Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, argued that the need is to identify all the causes of socio-economic inequality and address each and every one. I agree, and consider that the clause will exert appropriate pressure on government departments to do just that. I shall give just one example. In relation to infant mortality, there is currently a 16 per cent gap-or, at least, there was in 2006-08; those are the latest figures of which I am aware-between babies born to fathers in routine

11 Jan 2010 : Column 305

manual occupations and those born to married or jointly registered parents in the population as a whole. Children born into families of low socio-economic status will be affected for their entire lives. Help from public services in their early years to improve their physical, social and cognitive development can transform their educational achievement, employment and health throughout life; hence, the vital importance of Clause 1.

4.15 pm

Government departments have a responsibility to reduce the lifelong consequences of these inequalities. To achieve the necessary change, we need a concerted effort across all government departments. This will be the message of the Marmot commission, and, believe me, the research behind that commission is extremely powerful. Professor Marmot led the worldwide commission on inequalities in health for the WHO. His work is being taken very seriously by countries across the world. We now have our own commission in England, and countries all over the world are doing exactly the same to address these very serious issues.

Finally, socio-economic inequalities affect each and every one of us. Many other kinds of inequality affect different groups of people-disabled people, old people such as myself, or whoever-but socio-economic inequalities affect all of us. The UK is one of the most unequal societies in the western world. As a result of these inequalities, our average life expectancy is below that of countries such as Japan with lesser socio-economic inequalities. We can improve the average life expectancy of our country as a whole if we address these matters, and that is why it seems to me that we cannot have the Bill without Clause 1. Therefore, I hope that between now and Report we can work on this clause to make sure that it does the job that the Marmot commission wants the Bill to do. I believe it is the most important job that the Bill can do.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate, and I hang my hat on Amendment 2. I start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, on making a robust attack on the concept. She was able to give us some interesting aspects of where it was deficient and how it could be improved, which is the purpose of the Committee stage.

One thing that occurred to me when I took an interest in the Bill was that one can get very one-track-minded about equality or inequality but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, pointed out, there are inequalities in many different spheres. We are now talking about economic inequalities. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, spoke about where he came from. I know that he came from Ponders End in Enfield. I know the school that he went to-a first-class school on the Great Cambridge Road-and he was a pillar of that community. He may or may not have got on his bike but he certainly set about putting right the inequalities in which he found himself. Was it Norfolk Road-one of the roads off Lincoln Road?

Lord Tebbit: Oxford Road.

11 Jan 2010 : Column 306

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I know the area and, so far as I know, the people there are very proud of the noble Lord.

I received a brief from a body called the Equality Trust, which states:

"More equal societies work better for everyone".

It comes at the issue not from the point of view of sexual equality, differentials, and so on, but from the view that we can have a better society if we find a means of ironing out some of the inequalities. My amendment strengthens the assertion that social and economic inequalities play a large part in the disparate nature of our society. The Minister who will be replying to the debate should look on it as an opportunity to deal with the issues that are not covered, according to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, but should also assert those that are.

Members of this House, who have some responsibility for society, cannot hide or run away from the fact that there are enormous inequalities in many ways. I regard the Bill as an opportunity for the Government to bring forward ideas and aspirations-the word of the day. There are aspirations in the Bill, and I would not criticise this or any other Government for aspiring to change without necessarily being able to argue that every aspiration can be turned into an achievement either now or later.

The opportunity of upward mobility is something to which we all aspire. That should be the aim of all countries, but sadly Great Britain lags behind other societies in many ways. Equality is not just about equal pay; it is about a great many other things as well. Economic democracy leads to fairer disparities in business. Gaps may never be wholly eliminated but they can be narrowed with a little help from our friend-an understanding Government. If there is common cause that inequalities that exist should be eliminated, eroded or substantially affected, surely that is a platform that can stretch right across this Chamber and right across government. It is not what you do, but the way that you do it. If there is common ground about the need to eliminate inequalities, we are half way there.

