Previous Section Index Home Page

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): This has been a very interesting debate, and I am delighted to be able to take part in it. I have always considered international women’s day a time to audit—to consider the successes, to take stock, and to be vigilant to ensure that we do not slip back. Time is limited so I will not talk a lot about vigilance; I want to concentrate on the successes. However, having heard the comments made by Members in all parts of the Chamber about carers and caring, about work, pay and pensions, about prisons and violence, and about all the other issues that have been raised, we are right to be vigilant, and to make sure that there is no regression. We should continue to push forward and make progress with the equality that everybody wants, whatever their perspective. I can see nodding heads, and I am absolutely delighted about that, because the idea that we all want to move towards equality, from whatever direction, jars with the comments made at the beginning of the debate by the
6 Mar 2008 : Column 2001
Minister for Women and Equality. I think that they were slightly ill-judged, and she may regret them when she reads them in Hansard tomorrow.

Some of the debate has rightly focused on the House and its composition, which is an important subject. The right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who is no longer in the Chamber, made the point that the Scottish National party has no women Members at present. That is absolutely right; we do not. It is a matter of some regret to me, not least because 25 per cent. or so of all SNP MPs ever elected have been women, some of whom have been particularly notable. I will speak about some of them later.

Of course, the House of Commons is not the only legislature to which women choose to be elected. It is useful and instructive to look at what is happening in the Scottish Parliament in all parties, particularly in ours. Talented young women such as Shirley-Anne Somerville and Aileen Campbell have been elected, through the list system, to the Scottish Parliament to do their politics. Experienced politicians such as Tricia Marwick and Angela Constance beat Labour incumbents in Central Fife and Livingston to do their politics there. Roseanna Cunningham and the late Margaret Ewing, who were both MPs, sought election in the Scottish Parliament. When we see women—and, interestingly, men as well—from all parties choosing to go back to the Scottish Parliament, perhaps the time has come to look again at what that Parliament is doing to make itself such an attractive proposition in comparison, perhaps, with this wonderful place. Although we finish early tonight, I shall not see my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter for the fourth consecutive evening. Perhaps we should look at some of the issues again.

Ms Katy Clark: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that at the moment there are 13 women Scottish National party MSPs, about 27 per cent. of the parliamentary party. That is fewer than the party had in 1997. The SNP does, however, have a tradition of high-profile women representatives. But is the party trying to get better representation in the Scottish Parliament as well as here?

Stewart Hosie: Like all parties, we are doing that. Earlier, a helpful comment was made about the various ways in which the different parties are trying to resolve the issue according to their traditions. I have not been the national secretary of my party for some time, but when I was, I wrote the guidelines for the avoidance of discrimination at the selection-meeting stage. There is a whole process to be carried out—not least the mentoring and training done by the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives and the route that the Labour party has taken. I pay tribute to the Labour party; being an institutional party with big power blocs, its mechanism was perhaps the only one available to it to solve the problem that it saw.

It is useful to consider the high-profile nationalist women elected to the House of Commons. When Winnie Ewing was elected in 1967, there were 26 women in the 1966 intake; when Margot MacDonald
6 Mar 2008 : Column 2002
won the Govan by-election in 1973, there were still 26 women in the 1970 intake. When Margaret and Winnie Ewing won again in February 1974, they were two of only 23 women in that intake. When Roseanna Cunningham won in 1995, there were 60 women in the 1992 Parliament, and when Annabelle Ewing was elected in 2001, there were 118. There are now 126 women, just short of 20 per cent. of the total number of MPs.

The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) mentioned the compositions in the Scottish Parliament, and they are instructive. In 1999, 2003 and 2007, there were 48, 50 and 43 women respectively—37 per cent., 39 per cent. and 33 per cent. Those figures are not perfect, but they are better than the ones for this place. There is much to be done and we need to get equality, but those Scottish numbers are significantly better in all years than Westminster has ever achieved.

Linda Gilroy: Does what the hon. Gentleman has mentioned not have something to do with the Labour Government’s commitment in the devolution process to achieving such an outcome?

Stewart Hosie: The people of Scotland were right to choose the settlement that they got; if one party wants to claim credit, it can go ahead and do so. However, with the greatest respect, I should say that the Scottish people campaigned for devolution and voted in a referendum for the settlement that was finally delivered.

Jo Swinson: On the issue of the difference between voting in respect of the Scottish Parliament and here, does the hon. Gentleman accept that, although not a panacea, the proportional voting system can help improve women’s representation through the list mechanism? It would, for example, be embarrassing to have a purely male list for a region.

Stewart Hosie: That is absolutely right. The system also offers possibilities for zipping on the list as a mechanism, for example, for improving the gender balance. I am sure that all parties will continue to consider such issues.

The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran mentioned the number of women in the Scottish Parliament. More than a third of the Scottish Government is made up of women, and they are not just making up the numbers. Linda Fabiani is the Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture, Fiona Hyslop is the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning and Maureen Watt is the Minister for Schools and Skills. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, Nicola Sturgeon, is ably supported by Shona Robison, the first-class Minister for Public Health.

