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Baroness Young of Hornsey: My Lords, first of all I would like to echo the comments made in earlier maiden speeches and thank noble Lords and the staff here who have done so much to make me feel so welcome and to reassure me that I am not the only one having difficulty in finding my way around this magnificent building. It is indeed a privilege to be admitted into this Chamber and to be given the opportunity to work for the citizens of this country. It is also, of course, a great responsibility, of which I am keenly aware.
In addressing the Government's intention to establish a new body to ensure that fairness, equity and respect form the bedrock on which our society is based, I am particularly pleased to be able to address your Lordships for the first time on a subject about which I feel strongly, and which concerns us all. However, I will do my best not to stray into controversy, as is the convention with maiden speeches.
I work in the cultural sector and have done for many years. There is often a perception that those who work in culture and the arts are somehow detached from the "real world". I can assure your Lordships that that is not the case. For exampleespecially relevant in the context of this subjectmany people in the cultural sector continue to work very hard to lessen the damaging effects of discrimination that lead to the scarring of so many lives.
Although it happens less and less these days, I am still occasionally asked where I am from. I often reply that I am a Londonerborn and brought up in this great world city. People talk proudly of the capital's diversity and, increasingly, that of Britain as a whole, but I can clearly remember the time when having a rich mix of different communities, ethnicities and lifestyles was not seen as an asset at all.
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Some of your Lordships will recall the sign in the windows of houses with a room to let in the 1950s and 1960s stating "No blacks, no Irish, no children, no dogs". Women were called upon simply to make the tea in the office as "Girl Fridays" and would lose their job should they become pregnant. Terms such as "access" and "rights" were largely meaningless to people with disabilities, and to be an active, consenting adult homosexual was to be subjected to criminal prosecution. Differing religious practices were unrecognised, and people over 45 were virtually written off.
Successive legislation has ensured that racial discrimination is now widely seen as unacceptable. It is an offence to discriminate against women in the workplace, and the Disability Discrimination Act at last recognises that people are disabled by structures and barriers erected by society, and that these can and should be dismantled. Homosexuality has been largely decriminalised, and the passing of the Civil Partnership Act represents a landmark for same-sex couples.
However, those legislative advances should not lull us into a false sense of security about how far we have progressed. Racist, misogynist and homophobic acts of discrimination and physical violence; the denial of the right to practise deeply held faith; the denial of the right to live as full a life as possible, no matter how old you are or what level of physical or mental ability you havethese negative actions and behaviours blight the lives of us all because they compromise our integrity as a society. We need structures and laws to protect those who are most vulnerable to discrimination.
It is proposed that the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission merge and join with those equality strands relating to age, sexuality and religion and human rights to form a new body: the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR). The stated core aims of the CEHR are to build and nurture respect for equality, diversity and human rights; to work towards compliance with equality and human rights legislation; and to promote good relations between communities.
There is widespread support for the CEHR among agencies and organisations whose role it is to progress the interests of people represented by the six strands. The business sector has expressed strong support for the proposed organisation because of the advantages of a single agency with which to work to clarify legal obligations and responsibilities. Many are keen to realise the potential of a single point of reference across all the equality strands, but although there is overall support, many also have considerable reservations.
Those who have the greatest interest in, and commitment to, the issues to be dealt with by the new body must feel confident that it has enough resourceshuman and financialto tackle unlawful
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discrimination in a rigorous, robust manner. This confidence is not yet there. Significant numbers of those who responded to the White Paper, Fairness for All: A New Commission for Equality and Human Rights, expressed concerns about the balance between the CEHR's enforcement and promotional activities. Many organisations that represent black communities are concerned that the ability of the new organisation actively to address the specifics of racism and the structures that perpetuate it will not match that of the existing Commission for Racial Equality.
Importantly, virtually all the organisations that participated in the consultation on the White Paper commented on the inconsistency of the various existing areas of legislation. Current laws regarding the different strands of discrimination vary considerably. For example, there is a positive duty for public bodies to eliminate racism and promote equality of opportunity, but that is not yet the case for gender or disability, although the Government are committed to extending the duty to those areas. Similarly, there is a legal protection from discrimination on grounds of gender and disability in the delivery of goods and services, whereas the protection to be offered on religious, sexual orientation and age grounds is restricted to employment and training under the EU employment directive.