Trends in the past 20 years can and should be reversed. Businesses do not have to be run only for profit at the behest of rich, external shareholders. We come up against the broad division between public and private enterprise but there is a place for both. I was delighted that the noble Lord referred to the Rochdale pioneers of 1844 and how, over that century and beyond, that organisation has given to those who wish to use the tool an opportunity to improve their lot. I know that the noble Lord will be knowledgeable and generally familiar with the Co-operative movement. The London Co-operative Society, or the Enfield Highway Co-operative Society which operated in his area, was there only because the idea and that example existed. It started in Rochdale and spread, and the Co-operative movement has much to be pleased about. It struggled and was the economic enemy of a great many of the great names in this House and outside in trying to do its job. What job is it trying to do? It is trying to say to ordinary people that, in their busy lives

11 Jan 2010 : Column 307

where there are harsh conditions, if you care to combine your facilities and resources, you can improve your lot.

We will never have a completely clear or clean society, but I want to comment on the kind of organisation that the Co-op is pleased to be. Here I declare a non-financial interest as a lifelong supporter of the Co-operative idea. Although in the 1980s and 1990s there was a move to demutualise many businesses and institutions, there are still 63 building societies with 2,000 branches and 38,000 employees. There are still 650 credit unions, 250 friendly societies, 70 mutual insurance companies and 170,000 charities. There is also the Co-operative Bank, which is recognised as one of the finest ethically run and driven organisations.

What are we trying to do? I relied on the brief from the Equality Trust, and it produced some interesting comparisons. For instance, it says that if we could only halve equality in income-only halve it-we would halve the homicide rates, reduce mental illness by two-thirds, halve obesity, imprison 80 per cent fewer people, have 80 per cent fewer teenage births, increase trust of other people, and become significantly more environmentally sustainable. Those are laudable aspirations, but many of them are not capable of being achieved in your Lordships' lifetime or mine.

I hark back to the Rochdale pioneers and their ideas, which they got from Robert Owen. He was a great social reformer in the early part of the 19th century. They would never have expected-and nor should we-to find that all the ills that have been created can be eliminated. However, I congratulate the Government. As has been said, this is an election year and I am sure that the Minister is able to withstand what I call snide remarks about the basis on which the legislation has come forward. It may be years late, but it is about time that we tried to face up to the issue. I hope that the Minister will take heart from the fact that at least if we have the platform rolled out before us in the Bill, Members of this House and interested people all over the place will applaud the fact that an attempt has been made to do so. I congratulate the Minister and the Government on having the courage to take up time now. My amendment is designed to give a cutting edge to this clause and I hope that, without its remotely being able to solve the problem, the Minister will recognise that.

Baroness O'Cathain: Is it possible for the noble Lord to make available in the Library the statistics that he gave us? We certainly do not want to legislate without evidence and we really must have evidence-based facts. I do not know whether those statistics are fact-I have never heard them before-and I would really like to have a look at them.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: As the noble Baroness said, they are breath-taking. I have taken a breath and I will sit down.

Lord Waddington: I should just like to utter a few words of caution. Perhaps the Committee will forgive me if I start on a somewhat light note. Many, many years ago, when I was at university, Lady Astor came up. I am not quite sure whether she came to entertain

11 Jan 2010 : Column 308

us or to educate us. She said that she had two sons. She said, "I could put one down in darkest Africa and he would come out leading the natives. I could put the other one down in Piccadilly and he would not be able to find his way home, and we live only just around the corner". That was her view of the likelihood of our ever attaining anything like equality.

It is also apparent from the efforts of the Government in recent years to further their wider equality agenda that such efforts can cause great mischief and unfairness, however great the intentions of the organiser-great mischief and unfairness particularly when the Government's idea of equality turns out, as it has, to be nothing more than institutional intolerance to those with religious convictions. We need to be assured in this context that this encouragement to local authorities to strive for socio-economic equality will not lead to a great deal of trouble and bring very little gain.

