21 Oct 2011 : Column 1179

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1179

House of Commons

Friday 21 October 2011

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

9.34 am

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): I beg to move, That the House sit in private.

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 163), and negatived .

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1180

Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Bill

Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered .

Third Reading

9.35 am

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is a little Bill, although it is considerably larger than it was on Second Reading, but it is now fit for purpose, as the Minister might put it. I thank individuals on both sides of the House, including Opposition Front-Bench Members and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), and his team I also thank the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children for quiet support. Sometimes quiet support is best.

Finally, and most important, I thank the recently retired Met police officer, Detective Chief Inspector Dave Marshall. He has worked with me on a successful run of legislative changes to enhance the protection of children: six down, one to go—or one and a half to go.

The Bill will assist the prosecution of people who hurt children or vulnerable adults and those who stand by and allow such acts. It means that when a child is seriously physically harmed, or when the actual cause of death is not specifically identified, those who carried out the abuse or stood by can be prosecuted. The defence of passing the blame will go. If I have had one regret during what I hope will be the speedy passage of the Bill, it is that the maximum sentence is only 10 years, but I accept that it is appropriate when other sentences are available and can be considered.

Assuming that this is the last hurdle, I hope that the Bill’s progress through the other place is speedy.

9.36 am

Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): In 2004, the previous Government introduced the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act. Section 5 was written to address a particular situation: a gap in the law dealing with cases when a child had died at the hands of one or other of its parents, or other members of the household, and no one would admit to what had been done. To be guilty of the offence, the household member must have either caused the death or failed to take reasonable steps to protect the victim.

The NSPCC had campaigned on the issue, and the Law Commission did a great deal of work on it. While the 2004 Act was under consideration, there was a debate about whether the legislation should include serious harm cases and the point was made, both in this and the other place, that the term “serious harm” would need careful definition. Importantly, the then Government left the door open for the issue to be addressed again in the future. As the Minister at the time, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), said:

“I do not rule out extending the offence at some time in the future. It is important, first, to put in place the new offence. Let us get that right first and see how the provision operates. If appropriate, we may return to the problem at a later date.”—[Official Report, 27 October 2004; Vol. 425, c. 1473.]

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1181

Since the passage of the 2004 Act, between 2005 and 2008 alone the offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult was used successfully to prosecute 17 people, notably baby P’s mother, boyfriend and lodger. It was clear that one of them caused Peter’s death, but the police could not prove which of them was directly responsible. As a result, they were all found guilty of causing or allowing his death.

Crown Prosecution Service data suggest that there is now a need to extend the law to cover cases of serious injury. In 2010, CPS prosecutors in six areas identified 20 potential cases involving children and three involving vulnerable adults that could not be prosecuted under existing legislation, but which they believe could have been prosecuted under the proposed new offence.

It is clearly time to return to the issue. That is why the Opposition support the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford). We congratulate him on all his assiduous work. The Government suggested two amendments, which were accepted by the hon. Gentleman. The amendments will strengthen the Bill and now, with cross-party support, I hope that this important measure will soon be on the statute book and be implemented quickly.

9.39 am

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I shall not detain the House long, but I just want to express my strong support for the Bill. I have only recently had the great privilege of becoming a Member of Parliament, and in the short time that I have been in this place I have learned that some of the most effective parliamentarians are those who do not appear on “Newsnight” every night of the week and are not always twittering and blogging and filling up the airwaves, but who quietly and effectively champion causes from the Benches of this House. Years and years of assiduous work for a cause can result in massive positive change for people’s lives throughout the country. We see today that there is no greater exemplar than the hon. Member for Molve Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), who over many years has championed causes.

Today a small gap in legislation is being filled and a problem tackled. That will lead to hugely beneficial changes, which will protect many vulnerable children from unspeakable abuse. We were all shocked when we saw what happened to baby P and others around the country. The measure will send a loud message that anybody who is caught perpetrating any of the crimes covered by the Bill will be brought to justice and feel the full force of the law. I congratulate my hon. Friend and commend the Bill to the House.

Mr Speaker: I am sure that the hon. Member—for Mole Valley—will appreciate the tribute that has just been paid to him.

9.41 am

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I too congratulate the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) on pursuing this cause. I am happy to support the Bill. The definition of domestic violence is relevant not only to this Bill but to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill—I hope this change

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1182

will go through, just as I hope we may at some point see some changes in the definition of domestic violence that is used in that Bill. I am pleased to support the Bill this morning.

9.42 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): My first duty is to congratulate the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David). I think this is the first time that we have met across the Dispatch Box following the reshuffle on the Opposition Benches, so I welcome him to his place. I congratulate him on the crisp way in which he presented Her Majesty’s Opposition’s support for the Bill, following through on the support that his hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) gave it in Committee.

I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) on steering the Bill through the House to this stage. This very worthwhile measure would provide increased protection for children and vulnerable adults who are at risk of serious physical harm from members of their own household, and it is a prime example of my hon. Friend’s unstinting efforts to protect vulnerable people, especially children, from harm.

I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) about what makes an effective parliamentarian. My hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley, who is my parliamentary neighbour, has had an outstanding wider political career, first as leader of a London local authority, for which he was properly recognised by Her Majesty, then in this place, starting on the Back Benches and then as a Minister with responsibility for local government, and after that, both in opposition and now, as an absolutely unstinting champion of children at risk. Mr Speaker, I know that you, along with the rest of us, have a special place for my hon. Friend for the work that he has done. You will recognise, as we all do, that when Members take up a cause and drive forward on a narrow agenda, it is remarkable how much progress they can make and how much influence they can bring to bear. The Bill—

Mr Speaker: Order. The Minister’s encomium to the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) will be appreciated by the hon. Gentleman and by many Members of the House. Of course it is perfectly proper for the Minister to spend some time focusing on the contents of the Bill, which doubtless he will do, but it would be very regrettable if the impression were to gain ground that he or others on the Treasury Bench were in any way reluctant to get on to the matters in the Bill to be promoted by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and I am sure that no such consideration is in the Minister’s mind.

Mr Blunt: You are of course entirely right, Mr Speaker. No such thought had crossed my mind; indeed, I have taken rather a limited interest in today’s remaining business because this is the only item on which I have focused my attention. My hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley is also my parliamentary neighbour, so I hope you will be kind enough to allow me the enthusiasm with which I am able to present the Government’s support for the measure, and allow me to record my appreciation and that of the Government for the work that he has done in this regard. However, bearing in

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1183

mind your advice, Mr Speaker, I am happy to turn to the Third Reading of the Bill before us.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): He’s got a lot of pages to get through.

Mr Blunt: The hon. Gentleman says I have a lot of pages to get through. Perhaps this is the moment to put on record my appreciation of the support that I have received from staff in the Ministry of Justice, who have helped my preparation and advised on the amendments that were tabled to the Bill at an early stage and which my hon. Friend accepted in Committee, which improved the Bill and allowed it to enjoy Government support.

As we have heard, the Bill’s purpose is twofold. It extends the offence in section 5 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 to include cases of causing or allowing serious physical harm to a child or vulnerable adult, and it applies evidential and procedural provisions similar to those in section 6 of that Act to the extended offence. Extending the law in this way was contemplated when the original legislation was passed, and has continued to be urged since. The section 5 offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult broke new ground, and the associated evidential and procedural provisions were controversial so a staged approach made good sense, but the existing provisions have worked as intended and we agree that the time is now right to extend them. Cases in which it is clear that serious harm suffered by a child or a vulnerable adult must have been sustained at the hands of one of a limited number of members of a household should not founder because there is insufficient evidence to point to the particular person responsible.

The crucial aspect of the section 5 offence is that the prosecution need not prove whether the defendant is responsible for causing or allowing the victim’s death, so the defendant will be convicted of the same offence whether he was personally responsible for the unlawful act that killed the victim or if he was a member of the household that failed to take steps to protect the victim when he knew, or ought to have known, about the risk of harm that existed in that household. This means that it is much harder for those co-accused of the death of a child or vulnerable adult to evade justice by virtue simply of remaining silent or of blaming each other. The section 5 offence has been used successfully in a number of cases, including the profoundly shocking one of baby Peter Connelly.

The section 5 offence is a serious stand-alone offence that carries a high maximum penalty—14 years’ imprisonment—but the aim was, and remains, that the person who caused the victim’s death should be identified and convicted of murder or manslaughter, if appropriate. Those offences, of course, carry life sentences. Accordingly, section 6 of the 2004 Act modified certain evidential and procedural provisions in relation to alternative charges in trials involving the section 5 offence. The modified procedures apply when a defendant is charged with the section 5 offence and with murder or manslaughter in the same proceedings relating to the same death. The procedures are intended to encourage defendants to give evidence, and to ensure that the more serious charge remains available if, during the trial, evidence emerges of who was responsible for the death. The Government consider the extension of those principles

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1184

in the way proposed in the Bill appropriate and proportionate to the harm being addressed.

Restricting the extended section 5 offence to serious physical harm is consistent with the need to show a pre-existing risk of “serious physical harm” in subsection 5(1)(c) of the 2004 Act. The extended section 5 offence does not criminalise behaviour more broadly than is necessary. A broad offence that covered psychiatric harm, for example, could deter people from caring for vulnerable adults because they fear being prosecuted for failing to foresee a psychiatric injury. Similarly, restricting the modified procedures in clause 2 of the Bill to the more serious offences that are likely to be tried with the extended section 5 offence is appropriate, given the extraordinary nature of the provisions. A maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment for causing or allowing serious physical harm is proportionate when we consider the maximum penalties for causing or allowing death and for other offences of grievous bodily harm.

Concerns have been expressed about potentially criminalising those who are themselves vulnerable, such as victims of domestic violence; indeed, those concerns were raised during the passage of the 2004 Act, too. However, it is important to bear in mind the high threshold that must be met for an offence under section 5 to be made out. To prove the existing offence, it is necessary to show that the defendant either caused the death of the victim or allowed it by failing to take reasonable steps to protect the victim from a foreseeable risk of serious physical harm. What constitutes “reasonable steps” will vary, depending on the circumstances of the person and his or her relationship to the victim. The court will take all the circumstances into account.

If one of the defendants has been the victim of, or a witness to, domestic violence, the steps that the defendant could reasonably have been expected to take may be more limited than the steps that someone not suffering or witnessing that violence could reasonably have been expected to take. Depending on the facts of the case, the court may find that it was not reasonable for the defendant to take some of the steps that might otherwise have been available to them. The same principles will apply to the extended offence. In other words, the offence will be sensitive to the circumstances in each case.

As is the case with the existing offence, the extended offence will not apply when the serious harm resulted from an accident. Nor will it apply when there was one specific known risk within a household, such as a violent or abusive person, but the child or vulnerable person suffered harm from a different cause. The offence does not criminalise members of the household for allowing the serious harm if it was the result of an event that they could not have anticipated or avoided. The extended offence and procedures are intended, like the existing ones, to be a fair and proportionate package of measures.

