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Equality reps are trained to advise and inform union members about equality matters in the workplace, such as the right to request flexible working, equal pay and protection from discrimination, which are all relevant to this Bill. They complement and enhance employers' efforts to engage with workers by fostering a shared level of trust between workers and between workers and managers, supporting the efforts of the employer to deal more effectively with issues that individual workers may find difficult to discuss. At present, equality reps often operate outside the collective bargaining process and, although there is no obligation on an employer to consult with equality representatives, many employers do, because it helps them to deal with sensitive matters; for example, between special interest groups. Working with employers, equality representatives can assist in monitoring and assessing the impact of employment policies on different groups to ensure that measures are put in place to avoid discrimination. Avoiding discrimination reduces the employer's exposure to costly and time-consuming employment tribunal claims while encouraging healthier, happier and more productive employees.
Representatives already receive considerable support from unions to perform their role in the workplace. However, those who are not given paid time off to perform their role are not able to be nearly as effective. Paid time off means time off that is "reasonable in all the circumstances" in order to undertake training relevant to their role and to perform their functions, in line with the ACAS code of practice on time off for trade union duties and activities. Once the Equality Bill comes into force, the pressure on equality reps to give advice and support to employees who fall into one or more of the equality strands protected under the new Act will dramatically increase. Without a right to statutory facility time, the burden of managing workplace disputes between competing interest groups will fall squarely on existing human resources teams and managers.
The TUC would like included in the Bill proposals to give equality reps the same rights to paid time off for training and carrying out their duties as those currently enjoyed by shop stewards, and union learning and health and safety representatives in workplaces where the union is recognised for collective bargaining
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Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I start by declaring an interest. When one sees the Bill's protected characteristics, including gender, marital status, age, religion or belief, disability, race and so on, one could perhaps, like most of your Lordships, declare multiple interests. However, I have carried out some training for members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales through my company, Cumberlege Connections, and I am aware of its concerns about the Bill. It is on the implications of the Bill for religious belief that I shall speak, as have, I know, many other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Lester, my noble friend Lady O'Cathain, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity.
I start by stating where the Catholic Church stands on human rights. All forms of unjust discrimination are wrong. That principle goes back to the New Testament. It is the inescapable consequence of a belief in the innate dignity of every human person, as created in the image of God. However, the church, like the drafters of the Bill, recognises that we can and should take account of differences between people where these distinctions are properly based and not simply a matter of prejudice. Accommodating difference and the needs of minorities is surely one of the key tests that distinguish a genuinely liberal democracy from one which is oppressive. Anti-discrimination law, protecting religious beliefs as much as other characteristics, should not be framed in such a way that it prevents those very beliefs being put into practice, but that, I fear, is exactly where the Bill takes us.
A matter of grave concern to many religious bodies is the definition of employment for the purposes of religion in paragraph 2(8) of Schedule 9. Such employment is relevant only if it "wholly or mainly" involves leading or participating in formal liturgy,
We are not debating here whether different religions should choose to make such distinctions. There are well established matters of clear belief and doctrine which religious bodies have held, in some cases for millennia, and which they are fully entitled to hold under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. All we are considering is whether the right of the religion to exercise that choice should be restricted by law to the narrow range of posts covered by the definition in paragraph 2(8) of Schedule 9.
Under the current Employment Equality Regulations 2003, there is no definition of employment for the purposes of an organised religion. An employer may
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The same tests are in the Bill and seem to strike the right balance. So why do the Government feel that they now need to define employment for the purposes of religion? What is the mischief that this new provision addresses? I understand that officials have indicated that it has been introduced because the existing provision was being grossly abused in some cases. If so, I would have thought that courts would have no difficulty in making a judgment on the facts as to whether the plain meaning of the regulation was being abused and ruling accordingly.
