The Solicitor-General: Not right now. Many companies are already undertaking pay audits voluntarily. How does that square with the prohibitive costs agreement?
Mr. Harper: If, as the Minister says, companies are acting in that way already and recognise that such measures are good for businessa point that we have made today and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made on Second Readingwhy does she believe that the provision is necessary? The fact that she is making it voluntary for the first four years suggests that she thinksif not she, then other members of the Governmentthat there is a case about its burdensome and costly nature, which is why it is not being brought in immediately and she wants to leave it to see whether businesses can be persuaded to do it by the case that she is putting.
The Solicitor-General: First, there is a big difference between those who take such action and the rest who do not, and that requires legislation. Secondly, we are not leaving it to lie because of burdens. We are seeking a consensus so that such action will be taken voluntarily and more quickly than if we suddenly slammed gender pay audits on the whole of business. Let me make it clear: it speaks volumes when the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare does not know the difference between a gender pay audit and the provision, and suggests that businesses thought that there would not be gender pay audits one week, while there would be the next week. That shows that the Opposition do not have a clue. They are not in this field in any way. The requirements are yet to be fixed, and they do not resemble a gender pay audit.
The only gender pay audit that has ever been proposed in this Parliament is the one that the Conservatives suggested in the Bill of Baroness Morris of Bolton, which was dissected mercilessly in the Lords and shown to be a complete farce not by a member of the Labour party, but by Lord Lester of the Liberal Democrat party. The provision does not require equal pay audits. The hon. Gentleman thought that it supported a dreadful disclosure. Unfortunately, he does not understand the difference between such provisions.
We have been clear that we expect that business willas it says it will, contrary to what the Tories are suggestingstart reporting all the more not only when the CBI helps them to do so, but when they recognise that unwittingly they pay unequal pay. As for implementation costs, businesses of 250-plus employees already collect all the information that we require. They will have the necessary IT in place; the costs will be limited to presenting the information in an accessible format and publishing it, for example, on websites. Part of the job that will be done by the teams set up under the EHRC will be to identify exactly a system that is achievable within acceptable cost parameters for business.
Should the clause stand part of the Bill, it will push forward the cause of womens equal pay immeasurably. If the Tories vote against it, that will speak volumes to the public.
John Penrose: I obviously need to say whether we will press new clause 9 to a Division. I want also to respond to one or two points made by the Solicitor-General,
The Solicitor-General: It is a very simple point. We have a fixed point now that we think will be the cost. If we can negotiate it even lower by involving business, of course we will. Is that difficult to follow?
John Penrose: It is delightfully easy to follow. It is, however, rather hard to believe. But I understand that the Minister feels very strongly about it. It is noticeable that she is getting rather upset by the fact that I do not agree with her, but perhaps we can maintain a degree of equilibrium and accept that reasonable people can agree to disagree on the matter. Reality will prove which one of us is right in the future.
On new clause 9, I was struck by the fact that the Minister relied heavily, and fairly, I thought, on saying that a great deal of work can be done to improve the disability pay gap by reasonable adjustments and positive action. I was struck, though, that that argument does not seem to have the same degree of salience in her mind for the gender pay gap. However, given where we are, the importance of making some progress and the fact that we have thrashed the issue very seriously, I will happily not press the new clause to a Division and come back to it later.
Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
The Committee divided: Ayes 13, Noes 4.
Division No. 4]
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause 73, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 74 and 75 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 7 agreed to.
Ships and hovercraft
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Sandra Osborne: I want to ask the Minister a brief question. I hope that it is on the clauseno doubt you will be quick to tell me if it is not, Lady Winterton. Albeit that I have a long coastline in my constituency, I do not know much about seafarers. As I understand it, for some time the Government have been promising to reform the seafarers exemption from the Race Relations Act 1976 and to change that outdated discriminatory legislation. However, I understand that the Bill does not contain specific proposals to reform the existing seafarers discrimination, but that enabling legislation will allow reform in secondary legislation. Clearly, the seafarers and the trade union wish the Government to commit to full and effective reform of that discrimination legislation as a matter of urgency. I hope that the Minister can respond to my points.
