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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I hope that I may correct what he has just said. I did not say that there was a lack of resources; I said that when I asked Ministers whether they would undertake this task, they said that it was a lack of resources that prevented them from doing so. However, I fully accept that many resources are being devoted to this area in a number of ways.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I suspect that Ministers in responding to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, may have intended to refer to lack of parliamentary time. There is certainly a lack of parliamentary time. There is always a lack of parliamentary time.

I was sorry to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, say that we had a history of poor performance to date. I was particularly sorry to hear that from someone who has been as closely involved with these matters as she has. I hope that I shall be able to convince her and others that we have—to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lester—not been idle. One of the arguments against—

Baroness Prashar: My Lords, I did not say that the Government had a history of poor performance; I said that the impact of the legislation to date has been poor.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is a matter on which I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. I apologise for criticising her. It is absolutely fundamental not merely to pass laws but actually to eliminate inequalities. I want to discuss that matter before I end my speech. I am relieved to find that we do not disagree at all on the matter.

I wish to say a few more words about the "big bang" theory. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, claims that there is something terribly wrong with the current law due to its inconsistencies. Of course we aim to remove unwarranted inconsistencies, but the law is different in some cases. For example, disability law is different, as has become clear this afternoon, because it is designed

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to tackle specific issues relevant to a particular group. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made that very clear. He said that disability legislation was different because it sought to remove obstacles that exist, whereas other forms of discrimination are the other way round, so to speak.

To implement the race and employment directives, we are working hard to make the legislation coherent and easy to use. We are using the same wording for key discrimination concepts where appropriate. We will always seek to simplify the law by reducing exceptions.

The other problem with the big bang theory is that it is, in a sense, a moving target. Not only is the law in this country evolving, but so are European directives. Almost always, they evolve in a helpful direction. There have been three directives since 2000. One was on race, and another on employment deals with sex orientation, religion, disability and age. We talked yesterday about the amendment to the equal treatment directive, which deals with sex discrimination.

There have been enormously important rulings by the European Court of Justice. My noble friend Lord Ashley referred to some of those, particularly that relating to equal pay. We have to take an active role, as we have done, in shaping the European directives that bear on equality, and ensure that they reflect UK interests and our concerns for tackling inequality. We did that with the race and employment directives, which represent a major step forward. They provide a common framework of protection against discrimination at work. We are carrying that on now in the negotiations on a new European Union sex discrimination directive.

As all those directives become law, they have to be incorporated into UK law. That means a constant succession of legislation, both primary and secondary. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, thought that the Bill would provide some sort of final solution for discrimination and that we would not be troubled with it in Parliament if the Bill were passed. I am afraid that that is not the case. The process is, will be and ought to be a continuing one. That is why we take the view that we do about the big bang theory.

Let me say something about what we have been doing and what is in the pipeline. We negotiated the European Union race and employment directives so that they took account of circumstances in the UK. For that reason, we are very happy to be implementing them. That process involves amending existing legislation on race and disability, and introducing entirely new legislation to outlaw discrimination in employment and training on the grounds of age, sexual orientation, religion and belief. That is a major commitment, and we must get it right before we consider whether to expand the framework further in the area.

Perhaps the most difficult matter is age discrimination. I entirely agree with what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and others on the subject. It is enormously important, in terms of not only justice but economics. She referred to the dependency ratio, and whether we are going to be able

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to afford decent pensions for ourselves and future generations. She and my noble friend Lord Borrie were right to say that that is covered in the pensions Green Paper.

There are by no means firm conclusions on all the points, particularly that about any change in the retirement age. But we are preparing detailed proposals for implementation of the age provision, and we shall publish them for wide consultation by the summer. Regulations will be in place by December 2004 so that employers can prepare for changes that will come into force by 2006. I heard my noble friend Lord Borrie argue that we should jump the gun on that but, of course, it is a matter for negotiation with employers and they must have time to prepare for it.

Another very difficult area is disability. But I was pleased to hear, above all, my noble friend Lord Ashley pay tribute in his opening remarks to what has been done. It is clear that we have a positive agenda on civil rights for disabled people. Last September, we implemented the first phase of anti-discrimination rights in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act so that disabled students are taken into account by schools and further and higher education institutions.

Later this year, the Government will publish a draft disability Bill, with measures affecting the public sector, transport and premises and with some widening of the definition of "disability" and more. The scope of the Bill is yet to be finalised. However, we are considering extending the Disability Discrimination Act definition of "disability"—a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins—to cover more people with HIV and cancer, to introduce a duty on public bodies to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people, and to extend duties under Part 3 of the Act in areas such as the function of public bodies, transport operators and premises.

