Clause 101

Part of Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:15 am ar 25 Mehefin 2009.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 9:15, 25 Mehefin 2009


On the clause, I wanted to probe the Minister on what the existing law says on association and in which cases the Bill would actually change the law. During  business questions on 11 June, the Minister for Women and Equality, who was talking about the provision in the constitution of the British National party that people who are not white cannot be members, said:

“Under the Equality Bill that is passing through the House, that constitution will be made unlawful.”—[Official Report, 11 June 2009; Vol. 493, c. 935.]

She also made a slightly inaccurate reference and said that we voted against the Equality Bill—we did not; we tabled a reasoned amendment—and she added that she hoped that we would strongly support the Bill, which would prevent us from having an apartheid political party in this country.

We, of course, abhor the behaviour of the British National party more than anyone else, and it is not wise for the Minister for Women and Equality to try to score cheap points on a matter where all the mainstream parties in this country should be united. She implied that a party having a constitution that prohibited anyone who was not white from being a member was not currently unlawful but that the Equality Bill would make it so. I am not sure that that is entirely accurate. As the Solicitor-General will know, the Equality and Human Rights Commission wrote to the British National party on Tuesday of this week about possible breaches of existing anti-discrimination law.

I shall briefly set out to the Committee what the commission has done. It wrote to the leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, to outline its concerns about the BNP’s compliance with the Race Relations Act 1976 and asked for undertakings that it will make the changes required by the commission by 20 July. Failure to do so would result in the commission issuing an application for a legal injunction against the BNP. The commission refers to its existing statutory duties to enforce the provisions under the Equality Act 2006. That Act will be partly subsumed by this one. The commission also refers to provisions on racial discrimination under the Race Relations Act 1976, which will be subsumed to some extent by this one.

It seems that the membership criteria under the British National party’s constitution, its recruitment and employment policies, practices and procedures, and the provision of services by its elected officers to constituency members of the public are already prohibited by existing legislation. First, will the Solicitor-General confirm that that is the case? If that is so, the Minister for Women and Equality should not really be implying that those things become unlawful only with the passage of the Bill.

Secondly, given that the British National party’s constitution prohibits membership by people who are not white and since that party has been around for a while, can the Solicitor-General explain why it is only now, when the BNP has succeeded in getting its members elected to the European Parliament, that the EHRC has taken action against such discriminatory practices? If the BNP’s constitution has been in place for a while and it has been behaving in such a way for a while, the EHRC and its predecessor organisations should have taken action earlier to nip it in the bud. However, despite the lateness of the EHRC’s action, I entirely welcome it.

If the BNP’s constitution violates the law, I hope that the EHRC will get those undertakings. If it does not receive them, I hope that the commission will take the proper legal action to ensure that the British National party behaves in a non-discriminatory way and conducts itself in accordance with the law of our country. That would be the best answer to its behaviour and a good response by the EHRC. It is a shame that that has taken so long if the BNP’s behaviour is prohibited under existing legislation.

I am sure that every member of the Committee is behind what the EHRC has been doing—the measured and precise way that it has been doing it sends a clear message that political parties should not discriminate against anyone in the way that they conduct themselves.