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Lord Colwyn: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, for his expert chairing of the committee, our Clerk, Gordon Baker, our researcher, Oriel Petry, and Melanie Moore, who did much of their secretarial work. It was impossible to know what the chairman would leave out of his speech for the rest of us to deal within this case, not very much. I am grateful to him for his comprehensive coverage of the inquiry.
Listening to the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, I wish that we had heard from them at an earlier stage. Perhaps, on reflection, I would have come away even more muddled than I am now.
I spend much of my time involved with healthcare issues. The directive was about the,
Services are defined in Article 50 of the treaty as those which are "normally provided for remuneration". The directive does not refer specifically to healthcare services, but they have been included in the broad scope of the document.
Certainly, I am not aware of any gender discrimination in the NHS, but of course there are situations where men and women are treated differently. Certain medical conditions are sometimes targeted for extra resources. But the Department of Health made it clear that it did not wish to open up the possibility of patients of one sex claiming that equal resources were not allocated to conditions specific to the other sex. It seems totally unacceptable that NHS services, which might include cervical screening, prostate cancer risk management and treatment related to gender-specific cancers and breast screening, might be challenged.
Gender discrimination issues might also be associated with patient-choice decisions. The department confirmed its commitment to making NHS services more responsive to patients' personal preferences, which could include choosing the gender of clinicians, but it might not always be feasible for those services to meet personal preferences.
The committee recommended that the health services provided by the public sector should be excluded from the directive, and that a commonsense approach be used over gender-specific treatment and the reasonable rights of patients to choose their
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medical practitioner. Much of the press commentary on the report centred on the insurance implications of men and women drivers. Most of the speeches today have dealt with that. I was glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, who became our expert on the matter during the committee.
Our report reflected the findings that the EU proposals might lead to anomalies and inconsistencies. It is possible that in time gender could be taken out of car-insurance calculations for premiums but that when companies set premiums for newly qualified driverswith no track recordgender would be a relevant actuarial factor that should remain.
The cost of insurance cover for women would be likely to increase by 10 per cent to 30 per cent. There might be some reduction for younger men, but the industry said that it would expect to see an overall increase in cost because insurers would be taking the risk that they write more cover for higher-risk men. If the directive were implemented, would not the result be a significant premium increase for many women, who would be penalised by subsidising the premiums for more risky male drivers, by the very law designed to help them?
We considered the effect of the proposed law on advertisements for same-sex flatmates and the letting of accommodation. The rule would make it an offence for homeowners to stipulate whether they wanted men or women when letting rooms or accommodation. I have listened to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall; I would be delighted if I had misunderstood it. This is further unacceptable legislation that would mean less accommodation on the market and many women worried about their safety. The National Landlords Association said that the matter was fundamental to people, and that they should be allowed to choose with whom they share their living space. The association said:
"It raises issues of privacy and decency. It would be quite wrong to remove the right to stipulate whether people are seeking a male or female tenant or lodger in all circumstances".
We agreed that specific exemptions should be made to cover the right of those letting rooms in private accommodation, especially where facilities are shared, to stipulate the sex of tenants or lodgers. We also recommended that exemptions be made to enable refuges for victims of domestic violence to be reserved for persons of one sex.
I have no intention of going into the complex detail of annuities. For some reason that I still do not understand, I found myself often leading the questions to experts on annuities, to the extent that I have now changed my own pension arrangements. The UK annuity market is different from those of other member states, and the special circumstances of its unique compulsory nature must be considered.
The committee was concerned about the evidence of inadequate female pensions and did not see the directive as a solution. If men and women are offered the same monthly income for the same purchase price, men will be discriminated against, as on average they will receive less back over their lifetimes. If providers
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could not use gender as a calculation, they would have to price conservatively by assuming that the annuitant's mortality was closer to the female average. That would mean that females would be unlikely to receive higher rates while men would receive lower annual rates.
In conclusion I shall paraphrase the committee's recommendation 10.2, already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. Although it is in the common interest of the EU to introduce legislation that attempts to extend the principles of anti-sex discrimination, we can support it only if it can be shown to be necessary and soundly based, proportionate and consistent with the principles of competence and subsidiarity. Would not that be more easily described as the application of good common sense to an unacceptable level of EU regulation?
