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The third and related issue is procurement. We have failed over several decades to ensure that contractors and suppliers who supply goods and services through procurement by public authorities comply with the
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Much of the Bill relies heavily on secondary legislation, thus leaving many uncertainties. We need answers from government in each of those areas to know what outcomes are expected, how they are to be achieved and what the consequences of non-compliance are.
We have to use this opportunity to get the Bill right. We owe it to all those who are disadvantaged and disaffected, as well as to those who have worked tirelessly with commitment and passion over many decades in support of the goals of equality, justice and fair treatment for all our citizens. I have every confidence that our Leader of the House will guide us through the difficulties and the long journey that we have to take in steering this Bill through the House towards becoming an Act of which we can be proud and which does justice to the people who have given their lives and great commitment to serving their fellow citizens in the name of equality.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, in the 1990s, my colleagues and I on the Commission on Social Justice, set up by the late John Smith, leader of the Labour Party, took it for granted that equality was an essential part of social justice and that discrimination on any ground was unacceptable. Of course, equality does not mean any equality or similarity necessarily of income, but my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws made an excellent point, because we on our social justice commission would have been shocked at the widening gap-not a reducing gap-between average earnings and those of board members. I am thinking not just of investment banks but of all sorts of firms where that is so. Recent years have not assisted. Social justice surely requires some reduction in that widening gap.
To us on the commission, equality meant equality of the worth of all citizens; that is, each individual is entitled to consideration, respect and certain basic fundamental rights: rights of citizenship, human rights, a fair chance to develop one's potential and a right not to be discriminated against. In our report of 1994, we said that rather than try to develop a series of separate anti-discrimination laws, government should consider the case for a single law, prohibiting unjustified discrimination in employment education et cetera. This omnibus approach would provide a legal framework which was both straightforward and flexible.
Both the setting up a few years ago of a single commission, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and this Bill are extremely welcome. I am bound to express in parentheses some regret at the dissent and recrimination within the Equality and Human Rights Commission and particularly over the resignation of the redoubtable Sir Bert Massie, the knowledgeable and expert guide to disablement problems. The detailed law that we have developed in this country over many years has improved things so far as discrimination is concerned. As other speakers in the debate have pointed out, however, there is far too much of a gender pay gap. Men on average earn 22 per cent an hour more than women. I am pleased to see in
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I welcome this Bill in consolidating and harmonising our statute law against discrimination and I welcome the clarification of the law in many areas, including clarifying the differences-it may not be perfect and I am not sure how it could be perfect-between discrimination, which is unlawful, and positive action. When you think of examples such as those given by the Leader of the House at the beginning of this debate in relation to giving preference to male teachers in primary schools in certain circumstances so as to provide male role models, that is a good example of positive action. Similarly you could mention taxi cabs in relation to a preference for women because of the increasing demand by potential women passengers to have women drivers for their safety. Preferences the other way round there would equally be sound. Similarly, most people would agree that when a police force wants to make its force more representative of the area which it polices positive action in favour of ethnic minorities is again justified.
I was much impressed by the speech a short while ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, making the point that in the health service in particular there had been quite a lot of positive action which had often resulted in less qualified, less suitable people being appointed than had previously been the case. That is a worrying factor. This Bill will allow political parties to use positive action to reserve a specific number of places on electoral shortlists for black and Asian candidates, for example, when selecting a candidate. This would not be black-only shortlists but at least some deliberate attempt to enable the party and the electorate to choose minority ethnic candidates.
I counsel caution in the use of these powers. The Labour Party has used women-only shortlists in many constituencies. In 1997 there were 30 or 40 MPs elected on that basis. Sometimes it was not always done in the most sensitive way. I am saying not that it is bad but that it was not always done sensitively. Sometimes there was dissension and resentment among long-standing active male members, even losing the Labour Party the seat. I hope lessons have been learnt from that. It should certainly be remembered that the Bill does not require positive action of this political party or that political party. It is voluntary. If you are going to have any preference of this kind, it must be done so as to carry the maximum number of members of the particular party. The Bill contains a sunset clause with a date that had been 2015 but that was raised to 2030. That strikes me as a rather pessimistic reflection on the advancement of women in political life at the present time.
