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Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): My right hon. Friend has heard representations from around the House on the importance of connectivity from regional airports. For most air travellers, often the most frustrating part is getting airside. Therefore, prompting great relief, British Airways now runs a flight out of Leeds to Heathrow, allowing people to get airside without facing the congestion at Heathrow. However, they cannot run for the early flights in the morning because there simply is not the capacity. I am worried that the report rules out the possibility of further expansion, if needed, with respect to regional airports. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend, as he considers the Davies report, give serious consideration to other locations such as Stansted to ensure that we have future ongoing capacity, as well as the solution being looked at right now?

Mr McLoughlin: I am not sure that the commission has ruled that out. I referred to a chapter in Sir Howard’s report, which talks about other airports playing a role and seeing those expand too. The point I would make to my hon. Friend is that one issue that is often raised is the availability of slots into London airports.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): While I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, will he reassure me, in the context of the decision he will take in the autumn, that in considering the relative merits of the commission’s report he will take into account the importance of airports such as Birmingham and regional economies such as the west midlands and the black country?

Mr McLoughlin: Yes, indeed. The last time I made a statement on aviation capacity, I think I had more questions about the future of Birmingham airport than any other airport we discussed that day. That is not lost on me.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): While I welcome the expansion in the south east and recognise that it is important to the national economy, my constituents will also note that it represents further concentration of resources in the south. As we seem to have been doing something of a tour of regional airports during the past hour, I cannot help but mention Humberside, which is located in an area where many international companies are based. Will my right hon. Friend give an absolute assurance that airports such as Humberside will receive the necessary infrastructure to expand the local economy?

Mr McLoughlin: I visited Humberside airport quite some time ago, when I was last in the Department, so it has been providing a service for many years.

Ben Howlett (Bath) (Con): Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker. I have been able to cancel my step aerobics class tonight.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments on the link to Heathrow airport from the great western main line. Adding to the list of regional airports that we have been talking about, will he commit to looking at Bristol international airport, giving me and my constituents the confidence that he will do so over the summer?

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Mr Speaker: I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has found his exercise therapeutic. The nation has been enriched in consequence.

Mr McLoughlin: Mr Speaker, you have the habit of keeping the best until last.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) that there has already been a lot of investment, including around Bristol airport. As has been made clear by everybody who has taken part in the debate on the statement, there is a lot more to look at than what is happening as far as London is concerned. That connectivity to all parts of the United Kingdom is important.

Mr Speaker: I am most grateful to the Secretary of State. We got through 60 Back Benchers in 56 Back-Bench minutes. It is not for the Chair to express any view on the content of answers—that is not a matter for me; such matters are the subject of much dispute in all parts of the House—but the Secretary of State could usefully conduct seminars for his Cabinet colleagues on the merits of pithy responses. If he is unwilling to court the unpopularity that such an offer would involve, it would be quite a useful deployment of the time of a Government Whip to circulate the relevant copy of the Official Report to other Ministers, because they would usefully profit from the instruction that it contained.

Mr McLoughlin: Mr Speaker, I think you are trying to get me into trouble.

Mr Speaker: Would I do such a thing?

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Child Poverty

1.47 pm

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): Over a decade ago, I demonstrated that the relative income measure of poverty was flawed, and that it was driving Government policy on an unsustainable path. In 2007, the Centre for Social Justice report “Breakthrough Britain” made this point:

“Many poverty analysts are concerned that setting this simplistic poverty threshold has warped government priorities.”

I shared that concern, and in 2011 I reiterated that message in a speech to the London School of Economics, calling for a rethink about the way we improve the life chances of the poorest in society.

How we measure things matters because it influences what Governments focus on and what we target. As the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) himself said,

“this income measure…drives…policy in a single direction which is in danger of becoming counterproductive.”

Even the current chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, Alan Milburn, made a point in its latest report, before the election, that there is a real challenge to all parties to deal with the issue of this measurement.

The problem with a statutory framework set around the relative income measure has become all too apparent to all people and to everyone who wants to be honest about this. At 60% of median income, if someone sits below the line they are said to be poor; if they sit above it, they are not. Asking Government to raise everyone above that set percentage often led to unintended consequences, although for good reasons. Most of all, it led to poorly targeted spending, pumping money into the welfare system and focusing more often on inputs than on what those outcomes meant.

For example, as I have said before, we saw massive spikes in tax credit spending in the run up to election years. In the two years before the 2005 election, tax credit spending increased by nearly £10 billion, and in the two years before the 2010 election, it increased by nearly £6 billion. From 2002 to 2010, spending on tax credits more than doubled and cumulatively rose to £258 billion by the 2010 election.

Spending on welfare overall increased by 60% in real terms under the Labour Government, driven by the legitimate and reasonable need to chase what became, after the early successes, a moving line. Despite all this spending, by 2010, under the Labour Government, the number of households where no member ever worked nearly doubled, in-work poverty rose, and the Government missed their 2010 child poverty target by 600,000 children. I allege nothing from this. The motives were good, but the figures did not work.

We reached the position where a growing economy, ironically, drives increases in the measure of child poverty, whereas if the economy crashes, as happened under the Labour Government, child poverty apparently falls. Even today, if we were to increase elements of the state pension, we would run the risk of increasing the median income and thus increasing the number of households that would then fall into poverty.

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We consulted widely over a number of years during the last years of the previous Government. The challenge was and remains to get a better way of identifying what we measure and how we tackle the root causes of the problem. This is because the current Act does not do enough to focus Government action on improving a child’s future life chances, to acknowledge the key role education plays, or to recognise that work is clearly a very important way, if not the real way, out of poverty.

Let me deal with the issue of work. I believe work is the best route out of poverty. It provides purpose, responsibility and role models for our children. Yet after more than a decade of welfare spending increases, by 2010 one in five households had nobody in work. During the previous Parliament we began to turn this around. There are now 2 million more people in work than in 2010. The number of children living in workless households is at a record low, and workless households are down to record levels as well. In this Parliament, I want to continue to press to improve that so that more parents get into work, stay in work and, importantly, progress when in work.

On education, the other aim that I just referred to, our ambition must be for disadvantaged pupils to be successful at school. We are committed to raising the bar among poor pupils as part of raising standards for everyone. This is because we know how important educational attainment is for improving their life chances. The Wolf report commissioned by the last Government showed that English and maths skills are vital for labour market entry, and continue to have a significant impact on career progression and pay. This is clearly shown by the staggering fact that 63% of men and 75% of women with low literacy skills have never received a promotion, remaining locked on the income on which they entered work. We are committed to ensuring that more poor pupils achieve excellent grades at GCSE, attend the very best universities, and do an apprenticeship or gain skilled employment, so that every child, regardless of background, is given an education which allows them to realise their full potential.

To that end, today I am announcing that we will bring forward legislation to remove the existing measures and targets in the Child Poverty Act 2010, as well as the other duties and provisions. However, the legislation will introduce a statutory duty to report on measures of worklessness and educational attainment. The worklessness measures will identify the proportion of children living in workless households, and the proportion of children in long-term workless households. The educational attainment measures will focus on GCSE attainment for all pupils and particularly for disadvantaged pupils.

The worklessness and education measures will reflect the agreed responsibilities in the devolution agreements. As with all our reforms, we will work with the devolved Administrations as we progress. They must make decisions about what they want to do. Alongside these reports we will continue to publish the HBAI—households below average income—statistics annually.

Alongside the statutory measures, we will develop a range of other indicators—I think this is very important—to measure the progress against the root causes of poverty. We know that in households with unstable relationships, where debt and addiction destabilise families, parents lack employment skills, and children are not ready to start school, these children do not have the same chances

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in life as others. It is self-evident. They cannot break out of that cycle of disadvantage. We are currently developing these measures, including family breakdown, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency. We will report each year on these life chances measurements as well.

We will reform the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission to become the Social Mobility Commission. The commission will ensure independent scrutiny and advocate for improved social mobility. This approach will ensure that tackling the root causes of child poverty and improving future life chances become central parts of our business as a one nation Government. As the Prime Minister said:

“We need to move from a low wage, high tax, high welfare society to a higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare society.”

Governments will no longer focus on just moving families above a poverty line. Instead, we want to focus on making a meaningful change to children’s lives by extending opportunity for all, so that both they and their children can escape from the cycle of poverty and improve their life chances. This process will, I hope, mark a shift from solely measuring inputs of expenditure to measuring the outcomes of children-focused policy. I commend this statement to the House.

1.55 pm

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement. What he read out today is the obituary notice for compassionate conservatism. It is the death knell for any idea that his party might one day be a party for working people.

It is only a week since we received the news that progress on child poverty has stalled, with most poor children now living in working households. The Conservatives’ manifesto said that they would

“work to eliminate child poverty”.

Instead, their solution is to change the definition—incidentally, at their second attempt; they tried this before and gave up—to remove altogether child poverty from the remit of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, and next week to announce cuts that will make the problems much worse.

The Child Poverty Act, which the Secretary of State, if I understood his statement correctly, now wants to repeal, received all-party support before 2010, and it put one of the most important duties on Government: to ensure that, in the 21st century, children do not grow up suffering deprivation or lacking the necessities that most of us take for granted. It has not just one, but four measures of poverty: absolute, relative, persistent, and material deprivation. The relative measure is the internationally accepted definition used by every OECD country.

Do the Government accept the importance of relative poverty? Will the Secretary of State clarify that? He told us in his statement that a decade or so ago he was arguing against the use of relative poverty. As he knows, at the same time the current Prime Minister was arguing for acceptance of relative poverty. In what he said today the Secretary of State echoed the words of the Prime Minister last week when he said:

“Just take the historic approach to tackling child poverty. Today, because of the way it is measured, we are in the absurd situation where if we increase the state pension, child poverty actually goes up.”

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Of course, the Prime Minister was right. If the Government increase the income of better-off people, they make others relatively poorer. The Prime Minister last week described that as absurd, but that was not what he said when he was trying to re-brand the Conservative party in 2006. In his Scarman lecture he said that the Conservative party

“will measure and will act on relative poverty…poverty is relative and those who pretend otherwise are wrong.”

He went on to say:

“We need to think of poverty in relative terms—the fact that some people lack those things which others in society take for granted.”

That was the Prime Minister speaking in 2006.

So what is the Government’s current view? Is it that focusing on relative poverty is absurd, as the Prime Minister said with conviction last week, or is it the diametrically opposite view that he set out with apparently equal conviction on behalf of his party before? Where do they now stand? The Prime Minister promised that a Government he led would “act on relative poverty”. Why is that promise being broken?

