|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Clause 1 is significant in this regard. It places a duty on a range of public bodies, including the Government of the day, to take strategic decisions with a view to reducing the inequalities of outcome that result from socio-economic disadvantage. This programmatic opening clause is carefully phrased, with a focus on addressing the inequalities of outcome, rather than the underlying socio-economic inequalities themselves. I think an earlier speaker spoke of narrowing the gap between rich and poor, but that is not quite what the clause says. It deals with the outcomes of the inequalities in economic terms.
Research now overwhelmingly links poorer outcomes to underlying inequalities in wealth and income. The recent book The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett sets out the evidence in a compelling way. Yet our recent experience over 30 years has been of a growing divide between rich and poor, which even 13 years of a Labour Administration have not reversed, although it has, I think, more or less maintained the position that it inherited. The financial crisis of the past two years can be seen as directly linked to the growth of excessive inequalities in salaries and bonuses, both within the financial sector and between the financial and other sectors.
It seems that, for all its provisions, many of which are to be welcomed, the Bill skirts around the most fundamental issues of inequality in our society. Its sheer size should not deflect us from its limitations. Has any previous Bill had Explanatory Notes running to more than 1,000 paragraphs? If you gave the most reverend Primate the Archbishop a bauble for his Christmas tree for each paragraph, it would have 1,002 baubles on it. Paragraph 80 of the notes refers to,
The underlying problem is that it concentrates too quickly and too excessively on the rights of the individual, essential as these are. There was an interesting interchange
15 Dec 2009 : Column 1450
"The Equality Bill is grounded in a view of society as a collection of individuals with rights but fails to take account of the needs of communities to flourish. That can quickly lead to an authoritarian imposition of an individualistic understanding of difference rather than a celebration of plurality in society".-[Official Report, 26/11/09; col. 492.]
Perhaps, but that does not mean that it is necessarily correct. We have not just replaced the divine right of kings with the divine right of particular aspects of EU law, particularly as we frame our legislation here.
I say that because there has been too much emphasis on individual freedom in the economic realm that has led to the growing inequalities of socio-economic outcome over the past 30 years, which are now more and more clearly documented. Societies that overemphasise individual freedom and rights, as opposed to responsibility, duty and communal rights, simply generate a growing underclass, well evidenced in the growth of the prison population and all the problems coming from that. The interplay of individual rights with the rights of other individuals and the broader rights of society and the socio-cultural and religious communities in society, will occupy us at a number of points as the Bill makes its passage.
I conclude with one example that has not been mentioned so far-it has not received much attention, which illustrates the point. I refer to the provisions in relation to those who are undergoing, or who have undergone, a change of gender. Society holds different views about the basis for gender reassignment, and there are different views in some of the faith communities.
Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that the Church of England cannot quite make up its mind, and it is left to individual bishops to decide whether a transgender person can be accepted for ordination. There are conscientious and sincerely held beliefs on different sides in this matter. As a society overall, the current anti-discrimination provisions seem to have been in a proper balance, but the Bill extends the legal protection to those who claim either an intention to transgender or to have done so without any recourse to medical advice or supervision. I speak as someone who accepts the possibility of gender dysphoria and the treatments that professional psychiatrists and medicine can offer. I know from personal and pastoral experience how distressing it is for somebody to have a sense of being in the wrong gender, but I do think that society as a whole has a right to expect that anyone who seeks legal recognition in a new gender should have followed proper medical assessment and advice. Anything less seems to be open to abuse. It is not that. It should not be just a matter of individual decision of individual rights.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, the main thrust of the Bill is commendable but I wish to raise two points, both of which are necessary for a free and democratic society. The first is the need to protect the interests of Christians and the Christian church. Secondly, we should ensure that elderly people have the freedom to enjoy holidays with those of a similar age, an issue to which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred.
