§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I want the women of the country to understand what is the view of the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) on this Bill. A week or two ago I appeared on a television programme about my Bill with the hon. and learned Gentleman. He made noises which were against the Bill but which were diluted—until he got out of the studio. Then, in the presence of the interviewer and myself, the hon. and learned Gentleman said, "Of course women are inferior. They are second-class citizens and ought to be treated as such."
§ Mr. Hamilton
The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that and I challenge him to come back with me to that studio, with the same interviewer, and deny that he used those words. The reason why he has made his filibustering speech of 20 minutes—not on this Bill—is that he knows that the women's organisations in his constituency, and every one of the women's organisations in the country, want this Bill. They are all going to understand the hon. and learned Gentleman.
The Prime Minister wrote a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) saying that this was not a matter for legislation. I wrote a letter to the Leader of the House—
§ Mr. Ronald Bell rose—1813
§ Mr. Ronald Bell rose—
§ Mr. Hamilton
I saw the Leader of the House a few days ago and he undertook to look into the matter.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell rose—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallallieu)
Order. The hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) must know perfectly well that the hon. Gentleman is not giving way to him. Will the hon. and learned Member kindly resume his seat?
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
On a point of order. Is it not the well-known custom of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when a reference of that character has been made to an hon. Member, it is usual to give way to him?
§ Mr. Hamilton
The hon. and learned Gentleman will see me afterwards, and he can come along to Thames Television with me and see that interviewer. We can have it out in public, where there will be a bigger public than we have in the House at present.
The Bill is really the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler). She initiated it. I take no credit for it. The bulk of the work and the hard slog has been done by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark. He has been responsible for the magnificent lobbying and the magnificent response of the women's organisations to the Bill. It is because the women of the country are convinced that the only way they can get their grievances remedied is by organising that they have had this lobby not only today but over the last few months. It is intolerable, on social, economic and all kinds of other grounds, that women should be discriminated against, not only in employment but in many other spheres not touched upon by the Bill.
I pay tribute to the great help and encouragement given to us by outside organisations and individuals, and not least to the Press, radio and television for the generally responsible way in which they have ventilated the problem. This 1814 problem could have been treated with flippancy. On one or two occasions it was treated so. I saw one headline which read, "Bill for the birds". With that kind of ridicule I feared for the legislation. But there is no doubt that the women's organisations did not treat it flippantly. They treated it very seriously because very serious problems are involved. I know of no reputable women's organisation in the United Kingdom which has come out against the principles enshrined in the Bill.
I shall mention a very few of those organisations, not in order of importance or size but at random. The Conservative Political Centre's pamphlet "Fair Shares for the Fair Sex" included 34 recommendations, many relating to matrimonial and taxation problems. But in Chapter 7 it stated:We put forward tentatively for consideration the suggestion that it might well be desirable for some public authority to keep other instances"—that is, of discrimination—under review and to make, from time to time, any proposals that seemed to be necessary … to prevent discrimination against women.That was the gist of the recommendations of the Conservative Political Centre's pamphlet.
The second important organisation is the National Joint Committee of Working Women's Organisations, representing three million working women. This problem concerns not only professional women. It reaches right down the line to factory level. Already business organisations are working out means by which they will get round the equal pay proposals of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) when she introduced her Bill. That Bill cannot be effective unless women have equal rights and opportunities for employment, education, training and promotion, because unless women get equal rights to move to the top, employers can say that they are not qualified to do the job, on physical, mental or any other grounds.
The National Joint Committee of Working Women's Organisations has launched a campaign to promote greater equality of opportunity for women and girls in relation to education, training, employment and promotion. It has written letters to the Prime Minister and to the various Ministers concerned with this problem. I need not mention all the 1815 other women's organisations which support that committee, but the Women's Institutes organisation, which reckons to be a non-party body but is generally regarded by my hon. Friends as a right wing organisation in political terms, has for the first time in its existence come out very firmly in favour of the principles enshrined in the Bill. In addition, I have had a large petition from the right hon Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) and another one from the Norfolk Women's Liberation Group.
On the subject of "women's lib", I do not believe that the throwing away of women's apparel, either below or above the belt, makes any contribution to their cause, one way or the other. But, having met some of the women concerned in the last week or two, I have been impressed by their intelligence, courage, determination and courtesy. I may have been exceptional in my good fortune in this matter. Some of them do no good to their cause. Nevertheless, all those whom I have met recently confirm my view that they are seeking what the Bill seeks.
The Conservative Party's election manifesto said:Many barriers still exist which prevent women from participating to the full in the entire life of the country. Women are treated by the law, in some respects, as having inferior rights to men, we will amend the law to remove this discrimination.I mention one or two cases of discrimination. There was a little article in The Guardian on 13th December which indicated that the Association of University Teachers would inquire into discrimination in universities. The article pointed out that there were 3,200 male professors and 44 women. The association was going to inquire as to why there was that apparent, certainly prima facie, case of discrimination in that field.
I give some figures for Scotland, because the Bill refers also to Scotland. Of the total number of consultants in all Scottish hospitals, 1,559, 97 are women. Let us say 100 out of 1,600. In the universities it is even worse. In the Scottish universities there are 471 professors, of whom only three are women. Glasgow University has 119 male professors. It is like a ruddy monastery. Similar figures can be found in all the professional organisations.
1816 In answer to a Question she asked on 22nd February last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green received a list the length of her arm of the number of jobs in the Civil Service from which women were excluded, exclusions that I would not understand. For example, custodians of the Houses of Parliament are not allowed to be women. I remember when women were excluded from working in our Library. Now they are one of the most delightful embellishments of the place. There is not a better combination of beauty and brains than in the House of Commons Library. There are many jobs from which the Civil Service excludes women, but come a war women will drive everything except tanks in the front line. The position is absurd.
There is a similar story at the B.B.C. Of 25,000 full-time employees, 16,000 are men and 9,000 women. We see from pages 196 onwards of the B.B.C. Handbook for 1972 that among the 32 top people in radio there is one woman, and she is the head of the gramophone department. Of 70 top posts in television, four are held by women. One is the head of the children's programmes, one the head of further education, one the head of make-up—they could hardly have a man as head of make-up, not even in the B.B.C.—and the other is the Assistant Controller of Television Developments. In news and current affairs, not one of the nine people mentioned is a woman. Imagine the B.B.C. news department putting on a programme on birth control with just a man responsible for it. I reckon that women are as much interested in birth control as men. Why should not the B.B.C. have a creche or a nursery and have a career structure for women as well as for men? I was told that there is a married woman graduate at the B.B.C. in her twenties still working as a secretary, at a salary of £1,200- £1,300 a year.
