Equality Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 9th November 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 6:15 pm, 9th November 2005

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I will also speak to Amendments Nos. 36 to 39 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. They follow discussions with the British Humanist Association and I declare an interest as vice-president. I also very much appreciate the Minister's discussing the amendments with me. The essential point is that religious organisations, as defined in Clause 57 (1) and charities as defined in Clause 58 (1) may be carrying out options of a public nature—delivering services on behalf of local or national government or the national health service, for example. When they are thus acting as agents for public authorities, they should not be allowed to discriminate on religious grounds. We need to make it clear that they will not be so allowed.

Clause 52 (1) states that:

"It is unlawful for a public authority exercising a function to do any act which constitutes discrimination or harassment", but Clauses 57 and 58 both state that "nothing in this Part" shall be held to restrict religious organisations and charities. The problem is, if a public function is being exercised by a body as defined in Clauses 57 and 58, will they be caught by Clause 52 (1)?

The question is complicated by the current controversy since the Leonard Cheshire case over precisely what a public authority is. What we need to be assured of is that Clause 52(1) would trump Clauses 57 and 58 in any future case. The amendments would achieve that.

Finally, consistently with this approach, the words "reasonably justified" should be substituted for "imposed" in Clauses 57, 58 and 59, because "imposed" is far too weak a trigger for exemptions from the new and welcome duties in the Bill. The proper test for licence to ban membership, ban the provision of goods, facilities and services, ban the use of premises, is surely the reasonable justification. I beg to move.