HC Deb 17 April 1973 vol 855 cc253-4
23. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he is taking to discourage advertisements which suggest ways of avoiding the implementation of the Equal Pay Act.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I have not been able to trace examples of such advertisements. If my hon. Friend will let me have details of particular cases, I will arrange for them to be looked into.

Mrs. Oppenheim

Is my hon. Friend aware that advertisements have appeared recently in the Financial Times exhorting employers to anticipate equal pay day with Vaughan automatic assembly machines? Since so far it has not proved possible to replace women by automation, either in the home or anywhere else, might not such advertisements be in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

It remains my earnest hope that women will never be replaced by automation. At the same time, the OME report noted that equal pay might lead to the employment of women being checked by the improvement of layout and equipment so as to raise output per head, and by mechanisation and automation. Such a course is not of course forbidden by the Act, and may even be desirable in particular circumstances, even though some women may thereby lose their jobs. Obviously, we should look unfavourably on advertisements suggesting that mechanisation was necessarily the right response without considering the alternatives.

Mr. Harold Walker

Is the Minister aware that the rigging of pay structures to avoid the obligations of the Equal Pay Act will be an offence against the Act when it becomes fully operative? There is no doubt that rigging of that kind is taking place and that the best safeguard is to activate the provisions of Section 9 and bring in the interim order this year, which would enable all these suspect structures to be submitted to the Industrial Arbitration Board.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the overriding considerations of the counter-inflation policy have not made it possible to use that section now. He knows, however, that there is room for steady improvement towards equal pay within the present pay policy. OME studies have found little evidence of employers trying to circumvent the Act.