HC Deb 09 July 1974 vol 876 cc1117-9
4. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he intends to take to ensure full implementation of the Equal Pay Act 1970 by the appointed day.

8. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the progress towards equal pay: and what action he is taking to ensure that the provisions of the Equal Pay Act are carried out.

Mr. Foot

My information suggests that a good deal of progress is being made but that there are some areas where it is certainly not satisfactory. I have had talks with the TUC on this subject and I am considering what more can be done to bring to the attention of employers, women and their trade unions the need to press forward in good time to achieve full compliance with the Act when it comes into operation on 29th December 1975. Employers should realise that if they have not yet done anything about equal pay they are leaving it very late and they run the risk of breaking the law.

Among the actions I am considering is a further publicity effort and the possible use of my power, from the end of this year, to refer collective agreements to the Industrial Arbitration Board for advice.

Mr. Hamilton

I recognise the fact of the timetable and other difficulties experienced by the Government, but will my right hon. Friend accept that this particular claim probably is the oldest wage claim in the history of the trade union movement and that nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of its implementation by December 1975? Will he give an assurance that he will make it abundantly clear to the recalcitrant employers, and in some cases trade unions, that the full rigours of the 1970 enforcement provisions will be applied retrospectively as provided in that legislation?

Mr. Foot

If my hon. Friend looks at the speech by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on this subject a few weeks ago, he will see that he spoke in the strongest terms on the matter and, indeed, in much the same terms as my hon. Friend has now used. The Department is greatly strengthening the resources that are applied to the work of trying to ensure that we proceed to prepare for implementation of the Act, we have strengthened the resources of investigation and report dealing with this matter and we are considering what further steps we can take in the form of publicity and the rest to deal with it. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we must make absolutely sure that this old wage claim is met.

Mrs. Short

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I do not share his complacency when he says that good progress has been made? Is he aware that full-time manual women workers get only 62 per cent. of the male wage and that full-time non-manual women workers get only 54 per cent. of the male wage? Is not that a poor position when we are only 18 months away from full implementation of the Equal Pay Act?

When my right hon. Friend carries out the publicity campaign, will he do so with more precision and firmness than did his predecessor? If he is not successful, will he seek to lay a statutory instrument before the House to see that there is 90 per cent. equal pay by the end of this year, for which the Act provides?

Mr. Foot

The Act provided that a statutory instrument could be laid to achieve the result desired by both my hon. Friend and the Government, but the power to use a statutory instrument was exhausted at the end of last year and because it was not used by the previous Government it is not available to us under the terms of the Act.

Therefore, when considering whether to seek fresh legislative power we found that we would have to have completely new legislation and that we could not take action by statutory instrument. In view of the fact that the Act as a whole comes into operation at the end of next year, we did not think that the best way to go about it was to have fresh legislation now.

I assure my hon. Friend that there is no complacency about this matter. I said in my earlier remarks that we had progressed better in some areas and in some respects than in others, but we will do everything in our power to ensure both that the Act is fully carried out and that employers understand well in advance that equal pay will be the law of the land by December 1975.