Second Reading (Continued)

Part of Equality Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:55 pm on 15th December 2009.

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Photo of Lord Adebowale Lord Adebowale Crossbench 6:55 pm, 15th December 2009

My Lords, I generally support the Bill. I was born in 1962, so I do not qualify, and shall not be rushing, to enjoy the benefits of Saga, and I doubt whether many over-50s will be rushing to take part in Club 18-30 holidays. Putting that to one side, I was born into what could be described as an "either/or" society: you were either black or you were British; you were either gay or you were decent; and you were either disabled or you were working. I have lived much of my life in such a society, even with the implementation of the Bills referred to by previous speakers.

The importance of this Bill is that it ushers in an "and/and" society-a society in which it is possible to be black and British, to be a Muslim woman and British, and to have a disability and contribute fully to the economy. It seems to me that that is the important point of the Bill and it is why I welcome the idea within it of multiple discrimination: we accept that we must see people as multiples in society and not just as either/ors.

I also welcome the socio-economic discrimination part of the Bill, although I note the concerns of previous speakers that it does not carry enough teeth. In my work with Turning Point and on estates around the country where public services have been commissioned without due regard to the socio-economic impacts and the ensuing discrimination, I can see the impact not just on the individuals in those places but on the generations born to those individuals. We know how difficult it is to move from an estate, from a family where there is unemployment or from a situation where you have not gone to the right school or where the public services have not taken into account the need to balance out socio-economic discrimination. I would rather start here with an expression of the public duty to provide a reversal of the inverse care law and do something about socio-economic discrimination than not start at all. However, I, too, should like to see teeth in the Bill. The "so what?" factor rides high in that statement. What happens if the duty is not adhered to?

At a time when the BNP has appeared on a BBC licence fee-funded station, using the freedom of speech to frighten the life out of a significant minority of the community, I should like the Leader of the House to say a bit more about what is missing in the Bill. In my view, what are missing are the duties of the publicly funded broadcasters, the Arts Council, museums and others to support fairness and equality in society.

For me, the Bill is not just about race, religion, disability or sexual orientation, important as those are; it is also about the future economy of this country. In his 2001 report, Shamit Saggar pointed out that 70 per cent of the increase in the working population will be from black and minority ethnic groups by the year 2020. Some people do not like that fact, but it is a fact. It is as obvious as gravity. If we want a population and an economy that will look after our elderly and provide us with new ideas, economies and businesses, then we cannot afford to discriminate on the grounds of race, disability or sexual orientation. To do so costs us. It is not just a moral imperative; it is an economic one.

I should like to know more specifically about the fears expressed by previous speakers, particularly those of a Christian religious faith. I am from, and take part in, a Christian community, as do my family. I have not heard expressed in that community the fears that have been expressed in this Chamber, and I would like to know more. I believe that most fears are imagined. Some of the fears were expressed during the passing of the Race Relations Act 1976 and the 1964 Act. I am not dismissing the fears but we should examine them logically and see exactly where they lead us.

I do not want to keep you any longer. I am concerned that the issues about the scrutiny of the Bill will lead to delay, which would lead to a dismantling of the Bill at a future time. That would be a real shame. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put on the statute book an all-encompassing and/and anti-discrimination Bill, and I urge us to do so. Scrutiny should not mean delay. The people outside this House who are discriminated against on a daily basis deserve a Bill that speaks to them as individuals and as members of our society and community. We should pass this Bill as quickly as possible.