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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Meg Munn): Many employers recognise the benefits of flexible working and almost a quarter of employees have some form of flexible working arrangement. The Government encourage flexible working by providing detailed guidance, promoting the benefits and sharing best practice. The right to request flexible working, which was introduced in April 2003, has proven a success with employers and employees. The Work and Families Bill proposes extending the scope of the existing law to include the carers of adults.
Mr. McGovern: I welcome that response from my hon. Friend. I also welcome the Government's efforts on the part of families with caring responsibilities and the recent announcement on paternity leave. However, does she share my concern that, for a father to qualify for additional paternity leave, the mother must give up some of her existing right to take 12 months' maternity leave? Would it not be fairer and, indeed, simpler to give the father the paternity leave as a matter of right?
Meg Munn: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for welcoming our policies. The Government have looked carefully at the situation and consulted on the proposals. We believe that it is appropriate for one parent to care for the child, not for twowe must be mindful of cost, of courseand that such families can make the decision based on their own circumstances about whether they prefer the mother or the father to care for the child after the first six months.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Labour market flexibility for employees as well as employers is clearly vital to the health of our economy. However, given that more than 90 per cent. of companies employ fewer than 10 people and that they account for more than 50 per cent. of the private sector work force and generate two fifths of our national output, will the hon. Lady say something about what the Government intend to do to incentivise such small and medium-sized companies to deliver flexible working arrangements, given that they often want to do the right thing, but find it financially and logistically more difficult than their larger counterparts to do so?
Meg Munn: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and important point, but many small businesses are some of the best at reacting flexibly because they must do so to keep their staff and to work around such needs. However, the Government are aware that we can do more to help business, which is why we propose to ensure that employees give two months' notice of returning from maternity leave. Proposals are in place for proper consultation on whether someone wants to work flexibly if they have a child under the age of six, a disabled child or caring responsibilities, so that the needs of both the employer and the employee can be considered properly.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Barry Gardiner): My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Education and Skills announced on 31 October that four UK industries are to get national skills academies. This includes a manufacturing skills academy, which will create a single focus for the delivery of globally competitive engineering and manufacturing skills to help UK manufacturers across the country to compete and prosper in global markets.
Mr. Austin: Nowhere is manufacturing more important than in the black country, where a third of jobs still depend on the sector. Will my hon. Friend consider what more can be done to encourage young people to acquire the skills needed to pursue careers in industry, manufacturing, research science and design? Will he and his colleagues come to Dudley and visit Boss Design and Thomas Dudley, which are two world-beating local companies that show that with innovation, investment, new design technology and products, Britain still has a future in manufacturing?
Barry Gardiner: I thank my hon. Friend for the invitation to visit Thomas Dudley. I remember that he referred to it in his maiden speech as one of the local companies in his area that was investing in new technology, developing new products and opening new markets. The key point is that if we are to create such products and jobs, we need the skills to feed into those industries to develop innovation in line with our research and development perspective. I recall that my hon. Friend made boosting skills in his schools, work forces and trade unions his No. 1 priority as a Member of Parliament, and I am sure that he will deliver on that pledge to his constituency.
The Minister for Women (Tessa Jowell): Women are seriously under-represented as executive and non-executive members of FTSE boards. There has been a small increase in the proportion of such women over the past five years, and the next FTSE report on that will be published later this month. Given that 30 per cent. of managers are women, the reasons behind that under-representation are almost entirely due to the factors that comprise the glass ceiling, which set a challenge both to business itself and the Government.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply. While we obviously need to encourage more women to apply for such posts, does she agree that it is men who at present have the power to alter the position of women in the workplace? Does she think that we should be targeting our work at them?
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Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Firms that have taken purposeful steps to increase the proportion of women working at senior levels and on the board have seen an improvement in the standard of their corporate governance. She is right that the message must be, "If you recruit more women, your business is likely to become more successful."
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Meg Munn): I welcome the publication this week of "Delivering a Diverse Civil Service", which will accelerate progress towards a more inclusive civil service. My Department measures the progress of women reaching the senior civil service through the gender equality public service agreement.
