It may be for the convenience of the House to be informed—I believe I have been advised correctly—that the second of today’s scheduled Opposition day debates has been pulled, which is to say it has been postponed, and so there will simply be one debate. That is in consequence of the two ministerial statements. We now come to that Opposition day debate and to the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. To move that motion, I call the shadow Minister responsible for these important matters, Gloria De Piero.
I beg to move,
That this House notes that, 45 years after the Equal Pay Act 1970, women still earn on average 81 pence for every pound earned by men; welcomes the fact that pay transparency under section 78 of the Equality Act 2010 will be introduced in 2016; and calls on the Government to ensure that this results in real progress to close the gender pay gap by mandating the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to conduct, in consultation with the Low Pay Commission, an annual equal pay check to analyse information provided under section 78 on pay gaps across every sector of the economy and to make recommendations to close the gender pay gap.
The motion stands in the name of my hon. and right hon. Friends. May I take this opportunity to welcome the new Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice? I hope she will put her heart and soul into it and I wish her well in the role.
It gives me great pleasure to have called the debate today on the subject of equal pay. If we boil it down, we see that the cause of equal pay is a matter of simple workplace injustice. It is about people’s basic right to be paid fairly for the work they do, to have the opportunity to move up, and to be able to improve life for themselves and their families, regardless of whether they are a working man or a working woman.
Equal pay is a fight that colours the history of the Labour party and movement, from women tram and bus conductors who went on strike in 1918, to the women machinists in the Ford Dagenham plant. The House first pressed for equal pay in 1944, in relation to equal pay for men and women teachers. The Conservative Member for Islington East, Thelma Cazalet-Keir, inserted a clause in the Education Bill but it was not to be. Churchill was so incensed that he pressured her to withdraw her amendment, telling her, “Now, Thelma. We’ll have no more of that equal pay business.”
Thelma withdrew her proposal, but Churchill agreed to set up a royal commission on equal pay. Four years later, that commission warned that paying women the same as men
“may prove disastrous in the long run even to young and strong women by heavily overtaxing their nervous and muscular energy”.
Thankfully, times changed, and in 1970 Labour’s Barbara Castle ignored those apocalyptic predictions and passed the Equal Pay Act 1970. Until that time, it was commonplace for jobs to be advertised with one rate of pay for a man, and another for a woman. The Equal Pay Act outlawed discrimination in pay and is still used today by women to challenge such discrimination, but it is not enough. Forty-five years on, women still earn on average 81p for every £1 a man earns.
Throughout our history, my party has fought for equality. We fought for the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which outlawed maternity and sex discrimination; child benefit; the national minimum wage; a year’s maternity leave and the doubling of maternity pay; 15 hours’ free childcare; and the right to flexible working and paid paternity leave. I am proud that my party cut the pay gap by a third during our time in government, but we did not eradicate it.
I am sure the Secretary of State will say in her speech that the gender pay gap is the lowest on record, but I hope she will also concede that, in the past five years, the pace at which the pay gap is closing has slowed. That is why pay transparency is important. When companies publish data on pay, they are often surprised by how few women are in senior positions or earn the same as their male colleagues, and they usually act to change it.
Last summer, we launched a campaign for pay transparency, which called for a small but important action: that the Government implement section 78 of the Equality Act 2010 and mandate big companies to publish their gender pay gap. It is fair to say the Government put up some resistance, despite an excellent private Member’s Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). There was a rally outside Parliament led by a truly unusual and exotic coalition—I am not talking about the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg). Ex-Bond girl Gemma Arterton joined the wonderful Dagenham machinist women, Unite the union members and Grazia magazine readers to call for pay transparency. The Government changed their stance, and I thank them for having the courage to change their mind, because, after all, pay transparency is a pretty humble measure: the simple act of companies that employ more than 250 workers publishing their pay gap. That simple step can help us to take huge strides towards closing the gender pay gap once and for all.
For that to happen, however, the information provided by around 7,000 businesses must lead to change. Transparency is effective only when firms act on the information revealed.
I will come to the way in which full-time and part-time gender pay gaps are measured. I believe there is a flaw in the measurement. An hour at work is an hour at work, no matter whether someone is part-time or full-time. I for one find it peculiar that the Office for National Statistics makes that distinction. Is it because most women are in part-time work? I fear that that is exactly why.
Friends Life, the big insurance company, was one of the first big companies to publish its pay gap. It said that
“what gets measured, gets managed”
“what gets publicly reported, gets managed better”.
In other words, transparency can lead to real and lasting change. We believe it is time to take that principle and apply it to the whole country.
The purpose of the motion is to propose that the independent Equality and Human Rights Commission should be tasked with analysing the information and producing a report to the Government and Parliament each year. It will monitor progress and make recommendations for action. It will act as an equal pay watchdog. An annual equal pay check would be a tool used to measure progress towards the goal of eliminating the gender pay gap in this generation.
By analysing the information, the EHRC could compare progress in different sectors, highlight areas where the gap is unusually high or widening, and identify companies, professions or industries where the gender pay gap is a thing of the past. We recommend that the EHRC draws on the expertise of the statisticians at the Low Pay Commission, because the disproportionate number of women in low-paid jobs is a major factor in the pay gap. Crucially, the EHRC should make recommendations for action, based on its analysis. It could do that by highlighting the best practice it finds in industries and individual companies, because there is not just one reason for the gender pay gap.
Discrimination still happens. I have spoken to women who are senior executives in investment banks and women working as council care assistants who have suffered because of it. Their stories are real and human.
The hon. Lady is making a very good speech and an important point, but does she agree that it is unacceptable for Labour-controlled North Lanarkshire Council, which encompasses my constituency, to have dragged the equal pay claims of its hard-working staff through the courts for years at great cost to the taxpayer?
I am not an expert on North Lanarkshire Council, but I would say, in relation to Scotland, that the pay gap has increased while the Scottish National party has been in government. That is a worry and it goes against the trend.
One woman who works in childcare won her equal pay claim after years of being paid less than men working in jobs that required fewer skills. She told me:
“I’d got a fair amount of money through the payout, but all of those years I struggled to pay my bills and the debt I was in as a low-waged woman worker…all those years I was in debt to credit card companies, even though I had been to college for two years. I’d got qualifications; it was a vocation not a job. And I think what would my life have been like if I’d been paid a fair wage?”
Winning an equal pay claim has never been easy. Equal pay claims make up only a fraction of employment tribunal claims. The Government have made the task even harder with the introduction of tribunal fees, which have led to a 69% fall in equal pay claims. Fewer women are accessing justice to challenge pay discrimination.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Indeed, our manifesto stated that the whole system needs reform, so that nobody is priced out of seeking justice at work.
Pay transparency has never only been about pay discrimination. The causes of the gender pay gap across business and across Britain are far more complex. Why is most low-paid work today done by women? Women do 59% of all minimum wage jobs: a quarter of working women earning less than the living wage, compared with a sixth of men. Why are only 9.6% of executive directors on FTSE boards women?
The hon. Lady is making a number of very good points and I have a great amount of respect for her. Will she join me in congratulating our female First Minister, the first female First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who topped the “Woman’s Hour” international influencers poll today? She has instilled one of the first 50:50 gender balance Cabinets and has done a huge amount to champion the cause of equality for women and young girls in Scotland and across the UK.
I always welcome and applaud senior women in our politics. I do not want to be too churlish, but I will put on record that the Labour Benches still have more women MPs, despite the fact that we left office, than all the other parties put together.
By monitoring and assessing the evidence, the annual equal pay check will help us to determine whether the continued existence of the pay gap is driven mainly by a lack of women in top jobs, and enable us to identify the industries in which women are paid less because they are mainly employed in flexible or part-time work.
The number of women in top jobs is an important issue. I had the privilege, in my business career prior to coming to the House, of working with top female executives such as Angela Spindler and Libby Chambers—people I really respected. Good progress has been made to increase the representation of women on boards. Does the hon. Lady believe that this will help to tackle the challenge that she is rightly putting to the House today?
While we are talking about the kind of industries that do not have women at the top, will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the first woman Bishop of Hull, who will be ordained in York Minster on Friday? Alongside her will be our first female chief constable of Humberside police. Indeed, I will be there too, as the first women ever to represent a constituency in Hull. This is about increasing young women’s chances of having those types of careers, as well as others.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Those moments of progress are indeed reasons to celebrate. What happens in schools is really important. The decline of careers advice and work experience will take us backwards in challenging stereotypes in career choices.
The hon. Lady is making a very powerful and thoughtful speech. I ask this question in the interests of genuine debate and gaining information. We have heard that we do not have enough women in senior positions. It is possible that that is because we have not reached a tipping point where more women feel it is perfectly normal to be on a board of directors. Does the hon. Lady think we should employ more positive discrimination to reach that tipping point, so that senior roles become much more acceptable for younger women coming through?
That has certainly worked for non-executive positions on boards. My experience, and the experience of friends and colleagues, is that when in work, women want to progress, take decisions and move up the ladder to executive roles. It is therefore important for us as a country to ask why more women are not in senior positions, because it is not credible that there are simply not enough talented women who could rise to the top of their professions. I think it is fair to say that something else is going on. Nobody wants their daughters, wives or girlfriends to miss out on those kinds of opportunities. This is not just a women’s issue; it is an issue for Britons.
My hon. Friend is being most generous in giving way. Does she share my disappointment that, rather uniquely, the debate has twice as many women MPs in the Chamber, listening to her excellent remarks, as men? There are only half as many men in the Chamber.
That is why I am so delighted that my hon. Friend has made that intervention. This cannot be seen as a women’s issue; it is a family issue. If women are not paid what they are due, all families are poorer and we are all poorer. It is for that reason that those of us on the Labour Benches have long argued for the gender pay gap to be measured in the difference in hourly wages among all male and female workers—full-time and part-time workers combined. The ONS and the current Government use the figure for full-time workers when referring to the gender pay gap, but that masks the true extent of the pay gap across our economy. An hour at work is an hour at work.
As I am sure everyone in this House would recognise, the gender pay gap in Britain is not simply about the difference between those performing the same work for different pay. It is about the dominance of women in low-paid work, and the lack of highly paid, high-quality flexible and part-time positions at the top of companies that allow parents to balance work and family life.
I probably should declare that I have an outstanding equal pay claim against my former employer. It is clear that a number of public bodies have a number of employees—thousands, in fact—with outstanding pay claims. How does the hon. Lady think that should be settled? Should the Government step in and discuss with public bodies how to settle these outstanding claims?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is my understanding that many of the claims in the public sector were resolved under the Labour Government through various means, such as “Agenda for Change” in the NHS and other workplace agreements. If there is further work to do, then of course it should be completed.
Following on from the point on the numbers game made by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), will the hon. Lady comment on the fact that there are more Conservative male Members on the Benches today than there are Labour?
Not proportionally—the shadow Education Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), is performing the role of Carol Vorderman. It is a delight to see my male colleagues on the Labour Front Bench today.
Some 41% of female jobs are part-time jobs, yet on an hourly basis this part-time work is paid a third less than the full-time equivalent. So, to get a real picture of the extent of pay inequality in Britain between men and women, we have to recognise this full-time/part-time pay gap. Otherwise, we will never take the steps needed to encourage the creation of higher-paid, flexible working at every level in our economy.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a matter of deep concern affecting young women? Since 2001, there have been, on average, 130,000 more young women a year not in education, employment or training than young men—that is currently 418,000 18 to 24-year-old women. Does she think we need to address that issue specifically, and does she support what the Young Women’s Trust is doing in setting up an inquiry chaired by Sian Williams into female NEETs?
Order. Before the hon. Lady continues, let me remind Members, especially those fairly new to the House, that interventions have to be short, because it is otherwise not fair for people who sit here all day waiting to make their speeches.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and the Young Women’s Trust is doing fantastic work, with Deborah Mattinson at the helm. What my hon. Friend mentioned is, of course, a cause of real concern. Women’s participation in further education over the past five years has almost halved, so I hope that the Government will address those important points.
I hope my hon. Friend will agree with me. She mentioned women in part-time work, and it was a fantastic and proud moment when the Labour Government enabled councils to get capitalisation to provide equal pay for local authority workers. Does she also agree about the current threat from deregulation and the accompanying rhetoric on legislating to change employment law?
The Labour Government did some fantastic work on equal pay. My hon. Friend will know that we Labour Members never stop fighting for progress and never stop challenging. That is why today is part of the overall journey; we must monitor what happens to make sure that we do not go backwards.
The hon. Lady is generous in giving way. I have to say that I have never had any difficulty in being short. The last Labour Government might have done a great deal in this area, but one thing they did not do was indicate that they would bring into force section 78 of the Equality Act 2010. It has taken this Government to do that, so will she explain why the last Labour Government did not consider transparency important?
Gosh—let me explain what happened. Just before we left office, we introduced—led by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the acting leader of the Labour party—the Equality Act 2010. We passed the Act and section 78 merely needed to be implemented, but the coalition parties decided to ditch that section. [Interruption.] Yes, that is what happened, so I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for enabling me to remind the House of what happened.
It is extraordinary that even in professions dominated by women—hairdressing, catering, cleaning—the pay gap still exists, while women in skilled trades, including plumbers and mechanics, suffer the biggest pay gap of all. They are paid close to 30% less than their male colleagues. That is an astonishing statistic.
The information that companies will start publishing next year will provide the most comprehensive account of the gender pay gap in this country. It can tell us where progress needs to be made—sector by sector, industry by industry—but only if a central independent watchdog is tasked with ensuring that that happens.
Today, girls are outperforming boys at school and university, but even at ages 18 to 21, women are paid less on average than young men of their age. When women hit their 20s, they are already 5p behind male colleagues. This gap continues to widen throughout women’s working lives, peaking when women reach their 50s when they can expect to earn just 73p for every male pound.
In later life, one of the issues is child rearing. Does the hon. Lady agree that what the coalition Government did in bringing in shared parental leave will help ease that burden and enable more women to be equal partners in the workplace?
When it comes to parental leave, I welcome any progress. We need to ensure that more dads take paternity leave. That is why at the last election, the Labour party said that we would double the number and increase the funding. Sadly, we are not able to implement what we wanted.
Let me provide a few more figures before I close my speech. If a woman is working in sales or the care industry, the pay gap means losing more than £100,000 over the course of a working life. A woman working in finance or law will stand to lose over £200,000. We do not fight against this injustice for women alone, because no man wants his wife, daughter, sister or mother to be earning less simply because they are a woman. Women should not have to wait another 45 years—or another 70 years, as the UN has estimated—for equal pay in Britain. I hope that today’s motion will be viewed as uncontroversial in many ways, and that the Government will be happy to vote with us.
I understand that the plan is to consult over the summer, so this is about setting the ambition high and securing an annual equal pay check that will use the information soon to be published to drive forward progress and end this injustice once and for all. Labour Members have a long and proud history of campaigning for equal pay. This motion represents the next step on that journey. I commend it to the House.
I start by thanking the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) and her colleagues for securing this important debate on the gender pay gap. I am delighted that we will have almost a full afternoon’s debate in the Chamber on this issue. My hope for the debate is that there will be a real consensus on the causes of the pay gap and on the solutions, some of which the hon. Lady has already set out. I hope, too, that there will be recognition—I think there has been—that this Government are committed to reducing the gender pay gap and to ending pay discrimination.
The gender pay gap is not just a measure of inequality that affects women’s income and ultimately their pensions; it is a measure of lost productivity and lost talent, too. Women make up half the population, but too often their skills are under-utilised in our economy. We need to address this mismatch and optimise the potential for the UK’s economic growth.
The House will be aware of our manifesto commitment to require companies with at least 250 employees to publish gender pay information. I intend to launch a consultation imminently, with a view to making regulations at the earliest opportunity. I know these regulations will have support from all sides and are endorsed in the motion. The consultation will not focus solely on the regulations, but will look at the full range of actions needed to close the pay gap and consign it to history. I hope that that is an ambitious enough target for the hon. Member for Ashfield, who laid down a challenge to me at the end of her speech.
Before I proceed further, I want to be clear on what we mean by the gender pay gap. I know that there is frequently confusion about the relationship between equal pay and the gender pay gap, and that campaigners, the media, and even Members can use these terms interchangeably—but they are not interchangeable. This debate should not focus narrowly on equal pay for equal work, which is already illegal and constitutes unlawful pay discrimination. The gender pay gap measures the difference between men and women’s average salaries. This difference is driven by a number of factors, notably the different careers women tend to enter, and the levels of seniority to which they progress. I will deal with each in turn. It is important to be clear that unlawful pay discrimination is only one driver of the gender pay gap, and not the most significant one.
One of the real problems is getting girls to study STEM subjects and to access those highly paid and highly skilled jobs. For example, only 19% of girls who achieved an A* in GCSE physics went on to study the subject at A-level. That compares with 49% of boys. Until we tackle that gap, we will not be able to tackle the gender pay gap.
I know that my hon. Friend has been participating in debates in the House for a number of weeks now, but I would like to welcome her to her position. She is absolutely right in what she says, and I am going to come on to deal with it in more detail, because it is relevant to my work both as Minister for Women and Equalities and as Secretary of State for Education.
As I have said, one of the most substantial causes of the pay gap is the fact that women are still far less likely to work in more highly paid industries. As Education Secretary, I am very conscious of the fact that that begins with the different choices that children make at school. My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) has just made the same point.
The Secretary of State is advancing some powerful and valid arguments. One possible way in which people can tackle the pay gap is to take their employer to a tribunal, but the Government have introduced tribunal fees, and, as a magistrate, I have observed that that has deterred many women from taking their employers to court. The number has fallen by 68%. How does the Secretary of State think we might change that statistic?
I respect the hon. Lady’s experience as a magistrate. The fees were introduced during the last Parliament to reduce a £71 million burden on the taxpayer, but, as she may know, on 11 June the Government announced the start of a post-implementation review. We will consider how successful the policy has been in achieving its original objectives, which include the maintaining of access to justice. Of course, those whose claims are successful can recover the fees.
The important question that we shall discuss today, however, is how we can prevent the need for employees to go to tribunals. There should be no discrimination in the first place, in the context of both equal pay for equal work and closing the gender pay gap. I think that the hon. Lady should wait and see how our review progresses.
One reason for the introduction of fees was to ensure that people did not have to go through the tribunal process, which, as I suspect we all know from our constituents, is costly, time-consuming and stressful. There are other ways of resolving disputes such as mediation. I do not think it right for us to prejudge what the review will find, and I am not sure that this is the right debate in which to focus on the economic situation with which the Government have had to deal, but the £71 million of taxpayers’ money that we have saved will go towards paying off the deficit and debt that was left to us.
The Secretary of State referred to alternative ways of dealing with the situation. When she conducts her review, will she take another look at the short-form questionnaire, which enables a woman who believes that she has been discriminated against to ask her employer for certain facts and figures before even going to a tribunal and taking legal action?
The point of the review is to take account of questions of exactly that kind. It is being conducted by the Ministry of Justice, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, who is also a Minister in the MOJ, has heard what the hon. Lady has said.
Girls often do better than boys at school overall, but evidence shows that their subject choices have a direct impact on their future careers and earnings, and that that imbalance can feed directly into our labour market. A proportion of the gap is also due to differences in years of experience of full-time work, or the negative effect on wages of having previously worked part time or—as was mentioned earlier—having taken time out to look after a family. That highlights the important role that employers can play in supporting women in the middle phases of their working lives by providing effective talent management, facilitating access to affordable childcare, and championing flexible working.
