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5 Mar 2009 : Column 1031

Perhaps we have been granted an opportunity by our glimpse into the recesses of a private sector featuring the biggest pay gap between male and female staff, along with a huge discrepancy between the numbers of men and women employed in the top jobs: an opportunity to send the Government Equalities Office away to deal with those problems. We need to find whatever positive aspects we can, given the dire circumstances in which women are likely to find themselves. We cannot allow the advances of recent decades to be so easily washed away. We have experienced 11 years of fat—11 years of consecutive growth—but women clearly failed to share the benefits of those years of plenty, and we have to understand why their frustration is turning to anger as they hear that the extra protections against discrimination for which they hoped and which they need are suddenly too costly in a recession.

The question we must ask ourselves is “When is the right time to make the wrongs of inequality history?” Now is the time to take action, and I beg the Government not to be swayed from their purpose.

2.3 pm

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): In the year since the last international women’s day, we have marked the 90th anniversary of the date on which women first voted. As a member of the House of Commons Advisory Committee on Works of Art, I want to take the opportunity to plug again the suffragettes exhibition by the Admission Order Office, and to try to persuade all Members—including those who are not present today—to take their constituents, particularly their young women constituents, to have a look at the exhibits showing the struggles undertaken by the suffragettes to get us where we are today.

International women’s day itself resulted from the struggles in various countries for suffrage, peace and rights for working women. The exhibition shows Sylvia Pankhurst with working women, as well as Emmeline Pankhurst with the medal that she was awarded, and the suffragettes’ scarf that Emily Wilding Davison was wearing when she fell under a horse at Ascot and was killed while campaigning. Those struggles included the women chainmakers who are celebrated with events in your constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mrs. May: I wonder whether the hon. Lady welcomes, as I do, the work being done by the parliamentary education unit in relation to the photographs of women who are now in the House of Commons. Photographs were taken of women Members of each of the parties in the House. The hon. Lady may have attended the presentation of the photographs at the National portrait gallery, when I said that they ought to be taken into schools. I am very pleased that the education unit is working with Boni Sones and others to put together a package of material to teach people not just about the past but about women who are in the House today and to encourage young women to take an interest in entering the House.

Judy Mallaber: It was our Committee that had to agree to the photographs being displayed in Portcullis House and, in fact, the Committee bought them with
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money from the fund for art works here. I hope that we will secure agreement for them to be displayed permanently in the House. I agree with the right hon. Lady about the work of the education unit. I believe that I am supposed to be involved in the making of a videotape about the suffragettes’ struggle. It is important for us to commemorate our past and to think about how we got here, as well as thinking about our future.

I was struck by what the Secretary of State said about how we should communicate the ways in which we seek to help people in the current economic downturn. She mentioned using Take a Break magazine as well as debating it in The Economist. It should be made clear that we are not merely trying to give special help to women—as was suggested at the beginning of the debate—but seeking to help all people and take account of their specific circumstances. We all know that many of our constituents do not know how to gain access to support and advice. It is important to provide that support and advice in different areas and in different formats, such as the pamphlet that I have with me now.

I do not want to suggest that we know that women will be more or less affected than men when it comes to losing jobs. That will vary from area to area, depending on the gender and industrial make-up in those areas. In my constituency, jobs have recently been lost on the Conservative borough council, in a major manufacturing company and at Woolworths. I spoke to a couple who had worked at the manufacturing company. The woman had kept her job, while the man had lost his. One young man who had been made redundant after 12 years at the company came to see me with his mother and his grandmother, who said that when she had worked there many years earlier and there were redundancies, she had kept her job by agreeing to work full time. She had then realised that, as a result, one of the men would lose his job, because at that stage she was cheaper than he was. That position is no fairer than a position in which women suffer from unequal pay.

The situation is fairly complex. As has been said, Woolworths and the distribution industry have many women employees; on the other hand, Morrisons has substantially expanded its work force. We need to consider the ways in which particular groups and areas are affected, and how we can help.

