Clause 9

Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:30 am ar 16 Mehefin 2009.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn


Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I wish to raise two issues. First, the fact that the Bill clearly extends the provisions to colour or nationality is to be noted and welcomed. Secondly, however, why have the Government chosen not to go down the path of including the question of dissent? As I understand it, the provisions in the original directive enable the Government, if they so choose, to talk about discrimination on the grounds of dissent as part of racial discrimination. It is not clear whether the Government have not taken that course for a specific reason or whether they think that it is already covered.

There are questions about whether we have sufficient coverage of discrimination if the specifics of racial discrimination, including that on the basis of someone’s descent, are not covered. There is clearly an overlap into issues of genetics and so on, and questions about caste discrimination would come under that. It would be helpful if the Minister clarified the Government’s position. This is a significant clause on race discrimination.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office 11:45, 16 Mehefin 2009

The hon. Gentleman suggested that this is an extension, but I am not sure why he thinks that that is the case. It troubles me, and I would be grateful if he would set his case out further. This is not an extension of the definition; we have covered discrimination on the basis of colour for a long time. All four of the limbs—colour, nationality, ethnic and national origin—are there, and always have been. I need to understand what he thinks has been extended, so that I can answer him appropriately.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I am looking at my briefing again. As I understand it, because the regulations with respect to the EU race discrimination directive were introduced under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972, they could not go further than the provisions of the directive. Therefore, when they were originally introduced, the new regulations could not cover race discrimination complaints brought on the grounds of colour and nationality. That means that for the new definitions of indirect discrimination and harassment, the shift in the burden of proof relating to the genuine occupational requirement exception will apply only to discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic or national origin, and not to colour or nationality.

That was the previous position as I understood it, but I thought that it had been dealt with effectively in primary legislation. There was primary legislation, and the Government were not restricted—as they had been—to implementing that directive through secondary legislation. I hope that my understanding is correct—if it is not, I will apologise.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

The hon. Gentleman suggests that we have not outlawed discrimination on the basis of colour before today, which is an outrageous and bonkers suggestion. The briefing—which I think the hon. Gentleman needs to read again—states that we have changed where the burden of proof lies. The directive separated colour and nationality from ethnic or national origin, and put the burden of proof in tribunal proceedings on one side for one group, and on the other side for another group. Discrimination on the basis of colour and nationality, as the hon. Gentleman knows, has been outlawed in this country for a generation. There is no extension in the definition, which is what we are talking about. When we come to talk about the burden of proof, I will explain to the hon. Gentleman how it has been extended. The definition has not changed.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I was not proposing a probing amendment or talking about the definition. I do not see why the Minister should consider it bonkers and misunderstand my point, which is that the Bill fully extends that protection in other areas, which previously we were not able to do. I return to my main point about whether the Government have a view on the question of descent being part of the definition of race.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

It is extraordinary that somebody who appears to focus so closely on some arcane points of discrimination law can suggest that this is an extension of cover in clause 9. It is not. It is carried forward from the old legislation. I am very surprised. However, to look at another issue, in our view descent is likely to be part of ethnic or national origin. In due course, we will get to the meat of the hon. Gentleman’s briefing note, and he will need to find it again later in the Bill.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I am disappointed that the Minister refuses to answer the question and resorts to a delaying tactic of criticism and abuse. That is not necessary in a Committee where, so far, we have had effective scrutiny and a good dialogue. She may see it as an opportunity to show-boat and grandstand her great expertise, and we recognise her experience as a lawyer. The question that I urge the Minister to address is for what reason have the Government chosen not to include descent in the definition of race under the clause? Does she think that it is adequately protected otherwise? Is not extending the clause in that way a policy decision made by the Minister, whose responsibility is to steer the Bill through the Committee?

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I have already answered that question.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

On a point of order, Mr. Benton. the Minister says from a sedentary position that she has answered it.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Llafur, Bootle

The Minister contends that she has answered the question. Does the hon. Gentleman have a further question?

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

We will have to look at the record to see whether the point that I raised twice has been answered. That means that we may have to come back to it at a later point. Clearly, however, there is nothing more that I can do to elicit an answer on that point.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.