilled, or will its executives and officials still operate in separate compartments? Will the CEHR be a single committee covering the wide range of the commission's duties or will there be several sub-committees handling day-to-day matters? If the latter is the case, how will the chairman be able to ensure the uniformity of approach, practice and procedure that the Bill, rightly, is intended to promote?

I now turn to the question of cost. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor nods and smiles at me as though he knew that I would raise that. The regulatory impact assessment published by the DTI puts the total budget for the three commissions at about £43.4 million in 2003–04. The start-up costs of what may be described as the new super-commission are reported to be over a staggering £24 million. What will the cost be and how will it be made up? That question was raised by my honourable friend in the other place, but has not been answered so far. The Explanatory Notes simply lump the whole £24 million into four headings, with an average of £6 million each, which is pretty vague. I hope that the Minister has had time to find the answer, but if she still cannot tell us, perhaps she will write to me.

Then there is the matter of the operating costs of the new super-commission. Again, the Explanatory Notes tell us that the annual funding required is to be increased from the current combined cost of £43 million to £70 million. That is an increase of 63 per cent, which the Government put down to an increase in staffing levels by between 20 and 50 per cent compared to levels in the present commissions. That is a pretty wide divergence and represents an increase in staff of between l00 and 250 people. Do the Government have any idea of how many extra people will be needed—and why perhaps so many?

One would have thought that economies would have been made possible by the process of rationalisation, even though new duties will be performed in relation, for example, to religious discrimination. As if that increase is not enough, the Commission for Racial Equality is asking for total funding, not of £70 million, but £120 million. That is about £2 for every man, woman and child of the population. The three existing commissions provided casework support in just under 4,400 cases in 2002 and supported 248 court and tribunal cases the same year. On the basis of the Government's own estimated costs, that represents over £15,000 per case and, if the Commission for Racial Equality's request were approved, that figure would be £26,000.

Of course I acknowledge that all the commissions disseminate a great deal of useful, good information via their respective websites, which many visit each year. However, I hope that this expansion of staff, where one plus one plus one plus one seems to make five, or even six, will not result in empire building, or, which would be just as bad, generate make-work projects and the chasing of statistical targets where political correctness, rather than common sense, is the order of the day.

Before I leave the subject of cost, another question arises through an important difference between the Explanatory Notes issued to the other place and the ones accompanying the Bill before your Lordships. The other place was told:

"The estimate of the annual budget for the CEHR when it is fully operational, which will not be before 2007 and could be later, is £70 million".

The corresponding paragraph in the Explanatory Notes provided for your Lordships reads that,

"the annual budget for the CEHR when it is fully operational, encompassing the functions of all three Commissions, is £70 million".

There is now no reference to the words,

"2007 and could be later".

Perhaps the Minister will tell us what is the date on which the Government propose to bring the Act into force, whether there has been a change from the original target date of 2007, and the reason for the change.

Particularly confusing is the situation vis-à-vis the existing commissions, which can continue until 31 March 2009. What guidance will be given to the commissions about the dates of their respective demises? They clearly need that information for the purposes of forward planning. Is it intended for them all to cease simultaneously, or will they vanish one by one?

The Federation of Small Businesses has particular concerns about the operation of the new Act. Small businesses, by their very nature, have neither internal personnel departments—human resources as they are usually called—nor access to constant legal advice on some of the complex issues which will be governed by the commission. I would like to hear an assurance that among the duties of the commission will be the need to provide a help line to enable small businesses and others to obtain expert advice on potential problems before they arise or escalate. I refer to an adequately staffed help line, not one playing "Greensleeves" endlessly, interrupted by a voice saying, "Press one", "Press two", or "Your call is important to us".

One topic to be within the jurisdiction of the commission will be religion or religious belief. This is a subject where, if we are not careful, political correctness and the muzzling of free speech could run rife. I speak as someone who, along with friends and family, has had to put up with a certain amount of religious intolerance over the years. I do not say that in a bad way; it just happens at school and later on. People say things to you that you wish they would not. That kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable, whether it is the Jewish community, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics or indeed the members of any other genuine faith who are subjected to it. Prejudice against people simply because they are members of a particular faith, or because they are not members of a preferred one, has to be prevented.

However, I believe that a line has to be drawn between religious intolerance, and genuine criticism of a particular religion or branch of a religion because of doctrinal issues. I do not propose to stir up matters by giving examples. I am certain that your Lordships will be able to think of some if you want. Similarly, a line has to be drawn between reasonable light-hearted banter—the late Dave Allen with his jokes about his Church springs to mind—and the deliberate, persistent taunting of, say, a fellow worker or a neighbour.

How will these provisions impinge on honest criticism, not of established religions, but of some strange sects with abhorrent practices? How will the new proposals affect genuine campaigns against, say, the Moonies or Scientology? Will they prevent the activities of those who are called on, often by distraught parents, to rescue those who have fallen victim to some form of brain-washing? I trust that the commission and its enhanced staff of up to 750 people will be able to draw those lines and will not come clumping down on people who express views, or even tell jokes in a moderate and non-malicious way.

The Law Society, in its comments about this Bill, complains that the commission's role in the area of human rights will have no enforcement powers. I for one am glad about that. The work of the super-commission—in all its several aspects—should not include being judge, jury and executioner. It must continue, as hitherto: when all else fails, it should confine itself to bringing matters to the appropriate court or tribunal on its own, or supporting a claimant with a bona fide grievance.

Still on the subject of human rights, I would like to mention one specific problem which has been drawn to my attention by Help the Aged and Age Concern. In 2002, the judgment in the case of the Leonard Cheshire Homes ruled that the Human Rights Act did not protect those in private care homes. It applies only to publicly operated homes. That is an extremely worrying loophole. More than 90 per cent of those in care homes are in private homes or homes operated by voluntary organisations. Often such places are funded—at least in part—by contributions from a local council. It is vital that the duty of public bodies to protect the human rights of vulnerable people is extended to private providers carrying out public functions.

I accept that this Bill may not be the best vehicle to address this anomaly, but I hope the Minister will be able to give us an assurance that something will be done to protect the human rights of those in care homes. This is particularly important in view of the fact that age is to be one of the strands drawn into the new commission. We would not like to see it lost beneath the louder voices of the existing commissions. There are other problems concerning ageism, and I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, will be telling us later in the debate.

I agree with the Law Society in their plea for a single Equality Bill to be introduced, as promised in the Labour Party manifesto. It is becoming increasingly difficult for lawyers and other professionals involved in this area, let alone lay members of the public, to find their way through the existing tangle of piecemeal legislation.

There may be a manpower problem among parliamentary draftsmen who are snowed under with the Government's mountain of proposed legislation. If that is the reason why certain matters are not getting through, I suggest that outsourcing to some of the larger firms of solicitors or senior barristers could solve the problem.

Finally, no doubt many of your Lordships have received the same brief as I did from Age Concern, and here I have to declare an interest; namely, that I am not as young as I used to be. Age Concern points out that anti-ageism law in the workplace will be in force by the autumn of next year, and it will be up to the new commission to see that it is complied with. But as I pointed out earlier, we do not know for sure when the new commission will be fully functional.

It is not just in the area of employment that older people are discriminated against—except in your Lordships' House. They are discriminated against in healthcare, the inability to apply for disability living allowance or grants from the Independent Living Fund. In those instances it is the miserly hand of the Treasury that I believe is to blame, and it is something that the Government could rectify at a stroke of the Chancellor's pen. I trust that the new commission, despite being on the Government's payroll, and subject to directions from the Government, will try to do something about those inequalities, as well as the discrimination against older citizens by insurance companies, which is a constant source of complaint.

I have mentioned the commission's lack of complete independence from the Government. The commission is subject in certain places to the direction of the Secretary of State. Which Secretary of State? The existing commissions are under the jurisdiction of four different departments and hence four different Secretaries of State. If no man can serve two masters, how can one commission serve four? May we please be informed whether one single department is to be responsible for the commission, and if so, which one?

I repeat that in principle we support the concept of the Bill. There are aspects of the detail that we most certainly will want to consider, but I believe that we shall do it in a constructive manner. For the moment, we concur with the Motion that the Bill be read a second time.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities 4:50, 15 June 2005

My Lords, we warmly welcome not just the concept of the Bill but also the Bill itself. We will work constructively to secure its safe passage. We hope to persuade the Government to improve it in some ways but to resist the temptation to table a plethora of amendments. We will concentrate only on what we regard as essential to achieve the Bill's important objectives. In particular, it is not sensible to seek to amend the Bill to fill gaps that can be filled coherently only when the single equality Bill is introduced.

I mention that at the outset because there has been an avalanche of briefings from the many special interest groups and the equality agencies, making a variety of useful and normally sensible points. Except for purposes of clarification, we should take up only those matters that need to be dealt with in this Bill rather than in the wider equality Bill. By a wider equality Bill, I mean one that brings together all the different strands of unlawful discrimination legislation, fills in gaps, removes inconsistencies, levels up protection and produces a coherent, comprehensive and user-friendly scheme.

As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor knows, left to ourselves, we on these Benches would not have legislated first to create a Commission for Equality and Human Rights and then to reform the substance of equality law. The new commission will have a formidable set of responsibilities and will not be helped from the outset by the need to operate a mass of opaque, inconsistent and incomplete equality legislation, some of which will be in statutes, some in regulations, some in EU legislation and some in case law. But, for reasons that we understand, so powerfully explained by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today, the Government decided to proceed first with the commission and some piecemeal changes dealing with religion and belief, and the gender duty. We must make the best of it until we have the larger reforming measure. On that point, will the Minister inform the House on the progress made on the discrimination law review?

I, too, have interests to declare. Like the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, I was a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which reported extensively on this subject. I was also an architect of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act in the mid-1970s. It is a particular pleasure to participate in this debate with the first chair and deputy chair of the EOC, the noble Baronesses, Lady Lockwood and Lady Howe of Idlicote, who have such great experience in that field, as have so many others concerned with various strands covered by the Bill.

My single equality Bill was approved by the House two years ago. It was based on the recommendations of the Hepple report. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was good enough to chair the meeting that launched the comprehensive and authoritative report by Professor Sir Robert Hepple and his team, reviewing the existing anti-discrimination legislation and proposing legislative reforms. That report, and perhaps my Bill, may assist the Government when they construct the single equality Bill promised in new Labour's recent election manifesto and long advocated by my party.

We are very glad that the Department for Constitutional Affairs, with a very powerful ministerial team, has lead responsibility for the Bill. When I worked in the Wilson administration with Roy Jenkins, we had the great advantage that a heavyweight Cabinet Minister with a clear manifesto mandate had overall responsibility both for gender and race discrimination legislation. Thirty years on, the position has become much more complicated and responsibility for developing equality and human rights policy is shared by at least five government departments. In my view, it would enhance the preparation of the single equality Bill if the same powerful ministerial team and its expert advisers were given lead responsibility for the present Bill and the single equality Bill.

We especially welcome the fact that there will be a single body to tackle the different forms of unlawful discrimination. Whatever the Mayor of London may say, it makes no sense to proliferate more and more commissions to deal with different forms of discrimination. A black and disabled woman who believes herself to be the victim of discrimination, perhaps on several grounds, should be able to go to a one-stop shop instead of three or more different shops. A single equality commission will encourage an overarching and strategic approach to the principle of equal treatment without discrimination, bringing together the different strands and avoiding wasteful duplication.

To the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, I say that I do not believe that there will be wasteful duplication. One of the great merits of these reforms is that they will avoid it—for example, having lots of lawyers and commissions makes no sense. The Government are to be commended for having resisted the calls from some to retain and add to the existing commissions or to create internal structures likely to encourage divisions rather than cohesion.

An equality and human rights commission should ensure that equality becomes better understood as a fundamental human right to be enjoyed together with other human rights, civil and political, and economic and social. It should be able to promote a culture of human rights and to investigate abuses. Such a commission was envisaged a decade ago in the Cook-Maclennan commission agreement. The case for such a human rights commission was carefully examined by the JCHR. We welcome the Government's acceptance of that case. It would be churlish—I hope that I am never churlish—to complain that it has taken more than a decade and that we shall have to wait for several more years before we have a comprehensive and workable statutory scheme, but it should be worth the wait.

We strongly believe that the new commission should be a constitutional watchdog, a strategic law enforcer and a promoter of good practice and public education. We regard it as essential that it will be independent of government and seen to be independent in the way in which its members are appointed and how it is funded. It should not be subject to ministerial direction or dictation. Ultimately, the commission should be accountable to Parliament.

The JCHR has been imaginative in suggesting ways in which that might be done. In our eleventh report of 2003 we considered the different models and were convinced that the commission should not be a standard non-departmental public body, but should have the character of a constitutional watchdog, such as the National Audit Office, the Electoral Commission or the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. We came back to that in our sixteenth report for 2004–05. We look to Ministers to bring forward amendments to achieve that, given the importance which the existing equality agencies and many others attach to independence.

The JCHR has repeatedly made it clear that it is also incompatible with the commission's independent status that it should be subject to ministerial direction or dictation regarding inquiries or investigations. Of course it should be open to a Minister to request the commission to undertake an inquiry, but not to require an investigation. The same applies to other provisions which give Ministers unnecessary powers of direction.

It is also essential that the commission is professionally staffed and that it has sufficient resources to carry out the formidably wide range of tasks for which it will be responsible; that is, tackling unlawful discrimination and breaches of human rights, and treating strategic law enforcement as a high priority. The commission will need to give equal protection to victims of all types of unlawful discrimination and to avoid creating separate, competing internal departments. Although I was forced to make that concession with my Bill, I regret that that has already happened in relation to disability, but I understand why. I certainly would oppose the creation of similar committees to deal with the other strands, which would simply lead to a lack of cohesion.

The choice of the first chair, the commissioners and the appointment of senior staff will be crucially important. People matter at least as much as institutional architecture. It is vital that this should be a genuinely new commission, making a fresh start and not carrying too much baggage from the past. Another condition for our support is to ensure that the commission has sufficient legal powers. That includes the power to tackle persistent discrimination and to tackle directly as well as indirectly discriminatory practices. That is where the existing legislation contains unnecessary restrictions. The Bill appears to omit those necessary powers. The Government have given an assurance that the commission's existing powers will not be reduced. In that respect, the Bill appears to reduce existing powers instead of strengthening them. We need to be sure that the commission's existing powers to assist claimants are not reduced.

We accept that the commission should not be given responsibility for supporting individual cases claiming breaches of the Human Rights Act, but we do not accept that the commission should be toothless when tackling human rights abuses. It should at least be able to institute judicial review proceedings where it is in the public interest to seek a declaration that a particular practice, procedure or rule operates in breach of Section 6 of the Human Rights Act.

The EOC and the CRE have the power to use judicial review in this way. From my personal experience on their behalf, it has proved to be one of the most effective, cost-effective and proportionate ways of eliminating discrimination and promoting equality. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor well knows, there are strong safeguards to ensure that judicial review is not used without good cause and that the remedies are discretionary.

It is not acceptable that the commission will have this power only when dealing with discrimination and not when dealing with other breaches of human rights. We attach great importance to that because otherwise this will be a very lopsided body with strong enforcement powers for discrimination but none at all for human rights. This proposal seems to the JCHR to be the most modest one that we could put forward, falling well short of more draconian powers. The JCHR noted that without the power to seek judicial review under the Human Rights Act the commission "will be neutered". An amendment is needed to Clause 32(3)(c) to achieve this, while leaving the victim test in Section 7 of the Human Rights Act otherwise intact.

The commission's human rights mandate needs to include not only the European Convention on Human Rights but also the other international human rights treaties by which the UK is bound. The JCHR has interpreted its mandate in this way, using the wider treaties, and it is important for the commission not to be blinkered but to be able to do so as well.

I have concentrated on the commission because of the importance of ensuring its effectiveness from the outset. We also need carefully to consider the more swampy territory in Part 2, which deals with discrimination on grounds of religion or belief beyond the employment field. Part 2 contains some controversial provisions and exceptions, and the JCHR identified some significant anomalies.

One of the good things in Part 2 is that the Government have not simply copied over race into religion when it comes to the civil wrong of harassment and one is dealing with goods, services and facilities. I believe that the Government have not done so because of free speech and that they were worried that, for example, in selling a book an inflammatory poster in a bookshop might lead to suggestions of unlawful harassment. I shall deal with this matter in another debate in several months' time, but I wish the Government would do the same in relation to crime, and not simply copy over race with no modification into religion. So the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, may wish to know that the Bill has been more sensitive on free speech than the criminal Bill.

Many of the agencies that have lobbied have, understandably, sought the extension of the protection of Part 2 beyond religion and belief to cover sexual orientation and age. That would be beyond the long title as it stands. We on these Benches wish it to be extended in that way, and we will need assurances that it will be, either in this Bill or in the wider Bill.

Part 3 imposes a duty on public authorities to promote gender equality. That is also most welcome as it matches the duty in the field of race. But it is regrettable that the opportunity has not been taken to extend the positive duty to other strands. My Bill recognised that it cannot be done in exactly the same way for each strand for reasons of personal privacy. One cannot apply exactly the same duty in relation to sexuality and religion as one can in relation to other kinds of discrimination. But can the Minister confirm that this will be taken care of, either now or hereafter?

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to unequal pay for equal work. Can the Minister confirm—it was not confirmed in the debate in the other place when Vera Baird, MP, asked the question—that public bodies will be tackling unlawful pay discrimination on the grounds of gender, as well as other aspects of discrimination? In other words, can she confirm that the positive duty will cover unequal pay as well as other matters? I am sure that it will, but we need some assurance.

It is also important that the gender duty includes harassment to bring it into line with the disability duty because there is an unnecessary inconsistency.

I am sorry to have taken so long but I shall conclude with one other point. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, rightly referred to it. I agree that the Court of Appeal's interpretation of a "public authority" has been too narrow. Again, the JCHR produced a convincing report explaining why. In a powerful lecture last week, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn, expressed his agreement with the view taken by the JCHR. In my view, the answer is to get a test case before the Law Lords in which the Government indicate that a broader interpretation is needed. We do not want what we have, for other reasons, in the Freedom of Information Act, which is page after page listing public authorities instead of a flexible and general definition. I agree that this is an important issue but I do not think that it should be dealt with by an amendment to the Bill. It should be dealt with by the judges in an appropriate case, and soon.

To conclude, we greatly welcome the Bill and look forward to working closely with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, during its passage through this House.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwell The Bishop of Southwell Bishop 5:07, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I echo the tribute paid by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to the great contribution made in recent years by the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Disability Rights Commission.

The Equality Bill has two major parts and I shall speak to both of them. I shall speak first to the proposed commission. In the process of consultation that led up to the proposed commission on equality and human rights, we in the Church of England have emphasised our strong support for creating a legal framework to safeguard basic rights and to promote dignity, equality and fairness for all members of society.

For Christians that understanding of equality is derived from our belief that all human beings are created in the image of God and our beliefs about the justice of God and His action in the world. We therefore support the vision set out in Clause 3 for a fairer, more inclusive society that celebrates diversity. We believe that the diversity of Christian belief and commitment can play a major role in contributing to such a vision. We also recognise that the law can help to influence attitudes positively by formulating enforceable rights and proscribing what is clearly wrong.

Anti-discrimination legislation in the fields of race, gender and disability has been working to this end over the past quarter of a century. We would not want to see any reduction in the advances that have been made in those fields. We believe that progress can also be made in three more recent strands of anti-discrimination regulation that will come into force by the end of 2006.

Having one body to turn to for advice—the "one-stop shop"—has real advantages for individuals and groups who believe that they are experiencing discrimination, whether single or multiple, and for employers seeking to put equal rights procedures and policies in place in a coherent and consistent way. With a proper structure, a single body could reduce some of the bureaucratic and overheads costs. It could also tackle issues of multiple discrimination.

I highlight a concern that will apply to the single commission, hinted at by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. It will be important to ensure that the commission has no loss of focus on the individual strands and no artificially homogenised approach.

While there may be some common principles—race, gender, age, disability, religion and sexual orientation—each raises its own distinct issues in relation to tackling discrimination and to human rights. Therefore, it is not axiomatic, for example, that identical investigation and enforcement powers are needed for each. "Strand specific" expertise with the capacity to handle issues that cut across two, three or more strands will be needed at a national level. A similar pattern of expertise will be needed at regional and local levels.

Discrimination on the grounds of race, gender and disability has been well defined by well established United Kingdom legislation and enforcement by the respective commissions.

One of the tensions for the new commission to face is the disparity between that experience, those ways of working and the situation of the new strands—religion and belief, sexual orientation and age—which lack any case law and will have to develop their own track record. They will also require the right expertise and opportunity to build experience and methods of working so that they are not subsumed into the systems and the cultures of that which already exists.

We are particularly concerned at the distinction that is becoming commonly accepted between "religion" and "belief". Both terms are notoriously difficult to define in practice, but it is important to recognise that religion is a multi-dimensional phenomenon and not to slip too easily into a sharp distinction between "religion" and "belief". For people of faith the two overlap. Those of faith and non-faith have belief systems that are important to them and to their communities and have consequences for society. Among the challenges facing those addressing non-discrimination and human rights in the areas of religion and belief will be the capacity to enter into the diverse range of religion and belief in this country and to apply and provide guidance for the implementation of the regulations and the development of good practice.

A further challenge to the commission will be how it handles and balances the range of rights protected by the Human Rights Act. In particular, I draw attention to the need to ensure that guidance and good practice is consistent with the freedom of thought, conscience and religion enshrined in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. That recognises that religious groups and faiths have rights to order their lives and communities according to their beliefs and doctrines, which is an aspect of human rights legislation that can easily be overlooked in the understandable and right emphasis on individual rights.

