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Lord Avebury: My Lords, in the debate in this House yesterday a noble Lord remarked that, if a week is a long time in politics, a decade is a short time in diplomacy. I would say that, when we look back to the 1976 Act, 20 years is an even shorter time in the field of race relations. As my noble friend said, I hope that we shall now seize this opportunity to impose a duty on public authorities which has been so widely demanded by ethnic minorities throughout the country. If we do not take up the opportunity we have today then I fear that we shall have to wait for another 20 years. As my noble friend Lord Lester pointed out, in 1976 we missed our chance of putting into place something along these lines.

I also wish to take up what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said about my noble friend omitting to include a schedule in this amendment, which is equivalent to Schedule 9 of the Northern Ireland Act. I am sure that my noble friend would have done that if there had been time to consult the Home Office and the Commission for Racial Equality and arrived at a suitable form of words which would be the equivalent of that schedule.

I believe that my noble friend Lord Dholakia hinted at a solution to the problem. If the Commission for Racial Equality already has firm ideas about how that should be translated in terms relevant to England that would be satisfactory. I do not accept entirely what my noble friend said as regards Schedule 9 reading across exactly to English conditions. There may have to be some minor variations. But if the conditions are of relatively small character and consultation with the Commission for Racial Equality could take place between now and Report stage, then we would not have to give the wide discretion to the Government which the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has criticised. I agree with him that it would be much better if we can put this matter on the face of the Bill, but if we do not have the agreement of the Government in principle to the amendment then we shall be wasting our time in entering into consultations.

I wish to take this opportunity to ask the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, another question which arises out of this brief discussion, particularly its relationship to Northern Ireland legislation. As the noble Lord will recall, under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act, United Kingdom departments which operate in Northern Ireland had to be designated under Section 75(3). As I believe is usual in these cases the procedure is that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had to write to all the United Kingdom departments to ask whether they had any objection to being designated. When I last

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made inquiries about this matter I was told that every single United Kingdom department had responded favourably to the request except the Home Office. That was at about the time we rose for the Christmas Recess and Section 75 of the Act was due to come into operation on 1st January. Can the noble Lord say whether the Home Office replied to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland before the deadline and was it willing to be designated under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act?

It is not a trivial point. One would hope that there is a certain degree of conformity in legislation on both sides of the Irish Channel. If the Home Office is to be subject to Northern Ireland legislation it would surely be highly incongruous if it did not have a similar obligation as regards the rest of the country. Otherwise one is saying that Northern Ireland is a separate land. It is treated in a very superior way as regards obligations placed on public authorities. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, will agree that paradoxically the scope of the legislation is far wider even though there are only the two communities. Northern Ireland legislation extends to gender, nationality and so forth, whereas we are talking about a more limited sub-set of provisions in Northern Ireland.

As I say, paradoxically, even though one has the major problem of religion between the two communities, Northern Ireland legislation extends through a wide spectrum of differences between different sections of the population. When we consider gender later on I hope that the same considerations will apply and that we shall place on public authorities the obligations contained in the Northern Ireland legislation which provide an extremely valuable model. If the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, can answer my question, I believe that it would help the Committee in its deliberations on this particular legislation.

Baroness Uddin: I had no intention of speaking in this debate because I have been absent for much of it. I therefore beg the Committee's indulgence to speak in support of this particular clause.

Unless we promote legislation imposed by statute on local authorities and public bodies, then we shall fail to respect the confidence of the community. It is not simply a matter of being 20 years too late as regards race relations legislation. So much has happened since the death of Stephen Lawrence. The community had such expectation not simply in the black and Asian sectors but across all sections of it. So much aspiration relies on this one Bill in finally laying to rest assumptions that we will tolerate racism under any statutory obligation and through the services that we provide. There has been a great deal of discussion about indirect discrimination. I have great concerns about that. I hope that we shall be able to address that fairly soon.

Leaving that matter to one side, as a long-standing councillor for Tower Hamlets I remind the noble Lord, Lord Lester, of the dreadful way in which the Liberal council used Section 71 to champion racist policies against the communities in that borough. I say

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that because of what the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said about the ineffectiveness of Section 71 over a very long period. I shall refrain from commenting any further on the record of the Tower Hamlets Liberals and their abuse of authority and power and the degradation of the Asian and Muslim community in that part of the borough.

I very much urge the Minister to accept this particular clause because, after all that has been done since this Government came to power and the aspirations which have been raised in the community across the country, I do not believe that we can afford to lose the confidence of the community and fail the aspirations of every single person who has supported the Stephen Lawrence report. We cannot possibly let those people down. I do not believe that it is a party political matter or that we can wait for the equal opportunities statement to be produced and treated as an afterthought. That is how it will appear. I urge my noble friend to accept this new clause and I am delighted to support it.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: It is always interesting and perhaps difficult for Ministers to disagree with something when they have every sympathy with the proposal put in front of them. The nature of our disagreement on this particular amendment is not as regards its principle, spirit, intent or direction but simply a matter of timing and content. It is for that reason we are unable to support the amendment which the Committee is discussing.

I have found the contributions to the debate very interesting, helpful and illuminating. I believe that all Members of the Committee who have spoken have made very important points which take our discussions forward. I was much impressed by what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said in his opening remarks on this issue. He addressed it very practically, forcefully and laid out a very good case. We agree with it. As I have made clear in the past, it is the Government's intention to legislate to promote a positive duty in this field. There is no disagreement between us on that matter.

The noble Lord also gave us a very interesting history lesson on the development of this particular aspect of legislation. It was very thoughtful and helpful in reminding us about the position from which we started. In that context it is worth saying to the Committee that Labour, whether in local or national government, has always been at the forefront of these arguments. We have an excellent track record as regards this issue.

The Committee will be aware that my political background is local government in which I spent a long time--perhaps too long in the view of some colleagues. I was very proud to lead an authority which was at the forefront of these issues. Although race was perhaps not the biggest consideration in my local authority area, certainly it was an important concern. Issues of sex equality and race were very much part of the authority's forward thinking. In many respects I believe that local government has in its policymaking

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and thinking made out a clear case for introducing a positive duty. In a sense, in many areas national government has caught up with the best achievements of local government. I believe that local government should be congratulated on that. Positive promotion has spread not simply across local government but into a whole range of areas within the public service. I believe that over the years the public service has in general responded well in that respect.

The Government have made clear their position. It is not their intention to kick this issue into the long grass. We have made clear our intention to consult on how a duty to promote equal opportunities in relation not only to race but to sex and disability may work in practice. We are fully committed to the introduction of a legislative duty when that consultation has taken place and we have had the opportunity to take into account the views of all concerned when they have been properly sought. That opportunity for consultation is very important. We want to get it right and ensure that in this complex legal field we create that positive duty in the right framework.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Can the Minister inform the Committee what consultation took place in Northern Ireland before the very extensive system in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 was imposed by Parliament?

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