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Maria_miller_mpConservative MPs posed questions on women and equality yesterday.

Maria Miller, Shadow Minister for the Family, asked about pay equality:

"What steps the Government are taking to reduce the gender pay gap. [250977]

The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Harriet Harman): Because there are many things that lie behind unequal pay for women, we are acting across the board to tackle it, particularly by supporting women who are going out to work as well as caring for families with young children or older relatives, and by strengthening the law to tackle discrimination.

May I say how intriguing it is to see that the Conservative Front-Bench team for women and equality consists of 75 per cent. men and 25 per cent. women, but perhaps it is a good sign that the men in the Tory party are applying to join the honorary sisterhood.

Mrs. Miller: The most recent Government statistics show that women are losing their jobs at twice the rate of men in this recession. Beyond exposing illegal discrimination, what are the Minister’s plans to address the problem, which could further entrench the gender pay gap that women still have to endure in this country?

Ms Harman: We are well aware of concerns across the board about job loss during the recession. Because women are employed disproportionately in retail and in financial services, we have to look at the effect of the recession specifically on women. We have to look at the effect of the recession on women because women are still the main managers of the household budget. That is one of the reasons why we will make a focus not only of the work that we do through the National Economic Council and across Government Departments, but of the work on the issues that will be raised in the G20 when it is hosted by this country in April. Everybody is affected by the recession, but women are affected differently, so we need to focus on that."

Someone very cruel has persuaded Harriet Harman that she is a wit.

Mark Harper, Shadow Minister for Disabled People, was unfazed:

"I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her characteristically generous welcome to me.

In the other place on Friday, on the Second Reading of our Equal Pay and Flexible Working Bill, the noble Lady Vadera said that the Bill was unnecessary because the Government are to introduce an equalities Bill, which will contain measures on equal pay. Can the Minister confirm that her equality Bill will contain all the measures that are in our Equal Pay and Flexible Working Bill?

Ms Harman: In our manifesto, we committed to bring forward a new law to strengthen the laws on equal pay that previous Labour Governments had brought into force, and we have consulted since then. It is disappointing that the Conservative party did not put forward proposals for consultation. In the Bill, we will strengthen enforcement and toughen the law. The Opposition should table proposals, if they want to, when we introduce the Bill, or simply support our equality Bill when we introduce it in April."

Once again I feel bound to ask whether Labour ministers ever reflect on their lack of success since 1997 in achieving goals which they profess to be important to them.

Tom Greeves

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