HC Deb 20 February 1973 vol 851 cc216-8
23. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he has completed his inquiries into the new evidence, reported in theSunday Timesof 4th February 1973 of the methods being employed by certain employers to evade their responsibilities in implementing the Equal Pay Act.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. R. Chichester-Clark)

The report on equal pay by the Office of Manpower Economics, published in August 1972, stated that it had found only a very few examples of employers who were deliberately taking action designed to circumvent the Act. I have no reason to question this assessment of the general situation.

Mr. Hamilton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that reply is very unsatisfactory? I know he is aware of the report in the Sunday Times mentioned in the Question, that the Paper Box Federation, for instance, is taking what are called differential-preserving stratagems to avoid implementation of the Equal Pay Act and that members of the Engineering Employers' Federation are getting guidance on similar lines. One of the results is that men's lavatory attendants, for instance, are getting £3 a week more for doing more or less precisely the same job as attendants in women's lavatories. That is the kind of way in which the employers are seeking to evade their responsibilities under the Act. Will the hon. Gentleman take this matter more seriously than he appeared to do in his answer?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I have a feeling that my fault is in having taken the matter so seriously that I acknowledged that I was taking a close and personal interest in it. As for the papers issued by the Engineering Employers' Federation, they were issued in September 1970, December 1970 and July 1971. In that respect they do not represent new evidence and the effect of the guidance which they gave will have been fully taken into account by the Office of Manpower Economics study. The documents were not concerned with advice about evasion of the Act so much as with containing the cost.

Dr. Summerskill

Have the Government taken any steps to discourage such so-called guidance being sent out by the Engineering Employers' Federation—or, indeed, by any other employers—so that, instead of simply keeping an eye on the results of such guidance, they discourage the practice altogether?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

In fairness to the engineering employers, the document, which is unhappily labelled "confidential", should be read in full. Perhaps the best way of bringing about the situation which the hon. Lady wants is that there should be publicity for the Act. The Department is mounting an intensive campaign in this respect. It will be launched shortly with the publication of a booklet to give employers advice on the implementation of equal pay.

Mr. Harold Walker

Is the Minister aware that there is growing disquiet about the Government's complacency and indifference on this matter and that the Counter-Inflation Bill now in Standing Committee acts as a positive encouragement to employers to evade the requirements of the Act? Is he not aware that the report of the Office of Manpower Economics reveals that the average earnings of female manual workers are less than 50 per cent. of those of male manual workers and that the permissive provisions of the Counter-Inflation Bill will at best provide for a proportion of only 65 per cent. on average by the end of this year, in contrast to the 90 per cent. which was hoped for by the Equal Pay Act?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

But the truth of the matter is that this Question really arises from the fact that I showed too overtly a personal and keen interest in this matter. That was why the hon. Member put it down.

Mr. Hamilton

indicated dissent.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I therefore reject any suggestion of complacency on the part of the Department. As for the Counter-Inflation Bill, the hon. Member knows very well that improvements in equal pay can be made.