House of Lords
Tuesday, 15 December 2009.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.
Leave of Absence
My Lords, the financial crisis and global downturn have had a profound impact on the public finances, particularly tax receipts, in the UK and in other countries. Discretionary fiscal stimulus was introduced to provide support when the economy was weakest, limiting the severity of the downturn. As the economy is forecast to emerge from recession, borrowing in the medium term is projected to fall markedly through government consolidation measures announced in and since the 2008 Pre-Budget Report. The Fiscal Responsibility Bill will enshrine these consolidation plans in legislation.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, but I am afraid that I do not really believe it. Will the Fiscal Responsibility Bill contain a schedule to show us exactly where the public debt will be reduced and what public spending will be taken from what departments and when?
My Lords, the Bill is quite clear in what it intends to do. It will make these measures taken by the Government directly answerable to Parliament. That is the way in which we will consolidate the decisions that have been taken in the past year and a half, which have a long-running perspective to them in terms of government borrowing. A code related to the Bill will spell things out in more detail, but the Bill is clear about the responsibility of the Government to report and to stick to these measures.
The terms of the Fiscal Responsibility Bill would mean that, if there were a recession in five years’ time, it would be illegal for the Government to increase public expenditure to combat unemployment. Does the Minister agree that this proves that the Bill is just a case of political posturing and that it is not worth the paper it is written on?
No, my Lords, it is a reinforcement of the Government’s intent with regard to their public borrowing plans for the future as we emerge from this deep recession. If the noble Lord is suggesting that we are likely to see in the near future anything like the recession that we have had over the past two years, his judgment is very different from that of everyone else concerned with the British economy and the international economy in terms of recovery from this recession. The Bill makes clear the Government’s strategy for emergence.
Is the Minister aware that—in addition to a deficit that is getting on for £200 billion this year and is projected by the Treasury, somewhat optimistically, to be another £200 billion next year—if the £200 billion of quantitative easing that has occurred is going to be neutralised and not turned into inflation in the future, another £200 billion of gilts will have to be sold to mop it up? Has he made any judgment as to whether the financial markets are prepared to buy gilts on that scale and, if so, at what price?
My Lords, of course the Government are concerned about the market response to government projections, but the noble Lord will have rejoiced that the market looks very calm, if not supportive, as far as the decisions taken last week are concerned. The noble Lord is right: of course we face challenges with regard to the future. No one underestimates the problems of reducing this substantial debt, but it is quite clear that the Government are determined to do so and will be increasingly answerable to Parliament to guarantee that they do.
My Lords, the Minister referred to a code when he responded to my noble friend Lady O’Cathain. The code to which he is referring under the Fiscal Responsibility Bill is in fact the code for fiscal stability, which has been required ever since the 1998 Finance Act and did not stop the Government wrecking the economy of this country. The Minister then said that the Bill would make the Government answerable to Parliament. In what way will being answerable to Parliament under this Bill help to avoid the mess that we are now in?
I wonder whether the noble Baroness is broadening her geographical perspective in suggesting that the decisions taken by this Government wrecked the economies of the United States, Germany and all other advanced countries over this recent recession. It is quite clear that we have been facing a worldwide phenomenon of crisis in all the significant economies. What is interesting is that we approached this crisis with a lower level of debt than most other countries.
Given the seriousness of this economic crisis and its impact on Britain, would it not be logical for the opposition parties to sign up to this legislation? It is straightforward and simple. It is a clear message and it ought to be important for anyone who aspires to government.
Do we really need a Bill at all? Surely what we need in this country are a responsible Government who put the country before party-political considerations and a free Parliament of people who are concerned about their country and will hold the Government properly to account.
My Lords, we are all concerned about our country. The noble Lord may take a certain independent stance but I hope that his independence is not trammelled by the fact that he will have noted that unemployment levels during this crisis have been the lowest in the developed world.
Visas: Non-EU Visitors
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the cases cited by the National Campaign for the Arts and the Manifesto Club in which the points-based visa system for non-European Union visiting artists and academics denied entry for those wanting to carry out bona fide activities; and what action they propose in response.
My Lords, the cases cited reflect concern that the points-based system prevents the entry of legitimate artists and academics. We do not believe this to be so. Implementation has generally been smooth, successful and well received. Where there have been teething problems, we have addressed them and we continue to fine-tune to ensure that we are delivering a system which is robust, objective, responsive and fair.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He spoke about “teething problems”. The current visa arrangements for artists and entertainers have had an appalling effect on arts and cultural exchange in this country. They have affected music, theatre, literature, dance, opera and the visual arts, and education. While there have been some minor improvements, they have not been fundamental. There are still major issues to be resolved; for example, questions of training for UKBA officers, clarity of guidance, stamping of passports even, biometric machinery and the sheer discretion given to immigration officials. When will Ministers take a grip of this real issue and make sure that these problems are resolved?
My Lords, the noble Lord does not do justice to what the Government are seeking to do, working with the arts and entertainment taskforce and the National Campaign for the Arts—the independent body representing people in culture of all forms. There have been a number of major changes. Ministers have taken a keen interest. My colleague in the other place, Phil Woolas, has met the NCA twice. He meets the task force regularly—they met as recently as 24 November. Among the changes that have been made is a system whereby performers who normally require a visa but who come to the UK for less than three months are not required to apply in advance. We also have provision to accept applications for entry from countries in which the artists are performing, rather than having them go back to their country of origin to do so. We have created a new entertainer visa category for performers who do not require sponsorship. As a consequence, costs are now less for the entertainers, who pay a lower visa fee. In addition, we have retained a route for overseas film crews on location shoots. We have made these and a number of other concessions and changes to meet the wishes of the sector concerned. I believe that we have support for the changes from the NCA and the task force.
But did my noble friend not note that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, included education among the areas that he criticised? Is it not the case that in both the public and private sectors of higher education the number of overseas students who have entered this country in the present year has greatly increased, which is partly because of the efficiency and the effectiveness with which the points-based system is working in higher education? It is clear that there are still problems to be ironed out, but, overall, this country has benefited enormously from the increase in immigration to higher education in this country.
My noble friend makes an important point. Students from overseas are a valued part of our community. We have to take a balanced approached to immigration laws, but those students are of great advantage. My noble friend is right that there are welcome indications of an increased number of students. We are carrying out a review also of the tier 4 category to ensure that the increase is among those who are legitimately entitled to be here. A review has been called by the Prime Minister and its outcome will be known early in the new year. We shall see whether any changes need to be made in that category.
My Lords, I have raised this question in the past with regard to Commonwealth artists who wish to come over here, because the scheme is based on the Australian points system. As I have often said, no one goes to Australia to become a world-famous artist. They tend to come from there, and people such as Joan Sutherland have established their world career here. The Minister said in response to my previous question that flexibility would allow those people to continue study for longer. I have had good reports back on that point. So there is a greater element of flexibility than there was in the past, is there not?
Many high-tech companies are probably going to have to relocate their training facilities abroad because they cannot bring people in to train here. This is causing us to slide down the global knowledge economy scale. Does the Minister think this is useful for the UK?
My Lords, would my noble friend agree with me that this Government have on the whole had an admirable record in support of the arts in this country and indeed in supporting artists from this country in their efforts to take their arts elsewhere? Would he also agree, however, that this particular issue has caused some concern in the arts community, as he has already indicated? Would he assure the House that the matter will be kept under review so that any inadvertent abuses are caught before they turn into problems?
My Lords, I am happy to give my noble friend that assurance. I know that my ministerial colleague Phil Woolas takes a keen interest in this area and, as I indicated, has regular meetings. On the point made in the original Question about training, guidance and training is given to staff. If we find there are any errors, abuses or what-have-you, we will investigate immediately and ensure that adequate training and guidance is given to avoid what sometimes happens in the process which is not the intention of government or policy. On this occasion, the teething problems have largely been solved.
On a point of information, the Minister might perhaps help the House by saying how many performing artists have been denied access to this country through this points-based system. I appreciate he may not have the answer now, so could he perhaps put a note in the Library about it? Then we might have an indication of how well or how badly the system is working.
The noble Lord is correct; I do not have a figure in my brief. The reasons why people are denied entry are as important as the numbers of people involved. It can well be for reasons of process that people do not have the required points under the points-based system, or that they do not apply in time, or for other reasons. I will investigate the point the noble Lord makes and take up his suggestion of providing a note.
My Lords, the Minister refers to training. It is quite clear that problems have arisen because of the inadequacy of training and insufficient knowledge on the part of those delivering the service— and it is a service. Will he acknowledge that, as for artists and for academics coming to speak at conferences, and I suppose for politicians, the UK Border Agency is only as good as its last performance?
I would certainly agree with the noble Baroness’s latter point. Our border patrol service, in the sense that we police our borders and interrogate and talk to would-be entrants, has a high reputation worldwide. It is seen to be friendly and it is seen to be, by and large, efficient. If you are subject to delay, whether it is your fault or the fault of someone else, you will not see the agency in that way. We believe the satisfaction rate is very high, however, and we investigate and seek to put right any errors that are made en route.
My Lords, I do not know whether anybody else in the House has been confused by the Minister this afternoon as much as I have. Earlier on, he talked about a fast-track system where people could get their visas at ports of entry—airports, the port of Southampton and so on. Just now, in answer to a question from behind me, he said that one of the reasons for denying a visa in such cases would be the points-based system. While I approve of the points-based system in general terms, is it working in these terms?
I do not know whether the confusion is in the noble Lord’s mind or in mine, but I did indicate that the fast-track system is for artists arriving here from the countries in which they are already performing and who do not require to stay for more than three months. As regards points, under tier 1, one has to acquire points in order to enter. Academics and artists can come under tier 5, but some of the problems from the cases indicated by the Manifesto Club are that it is not clear whether the individuals were in breach of conditions of visas. For example, academic visas do not allow working beyond honorarium—they do not allow people to become salaried. In that sense, therefore, there is no reason why entry may be denied. As I indicated to the previous speaker, however, I will investigate and produce an answer.
The Government keep all aspects of public spending under review, but they have no plans to change the Barnett formula. The Government’s funding policies for the devolved Administrations were set out in the updated statement of funding policy, which was published by the Treasury in October 2007.
My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that the Richard committee—a committee of this House—concluded recently that the old formula did not reflect either today’s population or the respective needs of the devolved Administrations. The situation in Wales is even worse in that gross value added per head in Wales is now less than three-quarters of the UK average and is deteriorating. When will the welcome recent agreement reached between the Treasury and Mr Hain, the Wales Secretary, to ensure that Wales is not disproportionately disadvantaged be brought into effect? When will the details of that welcome agreement be announced?
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales indicated after the Holtham review had been delivered that he was looking at future spending. That analysis is going on. I do not think that it is quite an agreement—the term used by my noble friend to identify it—but the Secretary of State for Wales is properly charged of his responsibilities in this area, and he is examining the issue.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Richard committee. The Barnett formula allocates over half the total public expenditure to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the basis of adjusted 1970s population figures. It gets it wrong, I estimate, by something like £4 billion to £5 billion a year. Does my noble friend agree that local authorities, health authorities and regional bodies are all resourced according to need: in which case, why not also the nations of the UK?
My Lords, that case, as my noble friend has indicated, was included in the House of Lords report on the Barnett formula. The Government are examining this report carefully and are aware of the strength of the committee’s position. However, my noble friend will know only too well that an accurate analysis of a needs-based expenditure structure is a very substantial task, and the Government will report on that in due course.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a great deal to thank the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and his formula for, and that they should be careful when pressing for change to ensure that that change is in their interests and that they will benefit from it?
My Lords, there is no doubt that the Barnett formula has stood the test of time from its development 20 years or so ago, although inevitably over two decades there have been stresses and strains on the reports and the formula, and the accuracy of their basis is increasingly subject to challenge. However, the noble Lord is absolutely right that the three constituent countries of the United Kingdom apart from England have done well out of the Barnett formula.
My Lords, the Select Committee report was excellent. It clearly recognised the need for a change that is based on need, but the unpublished response simply said no. Was the response unpublished because it has now been scrapped and the Government are going to come up with a better one that agrees with the committee?
My Lords, I think that my noble friend is a little pessimistic about the Government’s response to the position. They very much value the work that he did two decades ago. But it is the case, as I indicated in my response to the first Question, that the Government are looking carefully at these issues. We have two reports now—the Calman report for Scotland and the Holtham report for Wales—both of which indicate that the formula presents some problems in the accurate allocation of resources. The Government are studying the situation carefully.
Does my noble friend accept that there was indeed a general welcome for the Secretary of State’s Written Statement in another place on 26 November? However, is my noble friend now able to take the UK Government’s thinking a little further? There has been a positive response to Gerry Holtham’s report, but surely the basic issue is this: how long will the Treasury continue to be the judge and jury in its own case? Or are the UK Government so afraid of fiscal federalism and the charge that would follow from that in other parts of the European Union that they are not prepared to tackle the basic issue of having an objective assessment of the relative needs, as my honourable friend has indicated?
My Lords, the problem with an objective assessment is that it is difficult to achieve objectivity. As the noble Lord will recognise only too clearly, some of those who are clamouring for revaluation are not sufficiently aware of the extent to which the devolved Administrations actually benefit from the formula at present. However, serious questioning of the Barnett formula is present in both of these reports and in the House of Lords Select Committee report, and the Government will give their response to them when they have a final considered position.
My Lords, the Government are currently analysing the responses to the second stage consultation, which closed on 29 September 2009. The Government take their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights seriously and are committed to implementing the judgments of the European Court. But we must arrive at a solution which respects the judgment of the Court and takes into account the political context and traditions of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that predictable reply. Can he explain to the House whether the Government intend either to ignore or take action to prevent what the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe last week expressed as serious concern that the substantial delay in implementing the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights given on 6 October 2005 has given rise to a significant risk that the next United Kingdom general election, which must take place by June 2010, will be performed in a way that fails to comply with the convention? Is that a risk that the Government are prepared to prevent?
My Lords, the Government note, of course, the interim resolution by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers’ Deputies in this case. We have, as I have told the House, recently completed a two-stage consultation. We are carefully analysing the response. We take our obligations seriously, but we have to arrive at an approach which respects the judgment of the court and the political context and traditions of the United Kingdom. If the concerns of the European Court expressed in Hirst were not remedied by the next general election, this would not, in the Government’s view, call into question the legality of the elections themselves as challenges go to the right of individual prisoners to take part in the elections rather than the legality of the elections themselves.
My Lords, the concerns are slightly broader than the noble Lord will have it. These are complex issues and remain complex issues. They require full consultation and consideration. Apart from the principle of the issue, there are many practical issues that need to be thought through and decisions taken on what criteria should apply to make a fair decision on whether a prisoner should be able to vote.
Will the Minister indicate how much longer the Government need to come to a decision on this issue, having taken four years already? The order of the Court is quite clear. Can my noble friend give me other instances of when this pick-and-mix approach to decisions of the Court has been put into operation?
Our record on committing ourselves and effecting the decisions of the Court is a good one over the years. The Court made it absolutely clear that there is a wide margin of appreciation for member states in issues such as this. We are coming to a view and want to ensure that it is right; then, of course, it will be for the British Parliament to decide in the end what to do next.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that for there to be an interim resolution by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe of this character is a very serious matter, which affects the reputation of this country to abide by the rule of law. The noble Lord has not answered the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about whether the Government will do what the Committee of Ministers wish and legislate rapidly so that there will not be a continuing breach when the next election comes in respect of prisoners’ rights and the judgment of the Court. I wonder whether he would be kind enough to answer that question.
My Lords, we will respond when we are ready to respond. We hope that it will be soon, but these are complicated and complex matters. I believe that the Opposition agree with us that this is not an easy matter. It is not clear, for example, that popular feeling is anything other than strictly against this proposal. We realise that the Court’s judgment has to be obeyed, and we will do so.
My Lords, we have not yet heard from the Cross Benches.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that one reason for the considerable concern about the extraordinary length of time that the Government have taken to implement a decision dated 6 October 2005 is that they appear deliberately to be delaying this matter until after the next general election? Can the Minister give the House an unequivocal assurance that that is no part and has been no part of the Government’s motivation?
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
Immigration (Biometric Registration) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2009
Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (Designation of Participating Countries) (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (No. 3) Order 2009
Motion to Approve
In moving these Motions, I extend an apology to those who participated in the debate on the second of the instruments, the crime order, when in my enthusiasm for brevity I gave an imprecise answer to a question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, at the end of that debate. I have since written to the noble Baroness to clarify the position on the point that she raised and copied the letter to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. I understand that the noble Baroness is satisfied on the point in question. I shall lay a Written Ministerial Statement on the subject before the House today.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I do not wish to prolong the debate but I must register that we on these Benches are not happy with the first of the orders, the biometric registration order, although we do not wish to divide the House or have a debate. We have always opposed extension of ID cards.
Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2009
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Welsh Language) Order 2009
Motion to Approve
That the draft order and regulations laid before the House on 28 October and 10 November be approved.
Relevant documents: 24th Report, Session 2008–09, from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, First Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 9 December
Health Professions (Hearing Aid Dispensers) Order 2009
Motion to Approve
Bribery Bill [HL]
Order of Consideration Motion
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton will repeat the Statement entitled “Future Defence Programme” immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, has spoken on the Equality Bill. There are 41 speakers signed up for the Second Reading of the Equality Bill today. If Back-Bench contributions are kept to seven minutes, the House should be able to rise around the target rising time of 10 pm.
Procedure Committee: Second Report of Session 2008–09
Motion to Agree
My Lords, two reports are listed on the Order Paper and I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if I speak to both of them, since they are in many respects linked. The two reports deal largely with the procedural consequences of the establishment of the Supreme Court, the ending of the House’s judicial responsibilities and the disqualification of those Members of the House who serve as senior judges from taking any part in our proceedings.
These changes in the composition and role of the House necessitate corresponding changes in our procedures and Standing Orders. Most of these are straightforward and self-explanatory; they are covered in the second report of the last Session, which was published at the end of October. Some of the changes, however, were less straightforward. In particular, we had to consider carefully the future role and composition of the Committee for Privileges, specifically in respect of peerage claims. Our conclusions are set out in the second report on today’s Order Paper, which was agreed and published last week.
I would like to put on record my thanks to the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls for agreeing to provide judges to assist the Committee for Privileges in considering any future peerage claims. I can also inform the House that, since the report was published, I have had an equally positive and helpful response from Lord Hamilton, the Lord President of the Court of Session, indicating the willingness of the senior Scottish judiciary to help if called upon. I hope that the House will recognise our proposals in this area, embodied in our proposed revision of Standing Order 78, as a constructive and workable solution to a potentially difficult problem.
I turn now to the other issues covered in these two reports. I trust that our recommendations on the abolition of the Personal Bills Committee and the use of the Welsh language by committees meeting in Wales will be uncontroversial. With regard to national policy statements, we propose that they should normally be debated in Grand Committee on a neutral Motion—in other words, a Motion to consider the statement. It is of course not possible to debate substantive Motions in Grand Committee, as there is no possibility of a Division in the Moses Room. However, the use of Grand Committees for general debates on national policy statements would be in addition to those statutory procedures described in the Planning Act 2008. In other words, noble Lords would be able to table substantive Motions that would require a decision on the Floor of the House. It would also be open to Members to seek to establish an ad hoc committee to examine a national policy statement or, indeed, for one of our existing Select Committees to inquire into and make recommendations on a statement that happened to fall within its remit.
Finally, I turn to the recommendation that may be of greater interest to noble Lords—namely, our recommendation in our first report of the present Session that from the start of the new year each Secretary of State sitting in this House should once a month answer Oral Questions that would be addressed to them as Secretary of State. We propose that for the initial trial period there should be three Questions, taking 15 minutes in total, asked on a Thursday immediately following Oral Questions. The procedure will be as for Oral Questions—for instance, there will be an opportunity for supplementaries from around the House. With two Secretaries of State sitting in the House at present, this additional opportunity for scrutiny will be a fortnightly event. I emphasise that we see this as additional scrutiny. It will not impact on other existing forms of scrutiny, such as normal Oral Questions or Private Notice Questions.
I hope that these proposals will enjoy support across the House, as they did across the committee. If they are agreed, the Leader of the House and I will tomorrow move the consequential amendments to Standing Orders. I therefore beg to move the first Motion in my name—that is to say, that the committee’s second report of the Session 2008-09 be agreed to.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Chairman of Committees for setting out briefly but succinctly the procedure to be followed for considering the national policy statements that have been prepared and were made available last November under the provisions of the Planning Act 2008. The noble Lord has already referred to the fact that there has to be scrutiny of these national planning statements in both Houses. This was agreed in the debates in this House to be an important stage in the new planning process.
Of course, this is a formidable task. Those who have seen the volume of papers that were tabled on 9 November—six separate reports covering six aspects of energy policy—will perhaps be a little surprised that we are apparently to try to deal with these in a single four-hour debate in the Moses Room. That is the subject of one of my questions. In another place, two—it may be more—Select Committees have already been appointed to examine the reports. I understand that these Select Committees have already indicated a call for evidence. I have discussed with one or two people whether they will be giving evidence to those committees in another place.
In this House, the usual channels and the Procedure Committee have adopted the very different procedure, which the Chairman of Committees described, of a four-hour debate in Grand Committee. The Procedure Committee’s report on this aspect is very brief. I have been trying to find out exactly how this process will work. We are faced with a wholly new situation. This is not a Bill, a statutory instrument or a report from a Select Committee; it is something novel. Therefore, the authorities have adopted a novel constitutional solution. It is about this that I would like to ask some questions.
First, how is any noble Lord to propose amendments to any of the national policy statements? Will that be able to be done in the four-hour debate in Grand Committee, or will it have to rest until a subsequent procedure? The noble Lord has said that there can be no vote on any of this in the Moses Room, for reasons that we all entirely understand. Will there be a procedure whereby there can be a vote on the Floor of the House? People would like to know that. Section 9 of the Planning Act refers to,
“a committee of either House”.
As I have said, the other House is proposing not one or two but perhaps three committees to consider different aspects of this formidable array of national policy statements. This is not currently proposed in this House, for reasons that have been explained to me, but is it open to any noble Lord to propose that there should be an ad hoc committee? If so, would that be proposed in Grand Committee, or would it require a separate Motion to be considered on the Floor of the House? In paragraph 7 of its report, the Procedure Committee says:
“The Leader has indicated that in the event of a motion for resolution being tabled, the Usual Channels would undertake to provide time for a debate in the Chamber within the scrutiny period”.
Is that something separate from and additional to the four-hour debate in Grand Committee, or is it all part of one and the same debate?
My next question concerns the fact that there are six of these reports, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, will be well aware, are formidable and detailed. Is it envisaged that we will take all six reports in a single four-hour debate in the Moses Room on a single Motion, or will they be split so that we can have a number of debates on the different subjects of the national policy statements?
When can we expect the process to start? As I have explained, it is already under way in another place. I was trying to find the date for completion of the process. One of the documents refers to its completion by 22 February. I questioned whether that also applies to the consultation in this House; the answer is no. There is a separate time limit for that. In a letter written by the Secretary of State, Ed Miliband, when the reports were issued on 9 November, he stated that—the technical words are “the relevant period”—the scrutiny period should end on 6 May. The letter was addressed to the chairman of the Liaison Committee in another place, with a copy to the then acting chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee and copies to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Not surprisingly I did not see this until quite recently—in fact, half way through this morning, when it was drawn to my attention by one of the extremely able and helpful ladies in the Government Whips’ Office. That states clearly in the sixth sentence that the date is to be 6 May. That gives us rather more time.
Is it therefore the position—this is perhaps my last question—that if we take it right up to the end, including the several stages in this House and in another place, the final process will not be completed before the general election has to be announced and it will be for the Government after the election to decide how to take the matter forward? We have come right up against the boundary in terms of time; the Secretary of State’s letter spells out why that is so. Rules applying to Select Committees in another place state that 39 days must be allowed after issuing a report. If we are not even going to begin to discuss this until after another place has finished—or until nearly after, as has been indicated—will we not find ourselves trying to deal with it in the very last few days in the wash-up before the general election? Is that a satisfactory way for this House to deal with these formidable reports with which we are confronted? I have said previously that I believe that the Government have done as much as they possibly can in drawing up these reports, and I will have some suggestions to make when we debate them, but we have left it to the last possible minute. Is that a satisfactory way of proceeding?
My Lords, we, too, share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. In view of the important business to come through your Lordships’ House, I relate my queries to the final issue with which the Chairman of Committees was concerned, which is that of Oral Questions to Secretaries of State. Most of the other proposals are relatively uncontroversial.
I wonder whether the Chairman of Committees can say something about the context for that recommendation. I note that Mr Speaker Bercow has recently suggested that Secretaries of State who sit in your Lordships’ House should respond to Questions from MPs not just in sittings in Westminster Hall but in the Chamber itself at the other end of the Corridor. There are well established conventions about such a summons from one House to another. The two individuals concerned may not need the protection of your Lordships’ House—no doubt they can stand up for themselves—but there is a precedent here. What discussions have taken place with Mr Speaker Bercow on that matter? In particular, can the Chairman of Committees assure us that negotiations are in hand to secure reciprocal rights? Can we be told when Secretaries of State from the other place will answer Questions in this Chamber? It has been difficult enough, as I know from my own experience, to get Secretaries of State to come to sub-committees of our European Union Committee; they usually prefer to send underlings. What steps can be taken to ensure that we can have that reciprocal right?