We also know that the gender pay gap is higher for older women. For many of them one of the major challenges is keeping their skills updated, but for others the main challenge is the need to reduce their hours to accommodate increased responsibilities to care for children, grandchildren and ageing parents. Again, employers have a key role, namely to provide a supportive working environment that will enable them to get the best out of all their staff. That will include flexible working.
The Secretary of State has mentioned older women. I recently looked at some statistics relating to women graduates. For more than 25 years more than 40% of university graduates have been women, and today there are female undergraduates in 53% of the Russell Group universities, which are the best in the country. Given those figures, is the Secretary of State as surprised as I am that fewer than 10% of executive positions in FTSE 100 firms are taken by women?
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is to be the first Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. Yes, I am surprised, but I suspect that we all have friends who, although they were just as capable as us at university, did not decide to pursue a career for some reason, or are not as far up the career ladder as we might have expected them to be. I also suspect that that does not apply to all the men whom we may have known at university.
May I return the Secretary of State to the issue of the decisions that young people make at school, and the subject choices that they make? Are we not missing a trick? Should we not look to primary schools to make young girls, in particular, aware of the opportunities that may arise from studying science, technology, engineering and maths?
I entirely agree. I shall say more about careers shortly, but, while we want to get the absolute basics right—the reading, writing and arithmetic—there is no doubt about the importance of inspiring young people, particularly girls, and interesting them in STEM subjects. The week that my son spent touring other classrooms and conducting science projects was one of the most exciting weeks that he had experienced. If we can persuade young people—again, particularly girls—to think about careers that they might not otherwise have thought about, such as engineering, we can all be very proud of that.
I am blessed to be the father of two young daughters. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the initiative “Your Daughter’s Future”, and explain how it is helping parents like me and, perhaps, many other Members to enable our children to make subject choices that will give them access to the best possible careers?
We launched that programme just before the election. It enables parents to have conversations with their daughters about the types of career that might be out there, the subjects that interest them, and the subject choices that they may need to make in order to secure fulfilling careers. I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend is the father of two daughters. While it is lovely to have him here, I hope that one of the careers that he might advise them to consider is politics. As we all know, we need more women in the House.
I am the father of three daughters, although I am not entirely sure that “blessed” is the word I would always use.
On a serious note, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Blandford school, which is in my constituency? Last Friday, for the third year in a row, not just existing but retired business men and women allowed young pupils at the school to draw on their experience. For instance, they told them how to deal with job interviews and prepare job applications. That is exactly how we should go about abolishing the pay gap.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I congratulate Blandford school, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, on its initiative. There are indeed many people who can inspire pupils of all ages by telling them about the career choices that are available to them. I know my hon. Friend’s three daughters well, and I know exactly who wears the trousers in his household.
Let me now make some progress. I was talking about seniority. As we know, women are still less likely to progress up the career ladder. They represent 47% of the work force, but only 34% of managers, directors and senior officials. We also know that women are sometimes not as well paid as male colleagues even when they achieve similar seniority. That may, of course, be the result of direct discrimination—which, as I have said, is already illegal—or it may be more subtle, and reflect, for example, men's greater willingness to negotiate pay rises. Either way, on this issue, the existing legal protections have a clear role to play. However, I hope that I have made it clear that the causes of the pay gap are complex. The response from Government and employers must therefore reflect that complexity and avoid over-simplifying the issue, which unfortunately still happens. That is precisely why under this Government we are taking action on all fronts. It is why we are taking action to raise girls’ aspirations, to support women with childcare and to get more women up the career ladder.
Our efforts must start early. I am passionate about the work we are doing to raise aspirations in schools and to ensure that no child, regardless of their gender, race or background, thinks that some careers are not for them.
On that note, does my right hon. Friend think we should provide more careers advice in schools, particularly through businesses and engineering companies? Should not more advice be provided on science, especially in relation to the STEM subjects? We can then help women to progress up the career ladder in those areas where we have a gap, and perhaps role models would be helpful.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She might have seen an advance copy of my speech, because I am going to talk about careers advice. Perhaps I should just press-release it and then we could move on with the debate.
We are broadening the career aspirations of girls and young women by encouraging them to get into STEM-related careers through the “Your Life” campaign. As we have already discussed, we have also published new guidance for parents, “Your Daughter’s Future”, which we will continue to promote.
As hon. Members have said, support with careers is vital. That is why in December last year I announced a new careers and enterprise company, to be led by employers and independent of Government. That company will help to transform the provision of young people’s careers experiences. It will help to ensure that all young people, irrespective of gender or background, aspire to great things and know how to achieve them. I am delighted to inform the House that Claudia Harris, a former partner at McKinsey and a graduate of Harvard Business School, has been appointed chief executive. Claudia is exactly the role model schools and businesses need, with her passion for female leadership, her drive to excel and to make a difference. I should of course also mention the fabulous chairman, Christine Hodgson. As I always say, if you want something done well, ask women. That is nowhere more true than with the England women’s football team. I am sure we all wish them every success in tonight’s match.
That is a very good point. That is perhaps the next challenge we will have to take on.
We are also taking strong action to ensure that our workplaces are fit for the 21st century. As part of that, the right to request flexible working was extended to all employees from last June. More than 20 million employees now have that right. Working parents now also have the option of taking shared parental leave and pay, which will enable a culture change to take place both in the home and in the workplace.
Affordable, good-quality childcare is vital to enabling parents to stay and progress in work. Almost 2 million families can benefit from our new tax childcare scheme from autumn 2015, worth up to £2,000 per child. In our manifesto, we announced that we would extend the number of free hours from 15 to 30 hours a week for three and four-year-olds from working families.
Ultimately, we know that we cannot address the gender pay gap unless we work with business. We have also strongly promoted and championed the work of the Women’s Business Council, set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), and implemented Lord Davies’ conclusions on women on boards.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that in order to improve the number of women on boards we must do much more to tackle the pipeline and encourage businesses to promote women internally? From my own experience working in the City of London, senior women were often brought into the organisation but very few women were promoted internally.
I entirely agree. There has been a lot of focus on non-executive positions. The next place to look and on which to work with businesses is the executive pipeline. The hon. Lady is right. Whether we are talking about the education sector, parliamentarians or business, growing that internal talent, working to keep people in the workplace and to promote them is so important.
We have been actively working in partnership with business through the Think, Act, Report initiative. Nearly 300 companies, employing over 2.5 million people, are committed to that initiative, leading the way on gender equality. Those are just some of the steps we have taken in recent years.
We have also strengthened the law so that where an employer has been found by a tribunal to have breached the equal pay or pay-related sex discrimination provisions in the Equality Act 2010, they are now required to conduct and publish an equal pay audit.
Since the Government introduced fees for tribunals, the number of unequal pay cases has fallen by 68%. If the Government are committed to tackling the gender pay gap, why are they making it much harder for women to challenge pay discrimination?
I am not sure the hon. Lady was here earlier when we talked about employment tribunals, the changes made under the previous Government and the reasons for those, but I can confirm that in June we announced the start of the post-implementation review of the introduction of fees in employment tribunals. I know that the Minister will be listening carefully, given her interest and work in the Ministry of Justice.
On a connected point, often the burden of challenging unequal pay falls on individuals though the tribunal system. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government should consider having class actions and a more robust equality watchdog, which could undertake fee litigation investigations on behalf of claimants, rather than leaving the burden to fall on the shoulders of individual women?
It is certainly something always to be considered. I go back to the point I made earlier. We would much rather not have discrimination and problems with pay in the first place, and ensure that everyone is paid the right amount for doing the work. The regulations requiring employment tribunals to order an equal pay audit, which is what happens when an employer is found to be in breach of equal pay law, came into force on 1 October last year. We are not aware yet of any cases where an audit has been ordered, but that is another way in which employers’ minds might be concentrated, if they are found guilty of breaching the equal pay laws.
I know that the hon. Lady is new to the House and that she will not have seen all the debates in the previous Parliament when we talked about the impact of her party—the economic legacy left to us and the justice—[Interruption.] The issue, honestly, is that the best way to have justice for women and children, given the earlier statement by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, is to have an economy that works for all, where there are jobs for all, paying good wages, and where we help all children to reach their aspirations.
On equal pay audits and employers, some of those employers who are found liable will be public bodies. Indeed, public bodies are being taken to tribunal at the moment, as I indicated earlier, including my former employer, Glasgow City Council. If public bodies are found liable with regard to equal pay at tribunal, what action will the Government take to help them because they will say, “This is costing the taxpayer money”, and will go to the Government for some of that to be recouped?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Of course if a public body were found to be liable we would need to work out what the situation was and the context in which that had occurred, but I go back to a point that was made earlier. To be fair, the motion says, “Let’s have the transparency, and the regulations and the consultation, so we know exactly where there is a gender pay gap,” and therefore employers, before being taken to a tribunal, can address the issue for themselves, rather than—I say this as a former lawyer—providing more work for the lawyers and less immediate pay equality for people working in those organisations.
As a result of the actions this Government have taken, and as a result of having a strong economy, women are playing a greater role than ever before in the labour market. There are more women in work than ever before. There are also more women-led businesses than ever before, and critically, as the hon. Member for Ashfield said, the gender pay gap is the lowest on record—she obviously knew that I would point that out at some point. I am pleased to say that it has been virtually eliminated among full-time workers under 35.
The hon. Lady also talked about the full-time and part-time differences. That is interesting because the gender pay gap based on median hourly earnings, excluding overtime, has narrowed for full-time employees to 9.4% compared with 10% in 2013, and for part-time employees the higher rate of pay for women than men results in a negative gender pay gap. Although there is evidence that the part-time gap has widened in the long term, it has remained relatively stable in recent years, standing at minus 5.5% in April 2014. But the overall points remain: there is a gender pay gap and we would very much like to get rid of it.
While the fact that the gender pay gap has narrowed is something to celebrate, I am in no way complacent. That is why we pledged in our manifesto to go further. We will publish a consultation in the coming weeks to seek views on how best to implement our commitment to require employers to publish gender pay information.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question and welcome her to the House. I am about to come on to the regulations that will apply to companies with more than 250 employees. I say to those businesses and employers in her constituency who may not be paying the right amounts that I know she will be an active MP and will be asking them what they are going to do to ensure there is no gender pay gap in their businesses.
I can assure the Opposition that the consultation to which I just referred will consider the mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission may well play a role in monitoring, as is the case for the public sector equality duty, but as hon. Members will be aware the commission already has the ability to carry out the work envisaged in the motion. I must return to my earlier comments on the distinction between equal pay and the gender pay gap, which are unhelpfully conflated in the motion.
I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. I have seen that report. I do not agree with it, and think the figures are flawed, because it makes assumptions about household income and the way men and women—two people in a household—divide their income, and those assumptions are not always right.
Let me return to the motion. All of its suggestions, apart from the formal laying of the annual document before Parliament, can already be done by the EHRC without changes to legislation or instruction by Government. The motion also talks about an annual equal pay check. The critical point here is that I do not think the hon. Member for Ashfield is actually talking about an annual equal pay check; instead, she is talking about an annual gender pay check. An annual equal pay check implies an assessment of the extent to which companies are acting lawfully under the equal pay provisions of the Equality Act and that information would not be obtainable from companies’ gender pay data. I am not saying the issues are not important, but that is the reason for our queries about the motion.
Our aim is to create greater transparency on the gender pay gap. We know from Office for National Statistics data that pay gaps can vary widely by sector. Publishing the data will help companies to understand these differences.
The Secretary of State referred to the narrowing of the pay gap for younger women, but it is still stubbornly wide for older women. Will she tell us what she is going to do for those older women who lose their jobs, get stuck in low pay and who are stuck as well looking after their families without proper support from the state?
I talked about the position of older women and the Women’s Business Council. Its “Staying on” strand of work is about helping older women. She may be aware of steps such as the carers pilot that we launched in the last Parliament to help often older women who are juggling caring responsibilities—sometimes for both children and grandchildren while also looking after older relatives—to stay in the workplace, which obviously makes a difference to their pay. However, she is right to say that the gender pay gap is wider for older woman than for younger women. We are seeing the cohort effect, whereby the gender pay gap is even narrower for women who started working in the last decade. Things are changing but I take her point that there is an issue to address for older women, which is why have concentrated on it in the work of the Women’s Business Council.
Most employers recognise the need to attract and retain the best people, and developing and promoting talented women into higher paid, senior roles could help to make companies more competitive. Let me be clear: greater transparency on pay will be good for not only employers, but shareholders, investors and prospective female employees. There is an important point here, which is that we increasingly expect greater transparency from one another.
We are aware from the wide engagement we have already had with businesses that some employers have concerns about publishing gender pay information. We will consider these issues carefully in the consultation—we have established a business reference group to inform our proposals—but we believe that these concerns are largely unfounded.
Will the right hon. Lady acknowledge that we face a large task in addressing the gender pay gap? Will she note that the average percentage difference in the UK is 19.6%, with the figures for England and Scotland being 19.5% and 17.4% respectively? There is still much to do to address these issues. Will she also note that the industries she speaks of do not address the acute problems that arise in low-paid sectors and industries? We are talking not only about businesses, but other areas.
I do not want to be awkward, but may I just help Members by saying, once again, that we must have sharp interventions? They must be quick so that we can let the Secretary of State get on, because I want to get everyone in and it is your debate.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am nearly at the end of my speech and I appreciate that Back-Bench Members will want to contribute to this important debate.
The hon. Lady makes a point about the gender pay gap, but I have it as being 19.1%, which is the lowest on record. The shadow Minister mentioned how the gender pay gap in Scotland had perhaps grown while the SNP has been in government, but I will leave it to Opposition Members to debate that. The general point is that the gender pay gap has got smaller, but there remains far more for all of us to do to tackle it. The ONS has calculated the pay gap in my Department to be 13.6%.
Let me conclude by saying that I am very pleased that the House has come together to discuss a very important issue, and I hope it is clear to everyone here and to those listening elsewhere that tackling the gender pay gap is something that I am, and my party is, extremely passionate about. As I set out, the gender pay gap is a complex issue with a range of causes, and I am determined to ensure that no child thinks a career is off limits because of their gender, race or background. That is why our efforts to tackle this issue must span right across society. I hope that all Members will join me in supporting these efforts to make the gender pay gap a thing of the past. As I have explained, we do not think that the motion is quite right, and there is a confusion between equal pay and the gender pay gap. For that reason, we will be asking Members not to support the motion, although we support the principle of getting rid of the gender pay gap.
I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) in congratulating the First Minister on making top place in the list of the 100 most powerful and influential women in the UK. I also recognise the work of the Scottish Government in creating a 50:50 Cabinet, and the importance of ensuring that this Chamber, and all Chambers of democracy, receive 50:50 representation.
It is my pleasure to speak in this important debate and to open on behalf of my party. I regret that, in this day and age, this debate has to take place, but it does and I welcome the consensus from all parties on the fact that progress has to be made. Across my constituency, I have met many women who say life is still tough for them and their families. They say that, despite the optimistic forecasts from the Chancellor, the recovery he speaks of is not reaching their pay packet. In fact, a report last year showed that it could be almost 100 years until women can expect to be paid the same as men—this while three quarters of company directors, three quarters of MPs and more than three quarters of national newspaper editors are men. That simply is not good enough and more action needs to be taken. More than 40 years after the Equal Pay Act 1970, the pay gap between men and women in the UK remains substantial.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but she is in fact mistaken, as the gap has reduced to 17.4%.
The gender pay gap is not a surprise, as it is women who bear the brunt of the Government’s welfare cuts. But devolution has proved to be a success. It has shown that when the Scottish Government have the power, they take action. The Scottish National party Government are the first Administration ever to pay the living wage to all employees covered by their pay policy—something that has yet to be replicated by the UK Government.
Last year, the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary, John Swinney, announced that the living wage would rise to £7.85 per hour. My message is clear: giving the Scottish Government powers over employment policy would benefit thousands of women across Scotland and the UK and bring about real progress in tackling low pay. The SNP Scottish Government have taken great steps to help parents, especially mothers, back into work or education by extending access to childcare. Provision for three and four-year-olds is up 45% since the SNP took office in 2007, saving families up to £707 per child. The entitlement has been extended to thousands of two-year-olds from Scotland’s most disadvantaged families. Some of the powers that we need to go further remain in this Parliament.
If the UK Government are not willing to take action on equal pay, they should not stand in the way of the Scottish Government. They should give the Scottish Parliament the powers it needs to make real change. As parliamentarians, we have a duty to ensure that, once and for all, pay inequality is a thing of the past. But the problem of unequal pay extends beyond this Conservative Government. The Labour party may talk a good game on equal pay, but the facts tell a different story.
South Lanarkshire council, on which I was a councillor before I joined this House, has a Labour majority, but the gender pay gap is a staggering 16%, and substantially more men than women are in higher grade posts. It was only a year ago that the council had to make a £75 million pay-out mainly to female workers in the equal pay scandal that has swept many local authorities. This situation is simply unacceptable and the Labour party in South Lanarkshire must get its act together when it comes to paying women the same as men.
Thanks to my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, new labour market figures published a few weeks ago showed that female employment in Scotland has reached a record high. They reported that female employment now stands at 72.5%, that youth unemployment is at its lowest level in six years and that the number of people in work continues to grow. That is a testament to the strong action taken by the SNP Government with the economic powers that they currently hold, which is exactly why we need more economic powers to be transferred. We should have the power to create even more jobs and better jobs for women, rather than the current situation where those powers are held by the UK Government. The SNP Government have proved their record on gender equality. They have proved their commitment to equality in the workplace, which is why they should and must be given the power to build on their success.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) and no one could doubt her commitment to these issues. I also wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) on securing this important debate. Everyone can see from the level of participation so far that there are many Members who are interested in contributing, so I will try to keep my comments as brief as I can.
It is important that we recognise the achievements that have been made in reducing the gender pay gap not just by this Government but by other Governments over recent years. If we go back to 1992, when Baroness Shephard first became Minister with responsibility for women, we can see that we have made enormous progress, and that is coming out in some of the statistics that have been rehearsed today.
As I said earlier, the gender pay gap has fallen dramatically in full-time jobs for people under the age of 40. Although regional and industry variations still exist, it is important that we acknowledge the progress that has been made. Indeed, the full-time pay gap is the lowest and narrowest since records began. Progress has not been as good, however, for those in part-time work or those over the age of 40. It is on those two matters that we need to focus. I will try to have a conversation with the hon. Member for Ashfield about this later, but I am not sure that removing the segmentation of the data would give us the clarity we need in trying to find the answers to some of these problems.
It is right that every woman in this country should have the same right as every man to a job that uses their talents and does not marginalise them simply because of their gender or their caring responsibilities. The policies put in place over the past five years by the coalition Government have created momentum for further progress in the next few years. The modernisation of the workplace will help women across the board, whether through the support for career choices mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, such as the “Your Life” campaign, or through parental leave, the right to request flexible working, or tax relief on childcare. All those things will help to give women the same sorts of opportunities as their male counterparts and I applaud and welcome all of them, but I think that all right hon. and hon. Members in the House today will agree that there is an economic and social justice imperative to continue to tackle the gender pay gap, which is why I welcome today’s debate.
To put it simply, girls outperform boys throughout the education system and have done so not just for years but for decades. We are selling the country short by not allowing the best people to do the best job that they can. More than 60% of female youngsters get five good GCSEs, 10 percentage points higher than boys. Today, 29% of girls and 19% of boys achieve the EBacc. Girls outperform boys in English and maths at school and, as I said earlier, 53% of Russell Group university undergraduates are women. More women get first-class degrees than men and 70% of law graduates are women, yet just 20% of judges in this country today are women.
