All 4 Debates between Baroness Flather and Baroness Williams of Trafford

Fri 26th Jan 2018
Registration of Marriage Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords

Registration of Marriage Bill [HL]

Debate between Baroness Flather and Baroness Williams of Trafford
2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Friday 26th January 2018

(6 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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What the noble Baroness says is quite helpful, and I am very happy to discuss this matter further. The point I am making today is that this is a very narrowly drawn Bill, and to expand on it in any way would risk the Bill in its passage through your Lordships’ House. I am simply pleading with noble Lords to stick to the content of the Bill. We can certainly have discussions about humanist marriages outside the Chamber, but this is the plea I am making. I am not denigrating in any way what noble Lords have said, but the minute we start adding to or amending Bills like this, the more we are in danger of them not securing their way through.

The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, asked to see draft regulations before Committee. It is our aim to make a draft of the affirmative regulations available before Committee. The noble Baroness also asked for clarification on the definition of parent. The regulations will prescribe who can be included under the headings for both sets of parents of the couple in the marriage entry. This will enable us to keep pace with societal developments as well as family composition changes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked if there was an intention to reform marriage law. This Bill simply modernises marriage registration, as I have said, and facilitates changes to the register entry to allow the inclusion of both parents’ names. This Bill is not at all intended to include wider marriage reform.

My noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton asked a very valid question about what is put in the entry if you do not know who your parents, particularly your father, might be. There will be provision for both parents to be included in the marriage entry, and the option to leave this blank, as is the case now, I understand.

My noble friend Lady Seccombe asked for assurances that the cost of the marriage certificate will not be raised, as she is concerned that any additional costs and processes will discourage people from marrying. Fees for marriage certificates are set at a cost-recovery basis, using HM Treasury guidance, and are reviewed annually. The provisions of the Bill would not directly lead to an increase in costs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, was, I think, so perfectly content with the Bill that she just thought she would talk about sharia marriages. But I think she knows that the scope of the Bill is narrowly about marriage registration.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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I just want to say, I do not expect that to be in this Bill—and I have no intention of putting it into this Bill—but I wanted to draw attention to this matter. I would be very grateful if the Minister would allow me to come to talk to her.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My Lords, anyone can come to talk to me about any issue pertaining to the Home Office—I give that assurance on the Floor of the House. I know what the noble Baroness’s intentions are.

My noble friend Lady Seccombe asked for assurances on security, which is a high priority, as she says. The proposed changes will increase the security of marriage records, which is very important. Currently, the requirement for open marriage-register books and for blank certificates to be held in churches and other religious buildings means they can be a target of theft, as we have heard. The solution in this Bill should minimise that public protection risk, as marriage registers are currently held in some 30,000 different religious buildings. The certificates themselves will still be printed on paper with secure features, in the same way as now.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, asked for the timetable for the changes to be confirmed. Subject to the successful passage of the Bill, implementation will involve, clearly among other things, affirmative regulations being made, system changes and training and guidance for local registration services and those who solemnise marriages. We will aim to implement these reforms as soon as possible following Royal Assent.

We have had an excellent debate today and I know that noble Lords recognise the importance of taking forward these changes, which will modernise the process of registering marriages.

Caste-based Discrimination

Debate between Baroness Flather and Baroness Williams of Trafford
Monday 11th July 2016

(7 years, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I am pleased to answer this Question for Short Debate. I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for securing a discussion on what is a very sensitive issue, which is very important to several communities within society. I thank all those who have spoken today for their contributions.

I would like to make it perfectly clear from the outset that this Government, like their Labour and coalition predecessors, completely oppose any discrimination that people may suffer because of caste or for any other reason. We are committed to ensuring that the appropriate level of protection against caste discrimination exists.

However, before I proceed, I, like other noble Lords, pay tribute to the unstinting work of the late Lord Avebury, who did so much to bring the matter of caste discrimination before us here in this place. Among the many causes that he pursued with passion, he had an unswerving conviction to ensure that people in our society were properly protected against caste discrimination. It is therefore with some poignancy that we feel his absence from the debate today, to which he would definitely have contributed.