On a different matter, I wonder whether we can be sure that the circumstances and terms in which one of the current Ministers referred to, who is also First Secretary of State, comes to your Lordships’ House are quite as clear as the Chairman of Committees has implied. Can he confirm that all the oral questions to the First Secretary of State, whether tabled or supplementary, must relate purely and simply to his departmental responsibilities? In exchanges in your Lordships’ House on 16 October 1995, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, was anxious to establish the exact role and accountability to Parliament of the then First Secretary of State, the then Mr Michael Heseltine, who was also Deputy Prime Minister. If the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, is also de facto Deputy Prime Minister, can the Chairman of Committees explain what mechanism there is in this Parliament, at either end of the building, to question him on his role? Surely it is unprecedented that Ministers should take responsibility and not be accountable to Parliament.
My Lords, I support every word said by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. This is an important matter and it is important that this House gets it right. I want to add two points. On a simple matter, there will be many Members around the House who have not taken a detailed interest in the national policy statements that have been issued, mainly about energy, but also one on ports. I emphasise the points made by the noble Lord: the statements are at least four inches thick and are important and serious documents, which cannot possibly be scrutinised properly by this House in one debate in the Moses Room. I do not believe that having a further debate on a report back from the Moses Room in this Chamber would be satisfactory either. There has to be a process of scrutiny that allows noble Lords to get to grips with the content of these important statements.
During the debates that we had on the Planning Bill as it was going through the House, first there was the question of whether there should be parliamentary involvement in these statements at all. Some people said that they should be subject to a vote of approval, but the view that many of us took was that proper, detailed and expert scrutiny is more important than a symbolic vote of approval on the whole document. That is the argument that we put forward. I think that we now have to be true to what we said then and put into place a proper process of scrutiny by a Select Committee or some other means.
Secondly, the scrutiny was originally going to be only by the House of Commons. Led by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, who was supported by these Benches and Members from all round the House, this House insisted that its expertise—not just on the planning process but on the issues that will be discussed about energy, major transport schemes et cetera—has to be brought to bear on these documents in the national interest. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is absolutely right. I think that the Leader of the House, the Chairman of Committees and the usual channels have to think more about this very quickly so that we set in place the kind of process that the noble Lord and many of us want.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked me a series of detailed and quite hard questions on national policy statements, some of which are for me and some of which are obviously for the Government and the usual channels.
First, the noble Lord seemed to think that all six reports might be debated in one four-hour debate in Grand Committee. This is obviously a matter for the usual channels but my understanding is that there will not necessarily be a single debate; there could be more than one. However, that is a matter for the usual channels. It is perfectly true to say that amendments are not allowed in Grand Committee at the moment and there is no proposal to change that.
The noble Lord is entitled to his view of course, but business in this House is, and traditionally has been, arranged by the usual channels and I hope that, on the whole, the usual channels accommodate Members’ wishes. It certainly is not a matter for the Procedure Committee.
I was on the point of dealing with the subject of amendments in Grand Committee. It is certainly true to say that at present amendments are not allowed in Grand Committee. This is something that the Procedure Committee could look at in the future but the point is that, as I said in my opening remarks, a debate in Grand Committee is not at all necessarily the last word on the subject. As I said, a Motion can follow on the Floor of the House on which a vote can take place, and amendments can be tabled and so on. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked about setting up an ad hoc committee to look into the matter. It would be for the Liaison Committee to set up such a committee. Lastly, he asked me—again, this is probably more a question for the usual channels and the Government—
My Lords, I apologise for intervening but I think that the noble Lord has moved beyond the question of an ad hoc committee. Would it then be open to any Member of the House, presumably on a Motion before the House, to recommend that the matter be referred to an ad hoc committee as part of the process?
He is answering it.
Along with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I very much appreciate that the Chairman of Committees is doing his best, but he seems to be struggling a bit with this issue. I wonder whether the best thing for him to say is not that we should pass what is before us today but that the Procedure Committee will look at the issue again as a matter of urgency.
The Procedure Committee certainly could look at it again, but there is, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, some urgency in the process because all this has to be settled by 6 May. I have an assurance from the Leader of the House that time will be found to debate these national policy statements before the scrutiny period expires on 6 May next year. If that falls within a general election period, then of course that is something that I cannot deal with. I hope that that answers the question. If not, I shall study what the noble Lord said and attempt to come back with a more detailed response.
As I said in my original remarks, as far as the Procedure Committee is concerned this process relates to the four-hour debate in the Moses Room on the national policy statements. It does not affect or stop any of the other processes that take place as a result of the 2008 Act. I hope that that deals with that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, asked me about Questions to Secretaries of State. I am aware that some Members of Parliament—indeed, the Speaker of the House of Commons—have expressed a wish that Secretaries of State in this House should be available to answer Questions either in Westminster Hall or in the Commons Chamber. Some noble Lords might have an equally strong desire to have a chance to ask Questions of Commons Ministers in this Chamber.
We have yet to receive a firm proposal from another place, although I know that the Lord Speaker has spoken to the Speaker of the House of Commons on the subject. If we do, we will consider it, but we are not yet at that stage. The proposal at the moment is that the two departmental Secretaries of State should answer Questions in this House on their departmental responsibilities—as far as I can see, that means the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on transport and the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, on almost everything else.
Reference was made to 6 May. If there is to be a general election on 6 May, which seems to be the favourite date so far, there will have to be dissolution by 6 April. Once dissolution takes place, presumably all proceedings in this House and the other place will cease, because it will be the end of the Parliament. Would the noble Lord like to comment on that?
I have already said that I cannot comment on when there might be a general election and what might happen to these national policy statements if there were. If there were a change of government, the new Government might not wish to pursue the statements. I am just saying what will happen in the immediate process, which is that they will be debated in Grand Committee. I hope that that satisfies noble Lords.
Procedure Committee: First Report
Motion to Agree
Consolidated Fund Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, endorsed as a money Bill, and read a first time.
My Lords, I am deeply proud and privileged to introduce the Equality Bill to this House. A standard accusation against Governments who have been in office for some time, of whatever political persuasion, is that they have run out of ideas, run out of proposals and run out of steam. This Bill clearly shows how wrong that is in the case of this Government; this is a radical Bill, a Bill brimming with ideas, a Bill with measures for the benefit of people across the United Kingdom. It is a Bill this Labour Government are proud to bring forward.
Before I discuss the Bill, I would like to pay tribute to the person who has done most to bring this Bill about. This Bill simply would not exist without the drive and determination of my right honourable friend, the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman. At a time of extraordinary difficulty for the other place, my right honourable friend has, with a single-mindedness of purpose and an astonishing degree of commitment to the ambitions and ideas that the Bill encompasses, and to the people whom the Bill will manifestly help, fought to bring this Bill to this House. I commend and thank her and my right honourable friend the Solicitor-General, who has so ably supported her for all that she has done for this Bill and the cause of equality.
In this House, I will lead the ministerial team on the Bill, supported by the Attorney-General, my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, and by my noble friends Lady Thornton and Lady Crawley. I look forward to the debates we are to have. I also thank very much many Members across the House, including the Front Benches of the parties opposite, key Cross-Bench Peers and my own noble friends for the constructive discussions we have had on the Bill and the issues involved in it before it reached the Floor of this House.
I want to do three things in my opening remarks to this Second Reading on the Equality Bill: I want to set out the Government’s case for the Bill; to lay out the broad structure of the Bill; and to detail some key issues in the Bill.
This country and, indeed, the party on these Benches have a proud record of legislation against discrimination. In the 1960s, we legislated against race discrimination; in the 1970s, against sex discrimination and for equal pay; in the 1990s, against disability discrimination; and, in the early part of this decade, we had legislation protecting against discrimination at work because of age, religion, belief and sexual orientation, first at work, and then in the provision of services and the exercise of public functions.
That range of legislation over 40 years has inevitably resulted in a legislative structure that is complex, inconsistent and often difficult to understand. For instance, different protections apply to different personal characteristics and different rules and tests apply to quite basic concepts—for example, the Race Relations Act contains two separate definitions of indirect discrimination. Although we are confident that our legislation properly transposes the relevant EU directives, its implementation has often resulted in subtly different provisions in the same areas of activity, depending on whether or not European law applies. That is because in many cases our domestic legislation preceded equality legislation in Europe and influenced its content, but the legal effect is not identical so a kind of retrofitting has been necessary in many areas. A major policy intention of this Bill is to harmonise and bring together all the existing equality legislation in one place: nine major pieces of legislation and various subsidiary instruments.
The Government believe that this will make the legislation much more accessible and straightforward. As a result, it will be easier for employers and service providers to understand and comply with their responsibilities and employees and customers will be more aware of their rights. We expect that more straightforward law will also enable the Equality and Human Rights Commission to draw up simpler practical guidance. The commission is starting out on this process even now. I would also like to draw the attention of noble Lords to the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, which have been drafted in a way that is intended to bring out as clearly as possible the effect of the various provisions, using practical examples to illustrate what the law will mean in practice.
If the Bill only consolidated the law, that would be beneficial but it goes much further than simply bringing together the existing law. It also strengthens it in ways that will benefit very many people. We need to strengthen the law because, despite the progress made in combating discrimination, inequality still persists. We have inequality of pay between men and women, with the latest gender pay gap put at 22 per cent; if you are disabled, you are two and half times more likely to be out of work than a non-disabled person; there is a 15.5 per cent gap between the rate of employment of black and ethnic minority people and the average employment rate; and Muslims have the lowest employment rates of all religious groups, with only one in four Muslim women and three in five Muslim men aged 16 to 64 in employment. There are continuing instances of discrimination because of someone’s age; for example, a retailer assuming that older people are incapable of signing a contract without a younger person present to explain the details to them. One in five lesbian, gay or bisexual people has experienced homophobic bullying at work and nearly half of transgender or transsexual people do not use public, social or leisure facilities for fear of discrimination.
Good though our record has been, we need to do more. That is what the Bill before the House today does. The structure of the Bill is broadly as follows. Part 1 places a new duty on key public bodies to take account of socio-economic inequalities when making strategic decisions. Part 2 contains the key concepts on which the Bill is based: the protected characteristics such as age, disability, race etc; and definitions of prohibited conduct such as direct discrimination, dual discrimination, discrimination arising from disability, harassment and victimisation. Part 3 prohibits discrimination and other unlawful conduct in the provision of goods, facilities or services and the exercise of public functions. Part 4 prohibits discrimination and other unlawful conduct in connection with premises. That would typically relate to landlord/tenant situations. Part 5 prohibits discrimination at work. It also contains the Bill’s main provisions on equal pay as well as on publishing gender pay-gap information and making pay secrecy clauses ineffective.
Part 6 prohibits discrimination in education. Most of these provisions simply carry forward existing legislation. Part 7 prohibits discrimination in clubs and associations, including political parties. The Bill extends protection against discrimination in mixed clubs, for example of men and women. In such cases, it will not be lawful to treat some members less favourably than others, but the Bill does not abolish single-sex clubs or other clubs for people with a shared characteristic —for example, the Women’s Institute, gay clubs or clubs for people of a particular race or religion.
Part 8 prohibits other forms of conduct, including helping someone or instructing someone to discriminate. These provisions are mostly carried over from existing legislation. Part 9 covers enforcement by courts and tribunals, including the wider power to make recommendations. Part 10 is about discriminatory terms in contracts and collective agreements. Again, these provisions are basically carried over from existing legislation. Part 11 sets out the public sector equality duty and contains provisions on positive action. Part 12 is about disability and transport. This is, I think, the Lady Chapman memorial part. It covers taxis, private hire vehicles, buses and rail vehicles. Its main effect is to make such means of transport accessible to disabled people. These provisions are also mostly carried over from existing provisions in the Disability Discrimination Act. Part 13 contains additional provisions about reasonable adjustments for disabled people in premises. Part 14 includes general exemptions. Noble Lords should note that the schedules deal with exceptions and reasonable adjustments in the various fields such as work, services, education and premises. Finally, Part 15 provides a number of general powers, including a power to harmonise the Act in future with measures required under future EU legislation.
I now turn to those issues within the structure of the Bill which seem likely to be the main areas of interest. Essentially, these are all measures to strengthen the current legislation. I begin with the new socio-economic duty in Clause 1. This duty is about ensuring that public bodies systematically and strategically take account of people who are poor and disadvantaged when they are making fundamental policy decisions. It is not intended to be a magic bullet that will do everything, but we believe that it will help, when combined with other measures that the Government have taken and are taking to help narrow the gap between rich and poor. I am pleased to say that the Bill was amended on Report in the other House so that this duty now also applies to Scottish as well as Welsh and English bodies.
On age, the Bill prohibits, for the first time, age discrimination in the provision of goods and services and the exercise of public functions. The relevant clauses are Clauses 4, 28 and 195. Even at the time of the Equality Bill 2005 there were calls for this to be done, and of course the Government are aware of the ever-increasing proportion of older people in the population and the need to ensure that they are treated fairly. The Bill provides this new protection which will ensure that people are not treated unfairly because of their age—for example, in receiving financial services, or in health and social care. Of course, we do not want to wipe out age-related concessions, rules and benefits that cause no harm—for example, free TV licences for the over-75s, winter fuel allowances for pensioners or free bus passes. All these things will continue and the Bill contains a power to make appropriate exceptions by means of secondary legislation. The Government have already sought views about exceptions that might be made.
The Bill also contains an expanded and integrated public sector equality duty. The relevant clauses are Clauses 148 to 156. We currently have three equality duties requiring public bodies to have due regard, when carrying out their functions, to the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different groups in relation to race, gender and disability, but these three duties are all slightly different and, consequently, public bodies have to meet different requirements that do not match up with each other. The Bill strengthens the law by bringing them all together and expanding them to cover, in addition, sexual orientation, age and religion and belief, and to apply fully to gender reassignment. This duty is all about providing better all-round services to the community and all its diverse members. It is not about favouring certain groups over others. I believe that this equality duty will be one of the most effective ways of combating institutional discrimination and putting the public sector at the forefront of efforts to secure equality.
On procurement, Clause 154 will ensure that public bodies use public procurement to contribute to the delivery of their equality objectives. Currently, public spending on goods and services, often in the private sector, amounts to around £220 billion per year. It seems only right to expect that this significant amount is used in a way that supports these broader social objectives.
On pay, the Bill contains important provisions that are designed to increase pay transparency. Nearly 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, we still have a gender pay gap. The Government believe that unless you can see a problem, it is impossible to tackle it. That is the reason why the Bill, in Clause 78, contains a power to require employers with 250 or more employees to publish gender pay gap information. The Government intend in any event to use their specific powers under the public sector equality duty to require public bodies with 150 employees or more to publish such information, not only about their gender pay gap but about the proportion of their staff who are from ethnic minority communities and the proportion of their staff who are disabled. The Government intend to bring in these requirements for the public sector from 2011.
For the private and voluntary sectors, which account for 80 per cent of employment in this country, the Government have said that the intention is first to encourage voluntary publication of gender pay gap information by the larger employers who would fall within the ambit of the power. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has been working with the CBI and the TUC on a methodology for collating and publishing the figures, and I am hopeful that agreement may be reached on this issue. However, if sufficient progress on publishing is not made by these private and voluntary sector employers by 2013, the Government have made clear that they will use this power to require such transparency. We believe that gender pay gap publishing will be a significant step towards reducing the gender pay gap. Women who want to join a business or public organisation have a legitimate interest in knowing whether their potential employer has a gender pay gap, and prospective employers will need to take note if they want to attract the best talent.
Also on transparency, the Bill makes clauses in employment contracts unenforceable if they stop people discussing their pay with colleagues. The Equal Opportunities Commission found in 2004 that 22 per cent of employers imposed employment contracts with such restrictions. This is not a means of requiring employees to broadcast their earnings to one and all but a sensible measure to help an individual find out what he or she is being paid compared with someone who is doing similar work, and to bring an equal pay claim if necessary.
On positive action, there are existing positive action provisions in current legislation, but these apply to different protected characteristics in different ways. The Bill extends what action is possible and covers all the protected characteristics in Clause 157. The Bill also extends the scope for positive action by employers when deciding whom to recruit or promote, at Clause 158.
Most of the attention has focused on Clause 158, which allows employers to appoint a member of a disadvantaged or under-represented group where they are as suitable for the job as somebody else. This provision has been much misrepresented by some sections of the press as a means of favouring women over men in job applications regardless of merit, for example. That is not the case at all. There is no automatic favouring of a person with a particular characteristic over anyone else. Instead, the purpose of this provision is very much to encourage employers to make the most of a diverse workforce.
As well as simplifying the existing provisions allowing training and encouragement of under-represented groups, Clause 158 itself allows, but does not compel, employers to recruit a person from an under-represented group in their workforce when choosing between otherwise equal candidates for recruitment or promotion. Take the example of a primary school wishing to recruit. We all know that there is a relatively low proportion of male teachers in primary schools, and we all also know that it is good to have male teachers as role models for young boys. If a primary school had two or more candidates as qualified as each other for a post and one of them was male, the school could choose him on the basis of making its workforce more diverse, without the risk of a challenge. I acknowledge that there have been some misunderstandings about what this provision does, but it is in fact a very sensible, and in some ways quite modest, provision which reflects developments in European case law in this area.
The Bill also provides stronger provisions on enforcement, in Clause 123. It will enable employment tribunals to make recommendations, in a wider range of discrimination cases that benefit the whole workforce and not just the victim of discrimination. Tribunals can already make recommendations, but currently only in relation to the individual who has brought the discrimination case. In 70 per cent of cases, that person will have left the firm with which he or she has been in dispute, so no recommendation can be made. That leaves a rather unsatisfactory state of affairs. On the one hand, the rest of the workforce may face continuing discrimination and, on the other, the employer may face further claims. The ability to make recommendations means that lessons can be learnt from the case and unfair practices can be addressed. As a result, they could help to lessen the likelihood of future cases. Recommendations will not be directly enforceable but may be taken into account in subsequent relevant cases. I believe that this is a sensible and proportionate measure all round.
The Bill will have an important effect, through its definitions of direct discrimination and harassment, of providing protection for those who, while themselves not possessing a protected characteristic, are associated with someone who does—for example, by being a carer. That reflects the recent so-called Coleman case of a mother of a disabled child who claimed protection under the relevant EU directive on the basis that while she was not disabled she was associated with a person who was. The European Court of Justice agreed that the relevant directive applies in such cases and the Bill has been drafted to deliver that protection. We have gone slightly beyond implementing the court’s judgment. In practice, the Bill will protect carers who look after, for example, elderly people as well as disabled people against direct discrimination or harassment by their employer or a service provider.
The Bill will provide a new protection, Clause 14, against discrimination because of a combination of two characteristics, which we call “dual discrimination”. The Government identified a gap in the existing law, where, for example, a black woman may face a type of discrimination because of her race and sex combined, which a white woman or a black man does not. People will still be able to bring claims based on a single characteristic—the new clause does not prevent that—but the Bill will close a gap by also providing protection against dual discrimination. In this way, it will provide additional protection for people who face discrimination and disadvantage because of stereotypical attitudes or prejudice when, at the moment, it can be difficult or impossible for people to get the remedy that they need. It is important to note that protection against dual discrimination does not limit in any way the number of claims that could be made on individual grounds. Any of seven protected characteristics can be combined to form the claim of dual discrimination.
The Bill makes important improvements in protection for disabled people. In the other House, a new Clause 60 was added to deter employers from inappropriate use of “pre-employment questions” about disability. This amendment, like a number of others already mentioned, was directly in response to concerns raised during scrutiny in the other House; that is, employers were unfairly screening out disabled people right at the start of the application process, without giving them a chance to compete fairly.
A further improvement in disability protection is Clause 15, which is intended to restore the protection for disabled people that was provided prior to the Malcolm judgment. Disabled people should be protected not just because of their disability itself but also because of something arising as a consequence of their disability. For example, a pub landlady might refuse to serve a man who has had a stroke, as she thinks he is drunk because of the way in which he speaks. He is not refused service because he has had a stroke, but because he has slurred speech, which is something arising as a consequence of his disability.
Finally, the Bill requires landlords to make reasonable disability-related changes to shared areas in residential premises, such as entrance lobbies, when they get a request from a disabled tenant or occupier—Clauses 36 and 37, and Schedule 21. Such changes would be at the expense of the requester.
I should like briefly to deal with some of the myths about this Bill. It will not force gay youth workers on the churches; it will not abolish Christmas; it will not force employers to employ black women; it will not do middle-aged white men out of a job; it will not ban the wearing or display of religious symbols; it will not force councils to support gay clubs; and it will not provide tax-free breaks for scientologists.
One further accusation has been levelled; that the Bill has not received sufficient scrutiny before coming to this place. I have to disagree, although I can see that noble Lords opposite disagree with me. The Bill was scrutinised and reported on by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Ministers gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee which reported on the Bill and to which the Government responded. The Public Bill Committee held four evidence sessions with around two dozen representatives and a wide range of stakeholders. It also interviewed Ministers. The committee then scrutinised the Bill for a further 38 hours, discussing more than 300 amendments. The Bill then had its Report stage which lasted a further five and half hours. This is considerable scrutiny, and rightly so, because this is an important Bill which consolidates and simplifies a mass of legislation. It is a Bill with real benefits, not just for a particular group for whom equality legislation can be a vital resolution of difficulties facing them, but for the population of the country as a whole in areas like extending provisions against discrimination on grounds of age.
I look forward to future debates on this Bill in your Lordships’ House, not least because I recognise and pay tribute to the huge expertise and knowledge that exist on all sides of the House on the subject. I look forward to engaging with that expertise and to learning from it. This is a Bill with considerable ambition and wide potential benefits that will have a real impact on people’s lives. It is a Bill which, I believe, will command widespread support. I beg to move.
My Lords, what a pleasure it is to stand up today and welcome this Bill to your Lordships’ House. On a personal level, it is a privilege to be leading these Benches, supported on the Front Bench by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral. I am proud that we have a better gender balance on our team than the Government have. This is an area of law which I have been involved in for most of my life, and around the Chamber I see noble Lords with much experience and expertise which should ensure a detailed and lively debate.
I am sure I am not the only one who feels that the Bill has been a long time coming. We first heard of the Government’s intentions to bring in a single Equality Bill in their 2005 manifesto. We then waited until June 2008 for Harriet Harman to outline the Bill in the Commons, and until March 2009 for the Bill to be published. It will only be in 2010, at the sad end of a Government on their last legs, that we can hope to see a single Equality Act. Nevertheless, let us hope that this long period of delay has served only to whet the appetites of noble Lords for the scrutiny and debate which such a large and complex Bill will necessarily require, and in which your Lordships’ House is so effective. I hope that the waiting has increased the anticipation and enthusiasm for the positive provisions which the Bill brings forward.
We are pleased, in particular, with the fact that the Bill will be used to consolidate the existing large amount of equality legislation. At the moment there are nine pieces of equality legislation, more than 100 regulations and more than 2,500 pages of guidance and codes of practice. It is of the utmost importance that if these pieces of legislation are to work and help improve the situation, both employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities. Legislation on the statute book is all very well but good intentions will come to nothing if they cannot be translated into action and protection in the wider world. We therefore support the simplification and consolidation, which is the main thrust and purpose of the Bill.
It is sadly the case that, even today, many people in Britain face discrimination because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age and background. Let me give a few short examples. According to figures from the Office for National Statistics on 12 November 2009, the mean pay gap between men’s and women’s average hourly wage for full-time work was still 12.2 per cent. We acknowledge that a lot of work has been done to reduce the gap but it remains far too high. Another example is shown by a recent survey by Rethink, the leading national mental health membership charity, carried out on more than 3,000 mental health service users. They found that half of respondents felt they had to hide their mental health problems and 41 per cent were put off even applying for jobs because of fear of discrimination from employers. There must be real action to bring this and other forms of inequality prevalent in our society to an end. We therefore look forward, as we have for some time, to working closely with the Government to help the Bill on to the statute book.
I have already spoken about our support for the consolidation that the Bill will effect. We also support the major extension that the Bill introduces; namely, outlawing age discrimination. We support those clauses so long as—I am sure that the Minister will agree with us—legitimate businesses are still protected. As we move forward into Committee we shall look for reassurances which I hope the Minister will be able to give.
There are parts of the Bill, however, with which we are disappointed. Despite the extremely long time that the Government have had to hone and perfect it, we are still looking at a piece of legislation that represents, for many who were hoping for a great Equality Act, a missed opportunity. Despite the fanfare from the Government, who claim to want true equality, meritocracy and fairness, we are concerned that the Bill will not address the real issues and root causes of these problems.
The Minister for Women and Equality trumpeted the Bill’s arrival in another place by saying that it was,
“a good, timely and strong Bill that will make our country a fairer and more prosperous place for all its people”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/5/09; col. 564.]
All would, I think, agree with her here. However, it is unfortunately true that this is very easily said but less easily carried out. We on these Benches think that it is important to ensure that there are real outcomes. We are not satisfied with impressive rhetoric and good intentions backed up only with empty promises. One cannot simply legislate for equality; the merits of a responsible Government's intentions can only really stand on their results. We are worried that some of the Bill’s proposals will once again merely represent expensive box-ticking and bureaucratic processes that, however well intentioned, will cost much but achieve little.
The Government’s proposals to deal with the gender pay gap, for example, would enable Ministers to make regulations requiring all private and voluntary sector firms employing more than 250 people to report their gender pay gap figures and to face possible fines of £5,000 for failing to do so. We are worried that this blanket approach, restricted not just to businesses found guilty at a tribunal, will place a large burden of cost and bureaucracy on businesses at a time when they need the most help. Furthermore, we are concerned that it will not do enough to address the problems at the heart of the issue.
We see now that the Government have conceded that implementing these proposals might be costly, bureaucratic and difficult. There is some speculation that we might see proposals limiting the application of the regulations to companies with more than 500 workers rather than the original 250. I look to the Government for clarification. We are delighted that they appear to have taken on board some of our concerns and recognised the potential difficulties in their proposals.
