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Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most important ways to encourage progress in equal pay, especially for technologically qualified women but also for many other women, is to persuade employers to provide flexible working arrangements so that these women do not lose touch with their expertise in the subjects concerned and can pursue their careers, possibly on a part-time basis?

Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords; family friendly working arrangements, as I believe they are now called, are something that the Government very much want to encourage in a variety of ways, both, as the noble Baroness said, through making it easier for women with small children to work part-time if they wish to do so and through providing reasonable opportunities for women--and, indeed, men--who have small children to take time off if their children are ill and for employers to be understanding in that respect. Moreover, we are keen for these women to be given adequate leave after either having a baby or adopting a child.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the major practical problem in enforcing equal pay is the time involved in getting settlements out of industrial tribunals and the RUT? The important aspect is that we should have a way of taking collective cases to industrial tribunals and taking class actions to deal with disputes. That has long been a part of the policy of the present party in office. When will the Government do something about that?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that long delays in industrial tribunal cases can be a serious disincentive to women who may have been discriminated against in pursuing their cases by that route. However, the Government wish to consider the outcome of the Lord Chancellor's working group on representative actions before making a decision on the matter. Such changes would allow a single body to bring an action on behalf of a whole class

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of people and would require individuals to give up their right to have their cases heard individually. However, the implications of such a fundamental change in policy need to be thoroughly considered.

I should stress that the Government welcome the review of the Equal Opportunities Commission on equality legislation, which recommends that the courts should provide for representative actions and collective remedies. As I have already said, we shall give full and careful consideration to all the recommendations of the EOC for changes to the law.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how many Permanent Secretaries are women and what proportion of the total that represents? Further, is she satisfied that the promotion opportunities for women within the Civil Service are being looked at as part of the Government's reforms?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, this is something which is under active consideration in my department. I believe that Ministers in the new Government have been encouraging all departments to look at promotion opportunities for women in the Civil Service. We know that there is now a much higher proportion of women entering the Civil Service at all levels. However, what we have not yet seen is enough of them coming through to positions right at the top. The Government very much hope that that will happen.

Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that some of the worst examples of unequal pay occur at the very bottom end of the scale, where hundreds of thousands of women enjoy even less in wages than men who earn poverty wages? Does she also agree that one way to strike a blow for equal pay and against poverty pay would be to give the National Minimum Wage Bill an uninterrupted and speedy passage through this House?

Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords; I very much hope that that will happen. The introduction of the national minimum wage will help to end the worst cases of exploitation of vulnerable, low-paid workers, whether working full-time, part-time, on a temporary or casual basis, or even at home. Indeed, some of the worst paid women workers are actually home workers. In doing so, the national minimum wage will contribute towards easing the pay inequalities which, unfortunately, still exist between men and women.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, in the consideration of equal pay, has the Minister given any thought to those mothers who choose to stay at home to care for their children in the belief that this is a full-time and worthwhile job?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, those mothers who wish to stay at home looking after their young children should be able to do so. It is vital that the Government

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ensure that they communicate that fact and that they do not in any way imply that it is not a worthwhile thing to do.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for some helpful answers. However, does she realise that there is also a steadily growing impatience to speed up progress on the subject? In that context, can the noble Baroness tell the House when the Government intend to take measures to implement the European Union working hours directive and the parental leave directive?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I recognise that many women--and, I hope, many men--want to see the discrepancy in the pay of men and women completely removed. Unfortunately, I cannot give the noble Earl a precise date in answer to his question. But if I am able to obtain one I shall write to him with that information.


3.5 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lord Hoyle will, with the leave of the House, repeat (after the proceedings on the Bank of England Bill) a Statement that is to be made in another place on the report of the Home Affairs Committee on the police disciplinary and complaints procedure.

Business of the House: Debate on Ceremony of Introduction

Lord Carter: My Lords, it may also be for the convenience of the House if I repeat the information contained in a special notice issued to all Peers on Friday last. It stated that the debate tabled for tomorrow on the Motion of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal concerning the report from the Select Committee on the Ceremony of Introduction has been postponed to a later date. Personal circumstances would have precluded by noble friend from being in the House tomorrow. It has been agreed through the usual channels that it would not be appropriate for someone else to move that Motion on his behalf. Therefore, a date for the debate on the Ceremony of Introduction will be agreed through the usual channels and will be announced to the House at the earliest opportunity.

Community Care (Residential Accommodation) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Fireworks Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

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Bank of England Bill

3.7 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Court of directors]:

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 8, at beginning insert--
("( ) The Bank of England shall henceforth be known as the Central Bank of the United Kingdom ("the Bank").").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to this amendment I shall, with the leave of the House, speak also to Amendments Nos. 16, 18 and 24 which appear on the Marshalled List in my name. Those noble Lords who have been following the progress of the Bill will be aware that amendments in fairly similar terms were debated in Committee in the Moses Room. At that time, those amendments were moved by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I regret that I was not able to be present on that occasion because I was in fact in the Chamber debating the Crime and Disorder Bill. Your Lordships may feel that the two subjects are not easily mixed. It has been suggested to me that the amendments merit further consideration by your Lordships--a view with which I completely agree--because they raise an important issue which is symptomatic of the fact that this House is increasingly being required to consider a number of very important constitutional matters.

