A particularly worrying PFI was agreed for the Calderdale hospital in Halifax. There were two trusts in those days: the Halifax trust and the Huddersfield trust. The Huddersfield trust was always very well managed and had plenty of reserves, but when Halifax and Calderdale ran into trouble, we were pushed by the then Department to merge with the trust that was limping rather. People may remember this. We did merge, because

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we did believe in a good health service for all the people in our part of Kirklees and in Calderdale. That is the history; now we have to bring ourselves up to date.

There is a new dilemma, and I do not want to make it party political, but the urgent question on national health service finances yesterday did point to the fact that up and down the country a number of trusts are in serious financial trouble. Until comparatively recently, our health trust was in pretty good shape. Only comparatively recently did we suddenly have some real financial challenges. The Minister will be very familiar with this dilemma. On the one hand, we are being asked to make savings, efficiencies—4% every year—in order to maintain a good record with all the organisations that look at our health provision. On the one hand, there is that pressure for greater efficiency and saving money, but at the same time on our patch we have this PFI that is a great drain. On the other hand, we have what is a pretty old hospital in modern terms. I was once with Harold Wilson in the hospital when I was a very young MP. He had come up, and we were waiting for the top brass to come down and guide us. He said, “Barry, I don’t think I’ve ever been here before,” and behind him was a great marble stone that said, “Opened by Harold Wilson in 1965”.

The hospital is a classic early 1960s building. Some of us love some of the 1960s buildings. There are some that we cherish, such as the Barbican. Many people hate the hospital; I quite like it. There is a kind of brutalism that one likes. However, a lot of 1960s building was a little bit below par. We have on the one hand a hospital PFI that is very expensive and on the other a local hospital that is getting old. It has been invested in over the years. A great deal of investment has gone in, but I am told that a conservative estimate is that at least £200 million would be needed really to get it back on track. That is a great pressure on local health provision.

All of us across the parties in our area—local councillors have also been very active in the campaign—understand that we want the best possible healthcare for all the people on our patch. I know that the Minister is not so familiar with our part of the world. Not only is it hilly but it has a very mixed population. A lot of wealthy people live on our patch. There are a lot of middle-class people and a lot of people who are more challenged in terms of their income. It is a very mixed area, and that is the beauty of it. It is not boring; it is in every sense a vibrant area. I recently challenged the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to come to Huddersfield and have a decent suit made of fine Huddersfield worsted; we still make the finest worsted in the world. Indeed, Mr Speaker is now also coming to Huddersfield to have a fine worsted suit made. I see you looking interested, Mr Pritchard—the invitation could be extended.

The fact is that, were there not so much contest between the smaller towns, the area might have had the name “Greater Huddersfield”. It is a city—one of the biggest urban conglomerations in the country—but people, especially outsiders, do not realise that because we have broken it up into different names. Kirklees is vast, which means that there are great healthcare challenges. Put that together with our difficult geography and an interesting history, and we face real challenges. We want the Minister to be open-minded and to enter into a discussion to find a way to get the very best result for the people of our area.

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I shall be quite blunt about my resistance to CCGs. I wanted to be independent in assessing PFIs, and I said that there had been good PFIs and poor PFIs. There are also good CCGs and not so good CCGs, and I am not impressed by the quality and leadership of my local CCG. Although I have some resistance to CCGs, the general model is not a difficult one. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on management, so I am keen on good management in the health service and outside. Sometimes I see doctors managing CCGs; management is not part of any medical course I know of. We would not expect it to be. We train doctors to be good clinicians and good GPs, not to be managers. Some CCGs have real difficulties because they lack quality management.

There has been a failure of management in our local CCG when it comes to a proper, rational assessment of where we are now and how we can get the best possible healthcare in our area, taking into account all the difficult pieces of information that I have mentioned, including an ageing hospital that needs investment, a newish hospital that was built under a PFI, and difficult communications. I ask the Minister to look very carefully at what has been going on in our locality and to get the whole situation appraised carefully, independently and objectively.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I understand that this is an issue for the A&E in Huddersfield, but the hon. Gentleman mentioned getting other advice. In Northern Ireland, the Minister has set up a new panel to look at the whole health service and how best to take it forward in an area of financial restraint. Does he agree—I suspect that he does—that it is time to share those ideas across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Thereby, we can all learn together.

Mr Sheerman: I very much welcome that information, which relates to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox). She said that there was no clear, strategic plan for the broader area of West Yorkshire. West Yorkshire is very close to Barnsley on one boundary. On another, it goes a long way right up the valley to where a very large number of people live in places such as Todmorden, where a bridge was recently affected by floods. Those places are in strong Manchester commuting territory. The area is vast and complex, and I cannot remember a proper evaluation across the piece, rather than an assessment that just carved out one bit of territory and looked into that very carefully.

I do not want to go through how many people are enraged, but they include—I read in the Huddersfield Examiner—Sir Patrick Stewart. Until recently, he was the chancellor of Huddersfield University, which was university of the year last year. He sends, from Hollywood, his solidarity with the people of Huddersfield on the issue of keeping the A&E department open.

On 11 March this year, we celebrate the centenary of the birth of Harold Wilson—a great man and a great Prime Minister—who was born in Huddersfield. When I used to drive him around Huddersfield, we would pass the old further education college, which was the old, old Huddersfield hospital, and he always said, “My appendix is in there.” The area has a great history. Please, in this

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special year, let us listen to the voices of the people of Huddersfield and Halifax, and get this right. At the moment, the suggestion of closing A&E in Huddersfield is not right, nor is the suggestion that Halifax is the only alternative. Personally, I think that there is a scheme by which we could keep both A&E departments open. My request to the Minister is: get that rigorous, independent, thoughtful appraisal of what the hell is going on, and get it right.

3.15 pm

Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing this extremely important debate, and on the eloquent and powerful way in which he set out the issues in his opening speech. We heard quite a remarkable volley of NHS-related slogans at the start. I aim to keep a copy of that Hansard extract in my pocket for future use at rallies and so on, such was the power and breadth of his comments. He deserves praise for the non-partisan way in which he presented the issues, and his passion for the local hospital, which he and his family have clearly used on a number of occasions, shone through. He spoke with great personal knowledge about the geography of the area and how it does not lend itself to the proposals, and he pointed out, quite rightly, a need for a wider, sub-regional focus on services.

I pay tribute to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), who spoke with typical passion and sincerity, and brought with her a wealth of experience from the health sector. She rightly questioned whether Halifax will be able to cope with the extra A&E visits, and we all ought to take note of her revelation that the ambulance service has not yet worked out the implications for its service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) spoke with typical authority about how his constituents will be affected. His recounting of the history of healthcare in his area was highly informative. He rightly pointed out that the financial pressures that this trust faces are not unique and he was characteristically forthright about what he considered to be the failings of the local CCG.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) on her intervention. She spoke eloquently and clearly about how significant the issue is when she pointed out that an entire Kirklees Council area will be without its own A&E unit. She also astutely pointed out that the issue has ramifications far beyond the immediate CCG area.

All hon. Members who have contributed to the debate have clearly set out their constituents’ concerns about the proposals, which will fundamentally change how NHS services are delivered in Huddersfield, Calderdale and the surrounding areas. The question of how services are configured in the area has been the subject of discussion for some time, but found a new impetus on 15 January when Calderdale CCG and Greater Huddersfield CCG released the pre-consultation business case on a reconfiguration of hospital services across Calderdale and Kirklees. As we know, the proposal is to treat emergency cases at Calderdale Royal hospital in Halifax, while a newly built Huddersfield Royal infirmary will tackle planned cases. That will involve the closure

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of the A&E department at Huddersfield, which has understandably caused a great deal of anxiety locally and has been much of the focus of today’s debate.

It is not just hon. Members who have expressed concern. Stellar characters such as Patrick Stewart have joined in, and there has been a considerable reaction in the community. On 25 January, a paramedic was quoted in the Huddersfield Examiner expressing concerns that the proposals had the potential to create delays of up to an hour in taking a 999 patient to casualty. As we heard, a local statistician has warned that there could be an additional 157 deaths a year if the changes go ahead. It is hugely important that the CCG responds to those claims as part of the consultation process, as patient safety must be the primary consideration when any changes to health services are proposed.

It is clear from the pre-consultation business case that the changes are significant. As the risk assessment states,

“the most likely areas for negative impact is to those groups who are high users of accident and emergency services, such as younger, older people, and some ethnic groups.”

As the hon. Member for Colne Valley mentioned, the risk assessment also states:

“We understand that the population of Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield is ageing slightly faster in the rural areas than in urban areas. This means that new service models could place older residents at a slight disadvantage if the services they need to access are located further away than the services they are currently using.”

We know before we start that older people are more likely to be particularly affected by the proposal to close Huddersfield A&E, as they are more likely to live in rural areas that are further away from Calderdale Royal and, of course, they are far more likely to use emergency services. It is therefore vital that there is the widest possible consultation on these proposals and that the consultation is meaningful. I note from the business case that seven separate engagement exercises have so far been undertaken. However, not one of them has asked this simple question: “Do you want the A&E at Huddersfield Royal infirmary to close?” It is vital that residents are now given the opportunity to engage with those core issues through accessible methods.