What the Government have done in introducing this restrictive definition, however, is create a very narrow class of persons to whom the provision applies. It covers only those whose time is wholly or mainly spent on leading or participating in formal liturgical practices, or promoting or explaining the doctrine of the religion. As the most reverend Primate said, it takes no account of pastoral or representative functions, or of any of the myriad activities carried out to meet the functions of a religious body. Any post where liturgy and doctrinal explanation were not the whole or main tasks would have to be open to a person of any sex, marital status, transsexual history or sexuality, whatever the beliefs of the religion. It would be unlawful to reject an applicant or take action against a person in post, however grave the scandal caused.
What would this mean in practice? If a man employed as a Catholic diocesan marriage care co-ordinator abandoned his family and his wife in a well publicised and scandalous divorce case to remarry in a civil ceremony a woman with a similar history, he could not possibly have any credibility in the function in which he was employed. Yet any action the diocese took against him as a result would be unlawful.
I am not arguing that a religious body should have the right to refuse any form of employment on the grounds of sex, marital status and so on. Churches can and do employ builders, accountants and architects where there is no genuine occupational requirement to be a member of the religion, never mind any question of their personal circumstances. I am arguing, however, that in a number of significant posts-which may be occupied by people who are ordained, consecrated, religious or lay,-it is right for a religious employer to require that their lives are not manifestly in opposition to the teachings of the religion and the beliefs of its followers. Is that too much to ask?
However, the Bill does offer a crumb of comfort. The Explanatory Notes reassure us that the definition, narrow as it now is, will at least permit the Catholic Church to require that a priest be a man. I am afraid to say, however, that the Bill will not even achieve that. I do not know whether those who drafted the Bill actually stopped to talk to a Catholic priest, but the only priests I can think of who spend their time wholly or mainly either engaged in leading liturgy or in promoting or explaining doctrine will be the staff of seminaries
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I took a diary of a priest at random. He has spent 21 hours on the definition that is in the Bill. If one considers all the other activities, as the most reverend Primate was saying, such as private prayer, social engagements with parishioners, dealing with callers at either of his church offices-he has two-administration and finance, school visiting, paperwork, hospital visits, appointments, visiting the sick and other pastoral activities, they add up to over 60 hours a week. This is not a job description, it is a vocation: a way of life in the service of others.
Finally, this is not a matter that is of concern to the Catholic Church alone: 11 other religious groups wrote to the Minister for Women and Equality in November, stressing their very real concerns. I hope the Leader of the House will, on reflection, see fit to bring an amendment before your Lordships in Committee to remedy this defect. If not, I suspect amendments will need to be tabled from other sources to remove this unnecessary and discriminatory definition.
Baroness Billingham: My Lords, my first thoughts when reading the Equality Bill were, "Haven't I been here before? Isn't this already the case?". On rereading the Bill, however, I became persuaded that readdressing the issue is not only necessary but overdue. One of the great dangers is assuming that checks and balances are not only in place but that they are working. They are not. More than that, the scope of inequality today is wider than ever and includes issues such as civil partnerships, race, sexual orientation and age. All have implications which are more complex than ever and which require further scrutiny.
I congratulate the Government on taking these issues further and making a Bill fit for the 21st century. Harriet Harman earns our praise for the dogged manner in which she seeks to counter discrimination. Incidentally, I also praise the outstanding version of the Bill-its "easy read" format. I was in the gallery of the other place when Harriet Harman presented the Bill. She, too, paid tribute to the easy read, saying that it made the Bill available to everyone, including those with learning difficulties. She added that she had found it useful and helpful. We all chuckled a bit at that. It was a lovely moment but we knew what she meant.
It is also right to look at the Bill with European eyes. Equality legislation owes much to the European Parliament and the Commission. While in the 1990s they tackled problems on a pan-European scale, we learnt from each other, copying the best practices levelling up-not levelling down. Much of the work of the Bill before us today owes its starting point to its progress in Brussels.
What difficulties do we still have? Secrecy and opaqueness are the twin enemies of equality. As long as employers or authorities can hide behind the veil of secrecy, challenges are almost certainly impossible. We may think we are getting a raw deal but getting proof is a real obstacle. The Bill takes this on board and provides a framework which helps to overcome these problems.