I turn to the National Health Service. I have here an advertisement for a head cook at Castleberg Hospital, Settle, Yorkshire. The post may be filled by a male or a female, but the wages for the female are £18.36 and for the male £21.04. I presume that that will be dealt with by the Equal Pay Act, but the advertisement itself would be an offence under the Bill.
I next quote the example of the Mailing Rural District Council, Maidstone, Kent. 1817 A Miss Wilcockson applied for the job of deputy clerk in 1968. She has sent me the reply, which says:… it was the unanimous view of my members that applications from ladies could not be considered for inclusion in the list of candidates to be invited for interview later this month.I do not want to be party political. I do not know what the party composition of that council is, though I can guess.
To show my lack of partisanship in the matter I next quote the Swansea Education Committee. I shall be very surprised if that is not Labour-controlled. If it is not, they want their heads examined in Swansea. The committee has a comprehensive school for 1,550 girls. The teaching staff consists of 67 female and 14 male teachers, but 10 of the heads of department are women and eight are men, so one out of every two of the male staff is a head of department compared with only one woman out of every seven—and that in an all girls' school. Worse than that, between 1951 and 1964 the head was a headmistress, which is not surprising in a girls' school, but from 1965 to 1971 the school had a headmaster. He died last September—perhaps killed by his pupils. The education committee advertised for a man or a woman last year. The advertisement was subsequently withdrawn and the post was re-advertised on 11th January, and in the South Wales Evening Post of that date it was indicated that a headmaster was required for this girls' school, Mynyddbach Comprehensive School. I do not know what it means. I believe that it is Little Hill, or something like that.
I turn to the churches. Deaconess Una M. Kroll, of Sutton, Surrey began some correspondence in the Daily Telegraph when on 18th January she wrote about sex discrimination in the Church of England. Another correspondent answered her on 21st January, quoting the Bible and saying that. Mrs. Kroll should first consult the Bible, whichis 'profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for connection, for instruction in righteousness' and she will read God's instruction through Paul, ' Let your women keep silence in the churches for it is not permitted unto them to speak but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.'If Paul were not enough, then Timothy will do, because the writer adds: 1818Also Timothy is instructed of Paul on the setting up of a first-century church. 'Let the women leave in silence. With all subjection … nor to using authority over the man but to be in silence.'So Timothy and Paul tell women to shut their months. It is Timothy and Paul who say that they shall not have equal pay, that they shall not have equal rights in education, promotion and educational opportunities.
I do not give a damn what Timothy and Paul or anyone else says. This House will say, and has the right to say, that there shall be no discrimination. The Anti-Discrimination Board will exercise its discretion. If a woman like Mrs. Kroll writes to say that she has been discriminated against by the Church of England, the board will take the matter up with the Church. I understand that the Church is to abolish discrimination within it by 1973. If churches have a conscientious objection, the board will exercise its discretion—I hope with more sense than the Race Relations Board has shown on occasions.
The Bill does not deal exclusively with women. There is also discrimination against men. I have received a letter from a Mrs. Whitehead, of Eastbourne, about sex discrimination against men. She says that her husband, a State-registered physiotherapist, could not obtain a job as a superintendent physiotherapist because it was the practice and policy of certain hospital boards that only women should hold those posts.
My next example of discrimination against women is that of a Miss Kane, of Lincolnshire, who applied for a job as a concessions lawyer with the Burmah Oil Company. She is a 29-year-old, fully qualified solicitor, with 10 years' experience of travelling around the world, from Bolivia to Egypt and Greece. When she applied, a Burmah Oil man told her orally "We want someone who can travel around the world and meet the natives, and we do not think a woman is up to this kind of job." She replied, "I have had 10 years of travelling around the world, for some of that time in the employment of oil companies." I have here the final letter sent to Miss Kane, dated 23rd November, 1971 and signed by M. Sims,P.P. Mr. D. C. Page, for Burmah Oil Trading Ltd.1819 It says:After lengthy discussion with our Exploration Department, we have to advise you that it is still our policy not to recruit a woman to fill this vacancy.''There is the further example of discrimination in Oxford and Cambridge colleges. Three of the best—King's, Clare and Churchill—have already abolished discrimination on grounds of sex, but the great majority of the men's colleges and even the women's colleges I am told by a correspondent,would fight to their last bottle of wine before giving up their right to discriminate.So one could go on. Every one of us has had letters of this kind quoting cases of discrimination of one kind or another.
The Bill is modelled to some extent on the Race Relations Act. It relates to discrimination on grounds of sex in employment only. This is because a private Member introducing such a Bill is in a great difficulty. He has to limit his horizons. He cannot be too ambitious if he is to get his Bill through. Basically, the Bill seeks to create machinery to secure equal rights for all persons in employment, training and promotion, irrespective of their gender. Without this kind of equality, the Equal Pay Act, 1970, introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn would be virtually a dead letter and meaningless.
Clause 2 is almost identical in wording with the similar provision of the Race Relations Act. Clause 3 would make it illegal to publish the kind of advertisement I have mentioned which would tend or seek to discriminate on grounds of sex. Clause 4 would make it illegal to discriminate in training or education.
The National Council of Working Women informs me that a Department of Education and Science circular is still in existence which deliberately discriminates in the provision of facilities in schools against girls in science and related subjects. The circular is still enforeable, I understand, and I ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science to look at it.
Clause 5 would make it illegal to discriminate in professional bodies, trade unions, and so on, against people on grounds of sex. Certain hon. Ladies opposite have knowledge and evidence to 1820 support the justification for that. Clause 6 deals with the administration of the Bill. It would set up an "Anti-Discrimination Board". The Schedule gives details as to the status, staff, payment, and so on, of the board.
