Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, it would be ungenerous of me if I did not express gratitude to my noble friend for his very forthcoming response to some of the points which we made to him at the Committee stage. I do that unreservedly. I hope I was not being tiresome in inviting him to go a stage further. My noble friend's amendment would require the commission to report annually on what it had been doing. My Amendment No. 179 would impose a requirement on the commission to report on what the public authorities had been doing. I thought that might help to concentrate minds and to ensure that these matters were not totally overlooked. However, in view of what my noble friend said a few moments ago, I would probably be over-egging the pudding if I tried to carry the matter further.

As to my Amendment No. 194, I included it largely because, if the commission is to report annually on what public authorities have been doing--I understand from what my noble friend has just said that that is the intention--it would require the co-operation of the public authorities in supplying that information. That in itself might be a useful intellectual discipline on the public authorities. But, again, in view of what my noble friend has just said--that that is what would be expected--and knowing most of the public authorities with which we are dealing, I would be surprised if they were less than co-operative. I say at once that I do not propose to move those two amendments.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I welcome the move the Government have made in encouraging the wider publication of these reports. That is an important step towards greater transparency and very helpful for that purpose. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, I would have wished the Government to go the final step forward which the noble and learned Lord proposed. However, this is certainly a very valuable move in the right direction. I conclude by paying tribute to the noble and learned Lord for the

11 Nov 1998 : Column 809

pressure that he has brought to bear on this as on so many other occasions. It is encouraging to see that it has borne fruit on this occasion.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, perhaps I may very briefly, from the mobile Bench, extend a very warm welcome to the government amendments. I would have supported the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, but I take on board what he said about over-egging the pudding. I felt that they would have flourished symbiotically very happily and that it would have been a better pudding. But we must be very grateful for seven-eighths of the pudding.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I think it was wise and good of the Government to have accepted to this extent the spirit of the amendments moved at an earlier stage of our deliberations. One can have too many reports. It may be necessary to introduce at a later stage the additional reporting requirements in Amendment No. 194, but I think we have sufficient reports for the time being.

Similarly, with regard to Amendment No. 178, it seems to me that one audit is sufficient. I was slightly surprised when I realised that two audits were provided for side-by-side in the Bill for these operations. That is unnecessary. I believe that the Comptroller and Auditor General is the right person to audit the accounts. After all, as a result of our labours yesterday he will be responsible to the Assembly, so there is no need for additional auditors to be appointed. That will be another way in which, from that specific point of view, the commission will be answerable to the Assembly, as is right and proper.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful for the supporting voices I have heard from all parts of the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendments Nos. 176 to 178:

Page 65, line 36, at end insert ("; and
(b) on any steps which, during the year, have been taken by it and other public authorities to promote such equality of opportunity as is mentioned in section 71(1).").
Page 65, line 40, leave out ("send a copy of the report to the Assembly") and insert ("lay a copy of the report before the Assembly and send a copy of the report to the Secretary of State.
( ) The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of the report before each House of Parliament.").
Page 66, leave out lines 11 and 12.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 10 [Equality: enforcement of duties]:

[Amendment No. 179 not moved.]

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 180:

Page 67, line 16, at end insert ("or, if later, the establishment of the authority").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am pleased to present this series of government amendments which strengthen considerably the arrangements for equality

11 Nov 1998 : Column 810

schemes and impact assessments. They respond to comments made at earlier stages of the Bill and to external consultations held over the summer.

These amendments relate to Schedule 10 which gives details of the equality schemes to be prepared by public authorities and also the arrangements for their validation by the equality commission and the handling of complaints about the failure of a public authority to comply with its scheme. These are key dimensions to the equality clauses.

Schedule 10 both puts into operation the statutory obligation of Clause 71 and also gives a role to the equality commission in the oversight of equality schemes. As has been said before, this is not an externalisation by the public sector of its obligations on equality of opportunity. The statutory obligation will fall squarely on each public authority. There will be internal arrangements in the Northern Ireland Civil Service to ensure that departments and non-departmental public bodies are aware of their new statutory responsibilities and meet them. But the equality commission will be able to draw on the accumulated experience of the four statutory bodies to add an independent dimension, validating schemes, requesting revisions and considering complaints.

The Government have been responsive to those who have suggested improvements to the arrangements originally set out in the March White Paper, whether within Parliament or outside. A series of amendments has been prepared which strengthen the provisions on impact assessments in Schedule 10. These are rightly seen as vital instruments for mainstreaming equality considerations into the policies of the public sector.

There has been some comment that paragraph 4(2)(b) of Schedule 10, which refers to arrangements for impact assessment, is ambiguous in its scope. To clarify the position, it is the Government's intention that impact assessments should relate to the whole range of a public authority's policy. It is not intended that the assessments should be restricted only to policies aimed at promoting equality of opportunity. I hope that this makes our intentions clear.

Responding to criticisms of the Committee stage amendments, Amendments Nos. 180 and 181 extend the direct obligation on public authorities to prepare schemes to new public authorities, created after the schedule comes into operation, as well as to existing ones.

Amendments Nos. 187, 188 and 184 make clear that schemes must include details of the arrangements for monitoring any adverse impact of policies which are actually implemented, the publication of assessments and monitoring and for consultation on impact assessments. I would expect such consultation to embrace those directly affected by a policy as well as non-governmental organisations and relevant statutory bodies.

The Government are also moving Amendment No. 197, which would establish a special procedure in the case of the Northern Ireland Office and other UK government departments for dealing with problematic schemes and complaints. This is to avoid a situation

11 Nov 1998 : Column 811

where the Secretary of State must reach a decision or issue directions in a case involving her own department or that of a Cabinet colleague. To avoid a potential conflict of interest, it is intended that the normal arrangements under Schedule 10 should be amended in these cases. This could lead ultimately to an adverse report from the equality commission or a complaint against a UK government department being laid before Parliament and the Assembly. This would, in itself, be a most effective sanction. I beg to move.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, it is a pleasure doing business with my noble friend. These amendments bear witness to his readiness to respond to some of the representations and anxieties which we expressed at Committee stage. I also express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for his kind reference to me. He, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and myself at Committee stage expressed anxieties on these matters. We are all grateful to my noble friend.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, I endorse what is being said in these amendments and what is being done here. I have a query as regards Amendment No. 188A which appeared on the Marshalled List overnight. I do not believe that the noble Lord referred to it, but perhaps I missed the reference. It appears to delete the provision which says that a scheme prepared by a public authority under this heading should include arrangements for consultation, including details of the people who have been consulted. It is odd that they are not required to say who they consulted in the course of a scheme. I should have thought it desirable to have such a provision as part of the scheme. I am somewhat surprised that it has been taken out of the requirement. No doubt the Minister will be able to tell us why this amendment was added overnight.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page