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Government bans caste discrimination

MPs abandon attempt to change EHRC's duties

23 April 2013

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The government has bowed to pressure from peers and agreed that caste discrimination should be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

Peers voted to amend the Act for a second time last night so that caste becomes a protected characteristic.

The House of Lords backed the measure as an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, but a spokeswoman for the Government Equalities Office said it would be implemented through secondary legislation at a later stage.

Equalities minister Jo Swinson told the Commons today that caste would be included as an aspect of race under section 9 (5) of the Act. The Commons voted against the Lords amendment last week.

At the same time, MPs changed their minds on the Equality and Human Rights Commission, agreeing not to back repeal of section 3 of the Equality Act 2006.

Peers argued that this would "undermine the EHRC's duty to promote social change through its human rights and equality duties", compromise its independence and prevent it from complying with its monitoring requirements.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said he was delighted that the government had committed to ensure that discrimination against caste would enjoy the same statutory protection as other protected characteristics.

"Too many British citizens have suffered caste-based discrimination," Porteous Wood said. "Our equality legislation will now send out a clear signal that it will no longer be tolerated, and offers hope to the tens of thousands of British Asians whose lives are blighted by such prejudice.

"This is a victory for the Lords and their emphasis on protecting human rights. We are proud that the UK is the first European country to pass this legislation and hope that other nations where caste discrimination is practised will follow the example of India, and now the UK."

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Discrimination