Every now and then, I hear something from someone I’d regard as a political opponent that I want to give credit for. I’ve been catching up a bit this morning on Today in Parliament podcasts. As it’s been a busy week, I am only up to last Tuesday’s broadcast, and I was listening to coverage of the Commons debate about a Lords amendment concerning the Commission for Equality and Human Rights.
One contribution caught my attention in particular. Richard Fuller, Conservative MP for Bedford, opposed his government’s motion to reject an amendment by the Lords including discrimination based on caste (social position according to the Hindu religion, especially affecting the Dalits, or ‘untouchables’. It’s worth repeating in full the part that made my ears prick up:
I have listened intently to the debate. A number of speakers have said that this is a complex issue, including the Minister, the shadow Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma). I regard all those colleagues with great esteem, so I hope that they will forgive my saying that the idea that this is a complex issue is rubbish. This is a straightforward issue. Caste discrimination in the workplace is wrong and the people who suffer from it deserve legal protection. That is the beginning and end of the matter.
There have apparently been many instances of Dalits being refused jobs or promotion simply because they are Dalits, at the bottom of the social order in the eyes of those who believe in the caste system. It’s self-evidently correct that such discrimination has no place in the UK and should be as illegal as discrimination based on gender, race or sexual preference.
I don’t know much else about Mr Fuller, except that he has also campaigned for decent treatment of pregnant women caught up in the asylum/immigration system. But I applaud him for his clear, no-nonsense statement on the issue of caste-based discrimination (and for standing up for pregnant asylum-seekers!).
Unfortunately, his party did not measure up to the standard he set – the government’s proposal to reject the Lords amendment was carried, and the Dalits are still outside the protection of the law as far as this odious discrimination is concerned. But that shouldn’t detract from an honourable stand on principle.