Why cannot the Secretary of State level with the House? He hopes nobody will notice this announcement or its significance because it coincides with the airports statement. Am I right in understanding that he proposes that in his legislation there will be no targets at all, or will he include some targets in it and, if so, will he tell us what they are? I remind the Secretary of State that he and his colleagues all voted for the Child Poverty Act in 2010.

When in government, Labour lifted more than 1 million children out of relative poverty and more than 2 million out of absolute poverty. A key success was raising lone parent employment from less than 45% in 1997 to more than 60% today, mainly thanks to tax credits. That was not about lifting a few people from just below a line to just above it; it was about a very substantial change in the way the economy works. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether next week the Government will announce big cuts to tax credits? That is not about making work pay; it is about making working families pay.

What we need is not a change in the definition of poverty, but a plan to deal with poverty and boost productivity. Ministers should be tackling low pay, but instead they are attacking the low-paid. The Children’s Commissioners for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have today come together to warn that the Government’s policies will push more young people into poverty. What happened to the long-term plan? Why have children been left out? Why is the party that promised in its pre-election manifesto to work to eliminate child poverty now planning to increase it?

Mr Duncan Smith: Let me deal with the points that the right hon. Gentleman has made. First, I thought that his comments were a little ridiculous. The idea that this is somehow an obituary for compassionate conservatism does him ill. He knows very well that the purpose of what we are doing is to get rid of child poverty, and that remains our central purpose. As I said earlier—and we are not alone in this—the problem is that if we lock two sets of measures that actually drive spending

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to rotate people over that line, what we get is a process of churning, but not the real and deeper change in people’s lives. That is the big reason why we want to do this.

The truth is that the previous Labour Government, on their own measure, failed to achieve their target—they failed to halve child poverty by 2010. Worse, in-work poverty actually rose. We could go through the list, but I would have thought that there was a better way of building some consensus than saying that Labour, if in power, could somehow embark on a massive spending spree and everything would be all right. Even Alan Milburn said that was unrealistic, and it remains unrealistic. We have to deal with the world as it is now, and we have to change the life chances of those children.

It is worth remembering that under this Government 74% of poor workless families who found work escaped poverty, and there was a higher poverty exit rate of 75% for children living in families who went from part-time to full-time employment. That has happened under this Government.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about international measures and suggested that we are somehow breaking away from everyone else. The reality is that no other country embarked on a plan to get rid of child poverty using that child poverty measure, and the reason is that other countries realised that it would lead to peculiar patterns of expenditure, with very little result for those who most need help.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether relative poverty is important. Yes it is, which is why we continue to publish statistics on houses below average income, and we will continue to do so, so everybody will still be able to comment on that. Our focus will be on turning around the lives of the poorest through education and ensuring that they get back to work through skilling, which my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has been working on.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the poverty figures published by the IFS last week. He knows very well that before last week most of his colleagues were running around saying, “It’s going to be terrible. The IFS is predicting that child poverty will rise dramatically.” Actually, none of that happened. [Interruption.] Even on those measures, child poverty fell by over 300,000 under this Government.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to a well-respected body such as the IFS, which has all the means at its disposal, and we have enormous respect for its ability to predict things, but its predictions on child poverty have been wrong every single year that we have been in government. In its most recent prediction it was wrong again. Its original prediction was that child poverty would rise to 2.8 million, but that was out by over half a million.

I am not attacking the IFS—far from it—but simply saying that if a Government set a policy on something they find incredibly difficult to forecast or predict, they will end up chasing the error, as the previous Labour Government did. Well over £200 billion was spent on tax credits, but the key point is to turn lives around. That is why we will present this Bill, and why we will change this so that we can reach the poorest children.

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David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Higher education standards, more apprenticeships and real jobs are what will drive down poverty, not borrowing large sums of money and spending it on benefits. Does my right hon. Friend agree?

Mr Duncan Smith: I agree. The whole point is that we want to eradicate child poverty. This is not a departure from that proposal. However, we want to ensure that we do that by changing the long-term life chances of those who live in the poorest families. I do not want to have to stand here year after year and pretend that rotating people over the line of median income somehow means that we have succeeded. I said three or four years ago that child poverty had fallen under us according to that measure, but I said that I made no claim to have done that. The previous Government crashed the economy, which is why child poverty fell.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Over 210,000 children in Scotland are living in poverty, which is more than one in five, and two thirds of them have working parents. The report published earlier today by the UK’s Children’s Commissioners makes it clear that this Government are failing to protect the most disadvantaged children from their austerity cuts. Why will the Secretary of State not back calls for powers over employment and social security to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament so that we can take more effective action there to tackle poverty?

Mr Duncan Smith: The devolved Administration in Scotland are getting powers over employment, because the Work programme and personal independence payments are being devolved, so they will have the powers to do that. In fact, the significant new powers in the Scotland Bill will give something like £2.5 billion-worth of new welfare powers to the devolved Administration, and they will be responsible for raising more than 50% of what they spend. On the basis of what I said earlier, I am happy to engage with the devolved Administrations on what measure they want to use, because they will have the capacity to decide either to continue with that measure or to change it in line with ours.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I remind colleagues that it is a very long-established convention in this House that if a Member wishes to be called in response to a ministerial statement, that Member must be present at the start of the statement; it is no good wandering in at some later point, even if it is only shortly afterwards. Any Members who came in late should please not carry on standing, because they will not be called.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Prior to 2010, when I was the party’s child poverty champion, we discussed these changes, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. Does he accept that they represent a comprehensive approach to dealing with child poverty that is actually going to help?

Mr Duncan Smith: I am glad that my hon. Friend believes that, because so do I. The purpose of what I have set out today, after a great deal of consideration over the past few years and a full consultation on the matter, is to arrive at a situation in which we are able to help those children and families in the greatest difficulty

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and try to move them out of poverty so that they sustain their lives out and beyond poverty.

Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. I re-emphasise his point that whatever definition we have will drive policy and resources, but might I make two pleas? First, when he fixes the life chances definition, he should not be too modest about his own contribution. Under the Labour Government, he and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) published a report showing that the life chances for most children, particularly poor children, can be over by the age of five. We need to concentrate on that and not to be concerned immediately with technical education, however important that may be. Secondly, this Government and the previous Labour Government have been largely successful, through their welfare-to-work scheme, in moving people from benefits to work. The welfare-to-work mark 2 agenda should be about how we move many of those who are trapped on low pay up the pay scale so that they earn decent wages, with the dignity that comes from that, while also drawing less in tax credits.

Mr Duncan Smith: I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. He knows very well that, as I have already said to him, I am very happy to engage with him and his Committee on these matters. As he says, at the beginning of the previous Parliament, we called on him and the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) to do some work for us, and I have remained absolutely wedded to the proposals that they brought forward. In fact, the Social Justice Cabinet Committee that I now chair is tasked with ensuring that those early intervention measures are driven through all Departments. My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary is already acting on much of that with the early educational markers and by driving attainment much earlier on in areas such as maths and literacy, which will be part of our measure. The right hon. Gentleman will, I hope, note that I talked about publishing, alongside that, life-chances measures for areas such as debt, drug and alcohol abuse, and family breakdown. Those measures will help to guide us on when we intervene to make the changes necessary.

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): In constituencies such as Wycombe, for far too long the combination of relative measures plus coarse aggregates has hidden real poverty in certain wards. Will my right hon. Friend focus on practical outcomes for families and individuals so that we can get out of the position where we complacently ignore those in need and real suffering?

Mr Duncan Smith: I agree. Apart from the two key areas that we are going to study very hard and put forward proposals on—the educational attainment and worklessness measures—we will have a duty to report on the pathways to poverty that I spoke about. Those will be the guiders that allow us to drive forward the change that is necessary, often in the very early years, in families suffering deprivation.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Is not this statement merely a justification for next week’s cuts to tax credits for the working poor? Is it not also about avoiding the fact that the Government

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have absolutely no hope in hell of achieving their Child Poverty Act targets? The fact is that low income is the cause of child poverty, so what is the Secretary of State going to do to address that, because this Government have absolutely failed to make work pay?

Mr Duncan Smith: I agree that low earnings are part of the problem, but that is exactly what we are trying to address in raising the thresholds and planning to raise them again to over £12,600. We have taken millions of people out of paying tax. We also targeted this by raising the minimum wage, which will rise again to £6.70. I have made it very clear that I personally want the minimum wage to rise even further. This Government are determined, through the mechanisms and interventions that I am talking about, to raise incomes and change life chances at the very earliest stage.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s determination to break the cycle of disadvantage and to focus instead on outcomes. As he knows, health inequality also traps children in disadvantage. He has touched on alcohol and drug addiction, but will he also look at the burdens of mental health inequalities, and obesity and tooth decay, because those too are having a massive impact on children’s life chances? I hope that he will work across Government Departments to make sure that they are tackled as well.

Mr Duncan Smith: I am happy to work with my hon. Friend on this. I agree with her about poor health outcomes, which often involve mental health issues. Some of those are swept up within the work that we are already doing. We will bring forward further proposals on how we can improve outcomes for people with mental health conditions by getting them to treatment much quicker. I am happy to discuss those matters, in line with the areas that I spoke about earlier.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): In a recent answer to me, the Secretary of State admitted that the proportion of the social security budget spent on 18 to 21-year-olds on jobseeker’s allowance in receipt of housing benefit is just 0.1%. When he enacts his nasty and punitive policy to remove that entitlement, what will happen to those people and their 2,400 dependent children? Does he simply not care that they are going to be thrown into greater poverty and homelessness?

Mr Duncan Smith: No. All those young people will always be supported by this Government. We are talking about getting the balance right between those who need support and can be supported by their families and those who have genuine and serious long-term difficulties. Part of the process I have announced today is to identify those families earlier. Universal credit helps enormously in identifying the families with debt problems, housing problems, and drug and alcohol problems. Getting to them and dealing with those problems is far better than the tokenism that the hon. Lady seems to be involved in.

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, which will continue to build on the Government’s work

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to address the root causes of poverty in Mid Dorset and North Poole and elsewhere. Does he agree that this Government’s work to support families and prevent family breakdown is critical in tackling child poverty and increasing children’s life chances?