Baroness Young of Hornsey: My Lords, as No. 37 on your list, it is quite difficult at this stage in the proceedings not to repeat things that have been said
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In general, I, like many others in your Lordships' House and outside it, support this Bill, and I hope that any remaining doubts can be overcome one way or another. It is therefore in the spirit of a critical friend that I make my brief comments today, and I look forward to working alongside noble Lords across the House to ensure that a strong, fair, effective, and indeed landmark, piece of equalities legislation is enacted. I want the Bill to become law, and swiftly, but the desire to ensure the swift passage of the Bill is tempered by the desire to ensure that we get it right. Principally, we need to ensure that the Bill has teeth, that those who break the law are dealt with accordingly, and that victims can expect to receive appropriate redress.
The experience of more than 40 years of legislation in this field points to a patchy record of achievement: to some successes and some failures. However it is measured, though, we do not have an equitable and fair society at present. We are working against a backdrop of substantial social inequalities that still blight the lives of so many people in this country. In health, education, social services and other areas, this inequality manifests itself in diminished life chances and choices for older people, for people with disabilities, for black and minority ethnic people, and for people from areas of gross social deprivation in which whole communities have experienced long-term unemployment and the issues that go with it: physical and mental ill health, educational underachievement, high infant mortality rates and lower life expectancy.
The Explanatory Notes state that the Bill's two main purposes are to harmonise discrimination law and to strengthen the law to support progress on equality. Within this equalities framework, the provision of exceptions for religion seems to throw up something of an anomaly, as the noble Lords, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, Lord Warner, the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and others have pointed out. Under general exceptions in Schedule 23, a religious organisation may practise discrimination against people of the "wrong" or no religion, and services may be shaped, and indeed restricted, in ways that conform to specific religious doctrine rather than to best practice.
The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, mentioned schools and the education system. I know of a school at which standards continue to be seriously compromised by the reluctance of the senior management and the board to employ teachers from outside this distinctive and particular Christian group. Even other Christians are not expected to work there, and when they do they are hassled. The students have paid the price for this in low-quality and at times inappropriate teaching. Where is the rationale for prohibiting public bodies from discriminating against people on the basis of religion, but allowing religious organisations to discriminate that are sub-contracted to carry out services on their behalf? Surely high-quality public services should be accessible and open to all, whoever is supplying them, and surely the suppliers of the service should be subject to the duty to treat all service users and employees
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Like many others concerned about social deprivation and equality, I welcome the principles underlying the new public sector duty to address socio-economic disadvantage. I live in a borough in which young men on the west side of the local authority area are expected to live some seven years longer than those who live on the east side of the borough, which is at a distance of two or three kilometres. This is not an unusual situation. It is no coincidence that many of those young men failing to live up to their potential-in fact, failing to live their full lifespan-are black and all from lower-income groups. Unemployment is rife, and the educational system seems to be failing to engage these young men. All too many are NEETs-not in education, employment or training.
Most of us will recognise that what is bad for these young men is bad for the whole community, and indeed for all society. However, like others, I am not entirely convinced by the wording of Clause 1(1). The public sector duty regarding socio-economic inequalities requires an authority,
of using its powers to reduce inequalities. The terms "due regard" and "desirability" are imprecise terms at best, or are at least open to very wide interpretation. While it seems to be common sense that it should be left to the public bodies themselves to determine what changes they can effect in which sectors, is it right that when,
these bodies are compelled to take account of guidance issued by a Minister? I find this very confusing. I am not sure how this clause will operate, what constitutes "due regard", whether in itself "due regard" is good enough anyway, and what sanctions there will be for public bodies that do not have such due regard or whose due regard is too weak for the socio-economic inequalities in the communities for which they are responsible. Furthermore, what does this ministerial guidance look like?