The board's duty would be to receive complaints from individuals and to make inquiries. I say at once that although there is provision for the board to have recourse to the courts, this would be a last resort. The main purpose of the Bill is educational and to achieve results by persuasion. Where persuasion of the employer can achieve the desired result, one does not want to go to court. However, one must reserve the right for the individual or the board on behalf of the individual to go to court and if necessary sue for damages.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I would rather not give way. I know the point which my right hon. Friend has in mind. He would ask me whether this provision would infringe on existing legislation about night work and so on. My information is that it would not. Where there is existing legislation precluding women from night work, for example—or, to take an extreme example, from work in coal mines—it would not be affected by the Bill. That is my understanding of the situation.
When one examines the list of sponsors of the Bill, I think it fair to say that rarely has any Bill, either Government or Private Member's, had such a galaxy of talent, such a combination of brain, brawn, beauty and bloody-mindedness to support it. Let the Minister be warned, if not impressed, by the quality of beauty, brain and political experience of the sponsors. Let him take warning from the Gallery. Let him take warning from the women's organisations outside. Let him at least tell the House that the Government accept the principle of the Bill in accordance with their election manifesto. I accept that it may need radical alteration in Committee. I am quite flexible about that, as I am bound to be as a private Member hoping to get his Bill through. In that spirit, I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Richard Sharples)
I understand that it would be the general wish of the House that I should speak next and put the Government's point of view. I apologise to hon. Members for the time I might be taking up. I shall try to respond to the Bill and to the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) in the spirit in which he moved the Second Reading. I think it right that the House should be debating this subject and I think that it is grateful for him for giving it the opportunity to do so.
The Government have general sympathy with the broad objectives of the Bill. But whether or not legislation, or this Bill in particular, is the right way to do it is something that I shall discuss later in my speech. We believe that the remaining areas in which there is discrimination against women should be removed and as the hon. Gentleman was good enough to point out we made our position clear in our election manifesto. I need not quote again the passage he read out.
We in the Conservative Party have had the benefit of the report to which the hon. Member referred. "Fair Shares for the Fair Sex", which was a Conservative Political Centre document and not an official document, published in 1969. I think the House would agree that we have already implemented a large number of the recommendations in that document for the removal of discrimination against women in law.
As the hon. Gentleman properly pointed out, the Bill deals with the particular subject of discrimination in employment. Before reaching a decision, the House will wish to consider two things: first, the areas and extent of discrimination existing in employment at the present time and, secondly, if the problem exists, whether the Bill, or any legislation at all, is the best way to deal with this question. The House will agree that discrimination does not arise in employment in the vast majority of cases. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] There is good reason for this. Men and women are not competing for the same jobs in a vast sector of industry.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I am sorry to interrupt, but for one reason or another, over which I have no control, I will have no way of contradicting anything the Minister may say except by interruption. I want to make clear that I disagree completely with him in his statement that there is no discrimination against women throughout almost every industry anyone may care to mention. If the Minister wishes, I can recite all the industries in which there is discrimination.
§ Mr. Sharples
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have his opportunity of speaking later. In a large section of industry men and women are not directly competing for jobs. Take for instance heavy engineering, transport and a whole variety of industries such as coal mining. There are large areas in which there is no direct competition at all.
§ Mr. Sharples
The vast majority of women are working in jobs which are an extension of their traditional domestic rôle.
§ Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)
It seems as if the Minister does not understand the point of the Bill. Its aim is that women should be able to compete with men for any job for which they wish to apply and to train for any job. The hon. Gentleman is simply stating the position of discrimination which exists now. Women are not competing against men for jobs because they know that in so many cases they will not be selected.
§ Mr. Sharples
In a large section of industry most of the jobs are done by men because the jobs are of a certain kind and are incapable of being done by women.
§ Mr. Sharples
A large proportion of the building industry—a whole area. The 1823 vast majority of women are in jobs which are an extension of their traditional domestic rôle.
§ Mr. Sharples
These are such jobs as involve food, clothing, nursing, a large proportion in shops and in personnel and social services.
§ Mr. Sharples
A vast majority of women want jobs in these areas, and not because of discrimination. A survey was published in 1968 by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys showing that the great majority of women were satisfied with the job they were doing. It showed that married women—and over 50 per cent. of the women in employment are married—found that promotion and opportunities for using skills and training were comparatively unimportant in considerig the attractions of a job. I want to make it clear that there are women to whom this does not apply, particularly the highly educated. As the standard of education of women has risen so the competition between men and women for the kind of job for which the more highly educated woman goes has increased.
Sex is not by any means the only ground on which there is discrimination. I was interested to see in The Times yesterday a letter by Mrs. Rosamond Newman who said:I have recently obtained a Diploma in Sociology but because of age I cannot obtain the necessary training for professional qualification, and I have worked competently as a secretary at a high level. Now, however, because my children are grown up and I wish to start a career at 43 like thousands of other women, I am simply unable to do so because of age prejudice.A Bill is currently going through Parliament to reduce the present discrimination against women in training and employment which will probably be as ineffective as the Race Relations Act. It should be remembered, however, that the trend for age discrimination is the same for men.As a Member of Parliament I find that I have far more letters from people feeling that they have been discriminated against in employment on grounds of age than I have from those who feel they are discriminated against on grounds 1824 of sex. I wonder whether legislation is the answer. Women certainly should be given equal opportunities for promotion. But this is more a matter of changing attitudes than legislation.
This at least was the view of the Women's Advisory Committee of the Trades Union Congress, and I have no reason to think that it has changed its mind since the subject was last considered. We must recognise that many jobs previously reserved to men can now be done by women. The House will know of the increasing range of opportunities which are open to women and girls. This is as much a matter of a change of attitude—and it is happening all the time—as anything else. It is a change of attitude not only on the part of employers but a change which is taking place among girls and their parents. That is just as important. The crucial decisions as to the kind of career and the level of responsibility to aim for are taken before a girl leaves school. Teachers and careers officers can and do play a big part.
The National Youth Employment Council in its report covering 1968–70 said:Parents are being encouraged to think more widely. Careers programmes in schools are increasingly directed to include jobs which hitherto were thought to be inappropriate to girls. Discussions on vocational choice are being introduced before educational options are exercised. Employers have been approached and in some cases have shown a willingness to consider girls.The problem is always that so many women have to interrupt their careers while their family is growing. They often need help from employers in regaining their confidence and skill, and we believe there is an onus upon the employer to assist women in this way.