There is good reason for uttering those words of caution, because I remind noble Lords that the Solicitor-General in the other place did not claim that Clause 1 would do any good. What in fact she said was that she thought that there was no harm in it. That is what she said in the Commons Equality Bill Committee on 21 September last year at col. 130 of the Official Report. She thought that there was not really much to be gained from it, but that it would not do much harm. I beg to differ. Not so long ago, Brighton and Hove Council, not in pursuit of socio-economic equality, but in furtherance of the Government's wider agenda, cut off a grant to a Christian care home because the managers of the home would not comply with its demand that the elderly residents should be asked every three months what their sexual orientation was. If councils are prepared in the name of equality to act in such a lunatic way, what makes the Solicitor-General think that such a council would not try to implement Clause 1?

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: As a resident of Brighton and Hove, I should be extremely grateful if the noble Lord could present me with the date and the evidence of what he has just said. That is terribly important.

Lord Waddington: I do not have that evidence at my fingertips, but I certainly have the evidence and will certainly let the noble Baroness have it.

My fear is that in their efforts to try to make some sense of Clause 1, councillors will no doubt set about discussing what it means. They will set about trying to decide how on earth they can implement the intention of Clause 1. No doubt, they will appoint expert advisers to advise them on that. They will be inviting councils to liaise with them to further the aims of Clause 1 and they might even plan to set up an office in Brussels to make sure that their thoughts are very similar to those of the Commission. We are entitled to know, because we have not yet been told, what on earth councillors are supposed to do in furtherance of Clause 1.

Lord Tebbit: My noble friend could perhaps be a bit more optimistic. Perhaps the council would think that it imposed on it a duty to consider re-establishing

11 Jan 2010 : Column 309

grammar schools. They are a proven way of reducing socio-economic inequalities. It might be a good thing.

Lord Waddington: Certainly, if that was in the Bill, people would know what the Bill meant.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords-

Lord Waddington: I think that I had better reply to my noble friend first. Certainly, if such a clause was in a Bill, everyone would know what it meant, and everyone would know what was expected of the council. The difficulty with the proposal in this Bill is that no one has said what on earth the councils are supposed to do in order to implement Clause 1. Why on earth should we be expected to approve Clause 1 unless we are at least told that as a minimum? I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I was not intervening. I thought that the noble Lord had concluded. If he has concluded, perhaps I may follow him and his brethren.

Lord Waddington: No, I have not. I am sorry, but I will conclude in only a moment.

At this time of all times, when the Government have piled up massive debts to be repaid by our children and our grandchildren, we really should not be imposing further duties on local authorities and encouraging them to spend more money unless there is a real likelihood of some gain coming from it. I have no evidence before me that any gain will flow from this nonsense. I think that we should be encouraging local authorities to empty dustbins more efficiently rather than trying to implement Clause 1.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: It would be a travesty if the ambition of equality of outcome, or, indeed, equality of opportunity, were left in the mouths of spokesmen of the Opposition, whose party has done very little to promote either objective in our society-in particular the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who takes as his target and his banner the Rochdale pioneers, which is only one example, but a very important one, of the collective ambition and work of workers in Britain, whose organisations and trade unions he did so much to attack when he was in office. He laughs. He bases his attack on grammar schools, which he says promoted equality of opportunity which enabled him eventually to come to this House. He is not alone in that. My family had scarcely heard of universities before the idea of my being at one took them by surprise. He no doubt is sitting with his brethren who come, as he put it, from Eton. One of them is trying to interrupt me from a sedentary position.

The Earl of Onslow: I must intervene.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I give way briefly.

The Earl of Onslow: I was actually too stupid to go to university, but I was very privileged to go to Eton. Every time I pass Mrs Messenger's cottage, which was sold to send me there, I regret that it had been sold, because I would be quite happy to go to another school.

11 Jan 2010 : Column 310

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: The noble Earl was no doubt fortunate in his circumstances. But to hear grammar schools defended on the ground that Government should not put into legislation an ambition to improve equality of outcome and equality of opportunity is a quite false attack.