Residents of Calderdale and Huddersfield may well be a little disappointed that we are even discussing this issue today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury said earlier, residents will remember that in 2007, when in opposition, the Prime Minister visited, posed for photographs and spoke about having a bare-knuckle fight with the then Government to safeguard A&E services at Huddersfield Royal and many other hospitals. The Prime Minister’s attention has been elsewhere recently, so perhaps he needs to be reminded of those comments now. The Minister will know that when the Prime Minister visited Halifax last year, he promised to

“sort out the PFI mess and financial mess that they’re in.”

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) had hoped to be here today, but she has whipping responsibilities on the Energy Bill. She has been persistent in trying to hold the Prime Minister to account for that promise. I trust that the Minister will be able to set out what is being done to sort it out.

I am sure the Minister will also be gracious enough to acknowledge, as the hon. Member for Colne Valley did, that although the PFI deal was signed when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, much of the work and negotiating

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was done when John Major was in charge. I am sure the Minister will also agree that the residents of Huddersfield would be right to say that arguing about who is responsible takes us no nearer to finding a solution.

It would also be fair to say that the financial problems faced by the trusts are not solely down to the PFI deal, nor are they alone in facing such challenges. Despite the warm words on funding, a number of challenged trusts are now being asked to consider headcount reductions additional to the current plan. The truth is that the Government have lost control of NHS finances. By slashing social care budgets, they have created a crisis in the sector that is adding pressure to every part of the NHS. By completely mismanaging staff issues, they have created a crisis in recruitment and retention, leading to a surge in spending on agency staff. The report makes it clear that workforce issues are a factor in driving the need for reconfiguration. In 2010-11, the spend on agency staff at Huddersfield and Calderdale was £7.2 million; according to page 29 of the business case, this year the figure is forecast to be £21.2 million, an increase of 194% in just five years.

That issue is not unique to Huddersfield and Calderdale; it is a deeply worrying trend that we see replicated across the country. One of the key reasons for that increase, which again is set out in the business case, is recruitment, retention and vacancy challenges. An example of that is the Government’s decision, after taking office, to slash the number of nurse training places, which led to far fewer nurses qualifying than in previous years. The upshot of that, as the Royal College of Nursing and the Labour party warned at the time, is that trusts across the country are simply unable to fill all their vacancies and are left to rely on expensive agency staff. I ask the Minister, as I have asked him before, whether he will now accept that cutting the number of nurse training places was the wrong thing to do and is a fundamental cause of the increase in spending on agency staff.

The business case also refers to sickness rates being a worrying 5.3% in the clinical directorate, with by far the main causes being anxiety, stress and depression. Sickness rates are high and retention rates are low because the NHS workforce are, frankly, demoralised. I look forward to hearing what the Minister intends to do to improve the position, as many of the challenges facing this trust pervade throughout the NHS.

3.24 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ben Gummer): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I, too, thank my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) for the clear-sighted way in which he set out his case. This clearly is a cross-party effort, for which I respect him all the more. Everyone sitting in this room has come here with earnest intent on behalf of their constituents, and I take their representations very seriously indeed. I appreciate the comments of those who have spoken in this debate, including the hon. Members for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox), for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff). I also thank the shadow Minister. There was an intervention from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who has left.

This is one of what I imagine will be a series of debates on reconfigurations, because throughout the NHS’s history—I am sure the hon. Member for Huddersfield

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will know this better than me—reconfigurations and the configuration of health services has been a feature of how the NHS works. In beginning to respond to the debate, it would be helpful if I set out where the Secretary of State and I stand in relation to reconfigurations. That will explain what I am able to do and, perhaps more helpfully, what I am not able to do, because that has changed in the past few years.

I recognise that the clinical commissioning group has presented a very detailed plan—the plan is very detailed, whatever one’s arguments about its merits, or otherwise—but it has, rather classically, chosen a title, “Right Care, Right Time, Right Place,” that is so generic in its quality and so indirect in its aspiration that the CCG should first look to change the title to say what it actually proposes to do. Such generic consultation titles and bureaucratic-speak are a feature across the NHS, and it does not help anyone to get to the nub of the matter.

Were the reconfiguration to procced, it would be for the CCG to make the decision about how it wished to buy services on behalf of the people it serves. That is a key reform of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 but, even before then, previous Secretaries of State—Labour ones—recognised that it is wrong for Whitehall to make determinations on matters of reconfiguration because it is often influenced by politics when it should be the clinical voice that is heard first and foremost.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the former Prime Minister Harold Wilson a number of times. Harold Wilson was a well-known exponent of valuing expert opinion, and we should do that in the NHS above all, because we are dealing with people’s lives. That is why I ask people speaking in this debate more broadly to listen carefully to what clinicians are saying on both sides of the argument and to weigh up their opinions before coming to a settled point of view.

Mr Sheerman: I absolutely agree with the Minister. It is the clinicians who are talking to us. The clinicians in hospitals do not want this reconfiguration and do not agree with it; it is general practitioners jumped up into management in the CCG who are putting this before us. The clinicians to whom my colleagues and I have talked are almost uniformly against the reconfiguration. He is absolutely right. If we listen to the clinicians, we will have A&E in both hospitals.

Ben Gummer: I will come on to that process. It is a little unfair to characterise the clinical commissioning group in that way. Primary care is the frontline of all patient care in this country. GPs see and deal with the majority of patients in the health service, and they guide the patient pathway. Therefore they should have responsibility for ensuring that services are fit and proper for patients. It is GPs who make the decision on how that happens. If local people disagree with that decision, as the hon. Members for Dewsbury and for Batley and Spen are experiencing in their own areas, a referral can be made to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel via the local authority’s overview and scrutiny panel. The Secretary of State will then take the recommendations of the independent panel.

So far, out of a number of Secretaries of State, none has chosen to go against the panel’s recommendations, although there is always a first time. However, the panel

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exists, and I do not think that anyone disputes its independence. That is the process. All that I can do here is set out the broader clinical arguments on which I know the CCG will draw, and with which I expect all Members will agree, to talk about private finance initiatives and answer the specific questions raised by speakers in this debate.

For the record, I will explain what the CCG claims are its reasons for the reconfiguration. It is important for people watching this debate to know the CCG’s side of the story also. The CCG believes that the NHS services in Halifax and Huddersfield, as currently organised, do not deliver the safest and most effective and efficient support to meet patients’ needs. It believes that the trust is affected by shortages of middle-grade doctors and a high use of locums in its accident and emergency department; I will turn in a minute to the remarks on that matter by the hon. Member for Huddersfield. Sickness absence levels are high, and clinical rotas are described as “fragile”. There are difficulties providing senior consultant cover overnight and seven days a week, which is a wider issue in which hon. Members will know the Government have an interest.

Both hospital sites operate an emergency department and a critical care unit. The care provided by both those services is, in the CCGs’ view, neither compliant with some of the standards for children and young people in emergency care settings nor fully compliant with guidance on critical care workforce standards. Neither site satisfies the Royal College recommended minimum of 10 consultants per emergency department and 14 hours a day of consultant cover.

Inter-hospital transfers are often necessary due to the lack of co-location of services on both sites. Those factors have a direct bearing on the safety of patient care. The co-location of emergency and acute medical and surgical expertise can result in significant improvements in survival and recovery outcomes, most notably for stroke and cardiac patients. The most seriously ill with life-threatening conditions have a much greater chance of survival if they are treated by an experienced medical team available 24/7. That last comment is not just the opinion of the CCG; it is the recommendation of Professor Bruce Keogh, the medical director of NHS England. I think that we all agree on the principles from which he speaks.

The CCG believes, first and foremost, that the proposals are designed to save lives. It is not an issue of cost. However, there is an issue of cost involved in deciding where the co-located services should go. We must be open about that; the CCG has made a value for money determination suggesting that the better site is in Halifax, at Calderdale Royal hospital, and not at Huddersfield.

Mr Sheerman: On finance?

Ben Gummer: On a value for money basis, because of the ability to release the Huddersfield site to build the new hospital and the more modern facilities available in Calderdale. That is the CCG’s determination, and it is important in these discussions that everyone examines whether they believe that the CCG has made the right determination.

Turning quickly to an issue of numbers, I want to make a general point about the number of people being supported by A and E services across the country. The current chief executive of NHS Improvement, Jim Mackey,

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ran a successful large hospital system in Northumberland where a reconfiguration is providing some of the finest patient outcomes not just in the United Kingdom but in western Europe. It was brave and controversial at the time. What he has proved, and what has subsequently been proved in Manchester and in London stroke services, is that where services are reconfigured sensibly, outcomes improve. I know that that is the driving ambition of clinicians in Mid Yorkshire, and indeed in Huddersfield and Halifax. Whether they are arriving at the correct way of delivering those improved outcomes should be the exercise of the consultation, so it is an appropriate way to start the debate, but it is important to inform the discussion with all the current facts.

According to Public Health England, the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust serves a population of 402,000 across two hospital sites. That means that each hospital serves what is, in the scale of the NHS, a small population group. To give some local comparisons, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust serves a population of 752,000, and Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust is also a bit larger at 553,000. Within the scale of local health economies, Calderdale and Huddersfield serves a relatively small population, across two sites. The CCG’s judgment, and I suspect clinical opinion across the NHS, is that something must be done to improve clinical outcomes by concentrating consultant and clinical offer. I am not making any judgment about where that should happen, merely about the principle being established by senior clinicians.

Turning to the issue of deaths, it is the judgment of Professor Bruce Keogh, who is coming to the end of his urgent and emergency care review, that intensive procedures are best done by people who are well practiced and do many a year. The best way to do so is to ensure that they are concentrated in centres of excellence. The understanding of the rest of the world is that we prevent deaths by doing so. The hon. Member for Huddersfield contends that we could cause 157 deaths by joining the services.