I was pleased to be able to attend the women’s summit yesterday. I sat at a fascinating table along with representatives of the legal profession, business, the public sector and the organisation Refuge. We agreed that what was likely to happen was unclear, but a number of relevant issues were raised—some of which have been mentioned today—such as benefits, working times and flexible working, provision for child care and domestic violence. I shall say more about some of them later, but I want to focus particularly on what we should do now to ensure that when we emerge from the downturn we are in a fit state, both in terms of what the country needs and in terms of a better and fairer society and a better position for women in the context of many of the issues about which we have argued over the years.

I was stimulated yesterday by a visit to the “big bang” event at the Queen Elizabeth II centre. I do not know whether any other Members visited it, but it celebrated science and engineering, and was aimed particularly at schools. Many school groups were there. A range of organisations had stands there, including the Met Office
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and Rolls-Royce, which is in my area. School pupils displayed the pioneering engineering work that they had done, which was to be judged later. I believe that the winners are off to Downing street today.

I was inspired by that event. A group came down from Heanor Gate science college in my constituency. When I arrived at the centre, I discovered that that group was sponsored by Rolls-Royce, in the neighbouring Derby constituency. I was delighted to note that the science group included as many girls as boys. We have a problem enticing young people, and girls in particular, into engineering, manufacturing and science generally. I also went to the WISE stall—women into science and engineering—which was there to do various interactive things to encourage the girls there to take part. That was good.

We need to look at what will happen when we come out of the downturn, both to ensure that we have people—men and women—with the skills that we need to fill those gaps, so that we are not on the back foot again and so that we come out in the strongest possible position, and to redress some of the imbalances in the skills people can acquire. The one thing that we should not do in the downturn is cut back on training and apprenticeships. I am delighted, therefore, at the programmes that the Government have put forward in those spheres. Indeed, I have positive examples from my constituency.

I am concerned, however, by the Conservatives’ plans to cut spending in the financial year 2009-10, so that they will maintain spending in some Departments but not in others. That means slashing skills, university and science budgets by £610 million and the non-schools budget of the Department for Children, Schools and Families by £300 million. My concern is that people over 19 starting an apprenticeship would not be able to do so. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) said earlier that the Conservatives would finance a community learning programme by getting rid of Train to Gain. I do not have with me a copy of the debate on skills that I participated in last year, but I had example after example of the positive ways in which Train to Gain had been used by businesses. Just recently I gave out awards at the Acorn training centre in my constituency to the many people who had gained qualifications and training from the Train to Gain programme, which was very much welcomed by my local businesses. I therefore do not think that the Conservatives’ way of re-jigging the budgets would help us to deal with the problem.

Mrs. May: I would have thought that the hon. Lady would know as well as anybody else that our proposals are to increase the number of apprenticeships that are available to young people. She should really be concerned about what her Government have done to apprenticeships. This Government’s redefinition of apprenticeships means that an apprentice will now get a national vocational qualification at level 2, rather than at level 3, which was the traditional definition. The Government have been fiddling the figures, so that it appears that we have more apprenticeships, when in fact those apprenticeships have not been at the skills level that is needed—and the skills level that they will be under us.

Judy Mallaber: I have many positive examples of what is taking place. I am afraid that the figures do not add up. The Conservatives cannot claim that they are
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going to cut overall Government spending programmes, yet maintain spending programmes in a number of Departments, and then say that nothing is going to go anywhere else. That does not have credibility.

I recently visited Manthorpe Engineering in my constituency, which takes on four or five apprentices a year. This year nearly all the apprentices are male, which I would like to redress. The apprentices train at Rolls-Royce to begin with—Manthorpe Engineering is part of the Rolls-Royce supply chain—and they then finish their apprenticeship with the company. Those are genuine apprenticeships, taking place over three or four years, which means that we are developing a younger, qualified work force who will have the skills to go through and be committed to the company. Rolls-Royce maintains its training in a downturn and is also positive at promoting women into jobs, apprenticeships and training. That is a key point.