Nevertheless, the strategy of simply raising the threshold for gender pay gap audits does not seem the obvious solution. Are the Government suggesting that the size of the company correlates with the size of the gender pay gap? If so, can they produce any evidence of it? Further, we see once again that the date for publication of the metrics has been pushed back. Can the Government confirm that we will see the metrics in January before we enter Committee?
In other areas we can see no real proposals for change but just, sadly, political game playing. Part 1 introduces a socio-economic duty on specific public bodies to take into account how their decisions might help reduce the inequalities associated with socio-economic disadvantage. In Committee in another place, the Government defended the fact that this proposal was tacked on to the Bill at the last minute by saying that,
“it is not the solution; of course it is not, because the problem is entrenched and difficult. However, what is the harm of it?”.—[Official Report, Commons, Equality Bill Committee, 21/9/09; col. 130.]
Let me repeat that. The Solicitor-General defended this section of the Bill on grounds no stronger than that there would not be any harm in it. This is not the way to create legislation. It creates headlines and little else. We therefore cannot support it.
We also feel that the socio-economic duty risks placing potentially onerous duties on public bodies for very little return. The Government have lumped together discrimination on the basis of socio-economic disadvantage and the disadvantage itself as the same problem. They are not the same. For a failing Government nearing the end of a Parliament, that is perhaps unsurprising, as it is far easier to legislate for cutting back the weeds of some forms of socio-economic discrimination than it is to attempt to pull out the root causes of disadvantage. But surely the Minister must acknowledge that it is only through the latter that we can really hope to provide any form of real and lasting solution to this problem.
There are also areas within the consolidated sections which we will hope to concentrate on and assess fully. We will hope to look at the Government’s attitude to exemptions for roles within organised religion. Without going into too much detail now, there are concerns that paragraph 2(8) of Schedule 9 does not transfer provisions that were already enacted but narrows them in a way that was never intended. We will seek reassurances, in this area and others, that the Government are not changing the law where it only intended to consolidate.
I look forward to leading these Benches as we debate these issues and others in Committee in January, and I hope very much that the Government will approach the Bill in the same spirit as we are. It is crucial that the Bill leaves this House with real improvements that will bring about real improvements in people’s lives.
I am concerned by the delay in the Bill to date—while the Government have allegedly been perfecting it—as I am by the lack of adequate time for scrutiny in another place, where only one day was set aside for both Report and Third Reading. The majority of amendments were not debated before the Bill came to your Lordships’ House. The Minister will be aware of the number of complaints regarding procedure. This culminated in Mr Douglas Hogg’s reminder about the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that when so much of a Bill has not been debated, a certificate should be sent to the other place identifying the parts that have not been properly debated or even debated at all. Can the Minister inform us whether any such certificate has been received, and if so, whether it will be circulated? We need sufficient time for effective scrutiny, attention to detail and analysis. All are keen to see this Bill on the statute book, but why have the Government left their flagship Bill until the last possible moment? Surely they can see that the way in which they have chosen to bring forward the Bill will make it more difficult to achieve a properly scrutinised Equality Act.
I am sure I speak for all of us when I say that we hope that the Government are ready to rise to the challenge and to work closely with us in ensuring that we get an Equality Act in 2010. However, I must say that we cannot support legislation simply for the sake of making the Government feel better or look good. We want to make sure that the Equality Bill lives up to the hype and that it is worth the wait for real people with legitimate concerns. We will therefore have little patience with any parts of the Bill that demonstrate only a political point or the maxim of “where is the harm in it?”. Instead we want real, practical and helpful legislation that addresses the root causes of problems and provides solutions for suffering people. There is little appetite for legislation that professes to fix all problems but in reality addresses few. Our role in this House must be to make sure that this legislation lives up to the fanfare and the years of waiting, so that we have an Equality Act of which we can be proud and which is not a missed opportunity. We on these Benches look forward to ensuring that that is the case.
My Lords, we are very grateful to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for her full explanation in her important and impressive speech. As I made clear in the debate on the humble Address, we warmly welcome the Bill. It is a long-standing and core objective of the Liberal Democrats to promote equality of opportunity on the basis of individual worth and merit and to combat unjustifiable discrimination wherever it exists. We hope that our scrutiny of the Bill will help to ensure that effective measures are put in place to eliminate discrimination—measures which are not bureaucratic or opaque and which address real problems and achieve tangible benefits for all. We hope that such measures will ensure that the benefits outweigh the burdens that any legislation necessarily imposes.
We welcome the Bill as an important practical measure to rationalise the existing mass of discrimination legislation and to strengthen and improve the law as it stands for the benefit of everyone. We are glad that the Official Opposition also support the Bill. Our colleagues Lynne Featherstone MP and Dr Evan Harris MP sought in the other place to improve the Bill and to remove some of its blemishes but obtained hardly any concessions. We shall look to the Government to be more open-minded during the Bill’s passage through this House.
For our part, we will seek to avoid tabling unnecessary amendments or to prolong discussion. If the Bill is to pass before the general election, there will be a need for unusual discipline on all sides, including my own. We will help to ensure that the Bill completes its passage in this House with all deliberate speed. Some improvements are needed. We have already raised many of our concerns with Ministers and their advisers and we are grateful to them for being readily available and willing to reflect on them. Ministers are very fortunate to have such an outstandingly able public Bill team.
The Bill has taken far too long to be conceived and its birth pangs have been painful, in part because of the hostility of some Ministers in representing what they regard as the best interests of commerce and industry. The politics of business have led to some weaknesses in the Bill, which we will seek to remove, notably in tackling the serious and persistent problem of unequal pay for women. Where the pay gap is caused by direct or indirect sex discrimination, some of the provisions on equal pay are incompatible with EU legislation and our own case law, notably in defining the comparisons that may be made and the scope of the employer’s defence.
It is in the interests of employers and workers to take positive action to eliminate sex discrimination in the workplace, including discrimination in pay, and to have efficient procedures for dealing with discrimination cases in the tribunals. Too many employers prefer to leave the problems to be addressed, if at all, in individual legal proceedings and are hostile to collective remedies and positive duties that are designed to give systemic remedies for systemic discriminatory practices. Such discrimination wastes the talent and ability of its victims. It is unjust and bad for the economy. If left unattended, it results in the accumulation of problems that eventually have to be remedied at huge cost to the rest of us.
The problem arises not only in the public sector. It is more than 20 years since the Law Lords’ decision in Hayward v Cammell Laird, in which I appeared as counsel for Julie Hayward. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goff of Chieveley, warned employers and trade unions then of what he described as the absolute need to ensure that the pay structures for various groups of employees include no element of sex discrimination, direct or indirect.
Unfortunately, the Bill’s provisions on equal pay are weak and ineffectual. Given the failure of employers to implement the principle of equal pay for women for so many years, it is not sufficient to rely on a future obligation for only very large employers to introduce transparency into the workplace to help to address the differences in pay between women and men. We should give incentives to employers to carry out proper job evaluations and to work to eliminate sex discrimination in pay, rather than relying only on the possibility of more transparency and the threat of litigation to promote equal pay for women.
Political tactics have led to the inclusion of some provisions that should not be in the Bill, notably, in Part 1, a public sector duty on socio-economic inequalities that would, as we have heard, compel public authorities when deciding how to exercise their manifold functions to,
“have due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage”,
taking account of any guidance issued by a Minister of the Crown. This so-called duty is a vague and unworkable exercise in political window-dressing that attempts to suggest that Labour alone is concerned to reduce socio-economic inequalities. The breach of this duty would not give rise to a cause of action in private law, but its presence in the Bill could give rise to politically motivated attempts to use judicial review to challenge a wide range of decisions by already overburdened public authorities, diverting energy and attention from the serious problems of discrimination, victimisation and harassment that the Bill is designed to tackle. Therefore, like the Official Opposition, we cannot support Part 1 of the Bill.
Another example of a vague, unworkable and, in this case, dangerously divisive provision is the way in which religion and belief have been included in the public sector equality duty in Clause 148. It would oblige a public authority, in the exercise of its functions, to have due regard not only to the need to,
“eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation”,
“foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it”—
that is, the characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage, civil partnership, race, religion, belief, sex and sexual orientation. Clause 148 treats each strand in exactly the same way. However, religion and belief are not the same and should not be treated as identical.
Religion and belief are not about immutable characteristics such as age, disability, race, gender and sexual orientation. They are about matters of faith—or lack of it—and the practices of those who share a particular faith. One person’s faith may be another person’s blasphemy. Even within the Christian churches, passionate differences are not unknown. There are conflicts between the right to religious freedom and the right to be protected against sexual orientation discrimination. The place of religion in public policy is disputed by many in our plural, secular society.
Clause 148(3) explains:
“Having due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic”—
that is, religion or belief—
“and persons who do not … involves having due regard, in particular”,
to their needs. These provisions are unworkable and divisive. Clause 10 explains:
“Religion means any religion and a reference to religion includes a reference to a lack of religion … Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and … includes a reference to a lack of belief”.
The Bill quite properly does not define religion, which includes new as well as traditional religions and their different sects.
I know of no cogent and compelling evidence to show that these provisions are needed to tackle a serious social problem. I do not understand how a public authority can be expected to operate these provisions or how they will be protected against unreasonable and well publicised claims and criticisms by those dissatisfied with policies and practices. The quarrels within and about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre will be insignificant compared with what may happen if the Bill is not amended. How can it be appropriate and compatible with equality and freedom of religion for a public authority to have to take account of the needs of Muslims compared with Jews or Christians, or of Muslim women compared with Sikh or Hindu women, or of atheists, agnostics and humanists compared with believers in a theistic religion, or a non-theistic religion such as Buddhism, or followers of a new religion such as Scientology? These are examples of legislative overreach and I hope that the Government will agree to prune Clause 148 where it is overinclusive.
There is also the problem of the potentially adverse impact of Clause 148 and other provisions on the editorial independence and freedom of expression of broadcasters, such as the BBC and Channel 4. They have drawn the problem to the Government’s attention and we seek an assurance that appropriate amendments will be introduced to deal with this.
There are also examples where the Bill is underinclusive. It fails to cover homophobic bullying in schools, except where it amounts to discrimination rather than harassment. I hope that the Minister will explain exactly how the Bill and other measures will tackle this serious problem effectively. We need to be sure that the Bill will ensure that those responsible for our schools are required to stop homophobic bullying, to take measures against the bullies and to ensure that the victims have effective remedies.
The Bill provides no remedy where a school discriminates against a teenage girl who becomes pregnant, even though it is clear that European convention law requires a remedy to be provided for discrimination against pupils in schools. I have written to the Solicitor-General about this and we hope for a positive reply from the Minister this evening.
The right to equality between spouses is a fundamental right protected by Protocol 7 to the European Convention on Human Rights. Forty-six countries have signed that protocol and 42 have ratified it. The UK has not done so, but it committed to doing so in the 1997 White Paper, Rights Brought Home, and has reiterated the commitment subsequently. Before the UK can do that, Parliament has to abolish or amend family law provisions incompatible with the right to equality between spouses. I have listed these in a Question for Written Answer published yesterday. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government will introduce appropriate amendments in the Bill together with amendments to equalise the position of civil partners in respect of housekeeping allowances.
On racial discrimination, I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that the reference to race in Clause 9 should be interpreted and applied in accordance with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, by which the UK is internationally bound. On age discrimination, we hope that the Government will ensure that the outmoded default retirement age of 65 is abolished during what remains of the lifetime of this Parliament. As for disability discrimination, we need to be satisfied that the Bill involves a progressive approach, as it probably does.
On the interaction between religion and sexual orientation discrimination, we have concerns about the exemption permitting discrimination in state-maintained faith schools beyond what is permitted for charities and businesses where the principle of proportionality applies. The European Commission has given two recent opinions that UK equality legislation does not give sufficient protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and disability. I have asked the Government to make those publicly available so that they may be considered by the House in our debates on the Bill.
Provision is needed on positive action, as the Minister explained, because promoting equality may require more than treating different individuals in the same way as each other and may require the accommodation of difference. The need to take steps to correct conditions of disadvantage that arise from discrimination may require taking special measures of general application. I stated those principles in my own Equality Bill, which I introduced as a Private Member’s Bill. We need to ensure that the measures for positive action are limited only to what is appropriate and necessary to meet legitimate aims in accordance with the principle of proportionality.
I have concentrated on areas in which we seek changes, but nothing that I have said should take away from the fact that we warmly welcome the Bill and will do our best to ensure that it is safely delivered.
Future Defence Programme
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Lance Corporal Adam Drane, of 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment and Acting Sergeant John Paxton Amer, of 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, who were killed on operations in Afghanistan recently.
With the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary. The Statement is as follows.
“I am announcing today changes to the defence programme which will enhance the support to our personnel on operations in Afghanistan, worth £900 million over the next three years, and reductions elsewhere to make these enhancements affordable and to match our expenditure against available resources. In doing so, I have made every effort to ensure that we balance the priority of supporting our forces in Afghanistan with our commitment to maintaining the capabilities necessary for the future, and that we do not take decisions on major changes that should properly be made in next year’s defence review.
As I have repeatedly said to the House, support to our operations in Afghanistan is our main effort. I saw for myself last week the contribution being made by our forces across Afghanistan, taking on the Taliban, and beginning to train and partner with the Afghan National Army. I pay tribute to their bravery, professionalism and dedication.
The defence budget has had the longest period of sustained real growth since the 1980s; it is now £35.4 billion, more than 10 per cent more in real terms than in 1997. As the Chancellor confirmed in the Pre-Budget Report last week, not a single penny is being cut from the defence budget in 2010-11. But despite this significant investment, acute cost pressures remain. There are a number of reasons for this, including rising fuel and utility costs, increases in pay and pensions, and above all cost growth in the equipment programme. A number of major projects, while providing superb military capability, have cost more than twice their initial estimate in real terms.
All this presents us with a significant challenge, both in this financial year and as we look forward. The NAO’s Major Projects Report, published today, describes the result of these pressures. Going forward, I am determined that defence takes action to deal with these pressures and to address the challenges head on. That is why we commissioned the hard-hitting Bernard Gray report, are taking steps now to implement his report, and are reforming defence acquisition better to match our priorities to our spending. Getting this right is critical. Tough choices are required, and we will be publishing the strategy in the new year that will provide a planning and management framework to produce an affordable equipment plan.
I am determined to ensure that those who put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf remain properly supported and resourced. Our priorities in Afghanistan are to provide the best levels of personal equipment and protection to meet the fast-changing threat, and to increase investment in key capabilities, including helicopter capability and our strategic airbridge.
I am therefore pleased to announce a number of capability enhancements to support our mission in Afghanistan. These are in addition to the operational costs paid for by the reserve, which continues to increase year on year, and has risen from £738 million in 2006-07, when we deployed to Helmand, to more than £3.7 billion this year. By the end of 2009-10, the reserve will have contributed more than £14 billion to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, including some £5.2 billion on urgent operational requirements.
However, my decision to fund these enhancements from the core defence programme reflects our determination to ensure that defence is supporting the current campaign and our belief that we expect such capabilities to feature in a range of future conflicts our forces may face. The enhancements total some £900 million over three years. They include: an improved dismounted close combat equipment package, making equipment such as state-of-the-art body armour and night-vision goggles available to 50 per cent more troops, so that they can train with them before deploying to Afghanistan; more Bowman tactical radios and patrol satellite systems to improve communications between troops and their commanders; an additional £80 million for communications facilities for our Special Forces; increased funding for our intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance—or ISTAR—capabilities, doubling REAPER capability, and, as the Prime Minister announced yesterday, further improvements to our counter-IED capabilities, particularly intelligence and analytical capability to target the networks. The enhancements also include an additional C-17 aircraft to strengthen the airbridge, and improvements to defensive aids suites and support arrangements for the Hercules C130J fleet to maximise its use. There will be 22 new Chinook helicopters, with the first 10 arriving during 2012-13, as set out in the Future Rotary Wing Strategy which I also announced today.
In addition to this package, the Treasury has signed off the latest funding from the reserve—more than £280 million—to support a range of additional equipment for Afghanistan. This includes more new vehicles, such as a 31 per cent increase in Husky tactical support vehicles and a 40 per cent increase in Jackal fire support vehicles to be deployed to Afghanistan, and additional equipment to combat the IED threat, including more than 400 hand-held detectors, robots, and other kit. This one-off package is on top of the resources already allocated for urgent operational requirements for this financial year and the protected mobility package that has previously been announced.
The pressures on the public finances mean that we need to prioritise carefully within our own resources. We need to make reductions in lower-priority areas to fund these enhancements and better to match the defence programme to available resources. This has meant stopping or slowing spending in other areas and pushing down hard on headquarters costs and overheads. Inevitably, these measures will have an impact on some capabilities but we judge that these are manageable.
We will continue to reduce the number of civilians working in the Ministry of Defence. We recognise the importance of the civilian workforce and the critical outputs it delivers. That is why at the Pre-Budget Report we announced an independent study into the shape and size of the civilian workforce, including the distribution of tasks between civilian and military personnel. This study will be undertaken by Gerry Grimstone and will inform the defence review. Without prejudicing its outcome, we would expect that we will be able to continue reducing the overall size of the civilian workforce, above the 45,000 reduction already made since 1997. This is not just about doing more with less. We will also need to make hard decisions about what we can stop doing, and how we can bear down on other costs.
The other key adjustments we are making to the current programme are as follows. In line with our current aspirations to reduce to two fast-jet types—the Typhoon and Joint Strike Fighter—we will pursue without delay the Typhoon future capability programme phase 2. This is fundamental to development of its multi-role capability and integration with the latest weapons. We will reduce now the size of our Harrier fast-jet force by one squadron, close RAF Cottesmore and consolidate the Harrier force at RAF Wittering. This will maintain our joint carrier-based combat air capability. We plan to reduce our Tornado and Harrier force by a further one or two squadrons. Decisions on the make-up of our future force will be taken in the defence review.
We intend to withdraw the Nimrod MR2 force 12 months early and slow the introduction of the MRA4 force. This will have an impact on our use of RAF Kinloss, but there is no change to our assumptions on the future basing of the MRA4 force at this stage. The decision to withdraw MR2 has been taken for financial reasons and is unconnected to the report by Mr Haddon-Cave into the circumstances that led to the tragic loss of Nimrod XV230 in Afghanistan. Mr Haddon-Cave was very clear in his report that the aircraft remains safe to fly. I will be making a further Statement to the House in respect of Mr Haddon-Cave’s report tomorrow.
We intend temporarily to reduce some aspects of Army training which are not required for current operations. We will also take one survey ship and one minehunter out of service early; cancel the current competition for unprotected utility vehicles and defer the programme for two years; and bring forward the planned reduction of some of the older maritime Lynx and Merlin Mark 1 aircraft, prior to the transition to the more capable Wildcat and Merlin Mark 2. We will spend less next year than previously planned on the wider defence estate but will continue to prioritise investment in both service family accommodation and single-living accommodation.
The measures I have set out will also have implications for service personnel numbers. The details have not yet been finalised, but the emphasis will be on prioritising our manpower for operations in Afghanistan. Changes will be targeted to avoid affecting personnel involved in current operations. Reductions in service personnel numbers will be managed mainly by slowing recruitment and releasing some personnel in accordance with their contracts. I appreciate that these changes will be difficult for many service and civilian personnel, their families and the communities in which they are based. I am fully aware of the consequences and will support those affected.
In making these choices, I have had to consider that the Government and the Opposition parties are committed to carrying out a defence review after the next election. The Green Paper, to be published early in the new year, will explain the Government’s vision of what that review should encompass. The measures reflect our stated priority of support for the Afghanistan campaign and continued investment in new capabilities with enduring military benefit.
This is a difficult balance to strike, but I am confident that we have got it right and that that will be demonstrated where it matters most—on the front line, where our brave service men and women, supported by MoD civilians, are fighting for the future of Afghanistan and the security of our country”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
We, too, on these Benches send our condolences to the family and friends of Lance Corporal Drane of the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment and Serjeant Amer of the 1st Battalion The Coldstream Guards.
I start by thanking the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement, although many noble Lords will have read much of it in today’s media. This morning Quentin Davies said on the BBC news that,
“the Tories have made it quite clear that they will cancel the carriers and the A400M”.
I want to make it absolutely clear that no member of the Opposition Front-Bench defence team has ever said that we will cancel the carriers or the A400M. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that the Government clearly understand the Opposition’s position. I know that we are close to a general election, but it is unacceptable that a defence Minister of the Crown should be peddling untruths like this for political gain. It is very damaging to the morale of our Armed Forces.
Turning to the Statement, the Government tell us that they have sought not to cut capabilities in advance of the SDR, but many people will see today’s Statement as a mini SDR in its own right. What will be the effect of the Pre-Budget Report on the MoD core budget, given that the Institute of Fiscal Studies has said that non-protected government departments, including defence, must bear cuts of 16 per cent over the three-year period of the PBR? We welcome the announcement of new Chinook helicopters but it would not have been necessary had the Prime Minister not, against all advice, cut £1.4 billion from the helicopter programme from 2004. Those Chinooks could have been on the front line today. Instead they will not be available until at least 2013 when, according to the Prime Minister, we will, I hope, have transferred overall responsibility to the Afghanistan national army.
Can I be absolutely clear that we are procuring a further 24 new Chinooks—that is 22, plus a further two to replace those destroyed in Afghanistan? What version will these new Chinooks be? Will they be the same as our mark 3s or will they be built to US army specifications? Can the noble Baroness confirm that they will be fully supported with the correct number of adequately trained pilots and maintenance staff?
In light of the NAO report and numerous other projects that have been delayed, what assurances can the Minister give the House that these Chinooks will not also be cut or delayed in arriving? How will our submarines be protected following the withdrawal of the Nimrod MR2 next spring? How will the requirement for long-range rescue and maritime reconnaissance be provided once the Nimrods are gone? Can the Minister confirm that the production timetable for the Astute submarines will not be slowed down? Do the Government intend to subscribe to the €5 billion cash call by EADS to fund the cost of the five-year delayed A400M?
We welcome the additional £80 million for communications facilities for the Special Forces, ISTAR and the doubling of Reaper capability, as well as a new C-17 to strengthen the air bridge, which is absolutely vital for the morale of our Armed Forces. To succeed in Afghanistan we must win the counter-IED fight, and I declare an interest as the honorary colonel of a TA regiment with a speciality in this field.
I therefore welcome the pledge of new money to cover the cost of 400 high-tech hand-held devices, which will help soldiers to find IEDs and allow the Army to set up a new analysis centre to scrutinise intelligence from the combat zone. Can the noble Baroness confirm that there will be no cut back in the training of soldiers to counter IEDs? Training of this sort is expensive and is therefore constantly a target for savings measures, but it is vital as our enemy is constantly adapting and has the ability to do so as fast, if not faster, than ourselves.
To enable these changes to happen there will have to be huge cuts across the board. Today the Prime Minister has blithely promised £1.5 billion to sign up to the Copenhagen climate change deal. However, despite the fact that we are fighting a very nasty war in Afghanistan, there is no new money for defence.
My Lords, first, I enjoin these Benches in the earlier tribute. I also thank the noble Baroness for her Christmas card which I received this morning.
Today’s Future Defence Programme Statement, heavily leaked, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, mentioned, and produced just before we rise, is yet another example of the spin and shambles which characterise this Government’s defence policy. The macro story is of a Government who have steadily reduced the spending on defence as a proportion of gross domestic product, have failed to carry out a defence review for over 10 years, and yet have involved our nation in two major and controversial conflicts.
We have had a Chancellor of the Exchequer and now Prime Minister with little interest in defence, who remained semi-detached from the war in Afghanistan until very recently. He now tells us that he has drawn “great confidence” from his recent Afghan visit. No doubt we should be reassured by that. However, I note more seriously the observation by David Richards, the Chief of the General Staff, in the Sunday Times on 6 December:
“I’d characterise what has happened over the last eight years as strategic failure”.
The Gray report on procurement, confirmed by the National Audit Office, discloses a massive underfunding of our current procurement programme. The MoD is effectively bankrupt. Knowing the state of its finances, how could the Government go ahead with our major new carriers, whatever their merits, without providing additional resources? It is rather like a family threatened by the bailiffs, the bank and numerous credit card companies, deciding that the right course of action is to order a new Rolls Royce.
Of course, like the noble Lord who spoke earlier, we welcome much in today’s Statement, particularly the 22 new Chinooks and the additional C17 to strengthen our overstretched transport fleet, and additional equipment to combat the IED threat. It is no good the Prime Minister now masquerading as Father Christmas in a flak jacket. The Government have been in power for 12 years. We have all been pleading for more helicopters for years. Why place the order for more Chinooks only now?
I ask the noble Baroness specifically what aspects of Army training will be temporarily reduced. Which areas of the defence estate will have less spent on them compared with what was previously planned? Will we not, once again, end up paying more in the long term? Approximately what number of RAF personnel will no longer be required following the base closure, the focus on just two fast jets, the Nimrod force changes and helicopter rationalisation?
Virtually all the announcements in today’s Statement should sensibly have been made after a defence review, not before it, aligning the review’s conclusions with appropriate funding. As with the recent volte face on Territorial Army training, this Government’s defence policy is all over the place, and the sooner we have a general election, the better.
