Caste Discrimination — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:22 pm on 15th July 2015.

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Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 3:22 pm, 15th July 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they intend to implement the amendments to Section 9 of the Equality Act 2010 that requires the introduction of secondary legislation to incorporate caste as a protected characteristic.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, this Government completely oppose caste discrimination. Since coming into office, we have been considering the caste duty, particularly in the light of the Tirkey v Chandok employment appeal judgment. That suggests an existing legal remedy for claims of caste-associated discrimination under the ethnic origins element of Section 9 of the Equality Act 2010. We note this potential protection.

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench

I thank the Minister for her reply and I am glad that she mentioned that case because the Employment Appeal Tribunal, as she rightly said, stated that caste-based discrimination may already be unlawful under existing legislation, but not necessarily so. Is it not therefore essential for the sake of legal clarity that the clear will of Parliament be enacted—namely, that caste-based discrimination be included in the Equality Act?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the Employment Appeal Tribunal judge referred to caste in its many forms potentially coming within Section 9 of the Equality Act. This judgment is binding upon employment tribunals.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Labour

My Lords, in 2012, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in all its forms recommended to the United Kingdom,

“that the Minister responsible in the State party invoke section 9(5)(a) … in order to provide remedies to victims of this form of discrimination. The Committee further requests the State party to inform the Committee of developments on this matter in its next periodic report”.

I have two simple questions. When is the next periodic review and will the Minister comply with these recommendations?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I can confirm that this Government, elected only a few weeks ago, are actively considering the matter.

Photo of Lord Popat Lord Popat Conservative

My Lords, the vast majority of the British Hindu and Sikh community are outraged at this amendment to the Equality Act. Does the Minister agree with the Hindu organisations that implementing this amendment would be a blow to community cohesion in this great country and that the Government should legislate to remove it from the statute book?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I agree with my noble friend that the issue is divisive. There is a strong lobby both for and against, and the Government are very concerned not to exacerbate the problem. Therefore, the present position, whereby protection from caste discrimination is developing naturally through case law, is very helpful.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

Will the Minister tell us how many representations have been made and by which organisations for the repeal of Section 9(5)(a), as demanded by the noble Lord, and why the Government have not agreed to meet persons or organisations that support Section 9(5)(a), which includes the whole of the Dalit community in this country?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I do not have exact figures and names to hand but I am very happy to write to the noble Lord with them.

Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Labour

My Lords, is not the problem that the majority Hindu and Sikh organisations are responsible for discrimination of the minority in their own ethnic origin community? I do not think that one should quietly concede the majority’s view in this respect.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I agree with the noble Lord that this can be a problem within communities of that nature, and is not generally something that is within the British culture.

Photo of Baroness Flather Baroness Flather Crossbench

My Lords, the Hindu community says that there is no caste discrimination in this country and therefore we do not need this subsection. Fine—but if that is the case, why are they fighting so hard against it? If there is no discrimination, then there is no discrimination. If this becomes law—as it should, and the sooner the better—there will be no prosecutions, nothing will happen and it will die out. But because they are fighting so hard, it leads me to believe that there is discrimination.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, cases of this nature are very few and far between. As I said, the Government are actively considering the matter.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, the last Government passed a Bill that required the present Government to act, and they have failed to do so. We understand that there is evolving case law, but it does not fully satisfy those who feel that the law must be respected. The Government may be new, but are they really changing the rules so that we will be governed by what they think might be a helpful way forward?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, it would not be appropriate for me to speculate on discussions within government. I do not want to comment on or rule out any course of action. As I have said a couple of times now, the Government are considering the present position.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, it is the turn of the Lib Dem Benches and then we have time to go to the Cross Benches.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

Will the Minister explain how her replies are compatible with parliamentary supremacy, given that Parliament decided to insert the duty into the statute? Will she also explain how it is compatible with legal certainty, given that the only way one could do it through case law would be by going to the Supreme Court, at a cost of many hundreds of thousands of pounds, when Parliament has decided that it should be done by us by statute?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I repeat once again that the Government will be actively considering this, and will take their view in due course.

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

My Lords, it has been said, I think misleadingly, that Hindu and Sikh organisations are against this legislation outlawing caste discrimination. Can the Minister note that the whole Sikh community and the whole thrust of Sikh teachings are totally against the notion of caste?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, will the Minister please write to my noble friend who raised the question of the periodic review and let him, and indeed others who are interested, know when it will take place?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, the last Government agreed to conduct a feasibility study into if and how it might be possible to estimate the extent of caste-based discrimination in Britain. The research was concluded in November 2014, I understand, but the report has not yet been published. When is the report likely to be published, and why has there been such a delay?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the case law provides potential protection for someone wishing to claim caste discrimination, which is what all sides of this House wanted during earlier debates. We need to consider carefully whether putting the word “caste” into the Act would actually change or clarify the legal position.