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Gender Pay Gap

Volume 639: debated on Wednesday 18 April 2018

(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Women if she will make a statement about Government action to close the gender pay gap.

May I say that it is a pleasure to answer this urgent question from the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman)? It is unacceptable that in 2018 there are still differences in how men and women are paid in business and in industries. That is why this Government introduced new regulations, which came into force in 2017, requiring all employers with 250 or more employees to report their gender pay gap. I am delighted that as of yesterday 10,055 employers, covering all sectors of the economy, have reported their gender pay gap. These new regulations have shone a light on the injustice that has existed for too long and created a new conversation on the need for a step change in gender equality. We are now working with employers to support them to take action to close the gender pay gap; we are building our research base on what works, to drive real change; and we will be supporting employers to understand what has caused their own gender pay gap and what they can do to make a real difference.

We want employers and employees to succeed in driving real change. The Government have launched a range of initiatives that will help. We introduced shared parental leave to enable working parents to share childcare in the first year of their child’s life, and we have extended the right to request flexible working. We have introduced a new £500 million fund to support women and men who have been out of the labour market for a long period to return to work, and we have doubled the early education provision, so that all three and four-year-olds from working households in England can access 30 hours’ childcare a week.

I am pleased that the majority of employers have published action plans, alongside their reporting, to set out what they will do to tackle the gender pay gap in their business or sector. I look forward to hearing more about the ongoing work in this area and the work done to address this great inequality, but there is more to this issue than just the regulations. It is about driving cultural change. From the subjects that girls choose to study at school and university to the expectations of women who are climbing their own career ladder, we want the message to women and girls to be, “We will support and encourage you to achieve your full potential.”

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I thank the Minister for her obvious commitment to this issue. It was Labour legislation that enacted gender pay transparency, but it was her Government who implemented it. It is important that they did that, because it has laid bare what women have always known but previously did not have proof of, which is that there is systematic pay discrimination. It is now clear: eight out of 10 employers pay men more than they pay women—and that is across every sector, including the retail sector, which would not exist without women’s work. Why on earth should women in Tesco put up with £8 an hour on the checkout when men in the stores get up to £11.50 an hour?

Although it pains me to say this, the trade unions that need to be part of the negotiations to narrow the pay gap need to get their house in order. How can women members of Unite believe that that union will champion their rights to equal pay if there is a 30% pay gap in the union itself? The NASUWT, a teachers union, pays its male staff 40% more than it pays women, so it too has to take action. As for the public sector, let us look at the University of Liverpool. Its public policy is to narrow the pay gap, but the University of Liverpool pays men 90% more in bonuses than it pays women. That has to stop.

Does the Minister agree that we are no longer interested in rationalisations, explanations or justifications? The time for excuses has passed. We want stretching targets year on year to narrow the gap. Will she join me in congratulating the women in the House who have spoken up on this issue, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), among many others, including the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), and Labour’s Front-Bench team, who have been pushing on this issue? Will she congratulate all the women outside the House who have been pushing on this, not least women in trade unions and the BBC women?

May I give the Minister some sisterly advice on what she should do to really focus on this issue? First, she should stay on the back of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and make sure that it uses all its powers and has the resources to take action. Secondly, she should suggest to the Prime Minister that she has a Cabinet session on the gender pay gap, with all Secretaries of State required to come to Cabinet and say what stretching targets they are going to impose in their Departments and the sectors for which they are responsible. Thirdly, she should commandeer Downing Street for a summit at which business and trade unions can tell her what they are going to do to narrow the pay gap. If she does all that, she will have a great opportunity and a great responsibility, because if she drives forward on narrowing the pay gap, that is not only fair and just but the most important thing to help low-income families and tackle child poverty.

I said at the beginning of my statement that I was extremely grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for raising this issue in an urgent question, and I meant it. I fully recognise and thank her for the work that she did in government to introduce legislation on the gender pay gap. Like her, I thank other female Members, including the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who, along with her colleagues on the Committee, does so much to drive through change. I thank female Members from all parties. There is a real sense of urgency and impatience about this issue. For what it is worth, my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister share our impatience—I hope I do not regret that word—to have this matter sorted.

