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House of Lords

Thursday, 29 January 2009.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Equal Pay


11.06 am

Asked By Baroness Afshar

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, the forthcoming equality Bill contains a number of measures to improve pay transparency, which will improve pay equality. In addition, the Government are investing £25 million to provide skills development and support for women, in response to the Women and Work Commission recommendations on skills training, and in April 2009, we are extending the right to request flexible working to the parents of children up to 16.

Baroness Afshar: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for this very helpful measure. I am very pleased about equal pay for flexible work. However, will the Government consider the payment of wages for domestic work, which could add to the existing success of family allowance in the knowledge that this kind of money gets spent immediately and locally? It would have a great multiplier effect and would not counter equal pay in any way.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is an interesting idea which has been around for many years, but the Government do not agree with it. It might entrench the position of women as domestic servants, because it is women who do the housework—

Noble Lords: Oh.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Forgive me, my Lords, but in the majority of cases, it is still women who do the housework. It is important that money goes to women, as in the case of child benefit, but we do not agree that it would be good to have wages for housework.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, given that equal pay is an issue not just of social justice but also of economic productivity, what assurances can my noble friend give that the good work of the Government on equality will not be undone by recession?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is a very important question. Of course the recession has an impact on us all, men and women alike. We do not have any firm data at the moment, but it is clear that because women are employed disproportionately in the retail and financial services sectors, the recession is

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likely to have a profound effect on them. We are looking at this across government, with the establishment of the National Economic Council, and it is important that we focus on women in this economic downturn.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will the noble Baroness say whether her legislation and her policies will do anything to rectify the gross imbalance of the sexes in the Crown Prosecution Service, where twice as many women as men are employed? What will she do about that to help these poor men who are being discriminated against?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is an interesting point. In many professions and sections of our society, women do some jobs and men do others. It is part of the culture, but it is also part of our education; women and men do not know of the opportunities that are available to them. Therefore, we need more men to know about the opportunities in the Crown Prosecution and more women to know about opportunities in science.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, leaving aside, if I may, the gender imbalance in this House, is the Minister aware that one of the difficulties about equal pay at the moment is that there is no incentive for employers to carry out proper evaluations of their pay systems because if they do, and they find that there is sex discrimination, they will be liable for massive damages claims? Will the Government consider providing an incentive in the equal pay legislation, when they reform it, by having transitional protection for those employers who carry out a proper job evaluation, discover that there is unequal pay, want to move towards providing equal pay and need protection meanwhile against individual claims? That would provide a carrot for employers to do what they should be doing anyway.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, we are still reflecting on various issues in relation to equal pay and the forthcoming equality Bill. I know that the Government have been speaking to the noble Lord about these issues, and we shall continue to do so.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, at a time of economic recession, it will be important, too, to monitor the public appointments system, since many women work in the public arena and more men may seek appointments in it if they are not able to find work in the commercial sector, thus disadvantaging women who want to work in that arena?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Yes, my Lords, we certainly have to keep our eye on the public appointments system, which has not to date been resoundingly successful in ensuring that enough women are on publicly appointed bodies. We have to ensure that, in a downturn, we not only maintain the position of women on public bodies but increase their number.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, is it a fact that female Members of the government Front Bench get a dress allowance? While one can see that this is an admirable

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thing, does the noble Baroness not think that it is rather unfair on the poor men, who do not have such an allowance, and can one not see the disadvantages of their not having a similar allowance?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, at a time of economic recession, it would probably be remiss of me to say that it would be a jolly nice thing, but I can categorically say that we do not get a dress allowance.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, one area where the pay gap is most stark is the City, usually because of bonuses. Given that the Government are now a substantial shareholder in a number of banks, how will they ensure that there is fair play in those institutions?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is yet another interesting point. The Government of course have some responsibility here, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission is conducting a series of inquiries in sectors where inequality is clear, including in the financial sector. We look forward to hearing the results of those inquiries.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, is the Leader of the House aware that the only time that Her Majesty's Government were defeated on the Floor of the House of Commons during World War II was on an amendment moved by the first Viscount Eccles, which proposed that, after the war, female and male teachers should have equal pay? It was carried by one vote and reversed on a vote of confidence on Report by more than 400 votes. Is it not a sad reflection on Governments of both parties that, 65 years later, it should still be necessary to have such a Question as this on the Order Paper?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is an enormously sad reflection. We have come some way; there is an enormous amount still to do. This Government have done a lot to enable more women to participate in the workforce, but not enough has been done. However, knowing the strong feelings on this matter on all sides of the House, I look forward to the support of all noble Lords for the forthcoming equality Bill.

