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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates
Equality Bill [Lords]

Equality Bill




 
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Standing Committee A

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen:

†Mr. Roger Gale, Janet Anderson

Baird, Vera (Redcar) (Lab)
†Barlow, Ms Celia (Hove) (Lab)
Blackman, Liz (Erewash) (Lab)
†Brokenshire, James (Hornchurch) (Con)
†Brown, Lyn (West Ham) (Lab)
Campbell, Mr. Gregory (East Londonderry) (DUP)
†Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit (Gloucester) (Lab)
†Evennett, Mr. David (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con)
†Follett, Barbara (Stevenage) (Lab)
†Gidley, Sandra (Romsey) (LD)
Goggins, Paul (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
†Grieve, Mr. Dominic (Beaconsfield) (Con)
†Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)
†James, Mrs. Siân C. (Swansea, East) (Lab)
†Laing, Mrs. Eleanor (Epping Forest) (Con)
†McCarthy-Fry, Sarah (Portsmouth, North) (Lab)
Miller, Mrs. Maria (Basingstoke) (Con)
†Munn, Meg (The Minister for Women and Equality)
†Seabeck, Alison (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab)
†Ussher, Kitty (Burnley) (Lab)
†Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon) (PC)
Geoffrey Farrar, Emily Commander, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee


 
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Thursday 1 December 2005
(Morning)

[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Equality Bill

8.55 am

The Chairman: I am sure that we will move through the business rapidly this morning. Hon. Members will note that the Selection list contains a sequence of clauses with no proposed amendments. It is my custom and practice to call each clause by number in sequence until someone shouts a number back at me. Then, I will stop, move all previous clauses, and call a stand part debate on the one called. I do not propose to have a stand part debate on every clause unless hon. Members indicate that that is what they want.

Clause 11

Monitoring the law

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 75, in clause 11, page 6, line 29, leave out paragraph (c).

We want to delete paragraph (c) because it is unnecessary.

The Minister for Women and Equality (Meg Munn): Clause 11 imposes a duty on the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights to monitor the effectiveness of equality of human rights legislation as defined in clause 33. It also gives it the power to recommend changes to such legislation.

As clause 33 lists equality legislation largely to identify the legislation for which the commission will have enforcement functions, it mentions only part 2 of and regulations made under part 3 of the Bill, thus capturing the provisions on substantive discrimination. Subsection 3(c) provides that for the purposes of monitoring the law, the whole Act will be included, including part 1, which deals with the establishment and powers of the commission and the list of equality and human rights enactments to which the commission’s enforcement powers apply.

The amendment would effectively remove the commission’s duty to monitor the effectiveness of thed ¤provisions in part 1 and its power to recommend to the Government the amendment, repeal, consolidation or application of the legislation in respect of part 1. If we were to accept the amendment, the commission would be prevented from doing something that the three current commissions—the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission—can do. They can recommend changes to their own powers. Indeed, in its 1998 report to the
 
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Government the CRE called for the power to enter into a binding agreement with a party it suspected of having breached the Race Relations Act 1976.

The amendment would deprive the Government of a rich source of advice and counsel. That is not reasonable. Nor is it reasonable to deprive the commission of powers that are available to the current commissions. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment and ask the hon. Lady to withdraw it.

Mrs. Laing: I thank the Minister for that comprehensive explanation as to the necessity of the paragraph. I accept her argument and therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12

Monitoring progress

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Meg Munn: It will be helpful if I explain a little about the clause. There is a wide range of issues for the commission to tackle if it is to play its part in shaping a society characterised by social justice, strong communities and a prosperous economy. Achieving those outcomes will require action in a broad range of areas, not just by the commission, but by many others in state and civil society.

Securing equality, challenging prejudice, promoting human rights and strengthening communities will require more than singular or narrow approaches and long-term commitment. To achieve those outcomes, we need greater clarity regarding the nature of the barriers to progress, the changes necessary and the measures by which we can evaluate the progress that we have made. The commission’s duty to identify those outcomes and track progress toward them through clearly defined indicators is at the heart of the clause. In some areas of equality and human rights there will certainly and rightly be debate about the outcomes that we seek and the ways in which the outcomes can most effectively be measured.

