Yesterday in the House of Lords the Government confirmed that it had no immediate plans to make caste discrimination illegal: a power recently inserted into the Equality Act 2010. The amended s 9 (Race) of the Act provides that
“(5) A Minister of the Crown may by order—
(a) amend this section so as to provide for caste to be an aspect of race;
(b) amend this Act so as to provide for an exception to a provision of this Act to apply, or not to apply, to caste or to apply, or not to apply, to caste in specified circumstances.”
In reply to a question from Lord Avebury (LD), To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the timetable for implementing the legislation to incorporate caste as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD) said this:
“… we have no immediate plans to incorporate caste into legislation. We are aware of the recent Tirkey v Chandok Employment Appeal Tribunal judgment [Chandhok & Anor v Tirkey (Race Discrimination)  UKEAT 0190 14 1912 which we noted here] and are considering its implications for discrimination law. The judgment opens the possibility of a legal remedy for claims of caste-associated discrimination under existing legislation, in the ethnic origins element of Section 9 of the Equality Act 2010. We note this potential protection and have always stated that we completely oppose caste discrimination.
Lord Avebury was not convinced and sought an undertaking that, if re-elected in May, the Government would commence the provision and noted the opinion of the Equality and Human Rights Commission that Chandhok v Tirkey was not binding in all circumstances.
In reply to various expressions of concern at the Government’s inaction, Bs Garden said that there was no time left to legislation in the present Parliament and that during the passage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (which inserted the new power into the Equality Act),
“… when the need for explicit caste legislation was debated extensively, it was generally acknowledged that a full public consultation should be undertaken, not least because there was no general consensus on even basic concepts, such as a workable definition of caste itself.”
Moreover, she believed that the judgment in Chandhok v Tirkey “clearly illustrates the need for caution” and suggested that many of the cases currently pending could be brought under the legislation outlawing discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin.
Comment: Given the fact that the General Election looms, Bs Garden’s response is no surprise. However, as Lord Deben (Con) pointed out, the Lords voted for a change in the law two years ago and nothing appears to have happened.