Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

It is not in dispute that this Government have taken the issue of gender inequality seriously with the Equality Act 2006. Many provisions were made. However, when the Bill was brought before the House, I had concerns about how this would affect race equality. As research has shown, black women find themselves being doubly discriminated against by being black and by being women. They are twice hampered in reaching the top of their professions, even when they are allowed on the first rung of the ladder. Few black women have broken through the glass ceiling of inequality in race and gender.

Today we heard of the many challenges that women face in reaching the upper levels of their career path. But I want to take this opportunity to highlight the bigotry and difficulties of discrimination faced by black women. Because of this I hope to bring to the attention of this House the ways in which it is felt that more could be done to secure a fairer and more equal society.

After more than 40 years of equality legislation, the position of black and minority women is that they suffer disproportionate discrimination. For example, whereas 10 per cent of executive directors of the FTSE 100 companies are women, only 0.4 per cent are women from black or other ethnic minorities. The same is true of politics; only 20 per cent of Members of the other place are women, yet there are only two black women. Only 2 per cent of local councillors are women from black and other ethnic minorities.

Even in other areas the levels of discrimination are higher for black women than for women. Yet here in the House of Lords, the glass ceiling was cracked with a Leader of the House and an Attorney-General from the Afro-Caribbean community. I am sure that the House will agree that they were of great benefit and that other minority groups will bring as much to this House as we would expect.

The Fawcett Society’s 2005 study found that there are no ethnic minority women police chief constables and there are no ethnic minority women judges in the House of Lords or the Court of Appeal. A woman victim of domestic violence has 11 contacts with agencies before getting the help she needs; this rises to

6 Mar 2008 : Column 1260

17 if she is black. Furthermore black women are more likely to be refused small business or other bank loans than white women, and black women are more likely than white women to live in substandard accommodation. This handful of statistics provides a brief glimpse into some of the problems of discrimination preventing black and ethnic minority women reaching their full potential.

To counter these pervasive trends we do not need new legislation to tackle the problems faced by black women today, and we do not need legal structures based on issues 30 or 40 years old. Current equality law comprises 116 separate pieces of legislation: 35 Acts, 52 statutory instruments, 13 codes of practice and 16 EC directives. The legal structure lacks consistency and is confusing to all except the experts. This complexity leads to problems for the Equality and Human Rights Commission in ensuring that the legislation is effective and for employers’ organisations in their efforts to comply with the existing legal codes.

I should like to highlight a few areas in which the current legal framework could be improved. There should be designated people in an organisation who are publicly accountable for the organisation’s performance on equality. Individuals should have the power to obtain the information they need to see whether an organisation is meeting its equality targets and to question and monitor those targets. To avoid confusion there needs to be clarity on what is and is not permitted under the law. Legislation must be underpinned by clear, simple and practical guidance on how organisations can use the law to meet equality targets. Workable targets for increasing the promotion of black and ethnic minority women to high level jobs, once they are qualified to do so, is important. There should be government-supported initiatives to help and support black and ethnic minority women in establishing their own businesses. We need forums for supporting black women in certain professions, along the lines of the successful American system of equality forums. These are established within individual companies to encourage black women to reach higher positions. It is often said that we need role models in this country. Challenging inter-discrimination between different minority groups has shown that it would be impossible to produce role models for everyone.

These are just a few suggestions that could improve the position of black and ethnic minority women and streamline equality legislation. I hope that in the near future we will be debating these issues on the Floor of the House as a matter of course and that eventually all women in this country will enjoy a life free from discrimination. There is a saying, “Example is better than precept”.

3.10 pm

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, I, too, want to fasten on to the issue of equal pay. I was inspired to do so and informed by attending the launch of the TUC women’s archive on the struggle for equal pay, which took place just over a week ago. My noble friend indicated in her speech that the 1970 Equal Pay

6 Mar 2008 : Column 1261

Act was an important piece of legislation. It certainly was. It firmly established in law the principle of equal pay for men and women, although the application of the Act was somewhat limited in its effect. I shall return to this later.

Equal pay is not a new issue and it was not new in 1970. It spans three centuries. The limited successes towards equal pay owe much to the determination and courage of women themselves. In the 19th century, there were spasmodic attempts to secure equal pay. In 1888, the first TUC policy resolution calling for equal pay was passed. Around the turn of the 20th century, Mary MacArthur, a remarkable pioneer in women’s issues who later became one of the first women MPs, formed the National Federation of Women Workers. Her campaigns to increase women’s pay greatly contributed to the establishment of labour boards in 1908, which set minimum pay standards in certain sectors and were the forerunners of today’s minimum wage legislation.

