HC Deb 02 February 1973 vol 849 cc1850-86

Order for Second Reading read.

2.15 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is almost exactly a year since I introduced an identical Bill in the House. On that occasion it was thwarted by a minority of neolithic Tory male Members. The debate was noteworthy for certain developments which followed from it rather than what happened on that occasion. It was noteworthy also for probably the most inept speech I have ever heard from a Minister of the Crown since I entered this House more than 20 years ago. It was not surprising, therefore, that within weeks that Minister was sacked. Subsequently he was made Governor-General of Bermuda, and subsequent to that his party lost one of the safest Tory seats in the country in the Sutton and Cheam by-election. There may be a moral in that.

The only vacancy of which I know in the fast diminishing Empire is Mauritius, so if the Minister who is to reply wants a job as Governor-General in the British Empire he can make the kind of speech, if he can possibly find it within himself to do so, that was made by the Minister last year when he said that a woman's place was at the kitchen sink.

Since 11 o'clock this morning we have been talking about pollution. The greatest area of pollution in this country is the discrimination which is practised against women from the nappy to the coffin. In almost every aspect of life in our society women are discriminated against.

There have been certain significant developments since the debate in January last year. An identical Bill was introduced in the House of Lords by Baroness Seear. Despite Government opposition it was given a Second Reading with a substantial majority. The place that is supposed to be much more reactionary than this House gave the Bill a Second Reading. As a result it decided to use a piece of machinery which is not available to this House—namely, the setting up of a Select Committee to investigate the area of discrimination and what to do about it. That Committee has produced invaluable evidence of widespread discrimination against women at all levels in the professions, in the media, and on the shop floor. In the debate in the Lords it was announced that a Department of Employment committee of inquiry would be established to look into discrimination and the reasons for it.

Even more important than all those developments is the inspiring, constructive, enthusiastic mass lobbying engaged in by all the women's organisations, irrespective of party, some of them being non-party political in that sense. Also, for the first time in the history of this country as far as I can recollect, senior school girls organised themselves and campaigned on this matter.

It would be an outrage if all these efforts and desires to get the Bill on the Statute Book were to be thwarted by a minority of Members of Parliament who refuse to face one of the major social scandals, if not the major social scandal, of our society. If the Government allowed this debate to take place midweek on a free vote there would no doubt be a massive majority in favour of the Bill.

I believe that I can anticipate the Minister's reply. It will be that we should await the recommendations of the House of Lords' report, wait for the Department of Employment's inquiry, wait until the Session before the next election and then the Government will produce a Bill and they will be hailed as the champions. As a liberal man—[Interruption.]—who tries to moderate his language as best he can, I remind the House that the Secretary of State for Employment said only a few weeks ago that he will not introduce an order under the Equal Pay Act, which he could do, to guarantee women 90 per cent. of the comparable wage in comparable work. He could introduce that order compelling employers to comply but he said that he will not do it because of the Government's prices and incomes policy. We are suspicious of the Government's intentions. But even if the Equal Pay Act became operative in 1975 it would be useless so long as it was not accompanied by legislation providing equal opportunities for women in education, training and promotion. That is precisely the area with which my Bill is concerned.

The present Home Secretary said when the Equal Pay Act was going through the House that it would not be effective unless and until it was accompanied by the kind of legislation which is embodied in my Bill. Virtually all the women's organisations who gave evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee said that they wanted the Bill in spite of its shortcomings. I do not intend to go through it in detail. Everyone should know what it contains. All the evidence I have seen shows that the women's organisations want the Bill. Perhaps I could add a party political plug here by saying that easily the best document produced on these matters is the Green Paper "Discrimination against Women" produced by the Labour Party Study Group. It was commended very highly by The Times in an editorial not so long ago.

There is too little time for me to detail evidence of discrimination. It is known to everyone. It begins in the home and continues through education; it runs from birth to death. Education and training are oriented towards the maintenance and the emphasis of the traditional rôles of men and women in our society. More girls than boys leave school, for instance, at the statutory school leaving age. Fewer girls than boys go on to further education. In universities the proportion of female students is up from 24 per cent. in 1960 to only 28 per cent. in 1970. Three times more men than women go to colleges of education for non-graduate qualifications.

The Donovan Report showed how women were discriminated against in industrial training. The report quoted figures for apprenticeships in May 1966. There were 9,630 men in apprenticeships for scientists and technologists compared with 110 women. For draughtsmen apprenticeships the figures were 17,450 men and 350 women; for skilled crafts 271,650 males, 5,430 women. In 1970 just over 7 per cent. of girls were in apprenticeships compared with more than 42 per cent. of boys. Turning to the professions, in our universities 3,325 professors are men and 44 are women. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), if she catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, will refer to medical schools and the quota system that is operated there preventing girls, very often with superior qualifications to boys, from entering the medical profession.

Statistics more damaging than most were provided in the evidence given by the Civil Service which is supposed to be the model employer in this field and which has certainly made greater advances than many private industries. Of the 500 top jobs in the Civil Service—that is under-secretary and higher grades—14 are women. But at the bottom, in the lower-paid jobs of clerical assistants, there are 15,393 men and 50,048 women. In the departmental grades the situation is much the same. For information officers there are six grades, and of the top 60 posts only two are held by women. In the outdoor service grades of the Customs and Excise, where there are five grades, there are 5,200 men but not one woman. We could pass through our ports and airports and our luggage would never be searched by a woman. I have always thought that women were more curious to know what was in someone's luggage, but that is not the case.

In the Inland Revenue collection service, where there are five grades, in the top three grades there are 232 men and 16 women. In Exchequer and Audit the story continues. The woman is usually the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the home but not in the Civil Service. In the three higher grades there are 96 men and one woman. In the departmental clerical classes, however, there are 21,624 men and 27.512 women. In the science group and the technology group the figures are much the same.

In the media we see the same pathetic, dismal, indefensible story. The National Union of Journalists has a training scheme under which it operates a quota system so that not more than one-quarter of the journalists entering the school are women. The BBC has 25,000 employees and of the top 70 jobs 66 go to men and four to women. I am old enough to remember when Mary Malcolm and Sylvia Peters were news readers. There is not one woman news reader now. Why? The reason, as it is argued by the men, is that viewers look at a woman instead of listening to what she is saying. That may be true. Some women are very pleasant to look at, but that is no reason why they should he discriminated against in this way. On the ITV boards there are over 180 male directors and only 10 females.