Mr Sheerman: In Halifax.

Ben Gummer: Yes. I caution the hon. Gentleman about using such figures. Whereas the CCG has been careful not to use a precise figure for how many lives will be saved, merely citing international evidence about improved outcomes, that figure, which has been provided to him, makes the serious error of conflating and confusing emergency admissions with emergency attendances; they are two completely different things. Using those two figures has allowed the person who made that figure to come up with 157. The figure itself is erroneous, and it is important that it is not repeated until there is a proper statistical base that can be shared with local people, because it will clearly frighten people. It is important that that figure, if it is true at all, has a proper statistical base before it is used.

Likewise, figures have been quoted about PFI. I actually have a dogmatic view on PFI, which is that it is a less than elegant way of borrowing money. Classically, the Government will borrow money at around 4%, and the private sector at 6% or 7%. One can get PFI deals that work; there are some. They work when one can incentivise efficiency over a long period, but it is very difficult to measure, and the jury is still out on even the best deals. There are circumstances in which they do work, but they do not work in every circumstance.

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None the less, it is important that we present local people with the figures. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley has mentioned in the House the figure of £773 million over the course of the contract; I believe that that figure is just the sum of all the unitary payments made year by year. If we strip out inflation, as we must in order to come to a real figure, we arrive at a sum that is about two thirds of that: £527 million. If we then subtract from that £527 million the costs of providing maintenance, cleaning, porterage and the other functions that form part of the PFI deal, we come to a figure about half that, or about £263 million or £264 million. It is difficult to divide it up precisely, because it is a unitary payment. That is the financing charge.

If we compare that financing charge with what it would have been for public debt if the money had been borrowed, as it would have been at the time in order to build the hospital, we are talking about a difference of about £90 million to £100 million. Again, when presenting these figures to the public, it is very important that we are consistent about it. This figure is not £773 million and in that sense it does not matter who signed it, and I will be the first person to stand here for hours defending Sir John Major. It is much closer to £100 million over and above what would have been paid for had it been public debt.

Again, I think that puts it in context and may explain why this figure is not the defining figure, because when £100 million is divided up by the course of the contract it comes out at a much smaller figure than might be supposed. It is not the determining factor in what the CCG is trying to do, and I am convinced of the CCG’s arguments in that respect.

However, the CCG is very open about the value for money that it says there is in using the Halifax site as opposed to the Calderdale site, and Members should discuss that with the CCG. They might have a very interesting discussion with it about how it will dispose of the capital one way or another.

I will just run through the CCG’s proposals quickly in response to the problems it has identified in the local area, and then I will just turn quickly to some of the additional comments that have been made by Members.

The trust identifies that in the area the summary hospital-level mortality indicator—the SHMI mortality figure—was 108.9 in March 2015 against an expected benchmark of 100, so it is significantly over the expected figure. The trust did not achieve a reduction in its mortality rate during 2014 and 2015; it was not able to narrow the gap in the mortality rate to 100. In large part, it puts that down to the operating problems it has on the two sites.

Therefore, the trust’s answer to that problem is to provide exactly the kind of specialised concentrated care that Members from all parties have identified—albeit they think it is in the wrong place—as part of a joined-up community care plan, which it is developing in co-ordination with the wider local area.

The hon. Members for Dewsbury and for Batley and Spen came to speak to me in great detail, and very interestingly, about the proposals for their area. I take very seriously the remarks that the hon. Member for Batley and Spen made about looking at the wider area of mid-Yorkshire in co-ordination with this work.

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I do not know whether I have been to Huddersfield and I told the hon. Member for Huddersfield why. I spent the first year of my life in Wakefield, as I explained to the hon. Members for Dewsbury and for Batley and Spen the other day, and so maybe my mother took me to Huddersfield. I would like to return in the near future and experience it properly as an adult, and I shall. Nevertheless, it is clear that the area we are discussing is a very complicated one to deal with. It is a hilly area, something which—being a boy from East Anglia—I do not understand very well, and it has a lot of towns of considerable population that are divided by difficult terrain, and travelling between those towns can be less simple than travelling in other parts of the country. So I take on board the points that the hon. Gentleman made.

I will certainly take back the suggestion by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen that this issue we are debating today should be looked at in the wider context, and I undertake to ask Jim Mackey to see whether there is a co-ordination between these two plans and whether he can encourage the CCGs to adopt a more joined-up approach to what they are doing. Maybe they are already joined up—I am not prejudging the conversations that have happened—but it is important that the CCGs answer these questions.

Mr Sheerman: On the figures, we listened intently on the lesson on PFI. But these figures have been in the public domain from many sources since the announcement and the PFI has been looked at. People find these sums difficult to understand. It is our job to ensure that we make the toughest case we can. Yes, we have used those figures, and they are still pretty appalling. Regarding the figure of 157, we got it from an impeccable source; we will go back and check it, but I think it is good.

Ben Gummer: I would submit both figures. There is a difference between £773 million and £100 million, although one is larger than the other. I am not justifying the original deal, but it is important that we put it in context.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley asked me whether I would arrange a meeting with the Secretary of State; of course, I will be happy to do so. However, can we wait for some of these issues to have been thrashed out with the CCG, so that we have a proper evidence base that we all agree on? That is part of the point of a consultation. Then we will have an even better informed meeting than if we had one tomorrow. So let us have a proper public debate locally and allow the CCG to respond to some of the accusations that have been made here and elsewhere.

My hon. Friend also asked about investigations into the PFI deals. Each PFI deal is different; some are legally very difficult to unpick while some are easier. We have unpicked quite a few during the past few years and I know that the team are looking at all the PFI deals on a revolving basis. Therefore, I can make a commitment that the Department of Health will continue to look at PFI deals—each and every one of them—to see whether we can get more value from them. However, I have to be clear with my hon. Friend that this deal, which was one of the earliest to be made, has been very carefully worded.

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Jason McCartney: This gets to the nub of the matter. May I just confirm that the Minister’s team will specifically look at the Calderdale PFI, because it was a bit generic there as well? There are discrepancies over the figures, which are slightly different. Incidentally, my colleagues and I would be absolutely delighted if this process were not being influenced by the PFI; if the issue is down to clinical reasoning and other matters, Huddersfield will keep its A&E unit.

Ben Gummer: I can guarantee that Lord Prior is looking at every single PFI in the country on a revolving basis, because we are trying to ensure that we can squeeze maximum—

Jason McCartney: But this one.

Ben Gummer: This one is part of “every single PFI in the country”, so I assure my hon. Friend that it will be looked at.

Mr Sheerman: Perhaps it would be helpful to the Minister if—

Ben Gummer: May I just respond to my hon. Friend’s original point?

We must remember that the PFI deal is borne by the entire trust, so it is not as if it fixes precisely on one site or another; it does not influence the decision of where to go. It could be possible to run a cold site on the PFI hospital and fill the hospital that way. It does not have to be filled with the particular function that the CCG wishes to put there. The CCG just believes that the buildings there are better, more suited and more modern—the hon. Member for Huddersfield would agree with that assessment—for the particular purposes it wants to put there.

It is for the CCG to justify that; I cannot speak with any authority about this, because I do not know. However, I really do not think that the PFI has a bearing, because no matter where the services are put, the PFI deal will still exist. All I am saying is that I want to be realistic about our ability to unpick every single PFI in the country, because in many cases they have been very carefully worded and agreed in a lawyerly fashion—

Mark Pritchard (in the Chair): Order. I remind colleagues and the Minister, first, that the Minister should face inwards, so that we can get a good shot of him on camera. This debate is being televised—just a gentle reminder. Secondly, those Members who want to make comments should stand up to do so, so that the Hansard writers can identify who they are. Thank you very much indeed.

Mr Sheerman: Thank you, Mr Pritchard. I hope this is a useful intervention. We have written to the Public Accounts Committee to ask it to have a look at this particular PFI, on the basis that it would be a very good one to try to unpick. That might be helpful to the Minister and us.

Ben Gummer: I am sure that the Chairman of the PAC will listen carefully to the hon. Gentleman, who is her esteemed colleague. I know that the PAC has looked at the PFI issues many times before, but I would be glad if it were willing to look at them again.

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The hon. Member for Dewsbury raised the issue of traffic, as did other hon. Members. Again, it is for the CCG to ensure that it justifies the traffic times that it is putting in the consultation document. I have sympathy with Members who say that these consultation documents are often impenetrable. I cannot speak for this one, because I have not read it in its entirety, but such documents must be written well—especially the parts that will be put to local people—so that they are understandable to people who do not speak NHS-speak. It is not a question of people’s intelligence; it is about ensuring that the document is written in normal English in a way that people can understand. As to whether the document could ask, “Would you like your A&E to move?”, as long as people are informed about the facts of the case and understand that such a move could improve their children’s outcomes, and there is a reasonable case for it, I see no reason why that question should not be put.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), both raised the issue of wider deficits across the NHS. We addressed that point in the urgent question yesterday; there is financial pressure in the NHS and there are reasons why that should be the case, which I will not go into now. The issue is not cuts, because the amount of money going into the NHS is increasing. The NHS faces a raft of challenges, as it has since its foundation, and our job is to ensure that the money is used as efficiently as possible, which is why we have brought in the controls on consultancy spend, locums and agency workers.

