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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Perhaps I can help. It is all in a schedule to the Northern Ireland Act 1998. I have not spelled it out on the face of the Bill but, of course, that can be easily looked up and provided. The model is in the Northern Ireland Act which Parliament passed in 1998. As I said, I can be criticised for being too flexible, but that is where one finds the best model nowadays.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: When I said "weakness", I was thinking of a weakness as far as concerns Parliament and the way it will work. It is, of course, a strength--governments like legislation that is vague enough to allow them to put it into action the best way they can. I know that from being on the other side of tables of this kind.

The noble Lord said that the Northern Ireland legislation is a model. I have some knowledge of that from the time when I was a Minister in Northern Ireland in 1989, at a time when all this was coming into being. The situation in Northern Ireland is now different in a number of respects. First, it was certainly different in 1989 in that there was on-going, extremely violent terrorism and many deaths at that point--3,000 in total in the past few decades. There was a

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tremendous background of violence which required extremely strong measures to try to reassure the public. It also meant that extremely strong measures were much more acceptable to people as a matter of fact.

Secondly, the discrimination causing the difficulty in Northern Ireland was of a simpler character. There were two basic sides, as it were--two parts of the population in Northern Ireland to consider--as opposed to the large number of people who, potentially, may be discriminated against in the context of this legislation--not only from the racial point of view in the sense of ethnic minorities, but also gypsies and so on, as we discussed the other day. So it is a much more complex situation.

I appreciate that the Northern Ireland example may be the model that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has in mind, but there is nothing in the amendment to say so. If we were to pass the amendment as it is, it would be entirely for the Government to decide--with very little say from Parliament's point of view--how the enforcement, the appraisal and the inspection should be managed. I should prefer an amendment which would leave Parliament in greater control of what might happen.

In a sense, that is a quibble about the drafting of the amendment. As far as concerns its main point, the Government have already accepted that there should be a general duty of this character, presumably enforced in some way that we have yet to hear about in any detail. I am not conscious that we have heard in outline how the Government intend that that should happen. We have this wonderful expression of "when parliamentary time is available", which one has heard before. Indeed, one has used it before on other occasions.

The Home Office appears to have taken up an enormous slice of parliamentary time this year without succeeding in getting round to this particular piece of legislation. It obviously has a great deal of other priorities ahead of this at the moment. In those circumstances, the opportunity to insert the duty in this Bill--and to avoid the necessity of bullying the noble Lord the Captain of the Honourable Corps of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, and his colleagues in the Commons, into finding yet more time for the Home Office--is one which most departments, if they are keen on something, would be happy to accept. This gives the impression that perhaps the Government are not so keen on the idea, or at least that they want to kick it into the long grass at some point. I leave the Minister to explain what is meant by the different phrases that have been used.

Lord Patel: I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I repeat that I am not a lawyer and that I cannot speak on the finer legal points, nor can I pretend to fully understand them. But I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who is an expert, will keep us right.

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I speak in support of the new clause, which gives Secretaries of State the duty of inspection and appraisal to ensure that the public authorities actively promote racial equality policies. It is not good enough for authorities to prove that they have a written policy; active steps must be taken to eliminate racial discrimination, direct and indirect, and to promote equal opportunities.

My experience is of the National Health Service. Everyone in the health service should be personally committed to a culture in which prejudice of any kind is unacceptable. I support the Department of Health in its efforts to tackle racism and I support its pledge of zero tolerance of discrimination, whether caused by patients or by staff.

I also welcome the circular sent to managers across the NHS in March 1999 which stated that,

    "employees must be proactive and positive in tackling racism".

But I question whether managers have taken heed of this directive. It is vital that NHS trusts, health authorities and primary care trusts, when they are established, have an equal opportunities policy. This new clause will ensure that such NHS bodies are appraised so that their policies are promoted actively.

An important issue for the health service is its recruitment and selection procedures, to which I referred at Second Reading. Equal opportunities practices for doctors in employment and within general practice ensure justice for all applicants for posts, enable selection of the best available candidates and deliver services to the community by a workforce which reflects its diversity. Organisations reflecting diversity in their staff can develop more fully their businesses and social potential, which will lead to more cost effective use of resources.

Some doctors--such as women, certain ethnic groups, overseas doctors and disabled doctors--often fail to gain the post for which they are qualified. The British Medical Association identifies that one of the main causes of under-representation of these groups can be attributed to lack of equal opportunity practices in recruitment and selection procedures. There is a serious anomaly in the race relations legislation, an issue I raised at Second Reading. I know that the Minister replied that this would be covered in employment legislation.

I had intended to move an amendment because the Race Relations Act does not provide protection to a large number of GPs in partnerships, or to doctors seeking to become partners in general practices. Those in partnerships of five or fewer are outside the protection of the Act. There are 5,000 practices with two to five partners, involving 17,500 doctors. However, I have not been able to do so as such an amendment would not fall within the Long Title of the Bill. However, I am in favour of a positive legal duty on public authorities to act to prevent discrimination. That may prove to be a partial remedy for what I have been unable to do through the Public Bill Office.