The system persists on to the shop floor. I have a letter from a woman who works at Vauxhall Motors who says: There are only 8 women on Inspection in Vauxhalls at Luton. We work with men who are classed as Top Skilled, but we do exactly the same job, and so as not to irritate the feelings of the other 12 thousand workers, we are classed as unskilled, the same grade as sweepers up. All the Firm's Rules state equal Pay for Equal work, but because there are only a handful of us, we are being ignored. Of course my Bill has its limitations, but even Government Bills can be accused of that. I cannot spend public money. But this is the best, the only legislation that so far has been produced. It is my belief that it could be a spur to further official action by the Government. It may be a spur, even with all its shortcomings, to backwoodsmen employers, of whom there are many thousands. It is certainly better than nothing. The women of this country are in no mood to take a further 12 months' delay and it is no good the Minister saying that we shall wait for the reports and produce a Bill next year. because in practice that will mean a delay of 18 months.

The time has now come to declare discrimination against women illegal and to condemn it as a great social evil, which is how The Times described it. It represents an economic loss to the nation as well as a denial of basic human rights. I believe that the time for legislation is now and I believe that women will accept nothing less now.

2.30 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

I intervene at this stage because I think it may be helpful to the House if I do so, and I shall be as brief as I can.

I intervene for two reasons, first, because ministerial responsibility in matters of discrimination of all kinds comes under the general umbrella of the Home Office; and, second, because of personal interest in that I was a member of the Conservative Party committee set up by the Prime Minister shortly before the last election to review the existing law with a view to deciding what changes might be desirable to remove discrimination against women to enable them to participate equally with men in the political, economic and social life of the community, and to remove discrimination relating to their rights and obligations within the family.

I can, therefore, assure the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) that not only do I have a ministerial interest in his Bill but I have a personal interest as well.

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

Does the Minister support it?

Mr. Carlisle

With respect, I said that I should be brief, but I cannot be that brief.

The hon. Member for Fife, West has the reputation of being a doughty fighter for many causes, and one of them is his fight for women's rights. As he reminded us, this is not the first time that a Bill of this kind has come before the House. His Bill is identical with one which he introduced on behalf of one of his hon. Friends, as he put it, during the last Parliament. In addition, a similar Bill was introduced in the other place by the noble Lady, Lady Seear.

I notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker—perhaps I should say Madam Deputy Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and welcome that the hon. Gentleman has support from both sides of the House. I see that among the sponsors of the Bill are my hon. Friends the Members for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim), Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) and Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman). I welcome that because I take it that we all share, if not necessarily the language, at least the concern which has been expressed by the hon. Gentleman, as embodied in the Bill, for the rights of women, and we should all support the desire to do away with unfair discrimination wherever it exists.

The Government are fully in sympathy with the underlying purposes of the Bill. We are opposed to any form of unfair discrimination against women. We said so in our election manifesto, and, as a member of the Government and as one who was a member of the committee set up by the Conservative Party before the Government came into office to look at the issue of discrimination in law against women, I am glad to be able to say that we have during this Parliament already taken certain action in this matter.

In regard to taxation and in regard to women's rights in relation to their children we have already brought about changes in the law aimed at removing that discrimination. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Not much."] Perhaps I may be allowed to develop my speech.

I am glad to be able to tell the House today—I am sure that it will please my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), in particular—that we have now introduced our Bill to change the law of guardianship so as to give to each parent equal and separate rights of guardianship in respect of their children. [HON. MEMBERS: "And about time."] I agree. It is a reform which has been overdue for many years. It has been pressed for, and rightly, by, I think, all women's organisations and, I hope, supported by the vast majority of the male sex.

It is, surely, wrong that we have had written into our law that the guardianship of the child was in the hands only of the father and that the mother had to apply to the courts to obtain similar guardianship rights. We undertook to make this reform. We announced that we should do it, and we have now introduced our Bill to change the law and give equal rights of guardianship over their children to both men and women. It was a major recommendation of the Cripps Committee's Report, and I am glad that we have found parliamentary time to introduce it.

Further, we have removed discrimination against women in their rights and duties for jury service. Also, the whole subject of family property law, another matter which rightly concerns many women's organisations, is at present being studied by the Law Commission.

I must say a word now to the hon. Member for Fife, West on the question of equal pay, because, with respect, he was unfair, and, having served on Standing Committees on various Bills with him, I am sure that he would not wish me to suggest that it was not unusual for him to be unfair in his comments. In the White Paper introducing the Government's present economic policy to counter inflation, we said specifically: The Government stand by the requirement of the Equal Pay Act 1970 to achieve equal pay by the end of 1975.

Mr. William Hamilton

Read on.

Mr. Carlisle

It is true—the hon. Gentleman is not often wrong in his facts—that it goes on to say in the next paragraph that, as a result of their counter-inflation policies, the Government do not intend to make an order under the 1970 Act"——

Mr. Hamilton

That is the point.

Mr. Carlisle

With respect, let me complete it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that I always try to answer his points fully— do not intend to make an Order under the 1970 Act to make it mandatory to bring women's rates of pay up to 90 per cent. of the corresponding men's rates by the end of 1973". True, we do not intend to bring in that order, but we first made clear that we stand by the requirement that equal pay shall be achieved by 1975, and within the context of the Government's counter-inflation policy we have made an exception in the interests of women.

I come now to the middle part of the previous paragraph which I did not read a few moments ago: They wish orderly progress towards this to continue and any remaining differential between men's and women's rates may therefore be reduced by up to one-third by the end of 1973 outside the pay limit, if necessary. Increases outside the limit for this purpose may only be made where pay settlements within the limit do not widen the existing relativity between men's and women's rates. The hon. Gentleman may disagree about the purpose of the policy, but he must accept that so long as one has a wages policy it is necessary and proper that it should apply across the board to both men and women; but what we have done is to make an exception from that policy to the advantage of women rather than, as he suggested, to their disadvantage.

Mr. Hamilton

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman now give an assurance that by the end of this year women doing work equal and comparable to that of men will have 90 per cent. of their wage?

Mr. Carlisle

Of course I will not. I accepted that we had not made the order. But in the White Paper on phase 2 of the incomes policy we have specifically allowed for pay increases in advance of those which men would be eligible to receive as a means of reducing by a third a year the pay differential between men and women.

I have attempted to show something of what we have done. As an Opposition Member said, it is not all that needs to be done. The Government want to see the barriers which prevent women from playing a full part in the life of the country coming down, where they still exist.

As Members of the House of Commons, we of all people should be aware of the part women can play in public life. We should be aware of the contribution made by hon. Ladies on both sides, in both a ministerial and a non-ministerial capacity, towards our debates. I cannot mention all the hon. Ladies present, but perhaps I may be allowed to say that no one will doubt the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) as a redoubtable back bencher during her many years as an hon. Member. We should wish to see the opportunities for women in public life expanded.

The Government favour equal opportunities for women both in employment and in training and education. We want them to have the same prospects and opportunities for promotion. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should deceive ourselves if we did not admit that discrimination exists. We must appreciate that there is a need for many more opportunities for training for women.

