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There were dozens of young girls there who were committed to what they were studying and wanted to be good at their jobs, and there were six girls—six girls out of three schools—sitting behind them. I do not believe that they were deliberately segregated. I asked, “What are they reading? What are they going to do?” They were reading law.

That is a tiny, anecdotal microcosm of a problem that we must get to grips with. We must concentrate much more on opening horizons to all our children, but particularly to girls. We must do it not only in schools—where I think we must start much earlier than 13, 14 or 15—but by working much more closely with employers and companies. Not infrequently, when a school looks at potential careers for its pupils, even if it is absolutely committed to opening every available door, it looks only at the doors available in its own immediate area of employment. Schools are not looking further afield. I can understand that, certainly now as the world enters a slowdown—I know that we are not allowed to use the R-word—

Peter Luff: Yes we are.

Glenda Jackson: Well you might, but I do not think that we are.

Maria Eagle: Yes you are.

Glenda Jackson: Oh we are! [Interruption.] I was not saying “allowed” in a political sense. I meant that I did not wish to make even more panic-stricken all those people who seem to be selling their shares. Okay?

The Government were quick off the mark to say that additional money will be made available for retraining people who lose their jobs. We should regard that—touching on another part of the report—as a silver lining in encouraging older women to retrain. However, that will be very difficult, because of the lack of confidence in women. The longer that a woman has been in one particular job, the harder it is for her to think, “Okay, I can retrain, relearn and develop new skills,” because she might not know that she has skills to develop in the first place. Often that needs pointing out to women.

We need a much more detailed approach starting much earlier in our schools. We also need to highlight the enormous potential value of a really good careers officer working much more closely with schools, local industries, businesses and, more broadly, the federations. I touched earlier on what I regard as a lack of imagination in the engineering industry in attempting to attract young women into training. We need more women in engineering, science and the boardrooms. Perhaps a changing world financial situation will encourage more people in the City of London who run banks to put women on their boards. Perhaps that could be one of the Government’s requirements on banks—that the money will not be passed over unless there are clear signs that there will be more women, not necessarily in the higher-paid jobs, but in those jobs where the important decisions are taken.

As a nation, we take what women do too much for granted, without paying them proper tribute. They do an enormous range of work that is undervalued and very often underpaid. Far too often, women are expected to simply grin and bear it and get on with it, but we have
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to acknowledge that to really open the doors for all our young women in the future, we will have to work quite hard on their parents and grandparents who still, in the main, would prefer them to take jobs where their hands are kept clean, and that will allow them to produce grandchildren and be near home so that they can always have them around.

A friend of mine once produced a huge series of articles on Henry Moore. Yet another enormous tribute had been paid to Henry Moore as one of the greatest artists in the world, and part of the series involved an interview with his mother, who at the time was a very old lady. The interviewer said: “You must be very proud of your son.” Henry Moore’s father had worked on the railways—I have a feeling that he was a fireman—and she replied, “I always wanted him to have a job where his hands were always clean.” I do not think that we have changed much since.

3.44 pm

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), who should be responding to this important debate on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Sadly, she has been called to her constituency on fairly urgent business. However, I have been well briefed and shall try to follow my brief closely, for fear of criticism afterwards.

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) talked about education, which reminded me of a joke that I like to tell on the dinner circuit. The police know that a man has committed a murder and that he will be at a certain house at a certain time. They enter the house and find four people playing cards: a teacher, a lorry driver, a scaffolder and a firefighter. They arrest the teacher. How did they know it was the teacher? Well, the other three were all women. It works on the circuit, because people in the pub or the hall do not think of the scaffolder, lorry driver or firefighter as being women. But they should do. The purpose of this debate is to help to move attitudes on so that in 10 years one cannot tell that joke, because it will not be funny—no one will think it odd that the lorry driver or scaffolder are women, or that the man is a teacher.

The Government are not helped when a Culture Minister remarks that little girls either want to be footballers’ wives or win “X Factor”—actually she said that they “only” want to be footballers’ wives or win “X Factor”. There are problems, but the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) made the point that 80 per cent. of young girls would be interested in other careers, and the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate said that given the opportunity they would pursue those careers, but that often parents and grandparents constrain them. The question is: how should we deal with that?

The Business and Enterprise Committee recognised that the gender pay gap has reduced, as has been said, from 17.4 per cent. to 12.6 per cent. over the past 10 years. That is good progress on which the Government should be complimented. However, I think that the calculation is that it will take 20 years for the full-time pay gap and 25 years for the part-time pay gap to be eliminated. Only 10 per cent. of FTSE directorships are held by women, and according to the calculation that I
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have, it will take 65 years to close that gap. There are things that the Government can do to affect those issues far more directly than they are currently doing.

