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Commons Chamber

Volume 501: debated on Wednesday 2 December 2009

House of Commons

Wednesday 2 December 2009

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What his latest assessment is of the humanitarian situation in Gaza; and if he will make a statement. (303265)

4. What his most recent assessment is of the humanitarian situation in Gaza; and if he will make a statement. (303268)

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is extremely serious and will worsen now that the winter rains have started. Nearly a year after the conflict, 75 per cent. of Gazans still rely on some form of food aid, more than 60 per cent. do not have daily access to drinking water and 10 per cent. have no access to mains electricity. The United Kingdom continues to press Israel for full access to humanitarian aid in line with internationally accepted humanitarian principles.

What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the implications of the 18 million litres of raw and untreated sewage being discharged into the sea off Gaza for the population of Gaza and the surrounding environment?

That is but one of the health consequences of the conditions currently being visited on the people of Gaza. As I said, we have made clear representations to the Israeli Government. Only yesterday, I spoke to Defence Minister Ehud Barak and pressed him for wider access to a range of humanitarian goods. The reconstruction effort that we all wanted to see after Operation Cast Lead has not been possible because of the constraints on access that continue to affect the community. The hon. Gentleman’s point is well taken, and I can assure him that we take many opportunities to press the Israelis to ensure that the necessary reconstruction efforts are now made.

The Secretary of State will doubtless be aware that those seeking anything other than the most basic medical treatment in Gaza are required to travel abroad. However, in the period ending in June, no fewer than 40 per cent. of applications for travel permits for health care were refused by the Israeli Government. What pressure can he bring to bear to ensure that that situation improves?

In recent days—as I said, only yesterday—I have spoken with Ehud Barak, and last week I met Mr. John Ging, the outstanding head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, who is doing genuinely heroic work in extraordinarily difficult circumstances in the Gaza strip. That is testimony to the continuing efforts that we are making through a range of different channels to press not simply for greater humanitarian access, but ultimately for the necessary political resolution to the situation in the middle east, which would facilitate the kind of movement that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that 8,000 children in Gaza are without school desks, and will he facilitate the importation of the metal components necessary to complete the construction of the desks?

We seem to be in the rather bizarre situation in which desk parts for UNRWA schools have now been permitted to enter—I understand that some deliveries have been allowed—but the fittings necessary to assemble those desks have not. That is but one example of the difficulties being suffered in Gaza at the moment as a result of the constraint on movement and access. As I said, I discussed that position recently with John Ging, the head of UNRWA, and we will continue to press the Israelis to admit educational materials.

Some 50,000 homes are estimated to have been destroyed during the Israeli attacks on Gaza, but cement, panes of glass and steel girders are still not getting in to repair them. I appreciate what my right hon. Friend says about his meetings with Mr. Barak, but if the Israelis are not listening, what are we going to do about it?

I have sympathy with my hon. Friend, who has great knowledge of the region and the challenges facing it. In some ways, the difficulty is exemplified by the issue of cement. John Ging told me that Hamas is building a watchtower opposite the Israeli watchtower at the crossings using cement that presumably has been smuggled in through the tunnels from Egypt. However, at the same time, the Israelis are denying the cement to rebuild the schools that will give the young people of Gaza exactly the opportunities that hon. Members on both sides of the House would want them to enjoy. That is why we are continuing to press the Israelis. However, with humility we recognise that that is not a task for the United Kingdom alone. The European Union and the United State have key jobs, which is why we continue to work in international forums to press the case for those humanitarian supplies to be allowed in for reconstruction to take place.

What contribution does the Minister think might be made to ease the humanitarian situation by the release of Gilad Shalit, with all the possible implications for the improvement of relations should his captivity by Hamas be ended?

Of course, we have called consistently on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit without further delays or any kind of conditions. Although we welcome the video tape released recently by Hamas, around 2 November, as part of the prisoner swap deal, the continued captivity of Gilad Shalit, as was raised with me by Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, is utterly unacceptable. Hamas has a clear responsibility to release him without delay.

Is it not time that the international community got together and took sanctions against Israel for its behaviour?

I think that there is wide recognition on both sides of the House that continued humanitarian efforts are needed to support the people of Gaza and, indeed, the west bank, given the difficulties that currently afflict them. Equally, however, most hon. Members recognise that ultimately the resolution in the middle east lies in politics. I believe that the challenge at the moment is to get behind the efforts being made—I am glad to say—by President Barack Obama and his team, in the first year of his presidency, to support and facilitate the emergence of a comprehensive middle east peace plan. That seems to be the most effective way in which we can buttress the humanitarian work on which we are engaged.

Tuberculosis Programmes

2. What funding his Department provides to support national tuberculosis programmes in high-burden countries. (303266)

The United Kingdom remains strongly committed to reducing death and suffering from tuberculosis and sees it as an important part of the global effort to improve the health of the poor. Our focus is the delivery of the global plan to stop TB, which aims to save 14 million lives. My Department combats TB through our contributions to multilateral organisations such as the World Health Organisation, partnerships such as Stop TB and the Global Fund, our bilateral programmes and our support for research.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Given that TB is a lead cause of death among those living with HIV, what proportion of that funding goes into supporting integrated services for people with TB and HIV, and what monitoring does his Department carry out on the impact of such funding?

The hon. Lady is absolutely correct to point out the clear links between tuberculosis and HIV. Some 15 per cent. of new TB cases are among people living with HIV/AIDS. That is why we are looking to invest £6 billion to 2015 in whole-health systems and services, so that we can get diagnosis and treatment not just for people with TB or HIV/AIDS, but for people with a range of health problems.

Although I welcome the Minister’s reply, may I draw to his attention the fact that the World Health Organisation has indicated that only six out of 10 smear-positive tests are being undertaken, even though the problems are increasing? Does he agree that we should use all our influence to ensure that new diagnostic tools are used wherever that is possible?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the need for the speedy diagnosis of TB. That is why I am pleased to say that we as a Department have committed to giving some €60 million a year to UNITAID, which is aiming to triple access to rapid tests for multi-drug resistant TB by 2011.

Given the Select Committee on International Development’s criticism of the Government’s failure to act on the interaction between HIV and not just tuberculosis, but malaria and other diseases, and given also the fact that his Department has informed the Committee that it collects data only every two years, can the Minister give the House a positive assurance that we will see full transparency on the issue, full performance measurements, an impact assessment and an emphasis on outputs, and not just financial inputs, which is the Government’s norm on such problems?

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman that our focus is on inputs and not outputs. Nothing could be further from the truth. I would point out that if we are going to get the information that he requires in detail, it would mean health workers who provide primary care on a range of issues having to break down how they spend their time diagnosing TB on the one hand and, on the other, malaria, treating people with extreme forms of diarrhoea, and so on. The best thing that we can do is support whole-health systems to improve the health of a nation, particularly through an emphasis on primary care. That is what our £6 billion commitment is all about.

What more can my hon. Friend do to increase international support for UNITAID and its ambition to increase accessibility to low-cost drugs for TB, malaria and AIDS, especially as yesterday was world AIDS day?

I am proud of my Department’s record, with its contribution to investment in health, and UNITAID in particular. Next year’s mid-term review of the millennium development goals might be an opportunity for our international partners to look at their contributions to development and perhaps take the opportunity to step up to the plate.


3. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s activities in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. (303267)

My Department’s latest Afghanistan country programme evaluation was published in May this year. Although the challenges remain daunting, life for many Afghans is improving, with support from the United Kingdom and the international community. Indeed, a majority say that they are better off now than under the Taliban.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his response. Can he reassure me that there is no longer any basis for the concerns expressed by some in the military and other observers that there was some difficulty in achieving seamless working together between his Department and the military in bringing a better life to the people of Afghanistan?

I hope that I can offer exactly the assurance that the right hon. Gentleman seeks. I will be seeing General Sir David Richards later this afternoon, which is but one example of the close working relationships that have been established. A staff member from my Department is currently heading the provincial reconstruction team in Helmand. Only yesterday I received word that we have two civilians working in each of the forward operating bases. We also have a significant number of civilians operating in Helmand. That was not the case several years ago. We have scaled up the operation and the joint working in Helmand over recent years, and I am confident that a genuinely comprehensive approach is being taken by all arms of the British Government.

The House will, of course, welcome my right hon. Friend’s assurance that his Department is working with the military. It is right to focus on the military intervention, not least because of the announcements by the President of the United States and the British Prime Minister this week. I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would accept that it is our military personnel who are at the sharp end. These are the people who ultimately have to help us win the argument on the farms and in the villages and towns hundreds of miles from Kabul. Will he assure us that he and his entire Department will be working to achieve this, because at the end of the day we have to win hearts and minds if we are going to make the progress that we all want.

Again, I hope I can give my right hon. Friend the assurance he seeks. It is right to recognise that we need a greater military effort from the international coalition in support of the Afghan Government, which is why we welcome the statement made overnight at West Point by President Obama, but we all recognise—not least our own military commanders—that ultimately there is no military-only solution to the challenges faced in Afghanistan, which is why it is necessary to complement the military surge with a political surge. That is the thinking underlying the Prime Minister’s announcement at the weekend that there will be an international conference hosted here in London on 28 January, which I believe will provide a further opportunity to set out our genuinely comprehensive approach, incorporating not simply the military aspects of the campaign but its civilian aspects.

It is understandable that in the Prime Minister’s statement to the House on Monday and President Obama’s speech last night, the primary focus was on getting the right military strategy and resources in place in Afghanistan, but does the Secretary of State accept that since 2001 only 5 per cent. of international aid has been spent on agriculture, so we have an urgent need to fix not just the military strategy, but also the development strategy?

I recognise that more needs to be done to co-ordinate the international effort. That has been a consistent message from the United Kingdom for some time now. I welcome the conversations that I have had in recent months with Richard Holbrooke, who is seized of exactly the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises in respect of the centrality and importance of agriculture both to the economic viability of Afghanistan and to counter-insurgency efforts. It is also right to set out for the House that we recognise that we confront twin challenges—the need both to weaken the Taliban, which is why we welcome the announcement from the United States, and to strengthen the Afghan state. Of course that begins with security, but it does not end with security. The provision of genuine economic opportunity by the Afghans for the Afghans is going to be a critical element in this campaign.

The investment of the Department for International Development in education in Afghanistan is to be highly commended. What have been the most successful investment outcomes so far from that huge contribution?

Perhaps the most simple and straightforward metric is the number of children enrolled in school. In 2001, 900,000 boys were enrolled in school and the Taliban had made it illegal for young girls to enjoy primary education. We are now comfortably beyond 5 million children enrolled in Afghan schools, and more than 2 million of them are young girls. That alone is testimony to the work we are taking forward through the Afghan reconstruction trust fund, which is paying teachers’ salaries. The Taliban recognise that that poses a direct threat to their prospective future for Afghanistan, which is why they continue to behead teachers and to bomb and burn schools, but we are determined to support the Afghan people in the educational endeavours that I have described.

In light of the Prime Minister’s statement on Monday that there should be even greater co-operation between the military and DFID in Afghanistan, what changes to the Department’s strategy in Helmand does the Secretary of State hope to see once the latest revision of the Helmand road map is completed?

I have just explained to the House that I am meeting General Sir David Richards this afternoon, and the co-ordination that we are taking forward in Helmand will be one of the areas that we will discuss. We have to recognise that the effort in Helmand is not military alone; as the general recognises, a civilian component is also required. That civilian component involves supporting Governor Mangal and the provincial council in the efforts being made, for example, to transfer production from opium to wheat. It also involves ensuring that we support the primary health care being moved in. A great deal of work is being taken forward not just in Lashkar Gah, but also in the forward operating bases, and I will continue to keep these matters under review.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his answer, but he did not really make clear what changes he expects to take place. A report published recently by the London School of Economics’ centre for civil society draws attention to claims by non-governmental organisations that foreign military strategies for tackling insurgency with aid projects had “infringed upon the work” of NGOs and

“compromised their claims of independence and neutrality.”

Given the Prime Minister’s commitment to pressing for greater civilian-military co-operation in Afghanistan, does the Minister feel that such criticisms are justified?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not recognise the centrality of security to the challenge of development in Helmand, not least given his experience of Afghanistan. Of course we must begin with the recognition that an insurgency is under way, the fulcrum of which is in Helmand at the moment. That is why it is vital for us to strengthen the security of not just the efforts of the international forces, but the Afghan Government themselves. Only when that space is secured will it be possible for the effective work that we want to take place to be fully maximised. I do not see this as being a trade-off between providing security and undertaking development: I think it vital for security to be secured so that development can take place.

Afghanistan Development Strategy

5. What arrangements are in place to ensure that aid provided by his Department for Afghanistan is utilised in support of the priorities of the Afghanistan national development strategy. (303269)

The four-year DFID Afghanistan country plan that we announced in April this year was subject to full consultation with the Government of Afghanistan. DFID is committed to spending at least 50 per cent. of its funds through Afghan Government systems. That ensures that our money is spent in a way that is in line with the priorities set out in the Afghan national development strategy.

Given the level of corruption that has been exposed in Afghanistan, how can we be sure that the United Kingdom taxpayers’ money is being spent properly?

Corruption is indeed a serious problem, but money from my Department is channelled through the Afghan Government and is protected against misuse. Most of the resources that we give the Government are provided on a reimbursement basis, which means that funds are transferred to them only when it has been demonstrated that actual expenditure has taken place—that teachers’ salaries have been paid, for instance—that the expenditure conforms to strict eligibility criteria, and that all the transactions are subject to full international audit.

Can the Minister explain how the new United Kingdom aid logo will be deployed in Afghanistan, not least to ensure that the people of Afghanistan understand the development commitment of the British Government and the British taxpayer to the whole country, not just the areas in which we are engaging in military operations?

We are currently looking into how the UK aid logo will be distributed in countries across the world. However, there is real interest in using the logo in Afghanistan to demonstrate our commitment to and support for the people of the country, so that they see us as allies and not as conquerors.

Somaliland (Elections)

6. What support his Department is giving to the authorities in Somaliland to assist in arrangements for elections. (303270)

The United Kingdom, together with Sweden and Switzerland, is funding independent electoral experts to enable them to support the Somaliland national electoral commission. We will continue to urge the authorities in Somaliland to hold elections as soon as possible, once arrangements for them can be completed.

I am sure my hon. Friend shares my satisfaction that progress is now being made towards holding effective presidential elections. Does he agree that whoever wins, it will be important to work further in developing parliamentary and democratic institutions in Somaliland, and will he and his Department help that progress following the presidential elections?

I agree that whoever wins will need to continue to work with the international community and the people of Somaliland to improve governance there. We will certainly play our part if successful elections take place. We could provide further support to help to develop the economy of Somaliland, to improve access to basic services, and to address the root causes of the instability of which my right hon. Friend will be only too aware. [Interruption.]

Order. There are still far too many private conversations taking place on both sides of the Chamber. It is very unfair to the hon. Member who is asking a question, and to the Minister who is answering it. The House needs to come to order.