The Solicitor-General: I shall try; I can give a partial explanation and then write with the rest. My hon. Friend will have that before Report, in case she wants to seek any changes then.
Section 9 of the Race Relations Act 1976 allows for differentiations in pay on the grounds of nationality. The Bill does not retain that provision for seafarers recruited outside Great Britain and in line with global shipping practice. The details of the regulations have not yet been settled, but we anticipate that the regulations applying the employment provisions to seafarers will allow employers to continue to operate pay rates that distinguish on the grounds of nationality between seafarers recruited outside Great Britain, other than those from the European economic area and relevant associated states. If there is more to it than that, I shall write to my hon. Friend. However, it is quite clearI am afraidthat pay differentials will remain between those recruited from affluent Europe and those from other areas of world.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 76 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 241, in clause 77, page 58, line 6, leave out with or.
John Penrose: I hope that the amendments are entirely technical ones. I am relying on the Ministers expert legal brain to solve the problem about which we are worried. As the notes explain, clause 77
contains a power to make an Order in Council in relation to work on board offshore installations. The power may be used to apply Part 5 (with or without modification) to those working on such installations.
The amendments would trim that power, so that it can no longer be used to apply part 5, with or without modification, but just without modification. Are the Government wedded to allowing part 5 to be applied with or without modifications? If so, will any legal limits be set to the extent of the modifications that can be proposed? I am sure that we are all happy to accept an assertion of the Ministers good character and intentions, and so forth, and no doubt she would apply the provision responsibly, but it is important to bind future Ministers and to ensure that they do not have untrammelled powers that are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny. It is an entirely technical point on which I hope that she can reassure us.
The Solicitor-General: I am pleased to be able to make this clear. As the hon. Gentleman said, leaving out with or would, in effect, exclude the power to make modifications to the provisions. However, the power is a limited one that allows the provisions of part 5 to be modified in their application to offshore work, but it does not allow any limitation of the substance of the protections in the Bill. How the protections apply may be modified. If we accepted the amendments, we could only use the order-making power in clause 77 to apply part 5 and the corresponding Northern Ireland legislation to offshore work without modifications.
Modifications of the law, when applied by means of secondary legislation, are not new; it is simply a prudent approach to drafting. I could give several examples. For instance, section 201 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 enables the application of that Act with or without modification. So we are not doing anything novel. It is important in a consolidation exercise to ensure that we have sufficient flexibility, especially in relation to offshore work, to adapt the legislation to the technical and practical realities of the offshore environment. We do not have any modification in mind at present, but we might at some point find it necessary to adapt the terminology in part 5 to ensure that it translates appropriately to particular circumstancesfor example, those of workers who spend part of their time on ships and part on rigs.
Such an approach will facilitate a clearer and more accurate application of the provisions of part 5 in what is characteristically a very fluid area of employment, thus enabling the modifications that might be necessary to ensure that the law works in the various situations to which it will be applied. Probably the important point is that this is about the modification of the application to offshore work, but it does not allow any limitation of the substance of the protections contained in the Bill. That is probably the point about which the hon. Gentleman sought assurance, and I am pleased to be able to give it.
John Penrose: That is an admirably clear and concise response, and I am sure that everyone accepts the need to make modifications for the particular situations on board ships or rigs. Based on the Ministers reassurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 77 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Interpretation and exceptions
(e) unremunerated work that is comparable to employment..
A probing amendment to establish to what extent volunteers have the same protection from discrimination as employees.
For the avoidance of doubt, with the exclusion of matters related to remuneration, all rights of employees under this Act are deemed to extend to persons who work as volunteers without remuneration; and all duties of employees and their employers to avoid discrimination are deemed to extend to volunteers working without remuneration..
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