With regard to the former, noble Lords will no doubt be aware of the recent interview given by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, reported in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday. I shall not go into the detail of the interview but I understand and appreciate the points that he made. I and many others have heard it said that the Christian celebration commemorating the birth of Christ, which we are now nearing, should cease and that the period should be described as a "customary holiday". I do not accept that. Neither do I believe that the Christian church is a problem; in fact, it is a solution for many of the country's difficulties. Therefore, I shall support any amendments that are tabled that will ensure that Christians can express and demonstrate their Christian faith without the threat of being in danger of arrest. Christianity is not to be marginalised in this country.
My second point-again I mention the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers-is one with which I have some difficulty. because the Government support the exception to which I shall refer, but unfortunately they will not include it in the Bill. The exception is to allow certain businesses that provide holiday services to place an age limit on group holidays and to provide holidays catering for people of a particular age, which of course I come into. Holiday companies, such as Club 18-30, which I do not come into, and Saga, which I do, continue to target specific groups, allowing niche marketing by age. In another place, the Solicitor-General agreed that purpose. She said:
It is better to have these matters ironed out and included in the Bill than to have to wait for an uncertain period and an uncertain outcome for British businesses such as Saga. I cannot understand why the Government are so hesitant, as they have already made their view plain. The June 2007 consultative paper, AFramework for Fairness, states:
"We must not have in the Bill unintended consequences of prohibiting positive benefits for either younger or older people, such as youth clubs or clubs for older people ... or concessions and discounts which help younger or older people".
The Bill, however, has the effect of banning the marketing of group holidays for particular age groups. The Explanatory Notes mention that exemptions "may" include holidays for particular age groups. In June
15 Dec 2009 : Column 1452
Why not put on the face of the Bill exactly those exemptions that the Government recognise are important? Why should businesses have to wait not quite knowing when this will come, if at all? Saga's 2.7 million customers over 50 would be grateful to know that the Bill will allow them to be able to continue to receive the services that they currently receive.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, for anyone committed to equality the whole of this Bill is extremely important. Personally, I will be keeping an eye on a range of issues in which I have a concern, including, but not limited to, civil partnerships and the impact of religion generally. In the short time available to me this evening, I will focus on only one issue, which is discrimination on the ground of caste. I and others will table amendments that will add this form of discrimination to discrimination on the grounds of gender, disability, race and so on.
Discrimination on the ground of caste is one of the historic evils of humanity, similar in many ways to discrimination on the ground of race. This has been recognised by people from William Wilberforce to the present Pope. The Indian constitution is exemplary in recognising this; indeed, in 2008 the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, described such discrimination as a "blot on humanity". However, in practice it remains a terrible blight.
According to Hindu thought, there are four traditional caste groups, which correspond to the different traditional occupations but which are linked to birth and kinship groups. Outside those groups are what used to be called the "untouchables"-today they are termed Dalits-who are shunned and forced into the most menial tasks. For example, vast numbers of Dalits are manual scavengers, forced to scrape up and collect human excreta with their hands. There is now, I am glad to say, a growing worldwide campaign against this form of discrimination.
As we know, many people from India have migrated to this country. Therefore, two questions arise. First, how many Dalits are there in the UK? Secondly, is there evidence that they are discriminated against here, as undoubtedly they are in India? The issue is complicated by the fact that so pernicious is the caste system that it has permeated even those religions that have a strong doctrine of the equality of human beings and in which the caste system has no religious basis, such as, sadly, Christianity, Sikhism and Islam. In this country, for example, according to the 2001 census, there are 336,000 Sikhs, though the true figure is reckoned to be nearer 500,000. Of these, 167,000 are thought to be Dalits. The figures for Hinduism are more difficult to arrive at, but it has been estimated that as many as 1 million people could be adversely affected by the caste system in this country. That is a very significant number of people.
One study, which was done by the Hindu Forum and carried out over only two weeks in August, with only 19 respondents, agreed that caste discrimination was present in Britain but said that it was confined to private social practice. However, the Hindu Forum and the Hindu Council do not speak for the Dalit communities, who are regarded as untouchable by those who accept the caste system.