Is not one of the greatest investments that this country can make in many developing countries, including Somaliland, the establishment of good governance and stable democracy? Will the Minister ensure that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is funded adequately, given that it does precisely that?

I agree that one way in which the international community can help to encourage development in developing countries is by promoting good governance. That is one reason why the Department’s third White Paper focused on this issue, and why the most recent White Paper continued to highlight our work on good governance. I have had a series of discussions about the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, as have other Ministers. If the hon. Gentleman has particular concerns about how it is being financed, I will be very happy to meet him to discuss them.

Climate Change (Africa)

7. What steps his Department is taking to assist African countries to mitigate the effects of climate change on them. (303271)

We provide assistance through our country programmes, as well as through multilateral partners, to help African countries deal with the increased threats from water shortages, natural disasters, reduced agricultural production and changing patterns of disease.

Africa did not cause the climate change problem and is not exacerbating it now, but it will suffer more than most continents from its consequences. Will the Minister have discussions with his colleagues to ensure that Africa’s problems, and its need to mitigate and adapt, are taken fully into account at Copenhagen, and that Africa is given the help it needs and deserves?

I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with the hon. Gentleman. Africa certainly was not responsible for causing climate change. He is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the Copenhagen talks and the need for the international community to provide additional finance to the end that he mentions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be attending the talks to help highlight, with other development Ministers, the need for the international community to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman has suggested: to provide more support to countries across the world who are in need of such additional finance.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the need for international co-operation, particularly in respect of mitigation funds. As he knows, east Africa and other places are already suffering from the lack of rains for the past three or four years. What steps can he and his colleagues in the Government take to ensure that our international partners fund to the right level the commitments they have already made? I ask that because we know that in previous deals the money has not been on the table despite the promises. Can the Minister assure us that that funding will now be in place, and that it will be ensured that countries are tied in to giving the money that they have already promised?

As my hon. Friend is aware, that is an essential part of the deal that we want to achieve at Copenhagen and beyond. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has pressed the international community to agree a package of support to 2020, rising to $100 billion of both private and public finance to help developing countries adapt to, and mitigate, the impacts of climate change. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, who is now going to the climate change talks, will continue to press our position on this issue.

West Bank (Economy)

8. What projects his Department is funding to assist the Palestinian economy in the west bank; and if he will make a statement. (303272)

We are providing £3 million over three years to the facility for new market development, which helps Palestinian businesses develop new products and compete in new markets. To date, the facility has supported more than 180 businesses. We are also working closely with the Palestinian Investment Promotion Agency and UK Trade & Investment to promote investment in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In light of the welcome decision to open the Jalama crossing to vehicles, what steps is Israel taking to reduce restrictions and encourage economic growth in the west bank? I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could also say what measures are being taken to support the delivery of basic public services to the people.

We welcome the recent moves by the Israeli Government to reduce movement and access restrictions across the west bank. We believe these steps are essential if there is to be the economic progress that is required to address the 34 per cent. fall in per capita GDP over the last nine years. We are also continuing to support the Palestinian Authority, both in their provision of basic services and as a credible negotiating partner to the state of Israel.

Bearing in mind both this and the earlier exchanges, will the Secretary of State take an early opportunity to inform the Israeli ambassador that nothing could better enhance the reputation of his country than Israel beginning to behave as a good neighbour?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have regular contact with not only the Israeli ambassador, but all levels of the Israeli Government. As recently as yesterday, I took the opportunity to discuss not only the situation in Gaza, but, more generally, the situation in the middle east with Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister. That reflects the continuing dialogue that takes place on these important issues.

Global Warming (Bangladesh)

9. What discussions he has had with the Government of Bangladesh on aid to tackle the environmental effects on that country of global warming. (303273)

The UK works closely with the Government of Bangladesh on climate change issues. We are, for example, playing a role in advising and assisting the Bangladesh delegation in its preparations for the Copenhagen meeting next month.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Earlier in the year, I visited Bangladesh with the Nationwide Association for Integrated Development—NAID—which is a small charity working between Wales and Bangladesh. I saw at first hand the effects of the flooding, the droughts and the cyclones; the poorest people in the country were being affected. What more can he do to help the people of Bangladesh, especially given that one fifth of the country could disappear if the sea level rises by 1 metre?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the particular challenges relating to climate change in Bangladesh; more than 30 million people in that country could be affected by rises in sea level. That is one reason why my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development are continuing to press for further climate finance to be made available to help developing countries such as Bangladesh.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Acting Sergeant John Amer, from 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude, and our thoughts are with his family and friends. As we plan a way forward in Afghanistan, this loss in Afghanistan reminds us of the risks and dangers our forces have to endure in Afghanistan, today and every day, and of the importance of securing peace and stability. After talks with President Obama, I can also report that the London conference on Afghanistan will make decisions on civil co-ordination in Afghanistan, and will hear commitments by coalition partners on extra troops and from President Karzai on Afghan reform.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings today.

In associating myself with the Prime Minister’s condolences to the family and friends of Acting Sergeant John Amer, I know that I am speaking for every Member of the House.

Following recent events in the Colchester and Basildon hospital trusts, does my right hon. Friend agree with me, with the Secretary of State for Health and with a recent report of the Select Committee on Health that the major priority of the national health service must be patient safety?

Patient safety is and has to be our No. 1 priority, and there is no excuse for anything other than the best care and no tolerance for the failure of management. I am sorry when any patient receives less than the best care and help in the NHS. As a result of our studies of the NHS, we have introduced independent regulation, we have introduced transparency so that information flows to the patients and we have set up the Care Quality Commission, which from next year will register all hospitals and set clear safety standards that they will have to meet continuously. I can say today that our objective is that that process will start not from April, but from January, and that we will do everything in our power to have hospitals deal with hospital-acquired diseases and make sure that people have the best care at all times. There has been a 7 per cent. fall in mortality overall in our hospitals and a 50 per cent. fall in MRSA. We will continue to do everything in our power to make our hospitals clean, safe and secure for all patients.

May I join the Prime Minister and everyone in this House in paying tribute to Acting Sergeant John Amer, who died this week in Afghanistan? He gave his life to protect our country. We should honour his memory. We should care for his family.

Before I go on to other subjects, may I ask a couple of questions about Afghanistan? Following President Obama’s very welcome speech last night, the British people will want to know what the US surge means for British forces. I think we all accept that one of the problems has been that British troops have been spread too thinly over too much ground. Will the US reinforcement mean that we will be able to have more of our forces concentrated in fewer places, so that they can protect the population more effectively and turn the tide against the Taliban?

First, I think that the whole House will welcome the announcement by President Obama both of the objectives of the mission in relation to the Taliban and to al-Qaeda, and of the numbers of troops, a substantial part of whom will go into Helmand province and will be of assistance in dealing with the Taliban insurgency there. I said on Monday that our troops would go in immediately so that they were more densely concentrated in the areas where there has been the greatest problem. I said that from January some of our troops would be involved in the vital task of partnering and mentoring the Afghan forces. I believe that at the moment there is something in the order of 200,000 Afghan, British, American and coalition troops in Afghanistan. By the end of next year and the beginning of 2011, the number will be in excess of 300,000. That will make it possible for us to transfer the control of some districts and provinces to Afghan security control starting in 2010.

The Prime Minister specifically spoke about this transfer of provinces in 2010 and I want to ask him about this. At the weekend, he said that he was considering transferring

“at least five Afghan provinces to lead Afghan control by the end of 2010”,

including parts of Helmand. This was widely interpreted as a commitment to start the withdrawal of British troops in 2010.

The Prime Minister shakes his head, but that is how it was reported on every single media outlet. This will be a good opportunity for the Prime Minister to clarify the issue. President Obama said that the process of transferring forces out of Afghanistan would not even begin until the middle of 2011. It is important that we do not give false expectations to British troops or mixed messages to anybody else. Will the Prime Minister clarify whether he would expect British troop numbers to start reducing in 2010 or 2011?

I made it absolutely clear at the press conference—if the right hon. Gentleman had read the full transcript of it, he would know—that there was no question of our withdrawing our British troops until the point at which we were sure that the Afghans could take over security control themselves. Even if one or two parts of a district or province are transferred in 2010, we will continue to have our troops in Afghanistan at that point. My point earlier was that by 2011 there will be more than 300,000 Afghan, American, British and coalition troops. That is the point at which the balance between Afghan forces and British, American and coalition troops will start to change. We should recognise that it is absolutely crucial for our Afghanisation strategy that the Afghans start to take control of security as soon as possible. It is also absolutely crucial that we are assured that the Afghan troops are properly trained and therefore partnered with British forces. That will happen during the course of 2010. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will stay and do the job that is necessary. I believe that when people in Britain see the facts of the Taliban threat and the problems with al-Qaeda, they will support what we, the Government, have done with 43 coalition partners.

That does sound more like the 2011 date that President Obama was talking about. The clarification is welcome.

Let me turn to the economy. Will the Prime Minister confirm that figures last week show this Britain is the last country not just in the G7 but in the entire G20 to move out of recession?

No, they do not confirm that. Spain is a member of the G20 now and it is in recession. Six European countries that are part of the European Union or part of the continent are in recession. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that the purpose of asking this question must be that he either has policy that he wishes to put forward so that we can do better, or he is simply talking down Britain.

The fact is that it is the right hon. Gentleman’s policies that have given us the longest and deepest recession in our history. Only this Prime Minister thinks that we should all be pathetically grateful for this long and deep recession, and that he has somehow led the world when he has left Britain behind. He is normally fond of reading out lists of countries. Australia, Canada, Turkey and Brazil all went into recession after Britain, but they came out before Britain. France and Germany went into recession at the same time as Britain, yet they came out before us. Will the Prime Minister answer this question? Given that all those countries are now in growth and that we are not in growth, can he tell us what on earth he meant when he said that we were

“leading the rest of the world…out of recession”—[Official Report, 3 June 2009; Vol. 493, c. 268.]?

Not one policy from the Leader of the Opposition! We have taken action to restructure the banks and nationalise Northern Rock—opposed by the Opposition. We have taken action for a fiscal stimulus—opposed by the Opposition. We have taken action to keep unemployment down as a result of creating jobs—opposed by the Opposition. We have taken action for international co-operation—opposed by the Opposition. They have been wrong on the recession and they will be wrong on the recovery. The voice may be that of a modern public relations man, but the mindset is that of the 1930s.

That one must have sounded great in the bunker. The fact is that the one policy that this country needs above all is a credible programme for getting the biggest budget deficit in the G20 under control. That is the view of the Governor of the Bank of England and he says they have not got a credible plan to get the deficit under control. [Interruption.]

It is not just Back Benchers, Mr. Speaker—the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is up to his old tricks again. You would have thought that he would want to spend more time in his ultra-marginal constituency, but perhaps he agrees with us that the more he meets people, the more likely we are to win it.

Let us look at the Prime Minister’s three central claims: the claim that we were better prepared than other countries—that was wrong; our deficit was worse than other countries—the claim that Britain was leading the world out of recession, but we are still in recession; and the claim that he had abolished boom and bust, which is absolute rubbish. Is it not the case that his three biggest claims are his three biggest failures?

The more he talks, the less he actually says. Nothing about policy. We have helped 200,000 businesses in this country, we have helped half a million people stay out of unemployment and we are helping people who have problems with mortgage arrears. If he wanted to reduce the deficit, why does he persist with his inheritance tax policy that would cost £1 billion? Why does he have a domestic tax policy which is to help his friends with inheritance tax cuts and a global tax policy to help non-domiciled candidates avoid any tax whatsoever?

As the Prime Minister has raised the issue of inheritance tax, perhaps he could answer—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr. Bradshaw, you are a very senior Member. I say to the right hon. Gentleman and to all Members that the more noise there is, the fewer the opportunities for Back Benchers to take part.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. That is another one who should be defending his marginal constituency.

Let the Prime Minister answer this very simple question. The only person who has made a specific pledge—not just a pledge or a promise, but in legislation—to reduce inheritance tax in the coming Budget is the Prime Minister; he legislated to raise the threshold from £325,000 to £350,000. Perhaps he can tell us now: is he still planning to do that? We would like an answer.

It is interesting that this exchange started with the great ideas of economic policy and the right hon. Gentleman has ended up having to defend his own policy on inheritance tax. The question he has to answer and the issue that concerns the whole country is that inheritance tax cuts for millionaires will cost us nearly £2 billion that we should be spending on public services. The issue for the country is this: is it public services for the many or inheritance tax cuts for the few? I have to say, that with him and Mr. Goldsmith, their inheritance tax policy seems to have been dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton.

Order. I am very glad that Members are enjoying themselves. They all seem to have had a very hearty breakfast.

Follow that! Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Avon Global Ambassador Reese Witherspoon and the domestic charity Refuge who, along with me, today launched their “Four Ways to Speak Out Against Domestic Violence” campaign? Will he reassure me that the Government will continue to concentrate policy and resources on attacking this most evil and cowardly of crimes?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She has led the way in urging us as a Government and our country to take seriously the issue of domestic violence. Last week, the Government launched our strategy to tackle all forms of violence against women. I believe that we have made real progress, but a great deal has to be done. There has been a 64 per cent. reduction in domestic violence, and we are bringing more criminal cases to court but we need to do more. I am very grateful that Reese Witherspoon is leading this campaign. She spoke movingly at the funeral of Anthony Minghella, and I welcome her to the House today.

I would obviously like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Acting Sergeant John Amer of 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, who tragically lost his life serving in Afghanistan on Monday.

President Obama’s speech last night on his new strategy in Afghanistan is immensely important. He has set a very tight timetable indeed for this new military strategy and surge to have an effect. Given that tight timetable, does the Prime Minister agree that it is all the more important not to over-rely on President Karzai? President Obama said last night that the best way forward is to get tough on Karzai but, given Karzai’s previous record and that two of his vice-presidents are ex-warlords, does the Prime Minister not think that it would be better to have a strategy of working around President Karzai and relying on local and regional political leadership instead?

President Obama will be grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s endorsement. He is absolutely right that we have both to weaken the Taliban and strengthen the Afghan state. The actions that we are taking with troops to deal with the insurgency are important but, as he rightly recognises, so too is building up the strength of the Afghan army and police, and its local government and national Government. As President Obama said last night, there is no blank cheque for President Karzai, who has to take the action that is necessary. That is why I said earlier today that the London conference on 28 January, which President Karzai will attend, will be a chance for him to set out the further reforms that he has to make to make the army and police more efficient, to make sure that the Government are free of corruption and to build up stronger local and provincial government.

