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Equal Pay

Volume 450: debated on Thursday 19 October 2006

Last month, I published an action plan, in response to the women and work commission recommendations, that set out a comprehensive package of measures across Government that I believe will widen women’s choices, enable more women to realise their potential and reduce the gender pay gap.

In Hull and the sub-region, women still face many barriers in the field of employment. What is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage more employers to take up best working practices and to break down some of those barriers?

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that the issue is not just about legislative change. We have to change the culture within which employers operate. I am determined to build up as many companies as possible as exemplar employers that can showcase their flexible working to others and show what is possible. We have nearly 100 exemplar employers and I hope to build that up further.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that the comprehensive spending review 2007 will prioritise closing the gender pay gap, set specific gender equality targets for Departments and require measurable progress year on year?

As the hon. Lady knows, I have regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this and many other issues. She will also know that we do have a target for reducing gender inequality. As part of the Budget process, we try to ensure that women are treated fairly and we are making real progress in tackling inequality and the gender pay gap, in particular. I hope that she is also aware of the latest action that we have taken through the women and work action plan, which not only builds up exemplar employers, but introduces equality reps and a quality part-time work initiative and sets out the measures that the Government are going to take, including extending the right to request flexible working.

In my constituency of Hove and Portslade, our further education and sixth-form colleges have pledged to put increased effort and investment into NEET pupils—pupils not in employment, education or training. What advice would my right hon. Friend give those institutions and those pupils on training to address the gender pay gap?

I suggest that the careers advice that pupils are given should emphasise the importance of pay progression and the opportunities that will be available to those young people. I have been trying to encourage girls to consider non-traditional occupations, which they might ultimately find more rewarding in every sense—personally fulfilling, as well as financially rewarding. The Government have introduced a national standard for careers advice to make sure that top-quality careers advice is offered throughout our schools and colleges.