Mr Duncan Smith: I do believe that. One of the big failures of Governments is that too often they have been ambivalent about the whole concept of stable family structures and have simply chased the errors. Since we came to power, family life has stabilised, according to the latest reports. More than that, we are putting millions of pounds into help and support for those in danger of family break-up, and that never happened before.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Tory party members were the strongest opponents of a national minimum wage, and no doubt the right hon. Gentleman himself voted against it. Apart from those on the Tory Benches, most people will understand very clearly that the whole purpose of his statement and policy is to try to conceal the amount of poverty, child poverty and deprivation that exist in so many constituencies like mine. He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Mr Duncan Smith: Those are the usual rather bitter and acrimonious remarks from the hon. Gentleman. I say to him, not for the first time, that I utterly disagree. More than that, I point out that all the figures that we would usually publish will continue to be published; there is no hiding anything in this report. If he is not going to be bothered to read them, I will direct him to exactly where he will find them. If we change life chances from the beginning rather than being obsessed about targets, as he is, we might change real lives rather than playing games.

James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con): In my experience as a small business owner, I was absolutely shocked to find that members of staff would decline pay rises that we offered them because they would lose so much in tax credits in this absurd system. May I assure my right hon. Friend that he will have strong support from my constituents in South Suffolk if he undertakes radical reform of tax credits, because they are a benefit trap and they hold back social mobility?

Mr Duncan Smith: We are already engaged in that. Universal credit is rolling out, replacing the current system. That will make it much easier for people to find work and then to work different hours, whereas at the moment, under tax credits, they are often penalised for making a decision to change their hours because they lose far too much of their earnings. That reform is under way, and it will change lives.

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): The UK Government’s £12 billion of proposed welfare cuts will risk putting up to 100,000 more children into poverty in Scotland by 2020. Yesterday the Secretary of State and his colleagues walked through the Lobby to turn down the opportunity for Scotland to have greater power over welfare and employment. He said in his statement that “work is the best route out of poverty.” Is it not time that Scotland had the power to tackle poverty, because his Government and his party clearly cannot?

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Mr Duncan Smith: It will not surprise the hon. Lady to hear that I do not agree with almost every single word she said. I remind her that it is no good going on and on about the powers that one wants when one is not prepared to recognise or exercise the massive powers given under the Smith commission—£2.5 billion-worth of new welfare powers, the ability to raise more than 50% of what is spent, and powers over employment programmes. I am not quite sure what she actually wants, but I do know this much: under this Government, employment in Scotland has been better than it has been after previous recessions at any other time.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s thoughtful statement. Does he agree that, despite having figures for persistent poverty in the structure of the existing poverty targets, they have not hitherto succeeded in driving public policy change in Whitehall or in improving the life chances of those in persistent poverty in Blackpool and Cleveleys?

Mr Duncan Smith: That is exactly the point I have been making. One of the big areas that has been missing is educational attainment. By locking in educational attainment, we are at last going to be able to look at a balance of measures that ask whether people are actually seeing their life chances progress. The group of people I most constantly worry about are the families who never got near the 60% line, whose life chances were flat. I want them to be able to follow a trajectory that goes above that line and for them to be able to get ahead under their own steam as they take control of their lives.

Sue Hayman (Workington) (Lab): In west Cumbria, as in many other parts of the UK, the areas of greatest deprivation have not shifted for decades, so I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that we are now moving to a high-wage economy. We have heard a lot from hon. Members about wages and tackling in-work poverty. Surely the Secretary of State must agree that until we ensure that all businesses pay a decent living wage, we are never going to tackle in-work poverty and break that cycle.

Mr Duncan Smith: The hon. Lady should recognise that wages are rising faster and more strongly than at any time since 2007, so we have started that process. We have also raised the minimum wage—it is due to go up to £6.70—but if the hon. Lady wants to press me, I absolutely agree with her. I want businesses—and I have said this before—to recognise that they need to pay the people who work for them a decent wage and not rely on the Government to subsidise that wage so that they can have bigger profits. I am going to campaign for that and I hope we will drive it.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Unemployment in my constituency of Bury North has fallen by about half since 2010. Does the Secretary of State agree that the best way to alleviate child poverty is to have a growing economy, giving more parents the opportunity to work and enabling higher wages for those already in work?

Mr Duncan Smith: I agree with my hon. Friend. The Opposition are concerned and angry that the measure is being changed, but it is worth relating the interesting fact that, even with all the money under the measure,

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the number of working-age people in in-work poverty rose by 20% between 1998-99 and 2010. It beggars belief that some want a policy that is clearly not working to continue simply because it has become totemic to them. They are not looking at its actual effect.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): If I heard the Secretary of State correctly, he said that a quarter of those who move from unemployment into work remain in poverty. Is not there a problem, therefore, of short-term working, zero-hours contracts and low wages? Is not there also a problem, particularly in London and the south-east, of excessively high rents, which are driving so many people into poverty? Any interested observer of the Secretary of State’s statement would say that it was a study in obfuscation to avoid examination of what he is really doing, which is damaging the life chances of millions of young people in this country. Child poverty is a terrible thing and he should address it rather than run away from the facts.

Mr Duncan Smith: The hon. Gentleman and I should be at one, because we are addressing the facts. That is what today’s announcement was about. The hon. Gentleman mentions the number of those who are in work but who have not risen out of poverty. The figures I read out earlier show that, of those who fail to get proper maths or English qualifications at school and make it into work—they are in the minority—some 75% of the women will never progress because of their failure to get qualifications. Does not the hon. Gentleman think that I am answering his charge through educational attainment—driving change for those children and getting them into work so that they can progress?

Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con): As a former director of a credit union, I am deeply concerned about the level of indebtedness that is endured by and has blighted the lives of many low-income families. Would the Secretary of State care to expand further on the Government’s plans to address this very difficult problem?

Mr Duncan Smith: My hon. Friend should know that in the last Parliament we put a significant amount of money into credit unions. It is our plan—we are determined about this—to get credit unions to expand and to work with them so that they become the key element for people on low incomes and others to be able to get decent support, including financial support. I recommend that all hon. Members set an example by making sure that they are members of credit unions.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): I note that the Secretary of State will remove any Government ambition to eradicate child poverty. On behalf of the hundreds and thousands of children who go to school having not eaten breakfast or who after the summer holidays turn up thinner because they have not eaten properly—many of whom actually come from working households—may I ask the Secretary of State what he will do to make sure that no child in our country is going hungry?

Mr Duncan Smith: We have provided universal free school meals and childcare measures allowing mothers to go to work. I say to the hon. Lady that under her party’s Government, in-work poverty actually rose, so she needs to look at her figures before lecturing us.

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Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I do not intend any unkindness to the hon. Lady and I want to be fair, but I do not think she has been present throughout the exchanges or that she was here at the start. Did she leave at any stage during the proceedings?

Heidi Allen indicated dissent.

Mr Speaker: She did not. I will take that from her. If that is what she tells me, I am content with that.

Heidi Allen: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was here towards the end of the transport statement.

I want to draw on my own experiences as a business owner. It is important that, however we choose to describe the measures, we tackle child poverty head-on. During the early days of one particular employee’s employment, it felt like I had to drag him to work. He was a young man aged 21 with three small children and it was clear that nobody, including his peers and parents, had brought him up in the world. When I gave him employment and put his money up, he was still culturally unable to find the mental drive to go to work. We have to tackle child poverty by getting to people when they are young, through education, giving them hope and making sure they have food in their bellies—whatever it takes—and we have to achieve that together. I have seen it at the other end—you can drag a horse to water—so I welcome what the Secretary of State is trying to do.

Mr Duncan Smith: I welcome my hon. Friend to her place and her experience of running a business and trying to get people from difficult backgrounds into work. My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary is already engaged in driving schools to help inculcate and teach character resilience and key characteristics such as understanding what it is to go to work and to get up in the morning. Under this Government, average weekly earnings have been rising faster than for a considerable time.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): The Secretary of State has told us that he will remove the current child poverty targets and replace them with a number of measures. I am uncertain, however, about whether there will be any other targets. If not, how will we be able to measure his success? Clearly, success is needed because, as he knows, 37% of London children live in poverty and unless he is successful they will continue to be poor.

Mr Duncan Smith: We are going to be very open and publish all the elements I mentioned earlier, including those relating to educational attainment, workless households, the new life chances measures and the figures for households below average income, so the hon. Lady and anybody else will be able to see them. We are not hiding from anything. We want those HBAI figures to fall and for the educational attainment and working household figures to improve. That will all be evident and if we are not achieving that, the hon. Lady can be the first on her feet to say so.

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): The Secretary of State referred to universal credit in response to an earlier question. It is acknowledged that universal credit will be a vital support to families and children.

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What is being done to ensure that people in rural areas without high-speed broadband connections will not be disadvantaged in this process?

Mr Duncan Smith: That is a very good question, and the hon. Lady is right to say that universal credit will help enormously. The Government have a massive programme to roll out superfast broadband to every area of the country. I will take the hon. Lady’s question to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport so that it can tell her how soon it will arrive in her area. Even if people are unable to do it online, we have made full provision for them to do it, if necessary, by paper exchange, as they would at the moment.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The Secretary of State has announced that he will report on measures of worklessness and educational attainment. Will he take care to make sure that those figures are broken down by race and ethnicity, because there are complex factors at work? It is not necessarily the case that all groups of black children do worse than all groups of white children. Although we might disagree on the remedies, without sound data we cannot plan to help all of our children.

Mr Duncan Smith: I give the hon. Lady that absolute assurance.

Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): Regardless of the fiddle the Secretary of State is carrying out on the measure of poverty, does he not accept that if his Government press ahead with cuts to tax credits without raising the minimum wage to at least the living wage, he will plunge many more of my constituents and their children into poverty?

Mr Duncan Smith: The purpose is to get people into work and to help to drive up their hours so that they end up in full-time work and beyond the benefit system. I believe the reforms we have carried out and those we will bring forward will aid that. He should be reminded that his devolved Administration has the capacity and power to decide what measures they want to employ.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): One of the proudest and best achievements of the previous Labour Government was the roll-out of 3,600 Sure Start children’s centres. If, as the Secretary of State says, this is all about outcomes, not inputs, why has his Government slashed the budgets of local authorities, which pay for Sure Start, to such an extent that more than 800 have closed and many more are now hollow shells of their former selves? To use his very words, they are now unable to make

“meaningful change to children’s lives”.

Mr Duncan Smith: We gave local authorities responsibility and the money. We did not ring-fence the money, but we told them that their priority should be to make sure that that early years work takes place. My view across the board is that, as all the studies I have seen show, the quality of that work is as good if not better than it was before. I was and remain a great supporter of such support, and I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will ensure that it continues.