We are committed to implementing the disability provisions of the Article 13 employment directive in 2004. Those provisions end various exemptions in the Disability Discrimination Act and bring into the scope of the Act a million small employers and a range of occupations, such as the police, prison officers and barristers in chambers. I say to my noble friend Lord Ahmed that they will cover issues of religion and employment. We have laid regulations to bring into force in October 2004 changes to the Disability Discrimination Act which will require service providers to consider making physical changes to their premises in order to remove barriers to disabled people's access.

Work on sex discrimination continues. Amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act will include explicitly treating both harassment and sexual harassment as forms of discrimination. We are taking steps to tackle the specific issue of equal pay and to address the broader causes of the gender pay gap. We undertake that every central government department will complete a pay review in April 2003. I understand the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, about burdens on employers, but I believe that the fundamental point is that made by the noble

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Lord, Lord Patel. Our best economic interest lies in using all our people in the best way that we can and in having a diverse workforce where no part of our population is discriminated against and is therefore unable to contribute.

I do not believe that in the time available I can go into the issue of clubs, except to say to my noble friend Lord Faulkner that of course we are sympathetic, but not in licensing legislation.

We move from that to the important issue of sexual orientation discrimination. My noble friends Lord Alli and Lady Rendell, in particular, made very moving speeches on that subject. It is true that at present there is a lack of protection. However, it is also true that many employers, including in particular public sector employers, would welcome an increase in protection. Rather than the non-statutory code of practice, to which my noble friend Lady Rendell referred, new regulations, which will be enforced in December this year, will outlaw sexual orientation discrimination and harassment, which is defined as being an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. We are committed to bringing new legislation into force on sexual orientation, religion and belief, race, sex and ability. Noble Lords will have the opportunity to debate that legislation as a package in May of this year.

I am sorry to say that there was little reference to the issues of families, couples and partnerships. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for the Civil Partnerships Bill that he promoted last year. I was glad to have the support of my noble friend Lord Alli for the review that we are now undertaking of the policy and cost implications of a civil partnership registration scheme in England and Wales. We see strong arguments—Barbara Roche has made it clear—in favour of a civil partnership registration scheme for same sex couples with a package of rights and responsibilities for those who register. We look forward to producing a consultation paper in the summer.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is not present so I shall not express my disappointment about race legislation which he mentioned. We had a major amendment in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 that came into force in April last year. It met 11 of the recommendations of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report: it outlawed direct and indirect discrimination and victimisation in all public authority functions not covered by the original Act; it placed a general duty on specific public authorities to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups in carrying out their functions.

To the noble Lord, Lord Patel, I say that our race equality strategy is concerned with tackling the serious problems of health inequalities in our society. As I have said, we are implementing the race directive that will strengthen our race legislation and enhance the rights of individuals through the introduction of a

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revised definition of indirect discrimination and of harassment. All of those matters are not just projects for the distant future, but work in progress.

Related to that is the issue of religion, referred to by my noble friend Lord Ahmed and the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, who is a member of the your Lordships' Select Committee that is considering the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. We look forward to the committee's report. Already the Government are extending protection for excluded religious groups at work in the employment regulations that will come into force in December this year. If I have missed out any of the forms of discrimination or dealt with them inadequately, I apologise, but I am conscious of the time.

This afternoon there has been much controversy about the single equality commission. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, started by saying—I know the principle is widely held—that one cannot have one without the other; one cannot have a single commission without a single Act. There has been much disagreement about that, notably from my noble friend Lord Ashley, the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Ouseley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, who feel that disability discrimination is a different matter that needs specific and perhaps different treatment.

We have not taken a decision on the matter. We are still consulting and we shall announce the decision later this year. Our view is that a single commission can operate to promote guidance on the law, whatever its scope and whatever its origin. There is no reason why a single commission needs a single Act under which to work. That has been the position with a number of existing commissions. My noble friend Lord Alli said that the single commission would have to be strand specific, but it has to cover those who find themselves in more than one strand. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, gave a graphic illustration of that.

The point is that any complainant to a commission will have to identify the grounds for complaint. I have some sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said against "giantism" in commissions. That point could take up a considerable amount of time if the Bill goes into Committee.

