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It is important to appreciate that tribunals and courts will not be working without guidance. The Bill gives a broad definition of religion or belief that replicates the effects of the existing definitions in the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 and the Equality Act 2006. Domestic courts therefore already have experience of interpreting the existing definitions and the considerations that they need to take into account. Seeking to exclude certain systems of religious or philosophical beliefs as being cults would therefore not only be a new issue for the Bill but a change to legislation that has been in place since 2003 and has not caused difficulties of interpretation in this respect.
European directives that relate to matters of religion or belief do not attempt to define specifically what the terms "religion" or "belief" mean; nor does Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, case law has identified the relevant factors that need to be taken into consideration when determining if something may be considered to be a protected religion or belief. The main limitation on what constitutes a religion in line with Article 9 is that is must have a clear structure and belief system. The limitations on what constitutes a philosophical belief are that it must be genuinely held; be a belief and not an opinion or a viewpoint based on the present state of information available; be a belief as to weighty and substantial aspects of human life and behaviour, attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness of cohesion and importance; and be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others. Therefore, in terms of restricting protection to those beliefs which are not objectionable, the case law criteria would exclude most of the outlandish practices and belief systems that have been mentioned so far. For example, any cult involving illegal activities would not satisfy the criteria.
The noble Baroness asked specifically about the guidance and the codes of practice. The Government have not signed off the commission's codes of practice; the codes are out for public consultation, which is due to close next month. In order to take effect, they will need to be laid before both Houses of Parliament in due course. Whether any particular religion or
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The noble Baroness mentioned veganism. It would ultimately be for the courts or tribunals to determine whether something met the definition of "religion or belief" according to the criteria established by case law. In the case of H v UK 1993, heard by the European Court of Human Rights concerning the treatment of a vegan, the court determined that veganism was capable of being construed in accordance with the scope of Article 9.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The noble Baroness referred to Jedis. The Government do not think that views or opinions based on science fiction can be considered akin to religious or philosophical beliefs. It was not the underlying principle behind drafting the definition of "religion or belief" to cover such views.
or a lack of any such religion or belief. We do not maintain a list of recognised religions or beliefs, so if there is any doubt whether something constitutes a religion or belief within this definition, that would ultimately be a matter for the courts or tribunals to decide.
Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, although I am no further forward in terms of clarity. The amendment was put forward purely because the codes of practice have been published, although I understand that they are now out for consultation.
This is an extremely important Bill which has been a long time coming, yet here we are, at Third Reading, without clarity about what is included in the protected characteristics. The codes of practice are still out for consultation and will at some stage be laid before Parliament. We are approaching the end of this Session, possibly the end of this Government, yet we are still unclear about what will and will not be included. I am one of those lawyers, as I presume the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is, who would prefer lawyers not to earn off the back of uncertainty but for the public to be able to consult documentation and be clear about what is and what is not a protected characteristic. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) removing the physical feature in question,
(b) altering it, or
(c) providing a reasonable means of avoiding it."
Noble Lords will recall that the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, tabled Amendments 20A and 44A on Report. In speaking to those amendments, which he withdrew, the noble Lord, Lord Low, referred to the need to spell out what the phrase "avoid the disadvantage" means when the disadvantage is caused by a physical feature, otherwise there was a risk that the intention to reproduce the current law, which we all share, might be put in doubt. The noble Baronesses, Lady Warsi and Lady Morris of Bolton, also tabled a probing amendment on these matters in Committee.
When I spoke on Report I said that we wanted to give further consideration to the matter and, in particular, to ensure that whatever outcome we reached would deliver a consistent approach throughout the different parts of the Bill. We remain of the view that the reasonable adjustment duty, as drafted, works. That being said, however, we have listened to the concerns that noble Lords set out and have decided to act to move the matter beyond doubt.
Amendment 2 draws on some familiar concepts from the Disability Discrimination Act and sets out on the face of the Bill, in a non-hierarchical and non-exhaustive way, some key considerations that should be taken into account when the duty to avoid the disadvantage caused by a physical feature is being addressed-whether by an employer, someone providing services or someone delivering public functions. This amendment provides the clarity being sought and reinforces what already appears in the Bill.
Amendment 8 is a minor and technical amendment which ensures consistency of approach between Schedule 2 and Schedule 15. It makes clear that an association should consider a reasonable alternative method of affording access to a benefit facility or service, et cetera, where the substantial disadvantage caused by a physical feature cannot be reasonably avoided.