As hon. Members know, the Government are committed to preventing the creation of unnecessary criminal offences. However, we consider the extension of the criminal law in the relatively limited way proposed in the Bill to be justified and appropriate. In reaching that conclusion, we have had regard to the possibility that those responsible for very serious injury may escape conviction; the vulnerability of both child and adult victims; and the special responsibility that members of the same household bear for the vulnerable with whom they live.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1185

We have considered the evidence that is available on the harm that we are attempting to address by supporting this Bill. In 2010, chief Crown prosecutors in six Crown Prosecution Service areas identified 20 potential cases involving children, and three involving vulnerable adults, that could not be prosecuted under existing legislation, and that they believe could have been prosecuted under an extended section 5 offence, subject to the case meeting the two-stage test in the code for Crown prosecutors.

The Government have examined the Bill’s financial consequences for the Ministry of Justice, using two sets of data. The first set, to which I have referred, was provided by the Crown Prosecution Service and was about the potential number of cases. Our estimate, based on the CPS evidence, is that the annual cost to the Ministry of Justice of extending the section 5 offence will be in the order of £20 million a year. That is not an insignificant sum, but the measure will provide increased protection for some of the most vulnerable members of society. That is why the Government have decided to support my hon. Friend’s Bill.

My hon. Friend produced for us another set of data, supplied by a former member of the London Metropolitan police. Those data covered only children, rather than children and vulnerable adults, caught by the Bill. They suggested that the cost impact of the extended offence would, in a steady state of affairs, be £10 million a year. Having examined both sets of data, our view is that the cost is likely to be further towards £20 million a year, as we believe that the CPS study is rather wider and more comprehensive. There will inevitably be uncertainties about the case load and the likely sentence length that will arise from the new, extended offence, but I have set out the basis of our assumption.

The CPS data suggest that we are looking at around 150 cases a year, subject to the uncertainty to which I alluded. That forecast is based on the idea that the number of cases in 2010 will be representative of the number of cases going forward. The survey was undertaken by chief Crown prosecutors in Sussex, Northumbria, Merseyside, Norfolk, Hertfordshire and Thames Valley. They were asked to identify the number of cases in 2010 in which they had been unable to prosecute for grievous bodily harm or cruelty to a child, or grievous bodily harm to a vulnerable adult, because there was insufficient evidence on which of the members of a household who were in frequent contact with the victim was responsible for the injury. Those prosecutors identified a total of 20 cases involving children, and three involving vulnerable adults, that could not be prosecuted under any existing legislation, and which they believe could be prosecuted under an extended section 5 offence, subject to the case meeting the two-stage test in the code for Crown prosecutors.

Those areas collectively account for 15% of national Crown Prosecution Service business. If we extrapolate from those data, we get to a national figure of potentially 133 cases involving children, and 20 cases involving vulnerable adults. That is 153 cases in total, each of

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1186

which, of course, will necessarily involve a minimum of two defendants. That is a broad estimate that makes assumptions about the volume of cases in the CPS areas that did not supply data, so the actual number of cases across the country could be larger or smaller. Of course, statistically, the size of the sample, as any statistician would make clear, brings its own level of unreliability to the data.

The data supplied to my hon. Friend indicate that over a three-year period from 2005-06 to 2007-08 there were 179 cases in which children suffered grievous bodily harm. Sixty-nine cases involved more than one suspect in a “Which of you did it?” scenario, and did not result in prosecution. According to the police, further scrutiny of those 69 cases identified at least 39 in which prosecution would have been probable had the section 5 offence been extended to include serious harm. That implies that there were about 13 cases a year over the past three years in London alone that would have been prosecuted under the extended section 5 offence.

We have been unable to verify the data—indeed, the police have acknowledged that they were partly supposition—which did not cover vulnerable adults. The CPS has looked at the papers provided by the police, but they contain insufficient information either to form a view on whether any of the cases could have been successfully prosecuted under an extended section 5 offence or in getting them to the CPS case papers. However, the financial implications are not insignificant if the Government are to accept the measure in the current financial climate. The fact that we are prepared to do so gives a sense of the importance that we attach to the measure and of our enthusiastic support for the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend. Members on both sides of the House have agreed to plug that particular gap.

You implicitly set me the challenge of managing to keep this going until 2.30 pm, Mr Speaker, but you will see that I have only managed to stagger on until 10 o’clock. Plainly, I did not begin to speak with any other intention, and it would be wholly improper to do otherwise. At least the time at which I shall conclude will satisfy you that I did not begin with any other intention.

Chris Bryant: Why stop then?

Mr Blunt: The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) tempts me, but I will ignore his remarks, as I wish to conclude by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley again, even at the risk of upsetting you, Mr Speaker, and by renewing my thanks to my officials in the Ministry of Justice who have assisted me in preparing the Government’s response to the debate. I am delighted to commend the Bill to the House, and I hope that its passage through another place will be equally successful.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1187

Equality and Diversity (Reform) Bill

Second Reading

10.3 am

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

There are two things that my Bill seeks to do. First, it seeks to prohibit affirmative or positive action by public authorities, and secondly, it seeks to repeal the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002, which removed the selection of candidates from the usual laws against discrimination, and legalised discrimination in the form of all-women shortlists.

I believe in equality of opportunity and fair chances for all, which is why I am very much opposed to the concept of equality of outcome, which means fixing a result before a process has begun. In the case of jobs, that can take the form of targets or quotas and, ironically, it means that there cannot be equality of opportunity. As a Conservative, and not a Marxist, that is something that I do not support. Without fair chances, there is no fair system, and someone will always be discriminated against. The Bill seeks to take away the obsession with equality of outcome, which has replaced equality of opportunity and meritocracy. Just like democracy, meritocracy has its imperfections, but it is by far the best option in the end. Social engineering and fixing processes are not right, as they have in-built, deliberate unfairnesses, and consequently, they are not only imperfect but unjust.

I should declare at the outset that I am the parliamentary spokesman for the Campaign Against Political Correctness, an organisation that I commend to everyone. I can only assume, Mr Speaker, it is only an oversight that so far you are not a member.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Was the hon. Gentleman appointed or elected to that position?

Philip Davies: I think that I was given the position on merit, and I certainly was not given the job because I am a man. I do not think that I was given it because I am white. I would like to think that I was given the position on merit. Most Members know my views on political correctness.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): As my hon. Friend will be aware, many new Members may not know those views, so perhaps he would like to enlighten them.

Philip Davies: It is unlike my hon. Friend to be so off the ball as not to know my views on political correctness, but for his benefit, I make it perfectly clear that I abhor all forms of political correctness, the restriction of free speech, and the way in which we try to rig jobs to get a particular outcome. I believe in merit, and that merit alone is the best form of action. Political correctness annoys the vast majority of the public, but it is not only the silly things. People concentrate on them, but it is the sinister side of political correctness that I do not like, including the erosion of free speech and people being made to feel that they are some kind of bigot or are xenophobic simply because they express opinions that other people do not hold. That is why it is time for the silent majority to stop being silent and stand up against the scourge of political correctness.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1188

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): There is a genuinely serious and interesting debate here. For instance, 30 years ago, racist jokes were a staple for stand-up comics, and it was the early stages of political correctness that made that unacceptable. Would my hon. Friend like to see the return of the racist joke?

Mr Speaker: If the Minister would turn round and address the Chamber, we would be grateful.

Damian Green: Does my hon. Friend not agree that the return of the racist joke as a comedy staple would be unacceptable? He says that all forms of political correctness are unacceptable, but does he not think that that is pushing it a bit too far?

Philip Davies: No, I do not. I do not accept that political correctness has helped with those things. I think that political correctness hinders the process of tolerance, as it builds up resentment that would not otherwise exist. I totally disagree with my hon. Friend, as I do not think that political correctness helps with tolerance: it breeds intolerance and resentment, which is why I oppose it in all its forms. I am not here to defend people who are intolerant of others, as that is unacceptable. Equally, I do not believe that people should be intolerant of people who happen to have a different opinion from them, which we often see in people who try to preach the language of tolerance.

It is not a question of my supporting intolerant or bigoted people, but I do believe in free speech. If we believe in free speech, we have to believe that people have a right to say things with which we disagree and which we may occasionally find offensive. That is the whole principle of free speech. Free speech does not mean that people are free to say only the things with which we agree—that is a nonsensical definition. The fact that I do not happen to agree with what somebody else says would not stop me defending their right to say it.

The Bill specifically tackles one of the worst forms of political correctness, which is institutionalised political correctness. The Bill prohibits the use of affirmative or positive action by local authorities. So-called equality and diversity measures have taken over where common sense used to prevail. The tick-box mentality has far-reaching tentacles in our schools, hospitals and emergency services. Everywhere we look there is evidence of this obsession.

My opposition to the whole equality and diversity agenda is, first, that it is total nonsense in its own right. The terms “equality” and “diversity” have no real meaning, and they do not necessarily sit comfortably together. Secondly, such measures are highly discriminatory and do not sit well with those being discriminated against or, perhaps less obviously, with those supposedly benefiting from the discrimination. Thirdly, they are responsible for increasing, not decreasing, racism and sexism, in my opinion. Fourthly, they are a total and utter waste of our money.

So-called equality and diversity is nonsense because we are told that it is all about being representative and that it is essential for organisations and businesses to reflect the community they serve. It is rather patronising to think that the rules have to be rigged to enable women or ethnic minorities to get a job. People from

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1189

ethnic minorities and women are more than capable and are sufficiently talented to get a job in competition with people who are men and white, on a fair and transparent basis. They do not need to have the rules rigged in their favour in order to get jobs, and it is patronising to suggest that they do.

The people who are really racist and sexist in this country are the ones who see everything in terms of race and gender. I do not. The gender, religion and sexuality of the person applying for a job should be irrelevant.

Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Why does the hon. Gentleman think women are so under-represented in senior positions in industry?

Philip Davies: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will come to that later. He raises an important issue and I will tackle it directly. If he feels that I have not done so, I invite him to come back to me later and I will have another stab at it for him.

The idea of businesses and organisations reflecting the community they serve is nonsense. A certain proportion of our local communities are criminals. A certain proportion of people are sent to prison. Are we really saying that, because it is so important that all organisations and all businesses reflect the community they serve, a certain proportion of every organisation should be made up of criminals because they make up a certain proportion of the population? That is nonsense. Nobody seriously believes that every organisation should reflect the community it serves. That is just trite.

Nobody—and I mean nobody—who I know is remotely concerned when white men are under-represented, so the issue is not really one of equality and diversity at all. The aim is to make some people more equal than others. To illustrate the point, I note that there seem to be very few male midwives about, yet nobody, to my knowledge, has seriously suggested in the House that there should be positive action to try and ensure that 50% of midwives are male. Similarly, the number of white men, or indeed women, who work in Indian restaurants up and down the country is not an issue, nor should it be. The first thing that crosses my mind when I go into a south Asian restaurant is how good the chicken madras is and how well it has been cooked, not what sex or ethnicity the waiters and chef are. That is the way it should be.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Has the hon. Gentleman looked at what percentage of people who apply to be midwives are men, and what percentage of men subsequently get a post?

Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. I will deal with it later. One of the things that my Bill tries to repeal is the legislation providing for all-women shortlists. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might like to ask himself the same question when it comes to the number of women MPs—how many of those people put themselves forward to become MPs, against the number who are selected. He may find the answer to his own question in that conundrum.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1190

Apart from those whom one would expect to oppose equality and diversity measures, there are many others whom those who push political correctness would rather sweep under the carpet, as their views are inconvenient to the argument.

Mr Nuttall: On a couple of occasions my hon. Friend has referred to political correctness. Will he provide the House with a definition of the term?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Political correctness is one of those things that is very difficult to define, but people know it when they see it. I will have a go for my hon. Friend. I would say that political correctness is the promotion of positive discrimination and the restriction of free speech carried out in the name of minorities, but usually initiated by white male middle-class lentil-eating sandal-wearing Guardian-reading do-gooders with too much time on their hands and a misguided guilt complex. My hon. Friend may have a better definition and I am happy for him to offer one. That is my initial stab at a definition of political correctness.

Mr Nuttall: Is it true to say, then, that the political correctness agenda is not set by those whom the white middle-class males seek to “protect”?

Philip Davies: That is my experience. Most of these measures are not perpetrated by the people whom they are supposed to help. On many occasions the people in whose name it is supposedly done are the ones who feel most patronised by it and find it most unhelpful. I encourage my hon. Friend to go to the website www.capc.co.uk which gives some examples. There is a section there called “Not In My Name” where many people say how unhelpful such measures are for those in their situation, whether they are people who are gay, women, disabled or from an ethnic minority. There are countless such examples.

Mr David: The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting argument. Does he believe that, in society, freedom of speech should allow anything to be said, or does he think there must be some limits—some restrictions—in order to ensure freedom?

Philip Davies: My view about freedom of speech is that anything should be able to be said, except—the law is very good on this—for example, something encouraging someone to violence. That is unacceptable. It is clearly criminal. But people should be able to express an opinion, whether I happen to agree with it or not. If we go down the line of saying that there are certain things that people should not be allowed to say, we face the question who decides that. Who decides what people are allowed or not allowed to say? Whose values do we accept? The hon. Gentleman may be content that everything he says falls within the parameters of what is allowed, but what happens when he wants to say something that someone else has deemed not permissible?

When we have got to the stage, as we have in this country, where ordinary decent people are petrified about what they say in case some zealot somewhere down the line takes offence at it, which is the situation that many of our constituents find themselves in, we have a problem. For the country that is for ever going

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1191

round the world trying to promote freedom, we should be well aware that some of our constituents feel that freedom of speech is being eroded under our noses.

It is telling that we are very precious in the House about the fact that we are allowed to say anything in the House and we cannot be taken to a court of law on the basis of what we have said. Our freedom of speech is totally and utterly protected. The hon. Gentleman can say something incredibly controversial and he cannot be taken to court on the basis of what he said. However, he seems to be suggesting that he should be able to say anything he wants in here but that everyone else, including his constituents, should be subject to some kind of state control over what they can and cannot say. That is not the kind of country I want to live in, even if it is the kind he wants to live in.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman slightly overestimates the value of freedom of speech in the House. It is true that a Member could, in theory, say absolutely anything, but you, Mr Speaker, would upbraid them if they misused or abused that freedom, as happened earlier this year with a Liberal Democrat Member. There are also things that we are simply not allowed to talk about in the House, most notably the royal family and their activities.

Philip Davies: That is a separate issue, but the hon. Gentleman has made his point.

The point my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) made about how the people political correctness is supposed to benefit do not actually feel the benefit has also been made by Anjana Ahuja. Writing in The Times, she explains how her opinion was once sought by the newspaper’s executives on how to attract non-white writers. The paper planned to offer internships to ethnic minority candidates who had graduated in media studies. She says:

“It was well intentioned but misguided, I ventured, because I knew of no colleague whose passport to these venerable corridors had been secured by such questionable means. There were historians, linguists, lawyers, classicists, philosophers, biologists, physicists, even an Egyptologist—but no media studies graduates. My view was this: if a brown writer sails in on an easier ticket than a white wordsmith, The Times would be construed as patronising rather than progressive and the intern would struggle against whispers of lowered standards…which is why, in the miserable tale of Ali Dizaei, the Scotland Yard commander convicted of corruption, the fact that sticks out most is the continued, seemingly pointless and possibly harmful existence of the National Black Police Association. Substitute ‘black’ with ‘white’ and an outdated collective becomes an illegal organisation that is morally impossible to defend. Why partition members of the same profession along the lines of skin colour? I would not join an organisation for black journalists (or female ones) because its identity lies wholly in the exclusion of white hacks (or male ones).”

Batook Pandya, director of Bristol-based charity Support Against Racist Incidents, has said of a positive action scheme that meant that fire service open days were limited to ethnic minority recruits only:

“None of these open days should have been closed to white communities. I couldn’t give two hoots if they are white, black, Asian, male or female—they should simply be the best person for the job.”

Roshan Doug, writing in the Birmingham Post, has stated:

“I don’t want people promoted purely on the basis of the colour of their skin—call it ‘positive discrimination’ or something else. To me that’s rather patronising—as if Asians and blacks are a little more than token staff to appease the CRE… I would like to see the best men and women for the job.”

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1192

I believe that people are appalled, and rightly so, when they hear that a white person has been turned down for a job because of the colour of their skin. The same people would be appalled if anyone, whatever their ethnicity, was turned down for a job simply because of the colour of their skin. When that happens, it inevitably leads some people wrongly to conclude that the benefiting group in question has asked for this special treatment. As I made clear earlier, that is not the case at all. Some politically correct do-gooder has tried to do the right thing or, as is increasingly the case and perhaps more worryingly, someone is trying to comply with equality law.

Speaking for the Liberal democrats on the Second Reading of the Equality Bill, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), now the Minister for Equalities, said:

“I turn to positive action. It seems completely illogical that we should be allowed to fast-track the training of ethnic minority and women police, but not be allowed to fast-track their employment. The rebalancing of the workplace is hugely important, and I do not disagree with the Leader of the House’s vision of the bank boardrooms of the future. When both the genders make a decision, it is likely to be more balanced.”—[Official Report, 11 May 2009; Vol. 492, c. 581.]

That is just the sort of thing that winds people up. If people want real equality, it must be just that, not some groups being more equal than others. What has a young, white male ever done to deserve being turned away from a dream career in the police force simply because he is the wrong colour and the wrong gender?

Mr Nuttall: That is a very important point, because it seems to me that, where positive discrimination is being exercised, young, white males are today paying a price for the fact that their forefathers were not subject to those measures in years gone by. Why should that be so?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Perhaps we also ought to reflect on the fact that in many parts of the country the people who are finding it most difficult to get a job are young, white males from very poor and deprived backgrounds. They are among those who are finding it hardest to find employment. It must be a double kick in the teeth for them to find that they are denied the opportunity to attend a fire service open day simply because they happen to be white. I really do not know why on earth should have a Government who are prepared to sit and tolerate that kind of thing.

Mr Nuttall: Does my hon. Friend think that those feelings may have played a part in the riots that took place this summer?

Philip Davies: I am not sure about that, to be honest, because it is very difficult to know. As far as I am concerned, the riots were largely born out of opportunism and criminality. I would not like to provide any kind of excuse for the behaviour we saw, but I do not doubt that many people feel a resentment and frustration that would otherwise not exist. I do not know whether the riots had anything to do with it, but I certainly think that the worrying increase in support for the British National party in recent years was born out of such frustration. It is no good Members complaining about the rise of such wholly unacceptable parties and then pursuing policies that are meat and drink to those

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1193

parties. If we are to stop people voting for the BNP, we must remove the frustrations that led them to do so in the first place.

The cost of all these equality and diversity plans, action points, schemes and training courses is immeasurable, but one thing we can be sure about is that they cost an awful lot of money. I would always oppose such needless expenditure, but at a time when people are losing their jobs, having to tighten their belts massively and fearing what the future holds, it is even more inconceivable that so much money is thrown down the drain each year in the public sector on the equality and diversity agenda. The Government Equalities Office spent a whopping £62 million in the year to March 2011, and other Government Departments have their own equality budgets on top of that. That is before we get on to local police forces, hospitals, fire brigades and schools, which all have to spend their money on equality and diversity measures, taking it away from front-line services.

To give one example, the North East Ambulance Service NHS Trust is looking for an equality and diversity manager, with a salary of between £30,460 and £40,157 pro rata. The job description is “to act as a lead within the trust on the implementation of our equality strategy and action plan. The successful applicant will have a key role in developing the trust’s approach to the new NHS equality and delivery system.” Who in their right mind could think that an equality and diversity manager in an NHS ambulance service is a priority at this time, compared with a nurse or another ambulance driver? When someone dials 999, they want an ambulance, not an equality and diversity officer. What on earth is there to consider for the ambulance service? Surely if someone is injured they are looked after irrespective of their gender and race. It is all a load of nonsense.

There is another such vacancy, at the University of Greenwich, which is selecting someone to be its Equality and Diversity Champion, salary approximately £40,000—well, at least students now know where their tuition fees are going. The job description states:

“You will be responsible for promoting an integrated approach to equality and diversity issues across the university, and provide Schools and Offices with a point of expert reference and guidance on equality and diversity issues. You will work with other university offices to continue to improve our performance as an employer and further develop disability access for staff. You will be an experienced equality professional with an ability to develop and implement policy.”

Mr Nuttall: Would my hon. Friend like to venture how anybody could become qualified as an “experienced equality professional”? It rather suggests that there must be a whole career path for equality officers.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right, and that is part of the problem we now face, because the equality and diversity industry—that is what it now is: an industry—is incredibly powerful. There is now a huge lobby, and so many people’s jobs depend on the industry, that it is difficult to tackle, because as soon as anybody tries to argue against the point of such things, those people descend on them. My hon. Friend may well find that, and I am sure I will at some point.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1194

Those people descend on others like a ton of bricks, because, although they believe in equality and diversity, they do not believe in the equality or diversity of other people’s opinions; everyone has to agree with them on being against such things; otherwise, they are not entitled to that opinion at all. It always amazes me how such people, who always preach tolerance and diversity, are so intolerant of other people when they have an opinion that differs from theirs.

I prefer the person who drafted the advert for the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University NHS Trust, who at the end of it wrote:

“Usual rubbish about equality, equal opportunities employer etc.”

That just about sums it up perfectly.

Mr Nuttall: I appreciate that my hon. Friend, for reasons that I know not, opposed last week’s motion to allow electronic hand-held devices in the Chamber, but one great advantage of now being allowed such devices is that I was able immediately to follow his advice, go to www.capc.co.uk and access the website of the Campaign Against Political Correctness. On it, there can be found the “Not in my name” section, where Bolaji Alajija, a 42-year-old student nurse from north London, says:

“I don’t see why there is all the fuss. What’s the harm in having a black doll? It’s exactly the same as a white doll. People shouldn’t be so sensitive.”

