Equality Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 9th November 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) 5:45 pm, 9th November 2005

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, we are dealing not simply with the Jewish community but also with the Sikh community. Mandla dealt directly with the Sikh community and its definition. That definition sought to distinguish the kind of issues which can identify people as a group. That by no means undermines the fact that those two groups have a different history but it clearly uses the definition I mentioned, which we consider is a helpful definition.

I understand absolutely that the noble Lord would prefer this whole issue to be included in the discrimination review. However, we cannot accept that. If that were to be done, there would be no provision which referred to harassment in relation to this category, which is dealt with quite properly under Clause 45. It is simply not a satisfactory solution to say that these provisions can work. As regards the whole issue of discrimination law, the discrimination law review may well come up with a construct that is significantly different from that which we currently have in relation to a number of species of discrimination. The law that we have in each of these areas may change, and change significantly, once that review is complete. However, we have to deal with the situation until the conclusions of that review are issued. We seek to give appropriate protection to all those who may be significantly disadvantaged and discriminated against in relation to the way in which public services are given to them, and in relation to education and accommodation. All of those things are fundamental to the way in which people lead their lives. I respectfully suggest that it would be unjust not to deal with this wrong in a similar way to all the others.

I say with all the gentleness which I can muster that if one looks at the provisions which were mooted on behalf of those who are discriminated against on the ground of sexual orientation, and one compares those provisions with all the other provisions in this area, one sees that they are almost identical, and not significantly different from that which we wish to implement in relation to religious belief. The difference is that we have not extended the provision to goods and services for the reasons that we have given. Therefore, I invite noble Lords to think very seriously indeed before expunging—because that is what it would amount to—from the Bill an opportunity to prevent people being seriously disadvantaged and to give them better protection. I understand what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said in relation to those two words. However, I reassure her that those will be exactly the issues in relation to all the species of discrimination that the discrimination law review will consider. We will not have to wait very long for that.