That has not happened just over the past few years. For more than 15 years, more women have gone to university than men and 25 years ago, when perhaps many of us were in university, 40% of university graduates were women—and they are in their late 40s today. We have an enormous talent pool that is alive and kicking, and we should do everything we can to use it in a country that is enjoying renewed economic success.
The Secretary of State talked about the causes of the gender pay gap and she is right that career choice is important, as is time out of the labour market. Some of the changes that have been made will help to fix those causes, but there is much more to do. I want to close by focusing on three different areas and I hope that when the Minister responds she will be able to reflect on them a little more.
The first is the importance of part-time and flexible working and ensuring that there are more opportunities for skilled part-time working. I have some sympathy with the Opposition’s motion today—although I think the Secretary of State is right that it contains some flaws—but we need to understand the data on flexible working. Indeed, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee produced a report in 2013—I think that the Secretary of State might have been a member of the Committee at around that time—that recommended that more data needed to be collected on flexible working and part-time working. I would be interested to know what progress the Government are making on collecting and publishing data on working practices in that area. The Committee also asked the Government to consider their data collection. In 2013, just 3% of Foreign Office staff worked flexibly, whereas about 40% of Department for Work and Pensions staff did so. Collecting data is important. Are we really confident that we have the data available to understand where part-time working occurs and how successful it is?
My second point relates to older women in the workplace—something that the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) mentioned in her intervention. An enormous amount of change is going on and there is good momentum, but I would be concerned if anyone felt that the momentum that we see in younger women’s working practices will simply work its way through the system because I do not believe that that is true.
Some good work has been done, again, in the DWP on the challenges that older women face, particularly with work opportunities. It is particularly telling that in 1983 the British social attitudes survey showed that 13% of women aged 45 to 64 thought that employers gave them too few opportunities when they got older; today, the figure is 71%. Older women are not seeing opportunities to get back into employment, and they find it difficult to balance employment with their caring responsibilities. The carers pilot was an incredibly important piece of work to put in place. I hope that the Minister can tell us about the pilot’s findings and say when an action plan will be produced.
Finally, the role of women in senior management has been rightly a focus for many Ministers in recent years, and I am sure that we would all commend the Davies commission report, which has done so much to promote women’s involvement in non-executive positions on boards.
The right hon. Lady makes a point about women in executive positions. Before I came to the House, I worked for an oil and gas services company where I was one of three women in a senior leadership team of 23. Does she not think that we need to do even more to encourage women into those executive positions, including by extending childcare, to which the Scottish Government have given a lot of support?
Governments across the United Kingdom will support women reaching their potential in whatever position they take. Certainly, in executive positions, that is important, but there has not been enough focus on executive, as opposed to non-executive, positions. The Fawcett Society is right to question whether unconscious bias is at play here, particularly in respect of the work that executive search firms could do to enhance the number of women candidates put forward. That is another area of work that the Government need to continue to make progress on.
Today’s debate is incredibly important, but we would be wrong to think that it will produce the progress that we need if we say that it is just about monitoring data or putting in place commission reports, although I know that that is not what the hon. Member for Ashfield is talking about. We need a culture change, which needs to be driven by changing working practices and by the sort of things that the Government have been doing in recent years.
My speech today is about equality. Equality is not a women’s issue; it is a society issue. I say this because, if a woman is unable to reach her true potential, the whole of society is worse off, and that is exactly why we need this debate. It is exactly why, when people ask me if feminism still has a place, I can stand up and say, “Yes, definitively, it does,” because feminism is about equality, and that is still a long way off.
In the last Parliament, I was extremely fortunate to be supported, guided and helped by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) and her team. I tabled a ten-minute rule Bill on gender pay equality. I wanted companies with more than 250 employees to publish their figures on the gender pay gap. A voluntary scheme had been in place since the Equality Act 2010, but under the scheme, only four companies released figures to show how much women were paid compared with men. I am delighted that 300 companies now do so—but just 300. Why would companies be reluctant to publish those figures if they have nothing to hide? Why should a woman have to carry out her own research to see whether she is receiving the same pay as her male counterpart? We need a mandatory requirement for companies to publish those figures, so that those that pay women equal pay for equal work can be celebrated and those that do not can be challenged.
In my constituency of Rotherham, women earn just 77p for every £1 a man earns. That is £200,000 over her lifetime—£200,000 that her family are missing out on. That simply cannot be right. I am proud that my Bill was overwhelmingly voted through its first stage in the previous Parliament, but I am still incredulous that eight Members voted against. I expect that the Government will take that mandate and look at putting it into practice. Today, I ask the Secretary of State to make a commitment to that effect, clarify the timetable and put her weight behind it.
However, pay is not the only area where women are still struggling to gain equality. In politics, the figure for women leading local authorities is only 13%. The Prime Minister has filled only one Cabinet post in three with a woman and the Chamber has limped up to 29% of women MPs. In the media, there is only one female editor of a national daily newspaper and only 24% of news stories are about women. In work, only 17% of directors of FTSE 100 companies are women and 70% of minimum wage earners are women. Women are consistently underrepresented throughout society, and until we tackle that head on I am afraid that little will change.
There are also direct links between the Government’s austerity programme and the disproportionate effect on women. Women’s unemployment has recently peaked at a 24-year high. Cuts to public sector jobs disproportionately affect women, as we make up two thirds of the public sector’s workforce. Cuts to benefits disproportionately affect women too, as benefits typically make up a fifth of women’s income, whereas they make up a tenth of men’s income.
Let me give an example of how we systematically discriminate against women. A recent survey of more than 2,000 working mums found that more than half would be forced to stop work or significantly reduce their working hours as a result of a cut to support for childcare costs. From politics to media, work to childcare, women are being systematically pushed down.
We are almost 100 years on from the suffragettes winning their fight for votes for women. We are approaching 50 years since the women of Ford Dagenham put down their tools and walked out in their fight for equal pay. We should be doing better than this by now, but if we think our fight for equality in the UK is hard, we should look to the rest of the world and know that we are not alone and that we are fighting this cause together.
That is why we must give our full commitment to the sustainable development goals. Those 17 goals can change the world we live in by 2030. The fifth goal is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. It sounds ambitious, but it needs to be if we are to achieve a world where women can live freely, are empowered to make their own voices heard, can live the life they want on their own terms and reach their full potential.
One of the biggest blocks to women and girls reaching their full potential is violence. Since my election, I have been working on tackling child sexual exploitation, in my constituency and nationally. That exploitation is disproportionately of girls, and we see the same pattern with all forms of child abuse and domestic violence. Those crimes have a direct bearing on the economic potential of women due to the mental, physical and health issues involved, but there is also an effect on their confidence—their ability to ask for a pay rise and to put themselves forward.
The grim reality is that, in the UK, on average, two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner, and up to 3 million women and girls experience rape, abuse, domestic violence or stalking each year. In 2011, the forced marriage unit advised more than 1,450 people relating to possible forced marriage, 78% of whom were women or girls.
I have been trying to grasp the root causes of violence against women and girls, rather than focusing on the outcomes. I have spoken to countless survivors of abuse and met approximately 60 young Rotherham women to try to understand what needs to be done to tackle this escalation in violence. I am of the firm belief that there has been a shift in cultural norms, with young girls now accepting their “commodification” and violence from a partner, or indeed viewing it as normal.
How do we move on from that? Our first step is in empowering young children with the knowledge that they need to understand when things have crossed a line. We need to help them, from an early age, to understand what a respectful relationship is and is not, and how to speak out if they find themselves in an inappropriate relationship. I am a passionate advocate of the NSPCC’s PANTS scheme, which teaches little children that their privates are just that—private. Every child, once they reach school age, should be taught this for their own protection, and so that they do not grow up and perpetuate abuse of others because they do not know any better.
The hon. Lady is making some excellent points and I am enjoying her speech very much. How can we tackle abuse at the young age that she is talking about, among children in school? Would it be worth while trying to introduce a scheme to normalise female leadership from a very young age in schools and beyond?
I completely agree. This is about empowerment, enabling all children to reach their potential both at a young age and as they grow up, and the direct impact that being treated with disrespect has on their potential to reach their full financial and economic growth, which directly affects their immediate family.
I am not advocating teaching little children about sex, but I am saying that every child at key stage 1 should understand about valuing themselves and others. They should understand their rights to respect and privacy, and understand what to do if those rights are violated. We cannot protect children 24/7 from abusers, but we can teach children to protect themselves.
Violence against girls and women is not a problem that can be fixed overnight, but perpetrators do not reach adulthood and decide one day that they are going to abuse a girl. It is not an on/off switch where one day they are fine and the next day they are a perpetrator of domestic violence or child abuse. It is a slow erosion of boundaries that happens over years. Instead of waiting to deal with the crime, we need to empower our young people with positive examples of relationships, using their years in education for positive interventions in an attempt to prevent violence occurring. Building on that, I intend to work with a number of the leading charities to try to engage the country and decision makers in challenging the stereotypes that are repressing women.
I completely agree, which is why I spoke about educating children, and why at the very beginning I said that this was not a women’s issue, but a society issue. Unless we address it at that level, we will not move forward at all. We need to empower all children, but young girls in particular need to be given support and encouragement so that they can reach their full potential.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to deliver my maiden speech as the first female Member of Parliament for Bury St Edmunds.
First, I pay tribute to my predecessor, David Ruffley, a man who is good with numbers. In 2002, he was a fierce critic of the then Government’s handling of the economy. As a Treasury Committee member, he was a regular interrogator of the finance sector. For 17 years, he was a great constituency MP.
I turn to my constituency, Bury. Come and visit it—you will fall in love. It is rich in history. St Edmund, the town’s namesake, was England’s first patron saint. He was killed by invading Danes in 869. His head was severed and then protected by a wolf. Less gory and particularly auspicious this year is the fact that in 1214 the barons met in our abbey to plan Magna Carta, the document that enshrines our freedoms.
Let us fast forward some 800 years. Bury is the finest shopping destination in the east of England, a vibrant, dynamic constituency stretching along the A14. It includes Stowmarket and Needham Market, beautiful villages such as Walsham-le-Willows, Beyton and Thurston, great tea stops at Wortham and Alder Carr, and the most fabulous cricket club at Woolpit. In Suffolk’s glorious countryside the needs of farmers and environmentalists co-exist, as they should. Great farming to enhance our food security should be evidence-led, but care of our environment should also be evidence-led. These two objectives must not be mutually exclusive.
But what really makes my constituency special is the people—at the hospitals, in the schools and behind the front doors; quiet, determined and funny—such as the old boy I met while campaigning and asked, “Have you lived in the village all your life?” He looked at me and replied, “Not yet.” You see, people and fairness are my passions.
In this place, my thanks go to the staff, who have helped us all to settle in. They have been unfailingly lovely. Its traditions are quickly becoming part of the working day. For a start, getting the right Division Lobby is not always easy, as I am sure the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) will confirm.
Fellow Members’ maiden speeches have moved and inspired me. Two young men on opposite sides of the House have brought recent military experience to help inform good decision making when providing for our servicemen and women. Teachers, postmen, business people, doctors, nurses and carers all bring their knowledge to this place, hopefully giving the electorate what they crave: a more representative Parliament.
My motivation to come to this place; sits on survival, resilience and possibility. As a double cancer survivor, I thank the nurse who in 1995 held my hand all night while we discussed the future for my one and two-year-old children. Her politics were irrelevant, but her care was essential. In 2010 it was a different cancer, but it was an amazing doctor who cared for me. By then, it was our four teenage daughters’ reaction to the news. The NHS is wonderful, with the drugs, technology and care provided by the health service and businesses, working efficiently when good leadership allows. But it cannot be immunised against change when that is required.
Raising our four daughters, all under five, while building a business, I have worked with their schools as a governor and friend. Between them they have 52 years of great state education. I want that for every child. Accountability and joint responsibility lead the way. Having run that business for over 20 years, I think that a lot of nonsense is spoken in this place about small and medium-sized enterprises in particular. I hope that the knowledge that has entered the House this time with colleagues will allow us to defend the owners and creators of our businesses.
The businesses in my constituency, like those up and down the country, work hard. They create the jobs. They pay the wages that allow a tax take. They hopefully pay corporation tax. Tax pays for what we need and want. Poor business practice should be penalised. Late payment and bank lending is still not perfect. Small businesses are the life blood of this economy—we employ 60% of the working population—but businesses need two things to invest and prosper: confidence and certainty.
In 2009 the banks said that they had closed lending to several sectors— construction, which is mine, being one of them. People are bemused at the lack of housing and infrastructure in this country, but they should not be—construction is not a tap that can be turned on and off. Financial mismanagement hurts us all; not just our businesses, but our hospitals, schools and welfare system.
Let me turn to today’s debate. I thank the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) for bringing this issue to the Floor of the House. That the gender pay gap has shrunk since 2013 is great. That FTSE all-male boards now number zero is fantastic. That 35% of all start-ups are now owned or run by women is excellent. But it is not enough. The target for female representation on those FTSE boards was just 25%. Amusingly, there are more chief execs on FTSE boards called John than there are women, so, if we do not have a proliferation of men called John, we still have some work to do. Shamefully, as been pointed out, women are paid, on average, 19.1% less than men for doing the same job—and that is the best we have ever been. Who does not want to see parity of opportunity, representation and pay?
Women are survivors. They have resilience. More women are carers for disabled children and elderly relatives. Women have to balance careers and children. I look to them to inspire those children to become our engineers, our nurses and our business owners of the future. I speak to this House as a woman, obviously, and as a daughter, but most importantly as a mother—and a highly competitive mother. Earlier, I heard from an hon. Friend with two daughters and one with three; I have four. As the mother of those four daughters, I ask whether it is right that in 2015 their efforts, their diligence and their merit will be rewarded less than that of their male counterparts, or that their opportunities will be narrower. I think we all know the right answer to that.
I welcome this debate and the opportunity to work with all Members of Parliament, not least in my capacity on the Women and Equalities Committee, and the chance to champion the needs of my Bury St Edmunds constituents.
I congratulate the new hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) on her maiden speech.
It is very hard to articulate how grateful I am to the voters who put their faith and trust in me on 7 May and how proud I am to stand before you as the new Member of Parliament for Bermondsey and Old Southwark. It is also a privilege to be able to join in this debate on equalities. Women in Bermondsey and Old Southwark can expect to earn only 83p for every £1 earned by men locally. My background experience in the past 10 years has been in the charity and public sectors tackling inequality, particularly disability inequality due to my family experience of growing up with a parent with a severe mental health problem.
Having had an unusual upbringing, I found it a little strange that the House of Commons Library described the seat as unusual also. It chose that adjective because, in researching the maiden speeches of previous Members, it found that I am only the third Member of Parliament for Bermondsey to make a maiden speech since the second world war. My predecessor, Simon Hughes, served for 32 years and his predecessor, the Labour MP Bob Mellish, served for 36 years. It has already been pointed out to me how hard I will have to work in order to sustain anything like that kind of average.
It has also been unfairly suggested that it would be difficult for me to say positive things about my predecessor because we come from different political parties. That is as untrue as it is inaccurate. Simon Hughes’s record speaks for itself. He took the seat by surprise in 1983 and put up with media intrusion into his personal life, but he held the seat for that long because of his hard work and diligence in helping thousands of local people every year. While other areas saw a slump in Liberal Democrat support this year, Simon Hughes secured more votes than he did in 2005. Indeed, he got more votes than five of the Liberal Democrat Members who were returned to this place. His personal contribution to so many local people’s lives was what helped him to gain and secure that support. I use this opportunity again to congratulate him on his knighthood. I wish Sir Simon very well. I would like to clarify, though, that I will be less visible than my predecessor within the constituency because I do not plan to adopt his mode of transport. There will be no red cab with my name on the side motoring around the constituency.
The first Labour MP for the constituency was Dr Alfred Salter, who was elected in 1922. It was a privilege to unveil a statue of him and his family last year along the riverside. There is a school and a road named after him locally. He is a genuine legend locally as a healthcare pioneer. He was delivering free medical treatment to local people well before the national health service was established. In an equalities debate it would be remiss of me not to mention his wife, Ada, who was the first Labour woman elected mayor anywhere in the UK, and that also happened in Bermondsey in 1922, which, as Members will know, was before the equal franchise. She is credited with greening the borough in her role as mayor. As patron of Southern park, and with my landscape architect wife, I hope we are continuing her legacy in some small way.
The Salters’ concern for health, wellbeing and the environment lives on in my local borough. Southwark’s Labour council is one of the most progressive in the country. We have the biggest council house building programme. A new park is being provided at the Elephant and Castle through a local development and there is also going to be a new leisure centre. The council will allow local residents to use the swimming pool and gym for free, and it introduced free healthy school meals well before it was central Government policy. I am proud to have served as a councillor on that council since 2010, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes).
Much has changed in the area since the Salters’ time. We are now far more diverse, but we are also, arguably, far more dynamic. The constituency has the third highest banking and financial sector employment of any constituency in the UK, and we bring more than 7 million tourists into the capital city every year. They come to see the fantastic attractions I am proud to have in my constituency, including Tate Modern, the Globe, the Imperial War Museum, Tower bridge and HMS Belfast.
It is an unusually young constituency. We have four fantastic universities with local bases: the London School of Economics, King’s College, South Bank University and the University of the Arts London. We are also making a massive contribution to house building and tackling the housing crisis locally. The average figure for new home starts in UK constituencies in 2013 was 200; the figure in Bermondsey and Old Southwark was 1,600. Some people have suggested that we would be better termed Bermondsey and New Southwark.
The attraction of living in the constituency is partly the amazing local food and drink industry. I am sure that many Members are familiar with Borough market—it has been there for 1,000 years, so I hope they have noticed it. Bermondsey has had the reputation of being the larder of London for many years. The first tinned food factory anywhere in the UK was opened in Bermondsey in the 1800s. More recently, a market has opened on Maltby Street—please visit—and there are no fewer than six breweries and a gin distillery open locally. I cannot promise to shout everyone a drink, but please do visit.
Despite the positives of such an amazing constituency, inequality is still a massive concern. Child poverty remains stubbornly high across Rotherhithe and Bermondsey in particular. Low pay and unequal gender pay are definitely a factor. It is no coincidence that the justice for cleaners campaign is based in the constituency and helping in particular women from the Latin American community who are working as cleaners.
Some local private sector companies have done very well to introduce the London living wage, including the Ministry of Sound and the Association of British Travel Agents, which is living-wage accredited. The council also delivers the living wage. It is a shame that that example is not being followed in Lanark and Hamilton East, but Southwark has pioneered that policy, including making sure that women who are disproportionately represented in low-paid care jobs are covered by the living wage. I would like central Government to deliver that better in their commissioning and procurement policies.
I am proud of the food and banking sectors locally, but I am less proud of my constituency’s growing food bank sector. This year, 7,000 people are expected to use this central London food bank, including 700 who are in work. Low pay is a very serious concern for me. The citizens advice bureau and Pecan, which provides the food bank, have outlined how Tory welfare waste, particularly over the past five years, has contributed to that food bank growth. I will be throwing myself at making sure that I address inequality in the constituency. Indeed, I have already outlined how I will donate this year’s increase in the MP’s salary to my local food bank.
I hope that the Government recognise that they cannot build one nation on such high levels of in-work poverty. One former Southwark resident, Charles Dickens, who lived just off what is now Marshalsea road, wrote about the best and worst of times, and it is very sad that he would probably still recognise those two cities in a constituency in the heart of London.
