In the last Parliament, I was extremely fortunate to be supported, guided and helped by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) and her team. I tabled a ten-minute rule Bill on gender pay equality. I wanted companies with more than 250 employees to publish their figures on the gender pay gap. A voluntary scheme had been in place since the Equality Act 2010, but under the scheme, only four companies released figures to show how much women were paid compared with men. I am delighted that 300 companies now do

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so—but just 300. Why would companies be reluctant to publish those figures if they have nothing to hide? Why should a woman have to carry out her own research to see whether she is receiving the same pay as her male counterpart? We need a mandatory requirement for companies to publish those figures, so that those that pay women equal pay for equal work can be celebrated and those that do not can be challenged.

In my constituency of Rotherham, women earn just 77p for every £1 a man earns. That is £200,000 over her lifetime—£200,000 that her family are missing out on. That simply cannot be right. I am proud that my Bill was overwhelmingly voted through its first stage in the previous Parliament, but I am still incredulous that eight Members voted against. I expect that the Government will take that mandate and look at putting it into practice. Today, I ask the Secretary of State to make a commitment to that effect, clarify the timetable and put her weight behind it.

However, pay is not the only area where women are still struggling to gain equality. In politics, the figure for women leading local authorities is only 13%. The Prime Minister has filled only one Cabinet post in three with a woman and the Chamber has limped up to 29% of women MPs. In the media, there is only one female editor of a national daily newspaper and only 24% of news stories are about women. In work, only 17% of directors of FTSE 100 companies are women and 70% of minimum wage earners are women. Women are consistently underrepresented throughout society, and until we tackle that head on I am afraid that little will change.

There are also direct links between the Government’s austerity programme and the disproportionate effect on women. Women’s unemployment has recently peaked at a 24-year high. Cuts to public sector jobs disproportionately affect women, as we make up two thirds of the public sector’s workforce. Cuts to benefits disproportionately affect women too, as benefits typically make up a fifth of women’s income, whereas they make up a tenth of men’s income.

Let me give an example of how we systematically discriminate against women. A recent survey of more than 2,000 working mums found that more than half would be forced to stop work or significantly reduce their working hours as a result of a cut to support for childcare costs. From politics to media, work to childcare, women are being systematically pushed down.

We are almost 100 years on from the suffragettes winning their fight for votes for women. We are approaching 50 years since the women of Ford Dagenham put down their tools and walked out in their fight for equal pay. We should be doing better than this by now, but if we think our fight for equality in the UK is hard, we should look to the rest of the world and know that we are not alone and that we are fighting this cause together.

That is why we must give our full commitment to the sustainable development goals. Those 17 goals can change the world we live in by 2030. The fifth goal is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. It sounds ambitious, but it needs to be if we are to achieve a world where women can live freely, are empowered to make their own voices heard, can live the life they want on their own terms and reach their full potential.

One of the biggest blocks to women and girls reaching their full potential is violence. Since my election, I have

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been working on tackling child sexual exploitation, in my constituency and nationally. That exploitation is disproportionately of girls, and we see the same pattern with all forms of child abuse and domestic violence. Those crimes have a direct bearing on the economic potential of women due to the mental, physical and health issues involved, but there is also an effect on their confidence—their ability to ask for a pay rise and to put themselves forward.

The grim reality is that, in the UK, on average, two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner, and up to 3 million women and girls experience rape, abuse, domestic violence or stalking each year. In 2011, the forced marriage unit advised more than 1,450 people relating to possible forced marriage, 78% of whom were women or girls.

I have been trying to grasp the root causes of violence against women and girls, rather than focusing on the outcomes. I have spoken to countless survivors of abuse and met approximately 60 young Rotherham women to try to understand what needs to be done to tackle this escalation in violence. I am of the firm belief that there has been a shift in cultural norms, with young girls now accepting their “commodification” and violence from a partner, or indeed viewing it as normal.

How do we move on from that? Our first step is in empowering young children with the knowledge that they need to understand when things have crossed a line. We need to help them, from an early age, to understand what a respectful relationship is and is not, and how to speak out if they find themselves in an inappropriate relationship. I am a passionate advocate of the NSPCC’s PANTS scheme, which teaches little children that their privates are just that—private. Every child, once they reach school age, should be taught this for their own protection, and so that they do not grow up and perpetuate abuse of others because they do not know any better.

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP): The hon. Lady is making some excellent points and I am enjoying her speech very much. How can we tackle abuse at the young age that she is talking about, among children in school? Would it be worth while trying to introduce a scheme to normalise female leadership from a very young age in schools and beyond?

Sarah Champion: I completely agree. This is about empowerment, enabling all children to reach their potential both at a young age and as they grow up, and the direct impact that being treated with disrespect has on their potential to reach their full financial and economic growth, which directly affects their immediate family.

I am not advocating teaching little children about sex, but I am saying that every child at key stage 1 should understand about valuing themselves and others. They should understand their rights to respect and privacy, and understand what to do if those rights are violated. We cannot protect children 24/7 from abusers, but we can teach children to protect themselves.

Violence against girls and women is not a problem that can be fixed overnight, but perpetrators do not reach adulthood and decide one day that they are going to abuse a girl. It is not an on/off switch where one day

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they are fine and the next day they are a perpetrator of domestic violence or child abuse. It is a slow erosion of boundaries that happens over years. Instead of waiting to deal with the crime, we need to empower our young people with positive examples of relationships, using their years in education for positive interventions in an attempt to prevent violence occurring. Building on that, I intend to work with a number of the leading charities to try to engage the country and decision makers in challenging the stereotypes that are repressing women.

Angela Crawley: Does the hon. Lady agree that the key is the education not only of young women, but of young boys and men?

Sarah Champion: I completely agree, which is why I spoke about educating children, and why at the very beginning I said that this was not a women’s issue, but a society issue. Unless we address it at that level, we will not move forward at all. We need to empower all children, but young girls in particular need to be given support and encouragement so that they can reach their full potential.

4.2 pm

Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to deliver my maiden speech as the first female Member of Parliament for Bury St Edmunds.

First, I pay tribute to my predecessor, David Ruffley, a man who is good with numbers. In 2002, he was a fierce critic of the then Government’s handling of the economy. As a Treasury Committee member, he was a regular interrogator of the finance sector. For 17 years, he was a great constituency MP.

I turn to my constituency, Bury. Come and visit it—you will fall in love. It is rich in history. St Edmund, the town’s namesake, was England’s first patron saint. He was killed by invading Danes in 869. His head was severed and then protected by a wolf. Less gory and particularly auspicious this year is the fact that in 1214 the barons met in our abbey to plan Magna Carta, the document that enshrines our freedoms.

Let us fast forward some 800 years. Bury is the finest shopping destination in the east of England, a vibrant, dynamic constituency stretching along the A14. It includes Stowmarket and Needham Market, beautiful villages such as Walsham-le-Willows, Beyton and Thurston, great tea stops at Wortham and Alder Carr, and the most fabulous cricket club at Woolpit. In Suffolk’s glorious countryside the needs of farmers and environmentalists co-exist, as they should. Great farming to enhance our food security should be evidence-led, but care of our environment should also be evidence-led. These two objectives must not be mutually exclusive.

But what really makes my constituency special is the people—at the hospitals, in the schools and behind the front doors; quiet, determined and funny—such as the old boy I met while campaigning and asked, “Have you lived in the village all your life?” He looked at me and replied, “Not yet.” You see, people and fairness are my passions.

In this place, my thanks go to the staff, who have helped us all to settle in. They have been unfailingly lovely. Its traditions are quickly becoming part of the

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working day. For a start, getting the right Division Lobby is not always easy, as I am sure the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) will confirm.

Fellow Members’ maiden speeches have moved and inspired me. Two young men on opposite sides of the House have brought recent military experience to help inform good decision making when providing for our servicemen and women. Teachers, postmen, business people, doctors, nurses and carers all bring their knowledge to this place, hopefully giving the electorate what they crave: a more representative Parliament.

My motivation to come to this place; sits on survival, resilience and possibility. As a double cancer survivor, I thank the nurse who in 1995 held my hand all night while we discussed the future for my one and two-year-old children. Her politics were irrelevant, but her care was essential. In 2010 it was a different cancer, but it was an amazing doctor who cared for me. By then, it was our four teenage daughters’ reaction to the news. The NHS is wonderful, with the drugs, technology and care provided by the health service and businesses, working efficiently when good leadership allows. But it cannot be immunised against change when that is required.

Raising our four daughters, all under five, while building a business, I have worked with their schools as a governor and friend. Between them they have 52 years of great state education. I want that for every child. Accountability and joint responsibility lead the way. Having run that business for over 20 years, I think that a lot of nonsense is spoken in this place about small and medium-sized enterprises in particular. I hope that the knowledge that has entered the House this time with colleagues will allow us to defend the owners and creators of our businesses.

The businesses in my constituency, like those up and down the country, work hard. They create the jobs. They pay the wages that allow a tax take. They hopefully pay corporation tax. Tax pays for what we need and want. Poor business practice should be penalised. Late payment and bank lending is still not perfect. Small businesses are the life blood of this economy—we employ 60% of the working population—but businesses need two things to invest and prosper: confidence and certainty.

In 2009 the banks said that they had closed lending to several sectors— construction, which is mine, being one of them. People are bemused at the lack of housing and infrastructure in this country, but they should not be—construction is not a tap that can be turned on and off. Financial mismanagement hurts us all; not just our businesses, but our hospitals, schools and welfare system.

Let me turn to today’s debate. I thank the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) for bringing this issue to the Floor of the House. That the gender pay gap has shrunk since 2013 is great. That FTSE all-male boards now number zero is fantastic. That 35% of all start-ups are now owned or run by women is excellent. But it is not enough. The target for female representation on those FTSE boards was just 25%. Amusingly, there are more chief execs on FTSE boards called John than there are women, so, if we do not have a proliferation of men called John, we still have some work to do. Shamefully, as been pointed out, women are paid, on average, 19.1% less than men for doing the same job—and that is the best we have ever been. Who does not want to see parity of opportunity, representation and pay?

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Women are survivors. They have resilience. More women are carers for disabled children and elderly relatives. Women have to balance careers and children. I look to them to inspire those children to become our engineers, our nurses and our business owners of the future. I speak to this House as a woman, obviously, and as a daughter, but most importantly as a mother—and a highly competitive mother. Earlier, I heard from an hon. Friend with two daughters and one with three; I have four. As the mother of those four daughters, I ask whether it is right that in 2015 their efforts, their diligence and their merit will be rewarded less than that of their male counterparts, or that their opportunities will be narrower. I think we all know the right answer to that.

I welcome this debate and the opportunity to work with all Members of Parliament, not least in my capacity on the Women and Equalities Committee, and the chance to champion the needs of my Bury St Edmunds constituents.

4.11 pm

Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab): I congratulate the new hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) on her maiden speech.

It is very hard to articulate how grateful I am to the voters who put their faith and trust in me on 7 May and how proud I am to stand before you as the new Member of Parliament for Bermondsey and Old Southwark. It is also a privilege to be able to join in this debate on equalities. Women in Bermondsey and Old Southwark can expect to earn only 83p for every £1 earned by men locally. My background experience in the past 10 years has been in the charity and public sectors tackling inequality, particularly disability inequality due to my family experience of growing up with a parent with a severe mental health problem.

Having had an unusual upbringing, I found it a little strange that the House of Commons Library described the seat as unusual also. It chose that adjective because, in researching the maiden speeches of previous Members, it found that I am only the third Member of Parliament for Bermondsey to make a maiden speech since the second world war. My predecessor, Simon Hughes, served for 32 years and his predecessor, the Labour MP Bob Mellish, served for 36 years. It has already been pointed out to me how hard I will have to work in order to sustain anything like that kind of average.

