HC Deb 19 July 1973 vol 860 cc701-2
Q1. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Departments of Employment. Education and Science and the Home Office in respect of the Government's methods of eliminating sex discrimination.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Hamilton

Does that answer mean that these three Ministers and the Prime Minister himself now agree that legislation is needed to deal with the problem? If so, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that a comprehensive Bill to deal with the problem will be introduced before the Equal Pay Act becomes effective, as that Act will prove ineffective if not accompanied by another measure dealing with equal opportunity, which is what the Anti-Discrimination Bill covers? Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that, had the Government not opposed this Bill when it was successively introduced by private Members on this side, it could have been—and should have been—passed before the end of this Session?

The Prime Minister

The Government are committed to legislation but also to consultation before legislation, and both of these approaches were welcomed, as the hon. Gentleman knows, by the House of Commons Select Committee. I think that we have benefited from the Select Committee procedure having been pursued. The consultation not yet having taken place, clearly I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the precise timing when a Bill could be introduced.

Mrs. Monks

Will my right hon. Friend agree that sex discrimination is largely the result of natural prejudice and certain attitudes of mind, which are difficult to isolate and change, however desirable that may be, by Act of Parliament?

The Prime Minister

I assure my hon. Friend that I have no such prejudices. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer acted in the Finance Acts of 1971 and 1972 to help to remove tax discrimination against women.

Mrs. Renée Short

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Departments referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) are themselves guilty of considerable sex discrimination? Will he look at the current issue of the Department of Employment Gazette—at the back page where there is a small item about ending sex discrimination, and at the middle page where there is false information about the number of women admitted into Government training centres and about discrimination in rates of pay for women and men being trained—and see that that Department puts its own house in order forthwith?

The Prime Minister

I could not accept the hon. Lady's accusations without investigation, but I am prepared to look at the matter she raises. Clearly, the way in which these matters are dealt with by Departments will be covered by the, consultation and legislation.

Miss Joan Hall

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, with the Equal Pay Act coming into force at the end of next year, other questions are being asked, one of which is whether the retirement age should be the same for men as for women? What are his views on that?

The Prime Minister

I recognise the point about equal pay being carried through, which is specially allowed for in stage 2; but the second half of my hon. Friend's question raises a much bigger issue.

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