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Lord Inglewood: My Lords, women's average hourly earnings, excluding overtime, are now 79.5 per cent. of men'sthe highest that they have ever been. The main cause of the remaining pay differential is job segregation which falls outside the reach of the Equal Pay Act 1970. The Government have taken, and will continue to take, a range of measures which should help women's pay and employment prospects.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Whatever statistics one uses, it is pretty clear that there is a large gap between men and women's pay. Indeed Britain has one of the largest such gaps in Europe. Does the Minister agree that, if one accepts the figures of the 1994 new earnings survey, it will take 30 years or more before the pay of women in Britain is equal to that of men? Will the Minister indicate whether the Government are to implement any of the 27 amendments which have been suggested to the equal value law by the Equal Opportunities Commission?
Baroness Seear: My Lords, I thank the Minister for recognising that the problem is one of opportunity. However, the Sex Discrimination Act requiring equal opportunity has been on the statute book for 20 years. Surely by this time we would expect women to be penetrating the jobs which carry higher pay. I am sure the Minister would agree that it is their failure to penetrate those jobs which primarily accounts for the unequal pay. Further, as regards establishing equal pay for work of equal value, under the amendments which were made to the Equal Pay Actthey were made in 1984, I believedoes the Minister agree that these are difficult to operate? Will the Government look at ways in which that procedure could be simplified and speeded up?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the Government are always in favour of fair ways of speeding up dispute procedures. As regards the first part of the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, we are seeing women increasingly moving into the higher paid and professional sectors of society. For example, in 1984 there were 8,000 women lawyers but in 1993 there were 28,000, which represents 32 per cent. of the whole. In
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as a lawyer I dissent from the proposition that we lawyers are not useful members of society. As regards the number of women working in scientific areas, I am afraid I do not have the figures to hand but I shall write to the noble Lord and advise him to the extent I can.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there was a great initiativewomen into science and engineeringwhich produced certain results? Will he confirm that in all the professions pay is equal for men and women? Are more women entering all the professions?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, my noble friend puts us right about the steps that have been takenthey are useful and successful steps, tooto get more women into science and technology. I can confirm that in the professions the principles of the Equal Pay Act apply. Therefore where men and women are doing the same work they should be receiving the same pay. That will help to improve the average earnings of women.
Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, does the Minister also agree that there is equal pay for work of equal value? Further, does he agree that it is very difficult to determine what constitutes equal value? He referred twice to the same work, but the provision has been extended to work of equal value. Is the Minister aware that in 1993, when the Government responded to the Equal Opportunities Commission's recommendations for amending the Equal Pay Act, they said that they had to balance improvements in the law with placing undue burdens on employers? Is it still the Government's view that to provide equal pay is an undue burden on employers?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood. When I referred to the same work I meant the form of words which she more accurately quoted from the statute. The requirement to give equal pay for work of equal value is a statutory obligation. It therefore takes precedence over any discretionary approach.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Government's policy, involving as it does the abolition of wages councils and the encouragement to employers to be more flexible, has worsened the position of many women? For example, the Low Pay Unit has instances of shop workers now
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the evidence that we have shows that workers who were formerly covered by wages councils have average hourly earnings significantly above the minimum rates last set by the wages councils. The growth in earnings for such workers has generally been greater than for workers as a whole. I should like to reiterate the point that I made earlier: in this Question we are talking about the relationship between equivalent work of men and women. The pay they receive must be the same.
Earl Russell: My Lords, will the Minister consider the fiscal benefits which might follow from achieving equal pay? Can he give us an estimate of the benefits that might follow in terms of increased revenue in national insurance and income tax and in diminished spending on benefits? Will he extend his reply, unlike his first Answer, to include part-time work as well as full-time work?
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, the Government have participated fully in discussion of the draft external frontiers convention, which has the aim of establishing a common standard of control over the admission of persons at the external frontiers of member states of the European Union. We have also joined in discussion of a draft resolution on the improvement of security at external frontiers.
Lord Jacques: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. If you have free movement of goods, services and capital, then inevitably there has to be free movement of labour. That gives rise to problems. In particular, because of their associations with Africa, the Mediterranean countries have considerable difficulty achieving the necessary tight control over their external boundaries. Therefore, can the Government say whether, in spite of that difficulty, we can rely on their persisting in imposing adequate control of the external boundaries?
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, what is being done in this country and in Europe to identify genuine asylum seekers quickly? There are enormous numbers of economic refugees, and I understand their motives. But among them are genuine asylum seekers fleeing from oppression who have to go through the same, long drawn out investigation. Does the noble Baroness agree that something has to be done in order that genuine asylum seekers can be identified quickly, perhaps by having people near trouble spots who can assess the position and pass information back?
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