To come back to the main theme of the debate, there are areas in which men and women compete for jobs but those areas, proportionately, are not very large. There are jobs which by their very nature are always done by men. There are jobs which are far better done by women and which will always be done by women. There are jobs in which there is in law special protection for women. Statutory restrictions on hours of work in factories would have to be removed if Clause 2 of the Bill were to be implemented.
§ Mr. Sharples
I wonder whether the removal of legislation which has been introduced by the House over the years for the protection of women in work, and particularly for the protection of the health of women in work, would have general support. I am quite certain that it would not have support from the Trades Union Congress.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay
Quite apart from the merits of the case, as a matter of fact I should like to be clear, before taking a decision on the Bill, whether as it stands it involves the repeal of some of the legislation which the Minister has mentioned.
§ Mr. Sharples
My advice is that it would and that, to comply with Clause 2 of the Bill, it would be necessary to remove the restrictions in law upon the employment of women and the conditions under which women are allowed to work. That is the advice which I have received and I believe it to be right.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
Surely it would be possible to draft a piece of legislation like this in such a way as to retain any statutory protection which may be considered necessary. We were perfectly able to do that in the context of the Equal Pay Act and the special treatment which women receive in childbearing and in other situations affecting their rôle as mothers.
§ Mr. Sharples
I think possibly it would be. It would be necessary to amend the legislation on those matters. I am replying to the hon. Member who asked me what the position was.
There are jobs which one sex or the other is better qualified to carry out. We can all think of those. In some ways the Bill seems to assume that men and women are the same in every respect, which is a biological fallacy. On that assumption the Bill adopts the solution of the race relations legislation. There is no biological difference between white and coloured persons, but that consideration does not apply to this Bill. The 1826 problems are not the same and it is no use pretending that they are. The proposals in Clause 2 are in conflict with existing legislation, and we must be clear whether it is the wish of the House that that legislation should be repealed.
I also exercise strong reservations about the main part of the Bill, the appeals machinery which is set up in Clause 6 The machinery proposed would be cumberous, expensive and probably ineffective. It would be difficult in law to know whether a decision between men and women was made on the basis of discrimination or on other grounds.
In conclusion, we support the objective of the removal of discrimination against women in every field. We want women to share equally with men in the opportunities which they have in those areas which are open to both, but we do not believe that legislation, particularly the Bill now before the House, is the right way of bringing this about.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams (Hitchin)
The Minister of State has seriously misjudged the mood on both sides of the House and has put up no kind of case at all for resisting this Bill. It seems to me that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), who might be described as the Sir Galahad of parliamentary debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) have come very much closer to judging the mood of the House and the country.
The Minister in his speech sounded to me all too reminiscently like the Rhodesian Government on the subject of their African majority: "They like being subsistence peasants, so they had better go on being in that position." That basically was his argument.
When he counsels patience, I say on behalf of my sex that we have waited long enough. Many of us feel that the time has now come for action at last to be taken. It is not true that the position is getting better. In some ways it is getting worse.
I hope I may be allowed to indicate some of the ways in which it is getting worse. We are at the moment moving rapidly towards co-education but, as my 1827 hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West indicated, all too many local education authorities will not even consider a woman as the head of a co-educational school. That means immediately closing a large range of opportunities for able women. In the area of block and day release the figures are appalling, and the Minister should look them up. They indicate that about 7 per cent. of girls have any opportunity for apprenticeship in a period when it is getting more and more difficult for unskilled persons to be sure of employment life-long.
In expansion of higher education all the indications are that, because of the slowing down of the colleges of education, there will be fewer opportunities proportionately for girls in higher education in ten years' time, and this is borne out by Department of Education and Science projections. In the fields of medical consultancy, senior and middle management, industrial consultancy, company directorships, and, I regret to say, senior trade union officials, hardly any women's names appear at all. On the boards of nationalised industries, area boards of nationalised industries, in the whole field within the Government's patronage, only a pathetic handful of women have been appointed even to bodies concerned with the protection of the consumer.
I must tell the Minister that we have waited long enough, and there is no reason to wait longer. He accepts the gnat of principle but strains at the camel of making it work. If he does not like my hon. Friend's suggestion for making it work, I am sure we would be prepared to listen to him suggest a better way that it could work. But what we will not do is to accept the principle, and then decide to do nothing about it to make it work—because all of us who have been in the House for some time have heard that all too often.
It is surely no more difficult to judge discrimination on the grounds of sex than discrimination on the grounds of race. Hon Gentlemen opposite—I do not use that as a collective phrase on this occasion—ought to consider again their objections to the Race Relations Act and wonder whether they are wise in acting like Canutes against the rising tide of demand for equality in this country.
1828 I do not wish to speak for any more than another minute, because I know that many of my colleagues want to take part in this debate. I want only to say that the Opposition give their full support to this Measure. We believe that this is proper and wise and would say to the Conservative Party that the commitment it made in its manifesto could not have been more clearly made. Many women voted for it believing that it would carry out that pledge. It now has the chance to do so, and we await with interest and concern to see if it does. Hon. Members opposite have now been given a full opportunity.
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst)
I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) on his fortune in the Ballot and on bringing this Bill before the House. I cannot congratulate him on having trumpeted in that speech on a very vicious attack on my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell). I am not in a position to judge the merits of his attack, but it is to me quite out of keeping with the tradition of this House that, having gained the publicity of this forum for the attack, he refused to give way and allow my hon. and learned Friend to reply.
I have very, very serious reservations about the tactics of the hon. Member for Fife, West and about the practicality of his Bill. I have no doubt that I shall be wildly misrepresented in any reports of the comments that I intend to make, but I do not believe that the Bill has been sufficiently thought out in its implications. I do not think that there has been enough discussion with, not least, the trade unions. The hon. Member for Fife, West skated over this issue in half a sentence. Many unions are entrenched in their opposition to female labour. When I say that, I am not discussing the coal mines, for example. But there are large parts of the textile industry where the unions insist on men only. I believe that there must be more field work and agreement before a Bill of this kind can be practically implemented and rapidly carried forward, which it will have to be if it becomes law.
