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Lord Hylton: I notice that Amendment No. 161 includes "dependants". I have a suspicion that that may be going just a little too far.

However, my main point relates to Clauses 60 and 61. We understand that those clauses impose additional duties, over and above those in the Human Rights Bill. We have already touched on the fact that the two clauses contain different lists of what constitutes a public authority, but I have now noticed that there is yet another discrepancy within and between the clauses. I refer specifically to lines 3, 4, 11, 29 and 30 on page 29 which list different kinds of groups. It is not apparent why that should be so either on the face of the

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Bill or in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. I should like to know the answer. If the Minister does not want to reply now, perhaps he would be kind enough to write to me and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

6.30 p.m.

The Earl of Dudley: I wish briefly to follow up my question to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and his reply. As I read Amendment No. 161, if the question of discrimination against "sexual orientation" is accepted it seems that no one in the Armed Forces will be able to serve in Northern Ireland. As I understand it, at present the Armed Forces--that is to say, the Army--have set their faces against homosexuality. Surely it would mean that no regiment could be sent to Ireland and, indeed, no regiment could serve there. I may be wrong. Perhaps the Minister will elucidate the point.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): I can perhaps help Members of the Committee. The groups of amendments are in danger of becoming somewhat disoriented. Under the sixth group we were intending to discuss Amendments No. 159, which has already been passed, Amendments Nos. 165 to 168 and 169A. So we shall now have to return to them. I am not complaining about that; I am simply indicating that perhaps things have gone astray.

We are presently discussing the seventh group. As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, rightly pointed out, a large number of the issues in the group--namely, Amendments Nos. 160 to 164 inclusive, and Amendment No. 169--have already been discussed. The noble Lord is quite right again. These amendments were discussed when we had extensive discussion on Amendment No. 162. I do not wish to appear discourteous, but I do not believe that Members of the Committee want me to flog over old ground more than two or three times.

If I may respectfully say so, the real point is what my noble friend Lord Dubs has pointed out on many occasions. This Bill is not designed or calculated to right all wrongs of inequality or discrimination. It is a Bill which will put into effect--and the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, has made the point on a number of occasions--as closely as may be, the Belfast agreement. If one asks why X, Y or Z is not in the Bill, quite often the answer, as both the noble Lord opposite and my noble friend have said, is that it is not part of the context in which we are operating; namely, the Belfast agreement.

A question was raised about consistency and inconsistency, first, as regards Clause 60 as opposed to Clause 61 and, secondly, as opposed generally to the over-arching inconsistency that is claimed by virtue of the fact that the Human Rights Bill, which will become an Act on Thursday of this week, will be different again. The answer is quite plainly to be found on page 16 of the agreement. It is worth requoting it for one last time:


    "The British Government will complete incorporation into Northern Ireland law of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), with direct access to the courts, and remedies for breach of the Convention, including power for the courts to overrule Assembly legislation on grounds of inconsistency".

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I respectfully repeat what my noble friend Lord Dubs has so often said; namely, that that remains the case.

However, we now come to this particular Bill which, as I have said previously, is to deliver the goods following the Belfast agreement. It is quite plain. Subject to the outcome of public consultation, which is under way--my noble friend Lord Dubs referred to this earlier--the British Government,


    "intends, as a particular priority, to create a statutory obligation on public authorities in Northern Ireland to carry out all their functions with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in relation to religion and political opinion; gender; race, disability; age; marital status; dependants; and sexual orientation".
Then we come to the following:


    "Public bodies"--
not public authorities--


    "would be required to draw up statutory schemes showing how they would implement this obligation. Such schemes would cover arrangements for policy appraisal, including an assessment of impact on relevant categories, public consultation, public access to information and services, monitoring and timetables".
So there is not a pure consistency; it is designed lack of pure consistency because the Belfast agreement was couched in that way. Paragraph 2 on page 16 of the agreement deals with the ECHR and paragraph 3 deals with matters of "particular priority". The matter of particular priority is therefore to be found, first, in Clause 60. That clause is virtually a re-recitation of what I read out earlier from the agreement; in other words, it covers religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation, men and women, persons with disabilities and those without as well as persons with dependants and those without. There was no stratagem to include the word "dependants" in the amendment as one can already find it in Clause 60.

