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Equal Pay

Volume 404: debated on Thursday 1 May 2003

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If she will make a statement about the Government's targets for equal pay.[110645]

The Government are working to reduce the gender pay gap through a variety of measures, including equal pay reviews throughout the civil service by the end of April, working with the Equal Opportunities Commission to promote equal pay reviews by other employers, introducing an equal pay questionnaire as part of the Equal Pay Act 1970 and providing trade unions with additional funding for training representatives in equal pay issues.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply. Doubtless she is aware that, despite the Equal Pay Act, which a previous Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, effected in 1976, women who work full time earn only 81p for every pound that men earn and women who work part time earn only 59p for every pound that men earn. More worryingly, within three years of graduation, women earn on average 15 per cent. less than their male counterparts.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with the Fawcett Society that unless the Government set firm targets, at the current snail's rate of progress, it will take 75 years before equal pay for women is truly achieved?

My hon. Friend is right about the shocking extent of the continuing pay gap. However, in order to reduce it, we need to take action, especially on the problem of low pay from which so many women suffer. The introduction of the national minimum wage on top of Barbara Castle's Equal Pay Act has already meant significant pay rises for nearly 1 million women. I am delighted that, a few weeks ago, I was able to announce further increases in the national minimum wage for this year and next year, following the Low Pay Commission's recommendations.

At the top of the labour market, far too few women have access to the best paid jobs. Tribunal cases in the City have shown that even those women who get to the top do not receive equal pay. The cases that are being brought for equal pay for work of equal value—

The Minister for Women has just commended the civil service's progress towards achieving equal pay targets. In the light of that, how does she explain that only 19 of the 93 Government Departments or agencies conducted an equal pay review by the deadline last Wednesday, despite being given a year to do it?

All Government Departments are undertaking equal pay reviews. Those that have not completed them will shortly do so and put in place action plans to ensure that the equal pay gaps revealed by the reviews are closed. With the involvement of ACAS, we have put in place the new grading structure and phased pay rises that will ensure that the women as well as the men in the Department receive fair pay.

Following that answer and the Government's initiative in trying to deal with the unacceptable gender pay gap through independent audits, can the Minister say how many corporations have agreed to conduct or have carried out independent, rigorous assessments of the type that she is seeking? How many of the rather limited number of public sector reviews passed the test of being independent and rigorous?

The Equal Opportunities Commission and the Government are monitoring the take-up of equal pay reviews in the private sector. When we have that information, we will, of course, publish it. In the civil service, we have sought independent assistance in ensuring that reviews are carried out properly. They have revealed serious problems of unequal pay and we are putting in place the action needed to put that right.