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One of the things that struck me about this interesting debate was the widespread support for the concept of closing the gender pay gap and ensuring that women and men have equal opportunities. That is very welcome, and it is welcome to get support from the other side of the Chamber. Once the point is conceded that progress is desirable, we have to consider how it can actually be delivered in practice.

Something that worried me ever so slightly about some of the remarks made by some Members was that I did not hear an understanding of the concept of discrimination, or of the multiple issues that discrimination raises in a society and the consequent necessity of tackling it through legislative means and in other practical ways. However, the fact that we all agree that the gender pay gap and equal opportunities are important is a good basis from which to start.

I congratulate the Select Committee, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff). His remarks, though short, set out in full his appreciation of the work that has been done. He clearly made the point that it was not he who did the work, but a Sub-Committee of his Committee. It is excellent that he has taken the time to be here for the whole of the debate, even though he should have been in two other places, and to listen to the follow-through that this opportunity has provided in respect of the work that has been done, which was led by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber). She chaired the Sub-Committee that produced the report. It is excellent that both she, with her erudite and knowledgeable contribution, and the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire, who oversaw the entire process in his role as Chairman of the Select Committee, were able to be here. Both contributions were excellent.

I also thank other Members for their contributions and interventions. Not all of those who intervened are still here, but the interventions were all useful, and we have had an interesting debate. I shall take some time to reply to some of the points that have been made, and then I want to say something about where the Government are in respect of the new equality legislation that will be introduced.

There were some exchanges between the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire about whether legislation, some kind of nurturing and support, or some other non-legislative means of making progress were required. They seem to have agreed that all three were required. Given that we still have to overcome centuries of inequality to close the remaining gaps—which, although narrowed are still too wide—I believe that we all accept that. It would be foolish to suggest that there is one easy, magic-bullet solution that would deal with all the problems, not least because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley said so clearly—there is a great deal of evidence and much work has been done in this respect—the gender pay gap and gender inequality are multiple and complex issues that are not susceptible to just one policy resolution.

There are many fronts on which we must fight to deal with the remaining problems, close the gender pay gap and end the gender inequality that we still see in our society. There are many ways to move forward. The Government welcome support from Members across the Chamber on policy that will work to make a difference.
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We all want to make a difference and close the gap. I shall deal with some of the specific points that hon. Members made and then say a little about our plans for the future, particularly the equality Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley made the point—I believe that other Members did as well—that this is not just about fairness, although fairness in society is tremendously important. There is nothing more off-putting to a young girl than to see she has not been treated fairly because of her gender. Young people and children are susceptible to the issue of fairness; they know when something is not fair. Unfairness can make a deep and lasting impression that can undermine people’s confidence and may, if they think there is no chance to fulfil their potential, remove their capacity to fulfil it. Some of the most powerful experiences that girls have are things that pigeonhole and stereotype them in their early life. That can be a powerful disincentive to trying to break through those barriers and do the unexpected. It is important to tackle such issues at that level.

Hon. Members’ points about education and careers guidance are tremendously important, but so are the points made about expectations among families—those of parents and relatives—about what young people will do when they grow up. The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) wanted to be a signalman when he was growing up. I wanted to be a Member of Parliament. I fulfilled my ambition and here he is—an MP, not a signalman. I do not know if he ever was a signalman.

One reason why I am in this place is because my parents told me that I could do whatever I wanted: I just had to decide what I wanted and they would support me. That can make a tremendous difference in anybody’s life. We have to ensure that we focus on these influences, including expectations and stereotyping, which can start early in life.

Glenda Jackson: I agree with what the Minister says, but equally that stereotyping goes on long beyond the point of being a young girl, into being a young woman.

We have all had experience of ringing public companies and our first contact with that company, whatsoever it is, is usually a young woman on the telephone. If that young woman is asked a question that is outside her tick-box paper in front of her, she is completely and utterly lost. The point that I am trying to make is that companies do not spend sufficient time, effort and money training those young women. That underlines, yet again, the young woman’s sense that what she is doing is irrelevant and that for her to want to be anything more than just somebody who answers the phone is a complete waste of time.

Maria Eagle: I agree with my hon. Friend to the extent that she is right that there are expectations in society and roles and jobs in life that are undervalued or less valued than others. Part of the reason for the part-time pay gap is that women are crowded into jobs that are undervalued and less valued. That is one of the complexities that we face in closing some of these gaps. It is not just easy and simple to say, “Let’s have equal pay.” If 80 per cent. of part-time workers are women and part-time pay is a lot lower, then it is not a surprise that more women are underpaid than men.