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Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): London is the sixth richest city in the world and it produces a fifth of the GDP of the United Kingdom; yet four out of 10 of its children are in poverty. Does the Secretary of State accept that businesses recognise those facts by paying a London weighting? Is it time that he considered a London weighting both in relation to the minimum wage and the benefits cap in London?

Mr Duncan Smith: As a London MP, I am only too well aware of the peculiar difficulties faced by London. Even after all the years of very high expenditure through tax credits, we still have the situation that the hon. Gentleman mentions. Certain particular facts about London make that a reality. I would simply say that my purpose in all this is to look at all measures to have a better way of making certain that the support goes to such individuals. I am very happy to discuss with him the matter he raises to see whether we can make any progress.

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: Mr Wood, were you here at the start?

Mike Wood: I certainly was.

Mr Speaker: Good. Let us hear from Mr Wood.

Mike Wood: Despite the progress that has been made during the past five years, too many children of disabled parents remain in poverty. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that the Government will continue to work to help more disabled people into work—and well-paid work—so that such children can look forward to better outcomes?

Mr Duncan Smith: I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. The Government rightly spend significant sums of money on support for disabled people throughout the UK. In fact, I think the amount we spend on disabled people, as a proportion of GDP, is more than is spent by America, Germany and France together. I am proud of that. It is the right thing to do, and we should continue to do it. However, many people who have disabilities are desperate for work. We have now increased the proportion who are in work to record levels, but that is not good enough. I want to get it up to the same level as for the rest of society.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State please explain how redefining child poverty and removing targets will in practice give help today to a child living in poverty in a family who are in work?

Mr Duncan Smith: We continue to support families who are in work through the various mechanisms we have. As universal credit rolls out, it will add to those mechanisms, and there are additions for families with children. Including the measures I am announcing today, we will address that by ensuring that the children in such families have improved life chances through improved educational achievement. We have already done a huge amount through free school meals, support through childcare—there are massive amounts of new childcare—and the involvement of parents in further work. We are doing more to help those families than was ever done before.

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Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP): Would the Secretary of State care to comment on a recent policy proposal from the Resolution Foundation, which has pointed out that if one really wants to target help to working families on low and middle incomes, the best way to do it is to increase or boost the working allowance as opposed to giving them tax cuts?

Mr Duncan Smith: I have never seen such things as either/or. A well-balanced Government will decide how they can help certain specific groups with support where necessary. We have done that in a variety of areas, including through the tax credits we inherited from the previous Labour Government and now through universal credit. I am a great believer in this: if, as we have done, we give people incentives by raising the threshold and taking millions of low-paid people out of tax, that has got to be good because now that they do not pay tax, they can hold on to more of their money.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): The Secretary of State will no doubt want to join me in welcoming the Welsh Labour Government’s moves to tackle the deep roots of poverty, whether relative or absolute poverty, including schemes such as the Flying Start programme. He will also welcome the news that Labour-controlled Rhondda Cynon Taf Council intends to move all its workers on to the living wage. Does he agree with the concern that cuts to in-work benefits that happen too soon and are not commensurate or simultaneous with rises in the minimum wage or a move towards the living wage will inevitably impact on absolute poverty in working households?

Mr Duncan Smith: I am not altogether acquainted with the programmes that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but I have talked at length to the devolved Administration in Wales. We have endlessly discussed how we can interact. I would like us to interact more; they are sometimes a bit resistant to doing so. My purpose is to help people to get back to work and out of poverty. Wales is seeing a bit of a renaissance in terms of people going back to work, which is good news. As far as I am concerned, we want to help people through work, and I want employers to pay their people a decent wage. I have ensured that the Department for Work and Pensions in London pays the London living wage to all, including the cleaners.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Higher educational attainment and improved job prospects are important goals, but they are long-term ones. In the meantime, child tax credits are absolutely vital. Indeed, they are a more precise way of targeting help to children in low-income families than normal rises in the tax threshold. The majority of such families are of course in work. What assurances will the Secretary of State give us that there is no plan to reduce child tax credits for these hard-working families?

Mr Duncan Smith: We have brought forward these particular measures because they allow us to identify families better. We now have to do the work to identify families who are stuck on low trajectories and are unlikely to break free of such a position on the measure by which we have always measured poverty in the past. I would simply say that that is the best way to give

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workless families more opportunities now. In the longer term, educational attainment will help to ensure that their children do not repeat what has happened in the past. I believe that the reforms we are making and those we will bring forward will help children more and will help parents to get back into work faster.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): The Secretary of State has not actually addressed the questions asked about tax credits by my constituency neighbour. If I may say so, his statement skirted around the issue of children living in households where the parents work but are still in poverty. How can it possibly be fair, in next week’s Budget or at some point in the future, to cut the tax credits for those families? All he has said today about these measures and everything else will not help the parents of those households to pay the bills when he cuts their tax credits overnight.

Mr Duncan Smith: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman ever reflects on the fact that people can best get out of poverty by progressing through work. In discussions with Labour Members, I tend to find that they are still wedded to the idea that only through constant and high Government spending can anyone move beyond the status of being in poverty. That is the difference between us: Conservative Members believe that helping, encouraging and getting people back to work and reducing the tax burden on them is likely to get them out of poverty; Labour Members think that only Government spending succeeds.

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Point of Order

2.40 pm

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Today it has been announced that, tragically, a couple from Leeds, Christopher and Sharon Bell, who were taking a holiday, were among the victims in the Tunisia massacre. I should like to place on record the condolences of the House.

I seek your advice, Mr Speaker. As the days pass, we know that further victims will be identified. Is there a way in which the whole House can offer condolences to the families at this tragic time?

Mr Speaker: The ingenuity of individual Members can sometimes enable that to happen, as the hon. Gentleman has just demonstrated with some piquancy. He will be aware that the Prime Minister periodically updates the House on losses of life that occur as a result either of tragedy or of evil. I think we will leave it there for today, but I note the concern the hon. Gentleman has expressed, which I am sure is shared in all parts of the House.

Owing to an administrative error, a notice of presentation of Bill did not appear in this morning’s Order Paper as first printed. That has since—I am pleased to say—been corrected.

Bill Presented

National Health Service Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Caroline Lucas, supported by Dr Philippa Whitford, Cat Smith, John Pugh, Hywel Williams, Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Michael Meacher, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, Rob Marris, Kelvin Hopkins, John McDonnell and Mr Roger Godsiff, presented a Bill to re-establish the Secretary of State’s legal duty as to the National Health Service in England and to make provision about the other duties of the Secretary of State in that regard; to make provision about the administration and accountability of the National Health Service in England; to repeal section 1 of the National Health Service (Private Finance) Act 1997 and sections 38 and 39 of the Immigration Act 2014; to make provision about the application of international law in relation to health services in the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 March, and to be printed (Bill 37).

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Opposition Day

[4th Allotted Day]

Equal Pay and the Gender Pay Gap

Mr Speaker: It may be for the convenience of the House to be informed—I believe I have been advised correctly—that the second of today’s scheduled Opposition day debates has been pulled, which is to say it has been postponed, and so there will simply be one debate. That is in consequence of the two ministerial statements. We now come to that Opposition day debate and to the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. To move that motion, I call the shadow Minister responsible for these important matters, Gloria De Piero.

2.42 pm

Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House notes that, 45 years after the Equal Pay Act 1970, women still earn on average 81 pence for every pound earned by men; welcomes the fact that pay transparency under section 78 of the Equality Act 2010 will be introduced in 2016; and calls on the Government to ensure that this results in real progress to close the gender pay gap by mandating the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to conduct, in consultation with the Low Pay Commission, an annual equal pay check to analyse information provided under section 78 on pay gaps across every sector of the economy and to make recommendations to close the gender pay gap.

The motion stands in the name of my hon. and right hon. Friends. May I take this opportunity to welcome the new Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice? I hope she will put her heart and soul into it and I wish her well in the role.

It gives me great pleasure to have called the debate today on the subject of equal pay. If we boil it down, we see that the cause of equal pay is a matter of simple workplace injustice. It is about people’s basic right to be paid fairly for the work they do, to have the opportunity to move up, and to be able to improve life for themselves and their families, regardless of whether they are a working man or a working woman.

Equal pay is a fight that colours the history of the Labour party and movement, from women tram and bus conductors who went on strike in 1918, to the women machinists in the Ford Dagenham plant. The House first pressed for equal pay in 1944, in relation to equal pay for men and women teachers. The Conservative Member for Islington East, Thelma Cazalet-Keir, inserted a clause in the Education Bill but it was not to be. Churchill was so incensed that he pressured her to withdraw her amendment, telling her, “Now, Thelma. We’ll have no more of that equal pay business.”

Thelma withdrew her proposal, but Churchill agreed to set up a royal commission on equal pay. Four years later, that commission warned that paying women the same as men

“may prove disastrous in the long run even to young and strong women by heavily overtaxing their nervous and muscular energy”.

Thankfully, times changed, and in 1970 Labour’s Barbara Castle ignored those apocalyptic predictions and passed the Equal Pay Act 1970. Until that time, it was commonplace for jobs to be advertised with one rate of pay for a man, and another for a woman. The Equal

1 July 2015 : Column 1522

Pay Act outlawed discrimination in pay and is still used today by women to challenge such discrimination, but it is not enough. Forty-five years on, women still earn on average 81p for every £1 a man earns.

Throughout our history, my party has fought for equality. We fought for the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which outlawed maternity and sex discrimination; child benefit; the national minimum wage; a year’s maternity leave and the doubling of maternity pay; 15 hours’ free childcare; and the right to flexible working and paid paternity leave. I am proud that my party cut the pay gap by a third during our time in government, but we did not eradicate it.

I am sure the Secretary of State will say in her speech that the gender pay gap is the lowest on record, but I hope she will also concede that, in the past five years, the pace at which the pay gap is closing has slowed. That is why pay transparency is important. When companies publish data on pay, they are often surprised by how few women are in senior positions or earn the same as their male colleagues, and they usually act to change it.

Last summer, we launched a campaign for pay transparency, which called for a small but important action: that the Government implement section 78 of the Equality Act 2010 and mandate big companies to publish their gender pay gap. It is fair to say the Government put up some resistance, despite an excellent private Member’s Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). There was a rally outside Parliament led by a truly unusual and exotic coalition—I am not talking about the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg). Ex-Bond girl Gemma Arterton joined the wonderful Dagenham machinist women, Unite the union members and Grazia magazine readers to call for pay transparency. The Government changed their stance, and I thank them for having the courage to change their mind, because, after all, pay transparency is a pretty humble measure: the simple act of companies that employ more than 250 workers publishing their pay gap. That simple step can help us to take huge strides towards closing the gender pay gap once and for all.

