HC Deb 11 June 1991 vol 192 cc777-8
10. Mr. Ashton

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many women now have equal pay with men.

Mr. Jackson

The information is not available. Between 1970 and 1990 the differential between men's and women's full-time average hourly earnings narrowed significantly. This demonstrates that the labour market, reinforced by equal pay legislation, is working to the advantage of women.

Mr. Ashton

Is the Minister aware that when Labour introduced equal pay legislation in 1974, every Tory said that it would cost I million women's jobs and that it would decimate the retail industry and catering? It did not. Is he aware that the minimum wage of £3.40 an hour proposed by Labour would not either? McDonald's would sell just as many hamburgers after the minimum wage is introduced as it does now. The only difference would be that McDonald's employees would receive a damned good pay rise, but there would be the same number of jobs.

Mr. Jackson

I am sure that the progress that has been made towards equal pay for men and women has occurred because of the operation of the labour market and of demographics rather than legislative intervention. Intervention in the form of a minimum wage as proposed by the hon. Gentleman would certainly reduce the availability of jobs, which would be especially damaging to the interests of women and of disabled workers.

Miss Emma Nicholson

Does the Minister recognise that women do not wish to be patronised by the Labour party and that the Labour party's commitment to women and to minimum wage levels would better be demonstrated if it gave women minimal opportunity in the trade union movement?

Mr. Jackson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Does the Minister agree with the assessment of the Equal Opportunities Commission that our present equal pay laws are a paradise for lawyers, but hell for women? Will the Government continue with their present line of hypocrisy and incompetence when dealing with equal pay? Most of the gains were made in the early days of the equal pay legislation under the previous Labour Government. Do the Government intend to respond positively to the Equal Opportunities Commission's demand for tougher laws on equal pay and if so, will they do so soon?

Mr. Jackson

I have discussed these issues with the Equal Opportunities Commission. It is difficult to find a way around the problem of establishing in law what is equal value for equal pay and of applying it in particular cases. It requires extensive advice from experts, which draws out the proceedings. I must say that we have succeeded in improving the position of women workers. We have the second highest proportion of women at work in the European Community and there are more women working in Britain—about 12 million—than in any other country in the European Community. That suggests that we have been doing a good job for women.