Listening to noble Lords who have spoken, it is clear that we all want the same thing. We want people to have a decent level of protection against any discrimination that is suffered because of caste. Discrimination on racial grounds is abhorrent and—this applies to caste above all—has no place in modern society. Most of us here today will be well aware of the history of this issue. It is right that where people see injustice they express their concerns and work diligently to ensure that the more vulnerable among us are given due protection. Those concerns have been expressed thoroughly, passionately and cogently, here and in another place.

During discussion on what subsequently became the Equality Act 2010, a debate as to whether the race provisions in that Bill already provided a level of protection against discrimination because of caste first took place. At that time, any such consideration was essentially a matter of conjecture. There was legal doubt about the level of protection that may exist, which is why the power, later converted to a duty, was included in the Act to enable caste to be added as an aspect of race for the purposes of the Act. Since then the legal position has developed. Thanks to the case mentioned by noble Lords, Tirkey v Chandhok, anyone who feels that they have been discriminated against because of caste can potentially bring a case of discrimination under the existing protections contained in the Equality Act 2010—namely, the ethnic-origins limb of the race provisions. Justice Langstaff said:

“There may be factual circumstances in which the application of the label ‘caste’ is appropriate, many of which are capable—depending on their facts—of falling within the scope of s 9(1) [of the Equality Act], particularly coming within ‘ethnic origins’, as portraying a group with characteristics determined in part by descent, and of a sufficient quality to be described as ‘ethnic’”.

It is clear from the high level of damages awarded to Ms Tirkey how seriously the court took her case. She was awarded nearly £184,000 in respect of unpaid wages and a further £35,000 for damages to feelings, which we believe to be one of the biggest ever awards for non-pecuniary losses. That award reflected the seriousness of the case.

However, there is no clear and unambiguous definition of caste. There is no unanimous collective agreement as to what it constitutes. That much is clear from listening to academics and stakeholders and from reading the research in this area. It is therefore unclear what relevant factors of caste, if any, would not potentially be captured by the Justice Langstaff ruling. As the Government, we need to consider carefully whether simply putting the word “caste” into the Act would actually change or clarify the legal position. It may well be that the ruling in Tirkey v Chandhok already provides the appropriate level of legal protection that is needed against caste discrimination.

At the time of the Langstaff judgment, concerns were expressed by some noble Lords that the judgment could be appealed to, and overturned by, a higher court. That has not happened. However, the Government would certainly be prepared to consider intervening in any case that appeared to pose a legal risk to the precedent that Tirkey v Chandhok has established. We are monitoring litigation in the courts and tribunals for any case that would appear to test—or, for that matter, support—the Tirkey judgment. However, we are currently unaware of any cases of race discrimination with an alleged caste element coming before the courts since the Langstaff judgment was delivered.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, asked why the research has not been published. The research that the Government commissioned jointly from TNS BRMB and the NIESR was not about determining the extent of any caste discrimination that may be occurring in Great Britain; rather, it was a feasibility study into whether or not such research could be undertaken. The study has not been suppressed in any way. It also looked at the feasibility of the legislative provision to review the caste duty from 2018, and we are considering the study’s conclusions and recommendations as part of our broader consideration of the caste duty.

My noble friend Lord Popat said that the issue of caste is outdated and talked about reversing the amendment to the Equality Act 2010.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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It is not outdated. He is not the only Hindu here. I am a Hindu. It is not outdated; it is there all around us.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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He speaks from his own experience.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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I am speaking from mine. I am speaking from my own point of view.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I am aware that the noble Baroness speaks from her own point of view. In fact, she made the point that she had not been subject to any caste discrimination in this country.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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Not personally but I am not a Dalit.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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We probably should not hold up the discussion. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, asked why caste is different and said it was more expensive for claimants to pursue a case in this way. I cannot see how the inclusion of the single word “caste” in the Act would reduce the cost of bringing a discrimination case or make any difference to the tribunal fees or other costs, given the precedent set by the judgment in Tirkey v Chandhok.

The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, said that the EAT judgment makes it clear that domestic law on race must reflect international law and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. He asked why the Government did not accept this and bring the Equality Act into line with our international obligations by putting caste into it. The Government’s view is that the UK is already fully compliant with our international obligations in this area. That is borne out by the decision reached in the EAT case.

