HL Deb 06 August 1980 vol 412 cc1479-82

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why, at a time when reductions in expenditure are being imposed on a large number of important departments and activities, no such actual reduction is being imposed on the Equal Opportunities Commission.


My Lords, the provision made in the Supply Estimates for the Equal Opportunities Commission in the present financial year is the same in real terms as the revised estimated expenditure of the commission for 1979–80. This represents a significant reduction compared with the expenditure planned for that year. In common with other Government departments, the commission has been asked to accommodate the cost of the recent Civil Service pay settlement within the published limits by reducing its staff complement.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, may I ask whether he accepts that to maintain expenditure in real terms cannot be described as a cut? At a time when departments of great importance, such as those dealing with education and housing, are being subjected to real cuts, why is this particular organisation exempted from them? Is that not carrying my noble friend's chivalry a little too far?


My Lords, the commission achieved considerable savings on the level of expenditure planned for last year and those savings went beyond those required as a result of last year's cuts in public expenditure; in other words, the commission made extra savings over and above the cuts made in public expenditure. All the savings made by the commission last year have been carried through into the budget set for this year, which therefore represents a significant cut in real terms.


My Lords, is my noble friend arguing that his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would accept from other departments that there were cuts where the cuts were only in planned expenditure? If that doctrine is accepted, is it not an incitement deliberately to plan for substantial increases in expenditure?


No, my Lords, I do not agree with my noble friend; but possibly the fault was mine in that I did not make myself entirely clear. I do not think my noble friend is placing enough weight on the fact that the budget figure for the Equal Opportunities Commission for the present year, which is the same as the final revised estimated expenditure for last year, was a figure which was reached including some substantial cuts which were made entirely voluntarily by the commission.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to say how many other Government departments made economies similar to those of the Equal Opportunities Commission about which he has told us? Would he not agree that in any case the Equal Opportunities Commission was provided with a budget cut to the bone when it was set up?


My Lords, I am afraid I cannot answer the second part of that supplementary because it falls outside the knowledge I have at the moment. Regarding the first part, the level of funding for each organisation in receipt of grant from my right honourable friend's department has been carefully considered on its merits in the light of its needs and Government financial policy, and I would guess that that is the policy which runs across all Government departments.


My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the public expenditure budgets were based on the premise that industrial production would increase by 4 per cent. last year and this year? Is it not necessary therefore to cut in real terms rather than in what the budget allowed for on totally false premises?


My Lords, I wish to make it absolutely clear that there has been and is a cut in real terms in the budget of the Equal Opportunities Commission for this year compared with the original budget for the commission for last year.


My Lords, if there have been such cuts in respect of the expenditure of the Equal Opportunities Commission, may we be assured that those cuts have applied equally to males and females?


I am delighted to say that that is entirely a matter for the commission, my Lords.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, in view of the fact that the two top jobs in this country are both held by women, is there really any need for this commission in future?


My Lords, I am not sure that would be the view of all women, and, at any rate, my right honourable friend sees a continuing need for this commission.


My Lords, would my noble friend agree that the EOC is the envy of many countries abroad which are setting up their own equivalents, and that any curtailing of the commission's work would be a pity?


My Lords, I have not had the pleasure of being able to view the activities of the Equal Opportunities Commission from abroad.


My Lords, would the Minister agree that the Government might at least consider cutting their indirect subsidy to the EOC's newsletter, whose main propaganda message seems to be that any woman who wishes to remain feminine instead of aspiring to become a coalminer, a pneumatic drill operator or a member of the SAS should be thoroughly ashamed of herself?


My Lords, I wish to make it quite clear that the expenditure of the Equal Opportunities Commission is subject to strict cash limits, but within those limits it is a matter for the commission as to how they spend their money?


Would it not be a good idea if a little chilvary were allowed to creep in, my Lords?


My Lords, I am delighted to have a question to which I can answer an unequivocal "Yes".


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend to indicate—this would seem to be germane to the original Question—whether the Commision for Racial Equality is also subject to the process of slimming and, if so, what is the annual cost?


My Lords, I think that I gave what is in fact the reply to the second part of my noble friend's supplementary question a little while ago; the answer is, give or take a bit, about £7 million.

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