HL Deb 22 November 2001 vol 628 cc1240-3

3.16 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildfordasked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the progress made by universities towards combating the discrimination against women and ethnic minorities in pay and promotions revealed by the Bett report.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the higher education funding councils and representative bodies have established an Equality Challenge Unit to promote equal opportunities among higher education staff. Over the three years to 2003–04 the Government have made available a total of £330 million in England to support the human resource strategies drawn up by each higher education institution, including measures to promote equal opportunities.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. However, she did not answer the Question that I asked. As she will be aware, the Bett report came out two years ago in 1999 and was based on data up to 1997. The most recent data available, which take us up to the end of the academic year 1999–2000, indicate that the gap between average male and average female pay has increased by 1 per cent. In some institutions—for example, St George's Hospital Medical School and the London Business School—the gap is greater than 33 per cent. Does the Minister consider that, 40 years on from the Equal Pay Act, such differentials are reasonable? Does she believe that universities have done enough in the past two years to put their houses in order?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am from the school of encouragement to all organisations which wish to develop strategies. Over the past 40 years I should like to have seen many organisations exercise greater equal opportunity policies. Noble Lords may know of some. Therefore, I recognise what the noble Baroness says and I recognise her frustration in saying it. However, I believe that we must look at the position that universities are prepared to be in now and at the way forward. Universities appear to have decided to tackle some serious issues in relation to equal opportunities. The Government are very happy to support them in doing so.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe

My Lords, I express my pleasure at the noble Baroness's appreciation of the work of the Equality Challenge Unit, which is certainly addressing these issues. I declare an interest as the chief executive of Universities UK. I also remind the Minister that estimates based on the Bett report indicate that by 2005 the cost of modernising pay structures will be approximately £480 million a year. Does the Minister agree that extra public investment is necessary to enable the higher education sector fully to address these vital human resource issues?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, these are, indeed, vital human resource issues. It will be for the Comprehensive Spending Review to determine whether extra public investment will be made available. I am very happy—although I am sure that it will not be necessary—to bring this matter to the attention of my honourable friend Margaret Hodge, who is the Minister responsible. Of the additional moneys that have been made available, it is my understanding that 28 per cent of funds have been allocated to recruitment and retention, 23 per cent to staff development and 12 per cent to equal opportunities.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, does the Minister agree that each time the Bett report comes up, the Government have said from the Front Bench that it is a matter for further and higher education? It is a matter for those sectors only because the money comes from the Government and their capacity to respond to the report comes from the Government. On the situation last year, we were told that the matter would be dealt with in the Comprehensive Spending Review, but it was not. What confidence do we have that it will be dealt with in this year's Comprehensive Spending Review?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Baroness is right to suggest that I would eventually have said that the Bett report is for higher education institutions and not for the Government. However, she raised an important point. This matter is about the relationship between higher education and government. In the course of the review of student tuition, the Government are keen to examine that. There are many representatives from the higher education sector who can bring far more knowledge and understanding to this debate than I can. I recognise that that is a fundamental part of the matter. The Government are committed to equal opportunities and want higher education institutions to pursue those policies.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the main reasons for the discrimination that was exposed by the Bett report— and by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing—was because too much personnel management in the university sector was unprofessional and, to put it bluntly, based on the old-boy network? Is she now confident that universities have put their houses in order and that high quality, professional personnel management is now the norm?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I do not know whether I can say that with great confidence—but only because I do not have the relevant information with me. I am sure that many universities have moved forward, but the noble Baroness could doubtless find examples in which that is not the case. We point out that in terms of equal opportunities there is often a correlation with leadership. We need to examine the fact that none of the vice-chancellors or principals in HE is from an ethnic minority background, that seven heads of the 37 HE colleges are women and that seven of the 71 vice-chancellors are women. In a sense, equal opportunities start from the top.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, I must declare an interest—I chaired the Hansard Society commission on equal opportunities some 10 years ago, in which we paid particular attention to the inadequacies of universities on the equal opportunities front. Does the Minister agree that the governing bodies of universities have an important role to play in ensuring that full equal opportunities policies, in relation to pay and opportunities, are carried forward?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to agree with the noble Baroness, who—I am sure that all noble Lords will agree—has done a huge amount with regard to equal opportunities. It has been a privilege to know her.

I agree that the matter that the noble Baroness raised is to some extent a subject for the governing bodies of, in this case, universities; similar considerations apply to other organisations. As I said, the effort starts, in a sense, at the top in that the commitment needs to be there. I am sure that noble Lords are keen to see universities move ahead with regard to the progression of women. Issues involving inequality of pay arise because women are simply not getting into senior management positions.

Baroness Howells of St Davids

My Lords, does the Minister agree that another important report—the Bett report—has once again failed the black community? Does she agree that it is important to have some mechanism to ensure that race is included in discussions on equal opportunities? Anecdotal evidence is not enough; we need empirical data.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the latest information that I have is that 10 per cent of HE staff did not give information to the relevant higher education statistical organisation and that, of the rest, 95.31 per cent were white, 0.31 were black Caribbean, 0.27 were black African, 0.17 were classified as black other and 1 per cent were Indian. Those are very low figures and my noble friend makes an important point.

Earl Russell

My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we are ready for the next Question.

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