It is open to argument whether discrimination is diminishing. Some would say that it is and others that it is not. My personal view is that at least within the professions it is considerably less than it has been.

Discrimination based on pure prejudice should have no part in our life. It is largely a question of attitudes, some might say of out-dated attitudes, and it is those attitudes that we must strive to change.

As the hon. Gentleman said, we cannot afford to ignore the available reserve of latent skill and ability. It would be wrong and very short-sighted to ignore it. I hope we do not pride ourselves that we have such an abundance of skill and ability that we can afford to ignore it in a large proportion of the population.

Women should be encouraged to take a full part in the economic life of the country, rather than discouraged. Where discrimination exists, it needs to be justified or to be rejected if it cannot be justified.

What part the law has to play in achieving that end is a much more difficult problem. None of us advances the cause of women who have legitimate concern and complaints by denying the difficulties. It may be that legislation will be shown to be necessary to deal with aspects of discrimination. It may be that other measures acting on individual areas of discrimination would be more appropriate. It may be that, in training and employment, administrative action and a greater understanding of the problem will in themselves achieve our ends.

A Bill identical to the one before us was introduced during the last Session by Lady Seear in another place, towards which the hon. Gentleman was disposed in a friendly manner in his speech. With the agreement of the Government and of Lady Seear, that Bill was referred to a Select Committee of another place. The advantage of the Select Committee procedure, one that we have often heard advanced here, certainly from the Opposition benches, is that it gives the opportunity for the Committee to hear evidence from outside bodies. The Bill is now being considered by that Committee, which has taken a great deal of evidence from many bodies, including the women's organisations, the TUC, the CBI, the political parties and Government Departments. I understand that it is still receiving evidence and that it recently approached the medical schools, for example, inviting them to present evidence. Other bodies in the education world still wish to give evidence.

There are a number of deficiencies in the Bill before us. I think that that is accepted by its supporters; it was partly accepted by the hon. Gentleman. I do not wish to go into detail, any more than the hon. Gentleman did, or to highlight the difficulties, but perhaps I may just comment on two.

The House must ask itself where it stands on Clause 4, which deals with equal opportunities in education. In preparation for my reply to the hon. Gentleman I did my best to read the debates in both Houses. It is noticeable that little serious debate has been devoted to the provisions of that clause. It has the admirable intention of enhancing the education and training opportunities for women, a matter that our research showed to be one of the main areas that must be considered. But I wonder whether the House realises that the clause would bring about fundamental changes in the whole of our education system. I am not for a moment saying, for the purpose of the present argument, whether it is right or wrong that those changes should be made. I am not saying whether it is right or wrong that all single-sex maintained schools, private schools—single-sex schools across the board—should by law no longer be able to exist. [interruption.] I am advised that the clause would have that effect. What I am saying is that that sort of issue requires serious consideration of the fundamental consequences of the proposals in the Bill.

I am also advised that strong evidence has been given to the Select Committee in another place that the recommended enforcement machinery is complex and difficult. I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not quote me against myself, as in a certain case that he used last year in the Cripps Committee's Report. He will note that we had a rather different reaction to the tentative suggestions then made for enforcement procedures.

Another comment that has been made to the Select Committee is that we have before us a Bill of a general kind and that it may be more effective to have specific legislation for specific kinds of discrimination.

The advantage of the Select Committee procedure is that the Committee can receive and hear evidence on these matters. It can recommend amendments and it can recommend that the Bill should be entirely different. It can recommend an entirely different way of going about the issue. It is my information—I cannot carry this very far—that the Committee is likely to report shortly.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in his capacity as Secretary of State for Employment at that time, announced during the passage of the Bill that he had set up a study within the Department the purpose of which was to discover areas in which discrimination occurred, to try to identify the reasons for it and to see whether it was, as we would all accept in some cases, natural and desirable, and in others based purely on prejudice and precedent. The study was undertaken as a basis for determining the kind of measures which are most likely to have a real impact on discriminatory activities and which will lead to a real improvement in employment opportunities for women. I am told that the working party has received a great deal of statistical and factual evidence from a variety of sources, which is now being fully examined.

I appreciate that this is a Private Members' day. I wish to leave the thought—and the hon. Gentleman is an old enough parliamentary hand to know this—that there is a Bill in another place in this parliamentary year. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the course in which he is interested, and in which it so happens I personally am interested, is advanced by taking the Bill through today in advance of the important and valuable information which will be received from those two reports and which, I believe, will be of value to the House in deciding what, if anything, should be done in this highly complex matter? We must accept that it is a controversial social matter.

The hon. Gentleman commented on my predecessor having gone to Bermuda. He was kind enough, or rude enough, or otherwise, to suggest that I was going to Mauritius. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that I would willingly accept the offer of Mauritius. I am sure that it would be a lovely climate and a magnificent job. I only hope that the House would not feel, were I to go to Mauritius, that it would be as praise or otherwise for what I have said this afternoon.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

My hon. and learned Friend will recall in his predecessor's speech last year on the same Bill, which I do not think has been changed in any major respect——

Mr. Hamilton

Not a word.

Mr. Fell

That is one of the difficulties. I refer my hon. and learned Friend to column 1824 in HANSARD of 28th January 1972. At the bottom of the column he said: There are jobs in which there is in law special protection for women. Statutory restriction on hours of work in factories would have to be removed if Clause 2 of the Bill were to be implemented."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th January 1972; Vol. 829, c. 1824.] My hon. and learned Friend has been kind enough to comment on other parts of the Bill, and I should be grateful if he will comment on that matter.

Mr. Carlisle

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That may be a valid criticism of Clause 2. I was responding to the mood of the House and not going into detailed criticism. It is clear that the Bill has substantial deficiencies, but I thought it right merely to deal with education, which was not raised previously. Other matters were canvassed on the last occasion.

My hon. Friend is quite right in suggesting that there are many points of disadvantage which could be put to the Select Committee. For example, there are no provisions for exemptions for difference in treatment between men and women where it would be understandable and natural that it should apply. There is. secondly, the matter of employment and other conditions, and existing legislation such as the Factories Acts, the Equal Pay (No. 2) Act and the Midwives Act. I could continue with many more other points of this kind.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman saying that, because the Select Committee is sitting in another place and because of another report, the feelings of practically all British women, and, dare I say, most British men, must be subordinated to the outcome of a special investigation which the country knows will agree that there is abominable discrimination against women? The hon. and learned Gentleman has an opportunity to make his contribution by agreeing with and supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and thus wiping out discrimination. If that were done, we could look at the details from the Committees.

Mr. Carlisle

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not listened to very much of what I was saying. That is pretty well exactly what I was not saying. I said that there is a Select Committee in another place which is hearing evidence not on whether there is discrimination but on the provisions of the Bill. It is free to advise whether the Bill is right, whether it should be amended or whether a different approach should be made.

