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Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I hope he accepts that I am concerned that care should be taken as to how the word "arrangements" is interpreted. Certainly, I attended ante-natal clinics, and so forth. Women need time to do that. However, there must be a balance in terms of how the burden of an employee's workload is dealt with by colleagues in her absence.
For all these reasons, I welcome and support the Bill. Of course we shall have a debate. I need to feel reassured that the proposed commission has adequate powers of enforcement of legislation. Above all, I hope that the Government give their support to the Bill. Government support will give a strong message to citizens from all walks of life that equal treatment of all people is important. In conclusion, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for introducing the Bill and I support it.
When placed at No. 20 on the speakers' list, one fears that there may be nothing left to say. However, a good deal is left to say and I venture to speak on it. Orwell's aphorism, most usually translated as "some people are more equal than others", is probably the most famous sentence ever written on equality. The aphorism, and the great novel in which it is written, should be read and re-read by all who have the interests of fairness, justice and happiness at heart.
Members of an ideal society would not tolerate homosexuals or smile upon them with kindliness but take their orientation for granted and regard itas they should regard any kind of sexualitywith indifference. The assumption of superiority that even liberal-minded people make would have disappeared. For instance, no one any longer would patronisingly imply his or her superiority by remarking, as I still hear said, that "many of my best friends are gay".
We are a long way from that Utopia. We are a long way from relying on people to grow up with that indifference ingrained in them and with that taking for granted part of their attitude to life. People of a heterosexual orientation are still, alas, more equal than those who are gay. Children of "straight" orientation are more equal than the gay. That discrimination begins with children and their taunting and bullying of a child who is already, inevitably, showing homosexual tendencies. Children are not born with a congenital prejudice against homosexuals. They absorb it. They learn it from their parents 'and elders'though not their bettersconversation and innuendo. Not until we have a generation growing up without discrimination will we begin to achieve equality between straight and gay people. Even the word "straight" implies that the reverse must be impaired or crooked.
Meanwhilewe hope that it will not be a long meanwhilewhat goodwill and open-mindedness is not yet ready to do must be done by the law. Existing law protects only the discriminated against on the grounds of race, disability and sex, but, among other
For example, in Sweden, the law ensures that no one shall be denied employment or promotion on sexuality groundswhich means, of course, because they are homosexual. In that famously open-minded country, the provisions of the law seem to have permeated the nation's thinking. The state of affairs which I earlier described as Utopian is not so far from being achieved there. Of course, it may be, on the other hand, that the nation's enlightenment has permeated the law. But even there equality is not perfect. Gay couples may not adopt children or gay women receive artificial insemination.
Civil partnership registration is recognised in whole or in part in 11 European countries and the same number allow legal rights to same-sex partners in varying degrees as to succession and/or tenancy. As my noble friend Lord Alli pointed out, the Government are heading in the right direction in this regard.
Using the powers established by the Amsterdam Treaty, the European Commission has introduced a proposed directive to outlaw discrimination in employment on a number of grounds, and is the first explicit EC legislation to recognise sexual orientation as an issue for European Community action. Her Majesty's Government have acknowledged that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is present in United Kingdom workplaces and have asked the Equal Opportunities Commission to draw up a code of practice on this subject. However, since the code is to be voluntarily adopted, it will very likely be observed only by those employers who already have an equal opportunities policy and an aim to eliminate prejudice. Legal protection for homosexuals is safer and surer.
At present, it is obviously difficult for anyone in almost any job to state with assurance, let alone prove, that he or she has been passed over for promotion because of sexuality. It is all too easy for an employer to defend his or her failure to promote a member of staff on the grounds that a particular person lacks qualities of leadership, is too "soft", or lacks self-confidence. For these are the very failings that so many people, albeit only half consciously, still associate with homosexuals. Lesbians, for instance, may be denied promotion because they are too "butch", aggressive and assertivewhether they are or not. A change of attitude in employers is needed, and one which must be brought about by re-education and careful attention to the law.