What is true is that under the previous Labour Government and the coalition Government, the number of doctors in training went up. I genuinely do not blame the previous Labour Administration for the current shortages, but we have inherited the numbers from decisions made in the 2000s about the length of doctor training, and before that date about consultant grades. The fact is that, in some parts of the country, it is difficult to recruit—sometimes because the clinical base under which consultants, especially A&E consultants, are asked to operate is not safe. Again, I cannot speak, publicly, about the situation in either of the two hospitals under debate, but that is the case elsewhere, while in some metropolitan centres it is easy to recruit vast numbers of doctors. How do we create hospital bases to which we can recruit clinicians who want to work in a safe place, and carry out good procedures—and numerous ones, to keep the rates up? That is one of the challenges for all healthcare systems across the world, and one that we are determined to meet here in England.

Finally, the shadow Minister spoke about the overall control of finances in the NHS. It is important not to link the overall financial performance of the NHS with this consultation, which, as the CCG makes clear, is centrally about clinical outcomes. I know that the shadow Minister cares very much about ensuring good clinical outcomes, as do all hon. Members; to do that, it is important that local people get a full grasp of the facts. Although we might have a broader argument about NHS finances, it is important to focus on the core facts of the situation. This is about clinical outcomes, the difficulty of providing the outcomes on two sites where they are best provided on a single co-located site, and the value-for-money arguments about what that site should be.

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If we can have a strong, well-informed and nuanced debate, and take into consideration the surrounding area—a point well made today—local people can come to a good decision that is supported across the patch, which will mean better health services for those living in Huddersfield and Halifax and the surrounding areas, an improvement in clinical outcomes, and better life chances, especially for those who are born with the least.

Mr Sheerman: I used to have good discussions with the Minister’s father. One thing I know about him is that he, like me, was really interested in good management. The Minister has not come back to us about the quality of management, which is something that CCGs in many places do not seem to have. Good managers in the health service seem to be undervalued. I made what I think was a good point about medical training not containing any management element. I am sorry to remind the Minister of his father’s excellent commitment to good management, but I am sure that he shares that view.

Ben Gummer: I share the view of the hon. Gentleman. Good management is, of course, vital in the NHS, which is why I am never particularly keen to beat up NHS managers—a predilection of politicians on both sides. But it is true that we have not considered carefully enough the quality of management in CCGs; I agree with the hon. Gentleman about that. That is precisely why we are bringing in a CCG scorecard, just as we have done with the Care Quality Commission rankings for hospitals—that is a well-led domain—that describes precisely how well a hospital is managed.

We want to do similar work for CCGs, which will enable the hon. Gentleman to say, “Empirically, my CCG is poorly—or well—managed compared with neighbouring ones”. That will be useful for our holding them to account. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that I will be able to deliver, in the next year, precisely what he wants.

3.54 pm

Jason McCartney: I thank the Minister for his thorough and detailed response, which we will obviously pick through. I thank him also for his specific commitments. We will have a cross-party meeting with the Secretary of State for Health once the consultation is up and running, which is imminent, as we want to get the best value from it. The Minister’s team is considering the PFI deals, including the one at Calderdale. I assure him that he will be seeing a lot more of not just me but my parliamentary colleagues here in the coming months, as the consultation gets under way.

I also thank my parliamentary colleagues for their contributions. I work with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on so many issues. We co-chair the all-party Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire group. Many people who watch debates in Parliament do not realise that we work cross-party on important issues for our local areas. Such working is not uncommon, and it will continue.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) gives an extra perspective, and her passion really came across loud and clear today. I thank the shadow Health Minister for his kind comments and support, and the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox), who was

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here earlier. The hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) was here, too, for much of the debate, although he could not stay because of other pressing commitments; his presence shows how our region is closely considering the issue. Also, of course, there was the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), from Northern Ireland, who talked about similar issues in his part of the world.

The consultation is about to start and this is where the battle begins—with me and my parliamentary colleagues, the community campaign, the volunteers and the 46,000 people who are now in the Facebook group. We have firm, clinical evidence and logical, safe, patient-led reasoning to persuade the GPs on the clinical commissioning group to keep our A&E at Huddersfield Royal infirmary. We will fight all the way. We have worked together so far and will continue to. We will say once again, “Hands off our HRI, we’re going to save our A&E at Huddersfield!”

Mark Pritchard (in the Chair): I thank colleagues for their co-operation today. My intervention earlier was due in part to some of the microphones not working today, which is unusual. We will have an inquiry into that. But do not worry; Hansard is here and everything was captured on television also.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered A&E services at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary.

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Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust Schools

[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

4 pm

Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust schools.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Sir Edward. All Members would agree that a good education gives young people, no matter what their background or where they live, the life chances to be the best that they can be. Education is an open door to opportunity, and that is something I want for every child in Telford. The Minister, who is not here, may be aware that in Telford all our academies benefited from the highest level of Building Schools for the Future funding. Every school is newly built with impressive facilities that every student can be proud of. Good education, however, is more than investment in the best buildings and facilities; it is about good leadership, high expectations and enabling students to reach their full potential, giving them a sense of personal responsibility and self-worth and ensuring that they feel cared for and valued.

In my constituency, the education of 2,000 children was affected by the collapse of the Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust last year. Following inspections by Ofsted, all four secondary schools within the trust were put into special measures after receiving “inadequate” ratings. All four Ofsted inspections made similar observations. There were widening gaps in the achievement of the most disadvantaged children and a culture of low expectations on achievement, behaviour and attendance. Specifically, Ofsted said that the multi-academy trust had failed to take action to halt the decline in achievement and failed to provide effective support and challenge to the schools.

The “inadequate” ratings were based on far more than merely exam results. The schools failed because of failings at the top and because of the leadership decisions taken by the multi-academy trust. Ofsted was clear in every report that that was the case. It is true that schools within the cluster had very poor GCSE results in consecutive years. Only 20% of the most disadvantaged children were achieving five good GSCEs including English and maths. All four schools within the trust fell below the 40% floor target, with two falling below 33%. In one school, almost three quarters of children failed to achieve five good GCSEs in consecutive years.

In seeking to raise the issue, I speak as someone whose mother was a teacher in a comprehensive school and as someone who has been a governor in schools in areas of significant disadvantage, so I understand the challenges that teachers and governors face. I pay tribute to those at the coalface in Telford who tried so hard in circumstances that in hindsight were far too challenging. However, I also want to speak for the young people who were failed. We can make no mistake: in schools where 80% of children are in receipt of the pupil premium and 80% are leaving school without getting five good GCSEs, we have to ask about their life chances and talk about the impact on their future. Children’s education, particularly that of children from the least advantaged, least educated families, is an important duty of local authorities.

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In the case of the Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust, the portfolio holder for children and young people was on the board of directors, as was the local authority’s assistant director of education. In 2014, it became apparent that there were difficulties. Immediately, the local authority ceased its involvement, leaving behind well-intended, ill-equipped and inexperienced people to shoulder the burden of financial failings and educational shortcomings. After the schools were placed in special measures, councillors brought a motion at a council meeting in Telford in October 2015 expressing

“deep concern and censure of the authority’s…leadership with regards to Education policy, provision and achievement”.

The portfolio member responsible for children and young people claimed that the way Ofsted had conducted the inspections had triggered the problems, but that in any event it was an academy chain, so the local authority had no responsibility. It appeared to many that what had happened was being brushed under the carpet.

The portfolio member could have accepted that the children had been let down. He could have recognised the shortcomings and seen an opportunity to learn lessons for the future. Instead, he criticised those who wanted to find out what had gone wrong. He claimed they were guilty of playing party politics with our children’s future. In reality, everyone supported the schools while they were in special measures. Opposition councillors did not raise the issue publicly until students had finished their 2015 summer exams. As the new MP for Telford, I have waited until now to raise the issue, because as the Minister may know, a new sponsor has been found and things are starting to go well.

Whenever something goes wrong there are lessons to be learned. Unless we are prepared to speak out, nothing will change and an opportunity to build a better future for our children will be lost. There are three clear lessons from the Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust story. They are on, first, the crucial importance of strong leadership and governance; secondly, the high expectations of students and of teachers; and, thirdly, the willingness of a local authority to intervene quickly when things go wrong and to accept a duty towards every child in the borough. In his response, will the Minister confirm that a local authority has a statutory duty for every child in a borough, academy or no academy? It must be right to ask whether the local authority fulfilled its statutory responsibilities in this case.

Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. There is surely nothing more important than the next generation and ensuring that they have the very best opportunities going forward. Education and good schooling are absolutely critical to that. She does full justice to the strain and stress around Ofsted and around being in special measures and what that means for the school and the wider community. I subscribe to her plea that the local authority has a duty of care in that. We all have a very important part to play. She talks about school leadership, but I commend her for showing significant political leadership in bringing this issue to light to better help the children of Telford.

Lucy Allan: I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent intervention and sensible words. I know how experienced she is in this field, and I am grateful to her.

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I believe those asking questions on behalf of the children who lost out are right to do so, and their questions deserve answers. Will the Minister confirm that if things are not working—if leadership and governance are struggling—local authorities should be proactive and get help from the Department for Education and regional schools commissioners? Will he encourage local authorities to intervene early and not to tolerate an inadequate education for any of our children, but particularly the most disadvantaged?

The Minister will be pleased to know that there is good news in Telford. We already have two fantastic academies: Madeley Academy and Abraham Darby Academy. Those schools give their students a good and rounded education. They serve areas with a similar demographic to those served by the Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust. Those schools show that no matter where someone lives and no matter what their background is, they can have a good education.

The Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust was dissolved. The DFE got involved and a new sponsor was found. The sponsor formally took over in November 2015. It is early days, but the signs are encouraging. The new academy chain has ensured a full staff restructuring, with shared leadership across all schools. New timetables, new day structures, new approaches to behaviour and teaching and new leadership and governance processes have been successfully put in place.

An early DFE monitoring visit saw examples of excellent practice being identified, and there were two successful Ofsted monitoring visits where the positive impact of the new trust and the work of the school-based leaders were recognised. The chief executive told me earlier this week:

“We are still in the early days of school improvement and there is still much to do, but the young people in the schools are getting a better deal.”

A recent Ofsted visit found that the trust

“has played a crucial role in removing barriers to the academy’s progress and putting in place a clear strategy for the academy’s improvement. The structures, mechanisms and foundations are now in place...to secure sustainable improvements.”

I offer my full support to the new trust chain, the leaders, the teachers and the students as they all move forward on this exciting journey, and I know the Minister will join me in that support.

I will conclude by saying to the Minister that if the Government’s education policies are working, the Telford schools will be a benchmark of that success. If in four years’ time, given the right leadership and high expectations, the schools have been turned around, and if children from the least advantaged areas in Telford have the same life chances as others, that will show that the Government have got their education policy absolutely right.

As Telford’s MP I will pay close attention to the progress of the schools and the students. I will continue to raise their progress with the DFE and with the Minister. As we look to the future, we should not discard the lessons of the past or avoid an understanding of what went wrong. We should all hold on to the belief that young people, no matter where they live or what their background, deserve the life chances that a good education provides and an open door to opportunity.

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4.11 pm

The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): I apologise to you, Sir Edward, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) for being a few minutes late for the start of this debate. Never has the journey on foot from the Department for Education to Westminster Hall been as swift as the one that I have just undergone in order to hear my hon. Friend’s speech and to be able to respond to it. I congratulate her on securing this debate. I pay tribute to her for her work on this and other education issues, particularly for her work on children in care. She made a powerful speech on children in care in early January, and today she has made another powerful and compelling speech about education in her constituency.

I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) that our hon. Friend the Member for Telford is showing significant political leadership in taking up these issues in Westminster Hall today. She is right to celebrate the achievements of the Community Academies Trust in improving schools in her area. The trust is a fine example of the success of the academies programme, which is raising academic standards by giving headteachers greater freedom and also greater responsibility. Before 2010, there were just 203 academies, but the Academies Act 2010 opened the programme to every school in the country so that the benefits of academy status were available to any school. Headteachers have seized the opportunity to raise standards. There are now more than 5,000 open academies, and 65% of all secondary schools are academies or free schools.

In 2015, secondary converter academies outperformed national average attainment at GCSE by 7.2 percentage points, with 64.3% of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at A* to C, including English and maths. I am pleased that there are already 10 open academies in Telford and Wrekin, and I know that my hon. Friend is encouraging more schools in her constituency to consider the advantages that academy status brings. Despite the overall success of the programme, the performance of some academies falls short of our expectations. Where this is the case, we do not hesitate to intervene swiftly so that the necessary improvements are secured. The answer to the question about intervention that she raised in her speech is that it has to be swift, and it is swift thanks to the academies programme.

My hon. Friend raised particular concerns about the performance of the Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust, which was joined by four academies in Telford in April and June 2013: Lakeside, Phoenix, Sutherland and Wrockwardine. At the time of conversion, the schools were performing well. In February 2015, however, all four schools were judged inadequate by Ofsted and serious financial issues were uncovered by the Education Funding Agency. Standards at the schools had dropped

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significantly, as cited by my hon. Friend in her speech, and fewer than 40% of pupils were leaving the schools with good key stage 4 results.

Although technically part of the trust, the four schools effectively operated in isolation, losing the benefits of closer collaboration and support for each other. The poor performance of the schools was unacceptable. The Department therefore intervened and secured the trust’s agreement for a new sponsor, the Community Academies Trust, with a proven track record of school improvement. CAT was originally formed by two outstanding schools, Polesworth secondary school and Birchwood primary school, in 2012. In all the schools within the trust, there has been significant improvement, and the two founding schools continue to be judged “Outstanding” by Ofsted. At Polesworth secondary school, 64% of pupils achieved five A* to C, including English and maths, and 38% achieved the EBacc combination of GCSEs in the summer of 2015. At Birchwood primary school, 80% of pupils achieved at least a level 4 in reading, writing and maths.

The Community Academies Trust took responsibility for the four TCMAT schools in November 2015. I am pleased to confirm, as my hon. Friend has said, that recent Ofsted monitoring visits in December and January have noted significant improvements. Ofsted inspectors commented positively on the schools’ leadership and governance, and praised the support being provided by the Community Academies Trust. Specifically, Ofsted has said:

“New leaders have acted with drive and determination to alter the culture and ethos of the academy...The clear strategic vision and ambition of the executive head of school and Community Academies Trust, supported by an able team of deputy headteachers, is now beginning to have an impact on standards...The quality of teaching, pupils’ attendance and behaviour are improving. This is starting to raise the achievement of some pupils...The signs are that pupil numbers will be up to sustainable levels within the 4 years.”

This approach—recognising and quickly addressing underperformance—is fundamental to the academies programme. To date, we have issued 134 formal notices to underperforming academies and we have ensured a change of sponsor in 123 cases of particular concern.

The Education and Adoption Bill will strengthen the Department’s powers to ensure that every failing or coasting school, whether maintained or an academy, receives the support that it needs to improve. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising these issues today, and I congratulate the Community Academies Trust on the progress it has already made. I wish the schools in her constituency every success as they continue to improve.

Question put and agreed to.

4.18 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Gender Pricing

4.30 pm

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered gender pricing.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, for the first Westminster Hall debate I have secured in my own name. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will have noted the research recently conducted by The Times that shows that items marketed at women are, on average, 37% more expensive than similar items marketed at men. Itanalysed hundreds of products marketed at men and women, and found only one example of a male item priced higher than a female item—boys’ underwear is more expensive than the equivalent for girls—but numerous examples of female items that cost more. Clothes, beauty products and toys for women and girls were found to cost more than the equivalent items marketed at men and boys. Such price differentials were found in some of the UK’s biggest retailers, including Tesco, Boots and Amazon.

Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Will she join me in welcoming the news that Boots has announced today that it will take action? It is withdrawing two products that it identified are priced in a sexist manner.

Paula Sherriff: Of course I welcome the news that Boots announced today that it will withdraw those items and charge a rate equivalent to that of men’s items. The onus is now on other retailers to do the same.

Some of the examples brought to light by The Times’ research are remarkable. Tesco charges double the price for 10 disposable razors simply because they are pink. In fact, standard razors for women cost, on average, a huge 49% more than the equivalent products for men. At Argos, identical children’s scooters are £5 more expensive in pink than in blue. Bic sells a range of “for her” ballpoint pens that are more expensive than its ordinary range, even though the products are almost entirely identical. Amazon sells a Playmobil pirate ship for £12.59, while the equivalent fairy queen ship, marketed at girls, costs £14.99. According to The Times, neither Amazon nor Playmobil will comment on the rationale behind that price gap.

The Times study follows a similar study conducted by New York City Department of Consumer Affairs in December. It compared nearly 800 products with clear male and female versions from more than 90 brands sold both in-store and online, and found that products for female consumers were more expensive than those for male consumers in all but five of the 35 product categories. Across the sample, the research found that women’s products cost more 42% of the time, whereas men’s products cost more just 18% of the time. The DCA report remarked:

“Over the course of a woman’s life, the financial impact of these gender-based pricing disparities is significant.”

In 1994, the state of California studied the issue of the gender-based pricing of services. It estimated that women effectively pay an annual gender tax of approximately $1,351 for the same services as men.

The Government must ensure that an independent analysis is conducted to identify the extent of unfair gender pricing and marketing practices in the UK. The

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full impact of gender differentials in pricing on women must be quantified. Women may pay thousands of pounds more over their lives to purchase similar products to men. Will the Minister commit to conducting such an analysis?

It could be argued that some products for women have additional design and performance features, and that others are priced individually based on factors including formulation, ingredients and market comparison. Of course, a women’s jumper might be made with better-quality fabric, and a men’s jumper might be made with cheaper material, but The Times’ study indicates that that is often not the case. Frequently, the only difference between the two products is the colour.

In 2012, Development Economics conducted research on gender-based pricing on behalf of the insurance provider Aviva. It found that women pay an average of £200 more per year than men for essentially the same consumer goods and services. The only difference is that the products are specifically designed for and targeted at the female market.

Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that many women do not have the time to go around shops comparing and contrasting prices? This smacks of retailers taking women for granted.

Paula Sherriff: I absolutely agree. There is a sense that exploitation is going on. It is fantastic that we are able to use this debate to bring these issues to the fore.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on her very fine presentation, her compelling argument and the research she has done. Does she agree that for many women, particularly those on low incomes and those who depend on benefits, it is difficult to purchase the more expensive gender-based products?

Paula Sherriff: Once again, I completely agree.

If there is no discernible difference or advantage to purchasing a product designed for women, but the consumer is led to believe that there is, we must ask questions about advertising standards and whether consumers are able to make properly informed choices. What is it about a multipack “for her” ballpoint pen that makes it more custom-fit or specially designed for a woman? If female consumers are told that they should purchase a specific product because it is the only version suitable for women, when in fact there is no discernible difference in the product, it can be argued that they are being misled.