Mr. Molloy rose——

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman intervened when I was literally within my last gasp on my feet. He then does not allow me very much opportunity to regain my breath. I suggest, I hope without being too controversial, that this subject is a controversial matter. There are many deficiencies and many questions that must be asked. Those questions must be decided. It must also be decided whether, with a Bill in another place undergoing scrutiny there is an advantage in promiting a Bill into a Committee at this stage.

If I go to Mauritius I will watch with interest the future course of the debate on women's rights.

3.9 p.m.

Mrs. Shirley Williams (Hitchin)

The House of Commons owes a great debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) for the persistence, determination and courage with which he has brought the Bill before the House. While listening to the Minister of State I was not surprised to be somewhat more pleased than when I listened to his predecessor. It is clear that he conceded the case in principle for the Bill. What I want to ask him is perhaps hardly fair—namely whether, since he concedes the principle of the Bill, the Government will now concede this attempt to make it actual.

As we all know on both sides of the House, if the Government are prepared to give time for a Bill and to put some of their time at its disposal, one does not fight, as we are fighting this afternoon once again, a minority light brigade which does not want this or any other antidiscrimination Bill.

I believe that we are seeing an attempt to override the will of the majority of Parliament on both sides of the House. By giving time to this measure the Government could give an opportunity for a genuine expression of views on this issue.

We are a long way from the end of discrimination—a thought which I recognised recently when creeping through the basement of the Reform Club to attend a dangerous event that was being held there—a dinner attended by both sexes. Since I happened to be of the wrong sex, I had to approach what I was looking for through the basement.

There is still extensive discrimination in taxation in spite of some welcome reforms made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. For example, under PAYE a woman must make her income known to the husband so that he can make the tax return. A man does not need to make his income known to his wife. A widow who is endeavouring to raise children by going out to work cannot claim housekeeping allowance, whereas a man can make such a claim. Why a woman is supposed to be able to undertake both jobs more easily than a man is not clear to me. Furthermore a woman must reveal income from shares to her husband, though there is no necessity for a husband to reveal share income to his wife.

There is now the suggestion, and we are extremely disturbed about it, that under the tax credit system the family allowance which is at present paid to the mother of a family will be paid to the man. That will be a most dangerous, backward step.

Mr. Carlisle

This is not my Department's responsibility, but I think I am right in saying that when the tax credit system was introduced in the Green Paper it was said that this could happen. This point was specifically made and the Government made it clear that this was one matter which a Select Committee should look at.

Mrs. Williams

I concede that, and I thought I had referred to a recommendation in the Green Paper. It would set many fears at rest if the Government could make it clear that there would be no switch of the family allowance from the mother to the father. The example set by the Government is often copied elsewhere. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise the truth contained in the poll conducted by the Daily Mirror showing that increases in incomes to men in the last year were in no way reflected by any increases in housekeeping allowances. That is part of human nature, but it reflects a considerable burden against which many women have to operate.

Under the Government's immigration policy a man may bring his wife to this country to live with him, but a woman is not entitled to bring her husband to this country to live here with her. This is a principle that is almost never questioned in the way all Governments run their immigration policy.

In promotion terms whereas one-third of medical school graduates are women, only 7 per cent. of consultants are women. In the debate on the Equal Pay (No. 2) Bill in 1970 it was the present Home Secretary who moved an amendment about equal treatment for men and women in respect of transferred promotion by saying I strongly support the amendment.…this is probably the most important amendment which we shall be moving."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee H, 3rd March 1970; c. 136.] The Minister of State referred to the Guardianship of Infants Bill which is to come before the House shortly. That is certainly a step forward, but what a reflection upon our society that as late as 1973 we are conceding to mothers equal guardianship with fathers over infants whom it falls to the mother to bring up and spend most of her time with.

A further disturbing fact is that the legislation passed so far by the House has been clearly shown to be inadequate and ineffective.

In 1970 the House passed the Equal Pay Act. We now know from a study reported by that respected journal New Society yesterday that equal pay, far from being advanced, is actually slipping back. In 1963 the payment to women workers in manual work was 52 per cent. of that for men. Today it is the same, whereas in non-manual work it has slipped from 53 to 51 per cent. over the last nine years. That is an amazing flouting of the will of what I think it is fair to say was that of both sides of the House and of Parliament. It is a reflection of where the power lies, unless the Government step in and redress the balance, as they have not yet done.

This Bill will go at least some way to redress that balance. Frankly, equal pay wide open to avoidance as it is in practice is becoming more honoured in the breach than in the observance. As if this were not enough, it is true that women in Britain today, in the sense of the proportion of average wages they draw, are doing worse than the women in virtually any other industrialised country, and that is something of which all of us should be deeply ashamed. In my constituency the other day I met a group of women workers who for skilled work were drawing £10.50 for a 35-hour week, so deplorable is the situation in some of our largely women-manned industries and trades.

Expressing his sympathy, the Minister of State asked whether the Bill was the right Bill. Many of my hon. Friends have suggested that it could be improved in Committee and that if necessary it could be considered by a Select Committee of the House of Commons as well as the Select Committee of the House of Lords. But what we need in the House today is a statement of the Government's willingness to subscribe to this principle. In the United States the Fair Employment Practices Commission, which incidentally covers both racial and sexual discrimination, has made great strides forward in the past year. It has opened one field after another for women and it has gone a long way to narrowing the gap in wage terms. What has been done in the United States could surely also be done in Britain. We see no argument why that should not be so.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

The hon. Lady is indicating principles that would outlaw discrimination. The question is what is the right vehicle. A Select Committee of the House of Lords is considering the matter. Would the hon. Lady go along with the suggestion that a matter of this kind might be put to a Joint Select Committee of both Houses, which might consider what was the most appropriate vehicle for achieving the purpose that she and many others have in mind?

Mrs. Williams

There is some merit in that suggestion, but what concerns many hon. Members on both sides of the House is the fear of yet further delay. The worrying thing is that three years after it was passed the Equal Pay Act is still far from being operative. A similar fear exists in this connection.

I am sure that what I may say on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West is that if the Government show an equivalent zeal, if I may put it like that, he would be only too willing to consider any amendments that might flow from the Government in the light of the suggestions of the other place which would make the Bill more powerful and reduce the number of loopholes. What we want today is a clear statement of the intent of the House of Commons.

Without going over the ground covered by my hon. Friend, may I say that there is example after example of what has been achieved in this country when the situation is one of desperate crisis. Women flew aircraft all over the world during the war, as a woman pilot pointed out to me recently. Now they are restricted in flying commercial aeroplanes. Women drove lorries and buses. It is not easy for them to do so today. My hon. Friend has pointed out that they drove cranes. They cannot do so today.

