Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-69)|
Meg Munn MP and Ms Liz Chennells
24 NOVEMBER 2005
Q60 Lord Harrison: Yes.
Ms Chennells: I think if we were going to use
it, if the body had been in existence, a piece of research that
could have been helpful would have been to look at the current
legislation domestically that existed in particularly the new
Member Statesbut not just the new Member States, there
are one or two older ones who would have difficultyin terms
of Goods and Services and Gender Equality so that we could have
understood better what was the gap we were trying to meet. I recall
when we met before to discuss the Goods and Services Directive
you were very interested in what additional impact it would have
in the UK and the conclusion we came to then was very little,
in fact, because our legislation for Gender Equality and Goods
and Services was pretty robust already. I think we discussed the
fact that that was not the same across Europe and how important
it was for all men and women across Europe that they had a shared
platform of legislation to make sure that they did not experience
discrimination in the fields of Goods and Services. A piece of
research that actually looked at what the state of domestic legislation
was across the Union and, indeed, in countries like Romania and
Bulgaria which were then already on the list of countries to join
would have been a useful piece of information.
Q61 Lord Harrison: That is very useful.
Who, within the Institute, would be charged with that, to take
that particular example of undertaking that kind of research,
or is it something that you would farm out and, arising from that,
there are always worries about increased bureaucracy because you
have an Institute, and is the work done there or is it done outside?
How would you go about making sure the work is done effectively?
Ms Chennells: Here I am speculating because
there is not that level of detail in the proposals from the Commission.
With that caveat, I think probably the European Commission itself
would commission the work from the Institute. Part of its plan
for the year would be to do that piece of work within its existing
budget. It is anticipated that the body would have an operating
budget which would give it the opportunity either to decide if
it had the necessary expertise itself to use its own staff to
do the research necessary or to commission the research from perhaps
two or three relevant institutions in other parts of the Community.
That has to be a speculative answer.
Lord Harrison: I hope the Minister understands
that we really think this is very important and the British Government
should really insist that this is properly set in place and properly
Q62 Baroness Howarth of Breckland:
When you were talking about consultation what became clear was
that although your consultation goes back to 2001 there are people
clearly in the system who did not feel consulted, never mind whether
they were. One of the things you are doing is removing the forum
as part of getting this wider representative management group,
but where will NGOs and other groups come in and how will they
feel involved and consulted? Or will this become government representatives
and all the NGOs around Europe doing this work will find themselves
left out in the dark?
Meg Munn: The position is that it is up to Member
States to appoint the appropriate persons to the management board
and to decide whether that is a government member or from an equality
body. We have obviously not got to the point of being in that
position yet. In addition to that, if we looked at it from our
country's perspective it would be possible for the Equal Opportunities
Commission, for example, to be invited to attend ad hoc meetings
of experts which the Institute might have to support its research
work and to encourage that exchange of information. It is not
about trying to keep people out; it is trying to have a process
which enables countries to feel that they are represented, that
there is a proper management structure in place so that the Institute
does do what it set out to do, that the money is properly used
but at the same time people are kept involved and feel that they
have an input into it. It is getting that balance right and that
is obviously something we want to keep an eye on once the Institute
is up and running.
Q63 Baroness Howarth of Breckland:
Presumably the Institute could not meet its objectives in a country
like oursalthough it is very different in other countriesunless
they had that network amongst the NGOs.
Meg Munn: Precisely, and we are very conscious
of that. The impression we tried to give earlier was that myself
as the Deputy Minister for Women and the Women and Equality Unit
officials, yes, we have formal meetings with the Equal Opportunities
Commission because we are the relevant department but actually
we meet them constantly in all sorts of situations because the
issues that we are working on are often the issues that they are
concerned about as well, so I think we would see this as being
part of the overall work with the Equal Opportunities Commission
and the subsequent Commission for Equality for Human Rights which
we would want to keep on various agendas and various discussions.
Ms Chennells: And, indeed, the Women's National
Q64 Chairman: The person who gave
evidence to us last week certainly felt that it would be important
for the new Institute to act as a kind of central meeting place
both for people and ideas and contacts and so on for the rather
spread out groups which do not have a very effective network.
Can I now ask you about the process, as it were? Your letters
refer to differences of view between the Council and the Parliament
on the budget, role and scope of the Institute. Have those differences
been resolved? What do you think is the likely timetable for decision
taking on this matter? Do you think the proposal as we understand
it is likely to change much over that period of solving these
differences of opinion and moving the thing forward to a Council
Meg Munn: The position is that the European
Parliament Women's Committee have not yet produced their report
on the Council decision and they have indicated that they will
not publish that until March 2006. The issue which seems to be
of concern is that they want to increase the budget, but it was
not specified by how much, and enhance its role and scope to make
it more of a political instrument. The Council has not yet been
given the opportunity to consider these points and in terms of
the timing and the likely negotiations that is likely to fall
to the Austrian Presidency to take that forward and to try to
find a compromise between the two institutes. In relation to your
question, are the proposals around the Institute likely to change,
well obviously part of the discussion is around role and scope
but in terms of the overall position we have had a lot of discussion
about that because this is coming out of a budget line and there
needs to be a proper discussion about that, what are precisely
the opportunity costs and if the budget for this did increase
and its scope. However, as I say, that is going to fall to the
Q65 Chairman: Do you think they may
respond in March?
Meg Munn: The Women's Committee are producing
their report and I understand that is March 2006.
Q66 Chairman: Does the Parliament
then have to debate that or give it any agreement?
Meg Munn: Yes.
Q67 Chairman: So that would then
go to a debate and the Parliament would respond to the Commission.
Is that right?
Ms Chennells: Yes.
Q68 Chairman: We are not in a great
hurry then, are we?
Ms Chennells: The timetable is very difficult
given that the original plan was to have the body off the ground
Q69 Chairman: That is what I am getting
at. It looks like mid-summer to me.
Ms Chennells: It really depends on what the
gap is between what the European Parliament agrees and where the
Council position is. Parliament may not endorse all the recommendations
of the Women's Committee.
Chairman: No, I understand that. Obviously
that is another separate internal question. I think we have got
quite a lot of development process ahead of us. I hope you will
both be here to see it through. Sometimes with these things people
change and you have to make a new start. Anyway, thank you very
much, Minister, for coming to see us today and for being so open
and free with your responses. Do look at the transcript when it
gets to you and if there is anything you feel you want to add
then please do so; we are always happy to hear from you. Thank
you very much for all your help during this period of investigation.