My Lords, I start by welcoming the areas where there was some agreement. It is clear that the decision to have an extra 22 Chinook helicopters, together with the decisions on the C-17 and the extra investment in work against IEDs, which are of course very dangerous for our people in Afghanistan, have all been welcomed. It is important to remember the changing nature of the situation that we are facing on operations. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Astor, acknowledged that the enemy is adapting very quickly. That is one reason why we have to be responsive, why we have urgent operational requirements and why it is right that we step back from time to time and look at our equipment priorities. We are now trying to make sure that we concentrate our attention on areas where operations lessons have been learnt but where there are longer-term implications. None of us can say exactly what the future threats will be, but we know that we will have to be adaptable and flexible in all that we do. It is right that we learn those lessons and think ahead as we do so.
Perhaps I may pick up on what the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said about my colleague, the Minister with responsibility for defence equipment and support. I did not hear that particular radio interview but I am certainly aware that no single party has said that it will increase defence expenditure, although there have been rumours about what will and will not be cancelled by others. I should like this House, and indeed the other place, to have a very mature debate on what the priorities for defence should be and what equipment decisions should follow from that, as from many other decisions. That is one reason why it is very appropriate that we have a Green Paper in advance of the Strategic Defence Review, and I hope that we will be able to debate that in this House with those who have a genuine interest in exploring the future. The one thing that we do know is that the next threat will not be the same as the previous one: we are in a very fast-changing situation with globalisation and new challenges. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, mentioned money being spent on climate change, but there are of course security implications in climate change. Given the nature of the possible contributors, I hope that this House will look forward to having a non-political, mature and wise debate on that Green Paper in advance of any decisions made in the Strategic Defence Review.
I repeated in the Statement the spending that the Secretary of State announced when he made his Statement in another place. Defence expenditure is not being cut. So far as concerns defence expenditure, the Comprehensive Spending Review settlement stands—that is, £35.4 billion, which, as I said, is 10 per cent more in real terms than in 1997. The extra £14 billion that the Treasury has put in for operations since 2002 is an exceptional amount of money. It has been very important and shows a degree of commitment that perhaps belies the noble Lord’s description of the Chancellor, now the Prime Minister. He suggested that the Prime Minister was semi-detached. A Chancellor who allows that amount of spending from the reserve, and a Prime Minister who has overseen an increase in spending from the reserve, is hardly semi-detached. His weekend visit to the front line, which I understand is the first such visit by a Prime Minister for a very long time, shows a very high level of commitment.
The noble Lord, Lord Lee, asked how we could allow the carriers to go ahead. We allowed the carriers to go ahead because they allowed for a level of deployability that could perhaps not be matched in any other way, which was important.
The helicopter issue has been raised by both of the noble Lords. They do not think that the Ministers at the time plucked a cut in anticipated spending on helicopters out of the air. That was part of a review that was going on at that time about what was appropriate. Since that time we have had very significant changes and improvements in our helicopter capability; indeed, the number of platforms and the percentage increase in flying hours in Afghanistan have increased very dramatically in recent years. It is true to say that we are now spending more on helicopters than was anticipated in 2004 to 2005. We are consolidating four types of helicopters, which should improve our position in terms of support, maintenance and the training of pilots and all those required.
I was asked whether we would make sure that the Chinooks that we are buying off the shelf from the United States and then making adjustments to—the quickest way of obtaining them and making them deployable—would have adequately trained pilots and maintenance staff. Of course we need all of that back up. The improvements that we have been able to make in flying hours in Afghanistan have been precisely because we have invested in maintenance crews and the training of pilots. That is important and something that we can do.
In terms of Astute, we are looking at the production drumbeat. We are having a review of that with industry, which will be reporting in spring of next year, not least because of the practical difficulties that industry has been encountering. It is extremely important that we have a sustainable drumbeat that meets everybody’s needs.
In terms of A400M, we all know that this has been a very difficult and ambitious project. It should be a very good plane. We are very keen to have it, but we are not keen to have it at any price. We have to make sure that we can afford it and that it will deliver, in a timely way, some of the capacity that we believe we need.
I was asked whether we should be looking at training for the Army and where there might be cuts. The Statement itself says that the priority will be given to all training that is relevant to the operations in Afghanistan. Cuts will come on more routine exercises that are not pertinent to Afghanistan. In terms of the estate, I was asked where there we will be spending. We are giving priority to service family accommodation to Project SLAM. Office accommodation and things of that kind will be affected.
I am not in a position to say what the situation is in terms of RAF personnel. It is very early days. We will be happy to keep people posted. At the moment it is not possible to make proper estimates. I was asked whether it would be better if we were doing this after the defence review. The decisions that we have made, which have the support of the Chief of the Defence Staff and all the service chiefs, make sure that we do not take out any vital capability and that we do not in that way pre-empt the Strategic Defence Review. That has been one of the priorities in looking at this whole process. Therefore, we have made very balanced decisions.
My Lords, the noble Baroness asked for a mature debate. Does she recognise that the first mature point to make in the defence field is that if you are fighting a war, you do not take the cost of it out of the peacetime defence budget? She says that defence expenditure has not been cut, but if the war is not being funded fully out of the reserve then the defence budget is being cut, and that is precisely what is happening.
Although some of the items of equipment are welcome, and some are long overdue, we are in the eighth year of a war and the Government have just announced an order for new helicopters which, if we are lucky, we will receive in the 11th year of the war. So we face a very grave situation. The courage and bravery of our troops deserves a united and consistent approach to the challenges we face and a recognition that a war of this kind must be funded. I address merely the first Gulf War: not only was it funded out of the reserve, a number of the allies whose interests were supported by our activities helped to fund it as well. It certainly did not come out of a peacetime defence budget.
This is a most muddled Statement. It says that a number of decisions have been taken but also states,
“our belief that we expect such capabilities to feature in a range of future conflicts our forces may face”.
Is that not pre-empting a defence review? It is quite clear that such a review is now urgent, as are the earliest publication of the Green Paper and the earliest possible addressing of these issues. While the Government jump backwards and forwards between what may be our future capabilities and what are our urgent priorities, it does no service to the courage and bravery of our forces, who are facing a very difficult time.
My Lords, I recognise the expertise that the noble Lord brings to this debate, but I would remind him that the C17 and indeed the new helicopters that we have announced today are not just for Afghanistan; they will be used in any potential conflict. They will be part of the core defence equipment for a very long time. Therefore it is appropriate that some of this funding should, as has always been the case, come from the core budget. I also remind him that the Statement says that today the Treasury is giving another £280 million from the reserve for some of the extra items that he and others have welcomed. I return to a point that I made earlier: £14 billion from the Treasury in the past eight years is no mean amount of money by anybody's standards. It shows the very high level of commitment that everyone in government has in this regard.
The noble Lord asked for the earliest possible publication of the Green Paper. The work on that is very well advanced and a great deal of thought—including some outside consultation—has been given to what should go into it. It will deal with the broad issues of the nature of the threat and what we might have to face in the future. While I am not a business manager in this House, I would hope that we can find time for a debate so that all who want to contribute can have their voices heard.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Eighteen months ago, I asked the then Defence Secretary about the need for a defence review. He assured me that it was not then required. How wrong he was. What a pity that the work that should have been done on the SDR has not been done. Without that we now have these panic intentions to rein in current overspending in the MoD, really putting the cart before the horse. We should all welcome the new C17 and additional helicopters, which are clearly needed. But I must point out that all ground and naval forces can only fight effectively when their side has air superiority. Yet further major cutbacks are planned now for the fast jet force, which alone has the capability of fighting for and sustaining air superiority. The further reduction in the front line by a Harrier squadron and one or two Tornado squadrons must be seen against the earlier reductions of the whole of the Jaguar force and other Harrier and Tornado squadrons. Does today’s announcement mean that the Government have no intention or expectation of ever again having to confront an opponent equipped with offensive air power? They are dangerously arriving at a position where we could not sustain effective air power over our ground and naval forces.
I am glad that the noble and gallant Lord accepts the wisdom of buying the C17 and the helicopters. I recall what he said previously about the need for a Strategic Defence Review, as have others. I think that the timing of a Strategic Defence Review must always be difficult, particularly when you are in a conflict situation, but the approach that has been adopted, with a Green Paper in advance, which will allow for the more mature debate that I would like to see, is probably a very good way forward. On his questions about air superiority, I draw his attention to the fact that we have made a very clear commitment that we will have, in the medium to long term, two fast jets, namely Typhoon and the Joint Strike Fighter, both of which have an undoubted reputation and aspiration to be the best possible available. We announced today an upgrade of Typhoon’s attack capabilities, so I do not think that we are making ourselves vulnerable in the way that the noble and gallant Lord fears.
To what factors does the Government attribute the doubling of cost of certain important defence items to which the Minister referred in her Statement? Will the defence review investigate the potential cost savings of pooling more of our procurement of defence capability with our European allies?
Increased costs on specific defence projects can come about for a number of reasons, partly because some of the projects are extremely ambitious and it is not always clear at the beginning exactly what the end product will be, not least because the pace of change is so great. There are often many upgrades during the lifetime of a project, which might be over several years. The capability of the end product has often been significantly enhanced compared with what was originally envisaged.
As for pooling projects and working more with Europe, or indeed with other potential partners, there is scope for pooling projects, but it is not always easy. You have to have the same requirement as whoever you are working with, you have to have the same budgetary availability and you have to be working to the same timescale—that is assuming that there are no other difficulties involved. So far as Europe is concerned, there are some projects within the European Defence Agency that we are working on and that we think could help in, for example, certification of airworthiness, which could bring benefits across the board to a number of countries. On specific projects, it is often a lot more difficult than people think to get a proper alignment of the needs and requirements of all the countries involved, but this is something that we always look at, especially on some of the larger projects.
My Lords, I cannot remember the name, off the top of my head, of the one that is there. It is not “Endurance”; “Endurance” came back for other reasons. We are not envisaging reducing any key capabilities. There are other aspects of that work and we will make sure that we are covered in the area she suggests.
I visited Afghanistan in 2004—I went to Helmand province, Mazar, Kandahar, Herat; all kinds of different places—and wherever the British soldiers were, they were doing a very professional job. I pay tribute to them and to those who have been killed. Given the increased number of fatalities—I know that the Minister is talking about future defence; I am not asking her to prophesy whether there will be no more deaths, that is not what I am asking—can the Government, hand on heart, be certain that, in the present theatre of war in Afghanistan, all the necessary equipment is available and can be procured? During the Second World War our factories worked flat out to make sure that our forces were given the necessary equipment. In terms of the modern world, money needs to be made available now, not in the future. We may learn lessons for the future in Afghanistan, but I am worried about the number of fatalities. The future will happen, but can the Minister tell us whether we can be confident that in the immediate theatre of war in Afghanistan, our soldiers have what they need to do the job that they are doing?
My Lords, I thank the most reverend Primate for his comments. I am glad that he was able to visit Afghanistan. I know that a number of Members of this House have had that opportunity, which can lead to more informed debate and discussion and a greater understanding of the nature of the conflict. I am glad that he paid tribute to those who are working there and who have worked there in the past. It is right that we should do that on all occasions.
The most reverend Primate asked me if I can be certain that all the equipment that is required will always be available and can be produced. The analogy that he drew with the Second World War is a difficult one in these circumstances because, as I mentioned earlier, the pace of change and the changing aspects of the threat that we are facing are so great that we need constant upgrading, because—to quote the noble Lord again—the enemy are very adaptable. Indeed, they have assistance from different places and have information. They are not little old men in caves taking pot-shots at us, they have very sophisticated advice and information. The kind of equipment we need for Afghanistan is very often the kind of equipment that cannot be bought off the shelf. We have to buy a core capability, enhance it and provide all the extras to try to get the best security possible. It is never possible to be certain on any of these things that a new threat will not emerge, because that is what we have seen time and time again. What I can be certain of is the commitment of everybody in the Armed Forces, in the Ministry of Defence and in industry itself to do everything possible to keep ahead in countering the threat. However, we should not underestimate how difficult that can be.
My Lords, can the Minister say a bit more about intelligence, which was mentioned in the Statement? Does she agree that effective intelligence is an essential ingredient in support of the fighting forces? Can she say to what extent we are getting as much support as we would wish in intelligence material from Pakistan and from the relevant authorities in Afghanistan?
My Lords, it may be known that I chaired the Intelligence and Security Committee, as did the noble Lord, Lord King. Anyone who has held that position would confirm the absolute importance of intelligence and would always want to see that getting a high priority. We talk about Reaper in the Statement and the fact that we will seriously improve the availability and capability there. I do not think that anyone can overestimate how important ISTAR is. We get support and co-operation from other partners and we are trying, in what we are doing here, to use ISTAR and whatever information we can get not only to identify IEDs but to get to the network of those who are providing them. In the long run that will be an effective use of resources.
My Lords, I appreciate that the Secretary of State has a very difficult, not impossible, balancing act, but can the Minister confirm that, however much it is dressed up, £1 billion is going to be removed from the defence budget in year 1, when we still have an all-embracing war on our hands? Will she be a little more explicit on priorities and explain what exactly is meant by,
“stopping or slowing spending in other areas and pushing down hard on headquarters costs and overheads”,
which the Secretary of State believes,
“will have an impact on some capabilities”?
What are those capabilities? The noble Lord, Lord Lee, asked an important question about training. It is easy to refer to training that does not affect Afghanistan, but the whole professional competence depends on all-round training. It would be nice to know exactly what training is going on. Finally, how much less will be spent on the wider defence estate? The Statement says that family accommodation and single living accommodation will be given priority. What is being affected and how will this affect the covenant that the Government and the country feel is so important? Does the Minister agree that, if these temporarily and seemingly less important items are unduly affected, they store up endless problems in the future?
My Lords, on the last point I have to agree with the noble and gallant Lord that some of these problems, if not tackled, could create unduly difficult problems in the future. Indeed, I would suggest that that is one of the reasons why we have had to spend so much on the defence estate in the recent past. The backlog of underinvestment in that area was dramatic, but I am pleased to say that we are now in a situation where 90 per cent of service family accommodation is at grade 1 or grade 2, which is a significant improvement. However, I am told that when the service chiefs have asked about this, the priority that they have identified is the project called service personnel first, which gives an accommodation uplift for those who are returning from operations. It is quite understandable that that should be the priority. As to the Strategic Defence Review, the nature of the accommodation that we provide is one of the issues that I think will have to be discussed. An appropriate model in the past might not be an appropriate model for what we want to provide in the future or for the lifestyles of those in the Armed Forces.
The noble and gallant Lord says that £1 billion is being cut in year 1, but I have to say that I do not recognise that figure. The Pre-Budget Report said that not a single penny will be cut from the defence budget in 2010-11, which is as far as the Comprehensive Spending Review goes. He asked where we can make cuts, when we talk about priorities, in headquarters costs. Since 1997, we have reduced the number of civil servants in this area by 45,000. That has shown significant scope for reductions. We want to see that developed further, which is why we have the review under Gerry Grimstone. We will look forward to seeing what he comes up with. In our discussions on operations in Afghanistan, we have looked to slow down some projects. I hope that the whole House agrees that those projects that are important for operations should always have priority.
Further to my noble friend’s reference to the civilian workforce, I warmly welcome the importance that the Statement attaches to the work being done by a very dedicated workforce. She referred to the review that is taking place. Can she give us any indication of how long that review will take and when it is likely to report?
My Lords, we hope to have the report, which will cover the size and shape of the workforce, next year. As I have said, 45,000 is a big reduction and that has taken place already. Over the next four years, 4,500 more posts are planned to go, but we have to strike a careful balance. Some of the roles of those in the civilian workforce are critical to supporting those on operations. Therefore, we cannot just say, “All military posts good, all civilian posts bad”. We should appreciate that a lot of important work goes on and we should bear in mind the fact that it is much more expensive to employ military personnel on comparable jobs. We need to step back and look at that issue as a whole.
My Lords, would the Minister like to comment on the independent report that said that the procurement budget will be overstretched by £36 billion over the next 10 years? Does this not denote systematic failure of the procurement process? Does it not indicate that very large items of procurement have been ordered when clearly the funds were not available?
My Lords, there are problems with procurement, as the noble Lord will know. I mentioned earlier some of the reasons why certain projects accelerate in cost, not least because they end up being very different from how they started. I do not recognise the figure of £36 billion as being likely in reality, whichever Government were to get in. It assumes a flat-cash situation in so far as defence spending is concerned and I do not think that anybody believes that that is a likelihood.
My Lords, can the Minister reassure the House that those service men and women who have been severely injured but who are able, after coming back to this country and being healed, to be reabsorbed into the armed services will be, as has been the general practice in the past, and that reports to the effect that this will not be continued in the same way are unfounded?
My Lords, I think that we would all wish to pay tribute to those who have worked so hard to save the lives of those who have been seriously injured. We would always want to try to absorb those people back into the Armed Forces. It is not always possible and it is not always what they want, but the courage and determination of some of those who have managed to rejoin the Armed Forces and be active again have been quite remarkable and have impressed everyone.
Second Reading (Continued)
My Lords, let me be clear: it is a fundamental principle of the Christian religion that all human beings are of equal and infinite worth in the sight of God. This Bill seeks to address the many occasions when that fundamental principle is violated. That is an objective which I share and which the Church of England, by law established, supports wholeheartedly.
Sadly, this Bill before us is like decorating a Christmas tree. Everyone has his or her own idea about how to do it. Some favour strict colour co-ordination and others glorious variety. I myself am a Primate of glorious variety.
One cannot legislate to promote equality without constraining freedom to some extent, and because human freedom is both immensely precious and immensely vulnerable, we must proceed with great care. I am concerned that this Bill is built on an impoverished understanding of society. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds recently said in this House, we would have a much richer sense of who we are, and a better chance of tackling inequality, if we understood ourselves less as a society of strangers or atomised individuals and more as a community of communities. Individuals’ rights to equal treatment only get us so far.
I am a great supporter of this country’s record in fighting discrimination. Britain was well ahead of the rest of Europe in opposing discrimination on the grounds of colour, culture, religion, sexuality and ethnicity, and that is to its credit. It recognises that black people like me and other minority ethnic people have to be visible before they can fully participate, and that difference in ethnicity must be celebrated and not suppressed. You do not get equality by concealing difference, but, sadly, when this Bill turns to the question of religion and belief, it appears to take a different line. You will never overcome unequal treatment on grounds of religion or belief by silencing the expression of religion in the public square. That would be the imposition of one set of beliefs—the many “-isms”—on all others. I fear that this danger lies below the surface of the Bill and undermines its key objectives, which I wholeheartedly support.
I shall be more specific. In paragraph 2(8) of Schedule 9, the definition of employment “for the purposes of an organised religion” fails to reflect the way in which members of the church and many other religious groups understand their faith to be the bedrock of their lives. It will mean that churches and other religious communities can require an employee to observe particular standards of behaviour or not engage in certain types of conduct that are contrary to Christian teaching or their particular religious beliefs only when their work,
“wholly or mainly involves … leading or assisting in the observance of liturgical or ritualistic practices of the religion, or … promoting or explaining the doctrine of the religion”.
There are several problems with this. The movers of the Bill may be of the view that archbishops and other clergy work only on Sundays, but if one looks at my diary, you will find that most of my days and evenings are not filled with preaching or taking services. The same would go for most clergy and ministers and, I am sure, for leaders within other religious communities as well. The exemption is flawed even on its own terms.
At the height of the floods in Cumbria, I visited Cockermouth, Workington and Keswick. A major part of the relief effort in those places was being carried out by Churches Together, with Christ Church, Cockermouth, as the hub of the activity. The church had been converted into a relief centre and the rector, Reverend Wendy Sanders, and members of the churches did outstanding work which made a huge difference to the whole relief programme. They were, of course, providing help and care to all people, regardless of faith or no faith. How would the Bill classify this activity? Would it come under “liturgical or ritualistic practices” or “explaining the doctrine of the religion”?
However, my main objection to the Bill is this: we are told that the Bill is intended simply to harmonise existing antidiscrimination laws, yet we find that the provision made in 2003, for religious bodies to employ people who share their faith, is being significantly narrowed by the wording which I have just quoted. It does not reflect the reality of how churches work and it goes way beyond harmonising existing law. There is a danger here of legislation by stealth. We need to hold the line where it was set in 2003.
The Bill is in danger of combating religious discrimination by treating all religions as the same. Neutrality between beliefs is one thing, but imagining that one size fits all is the quickest way to an unfair and monochrome society. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, illustrated this when he dealt with Clause 148, saying that you cannot just do it that way. You may end up finding that one size fits no one.
Not enough attention has been given to the different ways in which prejudice, unfairness and discrimination operate. We need some subtlety in order to distinguish the different ways in which prejudice and unfairness happen. In a community of communities, members of different groups will honestly disagree about what is good, what is right and what is true. By looking at equality through the prism of competing individual rights, the Bill runs the risk of silencing the fair expression of different positions, not just silencing words but preventing people living integrated lives where words and deeds go together. In many cases, the Bill appears to require Christians to separate what they believe from how they express those beliefs, as if integrity of life and faith were of no consequence. That cannot be right in my book.
As I said earlier, the Bill has become like a Christmas tree that has had too many baubles added to it and is now in danger of falling over. Schedule 9 is a bauble too many. We need to find a better way to balance these different sorts of equality so as not to put at risk the precious freedoms which underpin our way of life in this country.
I am reminded of the story of a plane that got into trouble flying across the Atlantic. The captain asked the permission of the passengers to open the hold and dump all their luggage into the ocean. “Yes, yes, yes”, they all cried out and it was done. Thirty minutes later the captain said, “We are still losing altitude. We must get rid of your hand luggage”. They cried out, “Of course”, and it was done. An hour later, the captain said, “We still need to lose more weight. Fifty people will be safely dropped in the water with their lifejackets. The airline operates an inclusive equal opportunities policy and we shall now put it into operation. We shall use the alphabet to guide us. A—are there any Africans on board?”. Silence. “B—are there any blacks on board?”. Silence. “C—are there any Caribbeans on board?”. Silence. A little black boy turned to his father and said, “Dad, who are we?”. The father replied, “We are Zulus!”.
This Bill aspires to great things. I would love to say “Yes, go for it” but, as it stands, I cannot. At the minimum we need to look again at how the exemptions for religious bodies are framed. It is a grave error to set up competing rights and then, by stealth, trump some of them. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, I beg that Schedule 9 paragraph 2(8) should be amended in the direction of the 2003 Act. If not, it should be deleted from the Bill. The rest of the Bill has much to offer and its main objective ought not to be sacrificed at the altar of “one size fits all” in matters of occupational requirements.
My Lords, I apologise. I mistook the timing and I am sorry.
I declare in interest as a commissioner on the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
This Bill is extremely important. It merits the all-party support which has been demonstrated very clearly. It is part of a journey towards ensuring that we live in a fair society where everyone can feel good about themselves and have an opportunity to participate on equal terms and feel they can reach their potential. They should not face barriers over which they have no control—barriers due to prejudice and discrimination. In the United Kingdom, we have made some good progress in tackling many of the most blatant examples of discrimination; individuals and organisations now know that those who perpetuate this type of discrimination can be brought to account. However, chronic disadvantage and inequality persist, as we have heard. Half of disabled people are out of work and a Bangladeshi woman is six times as likely to be unemployed as a white woman. A child’s postcode at birth is a reasonable predictor for their lot in life as an adult and our choices and chances in life are still to a great extent determined by our origins. This is not simply the product of ill will on the part of either individuals or organisations; it is a systemic bias and, while people may win individual victories here and there, progress will be slow at best and will depend upon those who make great sacrifices in order to take their cases through the courts.
The real challenge is to achieve a wholesale shift in attitudes, looking at how to improve our systems and structures in order to give everyone a fair chance. This is what the Equality Bill will enable us to do. That is why the duty on the public sector is of such importance. The Bill spells out that organisations must look at the evidence and examine their processes, finding ways of delivering for everyone, regardless of race, gender and the other strands of fairness in which they can live equally.
I turn to age discrimination. I welcome the measures outlined in the Bill to ensure that providers of goods, facilities and services—such as high-street shops, sports clubs, holiday resorts and doctors—treat older people fairly and equally. One example is that it is currently legal and normal practice for insurance companies to refuse to quote based solely on a person’s age. This means that some healthy and active older people find it difficult or impossible to travel abroad to visit relatives, regardless of what might be justifiable estimates of risk or experience. There are examples in other sectors of discrimination against young adults. Older people are also denied access to some health services, such as mental health care. One in four people over 64 has a diagnosable and serious mental illness and half of those will suffer from depression. Of those with depression, 2.5 million receive no treatment whatever. One in three of us who reaches 65 will die of dementia. The Bill will ensure that dementia is recognised as a health issue as well as requiring social care.
Some issues, however, remain outstanding. For example, the mandatory retirement age will put age discrimination legislation on an equal footing with the other equality strands and make the law simpler and clearer for both employee and employers. We need this to be achieved in the lifetime of this Parliament. Being forced to stand down from a job because of your age rather than your ability is one of the most blatant forms of discrimination that older people face.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that homophobic bullying in schools must also be addressed and be part of this Bill. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, that the Bill must address the real causes of inequality and ensure real and genuine outcomes. It is your Lordships’ role to ensure that that is built into the Bill.
I am anxious that this Bill, which is so important, does not get lost. We could try to make it perfect by debating it for a long time. It was subject to a lot of consultation in the discrimination law review. If we lose this Bill, whatever Government are elected at the next election, it will take several years before we get another opportunity like this. Measures in the Bill, which is better than some of us feared, have also been subject to amendment, particularly regarding disability. It is key therefore to ensure that the measures pass, subject to your Lordships’ careful scrutiny, but not at the risk of running out of time.
The Bill will help us to celebrate differences and to value others, both for themselves and for the contribution they can make to society. We all need to pull together at a time of great economic difficulties. The Bill deserves our wholehearted support.
My Lords, I welcome and support the introduction of this Bill, which not only harmonises all the current pieces of legislation but also provides new principles further to progress equality across all strands, as disadvantage and inequalities still exist.
