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T2.  Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD):
The shipping Minister is, I know, aware that late last year the Maritime Coastguard Agency was involved in, and approved, the design of bulkers for the transportation of waste meat products
from the abattoir on Orkney for disposal on the Scottish mainland. Despite that expensive effort, Northlink ferries this week refused to carry the products because of the escape of a small number of maggots on to the car deck. That refusal threatens the future of meat production on Orkney, which is an agricultural community. Can the Minister assure me that the MCA will not allow itself to be used in this way, as that poses a real threat to the future economic viability of our community?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): The Maritime and Coastguard Agencys role is to act for the safety of ships and their crew and passengers. Equally, it has a responsibility under health and safety regulations for cargo of animal by-products that are liable to leak. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that last autumn discussions were held and a route through was found, which involved improvements to the containers. I understand that there has been an issue recently with maggots escaping from the trailer, and that there are one or two other issues. We will certainly ensure that the MCA is not used, and that it carries out its duties properly. We will look further into the matter.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): I wonder whether Ministers have yet had the opportunity to speak to their counterparts in Holyrood about the importance of the A1 between Newcastle and Edinburgh to communities on both sides of the border, not least given its appalling safety record. Does the Minister agree that the regional funding allocation system is totally inadequate to deal with the urgent need to upgrade that road? Will he enter into discussions about bringing about a definitive plan to finance and implement urgently the dualling of the road from Newcastle to Edinburgh?
Mr. Khan: The requirements for being categorised as a road of national importance are based on the amount and type of traffic flow on the road, and take into consideration whether traffic is redirected on to other routes. The case for the A1 north of Newcastle is not robust enough for us to consider re-categorisation, but I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this matter, because I know it is of real concern to his constituents.
T3.  Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Turning to strategic rail links in the south-west, Lord Adonis told me a few weeks ago that after the Axminster loop is completed, he will reconsider the question of dualling the track between Salisbury and Exeter on the Waterloo to Exeter route. Can the Minister confirm that that is going to happen?
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op):
There are growing concerns about both the service to passengers on the east coast main line and the future of the franchise. I have written to the Secretary
of State to request a meeting to discuss those concernswill my right hon. Friend arrange such a meeting as soon as possible?
Mr. Khan: I have with me the letter that my hon. Friend wrote to the Secretary of State, who is happy to meet him to discuss the concerns he has raised. I know they are concerns not just to him but to his constituents, and I will ensure that the meeting will, hopefully, alleviate some of the concerns he has raised.
T4.  Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The cost of installing and procuring a speed camera is £40,000 plus the ongoing maintenance costs, compared with only £7,000 for a vehicle-activated speed sign. Has a proper cost-benefit analysis been done of those two methods of road safety control, and will the Minister have discussions with his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to extol the opportunities to save money while maintaining road safety standards?
Paul Clark: We take every opportunity to take the steps necessary to ensure that our roads are as safe as possible for all users, and that we use everything available to us. I am delighted to tell the House that the road casualty statistics for 2008, announced today, show that the number of deaths has fallen by 14 per cent. Although that figure is now down to just 2,500, we cannot be complacent and we need to take every step possible to ensure that the roads continue to be safe, and to meet our goal of having the safest roads in the world.
Northern Rail, which serves my constituents, faces a 34 per cent. increase in passenger numbersto 84 millionsince being given a contract based on a steady state in 2004. Does the Minister agree that there is a pressing need for new rolling stock, because otherwise everybody will be standing on those journeys?
Chris Mole: The Department is very much aware of the pressures that passengers face on some northern train services. We hope that at some stage in the near future, we can relieve some of those pressures.
T7.  Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The Departments 2008 road transport forecasts predict a one-third increase in vehicle traffic by 2025. How much of that is driven by unacceptably high levels of immigration, and how on earth is this country going to cope?
Mr. Khan: I have seen lots of tenuous causal links, although not one involving immigration, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the decisions taken by the Government mean that £6 billion will be invested in our roads that would not have been available had the Conservatives been in power.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab):
Two disabled constituents of mine have faced difficulty when travelling by air. One has pulmonary hypertension and was charged extra for oxygen on the flight. The other is a man with Parkinsons. Despite having assisted travel, he faced
humiliating three-hour waits at Heathrow airport without access to a toilet, food, water or assistance. That cannot be acceptable: what steps can Ministers take to make sure that the airlines appreciate their responsibility for disabled passengers?