I want to raise another point in connection with misapprehensions regarding homosexuality and children. A large percentage of the community confuses homosexuality with paedophilia. Potentially, that has disastrous results and can lead to witch-hunting. Curiously enough, no one, without good cause, supposes that heterosexual men have designs on female children, while continuing to believe in the likely guilt of gay men in their relations with young boys. Not so many years ago when a boy of eight was
As things stand, only a very few gay people have confidence in starting a job that they will be seen by fellow workers as equal. They also have a terrible hurdle to face, barely imagined by non-gay women and men, of coming out of the closet or staying in it. One woman, for instance, who has written to me of her plightwe will call her Janeis sure she has been promoted in her high-powered job only because she has never disclosed that she is lesbian, nor that she has lived in a close and loving relationship with another woman for 14 years. In order to maintain this deception, Jane confessed to me that lying has become habitual to her and as a result she fights constant threatened depression. She tells colleagues of a series of boyfriends, her preference for the single, though not the celibate, state, and that she lives alone. Since her partner may answer the phone, or be seen if someone calls on her, Jane talks of a friend who lives in the country but sporadically works in London and often needs a pied-a-terre.Neurotic, my Lords? Yes, indeed, but it is society and the absence of adequate law which has made her so. This woman also says that her situation is at least somewhat easier than a man's would be. She knows gay men who have been denied promotion because in their forties they remained unmarried.
Another correspondent of mine, James, has told me of how, as a homosexual man, he protested at work when an anti-gay remark was made. On an impulse, though for a long time he had been psyching himself up to come out of the closet, he stated that he himself was gay but not to spread it around. Spread around it was and he found himself ostracised while the almost promised advancement in his job was withdrawn. He stayed in the job for a year but at last could stand the atmosphere no longer and left.
A gay acquaintance of his called Tom, who he mentions to me, has a company car and if he were married he would be able, under his company rules, to have his wife insured as well. Although it is well-known and apparently wellor, at least, tolerantlyreceived by his employer that Tom lives in a long-term partnership with another man, no provision is made for his same-sex partner to be included on his policy. A friend of this couple, also with a long-term same-sex partner, was granted no special leave on this man's serious illness and no bereavement leave when he died, though women in the company whose husbands were ill and died were given both kinds of time off.
These are truly cases of all people being equal but some far less equal than others. Only a change of thinking on the part of the community will fully change things, but a single equality Act would go a long way to redress such obvious wrongs, underpinning a single, dedicated equality commission.
Age is probably the most neglected area covered by the Equality Bill. It may come in Clause 1(1)(a) of the Bill's provisions but it is still, I believe, the most likely to be hurriedly passed over. Yet it is an area of discrimination which Members of your Lordships' House are particularly fitted to discuss. We are not a young but on the whole an elderly assembly, with an average age, I believe, of 70. Perhaps most noble Lords speaking in the debate should declare an interest. Because of our nature, our presence here, our experience of life and in many cases the "day job" that we do, we know how capable we and our fellows, some long past that average age, are to be gainfully employed. Geriatricians will often tell us how being forced to abandon a career at a certain age may well hasten an elderly person's death. We should, belonging as most of us do in this category, be peculiarly sensitive to the issues involved.
Obviously, as the Bill states, there must be exclusion for justifiable age-based discrimination, but I find it difficult to identify jobs from which every older man and woman would be disqualified on age grounds. A personal trainer or a steeplejack, perhaps, or those jobs which require almost acrobatic skills and physical power. Looking at the situation which presently exists, we have to admit that this is a field in which employers not pursuing an equal opportunities policy refuse jobs to older people solely on the grounds of age, no matter how fit, youthful and intellectually alert they may be. For doing so, no excuse can be made except the feeble one that this particular applicant is too old.
Finally, I should like to mention a shop in Denmark which, in advertising for staff, stated that they must be over 60. Older people, the advertisers felt, were more courteous, less hasty, more patient and more thorough than younger ones. Of course we may consider this, and rightly, as a requirement discriminatory in itself and not to be recommended, althoughas the noble Lord, Lord Lester, indicated in his opening speech when calling it reverse discriminationI am confident that young people are as yet in no danger of suffering victimisation in this regard.
As to disability, I wondered about those people in wheelchairs denied the opportunity to get to work during the fire fighters strike, when 22 Underground stations were closed due to their lifts being dangerous to use. Not only that but, although Westminster station was open, its lift was out of use during all those strike periods. As to unfairness, only the disabled were thus inconvenienced.
