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John Bercow: Just before the hon. Lady goes on to those important budgetary issues, she will doubtless agree with me that two of the main contributory factors to the pay gap are straightforward discrimination on the one hand and occupational segregation on the other. Given the growth of market testing and competitive tenderinga phenomenon which I warmly welcomedoes she agree that it is important for the Government to ensure not only that their own house is in order but that they have satisfied themselves that contractors with which they deal adopt such practices?
I turn to the budgetary implications. The existing budget is approximately £50 million and the new one is estimated to be £70 million. It is very difficult for us in this place to comment on whether that is the right amount. It has been interesting to hear the comments of Conservatives; every single agency that I spoke to insisted that a lot more money was needed.
Sandra Gidley: I want to finish my point. It would be helpful if the Government published a breakdown of how the costs were arrived at, so that Members who want to deal with the arguments made by organisations such as the Commission for Racial Equality can reach an informed opinion about, and decision on, what is a realistic level.
Concern has also been expressed about the existing agencies' input into the new body. A particular worry is how the CRE's input will be managed, bearing it in mind that it will come on board later on. While researching for this debate I discovered the alarming fact that the three main equality bodies have different pay rates. Indeed, I was somewhat horrified to find out that the EOC has the lowest pay rate, which seems perverse. It would be helpful if the Minister gave guidance on how that issue will be resolved.
Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Is not that difference down to the location of the different commissions' offices? Does not the hon. Lady accept that most London workers receive a London premium?
That point can be taken into account only to an extent. The EOC is in Manchester, but so, I
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believe, is the Disability Rights Commission. The CRE is based in London, but that does not account for the entire anomaly.
There are also concernsthey have been hinted at todayabout the location of the new commission. The current commissions are split between Manchester and London, with some small regional variations. Because London has the highest ethnic minority population, much of the expertise that has been built up is London-based, and the CRE is concerned that people will not necessarily want to relocate. It would be helpful if the Minister gave some hint as to whether that problem will be dealt with.
Simon Hughes: The CRE is based in my constituency, which is very welcome, but it is very important that the new commission is not seen as a metropolitan organisation that is close only to those close to the levers of power. Of course there should be a London presence, but the commission should be equally accessible to the rest of the country.
Sandra Gidley: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, as always. The key is achieving a balance between retaining existing expertise, and ensuring that other areas of the country are not disadvantaged.
Sandra Gidley: I am aware of that, but given that such responsibilities are partially devolved, and that I have limited time, I did not want to go too far down the road of considering the complete geographical picture of the United Kingdom.
Another idea, which has been discussed by a number of people, is having a decision-making committee for each equality. I am not greatly supportive of that idea. As I said earlier, many discrimination cases have multiple strands. I would almost prefer the opposite to that idea, and that some reassurance be given that we will not move to a bureaucratic, council-type structure with sub-committees for each specialty. The real way to tackle the problem is a rights-based approach, as I said earlier. The Mayor of London is a keen supporter of the proposals, but they run counter to that approach, so I do not agree with him. The CRE has expressed concern about grants for local race equality work, so it would be helpful if the Minister explained how that provision will be managed during and after the transition. Understandably, the CBI has said that it does not want further enforcement powers.
Age discrimination has received less attention than other strands in the Bill. Three deficiencies in particular give rise to concern. First, we have missed the opportunity to impose a ban on age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services. It would be useful to harmonise practice across the strands, as older people face discrimination in the provision of goods and services in insurance, social care, housing and
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hospital treatment. We need to level up protection for all groups rather than leave a hierarchy of discrimination in the Bill. Secondly, we should impose a positive duty on public bodies to promote age equality. Thirdly, a loophole in the legislation means that older people who receive care from private or voluntary sector organisations are not protected by the Human Rights Act 1998. The Government committed themselves to seek a test case to overturn the Leonard Cheshire judgment, but such a case has not yet been brought. I am not sure whether that is due to lack of opportunity or to lack of will, but the Government have undertaken to consider the issue as part of the discrimination law review. One of our overriding concerns is that positive proposals to even out inequalities across the strands appear to be kicked into the long grass with the promise of a further review or further legislation. We welcome what the Government have done, but sometimes they could do more.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has expressed concern about local authority contracts and their basis in human rights. However, older people who make their own private arrangements with a care home will not be covered by the legislation. That needs to be addressed if we are to protect all the vulnerable people in our society. Discrimination against older people is much more hidden than discrimination against other groups. However, there are numerous cases in which the treatment of older people demonstrates a complete disregard for their human rights, which is another strong argument for the rights-based approach. Those cases include residents of a home being fed breakfast while seated on the toilet; the death of older women from dehydration; and care home residents not being given their weekly personal expenses. The list is endless, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) may seek to develop that argument.
Will the Government make a commitment to act so that we can ensure that today's recipients of social care, both in care homes and in their own homes, have the rights to which they are entitled? Older and disabled people whose right to life, dignity and freedom from degrading treatment are most at risk are in reality the least protected.
We also have concerns about gender duty. The Bill places a general duty on public bodies to pay due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and to promote equality between women and men. Can the Minister confirm that that will require public sector bodies, including councils, to take action to address the causes of the gender pay gap, which has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members? To what extent will public bodies be able to take appropriate action when contracting with the private sector? There is an increasing tendency under the Government to contract out to the private sector, to which I do not necessarily object, but there must be the same safeguards in place and the same level playing field as when only the public sector is involved.
The present proposals mean that education institutions are not covered by gender equality-specific duties, which is inconsistent with the way in which disability and race equality has been promoted in the sector. Concern has been expressed that as the measure is currently worded, there is a risk that the private functions of public bodies also may not be covered by
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the duty. That raises the question whether the Bill will have the desired impact. Such matters can usefully be raised in Committee.
The Commission for Racial Equality has expressed concern that the CEHR will not be under a duty to consider applications for assistance as currently provided for in section 66 of the Race Relations Act 1976. The removal of that duty represents the removal of a right, and no replacement arrangements have been made. The CRE is the primary source of funding for race discrimination cases, particularly tribunals, but funding is not the only issue. The CRE argues strongly that the knowledge and expertise that it builds up through its pre-litigation advice work gives it a greater awareness of the problems of discrimination and helps it come up with solutions.
The Minister mentioned earlier that she did not consider it useful to include explicit provision for children. On Second Reading in the other place Baroness Ashton, the Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, suggested that the Minister responsible for the Bill in the Commons should meet various Baronesses to consider how children might be explicitly included. Have such meetings occurred? Is it as a result of those meetings that the Minister has decided that there will be no explicit mention of children? When the Minister sums up, will she elaborate on the point?
In conclusion, the Bill is welcome. It is a shame that we have not had a single equality Act sooner. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches have long campaigned for that, and we welcome the possibility of building a culture of human rights across public services. I have urged that we should not kick too much into the long grass of the equalities review and the discrimination law review. Those must not be allowed to be used as a cop-out. Ultimately, if we can complete the passage of the Bill with few anomalies between the various strands and less of a hierarchy of discrimination, we will have achieved a worthwhile outcome.
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