I must of course pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Lady for all the work she does to try to ensure that this place is a little more understanding and accommodating of a diversity of backgrounds, for Members and our staff. I very much take on her advice, although I worry that I might be stepping a bit above my station if I commandeered Downing Street for the summit she suggested—

I assure the right hon. and learned Lady that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is taking a very keen interest in this urgent question and the issue. I welcome her ingenuity of thought. Watch this space.

The Government’s action means that large companies cannot hide their gender pay gap any more. We should commend the Government on that. That action means that we have transparency of information, and I believe that that transparency will create a momentum for change. If we are to make that momentum as fast as it can be, will my hon. Friend the Minister outline for the House the work that the Government will do to review some of the causes of the gender pay gap, particularly the discrimination that pregnant women still endure in the workplace? What work will the Government do to make sure that pregnancy discrimination is outlawed in this country in the same way that the Minister is trying to outlaw the gender pay gap?

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question; I am always grateful for her thoughts and suggestions on this issue and the other subjects that her Select Committee examines. I completely endorse what she said about pregnancy discrimination: discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy is unlawful and wrong. Anyone who suffers from that form of discrimination has the support of the law. My right hon. Friend and other colleagues have raised the issue of the three-month time limit. Tribunals have the power to extend that time limit if they feel it is just and equitable to do so, but I am very conscious of the issues that colleagues have raised in relation to the time limit and am looking into it.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for tabling the urgent question and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting it. I also thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her work on section 78 of the Equality Act 2010.

We need actions, not audits. More than 10,000 companies have reported their gender pay gap, which shows that the Government underestimated the number of organisations that should report. The Government might therefore like to review the figure. It is great that more than 10,000 organisations have reported. Labour’s Equality Act—the legislation—was just step 1 of a five-step programme to narrow and close the gender pay gap. In the sisterly way in which these exchanges are being conducted, I wish to tell the Minister the other four steps. She is very welcome to steal them.

Step 1 is the focus on mandatory auditing. Step 2 is companies’ and organisations’ action plans to close the pay gap. Step 3 is Government certification for fair equality practices, which would ensure that those organisations that are doing well are given certification to show their progress. Step 4 is to follow in the footsteps of Iceland with further auditing and fines for those organisations that fail to get certification of their equality practices, taking into consideration their action plans and reporting. Step 5, which is extremely important, is to shift the responsibility to unequal pay from the employee to the employer, so that instead of the employee having to go through court cases to prove unequal pay, it would be the employer’s responsibility.

In addition, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which I am sure has been mentioned a number of times today, needs more resources. Seventy per cent. cuts to its resources will jeopardise its ability to enforce sanctions, so the Government will need to review the cuts that they have levied on the organisation. Labour wants to follow in the footsteps of Iceland, which consistently ranks as the No. 1 country for gender equality. I hope that the Government will see Labour’s five-step plan as a way to accomplish that. The deep-rooted social and economic inequality facing women runs deeper than the pay gap. Women have borne the brunt of 86% of Conservative cuts. More than 60% of those currently earning less than the living wage are women. We need to tackle all the issues.

I am actually more ambitious than the hon. Lady. I do not just want to impose regulations on business; I want a change in the culture of business, a change in the culture of the public sector where we know there are gender pay gaps and a change in the culture of schools and universities. This cannot be imposed from the top down; it must be driven with enthusiasm by the organisations themselves. I hope that this will empower women to begin asking very difficult questions of their employers. I would like women to begin thinking about this when they apply for jobs. They should look at the gender pay gap and make decisions about how that shows how that employer treats their female workforce.

The hon. Lady mentioned the number of companies in the Government’s first estimate. This is just the first year. This was always going to be a bit of a learning exercise not just for the Government, but for businesses and the way they manage the system. We are delighted that there are more companies than we initially estimated that meet the criteria. As she knows, the criteria cover businesses that employ 250 or more people, which means big, successful businesses. We are delighted that there are more of those than our initial estimates suggested.

