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Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I was poised to congratulate my noble friend on Amendment No. 11 until I heard the exposition of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on her Amendment No. 10, which is of course much more to the point. I support it.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, not surprisingly, I shall do exactly the opposite of what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, recommendednamely, I shall sustain the argument for Amendment No. 11 as best I can while, at the same time, hoping to persuade the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, to withdraw her amendment, with which I have the greatest sympathy.
We all recognise that the case put forward for women in film and television raised some pertinent points about the continuing inequity between men and women in a range of controlling aspects of our society, increasingly in significant television companies. Noble Lords are absolutely right to be concerned about the number of women on the top boards of media plcsin one or two cases there are none, as has been amply demonstratedand they are right to lament the fact
I was quite shocked a few years ago when I went to an FE college which specialised in training in this area. For some ridiculous reason the word "engineering" still has the most off-putting dimensions in our society. Far too few people become engineers in any casealthough it is an absolutely wonderful background for anyone in any walk of lifeand girls are put off the concept even though the least mucky form of engineering one can think of relates to many areas of the media. So I have the greatest sympathy with the case that has been put. The problem is that I do not think that the case has been made that Ofcom has a function that will impact on any of these areas and where its duties would apply in carrying out its functions. These issues should be, and are being, addressed by the industry and by the work that the Government are doing across the economy.
We all recognise why women play a less significant part in so many roles. In the past, there has been a terrible cost to careers created by childcare and limited support for women when they needed it to sustain their career as best they could. Furthermore, the general perception in society was that women's contributions were not valued as highly as those of men. We are in the business of changing that perception. I do not want to bore the House at this late stage, but there is a long list of very significant contributions that the Government have made over the past few years to try and reduce the gender gap. The measures that we are taking and our continued work to bring about equality for women in all workplaces will deliver real benefits in the area to which the group of speakers referred and which the noble Baroness very accurately reflected in her speech.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling the amendment, which has enabled us to have this extremely useful debate. It is not a question of any clash of principle but of the way in which we can best effect the necessary equality and equity for women in our society in the workplace.
I want to speak to Amendment No. 11, which I shall seek to move in due course. It is our response to the very similar amendment which the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, tabled in Committee. We said that we would take it away and consider it, and this is our response. I emphasise the valuable role that the noble Baroness has been playing in our deliberations. This is one obvious point in which she has had significant success. We believe that we should give Ofcom a duty to have regard to the diversity of the UK in carrying out its functions. However, as drafted, the Bill covers geographical diversity, providing that Ofcom must have regard to,
We regard the case as having been made strongly during the Committee stage. We are sympathetic to it; we said we would take the amendment away and produce our own in response. That is what Amendment No. 11 represents.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, could I seek clarification with regard to the proposed wording of the clause? Does the Minister intend Clause 3(3)(l) to read: "the different interests of persons in the different parts of the United Kingdom of people of different ethnic origins and communities living in rural and in urban areas"? Does he intend the provision not to include people who are not of a particular ethnic minority or from a different ethnic origin? Or would the amended clause include people who are native to this country, if I can put it that way, as well as those of different ethnic origin?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are trying to bring in a specific reference to ethnic minorities. Obviously Ofcom has duties to the country as a whole, but we are seeking to bring in ethnic communities as a particular group for consideration. The reason we could not accept the same framework if the burden of the noble Baroness's contribution at this stage was why we could not embrace the position with regard to women is obvious enough. We can specify issues with regard to minorities but, as we all recognise, women form the majority of the population. That is why we are arguing the case
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister again, but I am not addressing the question of gender in Amendment No. 11. I am simply concerned that, as drafted, the clause refers to,
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, when we talk about ethnic communities, we recognise that the whole of the population fits into one ethnic group or another. The particular reason for being specific about "ethnic" is obvious: we are seeking to meet the point of those who are most disadvantaged.
I think I have now understood the noble Baroness's point. The amendment would not somehow exclude the white majority population in a particular area or those who were born here, or whatever the noble Baroness's definition is. We are identifying ethnic minorities as having particular needs, and having regard to that. In fact, the clause refers to all communities.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, let me seek to make it clear; I apologise if I have not yet done so. The amendment does not refer to "ethnic origins" but "ethnic communities". Everyone belongs to some ethnic community. So everybody is included, but we have a framework in which Ofcom can be specific to discrete ethnic communities.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I will not delay the House any longer on this point. To my mind, the amendment works only if the Minister accepts that we are all ethnic. That is the clarification that I am seeking; I am grateful to the Minister for providing it. That is great.
I am sorry that the noble Lord has felt disinclined to accept our amendment. I am very grateful to all those who have supported itthe noble Baroness, Lady Howe, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker.
I believe this is an important subject. In recent years in particular, women have been dropped off the agenda when it comes to diversity. There is not a level playing field out there. I feel strongly that, with Amendment No. 11, Ofcom is now being asked to put an extra bauble on that Christmas tree, and socially to engineer in favour of ethnic communities but not in favour of women. I think that is extremely regrettable. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, that he said in Committee that Amendment No. 11 could, in effect, pave the way for a degree of potentially rather heavy-handed intervention in the form of box ticking and quota setting. I hope that that is not the case. Given the Government's refusal to accept gender as an important add-on to this amendment, women are once more pushed down the agenda in terms of a so-called level playing field, and that is regrettable.
I shall think hard about the Minister's comments and may well return to the issue on Third Reading, particularly given the support that I have had in the House today. For the moment, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.