Finally, I want to say something about the limits of law, which is the relationship between law and cultural changes. From what I have said, I hope that it is clear that the Government have been extremely active in dealing with equality legislation. It is also clear that we live in an unequal society. In order to make changes in society, we need more than legislation. We cannot make people behave well by legislation. There are many other ways in which we could work towards cultural change. We need to encourage those to the full. We need to work for ownership of equality and diversity by employers, by the public services, by business and by community organisations in every way.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, made a significant contribution on this point. I do not know whether he meant to. He talked about the rights of men as carers for children. I do not think he was entirely talking

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about what should be required by law, although perhaps he was in part. But it is partly a question of attitude in families as well as in places of work.

Everyone's objective, whether or not we want a single equality Bill, is that our young people and our future generations should have a shared and mutual respect and understanding, regardless of any of the matters which appear to divide us. I believe that society can learn from the Bill. We shall certainly not oppose its passage through your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, has done a great service to the House by the way in which he has prepared and introduced it.

4.52 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I begin by thanking all Members of the House who have contributed to this very long, detailed and important debate. Perhaps I may also thank noble Lords for the compliments—undeserved—that have been showered upon me. They remind me of what is said to have happened when Dr Henry Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize. An American lady came up to him and said: "Dr Kissinger, I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart for saving the whole of humankind", to which he replied, "You're welcome".

This House is more representative of the groups and individuals affected by the Bill than another place. Those who have spoken have done so from a diversity of backgrounds and experience unequalled in another place. If the Bill and the debate do nothing else, I hope that they will send an extremely powerful message to the Minister's colleagues who are responsible primarily across five different government departments—a Balkanised administration in that sense—with the Cabinet Office having to try to produce joined-up legislation in this area.

I shall offend if I seek to go through the more than 20 speeches in detail as well as boring the House, but I should like to make one or two general points. First, I am more than glad that reference was made to amending the Writ of Summons. It happened in this way: my noble friend Lord Russell, who remembers more than I shall ever learn, pointed out that the Latin word in the ancient Writ of Summons, which I think is proceres, had been mistranslated as meaning "great men", instead of "great ones". After protracted correspondence with the Lord Chancellor, the Sovereign was eventually graciously pleased to give a better translation, not as great ones but as great men and great women.

We heard many great women as well as great men speak in this debate. If she will permit me to say so, one of the most important speeches was that by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. If her speech from the Opposition Front Bench represents her party's policy, it is of enormous significance. Although my party has some leverage, if the two opposition parties could combine to help the Government forward in this area, it would concentrate their mind rather well.

The Labour manifesto was clear. It said:


    "We will eliminate unjustifiable discrimination wherever it exists".

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It did not say that it would do so wherever a European directive said so, nor that it would do so only in employment fields. It says, "wherever it exists". The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, with whose plight I sympathise, was unable to explain why one should not seek to eliminate unjustifiable discrimination wherever it exists in the fields covered by the Bill and not by EU directives.

The Minister referred to a "big-bang" theory—something that comes out of the universe, disappears, and, in a way, is ridiculous. But there is nothing ridiculous about seeking to establish a coherent legislative framework into which one can pour future legislation from the European Union as and when it arises.

When the Chancellor of the Exchequer took office, he inherited a mass of SROs—self-regulating organisations—across the financial services sector. He had a big bang called the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. He set up a single agency—the Financial Services Agency—working with City institutions within a completely coherent, marvellous framework. That big bang was translated into a proper framework. The Bill seeks to initiate a little bang—nothing as ambitious as what the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury did. It would produce a user-friendly, coherent framework.

Many noble Lords who expressed particular concern about disability have made me reflect on whether I was wise to include disability discrimination in the Bill. We thought anxiously about it and realised that the disability lobby would be anxious about the institutional architecture of equality. We heard a great deal about the matter today. But I would like the disability lobby to think carefully about exactly what it is asking those of us concerned with public policy to do. Does it want disability discrimination to remain in entirely separate legislation, with an entirely separate enforcement agency in perpetuity? Or is it willing to see eventually a single unified equality commission, provided that there is no unjust preference for one strand over another? I think that Bert Massie, the chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, indicated that he was willing to see such a system in five years' time from 2000.

I could easily have removed disability discrimination from the Bill. Had I done so, none of the complaints about the institutional architecture would have been made. If the disability lobby wishes, I shall be happy to remove disability discrimination from the Bill in Committee. What have we done instead? We have heeded every recommendation of the disability task force.

The RNIB has made yet further suggestions, which we will think about carefully. Some are misconceived; others are quite radical, and some need much further thought. I beg the disability rights movement to consider exactly what it wants. I sympathise with the Government's objective of creating a single equality commission, but like Bert Massie, I believe that we cannot have it without a coherent framework.

