|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I shall give the noble Lord the figures that he seeks on wind power. I fear that I do not have them at my fingertips.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, does the Minister recognise the contribution that people who have 4x4s have made during this period? For example, my daughter was out again yesterday delivering meals on wheels because the normal vehicles cannot get through. Normally, owners of 4x4s are pilloried for their excessive use, but on these occasions the meals would not have been delivered without such vehicles. Secondly, I reinforce what the Statement said about exempting the hours that people have worked, particularly on the collection of milk. It is hugely important that milk supplies have been collected; it is not just a question of collecting
11 Jan 2010 : Column 298
As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, in the past farmers always had snowploughs in the front and were out there straightaway. I should be interested to hear what the present situation is with regard to local authorities and whether that is still in being or not.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, never has the Chelsea tractor performed a more socially useful purpose.
I echo everything that the noble Baroness said about the huge efforts being put in by farmers and food distributors and suppliers to keep goods moving around the country. I note her remarks about how snowploughs could be better fitted to farm equipment so that roads and pathways could be cleared more effectively.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, we all agree that the Secretary of State is an excellent performer on transport issues, but on energy matters should it not be more a matter of taking the information to his colleagues rather than bringing it to us? His answers to my noble friend and me were very puzzling. Has not the recent spell shown that wind power is incapable in cold spells of delivering even a tiny fraction of its installed capacity to provide the nation's vital electricity needs? His answer to me that the solution is to build more wind power seems quite perverse. Would he like to take the opposite message to his colleagues: that wind power cannot help at the most crucial moments, in the nation's times of need? We could be storing up great danger for our future unless we get this matter clear.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am sure that the right response is that we need a balanced energy supply. Wind power has a significant contribution to make as part of a total energy supply strategy. However, the noble Lord is absolutely right to point out that we need very substantial sources of supply from elsewhere, too-and those sources are available. As we have seen in recent days, the supply of gas, with the exception of a small number of interruptible contracts, has managed to meet domestic needs in a period of huge increase in demand. Therefore, of course those sources of supply will need to be central to our future energy strategy.
Bill Main Page
Copy of the Bill
2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 1 : Public sector duty regarding socio-economic inequalities
Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I shall speak to the other amendments in my name in this group as well. It is a pleasure to open the debate for consideration of
11 Jan 2010 : Column 299
During Second Reading, on 15 December, we heard great concern from around the Chamber about Part 1 of the Bill. I will not go into those details here again, as our worries will be addressed in a later group of amendments, but I shall raise one specific issue. Our probing Amendment 1 is designed to clarify the Government's position regarding this clause. As it stands, Clause 1(1) states:
"An authority to which this section applies must",
when making strategic decisions about the exercise of its functions,
I want to express two worries in connection with this subsection before we go into more detailed arguments about the socio-economic duty itself.
First, the main purpose of this clause appears to be to send out an important message that there is a problem with "socio-economic disadvantage", and that that should be addressed. Up to that point, we agree with the Minister; there is indeed a problem with socio-economic disadvantage, and it must be dealt with. We are living at a time when the Government look set to miss their 2010 target on child poverty by 600,000 children, for example, with the number of children living in poverty having increased since 2004. Furthermore, figures from last May show that the number of adults living in poverty had risen by 800,000 under this Government. Nobody could therefore deny that the problem of socio-economic inequality is urgent, requiring immediate and effective attention.
Does the Minister agree, however, that there is a wide difference between inequalities of outcome and inequalities of opportunity? For example, those in poorer areas may suffer from disadvantage in the quality of the healthcare that they receive. That may be because of a lack of access to good local healthcare, which could result in inequalities of opportunity brought about by socio-economic disadvantage rather than as a result of discrimination on the basis of socio-economic status. Given these different approaches and the use of inequalities of outcome in the Bill, could the Minister clarify the intention behind the clause?
We have also tabled Amendment 4 to raise the worry that there are very different meanings behind the concepts of socio-economic inequality and socio-economic disadvantage. To conflate those two ideas or to allow a murkiness of terminology that might leave scope for misunderstanding or confusion does not help. It will merely add a burden to authorities, which
11 Jan 2010 : Column 300
That leads me neatly onto my second point. The fanfare behind this part of the Bill is that it is designed, according to Harriet Harman in another place, to ensure that specific public sector organisations,
In itself, this is clearly commendable. I think all in the Chamber today would agree that it could only be a good thing to reduce the gap between rich and poor. However, does the Minister not agree that addressing inequalities of outcome, without also tackling inequalities of opportunity, may mean that no action is taken to address the root causes of the problem?