I speak with some experience, though it is not likely to be that of the hon. 1829 Member for Fife, West. I have experienced prejudice in my job and in my politics because of my sex. I do not come here with a lack of sympathy. I have considerable knowledge of the views of members of the many women's organisations. I have spoken to them, and I support them on many of these issues. I had the pleasure of moving the resolution endorsing "Fair Shares for the Fair Sex" which was accepted by the Conservative Women's annual conference.
I believe that in many ways pressure for this Bill has been given added impetus by a perfectly justifiable annoyance on the part of women that the Race Relations Act makes it possible for a coloured woman to protest if she is discriminated against because of her colour. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite can sneer as much as they like. There are many resolutions on record which have been adopted by the women's organisations. These are facts. It has been a point of protest that, whereas under the Race Relations Act a coloured woman can protest that she has been discriminated against unfairly because of her colour, a white woman has no machinery for protesting.
The hon. Member for Fife, West may say that that is an anomaly that he is trying to remove and that his Bill will prevent it in the future. However, I believe that we should look more closely at the employment scene—
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
Is it really the right hon. Lady's understanding of our race relations legislation that a white woman refused employment by a black employer on this ground cannot take action under the Race Relations Act?
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
I did not say that. I am sure that other hon. Members opposite realise that I made a valid point.
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
I have not made a racist point. Hon. Gentlemen opposite should listen instead of letting their protests override their common sense. They know perfectly well that what I say is true, no doubt having, like 1830 me, received letters from many women's organisations saying exactly what I have said.
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
The hon. Gentleman accepts my point.
As I say, I believe that we should look more closely at employment. In many instances the young female school leaver fares better in the wage structure than the male school leaver. However, there is prejudice later against women, and I deplore it. The nub of women's protests about prejudice in employment concerns the promotion ladder.
The cases quoted by previous speakers were mainly directed to the professions, education, medicine and the universities. The problem which we have to tackle mainly is that of the promotion ladder and women not being given the same fair opportunity, their qualifications being equal, of going up that ladder.
The Bill is ill-timed, it is cast on unprepared ground, and I believe that it will obscure in its impact the battle of the promotion ladder which we have to fight.
The success of politics is in achieving the practically possible rather than losing out striving for the idealistically desirable. I believe that it is better to prune wisely and harvest the fruit than to go at a tree with an axe.
At the moment we have 1 million unemployed. Most of these are men, and most of these men are breadwinners. I should like to know from the sponsors of the Bill what inquiries they have made to and what reactions they have had from the male oriented trade unions from which, I believe, there would be considerable opposition where it is least necessary because the number of women who would want to go into that type of job would be few. I believe that we should launch our attack on the promotion sphere, not on an issue as wide and wholly overriding as this Bill.
At this time of wide unemployment, there has been a considerable backlash of womenfolk writing to their M.P.s 1831 stressing that breadwinning males should be employed instead of females.
We have an example in this House. For over 50 years we have had the right to stand for Parliament, to be elected, and to sit as Members in this House of Commons on terms of equality with our male colleagues. But only 81 women were included among 1,800 candidates of all parties at the last election. I regret that it is not only men who keep women out; it is quite often our own sex as well. The law has given us the right over 50 years, but we have not noticeably or very dramatically increased our representation. Are we to say that, as a result of the Bill, if a woman is turned down by a selection committee she can then protest that she is turned down on grounds of sex?
Can we honestly say that, with all its panoply of commissions and committees, the Race Relations Act has achieved anything like what this House hoped? We still have discrimination. Is it not a matter where by steady education and working from profession to profession or industry to industry we can achieve more than a blanket piece of overriding legislation like this which sounds good, makes people feel good, but which in the end will not achieve what hon. Members sincerely hoped for it.
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
At least hon. Gentlemen opposite in their term of office tried to do the same thing, even though they abandoned it later. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I should be out of order if I continued on that theme. At present, there has not been a notable and dramatic success by all the panoply of committees which we have under the Race Relations Act.
Does anybody think that by passing the Bill bus drivers overnight will accept women as drivers? Does anybody think that the railway unions will welcome women as signalwomen, as porters, or even as train drivers? At Christmas time an enormous number of temporary staff are employed to deal with additional mail. If a husky young girl applies for a job, she is told that it is only men or boys that can be employed.
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
That is certainly the position in London.
Over many years Measures have been introduced to provide equal pay for women. It was not until we adopted a far better strategy that we saw the principle accepted in the professions, in the Civil Service, in local government, in the Health Service and in teaching. In my view the problem that we are facing today would be better served, and more rapidly and practically achieved, if we were to apply ourselves to the very areas which the hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) mentioned. We should approach this issue in the same way as we approached the issue of equal pay.
We have to do far more groundwork. It is easy to dismiss the issue within the factories. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) raised the question of night shifts. We cannot have it both ways. The right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) says that the Bill would not interfere with the protection given to women vis-à-vis night shift work. Where there is a three-shift system of work, and because of the protection accruing to women under legislation passed by the House, the whole of that type of work, with full union support—and the provision is most rigidly enforced—is done by male workers.
If that protection is retained for women, it will be necessary to say that if it is day work the women must be allowed to do it, but they are protected and they need not do the night work. The women can do the day shift, while the men can do the night shift. That is not providing equality. Alternatively, we shall remove the protection which it has been found necessary to give women under our industrial regulations.
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
That is not what I am endeavouring to do. On the contrary, I am sincere in my views. I have never filibustered in the House, and I do not intend to start now.
On the other side of the coin, there are many spheres of employment which are dominated by women and, as the 1833 hon. Member for Fife, West admitted, the Bill would encourage men to use their best endeavours to invade spheres of employment which, almost exclusively, have employed women. One can imagine the reaction if a young man, lured by good pay, wanted to plunge into a female-dominated sphere of secretarial work. [Interruption.] I am not saying that there are no young men so employed, but I am saying that it is a female-dominated sphere. I did not say that it was exclusively female. In my time, three young men have written to ask me whether they could be my secretary. If I considered that it would be unwise, that it might, through no fault of mine, give rise to gossip, if I turned that applicant down, under the Bill, I could be hauled up and told that his qualifications are better and that I have discriminated against him on grounds of sex.
There are male State registered nurses. Are they now to demand that they are entitled to take the training as midwives?
