Equality Bill

Posted on June 14th, 2011 in Parliamentary News

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is making an eloquent speech. Wearing his other hat as someone who sits on the Speaker’s Conference, does he not agree that we should consider measures to adopt positive action on representation in this house for black and Asian people as well as for women?

John Bercow: Yes. I gave the example of women, but the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to challenge me more widely. I certainly do think so, and in principle I am sympathetic to the idea of black and minority ethnic shortlists. However, the world does not change in a day. I have been doing my best since January 2003, unsuccessfully thus far, to persuade my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to accept the principle and practice of all-women shortlists. I am happy to take that on board as part of my list of demands with which I go to my colleagues to lobby, with some expectation of eventual but not immediate success.

The gender pay gap is a huge issue, and I can see why my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) believes that her idea of compulsory pay audits for demonstrably errant companies is valid. The Government should seriously consider that, as it is a practical and sensible idea. However, I do not agree with the thesis that we should simply pursue a selective policy and eschew the idea of a universal requirement. All that is involved in the clauses on this subject is, first, the ban on secrecy clauses—that is very sensible, because information is power, and if people do not know what others are getting they are in less of a position to argue, lobby and seek better treatment for themselves—and secondly, the requirement from 2013, in the event of inadequate progress in the interim, that companies with 250 or more employees should publish an annual statement of the gender pay gap in their organisation.

That requirement is extraordinarily modest and a long way in the coming. The Government certainly cannot be accused of being excessively hasty or unreasonable about it, as they are looking to see what progress will be made. Of course, it will apply only to approximately 0.5 per cent. of all businesses, so the idea that the decimation of the industrial or commercial base of the country and mass unemployment will result from this relatively modest and well-overdue provision seems somewhat far-fetched. If we look at the evidence, we find that when companies behave well, on the whole they do better with a more diverse work force.