A duty to ensure that public sector organisations take into account inequalities of outcome may lead to some tweaks being made at the final stage where, for example, healthcare or education are received, but this will do nothing to address the real problem, which is to have no opportunity at all to receive these services. Does the Minister agree that much more will be needed to address socio-economic duty, and that the phrase "inequalities of outcome" risks giving an unclear message which will have little real impact on a very real and worrying problem?
We have touched on some of the issues which this part of Bill raises, but now we will debate the three clause stand parts that are in the group, which would remove them from the Bill altogether. We have also tabled Amendment 3, which would leave out only Clause 1(4). This is designed to underline our objections to the nature of this part of the Bill by removing the necessity for those authorities which are not specified under subsection (3) but are partners to local authorities to have regard to the socio-economic duty as regards their involvement in the sustainable community strategy.
It was clear on Second Reading in your Lordships' House that a great many noble Lords had objections to this part of the Bill. We objected to it on the grounds that the Government had conflated the ideas of discrimination on the basis of socio-economic disadvantage and the disadvantage itself. It is, of course, easier to legislate for cutting back the weeds of some forms of socio-economic discrimination than it is to attempt to pull out the root causes of disadvantage. We were then supported by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who said that this so-called duty is a vague and unworkable exercise in political window dressing that attempts to suggest that Labour alone is concerned to reduce socio-economic inequalities, and which might serve to divert energy and attention from the problem of discrimination.
11 Jan 2010 : Column 301
It appears that a Government coming to the end of their Parliament would like to make a big, bold statement about the importance of reducing socio-economic inequalities. I am not surprised, given that, for example, since Labour came to power in 1997, there has been a widening of the gap between infant mortality of the poorest and richest households. Furthermore, as I mentioned previously, child poverty is increasing. Such a statement is commendable on its own terms. I am sure that there will be few, if any, objections to the desire to close the gap. However, the Minister must acknowledge that legislation is not the place to make such an important but, as it stands, vacuous, promise.
There appears to be an increasing trend to create statutory targets in legislation, which tend to promise much and deliver little. As mentioned in another place, legislation was passed which effectively stated that fuel poverty would no longer exist. We see now that not only does fuel poverty still exist, but that when the case was tested in court, the Government were able to plead successfully that resources were not available to follow through their own promise.
On 5 January the Child Poverty Bill was given its Second Reading in your Lordships' House. The Bill also places a duty on the Secretary of State to meet four United Kingdom-wide targets by the end of the financial year in 2020. Here, too, we support the principle but are concerned by the use of legislation for targets, rather than real action.
Furthermore, we are disappointed with the intentions of the clause. Will the Minister acknowledge that the way to address the problem of socio-economic disadvantage is to go right to the heart of the matter, figure out the root causes and then find ways to tackle each and every one of them? Instead, we have a few clauses attached inelegantly on to the beginning of a Bill dealing with discrimination. Does the Minister accept that the way to narrow the divide between rich and poor is to have meaty proposals which engage with the real issues of reducing opportunities that are not available to many poorer communities? In contrast, these clauses do not provide any form of solution to an entrenched problem. Instead, they attempt to smooth over the differences from the top without addressing any of the rot underneath. This is surely not a legacy that any Government would desire.
Unfortunately, we received the Government's new guidance entitled, The Equality Bill: Duty to Reduce Socio-economic Inequalities late on Friday evening. I am glad that the Government have managed to publish this guidance before Committee stage, although they have cut it very fine. Given the lateness of its arrival, I am still working my way through it. Therefore, I apologise if any of the questions that I ask today have been answered in the substantive document. I am sure that the Minister will understand that. The document's summary details what this duty does not do. It states:
"The duty is not about creating new equalities. It is not about addressing discrimination against individuals on account of socio-economic factors. It is not about directly affecting or determining operational decisions and it is not about requiring public bodies to use their resources to remove unequal outcomes".
If that is a list of what this duty is not about, I should like the Minister to explain what it is about. If it is not about dealing with any of the real issues, affecting socio-economic disadvantage in any way, protecting people, or allocating further resources to dealing with the issue, I submit that this list is merely an effective way of deflecting negative press comment and allowing the Government to make a bold statement and look good in a general election year. Could the Minister give me an example of a local authority where this duty could be used, and what real practical impact the use of that duty would have?
There are a number of questions which I am sure the Minister will deal with but at this stage I beg to move.
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I support the clause and oppose the amendments. My justification for doing so is that socio-economic disadvantage creates some of the most deep-rooted discrimination and combination of inequalities. There is no question that social class still holds a powerful grip over people's lives. While the clause will not, of course, solve all the problems, it will help to create awareness and make public bodies stop and think before they take strategic decisions on spending and service delivery, with the consequence that, as strategic authorities begin proactively to monitor the impact of key policies for their socio-economic impact, we should start to see significant differences in the way that public services are configured and targeted.