Will the Prime Minister confirm whether the powers around Afghanistan—Russia, China and, yes, even Iran—might be involved in the London conference to which he just referred? Without regional backing, it will be very difficult to create stability within Afghanistan. President Obama was silent on this crucial regional dimension in his speech last night. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether that is being taken forward, and perhaps give us a feel for what steps are being taken to involve those other countries in the region?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman because, as he recognises, the military surge must be matched by a political and a diplomatic surge. It will be no use for the future of Afghanistan if there is no security around Afghanistan with its neighbours. That is why they have a very important role to play in the future—in guaranteeing non-interference in Afghans’ affairs, in building up the links that are necessary for Afghan trade, industry and commerce to flourish, and also in stopping the flow of weapons into Afghanistan. So yes, it is right for us to invite regional powers to the London conference.

Will the Prime Minister join me in marking 60 years since the British surgeon Sir Harold Ridley commissioned my Hove company, Rayner Opticians, to produce the first intraocular lens? Will he also congratulate the company on receiving the Queen’s Award for Enterprise on Friday, and on the fact that it still works with charities across the world in restoring sight?

In my hon. Friend’s constituency, there are many excellent companies, and one of them is Rayner. I want to congratulate all those who have contributed to the success of ophthalmic medicine over the past few years. The inventions that have come from Britain are truly wonderful. We should be very proud of our British scientists and engineers, but also very proud of our medical researchers and medical firms.

Q2. Recently revealed figures show that, since 2001, 140 inmates have been allowed to die of cancer while serving their sentences in UK jails. In the light of the Business Secretary’s recent country sports activity, is there, under this Government, one rule for British inmates and another one for Libyan mass murderers? (303209)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the decision on Libya was made by the Scottish Administration. It was their decision to make; it was not our decision to make.

Q3. My constituents are extremely concerned about the impact of global warming and want speedy action to deal with it, unlike some senior Opposition Members and their European allies. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he has been doing everything possible, so that both developed and developing countries can look to a deal at Copenhagen? (303210)

We are in the happy position of being able to work with the rest of Europe to get a climate change agreement and to work as Europe with the rest of the world to make sure that we can move forward. The talks that are taking place now, including at the Commonwealth conference, are a desire to bring together the richest countries, which will have to contribute to a climate change deal financially as well as with bold and ambitious targets, and the developing countries, which we want to make progress, but which we will have to be able to help. I am pleased that we have agreed—I believe that America and Europe will also agree with the Commonwealth—on a £10 billion start-up fund to help the poorest countries immediately to move on mitigation and adaptation. We have to make sure that the intermediate targets that the major countries will propose are sufficiently ambitious for us not only to meet our target, in 2050, of a 50 per cent. reduction, but to be making big progress through to 2020. Britain will play its part. I know that the European Union will play its part. We look forward to successful negotiations in Copenhagen, and I hope that, despite doubts expressed from some parts of the Opposition, there will be all-party support for that deal.

Q4. In July 2007, the Prime Minister promised that no local authority would be out of pocket in recovering from the summer floods. Collectively, they had a shortfall of £50 million. What promise will he give to the people of Cumbria that they will similarly not face a shortfall in the recovery from the floods this year? (303211)

I understand from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who is with me on the Front Bench, that 100 per cent. of the clean-up costs were actually made available, but I also understand that the Environment Agency and the local district council have developed proposals for a flood defence scheme in Thirsk and are working up proposals to secure funding for that scheme.

I have to say that investment in flood management is higher than ever. We saw the benefits of it in Carlisle and in surrounding areas, as a result of flood defence investment, and the grants that we are making to the Environment Agency to tackle flooding have increased from £500 million in 2007 to £659 million in 2010-11. I assure the hon. Lady that her constituency case is being dealt with, but I think that she should see the wider investment that we are making in flood defences.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the policy of growing and not cutting our way out of recession is beginning to show results? [Interruption.] Hold on; I have not finished yet. If we adopted the policy of immediate and savage cuts, advocated by the dynamic duo over there, the economy would be in a right old Eton mess.

The shadow, shadow Chancellor has always recognised that we need to do more to get ourselves out of recession, and I believe that the action that we are taking to help small businesses, to help those people who are unemployed back into work, to advance capital investment so that we have big construction projects going ahead, and of course to help home owners is the action that every other country in the world, including every other country in Europe, supports. It is only unfortunate that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor are even set against the shadow, shadow Chancellor in trying to deal with this problem.

Q5. When the Prime Minister goes to Copenhagen next week, will he not recognise that securing a commitment to the £100 billion fund that he is looking for in 2020 will be essential to securing a deal from the developing countries? But at the same time, will he reflect that, given the floods that we have in this country—in Cumbria, in Huntly in my constituency and elsewhere—we need a partnership between the Government and the insurance industry to ensure that we have the means to cope with climate change? Local authorities in the present climate will not be able to do it alone. (303212)

The right hon. Gentleman is Chairman of the International Development Committee and I am grateful for what he says about the climate change conference and the need to help the poorest countries. Our policy is to deal with climate change at home and abroad. There should be no doubt about the scientific evidence before us that shows the need to act on climate change. I thought we had moved beyond that argument to looking at what we need to do. At home we will continue to invest in a low-carbon economy, and I believe that in the pre-Budget report next week, the right hon. Gentleman will see action to move forward that investment so that we are a low-carbon economy of the future, one that can lead the world. Abroad, it is important that we make sure that there is sufficient finance for developing countries to enable them to come to a deal in Copenhagen in a few days’ time. We already have agreement on start-up finance. We now need to get an agreement on how we can move forward that finance over a period of years.

Does the Prime Minister believe that every candidate who stands for election to the House should pay taxes in this country?

Q6. For the first time in 50 years, the key economic portfolio in the European Commission has gone to France. President Sarkozy proudly told Reuters:“The English are the big losers in this business.”Why did the Prime Minister fail to win it for Britain? (303213)

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the policy that is being adopted by the European Union—it is discussing today the policy on financial services—and at the policy that is being adopted on the economy generally, it is British proposals, British influence and British policies that are making a difference. That is the advantage of being at the heart of Europe. If we took the advice of the hon. Gentleman and his party, we would be on the fringe of Europe, isolated, dealing with minority parties and unable to change the course of the debate. That is not the position that we are in.

Q7. My right hon. Friend will know that there is a need to change legislation for the civil service compensation scheme. He will also know that this is being used by the permanent secretaries’ dining club as an opportunity to propose slashes to the entitlement of lower paid civil servants in the event of redundancy. Will he please give an assurance that no device such as a statutory instrument, which I believe it is proposed to table on the last day before the Christmas recess, will be introduced in the House to operate such a scheme from 1 January? Will he ensure that no legislation is introduced until a new agreement is established with the unions concerned? My hon. Friend will find that there is extra protection for the lowest paid civil servants, as well as ensuring that all the savings that the Government have committed to will be achieved, but I cannot defend a system where there is six times the ordinary salary for civil servants at the very top who take voluntary retirement. That system must change, and it will change. (303214)

Given the £100 million raid on Welsh lottery funds and the non-Barnettising of the cost of the Olympics, what can the people of Wales realistically expect for the £427 million that they are paying for the London Olympics?

Let me first congratulate the new leader of the Welsh Labour party and the prospective First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones. I believe that he will be an excellent leader.

Over the past 12 years, expenditure on Wales has grown markedly as a result of the decisions of a Labour Government. The hon. Gentleman should be grateful that there is additional expenditure on health, education, sports and culture in Wales. We will continue to honour our commitments to the people of Wales.

Q8. The Bounce Back campaign launched by the Grimsby Telegraph aims to unite businesses and organisations so that our area is on the right road to recovery following the recession. Will my right hon. Friend endorse that initiative and say a few sharp words to Opposition Members who continue to talk down our country? (303215)

It is important to recognise all the local efforts that are being made, including in Cleethorpes, by the business campaign to fight for a recovery for our country. They are fighting to get local business, to invest in future businesses and to help young people get jobs and take on more apprenticeships. This is what people in Britain want to do to help us get through the recession and get to recovery, but it is possible only by having a policy to invest additional money to take us through a most difficult time when markets fail and banks falter. That is the policy that we have pursued, and it is pursued by every other country. It is, I repeat, unfortunate that it is not supported by the Opposition.

As next week’s pre-Budget report coincides with the start of the climate change talks in Copenhagen, has the Prime Minister instructed the Chancellor to reverse the fall in green taxes that took place in the 10 years when the Prime Minister himself was Chancellor? Does he now accept that a tax is only a green tax if its primary purpose is to change behaviour and not to raise revenue?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is proposing VAT on fuel, is he? I do not think that the Conservative party wants to raise VAT on fuel. What we have done is introduce a climate change levy, and we have introduced air passenger tax at a higher rate. We have taken measures that are necessary to deal with the problems of the environment and to reduce carbon emissions, and we are taking measures that are in line with what is happening in other countries. But if he wants us to put VAT on fuel, I will oppose him.

Q9. I was pleased to read over the weekend that the Government are considering moving many of the 130,000 civil service jobs in London and the south-east out to areas where the need is greater. Will my right hon. Friend consider my constituency of Cardiff, North as a destination for more civil service jobs, bearing in mind that the Revenue and Customs building in Llanishen has six empty floors? (303216)

Cardiff, North is an excellent location for new work and new jobs. As of December 2008, over 3,000 posts have been reallocated from London and the south-east to Wales, and nearly 300 have gone to Cardiff. We want to help areas by creating jobs, not causing unemployment.

The Prime Minister has just told us how he hopes that in a couple of years’ time we will have 300,000 troops fighting the Taliban. As that happens to be exactly the number that I told the Government they would need when they first recklessly went in with hopelessly inadequate numbers of troops, who were grossly under-equipped, should he not now resign?

President Obama will be grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s endorsement of our strategy. The figure of 300,000 means that about 150,000 Afghan troops are trained and ready to take over responsibility, and that is the task over the next year—to train up more Afghan forces. I am very grateful that President Obama has made that the centre of his proposals. That is what our British forces will do, with all the coalition partners. Can I thank the hon. Gentleman again for his advice? He has not always been right: he advised me not to make the Bank of England independent.

Q10. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the Post Office should expand its role in banking, particularly in children’s banking, and introduce a wider range of financial services to help sustain the post office network? (303217)

The services proposed are a Post Office current account, a children’s saving account, new services for small business, including a Post Office business account, and a weekly budgeting account for those on low incomes to take advantage of direct debits and reduce bills. Once again, we are taking an institution that is well established in the country and giving it a new purpose serving the whole community. This is what a Labour Government do.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, in a Westminster Hall debate about proportional representation, the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), gave us a guarantee that the Government would not go ahead with plans for a change to the voting system until after the election—so that they would be re-elected to office. In The Times newspaper today, they state that the Prime Minister is determined to table an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in this Session to bring forward a referendum on the issue. Will you, Mr. Speaker, use your good offices to ensure that the Minister explains properly to us their intentions in that matter?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that he is really just continuing the debate and, dare I say, inviting me to join it. Newspaper articles in The Times and elsewhere are doubtless always of interest, but they do not necessarily constitute the basis for a point of order.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice. On several occasions, I have requested a statement in the House on Eccleshill independent sector treatment centre. Yesterday, a secret report on the centre was published that revealed evidence of inadequate safety procedures, consultants refusing to perform operations, incorrect registration, and invalid insurance. People have lost confidence in that facility. Through your good offices, Mr. Speaker, may I ask you how I can raise this in the House? When will the Secretary of State come before the House and finally give a statement to reassure people that it is a safe facility to which they and their relatives can go for procedures?

The hon. Gentleman is a very assiduous Member who loses no opportunity to highlight in the House his concerns on behalf of his constituents. Unfortunately, what he has said does not of itself constitute a point of order. However, I would say to him, first, that he has put his views very clearly on the record, and secondly, that as I heard him warming to his theme, it struck me that he might have very good material for an Adjournment debate.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This afternoon, we are going to debate several groups of amendments and new clauses tabled to the Equality Bill. They are massive groups, and it looks as though we will not get through them in one day. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, if there is anything that could be done by Members of this House, even at this late stage, if we were minded to seek more time to ensure that we are able properly to scrutinise the Bill?

It is often an established principle that it is a good idea to ask a question only when one knows the answer, and I fear that the hon. Gentleman, who is a very experienced parliamentarian, knows that the answer to his question is no. There is nothing that I can do at this stage because, as he will be aware, I am bound by the terms of the programme motion, notwithstanding my own enthusiasm for maximum debate. I fear that I cannot help him on this occasion. Again, however, the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the people of Oxford, West and Abingdon, has put his views fairly and squarely on the record.

Equality Bill

[Relevant Document: The Twenty-sixth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2008-09, Legislative Scrutiny: Equality Bill, HC 1113.]

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 40

Enquiries about disability and health

‘(1) This section applies where—

(a) a person (A) does not proceed with an application by another person (B) for work, after asking about B’s health but before making a relevant decision, and

(b) B brings proceedings before an employment tribunal on a complaint that A’s conduct in relation to B’s application is a contravention of a relevant disability provision.

(2) In the application of section 132 to the proceedings, the circumstances described in subsection (1)(a) are to be treated for the purposes of subsection (2) of that section as facts from which the tribunal could decide that A contravened the provision.

(3) The reference in subsection (1)(a) to making a relevant decision is—

(a) if A requires applicants to undergo one or more assessments, a reference to deciding in the light of the first assessment which applications to proceed with, or

(b) in any other case, a reference to deciding to whom to offer the work (whether by a conditional or unconditional offer).

(4) An assessment is an interview or other process designed to give an indication of a person’s suitability for the work concerned; but a condition to undergo an assessment is not to be regarded as a condition for the purposes of subsection (3)(b).

(5) This section does not apply to a question that A asks in so far as asking the question is necessary for the purpose of—

(a) establishing whether a duty to make reasonable adjustments is or will be imposed on A in relation to B in connection with a requirement to undergo an assessment,

(b) monitoring diversity in the range of persons applying to A for work,

(c) taking action to which section 154 would apply if references in that section to persons who share (or do not share) a protected characteristic were references to disabled persons (or persons who are not disabled) and the reference to the characteristic were a reference to disability, or

(d) if A applies in relation to the work a requirement to have a particular disability, establishing whether B has that disability.

(6) Subsection (5)(d) applies only if A shows that, having regard to the nature or context of the work—

(a) the requirement is an occupational requirement, and

(b) the application of the requirement is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

(7) “Work” means employment, contract work, a position as a partner, a position as a member of an LLP, a pupillage or tenancy, being taken as a devil, membership of a stable, an appointment to a personal or public office, or the provision of an employment service; and the reference in subsection (3)(b) to deciding to whom to offer work is, in relation to contract work, to be read as a reference to deciding who to allow to do the work.

(8) The following, so far as relating to discrimination within section 13 because of disability, are relevant disability provisions—

(a) section 37(1)(a) or (c);

(b) section 39(1)(b);

(c) section 42(1)(a) or (c);

(d) section 43(1)(a) or (c);

(e) section 45(1)(a) or (c);

(f) section 46(1)(a) or (c);

(g) section 47(3)(a) or (c);

(h) section 48(3)(a) or (c);

(i) section 49(1);

(j) section 53(1)(a) or (c).

