HL Deb 26 January 2000 vol 608 cc199-201WA
Lord Bruce of Donington

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy on indirect discrimination. [HL753]

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The Government are committed to achieving a step change in race equality in this country. The Race Relations (Amendment) Bill is part of our programme to ensure that the public sector sets the pace in this drive towards equality. We want to send the clearest possible message that discrimination is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. The Government are, therefore, proposing two changes to strengthen the provisions of the Bill.

First, after very careful deliberation we have decided to extend the indirect discrimination provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976 to the functions of public authorities to be newly caught by the Act and we will bring forward an amendment to provide for that. The Government have always been in favour of this in principle, but were concerned to ensure that such a provision would be effective without leaving public bodies open to routine legal challenge in circumstances where their policies were entirely proper. Since the Bill was published, however, we have listened carefully to the arguments put forward about the issue and have concluded that, on balance, the risk of spurious challenge is outweighed by the principle of including indirect discrimination in respect of public sector functions in the Bill.

Direct and indirect racial discrimination is already prohibited under the Race Relations Act 1976 in the fields of employment, training, education, housing and the provision of goods, facilities and services in respect of the public and private sector. The Act is already being extended by the Bill to new fields in the public sector which have previously been determined by case law not to be a "service" and to which prohibitions on direct or indirect discrimination did not, therefore, apply. The Act will now extend to areas such as the implementation of central and local government's regulatory, economic and social policies and law enforcement in respect of indirect discrimination as well.

Secondly, the Government also see the promotion of equality as a positive way of eliminating unjustifiable indirect discrimination in these and other fields. Our setting of targets for ethnic minority recruitment, retention and promotion and our guidelines for mainstreaming race equality into policy development and implementation are examples. We are already committed to placing the promotion of equality by public bodies on a statutory footing. We will reinforce that commitment by bringing forward a government amendment to the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill to enshrine the principle on the face of the Bill as a positive duty, leaving room for consultation on how the duty will operate in practice and how it will be enforced.

The amendments will be brought forward at Commons Committee stage. We are meanwhile considering whether there should be any procedural safeguards consistent with the principle of non-discrimination.