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26 Jun 2008 : Column 511

Ms Harman: The evidence is in front of the hon. Lady’s eyes. If she thinks that there is not a systematic, structural problem, how does she account for the fact that, per hour, women who work part-time are paid 40 per cent. less than men? Surely she cannot believe that a woman who works part-time is 40 per cent. less intelligent, less committed, less experienced and less hard-working than a man who works full-time. There is structural discrimination, which has been swept under the carpet, and we must expose and tackle it. Of course, the group that people belong to should not matter, but it does. That is why there is a pattern of entrenched pay discrimination, which we are determined to expose and sort out.

As for the question of women in the House of Commons, as I have said when I was first in the House only 3 per cent. of Members of Parliament were women. There were 10 Labour and 13 Conservative women MPs. We resorted to positive action, and we now have 96 Labour women MPs. The Conservatives did not resort to positive action, and over those 25 years they have increased the number of Conservative MPs from 13 to 17. At that rate, we shall never see equality. We must take positive action to ensure proper representation.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): Forward-thinking businesses, both large and small, understand that the provision of equal opportunities in recruitment will benefit them, because it will make them more likely to secure the best candidates. However, I am concerned by the rather light-footed way in which the Minister appears to be treading when it comes to forcing private companies to publish the gender pay gap. I urge her not to wait too long before using the powers in the Companies Acts to ensure that all of them do so. As she said, it would be a very easy and non-bureaucratic task, and would be extremely effective in exposing the companies that have still not entered the 21st century.

Ms Harman: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work as chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee. I expect the work of her Committee, along with that of the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee, to play an important part in helping us to develop our proposals. Our intentions are clear, and we intend to make progress with them.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): Britain’s faith communities will have noted that the Minister’s statement contained nothing about religious discrimination. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), the Government’s intentions in that regard are not clear.

The Minister will be aware that when the word “equalities” is used, it is not always clear whether it refers to equality of opportunity, equality of outcome or equality of esteem. She will also be aware that those equalities can sometimes conflict. What is clear from her statement, however, is that the Government’s general intention is to increase opportunities and life chances, which is a laudable aim. If a Bill is indeed introduced, ought she not to consider entitling it the equalities and opportunities Bill or, even better, simply the opportunities Bill?

Ms Harman: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point: if people start from very unequal positions, they do not have equality of opportunity. I thank him for supporting
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our overall aim. As he will know, we have already outlawed discrimination on grounds of religion and belief, and we plan to exemplify that in the Bill by embodying it in the public sector duty. However, we shall have to have further discussions on how that will work out, because it is less straightforward than including the public-sector duty on discrimination in relation to age.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her welcome statement. We have seen some mischief-making on the Conservative Benches, and today’s Daily Express has commented “White Men to Face Jobs Ban”. I should have thought that the Express would welcome the age-discrimination element in view of the age of most its readers, but will my right hon. and learned Friend please assure the House and the wider public that this is not a proposal to ban white men from jobs?

Ms Harman: I certainly will. I share my hon. Friend’s frustration at the deliberate misunderstanding that certain people want to engage in. The Bill is about promoting fairness and equality of opportunity.

Some people say that now that the economy is in some difficulties we cannot afford fairness—that we cannot afford to treat women or black and Asian people fairly. My response is that it is precisely when things are difficult—when the family budget is under pressure and people are feeling the pinch—that fairness becomes even more important.

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): The Minister said in her statement that the public sector would lead by example on pay. Does she agree that although the public sector has tried to lead by example over the past 10 years, it has not been able to do so because it has not had the funds, the flexibility or the systems to do so? Does she accept that there will be a cost, and that it should be borne by the Government, in ensuring that funds are available to close the equal pay gap in the public sector?

Ms Harman: Different parts of the public sector have made varying degrees of progress. When there is proper transparency in relation to the gender pay gap, the disability employment level and the employment rate of ethnic minority staff, public authority by public authority, we shall be able to see who has been making progress.