This debate raises concerns about the kind of choices and information available to female consumers when they make purchases and whether discriminatory practices are taking place, but we should also consider the worrying pattern of gender economic inequality under the Government. The UK gender pay gap currently stands at 19.2%—well above the EU average. Low pay and poor employment practices persist in sectors in which women are the majority of employees, including the care, retail and hospitality sectors. Analysis by the TUC found that more than half of the job growth for women since 2010 has been in low-paying sectors, and that 29% of women earn less than the living wage, compared

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with 18% of male workers. Women are paid less and are expected to spend more on products and services. They are charged more simply for being women.

Will the Minister agree to Labour’s calls for a cumulative gender impact analysis of the Government’s policies since 2010? If the Government will not do anything to tackle intrinsic gender economic inequality, they must at least not make matters worse. The recently published research raises numerous issues about consumer rights, fair advertising and gender economic inequality. Women are paid less but are expected to spend more on products that are often not discernibly different to the equivalent products for men.

In the absence of a Government gender equality strategy, I ask the Minister to respond to the following questions. Will the Government ensure that independent analysis and further study is conducted to identify the extent of unfair gender pricing and marketing practices in the UK? Will they seek to quantify the full cumulative impact of gender differentials in pricing for women? Will they meet the UK’s major retailers to identify what steps they are taking to rectify the situation?

Once again, I welcome the news that Boots has taken steps this afternoon to change some of its pricing, but I have just received an email from Tesco suggesting that its pink razors are significantly more expensive than the blue or black versions because they are produced in smaller quantities. I struggle to see how that justifies the extra cost. We need to meet retailers and have that discussion.

How will the Government discern whether gender pricing differentials amount to discriminatory practice? Will they produce a cumulative impact analysis of their policies on women since 2010 to understand the true extent of gender economic inequality in the UK?

4.40 pm

Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Edward. I commend the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) for securing this timely debate. We should all be thanking The Times for its investigative skills in uncovering yet another form of sex discrimination that was, frankly, hiding in plain sight: the pricing of similar or the same products. Many women were clearly unaware that stores charge different prices for the same product depending on whether it is marketed at men or at women, and many people find this quite surprising. On a closer look, one can find similar research from France and in the United States. It is surprising that people experience such price differentials not only in the UK, or perhaps we should not be surprised because the manufacturers and retailers mentioned could well be those that have fallen foul of the research done elsewhere, France in particular.

When the report was published by The Times some 10 days ago, the Women and Equalities Committee, which includes my friend the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), happened to be meeting that day, and we immediately deemed it appropriate for the Committee to undertake a short investigation into the findings of this piece of journalism. We have written to several of the manufacturers and retailers cited in the report to ask for the rationale behind why

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they differentiate their pricing in this way. They could find themselves well out of step with their customers following the exposure of the findings, because there cannot be many customers who visit our supermarkets and expect exactly the same product, whether a razor or any other of the vast range of products put under the microscope, to be charged at a discount to men and a surcharge to women.

Having spent almost 20 years in advertising and marketing before I came to this place, I know first-hand that marketing departments and retail outlets are making such choices. It is not happenstance or a mistake; a conscious choice is being made to price the same products differently depending on whether it is expected to be bought by a man or a women. I cannot understand why that would be the case. Retailers and manufacturers need to explain themselves clearly and quickly. I do not think that the Government should get involved in this issue, because customers ultimately vote with their feet. If such organisations cannot explain themselves clearly enough, that is exactly what customers will do.

I welcome the swift action that Boots has taken in making right the pricing on two products that were part of The Times’ research, and I think it is undertaking to look further at the matter, which shows real responsiveness. I thank Tesco for the email I received a few moments ago, which, as the hon. Member for Dewsbury said, did try to explain its product pricing. That is the start of a conversation and certainly not the end of one.

Mrs Helen Grant: Does my right hon. Friend agree that this presents a great opportunity for retailers to get off the sidelines and play their full part in the battle for gender balance and fairness?

Mrs Miller: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Gender stereotyping helps no one. It does not help women or men. As we go forward, people will be calling for a reduction in gender stereotyping and far more gender-neutral approaches to the products and services that they purchase.

I again commend the hon. Member for Dewsbury for securing today’s debate. I hope that she follows the work of the Women and Equalities Committee as we consider the evidence that we receive and decide what to do next. We may even invite some retailers and manufacturers to give oral evidence if we feel that there are further questions to ask. I thank her for her support in an important area of work for women’s equality.

4.45 pm

Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who served with distinction as Minister for Women and Equalities. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) on securing this important debate. She made her name with the tampon tax, which made waves even if it did not quite get legislative change, so let us hope that such change will result from today’s debate.

I agree with everything that has been said. This is an example of everyday sexism. As my hon. Friend pointed out, it hits from babyhood to old age. There are so many examples. It is a great hidden gender swindle perpetrated by the retail trade, which has spotted an

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opportunity that many of us do not notice because someone would have to be quite diligent to do the comparison every time.

In 2016, we have been led to believe that gender barriers are dissolving and eroding in many areas, but there are examples of price differentials from toys to toiletries and even in clothing. A white T-shirt for a man in Tesco’s F&F range costs a lot less than the woman’s equivalent. It just seems wrong that products for her are much higher priced than the equivalent for him. The Times’ research found that the differential can sometimes be 37%, which is quite a lot, and the total cost of that can rack up over a woman’s life, and yet it happens without anyone noticing.

There was a disagreement over whether tampons and sanitary products were luxury items. This is not about those Yorkie bar wrappers saying, “It’s not for girls!”, which make my blood pressure rise—I am off Yorkies now. The issue will never be one of those things that is emotive in the same way as “Made In Dagenham” and the Equal Pay Act 1970 or the suffragettes, about whom a film was also made recently, because it happens without our noticing. It is not totemic in the same way. When shopping, the relationship is usually between value and quality, but here it has been subverted by gendered commodities. It seems strange to have two different versions of a product. Surely a razor is a razor and a pen is a pen, no matter the gender of who uses it. At Boots—I think—eight women’s razors cost £2.29, but it is £1.49 for 10 men’s razors. It makes no sense at all. If it is true that Boots has bowed to pressure, that is good news.

The campaigning has been thoroughly modern. The Fawcett Society started a petition that was spearheaded by Stevie Wise of Middlesex University and gathered some 35,000 signatures. This has happened a few times on women and equality issues recently. A constituent of mine ran a petition that achieved nearly 4,000 signatures, protesting that none of the 70 composers on the A-level music syllabus were women, and there has now been movement on that. When the new draft regulations for A-level politics come out, I think we will see that feminism has been reinstated in some form. The petition for that received nearly 50,000 signatures. It is a thoroughly modern, bottom-up way of campaigning that has led to Boots caving in. I said that I would be brief, but I just want to agree and commend my hon. Friend for her initiative. There are things that can be done.

Counterintuitively, in America, capitalist land of the free, they are more progressive than we are. The New York research that was mentioned earlier led to retailers sitting down around the table. We should be doing the same, including with Amazon and other online retailers, even if we think that their tax arrangements are a bit too friendly and they seem to be able to pay what they want. In fact, in New York they have rent control as well. I know that that is not pertinent to the subject of the debate, but on some of these issues, counterintuitively, the Americans have got it right. Surely we can catch up.

I hope that the Minister will have some good news. We thought that progress was being made on women’s equality. After all, at Prime Minister’s questions at the end of last year, the Prime Minister declared to me across the Dispatch Box that he is now a feminist. He needs to put his money where his mouth is and do something, because it seems like women are viewed as cash cows. One might say that we can vote with our

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wallets, but, as the right hon. Member for Basingstoke said, how many people are really going to make the comparison all the time? It happens beneath the radar. It often seems like we are sleepwalking into discrimination. We have anti-discriminatory legislation in this country—introduced by Labour Governments—so this rip-off needs to stop.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): We come to the only other man present.

4.51 pm

John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP): It is quite interesting that you say that, Sir Edward. I thank the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) for securing this debate on a subject that is very close to my heart. It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I apologise for the gender imbalance today. I think we are outnumbered 8:2, which is never a problem for me—I thoroughly enjoy being outnumbered by women.

As a hairdresser, barber and salon owner, I worked for most of my adult life in a sector with universally accepted gender pricing inequalities. A haircut for a man with short hair could cost 40% less than one for a woman with short hair. An average women’s haircut in London is 97% more expensive than the average men’s haircut. That difference in average prices caused a lot of debates and arguments—most of them humorous—in my own salons over the years, especially when a man, a wife, a daughter and a son were sitting together, because I had to do some very quick mental calculations to show how I had thought things out thoroughly. I can assure Members that it caused an awful lot of problems, and still does.

The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) mentioned New York. It is interesting to note that New York addressed gender-differentiated prices. Salons were nudged into harmonising their prices. It has worked for most of them, and there are some great examples. Unfortunately, it can work the wrong way, as when a men’s haircut went from $10 to $75. It was similar to the difference between the price of a cup of tea in one railway station and another: the prices will never come down; they always go up. There are some cases, particularly in my profession, of a legitimate business need for gender pricing, but the fact is that society is not generally aware of gender pricing inequality, which is of great concern.

We are teaching our daughters, and thereby perpetuating the myth, that being a woman is be more expensive. It is our duty and responsibility as MPs to consider what we could and should do to address such inequality. The example I gave of haircuts is relatively frivolous, but I picked it because it exemplifies the wider social issue: our general acceptance that it is more expensive to be a woman.

