House of Lords
Monday, 4 March 2013.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.
My Lords, this Government are committed to tackling homelessness, and we do not accept that our housing benefit reforms will increase the level of homelessness. The changes do not necessarily mean that people will have to move, but claimants will have to make the same choices about affordability as those not on benefits. Reforming the welfare system in an effective manner is necessary not only to improve the wider fiscal position but to help to get people off benefits and into work.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. However, is he aware that more than 600,000 households could be affected by this change in benefits, that many people who are unable to meet the requirements under the new benefit arrangements will have no alternative but to get into arrears, and that, if they get into arrears, they will face eviction, which will result in homelessness, despite what the noble Minister has said?
My Lords, we are expecting a number of responses by people affected by what is effectively the removal of a spare-room subsidy. Clearly some will find that they are capable of paying to retain that extra room, some will look to work, some will look for lodgers and some will look for shared tenancies. Where the options are more limited than that, apart from downsizing, we have had substantial discretionary housing payments transferred to local authorities in order to ameliorate those situations.
My Lords, has the Minister considered the effect that these cuts are having on people? For instance, within the ward that I represent on Barnet council, one person in a two-bedroomed flat in a high-rise block will, because of the changes, have to pay an extra £14.50 per week from the beginning of April out of the very small amount of benefits they receive. This also applies to people on low working wages. This may be all right in principle and on paper but does my noble friend believe that it is possible where there are no one-bedroomed flats for those people to move into?
My Lords, I said that people will make a range of responses. Some will decide that the best thing they can do is to downsize and they will be supported in that. Clearly, in areas where there is no appropriate social housing, there is the option of moving into private rented housing. However, the essential point is that there is a limit to what the state can afford. We have had quite a lot of changes in the private rented sector, and this brings the social rented sector into line.
The Minister is concerned about the problems of caring families. Has he considered the issue of a carer who looks, say, after her severely disabled husband? The spare bedroom—the surplus bedroom as he puts it—is necessary to keep all the equipment, such as hoists and so on; and sometimes the carer needs to sleep there to have an adequate night’s sleep. What arrangements can be made in that situation?
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the pressure on the private rented sector? Many landlords operate a “no benefit claimants” policy, which causes significant problems in night shelters. Is the Minister aware of these problems caused by the shared accommodation rate and what are the Government doing to ensure that people moving on from a night shelter have somewhere to go?
My Lords, there were concerns ahead of our changes to the local housing allowance that private rented accommodation would not be available. I was pleased to learn that that in contradiction to this, in the key London area, where some of the pressures have been greatest, availability in the private rental sector for benefit recipients has actually gone up 5% since we introduced the LHA changes.
My Lords, when we introduced the local housing allowance changes in the private rented sector a year and a half ago, there were real concerns about homelessness, just as there are now. I stated to the Select Committee that we did not expect any significant increase in homelessness as a result of these changes. We have now run through the LHA changes—they were completed last December—and I am pleased to say that while there have been some modest increases in homelessness in London—it is up 600-odd households—that compares with predictions put out by Shelter and the Cambridge group that up to 134,000 people could move or be made homeless as a result. Your Lordships will understand that it is important to see what the results of some of these changes are, just as much in the social rented sector as we have seen in the private rented sector.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the deepest concern expressed by a number of women’s organisations, particularly those who work with women with young children fleeing violence? What assessment has he made of the impact of the benefit changes on those women fleeing violence with young children?
Schools: Careers Guidance
My Lords, statutory guidance has been published to underpin the duty on schools to secure independent and impartial careers guidance introduced in September 2012. The statutory guidance places a clear expectation on schools to secure access to independent face-to-face careers guidance where it is the most suitable support for young people to make successful transitions, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, or those who have special educational needs, learning difficulties or disabilities.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Has he been made aware of the serious concerns that we raised during the passage of the Education Act 2011 that the changes to careers provision would lead to a worse service for young people? Is he now aware of the growing evidence that our concerns unfortunately have proved to be justified? That view is echoed by the Commons Education Committee, which reported in January. It said:
“The Government’s decision to transfer responsibility for careers guidance to schools is regrettable. International evidence suggests such a model does not deliver the best provision for young people. The weaknesses of the school-based model have been compounded by the failure to transfer to schools any budget with which to provide the service”.
What do the Government intend to do to address these failings, in particular the overreliance on referring pupils to careers websites, when it has never been more important for children to have guaranteed, personalised, face-to-face careers advice?
I am aware of the concerns to which the noble Baroness refers. However, hardly anyone—from Alan Milburn to Ofsted—had a good word to say about the quality or effectiveness of the careers guidance provided by Connexions. That is why we gave responsibility for securing careers guidance to schools. They know their pupils best and can tailor provision to their individual needs. The £200 million we have saved on Connexions careers guidance has gone to help protect the schools budget, which itself is a pretty remarkable performance bearing in mind the state of the public finances we inherited. We know of schools which have seized the opportunity.
There is no gold standard for careers advice. It is a difficult area. The duty has been in place for less than two terms. To check on progress, we have asked Ofsted to undertake a thematic review, which will be published in the summer. Information on websites can be very helpful, and the Government are considering the Select Committee’s recommendation and will respond shortly.
My Lords, I thank the Government for extending the duty for careers advice from years 8 to 13 from September of this year. However, in response to a Written Question on 27 February in which I asked about the status of independent careers advice in academies, the Minister reassured me that academies opened after September 2012 would be covered by the guidance, but those which opened prior to that are not. Does the Minister agree that it cannot be right that some pupils in schools have access to that advice and others do not?
It is true that academies opened since September of last year will have an obligation in the same terms but academies opened prior to that do not. We have written to all those academies making them aware of this advice and asking them to change their funding agreements accordingly. Good schools seek to identify their students’ aptitudes at an early age and to give them guidance throughout their school career. We take the view that one minimum face-to-face interview at the end of one’s school career is a poor substitute for a broad education.
My Lords, bearing in mind the enormous scale of youth unemployment and the fact that a large number of young people who happen to be in jobs are in jobs well below their qualification and skill levels, can the noble Lord imagine himself being transformed from the government Front Bench to being a schools career adviser? What advice would he give to the young people leaving school later this year?
It will take me a second just to make that transition. We are focused on making sure that more of our pupils leave school with a good education. It is fair to say that the figures on NEETs have gone down in the past quarter for the first time in 10 years. But the advice I would give such a person is to seek some good careers advice from a qualified person.
Is the Minister aware that in a survey conducted by Edge a year or so ago, it was revealed that teachers knew less about apprenticeships than either parents or pupils? Many schools are not providing decent advice about the range of options open to young people. How can careers advice, which is supposed to be independent, be given by schools when the teachers know nothing at all about these options?
We do not expect teachers to be widely experienced on individual careers. That is why the duty is for them to seek independent advice. All good schools should involve their local business and professional communities from an early stage in their children’s education to give them the broad experience of the careers options open to them.
My Lords, how will this be assessed? I speak only from my own experience, when my careers adviser told me that if I tried very hard I might aspire to become a supervisor in Sainsbury’s. Is similar advice still being given to aspiring young black girls in Walthamstow?
Schools are held to account through Ofsted on how well students are prepared to progress to the next stage of education and employment. Linked to that, part of the leadership and management assessment would include the extent to which the school is offering a broad and balanced curriculum. Schools are also held to account by the destinations measured, but I think the noble and learned Baroness rather makes my point for me: it is not just about one interview with a careers adviser.
Council Tax: Support Schemes
My Lords, localising council tax support reduces the cost of council tax benefit by 10%. That contributes to our deficit reduction programme, makes councils responsible for support and creates incentives to get people into work. In designing schemes, local authorities should take into account the impact on low-income families. On 16 October, the Government announced a £100 million transitional grant to assist development of local schemes. Some 195 billing authorities have adopted schemes that are compliant with the criteria for the grant.
In thanking the noble Baroness for that reply, I must say that it is somewhat complacent and out of touch. The Resolution Foundation estimates that three-quarters of the 326 local authorities responsible for council tax support schemes will be forced by government cuts to adopt schemes giving less support than the current national scheme. That will see working families losing £165 a year on average and non-working families even more. Taken together with all the other cuts about to hit low-income families, including the bedroom tax that we have just discussed, the 1% capping of benefits and other tax credits, is this not going to lead to increased personal debt, more food banks, lower collection rates for local authorities, more bailiffs knocking on the door and all the misery that that entails? Why do the Government find this acceptable?
Well my Lords, a little of what the noble Lord has said is probably overblown. We are well aware that local councils are creating their council tax support schemes. In particular, at the moment, they have been offered transitional relief, as I have already said, to help them with that. Local authorities and the Department for Work and Pensions will be working together to ensure that the worst examples of what the noble Lord has put forward do not occur.
My noble friend may remember that during the passage of the Local Government Finance Act 2012 I expressed some anxiety about the effect of the localisation of council tax benefits. But does she accept that, having kept closely in touch with the Local Government Association since then—I declare my interest as a vice-president of the association—I have been considerably reassured by the efforts that most councils are now making in order to protect the most vulnerable of their council tax payers? Will she also accept that the transitional grant to which she referred has been a considerable help to them?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Jenkin for that and I agree that the transitional grant is a great help. It enables local authorities to have extra resources this year to support what they are doing as they develop their own council tax support schemes. It is slightly disappointing that only half the local authorities in the country have felt able to take up this transitional grant because they have not been able and will not be able to bring down their increase for individuals to below 8.5%.
My Lords, with changes to council tax benefit coming on top of the changes to housing benefit, working tax credits, benefit up-rating and other changes, will the Minister tell us what the Government are planning to do to monitor and report back to this House the cumulative effect of these cuts on low-income families?
My Lords, each of the departments involved will, of course, be receiving information about anything to do with benefits. Particularly in respect of the council tax support scheme, we hope and expect that local authorities will be able to make the necessary reductions in their own budgets to make up the 10%. After all, everybody in this country is having to make some contribution towards reducing the deficit so kindly left to us by the previous Government.
My Lords, do the Government really understand the implications of asking people who have been on benefit and who have never so far paid council tax having to find between 20% and 30% of their council tax bill for the first time? Is the Minister also aware that, as a result, many local authorities are expecting that they will not be able to collect 70% of the monies outstanding from people who have hitherto paid nothing at all? Does she not agree that this is “poll tax mark two”?
My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that this is poll tax mark anything. This is a change to the council tax benefit scheme for individuals based on their individual requirements. Local authorities have plenty of support in what they are doing. They are perfectly able to make their own budgets fit to help with the 10% reduction and, as I have already said, if they have brought their council tax scheme within the transitional relief scheme, they also have transitional relief to help with that.
My Lords, is it not the flexibility that is being offered to local authorities which is most encouraging? When I was leader of the London Borough of Islington, under the guidance of Harold Wilson, there was nil flexibility to local authorities. We had a diktat from the centre and we had to follow it. At least this coalition Government, recognising that change had to come, have given flexibility for local authorities to decide exactly how they should use the amount of help that is available.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Naseby for bringing reality into this situation. It is correct that the Government have given not only flexibility but also responsibility to local government for making its own decisions, particularly on council tax and the support that comes with that. Local authorities should be—and are—in a good position to make their own schemes and to deal with their own council tax.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on managing to shift all the responsibility for increasing poverty and problems with having to pay bills to the poorest. I recognise that the noble Baroness referred to the fact that we are all having to make very big sacrifices, but from where I sit in the north of England, the sacrifices are not being made by the better off in the south but by the very poor in the English regions. In the name of flexibility the Government have passed the responsibility to local authorities in a way that is at best dishonest and at worst sheer lying about the opportunities available to local government. They can keep their libraries and everything else provided that they take responsibility.
My Lords, I would draw the attention of the noble Baroness to the fact that local government is being given responsibilities in many areas, many of which have been devolved from central government, something that I think she would have welcomed during her distinguished years in local government. One of the things that local government wanted was access to the council tax support scheme, which it now has. It is now up to local government to provide schemes in individual local boroughs that are satisfactory at all stages. The money from council tax benefits comes into councils’ main budgets and they can use it to make changes and reductions which absorb that 10%. I encourage them to do that.
My Lords, the Government have received a number of representations from the public on the negotiations for the multiannual financial framework 2014-20. These include letters and e-mails from individual members of the public and their Members of Parliament, charities and other non-governmental organisations and universities and research bodies.
Does my noble friend agree that it was a very good deal for the Union and for this country, bearing in mind the balance of severe spending restraints at one end but long-term real infrastructure investment at the other? Is it not now the job of Conservative Ministers in the coalition to explain properly how the EU budget system works: a modest budget in comparison with other member states, no debts or deficit, no borrowing, payments that are always less than commitments, and a budget that does more and more good with less and less spent on farming?
I thank my noble friend for congratulating the Prime Minister on the excellent deal he brought back. We accomplished our three main objectives, which were to restrain the size of the budget, to make sure that we kept hold of our abatement and to resist any new EU-wide taxes. We shrank the budget and shifted it away from the more traditional areas, such as the common agricultural policy, into growth-oriented funds. I agree with my noble friend that we are shifting towards a pattern of expenditure that is more consistent with the reformers among us.
My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that what we have here is a seven-year financial framework, but what really matters now is the annual budget year by year over the next seven years? Can he give an undertaking that this Government will pursue a system of zero-based budgeting in each of those seven years so that we can cut out budget lines that are wasteful and increase those budget lines which need to be increased rather than take this rather conservative approach of across-the-board cuts which cut the good as well as the bad?
The noble Lord is correct that the devil is always in the detail and that it is our traditional practice year by year to negotiate very effectively on behalf of this country to bring about a better outcome in the annual budgets. However, it was extremely important to cap the overall size of the budget as a first step in the necessary reforms that we are all in favour of.
My Lords, do the Government yet know and have the public been told whether the EU’s so-called Parliament is going to vote in secret on this budget? Is not even the suggestion that it might do so yet further proof of the EU’s innately undemocratic and profligate nature? Is it not time that we closed the whole mistake down? What useful purpose does the EU now serve at such vast expense to all of us?
My Lords, will my noble friend comment on the reports in the papers yesterday that this budget agreement has been reached for certain sweeteners, amounting to billions of euros, being paid to practically every nation in Europe other than the United Kingdom?
In this budget we are talking about over €900 billion, six separate headings of component parts, and an ‘other items’ budget which includes a range of other things. It is a big and complex budget with many different components. There were lots of parts to the negotiation, and these particular transactions are indeed part of it.
There were three key things that the Prime Minister wanted to protect in terms of the expenditure coming into the UK. The first was to make sure that our universities were very well positioned to bid for the grants available. That part of the budget has gone up and the rewards are based on excellence, so they should do well there. Secondly, he wished to make sure that our farmers are protected in terms of the environmental programmes that they support, which he did. Thirdly and finally, the structural aid that goes to our less well-off regions has been protected at the existing base level of €11 billion.
My Lords, none the less, is it not true that the final outcome of the arrangement for the next seven years will in fact mean that the United Kingdom will be paying £500 million extra per year? Is that really acceptable under the present circumstances with cuts to our own social services?
The final outcome will be determined on a year-by-year basis depending on exchange rates, the growth of our national income and other such factors. The spirit of the question is indeed correct: our net contribution is likely to go up. That is simply because of the concessions made in the 2005 negotiation, when we surrendered some of the abatement advantages.
Bank of England Act 1998 (Macro-prudential Measures) Order 2013
Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (PRA-regulated Activities) Order 2013
Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Threshold Conditions) Order 2013
Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Financial Services Compensation Scheme) Order 2013
Financial Services Act 2012 (Mutual Societies) Order 2013
Motion to Approve
That the draft orders laid before the House on 24 and 28 January be approved.
Relevant documents: 18th and 19th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 26th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, considered in Grand Committee on 26 February
Charities (Incorporated Church Building Society) (England and Wales) Order 2013
Motion to Approve
Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill
Report (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 14th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee.
Moved By Viscount Younger of Leckie
That the report be now received.
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill now be further considered on Report.
My Lords, before we move to consideration of the matters before us today, I wonder whether I have missed something. Has this House appointed the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, to adjudicate on matters of order? I ask because my noble friend Lady Turner was interrupted disgracefully by a loud heckling by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, from a sedentary position, because of his interpretation of what is right and wrong in this Chamber. It is disgraceful that she was treated in such a manner.
My Lords, who gave the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, the individual right to shout from a sedentary position about whether or not one small matter in relation to the Companion has been dealt with? Surely, shouting from a sedentary position is not allowed?
My Lords, this House is self-regulating, which also means that it conducts itself with self-restraint and follows the guidance in the Companion. I am sure that all noble Lords around the House are keen to do that. It is a good idea to discuss with our Chief Whips how that is best achieved. I know that the Opposition Chief Whip has recently sent to his own Back-Benchers what I consider to be a very helpful guide about what constitutes good behaviour. We should reflect on that. Without pointing fingers, we all should behave in ways that we feel are not becoming of this place. We all want to ensure that we do our job. After all, most people here say that for most of the time we try to do it well.
Schedule 17 : Heritage planning regulation
70A: Schedule 17, page 248, line 6, leave out paragraph 18 and insert—
“18 (1) Section 93 (regulations and orders) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (4) after “8(5),” insert “26C,”.
(3) In subsection (5A) after “section” insert “26C or”.”
My Lords, government Amendment 70A corrects an error made in government Amendment 26P, tabled in Committee. The purpose of Amendment 26P was to change the procedure for making a national class consent order, to ensure that it is subject to affirmative resolution. This responded to a recommendation made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Unfortunately, Amendment 26P replaced the wrong paragraph of Schedule 17 and therefore did not achieve the intended result. Amendment 70A is a minor and technical amendment to put this right. I beg to move Amendment 70A.
Amendment 70A agreed.
Clause 57 : Commission for Equality and Human Rights
71: Clause 57, page 57, line 9, leave out paragraph (a)
My Lords, the purpose of my amendment is to retain Section 3 of the Equality Act. It is of critical importance. It articulates the fundamental principles that we as a society should be aiming for and clarifies the nature of the contribution that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should make towards those aims.
From the banking crisis to phone hacking, to the horrific abuse of people with learning disabilities, recent times have reminded us that culture, ethics and principles are at least as important as the law in securing a prosperous, safe, cohesive and healthy society. As Hector Sants, former chief executive of the Financial Services Authority, succinctly put it in 2010, until the issue of culture and ethics,
“is addressed we will not be able to prevent another crisis of this magnitude from occurring again”.
Section 3 explicitly imports the cultural and ethical principles of equality and human rights into the remit of the commission. It reinforces the notion that its role is more than promoting and enforcing the law. That is essential if it is to help bring about a society in which prejudice and discrimination are eliminated, human rights routinely respected and everyone can achieve their full potential.
Section 3 requires the commission to discharge its functions,
“with a view to encouraging and supporting the development of a society”,
in which specific aims are realised. This is what distinguishes it from other bodies. As Age UK notes in its briefing, it,
“makes clear that the job of the EHRC is to change culture, not just to enforce rules”.
The commission did exactly that in its widely praised inquiry into the human rights of older people receiving care at home. It identified an emerging problem and brought it to the attention of wider society with extensive media coverage. It looked beyond strict legal compliance to whether the principles of dignity, respect and autonomy were being upheld and made proposals including legislative reform. Is that the type of activity that the Minister associated with Section 3 when she said in Committee that the commission,
“should not be an impassioned lobbyist leading emotive campaigns”.—[Official Report, 9/1/13; col. GC60.]
or is it the role we want it to play—not simply a law enforcer but a body that uncovers scandals and working with others points the way forward?
The Minister has said that Section 3 wrongly implies that it is for the commission alone to bring about these changes in our society. However, Section 3 was amended in this House to make clear that this was not the intention. The commission’s duty is to encourage and support others to realise their aims in Section 3 whether Government, Parliament, the courts, public bodies, business, the media or civil society. It is ironic that many of the reforms proposed or under way will hamper the commission’s ability to work with others. For example, it has lost its helpline, its capacity to make grants and its authority as a source of advice to business.
The Minister has also argued that Section 3 is too broad. This suggests that she considers the duties in Sections 8 and 9 to be more restricted. Repealing Section 3 will do nothing to reduce the scope of issues with which the commission might engage. Therefore, we must assume that the repeal is to limit what the commission can do about those issues, otherwise it is unclear what will be achieved. Ultimately these reforms, including the repeal of Section 3, will focus the commission on law enforcement, especially in the field of discrimination. Bizarrely, this will stem from a Bill to promote enterprise and growth by reducing regulatory burdens. We risk creating a body increasingly reliant on costly and intrusive legal action to have any meaningful impact.
With fewer resources, the commission will have to be more judicious in the issues on which it focuses. We will do it no favours by leaving it simultaneously less clear about its aims and more dependent on legal enforcement to achieve them. I do not believe that the Government want this either, which is why I ask them to think again about the unintended impact of this repeal.
Yesterday’s headlines remind us that our human rights protections cannot be taken for granted. It is more important than ever that we retain the principles enshrined in Section 3. Section 3 is a declaration of our commitment to those principles. It requires us to be vigilant in their protection and restless in their promotion. It provides a direction of travel for the commission and others involved in the work. It makes clear that pursuing those aims requires both enforcement of the law and the development of a deeper cultural respect for equality and human rights, and it requires the commission to provide the leadership that Britain needs to make that commitment a reality.
The case for the repeal of Section 3 has not been made. The Government’s assurances that it will have minimal impact on the commission are unconvincing. If that is the case, what will it achieve? These assurances are also contingent on there being no further reforms of the commission’s role, yet the Government have established a review of the public sector equality duty, including some of the commission’s most significant functions.
We would not wish to risk slipping back to the time before the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, but if Section 3 goes and the equality duty is weakened or lost shortly after, I feel that is precisely where we will be heading. This is why I propose that the Government take the opportunity to reflect on the recommendations of the equality duty review and wait until other reforms have bedded in, giving the new commission some time to get to know each other and to really understand what their task ahead is, before deciding whether the repeal of Section 3 is sensible or justified.
Your Lordships may have seen a briefing from the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggesting a simpler purpose clause, but I fear that it is merely a description. There are no aims. It separates equality from human rights, rather than uniting them. It gives little or no direction and does not reflect what the Government have said about the commission’s future role. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that this late stage of the Bill is not the time to be suggesting such a proposal, with no opportunity for true debate. To debate it as good scrutineers is our job, after all. It is vital to keep Section 3 and I hope that your Lordships will support me in this endeavour. I beg to move.
My Lords, I apologise for not being able to be present when this amendment was debated in Committee. However, I have read the debate and the balance of opinion clearly lay with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton—not surprisingly, given the powerful speech she made and the one which she has also made today. It is a privilege to support an amendment moved by such a respected champion of equality and human rights, who I would like to call my noble friend. In doing so, I wish to address just two points that emerged during the debate in Committee.
First, the Minister argued that the general duty contained in Section 3 “creates unrealistic expectations”. She went on to acknowledge the importance of the statement contained in the general duty and suggested that it could,
“be replicated in the commission’s own strategic plan”—[Official Report, 9/1/13; col. GC 61.]
or mission statement. Surely, however, that is to undermine her own argument because if the problem is one of unrealistic expectations, they would still be created if replicated in a strategic plan or mission statement.
The other main argument put forward in the debate was that repeal of the general duty would not make any difference anyway, as it is of symbolic rather than practical importance. This is the official stance taken by the commission itself. I have two responses to that: first, as a number of noble Lords noted in Committee, this justification was challenged by Professor Sir Bob Hepple of Cambridge University. He argued that Section 3 has an important legal function and that without it equality law would be “rudderless” and would lack the “important unifying principle” that Section 3 provides, and which the Joint Committee on Human Rights welcomed in its report on the Equality Bill. However, even if the significance of the general duty were more symbolic than practical, symbols matter in politics and we should not underestimate the symbolism of removing the section. The deluge of e-mails that I have received in recent days defending Section 3 is a testament to the power of that symbolism.