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We have to tackle these issues across the board, not just because of the importance of fairness in our society, as my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley said, but also, as a number of hon. Members said, because it matters to our economy and its health and to our society as a whole that we make the most of the resources that we have. Our biggest and best resource is our people—all our people, not just the men.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I mentioned how other countries are doing much better in terms of training, skills and retention than we are. In considering the problem of how to upskill our work force, whether women or men, will the Minister look at some international comparators? I particularly commend how the Germans manage to retain skills and train people for the workplace.

Maria Eagle: Yes of course, in trying to solve these problems we should look at international experience and ensure that we have the fullest possible understanding of what needs to be done and what works. There is no point reinventing the wheel. We look at international comparisons and try to find the best way forward in respect of all these matters.

Richard Younger-Ross: The Minister’s light-hearted jibe a moment ago about my expectation to be a signalman and hers to be an MP touches on a serious point: it is about expectation. When I was a young lad, in my teenage years I lived in a 22 ft by 7 ft caravan. There was no expectation that someone from such a background would become an MP. Changing people’s expectations of what they can achieve is important, whether it is a matter of social inclusion or gender that is the bias.

Maria Eagle: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not for one moment suggest that only gender is stereotyped. People can be stereotyped for other features in their lives. Being from a poor or deprived background may also lead to a lack of aspiration and expectation, but being from a black or minority ethnic community background may not: being the son or daughter of an immigrant may mean that there is more aspiration in the family. These things are not simple and easy to compute and they do not always translate directly from the stereotype into success or failure in job terms. That is one reason why the consequences of stereotyping and discrimination are quite difficult to tackle and remove.

It is indubitable that we are making progress but we accept that we need to do more, and so do all hon. Members in this Chamber. The fact that we wish to do so is welcome. Now all we have to do is work out precisely how and then march forward to a better place, because that is what we are looking to do in respect of this issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley made some points about these matters being cross-Government and she is right. She is right to suggest that it would be a good idea for Select Committees dealing with other Departments to take an interest in this matter. I am sure that she will use her good offices to encourage that and that hon. Members in this Chamber who are involved with other Select Committees will do the same—as Ministers do, by the way. Part of my job in the Government Equalities Office is to get hold of other Departments where equality issues matter and focus their minds on
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doing something about this agenda in their day-to-day work. That is partly what the Government Equalities Office does and that is, partly, now my role as a Minister.

A great deal can be done, but always and everywhere we have to keep reminding policy makers and civil servants that these issues should be high up the list, not low down the list, or off it altogether, because it is simple for them to slip if those things are not always in mind. It is important to have women at high levels in the civil service and in Parliament across the board—I encourage Opposition parties to get many more women into their parliamentary parties, as we have, although we still need to do better—because women will keep raising this issue. I am not saying that it never happens in a room full of men, but this subject is not necessarily as high up the list if there are no women involved.

We all bring our life experiences to the jobs that we do, whether we are signalmen on the railways or MPs. That is why it is important to have better representation at all levels, whether on company boards, in ordinary work forces in small or large companies, in Parliament, in the council chamber, in policy making or the health service. That is why we need diversity. It is not because we just want some numeric equivalence to the general population, but to try to ensure that we tackle discrimination that has arisen not necessarily deliberately—society has not been set up to discriminate—but as a result of the way in which it has been run in the past. Only by tackling those issues everywhere where we come across them can we eventually make the progress that we want to make.

Glenda Jackson: I do not agree that society was not set up in a discriminatory way: it most certainly was. It has moved on, but we have not gone all the way yet.

Will the Minister raise the idea with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that it could, for example, begin to encourage the people who make television programmes, or those who publish magazines that target young and teenage girls, to set up role models that are not, as someone mentioned earlier, a kind of Barbie doll and begin to proselytise for those careers and professions in an interesting way?

Maria Eagle: My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, and I shall take it up with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I am sure that that she will take it up with every journalist and editor she talks to, and everyone who is involved in that. We must all take such issues up with those who are spreading stereotypes.

Peter Luff: I am so grateful for the comment made by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate. I acquired some infamy when I was new to this place because during my first Parliament I introduced a Bill about teenage magazines for girls. My chief objection to those magazines was, and remains, the complete lack of aspirational role models. They portray women as sex objects who dress up and look pretty to win men and to have fun. They contain no aspiration whatever, and I wish that their publishers would include at least a page or two of aspiration with the other nonsense that they carry.


