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Earl Russell: My Lords, I, too, express my support for these amendments. There is a certain illogicality about discrimination. When women were first admitted

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to jobs in the Northern Irish Civil Service, they were allowed to have three children but were not allowed to be married. They were not allowed to be married because, in those days, it was thought that women who worked were not married. However, because the service wanted to be non-discriminatory, it was decided to extend to women all the other qualifications for male employees. This included the limitation to three children, which was understood within certain quarters of the unionist community to be an anti-Catholic provision. That was a really curious mish-mash of logic.

When you get discrimination surviving in what is in part an anti-discriminatory culture, you get these illogicalities multiplied. It is surely better to accept the basic simple point that the only ground on which you select candidates for a job is fitness to do that job, and the only ground on which you keep people who are doing a job is the competence with which they do it. If one accepts that, one ought to accept that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is wrong, contrary to the interests of the person and contrary to the interests of the business, just like discrimination on grounds of race, gender or any other grounds.

I do not assert that there is any objective right to work, but I think that there is a right to contest for work, to compete for it on equal terms. When the penalties for not actively seeking work are so severe and when the penalties for voluntary unemployment are so severe, it is vitally important that that should be the case. This is particularly relevant to homosexuals, because a large proportion of those who lose work because of their sexual orientation are forced out by a process of harassment of the sort which women working for the first time in a previously all-male industry have come to know painfully well.

In these cases, if you cannot convince a tribunal that you were forced out, you are found guilty of voluntary unemployment and you lose benefit for anything up to 26 weeks. That is a severe penalty for something which is in no way your fault. I think it important that the law should not encourage that. I also think that this is an issue of public policy and that thinking of it from the point of view of the Department of Social Security accepting this amendment would be in line with government policy because the basic thrust of government policy is to remove obstacles to people seeking work. They want more people to be able to seek work and therefore fewer to be dependent on the budget of the Department of Social Security. That, I think, with small qualifications, is an objective we would all share. However, people who are discriminated against for their orientation cannot effectively seek work, so the Government are pickling a rod for their own back. Even the Treasury might see an interest in accepting this amendment.

I also support Amendment No. 126. There are arguments of some importance for that arising from the welfare reform Bill which we shall consider next week. That Bill contains clauses which compel recently bereaved widows to start actively seeking work after six months and which deny incapacity benefit to people who have not paid any contributions within the previous two years. That is an increase in the compulsion to seek

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work. In return for that people deserve an adequate and equal chance of getting work. Unless Amendment No. 126 is accepted, they will not have it. If the Minister does not accept this tonight, we may return to it on the welfare reform Bill.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I explained in Committee, the Government are sympathetic to the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, in this amendment and in Amendment No. 126 which I shall also address.

As I said in Committee we stated in our manifesto,


    "We will seek to end unjustifiable discrimination wherever it exists". However, I think we are talking about means here. I hope I explained in Committee that given the number of different issues involved here I do not think that this Bill is the appropriate place to deal with them. If we do not deal with this matter properly we are in danger of making the situation worse rather than better.

The Government have repeatedly said that they deplore discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and are appalled by the treatment which some gay men and lesbians experience. We recognise that there is a gap in the protection we offer to those discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation, in comparison to measures to prohibit discrimination on grounds of race and disability, for example.

However, for the reasons that I gave in Committee, this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle for this large topic. Not only would it be a radical step away from the intentions set out in the Fairness at Work White Paper on which we consulted, but it would rightly require extensive consultations in its own right. I do not accept that this can be dealt with simply by regulations. As I shall mention later, I believe that there are some deficiencies in the way this amendment is drafted which would not permit it to be covered in regulations. We must get the basic principles right and cover all the issues. I see no reason why there should not be another piece of legislation. This is a bedrock piece of legislation that does not preclude other pieces of legislation being introduced.

However, this does not mean that the Government are ignoring this important issue. As I said in Committee, the Equal Opportunities Commission formally presented to the Government last November its recommendations following a review of sex equality legislation. These included a proposal that there should be specific legal protection for lesbians and gay men. The Government--particularly the Department for Education and Employment, which lead, on this policy--are carefully considering this and the EOC's other recommendations. However, there were 62 recommendations and therefore the matter requires careful consideration.

We are also considering the Better Regulation Task Force's suggestion of a non-statutory code of practice. The task force is generally in favour of making current legislation work better. It also points out the importance of evaluating a code of practice before taking any further steps. There is also a further angle which has to be considered properly; namely, the wider European

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developments. I am, of course, referring to Article 13 in the Amsterdam Treaty. Now that this new treaty is in force, the Commission will be able to bring forward recommendations which the Government will consider positively and constructively.

This Government well appreciate that this is an important and sensitive issue. We need to make sure that whatever action is taken, the results will not be counter-productive to gay men and lesbians. We will want to be sure that in removing injustice we are doing so thoughtfully and in full knowledge of the impact of any legislation, and that would require full consultation with many relevant parties such as industry, the Forces and the Churches. In Committee we discussed the different angles to this matter. If we do not approach them properly, I believe that will be counter-productive.

For that reason I regret that the Government cannot support this proposed new clause. Although it is not clear whether a legislative measure would be the appropriate way to proceed, I hope that those proposing this new clause are reassured of our commitment to act in this area. Our differences are over means rather than the objectives. I trust that this amendment will be withdrawn.

I turn to the amendment promoting age diversity and tackling age discrimination in employment. This is a key part of the Government's strategy of building a country where everyone, whether young or old, can play their full part. The question the Government have asked, and continue to ask, is: which is the most effective way to achieve this goal? It would have been easy to legislate, as the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, has proposed. But the use of legislation--again I am afraid that I repeat what was said in Committee--has not proved to be the best way forward in this complex area.

As noble Lords are aware, my honourable friend the Minister for Employment carried out a year-long consultation on this issue. The result of this consultation was the publication of a non-statutory code of practice on 14th June this year. The Government developed this code with some key social partners, including the TUC, CBI, the Employers Forum on Age, Age Concern, the Institute of Personnel and Development, the Federation of Recruitment and Employment Services and the Institute of Management. This code has been widely welcomed. Those groups which in the past have lobbied for legislation in this area have praised the code. The Better Regulation Task Force has also endorsed the Government's approach.

I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not repeat all that I said in Committee. Suffice to say that the code's effectiveness will be fully evaluated by February 2001. The results of that will help inform future plans for legislation in this area, including the approach the Government will take to proposals for EU directives or regulations under Article 13 of the new Treaty of Amsterdam.

This Government are far from inactive in this area. We share the commitment of noble Lords to action against unjustified age discrimination in the work-place. Where we differ is over the means. We do not believe the time is right for a legislative measure such as that

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which has been proposed. We have just produced the code and the essential thing now is to evaluate what progress we make on that. I am sure that the House would agree with me that we should see how well the code works before considering whether regulations are necessary. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.


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