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I remind Members that, although they are allowed to use iPads, they have to make a speech without continuously reading from them. I am sure Mr Nuttall will take that on board.

Philip Davies: I am very grateful for your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker, particularly as someone who voted against allowing these wretched things to be used in debates. If anyone was ever going to convince me that I made the wrong decision in that vote, however, it is my hon. Friend, who has gone to an excellent website, and I certainly commend him for doing so.

The second part of my Bill tackles the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002. I was not a Member when the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill was debated, but it will come as no surprise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to know that had I been I would have definitely opposed it. I have a great deal of time for many of my female Conservative colleagues, we have some extremely able MPs and, for the record, I have excellent female staff. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the greatest Prime Minister this country has ever had was, indeed, a woman, but I do not particularly care if the House is made up of 10% women or 90%. For me, that will never be an issue, so the fundamental premise of the 2002 Act will always be totally flawed.

The most important thing for me is not how many men or women are in Parliament, but how many Conservatives there are in Parliament, and I challenge anybody who is obsessed with the idea that the most important end in itself is that we have more women in Parliament. If, for example, a Conservative male fought a marginal seat against a Labour female, would any of my hon. Friends campaign for her on the basis that it was so important to get more women into Parliament, or would they campaign for him? I venture that they

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1195

would campaign for him, because I am sure that for all Government Members, apart from of course the Liberal Democrats, it is far more important to have more Conservatives in Parliament than to be worried about how many MPs there are of a particular gender.

During the Bill’s Second Reading on 24 October 2001, almost 10 years ago to the day, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), now the Home Secretary, said:

“I shall be honest with the House. There was a time when I never thought that I would stand up in the Chamber and support such a Bill.”—[Official Report, 24 October 2001; Vol. 373, c. 334.]

I wish she had stuck to her earlier opinion, as it would have been the more Conservative thing to do.

While my right hon. Friend supported the Bill, the former Member for Maidstone and the Weald, Ann Widdecombe, did not. In the debate, she said:

“The Bill is fundamentally wrong. I must ask this question; are all the men in this place sound asleep? Do they realise what the Bill means for them? Have they thought that positive discrimination for women can entail negative discrimination for men?”

The irony is that, as those in the House at the time were already Members, they did not need to worry about candidates, so the Bill was effectively about kicking away the ladder of opportunity from men who had not yet reached the House. I wonder how those Members would have felt if they had been told, “Sorry, I know you would make an excellent MP, but we’re going to stop you applying for the seat that you’ve lived in all your life, because you happen to be a man.” How would any men present today have felt if such a rule had applied to them?

Ann Widdecombe also hit the nail on the head, when during the debate she asked:

“What would that mean for a man in that constituency who had given to his local council the same lifelong service that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson)—

at the time—

gave to hers”?

Mr Nuttall: I had the honour of standing against the then Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough in 1997. Does my hon. Friend agree that she was able to succeed in a northern, working-class city without any positive discrimination whatever?

Philip Davies: Absolutely. My hon. Friend is entirely right. People such as Helen Jackson made their way to Parliament on merit alone, and they should be commended for that. I am sure that they would not have wanted it any other way.

Ann Widdecombe went on to say:

“Let us say that the man had worked there and escaped from there, and that he wanted to apply for the seat when it fell vacant. He would not be able to represent the constituency if all-women shortlists were in operation.

“That would be the reality for men under this pernicious Bill, yet hon. Gentlemen welcome it as a great step forward. It is a massive step towards inequality for men, and the poor souls just let the women walk all over them. They do not appear to care what will happen to them.”

And Miss Widdecombe also said:

“I can tell the hon. Gentleman that when I entered a constituency selection committee and saw that most of the people there were women, my heart used to sink. We should not get the idea that discrimination against women is performed solely by men. It is

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1196

not… If I had been in a selection committee anteroom with two men who had got there by beating off all the competition yet I was only there because a place had been reserved for a woman on the shortlist, I would not feel helped. I would feel humiliated, insulted and patronised. I am glad to say that my party never did that to me. —[

Official Report

, 24 October 2001; Vol. 373, c. 352-53.]

The fact of fewer women MPs is always blamed on discrimination, but in reality—certainly in the Conservative party—at the time of the Bill’s discussion roughly the same proportion of women who applied for seats were selected. The lack of women MPs is, therefore, much more to do with the fact that they do not put themselves forward.

As India Knight put it so well:

“I’ll tell you what the issue is with women in business or women and work”—

and this deals with the point that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David) made earlier—

“It is extremely simple. It is not to do with sexist dinosaur male bosses or with male-dominated industries crushing our genius. It is not to do with glass ceilings. It is to do, very straightforwardly, with the number of hours we are prepared to put in. If you’re happy to work a 16-hour day and never see your children, you too can become a master of the universe…. Few women are prepared to make that kind of sacrifice. This is entirely their right and good on them. However, it is surely both dishonest and intensely stupid to apportion blame—in the form of so-called corporate discrimination—to what is essentially a completely personal choice: power versus being there at bath time, conferences versus the park, business trips versus getting home in time for homework, giving ‘110%’ versus sleeping more than five hours a night.”

The words of India Knight address the point made by the shadow Minister.

The 2002 Act was supposed to be temporary, and apparently was supported on that basis. I do not know many “temporary” things that have run for more than a decade. As things stand, the Act has a further two decades to go, it having been granted a massive “temporary” extension in the recent Equality Act.

Some people will say that we need more women MPs so that we can be more representative and so that women’s issues can be addressed better. That is utter rubbish. It is ridiculous to suggest that women are more likely to be better represented by women and that men are better represented by men. I am very proud of the fact that I represent all my constituents—men or women—equally and to the best of my ability. I suspect—although I do not know for sure—that just as many women voted for me at the general election in Shipley as did men.

Mr Nuttall: Can my hon. Friend confirm that he also represents constituents of all races equally, despite being a white man himself?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that applies to all hon. Members. We treat all of our constituents equally and we represent all of them to the best of our ability, irrespective.

It is interesting that we keep hearing about “women’s issues” as this seems rather sexist and patronising. What are “women’s issues”? Many issues that are tagged as so-called women’s issues are also important to men. I have often heard that education is a women’s issue, but I would have thought that education was a family issue and was of just as much interest to men and fathers as to women and mothers.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1197

I venture that the issues that a Conservative woman is concerned about are more closely aligned with the issues that a Conservative man is concerned about than they are with the issues that concern a Labour woman. The idea that certain issues are women’s issues is patronising and wrong.

Mr David: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that sex discrimination exists in our society, or does he think that somehow everybody exists in absolute equality?

Philip Davies: I have clearly been speaking in Swahili for the past half an hour. Yes, there is still sex discrimination, and it exists in the Act that my Bill is attempting to repeal. My Bill would make it illegal to have any form of sex discrimination. If that is the hon. Gentleman’s agenda, I presume that he will support my Bill in the Lobby, because it would prevent any positive action or discrimination. It would guarantee that there would be no sex discrimination at all. Jobs would be given on merit alone. I therefore look forward to his support in the Lobby later.

The argument that all of this is optional, and that no party is forced to discriminate, is also nonsense. All parties in favour of bringing the law in were obviously highly likely to use it once it was passed. I am sad to say that on some occasions even the Conservative party appears to have fallen into this socialist trap.

Some people will say that it is all very well my giving my views on this issue, because—as a white male—I have had it really easy. But I agree with Kenan Malik who says:

“I reject identity-based representation not only because the idea that one should be represented only by one’s own kind is, and always has been, at the heart of the racist agenda, but also because such representation acts as an obstacle to what you call ‘a genuinely participatory democracy’.”

I always find it strange that people can say that they are not sexist and racist, but happily support measures and notions that are just that.

The public’s view of all-women shortlists is also clear. At the 2005 general election Labour lost one of its safest seats, Blaenau Gwent, because of the party’s politically correct obsession with all-women shortlists. Those who voted in the election were not just men: it was clearly offensive to women too. Where does it all end—quotas and targets for people based on their sexuality, their eyesight, their hair colour or their star sign? If not, why not? Why limit it to just gender and race? Why not go the whole hog and have discrimination based on people’s background or hair colour or any of these other things?

I wish to play my trump card against opponents of this part of my Bill, and that is Baroness Thatcher. No whingeing, relaying of statistics, bleating on about unfair treatment or complaining about sexism can explain away Margaret Thatcher. Not only did she get selected as a candidate, which is apparently so difficult for women without this House rigging the rules in their favour, but she managed to become a Minister and, as we all know, a long-serving and excellent Conservative Prime Minister.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1198

Tom Brake: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are always exceptions to any rule?

Philip Davies: The point is that women can—although not in his party or in the Labour party. In our party, almost 40 years ago, a woman was quite capable of getting to the top on merit alone. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman thinks that the women in his party have not been good enough to lead his party—

Tom Brake: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that I am not of that view. I would also like to point out that in Wales the leader of the Liberal Democrats is a woman.

Philip Davies: If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the women in his party are more than capable of being leader, why have they not become leader? Is he saying that his party is sexist and does not allow women to become leader even though they are good enough to be leader? If he is saying that, he should not tarnish the Conservatives’ reputation by trying to impose ridiculous laws. He should tackle the sexism in his own party instead, if that is why he supports this nonsense.

Margaret Thatcher was leader of the Conservative party—the very party that is constantly accused of sexism and appears to want to beat itself up about it—more than a third of a century ago. It gets even better, because she was clear, years after leaving office, that all-women shortlists should be avoided. In her book on statecraft she says that

“the use of quotas applying to the appointment or promotion of individuals because of their collective identity or background is an unacceptable incursion on freedom, however well-intentioned the motives. Nor does it help those who are its intended beneficiaries. Individuals from these groups may well feel patronised; their professional reputations in posts which they would anyway have attained on merit are diminished, because they are thought to occupy them by special privilege; and they are likely to become targets of resentment and possibly even ill-treatment.”

If any male Members are still in favour of all-women shortlists I say what I have always said to them—“Come on. Do the honourable thing and, instead of shafting other men who are trying hard to get into this place, put your money where your mouth is. If it is so important to you that you want to support legalised discrimination, go ahead, resign your seat so a woman can be selected in your place.” That is the best thing that proponents of this approach could do, but it is amazing how few of them are prepared to do it. They are not so keen that there should be more women in Parliament that they are prepared to make space themselves to allow a woman in—[ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) says that I am talking drivel, but I look forward to him resigning his seat the moment the House rises so that a woman can take his place. Or is it that women should represent only other constituencies, not his? Until hon. Gentlemen are prepared to take that step, I am afraid that people will see through it as gesture politics of the worst possible kind.

People can say I am misguided, that I am missing something, that I need to be educated on the benefits of positive action and positive discrimination—but what would they say to all the people I quoted, who are from the very groups that equality and diversity moves are

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1199

supposed to help? Would they say that those people were wrong and that they just do not get it, either, whatever “it” is?

