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Equal Pay

Volume 459: debated on Thursday 3 May 2007

17. What mechanisms the Government are using to achieve equal pay for men and women in the private sector. (135446)

Last month, the Government detailed a comprehensive programme of action being taken forward to tackle the gender pay gap in a report one year on from the Women and Work Commission recommendations. Key actions include the “exemplar employer” initiative, which covers a wide range of best practice on gender equality, including developing more part-time work at higher paid levels.

I thank the Minister for that answer. I am sure that she would agree that the issue of equal pay has been around for a very long time. Does she agree that it is a public scandal that there is still a 40 per cent. pay difference between men and women, and what is she going to do about it?

My hon. Friend is right. The 40 per cent. difference particularly affects part-time work, which is why it has been extremely important for us to focus on that issue. It is often difficult for women who want to reduce their hours to remain in a job at the same level owing to rigid working practices. I am pleased to report that the exemplar employers, of whom we now have more than 100 from a wide range of organisations, both private and public, are setting the pace on that issue and developing schemes that ensure that women can work fewer hours at higher paid levels. That is one important step to reducing the part-time pay gap.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) highlighted the plight of part-time lower paid women, because we see in the media far too much of the high-profile, celebrity-type cases, and that is not really the problem. I appreciate what the Minister says about exemplar employers and entirely support that initiative. However, is she not rather disappointed that, although she can tell us what the Government have been doing in the past year since the Women and Work Commission report, after 10 years in power they have failed to put right a fundamental wrong in the British workplace and are still not making enough progress on it?

The hon. Lady conveniently forgets that the pay gap has been closing over that time. Of course, I am disappointed that it is not closing fast enough—that is why we set up the Women and Work Commission and have a range of actions to tackle the problem. The hon. Lady also forgets that it is important to demonstrate that there is a genuine business case for doing that. We have demonstrated that, which is why so many companies now recognise the benefits of tackling the issue and why we are making such good progress. I would have thought that she would welcome that a little more.