All 1 Debates between Baroness Flather and Lord Dholakia

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill

Debate between Baroness Flather and Lord Dholakia
Monday 22nd April 2013

(11 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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I would like to speak, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, wants to speak. We have been waiting for our chance.

Lord Dholakia Portrait Lord Dholakia
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My Lords, I indicated that earlier, but I gave way to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, because I thought he made a very important contribution.

I am delighted to contribute on this amendment and I support the point of view that has been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. I served on the former Commission for Racial Equality and its predecessor bodies from its inception in 1965 until 1994, a period of nearly 30 years. Almost all Race Relations Acts made provision for the Commission for Racial Equality, the Community Relations Commission and all those bodies to review the legislation and, if it was inappropriate or lacking, to make recommendations so that the Government had the opportunity to amend it. As we saw in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, this exercise was carried out by the previous Government.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Avebury. He was elected in Orpington in the same year that I was elected to a county council in Sussex. He has been my mentor all these years, but sometimes friends disagree. My experience is based, like that of many people I meet on a regular basis, on the impact of one’s culture and faith, which to an extent shapes lives both here and abroad.

The first point I wish to make is that, like the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, and almost every one who has spoken, I abhor racial discrimination on any ground of treating people differently. Colleagues in your Lordships’ House will remember that I have in the past 15 to 16 years succeeded in moving amendments to secure equality in a number of legislative measures. Over the past two years, I have chaired a substantial number of consultations with communities and individuals on matters of caste discrimination. Let me make their point of view clear in case there is any doubt: they fully appreciate the need for equality legislation. Indeed, ethnic communities would not have a voice without such legislation. They are adamant that they would not want to deny any disadvantaged group the right to have recourse against discrimination on any grounds. Almost every one of them has made that position very clear.

Caste plays the least significant part in the lives of third and fourth generation youngsters from ethnic communities growing up in this country. We have moved away from the old days and old values of compartmentalising communities based on caste. A generation has grown up seeing no obstacle to crossing the caste divide.

The second point I wish to make is that race relations in this country have always been based on sound research. The work of the former organisation that some may remember, which campaigned against racial discrimination and was headed in its early days by the famous Lord Pitt who sat in the House of Lords, produced evidence which resulted in the first Race Relations Act outlawing discrimination in public places. The substantial evidence produced by the Street report in 1967 identified discrimination in employment, housing and general services and resulted in the introduction of the Race Relations Act 1968. Similar evidence on institutional racism resulted in the introduction of the 1976 race relations legislation. However, in essence, there is a lack of evidence on caste matters. The report produced by the national institute clearly acknowledges that there is no evidence to suggest the existence of large-scale discrimination in this country based on caste.

Communities feel let down that during the passage of the Equality Bill through Parliament, having acknowledged that the available evidence did not indicate that caste discrimination was a significant problem in Britain in the areas covered by discrimination legislation, Parliament proceeded to accept an amendment to the Equality Bill to include caste as an aspect of race by a ministerial decision. By doing so, the Act which was supposedly designed to simplify and streamline discrimination law in Britain seems to have defeated this very objective by including the concept of caste that has eluded clear definition in common parlance, let alone in legal terms—the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh.

However, it would be a big mistake to extend the scope of the act to include caste in Britain without substantial evidence. Laws should be based on sound evidential research. The research by NIESR clearly acknowledges that there is no large-scale caste discrimination in Britain. The sample was far too small to reach a fair conclusion. Therefore, to yield to pressure groups and include caste within the scope of the Act will only rekindle the dying issue of caste.

I fear that we are still studying something that may be on the surface. A generation of people born here have broken the links with caste patterns and they find themselves engulfed in a practice that was prevalent in the early history of the subcontinent. I accept that there may be discriminatory practices—rightly described by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh—where caste may have played some role but there are ways of dealing with this subject. I had discussions with my colleague, Lynne Featherstone, when she was looking at the issue as government Equality Minister and I explained that there are other ways we can tackle this matter in the short term. I welcome the statement issued by Helen Grant, Minister for Women and Equalities in the other place, that education is the right step to take in this matter. I also welcome the contribution on this issue of the EHRC and the Government’s equality officers in examining the nature of caste prejudice and harassment as evidenced by existing studies. This will indicate if the matter should be addressed in future years either by legislation or by another solution. I am happy to assist those who have participated in consultation to set up their own formal structure which could be the basis for eradicating discrimination practices. A conciliation process must be at the forefront of such a strategy. The community can and must provide that. Since the EHRC is now involved, it is right that we reject the amendment until we are better informed.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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My Lords, I seem to be the last speaker and I will take this opportunity to say what has been in my mind. It is very interesting that we have two Hindus speaking today against this amendment. On the previous occasion one of them was here but did not speak up, yet that was the time to make his points about why we should not have voted in favour of a caste discrimination amendment.

I have found that all Governments in this country have a great belief in so-called “community leaders”. Ever since immigrants first came to this country they have created this myth of community leaders: community leaders know everything about the community; they will tell us what the community wants; they are the important ones. They are not the ones to speak for all communities: they are the ones who shout the loudest. It has always been a big mistake to listen to people who say, “We are the community leaders”. Have you ever seen a woman as a community leader? Have you ever seen any women in any consultation? Have you seen any women among all these men who have been shouting outside the House of Lords about the caste amendment? The Hindus have come together for the first time ever, to my knowledge, to shout about the caste amendment because they feel that this dishonours them in some way. They dishonour themselves: caste is a fact. It is not created by us or in the minds of the British or other people; it is a fact that people discriminate on the basis of caste. It is endemic in social issues like marriage. As far as public things like employment and education are concerned, we have to watch out: we have to say, “No discrimination on the basis of caste”. It is no good our saying, “Leave it for next time”; that happens all the time. There will be more consultation and more evidence, but there is already plenty of evidence of discrimination. As someone has said, if there are six people being discriminated against, we should do something about it. We do not know how many people are discriminated against.

We have been told about the untouchables. Caste is not about untouchability but about someone of a particular caste not being accepted by a person of a higher or different caste. It is about not giving them the same treatment as you give to people of your own caste. In my parents’ house, we were from the merchant caste and had to have a Brahman cook, otherwise people in our house did not eat. None of us were allowed in the kitchen because we would pollute it. I have lived with caste all my life, from childhood.