This is a case of the emperor having no clothes. Most Members want to be seen to be in favour of nice-sounding ideals, and many confuse political correctness with doing the right thing. They do not want to be the ones to say that they do not get the whole equality and diversity agenda or, worse still, that it is having a negative effect on race relations and good community cohesion. I, however, am prepared to say that the emperor has no clothes. The whole concept of equality and diversity is, at best, a mistaken attempt to pursue a fantastical idea of equality, but, at worst, a dangerous piece of social engineering that encourages and praises discrimination against certain groups of people based on things they cannot change.

I do not believe that this is the right thing, and I certainly do not believe that it is a fair thing—and I am not alone. There are many, many people who agree with me. In an ICM poll, a massive 80% of people in Britain said that they were fed up with political correctness. Members will be delighted to hear that the poll was completely representative and covered a very diverse range of people. The vast majority of people in all categories said they were fed up with political correctness, including women and people from all ethnic origins.

Britain can truly hold its head up and say that it is not racist or sexist only when people are given jobs on merit, and merit alone. People should be given jobs regardless of their sex, age, race or sexual orientation, not because of any of these factors. This Bill gives the House a chance to vote for something that can undo one of the biggest inequalities around. It can vote to reintroduce fairness, to remove the clear injustice of equality of outcome in the name of equality and diversity, and to promote real equal opportunities for all. I commend the Bill to the House.

10.52 am

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I have been following the speech by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) very closely and taking a considerable number of notes. Unfortunately, I had to deal with something in my office but, alas, I could repeat almost word for word what he has said; however, I will not.

In my 17 years in the Commons, this is the most reactionary, right-wing, regressive Bill ever put to this House in a serious speech. The hon. Gentleman will probably take that as a compliment. However, there is something more profoundly serious at stake, because he represents a growing view within his party that the minor progress that we have made on equality in recent years has gone too far and should be reversed. The whole history of British legislation is precisely to use the power of Government and state to redress imbalances and unfairnesses, first, between those who did and did not have the vote—between the aristocracy and the non-noblemen in our communities—and, over time, through other positive action to ensure that there was full equality for all.

Some of the hon. Gentleman’s proposals are ridiculous. He suggests that there can be no “affirmative or positive action” in order to help people depending on their “sex”—I think he means gender. Presumably, that would

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1200

outlaw the recruitment of women into convents because they were nuns and not men, or perhaps rugby players should now be hired not on the basis that they are trained, fit, male athletes, but that they are women.

The very first pamphlet I ever wrote as a political activist—

Mr Nuttall: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr MacShane: May I just make my points, and then I will give way? I do not mean to be discourteous, but I want to be brief because I am conscious that other people want to speak on other issues.

The very first political pamphlet I wrote in 1978 was an appeal to the BBC and other media organisations to hire journalists who were not white—at the time, we would say they were from the Asian or Afro-Caribbean community—because there was not a single byline reporter or presenter of that description on TV, despite the fact that by then we had hundreds of thousands, if not more, among our fellow British citizens and journalists I worked with, but in subordinate roles for which they had been able to offer themselves. I am glad, 30 years later, that that is not the case. We do not have a mono-coloured BBC or ITV or bylines in all our great newspapers evidently comprising only sturdy British citizens.

Philip Davies rose

Mr MacShane: If it is on that point, of course I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Philip Davies: It appears that the right hon. Gentleman has form in this regard. He was a white journalist who was insistent that somebody else should have to give up their job in order to make way for somebody from an ethnic minority, but apparently he was not volunteering to fall on his own sword. Now he is advocating that we should have more women in Parliament, and yet he still refuses to fall on his sword to help to make that happen. If he feels so strongly about it, why does he not have the courage of his convictions, put his money where his mouth is, and start doing the right thing?

Mr MacShane: The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. I did fall on my sword, in the sense that the BBC made me do so by liberating me from its employment at the time. Whether I was replaced by a journalist from the black and minority ethnic community, I do not know. The point is that we expanded journalism, and yes, we went in for positive discrimination in the sphere of broadcasting, and I am very glad about that. Certainly, when the time comes for me to leave my position as MP for Rotherham, I will be delighted if there is an all-women shortlist. The real question that the hon. Gentleman’s party has to ask is why, even with the all the people put on to the A-list, there are still so few women sitting on the Conservative Benches.

Mr Nuttall rose

Mr MacShane: I will take just one more intervention, because I want to make my contribution very short.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1201

Mr Nuttall: Going back to the question of rugby players, does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that women’s rugby is a very popular sport?

Mr MacShane: Women’s rugby and football, and other sports, are very popular. On the strict reading of the Bill, it would be illegal for Rotherham, Wasps or Harlequins not to entertain the notion of a woman rugby player, but I do not want to go too far down that road.

The notion that I find exceptionally offensive is that we make no efforts to help people with disabilities. We are facing thousands of people being fired from Remploy because of the wicked actions of the governing party. These are people who will find it incredibly difficult to get jobs elsewhere in the normal labour market. Quite rightly, in the 1940s, after the war, we honoured our war veterans by saying that those who came out of the war with particular disabilities could work in normal jobs and have the dignity of labour rather than living on handouts and the dole—but according to this wretched Bill, that, too, would be illegal.

On religion, we had an interesting discussion this week in Education questions about whether Cardinal Vaughan school in London can maintain its Catholic identity or, as some might wish, should no longer do so. I think that my many Jewish friends would find it very offensive, but oh so typical of the chauvinist, nationalist spirit that now reigns in the Conservative party, that they cannot define who comes into their schools on the basis of religion.

The whole balance of legislation, going back to the abolition of the slave trade and Lord Shaftesbury stopping children going up chimneys, was precisely to alter law to give particular protection to people who would otherwise be unfairly exploited on the grounds of their socio-economic status. I find it profoundly distressing that in October 2011 we are seriously being asked to rip up every decent parliamentary value that we and our predecessors have fought for over the years.

This is a Friday morning debate, and we all know that these Bills never go anywhere, but this Bill is symptomatic of the entire approach of the Conservative party. The Conservatives are refusing to support the International Labour Organisation convention on domestic workers because that, too, is aimed at giving a little bit of protection to people of a particular socio-economic and sex, or gender, status who are facing the most appalling exploitation in this and in other countries. Conservative Front Benchers have nothing to do with this Bill, of course, but the hon. Gentleman speaks for much of today’s Conservative party. That is why the quicker it is replaced in government by a party or parties that support the standards and best values of Britain, the better.

10.59 am

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I have listened carefully to what has been said in the debate, because I knew that it would be enlightening. I will make a few short points.

Of course I agree that people should secure employment and be promoted on merit. Unfortunately, often that is not enough to secure equal opportunity. Some people, such as Baroness Thatcher, may be exceptions to the rule, but very few people are exceptions to rules.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1202

On positive action, I think it is entirely appropriate that, over a number of years, the Metropolitan police have taken measures to try to ensure that the police force in London is representative of London’s communities. I think that that makes them more effective and more acceptable to the public as a whole.

On the point about midwives, the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) needs to consider whether there is a significant number of men who apply to be midwives and are refused on the basis of their gender, or whether men simply do not apply for those positions because they prefer to apply for others.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Liberal Democrat party. Clearly, it is a source of some embarrassment to my party that we have failed to secure the election of any members of black and ethnic minority communities to Parliament.

Mr Nuttall: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Tom Brake: In a minute; I will just finish my point.

It is also a source of embarrassment that the Liberal Democrat Benches do not have a more representative balance of men and women.

Mr Nuttall: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He is making some important points. I urge him and his colleagues not to feel embarrassed if they have arrived at this place on merit. There is no reason to feel embarrassed for that.

Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I would like to think that we have all arrived here on merit. The issue is that there are obstacles that often prevent others from arriving here on merit. He will know that, in politics, it is often helpful to have a network of people within a political party whom one knows and who are supportive. Often, women candidates or those from BME communities do not have the networks to help them progress in a political career. As he knows, there are other issues, such as financial issues. Anyone who wants to be a parliamentary candidate requires a certain amount of funding to support their political campaigning. That is not available to all.

I welcome the fact that the Liberal Democrat party has a leadership programme that aims to support women candidates and those from BME communities, to ensure that they are better prepared and better supported—financially, if necessary—so that they can compete on merit with other candidates.

Mr Nuttall: Would those funds be available to a young, aspiring, white, male politician from a working-class background or who is on benefits?

Tom Brake: I am grateful for that intervention, because the hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity to confirm that that support is available to the sort of person he describes. That is because we recognise that people from poorer socio-economic backgrounds struggle to get elected as Members of Parliament.

Philip Davies: The right hon. Gentleman is hitting the nub of the issue. Does he think that the Conservative party, for example, would be much more diverse if it replaced Rupert from Kensington and Chelsea with

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1203

Jessica from Kensington and Chelsea, which is what the legislation he is defending seeks to do? Does he not think that it would make the party more diverse to replace Rupert from Kensington and Chelsea with George from Newcastle? That point is not addressed by the legislation that he is defending.

Tom Brake: If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I will allow him to push for the particular balance that he would like to see in the Conservative party.

The hon. Gentleman gave a description of people who worry about equality and diversity issues, which I thought was quite an accurate description in some respects of those who are obsessed with political correctness. He said that they tend to be white, male and have too much time on their hands. I would add that they mourn the loss of empire, are bitter at the loss of their undeserved supremacy and are stuck in the last century but one. That would be an accurate description of those who are obsessed with political correctness.

The Bill has one merit, in that it allows us to debate these issues. We should acknowledge that although merit is a fine thing, in practice there are many fields of life in which merit is not sufficient to ensure that people make the progress that they should be allowed to make. I therefore hope that the Bill will make no further progress.

11.6 am

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is a great joy to be here at such an exciting moment in the parliamentary calendar. I sort of congratulate the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) on bringing forward the Bill, although it is a bit of a fib of a Bill because it is entitled the Equality and Diversity (Reform) Bill, whereas it should, of course, be called the Political Correctness Gone Mad (Abolition) Bill.

Philip Davies: I tried to call it that, but I was not allowed.

Chris Bryant: There is clearly significant prejudice against the hon. Gentleman in the Table Office. I should say that that prejudice is entirely shared by those on the Opposition Benches, and I suspect that it is shared a little by those on the Liberal Democrat Bench, which is a rather singular Bench today.

I start from the fundamental principle that we were all created equal. That comes from a religious position, although in my theology I am very heterodox—perhaps unusual for me. I believe that all human beings were created equal and that we, as politicians, should be seeking to ensure that that equality is reflected in the way that people are able to live their lives. I know humanists who come from a completely different perspective, but who end up at the same point of believing that we are all equal and that that equality should be matched in the way that we structure society.

The truth of the matter is that the world is not equal. There is inequality not only between rich people and poor people in a country, but between rich parts and poor parts of a country and between rich countries and poor countries. My fundamental assumption, therefore, is that it will always be a struggle to try to achieve equality, and not an easy one. One has always to try to

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1204

match equality with fairness. Sometimes, when one is trying to achieve equality, which might be fairer in one regard, one ends up with another form of unfairness.

