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None of these open days should have been closed to white communities. I couldnt give two hoots if they are white, black, Asian, male or femalethey should simply be the best person for the job.
The Bill introduces the concept of protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation. Why stop there? someone might ask. There are other people and possible items for such categories. Lots of people say that they are discriminated against in the workplace because of their weight, hair colour or the fact that they are baldthat has not always been a problem in my party. If people are discriminated against for all those factors, why are they not included in the Bill? Why not just go for a simplistic kind of equality?
Perhaps the Solicitor-General in summing up will explain how much of the population is not covered by the protected groups. If in broad, estimated terms, 50 per cent. of the population are women, 10 per cent. are not white, 10 per cent. are homosexual, 20 per cent. are over 65, and 17 per cent. are disabledI admit that a few of them will have more than one characteristicthere will not be many people who are not covered by the Bill. In fact, we will have a new minority: white, heterosexual men with no disability at all. That will be the only minority left that is not covered by the Bill.
The Bill allows positive action in recruitment where any two candidates are as qualified as each other. That is complete nonsense. First, no two candidates are ever exactly the same, and the Bill therefore tries to introduce a scenario that we would only usually expect to hear in a primary school playground. Indeed, my six-year-old son is the only person who ever raises impossible hypotheticals with me, but I can now tell him that the Leader of the House has joined him in that quest. However, for the purposes of the argument, I will humour the Government and accept that that impossible scenario could happen.
The Leader of the House claimed that positive action provision could be invoked only if two candidates were both equally the best. If the personperhaps a woman, someone from an ethnic minority, or a male going for a job at a primary school, as in the case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow)is genuinely the equal-best candidate, given that the employer
has got to pick one or the other, perhaps the Government can explain which law currently in place prevents them from picking the one who is from the minority group. If they are genuinely joint-best candidates, one or other of them will be picked. This is a pointless solution.
At worst, the Bills real purpose is to introduce positive discrimination by the back door. Its most likely outcome is that it will have a chilling effect on employers, who will feel pressured into taking someone from an under-represented group who is not the best or the equal-best candidate for the job. It is also likely that we will see an increase in employment tribunals for employers to defend, thus wasting their time and money.
Hon. Members need not just take my word for that; the Government claim in the explanatory notes that the Bill will cost the private sector a one-off sum of £211 millionjust what it needs in a recessionand recurring costs of between £11 million and £17 million a year, consisting mainly of additional court and tribunal cases and compensation awards. That is actually in the Bill. The British Chambers of Commerce says it sends a poor message about UK businesses and that it will discourage job creation, which is all we need as unemployment surges towards 3 million. Companies will be loth to take on more employees so it will take longer to get out of the recession.
If the Government really want more people to be employed, they must stop making employment more hassle and more costly. They clearly believe that if something is more expensive, less of it will happen, which is why they increase taxes on alcohol and tobacco and why they want the climate change levy. The same is true of employment; the more expensive it is, the less of it there will be.
Here we have a spectacle that is about as bad for women as it gets. Female politicians, many promoted above their ability, seek to promote another woman above her democratic entitlement and against their own principles and meanwhile legislate to promote working women over men. With supporters like Harman and her crew, we women do not need enemies.
Measures such as positive discrimination are particularly disliked. They are seen as discriminatory, to be artificially engineering outcomes...There was little support for the idea that women, as a group, are unequal in society today...Another strong theme to emerge was that attempts to redress inequalities have become too politically incorrect.
Another issue is the gender pay gap. Both the BCC and the CBI oppose the concept as they believe either that it is meaningless or that it could lead to mandatory gender pay audits. The pay gap exists for a host of reasons. Sometimes, women choose to take time out of work. That is one of the reasons why there is a gender pay gap.
It is possible that if we equalise everything, it will all be equalled down. In Sheffield, employees have been threatening strike action over the single-status legislation because wages have been levelled downwards. Are Labour Members saying that they will be happy for pay to go down as long as it is equal? Are they saying that does not matter because equal pay is the most important thing? Women have husbands, boyfriends and fathers, and I am not sure they would be too happy about pay being levelled down.
