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There are those that would call me a dinosaur, unable to see the brave new world that the Bill will usher in once enacted. My retort is that the new world carries much of the old with it, and disentangling ourselves will not necessarily be achieved just because the Bill is a seamless, streamlined and exhaustive entity. November's report from the schools adjudicator says that more than one in two state schools are breaching the recent supposedly exhaustive admissions regulations designed to prevent a covert selection in their pupil intake. That is instructive of the kind of problems that will be encountered with the Bill and which will be made more difficult to disentangle for the victims.
The EHRC will, especially in the current economic climate, simply lack the resources to undertake the level of activity necessary to work across a vastly
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I know that other Members have spoken on many of my other concerns, so I end by asking the Minister to consider the question that I have posed with her usual courtesy, as it is my belief that we will avoid many of the confrontations that we have experienced on the streets of this country if we consider these matters seriously. If there is no means of the victim getting redress, it will cause this country to go back more than 40 years.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I congratulate the Government, especially our talented Leader of the House, and welcome the Equality Bill and its two main aims-to harmonise existing anti-discrimination laws in all human rights areas and to strengthen and extend the remit to further promote the whole equality process. In the 1970s, both Houses campaigned together to pass the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and set up the EOC. I had the honour of being its first deputy chairman, under the skilful chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, who sadly is not in her place tonight. I little thought then that some 40 years later we would be debating a Bill to try and ensure that equal pay, the bedrock of that first piece of legislation, is finally achieved.
Today I want to concentrate on three aspects of the Bill: equal pay-surprise, surprise-age discrimination and pensions. First, however, I shall make a few general points. Clearly, it makes sense to try and ensure that government and other public authority policies that aim to reduce socio-economic disadvantage do not fall foul of this legislation. The Government have shown encouraging beginnings, for example in attempting to break the cycle of deprivation in early childhood-something that many of your Lordships have long campaigned for, and will continue to do so. However, we must make sure that these clauses do not have a counterproductive effect on these policies; I have heard doubts expressed already.
I welcome the additional disability clauses that have been mentioned-with the disadvantages that may exist-by my noble friends Lady Campbell and Lord Low. I am not going to say more about this, other than that I thoroughly agree, because they have covered the areas so completely. However, I especially welcome the inclusion of carers of disabled people in positive action schemes which allow them, for example,
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On the political front, I have to admit that I have never been much in favour of women-only shortlists in a positive discrimination sense. However, as all parties now use this to see that more women candidates are selected, and if it ensures a more representative variety of views in the legislative process, hopefullythe proposed sunset clause will be redundant well before 2030.
I have one query about religion; the way it has dominated today's debate has rather surprised me. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, has already referred to the Church of England's debate about appointing women bishops-I must say this has my full support. WATCH points out that any measure passed by the General Synod concerning the appointment of bishops will eventually come to the House of Lords for approval, and asks whether the House could, let alone should, approve a measure that discriminates unfairly. Perhaps an even more pertinent question is whether it would be legal to do so once the Equality Bill is law. Cynically, I suspect that the answer is yes. I would be grateful if the Minister could indicate the Government's views on this when she replies-and not just whether the answer is yes, but whether that is actually what should be happening.
I turn to my three main topics. I have already mentioned equal pay. We should remember that the pay gap is not just the result of pay discrimination, but differences in education and experience, gender stereotyping, occupational segregation and, crucially, the current lack of part-time and flexible work. This is increasingly of equal importance for male as well as female workers. Clearly, this Bill is an opportunity seriously to begin closing the gender pay gap. The pay gap between men and women is something like 16.4 per cent for full-time workers, and higher for part-time workers. The Women's National Commission notes that in the financial sector it reaches as high as 60 per cent.
As we have heard, the Bill contains powers that would allow the Secretary of State to require the reporting of the gender pay gap where a firm employed 250 or more workers, starting voluntarily. This clause would not come into effect until 2013 and only if insufficient progress on reporting had been made. As UNISON has pointed out, this would mean that 50 per cent of private sector workers would be excluded from these somewhat limited measures. Now we have this other series of press rumours, which say that only companies that employ 500 workers would be under pressure to produce data showing that they do not discriminate. Your Lordships will understand why I remain somewhat gloomy about the year by which equal pay for work of equal value will be achieved. We should constantly remind ourselves of the prediction made by the dissolving EOC that it would take until 2085, unless a far more proactive approach was taken.