Arguably one of the benefits of a single equality and human rights body, the commission, is that it will be better equipped to ensure a more informed dialogue and action about the necessary balancing of conflicting human rights.

I turn briefly to what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, describes as the "swampy area" of Part 2 and the proposals to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief in the provision of goods, services, facilities and premises. We are grateful for the helpful dialogue the Government have had with Churches and other faith communities on Part 2 of the Bill. Here the Government's concern for diversity has led to the inclusion of special exemptions to give space to Christians and other people of faith to pursue their beliefs and to make their particular and, I believe, highly significant contributions to society through their institutions, schools, charities and organisations, and, indeed, their premises. It is important that the application of provisions designed to protect people of faith and belief do not in practice make life more complex and difficult for them.

There are detailed points to make in support of the exemptions. That may be necessary in Committee, but in this general debate I emphasise the importance of the principle of giving space to faith and belief groups to make their contribution in these areas to the diverse but equal society that the Government are encouraging through the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Lockwood Baroness Lockwood Labour 5:14, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill and the cross-party support given to it, although I was somewhat disappointed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon. Her remarks seemed to be less fulsome in their welcome than those of her colleagues in another place. However, I am sure she did not mean it in that respect.

The Bill breaks new ground in two very important ways. It brings together existing strands of anti-discrimination provisions and it introduces new provisions to safeguard and promote human rights through the establishment of a very powerful equality and human rights commission.

My remarks will largely refer to gender issues. That is because of my experience as chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission for the first eight years of its life. I declare that interest, although long past. In that respect I was fully conscious of the value of working within a legal framework, both with enforcement powers and the duty to promote equality of opportunity between the sexes. Initially I had some reservations about bringing the three commissions together lest the issue of sex discrimination and equality might get sidelined in a combined equality commission.

However, following the extensive consultations that have taken place and the consequent work on the Bill, I am confident that that is not the case. Indeed, I believe that a body such as an all-embracing equality commission will be much more powerful politically than three single or perhaps more bodies tending to be regarded as operating within their own boxes, as it were.

Since 1975, when the Sex Discrimination Act came into existence, we have moved on tremendously. Progress has been made in eliminating obvious discriminations and in understanding the more intangible areas of hidden and indirect discrimination, while at the same time positively promoting equal opportunity.

The attitudes, aspirations, expectations and achievements of young women today are a reflection of that progress. However, much more still remains for the new commission to do, especially in the field of equal pay and breaking down occupational segregation, which is an important feature leading to unequal pay.

As we have dealt with familiar areas of discrimination, new and very often hidden areas of discrimination have come to light. I refer to issues such as harassment in all its ramifications—gender recognition, civil partnerships, age discrimination, discrimination on grounds of religious belief, and of course human rights under the Human Rights Act have come into prominence. Those issues will now be given an institutional framework in which to operate and will be given a new impetus by the Bill.

Because I concentrate on gender issues it does not mean that I regard all other issues as less important. Certainly not; indeed, I give two illustrations. As chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, I worked closely with the CRE on areas relevant to all types of discrimination. That provided an insight into the value of bringing together strands of discrimination.

I had the opportunity to take through this House a Bill on disability discrimination in co-operation with my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester who, at the same time, was attempting to pilot a similar Bill through the House of Commons. Both were unsuccessful precursors to the present Disability Discrimination Act, in which my noble friend Lord Ashley played such an important part.

I look upon the proposed legislation as a tremendous step forward. I particularly welcome the new provisions in the Bill to impose a duty on public bodies to promote gender equality—a duty already included in race and disability legislation—the absence of which has been a real weakness in the Sex Discrimination Act. But certain principles must be preserved and they will need to be looked at closely as the Bill proceeds through its various stages.

First, as regards the independence of the commission, an issue to which both the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred, it may be uncomfortable on occasions for government—any government—to have on their back an independent and powerful commission, but it is a part of the whole process of eliminating discrimination and promoting equality of opportunity and human rights. I hope it is a price that the Government will willingly pay.

Secondly, there must be no diminution of the powers under existing legislation—again a point to which reference has been made—and we shall need to consider that issue in Committee.

Thirdly, the expertise accumulated by the three existing commissions must be preserved and built into the new structures and staffing arrangements of the new commission. This underlines the importance of the transitional arrangements when we will have two sets of commissions operating simultaneously.

Fourthly, the establishment of one comprehensive commission should not be looked upon as a savings device. While there might be some administrative and legal economies to be made, the new commission will have extensive duties in new areas of anti-discrimination work as well as in the promotion and safeguarding of human rights. A stronger regional structure is also envisaged, which is to be very much welcomed. We will need to examine the proposed funding against the extended commitments with which the commission will be faced.

Arising from these principles, I should like to put a number of specific questions to my noble friend. These have been copied to the Secretary of State's team dealing with the Bill. It would be helpful, and might save time in Committee and at other stages, if these points could be clarified during the course of the debate.

First, the powers of the commission are addressed in Part 1, Clauses 22 to 34 of the Bill. These appear to be less than the powers given to the Equal Opportunities Commission under Section 73 of the Sex Discrimination Act to address persistent discrimination where an individual chooses not to proceed with a case. Can my noble friend confirm that the Bill will be amended to include an equivalent power to the one contained in Section 73 of the Sex Discrimination Act, in accordance with some of the undertakings given by Ministers that there will be no regression of powers?

Secondly, in relation to casework and existing EOC practice, and the combined effect of Clauses 14 and 30, will the Minister clarify that it is the Government's intention that, as a minimum, the new commission will be able to provide casework advice and support in the same way and to the same extent as that currently provided by the existing commissions?

Thirdly, in his opening remarks my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor referred to harassment in the gender duty under Clause 82. Those remarks were very welcome but I did not quite understand just how far they went. So, again, will the Minister indicate whether it is the Government's intention to amend the gender duty during the passage of the Equality Bill and to include a duty to eliminate unlawful harassment, thereby bringing the gender duty in line with the disability duty?

Fourthly, as regards transgender in the gender duty under Clauses 81 and 82, will the Minister give an indication of the Government's intention to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to extend goods, facilities and services protection to "trans" people—that is, to people who may or may not have proceeded with an operation to give final expression to their sexuality—under the gender duty on public bodies to promote equality for "trans" people? If this is not possible under this Bill, will the Government give a commitment to take this forward as part of the discrimination law review?

Finally, as regards budget allocation, the budget as a whole needs to be looked at. Will the Minister clarify that the combined effect of paragraphs 23, 31, 38 and 55 of Schedule 1 is that the budget will be allocated to the Commission for Equality and Human Rights as a whole, and that that commission will then have the responsibility to decide the level of funding for the statutory committees under the commission?

As I said, if the Minister can help me with those questions, we could perhaps save some time later.

This is a Bill to make available to every individual new opportunities to be free of discrimination and to develop their potential to the full, both for their own personal fulfilment and for the benefit of society. I hope that the House will support it fully and give it the necessary resources to meet the high expectations set.

Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative 5:28, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I cannot resist telling your Lordships that the other day I went to have tea in the Dining Room and took with me a copy of the Equality Bill. One noble Lord, who seemed to have a rather jaundiced sense of humour, said how odd it was to see an earl taking an interest in equality. I thought that there was equality in misery and therefore I had better find out about it. So I did.

It is always fun and such a pleasure to congratulate the Government—especially the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who is not in his place at the moment—on getting something right and on doing the right thing. I always love doing that. The trouble is that there are so few occasions on which it is possible to do so. I may be an oddball in the debate so far, but I have found little cause to congratulate the Government on the Bill and its contents.

Of course one understands the reasons and the purposes behind the Bill, but one wonders whether there are no limits to the ingenuity of government and civil servants to conjure up things on which to legislate. I just wish that the Government would sometimes understand that people do not want more legislation; they want less. By its very nature, legislation means, "You must not do", and it usually means, "And we will set up bodies to ensure that you will not do that which you would otherwise have done". Intrinsically, therefore, I do not warm to the Bill, despite the noble and learned Lord's enthusiastic introduction of it, when he made out that it was a wonderful, humane and socially desirable Bill.

Of course, no one approves of persecution or offensiveness, but I warm to the Bill even less when it proposes to amalgamate three bodies—the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Disability Rights Commission—that together have a budget of £48 million and will be replaced by a new body—the Commission for Equality and Human Rights—that will have a budget of £70 million. I would have expected amalgamation to have resulted in savings but not so in government departments—there is double the cost. Money apparently means nothing to the Government. "Ah", the Government will say, "the body is taking on new powers over religion, sexual orientation and age, and that means more cost". However, I question whether we really want some new monster body to take on powers over those areas of our lives.

What will the new body do? One need only look at Clause 3, to which my noble friend Lady Miller referred, and with which the right reverend Prelate, much to my surprise, found that he was so much in agreement. Clause 3 says that the commission will have a "fundamental duty". It states:

"The Commission shall exercise its functions . . . with a view to the creation of a society" in which there will be various things, including respect for, among other things,

"the dignity and worth of each individual".

That will be written down in law. How can a court or a judge decide the dignity or worth of an individual? That may be fine in a sixth-form essay, where some bright-eyed youth is trying to display the enormity of his intellect, but not as part of the law of the country, if a person could find himself in a court of law. What is this "fundamental duty"? Such an expression has never appeared in British law before, but it has all the echoes of the totalitarian regimes of Russia and China.

Do we want a great big quango to create a society? That is a huge power. We individuals are to be moulded like dough into a shape that some commission wants. Even if the underlying sentiments of the Bill were worthy—I do not think that they are—the creation of a public body whose duty is to mould our society and therefore our people in a way that that body wants is a monstrous power. The Government may say that people need to be pulled up a bit sharp if they are conducting themselves contrary to the best interests of society. That may be so, but who will be the members of this commission? It will not be the Archangel Gabriel and his merry men. It will doubtless be people who have applied to some other body and who will be entered on a list and subsequently picked or more likely just approved by some Minister. As the commission must be fully conversant with those bodies that feel themselves repressed and inadequately treated in the race of life, doubtless it will have to include a number of those representatives. Of course, they will all be paid.

This is sinister stuff. Your Lordships may well recall the fear that we all had in the 1950s of communism—the fear that Big Brother was watching you. So he was, watching over and ordering the lives of those in Russia. We fought intellectually, philosophically and politically against that ever happening in this country. but that is exactly what is happening in this country. We do not call it communism. It masquerades under the name of democracy. A member of the Rural Payments Agency, for example, can deny a farmer subsidy because the official may find that a heavy piece of machinery in a field is destroying the soil structure, as if the official knows more about the soil structure than does the farmer.

A hospital such as the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children can be obliged to close its wards because it has done too many operations and has exceeded the Government's target. If you go into central London, a satellite in the sky will home in on your vehicle and, if you have not paid your congestion charge, you are for it. Now the Secretary of State for Education and Skills wants children to stay at school until late in the evening, thereby allowing the state to take over from parents the duty, pleasure and right of bringing up their children in their way. So it goes on: the examples are endless. Big Brother is watching us all the time.

However reasonable an argument may be in any particular case, in every way the individual is made more and more to subordinate himself or herself to the state. Now we have this proposed new commission being given huge powers. It will be able to do anything that it likes to pursue its anti-discrimination legislation. There is no complaints procedure. There will be no ombudsman to control it, and it will be virtually immune from judicial review.

The commission has a duty to create mutual respect between communities. One may be able to tolerate the views of others, but saying that you have to respect them puts it all into a different category altogether. Christians, for example, may not like Satanists in their community. They may be able to tolerate them, but that does not mean to say that they will respect them. To be told by law that they must respect them is as impossible as it is deeply offensive.

Then of course the commission will have huge powers to back legal action by a supposedly oppressed person. That may seem fine in principle, but it can have a devastating and undermining effect on justice. If, for example, an atheist were to stay in a hotel and found a copy of the Bible by his bed, he could complain to the commission that the hotel was discriminating against him and his views. Were such a complaint to be backed by the commission, it would cost the complainant nothing, but it would be hugely expensive for the hotel to resist in court. The simplest answer for the hotel would be to say, "Let us remove the Bible from the rooms and have no fuss". Where is the justice there? Far from there being no justice, there is a substantial injustice. Action is being taken against something that is perfectly legal, and the action is backed by the heavy weight of public finance. That will result in free and legal behaviour being threatened or expunged.

Barnabas House is a refuge for young people and was set up in King's Lynn in my county of Norfolk by the Baptist Church. It was told that it stood to lose its funding from Norfolk County Council because grace was said before meals and Bibles were placed in the rooms. All advertising for Christian events was inappropriate. The hostel was set up by a church. Why should it not conduct itself in the way that it wishes? Who is to say that such people should not conduct themselves in the way that they wish and that the grant will be removed? Local officials. Of what organisation? Believe it or not, they were from the government body that runs under that dreadful wacky name of "supporting people". There was not much supporting of people there.

There was a compromise. The hostel could keep its grant if it kept the religion "low key". What does that mean? How do you keep a religion "low key"? The hostel can keep its Bibles, but people must not say grace before meals. That is what is imposed on people by officials. Last month, there was a row because an education authority wanted to ban the mention of the Holy Ghost because it was considered to be spooky. That is an intolerable interference by authority, whether local or national. Officials have no right to dictate, using the bludgeon of money to get their way, and individuals have no right to be trodden over in that way. That is what is happening before this new monster body, with its new monster powers of having a fundamental duty to create the type of society that it wants, comes into effect. It is no wonder that people are deeply apprehensive of the Bill.

The Government ought to encourage—and ought to encourage their officials to encourage—organisations that help, guide and rescue people. Money—government money—is a powerful weapon. The Government should see that it is handled with care and understanding, not dictatorially.

Which department is to be responsible for the Bill? It will be not one body, not two, not three, but four—the DTI, the Department for Constitutional Affairs, the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions. Where is the commonality of thought there?

Far from creating a human, contented and equal society, the Bill will produce a society in which there is antagonism, aggression and fear. Of course, that it is not its intention, but I think that that will be result. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that the Government wanted to build a truly equal society, but equality can produce drabness, uniformity, dullness and lack of enterprise. I remind your Lordships of what the late Lord Hailsham said so well in his book The Dilemma of Democracy:

"in a democracy in which uniformity is not the aim, and diversity is encouraged, each man and woman is free to join a restricted group in which he can excel and offer service. Such groups are not class conscious examples of social or intellectual or aesthetic snobbery. They are the salt of the earth. They are the church workers, the youth leaders, the club secretaries, the trade union officials, the welfare officers, the pigeon fanciers, the Scouters, the allotment holders, the members of residents' associations, the Salvation Army Captains, the exponents of almost every free activity you choose to mention, that is except the things which mean drabness, boredom, cynicism, non-involvement in society, and mediocrity in all things".

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, does the noble Earl realise that the late and much loved Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone, a great Conservative, was one of the great supporters of discrimination laws of this kind and that, at a period when the Conservative Party was divided, he gave courageous, brave and wise leadership in that direction?

Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative

My Lords, I have always had an immense appreciation of Lord Hailsham. He was a remarkable person, and I think that the excerpt that I have been quoting is one of the most valiant yet pertinent things that he ever said. If I may, I conclude it by reminding your Lordships that he said:

"So in my democracy"— note the word "democracy"—

"let elitism in all its multiplicity flourish. It is the leaven in the lump, the salt in the dish, the thing without which life is flat, stale and unprofitable. It is the pursuit of excellence in all its forms".

There was not much equality there—not much moulding of society there.

Equality and excellence are the opposite ends of the spectrum. I just hope that the Government will encourage excellence and enterprise and will not, whether intentionally or unintentionally, ensure their subordination. In my view, the Bill is likely to do just that.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Spokesperson in the Lords (Communities & Local Government), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 5:44, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I should like to add my appreciation to that of others in welcoming the Bill. As someone from both a racial and a faith minority, as well as being a woman, I have considerable experience of the discrimination and equality debate. I can assure the Minister that there are many from my background who wish the Bill safe passage in the months to come.

First, I add my voice to that of my noble friend Lord Lester and others who have expressed regret that we have not seen a single equality Act precede the establishment of a Commission for Equality and Human Rights. Introducing a single equality Act would have been more logical in terms of pulling together the various strands of legislation dealing with equality and discrimination. Stonewall points out that some 35 Acts, 52 statutory instruments, 13 codes of practice, three codes of guidance and 16 European directives and recommendations apply to equality law. It makes the point that Britain's 3.4 million lesbian, gay and bisexual people still do not benefit from the public duty to promote equality. Indeed, that group still has no statutory protection from discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services, which is regrettable.

I know that the Government are committed to introducing an Act. Will the Minister give us an indication of when she envisages this happening? I am conscious that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has mentioned that it will happen in this Parliament, but could we enter a plea for it to be sooner rather than later?

The Bill breaks considerable new ground in many areas, and so it should. Putting a human rights agency on a regulatory footing is a most useful development, as it will, particularly in its awareness-raising role, change the human rights culture of this country. The incorporation of responsibility for promoting equality and combating unlawful discrimination in relation to age and sexual orientation is also most helpful, and will go some way to redressing the existing gaps. I also broadly welcome the inclusion of religion or belief in this category in general terms, but expect to go into greater detail in Committee into some of the provisions.

There is also the issue of timing. I am familiar with the arguments put by the Commission for Racial Equality for a phased entry, with its responsibilities transferring to the commission in 2009. However, I have not found any reference to that date in the Bill and wonder whether its inclusion might be helpful in signalling more directly the remaining shelf life of the CRE.

Like many speakers before me, I wish to highlight the issue of independence for the commission. Discrimination takes myriad forms and can have serious consequences for the individuals concerned. Often this discrimination is caused by the acts of state or its agents, as is the perception of Muslims in terms of the use of some laws after 9/11—hence the very regulatory protections we are talking about today. So, for the delivery of remedy from discrimination, it becomes all the more important that the authority responsible be independent. When the Secretary of State has powers to direct a regulatory body such as the commission, that not only affects its freedom to act to the contrary in rare cases but also imposes financial obligations for which it may not have the resources or to which it may not assign the same priorities.

With respect to financial resources, the Commission for Racial Equality, Liberty and several other groups with long experience in these matters have highlighted two pertinent points. First, there must be sufficient resources from public funds to ensure full and effective implementation of current obligations. Secondly, there must be generous funding for the commission's role in promoting knowledge and awareness of rights and responsibilities and carrying out its duty to enforce these rights, as set out in Clauses 8 to 11.

While many of us are pleased that there will be a duty to promote an understanding of these areas and particularly welcome the new role for the promotion of the human rights culture, we also recognise that this menu comes with a bill, and that it is likely to be higher than the £70 million currently envisaged.

There has been much talk on the Conservative Benches of the cost of the commission. My view is that for the many millions of us who have direct experience of discrimination, £70 million—a little more than £1 per head of population—is a very low price to pay for social cohesion and tolerance. The establishment of the commission will rightly raise expectations, and it will be an opportunity lost if the body is unable to deliver its wide mandate for a lack of funds.

I turn briefly to Clause 11, which deals with communities. In my new role as spokesman from these Benches on communities and local government, I have been intrigued to see how the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister defines the community part of the role. I am afraid that I have not been able to fathom very much, other than to observe that community, and a sense of belonging to one, can be very different from one individual to the next, and indeed mean different things in different contexts. I am therefore somewhat wary of aspects of Clause 11.

The importance of good relations between and within communities is axiomatic and beyond dispute; what is troubling is the tone and wording of this clause, as it seems to attempt to legislate for "respect"—in plain English. A particularly troubling aspect is subsection (2), which defines community in that it impinges on an individual's self-definition of his or her own identity. As one coming from an intellectual position in which human agency and autonomy lie with the individual to a large extent, I am troubled by the tone of this clause. I suspect that instilling respect and tolerance of pluralism will call for more than the approach evidenced in this Bill.

Finally, I turn to those aspects of the Bill that deal with religion and belief. I broadly welcome the new emphases in dealing with discrimination in that area. For communities that are disadvantaged, equality of treatment in the economic, social and cultural aspects of life is essential. That is why I believe that dealing with those aspects in Part 2 of the Bill is preferable to, and more appropriate in providing protection against religious intolerance than, the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.

However, returning to this Bill, I have some concerns with regards exceptions in Clause 52. When you tread into the nebulous area of belief and its relationship to law, you need to tread carefully. So while I understand the intention behind the thinking in how religion and belief are dealt with in this Bill, I suspect that we shall have to revisit those areas in Committee.

In concluding, I hope that this most useful Bill makes good progress, and I look forward to working constructively with Ministers to achieve the ends that we all look forward to in enhancing equality.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench 5:52, 15 June 2005

My Lords, before I start, I declare an interest as president of the Royal Mencap Society and joint chairman of the All-Party Group on Learning Disabilities. Like the majority of noble Lords—I exempt the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers—I warmly welcome the Bill as another significant milestone towards the creation of a truly inclusive society. I trust that the noble Earl will support me a little later in what I say about learning disability.

Although the Bill creates the potential for a better society, it is a potential that still needs to be realised. It is easy to get bogged down in the technicalities of the Bill, but, as a disability rights campaigner, I have an overriding concern that the lives of disabled people and, more specifically, those with a learning disability, will be made better by the creation of a Commission for Equality and Human Rights. The new commission must be even more effective than the Disability Rights Commission is now, transforming the current inequalities into improved life chances for people with a learning disability.

I listened carefully to what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said—unfortunately, he is not now in his place—but I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, to go further in her summing up in allaying some of the fears that people with a learning disability have about what in practice the new commission will mean to them. It is worth reminding the Government and your Lordships that, despite some recent improvements, people with a learning disability remain among the most marginalised in our society. There is still a long way to go before they can enjoy the same opportunities, choices and respect as other people.