Clause 60 requires a particular duty to be discharged by public authorities in Northern Ireland. That is covered in Schedule 10. As was observed earlier, the duties are quite onerous. The equality commission will have to carry out various duties. The "public authority" in paragraph 2 of the schedule has to draw up equality schemes and thereafter there is a rigid mandatory obligation on the commission to approve it or refer it to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State then has various obligations. The commission will also have to deal with complaints and carry out investigations. Indeed, paragraph 8(3) of the schedule says:


    "If a report recommends action by the public authority concerned and ... the action is not taken within a reasonable time--


    (a) the Commission may refer the matter to the Secretary of State; and


    (b) the Secretary of State may give directions".
So there are quite severe sanctions involved for a breach of Clause 60 at any stage, with the related obligations under Schedule 10. That has been done deliberately to bring about a consequence which, by and large, I believe we all want.

I turn now to Clause 61. My noble friend Lord Dubs has already dealt with Amendment No. 159, which was accepted, but I am dealing with these matters generally because the groups have become rather muddled. Here we are dealing with a public authority carrying out

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functions relating to Northern Ireland on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion. That is limited and has been limited for the obvious historical reason that we all recognise; namely, that this has been a particular cause of vice, unhappiness and wrongdoing in Northern Ireland. That is why one has different lists in Clause 60 as opposed to those in Clause 61. We have not sought to be absolutely consistent because we are dealing with different circumstances.

Perhaps I may deal with this group as quickly as I can. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am grateful to the Minister. I am sure that the noble Lord does not wish to construe the Belfast agreement with what has been called the "austerity of tabulated legalism". However, where in the Belfast agreement does he find the obligation to introduce Clause 61 and confine it narrowly to direct religious discrimination?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: One does not find it in those terms. One finds it in Clause 60 in the way I have mentioned but one does not find it in Clause 61. However, permeating the Belfast agreement, one does find the particular concerns of certain types of discrimination, not least by allegations made against--and I am talking at random--the Police Authority or the RUC. We want to put into effect the Belfast agreement and its spirit; we are not launching in this Bill on a whole-scale reconstruction of inequality discrimination law.

The noble Lord and I have discussed this matter both inside and outside the Chamber. He takes the view, as others do, that there is a legitimate case for a wide review of all aspects of law within this general compartment. I afford this no disrespect by calling it the "general inequality discrimination law". I am not guilty of subscribing to the doctrine of unripe time for which the noble Lord has sometimes rebuked me gently. I am simply pointing out that this is not the occasion to do so. I am not suggesting in the slightest that any of the very well-marshalled and moderate arguments like those put forward by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell, by my noble friend Lady Turner or by the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Lester, are not valid; I am saying that this is not the context in which to deploy them. If we get to that stage--I am not being discourteous in saying this--we will have really argued ourselves to a standstill. I recognise the moral and philosophical virtue, as it were, behind the points that have been put. I do not disagree with their validity but, as I said, this is not the occasion to deploy them.

We intend to bring forward an Order in Council to extend the law to indirect discrimination on the provision of goods and services. That is an extension. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has already said on a number of occasions, I do not believe these are matters for consideration on this occasion. We shall certainly give the observations that have been made tonight a fair hearing, but I do not think we shall come back to your Lordships on Report with anything satisfactory other than by way perhaps of marginal amendments.

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We do not want to extend "public authority" in Clause 61 to the ECHR Human Rights Bill public authority. We have specifically included lists. The lists are not, of course, set in stone; they could be varied in the future. I accept this is a different conceptual approach from the one we adopted on the Human Rights Bill. In the context of Great Britain generally, I think we acted correctly on the Human Rights Bill--I think the noble Lord, Lord Lester, agrees with this--in not having a list because we wanted the law to develop organically. We are dealing with much more specific problems in the context of Northern Ireland--the noble Lord, Lord Cope, knows that from experience far better than I--and we have designed particular remedies for specific wrongs. Accordingly, I stress that I am not at all dismissive of the thoughts behind Amendments Nos. 160, 161 and 163. I simply indicate that we are not able to accept them.


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