In the short time allotted to me today, I wish to focus on what to some might seem an obscure area; namely, sport, where equal opportunities and participation are a far-off dream. Let me flag up some problems and in so doing acknowledge the help that I have received from Sport England, the Commission for the Future of Women's Sport and the Central Council for Physical Recreation.
Let us look at some facts. Only one in eight women take part in sport, while one in five men do. The gap is widening. Why so few women? The list of my reasons would include lack of confidence, lack of childcare, transport costs and a lack of friends to go with. It a great pleasure therefore to tell your Lordships that Sport England has set new targets for 1 million more people being active in sport by 2012. Within that, a new initiative called Active Women is targeting £10 million from the National Lottery. It aims to get more women into active sport from what it describes as disadvantaged communities where participation in sport is particularly low.
Alongside this, all the major governing bodies within the CCPR are responding to this priority area. My own chosen sport of tennis is particularly friendly to lifelong participation, both on court and off. I am living proof of that. Volunteers are essential in all sport, and women can play a huge part in setting up the framework for sporting participation. We have thousands of junior players in tennis and thousands of active veteran players, but we lack women between 16 and 35 for some pretty obvious reasons. We can do much better in coaxing them back to sport, which they played at school and then forgot. All sports are tackling this gap. It is a real gender gap and the Government have prioritised this as a target group. Getting mums off the touchline and into the game, into officialdom, into all areas that enhance sport are good and reasonable objectives.
Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson recently headed a commission to look at the future of women's sport. She and her commission did an excellent job. She highlighted the fact that the dominance of men in the hierarchy of sports administration and leadership is nothing short of scandalous. Only one in five members of the boards of national governing bodies is a woman. Even worse, a quarter of all sports have no women at all on their board. There is still a macho culture in sport, and women's participation in national and local sport is almost totally ignored by the media. It is a disgrace.
Sport is at last waking up to its shortcomings, and you might ask why that is important. It is important simply because sport offers so much in health and happiness, and the role of the female in the family dictates so much the activities of her children. It is a fact that if the mother is involved in sport, the children are 80 per cent more likely to be involved, too.
I apologise for straying off piste, but I had to demonstrate that equality in all corners of our lives is imperative if we are to give all citizens a fair and full life without discrimination and unfairness. I wish the Bill good fortune. It has so much to commend it. It will serve to remind those in sport of their failings; it
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Baroness Northover: My Lords, my own portfolio is international development. Many men, and especially women and children, around the world would give a great deal to be protected by a Bill such as this. However, this Bill has been a long time in coming, and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Lester, whose tireless work and own Bill helped to give birth to this one.
The lateness of the Bill means that we have to be very disciplined in dealing with it. Our colleagues in the other place have done a great deal to get the Bill to where it is today, and I commend their efforts. The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said that this is a missed opportunity, but she certainly did not spell out how any Conservative Government, should they be elected, would improve on this. Rather, her few points seemed to seek to weaken the Bill. If the Tories welcome this as they say they do, they will need to demonstrate that.
Is this Bill needed? We have heard much evidence of inequalities in our society. Let me give you one more example. Let us look at what has become our bank, the RBS. It is 70 per cent owned by us-a figure that is soon to rise to 84 per cent. There are 12 members of the board. Not one of them is a woman. There are 22 people on their executive and management committees, of whom only two are women. How in the 21st century can that be the case? How can anyone doubt the need for an equality Bill when you see this sort of thing? How dare they operate like that? This Bill may not deal with that, but it may help people to get to a position where this is less likely to be the case. As the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, said, the Bill is necessary, if not sufficient.
To the Bill. We still have a number of crucial areas of concern, despite the best efforts of Lynne Featherstone and Evan Harris, my colleagues in the other place. We on these Benches have rigorously and strictly prioritised, given the time constraints. The first area that we wish to address is equal pay. The pay gap between men and women remains wider than 20 per cent. The Bill has not made pay audits mandatory. It surely must. I was the chair of Women Liberal Democrats in the early 1990s, and I remember arguing for mandatory pay audits, drawing on experience from Canada. At that time, my own daughter was a baby. Now she is 16, and it will not be long before she launches into the world of work. Time passes, and this issue has not yet been adequately addressed. Others have worked for many more years on this.
