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House of Lords Hansard
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29 January 2009
Volume 707

Question

Asked By

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure pay equality between men and women.

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My Lords, the forthcoming equality Bill contains a number of measures to improve pay transparency, which will improve pay equality. In addition, the Government are investing £25 million to provide skills development and support for women, in response to the Women and Work Commission recommendations on skills training, and in April 2009, we are extending the right to request flexible working to the parents of children up to 16.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for this very helpful measure. I am very pleased about equal pay for flexible work. However, will the Government consider the payment of wages for domestic work, which could add to the existing success of family allowance in the knowledge that this kind of money gets spent immediately and locally? It would have a great multiplier effect and would not counter equal pay in any way.

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My Lords, that is an interesting idea which has been around for many years, but the Government do not agree with it. It might entrench the position of women as domestic servants, because it is women who do the housework—

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Forgive me, my Lords, but in the majority of cases, it is still women who do the housework. It is important that money goes to women, as in the case of child benefit, but we do not agree that it would be good to have wages for housework.

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My Lords, given that equal pay is an issue not just of social justice but also of economic productivity, what assurances can my noble friend give that the good work of the Government on equality will not be undone by recession?

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My Lords, that is a very important question. Of course the recession has an impact on us all, men and women alike. We do not have any firm data at the moment, but it is clear that because women are employed disproportionately in the retail and financial services sectors, the recession is likely to have a profound effect on them. We are looking at this across government, with the establishment of the National Economic Council, and it is important that we focus on women in this economic downturn.

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My Lords, will the noble Baroness say whether her legislation and her policies will do anything to rectify the gross imbalance of the sexes in the Crown Prosecution Service, where twice as many women as men are employed? What will she do about that to help these poor men who are being discriminated against?

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My Lords, that is an interesting point. In many professions and sections of our society, women do some jobs and men do others. It is part of the culture, but it is also part of our education; women and men do not know of the opportunities that are available to them. Therefore, we need more men to know about the opportunities in the Crown Prosecution Service and more women to know about opportunities in science.

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My Lords, leaving aside, if I may, the gender imbalance in this House, is the Minister aware that one of the difficulties about equal pay at the moment is that there is no incentive for employers to carry out proper evaluations of their pay systems because if they do, and they find that there is sex discrimination, they will be liable for massive damages claims? Will the Government consider providing an incentive in the equal pay legislation, when they reform it, by having transitional protection for those employers who carry out a proper job evaluation, discover that there is unequal pay, want to move towards providing equal pay and need protection meanwhile against individual claims? That would provide a carrot for employers to do what they should be doing anyway.

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My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, we are still reflecting on various issues in relation to equal pay and the forthcoming equality Bill. I know that the Government have been speaking to the noble Lord about these issues, and we shall continue to do so.

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My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, at a time of economic recession, it will be important, too, to monitor the public appointments system, since many women work in the public arena and more men may seek appointments in it if they are not able to find work in the commercial sector, thus disadvantaging women who want to work in that arena?

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Yes, my Lords, we certainly have to keep our eye on the public appointments system, which has not to date been resoundingly successful in ensuring that enough women are on publicly appointed bodies. We have to ensure that, in a downturn, we not only maintain the position of women on public bodies but increase their number.

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My Lords, is it a fact that female Members of the Government Front Bench get a dress allowance? While one can see that this is an admirable thing, does the noble Baroness not think that it is rather unfair on the poor men, who do not have such an allowance, and can one not see the disadvantages of their not having a similar allowance?

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My Lords, at a time of economic recession, it would probably be remiss of me to say that it would be a jolly nice thing, but I can categorically say that we do not get a dress allowance.

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My Lords, one area where the pay gap is most stark is the City, usually because of bonuses. Given that the Government are now a substantial shareholder in a number of banks, how will they ensure that there is fair play in those institutions?

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My Lords, that is yet another interesting point. The Government of course have some responsibility here, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission is conducting a series of inquiries in sectors where inequality is clear, including in the financial sector. We look forward to hearing the results of those inquiries.

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My Lords, is the Leader of the House aware that the only time that Her Majesty's Government were defeated on the Floor of the House of Commons during World War II was on an amendment moved by the first Viscount Eccles, which proposed that, after the war, female and male teachers should have equal pay? It was carried by one vote and reversed on a vote of confidence on Report by more than 400 votes. Is it not a sad reflection on Governments of both parties that, 65 years later, it should still be necessary to have such a Question as this on the Order Paper?

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My Lords, it is an enormously sad reflection. We have come some way; there is an enormous amount still to do. This Government have done a lot to enable more women to participate in the workforce, but not enough has been done. However, knowing the strong feelings on this matter on all sides of the House, I look forward to the support of all noble Lords for the forthcoming equality Bill.