As the report stated, 60 per cent. of women workers are employed in just 10 of 75 recognised occupations, with the heaviest concentrations in—hon. Members can guess it—the five Cs: caring, cashiering, catering, cleaning and clerical work. The Fawcett Society has labelled 30 October as “women’s no-pay day”, because, if we take account of the 17 per cent. pay gap, that is when their pay would stop each year. As we approach 30 October, this is an appropriate time for this debate.

Why is the glass ceiling so pervasive in the workplace? All too often in this country we have a working culture of “presentism”, whereby an employee’s worth and dedication are assessed by the number of hours that they spend behind the desk or counter, instead of by the contribution that they make to the business or employer. Following a private Member’s Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull to extend the right to request flexible working to parents with children up to the age of 18, the Government have gone some way towards that by announcing their intention to extend that right to parents with children up to the age of 16 and to carers.

As was rightly said, the lack of flexible working lies at the heart of economic inequality between men and women. When children come along, one parent has to look after them, and of course it is usually the woman. That is not necessarily wrong in itself, and I am not going to say that women should not look after their children if they wish to. However, they should have the opportunity not to do so and to work if they so wish. We need employment regulations that allow them to do that. It is easier for parents and carers if they can work flexibly. It is also easier if men can work flexibly so that they can take care of the children as well. It works two ways, because often both parents need to have flexible working. It is not just a matter of women being able to work flexibly.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is talking about the dearth of flexible working for women, particularly in part-time work. Does he agree that it appears that women find themselves at the brunt of poor conditions and pay and are disadvantaged in the workplace because they happen to have a different anatomy and the equipment to carry a baby to term? Does he agree that we are penalising not only those women who look after a baby, but all women simply because they hold the equipment for carrying a baby to term?

Richard Younger-Ross: I agree with that point. It is women who bear the child. I am told that at some point in the future it will be possible for men to bear a child—[Interruption.] I am sure that some people will read that and wince.

Maria Eagle: We are already wincing.

Richard Younger-Ross: Some scientific research was done on a male baboon in south-east Asia so that it was taken to within two weeks of term. That is not the sort of experimentation that I approve of, but it proves that
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it is medically possible for that to happen—[Interruption.] That knowledge comes from some of the Bills that one occasionally gets to work on in this place.

Hywel Williams (in the Chair): Order.

Richard Younger-Ross: I am being asked to come back to the subject matter and I take the point, Mr. Williams.

All too often, mothers are forced to accept poorly paid part-time work or to give up work entirely in order to fulfil their role in caring for their children. Eighty per cent. of women are responsible for looking after the children, compared with 17 per cent. of men, which demonstrates my point. Too many women are in jobs beneath their skill level. The right to request flexible working should allow women to fulfil their potential and ensure that business does not lose out on their talent.

Flexible working can be very good for business: it can reduce absenteeism, increase recruitment and retention, and reduce stress. It can increase staff well-being, which in turn improves customer service and satisfaction. Fears that flexible working might damage business are unwarranted, because a request can be turned down if a valid business case can be made for refusal.

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate referred to women-owned businesses. The Government state that they are unlocking the talent of women entrepreneurs and that that is at the heart of their new enterprise strategy, which included a £12.5 million capital fund for women-led businesses and a package for the support and promotion of women in business. I have to say to the Minister that £12.5 million is not an awful lot of money in that area.

Maria Eagle: It is.

Richard Younger-Ross: Well, I praise the Minister on the achievement of getting £12.5 million out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I think that she ought to try to get a little bit more because it is an important area. I am not sure whether that money was extracted by the Minister or by someone else who is not here. I know that getting money out of the Treasury is very difficult for any Minister, but I believe that more could be done if there was more money for that package.

Fortunately, organisations that help women entrepreneurs to get started and build their own businesses do exist. Prowess is one such organisation. It has helped more than 100,000 women looking to start or grow businesses every year, and has helped 10,000 women get a business off the ground, contributing an additional £1.5 billion to the UK economy. In the context of what women can contribute by starting businesses, the £12.5 million that the Government have made available does not seem very much. Prowess has supported the launch of 25,000 new businesses each year, 35 per cent. of which are owned by women. In the UK, women-owned businesses make up approximately 16 per cent. of the business stock and 27 per cent. of the self-employed population. Total early stage entrepreneurial activity rates for women in the UK are 3.9 per cent of the total working age female population, and the female entrepreneurial activity
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rate is only half the male entrepreneurial activity. In the USA, the female entrepreneurial activity rate is stronger—more than double the UK’s rate.