The hon. Gentleman, in the way that he styled his comments and in the way that he styles his politics, runs away too much from the desire for genuine equality in society. I will raise with him some work that was done a few years ago. It showed that if there are two five-year-olds with the same IQ, in so far as IQ can be measured at the age of five, and one is in a family where the household earns more than £50,000 and the other is in a household that earns less than £15,000, five years later—this is quite frightening—the two 10-year-olds will not have the same IQ; the child in the richer family will have a higher IQ. Labour Members are passionate about ensuring that the child in the household with an income of less than £15,000 has a chance of realising their genuine potential. They should be able to retain the IQ that they have at the age of five until they are 10, 15, 50, 65 or 75. That is one of the many problems that I have with the hon. Gentleman's Bill.

Philip Davies: I am sure we can all identify with the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises, and that we all feel equally exercised about it, but surely the way to tackle it is through the education system. We must ensure that it looks after people of all abilities. Surely the solution should not be to allow the education system to perpetuate the current situation, then rig the rules for selecting people for jobs at a later date.

Chris Bryant: Indeed, many of us who represent valley seats in south Wales, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr David), who is in his place, know the long history of people fighting for better education precisely as a means of trying to rebalance and recalibrate that inequality in society. People do not need to have seen the play or film “The Corn Is Green” to know the educational ambition that often exists in many valley constituencies or other areas in the country with very high levels of multiple deprivation. All too often, however, it does not seem that the same educational opportunity is afforded to somebody in the Rhondda as it is to somebody in Chelsea.

I see the hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) in his place—as a Whip, he is now unable to speak, so I can tease him remorselessly. Since he dispatched his close friend the former Defence Secretary from his post specifically so that he could become a Whip, I shall now enjoy teasing his silence. My point is simply that those in Chelsea, who have much greater financial resources, can ensure that they live in a good catchment area so that their child can go to a better school, or can afford to send their child to a private school. I was very fortunate that members of my family paid for me to go to a private school, but that is not available to the vast majority of my constituents or, I suspect, to any of them. That is why ensuring that the educational system genuinely provides equality of opportunity is vital.

The most distressing thing that I have come across in my time as an MP was early on. I bumped into a girl of 17 in Tonypandy and asked her what she wanted to do when she left school. She said she wanted to be a barrister, and I said, “Brilliant, how’s all that going? What are you going to study at university?” She said, “Well, I want to be a barrister, but I’ve been told by the

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1205

careers service that girls from the Rhondda don’t get to be barristers.” All too often such depression of ambition can be self-perpetuating in communities, and that is why many of us believe in an aspirational form of socialism so that everybody has a chance to prosper.

Mr Nuttall: Does that not actually reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that the education system is at fault? The careers adviser should not have said that to someone who had that ambition. He should have encouraged her and provided her with the help and support she needed.

Chris Bryant: Absolutely—I agree with the second part of that intervention, although not with the bit where the hon. Gentleman encouraged me to agree with the hon. Member for Shipley. Incidentally, I prefer the former Member for Shipley, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), and I very much hope that he will have an opportunity to present his rather ludicrous Bill later.

Philip Davies: I am sure the vast majority of my constituents also prefer the former Member for Shipley and regret the fact that they let him go when they had the opportunity to keep him.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was watching “Daybreak” this morning, but if he was he will have seen my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) promoting her initiative called “If Chloe Can”, which is designed to raise the aspiration of young girls in particular who have the poverty of aspiration that the hon. Gentleman talks about. Surely that type of initiative, which the Prime Minister supported yesterday with a reception at No. 10 Downing street, is a more important way of dealing with the problem than rigging the selection rules for jobs.

Chris Bryant: There seem to be an awful lot of Ruperts and Jessicas and Chloes in the hon. Gentleman’s life. I think that the only Rupert who has ever crossed the border into the Rhondda constituency was Rupert Bear.

One of my experiences was as a curate in High Wycombe, a community that has a strong ethnic mix. A large community from St Vincent has been there since just after the second world war, and a large community from Kashmir and a large Polish community arrived in the middle of the second world war. I found that, all too often, in an unequal society the people who know how to shout the loudest get the best resources from national and local government. One of my problems with the educational system in this country, and for that matter with the national health service, is that all too often money has not followed need but has followed the loudest speeches. That is why I believe that we need equality legislation, and why I supported the legislation that the deputy leader of the Labour party brought forward in government.

Mr MacShane: I am following my hon. Friend’s speech with great interest, and I hope that it is only in its initial stages, because the Bill that follows really is a ghastly assault on privilege and fair play.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1206

Is it not a paradox that, even with equality legislation, every single person currently in the Chamber is white, middle-aged and male? That is not the case with those slightly outside the Chamber in the civil servants’ box or the Serjeant at Arms’ seat, but it is—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. This is not relevant. We are dealing with the Bill, and Members should be speaking to the Bill. I am sure the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) does not want to get led all over the place. We have already seen that coming from the Government side, and I certainly do not want to see it coming from the Opposition side.

Chris Bryant: Thank you for that advice, Mr Deputy Speaker, although I think the hon. Member for Shipley will be absolutely scandalised to have been described as coming from the Government side.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I am not sure about being middle-aged, either, but do carry on.

Chris Bryant: I think you are middle-aged, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am pretty much there as well.

The problem that I have with the contention made by the hon. Member for Shipley is that I still think there is a great deal of prejudice in British society. It is complex and arises in all sorts of ways. I have seen in my constituency problems at school for young black kids in a community that is almost entirely white, and sometimes black teachers have had a really rough time because of the kind of language that people use. Language that would no longer be heard in most other parts of the country, where there is a racial mix, is sometimes still used.

I would also point out that the suicide statistics for gay young men in particular are still quite phenomenal. A young gay lad is six times more likely to commit suicide than his heterosexual counterpart, and I would love to see the end of homophobic bullying in schools. It will be very difficult to achieve, because people are not born with a pink triangle on their forehead or whatever—it is something complicated that they have to discover for themselves, and children can be very cruel. Tackling such prejudice will always be one of the important things for Governments.

Philip Davies: I absolutely accept that there is still discrimination in society, and I certainly did not say that there was not. The point of my Bill is to try to remove it. My question for the hon. Gentleman is this: how do we tackle that discrimination? Surely the solution cannot be reverse discrimination in favour of people who were discriminated against in the past. Surely it is to remove all forms of discrimination.

Chris Bryant: Well, no, not quite. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the ambulance service, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier, turned up at the household of a young Muslim woman who was in labour and having a difficult childbirth, and had absolutely no understanding of what was acceptable in a Muslim household. It would not be able to do its job properly. That is precisely why all public services need to be culturally sensitive not just to how Britain has always been but to how it is today.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1207

When homosexuality was illegal—that era is fortunately long gone—and when David Maxwell Fyfe, as Home Secretary, ran a particularly nasty campaign of entrapment of gay men, some friends of mine, a couple who had lived together for many years, were burgled, but because they had only a one-bedroom flat, they were terrified of bringing the police round, because they knew that the police would investigate them for buggery rather than investigating the burglary.

I am afraid that there is a lack of understanding in far too many public services of how work could be improved by sensitivity to the ways other people live their lives—I would not say that there is deliberate prejudice, out-and-out racism, homophobia or sexism. In addition, many minority communities are simply forgotten by local authorities and the health service when they make their spending plans. That is one issue that needs to be addressed and one reason why the Bill is wrong.

Incidentally, there is significant cultural prejudice against the Catholic Church. I passionately disagree with the Pope on just about every issue, starting with transubstantiation. However, all too often prejudice against Catholics in society is quite marked and that is why it is not a good idea to ask people to give the name of their primary school when they are applying for public sector jobs. People will say, “Aha, this person went to the Cardinal Vaughan school! We’re not very keen on Catholics, so we won’t shortlist them.” It is illegal to do that, but it would be simpler and better if that element were taken out of the equation.

The hon. Member for Shipley said that he wanted a tolerant society. That phrase is very often used—I believe that an Archbishop of Canterbury started calls for a tolerant society in the 1960s. However, I dislike the concept of a tolerant society, because I think that a respectful society is far more important. “Tolerance” implies that although someone completely and utterly disapproves of someone who lives in a different style—

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con) rose—

Chris Bryant: I will tolerate the hon. Gentleman in a moment. Unfortunately, “tolerance” smacks of reluctance.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman starts tolerance in the 1960s, because surely John Locke did that in his essay on tolerance. The theme has run through Whiggish behaviour, of which he is symbolic, ever since.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I cannot see anything about tolerance in the Bill. I think we will stick with the Bill.

Chris Bryant: There is nothing in the Bill about tolerance. Indeed, one of the main problems with it is that it does not even aspire to tolerance, which is one of the many reasons why I oppose it.

The hon. Member for Shipley said—I am not paraphrasing, but accurately recording what he said—that women and ethnic minorities do not need the rules to be rigged in order to get jobs. He feels that the current legislation is patronising, because women and members of ethnic minorities are perfectly able to get jobs. I am

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1208

not sure that that is true. In fact, the evidence shows that, all too often, the rules are effectively rigged so that women do not get jobs.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether Labour men who supported all-women shortlists were surrendering themselves and falling on their swords. I merely point out that we are all about to lay down on our swords, because we voted through the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. I have no idea whether there will be a Rhondda seat or a Greater Rhondda seat, incorporating most of Caerphilly—that was my suggestion. I made no objection to all-women shortlists in the Labour party in 1997. I stood in High Wycombe, which was almost impossible for the party to win, and my election was not anticipated, although the Conservative party so completely destroyed itself in the 1997 election that I very nearly was elected.

All-women shortlists were then rendered illegal by court action. Interestingly, 10 Welsh Labour MPs stood down or retired before the 2001 election, and every single one was replaced by a Welsh Labour male MP—not a single woman was selected in any of those 10 historically safe Labour seats. I rejoiced that I was selected for the Rhondda in 2001, to many people’s surprise, not least my own, but it is none the less important that political parties have the power to retain all-women shortlists.

Philip Davies: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could explain why no women were selected. Is it the case that none of those women who applied for those seats was good enough to be selected, or is the Labour party in Wales riddled with sexism and so overlooked better-qualified women to select men? Perhaps he should sort out the problems in his own party and not impose those ridiculous laws on the rest of us.

Chris Bryant: We are not imposing any laws on the Conservative party.

Philip Davies: All-women shortlists?

Chris Bryant: No. Choosing all-women shortlists is entirely up to political parties. Labour chooses to use them.

The hon. Gentleman asked why men so often get selected for safe seats, which is a problem for the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and Labour. There are all sorts of complex reasons. Part of the problem is how we do business in Parliament, and part of it is how politics is presented in the wider public domain. There could be other prejudices out there. However, the Welsh Labour party has been immeasurably improved by the fact that we have a large number of women representing not only seats in the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government, but heartland seats in Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman says that he does not care whether 10% or 90% of MPs are women, but I care. I want to strive to make Parliament as representative of the wider population as possible. That cannot be too narrowly arithmetical, but I want to see the full diversity of Britain in the Chamber. Otherwise, the work that we do is undermined. If people do not hear their voice expressed, there will be a problem. Incidentally, by way of another criticism of myself, there are probably too many MPs of a particular social background and too few of a manual working class background, unlike the position in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1209

Philip Davies rose—

Chris Bryant: I will move on a little if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

We in the Labour party need to address those issues. Many Government Members criticise Labour’s relationship with the trade unions, but I make absolutely no apology for it. Many of the working class people who have come to the House have done so through the trade union route. They learned in the trade union movement how to do their politics and put their arguments, and they were financially supported so that they could put themselves forward for parliamentary nominations. They were selected on that basis, which is why I wholeheartedly support the relationship between the trade unions and the Labour party.