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In dealing with the question of the architecture and the objections about the "big bang", I must say that the Irish Government and Parliament managed, with fewer resources than we have, to produce, in two Bills, a coherent framework for dealing with equality. It covers nine different kinds of discrimination, and a single Equality Authority deals with all of them, side-by-side with the Human Rights Commission. I see no reason why, with our greater resources, we cannot do what they have done.

Your Lordships asked many questions. I shall not deal with all of them, but I shall touch on one or two points. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, approved the principles of the Bill most helpfully. Clearly, she understood exactly what we were concerned with. She raised the problem of getting equal pay without deterring employers from employing women. It is a difficult problem, but the answer is that that is why we need comprehensive legislation on employment discrimination, as well as pay discrimination.

Later in the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, asked whether we should not get away from trivial cases about what people wear. That problem has been there in the Sex Discrimination Act since 1975. There have not been any crazy decisions, although there have been some crazy cases, and I am not aware that the tribunals have created a ridiculous situation. If that has happened, such cases have been dealt with on appeal. I understand the point; it is important to bring cases that matter. However, matters of dress can be extremely important—maybe not to those of us who dress conventionally, wearing baronial robes or putting horsehair on our head in court. To somebody who is made to conform to a dress code at work, when someone of the other sex is not required to do so, it can be as important as it would be, for example, to a young Muslim girl who is not allowed to wear a headscarf. When considering the law, we should not trivialise such symbols and badges.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, spoke about not imposing excessive burdens on small employers and asked whether the employment equity reviews were not a little heavy-handed. I hope that we will be able to persuade those who are concerned about that—I am sure that the CBI itself is concerned—that, on the contrary, the employment equity reviews are not intended to be an onerous, heavy-handed paper chase. As regards the designation of employers, it was the fear of going too far that made us want to leave some discretion for the Secretary to State as to the level of employment that would be covered.

Questions were asked about how we would ensure that there was a level playing field within an equality commission. If noble Lords examine the Bill, they will find that we have taken special steps to ensure the efficient allocation of resources and to ensure that the allocation is fair all round. We have taken account of the need for strategic allocation to be fair all round and for the commission to be adequately resourced and independent.

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The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester raised several points. In his absence, I need not reply, but I will say that we had the same kind of arguments during the passage of the Human Rights Bill. It is not appropriate for faith organisations to seek immunity from principles of equality. The Bill would balance religious freedom with equality in other areas.

Noble Lords have clearly explained what "discrimination" means. The noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, illustrated how a novelist is better able to convey the underlying values than any barrister or politician. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, was worried about death by absorption of the Disability Rights Commission. I believe that if the disability rights movement wishes to be semi or wholly detached, federally-linked or entirely integrated, that is a matter for it. However, that should not dominate consideration of the Bill.

I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, in answer to his questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was worried about giantism. There is no question of giantism—I am more worried about many small equality agencies not able to deal with multi-discrimination. The noble Baroness was worried about who would decide what is proportionate in deciding what is justifiable. Ultimately, it is the judges and tribunals and they have had to do that since 1975. There is no real change, therefore. Furthermore, the limits of positive discrimination are matters of interpretation of the general principles.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, also asked whether the Bill goes far enough, for example, in allowing an actuarial defence in relation to retirement and sex discrimination. I hope that it goes far enough, but we can examine that. She also asked whether the commission's powers were stronger than the existing powers. They represent the highest common factor of powers that we could achieve. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked whether there was any conflict with the Human Rights Act, to which the answer is "No".

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As regards the definition of "disability", we have met all the recommendations made by the Disability Task Force. If there are further definitions which require consideration, we should pursue them.

I ask myself what is the best way forward. I had hoped that we would have a Select Committee on the Bill, because taking evidence on the points raised, for example, by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, about employment equity plans and burdens on businesses could have been well addressed. However, the Liaison Committee decided otherwise and there is no right of appeal against its final and, I am sure, wise decision about how the resources of the House should be used.

What do we then do? I believe that we should let the Bill proceed hoping that we will not be presented with hundreds of amendments which will indefinitely tie down Ministers, civil servants and noble Lords. I hope that we can focus upon key issues to try to make the Bill as good as possible.

Why are we doing this? Ultimately, we are doing it to help government and civil servants to produce sooner rather than later a Bill which covers unjustifiable discrimination wherever it exists in a coherent framework. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will give the Bill a Second Reading and I commend it to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Voting Age (Reduction to 16) Bill [HL]

5.8 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Lord Lucas.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at nine minutes past five o'clock.


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