Jo Swinson: Declare your interest.

Stewart Hosie: I will do so. My wife, as the Minister for Public Health, can normally get home in the evening to see her daughter, even if it is late. I suspect that even women and men Members who live close to London find such a thing impossible, particularly on Monday and Tuesday evenings—or nights, or early following mornings. That matter should be reconsidered.


6 Mar 2008 : Column 2003

In addition, the leaders of the Opposition Labour and Conservative parties in the Scottish Parliament are both women. This is my one bit of partisan politics today; while Annabel Goldie is leading the Tory group with some style and panache, I fear that Wendy Alexander is not performing to quite the same level and, sadly, has been undermined by the man who lives in 10 Downing street.

The 2003 intake to the Scottish Parliament, approximately 38 per cent. of whom were women, was quoted by someone who has been mentioned earlier today. Hillary Clinton said:

in paying tribute to the leading role of women MSPs in shaping the policy agenda within the Scottish Parliament and Scottish governance. That is vital; it cannot just be about numbers, but about what can be delivered with those numbers. I think Hillary Clinton was absolutely right.

That 38.75 per cent. figure was recognised as the third-highest level of women’s representation in legislative assemblies in the world. I understand also that the Inter-Parliamentary Union regards any Parliament with female participation above 30 per cent. as noteworthy and exceptional. The numbers I have described are good, but they show that Westminster would receive “must do better” on a report card.

Since 1918, in every single election in Scotland to every seat, only 34 women have ever been elected and I am proud that five of them were from my very small party. Most impressive of them all was Winnie Ewing, who won the Hamilton by-election, without which there would not have been the pressure for devolution and now the Scottish Parliament. She was also elected to three legislatures: to this place twice, to Europe three times—she was appointed the first time, in 1974—and to the Scottish Parliament, where she became the Mother of the House.

I said I wanted to talk about successes and I shall do so in relation to two successful women. The first was Muriel Gibson, who died sadly in 2005 aged 92. She rose to become a lieutenant-colonel in the Army. That was highly unusual; she was the exception that broke the rule. The second is another lieutenant-colonel, Kate Howie, who won a Perthshire council by-election two weeks ago, with 60 per cent of the vote. I was wrong when I said that I had only one bit of partisan politics; Labour got 3 per cent., which I think is worth putting on the record. She also became a lieutenant-colonel, but her achievements—rising in the military, her civilian career and her success in the election and in the council chambers—are now normal. In the modest time scale from Muriel Gibson to Kate Howie, the change is extraordinary and we should celebrate the fact that women can now succeed in any walk of life they choose. We must not be complacent, but this sort of success is normal.

In 1967 Winnie Ewing said:

a slogan some of us are still campaigning on. On 12 May 1999, as the Mother of the House in the Scottish Parliament, she said,


6 Mar 2008 : Column 2004

I can think of no better measure of success than that it was someone such as Winnie Ewing who reconvened that Parliament, which has delivered so much in the way of opportunity for women to engage in politics at a national level and in delivering the kind of policies that women in particular—men as well—need. I hope we will all continue to push—here, in Scotland and elsewhere—not just to better the lot of women, but to better the lot of the whole of society.

5.4 pm

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): It is a particular pleasure to speak in the debate under your chairwomanship, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have fond memories of speaking when we were celebrating the struggle of the women chain makers in your constituency on the issues of low pay, a minimum wage and women’s pay.

Virginia Woolf said:

That is rather a good quote. International women’s day and the struggle for the franchise were intended to ensure that women were no longer anonymous or unrepresented, and that women’s voice was heard and their concerns acted on. I am proud that in Derbyshire, of the 10 MPs, four are Labour women. I am pleased that in the new 11th constituency, the Conservatives have adopted a woman candidate. I am glad that they have come on board, as the woman whom they have selected has for many years complained about the barriers that she encountered in trying to be selected as a Conservative candidate. We are all familiar with those barriers. I am proud that one of our Labour women in Derbyshire was the first woman Foreign Secretary, as has been mentioned.

I shall focus on women in work and the gender pay gap. I refer the House to the just published report from the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee, entitled “Jobs for the Girls”. It was drawn up by a Sub-Committee which I chaired with the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) and my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood (Roger Berry) and for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas). We know that there is still a stubborn pay gap.

It is particularly good to discuss that issue in a debate on international women’s day. As we have heard, the celebration of international women’s day originated in the United States as a result of the industrial struggle in a period of huge expansion and turbulence in the industrialised world. The first march took place in the States in 1909, after 15,000 women had marched through New York city, demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. Today it is particularly relevant to talk about women at work and the struggles that we still face.

Today we are celebrating achievement and considering the direction in which we must still go. There has been great progress. When I first became involved in promoting the interests of women, one was regarded as a lunatic feminist if one thought that balancing home and work commitments was an issue or a priority. Indeed, in the House I have been called a Stepford wife because I spoke about us promoting our policy of equal rights for part-time workers, on which we still have a long way to go. I found it odd that I was
6 Mar 2008 : Column 2005
attacked for promoting the Government’s policy, as it had taken about 20 years to persuade my own party to adopt it. It would have been strange for me not to support it.