People with a learning disability are 58 times more likely to die before the age of 50 than the rest of the population. Only one in 10 has a job, compared with five out of 10 of all disabled people, and the gap appears to be widening. Nearly nine out of 10 people with a learning disability are victims of harassment and hate crime every year. There are countless more equally shocking statistics, but my point is this: people with a learning disability are already struggling to get their voice heard. Many are still discovering that they have a voice at all. The expectation that they should be listened to, that their views count, that they can make their own choices about their own life and expect to have those choices realised is a new one. With that new expectation comes the realisation that they do not even have the same life chances as most other disabled people. They, and I, need reassuring that those new expectations will not be dashed and that learning disability issues will not be marginalised in a much larger commission, just at the point when they appear to be turning the corner in the long fight for equality. When the DRC becomes one among six, it is absolutely vital that people with a learning disability do not become just one among hundreds.

The Minister will know from her work with the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that giving people with a learning disability the same nominal rights as other people does not mean that you are giving them the same opportunity to use those rights. Simply giving people with a learning disability the same nominal access as everyone else to the new commission and its decision-making powers will not lead to the truly inclusive society for which we all strive.

My concern about the accessibility of the future commission has not been helped by the lack of an easy-read version of the Bill. It is all too simple and convenient to put that down to an oversight and to say, "These things happen, after all", because it keeps happening—it has happened with every disability-related Bill that I have been involved in for the past two years. It happened with this Bill's White Paper, when the easy-read version was published eight weeks after the full version, thus effectively excluding people with a learning disability from the consultation. It is happening again now, despite this being the second time that the Bill has had a Second Reading and despite the DRC calling very publicly for an easy-read version of the Bill, way back in April.

Many of us, including the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who is unfortunately not present today, have raised the issue on a number of occasions. The lack of an easy-read version of the Bill gives the clear impression that people with a learning disability are not part of the planning process. It gives the clear impression to all those with a learning disability and their families and carers that they are at best an afterthought and that their views do not count.

I remind your Lordships that the foundation stone of the Valuing People learning disability strategy is the phrase, "Nothing about us without us". I hope that, in her response, the Minister will be able to say something positive to reassure me and the 1.5 million people with a learning disability that the Government are determined to consult them effectively throughout the process. People with a learning disability must be given meaningful opportunities to help to shape the new commission and its work. It is about them—it must not be without them.

There are some other reassurances that the Minister could give in relation to the organisational arrangements for the new commission. First, I should be grateful if she could confirm that at least one person with a learning disability will be on the new disability committee. A reserved place on the committee is as important to people with a learning disability as having a disabled person on the main board is for all disabled people.

Secondly, I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that the Learning Disabilities Action Group will continue in the new commission. The group plays an important role in the DRC in ensuring that people with a learning disability are properly consulted. I am sure that an early indication of support for a continuation of the Action Group would avoid much unnecessary anxiety about the future.

Finally, I am looking for the Minister to make it clear that there will be an effective and coherent read-across between the various duties placed on the Commission for Equality and Human Rights through the Bill and the very important public sector equality duties that many of us in the House helped to shape as part of the new disability discrimination Act. I hope that she might include in that reassurance some comment on whether, as recommended by the DRC, it might be better to amend Clause 11 to include disability in the mainstream community relations provisions.

Having stressed my need for some timely reassurance that the new commission represents a good deal for people with a learning disability, I should also stress that I remain extremely optimistic that a Government who have done so much for disabled people over the past few years, will not fluff this opportunity and that this great potential will be realised for everyone.

I am confident that, at the end of the process, we will have a new organisation better able to take forward the equality and human rights agenda for the next generation but also better able to listen to the most marginalised in our society and respond to their needs. Equality as a concept can only have one outcome; that is, equality for all.

Photo of Lord Ashley of Stoke Lord Ashley of Stoke Labour 6:01, 15 June 2005

My Lords, it is a particular pleasure for me to follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on disability. His work on disability is very well-known. He certainly carries the torch for those with a learning disability, and carries it very well.

I begin by paying tribute to my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer for his presentation of the Bill which was a model of clarity. The House should now fully understand what it involves.

I warmly commend and welcome the Bill which constitutes one more hammer in the battle against discrimination and for increasing human rights. The aim is equality—no matter that that has been denigrated by some people—which we are all trying to achieve with this legislation. I believe that this Bill can usher in a new age of human rights which transforms the opportunities of millions of people.

Notwithstanding any caricature of the Bill that we have heard today, it is a marvellous, forward looking Bill which can have a great effect on the relevant people, by whom I mean those people lacking human rights. However, the proposed new single Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which is admirable in every way, needs decisively to reject the concept of a "light touch" and to pursue human rights vigorously. That light touch has been suggested in various quarters. It would be the death of the commission if it tried to operate with a light touch. What we really need is a strong, firm commission that is determined to eradicate abuses and discrimination and to further human rights. That is its objective but it will achieve that only if it is tough and there is no nonsense about adopting a light touch.

My particular concern is provision for disabled people as the new commission created by the Bill will take over the disability rights remit of the Disability Rights Commission. The work of the Disability Rights Commission is very well-known and admired. I pay warm tribute to its chairman, Bert Massie, the chief executive, Bob Niven, and the various experts who help us so much and who carry forward the field work, such as Agnes Fletcher and Caroline Ellis. Their work has been outstanding and I think it is of vital importance that we retain them and their expertise in the new body. To fail to do so would be a lamentable waste of great skill and expertise.

Britain's 10 million disabled people will be looking to the new commission to defend and extend their rights. Now that the Disability Committee is to be charged with driving forward the work on disability rights, they will have a clear voice and powers. That is what we have been seeking. After all, disability is at its heart a human rights issue.

These advances will be an enormous fillip to the next major objective of disabled people—independent living. Certainly, the three "pillars"—equality, human rights and good community relations—will cumulatively help to establish clear, new rights.

But although the existence of the Disability Committee is to be reviewed after five years, the Bill refers only to the review to recommend how long the committee should continue to exist and it provides only for the Secretary of State to dissolve the committee in the light of the review. This has raised fears among disabled people that the review would not be open and objective. It would be far better if the Bill provided for an open-ended review. Personally, I think that the committee should be permanent—or last as long as the CEHR exists—but at least the Government should agree to an open-ended review. If not, I intend to propose amendments at a later stage of the Bill. I hope that the Government will attend to that point if they can.

In those amendments I think that it would be desirable to incorporate a requirement that when the Disability Committee is reviewed, disabled people and their representatives must clearly be among the persons whose views are to be taken into account. The present provisions in the Bill simply require those conducting the review to consult persons who they think are likely to have an interest. Although that would make it likely that disabled people would be consulted, it does not make it definite—and definite commitments are what Bills are all about.

The Bill provides that the term of the transitional commissioner will cease when the Disability Committee comes into operation. But the same provisions do not apply to the EOC or to the CRE. Their transitional commissioners remain unaffected. It does not make sense and is not logical to torpedo the disability transitional commissioner and leave the others sacrosanct until 2009 and 2011. I hope that the Minister will be able to alter the arrangement to the benefit of the disability transitional commissioner.

I am also concerned about the lack of enforcement powers of the new commission for human rights. Far from being a monster with monstrous powers, the commission reveals the weakness of the Bill in that the new commission will have only limited enforcement powers in relation to human rights.

The provisions of the Bill may well have been misunderstood by some people who say that the commission has no enforcement powers at all. In fact, it has full enforcement powers as regards the DDA and other equality enactments, including the power to assist individuals in bringing cases. But its limited enforcement powers on human rights is a cause for deep concern, and many will find that unacceptable. The fact that the CEHR cannot support and fund individuals to bring human rights cases weakens the whole structure and certainly weakens the CEHR. Why should it be deprived of power to provide legal assistance on representation for stand-alone human rights cases?

My noble friend the Minister will know that on disability there is a specific provision in the Bill which is carried over from the DRC Act, which, if activated, would allow the CEHR to support individual disabled people with cases under the Human Rights Act. That would be very valuable. Therefore, I ask my noble friend the Minister—and I would appreciate an answer when she winds up—how about that? Is it possible to activate that provision?

I believe that the changes I propose will improve an already admirable Bill—and I hope to make the good better. But while we have a league table of legal equality, this Bill simply must be underpinned by a single equalities Act. Otherwise, when this Bill becomes an Act it will have great difficulty in operating with different equality legislation providing different degrees of protection for different people.

It has already been mentioned that there are some 30 Acts of Parliament, endless statutory instruments, codes of practice, directives and recommendations which make it difficult for anyone to know where they stand. Some people have more rights than others and it is still legal to discriminate against some groups but not others. Key terms are defined differently in different Acts. That needs attending to. The only way to do that is with a single equalities Act. I know that work is proceeding on the Equalities Review—chaired by Trevor Phillips—and on the Government's Discrimination Law Review, but we need urgent action to move forward to a single equalities Act. I was glad to see my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer say in his opening speech that the Government are committed to a single equalities Act, and I hope that it will be pursued as quickly as possible.

This ambitious Bill deserves warm support, because it constitutes a major step forward on human rights. It can become one of the great landmark legislative Acts dealing with human freedom, independence and equality. If, when it becomes law, it is accompanied by a single equalities Act, we shall have comprehensive legislation of which we can all be proud.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative 6:10, 15 June 2005

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in introducing the Bill, sounded almost euphoric about it. In fact, I was surprised at the end of his speech that he did not add, "All this, and Heaven too". Later we had the speech of my noble friend Lord Ferrers, which was a most splendid counterbalance to the opening speech. I hope that as we go through the Bill noble Lords will keep both those speeches in mind. If we want to bear in mind what people outside in the street think on these subjects, we need to remember what was said in both those speeches. They made a balance, which is important. My humble contribution, which I hope will be rather brief, will come somewhere in between those speeches.

Thank goodness that there is a broad acceptance in our country today that people are born of equal worth; that a baby, no matter where or to whom it is born, is just as important as another baby born elsewhere. Most people in their hearts believe that nowadays. At the same time, it is obvious to most people that no two babies' life chances are equal. Opportunities, and the ability to make the best of opportunities, vary hugely. Human beings themselves vary hugely; of course they do. So do the settings of their lives; and luck is involved as well. Few people are so dreamy nowadays as to believe that public policy can ever make life chances equal. They also believe that policies can help in some ways, which is why the education and health systems and a fair legal system matter so much. It is also why, on the whole, there is broad support for the intentions of the Bill, as there has been broad support for the three commissions that the Bill is replacing.

The aim of the Bill is to make possible more equality and better human rights in certain areas, and few will complain about that if they really go into the purposes and the mechanisms of the Bill. The questions that we must consider as we scrutinise the Bill are not its broad aims—they seem to me impeccable—but whether the detailed proposals will in fact work in practice. Will the proposed new Commission for Equality and Human Rights work better for its customers than the three commissions that it replaces? That is a critical question. Will the new mechanisms in the Bill—the mechanisms of the commission and the other mechanisms—be cost-effective? Will the new intrusions into business that the Bill proposes be justified by the intended benefits for the citizen? Those are the sorts of questions that this House and the Government must ask themselves as we go through the Bill.

The Bill applies to the whole of the UK, and I want to ask the Minister about what seems to be its somewhat intricate relationship with Scots law and the Scots Parliament. I had hoped that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would see this Second Reading out, because he would be in a strong position to help the noble Baroness to respond, but I am sure that she will have assistance from her advisers on this.

Clause 7(1) states:

"The Commission shall not take human rights action in relation to a matter if the Scottish Parliament has legislative competence to enable a body to take action of that kind in relation to that matter".

I understand that this rather strange and clumsy wording is there because the Scots Parliament may set up its own Scottish human rights commission. If it does, and the idea has not gone beyond the consultation stage in Scotland, the Scottish commission would deal with human rights in devolved areas, and the Westminster commission would deal with reserved areas. If a Scottish human rights commission is set up, how will a Scot know where to go for help, especially if a supposed breach of human rights is in matters both devolved and reserved; for example, if the claim is that asylum seekers are being refused local authority housing? Asylum and immigration are reserved matters; but housing is devolved. How would someone living in Scotland know which commission to consult? I hope that the noble Baroness might be able to tell us the answer to that when she replies.

My second question on this clause is what happens until a human rights commission is set up, or if the Scots Parliament decides not to have its own commission at all? Does the Bill as drafted allow the Westminster commission to act on everything, including devolved matters? It would be helpful, and it would save time at later stages, if we could know the answer to that.

I also want to ask about Clause 53, which deals with discrimination and harassment in education. Clause 53(1) states:

"It is unlawful for a local education authority (in England and Wales) or an education authority (in Scotland) in the exercise of their functions to discriminate against or harass a person".

That is somewhat surprising to me, since education is a devolved matter in Scotland. I realise that Clause 53(3) makes exceptions to the prohibition in Scotland, but why are Scottish schools in the Bill at all? Will the Minister explain that? The same question applies to Clauses 51 and 52, which are also about schools.

Those are the clauses that I want to ask about at the moment. I know that the Law Society of Scotland is seeking clarification on other points in the Bill, which will doubtless emerge at a later stage, because we shall want to deal with them. We have interesting discussions ahead. From the briefing so far, it seems that what one might call the entire "equality and human rights industry" wants to have a copious say on the Bill. We shall have to be selective in deciding which amendments to put down.

This is not a Bill about dreamy aspirations; it is about practical mechanisms. The mechanisms must be as simple as possible so that people understand them. The mechanisms must be workable, and they must be cost-effective. I suggest that the Bill does not call for long discussions about whether life chances matter; we surely agree that they do. We should be discussing the practical and constructive ways to lessen here and there the inequality in life chances that people experience. I look forward very much to the discussions ahead of us.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Women, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities 6:19, 15 June 2005

My Lords, this widely welcomed Bill has been a long time in gestation. It has been the subject of much activity and thought on the part of the organisations, both statutory and voluntary, whose clients will be most affected by it and which have been in close consultation with the Government.

I welcome the Bill's broad thrust, as vigorously presented by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, in the early part of his speech. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in replying will respond carefully to the points made in the House during the debate. It is clear that there are still parts of the Bill that cause concern outside Parliament.

I want to concentrate on two main topics that concern a number of different groups and organisations. First, the changes to substantive equality law made in the Bill, and their limitations; and, secondly, uneasiness about the problems attending on the transition arrangements as the existing commissions wind down and the CEHR comes into being.

I will not repeat the arguments that I have already made in your Lordships' House about the cart-before-horse way in which the Government have decided to approach the problem of persistent inequalities in our society. In any case, Clause 3 creates a brief but impressive vision of the society that we wish to create. I am grateful for that, as are many others.

The broad duties of the CEHR as defined in Clause 8 are also welcome. I know that some Members of your Lordships' House do not agree with that approach; in particular, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, gave a typically spirited account of his disapproval in detail. The noble Earl was the first Minister against whom I had to sharpen my powers and I have never underrated him from that moment to this. I shall read his speech with interest when it has been printed because I think that it will contain remarks that are relevant to our concerns.

Some important extensions to existing anti-discrimination law are made in the Bill. The first is the long-awaited—many would say long-overdue— inclusion of a duty on public bodies to promote gender equality. The EOC has worked long and hard on that matter, but it still has some residual concerns about what it describes as the most radical change in sex equality law in 30 years.

The first matter of concern is the definition of public authority in Part 3. There is a fear that the difference between the wording of that definition and the wording of the definition in the Disability Discrimination Act—the DDA—could be considered significant by the courts. Will the Minister reassure us that despite the differences in wording the definition in the Bill should be read as being the same as that in the Disability Discrimination Act—or will she undertake to change the Bill's wording?

Secondly, I want to support the remarks and questions put to the Minister on harassment and protection of transgender persons made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, whose prestige in that world is without equal. Thirdly, will the Minister confirm that the gender duty will enable public sector bodies to look at the causes of the pay gap, such as the concentration of women in lower-paid occupations? Will the duty enable public sector bodies to use contract compliance procedures to persuade contractors to move towards equal pay for men and women?

Finally, there is the question of further statutory protection for groups of people who currently lack it. Stonewall, the EOC and other groups have welcomed the inclusion in the Bill of protection against discrimination in the provision of goods and services on grounds of religion and belief. I will not go into that area, as it will affect our debate at a future stage.

However, they also point out that there is still no such legal protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and transexuality. Yet evidence of such discrimination is not far to seek and can impact in a damaging way on individuals in many areas of their daily lives.

We are all aware that the Government are engaged in a process that should result eventually in a single Equality Act, but there seems little certainty about the timeframe for that process or even for the discrimination law review that precedes it. Is it the Government's intention not to legislate for that large group before the introduction of a single Equality Act, which might not appear for another two or three years? If so, the Minister may be faced with amendments at a later stage.

I turn to the transition problems. The Minister may say, possibly rightly, that the detail of those cannot form part of the Bill. Nevertheless, there are some important concerns surrounding the process of keeping the existing commissions on the road and functioning effectively while preparations are being made to create their successor body, which is expected to be operational from late 2007.

The coverage of anti-discrimination legislation will increase with the Bill's passage, perhaps further than the Government anticipated. We shall see. In 2006 protection against discrimination on the grounds of age will be on-stream, but how and by whom will those new legal provisions be administered, given that the existing commissions will be in their dying days?

What reassurance can the Government give that employees will be offered the chance to contract their experience and expertise to the CEHR? After all, as the right revered Prelate the Bishop of Southwell pointed out, experience and expertise in the individual strands will still be required in the new commission.

Finally, will the full force of the TUPE regulations apply fully to those employees who do not or are unable to obtain ongoing employment at the commission?

The Bill says quite a lot about the appointment of the new commissioners, including a reference to them being appointed in line with the requirements of the Office of the Commissioner of Public Appointments. On the face of it, that seems satisfactory, at least in the context of the Bill as it stands. However, I understand that the current commissioner has not previously been asked to monitor such appointments on the grounds of sexual orientation. Nor has she ever been asked in the past specifically to ensure that lesbian, gay or bisexual people should be represented on public bodies. Is that the best way to give this group confidence in the process of appointment to the CEHR; and will the Minister give us any reassurance?

I have tried to be brief. I could have added a third concern about the Bill, namely about the powers and the independence of the new commission as compared with its predecessor bodies, but I was correct in assuming that many other people would take up that point. I hope that the Government will work on the Bill during its passage through the House in the collaborative way that best suits such legislation and this Chamber.

We shall need to listen to and learn from each other across the Floor of the House if we are to make the best of the opportunity offered by the Bill to continue the work of removing illegal discrimination from our society.

Photo of Lord Parekh Lord Parekh Labour 6:28, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I welcome the Equality Bill and the proposed Commission for Equality and Human Rights. Like many Members of this distinguished House I wish that the commission had been set up after the Equality Act was enacted, because this is what we have done with almost all the other commissions that I can think of: the Commission for Racial Equality or the Equal Opportunities Commission.

I should also have thought that the Equality Act would have tightened up our very disparate bits of anti-discrimination legislation and given the Commission for Equality and Human Rights a clear sense of direction. Since we have for some reason decided to proceed with the commission and to bring in the Act afterwards, I have no doubt that we will soon be going through the same debate and revisiting the nature and structure of the commission once the Equality Act is in place.

However, I very much welcome the commission. It is almost unique in the European Union and indeed in the western world. I cannot think of its counterpart. I am naturally delighted that the Labour Government have kept up their progressive record of bringing in such legislation on issues relating to human rights and equality.

The commission has many extremely important and commendable features. It provides a one-stop shop; it integrates different forms of discrimination; it is not entirely punitive and leaves a great deal of room for conciliation; it also mainstreams equality and therefore equality does not appear to be merely a concern of ethnic minorities, women or otherwise marginalised and powerless groups. It is proactive and has considerable powers—and therefore fairly sharp legal teeth, which can certainly bite depending on how the commission is led once it is set up.

I welcome the commission because, if I may speak for a minute as a philosopher, it marks a tremendous step in reshaping our constitutional and political culture. It takes us from the culture of liberty, which we have had for the past 1,000 years, to a culture of rights; from the culture of subjecthood to that of citizenship; and from the culture of hierarchy to that of equality.

Although commending a large number of the desirable qualities of the commission, I have five important worries, which I want to submit to your Lordships and, through you, to the Minister for a response.

First, I am not sure that the commission is independent or enjoys anything like the independence enjoyed by the Commission for Racial Equality or the Equal Opportunities Commission. Many noble Lords have pointed that out. Of course such a commission must be answerable to Parliament through the Secretary of State, but it should not be subject to the Secretary of State's detailed direction or interference. Independence is important because, as I said, this is a momentous step in the cultural evolution of our society. Therefore the commission must enjoy popular support and legitimacy, and must be free of any partisan or party-political pressure. I am not sure that the Bill sufficiently guards against those dangers.

I shall give three examples. I am not entirely convinced why the appointment of the chief executive can be made only with the consent of the Secretary of State. Nor am I sure why the Secretary of State has the power to dismiss a commissioner; so far as I can see, the Bill does not say whether the Secretary of State should refer to the chairman of the commission before doing so. There are also about six references to complying,

"with a direction of the Secretary of State".

With reference to four of those, if that is how the Commission for Racial Equality had been set up when I was privileged to be its deputy chair and acting chair, I simply would not have been able to do many of the things of which this country is legitimately proud. During my time, we went through various political parties. I am sure that some political parties were not favourably disposed to the commission, and I would have received directives which would have been impossible to carry out.

I strongly urge the Government to think seriously. I gather that five Secretaries of State are likely to be involved. Whoever they happen to be, they may be sensible under this Administration—I hope—but they may not be under some other administration. In that case, in a few years, we might have serious grounds for complaint. Requiring the Secretary of State to take such an active, interventionist role goes beyond all the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act or the Race Relations Act, neither of which gives the Secretary of State that degree of power.