Energy: Light Bulbs


11.14 am

Asked By Lord Harrison

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, incandescent light bulbs waste 95 per cent of

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the energy that they use as heat. Phasing them out and replacing them with efficient alternatives can help to reduce emissions and energy bills. We are pleased that UK retailers and energy suppliers are voluntarily phasing out these lamps before European rules are introduced later this year.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, is my noble friend as incandescent as I am about the reduced brightness of these new lamps, which make life difficult for those with poor eyesight, about the poorer quality of the light, which renders the world a grey ineffectiveness, and about the concerns about safety associated with mercury release? Just who made these decisions and where were they made? Indeed, just how many politicians did it take to change a light-bulb policy?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it takes one Member of your Lordships’ House to change a light bulb and 712 to debate the matter for endless hours. Of course, I understand the point that my noble friend raises, particularly about partially sighted people. We have been in, and are happy to continue, discussions with the RNIB and other organisations. Overall, the technology and quality of the new bulbs have improved enormously. For partially sighted people, there is the alternative of halogen look-alike bulbs.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, will the Minister explain how it makes sense for the European Union to ban mercury thermometers because mercury is a health hazard but, at the same time, to force us to use these low-energy light bulbs, which have a great deal more mercury than mercury thermometers?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord is not right on that. There is a small amount of mercury in the CFL lamps, but my understanding is that it is 1,500 times less than the amount in mercury thermometers.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: But there are more of them.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there may be more of them, but the element of hazardous waste is much smaller. As for the mercury processed in manufacturing, if you put the two together, there will be less mercury that comes out.

Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, given the pollutants within compact fluorescent lights, are the Government actively looking at safer alternatives, such as LED lights?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Yes, my Lords, there appears to be great potential in LED lights, not just because they do not need to use mercury, but because potentially they have a very much longer life even than the new energy-efficient lights. Researchers in the UK are very much involved in leading the field and we very much hope that we can see the new technology come on to the market within the next few years.

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Lord Redesdale: My Lords—

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords—

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, for a little light in a dark corner, it is the Lib Dems’ turn.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, perhaps I should start by saying how much we support the Government’s move in changing to these new light bulbs, which must be one of the most positive moves that they have made recently on combating climate change. Has the Minister had any complaints from noble Lords about energy-saving light bulbs, considering that the Palace of Westminster has moved to energy-saving light bulbs as far as it can and has saved 61 per cent of its energy costs? Indeed, this Chamber is lit by energy-saving light bulbs—a fact that seems to have eluded most noble Lords. I know that certain noble Lords have difficulty with their eyesight, but I have not heard any complaints. Does the Minister agree that this should be shown as a shining example of the value of energy-saving light bulbs?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have not had any complaints yet, but I intend to make myself scarce over the next few days.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, having heard the question from the Lib Dem Benches, I wonder whether the Minister is happy that the Government are carrying the British people with them on this issue. I have heard of noble Lords bulk-buying incandescent bulbs for the future. Do the energy-saving figures include the fact that, given the Newtonian physics of light bulbs, the heat lost through changing to the new type of bulbs means that people are spending more on heating their homes?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord’s question but, when we debate climate change in a few moments, the Government will no doubt come under criticism from the Benches opposite for not taking enough action. It is disappointing that the noble Lord is not prepared to support what has been a widely progressive measure. On the question, of course there are balances to be drawn, such as in balancing the environmental impact at the manufacturing stage with the energy saved when the bulbs are in use. There may be other balances. Overall, I have no doubt whatever that this not only reduces the use of energy but saves on householders’ bills.