Julie Morgan: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her report from earlier in the year. Does she agree that one way of attracting more women into apprenticeships would be to have part-time apprenticeships, which the TUC supports?

Judy Mallaber: I agree with that; indeed, I was going to come to that point. Although I applaud the fact that training and apprenticeships are increasing, there are still a number of issues that we need to take on board, some of which have already been mentioned. I was going to refer to the report by the National Skills Forum, which was published last week, I think—it was meant to be published several weeks before that, but unfortunately the snow intervened. Indeed, my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General was one of the speakers at that launch.

The National Skills Forum report, which was produced on behalf of the all-party group on skills, makes a number of points about the work-life balance and, in particular, makes proposals and recommendations about how to ensure that apprenticeships and training fit the needs of women. One of those proposals is to look at how we can increase the number of part-time apprenticeships. “Jobs for the girls”, the report that we on the Select Committee on Trade and Industry produced —the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) was instrumental with me in putting that together—addressed that issue. We made the point that when Ofsted looks at the flexibility of courses, it should also take on board how to provide part-time courses and courses at times when women can access them.

The National Skills Forum report also looked at increasing the financial support available to adult learners in further education and at how the benefits system can discourage carers from taking part in training. That is an important issue, which needs to be looked at more carefully. The difficulty of allowing the carer’s allowance to be available—or not be available—to those on courses requiring more than 21 hours of study a week is something that we should perhaps look at again. Another issue is the different arrangements for financial help for part-time students in higher education from those for students on full-time courses.

Another group that has been active in looking at the issue, and which gave evidence to our Select Committee, is the YWCA. Careers guidance has already been
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mentioned, and work experience is an important issue that we should look at in opening up opportunities. We are looking at how, when we come out of the recession, we might have made some advances, so that we have a broader range of skills and more diverse opportunities for people to obtain those skills.

One of the YWCA’s proposals for the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill—was it just last week that it was debated?—was for the National Apprenticeship Vacancy Matching Service to play a key role in ensuring that young people are offered as wide a range of apprenticeship options as possible. The YWCA suggested that a duty to promote and ensure equality should also be put on to the new bodies created by the Bill, so that they look at how to ensure that girls as well as boys can take up training opportunities.

There is obviously a problem in apprenticeships. We all know that boys tend to be in the better-paid apprenticeships and that girls tend to be in the worse-paid ones. I would not necessarily want to stop girls going into hairdressing—it is a portable skill that will do them well wherever they go in the world—but it is noticeable that those at the top of the profession are usually men. There are very good opportunities for men at the top of the profession, which the girls never seem to get towards.

A load of reports have been put forward to consider the different things that we could do to ensure that girls and women, including women returners, get the opportunity to enhance their skills in a different way. Now is not the time to cut that; now is the time to give it added impetus, and there is a range of things that we should look at. There are also projects under way at Sheffield Hallam university—on behalf of one of the Government Departments, I think—to look at science, technology, engineering and maths, or the STEM subjects, and at getting women into manufacturing. Using this opportunity to give that extra impetus would be very positive.

The group at my table at the women’s summit yesterday raised a number of issues, some of which have already been referred to, that are slightly broader than the positive issue of how we go forward. One was about how we ensure that advice gets to those who need it, which I have already mentioned.

The issue of domestic violence has already been touched upon. The policy director of Refuge was at my table and talked about the potential for an increase in domestic violence. In fact, I noticed a report in the last couple of days about the Metropolitan police issuing figures in January that suggest that there has been a slight increase in domestic violence in the past year. The police are now looking into how stress from lost jobs could create tension in families.

Angela Watkinson: Is the hon. Lady aware of the breadth of domestic violence, which also includes emotional bullying? We need to find more ways of enabling women who are suffering in those difficult circumstances to report it, particularly when they have responsibility for children, because when there are incidents of domestic violence, there is a propensity for the mother and the children to be removed from the home for their own safety. We need to get that the other way round, so that the perpetrator of the violence is removed and the rest of the family are allowed to stay in their home.

