HL Deb 17 December 1987 vol 491 cc867-9

1.50 p.m.

The Earl of Arran rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 23rd November be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has considered the order. The draft order is intended to make changes to Section 52 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Article 53 of the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 which are necessary to implement the requirements of Article 6 of the European Council's Directive 76/206 on equal treatment of men and women as regards access to employment.

This requires all persons to have the right to obtain an effective remedy in a competent court against measures that they consider to be contrary to the principle of equal treatment for men and women.

Section 52 of the 1975 Act and Article 53 of the 1976 order exclude from the scope of the legislation acts done for the purposes of safeguarding national security. The Northern Ireland order goes wider excluding also the protection of public safety and public order. Subsection (2) of Section 52 and paragraph 2 of Article 53 allow the Secretary of State to certify that an act was done for these purposes. A certificate is conclusive evidence on this point.

The consequence of the draft order will be to remove from the certificate of procedure "employment and vocational training". Such issues will remain excluded from the scope of the legislation when national security needs to be safeguarded, but an industrial tribunal will be able to review such a claim in the light of exceptions to the principles of equal treatment laid down in the equal treatment directive.

The background to this is that in 1980 the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary decided that contracts of women members of the RUC's full-time reserve should not be renewed. Such contracts continue to be offered to men as before for service in the RUC full-time reserve. This action was challenged in the industrial tribunal with the applicant seeking an order declaring her rights and the Chief Constable's rights in relation to her employment and compensation. Before the hearing, the Secretary of State issued a certificate as provided for in Article 53(2) of the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 stating that the refusal to offer full-time employment was for the purpose of safeguarding national security and protecting public safety and public order. The effect of the certificate was to preclude any consideration of the merits of the case. Following submissions of the parties to the proceedings, the industrial tribunal decided to refer to the European Court of Justice the question of the compatibility of the certification procedure with European Community law. The European Court subsequently found that the issue of a certificate by a national authority which had the effect of excluding the exercise of any review by the courts was contrary to Article 6 of the equal treatment directive and that acts of sex discrimination done for reasons that related to national security or the protection of public safety or public order must be examined in the light of the derogations from the principle of equal treatment laid down in the directive.

The draft order has been prepared to enable us to ensure that United Kingdom law conforms with our obligations under Community law. Because we are concerned to meet this obligation by the most direct course, we are taking action under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 which permit amendments that are necessary to fulfil European Community obligations to be made by statutory instrument.

As I have already explained, the European Court was satisfied that an act of discrimination which was done for the purpose of safeguarding national security or protecting public safety or public order is capable of being an Act which is exempted from the provision of the equal treatment directive so that amendments to subsection (1) of Section 52 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and paragraph (1) of Article 53 of the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 is not necessary. I invite your Lordships to approve this draft order to enable the United Kingdom to meet its obligations under Community law.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 23rd November be approved.—(The Earl of Arran.)

1.52 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his explanation of this somewhat complicated order. On our side, we welcome the order, and I have one or two small points to make. The Equal Opportunities Commission, of which I am a member, itself welcomes the order but hopes that when a suitable opportunity occurs it will be extended to the whole of the Act and not be limited, as it is at the moment, to those parts directly affected by the equal treatment directive.

Secondly, from these Benches we appear—certainly since I have been in your Lordships' House—to be engaging in piecemeal amendments to our legislation on sex discrimination as a result of decisions made by the European Court from time to time and our own obligations under European legislation. I draw your Lordships' attention to the survey of legislation which has recently been conducted by the Equal Opportunities Commission, and to their view that they believe that the present sex discrimination and equal pay Acts should be replaced when the opportunity arises by a new statute covering the same ground but taking account of the requirements of European Community law.

Finally, while I am sure all of us will regret the circumstances in Northern Ireland which gave rise to the original case, which is referred to in the explanatory note to the order, the fact remains that equality law is equality law, this is right in principle, and therefore we welcome the order.

Baroness Seear

We also welcome the order, and I should like to underline what the noble Baroness has already said. It seems a pity that we deal with the obligations under the equal treatment directive in a piecemeal way, and there is the impression that we grudgingly introduce into our legislation points put forward in the equal treatment directive. It would be very much better from the point of view of this country if we could give rather more of a welcome to these directives instead of fighting them inch by inch as we seem to do.

I also agree very much with the noble Baroness that it really is time that we consolidated our equal treatment in equal pay legislation. It has been adapted piece by piece over the years and is now a very confusing document to try to deal with. I believe it is high time that we had a consolidated Act bringing together those two Acts and the new measures which have come primarily as a result of the directives but also of initiatives taken in this country.

The Earl of Arran

First, I am very grateful to the general welcome from the Opposition Benches, and in particular I take very careful note—I have understood and listened to it carefully—of the two points of the noble Baronesses which have been made from their Benches.

On Question, Motion agreed to.