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16 Oct 2008 : Column 341WH—continued

The last measure that I want to mention, which is very important, and is a subject dear to the heart of the Select Committee, is public procurement. We have raised the matter on several occasions. There was one day when we were in Brussels and the officials there were very hazy about whether public procurement could be used to promote social objectives or whether that would be anti-competitive. We took the view that the advice given by the Office of Government Commerce is far too timid and that it could be the case that public bodies are indeed required to meet the gender equality duty and could be in breach of it if they failed to ask their suppliers and contractors to demonstrate active commitment to equality principles. They cannot necessarily
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ask them whether they have equal numbers of men and women, but they could be asked about a commitment to equalities principles and to showing that they have procedures to deal with those. In that context we are talking about £160 billion of contracts; the draft equality measures give a higher level than we had thought. There should be some requirement for those who obtain contracts to promote social objectives, particularly those that are set out in law, such as health and safety and equalities.

Public procurement is potentially a powerful tool for action. We are certainly very pleased that the Government have taken it on board. One relevant example is the Olympics Delivery Authority, which uses the approach in relation to social objectives. I met the person who deals with contracts for one of our biggest construction companies, who said that, far from there being a problem with including social objectives through public procurement, it was hoped that they would win some Building Schools for the Future contracts specifically by promising to deal in a big way with apprenticeships and training, and promoting that in the community. The hope was that it would be a plus point towards winning a contract, not that it would be anti-competitive and prevent their winning it. It was seen as potentially a positive way forward and certainly not something that would hold back industry.

There are many recommendations, and there is much more in the report, precisely because it is such a massive area, and it is hard to know where to start. It is a matter of working on all fronts at once. A number of actions have been taken, but it would be useful to know about further developments. Sometimes it feels depressingly as if we have made no progress, but at the last international women’s day debate a fellow MP gave me a 1943 guide to hiring women, which I liked. It was written for male supervisors of women in the work force during world war two, and had several useful passages:

than those flighty ones who have not got married yet. There are ten of these pieces of advice. I like this one:

I am sure that there are some workplaces where one would still find some of those attitudes.

Glenda Jackson: You are not a million miles from one of them now.

Judy Mallaber: Yes, this place might be one—but when I found the sheet of advice again yesterday I thought that perhaps we are making some slight progress. I shall hold up those attitudes as examples of what we aspire to remove everywhere we go, but I hope we have moved on a bit beyond them. We can perhaps make a little more progress on some other issues, too.

The report is a good one. There are many recommendations and many people are doing a lot of hard work, but it is a massive area with an awful lot
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more to do. We were disappointed with the initial progress, but we were encouraged, as we continued, with the steps that were taken. I should be interested to hear further comments on those steps and where we are going.

3.17 pm

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): This is an important debate on an important report. I congratulate the Committee on that report and in particular I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) on leading the work on the report, and on her tireless work on the issues. Like her, I sometimes feel that we have a seamless process of meetings and debates, and I wonder where we are getting. However, from what she said we can see that we are making progress, if more slowly than we might wish.

There is obviously still a long way to go to close the pay gap. I am sure that the report is a step on the way. In Wales—and this will interest you, Mr. Williams, and my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith)—the gender pay gap between full-time workers is 12 per cent., but there is a staggering 31 per cent. gap between the pay of a full-time male worker and a part-time female worker. That is obviously unacceptable. My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley has already described how part-time work is undervalued. I welcome her emphasis on the Government’s getting back on track and getting part-time work valued more than it is now. Because women make up the overwhelming majority of part-time workers it is obvious that they suffer from the devaluation of part-time work.

We all know why women are the part-time workers: they are still the main carers. Despite some welcome changes and a move towards men playing more of a role in the family, particularly with young families, women are still the main carers in society. That means that they do unpaid work as carers and if they can work in part-time jobs they are paid at a lower rate than if they were in a full-time job. Women are hit both ways in that respect and it is important that the Government should get on track in valuing part-time work. I should like to hear what the Minister will say about steps to be taken about that.

We have already discussed the Committee’s recommendation that the right to request flexible working should be gradually extended to all the work force. I am glad that the Government have extended that right to parents of older children and to carers of elderly or disabled relatives. However, there is a case for considering extending that right to every member of the work force because it would have good results in every respect.

As I said earlier, it is important to see how such a practice is working on the ground. According to Government figures, there have been a lot of successful requests for flexible working. It is great that that has happened in a voluntary way. However, for some women, flexible working does not work so well in practice, so we need to examine the matter further.