At a time when politics has become increasingly managerial and uninspiring, I find it rather wonderful that the Equality Act contains an aspirational, visionary statement of intent. Moreover, the European Commission study on national equality bodies advised:
“In order to fully realise their potential in promoting equal treatment for all, equality bodies should develop a vision of their role within the administrative culture and society”.
It is a sad day if the vision enshrined in the legislation is now struck out. As the British Institute for Human Rights argues, it sends a worrying message that the Equality and Human Rights Commission,
“is to be a compliance factory with no real ambition or purpose”.
I fear that the suggested alternative put forward by the commission in its briefing, namely that it should be,
“a national expert on equality and human rights”,
and the strategic regulator for equality offers neither ambition nor visionary purpose but is, as the British Institute argues, purely descriptive, as the noble Baroness has already said. It offers mundane prose where Section 3 offered the poetry of high ideals.
I hope that the Minister will have thought again in the light of the support for this amendment in Committee and the public concern now being expressed. If not, should the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, decide to test the opinion of the House, I hope that noble Lords will support her. The amendment will cost nothing, but it will provide reassurance that the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission will continue to be framed by a vision of society in which each of us without exception is treated equally and with dignity and respect—the core principles of human rights.
My Lords, I associate myself with what has been said by the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Lister. I do not want to repeat what I said at Second Reading—we had a very full debate then—but I was disappointed that we continue to hear that removing the general duty was a bit of tidying up and that it would have no effect whatever on the work or legal responsibilities of the commission. The question that has been put a number of times, including by myself, was then why do it? Why do something if it will have no impact at all? I am afraid that the reply has not given me much confidence.
I strongly believe that the Government have a choice between a strong independent body that is committed to promoting and safeguarding our values, which I believe are British values, independent of the Government of the day—whichever colour—or we go for the option of a watered-down, less independent, weaker institution, which in time would be rendered merely an enforcement agency or regulator without the vision and underpinning that is so important. I cannot think of another organisation, independent or statutory, that does not have some sort of mission statement or a duty to promote or do something. This is the only organisation of its kind in this country. Are we suggesting that the Equality and Human Rights Commission does not need such a mission or values, which were very much fought over and arose as a result of cross-party agreement when the Equality Act 2006 was debated and enshrined?
I said at Second Reading, and it is worth saying again, that the then Opposition gender and equality spokesperson Eleanor Laing, MP, spoke of how important it is that the general duty is ambitious and wide ranging. With the change of government and apparently as part of an unwritten agreement, this seems to have changed for whatever reason, and I am disappointed.
There is an opportunity here for the Government to say what sort of organisation we want. We have a choice, but I also think that maybe we need to take a step back. Perhaps this is not the right place to debate what sort of mission statement or general duty an organisation as important as this, with such a multifaceted function, should have at this stage. We evidently need more time to consider this. It cannot be resolved via this Bill on the Floor of the House.
Will the Government take this away and consider the type of organisation they want and what they want it to do? As I said, in line with other organisations, if not in this country then in the world, it should have some form of agreed mission statement incorporating its aims, responsibilities and duties to the taxpayers and citizens of this country. The Government should do this in consultation with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and bring it back to the House. Will the Minister respond to that?
My Lords, in Committee I put down an amendment to this part of the Bill. I was overwhelmed by and supportive of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, who made a most eloquent plea in support of the case then. I hoped that because of the support that she had, the Government would have reconsidered their position and accepted what everybody was pressing for, and what a number of us will, I am sure, press for this afternoon.
The Bill seeks to do away with Section 3 of the Equality Act, which sets out the guidance, principles and values that define the commission. It attracted all-party support in Parliament when the legislation was first debated. They are very important in terms of both perception and symbolism, as a number of speakers have already pointed out. With such pressure on the Government to change their position on this Bill, I hope that they will tell us this afternoon that they have decided to do so. It is not only the law that is important but the culture in which we all operate, and the commission plays a very large role in changing that culture.
We all want to live in an equal and dignified society, which is what Section 3 envisages. I hope that the Government have changed their mind since Committee and will now agree to support what the noble Baroness and her supporters so eloquently expressed this afternoon.
My Lords, I, too, support the sentiments and comments made by all noble Lords who have spoken. I will add one further point. The distinction between compliance and a general duty implies that there is no need for anything until the point of compliance. However, many issues that relate to people with protected characteristics are often cultural, and may not get to a point where compliance is necessary straightaway. It would be much better for that culture—for example, the treatment of adults with learning disabilities, perhaps in one or two homes before it starts to gather momentum—if there were a general duty on the sector, and if the commission could go in, offer support and start to change the culture before a crisis develops that requires compliance. I echo the sentiments of others who have spoken before, and very much hope that the Government will reconsider the deletion of Section 3.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. Section 3 represents more than a statement. It represents a commitment to the principles of equality—equality of opportunity, equality of dignity and the responsibility of the state to its citizens.
The EHRC needs a benchmark, a flag, by which it can promote the principles on which it was founded. It needs to be measured, not against the principles of race, disability or gender, but in a much wider context, because it makes a statement about the sort of society we are, the aspirations that we hold for ourselves, and the signals that we send far and wide.
In that context, if the amendment before this House is not embraced, we will be sending a negative statement. We will be saying that after all that we have achieved over many years in terms of race, gender, disability and children, we have turned around and are heading in a totally different direction. It is not my belief that that is the Government’s intention: I believe that the Government’s intention is to continue to improve the standards and opportunities of all their citizens. However, in any journey, we all sometimes take a wrong turn; I genuinely believe that on this occasion, the Government—with all their good intentions—have got it wrong. It is for those reasons that I ask the Minister to look again and to say to the Government that so much depends on their credibility with a vast swathe of this nation and its citizens that to take this wrong turn would be an inevitable downgrading of the concept of equality of opportunity for all. We all believe in that principle and it is in that spirit that I support the amendment, but more importantly, I ask the Government to think again.
My Lords, I cannot begin to emulate the eloquence of the speech that we have just heard. I too regret that I was not present when this matter was discussed in Committee on 9 January but, after reading Hansard, it is clear to me that the debate was of an exceptionally high standard, particularly the contributions of my noble friends Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lord Low of Dalston. Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Low cannot be here today; I cannot begin to take his place, but I agree with everything he said in that debate.
There is another person who cannot be here today for a different reason. He was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, as one of those who led the way in this area of the law in the 1990s and long before that. I refer, of course, to the late Lord Morris of Manchester. It is not difficult for me—or I suspect, anybody else in the House today—to imagine what Lord Morris’s reaction to the proposed repeal of Section 3 would have been. I do not doubt for one moment that he would have regarded it as a serious backwards step, and he would have said so in his usual trenchant terms.
I want to deal first with the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, as a lawyer—I am sure that his heart was not really in it—that if we leave out Section 3 we are losing nothing. Secondly, I want to comment on the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, at the end of her reply for the Government’s decision to repeal Section 3. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, gave two reasons for his view. The first was that Section 3 was purely aspirational, so it would make no difference if it were repealed. It contained nothing, he said, that could be enforced in a court of law.
However, if that argument were correct, it surely proves too much. If Section 3 is purely aspirational, so, surely, are Sections 8 and 9. How would the noble Lord enforce in a court of law the duty under Section 8 to promote understanding of the importance of equality and diversity? How would he enforce in a court of law the commission’s duty under Section 9 to promote understanding of the importance of human rights? If the legal argument of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, were correct, it would surely mean that we should repeal not only Section 3 but Sections 8 and 9, which would leave us with absolutely nothing. Of course, the truth is that the argument is misconceived. Recent legislation is littered with examples of duties which cannot be enforced in a court of law but serve, nevertheless, a very useful purpose. For example, Section 1 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 provides that:
“This Act does not … affect … the existing constitutional principle of the rule of law”.
How is that to be enforced in a court of law? However, it serves an extremely useful purpose.
Another example that occurred to me is Section 1 of the Climate Change Act, which provides that:
“It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline”.
How—perhaps I should say, when—is that duty, clearly stated by Parliament, to become enforceable: in 2048, 2049, or when? Therefore, with respect, that argument carries very little weight. For all those reasons, I suggest, with the utmost delicacy, that the legal argument of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, should not deter us in any way from supporting this amendment.
However, the noble Lord had a second argument. He said that there is nothing in Section 3 which is not also contained in Sections 8 and 9, so Section 3 is in effect otiose. I suggest that he is wrong, but suppose for a moment that he is right: if Section 3 adds nothing to Sections 8 and 9, how is that consistent with the Government’s argument all along that Section 3 is too broad? As the noble Lord, Lord Low, pointed out, the Government simply cannot have it both ways. I suggest that he was right. In truth, Section 3 does indeed add something which is not in Sections 8 or 9, and something of the very greatest importance. It provides for the first time in legislation the unifying link between equality and other fundamental human rights. This was the point made by Sir Bob Hepple in his memorandum, which I hope the noble Baroness has read, and which has already been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. That deserves an answer and I hope that it will get one. Indeed, the assertion of a unifying principle in Section 3 was surely one of the main objectives of the 2006 Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, himself pointed out when he was promoting the Bill. Therefore, I again suggest, as delicately as I can, that the noble Lord might in this instance have done better to follow his heart than his head.
My Lords, I was not intending to speak and it is a misfortune for the House that I now do so, with extraordinary brevity. When I joined this House almost 20 years ago, Lord Alexander of Weedon said to me, “Remember, Anthony, that the House of Lords is not a court of appeal, it is a jury. Try, if you can, to speak to a jury”. I totally disagree with almost everything that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, has said today, and would do so in a court of appeal. However, when we are dealing with a jury whose sentiment has already been powerfully expressed, I do not think that it would do the slightest good if I were to explain exactly why I continue to hold the view that I did previously.
By the way, I did not promote the 2006 Act, but I certainly took part in debates on it and I did not oppose Section 3. However, being a practical person—I am no philosopher—I shall concentrate in these debates on three practical things: one is caste discrimination, the second is the abolition of the questionnaire procedure, and the third is the relationship between the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the commission. I hope that I shall not speak on anything else.
My Lords, I was dealing only with the arguments which the noble Lord advanced in Committee. I thought he might be advancing them again. He has not, but at any rate I have given my answers to those arguments and the House will in due course decide.
I turn now to the reasons—and I am sorry to take so long—given by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, for repealing Section 3 as it stands. She gave two reasons and it is as well that the House should actually have them in mind. The first reason is as follows:
“But the problem with Section 3 is that it implies that the commission, uniquely, is responsible for encouraging and supporting the development of such a society. This is patently wrong and arguably insults the efforts that we all make in support of these goals, whether through the work of Parliament, government, the wider public sector, business or the community. We are collectively responsible. We might need the commission’s help, but it cannot achieve an equal society on its own”.
Section 3 provides that the object of the commission is to encourage and support the goals of which we are all aware. But there is nothing that I can find in the words of Section 3 which suggests or implies that the commission is to be solely or uniquely responsible for encouraging and supporting those goals. I fear that, in adding those words, the noble Baroness was reading words into Section 3 which are simply not there and for which there is not the slightest reason.
I fail to see how it can be argued, as the noble Baroness does, that Section 3 is an insult to the work done by Parliament or government or to the public in general. Of course, the commission cannot achieve an equal society on its own. Whoever suggested that it could? So I am puzzled by the first reason given. There is no insult involved. But I am equally puzzled by her second reason, which is as follows:
“We are seeking to repeal the general duty on the commission because it creates unrealistic expectations, positive and negative, about what it on its own can achieve”.—[Official Report, 9/1/13: cols. GC 60-61.]
I repeat, the commission’s job is to encourage and support. How does that create any expectations, positive or negative, that the commission can do the job on its own? What is the evidence that there is any such unlikely expectation and, if there is, that it is due to Section 3?
We are being asked today to repeal a very recent piece of legislation which was regarded as of some importance at the time and was well considered. We should not do so unless good reasons are given. The reasons so far given on behalf of the Government are, to my mind, wholly unconvincing. I therefore support the amendment.
My Lords, in putting my name to the amendment, I would like to endorse the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in relation to the magnificent contribution made by my noble friend Lady Campbell in the context of human rights.
The general duty created by Parliament in Section 3 of the Equality Act 2006 is a profoundly important obligation. It is not vague. Its terms are absolutely clear and quite brief. As Liberty has said, the fact that the commission has not yet fulfilled its potential —and despite its early failings to deliver on its mandate—should not mean that its crucial powers and functions are compromised or circumscribed.
We have heard a description of what Section 3 actually does. It asks the commission to exercise its functions to encourage and support the development of an inclusive society that encourages people to achieve their potential, values diversity, respects the dignity and worth of every citizen, and respects, promotes and protects human rights. It does not, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, said, require the Equality and Human Rights Commission to establish a fair and equal society. That would be vague and impossible of performance. Rather it provides the vision that is necessary to guide the operation of equality and human rights law in this country. It is not uncommon for such a purposive section to be included in legislation. It provides a very necessary statutory underpinning to the operation of equality and human rights law.
When one seeks to work legislation of this type in a day-to-day context, provisions such as this are profoundly important. The legislation that applied to me as Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland required me to carry out my functions in the way that I thought was best calculated to secure the confidence of the people and the police in the police complaints system. If you were so minded, you could argue that that was similarly vague, but it was not vague at all; it was very precise.
Section 3 provides the principles that are absent from the Equality Act 2010 and which are necessary for the interpretation of that Act. Without it, there would be gaps and deficiencies and, ultimately, Parliament would be required to legislate further on this issue. There is widespread unease and concern, articulated not only in this House this afternoon, at the proposal to remove Section 3—the lobbying has come from wide sectors of society.
I refer to the response of Justice to the Home Office consultation in 2011 on this issue. Justice pointed out that the objectives set out in the general duty were,
“agreed by all political parties in Parliament following amendments proposed by Conservative MPs”.
Justice also stated:
“The General Duty provides a clear mandate which the EHRC must have regard to when deciding how to act. By repealing the General Duty, the mission and very purpose of the EHRC would be altered, and the UK’s commitment to the Paris Principles would be fatally undermined”.
The commission achieved its fundamentally important United Nations “A” status only three years ago. It had to demonstrate compliance with the Paris principles in order to do that. The achievement of “A” status gave it full participatory rights at the UN Human Rights Council and access to other UN bodies. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission had had such a status three years previously. That status, with the opportunity for influence and engagement, is important in the context of the international credibility of this country.
Reference has been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, to Professor Sir Bob Hepple’s statements. He has stated that repeal will remove the unifying principle to which both the Lord Chancellor and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred when promoting the Equality Act 2006—the link between equality and other fundamental human rights. At the core of the commission’s general duty, and implicitly underlying the specific rights against discrimination, harassment, victimisation and the positive duty to advance equality, is respect for and protection of each person’s human rights.
This is not merely a political statement. It is the difference between the commission pursuing a society in which everyone is treated well and one in which law can be complied with simply because everyone is treated equally badly. When the Commission for Racial Equality investigated ill treatment of black prisoners prior to the creation of this commission, the defence given by the prisons was that white prisoners were treated equally badly. That was a legally sound defence. However, the operation of Section 3 ensured that a use-of-force policy against young men in detention had to be abandoned when the commission intervened. Had Section 3 not existed, the Home Secretary could have simply reconsidered the matter and reissued the policy.
I have seen no evidence that Section 3 has been in any way a hindrance to the operation of the commission, equality law or business. It is a necessary framework within which our equality and human rights law operates. The commission is facing the harsh reality of trying to maintain its UN “A” status while suffering from 76% budgetary cuts and 62% staffing cuts. It will struggle. If Section 3 is lost, the commission will be reduced in status and clarity of mission and purpose. That would be detrimental to the governance of our society.
My Lords, I, too, support these amendments, and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Campbell of Surbiton on her perseverance in this matter.
The lack of respect shown to patients at Winterbourne View and at Mid Staffordshire shocked all of us. Laws must start with values and principles and not rely solely on regulation; nor should they assume, for example, that all public servants automatically hold and understand those values. The Government say that legislation is no place for declaring a mission but I disagree, and there are many people in the Chamber today who also disagree. For example, the Care and Support Bill includes principles which are perhaps individually unenforceable but they are critical because they remind us all that the primary purpose of care and support is ultimately to support the well-being of people. If we want to know how well our care and support system is doing, the well-being of older and disabled people and their families is our litmus test. Section 3 serves the same purpose. It imports these enduring values and principles into the duties of the EHRC and reminds it and us that, above all else, its role is to ensure that, as a society, we are upholding them.
A much celebrated initiative of the EHRC has been its inquiry into the human rights of elderly people receiving care in their own homes. The inquiry uncovered how the human rights of some older people were being placed at risk by care providers who required their staff to carry out tasks such as helping people to wash, dress or eat in time slots of 15 minutes or less. The dignity of older people was not being respected by a system which most assumed to exist principally for that purpose. It also highlighted how, as a consequence of outsourcing home care to private and voluntary sector providers, coupled with a narrow judicial interpretation of the meaning of “public authority” under the Human Rights Act, the majority of older people receiving care in their own homes could not rely on the Act to protect them.
That inquiry looked beyond existing law. It identified anecdotal evidence of an emerging situation, investigated it and made recommendations, including for law reform but equally for practice. It involved a particular constituency—older people—in circumstances where the values and principles of dignity and respect were being placed at risk but in which there were not at that time any legal cases to claim that human rights had been breached. This is not the sort of work that can be undertaken by charities. Charities are not the experts in equality and human rights. They can provide evidence but not leadership. They look to the EHRC to lead and promote.
My Lords, I shall intervene just briefly. I was in hospital when this was debated in Committee, but I was very taken by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton—the Surbiton charioteer, as I think of her—who spoke with a verve and passion and with considerable conviction. Everybody has spoken in like terms and it seems to me that there has to be a convincing answer from my noble friend on the Front Bench if we are not to go along with this amendment in one way or another.
There is a place for the declaratory. This House said that last Thursday, when, by a pretty large majority, it passed what was in effect a declaratory Motion. There is a place for the aspirational in legislation. There are many precedents and it would take too long even to begin to give examples, but I hope that my noble friend will, at the very least, say to the House this afternoon that she will reflect further on this, if she cannot accept the amendment now, and come back on Third Reading with a definitive answer. I hope that the door will not be shut today.
My Lords, I also intend to be brief. Having listened to all these speeches, which are so resonant of what has been said on many other occasions, I particularly congratulate my noble friend Lady Campbell on her brilliant speech. Equally, we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lester, a marvellous argument from the legal viewpoint about why it would be quite absurd to get rid of this clause. Section 3 helps us to achieve that commitment to equal opportunity, and to dignity and respect for others from different ethnic backgrounds, for those with disadvantages and for older people who, as we have just heard, will live much longer and have to cope with increasing disabilities as they grow old.
One issue which struck me is the time it has taken to achieve the steps towards equality of opportunity that we already have, and how long we will need to complete the task. This clearly indicates to us that we need every form of additional commitment to let us achieve it. A tiny example is Business in the Community, which has played an important role in lots of ways. It set up a committee looking into this subject, called Opportunity 2000. Surprise, surprise, a little further on, guess what it decided to change the name to? Opportunity Now. That is what we need: opportunity now to achieve this with all the added bits of legislation. There is clearly no time and no need to get rid of this clause. It would be quite absurd, and I say to the noble Baroness responsible for replying that she will need to use her considerable influence on her Government to achieve what we all want. She will have to do it because it would be quite absurd to resist the opinions that we have heard and the excellent background to what has been said.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I have appreciated the arguments made on this by many noble Lords, including many noble friends. I can say only a limited amount from the position that I occupy, but I should at least remind your Lordships of the position that the commission has taken on the removal of Section 3. This is not a new position since I became chair, but one that was already taken when my predecessor Trevor Phillips chaired the commission. It is summarised in one sentence. It is not a sentence of high enthusiasm, but it states the balance of the issues. It says,
“on balance, the Commission concludes that the changes currently proposed are unlikely to have a significant adverse impact on its work”.
That is partly because other sections still preserve the wider duties, but it is also because the very task of an equality and human rights body is, by its nature, aspirational. That is to say, nobody goes into this domain without profound aspirations for respecting the human rights of each and every one of us in this country and their equal treatment.
My Lords, I am greatly honoured to follow the lead offered by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and all the speeches that have been made today. When you are on the Front Bench, it is always easy to put your name to amendments but on this occasion I felt that it was very important that the Government heard the voices of the Back Benches of your Lordships’ House. I felt—as has been proved to be the case—that people would feel passionately that the Government are in the wrong place and that Section 3 should not be removed.
I have two questions for the Minister. The first partly follows the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill. It concerns the recent briefing from the EHRC, which states that, on the one hand,
“that the inclusion in its founding legislation of a unifying principle to bridge equality and human rights is important”,
but that, on the other hand, perhaps the answer to the dilemma of Section 3 would be a simpler purpose clause which described the commission,
“as the national expert on equality and human rights”,
and the strategic regulator for equality. It is not quite the poetic and aspirational language in the current legislation. Do the Government regard this intervention at this stage of the Bill as helpful or not?
I think that it muddies the water quite considerably. It adds force to the argument put by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. Let us be clear, the Government started by wanting to delete the section completely for reasons which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has demolished. However, if they want to change it and if the EHRC is suggesting that it should be changed, this is surely not the place to do so. This has to be a matter of great consideration and discussion among all the different organisations and across both Houses of Parliament. That was the import we gave Section 3 at the beginning in 2006. I suggest that the latest intervention by the EHRC on this matter serves only to underline the case that we should not go down the route proposed by the Government.
My second question is why does not one single stakeholder organisation—I apologise for that phrase, but I cannot find a better one—agree with the noble Baroness and her Government? Why does she think that Sir Bob Hepple has given the advice that he has about Section 3? Has she had discussions in the past month with the bodies which care about this matter? If so, what is the outcome of those discussions? Given that the Government are in absolutely no doubt that all these organisations are concerned about this and do not want this change to happen, have the Government had discussions with them? Have any discussions influenced their position? I hope that their position will be that they will accept this amendment. Certainly, from these Benches, we are adamantly opposed to the deletion of Section 3. If the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, decides to test the opinion of the House, we will be with her.
My Lords, this has been an important debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed. We have covered an important matter about which we all feel strongly. We all want a society based on equality of opportunity which respects human rights. I pay tribute, as I did in Committee, to all noble Lords who have worked hard in this arena over many years. I especially pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, not just for everything that she has done but for the very open and straightforward manner in which she and I have discussed her amendments at various stages of the passage of this Bill. I really am grateful to her for that.
A lot has been achieved since we last debated this issue. We have appointed new commissioners and the commission’s budget has been announced. I will come back to these points later today when we debate the accountability of the commission in the final group of amendments. First, I shall be absolutely clear about what this Government seek to achieve via this Bill. We want a strong and independent Equality and Human Rights Commission which promotes and protects equality and human rights. We want it to be recognised and respected as the national expert in these areas as well as for being a strategic enforcer of equality law.
Under the leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, who is respected and renowned the world over for her evidence-based approach, we are confident that the commission’s work will be respected, but in order for her, her board and its successors to determine their priorities and agree a coherent strategy, we must first be clear on the purpose of the commission.
The commission has done some good work since it was established in 2007—most recently, the inquiry into the home care of elderly people and the disability harassment inquiry, among other things, which were referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. Let me be clear: removing the general duty would not prevent this kind of work taking place in the future. I will explain in a moment why that is the case. However, we also have to acknowledge that the commission has not been universally acclaimed as a national institution. Indeed, it has been criticised for the way that it has been run. Poor financial management resulting in qualified accounts was the most serious evidence of its failures.
In the past couple of years things have started to improve. Indeed, the past two sets of accounts have been clean and substantial savings have been made. I pay tribute to all those who played their part in that, which includes several Members of this House. However, when an organisation seriously underperforms, it would be negligent not to understand what caused those problems and take steps to put things right. As most successful leaders, whether they are in business or politics, will testify, when things go wrong in an organisation it is often because the organisation lacks clarity of purpose. Indeed, they will argue that for any organisation to be successful, it needs clarity of purpose.
