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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He is essentially repeating the argument he made in opening the debate. I wonder whether he can help me on two matters. First, if it is the case that a public authority is imposing a requirement or condition which hits disproportionately at members of a particular ethnic group, is to the detriment of an individual member of that group and is unjustifiable, what is the policy reason why government Ministers and public authorities should not be under exactly the same duty to justify as the Bar Council, my chambers, the City, local authorities, education bodies, housing authorities, or any other institution? I do not understand the policy reason for shielding the Minister and his colleagues from scrutiny by the independent authority of the courts and the CRE.
Secondly, the Minister has certified under Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 his view, which is no doubt based on legal advice, that the Bill's provisions comply with the human rights convention. Will the Minister inform the House, either now or in writing, as to whether the concept of discrimination contained in the European Convention on Human Rights covers indirect as well as direct discrimination? If it does, as I believe is indicated in case law, how can the Minister possibly make a statement under Section 19 that the legislation complies with the convention if it will authorise breaches of Article 14 of the convention, read with Article 5 in relation to police powers and Article 6 in relation to access to justice? Will the Minister be kind enough to consider the second question and let me have a view in writing? So far as concerns the question of policy justification, I should be grateful if he would illustrate that now.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his telling intervention. I shall be happy to write to him on his second point. Perhaps I may also reply to him in writing on the first matter that he raised, which bears close inspection. I should like to study his remarks. I should like to give the question careful consideration. It would be wrong to make a comment that subsequently proved unhelpful. We want to be as helpful as we possibly can. Therefore, perhaps I may continue with my general theme. That would be wisest and would take us further forward.
I referred to the issue of stop and search. I want to point in particular to Recommendations 61 to 63 of the Lawrence inquiry and many of the other actions that were recommended. These are being overseen by the Lawrence Steering Group. The administrative actions that will flow from that work and the Government's general commitment to the promotion of equality will
Perhaps I may move on from the issue of indirect discrimination and turn to some of the important points raised during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, was a fraction unfair in his attempt to claim that this piece of legislation is a sham. If the noble Lord thinks further about the matter, he may wish to reconsider that comment. This is the first piece of race relations legislation to come before the Houses of Parliament since 1976. Many problems and issues have emerged in the field of race relations during that period of our political history. Members of the party opposite had the opportunity when they were in government but completely failed to grapple with those important issues. Is it not the case that when the whole appalling business of the murder of Stephen Lawrence occurred, the government of the day had ample opportunity to organise and set up a serious public inquiry into the important issues that have now begun to work their way into our legislative programme and our administrative actions on a daily basis? The party opposite missed that opportunity. To say to the Government that our proposed legislation is a complete sham when it addresses some of the fundamental issues that were raised as a direct consequence of the Lawrence inquiry is hypocritical. I say that in all honesty and integrity.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, does the noble Lord recognise that having spent 18 years in opposition and two years in government the party opposite has had plenty of time to get these matters right? That has been the complaint during this debate.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we contend that we are getting it right. We believe that this legislation is an important instalment in putting matters right after, sadly, many years of neglect. We want to tackle the issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, is an accountant. I suspect that he is something of a forensic accountant; he always pays great attention to detail. The noble Lord raised some important questions as well as making generalised comments on our approach. He raised a question on the proposed new Section 19D, which exempts decisions not to prosecute, and claimed that it was possibly too widely drawn. We, too, are concerned about the point and will look closely at ways of ensuring that the exemption is no wider than it needs to be to preserve the role of the criminal courts as the sole forum for determining guilt.
The noble Lord also raised the definition of public authorities. He asked whether private prisons would be left out and what was the position of NHS trusts vis-a-vis England and Wales and Scotland. The Human Rights Act applies an important definition of "public authority", and it started from scratch. The Race Relations Act already applies to certain functions of all public authorities, but where it does not do so, the
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Perhaps he may be able to reflect on this in the light of what he has just said. The Human Rights Act definition of "public authority" is designed to ensure that every public authority, widely defined, complies with convention rights. One of those rights is the right not to be discriminated against in the enjoyment of other convention rights. That includes the right to liberty, no arbitrary arrest by police, the right to fair trial, the right to education, to property and so on. Will the Minister reflect on whether it makes sense to have a different definition in the Race Relations Act in view of the need to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as ever, the noble Lord makes a helpful intervention on which I wish to reflect. He raises an important point about discordant definitions and we shall need to look more closely at it and address the matter.
The issue was raised of quangos and their definition. The way in which we attempted to phrase the legislation provides us with flexibility. If there are new bodies which are public bodies, they can be included within the remit of the legislation.
As regards private prisons, they will be covered. NHS trusts in Scotland are different and have slightly different functions from those in England and Wales which justifies their inclusion in the schedule. Trusts in England and Wales are already fully covered by the Act.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, raised the question of the costs of the Bill. They related it in part to our commitment. As with many matters, the costs are difficult to predict. The Explanatory Notes refer to the costs being met from agreed departmental expenditure limits which are currently fixed under the existing CSR round. The closeness of our estimates will emerge over time, but I reject the argument that it should be taken as symbolising a lack of political commitment on our part that the costs of implementing the Bill are not greater. We believe that they can be met with existing resources and budgets which have been set aside.
In one of the most intellectually telling contributions, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, raised important questions. I have already agreed in part to cover them in writing, but he raised other issues with which I may be able to deal this evening.
The race, sex and disability legislation which exists covers indirect discrimination in the non-public sector. The noble Lord asked whether there are any examples of it having harmful effects. I can confirm that I am not aware of any. Provisions against indirect discrimination remain a key part of the Race Relations Act. To outlaw indirect discrimination in the new areas covered by the Bill would have uncertain and
The noble Lord also asked about judicial appointments and the appointment of QCs, in which he was interested. He wanted a response. I can confirm that judicial appointments and the appointments of QCs are covered. I am sure that that is helpful to him.
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