(9) For the purposes of this section, whether or not a person has a disability is to be regarded as an aspect of that person’s health.

(10) This section does not apply to anything done for the purpose of vetting applicants for work for reasons of national security.

(11) Asking about the health of an applicant for work is not of itself a contravention of this Act by virtue of section 13 (although action taken in reliance on the information given in response may be).’.—(Vera Baird.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 3—Mandatory pay audits

‘(1) Within six months of the day on which this Act is passed the Secretary of State shall by regulations require designated employers to conduct a pay audit and to publish information relating to the pay of its employees for the purpose of showing whether there are differences in the pay of male and female employees.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) regulations made pursuant to subsection (1) shall require designated employers to publish information including—

(a) the average hourly pay of male workers and the average hourly pay of female workers within its employment;

(b) in respect of each role within the organisation—

(i) the average pay awarded to workers engaged in the role;

(ii) the percentage of men and women engaged in that role;

(iii) the gap, if any, between the average hourly pay of male and female employees in that role; and

(iv) the average length of service of men and women engaged in that role; and

(c) information identifying—

(i) any description of activities carried out in the course of employment with the employer by any group of workers who are wholly or mainly women;

(ii) any descriptions of activities carried out in the course of employment with the employer by any group of workers who are wholly or mainly men;

(iii) the relative values of the descriptions of activities falling within paragraph (c)(i) and paragraph (c)(ii); and

(iv) in relation to descriptions of activities within subsection (c)(i) and subsection (c)(ii) which are judged to be of equal value to each other, the average hourly pay of male workers and average hourly pay of female workers carrying on those activities.

(3) For the purposes of this section, “pay” means the ordinary basic or minimum wage or salary and any other consideration, whether in cash or kind, which the worker receives directly or indirectly, in respect of his employment, from his employer and includes the cost to the employer of—

(a) any pensions contributions paid by the employer in respect of the worker,

(b) any bonus or other performance related or incentive payment, and

(c) any discretionary benefit granted to a worker in connection with his or her employment.

(4) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) regulations made pursuant to that subsection shall specify the process which an employer must follow in conducting a pay audit, the form in which the information must be published, and the degree and means of publicity to be made.

(5) In making regulations pursuant to subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall adopt best practice for promoting awareness of the nature and causes of any pay gap between persons of different genders as set out by the International Labour Organisation from time to time.

(6) The Secretary of State shall consult with the Equality and Human Rights Commission as to how to ensure that the regulations shall reflect best practice prior to the making of the first regulations and no less than every five years thereafter and shall amend the regulations as necessary to ensure that best practice is maintained.

(7) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) regulations made pursuant to that subsection shall provide that where an employer fails to publish information as required by regulations made pursuant to subsection (1) an employer shall not be entitled to submit a material factor defence in accordance with section 66 in relation to any period for which they are in breach of their obligations under those regulations.

(8) Where the information published by an employer reveals that there is a difference in the average pay of men and women doing relevant types of work as set out in section 61, then in any proceedings to enforce a sex equality rule or sex equality clause it shall be presumed that there is such a breach unless the employer can show a material factor defence.

(9) Regulations made pursuant to subsection (1) may make provision for a failure to comply with the regulations—

(a) to be an offence punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale;

(b) to be enforced, otherwise than as an offence, by such means as is prescribed.

(10) The reference to a failure to comply with the regulations includes a reference to a failure by a person acting on behalf of an employer.

(11) Regulations made pursuant to subsection (1) shall provide that an employer must conduct a pay audit and publish information relating to the pay of its employees within six months of the coming into force of the regulations.

(12) Regulations made pursuant to subsection (1) shall provide that where an employer (A) is able to determine the terms and conditions of employment as between another employer (B) and its employees, A shall publish the information that B would otherwise be required to publish in a way which is consolidated with the information for all other employees of A whose terms and conditions A may determine, and where A publishes consolidated information B shall not be in breach of those regulations if it does not publish any information.

(13) A designated employer means an employer who has more than 100 employees.

(14) Regulations made pursuant to subsection (1) shall require designated employers publishing information in relation to the average hourly pay of employees to specify how much of the hourly rate constitutes ordinary basic or minimum wage or salary and how much, if any, constitutes other consideration and to specify the types and amounts of any such other consideration.’.

New clause 4—Representative actions in equal pay claims

‘(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to permit the Equality and Human Rights Commission or a registered trade union to apply to a court or tribunal as appropriate for a representative action order in relation to a defined class of persons (“the class”) who would benefit from the litigation of rights, or common issues in relation to rights that members of the class may have as a result of the provisions of this Act.

(2) The regulations shall make rules in relation to the making and termination of a representative action order and its conduct.

(3) Such rules shall provide for hearings to be conducted in private when it is necessary for the issues between the members of the class and the Equality and Human Rights Commission or a registered trade union to be resolved and those issues are subject to legal professional privilege shared by members of the class.

(4) Such rules shall make provision for the hearing of any issue as defined in subsection (3) to be undertaken and managed by a different judge or tribunal from the judge and tribunal that have the responsibility for determining the rights or common issue in relation to rights, of the member class.’.

New clause 5—Hypothetical comparisons in equal pay cases

‘(1) To the extent set out in subsections (2) and (3), sections 63 to 66 apply where a person (A) does not have a colleague (B) who does work that falls within section 61, because there is no such person of the opposite sex to A.

(2) The provisions of section 63 will apply to the extent that a term of A’s is less favourable than a corresponding term of B would be, or that A does not have a term which B would have.

(3) The provisions of section 64 will apply to the extent that a term of A’s is less favourable than a corresponding term of B would be, or if a discretion in relation to A is capable of being exercised in a way which is less favourable than it would be in relation to B.’.

New clause 6—Defence of material factor (No. 2)

‘(1) The sex equality clause in A’s terms has no effect in relation to a difference between A’s terms and B’s terms if the responsible person shows that the difference is because of a material factor—

(a) which does not constitute discrimination because of sex within the meaning of section 13, and

(b) if the factor puts or would put A and persons of the same sex as A at a particular disadvantage when compared with persons of the opposite sex, reliance upon that factor is shown by the responsible person to be objectively justified by a legitimate aim and appropriate and necessary to the achievement of that aim.

(2) A sex equality rule has no effect in relation to a difference between A and B in the effect of a relevant matter if the trustees or managers of the scheme in question show that the difference is because of a material factor which—

(a) does not constitute discrimination because of sex within the meaning of section 13, and

(b) if the factor puts or would put A and persons of the same sex as A at a particular disadvantage when compared with persons of the opposite sex, reliance upon that factor is shown by the responsible person to be objectively justified by a legitimate aim and appropriate and necessary to the achievement of that aim.

(3) “Relevant matter” has the meaning given in section 64.

(4) For the purposes of this section, a factor is not material unless it is a material difference between A’s case and B’s.’.

New clause 11—Pre-interview discrimination protection

‘An employer (A) discriminates against a person (B) in the arrangements A makes for deciding who to offer employment if A fails to take reasonable steps to ensure that—

(a) the selection for interview is carried out on an anonymous basis, and

(b) the person selecting for interview does not know the gender, race, sexual orientation, age or marital status of B or whether B has a disability.’.

New clause 17—Discussions with third parties

‘(1) A term of a person’s work that prevents or restricts the person (P) from being involved in discussions with third parties about the terms of P’s work is unenforceable against P insofar as P is involved in a relevant pay discussion.

(2) A relevant pay discussion is a discussion with a third party—

(a) which is about pay, and

(b) which relates to whether or to what extent there is, in relation to the work in question, a connection between pay and having (or not having) a particular protected characteristic.

(3) Being involved in a discussion includes—

(a) seeking the disclosure by a third party of information;

(b) disclosing information to a third party;

(c) receiving information disclosed by a third party;

(d) seeking advice from a third party.

(4) Being involved in a relevant pay discussion is to be treated as a protected act for the purposes of the relevant victimisation provision.

(5) The relevant victimisation provision is, in relation to a description of work specified in the first column of the table, section 25 insofar as it applies for the purposes of a provision mentioned in the second column.

Description of work

Provisions by virtue of which section 26 has effect


Section 37(3)

Appointment to a personal office

Section 47(5) or (8)

Appointment to a public office

Section 48(5) or (9).’.

New clause 21—Prohibited pre-employment inquiries

‘(1) A person (A) subjects a disabled job applicant (B) to prohibited pre-employment enquiries where A makes inquiries of B as to whether B is a disabled person or as to the nature or severity of such disability.

(2) Inquiries of a disabled person as to the existence, nature or severity of their disability will not constitute prohibited pre-employment inquiries for the purposes of this Act where—

(a) the inquiry is for the purpose of determining whether an applicant requires reasonable adjustments for the interview process and is stated as being such an inquiry;

(b) the inquiry is made at the application stage for the purposes of monitoring disabled applicants, where such inquiry is made in writing, is kept separately from any application form, is anonymised, and is stated as being such an inquiry;

(c) for the purposes of positive action in recruitment, such as offering the guaranteed interview scheme, and is stated as being such an inquiry.

(3) Any invitation to request reasonable adjustments or disclose a disability under subsection (2)(a), (b) and (c) must specify the use that will be made of that information and must state that there is no requirement to provide that information.

(4) Information provided must only be used for the stated purpose.

(5) Inquiries of a disabled person as to the existence, nature or severity of their disability will not constitute prohibited pre-employment inquiries for the purposes of this Act where the inquiry is necessary for the purposes of determining whether an applicant can perform a specific employment-related function, either with or without adjustments and is stated as being such an inquiry.’.

New clause 22—Employees and applicants: prohibited pre-employment inquiries

‘An employer (A) must not subject a disabled job applicant (B) to prohibited employment inquiries.’.

New clause 24—Time off for workplace equality representatives

‘(1) An employer shall permit an employee of his who is—

(a) a member of an independent trade union recognised by the employer, and

(b) a workplace equality representative of the trade union,

to take reasonable time off during his working hours for any of the following purposes.

(2) The purposes are—

(a) carrying out any of the following activities—

(i) promoting equality workplace initiatives and practices;

(ii) carrying out equality audits and assessments;

(iii) being consulted on workplace equality policies, practices and management systems;

(b) consulting the employer about carrying out any such activities;

(c) preparing for any of the things mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b).

(3) Subsection (1) only applies if—

(a) the trade union has given the employer notice in writing that the employee is a workplace equality representative of the trade union, and

(b) the training condition is met in relation to him.

(4) The training condition is met if—

(a) the employee has undergone sufficient training to enable him to carry on the activities mentioned in subsection (2), and the trade union has given the employer notice in writing of that fact,

(b) the trade union has in the last six months given the employer notice in writing that the employee will be undergoing such training, or

(c) within six months of the trade union giving the employer notice in writing that the employee will be undergoing such training, the employee has done so, and the trade union has given the employer notice of that fact.

(5) Only one notice under subsection (4)(b) may be given in respect of any one employee.

(6) References in subsection (4) to sufficient training to carry out the activities mentioned in subsection (2) are to training that is sufficient for those purposes having regard to any relevant equality duty imposed by this Act or provision of a Code of Practice issued by ACAS or the Secretary of State.

(7) If an employer is required to permit an employee to take time off under subsection (1), he shall also permit the employee to take time off during his working hours for the following purposes—

(a) undergoing training which is relevant to his functions as a workplace equality representative, and

(b) where the trade union has in the last six months given the employer notice under subsection (4)(b) in relation to the employee, undergoing such training as is mentioned in subsection (4)(a).

(8) The amount of time off which an employee is to be permitted to take under this section and the purposes for which, the occasions on which and any conditions subject to which time off may be so taken are those that are reasonable in all the circumstances having regard to any relevant equality duty imposed by this Act or provision of a Code of Practice issued by ACAS or the Secretary of State.

(9) An employee may present a complaint to an employment tribunal that his employer has failed to permit him to take time off as required by this section.

(10) References in subsection (2) to equality audits and assessments are to equality audits and assessments that are sufficient for those purposes having regard to the relevant equality duty imposed by this Act or provision of a Code of Practice issued by ACAS or the Secretary of State.

(11) In subsection (2)(a), the reference to qualifying members of the trade union is to members of the trade union—

(a) who are employees of the employer of a description in respect of which the union is recognised by the employer, and

(b) in relation to whom it is the function of the workplace equality representative to act as such.

(12) For the purposes of this section, a person is a workplace equality representative of a trade union if he is appointed or elected as such in accordance with its rules.

(13) In this section “trade union” has the meaning given in section 5 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.’.

New clause 25—Application of the National Minimum Wage

‘In the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 (c. 39) for section 40 (mariners) there is substituted—

“40 Mariners

For the purposes of this Act, an individual employed to work on board a ship which either—

(a) is registered in the United Kingdom under Part II of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 (c. 21) (and that individual is ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom); or

(b) is trading solely between United Kingdom ports, anchorages, roadsteads or offshore installations,

shall be treated as an individual who under his contract ordinarily works in the United Kingdom unless that employment is wholly outside the United Kingdom; and related expressions shall be construed accordingly.”’.

New clause 26—Equal pay audit following contravention by employer

‘(1) In the event that a court or employment tribunal finds that an employer has contravened a term modified or included by an equality clause, the employer shall be required to undertake an audit, to be known as an equal pay audit, and to make the results of the audit available in the prescribed manner.

(2) In this section “prescribed” means prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.’.

New clause 33—Mandatory pay audits (No. 2)

‘(1) Within six months of the day on which this Act is passed the Secretary of State shall by regulations require designated employers to conduct a pay audit and to publish information relating to the pay of its employees for the purpose of showing whether there are differences in the pay of male and female employees.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) regulations made pursuant to subsection (1) shall require designated employers to publish information including—

(a) the average hourly pay of male workers and the average hourly pay of female workers within its employment;

(b) in respect of each role within the organisation—

(i) the average pay awarded to workers engaged in the role;

(ii) the percentage of men and women engaged in that role;

(iii) the gap, if any, between the average hourly pay of male and female employees in that role; and

(iv) the average length of service of men and women engaged in that role; and

(c) information identifying—

(i) any description of activities carried out in the course of employment with the employer by any group of workers who are wholly or mainly women;

(ii) any descriptions of activities carried out in the course of employment with the employer by any group of workers who are wholly or mainly men;

(iii) the relative values of the descriptions of activities falling within paragraph (c)(i) and paragraph (c)(ii) respectively; and

(iv) in relation to descriptions of activities within paragraph (c)(i) and paragraph (c)(ii) which are judged to be of equal value to each other, the average hourly pay of male workers and average hourly pay of female workers carrying on those activities.

(3) For the purposes of this section, “pay” means the ordinary basic or minimum wage or salary and any other consideration, whether in cash or kind, which the worker receives directly or indirectly, in respect of his employment, from his employer and includes the cost to the employer of—

(a) any pensions contributions paid by the employer in respect of the worker,

(b) any bonus or other performance related or incentive payment; and

(c) any discretionary benefit granted to a worker in connection with his or her employment.