I would like to end with a note of thanks not only to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the Speaker’s team more widely, but to all the staff across the Westminster estate, including those in the canteen and security, for the fantastic and warm welcome I have received as a new Member, no matter how many times I get lost. I am particularly grateful for their advice and support, as I am to the voters of Bermondsey and Old Southwark who put their faith and trust in me. I hope to serve with a degree of passion and diligence and, I hope, some small measure of success.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) for his maiden speech. He is clearly a passionate champion for his constituents, and he gave a moving speech on their behalf. I know his constituency well from having staggered around it twice—on a marathon, I hasten to add—when I was not perhaps in the best of shape. Should matters deteriorate on my daily commute from London Bridge, I now know where I should go, and I look forward to so doing.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), who made a very moving speech. I have got to know her well since we entered the House at the same time, and I have found her to be an inspirational person. She is an absolute winner in business, and she will no doubt be a winner in the House as well. I was moved by her description of the struggles that she has overcome.
I should perhaps follow my hon. Friend’s declaration of interests by declaring that I have three daughters. I say so not in any glib attempt to speak on behalf of their sex, but because the motion is incredibly important to us all. If we have daughters, we want them to be the best they can be, not to suffer any disadvantages or prejudice. That is also true for all of us, because if everybody reaches their true potential, we will be better off as a society and an economy.
I welcome the motion’s recognition of the steps that the Government have taken, including with their new data transparency initiative. I am sure Members from both sides of the House welcome what drives the motion and the sentiment behind its words—the attempt to close the gender pay gap. It should be noted that the direction of travel is heading the right way. Indeed, the current gender pay gap is the lowest on record. For all employees, it is less than 20%, and for full-time employees, it is less 10%. However, the UK still has only the sixth highest gender equality index score in the European Union. We should aspire to close the gap and to lead other European nations in this sphere.
I managed a legal team for many years before I entered the House, and I want to reflect on my 18 years of experience. I wish to highlight three areas that we need to focus on further as subjects for discussion in this debate on how to close the gap. The first area is flexible working, on which we have made hugely encouraging strides. In the legal profession, more women than men are qualifying. Yet, historically, women have found it harder to reach the senior status of partner, Queen’s counsel or managing director within their practice due, among other reasons, to their taking leave to start a family or, indeed, to their leaving the profession.
In my experience, however, employers increasingly recognise and embrace the upside of flexible working. The opportunity to hire an experienced lawyer for three or four days per week over set and fixed hours gave my department more productivity from that individual than it would have had from a full-time lawyer without the same level of experience. It therefore became the norm for members of my team to come in and work under flexible arrangements. Indeed, I had more people working on a flexible than on a fixed basis, and my team was better as a result. It also became the norm for members of my team to make the grade of managing director, notwithstanding the fact that they worked flexibly, either in their hours or from home.
Such hugely encouraging strides would not have occurred when I started out 18 years previously. In that regard, the market, following encouragement by the Government, is recognising the issue and closing the gender pay gap, via demand and supply in an increasingly competitive labour market.
The second area is quotas. If flexible working arrangements recognise talent and allow employers to take advantage of experience and talent, quotas for board members are a good example of how forcing the issue can have damaging consequences for those we are seeking to help. Seniority can be gained only by experience and endeavour. A voluntary approach to targets, with transparency and publication of data, is likely to encourage employers to see the positive benefits of having a diverse board of all talents. To fast-track any individual, male or female, to a board to meet a quota is unlikely to lead to good career practice for that inexperienced individual, and it is even less likely to benefit the workforce of the company.
I note that the latest figures show that the proportion of women on the boards of FTSE 100 members has increased from 12.5% in 2011 to 22.8% in 2014. That is a welcome change, but the figure remains too low. I encourage companies to use models that other companies have adopted. Some companies invest in senior staff and mentor and coach them to board level to escalate their progress and achievement. I encourage the Government to consider tax incentives for those who practise that approach. However, any Government quotas to force the issue on companies would not only amount to state interference, but do little to help individuals to enjoy a long and lasting career at the top.
The third area I wish to explore is data—not the most inspirational of words, but the key, in my view, to unlocking poor practices. By requiring companies with more than 250 employees to publish data on the difference between the average pay of men and women, it should be easier for individuals to assess why they lag behind the opposite sex and to work with their employer to take action. It should also ensure that companies review discrepancies. Hopefully, they will close any unjustifiable differences before publishing. Those who do not operate fairly will lose their talent. With an increasing need to retain top talent, the market should help to force best practice to the top. The number is fixed at 250 employees, but publishing data should encourage best practice for smaller companies and encourage them to adopt the same processes. Smaller companies should find it easier to get their hands on the data, so I hope the practice spreads all the way to them, too.
In conclusion, I welcome the drive behind the motion to recognise the improvements that have been made. The House should unite in encouraging employers to go further. I recognise the achievements my Government have delivered in this sphere and applaud the latest initiative to force data disclosure on companies. I reflect on the Government’s key deliverable to empower all genders in the workplace—namely, a state that creates the economic climate for growth. Our companies then increase the supply of jobs. Employees have options in the jobs market and can demand to be paid their worth, benchmarked against the new gender data, or they can exercise their rights in the labour market and move to a more enlightened employer who will pay them more, thereby bringing us closer to gender pay equality. There is a record number of women in the workplace. In my view, that is the key deliverable in tackling gender pay inequality.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) on two outstanding maiden speeches. I believe they will do a tremendous job in this Parliament in standing up for their constituents.
I welcome the debate and the opportunity to speak, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) on calling it. It is an incredibly important issue. As we have heard from many hon. Members, it is an issue for men as much as women. It is an issue for our nation as much as it is for our economic benefit and local communities. As well as being an end in itself, the debate is important in sending a message that women’s labour is equal to men’s.
I was pleased to hear the Minister’s commitment and her words about the importance of transparency. However, it is a shame that it has taken the Government so long to recognise that transparency is a key step on the pathway to action. As has been mentioned, the previous Labour Government introduced rules on pay transparency in section 78 of the Equality Act 2010. It was only earlier this year, when Labour tabled an amendment to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, that the Government gave in, having voted down a proposal as recently as December 2014. That happened even after we had launched a campaign to implement pay transparency that was supported by Grazia. I was incredibly proud to be part of that.
I welcome the Government consultation that will be conducted over the summer. I will certainly contribute my thoughts to it.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Labour’s commitment to pay transparency and equality, and to gender equality, has been second to none in the history of Parliament.
It is 45 years since we passed the Equal Pay Act 1970, but in my constituency there is still a 13.3% pay gap. Women earn 87p for every pound that a man earns. That will continue to come as a shock to the men and women in my constituency—the engineers, the shop workers, the public sector workers, the small business employees and carers—who are earning a wage. They will consider themselves to be treated equally until they realise that there is actually pay inequality.
A number of incredibly important issues have been raised in this debate, particularly on the perception of the causes of pay inequality, whether relating to careers advice, role models, social attitudes or care responsibilities that can impact on women’s ability to hold down a full-time job. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) raised important points about the impact that violence against women and girls can have on employment and on self-esteem. The ability to hold down a stable life has an impact on their experience in the workplace. I recognise and celebrate the work of the Women’s Business Council, which does a lot to tackle inequality in business.
I want to raise one issue in particular that I believe contributes to pay inequality: the perception of jobs in gender stereotypes. I want to ask where the agency of change is, because I do not want the debate to turn into a discussion about what women need to do differently. The debate needs to be about what business and society does and thinks, and how they need to change. Too often, pay has been set based on perceptions of whether something is a “woman’s job”. In a “man’s job” the perception will be that a woman might do it less well. In this Parliament, we have to break such perceptions. We need to say that there should be no glass ceilings and no no-go areas for women in any sector of employment.
I continue to urge the Government to follow our lead. They have a few hours in which to do that, and I am sure all Opposition Members would welcome it.
I want to share a couple of cases of stereotype-busting by women who have entered different professions or jobs, starting with my sister. I do not have daughters, so I may just talk about sisters. I have three sisters—perhaps that can be a new dimension of the competition today. My sister is an engineer. She works with racing cars in America and is often the only woman involved in any particular race. She started out life, as I did, at the Green School in Hounslow. Being a racing car engineer was not part of the careers advice. Being a politician was not part of my careers advice either. I remember asking whether we might invite a politician to speak at the school and was told that we did not really want to be political.
I want to share the story of someone I met yesterday, a young woman called Caitlin, who is on an apprenticeship. She is a fork-lift truck driver, among other things. When I was shown how to operate an electric forklift truck by her in Feltham, I can honestly say that she was an inspiration to me, as someone who is busting a stereotype in the work she is doing. She is setting a true example, leading and encouraging others to take the pathway to a career in logistics.
I welcome the Government’s consultation, and I look forward to continuing debate and dialogue on this issue. I also want to support today’s call from Opposition parties for an annual gender pay check for this simple reason: there is no point in having a target, as aspiration or a process without a method of delivery being put in place behind it. I believe that this is a proportionate measure—one that would fit in well with the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and one that would make a useful contribution to ensuring the achievement and the outcome of gender pay equality that we all wish to see.
I would first like to congratulate the two Members who made their maiden speeches today. It was excellent to hear about Bury St Edmunds, and I like the idea of going shopping there. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) shares my delight in getting lost! I must come and visit the breweries, which sounded really good.
My Derby North constituency has often led the way when it comes to industry, manufacturing and business—and, once again, our city has shown that it is ahead of the curve when it comes to addressing inequalities. I share the concerns of Labour Members that we are still talking about a gender pay gap in 2015, but I know that this Government have made huge strides to decrease the gap across the country. In fact, in my own constituency, there is a disparity of 9.1% in the other direction—that is, women are paid 9.1% more on average than men! I am proud of the advances that my city has made when it comes to promoting women in the workplace. I am also rather proud of the advances that it made when it elected me as its first female MP. I would urge all right hon. and hon. Members to visit Derby and see just how we do it.
On a national level, the Government have made some good steps towards reducing the gender pay gap, although we need to do more, and I am very supportive of the action taken so far to maximise women’s contribution to economic growth and to address this disparity. I am sure that nobody on the Government Benches is talking about positive discrimination, as Conservatives base their beliefs on equality of opportunity for all. As a woman, I believe that we should be promoted and selected on our merit. I believe, too, and always have believed, that we should have equal pay for equal roles and equal opportunities for all.
This kind of equality in the workplace is vital, and I am passionate for everyone to have access to a fair and flexible labour market that draws on individual talents, skills and experience. In order to achieve that, we need to be working on increasing the confidence of all young people—especially that of young women, who should be encouraged at an early age to have high expectations for equal pay and high expectations for their achievements in the workforce.
One way to do this is by having meaningful work experience, so an organisation such as Young Enterprise adds value to the workplace. Campaigns such as the “This Girl Can” have done a fantastic job of boosting the morale of young females in particular, and should go some way to changing attitudes to girls and young women taking part in typically male-dominated activities such as football, boxing and engineering. One of my nieces plays football for Liverpool’s youth team and other nieces are kick-boxing champions!
On engineering, it is very telling that women make up 90% of secretaries and only 7% of engineers. This fact alone raises a whole host of questions that we do not have enough time to discuss today. However, I am sure that these questions will be addressed and will form the basis of the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) in leading her Select Committee on Women and Equalities.
Encouraging girls into STEM careers is vital to our long-term future as a country. Fully to address gender-based pay differences, we need to encourage more women into male-dominated professions. At the moment, women make up only 20% of architects and 18% of actuaries and statisticians. Schemes such as the “Your Life” programme aim to double the proportion of technology degrees taken by women to 30% by 2030—and they have my full support.
Given Derby's rich engineering heritage, the £10 million investment in the “Developing Women Engineers” programme will be very welcome. Boosting local engineering in whatever way we can is one of the best measures we can take to improve our local economy and create jobs and skills. It is important that women play a key role in the engineering future of our city, and I thank the Secretary of State for her support in that regard.
Increasing transparency is also important, and I am pleased that the Secretary of State is to introduce changes that will require companies with more than 250 employees to publish information showing whether there are differences in the pay of men and women. A helpful tool for employers is the free online software that is now available to all companies, and can help them to calculate their own gender pay gaps.
Women in business play a vital role, but my background in business makes it very clear to me that men are still leading the way. I want more women to become involved in business. Although the Government have done great work so far, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.
I know that many Members wish to speak, so let me end by saying that I am proud of the Government’s record on equality, which boasts more women in work than ever before, more women-led businesses than ever before, a woman on the board of every FTSE 100 company, and a gender pay gap that is now the lowest on record.
Reference has been made to one of my predecessors, a Member of Parliament for Islington East. Perhaps, as the first woman to represent Islington South and Finsbury, I should point out that my constituency incorporates Islington East. There was a time in the 1930s, I must confess, when the good people of Islington East were so keen on women MPs that it once had a Tory representative—and she was a woman. Given what she was up to, it seems that she was not necessarily a traditional 1930s Tory: she was very interested in women’s equality.
Let me turn to more general matters. Those who will read the report of our debate may not fully appreciate this, but a large group of female Conservatives have been sitting together throughout, although not all of them have spoken. They have made one mistake, however, and I urge them to think about it. They are sitting on the wrong side of the Gangway. I am told that in 1997, when a large number of new Members arrived in the House, those who sat on the Government side of the Gangway were promoted, while those who sat on the other side were not. So girls, move over there so that you can get yourselves promoted. I am just trying to be helpful.
I do not think it would be a good idea for me to rise to that question. I have only 10 minutes, and I want to make some important points about equality, particularly women’s equality.
I think that, when the Equal Pay Act 1970 was passed, Barbara Castle was right to describe it as a
“historic advance in the struggle against discrimination in our society”.—[Official Report, 9 February 1970; Vol. 795, c. 914.]
Unfortunately, however, it has not stood the test of time. In those days, there was blatant and obvious discrimination between the sexes. It was easy for an individual woman to take her case to a tribunal, point to the man who sat at the desk next to hers and who she had realised was being paid more than her, and prove that she had been discriminated against; but time has moved on, and we now need legislation that is not simply reactive. We cannot rely on individual women to root out evidence of discrimination and take their cases to a tribunal. Besides, the process has never been more difficult, not only because tribunal law has become so complex—many cases continue for as long as seven years—but because tribunal fees are at such a level that it is no surprise that there has been a 79% drop in the number of equal pay claims. Those fees have rightly been described as a tax on justice.
However, there are more fundamental problems. I think that we need to look at a new type of legislation that has begun to be introduced and that can be very effective. Conservative Members had better take a deep breath, because I am about to mention the Human Rights Act, a proactive piece of legislation with a beating heart which could be moved to the centre of our constitution and ensure that work was done properly. Another proactive piece of legislation is the Bribery Act 2010. Under that Act, a company has to prove that it has structures in place to manage things in such a way that, if a person is bribing someone else, they are acting as a lone wolf and the company has done everything it can to stop it. It has resulted in a culture change in our companies, which is very much to be recommended.
A new equality Act could do the same thing. Our current Equality Act does not do that. It has failed to foresee the fragmentation of pay-setting, even within an organisation. It has the most ridiculous loopholes. For example, if I as a woman were to leave a job because I felt that I was not being paid properly and was being discriminated against, but I did not want to take the matter to a tribunal, and then I realised that, to make matters worse, I had been replaced by a man, who was not being discriminated against and was being paid more than me for doing the same work, I could not use that as evidence that I had been discriminated against. How crazy is that. We need to look again at some of these ridiculous loopholes.
It is to be applauded that we are looking further at pay transparency, but that is not in itself sufficient. The Equality Act is up for its five-year review. The Government have said that they are looking again at whether the Act has achieved its stated aims. The Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice has said that
“Parliament will consider this information before deciding whether to gather further evidence on how the Act is operating.”
However, it seems to me that we should introduce a new Bill. As Barbara Castle rightly said:
“I have no doubt that some employers will try it on…undoubtedly, pockets of discrimination will remain—unless women organise to put a stop to it.”—[Official Report, 9 February 1970; Vol. 795, c. 928.]
So let us do that. Let us organise and stop it.
A new Act should be proactive and not reactive. I strongly suggest that successful claims should trigger a mandatory company-wide audit, including proper job evaluation studies. That does not just mean listing what the women get paid, what the men get paid and what the different jobs are. We should be drilling down into companies and looking at what skills are being used, what the women are doing compared with the men, and seeing whether there is systemic discrimination in a company. It would be right for tribunals to be able to trigger that. It could be done before the case even gets to the tribunal, where there are negotiations before the case officially kicks off. However, it should also happen afterwards if a claim against an individual is upheld.
There should be a flipside to that. If a company has done a proper, deep and profound voluntary audit, that should be a prima facie defence against any equal pay claim. We need to do this by way of carrot and stick.
Other things need to be done. There has been a chilling effect on some negotiations because of widely publicised cases in which trade unions have negotiated with an employer to try to get rid of discrimination within a company and to introduce equal pay, only to find that many of the women feel that the settlement has not been sufficiently fair, and the trade union has ended up being sued itself. New legislation could include guidance so that everyone knows where they stand and where their settlement should end up when trade unions and employers negotiate. That again could be a prima facie defence against any equal pay claim.
At the moment, legislation is too complicated, and the tribunal process is too obscure, too difficult and takes too long. It seems to me that many people are running away from using our tribunals and any legal process to enforce equal pay. Good as it was at the time, it seems that the 1970 Act is not fit for the 21st century, and we need to look at it.
Not only should we have new codes of practice so that the parties know what is expected of them, but we need to streamline our tribunal process and bring in experienced, senior judges to adjudicate more complex claims—those cases where preliminary issues get appealed and go back to the tribunal, and then another preliminary issue is taken up and appealed. For that reason, these cases can take seven years. It is not right. The current process is not fit to do what we want it to do.
We should look again at introducing questionnaires. Why have the Government stopped the process whereby, if a woman makes a claim against a company, the company is supposed to answer a questionnaire to give proper information on the practices within the company? The Government said that they were cutting red tape. That is one way of looking at it, but another way is that they disempowered women from taking their equal pay cases to tribunals. If we are looking again at what we should do with tribunals, we should reintroduce the questionnaire. We can make it two pages if we are worried about it being red tape, but we must ensure that that short-form questionnaire includes important information such as, “Has the company been sued before? Have you done a proper audit? When did you last do a proper audit?” Women will know exactly where they stand before they begin the process of taking a case to a tribunal.
I have talked about the ridiculous loophole whereby if I am replaced by a man I cannot use that as prima facie evidence to show that I was discriminated against. I feel very strongly about this issue. I have written extensively on it. For those who are interested, I have written on “Comment is free”, there is a long article in the New Statesman, and those who are really techie can go to my website.
A new Act will not, of course, solve all the problems. We cannot have equality without proper flexible working. I say that as a mother of a precious daughter, but also of two precious boys. I want my boys to be fathers and to be able to look after me when I get old, and to be able to balance their work and family life, and for their family life to be as important to them as it will be, I hope, to my daughter. When we talk about women’s liberation, we must not leave the men behind, because this should be about the liberation of all of us. Flexible working is very important for us all.
We should also look at the fact that women tend to cluster in certain professions. We may have left the kitchen, but we have not gone very far. The majority of us still do things like cleaning and cooking, secretarial work, nursing and looking after children. Those are the main sorts of work we do, and, guess what, it is seen as women’s work and, guess what, it is not paid as well as men’s work. We have to look at that if we are serious about equal pay. The importance of proper careers advice for boys and girls has been mentioned, and understanding the careers available in STEM subjects is particularly important.