This Bill has been presented to Parliament after the Government have carried out a thorough and detailed review of the operations of the Bank of England. Although the Bill is by no means lengthy as regards the number of pages and clauses, it includes--as I read it--a number of important and indeed radical changes to the constitution of the Bank of England, the manner in which it is to be regulated and, most important of all, the role with which it is to be charged vis-a-vis the monetary policy of the United Kingdom.

When major institutions--whether they are public institutions or companies in private ownership--carry out a radical review of their operations, structure, constitution, and management, it is not uncommon for the institution concerned at the same time to consider whether the role which it now has, and the manner in which it is to proceed in the future, is best served by retaining the name under which it has operated or traded, in some instances for many hundreds of years. Undoubtedly that exercise ought to be carried out during this Bill's passage through Parliament.

As I believe was observed when the Bill was in Committee, the Bank of England was founded by Royal Charter in 1694. As my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish helpfully informed your Lordships, like many valuable institutions in the United Kingdom it was founded by a Scotsman, William Paterson. In the same year a number of London-based Scots thought that Scotland should also have a national bank. The following year by Act of Parliament--at that stage it was the Scottish Parliament--the necessary Act was passed and the Bank of Scotland came into being.

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However, from the outset the two banks differed fundamentally in their role. Ever since its creation the Bank of England has been closely associated with the government. One reason it was set up was to make a loan available to the King to enable him to conduct a war. The Scots were much more practically oriented. They set up the Bank of Scotland to meet the needs of commerce. It has continued to play a major role in the commercial life of Scotland ever since.

It is becoming increasingly obvious to those of us who follow the constitutional changes which are taking place at the moment that the review of major institutions, such as the Bank of Scotland, and the creation of new institutions, such as the new Scottish parliament, will have major ramifications which are not immediately obvious. I suggest that what we are discussing is a good example of that phenomenon. When the Scotland Bill reaches your Lordships' House, noble Lords will have to discuss the procedures by which the voice of Scotland and the voice of the new Scottish parliament are to be heard in the corridors of power in Brussels, Strasbourg and elsewhere. I anticipate that when we debate that Bill we shall have many interesting discussions on the best way forward. Your Lordships may be interested to learn that already some civil servants in the Scottish Office have been despatched to Brussels to set up an office to further the hearing of the Scottish voice. That office has already been nicknamed "SCOT.REP" to mirror "UK.REP" which is the colloquial way of referring to our ambassador there.

When the single currency is established--as many in this House anticipate it will be, if the present Government remain in office long enough to achieve their objective--that same issue will arise as regards the Bank of England. If the Bank of England is to represent the United Kingdom on the committee which is to be set up in Frankfurt, and in other discussions which will take place throughout the European Union, I believe there is great scope for confusion and for potential conflict between the new Scottish parliament on the one hand and the United Kingdom Government and the Bank of England on the other. It is important that those who will have to deal with the Bank of England, in the future--assuming that the single currency is adopted--should be well aware that it does not represent England, but rather the whole of the United Kingdom.

Those of us who are Scots are sometimes irritated and sometimes amused by the confusion that arises over where Scotland fits in to the United Kingdom. Every time I take a taxi from King's Cross station to your Lordships' House and present a Scottish banknote to pay my taxi fare, I await with a measure of anticipation the reaction of the taxi driver who holds up my banknote and examines it on both sides to check that it is genuine. That, of course, is amusing. So, too, was an experience to which I was subjected many years ago when I went to study at the University of Virginia. Having been there some six weeks I attended a football game with an attractive lady student from North Carolina who inquired where I came from. I told her I came from Edinburgh, Scotland. She asked how long I had been in the United States. When I replied, "six weeks", she said

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without pausing, "If I may say so, your English is remarkably good". These are whimsical examples, but they serve to illustrate the confusion which undoubtedly exists in the outside world as to where Scotland fits into the general picture of the United Kingdom, and where the Bank of England, which is, of course, a public body, fits into the United Kingdom.

This Government pride themselves on being prepared to think the unthinkable and to change the names of government departments if that serves to get their message across better. We know, of course, that they sought to change the name of their party. I hope that I have spoken with an element of humour in moving this amendment, but I trust that will not disguise the fact that I believe this is an important issue. When the Minister responds to the amendment I hope he can inform your Lordships what the senior officials in the Bank of England think about this measure which was, of course, debated previously. There is anxiety that unless this historical nettle is grasped, confusion may arise in the future. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I speak in favour of this group of amendments. The current title of the Bank of England is clearly illogical given its role vis-a-vis the United Kingdom as a whole. We would hardly introduce a Bill simply to change the title of the Bank of England, but within this Bill we can try to adopt a more logical title. It is also an appropriate time to do this given the changing nature of the Bank and of the constitutional arrangements within the United Kingdom. The new title that is proposed in the amendment would help to reflect that.

I certainly believe that the way in which those in Scotland view the monetary policy committee might be enhanced if it was seen to represent a bank that clearly represented the United Kingdom as a whole. Later we shall discuss other measures which might improve the credibility of this new institution with those north of the Border. I shall not detain the House further. I believe that the arguments are clear and self-evident. As I said, we support this group of amendments.

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