The Women's National Commission, of which I am chair and therefore declare an interest, has consulted its 550 partners, national and local, big and small-these women's organisations represent some 8 million women-asking for their views on the clause. There was not one negative response, rather the opposite, as might be expected, for by enabling public authorities to tackle the root causes of inequality and deprivation, a socio-economic duty would help to reduce inequality of income and improve outcomes and life chances, which are particularly relevant to women. It will also be a key driver towards achieving social mobility and educational success. There is no question that failing to tackle the root causes of this inequality early on in life could cost the taxpayer more in the long term.
An example given by the EHRC is that young people who are not in education or employment are far more likely to go to prison, at a cost of between £15,000 and £50,000 for each prison place. In terms of health, the duty will require public bodies to take into account discrepancies such as health inequalities and the postcode lottery during day-to-day work and while planning and developing new healthcare strategies. This may involve, for example, targeting a geographical region which is known to have poorer healthcare outcomes and providing opportunities for people to achieve better healthcare outcomes.
That is why this clause is fully supported by the Royal College of Nursing, which has long recognised the significance of healthcare inequalities. That view is
11 Jan 2010 : Column 303
As policy-makers, we sit here in this beautiful Chamber, and it is important for us to listen to those who work among the most disadvantaged. The argument that the clause is vague, unworkable or unenforceable is completely unacceptable. How often have we heard that the wrong vehicle is being used and that legislation will have no impact? In fact, history shows us that that is completely not the case. They are often excuses put forward by those who are opposed to the principle behind legislation. I firmly believe that removing this clause would do a disservice to all those it can help.
Lord Tebbit: The Labour Party has come a very long way over the past 100 years or so. When we look back to those early days of the Labour Party, there was an enormous concentration on education, particularly in the Welsh valleys. Long before Mr Blair discovered "education, education, education", in those Welsh valleys there was a passion for education. It was seen as the way forward for youngsters growing up in rather poor socio-economic circumstances-although they did not use that expression in those days; they were more blunt about it. Education was seen as the way for those children to make their way up and enjoy some social mobility.
Further north were the Rochdale pioneers. They did not spend all their time griping, whining and whingeing about the misdemeanours and the unfairness of the way that retail trade was conducted; they did something about it. They created the co-operative movement, which actually improved retailing across the board and, particularly, improved it for those in the poorest circumstances.
We have come to a stage where everything has to be done by legislation. What have been the consequences in recent years? We have seen a loss of social mobility. Of course, the Bill as a whole and this clause in particular will contribute towards that loss of social mobility. I do not speak from theory but from experience. I was one of those-and there are a good many of us in this House-who was born on the wrong side of the track, and probably at the wrong time. How did I escape from that socio-economic group? It was through education. It was through the grammar schools, which gave me, not the Bill's entirely false promise of equality of outcome, but an equality of opportunity. The more that we strive for an equality of outcome, the worse matters will get.
What a pity that we do not already have former Prime Minister Blair in the House. He could tell us a thing or two about it. He sprang from very difficult circumstances. His family was so poor that he could
11 Jan 2010 : Column 304
I support absolutely my noble friend's amendment, and will support her, too, by voting against this pernicious, anti-libertarian and totally harmful clause.
Baroness Meacher: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on bringing forward the Bill, which will strengthen existing legislation tackling discrimination. I apologise to the House that I was unable to be in the Chamber for Second Reading. I should probably apologise also for what I say today: I flew across the Atlantic overnight, did not sleep and am probably less well prepared than I should be. However, I feel very strongly about Clause 1.
I am aware that many noble Lords, perhaps even a majority, feel that Clause 1 should not be included in the Bill. If I understand it correctly, the reason is that the clause could lead to many challenges in the courts that may not be successful but would waste resources. If that is the case, we must do some redrafting. However, I argue very strongly for retaining in the Bill a reference to the inequality that has a greater impact on the health and well-being of individuals than any other-I refer to socio-economic inequality. An equality Bill that ignored this major dysfunction in our society would be akin to producing a tree without a trunk. However, noble Lords are no doubt right that some rewording of this part will be necessary.
The Marmot commission on inequalities in health and well-being, of which I am a member, will report on 11 February. The commission has been examining the consequences of socio-economic inequalities. I will mention a few points to underline the importance of Part 1 of the Bill. Life expectancy in London varies by seven years from one borough to another, depending on the socio-economic structure of the boroughs. To make matters worse, the number of disability-free years varies by 17 years between those at the top and bottom of the socio-economic scale. Not only do people in the most deprived socio-economic groups have much shorter lives than others, but they also spend more of their later years with a disability. It struck me, reading the Bill, that if we talk about dealing with disability and fail completely to address the need to prevent it, we are missing the point of anything that might be called an equality Bill.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|