The general duty is not a core purpose. It is a statement with which we all agree, but it is not a purpose. As I said in Committee, that statement for the general duty includes the requirement that:
“We must encourage and support the development of a society in which: People's ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination. There is respect for and protection of each individual's human rights”,
and goes on. If the statement were enshrined exclusively in statute and described as the commission’s general duty, that would imply that the commission is responsible for encouraging and supporting the development of such a society on its own.
I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, questioned my reasoning, but I stand by it. The Government’s argument remains that several institutions—Parliament, the Government, other public sector organisations, business and everyone—are collectively responsible for achieving the kind of society that that general duty sets out. Having such a wide-ranging and unrealistic general duty would make it harder than it should be for the commission to prioritise its work. That would be the case for any organisation given that general duty.
The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill of Bengarve, made clear in her contribution the commission’s view of what the Government are proposing, and I am grateful to her for that. She said that while the commission lacks enthusiasm in the language that uses for the Government’s proposals to remove the general duty, it none the less acknowledges that it would not impact significantly on its work. She also agreed that that general duty is aspirational, the nature of the Equality Human Rights Commission is for it to be aspirational and that that is not required to be set out in statute.
The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and other noble Lords referred to the memo from Sir Bob Hepple and questioned the unifying link that Section 3 provides between equality and human rights. The commission can perform its functions under its duties in respect of equality under Section 8 and of human rights under Section 9, so that any unifying link between these two concepts provided by the duty is not essential. As the commission made clear in the briefing distributed at the end of last week, it sees the general duty as symbolic rather than practical.
The Government are clear that the commission’s core purpose is to promote equality and to protect human rights. These duties are set out in Sections 8 and 9 of the 2006 Act. They are supported by a suite of enforcement powers in that Act, such as conducting inquiries and investigations, issuing compliance notices or entering into agreements with organisations and instigating or intervening in judicial reviews or other legal proceedings.
In her opening remarks, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, referred to the banking crisis and argued that the removal of the general duty would prevent the commission becoming involved in addressing the kinds of problems associated with that. I would make a different point. To put it in its simplest terms, Sections 8 and 9, covering equality and human rights, should inform the commission’s strategic and business plan—in other words, its proactive work—and its enforcement panels are what authorise it to act when it suspects unlawful activity is occurring. So there is in the Act, without the general duty, the clarity that is necessary to inform the activity that the Equality and Human Rights Commission rightly needs to be able to carry out, which is important to it and what it is there to do. As I stated in Committee, the repeal of the general duty will neither stop nor hinder the commission’s ability to fulfil its important equality and human rights duties. I believe that by providing the clarity which will come through removing the general duty we will help it become more effective.
There is nothing to stop the commission reflecting the contents of the general duty in a mission statement, if it feels that that would help it in its work. Several noble Lords asked me to respond to the proposal circulated by the commission at the end of last week about an alternative to the general duty, reflecting some other kind of language. Let me be absolutely clear: the Government are not proposing an alternative to Section 3. We are clear that Section 3 is not required; if the commission decides it wants to produce its own internal mission statement, that is a matter for it.
Amendment 72, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, is about monitoring duty and seeks to halt the changes to Section 12 of the 2006 Act. I reiterate the point I made in Committee that this change is being made to ensure that the commission reports on progress against its core equality and human rights duties. It is a consequence of the changes that we are making to remove Section 3. It will also amend the reporting cycle from three to five years. As I also stated in Committee, I should like to be clear that there is nothing to stop the commission reporting more frequently if it wishes to do so. Our change would simply reduce the risks of overburdening the commission with reporting obligations and of it being unable to fulfil its duty of monitoring progress adequately.
The commission has had a difficult birth, but it has also done some good work. I believe that, with a clarified legislative mandate, the commission will continue to promote equality of opportunity, tackle discrimination and protect and promote human rights. It will be able to do so more effectively than before and so will gain the respect we all want it to have as our equality body and national human rights institution.
I hope that, in responding in this way to the noble Baroness and all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, I have given an assurance of what we expect from the commission as well as of the importance we attach to it and to the work it does. I hope that I have also been able to give the noble Baroness the assurance she needs that, in making these changes, we believe the result will be that the commission will be able to exercise its responsibilities more effectively than it has been able to until now.
My Lords, I thank all the supporters of my amendment because they have expanded the argument by bringing forward evidence with brilliance and accuracy. I also thank the Minister. She is right to say that we have spent honest time together discussing this issue in great detail and she has tried hard to understand and reflect upon the arguments, but I have to say that I am disappointed with her reply. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, suggested, I thought that perhaps we could come back at a later stage to discuss an alternative that would meet the requirements of noble Lords who have participated in this debate. Like many organisations—I would say all of them—we feel that this is an area of enormous significance in terms of culture change in this country. I do not feel that Section 3 hindered in any way the difficulties faced by the commission when it came to merge.
When three major commissions at different stages of their growth and liberation are merged and, at the same time, another three strands are added, people are brought together to work on a totally new concept. I am not surprised that the commission had a difficult few years. I have merged two organisations and it took me five years to get them to work together successfully and well, so I do not think that that is a good argument. I do not agree with the arguments around wideness and ambivalence or on the fact that Section 3 somehow takes the rudder away from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It does not; it just puts some passion into those sometimes very dusty legal arguments.
I have reflected deeply on this and worked hard to understand all the arguments for and against, but at this time we need to listen to and test the House to see what it has to say.
Amendment 72 agreed.
73: After Clause 57, insert the following new Clause—
“Equality Act 2010: caste discrimination
(1) The Equality Act 2010 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 9(1)(c) (race) insert—
My Lords, this amendment seeks to add the word “caste” into the Equality Act 2010 and I will very briefly sketch in its background. The Dalit communities in this country, which are about 480,000 strong, have been concerned for some time about discrimination against them. The previous Government, aware of this, introduced an order-making power into the Equality Act 2010 and to assess the evidence commissioned a report from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research. The NIESR concluded that there was discrimination in the areas covered by the Equality Act; namely, education, employment and the provision of public goods and services. It recommended legislation as one of the ways of dealing with this.
The present Government, understandably, wanted time to consider this issue but on Friday gave their response. They recommended that discrimination be tackled by education first rather than by triggering the order-making power in the Act. The Dalit communities in this country are deeply disappointed by this long-awaited response. Indeed, there are more than 400 community leaders from all over the country expressing their feelings outside the House at the moment. I find it disappointing and genuinely distressing because not only are the recommendations a distraction from the real issue but they could cause a great deal of hard feeling and resentment and be seriously counterproductive.
I want to explain briefly why I believe this to be so. It is natural in every society for people to mix with other like-minded people—those with the same education, background, religion, class or occupation. If sometimes this goes along with feelings of superiority to other groups this is reprehensible but when it is manifested only in social life it is not a matter for legislation. By focusing on education there is a huge danger that these kinds of social distinction will become blurred and confused with the real issue of discrimination in the public sphere when people are not employed or are harassed in their jobs because of their caste. An education programme, however sensitive—and frankly one wonders how on earth this one is going to be costed—is likely to be regarded as patronising and interfering, while at the same time distracting from the essential issue.
We hear that there is opposition to triggering the order-making power. I find it very difficult to work out what are the grounds of this opposition. The NIESR is a highly reputable academic body, well used to doing this research, and it has concluded that there is clear evidence of discrimination in the public sphere. Therefore, I wonder about the Government’s second recommendation, which is that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should be asked to look again at the evidence. Is there something flawed with the original evidence? Why is it being asked to look at it again?
Another possible reason is that discrimination does indeed exist, as the Government seem to accept, but should be tolerated. That position would be quite unacceptable to all your Lordships. So we come to the third reason. Is the law really needed? We know that in the case of legislation on race nothing has been more effective in reducing racial prejudice than the law. It has had a most powerful educative effect. Nothing could be more significant and effective in reducing discrimination on the grounds of caste than to have a clear-cut law saying that discrimination in the public sphere will not be tolerated. India, Bangladesh and Nepal all have laws against discrimination on the grounds of caste. The problem in those countries is that the caste system is so deeply entrenched that the laws are not properly enforced. The situation in this country is very different. The law is, on the whole, effective. If other countries see nothing shaming in having a law, why should we?
There are something like 200 million Dalits in the world and the institutionalised prejudice against them is one of the most degrading and humiliating forms of rejection invented by cruel human beings, of which being confined to jobs such as manual scavenging is only one expression. It is indeed a surprise and a shock to learn that caste prejudice has come to this country. It is not, of course, in that extreme form but we need to show that in any public form it is totally unacceptable. We can do that quite simply and clearly by accepting this amendment.
At the moment, when a person believes that they have been discriminated against because of their caste, they have no legal means of redress. Someone I once interviewed had had a good training in India as a medical technician and was employed by the NHS in this country. All went well until this person asked their Asian boss for leave to go back to India for a family wedding. There then followed a set of highly intrusive questions about their family background, after which the person’s life was made hell for the next year, which nearly brought on a breakdown. The trade union that he consulted thought that he had certainly been the subject of unfair discrimination and harassment, but had to advise him that at the moment it was not possible to bring a case for discrimination on the grounds of caste.
Even if there are likely to be few such cases, it is essential that there should be a proper means of legal address for those that exist. I appreciate that the Government are serious in wanting to do something about caste discrimination but I honestly believe, for the reason I have given, that their education programme could turn out to be highly counterproductive. No less importantly, it will blur the issue and distract attention from what is really needed: a clear legal signal that discrimination in this country in the public sphere—in education, employment and the provision of public goods and services—is quite unacceptable. I beg to move.
My Lords, I put my name to this amendment because it seems a very fundamental and simple question. Is it right that a person who is a subject of Her Majesty in this country shall not be able to claim against discrimination when they would be able to in India or Nepal, or indeed in Bangladesh? Is it right that when we have clear evidence that caste has become a feature in this country, they have no defence against it?
I have had very informative and helpful discussions with the Minister responsible in another place and the usual extremely well thought-out discussions with the noble Baroness. It is with considerable sadness that I have to say to her that I am not convinced by the Government’s argument. First of all, it has only just become the Government’s argument. In opposition, the Conservative Party said that this was necessary because it was the only way in which more than 400,000 of Her Majesty’s subjects could properly be protected. If it were possible for the Government to explain to the House that in taking office there were circumstances of which they were unaware that changed their mind, then I would be happier.
However, that is not the argument that has been put forward. What has been suggested is that we need to have yet another investigation. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, rightly says, the investigation by the previous Government was not by some small, unimportant body without respect, but by exactly the people to whom one might turn to find that answer, and their answer was unequivocal. It seems difficult to suggest there should be yet another investigation unless there is a clear statement of what has changed since that one, what was missed out by that one or what the Government felt should further be looked at which had not been looked at. Yet that is not anywhere in the Government’s response.
I believe we have to look at this extremely carefully for a reason which will be perhaps more understood on these Benches than anywhere else. If there is one thing that really annoys people about immigration, it is when people bring to this country attitudes that are wholly contrary to the traditions of Britain. That is why people have reacted so firmly against the attempt, for example, to introduce Sharia law into this nation. Most people in Britain feel that we have a society that should be welcoming, but it should be welcoming on the terms of the tolerance that has been so much part of our history.
There are, after all, fewer Jews in this country than there are Dalits. They are wholly protected under the laws. There are fewer Sikhs in this country than there are Dalits, but they are wholly protected under the laws. Most people would say that there is no place for discrimination by caste in Britain. If there is no place for that discrimination, how can it be that all the other discriminations for which we think there are no place are covered by the law but this one alone is not?
I have to say to my noble friend that I find the arguments used deeply distressing because they go like this: first of all, that we do not know quite enough about it so let us have a further investigation. Frankly, having had the investigations up to now, if it turns out that there are no cases, what harm will have been done? We will have protected people and they will feel protected. If it turns out the investigation that took place under the previous Government was unnecessary and its findings were not true, then we have done no harm. However, if we leave it for another year—and I am told, with some authority, that we will have to wait only a year for a further investigation—we will have another year in which people have no recourse, and at the end of that we may still have no recourse, because there will not necessarily be a legislative opportunity for us to bring this home to the Government.
The second reason that I find so difficult to hear is that we will not deal with it that way anyway, but will deal with it through education, with or without the investigation. Here I do not want to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, except to say: what do people say in this education? A Dalit in a class says “Okay, I shouldn’t be discriminated against, but what happens if I am?”. The fact that there is now education on this means that the answer will be, “Tough luck, because there is nothing you can do about it, as we have specifically refused to ensure that there is an opportunity for you to take your case”. That is a recipe for lack of integration, poorer community relations, and a worse situation than would have arisen had we had no education or had not raised the matter in the first place.
The third reason that comes up is one that I find more distressing than any other. Every Minister who speaks about it—and we have two Ministers of particular quality here—assures me that they are totally committed to the eradication of discrimination, which includes the eradication of discrimination on the grounds of caste, but that theirs is a better way to do it. I believe that a decision has been made somewhere else that is not on this ground at all, and is not worthy. It is no good listening to those who, in their own circumstances, have a view of caste that is different from that of the majority of us in this House.
In Britain no one should suffer discrimination on the grounds of anything that they cannot help. They cannot help their sexual orientation and their colour; they very often cannot help their religion, or they have chosen that religion; and they cannot help their gender. What on earth is different when they cannot help their caste? You can change the name from “untouchable” to Dalit, but you cannot change the fact that some people are treated in an appalling way, simply because of the person they were born.
I have absolutely no doubt that it would be utterly wrong for us to say to the world that we had the opportunity to protect people from this disgraceful discrimination but decided not to do it because we had to have another investigation. I invite all noble Lords to look back on the history of the fight against discrimination. What happened at every point? Those who did not want to change suggested that we looked again and examined it once more. They said, “Let education deal with it; it’ll all come right in the end”. It was only when we changed the law, however, and made it wrong not only morally but legally as well, that we actually had a change in attitudes and gave the protection which was needed.
I want to finish by saying something very tough: if anybody in this House has any history of discrimination—whether it is the small amount that Catholics have today, which is still real, or the great amount that people have because they are of colour or Jewish or in any other minority group—let them make sure that they do not fail the Dalits, because they have a greater responsibility than those who are lucky enough not to have suffered discrimination as a subject of Her Majesty.
My Lords, I have seldom listened to a more powerful speech in this House. I agree with every single word that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, except for one very minor point which has to be mentioned. The Government are not proposing to undertake any further investigation, but simply to review the investigations that have already taken place. Therefore, what they are proposing to do is of even less consequence than he credited them with.
We already know, from the study undertaken by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research—which was mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, in introducing this amendment—that caste discrimination actually occurs in the United Kingdom. That study confirmed that discrimination and harassment of the type that would be dealt with under the Act exists in the UK, as was reiterated only the other day in a letter from one of its authors, Hilary Metcalf, to my noble friend Lord McNally.
The Government now recognise the existence of caste discrimination. As the Minister for Equalities said, in words very similar to those used by my noble friend Lord Deben just now,
“We obviously do not think that anyone should suffer prejudice or discrimination, whether it is because of caste or any other characteristic. Such behaviour is wrong and should not be condoned, whether or not it is prohibited by legislation”.
However, no Minister has explained properly, in the extended correspondence that we had with the Government over the past three years, why caste should be treated differently from age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation—the protected characteristics that are already covered by the Equality Act.
The Minister Helen Grant MP wrote to us on 5 February, saying:
“We need to be satisfied that it is the most appropriate and targeted way of tackling a specific problem before legislating”.
I respectfully suggest that Parliament wisely decided that legislation was indeed the right way to tackle discrimination across the board after many years of trying to apply remedies to particular kinds of discrimination such as for race—with the Race Relations Board—or gender, by compliance with the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Nobody ever said that before including race and gender in the Equality Act, we needed to be satisfied that it was the most appropriate and targeted way of dealing with the problems that still remained. Legislation was seen as the top storey of the edifice of ways of tackling discrimination of all kinds. The onus is on the Government to prove that, in the unique instance of caste, we should return to non-legal remedies which proved insufficient in respect of the nine existing protected characteristics and are no substitute for the right to take complaints of discrimination to court.
The original reason given by the Government for failing to enact Section 9(5)(a) was that there was no consensus on the need for legislation even among the communities that were potentially most affected by it. We naturally interpreted that as meaning the Dalit communities whose members are the victims of this discrimination. However, it emerged in a letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, of May 2012, that the reference was to the wider Hindu and Sikh communities. In that sense, there is never a consensus for legal measures against particular kinds of discrimination. The policy of ending apartheid in South Africa was vociferously opposed by certain groups within the white population. At one time, plenty of men’s organisations were opposed to women’s equality, including, I may say, Parliament itself, and there are still institutions opposed to LGBT rights. Fortunately, the absence of consensus was not used as an argument for blocking legislation for the rights of racial minorities, women or gay people.
However, I realised quite recently that some Hindus and Sikhs believe that what we are seeking to do labels their communities as a whole as persecuting Dalits. I assure them that nobody has any such idea, any more than the Equality Act labels native British as being intrinsically racist, or men as being intrinsically misogynist. There are already cases where litigants such as the Begraj have done their best to use the existing law to make a claim on caste discrimination grounds in the courts. However, there has been no suggestion that a handful of cases point to a general pattern of conduct among people belonging to certain religions.
Recently, the Prime Minister raised an additional objection that needless red tape, as he calls it, and additional unnecessary cost burdens for business might be caused by this provision. That is not the case. Employers would already have the duty to prevent caste discrimination as part of their general duty of care towards their staff, and to take remedial action if it occurred. The difference would be minor one-off familiarisation costs, plus, of course, the liability of the employer to court proceedings and payment of damages if this amendment is passed, as identified by the Bill’s impact assessment.
The apparent rarity of caste discrimination, judging from the NIESR report, and the fact that employers would already be looking carefully at race anyway, of which caste would be a subset, means that the amount of extra work is likely to be minimal. One suggestion in the letter from Helen Grant MP is that gender reassignment is included in the protected characteristics because of our obligations under EU law rather than because the Government considered that it was wrong in principle to discriminate against transgender people.
The recommendation of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, echoed in the UN’s universal periodic review of the UK, that we should include caste in the protected characteristics is also a legal obligation according to the advice obtained by the National Secular Society from lawyers Gráinne Mellon of Bedford Row Chambers and Lionel Nichols, fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford.
However, there are no sanctions against non-compliance and whether or not the CERD recommendations should be treated as obligatory depends more on the Government’s sense of loyalty to their international commitments than on legal principles. However, it is not good to see the UK in the company of states which flout the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The Government’s proposals, which we received only a couple of days ago, reminded me of Groundhog Day. We are back where we were three years ago, with the Government commissioning a study, this time on whether caste discrimination is likely to be more effectively addressed by legislation or by other unspecified solutions. This is another act of procrastination, as has already been said, because the question is precisely the one they have been considering since the NIESR report in December 2010.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has been asked to undertake this study, expressed its opinion shortly after I and a few colleagues had a meeting with its legal director, John Wadham, on 25 September last year. It supported the activation of Section 9(5)(a) and issued a statement to that effect which is on its website. I suppose that now Mr Wadham has left the EHRC, it could do a U-turn, but the legal arguments have not changed, nor has the experience of unsuccessful attempts to combat discrimination over many years prior to 2010. I am surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, has accepted such a thankless task, particularly as the Government have given no undertaking that if the EHRC reaffirms its opinion that legislation is the right way forward, the Government will take its advice. Will the Minister clarify that point and indicate what budget the EHRC has been given for this operation?
As for the Government’s other proposal, what funding has Talk for a Change been given for the educational programme on this complex and sensitive issue? In its section dealing with alternatives to legislation, NIESR said that,
“the educational approach is only relevant where people are unaware of caste, i.e. in organisations where senior people are not Asian”.
However, NIESR emphasised the educational side-effects of legislation. It said:
“Because of discrimination legislation, employers, educators and providers of goods and services developed non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. These not only provide structures for redress, but also lead to much greater understanding of the issues and reduce the acceptability of such discrimination and harassment. In the case of caste discrimination, this educational effect is particularly necessary because the vast majority of the population is almost entirely ignorant of caste issues”.
Therefore, legislation would have meant that money being spent on both EHRC and Talk for a Change could have been saved. I do not believe the Government’s antipathy to legislation is really to do with the cost. What is certain is that, just as the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor are bent on reducing the means of legal redress available to victims of human rights violations—about which we read in the press every day—as part of this mindset, there is a doctrinal aversion to this proposal in the Cabinet, which is not going to be eliminated by any number of studies and failed alternatives. It is time for the House to make a decision.
My Lords, I want briefly to intervene in order to support the amendment that has been laid before this House by my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and to support the powerful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.
As I heard their speeches, I was thinking of two things that I have in my study. One is a poster on the wall that says:
“God so loved the world that he did not send a committee”.
I recalled that it was William Wilberforce who, after the abolition of the slave trade, said that the next great challenge was the abolition of the caste system. Here we still are setting up yet more committees and more inquiries. I really do not believe that that is the signal that we want to send today.
The other thing in my study is a terracotta pot that I brought back with me from Uttar Pradesh two years ago. When a Dalit has held that pot, they are required to break it, because nobody else must touch it if they have drunk from that pot. That is what it means, in simple terms, to be untouchable. Those two simple things motivated me to speak in this debate.
I know that my noble friend has pursued this issue with great vigour and doggedly over the years, and I think that the House ought to support him today not least because, as we discovered in the earlier amendment, the importance of making declamatory statements is sometimes crucial in advancing a cause. The Minister should perhaps recall the wise advice that was given to her on an earlier amendment by my noble friend Lord Cormack. He suggested that if she were not able to accept that amendment today, it would be wisest to come back at Third Reading. The same is true with this amendment. She ought to go away and think about it further if she cannot accept the amendment today, not least because of the declamatory nature of not accepting it.
What signal will that send to the extraordinary number of people who remain in India as Dalits, some 170 million of them in addition to the 400,000 in our own country? When the House considers that every single day in India every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit; every day three Dalit women are raped; two Dalits are murdered; two Dalit houses are burned; 11 Dalits are beaten; that many are impoverished; some half of Dalit children are under-nourished; 12% die before their fifth birthday; vast numbers are uneducated or illiterate; and 45% cannot read or write it is quite clear that we do not need more inquiries or studies. We have to be certain about what it is that we want for ourselves. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, is right: there are values that we hold dear in this country that we stand for and believe in. We must stand firmly on those principles, not suggest to others that somehow or other to import those kinds of conditions into the United Kingdom would ever be acceptable. Furthermore, however important things such as trade relations are—and they are important to British industry in developing cordial and good relations with India or China—none the less, the stand we take on upholding not just human rights but human dignity, and the belief that no one is untouchable and that every person is of equal value, certainly in the sight of God and as they certainly ought to be in the sight of their fellow human beings, are important. For those reasons, I am happy to support the amendment of my noble friend.
I apologise to the noble Lord. We know very well what a terrible and shameful thing the caste system is for us Indians. Two issues are the most shameful in Hindu culture—caste and dowry. Both have significant effects on people. Dowry leads to the aborting of girl foetuses and the killing of girl children. Caste puts people down; a whole group of people are there to do the worst jobs that no one else will do. That can never be right.
The problem is that Hindus are discriminating against other Hindus. Very few British people understand the caste system or even know what caste means, other than that there are higher and lower castes. Hindus in this country discriminate against lower-caste Hindus. That is so appalling and unacceptable that I cannot understand how it can be allowed to go on. In India, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, the caste system is getting worse, not better. When India became independent in 1947 and Gandhi started a campaign to allow lower-caste people to do all different levels of work, we all thought that by now there would be no caste system in that country. There was a great hope that the caste system would die out. It has not done so but has got worse. People have killed their own children because they have married a person in a different caste. There are organisations in Delhi that find and bring back young people who run away from their villages to escape the wrath of their parents. They pick them up and bring them to their parents, who have them killed. It is not a joke in India. It is horrible.