Further advances were made during the First World War, when women were brought into industry to undertake many of the jobs done by men who were called to serve in the Armed Forces. The first equal pay strike was in 1918, when women tram workers in London, followed by women in other towns, went on strike and won the day over an unequal war bonus. In 1918 and 1945, women were expected to return to a more domestic role, allowing men to reclaim their jobs when the war ended.

Until 1970 there were three grades of pay for industrial and transport workers: the skilled rate, the unskilled rate and the women’s rate. Needless to say, the women’s rate was at the bottom of the pile. This was the rate that women were paid for taking over men’s jobs in the two world wars. The 1970 Act rightly abolished women’s rates. Some limited progress was made in the interwar years and during the war itself. For example, the ban on married women in several public service jobs was abandoned during the Second World War. In 1943, a powerful equal pay campaign was set up by women representatives from across the board. In 1944, a royal commission on equal pay was established. It reported tentatively in 1946, suggesting that women in teaching and certain grades of the Civil Service might benefit from equal pay. This vague suggestion was implemented and in 1956 women non-industrial civil servants received equal pay for equal work. In 1961 so did teachers.

The 1960s were an important decade, when the demand for equal pay and for an end to sex discrimination was growing powerfully. My noble friend underlined certain anniversary years in her speech. I would like to add another: 1968. That year, the Ford women machinists at Dagenham went on strike following a regrading. They argued that their jobs, although not the same as men’s jobs, required equal skills. The Dagenham women’s strike finally ignited the fire taken up by Barbara Castle, then Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, leading to the introduction of the 1970 Equal Pay Act, which became operative in 1975. Welcome and significant though that Act was, there were concerns about the definition of equal pay and the fact that it

6 Mar 2008 : Column 1262

gave companies five years to prepare for its implementation—five years that led to the deepening of an already severely segregated labour market. The Act provided for equal pay for work that was the same or broadly similar. This definition on its own had limited effects, because there was very little “same work” being done by men and women.

The year 1975 was important for two reasons. First, the Equal Pay Act was incorporated into the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, which set up the Equal Opportunities Commission and gave that body the responsibility to administer and enforce the Equal Pay Act. Secondly, the European Union passed two directives, one on equal pay and one on equal access to employment, based on Article 119 of the treaty of Rome. The equal pay directive interpreted equal pay as being pay for work of equal value. The canvas was broadened as the directive could be used in combination with domestic law. As a consequence, a number of important equal pay claims were processed in this field. In 1984, the Equal Pay Act was amended to confirm in domestic law the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. As we have noticed, a weakness of UK law is that there is no scope for group or class action. Consequently, case law, although slow, has been extremely important and a number of significant cases have established precedents that have had widespread repercussions. We are grateful to the women who courageously pursued these cases, some of which were decided by the House of Lords in its judicial capacity, with others going to the European Court of Justice.

The annual reports of the EOC highlighted those cases, three of which come to mind. The first is Electrolux, which was the first equal pay case with which the EOC was asked to assist. It involved a group of women all filing single claims with the industrial tribunal, thus swamping the capacity of that local body. Consequently, a number of test cases that the company agreed to accept were selected and acted on and, in that way, the issue was resolved. The second example is Cammell Laird, which was, in effect, the first equal value case, brought by Julie Hayward, a qualified cook working in the canteen of the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead. She claimed equal pay with several male craft workers, a shipboard painter, a joiner and a thermal insulation engineer. Her claim was that, although different, her skills were equally demanding and of equal value. I will not go into details about the third example, because it was the case of the physiotherapist that my noble friend Lady Turner dealt with in some detail in her speech. The principal point of that case was that it involved certain different claims, pay scales and agreements. Ultimately, it took 14 years to be resolved because of those complications.

Those cases demonstrate the difficulties in successfully establishing equal pay, especially where claimants are in female-dominant work. Within that context, it is not surprising that progress has been painfully slow and why there is still a 17 per cent gap between women’s and men’s pay, as my noble friend indicated. We now look to new legislation promised by the Government in the lifetime of this Parliament to facilitate a less complicated and quicker route to

6 Mar 2008 : Column 1263

equal pay through the proposed Single Equality Bill, the government action plan and the gender equality duty placed on public bodies. Today, however, we celebrate the courage and tenacity of those women who sustained and pursued their just claims.