My second worry is that the Commission for Equality and Human Rights has an enormously wide remit. It encompasses six different strands of equality, with three of which we are fairly experienced but the other three are entirely new. In addition, it takes on board human rights. A commission that takes on almost the whole range of everything to do with equality and human rights obviously has to deal with some extremely important issues. Therefore, it is important that two conditions be satisfied.

First, none of the six strands of equality should be marginalised. Secondly, we should make every attempt to integrate equality with human rights, and we must make sure that neither is marginalised. Equality has been on the agenda for a considerable time—since at least the mid-1960s and, perhaps in a stronger form, the mid-1970s. Although human rights in one form or another have been part of our tradition of liberty, they are relatively new.

There is a tendency to assume—I noted it in earlier speeches—that somehow equality and human rights invariably go together. Up to a point, they do. Beyond that, they not only part company but become mutually incompatible. For example, equality might warrant positive discrimination in certain cases. Human rights seem to rule it out, unless they are interpreted very widely. Equality would require equality between groups or communities. After all, the whole Race Relations Act is based on the assumption that a substantive proportion of a community should not be disadvantaged as a result of a requirement. Here we are talking of equality or parity between not only individuals, but groups. That kind of thinking comes easily and naturally to a discourse on equality, but does not sit comfortably with the discourse on human rights.

Had I the time, I would like to spend considerable time on that; it is what I teach in universities and about what I have written. However, I would not like to bore the House with some of the technical and philosophical difficulties that the two subjects raise. I can think of many jurisdictions where equality and human rights have not gone hand in hand. Therefore, we want to make sure of two things.

First, how do we make sure that all strands of equality are adequately represented and their specificities appreciated? Perhaps one point on that might be to have six deputy chairs, each in charge of one strand of equality. If that becomes extremely cumbersome or difficult, we could at least identify major strands of equality and make sure that each of them was under the jurisdiction of a deputy chairman. If we cannot do that, I would like to return to the point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. We have a disability committee within the commission. Understandably, I wonder why we should not think in terms of similar committees and advisory groups for race, gender and perhaps other forms of discrimination.

As I said earlier, human rights and equality can conflict, so it is vital to be clear right at the beginning that there are possible sources of tension. If we sail through the assumption that conflicts will never arise, we will be inviting trouble.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, I am not a philosopher, but I wonder whether the noble Lord will reflect on two points. First, it is well established in human rights law that positive discrimination is entirely compatible with the human rights agenda. It is not in conflict with it, but is part of it. Secondly, he talks about our existing law as protecting groups of persons. Will he reconsider that? It does not protect groups, but individuals when they belong to groups and suffer disparate impact because they do so. Does he not agree that it would be entirely regressive for us to have a statute that protected tribes, herds, scheduled castes or anything of that kind?

Photo of Lord Parekh Lord Parekh Labour

My Lords, both those points are valid, and if I had more time I would love to debate them with the noble Lord. In order not to duck the issue, I shall make two quick responses. Although human rights recognise in some cases the need for and possibility of positive discrimination, I have seen several cases in the United States and other jurisdictions where they have been so interpreted—either in the shape of human rights or as they are constitutionally embedded—to rule out any form of positive discrimination. The Bakke case in the United States would be one.

On the other question of groups, I am tempted to make one quick point. The noble Lord conceded that, in the forms of legislation that we have had, we take account of membership of a group. Although it may not amount directly to equality between the groups, it amounts to saying that the membership of a group is significant in deciding whether the principle of equality is realised. That is something to which human rights discourse, which is culturally and politically neutral, would not be terribly sympathetic. In certain interpretations, it could be; in others, it might not be. My worry is that we should not simply assume that all those in charge of the commission would invariably take the view that some of us take.

I can go through my third point briskly. Much of the advisory and case work in the fields of race and gender is done at grassroots level. The CRE, for example, would be entirely helpless without the race equality councils and the work they do locally. We therefore need to build up local expertise and think in terms of training people at the local level. As far as I can see, unless I am totally obtuse, the Bill says little about either building up networks of organisations throughout the country or providing resources for building up this kind of expertise.

The fourth point concerns the nature of public authority, about which much has been said. The definition of public authority is narrow, for all kinds of reasons—partly because of the case law, and partly, unless I am totally mistaken, because the concept of public authority in the past 20 years has tended to develop predominantly in relation to ideas of equality. Once we bring in the question of human rights, the nature of public authority may require a wider definition. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, talked earlier about private and voluntary providers of public services, such as residential care providers. It is important that we think in terms of these organisations, private as they are, being required to deal with questions of equality and human rights.

My final worry is about the Commission for Racial Equality. I say this with some trepidation, because this raises questions that are not just constitutional but political. For all kinds of reasons, the CRE has decided to join the new commission a couple of years after it has been set up. Although I can understand why it wants to take that line, I do not entirely sympathise with its reasons for wanting to do so. My own experience is that those who come in at the beginning are able to shape the nature, the structure and the ethos of an organisation. Those coming in late are usually confronted with a fait accompli, and therefore they are not able to change very much unless they shout, and in the process make themselves disagreeable.

Take, for example, our own experience of Britain in the European Union. Had we been there at the beginning, I am not sure the common agricultural policy would have taken the shape it did, and it would not have taken us 35 long years, my dear Minister, to try to resolve those issues. We cannot do anything about this issue, however, as it is for the CRE to decide.

I want to finish with two thoughts. First, although at one level the CRE speaks for ethnic minorities, it is not the only spokesman for them. It might be useful to elicit what ethnic minorities in general think about this. Secondly, even if the CRE comes in late, I hope it will be involved, at least informally, in the planning and deliberations of the new commission.

Photo of Baroness Greengross Baroness Greengross Crossbench 6:42, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on introducing this Bill. I welcome its aims, as outlined by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I have heard with great interest the speeches of many noble Lords. The depth of knowledge in this House is so great and I always learn a huge amount.

I will concentrate on the issue of age, although I am interested in all the other strands. I declare an interest as vice-president of Age Concern and I am involved with various other relevant bodies, including the All-Party Group on Equalities.

I welcome the useful briefing notes we have had from many bodies, including Age Concern and Help the Aged, as well as those summarised by the Equality and Diversity Forum on behalf of many of them.

Legislation alone cannot change attitudes, which are behind a lot of discrimination. However, it can change behaviour, which is a necessary first step. When I was a student, I remember that landlords could display notices saying which categories of people they would not allow to rent rooms or flats in their properties. The minute this became illegal, there was a step change. That started us on the road to banning discrimination on the grounds of race. Recognition by society that such behaviour is unacceptable is a necessary first step, introduced through legislation.

I am an example of someone who, without stretching the imagination too much, could benefit from a unified commission. I think there are at least five counts on which I could conceivably be discriminated against—perhaps more. One commission I could consult to represent my interests and seek redress would be better than having to go round to five to see which one could best represent those interests, so I have long supported a unified body.

The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, is right. The delay in inclusion of the CRE until 2009 might be negative for that commission rather than positive, because, as he said, it will in effect be joining the party late, even though its chief executive will be an ex officio commissioner from 2007-09. I ask the Minister whether it would not be better to set up the commission with all constituent parts from 2007. I know there are difficulties in doing this, but it would be nice to know whether the Minister feels the way I do.

We are all worried. Many worries have been expressed that the commission might not be adequately resourced in terms of money and staff. That did not apply to the noble Earl, but others are worried, and I should like reassurance that this will not be the case. Obviously a lot of work needs to be done, especially after this Bill becomes an Act, which will demand huge co-operation and coalitions working together. These will be essential if the commission is to succeed and be up to running in 2007.

I should like to know how the Equality Review chaired by Trevor Phillips will input into this Bill's passage. By the time his review reports in the summer of 2006, the Bill may already be law.

On age, I welcome at last its inclusion as a main strand in discrimination. The anti-age discrimination in the workplace regulations come into force from October 2006, one year before the commission begins its work. It will be interesting to know who will fill that gap. Will it in fact be the voluntary organisations that have campaigned so steadily over the years? I have taken part in those campaigns myself on many occasions. What is meant to happen during that time?

The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, made an important point. The Bill requires one commissioner to cover Scotland and Wales on disabilities for the first five years. No doubt the committee will consider amendments on the precise make-up of the commission, but, if one commissioner is to cover those areas, could not a case be made for one commissioner to have responsibility for the other areas, with them all coming together as a while commission?

On age, that might be tantamount to creating a commissioner for older people, such as Wales will have. Will the Minister tell us how this Bill interacts with the Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Bill, which had its Second Reading yesterday? It sounds confusing to have two potentially different types of commissioner. I should like to understand that better.

The Bill states that there will be only a duty to promote gender, disability and race equality. I should like to know why a duty to promote age equality and the other areas that are being introduced is missing. Does this perhaps reflect the strength of the existing bodies involved in this work?

Age discrimination is an issue about which people are often quite unconscious. They do not realise they are being discriminatory. In fact, it is everywhere in our society. It is deeply embedded in attitudes and actions, and there is often indirect discrimination. It needs to be tackled not only by legislation but by awareness and attitude changing. This will not be easy. Discussions on the age discrimination in the workplace legislation has demonstrated how difficult it will be.

Very often, having age discrimination makes life a lot easier for everyone. It is much easier to have an age at which renting a car is banned than actually having to prove that you are capable of renting a car and driving it. It is much easier to say that it is the fault of insurance, because you cannot obtain insurance cover, than proving that you are able to drive. It is much easier to say that it is the fault of "them"—meaning the Government or the state—by making an age of retirement apply across a whole industry or everywhere, than putting the responsibility on people to prove that they can do a job or to prove that they are capable of doing a job, unless it is proved that they are incapable. These are all difficult things to do. You must test for speed of reaction, for vision, for hearing, for capacity to learn or re-train. It is important that we fight for equality, but it is not easy.

In services and goods, we know that discrimination affects a huge number of older people. In the NHS, we know that discrimination has led to bad prescribing over the years. Older people are often excluded from clinical trials and from a whole range of treatments and therapies, simply on the grounds of age. These are attitudes that devalue people and say that some younger people are worth more than people who are older, whereas, in fact, people who are older often show that they can benefit from treatment more than younger people. That is quite unacceptable, but it is a difficult matter.

Age discrimination in goods and services is complicated, because if it is outlawed without due consideration, it could often prove to be a disservice to the people that the law is designed to help. For example, benefits or services that are targeted at older people might have to go, so the matter needs careful consideration. Many people in this House would not wish to see their bus and tube passes disappear, but they could go if we are not very careful that the clauses are defined carefully. Certain benefits could also go. So the unintended consequences of anti-age discrimination in goods and services need to be carefully considered. It might mean that a review or a study of all the pros and cons of abolishing discrimination on the grounds of age in goods and services needs to examine these issues in depth before the commission is established—that means rather quickly.

What is important is the review to update equality law, announced in February, which underpins the new commission. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester. The fact that the single equality Bill is the policy not only of his party, but of the Government, had, I am sure, something to do with him. It is wonderful that it is there. Like the noble Lord, I think that it is putting the cart before the horse, because we have a Bill to create a structure before we have the law that underpins that structure. That law will be necessary as soon as possible after 2007 if the commission is to work effectively.

On human rights, I welcome the combination of equality and human rights in one commission. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned a new definition of public authority or a change of position to do something about the loophole that was illustrated by the Leonard Cheshire case. I seek reassurance from the Minister that the Government will close that loophole because, surely, my human rights are the same wherever I live or whatever service provider is providing me with a service. Somehow that must be clarified as the Bill progresses.

I am sympathetic to the points that have been made about the commission having enforcement powers. Many of us welcome the intentions behind the clause on religion and belief, but I agree absolutely with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine. They were important and we must go into a great deal of detail to get that right. The matter is sensitive and there are some dangers—although I share her view that this must be incorporated.

We all believe in the importance of the Bill. We need to consider it carefully, but we must ensure that it becomes law, because most of us, at some stage in our lives, could benefit from its powers. Those who are the most vulnerable among us need its protection most.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour 6:55, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I am glad to be able to participate in the Second Reading debate of this important Bill. I was for a number of years a member of the Equal Opportunities Commission. My experience there taught me that it is not only necessary to have a good legal framework to protect people against discrimination, but a means of enforcement must also be available. That was for many years provided by the EOC in relation to gender discrimination.

Under the Bill the EOC will ultimately be replaced, as will the other commissions dealing with race relations and disability. A new over-arching Commission for Equality and Human Rights will be established. During my time on the EOC, a suggestion was made that we should be merged with the CRE, but both commissions objected and the idea was not proceeded with. I was inclined to a similar viewpoint when the present Bill was first mooted, but I understand that the EOC is in full support of the Bill, with some reservations, and I now fully support the idea of the new commission.

However, in speaking in general support of the Bill, I pay tribute to the work of the EOC and the many devoted people who have worked for it over the years. They include my noble friend Lady Amos, the Leader of the House, who was chief executive for some time, my noble friend Lady Lockwood and, of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who are both speaking in this debate. I particularly remember the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, who chaired the commission during my time. She was responsible for the WISE campaign—Women into Science and Engineering—aimed at encouraging young women to train for and to take up careers in these vital areas.

I also recall some ground-breaking cases, notably that of speech therapists, which took years and involved references to the European Court before the women engaged in that important profession received their just reward. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, will remember that case very well, because he acted for the EOC at that time. The EOC activities continue, with emphasis on the continuing gap between male and female earnings. A great deal has been achieved on behalf of women and much expertise has been developed. Therefore, I wonder whether it might not be possible to include in the Bill provision for the establishment of separate committees dealing with gender and race discrimination.

I see that that has been done in regard to disability and it seems a good idea. There would also need to be a separate arrangement in regard to religious discrimination, which I will come to later. All would operate under the authority of the over-arching Commission for Equality and Human Rights. The experience and expertise of the existing commissions would be readily available. The Government say that the powers of the existing commissions will not be diminished. I understand that the EOC is concerned that its powers under Section 73 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 are not repeated in the present Bill. That point has already been raised by my noble friend Lady Lockwood, and we would appreciate hearing from the Government on that point.

There will be a transitional period until the three existing commissions are dissolved. There are, of course, obligations to their existing staff. It would appear that the Government envisage quite a long period of transition. It must all be completed by 31 March 2009. However, too long a period of uncertainty may not be good for the staff and, in particular, people will wish to know to what extend the TUPE regulations will apply.

It is important that the new body, CEHR, is seen to be independent and in no way subject to government direction. That must be made clear in the wording of the Bill, a point already made by a number of noble Lords.

I am glad that the intention is to give protection against discrimination against lesbians and gay men for the first time. But Stonewall, the campaigning organisation with which I have been in contact, points out in its briefing that there is still no protection against discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services for this group. I know that a review of legislation is taking place, and presumably we shall soon have a new single equality Bill, but it really is time that discrimination of that kind, which I understand is quite widespread, is dealt with.

The Bill introduces new provisions about discrimination on religious grounds. Those are much to be welcomed. An attempt has been made in the Bill to describe precisely what is meant by religion and/or belief. I am glad to note that lack of religion and lack of belief are also to be covered. Victimisation and harassment are also defined in the section. However, in the section dealing with education, I am a bit concerned about provisions made for exceptions. It seems to me that some of those, in Clauses 52 and 53, could be used to discriminate against, even harass, pupils who are non-believers. Under Clause 53, it would even seem possible to discriminate in the provision of school transport. I am sure that that is not the intention, but the wording could be said to allow that. We shall have to explore those issues further in Committee. The Humanist Association has raised those points with me, and I happen to be a vice-president of that association.

However, in general, I support all the provisions in that section of the Bill. In the light of those provisions, however, why is it still thought necessary to introduce a Bill about incitement to religious hatred? That is currently under consideration in the other place and will no doubt eventually reach this House. The problem about that Bill is that it could be used to inhibit freedom of speech. There are religious beliefs which many of us would oppose, often quite vehemently, because some of them result in the repression of women. Generations of women in this country have fought and suffered to achieve the level of equality that we have now. We will not have all that undermined by clerics and others attempting to do so under the cloak of religious belief.

Others, as we have seen recently, encourage their adherents in the bizarre belief that children can be possessed and must be beaten and tortured to get rid of the alleged possession. Sometimes the death of a child has resulted. Those are crimes, and can be dealt with under criminal procedures if those responsible are caught, but such so-called religions are hateful in themselves and we must not be constrained from saying so or from opposing them by whatever legal means are available.

I therefore hope that the excellent provisions in the Bill designed to protect people from being discriminated against because of their beliefs or absence of belief should be regarded as sufficient and that the Government will not feel it necessary to proceed with the other Bill, which has already occasioned much controversy and will probably do so if and when it reaches this House.

Of course, we need a new single equalities Bill, because we have tended to deal with discrimination in a very piecemeal way. In the meantime, the Equality Bill deserves support and I commend the Government for its introduction.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson in the Lords (Sport), Culture, Media & Sport, Spokesperson in the Lords (Disability), Work & Pensions, Deputy Chief Whip 7:02, 15 June 2005

My Lords, this is one of those occasions on which you discover that all your remarks follow on from what has been already said, but I am afraid that I have to do so, not only because I normally take responsibility on behalf of this party for disability issues—I feel that shop steward's rights must be asserted here—but because the Government will need a bit of encouragement to be as brave as they can about the Bill and to try not to get sidetracked on to all the little things going on around it.

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who is not in his place—in such a long debate, it would be unreasonable to expect him to listen to all of it—performed a very reassuring function. He was the voice of reason but also the big bad wolf for everyone here: he said that the Bill is totally unreasonable and that it is imposing on people's ground. The fact is that there would be no discrimination if people behaved in a fair, decent, reasonable and thoughtful manner. They do not. They have not. Through ignorance or, shall we say, a lack of effort, they do not move. So action, often positive action, as we say in other fields, must be taken for us to move forward.

I have said on numerous occasions that the piecemeal way in which we have dealt with disability legislation needs to be brought together. It happened slowly; we tagged on; we found Bills. Other forms of discrimination have to be dealt with in the same way; we must pull these things together. I do not know about carts before horses; I came to the conclusion that we had an engine put in the back when it should have been put in the front. Perhaps four-wheel drive would be slightly more appropriate. My noble friend Lord Lester, having presented a Bill that would have done that a while ago may feel a little aggrieved, but he can be reassured by the fact that he casts a long shadow over this debate.

While sitting comfortably inside that, I say that we must move forward and bring this to a coherent whole where all these strands can be used to support each other. Returning to my original area of experience—I would not say expertise—disability is not confined to one group, it extends to every group in society. The example that I was given in conversation with a few people before this debate was that of a woman from an ethnic minority who happens to be in a wheelchair. Where does she go to deal with any particular problem? She may well be discriminated against on all grounds. Throw religion in there, and one might feel like saluting the Government's courage more than their wisdom when listening to this debate, but it must be dealt with.

There must be somewhere we should all be able to go and figure out where the principal problem lies. Positive action is required in this field. The Government must take it on. Once again, I hope that they will get the Bill into place and get the full equality Act to back it up as soon as possible.

To turn briefly to the Bill in detail, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashley—the senior shop steward in this department—said, but to go against my noble friend a bit, at least in spirit, we need the technical guidance provided by that committee. The simple reason is that the diversity of technical information required in disability is so much greater. It is not that it is more important; it is just that we will need that technical advice. For well over a decade, I have been officially dealing with that area, but I am constantly learning about new syndromes and problems that I did not know existed. It is very diverse.

Also, technical activity that can be used to ameliorate those problems is changing all the time. I use the example of being a dyslexic. Voice-operated computing will potentially revolutionise the workplace for us. Other innovations are occurring, such as lighter, better wheelchairs. I could go on for ever. Given that degree of diversity and change, we will need that committee. It may have to change; it may become smaller; it may well have to continue as an advisory committee for the simple reason of the amount of information and the rate of change. I hope that the Government will ensure that there is no finite limit and make clear that five years is not the absolute maximum for which they expect the committee to be in place. Change it; make it smaller; or establish new lines of communication; but that flow of information is required.

Having said that, I hope that the Bill is passed as soon as possible; improved where necessary; and that we can set up a more logical basis, bringing in the equality Act that will be needed. Let us hope that we can eventually say that we are just monitoring the situation and not campaigning in the areas of discrimination.

Photo of Baroness Howells of St Davids Baroness Howells of St Davids Labour 7:08, 15 June 2005

My Lords, my contribution to the debate will, I fear, overlap with those who have already spoken and those who are about to speak. However, I made my selection very carefully of what I wanted to say, so I shall press on.

I declare an interest as a woman and a black person who could find herself having to use the Bill when it becomes law. However, today I will speak mainly from the perspective of being black in the United Kingdom.

I welcome the Bill as a culmination of four decades of debate, campaigning and piecemeal legislative action on equality issues. Since the passing of the first, tentative piece of legislation, the Race Relations Act 1965, under the late Harold Wilson's Labour government, to the most recent Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000—also, I note, under a Labour government—the black community has campaigned and argued for a more coherent approach to legislation. Indeed, that campaign and sustained argument have been echoed on the gender front through the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission, in particular by the Leader of the House, my noble friend Lady Amos, in her former position as its chief executive officer. I have also noted a deep resonance in the disability, gay, lesbian and, I have to say, anti-ageist movements.

In brief, the issue is not one of taking a critical stance on the objectives of the proposed legislation, rather it is one of seeing how the integrity of four decades of community campaigning in often hostile settings can find real expression in the proposals before the House. It is my belief, as a Member of this House and a member of the wider black community, that the Bill does not adequately address my central concern and that of the community, which I have always sought to represent honestly. I shall try to do so again tonight.

For the Bill to make an even greater impact, it must first address the conceptual riddle that lies at the centre of its philosophical and essentially moral approach with a clear statement defining what constitutes rights and equality. That needs to be articulated in terms of individual as well as collective rights and equalities. If that is not done, there is a danger that the legislation will be construed, interpreted and employed only in individual, legalistic and mechanistic ways.