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Judy Mallaber: That is right. We also know that people tend to present themselves between 18 and 30 times to various agencies before their case is picked up. There are some good programmes, however, such as the one at my local hospital. Staff in the accident and emergency department take the woman into a side room, saying that it is for tests if the alleged perpetrator is with her. That gives her the opportunity to say something if she wants to. We need to extend such programmes.

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, as one would expect. It used to be said that, as a rule, there would be 35 occurrences of domestic violence before anyone reported it to any of the authorities, rather than anyone going to an authority 35 times before action was taken. Happily that figure of 35—difficult though the measurement must be to make—seems to have gone down significantly, so I hope that we are getting through to women the fact that they can come forward earlier. My hon. Friend makes the point that responsibility for doing that is starting to be spread into health, education and so on, where it rightly should be.

Judy Mallaber: I thank the Solicitor-General for those comments.

Of course, in a downturn a man could lose his job, and if he is at home more often, there are more opportunities for violence to take place. A point raised in the summit yesterday relates to the broader situation of a couple who want to split up but cannot sell their house. They have the problem that they are stuck in the same house together, cooped up with all the tensions and difficulties that that creates. That provides an added dimension to the problem.

I have received representations about the issue in briefings from the Commission for Equality and Human Rights and from the Women’s Institute, which specifically draws attention to potential violence in rural areas and the difficulties for women. The issue is of great concern to people and we need to be aware of that. I reiterate the point that it was not even regarded as an offence before Labour took it up. For a long time, it was “just a domestic”, and that attitude was prevalent, although attitudes had started to change, so that when I was a candidate, my local police took a much more positive attitude.

Mrs. Laing: I entirely agree with everything the hon. Lady has said, but I cannot let her give the impression that concern for domestic violence has only been taken on her side of the House. We are all concerned about domestic violence and many Conservative Members have spoken about it, campaigned about it and raised money to combat it. We have done everything we can to stop domestic violence. It is a matter on which there is unanimity in the House, not just on the Labour Benches.

Judy Mallaber: I am sorry. I did not intend to suggest that there was no concern; I was saying that domestic violence was not recognised as an offence. We did not get it into legislation or think that it was something on which we should legislate. I was not just talking about Members when I said that violence against women was regarded as “just a domestic”. That attitude was common among the police until comparatively recently. When I was a candidate, there was a big conference on domestic
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violence at my local police headquarters, where they had put on the job someone who had suffered from violence as a child and whose wife had suffered violence in a previous relationship. At that stage, understandably, police attitudes were changing, but we needed to reach the point where people recognised the issue.

In an organisation where I worked, which employed variously between 20 and 25 people, two members of staff were victims of domestic violence. For at least one of them, work was clearly a place of refuge—where she could get out of the house. The issue is complex, but if it is more prevalent in a downturn, it is even more important that we do all that we can to support people and that we do not go back on what we need to do in terms of criminal justice.

Mrs. Villiers rose—

Julie Morgan rose—

Judy Mallaber: I am spoilt for choice.

Mrs. Villiers: It is worth us all remembering that one of the most hideous crimes that continues to be committed against women around the world is the use of rape and sexual assault as a weapon in military and paramilitary conflicts. The situation in Darfur is one of the most obvious areas where women are paying a huge price because of those evil practices. Although this debate is focusing on the domestic economic situation, we should never forget the terrible crimes committed against women in many parts of the world.

Judy Mallaber: I agree absolutely. I was an election monitor in the Congo—as was the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow)—and met many victims of rape as a weapon of war. It is utterly appalling. Amnesty has reasserted its campaign within the last couple of weeks. Such crime is hideous and appalling and we should never forget that.

Julie Morgan: I agree with my hon. Friend about the change of attitude among the police. I draw her attention to the success in Cardiff in reducing the number of women who are repeated victims. Multidisciplinary working between all the agencies, the police and the hospitals has resulted in a definite drop in the repeat victimisation of women.

Judy Mallaber: I appreciate those comments.

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