There is an increasing awareness of the complexity of the ways in which discrimination works within our society. People do not simply experience life in one-dimensional terms, and social identities are multifaceted. Sometimes people are subjected to discrimination for more than one reason. Therefore, like many others, I welcome Clause 14, although it could be argued that it does not go far enough as it disallows cases brought on the grounds of indirect discrimination. This clause also gives Ministers the latitude to make a decision which, in effect, amends the section. Can the Minister give an example of when it might be thought necessary for a Minister to determine what a claimant needs to demonstrate to prove dual discrimination? What circumstances would need to prevail for a Minister to restrict further the circumstances in which dual discrimination is allowed in the Bill?
In terms of public procurement, public bodies can make a substantial impact on equality of opportunity, especially in the job market. They are often among the largest employers in a locality. In addition, they handle billions of pounds-worth of transactions via public procurement contracts. Procurement processes offer an effective means by which public bodies can fulfil their obligation to advance equality of opportunity. By including rigorous, practical equality criteria in contracts for goods and/or services which they put out to tender, public bodies can more effectively meet the needs of all communities as well as improve equality of opportunity in employment and the job market. However, where is the incentive for public bodies to make use of this mechanism, and how will we know if this strategy for achieving equality is operating effectively?
I endorse all of what my noble friend Lord Ouseley said, particularly when he was discussing the effectiveness of previous legislation in terms of public duty. This issue of it being well-written and well-articulated but proving toothless in effect is a very serious one. I hope the Government will take notice of what has been said in that area.
I would like to return to something that was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester earlier in the debate. He made an interesting point. He seemed to suggest that there was too much focus on the individual in terms of individual rights within the Equality Bill and in equalities frameworks generally. I wondered if he had thought about how the notion of acts such as hate crime acknowledges that a hurt-an act of violence perpetrated on one black person, or one woman, or one person with a disability, or one gay person, or one religious or non-religious person-is also an assault on the whole community. This is felt very deeply by a community. It has a disproportionate and very distressing impact on that community. That has been recognised through all sorts of landmark cases such as the Stephen Lawrence case, so I do not think it is quite as bleak as he would suggest.
I conclude by saying that the importance of making this Bill an Act cannot be overestimated for those who really want to build on and strengthen previous legislation for a fairer, more equitable society. Although equalities legislation alone cannot achieve this, it serves to protect the vulnerable, has a symbolic resonance and demonstrates very clearly our society's values and our commitment to social justice.
Baroness Gale: My Lords, I welcome this Bill very much. It covers many aspects of equality. But as I am one of the last speakers tonight, I will not go through them all, but instead concentrate on Clauses 104 and 105, dealing with all-women shortlists. The Bill allows political parties to adopt all-women shortlists when selecting candidates for elected office. It is a sunset clause, set to end by 2030. This measure was originally planned to end by 2015, and I am pleased to see it extended to 2030, although in some ways I am not so pleased as it is an admission that in no way will there be anything like an equal number of women in the political life of this country by 2015. But I welcome the extension of this measure, which is needed, as today we see in the House of Commons only a small
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Since 1918, 292 women have been elected to the House of Commons and, in that same period, 4,378 men. I think that explains why I believe that we should have all-women shortlists. If it was possible to put into the Commons Chamber today all the women who have ever, in the whole of that period, been elected to the Commons, they would still be in the minority. It has been estimated that, at the present rate of progress, it will taken up to 200 years or 40 general elections for women to achieve 50 per cent in the House of Commons. This clause is in place until 2030. If we have general elections every five years up until 2030, starting with the general election in 2010, I estimate that that is five general elections up to 2030. Going on the present rate, we will be nowhere near 50 per cent of women elected by 2030. That is why I advocate having this clause as a permanent feature, at least until there is good evidence that members of political parties will select women without all-women short lists. It is prejudice against women in society, which is then taken into political parties by members at local level, that prevents women getting selected. That is the biggest problem to overcome. However, the clause will work only if all political parties use it. Only the Labour Party has used this legislation so far, which is why Labour has 94 women MPs, more than all the other political parties put together.