For that to happen, however, the information provided by around 7,000 businesses must lead to change. Transparency is effective only when firms act on the information revealed.

Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech and some very important points, but she has not touched on a critical factor: for full-time workers, the gender pay gap for women under 40 has all but disappeared.

Gloria De Piero: I will come to the way in which full-time and part-time gender pay gaps are measured. I believe there is a flaw in the measurement. An hour at work is an hour at work, no matter whether someone is part-time or full-time. I for one find it peculiar that the Office for National Statistics makes that distinction. Is it because most women are in part-time work? I fear that that is exactly why.

Friends Life, the big insurance company, was one of the first big companies to publish its pay gap. It said that

“what gets measured, gets managed”

1 July 2015 : Column 1523

and that

“what gets publicly reported, gets managed better”.

In other words, transparency can lead to real and lasting change. We believe it is time to take that principle and apply it to the whole country.

The purpose of the motion is to propose that the independent Equality and Human Rights Commission should be tasked with analysing the information and producing a report to the Government and Parliament each year. It will monitor progress and make recommendations for action. It will act as an equal pay watchdog. An annual equal pay check would be a tool used to measure progress towards the goal of eliminating the gender pay gap in this generation.

By analysing the information, the EHRC could compare progress in different sectors, highlight areas where the gap is unusually high or widening, and identify companies, professions or industries where the gender pay gap is a thing of the past. We recommend that the EHRC draws on the expertise of the statisticians at the Low Pay Commission, because the disproportionate number of women in low-paid jobs is a major factor in the pay gap. Crucially, the EHRC should make recommendations for action, based on its analysis. It could do that by highlighting the best practice it finds in industries and individual companies, because there is not just one reason for the gender pay gap.

Discrimination still happens. I have spoken to women who are senior executives in investment banks and women working as council care assistants who have suffered because of it. Their stories are real and human.

Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): The hon. Lady is making a very good speech and an important point, but does she agree that it is unacceptable for Labour-controlled North Lanarkshire Council, which encompasses my constituency, to have dragged the equal pay claims of its hard-working staff through the courts for years at great cost to the taxpayer?

Gloria De Piero: I am not an expert on North Lanarkshire Council, but I would say, in relation to Scotland, that the pay gap has increased while the Scottish National party has been in government. That is a worry and it goes against the trend.

One woman who works in childcare won her equal pay claim after years of being paid less than men working in jobs that required fewer skills. She told me:

“I’d got a fair amount of money through the payout, but all of those years I struggled to pay my bills and the debt I was in as a low-waged woman worker…all those years I was in debt to credit card companies, even though I had been to college for two years. I’d got qualifications; it was a vocation not a job. And I think what would my life have been like if I’d been paid a fair wage?”

Winning an equal pay claim has never been easy. Equal pay claims make up only a fraction of employment tribunal claims. The Government have made the task even harder with the introduction of tribunal fees, which have led to a 69% fall in equal pay claims. Fewer women are accessing justice to challenge pay discrimination.

Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is crucial that cost never acts as a barrier to justice?

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Gloria De Piero: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Indeed, our manifesto stated that the whole system needs reform, so that nobody is priced out of seeking justice at work.

Pay transparency has never only been about pay discrimination. The causes of the gender pay gap across business and across Britain are far more complex. Why is most low-paid work today done by women? Women do 59% of all minimum wage jobs: a quarter of working women earning less than the living wage, compared with a sixth of men. Why are only 9.6% of executive directors on FTSE boards women?

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): The hon. Lady is making a number of very good points and I have a great amount of respect for her. Will she join me in congratulating our female First Minister, the first female First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who topped the “Woman’s Hour” international influencers poll today? She has instilled one of the first 50:50 gender balance Cabinets and has done a huge amount to champion the cause of equality for women and young girls in Scotland and across the UK.

Gloria De Piero: I always welcome and applaud senior women in our politics. I do not want to be too churlish, but I will put on record that the Labour Benches still have more women MPs, despite the fact that we left office, than all the other parties put together.

By monitoring and assessing the evidence, the annual equal pay check will help us to determine whether the continued existence of the pay gap is driven mainly by a lack of women in top jobs, and enable us to identify the industries in which women are paid less because they are mainly employed in flexible or part-time work.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): The number of women in top jobs is an important issue. I had the privilege, in my business career prior to coming to the House, of working with top female executives such as Angela Spindler and Libby Chambers—people I really respected. Good progress has been made to increase the representation of women on boards. Does the hon. Lady believe that this will help to tackle the challenge that she is rightly putting to the House today?

Gloria De Piero: I am delighted that we have more women on boards, but we have so much further to go. We want women to take decisions and to be in executive roles on boards. I am afraid progress on that is really not good enough.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): While we are talking about the kind of industries that do not have women at the top, will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the first woman Bishop of Hull, who will be ordained in York Minster on Friday? Alongside her will be our first female chief constable of Humberside police. Indeed, I will be there too, as the first women ever to represent a constituency in Hull. This is about increasing young women’s chances of having those types of careers, as well as others.

Gloria De Piero: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Those moments of progress are indeed reasons to celebrate. What happens in schools is really important.

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The decline of careers advice and work experience will take us backwards in challenging stereotypes in career choices.

Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): The hon. Lady is making a very powerful and thoughtful speech. I ask this question in the interests of genuine debate and gaining information. We have heard that we do not have enough women in senior positions. It is possible that that is because we have not reached a tipping point where more women feel it is perfectly normal to be on a board of directors. Does the hon. Lady think we should employ more positive discrimination to reach that tipping point, so that senior roles become much more acceptable for younger women coming through?

Gloria De Piero: That has certainly worked for non-executive positions on boards. My experience, and the experience of friends and colleagues, is that when in work, women want to progress, take decisions and move up the ladder to executive roles. It is therefore important for us as a country to ask why more women are not in senior positions, because it is not credible that there are simply not enough talented women who could rise to the top of their professions. I think it is fair to say that something else is going on. Nobody wants their daughters, wives or girlfriends to miss out on those kinds of opportunities. This is not just a women’s issue; it is an issue for Britons.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is being most generous in giving way. Does she share my disappointment that, rather uniquely, the debate has twice as many women MPs in the Chamber, listening to her excellent remarks, as men? There are only half as many men in the Chamber.

Gloria De Piero: That is why I am so delighted that my hon. Friend has made that intervention. This cannot be seen as a women’s issue; it is a family issue. If women are not paid what they are due, all families are poorer and we are all poorer. It is for that reason that those of us on the Labour Benches have long argued for the gender pay gap to be measured in the difference in hourly wages among all male and female workers—full-time and part-time workers combined. The ONS and the current Government use the figure for full-time workers when referring to the gender pay gap, but that masks the true extent of the pay gap across our economy. An hour at work is an hour at work.

As I am sure everyone in this House would recognise, the gender pay gap in Britain is not simply about the difference between those performing the same work for different pay. It is about the dominance of women in low-paid work, and the lack of highly paid, high-quality flexible and part-time positions at the top of companies that allow parents to balance work and family life.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): I probably should declare that I have an outstanding equal pay claim against my former employer. It is clear that a number of public bodies have a number of employees—thousands, in fact—with outstanding pay claims. How does the hon. Lady think that should be settled? Should the Government step in and discuss with public bodies how to settle these outstanding claims?

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Gloria De Piero: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is my understanding that many of the claims in the public sector were resolved under the Labour Government through various means, such as “Agenda for Change” in the NHS and other workplace agreements. If there is further work to do, then of course it should be completed.

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con): Following on from the point on the numbers game made by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), will the hon. Lady comment on the fact that there are more Conservative male Members on the Benches today than there are Labour?

Gloria De Piero: Well done! [Laughter.]

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): Not proportionally.

Gloria De Piero: Not proportionally—the shadow Education Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), is performing the role of Carol Vorderman. It is a delight to see my male colleagues on the Labour Front Bench today.

Some 41% of female jobs are part-time jobs, yet on an hourly basis this part-time work is paid a third less than the full-time equivalent. So, to get a real picture of the extent of pay inequality in Britain between men and women, we have to recognise this full-time/part-time pay gap. Otherwise, we will never take the steps needed to encourage the creation of higher-paid, flexible working at every level in our economy.

Jo Cox (Batley and Spen) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a matter of deep concern affecting young women? Since 2001, there have been, on average, 130,000 more young women a year not in education, employment or training than young men—that is currently 418,000 18 to 24-year-old women. Does she think we need to address that issue specifically, and does she support what the Young Women’s Trust is doing in setting up an inquiry chaired by Sian Williams into female NEETs?

Gloria De Piero rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Before the hon. Lady continues, let me remind Members, especially those fairly new to the House, that interventions have to be short, because it is otherwise not fair for people who sit here all day waiting to make their speeches.

Gloria De Piero: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and the Young Women’s Trust is doing fantastic work, with Deborah Mattinson at the helm. What my hon. Friend mentioned is, of course, a cause of real concern. Women’s participation in further education over the past five years has almost halved, so I hope that the Government will address those important points.

Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab): I hope my hon. Friend will agree with me. She mentioned women in part-time work, and it was a fantastic and proud moment when the Labour Government enabled councils to get capitalisation to provide equal pay for local authority workers. Does she also agree about the current threat from deregulation and the accompanying rhetoric on legislating to change employment law?

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Gloria De Piero: The Labour Government did some fantastic work on equal pay. My hon. Friend will know that we Labour Members never stop fighting for progress and never stop challenging. That is why today is part of the overall journey; we must monitor what happens to make sure that we do not go backwards.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The hon. Lady is generous in giving way. I have to say that I have never had any difficulty in being short. The last Labour Government might have done a great deal in this area, but one thing they did not do was indicate that they would bring into force section 78 of the Equality Act 2010. It has taken this Government to do that, so will she explain why the last Labour Government did not consider transparency important?

Gloria De Piero: Gosh—let me explain what happened. Just before we left office, we introduced—led by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the acting leader of the Labour party—the Equality Act 2010. We passed the Act and section 78 merely needed to be implemented, but the coalition parties decided to ditch that section. [Interruption.] Yes, that is what happened, so I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for enabling me to remind the House of what happened.

It is extraordinary that even in professions dominated by women—hairdressing, catering, cleaning—the pay gap still exists, while women in skilled trades, including plumbers and mechanics, suffer the biggest pay gap of all. They are paid close to 30% less than their male colleagues. That is an astonishing statistic.

The information that companies will start publishing next year will provide the most comprehensive account of the gender pay gap in this country. It can tell us where progress needs to be made—sector by sector, industry by industry—but only if a central independent watchdog is tasked with ensuring that that happens.