These are long-term goals. Right now we need a new equal pay Act. Let us be radical; let us not be afraid; let us get on with it.
I speak from the nursery Benches here at the far side of the Chamber, but I am sure I shall graduate to the other Benches in good time.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) on her amazing and very moving maiden speech, and also on having four daughters, who have obviously been brought up very successfully. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle). He is not in his place, but I often visit Borough market in his constituency when I visit my daughter who is training to be a doctor at King’s college and is often at Guy’s hospital.
I am pleased to see that equality in my area, certainly as far as this House is concerned, is progressing. We have the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), who is currently sitting on the Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who is the first woman to be Minister for the Armed Forces, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), and myself, representing Portsmouth South. That is four strong women whose constituencies surround Portsmouth harbour, which is excellent. We also have seven female MPs representing Hampshire, which is almost 50%. We have a little more to do; we have another male to knock off his perch at some point.
We must keep driving progress outside this House as well. I would like the gender pay gap be much smaller in my constituency. At 22% it is fractionally above the average for the south-east region. We must look at how to close that gap, but we can only do that by boosting aspiration for all women to help them get better jobs, as well as equal pay for equal work.
A growing number of businesses in Portsmouth are led by women, particularly small and medium-sized businesses which they own and run. The Hampshire chamber of commerce and the Portsmouth Federation of Small Businesses are run by women as well, so it is an area where women are beginning to dominate, which is excellent.
In a city where the main source of employment was once the dockyard, a centre for heavy engineering and other trades traditionally dominated by men, we are making important strides—and I suspect that history is part of the reason why we still have a gender pay gap of 22%. Through the efforts of key employers such as British Aerospace and Airbus, a growing number of young people are going into technical and engineering trades, especially through apprenticeships. That is why I welcome the Government’s new initiative on the careers and enterprise company, which will show how young people can go into careers that have normally been dominated by men. A key aim of our university technical college will be to recruit students equally between the genders to drive this progress forward. Education has always been a main source of empowerment for women. That applies in industry, so the £10 million from the Government to help develop engineers will help. One of my daughters was going to go into engineering but has changed to medicine, and I would like much more proactive engineering courses for women, to make it much more interesting for them, so that they stick with it, rather than deciding to go into other careers.
We are backing all that up with our reforms to the childcare system, extending free access to it and helping mothers to get back into the employment market. I would also like greater recognition of the role of mothers and fathers who stay at home and look after the next generation. Their role is largely unrecognised, and we always try to push people back into work even though being at home looking after the children is equally important. Through my membership of the Select Committee on Women and Equalities, I look forward to working to find ways of encouraging and supporting all parents who stay at home to get back into work when they feel it is right to do so. Many of them lose confidence by being at home and find it difficult to get back the skills they need to return to the workplace. I ask employers to provide more flexible working opportunities for mothers and fathers who have taken time out of the workplace to bring up families. Employers should recognise them both in work and in pay, and give them the skills to get back into work, at whatever age they are.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today. I also thank all the previous speakers in this debate. Many of them have taken a trip through their constituencies, a good number of which, in my previous career, I dallied in—perhaps I should have stayed longer. I cannot compete with the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill); I have two daughters and one son. My election agent and my campaign manager were women, and I am a fully paid-up member of the gender balance club.
It is my privilege to represent the area in which I was born and grew up. Prior to me, Inverclyde was served by Iain McKenzie, who won the seat in a by-election after the death of David Cairns. I am sure that both Iain and David worked hard for their constituents and I am sure they shared my desire to improve many aspects of Inverclyde. Traditionally, it was the home to shipyards. Jobs were available, as were apprenticeships, too. An honest day’s labour produced an honest day’s wage, and that is what we are talking about here today. When I was a child, my late father owned a pub and one of my jobs was to stand at the end of the bar and shout, “Time gentlemen, please.” I never knew that in a few short years it would be the shipyards of the lower Clyde we were shouting time on, not the pubs. Inverclyde has never fully recovered, although I was delighted to visit Ferguson Marine last Friday and hear its visionary plans to revitalise the business, and I was heartened by its confidence in our local community. I am glad to note that, in a male-dominated environment, its apprentices are both male and female.
My constituency sits at the tail of the River Clyde. It encompasses part of Kilmacolm, and all of Port Glasgow, Greenock, Gourock, Inverkip and Wemyss Bay. Historically, Greenock has shown great innovation, including that of James Watt. Watt’s improvements in the design of the steam engine made such engines cost-effective, and radically enhanced their power and efficiency. The new engines fuelled the industrial revolution. In the early 1800s, Robert Thom designed a clean water- management system that drew water from the hills behind Greenock and powered a grain mill, a paper mill, a loom manufacturer, a sugar refinery, a cloth manufacturer and even a mill grinding clay for a local pottery works. Inverclyde led the way in clean renewable energy almost 200 years ago.
We enjoy our sport too, with vibrant tennis, cricket, golf, hockey and many other sporting clubs. I do not need to tell the House that we are home to the finest wee football team of them all, the original hoops—the mighty Greenock Morton. And close to my red, yellow and black heart is Greenock Wanderers rugby football club, including a very vibrant ladies team.
The stunning views across the water from Inverclyde to the constituency of Argyll and Bute are marred only by the obscenity of the Trident ballistic missile system being ferried to and fro by four Vanguard submarines. Sometimes I think that people’s approach to Trident is an abstract one, but in my constituency it is real; it is a real weapon with the very real capacity to murder hundreds of millions of men, women and children.
On the positive side, Inverclyde has great potential for growth. We have a major road that runs east to Glasgow and beyond, and west to Ayrshire. We have two railways that run from Wemyss Bay and Gourock into the heart of Glasgow city. We have a river that runs by us. We are situated between two international airports. Most importantly, we have a ready, willing and able workforce. It is my aim to represent Inverclyde to the best of my ability, so that once again we can declare that Inverclyde is truly open for business.
Since being elected, I have attended community events for autism, carers, Alzheimer’s disease, sea cadets, school choirs and brass bands. I am delighted to be included by those groups, and acknowledge that my job is back there in my community, but my challenge is to bring the voice of my community into this place and make it heard.
I grew up in the 1960s—the decade that formed me. We had the Beatles, the Stones, Carnaby Street and Woodstock. We also had the assassinations of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and we had the Vietnam war, when America sent more than 300,000 young men—mostly conscripts—to die. I watched in awe as man walked on the moon. In his book, “The Lost Moon”, Jim Lovell says that going to the moon was not so remarkable—they just decided to go there. The Apollo missions proved that if a nation sets its sights high and is prepared to work hard to achieve its end goal, great things can and will be achieved.
I watched the American civil rights movement, massive and dignified, march across America, and, through peaceful protest and civil engagement, change the psyche of a nation. I remember 1967 when Winnie Ewing—Madame Ecosse—was elected to this Chamber. No one ever suggested to Winnie that she should be paid less than her male counterparts.
By the age of 11, my political identity was forming. In 1971, I stood in my primary school election on an SNP ticket and won. My teacher said that she wondered whether it was an indication of where my generation would take our country. As I walked home, I felt 10 feet tall. Surely, it was only a matter of time before my country was independent. As a child, I never knew how slowly time could crawl forward. But standing here today, as the result of a monumental SNP victory—among so many SNP victories—I know that if it is the will of the citizens of Scotland then that day will come, and from that, I hope, greater self-determination for all of the regions and countries in the UK.
During the Scottish referendum, I had the conversation with many people; some did not agree with me, but some did. As it turns out, more disagreed with me than agreed, but 87% of the electorate turned out to vote. People engaged with the political system. People talked politics in bars, restaurants, cafés and hairdressers, at the school gate and at sporting venues. One of the great benefits of that is that politicians in Scotland are now more accountable. I have a dialogue with my constituents. They text me, email me, use Facebook, tweet me, phone me and stop me in the street, and that is how it should be. The viewing figures for Parliament TV must have gone through the roof. Our maiden speeches are followed and critiqued.
My wish for Scotland is that we can take our place as a modern, diverse, inclusive and equal nation. We should not be afraid to question ourselves, because in doing that, we will come up with stronger solutions. But frankly, as a small northern European country in the 21st century, we are not doing well enough. Lesley Riddoch put it eloquently in her fabulous book, “Blossom”. She wrote:
“Generally life today for the majority of Scots is not bad, it just isn’t as long, healthy, productive, reproductive, literate, wealthy, sustainable or creative as it could be. That either bothers you or it doesn’t.”
Well, it bothers me. In a country that is not blighted by natural disasters, enjoys a temperate climate, has an abundance of fresh water and arable land, we still have one in four children living in poverty. In some areas of Inverclyde, that figure is an even more disgraceful one in two. We need to understand that as we sit in these cosseted surroundings, shouting, “Hear, hear,” it is out there that the austerity cuts are hurting the most vulnerable in our society. In this place, we make the choices that can improve that. We can choose to invest in our children or we can choose to invest in weapons of mass destruction. I am still saying bairns, not bombs.
In Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s “Smeddum”, he berates historians for trashing Scotland’s history, including depicting Jacobites as dashing rebels and romanticising the Stuart queens, when they should have been focusing on the poverty and injustice wreaked on the people. I can do nothing about the history books, but my fellow SNP MPs and I can at least be a footnote in a brave new future where we are inspired by hope and not restrained by fear.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan). I am so pleased to hear that his constituency is open for business and I am delighted that he is living out his early dreams by finally getting into politics. He speaks passionately about his area and I know that he will speak up for it well while he is here. I also want to congratulate the other Members who made maiden speeches today. We had two excellent speeches from the two Bs, Bermondsey and Bury St Edmunds—the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill). I know that they will both be a working part of the operation of this Chamber and I welcome them.
I also want to congratulate everyone who has contributed to today’s debate. I speak as a woman who not only set up my own small business in my constituency some 12 years ago but has juggled work for large companies and corporations, including the National Farmers Union, the BBC and ITV, with family life since leaving university. Yes, that was a long time ago, but all that has happened since. I am now the first female Conservative MP for Taunton Deane, so I have a particular interest in today’s debate, as do many other Members.
I particularly want not to be negative but to highlight that although there might be a long way to go with differences in pay between men and women, we have made enormous strides. More women are in work than ever before, 14.4 million nationally, and there are more women-led businesses than ever before. To prove that point, in Somerset there are 1,957 women members of the Federation of Small Businesses, with 577 of them within the Taunton postcode area.
I want to focus especially on the growing surge in women running their own businesses, which, of course, puts them in control of their own pay. Some 20% of small and medium-sized enterprises are either run by women or are women-heavy—and by that I do not mean anything about weight: I mean, of course, that they are predominantly run by women. SMEs led by women contributed £75 billion to the economy in 2012, which was the latest figure I could find.
In my experience in Taunton Deane and through joining and working with a range of women’s business groups, women-centric businesses are growing and they are successful. The Government must do all they can to enable and encourage those businesses to grow. Let me give just one example of a very successful small business in Taunton Deane. It is called Mastergen and is in a very rural location, in the village of West Bagborough. It is a women-only company made up of six women. The managing director is Alison Dunphy, and I spoke to her earlier for an update on how they are doing. I am pleased to report that the company is doing well. It specialises in supplying quality dairy and beef genetics to farmers throughout the UK. To the uninitiated, that means bull semen, and very important it is too. So successful is the company that turnover has doubled in under nine months and the company won the Taunton business incentive award last year.
My hon. Friend’s comments bring me on to an issue that I want to raise. In my constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed—another B—we are all to a man very proud to support the Bronze family, who have spent years travelling hundreds of miles each week to help their daughter Lucy fulfil her passion for football. That young woman is now kicking winning goals for our England women’s team and hopefully will do so again tonight against Japan. I hope that Members will keep their fingers crossed. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should encourage the lottery sports fund to focus on investing in sports clubs and facilities that are committed to investing in girls’ sports such as cricket and football? I ask because the subject of bull semen leads us to the male sports, and in cricket and football we are seeing spectacular results from our female players—
I thank my hon. Friend for her interesting intervention. I do not know whether she knows this, but my daughter played cricket for Somerset, so I am very keen to promote women’s sports. Indeed, during my campaign, I became very involved in promoting women’s sports down at the football ground with our Taunton football club. I urge the Government to do exactly as my hon. Friend suggests as much is to be gained from incentivising and encouraging women’s sports.
The women in that bull semen company, many of whom have children, work effectively, intensively and flexibly. Flexibility is the key for women in the working world, and we need to give them the tools to get the job done. I am pleased that a number of my hon. Friends mentioned flexibility earlier in the day and I am confident that the Government are supplying the tools in an increasingly thoughtful and practical way to enable that to happen.
Women, with their talent, are a key to driving this country’s economic success. Obviously, the more successful the economy, the more pay will rise and the more women will benefit. Of course, women’s pay must always be equal to that of men across the board, and our female children—to join the team, I have two girls aged 23 and 20—should never have to think about whether they might be paid less than men. We really do need to get those girls, who are so good at taking their exams, into science, engineering and even manufacturing—all areas that have been highlighted today.
I praise the Government’s recent moves to modernise the workplace by introducing rights to more flexible working for employees, which will increasingly help women, and I also very much welcome the 20% support for childcare costs for up to £10,000 a year for each child.
Does the hon. Lady accept the point made earlier by one of my colleagues about the Fawcett Society’s research suggesting that 85% of cuts to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions have a greater impact on female members of the household than on their male counterparts, and that that has a substantial impact on child poverty figures and women’s ability to move on in the workplace?
That is why we need to get the economy moving to improve all those areas and why childcare support is so important in helping to top them up. That support is very much welcomed by all the women I speak to.
I welcome the introduction of 15 hours a week of state-funded early education for three and four-year-olds. Although I welcome that support, I know from speaking to a range of women in work that many of them are calling for it to be introduced when children are even younger, to enable those women who want to do so to get back to work sooner. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond), who said that we must recognise those women and even fathers who want to stay at home to bring up their children, because nothing is more important than what we do for our children in bringing up the next generation.
Of course, the hon. Lady is absolutely right: such decisions—whoever makes them on behalf of their family—should be in their family’s best interests. Some women may wish to work part time and take advantage of tax credits. The difficulty is that they need to work 16 hours a week to get tax credits. Is there not a problem therefore with offering only 15 hours childcare, particularly as children have to be dropped off and picked up again?
The hon. Lady makes an exceedingly good point, and it is something that we should throw into the mix.
In my constituency, the gender pay gap is the lowest on record, due largely to the progress made during the last Government, because the economy in Taunton Deane has really improved. The disparity between men’s and women’s pay is relatively small at 11% and, with the actions being taken by this Government, is coming down all the time, which, of course, I welcome.
I am pleased that the Government are taking this issue seriously. I see some people shaking their heads. The figure is still too high, but I am confident that, with the measures that the Government are putting in place, the gender pay gap in my constituency and elsewhere will continue to come down, and I shall be pressing to ensure that that happens. I have an all-women political team, both in London and in Taunton, and they are of mixed ages—some older, like me—so we are addressing the issue that was raised earlier. Indeed, with the glorious flood of new, young—and not so young—female blood coming into the House, I am sure that we will all work on this very important issue together.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) on an excellent maiden speech and on raising some good points around austerity.
I am proud to speak in support of this important motion. It is 45 years since we passed the Equal Pay Act 1970, but in my constituency of Lancaster and Fleetwood women still earn just 87p for every male pound. I am pleased to note, however, that that is above the national average of 81p, but any gap is too large.
There is a saying that what counts is measured, and what is measured counts. That is why the motion to task the Equality and Human Rights Commission to perform an annual equal pay check to collate and analyse published information, and to make recommendations for action, is so important.
The Equality Act 2010 included rules on pay transparency that would have required employers of more than 250 employees to publish details of the average pay of men and women in their workforce and the gender pay gap. However, when the coalition came to government, it announced that it would not implement the provisions for mandatory reporting, which seems to be a clear indication that the gender pay gap is not important to those on the Government Benches because they did not think that it was important to measure it.
The coalition Government did, however, invite companies to report voluntarily—a policy adopted by only a fraction of companies. Perhaps that explains why the UK performs so poorly on measures of gender pay inequality globally. We have the sixth highest gender pay gap in the EU, and in 2014 slipped out of the top 20 in the global gender gap index for the first time, with the high gender pay gap cited as a significant reason for that.
While Labour was in government, there was a clear focus on closing the gender pay gap and real progress was made. In the five years before 2010, under a Labour Government, the gender pay gap narrowed by 2.4%, but in the past five years, under a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition Government, progress slowed and the gap closed by only a further 0.7%.
It would seem not unreasonable, therefore, to argue that the Government, in telling companies that they were not interested in measuring the gender pay gap, were also telling companies that the gender pay gap did not matter. The incentive of public disclosure represented by the reporting measures that Labour included in section 78 of the Equality Act was removed by the coalition Government, the focus on closing the gender pay gap was lost and progress slowed.
Pay transparency works, and it is not a new idea. Countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Belgium and Australia have gender pay reporting requirements, and they all score better than the UK on the global gender equality index.
The Office for National Statistics reports a rolled-up figure for the gender pay gap, but, as we know, women are over-represented in low-pay sectors and more likely to work part-time than men, so disaggregating the information is vital if we are to understand the problem properly and work out how to address it.
An equal day’s pay for an equal day’s work has been an idea long at the heart of the Labour movement and the campaign for women’s pay equity has crossed into popular culture, with the story of the campaign of the women workers at the Ford car factory in Dagenham being made into not only a film, but, more recently, a west end musical. The story from Dagenham illustrates some of the complexities of equal pay, for it is about not only women being paid the same as men when they do the same job, but recognising that those trades and professions that have traditionally been occupied by women are generally paid less.
Women’s work across the economy is undervalued. We see that in the gender pay gap, but also in the austerity measures of this Government—cutting the funding for public services and then pushing services from the public sector into the charity and voluntary sector, where employees are more likely to be women, wages are more likely to be lower and more work will be unpaid.
This situation only highlights the contradictions inherent in Government policy. Introducing his plans to cut working tax credits, the Prime Minister made the argument that the Government should not be subsidising large companies to underpay their workforce. This is a position I agree with, but for me it has two logical consequences—first, that the minimum wage must be a living wage, and secondly, that organisations funded by any level of government to provide public services must be funded at a level that ensures that each of their workers receives at least a living wage, and preferably one that reflects the skill and centrality of public services to our community.
In conclusion, the UN says that at the current rate of progress it will take Britain another 70 years to close the gender pay gap. That would be another 70 years on top of the 45 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed. Surely 115 years is just too long. It certainly is for the women of my constituency, which is why I support the motion and call on all Members to do so.
I congratulate those who made the excellent maiden speeches that we have heard this afternoon—my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle), and the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), who reminded me of what I might have experienced if I had been a child of the 1960s, as opposed to a child of the 1970s.
I appreciate it when maiden speeches highlight the experience that many of my colleagues bring to this House. One of the things that has struck me since being here is what a huge wealth of experience there is in this place, which we can all contribute to the debate and to the work of Parliament and Government.
I welcome the debate on gender pay equality. I declare that I have only two daughters, unlike others who have claimed more, and I should mention that I have a son, in case he thinks he was forgotten, should he ever look back at this debate in years to come. There is an interesting change in the dynamic in the House during this debate, whether as a consequence of the topic or of the relatively female-dominated Benches.
I appreciate the contribution from the men who have chosen to speak in the debate. We have heard a couple of maiden speeches by men, and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). In this debate about women’s equality and gender pay, the role of men cannot be overestimated. In the big picture, men need to change and be a bit more understanding. I have seen some data recently showing that men commonly underestimate the confidence gap between men and women. Women recognise that they are not very confident about what they can achieve; men seem to underestimate women’s lack of confidence so men need to develop some sympathy.
