Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I doubt that noble Lords opposite will be surprised that I cannot agree with the general approach adopted in the amendment. We are keen to ensure that all public authorities are covered by provisions of the Bill unless there are specific reasons for them to be exempted. The effect of the amendment as tabled would be that units of the Armed Forces would not be covered while on active duty. We see no reason for such an exemption. Since all personnel currently serving in the forces can be deemed to be "on active service", that could place the Armed Forces outside the scope of the Bill.

Lord Burnham: The phrase "on active service" has a specific meaning. The meaning can be used under the Geneva Convention. We do not have time at the moment to go into it, and nor should we, but it means someone at the sharp end.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: No doubt the noble Lord is well advised in such matters. We believe that it could place the Armed Forces outside the scope of the Bill, which for us would be unacceptable. Indeed, the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces themselves see no reason why they should be placed outside the scope of the Bill.

That would undermine the Armed Forces' commitment to play a leading role in the Government's drive to achieve greater racial equality by demonstrating a real lead in the public sector generally and nationally. We believe that it could also damage the working relationship that the Armed Forces has with the Commission for Racial Equality through the MOD/Commission for Racial Equality

11 Jan 2000 : Column 595

Partnership Agreement. That is something that has been of tremendous value and great progress has been made through that Partnership Agreement.

The purpose of new paragraph 5(2) is simply to ensure that Section 19B does not extend to those units of the Armed Forces which specifically assist the Government Communications Headquarters, but only when they are assisting GCHQ. At such times they are effectively part of GCHQ, which is explicitly excluded from the Bill. That needs to be understood.

The intelligence and security agencies, including GCHQ, had hoped to be included within the Bill. However, to have included them would have required changes to the Bill, with special clauses introduced to safeguard against claimants misusing certain provisions to undermine the agencies' operational effectiveness. For example, a claimant could have used a Section 65 questionnaire to fish for sensitive information from the agencies. The necessary safeguards would have had, in practice, the same effect as excluding the agencies from the Bill. It is better to make the exemption clear rather than to obscure it behind special clauses. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, will be prepared to withdraw Amendment No. 15 on the basis of what has been said and our clear commitment to inclusion.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: In order to consider the matter and the points made by the Minister further, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 16:

    Page 12, line 29, at end insert--

(" . Any person or body corporate in the performance of any contract with any authority or body included in paragraphs 11 to 42 of this Schedule to carry out any public function which the authority or body would otherwise carry out and which would otherwise be included in this Schedule.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 16 standing in my name on the Marshalled List. The amendment deals with contractors, but primarily local authority contractors. We are concerned that the same law should apply to local authority contractors as applies to local authorities when they carry out work directly. I do not suggest that this is not the intention of the Government--I believe that it is--but perhaps the Government can explain whether they are subject to the Bill in some other way or whether an amendment of this character is needed.

I believe it is obvious that if a refuse collecting lorry fails, for example, to collect the rubbish in a street because that street has a high proportion of ethnic minority residents, a case could follow. That would certainly be the case if the local authority's staff were responsible for the rubbish collection. However, I am less clear about what would happen if the authority delegates that duty under a contract to another firm, as happens a great deal these days. Sometimes that leads to better efficiency. In that case would the same law apply? I believe that it should, but if it does not, this amendment may be required.

11 Jan 2000 : Column 596

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: This amendment illustrates the value of the Section 6 of the Human Rights Act definition of "public authority" under which it would certainly be caught. It must be right that subcontracting of this kind in the exercise of public functions be covered by the Act. I hope that if the Section 6 approach is rejected, this area will be clearly covered by the orders made either on the face of the Bill or by Ministers.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: We, like other noble Lords, are keen to ensure that private sector companies carrying out public functions are covered by the new Section 19B. But we do not believe that the amendment as tabled would achieve the same in the most effective way. Our proposal is that we cover such functions using the order-making power at new Section 19B(5) and that we define such functions by reference to the legislation that authorises the private sector body to carry them out.

That will achieve three ends. First, it will ensure that there is complete clarity on the part of such private sector bodies that they are covered by the legislation. Secondly, it will allow the Government the flexibility to add and remove classes of body as new functions enter the private sector or return to the public sector. Thirdly, it will allow for consultation with the private sector bodies involved which can only reinforce their understanding of the legislation. We believe it is important to take the spirit and cultural feeling of the legislation into their activities.

We continue to believe that this flexibility and clarity can best be achieved by using the order-making power to ensure comprehensive coverage rather than using a general descriptor on the face of the schedule. I should add that the suggested amendment would require the courts to decide what would otherwise be included in the schedule. That would be a difficult task for the courts. I trust, therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: The proposal will achieve a fourth object; that is, much greater complexity of the law. I expressed a view at an earlier stage in our debate this afternoon that law which involves enormous numbers of statutory instruments in order for it to be understood is undesirable. The more that can be put into primary legislation the better. But this brief discussion highlighted in a specific context the important problems of the definition of "public authority", which we were discussing on Amendment No. 1. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

Clause 2 [Certain appointment functions outside the employment field]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 17:

    Page 3, line 35, after ("group") insert ("or nationality").

11 Jan 2000 : Column 597

The noble Lord said: Clause 2 deals with appointment functions outside the employment field. Generally speaking, it ensures that those are dealt with properly under the Bill.

Subsection (5) takes out some appointments in relation to,

    "an appointment to an office or post for the purposes of a private household or where, if the holding of the office or post were employment, being of a particular racial group would be a genuine occupational qualification for the job".

It is right that in some appointments to be of a specific racial group is a genuine occupational qualification. But it also seems to me that in some appointments nationality will also be important. I think particularly of appointments made by Ministers of the Crown to an international body. For example, it would be odd not to require a British judge going to an international court to be British. To oblige the Minister to ignore nationality in choosing somebody to serve in the international court would be extremely odd.

Nowadays we are taught that we must consider nationality in terms of Scotland, Wales and Ireland also. There may be times when committees are created when it would be appropriate to have a Scottish, Welsh, Irish or even English representative in a specific post and the Minister should be able to make that appointment without being accused of breaching the legislation. That is why we seek to insert the word "nationality" into this exception. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am puzzled as to the purpose behind this amendment, despite having listened carefully to the noble Lord. We examined this matter carefully and could not see that the tabled amendment would have any effect at all.

Section 3(1) of the Race Relations Act 1976 provides that,

    "'racial group' means a group of persons defined by reference to colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origins".

Therefore the reference in Clause 2(5) to "racial group" means that decisions made on the basis of an individual's nationality are automatically subject to the provisions of this clause. For that reason we cannot see any merit in the amendment. I therefore invite the noble Lord to consider it again and to withdraw it at this stage.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page