Secondly, the equality strands, themes and concerns that have led to the kind of legal rationalisation debate that we are having tonight need to be preserved as separate, though connected, pillars in the legislation. That is important in order to safeguard the distinctive rights of the various interest groups—women, disabled people, and black, gay and lesbian people—as well as the historical integrity of the movements that gave birth to past and present campaigns.

Thirdly, comprehensive powers of enforcement must be built into the legislation, providing support and protection for individuals and groups to pursue judgments, remedies and compensation through the courts. A paper tiger of a Bill, however well intentioned, will do more damage than good to the legal cause of equalities, rights and justice and hence will not help to bring about the kind of fair, open and humanitarian society that Members on both sides of the House are working towards.

Fourthly, I turn to a structural weakness in all previous equality legislation since the 1965 Act itself: adequate resources. Budgets must be secured and provided to the body charged with the duty to implement the aims and objectives of the legislation. To date, the work of all the bodies has been seriously hampered and, it could be argued, even undermined by the appalling lack of resources voted for the enormous task at hand—the building of an equality-driven and fair society.

As I said at the outset, we must all welcome the Bill, but in order for it to make the important contribution that it should towards the building of a truly just and democratic Britain, the four points that I have set out should be seriously considered and taken on board during the redrafting and amendment stages of its progress.

I ask noble Lords to take a moment to remember the victims of discrimination and the horrible, senseless acts of hatred and violence that discrimination breeds in our society. We should recall those persons no longer with us and to whose memory, at least in part, the creation, debate and future successful enactment of the Bill must be dedicated. I refer to those such as the late Stephen Lawrence, whose unjust fate must be remembered as the horrible and unnecessary result of deadly discrimination.

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative 7:15, 15 June 2005

My Lords, at the outset of my contribution, I wish to state firmly, strongly and truthfully that I am for equality. I believe in the fundamental dignity of every human being. I believe in basic human rights, civil liberties and fair treatment and justice for all. In fact, I am well known for standing up for justice on many occasions. However, I have to say that I am against this Equality Bill. I am not violently against it, because there is quite a lot—well, a good deal—in it that is good, and I am sure that it is well intentioned. However, when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor introduced it, he said that an equality Bill would also be introduced. I think that this is an equality Bill. If we are to have another Bill—I acknowledge that there will be differences between them—surely in the interests of the good management of legislation it would be better to hold back on this Bill and integrate the legislation so that we do not go round and round like the horses on the Grand National course, incurring casualties along the way. However, that is just an observation.

The purpose of my contribution is to point out where, I think, there are major problems. If we come to the conclusion that the Bills should be consolidated, it may be possible to overcome them. I hope that the Minister will accept that my aim is to be constructive and helpful.

The Equality Bill gives the impression that the Government think that they have a monopoly on equality. They seem to believe that in this politically correct climate they can legislate for the behaviour of every individual. We all know that that is not so. There is violence on the streets, people use offensive language, and discrimination is universal. I am sure that each of us is discriminated against in a minor way many times during the year, and I do not believe that anyone can legislate for that. A recurring theme of the debate is that we are looking to improve basic, fundamental behaviour, but I do not think that we can legislate for that.

Unfortunately, the Bill virtually prescribes the language of equality, but surely we should be more concerned about the substance and effect of this very long Bill. I am also seriously concerned that much here is likely to encourage the very opposite of tolerance and could certainly undermine our Christian heritage.

The Bill enshrines a model of equality that is actually at odds with the development of a free and just society. For example, it might well create an equality police force, a powerful body with a legal mandate to sniff out those who are not politically correct enough and bring them to heel, if necessary hauling them before the courts. As one reads those clauses, the term "thought police" comes readily to mind. Would that be right in a free and just society?

My noble friends Lady Miller and Lord Ferrers have already said that you need only look at Clause 3 to get a flavour of what is in store. The body is legally bound to bring about the "creation of a society". I would be grateful to any noble Lord who could tell me when such a phrase was last included in a parliamentary Bill in this country. My noble friend Lord Ferrers mentioned Chairman Mao in China and Stalin's Soviet Union. That caused me to wonder whether Mugabe had used those words in legislation in Zimbabwe. No doubt, we will be told that the wording is "aspirational", to which I respond by saying that election manifestos and party conference speeches should be aspirational, not parliamentary Bills. The commission will be legally bound by the Bill and, when it has been enacted, the courts will have to interpret and apply it. It is dangerous wording, and I hope that we can get rid of any mention of the "creation of a society".

I have seen legal advice that states that Clause 3 could make the commission immune to judicial review. Is that something that we need? I should like that to be investigated. Normally, a statutory body has clearly defined powers. If it acts outside those powers, it is breaking the law, but this commission is to be instructed to exercise its functions in order to bring about the "creation of a society". That is its "fundamental duty", according to the clause heading. Surely it can seek to justify almost any activity, including the highest degree of meddling, in the pursuit of such a general a duty.

Clause 3(e) requires the commission to bring about "mutual respect between communities". I listened avidly to the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, who referred to that. In business, we have a term "silo management". Each department or directorate has its own management hierarchical structure, jealously guards its rights and never communicates with the other silos. The system just does not work. Looking at the six community groups, I wonder whether the Government are beginning to think about silo management. Perhaps I am too concerned about the problems of silo management and do not understand what the provision means, but it has all the marks of that style.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, perhaps before Committee stage the noble Baroness will reflect on the laws in a free and equal society: the Irish Republic. It has two statutes similar to our legislation, and they could be criticised in exactly the same way as she is strongly criticising this Bill. They have the support of all the main political parties in the Irish Republic, which I believe is her country of origin.

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for reminding me where I come from. The reality is that I am a Member of the House of Lords and a citizen of this country. This is where I am involved in legislation. I have not been in Ireland to work for more than 40 years. But I will, if I have a moment's time, reflect on the matter.

The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, indicated that she, too, was concerned about the issue. She did not actually say that in her speech—unfortunately, she is not in her place—but the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, whose speech I am afraid I did not hear, also dealt with the matter. I shall read it with interest tomorrow. Clause 11(2) lists six community groups of which one—listed at (e)—is based on "religion or belief".

Under Clause 3, the commission is required to bring about "mutual respect between communities". Will that requirement mean that the commission will adopt the role of adjudicating on the fundamental doctrines and ethical teachings of the major religions? Will it side, for example, with the demand for women bishops in the Church of England—I look at the right reverend Prelate, who indicates neither "Yes" nor "No"—on the basis that the Church is not, in the words of Clause 3(e) "valuing diversity"?

Clause 30 gives the commission power to back with advice and funding a legal action by an individual. My noble friend Lord Ferrers dealt with that admirably, but I am particularly concerned about the plight of religious charities. Some people will target religious groups precisely because of their traditional views. Such individuals could see the commission as a stick to beat them with and may then deliberately use the commission to pressure them into changing their religious views. That is not impossible.

Even more concerning, a legal action need not even be launched. There may simply be a need to persuade the commission to launch an inquiry under Clause 17. No justification is required. Under paragraphs 10 to 14 of Schedule 2, the commission can subpoena witnesses and documents for its inquiries, and it will be a criminal offence not to comply. There is no requirement for the suspicion to be "reasonable". It is a return, I fear, to the old "sus" laws. Is the Minister aware of that potential loophole? If not, will she assure the House that in Committee the Government will table amendments to ensure that it is closed?

The regulatory impact assessment of the Bill states that an investigation may last anything from nine to 18 months, requiring 40 to 60 per cent of a senior manager's time, which would be costed at about £75,000. Why, for example, should a small Christian charity, or a small Church, have to find £75,000 for that sort of thing, which could be vexatious litigation in the making?

If the commission follows up with legal action, the expenses will increase exponentially. Yet, only the applicant will get help with legal expenses. The organisation or individual accused of inequality will be on their own. Even if they win, in certain courts they are likely to end up substantially out of pocket.

There are plenty of people who will see Clause 30 as a gold mine and could open the floodgates for vexatious litigation; for example, between opposing religious groups. We should not imagine that all religious groups get on happily with each other—I wish that they would.

Putting the power of the state at the disposal of an individual with ulterior motives could polarise our society. The commission and the new religious discrimination provisions in Part 2 could be used to further the agenda of those who seek to erase our Christian heritage from public life.

Clause 64 of the Equality Bill places a duty on public bodies not to,

"do any act which constitutes discrimination or harassment".

That is great, but will religious groups really benefit from it? Or will it be those who argue that any public endorsement of religion constitutes discrimination or makes them feel harassed? I fear that it could be the latter.

As an aside, I do not understand why so many people in public life feel that we must downplay or get rid of our Judaeo-Christian heritage. We should have confidence in our beliefs and in our country's achievements as a Christian nation. Most of the tourists who visit this country seem to believe that they are worth something. More than 6 million of them visit our cathedrals every year. We are a Christian nation, and I do not believe that we need the "creation of a society". I think that our society is a pretty good one.

When I go abroad to countries where other religions are dominant, I do not expect them to be ashamed of every aspect of their religious heritage simply because it is different from mine. I do not expect them to pass legislation that destroys even the smallest public expression of their religious culture simply in order to accommodate me and my beliefs. Yet, some people in this country seem to think that we have to de-Christianise everything—if there is such a word—in order to avoid offending people—apart, of course from the Christians themselves. We do not seem to mind offending them.

I hope that the press and broadcast media will show an interest in the religious aspects of the Bill. To be fair to them, the newspapers have recently covered stories of public bodies banning Christian prayers, banning Bibles, banning Christmas. Usually, the bodies concerned claim that they are protecting the sensitivities of religious minorities. In all cases that I have read, the religious minorities are not bothered one way or the other—they accept it.

In the last census, almost three-quarters of the population identified themselves as Christian. As a nation, we have a long and proud Christian heritage. Before such a Bill becomes law, we have a duty to make people aware of what might happen. I do not want to have more examples of political correctness, as in the Scottish Parliament, which refused to have Christian prayers at its meetings and instead has a period of reflection. If the Bill is passed unamended, what will happen to our Christian prayers here in the House of Lords and, indeed, what will happen to the Bench of Bishops? Those things may not change straightaway, but what about in 15 or 20 years' time?

Part 2 also outlaws religious discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Again, that is well-meaning, and the Government have, to their credit, tried hard to come up with exceptions to protect the ability of religious groups to practise their beliefs without falling foul of the Bill. They are found in Clauses 59 to 61. I am concerned that they have not gone far enough. Under Clause 59, the Church must jump through so many hoops to prove its entitlement to rely on the exemptions. I am concerned that that may prove too much of a hurdle for some.

I come to my final question to the Minister. Clause 59 does not protect a religious group if it has a commercial purpose. The noble Baroness will be aware that there will be many religiously orientated businesses run by believers who seek to run a commercial enterprise but in a distinctively religious way. That may mean employing fellow believers and giving preferential rates to fellow believers. It might even mean trying to convert customers. Some would doubtlessly call that discrimination and harassment, but do the Government really believe that such businesses should be penalised in that way?

The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said that she hoped that the Bill would not be seen as a savings device. No chance. My noble friend Lady Miller has already dealt with the huge increase in costs, and I shall not repeat her remarks.

We are told that there will be a "one-stop shop", but the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today gave the example of the disabled black woman who could have an equality problem on all three levels. Would she have to go to three different experts in the one-stop shop? Is the commission just an umbrella that will supervise the operations of the three existing commissions, and will there be another commission dealing with human rights?

Photo of Lord Ouseley Lord Ouseley Crossbench 7:30, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill. In doing so, I acknowledge the many people across the country who ceaselessly and tirelessly work for their fellows, their brothers and sisters, who suffer discrimination and inequality. I am speaking not only of those in the existing commissions but also of those who voluntarily give up their time on a daily basis to help those who are the victims of discrimination and exclusion.

I also congratulate the Government on achieving a wide range of support for the Bill, which demonstrates their intention to eliminate all forms of unfair discrimination and to enhance the fundamental human rights of all members of our society. The Bill represents a giant step change from the tentative proposals set out in the White Paper Fairness for All, which promised inter alia a light-touch enforcement, especially for the private sector. That approach outraged many stakeholders and interest groups because it is surely not possible to achieve an even lighter touch than the one that already exists on anti-discrimination enforcement.

Praise must go both to the staff who worked on bringing the Bill together and to Jacqui Smith, now the Minister of State for Schools. It has not been an easy task to straddle the demands of the different interest groups and stakeholders. We now have a broad consensus in your Lordships' House supporting these proposals. However, that consensus and support have been achieved by trying to please the many diverse interests. As a result, we now have a Bill containing numerous inconsistencies and anomalies. As has been said by many noble Lords, that would best be remedied by having a single equality Act.

The future introduction of a single equality Act to harmonise, simplify and modernise the raft of existing anti-discrimination legislation was belatedly made a manifesto commitment by the Labour Party at the recent general election. Given the complexity of the existing equality regulations, a harmonised equality Act would provide clarity to enable us to determine the sort of enforcement body that we require. We would then also have a better understanding of what needed to be done and how it could be done most effectively. Thus, a single equality Act should precede the Equality Bill now before your Lordships' House.

The Government have partially acknowledged that point through the reviews they have set up on existing discrimination law and on the reasons for persistent discrimination and inequalities, both of which will report some time next year. The outcome of those reviews should inform the shape of a single equality Bill and influence the planning for the establishment of a CEHR. If not, what is the point of the two reviews? How can the Government be committed to clarity, simplicity and effectiveness in the operation of the proposed new body if they pursue the present course? Therefore, while the CEHR is urgently needed, it would be better to put the horse before the cart and get it right the first time.

That said, the fundamental duty of the proposed new body, especially as it is stated in the much-mentioned Clause 3, sets the tone for the challenges ahead. There is the matter of the text and the wording about the creation of a society, but the ultimate goal is to create the conditions that enable us to be part of a society in which people's ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination. It is very aspirational, but it is right to be aspirational. The legislation should help us achieve the respect for, and protection of, each individual's human rights. There must be respect for the dignity and worth of each individual, and each must have an equal opportunity to participate in society. There should be mutual respect between communities based on understanding and the valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights.

Those may be seen as fine words; I think they are excellent words. Is this aspirational? Yes, it is. Is it achievable? Yes, it is. How do we do it? We do it with demonstrable political will, adequate resources, strong comprehensive and coherent legislation, unfettered, effective enforcement and powerful political and corporate leadership to stand up to those detractors and opponents ready and willing to dub this "political correctness gone mad".

Are we prepared to let all those who discriminate or condone discrimination know that they will be pursued, caught and punished? We are probably not prepared to do so. Are we prepared to support the victims of everyday discrimination by giving them the confidence to challenge all perceived acts of unfair and unjust treatment? Probably not, if we continue to be fearful of being accused of perpetuating a mythical compensation culture.

What would be the consequences of not getting these vital proposals and consequential arrangements right first time? It would result in more of the same, and probably worse.

I shall highlight some, but only some, of the disparities and anomalies that must be addressed in the Bill. In doing so, I apply six tests against the following criteria: clarity of purpose; simplicity for comprehension; fairness in treatment for all; consistency for coherence; reasonable for proportionality; and effectiveness for outcomes.

For a start, the Bill's provisions allow public authorities, Ministers and the Crown to be exempt from compliance with equality legislation on too many occasions. That is not even maintaining the status quo; it is worse. There are too many opportunities for ministerial interventions through directions and approval requirements, which make independence from political interference unachievable. Any CEHR should be accountable to Parliament.

There are inconsistent definitions of a public body or authority. Private and voluntary bodies providing public services do not have to comply with the Human Rights Act or with certain provisions of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act and the Disability Discrimination Act. Those must be addressed.

The public duty for race, gender and disability should be extended across all strands of discrimination and inequality. It should therefore cover sexual orientation, age, transgender status and religion and belief grounds. The terms of coverage should include harassment and there should be consistency for all people affected by discrimination.

Clause 38 refers to the dissolution of the existing commissions not later than 31 March 2009. It is understood that the Commission for Racial Equality will not be dissolved until then. What good reasons are there for the proposed commission not to begin its comprehensive operations at the same time for all strands of discrimination? If the date is to be April 2009, that would provide ample time for a single equality Act to be put in place, and for a shadow enforcement body to be positioned to plan and effect a seamless takeover and a coherent beginning. Obviously, for some people, 2009 is too far away.

A disability committee is considered necessary—the noble Lord, Lord Addington, made a powerful and valid case for one. There is also justification for other committees to represent the other strands of equality characteristics. There is no doubt about that. Some of the interest groups and stakeholders are already saying that they see the need for that.

Separate committees are proposed for Wales and Scotland. Bearing in mind the strategic importance of the capital city and its reputation as the most ethnically diverse capital city in the world, should there not be a London committee? Certainly, that is one of the things for which the Mayor of London will be campaigning.

The final point is about the level of support for victims of discrimination. Discrimination is still pervasive in our society. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, made an excellent exposé of the problems faced by people with learning disabilities. Most of those who are the victims of discrimination do not complain. That is a fact. They are afraid; they are victimised. They have no voice—no choice. Employers especially know what they can get away with. They know that they would be unlikely to be caught, and even if they were the punishment would be insignificant.

In February of this year the EOC published new research showing that each year around 30,000 working women are sacked, made redundant or leave their jobs due to pregnancy discrimination.

Information in the reply to a Written Question that I tabled last June revealed that, in that year, the amounts earmarked by the various existing commissions for assisting complainants of discrimination were derisory. For the CRE it was 2 per cent of its annual budget; for the EOC it was 3.1 per cent; and for the DRC, 5.5 per cent. If we are really serious about ending discrimination we have to recognise that it should be more in the region of about 30 per cent to 40 per cent of annual budgets, whatever those annual budgets are.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, we must not fluff this opportunity. It must be equality for all. This Bill is very good but it needs to be improved. It is long overdue, but it is needed now. However, it should not precede a harmonised single equality Act, which is promised, a draft of which has already been before this House, as put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.

The proposed CEHR should bring on board the work of all existing commissions and the new areas of coverage at the same time. In the mean time, adequate support must be given to the agencies that are providing support and protection by leading on the issues of age, religion and belief and sexual orientation discrimination.

The many disparities, inconsistencies and anomalies identified have to be addressed during the passage of the Bill in your Lordships' House. If it is to be successful, the new CEHR needs to be an effective independent body with adequate resources and an unequivocal commitment to tackle all discrimination vigorously, in order to build and maintain trust and confidence across all sections of British society.

Finally, the proposed CEHR must be established in shadow form with independent-minded commissioners who bring no baggage with them from the existing regimes, thereby obviating the likelihood of potential disruptive cabals and self-serving hierarchies.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 7:43, 15 June 2005

My Lords, as others have said, this is an interesting and wide-reaching Bill, which has been generally welcomed by those organisations with an interest in equality issues. It puts more detail on existing legislation and gives us the opportunity to further debate many key issues.

I shall speak today mainly about children and equalities. I declare an interest as the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children. Children are, if you like, the other end of the age factor. I am interested in many points brought up by disability groups—the British Humanist Association and Stonewall among others. Issues concerning goods and services, defining faith and belief, harassment and discrimination, employment and accessibility are all important. Others have focused on those issues.

My noble friend Lord Alli cannot be here today because he has suffered a bereavement. He has asked me specifically to mention his concern, which I and others share, that the Bill does not propose to provide protection for lesbians and gay men facing discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Incidences of this sort of prejudice remain regrettably widespread. Stonewall cites the case of a woman in Wales who was recently refused a smear test on the grounds that she was a lesbian, causing her much distress, as can be imagined.

Ministers will no doubt draw our attention to the various recently announced reviews of discrimination law. However, these are not expected to report for some time. Meanwhile there is a straightforward remedy available for this problem; that is to amend the Bill to extend its proposed protection against discrimination in the provision of goods and services to lesbians and gay men. My noble friend Lord Alli and I hope that the Government will afford serious consideration to addressing this pressing need at an early stage.

I revert to my concerns about children. I should say first of all that the Bill is one of those being scrutinised for the impact on children by the Children's Legal Centre and the National Children's Bureau, which have been funded by the Nuffield Foundation over two years to undertake child impact assessment of up to four Bills a year. That child impact will analyse proposed legislation using the framework provided by the European Convention on the Rights of the Child. I also declare an interest as chair of the reference group for this initiative—a very exciting one—which I hope will be useful in the discussion of several Bills.

The child impact statement on the Equalities Bill, which we have just been looking at, identifies five areas relating to children and young people: age as an equality issue; the relationship between the Commission for Equality and Human Rights and the Children's Commissioners in England, Scotland and Wales; young victims of crime; and social and recreational activities and religion and belief. It is worth emphasising that the provisions of the legislation in the Bill are not specific to age.

With respect to age as an equality issue, Clause 3 stipulates the fundamental duty of the new CEHR, which is to help create a society where people can achieve their potential without prejudice or discrimination, where human rights and the dignity and worth of individuals are respected, where individuals can participate in society and where mutual respect between communities, based on valuing diversity and respect for human rights, is important. Clause 8 deals with equality and diversity.

The role of the CEHR will apply to children as well as adults. That could and should work in the best interests of children and assist children who suffer multiple discrimination. One of the commissioners appointed under Schedule 1 could be responsible for the interests of children. Local authorities could do much to support human rights, for example, in the provision of facilities for all, including children. I shall say more about that in a minute.

I turn to the powers of the CEHR and the Children's Commissioners for England, Scotland and Wales. As we know, the legislative framework for each Children's Commissioner is different. It is not clear how these commissioners will work with and complement the work of a new commission on human rights—for example, whether there may be some duplication of functions. Under Clauses 4 and 5, the CEHR will have to consult on and publish an annual strategic plan. Will these consultations include children?