Amendment 10 is consequential on Amendment 60, which the noble Lord, Lord Low, tabled on Report and which added a definition of substantial to Clause 212(1). It simply adds an entry of "substantial" into the index of defined expressions in Schedule 28.
Baroness Warsi: My Lords, we welcome the inclusion of this amendment, which, at this late stage in proceedings, will be useful to clarify the duty to make reasonable adjustments when there is a substantial disadvantage caused by a physical feature. Noble Lords might remember that we tabled a similar amendment to Schedule 2 in Committee; this was followed by a further amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, on Report. It was felt that these amendments would be useful to help make the duty more active and to exemplify what specific steps could be taken.
The Government, however, objected to our amendment. Although the Minister took on board that concerns had been raised about the lack of these specific steps, which used language very similar to that of the Disability Discrimination Act, she said that it,
The Minister then objected to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, but on entirely different grounds-namely that it applied to services and public functions and so appeared to give credence to the idea that these steps should not also apply to other areas.
We are delighted, therefore, that the Government have now taken on board these legitimate concerns and tabled their own amendment. It was interesting to hear the reasons for the Government's change of heart at this late stage, and we welcome the clarity that the Government have now added by moving the amendment to prime position in Clause 20(4). This is a welcome concession to worries expressed both here and in another place. In our amendment, however, we included the option of providing,
I turn to Amendment 8. We are glad that the Government have addressed the inconsistency here. This appears to be a sensible amendment which clarifies the steps that must be carried out to ensure that where a physical feature puts a disabled person at a considerable disadvantage, the feature is removed or reasonable alternative steps are taken.
I seek clarity on two points. First, I hope the Minister will be able to offer us some assurances that the reasonable alternative methods of access will not put too great a burden on employers. Will she offer some examples of what might be considered reasonable? As we have said throughout these debates, we think that it is of the upmost importance that all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that where a disabled person is placed at a substantial disadvantage, that disadvantage is minimised. However, we also want to ensure that such steps do not put an undue burden on employers. Secondly, and with that in mind, will the Minister say what form the guidance on this provision will take? It is very important that employers are aware of exactly where their duties lie, and what practical steps they might have to take to fulfil those obligations. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, I warmly welcome these amendments in response to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, on Report. He is abroad this week but we have worked in partnership throughout the Bill on all the disability amendments and I know that he is delighted with the outcome. We are grateful to the Minister and her officials for listening to our detailed concerns and for finding a practical solution.
The duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people lies at the heart of the Disability Discrimination Act, and it is particularly important in relation to physical barriers that prevent disabled people accessing services, receiving public benefits or enjoying club
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As well as thanking the Minister, I thank all noble Lords who have helped us to secure this amendment and others in this incredibly important, integrated Equality Bill. As a result of this work, I think that the Bill is in much better shape as it leaves us than when it arrived.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: We, too, welcome these amendments. Purists might say that Amendment 2 is not strictly necessary because it reflects existing case law, but it is good to make it clear in the Bill that the test is one of substantial disadvantage. For the reasons just given by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, we are delighted with the amendments.
Baroness Thornton: This part of the Bill reflects the true co-operation and co-ordination across the House, with the Government listening and consideration being given to the points made from all sides, especially those of the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, on how to improve it. I completely agree that importing the language at the outset from the DDA into this Bill has been extremely important.
On the questions posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is currently consulting on draft guidance and the code of practice which will help employers to understand the requirements to make reasonable adjustments. We hope that the guidance will provide straightforward, practical examples illustrating how to comply with the law. I suspect, although I do not know, that employers' organisations had a great deal to say about the draft guidance to ensure that that is the case. As a general principle, we want employers to be able to carry out their duties under the legislation but not to be overburdened by it.
We have listened to noble Lords about the merits of providing greater clarity in the Bill and we have responded by putting the matter beyond doubt. That, accompanied by the aforementioned codes and guidance, will ensure compliance and good practice. I beg to move.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, Amendment 3 is a minor and technical amendment designed to tidy up links within the Bill. During the Bill's passage through Report, Clause 104 was amended to include a new subsection (3)(c) which contained an explicit requirement that any action taken by political parties in pursuit of reducing inequality in their representation in any elected body must be a proportionate means of achieving that purpose. The amendment contained an explicit cross-reference to the single-sex electoral shortlist provisions in subsection (7).
