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Lord Carter: My Lords, I suggest that the Opposition Chief Whip has a chat with his noble friends and other noble Lords with children who asked me about a half-term break. If at the end of the Session the only problem that I have had is confined to one day of business management, I shall be fairly relaxed.

As to the timing of the Easter break, the noble Lord will be aware that there were two proposals for the management of business which would have allowed the House to take the break before Easter. However, the Opposition were unable to agree to them, and I have therefore had to go for the normal break, which is the week after Easter.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, why on earth do we need a half-term break? There has never been such a break before, and I had not heard of it until about an hour ago. I do not know from where this great effort sprang. I do not believe that it came from our side. If it arose on the noble Lord's side, is it not a pretty poor show that the first thing that Peers do when they come here, at the request of Mr Blair, is ask for a half-term break because it is too busy for them? That is absurd. I believe that we should not have it.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I can assure the House that I was approached by a number of Peers from all sides of the House who suggested that it would be a good idea this Session because of the long run. As to naming

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them, as the Leader of the Opposition said, the sources of Chief Whips, like those of journalists, are always private.

Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]

3.35 p.m.

Lord Bach: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Blackstone, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to whom the Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.] has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 19, Schedule 2, Clauses 20 to 26, Schedule 3, Clauses 27 to 30, Schedule 4, Clauses 31 to 45, Schedule 5, Clauses 46 to 49, Schedule 6, Clauses 50 to 98, Schedule 7, Clauses 99 to 113, Schedule 8, Clauses 114 and 115, Schedule 9, Clauses 116 to 118.--(Lord Bach.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Race Relations (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

3.36 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, I beg to move that the Report be now received.

The House may be assisted in its deliberations this afternoon if I explain the Government's intentions with regard to two sets of amendments which were to be discussed during today's Report stage of the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill. In making these comments I express personal gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for his great assistance in these areas and to other noble Lords for making clear their ideas about the two issues on which I wish to comment this afternoon.

Your Lordships will be aware that the Government are deeply committed to achieving a major change in race equality in our country. The Race Relations (Amendment) Bill is an important part of our programme to ensure that the public sector sets the pace, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said, in its drive towards race equality. We demand that the clearest possible message be sent out

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that discrimination is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. The Government, therefore, propose two changes to strengthen the provisions of this Bill.

First, after careful consideration we have decided to extend the indirect discrimination provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976 to the functions of public authorities to be caught by the Bill. We intend to table an amendment to provide precisely for that. We have always been in favour of this principle but have been concerned, we believe rightly, to ensure that any such provision is effective without leaving public bodies open to routine or vexatious legal challenge in circumstances where their policies are entirely proper.

Since the Bill was published, however, we have listened carefully to the arguments put forward and concluded that, on balance, the risk of spurious challenge is outweighed by the importance of the principle of including in the Bill indirect discrimination in respect of public sector functions. Direct and indirect racial discrimination is already prohibited under the terms of the Race Relations Act 1976 in the fields of employment, training, education, housing and the provision of goods, facilities and services in respect of the public and private sectors. The Act is already being extended by the Bill to new fields in the public sector which have previously been determined by case law not to be a service and to which prohibitions on direct or indirect discrimination do not therefore apply. The Act will now extend to areas such as the implementation of central and local government regulatory, economic and social policies and law enforcement in respect of indirect discrimination.

Secondly, the Government have always seen the importance of the duty to promote equality as a positive way of eliminating unjustifiable indirect discrimination in these and all other fields. Our setting of targets for ethnic minority recruitment, retention and promotion, and our guidelines for maintaining race equality inter-policy development and implementation are two examples.

We are already committed to placing the promotion of equality by public bodies on a statutory footing. We shall reinforce that commitment by bringing forward a government amendment to the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill to enshrine the principle on the face of the Bill as a positive duty, leaving room for consultation on how exactly the duty will operate in practice and how it will be enforced. Those are two important issues. The amendment will be brought forward at Committee stage in the Commons. Meanwhile, we are considering whether there should be any procedural safeguards consistent with the principle of non-discrimination.

I hope that that clarifies the position from the Government's point of view. These are significant changes. I believe that they will be broadly welcomed and I look forward to support from all corners of the House in ensuring that the amendments work to improve the quality and the nature of race relations in our country. They are important steps towards that objective.

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Moved, That the Report be now received.--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, first, I should like to thank the noble Lord for that formal announcement of the Government's position on the Bill, which will no doubt be helpful for later debate. The actual announcement of the change of policy was, in accordance with our new, modernised constitutional convention, made on Tuesday by Mr Alastair Campbell. We read it in our morning papers yesterday. It was made again by the Home Secretary, and the text of the statement that the Minister has just read out was placed in the Library yesterday. However, its formal repetition by the Minister today is helpful.

Perhaps I may congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on his success in these two matters. However, some points remain to be dealt with. First, in Committee a few days ago the Minister told us, in effect, that sensible government would become impossible if the amendment were carried. He told us that an indirect discrimination law did not fit well with law enforcement or with social and economic policies. He told us that it would become a matter for the courts to decide whether much government policy was justified and gave examples of the policies that he thought would be at risk; namely, the New Deal for young people, winter fuel payments for pensioners, employment and education action zones, and so on. But now we are told that such court challenges do not matter any more.

I do not blame the Minister. He has said nothing that the Home Secretary has not previously said. The Home Secretary now says that the risk of challenge is minimal. It seems to me that the authority of Home Office statements is damaged by this change of policy--Home Office thinking changes 100 per cent from one week to the next. Are the Minister and his colleagues now convinced, for example, that what they said about the effect on law enforcement is rubbish? The case made by the Minister previously was pretty unconvincing, but nor has he given any reason to be convinced in the opposite direction.

A further difficulty arises from the Minister's statement. The Government are now in effect saying that without the two important amendments the Bill will not do, and that it is rubbish, particularly in regard to indirect discrimination. Yet we are asked to pass the Bill and send it, unamended, to the Commons. The House of Lords, whose composition was decided by Parliament only a few months ago, is asked to send to another place an ineffective Bill. Why not amend the Bill at Third Reading? There is provision for us to do so. The Third Reading is not due for another week; indeed we should be entirely happy to postpone Third Reading if more time is required to sort out the necessary amendments--although they were drafted some time ago by the noble Lord, Lord Lester.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Perhaps I may clarify one matter. If the Government need time to make sure that the legislation is sensibly drafted, what on earth is the

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objection to the other place dealing with the matter when the Government have had time to consider it, then returning it to this House--the "half House" rather than the full House; Parliament presently being one and a half Houses, as it were--for us to examine at that stage?

3.45 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, my objection is to this House being asked to send rubbish to another place. That is what the Government say the Bill now is. They say that it is incomplete and that it must be changed in a serious way. That is not acceptable. This House should not be asked to pass a Bill that is nonsense and which we know will be profoundly changed, when there is a perfect opportunity for us to change it. It is not as though this has happened at the last minute. The Third Reading is still to come. The Bill can, and should, be altered before it leaves this House.


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