I am very pleased that we have the support of the shadow Front-Bench team in our common ambition to help women in the workplace to get a fairer deal. Of course we must always seek to do better—and we must use the data to improve the way in which women are treated—but I am pleased to note that we have more women in employment than ever before and, what is more, the full-time gender pay gap is at a record low of 9.1%—that is 9.1% too high, but it is at a record low, and it is on a downward trajectory. I am sure that we all support that in this House.

I congratulate the Minister on achieving something that people on both sides of this House have been working towards, which is an audit that gives us an exact understanding of the data. I speak with experience as I looked at the gender pay gap back in the ’90s as an education and employment Minister. The truly shocking figure for me was not just the eight in 10, but the 8% of organisations that have no gender pay gap between men and women. It is most important that we learn from those organisations. May I just say that the law at the moment applies to those with more than 250 employees? When will the Minister look at lowering that limit, because many women who receive unequal pay are in those smaller organisations?

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend. Those of us who have been in the House for only a couple of years are very much standing on the shoulders of giants and she, like the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), are among those giants. I am delighted that she has raised the issue of companies or employers that employ fewer than 250 people. I am very much looking at that matter. We must understand that this is world-leading regulation. This is the first time ever that any country has done this on such a scale. By definition, the first year will be a learning process both for the Government and for businesses, but I am very happy to commit to looking at lowering the requirement if the research and data show that that is appropriate.

The gender pay-gap figures show how far we have still to go on this issue. It is very concerning that there are still some 1,500 companies that have failed to report. Perhaps the Minister could tell us a little more about what she intends to do to ensure that they report those figures, because there could be a lot more hiding within them if they have not reported them in time. Will she give more resources to the EHRC to ensure that it can do its enforcement work and follow up on all these cases so that none of that is missed? It occurs to me as well that the reporting is very much the start of the process. It tells us where women are now within the workforce. What more is she doing to look at the pipeline to ensure that women are coming through, because it will take more than just equalising the pay to make that happen? We have to be there right at the start.

I was very glad to hear the Minister’s comments on pregnancy discrimination, which is utterly unacceptable in this day and age. Will she expand on the issues around the time limit, because three months is really not long enough for women to put in a claim; six months would be far, far better. It would be good to hear some progress on that.

For the limited powers that we have in Scotland on this issue, the Scottish Government have introduced stronger reporting requirements for public bodies, asking them to publish their pay gap every two years, and also to bring down the threshold from 250 to 20 employees in the public sector. Will the Government take that on, because it is something that they can do right now? I was glad to hear that the Minister is at least considering reducing the threshold to 150 for all companies, because at the moment many companies that employ women are hiding. They will not be able to demonstrate the gap, and women will continue to lose out in those companies, which, I would argue, provide the majority of the workforce in the UK. They, too, need to be held to account.

Order. This is an extremely important matter, which I judged rightly, I think, warranted the urgent attention of the House. However, progress has been disappointingly slow. As we have another urgent question and then substantial business thereafter, it would be greatly to our advantage if questions and answers could be a tad pithier.

I apologise, Mr Speaker, but I am just so full of enthusiasm for this subject.

Let me answer the hon. Lady’s questions. On the issue of the private sector employers who have yet to report, it has been the responsibility of the EHRC to tackle them since the deadline. It has a programme of action. It wrote to every single employer who did not report on Monday 9 April, and it is considering each and every company that falls within the boundaries that has not yet reported. I should say that 100% of public sector organisations have reported, so they are to be commended for that.

Let me turn now to the issue of the EHRC—I apologise because someone mentioned this earlier. The EHRC will receive £17.4 million in the next financial year. I have spoken to the chief executive and I am not aware that resources are an issue, but of course I will listen to her if she says otherwise. On the very important point about the pipeline, I have to say that that is why the Hampton-Alexander review is so important. At the moment, 27.7% of FTSE 100 companies have women in senior executive positions. We want that to be 33% by 2020, which is a challenge for business, because that will mean that they have to start recruiting one woman for every two places that come through. It is a challenge and I hope that the business community will live up to it.