Returning to how work is organised, it is vital that employers, too, recognise the right to flexible working as valuable for their own bottom line. The Co-operative's analysis of the pay gap shows that in most companies there is relative equality at junior levels, until it reaches
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I turn to age discrimination. Those of your Lordships who attended the All-Party Group on Patient Safety initiated last Tuesday by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and heard from relatives the horrendous accounts of inadequate care and treatment of elderly patients in NHS hospitals, will certainly welcome the Bill's extension of direct anti-discrimination rights in the provision of goods and services. The Bill will be important, too, for those reaching the current default retirement age who want and need to continue working. It is estimated that non-employment among older workers costs the economy between £19 billion and £31 billion a year. Correspondingly, by keeping the mind active, the years of dependency and cost to the NHS will be equally reduced. Thus, making the right decisions now about the default retirement age will be critical. We have all the results from the Heyday case, and so on. Like other noble Lords, Age Concern, Help the Aged and Business in the Community, I hope the noble Baroness will respond by saying that now, in the Bill, is the time for the default age to go.
Lastly and briefly, I come to pensions. In recent legislation the Government have certainly made progress, with the encouragement of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, in seeing that women who play the major role in bringing up families-and either have no jobs or work part-time-are given some extra pension credit. However, the planned upward shift of the state retirement age to 66 or 67 over the next few years will mean that while men must wait an additional one to two years for their state pension, women will not be able to draw theirs for an extra six years.
I am not going to go on about annuities, which is my pet subject, but on this issue it is fairly important. Figures show that even today the majority of pensioners living in poverty are women. Could the situation that women pensioners face be construed as either direct or indirect discrimination under the Equality Bill? Given the considerable price of childcare, as my noble friend Lady Deech has already mentioned, whether provided by the state or privately, if women had received a salary for the role they played in bringing up children, their pension would be very different today.
In conclusion, I again applaud the Government on this legislation. There are clearly issues and problems that will need attention, and I fear that we will need more action on the issue of equal pay. As other noble Lords have said, it is the age discrimination clauses which will have the most important long-term value, especially if a decision is taken now to abolish the default retirement age.
The Archbishop of York: Before the noble Baroness sits down, since women bishops have been mentioned twice in your Lordships' House, is she aware that under the present legislation for ordaining women to the priesthood, the Measure itself as well as the Act of Synod make it possible for parishes with a conscientious objection on theological grounds not to accept that particular ministry and to petition a bishop, like myself, to appoint someone to minister to that particular
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Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to debate this Bill at Second Reading. The Government are to be commended for introducing the Bill, which attempts to harmonise discrimination law and sets out key characteristics that are protected: age, disability, gender, maternity, sexual orientation, religion or belief. This is a massive legislative venture.
I was for a number of years a member of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which has now been taken over by the new Equalities Commission. I believe that the campaigns led by the EOC have had the effect of widening opportunities for women, in particular the WISE campaign-Women into Science and Engineering. This has had the effect of increasing the range of jobs available to women which is very important in an increasingly technical and science-based economy.
We sometimes overlook how far we have come and how much is due to the courageous work of previous generations of women. Problems still exist, of course, and we have heard about a number of them in today's debate, but I believe that the Bill will help by drawing attention to the gender pay gap and insisting on publication of the difference in pay between men and women. Moreover, maternity rights are included in the protected characteristics in the Bill. I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said about the necessity for further support in that direction.
I am pleased that sexual orientation is also specifically included in the Bill as a protected characteristic and that discrimination on such grounds is to be quite specifically outlawed. There is a problem here which I do not think has been entirely resolved by the Bill, although there has been an attempt to do so. It relates to religion. The Bill seeks to promote understanding and tolerance for the right of individuals to believe in and practice religion. This should not, however, involve the right to impose religious beliefs on persons who do not hold them. There are interpretations of religion-I emphasise interpretations-since most mainstream religions maintain that they support tolerance and regard equality among people as important. I am talking about interpretations which support the repression of women and strongly oppose rights in relation to sexual orientation. In such cases, violence often occurs. There is domestic violence against often very young women-including forced marriages-and homophobic
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There are, however, some provisions in the Bill relating to religious organisations which may need further examination when the Bill is considered in Committee. The issue of employment in state-funded faith schools has recently been brought to my attention. It would appear that religious requirements can be imposed on teachers in such schools that would not otherwise be imposed without the need to establish that it is an occupational requirement.
The Bill also has specific exceptions to allow religious organisations to discriminate in employment and in service provision on religious grounds when they are working under contract to provide public services or performing public functions. This was dealt with in more detail by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston. I say in passing that I am a vice-president of the Humanist Association.
I am glad that age has been included in the Bill as a characteristic which should be protected against discrimination. We recently debated older workers and employment. It is now generally agreed that we are all living longer and this has caused Governments-and pension providers-to consider raising the retirement age. The default retirement age of 65 is to be reviewed by the Government in 2011. There is surely a case for dealing with it earlier than that, particularly in the light of comments by the judge in the recent High Court case. There is no reason for not dealing with it in this Bill. However, there is little point in raising the retirement age if the individual concerned simply transfers to jobseeker's allowance instead of receiving retirement benefit. It makes sense only if appropriate work is available. It is also an argument for much more flexible working to enable older people to continue in work for much longer.