Lord Ouseley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, and his team for presenting us with this excellent Bill. The noble Lord has an excellent record in promoting legislation on equality and human rights and in advocating its enforcement. My own knowledge of the noble Lord goes back some 30 years, to when I was first undertaking community
For around half a century the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has been actively engaged in challenging inequalities. He has demonstrated his prowess and expertise in these matters with great distinction, both nationally, internationally and, as I have said, even locally. I should like to take this opportunity to place on record that my experience during that period has been that in this country there are millions of open-minded people who are committed to seeing a just and fair society for all their fellow citizens.
The Bill reflects the commitment and expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to enable us to put in place a coherent legislative framework for individuals, corporations, institutions and organisations to administer and receive equality and fair treatment.
The Bill provides the Government with the opportunity to avoid putting the cart before the horse, as they presently intend to do with their proposal for a single equality commission. While the Government may be correct to avoid the creation of new commissions to tackle the introduction of anti-discrimination protection in the areas of age, sexuality and religious belief, this would be creating a super-commission to work with a plethora of various legislative provisions. That is not a satisfactory situation. The Bill provides the opportunity to take stock of what we have to do to eliminate discrimination and to provide equal opportunities; and only thereafter can we be clearer about the design of the most appropriate enforcement body.
With a single legal framework for eliminating discrimination and promoting equality between different people, regardless of their racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, sex, marital or family status, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, age or disability, there would be the desired and necessary coherence to enable the Government to establish with greater effectiveness their proposed equality commission.
Such a commission would, in its promotional work, have the crucial task of representing all interests in societycrucial because, in my experience, equality activity in this country has created resentments. People feel that all equality protection, as they see it, excludes them. A primary role would be that of representing the widest possible set of interests.
The Bill, while bringing about clarity and coherence, is still, in my view, in need of strengthening in several respects. Although our anti-discrimination legislation is on a par with, or better than, anything in Europe, it still remains inadequate, especially in terms of enforceability. Most individuals, organisations and institutions in this country know that many direct or indirect discriminatory actions, or inaction, are unlikely to be discovered and eliminated and therefore there is no real pressure to change and little likelihood of punishment for discriminatory activity. That is a reality. It affects most institutions and organisations and the people within them.
Legislation is only as good as its enforcement. Alongside that, we rely on the power of persuasion to change attitudes and behaviours, as well as leadership, to bring about positive changes and benefits for all in our society.
I draw on my experience of 30 years in local government, including five years as chief executive officer of two local authorities, of a further seven years as executive chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality and, most recently, of managing a privately run business, in stressing the relative important roles of corporate, political and individual leadership alongside effectively enforced legislation.
My main concern, as I have said, relates to the enforcement of legislation. Whether we have this Billand that is preferableor have to work with the existing provisions, enforcement against discrimination is woeful. That is not a criticism of the existing commissions, merely a statement of reality in terms of the limitations that exist. The new equality commission should be conferred with powers equivalent to those of the Health and Safety Executive in order to be able to intervene with employers and service providers whenever it believes that discrimination as defined in the Bill is occurring. The proposals in Clauses 28 and 30 to introduce employers' obligations for employment equity plans are very welcome in this respect.
At present, the investigatory processes are cumbersome, process-laden, time-consuming and resources-guzzling, with minimal impact and strategic effect. It is no longer good enough to be trudging along with this inadequate process. It has not worked efficiently; therefore it must be reformed. Even the recently introduced and much welcomed Race Relations (Amendment) Act has set the CRE and the regulatory bodies on a massive paper chase to evaluate and monitor the race equality schemes and policies of public bodies.
The enforcement body must also be able to support blocks of cases on behalf of whole sectors or classes of employees or consumers to make a real impact in tackling and eliminating discrimination in more meaningful ways, rather than through ad hoc individual cases, at a snail's pace. The scope for the new commission to initiate proceedings in its own name is welcome and, if strengthened, has the potential for positive results.
The Bill is inadequate in addressing the requirements to enable the effective use of equality compliance in contracting and procurement policies and practices. It should be a requirement of public bodies not to enter into contracts with providers of services, goods and facilities unless there is evidence of active equality policies and practices. We should not continue with the existing standard, complacent, tick-the-box, "we have a policy and do not discriminate" response, which gets bodies on to approved lists of contractors and suppliers without too much effort or commitment to genuine equality results. That was supported by the Government's own Better Regulation Task Force, which the Government then rejected.