When the noble Lord speaks of grammar schools, he-like those of us who succeeded in them-always speaks of those who succeeded in them. He does not say very much about those he left behind, jettisoned into an inferior channel of education. I remember them because many of them remained my friends. They did not pass the 11-plus. If these clauses suggest that local authorities and other government bodies must keep before them the ambition of comprehensive education for all, with an equality of outcome so far as that is possible in our much-divided society, that would be a very good thing.

It is astonishing that an opposition spokesman can suggest that research has not shown that this society has become more unequal in the past 20 years.

Lord Tebbit: The noble Lord enjoyed going to university; that was denied to me for economic reasons. However, when he attacks my reforms of the trade union movement, I should remind him that his party has now been in office for 12 years without seeking to reverse a single word of the legislation that I took through the House of Commons. I think that answers him completely and totally.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: The noble Lord omits to notice that several words in his legislation have been amended, although I stand with those who wish for more amendments and greater strength in the trade union movement. When he suggests that he did not go to university because economic forces prevented it, he needs reminding that it was legislation by a Labour Government that sustained the means for people to go to university, as I did, with a complete grant. That is now denied by legislation brought forward by people sitting on his Benches. They began the fees for education at universities that would not be in accordance with the ambitions of the Bill. There are, no doubt, faults in the wording of these clauses, which we can discuss in Committee. I apologise for not having spoken at Second Reading, but I did not realise that there was going to be another Second Reading debate, but that is what the Opposition have come to. They hold their fire until Committee because it is more use to them for speaking about grammar schools, whose name they traduce in their case against clauses that point public bodies in the direction of equality. To suggest that that has no place in legislation does little to understand the society in which we live.

Baroness Whitaker: I apologise for doing the wrong thing in my haste to respond to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. There are two pieces of evidence that this Committee should take seriously. One is the book mentioned by the Equality Trust and to which my noble friend Lord Graham referred. I read it several months ago. It is by Professors Wilkinson and Pickett and is called The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. It provides the most compelling evidence about why

11 Jan 2010 : Column 311

this clause would do good for our society. I urge all those who have an interest in this clause to read it. I shall not go into it any more in the interests of time.

The other evidence is the work by Sir Michael Marmot, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. Sir Michael gave evidence to the Select Committee on Health on his work for the WHO. It provided the most compelling evidence about the harmful effect of inequality on health.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, suggests that the Government should pay more attention to equality of opportunity than to equality of outcome because it is equality of opportunity that matters. If she has another look at the clause, the phraseology is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome that result from socio-economic disadvantage. That is not to focus only on outcome. To provide more equality of opportunity could well be a way to reduce the inequalities of outcome. What on earth is the use of focusing on equality of opportunity if it makes no difference to equality of outcome? It would be an empty gesture.

4.45 pm

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I ask noble Lords to support Clause 1. I declare an interest as a member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Perhaps I may remind Members of the Committee of the duty on,

I do not think that there could be a huge number of legal challenges to that. I think that this will be the first time that this has been a duty, and it is an important duty. I go back to what I said at Second Reading, which was very much in agreement with what my noble friend Lady Meacher said. I chair Professor Michael Marmot's advisory group on the English longitudinal study on ageing. Looking across the life course, we see that factors over which no one has any control whatever-such as, where a person is born or grows up, particularly in their early years-can affect the number of years a person lives by between 10 and 17 years. That is a sort of death sentence on some people for reasons over which they have absolutely no control. We are asking public bodies to look at that when they look at priorities in order to improve the lot of people so that they can lead a healthier life, have more control over their life and can flourish, rather than be totally disadvantaged.

We know that if we do not look at young people growing up in such conditions, if they are not in education or employment, they are far more likely to go to prison. Each young person in prison costs between £15,000 and £50,000 a year. If we can stop some of that by reducing some of those inequalities and by prioritising the services that we provide, surely that is good in terms of opportunity and outcome for society as a whole.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, perhaps I may add a small amount to this debate. It is worth pointing out that historically this is a country where social mobility has been extremely common. One only has to look

11 Jan 2010 : Column 312

around this House to see that it is full of people who deserve their place, who have come from a humble background-not the privileged and historical background that I came from-for which we should be immensely grateful.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page