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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, it is always difficult to wind up a debate when a piece of work has been done largely in one's absence and one is following one of the greatest experts on the subject, who is present in your Lordships' House. However, I shall try to return to the subject of the report.

I joined the committee at the last evidence-taking session. We had before us Ms Pavan-Woolfe, who is quite as determined and fierce a fighter for equality as my noble friend Lord Lester, who has been my mentor for many years on these subjects and whose record is irreproachable. She stated quite categorically that life insurance should be offered on the same terms to men and women, but acknowledged that the result would be that the risk would be carried by the pool of insured people and that men would therefore have to pay more and women would be able to pay less for a similar product. That is the disbenefit to which the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, referred. It was something that had a good deal of influence on the committee's thinking.

Ms Pavan-Woolfe made a further point—that, in effect, what should happen is that each person should be given life insurance on the basis of their lifestyle as well as all the other things relevant to the individual person. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, made that point in her opening remarks. That would be the ideal. In an ideal world—and I believe that is a world in which Ms Pavan-Woolfe would find herself very comfortable—men and women would all be working, and working at the sort of job that enabled them to save for a pension. Then they could be treated completely equally and judged on the value of the work that they were doing, their lifestyle, their attitude to their life, their ordinary levels of sickness, and any other considerations that might be taken into account. But that is not the world in which we live.

One thing that the EOC has put before us very clearly in its various recently issued papers on that subject is that even now women do not live in that world. Even if they get management jobs—and of course many of them do—their work will be interrupted, mostly by pregnancy
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and other caring aspects of their life. In my own case, no sooner had my own children flown the nest than I began to be involved in the care of my mother. Most women of my generation, with the fairly wide gaps between the age of the mother and the eldest child, found themselves in that position.

These matters are not easy to determine in absolute terms. It is wrong that insurance companies should use sex as "the" determinant. The report would clearly not agree with that; it refers to sex as simply one determinant with regard to life insurance, annuities and car insurance and not necessarily as the defining determinant. Until men and women have equal employment lives, it is difficult to take sex out of consideration when providing insurance. I suppose that it could be done. However, my mentor, Ms Pavan-Woolfe, clearly indicated where the costs would fall.

The matter of insurance for drivers is a relatively simple one. We take a pretty robust attitude to that; we say that the sex bias should be got rid of as soon as possible. The only exception to that should be when insuring young drivers of whose expertise and safety one knows nothing. In those cases, one might say that the statistics show that in general women are safer drivers than men, so until there is a record of each person's driving it might be permissible to allow sex to determine the rate of insurance. Obviously, after a record becomes available, the only thing that ought to determine the rate of insurance is whether a driver has been safe, as well as the size of the motor, the expense involved in case of an accident, and so on.

The report is clear on that matter, although there is a dispute—which we have heard in your Lordships' House today—about the attitude that the committee should have taken to life insurance. But even in that regard, the committee says that as soon we know that people's life expectancy—which represents the basic input into life insurance—is the same, the sooner we shall be able to get rid of the problem. It is a great shame that the Government have not acceded to the committee's request to introduce a system to monitor these issues on a rolling basis to see where the inequalities of insurers' current policies lie.

As the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, so kindly said, I will be taking over this committee, if I may put it like that, as its chair. From my several attendances at meetings chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, I know what a hard act I have to follow. Because of his background, he is extraordinarily knowledgeable about the workings of the Community, and I will have to run very hard indeed to catch up. However, I am sure that other members of the Committee will be able to help me, and, as they have said, the support and assistance of our excellent staff will be available to me as it is to them. I look forward very much to the next report that we write.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, first, I apologise for not being present at the beginning of the debate. I was taken aback by the speed with which your Lordships so enthusiastically began.
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, for facilitating this debate today, and for chairing the committee that undertook such a detailed examination of this EU directive. I find it immensely encouraging, at a time when we are often warned of the reams of directives and regulations that come flooding over from Brussels to infiltrate our domestic legislation, to see an EU directive that has been so painstakingly and conscientiously examined. It was obvious from the content of the report that the committee has been rigorous in scrutinising the technicalities of this directive and the implications that it holds for the UK, both for consumers and for industry.

We on these Benches are firmly behind the promotion of sexual equality. As some noble Lords may be aware, I have spent considerable time during my career channelling my energies into encouraging and supporting equal opportunities and standards for women, not merely in the workplace but in all aspects of life. At home, I am known for my motto, which is taken from one of my favourite pieces of graffiti on a wall in New York, "women who seek equality with men lack ambition".