One of our absolutely key areas is homophobic bullying in schools, as my noble friend Lord Lester has said. We also wish to address the Bill's failure to forbid discrimination by religious service providers on the basis of sexual orientation, and the extent to which the public sector duty in Clause 148 includes religion. My noble friend Lord Lester has outlined all these, and I will not add to his remarks here. I also seek clarification of two areas on behalf of my noble colleague Lord
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The first issue that my noble friend will be raising is on caste, a subject which has been very ably discussed by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. Discrimination is persistent, as we have heard, and severe in south Asia. It would be a miracle if, in the relevant communities in the UK, those practices had vanished, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, indicates that they may well have expanded. The Solicitor-General recognised this and suggested improving the Bill, and she asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to complete research on this area quickly. Can we be assured that it has been asked to do this? We have heard both replies-that it has not; or that if it has, such research will not be finished while the Bill is before us. Therefore, it is clear that we need to take this forward.
My noble friend will also be taking forward the anomaly that Scottish Gypsies are not entitled to the same protection as their counterparts in other parts of the UK. We welcome a letter from the Solicitor-General expressing sympathy on this and saying that a recent employment tribunal judgment has declared that Scottish Gypsy Travellers are a distinct ethnic group and discriminated against, and are therefore covered by the Bill. However, as that judgment is being appealed, we must put this into the Bill.
On the positive side, I am extremely glad to see that the Bill enables stronger positive action, and I would like to highlight its importance in the political sphere. Personally, I enormously welcomed Labour's women-only shortlists. I fought hard in my own party for the zipping that we implemented for the European elections. We now have six women MEPs and five men.
Positive action is compensation for discrimination that exists. I trust that all political parties will seize this opportunity to ensure that their parties are more representative in all respects. It has been extremely striking that the Bill has been pushed forward particularly by women in the Commons. Over 50 per cent of the speakers today are women, even though only 20 per cent of Peers are women. This Bill could help move things forward.
The Bill is very welcome and we should not let it fall. Therefore we must be extremely disciplined. To facilitate that, the key areas that I and others have mentioned must be addressed. We appreciate how much work the noble Baroness and the Bill team are putting in to address Peers' concerns. Despite the wishes of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, clearly they will not have a peaceful Christmas. Let us see what can be addressed before we get to Committee so that we can expedite the Bill and get it into law.
Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, I am aware that I am in danger of bowling a googly tonight by what I have to say, because the current legal framework is not without deficiencies, omissions and anomalies. I am also aware that introducing nine major pieces of
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The discrimination experienced comes from many different kinds of conditioning, so I trust that you will bear with me if I say that harmony, symmetry, alignment and simplicity are understandable virtues, especially when casting the net so wide and trawling so deep, at least in the public sector. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth, touched on some of the things I was about to discuss, so now I will just confine myself to a few words and a few questions.
Is what is proposed in the Bill likely to effect better outcomes than the situation today, imperfect as that is? Will the Bill have the necessary bite to give an individual who is the victim of a discriminatory act redress before the civil courts or at a tribunal? Put bluntly, I think not. To give some telling examples, I ask: will it reduce the eight times more likelihood of a black male than a white male being stopped and searched by the police? Will it reduce a black person having a one-in-16 chance of obtaining a job interview compared to a one-in-eight chance for a white person? Will it add to the five students from the Afro-Caribbean community, 80 per cent of whom are aged 24 and under, to this year's intake of 3,000 students at Oxford? If not, how will they get justice?
Even in the public sector, which accounts for only 20 per cent of the workforce, will not the public sector equality duty result in public bodies, notably local authorities, generating a mountain of paper testifying to their policy compliance, as they have in the past, but on a scale hitherto unimagined? Engagement will then take place with that other recent creation, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, again established as an act of harmonisation and simplification but already riddled with widely publicised fault lines. The engagement will no doubt be dense and deep, but I would argue that what little change there will be will be incremental rather than fundamental. Rather than discrimination being purged, it will be buried in a maze of management-speak, impenetrable to all but the professional policy staff involved.
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