Today, girls are outperforming boys at school and university, but even at ages 18 to 21, women are paid less on average than young men of their age. When women hit their 20s, they are already 5p behind male colleagues. This gap continues to widen throughout women’s working lives, peaking when women reach their 50s when they can expect to earn just 73p for every male pound.

Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): In later life, one of the issues is child rearing. Does the hon. Lady agree that what the coalition Government did in bringing in shared parental leave will help ease that burden and enable more women to be equal partners in the workplace?

Gloria De Piero: When it comes to parental leave, I welcome any progress. We need to ensure that more dads take paternity leave. That is why at the last election, the Labour party said that we would double the number and increase the funding. Sadly, we are not able to implement what we wanted.

Let me provide a few more figures before I close my speech. If a woman is working in sales or the care industry, the pay gap means losing more than £100,000 over the course of a working life. A woman working in finance or law will stand to lose over £200,000. We do

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not fight against this injustice for women alone, because no man wants his wife, daughter, sister or mother to be earning less simply because they are a woman. Women should not have to wait another 45 years—or another 70 years, as the UN has estimated—for equal pay in Britain. I hope that today’s motion will be viewed as uncontroversial in many ways, and that the Government will be happy to vote with us.

I understand that the plan is to consult over the summer, so this is about setting the ambition high and securing an annual equal pay check that will use the information soon to be published to drive forward progress and end this injustice once and for all. Labour Members have a long and proud history of campaigning for equal pay. This motion represents the next step on that journey. I commend it to the House.

3.5 pm

The Minister for Women and Equalities (Nicky Morgan): I start by thanking the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) and her colleagues for securing this important debate on the gender pay gap. I am delighted that we will have almost a full afternoon’s debate in the Chamber on this issue. My hope for the debate is that there will be a real consensus on the causes of the pay gap and on the solutions, some of which the hon. Lady has already set out. I hope, too, that there will be recognition—I think there has been—that this Government are committed to reducing the gender pay gap and to ending pay discrimination.

The gender pay gap is not just a measure of inequality that affects women’s income and ultimately their pensions; it is a measure of lost productivity and lost talent, too. Women make up half the population, but too often their skills are under-utilised in our economy. We need to address this mismatch and optimise the potential for the UK’s economic growth.

The House will be aware of our manifesto commitment to require companies with at least 250 employees to publish gender pay information. I intend to launch a consultation imminently, with a view to making regulations at the earliest opportunity. I know these regulations will have support from all sides and are endorsed in the motion. The consultation will not focus solely on the regulations, but will look at the full range of actions needed to close the pay gap and consign it to history. I hope that that is an ambitious enough target for the hon. Member for Ashfield, who laid down a challenge to me at the end of her speech.

Before I proceed further, I want to be clear on what we mean by the gender pay gap. I know that there is frequently confusion about the relationship between equal pay and the gender pay gap, and that campaigners, the media, and even Members can use these terms interchangeably—but they are not interchangeable. This debate should not focus narrowly on equal pay for equal work, which is already illegal and constitutes unlawful pay discrimination. The gender pay gap measures the difference between men and women’s average salaries. This difference is driven by a number of factors, notably the different careers women tend to enter, and the levels of seniority to which they progress. I will deal with each in turn. It is important to be clear that unlawful pay discrimination is only one driver of the gender pay gap, and not the most significant one.

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Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con): One of the real problems is getting girls to study STEM subjects and to access those highly paid and highly skilled jobs. For example, only 19% of girls who achieved an A* in GCSE physics went on to study the subject at A-level. That compares with 49% of boys. Until we tackle that gap, we will not be able to tackle the gender pay gap.

Nicky Morgan: I know that my hon. Friend has been participating in debates in the House for a number of weeks now, but I would like to welcome her to her position. She is absolutely right in what she says, and I am going to come on to deal with it in more detail, because it is relevant to my work both as Minister for Women and Equalities and as Secretary of State for Education.

As I have said, one of the most substantial causes of the pay gap is the fact that women are still far less likely to work in more highly paid industries. As Education Secretary, I am very conscious of the fact that that begins with the different choices that children make at school. My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) has just made the same point.

Dawn Butler (Brent Central) (Lab): The Secretary of State is advancing some powerful and valid arguments. One possible way in which people can tackle the pay gap is to take their employer to a tribunal, but the Government have introduced tribunal fees, and, as a magistrate, I have observed that that has deterred many women from taking their employers to court. The number has fallen by 68%. How does the Secretary of State think we might change that statistic?

Nicky Morgan: I respect the hon. Lady’s experience as a magistrate. The fees were introduced during the last Parliament to reduce a £71 million burden on the taxpayer, but, as she may know, on 11 June the Government announced the start of a post-implementation review. We will consider how successful the policy has been in achieving its original objectives, which include the maintaining of access to justice. Of course, those whose claims are successful can recover the fees.

The important question that we shall discuss today, however, is how we can prevent the need for employees to go to tribunals. There should be no discrimination in the first place, in the context of both equal pay for equal work and closing the gender pay gap. I think that the hon. Lady should wait and see how our review progresses.

Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab): The Secretary of State mentions a review, but is it not already clear from the 68% drop in the number of claims that the fees are not working?

Nicky Morgan: One reason for the introduction of fees was to ensure that people did not have to go through the tribunal process, which, as I suspect we all know from our constituents, is costly, time-consuming and stressful. There are other ways of resolving disputes such as mediation. I do not think it right for us to prejudge what the review will find, and I am not sure that this is the right debate in which to focus on the economic situation with which the Government have had to deal, but the £71 million of taxpayers’ money that we have saved will go towards paying off the deficit and debt that was left to us.

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Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): The Secretary of State referred to alternative ways of dealing with the situation. When she conducts her review, will she take another look at the short-form questionnaire, which enables a woman who believes that she has been discriminated against to ask her employer for certain facts and figures before even going to a tribunal and taking legal action?

Nicky Morgan: The point of the review is to take account of questions of exactly that kind. It is being conducted by the Ministry of Justice, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, who is also a Minister in the MOJ, has heard what the hon. Lady has said.

Girls often do better than boys at school overall, but evidence shows that their subject choices have a direct impact on their future careers and earnings, and that that imbalance can feed directly into our labour market. A proportion of the gap is also due to differences in years of experience of full-time work, or the negative effect on wages of having previously worked part time or—as was mentioned earlier—having taken time out to look after a family. That highlights the important role that employers can play in supporting women in the middle phases of their working lives by providing effective talent management, facilitating access to affordable childcare, and championing flexible working.

We also know that the gender pay gap is higher for older women. For many of them one of the major challenges is keeping their skills updated, but for others the main challenge is the need to reduce their hours to accommodate increased responsibilities to care for children, grandchildren and ageing parents. Again, employers have a key role, namely to provide a supportive working environment that will enable them to get the best out of all their staff. That will include flexible working.

Mrs Miller: The Secretary of State has mentioned older women. I recently looked at some statistics relating to women graduates. For more than 25 years more than 40% of university graduates have been women, and today there are female undergraduates in 53% of the Russell Group universities, which are the best in the country. Given those figures, is the Secretary of State as surprised as I am that fewer than 10% of executive positions in FTSE 100 firms are taken by women?

Nicky Morgan: I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is to be the first Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. Yes, I am surprised, but I suspect that we all have friends who, although they were just as capable as us at university, did not decide to pursue a career for some reason, or are not as far up the career ladder as we might have expected them to be. I also suspect that that does not apply to all the men whom we may have known at university.

Diana Johnson: May I return the Secretary of State to the issue of the decisions that young people make at school, and the subject choices that they make? Are we not missing a trick? Should we not look to primary schools to make young girls, in particular, aware of the opportunities that may arise from studying science, technology, engineering and maths?

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Nicky Morgan: I entirely agree. I shall say more about careers shortly, but, while we want to get the absolute basics right—the reading, writing and arithmetic—there is no doubt about the importance of inspiring young people, particularly girls, and interesting them in STEM subjects. The week that my son spent touring other classrooms and conducting science projects was one of the most exciting weeks that he had experienced. If we can persuade young people—again, particularly girls—to think about careers that they might not otherwise have thought about, such as engineering, we can all be very proud of that.

Rishi Sunak (Richmond (Yorks) (Con): I am blessed to be the father of two young daughters. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the initiative “Your Daughter’s Future”, and explain how it is helping parents like me and, perhaps, many other Members to enable our children to make subject choices that will give them access to the best possible careers?

Nicky Morgan: We launched that programme just before the election. It enables parents to have conversations with their daughters about the types of career that might be out there, the subjects that interest them, and the subject choices that they may need to make in order to secure fulfilling careers. I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend is the father of two daughters. While it is lovely to have him here, I hope that one of the careers that he might advise them to consider is politics. As we all know, we need more women in the House.

Simon Hoare: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Nicky Morgan: Yes, if my hon. Friend wants to take up that point.

Simon Hoare: I am the father of three daughters, although I am not entirely sure that “blessed” is the word I would always use.

On a serious note, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Blandford school, which is in my constituency? Last Friday, for the third year in a row, not just existing but retired business men and women allowed young pupils at the school to draw on their experience. For instance, they told them how to deal with job interviews and prepare job applications. That is exactly how we should go about abolishing the pay gap.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I want to enable all Members to speak. May I say to new Members that if they make short interventions, every speaker will have between eight and nine minutes. If they can stick to that, everyone will be well served.

Nicky Morgan: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I congratulate Blandford school, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, on its initiative. There are indeed many people who can inspire pupils of all ages by telling them about the career choices that are available to them. I know my hon. Friend’s three daughters well, and I know exactly who wears the trousers in his household.

Let me now make some progress. I was talking about seniority. As we know, women are still less likely to progress up the career ladder. They represent 47% of the work force, but only 34% of managers, directors and

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senior officials. We also know that women are sometimes not as well paid as male colleagues even when they achieve similar seniority. That may, of course, be the result of direct discrimination—which, as I have said, is already illegal—or it may be more subtle, and reflect, for example, men's greater willingness to negotiate pay rises. Either way, on this issue, the existing legal protections have a clear role to play. However, I hope that I have made it clear that the causes of the pay gap are complex. The response from Government and employers must therefore reflect that complexity and avoid over-simplifying the issue, which unfortunately still happens. That is precisely why under this Government we are taking action on all fronts. It is why we are taking action to raise girls’ aspirations, to support women with childcare and to get more women up the career ladder.