This year, a new organisation called WEConnect was launched to foster and register women-owned businesses in the UK. It enables companies that wish to consider procuring from women-owned businesses to search a register of companies. It started without Government funding, but, with backing from companies such as IBM, Accenture and Pfizer, which recognise the value of procuring from women-owned companies, it helps companies that want their suppliers to look like the people they supply to. The Government could do much to facilitate the growth of women-owned business by imposing quotas on procurement using taxpayers’ money. With little or no cost, the Government could lead that growth instead of letting global companies forge the way in exercising corporate social responsibility.

The reality is that there are barriers for women in business that men simply do not have to negotiate. There is unequivocal evidence that women-owned businesses start with lower levels of overall capitalisation, lower ratios of debt finance and are much less likely to use private equity or venture capital. The level of start-up capitalisation used by women-owned businesses is on average only one third of that used by male-owned businesses. Recent evidence from the UK survey of the finances of small and medium-sized enterprises reported that women were charged more than men on term loans—2.9 per cent., as opposed to 1.9 per cent. That must be addressed so that women can grow their businesses, especially at a time of financial instability.

As the report highlights, one of the reasons why girls have historically taken low-paid jobs is that they had lower educational attainment than boys, but that is not now the case, as girls are achieving and succeeding. So if girls are succeeding educationally, why are they not taking up the other jobs? We now have female doctors and lawyers as role models, which was not the case in the 1970s. The question of careers advice was raised earlier, and what is said to girls in school to enable them to realise that potential is important.

Judy Mallaber: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Sub-Committee heard evidence—I cannot remember from whom—suggesting that women’s pay levels five years after entering a job will be lower than that of the men in the same jobs, even though they started with the same qualifications? Many factors need to be tackled right along the line, because women are achieving well academically and at university, but that does not necessarily help when they get into the work force.

Richard Younger-Ross: The hon. Lady’s point is entirely correct, as were her earlier points about pay reviews. I know that the report refers to those difficulties and that it is being looked at. We need the assurance that people get equal pay for equal work. As I said earlier, extra effort needs to be made to ensure that pay scales are the same across the board.

When girls and boys are going through their teenage years, they think about what they will do in life. When I was a young lad, my father said I should be a train driver, but I said I wanted to be a signalman so that I could control where the trains went and not just sit on one. Then I wanted to be a zoologist. I remember that
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the girls at school wanted to be nurses or have similar roles. That has changed in part, but it is still girls who end up as nurses, and rarely boys who do so. When I go around the care homes in my constituency, I find that 80 to 90 per cent. of the care workers are Filipino women, because it is difficult to find people in the UK who want to do that work.

If I remember rightly, this Chamber used to be a cafeteria in the early 1980s—

Peter Luff: It was the Grand Committee Room.

Richard Younger-Ross: Well, the cafeteria must have been downstairs or underneath. I know that it was in this part of the building. The catering staff provide an example of this problem. Most of the people who served then were women, just as today most of the staff in the cafeteria are women, while the cooks in the back are men. Inequalities here have not been addressed by our procurement and employment practices.

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate mentioned plumbers. My point is that this issue is not just about highly paid, powerful jobs; it is also about getting girls into other careers. How do we get them to be lorry drivers and bricklayers and into the construction industry? That is where we are falling down. The idea that they all want to be Barbie dolls is not true. That is nonsense and an insult to girls.

We must face problems and consider what we can do in terms of business and procurement. There is no reason why this House should not encourage far more businesses that tender for work here to be owned by women. That could be done within existing legislation. When the House of Commons Commission wants building work done, it ought to try to get tenders from women-owned businesses, and ensure that the same happens with subcontractors. That can be done by this House and this Government; it would not require a long time to achieve that.

Maria Eagle: The employment practices of this House are dealt with by the Commission, not by the Government. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should be more accurate in his suggestions.

Richard Younger-Ross: It is within the power of Members of this House to affect the Commission. I am fairly sure that if the Minister were to talk to the Commission about employment, it would happily listen to her. She could use her influence on the Commission. I hope that it will take note of the comments that have been made in this debate.

I have taken up enough time. I know that the Minister will want to respond at length and that the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) will also wish to speak, but before I sit down, let me give a few statistics from a note that I received from the British Medical Association in response to the report. It notes that women have been practising medicine for 150 years and that more than 60 per cent. of medical students are women—so there has been progress. However, women still make up less than 40 per cent. of hospital-based doctors and general practitioners. Among medical academics, statistics show that only 11 per cent. of clinical academic professors are women and that 20 per cent. of medical schools do not have a single female
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professor. It says that in all strands of medicine, women have found that there is still a glass ceiling in career progression. Figures show that in 2006, in England, women accounted for 37 per cent. of medical hospital staff but only 25 per cent. of consultants. In surgery, only 7 per cent. of consultants were women in 2003. The BMA says that part of the difficulty is a lack of flexibility, and that flexibility in training has become worse. That is an issue for the NHS, and I respectfully suggest to the Minister that the Government can deal with that.

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