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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend also seeks to improve my economic education. I am grateful to him for that. I do not think the Government can be accused of being indifferent to the importance of the Question, as I thought my noble friend implied. It is simply not the case that manufacturing output fell at any stage over the past two and a half years. It was stable for some time rather than rising, but it did not fall. On the most recent figures--those for the third quarter of 1999--export volume, excluding oil and erratics, rose by 6.8 per cent, with exports of goods surpassing the levels of the year before that. Manufacturing output recorded growth, and most forecasters expect manufacturing growth to increase by between 1.5 and 2 per cent this year. It is of course a serious problem, but it should not be exaggerated.

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for reminding the House that Britain's official reserves amount to 20 per cent of a day's trading. In fact, they represent 5 per cent of total trading on the global currency markets. In the light of

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that, and perhaps of his awareness of the survey published this week which showed that despite our strong pound and despite being outside the euro Britain is still thought of as the most attractive single place on the planet for investment outside America--in flat contradiction of government statements on that subject--does the Minister agree that it would be better if the Government would not prevaricate but say straight out that intervention to lower the rate of sterling should be utterly rejected; and that we should take the view, as do the Americans, that if we have a strong exchange rate for our currency, we should simply say "Hooray"?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am very interested in the noble Lord's choice of words. He said that we are attractive for investment despite the fact that we are outside the European currency. I do not think that is the view of his party. It thinks that we are attractive to investment because we are outside the European currency. The facts I have given are not in contradiction with government policy but with the policy of the Opposition. I thought that I had already sufficiently clearly rejected the option of using a policy of intervention, sterilised or unsterilised, in the exchange rate.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I would not dream of endeavouring to teach economics to the Minister or to any other noble Lords, but would my noble friend care to remind the House that sterling fell continuously from 1982 to 1987--I shall not remind your Lordships which party was in power at that time--and that the balance payments on the whole worsened and manufacturing suffered? That might suggest that perhaps the connection between sterling and the real economy is by no means as simple as some commentators suggest.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend does not think that I--or, indeed, any of your Lordships--are sufficiently qualified to be his students in economics. My noble friend is right. If I had had the time, I would have rejected the view of my noble friend Lord Shore that we should set the Bank of England an exchange rate target in addition to the inflation target.

Equality for Women

3.17 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are their achievements in the pursuit of equality for women.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the noble Lord tempts me to make a 15-minute speech, but looking at the clock I shall confine myself to an Answer highlighting the Government's achievements which have improved women's economic equality.

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First, the introduction of the minimum wage has had the greatest impact on the wages of women and has reduced the gender pay gap. The increase in child benefit of 36 per cent between 1997 and 2000 and the further above-inflation increase expected has been a substantial improvement in payments direct to the purse rather than to the wallet. Women who have family responsibilities and who, in common with eight out of 10 mothers, work outside the home, have also had their circumstances improved by the New Deal programmes, the national childcare strategy and the childcare tax credit. All of these changes greatly increase the economic equality of women. It is a record of which we are proud.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply. Does not she agree that the Government's achievements in this area are in no way enhanced by exaggeration or error? Has the attention of the noble Baroness been drawn to a recent report from the Women's National Commission, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, where, on page 11, it claims that this Government include the first woman leader of your Lordships' House, which of course is not the case?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I acknowledge that mistake. My noble friend Lady Crawley has done so also. I would certainly underline the record of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. She has been most helpful to me in my present post.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that although sex discrimination legislation and equal pay legislation have done great work, they are in need of more than temporary repair and requires a substantial overhaul to make them user friendly and intelligible and to ensure that they are effectively enforced by procedures that do not involve only bringing individual cases?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that there is much about the present legislation that is very cumbersome. The Government have said--I am working closely with my colleagues in the Department for Education and Employment on this--that when legislative time allows we shall want to make changes which will make it possible, for example, for individual women to take cases against employers. At the moment it is very difficult for any employee to be successful in such a suit unless they are backed by a major organisation or have, for example, trade union representation on a big scale.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, may I first apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Young--I have written to her in these terms--for the mistake in the Women's National Commission's annual report. I welcome the comments of my noble friend the Leader of the House on the economic benefits that women have gained. Those advances will mean that many millions of women's lives will be improved in this country. Does my noble friend agree that there is still a terrible

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scourge in this country? I refer to the violence that is meted out to women and children and to many pregnant women. What are the Government doing to combat this culture of violence?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for setting the record right about her organisation's report. The Government regard the strategy Living without Fear, which we published last summer--the first national government strategy on violence against women--as the basis for work that will be taken forward in this field. The report was determined to make it generally understood that violence against women is a crime. In that respect, £6 million of the Government's crime reduction programme has been specifically directed to improving services in this area. We hope also that over the next few years we will be able to establish multi-agency partnerships working at a local level, first, to identify the fact that violence against women is a crime which has to be more widely acknowledged before it can be dealt with, and, secondly, that local services should support the victims, particularly the children of victims, of this crime.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, following on from the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, can the Leader of the House remind us why Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has allowed Mike Tyson into this country?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, that is a question on which there are many different views. I personally have been concerned about some of the aspects of the violence against women crimes which were given undue publicity around the visit of Mike Tyson. But as the Home Secretary himself explained, it was felt that in this instance the economic fall-out, as it were, from not allowing Mike Tyson to visit the country, in terms of the benefit from the sporting activity associated with him, was in a sense something that had to be given the first priority.

Earl Russell: My Lords, following the noble Baroness's reply to my noble friend Lord Lester, is she yet in a position to respond to the proposals of the Equal Opportunities Commission for improving the equal pay legislation; and if not, when will she be?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, we have responded to the quinquennial report of the Equal Opportunities Commission, to which I think the noble Earl refers, on the revision of the Equal Pay Act. As I said in my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, it is not the Government's view that total reorganisation of the full legislative package is necessarily the way forward on this matter. There are measures--for example, I mentioned the minimum wage--which

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have already decreased the pay gap in this country. We still have a long way to go. We will indeed introduce such legislation as I outlined in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to try to improve the ways in which the equal opportunities arrangements are fulfilled.

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