The commissioners for Wales and Scotland have in their remits the review of policy and practice which affects children and young people. The Welsh commissioner can review services provided for children by authorities. It is not clear how that information will link to the work of the CEHR.

Clause 17 gives the CEHR the power to conduct inquiries. The Children's Commissioner in England can also conduct an inquiry into policy affecting children and make recommendations to government. In cases affecting children, how will the decision be taken as to who will conduct inquiries or reviews?

Moving on to Clauses 22 to 34, the commissioner for Wales can conduct a review into the arrangements of authorities in individual cases and offer assistance to a child who wishes to make a complaint or representation when there is no other person who can assist. He can also carry out a review into services provided for children and young people.

The Children's Commissioner for Scotland can review the effectiveness of, and promote best practice by, service providers. It will need to be established how these functions of the Children's Commissioners support and inform the work of CEHR, and, indeed, how responsibilities between them will be defined.

Moving to the issue of young victims of crime, Clauses 20 and 21 give the CEHR the power to monitor the types of crime affecting disabled persons or certain communities and to make arrangements to prevent or reduce crime affecting certain groups. The Youth Justice Board states that children and young people suffer a high incidence of crime and have significant worries about their personal safety. The CEHR will therefore also need to monitor crimes against young people.

Clause 21 also gives the CEHR the power to make arrangements for social, recreational, sporting, civic, educational or other types of activities to involve disabled people or other communities facing discrimination. This power could presumably also be applied to encourage local authorities to provide play and leisure facilities for children and young people. But this is not clear.

Clause 45 defines religion and belief for the purposes of the Bill, introducing a new strand of anti-discrimination. This will maintain the rights of parents to withdraw their child from religious education and collective worship. As I understand it, the Bill will also build in some flexibility that will allow schools and local authorities to make decisions about faith schools and school transport for children with disabilities. All this is up for further discussion and debate.

The Children's Rights Alliance for England believes that the Equality Bill is, at present, largely "child blind", with no obvious provision for children. It has detailed concerns, for example, on consultation. I hope that the Minister will assure us that children and young people will not only be recognised in the Bill but that their rights and welfare will be given serious consideration.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Children), Education & Skills 7:52, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I, too, welcome this long-awaited Bill. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, as someone who has long fought for the rights of children, I am particularly pleased to see in Clause 11(2)(a) that "age" is the definition of one of the groups or communities which share a common attribute and therefore will be covered by the Bill. Clearly this could be used to challenge measures that have an adverse effect on children and young people and, arguably, discriminate against them because of their young age. There is therefore the potential for the Bill to correct a long-standing gap in legislation to protect children's rights.

In this context, it would be helpful in Clause 82(1) if proposed new Section 76A(1)(b), at page 46 line 37, were worded, "to promote equality of opportunity between men and women, boys and girls".

In October 2002, the international treaty monitoring body for the Convention on the Rights of the Child—that is, the Committee on the Rights of the Child—urged the UK Government to establish independent human rights institutions for children across the UK and nationally. Such institutions should have a broad mandate and appropriate powers and resources in accordance with the Paris principles for independent human rights organisations adopted by the UN in 1993.

The Bill is a wonderful opportunity to create an independent human rights institution that will promote and protect the human rights of children as well as adults, but it needs a few changes. However, if the Commission for Equality and Human Rights is to work for children, the legislation must be inclusive and explicit. A specific reference to children in Part 1 of the Bill would ensure that from the outset children's rights and interests would be considered and effectively resourced within this new body.

I was glad to see that in the revised Bill Clause 9(2)(b) refers to "other human rights", which means that the measures in the Bill will not now take precedence over the UNCRC. However, I would still like to see the six core international human rights treaties named in this part of the Bill. An explicit mention, in particular, of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child would mean that, from the outset, this body would have to work for children. The European Court of Human Rights has acknowledged the deficiencies of the ECHR in protecting children's rights and it now uses the UNCRC as the framework for making judgments about them.

It is now accepted wisdom that children are not served well by organisations concerned also with the rights and welfare of adults. There have been many advances in recent years to listen to the voices and concerns of children, but organisations are still too often run in the image of adults, with working practices and agendas largely adult-dominated. That is why this new body must have dedicated structures, post holders and resources for children.

We can learn from the National Care Standards Commission, which has a children's rights director with a specific remit to safeguard and promote the rights and welfare of children within the organisation, which, as we know, was established by the Care Standards Act 2000. Right now, the Change for Children programme gives much emphasis to getting services and structures right for children at a local level, with the Children Act 2004 establishing the posts of director of children's services and lead member for children's services—all proof that children have distinct needs and can too easily be lost, as in the appalling case of Victoria Climbié and other children who have followed her.

But children are not just powerless at an individual level; they are probably the least powerful group in society at a collective level, mainly because they do not have a vote. So I ask the Minister whether one of the new commissioners within the new equality commission will be designated to work with the Children's Commissioners of the UK countries on children's equality rights issues.

Of course, the Children's Commissioner for England is further proof of children's need for a dedicated champion and organisation, though clearly this welcome new post does not fulfil the role of an independent human rights institution for children as laid out in the Paris principles. The Children's Commissioner is a high-profile listening officer.

The legislation about the Children's Commissioner was improved considerably as it passed through this House, giving him independent powers and requiring him to "have regard to" the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, the Children's Commissioner for England is not rights-based, unlike those in the rest of the UK and Europe. Whereas commissioners in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland must promote and protect children's rights, the general function of England's commissioner is narrowly to,

"promote awareness of the views and interests of children".

It is worth pointing out that under Clause 17 the new equality commissioners can take up individual cases of discrimination whereas the Children's Commissioner for England cannot. There is clearly potential, therefore, given the limited powers of the Children's Commissioner, for this to be partly mitigated if a dynamic and productive partnership could be developed between him and one of the new equality commissioners, particularly if that commissioner is given a special brief to deal with children's equality issues.

Some might be anxious that making special claims for children in the Bill opens the floodgate for other vulnerable groups. Perhaps that is no bad thing, though to these people I would say four things. First, children are the only people in our society, besides convicted prisoners, the insane and your Lordships, who are not allowed to vote. They are unenfranchised and lack a political voice. Secondly, babies and children as a group are uniquely vulnerable and dependent on adults to protect their rights.

Thirdly, in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have their own comprehensive set of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. As I said earlier, the European Court of Human Rights now uses the convention as its framework for making judgments. In a recent judgment the court asserted:

"The human rights of children and the standards to which all governments must aspire in realising these rights for all children are set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child".

It could not be more clear.

Fourthly, equality issues are still too often framed by adults for adults. How many of us think of child workers when considering age equality in the workplace? How many of us think of children as the victims of violence when discussing domestic violence? And how many of us think of babies and children when considering the public's fear of crime? Children are easy to ignore, and that must change.

I turn to an issue which has taken up many hours of debating time in your Lordships' House, with the Minister sitting on that very Front Bench, but which I consider has still not been resolved. I refer to equal protection for children under laws of assault. I hope and believe that the Bill and the commission it sets up provide a chink of light in an otherwise dark area of policy. With due respect to my noble friend Lord Lester and his amendment to the Children Bill in 2004—now an Act—the problem with the law as it stands is that it is not firmly based on equal rights and is still subject to the vagaries of interpretation in a way to which the law as it applies to adults is not subjected.

I believe that there is no right for anyone to hit another person, no matter what the age of the person being attacked and what the relationship with the attacker. This does not preclude the law being applied sensitively, humanely and helpfully to caring parents doing their best to teach their children how to behave. But we need a clear line drawn on the basis of equal human rights, and that is what I seek from the Bill. I emphasise that my noble friend and I share the objective of stopping all violence against children. We merely differ on the means by which this is to be achieved.

The Commission for Equality and Human Rights marks a watershed in our commitment to human rights and equality. These are exciting times, and children should be at the centre: it is children who offer hope and a path to the human rights culture to which we all aspire. If we want children to be part of this new body, we must make sure that the legislation explicitly requires this. It is much better to have children in mind when the foundation stones are being laid than trying to build them in later.

I shall not repeat them, but I associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lady Thomas of Walliswood and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, regarding Stonewall's concerns about the provision of goods and services to lesbians and gay men facing discrimination. We have all had a number of such cases drawn to our attention. There is an opportunity here for change and I hope that the Government will listen to it.

Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Labour 8:02, 15 June 2005

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I greatly welcome the Bill. I especially welcome Clause 3, which was mentioned earlier. The vision it sets out is absolutely wonderful, and I am very pleased that it has been written into the Bill. I hope that we can use the Bill at least as an aim to achieve the type of society most of us would wish to live in.

As others have said, laws alone cannot bring about equality, or eliminate the prejudice and discrimination that exist, but they can change people's attitudes. Through the law, people will have to recognise that prejudice and discrimination will not be tolerated and cannot play any part in a decent society. Every individual should be treated with respect and dignity. That is why I believe that this vision of society can and should be achieved. The Bill will go a long way along that road to achieving this great vision.

My remarks will in the main be about Wales—I do not think that will surprise many people—but I shall also talk about the role of the Women's National Commission. I declare an interest as the Welsh representative on the board of the Women's National Commission.

When I first learnt of the plans for the Equality Bill, merging the existing strands and creating new ones, my first thoughts were that the woman's voice would be lost in this much enlarged commission. I was not alone in that fear. Women's concerns were that in a single commission, the priority given to their issue—that of gender equality—will be lower than that given to others.

Others have spoken about the funding and the different figures which have been bandied about, ranging from £70 million to £120 million. I am sure that the Minister will refer to those figures.

The premise behind the single commission is that all the minority groups face similar issues and that a single strategy will work for all. But women face different issues in achieving equality—different from the other strands. The others can be dealt with by a common strategy of reducing discrimination—for example, using strategies that prevent people being treated differently from everyone else.

For women, the problem is that gender roles must be challenged, and these are mainly in the private sphere rather than the public domain. For example, women's equality is substantially eroded by the pandemic of violence against women. That makes it difficult for them to, for example, attend evening meetings or travel safely, so they cannot easily enter public life or work in all sectors without being subject to harassment. Women are poorer than men throughout their lives, earning up to 40 per cent less, and experience the double burden of sex discrimination and social exclusion.

These days, discrimination against women is rarely overt and direct, but the insidious impact of violence and poverty combine to maintain their inequality. The strategies required to promote women's equality must look at the issues, not just straightforward awareness of the benefits of diversity or the prevention of direct discrimination. Will the new body look at the invisible causes of women's inequality? Can the Minister give any guarantee that a single commission will recognise these significant differences in the position of women as against the other strands?

What will be the position of the Women's National Commission when the new commission is established? I am sure that the Minister is aware that the WNC carries out valuable research work on behalf of the Government, such as the document entitled Unlocking the Secret: Women Open the Door on Domestic Violence, which deals with the strategy for domestic violence. The WNC also has a successful Muslim Women's Network which again gives useful advice to government.

Another strand of its work is to ensure that the voice of women is heard in government, through contacts with its 400-plus partnership networks throughout the UK. It meets regularly with its partners by holding road shows and seminars in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as in England. Will the Minister give an assurance that the valuable work carried out by the Women's National Commission will continue in its role as an extremely useful body advising the Government on the views of women in the UK when the new commission is established?

I warmly welcome the fact that the new commission will recognise devolution for Wales in that there will be a commissioner for Wales and a committee for Wales, as set out in paragraph 24 of Schedule 1, and that the Wales commissioner and the committee will be appointed in consultation with the Welsh Assembly. Under Clause 43(1) I note that there will be a transition period and that there will be transitional commissioners. Will the Minister assure us that one of the transitional commissioners will be a Wales transitional commissioner, and that a transitional Wales committee should be established soon after to begin the work in Wales?

In Wales, travel between north and south can be difficult. Whatever route one tries there is no quick way. To travel from Cardiff to Llandudno by car or any other way is 200 miles, and no motorways run from north to south. Everything in Wales runs from east to west. There are difficulties when one travels from north to south. If the commission in Wales is to be effective there will need to be a presence not just in Cardiff but also in north Wales and possibly west Wales. Will the Minister at this stage give any indication on the thinking about regional offices in Wales?

It is felt strongly by groups in Wales that the Wales commissioner should be a full-time post. Looking at the work needed to be carried out, I believe, as do many others, that it would require more commitment that two or three days a month. Grant giving should be delegated to the Wales committee. Earlier, we discussed a White Paper for further devolution for Wales and in these devolutionary days, when many more decisions for Wales are made in Wales, it makes sense for this matter to be devolved to the Wales committee, as it would have a better understanding of the needs of Wales.

There are a number of different bodies in Wales such as the Children's Commissioner, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Massey, the Welsh Language Board, the soon-to-be established Commissioner for Older People in Wales, the audit inspection bodies in Wales and others. In order to make them work properly with the commission there will be a need for a memorandum of understanding between them and the new commission.

As the Minister will be aware, the Welsh language plays an important role in Welsh life and is the first language in many communities. I am assuming that the workings of the new commission, especially in Wales, will be bilingual. That is probably covered by the Welsh language Acts.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission and its commitment to a devolved structure have been warmly welcomed. I have mentioned some of the points of concern regarding Wales and other matters relating to the Women's National Commission and I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 8:12, 15 June 2005

My Lords, it is a great pleasure that this Bill should begin its legislative journey in your Lordships' House. I am sure that for many in the other place, where the Bill had its first trial run, that will have been a disappointment. However, when I look around the Chamber and see the cumulative experience and expertise that your Lordships have already brought to bear on this subject, I am sure that the decision was the right one.

When I think about expertise and equal opportunities, I always think of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who has already confessed his past to us and was hugely responsible for shaping the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. He was also the person to whom those of us who were involved with the EOC in its early years—especially the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, the first and very distinguished chairman of the commission, who has also spoken very effectively today—owed so much for his guidance and support. As usual, I agree with much of what he said.

During the relatively short time that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House, I have been particularly impressed by the time that has been devoted to human rights and equal opportunity issues. We have passed important laws on disability, civil partnerships, equal opportunities for women to join clubs on equal terms with men and on the right of political parties to increase women's representation in Parliament through positive action. We have debated disability, equal opportunities in education, proper treatment of asylum seekers and those in prison, and much else that we are also dealing with today. So I, too, want to congratulate the Government on that, as well as on the immense trouble taken in preparing this Bill.

It is clear from the considerable evidence that your Lordships have received that not everyone believes that the Bill is yet shaped precisely to reflect all the concerns expressed during the extensive consultations carried out. Most particularly, as has been stressed again today, there is the lack of a simultaneous underpinning equality Act. But, however that may be, it is clear that the majority of organisations affected by its provisions—voluntary and statutory and including the three existing regulatory bodies that have done so much already for those who rely on them—have all in principle welcomed the decision to create the single commission.

Having said that, I must admit that I am far from being an unconditional fan of what appears to be a growing cult of creating giant regulators. Using a different example—namely, Ofcom—I remain to be convinced that it was wise to combine the "techy" and economic side of regulating broadcasting with the sensitive issues of content. Nor indeed do such combinations, despite the practical advantages of providing a "one-stop shop" and cross-cutting opportunities, always deliver the kind of financial efficiency savings that might be expected—and which the Treasury will certainly expect. However, I have to admit that, warts and all, because of the multiple strands of equality, growing and urgently needing attention, the single commission route may be the only sensible way forward.

A fair amount of fun has already taken place about the likely cost of the new commission. The current combined cost of the three existing commissions is estimated at some £43 million, while estimates for the CEHR—which no doubt the Minister will confirm or otherwise—could be considerably higher. But additional resources will certainly be needed for dealing with the widened responsibilities proposed, such as the welcome new general duty on public bodies to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equality between men and women. Then there are the specific new responsibilities proposed, on age discrimination and discrimination on grounds of religion and of sexual orientation. The new human rights duties will also add to the total cost of the new commission.

In those circumstances, the CRE in particular is understandably concerned that there should be no reduction in the resources available for any of the services provided by each strand of the existing commission. So, on top of the estimated £24 million for the non-recurring set-up costs, the commission must be provided with guaranteed ongoing financial resources sufficient to enable it to make the important contribution the Government expect—in other words, to live up to the high expectations raised by the Government themselves.

Thus there will be obvious challenges for the Government and the commission. First, and not least, is the need to ensure that there is an agreed allocation between each of the existing and the proposed new equality areas of whatever budget is agreed. I very much hope that the Minister will explain the background and how all that will be achieved. Secondly will be the need to ensure that the budget eventually agreed is both sufficient and guaranteed for a long enough period to underpin the essential independence from government that will be vital for the new commission to do its job—a point made forcefully by the CRE and noble Lords today.

On the other hand, there will be expectations of cost savings resulting from the creation of a single body. So the commission will need navigational skill of a "Scylla and Charybdis" quality if it is to avoid an over-glossy Ofcom-style overspend and yet avoid Treasury attempts to cut its resources in real terms.

Other aspects of independence will be important to the credibility of the new commission, all the more so at a time when the Government are striving so hard to ensure diversity and independence when making appointments to the judiciary. They are protected, of course, by the fact that they are appointed for life, but not so the commissioners, who will be appointed only for a fixed term, with no certainly of reappointment. In those circumstances it will surely be essential for the appointment and re-appointment processes to be as open and transparent as humanly possible and at the very least subject to the full rigour of scrutiny by the independent Commissioner for Public Appointments.

Not just appointments but also the commissioners' freedom of action from government interference will need reinforcing. Can being asked to comply with directions from the Secretary of State, for example, really be consistent with the kind of independence required?

I want to make two comments about the commission's proposed powers. In my EOC experience the fact that the Sex Discrimination Act gave us enforcement powers that could and would be used if necessary meant that our powers of persuasion, our promotional powers, achieved much greater success. The second crucially important power was our ability to give financial support to occasional test cases to clarify the law.

I may previously have mentioned to your Lordships one of the first early cases backed by the EOC of Price v Civil Service Commission. It was important in two respects: first, in helping people to understand the new legal concept of indirect discrimination—where seemingly the same conditions are applied to both sexes, but in practice to the clear disadvantage of one sex—and, secondly, even more interestingly, that case exposed age limits as potentially sex-discriminatory. As your Lordships know, these are now to be a fresh and a very important responsibility of the CEHR.

I understand that moves are now afoot to spend fewer resources on individual cases and more on strategic campaigns. In general this makes sense, but I hope that the Minister will reassure your Lordships that the new commission's basic powers, when considering possible test cases of this kind, will remain at least as clear as they are now.

I want to end by saying that I am encouraged that the new commission is to have a range of HR promotional powers and eventually a full equalities Act. The ability to encourage good practice and promote good relations within and between different communities where potential or actual discrimination may exist must be important.

Children's human rights have been stressed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Walmsley, so I shall not overemphasise that. However, many of us put huge effort into trying to improve the Children's Commissioner for England's powers and general function, as the Children Act 2004 passed through this House. Improvements were made, but it is to the CEHR that children will look to promote and protect their human rights and to tackle age discrimination as well as the other forms of discrimination they face.

Finally, I hope that the Minister will explain how the time between now and 2007—or is it 2009?—will be spent, where the responsibilities for those important tasks will remain in the mean time, and how the resources will be divided.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 8:23, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I, too, give this innovatory and powerful Bill a warm welcome. I am in good company, not only with most of your Lordships' House but also because the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, has just published a report saying the same thing. During the sessions of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights I came to the conclusion that a Commission for Equality and Human Rights was the way forward for our public services. This also stems from my experience as a civil servant and as a member of the Immigration Complaints Audit Committee. I know that my former colleagues and others worked hard and conscientiously administering public services, but there was not a culture of entitlement and respect for human rights. The very word "entitlement" was regarded as suspect, a bit strident, a bit stroppy, a bit dissident; and "human rights" were thought of as something foreigners failed in. There was a culture of dealing honestly, and there was a culture of safeguarding national funds, taxpayers' money, against fraud and erroneous claims. Fairness—equity—came into it as well. I found those admirable. But they do not add up to the total of what is required in public administration. There are services where all members of the public are treated equally disrespectfully.

The values of dignity and respect will be left out of the system, drawn on only ad hoc, and then only if the administrator is that sort of a person, if a human rights culture is not promulgated within the public service. Equity without respect is chilly, just as justice without mercy is hard. It all needs to be more human. As Professor Richard Sennett says:

"Modern institutions are bad at dealing with individuals who are ordinary—at according them respect even though they are nothing special".

He adds:

"A sweeping transformation of the institutions of everyday life is necessary if this Parliament"— our Parliament now—

"is serious about fostering a culture of respect".

The Commission for Equality and Human Rights can be the agent of that transformation.

For any noble Lord who is uneasy with abstractions, may I suggest that "entitlement" and "rights" are the concepts we use to systematise our ideas of dignity and respect for other people? The Human Rights Act, an enduring monument to this Government, advanced these ideas. Its implementation achieved, for instance, a guarantee of the right to life for one Mr Burke and through him every other elderly patient in hospital; childcare benefit for a severely disabled son, which enabled a mother to return to work; and next of kin status for same-sex partners. But all those people had to go to court to obtain their rights. The Human Rights Act had then no authoritative institutional champion to create a culture. It did not of itself create a culture; that is the task of a commission.

The great usefulness of a Commission for Equality and Human Rights is that it has a framework for balancing conflicts of rights. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell referred to that. None of these rights is absolute—that is the issue—except freedom from torture. I recommend the analysis in the new book Human Rights in the Community in your Lordships' Library on this aspect.

As to the combination of equality and human rights: equality is of course only one of the human rights given quasi-constitutional status in our law. But arguably it is the most important, apart from the right to life itself. It is the right that must accompany any other right, and it is the one whose denial makes a mockery of dignity and respect for individuals. Therefore, equality should be a general interest, as my noble and learned friend the Secretary of State said. The Bill's provision for discrimination beyond gender, race and disability is absolutely right and it could go farther, as other noble Lords have mentioned.