It has also been unfairly suggested that it would be difficult for me to say positive things about my predecessor because we come from different political parties. That is as untrue as it is inaccurate. Simon Hughes’s record speaks for itself. He took the seat by surprise in 1983 and put up with media intrusion into his personal life, but he held the seat for that long because of his hard work and diligence in helping thousands of local people every year. While other areas saw a slump in Liberal Democrat support this year, Simon Hughes secured more votes than he did in 2005. Indeed, he got more votes than five of the Liberal Democrat Members who were returned to this place. His personal contribution to so many local people’s lives was what helped him to gain and secure that support. I use this opportunity again to congratulate him on his knighthood. I wish Sir Simon very well. I would like to clarify, though, that I will be less visible than my predecessor within the

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constituency because I do not plan to adopt his mode of transport. There will be no red cab with my name on the side motoring around the constituency.

The first Labour MP for the constituency was Dr Alfred Salter, who was elected in 1922. It was a privilege to unveil a statue of him and his family last year along the riverside. There is a school and a road named after him locally. He is a genuine legend locally as a healthcare pioneer. He was delivering free medical treatment to local people well before the national health service was established. In an equalities debate it would be remiss of me not to mention his wife, Ada, who was the first Labour woman elected mayor anywhere in the UK, and that also happened in Bermondsey in 1922, which, as Members will know, was before the equal franchise. She is credited with greening the borough in her role as mayor. As patron of Southern park, and with my landscape architect wife, I hope we are continuing her legacy in some small way.

The Salters’ concern for health, wellbeing and the environment lives on in my local borough. Southwark’s Labour council is one of the most progressive in the country. We have the biggest council house building programme. A new park is being provided at the Elephant and Castle through a local development and there is also going to be a new leisure centre. The council will allow local residents to use the swimming pool and gym for free, and it introduced free healthy school meals well before it was central Government policy. I am proud to have served as a councillor on that council since 2010, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes).

Much has changed in the area since the Salters’ time. We are now far more diverse, but we are also, arguably, far more dynamic. The constituency has the third highest banking and financial sector employment of any constituency in the UK, and we bring more than 7 million tourists into the capital city every year. They come to see the fantastic attractions I am proud to have in my constituency, including Tate Modern, the Globe, the Imperial War Museum, Tower bridge and HMS Belfast.

It is an unusually young constituency. We have four fantastic universities with local bases: the London School of Economics, King’s College, South Bank University and the University of the Arts London. We are also making a massive contribution to house building and tackling the housing crisis locally. The average figure for new home starts in UK constituencies in 2013 was 200; the figure in Bermondsey and Old Southwark was 1,600. Some people have suggested that we would be better termed Bermondsey and New Southwark.

The attraction of living in the constituency is partly the amazing local food and drink industry. I am sure that many Members are familiar with Borough market—it has been there for 1,000 years, so I hope they have noticed it. Bermondsey has had the reputation of being the larder of London for many years. The first tinned food factory anywhere in the UK was opened in Bermondsey in the 1800s. More recently, a market has opened on Maltby Street—please visit—and there are no fewer than six breweries and a gin distillery open locally. I cannot promise to shout everyone a drink, but please do visit.

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Despite the positives of such an amazing constituency, inequality is still a massive concern. Child poverty remains stubbornly high across Rotherhithe and Bermondsey in particular. Low pay and unequal gender pay are definitely a factor. It is no coincidence that the justice for cleaners campaign is based in the constituency and helping in particular women from the Latin American community who are working as cleaners.

Some local private sector companies have done very well to introduce the London living wage, including the Ministry of Sound and the Association of British Travel Agents, which is living-wage accredited. The council also delivers the living wage. It is a shame that that example is not being followed in Lanark and Hamilton East, but Southwark has pioneered that policy, including making sure that women who are disproportionately represented in low-paid care jobs are covered by the living wage. I would like central Government to deliver that better in their commissioning and procurement policies.

I am proud of the food and banking sectors locally, but I am less proud of my constituency’s growing food bank sector. This year, 7,000 people are expected to use this central London food bank, including 700 who are in work. Low pay is a very serious concern for me. The citizens advice bureau and Pecan, which provides the food bank, have outlined how Tory welfare waste, particularly over the past five years, has contributed to that food bank growth. I will be throwing myself at making sure that I address inequality in the constituency. Indeed, I have already outlined how I will donate this year’s increase in the MP’s salary to my local food bank.

I hope that the Government recognise that they cannot build one nation on such high levels of in-work poverty. One former Southwark resident, Charles Dickens, who lived just off what is now Marshalsea road, wrote about the best and worst of times, and it is very sad that he would probably still recognise those two cities in a constituency in the heart of London.

I would like to end with a note of thanks not only to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the Speaker’s team more widely, but to all the staff across the Westminster estate, including those in the canteen and security, for the fantastic and warm welcome I have received as a new Member, no matter how many times I get lost. I am particularly grateful for their advice and support, as I am to the voters of Bermondsey and Old Southwark who put their faith and trust in me. I hope to serve with a degree of passion and diligence and, I hope, some small measure of success.

4.19 pm

Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) for his maiden speech. He is clearly a passionate champion for his constituents, and he gave a moving speech on their behalf. I know his constituency well from having staggered around it twice—on a marathon, I hasten to add—when I was not perhaps in the best of shape. Should matters deteriorate on my daily commute from London Bridge, I now know where I should go, and I look forward to so doing.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), who made a very moving speech. I have got to know her well since we entered the House at the same time, and I have found

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her to be an inspirational person. She is an absolute winner in business, and she will no doubt be a winner in the House as well. I was moved by her description of the struggles that she has overcome.

I should perhaps follow my hon. Friend’s declaration of interests by declaring that I have three daughters. I say so not in any glib attempt to speak on behalf of their sex, but because the motion is incredibly important to us all. If we have daughters, we want them to be the best they can be, not to suffer any disadvantages or prejudice. That is also true for all of us, because if everybody reaches their true potential, we will be better off as a society and an economy.

I welcome the motion’s recognition of the steps that the Government have taken, including with their new data transparency initiative. I am sure Members from both sides of the House welcome what drives the motion and the sentiment behind its words—the attempt to close the gender pay gap. It should be noted that the direction of travel is heading the right way. Indeed, the current gender pay gap is the lowest on record. For all employees, it is less than 20%, and for full-time employees, it is less 10%. However, the UK still has only the sixth highest gender equality index score in the European Union. We should aspire to close the gap and to lead other European nations in this sphere.

I managed a legal team for many years before I entered the House, and I want to reflect on my 18 years of experience. I wish to highlight three areas that we need to focus on further as subjects for discussion in this debate on how to close the gap. The first area is flexible working, on which we have made hugely encouraging strides. In the legal profession, more women than men are qualifying. Yet, historically, women have found it harder to reach the senior status of partner, Queen’s counsel or managing director within their practice due, among other reasons, to their taking leave to start a family or, indeed, to their leaving the profession.

In my experience, however, employers increasingly recognise and embrace the upside of flexible working. The opportunity to hire an experienced lawyer for three or four days per week over set and fixed hours gave my department more productivity from that individual than it would have had from a full-time lawyer without the same level of experience. It therefore became the norm for members of my team to come in and work under flexible arrangements. Indeed, I had more people working on a flexible than on a fixed basis, and my team was better as a result. It also became the norm for members of my team to make the grade of managing director, notwithstanding the fact that they worked flexibly, either in their hours or from home.

Such hugely encouraging strides would not have occurred when I started out 18 years previously. In that regard, the market, following encouragement by the Government, is recognising the issue and closing the gender pay gap, via demand and supply in an increasingly competitive labour market.

The second area is quotas. If flexible working arrangements recognise talent and allow employers to take advantage of experience and talent, quotas for board members are a good example of how forcing the issue can have damaging consequences for those we are seeking to help. Seniority can be gained only by experience and endeavour. A voluntary approach to targets, with transparency and publication of data, is likely to encourage employers to see the positive benefits of having a diverse

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board of all talents. To fast-track any individual, male or female, to a board to meet a quota is unlikely to lead to good career practice for that inexperienced individual, and it is even less likely to benefit the workforce of the company.

I note that the latest figures show that the proportion of women on the boards of FTSE 100 members has increased from 12.5% in 2011 to 22.8% in 2014. That is a welcome change, but the figure remains too low. I encourage companies to use models that other companies have adopted. Some companies invest in senior staff and mentor and coach them to board level to escalate their progress and achievement. I encourage the Government to consider tax incentives for those who practise that approach. However, any Government quotas to force the issue on companies would not only amount to state interference, but do little to help individuals to enjoy a long and lasting career at the top.

The third area I wish to explore is data—not the most inspirational of words, but the key, in my view, to unlocking poor practices. By requiring companies with more than 250 employees to publish data on the difference between the average pay of men and women, it should be easier for individuals to assess why they lag behind the opposite sex and to work with their employer to take action. It should also ensure that companies review discrepancies. Hopefully, they will close any unjustifiable differences before publishing. Those who do not operate fairly will lose their talent. With an increasing need to retain top talent, the market should help to force best practice to the top. The number is fixed at 250 employees, but publishing data should encourage best practice for smaller companies and encourage them to adopt the same processes. Smaller companies should find it easier to get their hands on the data, so I hope the practice spreads all the way to them, too.

In conclusion, I welcome the drive behind the motion to recognise the improvements that have been made. The House should unite in encouraging employers to go further. I recognise the achievements my Government have delivered in this sphere and applaud the latest initiative to force data disclosure on companies. I reflect on the Government’s key deliverable to empower all genders in the workplace—namely, a state that creates the economic climate for growth. Our companies then increase the supply of jobs. Employees have options in the jobs market and can demand to be paid their worth, benchmarked against the new gender data, or they can exercise their rights in the labour market and move to a more enlightened employer who will pay them more, thereby bringing us closer to gender pay equality. There is a record number of women in the workplace. In my view, that is the key deliverable in tackling gender pay inequality.

4.27 pm

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) on two outstanding maiden speeches. I believe they will do a tremendous job in this Parliament in standing up for their constituents.

I welcome the debate and the opportunity to speak, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) on calling it. It is an incredibly

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important issue. As we have heard from many hon. Members, it is an issue for men as much as women. It is an issue for our nation as much as it is for our economic benefit and local communities. As well as being an end in itself, the debate is important in sending a message that women’s labour is equal to men’s.

I was pleased to hear the Minister’s commitment and her words about the importance of transparency. However, it is a shame that it has taken the Government so long to recognise that transparency is a key step on the pathway to action. As has been mentioned, the previous Labour Government introduced rules on pay transparency in section 78 of the Equality Act 2010. It was only earlier this year, when Labour tabled an amendment to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, that the Government gave in, having voted down a proposal as recently as December 2014. That happened even after we had launched a campaign to implement pay transparency that was supported by Grazia. I was incredibly proud to be part of that.

I welcome the Government consultation that will be conducted over the summer. I will certainly contribute my thoughts to it.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is only under Labour Governments that the equal pay issue has been pushed forward, and not under Conservative Governments?

Seema Malhotra: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Labour’s commitment to pay transparency and equality, and to gender equality, has been second to none in the history of Parliament.

It is 45 years since we passed the Equal Pay Act 1970, but in my constituency there is still a 13.3% pay gap. Women earn 87p for every pound that a man earns. That will continue to come as a shock to the men and women in my constituency—the engineers, the shop workers, the public sector workers, the small business employees and carers—who are earning a wage. They will consider themselves to be treated equally until they realise that there is actually pay inequality.

A number of incredibly important issues have been raised in this debate, particularly on the perception of the causes of pay inequality, whether relating to careers advice, role models, social attitudes or care responsibilities that can impact on women’s ability to hold down a full-time job. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) raised important points about the impact that violence against women and girls can have on employment and on self-esteem. The ability to hold down a stable life has an impact on their experience in the workplace. I recognise and celebrate the work of the Women’s Business Council, which does a lot to tackle inequality in business.

