Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Gender Pay Gap

6. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): What plans she has to address the pay gap between men and women. [58221]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): As well as the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the provisions in the Employment Bill to strengthen the Act, we have the national minimum wage and we are spreading good practice on equal pay through the fair pay champions and castle awards. On top of that, all Departments will carry out an equality audit by April 2003 and we taking forward recommendations from the Kingsmill report.

Julie Morgan: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure she is aware that in Wales women's hourly earnings are 87 per cent. of men's. As the pay reviews are voluntary, can she tell me what the Government are doing to encourage employers in the public and private sectors to undertake them so that we have a detailed picture of the gap?

Ms Hewitt: I welcome the progress that has been made in Wales where the pay gap is somewhat narrower than it is in other parts of the country. As I said, we are taking a lead in the public sector by ensuring that equality audits take place in all Departments and agencies. We have also given the Equal Opportunities Commission an extra £100,000 to do work with employers to ensure that effective tools are available to them to carry out the pay reviews which are a fairly new idea. I welcome the fact that many private sector employers have already started to carry out those pay reviews to uncover the real underlying problems that give rise to the persistent pay gap.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the right hon. Lady confirm that the equal opportunities policy extends to the highest levels of Government? In that regard, will she say whether there are any unpaid lady Ministers? If there are not, would not it give rise to a claim to the Equal Opportunities Commission from unpaid male Ministers?

Ms Hewitt: There is rightly a statutory limit on the number of ministerial salaries at the Prime Minister's disposal. I understand that there is an unpaid Minister who is a man and, in the past, at least one unpaid Minister was a woman. I do not think that that situation will give rise to a claim for unequal pay.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): A new report shows that more than a third of female workers are earning more than their boyfriends or husbands. However, nine out of 10 women say that they are worn out with the demands of work and home. That suggests two things: first, that men are still not pulling their weight in the home even though their wives and girlfriends may work the same hours and have the same responsibilities; and, secondly, that not enough attention is given to the work-life balance and child care. One of the disincentives for women to go for higher-paid jobs and longer hours is the belief that the support is not available for them to balance their family life with their work life. Can I urge my right hon. Friend

13 Jun 2002 : Column 990

to ensure that that part of the picture is attended to within the Department of Trade and Industry and the economic agencies?

Ms Hewitt: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who raises an extremely important issue. Women who do very low-paid jobs often work at night. Their partner is at home looking after the children and they get no sleep because they have to look after the children and the home during the day. Those women face the biggest problem of juggling work and family.

Of course we are looking at how we can help women and men to balance work and family more effectively. That includes an enormous investment in child care. It also includes pressing employers to make part-time and flexible work available in the full range of jobs so that women in particular no longer face the choice of either trading down from their skills and qualifications to get the hours they want, or continuing in a job that uses their skills and qualifications properly but which does not allow them the time they need to get on with the rest of their lives.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): Can the Secretary of State say whether measures to address the pay gap between men and women will be included in the wholesale review of workers' rights, which we understand her Department is intending to undertake later this year? Can she confirm reports that that will also include consideration of full employment rights from day one and a further lowering of the threshold for trade union recognition? Is that the way in which the Secretary of State intends to meet the objective that we are told she set out to her third way colleagues at the weekend, that there should be absolutely no danger of the Labour party being seen to have too close a relationship with business?

Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman is a bit behind the curve. We made it plain when we introduced the Employment Relations Act 1999 that there would be a review of its provisions after it had been in force for a couple of years. We said in our manifesto last year that we would conduct that review as promised. I anticipate that we will publish a discussion document in the summer to take that review forward in full consultation, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, with employers, employees and their unions.

Mr. Whittingdale: The Secretary of State may claim that that has been forecast for a long time, but she does not seem to understand the despair in the business community that the announcement of the review has caused. The Confederation of British Industry called it "totally inappropriate" and the Forum of Private Business said that it is "completely unworkable" and "unnecessary". Is it not proof that the Government have finally given up trying even to pretend that they are seeking to relieve the burden on British business and that, instead, they have swallowed the trade union agenda hook, line and sinker?

Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman is talking complete rubbish. I remind him of the recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit which found, once again, that thanks to our outstanding management of the economy and to the pro-business and pro-enterprise climate that we

13 Jun 2002 : Column 991

have created, the United Kingdom remains one of the best places in the world for entrepreneurs, ahead even of the United States of America.

End of Life Vehicles Directive

7. Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): If she will make a further statement on the implications of the end of life vehicles directive. [58222]

The Minister for Energy and Construction (Mr. Brian Wilson): We continue to analyse carefully all the implications of the directive in order to ensure that we get the implementation of this complex measure right.