For me personally, men have made a huge difference in my life and even to the fact that I am here today. My father always encouraged and believed in me. My husband, who makes it possible for me to be here, and several male mentors in my career before politics have been incredibly important in giving me confidence, courage and support. Men are essential, as well as what we women bring to this debate.
The debate is not just about pay. For example, some recent research that I read examined the gender bias in the media. The ratio of men to women in films is 3:1. Of characters with jobs in films, 81% are male. Think of the unconscious effect on boys and girls, women and men absorbing that media influence. That must affect the life chances and ambitions of young people.
On gender equality and the progress that has been made in recent years, we must recognise that the gender pay gap is the narrowest ever. A huge amount of progress has been made, thanks to a huge amount of effort. The gap in full-time pay has fallen from 17.4% in 1997 to 9.4% in 2014. The gap is greater for high-paid than for low-paid employment. It is interesting to note that, if I understand correctly the data from the House of Commons Library, the part-time pay gap has been reversed: men are worse paid than women for part-time work, with a 5.5% pay gap.
In fact, that is not the only discrepancy. There is a negative pay gap between men and women in favour of women in the age groups 22 to 29 and 30 to 39. Other than the fact that in all aspects of life women are more successful than men, can my hon. Friend think why that might be the case?
My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. While many of us here and outside this place are fighting for more opportunities and support for women, we must not forget how difficult life can be for young men, who have much higher rates of mental health problems and suicide, and for young boys who are not doing so well in school. We need to think about both genders when considering how people can achieve their potential in life. As he suggests, there is no longer a pay gap for women under 40, so we must take care not to try to solve a problem that no longer exists. We must now ensure that that achievement is extended to women over 40 so that there is no gender pay gap at all, because there certainly is today.
When looking at the progress made in recent years, we should look beyond pay and consider the success of women on boards. The work of the 30% Club has been very influential in that area. In 2010 only 12.5% of FTSE 100 board members were women, but now the figure is up to 24.7%. The UK leads many countries around the world in that regard, including America, Canada and Australia. We should also appreciate the increasing number of women in leadership positions in both the private and public sectors.
It might be helpful to reflect on what has worked so far and how we have achieved that progress. Legislation has certainly played a role, going all the way back to the Equal Pay Act 1970, which the motion refers to, and the Equality Act 2010, which, beyond the pay problem, ended the gap in contractual terms so that other terms do not favour men over women. That also put a stop to confidentiality clauses getting in the way of fair pay. There is huge support for childcare, with the introduction of breakfast clubs and after-school clubs making a big difference for working parents. Hon. Members have also mentioned flexibility for women in the workplace, and for men.
Corporate organisations such as the 30% Club have worked to make data available on the pay gap. One thing that has made a difference in the decisions of big businesses is the fact that the data show that companies that have women on their boards do better. Companies have then said, “Okay, in order to do better we need to ensure that we have women coming through the organisation and on our board.”
As many case studies show, private and public sector organisations often do well through informal methods, such as supporting women with mentoring, networking and coaching, recognising the challenges they face—often they relate to mindset—and helping them overcome them. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which has focused on supporting women in the workplace over the past couple of years, makes a very good case study: unlike the civil service as a whole, in which women fill only 38% of leadership positions, more than 50% of its senior leaders are now women. Progress really is being made.
The hon. Lady is raising many important points for the House to take on board. Does she agree that it is not just the private and public sectors, but the charitable bodies that work with the Charity Commission for England and Wales, the new Charity Commission for Northern Ireland and those under the regulation of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator—I am sorry about the long names—that should take cognisance of this debate, because they are substantial employers and should also be setting an example in their charitable works and management?
I support that; I do not know the data for the charitable sector, but it makes sense. I wonder whether the charitable sector might be like the healthcare sector and the NHS, where women make up a greater proportion of the workforce as a whole but the top tier of leadership is still male-dominated. Any organisation in which that is the case cannot simply say, “We have more women across our workforce. Aren’t we doing well?” There should be an equal proportion of women at the top as across the whole organisation.
Things are happening and more needs to happen. On the increase in transparency, the Government will rightly make the reporting of gender pay information for companies with more than 250 employees mandatory and give employment tribunals the power to require employers to conduct a pay audit. Those things are really important. I am a huge advocate of transparency in healthcare, which was my area of expertise before coming here. I also want to see more voluntary transparency. Companies that are competing for top women graduates and school leavers should surely publicise their effectiveness and success in supporting women in work. They should be transparent about their pay and the progress they are making for women in the workplace.
Making the workplace more supportive of women and family life, for women and men, is incredibly important. I am proud that my Government are moving forward on the equal right to request flexible working and the opportunity to have shared parental leave, tax-free childcare, and state-funded early education. I know the difference that having state-funded early education makes in enabling women to go back to work earlier, as they are more often the primary child carer. I have heard women say that they would like to be able to go back to work sooner and ask that that support therefore be provided earlier. It is incredibly important that we encourage men to take up the opportunity to have shared parental leave so that there is genuine equality in the workplace. Children need their father figures just as much as they need mothers in their lives.
I am getting an indication from the Speaker that I should move towards the conclusion of my comments, so I shall do so. We are rightly supporting women and girls to make choices that enable them to make the most of their potential. The Your Life campaign aims to increase the number of girls and young women taking up careers in science and technology. Beyond that, we need to encourage girls to study STEM subjects and to aim higher.
On the confidence gap, 69% of women executives surveyed expected to reach board level compared with 81% of men. There is a persistent gap in women’s confidence in their ability to succeed. Fabulous research is being done on centred leadership and what works for women. We should encourage companies and organisations to draw on that, and schools could also use it to ensure that girls are supported in taking the approach to their life that they need to take to be successful. Being a woman leader is different from being a male leader—we now understand that.
We all have a part to play in our constituencies and in our work with our colleagues to ensure that the improvement seen for the under-40s continues for people who are over 40. Pay is important, but let us recognise that this debate is broader than that and look at all the ways to improve opportunities and achievements for women.
Order. The Chair richly enjoyed the hon. Lady’s contribution, so I hope she will not take the slightly concerned look on my face as a criticism; I am just concerned that everybody should get in. It might be helpful if I say to the House that I have seven people on my list still seeking to contribute. I expect the Chair to call the Front-Bench speakers at approximately 20 minutes to 7, or certainly no later than that, so if people can think in terms of eight minutes each, then we should be fine. I call Steven Paterson.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is a great pleasure to be called to give my maiden speech in the House of Commons. I stand here as the Member of Parliament for the Stirling constituency, and I am privileged and humbled to be so. I am from the village of Cambusbarron; I was born and raised in the area.
I begin by following many of my colleagues in thanking the members of staff here in the House of Commons, who have helped us new Members to get to grips with the bamboozling workings, traditions and conventions of this place. They have displayed remarkable patience and been a great help. The staff here are a credit to this place.
I next want to put on record my appreciation of my predecessor as MP—Anne McGuire. Anne was elected in 1997. In that election, she defeated, as part of the new Labour landslide, one Michael Forsyth MP, who was Secretary of State for Scotland at the time, so it was quite an achievement. Michael Forsyth had won two elections previously by a very narrow margin, so it was a win that Anne should be proud of. Anne held a number of ministerial positions under the Blair and Brown Governments, most notably as Minister for disabled people. I wish her well in the future.
Given the maiden speeches I have heard in recent weeks, I can only conclude that there are a great many beautiful constituencies in the country, especially in the country of Scotland. However, I contend that, for spectacular scenic beauty, the Stirling constituency takes some beating. It covers approximately 800 square miles and stretches from Tyndrum, Crianlarich and Killin in the highland north, and down the Loch Lomond side to Blanefield, Strathblane and Mugdock. East along the Carron valley and the Gargunnock hills are the former mining villages of Plean, Cowie and Fallin and the historic city of Stirling, and back to the north-west are the old burghs of Bridge of Allan, Dunblane and Callander, with many other villages in between. There is incredible scenic beauty to be found in the constituency, including the majesty of Loch Lomond, the Trossachs, the towering peaks of Ben Ledi and Ben More, and the Ochil hills.
The constituency also boasts excellence in education, including Stirling University—of which I am a graduate—and Forth Valley College. Tourism is a major industry. I used to work at the National Wallace monument and I will work hard to support that industry.
There is remarkable history to be found in the Stirling constituency. The geographic position of the town—it is now a city—at the lowest crossing point of the River Forth meant that, in historic times, Stirling was of vital strategic importance, and through the royal palace and fortress of Stirling castle it has had a long history of being the administrative capital of Scotland. If it becomes necessary for this House of Commons to up sticks and move, the Stirling constituency is more than capable of hosting it and being the capital once again.
Stirling was also the site of many important battles that turned the political tides of their day. The confrontation between the Picts and the Scots that led to the unifying of Scotland as one nation is reputed to have taken place where the university now stands. Wallace and Murray’s famous victory at Stirling bridge, the civil war at Sauchieburn and the Jacobite clash at Sheriffmuir bear witness to Stirling’s importance in Scotland’s story.
The most famous, of course, is the battle of Bannockburn, where a force superior only in numbers was defeated by a skilful and determined force with superior tactics and better knowledge of the terrain. I know that many in this House are keen on parliamentary history, so I should say that, following that battle, Robert the Bruce convened a Parliament in my constituency, at Cambuskenneth Abbey. It was a fine example of a powerful and independent Scottish Parliament.
In more modern history, just a few years ago Stirling was remarkable for having a local council controlled by a formal coalition between Labour and the Tories. Alas, such an alliance is no surprise whatsoever to anyone in Scotland these days. It is a sad fact that the sleekit connivance between Labour and Tory that I witnessed routinely as a Stirling councillor is also too often shown here in Westminster when Scottish issues are being debated.
In preparing for this speech I looked at the maiden speeches of some of my predecessors as representatives of the Stirling area. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was MP for the Stirling Burghs from 1868 to 1908. His first recorded speech was in May 1873 during a debate about complaints received from military authorities about the then system for punishing drunkenness. Apparently, fines for drunkenness among soldiers had accrued an enormous sum of £60,000 and the authorities did not know what to do with it. It was originally supposed to reward the “sober and well-living soldier”, but apparently not enough of them could be found. The House appears to have deferred the decision on that occasion, although it is thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day wanted to get his hands on the money.
After 37 years as an MP for Stirling, Campbell-Bannerman became Prime Minister in 1905 and held the position for his last three years as a Member of this House. He is the only representative of Stirling to become Prime Minister—and so he will remain, because I have no desire whatsoever to serve either for 40 years or as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In all seriousness, the people of Scotland returned 56 SNP MPs from a possible 59. They gave us a job of work to do and that is what we will do.
Turning to the subject of today’s debate, I share the disappointment expressed by many Members that we have to debate the fact that there is a gender pay gap at all in this day and age, in 2015. The Scottish Government have led the way, as some of my hon. Friends have said, and I hope that, in summing up, the Minister will give an undertaking to look at what has been achieved in Scotland under its current powers and to see whether best practice can be found there. As hon. Members would expect, I fully support the devolution of further powers in this area as in many others, because the Scottish Government are making a difference in areas where they have powers.
Finally, it is my honour to be the MP for the Stirling constituency and to represent the people of that constituency, and I will do that to the best of my ability. I will, if I may, paraphrase Mr Speaker himself by saying that the voice of the Stirling constituency in this Parliament will be heard.
It is an enormous pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson), who has made an excellent maiden speech. I fully echo the tribute he paid to his predecessor, Dame Anne McGuire. Hers are big shoes to fill, as he knows, although I suspect that his shoes will not be the same type and will have a somewhat smaller heel.
Before you took the Chair this afternoon, Madam Deputy Speaker, there was what can only be described as a form of daughter inflation, at least on the Government Benches, at the start of this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) appeared to be competing to establish who had the greater number of daughters. I declare at the outset that I have two daughters and one son, like my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), although I should perhaps make it clear to the House that they are not the same two daughters and one son.
Joking apart, there is of course a serious point: the issue of equal pay and the gender pay gap, which has rightly been brought before the House by the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), affects all of us. It affects fathers of daughters, husbands and sons, and it also affects all of us as members of an equal civil society in which we want everyone to rise and use their abilities without regard to gender, disability or any other characteristic which is irrelevant to their ability to do a job for which they are fitted.
There is much good news and, rightly, there is a great deal of common ground across the House. The gender pay gap is now at the lowest level on record. As a result of changes in the law that have received support from across the House in the last few decades, no woman can any longer be paid less than a man for the same job, for that is rightly illegal. I must, however, say to the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), that that distinction has evidently eluded the drafters of the motion. The legal requirement for equal pay, which is well enforced, is very different from the gender pay gap. That gap arises as a result of any number of structural features from the moment of birth, and it is now the mission of society to tackle that gap.
It falls to us to tackle the subtle differences in pay between the genders—largely, it has to be said, for those over the age of 35—not the overt discrimination of yesteryear that, rightly, we have largely consigned to the history books. That battle has been won. Many factors affect women over the course of their school and working lives with which men simply do not have to deal, not least, as every male Member of the House ought to recognise, the gender imbalance in most families when it comes to children and childcare.
Some of that has been addressed, or at least it has begun to be addressed. For example, the gender pay gap used to have strong roots in educational attainment. The traditional boys’ science subjects used to lead to more lucrative careers, while girls were steered into studying arts and the humanities, and thereafter worked in the less profitable roles into which they were too often pushed by careers staff focused on gender stereotypes. Even when I was growing up, boys did better at school, received degrees more valued by employers and saw that translated into more pay over their career lifetimes.
The dominance of boys at school and of young men at university is largely no longer apparent. An OECD report in March found that although boys’ dominance just about endures in maths, it is no longer present in science subjects. As everyone who has both sons and daughters knows anecdotally, girls are racing ahead in literacy. In all 64 countries and economies in the OECD study, girls outperformed boys at reading, with the mean gap equivalent to an extra year of schooling. Since literacy is of course the foundation of further learning, that gap means that teenage boys are 50% more likely than girls to fail to achieve basic proficiency in maths, reading or science. I hope that the House will have equal time to debate that subject, because if equality means anything, it must mean equality for both sexes.
Equally, girls’ educational dominance now persists after school as well as at school. Until a few decades ago, there was a clear male majority at university almost everywhere in the world but, as higher education has boomed, women’s enrolment has increased faster than men’s. In the OECD, women now make up 56% of students enrolled at university, which is up from 46% in 1985. Women who go to university are more likely than their male peers to graduate and they typically get better grades.
Hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House need to beware, for just as there are more women in this place, there are still not enough. It is clear that women are not only closing the gap, but doing so on merit and largely without any form of positive discrimination. To my mind, that is important. For the most part, we do not allow of positive discrimination in this country, despite what I understood the hon. Member for Ashfield to indicate in response to an intervention in her speech at the outset of the debate. That is important not only because all appointments should be based on merit, irrespective of gender, disability, race, sexual orientation, religion or any other protected characteristic, but because positive discrimination runs the risk of undermining the equality that we all strive to achieve. If appointments are made other than on merit, there exists the risk that those who are unsuccessful will point the finger, saying that so-and-so got their job only because of gender, race or whatever. To my mind, that is a dangerous and slippery slope that it is best to avoid.
I acknowledge the hon. Lady’s point to this extent: she is absolutely right that, throughout history at least until now, white men, of whom I am one, have had a much easier ride in life. Even to this day, with all the laws that we have designed to ensure equality, women in every single walk of life have a much harder time than any man ever does.
To return to the university story, many women continue to choose courses in so-called traditionally female subjects such as education, health, arts and the humanities, but in mathematics, women are drawing level, and in the life sciences, social sciences, business and law, they have moved ahead. That means that women are moving closer to equal pay when they start their working lives. However, we still see a gap, which widens to a chasm when women reach the point at which they want to have children. No end of studies have shown the impact of motherhood on women’s pay, with hourly pay dropping relative to men’s. Just a few years ago, the Institute for Public Policy Research estimated that a woman with middling skills who has a baby at the age of 24 loses more than £500,000 in lifetime earnings compared with one who remains childless. That is simply unacceptable. It is far too often the case that women must see motherhood as a choice that will affect their entire careers—an irreversible move either to the mummy track or the career track.
Mothers’ average hourly pay recovers slightly by the time their children leave home, and their employment rate increases steadily as their children grow older, but it never returns to the level it would have been had they not had children, much less to the same level as a man’s. That is something of which all hon. Members should be aware, and something of which, as a society, we should be deeply ashamed.
Given what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, does he recognise that, even in this Chamber, we perpetuate stereotypes of gender? Hon. Gentlemen are not allowed to bring a bag into the Chamber, and yet hon. Ladies are more than delighted to bring in a small handbag. That perpetuates stigma and gender stereotypes.
As one of the few Members of the House who has a man bag, I will stage a protest with the hon. Gentleman. We will both bring in our bags and see whether we are upbraided by the Chair and receive some sort of censure for doing so.
There is much debate over whether women should be protected from the consequences of their reproductive choices, but improving things is good not just for the women concerned, but for the economy. We need more women in the workforce to pick up the demographic slack as our society ages, and more families rely solely on women’s earnings to live these days. Low pay for women increases child poverty, it makes families more vulnerable to sudden shocks and it costs the taxpayer in benefits and other supports. Low rates of female employment also contribute to socioeconomic marginalisation among immigrant communities.
Social change has done more to encourage women to enter higher education and the workforce than any deliberate policy. The contraceptive pill and a decline in the average number of children, together with later marriage and childbearing, have made it easier for women to join the workforce. As more women went out to work, discrimination became less severe. Girls saw the point of studying once they were expected to have careers, and once they saw that careers in all sectors were open to them and that they had the same opportunities as their male colleagues. These days, girls nearly everywhere seem more ambitious than boys, both academically and in their careers.
Given the impact of motherhood on earnings, the Government can do a lot of good by supporting women in the workforce. I am pleased that they are doing just that. Flexible working, childcare provision, shared parental leave and better careers advice will all help women who want to have children and to be able to do so without such a huge impact on their careers. We now have the highest number of women in work and in self-employment on record, the highest ever employment rate for women and record numbers of women-led enterprises.
I am drawing to a conclusion and am conscious of the time.
I fully support the Government’s actions, and any action that continues this trend. As the father of those two daughters, I want to be able to look them in the eye as they grow up and go to university. I want to be able to say to them not only that we ensured they would be paid the same amount for the same job that a man did, but that over the course of their lives they had every opportunity to earn the same amount of money as men do.
Before I speak to the motion, I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson) on his impressive first speech. He mentioned a skilful, determined force and superior tactics. I am sure he will be skilful and determined, but I hope that his party will not have too many superior tactics.
I speak today on behalf of the women in my constituency, who earn just 81p for every pound my male constituents earn. It is 45 years since the pioneering Equal Pay Act 1970 and women in Cardiff Central are still paid less than their male counterparts simply because of their gender. I have listened to the debate and I have to say that I do not accept the Secretary of State’s assertion that the wording of the motion conflates equal pay and the gender pay gap. It is the lack of pay equality that leads directly to the gender pay gap itself.
Tackling unequal pay should be at the top of the Government’s agenda, but looking at their record with the Liberal Democrats over the past five years I do not hold out much hope. Pay discrimination is still an everyday experience for women in Cardiff Central and across the UK. Employers who discriminate against women by paying them less know they can do so without condemnation, let alone any concrete action. Those employers’ actions are unlawful, not illegal, but opportunities for remedying this are, as we have heard today many times, being reduced.