David T.C. Davies: Is the Minister aware that each year Government Departments squander an absolute fortune on all sorts of politically correct equality schemes? Let me cite two random examples: the NHS is spending more than £1 million a year on an equality unit, while in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 10 people who could be sorting out the agricultural crisis are manning a diversity unit. Does not the Minister think that she would do better
Mr. Speaker: Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a new Member, but his lead-in is just a bit too longhe needs to be a bit sharper with his question. I think that the Minister has got the message.
Meg Munn: We have the message clearly that the hon. Gentleman does not support equality. We know that in the past he has attacked the ethnic business support programme and the minority ethnic women network. It is a pity because only this week the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), said:
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Contrary to the reactionary attitude of the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), will my hon. Friend tell me what action her Department is taking to ensure that it is in the lead on this matter? Is she encouraging fathers within her Department to take up their responsibility for caring within their own families, rather than just leaving it to their wives?
We have just been talking about the Work and Families Bill. Obviously the civil service, and the Department of Trade and Industry in particular, have an interest in ensuring that a great deal is done to support all parents, whether mothers or fathers, to take leave to look after their children. The civil service is doing particularly well in certain respects, although we can always do better. For example, of
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550,000 employees, 44,000 come from black and ethnic minorities, which is considerably better than the figure recorded in many other sectors.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May I ask the Minister to reflect on what, unfortunately, I think were unhelpful and partisan remarks vis-à-vis equality? I think that all Members across the House believe in equality, but many of us have concerns when the Government begin to undermine equal rights by introducing special rights. That causes division.
Meg Munn: I have already highlighted the division that is apparent on the Conservative Benches rather than on the Government Benches27 per cent. of Labour Members are women. If action by the Conservative party came anywhere near to achieving that figure, that would be very good.
Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): Of course the purpose of monitoring is to drive change. I am concerned that public authorities are not necessarily moving very quickly. I was appalled to find that my police force in Cleveland was next to the bottom of all forces in the recruitment of women officers. If we are to deal satisfactorily with real causes of concern such as domestic violence and sexual offences, it is imperative that we have high numbers of women police officers. I shall chase Cleveland police now, make no mistake about it. What steps will my hon. Friend take to ensure that public authorities move into a higher gear on recruiting women?
Meg Munn: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that question. We need to do a great deal more in the public sector. To that end, the Equality Bill will introduce a public sector duty to ensure that all public sector authorities perform equally for both genders in terms of employment and the services that they deliver.
Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): The Minister will be as disappointed as I am that the 1998 targets set by the Government were not met for senior civil servants. Does she agree that it would be useful to encourage women to enter the fast-track civil service scheme? Does she share my disappointment that the percentage of women entering that scheme has dropped by 10 per cent. over the past three years? What measures will she introduce to redress that balance?
Meg Munn: I agree with much of what the hon. Lady has said about the importance of getting women into the fast-track civil service stream. The public sector gender duty should ensure that greater efforts are made to increase their number.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that Government Departments need to make the best use of all available talents and that the services of Government Departments will be much improved if they make use of the diversity of the population? Is my hon. Friend concerned, as I am, that the senior civil service does not represent women adequately? What steps will she take about that?
My hon. Friend makes an important point in that public services best serve the population
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when they reflect that population. We are continuing to set challenging targets, which we strive to meet. Our civil servants are also committed to doing that. Along with the public sector duty, those targets should help us to make better progress.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): May I assure the House that the Opposition believe in equality of opportunity, even for people from Wales? Does the Minister believe everything that she said about equality of opportunity in the public sector? Government Departments are the agent of the taxpayer, so will she go further and require companies that are awarded contracts by Departments to take equality of opportunity into consideration?
Meg Munn: The hon. Lady raises an interesting issue. The Women and Work Commission, which is looking at the gender pay gap, has done some interesting work on procurement and will produce a report in January, which, I hope, will include recommendations to develop those proposals.
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