My hon. Friend is right to say that we need to make further progress on settling the backlog of equal pay cases. As he will know, the Department for Communities and Local Government has made available £500 million of capitalisation to enable local employers to do that. Half of them have already done it, but more progress is needed.

It is always difficult to sort out entrenched patterns of discrimination, but the best option is to sort them out and then move forward on an equal basis.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her statement. The Dumfries and Galloway elderly forum will be delighted by what she has said. I also agree with my hon. Friend
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the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who quoted a headline from the Daily Express. Today’s Daily Mail says that

Does that not belittle the work that the Government are trying to do, and does it not also show that those who write banner headlines of that nature have never been on the receiving end of discrimination?

Ms Harman: I am glad that there will be a welcome for our proposals in the Dumfries and Galloway elderly forum. I hope that all the elderly forums in the country that bring together the various agencies, voluntary organisations and pensioners’ action groups will work with us to ensure that they are implemented swiftly and effectively.

The challenge that I would issue to the Daily Mail is: who did actually write that headline? Who actually thinks, with a gender pay gap of 40 per cent., that women are more equal than men? That day might arrive, but it is certainly a long way off.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): In the last generation massive progress has been made in some professions, such as law, medicine and accountancy, but there remain unreconstructed areas such as financial services, on which my right hon. and learned Friend has focused. Perhaps she could also include information and communications technology. How will she tackle the defence from some employers in those sectors that there is a lack of suitably qualified and trained women to take the higher-level jobs? Should she not move further upstream, to the universities and elsewhere, to ensure that there is a reasonable range and mix of students entering courses on those subject areas? That is the problem that she may find in financial services and ICT.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is right: patterns of discrimination go back a long way. He mentioned universities. Fewer than one in 10 universities are led by vice-chancellors who are women, and although many women and black and Asian people are going into the legal profession, the higher echelons of the profession—as will be confirmed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General—still qualify as unreconstructed. Only one judge at High Court level or above is black or Asian, despite the existence of many able black and Asian lawyers. We really do need to make progress in tackling and exposing entrenched discrimination.

26 Jun 2008 : Column 514

Witness Anonymity

12.28 pm

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement following the judgment of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords, issued last Wednesday, in the case of Davis.

As the House will know, the Law Lords decided that there was not sufficient authority in common law to provide for the current arrangements for the admission of anonymous evidence, and said that this was a matter for Parliament to deal with by statute. The Government will therefore present a Bill to rectify the situation as a matter of urgency. I hope very much that it will be published next week, and that, subject to the usual channels, it will be debated and complete all its stages in the House of Commons during the following week. For reasons that I shall explain, it is essential for it to receive Royal Assent and come into force before Parliament breaks for the summer recess.

I am extremely grateful to the Opposition parties for their co-operation in this matter. I also fully appreciate that, like other Members, they will not be able to judge the merits of the Government’s proposals fully until the details are available.

The background to this statement is as follows. As long as there has been crime, criminals have sought to intimidate witnesses in order to avoid punishment. Criminal justice systems across the world have sought to deal with this problem. Criminals do not operate by the rules, but the rule of law requires that justice should not only be done, but be seen to be done. The right of a defendant to confront his or her accusers in open court has been a key feature of all systems of justice worthy of that name. That right should be modified only where it is fully justified.

In recent years, witness intimidation has become an all too common feature in crimes of a serious nature, especially those involving guns, gangs or drugs. Such is the fear that can be engendered by such criminals that entire communities in an area may be reluctant to come forward to give any evidence about what they know.

In the Court of Appeal judgment in Davis, the president of the Queen’s bench division, Sir Igor Judge, quoted the evidence of a detective who specialised in murder investigations. He said the following—I hope I shall be permitted to quote at some length:

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To deal with this situation, our courts had developed careful and proportionate measures by which the trial judge, where he or she believed it necessary, could order that evidence be given in such a way that the identification of certain key prosecution witnesses was disguised. In some cases, the key witnesses concerned may themselves have been involved in crime; others will be innocent bystanders, and still others may be, and are, undercover police officers or agents. In the Davis case, key witnesses were screened from sight of the defence, were given pseudonyms and had their voices electronically distorted.