When the country is in crisis it is amazing what it permits women to do. In peace time, when it could be said that the country is still in crisis, it seems all too willing to refuse them the opportunity. The French Prime Minister, Poincaré, at the time of the First World War, said in a very famous quotation: Nothing is so powerful as an idea that has found its time. The idea of equality for women has now found its time and the House should recognise that fact.

In many ways I would prefer the Race Relations Board to have responsibility for both discrimination against women and discrimination on other grounds. That is a matter of detail. What matters this afternoon is that the House should express its view and should be permitted to express that view, because I now believe that the view on both sides is that discrimination against women should end and that it is more than time that it did so.

3.11 p.m.

Miss Janet Fookes (Merton and Morden)

I warmly welcome the more encouraging speech that we have had from the Government Front Bench on this Second Reading if I may so call it. I would be more impressed by the argument that we should wait for a further Select Committee to report had we not been waiting so long already. This is not uncharted territory to that extent. I would much prefer that the Bill went forward and was discussed in Committee, in parallel with the work of the Select Committee in another place.

There is substantial evidence of discrimination in a number of areas. I do not wish to dwell on them but it is worth pointing even to my own experience in seeking political office. I know that among the many selection committees before which I have appeared the fact that I was a woman was a definite factor militating against my acceptance in one or two cases. It is not easy to prove this; one learns it by the grape-vine. If anyone were pressed it could not be proved. I am sure that my experience is shared by many other female Members on both sides.

We know too that women journalists experience difficulty. Whenever they interview me on other matters I always make a point of asking them how they find things in their own sphere. Each one has said that getting out of the "Woman's page" side of things is extremely difficult. I had a letter from a group of women engineers who said how difficult they found it. It is discouraging even to try to enter such professions.

There is the very difficult problem of entry into the Church. With only one or two exceptions it is not permitted for women to become priests in the various Christian denominations. I attended a most impressive meeting recently organised under the auspices of the Church of England to discuss this point. I was much impressed by some of the women there who wished to enter the Church as priests. They made an extremely good case, logically, cogently and reasonably argued. I am aware that this is a highly controversial area. I believe as a Christian that it is wrong that women should not be allowed to enter the priesthood and I therefore make the point in this public place.

One has only to scan the newspaper advertisements to see that in many cases women would not even be considered for a job. I particularly dislike the varying sections of papers in which one is classed under the heading "Appointments for Women". This is in one of our highly respected newspapers, in which there are many job advertisements. It is one of the leading newspapers in this area. I refer to the Daily Telegraph.

Mr. William Hamilton

You read it.

Miss Fookes

I do not own the newspaper. If I did, it might look a little different.

The discrimination of which I have given but a few examples is unjust for a number of reasons. As a former teacher of both girls and boys, I am well aware that there is no significant difference between girls and boys in their basic intelligence. That is borne out by others more experienced in teaching than I am. There are sufficient numbers of women who are outstandingly successful in a variety of careers—whether it be the professions or other posts—to disprove entirely the view that women are inherently disqualified from undertaking these jobs.

There have been great changes in the social pattern of life and it is more important for women to have career opportunities. Fifty per cent. of all married women carry on working and I believe that the percentage is far higher among the younger age groups. Therefore, we can expect the percentage to rise to perhaps 80 or 90 per cent. People marrying at a younger age and the ability to limit families mean that the period which a woman must devote to bringing up a family—and I do not underestimate the importance of that—is much less. Therefore, the trend is for women to work before and immediately after marriage and give up for a few years when they are bringing up their families, and they are probably ready to return to gainful employment by their mid-thirties and then go on until their early sixties. Therefore, the old arguments of employers about not employing women in positions of responsibility fall to the ground.

Easier divorce—whether one agrees with it or not it is a fact—means that many women are compelled to go on earning their living, perhaps with young families to support or partially support. There is therefore a need for them to be trained. I am sure that most of us have seen pitiful examples of women, not trained to do a job because of past prejudices and attitudes, who now find themselves unable to earn a good wage or salary or enjoy a satisfying career.

The argument that discrimination exists is overwhelming. It is totally unjust and unfair. Hence there is a need for change. But this is where we come to a divergence of views about how change should be undertaken. There are some people—and I respect their views—who believe that what I might call natural change is sufficient and that the gradual change in attitudes will break down discrimination. But that is too long a process and we cannot wait another 50 or perhaps 100 years for it to die away.

I agree entirely that a Bill which is imposed against the consent of the people is unlikely to work, but there is now a realisation of the unfairness of discrimination. There is a willingness to change. But it needs to be accelerated. That is why the Bill is right and necessary at this time.

Mr. Fell

What is worrying some of us who believe in the basis of what my hon. Friend is saying is how what is proposed will work. She said at the beginning of her speech that the Bill should be given a Second Reading so that in Committee we can discuss all these controversial matters with the findings of the Select Committee of the House of Lords. How does my hon. Friend know that that will be possible? When will the House of Lords send its findings to this House?

Miss Fookes

I was seeking to rebut the argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State to the effect that we should do nothing further with this Bill on the ground that something better is coming shortly. I was saying that I prefer a bird in the hand to two in the bush. I was hoping that we might be able to take advantage of the Select Committee's proceedings, but if we are not able to do so we should press forward on our own.

Opponents of the Bill have suggested that the setting up of a board is not the right way to deal with the matter, but the board would seek first to investigate agreements and try to reconcile the parties before it suggested legal action. I am still waiting for those who feel such a process to be unsuitable to present a reasonable alternative, and I note that the Government have seen fit to intervene with a legal framework in the delicate area of industrial relations. I would not expect that to weigh with hon. Members on the Opposition side but I would expect it to weigh with my hon. Friends.

Such a board would have a respectable ancestry. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State was a member of the Conservative Party committee which produced the report "Fair Share for the Fair Sex". On page 47 there was the tentative suggestion that it might well be thought desirable to give the Board a power … to keep the whole field of sex discrimination under review, to act as a clearing-house for complaints and to submit periodic reports to Parliament". It did not at that stage go so far as to suggest legal powers, but I take heart from the fact that not only is my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State now in a position of authority in the Government but that another distinguished member of that committee is now Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs, which is a happy coincidence.

I recognise that there are shortcomings in the Bill and I think it imperative to alter the wording to ensure that absurdities do not creep in. I would not like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) to feel under the necessity to champion the cause of those men who could not, say, become male "bunnies" or lavatory attendants, which I think was the rather less glamorous example he used. It is clearly necessary to alter the wording in order to avoid such absurdities.

It is not easy to prove discrimination in certain instances, particularly where competition is very great. I think here of various political candidates who aspire to office who would find it very difficult to say whether it was because of sex that they had been turned down. Nevertheless I believe that there is ample scope for the Bill to work, and I hope very much that it will be given a Second Reading.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

Before my hon. Friend sits down, could she tell us whether Clause 4, in connection with discrimination in education, would be altered?