(4) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) regulations made pursuant to that subsection shall specify the process which an employer must follow in conducting a pay audit, the form in which the information must be published, and the degree and means of publicity to be made.

(5) In making regulations pursuant to subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall adopt best practice for promoting awareness of the nature and causes of any pay gap between persons of different genders as set out by the International Labour Organisation from time to time.

(6) The Secretary of State shall consult with the Equality and Human Rights Commission as to how to ensure that the regulations shall reflect best practice prior to the making of the first regulations and no less than every five years thereafter and shall amend the regulations as necessary to ensure that best practice is maintained.

(7) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) regulations made pursuant to that subsection shall provide that where an employer fails to publish information as required by regulations made pursuant to subsection (1) an employer shall not be entitled to submit a material factor defence in accordance with section 66 in relation to any period for which they are in breach of their obligations under those regulations.

(8) Where the information published by an employer reveals that there is a difference in the average pay of men and women doing relevant types of work as set out in section 61, then in any proceedings to enforce a sex equality rule or sex equality clause it shall be presumed that there is such a breach unless the employer can show a material factor defence.

(9) Regulations made pursuant to subsection (1) may make provision for a failure to comply with the regulations—

(a) to be an offence punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale;

(b) to be enforced, otherwise than as an offence, by such means as is prescribed.

(10) The reference to a failure to comply with the regulations includes a reference to a failure by person acting on behalf of an employer.

(11) Regulations made pursuant to subsection (1) shall provide that an employer must conduct a pay audit and publish information relating to the pay of its employees within six months of the coming into force of the regulations.

(12) Regulations made pursuant to subsection (1) shall provide that where an employer (A) is able to determine the terms and conditions of employment as between another employer (B) and its employees, A shall publish the information that B would otherwise be required to publish in a way which is consolidated with the information for all other employees of A whose terms and conditions A may determine, and where A publishes consolidated information B shall not be in breach of those regulations if it does not publish any information.

(13) A designated employer means an employer who has no less than 21 employees.

(14) Regulations made pursuant to subsection (1) shall require designated employers publishing information in relation to the average hourly pay of employees to specify how much of the hourly rate constitutes ordinary basic or minimum wage or salary and how much, if any, constitutes other consideration and to specify the types and amounts of any such other consideration.’.

New clause 36—Exemption for small businesses

‘This Act does not apply to any employer who has fewer than 250 employees.’.

New clause 38—Prohibition of affirmative or positive action by public authorities

‘(1) It is unlawful for a public authority to promote or engage in any form of affirmative or positive action, as defined in subsection (4), when recruiting employees and making appointments.

(2) Any act by a public authority which contravenes the provisions of this section is actionable as a breach of public duty.

(3) For the purposes of this section “public authority” has the same meaning as in section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42).

(4) For the purposes of this section, “affirmative or positive action” means any action that is intended to give a benefit or encouragement to a particular group or groups of people of people, on the basis of the—

(a) age,

(b) sex,

(c) sexual orientation,

(d) race,

(e) nationality,

(f) disability,

(g) religion, or

(h) socio-economic status

of members of that group

(5) Such actions include, but are not restricted to, the setting and pursuit of targets in respect of any of the characteristics specified in subsection (4) for the purposes of—

(a) recruitment, or

(b) appointment of persons to any scheme, programme, post or other similar such position.’.

Amendment 33, in clause 38, page 22, line 17, leave out ‘on at least two other occasions’.

Amendment 60, in clause 62, page 40, line 32 , leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment 61, page 40, line 33, leave out from ‘work’ to end of line 34.

Amendment 63, page 41, line 7,  leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment 64, page 41, line 13,  leave out subsection (6).

Amendment 65, in clause 63, page 41, line 22 , leave out from ‘B,’ to end and insert

‘B’s term is modified so as not to be more favourable;’.

Amendment 66, page 41, line 24, leave out from ‘B,’ to end and insert

‘B’s terms are modified so as to remove such a term;’.

Amendment 67, in clause 64, page 41, line 35, leave out from ‘B,’ to end of line 36 and insert

‘B’s term is modified so as not to be more favourable;’.

Amendment 1, page 43, line 1, leave out clause 66.

Amendment 68, in clause 66, page 43, line 14 , leave out subsection (3).

Amendment 69, page 44, line 23, leave out clause 71.

Amendment 70, page 47, line 2, leave out clause 74.

Amendment 13, page 47, line 27, leave out clause 75.

Amendment 34, in clause 78, page 49, leave out line 39.

Amendment 75, in clause 123, page 76, line 14 , leave out from ‘forces’ to end of line 16.

Amendment 76, page 76, line 26, leave out clause 124.

Amendment 77, page 76, line 37, leave out clauses 125 and 126.

Amendment 78, page 79, line 9, leave out clause 127.

Amendment 93, page 97, line 9, leave out clauses 154 and 155.

Amendment 18, in clause 155, page 98, line 7, leave out ‘as qualified as’ and insert ‘equally qualified to’.

Amendment 125, page 151, line 24, leave out schedule 7.

Amendment 126, in schedule 9, page 160, line 26 , leave out paragraph 1.

Amendment 127, page 162, line 3, at end insert—

‘(g) a requirement to be married.’.

Amendment 128, page 164, line 2, leave out paragraph 8.

Amendment 129, page 164, line 13, leave out paragraph 9.

Amendment 24, page 165, line 13, leave out paragraph 11.

The Committee heard compelling evidence from disability organisations that disabled people are being discriminated against by having their initial applications rejected by some employers once those employers are aware of a person’s disability. It also heard that the widespread use of pre-employment inquiries can act as a deterrent to some disabled people making applications for work. The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, for instance, told us that restricting the use of pre-employment inquiries

“is probably the single biggest difference and improvement that could be made through the Equality Bill in relation to the employment of disabled people.”

In the light of that evidence, we are convinced of the need to legislate to deter employers from asking health-related questions and using the information gained for discriminatory purposes. Through the new clause we are providing for unscrupulous employers to be brought to account if they ask questions about health and disability—for reasons not provided for in the new clause—and thereafter reject, or fail to consider, candidates for work because of a declared disability. Where an employer fails to progress a person’s application after having asked a question that does not fall within the situations specified and allowed, and the person subsequently makes a claim to an employment tribunal for direct discrimination, the burden of proof will shift to the employer to show that he or she has not discriminated against the applicant because of the disability. If the employer cannot do so, they will be found to have directly discriminated and there are then issues of compensation. To ask the question and to rely on the information so as not to select the disabled candidate is unlawful. The provision will strengthen the burden of proof in favour of the disabled person, so that the tribunal must require the employer to show that it has not discriminated. Together with the guidance that we will issue, it will make it very clear to employers that they should not ask health-related questions unless they can show that they are for one of the specified purposes.

The Solicitor-General talks about how she is strengthening the burden of proof, but as an eminent lawyer herself, when did she decide that the principle of being innocent until proven guilty should no longer apply in British law?

I am really grateful to be called an eminent lawyer by one so knowledgeable as the hon. Gentleman, but he is talking about the criminal law, not the civil law, in which burdens of proof shift to fulfil policy obligations. I hope that I have made that clear, but I say again that to ask health-related questions and rely on the information given to not select a disabled candidate will be unlawful.

Some Opposition Members would have preferred a provision that prohibited health and disability-related inquiries until the point that a job offer was made, but as we have developed the provision, we have had to take account of a range of recruitment processes. There are situations in which the ability to ask health and disability-related questions is essential during the recruitment process. For example, for some jobs with genuine health and fitness requirements, the candidate has to undergo a fitness assessment before a job offer is made. To delay that assessment until the point of the job offer would unduly delay and disrupt established recruitment processes. That is a fairly clear position.

The new clause strikes the right balance between protecting disabled people from prejudicial discrimination and permitting employers to seek information about health and disability, but only where it is appropriate to do so. It sets out that they will be able to ask health and disability-related questions at the application stage in four specific circumstances, without taking what I will call the “tribunal risk”. First, an employer may make inquiries to identify any requirement for reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process. That is essential, as the duty to make such adjustments is fundamental to opening up opportunities for disabled people to gain employment. How can they be made if nobody knows that they are needed?

Secondly, an employer can make inquiries for the purpose of monitoring diversity in the range of people making job applications. We were told by stakeholders that that monitoring is important to encourage diversity and improve job prospects for disabled people. Thirdly, the new clause provides for inquiries that facilitate the delivery of positive action for disabled people. We all agreed in Committee that that is an important tool in improving work opportunities for disabled people.

Finally, an employer will be able to make inquiries where there is a genuine occupational requirement for the job on offer to be filled by a disabled person or a person with a particular disability. In such cases, it will be important for the employer to be able to identify candidates with the required disability at an early stage. In addition, the new clause provides for an exception for health-related questions asked for the purpose of national security vetting.

In other cases, an employer will reduce the risk of a penalty if health-related inquiries are delayed until after the applicant has passed some form of assessment or interview based on non-health criteria. If there is no form of assessment, the employer will be able to make health-related inquiries when they have decided to make a job offer. The aim is to prevent a disabled person from being screened out solely on the basis of their disability without first being given the opportunity to show that they have the skills and competences for the job on offer. That will address one of the key concerns of disability organisations—that disabled people are being screened out without ever getting to the interview or selection stage. We will do all that we can to ensure that the new provision is well known, so that it can overcome the deterrent effect that health-related inquiries made at the initial application stage can have on disabled people’s willingness to apply for work. At the same time, it will promote opportunities for disabled people in the labour market by facilitating positive action and recruitment where there is a genuine occupational requirement.

The new clause will be an appropriate deterrent to employers using the inquiries in question to gain information for discriminatory purposes, and it will ensure that employment opportunities are promoted, for example though reasonable adjustments. I seek the approval of the House for the new clause.

We welcome the intention behind Government new clause 40. It is fair to say that the Government have responded—or certainly they have attempted to respond—constructively to concerns that were raised in Committee. A number of Members on both sides of the Committee called for action, so there is a fair degree of emerging consensus on both sides of the House on this important issue, and the various parties are at least on strongly converging tracks, which is always to be welcomed.

The Minister’s outline of the new clause was tremendously helpful, but she may have a little further to travel, because the measure has been greeted with a fair degree of confusion, concern and worry by some groups outside this place. They say that it is fairly complicated and that it seems to involve an awful lot of requirements for people to take things to tribunals, and they are not quite sure whether it will genuinely do the job that it is intended to do.

For example, the Terrence Higgins Trust has taken a fairly straightforward view, stating:

“THT is very disappointed with New Clause 40, and the impact it would have is minimal in relation to the US-style ban on irrelevant pre-employment health-related questions that we’ve been calling for.”

As the Minister will be aware, the proposed new clause in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) seeks to give effect to that basic approach.

It may be that some of concerns of the Terrence Higgins Trust will be allayed by the Minister’s explanation of some of the Government’s thinking behind the way they have put the new clause together, but I suggest that she has a fair way to go to speak to one or two organisations. Will she lay out some of the evidence and some of the more detailed work that she and her team have clearly been doing since Committee?

Clearly, I am very happy to confirm that we will do all we can to ensure that the reassurance the hon. Gentleman seeks is given. As I have set the clause out, it has strength in it. The difficulty about a measure that merely declares something to be unlawful is that it does not actually have a great deal of strength, but we make very clear what the consequences of behaving in a certain way are. Obviously, the idea is not that people will have to go to the tribunal, but that employers will be well apprised of the consequences of breaking the law.

I thank the Minister for her constructive response and her willingness to provide and publish any evidence and so forth that she and her team have been gathering. I am sure that that will go a long way to reassuring organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and Rethink. The latter

“expressed its disappointment…following the government’s decision not to introduce a clause in the Equality Bill to stop employers asking job applicants about their medical history before deciding whether to invite them for interview.”

It sounds as though those are merely technical differences. I think we are agreed on the principle, which is worth restating briefly for the record. The principle is this: there is a large body of evidence that shows that if employers ask for details of health background before interview or before a job application decision is made, there is more opportunity—let me put it no more strongly than that—for discrimination of various kinds, including, most severely, direct discrimination.

If we delay that process and say that employers may ask for details of health background only after they have decided to offer someone the job—at that point, the question becomes, “What special and reasonable adjustments may be required by someone who has a disability to allow them to do the job that they have been offered?”—the chance of disability-related discrimination is significantly reduced.

Having made those points, we welcome the Government’s intention and look forward to them publishing the technical background to their work on the matter. We want to keep our powder dry as to whether that means debating the matter again at some later stage, but all being well, we are at least making steady progress in the right direction, and we salute the Government’s approach.

I also wish to speak to two other groups of Conservative proposals which are in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean—one is on positive action and the other on gender pay reporting. Our proposal on positive action seems rather technical and seeks to draw a distinction between someone who is “equally qualified” as opposed to someone who is “as qualified”. That is a very small word difference, but it is profound in terms of the thinking behind it and the implications that it might have. The whole point of positive action—I think that this is widely agreed on both sides of the House—is that it is an important aid to people who would otherwise find it difficult to apply successfully for jobs and positions in all sorts of different professions and sectors of the economy, but which, importantly, stops short of positive discrimination. There is a world of difference between the two and it is an important distinction to make. Positive action, to summarise it in layman’s terms, involves providing as much assistance as reasonably possible—holding someone’s hand in as many different ways as possible—in all the steps that lead up to and during the interview process for a new position. It deliberately stops short of allowing the employer making the job offer to select someone who is less well qualified simply because they have the protected characteristics in the Bill. In other words, it allows helping someone to prepare and to put themselves across in the best possible way when applying for a job, but the eventual decision on who gets that job must be purely meritocratic and based on the principle of appointing the person best qualified for the job.

In Committee, there was a debate about that principle. At the start of the process, it appeared that that principle—and the distinction between positive action and positive discrimination—had been bulwarked and preserved by the use of the words “equally qualified”. If two people are equally qualified for a job—what we might call a “tiebreak situation”—an employer may choose someone with a protected characteristic, say from a particular racial group or of a particular sexual orientation, in preference to someone who has not such a characteristic. The important point is that the two candidates are equally qualified. That would not, of course, breach the crucial distinction between positive action and positive discrimination. However, in Committee, we had a concerned and detailed debate about the Government’s rephrasing of that provision, so that instead of being “equally qualified”, it reads “as qualified”. That is important because we are worried that “as qualified” might mean that of two candidates who are both adequately qualified—they both clear a minimum threshold as defined by the employer as required for the job in question—the candidate who is best qualified and well above the minimum threshold, but does not have any of the protected characteristics, may not get the job because the employer would be within their rights to give it to someone who is less well qualified but had cleared the hurdle and possessed a protected characteristic. That would breach the important distinction between positive action—giving people a hand in their preparation—and positive discrimination, which is allowing the decision on who is offered a job to be made on any grounds other than merit.