The hon. Member for Shipley seemed to suggest that there should be absolutely no limits to free speech. I mostly agree with him, and I believe in a free press. I worry sometimes about the direction of the Leveson inquiry. In my work in relation to the News of the World, my intention has never been to dismantle investigative journalism, which is an important part of how we do business and ensure our democratic rights. However, the hatred and the bigotry that some express sometimes goes beyond the pale. I want less hatred to be poured into the pool of hatred that is already out there. Some of the hon. Gentleman’s arguments are similar to those that Ann Widdecombe used when she was in the House. I found that they simply added to the sum total of bigotry rather than diminished it. We should all be striving to diminish it, and I am glad that we have laws that prevent the incitement of not only racial hatred but religious and homophobic hatred. As we have seen over recent years, that legislation has been all the more important in areas where there is a real social mix.

I also believe that Parliament has been immeasurably better for having had more women in it in recent years. I honestly think that were it not for the arrival of so many women some issues would not have been explored and addressed with anything like the seriousness with which they have been. One example is domestic violence. For centuries, a woman was regarded merely as a chattel or another household good for a man to do with as he pleased. Those laws were changed in the middle of the 20th century, but only in recent years did the police and the law start to take domestic violence seriously. I am certain that in my constituency and many others a large proportion of violent crime relates to what happens in people’s households or between domestic partners. I do not believe that the police would have the powers, will or resources to deal with that today had it not been for the arrival of significant numbers of women in Parliament.

I should note that today is the anniversary of the arrival of the first women peers in 1958. There were four of them, and they were a slightly strange lot. One was married to a viceroy, another was the daughter of a viceroy and another was a countess, so it was not exactly equality as we like to see it today. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), also known as the hon. Member for the 15th century and for “Question Time”, obviously likes that, however.

I am glad that the Government are moving forward with the issue of succession so that the prejudice—stemming originally from common law, not statute—that the

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1210

succession should be subject to male-preference primogeniture should be changed. I also hope that the Government are moving—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We are drifting well away from the Bill. We enjoy the history lesson, and it is good that a lot of history is coming out today. However, it is certainly not relevant to the Bill; we are certainly drifting way off course. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will bring us back on course.

Chris Bryant: I do apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is just that clause 2 is entitled “Definition of ‘affirmative or positive action’”. The Prime Minister is seeking to change the legislation at the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government next week and I worry that that could be seen by the hon. Member for Shipley as positive discrimination on the grounds of sex, listed in paragraph (b), and religion, in paragraph (g). I would hope that the hon. Gentleman was in favour of equality in the succession.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Bryant: How could I resist?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I wonder whether it might be right to look at the matter the other way round. Is this actually a rather dangerous Bill that would impliedly repeal positive discrimination in favour of Protestants in the order of succession—and, of course, of men as well? Has the hon. Gentleman considered that point?

Chris Bryant: I do worry about the prejudice in favour of Protestants, although the issue is even more complicated. It is not quite in preference of Protestants, but in favour of somebody who is able to take communion in the Church of England and subscribe to its articles of religion, a difficult thing even for most Anglican clergy, as well as be a member of the Church of Scotland. That is quite a tall ask.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that clause 2(1)(g) might be problematic for true equality. Incidentally, I would not often say this but I support the striving for equality in the House of Lords advanced at present by Baron Fellowes, who is worried that his wife will not be able to inherit her title, because women in this country are not allowed to inherit titles.

There is still a problem in this country. Only 22% of Members are women. In the Labour party, all-women shortlists have played a significant role in trying to bring about a more equal and representative House of Commons. When we move forward to an elected second Chamber, I hope that we will be able to use the same legislation.

Philip Davies: Does the hon. Gentleman not believe that in a democracy, whoever is in this House should be determined by the electorate—not by him, imposing quotas on who should be here and who should not and what the make-up of the House of Commons should be? Surely that should be decided by the electorate and the electorate alone.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1211

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman is then arguing for a system of primaries in every constituency at every election. I have not heard him call for that. I may have missed one of his speeches; I have tried to listen to all of them, although sometimes I wander off. That is not the parliamentary system that we have grown up with. Under our system, local political parties tend to choose their candidates and the candidates are then presented to the electorate. In the end, of course, it is up to the electorate. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the situation in Blaenau Gwent. A rather more complex set of issues arose there in relation to why we lost the seat. I merely point out that we now have extremely fine new Members, both in the Welsh Assembly and here.

I still think that we will need measures to ensure that the House is more representative than it has been thus far. The hon. Gentleman referred to what he called his “trump card”—Mrs Thatcher. I think that that was deliberate incitement; he was trying to get the Opposition to rise to the bait, and I am happy to do so. Unfortunately, Mrs Thatcher did remarkably little for women. If anything, she is the rule that proves that the exception proves the rule.

In Mrs Thatcher’s period of government, the effect on women and household incomes, especially among the poorest, was devastating. Many communities that might have hoped for an opportunity to rise on the ladder of prosperity at the time were cast into the outer darkness. What she brought about was not, as she proclaimed, in the words of Francis of Assisi, peace, unity and concord, but division and discord. For many of us in the Opposition, she is not a trump card at all; if anything, she is a joker.

We believe that the equality legislation that we put in place was important and has enabled Parliament to be more representative than it was and to address issues that it would not otherwise have done. In the end, however, hon. Members will have to make a decision. Do they believe that the equality of humanity should simply be left to the market or do we need intervention before breakfast, before lunch and before dinner? I fall into the latter category.

11.38 am

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): We have heard that the great lady, the noble Lady, the Lady of the Garter, Baroness Thatcher, is not to be called upon in this debate, so let us call upon Queen Elizabeth I instead. As she so memorably said, though her body might be weak, she had the heart of a king—and a King of England at that. She did not need special measures, advancement and protection to get her going; she did it through her own vim and vigour, her force of character and her great and noble ability that set the path for this great country for centuries to come.

Damian Green: I merely make the point that had the genetics fallen in a different way, she would never have become Queen, because of discrimination within the system of primogeniture.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: But she did become Queen. That is the point—that she was able to become queen because our constitution has always evolved gently and happily so that more and more people become included in it without necessarily being given a helping hand or a lift

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1212

up. This is the key point to the Bill: we want to have equality of opportunity as an objective, but not equality of outcome. I think that is what has always divided the Conservative—the Tory—from the socialist: the socialist always wants equality of outcome. Socialists want to meddle and muddle; they want to socially engineer—or perhaps to engineer socially for the benefit of


who do not like their infinitives to be split—and they want to make sure that they direct and control so that everybody should be made into a neat little machine. We have had this terrible socialist proposition recently that the elderly should sell their homes so that they can be put into properties that have fewer rooms. That is what it is all about; it is about controlling people, guiding their lives and taking away their freedoms.

When it comes to this Equality Act, to which my hon. Friend’s Bill would make splendid improvements, with some caveats that I may come to, it is desperately condescending to women. They do not want to be looked down upon as if they cannot cope. I am going to speak of the example of my younger sister Annunziata Rees-Mogg, who was the candidate for Somerton and Frome, where she fought a noble campaign. I discussed this with her and I said, “Actually, for the political advantage of the Conservative party,”—I am all in favour of the political advantage of the Conservative party—“perhaps we should have all-women shortlists.” It might not have helped me but it would have helped her and it might have answered a political problem for the party. She could not have been more strongly against it because she viewed it as condescending. She wanted to get the nomination for a seat on her own great merits—and very considerable her merits are, too. She did not want to be told she was a poor little thing: that is the sort of line an elder brother can use to a sister but it is not the sort of line that should be used by political parties or by the state. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) points out, from a sedentary position, that she lost. Well, she did because the Labour vote went down to 4%. Labour lost its deposit and that was to its horror when it discovered that the Lib Dems then supported us, so the aim to keep the beastly Tories out by voting Lib Dem failed miserably. Without that, she would have won by a landslide and I expect that next time around that will be the happy occurrence.

It is condescending to women to assume that they cannot cope without special measures and to people from what are genuinely minorities, because of course women are not a minority. Some of the time they are in the majority, although not at birth. There are more live births of boys than of girls, but women tend to live longer and therefore can easily be a majority of the population.

We have discussed Catholicism. The hon. Member for Rhondda said that he disagreed with the Holy Father on transubstantiation, but I cannot think why. It is clearly a very sensible and right doctrine. However, I do not think, as a Catholic, that I have any fear of discrimination, nor ever have had, although it did happen once to my father—my noble kinsman, as I ought to call him. He was going for a Conservative selection many years ago and was asked by one of the members of the committee if he would be able to go to the lord lieutenant’s funeral as he was a Catholic, at which point another member of the committee pointed out that actually the lord lieutenant was the Duke of Norfolk,

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1213

so there would be absolutely no difficulty in my father’s attending his funeral. But he did not need special measures to help him. He had to get on and, if there was discrimination in those days, to overcome it, to strive and move forward—as, of course, Margaret Thatcher did and Nancy Astor too.

We have seen in the development and evolution of this House that it has become broader based. One might think that the days when it was simply knights of the shires, when the borough Members had not been let in, were glorious days when the knights of the shires could come in wearing spurs, as I believe we still can, to indicate that they represented a county.

Chris Bryant: Wrong!

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I believe it is true, actually.

Chris Bryant: It is not.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I believe it is true.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I do not think we are going to have an argument and a history lesson across the Chamber. I am sure the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) will either intervene or be slightly more quiet.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Mr Deputy Speaker, I was shocked at such a sedentary intervention. I have never known such things in this House before.

But things evolved and we let the borough Members in, and we now look upon them as equals.

Chris Bryant: That probably takes the biscuit for lèse majesté—“We let the borough Members in”! I know that the hon. Gentleman has been here for a very long time in some shape or form, but to suggest that we have now become representative when he himself is the son of a peer seems a little odd.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his typically helpful intervention. Of course sons of peers should be represented, and they are a minority too. Perhaps as a son of a peer I should be given special help and intervention to help me to get through all the prejudice there is against sons of peers—not that I would ask for it or that I have ever noticed a particular prejudice against sons of peers. Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope that such prejudices never fall upon so distinguished a figure as yourself either.

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend may have seen the press reports today regarding possible new legislation to allow females to take hereditary titles in the House of Lords. Does he agree that this is the way forward?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Well, I do not really like change as a general rule, and I would be very nervous about intervening in the line of succession to the throne. I think that the line of succession to the throne works very well and changing the Canadian constitution is a particularly difficult thing to do. With Her Majesty’s fantastically successful visit to Australia, we want everything to have a settled continuity of that succession. However, I think that the world has changed and that it may not be unreasonable to allow hereditary titles to pass through

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1214

the female line, particularly if they are in danger of becoming extinct, because it would be a great sadness for titles to die out over succeeding generations with no new hereditary peerages being awarded. I must briefly declare an interest, because my mother-in-law would be able to resurrect a title if this law were to be changed.

