HL Deb 03 July 2002 vol 637 cc221-3

3.1 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they recognise Sikhs as a distinct ethnic group.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin)

My Lords, we do, in accordance with the Law Lords' judgment of 1983 in the case of Mandla v Dowell Lee, which established that Sikhs are an ethnic group for the purposes of the Race Relations Act. If memory serves me right, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in his former life, appeared for the successful appellant.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that the Sikh community in this country is so disappointed with the Government's general stance over the operation of the Race Relations Act that it is lobbying Parliament today to ask the Minister to reconsider current policy to catch up with the needs of today, and to accept that public authorities must monitor Sikhs separately for racial monitoring purposes? This is to ensure that the estimated 700,000 strong British Sikh community is given proper protection, especially following the events of September 11th, from discrimination in the operation of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act. Will the Government now consider issuing guidance so that all public authorities, not only some, are left in no doubt that they must take action on this matter?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I was aware of the lobby and its views. I look forward to discussing this issue in more detail with representatives of the Sikh community when I meet them at the end of this month. In short, the representations made did not persuade the Office for National Statistics, which consulted the CRE on this issue, that it was necessary to include Sikhs as a separate category in the 1991 or 2001 censuses. But, of course, Sikhs would have been able to put "Sikh" on the census form under the "other" category, if they so wished. They will also be identified as a religious group, which was included in the 2001 census for this purpose.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, while accepting that the Mandla judgment identified Sikhs as a distinct ethnic group, it also created a number of anomalies in that other groups have been excluded from the definition. What do the Government have in mind to ensure that such groups, particularly those with religious beliefs, are included in future equality legislation?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, both in my role and more widely across government we are well aware of the sensitivity of this issue and of the importance in a multiracial and multi-ethnic society of properly reflecting the diversity that exists. Therefore, I am certain that before the next census—if it proceeds in the form of previous censuses—there will be the most careful consultation on this issue. We shall also seek proper consultation on the other circumstances in which it will arise in the future.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the advice being given by the CRE to public authorities on how they should conduct ethnic monitoring in connection with their obligations to produce statements of race equality, requests them to use the ethnic categories contained in the census? Therefore public authorities will not have particular regard to the special needs of the Sikhs, or indeed of any other minority community which is not named in the census. Does the Minister agree that the advice being given by the CRE should be revised to take into consideration the diversity of ethnic groups in our society?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the code of practice gives the advice signalled by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—that is, that it is sensible to make it possible to compare local data with the census data. That is common sense because, without those comparisons, many other issues are difficult in policy terms. On the other hand, the code of practice also states that it is open for a local authority or police force to disaggregate, if they so wish, within a particular category to allow the finer grain detail in their monitoring that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, advances. The code of practice, therefore, permits exactly what the noble Lord proposes.

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield

My Lords, there is a significant Sikh community in Huddersfield, which is in my diocese, and a large Muslim community. There is also a quite significant Christian Asian community. In terms of the Question, can the Minister define where he sees an "Asian Christian" community?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, shooting from the hip, I would have thought that a Christian Asian would have indicated "British Asian" under the question about ethnic origin in the census; and, under the question about religious affiliation, would have written "Christian".

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, given the historic commitment of the Sikh people to this country, is it not time that we had a turban in this House?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, that is an interesting and important question, which I am sure will be noted. I agree that Sikhs have made a great contribution to Britain. They are a proud race who fought the British in India and fought with the British in the last two wars. They have made many significant contributions to the social and economic life of this country.