I want to raise one issue in particular that I believe contributes to pay inequality: the perception of jobs in gender stereotypes. I want to ask where the agency of change is, because I do not want the debate to turn into a discussion about what women need to do differently. The debate needs to be about what business and society does and thinks, and how they need to change. Too often, pay has been set based on perceptions of whether something is a “woman’s job”. In a “man’s job” the

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perception will be that a woman might do it less well. In this Parliament, we have to break such perceptions. We need to say that there should be no glass ceilings and no no-go areas for women in any sector of employment.

Dawn Butler: My hon. Friend is making a compelling case for why Members on all sides of the House should support the motion. The Secretary of State said that she supports the motion in principle. Should we just urge Government Members to support us?

Seema Malhotra: I continue to urge the Government to follow our lead. They have a few hours in which to do that, and I am sure all Opposition Members would welcome it.

I want to share a couple of cases of stereotype-busting by women who have entered different professions or jobs, starting with my sister. I do not have daughters, so I may just talk about sisters. I have three sisters—perhaps that can be a new dimension of the competition today. My sister is an engineer. She works with racing cars in America and is often the only woman involved in any particular race. She started out life, as I did, at the Green School in Hounslow. Being a racing car engineer was not part of the careers advice. Being a politician was not part of my careers advice either. I remember asking whether we might invite a politician to speak at the school and was told that we did not really want to be political.

I want to share the story of someone I met yesterday, a young woman called Caitlin, who is on an apprenticeship. She is a fork-lift truck driver, among other things. When I was shown how to operate an electric forklift truck by her in Feltham, I can honestly say that she was an inspiration to me, as someone who is busting a stereotype in the work she is doing. She is setting a true example, leading and encouraging others to take the pathway to a career in logistics.

I welcome the Government’s consultation, and I look forward to continuing debate and dialogue on this issue. I also want to support today’s call from Opposition parties for an annual gender pay check for this simple reason: there is no point in having a target, as aspiration or a process without a method of delivery being put in place behind it. I believe that this is a proportionate measure—one that would fit in well with the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and one that would make a useful contribution to ensuring the achievement and the outcome of gender pay equality that we all wish to see.

4.35 pm

Amanda Solloway (Derby North) (Con): I would first like to congratulate the two Members who made their maiden speeches today. It was excellent to hear about Bury St Edmunds, and I like the idea of going shopping there. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) shares my delight in getting lost! I must come and visit the breweries, which sounded really good.

My Derby North constituency has often led the way when it comes to industry, manufacturing and business—and, once again, our city has shown that it is ahead of the curve when it comes to addressing inequalities. I share the concerns of Labour Members that we are still

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talking about a gender pay gap in 2015, but I know that this Government have made huge strides to decrease the gap across the country. In fact, in my own constituency, there is a disparity of 9.1% in the other direction—that is, women are paid 9.1% more on average than men! I am proud of the advances that my city has made when it comes to promoting women in the workplace. I am also rather proud of the advances that it made when it elected me as its first female MP. I would urge all right hon. and hon. Members to visit Derby and see just how we do it.

On a national level, the Government have made some good steps towards reducing the gender pay gap, although we need to do more, and I am very supportive of the action taken so far to maximise women’s contribution to economic growth and to address this disparity. I am sure that nobody on the Government Benches is talking about positive discrimination, as Conservatives base their beliefs on equality of opportunity for all. As a woman, I believe that we should be promoted and selected on our merit. I believe, too, and always have believed, that we should have equal pay for equal roles and equal opportunities for all.

This kind of equality in the workplace is vital, and I am passionate for everyone to have access to a fair and flexible labour market that draws on individual talents, skills and experience. In order to achieve that, we need to be working on increasing the confidence of all young people—especially that of young women, who should be encouraged at an early age to have high expectations for equal pay and high expectations for their achievements in the workforce.

One way to do this is by having meaningful work experience, so an organisation such as Young Enterprise adds value to the workplace. Campaigns such as the “This Girl Can” have done a fantastic job of boosting the morale of young females in particular, and should go some way to changing attitudes to girls and young women taking part in typically male-dominated activities such as football, boxing and engineering. One of my nieces plays football for Liverpool’s youth team and other nieces are kick-boxing champions!

On engineering, it is very telling that women make up 90% of secretaries and only 7% of engineers. This fact alone raises a whole host of questions that we do not have enough time to discuss today. However, I am sure that these questions will be addressed and will form the basis of the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) in leading her Select Committee on Women and Equalities.

Encouraging girls into STEM careers is vital to our long-term future as a country. Fully to address gender-based pay differences, we need to encourage more women into male-dominated professions. At the moment, women make up only 20% of architects and 18% of actuaries and statisticians. Schemes such as the “Your Life” programme aim to double the proportion of technology degrees taken by women to 30% by 2030—and they have my full support.

Given Derby's rich engineering heritage, the £10 million investment in the “Developing Women Engineers” programme will be very welcome. Boosting local engineering in whatever way we can is one of the best measures we can take to improve our local economy and create jobs and skills. It is important that women play a key role in the engineering future of our city, and I thank the Secretary of State for her support in that regard.

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Increasing transparency is also important, and I am pleased that the Secretary of State is to introduce changes that will require companies with more than 250 employees to publish information showing whether there are differences in the pay of men and women. A helpful tool for employers is the free online software that is now available to all companies, and can help them to calculate their own gender pay gaps.

Women in business play a vital role, but my background in business makes it very clear to me that men are still leading the way. I want more women to become involved in business. Although the Government have done great work so far, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.

I know that many Members wish to speak, so let me end by saying that I am proud of the Government’s record on equality, which boasts more women in work than ever before, more women-led businesses than ever before, a woman on the board of every FTSE 100 company, and a gender pay gap that is now the lowest on record.

4.41 pm

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): Reference has been made to one of my predecessors, a Member of Parliament for Islington East. Perhaps, as the first woman to represent Islington South and Finsbury, I should point out that my constituency incorporates Islington East. There was a time in the 1930s, I must confess, when the good people of Islington East were so keen on women MPs that it once had a Tory representative—and she was a woman. Given what she was up to, it seems that she was not necessarily a traditional 1930s Tory: she was very interested in women’s equality.

Let me turn to more general matters. Those who will read the report of our debate may not fully appreciate this, but a large group of female Conservatives have been sitting together throughout, although not all of them have spoken. They have made one mistake, however, and I urge them to think about it. They are sitting on the wrong side of the Gangway. I am told that in 1997, when a large number of new Members arrived in the House, those who sat on the Government side of the Gangway were promoted, while those who sat on the other side were not. So girls, move over there so that you can get yourselves promoted. I am just trying to be helpful.

Rebecca Pow: I have been wondering what a traditional Conservative woman is.

Emily Thornberry: I do not think it would be a good idea for me to rise to that question. I have only 10 minutes, and I want to make some important points about equality, particularly women’s equality.

I think that, when the Equal Pay Act 1970 was passed, Barbara Castle was right to describe it as a

“historic advance in the struggle against discrimination in our society”.—[Official Report, 9 February 1970; Vol. 795, c. 914.]

Unfortunately, however, it has not stood the test of time. In those days, there was blatant and obvious discrimination between the sexes. It was easy for an individual woman to take her case to a tribunal, point to the man who sat at the desk next to hers and who she had realised was being paid more than her, and prove

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that she had been discriminated against; but time has moved on, and we now need legislation that is not simply reactive. We cannot rely on individual women to root out evidence of discrimination and take their cases to a tribunal. Besides, the process has never been more difficult, not only because tribunal law has become so complex—many cases continue for as long as seven years—but because tribunal fees are at such a level that it is no surprise that there has been a 79% drop in the number of equal pay claims. Those fees have rightly been described as a tax on justice.

However, there are more fundamental problems. I think that we need to look at a new type of legislation that has begun to be introduced and that can be very effective. Conservative Members had better take a deep breath, because I am about to mention the Human Rights Act, a proactive piece of legislation with a beating heart which could be moved to the centre of our constitution and ensure that work was done properly. Another proactive piece of legislation is the Bribery Act 2010. Under that Act, a company has to prove that it has structures in place to manage things in such a way that, if a person is bribing someone else, they are acting as a lone wolf and the company has done everything it can to stop it. It has resulted in a culture change in our companies, which is very much to be recommended.

A new equality Act could do the same thing. Our current Equality Act does not do that. It has failed to foresee the fragmentation of pay-setting, even within an organisation. It has the most ridiculous loopholes. For example, if I as a woman were to leave a job because I felt that I was not being paid properly and was being discriminated against, but I did not want to take the matter to a tribunal, and then I realised that, to make matters worse, I had been replaced by a man, who was not being discriminated against and was being paid more than me for doing the same work, I could not use that as evidence that I had been discriminated against. How crazy is that. We need to look again at some of these ridiculous loopholes.

It is to be applauded that we are looking further at pay transparency, but that is not in itself sufficient. The Equality Act is up for its five-year review. The Government have said that they are looking again at whether the Act has achieved its stated aims. The Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice has said that

“Parliament will consider this information before deciding whether to gather further evidence on how the Act is operating.”

However, it seems to me that we should introduce a new Bill. As Barbara Castle rightly said:

“I have no doubt that some employers will try it on…undoubtedly, pockets of discrimination will remain—unless women organise to put a stop to it.”—[Official Report, 9 February 1970; Vol. 795, c. 928.]

So let us do that. Let us organise and stop it.

A new Act should be proactive and not reactive. I strongly suggest that successful claims should trigger a mandatory company-wide audit, including proper job evaluation studies. That does not just mean listing what the women get paid, what the men get paid and what the different jobs are. We should be drilling down into companies and looking at what skills are being used, what the women are doing compared with the men, and seeing whether there is systemic discrimination in a

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company. It would be right for tribunals to be able to trigger that. It could be done before the case even gets to the tribunal, where there are negotiations before the case officially kicks off. However, it should also happen afterwards if a claim against an individual is upheld.

There should be a flipside to that. If a company has done a proper, deep and profound voluntary audit, that should be a prima facie defence against any equal pay claim. We need to do this by way of carrot and stick.

Other things need to be done. There has been a chilling effect on some negotiations because of widely publicised cases in which trade unions have negotiated with an employer to try to get rid of discrimination within a company and to introduce equal pay, only to find that many of the women feel that the settlement has not been sufficiently fair, and the trade union has ended up being sued itself. New legislation could include guidance so that everyone knows where they stand and where their settlement should end up when trade unions and employers negotiate. That again could be a prima facie defence against any equal pay claim.

At the moment, legislation is too complicated, and the tribunal process is too obscure, too difficult and takes too long. It seems to me that many people are running away from using our tribunals and any legal process to enforce equal pay. Good as it was at the time, it seems that the 1970 Act is not fit for the 21st century, and we need to look at it.

Not only should we have new codes of practice so that the parties know what is expected of them, but we need to streamline our tribunal process and bring in experienced, senior judges to adjudicate more complex claims—those cases where preliminary issues get appealed and go back to the tribunal, and then another preliminary issue is taken up and appealed. For that reason, these cases can take seven years. It is not right. The current process is not fit to do what we want it to do.

We should look again at introducing questionnaires. Why have the Government stopped the process whereby, if a woman makes a claim against a company, the company is supposed to answer a questionnaire to give proper information on the practices within the company? The Government said that they were cutting red tape. That is one way of looking at it, but another way is that they disempowered women from taking their equal pay cases to tribunals. If we are looking again at what we should do with tribunals, we should reintroduce the questionnaire. We can make it two pages if we are worried about it being red tape, but we must ensure that that short-form questionnaire includes important information such as, “Has the company been sued before? Have you done a proper audit? When did you last do a proper audit?” Women will know exactly where they stand before they begin the process of taking a case to a tribunal.

I have talked about the ridiculous loophole whereby if I am replaced by a man I cannot use that as prima facie evidence to show that I was discriminated against. I feel very strongly about this issue. I have written extensively on it. For those who are interested, I have written on “Comment is free”, there is a long article in the New Statesman, and those who are really techie can go to my website.