Chris Bryant: Could she not just petition the Queen to allow her to hold it sui juris?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am not sure that that is—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I think we are getting into too much detail about one’s relatives and we are also drifting, once again, away from the Bill. As much we are all enjoying it I think we had better come back to the Bill.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for bringing me back on track. I remember that there was a wonderful slogan of the Conservatives at one point, “Britain’s on the right track. Don’t turn back.” That is really what we want in speeches from this side—we want to stay on this right, Conservative track. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley is very much on the right Conservative track with his Bill about looking at opportunity, not outcome, and to place on public authorities a duty of fairness to behave properly and not to pick winners. We know that the state has tried picking winners in the past and it is not a good policy, because the state is not going to do that well. It wants to do things on merit.

I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley on political candidates as well. They ought to be the ones the local parties want and not people sent down from on high. If the local parties want a man, that is up to them, and if they want a woman, that should equally be up to them. Of course we want to ensure that there is a very fine list of the best possible candidates that they can choose from, but they should have the ultimate choice and the ultimate authority. Those of us who believe in localism would like the law repealed so that it is unlawful to discriminate in that way. In safe seats, such as Rhondda, discrimination could give somebody a seat for life, with a significant income, which would be unfair to people who might have done the job equally well and may have been more wanted by the electorate to whom they were accountable. Parties need to be conscious of their power in safe seats.

There is, as always, a but. I was concerned about the point made by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) who said that the Bill would outlaw nunneries because they could represent discrimination by a public authority in favour of women. I am not sure that point is right, because if Her Majesty’s Government or any other public authority—the Charity Commission, for example—were to support nunneries and monasteries equally, there would be a balance, and as there may be more monks than nuns in this country it might be positive discrimination in favour of men, if it were any discrimination at all. I do not think that criticism of the Bill actually holds. [ Interruption. ] Does the hon. Member for Rhondda want to speak? It is very difficult to pick up all these sedentary interruptions, Mr Deputy Speaker.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1215

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman does not have to pick them up; he can choose to ignore them.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Your guidance is helpful to the nth degree. I am greatly appreciative of it and I shall now make sure that I imitate the deaf adder: charm the hon. Member for Rhondda ever so nicely, I shall not be able to hear. We remember the deaf adder from our scripture lessons; as the hon. Gentleman is a former vicar, he will no doubt be able to call it to mind.

I am slightly concerned that the succession to the Crown could be affected, but I think the Bill could be amended to make it absolutely clear that there will be no effect on the succession and that the discrimination that remains is germane until such time as it is settled on its own in a different way—if ever it is to be changed. As a Catholic, I do not think it is a good idea to open the succession to Catholics; it would make no sense to have a Catholic as the head of the Church of England and it would be a pity to disestablish the Church of England by accident.

I am broadly in support of the Bill. The real principle is that we must not be condescending to people who can do it for themselves. We must embrace freedom and liberty. We must let people have every conceivable opportunity and then let them strive, go forward and work to achieve what they can and what they will. We must not say that we have to make sure that the number fits the box. We must not take the broad principle, to quote a former Labour Cabinet Minister, that the man in Whitehall really does know best, because the man in Whitehall does not know best, and even if he becomes a woman she still does not know best. It should be left to individuals, and we should avoid this socialistic tendency to try to get equality of outcome, which we will in fact never achieve.

11.51 am

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): It is always a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who spoke with such authority on the matter. I am a sponsor of the Bill and am obviously rising to support it.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) for bringing us the Bill. Millions of people across the country will be saying, “Hooray” this morning because at last somebody has started to roll back the tide of political correctness. I am pleased to be joined in support for the Bill by my right hon. Friends the Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) and for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), and my hon. Friends the Members for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and for Kettering (Mr Hollobone).

I want to follow up one or two of the points made by earlier speakers. The first is about racist jokes. Over the years, the nature of comedy in this country has changed, but we must not think that because we have changed it means that racist jokes were restricted only to this country. I understand that in Canada jokes were often told about the Newfoundlanders—the Newfies. No one

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1216

took offence. It was part and parcel of their way of life—their culture—just as we have Irish jokes. It is not demeaning in any way.

Like the Bill’s promoter, I am a Yorkshireman and we also have jokes about Yorkshiremen. Jokes about sections of the community are common. I have often heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs tell jokes about Lancashire, and, indeed, I have heard him telling jokes about people from Sheffield and Rotherham. Nobody took offence at that.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): They may not have taken offence, but as we both know, there is nothing about jokes on the face of the Bill. I know that an argument is being built, but I think we can move on from the jokes now—much as I am tempted by the mention of Yorkshire.

Mr Nuttall: Earlier in the debate the question was asked: can we take equality too far? Does it mean changing the nature of our society? Can we take free speech too far? In the same way, when I was young—

Philip Davies: You still are.

Mr Nuttall: Thank you. We always used to talk of lollipop ladies. Nobody ever suggested that there ought to be a recruitment drive for lollipop men and nobody thought it was demeaning in any way that there were lollipop ladies and not—as far as I was aware at that time—any lollipop men.

The Bill has only two main parts. The first two clauses relate to the prohibition of positive action by public authorities and the third clause repeals the legislation allowing for all-women shortlists, which I shall come to later. Clause 1 sets out the details of the prohibition of positive action and clause 2 contains the definition of the action that would be outlawed. Positive action, as it is often called, differs from positive discrimination in that it is actively intended to increase the representation in a work force where monitoring has shown a particular group to be under-represented in proportion to the profile of either the total work force or the local or national population.

Positive action permitted by the present anti-discrimination legislation allows a person to provide facilities to meet the special needs of people from particular groups in society in relation to their training, education or welfare and to target job training at people from certain groups that are under-represented in a particular area of work or to encourage such groups to apply for such work. That raises some interesting and difficult questions. What is the area in question that should be considered? If a business or a public authority is situated in the south of England in a predominantly ethnically white area, should they be exempt from the legislation? Well, of course they are not exempt, and it must be difficult for some public authorities in certain areas to meet the quota because it is impossible for them to decide what area they cover. Does one look at the town in question, or the county, or the country, and if so, which country? Does one look at the United Kingdom as a whole or just the make-up of England? Of course, many areas covered by the present legislation are not easy to determine.

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1217

An example is sex or gender, to which the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) referred. Very often, it might not be possible to know whether one has a certain number of gay or heterosexual people in one’s work force. Indeed, I would submit that the information is of absolutely no consequence or relevance whatever.

I should perhaps declare that before I entered this House, I was for many years an employer, so I know all about the rules and regulations that were imposed on my practice as a result of equality legislation. Before any of the legislation was in place, just off our own bat, I had a work force who were 95% female, so in fact, in my work force, men were not equally represented. No one suggested to me that when I came to employ another secretary, legal assistant or solicitor, I should start to select men; I always selected the best person for the job.

Chris Bryant: Whether a large proportion of the people the hon. Gentleman employed were men or women is neither here nor there. If, in putting together his pension package, he made provision for people to inherit only the pension of a spouse, rather than the pension of a civil partner or a person of the same gender, he would have been advancing a prejudice.

Mr Nuttall: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I believe that it should be up to the pension-holder to determine to whom their pension should go; it should not be anyone else’s decision. No question of prejudice should arise, as it should be up to the individual to determine. I do not see that there is anything wrong with that. It is perfectly all right, and it does not need any legislation to allow that to happen.

Chris Bryant: But it has needed legislation to make sure that the vast majority of company pensions operate in that way. Of course the hon. Gentleman is right to say that it should be for the individual to decide to whom their pension goes, but in the vast majority of cases, the old assumption was that it went only to a spouse, and not to anyone else. It required legislation to change that.

Mr Nuttall: That is a slightly different point. The hon. Gentleman’s point about pensions could easily have been dealt with by the individuals concerned dealing with the trustees of the pension scheme, and explaining to them that they wanted to change the rules of the scheme to allow their pension to go to a certain other individual. Of course, very often, there was no one forcing people to join the pension scheme; if they chose to join it, so be it. We now have a free market in pension schemes, so in the situation that the hon. Gentleman describes, there would have been a gap in the market and, in a free market, someone would have sprung up to provide pensions for people in exactly that position.

Chris Bryant: They did not.

Mr Nuttall: It could have happened.

My previous comments related to positive action. Positive discrimination, affirmative action or discrimination generally means choosing someone solely on the grounds

21 Oct 2011 : Column 1218

of their gender or racial group, or for any other factor, and not for their ability. We are now at the crux of the matter. I believe that, by definition, as soon as one positively discriminates in respect of any given group in society, one is automatically discriminating against another group. That cannot be right. The Bill makes a good start in tackling the problem, but it is just the first step on the long road to ridding this country of the culture of political correctness and dismantling the whole industry of diversity and equality.

There could be no better time, given the economic situation, for that to gather pace. I know from my experience as a practising solicitor that many small and medium-sized enterprises struggle under the burden of the legislation. We are not there yet—there is a long way to go—but if we could begin to remove the legislation that applies to public authorities, that would be a step in the right direction. All our public services are looking for savings but, because of the way in which the law is framed, the one area in which they are not allowed to look for them is diversity and equality legislation. They have to keep their army of officers to comply with the law and the tick-box legislation.

Under the Disability Discrimination Acts, positive discrimination in favour of disabled people is not unlawful, and if disabled people meet the minimum criteria for a job, they are guaranteed an interview. The only other exemption relates to the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002, which the Bill seeks to abolish. The Equality Act 2010 includes a provision giving employers the option, when faced with two or more candidates of equal merit, of choosing one from a group that is under-represented in the work force. There is a whole Government Department—the Government Equalities Office—that exists solely for the purpose of issuing and enforcing guidance, red tape and regulations on that legislation. It has published guidance for employers on how to make those changes and use them in everyday life. The provisions on positive action in recruitment are, I am pleased to say, entirely voluntary but, as we all know, the public sector has seized on them with great glee. There is no requirement for an employer to use either the general provisions or those relating to recruitment and promotion.

Positive action in that regard will be used in cases in which an employer reasonably thinks that people with a protected characteristic are under-represented in the work force or suffer a disadvantage connected to that protected characteristic. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley made clear, the problem is where we draw the line. Why not, for example, protect and give help to those who are particularly tall?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: What an excellent idea—there should be special benefits for everyone over 6 feet.

Mr Nuttall: I am pleased that my hon. Friend is interested in this matter. If someone, for the sake of argument, is 7 feet tall—there are people of that stature in society—an employer might secretly think that they had better not take on such an employee, because they might complain about the size of the company’s doorways and it would have to spend a fortune going round the building and enlarging all the doors. One can easily see how an argument could be made for heightist, stoutist or shortist legislation to be introduced—