The proposal in the Bill for an equality commission makes provision for the retention of the Disability Rights Commission for at least another three years after the establishment of the proposed equality commission. Although it is understood that the newest commission needs to establish itself more significantly before being absorbed into any equality commission, it is illogical to exclude the DRC from the equality commission. Its exclusion could be perceived as a presupposition that the equality commission might be ineffective and incapable of incorporating the priorities, emphases and commitments of existing commissions, including those of the DRC. There are fears of it therefore becoming an irrelevant monolitha criticism echoed by, among others, the Employers Forum on Age, Bert Massey, the chairman of the DRC, and the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development. I fully support the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, who wanted to see an effective and inclusive equality commission from day one.
My final main concern is about the absence of any legal provision to curb some sections of the printed media, which are obsessed with the demonisation of some minority ethnic groups in our society. That does not only apply to minority ethnic groups; this week, we have seen a competition between tabloid newspapers, which claimed they were the first to out an MP who is gay. The media operate by hiding behind the cherished tenets of free speech, giving no meaningful consideration to how such incessant and unrestrained coverage impacts on our attitudes and behaviours. That contributes to discrimination, prejudice, hatred, harassment and violence.
Public bodies with the responsibility, inter alia, to promote good race relations between people of all backgrounds in all their activities, know that they have an uphill task to do so successfully in the context of the daily negative stereotyping. They need all the help that they can get to achieve their goals. Your Lordships' House has a responsibility to consider how we may help to achieve those goals in the passage of the Equality Bill.
In conclusion, Great Britain is a progressive, competitive, dynamic and relatively wealthy country, but it remains deeply unequal in all aspects of social, economic, cultural, family styles and daily life experiences. We would all benefit from the introduction of modern legislation, which is simple to comprehend and provides protection to everyone against unfair discrimination, placing responsibility on all public, private and not-for-profit bodies to provide access to opportunities, in line with the provisions in the Bill.
Let me go even further. I am not aware of any compelling reason why we should exempt private companies from having the same general duty as exists for public bodies to promote equality and good relations. Why do we not do something about that?
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I start by paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I have known him for probably longer than anyone else in this Chamber because he has been a friend of mine for 40 years. He has a longindeed, uniquerecord in fighting for laws against discrimination. He was an adviser to the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, in 197476, when Lord Jenkins was serving his second period of office as Home Secretary. The highlights of that period were the two landmark statutes, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which was the first Act to give broad equality rights to women, and the Race Relations Act 1976, which expanded and replaced earlier legislation on race equality. Both Acts owe a very great deal to my noble friend. It is a curious and regrettable fact that the recent obituaries of Lord Jenkins of Hillhead have almost all passed over the achievements of his second period of office as Home Secretary, especially the two Acts I mentioned. In many ways, I think that those achievements match the remarkable achievements of his first period of office.
Last year, my noble friend introduced an important Civil Partnerships Bill which met with a wideperhaps surprisingly widedegree of acceptance. We on these Benches certainly hope that the Government will take up that Bill and introduce their own legislation on the subject.
My noble friend has now introduced what I would describe as a massive Equality Bill, the product of several years of work by himself, Professor Hepple and the other members of an expert and dedicated team. We strongly support this Bill. I do not propose to go through it in any detail. However, it is, of course, true that many types of discrimination are brought together under a single umbrella in this Bill. I should say that I see some distinctions between disability and other forms of discrimination. Most forms of discrimination involve taking into account a factor that should be ignored, whether it is race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or age. Disability discrimination arises in many cases from the exact reverse of that, as a disability is ignored when it needs to be taken into accountfor example, by ensuring that buildings are properly accessible to people with disabilities. There is also an immense variety of disabilities with quite different consequences.
Nevertheless, there is a very great deal of common ground between all different types of discriminationdisability as well as the others. There is, for example, the concept of indirect discrimination and the question of harassment and victimisation on grounds of discrimination. It is also desirable to have a single statute governing matters such as the complaints procedure, hearings, the burden of proof and enforcement. We therefore believe that a single
I was struck by the fact that three speakers, all with particular knowledge of discrimination, were, like the RNIB, anxious to retain the Disability Rights Commission either as an independent body or as part of a federal structure. I think that we will have to look at that issue in due course.