A new Act will not, of course, solve all the problems. We cannot have equality without proper flexible working. I say that as a mother of a precious daughter, but also

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of two precious boys. I want my boys to be fathers and to be able to look after me when I get old, and to be able to balance their work and family life, and for their family life to be as important to them as it will be, I hope, to my daughter. When we talk about women’s liberation, we must not leave the men behind, because this should be about the liberation of all of us. Flexible working is very important for us all.

We should also look at the fact that women tend to cluster in certain professions. We may have left the kitchen, but we have not gone very far. The majority of us still do things like cleaning and cooking, secretarial work, nursing and looking after children. Those are the main sorts of work we do, and, guess what, it is seen as women’s work and, guess what, it is not paid as well as men’s work. We have to look at that if we are serious about equal pay. The importance of proper careers advice for boys and girls has been mentioned, and understanding the careers available in STEM subjects is particularly important.

These are long-term goals. Right now we need a new equal pay Act. Let us be radical; let us not be afraid; let us get on with it.

4.52 pm

Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con): I speak from the nursery Benches here at the far side of the Chamber, but I am sure I shall graduate to the other Benches in good time.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) on her amazing and very moving maiden speech, and also on having four daughters, who have obviously been brought up very successfully. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle). He is not in his place, but I often visit Borough market in his constituency when I visit my daughter who is training to be a doctor at King’s college and is often at Guy’s hospital.

I am pleased to see that equality in my area, certainly as far as this House is concerned, is progressing. We have the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), who is currently sitting on the Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who is the first woman to be Minister for the Armed Forces, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), and myself, representing Portsmouth South. That is four strong women whose constituencies surround Portsmouth harbour, which is excellent. We also have seven female MPs representing Hampshire, which is almost 50%. We have a little more to do; we have another male to knock off his perch at some point.

We must keep driving progress outside this House as well. I would like the gender pay gap be much smaller in my constituency. At 22% it is fractionally above the average for the south-east region. We must look at how to close that gap, but we can only do that by boosting aspiration for all women to help them get better jobs, as well as equal pay for equal work.

A growing number of businesses in Portsmouth are led by women, particularly small and medium-sized businesses which they own and run. The Hampshire chamber of commerce and the Portsmouth Federation of Small Businesses are run by women as well, so it is an area where women are beginning to dominate, which is excellent.

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In a city where the main source of employment was once the dockyard, a centre for heavy engineering and other trades traditionally dominated by men, we are making important strides—and I suspect that history is part of the reason why we still have a gender pay gap of 22%. Through the efforts of key employers such as British Aerospace and Airbus, a growing number of young people are going into technical and engineering trades, especially through apprenticeships. That is why I welcome the Government’s new initiative on the careers and enterprise company, which will show how young people can go into careers that have normally been dominated by men. A key aim of our university technical college will be to recruit students equally between the genders to drive this progress forward. Education has always been a main source of empowerment for women. That applies in industry, so the £10 million from the Government to help develop engineers will help. One of my daughters was going to go into engineering but has changed to medicine, and I would like much more proactive engineering courses for women, to make it much more interesting for them, so that they stick with it, rather than deciding to go into other careers.

We are backing all that up with our reforms to the childcare system, extending free access to it and helping mothers to get back into the employment market. I would also like greater recognition of the role of mothers and fathers who stay at home and look after the next generation. Their role is largely unrecognised, and we always try to push people back into work even though being at home looking after the children is equally important. Through my membership of the Select Committee on Women and Equalities, I look forward to working to find ways of encouraging and supporting all parents who stay at home to get back into work when they feel it is right to do so. Many of them lose confidence by being at home and find it difficult to get back the skills they need to return to the workplace. I ask employers to provide more flexible working opportunities for mothers and fathers who have taken time out of the workplace to bring up families. Employers should recognise them both in work and in pay, and give them the skills to get back into work, at whatever age they are.

4.56 pm

Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today. I also thank all the previous speakers in this debate. Many of them have taken a trip through their constituencies, a good number of which, in my previous career, I dallied in—perhaps I should have stayed longer. I cannot compete with the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill); I have two daughters and one son. My election agent and my campaign manager were women, and I am a fully paid-up member of the gender balance club.

It is my privilege to represent the area in which I was born and grew up. Prior to me, Inverclyde was served by Iain McKenzie, who won the seat in a by-election after the death of David Cairns. I am sure that both Iain and David worked hard for their constituents and I am sure they shared my desire to improve many aspects of Inverclyde. Traditionally, it was the home to shipyards. Jobs were available, as were apprenticeships, too. An honest day’s labour produced an honest day’s wage, and that is what we are talking about here today. When I

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was a child, my late father owned a pub and one of my jobs was to stand at the end of the bar and shout, “Time gentlemen, please.” I never knew that in a few short years it would be the shipyards of the lower Clyde we were shouting time on, not the pubs. Inverclyde has never fully recovered, although I was delighted to visit Ferguson Marine last Friday and hear its visionary plans to revitalise the business, and I was heartened by its confidence in our local community. I am glad to note that, in a male-dominated environment, its apprentices are both male and female.

My constituency sits at the tail of the River Clyde. It encompasses part of Kilmacolm, and all of Port Glasgow, Greenock, Gourock, Inverkip and Wemyss Bay. Historically, Greenock has shown great innovation, including that of James Watt. Watt’s improvements in the design of the steam engine made such engines cost-effective, and radically enhanced their power and efficiency. The new engines fuelled the industrial revolution. In the early 1800s, Robert Thom designed a clean water- management system that drew water from the hills behind Greenock and powered a grain mill, a paper mill, a loom manufacturer, a sugar refinery, a cloth manufacturer and even a mill grinding clay for a local pottery works. Inverclyde led the way in clean renewable energy almost 200 years ago.

We enjoy our sport too, with vibrant tennis, cricket, golf, hockey and many other sporting clubs. I do not need to tell the House that we are home to the finest wee football team of them all, the original hoops—the mighty Greenock Morton. And close to my red, yellow and black heart is Greenock Wanderers rugby football club, including a very vibrant ladies team.

The stunning views across the water from Inverclyde to the constituency of Argyll and Bute are marred only by the obscenity of the Trident ballistic missile system being ferried to and fro by four Vanguard submarines. Sometimes I think that people’s approach to Trident is an abstract one, but in my constituency it is real; it is a real weapon with the very real capacity to murder hundreds of millions of men, women and children.

On the positive side, Inverclyde has great potential for growth. We have a major road that runs east to Glasgow and beyond, and west to Ayrshire. We have two railways that run from Wemyss Bay and Gourock into the heart of Glasgow city. We have a river that runs by us. We are situated between two international airports. Most importantly, we have a ready, willing and able workforce. It is my aim to represent Inverclyde to the best of my ability, so that once again we can declare that Inverclyde is truly open for business.

Since being elected, I have attended community events for autism, carers, Alzheimer’s disease, sea cadets, school choirs and brass bands. I am delighted to be included by those groups, and acknowledge that my job is back there in my community, but my challenge is to bring the voice of my community into this place and make it heard.

I grew up in the 1960s—the decade that formed me. We had the Beatles, the Stones, Carnaby Street and Woodstock. We also had the assassinations of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and we had the Vietnam war, when America sent more than 300,000 young men—mostly conscripts—to die. I watched in awe as man walked on the moon. In his book, “The

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Lost Moon”, Jim Lovell says that going to the moon was not so remarkable—they just decided to go there. The Apollo missions proved that if a nation sets its sights high and is prepared to work hard to achieve its end goal, great things can and will be achieved.

I watched the American civil rights movement, massive and dignified, march across America, and, through peaceful protest and civil engagement, change the psyche of a nation. I remember 1967 when Winnie Ewing—Madame Ecosse—was elected to this Chamber. No one ever suggested to Winnie that she should be paid less than her male counterparts.

By the age of 11, my political identity was forming. In 1971, I stood in my primary school election on an SNP ticket and won. My teacher said that she wondered whether it was an indication of where my generation would take our country. As I walked home, I felt 10 feet tall. Surely, it was only a matter of time before my country was independent. As a child, I never knew how slowly time could crawl forward. But standing here today, as the result of a monumental SNP victory—among so many SNP victories—I know that if it is the will of the citizens of Scotland then that day will come, and from that, I hope, greater self-determination for all of the regions and countries in the UK.

During the Scottish referendum, I had the conversation with many people; some did not agree with me, but some did. As it turns out, more disagreed with me than agreed, but 87% of the electorate turned out to vote. People engaged with the political system. People talked politics in bars, restaurants, cafés and hairdressers, at the school gate and at sporting venues. One of the great benefits of that is that politicians in Scotland are now more accountable. I have a dialogue with my constituents. They text me, email me, use Facebook, tweet me, phone me and stop me in the street, and that is how it should be. The viewing figures for Parliament TV must have gone through the roof. Our maiden speeches are followed and critiqued.

My wish for Scotland is that we can take our place as a modern, diverse, inclusive and equal nation. We should not be afraid to question ourselves, because in doing that, we will come up with stronger solutions. But frankly, as a small northern European country in the 21st century, we are not doing well enough. Lesley Riddoch put it eloquently in her fabulous book, “Blossom”. She wrote:

“Generally life today for the majority of Scots is not bad, it just isn’t as long, healthy, productive, reproductive, literate, wealthy, sustainable or creative as it could be. That either bothers you or it doesn’t.”

Well, it bothers me. In a country that is not blighted by natural disasters, enjoys a temperate climate, has an abundance of fresh water and arable land, we still have one in four children living in poverty. In some areas of Inverclyde, that figure is an even more disgraceful one in two. We need to understand that as we sit in these cosseted surroundings, shouting, “Hear, hear,” it is out there that the austerity cuts are hurting the most vulnerable in our society. In this place, we make the choices that can improve that. We can choose to invest in our children or we can choose to invest in weapons of mass destruction. I am still saying bairns, not bombs.

In Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s “Smeddum”, he berates historians for trashing Scotland’s history, including depicting Jacobites as dashing rebels and romanticising the Stuart

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queens, when they should have been focusing on the poverty and injustice wreaked on the people. I can do nothing about the history books, but my fellow SNP MPs and I can at least be a footnote in a brave new future where we are inspired by hope and not restrained by fear.

5.5 pm

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan). I am so pleased to hear that his constituency is open for business and I am delighted that he is living out his early dreams by finally getting into politics. He speaks passionately about his area and I know that he will speak up for it well while he is here. I also want to congratulate the other Members who made maiden speeches today. We had two excellent speeches from the two Bs, Bermondsey and Bury St Edmunds—the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill). I know that they will both be a working part of the operation of this Chamber and I welcome them.

I also want to congratulate everyone who has contributed to today’s debate. I speak as a woman who not only set up my own small business in my constituency some 12 years ago but has juggled work for large companies and corporations, including the National Farmers Union, the BBC and ITV, with family life since leaving university. Yes, that was a long time ago, but all that has happened since. I am now the first female Conservative MP for Taunton Deane, so I have a particular interest in today’s debate, as do many other Members.

I particularly want not to be negative but to highlight that although there might be a long way to go with differences in pay between men and women, we have made enormous strides. More women are in work than ever before, 14.4 million nationally, and there are more women-led businesses than ever before. To prove that point, in Somerset there are 1,957 women members of the Federation of Small Businesses, with 577 of them within the Taunton postcode area.

I want to focus especially on the growing surge in women running their own businesses, which, of course, puts them in control of their own pay. Some 20% of small and medium-sized enterprises are either run by women or are women-heavy—and by that I do not mean anything about weight: I mean, of course, that they are predominantly run by women. SMEs led by women contributed £75 billion to the economy in 2012, which was the latest figure I could find.

In my experience in Taunton Deane and through joining and working with a range of women’s business groups, women-centric businesses are growing and they are successful. The Government must do all they can to enable and encourage those businesses to grow. Let me give just one example of a very successful small business in Taunton Deane. It is called Mastergen and is in a very rural location, in the village of West Bagborough. It is a women-only company made up of six women. The managing director is Alison Dunphy, and I spoke to her earlier for an update on how they are doing. I am pleased to report that the company is doing well. It specialises in supplying quality dairy and beef genetics to farmers throughout the UK. To the uninitiated, that means bull semen, and very important it is too. So

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successful is the company that turnover has doubled in under nine months and the company won the Taunton business incentive award last year.

Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con): My hon. Friend’s comments bring me on to an issue that I want to raise. In my constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed—another B—we are all to a man very proud to support the Bronze family, who have spent years travelling hundreds of miles each week to help their daughter Lucy fulfil her passion for football. That young woman is now kicking winning goals for our England women’s team and hopefully will do so again tonight against Japan. I hope that Members will keep their fingers crossed. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should encourage the lottery sports fund to focus on investing in sports clubs and facilities that are committed to investing in girls’ sports such as cricket and football? I ask because the subject of bull semen leads us to the male sports, and in cricket and football we are seeing spectacular results from our female players—

Mr Speaker: We are extremely grateful to the hon. Lady.

Rebecca Pow: I thank my hon. Friend for her interesting intervention. I do not know whether she knows this, but my daughter played cricket for Somerset, so I am very keen to promote women’s sports. Indeed, during my campaign, I became very involved in promoting women’s sports down at the football ground with our Taunton football club. I urge the Government to do exactly as my hon. Friend suggests as much is to be gained from incentivising and encouraging women’s sports.

The women in that bull semen company, many of whom have children, work effectively, intensively and flexibly. Flexibility is the key for women in the working world, and we need to give them the tools to get the job done. I am pleased that a number of my hon. Friends mentioned flexibility earlier in the day and I am confident that the Government are supplying the tools in an increasingly thoughtful and practical way to enable that to happen.

Women, with their talent, are a key to driving this country’s economic success. Obviously, the more successful the economy, the more pay will rise and the more women will benefit. Of course, women’s pay must always be equal to that of men across the board, and our female children—to join the team, I have two girls aged 23 and 20—should never have to think about whether they might be paid less than men. We really do need to get those girls, who are so good at taking their exams, into science, engineering and even manufacturing—all areas that have been highlighted today.

I praise the Government’s recent moves to modernise the workplace by introducing rights to more flexible working for employees, which will increasingly help women, and I also very much welcome the 20% support for childcare costs for up to £10,000 a year for each child.

Angela Crawley: Does the hon. Lady accept the point made earlier by one of my colleagues about the Fawcett Society’s research suggesting that 85% of cuts to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions have a greater impact on female members of the household than on their male

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counterparts, and that that has a substantial impact on child poverty figures and women’s ability to move on in the workplace?

Rebecca Pow: That is why we need to get the economy moving to improve all those areas and why childcare support is so important in helping to top them up. That support is very much welcomed by all the women I speak to.

I welcome the introduction of 15 hours a week of state-funded early education for three and four-year-olds. Although I welcome that support, I know from speaking to a range of women in work that many of them are calling for it to be introduced when children are even younger, to enable those women who want to do so to get back to work sooner. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond), who said that we must recognise those women and even fathers who want to stay at home to bring up their children, because nothing is more important than what we do for our children in bringing up the next generation.

Emily Thornberry: Of course, the hon. Lady is absolutely right: such decisions—whoever makes them on behalf of their family—should be in their family’s best interests. Some women may wish to work part time and take advantage of tax credits. The difficulty is that they need to work 16 hours a week to get tax credits. Is there not a problem therefore with offering only 15 hours childcare, particularly as children have to be dropped off and picked up again?

Rebecca Pow: The hon. Lady makes an exceedingly good point, and it is something that we should throw into the mix.

In my constituency, the gender pay gap is the lowest on record, due largely to the progress made during the last Government, because the economy in Taunton Deane has really improved. The disparity between men’s and women’s pay is relatively small at 11% and, with the actions being taken by this Government, is coming down all the time, which, of course, I welcome.

I am pleased that the Government are taking this issue seriously. I see some people shaking their heads. The figure is still too high, but I am confident that, with the measures that the Government are putting in place, the gender pay gap in my constituency and elsewhere will continue to come down, and I shall be pressing to ensure that that happens. I have an all-women political team, both in London and in Taunton, and they are of mixed ages—some older, like me—so we are addressing the issue that was raised earlier. Indeed, with the glorious flood of new, young—and not so young—female blood coming into the House, I am sure that we will all work on this very important issue together.

5.15 pm

Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) on an excellent maiden speech and on raising some good points around austerity.

I am proud to speak in support of this important motion. It is 45 years since we passed the Equal Pay Act 1970, but in my constituency of Lancaster and Fleetwood women still earn just 87p for every male

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pound. I am pleased to note, however, that that is above the national average of 81p, but any gap is too large.

There is a saying that what counts is measured, and what is measured counts. That is why the motion to task the Equality and Human Rights Commission to perform an annual equal pay check to collate and analyse published information, and to make recommendations for action, is so important.

The Equality Act 2010 included rules on pay transparency that would have required employers of more than 250 employees to publish details of the average pay of men and women in their workforce and the gender pay gap. However, when the coalition came to government, it announced that it would not implement the provisions for mandatory reporting, which seems to be a clear indication that the gender pay gap is not important to those on the Government Benches because they did not think that it was important to measure it.

The coalition Government did, however, invite companies to report voluntarily—a policy adopted by only a fraction of companies. Perhaps that explains why the UK performs so poorly on measures of gender pay inequality globally. We have the sixth highest gender pay gap in the EU, and in 2014 slipped out of the top 20 in the global gender gap index for the first time, with the high gender pay gap cited as a significant reason for that.

While Labour was in government, there was a clear focus on closing the gender pay gap and real progress was made. In the five years before 2010, under a Labour Government, the gender pay gap narrowed by 2.4%, but in the past five years, under a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition Government, progress slowed and the gap closed by only a further 0.7%.

It would seem not unreasonable, therefore, to argue that the Government, in telling companies that they were not interested in measuring the gender pay gap, were also telling companies that the gender pay gap did not matter. The incentive of public disclosure represented by the reporting measures that Labour included in section 78 of the Equality Act was removed by the coalition Government, the focus on closing the gender pay gap was lost and progress slowed.

Pay transparency works, and it is not a new idea. Countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Belgium and Australia have gender pay reporting requirements, and they all score better than the UK on the global gender equality index.

The Office for National Statistics reports a rolled-up figure for the gender pay gap, but, as we know, women are over-represented in low-pay sectors and more likely to work part-time than men, so disaggregating the information is vital if we are to understand the problem properly and work out how to address it.

An equal day’s pay for an equal day’s work has been an idea long at the heart of the Labour movement and the campaign for women’s pay equity has crossed into popular culture, with the story of the campaign of the women workers at the Ford car factory in Dagenham being made into not only a film, but, more recently, a west end musical. The story from Dagenham illustrates some of the complexities of equal pay, for it is about not only women being paid the same as men when they do the same job, but recognising that those trades and professions that have traditionally been occupied by women are generally paid less.

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Women’s work across the economy is undervalued. We see that in the gender pay gap, but also in the austerity measures of this Government—cutting the funding for public services and then pushing services from the public sector into the charity and voluntary sector, where employees are more likely to be women, wages are more likely to be lower and more work will be unpaid.

This situation only highlights the contradictions inherent in Government policy. Introducing his plans to cut working tax credits, the Prime Minister made the argument that the Government should not be subsidising large companies to underpay their workforce. This is a position I agree with, but for me it has two logical consequences—first, that the minimum wage must be a living wage, and secondly, that organisations funded by any level of government to provide public services must be funded at a level that ensures that each of their workers receives at least a living wage, and preferably one that reflects the skill and centrality of public services to our community.

In conclusion, the UN says that at the current rate of progress it will take Britain another 70 years to close the gender pay gap. That would be another 70 years on top of the 45 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed. Surely 115 years is just too long. It certainly is for the women of my constituency, which is why I support the motion and call on all Members to do so.

5.20 pm

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): I congratulate those who made the excellent maiden speeches that we have heard this afternoon—my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle), and the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), who reminded me of what I might have experienced if I had been a child of the 1960s, as opposed to a child of the 1970s.

I appreciate it when maiden speeches highlight the experience that many of my colleagues bring to this House. One of the things that has struck me since being here is what a huge wealth of experience there is in this place, which we can all contribute to the debate and to the work of Parliament and Government.

I welcome the debate on gender pay equality. I declare that I have only two daughters, unlike others who have claimed more, and I should mention that I have a son, in case he thinks he was forgotten, should he ever look back at this debate in years to come. There is an interesting change in the dynamic in the House during this debate, whether as a consequence of the topic or of the relatively female-dominated Benches.

I appreciate the contribution from the men who have chosen to speak in the debate. We have heard a couple of maiden speeches by men, and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). In this debate about women’s equality and gender pay, the role of men cannot be overestimated. In the big picture, men need to change and be a bit more understanding. I have seen some data recently showing that men commonly underestimate the confidence gap between men and women. Women recognise that they are not very confident about what they can achieve; men seem to underestimate women’s lack of confidence so men need to develop some sympathy.

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For me personally, men have made a huge difference in my life and even to the fact that I am here today. My father always encouraged and believed in me. My husband, who makes it possible for me to be here, and several male mentors in my career before politics have been incredibly important in giving me confidence, courage and support. Men are essential, as well as what we women bring to this debate.

The debate is not just about pay. For example, some recent research that I read examined the gender bias in the media. The ratio of men to women in films is 3:1. Of characters with jobs in films, 81% are male. Think of the unconscious effect on boys and girls, women and men absorbing that media influence. That must affect the life chances and ambitions of young people.

On gender equality and the progress that has been made in recent years, we must recognise that the gender pay gap is the narrowest ever. A huge amount of progress has been made, thanks to a huge amount of effort. The gap in full-time pay has fallen from 17.4% in 1997 to 9.4% in 2014. The gap is greater for high-paid than for low-paid employment. It is interesting to note that, if I understand correctly the data from the House of Commons Library, the part-time pay gap has been reversed: men are worse paid than women for part-time work, with a 5.5% pay gap.

Stephen Phillips: In fact, that is not the only discrepancy. There is a negative pay gap between men and women in favour of women in the age groups 22 to 29 and 30 to 39. Other than the fact that in all aspects of life women are more successful than men, can my hon. Friend think why that might be the case?

Helen Whately: My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. While many of us here and outside this place are fighting for more opportunities and support for women, we must not forget how difficult life can be for young men, who have much higher rates of mental health problems and suicide, and for young boys who are not doing so well in school. We need to think about both genders when considering how people can achieve their potential in life. As he suggests, there is no longer a pay gap for women under 40, so we must take care not to try to solve a problem that no longer exists. We must now ensure that that achievement is extended to women over 40 so that there is no gender pay gap at all, because there certainly is today.

When looking at the progress made in recent years, we should look beyond pay and consider the success of women on boards. The work of the 30% Club has been very influential in that area. In 2010 only 12.5% of FTSE 100 board members were women, but now the figure is up to 24.7%. The UK leads many countries around the world in that regard, including America, Canada and Australia. We should also appreciate the increasing number of women in leadership positions in both the private and public sectors.

It might be helpful to reflect on what has worked so far and how we have achieved that progress. Legislation has certainly played a role, going all the way back to the Equal Pay Act 1970, which the motion refers to, and the Equality Act 2010, which, beyond the pay problem, ended the gap in contractual terms so that other terms do not favour men over women. That also put a stop to confidentiality clauses getting in the way of fair pay.

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There is huge support for childcare, with the introduction of breakfast clubs and after-school clubs making a big difference for working parents. Hon. Members have also mentioned flexibility for women in the workplace, and for men.

Corporate organisations such as the 30% Club have worked to make data available on the pay gap. One thing that has made a difference in the decisions of big businesses is the fact that the data show that companies that have women on their boards do better. Companies have then said, “Okay, in order to do better we need to ensure that we have women coming through the organisation and on our board.”

