Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I am sure she is aware that my Question is based on statements contained in the excellent annual report of the Equal Opportunities Commission. It acknowledges that much progress has been made, but there are still problems. The EOC urges improved access to justice for those claiming equal pay for work of equal value. That the procedures are often complicated and very long is exemplified by the well-known case of speech therapists, which began as long ago as 1985 and has still not yet reached a conclusion. Could there not be a review of these procedures, in consultation with the EOC, with a view to improving them? That might help the situation as far as concerns the gender gap.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I should like to congratulate the Equal Opportunities Commission on its new code of practice on equal pay. It is the first of its kind to be developed by a member state in Europe. A good deal of consultation and care went into the drawing up of the code. If employers take note of it they can
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there has been very little improvement since 1976 when the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, was in charge of employment policy? I believe that the move has been within 5 per cent. since that time. Can she tell us whether the Government's training policy will focus on the occupational concentration of women in certain low paid areas as compared with men?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. The Equal Pay Act was introduced by my noble friend Lady Castle back in 1970. There was then a rapid improvement in narrowing the gap between men and women as far as concerns average earnings. However, since 1979 there has been a substantial slowing down in narrowing that gap. One way of doing it is by improving training opportunities for those in jobs with low pay and limited levels of qualification. The Government are engaging in a variety of different policies: both through modern apprenticeships, where we are trying to increase the proportion of women, particularly the proportion of women in those areas where there have not traditionally been many women; and through the programme of training provided by the TECs.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that women can bring their own cases if they feel they are being unfairly discriminated against? I speak as someone who has sat on industrial tribunals since 1974. If the case is simple a woman can bring it under the Equal Pay Act and the industrial tribunal has power to deal with it. Long cases are the exception. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, is an expert in these matters. The Question refers to "board directors". Is there any suggestion that the boards of public companies are paying women less to be non-executive members? I have never encountered that.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am not aware of the board of a public company paying one of its non-executive directors less if she is a woman. On the noble Baroness's more general question, I am aware of the opportunity women have to take to industrial tribunals employers who they believe are discriminating against them. There are many such
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the issue of equal pay bites harder and more viciously on those at the bottom of the social scale? Such people not only suffer a disadvantage in terms of wages but in working conditions in general with regard to sick pay, maternity benefit and holiday pay.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am aware that discrimination of that sort is most common in jobs which are badly paid. One of the problems is that job segregation exists in this country leading to more women being concentrated in jobs that are probably undervalued in some ways in terms of the pay that is offered. That is something which we and all employers need to address.
Lord Quirk: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Enderby case, to which she has referred, sends just the wrong sort of signals to one of the professions to which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, referred--in other words, a hardworking profession whose personnel is almost entirely women?
Earl Russell: My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us how much more revenue the Chancellor of the Exchequer would enjoy were that 20 per cent. gap to be closed? If, as is possible, she is not provided with the answer to that question, can she please write to me and place a copy of the answer in the Library?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I cannot say exactly how much additional revenue would be available to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer if that were to happen. I am a little sceptical as to whether an army of civil servants will be able to provide the noble Earl with that figure, but I shall certainly take his question back and ask whether the figure can be produced.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, of course it will change the present situation because there are many women who are paid scandalously low hourly rates. A minimum wage will ensure that that position is changed.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, perhaps I may say how flattered I am that a Question of mine should again have attracted the attention of the noble Lord opposite. I am not quite sure how roving his commission is, but I am glad to be included in it. On this occasion all I wish--and I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to do this--is for him to admit, on behalf of the Exchequer, that it is a very fortunate beneficiary of a very well-run operation.
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