The Minister is quite right: this is about changing the culture of organisations. Will she therefore congratulate the Conservative party whose own gender pay gap figures show a 15.7% gap in favour of women?

I hesitate to say this, but we are leading the way not only when it comes to the pay gap in our central office, but in terms of female leadership of our party and of the country.

The reason why I fought so hard as a Minister in the coalition Government to win the battle to introduce gender pay gap reporting—despite the Minister’s obvious commitment to this today, my goodness it was a battle with No.10 at the time—is that the visibility and transparency of hard numbers help to pierce the bubble of complacency in boardrooms, in newsrooms and in our living rooms where some people still think that we live in a world of gender equality. What concrete action are the Government taking to help employers understand that the gender pay gap is about unequal pay and so much more? It is about the fact that jobs in care and other roles are undervalued and low paid because they are predominantly done by women. It is about the 54,000 women a year who lose their job because they have a baby. It is about the toxic workplace cultures where the boys’ clubs make the decisions and sexual harassment is endemic. Time is up on pathetic excuses. It is time that organisations got serious about action.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady and hope that she will forgive me for not including her in my roll-call of honour of female Members who have helped on this issue. She is right that we need to say to organisations, “Look, you need to do more.” I am pleased that companies have followed our best practice guidance so that, alongside reporting the gender pay gap, they have set out their action plan for how they intend to tackle it. We have seen some interesting plans—for example, from easyJet for rebalancing the number of female pilots in its workforce. This is part of the overall programme, along with our expectation about executive positions and addressing a lot of the pipeline issues. For example, we know that the choices that girls and young women make at school and university dictate their career path, so we need to encourage them into science, technology, engineering and maths.

The World Economic Forum does an annual survey of the gender pay gap in 200 different countries. I am very pleased that the UK ranks in the top 10% in the world, although much more can obviously be done. Will the Minister look at the recommendation of the charity Bliss, to give more support to mothers of very premature babies? They are a small number of women who could do with some extra help.

My hon. Friend raises a sensitive issue in her usual sensitive manner. Of course I will look into it. So many issues can impede the career path of a woman or, indeed, a man. It is in the best interests of businesses to find the flexibility to be able to encompass such sensitivities as and when that flexibility is needed. Flexible working really does pay in results for businesses.

It is now over 40 years since a heroine of mine, Barbara Castle, introduced the Equal Pay Act. She did so with great support from the labour and trade union movement, because the principle that women should be paid the same for doing the same job as men was believed then. Forty years later, we are really no nearer to achieving that pay equality. Although it is important that we have seen transparency, it has laid bare the size of the task. Allowing enforcement mechanisms so that the existing law can actually be enforced is crucial, so that women who are illegally sacked for being pregnant can use the law to get proper redress and so that we can drive out this direct discrimination, which has been illegal for years. Does the Minister understand that?

I commend the hon. Lady’s passion on the issue. Of course, equal pay has been the law for 40 years. Paying people unequally for the same or similar work is unlawful. We are currently seeing the impact that inequality has on workforce morale in various organisations, let alone the anger that individual women feel when inequality comes to light. The gender pay gap provisions obviously deal with the pay gap—unequal pay for the same or a similar job is dealt with under separate legislation. I think that Wendy Olsen’s report in 2010 defined the second highest factor impeding women’s participation in the workforce as “unknown”, which we know is direct and indirect discrimination, so we need to ensure that women are aware of their rights. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has the powers set out under the Equality Act 2010, and we will be looking at how powerful and effective those powers are.

Is not the key point that this is the very first reporting that has been required? It is the start of a process that can be developed. Although the criterion of companies having more than 250 employees accounts for 40% of employment and 49% of turnover, there is an acceptance that that threshold number of employees should be decreased. Does the Minister agree, however, that it should be a gradual decrease over time?

Yes, this is the first year. As of this month, we are having a conversation about the pay of more than 10,000 private sector businesses and more than 1,600 public sector organisations. We are also reviewing their data, which simply was not there a year ago, let alone 10 years ago. Although I absolutely understand the impatience in the Chamber to get this issue sorted as quickly as possible, we have to be realistic. Rome was not built in a day. We need to be sure about action plans.