The noble Lords, Lord Cashman and Lord Lester of Herne Hill, said it was unacceptable for the Government to wait for clarification of the case law. We accept that in Tirkey v Chandhok, Justice Langstaff was clear that his judgment was fact-specific and not a definite statement that all potential caste cases could be covered by the ethnic origins provision. However, he did not identify any aspects of caste that could not be so covered, and so far neither have we.

Caste Discrimination

Debate between Baroness Flather and Baroness Williams of Trafford
Wednesday 15th July 2015

(8 years, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I agree with the noble Lord that this can be a problem within communities of that nature, and is not generally something that is within the British culture.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, the Hindu community says that there is no caste discrimination in this country and therefore we do not need this subsection. Fine—but if that is the case, why is it fighting so hard against it? If there is no discrimination, then there is no discrimination. If this becomes law—as it should, and the sooner the better—there will be no prosecutions, nothing will happen and it will die out. But because they are fighting so hard, it leads me to believe that there is discrimination.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My Lords, cases of this nature are very few and far between. As I said, the Government are actively considering the matter.

Ethnic Minorities

Debate between Baroness Flather and Baroness Williams of Trafford
Monday 6th July 2015

(8 years, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I add to the comments from other noble Lords thanking my noble friend Lady Berridge for securing this debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I think we could have gone on for at least another hour and brought so many things into it.

It is a particularly poignant day to discuss this issue because we remembered today in Westminster Abbey the anniversary of the atrocities in Srebrenica in Bosnia. This atrocity, against predominantly Muslim Bosnians, is a reminder that hate should not be tolerated in any of its ugly guises. That event was all the more shocking for the speed at which it gathered pace and the horrors that unfolded because of it. The UK is leading the way in commemorating this atrocity with a series of events across the country including the service today. I am very pleased that today the Prime Minister also announced a further £1.2 million of funding for the Remembering Srebrenica charity.

Britain is multiethnic and it is multifaith. According to the 2011 census, some 12% of the population of the UK identify as belonging to an ethnic minority. Members of the UK’s ethnic minority communities, including the many different communities of African, Caribbean and Asian descent, have made an enormous contribution to the UK’s social, economic and cultural life, including to our public institutions. They have also made an enormous contribution to our faith communities, and the Government recognise this.

Faith is a powerful force motivating millions of people to do good in their local communities. Faith communities play a valuable role in British society. They provide hope and encouragement to their adherents, they strengthen local communities and they contribute to the well-being of their neighbours. At this point I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend Lady Eaton does in the Near Neighbours project. I visited a Near Neighbours project and was very impressed by the positive contribution it makes, not only across faiths but across ages and different communities and the benefit that it brings to those communities.

Many faith groups are the heartbeat of communities up and down the country, providing comfort to those who feel isolated, responding in times of trouble to relieve hardship and building communities of trust so that people respect each other. At this point I applaud the generosity and social-minded spirit of our Dharmic faith communities. The temples and the Gurdwaras across the country regularly throw open their doors to offer meals to those in need. I also welcome the commitment among many Christian groups to social action. This includes the black majority churches that do excellent work providing welfare services for the elderly and for ex-offenders. I am sure that the whole House looks forward to welcoming the first female Lords Spiritual in the autumn. I also commend the work of the Church of England’s Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns on the subject of diversity in church leadership and I warmly welcome the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark this evening.

A few noble Lords talked on the subject of Muslim marriage and a Muslim marriage working group, co-ordinated by the Ministry of Justice, has been looking at how best to promote awareness of religious-only marriages and the benefit of having a marriage that is legally contracted. The Government are looking at ways of communicating this benefit to those Muslim women who might be unaware of their rights under English civil and family law. Both my noble friend Lady Berridge, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, talked about the lack of mosques registered for marriage and the mention of a Law Commission marriage project. There are 263 mosques and other buildings where Muslim faith is practised which are registered for the solemnisation of marriages. The Law Commission is currently under- taking a preliminary scoping study to prepare the way for potential future reform of the law concerning marriage ceremonies and the commission is due to report by December.

The noble Baroness, Lady Flather also mentioned churches allowing first-cousin marriages and the resultant problems that can arise. I will just put it on the record that it is, in fact, against British law and against canon law to marry your first cousin.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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I thought that it was the church which said you could marry first cousins and therefore it is in the law. These are first-cousin marriages on a large scale.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My Lords, I can confirm that first-cousin marriages are against the law in this country and the church does not condone them—not any church that I know of, anyway.

