Skip to main content


Volume 471: debated on Thursday 7 February 2008

20. What recent steps the Government have taken to reduce discrimination against women in the workplace. (185134)

Most women now work, and women now have equal educational qualifications to men, but women are still not equal at work. We have helped women in the workplace by tackling low pay, a problem that mostly affects women, through the national minimum wage and tax credits, and we have helped to balance work and family, a requirement which also mostly affects women, through better maternity pay and leave and flexible working, but there is more to do.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer, and I recognise that the Government have done a lot to combat discrimination against women, but is she aware that women sometimes still have to go to court to get equal pay? Can we do something about that?

We need to do more in respect of equal pay in the public and private sectors, and in local government. In that connection, my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government has announced £500 million for capitalisation, to help local government on equal pay. We need fair pay and good local public services, and we can achieve both.

The Minister for equalities will know that in the process of reducing discrimination against women it is important that the Government Equalities Office take a leading role. Can she tell the House when she will be able to appoint a permanent secretary?

What matters is that we get on with doing the job. My fellow Ministers and I are getting on with the work, and we are properly supported by our equality unit—and, actually, a new appointment has just been made.

I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Lady shares the concern I felt when I saw that the 10 most recently appointed judges announced by the new Judicial Appointments Commission were all men, and white men at that. Will she make urgent representations to the Secretary of State for Justice to look into why the new rules did not deliver the intended outcome?

This issue has been raised previously by Members not only in respect of judicial appointments, but public appointments in general. As I have told the House before, we all think it is unacceptable that there has been no increase in women’s appointments to public office in the past 10 years. The independence of the Judicial Appointments Commission, and its target for increasing the number of women at the top level of the judiciary, has yet to bear fruit. I expect to meet the heads of the JAC and the Appointments Commission to see what further can be done soon.

As has already been said, one continuing form of discrimination against women in the workplace is the gender pay gap. Last night at the Fawcett Society reception to celebrate 90 years of women’s suffrage, the right hon. and learned Lady reiterated her desire to do something about that, but also confirmed that we will not have an equalities Bill until the next Queen’s Speech. The Government could act now on the gender pay gap by adopting my proposals. Why will she not do that?

We will have an equality Bill in the next Queen’s Speech; that is when it was scheduled for. We want it to be a radical and effective Bill that makes a difference. I remind the right hon. Lady that Labour women have struggled over the decades to make a difference for women in this country, and that Conservative women have simply sided with Conservative men against that aim.