I completely agree; it is the law. But we need to review the action plans and the evidence. We have to give ourselves a bit of time to see what the data says and what lessons we need to learn from that data.

I hope the Minister will agree that it was revealing to see that job segregation by gender has an impact on pay. I hope she will also agree that the opportunity to change that is in our hands today, with apprenticeships. This is urgent. It is disappointing that the Government have not set a target for tackling gender segregation when it comes to apprenticeships, although they do have a target, which I support, for encouraging more people from ethnic minorities into apprenticeship roles. Will the Minister look into this issue and discuss with her colleagues whether more should be done to tackle the gender imbalance in apprenticeships across different sectors, and will she write to me with her findings?

I will happily write to the right hon. Lady about those conversations. We are conscious of this issue, particularly in the STEM subjects, which is why have committed in the careers strategy to improving STEM careers advice in schools. We are also ensuring that girls and women are being encouraged into the STEM subjects as much as possible, but of course it is not just about STEM. The right hon. Lady’s point about apprenticeships is important; I will take that away with me.

Mandatory reporting requirements are an important step in eliminating the gender pay gap, but does my hon. Friend agree that it will be key for shareholders and customers, as well as employees, to hold businesses to account on those reports?

My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head when it comes to cultural change. I very much hope that women employees and shareholders are looking at the performance of their companies and asking themselves, “Is this how we want this company to behave?” Let us be clear: more than 10,000 businesses have been having a conversation about this issue at board level in a way they simply would not have been a year ago. I am keen that we look at this not just in terms of regulations, but in terms of cultural change and cultural ambition.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for asking this urgent question and for starting us off with her characteristic insight, constructive challenge and no-nonsense approach to the issue.

For employers with a particularly large gender pay gap, would the Minister consider exploring a threshold above which an organisation would be required to publish an action plan for closing or reducing that gender pay gap?

We have thought about this carefully. At the moment, we are saying that it is best practice for companies to publish action plans, and a lot of companies are doing so. I want to take businesses with us. I do not want to set the Government’s face against them. We want this change to happen and we know that the public will exists, so although we are advising organisations to publish action plans as best practice, that does leave us with options should companies not choose to follow that guidance.

I feel compelled to advocate on behalf of the men who work at Personnel Hygiene Services Ltd, where my wife works, who are paid 6.3% less than the women—we do not want to forget about the men. I appreciate what the Minister has said, but will she commit to naming and shaming companies that do not file their returns? This has gone on long enough, and we need to be aggressive in narrowing the pay gap.

My hon. Friend shows his customary courage in saying that during this particular UQ. The information on naming and shaming is actually out there already—in case anyone has not had the chance to look at it, the names of the companies that have reported, and all their details, are on the website. Indeed, when I had the pleasure of appearing before the Treasury Committee, I encouraged colleagues across the House to look at the website to see for themselves whether large employers in their constituencies have complied, because I would hope that they would want to encourage those employers to follow the law and report their findings. At this stage, after the deadline, compliance is a matter for the EHRC, which has a range of powers and has considered the issue very carefully. It has published its action plan, and it will be for the EHRC to decide the best action in relation to each and every company.

It is estimated that 1,557 companies employing more than 250 people had not reported their gender pay gap by the deadline. Precisely what penalties will affect those companies, which did not report on time and therefore broke the law?

As I said, the EHRC has set out its action plan, because it rightly has responsibility for enforcement after the deadline. It wrote to all the companies that had not complied on Monday 9 April. Since that date, more companies have complied. Let us not forget that it is not necessarily a question of businesses saying, “We have 250 or more employees—this is our gender pay gap.” Some of them will fall just shy of the threshold and so may declare themselves as not meeting the criteria. However, since that letter has gone out, their numbers may have gone up. We are reviewing this very carefully, and the EHRC has set out what it plans to do over the next 28 days in reviewing companies that have not complied and what it will do thereafter.

Would it not further focus minds if companies were required to provide an action statement along with the numbers that are being reported?