As my hon. Friend has already said, the key to reducing job segregation is education. We need to give young people the chance to see all the opportunities that lay before them at an early stage. Not long before
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its absorption into the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission in Wales produced a document entitled “The Apprentice: Making genuine career choice a reality”, which showed that young people, especially young women, were not given appropriate advice about the opportunities that exist that would give them a genuine freedom to enter any occupation. Arriving at the situation in which women feel that they can do any job is a huge step, but one that we must reach. We need to take small steps to get there.

The EOC report showed that women were guided into traditional careers, even though more than 80 per cent. of the girls said that they would be interested in considering non-traditional jobs. Therefore, at an early stage, women are interested in going into other areas, but they do not get the opportunity or the advice to do so. My hon. Friend referred to a very important proposal, which also came out in the Committee’s report, that young people should do two work placements, including one that is non-traditional. Male students should have the opportunity to take up child care placements and female students should be able to take up engineering placements. That is important not only for men and women but for the future of those industries. I was interested in what the Chair of the Committee said about his interest in engineering. I know that at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, there is a dearth of students applying for its engineering course. The university has frozen those courses while it sees whether any more students will come forward. When only 50 per cent. of the possible applicants apply for the course—that is because many women do not even consider going into engineering—it could partly explain why there is a huge problem for such courses.

Glenda Jackson: I am very interested in the engineering issue. A few years ago, there was an event in the House of Commons organised by a federation of companies, particularly marked towards engineering and water. The representatives were bewailing the fact that insufficient numbers of young women were applying to become engineers. I said, “Why have you not approached them on the level that they would be of enormous benefit to the developing world?” Every young person that I know is passionately committed to helping the developing world. There may be an element of the industries themselves being unimaginative in they way in which they try to attract our young people to their particular disciplines. They should look at the problem in a more imaginative way.

Julie Morgan: That is an extremely important point. Employers and people who run engineering courses should try to capture young people’s imaginations. Talking about the developing world and the passion that young people have is one of the ways in which they could do it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley also made an important point when she said that we should think not just of women going into non-traditional occupations but men as well. Such a practice would help to boost the wages in those occupations as well as providing male role models in areas such as nursing, child care and primary education, which is hugely important. The issue of primary education has come up a lot in my constituency and I am sure that it has in other constituencies as well. In many primary schools, all the staff are women. It is obviously not good that
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there are no male role models, so we need to make a concerted effort to encourage boys to go into teaching, and into primary schools in particular.

Another report that was produced by the EOC before it went into the larger commission in Wales was entitled “I Want To Fulfil My Dream”. It looked at the opportunities that are available to ethnic minority girls and women. Some of those points are covered in the Committee’s report. The EOC report showed that black and minority ethnic women in Wales are frequently at a double disadvantage with wider pay disparities than white women, and a lack of role models. They are also limited to certain types of job because they have to take account of family influence and religious and cultural restrictions. I hope that the Minister will consider ways in which we can open up opportunities to black and minority ethnic women.

The EOC report showed that the restrictions on work opportunities brought about by family and cultural pressures resulted in some good financial consequences. Some of the women felt that they were being pressurised into so-called respectable jobs such as dentistry and optometry, which are relatively well paid but reflect a narrowing of choice. After reading the report, I felt that the idea of restricting women and girls to respectable careers was confined to the minority ethnic population. I was thinking back to the south Wales valleys and the feelings of the miners in particular who wanted their children to go into the white collar occupations, such as teaching and medicine. Generations of teachers came from the Welsh valleys. There was a strong instinct of wanting to get children into safe and respectable occupations. It is important to raise the point about the restrictions placed on black and minority ethnic women in particular and I hope that the Minister will take it up.

I want to refer briefly to the modern apprentices. Huge opportunities exist to reduce gender segregation in modern apprenticeships. In fact, women take up fewer modern apprenticeships than men, so they start off at a lower rate. The opportunity is there to reduce that segregation. For a number of years, I presented the prizes at the Young Apprentice of the Year Award. The occupations covered by the award were mainly plumbing and engineering, and there was not a woman in sight. I always used to ask the employers whether any women were up for prizes. There never was and there never has been. Yet the employers said that they wanted to have more women taking up apprenticeships, but they never did. They were well-meaning, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) said, they did not go out and capture the imagination of women and girls to encourage them into their fields. That is what we must do. We must make a huge effort to capture imaginations, and the earlier we can do that the better.

In conclusion, this report will move on the debate. Step by step, we are moving towards a better situation. It is taking a long time, but I am sure that the Minister, who has taken up her new post, will give all her enthusiasm to try to move things along.

3.29 pm

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab): I congratulate and thank the Select Committee on Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform for enabling my
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hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) and her colleagues to produce this interesting report.