The clause places the commission under a duty to consult widely on outcomes and indicators. An objective and robust analysis of that sort is important for two reasons. First, if we are to make progress in the areas of equality and human rights, we need to agree the nature of the problems that face us and the most effective solutions for addressing them. Building consensus on that basis and developing a wider debate across Britain is essential to deepen our shared understanding and identify the priorities. Secondly, such a report will provide a sound evidence base from which the commission can determine its strategic priorities and focus its efforts. The commission will have to make tough decisions about its priorities and will need to identify where needs are most acute and where it is likely to have the most impact. In order to do that priority setting well, it will need a credible
 
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starting point, which is provided by the “State of the Nation” report, which has been the subject of discussion. That is why I wanted to go into this matter a little more.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14

Codes of practice

Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 38, in clause 14, page 7, line 38, at end insert—

    ‘( )   sections [Age discrimination: statutory duty of public authorities], [Age discrimination: specific duties of public authorities] and [Age discrimination: specific duties (Scotland)] of this Act,’.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment No. 39, in clause 14, page 8, line 40, after ‘76C’, insert

    ‘, [Age discrimination: statutory duty of public authorities], [Age discrimination: specific duties of public authorities] and [Aged ¤discrimination: specific duties (Scotland)].’.

New clause 3—Age discrimination: statutory duty of public authorities—

    ‘(1)   A public authority shall in carrying out its functions have due regard to the need to—

      (a)   eliminate unlawful discrimination and harrassment on grounds of age,

      (b)   promote equality of opportunity between persons of different ages, and

      (c)   promote good relations betwen persons of different ages.

    (2)   In subsection (1)—

      (a)   “public authority” includes any person who has functions of a public nature (subject to subsections (3) and (4)),

      (b)   “functions” means functions of a publice nature, and

      (c)   the reference to unlawful discrimination shall be treated as including a reference to contravention of terms of contracts having effect in accordance with Schedule 5 to the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006.

    (3)   The duty in subsection (1) shall not apply to—

      (a)   the House of Commons,

      (b)   the House of Lords,

      (c)   the Scottish Parliament,

      (d)   the General Synod of the Church of England,

      (e)   the Security Service,

      (f)   the Secret Intelligence Service,

      (g)   the Government Communications Headquarters,

      (h)   a part of the armed forces of the Crown which is, ind ¤accordance with a requirement of the Secretary of State,d ¤assisting the Government Communications Headquarters, or

      (i)   a person specified for the purposes of this paragraph by order of the Secretary of State (and a person may be specified generally or only in respect of specified functions).

    (4)   The duty in subsection (1) shall not apply to the exercise of—

      (a)   a function in connection with proceedings in the House of Commons or the House of Lords,

      (b)   a function in conncection with proceedings in the Scottish Parliament (other than a function of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body),

      (c)   a judicial function (whether in connection with a court or a tribunal),


 
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      (d)   a function exercised on behalf of or on the intructions of a person exercising a judicial tribunal, (whether in connection with a court or a tribunal), or

      (e)   a function specified for the purposes of this paragraph by order of the Secretary of State.

    (5)   Subsection (1) (b) is without prejudice to the effect of any exception to or limitation of the law about age discrimination.

    (6)   A failure in respect of performance of the duty under subsection (1) does not confer a cause of action at private law.

    (7)   An order under subsection (3)(i) or subsection (4) (e) may not be made unless the Secretary of State has consulted the Commission.

    (8)   This section binds the Crown.’.

New clause 4—Age discrimination: specific duties of public authorities—

    ‘(1)   The Secretary of State may by order impose on a person to whom the duty in section [Age discrimination: statutory duty of public authorities] (1) applies, or insofar as that duty applies to a person, a duty which he thinks will ensure better performance of the duty under that section.

    (2)   Before making an order under subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall consult the Commission.

