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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, is right in that this issue turns on the proper construction of Clause 12(3)(b) but in the light of Clause 10(2). Clause 10(2) provides that,


So that is a double appropriateness test: the Minister must consider it appropriate to amend by way of remedial order, and then he may, by order, make amendments which he considers appropriate.

I should have thought that a court would construe Clause 12(3)(b), which provides that,


    "A remedial order (or draft) laid before Parliament must be accompanied by a statement containing ... (b) a statement of the reasons why the person making it (or proposing to make it) considers an order in those terms appropriate",
to mean that the statement must give reasons both as to why the order itself is considered appropriate and why its terms are considered appropriate.

I do, however, take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, that we should reflect--if I may put it in my own language--as to whether it should be made more express that a double appropriateness test applies in Clause 12(3)(b), as certainly it does in Clause 10(2). I will certainly undertake to reflect upon the matter. On that basis I invite the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Coleraine: My Lords, while I am considering whether to withdraw my amendment, I wish to say that

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I shall not be able to be present for the final speeches after Third Reading. I should like to have made quite a few observations about the consultation processes that went on before the Bill was introduced and about the way in which the expressions "public authority" and "functions of a public nature" have been left so much in the air during the course of our debates. In the circumstances, I shall not do so.

I have now had a chance to consider the noble and learned Lord's remarks. I am very pleased to find his words in his letter to me as to his view of the meaning of the phrases in question on the record now. I am sure that that will be very satisfactory. I am happy to learn that he will reflect further on this whole question. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill moved Amendment No. 20:


After Clause 13, insert the following new clause--

("Human Rights Commissioner
Human Rights Commissioner

(1) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint a Commissioner, to be known as the Human Rights Commissioner, to perform any or all of the following functions--
(a) to provide advice or other assistance, including legal and financial assistance, to persons--
(i) bringing, or proposing to bring, proceedings under section 7; or
(ii) relying or proposing to rely upon a Convention right in any proceedings,
provided that the Human Rights Commissioner considers that such proceedings raise a question of principle of general public importance;
(b) to bring proceedings under section 7 or intervene in proceedings--
(i) brought under section 7; or
(ii) where a Convention right is relied upon,
provided that the Human Rights Commissioner considers the bringing of such proceedings, or such intervention, to be in the furtherance of the main purposes of this Act;
(c) to undertake research and educational activities connected with the main purposes of this Act; or
(d) to review and report to the Secretary of State on the appropriate machinery to give effect within the United Kingdom to the Convention rights set out in Article 14 of the Convention (prohibition of discrimination).
(2) No order may be made under subsection (1) unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by, each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, last, but I hope not least, I wish to deal with an amendment of great practical importance. It is the only issue upon which those on these Benches differ from the Government in relation to this Bill other than on the question of legal standing. The issue is of great importance to us. If this amendment can be accepted during the Bill's passage, it will make a great difference to the practical effectiveness and impact of the legislation.

The amendment is modest enough. It does not require the Secretary of State to do anything at all. All that it does is give him the power--not the duty--to appoint a

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human rights commissioner. We have deliberately referred to a "commissioner" rather than a "commission" to make the proposal more modest than it might otherwise have been.

The amendment would empower the Secretary of State to trigger all or any of four functions. The first is to provide advice and assistance to people considering bringing cases under the Bill. That is similar to the power given to the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission at present. And it can be exercised only in real public interest cases. The second power is the ability to bring proceedings or intervene in proceedings under the Bill. The third, with which my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby, will deal, is to undertake research and educational activities to promote the purposes of the Bill. Last, and not least, there is a power to authorise the human rights commissioner to review and report to the Secretary of State on the appropriate machinery to give effect within the United Kingdom to Article 14 of the convention, the prohibition on discrimination.

May I say at once how sorry I am that neither the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, nor the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, were able to stay for the debate. In an earlier form this amendment originally stood in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Amos. Both noble Baronesses have quite exceptional experience in this area. I was involved in the appointment of the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, when I worked for the Home Secretary in 1974-75. She was the first chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, served as its chief executive in later years. Both have a lifelong commitment to making equality work in practice. I am very sorry that they could not be present at this hour on this occasion.