Chris Grayling: I thank the Minister for that response. Does he not realise that the continuing delay in establishing the premise on which vehicle manufacturers may or may not have to meet some of the costs of recycling vehicles in future is creating instability in the motor industry and uncertainty about future investment and will do the manufacturing sector in this country no favours whatever?

Mr. Wilson: No, I do not agree with any of that. I recognise the hon. Gentleman's constituency interest in this issue. I think that the company in his constituency, like every other manufacturer, will be much happier if we get this right than if we get something introduced quickly that proves to disadvantage the British motor manufacturing industry. We are in the same boat as everyone else in the European Union, where there has been delay in implementing the measure because it is complex and because it is important to get it right.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Are we to understand that under the directive it is the last owner of any vehicle who has to pay the costs of putting things right—of the destruction of the vehicle? In that case, is it not the poorest among our constituents who will have to bear those costs? Can it possibly be right that someone with an old banger should have to carry costs that should rightly be carried by the first owner, who got the vehicle new? In those circumstances, can the Department look again at a ten-minute Bill that I tried to introduce to make manufacturers responsible for the death of a vehicle at the design stage? Is not that the right way to do it?

Mr. Wilson: We are talking about two separate phases. From 2007, exactly the kind of producer liability that my hon. Friend refers to will operate. The question is how that is implemented. I think that that is a matter of particular interest to the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). We are therefore talking about an interim period until 2007. We have not made an announcement yet on how that is to be conducted, but we are anxious that during that period we do not put British manufacturers at a disadvantage relative to manufacturers in other EU states. Things may well go in the direction that my hon. Friend suggests, but the major problem of the last owner paying and the problem that already exists of cars being dumped are primarily registration problems.

13 Jun 2002 : Column 992

That must be addressed at the same time. It would have to be addressed anyway, whether the directive were coming into force or not.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): In view of that response, can the Minister explain the public claim this week by the British Motor Manufacturers Association that he has accepted its proposal for 2007 to do precisely what the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) fears, effectively imposing a poll tax on low-income final owners of the car? Do the Government accept the judgment of the all-party Select Committee, which concluded in clear terms that such a proposal would not work "in practice" and that

Does the Minister accept the reasoning, based on Home Office figures, that the current cost of abandoned cars to councils and emergency services of about £400 million would double or treble if the manufacturers' proposals were accepted?

Mr. Wilson: I think the hon. Gentleman is talking about the situation before 2007, not post-2007 when producer liability will apply, but the question implies recognition that there is already a problem with dumped cars—a very big problem in some areas. As I say, that would have to be addressed whether the directive were coming into operation or not, through action on the registration system and traceability, which is at the root of the issue. We will announce very soon what we will do in the interim period, but I stress again that the key motivator will be to ensure that British car manufacturers are not disadvantaged vis-à-vis manufacturers in other EU countries.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): My constituency, like many others, suffers from a lot of abandoned vehicles. I am told by the local fire service that some 55 vehicles a month are set on fire there. A number of small businesses are looking to help the local authority with the recycling of abandoned vehicles. Will the Minister ensure that appropriate advice is made available to such companies, so that they can carry out their duties properly under the directive?

Mr. Wilson: Absolutely, and my hon. Friend makes a couple of important points. One is that good schemes are already being operated between local authorities and the private sector in some areas. The introduction of the directive will give a further stimulus. It points to the fact that there is an existing problem that must be addressed before the directive comes into operation. We must ensure that the industry has time to adapt and that there are places where vehicles can be taken. Above all, we must ensure that there is a strong disincentive to dumping. That approach will be effective only if it is possible to trace owners. Measures must go hand in hand. We must make sure that there is a penalty that can be applied if people dump vehicles.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): It has been reported that the Government are to delay imposing the burden of the end of life vehicles directive on the motor industry until at least 2007. Is it not inevitably the conclusion that in saving the motor industry

13 Jun 2002 : Column 993

£450 million a year by leaving responsibility with last owners of vehicles, the Government are effectively imposing a £450 million highly regressive tax on motorists who are least able to pay it—those who are driving end-of-life vehicles? Can the Minister honestly tell the House that he thinks that that is the best way to tackle the problem of abandoned vehicles?

Mr. Wilson: The best way to tackle the problem is what will happen from 2007, when there is producer liability. It is an interesting view from the Tory party if the hon. Gentleman is saying that we should be immediately penalising British motor manufacturers vis-à-vis their competitors on the continent.

The basic point is that the directive is a good thing. It will lead to a large increase in recycling in this country. If properly implemented, alongside the measures on traceability, it will get rid of the growing social and environmental problem of dumped burnt-out cars in our community.

Next Section

IndexHome Page