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My noble friend the Minister has now moved regulations on grounds which, within the bounds of his speech, are absolutely incontrovertible, but he did not address the point. The point is that the purpose of the European directive is to lay down a general framework for combating discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. That is what the directive says, but it is not what these regulations say.
The Minister says that these regulations contain nothing against gays or lesbians. I am not surprised that he said that. The point is that they do not protect atheists or humanists who do not have a similar belief. Where did the word "similar" come from? Was it another quest to Downing Street for temporal power by the religious bodies? I ask the question in all honesty, because I genuinely do not know. Did the Archbishops or the Pope ask for the word "similar" to be included?
Lord Brennan: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I raised my hand, which he astutely observed. The word "similar" in these regulations is used in relation to the quality of the belief, not its nature. The phrase "similar philosophical belief" addresses the state of mind in which someone holds that belief to the same thinking quality as a religious belief. It is not used to assimilate it in any way with a religion.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, the noble Lord has his own definition. However, that is not the definition in the regulations. He, again, shakes his head. I am not prepared to have him say whether, in terms of honesty, my belief is similar to one of religious belief. I know religious people who quite genuinely and honestly say, "Your belief is nothing like ours. Your belief is outrageous and something for which you should be punished, if not here, at any rate hereafter". People have said that to me. The noble Lord does not say that to me, because he is a reasonable man and whatever he believes falls within the regulations. I am telling him that I do not fall within these draft regulations that contain the word "similar".
The noble Lord suggests that it means religious belief or some honest, strongly-held philosophical belief. Let him move an amendment. Of course, he cannot move an amendment to regulations; that is why this is done by regulation. I do not accept that the word "similar" protects everyone who is genuinely prejudiced on the grounds of honest and sincerely held belief. The noble Lord's argument does not controvert
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, noble Lords on these Benches very much welcome the equality regulations, as we welcome the others that have already been debated. We welcome them because they remove a long-standing anomaly in our anti-discrimination law. The anomaly has always been that I, as a secular Jew, for example, am protected because Jews are regarded as an ethnic group. I am protected against discrimination because of my ethnicity. However, if I were a religious Jew, I would not be protected, and a Muslim who is regarded as not being a member of an ethnic group has, at present, no protection at all. Clearly, therefore, the time has long been ripe for legislation of this kind to combat religious discrimination, just as it has combated racial discrimination in the past.
With regard to the scope of the legislation, my strong regret relates to the anomaly that will now be created in covering employment and occupation only, because the powers conferred by the European Communities Act to proceed by way of subordinate legislation fetter the Government's ability to cover anything beyond employment and occupation. It makes absolutely no sense that I, as a secular Jew, am protected under the Race Relations Act against discrimination in housing, education or goods and services, whereas I would not be so protected under these regulations as a religious Jew, a Muslim, a Sikh, a Christian or a member of any other faith. That is an anomaly that a future government will surely have to tackle by means of comprehensive and coherent equality legislation. I hope that my Bill has provided some encouragement for that.
I have already given rather late notice to the Minister that I would be grateful for an answer to a question I raised last week in the race relations equality debate. I asked how many of those consulted were in favour of proceeding by subordinate legislation in this area, rather than by primary legislation. I ask the question tonight because this is the last opportunity for the answer to have the slightest relevance to your Lordships' House. If that question could be answered tonight rather than later, I should be very grateful.
The Minister said in his helpful introduction that atheists and agnostics are protected, but I do not believe that the explanatory notes on regulation or the way in which the regulation is worded supports that view. The Minister's statement, which might be known as a Pepper v Hart statement, shows what the Government's intention is. However, the intention is not reflected in the language of the regulation. It would be useful if the Minister in his reply could make it absolutely clear that discrimination because of a lack of religious belief was intended to be coveredso that if a humanist, an agnostic, an atheist or any other godless person or person without faith who is discriminated against is covered. In that way, the tribunal that has to interpret the regulations will at least know that that is the intention.
The directive certainly refers to "religion or belief", and belief certainly includes a lack of religious beliefin other words a philosophical or political belief as well as a religious belief. Northern Ireland legislation specifically covers discrimination on grounds not only of religious belief but of political opinion. That legislation goes wider than this. I seek reassurance from the Minister that at least the intention is to protect atheists, agnostics, rationalists, secularists, humanists and all the others who make up the ungodly and irreligious, including myself.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, it is late and I am going to try to be very brief. We welcome these regulations, which prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in employment or vocational training. Although I do not think there is much evidence of widespread discrimination on religious grounds in England, Scotland and Wales, I think there is a problem in Europe. In the interests of a uniform code of practice throughout the free labour market in the EC, the United Kingdom has to pass this legislation, and it is right that it should do so.
There are a couple of things that I wish to ask the Minister. The regulation refers to religion and to belief; I would be interested if he could say what is a belief, as distinct from a religious belief. That comes to the heart of the matter. Is there any difference? In his reply, will the Minister define both religion and belief? If he cannot I will understand because draftsmen run away from that and I am not sure that it helps too much if we cannot give a correct answer, or a total answer.
I apologise to the Minister for not having given him notice of my next point and I am not expecting an answer tonight, but I should like some information on it if possible, so perhaps he will write to me. EU Directive 2000/78/EC, on which this present set of regulations is founded, says at Article 4.2,
I imagine the majority of people do not approve of the fundamentalist teachings of the Brethren, but one would have to say that they are based on their sincerely held beliefs. That is the point. Will the Minister, at a convenient moment for him to write, confirm whether these companies will, or will not, be forced to employ people who they consider do not live up to their very high moral standards? Will he confirm that the organisations that may enjoy exemption on genuine grounds include ordinary commercial concerns? I emphasise the word "genuine".