    (3)   The Secretary of State—

      (a)   must consult the National Assembly for Wales before making an order under subsection (1) in respect of a person exercising functions in relation to Wales, and

      (b)   may not, without the consent of the National Assembly for Wales, make an order under subsection (1) in respect of a person all of whose functions are public functions in relation to Wales.

    (4)   A failure in respect of performance of duty imposed under subsection (1) does not confer a cause of action at private law.’.

New clause 5—Age discrimination: specific duties (Scotland)—

    ‘(1)   Section [Age discrimination: statutory duty of public authorities] (1) shall not apply in relation to a person who is a relevant Scottish authority or a cross-border authority.

    (2)   The Secretaty of State may by order impose on a cross-border authority to whom the duty under section [Age discrimination: statutory duty of public authorities] (1) applies, or insofar as that duty applies to the cross-border authority, a duty which the Secretary of State thinks will ensure better performance of the duty under section [Age discrimination: statutory duty of public authorities] (1) to the extent that the cross-border authority’s functions are not Scottish functions.

    (3)   The Scottish Ministers may by order impose on a relevant Scottish authority to whom the duty under section [Age discrimination: statutory duty of public authorities] (1) applies, or insofar as that duty applies to the relevant Scottish authority, a duty which the Scottish Ministers think will ensure better perfomance of the duty under section [Age discrimination: statutory duty of public authorities] (1).

    (4)   The Scottish Ministers may by order imposer cross-border authority to whom the duty under section [Age discrimination: statutory duty of public authorities] (1) applies, or insofar as that duty applies to the cross-border authority, a duty which the Scottish Ministers think will ensure better performance of the duty under section [Age discrimination: statutory duty of public authorities] (1), to the extent that the cross-border authority’s functions are Scottish functions.

    (5)   Before making an order under any of subsections (2) to (4) the person making the the order shall consult the Commission.

    (6)   Before making an order under subsection (2) the Secretary of State shall consult the Scottish Ministers.

    (7)   Before making an order under subsection (4) the Scottish Ministers shall consult the Secretary of State.

    (8)   A failure in respect of performance of a duty imposed under this section does not confer a cause of action at private law.

    (9)   In this section “relevant Scottish authority” has the meaning—


 
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      (a)   a member of the Scottish Executive or a junior Scottish Minister,

      (b)   the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages for Scotland, the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland or the Keeper of the Records of Scotland,

      (c)   an office of a description specified in an Order in Council under section 126(8) (b) of the Scotland Act 1998 (c.46) (other non-ministerial offices in the Scottish Aministration), or

      (d)   a public body, public office or holder of a public office—

      (i)   which is not a cross-border authority or the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body,

      (ii)   whose function are exercisable only in or as regards Scotland, and

      (iii)   some at least of whose functions do not relate to reserved matters (within the meaning of the Scotland Act 1998).

    (10)   In this section—

    “cross-border authority” has the meaning a cross-border public authority within the meaning given by section 88(5) of the Scotland Act 1998.

    “Scottish functions” has the meaning functions which are exercisable in or as regards Scotland and which do not relate to reserved matters (within the meaning of the Scotland Act 1998).

    (11)   An order under subsection (3) or (4) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of the Scottish Parliament.’.

New clause 6—Age discrimination: enforcement—

    ‘(1)   This section applies where the Commission thinks that a person has failed to comply with a duty imposed under section [Age discrimination: specific duties of public authorities] or [Age discrimination: specific duties (Scotland)].

    (2)   The Commission may give the person a notice requiring him—

      (a)   to comply with the duty, and

      (b)   to give the Commission, within the period of 28 days beginning with the date on which he receives the notice, written information of the steps being taken for the purpose of complying with the duty.

    (3)   A notice under this section may require a person to give the Commission information required by the Commission for thed ¤purposes of assessing compliance with the duty; in which case the notice shall specifiy—

      (a)   the period within which the information is to be given (which shall begin with the date on which the notice is received and shall not exceed three months), and

      (b)   the manner and form in which the information is to be given.

    (4)   A person who receives a notice under this section shall comply with it.

    (5)   A notice under this section shall not oblige a person to give information that he could not be compelled to give in proceedings before the High Court or the Court of Session.

