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This issue concerns basic principles of justice and equality, and I urge the Government, even at this late stage, to give some indication that, even if they cannot address it in this Bill, we will at least have a proper review about age discrimination against young people. I want to get a real debate going and get some real information about this issue, because it has not been
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considered satisfactorily by the Low Pay Commission and others, and it has become almost a given. I shall not press the amendment today because it looks as though we will be allowed only a few votes, given the way that time has gone on in this debate, but I say to the Government that I am not going to give up on this, and neither will other Members of the House. We will come back to it again and again until we have tackled this discrimination against young people.

Philip Davies: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I do not agree with him about many things, but he is a great parliamentarian who always makes his case particularly well.

May I start by thanking Mr. Speaker for his generous allocation of amendments for debate? His selection allows for a broad range of views to be heard, and we should all be grateful for that. I am aware that my views tend to be in a small minority in this place, but I have always believed that for a parliamentary democracy to work, everybody in the country should feel that someone in the House is speaking up for them. My views might have very little support in this place, but there is an argument that they have slightly more support out in the country as a whole. I am very grateful to Mr. Speaker for allowing the amendments in this group, about 20 of which are mine, to be debated.

I want to reiterate the point made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington about the time scale set out for the debate. There are many important issues further down the line that I would like us to debate, so, although I have tabled a large number of the amendments in this group, I shall endeavour to go through them as quickly as possible to allow some of those other important matters to be debated as well. It is a sad state of affairs when hon. Members who want to debate issues that they feel strongly about have to apologise at the start of their speech about not being able to express their views clearly because of the lack of time allowed for debate.

The first amendment in the group that I have tabled is new clause 36, which states simply that the Bill would

When I was framing the amendment, I intended to have a number far smaller than 250, which I thought quite high. I thought perhaps 25 or 50, but I eventually plumped for 250 because clause 75 on the gender pay gap-I shall come back to that clause later because I wish to delete it from the Bill-says that measures on gender pay gap information will not apply to

Given that the Government feel that businesses of fewer than 250 employees are so small that they should not have to abide by all these measures, I thought that, in the spirit of co-operation, I would go along with their figures.

2.15 pm

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I understand the reasoning behind the hon. Gentleman's point, but does he recognise that in a place such as Northern Ireland, where, thankfully, the Bill will not apply, even his amendment would mean that 90 per cent. of all sources of employment would be encompassed? They would be subject to the regulatory aspects of the Bill, which would add considerably to their cost burden.

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Philip Davies: I am grateful for that helpful intervention about the situation in Northern Ireland, which the hon. Gentleman knows far more about than I do.

I fear that the Government place regulation upon regulation on businesses, whether big or small. The thing in the House that causes me the most despair is the attitude of many Members-particularly, but not exclusively, Labour Members-who start from the premise that every business, however big or small, is simply a licence to print money. They think that if the dead hand of the Government were not involved in every element of policy, every business would automatically do everything it could to be as bad an employer as possible and to stuff its customers at every opportunity. I despair because that shows such a lack of knowledge about how businesses work. In my experience, every successful business has two things in common: it looks after its customers and it looks after its colleagues at work. Similarly, every failed business has two things in common: it does not look after its customers and it does not look after its colleagues at work. Much of the nanny state regulation is not necessary because every good business and every business that is likely to succeed knows perfectly well that in order to succeed it needs to look after the people who work for it and the people who pay the bills as customers. I can say in all honesty that, of those two categories, the most important group to look after is the employees because they look after the customers.

John Mason: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the evidence, historically, is that what he says is not the case? Before the minimum wage came in, employers were paying, in my memory, ridiculous amounts such as £1 an hour to security workers. The gap between those at the bottom and those at the top is getting wider, so he must surely accept that there is no evidence for his argument.

Philip Davies: There is plenty of evidence for my argument. I am quite happy to debate the merits or otherwise of the minimum wage with the hon. Gentleman, but given the time that we have available and the number of things that we want to get through, now might not be the most appropriate time to do so. I shall seek him out in the Tea Room and we can pursue this matter further at a later date.

The point that I seek to get across with this new clause is that no big business started out as a big business; all big businesses started out as small businesses. I am greatly worried that many of our future potential big businesses are being strangled at birth by the Government, who place upon them burden after burden that might be easy for big companies to adopt but that are much more difficult for small businesses to adopt. The end result is not that such businesses employ men and women equally, but that they employ nobody because they are put out of business by excessive regulation.