By the same token, it is indeed a matter for regret that the Commission for Racial Equality cannot be in at the beginning of the new commission. Equality needs to be mainstreamed into a normal part of obtaining employment, goods and services to work in practice. I agree with my noble friend Lord Parekh that it should not be the preserve only of its own policy community, representative only of those affected by the particular discrimination at issue.

A Commission for Equality and Human Rights could, for instance, if it included race, straightaway improve the balance of rights in dealing with Gypsies and Travellers, much criticised by the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner in his report. But there is an imbalance between the equality powers and the human rights powers in the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said, and we shall need to tease out whether that is right in Committee.

I particularly welcome the emphasis on looking to a positive future through the provisions for promotion and for agreement and conciliation procedures, rather than only castigating past offences. But I agree with others that we shall need to examine whether the commission has enough independence as well as the resources to act on that independence. Professor Gil-Robles also makes recommendations on those points, which I commend.

I also hope that my noble friend can support the idea that the power at Clause 12(2) to monitor the effectiveness of the equality and human rights enactment should include the important international treaties to which we are signatory. I hope that the power to make codes of practice another positive and forward-looking power means making codes with evidential status so that courts can refer to them in finding whether there is a case to answer.

Finally, I have one reservation in my warm welcome. It relates to Part 2, where it looks as though the important provisions to guarantee freedom of religion and belief have tipped over very far in the interests of religious organisations at the expense of freedom for individuals. I remind the House of my vice-presidency of the British Humanist Association and I hope we can ensure that the freedom not to observe a religion in obtaining work, goods and services, can be properly preserved.

Photo of Baroness Wilkins Baroness Wilkins Labour 8:32, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I hope to be reasonably brief, having drawn the short straw of coming at the end of the Back Bench speakers' list and many of the points that I intended to make having already been spoken to so eloquently. Like nearly all noble Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill as a key step towards the vision of equal citizenship and a more prosperous, inclusive society for us all.

I am delighted to say that the Bill has received a warm welcome from the Disability Rights Commission, the Disability Charities Consortium and British Council of Organisations of Disabled People among others. However, I would like to endorse the comments made so strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, concerning the fact that the Bill has not yet been made available in alternative formats such as easy-read—a lesson that I had hoped the Government had learnt following the report of the Joint Committee on the draft Disability Discrimination Bill.

As the Disability Charities Consortium points out, for the CEHR to achieve credibility with disabled people it must be fully accessible in order to ensure their full inclusion. I would welcome a commitment from the Minister that the Government will ensure that the CEHR's work, even when it does not have a "disability heading", will be fully accessible for disabled people, whether they be commissioners, employees, advisers or users.

When the creation of a single commission was first mooted, disabled people, while being enthusiastic in principle, had concerns. They were afraid that the disability rights agenda would be marginalised, that implementation of new disability rights legislation would be compromised and that disabled people would lose control of the disability rights agenda. I am delighted that disabled people have been involved in shaping the new body and that the Bill meets those concerns.

I particularly welcome the requirement for at least one of the CEHR commissioners to be a disabled person and the provision for a properly resourced disability committee for at least the first five years. A majority of the committee will be disabled people, reflecting the composition of the DRC currently where well over half—10 out of 15—commissioners are disabled people.

The future of the disability committee will be crucially important to disabled people, which is why I join others who have spoken before me in strongly advocating that the provisions relating to the five-year review of the committee explicitly require consultation with disabled people, as well as organisations of disabled people. I also urge the Government to ensure that the proposed review is indeed open-ended. The current wording of the Bill allows only one possible outcome—abolition—and the only question will be how soon. I would welcome my noble friend's assurance that the review could recommend the continuation of the committee for the duration of the CEHR, and that that recommendation would then be acted on.

In relation to the CEHR's work in promoting good community relations, disabled people are actually seeking a more integrated approach. There is a strong case for removing separate provision on disability in Clause 10 and integrating disabled people within the mainstream community relations provisions in Clause 11. The existence of separate disability duties in Clause 10 stems from the Government's concern to protect the fundamental principle that equality of opportunity for disabled people involves taking steps to take account of people's impairments, through making reasonable adjustments—a concept unique to the DDA—even if that means treating disabled people more favourably than others. However, the DRC, for example, argues that that could—and should—be accommodated within Clause 11. Unless disability is fully included in the CEHR's work on social inclusion at the local level, groups such as black and minority-ethnic disabled people will particularly lose out.

I hope that debate on the Bill will draw out, too, how the CEHR will contribute to the all-important task of making independent living a reality for disabled people, through its work on equality and in promoting human rights and community relations. My noble friend Lord Ashley eloquently spoke on that. For disabled people effective protection of human rights is often a matter of life or death, enforced institutionalisation or a home of one's own, so I strongly support his call for the CEHR to have enforcement powers with regard to human rights cases.

I also strongly support the concerns that have been raised about the definition of public authorities. The Bill places a duty on the CEHR to encourage public authorities to comply with Section 6 of the Human Rights Act—that is, compliance with convention rights. Recent case law has been ambiguous about defining care providers as public authorities, such as in the case concerning Leonard Cheshire. Given the integral role that care providers can play in the lives of disabled people as well as those of children and older people, care providers should adhere to a strong human rights culture. Can the Minister clarify whether that duty will extend to care providers, and whether the Government will include a review of the definition of public authorities in the discrimination law review?

Finally, I very much welcome the new provisions in the Bill on religion and belief, and the proposed gender equality duty. But with that, we still lack comprehensive protection against discrimination in this country. I was delighted with the commitment in the Government's manifesto to legislate for a single equality Act before the end of this Parliament. I hope that firm progress will have been made on that front by the time that the CEHR is vested, and that the opportunity will be seized to strengthen disability rights at the same time.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 8:38, 15 June 2005

My Lords, the Bill has attracted a lot of interest. No fewer than 27 noble Lords are taking part in the debate, and 16 of them—a majority—are noble Baronesses. I hope that a similar proportion will prevail in all walks of life when the legislation is enacted. After all, women constitute 50 per cent or perhaps a majority of our population in this country. It would be so nice to see, as a starting point, the membership of the House of Lords reflect that, particularly the Bishops' Benches.

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs

I had to get that dig in, my Lords.

I am not surprised by the consensus about the Bill. We must not delay in replacing the outdated, fragmented and unsatisfactory legislative framework that has existed all this time. I do not underestimate the impact of existing legislation, but successive governments have been reluctant to respond to many of the reviews and recommendations made by equality bodies such as the CRE and the EOC. Of course, there are exceptions, such as the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, but that was driven more by the Stephen Lawrence inquiry than by any other factor, as we were rightly reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids.

It is not in dispute that the United Kingdom has substantial anti-discrimination legislation on the statute book. In that respect, we are far more advanced than some of our European neighbours. Equality of opportunity is one of the core values of our civilised society. It has helped to build a strong, competitive and successful Britain. That does not mean, however, that our framework of anti-discrimination legislation could not be better. There is clear evidence that we still have a long way to go.

Could we really say that we have achieved equality for all our citizens? As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor asked, do women earn the same as men? Why are black men more likely to be unemployed than white men? Why is society still uneasy when it comes to gay people, who are constantly harassed during work and leisure? Have we really tackled the disadvantages suffered by disabled people?

Who would have imagined in the 1960s, with the large influx of Commonwealth immigrants, that the United Kingdom would have no fewer than four separate pieces of race relations legislation? Such legislation was first introduced in 1965, and it was followed in the 1970s with legislative measures to tackle sex discrimination. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is also on the statute book. Of course, there has been progress, but it has been slow and cumbersome. Much of the early legislation on race introduced over 25 years ago needs drastic revision. We need a fundamental review to ensure that what we promote helps to make a difference to people's lives.

There is always a temptation to tinker with different clauses in a Bill. We should avoid such temptations. We have argued, in my party's manifesto, for a cultural change in the way that our workplaces and institutions function. As the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, pointed out, the Government have undertaken a major review of our equality bodies.

There has also been meaningful consultation, which resulted in the document Equality and Diversity: Making It Happen. The questions posed by the Government were the right ones: what should our institutions' top priority be? How can they best contribute to a more just and equal society? What are the structural options for such a single equality body? Many of the responses now form the basis of the Bill before us.

More important, we welcome the lead role taken by the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and in particular by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. We are privileged to have in your Lordships' House some of the practitioners whose job was to give effect to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976. The noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Lockwood and Lady Howe of Idlicote, have led organisations such as the CRE and the EOC. We welcome their contribution in today's debate. In the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, we had one of the most effective chairmen of the CRE in recent times. We should seriously consider the points that he made. Political cronies should not be part of the new structure that we intend to establish.

There are some who are not here, without whose contribution race relations would have remained stagnant. I will single out the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead as the most reforming Home Secretary of his day and the late Lord Bonham-Carter as the first chairman of the then Race Relations Board and the Community Relations Commission. Their pioneering work has done much to build our diverse, but cohesive society.

Yesterday, many of us attended the memorial service for Lord Russell. The minor canon quoted Oliver Cromwell, and how appropriate were his words:

"let us pray for those who seek asylum in this country, as also for those who defend their cause, and those who make and administer the law concerning them; for justice and equality among all who dwell in this country".

I have no doubt that, if Lord Russell had been in the Chamber today, he would have intervened on more than one occasion, but he would have supported the principles of the Bill.

I must also single out my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who has a distinguished record on human rights. He is a pioneer of anti-discrimination legislation in Britain. I trust that he will not be embarrassed if I mention that I have known him for over 40 years. In the early 1950s and 1960s, when race equality was not fashionable, he was instrumental in supporting organisations such as CARD—the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs

My Lords, he did not get much joy out of the then Home Secretary, Sir Frank Soskice, but he continued tirelessly ensuring that race legislation became the unequivocal statement of public policy in the country. He is internationally respected on matters of rights, liberties and equality. I have no doubt that your Lordships' House will take serious note of his comments.

I asked earlier who in the 1960s could have believed that we would have legislative measures to tackle racial discrimination. History tells us why it was necessary to introduce the measures in the way that we did. The Race Relations Act 1965 was the gentle persuasion to prepare the public to tackle discrimination in public places. The Race Relations Act 1968 established the principle of conciliation as a means of tackling grievances based on race, colour, national and ethnic origin. The Race Relations Act 1976 was the start of a strategic approach to tackling institutional discrimination.

Over the years, the position of black and ethnic minority communities has changed substantially. We have the benefit of the latest census figures published by the Office for National Statistics. They show that, in April 2001, 9.9 per cent of the population in England and Wales identified themselves as being from an ethnic minority. In London, 31.2 per cent of people identified themselves as being from an ethnic minority. Evidence published by the Cabinet Office in its report Minority Ethnic Issues in Social Exclusion and Neighbourhood Renewal shows that 70 per cent of people from ethnic minorities live in the 88 most deprived local authority districts, compared with 40 per cent of the general population.

Further evidence tells us that, in 1999, only 30 per cent of Pakistani pupils, 37 per cent of black pupils and 30 per cent of Bangladeshi pupils achieved five or more GCSEs at grades A to C, compared with 50 per cent of white pupils and 62 per cent of Indian pupils. An African-Caribbean graduate is more than twice as likely to be unemployed as a white person with A-levels. African men with degrees are seven times more likely to be unemployed than white male graduates.

There has been a massive shift in Britain's demographic make-up. The pattern is constantly changing. We no longer talk about the first generation of immigrants. Primary immigration has virtually stopped. We are reaching a stage at which most black and ethnic minority persons are born in this country. Despite that, it is safe to assume that discrimination occurs in all fields. Almost all the research agencies and the Commission for Racial Equality have confirmed that. It is no good being squeamish about it. Minorities are entitled to the same standard of consideration, fairness and respect as anyone else. Can we be certain that they receive it?

Race equality should never be underestimated or undermined. In the final analysis, the emphasis in any policy determination should be on the manner and the extent to which minorities' deepest feelings about their race, colour, national or ethnic origin are fully accepted in the community and by the policy makers.

I have repeatedly stated that trends in race relations show that discrimination persists at a high level. Minorities are still disproportionately to be found among the poor; the homeless; the unemployed and those who have never worked; those who are stopped and searched; those in penal institutions; and those who suffer as victims of racial harassment and violence. The fact remains that racism and racial discrimination are an everyday reality in the life of many of our people. Geographically and economically, many of them are still in the precarious position of being in the same place allocated to them when they first came here. The most frightening aspect is the failure of many of our institutions, even now, to take into account the cultural diversity of our different communities.

I have always enjoyed the humour of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. He questioned the duty of the equality commission to create a society where there is respect for the dignity and worth of each individual. Nothing affects your dignity more than being refused a job on the ground of race, colour, national or ethnic origin. The loss of dignity and hurt feelings already form part of our industrial tribunal deliberations. Desiring one's dignity is the backbone of human rights legislation.

We have continued with minor tinkering since the Race Relations Act 1976. To an extent, we had no alternative other than to implement European Community law; the EU equality directives; and some limited measures on disability discrimination. Until now, there has not been a comprehensive and strategic approach to tackling discrimination and promoting equality. All that we have succeeded in doing is bringing greater incoherence to the work of the three equality bodies now in statute.

Even now, questions remain. There is consensus about the need to create a single equality commission, but how effective would it be without a single equality Act? As my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill pointed out, we would not have legislated by first creating an equality and human rights commission and then legislating to reform the substance of equality legislation. I fully endorse that view. A better way to proceed is to see whether a common strand of equality legislation is appropriate to make unlawful discrimination on the ground of religion or belief, especially in the provision of goods, facilities and services, education, the use and disposal of premises and the exercise of public functions, as contained in the Bill.

In essence, equality legislation—it is at present incomplete—that removes the existing inconsistency is a prerequisite for creating an equality and human rights commission, not the other way round. If we enact the Bill in the present form, the law is more likely to be shaped by challenges in the courts. The legal outcomes of challenges will set out the boundaries within which the Bill will operate. We are missing a golden opportunity to have a wider equality Bill that would put together the different strands in fully comprehensive anti-discrimination and equality legislation.

I accept that it will be some time before we reach that point. Therefore, it is essential that the Bill contains provisions to ensure that the impact of its operation is closely monitored and an obligation placed on the new body to ensure that the Bill, when enacted, is constantly reviewed and that a consultation process is established towards rational equality legislation for an equality and human rights commission.

The Bill has aroused considerable interest, as demonstrated by the large number of briefings that we have all received. As I said, there is a temptation to tinker with various provisions to meet objectives contained in some of the briefings. I shall avoid that temptation because that is precisely what the Government have done with various pieces of equality legislation already in place. If the Government can indicate the timescale for the single equality Bill, that would help us to ease the passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House.

I declare an interest. Much of my professional career has been spent in race relations. I was a member of the first body, the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants, set up by the Harold Wilson administration under the chairmanship of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, in 1965. I continued with the Community Relations Commission under the chairmanship of Frank Cousins and Mark Bonham-Carter. That was followed by a career in the Commission for Racial Equality under the chairmanships of David Lane, Peter Newsam, Michael Day and Herman Ouseley, now the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley. In fact, there is a danger that I will go down in history as a full-time immigrant.

The Bill gives us an opportunity to probe more fully on some of the aspects of the legislation that is proposed. Let me single out a few issues. The first is the setting up of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights. We ought to start from the basis that it is predominantly a law enforcement body and, therefore, should resist the temptation to become a large representative body of different communities. It should also be fully independent of the Government, with a requirement that it should submit its annual report to Parliament and be subject to Select Committee scrutiny if need be.

The last thing we want is for the Government to interfere in the commission's operational duties. A lean professional organisation is likely to be more effective. I remember my time with the Commission for Racial Equality, where even the purchase of a typewriter required Home Office approval. I am also aware that ample pressure was brought on the commission to mount an investigation into prisons, costing substantial funds when Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons was fully equipped to deal with such matters.

The Government should ensure that there is no watering down of the CEHR's duties in relation to human rights. We should not underestimate the need for powers to seek a judicial review. We should be aware that the duty to promote equality may not be applicable in all cases and that there is a danger that privacy laws may be breached. We should ensure that equality legislation, when enacted, takes full account of such pitfalls, particularly when it concerns sexuality. There is a need for detailed consultation with interested organisations on the matter. That is not to deny the right to equality, but it is a question of how we achieve it. Matters relating to religion also require wider consultation, not a knee-jerk reaction.

We have waited long enough for the Bill, and we wish to ensure its speedy passage through the House.

Photo of Lord de Mauley Lord de Mauley Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland - Not In Shadow Cabinet) 8:57, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken so fervently and eloquently today. The speeches that we have heard from all sides of the Chamber confirm and support the view that equality and its converse, discrimination, have the ability to arouse extreme interest and passion.

As my noble friend Lady Miller has made clear, we welcome the general thrust of the Bill. Our country and all sides of this House take great pride in our tolerance. The prosperity and economic success of the United Kingdom are due in large part to this attitude and to the broad diversity of people that it has, as a result, attracted, offered sanctuary to and allowed to prosper.

We have to ask ourselves whether the Bill is effective in the move towards greater equality, and that is where we have reservations. The move to consolidate and streamline the existing equality bodies into a single one is prima facie a positive one. To promote a consistent approach and a single point of contact across all areas would appear to make for efficiency, fairness and greater understanding. The promotion of what the Government might call a "joined-up approach" should work to the benefit of everyone without losing sight of each group's special needs. While in favour of consolidation where it promotes efficiency, consistency and fairness, it is our duty also to identify and resolve or justify areas where it may create difficulty or increased cost. The commission must not become a bureaucratic black hole which pursues political correctness and unnecessary interference.

I shall start with the new unified commission. We are lucky to have in this House so many of your Lordships who have served or still serve with great distinction on the current commissions. Many of those who have spoken today have done so with the benefit of considerable experience of a particular type of discrimination, be it gender, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or age. The diverse nature of today's debate highlights one vital point which we must not forget: not all discrimination is generic. There is a wide range of ways in which people are discriminated against, different legislation which currently covers that discrimination and tools and mechanisms for dealing with it. Currently, we have three commissions with a wealth of expertise and experience in their specific fields.

Like my noble friend Lady Miller, I find myself in a strange position for one on this side of the House of seeing the viewpoint of the Mayor of London when he questions,

"how these different interests and strands will compete for profile and resources within one unified commission".

Less surprisingly, I see the viewpoint of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell, who voiced similar concerns.

Perhaps the Minister can reveal how an integrated approach will be taken. How will the commission be structured internally and how will the funding work? It is not enough to say that these decisions have not yet been made. They must have been made for matters to have progressed this far and for a budget to have been estimated.

My noble friends Lady Miller, Lady O'Cathain and Lord Ferrers have emphasised that they have some deep-rooted concerns about some of the phraseology employed in early clauses of the Bill. I support their comments. We will want to challenge and amend parts of the Bill which we see as unenforceable aspirations. How should the commission go about its fundamental duty to create a society in which there is mutual respect between communities based on the,

"understanding and valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights", as set out in Clause 3(e)?

This is not merely a semantic issue; it is a point of principle. There is something wrong when we talk about a non-departmental public body creating our society. There is a concern that these words could mean that the courts find it almost impossible for any action of the commission to be deemed ultra vires, placing it above the law.

While we all hope that the work of the new commission will help promote equality within our society and engender a greater tolerance of individuals within it, we think that the wording currently in the Bill goes too far. My noble friend Lord Ferrers drew out the contradiction between the aims of equality and diversity.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. It is important to us to know the Official Opposition position. I know of no basis for saying that this commission can be beyond judicial review. If the noble Lord or his party have the slightest basis for saying that, could they inform the House? It is suggesting something which would be outrageous were there any basis for it. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, made the same allegation. It is, if I may say so, baseless and entirely legally illiterate. Therefore, I would like it to be dealt with.

Photo of Lord de Mauley Lord de Mauley Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland - Not In Shadow Cabinet)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I will look at it and talk to him about it.

You can no more force members of society to respect each other, as under Clause 3(e), than to categorise a society into mutually exclusive and isolated communities, as under Clause 11. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, said, there is a need to guard against unforeseen consequences. My noble friend Lady O'Cathain referred to the danger of vexatious litigants exploiting the legislation for purposes for which it was not intended. Clause 30 might create a situation, for example, where the commission provides legal assistance for what turns out to be a spurious case. What legal assistance and recompense will be given to the wrongly or questionably accused religious institution, business or person to whom the commission may not provide legal assistance?

The Bill is broad in its definition of religion and belief. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell says, it gives Christians cause for concern. My noble friend Lady O'Cathain referred to the risk of malicious targeting of religious groups. My noble friend Lord Ferrers rightly considers that we must encourage, not frustrate, religious charities which are trying to help people.

Among our concerns is that the provisions of the Bill will foster a conflict between the rights of Churches and religious bodies and the human rights of non-believers. This will require further careful thought. The commission must exercise great care to avoid being tempted itself into discrimination. For example, in pursuing its strategy to eradicate discrimination against any of the categories of people the Bill is concerned with, the commission must not discriminate against other people, which would then infringe their human rights.

On the issue of human rights, I thank my noble friend Lady Carnegy for her questions on Scotland and the yet to be established Scottish human rights commission. We will certainly need to explore this issue in Committee. My noble friend Lady Carnegy also raised some interesting questions that need answers about the interaction between the Bill and Scottish devolution.

Returning to the subject of human rights, Clause 9 places obligations on the commission, among other things, to promote understanding of the importance of human rights, to encourage good practice in relation to them and to promote awareness, understanding and protection of them. However, there is as yet no corresponding obligation on the commission to promote the notion that human rights come with responsibilities and to disseminate an understanding of the responsibilities that individuals must bear if they are to enjoy the benefits of human rights.

