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The important thing is that we can close the pay gap by providing protection for those who are discriminated against. The positive duty to promote gender equality is extremely important, and it is obvious that that requirement will need to be extended. I am looking forward to the outcome of the findings of the women and work commission because I want to see what it says about pay audits and to find out how we can close the pay gap. We need compulsory pay audits and pay plans to ensure that we can end pay discrimination systematically over a period.
The Low Pay Commission should be given a specific remit to narrow the gender pay gap as part of its deliberations on the national minimum wage. I would support more training and development opportunities, particularly for women who work part-time. We should simplify our equal pay legislation so that it is more user-friendly. I welcome the Bill as the starter to the main course that will put the final legal structure in placethe single equality Act that is yet to come. Such an Act would deal with some of the problems of our existing anti-discrimination law, which is complex, piecemeal, sometimes mutually inconsistent, under-inclusive and needs updating.
In total, 30 Acts of Parliament, 11 codes of practice, 38 statutory instruments and 12 EU directives have a bearing on our anti-discrimination legislation. With the best will in the world and with the best employers and employees in the world, it is difficult to untangle the plate of spaghetti that that leaves. We need to ensure that we simplify, so that those who want to ensure that they do not discriminate can follow the law more easily.
I look forward to the single equality Bill and to my hon. Friend the Minister publishing the results of discrimination law review. I should like all strands of our anti-discrimination legislation to be consolidated to
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make it more proactive, more preventive, more effective and simpler for everyone to understand. I look forward to speaking on the Second Reading of the yet to be announced single equality Bill, which is a manifesto commitment, and welcoming it as the final piece in the jigsaw that will ensure that everyone has the right to protection from discrimination simply on the grounds of skin colour, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, age or disability. We can then be proud of what the Labour Government have done, following in the footsteps of our great pioneers, such as Barbara Castle. I look forward to that time. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on introducing the Bill. I wish it a safe and speedy passage.
Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): Liberal Democrat Members welcome the Bill, although that is not to say that it is perfect by any stretch of the imagination. It was improved during its passage through the other place, and we will work together in Committee to improve it further.
A strengthened human rights remit is probably the way to tackle the problems of prejudice and discrimination generally. We have the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Disability Rights Commission, but with the three new strands, it is important that the approach to the problem becomes unified. We need a bottom-up approach, rather than a which-bit-of-legislation-can-we-use-now approach, because that will be the only way of tackling the common problem of multiple, or cross-strand, discrimination.
The Fawcett Society produced a report in January called "Powerless, poor and passed over", which examined the experiences of black and minority ethnic women. It shows that the experiences of those women are often overlooked because studies focus on either race or gender, but not both. It highlighted the lack of data on gender and ethnicity combined.
The report also found that women experiencing domestic violence often had to contact agencies 11 times before they received the help that they needed, but black and minority ethnic women had to contact agencies an average of 17 times. If we are talking about the pay gap, women of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin earned 56 per cent. of the average salary of a white man. There are clearly many problems that must be tackled.
Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): The hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) made some excellent points by referencing statistics from the Fawcett Society. It is important to examine the pace of change of the disparity between what women and men are paid. The pay gap between full-time workers has moved by just 0.6 per cent. over the past year to 17.2 per cent.I think that my figures are slightly more updatedand the gap between female and male part-time workers has moved by just 1.1 per cent. to 38.5 per cent. Given that rate of change, it will take 80 years, or even a century, for women to catch up with men. The point that I would like to make is
Those of us who are regular attendees at questions to the Minister for Women and Equality
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are well aware of the statistics cited by the hon. Gentleman. Although the full-time pay gap has narrowed since the introduction of the Equal Pay Act 1970, the big problem that must be addressed is the fact that the part-time pay gap has narrowed little.
I welcome the Government's attitude towards the Bill and the spirit in which they have worked with all the stakeholders and agencies involved. Talking to people in preparation for the debate has been illuminating because most of the organisations seem fairly happy with what has been achieved so far. That makes it a challenge for Opposition Members to come up with major points of difference[Interruption.] There are always some luddites in the House who do not want any change, but the Front Benches of all three parties are as one on the Bill. I hope that that spirit is allowed to prevail in Committee.
It is worth paying tribute to some of the changes that the Government allowed during the passage of the Bill through the other place. They accepted an amendment to outlaw discrimination in goods, facilities and services on the grounds of sexual orientation, and that is very welcome. However, the issue of transgender people has been raised today, and it seems inappropriate to kick that into the long grass. It would be more useful to address that during the passage of the Bill.
The Lords also improved the Bill so that the elimination of harassment is included in the gender duty. However, the Equal Opportunities Commission has raised concern that the interpretation of harassment is worryingly narrow and will leave some without protection under the law. An example of a woman working in a local authority leisure centre who is harassed by a customer has been cited. Her employer clearly has a role to play in doing all it can to prevent and deal with such a problem, but even under the proposed harassment provisions the woman would have no grounds to challenge her employer if she felt that it could have done more to prevent or deal with harassment unless she could prove that the employer would have treated a similar complaint from a male member of staff more favourably or show that it would have taken different action in similar circumstances. It seems an unintended consequence of the Bill that an employer could therefore fail in equal measure to protect its male and female staff but not be held to account for doing so. That clearly needs to be addressed further in Committee.
Provisions in section 73 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 were missing from the draft Bill, but that has been partially addressed. That power allowed the Equal Opportunities Commission to tackle persistent discrimination, but there is still some way to go, because the Bill has been amended to give the commission for equality and human rights the power to apply for an injunction if it thinks that discrimination is likely to take place. That sounds positive, but in previous cases an early court or tribunal ruling would have been made. The tribunals in particular have built up great expertise in such cases, so by limiting the power to the courts, expertise and familiarity with discrimination law currently found in tribunals could be lost. Will the Minister confirm when she sums up that additional support and training will be provided to the courts that
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might have to become involved in such decisions? There are also some concernsI am not sure whether we can be reassured on this todaythat discrimination cases could be less successful in the courts.
I very much welcome the fact that the Secretary of State's direction-making powers have been removed, because many stakeholders feel that that has reasserted the independence of the CEHR from Government interference, and that can only be welcome. However, all is not rosy. Some concerns have been raised and it is worth running through them, because they will form the basis of discussion in Committee.
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