In the Davis appeal, the Court of Appeal reviewed all of the circumstances, the common law authorities and the Strasbourg jurisdiction, and held that measures of this kind were both necessary and just to defendants in this case. Their appeals were therefore dismissed. In the House of Lords, their lordships took the opposite view. In the lead judgment, the senior Law Lord, Lord Bingham, said:

and common law authorities.

Lord Mance, who extensively reviewed the Strasbourg jurisprudence, said that he did not believe that the Strasbourg Court would

However, Lord Mance went on to say that the

and that the Strasbourg Court has repeatedly stated that the use of anonymous evidence is

And importantly, Lord Mance said it is not certain that

In other words, there should be caution about treating the convention, or apparently general statements by the Strasbourg Court, as containing absolutely inflexible rules.

All of their lordships accepted fully what Lord Bingham said was the “reality of the problem” of witness intimidation, “vividly described” in the Court of Appeal judgment. Lord Bingham went on to say that,

Lord Rodger said:

Lord Mance echoed these views. He referred to the experience of New Zealand and the Netherlands, which have introduced statutory frameworks for the use of anonymous evidence, and said that

Since the judgment was handed down last week, we have been looking urgently at how a statutory framework could operate, taking account of overseas experiences, not least that of New Zealand. Because of the urgency of the matter, the Bill is literally being drafted as I speak. The House will, therefore, excuse me if I now
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simply outline our thinking—although I may say that this unusual situation at least has the advantage that the draft can take account of comments made in the House and in the other place today, and it will do.

The essence of the scheme that will be published in the Bill is that the trial judge will have to be satisfied that the need for anonymity is established, that a fair trial will be possible and that it is in the interests of justice to make such an order for anonymity. There will also be other factors that the judge will have to consider in reaching this decision.

Parliament should never legislate at the speed at which I am proposing unless it is convinced that there are overwhelming reasons for doing so, but I suggest to the House that this requirement is satisfied in this case. Anonymous evidence is these days fundamental to the successful prosecution of a significant number of cases, some of which involve murder, blackmail, violent disorder and terrorism. Such cases could be jeopardised if we do not quickly fill the gap created by their lordships’ judgment. The Crown Prosecution Service is urgently conducting an assessment of the total number of cases in the prosecution pipeline that may be affected. Neither my noble Friend the Attorney-General nor I can yet give definitive estimates of the number of cases involved, but as soon as we do have such accurate estimates we will, of course, make them available to the House.

In addition to those cases in the prosecution pipeline, there is great concern among the CPS, the police and the wider public that a number of serious criminals convicted by a jury, whose trials satisfied article 6 and common law requirements, and whose appeals have failed, would seek to make use of the technicality of their lordships’ judgement to have their convictions quashed. The Bill will, therefore, contain measures to ensure that the appeal courts should not quash convictions solely on the basis that the trial court lacked jurisdiction under the common law to provide for anonymity measures. The aim is to ensure that defendants cannot take unfair advantage of this technical defect in the law, which until last Wednesday had been unidentified and unsuspected.

I will publish this Bill just as soon as it is ready, and I will arrange to hold an open meeting for Members of both Houses in advance of formal consideration in this House.

Let me finally provide an additional but important reassurance. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already announced in the draft legislative programme for the next Session the law reform, victims and witnesses Bill. We had for months planned in this Bill to provide a statutory basis for anonymous evidence. I can, therefore, give the following undertaking of what amounts to a sunset clause for this urgent measure: the provisions of this Bill, if passed, will be included in next Session’s Bill as well, so there will be a full opportunity for both Houses to give further consideration to this important area of the criminal process.

I commend the statement to the House.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I am grateful to the Justice Secretary not only for early sight of his statement but for the open way in which he and the Attorney-General have consulted the official Opposition as they tackled what we all agree is a very difficult question. We recognise that the Law Lords’
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judgment revealed a dilemma. On the one hand, the use of anonymous evidence has allowed witnesses to be protected and successful prosecutions to be brought. As Sir Igor Judge said:

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