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships’ House is pleased to hear that the Government are talking to RNIB, but will the Minister give us more detail on the Government’s proposals to accommodate the very elderly or those with genuine sight problems, who will be seriously disadvantaged and perhaps cut off entirely from the ability to read in the absence of the present light bulbs? I have a dual interest to declare. My mother is in her 90s and has difficulty reading; she has already expressed worry and concern to me about this development. I am also president of the Peterborough Association for the Blind.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sorry that any person should feel concerned about the changeover, but I repeat the point that I have just made: halogen look-alike lamps may be used as an alternative.

Prisoners: Disabilities


11.22 am

Asked By Baroness Masham of Ilton

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, prison officers receive specific training in diversity issues, including disability, as part of their initial eight-week prison officer entry-level training course. Self-taught basic health awareness modules have been developed on a range of disabilities and physical health issues and will be available for all staff via the intranet. Diversity is an integral part of training for governor grades, and the practicalities of meeting the needs of prisoners is covered in other learning programmes

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He will be aware that prison officers only get about six to eight weeks’ training, whereas in Norway they get two years. Is he aware that when I was a monitor at a young offender institute a young man of 17 died of asthma, having told the prison officers that he might die, and they did not believe him? Only this morning I heard that a prisoner in Wormwood Scrubs has died recently of asthma. Will he look into that case? There are so many different disabilities, such as diabetes and epilepsy, in prisons.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, who, by her questioning and interest in this subject, has assisted the Government to move forward in making this more of a priority than perhaps it has been in the past. I am grateful to her for telling me about the recent death in Wormwood Scrubs. I shall of course write to her with information about that.

I am happy to be able to tell her that, since 2006, when the PCTs took responsibility for healthcare in prisons, prisoners with medical conditions such as the ones she is very concerned about—asthma, diabetes and epilepsy—have been under the care of the healthcare department within their prison and have a care plan. Part of the role of healthcare professionals—in other words, nurses—is to train, support and educate those responsible for the care needs of individual prisoners. I am happy to tell her that guidance will be published very shortly informing staff in each prison wing what should be done for prisoners with those long-term illnesses.

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Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, while I appreciate the reasons for disbanding many years ago the National Prison Medical Service, which was led with distinction for some years by the late Dr Ian Pickering, it is crucial that prison officers and governors are trained on the issues raised by my noble friend. Can we have an assurance that doctors now contracted to provide medical services to prisons are involved in the training programmes relating to the management of individuals with these types of long-term medical condition and disability?

Lord Bach: Yes, my Lords, I think I can give the noble Lord that assurance. I will check with the department and write to him about the position in regard to doctors and nurses who work in prisons and their relationship with the prison staff who have to look after prisoners every day.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, will the Minister consider bringing in external voluntary agencies, dealing particularly with disabilities, to provide input to training programmes for governors and prison officers? Similar examples exist in relation to race relations training and so on, where such agencies have considerable input to training.

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that there is a revised and strengthened Prison Service Order 2855 dealing with prisoners with disabilities. It provides that all prisoners with disabilities must, of course, be treated with decency and without discrimination and be offered equality of opportunity in all aspects of prison life. Other principles are set out that have to be followed; for example, there must be a nominated disability liaison officer in each prison. I shall take away his idea that outsiders should come in, but I am sure that there is outside influence now.

Baroness Stern: My Lords, has the Minister seen the report of the independent monitoring board of Birmingham prison? I declare an interest as president of the Association of Members of Independent Monitoring Boards. The report notes failures to collect mandatory statistics on disability so that the numbers are not known, low levels of staff commitment, wheelchair users being located on the upper floor when the lift is not working and no one being trained in British sign language. Can the Minister tell the House when the situation in Birmingham, which is reported in similar prisons, is likely to improve?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Baroness when the situation in Birmingham prison is likely to improve. That shows the huge value of the monitoring groups in all Her Majesty’s prisons. Overall, healthcare in prisons is improving. Huge extra resources have been put into that aspect. It is a priority for the Prison Service along with the new Prison Service order and the commitment to a single equality scheme that is to be published in April this year.

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