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Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, the regulations are to effect a European directive that protects me from discrimination on grounds of religion or belief. The regulations, which the Minister moved formally, are quite different. They protect those who have religionreligious beliefor similar philosophical beliefs. My beliefs are not similar to religion; they do not rest on revelation or faith. However we define religion, I do not share or have beliefs that share any similar basis. For the Government to protect in British law only those who have a similar belief is, first, outwith the European directive and, indeed, outwith the European tradition.
Willing though I am at this time of the night to discuss the Fire Services Bill, I am not willing to weary your Lordships with a list of European documents that, as many noble Lords will know, protect those who have a belief founded on religion.
As your Lordships will be aware, the Third Reading of the Sexual Offences Bill went on a little longer than anyone anticipated. The net effect of the debate this evening was that, had we proceeded to the business as arrangedthe Second Reading of the Fire Services Billwe would not have started the Second Reading debate until at least now, if not considerably later, depending on how long the next order took.
The usual channels discussed the matter and decided that it would not be fair to the House to deal with an important Bill at this time of the evening. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will agree that it makes sense that, to ensure the minimum dislocation, the Second Reading of the Fire Services Bill should take
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to introduce the religion or belief regulations and to clarify their scope. We have already debated the sexual orientation regulations. These regulations contain many of the same provisions in dealing with concepts of harassment, indirect and direct discrimination and victimisation. The regulations also contain a provision dealing with genuine occupational requirement.
There is no specific protection at the moment for those who experience discrimination at work on the grounds of their religion or belief. Members of Muslim, Christian and other communities have been dismissed, victimised and turned down for work unfairly simply because of their faith. Of those who are not religious, atheists and humanists, for example, have also experienced discrimination at work because of their beliefs or absence of them.
These regulations will make this kind of unacceptable treatment unlawful. They have a wide application. They will apply to those who offer employment and training right across England, Scotland and Wales, whatever the size of the organisation, whether in the public or private sector and whether secular or religious.
Defining an act of discrimination is as challenging now as when the Sex Discrimination and Race Relations Acts were designed in the mid-1970s. There has been no more difficult question in equality law than defining religion. One alternative would have been to list religions, but that would have been an inflexible solution. Far from providing employers with the certainty that they want, such a list would very quickly become out of date. That assumes, of course, that an exhaustive list was ever a realistic aim, even in the short term. It is not.
A broad definition of religion, in general terms, is the only workable solution. Over 70 per cent of respondents to consultation agreed. Coherence is another important issue. In preparing the legislation, we have been open to new approaches where appropriate and necessary. Our driving principle has been to ensure that the regulations should be consistent with other requirements wherever that is practical. Your Lordships' House has already considered in the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations some of the provisions we also intend to adopt in these regulations.
That means for concepts such as direct and indirect discrimination, the form of words used here mirrors that used in other regulations here tonight. They also follow those used in other legislation, such as the Race Relations Act. These concepts are important points for many religious communities. I do not have to remind your Lordships of some of the tragic incidents that followed September 11th where individuals were attacked because of their faith or because they associated with people of a particular faith.
For the first time in UK discrimination legislation, these regulations include explicit protection against harassment. The regulations also outlaw victimisation in much the same terms as existing equality legislation. They allow for positive action. Of course, complaints made under these regulations will mainly be considered by employment tribunals in the same way as complaints on the grounds of sex, race and disability.
As ever, there are some exceptions. It would be odd if legislation designed to outlaw religious discrimination took away the ability of organisations to have an ethos genuinely based on faith. That, no doubt, is why the directive contains a specific provision dealing expressly with churches and religious organisations. Employers with an ethos based on religion or belief will be able to recruit employees from their own faith group where they can demonstrate that this is a genuine occupational requirement. Obvious examples are that one must be Jewish to be a rabbi and Catholic to become a Catholic priest. However, we have deliberately not prescribed which posts will be covered by a genuine occupational requirement on religion.
We believe that Government are not qualified to do that. It makes more sense for employers to consider whether the functions of the post require someone to have a particular faith. But an employer must be prepared to justify its actions. It is not sufficient for an employer simply to show that it has a religious ethos. Exemption will apply only where, having regard to the ethos and to the nature of the job or context, it is a genuine occupational requirement for the post-holder to have a particular belief. Even then it must be proportionate to apply the requirement in each case. If challenged, the employer will need to defend its decisions before an employment tribunal.
This exception is focused on an individual's faith. There is nothing in these regulations which will allow organisations to discriminate against gays or lesbians or indeed to justify any act which is unlawful under the sexual orientation regulations. Of course, all employers, with a religious ethos or not, can expect their staff to uphold certain standards of conduct, but those conduct rules cannot discriminate on any other ground such as sexual orientation.