We are not the only people to be worried about the distinction. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, in its supporting documentation, has also expressed concern. In its Equality Bill report stage briefing, issued on 2 November, it said:

“Positive action would allow employers choosing between two equally qualified candidates to select the successful candidate on the grounds that they are from an under-represented or disadvantaged group.”

I am interested to note that the EHRC is supporting the principle of “equally qualified” and using that phrase in its briefing document, rather than “as qualified”, although I am sure that it is not the only organisation that supports the principle of “equally qualified” and that that support is shared on both sides of the House. The Equality and Diversity Forum, in its briefing on the Report stage of the Bill, says:

“The proposed provision does not permit recruitment or promotion only because a person has a protected characteristic, it only applies to candidates who are equally qualified and in a situation where a group is under-represented.”

In other words, there is great consensus on the principle of “equally qualified” and applying the clause in a tiebreak situation, but I do not think that there is a consensus on the notion of allowing a candidate who is adequately qualified, but less well qualified than another candidate, to be preferred simply because they are from a minority group. That is our concern.

I was yesterday at a seminar organised by the EHRC on positive action, and it is absolutely in agreement with the way in which the Government see this issue. I can assure the hon. Gentleman of that because the chairman introduced me and said so, I went on to speak and he was on the panel with me afterwards, and a cigarette paper could not have fitted between our views.

I thank the Minister for that clarification. My concern is that in its written documentation, the EHRC talks about “equally qualified”. In Committee, the Minister said that the wording “as qualified” was effectively the same thing, but given the concerns that are being voiced by my party and many others about this—and the importance of the principle that is being addressed—and if there is no difference between the phrases, why will she not use the one that everyone else is using? I ask her to address that point if she can, and we reserve the right to press that amendment to a Division, depending on her response.

We had an extensive debate on gender pay, and the Government’s proposals to introduce a requirement for gender pay reporting, in Committee. There are other provisions on gender pay in the Bill which had wide support, notably the one that would make it illegal for employers to prevent work colleagues from comparing and discussing their pay so that they can see whether, for example, women are being paid less than men for an equivalent role. However, the clause on gender pay reporting was not so unanimously supported. There was a wide consensus about the importance of the issue and the need to sort it out. The gender pay gap is one of the most pernicious, longstanding, significant and unjustifiable examples of workplace inequality in this country, and it is caused by many facets of our society, not least direct discrimination. Rightly, there was consensus on both sides of the Committee when this issue was discussed that it must be addressed and cannot be taken for granted, even though, ever since the original equal pay legislation back in the 1970s, we have seen a steady—I would not say rapid, because it has been stately and slow—and inexorable reduction in the gender pay gap. In Committee, we discussed whether that steady reduction—and it has fallen quite a long way in the last 30 years—was running out of steam and losing momentum, so that additional measures were necessary. I am happy to say that since the Committee stage, new statistics have been published that show that the gender pay gap has continued to fall. It has not fallen by much, but it continues its slow and stately reduction. I am sure that we all want it to fall faster, and we certainly need to go further, but it is an issue on which our society has made great progress over an extended period.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that our progress has been poor compared with many of our neighbours, who have made significant improvements in the gender pay gap, and that Britain is falling behind? Given that we had legislation on that in 1970, it is an outrage that we are still talking about pay gaps in the region of 22 per cent.

I am happy to accept the point behind the hon. Lady’s remarks, which is that we absolutely have to go further and that there is no cause for complacency. It is worth while saying that what we have has been working—albeit too slowly—but we need to continue pushing on. It would be a courageous person who claimed that Britain is all marvellous. She is right to point out that we have further to go.

Our concern is that the causes of the gender pay gap are far from simple. Direct discrimination is clearly an issue, but many other very knotty and difficult issues will require careful addressing if we are to continue to erode and reduce the gender pay gap—and ideally at a faster rate, as the hon. Lady just mentioned. The causes of the pay gap are well known, but let me quickly summarise and rehearse a few of them. Problems with flexible working are well known. There is no doubt that, if someone is trying to combine child care, for example, with work, it is essential that they achieve a proper work-life balance and that they be allowed and helped to do that by their employer, whether public or private sector. Clearly progress needs to be made in allowing and encouraging flexible working.

Child care is another issue. Affordable child care at the right time of day, on the right days of the week and in a convenient location, is essential for anybody trying to juggle family responsibilities with holding down a job. Repeatedly in surveys, the lack of suitable, affordable and conveniently sited child care comes up as one of the top two obstacles for people with family responsibilities to getting a job and, in particular, to remaining in it. The classic pattern is that someone manages to get a job and to get through the first few weeks, but the moment they first encounter something such as a school holiday, all of a sudden their existing child care arrangements are inadequate and they soon discover that they cannot continue to juggle those two important facets of their lives. Clearly, therefore, child care is crucial.

Equally, there is the perfectly legitimate element of individual choice. I am sure that everyone would agree that it would be entirely wrong for parliamentarians to dictate to families up and down the country what their work-life balance should be and how they should prioritise child rearing, for example, versus employment. We need to create an environment in which people can make their own decisions based on their personal lives and situations, an environment in which those decisions are backed up, made simpler and supported rather than obstructed. However, it is legitimate to say that it is perfectly possible for people to take structurally very different decisions. Women might on average take different decisions from men, and part of that, in a free society, is perfectly acceptable, providing that they do it of their own free will and for the right reasons, rather than being pushed, cajoled or pressured.

There are many different facets to gender pay discrimination and many reasons for it. It is not just me and other parliamentarians saying that. Some years ago, the Equal Opportunities Commission published a working paper, series No. 17, entitled “Modelling gender pay gaps”. In it, it tried to break down the causes of the gender pay gap. It stated:

“Broadly, the research finds that gender differences in life-time working patterns account for 36% of the pay gap. Rigidities in the labour market, including those that concentrate women into particular occupations and mean that they are more likely to work in smaller and non-unionised firms, account for a further 18% of the pay gap. 38% is due to direct discrimination and differences in the labour market motivations and preferences of women as compared with men. The remaining 8% is due to women's lesser educational attainment in the past”.

Thankfully, the latter gap is much reduced, and in some cases has gone the other way.

The EOC report talks about the full-time gender pay gap, which is down to 12 per cent. in round numbers. The implication of those figures is that 38 per cent. of the 12 per cent. gender pay gap in full-time employment is, as the report states, due to two factors:

“direct discrimination and differences in the labour market motivations and preferences of women as compared with men”,

which we have just been talking about. There remains a systemic difference in this country between women with child care needs and men. In other words, roughly 5 per cent. of the gender pay gap is due either to direct discrimination or differences in labour market motivations. That means that the direct discrimination, which is the point of clause 75, and of obliging companies to publish gender pay differences, accounts for between 1 and 5 per cent. of the gender pay gap. That does not make it unimportant—it is potentially very important—but it is crucial for the purposes of the debate to understand the size of the issue that we are addressing.

I am concerned about the drift of the hon. Gentleman’s argument, which has been to reduce to 1 per cent. the 22 per cent. gap quoted by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark). Is the intention of that to weaken the rights of women?

Emphatically not. I am trying to ensure that people in Parliament and the world outside who might be watching have a sense of the size of the opportunity that this measure might help with. As I was explaining, there are many other causes of the gender pay gap—I am sure that everybody in the Chamber knows that—and those causes need to be addressed in other ways. Most of my other points about flexible working, child care arrangements and so on need to be addressed by other parts of Government policy and, indeed, through employer action.

We have just been talking about positive action. In laymen’s words, I would argue that all the other points could, and should, be dealt with through positive action to help women to achieve their potential in employment.

Does the hon. Gentleman not see that the 22 per cent. differential relates to women in work, and that the other issues to which he referred are not a reason for that 22 per cent. still to exist?

The point that I am trying to make is that the pay differential is caused by all those different points. The EOC report stated that only 38 per cent. of the difference in full-time work—our debate depends on whether we are talking about part or full-time work—which starts from a base of 12 per cent., is due to direct discrimination or differences in labour market motivations. I am just trying to establish the size of the additional reduction that we could achieve by publishing gender pay information: it is at most 38 per cent. of 12 per cent. and quite possibly only a small fraction of that. The point that I am trying to make, therefore, is that there are other things that we could, and should, be doing. I am sure that everyone on both sides of the House agrees that many things need to be done to improve access to child care and so forth. The Government have attempted to do that, and my party has published its proposals to do so. All those other things are vital if we are to continue making progress in reducing the gender pay gap.

The hon. Gentleman’s argument very much minimises the size of the problem. I am concerned about 100 per cent. of the women who are discriminated against. There are other issues, but they do not play a part in gender pay scales or their publication, whether in terms of women in full or part-time work. That differential still exists for those women.

I completely accept the hon. Lady’s point that the differential still exists for those women. I am trying to break the figures down so that we can understand which bits might be due to direct discrimination by employers, which is the most pernicious piece of the gender pay gap and needs to be a determined focus of our aim of reducing that part of the gap. However, it is important for us to understand that, even if we reduce to zero direct discrimination by employers—that would be wonderful and something for which we should all aim—we will still have a gender pay gap, if we do not fix all those other things. According to the EOC’s analysis, the majority of the existing gender pay gap will still exist if we do not sort out the other points. That is all that I am trying to get at.

I am intervening now because we are debating a massive group of amendments and it is better to deal with specific issues as we go through it. First—and very quickly, of course—the pay transparency provisions are not about direct discrimination only. Every time the hon. Gentleman refers to discrimination, he completely misses out indirect discrimination, which is still a big component. We are not just looking for direct discrimination. With pay transparency, we will find things such as ghettoisation. In particular departments, there have always been women who have always been underpaid. If we get transparency there, so that we can see what is happening, we can delve into it and remove the problems. It is not about disclosing just direct discrimination; some of it will be indirect discrimination, and some of it will be nobody’s fault. Business, the public sector and employees now understand that unless people are fair they will not get the best service from their employees. We are just trying to look at that. To be honest—and to put it neatly—the hon. Gentleman is barking up the wrong tree by trying to confine what we are doing to its impact on direct discrimination. He is missing the point.

Order. It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. and learned Lady, but I hope that that intervention, despite its incisiveness, will not be copied by others in terms of length.

The Solicitor-General is right that I have been focusing on direct discrimination up until now, and it is absolutely true that there are many other issues that responsible employers are already addressing and will need to continue to address. It is pretty unnecessary to have a gender pay reporting requirement to work out that every person in a particular department is a woman or that they are grossly over-represented in a particular department. One only has to walk into a department and look around to see that.

It is also true that the measures required to deal with some of the examples that the hon. and learned Lady gave, such as ghettoisation, are different. Such problems may require mentoring or help with career development, for example, which are the kinds of things that we addressed briefly in our discussion about positive action. Many employers are now undertaking such actions in an attempt to increase the proportion of women whom they first recruit and retain, and then help to progress throughout their organisations. I hope that I am not barking up the wrong tree, because I think that those things are important. I was just seeking to get an estimate of the size of the opportunity that we are talking about.

However, there is agreement on the fact that it would none the less be worth while going ahead with a gender pay reporting requirement, even if we were talking about only a couple of percentage points of the pay differential. It would also be worth doing if the costs were proportionate. We are talking about a pernicious problem and an injustice that needs to be dealt with. Providing that we can deal with it in a way that is proportionate and sensible, we should get on and do so.

Another statistic from the report that the hon. Gentleman has quoted from is that 60 per cent. of women’s employment is concentrated in just 10 occupations. Is not one of the issues that many of the jobs that women have traditionally chosen to do are undervalued? That is why we need to make the Equal Pay Act 1970 work, and also why we need the reporting provisions—and, I would say, other provisions—to strengthen equal pay legislation.

The hon. Lady makes an important point, which is akin to the point about ghettoisation. There might be different functions in a company or even entire sectors in which women have traditionally found it easier to get work. I would suggest that the reason for that will at least partly be the convenient hours that women can get in those sectors and the fact that they might fit more directly with the breakdown of time between child care and family responsibilities and work. However, that does not necessarily make what happens right. That is why I talked earlier about the importance of adequate child care, in order to give women more choices than they have had in the past, although publishing pay reporting figures is not necessarily the answer to that problem. Sorting out child care would be a far faster and, I would suggest, a far more robust response to the problem.

Gender pay reporting would none the less be worth doing if it were a trifle—something that would be cheap to do—and if we could thereby address the full-time gender pay gap of between 1 and 5 per cent., wiping it out or at least providing the information that would allow it to be wiped out. If gender pay reporting were that cheap, my party would be saying, “Well, this is a sensible and acceptable price to pay.” However, the costs are causing me and many others grave concern.

In the Government’s defence, the calculation has risen—I had a bit of a go at the Government about the issue in Committee. The House will be pleased to hear that the calculation has risen—it has nearly doubled, in fact. The Government say that the one-off implementation costs for large companies—those with more than 250 employees, such as Tesco, Shell or O2—have gone up from an estimated £92 per firm to £215.

Before the hon. Gentleman talks in any more detail about the costs of gender pay reporting, does he not accept that equal pay legislation has been in force since 1975? That is more than 30 years, yet employers have been breaking the law since then by paying men more than they pay women. If it was any other area of society, we would be talking about taking action against those people in the courts. Why does he think that it is legitimate to discriminate in that way and that the state should not insist that we take urgent action to ensure that those people stop breaking the law?

I am afraid that I am very disappointed with that intervention, because I had hoped to make it clear, from both the tone and the content my remarks so far, that I think it essential that we should continue to make progress in this area. We have more progress to make, as the hon. Lady and I agreed in our earlier exchanges. What I am debating is how to do that and what the most effective way of doing it quickly is. In this case, I am also debating the best way of doing that in a cost-effective way—that is not to say that it is not worth doing anyway, but it has to be cost-effective and done in a proportionate way.

To return to my earlier point, the one-off implementation costs in the Government’s impact assessment have gone up from £92 per company to £215, and the ongoing cost per company has gone up from £15.38 a year to £41. Under the new regime, therefore, Tesco or any other large FTSE 100 company will spend £215 to prepare for gender pay reporting and another £41 to do it annually thereafter. I do not think that I am alone in welcoming the fact that the Government have gone away and increased their numbers, but I fear that they have not increased them by anything like enough. Frankly, those numbers are still not even remotely believable. If we can come up with numbers that are believable and still proportionate, my party will take a very different approach, but we remain concerned and therefore seek the Minister’s reassurance.

Gender pay is clearly important, but it is not the only source of pay differentials according to people’s protected characteristics. There are not just gender pay differentials; there are also differentials on the basis of disability and many other protected characteristics. The issue is important, as I have said. However, if it is that important, we should be considering ways to erode those other pay differentials. We are concerned that by taking the sledgehammer to the problem that the Government propose, the wider issues will perhaps be ignored, or at least not given enough priority. I will now bring my remarks to a close. I look forward to the contributions of other hon. Members.