As many case studies show, private and public sector organisations often do well through informal methods, such as supporting women with mentoring, networking and coaching, recognising the challenges they face—often they relate to mindset—and helping them overcome them. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which has focused on supporting women in the workplace over the past couple of years, makes a very good case study: unlike the civil service as a whole, in which women fill only 38% of leadership positions, more than 50% of its senior leaders are now women. Progress really is being made.

Martin John Docherty (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP): The hon. Lady is raising many important points for the House to take on board. Does she agree that it is not just the private and public sectors, but the charitable bodies that work with the Charity Commission for England and Wales, the new Charity Commission for Northern Ireland and those under the regulation of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator—I am sorry about the long names—that should take cognisance of this debate, because they are substantial employers and should also be setting an example in their charitable works and management?

Helen Whately: I support that; I do not know the data for the charitable sector, but it makes sense. I wonder whether the charitable sector might be like the healthcare sector and the NHS, where women make up a greater proportion of the workforce as a whole but the top tier of leadership is still male-dominated. Any organisation in which that is the case cannot simply say, “We have more women across our workforce. Aren’t we doing well?” There should be an equal proportion of women at the top as across the whole organisation.

Things are happening and more needs to happen. On the increase in transparency, the Government will rightly make the reporting of gender pay information for companies with more than 250 employees mandatory and give employment tribunals the power to require employers to conduct a pay audit. Those things are really important. I am a huge advocate of transparency in healthcare, which was my area of expertise before coming here. I also want to see more voluntary transparency. Companies that are competing for top women graduates and school leavers should surely publicise their effectiveness and success in supporting women in work. They should be transparent about their pay and the progress they are making for women in the workplace.

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Making the workplace more supportive of women and family life, for women and men, is incredibly important. I am proud that my Government are moving forward on the equal right to request flexible working and the opportunity to have shared parental leave, tax-free childcare, and state-funded early education. I know the difference that having state-funded early education makes in enabling women to go back to work earlier, as they are more often the primary child carer. I have heard women say that they would like to be able to go back to work sooner and ask that that support therefore be provided earlier. It is incredibly important that we encourage men to take up the opportunity to have shared parental leave so that there is genuine equality in the workplace. Children need their father figures just as much as they need mothers in their lives.

I am getting an indication from the Speaker that I should move towards the conclusion of my comments, so I shall do so. We are rightly supporting women and girls to make choices that enable them to make the most of their potential. The Your Life campaign aims to increase the number of girls and young women taking up careers in science and technology. Beyond that, we need to encourage girls to study STEM subjects and to aim higher.

On the confidence gap, 69% of women executives surveyed expected to reach board level compared with 81% of men. There is a persistent gap in women’s confidence in their ability to succeed. Fabulous research is being done on centred leadership and what works for women. We should encourage companies and organisations to draw on that, and schools could also use it to ensure that girls are supported in taking the approach to their life that they need to take to be successful. Being a woman leader is different from being a male leader—we now understand that.

We all have a part to play in our constituencies and in our work with our colleagues to ensure that the improvement seen for the under-40s continues for people who are over 40. Pay is important, but let us recognise that this debate is broader than that and look at all the ways to improve opportunities and achievements for women.

Mr Speaker: Order. The Chair richly enjoyed the hon. Lady’s contribution, so I hope she will not take the slightly concerned look on my face as a criticism; I am just concerned that everybody should get in. It might be helpful if I say to the House that I have seven people on my list still seeking to contribute. I expect the Chair to call the Front-Bench speakers at approximately 20 minutes to 7, or certainly no later than that, so if people can think in terms of eight minutes each, then we should be fine. I call Steven Paterson.

5.33 pm

Steven Paterson (Stirling) (SNP): Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is a great pleasure to be called to give my maiden speech in the House of Commons. I stand here as the Member of Parliament for the Stirling constituency, and I am privileged and humbled to be so. I am from the village of Cambusbarron; I was born and raised in the area.

I begin by following many of my colleagues in thanking the members of staff here in the House of Commons, who have helped us new Members to get to grips with

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the bamboozling workings, traditions and conventions of this place. They have displayed remarkable patience and been a great help. The staff here are a credit to this place.

I next want to put on record my appreciation of my predecessor as MP—Anne McGuire. Anne was elected in 1997. In that election, she defeated, as part of the new Labour landslide, one Michael Forsyth MP, who was Secretary of State for Scotland at the time, so it was quite an achievement. Michael Forsyth had won two elections previously by a very narrow margin, so it was a win that Anne should be proud of. Anne held a number of ministerial positions under the Blair and Brown Governments, most notably as Minister for disabled people. I wish her well in the future.

Given the maiden speeches I have heard in recent weeks, I can only conclude that there are a great many beautiful constituencies in the country, especially in the country of Scotland. However, I contend that, for spectacular scenic beauty, the Stirling constituency takes some beating. It covers approximately 800 square miles and stretches from Tyndrum, Crianlarich and Killin in the highland north, and down the Loch Lomond side to Blanefield, Strathblane and Mugdock. East along the Carron valley and the Gargunnock hills are the former mining villages of Plean, Cowie and Fallin and the historic city of Stirling, and back to the north-west are the old burghs of Bridge of Allan, Dunblane and Callander, with many other villages in between. There is incredible scenic beauty to be found in the constituency, including the majesty of Loch Lomond, the Trossachs, the towering peaks of Ben Ledi and Ben More, and the Ochil hills.

The constituency also boasts excellence in education, including Stirling University—of which I am a graduate—and Forth Valley College. Tourism is a major industry. I used to work at the National Wallace monument and I will work hard to support that industry.

There is remarkable history to be found in the Stirling constituency. The geographic position of the town—it is now a city—at the lowest crossing point of the River Forth meant that, in historic times, Stirling was of vital strategic importance, and through the royal palace and fortress of Stirling castle it has had a long history of being the administrative capital of Scotland. If it becomes necessary for this House of Commons to up sticks and move, the Stirling constituency is more than capable of hosting it and being the capital once again.

Stirling was also the site of many important battles that turned the political tides of their day. The confrontation between the Picts and the Scots that led to the unifying of Scotland as one nation is reputed to have taken place where the university now stands. Wallace and Murray’s famous victory at Stirling bridge, the civil war at Sauchieburn and the Jacobite clash at Sheriffmuir bear witness to Stirling’s importance in Scotland’s story.

The most famous, of course, is the battle of Bannockburn, where a force superior only in numbers was defeated by a skilful and determined force with superior tactics and better knowledge of the terrain. I know that many in this House are keen on parliamentary history, so I should say that, following that battle, Robert the Bruce convened a Parliament in my constituency, at Cambuskenneth Abbey. It was a fine example of a powerful and independent Scottish Parliament.

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In more modern history, just a few years ago Stirling was remarkable for having a local council controlled by a formal coalition between Labour and the Tories. Alas, such an alliance is no surprise whatsoever to anyone in Scotland these days. It is a sad fact that the sleekit connivance between Labour and Tory that I witnessed routinely as a Stirling councillor is also too often shown here in Westminster when Scottish issues are being debated.

In preparing for this speech I looked at the maiden speeches of some of my predecessors as representatives of the Stirling area. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was MP for the Stirling Burghs from 1868 to 1908. His first recorded speech was in May 1873 during a debate about complaints received from military authorities about the then system for punishing drunkenness. Apparently, fines for drunkenness among soldiers had accrued an enormous sum of £60,000 and the authorities did not know what to do with it. It was originally supposed to reward the “sober and well-living soldier”, but apparently not enough of them could be found. The House appears to have deferred the decision on that occasion, although it is thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day wanted to get his hands on the money.

After 37 years as an MP for Stirling, Campbell-Bannerman became Prime Minister in 1905 and held the position for his last three years as a Member of this House. He is the only representative of Stirling to become Prime Minister—and so he will remain, because I have no desire whatsoever to serve either for 40 years or as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In all seriousness, the people of Scotland returned 56 SNP MPs from a possible 59. They gave us a job of work to do and that is what we will do.

Turning to the subject of today’s debate, I share the disappointment expressed by many Members that we have to debate the fact that there is a gender pay gap at all in this day and age, in 2015. The Scottish Government have led the way, as some of my hon. Friends have said, and I hope that, in summing up, the Minister will give an undertaking to look at what has been achieved in Scotland under its current powers and to see whether best practice can be found there. As hon. Members would expect, I fully support the devolution of further powers in this area as in many others, because the Scottish Government are making a difference in areas where they have powers.

Finally, it is my honour to be the MP for the Stirling constituency and to represent the people of that constituency, and I will do that to the best of my ability. I will, if I may, paraphrase Mr Speaker himself by saying that the voice of the Stirling constituency in this Parliament will be heard.

5.40 pm

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): It is an enormous pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson), who has made an excellent maiden speech. I fully echo the tribute he paid to his predecessor, Dame Anne McGuire. Hers are big shoes to fill, as he knows, although I suspect that his shoes will not be the same type and will have a somewhat smaller heel.

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Before you took the Chair this afternoon, Madam Deputy Speaker, there was what can only be described as a form of daughter inflation, at least on the Government Benches, at the start of this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) appeared to be competing to establish who had the greater number of daughters. I declare at the outset that I have two daughters and one son, like my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), although I should perhaps make it clear to the House that they are not the same two daughters and one son.

Joking apart, there is of course a serious point: the issue of equal pay and the gender pay gap, which has rightly been brought before the House by the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), affects all of us. It affects fathers of daughters, husbands and sons, and it also affects all of us as members of an equal civil society in which we want everyone to rise and use their abilities without regard to gender, disability or any other characteristic which is irrelevant to their ability to do a job for which they are fitted.

There is much good news and, rightly, there is a great deal of common ground across the House. The gender pay gap is now at the lowest level on record. As a result of changes in the law that have received support from across the House in the last few decades, no woman can any longer be paid less than a man for the same job, for that is rightly illegal. I must, however, say to the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), that that distinction has evidently eluded the drafters of the motion. The legal requirement for equal pay, which is well enforced, is very different from the gender pay gap. That gap arises as a result of any number of structural features from the moment of birth, and it is now the mission of society to tackle that gap.

It falls to us to tackle the subtle differences in pay between the genders—largely, it has to be said, for those over the age of 35—not the overt discrimination of yesteryear that, rightly, we have largely consigned to the history books. That battle has been won. Many factors affect women over the course of their school and working lives with which men simply do not have to deal, not least, as every male Member of the House ought to recognise, the gender imbalance in most families when it comes to children and childcare.

Some of that has been addressed, or at least it has begun to be addressed. For example, the gender pay gap used to have strong roots in educational attainment. The traditional boys’ science subjects used to lead to more lucrative careers, while girls were steered into studying arts and the humanities, and thereafter worked in the less profitable roles into which they were too often pushed by careers staff focused on gender stereotypes. Even when I was growing up, boys did better at school, received degrees more valued by employers and saw that translated into more pay over their career lifetimes.

The dominance of boys at school and of young men at university is largely no longer apparent. An OECD report in March found that although boys’ dominance just about endures in maths, it is no longer present in science subjects. As everyone who has both sons and

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daughters knows anecdotally, girls are racing ahead in literacy. In all 64 countries and economies in the OECD study, girls outperformed boys at reading, with the mean gap equivalent to an extra year of schooling. Since literacy is of course the foundation of further learning, that gap means that teenage boys are 50% more likely than girls to fail to achieve basic proficiency in maths, reading or science. I hope that the House will have equal time to debate that subject, because if equality means anything, it must mean equality for both sexes.

Equally, girls’ educational dominance now persists after school as well as at school. Until a few decades ago, there was a clear male majority at university almost everywhere in the world but, as higher education has boomed, women’s enrolment has increased faster than men’s. In the OECD, women now make up 56% of students enrolled at university, which is up from 46% in 1985. Women who go to university are more likely than their male peers to graduate and they typically get better grades.

Hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House need to beware, for just as there are more women in this place, there are still not enough. It is clear that women are not only closing the gap, but doing so on merit and largely without any form of positive discrimination. To my mind, that is important. For the most part, we do not allow of positive discrimination in this country, despite what I understood the hon. Member for Ashfield to indicate in response to an intervention in her speech at the outset of the debate. That is important not only because all appointments should be based on merit, irrespective of gender, disability, race, sexual orientation, religion or any other protected characteristic, but because positive discrimination runs the risk of undermining the equality that we all strive to achieve. If appointments are made other than on merit, there exists the risk that those who are unsuccessful will point the finger, saying that so-and-so got their job only because of gender, race or whatever. To my mind, that is a dangerous and slippery slope that it is best to avoid.

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab): Does the hon. and learned Gentleman recognise that positive discrimination has existed in this country since the beginning of time immemorial—for white men?

Stephen Phillips: I acknowledge the hon. Lady’s point to this extent: she is absolutely right that, throughout history at least until now, white men, of whom I am one, have had a much easier ride in life. Even to this day, with all the laws that we have designed to ensure equality, women in every single walk of life have a much harder time than any man ever does.

To return to the university story, many women continue to choose courses in so-called traditionally female subjects such as education, health, arts and the humanities, but in mathematics, women are drawing level, and in the life sciences, social sciences, business and law, they have moved ahead. That means that women are moving closer to equal pay when they start their working lives. However, we still see a gap, which widens to a chasm when women reach the point at which they want to have children. No end of studies have shown the impact of motherhood on women’s pay, with hourly pay dropping relative to men’s. Just a few years ago, the Institute for Public Policy Research estimated that a woman with

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middling skills who has a baby at the age of 24 loses more than £500,000 in lifetime earnings compared with one who remains childless. That is simply unacceptable. It is far too often the case that women must see motherhood as a choice that will affect their entire careers—an irreversible move either to the mummy track or the career track.

Mothers’ average hourly pay recovers slightly by the time their children leave home, and their employment rate increases steadily as their children grow older, but it never returns to the level it would have been had they not had children, much less to the same level as a man’s. That is something of which all hon. Members should be aware, and something of which, as a society, we should be deeply ashamed.

Martin John Docherty: Given what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, does he recognise that, even in this Chamber, we perpetuate stereotypes of gender? Hon. Gentlemen are not allowed to bring a bag into the Chamber, and yet hon. Ladies are more than delighted to bring in a small handbag. That perpetuates stigma and gender stereotypes.

Stephen Phillips: As one of the few Members of the House who has a man bag, I will stage a protest with the hon. Gentleman. We will both bring in our bags and see whether we are upbraided by the Chair and receive some sort of censure for doing so.

There is much debate over whether women should be protected from the consequences of their reproductive choices, but improving things is good not just for the women concerned, but for the economy. We need more women in the workforce to pick up the demographic slack as our society ages, and more families rely solely on women’s earnings to live these days. Low pay for women increases child poverty, it makes families more vulnerable to sudden shocks and it costs the taxpayer in benefits and other supports. Low rates of female employment also contribute to socioeconomic marginalisation among immigrant communities.

Social change has done more to encourage women to enter higher education and the workforce than any deliberate policy. The contraceptive pill and a decline in the average number of children, together with later marriage and childbearing, have made it easier for women to join the workforce. As more women went out to work, discrimination became less severe. Girls saw the point of studying once they were expected to have careers, and once they saw that careers in all sectors were open to them and that they had the same opportunities as their male colleagues. These days, girls nearly everywhere seem more ambitious than boys, both academically and in their careers.

Given the impact of motherhood on earnings, the Government can do a lot of good by supporting women in the workforce. I am pleased that they are doing just that. Flexible working, childcare provision, shared parental leave and better careers advice will all help women who want to have children and to be able to do so without such a huge impact on their careers. We now have the highest number of women in work and in self-employment on record, the highest ever employment rate for women and record numbers of women-led enterprises.

John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP): Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

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Stephen Phillips: I am drawing to a conclusion and am conscious of the time.

I fully support the Government’s actions, and any action that continues this trend. As the father of those two daughters, I want to be able to look them in the eye as they grow up and go to university. I want to be able to say to them not only that we ensured they would be paid the same amount for the same job that a man did, but that over the course of their lives they had every opportunity to earn the same amount of money as men do.

5.51 pm

Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab): Before I speak to the motion, I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson) on his impressive first speech. He mentioned a skilful, determined force and superior tactics. I am sure he will be skilful and determined, but I hope that his party will not have too many superior tactics.

I speak today on behalf of the women in my constituency, who earn just 81p for every pound my male constituents earn. It is 45 years since the pioneering Equal Pay Act 1970 and women in Cardiff Central are still paid less than their male counterparts simply because of their gender. I have listened to the debate and I have to say that I do not accept the Secretary of State’s assertion that the wording of the motion conflates equal pay and the gender pay gap. It is the lack of pay equality that leads directly to the gender pay gap itself.

Tackling unequal pay should be at the top of the Government’s agenda, but looking at their record with the Liberal Democrats over the past five years I do not hold out much hope. Pay discrimination is still an everyday experience for women in Cardiff Central and across the UK. Employers who discriminate against women by paying them less know they can do so without condemnation, let alone any concrete action. Those employers’ actions are unlawful, not illegal, but opportunities for remedying this are, as we have heard today many times, being reduced.

We know that despite the progressive intentions of those who pioneered equal pay legislation 45 years ago, the law has not achieved what it intended. With many colleagues from the Labour Benches past and present, I have championed the campaign for equal pay. During my law degree in the mid 1980s, I wrote a thesis on the equal pay legislation, analysing how, and in my view why, it had not succeeded at that time in delivering pay equality for women. After graduating, I practised as a solicitor in a UK-wide law firm that has represented tens of thousands of working women who have suffered pay discrimination. As a director of that law firm, I led equal pay auditing and pay transparency reporting. I can say that it is an easy thing to do. It beggars belief that only 300 companies have chosen to do the same.

Despite progressive intentions in the late 1960s, the law still does not deliver pay equality for women. The previous Labour Government delivered the Equality Act 2010, providing an opportunity for those on the Government Benches to implement pay transparency. However, the Conservative party has never prioritised pay transparency, never mind pay equality. The coalition Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming earlier this year, by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), to agree to implement a pay

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transparency requirement for employers with more than 250 employees. At the same time, however, the Conservatives, along with their Liberal Democrat colleagues, ensured it was made even more difficult for women to fight equal pay claims by introducing prohibitive employment tribunal fees. As with much else that the Conservative party does—public spending cuts, welfare cuts, pension reform—it is always women who seem to bear the brunt. The figures on employment tribunal claims speak for themselves, with a 68% drop in claims being brought since fees were introduced.

For those women who can afford to bring tribunal claims and for those women who are trade union members and are lucky enough to have the backing of their trade unions, equal pay cases, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) so eloquently explained, take far too long to litigate because of the evidential burden. Cases take years rather than months, and they require a woman to prove that her job is of equal value to that of a male comparator. Even job evaluation experts, however, cannot and very often do not agree on that requirement, and the result is no change for women and no change in pay inequality. That is why we need the Government to support this motion. We urgently need reform of equal pay legislation, and we must have employment tribunal fees abolished.

It is clear that pay discrimination is institutionalised across the UK. The Government need to listen and to act, because even in circumstances where equal pay is achieved, it does not deal with the underlying issue of unfair pay. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield has said, the headline figure published by the Office for National Statistics is the full-time pay gap rather than the pay gap for full and part-time workers together. So, for example, in Wales, men hold nearly two thirds of all available full-time jobs and women hold 80% of the part-time jobs. Those part-time jobs are not only lower paid, but tend to be jobs that are under-valued compared to others. I am sure that Members across the House will agree that specific action to tackle institutionalised pay discrimination in this country is long overdue. By supporting this motion, the Government could demonstrate their commitment to action—rather than simply words.

5.56 pm

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab): In a feminist debate, I am going to say, Ms Deputy Speaker, that I congratulate all those who have made their maiden speeches, and I remind Members that when we say “maiden”, what we mean is someone who is inexperienced. So that is another example of sexist language that gets used.

I wonder whether Ms Deputy Speaker has read Caitlin Moran’s book, “How to be a Woman”. In it, she compels people to stand on their chairs and shout, “I am a feminist”. If the motion is carried today, perhaps the Speaker would allow us the indulgence of standing on these Green Benches altogether to shout those very words. If it passes throughout the House, we will have done something really feminist. I proudly say that I am a feminist and that a bit of feminist marauding would be a welcome relief from some of the groaning we normally get.

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Taking the title of Ms Moran’s book, “How to be a Woman”, it seems that the answer before us today is very simple. It is to get paid less. In my constituency, for every pound a man earns, a woman earns 83p. This is not always because women are simply being paid less for the same job, although that is obviously a feature; it is because we simply value less the work that women do.

I went to university and I have two degrees. After leaving university, I had the misfortune of having two children—both sons, incidentally, so I cannot ring the daughter bell. I went back to work quite quickly, thanks to the tax credits I received, which enabled me to do that. For the first seven years of my career, I earned less than my husband. I am sure he will not mind my saying that I am not sure that he even has a GCSE. The work he did was what is considered to be man’s work—he is a lift engineer—and, after all, I was working only in a charity, helping victims of domestic and sexual violence. The value is there for all to see.

Like so many local authorities across the country, Birmingham has paid the price for the lack of equal pay in exceptionally costly—and, I am afraid to say, bankrupting—court settlements, with care workers, social workers, cleaners and dinner ladies paid less than bin men. After all, why should we value those who look after our elderly relatives and feed our children? However, Birmingham City Council is trying to settle that score, and the Labour council’s work around paying all staff a living wage and demanding that all contractors, including care contractors, do the same is a huge step forward in equalising some of the public and private sector pay in the city I love.

I commend any advance towards payment of a living wage, but I bet that if I were to look into what is paid to those working for the two large public sector contractors in the city I would find that there was still a stark disparity between the pay of the men who are highways engineers, ground staff members and building contractors, and the pay of the mainly female work force who are caring, nursing, cleaning and feeding.

Chris Stephens: I am sure that there is systemic discrimination, in that bonuses have been paid to those in supposedly male-dominated workplaces, but not to the “cleaning and caring” staff. Did central Government help Birmingham City Council to settle the claims?

Jess Phillips: To the best of my knowledge, the answer is no. I believe that the council is selling the family silver, including the National Exhibition Centre, to settle those claims. I will not criticise it for that. The council should have paid the women more in the first place.

The hon. Gentleman is right about overtime. The reason my husband earned so much more than me was that his overtime was paid, whereas mine was just part of my job.

To add insult to injury, the vast majority of unpaid work is done by us, the very much fairer sex. I sometimes fantasise about all the women in the country going on strike for just one day. They would stop doing everything that they do for free: caring for children, caring for grandchildren, and caring for relatives, friends and neighbours. Imagine the cost to social services if we withdrew our labour! Perhaps women’s jobs are paid so poorly because we forgot the bit of the business model that says, “You will devalue it if you give it away.” The

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constant rhetoric about hard-working families seems to forget that the hardest work of all is that which pays nothing. I challenge anyone to stay at home permanently with a couple of kids, delivering meals, care and company to a dying mother, and then tell me that that is not hard work. I have lots of caring responsibilities, and I can assure Members that coming to this place, or going to any work, is like being on holiday.

Having worked for years with women who have been beaten and abused because of their gender, perhaps I am less keen than others to herald how far we have come. I know that a good, honest and decent society we can all be proud of must value its women. There is a well-evidenced and reliable link between violence against women and their general standing in society. This debate is not just about money and pound signs; it is about value and worth.

We have a chance to do something good here today—to push companies and the country to place equal value on the work of half the population. We have a chance to show our mothers, wives, daughters and constituents that they matter and their rights matter. If we do that today, I will gladly stand on these Benches, or the chairs in the bar later, with any Member from any party, so that we can declare in unison that we are feminists.

Stephen Phillips: Are you buying?

Jess Phillips: I cannot afford to.

Should the motion not be passed, I shall know, like so many before me, that I should not have bothered to speak up, because, after all, “I’m just a girl.”

