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Employment Law (Gender Discrimination)

Volume 522: debated on Thursday 27 January 2011

We are committed to tackling discrimination in the workplace. The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against men or women because—the answer I have here says because of “sex at work”, but I think it means on the basis of gender—or when providing an employment service. We will shortly be launching a consultation on the coalition commitment to encouraging shared parenting from the earliest stages of pregnancy, including through a system of flexible parental leave. We want to make changes to ensure that the law better supports real families juggling work and family life and helps businesses that employ them. Some interim measures are already in place. From April this year new parents will be able to share a period of paid leave through the introduction of additional paternity leave.

I thank the Minister for that answer and those clarifications. Does she agree that making maternity leave transferable will help to eliminate anti-male discrimination in the workplace and will give couples greater choice in addressing the career-family balance together?

My hon. Friend raises the issue of work-life balance and choices for families. The introduction of flexible parental leave will do two important things. First, it will give families the choice to decide which parent stays at home to look after the child in the early stages, beyond a period that will be restricted for the mother only. Secondly, it means that, in future, employers will not know whether it will be the male or the female in front of them seeking employment who will take time off to look after a baby. I think that is an important step in dealing with discrimination. We should try to get away from gender warfare and the politics of difference, as my hon. Friend has said, but I suggest to him that labelling feminists as “obnoxious bigots” is not the way forward.

Last night’s television programme “Posh and Posher” observed that there are more male Cabinet members from one Oxford college than there are women of any background in the Cabinet. Given that, does the Minister for Women and Equalities agree with the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) that her work colleagues get a “raw deal” at work because of feminist “bigots” being unreasonable on issues such as equal pay?

I think I caught the hon. Lady’s gist in relation to membership of the Cabinet, and I simply point out that she should look at the balance in the previous Cabinet under the Labour Government. The Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that he has a commitment to ensure that a third of ministerial places are taken up by women by the end of the Parliament.