We have heard that there are laws in India, Bengal, Bangladesh and Nepal. Those laws are not enforced. No one cares about them, and a few rupees will buy you the willingness of anyone from a different caste to help out, so there is no question of the laws being effective. That also applies to the laws against dowry and aborting girl babies. None of those laws is enforced. A law that is not enforced is of no use whatever.
If we were to pass the amendment, we would be making the clearest statement that society can make that such behaviour is unacceptable in this country. We also need to state to our own people, the Hindus: “You cannot come here and behave as if you are in India because there are laws here that will be enforced and will not be overlooked”. I know how some children were treated in schools when I was teaching. That was some years ago, and things have got worse, not better. Unfortunately, there are Hindu organisations that are against the amendment and feel that it is targeting them and saying that high-caste Hindus are the ones to blame. Well, they are to blame if this discrimination happens, because they start it. I hope that today noble Lords will accept this amendment. It is a very small thing, but it will mean a lot to 400,000 people.
My Lords, speaking from a Sikh perspective, I give my full support to the amendment. Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, taught, “Ask not a person’s caste but look to the inner light within”. At a time when even the shadow of a lower caste person was said to pollute the food of a higher caste, he instituted the system of langar, where people of all religions and social backgrounds were, and are, welcomed to share a gurdwara meal. The historic Golden Temple in Amritsar, recently visited by the Prime Minister, has, as he will have noticed, four doors at its sides, signifying a welcome to all people regardless of religion or supposed social difference.
Emphasis on the equal dignity of all human beings is central to Sikh teachings. I was slightly bemused by the readiness of some, including ministerial advisors I have met—and we see the same misinformation in the ministerial statement—to display their ignorance of basic Sikh teachings and, in a near-colonial way, to conflate caste, class and all undesirable social discrimination and religions on the subcontinent in the word “caste”. Attitudes of superiority and inferiority are found in all societies. We should remember the media headline “Prince William marries a commoner”.
Caste has a very precise meaning attached to practices associated with the Hindu faith. It has its origin in the desire of the Aryan conquerors of the subcontinent in pre-Vedic times to establish a hierarchy of importance, with priests at the top followed by warriors, those engaged in commerce and then those engaged in more menial tasks. The conquered indigenous people were considered lower than the lowest caste. Accident of birth alone determined a person’s caste. Sadly, thousands of years latter, and despite legislation by the Indian Government, which has been referred to, this hierarchy of importance still lingers on.
I have gone into detail because it is important to understand what we are talking about when we discuss discrimination on grounds of caste. It is discrimination arising from supposed Hindu religious belief, but what passes for religion is not always all it seems. Caste in no way relates to underlying and uplifting ethical Hindu teachings. It is simply questionable culture that has, over the years, managed to attach itself to Hinduism in much the same way as discrimination against women—
The caste system was established very early in Hinduism. The Sanskrit for caste is “varna”, which is also the word for colour. The noble Lord mentioned the Aryan conquerors, who were supposed to be lighter skinned. They wanted a division not only on the basis of who would do what but on the basis of colour.
I thank the noble Baroness for that. I repeat: caste in no way relates to underlying and uplifting ethical Hindu teachings. It is simply questionable culture that has, over the years, managed to attach itself to Hinduism in much the same way as discrimination against women is seen by some as part of their faith.
The Sikh gurus were acutely aware of such negative cultural practices, and they openly discussed and criticised the prevalence of rituals, superstitions and cultural practices contrary to underlying ethical teachings. At a time when all religions all around the world were emphasising difference and exclusivity, the Sikh gurus stressed the importance of showing respect for sister faiths. The fifth guru, Guru Arjan, showed his respect for Islam by asking a Muslim saint, Mian Mir, to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple. The ninth guru, Guru Tegh Bahadhur, gave his life defending the right of Hindus to freedom of worship at a time of forced conversion by the Mogul rulers. At the same time, the gurus taught that people of all faiths must respect fundamental human rights and the equality of all people, including full gender equality.
While I have the greatest respect for a sister faith, I also believe that Hinduism without the old-fashioned concept of caste will be infinitely stronger. Similar negative cultural clutter exists in all our different faiths. Its removal would help religions work together for a fairer society, and it is in that spirit that I support this amendment.
My Lords, I fully support this amendment because it deals with a problem which ought not to disfigure our national life. My only point is somewhat technical. I notice that in one of his quotations, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned race, of which he said caste is a subgroup. I believe it is quite reasonable to suppose that the definition of race in the Equality Act, including ethnic considerations, will include caste. The fact that an additional power was taken to make orders in relation to caste puts that, in the context of the Equality Act, in a certain amount of doubt. However, it is quite important that we recognise that “ethnic” is a broad consideration and idea. According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which I suppose has a special authority in some parts of the House, “ethnic” means,
“relating to national and cultural origins … denoting origin by birth or descent, rather than by present nationality”.
It also has the definition of pertaining to or designating a,
“population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition”.
In effect, that is what caste is. In the context of the 2010 Act, the fact that a separate order-making power was introduced may have been unnecessary. However, it is worth recognising, as the quotation used by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, shows, that caste can be regarded as a subgroup of race which, of course, is a characteristic that is at present the subject of antidiscrimination provision.
It looks to me as though we have here the necessary push behind this, but I would like the Government to consider it. It may be a reason for reconsideration at Third Reading, separate from other things that have been said, but it is important for a view to be taken about this matter.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and others proposing this amendment, to which I give my full support. I do not want to delay this debate too much because it is quite clear what many of your Lordships think. However, I will make three brief points. First, I go back to the theme touched on by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and others about the Government’s plans to address this underlying issue by way of education. We have just been reminded about dictionary definitions. Education is from “educere” to lead us out; to lead us out, surely, into greater truth and the fullness of that truth; for us to flourish as human beings; and to become the best human beings we can be. Within that, I believe, the spirit of God leads us into the fullness of that truth of all being valued in the sight of God.
Secondly, we need consistency in how we approach these issues. Yes, there should be education but not only education. As we have been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, where does that lead? If it does not lead to the possibility of those who are being educated to treat others equally, to have the law support that as well, we let them down and fail them. Surely, our law is but the right ordering of our society. As we have been reminded by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, this issue is about the public arena.
Thirdly, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has drawn our attention, having had this debate, if we should turn away and not support this amendment, we are giving a worse signal than if we had never had the debate. We need the debate and we need it to be in the open. Having got to this point, we cannot let ourselves turn away. That would cause more harm, more damage and more discrimination. I hope very much that the Minister will accept this amendment and, if not, that it will have the support of all the Benches.
Perhaps I may follow especially what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, with which I agree. However, first, I recall that the previous Government, led by the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Thornton, met with a large group of Dalits, introduced by my noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. As I recall, they listened to them for the best part of three or four hours and were deeply affected by what they learnt from them. It was decided to include a power in the 2010 Act precisely to deal with the problem about which they had heard and to get the necessary research, which they did, and then to deal with the problem of legal uncertainty. As I understand it, the whole reason for the power was because it was necessary to deal with the problem of legal uncertainty if the Government were satisfied that there was evidence of discrimination.
During the debates that then took place, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, played a conspicuous role. I was looking back to some of the things that she said. She referred to a study, Hidden Apartheid—Voice of the Community—Caste and Caste Discrimination in the UK. She said that the study,
“illustrates that there is a real and widespread problem, whereas that does not appear to come back from the Government's consultations”.—[Official Report, 11/1/10; col. 340.]
She also referred to a “serious problem”. I pay tribute to her for that.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, rightly suggested that it is strongly arguable that the concept of race, notably of ethnic origins, might be capable of being extended to cover caste. I agree with him that that might be possible, especially when one considers the position of Jews and Sikhs. In the Jewish free school case, the Supreme Court had to deal with a dispute between orthodox Jews and Jews outside the United Synagogue. The Supreme Court interpreted the notion of ethnicity to include descent and held on the fact that a school was discriminating on the basis of descent as part of race.
Many years before, in the Sikh Mandla v Lee case—in which representation was made by an extremely able young advocate, now the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg—a school refused to allow a Sikh boy to be a member of the school if he wore a turban. The House of Lords decided that the word “descent” as part of ethnic origins was capable of being construed to treat Sikhs as being protected by the Racial Discrimination Act.
We are in the position in which some 300,000 Jews—as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, indicated in his extraordinarily powerful speech—and 300,000 Sikhs in this country are protected against race discrimination as ethnic groups, but Dalits are not yet protected. It would take a case all the way to the Supreme Court to try to prevail in the way that Sikhs and Jews have done.
Noble Lords will have read in the newspapers that there was indeed a test case brought in an employment tribunal by Vijay and Amardeep Begraj. After a 36-day hearing, the judge recused herself on the application of the defendant after a visit from two West Midlands Police officers. As a result, there is no determination of their complaints of caste-based discrimination, caste-based victimisation and caste-based harassment. They ran out of money, and I cannot imagine how it would be possible for anyone in the Dalit community to be able now to bring a case that could go before a tribunal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. It would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds for the costs of both sides.
Therefore, one of the overwhelmingly strong reasons for supporting this amendment is not, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that it is declaratory. The whole point is that it is not declaratory: it would bring the Dalits within legal protection. They would at last have effective remedies.
I was trying to say—and perhaps my voice was not particularly helping—that it was more that we had made a declaratory statement in the earlier amendment and I felt that it would be a negative declaratory statement if we were not to pass this amendment because of the message that it would send, not just to the 400,000 Dalits in this country but to those living in India.
I am most grateful. Contrary to the impression that I might create, I am not simply a cold-hearted lawyer: I value symbols very much indeed.
I finish with this about education and legislation. It is almost 50 years since, in 1967, in its first annual report, the Race Relations Board summarised the role of legislation in this way: First:
“A law is an unequivocal declaration of public policy”.
“A law gives support to those who do not wish to discriminate, but who feel compelled to do so by social pressure”.
“A law gives protection and redress to minority groups”.
“A law thus provides for the peaceful and orderly adjustment of grievances and the release of tensions” ,
“A law reduces prejudice by discouraging the behavior in which prejudice finds expression”.
Gandhiji is no longer alive, but I have no doubt that his spirit would guide us in a vote if it is decided to divide the House.
My Lords, I strongly support what has been said. As my noble friend Lord Deben, with whom I do not always agree, made his powerful and convincing speech, I could not help but remember a conversation I had with my father—who loved India and travelled there often before the Second World War—in 1947, 66 years ago when India became independent. I thought of that conversation, too, when the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, was addressing us a few moments ago. My father said, “India will have its independence, and I hope that that will mean the end of the caste system”.
As a young boy of seven, I had not a clue what he was talking about. He sat me down and explained the plight of the untouchables, which had moved him many times in his visits to India. Here we are, 66 years on, and there are people not only in India but in our own land who do not have the protections for which my noble friend Lord Deben and others have argued so articulately this afternoon.
A few months ago, we had a fine debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Popat, who is sitting on the Front Bench now. It was to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the admission of the Uganda Asians. From all sides of the House, people spoke with passion, conviction and affection for the way in which that community adapted and adopted itself and enriched us all in the process. It was right that we should pay our tributes. But is it not sad that there are still 400,000 in this country who do not enjoy the full protection of the law in the way in which the Ugandan Asians rightly do?
I very much hope this afternoon that the House will not need to divide. I hope that it will carry this amendment by acclamation. If there is any chance at all of the Government not being able to accept the amendment, I hope—and here I repeat what I said in an earlier debate and echo what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said—that at the very least, my noble friend the Minister will think again and come back at Third Reading. If she cannot do that and does not feel that she can discuss with senior colleagues in the Government the need to do that, the House has a duty incumbent on it to strike a blow—brief but effective.
If we wanted to be convinced of the need for that, we need only reflect on the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, a few moments ago when he talked about the expense of going to law. Do we wish to create a situation where the only way of seeking redress of the basic grievance of not being treated equal is to go to law? No, we do not. If the amendment cannot be accepted and if there cannot be a promise to come back at Third Reading, I hope that it will be carried.
My Lords, it was with enormous pleasure and humility that I put my name to this amendment on behalf of these Benches. It is true what the noble Lord, Lord Lester said. In 2009-10, I attended a meeting of hundreds of Dalits and their organisations and found myself completely convinced that there was a gap in the law. Our equality legislation did not cater for this group and it was something that we needed to resolve. That is all that is before us today.
I thank the movers of the amendment and I particularly want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Deben, because I thought his speech was extraordinary. All we want and all that we need to do is to add “caste” to,
“colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins”,
under the race characteristic of the equality legislation. It is not actually a very big thing to do, but it is a very important thing that we have to do today.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate and thankful to the Government for introducing this Bill, which will support British businesses in cutting unnecessary costs and red tape, boost consumer confidence and help to create more jobs.
I wanted to speak briefly on the amendment of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, relating to the inclusion of caste when considering cases of discrimination. This is not a new debate; indeed, when the Equality Act was published in 2010, a specific provision was included to allow for caste to be added as an aspect of race at a later date. Later that year, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research undertook an extensive government-commissioned study into the prevalence and severity of caste discrimination in the United Kingdom and concluded that it does in fact occur in many of the areas covered by the Equality Act, such as education and the workplace. That led me to conclude that government action is indeed required as a matter of some urgency.
As a man with Indian ancestry, I am all too aware of the deep-rooted prejudice and unfair treatment that results from allowing the caste-based system to persevere. The Minister may be aware of the religious concept of untouchability, whereby certain individuals are declared untouchables due to their perceived association with impurity and pollution. As a result, they are ostracised and isolated from the rest of society in order to protect and preserve the quality of the majority.
In particular, across much of south Asia, the Dalit community has suffered greatly from this deep, ingrained form of discrimination. Dalits are a community considered so lowly in the social hierarchy that in some circles they are in fact excluded from the caste system altogether and completely segregated by social customs.
Historically, in countries such as India, Dalits have also been physically separated from the rest of society, housed outside the main villages and entitled to perform only the most menial of jobs. This horrendous social mentality still prevails in some rural communities, although thankfully it is becoming less common. Today, the Indian constitution outlaws discrimination based on caste and provides for the reservation of seats in the House of the People and the states’ legislative assemblies for those who have been historically disadvantaged due to the caste system. There are also programmes to promote and provide educational and employment opportunities for those such as Dalits. Many people in this country will be completely unaware of the existence of such a caste system and its history in suppressing minorities here. This is why it is particularly important that we acknowledge the potential extent of the problem in the United Kingdom.
I was instinctively drawn to support this amendment. Following further reading and a highly reassuring discussion with the Minister this morning, I am now very much aware of how seriously the Government are taking this matter. They have been very clear that nobody should suffer prejudice because of their caste, and as such have developed the Talk for a Change programme to work with the communities affected by this discrimination. As with so many of the most deep-rooted cultural ills, education and awareness is the key to prevention and this is exactly the approach this programme will take. I also appreciate that there will be a political focus on the Hindu and Sikh communities where the problem is most prevalent. Such assertive action is extremely welcome and is necessary both in the name of protecting vulnerable individuals and in maintaining our reputation as a country that embraces progressive and tolerant attitudes.
The Government have also been clear that they have no plans to remove the provision contained within the Equality Act which allows for caste to be included at a later date. This again reassures me that they are maintaining a flexible approach to tackling this problem and were we to enforce the type of legislation called for in this amendment we would simply be pushing against an open door.
We must realise that, as a nation which has so proudly and successfully championed the fusion of a diverse range of minority communities with modern-day Britain, we have inevitable responsibilities. These responsibilities should be seen as challenges to relish; ways in which we can assist our new communities and help them to integrate better into what many see as the mainstream of British life.
Our Prime Minister has made the point that Britain is open for business, and I believe that furthering our commitment to fairness and equality in our boardrooms, offices and factories can only serve to make us an even more attractive nation to do business with. I believe that the Government share this sentiment and I look forward to following the progress of the Talk for a Change programme.
If a Division is called, I shall certainly vote not-content.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this very important debate. Let me start by being absolutely clear: the Government recognise that there is some evidence of caste prejudice and discrimination taking place in the United Kingdom. Such behaviour is wrong; no one should suffer prejudice or discrimination, whether because of caste or any personal characteristic, and it should not be condoned whether or not it is prohibited by legislation.
Before I go any further, I should like to pay tribute to the work of those who have campaigned so hard on behalf of victims of caste prejudice and discrimination, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. I think they underestimate what they have achieved through their efforts over the last few years. Their commitment has already achieved a great deal in highlighting the problem and in ensuring consideration of this issue.
As noble Lords closely involved in this campaign know, the Government were already reviewing the NIESR report that has been referred to before my noble friend Lord Avebury tabled his amendment to this Bill at the end of last year. However, a decision by the Government as to what action they would take had not emerged at that stage. During debate in Committee, I undertook that the Government would reach a decision which would be announced before today’s Report. In the light of the strong arguments in Committee, I also undertook to ask the relevant departmental Minister, my honourable friend Helen Grant, to meet representatives from all the major pro-legislation caste organisations. That meeting took place earlier in February and my noble friends Lord Avebury and Lady Northover and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, were all able to attend. Though I was not able to be present myself because I was required on other business in this House, I met Helen Grant beforehand to relay personally the details of our previous debate. She has since given me a comprehensive read-out of the discussions.
Be under no doubt, the Minister listened carefully and has reflected thoughtfully since that meeting. For her and for me, the question is not and never has been, “Should we act to do something about caste prejudice and discrimination?”, but rather, “What is the best course of action when all the evidence is taken into account?”. My noble friend Lord Lester referred to some statements that my noble friend Lady Warsi made when we were in opposition about there being a serious problem of caste prejudice. She was right then and she is right now; our position on that has not changed.
There is a clear demand for legislation; that has been put forward without any doubt today. That demand is from those who are affected as well as from those who are speaking for them today. But new legislation is always a big step. Before taking it, we need to be satisfied that it is the most appropriate and effective way of tackling the specific problem. My noble friend Lord Deben, as other noble Lords have rightly acknowledged, made an incredibly powerful speech in this debate. One of the things he said was that no one should suffer discrimination on the grounds of something that they cannot help. He was referring to castes and I agree with him. However, there are other people who suffer prejudice in this country because of their class, their background or their place of birth but we have no legislation on these matters and we deal with them through other approaches.
I understand that, but none of those things is fixed in the way in which caste is fixed. Those are things which can be changed—sometimes they are just changed by speaking differently. You cannot change your caste, and that is why it is an exact parallel with race and may indeed be included within race. Surely it is not acceptable to say that there is anything else like caste.
As I continue laying out the Government’s response, I will answer more directly the points that my noble friend has made. I want to make it plain that there are other forms of prejudice from which people in this country suffer to a great extent for which no clear, direct legislation exists to prevent it happening.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, provided some rather shocking evidence and stories of discrimination outside the UK, as did other noble Lords. The Government have to legislate to tackle what happens in this country; that is what we—what all Governments—must ensure that we do. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, talked about the huge number of crimes committed against Dalits in India. We have existing criminal law here in Great Britain for dealing with those kinds of assaults and other crimes if they take place in this country.
At this point, let me make it clear that we remain willing to consider whether there may be a case for legislating specifically in regard to caste discrimination, and hence our willingness to meet representatives of the key groups. I will return in a moment to the circumstances that would lead us to such a decision, and why we remain unconvinced that legislation is the best answer. It is clear from the NIESR report, which is the most robust study available so far, that the majority of incidents of caste-related prejudice or abuse would not be covered by equality legislation. Our assessment is that the great majority of cases in the report are either in areas outside the legislation—such as in relation to volunteering, which is not covered by discrimination law—or would already be subject to redress through a range of measures from claims for constructive dismissal to criminal prosecution. That said, we are clear that no one should suffer prejudice because of caste. Such prejudice should not be condoned and it should never be ignored, and that is why I am pleased that the Government have announced that they are taking clear action to tackle caste prejudice and discrimination through an education initiative. I thank my noble friend Lord Sheikh for his support for this initiative, and I must say that I was rather surprised that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, dismissed it as being patronising and interfering. Even if a new law on caste discrimination was to be introduced, without education it would not address the underlying causes.
Did my noble friend note the quotation I gave from the NIESR report which talked about the educational effect of legislation? The fact is that because employers would have to discharge their responsibilities, they would educate their workforces and thus the whole of society.
I hope that, as I continue my remarks, I will be able to answer the points made by my noble friend and the noble Baroness. My noble friend Lord Avebury talked about business only needing to familiarise itself with caste legislation when a case of discrimination occurs. I would argue that that is not the case. Employers and service providers have to familiarise themselves with the law in order to avoid being faced with claims for discrimination. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, asked about the cost of the education initiative. I can inform him that the estimated cost is around £20,000. I should also say that I thought that the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Singh, on the history behind caste was very illustrative because it demonstrated the point I have just made in response to my noble friend Lord Avebury about the need, if we were to introduce a law, to educate business in just how complex an issue this is and therefore how much education will be necessary.
The joint initiative between the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Government Equalities Office has already appointed a body called Talk for a Change to take this work forward in partnership with any organisation that wishes to become involved in finding practical, community-based solutions to the problems and harm that caste-based prejudice can cause. Over the next few months, the programme will see Talk for a Change running a series of regional workshops that will engage with individuals and organisations from local communities to explore the nature and sensitivities of the caste system and the emotional harm that caste prejudice and discrimination can cause. In response to a point made by my noble friend Lord Deben, I say that the workshops will also be used to raise awareness within those communities of the channels of redress that are already open to those who feel themselves to have been victims of caste prejudice, discrimination or harassment. The outcomes from these events will be used to provide material that can be made available to local authorities, schools, colleges, employers, the police and any others who may come into contact with caste-related issues. The details of how those who wish to participate in this project can get involved will be available shortly on the Talk for a Change website, and we will also ensure that these projects are widely advertised.
We believe that this education programme, which will explore all the issues, not just those covered by discrimination legislation, is an appropriate and targeted way of dealing with incidents related to caste that are not already susceptible to the criminal law or other remedies such as employment law or informal grievance procedures. However, that is not all we are doing. As has already been referred to, the Equality and Human Rights Commission was mentioned several times during our debate in Committee as an important player in this issue. We have been in discussions with the commission about caste discrimination, and both the Government Equalities Office and the commission have agreed that it would be useful to examine the evidence from existing studies and the extent to which different approaches might address the problem. This work will not duplicate the previous work undertaken in the area, such as the NIESR report.
In response to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and my noble friend Lord Avebury, who I think used the term Groundhog Day when commenting on this issue, let me make it absolutely clear how this is going to be different. NIESR carried out primary research to determine whether caste prejudice and discrimination exists in Great Britain. That research included discussions with a range of organisations and interviews with individuals who have claimed to be the victims of such behaviour. The commission will use the evidence that is currently available as part of its consideration of the nature of caste prejudice and harassment and the extent to which this problem is likely to be addressed by legislative or other solutions. The commission intends to publish its findings later this year, which we will of course consider carefully. My noble friend Lord Avebury asked whether a budget had been set aside for the commission to look at this issue. The commission has not requested a budget for this work because, as we debated at length in the previous debate, it is an independent body that takes its own decisions about its workload and spending within its own overall budget.
My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern raised an important legal matter, and he was supported in doing so by my noble friend Lord Lester. He said that caste is already potentially a subset of race and that perhaps the current existence of the separate power on caste in the Equality Act 2006 detracts from that. It goes without saying that my noble and learned friend knows far more about the law than I could ever begin to know myself, and whenever he intervenes to make a point, I consider it carefully and with great seriousness. However, we are not aware of any case law directly on this point, although I note that my noble friend Lord Lester seemed to suggest that some exists. What I would like to suggest is that, when the commission undertakes its study, this is an area on which it might properly reflect as part of its work. This is precisely the kind of thing that the commission should consider in the work that it is about to do.
My noble friend is familiar with the detail in this area. If that is so, I am not in a position to suggest that he is wrong. However, we do not believe that it is necessary to introduce legislation at this time.