I congratulate all those who have had the responsibility for pulling this Bill together and for overcoming the complexities and anomalies of the legislation currently on the statute book and so making it easier for everyone—individuals, service providers and employers—to understand their rights under the law.
As chair of the Women’s National Commission, an interest I declare, I and the commissioners have had the privilege of discussing aspects of the Bill with a great many stakeholders, the vast majority of whom are genuinely supportive of the outcome of this Bill. I do not intend to set out the case for the Bill, because my noble friend the Leader of the House did that so well, but I should like to look practically at some of the key aspects of the Bill, starting with the three clauses that were inserted in the other place. The new provision for dual discrimination in Clause 14, which addresses people experiencing discrimination because of a combination of characteristics, is opposed by the CBI which believes that the inclusion in the Bill of the clause is burdensome for employers. However, its arguments are not valid, either in substance or in principle. What is important is precise legislation to deal with discrimination that people experience.
The new Clause 40 responds to concerns about pre-employment health questionnaires which effectively allow employers to weed out candidates with medical conditions, including HIV. As chair of the Independent Advisory Group for Sexual Health and HIV, this is of particular concern to me. While the new clause is helpful, in that it provides a clearer pathway to a tribunal for people with disabilities, it still does not preclude employers asking questions and discriminating against applicants on health grounds. Thus there remains the “fear of discrimination” factor that many people affected by HIV or mental illness have highlighted.
I greatly welcome the Bill making it unlawful to treat a woman unfavourably because of maternity and pregnancy, but until the noble Lord, Lord Lester, spoke I had not appreciated that under Clause 84(c) it will be legal for a school to expel a student on the basis of her pregnancy. I ask my noble friend for clarification, because surely that cannot be right. Also on schools, it is alleged, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, said, that Clause 82(10) will allow schools to harass pupils on grounds of gender re-assignment, religion or belief, or sexual orientation. There is considerable evidence of this. School pupils are a captive population in the classroom, so surely they must be protected even more. This clause has caused great concern among the people involved, and I fail to understand what good purpose is served by allowing it to remain unamended.
As my noble friend said, the importance of the public equality duty cannot be overstated, but, in working the new duty, it is important that the beneficial aspects of the gender duty are not lost in harmonisation. The gender duty has provided a legislative framework for women to hold public bodies to account, and, as women invariably make up the majority across all the equality strands, it is vital that a gender perspective is prominent across all the grounds.
Clause 148(5) is particularly important in that compliance with the duties involves treating some people more favourably than others. This is a counter to the widespread misconception that equality means treating everyone the same, which has had a detrimental effect on women-only services. However, for the new duty to be effective there has to be greater awareness and understanding of how it will work.
The public sector, as has been said, spends £175 billion a year on goods and services. As the CBI says, public procurement is a useful lever to promote equality and other social goals. That is absolutely right. It can also lead to good pay practices, which brings me to the question of pay. As other noble Lords have said, after nearly 40 years of the Equal Pay Act, the gender pay gap remains, but the elimination of the pay gap relies on a package of measures: pay audits, transparency, representative action and hypothetical comparators.
On mandatory pay audits, views differ: from those that oppose to those that call for their instant introduction. Clause 78 attempts to balance those two views, and although I support it in principle, I should say to my noble friend that 2013 is an awfully long way off and a tighter timetable may be needed.
Currently 30 per cent of employers insist on a secrecy clause in employment contracts. The introduction of transparency and the right to discuss one’s pay with a colleague are important and can make employers consider their pay structure before an equal pay claim is made. However, I again ask my noble friend for a definition of “colleague”. Who is included in the clause? It is impossible to achieve equal pay, particularly for women in low paid, undervalued work, unless there is a comparator in the same employment who is treated differently. Again, I must ask why equal pay is the only area of discrimination law in which a hypothetical comparator cannot apply.
While the Bill helpfully extends the role of employment tribunals to make recommendations in discrimination cases that benefit the whole workforce, it goes only part of the way. Representative action has been demanded for many years. I appreciate that the Ministry of Justice is looking at this issue, but this should not preclude the inclusion of representative action in the Bill.
In conclusion, I shall refer very briefly to two other issues. The first issue relates to positive action. The value of a diverse workforce is beyond question and is accepted by employers. These provisions will not only promote positive action but clarify the current confusion arising from the existing plethora of different rules about when positive action can be used. It would be a retrograde step if the principle of this clause were not accepted. The second issue relates to a purpose clause. Although the Government do not support the idea that a purpose clause is needed in this Bill as it was in the Children Bill, such a clause at the beginning of the Bill that stated the goals and fundamental principles would be a useful tool for those who apply the law in practice. It would prevent misinterpretation of the legislation, thereby strengthening protection for all groups. For that reason, I ask the Government to reconsider the matter and think about a purpose clause.
I have been able only to scratch the surface of some of the clauses of this important Bill. I have raised a number of queries which the Government may not feel able to respond to positively, but this Bill is not about rhetoric but about a real, practical advancement towards equality. I fundamentally believe that, in the name of equality, it is crucial that the Bill is carried in its entirety, and I wish it a speedy passage through your Lordships’ House.
There are many issues in this Bill, but I intend to concentrate on two: religious freedom and the process of scrutiny of the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, stated that faith is not an immutable characteristic. This is untrue, particularly in my case. I know that I could never change my faith, and there are many millions with the same view. Let us not forget that many have gone to the stake for it over the ages. This is the time of year when our country’s Christian heritage is most obvious. Many of us will participate in carol services and other services, proudly watching grandchildren, children and godchildren taking part in nativity plays, all celebrating the great news of the birth of the saviour Christ.
This country recognises the unique place of the Christian faith in its national life not just at Christmas but every day. There are many examples of this, including daily prayers here in Parliament, memorial services around the country, and church schools, which continue to be popular with Christian and non-Christian parents alike. However, the Christian majority in this country is renowned for being the vast silent majority. Our voice is not strong enough and is not heard often enough. We certainly punch way below our weight. This struck me forcibly on Sunday when I read the interview with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Sunday Telegraph. His observations were wholly accurate. He said:
“The trouble with a lot of government initiatives about faith is that they assume it is a problem, it's an eccentricity, it's practised by oddities, foreigners and minorities … The effect is to de-normalise faith, to intensify the perception that faith is not part of our bloodstream”.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester warned recently that Britain is increasingly becoming,
“a cold place for Christians”.
The past 12 months alone have seen several disturbing cases of Christians suffering unjust treatment for their religious beliefs. They have been mentioned in the press and include a nurse suspended for offering to pray for a patient, a Christian care home stripped of £13,000 of public funding by Brighton council, and a hostel support worker suspended for discussing Christian beliefs with a colleague. Many more, of course, go unreported. What do these cases have in common? The Christians involved have all suffered in the name of “equality and diversity”. Supporters of this agenda may have noble intentions, including a desire to protect Christians, but it is now apparent that all too often it becomes a tool for punishing them.
Equality laws have created some of the worst injustice. The case of the Christian care home in Brighton, which I have just mentioned, was motivated by the 2007 sexual orientation regulations. These same regulations have forced several Roman Catholic adoption agencies to close; yet these are the very agencies that accounted for one-third of all voluntary sector adoptions. Their contribution to our society has been huge.
Christian principles have woven the fabric of our democracy: the belief in the unique worth of every person, freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom of speech. The rule of law in this country is based on the principle of equality in the eyes of God. Parliament and the judiciary have upheld these principles for centuries. All our constitutional freedoms have developed from Christian principles. Throughout history Christians have been at the forefront of humanitarian efforts. We heard about the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York going to Cumbria and sorting out problems for people involved in the floods. That is not religious preaching or liturgy; it is pure humanitarianism.
Christians have also been at the forefront of establishing education and welfare projects in all parts of the world, and have led the way in the abolition of slavery. All this is real equality. In our own age, Christian groups are working so hard to free trafficked women and those who have been forced into prostitution, as I have already said in a debate in this House. Why are Christians being increasingly marginalised in Britain in 2009? Poring over the evidence, I have no doubt that the equality and diversity agenda lies near the heart of the problem.
Yet today we are considering this huge, all-embracing and cumbersome Equality Bill. This is the biggest piece of equality legislation ever put before Parliament, and in the current culture I fear that it could serve to make things worse. I believe that, for Christian freedom, it is the single most damaging Bill to come before the House in my 18 years as a Member.
I am deeply concerned about another aspect affecting this Bill; namely, the scrutiny process. In 18 years the scrutiny of legislation in the Commons has diminished significantly, and I am not the first person to make that statement. There was a problem with the Coroners and Justice Bill there when murder was not even considered. Despite what the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said—that the Bill was well scrutinised in the House of Commons—five and a half hours on the Floor of the House to have both Report stage and Third Reading together does not equate with good scrutiny. The Bill caused uproar in the Commons. The Government appeared to renege on an offer to discuss with the opposition parties how much time would be given to debate the Bill. Just one day was allocated for the remaining stages despite more than 200 amendments having been tabled. As a result, the guillotine fell part way through the second of seven groupings, before the Minister had even begun responding to the debate.
More than half of over 200 amendments that had been selected by the Speaker went undebated. Only those in the first group actually got a response from the Minister at the Dispatch Box. Even today, on the first occasion that I have taken part in a Second Reading debate, we have been asked to limit our contributions. This is a Second Reading debate, not a timed debate. I believe that there is some ulterior motive in all of this. Last week a meeting was held by the Leader of the House and the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, at which groups concerned with the Bill were told not to put down amendments, not to provoke long discussions and not to make interventions, because the Government wanted to curtail the Committee stage of the Bill.
May I continue? I shall write to the noble Baroness.
Apparently the Government have been advised by the Whips that a Bill of this size should require eight or nine Committee days, but they want to cut it down to four or five. I believe that that is totally unacceptable. We will not be able to hold our heads up in terms of scrutinising Bills by pandering to the Government's perfected art, shown in the Commons, of limiting scrutiny. In the interests of avoiding further undermining of Christianity in this country and avoiding injustice, I beg noble Lords to stand their ground and put down as many amendments as they feel they need to do for the Committee stage.
We are dealing with the vital issue of religious liberty and free speech. In addition, I believe that the Bill puts a huge, expensive bureaucratic burden on business and charitable organisations, which, at a time of severe recession, is inexcusable. I ask your Lordships to think seriously about this. The other place does not appear to care about ever-increasing bureaucratic regulation.
Some of the Bill's provisions are not controversial and are widely supported, yet in my view any positives in the Bill are surely outweighed by the negatives I have discussed. The problems I have mentioned so far are caused by existing equality law. So even if the Bill confined itself to consolidating current law, it would not enjoy my support. The examples of adoption agencies and care homes show that the present law is unjust and must be remedied. The Bill continues that injustice. In debates on the earlier 2005 Equality Bill I moved amendments to protect freedom of conscience for those in business. The Government disagreed, and Schedule 23 to the new Bill continues the policy of giving no protection in this area.
However, the present Bill goes much further. Part 11 introduces public sector equality duties so all-encompassing that the implications could be vast. What are public bodies going to make of a duty to promote religion and a duty to promote sexual orientation? As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lester, even the BBC and Channel 4 have voiced fears. The Bill would drastically limit the freedom of churches and religious organisations to choose to employ people, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York has said. It significantly narrows the existing exception which allows churches to refuse a post to those whose lifestyles are incompatible with Church doctrine. It could mean that churches are left without protection even for clergy posts. Leading employment lawyer and author John Bowers QC confirms this position. The Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and many other religious groups, not only Christian, are very alarmed. Losing the right to choose a church minister who shares their beliefs would strike at the heart of freedom of association for religious believers. The exemption which has existed until now must be maintained.
The implications of the Bill are far too great for it to be rammed through Parliament before the impending general election. I fear that this is the hidden agenda of the Government in view of the comments I have already alluded to concerning the restriction of amendments.
On careful reflection, I believe that equality is morphing into an ideology hostile to the Christian faith. I accept that many Members of this House never intended this to happen, but at grass roots level the equality and diversity agenda is causing increasingly severe problems for Christians in many walks of life; at work and at school, in the media and in the public sphere. The evidence therefore shows that we must make major amendments to the Bill to meet these concerns, or call a halt to it altogether until a solution is found.
Noble Lords will forgive me if I set the record straight. Every meeting I have in this House is open and transparent. I would not do anything of which I was ashamed. We are not trying to ram this Bill through. There is no hidden agenda. I have had a series of meetings with noble Lords on all sides of the House. I have explained that, if noble Lords wished to have a Bill—and the vast majority in this Chamber do—timing is extremely tight. I do not wish to curtail scrutiny. I have never said that noble Lords should not put down any amendments which they wish to put down. I have merely pointed out that, if they wish to have the Bill, they should not put down amendments that bear no relation to the Bill; they should focus their amendments very carefully. I am not ramming the Bill through; I am not seeking to curtail any scrutiny.
I must say to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that I have nothing but admiration for her. The way it was reported to me was: not to put down amendments which might be not tangential to the Bill. Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding. I shall go back to my source and find out. I do not want to impugn anything like this on the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, but it was part of a very serious conversation I had and I will give you chapter and verse.
My Lords, the need for stronger, clearer, more comprehensive and more easily enforceable equality legislation is pressing. Without it, we cannot address the equality gaps that hold so many people back. I warmly welcome this Bill. I think it could genuinely transform opportunities over time. I look forward to working with Ministers—very speedily—and noble Lords to ensure we end up with a new legal framework that delivers better outcomes for all protected groups.
There are several measures in the Bill that I particularly welcome. My top three are probably using public procurement to drive forward equality as part of the new single equality duty, the provision for regulations extending protection against discrimination in access to goods and services and the inclusion of protection against discrimination by association and perception.
Disabled people often experience multiple forms of oppression and disadvantage. I know that sometimes I am not sure whether I am discriminated against because I am a woman or because I am a disabled person. Many others struggle against other forms of disadvantage arising from ageism, racism, sexism and heterosexism, so I am also pleased to see recognition of multiple discrimination in this Bill, even if it probably does not go quite as far as I would like. At the moment, it involves just two dimensions.
I am very much in favour of an integrated approach to equalities. After all, it is why I joined the first board of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Realising the vision of an integrated commission has proved an uphill struggle. We now need to replace the myriad of legislation, addressing different forms of discrimination —an even more complex task than putting together the commission, so it will not be easy. Nevertheless, great progress has been made on this front during proceedings in another place, but we still have some way to go with respect to the protection afforded disabled people, and it is now that I will turn to review these little conundrums that need to be sorted.
As the Bill passes through its various stages in the House, I hope that noble Lords will share my desire to ensure that the effective gains secured in the Disability Discrimination Act in the 1990s are not lost in translation in the Equality Bill. My major concern is that this may be the case with the public sector duty to promote equality. Clause 148 says that public bodies should seek to meet the different needs of all the protected groups. Fine. But then it says this may involve treating some people more favourably than others. Noble Lords need to remember that what is permitted in relation to the more favourable treatment of disabled people is vastly different from the more limited forms of positive action permitted for other groups. If this is not made abundantly clear in this Bill, the upshot could be at best, huge confusion and, at worst, public bodies rescinding on some of their positive measures on disability equality.
I shall now hand over to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, as the usual channels have agreed that he can help me out with the rest of my speaking notes.
My Lords, with the agreement of the House and at the request of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, I continue her speech.
The current disability equality duty is clear and much more directional. It says that public bodies must meet disabled people's different needs even where this involves more favourable treatment. Only by restoring this fundamental provision can we be assured that disability equality is safe within a single duty. Many public sector organisations have said how useful this format has been when drawing up their disability equality schemes, and that it has been the reason for their successful implementation. I am pleased to note that the Joint Committee on Human Rights is in full agreement on that point. Let us not reel back on this in this Bill.
I must also sound the alarm on provisions in the Bill on reasonable adjustments for disabled people. The DDA is absolutely clear that it is unlawful for a service provider to charge a disabled person for making a reasonable adjustment. The classic case that noble Lords will remember is that of Bob Ross v Ryanair, a case that the Disability Rights Commission supported back in 2004. Ryanair tried to charge Mr. Ross £18 for use of a wheelchair to get from check-in at Stansted airport to the plane. The DDA was so clear on this point that the principle of not charging was readily confirmed by the Court of Appeal. Providers of goods and services such as Mr O'Leary need this sharp clarity, which is currently missing from the Equality Bill. I have been told not to worry because the relevant Code of Practice will clarify this point. Service providers will be told it may not be lawful for them to pass on the costs of reasonable adjustments, the clarity therefore being lost. This is just not good enough. Disabled people need to know where we stand. There must be no regression.
The Bill also creates the potential for regression on reasonable adjustments for exams and in immigration, when a new exception is proposed. It could lead to disabled people with serious illnesses being denied entry to or leave to remain in the UK. They could risk being deported back to countries where conditions may be life-threatening. This is in contravention of the most basic human rights and cannot be right.
I am confident that we can address those outstanding issues within the limited time frame that we have to secure the Bill, which is truly a landmark for equality.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton.
I welcome this Bill, which presents us with the opportunity to tidy up and consolidate and put equality legislation on a safer footing. The past 11 years that I have spent in your Lordships' House have been an extraordinary journey. I pay tribute to this House for the conscious choices that we made in that journey. For me, it started off pretty badly with that age of consent debate—some of you may remember. It was a terrible and at times very wounding experience. But every subsequent step that we have taken towards equality we have taken voluntarily, in this House, in partnership with the other place. We have worked together in this House for equality for women, racial minorities, religious groups, people with disabilities, the elderly and, particularly for me, the gay community. It is a journey of which I am incredibly proud but, more importantly, for which I am incredibly grateful.
In front of us now is a choice. We can build on this tradition and help the Bill find safe passage on to the statute book, or we can use the Bill as a mechanism to refight the battles of the past. I appeal to noble Lords—and I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, is not in her place—not to reopen those debates that we have worked so hard to resolve over the past decade. I ask noble Lords not to use this Bill in a destructive way but to use it to heal and not to divide.
I give notice to my noble friends on the Front Bench of two significant provisions that I shall seek, with the support of others, to add to the Bill. The first concerns civil partnerships. This week marks the fourth year since the first civil partnerships were formed; over those four years, civil partnerships have been a huge success and even their fiercest critics cannot deny the overwhelming benefits that they have brought to the gay community, gay men, lesbians and the wider community as a whole. With your help, I want to reverse the current ban on civil partnerships taking place on religious premises. It is wrong to ban civil partnerships from churches and religious institutions. Equally, it would be wrong to force churches and religious institutions to host civil partnerships against their will.
As many noble Lords are aware, a number of religious organisations would like to host civil partnerships, such as the Quakers. This House has a tradition of standing up for religious freedoms. It must be a matter for churches and religious organisations to decide for themselves but, having decided, the law should not stand in their way. I hope that I shall have the support of these Benches, both Front and Back, of the Benches around the House and, in particular, of the Lords Spiritual, in achieving this endeavour. I seek only to heal; I do not seek to divide.
I do not mind what we call it. I have heard marriage described in many ways in itself.
The second issue that I wanted to raise relates to one class of people who are not protected from employment discrimination because of their sexuality. I also welcome the refinement of the employment regulations contained in the Bill. In crafting our legislation all those years ago, noble Lords may remember that we allowed one exemption, and one exemption only. That exemption was for the clergy. This is not an attack on the church, but I do not believe that anybody should be sacked from or persecuted in their job or vocation because of their sexuality. I understand the controversial nature of some of what I am proposing, but persecution is persecution, and we should have done away with the persecution of priests a long time ago.
Will the noble Lord accept that the stance churches take on this matter is, if you like, sexually neutral? It is about the longstanding belief held in Christianity and other religions that sexual relationships appropriately belong within marriage—there is an equal intolerance towards heterosexual as well as homosexual sexual relationships on behalf of faith communities: it is not specific to a particular sexual orientation.
I hope the right reverend Prelate will accept that you cannot sack a heterosexual for having an affair outside marriage—they are protected against employment discrimination—whereas exemption here is simply on the basis of sexuality. That is the point I am getting to.
I hope to table an amendment to frame such a debate.
I look at this Bill, and I see possibilities—the possibilities that Martin Luther King talked about in his “I have a dream” speech. You may recall he said that one day he could see,
“the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners”,
“at the table of brotherhood”.
I am a descendant of the sons of former slaves, and I know there are descendants of the sons of former slave owners among us. In this Chamber perhaps we can create a table of brotherhood. In this place, we do good, and we have done over the years.
Martin Luther King went on to say that he hoped that his children could live in a nation where they were judged,
“by the content of their character”,
and not by the colour of their skin; I would add gender, sexuality, age and disability. This Bill is all about that: being judged on the content of our characters. Judge us on who we are and the way we behave. This is an opportunity to make that dream come ever closer to reality. It is a chance to take one step in a journey together; to finish this work, in this Parliament, with a display of the same spirit I have seen over the last 11 years. It is with pride and gratitude, and with hope and great optimism, that I welcome this Bill.
My Lords, I shall resist the temptation to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alli, down the delicate path upon which he walked. At the outset, I would like to apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, for the fact that I was not in my place when she started her speech. I am so sorry—I should have been, but I was inadvertently delayed.
My intervention today relates to one specific part of the Bill and the effect which it may have on one company: Saga. Its business has been built on what is somewhat unattractively called a “niche market”. This means that it provides a range of services to a certain group of people—in Saga’s case, to more than 2.5 million people who are over the age of 50. I suppose that your Lordships would expect me to declare an interest in being over 50. Indeed, if I did so perhaps I could truncate the issue by declaring an interest for most of your Lordships, too. I do not have a financial interest to declare because, regrettably or stupidly, I have not availed myself heretofore of Saga’s services.
Saga happens to be adversely affected by the way the Bill is drawn at present. People are generally happy to see special offers tailored for specific age groups, such as discounted tickets for cinemas or theatres, concessionary rates for hairdressing and so forth—as a matter of fact I found a hairdresser who gave me a reduced rate because I was over 25 or something like that. All sorts of cruises offer special discounts for the over-55s—there is another opportunity for your Lordships. Various hotel chains offer discounts to older people. The Government have followed suit, and have given enhanced ISA allowances for the over-50s. They also give public transport concessions, such as senior citizen railcards and national free bus passes. Senior citizens—and I am lucky enough to be one—would be sorry to see these benefits go. This principle is not new. It is accepted by those who provide the facilities, those who accept them, the general public and the Government, but the Bill as it stands has the effect of banning the marketing of group holidays for particular age groups.
The Government have said that they are considering making exemptions. The Explanatory Notes accompanying the Equality Bill say that exemptions may include holidays for particular age groups. Another publication, Equality Bill: Making it Work, issued in June this year, said:
“On balance, we believe that there is a case for allowing age-targeted group holidays to remain lawful”—
what a fearful expression, but there we are. There is a great case for that. This is all good stuff, but it is difficult to imagine any reason why they should not remain lawful—unless it was in the mind of some bureaucrat looking for unjustified uniformity.
In another place, the honourable and learned lady, the Solicitor-General, said:
“they are exactly the exceptions that we want to make”,
“we will not put it in the Bill”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/12/09; col. 1203]
I cannot understand why these exemptions should not be written into the Bill. If they are not, on the day on which the Bill comes into force, all services which are confined to the over-50s will become illegal.
One might say that one solution would be for Saga to cater for under-50s, as well as the over-50s, and then it would cover everything. However, it would then be catering for a market in which it has no experience. Presumably the price to those who are in the market in which it does have experience will go up, as the company will have to accommodate the costs of participating in a market in which they have little or no expertise.
Your Lordships may be pleased to know that Saga understands older people. This is not an advertisement, it is just a fact. It insures many drivers who are over 100; the oldest lady taking Saga’s insurance went to Italy to celebrate her 100th birthday recently. That is quite something—there is hope for your Lordships and all of us yet. That is the market which Saga insures, and in my view it is wrong,—indeed, unbelievable—that it might find itself on the wrong side of the law after the passing of this Bill, just because the Government say this is an equality Bill, and therefore everyone, apparently irrespective of the arguments, must be equal.
I wish to ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House whether she will be good enough to bring forward an amendment to the Bill which will make it perfectly clear that providing special facilities for people who are in the over-50s age group will not be an offence. It seems so obviously sensible and reasonable—characteristics in which the noble Baroness abounds so fully—that I very much hope that she will agree to do this.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for introducing the Bill. I declare an interest as a commissioner of the Women’s National Commission, which agrees wholeheartedly that the Bill is necessary, although it may not be sufficient.
Much has been said about tackling the root causes of gender inequality. There is a vast amount of academic literature which already addresses the root causes of gender inequality. I have previously put its ideas forward in this House. The root cause is the fact that women are seen as inferior bearers of labour. That is because they offer domestic labour free of charge and therefore, when they offer the same labour in the marketplace, it is considered to be unskilled. I am well aware that the consideration of wages for housework is not likely to be acceptable, so perhaps we should move on from root causes to giving women rights. If we do not have rights, we cannot exercise those rights. It may be that when we have rights, their exercising is complicated, but without them we are nowhere. I am very grateful that we are at least being given the opportunity to be treated equally by employers, and that the responsibility for transparency rests with employers, and not necessarily with employees.
I particularly welcome the inclusion of religious discrimination in the Bill. I declare an interest as the honorary president of the Muslim Women’s Network UK. The difficulty so far has been that religions—that is, the adherents of a faith—have been discriminated against without fear of prosecution. The reason for that is that particular categories of people are classified by their faith. I was born a Muslim and do not see Islam as a jacket that I can change every day; it is what I was born with and probably what I will die with. Therefore, it is not a choice that I make consciously.