We know that despite the progressive intentions of those who pioneered equal pay legislation 45 years ago, the law has not achieved what it intended. With many colleagues from the Labour Benches past and present, I have championed the campaign for equal pay. During my law degree in the mid 1980s, I wrote a thesis on the equal pay legislation, analysing how, and in my view why, it had not succeeded at that time in delivering pay equality for women. After graduating, I practised as a solicitor in a UK-wide law firm that has represented tens of thousands of working women who have suffered pay discrimination. As a director of that law firm, I led equal pay auditing and pay transparency reporting. I can say that it is an easy thing to do. It beggars belief that only 300 companies have chosen to do the same.
Despite progressive intentions in the late 1960s, the law still does not deliver pay equality for women. The previous Labour Government delivered the Equality Act 2010, providing an opportunity for those on the Government Benches to implement pay transparency. However, the Conservative party has never prioritised pay transparency, never mind pay equality. The coalition Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming earlier this year, by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), to agree to implement a pay transparency requirement for employers with more than 250 employees. At the same time, however, the Conservatives, along with their Liberal Democrat colleagues, ensured it was made even more difficult for women to fight equal pay claims by introducing prohibitive employment tribunal fees. As with much else that the Conservative party does—public spending cuts, welfare cuts, pension reform—it is always women who seem to bear the brunt. The figures on employment tribunal claims speak for themselves, with a 68% drop in claims being brought since fees were introduced.
For those women who can afford to bring tribunal claims and for those women who are trade union members and are lucky enough to have the backing of their trade unions, equal pay cases, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) so eloquently explained, take far too long to litigate because of the evidential burden. Cases take years rather than months, and they require a woman to prove that her job is of equal value to that of a male comparator. Even job evaluation experts, however, cannot and very often do not agree on that requirement, and the result is no change for women and no change in pay inequality. That is why we need the Government to support this motion. We urgently need reform of equal pay legislation, and we must have employment tribunal fees abolished.
It is clear that pay discrimination is institutionalised across the UK. The Government need to listen and to act, because even in circumstances where equal pay is achieved, it does not deal with the underlying issue of unfair pay. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield has said, the headline figure published by the Office for National Statistics is the full-time pay gap rather than the pay gap for full and part-time workers together. So, for example, in Wales, men hold nearly two thirds of all available full-time jobs and women hold 80% of the part-time jobs. Those part-time jobs are not only lower paid, but tend to be jobs that are under-valued compared to others. I am sure that Members across the House will agree that specific action to tackle institutionalised pay discrimination in this country is long overdue. By supporting this motion, the Government could demonstrate their commitment to action—rather than simply words.
In a feminist debate, I am going to say, Ms Deputy Speaker, that I congratulate all those who have made their maiden speeches, and I remind Members that when we say “maiden”, what we mean is someone who is inexperienced. So that is another example of sexist language that gets used.
I wonder whether Ms Deputy Speaker has read Caitlin Moran’s book, “How to be a Woman”. In it, she compels people to stand on their chairs and shout, “I am a feminist”. If the motion is carried today, perhaps the Speaker would allow us the indulgence of standing on these Green Benches altogether to shout those very words. If it passes throughout the House, we will have done something really feminist. I proudly say that I am a feminist and that a bit of feminist marauding would be a welcome relief from some of the groaning we normally get.
Taking the title of Ms Moran’s book, “How to be a Woman”, it seems that the answer before us today is very simple. It is to get paid less. In my constituency, for every pound a man earns, a woman earns 83p. This is not always because women are simply being paid less for the same job, although that is obviously a feature; it is because we simply value less the work that women do.
I went to university and I have two degrees. After leaving university, I had the misfortune of having two children—both sons, incidentally, so I cannot ring the daughter bell. I went back to work quite quickly, thanks to the tax credits I received, which enabled me to do that. For the first seven years of my career, I earned less than my husband. I am sure he will not mind my saying that I am not sure that he even has a GCSE. The work he did was what is considered to be man’s work—he is a lift engineer—and, after all, I was working only in a charity, helping victims of domestic and sexual violence. The value is there for all to see.
Like so many local authorities across the country, Birmingham has paid the price for the lack of equal pay in exceptionally costly—and, I am afraid to say, bankrupting—court settlements, with care workers, social workers, cleaners and dinner ladies paid less than bin men. After all, why should we value those who look after our elderly relatives and feed our children? However, Birmingham City Council is trying to settle that score, and the Labour council’s work around paying all staff a living wage and demanding that all contractors, including care contractors, do the same is a huge step forward in equalising some of the public and private sector pay in the city I love.
I commend any advance towards payment of a living wage, but I bet that if I were to look into what is paid to those working for the two large public sector contractors in the city I would find that there was still a stark disparity between the pay of the men who are highways engineers, ground staff members and building contractors, and the pay of the mainly female work force who are caring, nursing, cleaning and feeding.
To the best of my knowledge, the answer is no. I believe that the council is selling the family silver, including the National Exhibition Centre, to settle those claims. I will not criticise it for that. The council should have paid the women more in the first place.
The hon. Gentleman is right about overtime. The reason my husband earned so much more than me was that his overtime was paid, whereas mine was just part of my job.
To add insult to injury, the vast majority of unpaid work is done by us, the very much fairer sex. I sometimes fantasise about all the women in the country going on strike for just one day. They would stop doing everything that they do for free: caring for children, caring for grandchildren, and caring for relatives, friends and neighbours. Imagine the cost to social services if we withdrew our labour! Perhaps women’s jobs are paid so poorly because we forgot the bit of the business model that says, “You will devalue it if you give it away.” The constant rhetoric about hard-working families seems to forget that the hardest work of all is that which pays nothing. I challenge anyone to stay at home permanently with a couple of kids, delivering meals, care and company to a dying mother, and then tell me that that is not hard work. I have lots of caring responsibilities, and I can assure Members that coming to this place, or going to any work, is like being on holiday.
Having worked for years with women who have been beaten and abused because of their gender, perhaps I am less keen than others to herald how far we have come. I know that a good, honest and decent society we can all be proud of must value its women. There is a well-evidenced and reliable link between violence against women and their general standing in society. This debate is not just about money and pound signs; it is about value and worth.
We have a chance to do something good here today—to push companies and the country to place equal value on the work of half the population. We have a chance to show our mothers, wives, daughters and constituents that they matter and their rights matter. If we do that today, I will gladly stand on these Benches, or the chairs in the bar later, with any Member from any party, so that we can declare in unison that we are feminists.
I congratulate all Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I shall be taking up some of the themes that have featured in the debate so far.
I am proud to be the first female Member of Parliament for Neath. I have only one daughter, but she is the apple of my eye. I have no sisters, but I have a wonderful brother who is definitely in touch with his feminine side, although he does not have a man bag—not to my knowledge, at least.
Let me begin by taking up the sporting theme. Before I came here, I was proud to be the only female national coach for Squash Wales. I introduced many women and girls to sport, whether they wanted to engage in it merely for recreational purposes or to fulfil their potential and go on to represent Wales, as I did many times.
It is 45 years since a Labour Government passed the Equal Pay Act in response to the proactive campaign of the women in Dagenham, yet, on average, women still earn just 81p for every pound earned by men. Progress to close that gap has slowed dramatically, with the rate falling from 2.4% between 2006 and 2010 to 0.7% during the coalition Government’s period in office.
One of the first acts of the coalition Government was to abolish the Women’s National Commission, which was established in 1979 by Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle. It was an equality body advising and informing the Government on issues facing women, such as the lack of women in key jobs. A renewed focus on those issues is needed now more than ever.
In my constituency women earn 86p for every pound earned by a man. That is slightly above the UK average, but in Neath the median weekly income for all workers, including men, is just £460, which is £20 lower than the rest of Wales, and £60 less than the UK median. The gender gap is less pronounced when the issue of equal pay is analysed through the prism of older industrial areas and the economic disparities faced by all the people of Neath.
The public sector, which has been severely hit by the Government’s austerity programme, is critical to women’s employment in Wales. It accounts for 40% of women’s employment, compared with 20% of men’s, and nearly two thirds of public sector employees are women. Here, the gap has increased from 9.5% to 11%.
The impact of the recession on work in Neath is stark. Wage rates for women in Wales are depressed compared with other regions, with women full-time employees in Wales’s public sector the second lowest paid in the UK, and in the private sector the lowest paid of all. In the service, retail and operative sectors, more than one in 20 jobs have been lost in just two years after the recession, with the total number of semi-skilled and unskilled jobs still less than in 2005. The recovery in these jobs is only coming in the shape of insecure, poorly paid employment.
The Bevan Foundation examined the issue in its report “Women, work and the recession in Wales”. It suggests that women in occupations at the bottom of the labour market have borne the brunt of job losses, with administrative and secretarial roles and process and plant operatives seeing significant decreases in numbers. The report also suggests that women are very much more likely to be employed part time than men— 42% of women’s employment is part time, compared with just 12% of men’s employment in June 2012. Crucially, the average part-time hourly rate is a third less than it is for full-time work. Those registered as self-employed, which accounts for 30% of female jobs since 2010, similarly earn less—in fact, they earn less than half what self-employed men earn. Then there are the punitive zero-hour contracts, which should be abolished.
In Wales in 2009, only 55.7% of lone parents were in employment and 26.7% of all children were living in households of in-work poverty. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2014 there were 2 million lone parents with dependent children in the UK. Women accounted for 91% of lone parents with dependent children.
Women earning less in Wales, and in Neath, where the situation is exacerbated, has a direct effect on child poverty and children living in poor households. All that paints a grim picture for working women in our country. The broader effects on families and on children are clear. The United Nations predicts that at the current rate of progress it will take 70 years to achieve gender parity in Britain and to close the pay gap. It is of paramount importance that the annual equal pay check is implemented so that the information can be used to ensure that the gender pay gap is closed.
I join others in congratulating the hon. Members for Stirling (Steven Paterson) and for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle), and the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) on their powerful initial contributions to the House. I also associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on the use of language here. I also pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) because whenever I meet women’s organisations in Cambridge I am struck by how quickly they tell me about the work done by them when they were in government and how they were such powerful champions for women. I suspect my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) is well on the way to being spoken of in similar terms.
As others have pointed out, this has been a long battle and it is a long way from being won, and, sadly, progress has slowed since 2010. I will try not to repeat the points others have made, but before I entered Parliament I was very proud to work for Unison, Britain’s biggest public service union with over 1 million women members, many in low-paid public service jobs. Unsurprisingly, much of Unison’s time was spent campaigning to tackle the unfair gender pay gap.
As has been pointed out, that is not easy because the causes are complex. It is worth recalling that a decade ago another inestimable champion of women’s causes, Margaret Prosser, was asked by the then Government to look at these issues in detail. She concluded that it is
“a many faceted and multidimensional issue. The pay gap is affected by issues such as outdated work practices; expectations and stereotypes that are ingrained in us from a young age; differences in working patterns because of women’s role as ‘carer’; and a lack of quality part-time work”.
Sadly, in the decade since then these issues remain as real as ever, and the progress that was being made has slowed.
I am reminded of a book whose title has stuck with me over many years: “How working-class kids get working-class jobs.” It is always useful for those of us with time management problems to have a book where the entire message is summed up in the title. I think that same cycle applies to women’s jobs. The positive attempts to break that cycle have been undermined in recent years. For instance, the crisis in our careers service means that young women are again more likely to be directed down the traditional low-pay routes. There is a risk that the depressing funding cuts to many of our further education colleges will have the same effect.
Change comes when we make it happen, and Labour Governments have a proud record. We are particularly proud of the Equality Act which will for ever be associated with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham. It is sad that the coalition Government chose not to implement some of the proposals, but I believe when they are finally implemented—I do believe they will be at some point—the impact will be far reaching.
In the meantime, the Government’s belated conversion to the cause of tackling unequal pay is welcome, as is their stated intention to implement section 78 of the Equality Act, but it is vital that this is done in a way that reflects what actually happens in the workplace, and is not used to hide what is really happening. I am grateful to former colleagues at Unison for bringing some of these points to my attention. For example, perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us whether bonus payments and overtime will be included. Men are typically far more likely to receive both. By not including them, comparisons will be seriously distorted and it will look as if pay in the workplace is more equal than it really is.
We also have to watch out for attempts to game the system. In the public sector, if a company wants to skew the results it will simply outsource the lower-paid, predominantly female part of the workforce so that their salaries are not included in the pay comparison figures.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comradely intervention. I am afraid I am not expert enough to be able to give advice on that, but I am sure others will be able to do so.
On the matter of sanctions for companies that fail to comply and whether that should be a criminal or civil matter, whatever sanction is applied has to be meaningful, or else we will be stuck in the same position that we were in for many years, when local authorities refused to implement equality-proofed equal pay because it was cheaper for them just not to do so at the time. It is perhaps worth considering whether publishing the results should be done as part of the annual auditing process, for which sanctions for non-compliance are already in place. This would work in tandem with Labour’s sensible proposals for an annual equal pay check to be carried out by the EHRC.
It is also worth pointing out that the EHRC has under this Government suffered drastic cuts to its funding and staffing with consequent effects on the level of service it can provide. It will need to be better resourced to take on the challenge of monitoring and supporting employers to do the right things. Other things could be done, including introducing mandatory pay audits for all employers, regardless of size. If we are serious about equal pay, that has to be the ultimate goal, and there must be a requirement to act on the audit. Failure to do so should, in itself, be an act of unlawful discrimination. Any protective award made in such circumstances should be proportionate to the scale of the problem and the number of women affected.
Let me finish by mentioning one sector that has suffered consistently from low pay for many years: local government. It is worth noting that, according to the Local Government Association, the gender pay gap in that sector has widened by 3% since 2010. Women’s pay for full-time equivalent posts in 2010-11 was 83.2% that of men’s whereas it is now 80.8%, so they are almost 20% worse off. It is worth pointing out that the local government workforce is 78% women and that 61% of jobs are part time, but more than 90% of those are done by women. Local government is undergoing constant reorganisation, with many people doing far more complex jobs. I fear that some councils are not undertaking the kind of job evaluation that should be going on, and there is a danger that after paying out some £2 billion in equal pay settlements, councils are again becoming vulnerable to a new wave of equal pay claims. There has to be a better way of doing it.
There are clearly ways forward and clearly things that can be done. As ever, the question is: is there the political will to do it? Sadly, I have to say that the signs from the Government are not encouraging—but we live in hope.
First, I must congratulate those who made maiden speeches today: the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) and the hon. Members for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) and for Stirling (Steven Paterson). Their speeches were all passionate, personal and interesting.
Let me follow up on the point my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) made about local government pay. It is not just about the job evaluations; the requirement to undertake equality impact assessments has been removed. As a Unison member, I know it has long been an issue that local government has tended to shy away from, and the Government have now given councils licence to wriggle out of that requirement. That is disappointing, as are the empty Government Benches as we draw this important debate to a close.
Major progress was made on closing the gap between men’s and women’s pay under the last Labour Government. We have heard Government Members talk about the fact that the gender pay gap is at its lowest level ever, but the progress in tackling it over the past five years has slowed inordinately under this Government and the former coalition Government. That is incredibly disappointing. The progress has slowed, along with pay, across the board.
Looking to other countries, we know that much more can be done. This should not be up for debate, and I concur with the many colleagues who have shared that sentiment. We should not be here today, in 2015, having this debate about whether anything more should be done, because the answer is clear: yes, of course it should. The Equal Pay Act was passed 10 years before I was born, yet we are still here today arguing for parity between the sexes. That Act put into law the basic principle that we should all receive the same treatment on pay and employment conditions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) mentioned, it allows women to take their employer to a tribunal if a man doing similar work to her is being paid more, although now that is only possible if you can afford it, thanks to the barriers to accessing justice that the coalition saw fit to introduce. I remind everyone of the statistics: the number of equal pay claims has fallen by 68% but the number of claims going to tribunal has fallen by 79%, as my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury—[Interruption.] I have entirely forgotten the name of her constituency, I am so sorry. [Interruption.] Yes, it was one of the London ones.
I wish to raise with my hon. Friend the point that was made in our debate on sport and the Olympic legacy last week: the gross inequality between men and women in relation to payment and sponsorship in sport. That is one of the worst areas. America has the wonderful Title IX legislation, which ensures equal funding if and when it comes from the public purse, which is another thing to bear in mind. Not only is this so unequal, but, worse still, it is unequal to people such as our football team that will play in Canada tonight.
I could not agree more. Low pay concerns me, particularly as it is in all areas. If those who are public facing, with whom people interact more, can demonstrate the necessity of closing the gender pay gap, it will become a more prioritised issue among the general public.
I can now confirm that I was referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). I thank my colleagues for reminding me. It is quite embarrassing to have such a public brain fade.
Yes, how can I be expected to remember such complicated information?
I was just reflecting on accessing justice, and the difficulties faced by people from across the board. This is about not just women finding it difficult to access justice through the employment tribunal system, but those who are suffering from any kind of discrimination, particularly that relating to their pay. The Equal Pay Act was a milestone in the fight for equal pay, but, clearly, the Act in itself is not sufficient to close that gap altogether, especially in today’s world of casual employment, of people working multiple jobs and of increasing levels of self-employment. I am incredibly proud that the previous Labour Government made equal pay a priority and closed the pay gap by one third during their time in office. I say again that, over the past five years, we have seen almost no progress on this issue. In their manifesto, the Conservatives made no mention of putting in place any measures to try to tackle the pay gap, even though they have accepted that it exists. Today is about Labour challenging the Government on this important issue and trying to get them to change their mind.
We have heard quite a lot today with regard to how much women earn. In my constituency of Grimsby, women earn just 77p for every £1 brought home by men. I heard today that the figure in Coventry is as low as 60p. That is a significant difference. If we do not think that that affects the home lives of the children in our country, we are deluding ourselves.
Why is this such a significant problem in my constituency compared with some other areas in the country? As I noted earlier, there has been a surge of low pay and insecure work in this country over the past few years, and that has particularly been the case in my constituency. I know, from speaking to my constituents, that it tends to be women who have to work two or three different jobs, often on casual or zero-hours contracts, because they receive such low pay. Since 2010, one in three women’s jobs has come from women registering as self-employed. That is a problem that, again, the Equal Pay Act cannot address. On average, self-employed women earn less than half the money earned by self-employed men. Women are far more likely to be in jobs that pay less than the living wage. We heard my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) talking at length and most passionately about the fact that the labour undertaken by women is given such scant value by our society.
The hon. Lady has made a number of excellent points, but another factor in decreasing wages has been the substantial reduction in collective bargaining in the UK since 1979. In Scotland, for example, 81% of workers’ pay was decided by collective bargaining in 1979, whereas that figure is now 23%.
I agree absolutely. We have seen the demise of collective bargaining in many different areas and employers are now moving further away from those agreements.
Previously, for example, the Labour Government had agreed a national arrangement for teaching assistants, but the coalition decided not to continue with the national pay negotiating body. Teaching assistants are, obviously, largely women, largely part time and largely low paid, and on term-time-only contracts. I know from my constituency and from people I have represented as an official of Unison that some earn as little as £5,000 or £7,000 a year, working in our schools and supporting our children when they most need additional support. That problem is being exacerbated by the move away from collective bargaining and those people are more prone to being exploited and having their wages squeezed.
My hon. Friend is making some powerful points in a strong speech. She has mentioned the living wage and many local authorities are trying to elevate the circumstances for low-paid workers, particularly the women workers about whom we have heard, by becoming living wage councils. Surely that is a step forward that all councils should look to take.