I urge the Government to look again at the recent report by the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance,Hidden Apartheid-Voice of the Community:Caste and Caste Discrimination in the UK. This was a reputable academic study, undertaken by a professor of law and a director of the Centre for Community Research, with outside legal advice; it was a thorough study, involving a lot of people over a long period.
The report shows that discrimination has seeped out of the private sphere into issues of employment, education and healthcare. I will give a few examples. In the field of employment, a bus company operating in Southampton had to reorganise its shift system so that a "lower caste" driver would not have to drive with a "higher caste" inspector. Similar issues arose when drivers were being tested. Another person said:
"Caste came up in the college on a daily basis and you would find that people would group together. The name calling happened every day ... You think there is something wrong with you-why am I being treated very different?".
In the provision of services, a good number of people complained about intrusive questioning about the caste that they belonged to, with the result that when they revealed that they were Dalits they were rejected in some way. For example, a woman in Coventry was not given care in accordance with her care plan because it was due to be given by a "higher caste" woman who refused to help her shower.
These are just a few quick examples from a very thorough survey. Of those surveyed, 71 per cent identified themselves as being Dalits; 58 per cent of these said that they had been discriminated against because of their caste and 37 per cent said that this had happened on more than one occasion.
In the other place, the Government indicated sympathy for this issue but said that they remained uncertain about the evidence. I suggest that the evidence put forward by the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance is more than enough to show that discrimination is a reality and needs to be made illegal. The evidence adduced there is certainly as compelling as that which convinced the Government in relation to transgender and transsexual issues. The Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance report, as I mentioned, was a serious study undertaken by academics and it deserves to be given serious weight.
There are 270 million Dalits in the world. We in this country can play our part, with the international community, in ensuring that caste discrimination at least has no place at all in our own society. When appropriate amendments are brought forward to ban discrimination on the ground of caste, they will receive support from all sides of the House and I very much hope that the Government will be sympathetic.
Lord Morris of Handsworth: My Lords, I, too, commend the Government for bringing forward another instalment on the long road to equality. It was some 44 years ago that this nation made a date with destiny with the Race Relations Act 1965, which was followed by the Race Relations Act 1976. Both Acts pledged the nation to the twin pillars of the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of equality of opportunity. Both Acts combined law enforcement on the one hand with community development on the other and set Britain on the road to equality. To coin a phrase, we sealed the deal with the British people. While the Explanatory Notes to this Bill are extensive, and my reading of it is incomplete, I cannot recall any reference in the Bill to contributing to the building of a strong, diverse and stable community. I support the call for an overall purpose clause to the Bill.
Today we consider a Bill that, we are told, is intended to bring together the various anti-discrimination laws and their subsequent amendments, which is to be welcomed. The Bill also promotes the notion of a socio-economic public duty, but these duties are not the panacea to all our social ills. For some time, public duty has already been provided in our anti-discrimination laws. Following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 imposed a number of proactive responsibilities on public authorities, which are commonly known as general race equality duties. We owe it to the legacy of Stephen Lawrence that, however inconvenient, we do not dilute or roll back these steps, which are positive tools in the struggle to eliminate discrimination and promote equality. The problem with this new section of the Bill is not a lack of public duty but a lack of enforcement of that duty, a lack of sanctions and a lack of real remedies.
That said, the principle of consolidation is welcome because the Bill raises a number of key issues, one or two of which I shall touch on as time permits. First, there is the interpretation of "equality". In the proposed legislation, Ministers embrace equality in the language of fairness, but one person's fair is another person's unfair. Fairness is a subjective concept and it has been used as a second-rate substitute for the one word that really matters in this debate-equality. We must build a society where we enjoy the right to be different and, just as important, the right to be equal.