We very much welcome the extension of anti-discrimination law to what the noble Lord, Lord Alli, helpfully described as the "new strands"age, religion and sexual orientation, in particularand to do so in ways that are wider than those which are necessary merely in order to meet the requirements of European employment legislation. We welcome the obligation to take positive steps to promote equality and not just to react to discrimination. We therefore welcome the broad support that has been given to the Bill by the Equal Opportunities Commission briefing, by the briefing from Help the Aged, and in many respects by the RNIB as well.
A number of criticisms have been made of the Bill. I have already referred to the proposals that the Disability Rights Commission should be left in existence in some form or another. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, who must be feeling somewhat lonely, given the emptiness of the Benches behind her and the absence of speakers from those Benches, spoke about the burden of workforce reviews and employment equity plans on small businesses. Whether or not we need to consider whether 10 employees is too low a starting point, which it may be, I believe that in principle the measures for workforce reviews and employment equity plans are absolutely right. As the noble Lord, Lord Alli, pointed out, these measures can benefit businesses and are already being taken by many well-known names in industry and commerce.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester said that legislation should not encroach on the freedom of a religious body to enforce its own rules of conduct. I am not entirely sure what he meant by that. Obviously, we would not support a law which was meant to enforce the right of a woman to become a Roman Catholic priest. But I think that the right reverend Prelate meant rather more than that, and I suspect that he was going into areas where we would disagree with him.
The noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, made a speech with which we in general strongly agree. But I think that some of his remarks on imposing some kind of control over what the media say are potentially dangerous and possibly counter-productive.
This is a bold and daring measure. I do not know of any other Private Member's Bill which has been so detailed, so carefully drafted and covers such a broad spectrum. I regret that the Liaison Committee of your Lordships' House refused to set up a Select Committee, as my noble friend Lord Lester wished, to examine the Bill and take evidence on it. It would have been a valuable process, and much better than a conventional Committee stage.
I recognise that some issues need to be debated, and of course we do not assume that the Bill is incapable of improvement. The bodies which have produced briefings have all pointed to aspects which they feel need further debate. But, as I said at the beginning, we strongly support the Bill. We believe that it represents an enormous step in the right direction. If the Bill does not reach the statute book, we hope it is the precursor of one that will.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, let me start by agreeing with some of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has just said. This is not one of your run-of-the-mill Private Members' Bills. It is quite different and quite outstanding. The Bill has been the subject of detailed thought and consultation by some of the people most expert in the field over a number of years. The Bill has been brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, whose reputation in this field is outstanding and whose work with Lord Jenkins in the 1970s is still seen as a step change in our views about legislation on equality. This is something we take enormously seriously. Although I shall not support the Bill and I shall not give an indication that it will be followed by a government Bill along the same lines, I do not believe that the Bill will die the death. I believe that it will make a continuing, valued and worthwhile contribution to debate on the issues covered by it.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on the way in which he produced and introduced the Bill. I also congratulate him on the virtually universal approval of large parts of it that he has achieved in debate this afternoon.
The issue on which we part company is illustrated by the difference between the Labour and the Liberal Democrat manifestos of 1997, both of which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, quoted. The Liberal Democrat manifesto went for a "big bang" on this matter, as it did on the matter of constitutional reform. The Labour manifesto contained a commitment to implement visions of equality through legislation wherever and whenever possible. The views of the Liberal Democrats and those of Labour differ on the matters of constitutional reform and equality.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, in his opening remarks was good enough to say that the Government had not been idle. We certainly have not been idle. I intend to demonstrate that in arguing the case for the incremental approach, as it were, to tackling discrimination rather than the "big bang" approach. Our priority is to concentrate on the most urgent areas for change. We focus on the key practical
I intend to discuss the major strands, both new and oldI am grateful to my noble friend Lord Alli for that helpful distinctionto indicate the work that we have done, our targets and the plans that we have for the future. I believe that that will stand up to the most detailed scrutiny and the most detailed criticism. I reject the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that there has been a lack of resources provided by the Government to tackle discrimination. Anyone who has seen, for example, the work of the Women and Equality Unit or the work that is carried out by various groups within the Cabinet Office and in other departments will know that that is not the case.