Let me cite as an example my former employer, Asda, which had more than 140,000 employees by the time I left. Regulations regarding employment and other matters are in many respects meat and drink to an organisation such as Asda, which employs people to deal with and implement them. When so many people work in one place, it is easy to accommodate someone who needs flexible working. I do not worry about big businesses like Asda or Tesco-and my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) mentioned the
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latter earlier-because, good employers though they are, they are big enough look after themselves to a large extent. My worry about this new clause has to do with what we are doing to help smaller businesses that are just starting out and taking a big risk. We want to encourage them to employ people, but I fear that implementing the provisions of this Bill in full and as they stand will cause more and more employers to do as much as they can not to take on employees. That is because they will be petrified of all the legal implications, requirements, tribunals and so on. It seems perverse to introduce legislation that will do more to deter people from employing staff than it will to encourage them to do so.

Rob Marris: As a successor to Enoch Powell as Member of Parliament for Wolverhampton, South-West, I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is really content that new clause 36 would mean that a company with 249 employees would be permitted to discriminate racially against those employees? That would be the effect of the new clause, and I find it outrageous.

Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, which I appreciate, but I think he will accept that that is not the purpose of my new clause. As I said when I started, any successful business in this day and age will do what the Bill proposes anyway. Some of the things that went on in the past were completely unacceptable, and no one would argue otherwise. However, we are in a totally different place these days, and many of the measures in the Bill are superfluous to requirements.

As ever, we need to strike the right balance. The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that no employer discriminates against a person based on mindless racism: equally, however, I hope that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) would not want many small businesses to fail and close down as a result of some of the things that might be unintended consequences of this Bill.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The whole House shares the hon. Gentleman's concern that small businesses should not be overburdened by regulation as, in their totality, they are major employers. However, when he says that racial discrimination in employment is in some sense a thing of the past, is he certain that it no longer happens in places of work? I think that the good people of Yorkshire would be surprised to hear that.

Philip Davies: It may or may not still happen. The hon. Lady may have different experiences from me, and I shall not gainsay her opinion. However, the purpose of the new clause is to flag up the fact that, if this House continues to pile regulation after regulation on to businesses of whatever size, the outcome will not be more fair employment but less employment across the board, for everybody. I absolutely accept her belief in racial equality and applaud her work on that over many years, but my fear is that with the Bill's emphasis on positive action and so on, we will end up with discrimination working in reverse.

Many hon. Members seem to think that because ethnic minorities and women have been discriminated against in the past, the solution must be to discriminate
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in favour of them in the future. I do not believe that that is the solution to the problem of discrimination: I believe that we must solve the problem of discrimination by ending discrimination, as I shall explain.

Rob Marris: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Philip Davies: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but no. I am sure he will want to intervene about other things in my speech, and I shall try to be as generous as possible, but I am mindful of the time and the other amendments that need to be debated.

That brings me on nicely to my new clause 38, which would make it

Given what the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) has just said, I presume that she will support this new clause. I know that she believes passionately in equality, and racial equality, and that all jobs should be given on merit, irrespective of race, gender or sexuality. That is why I presume that she will be happy to support new clause 38, which in effect would enshrine that requirement in law. It would make it unlawful to look at people in terms of their colour, sexuality or gender. That would no longer be tolerated or allowed.

Anyone who truly believes in equality must surely believe that people should be given jobs on merit, irrespective of their colour, gender, disability, nationality or religious belief. That is what my new clause 38 would achieve, and I should be interested to know how anyone in the House could have a problem with giving people jobs on merit.

The only people who are racist or sexist or discriminatory in any of the senses that I have set out are those who see everything in terms of race or gender. Most people in this country do not see things in those terms-I certainly do not. When I was recruiting people, I could not care less about their background, race or gender; I just wanted the best person for the job, and my new clause would enshrine in law the requirement that people are given jobs on merit.

Sammy Wilson: The hon. Gentleman will know that positive discrimination of the sort that he mentions has been exercised-and on a huge scale-in Northern Ireland, where there is 50:50 recruitment into the police force. His proposal would safeguard people from discrimination, but sometimes people who get jobs feel that they have got them not on merit but because of positive discrimination. Does he agree that his new clause would protect them from that? Indeed, many Catholic recruits to the Police Service of Northern Ireland have said that they would rather have been chosen purely on merit and not as a result of positive discrimination based on law.

Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He makes a powerful point, which is that an approach based on positive discrimination and positive action can build up resentment among other parts of the population that would not exist otherwise. The upshot is that that approach, rather than doing a great deal for
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race relations and helping equality for women, instead does the exact opposite because people no longer feel that jobs are given on merit. They feel that other people are getting a fairer lick of the sauce bottle, so they build up a resentment that otherwise would never exist.

Ms Abbott: I listened with interest to the concern expressed on the other side of the House for people with jobs or senior positions who might agonise in the dark watches of the night about whether they really got their posts on merit. Could it be that the hon. Gentleman is thinking about all the white, male old Etonians on the Tory Front Bench?

Philip Davies: I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Lady. She usually makes a helpful and positive contribution to debates in the House, but I am afraid that she has let herself down on this occasion.

The serious point that I wish to reiterate is that, if we in this House want equality legislation, we should enshrine it in law that all jobs and positions must be given on merit, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation or nationality. All that should be totally and utterly irrelevant: in my mind, only a Bill that does that can truly be called an equality Bill.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): My hon. Friend has referred to disability, but to give people who have a disability an equal chance to get a job on merit it is sometimes necessary for employers to take steps and make reasonable adjustments. In that way, a person with a disability can compete on a level playing field and get a job fairly. The problem with the way that my hon. Friend has framed his amendments and new clauses is that an employer who took steps to make those reasonable adjustments could well fall foul of the discrimination provisions. That is something that he needs to think about.

Philip Davies: I do not agree with my hon. Friend, which is a rare thing for me to say, because nothing in my new clause would stop anyone wanting to do those things if they so wished and if that helped them to recruit the best person for the job on merit. My new clause would encourage someone to go to those lengths, to recruit the best person for the job-that is certainly its purpose-and I am very surprised that any hon. Member is opposed to giving people jobs on merit, but that is a reflection of the way that political correctness has taken over the House, as well as many other parts of the country.

2.30 pm

I will move on to some of the other amendments, and I will try to spend a bit less time on some of them. My amendments 60 to 64 cover the ground about work of equal value and touch upon where the Solicitor-General started the debate about favouring minority groups when two people of equal ability apply for a job. My amendments would remove the provisions that allow for that. For me, this is absolute fantasy world. It is all very good in an academic university lecture theatre to talk about what will happen when two identical people apply for a job and about two people who do jobs of equal value, but I ask hon. Members where on earth those situations ever exist in the real world. I have
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recruited many people in my time. I have never yet even remotely come across a case where two people have exactly the same ability and are exactly the same. Unless the Government envisage lots of twins applying for the same jobs right across the country, this is a completely meaningless, pointless and academic argument. [ Interruption. ] Does the hon. and learned Lady want to have a bash, or is she just chuntering?

The Solicitor-General: No; I was talking to the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) and saying that the hon. Gentleman's comments apparently support the stand that we take: people look not for a pair of twins with identical qualifications but for people in a category who are all equally suitable, and there is then some practical effect. So we are glad for the support.

Philip Davies: The hon. and learned Lady misses my point: it is the Bill that introduces such nonsense into the debate. Such circumstances never exist, and my fear lies in my cynicism about the Government's real motive. I suspect that they know full well that those cases never exist and that such nonsense sounds good in a university lecture theatre but that it will never happen. They want to introduce a chilling effect into employment. The outcome that they seek is for employers to want to avoid at all costs any possibility of being taken to an employment tribunal or having legal action taken against them. So they do not envisage two people of equal ability applying. For example, if a man is better qualified than a woman but perhaps by not a great deal, they want the employer to take on not the man but the woman. Such legislation has a chilling effect to try to stop employers doing the opposite, but those cases never exist; it is the kind of discussion that we tend to get among primary school children in the playground. Indeed, my six-year-old son has probably gone past that kind of debate. I am very disappointed that the Government want to enshrine such pointless nonsense in an Act of Parliament.

John Mason: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again, and I am happy to meet him in the Tea Room to talk about any of these issues. Does he accept that, in fact, such cases do not always involve two people who are equal and one of them is preferred to the other, but a woman, or perhaps a disabled person, who is better qualified and better able than the white male, or whoever, and who does not get the job? If we look at society, we see that there is clear discrimination, and we need to do something about it.

Philip Davies: Indeed, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to support new clause 38, which would ensure that people were selected on merit. That would do the job nicely. The incidents that I am talking about have nothing to do with that problem. I am talking about identifying people who are absolutely identical-they do not exist-and jobs that are deemed to be of equal worth.

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