Our efforts must start early. I am passionate about the work we are doing to raise aspirations in schools and to ensure that no child, regardless of their gender, race or background, thinks that some careers are not for them.

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): On that note, does my right hon. Friend think we should provide more careers advice in schools, particularly through businesses and engineering companies? Should not more advice be provided on science, especially in relation to the STEM subjects? We can then help women to progress up the career ladder in those areas where we have a gap, and perhaps role models would be helpful.

Nicky Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She might have seen an advance copy of my speech, because I am going to talk about careers advice. Perhaps I should just press-release it and then we could move on with the debate.

We are broadening the career aspirations of girls and young women by encouraging them to get into STEM-related careers through the “Your Life” campaign. As we have already discussed, we have also published new guidance for parents, “Your Daughter’s Future”, which we will continue to promote.

As hon. Members have said, support with careers is vital. That is why in December last year I announced a new careers and enterprise company, to be led by employers and independent of Government. That company will help to transform the provision of young people’s careers experiences. It will help to ensure that all young people, irrespective of gender or background, aspire to great things and know how to achieve them. I am delighted to inform the House that Claudia Harris, a former partner at McKinsey and a graduate of Harvard Business School, has been appointed chief executive. Claudia is exactly the role model schools and businesses need, with her passion for female leadership, her drive to excel and to make a difference. I should of course also mention the fabulous chairman, Christine Hodgson. As I always say, if you want something done well, ask women. That is nowhere more true than with the England women’s football team. I am sure we all wish them every success in tonight’s match.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): But they are paid less than the men.

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Nicky Morgan: That is a very good point. That is perhaps the next challenge we will have to take on.

We are also taking strong action to ensure that our workplaces are fit for the 21st century. As part of that, the right to request flexible working was extended to all employees from last June. More than 20 million employees now have that right. Working parents now also have the option of taking shared parental leave and pay, which will enable a culture change to take place both in the home and in the workplace.

Affordable, good-quality childcare is vital to enabling parents to stay and progress in work. Almost 2 million families can benefit from our new tax childcare scheme from autumn 2015, worth up to £2,000 per child. In our manifesto, we announced that we would extend the number of free hours from 15 to 30 hours a week for three and four-year-olds from working families.

Ultimately, we know that we cannot address the gender pay gap unless we work with business. We have also strongly promoted and championed the work of the Women’s Business Council, set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), and implemented Lord Davies’ conclusions on women on boards.

Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab): Does the right hon. Lady agree that in order to improve the number of women on boards we must do much more to tackle the pipeline and encourage businesses to promote women internally? From my own experience working in the City of London, senior women were often brought into the organisation but very few women were promoted internally.

Nicky Morgan: I entirely agree. There has been a lot of focus on non-executive positions. The next place to look and on which to work with businesses is the executive pipeline. The hon. Lady is right. Whether we are talking about the education sector, parliamentarians or business, growing that internal talent, working to keep people in the workplace and to promote them is so important.

We have been actively working in partnership with business through the Think, Act, Report initiative. Nearly 300 companies, employing over 2.5 million people, are committed to that initiative, leading the way on gender equality. Those are just some of the steps we have taken in recent years.

We have also strengthened the law so that where an employer has been found by a tribunal to have breached the equal pay or pay-related sex discrimination provisions in the Equality Act 2010, they are now required to conduct and publish an equal pay audit.

Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab): Since the Government introduced fees for tribunals, the number of unequal pay cases has fallen by 68%. If the Government are committed to tackling the gender pay gap, why are they making it much harder for women to challenge pay discrimination?

Nicky Morgan: I am not sure the hon. Lady was here earlier when we talked about employment tribunals, the changes made under the previous Government and the reasons for those, but I can confirm that in June we announced the start of the post-implementation review

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of the introduction of fees in employment tribunals. I know that the Minister will be listening carefully, given her interest and work in the Ministry of Justice.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP): On a connected point, often the burden of challenging unequal pay falls on individuals though the tribunal system. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government should consider having class actions and a more robust equality watchdog, which could undertake fee litigation investigations on behalf of claimants, rather than leaving the burden to fall on the shoulders of individual women?

Nicky Morgan: It is certainly something always to be considered. I go back to the point I made earlier. We would much rather not have discrimination and problems with pay in the first place, and ensure that everyone is paid the right amount for doing the work. The regulations requiring employment tribunals to order an equal pay audit, which is what happens when an employer is found to be in breach of equal pay law, came into force on 1 October last year. We are not aware yet of any cases where an audit has been ordered, but that is another way in which employers’ minds might be concentrated, if they are found guilty of breaching the equal pay laws.

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): The right hon. Lady mentioned the review of charges in tribunals. What is of greater importance—saving £71 million, or justice for women?

Nicky Morgan: I know that the hon. Lady is new to the House and that she will not have seen all the debates in the previous Parliament when we talked about the impact of her party—the economic legacy left to us and the justice—[Interruption.] The issue, honestly, is that the best way to have justice for women and children, given the earlier statement by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, is to have an economy that works for all, where there are jobs for all, paying good wages, and where we help all children to reach their aspirations.

Chris Stephens: On equal pay audits and employers, some of those employers who are found liable will be public bodies. Indeed, public bodies are being taken to tribunal at the moment, as I indicated earlier, including my former employer, Glasgow City Council. If public bodies are found liable with regard to equal pay at tribunal, what action will the Government take to help them because they will say, “This is costing the taxpayer money”, and will go to the Government for some of that to be recouped?

Nicky Morgan: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Of course if a public body were found to be liable we would need to work out what the situation was and the context in which that had occurred, but I go back to a point that was made earlier. To be fair, the motion says, “Let’s have the transparency, and the regulations and the consultation, so we know exactly where there is a gender pay gap,” and therefore employers, before being taken to a tribunal, can address the issue for themselves, rather than—I say this as a former lawyer—providing more work for the lawyers and less immediate pay equality for people working in those organisations.

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As a result of the actions this Government have taken, and as a result of having a strong economy, women are playing a greater role than ever before in the labour market. There are more women in work than ever before. There are also more women-led businesses than ever before, and critically, as the hon. Member for Ashfield said, the gender pay gap is the lowest on record—she obviously knew that I would point that out at some point. I am pleased to say that it has been virtually eliminated among full-time workers under 35.

The hon. Lady also talked about the full-time and part-time differences. That is interesting because the gender pay gap based on median hourly earnings, excluding overtime, has narrowed for full-time employees to 9.4% compared with 10% in 2013, and for part-time employees the higher rate of pay for women than men results in a negative gender pay gap. Although there is evidence that the part-time gap has widened in the long term, it has remained relatively stable in recent years, standing at minus 5.5% in April 2014. But the overall points remain: there is a gender pay gap and we would very much like to get rid of it.

While the fact that the gender pay gap has narrowed is something to celebrate, I am in no way complacent. That is why we pledged in our manifesto to go further. We will publish a consultation in the coming weeks to seek views on how best to implement our commitment to require employers to publish gender pay information.

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con): In my constituency the gender pay gap figures are worse than the national average, and I would like this to be stamped out. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to encourage businesses to report on the gender pay gap?

Nicky Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for her question and welcome her to the House. I am about to come on to the regulations that will apply to companies with more than 250 employees. I say to those businesses and employers in her constituency who may not be paying the right amounts that I know she will be an active MP and will be asking them what they are going to do to ensure there is no gender pay gap in their businesses.

I can assure the Opposition that the consultation to which I just referred will consider the mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission may well play a role in monitoring, as is the case for the public sector equality duty, but as hon. Members will be aware the commission already has the ability to carry out the work envisaged in the motion. I must return to my earlier comments on the distinction between equal pay and the gender pay gap, which are unhelpfully conflated in the motion.

Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East) (SNP): I welcome this debate. Has the Secretary of State seen and acknowledged the Fawcett Society research which shows that since 2010 some 85% of cuts to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions have been taken from women’s incomes?

Nicky Morgan: I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. I have seen that report. I do not agree with it, and think the figures are flawed, because it makes

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assumptions about household income and the way men and women—two people in a household—divide their income, and those assumptions are not always right.

Let me return to the motion. All of its suggestions, apart from the formal laying of the annual document before Parliament, can already be done by the EHRC without changes to legislation or instruction by Government. The motion also talks about an annual equal pay check. The critical point here is that I do not think the hon. Member for Ashfield is actually talking about an annual equal pay check; instead, she is talking about an annual gender pay check. An annual equal pay check implies an assessment of the extent to which companies are acting lawfully under the equal pay provisions of the Equality Act and that information would not be obtainable from companies’ gender pay data. I am not saying the issues are not important, but that is the reason for our queries about the motion.

Our aim is to create greater transparency on the gender pay gap. We know from Office for National Statistics data that pay gaps can vary widely by sector. Publishing the data will help companies to understand these differences.

Fiona Mactaggart: The Secretary of State referred to the narrowing of the pay gap for younger women, but it is still stubbornly wide for older women. Will she tell us what she is going to do for those older women who lose their jobs, get stuck in low pay and who are stuck as well looking after their families without proper support from the state?

Nicky Morgan: I talked about the position of older women and the Women’s Business Council. Its “Staying on” strand of work is about helping older women. She may be aware of steps such as the carers pilot that we launched in the last Parliament to help often older women who are juggling caring responsibilities—sometimes for both children and grandchildren while also looking after older relatives—to stay in the workplace, which obviously makes a difference to their pay. However, she is right to say that the gender pay gap is wider for older woman than for younger women. We are seeing the cohort effect, whereby the gender pay gap is even narrower for women who started working in the last decade. Things are changing but I take her point that there is an issue to address for older women, which is why have concentrated on it in the work of the Women’s Business Council.

Most employers recognise the need to attract and retain the best people, and developing and promoting talented women into higher paid, senior roles could help to make companies more competitive. Let me be clear: greater transparency on pay will be good for not only employers, but shareholders, investors and prospective female employees. There is an important point here, which is that we increasingly expect greater transparency from one another.

We are aware from the wide engagement we have already had with businesses that some employers have concerns about publishing gender pay information. We will consider these issues carefully in the consultation—we have established a business reference group to inform our proposals—but we believe that these concerns are largely unfounded.

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Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP): Will the right hon. Lady acknowledge that we face a large task in addressing the gender pay gap? Will she note that the average percentage difference in the UK is 19.6%, with the figures for England and Scotland being 19.5% and 17.4% respectively? There is still much to do to address these issues. Will she also note that the industries she speaks of do not address the acute problems that arise in low-paid sectors and industries? We are talking not only about businesses, but other areas.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I do not want to be awkward, but may I just help Members by saying, once again, that we must have sharp interventions? They must be quick so that we can let the Secretary of State get on, because I want to get everyone in and it is your debate.