In the main, I agree with practically everything that has been said, although I must admit that I have my doubts about role models, because I am of a generation raised almost exclusively by women. They were my only role models, as all the males in my environment were away fighting in the second world war. Those women managed to run the country as well as their homes and families with great expertise. Of course, once the war was over, as at the end of the first world war, they were patted on the head and told politely, “Thank you very much for all your hard work. It was marvellous. Now go away and do what you do best, which is look after children and cook.”

We have moved on slightly from that position, but this debate prompted me to revert to my early days in this place. I looked up our debates from 1993 on sex equality and from 1994 when, for a short period—I am happy that the practice has been restored—the House would debate women’s issues on international women’s day. I was rather shocked that, despite all the good work that our Government have done and the major changes that our party has made to encourage and support more women in putting themselves forward for election to the House, we have not moved very far. There is still an enormously long way to go. My hon. Friend said that it would be 80 years before we achieved equality of pay. That is much too long.

The Labour party made huge strides in ensuring that more women were given the opportunity to present themselves to constituency parties, to be selected and to present themselves to the electorate for election to this place. In Government, we have broken down so many barriers. In a speech in the House in 1994, I made the point that a woman had never been Home Secretary. We have certainly broken through that barrier, and there is no Department of State that is not more than well represented by female Ministers—they are excellent—but when we come to evaluating women’s work as having innate value, we still have an enormously long way to go.

There have been changes; that is a theme that I wish to develop. For example, it is now entirely acceptable to see female doctors on television, whether in a soap opera or answering questions. We see female lawyers, female barristers and occasionally female judges, and women in the armed forces, but it is rare to find a woman plumber. It is even harder to find a woman electrician. They do exist; they have a confederation based in London and the south-east. It is extremely difficult to get one to come do a job, as they are always inundated with work because the quality of their work is so high.

One of the training schemes in my borough, Camden, ran classes in those skills. Initially, they were coeducational—men and women worked there together—but after a few weeks, the women were made to feel so uncomfortable by their male colleagues that they left, so the local authority set up segregated classes. For the introductory year of the programmes, whether for plumbers, electricians, painters and decorators or carpenters, women worked exclusively with women. By the second year, they could take on the men with no problem, and they had no trouble completing their courses.

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That brings me back to another point. Not only is women’s work undervalued in this country, but women undervalue themselves. They do not believe that they are capable of doing anything and everything. It must have been 25 years ago that there was a falling roll because we were having fewer children. Business, industry and employers in general were concerned to attract mature women back into the work force. The BBC, which had an educational film unit—I do not think that it has one anymore—made a series of films in which I was the link person.

I remember distinctly one session in a major employment agency that was working hard to get mature women back into the work force. It had set up a series of seminars around the country. One interviewer said to me, “A woman came in to speak to me and I said to her, ‘What have you done?’ She said, ‘I’ve not done anything. I left school, I worked for a couple of years in an office and then I had the children. I’ve raised the children, I’ve run my home and the kids are all away in university now.’” The interviewer asked her, “Well, what have you done in the last three months?” She replied, “I haven’t done anything in the last three months. I’ve organised a wedding for 300 people.” The interviewer said, “But don’t you realise that those are major skills? A price can be put on them and they can be actively evaluated.” She had not realised that. That is an attitude that still informs women, and society as a whole, far too much.

The matter on which I want to concentrate—it is of vital importance, and the Committee touched on it—is education. If, as I suspect, school careers officers now are pretty much like careers officers when I went to school, which was a very long time ago, the job is given to a teacher who has a spare hour every afternoon and has no particular responsibilities in any area. That is not good enough. We need properly skilled, properly paid, highly motivated individuals whose sole interest and purpose in life is to broaden their pupils’ horizons about what is actually out there in terms of interesting jobs and professions, whether those pupils be girls or boys. I am concentrating on girls at the moment.

A week or 10 days ago, as part of the excellent House of Commons educational programme for young people, I was asked to take questions because the MP for the schools touring the Palace that day could not meet the pupils after the tour to answer their questions. I said, “Yes, I’ve got a spare hour or so; I’ll come along and speak to them.” There were dozens and dozens of highly intelligent, attractive young girls and one solitary boy, and they asked interesting questions—when I eventually got them to ask some.

All the girls, with the exception of six, were taking courses in child care. That was what they wanted to do. A teacher said to me, “Why are the Government not encouraging boys to enter child care?” I said, “We are”—we are clearly a Government committed to equality across the range—“but to transfer your question to my constituency and the families that I know, nine times out of 10 it is parents who don’t want their daughters to do any job that will get their hands dirty.” It is parents who push the caring professions, which we were all raised to regard as the natural field for women to work in.

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