HL Deb 06 April 1982 vol 429 cc119-20

3 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will introduce legislation to ensure that advertisements for a partner (in particular by doctors and dentists) will not be treated as discriminatory under the Race Relations Act 1976 simply because they seek applicants with particular religious beliefs.

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

My Lords, the Government have no present plans to amend the Race Relations Act 1976. Discrimination on the grounds of religious belief is not unlawful in Great Britain, unless it constitutes indirect racial discrimination under the Race Relations Act. Even then, an advertisement imposing a requirement that prospective partners in, for example, a medical partnership must belong to a particular religious faith may not be unlawful if that requirement can be justified.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, which will be of help to those who have inserted these advertisements and who are disturbed at having been reported to the Race Relations Board, could my noble friend say how partnerships are affected by the Race Relations Act in matters other than advertising?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I should like to make it clear that partnerships of less than six partners generally do not come within the scope of the Race Relations Act 1976. The advertising provisions, however, apply as far as indirect discrimination is concerned.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in the history of this country we have never bothered too much about religion intervening in the practice of medicine and that I believe we ought to keep it that way? Is the noble Lord further aware that, nevertheless, there might be a need in some parts of the country to advertise for a specialised knowledge of a certain language and that should be helped in preference to any religious form of discrimination or acceptance only because of what a doctor might practise as his religion?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I will take account of what the noble Lord has said about the need in some cases for a specified knowledge of a particular language. So far as religions are concerned, I think the noble Lord would accept that there has been a very long history of the close relationship between Christianity and the practice of medicine.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that in this instance the Act gives rise to a curious and unwelcome consequence; for although under Section 10 it is a firm of less than six partners—that is, a firm where the partners, say, hold the same religious beliefs—that cannot commit unlawful discrimination if they advertise for another partner of the same religious belief, they are liable to commit the offence of unlawful advertising under Section 29? Would my noble friend not agree that this is a slightly unsatisfactory and anomalous situation?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think my noble friend puts his finger on a point which is more apparent than real. My noble friend might agree that it is sensible under Section 10 of the 1976 Act to except the smaller partnerships from the scope generally of the 1976 Act. But the advertising provisions of the Act in Section 29 apply to all partnerships of whatever size, on the ground that a partnership, large or small, ought not to be free to publicise feelings which would be contrary to the intentions of the Act.

Lord Morris

My Lords, would my noble friend consider asking Her Majesty's Government to promote a religious discrimination Act which, with the Sex Discrimination Act and the Racial Discrimination Act, could be consolidated so that there is only one statute to ignore rather than three?

Lord Belstead

No. my Lords,