Let me start by dealing with the pre-employment questionnaires. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches welcome Conservative new clauses 21 and 22, which deal with prohibited pre-employment inquiries. Like new clause 11, they address some of the problems that people have before they even get into work. Whereas most of the Bill is concerned with discrimination in work, those new clauses deal with the barriers in the first place.

It was interesting to listen to the debate between the Labour and Conservative Front Benchers. I hope that they will reach an accommodation, because they both have right on their sides. The Conservative new clauses would firmly place the onus on employers not to make inquiries about a candidate’s disability status. That is the most important point—the question should never be asked, so that there can never be an inhibition on progressing, as opposed to being able to make a complaint only afterwards, whether the candidate has got the job or not.

On the other hand, the Government’s new clause 40 seems to us to impose a slightly narrower restriction. For individuals to demonstrate that they did not get the job because of the pre-employment questions they were asked, there is a higher hurdle, making it more difficult to police and to prevent such inquiries. The merit of the Government’s new clause is that there is a sanction and that a clear framework is set out for how an individual should seek a remedy when they have a complaint. That remedy, however, applies only if they did not get the job. The framework is welcome, but the narrowing is not. The Conservative position is nearer to that of the Liberal Democrats. Through this Bill, we are seeking to level the playing field—that is the point—and to give people the fairest chance of getting to interview without being subject to the potential prejudices of the employer.

That brings me to the Liberal Democrat new clause 11. Much of the Bill, as I said, is about what happens once people have got their job. On the basis of my experience of sitting on employment panels—I am sure other hon. Members have sat on them, too—as a local councillor for eight years in Haringey and for five years as an assembly member at the Greater London authority, together with all the anecdotal experiences and stories one hears, I have long been concerned that job applicants are being discarded at first sift either by the employer or by human resources departments. That prevents them from getting on to the shortlist and from being interviewed.

I also recall the case in my own office here when two interns, whose surnames were Hussein and Patel, applied for a job. They were far more qualified than me, I have to say, and they told me about the hundreds of job applications they had made without even getting through to an interview. They certainly felt that their names played a part in that discard.

From subsequent study and from thinking about the possibility of placing this new clause into the Bill, I have become aware of American research on brain patterns. It shows how when it comes to foreign-sounding names, it is the brain—rather than racism per se—that recognises and accepts what is familiar but subliminally and unconsciously discards what is alien or foreign. If someone is being interviewed by a racist, this is obviously not going to make a difference, but to be discarded, as my two interns were and as many others have been, simply because the brain works in a particular way seems to be a matter that we could and should look into.

When children are being examined, we give them a number so that they can write it on the paper and avoid any inherent bias. The proposition is that people applying for a job could use something like a national insurance number so that they could avoid being knocked out at first sift. That will not solve all the problems all the time, but it is an entry-level requirement. When one comes to interview, all is then revealed.

On Second Reading, I floated the thesis and, undeterred, tabled an amendment in Committee, and it was interesting when the Solicitor-General told the Committee that the Department for Work and Pensions was undertaking some survey work. At that point, she said that although she did not wish to tantalise the Committee, the first showings suggested significant discrimination. I was quite excited by that, as it identifies a real problem; whether or not this new clause is the solution is a matter for discussion. If there is a big problem, however, the use of anonymous CVs will be simple, effective and cheap—resource non-intensive, which should please Conservative Members, because it does not cost anything and does not involve a cost to business.

Many benefits would flow from removing discrimination in the job market—opening up opportunities, spreading wealth, bringing about greater social cohesion and economic efficiency, from which we all benefit. The Mail on Sunday obviously got the wrong end of the stick about what the Government were doing when it said that the City was very upset. Excuse me, but undertaking research into an issue to establish whether a change in the law is required sounds pretty sensible to me and I commend the Government and the Department for Work and Pensions for undertaking it, especially when it is on such an important issue as discrimination in employment practices. A smart employer would also know that the depth of scientific research backs up what the new clause is designed to achieve.

I am very encouraged that this research has been carried out and I very much hope that the Solicitor-General will elaborate on the findings, which I understand showed clear discrimination based on name alone. People say “What’s in a name?” and I think the answer is “Quite a lot.” I greatly hope that the Government will support new clause 11. I will listen carefully to the Solicitor-General before I decide whether to test the will of the House, as she may wish to say more and propose that more work needs to be done.

On the gender pay gap, which I believe is an extremely important issue, I do not think that there is a million miles between the Government and the Liberal Democrats other than about the degree to which we wish to see change and perhaps over the Government’s belief that another four years of voluntary disclosure will work. The Liberal Democrats do not believe that it will. I was concerned and upset again, as I was in Committee, to hear the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) arguing in a way that suggested he wanted to minimise the effect of what we are seeking to do by closing the gender pay gap. Good Lord—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but the whole manner in which he put the case seemed to suggest that he was saying, “Well, basically women have children, so we kind of have to understand that that puts them outside the workplace.” [Interruption.] That is what it felt like as I sat listening to the hon. Gentleman, and these are arguments that women have heard for many decades. What he said seemed to have those echoes and tones.

That was emphatically not what I was saying and it was not the intention of my remarks or the impression that I wanted to convey. What I was trying to say was that this is a crucial and pernicious problem that has persisted for a long time, albeit improving at a very slow rate, so that we needed to target what we do about it appropriately. Different parts of the gender pay gap, which is caused by different things, require different public policy responses. My argument was that this particular public policy response is a comparatively expensive way of focusing on a very small part of the problem when we would do better to focus on all the other bits, which would reduce the gap much faster.

I totally disagree because the message and intention behind disclosure would affect all areas in which women find themselves discriminated against; it does not pertain only to the market share of this problem, which the hon. Gentleman sees as so minimal and I see as so great.

A series of Liberal Democrat new clauses are designed to deal with the issue of equal pay for women—involving mandatory pay audits, representative action, hypothetical comparators and defence of material factors. The issue is so important, which is why I am so pleased to debate this group of amending provisions on the Floor of the House. As the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) made so clear, it would be unforgiveable if women in this country did not secure the laws they need to bring about change to a disgraceful situation that has applied for nearly 40 years since the Equal Pay Act 1970.

I am pleased that the hon. Lady tabled new clause 33, which is identical to the Liberal Democrat new clause 3 other than in respect of the numbers for the mandatory pay audit to kick in—100 for us, as opposed to 21. We based our figure of 100 on the pre-evidence submissions—by the Women’s Commission, I believe. We view 100 as providing a reasonable level at which companies could operate without enormous expense. Quite frankly, we do not believe that the expense will be enormous at all, although the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare seems to think that it is prohibitive.

It was clear to me in Committee that there was a great deal of support among both Labour and Liberal Democrat Members for mandatory pay audits. New clause 3 revisits the issue, and I shall be seeking to test the will of the House in relation to it. Mandatory pay audits are important in that they expose overall patterns of pay—although not individual salaries—to public scrutiny. The new clause would ensure that, at last, pay discrimination had nowhere to hide.

Where we differ with the Government is on the question of whether audits should be voluntary or mandatory. Opponents of equal pay measures often argue that there can be no discrimination in the marketplace because that is the point of a market: firms that discriminate will be worse off. However, when an opportunity was provided to strengthen market pressures by ensuring that pay scales were disclosed—to give the market more information, which is what free-market theorists tells us that it needs—where were those people? They backed off as fast as they could, making themselves scarce.

Mandatory pay audits are supported by Unison and the Fawcett Society. The problem with the Government’s proposal is that it only suggests that information be published voluntarily until at least the year 2013. As has already been pointed out, the Equal Pay Act was passed 39 years ago, but according to the latest figures that I have from the Office for National Statistics, women are still paid 17 per cent. less than men.

We should bear in mind that the Equal Pay Act was sparked by the gender pay gap. For every pound that men were paid at Ford’s Dagenham car plant, women earned only 85p. On 7 June 1968 the women went on strike, but it was only when they were joined by the women and the men at the Ford’s Liverpool plant that the company caved in and the Equal Pay Act was spawned. The point that I am making is that it takes both sexes to make the change.

The hon. Lady is making her case powerfully, as she always does. She said that she was concerned about the gender pay gap. According to the Office for National Statistics, although among full-time workers women are paid less than men, among part-time workers they are paid more than men. Is the hon. Lady as concerned about the fact that men are paid less than women in part-time work as she is about the fact that women are paid less than men in full-time work, or is she bothered about only one side of the equation?

Then of course I am equally concerned. I am concerned about all discrimination. However, those are not the statistics that I have.

The problem is that a law that was intended, in the best possible way, to change women’s prospects for ever has not been effective. It is extraordinary to note that that is the case at both ends of the market. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has done a great deal of work in studying the pay gap in the financial sector. Admittedly, those in that sector probably receive far less sympathy from Members than those in the low-paid sector.

Last year, the highest-paid female director of a company in the FTSE 100 took home £3.8 million. That figure, however, is dwarfed by the amount received by the highest-paid man, who took home a disgusting—if the House will excuse the word—£36.8 million, almost 10 times as much. Lest Members are in any doubt, I should make clear that I think such pay levels are insane, but the point is that from the highest earners to the lowest, women get a raw deal. It is as tragic as it is shameful that such gaps remain nearly 40 years after the passing of the Equal Pay Act.

Apart from the fact that the Government’s proposals for voluntary publication applied to firms with more than 250 employees, what was made clear in Committee was that they were working with the CBI, the trade unions and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to establish a single figure, or a small number of figures, according to which it could be judged from year to year whether a firm was making progress in reducing a gender pay gap. I do not know the magic number, or metric, that they agreed to adopt. I had hoped to have that information before the debate, but I do not have it, so I hope that the Solicitor-General will be able to tell us more. In any event, however, if it has been decided that that is how to monitor companies’ progress in closing the pay gap, I consider the decision misguided, because it will not deliver real change.

I can see the attraction, in terms of monitoring, of establishing a single figure or small number of figures according to which a company could be judged from year to year. The magic figure, or figures, might help the Equality and Human Rights Commission, if that is the body that will have to judge whether a company is closing the gap, but it will not do what the Liberal Democrats consider to be one of the most important things that disclosure can do. It will not put power into the hands of individuals by enabling them to discover whether they are being discriminated against.

If the company for which a person works publishes its pay scales, the result—apart from public opprobrium—will be that that individual can establish whether he or she is being subjected to discrimination, and can then take his or her case to a tribunal. Someone who does not know whether he or she is being discriminated against will not have that power. Unfortunately, although the Government’s proposed measure will help by allowing the monitoring commission to check on the overall pattern, it will not empower the individual.

As was pointed out by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran, an important aspect of mandatory pay auditing is that it puts a value on the different kinds of job held by men and women. Rather than proposing a measure that is good but not good enough, my colleagues and I are suggesting that firms that are reasonably sized or larger—100 employees seems an appropriate cut-off point—should be subject to mandatory auditing so that women, and indeed men, can see for themselves whether they are being discriminated against, and can make a claim if necessary. We as Members of Parliament should understand the power of transparency when it comes to publication. It has a very salutary effect.

New clause 4 concerns representative actions. Currently, if I believed that I was being discriminated against in terms of pay, I could take my claim to an employment tribunal. As I have already said, the ability to see for themselves whether they are being discriminated against will put power into individuals’ hands. However, an individual has to be quite brave and assertive to proceed with a claim, and the resources for tribunals are so inadequate that there is currently a backlog of cases. Women are waiting and waiting and waiting. According to evidence provided by the Fawcett Society, thousands of women are waiting for justice, and some have died while waiting.

The aim of representative action is to speed up justice, to take the pressure off individuals, and to protect the system from breakdown and expense. Individuals could be represented by trade unions or, indeed, by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which ought to be able to act on behalf of a group of people who find themselves in roughly the same position and bringing the same kind of action.

Does the hon. Lady agree that such a measure could have helped to solve local authority pay problems? It has taken many years for women doing jobs equivalent to those of men in local authorities in, I think, both Scotland and England and Wales to secure equal pay.

I admire the sense of humour that the hon. Lady has shown in asking the Equality and Human Rights Commission to take up cases of this kind. The commission itself pays men more than women, white people more than members of ethnic minorities and non-disabled people more than disabled people, and its performance this year in respect of the last two categories has been worse than its performance last year. Is it not ludicrous that an organisation that cannot even do things properly itself should take up such cases—or does the hon. Lady expect it to take up cases against itself?

Well, the unions could help the Equality and Human Rights Commission out of its current difficulties. It does not matter which organisation is failing; where any organisation is failing, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, it should be brought to book. The answer to this problem is simple: representative actions should be allowed, so that one action can cover and settle many others. [Interruption.] Yes, I suppose people could join a union.

In respect of an amendment I had tabled, what happened in Committee was interesting. When a similar one was tabled by a Labour Back Bencher, the Solicitor-General’s manner and attitude softened. She is always delightful and accommodating of course, but she said that the Government hoped to be able to respond early in the autumn following the conclusion of some work that was being done by the Ministry of Justice on whether representative actions should come into play in tribunals. She also said that if they could not do so in time for Report stage in this House, they would seek to introduce such provision when the Bill was being considered in the other place. I therefore hope that the Solicitor-General will be able to inform us that progress has been made on this issue, and that the Government will either support our amendment or are committed to its inclusion in the Lords.

The third of the series of issues to do with women’s pay is very serious. New clause 5 is about the hypothetical comparator—that is a bit of a mouthful, but, after three stages of the Bill, I can now say it fairly easily. The provision is intended to enhance a woman’s ability to bring a successful case. At present, when a woman pursues an unequal pay case, she is legally required to provide a real comparator in respect of her salary. If she wants to prove sex discrimination in pay, she has to be able to give a concrete example of a man in a comparable job being paid more.

Often, however, that comparator simply does not exist. Many people do jobs where there is no one else, and especially no one of the opposite gender, in a comparable role. Such comparisons can therefore be difficult to provide. Furthermore, a higher bar is set for proving sex discrimination in pay differentials than for other forms of discrimination. There is no requirement to provide a real comparator in race or disability cases. In many other countries, a hypothetical comparator is allowed, and the TUC, the Fawcett Society and the Women’s National Commission say that the legal hurdle has proved to be a major obstacle where a real comparator does not exist, such as for areas of employment where the work force are almost entirely female.

We know that women’s work is often undervalued and underpaid—that is the case for cleaners, hairdressers, carers, dinner ladies and many others—but it can be impossible to prove that, because it is impossible to provide a real comparator. Our amendment follows the lead of many other countries that allow a hypothetical comparator. I do not understand why the Government are resisting this proposal. It simply offers the same protection from discrimination for this strand of inequality as for others; it would set the bar for women fighting against pay discrimination at the same height as the bar for those fighting other forms of inequality.

The situation is even more extraordinary than that, because even for other aspects of sex discrimination—sex discrimination that does not involve pay—there is no need for a real comparator.

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. One can never learn enough facts that can be used to rally to the cause.

We would do that in the same way as we would do it for any other purpose: we would evaluate it, audit it and make an assumption about it. The hypothetical question would be: what if a man were to do this job?