I was therefore extremely encouraged to read at the beginning of this report that the UK is one of the most progressive EU states in its legislation for, and attitude towards, removing sexual discrimination. This is a fact of which we should all be immensely proud. It is clear from the content of the report that the directive will therefore be of little practical benefit in terms of redressing sexual inequality in the UK. We are fortunate to have the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which is much broader legislation than the rather narrow remit of this directive, and which has served as an admirable barrier to inequality for over 25 years.

I was struck by the comments in the report that there was little evidence of consistent sexual discrimination in terms of access to goods and services, and the evidence that they did have was for the most part "anecdotal". There is some question about the benefits gained by implementing a directive into our already comprehensive legislation if evidence is neither "substantiated" nor "quantified". We must look carefully at what wrongs we are trying to redress.

We are considering today a very circumscribed form of sexual discrimination; discrimination in access to goods and services. We should consider the directive in terms of necessity, practicality, proportionality and consistency. In this vein, I support the conclusions that the committee reached on education, health and housing. I have a wholehearted belief in providing and facilitating single-sex services in those areas. We must be aware of the law of unexpected consequences whereby, in hoping to promote equality, the end product is detrimental for those who currently benefit from such services.

I am thinking in particular of the wonderful work that single-sex refuges provide for victims of domestic violence, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and of some of the work carried out in our clubs and institutions. Until two years ago, I was a director of the Bolton Lads' and Girls' Club, which is one of the largest youth clubs in this country. We
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have a large Asian population in Bolton, and we realised that a number of young Asian women were not coming to our club. We carried out some research, and we discovered that they were not coming because their fathers did not want them to come, so on Sundays we now have girls-only clubs for young Asian women. It is terribly important that that work carries on. The effects on women in those circumstances, were they to be opened to men, would be disastrous.

It is important to understand that those who provide health and education services are professionals who should be trusted to know how best to provide their services in the interests of both men and women. I was shocked and appalled by the mention in the committee's report of complaints made or cases brought against hospitals for not splitting their funds 50:50 between male and female health services. There is no justification for forcing a hospital to spend the same amount on cervical cancer as prostate cancer. It is up to the professionals who run the hospital to make such a judgment, and I do not believe that there is any case for claiming sexual discrimination should funds not be equally distributed, which was rightly pointed out by my noble friend Lord Colwyn.

I now move onto the implications of the directive, in particular Article 4, on our financial services industry. There seems to be a great danger of damaging both consumers and the industry itself should the directive be implemented in its current form. I will disappoint the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, by repeating that it is well known and widely borne out by the multitude of statistics quoted in the report that women live longer than men. If we accept that fact, it is surely right that those who provide life insurance and annuities take sex into consideration when calculating premiums and annuity payments.

Again, if we return to the law of unintended consequences, it seems extremely important to emphasise that as most families rely on annuities from the male in the family, to remove sexual differentiation in terms of annuities payments would actually be detrimental to women and to all families as a whole, since male annuity rates would obviously fall in order to compensate for having equal rates for both. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, expressed that so well. We must again look to utility and practicality.

There is no point in preaching the principle of equality when it leaves all consumers worse off. In the case of annuities, the issue should be considered all the more carefully. After the victories on the Pensions Bill in your Lordships' House a few weeks ago, we know that the Government may well be looking again at the unique situation in Britain where the purchasing of annuities at 75 is compulsory. After my noble friend Lord Higgins won three victories here in your Lordships' House to remove compulsory annuitisation, it is apparent that many people have deep reservations about the annuities policy in this country and that the Opposition have forced the Government to have a major rethink on this issue.
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I take the same common-sense approach on motor insurance as that adopted by the committee. The statistics are blatant in highlighting the fact that young men are more dangerous drivers than young women and should therefore have higher premiums. To deny that and remove the differentiation in terms of sex would lead to higher premiums for all as the industry struggled to adjust to the new system. It is interesting to wonder whether the motor insurance industry will be attacked next for discriminating on age in offering cheaper insurance for older drivers. One could take the principle of equality to such an extreme, but it would not be in the interests of the industry, consumers or road users.

The overwhelming impression one gets from the report is that the European Commission has undertaken little consultation. In terms of the fact that the insurance industries are unique and differ from state to state, it is vital that there is thorough consultation before the directive is implemented. Although we are looking to protect consumers and ensure that they are not discriminated against, we must not end up righting a negligible wrong at the expense of our native industries. It is clear that there has been little cost-benefit analysis for our insurance companies. The issue is proportionality and we must be sure that the ends justify the means.

I congratulate the chairman, all the members of the committee and the secretariat on the report. Having found out at a very late stage that I would have to speak today, I was grateful and I must say relieved to find that the report, which I picked up only last night, was extremely thorough, concise, easily digestible and pragmatic. I am pleased to say that we agree with many of the conclusions and recommendations which have been reached, and can only thank the noble Lord and his committee for all their assiduous hard work and good common sense.

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