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Equal Pay

Volume 884: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he intends to use the services of the proposed Equal Opportunities Commission to ensure that the objectives of the Equal Pay Act 1970 are fulfilled.

Yes, Sir. The main responsibilty for enforcement of the Equal Pay Act will rest with the industrial tribunals, but as the White Paper on "Equality for Women" indicates, it is envisaged that the Equal Opportunities Commission should have the power to assist individuals in presenting complaints and conducting legal proceedings, and that it should advise the Government about the operation of the Equal Pay Act.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the Act needs the most careful monitoring, which will require all support at this difficult time? Does he accept that the Act also involves the principle of unimpeded progress towards majority rule?

The last principle is one which one always supports. The Act needs monitoring, and my Department does that. My hon. Friend will have noticed that through advertisements we have been most anxious to draw the requirements of the Act to the attention of employers and employees.

Is the Under-Secretary saying that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State supports majority rule, or that he supports minority rule?

I am sure that the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) will have the chance to put that question later.

My hon. Friend's reply betrays more than a hint of male chauvinism. Does he recognise that many women simply will not go to the industrial tribunals upon which he places so much reliance? Is he aware that four years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act women are still getting, on average, less than 55 per cent. or 60 per cent. of male wages? Is it not time, bearing in mind that employers will have to do something about this matter next year, that the Government pulled up their socks?

I must reject any suggestion that the Government have been inactive in giving effect to the provisions of the Equal Pay Act. Women's take-home pay is likely to be less than that of men's because they work less overtime—

I accept that some women will not present their own cases to tribunals. That is why we are giving the Equal Opportunities Commission the power to present claims on behalf of women. The more women who join trade unions, the more likely it is that their objectives will be achieved.