Paul Clark: At the outset, let me say that I am appalled at the examples given by my hon. Friend, which I should be more than happy to discuss with her. The provision of oxygen, whether free or for a charge, is clearly a matter for the airline operators, and I recommend that people look at their websites to see what is available before they travel. The key UK airlines provide oxygen free of charge, but I am looking forward to next weeks debate in Westminster Hall.
T8.  Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Government will be aware that many country areas have huge difficulty maintaining their roads and lanes. The maintenance backlog is massive, not least because of the heavy vehicles that use the lanes. What are the Government going to do to help local authorities in rural areas maintain country lanes and roads to a proper standard?
Paul Clark: The investment going to the regions through local transport plans and other funding streams has more than doubled in the past 10 years. It is for local authorities to target that money appropriately, but rural roads are central to the new road safety strategy that is currently out to consultation. We want to focus on finding engineering and other solutions to improve safety on rural roads.
The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): The criteria used for estimating the gender pay gap are the same for the public and private sectors. The estimate uses data published by the Office for National Statistics that show that the median hourly gender pay gap for all workers, both full and part-time, is 28.3 per cent. in the private sector and 22 per cent. in the public sector.
Andrew Selous: I am concerned that the Government continue to set such a poor example with their own staff. The Financial Times has obtained unpublished figures from the ONS showing gender pay gaps within the same grade of 12.5 per cent. in the Ministry of Defence and 19.5 per cent. in the Met Office. Can the Government not do better with their own staff?
The Solicitor-General: I served with the hon. Gentleman on the Work and Pensions Committee and I know that he cares about low pay, but he needs to change his party urgently. The Tories voted against the Equality Bill on Second Reading, even though it will bring in help regarding unequal pay on a gender basis. Moreover, they have just voted in Committee against business even being asked to disclose pay figures that would make the pay gap transparent, and thus exert pressure on firms to press for equality for women. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is a siren voice, and a lone one, from the Tory Benches. I am very glad to say that this afternoon the BBC will publish pay figures for its top 100 executives
Mr. Amess: The Minister is simply not answering the question. She has not gone into any detail about the criteria involved, and I should have thought that the Government would have more influence on pay disparity in the public sector. Will she accept my partys suggestion that every secondary school in the country should have a dedicated and professional careers adviser?
The Solicitor-General: Another forlorn and futile gesture from the Tory party. We will make progress in the public sector through the Equality Bill and the regulations on disclosure that it will put in place, which the hon. Gentlemans party voted against. In Committee, his party has systematically voted against all the provisions that would help to improve equal pay in both the public and private sectorsa particular pity, since poverty academics are now clear that the most important step to eliminate child poverty is to bring in equal pay for women, but clearly the Tories do not care about that either.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): But is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the largest pay gap in Britain is in the financial services sector, where full-time women are paid 55 per cent. less than full-time men, and part-timers 39 per cent. less? As we own many of the banks responsible for that poor pay, what can the Government do?
The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend is right. The reason she is able to quote those figures is that the Government asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to look into the appalling pay inequity in that sector and make recommendations for the way forward. Let me assure her that when we get the Equality Bill through Committee, despite the best efforts of the Tories to block it, there will be an impact in that sector, too.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): I think we have just heard a quick claim from the Opposition to put up the pay of public sector workers. In areas such as mine in Aberdeen, men generally work in the private sector in the oil and gas industries with very high wages, while women work in the public sector for much lower wages. That is why we have a gender pay gap whereby women earn only two thirds of what men earn.
My hon. Friend again makes clear how little concern there is among the Opposition about equal pay for women. We will make an analysis this very afternoon of the BBCs top 100 executive
salaries to see where the gender pay gap is there. Transparency is hugely importantit is a pity the Tories do not understand that.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The hon. and learned Lady really knows better than that. She knows perfectly well that in Committee, we made it very clear that we recognise there is a real problem. The argument is over the solutions. The Office for National Statistics made it clear that the gender pay gap is 12.8 per cent. The Governments proposals in clause 73 of the Equality Bill, which we opposed because we think they will not analyse the problem, will tackle only direct and indirect discrimination. How much of the 12.8 per cent. pay gap does the Minister think is accounted for by direct and indirect discrimination? The Equal Opportunities Commission research suggests less than 5 per cent.