My noble friend Lady Miller referred to the budget for the commission. The Government have proposed a setting-up budget of £24 million and an annual budget of £70 million. The current budgets for the three extant commissions total £43 million. As my noble friend Lady Miller said, there is a 63 per cent increase in the total annual budget. How has the new commission been costed? There must have been some idea of the internal structure of the commission in order to do the costing. If the Government have anticipated some economies of scale, which the electorate is entitled to expect from all the streamlining and consolidation, where will they be?

How do the start-up costs and annual running costs reflect the fact that the CRE is not to join until 2009, and the disability committee has a limited shelf life? How will the risk that there is a disproportionate allocation of resources between strands, as they are termed, be dealt with? What assurances can be given to staff at the existing commissions? It would be a tragedy if their specific knowledge were lost. How will it work in practice when, aside from the disability committee, the different strands are integrated? Those questions have arisen several times in this debate.

I turn to the potential effects of the Bill on business. In a recent conversation, the equality commissioner in Northern Ireland pointed out to me among other things the need for the commission to maintain a close relationship with business and other sectors. I must declare an interest as a director and controlling shareholder of a small business.

The concerns of business regarding the Bill include the need to develop a constructive and non-adversarial relationship between the commission and business—otherwise there is scope for an aggressive commission to decide to make examples of some businesses, which would be unnecessarily destructive.

Businesses are also concerned by the prospect of legislating for a single commission without first having in place single equality legislation and feel that there needs to be a requirement that the commission focus on promotion before enforcement. Businesses fear litigation and warn that if the commission is merely a regulator and an enforcer it will alienate the business community. There needs to be a free advice line for small businesses, which tend not to be able to afford full-time staff to deal with compliance in areas such as this.

Has there been an assessment of the impact on small business, which, I hardly need remind your Lordships, employ more than half the country's workforce? There are also concerns about the basis for the estimate given for the costs to the private sector.

Several noble Lords have suggested that the commission should have independence from government and be answerable directly to Parliament. At the same time, as my noble friend Lady O'Cathain said, there are concerns about the creation of an equality police force and the commission's apparently unchallengeable power and immunity from review, given the broad powers in Clause 3. Both those concerns need to be taken into account.

On a different matter, I think we would do well to take note of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on the issue of those with learning disabilities.

In conclusion, we welcome the general concept of the Bill. However, many reasonable people consider that this country is already one of the most tolerant on earth. The problem with well intentioned legislation, as your Lordships know well, is that the intention is often far from the effect. On this side of the House, we are keen to avoid the creation of a monster with unlimited power to interfere with people's lives that stifles growth and punishes the innocent.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) 9:10, 15 June 2005

My Lords, we have had a very interesting and, certainly for me, thought-provoking debate, which has done justice to the ambitious and aspirational nature of the Bill.

Many distinguished speakers have spoken from a huge range of backgrounds and great knowledge. I pay tribute to all of them. I am mindful of the passion with which everyone has spoken on all sides of your Lordships' House. We have had a greater range of views than perhaps one might have expected. I take on board the strength of feelings and the concerns that have been raised.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lester. I have not known the noble Lord anywhere near as long as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mainly because I am much younger. The noble Lord's commitment, energy and passion for the subject is amazing. He has been extraordinarily helpful to me and I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

The Bill is ambitious. It has an overreaching social aim. The interpretation I would place on Clause 3 is that we want a society in which every individual can achieve his full potential and enjoy equal respect and dignity. We want a society in which every one has an equal chance to participate and contribute, and where our communities are strong, dynamic and form part of the fabric of modern Britain. In other words, a society in which I wish to live.

A number of themes have come out of the debate this evening. I noted them with great interest. I shall attempt to address most, if not all, of the questions that have been put by your Lordships, with the proviso that I make on all occasions that I shall write on the ones I will undoubtedly forget.

Noble Lords have focused on issues about how we will set up the commission—the costs, the bureaucracy, how we will link it to the discrimination law review and the equalities review and how the strands of work will fit together. I accept that noble Lords have described this Bill as the cart before the horse, or what a pity we did not have the equalities Bill at the same time. When something is ready to go and we have the opportunity to push and make a difference in terms of bringing forward the commission, I think that we can all welcome it in the context of the manifesto commitments that have been referred to.

Noble Lords have concerned themselves with the independence of the commission and its powers. My noble friend Lady Lockwood talked about no regression. I agree. The ambition of the Bill is to build on the success and the powers of the previous commissions. My noble friend Lord Ashley indicated that we should be firm and determined in doing so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, talked about whether the commission would be better for our customers. We will have an important debate in Committee and on Report about how we make sure that it provides a better service and an appropriate service and does not become a burden on business, for example. That and other concerns were raised by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, about how the commission would operate.

I shall try and deal with those issues in the themes that have been suggested to me. As we have indicated, we expect the commission to open its doors in October 2007 with functions in respect of disability and gender as well as powers in respect of religion and belief, sexual orientation, age and human rights. As noble Lords know, the CRE will join it by March 2009.

I cannot give the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, a precise figure for the number of additional staff. As we have made clear, that would primarily be for the commission to decide. But I anticipate that with the range of different resources it will need that there will be additional recruitment in that number. I shall make sure that we send a detailed breakdown of the cost of the set up to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, who asked the specific question, and I will put a copy of my letter in the Library of the House.

In looking at what resources the new commission might need, we have indicated that there is a budget of £70 million. That budget has been determined by the Secretaries of State responsible for the different commissions, looking not only at current expenditure, but, as noble Lords would expect, also at the anticipated work of the commission. We believe it is a good settlement; that it represents value for money; and that it will have adequate resourcing. It does not mean, as noble Lords may have suggested, that we have looked at the detail of exactly how the commission will set itself up. We do not believe that that is a job for government but a job for the commission itself.

We think that the 40 per cent increase, which the figure represents, above the existing budgets of all three commissions, is adequate resourcing for the commission to get going. Of course it is something that we would keep under review.

As noble Lords will know, we are also making arrangements for transitional commissioners, who will help to make sure that the present commissions move in good order to the new commission and that the work they are currently doing is not disrupted. I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, that all the appointments will be in accordance with guidance from the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, which I think is what the noble Baroness was seeking.

I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, and to my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden that TUPE will apply to all transfers of staff from the existing commissions to the new commission. All staff will enjoy the protection of TUPE. This is covered in Clause 39 of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Parekh was concerned—he spoke from a great philosophical point of view and I would love to continue the conversation—about the issues raised in regard to the different strands and making sure that they are represented, but he joined the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, and my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden in looking at the role of the different committees. We have said that beyond the disability committee, which is contained in primary legislation, it must be for the commission to decide which committees are appropriate and how it wishes them to be established. So if, for example, the new commission felt that it needed to have a committee—perhaps on an interim basis—on a particular area, it would be for the commission to decide.

My noble friend Lord Parekh was also concerned about training and networks. He was the only noble Lord to raise that particular question. I ask him to look at Clause 18, which refers to grants. The example I have in mind relates to the race equality councils, but the way in which we have looked at the role of the commission in offering and granting funds is, in a sense, to look at how one might support networks and training.

My noble friend Lord Parekh also invited me to talk about the common agricultural policy. He will be astonished to hear that I have absolutely no intention whatever of going there tonight, or ever. I know noble Lords will feel that that is a desperate shame. Happy as I always am to talk about Europe on any occasion, sadly, I do not have time today.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, and my noble friend Lord Parekh were concerned about the delay, if I might describe it as that, between 2007 and 2009 for the Commission for Racial Equality. The whole issue of racial equality has to be at the heart of the planning for a successful new commission and must not of course be sidelined in the period before the CRE fully transfers into the new commission. We expect the CRE and the commission to work very closely together, both on race equality issues and where race equality intersects with other areas of equality. There will of course be a transitional commissioner for the CRE appointed to the new commission from the outset to ensure a smooth transition.

I hope that it will be the opposite of the situation to which the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, referred when she described silo management, a concept I understand extremely well. The ambition for the commission is to do precisely the opposite and to have no silos. Part of that will be by making sure that the way in which the commissions come in, and the way in which the new duties and responsibilities are worked through, do not allow for that to happen.

My noble friend Lady Lockwood wanted to check on the budgeting and whether the combined effects of paragraphs 23, 31, 38 and 55 of Schedule 1 related to the way in which the budget would be allocated as a whole. I hope I can reassure my noble friend. The budget will be allocated by the Secretary of State to the commission as a whole and it will be for the commission to decide how to share the budget between the strategy committees. In doing so, it will need to ensure that the share on which it decides will enable the committees to carry out their functions. But it is right and proper that the commission should decide.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, in particular, and other noble Lords, were interested in how the equalities review and the discrimination law review will impact on the new commission. As noble Lords will know, the equalities review has a remit to address the barriers to equality of opportunity, not to amend the legislation which will establish the new commission. It is early days. The commission will be an independent body, of course, which will have the power to draw up its own strategic plan. However, we hope that it will be of great importance in informing the work of the commission as we look forward to the single equality Bill.

The prospect of reform of the legislative framework, of course, makes it even more important that the commission should begin without delay its work in bringing together all the equality strands. Hence, the Bill is before your Lordships. We hope that this, the discrimination law review and the equalities review will, in a sense, set a framework for the next few years which will be, as I have already indicated, within the manifesto commitment to bring forward a single equality Act.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Miller and Lady O'Cathain, talked about whether we should delay setting up the commission until after the equalities review. We believe that it is very important to get on with it, because the commission will have a key role to play, with so many new powers in different areas. I hope that noble Lords will recognise that that is a practical approach to ensuring that those issues are addressed appropriately.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, my noble friend Lady Massey and others were concerned about sexual orientation and goods, facilities and services. It may feel like a small addition to the Bill, but I believe that it is quite the reverse. We need to think through very carefully how we do this in practice, and we must do it properly. We have commitments to the law review and the single equality Bill, and we will look to address these issues. But I should not want noble Lords to think that this is a lack of intent—it is more a case of genuinely feeling that we have to do this properly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, talked about the impact that the Bill might have on small businesses. The commission meets a very strong call from business for a more joined-up approach on discrimination issues. Businesses will enjoy expert information, advice and guidance on all areas of discrimination and human rights law for the first time in one place. This will work regionally to help businesses realise the benefits of diversity and will help them comply with the law, which I think will reduce the chances of costly litigation rather than the opposite.

There are no new regulatory burdens for employers and service providers. I believe that promoting good practice will be the primary route to driving change. Having information and advice easily and more cost-effectively available will reduce the costs of compliance.

Reaching out to small and medium-sized enterprises should be a top priority. There should be no regulatory burdens for small businesses either. Having information in the one-stop shop referred to will be better.

There was concern from the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, about what would happen to businesses under Part 2 of the Bill in particular. This is not about stopping businesses which provide services continuing to do so; we are saying that they have to provide their services to all. For example, a provider of kosher food is perfectly entitled to continue to provide kosher food. However, the Bill ensures that the provider cannot limit the provision of that food to a particular group unless it falls within Clauses 59, 60 or 61; they would not be commercial organisations. That is the only restriction placed by the Bill.

On the issue of public authority, we agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. We share the disappointment about the way "public authority" in the Human Rights Act has been interpreted by the courts. The narrow construction of the definition has not fulfilled our hopes and expectations. The Government are following the advice of the Joint Committee and adopting two strategies to approach the problem. First, we agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester; we are actively seeking a suitable case in which to intervene to argue for a wider definition of public authority. That would include the point raised by a number of noble Lords, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, on local authority-funded residents in private care homes, such as the Leonard Cheshire case.

Furthermore, we are issuing guidance on how the contracts between public authorities and private organisations for the provision of services may seek to protect convention rights. This is a very important area; noble Lords have referred to the need to think about it very carefully. It will benefit from careful consideration and will therefore be a matter for the discrimination law review to consider.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, asked for reassurance that the definition of public authority is the same as in the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. We have been assured by counsel that the definition we have used is the same as that in the Act.

Noble Lords were interested and concerned about the relationship between the new commission and its role within human rights. As noble Lords know from the Bill, the commission will have no enforcement powers in relation to human rights on the basis that we do not believe that it needs them. There is already a well understood and well used process for challenging alleged breaches of convention rights in courts and tribunals for which public funding is available where appropriate.

Concerns were raised by noble Lords about the independence of the commission. It is a non-departmental public body. It will operate within the standard framework, which is well understood. It has worked very well for existing commissions which speak very independently on the issues of the day—and rightly so. We believe that that is the right way to go.

Noble Lords—my noble friend Lord Parekh in particular—talked about the powers of the Secretary of State to direct the commission and whether that compromises its independence. As noble Lords will know from the Bill, the commission is free to initiate its own inquiries and investigations and I do not believe that the powers that we have available conflict with the Paris principles; a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. We want the commission to be Paris principles compliant.

In other areas of government life, noble Lords will have heard me say before that under some circumstances it may be for the Secretary of State to require the commission to provide expert advice on equality and human rights issues. We believe that that is an appropriate power to have in the Bill.

Noble Lords were also concerned about the role of international treaties in the Bill. The specific monitoring power under Clause 12(2) does not include monitoring the effectiveness of international treaties, but, under the clause, as noble Lords will realise, the commission can monitor the effectiveness of the Human Rights Act in ensuring protection of the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. The broad power in Clause 14 to give advice can be used to promote compliance with any human rights; for example, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In effect, the commission will be able to monitor the effectiveness of international human rights treaties in the UK and give appropriate guidance if it considers that we are falling short in implementing our international obligations.

In particular, it will be able to provide advice to the Government on whether domestic legislation complies with the UK's treaty obligations; for example, whether legislation on the detention of children complies with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. My noble friend Lady Whitaker raised that point with me.

In the course of Committee and Report, I am sure that we will have many debates about the whole question of the relationship between the commission and enforcement on human rights, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who has already raised those issues in his opening speech. The noble Lord also asked about removing the requirement for an unlawful act notice or a court tribunal ruling for a persistent discrimination injunction. Lowering the threshold for seeking an injunction for persistent discrimination to bring it in line with arrangements for an injunction—for example in unlawful advertising and so forth—is interesting and we would like to consider that suggestion further with the noble Lord. On the Equality Bill, we will not be making changes to substantive law and discriminatory practice because it is one of the issues that the forthcoming Law Review may wish to consider—something that the noble Lord raised in particular.

The right reverend Prelate looked particularly at religion and belief and the issues around Article 9 of the convention—on the freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Of course, the commission's guidance must respect all of the convention's rights protected by the Human Rights Act. As well as Article 9, we also have in mind particularly Article 8 with respect to private and family life and the Article 10 right to freedom of expression. The Human Rights Act recognises that these rights may conflict and it may sometimes be necessary to balance rights against each other. Therefore, the commission will need to ensure that all of the convention rights, especially the three that I have mentioned, underpin all its work and provide a framework of principles for work across the equality strands. I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in her concerns about freedom of speech.

A number of noble Lords, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, and my noble friend Lady Lockwood, talked about equal pay and were concerned that the duty would apply to equal pay. The gender duty will require public authorities to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and that includes discrimination in pay, so it will cover the Equal Pay Act of 1970. It will also cover contraventions between employers' contractual terms and conditions. In preparing the secondary legislation on the gender duty we will take into account the views of the Women and Work Commission, which was specifically convened by the Prime Minister to look into the pay gap.

My noble friend Lady Lockwood asked about harassment, which is not expressly covered by the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 so is not included in the obligations under the gender duty. Most instances of harassment, as noble Lords will know, already fall within the concept of discrimination because of how the law has developed. In that respect, the gender duty already applies to harassment, although it is not explicitly stated. We are looking to see how we can make an express reference to the elimination of harassments in the duty, when the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 has been amended to introduce the duty that is due to come forward.

My noble friends Lady Lockwood and Lady Gale, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, asked about Section 73 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. It is our absolute intention that there will be no regression in the powers available to the commission as compared to those available to the existing commission. In some cases, powers have been amended and modernised, but we do not intend to remove powers. The commission will be able to use the powers available to it under Clause 12 to advise on existing legislation, and to provide advice to the Government on the health and safety legislation as it applies differently to men and women. We are actively looking at Section 73, including the intention behind its inclusion in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, asked about contract compliance to close the pay gap. The critical issue around contract compliance is that it must be of relevance—that is, requesting a contractor to take action to close a pay gap must be relevant to the outcome of the contract. Public authorities are responsible for their own procurement policies and procedures, but that requirement will have to be taken into account.

My noble friend Lady Lockwood asked about transgender people. The remit will cover transsexual people; it will be possible to use its enforcement powers for the benefit of trans people, as the EOC can currently. As part of the discrimination law review, we shall look more broadly at the protection from discrimination for transsexual and transgender people.

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, raised a particular issue around King's Lynn, which I shall undertake to look into. The situation seems completely ridiculous, as the noble Earl described it—which I hope is what he would expect me to say. I shall more than happily look into it. But that is not the intention of this Bill under any circumstances.

The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, wanted the details of the timetable. It is not yet in my gift to give that, but of course we will when we can. I know that the Commission for Racial Equality would like the 2009 timetable in the Bill. My view is that we should not tie it in such a restrictive way. As the commission moves forward, it may want to do things in a slightly different way, and I want it to have that flexibility. But we are very clear in our relationship with the commission and very clear that if that is the timetable that it wants, that is the timetable that it will have.

Clause 11 and the subject of communities is a very interesting area. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that in the context of what was said, and the context of disability, we shall have discussions to see what we can do in that regard.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, specifically wanted someone with a learning disability on the disability committee. He will know the requirement for at least one commissioner to be or have been a disabled person. We do not believe that it is helpful to have a specific requirement for that, but I recognise that the DRC has been groundbreaking in appointing a learning-disabled commissioner, who has made a significant contribution to the work of the commission. We would really expect the commission that we are putting in place to regard the DRC as exemplar in that respect and draw from that positive experience. It will be for the commission, too, to decide whether to keep the Learning Disabilities Action Group. We hope that it will consider that very carefully.

With the communities clause, we are not sure whether it is appropriate to refer to good relations; but, as I have said, I should like to discuss that matter, because I believe that there is work that we could do around that issue.

All I can say to my noble friend Lady Wilkins and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is that I apologise profusely that the Bill has not yet been made available in accessible formats. Everything that was said about that was absolutely right; I apologise unreservedly, and we shall do it.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, also asked about the disability committee, whether it would continue and whether five years was the right length of time. My noble friend Lord Ashley asked the same question. We believe that we have got it about right; the review of the disability committee will be independent and will involve a wide-ranging consultation. Following that, it will be open to the Secretary of State to decide how long it should continue before it is dissolved, which may be a short time or may be several years. We want to have that degree of flexibility, but it will be done on the basis of consultation, which must include people and organisations working for, and made up of, people with disabilities. There must be a report of the review that will include the views of those persons consulted, who must include disabled people. I hope that that goes some way to address the points raised by my noble friend Lord Ashley.

There is concern regarding the shorter term of office of the DRC transitional commissioner. However, that reflects the provisions in the Bill and the fact that the disability committee is part of primary legislation.

I anticipated that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, would refer to Scotland. The noble Baroness will know that the 2003 executive programme in Scotland included a commitment to establish a commission before the 2007 Scottish parliamentary election. Clause 7 reflects the situation under devolution. We recognise that any new commission in Scotland will have to work very closely with the commission in England. Clause 7(4) allows the commission in England to take action in relation to devolved Scottish matters with the consent of a suitable body in Scotland. That will, of course, be the Scottish Human Rights Committee, but we cannot include it in the Bill because as yet it does not exist. I shall write to the noble Baroness if I have any further details on that.

The noble Baroness asked why education in Scotland was included in the Bill as it is not a matter for us. That is because discrimination is a reserved matter, although, as the noble Baroness knows, education in Scotland is a devolved matter. Therefore, the issue is included in the Bill in view of its discrimination aspects.

The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, asked me about the benefits for older people. That is a very important part of the noble Baroness's work and, indeed, we hope that it will constitute a very important part of the benefits flowing from the work of the commission. The commission will be charged with promoting good practice and compliance with the age regulations to be brought in next year, which will make discrimination on grounds of age unlawful in employment and vocational training. That is an incredibly important step forward but we are very mindful of the public sector duty to promote age equality and the different levels of protection against discrimination currently available in law. That forms part of the review of discrimination law. We hope that that review will address those questions and produce solutions. That review will also consider the whole question of public duty protection in the provision of goods, facilities and services in regard to sexual orientation.

My noble friend Lady Turner of Camden referred to school transport, schools and harassment. I would like to discuss those issues with my noble friend.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Walmsley, referred to children's issues and designating a particular commissioner. The commission's role applies to children just as much as it applies to adults. The duty to promote equality, diversity and human rights and to encourage good relations applies to children and young people. They will have a key stake in the new commission. It will need to conduct meaningful and accessible consultation with that group. Wherever the gender duty places an obligation on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity between men and women, that applies also to boys and girls. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will want to discuss whether that means we should include boys and girls in the Bill. The noble Baroness will know that we shall discuss with the Children's Commissioner the link between his work and the work of the new commission.

My noble friend Lady Gale asked whether the Women's National Commission would continue. The answer to that is "yes". I also confirm that the board will include a commissioner with special knowledge of Wales. I do not know whether that will be a full-time post. That is for the commission to decide. We recognise that the Welsh Language Act will apply in that case, as my noble friend suggested.

In drawing to a close I refer to the words of Sir Peter Large, who I had never heard of until yesterday. However, noble Lords will know of the report on restrictions against disabled people, written in 1982. It set the foundations for legislation on disability discrimination. He stated that the report was founded on the straightforward and simple proposition that what is morally indefensible ought no longer to be legally permissible. I believe that applies equally to this Bill. I look forward to continuing the debate at all stages of the Bill in your Lordships' House. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.