Without legislative harmonisation, the confusion about who has what rights in which contexts will exacerbate anxieties about hierarchies of rights across the various communities concerned. An appropriate level of resources will be key to the success of the CEHR; otherwise, it will be viewed as a cost-cutting exercise and a talking shop. That would seriously undermine the support it needs in order to have credibility with national and local stakeholders. All those are major challenges.
With continuing open dialogue between Ministers and stakeholders, I hope that it will be possible to form an effective organisation that will serve 21st-century Britain well. I look forward to contributing to the forthcoming discussions on this important Bill. I thank noble Lords for their kind attention.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, on her maiden speech. Professor Young was head of culture at the GLA from 2002 to earlier this year. She was responsible for the development of the Mayor's draft culture strategy and the delivery of an events programme for London.
The noble Baroness's tremendous career shows how talented she is in so many fields. She began as an actor and a social workeracting is quite an important part of being in this House. She became an academic at
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Middlesex University and wrote a book on film, entitled, Fear of the Dark: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Cinema. I hope that the House of Lords Library will branch out more to include some of her books in the future.
The noble Baroness rapidly rose to become a professor at Middlesex University. Her previous public appointments and responsibilities have included membership of the boards of the Royal National Theatre and she is Chair of the Arts Council's cultural diversity panel and the British Council's arts advisory committee. She was awarded an OBE in 2001. We greatly look forward to her contributions to all the work of this House.
Before making my own comments, I extend a welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Broers, who will make his maiden speech after me. He will find that many others here share the great experience of having been educated at Trinity College, Cambridge.
The Queen's Speech highlights the need to improve international security; enhance economic growth; limit nuclear proliferation; and deal with climate change. Those issues of course last for many electoral cycles, and it is good news that there is cross-party agreement on the essential priorities.
I shall highlight the way in which the Government's energy policy and executive actions are contributing to achieving these goals, but I have some suggestions as to how energy policies might be developed and explained in order to achieve those wider and interconnected goals.
In opening the debate on the gracious Speech yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, emphasised the connections between international action on energy policy and dealing with climate change, while the noble Lord, Lord Howell, rightly pointed out the connection between energy policy and security.
Experts from Princeton University and BP have shown that it is necessary to use all measures and technical solutions to ensure that the world has the energy supplies that it needs for its economic growth and reduces the growth of emissions of carbon dioxide. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has recommended that the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere should be limited to a level that is about twice the level before the Industrial Revolution. The present level is already about one third of the way towards that level, and there is no sign of it slowing down. The German Government have suggested an even lower level as an objective.
The Government and the major energy companies are quite rightly developing renewable sources of energy and more efficient means of using existing energy systems. The recent report of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee and a report of the European Union Select Committee noted progress, but they recommended that the Government introduce more flexible arrangements in the electrical grid to enable localised power networks to be developed, as Woking has so brilliantly demonstrated, with London planning to emulate it. Does the Minister have any progress to report?
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The Government are to be given two cheers, as E M Forster once said, for at last instituting an energy institute, but the Government are, I understand, still spending less than Belgium on energy research. The new centre at Imperial College in London University will be primarily a policy institute. Where is "the B&Q element" of energy plans to demonstrate to people all the developments and the choices that they could make now about their energy consumption and energy systems?
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will reply to this debate. He is responsible also for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Why does he not use the excellent museums of science and technology around the country, some of which are in a parlous financial position, to act as great centres for demonstrating all the possible energy developments? The Netherlands has such an institute at Petten, where the developments of energy technologies are studied and on view. Surely the UK should be able to afford something similar.
Nuclear energy also should be a significant component of the UK's energy mix. At present, it is in the form of fission reactors. It is likely that this source of energy will decline unless decisions are taken to renew and extend the current power stations. However, the Government must first ensure the UK's technical and industrial capabilities are not allowed to disappear, which is a real danger. Currently, the energy, environmental and security issues of nuclear energy are considered quite separately. Building fission reactors is opposed by environmentalists and the general public, largely because of fear about waste products, which may remain radioactive for thousands of years.