However, I have lived, very sadly, through an intense period of Islamophobia. More than once I have been asked to choose between being a Muslim and being British. I did not choose to be a Muslim; I was born a Muslim. I chose to be a British person. I regard it as a huge privilege to have been allowed to be a British individual. Had I lived in Iran, I think my fate would have been rather different at this stage of my life. I am grateful to be British but I cannot be British by choosing not to be a Muslim. Therefore, when the adherents of a faith are, as a category, unprotected by the law, perhaps we need to take action. This bridging action is most welcomed by Muslim women who, as has been repeated, are the group that is least likely to access equality.
It is important to bear in mind that, for those who practise their religions, the provision of facilities such as a prayer room or clean washing spaces is not an unusual requirement. It will not particularly hurt the employers, and it would help Muslim women to see themselves as welcomed in the workplace as Muslim women. I very much welcome this inclusion.
I would like to see these provisions extended more to the informal labour market, particularly part-time workers. Given the welfare provisions as they stand, most mothers of children under the age of three do not have easy access to full-time free childcare. Therefore, they cannot offer full-time employment. They can only work for the hours when their children are being looked after. The majority of women who are suffering are part-time workers in the informal sector. They are, as yet, not included. However, I heed the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and I would not press this. I hope that, at some point, these views will also be considered.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, who made a very important speech which merits rereading after the debate. I add the ritual acknowledgement that there is a certain lack of gender balance on these Benches—exactly the opposite of the government Front Benches, as was pointed out earlier. You cannot win.
I also thank the Leader of the House for her introduction to the debate, which was particularly helpful and gracious. I was grateful for her assurance that there was no proposal to abolish Christmas. Given her duties in the House this week, she may also be grateful that Christmas is not being abolished this year.
During the course of this debate and consideration of the Bill, there will be expressions of concern on behalf of churches and faith groups. We have already heard something of that. Indeed, I have engaged in it a little with the noble Lord, Lord Alli. The first point that he raised is worthy of discussion but he would need to take into account also the ban on civil marriages being held in religious bodies. It would have to be taken in the whole. Some sort of permissive arrangement for faith communities is certainly worthy of careful discussion. I am sure that I can say that from these Benches.
I express some regret that the religious aspects and reservations have come to the fore too quickly. So much of the Bill stands in the broad stream of Christian and Judaeo-Christian ethical thinking: the dignity of the individual created in God’s image; the care for the stranger in the midst in the Old Testament; and the transcending of cultural and racial barriers in the New Testament, such as when St Paul spoke of the Church as being open to Jews and Greeks, slaves and the free, male and female, because Jesus Christ was Lord and saviour of everyone without partiality. Such ideas received a strong puff of wind in the Enlightenment. What we are discussing today can be seen as part of a great historical movement towards greater equality in society that includes the development of democracy, the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, free access to education and healthcare, and so on. We can all be grateful for the benefits of these huge advances in society and the dignity and rights of individuals.
Clause 1 is significant in this regard. It places a duty on a range of public bodies, including the Government of the day, to take strategic decisions with a view to reducing the inequalities of outcome that result from socio-economic disadvantage. This programmatic opening clause is carefully phrased, with a focus on addressing the inequalities of outcome, rather than the underlying socio-economic inequalities themselves. I think an earlier speaker spoke of narrowing the gap between rich and poor, but that is not quite what the clause says. It deals with the outcomes of the inequalities in economic terms.
Research now overwhelmingly links poorer outcomes to underlying inequalities in wealth and income. The recent book The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett sets out the evidence in a compelling way. Yet our recent experience over 30 years has been of a growing divide between rich and poor, which even 13 years of a Labour Administration have not reversed, although it has, I think, more or less maintained the position that it inherited. The financial crisis of the past two years can be seen as directly linked to the growth of excessive inequalities in salaries and bonuses, both within the financial sector and between the financial and other sectors.
It seems that, for all its provisions, many of which are to be welcomed, the Bill skirts around the most fundamental issues of inequality in our society. Its sheer size should not deflect us from its limitations. Has any previous Bill had Explanatory Notes running to more than 1,000 paragraphs? If you gave the most reverend Primate the Archbishop a bauble for his Christmas tree for each paragraph, it would have 1,002 baubles on it. Paragraph 80 of the notes refers to,
“the ordinary user of the Bill”.
Who will be the ordinary user?
The underlying problem is that it concentrates too quickly and too excessively on the rights of the individual, essential as these are. There was an interesting interchange in the recent debate on the humble Address, to which the most reverend Primate the Archbishop himself alluded, between the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who I am pleased to see is in his place. The right reverend Prelate said:
“The Equality Bill is grounded in a view of society as a collection of individuals with rights but fails to take account of the needs of communities to flourish. That can quickly lead to an authoritarian imposition of an individualistic understanding of difference rather than a celebration of plurality in society”.—[Official Report, 26/11/09; col. 492.]
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, responded that EU law is,
“based on the rights of individuals, not of groups”.—[Official Report, 26/11/09; col. 502.]
Perhaps, but that does not mean that it is necessarily correct. We have not just replaced the divine right of kings with the divine right of particular aspects of EU law, particularly as we frame our legislation here.
I say that because there has been too much emphasis on individual freedom in the economic realm that has led to the growing inequalities of socio-economic outcome over the past 30 years, which are now more and more clearly documented. Societies that overemphasise individual freedom and rights, as opposed to responsibility, duty and communal rights, simply generate a growing underclass, well evidenced in the growth of the prison population and all the problems coming from that. The interplay of individual rights with the rights of other individuals and the broader rights of society and the socio-cultural and religious communities in society, will occupy us at a number of points as the Bill makes its passage.
I conclude with one example that has not been mentioned so far—it has not received much attention, which illustrates the point. I refer to the provisions in relation to those who are undergoing, or who have undergone, a change of gender. Society holds different views about the basis for gender reassignment, and there are different views in some of the faith communities.
Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that the Church of England cannot quite make up its mind, and it is left to individual bishops to decide whether a transgender person can be accepted for ordination. There are conscientious and sincerely held beliefs on different sides in this matter. As a society overall, the current anti-discrimination provisions seem to have been in a proper balance, but the Bill extends the legal protection to those who claim either an intention to transgender or to have done so without any recourse to medical advice or supervision. I speak as someone who accepts the possibility of gender dysphoria and the treatments that professional psychiatrists and medicine can offer. I know from personal and pastoral experience how distressing it is for somebody to have a sense of being in the wrong gender, but I do think that society as a whole has a right to expect that anyone who seeks legal recognition in a new gender should have followed proper medical assessment and advice. Anything less seems to be open to abuse. It is not that. It should not be just a matter of individual decision of individual rights.
I look forward to the Committee stage of the Bill.
My Lords, the main thrust of the Bill is commendable but I wish to raise two points, both of which are necessary for a free and democratic society. The first is the need to protect the interests of Christians and the Christian church. Secondly, we should ensure that elderly people have the freedom to enjoy holidays with those of a similar age, an issue to which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred.
With regard to the former, noble Lords will no doubt be aware of the recent interview given by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, reported in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday. I shall not go into the detail of the interview but I understand and appreciate the points that he made. I and many others have heard it said that the Christian celebration commemorating the birth of Christ, which we are now nearing, should cease and that the period should be described as a “customary holiday”. I do not accept that. Neither do I believe that the Christian church is a problem; in fact, it is a solution for many of the country’s difficulties. Therefore, I shall support any amendments that are tabled that will ensure that Christians can express and demonstrate their Christian faith without the threat of being in danger of arrest. Christianity is not to be marginalised in this country.
My second point—again I mention the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers—is one with which I have some difficulty. because the Government support the exception to which I shall refer, but unfortunately they will not include it in the Bill. The exception is to allow certain businesses that provide holiday services to place an age limit on group holidays and to provide holidays catering for people of a particular age, which of course I come into. Holiday companies, such as Club 18-30, which I do not come into, and Saga, which I do, continue to target specific groups, allowing niche marketing by age. In another place, the Solicitor-General agreed that purpose. She said:
“They are exactly the exceptions that we want to make”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/12/09; col. 1203.]
It is better to have these matters ironed out and included in the Bill than to have to wait for an uncertain period and an uncertain outcome for British businesses such as Saga. I cannot understand why the Government are so hesitant, as they have already made their view plain. The June 2007 consultative paper, A Framework for Fairness, states:
“We must not have in the Bill unintended consequences of prohibiting positive benefits for either younger or older people, such as youth clubs or clubs for older people … or concessions and discounts which help younger or older people”.
That was followed in June 2008 by the Command Paper, Framework for a Fairer Future, which restated that the Equality Bill would,
“not affect the differential provision of products or services for older people where this is justified—for example bus passes for over-60s … or group holidays for particular age groups”.
The Bill, however, has the effect of banning the marketing of group holidays for particular age groups. The Explanatory Notes mention that exemptions “may” include holidays for particular age groups. In June 2009, in yet another consultative paper, Equality Bill: Making it Work, the Government consulted on their repeated intention; stating:
“On balance, we believe that there is a case for allowing age-targeted group holidays to remain lawful”.
Why not put on the face of the Bill exactly those exemptions that the Government recognise are important? Why should businesses have to wait not quite knowing when this will come, if at all? Saga’s 2.7 million customers over 50 would be grateful to know that the Bill will allow them to be able to continue to receive the services that they currently receive.
My Lords, for anyone committed to equality the whole of this Bill is extremely important. Personally, I will be keeping an eye on a range of issues in which I have a concern, including, but not limited to, civil partnerships and the impact of religion generally. In the short time available to me this evening, I will focus on only one issue, which is discrimination on the ground of caste. I and others will table amendments that will add this form of discrimination to discrimination on the grounds of gender, disability, race and so on.
Discrimination on the ground of caste is one of the historic evils of humanity, similar in many ways to discrimination on the ground of race. This has been recognised by people from William Wilberforce to the present Pope. The Indian constitution is exemplary in recognising this; indeed, in 2008 the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, described such discrimination as a “blot on humanity”. However, in practice it remains a terrible blight.
According to Hindu thought, there are four traditional caste groups, which correspond to the different traditional occupations but which are linked to birth and kinship groups. Outside those groups are what used to be called the “untouchables”—today they are termed Dalits—who are shunned and forced into the most menial tasks. For example, vast numbers of Dalits are manual scavengers, forced to scrape up and collect human excreta with their hands. There is now, I am glad to say, a growing worldwide campaign against this form of discrimination.
As we know, many people from India have migrated to this country. Therefore, two questions arise. First, how many Dalits are there in the UK? Secondly, is there evidence that they are discriminated against here, as undoubtedly they are in India? The issue is complicated by the fact that so pernicious is the caste system that it has permeated even those religions that have a strong doctrine of the equality of human beings and in which the caste system has no religious basis, such as, sadly, Christianity, Sikhism and Islam. In this country, for example, according to the 2001 census, there are 336,000 Sikhs, though the true figure is reckoned to be nearer 500,000. Of these, 167,000 are thought to be Dalits. The figures for Hinduism are more difficult to arrive at, but it has been estimated that as many as 1 million people could be adversely affected by the caste system in this country. That is a very significant number of people.
One study, which was done by the Hindu Forum and carried out over only two weeks in August, with only 19 respondents, agreed that caste discrimination was present in Britain but said that it was confined to private social practice. However, the Hindu Forum and the Hindu Council do not speak for the Dalit communities, who are regarded as untouchable by those who accept the caste system.
I urge the Government to look again at the recent report by the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, Hidden Apartheid—Voice of the Community: Caste and Caste Discrimination in the UK. This was a reputable academic study, undertaken by a professor of law and a director of the Centre for Community Research, with outside legal advice; it was a thorough study, involving a lot of people over a long period.
The report shows that discrimination has seeped out of the private sphere into issues of employment, education and healthcare. I will give a few examples. In the field of employment, a bus company operating in Southampton had to reorganise its shift system so that a “lower caste” driver would not have to drive with a “higher caste” inspector. Similar issues arose when drivers were being tested. Another person said:
“Caste came up in the college on a daily basis and you would find that people would group together. The name calling happened every day … You think there is something wrong with you—why am I being treated very different?”.
At school, there is very strong evidence of children being called “chamar” or “chuhra”, which are derogatory terms akin to terms of racial abuse of black or Pakistani people.
In the provision of services, a good number of people complained about intrusive questioning about the caste that they belonged to, with the result that when they revealed that they were Dalits they were rejected in some way. For example, a woman in Coventry was not given care in accordance with her care plan because it was due to be given by a “higher caste” woman who refused to help her shower.
These are just a few quick examples from a very thorough survey. Of those surveyed, 71 per cent identified themselves as being Dalits; 58 per cent of these said that they had been discriminated against because of their caste and 37 per cent said that this had happened on more than one occasion.
In the other place, the Government indicated sympathy for this issue but said that they remained uncertain about the evidence. I suggest that the evidence put forward by the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance is more than enough to show that discrimination is a reality and needs to be made illegal. The evidence adduced there is certainly as compelling as that which convinced the Government in relation to transgender and transsexual issues. The Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance report, as I mentioned, was a serious study undertaken by academics and it deserves to be given serious weight.
In October this year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said:
“The time has come to eradicate the shameful concept of caste”.
He called on the international community to come together,
“as it did when it helped put an end to apartheid”.
There are 270 million Dalits in the world. We in this country can play our part, with the international community, in ensuring that caste discrimination at least has no place at all in our own society. When appropriate amendments are brought forward to ban discrimination on the ground of caste, they will receive support from all sides of the House and I very much hope that the Government will be sympathetic.
My Lords, I, too, commend the Government for bringing forward another instalment on the long road to equality. It was some 44 years ago that this nation made a date with destiny with the Race Relations Act 1965, which was followed by the Race Relations Act 1976. Both Acts pledged the nation to the twin pillars of the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of equality of opportunity. Both Acts combined law enforcement on the one hand with community development on the other and set Britain on the road to equality. To coin a phrase, we sealed the deal with the British people. While the Explanatory Notes to this Bill are extensive, and my reading of it is incomplete, I cannot recall any reference in the Bill to contributing to the building of a strong, diverse and stable community. I support the call for an overall purpose clause to the Bill.
Today we consider a Bill that, we are told, is intended to bring together the various anti-discrimination laws and their subsequent amendments, which is to be welcomed. The Bill also promotes the notion of a socio-economic public duty, but these duties are not the panacea to all our social ills. For some time, public duty has already been provided in our anti-discrimination laws. Following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 imposed a number of proactive responsibilities on public authorities, which are commonly known as general race equality duties. We owe it to the legacy of Stephen Lawrence that, however inconvenient, we do not dilute or roll back these steps, which are positive tools in the struggle to eliminate discrimination and promote equality. The problem with this new section of the Bill is not a lack of public duty but a lack of enforcement of that duty, a lack of sanctions and a lack of real remedies.
That said, the principle of consolidation is welcome because the Bill raises a number of key issues, one or two of which I shall touch on as time permits. First, there is the interpretation of “equality”. In the proposed legislation, Ministers embrace equality in the language of fairness, but one person’s fair is another person’s unfair. Fairness is a subjective concept and it has been used as a second-rate substitute for the one word that really matters in this debate—equality. We must build a society where we enjoy the right to be different and, just as important, the right to be equal.
The Race Relations Act 1965 and the legislation that followed it were described by one of the Act’s architects as having real backbone. Underpinning those Acts was the recognition that victims of discrimination must be empowered to seek and pursue justice through remedies in the civil courts or, indeed, industrial tribunals. The new provisions of the Bill—I emphasise “new provisions”—lack real teeth. There is no clear route to equality or justice and some would say that that means very little credibility. Frankly, the new provisions, to coin a phrase that I have just used, lack a legal backbone. Individuals will not be able to pursue legal remedies for breaches of their statutory duty; they will have to seek judicial review proceedings if the authority does not deliver in respect of its strategic decisions. Equality and justice should be about simplicity of access to the law, not about scaling the hurdles of bureaucracy.
Digging deep for some positive strands in the new section of the Bill, I welcome the inclusion of age within the scope of the public sector duty. Sadly, the Bill does not outlaw the practice of enforced retirement at the arbitrary age of 65. Why do the Government not use the Bill to outlaw a practice that discriminates on those grounds? It is also to be regretted that there is a total absence of any protection for those under the age of 18, which could mean that children who suffer discrimination do not enjoy the Bill’s protection.
Gender pay transparency is yet another concern. Only public sector employees, for whom there is a target figure, will enjoy the opportunity of annual detailed reporting. I cannot understand the distinction between the public and private sector obligations here. Eighty per cent of all employees are in the private sector—the vast majority in small and medium-sized enterprises—and their employers are asked to report only on a voluntary basis. However, it is at that level of employment where the growth in the number of women employees really exists. In my view, a voluntary reporting scheme will take us no further forward in the battle to get equality in respect of women’s pay.
We are told that the procurement budget is some £220 billion. It seems to me that this gives us a real chance to make a difference in respect of discrimination on any of the grounds named in the Bill. I would take a blunt instrument to this: if you are found to discriminate, you should not enjoy the benefit of government contracts. The Americans take a simple view: it is called “contract compliance”.
We need to recognise that, if we are to take the road to true and lasting equality, we must ensure that we have the tools to finish the job. Discrimination is not just another social evil; it is a disease that devalues its victim, corrupts its perpetrators and attacks the moral fabric of our society.
My Lords, I generally support the Bill. I was born in 1962, so I do not qualify and shall not be rushing to enjoy, the benefits of Saga, and I doubt whether many over-50s will be rushing to take part in Club 18-30 holidays. Putting that to one side, I was born into what could be described as an “either/or” society: you were either black or you were British; you were either gay or you were decent; and you were either disabled or you were working. I have lived much of my life in such a society, even with the implementation of the Bills referred to by previous speakers.
The importance of this Bill is that it ushers in an “and/and” society—a society in which it is possible to be black and British, to be a Muslim woman and British, and to have a disability and contribute fully to the economy. It seems to me that that is the important point of the Bill and it is why I welcome the idea within it of multiple discrimination: we accept that we must see people as multiples in society and not just as either/ors.
I also welcome the socio-economic discrimination part of the Bill, although I note the concerns of previous speakers that it does not carry enough teeth. In my work with Turning Point and on estates around the country where public services have been commissioned without due regard to the socio-economic impacts and the ensuing discrimination, I can see the impact not just on the individuals in those places but on the generations born to those individuals. We know how difficult it is to move from an estate, from a family where there is unemployment or from a situation where you have not gone to the right school or where the public services have not taken into account the need to balance out socio-economic discrimination. I would rather start here with an expression of the public duty to provide a reversal of the inverse care law and do something about socio-economic discrimination than not start at all. However, I, too, should like to see teeth in the Bill. The “so what?” factor rides high in that statement. What happens if the duty is not adhered to?
At a time when the BNP has appeared on a BBC licence fee-funded station, using the freedom of speech to frighten the life out of a significant minority of the community, I should like the Leader of the House to say a bit more about what is missing in the Bill. In my view, what are missing are the duties of the publicly funded broadcasters, the Arts Council, museums and others to support fairness and equality in society.
For me, the Bill is not just about race, religion, disability or sexual orientation, important as those are; it is also about the future economy of this country. In his 2001 report, Shamit Saggar pointed out that 70 per cent of the increase in the working population will be from black and minority ethnic groups by the year 2020. Some people do not like that fact, but it is a fact. It is as obvious as gravity. If we want a population and an economy that will look after our elderly and provide us with new ideas, economies and businesses, then we cannot afford to discriminate on the grounds of race, disability or sexual orientation. To do so costs us. It is not just a moral imperative; it is an economic one.
I should like to know more specifically about the fears expressed by previous speakers, particularly those of a Christian religious faith. I am from, and take part in, a Christian community, as do my family. I have not heard expressed in that community the fears that have been expressed in this Chamber, and I would like to know more. I believe that most fears are imagined. Some of the fears were expressed during the passing of the Race Relations Act 1976 and the 1964 Act. I am not dismissing the fears but we should examine them logically and see exactly where they lead us.
I do not want to keep you any longer. I am concerned that the issues about the scrutiny of the Bill will lead to delay, which would lead to a dismantling of the Bill at a future time. That would be a real shame. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put on the statute book an all-encompassing and/and anti-discrimination Bill, and I urge us to do so. Scrutiny should not mean delay. The people outside this House who are discriminated against on a daily basis deserve a Bill that speaks to them as individuals and as members of our society and community. We should pass this Bill as quickly as possible.
My Lords, although I am generally supportive of the Equality Bill, it is disappointing that it fails to tackle some of the unnecessary discrimination in employment. I speak to two specific issues in that context. First, there is the exception that permits organisations with a religious ethos to discriminate in employment when they are working under contract to provide public services on behalf of the state. Secondly, there is the possible discrimination against teachers in state-funded faith schools.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for his incisive analysis of the problems of religion and belief as defined and deployed in the Bill, which I need not elaborate. Nor will I contest the assertions of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, except to say that as chairman of the All-Party Humanist Group, I only wish that I could share her belief that secularism is advancing across the UK. That is certainly not my impression.
The wording of the “work exceptions” for employers with a religious ethos, which permit them to discriminate in their employment on religious grounds, have been harmonised in the Bill. The new definition of exemptions for religious employers in the Equality Bill clarifies the present law by stating that any requirement that an applicant or employee must be of a particular religion or belief must be “an occupational requirement” and,
“a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.
This applies to all employers, including those with an ethos based on religious belief, and is to be welcomed. However, as the Bill is drafted, the exceptions described would apply even when a religious organisation is working under contract to a public authority to provide a public service on its behalf.
By extending the exception in Schedule 9, paragraph 3, of the Bill to religious organisations working under contract to provide these public service, the Bill could potentially subject a large number of posts currently in the public sector to religious tests. This could, for instance, provide favourable employment prospects to small numbers of religious believers. Conversely, it could rule out large numbers of posts for those with the wrong religion or with none. It could threaten the employment or promotion of staff transferred under a contract from the public sector employer to a religious one.
There is no good reason for allowing religious organisations performing public functions on behalf of a public authority to apply religious tests to their jobs. These concerns are shared by trade unions, the British Humanist Association, progressive religious organisations and others, including the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, which in its recent report on the Equality Bill stated:
“We are concerned about the status of employees of organisations delivering public services who find themselves as employees of organisations with a religious ethos who have been contracted to provide the public service. They have a right not to be subjected to religious discrimination on the basis of the ethos of the contracting organisation if they are otherwise performing their job satisfactorily”.
I ask the Minister to agree that the extension of Schedule 9, paragraph 3, is not satisfactory, and that it puts the jobs and job prospects of potentially thousands of public service workers at risk if their work is contracted to an organisation with a religious ethos.
Having expressed these concerns about the exceptions made for organisations with a religious ethos, I register our continuing concern about the ability of faith schools to discriminate against staff. There is no present need even to demonstrate the occupational requirement in order to discriminate on grounds of religion. In practice this means that a voluntary-aided school can impose religious requirements on all teaching posts and can also take religion into account in promotion and pay decisions without ever needing to show that the teacher being discriminated against needs to perform any religious role at all. Furthermore, any teachers in a voluntary-aided school might be dismissed or sanctioned for conduct incompatible with the tenets of the religion of the school, which could cover a wide and disputed range of conduct.
We anticipate that the tolerant majority of faith schools would not use the full extent of their powers to discriminate in employment. Indeed, many faith schools employ many teachers with many different beliefs. However, the reality is that those staff have few legal rights if they are discriminated against on religious grounds. This is surely not a satisfactory situation. The Bill could be amended in ways that would permit faith schools to discriminate by religion against employees but only according to the same rules as other organisations with a religious ethos.
I conclude by asking the Government to look again at these matters, which could restrict jobs to workers of the right religion, a requirement that, by definition, the majority of citizens can never meet.
My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, has already spoken most eloquently about caste discrimination. I add my voice to it as well. I do not think that I will do as well as him, but I will bring something different to my speech: a personal experience and knowledge of this heinous practice. In doing so, I hope that I may try and convince your Lordships that caste discrimination exists in this country and that it blights people’s lives in the same way as all other discrimination.
It is very difficult in many ways to describe what constitutes a caste. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, gave the traditional view that there are four castes. Well there are four castes, but it is not just about that. It is about the practice of discriminating against a person who is not of your own caste. Sometimes this can even happen among the people of the higher castes. The highest caste will discriminate against the one lower; that one will discriminate against the one lower and so on and so forth. It is a practice that needs to be examined and, if possible, tackled.
When I was a child, caste was very much part of our lives. As we are of the third class—the merchant class—we had to have a Brahmin—the highest caste—to cook our food because if someone from a higher caste came to our house, they would not eat our food because we were not of the same caste as them. We had two kitchens: one where meat was cooked and another where a Brahmin cook prepared food. I grew up expecting people to demand that food be cooked by someone from their own caste.
The Indian constitution was formulated by a wonderful lawyer called Dr Ambekar, who was from the lowest caste. He was very anti-caste. He added provisions to the constitution saying that people should not be discriminated against on the basis of caste. He also outlawed one other very dreadful practice; the practice of dowry. Asking for a dowry is outlawed in the constitution.
Laws are made but people do not follow them. The constitution is not followed so the caste system exists. The saddest part is, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, that it has been extended to other people and other religions in the Indian subcontinent. To me, it is very sad to find that the Sikhs now have four temples in every town, each one being for a different caste. That is appalling because the founder of the Sikh religion said, very categorically, that they are all brothers and sisters.
Islam says its followers are all brothers—it talks only about brothers and not about sisters. They do not call it caste, but Biradari, or Jati, or some other name and people will not marry into another caste. To me, that is very sad.
Many Christian converts in India were from the lower castes who thought that conversion was a way of getting out of the caste system.