3.20 pm

Lord Addington: My Lords, as one of the males here, I rise to my feet to speak in this debate slightly nervously: you feel like you are treading on someone else’s territory. However, I realise that I should not feel like that. When I was dealing with disability issues for all those years, I was always glad when someone from outside joined in and we were not just talking to ourselves. I hope that my contribution is seen in that light.

I want to draw attention to something that many people might regard as rather peripheral to many of the things mentioned today—the Government’s attempts to bring women into the sporting and fitness world. One of the problems that we have is that the subject of sport, fitness and physical recreation in this country is seen as a secondary issue that is tacked on after everything else—for the energy that is left after you have done everything else. On women in sport, that is true with bells on.

I have been provided with figures from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation. Only 5 per cent of sports coverage is given to women’s sport and there is still no woman professional player in a team sport in this country. In some papers, the closest that you come to women in sport during the winter season—because tennis will always get a mention—is the WAGs syndrome. Whether X’s wife is going to leave him after a drunken night out seems to be about as close as we come to seriously covering women in sport. As a rugby union player, I always felt persecuted that we did not get enough coverage in the sports media, but then I realised that rugby union does quite well in comparison with other minority sports in this country. We have a problem of one dominant culture—association football. It is not association football’s fault that it is successful, but there is a certain culture of not covering and not supporting whatever else goes on.

Does it matter if we do not talk about women taking part in sport or if they are not playing sport professionally? In health terms, no, it does not, as long as women are taking part as amateurs or are taking other exercise. I think that it is sad that—this figure is off the top of my head—only 20 per cent of women take enough exercise. At the very least, there is a huge on-cost to the Department of Health. Why is this happening? I hope that the Minister will not quote school participation levels at me. If the noble Baroness says that she is not going to, that is good; the last time I said that these figures were not important, I still got told what they were.

We have twice the drop-out rate among 16 to 24 year-old females—half the participation rate may be the correct way of putting it—as among males. We need the same degree of activity for the two sexes within schools. I know that the culture of dropping

6 Mar 2008 : Column 1264

out is more developed among girls than among boys. It is there in both groups, but apparently skiving PE is a more extensive activity among females. What we are doing in schools is basically wrong—we are missing it, we are not bringing people in and involving them. Have the Government done any research on what is going wrong and why we are not taking pupils on to adult participation in sport? To my mind, there is always a smack of the playing fields of Roedean and Eton about the way in which we have traditionally structured school sport, which I think we can safely say does not work in the state sector—or it does not work well enough. What are we doing to prepare these people for taking up exercise and sporting activity in adult life?

Talking to people about this, I was urged not to put as much emphasis on sport as on exercise and participation. Are our school days not structured well enough to make sure that, for instance, dance is encouraged for sufficient numbers and with sufficient intensity? At the moment, we have a wonderful opportunity for dance, as a TV programme has done a lot of groundwork for us. What are the Government doing to get greater female participation? Are we trying to address these problems? Are we making sure that there is an ongoing message that people should take up the activity? To go back to my WAG bashing of a few moments ago, are we taking on the fact that thin is not necessarily healthy? Certain people will never look like catwalk models, even if they starve themselves almost to death. They might be told, “You are too short, love. Your bone structure is too big and, even if it is crumbling, it is still too big”.

As regards physical identification, if you have a greater awareness of what your body can and cannot do, you will probably become less obsessed by what you think it should look like. If you have a lot of fast-twitch muscle and can run fast—which means that you can play many sports—and have half-decent hand-to-eye co-ordination, you cannot utilise this unless you are actually carrying some muscle mass. If this means that you are a size bigger than you should be according to the latest fashion magazine, so be it; you are still going to look better. I would mention as an aside that very few supermodels become pin-ups, so if the motivation is to attract the opposite sex, somebody has got it wrong. What are we doing to address this level of ignorance and lack of perception? Where are we encouraging and influencing what goes on? In health alone, we are incurring greater costs and greater penalties for our society than we should do.

There is another aspect to these activities. They are great for social networking—getting people outside the home and interacting with others. They are good for building community. They are probably one of the best ways of generating volunteering activity in our society. Effectively, we are removing slightly more than half the population—or a majority of this group—from that interaction. We are not addressing properly the fact that they should be interacting with their communities at this level.