6.3 pm

Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab): I congratulate all Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I shall be taking up some of the themes that have featured in the debate so far.

I am proud to be the first female Member of Parliament for Neath. I have only one daughter, but she is the apple of my eye. I have no sisters, but I have a wonderful brother who is definitely in touch with his feminine side, although he does not have a man bag—not to my knowledge, at least.

Let me begin by taking up the sporting theme. Before I came here, I was proud to be the only female national coach for Squash Wales. I introduced many women and girls to sport, whether they wanted to engage in it merely for recreational purposes or to fulfil their potential and go on to represent Wales, as I did many times.

It is 45 years since a Labour Government passed the Equal Pay Act in response to the proactive campaign of the women in Dagenham, yet, on average, women still earn just 81p for every pound earned by men. Progress to close that gap has slowed dramatically, with the rate falling from 2.4% between 2006 and 2010 to 0.7% during the coalition Government’s period in office.

One of the first acts of the coalition Government was to abolish the Women’s National Commission, which was established in 1979 by Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle. It was an equality body advising and informing the Government on issues facing women, such as the lack of women in key jobs. A renewed focus on those issues is needed now more than ever.

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In my constituency women earn 86p for every pound earned by a man. That is slightly above the UK average, but in Neath the median weekly income for all workers, including men, is just £460, which is £20 lower than the rest of Wales, and £60 less than the UK median. The gender gap is less pronounced when the issue of equal pay is analysed through the prism of older industrial areas and the economic disparities faced by all the people of Neath.

The public sector, which has been severely hit by the Government’s austerity programme, is critical to women’s employment in Wales. It accounts for 40% of women’s employment, compared with 20% of men’s, and nearly two thirds of public sector employees are women. Here, the gap has increased from 9.5% to 11%.

The impact of the recession on work in Neath is stark. Wage rates for women in Wales are depressed compared with other regions, with women full-time employees in Wales’s public sector the second lowest paid in the UK, and in the private sector the lowest paid of all. In the service, retail and operative sectors, more than one in 20 jobs have been lost in just two years after the recession, with the total number of semi-skilled and unskilled jobs still less than in 2005. The recovery in these jobs is only coming in the shape of insecure, poorly paid employment.

The Bevan Foundation examined the issue in its report “Women, work and the recession in Wales”. It suggests that women in occupations at the bottom of the labour market have borne the brunt of job losses, with administrative and secretarial roles and process and plant operatives seeing significant decreases in numbers. The report also suggests that women are very much more likely to be employed part time than men— 42% of women’s employment is part time, compared with just 12% of men’s employment in June 2012. Crucially, the average part-time hourly rate is a third less than it is for full-time work. Those registered as self-employed, which accounts for 30% of female jobs since 2010, similarly earn less—in fact, they earn less than half what self-employed men earn. Then there are the punitive zero-hour contracts, which should be abolished.

In Wales in 2009, only 55.7% of lone parents were in employment and 26.7% of all children were living in households of in-work poverty. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2014 there were 2 million lone parents with dependent children in the UK. Women accounted for 91% of lone parents with dependent children.

Women earning less in Wales, and in Neath, where the situation is exacerbated, has a direct effect on child poverty and children living in poor households. All that paints a grim picture for working women in our country. The broader effects on families and on children are clear. The United Nations predicts that at the current rate of progress it will take 70 years to achieve gender parity in Britain and to close the pay gap. It is of paramount importance that the annual equal pay check is implemented so that the information can be used to ensure that the gender pay gap is closed.

6.9 pm

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): I join others in congratulating the hon. Members for Stirling (Steven Paterson) and for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark

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(Neil Coyle), and the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) on their powerful initial contributions to the House. I also associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on the use of language here. I also pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) because whenever I meet women’s organisations in Cambridge I am struck by how quickly they tell me about the work done by them when they were in government and how they were such powerful champions for women. I suspect my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) is well on the way to being spoken of in similar terms.

As others have pointed out, this has been a long battle and it is a long way from being won, and, sadly, progress has slowed since 2010. I will try not to repeat the points others have made, but before I entered Parliament I was very proud to work for Unison, Britain’s biggest public service union with over 1 million women members, many in low-paid public service jobs. Unsurprisingly, much of Unison’s time was spent campaigning to tackle the unfair gender pay gap.

As has been pointed out, that is not easy because the causes are complex. It is worth recalling that a decade ago another inestimable champion of women’s causes, Margaret Prosser, was asked by the then Government to look at these issues in detail. She concluded that it is

“a many faceted and multidimensional issue. The pay gap is affected by issues such as outdated work practices; expectations and stereotypes that are ingrained in us from a young age; differences in working patterns because of women’s role as ‘carer’; and a lack of quality part-time work”.

Sadly, in the decade since then these issues remain as real as ever, and the progress that was being made has slowed.

I am reminded of a book whose title has stuck with me over many years: “How working-class kids get working-class jobs.” It is always useful for those of us with time management problems to have a book where the entire message is summed up in the title. I think that same cycle applies to women’s jobs. The positive attempts to break that cycle have been undermined in recent years. For instance, the crisis in our careers service means that young women are again more likely to be directed down the traditional low-pay routes. There is a risk that the depressing funding cuts to many of our further education colleges will have the same effect.

Change comes when we make it happen, and Labour Governments have a proud record. We are particularly proud of the Equality Act which will for ever be associated with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham. It is sad that the coalition Government chose not to implement some of the proposals, but I believe when they are finally implemented—I do believe they will be at some point—the impact will be far reaching.

In the meantime, the Government’s belated conversion to the cause of tackling unequal pay is welcome, as is their stated intention to implement section 78 of the Equality Act, but it is vital that this is done in a way that reflects what actually happens in the workplace, and is not used to hide what is really happening. I am grateful

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to former colleagues at Unison for bringing some of these points to my attention. For example, perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us whether bonus payments and overtime will be included. Men are typically far more likely to receive both. By not including them, comparisons will be seriously distorted and it will look as if pay in the workplace is more equal than it really is.

We also have to watch out for attempts to game the system. In the public sector, if a company wants to skew the results it will simply outsource the lower-paid, predominantly female part of the workforce so that their salaries are not included in the pay comparison figures.

Chris Stephens: I will call the hon. Gentleman my Unison comrade, if that is in order. Will he confirm that many public bodies now have legal advice which says that if they outsource they are no longer liable for equal pay claims?

Daniel Zeichner: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comradely intervention. I am afraid I am not expert enough to be able to give advice on that, but I am sure others will be able to do so.

On the matter of sanctions for companies that fail to comply and whether that should be a criminal or civil matter, whatever sanction is applied has to be meaningful, or else we will be stuck in the same position that we were in for many years, when local authorities refused to implement equality-proofed equal pay because it was cheaper for them just not to do so at the time. It is perhaps worth considering whether publishing the results should be done as part of the annual auditing process, for which sanctions for non-compliance are already in place. This would work in tandem with Labour’s sensible proposals for an annual equal pay check to be carried out by the EHRC.

It is also worth pointing out that the EHRC has under this Government suffered drastic cuts to its funding and staffing with consequent effects on the level of service it can provide. It will need to be better resourced to take on the challenge of monitoring and supporting employers to do the right things. Other things could be done, including introducing mandatory pay audits for all employers, regardless of size. If we are serious about equal pay, that has to be the ultimate goal, and there must be a requirement to act on the audit. Failure to do so should, in itself, be an act of unlawful discrimination. Any protective award made in such circumstances should be proportionate to the scale of the problem and the number of women affected.

Let me finish by mentioning one sector that has suffered consistently from low pay for many years: local government. It is worth noting that, according to the Local Government Association, the gender pay gap in that sector has widened by 3% since 2010. Women’s pay for full-time equivalent posts in 2010-11 was 83.2% that of men’s whereas it is now 80.8%, so they are almost 20% worse off. It is worth pointing out that the local government workforce is 78% women and that 61% of jobs are part time, but more than 90% of those are done by women. Local government is undergoing constant reorganisation, with many people doing far more complex jobs. I fear that some councils are not undertaking the kind of job evaluation that should be going on, and there is a danger that after paying out some £2 billion in

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equal pay settlements, councils are again becoming vulnerable to a new wave of equal pay claims. There has to be a better way of doing it.

There are clearly ways forward and clearly things that can be done. As ever, the question is: is there the political will to do it? Sadly, I have to say that the signs from the Government are not encouraging—but we live in hope.

6.16 pm

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): First, I must congratulate those who made maiden speeches today: the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) and the hon. Members for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) and for Stirling (Steven Paterson). Their speeches were all passionate, personal and interesting.

Let me follow up on the point my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) made about local government pay. It is not just about the job evaluations; the requirement to undertake equality impact assessments has been removed. As a Unison member, I know it has long been an issue that local government has tended to shy away from, and the Government have now given councils licence to wriggle out of that requirement. That is disappointing, as are the empty Government Benches as we draw this important debate to a close.

Major progress was made on closing the gap between men’s and women’s pay under the last Labour Government. We have heard Government Members talk about the fact that the gender pay gap is at its lowest level ever, but the progress in tackling it over the past five years has slowed inordinately under this Government and the former coalition Government. That is incredibly disappointing. The progress has slowed, along with pay, across the board.

Looking to other countries, we know that much more can be done. This should not be up for debate, and I concur with the many colleagues who have shared that sentiment. We should not be here today, in 2015, having this debate about whether anything more should be done, because the answer is clear: yes, of course it should. The Equal Pay Act was passed 10 years before I was born, yet we are still here today arguing for parity between the sexes. That Act put into law the basic principle that we should all receive the same treatment on pay and employment conditions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) mentioned, it allows women to take their employer to a tribunal if a man doing similar work to her is being paid more, although now that is only possible if you can afford it, thanks to the barriers to accessing justice that the coalition saw fit to introduce. I remind everyone of the statistics: the number of equal pay claims has fallen by 68% but the number of claims going to tribunal has fallen by 79%, as my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury—[Interruption.] I have entirely forgotten the name of her constituency, I am so sorry. [Interruption.] Yes, it was one of the London ones.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Melanie Onn: Absolutely, while I try to remember the name of the constituency.

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Barbara Keeley: I wish to raise with my hon. Friend the point that was made in our debate on sport and the Olympic legacy last week: the gross inequality between men and women in relation to payment and sponsorship in sport. That is one of the worst areas. America has the wonderful Title IX legislation, which ensures equal funding if and when it comes from the public purse, which is another thing to bear in mind. Not only is this so unequal, but, worse still, it is unequal to people such as our football team that will play in Canada tonight.

Melanie Onn: I could not agree more. Low pay concerns me, particularly as it is in all areas. If those who are public facing, with whom people interact more, can demonstrate the necessity of closing the gender pay gap, it will become a more prioritised issue among the general public.

I can now confirm that I was referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). I thank my colleagues for reminding me. It is quite embarrassing to have such a public brain fade.

Jess Phillips: You are only a woman!

Melanie Onn: Yes, how can I be expected to remember such complicated information?

I was just reflecting on accessing justice, and the difficulties faced by people from across the board. This is about not just women finding it difficult to access justice through the employment tribunal system, but those who are suffering from any kind of discrimination, particularly that relating to their pay. The Equal Pay Act was a milestone in the fight for equal pay, but, clearly, the Act in itself is not sufficient to close that gap altogether, especially in today’s world of casual employment, of people working multiple jobs and of increasing levels of self-employment. I am incredibly proud that the previous Labour Government made equal pay a priority and closed the pay gap by one third during their time in office. I say again that, over the past five years, we have seen almost no progress on this issue. In their manifesto, the Conservatives made no mention of putting in place any measures to try to tackle the pay gap, even though they have accepted that it exists. Today is about Labour challenging the Government on this important issue and trying to get them to change their mind.

We have heard quite a lot today with regard to how much women earn. In my constituency of Grimsby, women earn just 77p for every £1 brought home by men. I heard today that the figure in Coventry is as low as 60p. That is a significant difference. If we do not think that that affects the home lives of the children in our country, we are deluding ourselves.