My Lords, on a point of clarification, when the noble Baroness refers to discrimination on the basis of caste or to the brotherhood in Islam, is she referring to that as a cultural practice or as a religious practice? If it is religious, what is the religious basis for it?
My Lords, it is not a religious practice. I refer to it only as a cultural practice for Muslims from the Indian subcontinent. I have been to Pakistan four times and, the first time I went there, I was shocked to learn that people did not marry outside what they considered to be their caste. I refer to that and not to the Muslim religion. The Muslim religion does not recognise the caste system and it does not exist in other parts of the Islamic world.
Christian converts came mainly from the lower castes who thought they could escape the caste system, but everyone treated them as lower caste. You cannot escape simply by calling yourself something different.
The lower castes were mentioned in a schedule to the constitution, so they became known as the “schedule castes” and now we call them Dalits, which means downtrodden. They have asked for that name. People from the Indian subcontinent have come to this country and have brought these customs with them. It is a social and cultural custom, not a religious custom, and it is not stratified as it used to be. People are being discriminated against in this country because of that. When immigrants come to another country they do not change. If change comes in their own country, they do not change when they leave their country. I believe that if this very comprehensive Bill is intended to root out all remaining discrimination, it ought to tackle that form of discrimination as well.
There is also verbal abuse and people who do not receive the same pay. I used to be a teacher and I know there is abuse in schools. The Christian boys got very short shrift from the others. I know very well what goes on and I beg your Lordships to consider this as a serious issue and to find a way to root out this dreadful practice in this country.
My Lords, I greatly welcome the Bill and see it as a tribute to the Government’s commitment to equality. The Bill does a number of things that are long overdue. It comes as a climax to a long struggle for equality, which began nearly 45 years ago. As time is limited, I shall concentrate on those aspects of the Bill which puzzle me and where I would like some clarification and possibly some reinforcement. I have six points.
Given the provenance of the Bill and the fact that women constitute 51 per cent of our population, the Bill has much to say about gender equality. I welcome that, but I would have thought that measures similar to those proposed for gender equality might be introduced for other characteristics; for example, pay audits refer mainly to women and have nothing to say about the disabled or the ethnic minorities. There is a provision in the Bill for a women-only shortlist but no provision whatever for ethnic minorities or for the disabled or others. Women enjoy only 19 per cent of the representation in the House of Commons, which certainly needs to be rectified, but the representation of ethnic minorities is less than 2 per cent. I would have thought that the same arguments made about gender representation should also apply to ethnicity and other areas.
My second point is a simple one. As is widely acknowledged and was repeatedly emphasised by Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister, the ethnic minorities are inadequately represented in the higher echelons of the Civil Service, the judiciary, and among chief executives of NHS trusts and other public bodies. Many of us had hoped that the Bill would propose some way of rectifying that situation. So far I have seen nothing in the Bill that will do much to rectify that gross under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in the upper echelons of the Civil Service and the judiciary.
My third point concerns placing a positive duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity, to counter disadvantages and to foster good relations. The duty, as formulated in the Bill, remains rather vague. There is no provision to monitor public authorities. The Bill says that the Government will make proposals later for specific duties, possibly in the form of instructions or secondary legislation. I hope that they will bear in mind the need to give real bite to the general positive duty to promote equality of opportunity and to foster good race relations. However, it would greatly help if there were some kind of monitoring provision and provision for equality impact assessment in the Bill.
I have the same feeling concerning the need to tackle socio-economic disadvantage. Tackling that is a public policy issue and the law can only do so much but we should ensure that it does everything it can. Public authorities are required to show that they have taken into account the differential socio-economic impact of their policies and that the course of action they propose to take will deal with those differential impacts. Placing the duty is not enough. We also need to ensure that public authorities are required to publish alternative strategies by which they try to identify what impact different strategies will have and that those strategies deal with socio-economic disadvantages. There is no use simply putting the duty in formal terms, unless there is a backup mechanism of some kind.
My fourth point has to do with the fact that disadvantage and discrimination occur for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways. There is direct and there is indirect discrimination, but as the Macpherson report pointed out, and as the report that I was privileged to chair on behalf of the Runnymede Commission pointed out, discrimination can also occur through the culture of an organisation, through the attitudes of its members, unwitting prejudices, thoughtlessness and stereotypes—in other words, a kind of sexism or racism which is built into the practices and procedures of the organisation, which shapes its culture and results in discriminatory or disadvantageous treatment. I should have liked the Bill to have moved beyond simple forms of direct and indirect discrimination and to tackle ways of organisational culture.
I want to move, briefly, but importantly, to the complicated notion of positive action and the situation where it can be regarded as lawful. Positive action, as it is defined in the Bill, is, in some form, already lawful and many organisations practise it. It seems to imply that, where people are equally qualified, you might take into account the fact that someone belongs to a particular gender or a particular race. However, there is a different way in which the problem can be conceptualised.
Take a hospital. The example given is of a school where all the teachers are women and we are thinking of a male teacher as a role model. Let me give a slightly different and less hackneyed example and a real one. Take a hospital whose obstetrics and gynaecology department is all-male. Many women would like to be seen by a female gynaecologist, but there is none. A vacancy occurs. We have two candidates, a male and a female, with equal medical or academic qualifications and equal professional experience. The woman doctor could be appointed, either as a form of positive action, or by simply saying that the needs of the organisation require that her gender is an important part of the qualification itself. In other words, what is called positive action here is not simply an add-on in a situation where there is equality of qualification or experience, rather it is built into the structure of the assessment criteria themselves, so that she is appointed because she has an additional qualification, by virtue of her gender, which others do not have.
My last point has already been made and has to do with the procurement policy of the Government. They spend somewhere between £175 billion and £220 billion per year on goods, facilities and services supplied by the private sector. This is a very powerful weapon by which to ensure equality. This is what the Americans did in the 1970s and 1980s in a very big way. This is what was also proposed here when the GLC was in swing, in the form of contract compliance. The Bill needs to provide clear guidelines as to how the procurement policy or contract compliance is to be executed, there should be rigorous monitoring so that the policy is not misused and it must be enforced as powerfully as it can be.
I have expressed some doubts and reservations about the Bill, but that was simply in the hope that we take them into account, and as and when another opportunity arises to propose a Bill, perhaps we might be able to go back and take these points into account. I have no wish to put down amendments on any of this, because the Bill is extremely important and nothing should be done to delay its passage through this wonderful House.
My Lords, I wish to address the impact that the Bill will have on the professions of law and medicine and in particular the position of women and ethnic minorities in those professions. By virtue of Schedule 19, the NHS is a public authority for the purposes of Clause 145 and therefore it will have a duty to advance equality of opportunity between men and women, a subject in which I have a special interest. I chaired for a year a Department of Health committee which produced a report this October entitled Women Doctors: Making a Difference. This initiative arose because of two factors relating to equality. One is that the majority of students starting to study medicine is now and has for some time been female. The other is the need to retain and use to the full the value of the medical workforce, given the expense of training and the cut in hours imposed by the European working time directive, which has made full utilisation harder.
Both men and women medical students need and deserve to have a work-life balance, but the profession of medicine is exceptional in the demands it makes of doctors, especially women. Other professions have long hours, anti-social hours and a demand for continuity on the part of the person receiving the services, but in none is it as intense as in medicine. There have been many reports into the best way to keep women doctors in and at the top of the profession. My report was different in two respects. It focused on remedies, not reasons, as the ground had been well covered, and its thrust was to get women back to full-time work, assuming they want it, while admitting that there will always be periods in the woman doctor's life when she has to train or work less than full time, because of child or elder care. So we focused on returning and retaining; we examined the difficulty women doctors seem to experience in getting into leadership positions, focusing on fair nominations to committees, mentoring and the need to share the limelight in the royal colleges and journals. We looked at flexibility in terms of hours and place in order to facilitate it and we spent a great deal of time examining childcare.
There is one big gap in the otherwise admirable ideology underlying this Bill, and it relates to the position of women, the protected characteristic of the female sex. While in relation to other protected characteristics, such as race, the law seeks to remove barriers, in the case of women and the disabled it may be more subtle: making reasonable adjustments. It is not sufficient to say to women that they are free to get on with it, any more than it is to the disabled. The ramp, or helping hand, has to be put in place. In the case of women, that is childcare. There will never be true equality in the workplace until there is national, affordable, indeed subsidised childcare in all its varieties.
We expect women at one and the same time to occupy half of all top positions, to earn the same salaries as men and yet to be good mothers. It is regarded as a valid life choice to abandon work and stay at home once children are born, with all the risks that that choice entails if the male partner leaves the home, or the career ladder is left behind. The only way to square the circle in medicine and other demanding professions is to enable the woman both to be a good mother and a good professional in relation to her patients by enabling childcare. When a typical man goes to work, he is provided with a secretary and a computer; when a self-employed man entertains potential clients, he gets tax relief. A typical working mother would like and has more need of a child carer and tax relief on that. The childcare costs that she incurs at work are necessarily so incurred. The tax that it is proposed should be recovered from bankers would be well spent on extending childcare vouchers. A parliamentary staffing allowance for MPs, if it continues to exist, is as validly spent, if not more so, on a child carer than on a secretary, and many women would support me in saying that the childcare is the more essential. Promoting equality without the infrastructure is only half the battle.
I now turn to law, where I declare an interest as chair of the Bar Standards Board regulating barristers. I was dismayed to see Clause 45, which singles out the Bar, with one or two others, for special treatment in the area of equality. There is no need for Clause 45. The Bar put together an equality and diversity code as far back as 1995. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, issued a famous report on equality and access at the Bar, which laid out a blueprint which has been faithfully followed to encourage diversity and inclusion within the legal profession. Considerable work has been done by the Bar in relation to school visits and in engaging students at all universities. The Inns of Court spend £4 million in supporting students, and as far as pupillage goes, 23 per cent of new pupils are from black and other ethnic minority backgrounds. There is no case for singling out the Bar. The only problem with the legal profession is the Government. Their desire—
My Lords, I declare an interest as a barrister. I wonder whether the noble Baroness is aware that the provisions she is talking about were put into the race and sex discrimination Bills and had the support of the legal profession for good reason.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. My express intention in saying this is that I do not think that Clause 45 is necessary because of the great advances that the Bar has made. It makes it look as though the Bar has not made them. The biggest threat to young barristers is the Government’s cut in legal aid in the crime and family areas where young women and black and ethnic minority practitioners are strongly represented and would expect to earn a living, albeit a modest one, doing family and criminal work. The cuts in legal aid are the factor that will most impact on the possibilities for advancement of young women and black and ethnic minority barristers at the Bar. The Bar itself is taking every possible step to help them forward, and I would wish that Clause 45 be regarded in that light. I know it has been brought over from other legislation, but its presence is now superfluous.
My Lords, it is a pleasure and a privilege to take part in this debate, although I missed the early part, for which I apologise. It is fascinating to find that in answer to the question, “Are we in favour of equality?”, there is not a voice that would say, “No”. However, I had not conceived of the range of inequality, but I listened with attention.
No one has worked harder than the Leader of the House recently and no one deserves a good holiday over Christmas more than she does. I shall give her a Christmas box: I do not intend her to say anything at all about what I say, except that it was a good speech, that she enjoyed it and that she will listen to what I have to say in Committee.
Declarations have been made. The House is well aware of my lifelong commitment to the Co-operative movement. I shall use this opportunity to remind the House that the Co-operative movement is an early example of an institution that practised equality. In 1844, when the Rochdale pioneers started, and for the next 160 years, the criterion for being a member of a co-op was one member, one vote. When it came to the sharp end—members of a board of directors—you could stand. I remember more women than men at the large parliaments of the Co-operative movement, and I know they played a full part. We practised equality, not discrimination, more than many a private company’s board of directors. Last night, we heard that the SSRB has not a single woman member. That is a shame and regrettable. However, we are bringing attention to these things.
I have been a member of this House for 25 years and was in the other place for 10 years. I shudder to think of the awful debates in which people who had a deep-rooted objection or a passionate belief in an issue used the opportunity to get it out of their system. I listened and wondered how people could be so bigoted in their reaction to other people.
The Bill tries to produce a single body of legislation instead of it being all over the place. It may succeed. Time will probably be the biggest enemy of the people who want to see the Bill doing something. I have been a trade union member all my life. The TUC has pointed out the benefits of the Bill. It requires public bodies to take account of socio-economic disadvantage when taking strategic decisions. No one can object to that. It improves protection for disabled people and their carers. No one can object to that. In this House and in the other place, I have seen the march of disabled people—that is not quite the right phrase—but the wheels of the wheelchairs grind exceedingly slowly. I have seen the gradual place taken by blind, deaf and disabled people in this place and the other place. It is to the credit of Parliament and its Members that they have been willing to do this. The public ought to be grateful.
The Bill allows employers to take positive action in recruitment and promotion and extends protection from indirect discrimination to, and clarifies the definition of, gender reassignment. It includes enabling powers to introduce specific equality duties relating to the public sector. Those who have studied the Bill more closely than I have will acknowledge that these things are there, but there will still be hundreds of amendments, mainly not to take out, although we have an interesting point about what needs to come out of the Bill: Clause 45. However, a lot of people will say that they agree with what the Bill says, but it does not go far enough or extend to their special interest. The Minister and her colleagues will have the difficult job of possibly agreeing in principle with everything that has been said. However, there are limits on what can go in to the Bill.
I listened closely to the speech by my noble friend Lord Macdonald, who spoke on behalf of the British Humanist Association. As a member of it, I agree with every word he said. No doubt, there will be amendments. Like many other noble Lords, I received a brief from the Equality Trust. I had never heard of it until I got its brief. With a Bill of this kind, people have been waiting in the dark for parliamentary action to take place, and then they spring out, and we find that they are there. I liked what it said. It said that the Bill includes a requirement that public bodies have regard to the desirability of reducing socio-economic inequalities when making strategic decisions. It goes on to talk about the benefits that could come if a small amendment was made to the Bill. It says, but we do not know, that it would halve the homicide rate, reduce mental illness by two-thirds, halve obesity, imprison 80 per cent fewer people, have 80 per cent fewer teenage births, increase the proportion of the population who feel that they can trust others by 85 per cent and allow us to become significantly more environmentally sustainable. That is if we get economic equality.
No one round here would disagree with the fact that, however wage structures have been made and whatever society has done, there is no such thing as economic equality. There are various slogans; for example, equal pay for equal work. We are all aware of them and agree with them, but this is the place that can do something about it. I am sure that the Government will have something to say that may inhibit my enthusiasm for what has been said. All I will say to the Minister and her colleagues is that I do not envy them their task not only in having to listen to a great many briefs which are coming forward from many places, but also in trying to satisfy people against a timescale. I wish my dear friend the Leader of the House well.
My Lords, without doubt we are engaged on hugely significant legislation and it is a privilege to be taking part. In view of the range of topics in the Bill, the richness of experience in your Lordships’ House and the time, I want to concentrate only on the bits of the Bill that refer to carers. I declare an interest as vice-president of Carers UK.
I welcome the provision to extend protection against discrimination and harassment to someone who is associated with a disabled person, which in effect will give carers new rights in the workplace and in the provision of services. Your Lordships will be aware that, until now, the Disability Discrimination Act has applied only to disabled people. However, following the case of a Carers UK member, Sharon Coleman, against her employer, the European Court of Justice ruled, as my noble friend the Leader of the House mentioned, that the European framework directive did not specify that the person discriminated against had to have a disability themselves in order to be protected against direct discrimination and harassment. In introducing this provision through the Bill, the Government are implementing this ruling in British law, but they are going further than that. I congratulate the Government heartily on extending the protection to the provision of goods, facilities and services. That is a very welcome step.
Carers are a hidden but substantial minority of our population. They constitute about 6 million people in the United Kingdom, a number that is set to rise considerably. However, until the Coleman judgment and this Bill, carers have remained one of the very few groups against whom it is possible to discriminate. So it is not surprising that there is much enthusiasm for this Bill in the carers’ movement and a commitment to making the law work for carers.
Clause 13 is the heart of the Bill as far as carers are concerned. It is good to see that the definition of direct discrimination is broad enough to cover cases where the less favourable treatment is because of the victim’s association with someone who has that characteristic or because the victim is wrongly thought to have it. It is currently unlawful to discriminate against or to harass someone because they are linked to or associated with a person who is of another sexual orientation, race, religion or belief. But the same protection has not so far fully applied in respect of disability, age, sex or gender reassignment. The inclusion of protection against this type of discrimination, which follows the case of Sharon Coleman, is very much to be welcomed, as is Clause 14.
Clause 14, which refers to multiple discrimination, includes protection against discrimination because of a combination of two relevant protected characteristics. Currently, for example, more women than men are carers, which may mean that female carers are discriminated against in the workplace both because they are a woman and because they are a carer. However, we should remember that male carers, who are in a minority, may also suffer discrimination. For example, a male carer may be denied flexible working because the employer underestimates the nature of his caring role, where female employees with children are allowed to work flexibly. Certainly, carers from ethnic minority groups may face discrimination because of both their caring role and their ethnicity. That could be based on racial stereotypes and on attitudes about carers and it could lead them to be treated differently from a white carer or a non-carer from the same ethnic minority. The multiple rule is most welcome.
Let me mention discrimination in the provision of services. Many carers rely extensively on health and social care services because of their own health problems and to provide care for the person they look after. They often have problems accessing appropriate and affordable services. These practices are often discriminatory. For example, both health and social services assumed that a woman with a broken leg would be able to rest it, despite the fact that her husband was in the terminal stages of cancer and required 24-hour care from her. She was eventually provided with support, but it was too late. I am sorry to say that she was left with lasting complications and constant pain from the broken leg.
As to direct discrimination in employment, discrimination against carers can take many forms. At its most blatant, carers can be fired or demoted because of their caring role. I must mention the carer who went to a job interview with a local authority employer to be told that he should reapply for similar positions after his wife with MS had died because then he would be in a better position to take up a post. I should point out that some of the questions that used to be asked of women with children—many of your Lordships, or I should more pertinently say “your Ladyships”, will remember questions about their responsibilities and how committed they were to their work and so on—are now targeted at carers. It is very important that this part of the Bill is also pursued.
Having given a warm welcome to those parts of the Bill, I must now mention what I believe is missing. Carers are not currently protected against indirect discrimination. The wording of Clause 19 ensures that protection is extended only to disabled people. For example, if a carer is forced to leave a job because the employer operates a shift pattern with which they cannot comply because of the provision of services locally, they would not be protected and have recourse to the law. Such indirect discrimination should also be unlawful and I hope to hear the opinion of the Leader of the House on that.
I also believe that carers should have the right to reasonable adjustments in their desire to demand and expect flexible working, a view that is supported by the Work and Pensions Select Committee. I believe that more provisions should be made for that. I wish the Bill extremely well and a speedy passage through the House.
My Lords, I, too, very much welcome this Bill. Having grown up piecemeal over 45 years and more, equality law has become an overgrown and impenetrable jungle spread over more than 100 pieces of primary and secondary legislation and thousands of pages of guidance and statutory codes of practice. It is inaccessible to rightsholders, employers and service providers alike and is overdue for consolidation, rationalisation and simplification. Some wish that it could have been even more streamlined than it is and consisted of something much more like a framework Bill setting out the purpose and principles of the legislation in a manner that would have been easier for the general reader to grasp, leaving much to regulations and guidance, along the lines of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, in this House a few years ago. But we have the Bill that we have. However you look at it, it is clear that it will deliver a legal regime that is a great improvement on what we have.
The Government have made clear their commitment to ensure that the Bill provides at least the same level of protection as current law and that, in the jargon, there is no regression. They have largely done a good job. They have listened to concerns expressed by colleagues in another place and have made further welcome changes. But that does not mean that the Bill is incapable of improvement. Without wishing to be unduly parochial, but simply because it is what I know most about, let me say that aspects of the Bill remain of concern to disabled people. Having said that, I should add that the Disability Charities Consortium, which represents the larger disability charities—I declare my interest as a vice-president of RNIB and an officeholder in a number of other disability charities, all of which are declared in the Register of Interests—is clear that it wants the Bill and is not fazed by the bureaucratic burdens that have been alleged. I shall therefore be anxious to facilitate the Bill’s passage into law. However, that does not absolve us from our duty to subject it to proper scrutiny and I shall be seeking further changes designed to address the concerns to which I have alluded and which I will outline further. I feel sure that, with reasonable give and take, we can arrive at a solution that we can all live with. For today, I will content myself with simply touching on a few of the disability community’s priorities for improvement.
Before I do that, it is only fair to mention some of the things in the Bill that are particularly welcome to disabled people. I particularly instance here: the provision that makes it clear that, where a defence of justification is available to claims of discrimination, that defence must be objectively grounded; the establishment of a single threshold for the point at which the duty to make reasonable adjustments is triggered, though some slight tweaking of the wording may still be required here; the elimination of confusing variations in the definition of discrimination as it relates to disability; and, perhaps most welcome of all, the reversal of the Malcolm decision which threatened to wreak so much havoc with the concept of disability-related discrimination.
As for the points where I feel that changes are still necessary, I will just mention half a dozen or so. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, has already mentioned three of them so I shall be very brief. First, there is a need to ensure that the public sector equality duty reflects the distinctive nature of disability discrimination as fully as current legislation does. In its desire to establish a common conception of discrimination that goes across all strands, the Bill does not adequately reflect the asymmetrical nature of rights and duties as between disabled and non-disabled people. If we fail to get this right, we risk regression.
Secondly, there is the public sector duty itself. As the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, pointed out, this does not yet have the precision that the disability equality duty has had for disabled people, which has been such a welcome feature of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and has been welcomed by service providers as well since it gave them much more clarity as to what they needed to do to address systemic discrimination against disabled people.
Thirdly, as a frequent flyer, I am particularly concerned about the regression in the Bill’s failure to retain the provision in Section 20(5) of the DDA that the cost of reasonable adjustments may not be charged to the disabled person. The definition of “reasonable adjustment” takes account of the service provider’s ability to bear the cost, so there is no hardship to service providers in retaining this provision. I hope that we will be able to see it back in the Bill.
Fourthly, the Minister will be aware of the uncomfortable history in which qualifications bodies have misguidedly chosen to demonstrate their commitment to standards that we all share by taking measures that disadvantage disabled people. They have lost the confidence of many disabled people by doing so. Clause 96 of the Bill explicitly authorises an exam system that disadvantages disabled candidates and says in terms that minimising this is merely desirable, not necessary. The wording does not sit comfortably in an Equality Bill. The Government is usually such a champion of the life chances of disabled people and their foundation on basic qualifications that I hope very much that we will be able to move this issue forward through a process of discussion.
Fifthly, there is an unfortunate gap in the duties between the DDA and the special educational needs framework. That needs to be addressed. I feel a bit guilty about this as, when we considered this matter on the Disability Rights Task Force, which prefigured the creation of the Disability Rights Commission back at the end of the 1990s, I was concerned to preserve a clear dividing line between the two systems so that they should not get confused with each other. I have to confess that it has not worked out in practice. Schools’ current duty is to use their best endeavours to secure provision and they are exempted from the duty to provide auxiliary aids and services as part of the reasonable adjustment duty under the DDA. This has given rise to a gap in provision as a result of the way in which the rights framework and the SEN framework do not mesh with each other. Removing schools’ exemption from the duty to provide auxiliary aids and services would mean that the rights framework placed on schools a clear responsibility to ensure that all their pupils could access the curriculum and fill the gaps that have grown up in meeting the practical needs of disabled children.
Finally, there is one omission from disability legislation that must now be corrected. What ramps are to wheelchair users, large print and other forms of accessible information are to blind and partially sighted people. There are 2 million of us and, with an ageing population, that number is increasing year on year. Large print is easy to produce now, yet even eye hospitals fail to provide it for appointment letters and even intimate matters like test results. Older people are resigning themselves to simply stopping reading. This is neither necessary nor acceptable. It is also a perfect example of where the law should be judged against the outcomes that it produces and not merely against its procedures. I will therefore be tabling an amendment in Committee to introduce an explicit duty to provide accessible information.
I welcome the Bill and look forward to constructive discussions in Committee designed to resolve the few important issues that remain.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Bill and I believe that it was changed for the better in the other place. I am among those in the Chamber who have been campaigning to combine the many discrimination laws into a single act for more years than I care to remember. As a former trade union official, I know how this harmonisation will make life simpler and strengthen protection for those relying on the Bill to improve the lot of some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Like other noble Lords, certain parts of the Bill are more important to me than others, but I shall not outline these tonight because of the time. Rather, I shall concentrate on queries and comments that I have about the Bill. My first comment is about the approach to gender discrimination in pay and contractual terms—vital issues for trade unions and their members. The Bill replicates the existing provisions of the Equal Pay Act 1970 and this for me is extremely disappointing. The Government are missing a great opportunity to improve on the Equal Pay Act. They could have overhauled what is currently a complex, time-consuming and costly legal process to close the gap between men’s and women’s pay by allowing a hypothetical competitor to be used. Secondly, in relation to the new public sector duty proposals, I would welcome more details of these in the Bill, most especially the inclusion of the requirement for public bodies to consult their recognised trade unions on these issues. This would certainly pave the way for better industrial relations.
My two most important queries relate to women bishops and to equality representatives. I will start with women bishops and I place on record my thanks for my briefing from the Women and the Church task force. WATCH has anxieties about the Bill. It believes that within the Equality Bill, the Church of England may need to claim exemptions under Schedule 9, concerning gender, for two reasons. First, some Episcopal appointments may only be open to men who do not ordain women. Secondly, does Paragraph 2(6) of Schedule 9 mean that those opposed to female bishops and/or opposed to male bishops who consecrate them may be exempt from the Act under this non-conflict clause? When I read the clause, it made me wonder if it really should be removed from the Bill altogether because it appears to give a licence to any group that wishes to hold the Church, or indeed any other religious body, to ransom when such a body is considering changing its stance on issues of gender, sexuality, et cetera. I would welcome the Minister’s response.
