HC Deb 25 March 1971 vol 814 cc850-1
4. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the progress being made towards equal pay; and if he will make a statement.

5. Dr. Summerskill

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what progress has been made with the implemention of the Equal Pay Act; and whether he will make a statement.

41. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he is taking to keep himself informed of progress towards the implementation of equal pay, preparatory to fulfilling the requirements of Section 9 of the Equal Pay, Act, 1970.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Robert Carr)

There has been progress towards equal pay in many industries spread across a wide sector of the economy, I am keeping in touch with progress through the information my Department receives about pay settlements.

Mr. Ashley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there has been a marked lack of progress towards the achievement of equal pay? The only group of women to achieve it in 1970 were butchers. I appreciate the Government's high regard for butchers, but will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to encourage employers to implement this important principle and consider establishing an intermediate standard to be reached by the end of 1973?

Mr. Carr

Women butchers may be the only women to have achieved equal pay in 1970, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Act only requires achievement by 1975. The keynote of the Act was that we should make orderly progress towards equal pay. It is too early to consider whether an Order will be needed in 1973, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we want to see the Act implemented and that I will do all I can to ensure that it is implemented smoothly.

Dr. Summerskill

Will the Secretary of State ensure that implementation of the Act is not frustrated by some employers who deliberately segregate women into jobs with abnormally low rates of pay to prevent comparisons being made with men's wages?

Mr. Carr

As the hon. Lady, and the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), know, this is one of the matters to which much thought was given during the debates on the Bill. I cannot compel employers to employ men on certain jobs and not women, or vice versa. But I assure the hon. Lady that we shall keep a close watch on the situation. I do not think we are aware of any signs of that sort of thing happening at the moment, but if they come to notice I should appreciate being told about them.

Mrs. Castle

I appreciate that there are no overt signs that this is happening, but will the Secretary of State take an early opportunity to make a public speech in which he, first, reminds employers of his reserve powers under Section 9 of the Act and, therefore, of the necessity for them to take phased steps towards equal pay in the intervening period, and, secondly, points out to employers that if there is any attempt to bypass or evade the Act in the way mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) the House would welcome amending legislation?

Mr. Carr

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her constructive suggestion. I shall look for such an opportunity, because I want to assure not only the House but the country that we in this Administration intend to ensure that implementation of the Act is pushed forward just as hard as the right hon. Lady would wish.

Mr. John Page

Has my right hon. Friend any evidence of "Heffers" being disposed of by women butchers?

Mr. Carr

That would require an independent inquiry of a very deep nature and I should have great trouble in finding the necessary equivalent of Lord Wilberforce to chair it.