The Race Relations Act 1965 and the legislation that followed it were described by one of the Act's architects as having real backbone. Underpinning those Acts was the recognition that victims of discrimination must be empowered to seek and pursue justice through remedies in the civil courts or, indeed, industrial tribunals. The new provisions of the Bill-I emphasise "new provisions"-lack real teeth. There is no clear route to
15 Dec 2009 : Column 1455
Digging deep for some positive strands in the new section of the Bill, I welcome the inclusion of age within the scope of the public sector duty. Sadly, the Bill does not outlaw the practice of enforced retirement at the arbitrary age of 65. Why do the Government not use the Bill to outlaw a practice that discriminates on those grounds? It is also to be regretted that there is a total absence of any protection for those under the age of 18, which could mean that children who suffer discrimination do not enjoy the Bill's protection.
Gender pay transparency is yet another concern. Only public sector employees, for whom there is a target figure, will enjoy the opportunity of annual detailed reporting. I cannot understand the distinction between the public and private sector obligations here. Eighty per cent of all employees are in the private sector-the vast majority in small and medium-sized enterprises-and their employers are asked to report only on a voluntary basis. However, it is at that level of employment where the growth in the number of women employees really exists. In my view, a voluntary reporting scheme will take us no further forward in the battle to get equality in respect of women's pay.
We are told that the procurement budget is some £220 billion. It seems to me that this gives us a real chance to make a difference in respect of discrimination on any of the grounds named in the Bill. I would take a blunt instrument to this: if you are found to discriminate, you should not enjoy the benefit of government contracts. The Americans take a simple view: it is called "contract compliance".
We need to recognise that, if we are to take the road to true and lasting equality, we must ensure that we have the tools to finish the job. Discrimination is not just another social evil; it is a disease that devalues its victim, corrupts its perpetrators and attacks the moral fabric of our society.
Lord Adebowale: My Lords, I generally support the Bill. I was born in 1962, so I do not qualify and shall not be rushing to enjoy, the benefits of Saga, and I doubt whether many over-50s will be rushing to take part in Club 18-30 holidays. Putting that to one side, I was born into what could be described as an "either/or" society: you were either black or you were British; you were either gay or you were decent; and you were either disabled or you were working. I have lived much of my life in such a society, even with the implementation of the Bills referred to by previous speakers.
The importance of this Bill is that it ushers in an "and/and" society-a society in which it is possible to be black and British, to be a Muslim woman and
15 Dec 2009 : Column 1456
I also welcome the socio-economic discrimination part of the Bill, although I note the concerns of previous speakers that it does not carry enough teeth. In my work with Turning Point and on estates around the country where public services have been commissioned without due regard to the socio-economic impacts and the ensuing discrimination, I can see the impact not just on the individuals in those places but on the generations born to those individuals. We know how difficult it is to move from an estate, from a family where there is unemployment or from a situation where you have not gone to the right school or where the public services have not taken into account the need to balance out socio-economic discrimination. I would rather start here with an expression of the public duty to provide a reversal of the inverse care law and do something about socio-economic discrimination than not start at all. However, I, too, should like to see teeth in the Bill. The "so what?" factor rides high in that statement. What happens if the duty is not adhered to?
At a time when the BNP has appeared on a BBC licence fee-funded station, using the freedom of speech to frighten the life out of a significant minority of the community, I should like the Leader of the House to say a bit more about what is missing in the Bill. In my view, what are missing are the duties of the publicly funded broadcasters, the Arts Council, museums and others to support fairness and equality in society.
For me, the Bill is not just about race, religion, disability or sexual orientation, important as those are; it is also about the future economy of this country. In his 2001 report, Shamit Saggar pointed out that 70 per cent of the increase in the working population will be from black and minority ethnic groups by the year 2020. Some people do not like that fact, but it is a fact. It is as obvious as gravity. If we want a population and an economy that will look after our elderly and provide us with new ideas, economies and businesses, then we cannot afford to discriminate on the grounds of race, disability or sexual orientation. To do so costs us. It is not just a moral imperative; it is an economic one.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|