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The CAB welcomed this clause as an effective tool to ensure that public services and policy-makers have an overriding objective to tackle the systematic problem of socio-economic disadvantage. Citizens advice bureaux are at the front line of dealing with the effects of unfairness and inequality.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, might put it, we have addressed the rot in the past 12 years and we have been treating both the symptoms and the diseases in that time. The Government can be proud of their track record on reducing inequality. I could cite many things, including the national minimum wage, which has helped around 1 million low-paid employees; 900,000 pensioners and 500,000 children have been lifted out of poverty, and we have put in place measures to help another 500,000 children escape it. We have increased spending on early learning and childcare to more than £5 billion and we have opened more than 3,000 Sure Start centres, many in deprived areas. We have taken many very significant and effective initiatives, but we recognise that there is more to be done and the socio-economic duty is one way of addressing some of these issues.
Amendment 1 raises issues concerning the policy intent of public sector duty regarding socio-economic inequalities. It would subtly change the focus of duty from reducing the inequalities of outcome to reducing inequalities of opportunity. I have some sympathy with the objective behind the amendment but it is unnecessary. The right reverend Prelate is right when he says that the clause is about both outcomes and opportunities. The point is that inequalities of outcome in terms of wealth, health, housing and so on are directly measurable, whereas measuring the underlying disadvantage in a way that is useful to the public bodies implementing the duty is difficult. Hence we are focused on the outcome. On Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said that we must ensure that the Bill brings real outcomes. We believe that this clause will do that.
We are very much committed to promoting equality of opportunity. Indeed, we use that term elsewhere in the Bill. There is obviously a clear link between opportunities and outcomes. Put simply, more equal opportunities promote more equal outcomes as people take advantage of those opportunities. More equal outcomes are good evidence for genuinely equal opportunities, but we need them to be genuine and achievable. It is not enough to say that anyone can apply to a top university or for a top job in one of the professions to promote social mobility. We need to make the chances of success, and the aspirations necessary to achieve them, real for everyone. In short, we need a more level playing field. That is what the duty is designed to do-to influence the big strategic decisions that key public bodies make, which influence people's lives. To do that, and to measure their success in achieving that, they will need to focus on tangible, measurable outcomes. That is why Clause 1 focuses on outcomes rather than opportunities.
Amendment 2 would require the relevant public bodies, when making decisions of a strategic nature, to give particular weight to the question of how their decisions could help reduce income gaps between the rich and the poor with the aim of promoting well-being and sustainability. Once again, of course I have some sympathy with the amendment. A number of noble Lords referred on Second Reading to the work of the Equality Trust, which was summarised in a book, The Spirit Level, much quoted in this Chamber. The gist of the authors' impressive research is that societies that are more equal in terms of income distribution tend to be better societies in every way-richer, healthier, happier, more cohesive, less prone to violent crime and so on. I concur with that analysis, which is why we need the socio-economic duty.
The purpose of the duty is to ensure that certain key public bodies, such as government departments, local authorities, police authorities, health authorities and so on, consider how they can best help people fulfil their potential and remove barriers that hold some people back, through their strategic decisions. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, spoke of the importance of reducing income inequality in securing improved economic outcomes. But that duty is about more than ensuring that income gaps are reduced, although that is an important factor. It is about helping people get on, get educated, get a job, improve their health and so on. Income is a very important factor that can hold people back, but people can be held back by many things, such as lack of ambition and expectations, and a whole mix of factors related to their health, education, family background and so on, which limits their life chances. For some public bodies, it could be income inequalities, but for many bodies it will not be.
Amendment 3 relates to Clause 1(4). That subsection is important because it ensures that when the long-term vision for an area set out in its sustainable community strategy is being drawn up, all parties involved give due consideration to the desirability of addressing socio-economic inequalities. This long-term strategic planning is vital to achieving the changes that we
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Amendment 4 concerns the policy intent of public sector duty regarding socio-economic inequalities. It is intended to prevent the socio-economic duty from having an effect until definitions of "socio-economic inequalities" and "socio-economic disadvantage" are laid before Parliament. The amendment is unnecessary as Clause 1(2) states that the public bodies covered by the duty must take account of guidance issued by a Minister of the Crown when deciding how to fulfil that duty. As I have already made clear, we intend to issue guidance to support the duty. We will consult widely on it and we will issue it in good time. Indeed, officials have already been engaged with the various public bodies covered by the duty, and their representative bodies, to develop the basic principles that will underpin the guidance. These were published last week in the guide to the duty, to which I referred earlier.
Plainly, guidance that can be updated to reflect the changing circumstances would be the most appropriate vehicle for setting out what these terms mean and how we expect the bodies covered by the duty to implement it. We want socio-economic disadvantage to be considered in a common-sense manner in a way that is relevant to each public body's functions. Laying a formal definition before Parliament, as required by the amendment, could lead to an inflexible interpretation and would limit a Minister's ability to update guidance in order to make it relevant to changes in society. However, we are clear about what these terms mean and I am happy to outline them briefly.