3.24 p.m.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

I hope that we shall not have many speeches by way of interventions in other people's speeches, in view of the time.

I am sure that the House will forgive my intrusion into the debate, because I must declare an interest. It was over 21 years ago that I moved the successful resolution of the House calling for equal pay in the public services, which was eventually brought into law. I was seconded on that occasion by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who is now Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

I want to address myself now to the Minister of State. I do not suppose the hon. and learned Gentleman has read Mr. Boyd-Carpenter's speech in reply to me at that time. If he had read it he would have understood that his speech today was a regurgitation of what was said from the Treasury Bench 21 years ago.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)

I bet it did not sound any better then.

Mr. Pannell

It did not, and, as I get older, I become more tired of the arguments.

The hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) made one error in thinking that she was obliged to spell out her reasons for her attitude to the Bill. However, we are not dealing with reasons. We are dealing with prejudice. All that we need from the Treasury Bench is an affirmation of the principle and determination to carry it into effect. Once this Bill has been read a Second time, my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) will accept any reasonable amendment if it is a means to his end. It is well known that any amount of the proposals in the Bill are impracticable. However, a great many impracticable proposals come from the Government from time to time.

One gets rather tired of constant references to Select Committees and Royal Commissions. This subect has been inquired into ad nauseam. Nothing that the Minister of State's predecessor told us last year was not known 21 years ago. Nothing that the hon. and learned Gentleman has told us today was not known 21 years ago. This is a matter which requires some evidence of the Government's determination.

The antecedents of Mr. Speaker should never be referred to, however lurid they may be. That is one of the rules of this House. As a matter of fact, however, he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who finally implemented equal pay in the public services, after a great deal of procrastination on the part of Mr. R. A. Butler, which one would expect, and after a degree of procrastination by Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr. Gaitskell.

The Labour Party has always been against this mountain of prejudice. I shall not deal with the merits of the Bill, but perhaps I might remind the House that when we celebrated equal pay in the public services at the Savoy Hotel many years ago the three principal guests were the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), Mr. Butler and myself. I remember making a speech then in the course of which I said that this was a battle on behalf of professional women but that I wanted to see equal pay and equal opportunity for women in industry. There is one short principle to be established. It is that no woman in industry should receive less than the basic rate of a labourer, and she should be able to receive all the differentials above that.

It is to the shame of professional women, largely in the public services, that, having secured the principle for themselves, they abandoned women in industry. It is about time that we saw to it that women working in factories doing the hard and dirty jobs secured the same principle.

I know that a great deal of legislation has tended to protect women. Whether they want protection now I do not know. But I want from the Government a blunt resolution that the principles inherent in this Bill, though perhaps not every dot and comma of it, will be carried into effect.

3.28 p.m.

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst)

We have seen a great deal of shifting of ground in that many hon. Members are asking us to accept a principle to which I am sure the House would agree. However, we are not asked to vote on the principle. Instead we are asked to vote upon a specific Bill which would have real and serious consequences.

I want to congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State on accepting our joint desire to see discrimination removed wherever it affects women. I also add congratulations to the Government on the advances they have made by sound legislation which can be interpreted at law and imposed by law and which does not make an ass of the law.

I support the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams), who deviated somewhat from the terms of the Bill by referring to many other spheres such as taxation, incomes and property in which we need to see discrimination removed. It should be done in a proper fashion by amending the legislation which is at the moment discriminatory so that the objective can be duly enacted. I want discrimination removed. I believe that the law has to be specific so that we know how it will apply and how it can be brought into practical operation.

I fully accept what the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said about equal pay. I was in this House when, with my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), he put up his great fight for it. But successive Labour and Conservative Governments recognised that they could not steamroller that principle through without the support of the people it would affect. Therefore, they found it necessary to educate—indeed, they needed education at that time—and carry with them the trade unions.

It is interesting that no hon. Gentleman on the Opposition side—and Labour Members are not often shy about calling upon the trade union affiliations—has said "My trade union is prepared to open its doors to women's membership in this, that or the other specialty where there are closed shops "or" My trade union has passed a resolution welcoming women's membership".

Mr. C. Pannell

My trade union is the aristocrat of the trade union movement going back to 1780. The backbone of its membership is comprised of skilled engineers. Women are admitted to my trade union. It has been in the forefront in this battle.

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith

I specifically referred to the various sections of the unions. There are many sections in the right hon. Gentleman's union in which women are not accepted as members, and he knows it as well as I do.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

What does the right hon. Lady know about unions?

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith

I spent four years working on trade union negotiations, if the hon. Lady wishes to be so comic about it.

It is absolutely essential, as with the principle of equal pay, that we have consultation on this matter. The Government have lost no time in setting up a Select Committee. I support the representations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). It would be of enormous advantage to have a Joint Committee of both Houses dealing with the essential negotiations and taking evidence regarding the implementation of the principle that we all wish to see operating.

If the Bill were passed, overnight it would make tens of thousands of trade union agreements between employer and employee, honourably negotiated and brought in, absolutely null and void. It would make a nonsense of a mountain of industrial negotiations and agreements. Many unions would have to reconsider their membership. I do not believe that this aim should be achieved by a juggernaut Bill which would turn upside down so many agreements. We should proceed by considering the matter seriously with the people directly concerned—if necessary, profession by profession and industry by industry. We should consider carefully all the implications that would flow from enacting that at some specific date any job, anywhere, under any conditions, should be available to both sexes. This would trample down negotiations and agreements which have been entered into in good faith and honoured and Acts of Parliament which were brought in with the best intentions for the protection of women.

Are we satisfied that all protection in all spheres is now archaic and should go? I agree that much of it is archaic and should go. Do we want to see many industries in which women will automatically do long night work? [Interruption.] My mind was not travelling in the same channel as the hon. Gentleman's. Is it advisable or sensible? At a remote garage is it reasonable to force an employer, even though lie thinks it unsafe, to allow a girl to operate a petrol pump on a lonely road? Under the Bill she would be able to complain that she had been rejected because she was a woman, yet the empoyer would have rejected her because it was inadvisable to take the risk of her being mugged or attacked.

Mr. Ron Lewis

Will the right hon. Lady tell us what would be her reaction if there were separate rates of pay for men and women for membership of this House?

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith

We are not discussing pay under the Bill. I have supported and I still support equal pay. We are discussing the means and availability of employment. A Select Committee and the procedures which my hon. and learned Friend suggested are a necessary and practical preliminary to the outcome of the Bill.

Very little has been said about schools. I would support those who press for the science laboratories in girls' schools to be as good and as extensively equipped as laboratories in boys' schools, which they are not at the moment. I have pressed that there should be absolutely free selection on merit of applicants to go to medical schools. These are immediate and tangible objectives. But I do not believe that a Bill which would make it possible for an exhibitionist to insist that a girl must go to a boys' school and that a boy must go to a girls' school, thus virtually wiping out one-sex schools, is sensible and practical.