I refer again to the Government equality statement mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, and I support what he had to say. A statutory,

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enforceable obligation to promote racial equality and to eliminate discrimination is required to prevent prevarication and delay by public bodies, including the NHS, in confronting, and taking action to eradicate, institutional racism. That is far preferable to using the law to seek redress only after discrimination has taken place. I support the new clause since at least it will provide for monitoring of compliance in public authorities in promoting equality of opportunity.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Dholakia: I, too, support the amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Lester and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Prashar and Lady Howells, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel. I was delighted to hear of the examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, in his contribution to the debate.

We should bear in mind that what we are proposing is in effect already on the statute book as regards Section 71 and how it affects public authorities. However, what we are proposing here is in reality an amendment to the Race Relations Act that will include public authorities in that Act. I shall argue and give examples of why Section 71 has not been effective. For that reason it is right and proper that, although the provisions of Section 71 apply to public authorities, there needs to be a more fundamental approach in terms of compliance provision. It is vital, therefore, that we support this amendment.

During the passage of the Greater London Authority Bill I was fortunate enough to be able to impress upon the Minister the need for such a provision to be included in that legislation. I recall going to see the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and I do not believe, in the early stages, that he was happy about it. However, over a period of time the strength of our argument was such that not only did I receive the support of his party but also that of the Conservative Party in promoting the measure. Should the Minister give me a nod and a wink that he is prepared to listen again, I shall shut up and sit down and save much effort in putting forward my arguments once more.

Many of the arguments have already been put to the Committee. My noble friend Lord Lester spoke of the position in Northern Ireland. However, we should not forget that provisions are already in place as regards the Scottish Parliament and now for the Greater London Authority and for the Metropolitan Police. We are discussing substantial powers. Earlier I mentioned the Government's own recently published statement on equality which acknowledged an obligation upon public authorities to promote equality needs. Therefore, as my noble friend Lord Lester said, this amendment should act as a model for other equality provisions in further legislation that may be brought forward.

In our view, the enactment of a strong, clear, enforceable legal duty ought not to be delayed. Only by imposing such a duty upon public bodies will the Government give tangible reality and consistency to their commitment to racial equality. Obviously, that

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was reflected in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. A statutory duty of the obligation to promote racial equality and to eliminate racial discrimination is required to prevent prevarication and delay by public bodies in confronting and taking action to eradicate institutional racism.

For a number of years I worked for the Commission for Racial Equality. It sees no real evidence that the present non-statutory guidelines, such as those in place for civil servants in relation to policy appraisal for equality of treatment, have been effective in changing the factors that influence government policies. Similarly, the obligations on local and police authorities that have been in place since 1976 under Section 71 of the Act have had a very uneven and limited impact. That is why it is significant that we need a positive legal duty to oblige public authorities to act to prevent discrimination.

I have mentioned Section 71, which places duties on all local authorities. However, when one examines those duties, one finds that the performance indicators on racial equality in local authorities' annual reports to the Audit Commission show clearly that, despite Section 71, areas of local government employment practices and service delivery remain wholly outside equal opportunity programmes. No longer can we depend upon the power of the commission, because a close examination shows that there is none. The commission has become a laughing stock. Matters are simply left to local authorities. If an authority is well intentioned it will put in place good practices, but if it is not, then nothing can be done about it.

Furthermore, one can examine the confirmed high level of complaints to industrial tribunals where 15 per cent of all cases heard before those tribunals come from local authorities. That reveals how ineffective are the local authorities themselves in eradicating discrimination. We shall miss a golden opportunity, which has been pointed out not only by Macpherson but also by Scarman, if we continue to keep faith with the section in the Race Relations Act. It has hardly worked at all.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, put the argument to the Committee that we must define in precise terms what we are approving here. It is right and proper that, if the Government decide to take these proposals on board at Report stage, then it will be possible to implement them by regulation. It is also perfectly feasible to indicate those public authorities that should be included under such regulations. These proposals are not out of place. All that is required is the will of the Government.

Many noble Lords who have contributed to the debate on this amendment represent, to a large extent, the interests of ethnic minority communities. They have stated in clear terms again and again that it is about time that the Government looked at this provision. They have the experience and the examples of what is happening in their areas. I hope that the Government will take account of the body of opinion that exists in the Chamber. If they do so, they will be delivering a great public service in relation to other

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legislation and how equality issues may affect it. Occasionally, such matters are overlooked. For that reason, it is not good enough to wait for some later date or until after the next general election. Harold Wilson said that a week is a long time in politics and no one can anticipate what will happen at the next election. I hope that the Minister, who was wise enough to agree with the amendment I tabled to the GLA Bill, will now say, "Yes, this is the right approach" and will take it on board.

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