HC Deb 13 June 2002 vol 386 cc988-91
6. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)

What plans she has to address the pay gap between men and women. [58221]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt)

As well as the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the provisions in the Employment Bill to strengthen the Act, we have the national minimum wage and we are spreading good practice on equal pay through the fair pay champions and castle awards. On top of that, all Departments will carry out an equality audit by April 2003 and we taking forward recommendations from the Kingsmill report.

Julie Morgan

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure she is aware that in Wales women's hourly earnings are 87 per cent. of men's. As the pay reviews are voluntary, can she tell me what the Government are doing to encourage employers in the public and private sectors to undertake them so that we have a detailed picture of the gap?

Ms Hewitt

I welcome the progress that has been made in Wales where the pay gap is somewhat narrower than it is in other parts of the country. As I said, we are taking a lead in the public sector by ensuring that equality audits take place in all Departments and agencies. We have also given the Equal Opportunities Commission an extra £100,000 to do work with employers to ensure that effective tools are available to them to carry out the pay reviews which are a fairly new idea. I welcome the fact that many private sector employers have already started to carry out those pay reviews to uncover the real underlying problems that give rise to the persistent pay gap.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that the equal opportunities policy extends to the highest levels of Government? In that regard, will she say whether there are any unpaid lady Ministers? If there are not, would not it give rise to a claim to the Equal Opportunities Commission from unpaid male Ministers?

Ms Hewitt

There is rightly a statutory limit on the number of ministerial salaries at the Prime Minister's disposal. I understand that there is an unpaid Minister who is a man and, in the past, at least one unpaid Minister was a woman. I do not think that that situation will give rise to a claim for unequal pay.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

A new report shows that more than a third of female workers are earning more than their boyfriends or husbands. However, nine out of 10 women say that they are worn out with the demands of work and home. That suggests two things: first, that men are still not pulling their weight in the home even though their wives and girlfriends may work the same hours and have the same responsibilities; and, secondly, that not enough attention is given to the work-life balance and child care. One of the disincentives for women to go for higher-paid jobs and longer hours is the belief that the support is not available for them to balance their family life with their work life. Can I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that that part of the picture is attended to within the Department of Trade and Industry and the economic agencies?

Ms Hewitt

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who raises an extremely important issue. Women who do very low-paid jobs often work at night. Their partner is at home looking after the children and they get no sleep because they have to look after the children and the home during the day. Those women face the biggest problem of juggling work and family.

Of course we are looking at how we can help women and men to balance work and family more effectively. That includes an enormous investment in child care. It also includes pressing employers to make part-time and flexible work available in the full range of jobs so that women in particular no longer face the choice of either trading down from their skills and qualifications to get the hours they want, or continuing in a job that uses their skills and qualifications properly but which does not allow them the time they need to get on with the rest of their lives.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford)

Can the Secretary of State say whether measures to address the pay gap between men and women will be included in the wholesale review of workers' rights, which we understand her Department is intending to undertake later this year? Can she confirm reports that that will also include consideration of full employment rights from day one and a further lowering of the threshold for trade union recognition? Is that the way in which the Secretary of State intends to meet the objective that we are told she set out to her third way colleagues at the weekend, that there should be absolutely no danger of the Labour party being seen to have too close a relationship with business?

Ms Hewitt

The hon. Gentleman is a bit behind the curve. We made it plain when we introduced the Employment Relations Act 1999 that there would be a review of its provisions after it had been in force for a couple of years. We said in our manifesto last year that we would conduct that review as promised. I anticipate that we will publish a discussion document in the summer to take that review forward in full consultation, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, with employers, employees and their unions.

Mr. Whittingdale

The Secretary of State may claim that that has been forecast for a long time, but she does not seem to understand the despair in the business community that the announcement of the review has caused. The Confederation of British Industry called it "totally inappropriate" and the Forum of Private Business said that it is "completely unworkable" and "unnecessary". Is it not proof that the Government have finally given up trying even to pretend that they are seeking to relieve the burden on British business and that, instead, they have swallowed the trade union agenda hook, line and sinker?

Ms Hewitt

The hon. Gentleman is talking complete rubbish. I remind him of the recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit which found, once again, that thanks to our outstanding management of the economy and to the pro-business and pro-enterprise climate that we have created, the United Kingdom remains one of the best places in the world for entrepreneurs, ahead even of the United States of America.