As I said in my speech in yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on state pension age inequality, the UK Government’s fiscal programme and determination to push through austerity measures has affected women disproportionately. Coupled with a failure to do anything about the gender pay gap and gender pricing, we are left with what is essentially a triple charge on being a woman.

I am proud to be a member of the Scottish National party, as is, I am sure, my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley). We are

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committed in Scotland to the cause of gender equality. The SNP is the only party that is committed to the removal of VAT on female sanitary products—it is in our manifesto.

Recent reports have shown, again, that women pay more than men for nearly identical items in nearly every demographic from childhood to old age. I have a son and a daughter. They are older now, but over the years I have noticed the differences between the prices of something for a boy and something for a girl. Christmas presents were always difficult as I tried to spend the same amount of money on my daughter and my son but, generally speaking, my girl’s presents were always far more expensive than my son’s.

On average, products marketed at women are 37% more expensive than their male equivalents—from razors to cologne to children’s toys and clothing. Hundreds of products are priced higher for women. In the 21st century, when we strive to be a progressive, tolerant and accepting society, that is not something that should be ignored or accepted. There should be no premium on being a woman. It is for that reason that I am keen to hear the findings of the Women and Equalities Committee’s investigation into price discrimination if and when it is launched.

I suspect that the findings of any investigation will be self-evident. Retailers charge more for feminine products and services because they can. They charge as much as the customer is willing to pay. However, retailers have a corporate responsibility to treat women and men using similar products and merchandise equally. I hope that some of our large retailers take the lead on this, similar to the lead taken by Boots and similar to the lead taken by John Lewis and Waitrose in reducing the sugar content in their food and drink products.

Let the Government and the Select Committee forgo this political navel-gazing. If the architects of choice—the retailers—do not take the lead, the behavioural insights team employed by the Prime Minister should guide the Government to do the proper thing and take action to legislate against gender-differentiated prices of goods and services. Marketing and commerce can be deeply discriminatory. We must work to build a society in which women are not treated as overcharged second-class citizens. I urge the Government to address the issue of gender pricing and the wider issues surrounding gender inequality.

4.57 pm

Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) on securing the debate. This debate is welcome because, surprisingly, it is the first debate on the topic in any Chamber of this House. However, I suspect that if men were paying the premiums that women are, there would be outrage on the Floor of both Houses, and in boardrooms, and perhaps action would have been taken before now. In fact, one of the primary arguments for why we should have more women represented in our Parliament and in our boardrooms is so we can ensure that someone is taking serious action.

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The reality is that the gendering of products starts at an early age—pink for girls and blue for boys—and continues throughout our lifetimes. It includes everyday items such as perfumes, deodorants, razors and shaving cream, but it does not stop there. Studies suggest that women pay more for mortgages, insurance premiums and even cars.

I welcome the points raised by other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Dewsbury rightly pointed out that women pay 37% more than men for the same products, which seems ludicrous, yet it is a reality that has an impact on the incomes of women on low pay. The fact that 25% of women earn less than £10,000 a year should be a stark reminder to us that this is something that we should tackle in this House. Although it is the responsibility of retailers, we in Parliament and those in the Government have a responsibility to put pressure on retailers to take serious action.

Mrs Miller: Does the hon. Lady share my concern at the fact that just 9% of executive positions in big businesses in Britain are held by women? Does she think that, in some way, that may be part of the reason that these issues are not taken more seriously at a board level?

Angela Crawley: Absolutely. It is something that we have looked at closely in the Women and Equalities Committee. Across Parliaments—in Scotland and the UK—action needs to be taken. There is only so much that Governments can do but we need all companies of all sizes to take serious action to ensure that women are represented at every level of the organisation, and not just to have boardrooms full of men. I suspect that that is a large part of why we find ourselves having this debate.

I welcome the fact that Boots has withdrawn two of its lines, and I think Argos recently conceded that a pink scooter had to be repriced on the basis of the price of a blue scooter, but it seems ridiculous that we should have to point out such things and make such comments in a modern-day society.

Gender stereotyping does exist. The fact that I can plainly state that pink is for girls and blue is for boys is absolutely ridiculous. In a society where many people identify as non-binary or do not identify in clear gender stereotypes, why should we have products catering to that market? As the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) has previously pointed out, the reality is that this is marketing and it is what people are paying for. Unless we raise awareness of the issue, there will continue to be higher prices for products.

The Government can take action in one regard, in that female sanitary products are subject to VAT and are considered a luxury. Unlike Jaffa Cakes, sanitary products are not a luxury.

Paula Sherriff: I was very proud to table the amendment in the House last year calling for the Government to attempt to renegotiate the rate of VAT on feminine hygiene products. We welcome their attempts to do that, but does the hon. Lady agree that we must see that they are putting this on an equal footing with their other EU negotiations and that they are not treating women as second-class citizens in this regard?

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Angela Crawley: Absolutely. The hon. Lady is a mind reader. My point is that sanitary products are not luxuries. Although I appreciate the difficulties that block the way to change with regard to EU legislation, I am sure that the Government can and must do more. Perhaps while the Prime Minister is renegotiating our position in the EU he could pay some attention to the gender inequalities that exist as well.

The regulation that appears to restrict us from removing the tampon tax has been in place since the 1970s, so this is not a new subject and it is surprising to me that it is only now coming to the fore. Issues such as the use or misuse of the terms “swarms” or “migrants” have become topical in discussions on the EU and yet, the topic of a tax on women has not been a serious issue for the Prime Minister to address, so I hope the Government will do so.

Mrs Miller: I thank the hon. Lady for picking that point up, and I am delighted that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Gauke), has already started to have these sorts of discussions. I commend him particularly for taking such a strong stand on this issue, and I am sure all our good wishes will be with him to achieve a successful negotiation.

Angela Crawley: Absolutely, I think it is in everyone’s interest that there is a successful negotiation. I am only sorry that it has taken so long for this conversation to happen at all, to be perfectly honest.

As has been cited, research conducted by the Fawcett Society indicates that 85% of the cuts have come at the expense of women. Whether we are talking about the welfare cap or cuts to carer’s allowance, women have borne the brunt of the austerity measures imposed by this Government. I say that not to politicise the issue, but simply to make the point that women are paying more than men for some decisions that are taken. The measures that require women to prove that they have been raped are also an abhorrent policy and something that must be addressed quickly and urgently.

The Government have forgotten women on many occasions, and although many actions have been taken by members of the Government to address those points, whether this is about gender pricing or gender-specific policies, we must do more to eradicate the inequalities that exist between men and women. We must do that, so that one day a little girl will not end up earning less than her brother, so that one day our sons and daughters will be equal, and so that one day a person’s gender will not determine how much pay they take home.

In conclusion, although I appreciate that it is the responsibility of retailers to take a lead and to continue to urge all Governments to tackle this issue, serious inequalities do exist between men and women, and I would like to hear what actions the Government plan to take to tackle gender inequality. Beyond rhetoric, there must be action.

5.4 pm

Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. This is the first time I have responded from the Front Bench and I am very grateful for the opportunity to do so.

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I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) for securing the debate and for her eloquent and insightful comments. I also thank everyone from all parts of the House—the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), the hon. Members for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) —who have all contributed to the debate. This is an important, principled debate, and it should not be a party political issue. I congratulate The Times journalists on reporting on this issue and bringing it to the forefront of public and mainstream media attention. Their calculation that gendered products marketed at women are 37% more expensive than their male counterparts reflects a wider reality of how women are expected to engage with the high street.

Women are expected to spend more on their personal hygiene, appearance and presentation than men, which is often reflected in advertising and the everyday pressures that we put on women from a young age to look and dress in a certain way. The overcharging of women for products on the high street is symptomatic of the way in which, more broadly, our economy makes women pay. Women are hit the hardest by austerity, and tampons are taxed as luxury goods.

Our domestic violence rescue services have suffered enormously over the past five years. Ironically, funds were only injected in the spending review through the tampon tax. Like grievances against the tampon tax, this debate is grounded in a principled belief that people should not pay more for products that, beyond the packaging, are identical. High street retailers should not exploit female-marked products in that way. To borrow the title of an article in The Guardian on this issue, women are overcharged every day. Imagine if that happened to men.

I applaud the work of campaigns such as “Let Toys Be Toys” that fight against unnecessarily gendered products. Gendered products on the high street are not only harmful to women in terms of pricing but often impose unnecessary gender stereotypes on to products. The Government must ensure that there is independent analysis to identify the extent of unfair gender pricing and marketing practices in the UK. The full impact of gender differentials in pricing on women must be qualified. I call upon the Government also to look at the United States and the action taken in New York and California to see what more can be done to eliminate unfair practices. Legislation has been passed in those two states to outlaw gendered pricing. An encouraging statement was released by Boots today saying that, following a Change.org petition, it has conducted a review and will be taking immediate action to amend the pricing of certain products.

I finish by expressing support for those who have campaigned on this issue, and I would welcome a meeting on this issue with the Minister and leading retailers in Parliament.

5.8 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice (Caroline Dinenage): It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Sir Edward. I welcome the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor)

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to her place—I look forward to working opposite her. I add my voice to those congratulating the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) on securing this important debate and on all her hard work and effort. This is a fundamental issue, and I have listened to all today’s contributions with enormous interest.