This clause means that political parities can implement this policy without worrying whether or not they are in breach of the law, as the Labour Party had to put up with when it tried to implement this policy pre-1997. I would also advocate using similar measures to appoint women to your Lordships' House, as we fare no better than women in the Commons. Women have been able to sit in your Lordships House since 1958 and, to date, 1,044 men have been appointed and 198 women- 84 per cent men and 16 per cent women. So whether elected or appointed, women are a minority in both Houses. To put things on a more equal basis, perhaps only women should be appointed as Peers until 50 per cent is achieved. I think that would be a good idea, myself. Think how different this House would look if we could do that. Perhaps we could use quotas.
I am pleased to note that the Government have set targets on new public appointments-on gender, ethnic minorities and disability. This was launched in June 2009. By 2011, the aim across government is for 50 per cent of all new UK public appointments to be women, 14 per cent disabled people and 11 per cent people from ethnic minorities. Such appointments are regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. To underpin this, Ministers announced a cross-government action plan, Opening Doors-Increasing Diversity, which sets out action over the next year to increase the visibility of the appointments system, ensuring transparency and accountability and tackling the barriers that people face in putting themselves forward. This is a very good initiative which we hope will produce good results.
I am keen to have more women in elected positions, but not just for the sake of it. Where we see a large number of women in a legislature, there is a different
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Having so many women in a legislature means, first, that it reflects the general population, and secondly, that it can pursue a different agenda. For example, the first Children's Commissioner was in Wales; now England, Scotland and Northern Ireland have one. The Commissioner for Older People for Wales, Ruth Marks, is the only one in the world. Again, Wales takes the lead in these things. These and other innovations have been tried in Wales because of the influence of women politicians, making the difference. That is what is needed. Women can bring that added dimension, providing there are enough of them, as in the Welsh Assembly. While I welcome the measures in this Bill, I believe that it will take a very long time. Women are generally very patient, but perhaps our patience is running out.
Let us look at what other countries in Europe and in Africa are doing to increase the number of women in political and public life. Quotas are used to address this problem. Rwanda now has the highest number of women parliamentarians-57 per cent-by using quotas. It seems to work there and in other countries, but of course it has never been suggested here. I am in favour of such action, but the measures are not in this Bill at the moment. Nevertheless, I welcome the measures in this Bill which I believe will bring about a more just and equal society.
Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, we have arrived at the last Back-Bench speaker, and I will try to be brief. I, too, warmly welcome the Bill, and the improvements that were made to it in the other place. As we have heard, in tough economic times equality matters more, not less, and we need to make use of everybody's talents-that of course includes disabled people, who still face among the greatest inequalities and exclusions in our society.
I am delighted that the Bill seeks to remedy the major gap in protection for disabled people left by the Malcolm judgment. The changes made to this clause-Clause 15-in the other place are very welcome, but sadly the Bill also introduces a knowledge requirement which was not in the DDA. It means that employers or service providers could claim they did not or could not reasonably have been expected to know about the disability, which leaves people with hidden disabilities or communication difficulties at an inherent disadvantage. We need to make sure that there is sufficient onus on duty holders to inquire about any potential disability before they take detrimental action. Another niggle that I have with this clause is whether it is clear enough that duty holders should be making reasonable adjustments wherever required to avoid less favourable
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I am also delighted that the Bill extends duties on landlords to make reasonable adjustments to the common parts of let residential premises and commonhold properties, as the late and much-missed Baroness Darcy de Knayth would be. We tabled amendments on this issue to both the Housing Act 2004 and the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, and at last they have borne fruit. The Bill will make it unlawful for landlords and management companies unreasonably to refuse permission for a disabled person to make vital physical alterations to such communal areas as hallways and entrances, so that they will no longer be imprisoned in their own home.
I am aware of the time pressures that we face in improving and enacting the Bill. However, there are outstanding issues which we must address. We must ensure that the Bill does not regress on the DDA. I will not repeat these points, since other noble Lords have dealt with them. A major disappointment is that the Bill has not seized the opportunity to adopt a more "social model" definition of disability, as recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its legislative scrutiny of the Bill. It is a travesty that much tribunal time is wasted in arguing about how disabled someone is, rather than focusing on the discrimination that may have taken place. The Joint Committee recommended:
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