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, the chairman, my noble friend Lord Williamson, and the other authors of the report have examined the question of sexual equality in these areas in considerable detail. The depth and open-mindedness with which they have examined the proposals in this important draft directive is, I am sure, appreciated by noble Lords.
However, I am disappointed that neither the Select Committee nor the Government are yet convinced that the principle and practice of equal opportunities should now be extended to the areas that still remain, 30 years after our own Sex Discrimination Act 1975I repeat, 30 yearsoutside our domestic equal opportunity laws. Of course, the directive sought to include many of those areas.
There are many questions that I would like to address and on which I have much enjoyed hearing other noble Lords' remarks. However, I shall try to confine my remarks to just two areas of discrimination that the directive sought to remedy. Going back to first principles, there were many areas, now covered by the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, where, originally, concerns were expressed with considerable strength at the costs involved. The view was prevalent, for example, that equal employment opportunities would mean huge costs for industry when young women left for childbearing.
Happily, however, the landmark Sex Discrimination Act 1975 had set out the basic principle that a person's gender should no longer be a criterion governing decisions in employment, education or the provision of "goods, facilities and services". I hardly need to remind noble Lords that it was not too long before that original concern subsided. Employers came to recognise the bottom-line benefits that they gained by including the talents, experience and expertise of the other 50 per cent of the population in the pool of potential employees.
But, yes, certain exceptions were included in the 1975 legislation. One such was in respect of retirement age. Interestingly, as we began our work at the Equal Opportunities Commission, the quantity of complaintsfrom both sexesthat we received about unequal retirement dates remains engraved on my
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memory. Men complained bitterly that they had to work five years longer than women; women complained that they were not allowed to work up to 75 years and thereby earn a higher retirement pension.
So where are we now? Retirement age for women is well on its way to a legally required equalisation with that of menironically, at a time when demographic trends indicate a predominately ageing population, which makes it increasingly unlikely that any fixed age for employee retirement will make sense. But, so long as there remains any retirement date, it will soon be the same for both sexes.
Yet, most perversely, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, pointed out, as more and more women rise to executive positions, as a result of which they will want to make extra provision for their retirement, this country still apparently thinks that they should be satisfied with lesser pensions and annuities than received by men with the same employment entitlements. That is based on the increasingly squalid argument that women live a little longer than men. I hope, however, that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, the architect of so much that is good on the equal opportunities front in this country, has laid that point to rest. As some witnesses pointed out, too, it would be at least as relevant to take a view on where an individual lived or on their lifestyle, as on the sex of a person receiving an annuity or pension.
The Select Committee was rightly critical of the lack of transparency about how insurance industry figures justifying this difference were arrived at. But we need to remember, too, that however good the intentionsand we may differ in our views about thatbuilt-in sexually discriminating assumptions may still exist and distort how the figures are arrived at. I have in mind here the practice which the EOC unearthed early on: a general rule existed that no credit facilities were granted to those in part-time employment, however high the part-time worker's salary. This was seen, under the new law, as unlawful indirect discrimination, as the vast majority of part-time workers were, and still are, women.
My second illustration, and where I am glad to see the Select Committee was almost as sceptical as I am, and as others are, of the insurance industry's arguments, is in the field of motor insurance. If ever there was an area where the sex of an individual was irrelevant, I would have thought that it was this one. In this case, of course, the argument is that it is the woman driver who gains from the current situation. Women are said to be safer drivers, especially young women compared with young men, therefore it is argued the premium women are charged should be lower. But can it really still be justifiable to depart from the principle of equal treatment of the sexes here? Would it not be far more sensible, let alone more just, to spread the risk evenly from the start and put the premium up substantially for any individual, male or female, when and if there was evidence of dangerous driving?
I am sure that we shall return frequently to these issues. We have heard how far the negotiations have gonebut this is an issue which will not lie down. My
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hope certainly had been for some "jam today", and a real step forward, with the directive, on every issue of equal opportunities, not only in the UK but throughout Europe. I am afraid that I am not quite as brave as the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, but if we cannot move immediately to "jam today", "jam tomorrow" would be my preferred option.
The Select Committee has made plain its belief that research, not least on longevity, and genuine independent monitoring of relevant actuarial data used, to which noble Lords have referred, are essential. The EOC's latest briefing also points to the need,
to consumers. We must hope that the Government will change their mind and see the importance of this, not least if they are to keep faith with their own belief in genuine equal opportunities.
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