HC Deb 29 July 1982 vol 28 cc1219-20
6. Miss Joan Lestor

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will seek to amend the Equal Pay Act in the light of recommendations from the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)

The Government are fully committed to the principle of equal pay and it is against this background that we shall be giving careful consideration to the recommendations of the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland. Interested persons and organisations, including commission members, will of course be consulted to enable a considered view to be formed as to the desirability and implications of the specific amendments that the Equal Opportunities Commission proposes.

Miss Lestor

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. Is he aware of the urgency of ensuring that Northern Ireland conforms with the equal pay directive, bearing in mind the constant promptings from the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland and taking account of the fact that in Northern Ireland, as in many other parts of the country, women are becoming increasingly the sole breadwinner and their families are being pushed into more and more poverty because of the inequality in wages?

Mr. Butler

The hon. Lady will know, because she has a close interest in the subject, that the Government are studying the terms of the European Court's judgment. We shall consider what action is required. The law in Northern Ireland at present is similar to that in Great Britain. We would expect to implement any changes that are made in Great Britain to enable the United Kingdom as a whole to meet the Treaty obligations.

Mr. Marlow

Since my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we had almost reached the stage of equal opportunities, is it not time that the last vestiges of this rotten quango were wrapped up, if only to give the hon. Lady something important to talk about instead of drivelling on about this wretched issue?

Miss Lestor

Like men.

Mr. Butler

The Equal Opportunities Commission has a statutory job to do. It has made 14 recommendations which it considers serious. They will be looked at seriously. As I have said, we shall make decisions in the light of what is decided in Great Britain and the application of such decisions to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Soley

I welcome the Minister's response, too. However, further to the important question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), does the Minister recognise that many families in Northern Ireland are falling into the poverty trap because the high rate of male unemployment results in women being part-time earners and thus not always being able to benefit from supplementary benefit and other State benefits?

Mr. Butler

That supplementary question strayed a little from the original question. Industry in Northern Ireland is proportionately more dependent on female labour than is industry in the rest of the United Kingdom. Also, among the women registered for work there is, mercifully, a lower level of unemployment than for men.

Mr. Budgen

Does my hon. Friend intend to institute any inquiries into the allegations that are frequently made that equal pay legislation acts to the disadvantage of women and creates unemployment among them?

Mr. Butler

In so far as it falls outside the law, that point is serious and should be equally considered.

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