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
They are trained in an emergency, certainly, and even policemen in an emergency have assisted, but I wonder whether the hon. Member has discussed this point with the Midwives' Association? If an employer is appointing for training in the executive field, he may reasonably make the choice between a young male executive and a young married female who are equally qualified, and he might use his judgment and consider that the recently married young woman could very well have a family, which would break into the training which the job requires. This could give the name of discrimination to something which is a reasonably balanced decision.
We have a greater likelihood of achieving these aims and doing away with discrimination by exercising steady pressure on selected areas where the impact and discrimination against women is greatest, where there is an overwhelming case for a fairer deal for women. This is a much 1834 more practical approach than this overriding Bill.
I want pressure put on the Department of Education and Science as more and more women head teachers lose out on the changeover from single sex to comprehensive schools. Far too many first-class women heads lose all prospect of such jobs for the future. We have more chance of winning this by applying pressure in the right spot than by an overriding Bill.
I want pressure put on other Government Departments. Customs and immigration officers should not be over-ridingly male, with the few women customs officers allowed to work only when they are searching a suspected female smuggler. I want pressure put on teaching hospitals so that female students with equal qualifications have far greater opportunities and are not denied a place when their qualifications are often greater than those of a male applicant but there are just not enough places for them.
I want to see concentrated and progressive campaigns on areas of employment where it is practical, feasible and wholly justifiable that women should be recruited on merit, regardless of their sex.
This Bill will provide a bonanza of publicity for the extrovert members of "Women's Lib", who will challenge all sorts of cock-eyed jobs in male professions to enhance their publicity. But there is a great task, and in saying this I am not as distant from many hon. Ladies on the benches opposite as they are endeavouring to suggest—
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
I am as sincere in my desire to see prejudice removed as are hon. Ladies and their colleagues opposite and anyone else. However, I want the big battles to be fought in areas where it is practicable to fight them and where one is justified in fighting them.
This House is used to battles, but without the preparation that is necessary for a step of the kind that is proposed, without the goodwill of all those married women—[Interruption.]some of whose husbands are out of work, and without the agreement of the male-entrenched trade unions, half of which 1835 have not woken up to the implications of the Bill—
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
My fear is that the Bill will raise hopes which will not be fulfilled—
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
We would be far better off employing the methods that were used to achieve equal pay than by passing a Measure such as this.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
As I listened to the Minister of State I had one regret about the Bill, and that was that administrative responsibility for its enforcement has not been placed with the Department of Employment. If it had, presumably the Secretary of State for Employment would have spoken in place of the Minister of State, and it would have been impossible for him to make the speech, we have just listened to. It would have been impossible because the Minister of State in every word he uttered contradicted in every respect a speech that was made with great passion by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment when the Equal Pay (No. 2) Bill was in Committee.
The Minister of State made the incredible remark that discrimination did not exist against women in employment in the vast number of cases. The only person in a position to know that is the Secretary of State for Employment who, from his own mouth, still believes that legislation in this sphere is desirable and necessary.
I will remind the House of what the Secretary of State for Employment said when the earlier Measure was proceeding through Committee. The similiarity between his speech on that occasion and the speech today of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) was fantastic. I could not help thinking that the hand may be the 1836 hand of Hamilton, but the voice is the voice of Carr. [Interruption.] I am, of course, speaking only in this context.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West need not object because we have a Trojan horse inside the Government, bearing in mind the remarks of the present Secretary of State for Employment on my Equal Pay Bill. He said that the Conservative Party welcomed the equal pay Measure and that the only objection he and his hon. Friends had to it was that it did not go far enough. At that time the hon. Lady the Member for Petersfield (Miss Quennell) tabled an Amendment to stop discrimination against women in employment and she was supported by her right hon. Friend.
This was what the Secretary of State said then and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West would be only too glad to be associated with his comments:There is a real danger that, if we press hard on the door of equal pay, without at the same time pressing hard to push open the door of equal opportunity, we shall create a situation where we intensify the hiving-off tendency of women's employment.… If the Bill does nothing about equality of opportunity, it might fail to help a large majority of women workers and make advancement in pay and job opportunity more difficult rather than less difficult.He went on to condemn my Bill in these terms:Equality of opportunity does not appear anywhere in the Bill. We wish to put it into the Bill.Finally, he said:Until we take action which matches insistence on equal pay for work of broadly similar nature with legislative pressure for equal opportunity for women in work, the purpose of the Secretary of State"—that was then myself—will not be achieved.My answer then was that the Amendment being moved was a nonsense in terms of the Bill then before the Committee.
I also knew that if we were to complicate the Bill at that time by adding this additional facet which stood on its own, we were in danger of not getting it on to the Statute Book before the General Election came. I knew that if the General Election came and that legislation was not on the Statute Book, it would never be put on the Statute 1837 Book under a Conservative Government. We have proof of this in the double talk we are having from the Secretary of State for Employment today.
When we are told that there is no discrimination in employment and that legislation cannot deal with it, I ask hon. Members to obtain a copy of the Standing Committee Report for 3rd March, 1970, in which the present Secretary of State for Employment read out to the Committee a list of discriminations very similar to those that had been read out by my hon. Friend today. The right hon. Gentleman said:This limitation on the equality of women spreads right across the board."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. Standing Committee H, 3rd March, 1970; c. 137–40.]The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Stock Exchange and ministries of religion and he pointed to the trade unions. To the right hon. Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith) I say it is true that there are rank and file trade unionists down the line who have shown discrimination; but it is a libel on the trade union movement to say that, therefore, the trade union movement officially opposes the Bill or supports discrimination. We have the support of the T.U.C., which may be glad of the Bill to help it to educate some of its own rank and file, because we are not dealing with saints here but with human beings.
When the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) took the Secretary of State at his word and put down a Question to him not long ago, asking whether he would now, in keeping with what he said in Standing Committee, take legislative action to prevent women being excluded from the Stock Exchange, the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary was put up to answer because the right hon. Gentleman could not face the music of his own hypocrisy. The hon. Gentleman was put up to say that it was not that legislation was inappropriate but that he thought it was unnecessary because prejudice in this field was melting away and provincial stock exchanges were accepting women, and it would, therefore, be only a matter of time before the problem was solved.