My hon. Friend highlights a point that has been raised before. At this stage, we are saying that it is best practice. The advantage of that, I hope, is that we bring businesses with us. In fairness, the vast majority of businesses want to do this. Let us not pretend that those in the corporate sector in the UK are against doing it—they are not. Indeed, the fact that the vast majority of them reported on time—indeed, some of them reported way ahead of time—suggests that they want to do it. That is because businesses know, as McKinsey’s most recent report showed, that if we sort out the gender gap, it has the potential to add £150 billion to our economy. That is a figure that we, and companies, are most interested in.

I am ambitious, just as the Minister is, to change the culture. However, we are a very long way from that. What are the Government going to do to make it easier for women who now know what they have long suspected to raise this issue? The #PayMeToo campaign set up by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and many other women across this House has shown that it is not that women are not asking; they are asking, but the culture in their organisations does absolutely nothing to support any change. It is not the fault of women. What can we do for women who are currently being silenced?

I would ask for the help of colleagues across the House. If they know of such employers in their constituencies, or indeed constituents who are employed by companies that are not acting in their best interest, then I ask them to please write to me or stop me in the corridor. I will always be happy to hear about it.

This is a matter of compliance for the EHRC. I think that as time goes on, the swell of public opinion will cause the companies in question, which do not have the good will of the public behind them, to really examine their conscience. We know that happened during the reporting period—there were instances where companies’ results came in, they were put on to, the EHRC and the Home Office said, “Come on, that doesn’t look right”, and then the companies re-submitted their reports. Public power, I think, has a great deal to play in this.

I raised the Iceland example with the Government some time ago and was simply told that unequal pay is already against the law, but that does not cut it: women are still losing out. Will the Government look again at Iceland and independent certification for companies above a certain number of employees?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being so far-sighted in his question. I am very happy to look at Iceland’s self-certification. I repeat that this is the first year that this has happened. We have conducted a world-leading exercise, led from the top by the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who both share a great passion about this. We will review the data and then see what more needs to be done.

I was very pleased to hear the Minister talk about shared parental leave as a potential way of closing the gender pay gap. However, the number of dads and partners who are taking it seems to have stalled at 2%. A recent survey by the Campaign for Parental Pay Equality has shown that 80% of the self-employed and freelancers would take it if they were offered it. Opening it up to freelancers could mean that it is an engine for change to drive through the cultural change that we need in our society. With that in mind, would the Minister support my “selfieleave” Bill—the Shared Parental Leave and Pay (Extension) Bill—which would extend it to freelancers? Will she work with me to persuade the Chancellor that in the autumn, this small and inexpensive tweak would mean that the burden of childcare does not fall on the shoulders only of women?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I note that my very able Treasury colleague, the Economic Secretary, is sitting next to me and has heard her question. I am really proud that in 2015 we introduced shared parental leave and pay, which enables working parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay in the first year. In February, we launched a joint campaign with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to promote shared parental leave, because we get the point that awareness of it is not particularly high. That is why we have invested in spreading awareness of it.

Along with outrageous direct discrimination on pay, this reporting also highlights, as the Minister has indicated, persistent under-representation of women at the top level in organisations. Does she agree that this not only amounts to an injustice but is also economically stupid, because we are failing to make use of our human capital? We need to get the message out there that not acting on this is both wrong and stupid.

The right hon. Gentleman has identified a very important point. In a recent report, McKinsey estimated that businesses that have more diversity in their leadership and senior positions add up to 15% to their turnover compared with their competitors that do not have that diversity. The message to businesses is very clear: have a diverse and qualified range of workers, because that will help your business—and of course it will help the wider economy and our society as well.

The Minister talks about wanting women, and indeed men, to be able to use this data to have conversations in their workplace. Just two weeks ago, a cross-party group of us set up the #PayMeToo campaign precisely to help women and men to do that and to make sure that they know their rights in being able to have these conversations at work. We have already had hundreds of reports back from our anonymous survey of the experiences they have had. Women are being told by their employers to raise their grievance with HR if they want to talk about these issues, being told that their careers could be damaged by talking about them, and being told, “Don’t worry—we’ll just employ some more junior men to even out the figures.” There is a clear difference between what is happening on the frontline and what the Minister is talking about.