There is an alternative form of nuclear energynamely, nuclear fusion, which was described by the Daily Mirror in the 1950s, when it was first proposed, as "taming the hydrogen bomb". The source of energy in that case would be hydrogen. That led to a famous Giles cartoon in the Daily Express; he thought that the sea would be so effective in producing hydrogen that we would run out of sea. There was a marvellous cartoon of a vanishing sea and a huge beachsaying that this was the Government's energy policy in the 1950s. To bring us up to date with the popular view of energy, in 2004, Figaro described fusion energy rather more poetically as "l'énergie des étoiles", or the energy of the starsbecause it is the source of the sun's energy that keeps us warm.
Great progress has been made since the 1950s in fusion science and technology. I declare an interest, having worked in that area. Very high temperatures at millions of degrees of gas or hydrogen conducts electricity so that it can be confined by intense magnetic fields within a large doughnut-shaped or tokomak tube. That confinement has been demonstrated, and the predicted nuclear reactions in the plasma have occurred, though for only a few seconds. The next stage will be a massive international projectITERwhich the Government are pressing, and the Government's chief scientist hopes that it might be agreed fairly shortly. That should increase the confinement time and is also likely to
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increase the size. If that is achieved, the intense radiation in the tube could be used to heat water in the walls of the tube, and make steam and electricity.
Strong doubts have been expressed publicly by scientists, even in countries likely to have the instrumentnamely, Franceand elsewhere, about whether materials can possibly exist that will be able to confine such a system. Because of those doubts, some very large countries are not participating in the ITER. However, there is a very interesting alternativeto combine fusion and fission. That idea has been promoted by Mr Paul Rebut, who was the first head of the European project in the UK, at the Joint European Taurus. I was present at a remarkable meeting with the leading United States, Russian, and United Nations experts at the Eisenhower Institute in Washington in October. It was opened by Susan Eisenhower, the grand-daughter of Dwight Eisenhower, who showed a breadth characteristic of her grandfather.
The concept is to use fissile material in the walls of a fusion reactor. That reduces its size and the materials problems and utilises the intense radiation from the fusion plasma to transform the fissile material, which would lead to waste products with a half-life of only 100 years rather than the thousands of years associated with the current fission system. In turn, reduced dangers of proliferation of nuclear waste and weapons materials would result. In fact, it would provide a method of utilising those materialsall the nuclear waste and old weaponsfor everyone's benefit.
United States colleagues have argued that there must be a substantial international effort in that direction of at least 100 million dollars a year to push forward those technologies, which would help to solve energy, security and environmental problems. In fact, if we developed nuclear energy in those ways, it would reduce the UK's overwhelming and risky dependence on overseas gasthe point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, yesterday. I hope that those imaginative concepts will attract the environmental, non-governmental organisations, which are currently so hostile, to recognising that appropriate nuclear energy should be an objective.
I conclude with a couple of specific points in support of the Government's policies for trade and industry. I applaud the remarks of my colleague and my noble friend Lord Bhattacharyya; we were also colleagues at Warwick University over the years. Based on my experience with a small company, the liberalisation of business and technology in the EU is developing apace. I would not have believed it possible a few years ago that governmental agencies in continental countries would be purchasing technology developed in the UK in many different ways. I believe that the UK pressure in Brussels is working. The Opposition have emphasised the difficulties of small companies; my experience is that many government policies have been very helpful to small, hi-tech companies, especially ones with a high proportion of women, like the one that I have helped to set up in Cambridge.
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Finally, I commend the proposed legislation to deal with violence against those working on animals in scientific procedures. Our House of Lords committee urged that, but I wonder whether our recommendations should not be adopted in the strength that was suggested. In the United States, perpetrators of violence are prohibited from, in the inimitable phrase, "crossing the county line". That seems a more appropriate response to the fear that those people have caused than the rather weak suggestion envisaged in UK legislation of banning their presence within a few hundred yards. I hope that your Lordships' House will take a very strong stance when those issues come before us.
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