I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify these issues, because WATCH believes that the best future for the Church of England will include women and men as bishops without any discrimination between them in terms of functions, responsibilities for care or geographical territory. As a member of the Church of England, I support this view, hence my raising these points today.
I know that the TUC and the Government have fairly recently discussed equality representatives. The Government have identified a clear business case for promoting equality and diversity in the workplace, including enhanced profitability, attracting and retaining talented staff to fill skills gaps and, importantly, more productive employees who are selected, trained and promoted because they are the best people for the jobs. I am surprised, therefore, that the Government have not sought to recognise the valuable contribution already made by union equality representatives by using this Bill to place them on the same statutory footing as other union representatives.
Equality reps are trained to advise and inform union members about equality matters in the workplace, such as the right to request flexible working, equal pay and protection from discrimination, which are all relevant to this Bill. They complement and enhance employers’ efforts to engage with workers by fostering a shared level of trust between workers and between workers and managers, supporting the efforts of the employer to deal more effectively with issues that individual workers may find difficult to discuss. At present, equality reps often operate outside the collective bargaining process and, although there is no obligation on an employer to consult with equality representatives, many employers do, because it helps them to deal with sensitive matters; for example, between special interest groups. Working with employers, equality representatives can assist in monitoring and assessing the impact of employment policies on different groups to ensure that measures are put in place to avoid discrimination. Avoiding discrimination reduces the employer’s exposure to costly and time-consuming employment tribunal claims while encouraging healthier, happier and more productive employees.
Representatives already receive considerable support from unions to perform their role in the workplace. However, those who are not given paid time off to perform their role are not able to be nearly as effective. Paid time off means time off that is “reasonable in all the circumstances” in order to undertake training relevant to their role and to perform their functions, in line with the ACAS code of practice on time off for trade union duties and activities. Once the Equality Bill comes into force, the pressure on equality reps to give advice and support to employees who fall into one or more of the equality strands protected under the new Act will dramatically increase. Without a right to statutory facility time, the burden of managing workplace disputes between competing interest groups will fall squarely on existing human resources teams and managers.
The TUC would like included in the Bill proposals to give equality reps the same rights to paid time off for training and carrying out their duties as those currently enjoyed by shop stewards, and union learning and health and safety representatives in workplaces where the union is recognised for collective bargaining purposes. The TUC will publish a full report in early January 2010, illustrating the important contribution made by equality reps and why statutory backing should be incorporated in the Bill. I give due notice that I shall place an amendment to include equality reps in the Bill. I look forward to the debates ahead.
My Lords, I start by declaring an interest. When one sees the Bill’s protected characteristics, including gender, marital status, age, religion or belief, disability, race and so on, one could perhaps, like most of your Lordships, declare multiple interests. However, I have carried out some training for members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales through my company, Cumberlege Connections, and I am aware of its concerns about the Bill. It is on the implications of the Bill for religious belief that I shall speak, as have, I know, many other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Lester, my noble friend Lady O’Cathain, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity.
I start by stating where the Catholic Church stands on human rights. All forms of unjust discrimination are wrong. That principle goes back to the New Testament. It is the inescapable consequence of a belief in the innate dignity of every human person, as created in the image of God. However, the church, like the drafters of the Bill, recognises that we can and should take account of differences between people where these distinctions are properly based and not simply a matter of prejudice. Accommodating difference and the needs of minorities is surely one of the key tests that distinguish a genuinely liberal democracy from one which is oppressive. Anti-discrimination law, protecting religious beliefs as much as other characteristics, should not be framed in such a way that it prevents those very beliefs being put into practice, but that, I fear, is exactly where the Bill takes us.
A matter of grave concern to many religious bodies is the definition of employment for the purposes of religion in paragraph 2(8) of Schedule 9. Such employment is relevant only if it “wholly or mainly” involves leading or participating in formal liturgy,
“or promoting or explaining the doctrine of the religion”.
It is only if a post meets that definition that the employer can legitimately make a requirement relating to sex, transsexuality, marriage or civil partnership, divorce or sexual orientation.
We are not debating here whether different religions should choose to make such distinctions. There are well established matters of clear belief and doctrine which religious bodies have held, in some cases for millennia, and which they are fully entitled to hold under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. All we are considering is whether the right of the religion to exercise that choice should be restricted by law to the narrow range of posts covered by the definition in paragraph 2(8) of Schedule 9.
Under the current Employment Equality Regulations 2003, there is no definition of employment for the purposes of an organised religion. An employer may therefore lawfully apply a requirement related to sexual orientation, first, so as to comply with the doctrines or, secondly, because of the nature of the employment and the context in which it is carried out, so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers.
The same tests are in the Bill and seem to strike the right balance. So why do the Government feel that they now need to define employment for the purposes of religion? What is the mischief that this new provision addresses? I understand that officials have indicated that it has been introduced because the existing provision was being grossly abused in some cases. If so, I would have thought that courts would have no difficulty in making a judgment on the facts as to whether the plain meaning of the regulation was being abused and ruling accordingly.
What the Government have done in introducing this restrictive definition, however, is create a very narrow class of persons to whom the provision applies. It covers only those whose time is wholly or mainly spent on leading or participating in formal liturgical practices, or promoting or explaining the doctrine of the religion. As the most reverend Primate said, it takes no account of pastoral or representative functions, or of any of the myriad activities carried out to meet the functions of a religious body. Any post where liturgy and doctrinal explanation were not the whole or main tasks would have to be open to a person of any sex, marital status, transsexual history or sexuality, whatever the beliefs of the religion. It would be unlawful to reject an applicant or take action against a person in post, however grave the scandal caused.
What would this mean in practice? If a man employed as a Catholic diocesan marriage care co-ordinator abandoned his family and his wife in a well publicised and scandalous divorce case to remarry in a civil ceremony a woman with a similar history, he could not possibly have any credibility in the function in which he was employed. Yet any action the diocese took against him as a result would be unlawful.
I am not arguing that a religious body should have the right to refuse any form of employment on the grounds of sex, marital status and so on. Churches can and do employ builders, accountants and architects where there is no genuine occupational requirement to be a member of the religion, never mind any question of their personal circumstances. I am arguing, however, that in a number of significant posts—which may be occupied by people who are ordained, consecrated, religious or lay,—it is right for a religious employer to require that their lives are not manifestly in opposition to the teachings of the religion and the beliefs of its followers. Is that too much to ask?
However, the Bill does offer a crumb of comfort. The Explanatory Notes reassure us that the definition, narrow as it now is, will at least permit the Catholic Church to require that a priest be a man. I am afraid to say, however, that the Bill will not even achieve that. I do not know whether those who drafted the Bill actually stopped to talk to a Catholic priest, but the only priests I can think of who spend their time wholly or mainly either engaged in leading liturgy or in promoting or explaining doctrine will be the staff of seminaries or those with catechetical roles. The definition simply will not do as a description of the work of most priests.
I took a diary of a priest at random. He has spent 21 hours on the definition that is in the Bill. If one considers all the other activities, as the most reverend Primate was saying, such as private prayer, social engagements with parishioners, dealing with callers at either of his church offices—he has two—administration and finance, school visiting, paperwork, hospital visits, appointments, visiting the sick and other pastoral activities, they add up to over 60 hours a week. This is not a job description, it is a vocation: a way of life in the service of others.
Finally, this is not a matter that is of concern to the Catholic Church alone: 11 other religious groups wrote to the Minister for Women and Equality in November, stressing their very real concerns. I hope the Leader of the House will, on reflection, see fit to bring an amendment before your Lordships in Committee to remedy this defect. If not, I suspect amendments will need to be tabled from other sources to remove this unnecessary and discriminatory definition.
My Lords, my first thoughts when reading the Equality Bill were, “Haven’t I been here before? Isn’t this already the case?”. On rereading the Bill, however, I became persuaded that readdressing the issue is not only necessary but overdue. One of the great dangers is assuming that checks and balances are not only in place but that they are working. They are not. More than that, the scope of inequality today is wider than ever and includes issues such as civil partnerships, race, sexual orientation and age. All have implications which are more complex than ever and which require further scrutiny.
I congratulate the Government on taking these issues further and making a Bill fit for the 21st century. Harriet Harman earns our praise for the dogged manner in which she seeks to counter discrimination. Incidentally, I also praise the outstanding version of the Bill—its “easy read” format. I was in the gallery of the other place when Harriet Harman presented the Bill. She, too, paid tribute to the easy read, saying that it made the Bill available to everyone, including those with learning difficulties. She added that she had found it useful and helpful. We all chuckled a bit at that. It was a lovely moment but we knew what she meant.
It is also right to look at the Bill with European eyes. Equality legislation owes much to the European Parliament and the Commission. While in the 1990s they tackled problems on a pan-European scale, we learnt from each other, copying the best practices levelling up—not levelling down. Much of the work of the Bill before us today owes its starting point to its progress in Brussels.
What difficulties do we still have? Secrecy and opaqueness are the twin enemies of equality. As long as employers or authorities can hide behind the veil of secrecy, challenges are almost certainly impossible. We may think we are getting a raw deal but getting proof is a real obstacle. The Bill takes this on board and provides a framework which helps to overcome these problems.
In the short time allotted to me today, I wish to focus on what to some might seem an obscure area; namely, sport, where equal opportunities and participation are a far-off dream. Let me flag up some problems and in so doing acknowledge the help that I have received from Sport England, the Commission for the Future of Women’s Sport and the Central Council for Physical Recreation.
Let us look at some facts. Only one in eight women take part in sport, while one in five men do. The gap is widening. Why so few women? The list of my reasons would include lack of confidence, lack of childcare, transport costs and a lack of friends to go with. It a great pleasure therefore to tell your Lordships that Sport England has set new targets for 1 million more people being active in sport by 2012. Within that, a new initiative called Active Women is targeting £10 million from the National Lottery. It aims to get more women into active sport from what it describes as disadvantaged communities where participation in sport is particularly low.
Alongside this, all the major governing bodies within the CCPR are responding to this priority area. My own chosen sport of tennis is particularly friendly to lifelong participation, both on court and off. I am living proof of that. Volunteers are essential in all sport, and women can play a huge part in setting up the framework for sporting participation. We have thousands of junior players in tennis and thousands of active veteran players, but we lack women between 16 and 35 for some pretty obvious reasons. We can do much better in coaxing them back to sport, which they played at school and then forgot. All sports are tackling this gap. It is a real gender gap and the Government have prioritised this as a target group. Getting mums off the touchline and into the game, into officialdom, into all areas that enhance sport are good and reasonable objectives.
Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson recently headed a commission to look at the future of women’s sport. She and her commission did an excellent job. She highlighted the fact that the dominance of men in the hierarchy of sports administration and leadership is nothing short of scandalous. Only one in five members of the boards of national governing bodies is a woman. Even worse, a quarter of all sports have no women at all on their board. There is still a macho culture in sport, and women’s participation in national and local sport is almost totally ignored by the media. It is a disgrace.
Sport is at last waking up to its shortcomings, and you might ask why that is important. It is important simply because sport offers so much in health and happiness, and the role of the female in the family dictates so much the activities of her children. It is a fact that if the mother is involved in sport, the children are 80 per cent more likely to be involved, too.
I apologise for straying off piste, but I had to demonstrate that equality in all corners of our lives is imperative if we are to give all citizens a fair and full life without discrimination and unfairness. I wish the Bill good fortune. It has so much to commend it. It will serve to remind those in sport of their failings; it will at last offer men and women a proper chance to share equally in all aspects of sport; and it will help to challenge existing discrimination. As such, it is most welcome.
My Lords, my own portfolio is international development. Many men, and especially women and children, around the world would give a great deal to be protected by a Bill such as this. However, this Bill has been a long time in coming, and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Lester, whose tireless work and own Bill helped to give birth to this one.
The lateness of the Bill means that we have to be very disciplined in dealing with it. Our colleagues in the other place have done a great deal to get the Bill to where it is today, and I commend their efforts. The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said that this is a missed opportunity, but she certainly did not spell out how any Conservative Government, should they be elected, would improve on this. Rather, her few points seemed to seek to weaken the Bill. If the Tories welcome this as they say they do, they will need to demonstrate that.
Is this Bill needed? We have heard much evidence of inequalities in our society. Let me give you one more example. Let us look at what has become our bank, the RBS. It is 70 per cent owned by us—a figure that is soon to rise to 84 per cent. There are 12 members of the board. Not one of them is a woman. There are 22 people on their executive and management committees, of whom only two are women. How in the 21st century can that be the case? How can anyone doubt the need for an equality Bill when you see this sort of thing? How dare they operate like that? This Bill may not deal with that, but it may help people to get to a position where this is less likely to be the case. As the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, said, the Bill is necessary, if not sufficient.
To the Bill. We still have a number of crucial areas of concern, despite the best efforts of Lynne Featherstone and Evan Harris, my colleagues in the other place. We on these Benches have rigorously and strictly prioritised, given the time constraints. The first area that we wish to address is equal pay. The pay gap between men and women remains wider than 20 per cent. The Bill has not made pay audits mandatory. It surely must. I was the chair of Women Liberal Democrats in the early 1990s, and I remember arguing for mandatory pay audits, drawing on experience from Canada. At that time, my own daughter was a baby. Now she is 16, and it will not be long before she launches into the world of work. Time passes, and this issue has not yet been adequately addressed. Others have worked for many more years on this.
One of our absolutely key areas is homophobic bullying in schools, as my noble friend Lord Lester has said. We also wish to address the Bill’s failure to forbid discrimination by religious service providers on the basis of sexual orientation, and the extent to which the public sector duty in Clause 148 includes religion. My noble friend Lord Lester has outlined all these, and I will not add to his remarks here. I also seek clarification of two areas on behalf of my noble colleague Lord Avebury. He has already raised them with Ministers, and when he is fully recovered from his recent ill health he will take them forward, unless we get satisfactory assurances. I am very glad to see him here this evening.
The first issue that my noble friend will be raising is on caste, a subject which has been very ably discussed by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. Discrimination is persistent, as we have heard, and severe in south Asia. It would be a miracle if, in the relevant communities in the UK, those practices had vanished, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, indicates that they may well have expanded. The Solicitor-General recognised this and suggested improving the Bill, and she asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to complete research on this area quickly. Can we be assured that it has been asked to do this? We have heard both replies—that it has not; or that if it has, such research will not be finished while the Bill is before us. Therefore, it is clear that we need to take this forward.
My noble friend will also be taking forward the anomaly that Scottish Gypsies are not entitled to the same protection as their counterparts in other parts of the UK. We welcome a letter from the Solicitor-General expressing sympathy on this and saying that a recent employment tribunal judgment has declared that Scottish Gypsy Travellers are a distinct ethnic group and discriminated against, and are therefore covered by the Bill. However, as that judgment is being appealed, we must put this into the Bill.
On the positive side, I am extremely glad to see that the Bill enables stronger positive action, and I would like to highlight its importance in the political sphere. Personally, I enormously welcomed Labour's women-only shortlists. I fought hard in my own party for the zipping that we implemented for the European elections. We now have six women MEPs and five men.
Positive action is compensation for discrimination that exists. I trust that all political parties will seize this opportunity to ensure that their parties are more representative in all respects. It has been extremely striking that the Bill has been pushed forward particularly by women in the Commons. Over 50 per cent of the speakers today are women, even though only 20 per cent of Peers are women. This Bill could help move things forward.
The Bill is very welcome and we should not let it fall. Therefore we must be extremely disciplined. To facilitate that, the key areas that I and others have mentioned must be addressed. We appreciate how much work the noble Baroness and the Bill team are putting in to address Peers' concerns. Despite the wishes of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, clearly they will not have a peaceful Christmas. Let us see what can be addressed before we get to Committee so that we can expedite the Bill and get it into law.
My Lords, I am aware that I am in danger of bowling a googly tonight by what I have to say, because the current legal framework is not without deficiencies, omissions and anomalies. I am also aware that introducing nine major pieces of legislation, 100 statutory instruments and 2,500 pages of guidance over a period of over 40 years is not the best method of achieving a coherent legislative landscape. I can see that, from a lawyer's perspective, the urge to tidy things up must be irresistible, and I am sure some will relish the prospect of a mightily increased case load.
The discrimination experienced comes from many different kinds of conditioning, so I trust that you will bear with me if I say that harmony, symmetry, alignment and simplicity are understandable virtues, especially when casting the net so wide and trawling so deep, at least in the public sector. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth, touched on some of the things I was about to discuss, so now I will just confine myself to a few words and a few questions.
Is what is proposed in the Bill likely to effect better outcomes than the situation today, imperfect as that is? Will the Bill have the necessary bite to give an individual who is the victim of a discriminatory act redress before the civil courts or at a tribunal? Put bluntly, I think not. To give some telling examples, I ask: will it reduce the eight times more likelihood of a black male than a white male being stopped and searched by the police? Will it reduce a black person having a one-in-16 chance of obtaining a job interview compared to a one-in-eight chance for a white person? Will it add to the five students from the Afro-Caribbean community, 80 per cent of whom are aged 24 and under, to this year's intake of 3,000 students at Oxford? If not, how will they get justice?
Even in the public sector, which accounts for only 20 per cent of the workforce, will not the public sector equality duty result in public bodies, notably local authorities, generating a mountain of paper testifying to their policy compliance, as they have in the past, but on a scale hitherto unimagined? Engagement will then take place with that other recent creation, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, again established as an act of harmonisation and simplification but already riddled with widely publicised fault lines. The engagement will no doubt be dense and deep, but I would argue that what little change there will be will be incremental rather than fundamental. Rather than discrimination being purged, it will be buried in a maze of management-speak, impenetrable to all but the professional policy staff involved.
There are those that would call me a dinosaur, unable to see the brave new world that the Bill will usher in once enacted. My retort is that the new world carries much of the old with it, and disentangling ourselves will not necessarily be achieved just because the Bill is a seamless, streamlined and exhaustive entity. November's report from the schools adjudicator says that more than one in two state schools are breaching the recent supposedly exhaustive admissions regulations designed to prevent a covert selection in their pupil intake. That is instructive of the kind of problems that will be encountered with the Bill and which will be made more difficult to disentangle for the victims.
The EHRC will, especially in the current economic climate, simply lack the resources to undertake the level of activity necessary to work across a vastly wider spectrum to secure the kind of step change necessary to shrug off the policy countermeasures deployed, unwittingly or otherwise, to frustrate it in enforcing the legislation. Those discriminated against will simply be forced back into the kind of individualised, adversarial and post-event actions with which many are currently faced. This would result in our being in no better situation than we are today, except that those constituencies aggrieved would be greater in number than at present, with less help to present their grievance. To counter that we must secure, as a minimum, a commitment to include in the Bill the possibility for representative actions to be brought by the EHRC or some other such body, if we are to have legislation that will work in practice.
I know that other Members have spoken on many of my other concerns, so I end by asking the Minister to consider the question that I have posed with her usual courtesy, as it is my belief that we will avoid many of the confrontations that we have experienced on the streets of this country if we consider these matters seriously. If there is no means of the victim getting redress, it will cause this country to go back more than 40 years.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government, especially our talented Leader of the House, and welcome the Equality Bill and its two main aims—to harmonise existing anti-discrimination laws in all human rights areas and to strengthen and extend the remit to further promote the whole equality process. In the 1970s, both Houses campaigned together to pass the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and set up the EOC. I had the honour of being its first deputy chairman, under the skilful chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, who sadly is not in her place tonight. I little thought then that some 40 years later we would be debating a Bill to try and ensure that equal pay, the bedrock of that first piece of legislation, is finally achieved.
Today I want to concentrate on three aspects of the Bill: equal pay—surprise, surprise—age discrimination and pensions. First, however, I shall make a few general points. Clearly, it makes sense to try and ensure that government and other public authority policies that aim to reduce socio-economic disadvantage do not fall foul of this legislation. The Government have shown encouraging beginnings, for example in attempting to break the cycle of deprivation in early childhood—something that many of your Lordships have long campaigned for, and will continue to do so. However, we must make sure that these clauses do not have a counterproductive effect on these policies; I have heard doubts expressed already.
I welcome the additional disability clauses that have been mentioned—with the disadvantages that may exist—by my noble friends Lady Campbell and Lord Low. I am not going to say more about this, other than that I thoroughly agree, because they have covered the areas so completely. However, I especially welcome the inclusion of carers of disabled people in positive action schemes which allow them, for example, to request flexible working. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, that indirect discrimination applies to carers as well.
On the political front, I have to admit that I have never been much in favour of women-only shortlists in a positive discrimination sense. However, as all parties now use this to see that more women candidates are selected, and if it ensures a more representative variety of views in the legislative process, hopefullythe proposed sunset clause will be redundant well before 2030.
I have one query about religion; the way it has dominated today’s debate has rather surprised me. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, has already referred to the Church of England’s debate about appointing women bishops—I must say this has my full support. WATCH points out that any measure passed by the General Synod concerning the appointment of bishops will eventually come to the House of Lords for approval, and asks whether the House could, let alone should, approve a measure that discriminates unfairly. Perhaps an even more pertinent question is whether it would be legal to do so once the Equality Bill is law. Cynically, I suspect that the answer is yes. I would be grateful if the Minister could indicate the Government’s views on this when she replies—and not just whether the answer is yes, but whether that is actually what should be happening.
I turn to my three main topics. I have already mentioned equal pay. We should remember that the pay gap is not just the result of pay discrimination, but differences in education and experience, gender stereotyping, occupational segregation and, crucially, the current lack of part-time and flexible work. This is increasingly of equal importance for male as well as female workers. Clearly, this Bill is an opportunity seriously to begin closing the gender pay gap. The pay gap between men and women is something like 16.4 per cent for full-time workers, and higher for part-time workers. The Women’s National Commission notes that in the financial sector it reaches as high as 60 per cent.
As we have heard, the Bill contains powers that would allow the Secretary of State to require the reporting of the gender pay gap where a firm employed 250 or more workers, starting voluntarily. This clause would not come into effect until 2013 and only if insufficient progress on reporting had been made. As UNISON has pointed out, this would mean that 50 per cent of private sector workers would be excluded from these somewhat limited measures. Now we have this other series of press rumours, which say that only companies that employ 500 workers would be under pressure to produce data showing that they do not discriminate. Your Lordships will understand why I remain somewhat gloomy about the year by which equal pay for work of equal value will be achieved. We should constantly remind ourselves of the prediction made by the dissolving EOC that it would take until 2085, unless a far more proactive approach was taken.
Returning to how work is organised, it is vital that employers, too, recognise the right to flexible working as valuable for their own bottom line. The Co-operative’s analysis of the pay gap shows that in most companies there is relative equality at junior levels, until it reaches a point where women’s representation drops off markedly. That point is often where flexible working practices diminish.
I turn to age discrimination. Those of your Lordships who attended the All-Party Group on Patient Safety initiated last Tuesday by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and heard from relatives the horrendous accounts of inadequate care and treatment of elderly patients in NHS hospitals, will certainly welcome the Bill’s extension of direct anti-discrimination rights in the provision of goods and services. The Bill will be important, too, for those reaching the current default retirement age who want and need to continue working. It is estimated that non-employment among older workers costs the economy between £19 billion and £31 billion a year. Correspondingly, by keeping the mind active, the years of dependency and cost to the NHS will be equally reduced. Thus, making the right decisions now about the default retirement age will be critical. We have all the results from the Heyday case, and so on. Like other noble Lords, Age Concern, Help the Aged and Business in the Community, I hope the noble Baroness will respond by saying that now, in the Bill, is the time for the default age to go.
Lastly and briefly, I come to pensions. In recent legislation the Government have certainly made progress, with the encouragement of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, in seeing that women who play the major role in bringing up families—and either have no jobs or work part-time—are given some extra pension credit. However, the planned upward shift of the state retirement age to 66 or 67 over the next few years will mean that while men must wait an additional one to two years for their state pension, women will not be able to draw theirs for an extra six years.
I am not going to go on about annuities, which is my pet subject, but on this issue it is fairly important. Figures show that even today the majority of pensioners living in poverty are women. Could the situation that women pensioners face be construed as either direct or indirect discrimination under the Equality Bill? Given the considerable price of childcare, as my noble friend Lady Deech has already mentioned, whether provided by the state or privately, if women had received a salary for the role they played in bringing up children, their pension would be very different today.
In conclusion, I again applaud the Government on this legislation. There are clearly issues and problems that will need attention, and I fear that we will need more action on the issue of equal pay. As other noble Lords have said, it is the age discrimination clauses which will have the most important long-term value, especially if a decision is taken now to abolish the default retirement age.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, since women bishops have been mentioned twice in your Lordships’ House, is she aware that under the present legislation for ordaining women to the priesthood, the Measure itself as well as the Act of Synod make it possible for parishes with a conscientious objection on theological grounds not to accept that particular ministry and to petition a bishop, like myself, to appoint someone to minister to that particular parish? Some may describe this as discrimination, but I do not think it is; I have ordained women into the priesthood. Those parishes have a right to petition under the present legislation to appoint someone who does not ordain women to look for their sacramental ministry. When women are consecrated bishop, should the Measure come through and be deemed to be expedient—I favour the consecration of women as bishops—someone might decide that I was participating contrary to their theological position because I did so, but I would not see that as discrimination. They might describe it in that way, but I would not describe it as discrimination. I offer ministry in some parishes. I never see it, in religious terms, as discrimination.