New clause 6 addresses defence of the material factor. Although it is important, I shall discuss it only very briefly, as it is about a legal and highly technical point on which we do not seek to divide the House. The new clause would prevent an employer from using a spurious reason to justify discrimination and thereby avoid the obligations under the Bill.

Finally, I wish to point out that we will be supporting a few new clauses and amendments tabled by Labour Back Benchers, such as that on mariners. We think that abolishing the exemption in respect of the minimum wage is particularly important. We wish to show our support for that. We cannot understand how discriminating by having two different levels of minimum wage can be right. Why will the Bill not change that? We will support that Labour Back-Bench amendment. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) asks from the Tory Back Benches whether we will support any of his amendments; I have to tell him that we will not.

This legislation has the potential to be a landmark Bill for the Government, and I welcome it overall. As an aside, however, may I say that because we have only a little over five hours to debate all the amendments, we will not have sufficient time to address many of them? Indeed, we may deal with less than half of them. That is surprising, because tomorrow in this House there will be a debate on European affairs with no Division, and the next day the House is not even sitting. I therefore wish to put on the record my concern about the management of this business. I shall address both the amendments standing in my name and some that I support standing in the name of my colleagues. Bearing in mind my concerns about time, I shall be as brief as possible.

New clause 24 would introduce statutory recognition for equality representatives. When we introduced other employment legislation—particularly on health and safety, but also on learning within the work setting—we tried to ensure that the representatives of the work force were fully engaged in the implementation of that legislation. Such legislation has been generally supported in the House. There have been debates recently about health and safety, but I think we have got beyond most disputes with regard to health and safety in the workplace. There is broad support in all parts of the House for the idea that on key issues such as health and safety and learning in employment, and also, now, equality issues, it is useful for representation from the work force to be involved in the implementation of the policy itself. In order to do that properly, we need to ensure that these representatives are effective and give them statutory recognition that enables them to have time off and the authority to meet employers to resolve matters on behalf of their work force. This amendment simply seeks to put equality reps, which already exist in many areas of the work force, on the same statutory footing as health and safety representatives.

One argument in favour of this Bill that is supported on both sides of the House is that greater equality in employment matters increases the efficiency of organisations. There is the potential for the companies and agencies people work for to become more effective as a result of being more equal, and therefore more representative of the community overall. I accept that some people may say there are issues to do with the cost of allowing equality reps to have time off for training and so forth, but let me offer the example of what has happened in respect of health and safety. Where health and safety reps have been effective, they have saved the employer money and increased the efficiency of the company because it has been able to avoid litigious disputes on certain issues. That will also be true of equality reps. They will become trained in equality matters, and as a result they will be able to advise both their fellow workers and employers in the implementation of the equality legislation that we shall enact over the coming months. They will be able to assist the company to become more efficient and to avoid lengthy employment tribunals and other forms of legal action. As a result, they will avoid that cost burden in the future.

This has been generally recognised, even by employers. I have seen one survey showing that 70 per cent. of the employers asked about the role of equality representation were supportive of the work that could be done, feeling that there should be at least partial, and perhaps considerable, involvement of trade union reps in the implementation of these polices, and that such involvement would be helpful to them. As I said, there has been widespread support for this approach elsewhere. In 2006 the Women and Work Commission particularly emphasised how effective equality reps could be, and the piloting work done since then as a result of the support that the Government have given through the trade union modernisation fund has demonstrated their effectiveness in practice.

Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the most acute roles that equality reps can play is with regard to people with disabilities? I am thinking in particular of people who are coming back into work having had a mental health problem and who need friends to help bring them back into the workplace in an appropriate manner; as constituency MPs, we are all aware of examples of that being done very badly. If proper training is provided, this key role will help the Government, because it is part of their agenda.

In an informal way, that is what is happening on the ground. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) made the point that some equality issues can be best tackled through a mentoring process, whereby fellow workers give the support. However, we need to ensure that there is some authority to that, which is why I wish to put equality reps on a statutory footing. That will increase the impact and effectiveness of this legislation.

A little later we will deal with a group of provisions dealing with discrimination on the basis of caste and descent. All the reports on that indicate that a lot of discrimination goes on, but the victims are very frightened and are unable to turn to anybody for help or advice because of the whole atmosphere and community in which they are at the time. Does my hon. Friend agree that properly trained and resourced equality reps could be extremely helpful in at least beginning to address this terrible problem?

The worst thing that can happen is that we enact this legislation without making it effective and then rely on too many informal arrangements that allow the untrained barrack room lawyers to become involved, which in turn places a burden not only on the other members of the work force, but on the company or the agency employing the members of staff. That is why we must put all this on a professional and statutory footing. The recognition of equality reps should not be a contentious matter. As I said before, this has been done in other areas of employment legislation, and I hope that the Government will accept this new clause.

Secondly, I wish to dwell for a short while on new clause 25, relating to the minimum wage for seafarers, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Gwyn Prosser); I hope that he will permit me to do so. He will speak more eloquently than I, but I wish to discuss this matter because it has become a personal crusade for a number of Members over the years. It is eight years since I first raised it in the House and I was hoping that today would be the day when we would resolve it once and for all.

I chair the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers parliamentary group, of which my hon. Friend is a member, as is my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark)—she, too, has taken up this issue. I wish to pay tribute to the RMT, which has valiantly pursued this campaign over the years. I shall name the officers involved because I want them to receive recognition for standing up for some of the most vulnerable workers in our work force. Thus I pay tribute to the RMT general secretary, Bob Crow, and to Steve Yandell, Steve Todd, James Croy and Malcolm Dunning, all of whom have worked alongside hon. Members from all parts of the House to try to get this matter resolved, and have given advice to the Government on how that should be done.

This process started as a result of an exposé of the low rates of pay of certain workers on British-flagged ships. A number of years ago we emphasised those rates of pay, particularly those of Filipino workers, but I must say to hon. Members that this still goes on; it has not gone away. On the rates of pay for Filipino able seamen on P&O ferries between Liverpool and Dublin—we are not talking about seafarers who are crossing the world, but about seafarers operating on ferries close to us—a Filipino on the Norbay receives £313 a month and a Filipino on the Norbank receives £328 a month. Given that the UK minimum wage is about £1,000, those are poverty wages for people working less than 200 miles away from here, on a UK-flagged ship.

Nearly eight years ago we made proposals in negotiation in which we sought to ensure that at least those people would be paid the minimum wage. We took the matter to the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee—I was allowed to speak, even though I was not a member—and we were given the assurance that they would be paid a minimum wage within British waters. We came back to this House and celebrated a success, only to be told by the Government that this would apply not to “territorial waters”, but to “internal waters”: that means a boat that is moored, because the term has extremely limited coverage. I used to tell jokes about the Norfolk broads, where I sail, but this is no longer a jocular matter; it is a serious matter because it has gone on for so long.

We then went back into negotiations with the Government to discuss how we could overcome this situation. We were told that the reason why the Government could not move beyond that position was because of various international laws, so we took our own legal advice. We supplied the Government with that advice—on two occasions they were supplied with separate forms of advice—in which it had been confirmed to us that it is extremely doubtful whether their hand is restricted in this way by international laws of the sea. Our latest advice, from Mr. Jonathan Chambers of Quadrant Chambers, clearly states:

“In my view, the proposed amendment”—

the proposal we made previously—

“probably does not interfere with the right of innocent passage protected under section 3 of UNCLOS”.

As of yesterday, the Government remain of the view that their legal opinion says that we cannot implement the minimum wage in our territorial waters because of this “interference” with “innocent passage”. Even if we cannot resolve this today—if the Government cannot accept the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover—I must say to them that there must be a way through this. So far they have not been willing or able to share their legal opinion with us. Can we at least share the legal opinions upon which the Government are basing their decision? Perhaps we should hold a seminar—I make this offer—where we get the lawyers together with Ministers and Members of Parliament who are interested in this subject to try to resolve it. I am sure that nobody in this House would want to support a situation whereby people are paid this minimal level of income, on which it is basically impossible to survive. This is poverty pay within the UK jurisdiction.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran has tabled new clause 33 on pay audits, which I wholeheartedly support, and I shall leave it to her to discuss it. As for the difference between the numbers, we simply felt that the numbers would reflect the Government’s own attitude on other employment legislation, so we chose 21. Even if we could get the Government to agree to the proposal today, large numbers or workers would still not be included in the overall scheme.

That is extremely helpful.

I shall now discuss amendment 33, which stands in my name. Ministers have worked extremely hard on this legislation to try to attack harassment. I welcome the part of the Bill that seeks to outlaw harassment at work and tries to place duties on employers to ensure that they deal with the matter. Under the Government’s current proposals, clause 38(2) provides that an employer will be liable for harassment by a third party if the third party harasses the worker in the course of their employment—that is excellent—and the employer

“failed to take such steps as would have been reasonably practicable to prevent the third party from doing so.”

Again, that is superb. Then, in my view, it undermines the real protection that could be given to employees, because it says that a worker must be

“harassed…on at least two other occasions”

before the employer has a duty to act.

That flies in the face of the spirit of the legislation and, I believe, of what the Government originally intended. It means that an employer will be able to send someone out on more than one occasion to a vulnerable situation in which they will be harassed. It flies in the face of the original judgment, if Members can remember, in the Bernard Manning case, where black members of staff were subjected to racial abuse from that comedian when they were placed in such a vulnerable position by their employer.

My amendment seeks to ensure that it does not have to take at least two other occasions before an employer’s duty comes into play. The employer should have that duty on all occasions and in that way vulnerable workers will be better protected. The employer will still have a responsibility placed on them, but if they fail to take such steps as would reasonably have been practicable to prevent the third party from behaving in such a way, the legislation would cover them. They would still be protected. They would have to behave reasonably and, of course, if they could not predict that a person would be abused it is not unreasonable that they should not be covered by this clause. To send someone out on a number of occasions on which they are abused, in my view, flies in the face of what the Government originally intended in terms of the responsibilities placed on the employers.

May I discuss amendment 34, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover, who will also go into it at some length? We have worked so hard on this together, so I want to try to get some clarity about where we are going in terms of the Government’s proposals. I would welcome any interventions from Ministers to clarify the process by which they envisage that this next stage will be implemented.

Let me give the background to the amendment. We have worked on this over the past decade, and some hon. Members will remember the debate that we had on the subject more recently. When the Race Relations Act 1968 was implemented 40 years ago, shipping was exempt. We were in a disgraceful position. Discrimination, although it was outlawed on land, could take place on ships. If people did not like the ethnicity of another passenger, they could legitimately refuse under those exemptions to share a cabin. Discrimination took place across the work force.

In 1976, the Government tried to tackle some of those aspects of discrimination in reviewed legislation, but they still left employers’ ability to discriminate against seafarers, particularly on wages. As I mentioned earlier, Filipinos are working on poverty wages because of that ability to discriminate. As a result of EU demands for compliance with EC law, the Bill seeks to outlaw all discrimination as regards seafarers and shipping. It also gives the Minister the power to designate who is included within the ambit of outlawing discrimination against seafarers. We sought to ask the Government to publish the regulations by which the Minister will determine the aspects of discrimination against seafarers that will be outlawed.

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Paul Clark), because he provided us with a letter on 30 November, which was also laid before the House via the Vote Office and the House of Commons Library and which followed up on a letter of 3 August. He enclosed a copy of the draft regulations, which set out the detail, as I understand it, of those seafarers who will be included in the ambit of the legislation. As far as I can see, it includes seafarers from the EC or the European economic area—the list of countries has been circulated in earlier discussions—and ensures that there is a definition of an employment relationship with this country, so that we have some clarity and certainty for those seafarers who will be included in the legislation to outlaw discrimination.

Let me place on the record what the letter says. It says that the employment provisions of the Bill would apply

“to every seafarer on a UK ship with a port of choice in Great Britain, so long as the seafarer either works at least partly in Great Britain, or is a UK or other EEA national (or has corresponding EC law rights) and has an employment relationship sufficiently linked to Great Britain.”—[Official Report, 30 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 115WS.]

I would be extremely pleased if we could get some clarity about what

“an employment relationship sufficiently linked to Great Britain”

is at some stage. It adds to the confusion about the ambit of the regulations.

The Government have written to the various stakeholders to say that there will be a further consultation on the issue of pay, requesting evidence from industry representatives and the trade unions and evidence-based financial estimates of the likely impact of either outlawing differential pay rates altogether or continuing to allow the payment of differential rates to seafarers, but only where such differential rates would not operate to the disadvantage of nationals of EC or EEA states or to that of seafarers recruited in Great Britain.

That consultation will now take place. We had a consultation, which lasted six months, in 2007. My understanding is that if the Government are convinced that there are evidence-based financial estimates that demonstrate that there should be some continuation of differential pay rates, the regulations will be subject to affirmative resolution after the Bill is enacted. That means, in fact, that if the Bill is enacted on 1 April, for example, and implemented next October, the regulations will be honed down during that period and only then will they come into force. That is almost a year in which people will be subjected to discriminatory pay rates.

May I suggest to the Government that the simplest way of doing this would be for the consultation that is taking place, which Ministers have suggested will be short and sharp, to end early in the new year and for the decisions on the regulations to be made fairly swiftly? Rather than awaiting the enactment of the legislation and the publication of the amendments, the regulations could be enacted through the Bill. When the Bill gained Royal Assent on 1 April, so would the conditions and the import of the regulations. In that way, we could tackle discriminatory pay among some of the poorest workers immediately. That would send out a message about the Government’s determination to seek equality in this field, where we have had such inequality for such a long time.

I await the Minister’s response on all this and the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Dover about which issues he will press to a vote. This is such a fundamental issue of principle that I hope we will see some Government movement. I am sure other hon. Members will wish to see that, too.

May I now discuss amendment 24, which I have tabled? It has been raised in the discussions already and is a further amendment on the subject of the minimum wage. I cannot remember on how many occasions I have tried this—it becomes like a hardy perennial. My intention is to try to remove the discrimination against young people in the minimum wage legislation.

I come from a basic trade union background, and I believe that someone should be paid the rate for their job. That rate should be based on the work that they do and the value that they add to the company’s work—and therefore their assistance towards its overall profit and future sustainability. A person who is making that contribution should be paid the rate for the job, no matter what age they are. This amendment would remove the ability to discriminate on the basis of age. If there are arguments to be made about the deterrent effect that such a change would have on the employment of young people, we need to see the evidence behind them because it has never been produced. We have never had any quantitative estimation of how many young people would be disbarred from employment as a result of being paid the rate for the job. The argument is the same as the one we had about the basic principle of having a minimum wage. We were told that it would cost jobs and would undermine the profitability of companies, but that has not happened. [Interruption.] I am happy to give way if the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) wants to say something.

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

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

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

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

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

“not apply to any employer who has fewer than 250 employees.”

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

“an employer who has fewer than 250 employees”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“unlawful for a public authority to promote