Parliamentary season kicks off again

Back to The Westminster Hour last night – and the gang is all there. They are kicking off for the new Parliamentary season with the three of us – me, Ed Vaizey and Emily Thornberry.

Before that it was a busy day campaigning for Nigel Scott in the Alexandra Ward by-election which takes place on Thursday (Yom Kippur). In fact, I have referred Haringey’s refusal to change to avoid the clash to the Equality and Human Rights Commission as religious Jews are actually forbidden to make a mark during their holy day. Of course – that doesn’t change the date but maybe it will help concentrate Haringey Council’s mind in the future – councils have a choice over which day to pick for by-elections, and that choice should be used with more care and thought.

Sarah Ludford (MEP) took a team in the morning delivering – in the pouring rain! Thanks Sarah.

Much of the political news is still dominated by Peter Mandelson’s return. The Conservatives’ line on it is that ‘Labour must be desperate’. Desperate they may be – but this was a political finesse I really didn’t think Gordon capable of. However – it now looks more and more as if Tony Blair ‘told’ him to go and help. Oh what an ironic twist that one old foe of Gordon’s told him to bring back another old foe to try to save his skin!

Equal Pay Act: time for a major overhaul

Pay packet pictureThere’s still a huge need for equal pay legislation – and legislation with real teeth – in order to deal with discrimination in pay rates for men and women doing equivalent or the same jobs.

However, the Equal Pay Act doesn’t seem to be up to the job.

The question of the Act is very much back in the news after the Equality and Human Rights Commission called on Monday for it to be scrapped and replaced with more appropriate legislation.

My own views are along similar lines – the current law simply isn’t working as it should to protect people from discrimination. The Equal Pay Act itself is based on the outdated view that discrimination is a rare occurrence perpetrated by individual ‘bad’ employers but fails to recognise the wide-scale structural discrimination that exists.

Part of the answer to this is for class actions to be seriously considered by the Government as a way of reducing the burden on victims and the tribunals – i.e. have legal actions which cover many employees in one go, rather than having to have separate legal cases for each person.

This individual system is the current approach – and it means the whole system is bogged down in massive numbers of cases. The result – it’s taking far too long for people’s cases to get through the system, and the longer a case takes, the longer justice is denied.

In addition, Ministers should also consider compulsory equal pay audits across the board to bring discrimination to light. These could be followed by a ‘protected period’ for employers to put their house in order before a lengthy tribunal process becomes necessary. In other words – highlight the problem, give people a chance to put their house quickly in order – and then if they fail, take legal action. Again, the idea is speed up the system and rescue people from intolerable delays until the system gets round to dealing with their case.

The Guardian picked up on my views – you can read their piece here and you can see my press release here.

Our sexist monarchy

Well – I’ve referred to the Equality Commission the demotion in the line of succession to our throne of Lady Louise (daughter to Prince Edward) in favour of her newborn brother. It may not be the nuts and bolts of discrimination against women in terms of equal pay (appalling – 144,000 cases waiting for tribunal), rape conviction rates, funding for carers and so on – but it is completely unacceptable. In this day and age that a female can simply be pushed out of line by a later male addition to the Royal Family belongs in the Ark.

In fact – if I was Princess Anne – I would be mightly cheesed off at being shoved out of line by Edward and Andrew. She may not have been – who knows – but the legislation wasn’t in place then and there wasn’t an Equalities Commission to refer such a thing to. Now there is – and as this has long been on my agenda – and Nick Clegg has given me the locus to do it – I have.

Whatever one thinks of the monarchy – and this is not that debate – this is wrong and needs correction. Tackling sexism in the monarchy would send a strong symbolic message to the rest of society. And this is a good time to do it – as ridding the system of sexism now won’t immediately alter who gets on the throne – so it isn’t about the personal merits of person A versus person B. But William has a 50% chance of having a girl child first – and we don’t want to be discussing it then!

Let’s see what the Commission makes of it.

Here’s the news release:

Legality of Lady Louise Royal demotion referred to equality watchdog

James Windsor, Prince Edward’s first son, overtaking of his sister, Lady Louise, as eighth in line to the throne has today been referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission by newly appointed Lib Dem Youth & Equalities Spokesperson Lynne Featherstone MP.

Following the common law practice of male-preference primogeniture that sees male heirs take preference over their female siblings in the line of succession, James Windsor (Viscount Severn) who was born in December now comes before his 4 year old sister in succession to the throne.

Ms. Featherstone has written to the chair of the Commission requesting an urgent investigation into the legality of displacement in the light of recent equality legislation.

Lady Louise’s displacement in favour of a male is the first amongst Queen Elizabeth II’s direct successors since the advent of laws on sexual discrimination.

Commenting, Lynne Featherstone MP:

“This is an arcane practice that might have suited the grey bearded king makers of old, but it is completely at odds with how a head of state should be selected in modern Britain.

“Of course who is eighth in line to the throne is slightly academic, but there is a 50/50 chance Prince William’s heir will be a woman and what then?

“More importantly, there is little hope of bringing full equality to the workplace if we can’t bring equality to the highest office in the land. Any practice that is based on the idea of making do with a woman until a man comes along must be consigned to the history books.”