The shortlist provisions in subsection (7) will automatically be repealed at the end of 2030 unless their use has been extended by order. This minor amendment will ensure that in the event that subsection (7) is repealed, the cross-reference to those provisions in subsection (3)(c) would be removed at the same time and so not leave any extraneous and potentially confusing references within the Bill.
As this is the last government amendment before we conclude Third Reading, perhaps I may say a few words of thanks, but I recognise that there are more amendments to come. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the Bill from every side of the House. We have heard many considered and persuasive contributions and undoubtedly we now have a better Bill. I thank my noble friend Lady Thornton for her dedicated and committed support. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, for the knowledgeable and expert role that he has played in our debates. He has put us back on the right track on a number of occasions, for which I am extremely grateful. He has been extraordinarily self-disciplined, but that was shared by Members all over the House. I also thank his noble friends Lord Wallace of Tankerness and Lady Northover.
I have greatly enjoyed my exchanges with the noble Baronesses, Lady Warsi and Lady Morris of Bolton, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, during the passage of the Bill. They have shown commitment and have challenged the Government to explain their intent clearly. Their expertise and experience have informed our debates and our thinking on various amendments. Thanks are due to noble Lords too numerous to name who have played a very important role in our proceedings. However, I single out the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Alli, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for their suggestions and challenges, which have helped us carefully reflect on the Bill. As ever, they have defended disadvantaged groups in our society with passion and dedication.
A number of noble Lords have promoted the rights of disabled people, notably the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, who has proposed many important amendments which have been accepted, including a clarification to ensure that people have access to information in accessible formats, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, whose amendment clarifies that in meeting the equality duty, the steps involved in meeting the needs of disabled people include taking account of a disabled person's disabilities, and, of course, my noble friend Lady Wilkins.
I also thank the many individuals and organisations who have played a vital role in the development and passage of the Bill. Several thousand individuals
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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, taking my cue from the Leader of the House, I wish to say a few words. The Bill is a great achievement. I know of no measure as ambitious and far-reaching in any part of the world. It is the result of many years of effort, imagination and skill. New Labour's 1997 election manifesto promised to,
The Liberal Democrat manifesto contained a commitment to enact a single Equality Act. For four years, Professor Sir Robert Hepple QC directed an independent expert review published in July 2000. It was the subject of a consultative conference. My Private Member's Equality Bill was prepared to give effect to the Hepple report and was given a Second Reading in this House on 28 February 2003 with wide support. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, is in his place because as the Minister he was kind enough to describe the Bill as "quite outstanding" and said he believed it would "not die a death".
We introduced that Bill to demonstrate that it was possible to create a coherent, user-friendly, non-bureaucratic framework, while encouraging voluntary compliance with the principle of equality without discrimination through workforce reviews and employment equity plans, and to provide effective redress. At that stage the Government responded piecemeal by introducing regulations to implement the new EU equality directives as well as the Disability Discrimination Bill setting up the Equality and Human Rights Commission and making religious discrimination unlawful. They then set up the discrimination law review in 2005 and published papers between 2007 and 2009. The Bill was at last published a year ago in April 2009. The appointment of the right honourable Harriet Harman as Minister for Equality gave the project a new energy and sense of direction and ambition. She and her fellow Ministers here and in the House of Commons have been advised and supported by an outstanding team of some 44 civil servants, if one includes legal advisers and parliamentary counsel, led by Melanie Field, James Maskell and Wally Ford. They will be cross if I do not mention all 44 but I do not think I should. I pay tribute to them for having delivered at last a Bill of which we should all be proud.
The Bill reached this House very late, with parliamentary time scarce before the general election. But, as the Leader of the House has indicated, thanks
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The Archbishop of York: My Lords, I follow the Leader of the House as well as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in taking this opportunity to support Her Majesty's Government's Equality Bill at Third Reading. Those present in this Chamber today who were also present for our previous debates on the subject of equality will know that, while there have been areas of this legislation and specific amendments over which I have raised concerns, I have still broadly supported the aims and intentions of the Bill. That continues to be the case. The reason we have all spent long hours discussing this Bill is because we want a workable law on the statute book that really does something positive in the area of equality in the United Kingdom. To lose this opportunity now and scrap the Bill would be to lose something that is wonderful. It would be a great disappointment, especially when so much common ground has already been established. We have all tried to be magnanimous, meeting each other half way.
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