I shall come to that point shortly.
If I can just make some progress—I have been dying to say that—to tackle unequal pay, it is imperative that we tackle the low-skill, low-wage economy that is particularly detrimental to women. Much of the success of the previous Labour Government was down to the introduction of the minimum wage. With 27% of women earning less than the living wage, the Government must do more to raise wages. If they will not do that by raising the minimum wage, they must commit actively to support SME businesses to pay the living wage and legislate for FTSE 100 companies to do the same. The forthcoming cuts to tax credits will only make the problem of low pay worse. If the Government want tax credits to be replaced by higher wages, they need to be active in making that happen and should not simply cut, and cross their fingers.
I completely concur with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) about living wage councils. I have been active in securing living wage agreements in four different local authorities. That needs to be championed across the board and we must ensure that when those councils make arrangements for any contractors to undertake services on their behalf those companies should also be living wage employers.
The Government need to accept that many zero-hours contracts are exploitative and that people cannot properly manage their household budget if they do not know what they will be earning from one week to the next. The change to exclusivity clauses is welcome, but it ignores the wider problem. Something needs to be done to make the lives of people in insecure work more manageable. I will always believe that when a job exists, a proper contract of employment should be provided. The Conservative Government claim to be on the side of working people, yet when they are presented with an opportunity such as this genuinely to improve people’s working lives, they squirm about like a worm at the end of a line.
It is simply not good enough. People need change and they need it now. Take the Government’s commitment to 30 hours of free childcare for working parents. First, I am pleased to see that they have adopted another of the previous Labour Government’s pledges to support working families. In the race to win votes ahead of the general election, they made a commitment they cannot afford. It is massively underfunded. It costs on average £4.53 an hour to provide the care, but the Government are offering only £3.88 an hour. Perhaps the Minister can tell us where the rest of the money is coming from. If it comes at the expense of child tax credit or working families tax credit, the Government are merely giving with one hand but taking away with the other.
I want to finish by saying that I recently met representatives of a local charity in my constituency called Care, which provides emergency food aid in Grimsby, and they told me that the number of meals that they provide to children has increased by 27% this year alone. Unfair wages for women is a problem of basic fairness, but the fact that working women are being pushed into poverty and insecurity to the extent that they can no longer afford to feed their children is a crisis that surely demands urgent action.
First, I welcome the new Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) to her place and look forward to hearing from her shortly.
It has been an excellent debate today and we have heard many thoughtful and passionate contributions, on which I will reflect shortly, but I begin by paying tribute to all those in the House and in our country more broadly who have fought for gender justice, equality and equal pay. I refer to the former Member for Blackburn, Barbara Castle, whom I was privileged to meet a number of times—in fact, I wrote my first political letter to her when I was eight or nine years old—and to those who have campaigned in recent years on pay transparency, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), and many others.
We have heard some shocking statistics today that show us just how far we have to go 45 years after the Equal Pay Act: the 81p on average that women earn for every male £1, the disparity in the proportion of women who study the law yet do not end up as judges and the 68% fall in the number of equal pay claims since the introduction of the new tribunal fees. Given that we are at the start of Wimbledon, which has had its own equal pay concerns over many years, and the fantastic football match that we are all expecting this evening—I wish my very best to the women’s England football team—we have heard from many hon. Members about the disparity in sport. We heard a number of such contributions just a few moments ago. It is a sad fact, as a recent BBC study showed, that men get more prize money than women in 30% of sports—the disparity could not be shown more starkly.
I want to turn to some of the excellent speeches that we have heard today, including a number of excellent maiden speeches. First, the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), was clearly passionate about and committed to these issues. There seemed to be a dispute about the statistics on Scotland. They are from the Office for National Statistics and show that the gender pay gap in Scotland has grown from 17.2% in 2011 to 17.4% to 2014. We all need to do a lot better, whatever part of the United Kingdom we are from, and we all need to take a good look at ourselves given that we have so much progress to make 45 years on from the Equal Pay Act.
The right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who is not in her place but is the new Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, spoke of the irony of girls outperforming boys for many years and said that, effectively, we were selling the country short, as she put it, by not using their talents, and I could not agree more.
We heard a very passionate speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham, who introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on the gender pay gap last year. She quite rightly asked why companies are scared to make pay information more readily available. That is the question we all ought to ask. She powerfully said that equality is not a women’s issue; it is an issue for society and we must do much better.
The hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) made an excellent maiden speech, which I found particularly interesting as my family is historically linked to her constituency. She was the first of three hon. Members who spoke today who are the first female Members of Parliament for their constituencies. She spoke powerfully about Magna Carta’s link to her constituency. I was proud to join her recently on the armed forces parliamentary scheme—another area of our society where the progress of women has been slower than we would have liked. Progress is now being made, and it will be great to work with her on that scheme in the months ahead.
We had another maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle), who spoke about the position of women in his constituency, particularly the justice for cleaners campaign, and the fight against inequality in his career and his family experience before coming to this place. Like him, I am only the third MP from my constituency since world war two to have made a maiden speech. I look forward to going to Borough market again shortly; I very much like the coffee there, as well as the many other delights that are on offer.
We heard an excellent speech from the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), who spoke about his three daughters, but also, powerfully, from his legal experience—the challenges for women in the legal profession. The tone of the debate has been that we need to unite as a House around the issue and perhaps not look for some of the semantic differences, which I shall come to.
My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston, who is an experienced advocate on these issues, proudly spoke about our party’s record and the pressure we applied during consideration of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill—I was a member of the Committee—on the issue of transparency. She also spoke powerfully about the perception of jobs and gender stereotypes, on which a number of hon. Members touched.
The hon. Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), who is also the first female MP for that constituency, spoke authoritatively, and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) spoke powerfully about the potential need for a new Act. She said that the 1970 Act simply has not stood the test of time and that we cannot have reactive legislation, especially in the context of fees and the changes in tribunal law. That needs to be considered holistically: as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) said, we cannot deny people access to justice on this crucial issue through the imposition of those fees. She also powerfully said that women might have left the kitchen, but many have not gone very far. That is a stark reminder to us all.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) spoke about the four strong women who now represent constituencies around Portsmouth harbour. She spoke passionately about the prospects of women in her constituency and, like the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds, has joined the armed forces parliamentary scheme. I know she will do her best to speak up for the role of women in the armed forces.
The hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) made an excellent maiden speech. Clearly, he is incredibly passionate about the people and the industrial history of his constituency. There are many links between my constituency and the Clyde’s industries, and I share the inspiration he has taken from the Apollo programme.
The hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) spoke strongly from her experience as a woman in business. Again, she is the first female Member of Parliament for her constituency. That is a significant reflection of how things are starting to change in this Chamber, although, as we have all said, that has not gone far enough.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) essentially asked us the question, “How long do we have to wait?” We have had 45 years since the Equal Pay Act, so how long will it be before we close the gender pay gap? The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) asked the good question, “Is there a different dynamic in the debate today?” That is an important point to raise, and one that I note.
It is also important that men have spoken up in the debate. I am proud to be speaking today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham said, this is not a women’s issue; it is an issue for all society and all Members of the House.
The hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson) made an excellent maiden speech and spoke warmly of his illustrious predecessors, whether it was Campbell-Bannerman or my former friend in this place, Anne McGuire, who did such an incredible job championing the cause of equality for disabled people. The hon. Gentleman also spoke passionately about his history and the history of his constituency.
We heard a strong speech, which perhaps struck a more discordant tone, from the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), but he took it in his stride. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) followed up with an excellent speech, made from her experience as a director of a major company, in which she highlighted the situation of part-time workers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) spoke honestly about her own marital pay gap and, importantly, about the recent history of the gender pay gap in Birmingham. She challenged us all, quite rightly, about our commitment to feminism and standing up for equalities in this place. I will certainly join her later and declare that I am a feminist, whether in this place or in the bar.
We also heard powerful speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees), who was an advocate for women in sport before coming to this place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who spoke about the widening gender pay gap in local government since 2010. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) rightly highlighted the fact that progress is slowing down, which should ring alarm bells with us all and which is disappointing, given the progress we have seen in recent years.
I do not disagree with the Secretary of State that the causes of the gender pay gap are complex. That is all the more reason why we need the comprehensive report that we call for in the motion to identify the key trends and what we might do about them, particularly as the welcome progress that was made has slowed. Given the common ground and the support that has been expressed on all sides for the principles of the motion, I implore the right hon. Lady not to let semantics get in the way of allowing the motion to pass. She commented on the technicality of the use of the term “equal pay” in the motion and in the law, as opposed to the term “gender pay gap”, but I gently remind her that she has used the terms interchangeably herself, most recently in an article in The Guardian in November last year, when she stressed the importance of equal pay day which, as we all know, is the day in the year when women start working for free compared with men—a shocking indictment.
Although the terms may be used interchangeably in the motion, they expose the same injustice to women across the country which, for many and diverse reasons, still blights our economy and society. The facts are clear. It is 45 years since the Equal Pay Act, yet women still earn on average 81p for every pound earned by men. The average woman will lose more than £200,000 in the course of her working life as a result of the gender pay gap. Women’s wages fell by around £30 a year last year before inflation. The pay gap exists not only in low-wage jobs—we heard much about that today—but across the board, especially at higher levels of management. We have seen a shocking fall in the number of equal pay claims.
The gender pay gap is not only morally wrong and an affront to our sense of equality in this House and in the country, but bad for our economy. If women were paid the same as men across the board, our GDP, on one projection, would be up by 13%. There is also an impact on parents and families. The unequal pay challenge means that parental leave will always be seen as primarily for women, even when men want to be with their children, because of the cost of raising children, even with a partner. We need to recognise the moral and economic costs and the costs for families.
I cannot participate in the daughters race as I do not have any daughters, but I have three goddaughters and I want them to have the same opportunities and chances in life as my godsons. As a man I am honoured to wind up the debate today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham said, this is an issue for all of us, so we need to get on and deal with it. Let us have the transparency, assess the data properly, remove the barriers to justice from tribunal fees, take action on childcare, education, elderly care, low wages and representation in board rooms, and let us get equal. I commend the motion to the House.
It is a great pleasure to take part in the debate. I start by thanking the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) for securing this important debate on equal pay and the gender pay gap. It has been a fantastic debate and we have had some excellent contributions from across the House and some outstanding maiden speeches. I have listened with great interest to all the points that were made. I thank the hon. Member for Ashfield and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for their kind words of welcome.
We all know that equal pay and the gender pay gap are entirely different but equally important. Discrimination is, sadly, just one of a number of factors behind the gender pay gap. Even if there was never a single incident in which a woman was paid less than a man for the same job, there would still be a gender pay gap. That is why this debate is so important, as it gives me the chance to remind the House how much progress we have made, and how this Government strive to continue to tackle all the causes of disparity between what men and women earn.
Hon. Members asked lots of questions in the debate today and made many specific points. The hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) said that she regretted that a debate on this subject was needed in this day and age—a sentiment we all share across the House.
I am proud that my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who will be the first Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, was able to speak today. She speaks with great power and authority on these matters. She said that every woman has the right to a job that does not marginalise them because of their gender or penalise them because they have caring responsibilities, which I think we can all unite behind. She also mentioned the importance of flexible skilled working and asked about the progress on collecting data. The recent extension of the right to request flexible working means that more than 20 million employees will now have that right. We know that total requests just before the extension were running at about 182,000 a year, with about 144,000 agreed to. We will of course be monitoring the post-extension data.
The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who has long been a great champion of this important issue, spoke about the importance of tackling the pay gap nationally and internationally. She also talked about the devastating impact that violence against women and girls can have, both at home and overseas, on their ability to reach their full potential, both in the workplace and in the rest of their lives.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) made a fantastic maiden speech, taking us on a sumptuous and spellbinding tour of the places and people of her constituency. Her remarkable life and business experience made quite an impression and, I think, will make her not only an excellent champion for her corner of Suffolk, but a first-class addition to the House.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) spoke generously about his predecessor, who incidentally is also my predecessor in the Ministry of Justice. He spoke with enormous knowledge about his constituency and made all our mouths water as he talked about the delights of Borough market and the plethora of breweries and gin distilleries in his patch. Indeed, he might need his predecessor’s taxi to get us all home.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) spoke with experience about the economic benefits of flexible working and highlighted the importance of data collection, echoing what many business people have said: what gets measured gets managed, and what gets published gets managed even better.
The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) rightly pointed out that we need to tackle the jobs that are deemed to be either men’s jobs or women’s jobs. We need to get rid of that myth from our everyday parlance and everyday thinking. Unfortunately, she also felt the need, along with the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), to criticise the coalition Government for being slow to move away from a voluntary reporting system. She should remember that, contrary to what has been said, the previous Labour Government had no plans to move forward with section 78 of the Equality Act 2010; they proposed three years of voluntary compliance first, although I completely understand why the Labour party might want to erase parts of its more recent political history.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) represents one of the 20 or so seats where there is actually a positive gender pay gap. We should certainly be hotfooting it to the streets of Derby to find out how they are making such magnificent progress.
The hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), who is no longer here—[Interruption.] Oh, she is here but has moved, just to try to fool me on my first day out of the blocks. I welcome her contribution. She always speaks with enormous knowledge and conviction on this subject. She led a Westminster Hall debate in March in which she called for a new equal pay Act, and now she is proposing a new equality Act. We expect shortly to publish a post-legislative scrutiny memorandum on the 2010 Act as a Command Paper, and we now have the Women and Equalities Committee to receive it. It strikes me that the Committee, ably chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, might wish to consider the important issues that the hon. Lady raised in relation to the need for a new Act.
It was particularly great to hear from my hon. Friend and neighbour, the Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond), who rightly pointed out the importance of encouraging girls to fill the skilled engineering and defence jobs that our neck of the woods, with such a proud Navy heritage, always demands. She makes it 100% female representation for the Portsmouth harbour area, and that is to be celebrated.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) on an educational and enlightening maiden speech that brought his constituency to life as the birthplace of James Watt, with a remarkable geography, and highlighted his long history of winning elections for the SNP.
My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) spoke about the success of women in SMEs, not least in her constituency, which has an award-winning bull semen business—the mind boggles. That reminds me that if women were starting businesses at the same rate as men, we would have 1 million more small businesses in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) highlighted the importance of the role of men in addressing this issue and how powerful they can be as agents of change.
The hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson) made an excellent maiden speech giving a brief summary of his area’s history and making an early pitch for Stirling castle as an alternative location should we ever have to leave this building; I hope everybody has noted that.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) spoke with his trademark eloquence about girls’ educational dominance and rightly urged us not to forget their male peers who sometimes get left behind. He highlighted the impact of motherhood on women’s ability to fulfil their career ambitions and abilities.
The hon. Members for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and for Neath (Christina Rees) made a series of powerful, passionate and engaging speeches that underlined the importance of tackling this issue for a whole host of reasons. I note carefully what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley said about the travails of Birmingham City Council in the face of equal pay claims, although I find it hard to square that evidence with the statements made by others in her party that equal pay law is ineffective and should be replaced.
The hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) spoke about the local government pay gap, as did the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn). The Government do not seek to set pay rates for local government, as all local authorities are covered by the public sector equality duty, which requires them to have due regard to equality considerations in carrying out their functions, including decisions about their own workplaces. The hon. Member for Cambridge asked whether bonuses will be covered in the regulations. The great thing about the consultation is that it will explore exactly what should be published, how it should be published, and what more can be done to tackle this issue.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby asked how we will fund 30 hours of free childcare. We will talk to the childcare sector and conduct a review of funding for this entitlement. We must strike the right balance between being fair to providers and delivering value for money for the taxpayer. I would gently say to her that as a mother of two children that I put through childcare under the previous Government, when it was the most expensive in Europe, anything we can do to improve opportunities for parents in this regard is very important.
The good news is that there are more women in work than ever before, and we have one of the highest women’s employment rates in the EU, with 14.5 million women employed, 8.3 million of whom are working full time. It is encouraging to see that there are now no all-male FTSE 100 boards. We have strongly promoted and championed the work of the Women’s Business Council and implemented Lord Davies’s review of women on boards. As a result, women now make up 23% of FTSE 100 boards and 34% of managing directors and senior officials. Let us not forget that 20% of SMEs are now majority led by women—that is nearly 1 million small businesses.
Too many women have told us that they were unable to develop their careers due to lack of affordable childcare and limited flexibility in balancing work and family responsibilities. We have taken action to ensure that the workplace meets women’s needs and to give them a fair chance to get to the top by extending to all the right to request flexible working, introducing shared parental leave, and extending free childcare to 30 hours a week for working families with three and four-year-olds, with a tax-free childcare scheme that will save a working family up to £2,000 per child.
We need to break down the barriers that say that one sort of job is more suitable for women and another for men. That needs to start with our young people, which is why we are broadening the career aspirations for girls and young women by encouraging them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and maths through the “Your Life” campaign.
Many hon. Members have mentioned the great ladies from the Ford Motor Company in Dagenham—the spiritual home of the fight for equal pay—and I was there last week, seeing how they are inspiring the next generation of female engineers. Opening up those highly skilled and better paid careers ensures that women are less concentrated in sectors that offer narrower scope for reward and career progression.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke has said, we need to make sure that older women are supported to reach their full potential. We have built on the success of the older workers champion by rolling out a regional scheme across the country. We have also started a project with a £1.6 million pot, exploring how carers can be supported to remain in employment if they wish by using flexible working arrangements and improving technological access to information and resources.
Under this Government, the gender pay gap is the narrowest it has ever been, but at 19.1% we still have work to do. All parties agreed in the last Parliament that the way forward was to introduce section 78 of the Equality Act 2010, requiring mandatory pay reporting by employers with at least 250 employees. Our manifesto underlined our commitment to that. We are serious about reducing the gender pay gap further, and because we understand business we want to bring business with us as we do so. We are delivering that as a priority. In line with our commitments from the last Parliament, we will shortly launch a public consultation on gender pay reporting and introduce regulations in due course.
The Opposition’s motion mentions the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Low Pay Commission. Of course, we are already working closely with the EHRC on equal pay, and there is nothing to stop it, as an independent body, analysing pay gap information in any way it likes. The EHRC is already under a duty to monitor the effectiveness of the equality enactments, which include regulations made under section 78, and to give advice and recommendations to the Government about them. Therefore, the EHRC will already be under a under a duty to monitor the effectiveness of section 78. Given that the EHRC will already be under such a duty, and given that the only way it could be mandated would be by Parliament changing the Equality Act 2006, which sets out its functions and remits, the Opposition’s motion seems a little muddled. Where there is evidence of actual pay discrimination, we introduced legislation requiring employment tribunals to order the employer to complete an equal pay audit.
I have very little time left, so I am going to try to get to the end of my speech, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will give me time, I will offer a full explanation.
In conclusion, this Government are already strongly building on the record of the coalition, both in tackling the gender pay gap and, more widely, in promoting policies that will ensure that women can play their full part in our economic growth. I am proud to be a member of this Government—we are taking forward that work—and delighted to have this opportunity so early in the new Parliament to present our record to the House. However, we should never be complacent about equal pay and addressing the gender pay gap.
Sadly, although I share so much of the sentiment of the motion, all of its suggestions, apart from a formal laying of the annual document before Parliament, could already be done by the EHRC without any change to legislation or any instruction by Government, which we could not in any case give to an independent body. I therefore call upon the House to reject the motion as a muddled and unnecessary add-on to what this Government are already committed to taking very seriously.