The Government are largely in accord with the aims of this amendment. We all want to see an end to caste-based prejudice and discrimination. We are not closing the door to legislation. We have no plans to remove the power from the Act, and we will leave it there in case new evidence emerges which makes it clear that legislation would help to achieve the aim that we all share. As I have already made clear, we will consider the outcome of the commission’s study when it reports later this year.
From the limited evidence of caste prejudice already available, we believe that there is much to be gained through a programme of education, and that is something that we can and will get on with immediately. Those who suffer this prejudice have strong support from all sides of this House—that has been made evident today. However, let me also make clear that the people who suffer from this prejudice also have support from Ministers who are currently in government; most particularly, my honourable friend Helen Grant and my noble friend Lady Warsi, who will take a very active role in monitoring the effect of this educational programme and will most definitely take quite seriously the results of the work that the commission has said that it will do. I cannot accept this amendment for all the reasons that I have given, and I hope that, in view of the comprehensive way in which I have responded today, it is possible for the noble and right reverend Lord to consider withdrawing his amendment.
First, I thank very much all those who have spoken in support of this amendment for their deeply felt speeches. I also thank the Minister for the serious consideration which she has given to this, and for her obviously sincere commitment to the elimination of caste discrimination. I also thank the Minister in the other place, Helen Grant; the Dalit organisations found the meeting with her very helpful.
However, there is a clear division of opinion in this House between those who believe very passionately that it is essential to have a clear law in place at this stage, and those, like the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, who are with the Government in believing that what is needed is an educational programme. All I ask the noble Lord is whether he would have taken that view when race relations legislation was first being introduced. I suspect he would not have; he would have argued for the importance of a clear law.
The Minister mentioned rightly that a number of the more horrible cases mentioned in our speeches concerned what is happening in India, rather than here. That is true, and this issue needs to be seen against that wider background. None the less, I myself gave a very clear example of employment discrimination in this country, and we can provide the Minister with a whole range of cases in this country, as the report sets out.
The Minister suggested that many of the cases mentioned in that study would not be covered by legislation. That is indeed true. However, a number clearly would, and that is surely the key point. At the moment, people have no legal address, and it is absolutely fundamental to all aspects of the law in this country that people have such address where they feel that they are being discriminated against. While I in no way doubt the sincerity of the Minister and the Government on this issue, there is a clear division of opinion in this House about the necessity of a clear law at this stage. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.
Clause 58 : Equality Act 2010: third party harassment of employees and applicants
Amendment 74 not moved.
Clause 59 : Equality Act 2010: obtaining information for proceedings
75: Clause 59, leave out Clause 59
My Lords, I was unable to take part in the debate on this issue on 14 January in Committee because of ill-health. I am grateful to those who spoke at that time. We are dealing here with a procedure invented in 1974, one that has worked very well and is designed to help people without legal aid to know whether they have a good case for discrimination. This procedure concerns not only ethnic minorities, religious minorities, women, the disabled and the elderly, but everybody protected by the Equality Act 2010.
The repeal of the statutory procedure that enables would-be claimants to use a standard form to find out whether they have a good case would greatly diminish and impair the ability of potential claimants to have effective access to justice in pursuing claims of alleged unlawful discrimination. It would be regressive and undermine the practical benefits of the Equality Act for women and girls, ethnic and religious minorities, the disabled, the elderly, and gay and lesbian men and women. I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to accept this amendment so that the procedure may be retained.
The questionnaire procedure was introduced into the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976 when I was special adviser to Home Secretary Roy Jenkins. The White Paper, Racial Discrimination, published in September 1975 explained in paragraph 85 that:
“Help will be given to a person who considers that he may have been discriminated against unlawfully to decide whether to institute proceedings and, if he does so, to formulate and present his case in the most effective manner … In addition to helping the aggrieved person to ascertain the nature of the respondent’s case at an early stage by means of a simple, inexpensive procedure, this provision will also enable complaints which are groundless or based on misunderstandings to be resolved without recourse to legal proceedings”.
The position with discrimination law is that the burden of proof remains, as it has always done, on the claimant to make out a prima facie case before the burden shifts to the employer or service provider. The Explanatory Notes to Section 136 of the Equality Act 2010 explain that,
“the burden of proving his or her case starts with the claimant. Once the claimant has established sufficient facts, which in the absence of any other explanation point to a breach having occurred, the burden shifts to the respondent to show that he or she did not breach the provisions of the Act”.
That has always been the position and it involves a fair sharing of the burden of proof. As Karon Monaghan QC notes in the leading textbook on equality law in paragraph 14.18:
“The courts have long acknowledged that proving direct discrimination ... is peculiarly problematic. This is reflected in such statistical data as exists, which indicates that discrimination, particularly race discrimination, cases have lower prospects of success than any other comparable claims”.
She reviewed the case law and concluded:
“The outcome of a case will ... usually depend on the inferences which it is proper to draw from the primary facts. These inferences can include, in appropriate cases, any inferences that it is just and equitable to draw in accordance with the questionnaire provisions”.
Abolishing the questionnaire procedure would deprive the tribunal or court of the power to draw such inferences because of the failure by the employer or other respondent to answer the questions or because they did so in an equivocal and shifty way. That would be unfair and unjust. The Minister accepted in Grand Committee that the questionnaire form is “simple and straightforward” but she cited fears expressed by the Opposition in 1975 that the procedure might be abused. That was before the forms were published and used and there is no evidence of which I am aware that the procedure has been abused or indeed criticised by any court, tribunal, legal practitioner or academic during the 35 years it has operated. I invite my noble friend the Minister to indicate whether she agrees, or has even a scintilla of evidence—as opposed to assertion—that any court, tribunal, legal practitioner or academic during the past 35 years has ever suggested that the procedure is abusive. In Grand Committee the Minister referred to the procedure as not being replicated in other areas of employment law. That is because there are special difficulties in proving discrimination cases, as the courts have repeatedly said.
The procedure has proved to be of real practical benefit for potential claimants and respondents and was extended by successive Governments and Parliaments to the other forms of unlawful discrimination in the employment, education, goods and services, and public service provision fields. It applies to alleged discrimination because of religion or belief, sexual orientation, disability, and age, and in relation to equal pay without sex discrimination. It was included in Section 138 of the 2010 Act without controversy or any opposition in either House. It does not require the complainant to use the forms prescribed by the Minister, so there is no micromanagement here.
Complaints of alleged discrimination—whether direct or indirect—are, as I have said, very hard to prove and most of the relevant information is in the possession of the respondent rather than the claimant. For example, in a direct discrimination case the claimant has to choose a comparator to prove less favourable treatment on a ground forbidden by the Act. The burden of proof is on the complainant. Only the respondent is in possession of the relevant facts about whether the comparison is appropriate and whether the facts show less favourable treatment, and, if so, the reason for this. Similarly, in an indirect discrimination case, the claimant has to prove disproportionate adverse impact on forbidden grounds. Again, only the respondent has the facts, including statistical or other material and whether there is an objective justification for the discriminatory barrier.
It is essential that the potential respondent is encouraged to disclose the essential facts at an early stage to help the potential claimant to know whether to proceed and also to encourage conciliation and settlements by encouraging the respondent to take the matter seriously pre-litigation. If the procedure were abused, the employer or service provider could refuse to reply and the tribunal would uphold their position because of the abusive approach of the claimant.
These considerations were not brought out in the Government’s consultation paper, which stated that the Government had seen no evidence that the question and answer procedure reduces litigation. As a result of the consultation, however, evidence did come to light, notably from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, about the practical utility of the procedure. The commission’s position paper was published in August 2012. Its evidence is particularly important. Parliament has made the commission responsible for monitoring the effectiveness of the legislation and the likely effect of a proposed change of law. That is what Parliament has decided. The commission is able to draw on 35 years of experience by the equality agencies it has replaced.
The commission has explained that the procedure has led to cases being resolved or not being pursued and that repealing Section 138 would limit the evidence on which a claimant can rely in proving their case. The commission has found the procedure useful in assessing the strength of a case and has made decisions not to assist a case under Section 28 based on the response to questionnaires. By making it harder for the claimant to seek an effective remedy for discrimination there is an increased risk of a legal challenge to the repeal of Section 138. The commission also rightly points out that claimants will still have the right to pose questions pre-claim but that it is preferable to do so on the basis of the questionnaire.
The Government’s response does not address any of the issues raised by supporters of the procedure—some 83% of respondents—including not only the EHRC, trade unions and the equality NGOs but also the judiciary. The Government dismiss the evidence as not “quantifiable” and state that the question and answer procedure,
“encourages undesirable micro-management of the process by government, including prescribing the nature of the forms to be used, and the time limits involved”.
It is difficult to understand how the procedure can be described as micromanagement, still less as undesirable micromanagement. The Government consider that the more effective approach is to leave,
“businesses free to decide how and whether they respond to enquiries of this sort, with any attendant balance of risk that may be involved”.
I cannot agree. With the existing questionnaires, the tribunal or court can draw a negative inference against an employer who fails to respond to the questionnaire. That is an important incentive for employers, trade unions and services providers to respond. Without that incentive the help given under the Equality Act and its predecessor Acts is taken away and the claimant falls back on the disclosure powers of the courts and tribunals. These are extensive and disclosure orders are far more time consuming than filling out the existing questionnaires.
In its excellent briefing, the Equality and Diversity Forum expressed concern about the proposal to abolish the questionnaire procedure because it saves money by deterring ill-founded litigation, enables the early resolution of disputes, clarifies the issues in contention and facilitates access to justice. Some 83% of consultees oppose the repeal of this provision. Indeed—your Lordships may think this is a killer point—the president and the regional employment judges of the employment tribunals have described it as a retrograde step. There is no credible evidence that I know of that the procedure is a burden on business. I agree and I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I do so on the basis of comments that I made in Committee, which I will try not to repeat while trying to contextualise this Bill and where the equality aspects sit in it. Clearly, much of what the noble Lord has already said explains the difficulty that victims of discrimination have in proving discrimination, with the whip hand being with the employer and with the information often being inaccessible.
The Bill itself has an underlying theme. I feel that it is to allow employers to hire and fire without any fear, weakening employees’ rights and reducing the support and representation available to victims of discrimination in the workplace, while making the EHRC weaker. It transfers many of its resources and functions to the GEO, where the Government will have greater control. The Government have cut the previous grants programme and diminished the helpline. They are converting the EHRC into some form of strategic think-tank, which is unrelated to the reality and everyday struggle of disadvantaged and disaffected communities across the country. It is among those groups that we find many of the less powerful victims of unlawful discrimination. In addition, there are closures of advice and law centres, with legal aid being denied and costs now being associated with employment tribunal cases. That is the severe context in which we have to look at the attempt to withdraw the questionnaire procedure.
This is being done largely on the basis, as argued by the Government, that it is a burden on employers to have to respond to questions being asked by employees about their treatment. Employees have to get that information to determine whether they have a basis on which to go forward with a case of unlawful discrimination. Without that information, they literally have no basis for doing so. The basis of my support for this amendment is my experience of working with and against employers who want to get rid of their employees. Many employers clearly support the reform put forward here—getting rid of the questionnaire—because they do not want to be accountable for their actions or to respond to questionnaires in which they have to provide explanations for their actions. They regard these questionnaires, as the government side have argued in taking this forward, as a nuisance.
Employers also find some of the questions being asked challenging. That is not simply because they are seen and interpreted as a fishing exercise but because unless those questions are asked, employees who have a feeling that they have been discriminated against or an awareness that they have been treated unfairly, and probably unlawfully, are unable to carry forward their grievance. They cannot get redress without assistance, which I have already mentioned is vanishing, and certainly without the information that they need. Some of the questions asked, which may bring forward information or are sometimes not answered, are exactly what is required to help employees understand the nature of the discrimination they have suffered or understand the explanation for why they have been treated in certain ways that render it impossible for them to succeed in a case before a tribunal.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, pointed out, 83% of those who responded to the consultation opposed the repeal of the questionnaires. We have had submitted to us the EHRC’s position which recognises the usefulness and importance of retaining questionnaires. Indeed, we have had a submission from the Discrimination Law Association, which provided examples of the usefulness of the questionnaires in helping both employees and employers. Practitioners right across the country have contributed to that. I hope that the Minister will recognise that the case has not been made, with evidence, of how questionnaires are a burden for employers, other than that they see them as a nuisance and an irritant. In fact, in the name of justice, equality and fairness, and to enable the existing legislation to be undertaken and enforced effectively, as it has to be, the usefulness of the questionnaires should be retained for that purpose.
My Lords, I have no desire to add to the two very detailed contributions that have just been made to this debate. However, I fully support the amendment. I am opposed to the abolition of the questionnaire procedure. I cannot understand why the Government are proceeding down this path. As has already been indicated, the questionnaire procedure saves money by deterring ill founded litigation. Most of the consultees, including the British Chambers of Commerce, were opposed to it while surveys have shown that none of the businesses questioned raised concerns about the questionnaire procedure. Quite honestly, there is no evidence at all that the questionnaire procedure is a burden on business. As far as the trade union movement is concerned, the TUC is totally opposed to the abolition of the questionnaire. I hope that the Government, having listened to the two previous noble Lords, will agree that this is not the path to go down and will not proceed with the abolition.
My Lords, I was very happy to put my name to this amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Lester. He spoke with great passion and authority about this issue at Second Reading and has done so again to explain why this amendment is so important. In terms of practical equalities on an everyday basis, this is probably the most important amendment we are going to discuss today because it is about how ordinary people can start to challenge whether they have been discriminated against.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and my noble friend Lady Turner have just said, there is no evidence that this procedure is being used as a fishing exercise. Case law makes clear that businesses and other respondents are not required to answer questions which are disproportionate and that a poor response would not automatically lead to a finding of discrimination. Indeed, the Government’s impact assessment fails to provide any empirical support for removing this so-called regulatory burden on businesses. The questionnaire procedure facilitates access to justice. It helps both parties to assess where a claim lies and enables them to reach an early settlement where appropriate. It is therefore crucial that the Government should not repeal Section 138 of the Equality Act 2010.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions today on this matter. I start by repeating what I said in Committee on this measure: our proposal does not impact on the substantive rights of those who believe that they have encountered discrimination. It does not deny people access to justice or reduce the remedies available to those who have experienced discrimination. It simply replaces an out-of-date system with a simpler and fairer approach for all. Let me be clear: we want a process that commands confidence from all the parties likely to be involved in discrimination cases.
Before I go any further, I will respond to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, about legal aid. He suggested that it was being denied, making it harder for people to bring claims. Legal aid continues to be available in discrimination cases.
Our concerns are with the nature of the statutory mechanism around Section 138 of the Act, and the particular combination of features—an unlimited scope for request of detail concerning a possible complaint, a short deadline for response and the tribunal’s power to draw pejorative inference from the response or lack of it—which employers and businesses feel really back them into a corner. This process started off, as my noble friend Lord Lester said, over 40 years ago with the intention of a straightforward question and answer procedure. In 1975, the then Minister described it as a way of enabling the complainant to obtain simple, basic information on which to decide whether to start a case. Noble Lords might compare that sentiment to actual, although, of course, anonymised, examples of the sort of questions that are nowadays put to employers. Here are a couple: “Please specify the number of employees who have requested, applied for or been invited to transfer to another department within the 18 month calendar period prior to” whatever date; “Please explain how many of those transferred had raised grievances whether formal or informal, prior to their transfer.”
At times the number of supplementary questions runs to 40, 50 or even 100, all of which employers, including small employers, often feel required to answer within eight weeks or face a tribunal case where they are already handicapped by the inferences which the tribunal may draw under the statute. It is, therefore, not surprising that many businesses feel that the balance has shifted too far in favour of the claimant. The repeal that we propose will address this and, together with the non-statutory arrangements that we are working on, will make for a fairer and simpler process, as I said before, for all involved.
My noble friend Lord Lester said that no court, tribunal or legal practitioner had ever suggested that the procedure is abused. I am happy to write to my noble friend about this because we believe some legal practitioners would certainly disagree with his statement that no abuse occurs. I hope he will not mind if I follow up on that in writing rather than trying to respond today on the Floor of the House.
When we debated this in Committee, some noble Lords doubted my contention that,
“not one single employer or business organisation told us that they saw value in the questionnaires”.—[Official Report, 14/1/13; col. GC 136.]
Indeed, that has been challenged again today by my noble friend Lord Lester and the noble Baronesses, Lady Turner of Camden and Lady Thornton. I find that a bit surprising because I thought that the letter I sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on 8 February provided the evidence for that statement. Indeed, I noted in that letter the alienation of employers and other companies from the view expressed frequently in debates on this clause that the obtaining information process benefits business as well as individuals by weeding out unmeritorious claims. In support of this, I refer to one particular response which sums up the employer view: “The information we send in response is rarely if ever used subsequently in the case, but does require us to undertake a considerable amount of work obtaining and collating the requested information.” It is a matter of concern that what is seen in Parliament as a major benefit of the procedure—its usefulness, on occasion, to both parties as a prevention mechanism—is in reality simply not shared, or even recognised, by respondents to the questionnaires.
Despite this, I emphasise that we are not trying to do away with the concept of pre-claim disclosure. We do indeed note the claim of those arguing in favour of retaining these provisions that pre-claim disclosure can on occasion be helpful to all concerned. That brings me to what we propose to put in place of Section 138 of the Equality Act. I underline what I said in Committee about the value we see in encouraging a pre-claim dialogue and exchange of information. Our early conciliation provisions in the Bill are intended to achieve just that and will provide the right sort of platform to help establish the basic facts to determine if discrimination has occurred. However, even if parties do not in the end agree to conciliation taking place, a conversation with ACAS will give them a better understanding—
I would like clarification, although I am listening very carefully. Is it contemplated that the conciliation procedure will enable a claimant to do something like serve such a questionnaire in order to try to understand whether they have a good case or not, or is this procedure to be abolished if the Government have their way?
To be absolutely clear, this is not about abolishing the opportunity for anybody to submit questions to an employer to gather information. All we are removing is the statutory requirement for that employer to have to respond to those questions within a time limit, and, if they were not to do so, providing for their non-response to be considered by the tribunal service.
I will return to what I was saying. If parties do not in the end agree to conciliation taking place, a conversation with ACAS will give them a better understanding of the issue and of the tribunal process. The individual will then still be able to seek information from the employer or service provider, before making any decision on whether to take their claim to the tribunal. Individuals will still be free to seek information from an employer or service provider about alleged discriminatory conduct without the statutory process. Information can be sought informally, in writing or orally.
To help this process, this informal approach will be set out in ACAS-approved guidance. This is being developed with the input of interested parties, including the Equality and Diversity Forum, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the CBI. Since we last debated this issue, ACAS has developed draft guidance for consideration by the group of interested parties. The guidance will include advice on how to seek pre-claim information in the employment as well as the goods and services context.
My noble friend Lord Lester referred to the fact that without statutory procedure employers will not help claimants by providing information. My response is that we are removing that statutory requirement for them to respond. When that ceases to exist, courts and tribunals may still take into account a refusal to answer questions or their provision of answers that look evasive when deciding whether a case of discrimination has been made out. The fact that there is no statutory process does not remove the risk to an employer or service provider of deciding not to respond to a claimant; it only removes the unnecessary and prescriptive process around that.
In conclusion I remind noble Lords of what I said in Committee, that we are now in a different climate to 40 years ago when this legislation was introduced. Businesses are more concerned with upholding their reputations and the damage reputational risk may have on their position in their market. There is a greater trend towards transparency around information held by business. Clearly that is progress and something that we support.
I hope that noble Lords can agree that the statutory process is no longer the right approach and that our alternative arrangements will continue to enable the kind of pre-claim dialogue that business and the Government are fully committed to supporting, with a lighter-touch process which benefits all equally. I hope that in responding I have given my noble friend at least some assurance that might lead him to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister and to others who have taken part in the debate. I wish that there had been some assurance that I could rely upon, because I very much hoped that it would not be necessary to test the opinion of the House. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, this is probably—in fact it is—the most important amendment that the House is considering, because it seeks to help the vulnerable, who are more than half the population. If you add together women, elderly people, the disabled, black people, brown people, religious minorities, and the gay and lesbian community, it comes to more than half the population. Therefore, to take away a simple procedure that has worked well in the estimation of all the judges and experts whom I have ever known—and I can claim a bit of expertise, since I have been arguing cases in this area for about 30 years, God help me, and perhaps I have a little more practical experience than some others who are advising the Government—will make it very hard to bring a discrimination claim.
It is all very well to say, “Oh well, you don’t need the statutory thing—you can just go and write a letter”. To write a letter that will lead to any kind of result probably means going to a solicitor or a trade union representative, if you are lucky enough to have one in the real world. In the real world, without this procedure, and without legal aid for employment tribunals, the applicant will bring cases that are misconceived, the conciliation process will not work well because of a lack of information, and the whole situation will be worse for victims. I do not know whether the Conservative part of the coalition wishes to go into the next election with credit for having dismantled one piece of valuable assistance to claimants. If it does, so be it. That, however, would be foolish. I speak only for the Liberal Democrats, but I do not believe that the Conservative part of the Government wishes to undo the valuable work done by previous Conservative Governments over the past 30 or 40 years in supporting this measure and others like it.
We put this on the statute book only two years ago in the 2010 Act, with all-party support. What has changed since then? The Red Tape Challenge. The original notion of that was to dismantle the whole of the equality legislation, and this is one part that has survived. It is foolish of the Government to continue to do this, and therefore I must reluctantly beg leave to test the opinion of the House.
76: After Clause 59, insert the following new Clause—
“Equality Act 2010: Equality Impact Assessment
(1) The Equality Act 2010 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 149 (public sector equality duty), after subsection (6) insert—
“(6A) A public authority shall make the following arrangements for compliance with the duties under this section—
(a) assessing and consulting on the likely impact of its proposed policies on the promotion of its duties under this section;(b) monitoring its policies for any adverse impact on the fulfilment of its duties under this section;(c) publishing the results of such assessments and consultations as are mentioned in paragraph (a) and of such monitoring as is mentioned in paragraph (b); (d) ensuring public access to information and services which it provides; and(e) training staff in connection with the duties imposed by this section.””
My Lords, Amendment 76 concerns equality impact assessments and would reinstate statutory requirements to undertake them as part of the public sector equality duty. An equality impact assessment involves assessing the likely or actual effects of policies or services on people in respect of disability, gender and racial equality. While equality impact assessments are not legally required, they have been widely adopted as an effective and efficient means for public authorities to undertake proper consideration of equal opportunities. They are described by the authorities that use them as,
“a positive force for the delivery of real equality”.
Moreover, case law suggests that these assessments provide robust evidence documenting how decisions were reached. Indeed, case law has confirmed that to have due regard to equality, a public authority needs to gather sufficient information about the impact on equality, give such information proper consideration at a formative stage of decision-making and consider whether any negative impact can be eliminated, mitigated or justified. Authorities are also advised to have some kind of audit trail to show that the actions they took comply with the duty. Therefore, while it is true that the courts have never held that there is a requirement to complete a written equality impact assessment or that having an equality impact assessment itself is sufficient to show compliance with a duty—especially if it has been completed with a purely tick-box or form-filling mentality—the main components of a good-quality, substantive equality impact assessment process are what the courts have held to be necessary in order to have due regard to equality.
It does not help to ensure public authorities’ compliance with their duty to have the Prime Minister and other government Ministers simply dismissing equality impact assessments as wasteful, bureaucratic and unnecessary exercises. Rather than calling time on equality impact assessments, as the Prime Minister did at the CBI conference in November 2012, we believe that these vital assessments should be enshrined in legislation. We therefore call for an additional amendment to be made to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill that would require public authorities to assess, consult, publish and monitor the likely impact of proposed policies.