Our recent debate indicated that unemployed workers aged 50 and above are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain other employment. There is a case for additional support for such individuals, many of whom have skills that are said to be necessary, but they are simply rejected on grounds of age. Clause 78 does empower a Minister by regulation to require an employer to provide information about the difference in pay between male and female employees. As I said earlier, I welcome that; I think it is a good idea. It might be an idea for employers to provide information about the number of employees over 50 and the policy of the company in regard to the employment of older workers. If everybody is to have their working lives extended, there is a case for age profiling in order to assist that process.
There is a great deal in this Bill that is entirely admirable. I have just concentrated on topics in which I have a particular interest, but in general I fully support the Bill and would like to see it on the statute book as soon as possible.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, like other noble Lords, and especially my noble friend Lady Warsi and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, both of whom represent their-I am sorry, it is two years since I have taken part in a debate, although it does not seem that long, and all of a sudden I find that the words are not coming out properly. But I did get my MA during that time, so that is something which can compensate for it.
I welcome this Bill, but the problem is that it is very large and complex and it has come in very late in the life of this Administration. After listening to all the speeches, I have no doubt at all that there will have to be a lot of looking at and altering things. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has suggested that we should not table too many amendments if we want to get the Bill through, but she and all our parties would expect us to do a thorough job on it. It has taken a long time for a consolidation Bill on all these equality matters to come in and we must not neglect anything that is needed.
I will not talk about all the things that other people have. Nobody could fail to be impressed by what the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, said and what the noble Lord, Lord Low, added on the question of disability. No one could believe that the noble Lord, Lord Alli, does not feel very strongly about civil partnerships. He would like civil partnerships to occur in religious places and so on. However, I have left all that out of my speech and shall not comment on it because it has all been said so well already. We have an awful lot to think about. At the end of the day, we need a culture change and we need to think differently. We should not jump up immediately and say no to that suggestion; we should be prepared to listen much more so that we can be helpful in getting such things through.
Throughout my political life I have been concerned with equality, or perhaps more particularly the inequalities that need to be dealt with. However, perhaps because I am female, my special interest is women. I have always been very concerned about matters relating to women. I remember that when I ran the 300 Group in the early days I used to speak to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, about what we in our individual parties could do. I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, about all-women shortlists. Frankly, they are somewhat demeaning for women and I do not think that those involved always consider that they have won their seats through fair competition.
Yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, asked a Question in this House about the possibility of titles being used by the husbands of women Members. It was suggested that the position of women in the House is not as powerful as that of men because a male Peer's title can be extended to his wife whereas a woman Peer cannot share her title with her husband. Funnily enough, I spoke about that as long ago as
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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My noble friend is quite right. As I said, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, asked a Question in the House yesterday on the same point, but I was rather disappointed at the dismissive way in which the Minister responded. He said that,
If they are not aware that there is a problem, they are not listening. There are fewer than 120 women Peers-a serious disparity in itself, although that is another matter-a very large number of whom have no husband. It is clear that only a few people are really concerned about this matter, but I should not like to think that the Government are not interested in us because we are very small in number. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, does not think that, but I feel that it is something that the Government should look at. It is, in any case, a matter for royal prerogative, so perhaps we should not even be considering it. When I raised the matter in 1993, I was totally ignorant; now I have learnt a little more.
However, there is something that I think we could change. It is not a matter for regulation or legislation but perhaps a matter for the usual channels, and I think that we should change it because this is, after all, the senior House in the Parliament of our country and we should be the ones to show equality in practice. I refer to the allocation of places at State Opening and to where Peers sit in the Chamber. Wives can sit in the Chamber, adding to the glamour of the event, bedecked in their long gowns and many of them in tiaras. However, husbands are consigned either to the vertiginous height and narrow stairs of Strangers' Gallery or to the Royal Gallery, where they can see Her Majesty coming through but cannot hear a word of the Queen's Speech. Alternatively, they may, as my husband does, crouch round a television set in one of the offices here. The usual channels should look into that. It is not proper. We are not talking about a lot of people. Those husbands who would like to sit here should have the right to do so. Maybe they could be balloted or whatever. I have gone on for too long.
I end on a little note of levity on account of the fact that we have listened to some quite harrowing stories today, which is why I mentioned that I think that we
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Lord Warner: Well, my Lords, follow that! I rise to support this Bill and the Government's commitment to equality. I also want to raise some concerns about aspects of the Bill's approach. It seems sensible to consolidate existing discrimination law, which has been built up over 40 years, and alongside that to strengthen aspects of it. I, too, support that in principle.
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