Who will manage the process? Would you believe it, Mr. Deputy Speaker? The Equality and Human Rights Commission is to administer the process. That is the same Equality and Human Rights Commission that I discovered from a recent parliamentary answer paid men more than women, white people more than black and ethnic minority people and non-disabled people more than disabled people. We expect that commission to go round lecturing organisations about equal pay. If it was not so ridiculous, it would be quite amusing.
Why will the Labour party not allow people to be selected simply on merit? As Labour seems to need all-women shortlists, it must mean either that the party picks women who are not the best candidates or that the local Labour party is full of people who are so sexist that they would not select a woman even if she was clearly the best candidate. When the Solicitor-General sums up, perhaps she will explain which it is. Given that we Conservatives elected a woman leader of our party 34 years ago, we shall take no lectures from Labour. Indeed, Margaret Thatcher said:
I owe nothing to Womens lib.
What the public think of all-women shortlists is clear. One has only to look at what happened in Blaenau Gwent. One of the safest Labour seats was lost because of the partys politically correct obsession with all-women shortlists, yet Labour still continues to ignore public opinion and press on with them. My question to all those Labour Members who say, Its so important that we have more women in Parliament is: will they support Conservative women candidates who stand against Labour men in marginal seats? If it is so important to have more women in Parliament, come what may, I might presume that they would. However, I suspect that they will not, because deep down they know that peoples views are more important than their gender. I also want to know how many of those male MPs who bang on about wanting there to be more women MPs did so before
they were elected to Parliament themselves. Frankly, I would have much more respect for many of them if they offered to give up their seat so that a woman could replace them, but of course very few of them ever do that.
Many other measures in the Bill are either revolting or ridiculous; I do not have time to go through all of them now. However, there is one marvellous thing in the Bill that I must commend. Page E9 of the explanatory notes, which is about direct discrimination, says that racial segregation is always wrong. I could not agree more. I hope that that will lead to the Government making sure that people who come to this country integrate into a British way of life. I hope that it will mean an end to organisations such as the Black Police Associations, to competitions just for ethnic minorities such as the decibel Penguin prize, and to information being published in dozens of languages.
noticed, in her little Westminster cocoon, how many small companies, strangled by this Governments obsession with red tape, are going bust; how many ordinary men and women are losing their jobs; how many individual bankruptcies have been declared; how many homes repossessed?
And shes wittering on about equality?
Predictably, her fellow feminists have lined up to offer their support. In The Guardian, the headline for Polly Toynbees column trumpeted Harmans Law is Labours biggest idea in 11 yearswhich just about sums up this miserable administration.
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): I enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), but did not entirely agree with it. I think that it is good to consolidate all the legislation that we can see on the Table in front of us. My concern, of course, is that a lot of follow-up legislation and statutory instruments will come in its wake, so that pile by the Dispatch Box will grow. I am concerned about where we go with that.
Generally speaking, the reason our nation has been successful economically is the people in it. How we treat people and whether we are fair to them are very important if we are to get the best out of people and to be a productive, modern economy that grows. We cannot afford to lose people; we cannot afford not to engage people in what goes on, so it is broadly important that we support the Bill.
On social economic policy, it is clear that in this nation, if a person grows up in an area of deprivation or poverty, their chances in education, health and a range of other areas are less good. We will not remain a rich, productive economy unless we get the most out of the human potential of our nation. That means using what resources we have to target some of the most disadvantaged, so as to get the best out of them and so that they can become productive citizens and have a worthwhile, productive life.
To do that, of course, we need data. We need good census data, and we have to drill down. Of course, the census tends to depend on ward size, which varies from 1,500 in some areas to 22,000 or 23,000 in places such as
Birmingham. Good public sector authorities, such as local councils and health authorities, do consider and map deprivation and poverty, and try to focus policy on the most disadvantaged to get the best out of the area. They certainly do so in Poole, and the Bournemouth and Poole teaching primary care trust certainly does so. There is an awful lot that can be done.
