HL Deb 17 March 2004 vol 659 cc264-6

2.57 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest. My union, Amicus, is currently engaged in a campaign on the whole issue of women's pay.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to encourage employers to put equal pay audits into operation to counter any gender gap in pay in certain industries.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, we are working with the Equal Opportunities Commission, Opportunity Now, trade unions and employers to meet our target of 35 per cent of large organisations completing pay reviews by 2006. We have provided funding for the EOC to develop equal pay toolkits for both large and small employers and funding for trade unions to train representatives in equal pay issues. We are also supporting the EOC's sectoral approach to promoting pay reviews.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I am grateful for that response, but is the Minister aware that in financial services, for example, the pay gender gap is as large as 43 per cent? I am very grateful to the Government for the encouragement that they have given and for the work that is done with the EOC. But can we perhaps move a little more towards compulsion as encouragement does not seem to be working as well as it might?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I acknowledge the sterling work which my noble friend carries out on these issues. Typically, she has identified one sectoral area of greatest concern—that of financial services, where the gap between men's pay and women's pay is by far the largest of any sector. That is why, as a government, we are addressing that matter and indicating that other sectors are doing far better and that financial services need to improve in this respect.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, in responding to the Question, the Minister mentioned the Equal Pay Task Force and the work that it is doing. But will he acknowledge that the EOC's recent report stated that 54 per cent of large and 67 per cent of medium-sized employers said that they had no intention whatever of conducting such equal pay reviews? Equal pay for work of equal value has been part of our law for at least 30 years and perhaps longer. Is it not time that the Government now began to use compulsion rather than just encouragement to ensure equal pay for work of equal value?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the Government are setting the best example. It will be recognised that in the Civil Service we have made very substantial progress indeed with regard to equal pay, although we have not achieved the full objectives that we have addressed. The noble Baroness is right. She will recognise that by next year a substantial section of major employers will have completed the pay reviews. They are the lead organisations on these issues and we expect them to make real progress. Having done that, it will then be necessary to address ourselves more to the problems of others and particularly to smaller businesses.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, in the Minister's first reply he mentioned that the Government are producing toolkits for equal pay. Are those toolkits readily available? Will they be extended to the private sector, so that, in turn, that sector can put a spanner in the works to stop the leapfrogging of pay, which is started by high pay rises in the public sector?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the toolkits are widely available. I hope that the response of industry will not be to put a spanner in the works. I believe that industry will look at certain aspects of the equal pay issue. Perhaps I can give one example of the use of the toolkit. Merely shortening the band on which promotion is effected can often advantage women, as very long bands require them to serve for many years before they reach the same top point to which men graduate more readily because they have been in employment longer. Such an aspect of the toolkits, which perhaps is not widely known, will be of advantage to private industry. I believe that industry will consider that to be a progressive position that it can take up without undue cost.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, do the Government support the directive that is being prepared by Commissioner Diamantopoulos on gender equality, which, if commentators are accurate, will ensure that women pay higher insurance rates than at present in the name of equality and receive lower annuity rates, again in the name of equality?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, we believe that the commissioner may marginally have misdirected himself as regards the insurance industry. We seek to emphasise the obvious fact that insurance is about risk and risk with regard to life expectancy differs according to gender.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, the Minister will know that in 2001 the Bett report identified in the academic sector a systematic discrepancy of 20 per cent between male and female pay. Are there any indications that the move towards locally negotiated pay will widen or narrow those discrepancies?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, it came as a surprise to the wider public that progress in academic circles was not as rapid as had been expected and that the same level of discrimination against women academics was occurring as in other areas of pay. On local versus national, provided that local negotiators follow the concepts that we seek to advance, and which are represented by the way in which we develop Civil Service pay, there is no reason, whether the negotiations are local or national, why women should not make the proper advance.