If people come in late—if a mother, for example, wants to help out in a sports club but has no experience of sport—it will be much more difficult,

6 Mar 2008 : Column 1265

though of course not impossible, for them to become involved, especially if they do not have the requisite education. Mothers may come along and ask whether they can help with little Susie’s or little Johnny’s football or rugby team. If they do not know the basic levels of activity, it will be much more difficult for them to become engaged. They may not know that, if little Johnny or little Susie falls over and cuts a knee, they should not worry, it will heal. Black eyes disappear. I found that, even at my age, one disappeared in just over a week—for a 12 year-old, no problem.

We have to try to instil the sporting culture, create encouragement and ensure interaction. I would expect the Government to start an education programme among the teaching services for the very young that addresses the issue and is effective in ensuring that people are properly equipped.

Also, what pressure are the Government putting on the media, especially the public-access media, to give more attention to women’s sport generally? We cannot tell them to do that, because the cure would probably be worse than the disease. They will turn round and say, “Oh, Wimbledon and the Olympics”, but we should remember that there are male events in all sporting activities and you cannot schedule male athletics events without the female ones. If we say, “The fastest man in the world is more important than the fastest woman”, what effect will that have on other events? When will we pay attention to those who succeed in their own fields?

A classic example was when Nicole Cooke recently won the French cycling tour. On the same day, Andrew Murray received a minor injury to his wrist. She won; he might have won. I suggest that some attention should be given to this problem but, if we cannot take the Government by the ear and drag them along, can we at least ensure that they are seen to be pointing in the right direction?

3.31 pm

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, there were more women holding elected office in Norfolk in 1900 than in 1980. I am cheating a bit because there were more elective offices in 1900 but, in a period when social class often counted for more than gender, the wives and daughters of squires and vicars found their way on to the local councils of the land.

That first late-19th-century women’s movement, to which many of my noble friends have alluded, demanded, said Helen Taylor, the stepdaughter of John Stuart Mill, the right of a woman to belong to herself—not to a father or a husband. That meant the right to support herself when she was single, or surplus, as a teacher, a nurse, a clerk or, as she might also be known, as a typewriter, because she obviously had nimble fingers from playing the piano. It also meant the right to belong to herself within marriage, to hold property, to retain an income—whenever Mrs Gaskell got a cheque for a book, to her quiet fury, her husband pocketed it—to have custody of her children on separation if she was the innocent party,

6 Mar 2008 : Column 1266

to limited divorce and, finally, to the vote so as to ensure that women had the protection not of men but of the law.

After 1918, the women’s movement stalled and women activists became engaged instead with their political parties, usually arguing for the rights of men rather than the rights of man. Jennie Lee, for example, argued that women should not have equal pay while miners’ wages were so low. As in rural turn-of-the-century Norfolk, class identity mattered more than gender identity for women between the wars.

Women MPs did come into national politics—for example, Bessie Braddock, Elaine Burton, Alice Bacon, Edith Summerskill and Jean Mann—but they were expected to stick to women’s issues, such as child welfare, consumer rights or widows’ benefits, while the men managed the serious stuff of state, such as foreign policy or finance. Barbara Castle and Jennie Lee rebelled against that stereotype, only to invent another one of their own, which was that they be treated as surrogate men, dealing with transport or overseas development—again, the stuff of real politics rather than women’s political housework.

I suggest that what broke those stereotypes was the rise, exactly 40 years ago in 1968, of the second women’s movement, which again has been alluded to by many of my noble friends today. It was the rise of identity politics. Some of us at the time were in the US civil rights movement, riding buses and barnstorming restaurants in the deep south. I remember George Wallace’s window advertising, “Turkey dinners 99c and guaranteed no niggers”. We were stiffened by the return of black soldiers from Vietnam, who were armed and disciplined and made their way into the Black Panther movement.

The year 1968 saw the Dubcek spring, Jan Palach’s self-immolation, the May general strike in Paris and the strike of the Ford women machinists. This second women’s movement demanded not Helen Taylor’s autonomy—the right to belong to herself—but equality with economic and civil rights, as we worked on the NEC sub-committees of the Labour Party, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Lockwood, in the late 1960s and early 1970s to draft the Green Papers which ultimately produced the equal pay and sex discrimination Acts of Barbara Castle. I remember the day after the 1974-75 legislation going into a shoe shop where the day before there were male and female shop assistants paid differentially, and the day after all the male shop assistants became assistant male managers and the pay gap between the genders remained untouched.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page