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Maria Eagle: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point very well, and I do not think anyone would disagree with him. More power to his elbow when he is talking to the editors of such magazines. We can all do our bit in that respect.

Judy Mallaber: I totally agree with the passion of the last two comments, which were good and strong ones.

Another advantage or change arising from ensuring diversity is that it may lead to a different style of working. I am not suggesting that women may not be incredibly argumentative, tough, nasty and so on, but when I stood as a parliamentary candidate, both my Liberal Democrat and Conservative opponents were women, and I was conscious that, although they were by no means shy or retiring, the style of our debates was slightly different. We did things in a different way, and that may have advantages. A room full of men, as opposed to a room full of men and women, has a different atmosphere, attitude and way of going about things.

Maria Eagle: I agree with my hon. Friend. The more styles and different approaches there are, and the more they reflect life in the real world, the better.

Reference was made to the causes of occupational segregation, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) and Opposition Members mentioned careers advice, work experience and placements that try to tackle segregation when young people are deciding what they are interested in and seeing what the world of work is like. I agree that we can do more, and we are working on that. It is difficult to change the attitudes of parents and families, which may be powerful and influential in forging the approach of young people to their own lives, but we must do more about that, and the Government agree with the Sub-Committee’s approach.

Richard Younger-Ross: A problem with work placements, particularly in construction, is that boys, let alone girls, are not being taken on because of insurance problems. If we cannot get young people into work experience, we shall not overcome the hurdles. Will the Minister consider how the Government could deal with the insurance issues that arise from people doing work experience on construction sites, in factories and so on?

Maria Eagle: I will certainly take that up with my colleagues in the relevant Departments who are tackling the issue daily.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley asked about the Ofsted review of practices in flexible adult education. That work is ongoing, and I cannot give a time scale for publication, but I shall try to find out what the likely time scale is. I understand that there is not, as yet, a planned publication date.

Various hon. Members referred to apprenticeships, and in January the Government set out their plans to expand the number and range of apprenticeships in England, including proposals to increase the take-up and completion rates of apprenticeships by learners who are currently under-represented in the programme. We recognise the under-representation, and are trying to ensure that it is tackled. The Learning and Skills Council is spending £16.5 million to fund up to 8,000 adult apprenticeships this year for priority groups,
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including women and people from ethnic minorities who seek to enter a career in areas where they are under-represented.

The equality Bill—I shall say a little more about that later—provides the capacity for those choosing between equally qualified candidates for jobs to consider the make-up of the work force. That is called positive action in some places, and to my mind it is obviously important that companies that want the benefit of having more women in their work force and a better and more diverse mix of skills and people may want to make that choice, and why should they not do so overtly? We shall consider that in the upcoming legislation.

My hon. Friend also referred to the quality part-time work initiative and the fact that her Sub-Committee had wanted rather more money for that than was found. I acknowledge that that was said. The 12 pilot initiatives that were funded have taken place in different sectors, and we are expecting a final report on them soon. I cannot yet say exactly what impact each one has had, or whether they have been successful and made a difference, but we should have some idea in the not-too-distant future of how they did because they have now finished. My hon. Friend may know that we have reconvened the women and work commission, which can consider the outcome of those pilots, and no doubt it will have something to say to us when the report comes back to us, which we expect to be in the spring 2009.

Judy Mallaber: Does the Minister agree that a serious problem, not just in this area of work but in many areas, is that we are often good at having pilot projects or something that lasts for perhaps three years in our constituencies—we have good ideas—but we are not as good at working out how to roll out the best bits in the long term so that the good ideas stick and last? Is she considering that in the various areas mentioned in the report?

Maria Eagle: Yes, we need to see how well the quality part-time work pilots went, and I cannot yet give an answer on that because we are considering the matter at the moment and the final report has not come to Ministers. Obviously, we do not want to fund initiatives that do not make a difference and do not work. When we know what works, we shall have the opportunity to use our mainstream funding for training—it will come mainly from the Departments for Innovation, Universities and Skills and for Children, Schools and Families, and the Learning and Skills Council—to try to ensure that we address the imbalance of how well courses relate to the needs of men and women. If we have evidence, it will give us an opportunity to use mainstream funding rather better, and that is very much the answer to my hon. Friend’s question.

It is not always the case that one should or could find another £100 million, £12.5 million or whatever is required to do something if one has found out through pilot projects that something works and there is a big programme, such as LSC’s, of rolling out workplace learning and training. There is no reason why the money that it is spending should not take account of what works and what is needed in the economy. One hopes to go forward in that way, but I am not yet in a position to tell my hon. Friend how things have gone.


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