The Solicitor-General: The pay gap is 28.3 per cent. in the private sector and 22 per cent. in the public sector. The Tory figures leave out part-time workers. The Tories do that all the time, clearly thinking that part-time workers are a separate breed of second-class citizens, as they are mostly women. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) made a long speech in Committee asserting that discrimination was a very minor reason for unequal pay, which is not what most trade unionists and others in the field believe. Even he did not say there was no discriminatory unequal pay, yet the Tories voted against the very measure that would tackle it.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): Although we disagree on mandatory and voluntary pay audits, if we are to have voluntary pay gender information and it has not worked by 2013because the matrix has not worked or whateverwhat threshold will the Minister be looking at to determine whether the scheme has not worked? What percentage of companies will need to have voluntarily displayed at that point?
The Solicitor-General: That is a really good question. As the hon. Lady knows, the commission, the TUC, the CBI and other employer and employee organisations will be working on what we should measure. They will also report annually on how the work is progressing. Part of their consideration now will be exactly how we should measure that progress.
The Minister of State, Government Equalities Office (Maria Eagle): The Government recognise the vital contribution that women entrepreneurs are making in building our economy. Women-led businesses contribute £45 billion to the UK economy. Women can get advice and support through the Business Link network. In addition, we are funding a network of womens enterprise ambassadors to inspire more women to start their own business, and piloting womens business centres that provide specific business advice.
Mr. Bellingham: I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that many female entrepreneurs employ agency workers? Such workers very often enjoy their flexibility and, indeed, are well paid. They are very concerned about the EU agency workers directive, so can the Minister confirm that the Government are still broadly sceptical about the directive and that they will ensure proper and full consultation?
Maria Eagle: I commend the hon. Gentleman for the particular interest he has shown in this matter over a number of months. He is right that consultation on the directive is ongoingit closes on 31 July. Those who wish to have an input into our response may do so in Exeter, Birmingham, Glasgow and London over the next month or so. We intend to ensure that flexibility still remains for agency workers while protecting their rights, which is another important consideration.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I think my hon. Friend would agree that a lot of people are forced into becoming an agency worker. It was clear that the people who lost their jobs at the Mini factory in Oxfordshire had no rights and no way of defending themselves, and the reason why they could be sacked overnight was that they were forced into agency working. The fact is that that is not a way forward or a solution that we should support.
Maria Eagle: I agree that some people do not choose to be agency workers but have that chosen for them. The directive and our policy are driven by a desire to ensure not only flexibility but fairness. Protection in employment is just as important as flexibility. The trick is to get the balance right, and we intend to do that.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office (Michael Jabez Foster): We recently received representations on age discrimination against children aged under 18 from organisations including Young Equals, 11 Million, the Association of School and College Leaders and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. We have also discussed the issue with childrens groups, including at the Government Equalities Office senior stakeholder group, and the Equality and Diversity Forum.
Jo Swinson: I am glad that the Minister mentions Young Equals and I am sure he has read its excellent report, Making the case, which details harmful age discrimination against young people, so how can the Government justify ignoring that evidence and excluding under-18s from protections in the Equality Bill? [Official Report, 29 June 2009, Vol. 495, c. 1-2MC.]
Michael Jabez Foster:
We all agree that young people deserve the best possible start in life, but the most appropriate and effective way to deliver better opportunities and services for our young people is through targeted initiatives, which is why, in January, we announced an extra 350,000 apprenticeship places, half of which we expect to go to 16 to 18-year-olds. It is also why we are
investing £225 million over three years to support local communities. We need to support vulnerable young people who become homeless. Such targeted initiatives will have the greatest effect for the benefit of young people.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): The Equality Bill is a great piece of legislation, but it would be even better if under-18s were included. The Young Equals campaign has been mentioned, and young people are saying powerfully that they feel discriminated against and excluded. Is there any way in which we can make them feel part of the Bill?
Michael Jabez Foster: As my hon. Friend suggests, most of the arguments in favour of extending age provisions to under-18s seem to arise due to negative attitudes and opinions about young people and mistrust of them. It is important that that be dealt with, but attitudes alone are not the basis of discrimination under the Bill, so we would not solve the problem simply by including under-18s in its measures.
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