Will the Minister join me and other parliamentarians in encouraging people to use our anonymous website to report details? Will she meet us to go through the findings and look at what we can do to make sure that the culture is changing on the ground, that men’s and women’s rights to speak up on these issues are protected in the workplace and that we finally close the gender pay gap?

The hon. Lady brings her usual passion and strength of argument to the House. I will be delighted to meet her to discuss this. I am most interested to hear about that campaign. She and other colleagues have rightly raised the question how we ensure that women feel empowered to raise issues in their workplace. I note the insightful contribution of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham with regard to the role that trade unions play. I very much share the hon. Lady’s commitment, and I would be delighted to meet her.

It is wonderful to see such a sisterly and, I hope, brotherly approach to the gender pay gap, because if we are to eradicate this social evil, it is very important that women and like-minded men work together. It is good to see that more than 10,000 firms have reported their figures, but what decisive steps will the Government take to ensure that those that have not reported do so? What precise punitive measures will the Government introduce for firms that do not comply?

The Act and the regulations place the responsibility for compliance with the EHRC. The EHRC is independent of the Government, but of course we work with it and watch its movements with great interest. It has set out its strategy for dealing with non-compliance. As I said, it wrote to businesses on 9 April, which has helped some to report. I understand that it has given businesses 28 days to comply or to flag up problems—for example, if they do not understand how to use the system or if they are not meeting the criteria for the number of employees—and thereafter the EHRC will look at each company that has not complied and decide what will happen.

The Minister knows of my concern about the gender pay gap in the financial services sector. I want to give her the opportunity to send a message to banks today by answering this question—a one-word answer is all that is needed. Should they be telling members of their staff who are concerned about the gender pay gap that they ought not to talk to one another about their personal pay?

I welcome the Minister’s comments about the need to encourage women to visit websites such as and to come forward and talk to their employers. Does she agree that something also needs to be done to make it clear to employers that this is not acceptable and that some steps might have to be taken to prevent employers from discouraging women from coming forward and talking about the gender pay gap?

Very much so. That is what I mean when I talk about a national conversation. We are now talking about the treatment of women and of workforces generally in a way that we were not a year ago. That is why auditing where we are with the gender pay gap, reviewing the evidence and working out an action plan is the way forward.

It is all very well to go after big businesses, top FTSE companies and boardrooms, but there is a much greater number of women in social care, catering and hospitality who feel isolated because they rely on agencies. Will the Government focus their attention more on that end of the scale and end the scandal of zero-hours contracts, which hit women so hard in those sectors?

We focus on all sectors, all parts of the economy and all levels of pay. The press and colleagues throughout the House tend to talk about things such as the Hampton-Alexander review, which I appreciate is not in any way reflective of everyone, but it is important because it is about leadership at the top, from which will flow the expectation of a diverse workforce. We are very clear: we are absolutely not ignoring the women whom the hon. Lady describes. That is why we took the extraordinary step of introducing the national living wage, which was increased in April, enabling more women to find work. That is along with all the childcare help we are providing; we are spending more on childcare than any Government before us—£6 billion. This is all part of a plan to help women into the workforce, so that they have the financial independence they need.

The EHRC has faced savage cuts under both this Government and the coalition Government. Does the Minister genuinely believe that the EHRC has the resources to enforce compliance, or is she passing responsibility without passing the cash?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The EHRC is to receive £17.4 million in 2019-20. I have spoken to the chief executive about the gender pay gap compliance issue. Of course we will keep in mind the EHRC’s responsibilities, but at the moment we are clear that that sum of money should be sufficient to enable it to do the work necessary to help with compliance.

Thank you. Before I call the next urgent question, could I exhort colleagues to stick to the time limits that are prescribed in relation to these mechanisms and encourage people to be as pithy as they can be? We have a very important matter now of which to treat—I cannot guarantee that everybody who wants to contribute will have the chance to do so—but there is also substantial business afterwards, and I am sure everyone will want to be considerate not only of their own interests but of others’.