This is not a straightforward issue. It seems like a case of simple, unacceptable injustice, but the closer we get, the more complex it is. Many people here, and others in the press, have raised interesting and important points about the way that pricing structures can exploit women. The general public have also been active partners in this debate, and rightly so. They are asking whether there is a tax on womanhood in the British high street. I am pleased to hear from my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) that the Women and Equalities Committee will be considering this important issue. She has had to leave, but she and her Committee will display their normal tenacity and insightfulness.

I will first respond to the hon. Member for Dewsbury by explaining that this position is tricky because it slips between equality and consumer law, and I will then set out the more general implications for gender equality. The Equality Act 2010 provides that a retailer must not discriminate against a customer, either by failing to provide goods or services or by providing them on different terms, on the basis of someone’s gender. In the cases described in the research that we are discussing, retailers are not refusing to sell goods to female customers; in fact, I am sure that they are only too pleased to sell them, because they make more money doing it that way. Retailers are not applying discounts for men that they are not applying for women. We are all equally able to buy the same products. It is just that the ones marketed at women seem to be inexcusably higher in price. Goods and services that are in the high street can be bought by either sex at the same price, regardless of whom they are designed or marketed for. As long as the treatment is the same for both sexes, we are within the realms of equality law.

With very few exceptions, we do not operate price controls in the UK, and businesses are generally free to set their own prices on the goods that they sell to consumers. It is of course fundamental that businesses listen to their customers and any concerns that they have about pricing. It is very good news, and not a little ironic, that we are now beginning to hear from some of the major retailers that that is indeed what they are doing today. Responsibility for ensuring that markets operate competitively falls to the Competition and Markets Authority. Complaints of market failure need to be addressed to the CMA. I will be speaking to the CMA about this issue and I encourage everyone who has any evidence of this behaviour to do so, too.

There have been calls today for the Government to conduct an independent analysis of gender pricing. I am listening to those calls very carefully. It is important to understand that consumers are a very important priority for the Government. We need to have confident and well-informed consumers, because that drives effective markets and the UK economy. Only last October, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 came into force. It sets out a simple, modern framework of consumer rights. Consumers are also protected by the Consumer Protection from

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Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which ban traders from engaging in unfair commercial practices against consumers—for example, giving them false or deceptive information or descriptions of products, or misleading them by leaving out important information that they need to help to make a purchasing decision.

What about the role of advertising that exploits gender stereotypes? Product advertising is controlled primarily by self-regulation. The Advertising Standards Authority has responsibility for ensuring compliance with “The British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing”. The code is a body of rules by which the advertising industry agrees to abide. It requires all forms of advertising to be legal, decent, honest and truthful and prepared with a sense of responsibility to both consumer and society. The ASA says that it is happy to look into consumers’ concerns, and again I encourage anyone who feels concerned about the way products are advertised to speak to it.

When it comes to the law, it is important to consider whether we are talking about selling the same product at a higher price, or similar products aimed at different markets. If it is the latter, no laws are broken, yet it is absolutely valid to feel concerned at what is happening. Some people are asking: are manufacturers and retailers exploiting gender stereotypes to make women feel inadequate unless they pay a premium for products that implicitly or explicitly suggest that they are “for them”? That is the crux of the matter. Personally, I have a slight aversion to pink products that are specifically designed for ladies—maybe I am just a bit contrary like that.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury, who initiated this very important debate, has already given a number of examples of gendered marketing from recent years. Some of those have been largely met with ridicule. I do not know whether any hon. Members remember the stream of online reviews when a certain ballpoint pen manufacturer manufactured a lady’s version, in pastel shades. Hundreds of women went online to express their heartfelt gratitude. One said:

“My husband has never allowed me to write, as he doesn’t want me touching men’s pens…Once I had learnt to write, the feminine colour and the grip size (which was more suited to my delicate little hands)…enabled me to vent thoughts about new recipe ideas, sewing and gardening.”

I am sure that we can all sympathise with that. Men joined in with complaints that the delicate pens were too slippery for fingers calloused from a hard day’s shark wrestling, and that they hated the visions of fairies and rainbows that they got whenever they used those pens.

I have seen, as I am sure we all have, special women’s Sellotape, dental floss, earplugs, energy drinks and even blenders, as well as the women’s haircuts highlighted by the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally). A personal favourite of mine is the men’s and women’s versions of unperfumed deodorant—because people might guess—and let us not forget that old favourite, man-sized tissues for man-sized noses.

However, there is a serious side to the issue, as hon. Members from all parties have pointed out. It is absolutely right that we empower consumers to ask whether there is a clear difference in the products and production costs, or whether the manufacturers believe that women can be persuaded to pay more than men. Consumers are within their rights to ask retailers to explain why.

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Why might a pair of women’s jeans cost more than men’s? Is it due to a larger range of different fits, lengths, colours, types of stitching and qualities of denim, or is it just that they are particularly marketed towards women?

I recently had a constructive meeting with the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium. She informed me that although the consortium is keeping a lookout for the issue, it has not been raised by BRC members. Helpfully, though, a number of retailers have contacted my office within the last few hours to discuss the matter. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke and others correctly pointed out, Boots today corrected the price of disposable razors and eye roll-ons, Sir Edward, so we will be paying the same price for those in future.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Eye roll-ons? I don’t normally buy those.

Caroline Dinenage: Well, you might now. It seems that the power of the female consumer’s voice, once it is brought to public debates such as this, is starting to be heard. We encourage that, of course, and we encourage other retailers to take note. We heard from the British Retail Consortium that non-food prices have fallen continuously for the past 33 months, and that that may be in part because consumers are more informed than ever before. Long may that continue.

Another serious issue is the impact on children, which the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) mentioned. I know from my postbag that many parents are concerned about the impact of gendered marketing on children, which is compounded if, as we are discovering, there is a price differential too. Children learn through play, so it is important that they have access to a wide range of toys and interests, whatever their gender. So what if boys want to wear pink and girls want to play with train sets? At least, as we heard a couple of weeks ago, Barbie has finally put on a few pounds. That is something to make us all feel a bit better. That is why the Government are committed to supporting parents and teachers in raising the next generation of informed consumers by developing media literacy and resilience to restrictive stereotypes.

Angela Crawley: Perhaps if we removed gender from children’s toys, we might find that young boys and girls could aspire to whatever careers they chose. It might have a large role to play in that as well.

Caroline Dinenage: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Only last week, I was at an event geared towards getting girls into science, technology, engineering and maths. Those sorts of initiative are so important. In order to correct the gender pay gap, which we have discussed, we need women to aim for those higher-paid careers.

The hon. Lady also raised the point that if we could get more women on boards, gender discriminatory decisions might not be made. I am pleased to say that we have made enormous progress on that under Lord Davies; the 25% target for women on boards of FTSE 100 companies has now been met, although we agree that more needs to be done to improve the executive pipeline. At the moment, less than 10% of people in the FTSE 100 executive pipeline are women. We have accepted his recommendations to establish a new review focusing on the executive layer of FTSE 350 companies. That is important to ensuring that the retail issues change.

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I do not want to make a massive party political point out of this, but I gently say to the hon. Ladies who have spoken about how cuts have hit women hardest that a record number of women are in employment. We all want to see women in higher-paid employment, but that record number is a good thing. The female participation rate has increased by more since 2010 than it did during the previous three Parliaments combined. Women’s salaries are rising in cash terms. We are cutting tax for nearly 13 million women by 2017-18 and the gender pay gap is at its lowest level. No one should think I am in any way complacent about that. I know that there is still more to do, but we are dedicated to that.

As the Minister for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, I am happy to keep a very close eye on the issue raised today, but I fundamentally feel that is up to us all as intelligent, questioning consumers to demand an explanation from retailers and manufacturers for the different prices, if we have questions or concerns. Actions speak so much louder than words. While women’s voices must unite on this issue, it is even more powerful if women speak with the power of our purses. As a result of the growing debate on this issue, I know that more women will understand that they do not have to buy pink razors. The blue ones are just as good, and men are of course welcome to try the pink ones out if they wish, Sir Edward. I know that if the tables were turned, men would be proudly choosing pink earplugs if they realised that they cost a third less.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Does the hon. Lady wish to sum up?

5.21 pm

Paula Sherriff: Thank you, Sir Edward. I will sum up briefly. I thank all the contributors to today’s debate. It was refreshing to hear the spirit in which the debate was entered into, and to have representatives from four political parties. I pay special tribute to the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally), who has joined us this afternoon.

The Women and Equalities Committee has a significant role to play in this issue going forward, and I welcome its investigation. I completely agree with the Minister that retailers have some questions to answer, but equally, the Government have a role to play, and I urge her to consider the analysis on the cumulative impact on women.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) made a powerful point about people power. We have seen that this afternoon, with the response from Boots. The hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) made a powerful point about the need for more women MPs. The number is going up, but it is not nearly enough. I am proud to belong to a party that practises positive discrimination for women with all-women shortlists. Equally, there need to be more women on boards. I acknowledge the progress that has been made, but until we reach 50%, I will continue to champion the cause.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for her contribution. She made a valid point on advertising and the pressure on women to look and behave a certain way. I agree that we could definitely learn from some of the research that has been undertaken in America. Like many others, I will be watching the

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issue carefully. I hope that I can contribute going forward by speaking to retailers. Let us see some positive difference in this area.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Thank you to all those who have taken part in a most interesting debate. It was certainly an eye-opener for me.

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Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered gender pricing.

5.24 pm

Sitting adjourned.