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The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Patricia Hewitt): Although the gender pay gap is at an all-time low, at 14.4 per cent. it is still too high. That is why we promoted equal pay reviews, which have now been completed by all 88 Government Departments and agencies, and strengthened the law in this area.
It is as astonishing as it is unacceptable that, despite the growing number of women workersindeed, they now outnumber men in half the local authority areas in Britainthey and we tolerate female rates of pay that are up to 25 per cent. lower than male ones. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the legal and moral question, such inequality is now having an adverse economic impact? Women having less
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money to spend is unnecessarily restricting development of the service sector, as we see in many parts of the United Kingdom.
Ms Hewitt: Like my hon. Friend, I have always argued that unequal pay is both unfair to the individuals affected and damaging to business, employers and the economy. Local councils, like other public sector bodies, are absolutely committed to equal pay and I am glad to say that, in most cases, they have reviewed their pay structures to rectify the historical wrong that has been done to millions of women.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): Will the right hon. Lady acknowledge that the Opposition entirely agree with everything that she has just said, and that equal pay for men and women is an extremely important principle that we defend? However, principles are no good unless they can be enforced. Will she consider the Equal Opportunities Commission's proposal to make enforcement of equal pay rates easier, while not putting unnecessary burdens on businesses, particularly small businesses?
Ms Hewitt: We are of course looking carefully at the EOC's proposal. Indeed, we established the Women and Work Commission, which is chaired by Baroness Prosser, to examine the action that needs to be taken to deal with the fundamental causes of the gender pay gap. We have already strengthened the law in this area and are creating specialist equal pay tribunals. We will, of course, continue to look at proposals for further action, while recognising that we must balance the demands that we make on business with the proper standards that we set to protect individuals. I welcome the hon. Lady's commitment to that principle.
The Deputy Minister for Women and Equality (Jacqui Smith): The Women and Work Commission's call for evidence was published in English and Welsh on the women and equality unit's website in November, with responses requested by 11 February 2005. It has been publicised to over 600 organisations across the UK. Fair Play Scotland has appointed a worker to co-ordinate Scottish views.
Mr. Sarwar: Will my right hon. Friend pay special attention to the progress being made in Glasgow, where more women are going back to work after having children, and advancing their careers in business and local government?
I certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. One of the jobs for the women and work commissioners will be to visit places like Glasgow to talk to women and their employers about what has helped
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women to make choices about combining work and care, and to make sure that women in work get the fair deal that they deserve.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)
(Con): Oxfam has estimated that there are more than 1 million home workers in the UK. Of that total, 90 per cent. are women, 50 per cent. of whom come from ethnic minorities. Home workers' average pay is reported to be
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as low as £2.53 an hour. Two years ago, the Government consulted on home workers' employment status, and promised to publish a report in January this year. Where is it?
Wednesday 2 FebruaryMotion on the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 200506, followed by motions on the Local Government Finance Report (England) 200506 and the Local Government Finance Report (England) 200304: Amending Report 2005.
Mr. Heald: Will the Leader of the House join me in remembering the suffering of the victims of the holocaust on holocaust memorial day, 60 years after the first camp was liberated, and will he pay tribute to the survivors and their families? The Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition are, of course, attending today's remembrance service in Westminster Hall.
Following the publication of the European Union Bill, and the announcement of a Bill to impose house arrest on terrorists, will the leader of the House give us the full timetable for those Bills? Is it his intention that they will be debated on the Floor of the House?
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The Management of Offenders and Sentencing Bill seems to have become stalled in the other place, with the Government having postponed Second Reading twice now. Is there a problem, or can we expect to debate the Bill here soon, as thousands of prison and probation officers are waiting to know what will happen to their jobs?
May we have an urgent statement about programming of legislation, in the light of what has happened in the Committee considering the Identity Cards Bill? There has been no debate on five of its most important clauses because of the draconian guillotine, and half the Bill remains undiscussed despite an extra hour's consideration today. Only one sitting remains.
The Leader of the House will know that the Treasury Committee has said that two months' notice of the date of the Budget should be given. If he will not give us the date, can he at least explain why not? If we cannot have the date, may we at least have an urgent debate on the Committee's report, published today, and on the green budget from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the highly regarded independent think-tank, which confirmed the existence of an £11million black hole in the Chancellor's sums and also confirms the practicality of Conservative plans to cut taxes. We all remember that the Chancellor's first act in his first Budget after the previous election was to raise taxes by hiking national insurance. Is it not the case that he would have to raise taxes by £11 billion if Labour scraped back into government? Can we not debate in Government time the stark choice for Britainmore taxes under Labour or tax cuts under the Conservatives?
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