When I challenged the Under-Secretary about what had happened in the Standing Committee and why his right hon. Friend was not acting in accord 1838 ance with what he said then, the hon. Gentleman replied:My right hon. Friend still adheres to the views he expressed then."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1971; Vol. 820, c. 554.]What have we got? Iis it a split inside the Government? If so I should have thought, having nailed his colours so ardently to the mast of feminine equality, the Secretary of State for Employment ought to resign from a Government which can produce the sort of speech we have had from the Minister of State today.
To whom should we listen, the Secretary of State for Employment, who still adheres to the views I have just read, or the Minister of State for the Home Office, who was put up to give us the sort of reactionary speech we have had today? The Secretary of State for Employment ought to know whether discrimination in employment exists. It is the Secretary of State for Employment who should know whether legislation in this area would be practicable and useful and whether it is necessary. He says that it is. Therefore, the Government are in honour bound to keep the word of their Secretary of State for Employment and give the Bill every facility.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mrs. Sally Oppenheim (Gloucester)
I am proud to be one of the sponsors of the Bill. I make no apologies for that just because there may be the dot or comma in the drafting that is not legislatively acceptable. I know that I speak also for other hon. Ladies who are sponsors or supporters of the Bill. The aims of the Bill have my wholehearted support and I congratulate the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) on his particularly felicitous choice of subject.
It is important not to trivialise the aims of the Bill. It may be right to seek to expose various manifestations of discrimination, but it is important also to define the nature of the deep-seated prejudice against women which, unlike racial or religious discrimination, is neither sinister nor malevolent, nor is it motivated by hatred and fear. It is founded rather on ignorance, lack of confidence and sheer indifference, expressed in the unquestioning attitudes often of women themselves, attitudes which may have had some relevance in another day 1839 and age but have long since ceased to be relevant.
Therefore, what is needed is a drastic change of attitudes. One way of achieving that is through re-education, which may involve the exposure of the irrationality of specific instances of discrimination. It may be that this can be done most effectively by an anti-discrimination board. Although Clause 6 of the Bill does not specify it, it is highly desirable that such a board should be required to make periodic reports both for the exposure of discrimination and for further study.
Secondly, it is necessary to build up confidence in the ability and reliability of women, because underlying all prejudice is the insulting presupposition that women are inferior.
But, above all, in re-educating attitudes we must explode the myth that education and training are a waste of time for women because they get married and have children. It is estimated that by 1981 two-thirds of working women will be married, and a high proportion of them will have returned to work after having brought up their families. Therefore, what is needed is not less but more education in the way of retraining and refresher courses for such women.
The Bill goes far beyond the establishment of new attitudes. I recognise that there will be considerable difficulties in its implementation, not unlike the difficulties that were associated with the implementation of the Race Relations Act. But because the bias against women is not evil, and the examples of it are more immediately obvious, I think that the Bill will have a greater chance of success. It is a vital accompaniment to the phasing-in of the Equal Pay Act, which could turn out to be just an empty gesture without anti-discrimination legislation to ensure that women are given equality of opportunity in job selection and in some cases in holding down the jobs they now have, which they might otherwise lose as a result of the Act.
Moreover, equal pay is not the same as equal earnings when women do not have the same opportunities to work overtime or have the same clear promotional path as men in industry and the professions.
1840 Unfortunately, most women become accustomed to bias long before starting their working lives. I believe that if the Bill becomes law the Department of Education and Science will have radically to change some of its ideas to avoid prosecution under Clause 4. If a girl has a scientific or mathematical bent, it is very unlikely that she will find the same facilities in a girls' school as she would find in a boys' school.
Worst of all is the pitifully small proportion of university places available to girls. This means that a far higher standard of scholarship is demanded of female applicants. If the Department of Education and Science was not prosecuted under the Bill when enacted, I hope that it would be directed to order an immediate and comprehensive review of education for girls and women, which is long overdue and highly necessary.
The long trail of discrimination starts for most girls at school and continues throughout their working lives. Not only do they encounter difficulty in training, in education, in being accepted for apprenticeships by trade unions and in jobs and professions which are traditionally male preserves, but when they have overcome all of this they will probably encounter heavy discrimination when it comes to promotion.
The position for professional women is probably somewhat worse because, unless they are absolutely outstanding, it is very unlikely that they will be offered a job or an appointment commensurate in pay and status with their male counterpart of equal ability. Let us face the fact that a woman must be three times better than her male counterpart to survive and about five times better to be promoted above him. The odds are three to one against her from the start. Is it surprising, therefore, that at the moment when they must make crucial educational and training decisions, many able and talented girls are daunted by the prospects and as a result settle for softer options?
Having gone in some details into the bias that women have to face in education and at work, I do not intend to go into detail into the many ways in which the law, and even tax assessment, discriminates against women. These examples are well known to the House 1841 and were ably and admirably dealt with in the two reports of the Cripps Committee which were commissioned by the Prime Minister. It was that committee which first recommended a form of antidiscrimination board.
The Bill will not end the attitudes that we want to overcome; it will not end injustice or discrimination, but it will discourage it and make it more difficult to practise. In doing so it will do a service, not only to women, but to the whole country in giving encouragement to a hitherto untapped source of talent and potential in women, who already play a very important part in the nation's economic life and who have a very valuable further contribution to make.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
I hope that the very reasonable and eloquent speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim) will persuade her colleagues on the back benches of the merits and principles of the Bill.
Much has been said about the drafting and the weaknesses of the Bill. We are all realists here and we know that it is very difficult for any Private Member to draft a perfect Bill. What we are discussing is the principle behind it. Every hon. Member knows that, whatever may be said to the contrary, thousands of women have described the discrimination which they have experienced and millions of women have suffered in their working lives because there has not been complete equality of opportunity, training and education between men and women.
The Bill is not an airy-fairy conception, however much it may appear to have been so to those who have criticised it today. It arose in the first place because a bus conductress in a London garage saw a notice in the staff room encouraging staff to apply for training as inspectors. She applied for such training but was told that she could not be so trained because she was a woman, and as a woman she had not been able to be a bus driver and unless she had complete experience of all aspects of bus work she could not be an inspector. That is a genuine case and many women are in a similar position. They want to be trained as inspectors and they are competent 1842 drivers, but because they have not been able to be bus drivers they cannot be inspectors. One can multiply this kind of example in many trades, businesses and professions.