    (6)   If the Commission thinks that a person, to whom a notice under this section has been given, has failed to comply with a requirement of the notice, the Commission may apply to a count court (in England and Wales) or to the sheriff (in Scotland) for an order requiring the person to comply.’.

New clause 7—Age discrimination: codes of practice—

    ‘(1)   The Commission may issue a code of practice about the performance of—

      (a)   the duty under section [Age discrimination: statutory duty of public authorities] (1), or

      (b)   a duty imposed under section [Age discrimination: specific duties of public authorities] or [Age discrimination: specific duties (Scotland)].

    (2)   Section 14 and 15 shall apply to a code under this section,

    (3)   The Secretary of State shall consult the Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales before—


 
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      (a)   approving a draft under section 14 as applied by subsection (2) above, or

      (b)   making an order under section 14 as applied by subsection (2) above.’.

Sandra Gidley: The amendments and new clauses are an attempt to place a duty on public bodies to promote age equality, which would be enforceable by the commission. The provisions should be workable because they have been transposed from the Government’s drafting regarding the similar duty in relation to gender. All we have to decide is whether we have a commitment to end age discrimination in public services.

The amendments would require organisations in the public to have due regard to equality in all aspects of their work, including employment and the provision of services. Evidence from those parts of the public services that have experimented with voluntary commitments have shown that they simply do not work. The Department of Health introduced a non-statutory standard to root out age discrimination that had some impact, but the Healthcare Commission has concluded that it has not addressed unequal outcomes or ageist attitudes in practice. Clearly, therefore, there should be a legal requirement on public bodies to do that.

In Northern Ireland, a general equality duty has been introduced, which has prompted the involvement of older people in services and has led to a range of improvements in those public services as far as they are concerned. This matter was discussed at some length in the other place, but the disappointing outcome was a proposal that it should form part of the discrimination law review. We believe that it needs to be dealt with sooner. Some legislation is planned for 2006, but that will cover only employment and adult education, so there is a big gap within which the rights of older people are not protected.

The Government must be given some credit for the fact that when the Bill was being drafted, great effort was put into keeping people happy in relation to the existing strands of equality and to ensuring that as many of the current responsibilities as possible were covered in the Bill. Disappointingly, the same does not seem to have happened for the new strands. There are some concerns that age in particular could rapidly become a forgotten strand.

This issue is particularly important because older people are no longer a minority. In the rapidly ageing population, there is a greater duty to take their needs into account. Currently, they are treated almost as a token group. There might be an older people’s forum in most councils, but, usually, no effort is made to involve that forum when developing wider services.

Our proposals would have a number of benefits. For a start, they would allow the involvement of older people and put a duty on public bodies to assess the impact of their policies on older people and monitor their impact. They would ensure that more information was available to older people to make them more fully aware of their rights. Another important factor is that although the public authority may have a duty, in the current climate the private
 
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sector is increasingly used, and funded, by the public sector, so we need an assurance that those services will eventually be subject to the same constraints.

We are all aware of direct discrimination against older people in insurance, employment and access to specialist health treatment. To an extent, those are easy to deal with, but the indirect effects are more insidious. For example, transport providers frequently forget to give special consideration to areas with a high population of older people, but such people are less likely to have cars and will probably need slightly different transport provision.

The closure of community hospitals is thought to have a disproportionate impact on the lives of older people. For example, the Learning and Skills Council has recently started targeting most of its funding at vocational qualification. That has had a huge impact on older people; they are not able to gain access to courses that may be regarded as recreational but which are often the only thing to which they look forward during the week. Courses get them out, meeting people and learning new skills, and that probably has consequent savings for the health service because they do not get depressed.

If another strand of disability is added to the picture, the problems increase. Yesterday, we highlighted pension problems for women and the difficulties of gaining access to disability benefits. I will not rehearse that now; we are all aware that those who develop a disability after the age of 65 are treated much less favourably. I struggle to find a reason why that should not be considered to be discrimination, and if the Government are committed to tackling the problem, we surely need to get on with it rather than kicking it into the long grass once again.

 
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Prepared 2 December 2005