We have already seen representations from male nurses. After all, they have half the population that they could nurse. They are protesting that they should be allowed to act as midwives for hospitals and local authorities. Are we completely to override the wishes of a woman, alone in her house, who would normally be visited by a female midwife? Is she to be denied the choice and is she to be denied the opportunity to refuse to be visited by a male midwife?

In principle we want to see major discriminations wiped out and I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim), have known what discrimination is, both in politics and business.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim (Gloucester) rose——

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith

I am not in any way unsympathetic to the principles but I believe that this hasty Bill will create far more anomalies and cause far more trouble than if we altered the many facets of discrimination in an orderly way and in a way which could be enforced and understood by everyone. We must look again to see whether we want to sweep away all the female protections—[Interruption.]—some of them but not all of them. We must have a much wider consensus of opinion in favour from the trade unions. I can imagine the dockers, the bus drivers, the taxi drivers and compositors reacting violently if they are not consulted and carried forward with what would be major alterations in the whole structure of their terms of employment.

I commend my hon. and learned Friend and support the methods he has suggested. I shall be accused of being pro-discrimination. I assure the House that I am not. But I do not like an omnibus Bill which I think would make an ass of the law and create chaos in industry.

3.40 p.m.

Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)

The right hon. Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith) is wrong to say that this is an instant Bill and a juggernaut. This is the sixth attempt to present such a Bill. I presented a similar one four times under the Ten Minutes Rule, and I was naturally delighted, as were all the supporters of the Bill, when my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) won a place in the Ballot last year giving an opportunity for a Second Reading and introduced a similar Bill. We are equally delighted that he has done so again today.

It was on 7th May 1968 that I presented the first anti-discrimination Bill. It has been interesting to note the changes in attitude to the Bill, and the changes in public opinion, in the intervening five years. The first Bill was greeted almost with ridicule, and many who supported it did so in rather a shamefaced way. The Press comments at the time were almost shamefaced because the Press felt that it was dealing with something trivial, of concern only to a limited number of women. Women's subjects, even five years ago, did not have nearly the place in the Press and the other media that they have now.

What changed the attitude of the media, and, I think, of the House, was that tremendous surge of public support for the idea of the Bill, the tremendous interest taken by all the established women's organisations and the newer ones that sprang up after the celebration of 50 years of women's having the vote. That surge of public opinion has been behind the Bill over the past five years. It has been heartening and encouraging, and it is well represented today.

Trying to laugh the Bill out of existence having failed, the next step was to suggest that discrimination hardly existed, that women had made such progress in employment, in entering the professions, in standing on their own two feet, that nothing more needed to be done. Over the past five years a great volume of evidence has changed that attitude.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West referred to much of the evidence. There were statistics from the Department of Education and Science and from the Department of Employment. There were studies by the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the TUC. There was a whole spate of reports of one kind and another showing that by and large throughout women's employment women were not receiving a fair deal. At the same time, all of us associated with the Bill, and, I think, all hon. Members, had a great sheaf of correspondence from constituents who had themselves experienced discrimination; the inability of women of experience and knowledge to obtain promotion in their work against younger men, very often, who came in from outside with no experience and very little knowledge and beat them; the impossibility of those women to do anything about it at all.

Now we have, almost as a climax, all this evidence which has been given to the Select Committee in another place to which so much reference has been made today, and the sum total of it all—it is not finished yet, because evidence is still forthcoming—is to show that there is real discrimination which can be removed by legislation.

I believe that this evidence which has come out in the last few years will go on when the Select Committee has finished. We shall go on having fresh evidence, and I believe that one of the values of the Bill, if it is accepted, is that there will be in existence an antidiscrimination board which will continually be receiving this kind of evidence. It will be a body sitting per- manently, or as long as discrimination exists, which can do precisely what the right hon. Lady the Member for Chislehurst wanted to be done, which is to look at the areas of discrimination which still continue. The evidence from that board will itself be of tremendous value to future Governments in introducing further legislation.

Again, it was suggested when the Equal Pay Act came into operation that it in itself would solve most problems of discrimination, but we have had evidence this afternoon, and we are all aware of the situation, that that Act has not fundamentally removed most of the discrimination to which reference has been made today, and that it will not do so because the great problem of women in employment is that the great mass of them are in the low-paid women's jobs which will not be affected at all by the legislation.

It is a real tragedy that while we talk today about the things which women have achieved the fact remains that only about a quarter of the girls leaving school get further training when they leave, and the rest do not get any kind of training at all. What this means in human terms is that so often when a married woman is forced to go out to work as a result of a drop in the family income—perhaps because she loses her husband, and we were reminded earlier that 40 per cent. of women at work are single, divorced, widowed or separated—all she can take is the very lowest paid, most menial kind of job just because she has not had the training to enable her to take a better post. It is a tragedy if a woman like that is forced merely to scrub floors or wash dishes because she has not had the training to enable her to do anything of better quality and for better pay.

It may be argued that the Bill of itself will not alter that situation, but in my opinion it will, because I believe that the power in the Bill to remove discrimination where it exists in training will be very effective in ending that kind of situation. I believe that the Bill itself will take a great step towards improving the whole status of women in the community so that those jobs will increasingly be raised in both pay and status, and this will help to improve the position of lower-paid women. It is an almost intractable problem, and we can do more than start to tackle it. I believe that the Bill will take a great step towards that end.

It has been argued that the Bill is far too limited, that it is a poor little measure because the problem of discrimination is so vast and the Bill deals only with a small section of it, with employment, training, education, public affairs and the activities of certain bodies. Obviously, as a Private Member's Bill it had to be limited in that way. The significance of it is that this limited field is the crucial one in discrimination against women. If we can raise the whole standard of education, training and employment opportunities for women, we shall do more by tackling this field of discrimination than could possibly be done by going about it in another way. This is of enormous importance.

It has been said, also, that it is all very well to have a Bill like this but if a board is set up no one will use it, that the Bill will be dead letter and become completely ineffective. That argument has been proved false, I believe, by experience in the United States. Similar legislation there has had an effect out of all proportion to what any of the women concerned believed possible. They have been amazed at the way women have taken advantage of that anti-discrimination legislation. Women have used it far more than any other section discriminated against, much to the surprise of all observers there. They have used it to take up all kinds of employment which they never did before, and they have amazed themselves and everyone else by what they have been able to do. I believe that we should have a similar result in this country.

