HC Deb 07 November 1972 vol 845 cc804-6
9. Dr. Summerskill

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he expects to make a statement announcing his decision concerning the introduction of an interim order under the terms of the Equal Pay Act compelling employers to pay women workers 90 per cent. of the equivalent men's rate by the end of 1973.

14. Mr. Harold Walker

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement about the First Report of the Office of Manpower Economics and the progress towards implementation of the Equal Pay Act.

15. Mr. Ashton

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what estimates he has made of the extent to which equal pay for women will be in operation by 1975.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

The Government have repeatedly emphasised their commitment to achieve full equal pay by 29th December, 1975, as required by the Act. We are consulting the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress about the need for an order under Section 9(2) of the Act, requiring its earlier partial implementation, in the light of the recent report by the Office of Manpower Economics, and will announce a decision as soon as possible.

Dr. Summerskill

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government's professed aim to help the low-paid could become a reality by the introduction of an interim order under the Equal Pay Act? Will he bear in mind that many employers might use the present economic crisis as yet another excuse for not implementing the Act? Can an incomes policy of any kind be regarded as fair if it relies on the exploitation of female labour?

Mr. Macmillan

We have no, or very little, evidence of employers—or employees, for that matter—deliberately seeking to evade the Act. The general package proposed was that a flat rate pay supplement would have helped women proportionately because they are, as the hon. Lady pointed out, among the most lowly paid. The balance of the package was towards helping the low-paid and relatively it would have helped women.

Mr. Walker

While welcoming that the Secretary of State is now proposing consultation, may I ask him to confirm that the Office of Manpower Economics Report shows that female manual workers receive, on average, less than two-thirds of the average for male manual workers? Does not this in itself provide sufficient evidence for the right hon. Gentleman to make a declaration of intent today, which I think will prove the biggest possible stimulus to progress which obviously we are not making in this sphere?

Will he further confirm that the freeze introduced by the Government will not in any way be allowed to inhibit progress towards equal pay and that the Government will include this in the range of exemptions?

Mr. Macmillan

This was one of the many problems we discussed at length with the CBI and the TUC in the recent tripartite talks. The First Report of the Office of Manpower Economics showed that at national level four out of five collective agreements had shown some movement towards equal pay, but it made no recommendation about an order. However, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, it found that some companies—particularly some smaller companies—had taken few steps to implement the Act. I am not willing to make a declaration, having given an undertaking to consult, as I have on other matters affecting both employers and unions. I am not ready to give an undertaking until those consultations are complete. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that that is the correct position.

Dame Irene Ward

Does my right hen. Friend agree that what was said by the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) was really helpful? Would not this be a most wonderful occasion to achieve what the Prime Minister and all on this side of the House want? If we could make progress over something —[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend is quite right. It is hon. Members opposite. They are the Opposition, not us. It is a bit boring to have all these reasons for not being able to do things. Sometimes I should like reasons for being able to do things.

Mr. Macmillan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her support. I hope that she will extend it to us when we consider the almost equally important question of equal opportunities for women.

Mr. Ashton

How can the 1975 deadline be achieved with a 90-day freeze and then a limit of £2 per week per year increase in wages? Is it not simple arithmetic that women's wages have to be raised by between £3 and £4 per week per year if the 1975 target is to be achieved?

Mr. Macmillan

I accept that the decision on whether to introduce an order requiring women's rates to be raised to 90 per cent. of men's rates by the end of 1973 will have to be taken very soon. The whole point of the recent tripartite talks was to achieve a policy by which increases for the lower paid, including women, would be above those for the rest of the community.