HC Deb 04 July 1972 vol 840 cc232-4
18. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on progress towards the implementation of the Equal Pay Act.

29. Dr. Summerskill

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied with the progress being made towards the full implementation of the Equal Pay Act, 1970; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

The evidence suggests that there has been a considerable degree of progress towards equal pay across a wide section of the economy, but a study to quantify this has been undertaken.

Mrs. Oppenheim

Would my hon. Friend confirm that it is the intention of the Government to implement this Act as widely and as swiftly as possible? Would he utterly repute the absurd and mischievous assertion of the General Secretary of the Clerical & Administrative Workers Union that the Government have little or no interest in equal pay and that he would not be a bit surprised if the Government were to try quietly to bury the Act?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

If any such statement has been made by anybody I utterly refute it because, as I understand it, progress towards implementation of equal pay by 1975 is agreed on both sides of the House.

Dr. Summerskill

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to see the timetable for the achievement of equal pay kept to—and there is some evidence that at the present rate of progress it will not be—will he use his powers under the 1970 Act to introduce an order for an intermediate stage, so that by the end of 1973 women's rates will be at least 90 per cent, of the equivalent men's rates?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I am aware of the provisions of Section 9 of the Act to which the hon. Lady is referring. To supplement the information that is available the Office of Manpower Economics was asked to undertake a study of equal pay and its first report, which should be published shortly, deals with the extent of the progress in implementing the Act and the problems being encountered. The report should be of help to employers and trade unions in implementing the Act and should show some of the other factors involved in progress towards implementation. I think we had better await the report before we make any further move on this front.

Mr. Ashley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that millions of women are being exploited because of the failure of the Government to implement the Act? Will he consider holding a special conference with employers and trade unionists to try to speed up its implementation, which is badly dragging behind?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I do not think there is any evidence whatsoever that in this matter women are being exploited on a wide scale. If they are, either the report to which I have referred will reveal it or, if not, a departmental inquiry into possible discrimination in this matter will certainly show it.

Mr. Harold Walker

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's announcement about an inquiry so that we may ascertain the facts. I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows that there is a widespread feeling of disquiet about the rate of progress towards equal pay. In view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) said, will the hon. Gentleman make an early declaration of his intent to introduce an order to ensure that we make rapid progress, because that would concentrate the minds of employers and of trade unionists wonderfully towards securing the objectives which I am sure we all share?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

Common sense dictates that we wait until we have seen the report to which I have referred. After that there will have to be consultations with the TUC, the CBI and other interested parties.