I have said most of what I would like to say in previous debates, so I can be brief. The first point relates to access to justice. One of the commissioner's most important roles would be to provide assistance and advice to those who are thinking of bringing proceedings. That operates as an extremely important filter. It helps the courts to know that cases that are brought before them are well focused, that they have been through the rigorous screening process, as happens for example with the Legal Committee of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

It is not easy, given the very limited budget that the Treasury imposes, for any case to be brought unless it has been very properly sifted and tested. It is vital to have that kind of specialised, well focused, well targeted legal advice and assistance if this Bill is to mean anything in practice to people of that kind--those who are not the fat cats, the rich, but who have genuine, real cases and need well targeted legal aid advice and assistance. I know that the Lord Chancellor has important proposals in mind for dealing with public interest cases. My own view is that it needs to be well targeted and sifted by a specialist body in the case of this Bill.

It is very important that we have effective access to justice, because everyone will have to exhaust his or her domestic remedies under the Bill before going to

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Strasbourg. If that means having to go all the way from an industrial tribunal or county court to the House of Lords before the case can go to Strasbourg, it is important that we do not make people worse off by forcing them to do that and not providing them with adequate support. That is what happens under the EOCs, the CREs and the Fair Employment Commission for Northern Ireland.

In his very important address to the Solicitors' Annual Conference in Cardiff the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor observed that the civil justice system should be accessible to everyone, not just the very rich and the very poor. I know that he means that, and I enthusiastically agree. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in his Access to Justice report made similar points about the need for effective access to justice. That is the first major function of the amendment.

I shall not deal with education or research, but I wish to say something about reforming the existing anti-discrimination machinery. If, in West Cork, you ask, "How do I get to Skibbereen?", a local person is likely to say, "Well, I wouldn't start from here". If I were trying to create effective machinery in the human rights and anti-discrimination area, I would not start from here. That is to say, we now have a proliferation of quangos--two EOCs, two CREs, one FEC and a disability council which has no powers at all.

I spent a couple of years of my life, I am very proud to say, trying to help to devise within the Home Office effective machinery for enforcing the anti-discrimination legislation. But the promise of the White Papers that I helped to write--on equality for women and racial discrimination--has never been fulfilled in practice. Particularly in recent years, and particularly in relation to the big Equal Opportunities Commission, the will to have strategic law enforcement has died and we have moved away from what was always intended; namely, well focused, not over-funded, well targeted law enforcement. The result is that people like Professor Bob Hepple, I, and others working in the field have come to realise that the existing anti-discrimination legislation urgently needs to be reformed in a way that will make it more cost effective with a single enforcement agency able to draw upon the expertise of different divisions specialising in gender and racial equality and other areas of inequality.

There was a commitment in the Labour Party manifesto to reform anti-discrimination legislation. It is important that the Government should be assisted in that reform by machinery to give wise advice as to how best it can be done. I regard that as a function of the human rights commissioner, acting as an honest broker and adviser on how best to reform the mess of anti-discrimination legislation which has now become a patchwork of bits and pieces with different enforcement mechanisms. For example, there is much weaker enforcement under the fair employment legislation in Britain than in Northern Ireland. Some time soon the Home Office and the Department for Employment and Education will have to apply their collective minds to what needs to be done to reform anti-discrimination law. The fact that the matter straddles two departments

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makes the task more difficult. I believe that the human rights commissioner would, in a modest way, fulfil the important functions of effective access to justice and helping to remake the existing anti-discrimination enforcement machinery.

I am sorry to say that although in opposition we were able to reach complete agreement with the Labour Party on the main elements of the constitutional reform package, including the creation of a human rights commission or commissioner, this is the only element in the package which has not been implemented following the election. The door has not been entirely shut; the White Paper leaves it ajar to some extent. Whatever happens this evening in this House I very much hope that the door will be opened during the passage of the Bill in a way that will enable these objectives to be achieved. I beg to move.

9 p.m.


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