HC Deb 22 November 1984 vol 68 cc391-2
6. Mr. Andrew MacKay

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the future of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Mr. Waddington

The Equal Opportunities Commission was established in accordance with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. My right hon. and learned Friend has no present plans to amend that legislation.

Mr. MacKay

Since its inception in 1975 the Equal Opportunities Commission has investigated only eight cases of discrimination, published reports on only four of those cases, and only once issued a non-discrimination notice. Is it not high time that this quango, which costs nearly £3.5 million a year to run, was abolished?

Mr. Waddington

My hon. Friend must bear in mind that formal investigations form only part of the work of the EOC. In fairness, one should take account not only of the number of formal investigations but of the fact that in 1983, for instance, the commission's staff resolved 359 complaints without recourse to litigation or formal investigation.

It is right that the Government should review the operations of non-departmental bodies from time to time. A regular review is taking place, and the conclusions will be announced in the spring.

Mrs. Renée Short

Did the Minister hear the interview with Mr. Norman Willis of the TUC this morning — [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Then he should have—in which Mr. Willis said that the TUC had collected information about the effect of privatisation of cleaning and other services in hospitals, that cleaning firms were using girls of 15 to clean hospital wards and that they were being paid less than the women who had previously been employed? Does the Minister agree that he should refer that matter to the Equal Opportunities Commission and that it should be strengthened to enable it to do the job that it needs to do?

Mr. Waddington

The answer to the first part of the hon. Lady's question is that I did not hear what Mr. Norman Willis said this morning. However, it does not need a Minister to refer a matter to the Equal Opportunities Commission. If there appears to the hon. Lady to be a matter worthy of consideration by the Equal Opportunities Commission, the matter is in her hands.

Mrs. Jill Knight

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that many people believe that the Equal Opportunities Commission has now exhausted what opportunities it might have had to do its job? Is he sure that there is no better way in which the Government could spend £3,336,000 a year?

Mr. Waddington

I must remind my hon. Friend that although we have a plain duty to ensure that appropriate management systems are in place and that money is not wasted, we are under an obligation to ensure that discrimination on grounds of sex is abolished. I repeat that we have no plans to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which was directed towards that end.

Mr. Maclennan

If, as the Minister said, the Government believe that there is a continuing role for the Equal Opportunities Commission in combating discrimination on grounds of sex, why do the Government not accept the commission's proposals, which were published many months ago, for strengthening its powers, which would require legislative change?

Mr. Waddington

As I remember it, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 puts a duty on the Equal Opportunities Commission to review legislation and make recommendations to the Government if it thinks that amendments are necessary. We have received no proposals from the commission suggesting changes to the legislation.