In listening to the debate I have been amazed by some of the comments suggesting that this kind of legislation is not only unnecessary but revolutionary. In the United States women have made tremendous use of the legislation against discrimination and have been extremely successful. The American legislation is very similar to what we are seeking, although it is all-embracing since it covers other discrimination besides that on grounds of sex. In Canada there is similar provision. We are not suggesting anything that is unusual or unworkable because the fact that it is workable has been proved by experience in other countries. We know that it will be used by women here if the Bill goes through.
The Bill is limited in concept and I am the first to recognise that there are many other areas of discrimination where legislation is needed. The hon. Lady the Member for Gloucester mentioned tax discrimination. There is also discrimination in pensions, social security and so on, and also in jury service—where women are not eligible on the same grounds as men—and in many other sectors. I believe that the Bill provides machinery on which other forms of discrimination could be eliminated by succeeding legislation.
It has already been pointed out that the Bill is a necessary corollary to the Equal Pay Act. Equal pay of itself will not give women the necessary equal job opportunity as soon as they begin to work outside the home. I wish that the Bill could do very much more than it does. So far from thinking that it goes too far, I think it is much too limited. I wish it could be all-embracing and sweep away the social conditions, the family blackmail, the official complacency and indifference, the advertising gimmickry and the everlasting patronising by society towards women which have constricted every woman in the country whether she recognises it or not.
Unfortunately we cannot do that in a Private Members' Bill. The Bill provides machinery which can be used by women in a limited way and which can later be used against other forms of sex 1843 discrimination when legislation is produced. It is not only an important follow-up to the equal pay legislation in that it provides machinery for equality of opportunity but, when it comes into operation, it can have an uplifting effect on the whole level of women's occupations.
The great majority of women who work outside the home today are not those seeking to enter the top professions—important though those women are and important though it is that they should have complete freedom to do so. The majority of working women are those who, like cleaners, unskilled factory workers and unskilled women of all kinds, occupy the very lowest-paid jobs in the community. These are the ones whom I most want to help. They can only be helped by opportunities for education and training—training probably at a later stage of life than is normal today—to get out of this rut of being forced to undertake the very lowest-paid jobs when they have to go out to work to help keep their families and maintain themselves.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell rose—
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
On a point of order. Would it not be in accordance with the conventions of the House if the hon. Lady allowed me two or three minutes in which to ask her—[Interruption.]
§ Mrs. Butler
Time is very limited. In the few minutes I have left I would like to echo the praise lavished on my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), who I am delighted was able to be here today to make such a vigorous speech so soon after his recent illness. He has done a great service to the people of this country, particularly the women, by introducing the Bill. Behind my hon. Friend there is a group of men and women, hon. Members of this House, many of whom are here today, who have given splendid support to the principles of the Bill over the years. Behind them are the men and women of the country for whom the Bill is the culmination of a crusade 1844 which, even if the Bill does not get a Second Reading today, will continue until the objectives of the Bill are achieved either by a Bill in this form or one very similar to it. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell rose—
§ Mr. William Hamilton
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is abundantly clear that 95 per cent. of hon. Members who are present—and there is a large attendance in the House for a Friday—are very much in favour of the Bill. If the Bill does not obtain a Second Reading, the House and the people of this country, particularly the women, will demand that, if not on this occasion, on some occasion in the near future the House should come to a decision and not allow the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) to adopt the tactics which he has adopted today.
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.
§ Mr. Rose
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is almost without precedent that there should be such a large attendance in the House on a Friday. This gives a clear indication of the strength of feeling of the House, which is almost unanimous. It is a gross abuse of the House and its time that there should not be a vote on the Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is completely out of order. He is not entitled to question my decision. If he will look at "Erskine May" he will see that one of Mr. Speaker's rôles is to protect minorities. The Bill has been debated for an hour and 40 minutes and, in accordance with every precedent, it would not have been appropriate for me to allow the Closure.
§ Mr. Speaker
There cannot be a point of order on the Closure. On another point of order, Mr. Heffer.
§ Mr. Heffer
On another point of order, Mr. Speaker. I can remember an occasion when, after a debate which lasted for a reasonably short time, the House voted on the Bill and not on the Closure. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) will remember the occasion. I understand that you have not accepted the Closure Motion, Mr. Speaker, because the debate has not lasted for two hours, but on the basis of the precedent which I have mentioned we are not precluded from voting on the Bill itself and I therefore ask you to reconsider the matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am afraid it is too late. Whatever are my personal views on the matter I am bound by the rules of the House.
§ Mr. Pavitt
On another point of order. It will not have escaped your notice, Mr. Speaker, that the previous debate was delayed by the usual practices which are quite in order. Would it be possible for the Select Committee on Procedure to be asked to look at the question of filibustering—perhaps I should not say filibustering, but talking too long—on a preceding Bill so as to reduce the amount of time available for discussing an important piece of legislation afterwards which comes before the House?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have no doubt that note will be taken of that. I considered this matter very carefully and not at all unsympathetically, but I felt I was bound by predecent and the rules.
§ Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)
On a point of order. Without in any way questioning your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, knowing that you are bound by procedure and are a House of Commons man of great experience who has always been compassionate about the House, I ask you to recognise that there is strong feeling on this matter and respectfully suggest that, through the usual channels, aided and abetted by yourself, the Procedure Committee should consider the situation in which the vast majority of 1846 the hon. Members want something done but, because of an outdated procedure, you are unable to allow it. This puts you, Mr. Speaker, in an unfair position. This matter must be taken up by the authorities; and brought back to the House for decision as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Speaker
I note the right hon. Gentleman's point. I did not consider this matter unsympathetically, but I think he will find it laid down—and it is perhaps dangerous to go too far—that it is the duty of Mr. Speaker to protect a minority, however small. With regard to the other point made by the right hon. Gentleman, I am sure that will be considered.
§ Sir Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Where the alleged minority is engaged in a deliberate filibuster to prevent the two-hour interval being made available to the majority of the House, is this not a point for consideration?
§ Mr. Speaker
There is no such thing as the "two-hour interval". With regard to the Second Reading of a Bill on a Friday, in relation to the first Bill on the Order Paper the Closure has never been given in less than about four hours fifty minutes; and in regard to Closure on Bills second on the Order Paper there have been three cases of earlier Closures but each completely different from the circumstances today. I am afraid that there it is, and that is how the matter must stand.