Oral Answers to Questions — Innovation, Universities and Skills
Harriet Harman (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Camberwell and Peckham, Labour)
I thank the right hon. Lady for her broad welcome for the package and for our endeavours. I also welcome the fact that she has ignored the cries from her own Back Benchers that the proposals are rubbish. I welcome the fact that she wants us to streamline and update the legislation—we intend to do so—and that she wants to work constructively with us. There will be an opportunity for further discussion before the Queen's Speech later this year, and before the Bill is brought before the House. If she has proposals to bring forward, I would ask her please to do so. We will consider them carefully, as we want to work together on this.
The right hon. Lady said that the paper that we published today lacked substantive proposals, yet it announces that we intend to legislate for the first time to put a duty on all public authorities not to discriminate against people on the ground of age, and to promote equality for older people. That is new. We are also proposing for the first time to put into law the right of people not to be discriminated against in the provision of goods and services because they are older. That is also new. We have announced that we propose to put into law positive action for those employers who want to diversify their work force. We have brought forward new proposals on public procurement, public appointments and ending gagging clauses. If the right hon. Lady has an alternative list of substance, let her bring it forward. We would welcome that, as we want to make further progress.
The right hon. Lady asked whether I propose to change the Planning Bill in respect of public sector duties on local and other authorities. The whole point of the public duty is that it overrides and infuses the approach to everything. We do not have to put in a public sector duty, Bill by Bill, Act by Act, because it is there and it runs through everything that is done. That is how the public duty works. We do not need to change legislation, as all public authorities will have to have due regard to how what they do affects older people.
The right hon. Lady mentioned public procurement, which will work like this: there is a public duty on public bodies not to discriminate and to promote equality of race, gender, disability and now age. That applies not only when they employ people and provide services or goods, but when they do public procurement, using the £160 billion of public money. Spending public money is a public function, and the equality duties apply to the public function. That way, public bodies can say, "If you want to do business with the public sector, you need to tell us what your pay gap is. How many disabled are you employing? What is the percentage of black and Asian people in your work force?" Then, if a number of companies are equally qualified for that contract, the authority, in its duty to promote equality, will pick the one doing best on equality.
The right hon. Lady mentioned disclosure of the gender pay gap. We have explained that that will be mandatory in the public sector. It will then be driven through the public sector, into that 30 per cent. of business that is publicly procured from the private sector. If the private sector does not voluntarily conduct the gender pay audits and checks, we have powers in legislation to require it to do so.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the Treasury. The whole point about producing league tables is that we can see who is lagging behind and who needs to make a bit more progress. I certainly do not think that women are not good enough at numbers or incapable of being financial experts; rather, there are patterns of entrenched expectations. Once we make them clear and expose them, we can take action on them.
The right hon. Lady asked about primary school head teachers. If there was an all-female work force and the head teacher, having a number of equally qualified candidates, wanted to ensure that there were some men teaching in her school, she would be able to do that. The proposals clarify the law, so that employers have more ability to promote equality and diversity within their work forces.
The right hon. Lady said that we had not done enough. However, we have introduced civil partnerships and flexible working, and we have eliminated age discrimination against older people in employment. We have done all that. I remind her that for the 18 years in which her party was in government, it introduced not a single piece of equality legislation. The Conservatives' version of equality legislation was clause 28. I know that those on the Opposition Front Bench have changed, so I hope that the right hon. Lady will bring her Back Benchers along to join the 21st century.