Several noble Lords talked about public body appointments. BME police officers currently make up 5.2% of police officers nationally and 11% in the Metropolitan Police area. The police have worked hard to improve equality and diversity since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. More women and members of ethnic minorities have joined the service. But we are clear that there is more for forces to do. Our reforms will allow for faster progress on equality and diversity. Police and crime commissioners and the College of Policing will play a key role in ensuring improvements in police forces. New entry routes to policing, such as Direct Entry, Fast Track and Police Now are proving attractive and are increasing the diversity of the police workforce.

A couple of noble Lords talked about the National Health Service, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and the contribution that faith communities have made to it. NHS England and the NHS Equality and Diversity Council have overseen work to support employees from black and ethnic minority backgrounds in having equal access to career opportunities and receiving fair treatment in the workplace. The move follows recent reports that have highlighted disparities in the number of BME people in senior leadership positions across the NHS, as well as lower levels of well-being among the BME population.

A couple of noble Lords mentioned the contribution to the Armed Forces by the BME community. My noble friend Lord Sheikh and another noble Lord who I shall be reminded of shortly talked about how the first Victoria Cross to be awarded to a non-white was to a Muslim. We recognised VC recipients from across the Commonwealth back in March but I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work that they did in fighting for this country.

Turning to individual points that noble Lords have made, the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, talked about the slightly contradictory role of faith—we come across this all the time—on one hand, helping; on the other hand, perhaps not helping so much. She talked about the NAZ project: how the faith communities have worked hand in glove with the HIV positive community and the very positive contribution they have made there.

The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, talked about how we have come such a long way. She talked about the sign that one would see on B&Bs many years ago—not in my lifetime, but in my parents’ lifetime—“No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”. If that was still in place today, neither she nor I could get into a bed and breakfast and we probably would not be in your Lordships’ House. That might be a good thing in my case but it certainly shows how much society has changed.

My noble friend Lord Popat talked about the freedom, the tolerance and the opportunities that this country has given him. It is always a joy to listen to him and hear just how proud he is to live in this country as a British citizen. He talked about the contribution of Britain’s ethnic minorities to business, and I could not agree more.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Flather, talked about strengthening faith institutions, including the response to child grooming claims. My department is considering applications for a strengthening faith institutions funding programme. The funding will be used to develop training materials and provide practical support to new and emerging faith institutions. This support will include safeguarding, best practice and signposting to important social and health services.

I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend Lord Sheikh does in promoting not only cohesion in this country but a number of other aspects of integration in society. He talked—very sensibly, I think—about the actions of the few not tainting the many among our faith communities. I think that is so true. He also paid tribute to the contributions of Muslims in both business and sport—Amir Khan and Mo Farah, among others—and the representation that we have now in both Houses of what is, in the Muslim community, a very young population. He is absolutely right about that. I wish him and other noble Lords a peaceful Ramadan and encourage everyone to visit their local mosque and share in the breaking of the fast as part of the Big Iftar. It is a very enjoyable event.

The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, talked about the education standards that Catholic schools provide and the great community role that they inarguably play. It is good to know where the Catholics are in this House—including the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I wondered how many Catholics were in this House when I arrived and it is good to identify them as time goes on. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, talked about the Cardinal Hume centre, which I would like to visit with him one day if I may.

My noble friend Lord Popat talked about the faith covenant. I note that idea. The Government welcome the contribution of Britain’s faith communities united in our shared appreciation for British values.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, asked about government support for the Million Minutes charity. I welcome the work that she referred to and would be very happy to meet with her.

Finally, my noble friend Lady Eaton talked about the contribution of the Jewish community, not just in the country but particularly in the metropolitan areas of the north. I very much enjoyed listening to her talking about the arrival of the Jewish people in the 19th century, the Jewish merchants, Jacob Behrens and his knighthood, and their contribution to philanthropy —the sums she mentioned were incredible in those days. She also mentioned the soldiers in the First World War; she is the Member of your Lordships’ House to whom I was referring earlier.

My Lords, I have gone over time which is not good. I thank again all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. In terms of the ethnic diversity of this country, it is not where we are from, it is where we are going.