This becomes even more important when, days after the announcement of a review of the public sector equality duty by the Secretary of State, Maria Miller, the Prime Minister announced that public sector organisations will no longer be required to undertake equality impact assessments as a means of fulfilling their obligations outlined in the public sector equality duty. Instead, these important assessments have been dismissed as unnecessary.
Repeated government announcements about equality law being burdensome red tape, the declaration of the Prime Minister at the CBI conference, and the dismissal of equality monitoring by the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles as unnecessary, intrusive and a waste of taxpayers’ money, fuel our concerns about the removal of these assessments. Indeed, I was reflecting that it would be nice if this Government actually made some positive announcements about equality impact assessments and how they are necessary to judge the impact of how public money is spent and used. Just saying, as the Prime Minister did, that,
“We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy. We don’t need all this extra tick-box stuff … so I can tell you today, we are calling time on equality impact assessments”,
seems to me to be a somewhat facile assessment of what is a useful public sector tool.
It is notable that the review of the public sector equality duty comes after the Government were criticised by the EHRC for failing to abide by the requirements within it. Furthermore, despite its membership including four Conservatives, not one Labour politician has been appointed to the steering committee that is reviewing this. Will the Minister tell us when the steering group looking at the public sector equality duty is due to report? My understanding is that it has been further delayed and that it will not now report until the summer. How is the steering group conducting its inquiry and who is it inviting to talk to it about the public sector equality duty?
Will the Minister also comment on a recent blog for Liberal Democrat Voice by the BIS and Equality Minister Jo Swinson? She seemed to imply that the duty has actually held policymakers back from properly considering equality. She said:
“As Liberal Democrats, we do not think equalities should be about ticking boxes and regulatory hoops—it’s too important to be relegated to an administrative duty. Advancing LGBT, gender, disability and race equality will only be achieved by putting equalities at the heart of every department”.
She is right about that, but you also need to see the effects of the policies you are pursuing.
The Minister needs to address two issues. First, if you do not have an equality impact assessment, how will you assess the effect of the work of public authorities? Secondly, if the body that is reviewing the public sector equality duty reports back that it does not think it is necessary, what will the Government do with that information? Are we going to find ourselves at the end of the summer in a situation in which the Government completely stop looking at the impact of any of their policies, spending commitments and decisions on factors such as age or gender, or on any of the different groups, such as LGBT people, covered by equality legislation? I am at a loss to know what direction the Government think they are taking with this so-called regulatory reform. I beg to move.
My Lords, I, too, support this amendment, to which I have added my name, as it seems to me there is an awful lot of misinformation regarding the benefits of having an equality impact assessment as part of the public sector equality duty. The noble Baroness has just mentioned tick-box exercises and bureaucracy, and described how this provision can be seen as a burden. However, it is an important tool and has been successfully used to assess the impact of public services and of government policy on vulnerable people. For many decades this was not the case. I cite my experience of working in a health authority before the public sector equality duty came into force, when it was very much up to the relevant health authority to assess whether different sections of the community or different groups received the same level of service, whether they could access that service and, indeed, whether the service was even appropriate. The public sector equality duty has gone some way to ensuring that vulnerable people, who are not always able to articulate the fact that they are not accessing a service or not benefiting from public services, are catered for and is an important way of ensuring that services are tailored to the local community. As I say, it has achieved some success.
I am not going to defend in your Lordships’ House every aspect of the way that this provision has been implemented. Of course, there is always room for improvement and greater accountability, and the amendment tries to address that. However, we must ensure that equality and the right of access to services is open to all, regardless of who they are or their background. Concerns have been raised about the way in which the steering group that has been mentioned has been established to review this issue. There does not seem to be a lot of transparency in the way that the review will conducted. There is also a lot of concern about the independence of the group given that everybody on it seems to be from a political party. I know that there is somebody from the Liberal Democrats on it but I have had no contact with that person. I would like to know how the group will take evidence and evaluate whether equality impact assessments should be changed or, indeed, removed. I, too, would like more information about this steering group which has been charged with this very important task.
As I say, the duty encourages proactive action to close equality gaps in health provision for different ethnic and other groups, and to ensure that services meet the needs of those who use them. It provides an important evidence base to support provision that is effective and efficient and ensures that services provide value for money, so it has served an important purpose. I hope that the Minister will accommodate some sections of this amendment and will look at equality impact assessments as a way of assisting the provision of services as opposed to being detrimental to them. I declare an interest as a commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission when it instigated a review of the Treasury’s compliance with the duty as regards the 2010 spending review. The public sector equality duty can make a huge difference if applied purposefully, and was seen by people in the Treasury and, indeed, by people in government as a helpful thing to do. Aspects of that spending review, such as its impact on women and minority groups, might not have been considered, so the duty was seen as a positive and helpful measure. I hope that the Minister will say how she thinks we may continue on a positive note by rolling this out.
I hope that the Minister will not accept this amendment because it seems to me that this is a good example of substituting reality with a bureaucratic answer. Surely what we are trying to do in this legislation is so to embed it in people’s attitudes and concepts that there is no need to have complicated bureaucratic form-filling and ticking-off. Most of us who run businesses would not dream of having a provision like this. However, most of us who run businesses would also be very insistent that decisions were made with a proper understanding of their impact on women as well as men and on minorities as well as majorities.
I hope the Minister will accept that many in today’s society consider that these issues should perfectly properly be dealt with in law—a law which I am happy to say looks as if it will be more inclusive than it has been up to now—but that people should themselves find the best way of handling them. The Government should not present people with a detailed arrangement such as appears in this amendment, which I am afraid very often becomes a substitute for action. People may say, “I have done my assessment and therefore I don’t have to think”. What we really need is for people to think creatively about how best to do these things. It is very much better not to lay down a recipe of the kind proposed in the amendment, which slightly reminds me of the nannying schemes which have made these provisions less popular than they ought to be. I am afraid that many people do not think of equality as a progressive and positive thing but rather as merely another drudgery which is laid on them. We do not want that; we want a society where equality is included as a natural way of looking at how you run a business, a local authority or a public authority. We do not want someone to feel that he or she has done their bit of homework, has ticked the boxes the right way and can now forget about it. I am afraid that the “I can now forget about it” syndrome cannot be legislated against but is very often the result of an amendment such as the one before us.
My Lords, having listened to all the debates today in your Lordships’ House, I am very conscious that there is a clear consensus among your Lordships on the importance of all organisations, particularly public sector organisations, working towards achieving equality. That has emerged in all the discussion that we have had. Core to that is the equality duty on public bodies.
I understand that the Government are reviewing all this but I hope that this evening’s debate will be influential in ensuring not only that they recognise the value of that general equality duty for the whole of the public sector, but also see the value of strengthening it in the way that this amendment seeks to do. My experience is that, if you are to achieve equality in the workplace—equality in terms of the way in which you provide services—it requires several things to be in place.
First, it requires visible leadership from those responsible for the organisation or in charge of it that shows that they believe that this is important. Secondly, it requires that policies are made in an evidence-based way; that information is used to assess how the policies are working, how the services are being delivered, who benefits and who perhaps is missing out. That requires the collection and collation of information, so that those in charge of the organisation can make the appropriate decisions. It also requires a degree of enforcement. But to say that you can achieve all of these things only by enforcement or only by one element of those different requirements is to set the arrangement up to fail.
I have listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who has highlighted that you do not want to create a tick-box mentality. That is absolutely right and is true in all sorts of areas. That is not what you want to achieve. However, if people are trying to apply the general duty on equality—or indeed what would be implied by this amendment in terms of the way in which equality impact assessments are concerned—in a tick-box mentality, then you will lose out entirely. This amendment sets a framework by which all public authorities can say, “We are doing our job properly and effectively”. How can you argue that there is something overprescriptive by saying that the duty of the public authority should be to assess and consult on the likely impact of its proposed policies? Surely that is sensible good practice. How can you say that that is overprescriptive? It is simply requiring public authorities to do what is right.
Similarly, requiring public authorities to monitor their policies for any adverse impact is again requiring that they do what is right. It is not being overprescriptive; it is simply saying to them, “This is what you should do to deliver your general duty on equality”. This is not an overprescriptive amendment; it is something that is there to provide a framework which public authorities can use.
I am also very clear that, in making decisions, public bodies have to look, check and see what the implications are. These assessments provide a framework which requires them to consider all the relevant factors in doing that. I know that when we make a decision on a public body we are required to consider all the relevant considerations and not consider those considerations which are irrelevant—I forget the precise form of words, but that is the standard rubric. This provides a framework to make sure that all the relevant considerations are being addressed. More importantly, it provides an audit trail, so that anyone looking at it can see how a decision has been taken and how the different issues have been factored in because there has been an equality impact assessment. That places quite a pressure on those making decisions that they have not only considered all the relevant factors but are able to justify what they have done. That is an extremely important and very good discipline for those who make public decisions.
The equalities duty has been an important step forward for public bodies in this country. Some of them still struggle with how to implement it and some still have a long way to go but, as a basic building block for ensuring that public services are delivered fairly and in line with the objectives that I think all of your Lordships have said they support during the course of various debates today, they have been extremely valuable.
I mentioned at the beginning that one of the requirements for delivering equality, whether at local level, public body or by government, is leadership. I hope that the Government will show clear leadership in agreeing that there is an importance to the public sector general duty on equality and accepting the importance of this amendment, which provides a sensible framework for equality impact assessments.
The Prime Minister is worried that this is going to become overbureaucratic. I suspect that by providing a framework in legislation for what is needed, some of those overbureaucratic elements will disappear simply because people are no longer trying to interpret what might be a necessary way of doing this and erring on the side of caution. This is a way of setting out a framework which will enhance the work that public authorities should be doing to promote equality.
My Lords, I support this amendment. I was reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, of something that happened a good many years ago when I was the national women’s secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. I was on a mission to include within the rulebook of the union requirements for each of our administrative areas to provide positive action programmes for women, and for sanctions to be introduced into the rulebook against those senior officials of the union who might be found guilty of harassment or bad behaviour towards women. “Attacked” is not the right word, but the response of more senior people in the union than me—men—verged on that. They said to me: “We don’t need a change in the rulebook, what we need is a change of culture”. I said: “Of course we do, I absolutely agree that we need a change of culture, but while we are working on the change of culture we will have a change in the rulebook so that outwith those rules you will not operate”.
We all know that large bureaucracies find it terribly difficult to shift. The idea that organisations out there—public sector bodies, services, et cetera—are going to be able to change their culture, and be willing or capable of doing that in any speedy fashion without some framework within which we require them to operate, seems to me to be cloud-cuckoo-land. I do not believe that if we remove the pressure for equality impact assessments to be the final step in delivering public sector equality duties we will see any change at all going on out there. I support this amendment and I hope that others will also do so.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords and to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece. I will explain my views on their amendment. I am grateful to them because it provides me with an opportunity to respond to some points which are important in this wider debate about equality impact assessments and the public sector equality duty.
Before I get into that, let me say from the start that this Government have a strong commitment to establishing a strong, modern, fair Britain which is built on two key principles: equal treatment and equal opportunity for all. The equality duty was designed to ensure that the needs of people are taken into account when public bodies develop, change, implement or review a new policy or service.
The amendment was discussed in Committee and, as has been explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, seeks to impose a number of processes on public bodies in addition to the central requirement to have due regard to the three main aims of the equality duty when exercising their functions. Some of the requirements it seeks to impose are already an integral part of the process of complying with the public sector equality duty. Having due regard to the equality duty when exercising their public functions is the legal duty on all public bodies. Let me be clear; that has not changed, nor has the requirement to be able to demonstrate that it has happened. For example, the proposal for public bodies to assess and monitor the likely impact of their proposed and actual policies is already required, while the requirement to publish the results of such assessments is caught by the requirement in the specific duties to publish information to demonstrate compliance with the duty. These requirements include considering the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations between people with different characteristics. Public bodies are also required to publish information at least annually to show how they have done this, and to set at least every four years equality objectives that will promote these aims. There is therefore already a thorough requirement on public bodies to have due regard to the public sector equality duty.
In his speech to the CBI last year, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece referred, the Prime Minister was calling time only on the equality impact assessment process, which seemed to have become meaningless around Whitehall. He was not calling time on the duty to have due regard to equality in decision-making itself. Indeed, I referred in Committee to “reverse-engineering” where it was clear that departments had sometimes not considered equality as they made a decision, but used the form at the end of the decision-making progress to justify that decision. My noble friend Lord Deben in Committee referred to an example of a local authority taking matters too far to the other extreme and, perversely, being proud that it had done so because, for the local authority, it had demonstrated its commitment. I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments today and for expressing eloquently and powerfully, as he always does, why greater prescription on the equality impact assessment would have a detrimental effect on the way that we expect bodies to carry out this duty, and the ultimate outcome that it exists to achieve.
There are examples in case law that demonstrate that the courts have found a lack of due regard to equality in instances where an equality impact assessment has been produced. The fact that this has happened shows that some public bodies have done no more than do what we all say we do not want—a tick-box process.
I turn now to the review of the public sector equality duty, which the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about in particular. It is important to be clear on this. This is a review of how the duty is operating. In other words, is it delivering what was intended? It is not a review of whether public bodies should have due regard for equality when exercising their functions. To be clear, this is about how they have, not whether they should have, due regard to equality. It is vital to review our approach in this area to ensure that it is delivering as effectively as it can what all of us believe in and want: the achievement of equality and fairness, and that the elimination of discrimination as policy is made and services designed. My noble friend Lord Deben was eloquent in explaining why that is so important.
The review will explore the impact of the duty in terms of costs, burdens and benefits, and recommend what changes, if any, would ensure better equality outcomes in a non-bureaucratic way. The review is being overseen by an independent steering group, chaired by Rob Hayward, who, among other things, is a trustee of Central YMCA and an adviser to the Terrence Higgins Trust. The steering group is made up of senior figures with experience in public sector delivery, including the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, in her capacity as the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her clarification, and I am sorry if I misrepresented her position on the steering group.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece referred to the membership of the steering group. I say clearly that its members have been selected because of their experience and knowledge around these issues, and it is not intended at all to be a politically representative body. The steering group represents the main delivery public sectors of policing, education, health, local and central government. It can use their expertise to shape the scope of the evidence-gathering and develop the final recommendations. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, we have extended the timetable to June from the previous announced date of the end of April at the request of the chair and the steering group to help to ensure that the review and its recommendations are robust.
The evidence-gathering for the review began in January and includes a series of round tables, involving a wide variety of experts, to gather evidence on how the duty is operating. The first round table involved voluntary and community sector organisations such as the Equality and Diversity Forum, the Stephen Lawrence Trust and Age UK. The second involved lawyers from across the public sector. A further six round tables are planned, including with inspectorates, private sector contractors and senior decision-makers. The work will include site visits to public bodies, for example to a police force or a school, to examine the experiences of different individuals within an organisation. The work will also include the commissioning of qualitative research, which will be conducted independently—as is always the case in these matters—through a series of in-depth interviews with public bodies. We will be inviting evidence from organisations and individuals about the operation of the duty, which should provide insight about public bodies’ experiences of working with the duty. We are also analysing written evidence in the form of existing literature, case law and international comparisons. We are therefore approaching this review with an open mind and gathering evidence from numerous sources to get a comprehensive picture of how the duty operates in practice.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked how we would respond once the work is complete and the steering group produces its report. As I am sure she would expect me to say, it is far too early for me to speculate on how we will respond. However, given that we have set up the review and given it the remit to roam and consult as widely as it is doing, we will clearly take the report seriously and are looking forward to receiving it.
The equality duty and supporting regulations provide sufficient safeguards for holding public bodies to account, and introducing a further legal requirement for an equality impact assessment will not add anything material. Furthermore, the timing is not right when we are taking stock of how the current legislation is operating in practice. As I have said before and to make absolutely clear, this is a review of how that responsibility is operating, not whether public bodies should have due regard for equality. I hope that I have been able to give the noble Baroness more information about the review, and I am grateful for that opportunity.
My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lord Harrison and Lady Prosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, for their comments. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who, as ever, made pertinent comments.
The response from the Minister was actually very helpful. We do not agree and I would obviously much prefer that the equality impact assessments were mandatory. There is no question that that would work better. However, while the Minister may not have given much comfort to her noble friend Lord Deben in what she said about the way she sees the public sector equality duty and impact assessments working, I found the Minister’s response useful and helpful, and I will read her comments in greater detail.
As to the public sector equality duty review, it was useful and reassuring to know that the review is ranging far and wide and taking evidence from a range of bodies. The Government would have been wise to make the review more balanced, given that politicians from different councils are taking part. It would have been useful to have had a Labour person on the steering group, but that does not mean that the outcome will not be useful. I am also reassured that the review is taking time to get this right.
Given the information that the noble Baroness has provided to the House, I am happy, at this stage, to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 76 withdrawn.
77: After Clause 59, insert the following new Clause—
“Commission for Equality and Human Rights: appointment of Chair and commissioners
(1) Schedule 1 to the Equality Act 2006 (the Commission: constitution, &c) is amended as follows.
(2) In Part 1, after paragraph 1(1) insert—
“(1A) Appointments shall not take effect until such time as they are approved by a Committee of both Houses of Parliament.”
(3) In Part 2, paragraph 7, for sub-paragraph (2) substitute—
“(2) An appointment under sub-paragraph (1)(a) shall not take effect until such time as it has been approved by a Committee of both Houses of Parliament.””
Before speaking to this amendment, I should like to clarify for your Lordships any question of a possible conflict of interest. I was until 3 December last year the deputy chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. At that point, I had served two three-year terms and my appointment terminated. I therefore no longer have a direct interest in the commission but I do of course retain a general interest in both the commission and its work.
Turning to the matter at hand, perhaps I may express to noble Lords my overall view of the value of this part of the debate on Clause 57 and why this group of amendments is so important to the future of the commission and to equalities in our country more generally. The ability of citizens to feel and believe that they have an equal chance in life and, importantly, to feel and believe that their Government think they should have an equal chance is key and central to the development of a harmonious and comfortable society. At this particular time, with its harsh economic circumstances and shortage of employment opportunities, it is common for those who are struggling to lay the blame for their plight on those less familiar to them.
Situations such as these require Governments to be strong and forthright in making clear their support for tolerance and fairness, and to speak loudly of the value of legislation and government machinery which helps people to enjoy equal rights and to access recourse to justice when those rights are violated. Comments from government which continually link equalities legislation with red tape, bureaucracy and burdens undermine the confidence of citizens and allow for the growth of intolerance and unfair behaviour. The purpose of this group of amendments is to enable the Government to be seen to recognise that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is a valuable, serious and important tool in delivering and regulating equality legislation in this country. It would put the commission on the same footing, for example, as the National Audit Office, the Electoral Commission and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
Strengthening the commission’s accountability to Parliament has been endorsed by the United Nations International Co-ordinating Committee chair. In a letter to the then Minister for Equalities, Theresa May, the ICC chair, Dr Mousa Borayzat, suggests that the Government should use the opportunity of this Bill to strengthen the provisions of the Equality Act 2006 in areas related to the commission’s independence.
Parliamentary scrutiny of the appointment of the commission chair has already taken place. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, appointed in November of last year, appeared before the Joint Committee on Human Rights. That extra interest and study of the recommended candidate not only adds to the status of the appointment but involves and includes Parliament in the process. Greater knowledge and greater transparency ensue. Amendment 77 calls for this process to be extended to the appointment of commissioners—again, increasing knowledge and transparency—and I look forward to the Minister’s response on that point.
Amendments 78 and 79 seek to rectify the current unsatisfactory position whereby the commission’s annual report and accounts and the strategic plan are presented to whichever Secretary of State happens to have the current responsibility for equalities generally. Since its inception, the commission has reported to four different Secretaries of State, each of whom has had equalities added to their already busy portfolio of responsibilities. Changes to the responsibilities of those Secretaries of State have meant that the commission has been shuffled around Whitehall depending on where the Secretary of State came from. It is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. Given that the rights and responsibilities contained within the equalities agenda touch every single adult in the land, is it not more sensible and more appropriate for Parliament to oversee and question these important reports and plans?
Finally, I turn to Amendment 80, which calls for the commission’s budget to be approved by Parliament. Two dangers arise from leaving the situation as it is. First, the current practice is for a budget allocation to be drawn up and allocated to the Government Equalities Office. This money then gets separated out with a share going to the EHRC. This hardly helps to instil any sense that the commission can maintain a healthy independence from government. Secondly, and most seriously, the EHRC is internationally recognised as the national human rights institution for England and Wales. Crucially, financial health and independence are central to our being able to maintain that international recognition.
In 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted the Belgrade principles. These relate to the relationship between NHRIs and national parliaments, and they include several mechanisms for closer relations between parliaments and national human rights institutions. For example, parliaments should develop a legal framework for the NHRI which secures its independence and its direct accountability to parliament. The principles also suggest that parliaments should invite members of NHRIs to debate their strategic plan and/or their annual programme of activities in relation to their annual budget. These amendments would enable government to state clearly that arrangements in this country most certainly comply with the Belgrade principles.
None of these amendments should concern the Government’s desire to go easy on regulation or so-called red tape. They are all designed to help the Government to promote their commitment to the equality and human rights agenda and to send a message to the citizens of Britain that government believes in openness and transparency and the delivery of equal opportunities for all. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall not keep the House too long as the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, has given such a comprehensive introduction to this group of amendments, to which I have added my name. There are just a few points that I should like to add.
The steps outlined in the amendments are, as I see it, enabling. They enable the commission to fulfil its mandate more effectively and to achieve more balance between independence, accountability and transparency. They build on recent developments such as the first pre-appointment hearing of the commission’s chair, as was mentioned.
I declare an interest as a commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission until last December. I am all too well aware that the commission is very keen to advance its relationship with Parliament and to have the ability to work across government departments. As has been said, the current arrangement has acted as a hindrance and has not oiled the wheels, so to speak, to enable the commission to work more effectively with other government departments—something that it should be doing. It has the responsibility to work with all departments across government, given its wide-ranging remit. The current arrangement of going through the Government Equalities Office has limited this to an extent. I see the commission’s responsibility for assessing how the Government comply with, for example, domestic and international equality rights obligations as a positive development and a strengthening of its relationship with Parliament.
At Second Reading, I said that setting the budget is so important that it needs to be done in a more timely, transparent and effective way. I was at the budget-setting process last year. I remember being at a board meeting in February when the commissioners still had no idea what their budget would be from 1 April. That is not satisfactory or acceptable, and it needs to be addressed. Taking these amendments on board would go some way to addressing this and making sure that the commission becomes more transparent and accountable and is allowed to function. We talk about a red tape challenge, but it goes both ways. There has been a lot of red tape attached to this commission from its inception. It has almost been bound and gagged at birth and has not been allowed to function properly. This is a way of releasing it to an extent, while keeping some important checks and balances in place.
My Lords, I agree completely with the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece. I have written down “micromanagement by the Government Equalities Office is a bit of a red tape challenge that the Government could probably do well to look at”, so our thoughts were heading in the same direction. I see this group of amendments as continuing the positive discussion that we had in Grand Committee, where the Minister started to explain where the Government were going and what the direction of travel was. I see this group of amendments as part of that process and discussion, and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Prosser on her introduction.
What we are essentially addressing here is how the EHRC can deliver its statutory responsibility to assess how the Government comply with their domestic and international equality and human rights obligations, how it can best do that and how it can be independent in doing so. It seems to us that parliamentary accountability would provide the commission with that appropriate independence from Government to fulfil its role impartially. I hope that the Minister will accept something that I said in Grand Committee: this is not a means of stopping the Government setting the overall policy direction on equality matters. Everybody accepts that that is the Government’s job. However, it means that our Commission for Equality and Human Rights, apart from anything else, has the necessary independence to from time to time be critical of the Government and hold them properly to account.
My Lords, as I said in response to the first debate this afternoon, the Government want a strong, independent Equality and Human Rights Commission that promotes and protects equality and human rights. We want it to be recognised and respected as the national expert in these areas as well as a strategic enforcer of the law. Clearly, we also value its “A” status and want it to retain it. We are committed to strengthening its accountability to Parliament and, in responding to this debate, I hope I can demonstrate what progress we are making.