We have made progress. Now it is not regarded as mad to talk about the work-life balance; now that is almost sanctified as a policy. I was pleased that when we were drawing up our policies before the 1997 election, and our prospective Chancellor, now the Prime Minister, was being careful not to make too many uncosted financial commitments, one of the first two priorities that he identified was child care. He understood that it was not just a moral and ethical stance to promote child care, but that it was an economic issue. It is crucial that those are linked.

That is what our Committee report has done. The work originated under the Trade and Industry Committee, and we started it partly because of the economic problems associated with the pay gap. In the press release that I put out when launching the report, I said:

That gap is very stubborn and difficult to deal with, although we have made some progress. As I went on to say, the gender pay gap

We need a determined battle on every front if we are to make further progress.

One area that was referred to in our report, with which I was involved in a previous capacity when I worked for the then National Union of Public Employees, was the campaign for the minimum wage, which has been so important in starting to equalise pay for some women, and in starting to break down the pay gap, particularly at the bottom of the pay scale. In my union, that issue had been campaigned on for decades by an enlightened general secretary who made the case for county road men. It took a long time for us to recognise that it would be an important issue for women. It was a long struggle to get the labour movement to accept that we should intervene, and to get that acceptance across the spectrum. As has been said, the change was opposed vehemently in this House, and I am pleased that it is now recognised that the change was of great importance for women. I recognise, however, that there are still difficulties with regard to enforcement and so on.

I hope that people will look at our Select Committee report, and that there will be further debate on it in Parliament. The report covers a range of issues, and I have time to tackle only a few. We looked at the implementation of the recommendations of the Women in Work Commission, set up by the Government and chaired by Baroness Prosser. It has been said that we need to look at a range of areas, not just legislation, if we are to promote equality and make further advances.

I shall just canter through a few of the issues that we raised, some of which have been touched on. We considered the fact that one of the key factors in the
6 Mar 2008 : Column 2006
gap between men and women’s pay is occupational segregation: men and women going into different areas of work. It was said earlier that educating women and girls was critical. Of course that is important, and it is important internationally, but girls have been doing well in education compared with men, and there is still a pay gap. That is because of the terms under which women go into employment, the jobs that they go into and—a point made by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove—the way in which that gap persists among similarly qualified people even five years after graduation.

If we are to break down barriers, one of the early things to consider is education. We considered two issues: work experience placements and careers advice in schools. Those should not just be an add-on for a teacher; more resources and effort need to be put into those practices. The YWCA has come up with a number of interesting ideas, including the need to try different work placements at school. I welcome our huge programme to expand apprenticeships, and I also welcome the fact that, within that, it has been recognised that we should examine the work into which boys and girls, and men and women, go.

In one of my local schools, a girl wanted to go into construction because she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps—he was in the construction industry. She was put off by her family, who said, “No, you can’t do that”, even though they should have looked upon her following her father as a matter of pride. I also met a young woman in an engineering company providing signalling equipment for the railways, which was very proud of the fact that she had been taken on as a young apprentice. It adopted her—they thought that she was wonderful and hoped that she would carry on. There are good examples, and less positive ones. I hope that we can do more to promote the idea of women going into more traditional areas of work.

There are not so many opportunities for older women to reskill if they want to go back to work. We looked at work done by Ofsted, which has examined whether courses are provided in a flexible way.

When we asked Baroness Prosser about her key priorities she highlighted one that has been raised today: the dearth of good quality part-time work. A report last week showed how women managers, wanting to work part-time after having a baby, see their opportunities and chances for qualification plummet because they are made to take jobs at a lower level. There has been a quality part-time work initiative, and the TUC and CBI said to us that they hoped that full funding would be provided, as recommended by the commission, to promote that initiative. We have to get beyond pilots and extend those initiatives across a broader range of the economy.

We considered legal changes because there was a feeling that the discrimination law review had not found the answers. If we continue not to make strong progress, we will have to examine again compulsory pay orders or extending the gender equality duty to the private sector.

Apart from flexible working, public procurement is a good tool for considering ways in which to promote equality. The Olympic Delivery Authority is currently examining that. It is possible to use some of the power of public authorities over contracts and the provision
6 Mar 2008 : Column 2007
of services to promote women’s equality. That harks back to arguments about what local authorities did many years ago in some places with contract compliance. Further work could be done on that.

I hope that we can examine the Select Committee report further and some of the issues that it raises. The matter is complex and requires considering all aspects of a range of subjects. We need a massive culture change if we are to make further progress. I hope that hon. Members in all political parties will commit themselves to such progress.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Several hon. Members are still hoping to catch my eye—I know that they have been waiting patiently. May I please ask for shorter speeches so that, I hope, everyone can make a contribution?


Next Section Index Home Page