The term "socio-economic disadvantage" may not immediately resonate with some people, but it accurately describes the situation of those we want to target for this duty. It is partly about basic inequality-that is, straight poverty-but it is also about the lack of aspirations and expectations and about the complex interplay of factors such as health, housing, education and family background that so often combine to keep people in poverty and limit their chances of upward social mobility. It is about the way in which social and economic factors combine. I believe that the concept is clear and we will work with the public bodies concerned to ensure that the guidance makes that clear to them also, and helps them to identify which aspects of socio-economic disadvantage they should be influencing.
The term "socio-economic inequality" is used only in the title of Clause 1. In that context, it is perhaps just read as shorthand for "the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage". The point is that inequalities of outcome in terms of wealth, health, housing et cetera are directly measurable, whereas measuring the underlying disadvantage in a
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Finally, I have to say that when the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, speaks of Clause 1 as being pernicious and anti-libertarian, I do not recognise the clause in terms of those adjectives. I think that the duty will hugely assist people like the noble Lord, me and many other people who came from far worse circumstances to achieve. It will therefore help to improve the society in which we live-the communities from which we come.
Lord Tebbit: I thought that I had made it clear that if there is equality of outcome, there is no point in having equality of opportunity. That is what is pernicious about this Bill.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: As I explained earlier, this Bill is about equality of opportunity as well as equality of outcomes. The whole Bill is about equality of opportunity. This particular clause relates to equality of outcomes because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said on Second Reading, outcomes are measurable. We must ensure that this Bill has a tangible impact on people's lives, and that is why we are discussing outcomes.
Some noble Lords referred to a comment which my right honourable friend the Solicitor-General made in Committee in the Commons. She made many other comments, not just that being quoted by many noble Lords. She said:
"We believe this is a strong measure ... The duty will put all the good work that we ... are doing on a statutory footing. It will help us drive progress and promote better outcomes for people who need the most help ... This is, overwhelmingly, the right thing to do".-[Official Report, Commons Public Bill Committee, Equality Bill, 11/6/09; col. 159.]
So, when noble Lords quote my right honourable friend, they are doing so selectively. I suggest that she strongly supports this clause as a strong part of the Bill.
I am sure that my explanations will raise many more questions, but they are why I believe that the matters should be addressed through the guidance to which I referred. It is currently being drafted in consultation with the affected public bodies, and we have recently published the extensive guide to the duty. Many noble Lords have copies of that-I believe that it is in the Public Bill Office and it is certainly in the Library. I hope that I have demonstrated that Amendments 1 to 4 are unnecessary and that they could lead to inflexible interpretations and stifling of innovation. I believe that they are irrelevant to many public bodies, or would be unduly burdensome. On that basis, I ask noble Lords to withdraw their amendment.
Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I thank the Minister for a long response. I also thank all noble Lords from across the House for an extremely interesting and
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On a very personal note, I am the daughter of an immigrant mill worker from west Yorkshire-a type that some would like to suggest would not be sitting on these Benches. But I would argue that none of us is of a type to sit on any particular Benches. What brings me here is opportunity. Outcome is what my mother would refer to as kismet-a word to which, unfortunately, I cannot do justice by giving a definition in any language other than Urdu. But opportunity-and equal opportunity, I would suggest-is more than an aspiration, it is a right, and therefore should form part of a duty.
Much discussion was about aspiration without opportunity. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Graham, for his kind comments, but he referred to aspirations being relevant without necessarily being realisable or achievable. I would suggest that nothing is more disheartening or demoralising than having aspirations without any real opportunity to realise them. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Morris, mentioned that. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, referred to aspirationals being referred to in previous legislation. I may not be entirely correct on this, but I understood that he was referring to legislation giving an electricity company a duty to supply electricity. I suggest that that is the purpose of an electricity company, and therefore is not simply aspirational but something that it can achieve and therefore deliver. Clearly, more clarification is required.
I touch briefly on the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who, as I said earlier, referred to this clause on Second Reading as,
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, says that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, appears to have slightly changed his mind. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, refers to a shift having taken place. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, says that he is now convinced slightly otherwise by his left-wing Irish friends, who have convinced him to take a different opinion.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: The noble Baroness teases me, but she has misunderstood. I was not suggesting that at all; I was suggesting that the danger of having aspirational legislation was illustrated by the argument that we had. She is perfectly entitled to attack me for having changed my mind, but perhaps I may say that women are not the only people who are allowed to do that.
Baroness Warsi: I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has accepted that he has changed his mind-that is possibly a U-turn-but left-wing Irish friend is certainly not a description that I would give to my Chief Whip.
I turn to the issue of practicability. The noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, rightly refers to whether or not the legislation will achieve what the clause purports to do. Indeed, most of the arguments put forward by my noble friend Lord Tebbit referred to that.