I start with the appointments. As already acknowledged by the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, and others who have contributed to the debate, the appointment of the new chair of the commission, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, was for the first time subject to pre-appointment scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. That is a move that the Government welcome. In January, we appointed six new commissioners and, with the appointment of the new chair, we believe that the new board marks the start of a new era for the commission steering it in a new strategic direction. We want to see the commission go from strength to strength. We are open to discussing with the Joint Committee on Human Rights how it can be involved in future appointments.
Since the debate in Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has been in touch with my honourable friend the Minister for Women and Equalities, Helen Grant, who is the Minister responsible for the commission. The JCHR has set out its plans to work with the commission to strengthen the commission’s accountability to, and co-operation with, Parliament and, in particular, with the JCHR itself. I am aware that the JCHR seeks to work with the EHRC to develop a protocol of collaborative working strategies to improve accountability. I certainly echo the sentiment expressed in my honourable friend Helen Grant’s reply to the letter from the chair of the committee. We welcome the non-legislative approach taken by the JCHR, and following this exchange of correspondence, which was circulated to noble Lords before today’s debate, I understand that at the request of the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights a meeting will take place soon. To reiterate: there is ongoing dialogue between the commission and the JCHR to the effect that the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, has argued for in her amendment.
I reassure the House that the commission’s annual report and accounts are already laid before Parliament, as well as its strategic plan and its reports on progress. With respect to the commission’s budget, since Committee, and as I referred to earlier today, we have published the outcome of the comprehensive budget review. This review, conducted in partnership with the commission, sets out the agreed level of funding adequate for the commission to fulfil its functions. As the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, said, the review agrees a budget that will allow the commission to,
“continue as an effective organisation in all our roles”.
Furthermore, as my noble friend Lord Lester mentioned in Committee, the commission’s founding legislation includes an obligation for Ministers to make sure that it receives reasonably sufficient funding to fulfil its functions. That will continue. As such, we do not believe that it is necessary for Parliament to set directly the commission’s budget.
The vast majority of public bodies are set up in a similar way to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and that is because it is not practical as a general rule for Parliament to provide the level of day-to-day support often required. To agree a budget with an organisation requires quite a lot of ongoing detailed discussion to reach an agreed amount. That is not something which usually lends itself to the work of a Select Committee. My noble friend Lord Deben, who has a good deal of experience with this, made that argument during Committee. It is worth pointing out that, unlike most other such bodies, there is no power for Ministers to compel the commission to do anything, so in terms of the process by which it agrees its budget, it does not set a budget to ensure it fulfils something that it does not want to do.
Moving on to the framework document, officials are working with the commission to put in place a new, improved framework by the end of this month. While I cannot go into the detail as this work is ongoing, I can assure noble Lords that officials are working to ensure the commission’s independence is not compromised by the need for it to be accountable. The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, and others referred to the ICC’s view of the commission’s accountability to Parliament. It is quite right that in 2010 the ICC, as part of its special review, suggested that it might be sensible for the Government to consider increasing the level of the commission’s accountability to Parliament. Our view is that this is being achieved through the steps we are taking, some of which I have just outlined. I should also make clear that the commission was accredited as an “A”-rated institution without any change in its reporting arrangements. My point is that its “A” status was conferred on it as it is currently constituted, so it already exists in the way that it is constructed. I am aware that the commission will be considered at the next meeting of the ICC’s sub-committee on accreditation in May. As I stated in Committee, we have a constructive dialogue with the chair of the ICC and this will continue.
My noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece raised the relationship between the commission and Ministers and its accountability to Parliament. Let me be clear, the commission is accountable to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in her capacity as the Minister for Women and Equalities. She in turn is accountable to Parliament. That is a standard arrangement for non-departmental public bodies. The rules governing the relationship between the Government and the commission are the same as those for the majority of non-departmental public bodies. As I said just a moment ago, like most other such bodies, Ministers have no power to compel the commission to do anything. Parliament has scrutinised and challenged the work of the commission through Parliamentary Questions, Select Committee hearings and correspondence and will continue to do so.
I hope I have been able to demonstrate that we have worked hard with the commission to strengthen its relationship with Parliament and that we continue to support further engagement. We believe that working in partnership with the commission, as we did on the recent budget review, is the most effective way of securing the best possible outcome for the commission in fulfilling its role as a respected and valued institution nationally and internationally.
The commission continues to make great strides in improving itself as an organisation, and we look forward, as I am sure the whole House does, to an improved and closer working relationship between the commission and Parliament. I hope that after this response, the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for that very helpful response. In fact, it was rather more helpful than I thought it might be. Obviously, they were very positive words and comments. Perhaps I may make a couple of points on some of the matters that have been raised. I am grateful to hear that discussions are going on with the Joint Committee on Human Rights regarding further involvement in the appointment of commissioners, for example. The discussion around the development of protocol will be extremely helpful. On the budget, I of course understand that these matters start their life within the Treasury and work their way out from there. Perhaps some consideration might be given to the involvement of the Joint Committee on Human Rights as the debate evolves.
Finally, the framework document has gone through many iterations over the past year or so. I am grateful to hear that it seems to be moving towards containing a respect for the independence of the commission, which has been a concern during that time. With those comments and with thanks to the noble Baroness for her remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 77 withdrawn.
Amendments 78 to 80 not moved.
Consideration on Report adjourned.
First World War: Centenary
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, because the noble Lord’s Question for Short Debate will now be taken as last business, the time limit for the debate becomes 90 minutes rather than 60 minutes. Speeches should therefore be limited to three minutes, except for those by the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, and the Minister, which remain limited to 10 and 12 minutes respectively.
My Lords, it is a privilege to lead this debate on the Government’s proposals for the commemoration of World War I. It is a war which came to epitomise carnage and human sacrifice. Many in this House will have had grandparents and occasionally parents who participated in that conflict. My own grandfather left the pits of County Durham to mine under the German lines. I remember a photograph on the mantelpiece of my other grandfather handling horses with the border regiments.
There was a terrific response to the war and to patriotism. Even as late as the 1950s when I worked in Cumbria, there were still many who had fought in World War I. The interesting thing was that very few of them ever spoke about it. About 20 years later, when I was doing some research into the early years of the Labour movement in Britain, I met a great many other individuals who had taken the opposite point of view. Many had been conscientious objectors who opposed the war—not usually on religious grounds but on political grounds. Their opposition was not upheld by the tribunals and most of them ended up in prison. Indeed, they were very strange jailbirds. However, one thing was clear: both sides respected the other over the years and both groups of individuals were very brave. One must accept that.
I found preparing for this debate quite difficult. I am not a pacifist. For five years, I was the principal spokesman for my party as the Shadow Secretary for Defence. I was a member of the political wing of NATO for nearly 20 years and I had the pleasure of leading the British delegation for more than five years. However, I must admit that in studying World War I, at times I have found it very difficult to justify. World War I was divisive then and it is now, in both its justification and especially, probably, in its conduct. The latter continues to divide our society, which has been one of the challenges for the Government and Dr Murrison MP as he tried to outline a plan of approach. I think that basically he has got it right.
The phrase, “lions led by donkeys”, so aptly used by another former Member of the other House, Alan Clarke, still resonates today. The stories of hampers from Fortnum & Mason and the approximately 200 British generals driving their Rolls Royces behind the lines really did not go down well when those soldiers returned to the land fit for heroes.
In a sense, it was not only the beginning of the war that was divisive but the aftermath as well. I believe that every one of us in this House will agree on one thing; namely, the bravery, courage and valour of the men who suffered the horror and deprivations of that war. Life in the trenches was hell. With that we can all agree. I think that that is a rallying point for us tonight. One realises that more than 1.2 million allied servicemen lost their lives and double that number of Germans lost their lives in that conflict. Overall, 10 million people died.
Even today, going into the fields of Passchendaele you are told that there still are 100,000 bodies unaccounted for. In one day at the Somme, 200,000 British military personnel lost their lives. As the Prime Minister said when he launched the Government’s commemoration, of the 14,000 parishes in England and Wales, only 50 did not lose any parishioners during World War I. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, not a single community could boast even that.
I checked very quickly up the road from where I live in Grasmere, and 25 people in a very small village lost their lives in World War 1. Tragic as it was, only two lost their lives in World War 2. The scale of the carnage is clear for all.
The Government have recognised these sensitivities. Correctly, they have ruled out any talk whatever of celebration, and the emphasis is on commemoration and remembrance, and that is correct. They appear to have the tone right, although I trust that over the four years of the commemorations there will be flexibility in which we can adapt to what is needed. The Prime Minister identified the objectives when he said on 11 October last year that the commemoration was,
“to honour those who served; to remember those who died; and to ensure that the lessons learned live with us”.
That is absolutely right.
World War I was a turning point not only for us here in Britain, but for the whole of Europe. Initially, volunteers flocked to fight for king and country. That slogan began to lose its appeal fairly quickly and conscription had to be introduced. What began as a war between three conflicting empires headed by three monarchs—three cousins—quickly changed and the consequences for the class structure throughout Europe were certainly challenging.
What began as patriotic fervour ended by laying the groundwork for democracy and freedom across the continent and a growing awareness of internationalism. Those are three things that we should not shy away from. As we commemorate what those brave men fought for, it was for democracy, freedom and a better way of resolving international problems than going to war.
The effect shook the Government. Some 8.4 million women were given the vote in 1918. Hurrah to that. All men were given the vote, because prior to 1918, only just over half the men had the vote. Many working men did not have a vote and that was put right. It was a major step towards democracy.
We must make sure that the commemoration of which we speak flows across the nation and through local communities. There will be the great national events, with the Imperial War Museum providing the lead. Other national institutions such as Westminster Abbey, the British Library, the Armed Forces, the Royal British Legion, the BBC, the War Memorials Trust, the Woodland Trust and many others will all have their parts to play. But most of the activity will be at community level. This will underpin the activity and ensure that the commemoration is a success and long lasting.
The Government’s plan for every secondary school and a teacher to be able to go out to France, Belgium and further afield is very much to be welcomed. I understand that that will be paid for by a special government grant. However, the demand in the localities of the local history libraries and county archives will be very strong. We must make sure that people are not disappointed and I therefore ask the Government to make sure that adequate money is not only provided nationally but at a local level as well.
My Lords, I am sure that all of us in this Chamber are most grateful to the noble Lord for giving us the chance to debate this matter and for the thoughtful way in which he approached the subject himself. He reminded us that grandparents or even fathers fought in this war. As a private soldier, my own father did so as a very young man. When I was thinking about that, it suddenly struck me for the first time that had he not come through unscathed, at least in body, I should not be here at all. That may be a matter on which there is a division of opinion, but it is a sobering thought that so many lost their lives in that war, as has been said so eloquently this evening.
In the short time that remains to me, I want to stress the role of women, which was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Clark. First, many young women lost their young husbands and probably for ever after remained widows, perhaps bringing up small children. We saw this in the Second World War as well of course, but in the First World War there was no War Widows’ Association, of which I am proud to be president, to take care of them. It was a very difficult road for them not only emotionally but in practical terms. We need to remember that.
We should also remember the immense contribution made by women in the workplace when so many young men were taken off to fight and the women filled in the gaps, even in the munitions factories. It was probably that contribution that contributed very much to their emancipation in 1918, although of course there was still a certain caution as I believe they could not vote until the age of 30. It was 10 years later before they could vote at the general age of 21, but at least it was a start.
We need also to remember those women who never even had the chance to be married or to have children because of this great dearth of young men who were sadly killed in the very prime of their lives. That must have been a very great tragedy for all those women—a kind of unseen tragedy—and we ought to remember them. It is my hope that, when the Minister answers tonight, he will indicate that this role of women in its various forms will permeate all the commemorations which will take place whether nationally or locally. I do not want to see this as an add-on or afterthought. I want it to be right in the midst of it. I shall conclude on that note.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow my almost namesake and I am sure I speak on behalf of the whole House in saying that we are glad her father did survive and that she is with us as a result. I am also glad that I have time to thank my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere for raising this issue today.
My interest in these World War 1 commemorations arises for two reasons. The first is personal. Both speakers have said this already and I am sure more will do so. My maternal grandfather, Alexander Rhind, served with the 6th Gordons in France and Flanders. He won the Military Medal for Gallantry. I still have that medal and I am very proud to keep it.
I have also been pursuing the interests of a certain football club with which I have connections. I have raised this previously in a Question. Almost the whole of the first team of Heart of Midlothian Football Club joined up and served in McCrae’s Battalion in 1914-18. Sadly many of them did not return. Those of us connected with the club are particularly anxious that there should be a mention of this and an involvement in the commemorations of the club, the fans and everyone else. As a result, I have been in touch with many of the public and private people involved in the commemorations—and there are many groups already. I have encountered two problems that I wish to raise. The first is the lack of co-ordination at both a United Kingdom and a Scotland level. In Edinburgh the Lord Provost is bringing together all those involved so there is co-ordination there. However, it is important that there is greater co-ordination to help build up momentum at both a Scottish and a United Kingdom level, so that people know what others are doing and work together in a more effective way. With respect, I do not think this is happening at the moment.
Secondly, we also need some greater imagination and I think this is lacking at present. As my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere said, we have the military, the museums and galleries, and the schools involved—the traditional interests—and they are planning the usual kind of activities. This is very welcome, very worthy, but it is not enough. This country which marvelled at the brilliant spectacle of the Olympics can and must do better. We must involve all aspects of our life. The theatre can put on great performances; music can be composed specially; the arts should be involved. All sorts of sporting activities can take place. After all, at Christmas there was a truce and a football match took place. We should take these things, work on them and make it much more exciting. Millions gave their lives for us in 1914-18 so we need a series of high-quality, imaginative and above all unforgettable events and activities in 2014-18.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Fookes, I shall draw attention to the vital contribution made by women in the First World War. When I look around this House and see how many men and how few women have put down their names to speak, I hope I am not going to be too repetitive where this debate is concerned.
I want to start by congratulating the Heritage Lottery Fund on awarding £140,000 to centenary projects that specifically celebrate the war effort of women. This includes £70,000 to the Florence Nightingale Museum to commemorate the volunteer field hospital at Bourbourg near Dunkirk.
Women were not, of course, only field nurses. Approximately 1.5 million joined the workforce during World War 1. They worked across government departments, on public transport, running post offices, as clerks in businesses and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, mentioned, as munitionettes. Women’s war work included non-combat jobs in the military services but they were also part of anti-aircraft units which shot down German planes.
In the words of suffragette, Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett:
“The war revolutionised the industrial position of women … It not only opened opportunities of employment in a number of skilled trades but, more important even than this, it revolutionised men’s minds and their conception of the sort of work of which the ordinary everyday woman was capable”.
That, of course, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, led finally to emancipation. They also joined trade unions. In 1914 there were only 357,000 female members; in 1918 there were over a million. Despite this, women’s wages remained unequal. Today, 100 years after the First World War and 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, women working in the UK are still paid on average about 15% less per annum than men. Perhaps I may suggest to my noble friend the Minister that an appropriate and lasting legacy would be a commitment to closing this gender gap at last.
Finally, other noble Lords have talked about their ancestors. I will not go into too much detail about my great-grandfather, but my grandmother’s generation lost brothers, lovers and friends, and only 25 years later it was happening again. My own first cousin never knew his father due to conflict within Europe—due to European fighting European. In commemorating this centenary, let us please emphasise the importance of collaboration over isolation.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a director of history programmes at the BBC. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Clark, for bringing forward this timely debate.
Quite rightly, the big events planned for four years from 2014 will concentrate on remembering the dreadful loss of life that took place in the First World War, but if those sacrifices are to mean anything, they have to be put into an historical context and they have to raise questions which are relevant to the citizens of a democracy in this, the uncertain 21st century. The most important question of all is: when is it right and just to go to war? I know from making history programmes myself that the great stories of history remain just that, great stories, unless they raise questions which can connect with a modern audience. Our Armed Forces are still engaged in Afghanistan and there is the political temptation to become involved in other wars, albeit for the highest moral reasons. So these questions have never been more important for the people of our country and its leaders.
For this legacy to have a really lasting resonance, we need to bring fresh eyes and thoughts to the First World War as a great catalyst for change. I would like to see historians shine a light on to hitherto unexplored areas of change during that tumultuous era. After all, it was the first time that we saw total economic mobilisation, with its huge industrial and social consequences. Likewise, it would be good to look at the role of religion in the various arenas of the First World War because it is still not well understood. In the Middle East, we saw Islam, Judaism and Christianity come in conflict, a legacy that we still live with today. And maybe we should even investigate the states of emergency declared by Governments during the war which allowed the progressive extension of government intervention into the lives of citizens. Might this not help us in our debates about current terrorist legislation?
I would like the people of Britain to go on an extraordinary journey over the four years between 2014 and 2018. By 2018, I would like them to be giving recognition to the totally different world we live in by enhancing the appeal of Armistice Day so that it becomes not just a day of remembrance, but something even more powerful and forward-looking. All the veterans of the First World War have died and by 2018 the 70th anniversary of VE Day will have passed. There will be only a few veterans of the Second World War left. We will always need to remember the great sacrifices made by so many brave men and women in the First World War and in all wars. However, I would like to ask this of the Minister. Could 11 November also be a day of national reconciliation and self-awareness? Perhaps we could even give it an additional name. We could call it Remembrance and National Day.
“When you go home”, look at your local war memorial. War memorials are our inheritance from those who first resolved that, “We will remember them”. Most are getting close to their centenary now. They belong to us all, and therefore in a way often seem to belong to no one. I am a trustee of the War Memorials Trust. The trust helps to conserve such memorials of every kind in the UK. Jointly with English Heritage, we have just launched warmemorialsonline.org.uk which enables the public—including noble Lords, if I may say so—to register their local memorials and to tell us about their condition.
Another of our programmes helps to prevent the stealing of plaques by metal thieves. Metals at risk can be painted with a forensic liquid called SmartWater which enables stolen metals to be traced, even if they are melted down. It is a great deterrent that is now widely applied to church roofs and other vulnerable metals. Thanks to our partners, the SmartWater Foundation, any war memorial can be protected in this way free of charge. I hope that noble Lords will ensure that their local memorials are recorded and protected.
I hope also that the commemorations will include all the participants in that terrible war. It was not, as it sometimes seems, just Britain v Germany full stop, as it were. My father first served on the Western Front at Passchendaele and elsewhere, partly with colonial troops from the West Indies. After recovering from a wound, he was sent to join Allenby’s force in Palestine, which had a large Anzac element fighting alongside the Arabs against the Turks. En route there his troopship was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean by a German submarine, and he and others were rescued by one of the escorting destroyers from the Japanese navy. It is for such reasons that it was called World War 1, and we should commemorate it in its entirety. However, in my view the real disaster was the Versailles Peace Conference. One commentator at the time said that we had fought the war to end all wars, and he feared that we had just agreed the peace to end all peace.
My Lords, I am very pleased to take part in the debate this evening. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Clark, on securing this opportunity, and on his speech which captured the totality and scale of the war without passing over the fact that what we remember—the extraordinary, haunting images which we hold of this war—are individuals, usually men, on the battlefield.
I declare an interest as chair of English Heritage. We will be commemorating the war in many different ways. We are going to focus on the sites and memorials associated with the First World War, and the often untold and unrecognised heritage. Many of the great buildings which we hold in trust—the castles and great houses—were, for example, turned into hospitals and training camps. We will be conserving the story of Cannock Chase, for example, which is the largest of the training camps. In Richmond Castle, there is graffiti left behind by conscientious objectors, which is now in a state of decay. This is an extremely important and honourable part of the memory which we must honour as well.
Obviously, we also want to generate new knowledge. We are seeking to fund a pilot national archaeology project to research and record traces of World War 1—another programme for the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, I hope. It will also enable us to think again about the significance of these sites, about how we designate them in the future and how we conserve them. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, spoke about the work that we are doing on war memorials, and we are very proud to be in partnership with the War Memorials Trust and with other partners up and down the country.
We will also generate new research. We have historians who will be working on aspects of the home front and on the shipwrecks, for example. Above all—and I hope that this will please the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes—we will be working very closely with schools to help young people to understand the impact of the war on their own families, communities and histories. Through the Heritage Schools Make History project, we will invite schools to make a national archive of local World War 1 stories, presented as short films and made publicly accessible. There have been wonderful ideas across the Chamber this evening already as to how we can make these live again and connect communities.
Picking up something that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, said, I also hope that it will be a time to think about other aspects of how we construct our history and our memory. A great book written about 20 years ago by Paul Fussell entitled The Great War and Modern Memory demonstrated just how powerful the images, language, experiences and literature of the First World War are, and the impact that the war has had on our own history, lives and memories, and on how we think about our relationships. It is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary time and war. I hope that we will be able to listen again to those voices of the war, in literature and music; to think about how science and technology aided conflict, and about the abuse of science; about the many things which were done for the first time; about what we mean by patriotism; and about what Wilfred Owen meant when he talked about the pity of war.
My Lords, I was with my 98 year-old grandmother, Ratti Bilimoria, in Mumbai last month. She calls herself a war baby because she was born in 1914, soon after the start of the First World War. I am a former chairman and current member of the Memorial Gates Commemoration Committee. Every year at the Memorial Gates on Constitution Hill here in London—erected primarily due to the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather—the committee commemorates the contribution of the nearly 5 million volunteers from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the Caribbean who served in the two world wars. We would not have freedom today had it not been for the courageous sacrifice and service of these brave individuals. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clark, for initiating this debate and for his powerfully delivered speech.
In the First World War, 1.5 million people from the Indian subcontinent served and over 70,000 made the ultimate sacrifice. My late father, Lieutenant-General Faridoon Bilimoria, was commissioned into and later colonel of the regiment of the 5th Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force). The 5th Gurkhas served in the First World War in Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, and incurred huge loses. Sadly, over the past 100 years conflict has persisted. In the First World War, the only Indians allowed to become officers were those who served in the medical corps. After the First World War, my late grandfather, Brigadier Bilimoria, was one of the first Indians to be commissioned at Sandhurst, at a time when only eight Indians a year were given the opportunity to become officers.
Will the Minister assure us that next year, in 2014, when we commemorate the centenary of the First World War, this Government will not only acknowledge and recognise but prominently figure the amazing contribution of these millions of volunteers from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the Caribbean, commemorated by the Memorial Gates? Will the Government also ensure that every school in Britain—every primary school and secondary school—has events, a whole day or even a week where the students are taught about the amazing contributions made by these individuals? The children must not only appreciate what these brave people did for us and how we benefit from that today but also understand that they gave their today for our tomorrow.
Sadly, as I said, conflict has persisted over the past 100 years and will continue to persist. It is crucial for our children to learn about and be inspired by the precious sacrifice that these millions of individuals made. We must always remember them. We must never forget them. We will be eternally grateful to them.
My Lords, it is surely imperative in this important debate, initiated with so much wisdom by the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, that due tribute should be paid to the contribution made by Ireland, north and south, both parts being full members of the United Kingdom throughout the war. Over 200,000 Irishmen enlisted voluntarily, since conscription was never applied to Ireland. Some 30,000 gave their lives in the wider cause of freedom, a cause that meant so much to many of them within Ireland itself.
Irish nationalists responded to the rallying call issued by their leader, John Redmond. Irishmen, he said, should go,
“wherever the firing line extends, in defence of right and freedom and religion”.
That firing line was at its most extensive and vicious at the Somme, where the blood of the famous 36th Ulster Division, composed mainly of Unionists, flowed abundantly. The war correspondent Philip Gibbs wrote:
“Their attack was one of the finest displays of human courage in the world”.
Of the nine VCs awarded in that battle, four went to the men of the 36th. Marshall Foch, supreme allied commander, said afterwards:
“I saw Irishmen of the North and the South forget their age-long differences, and fight side by side, giving their lives freely for the common cause”.