One thread running through the opposition to the Bill which has been expressed today is that it is better to leave this matter to the Government when we have the report of the Select Committee. Let the Government look at it then, it is said—this was the argument of the right hon. Lady the Member for Chislehurst—and deal with the various areas of discrimination piece by piece by separate legislation. What that argument overlooks is the feeling of women themselves and their own experience of discrimination. The establishment of a board would enable women discriminated against themselves to go to the board with their evidence. In other words, the evidence of discrimination would come from the grass roots, which is the way it should come. Government Departments looking at these matters from above will not always tackle the problem about which women themselves feel most strongly.

The anti-discrimination board, therefore, is of crucial importance in the machinery of the Bill.

Mr. Rees-Davies

It seems that the hon. Lady is going ahead to talk the Bill out. I thought that, as a supporter of it, she might give an opportunity for others to express a view. But be that as it may. Will she answer the question which has been widely canvassed? The Bill being admittedly faulty in a great number of respects, would the hon. Lady and those who sponsor it be willing to let it go to a Select Committee of the House of Commons or to a Joint Committee of both Houses?

Mrs. Butler

The hon. Gentleman has already asked that question and it was adequately answered. Everybody knows that Private Members' Bills are full of faults because they are drafted by private Members without expert help. However, that does not alter the fact that the principle in the Bill has received the widest possible support in the House which I have ever seen for any Bill. The number of hon. Members who are waiting to express their support for the Bill indicates that, faults and all, they want the Bill to get a Second Reading. A great many of the difficulties which hon. Members find in the Bill can be ironed out in Committee. That is normal procedure.

When we look back at the period of the suffragettes and their campaign for the vote, we find that many people at that time thought that they were mistaken in wanting the vote. They said—and Florence Nightingale was one of them—that there were all sorts of other things which women should have and asked why women should ask for the vote. Today I think it can be said that, as the vote was the focal point for the suffragettes 50 years ago and more, the Bill is the focal point for the women who are strongly condemning discrimination today.

I hope that the House will feel, having debated the matter for nearly two hours this afternoon and for nearly two hours on a previous occasion, that the Bill has been adequately debated and that it will be given a Second Reading.

Mr. William Hamilton

On a point of order Mr. Speaker. As an identical Bill to this was given an overwhelming majority in another place, and, as we have already had four hours' debate in this place, I beg to move "That the Question be now put".

Mr. Speaker

That is a procedural decision for me which must be made in accordance with the accumulated experience of the Chair. If the House chooses to alter the rules, well and good. Whatever my personal views and sympathies are—and I am not allowed to indicate them—according to the rules as they are I must say "No".

Mr. Hamilton

On a further point of order. What I am about to say is no reflection on you, Mr. Speaker. I understand perfectly that you have to play the game according to the rules which have been laid down. However, it appears that people outside cannot understand how the House can assert its sovereignty and how the people outside can assert their sovereignty when you, at your discretion, can determine whether the Question be put and a vote then taken, irrespective of the merits.

Hon. Members

Vote, Vote!

Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick) 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. Speaker

Mr. Maddan.

Mr. Martin Maddan (Hove)

This Bill, which has now been debated for only 1¾ hours, seeks to deal with matters which have been dealt with by societies for very many years——

It being Four o'clock the debate stood adjourned.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Debate to be resumed what day?

Mr. William Hamilton

Any time you like. It does not matter a damn.

Hon. Members

Now! Now!

Mr. Speaker

"Debate to be resumed tomorrow" is the correct form of words, I think. No, I am wrong. Debate to be resumed on Friday next.

Mr. Barnes


Mrs. Renée Short

Either way it means another year.

Mr. Hamilton

We shall object to the other Bills.

Mr. Speaker

I have exercised my discretion. I must say that the subject must now be dealt with in some other way.

Mr. Hamilton

I shall object to every single one of the other Bills.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On your appointment many hon. Members on both sides of the House applauded you when you said that you would not consider yourself to be rigorously bound by precedent. I do not see how that can be reconciled with your statement today that you are tied by the rules. The good repute of this House in in danger.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The authority of the Chair must be sustained. It is not an easy job. I have thought about this matter very carefully, and I have been into all the other cases. There are other ways of changing the practice or of censuring me, but I cannot allow further debate today.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker——

Mr. Speaker

There cannot be a point of order challenging my Ruling. Is it a new point of order?

Mrs. Williams

It is a fresh point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish in any way to challenge your Ruling. However, I wonder whether in the light of today's debate we could be assisted by the Minister of State telling the House that Government time will be given to allow us to continue this debate.

Mr. Carlisle

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Lady was present during my speech and heard exactly what I said. I said that I had understood that the Select Committee in the other place was shortly to report. I made it clear that the Government wished to consider the evidence given to that Select Committee and that I felt it was a matter for the House to decide whether to give a Second Reading to this Bill today.

Mr. Molloy

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker——

Mr. Speaker

There can be no more points of order arising out of my Ruling.

Mr. Molloy

This does not arise out of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. May we have some information to guide us so that we may explain what is happening to the people outside who elected us to come here and who overwhelmingly desire to see a Second Reading given to this Bill? The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is now present, and, since it is the feeling of the House that this Bill should be given a Second Reading, will he now acknowledge the rights of the House of Commons and make time available next week for us to get it through?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)

I suspected that we might have this sort of scene at four o'clock. I do not think the House is doing itself any good by disputing Mr. Speaker's Ruling. The House has heard my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, and I am prepared to see what arrangements can he arrived at which will not in any way infringe on the Government strict rule about private Member's time to see whether we can make arrangements so that a decision can be made on this Bill.

Mr. Hamilton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask the Leader of the House to clarify that by saying that at some time he will give time midweek to have a free vote on this matter?

Mr. Prior

I have gone, I suspect, a great deal further in the interests of trying to reach an appropriate decision on this matter in the interests of the House than probably many hon. Members would think right. I do not believe that it would be right for me to go further than I have done. I am prepared to have discussions through the usual channels and with other hon. Members about what the next step should be.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of what the Leader of the House has said, may I say on behalf of the Opposition that we are prepared to help him even to the extent of giving half a Supply Day to do so?

Mr. Fell

On a point of order. May I raise one matter with you, Mr. speaker? In view of the very kind intervention by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, may I remind the House that not long ago there was a similar situation which led to the House changing its rules in order to help a Private Member's Bill through? All I am asking is that when my right hon. Friend says that the Government will again consider this Bill they will remember to be jolly careful about upsetting the whole of the procedure of the House because of a row on Friday?

Mr. Hamilton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I make the point that the Leader of the House has been less than frank with the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—yes, indeed. There is a letter from him to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) to state specifically that he is not prepared to find Government time for this Bill. That letter is dated 1st February and is addressed to my hon. Friend. The right hon. Gentleman had better repeat that he will play ball with the Opposition and will give Government time to enable us to come to a decision on the matter.

Mr. Speaker

These seem to be matters for discussion through the usual channels. An offer has been made. I have heard the offer of half a Supply Day. These matters would be much better discussed in the usual way.