HL Deb 03 November 1986 vol 481 cc973-6

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

"Discrimination in relation to training.
  1. .—(1) Section 47 of the 1975 Act (discrimination in relation to training by a training body) shall be amended as follows.
  2. (2) In subsections (1) and (3)—
    1. (a) for the words "a training body" there shall be substituted the words "any person"; and
    2. (b) for the words "it appears to the training body" there shall be substituted the words "it reasonably appears to that person".
  3. (3) In subsection (2)—
    1. (a) for the words "it appears to a training body" there shall be substituted the words "it reasonably appears to any person"; and
    2. (b) for the words "the training body" there shall be substituted the words "that person".
  4. (4) For subsection (4) (definition of, and power to designate, training body) there shall be substituted the following subsection—
"(4) The preceding provisions of this section shall not apply in relation to any discrimination which is rendered unlawful by section 6."."
Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 3. I should like also to speak to Amendment No. 20 which is consequential. I am sure both sides of the House will be glad to welcome this clause, which was introduced by the Government in another place. It has the admirable aim of cutting down bureaucracy and paperwork and making it easier for organisations to run special vocational training courses in order to break down traditional barriers which divide work into "men's" and "women's" jobs.

The Sex Discrimination Act's basic principle is that there should be no discrimination on grounds of a person' sex. However, it has to be recognised that there are circumstances where the members of one sex, usually women, have suffered particularly because of discrimination in the past and which merit special treatment, or positive action, to help overcome barriers to equality. Section 47 therefore enables positive action in the form of discriminatory vocational training for women only (or for men only) to help them enter particular work in which they are under-represented or to re-enter the labour market after bringing up their families. Only the Manpower Services Commission, industrial training boards and other training bodies which are specially designated by or on behalf of the Secretary of State can take advantage of this section as it now stands. Applications for designation have been increasing rapidly over the last three years, so that now over 170 bodies have been designated. A wide variety of training is covered, including engineering, construction, management and enterprise, and much of it qualifies for financial assistance from the European Social Fund. There is no doubt that this training plays a valuable part in encouraging women to undertake work usually considered to be men's preserve.

The aim of this clause is to do away with the need for the designation process and to enable a wider range of people to run such courses, while maintaining the other requirements of the section which ensure that this departure from the principle of nondiscrimination is not abused. The designation process has caused extra paperwork for training bodies and for my department, and has not brought to light evidence of abuse. I see no need for its retention. Training will still have to comply with the strict requirements of Section 47, and this will be enforced, like other forms of discrimination, through the established processes for individual complaint.

The clause also enables "any person" to offer training under Section 47, instead of only "training bodies". This previous restriction caused problems for organisations whose main function was not training; local authorities have been a prime example of this. There now seems no need to restrict training in this way, provided employers do not use the provisions in order to discriminate in recruitment of employees. Subsection (4) makes clear that Section 47 does not enable employers to discriminate in offering employment at the end of a training course or in order to train, although they will, of course, still be able to offer discriminatory training to existing employees under the terms of Section 48 of the Act. I ask for your Lordships' support of the clause.

Moved, That this House do agree with the Commons in the said amendment.—(Lord Young of Graffham.)

7.30 p.m.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, I have little to say on this amendment. It is yet another example of deregulation. The Secretary of State is quite right; it was generally welcomed in another place as a way of encouraging still more single sex vocational courses for women. It was said in another place that there are no single sex vocational courses for men, and that is an indication that things are moving in the right direction. Quite clearly there are a number of jobs and areas with professional qualifications and craft skills where we all want to encourage the provision of more training for women; and if that is to be done by single sex vocational courses, that is the way it should be done. I merely want to make one or two points and see whether the Secretary of State can reassure me on any of them.

It has never been explained to us how the operation of the designated procedure restricted the growth of courses. It may have lead to many more pieces of paper; it may have lead to one or two more civil servants; but it does not seem to me that there is evidence that it restricted the growth of courses. If it did not restrict the growth of courses, will the removal of the designated procedure in itself lead to a growth of necessary courses? I wonder whether there is evidence that the designation procedure restricted growth.

Secondly, and more importantly, we are not told—at least we were not told in another place, and, with respect, we have not been told so far in this House—how the individual complaints system will work. The Minister in charge of the Bill in another place said that there will be an individual complaint procedure, which means that any individual who considers that he (since there are no single sex courses for men) has been excluded from a course which is a single sex course can complain because the provisions of Section 47 of the Sex Discrimination Act have not been abided by.

That sounds all right as it is but when I look at the provisions of Section 47 it comes to my mind that it is extraordinarily difficult for any male who thought that the criteria of Section 47 had not been observed to make an informed judgment on this. For example, one of the criteria to ensure that one should be given a designated authority for doing this is that nobody of a given sex is doing that work. Another criteria is that, even if nobody of a given sex is doing that work, comparatively few people of that sex are doing that work; or if not comparatively few people of that sex in the country as a whole, in the area where the course is being put on comparatively few people of that sex are doing that work.

Another of the criteria to be looked at is whether the training should be confined to those with domestic or family responsibilities. The fact is that those criteria in the Sex Discrimination Act were intended to be operated centrally. They were intended to be operated in effect by the department, which was the only body that could say in any informed sense how many people of a given sex were doing the work, whether comparatively few were doing the work, and so on. I do not see how there is to be any enforcement procedure. I cannot imagine how the individual complaint will work or what information the complainant will be able to gather which will show that the individual who is running the course is breaking the provisions of Section 47. I look forward to the answers of the Secretary of State.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, anxious as I am to promote the work of my department and the number of civil servants to whom we give gainful employment, I fear that I must take slight issue with the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. We have had no evidence so far that the requirement of coming centrally has held back or hindered the growth of these training courses. As I said in my opening remarks, the number has grown very rapidly in the past three years to 170 bodies. We have done extremely well—far better than any other nation—in looking for European Social Fund assistance, for example, for women's training. We even have a course now coming before us which is confined to training for men only. It is growing well. Therefore it is important to let the numbers multiply. I am very glad to welcome the change so that "any person" can offer training instead of only training bodies. That will open up training to local authorities and other interested parties; those whose primary function is not training.

I should like to deal with the main question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. Any individual who thinks that he or she has beeen discriminated against in the employment field by any sort of training body—even by the Manpower Services Commission or by a body designated by Section 14 of the Sex Discrimination Act— can complain to an industrial tribunal. Complaints about other kinds of bodies would be heard by a county court. The most important matter is that we should allow the volume of training to multiply. This clause will reduce an unnecessary impediment and I hope that your Lordships will agree with me.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, the commission welcomes this clause, which will widen considerably the opportunities for both educational institutions and others to make special provision for the minority sex where there have been few or none involved in a particular occupation over the past 12 months. Over the past few years, as my noble friend said, the Government have actively encouraged institutions seeking designation so that the number now designated has more than trebled over the past three years. Nevertheless the procedure is cumbersome and time consuming for both the institution and the Government.

If this relaxation of the regulations, which also provides for the widening of its scope to include other bodies, results in more provision to encourage women into non-traditional fields of work such as engineering or the new technologies, that would be to their advantage and to that of the nation in doubling the pool of people who can achieve skills that are already scarce. That must help their own prosperity and that of the nation. I welcome the clause.

On Question, Motion agreed to.