Tragically, sacrifice in the common cause went uncommemorated for many years at official state level in the independent south that emerged after the war. Thankfully, in our generation that has completely changed. Who could forget the wonderful sight of Her Majesty the Queen laying a wreath at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Dublin two years ago in honour of all Irish soldiers who gave their lives in World War 1? In planning events for 2014, our Government and that of the Irish Republic must ensure that sacrifices in the common cause are remembered with due reverence and gratitude, and with increased understanding of the background to them. I understand that welcome cross-border educational programmes are envisaged. They must be rigorous and soundly based in historical fact. There is always a danger that some facts of the past may be diluted to promote reconciliation in the present. In the words of Marshall Foch,
“the generations that come after us shall never forget the heroic dead of Ireland”.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere for achieving this important debate in the run-up to marking the terrible conflict of the First World War.
I was very pleased to note what the Prime Minister said in the press release that accompanied the announcement of the events that will form the commemoration. Those comments, I am pleased to say, were echoed by the Minister in his response to the Question from the noble Lord Clark of Windermere in this House two or three weeks ago when he said they would be about commemoration not celebration. There can be no room for triumphalism because there is nothing to be triumphal about.
Of course victory was important in 1918 but at such a terrible cost that I believe that all who died in that conflict—the Imperial War Museum says it was 16 million people worldwide—should not be forgotten. Although 16 million people lost their lives there was a ripple effect on the parents, wives, husbands and children who never completely got over the loss they suffered when their loved ones did not come back from war.
It is often said that death is a unifying force, and where great numbers are involved that certainly is the case. That is why I was pleased to read of the agreement recently signed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge, its German equivalent, to ensure that work on commemorating and maintaining the graves of those who lost their lives will be done, to some extent at least, on a joint basis. That is very much to be welcomed.
I am also pleased to see that education is at the heart of the events that are to be organised between 2014 and 2018. Education was responsible for my interest in the First World War. I am not particularly interested in military affairs; I am not even particularly interested in the rest of the First World War, but the Western Front just gripped me as a student studying the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme at school. I sought out my grandfather, who had served in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during the war, but he would not say a word about it. He had blanked his mind out as it was just too horrible to talk about.
I have since made many visits including—I have to say in respect of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock—to Contalmaison where the plaque is to the Heart of Midlothian footballers who so bravely gave their lives. I have also done much reading. I particularly recommend the first-hand accounts—many are still in print.
Finally, I want to say a bit about the question of loss. In Scotland 26% of those who marched away to war did not return. In the rest of the UK—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, reminded us, that included the whole of Ireland—it was something like 12%. I hope it will not just be in the commemorations that are going to take place in Scotland that the sacrifice made by the people of Scotland for the United Kingdom and, indeed, the Commonwealth will be remembered.
My Lords, every time I attend a football match with a large crowd I go through the same routine. I estimate as best I can 21,000 people and then reflect that this is the number of men from Great Britain, Ireland and Newfoundland who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and then I reflect that a further 35,000 were casualties on that day. World War 1 was a devastating war that should never be forgotten.
I am a member of the War Memorials Trust and the Western Front Association, and am a friend of the Lochnagar crater on the Somme. I believe that events to mark the centenary should be based on the principles of commemoration, reconciliation and remembrance. These principles lead me to suggest that Mons should be a location for major commemorative events in 2014 and 2018. Mons is where the very first and very last shots of World War 1 were fired. It is also where British and German soldiers were buried in nearby plots in 1914 and so would be an appropriate location for services of reconciliation.
I suggest two ways in which we should maintain our local communities’ memory of the horrors of the Great War once the centenary is over. First, all local authorities should have an identified officer with responsibility for overseeing all war memorials in their area, if they do not already have one. They should all be asked to identify ways of ensuring the restoration of First World War memorials, where this is desirable, given that the centenary of those memorials will take place over a decade or so, from 2019. Public subscription, sponsorship and match funding, perhaps from the Heritage Lottery Fund—and, perhaps, using young apprenticeship schemes in restoration techniques—could all be encouraged.
Secondly, we need to keep the study of the First World War in our schools curriculum. I hope that the centenary will not be seen by anyone as a closure event, because young people’s learning is the best way to ensure that the memory of what happened, and how dreadful it was, is kept alive.
Finally, on the role of football, the Christmas truce in 1914, in which friendly games of football—or footer as it was known to many—were played, resonates with many people. It has been suggested that football games would make light of the war. I do not agree, for the reason that the football actually happened. I am keen to see a reconstruction of the truce where it is known to have occurred, particularly at Armentières, with football matches being played—perhaps by youth teams from the areas represented in each of the trenches in Christmas 1914.
There was a failure of international leadership in the period leading up to the outbreak of the war, as Europe slid into that war, and a failure to compound the power of newly invented weapons to wreak havoc. Both failures resulted in death and destruction beyond comprehension, so we have to remember to commemorate and to encourage reconciliation. I hope that the centenary will achieve just that.
My Lords, it is a great honour to be able to take part in this debate. Like others, I thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere. The enormity and horror of the First World War came home to me in a very personal way when my mother died in 2000. In going through her papers, I discovered something that she had never told me: six of her cousins—six out of eight—had been killed in the First World War.
I would like to make a few suggestions as to our commemoration. At the very beginning of the year, it is terribly important that we focus attention on the horrors that came after. August is a difficult time to have a national commemoration, although we should set aside the Sunday nearest 4 August. However, so that our children can be engaged in their schools it would perhaps be sensible to have something on 28 June because in a sense that day, the day of the shooting of the Archduke in Sarajevo, was the event that triggered that appalling conflict. We need to engage the attention and imagination of our young people throughout these four years.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, and I both introduced Bills—I in the other place and he in this place—which would have set aside Remembrance Sunday as a very special Sunday, on a par with Easter Day and Christmas, with all the shops closed. The bells might ring but not the cash tills. I suggest that during the four years of commemoration, we should do that with Remembrance Day. Then, when we come to 1918, we should set aside 11 November as a day of national reflection. Everything should close commercially and we should be able to focus upon what happened then and what has happened in the 100 years since. We should give thanks to those who lost or gave their lives and to those who were mutilated and whose lives were destroyed, even though they might have physically lived on.
In order to focus national attention on this, I would like there to be a competition involving all schoolchildren, on the theme “Lest we forget”. There would be essays, poetry and works of art, and the best of them would be collected into a volume that could then be given to all our schoolchildren. These four years are, as so many have said, four years not of celebration but of commemoration. It is crucial that we do not lose an opportunity to focus on the horror of war and the beauty of peace. I trust that we will be able to do that.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Clark—and I call him my noble friend quite literally—for introducing the debate and for making a speech that was balanced, thoughtful and powerful. I come from a slightly different tradition from those who have spoken so far. My family did not fight in the First World War. In fact, my family opposed the First World War. My uncle, of course, was Jimmy Maxton and he went to prison in Edinburgh—the Calton Jail—for urging munitions workers to strike in order to stop the supply of munitions to the front and therefore trying to stop the war. My own father went to jail because he applied to be a conscientious objector. His appeal was turned down and he was conscripted under the 1916 Act. He was taken to Stirling Castle where he was ordered to put the uniform on. He refused to do so. He was court martialled and spent a whole year in Wormwood Scrubs as a result.
I come not only from a family that opposed the war but also from a city, Glasgow, although I may not sound as if I come from Glasgow, where to some extent—not a majority by any means—a revolt against the war was political and became part and parcel of the city’s experience. First of all there was a political side: the Jimmy Maxtons. We must remember that Keir Hardie, who was the founding father of the party on this side, opposed the war. One of the great iconic pictures for me is of Keir Hardie, leading an anti-war demonstration in August 1914, speaking in Trafalgar Square. Our first Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, too opposed the war.
There was then increasing trade union activity in Glasgow against the war, led by people such as David Kirkwood and William Gallacher. David Kirkwood finished up as Lord Kirkwood of Bearsden—I gather the grandfather-in-law of the noble Lord, Lord Vallance. He did not go to jail. He suffered an even worse fate. He was deported from Glasgow to Edinburgh. It is difficult to imagine a worse fate than that. Therefore, I represent a different tradition and I hope that when we commemorate the war that tradition will be part and parcel of it. Perhaps I may suggest to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, that he may want to look at doing programmes on that tradition. In terms of the women, there was the rent strike in Glasgow.
Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, is wrong. Yes, there is still violence and killing in the world but can one imagine a Minister during the First World War standing up and reading out the list of those who have died, as Ministers do now for Iraq or Afghanistan? They would not have been off their feet for four years if they had done that in the First World War. We have reduced violence. Let it long continue.
My Lords, my wife and I visited the western front battlefields last October. My father served as a young Royal Engineer officer. He never spoke about it, trying to blot out its nightmares. Only recently we discovered that he had been awarded the Croix de Guerre. He never said a word about that either. Of course, he was one of the lucky ones, and that is why I am here. Among the many military cemeteries, we found the memorials of my three uncles killed aged 26, 21 and just 18. So many young lives cut short. So many families bereft. Like many others, my grandparents never fully recovered from their loss.
Faced with row upon row of graves—we also visited Irish, French, Australian, Canadian and German memorials—it is frightening to think that their sacrifice did not achieve the war to end all wars that they thought they were fighting for. That surely must be the tone and the theme of any anniversary. That war was largely pointless, meaningless and avoidable. As others said, we should not be celebrating its absurd origins, however much we may pay tribute to those who fought, were wounded or lost their lives. Instead, we must remind ourselves of the futility of negative nationalism, so sharply distinct from positive patriotism.
The year 1914 marked a terrible failure of common sense and common humanity. Personally, therefore, I will find it difficult to mark the centenary of the war’s outbreak with anything other than a resolve that we should do all we can to reconcile the peoples of Europe in the 21st century, avoiding new “foreigner” scapegoats for our economic troubles, and perhaps also reminding ourselves of the 1914 warmongering populism of the British press, which seems familiar. I do not know where Mr Farage’s ancestors were between 1914 and 1918, but he would do well to revisit the history of that period. Fomenting distrust can so easily lead to hatred.
The Armistice anniversary in 2018 may have more positive messages, but I agree with my noble friend Lord Cope that it also has some hidden dangers that we should remember, in the form of the Versailles peace treaty of the following year. We must also recall that only a generation later another ghastly but surely more justified war became unstoppable. The lessons for 2014, 2018—even 2019—for us all must surely be that the price of peace is eternal vigilance.
My Lords, I pay particular tribute to the contribution of our Indian soldiers during the First World War, as the significant part they played is not widely acknowledged. This is of personal significance to me as my grandfather served in the Indian Expeditionary Force E in Palestine. India raised the world’s largest volunteer army of 1.5 million during the First World War. They provided crucial support to our expeditionary forces and fought directly alongside British troops in various battles which took place in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Indian contributions were not just confined to the Army; they also served in the Royal Indian Marines, Indian merchant services and in the Army nursing units. Indian troops were awarded more than 9,200 decorations, including 11 Victoria Crosses. The first Indian to be awarded a Victoria Cross was Sepoy Khudadad Khan, who fought in Belgium in 1914. He was in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis regiment during that period.
More than 74,000 Indian troops were killed or declared missing in action. A memorial site called the Chattri exists on the South Downs at Patcham, which commemorates the Indian soldiers who gave their lives during the First World War. In particular, it is associated with 53 Hindu and Sikh soldiers whose remains were cremated at that very spot, and a memorial service is held there every year.
The commitment of these brave men to the war effort often emerged from a strong sense of personal duty to the Empire. They felt honour in fighting for their King, and it was this sense of loyalty and dedication that endeared them to many of their British comrades.
I have long advocated the need for an emphasis on what we share in maintaining a stable and successful multicultural society. There can be few things more unifying than honouring the sacrifices which our British and Indian ancestors made, fighting and dying together 100 years ago. Finally, I ask that we consider acknowledging the contribution made by Indians in the First World War during the commemoration next year.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the debate, and my noble friend Lord Maxton for his pertinent speech. Here today in our safe, gilded, gothic palace, one can only be humbled and astounded by the loyalty, gallantry and resilience of Britain’s World War 1 regiments, of her naval fleet, of the Royal Flying Corps and the army of resourceful women who sustained British industrial production.
I have attended moving remembrance events at our village high school in Hawarden—Gladstone’s Hawarden. The students gave a lead of compelling dignity and sincerity, quoting from the novel All Quiet on the Western Front, reading World War 1 poetry, playing ancient films and offering the simplest of prayers. I hope the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will consult with our high schools concerning commemoration. They have a lot to offer.
Erich Maria Remarque’s novel is the story of a lost generation, of a modern and mechanised war. It is about terror—either waiting for death or trying desperately to avoid it, even if it means killing a complete stranger to avoid it. It is a depiction of the terror of heavy shelling, of losing a leg, of crawling blinded into No Man’s Land, and of being gassed. It is about the stench, the filth, the mud, the vermin and the blood and bone of all-out war. I just hope that the 2014 commemoration will ultimately be a hymn of praise for that war’s poor bloody infantry.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, for giving me this opportunity to say a few personal words about 1914. When I was Mayor of Windsor, I had to lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday. On that occasion, I was asked by a councillor, “Does Remembrance Sunday mean anything to you?”. That is my point: there are still educated people in this country who do not realise how much we Indians did in the First World War.
It was a horrible shock to me because my father was a student in Ireland at that time; he was at King’s Inns. Gandhiji said that Indian students could help the war effort, but should not kill. So he joined up—he volunteered—as a stretcher-bearer, and there I was being asked if Remembrance Sunday meant anything to me. It was a heart-rending moment to think that all those sacrifices and all those people who had come here had got lost in the mists of time. Nobody had remembered them.
It is also a good time to remember that Britain did not have a standing army when the war started. It was the British Expeditionary Force that went to France and it was a standing army of 150,000 from India that came over in ships to help in France. They came in clothing that was suitable for warm climates, not for the November climate in France. Indians had a very hard time in the First World War. They had a hard time with the food; they had a hard time with clothing and they had a hard time with the climate, but they were still, as has already been said, 1.5 million volunteers. We must always remember that they were volunteers.
I have tried my very best—without success—to get something about the Indian efforts in the two world wars into the curriculum. I hope that next year, with the help of your Lordships, we will have that in the curriculum. After all, this is why so many people from the subcontinent are here; it is because of the time that so many of their ancestors spent in the two world wars. I hope that something important will happen and that we will get some general acknowledgment—not just acknowledgment from those who know, but acknowledgment from those who do not know and do not wish to know—that yes, the Indians were there and fought bravely. My father, who was a student, was a stretcher bearer, which is a horrible job because you are always under fire. We need to remember everyone. Indians comprised the second largest number of war dead by nationality in the two world wars.
My Lords, my desire to contribute to this debate arose originally from a wish to ensure that we focused entirely on the brutality and evil of warfare, particularly that of the First World War. In historical terms, it may be judged a war of choice, but the appalling nature of the vindictive Treaty of Versailles settlement gave rise to a much greater war, which became one of necessity. However, that point has already been made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Clark, who introduced this debate so powerfully. I associate myself very much with the contributions of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Jones, who talked about the evil of warfare. That point is illustrated by the 16 million who died in the First World War, 1 million of whom came from this country, and one of whom was my great-grandfather.
Eighteen months ago, I walked the full length of the Western Front and a little further and was shocked by the little Portland stone headstones set up by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I ended up in Tyne Cot, the largest cemetery. The scale of the cemetery was designed by its architects to shock as it reflected the scale of the losses suffered, and it did so. On the wall were inscribed the words of a not inconsequential person: that is, King George V, with which I will close. He said, in opening the ceremony:
“We can truly say that the whole circuit of the earth is girdled with the graves of our dead. In the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon Earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war”.
My Lords, the whole House is indebted to my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere for securing this debate. He deserves the congratulations of everyone who has spoken for the way in which he introduced it. I start by declaring interests as a member of the Government’s advisory board on the World War 1 centenary commemoration, a member of the Mayor of Worcester’s First World War centenary group and chairman of the All-Party War Heritage Group, in which capacity I first raised the need for the Government to be prepared for the centenary back in March 2011.
This evening I want to express my support for the way the Government are approaching this. In my view, the combination of school battlefield visits, national events, the enhancement of the Imperial War Museum, the active involvement of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the encouragement of local initiatives is absolutely right. I am happy to pay my tribute to the Prime Minister’s special representative, Dr Andy Murrison, for the trouble he has taken to include as many organisations and individuals as possible in the plans to commemorate the centenary. I look forward to the second meeting of the Government’s advisory board on 20 March and am very pleased to see in the Chamber the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who serves on that board with me.
In Worcester, each year we commemorate the bravery of the Second Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment which held the line at the battle of Gheluvelt on 31 October 1914 as part of the first battle of Ypres. It is not surprising that the events which the mayor is organising for the centenary as a whole are extensive. They will particularly involve young people, special exhibitions, displays of memorabilia, events at museums, tours, self-guided trails, work with schools, interpretation and restoration of war memorials. I was very pleased to hear the contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, who has done so much work on drawing to our attention the importance of war memorials and their need to be looked after properly. There will also be some theatrical and musical events. Some of your Lordships may not be aware that Vesta Tilley was a Worcester girl and there will be a celebration devoted to her music. We are prepared to forgive the fact that she later went on to become the wife of a Conservative MP.
To do the job properly, it is important that our Heritage Lottery Fund application succeeds, so we await with great interest the publication of the HLF’s guidance on the new First World War grants programme when that comes out in May. One initiative that I hope will find favour is for direct descendants of World War 1 veterans to be able to parade wearing their ancestors’ campaign medals. My grandson would love to have the chance to wear his great grandfather’s medals and honour his memory as some part of the commemoration between 2014 and 2018.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Imperial War Museum and its foundation. A leader in the Times last week about the history curriculum noted how, at the conclusion of Alan Bennett’s play, “History Boys”, the inspirational teacher offers the departing pupils his most important piece of advice: “Pass it on”. Quite so.
My grandfather talked to me about the First World War, when he built ships on the Clyde, and then my father, a veteran of Anzio, took me round the Imperial War Museum and told his story, rooted in the objects there: the tanks, planes, guns and bombs. He passed on his personal story through the mementoes of the past, stored for all time in a great British institution.
I am probably the last of that generation who had the privilege, and that is what it was, to hear at first hand from the combatants of those wars. Soon there will be no one left to link the future to the past. No one to “pass it on”.
That is what makes the institutions which maintain the physical records of those conflicts so vital, among which the IWM, established in 1917 when the First World War was at its height, is paramount. Grandparents and parents may be gone, but future generations can still see in the IWM’s galleries the stories of the causes, course and consequences of total war.
Given the importance of the IWM, the Government are to be congratulated on making a significant contribution to the museum for the renovation of its First World War galleries in a way which will make them intelligible and accessible to future generations.
There have been contributions from many philanthropists, including Lord Rothermere, whose family in the 1930s donated to the museum the building in which the IWM is now housed. They will make possible the opening of new galleries that offer a world-class experience for more than 1.3 million visitors a year, telling the story of our country’s role in the First World War, and of the extraordinary contribution of Commonwealth countries. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, that the vital role of India will be an absolutely central part of that.
It is not only within the museum buildings that the public can engage with this landmark anniversary. The Centenary Partnership, led by the IWM will bring together more than 850 partners who will deliver an international programme of events across the UK and internationally, including, vitally, a digital platform to promote a permanent legacy.
The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is a moment of sombre reflection, of memories passed on and of hope and wonder at many people’s strength of spirit across the globe. I would ask my noble friend to ensure that our national institutions, which are at the centre of the centenary commemorations, continue to be nurtured and valued in a way in which those who made the ultimate sacrifice would be proud.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clark, for introducing this debate and for the opportunity to speak in the gap. The Royal Army Medical Corps is the second highest corps to hold a VC. It has 31 VCs awarded to 29 men. The significance of that is that only three double-VCs have ever been awarded and two of those were to medical men.
The first was given to Captain Noel Chavasse, the son of the Bishop of Liverpool. He died, as was commented afterwards, “a hero among heroes”, and was probably one of the bravest people in the First World War in that medical capacity. Doctors, after all, are non-combatants and, during the campaign, he won an MC in 1915 and his first VC in 1916 by going out to tend the wounded in no-man’s land. He carried on the next day and, despite shrapnel injuries, brought back 20 men whom he saved. He was given a VC by the King for that action. Sadly, a year later at Passchendaele, he carried out a similar courageous act and, this time, having received a shrapnel injury to his abdomen, crawled back to his trenches and died of his wounds. He was given a second VC for that. I have visited his graveside, and he has the only tomb with a double VC mentioned on it.
The second medical person was Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Martin-Leake, a surgeon. He got his first VC in the Boer War and the second in the First World War, which he survived. The third person whom I should like to remember, and I am wearing the tie of Middlesex Hospital, was a student there called Captain Fox-Russell, who also received a VC during the First World War, posthumously.
I make mention of these medical men because I think that I am the only doctor in the House this evening, and we would be remiss if we did not appreciate and recognise the contribution that medical men make in wartime—particularly the terrible losses that they sustained in the First World War.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Clark for his powerful introduction and for initiating what has proved to be a moving, thoughtful and well informed debate. I cannot hope to do justice to the many wise points that have been made and, in the short time available, I shall therefore make four quick points.
First, while it is absolutely right that we should mark the centenary of the war, does the Minister agree that it is also imperative that we get the tone and language right? We should not, for example, allow the events to be commandeered to become a continuation of the jubilee and Olympic celebrations. This is about something much darker. The emphasis should be on understanding and reflecting on the lessons from the war.
Secondly, the most interesting stories are the intensely human ones—from the ferocious political arguments among our leaders and within the political parties to the wave of fervent patriotism that led a generation of young people to volunteer; and to the misjudgments of the military leaders that lead to the ultimate carnage. Does the Minister therefore agree that we need to find a way to shine a light on those human judgments and failings without taking anything away from the bravery and sacrifice of the million or more Britons who died on the battlefields, as well as those international soldiers who fought bravely alongside them. I also share my noble friend Lord Maxton’s plea that the honourable and equally brave role of conscientious objectors should be acknowledged in that regard.
Thirdly, does the Minister agree that we should pay particular respect to the artists and war poets who, for the first time in history, really shaped our understanding of war and the way that it is remembered, and the horror that is involved? Finally, how do the Government intend to pick up the points made by a number of colleagues around the Chamber on the contribution of women to the war effort, which, as we have heard, laid the way to universal suffrage and helped to shape our modern democracy?
These, among many issues raised today, are why we welcome the emphasis on creating an educational legacy to enable young people to study and visit the battlefields and consider the impact on their local communities. For many, it will be a new and shocking story from which a shared experience and understanding will grow. Fresh thinking, imagination and a debate on the nature of patriotism will all have a role in this regard. I was also interested in the proposal of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, for a debate on when it is ever right to go to war. I should like such a debate to take place also as part of the commemoration.
In this context, we hope the commemoration will be dominated by an emphasis on reflection, learning and a sombre determination that we will never allow young lives to be sacrificed on such a scale again.
My Lords, I add my own thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, for securing this debate and for providing the opportunity to set out further the Government’s plans. I have listened carefully to what noble Lords have said and I apologise in advance if, given the time available, I am not in a position to respond as fully as I would like.
The First World War is integral to our history and the Government are committed to commemorating its centenary appropriately. I very much agree with the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, and my noble friend Lord Tyler made regarding tone. That is extremely important.
The scale was overwhelming with more than 16.5 million deaths, military and civilian. One and a quarter million were from the United Kingdom and what was then the British Empire alone. Remembrance lies at the heart of our plans both for those who died and for those who returned with physical and mental scars, as well as many others affected, most notably the large number of war widows. Indeed, I wish to refer to the moving speech of my noble friend Lady Fookes in that regard.
In addition, we seek to secure an enduring legacy from the centenary. Youth and education are also key themes. I am mindful of the