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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Is he aware that the arguments he is now deploying about lack of evidence were used against the late Lord Brockway who had to introduce 12 Private Member's Bills before racial discrimination became unlawful? Is he further aware that the Human Rights Act 1998 will do nothing whatever to provide a remedy for discrimination in the employment field based on religious grounds as distinct from racial grounds?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for making those points. Given his experience in this area I defer to his greater knowledge and wisdom in the matter. I am simply making the case that we want to proceed on the basis of evidence and need. That must be fairly considered. It is, I am sure, a point that the noble Lord will wish to take on board.
I refer to research commissioned by the University of Derby whose aim is to assess the scale and nature of religious discrimination in England and Wales. The project has been under way since earlier this year and a report is due shortly. It covers an assessment of the evidence of both actual and perceived religious discrimination. It looks at the patterns shown by that evidence, including the main victims, the perpetrators, and the way in which discrimination manifests itself.
The report will look also at the indications of the extent to which religious discrimination might overlap with racial discrimination, a point helpfully raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. It will also seek to identify the range of policy options available to tackle religious discrimination, including, I trust, looking at the legislative framework. The results of the research will provide us with a basis on which we can make informed decisions, which I know your Lordships value.
In tackling discrimination and disadvantage, we must, from time to time, refer to and use the law. That is important. It sets the framework and the culture by which we approach difficult and sensitive matters such as this.
This has been an important and, as I said earlier, wide-ranging debate. There is a lesson that we can take from the excellent inter-faith dialogue and work flourishing in the UK today and in which several noble Lords engage. The lesson is that discussion of these issues leads to greater mutual understanding. From that understanding comes respect. I humbly submit to your Lordships that the issues helpfully and fruitfully raised in this debate will help to shape and inform the Government's approach to this issue. It is an area where we must tread carefully and also wisely, seeking ways in which we may remedy and address the issues of religious discrimination in our society.
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