The second point that I would like to make is on age discrimination. It is quite clear that we live in an age in which one of the principal problems is longevity. Peopleparticularly menare pretty fit and able to go on working at 65. We need to take a radical look at the issue. I know that there are all sorts of problems to do with the national insurance system and the benefit system. I have recently dealt with cases in which people who have become disabled before 65 could claim all sorts of things, but those who become disabled after 65 could not do so. We must think creatively about how we can keep people productively in the economy, if that is what they wish. We know that there is a major pension problem, and, if people wish to work longer not only to enhance their retirement, public policy should try to do everything to make it possible.
I, like many Members, have surgeries, and it is not unusual to see people who are in their 70s come in, sit down and, in reply to my question, Whats the problem?, say, Its my mother, or, My father. People are living into their 90s these days, so it is not too bad if people want to continue work into their 70s. Some of the problems with employing 50-year-olds may go if we get used to employing people at older ages.
Age discrimination is a major problem, and Members have already made the point about a possible loss of services, but the Bill will be a lost opportunity if we do not creatively consider how we can get people to remain engaged in work, if that is what they want to do, and if we can construct a social security and benefits system that allows that to happen.
I should have liked to have said other things. I agree with the Front-Bench team that it is our job as the Opposition to test propositions and table amendments. I have concerns about the cost on business, and the Public Bill Committee will no doubt look into the matter. However, broadly speaking, I think that the Bill is to be welcomed, and I look forward to the return of an improved version when we consider it on the Floor of the House again.
I welcome the Bill and praise the Government. I am particularly pleased that we are going to outlaw age discrimination in the provision of services and goods. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is a good thing that more of us are living longer, confounding the actuaries, and long that may continue. However, it means that the injustice that occurs when people are discriminated against simply because of age is becoming more acute, and that is why we must act: no more refusing the store card, travel insurance or the hire car simply because of age. I agree with him that other big issues must be confronted, too, such as why carers allowance stops when a person reaches the state retirement and pension age. We must tackle all those things.
The briefing from Age Concern and Help the Agedsoon to be Age UKsays that we should have gone further and ended compulsory retirement, and we can debate that in Committee, too. One of my constituents, Richard Ellison, a justice of the peace, is campaigning as he nears the age of 70 against the compulsory retirement of magistrates at 70.
I welcome also the provisions promoting breastfeeding. As breastfeeding is so healthy for mothers and children, it is a scandal that this country performs so much worse than others in enabling mothers to feel comfortable breastfeeding, and in helping them to breastfeed at work and in public places. I welcome the Bills measures to help with that, and to place a duty on the public sector to help mothers to feel confident enough to breastfeedsomething that is good for them and their babies.
In the health context, I praise UNICEF and its Baby Friendly Initiative for making such a change to the circumstances of many mothers by encouraging them to breastfeed. I also say a big thank you to the Breastfeeding Manifesto coalition, the National Childbirth Trust and the all-party group on maternity. They have combined to push for the measure, which, I hope, will be enacted.
In future, as youngsters at school study citizenship and learn about moral and ethical codes of behaviour, community involvement, volunteering, political literacy and the diversity of our society, I hope that they will learn what we are doing through the Bill to contribute from the top to our society, taking important and bold steps, such as stopping bullying in childhood, abolishing the pay gap for women and ethnic minorities and stopping age discrimination against people in health care and financial services, and on goods and services generally. We will make an important contribution to the well-being of our society if we enact the Bill in something like its current form.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): We have had a good debate in which many Back Benchers from both sides have spoken. Many drew attention to the fact that the Bill has been a long time coming, and no one in the House would demur from that. We have finally received the Bill in its finished form, although it looks as if quite a bit of it has been rushed to get it finished.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) said in her opening remarks, we support the Governments aim of consolidating and simplifying the current raft of equality legislation, although I fear that if the Bill makes it into law and there is all the secondary legislation, the Equality and Human Rights Commission will have a job of work to make sure that its guidance will be as simple and straightforward as we hope it will be. I am sure that, like me, the Minister for Women and Equality has had conversations with the commission to that effect. I do not think the guidance will be short and snappy, but it will be a huge improvement on the thousands of pages of guidance that have come before, and it should make it easier for business and other organisations to interpret and enact it.
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