In my Second Reading speech, I did say that outcomes are measurable. It is important to see the context of what I was discussing there-effectively, that there is no point having something in a Bill if it is merely about box-ticking, if the clause does not achieve anything. I return to the concern that I raised when I moved the amendment, which is, in summary, that the Government state in their document that they are not creating new equalities, that the clause will not address discrimination against individuals on account of socio-economic factors, that it will not directly determine operational decisions and that it will not require bodies to use their resources to remove unequal outcomes. Their document states that no real objective will be achieved.
Much research and opinion has been referred to by many Members around the House, which needs to be considered. I may well need to consider those references, and we may well return to this again at Report; but, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Clause 4 : The protected characteristics
Lord Avebury: My Lords, we have been talking for almost two and a half hours about how we reduce inequalities of opportunity and outcome. It would be unarguable that the people whom we are now about to discuss, those who are based on scheduled castes and Dalits, suffer from more inequalities of opportunity and outcome than almost any other section of the community. We drew attention to that indirectly when the noble Baroness read out from the list of objectives designed to be achieved by the first three clauses. I was tempted to get up to ask her what the clauses had to contribute to a group or set of groups of people who are so manifestly disadvantaged in our society as those who are to be benefited by the amendments.
The research is lacking. I hope that, as a result of the clauses that we have just approved, there will be the research which has not so far been undertaken,
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When this matter came up in another place, the Solicitor-General said that the Government had consulted the Hindu Forum of Britain and the Hindu Council as the two largest and most representative organisations in that field, but those organisations do not speak for the lower castes and the Dalits. The Government commissioned no research of their own at all, although the Solicitor-General told another place that they had asked the EHRC not only to carry out research on their behalf but that it should be completed quickly so that, if necessary, we could introduce the necessary measures while the Bill was before your Lordships.
Since then, the policy of the Government has changed without any proper explanation. In fact, when I asked the EHRC about it, it told me that it never had any request from the Government to research caste discrimination. Can the Minister explain what caused that reversal between the proceedings on the Bill in another place and when it came before your Lordships?
People of South Asian origin in the UK number about 2.3 million, or 4 per cent of the total population. Although it is impossible to say precisely how many are of Dalit origin, as detailed research of that nature is lacking, as is all research on these groups of people, we are advised that the number is somewhere between 50,000 and 200,000. Voice of Dalit International puts the figure at the top end of that range in its evidence to the Select Committee on International Development.
Although the Government have recognised in their response to their consultation on the Equality Bill that caste discrimination is unacceptable, the only reason that they give for not dealing with it now that the opportunity presents itself is that they have found no strong evidence of such discrimination here in Britain in the context of the matters dealt with under the Bill-that is, employment or the provision of goods, facilities or services. As I said, they promised that they would consult the Equality and Human Rights Commission about monitoring the position.
The EHRC tells me that it thinks that caste is already covered, even though it has not conducted any research on the matter, nor has it consulted the NGOs that deal with caste discrimination. It believes that the Court of Appeal decision in the JFS case lent support to its approach by opening up arguments on "descent", and that what is needed is a test case to establish the position. It has offered to work with the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance to identify and support a case, and it will be meeting a lawyer from the ACDA in February to discuss this further. Having read the judgment of Sedley LJ in the JFS case, I was not entirely clear how an argument that turned on the racial identity of the litigant could somehow extend to caste, but I was advised that the reasoning is this: in
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If the Minister prefers the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lester, there must be a clear understanding that under international law caste is a sub-category of descent, which itself is a form of racial discrimination, and that this is the interpretation of "descent" that is intended by my noble friend's amendment. It is certainly the interpretation of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which has treated caste as being included in descent ever since 1969. Only quite recently-in 2002, I think-the committee reaffirmed its opinion when it issued the general recommendation that affirmed that discrimination based on descent,
Of course, we have been a party to that convention since 1969 when the CERD first arrived at the definition. I would like to hear that argument from the Minister when she replies. I would also appeal to her to modify the statement in the Government's reply to the consultation on the Bill that they have decided,
because that would mean that they were not fully complying so far with their obligations as a signatory to the CERD, by leaving it to individual victims to assert their rights in the courts.
If the Committee agrees to my noble friend's amendment and the Government acknowledge fully in this debate that caste is indeed included in descent, as the CERD and our own EHRC both consider it is, then that would probably be the best solution. However, if that is the position, the Government could have given it as an explanation for not specifically including it in the Bill, instead of saying that there was insufficient evidence and failing to commission any research. If we leave it to a marginalised people to come forward with legal cases that will establish their right to protection, that is not a policy that should be adopted by a Parliament that has always stood up for human rights. In adopting either of the two specifically caste-related amendments, Amendments 17 and 18, or my noble friend's descent amendment, the Government will lay the foundations for a solution and send a positive message not only to the 15 UK-based organisations that are appealing to us today to pass this amendment, but to millions throughout the world who are victims of caste discrimination. I beg to move.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has graciously suggested that I precede him in supporting this amendment, which I very strongly do for the reasons that I set out at Second Reading, which I will not repeat now. I simply want to examine some of the Government's hesitations about including caste discrimination in the Bill in the first place.
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