Nicky Morgan: Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am nearly at the end of my speech and I appreciate that Back-Bench Members will want to contribute to this important debate.

The hon. Lady makes a point about the gender pay gap, but I have it as being 19.1%, which is the lowest on record. The shadow Minister mentioned how the gender pay gap in Scotland had perhaps grown while the SNP has been in government, but I will leave it to Opposition Members to debate that. The general point is that the gender pay gap has got smaller, but there remains far more for all of us to do to tackle it. The ONS has calculated the pay gap in my Department to be 13.6%.

Let me conclude by saying that I am very pleased that the House has come together to discuss a very important issue, and I hope it is clear to everyone here and to those listening elsewhere that tackling the gender pay gap is something that I am, and my party is, extremely passionate about. As I set out, the gender pay gap is a complex issue with a range of causes, and I am determined to ensure that no child thinks a career is off limits because of their gender, race or background. That is why our efforts to tackle this issue must span right across society. I hope that all Members will join me in supporting these efforts to make the gender pay gap a thing of the past. As I have explained, we do not think that the motion is quite right, and there is a confusion between equal pay and the gender pay gap. For that reason, we will be asking Members not to support the motion, although we support the principle of getting rid of the gender pay gap.

3.37 pm

Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP): I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) in congratulating the First Minister on making top place in the list of the 100 most powerful and influential women in the UK. I also recognise the work of the Scottish Government in creating a 50:50 Cabinet, and the importance of ensuring that this Chamber, and all Chambers of democracy, receive 50:50 representation.

It is my pleasure to speak in this important debate and to open on behalf of my party. I regret that, in this day and age, this debate has to take place, but it does and I welcome the consensus from all parties on the fact that progress has to be made. Across my constituency, I have met many women who say life is still tough for them and their families. They say that, despite the

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optimistic forecasts from the Chancellor, the recovery he speaks of is not reaching their pay packet. In fact, a report last year showed that it could be almost 100 years until women can expect to be paid the same as men—this while three quarters of company directors, three quarters of MPs and more than three quarters of national newspaper editors are men. That simply is not good enough and more action needs to be taken. More than 40 years after the Equal Pay Act 1970, the pay gap between men and women in the UK remains substantial.

Carolyn Harris: The gender pay gap in Scotland has risen by 0.2% under the SNP. Why does the hon. Lady believe that her Government in Holyrood are failing so badly?

Angela Crawley: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but she is in fact mistaken, as the gap has reduced to 17.4%.

The gender pay gap is not a surprise, as it is women who bear the brunt of the Government’s welfare cuts. But devolution has proved to be a success. It has shown that when the Scottish Government have the power, they take action. The Scottish National party Government are the first Administration ever to pay the living wage to all employees covered by their pay policy—something that has yet to be replicated by the UK Government.

Last year, the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary, John Swinney, announced that the living wage would rise to £7.85 per hour. My message is clear: giving the Scottish Government powers over employment policy would benefit thousands of women across Scotland and the UK and bring about real progress in tackling low pay. The SNP Scottish Government have taken great steps to help parents, especially mothers, back into work or education by extending access to childcare. Provision for three and four-year-olds is up 45% since the SNP took office in 2007, saving families up to £707 per child. The entitlement has been extended to thousands of two-year-olds from Scotland’s most disadvantaged families. Some of the powers that we need to go further remain in this Parliament.

If the UK Government are not willing to take action on equal pay, they should not stand in the way of the Scottish Government. They should give the Scottish Parliament the powers it needs to make real change. As parliamentarians, we have a duty to ensure that, once and for all, pay inequality is a thing of the past. But the problem of unequal pay extends beyond this Conservative Government. The Labour party may talk a good game on equal pay, but the facts tell a different story.

South Lanarkshire council, on which I was a councillor before I joined this House, has a Labour majority, but the gender pay gap is a staggering 16%, and substantially more men than women are in higher grade posts. It was only a year ago that the council had to make a £75 million pay-out mainly to female workers in the equal pay scandal that has swept many local authorities. This situation is simply unacceptable and the Labour party in South Lanarkshire must get its act together when it comes to paying women the same as men.

Thanks to my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, new labour market figures published a few weeks ago showed that female employment in Scotland has reached a record high. They reported that female employment now stands at 72.5%, that youth unemployment is at its

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lowest level in six years and that the number of people in work continues to grow. That is a testament to the strong action taken by the SNP Government with the economic powers that they currently hold, which is exactly why we need more economic powers to be transferred. We should have the power to create even more jobs and better jobs for women, rather than the current situation where those powers are held by the UK Government. The SNP Government have proved their record on gender equality. They have proved their commitment to equality in the workplace, which is why they should and must be given the power to build on their success.

3.43 pm

Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) and no one could doubt her commitment to these issues. I also wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) on securing this important debate. Everyone can see from the level of participation so far that there are many Members who are interested in contributing, so I will try to keep my comments as brief as I can.

It is important that we recognise the achievements that have been made in reducing the gender pay gap not just by this Government but by other Governments over recent years. If we go back to 1992, when Baroness Shephard first became Minister with responsibility for women, we can see that we have made enormous progress, and that is coming out in some of the statistics that have been rehearsed today.

As I said earlier, the gender pay gap has fallen dramatically in full-time jobs for people under the age of 40. Although regional and industry variations still exist, it is important that we acknowledge the progress that has been made. Indeed, the full-time pay gap is the lowest and narrowest since records began. Progress has not been as good, however, for those in part-time work or those over the age of 40. It is on those two matters that we need to focus. I will try to have a conversation with the hon. Member for Ashfield about this later, but I am not sure that removing the segmentation of the data would give us the clarity we need in trying to find the answers to some of these problems.

It is right that every woman in this country should have the same right as every man to a job that uses their talents and does not marginalise them simply because of their gender or their caring responsibilities. The policies put in place over the past five years by the coalition Government have created momentum for further progress in the next few years. The modernisation of the workplace will help women across the board, whether through the support for career choices mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, such as the “Your Life” campaign, or through parental leave, the right to request flexible working, or tax relief on childcare. All those things will help to give women the same sorts of opportunities as their male counterparts and I applaud and welcome all of them, but I think that all right hon. and hon. Members in the House today will agree that there is an economic and social justice imperative to continue to tackle the gender pay gap, which is why I welcome today’s debate.

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To put it simply, girls outperform boys throughout the education system and have done so not just for years but for decades. We are selling the country short by not allowing the best people to do the best job that they can. More than 60% of female youngsters get five good GCSEs, 10 percentage points higher than boys. Today, 29% of girls and 19% of boys achieve the EBacc. Girls outperform boys in English and maths at school and, as I said earlier, 53% of Russell Group university undergraduates are women. More women get first-class degrees than men and 70% of law graduates are women, yet just 20% of judges in this country today are women.

That has not happened just over the past few years. For more than 15 years, more women have gone to university than men and 25 years ago, when perhaps many of us were in university, 40% of university graduates were women—and they are in their late 40s today. We have an enormous talent pool that is alive and kicking, and we should do everything we can to use it in a country that is enjoying renewed economic success.

The Secretary of State talked about the causes of the gender pay gap and she is right that career choice is important, as is time out of the labour market. Some of the changes that have been made will help to fix those causes, but there is much more to do. I want to close by focusing on three different areas and I hope that when the Minister responds she will be able to reflect on them a little more.

The first is the importance of part-time and flexible working and ensuring that there are more opportunities for skilled part-time working. I have some sympathy with the Opposition’s motion today—although I think the Secretary of State is right that it contains some flaws—but we need to understand the data on flexible working. Indeed, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee produced a report in 2013—I think that the Secretary of State might have been a member of the Committee at around that time—that recommended that more data needed to be collected on flexible working and part-time working. I would be interested to know what progress the Government are making on collecting and publishing data on working practices in that area. The Committee also asked the Government to consider their data collection. In 2013, just 3% of Foreign Office staff worked flexibly, whereas about 40% of Department for Work and Pensions staff did so. Collecting data is important. Are we really confident that we have the data available to understand where part-time working occurs and how successful it is?

My second point relates to older women in the workplace—something that the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) mentioned in her intervention. An enormous amount of change is going on and there is good momentum, but I would be concerned if anyone felt that the momentum that we see in younger women’s working practices will simply work its way through the system because I do not believe that that is true.

Some good work has been done, again, in the DWP on the challenges that older women face, particularly with work opportunities. It is particularly telling that in 1983 the British social attitudes survey showed that 13% of women aged 45 to 64 thought that employers gave them too few opportunities when they got older; today, the figure is 71%. Older women are not seeing opportunities to get back into employment, and they find it difficult to balance employment with their caring

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responsibilities. The carers pilot was an incredibly important piece of work to put in place. I hope that the Minister can tell us about the pilot’s findings and say when an action plan will be produced.

Finally, the role of women in senior management has been rightly a focus for many Ministers in recent years, and I am sure that we would all commend the Davies commission report, which has done so much to promote women’s involvement in non-executive positions on boards.

Hannah Bardell: The right hon. Lady makes a point about women in executive positions. Before I came to the House, I worked for an oil and gas services company where I was one of three women in a senior leadership team of 23. Does she not think that we need to do even more to encourage women into those executive positions, including by extending childcare, to which the Scottish Government have given a lot of support?

Mrs Miller: Governments across the United Kingdom will support women reaching their potential in whatever position they take. Certainly, in executive positions, that is important, but there has not been enough focus on executive, as opposed to non-executive, positions. The Fawcett Society is right to question whether unconscious bias is at play here, particularly in respect of the work that executive search firms could do to enhance the number of women candidates put forward. That is another area of work that the Government need to continue to make progress on.

Today’s debate is incredibly important, but we would be wrong to think that it will produce the progress that we need if we say that it is just about monitoring data or putting in place commission reports, although I know that that is not what the hon. Member for Ashfield is talking about. We need a culture change, which needs to be driven by changing working practices and by the sort of things that the Government have been doing in recent years.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. May I stress working on the basis of eight minutes? I do not want to impose a time limit, but I want to ensure that everyone gets equal time.

3.53 pm

Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): My speech today is about equality. Equality is not a women’s issue; it is a society issue. I say this because, if a woman is unable to reach her true potential, the whole of society is worse off, and that is exactly why we need this debate. It is exactly why, when people ask me if feminism still has a place, I can stand up and say, “Yes, definitively, it does,” because feminism is about equality, and that is still a long way off.